Monday, 21 January 2019
I have spent the last six months working on this event, and it has completely taken over my life over the last six weeks (with a bit of a breather when all the publicists' offices closed over the holidays!). After we have a debrief and work out what we can do even better next year, we'll be able to forget about all the chaos until it begins cranking up again next summer. The 2020 event will be our 40th anniversary, so I think we need to plan something unexpected.
Thursday, 17 January 2019
The one big movie I saw this week was M Night Shyamalan's Glass, which brings together two of his earlier films (2000's Unbreakable and 2017's Split) to deconstruct superhero mythology. It's creepy and almost startlingly serious, with meaty performances from leads James McEvoy, Bruce Willis and Samuel L Jackson. Tom Everett Scott stars in the high-concept comedy I Hate Kids, which is amusing but never very funny. James Franco has a brief role in Don't Come Back From the Moon, an elusive but compellingly well-made drama set in the California desert. The Hole in the Ground is an Irish horror movie that's scary but a bit thin. And Pond Life is a lushly shot British drama featuring a superb ensemble of teen actors over a summer of yearning.
I attended the event at which the British Board of Film Classification announced its new guidelines this week. Every five years they canvas more than 10,000 people around the country to update what people expect from the UK's film ratings system. The changes are intriguing, with harder lines taken toward sexual violence and discriminatory language and imagery.
This coming Sunday is the 39th London Critics' Circle Film Awards, which I chair. I've been rather swamped with organising that over the past few months, and especially this week. Look for a report with pics next week. I also have some screenings lined up, including Jonah Hill's Mid90s, Alex Lawther in Old Boys, the Polish drama Nina and a doc called ParTy Boi.
Thursday, 10 January 2019
Jellyfish is a small British drama about a feisty 15-year-old (the amazing Liv Hill) who takes care of her two younger siblings as well as her clearly unwell mother. It's superbly well written and directed, with a bracing realism that brings out the deeper themes. Robert Guedigian's ensemble drama The House by the Sea is very French: lots of people sitting around agonising about their lives, relationships, the changing world. But it's beautifully assembled and full of moving moments.
The screening schedule is picking up now, and over the next week I have M Night Shyamalan's Glass, Tom Everett Scott in I Hate Kids, the sinkhole horror The Hole in the Ground, the acclaimed Italian drama Happy as Lazzaro, and the coming-of-age drama Pond Life. I'm also in the final week of prep as chair and chief organiser of the 39th London Critics' Circle Film Awards. So it'll be a busy one!
Friday, 4 January 2019
Meanwhile I'm also watching movies. In the past week I watched the Norwegian true WWII thriller The 12th Man, which has a terrific sense of energy to it, and a nice focus on the heroism of average people, Sgt Will Gardner is a gritty, gruelling drama about an Iraq veteran (played by writer-director Max Martini) trying to overcome a brain injury and reconnect with his life. It's powerful and important. Scaffolding is an engaging Israeli drama about a young guy who realises that maybe there's more to life than behaving like a macho thug, as his father and peers have taught him. And on British television, The Queen and I is a rather lazy satire about turning the royal family into ordinary citizens, augmented with lots of silly slapstick and easy jokes. David Walliams goes for broke as the villainous new prime minister. I also caught these three gems - a streaming hit and two awards-worthy docs...
dir Susanne Bier; scr Eric Heisserer
with Sandra Bullock, Trevante Rhodes, John Malkovich, Jacki Weaver, Danielle Macdonald, Tom Hollander, Lil Rel Howery, Colson Baker
18/US Netflix 2h04 ***.
Without any hesitation, this apocalyptic thriller dives straight into an inexplicable nightmare, which helps paper over some audacious lapses in logic and a nagging feeling that the script is rather thin. After a freaky prolog that frames the story, the narrative cuts back five years to the arrival of some sort of phenomenon that gives people a vision that pushes them to suicide. As chaos erupts, a handful of survivors huddles together, understanding that whatever it is, it only takes a brief look at it to spark the urge to end it all. The title refers to a journey downriver in a boat as Bullock and two children try to reach safety, keeping two birds in a shoebox as a warning device. Director Susanne Bier does a terrific job building suspense with a cast playing strikingly realistic, engaging characters who are at the end of their rope. Each of the actors is terrific, playing their roles without compromise. Even a rather unnecessary romance avoids being irritating, simply because the actors sell it. Bier also cleverly resists a clear depiction of whatever it is that's causing this horror, putting us in the characters' perspective with glimpses of its effects that are frightening enough. So it's a little frustrating that the plot descends into little more than a slasher thriller - albeit a pretty terrifying one - as these likeably messy people are picked off one by one. A twist involving mental illness adds an intriguing wrinkle, and the production is skilfully assembled, shot in ways that keep the suspense levels high and the characters at the centre. If only it had somewhere more interesting to go, or something more profound to say about the world we live in right now.
dir Lisa D'Apolito; with Chevy Chase, Martin Short, Laraine Newman, Lorne Michaels, Melissa McCarthy, Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph, Bill Hader
18/US 1h28 ****
Warm and intimate, this documentary recounts the life story of the iconic comic Gilda Radner in her own words, as top comedians (like Poehler and McCarthy) read from her journals. Not only is this a vivid exploration of Radner's life, but it's also a remarkable look at how the need to perform expresses itself, sometimes leading to pure magic. Moving along at a quick pace, the doc traces her happy childhood and how she decided to be funny instead of worrying that she wasn't a perfect specimen of femininity. Her early comedy cohorts are a who's whom of 1970s talent, leading to the formation of the very first Saturday Night Live ensemble (she refers to improv as a circus performance without a net). And then there were the usual pressures of fame, which led her into a severe eating disorder. Her one-woman show on Broadway brought her lifetime memories together with a variety of musical-comedy talent, showing her that she longed to be more than just "Gilda Radner". So she took some time to look at herself. Then she met Gene Wilder on the set of Hanky Panky (1982) and the two became inseparable. And her cancer diagnosis forced her to reconsider her identity once again. The film is a treasure trove of unseen clips, backstage footage and iconic TV moments featuring Radner with the likes of John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis and Bill Murray. It's fascinating to see how she created unforgettable characters like Emily Litella and Roseanna Roseannadanna, and also how celebrity came unexpectedly fast, making her wonder if she would ever find a real relationship with a man. Not only was she a great entertainer, but her tenacious attitude is deeply inspiring. As is her mantra that, "I can do almost anything if people are laughing."
dir-scr Sandi Tan
with Sandi Tan, Jasmine Ng, Sophia Siddique Harvey, Tay Yek Keak, Grace Dane Mazur, Stephen Tyler, Ben Harrison, Philip Cheah
18/US Netflix 1h36 ****
As a little girl, Sandi Tan believed that she found freedom by escaping into her imagination. Desperate to become a filmmaker, she was overflowing with ideas. Her first moviemaking project with her best pal Jasmine was a freeform Singaporean fantasy thriller called Shirkers, in which she played a 16-year-old serial killer. Now 25 years later, she is trying to figure out what went so bizarrely wrong all those years ago. The story centres on her inspirational film teacher George Cardona, a married man who took her on an unforgettable road trip around America and then directed Tan's script for Shirkers. Then he vanished, taking the film (and Tan's savings) with him. Tan filters her story through her childhood obsession with anything outside the acceptable mainstream. The documentary is shot and edited with a wonderfully deranged sense of juxtaposition, a riot of movie clips, snapshots, home video and various forms of art and animation. This gives the narrative a riveting pace that sparks intense curiosity about even the quirkiest details. The making of the film is packed with hilarious observations (the clips from it are frankly fabulous), so as things begin to turn strange, the doc becomes even more intriguing, with a number of chilling twists in the tale. Tan tried to just move on, but Shirkers wouldn't let her go, and it fully came back into her life two decades later. This is an extraordinary story about creative ambition and villainy, with a terrific mystery to unpick. And it comes to vivid, resonant life due to Tan's passion and skill as a movie lover and filmmaker.
Screenings start up again slowly next week. In my diary I have James Franco in Don't Come Back From the Moon, Freida Pinto in Love Sonia, Robert Guediguian's The House by the Sea and the acclaimed documentary Hale County This Morning, This Evening. It's also the week after the Golden Globes, with Bafta nominations announced on Wednesday, so will push awards season forward dramatically.
Monday, 31 December 2018
This year's stars, who appeared on two covers: Cate Blanchett, Emily Blunt, Jessica Chastain, Dwayne Johnson, Eddie Redmayne* (once as a plasticine caveman), John C Reilly* (once as a videogame character)
On one cover on their own: Aml Ameen, Chadwick Boseman*, Cher, Glenn Close, Tom Cruise, Rupert Everett, Colin Firth, Ryan Gosling, Lily James, Mindy Kaling, Daniel Kaluuya, Rami Malek, Chloe Grace Moretz, Liam Neeson, Evan Peters, Rosamund Pike, Ryan Reynolds*, Amanda Seyfried, Jason Statham, Tilda Swinton, Charlize Theron, Emma Thompson, Alicia Vikander
On one shared cover: Adeel Akhtar, Jack Black, Helena Bonham Carter, Olivia Colman, Steve Coogan, Bradley Cooper, Sandra Bullock, Rob Brydon, Jim Carter, Sam Claflin, Akwafina, Michael Douglas, Alden Ehrenreich, Chris Evans, Laurence Fishburne, Ben Foster, Lady Gaga, Gael Garcia Bernal*, Rupert Graves, Walton Goggins, Anthony Gonzalez*, Stephen Graham, Danai Guria, Tiffany Haddish, Kevin Hart, Anne Hathaway, Scarlett Johansson, Hannah John-Kamen*, Jake Johnson*, Anna Kendrick, Jude Law, Evangeline Lilly, Blake Lively, Thomasin Harcourt Mackenzie, Daniel Mays, Shameik Moore*, Sarah Paulson, Michael Pena, Chris Pine, Michelle Pfeiffer, Joaquin Phoenix, Chris Pratt, Jonathan Pryce, Florence Pugh, Koyu Rankin*, Rihanna, Margot Robbie, Saoirse Ronan, Paul Rudd, Mark Ruffalo*, Ekaterina Samsonov, Sarah Silverman*, Justice Smith, Hailee Steinfeld*, Emma Stone, Joonas Suotamo*, Thomas Turgoose, Owen Vaccaro, Rachel Weisz
Twice on one cover: Tye Sheridan (once animated)
Nine times on one cover: Jimmy Kimmel
Plus: a pig, a dinosaur, a shark, nine dogs and a crowd of animated Disney princesses.
* includes animated or face-obscured characters
A far more extensive version of this is on the website at 38TH SHADOWS AWARDS, for those who can't get enough of this sort of thing: longer lists, many more categories, trivia-o-rama.
My top film this year is not only a bracingly ripping true story, but it captures and confronts the current cultural mood with skill and invention. It's also a wonderful return to fighting form for filmmaker Spike Lee, who last won my best film prize in 1989 for Do the Right Thing.
- BlacKkKlansman (Spike Lee)
- Cold War (Pawel Pawlikowski)
- The Favourite (Yorgos Lanthimos)
- If Beale Street Could Talk (Barry Jenkins)
- Generation Wealth (Lauren Greenfield)
- Capernaum (Nadine Labaki)
- We the Animals (Jeremiah Zagar)
- Colette (Wash Westmoreland)
- Shoplifters (Hirokazu Koreeda)
- Sofia (Meryem Benm'Barek)
- Pawel Pawlikowski (Cold War)
- Spike Lee (BlacKkKlansman)
- Ari Aster (Hereditary)
- Barry Jenkins (If Beale Street Could Talk)
- Nadine Labaki (Capernaum)
- Bart Layton (American Animals)
- Chloe Zhao (The Rider)
- Yorgos Lanthimos (The Favourite)
- Jeremiah Zagar (We the Animals)
- Meryem Benm'Barek (Sofia)
- Barry Jenkins (If Beale Street Could Talk)
- Pawel Pawlikowski, Janusz Glowacki (Cold War)
- Richard Glatzer, Wash Westmoreland, Rebecca Lenkiewicz (Colette)
- Deborah Davis, Tony McNamara (The Favourite)
- Daniel Kokotajlo (Apostasy)
- Bart Layton (American Animals)
- Alfonso Cuaron (Roma)
- Rafael Casal, Daveed Diggs (Blindspotting)
- Alex Garland (Annihilation)
- Madeleine Sami, Jackie van Beek (The Breaker Upperers)
- Olivia Colman (The Favourite)
- Joanna Kulig (Cold War)
- Emily Blunt (A Quiet Place, Mary Poppins Returns)
- Agnes Jaoui (I Got Life!)
- Eva Melander (Border)
- Toni Collette (Hereditary, Hearts Beat Loud, Madame)
- Anna Brun (The Heiresses)
- Natalie Portman (Vox Lux, Annihilation)
- Claire Foy (Unsane, First Man)
- Rosamund Pike (A Private War, Beirut, Entebbe)
- Michael B Jordan (Black Panther, Creed II, Fahrenheit 451)
- Brady Landreau (The Rider)
- Rupert Everett (The Happy Prince)
- Tomasz Kot (Cold War)
- Marcello Fonte (Dogman)
- John David Washington (BlacKkKlansman, Monsters and Men)
- Zain Al Rafeea (Capernaum)
- Steve Carell (Beautiful Boy, Vice, Welcome to Marwen)
- Alex Lawther (Freak Show, Ghost Stories)
- Bradley Cooper (A Star Is Born)
- Regina King (If Beale Street Could Talk)
- Florence Pugh (Outlaw King)
- Millicent Simmonds (A Quiet Place)
- Sarah Perles (Sofia)
- Cynthia Erivo (Widows, Bad Times at the El Royale)
- Sissy Spacek (The Old Man & the Gun)
- Danai Gurira (Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War)
- Sakura Ando (Shoplifters)
- Molly Wright (Apostasy)
- Elizabeth Debicki (Widows, The Cloverfield Paradox)
- Brian Tyree Henry (Widows, If Beale Street Could Talk, White Boy Rick, Hotel Artemis)
- Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Outlaw King)
- Daniel Kaluuya (Black Panther, Widows)
- Timothee Chalamet (Beautiful Boy)
- Nicholas Hoult (The Favourite)
- Jonah Hill (Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot)
- Richard E Grant (Can You Ever Forgive Me?)
- Noah Jupe (A Quiet Place, That Good Night)
- Barry Keoghan (Black '47, American Animals)
- Jude Law (Vox Lux, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald)
- Mile 22 (Peter Berg)
- The Strangers: Prey at Night (Johannes Roberts)
- Truth or Dare (Jeff Wadlow)
- Midnight Sun (Scott Speer)
- Fifty Shades Freed (James Foley)
- Life Itself (Dan Fogelman)
- Strangeways Here We Come (Chris Green)
- The 15:17 to Paris (Clint Eastwood)
- Venom (Ruben Fleischer)
- Action Point (Tim Kirkby)
N O N - F I L M D I V I S I O N
- Pose (FX)
- Schitt's Creek (CBN)
- Fleabag (BBC)
- Everything Sucks! (Netflix)
- Killing Eve (BBC)
- The Marvelous Mrs Maisel (Prime)
- Patrick Melrose (Showtime)
- A Very English Scandal (BBC)
- Atlanta (FX)
- Trust (FX)
- This Is America (Childish Gambino)
- Nothing Breaks Like a Heart (Mark Ronson & Miley Cyrus)
- One Kiss (Calvin Harris & Dua Lipa)
- Shallow (Lady Gaga & Bradley Cooper)
- Promises (Sam Smith & Calvin Harris)
- Happier (Marshmello & Bastille)
- Make Me Feel (Janelle Monae)
- Better Now (Post Malone)
- Ruin My Life (Zara Larsson)
- This Is Me (Keala Settle)
Friday, 28 December 2018
Bad Times at the El Royale
dir-scr Drew Goddard
with Jeff Bridges, Chris Hemsworth, Cynthia Erivo, Dakota Johnson, Jon Hamm, Lewis Pullman, Cailee Spaeny
18/US 2h21 ***
Stylish and ambitious, this epic-length thriller is a series of stunningly staged set-pieces that ooze insinuation and intrigue. The El Royale Hotel is a vintage glamorous hideaway on the California-Nevada line outside Tahoe that last had some swing in 1966. Like an Agatha Christie story, this isolated place draws together a priest (Hamm), singer (Erivo), salesman (Hamm) and hippie (Johnson), welcomed by receptionist-barman Miles (Pullman). Each person has a but secret. Some of them looking for something buried under the floorboards 10 years earlier. All are willing to resort to violence if needed. Scenes develop with unexpected twists and turns, flashbacks that offer back-stories and connections, and some remarkable emotional subtext in each person's sense of desperation. Writer-director Goddard could easily have trimmed and tightened this snaky, witty script, which continually shifts back and forth within the story. But it's superbly assembled, cleverly directed to play on the layers of secrets the characters are carrying with them. And the cast is excellent across the board, including Hemsworth, who arrives properly about 90 minutes in and takes things in a brutal new direction. Erivo is the standout, bringing a soulful yearning that adds gripping depth beneath the increasing swirl of violence and the nagging feeling that underneath the gorgeous surface, this is yet another movie about desperate people and a bag of cash.
The Other Side of the Wind
dir Orson Welles; scr Orson Welles, Oja Kodar
with John Huston, Oja Kodar, Bob Random, Peter Bogdanovich, Susan Strasberg, Norman Foster, Lilli Palmer
18/US 2h02 ****
Not many films have this kind of production history: returning to Hollywood after a 20-year exile, Orson Welles started filming this in 1970 and carried on for six years, followed by a decade of editing before his death. More than 30 years later, the film was finished by a team working from Welles' notes and 100 hours of footage. Ironically, it's the story of famed filmmaker Jake (Huston), hounded by the press as he makes his latest epic, shooting as usual without a script. Critics say Jake has lost touch with culture, and he's having problems with cool young star (Random). As the leading lady, Kodar spends rather a lot of time naked, but generates a strong sense of mystery. Narrating the story as Jake's protege, Bogdanovich offers a sparky performance as a fast-talker who seems to steal his personality from everyone he meets. Stylish and bold, this is a striking look at the industry, mixing colour with black and white to blur the lines between movies and reality. The jazzy tone, skilful camerawork and energetic performances are fascinating as well as raucously entertaining. This twist on Felliniesque comedy-drama is perhaps a bit too loose and unfocussed to properly grab hold or build up a sense of narrative momentum, but it's packed with fiercely inventive touches and dazzling imagery. And its knowing approach to the process of filmmaking is lacerating. This is Welles' love/hate letter to cinema. And it's bound to be revered by generations of film students to come.
There are no press screenings next week either, but I still have a few discs a and links to watch. The problem is that it feels too good to just relax and NOT watch movies for a change....