Archived entries for review of the year

2017 review

The end of another film year! Here are the 15 best films of 2017 and here’s last year’s post.

1. Dunkirk, directed by Christopher Nolan
2. Call Me By Your Name, directed by Luca Guadagnino
3. 120 Battements par Minute, directed by Robin Campillo
4. Moonlight, directed by Barry Jenkins
5. Blade Runner 2049, directed by Denis Villeneuve
6. La La Land, directed by Damien Chazelle
7. Le Sens de la Fête, directed by Eric Toledano and Olivier Nakache
8. Coco, directed by Lee Unkrich
9. Nocturnal Animals, directed by Tom Ford
10. La Promesse de l’Aube, directed by Eric Barbier
11. Wonderstruck, directed by Todd Haynes
12. Star Wars: the Last Jedi, directed by Rian Johnson
13. Detroit, directed by Kathryn Bigelow, and Hidden Figures, directed by Theodore Melfi
14. Lion, directed by Garth Davis
15. Loving, directed by Jeff Nichols

Other great films: Get Out, Okja, T2 Trainspotting, Rock’n’Roll

It seems that there really can’t be a new Chris Nolan film that won’t top my ‘best films of the year’ list – Dunkirk was always going to grab that #1 spot for me. Both in form and content, it’s a genuine achievement, the embodiment of cinema as an art form. I’ve reviewed it elsewhere anyway, but I’ll repeat it here again: it’s such a bold move to make a film with zero narrative and yet with such powerful storytelling – it’s almost as if Nolan knows what’s expected of him and literally goes off to do the opposite. For that alone, Dunkirk deserves the top spot – you won’t find another film this year so riveting, and impactful.

My #2 film is theoretically a 2018 film but really is so unforgettable that I could not not mention it this year: Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name is a truly gorgeous film and also possibly one of the most touching coming-of-age stories told this year. Taking place in the lush Italian countryside, it has this incredible tension and emotional build-up that only masterful directors can pull off. The characterisation of both Elio and Oliver is so spot-on: both are incredibly well-written, with their contradictions, heartaches and desires. Both actors, Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer, shine onscreen – and their chemistry is completely off the charts. The overall atmosphere of the film, brought together by impeccable cinematography, editing, costume and art design, make this film a truly rare sight: an impressive re-telling of the story of first love and the impossible heartbreak afterwards.

120 Battements par Minute, or 120 Beats Per Minute, is the kind of film that’s so hard to shake off – you’ll still be thinking about it days on end. It takes a macroscopic – and microscopic, approach to AIDS, via the story of Act Up, one of the first NGOs to speak up about the epidemic. Through the force of the group, but also of its individual members, the film takes an unflinching look of how French society tackled such an enormous problem, but also the toll it took on people, and the burden it becomes for the caretakers and everyone who’s been touched from close or afar by this terrible disease. It’s such an indispensable film as we may take a lot of things for granted now: awareness of the disease, medical treatment, preventive measures etc. All of which did not exist barely thirty years ago. Robin Campillo’s work is absolutely masterful and his actors serve him well: both Nahuel Pérez Biscayart and Arnaud Valois are incredible in their respective roles.

Moonlight should really rank higher, considering how brilliant it is, the way it depicts the journey of Chiron, how well-written it is and how it’s almost like the visual form of a poem really. I’ve said this elsewhere in my Oscar post but it’s just such a strong showing of filmmaking, so powerful in all its little moments, utterly heartbreaking in its big ones. It speaks of things that are sometimes buried so deep – in a child, teenager or adult, that it really is the magic of cinema, and art.

The fifth place was a tough one to choose, but in the end, Blade Runner 2049 just had to be in the top 5 – like Dunkirk, it’s such intelligent entertainment, one that does not underestimate the audience. And in today’s age of mindless blockbusters, it’s something that needs to be appreciated and encouraged. Of course Denis Villeneuve was never going to make a bad film, but with all the expectations that came with it, BR2049 could have easily been a disappointment. Instead it’s a rather fascinating piece of filmmaking – very contemplative yet packs a punch when necessary. Roger Deakins’ cinematography probably contributed a lot to that, and it is just so visually stunning that the film overcomes any screenplay shortcomings it might have.

By any rights, La La Land should rank much higher, with its catchy tunes and hopelessly romantic look. I enjoyed it tremendously and I still listen to the songs – I just wonder if as a film on its own, does it really stand out, and are the characters strong enough? Compared to Moonlight’s for example? I love Damien Chazelle’s aesthetic, and I love musicals, I wish it went a bit bigger on the whole ‘Hollywood musical’ aspect and less so on the ‘Mia and Sebastian’ romance. Still, the sight of Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone on that LA bench is quite unforgettable – the cinema equivalent of a happy pill, if you wish, with a very bittersweet ending.

I’ve been quite good at seeing French films this year, I think, and so here’s the quintessential French comedy, with a twist: Le Sens de La Fete is a very touching comedy, yet it doesn’t have any of the sappiness or ‘easy’ jokes that French films are much too guilty of. Instead it works as a character piece – every role is superbly written, and most of all, it is incredibly entertaining, with impeccable comedic timing. The opening scene, with Jean-Pierre Bacri at its grumpiest, is a great way of setting the rest of the film: a sarcastic comedy, but with plenty of heart to spare.

My #8 pick is Coco, gosh really it should rank much higher considering what a beautiful film this is – both in terms of screenplay and visuals. The most amazing thing about Coco is that you can see Pixar’s and its director’s devotion to telling this story right, the emotional build-up is quite strong and the themes are, well, universal – who doesn’t have strained relationships with their family, yet they’re the most important thing in the world, really. Coco is a gorgeous love letter to Mexico, to family, and to music and that’s what makes it such a great film.

Nocturnal Animals is one of the first films I saw in 2017, yet it’s maintained its position in the top 10: it’s such a disturbing yet genius piece of filmmaking. Who else than Tom Ford can have such a memorable aesthetic and yet genuinely trouble most viewers, with this insane story-within-the-story, and Amy Adams’ remarkable performance as a cold-hearted gallery owner? It’s such an intense film and the twist at the end really hurts – the best kind of twist then. It’s just a really ballsy, bold film, that stays with you for a long time.

In tenth place we have yet another French film: La Promesse de l’Aube, based on Romain Gary’s book of the same name. La Promesse de l’Aube is a sweeping drama, an old-fashioned epic that focuses on a son’s love for his mother – and carried by two amazing performances by Pierre Niney and Charlotte Gainsbourg. The theme of maternal love, which is just such a strong theme in itself, is really at the heart of the film: it will make you weep with joy and sadness, to see this tale of childhood and the incredible strength that a mother’s love can represent. It also has a gorgeous score and amazing costume and set design.

Wonderstruck is a stunning film, exquisitely constructed, with two amazing performances by Oakes Fegley and Millicent Simmonds. It’s this really touching story of deaf kids – sounds very trite when you describe it like that, but ultimately them being deaf is not their defining criteria: it’s a coming of age story like any other, with the children trying to find out about their parents and eventually their identity. It has a wonderful touch of nostalgia too, and overall makes for quite a magical experience, which is something rather surprising coming from a filmmaker like Todd Haynes.

Star Wars the Last Jedi. Oh dear. We could talk about this film for ages, debate about it forever, but ultimately it comes down to this: is this a good Star Wars film or not?! And the answer is that it is: in its best moments it treads slightly on what makes the Star Wars universe so magical. Now, the film has enormous flaws that can’t be overlooked, including an entire first hour with very poor character writing and makes very little sense, plot-wise. But once the second hour starts, the Last Jedi takes off on its own completely and offers us a beautiful tribute to the character of Luke (even if the motivation for some of the characters’ actions is still somewhat murky). Ultimately it’s this very original and different take on Star Wars: perhaps less comfortable than the Force Awakens for us lifelong fans, but at least there’s something to be said for trying something new and different. Can’t wait to see episode IX really, and it warms me up to the idea of a new trilogy, even if, of course, it still doesn’t come even close to the genius of the original trilogy. Somewhere in there though, there is a really solid film that could have stood on its own.

Detroit is hard to review, because in itself it is a great film but then when you pick things apart, it starts to unravel and it’s a frustrating thing. Kathryn Bigelow still is a great director, and Detroit is relentless, superbly paced and just really well-directed, yet its screenplay falls short of that; and the frustrating bit is first lack of context, second the part where the film turns into a courtroom drama and third just the lack of any very strong commitment to take a stance on the story and defend it. As a filmmaker working on a contemporary and highly difficult subject, such as race relations in America, it is almost a moral obligation to take a stand. Yet here, something in the film feels quite procedural: it describes the facts, plays out very straightforwardly and leaves the viewer to really ponder the meaning of the events on his own. And that is a bit of a shame, as it could have really packed a punch. Still very harrowing and overall great directing from Bigelow, again it’s just the screenplay that’s letting her down a bit.

Hidden Figures is such a conventional pick, yes, but I couldn’t help fall completely for this story, three black women working at Nasa in the sixties: it has a fantastic screenplay, three amazingly charismatic leads (Taraji Henson, Janelle Monae and Octavia Spencer) and a standout supporting performance by Kevin Costner. Most of all it’s this completely inspiring tale of women working in science, basically my two favourite subjects ever. Highly recommended viewing.

Lion made me cry like a child – it’s the story of an adopted boy trying to find his biological family, so of course it’s packed with emotion. It’s also quite surprising in the way it’s directed: with these almost Terrence Malick-like shots, full of natural light, quite delicate really. The only reason it’s not higher up in my top 15 is that it is perhaps too emotional, a bit heavy-handed if you like, but otherwise a really beautiful film.

Considering how obsessed I am with Jeff Nichols’ directing, Loving should rank much higher – it’s a gorgeous story and the two main actors are incredible. It’s just that, yes, for once the really slow pacing, oddly enough, introduces quite a distance with the viewer. It’s almost as if Nichols is scared of showing any kind of emotion really, and in order to avoid any triumphalist or obvious moment, decided to go for the entire opposite: it’s almost too restrained, too removed from its subjects. Still, it’s an achingly graceful film, with tremendous performances by both Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton.

And this is it for my review of the year! Looking forward to yet another great year in film. And the Oscar nominations are soon upon us, so I will see you then!

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2016 review

I think this is the time of the year when I apologise for not updating this blog anymore! But hopeully with the end of yet another year and the Oscars not too far from now, I can try and write more. Here are the 15 best films for 2016, and you can refresh your memory with last year’s post here.

1. Arrival, directed by Denis Villeneuve
2. Steve Jobs, directed by Danny Boyle
3. Spotlight, directed by Tom McCarthy
4. Midnight Special, directed by Jeff Nichols
5. Finding Dory, directed by Andrew Stanton & Angus MacLane
6. Brooklyn, directed by John Crowley
7. I, Daniel Blake, directed by Ken Loach
8. The BFG, directed by Steven Spielberg
9. Moana, directed by Ron Clements, Don Hall, John Musker & Chris Williams
10. Frantz, directed by Francois Ozon
11. Hell or High Water, directed by David Mackenzie
12. Creed, directed by Ryan Coogler
13. The Revenant, directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu
14. Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them, directed by David Yates
15. Bridget Jones’ Baby, directed by Sharon Maguire

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2015 review

This is the time of the year where I make up for all the reviews I didn’t write all year long! Here’s my top 15 of the best films for 2015 (last year’s post is this one):

1. Inside Out, directed by Pete Docter and Ronnie Del Carmen
2. Mad Max: Fury Road, directed by George Miller
3. Mommy, directed by Xavier Dolan
4. Bridge of Spies, directed by Steven Spielberg
5. Star Wars: the Force Awakens, directed by J.J. Abrams
6. Paddington, directed by Paul King
7. Into the Woods, directed by Rob Marshall
8. Foxcatcher, directed by Bennett Miller
9. Suffragette, directed by Sarah Garvon
10. Dheepan, directed by Jacques Audiard
11. Sicario, directed by Denis Villeneuve
12. The Lobster, directed by Yorgos Lanthimos
13. The Big Short, directed by Adam McKay
14. Tomorrowland, directed by Brad Bird / The Good Dinosaur, directed by Peter Sohn
15. Pitch Perfect 2, directed by Elizabeth Banks

Other great films: Love & Mercy, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, Kajaki Continue reading…

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2014 review

Another really great film year, my friends. Here’s my top 15 of the best films for 2014 (last year’s post here):

1. Interstellar, directed by Christopher Nolan
2. Boyhood, directed by Richard Linklater
3. Whiplash, directed by Damien Chazelle
4. 12 Years a Slave, directed by Steve McQueen
5. Lilting, directed by Hong Khaou
6. The Imitation Game, directed by Morten Tyldum
7. Nebraska, directed by Alexander Payne
Gone Girl, directed by David Fincher
8. Her, directed by Spike Jonze
9. The Grand Budapest Hotel, directed by Wes Anderson
Nightcrawler, directed by Dan Gilroy
10. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, directed by Matt Reeves
11. The Lego Movie, directed by Chris Lord & Phil Miller
12. The Skeleton Twins, directed by Craig Johnson
13. Dallas Buyers Club, directed by Jean Marc Vallée
14. Captain America the Winter Soldier, directed by Anthony & Joe Russo
15. 22 Jump Street, directed by Chris Lord & Phil Miller
Guardians of the Galaxy, directed by Jamas Gunn

Other great films: How to Train your Dragon 2, Edge of Tomorrow, The Boxtrolls, American Hustle, the Wolf of Wall Street, The Armstrong Lie, Transcendance

Ahem, I think you all expected that. But the thing is, no matter how incredibly strong these films are, no matter how genuinely happy I am to sit through beautiful, life-altering films like Boyhood & Whiplash, nothing really ever came close to what it felt like to watch Interstellar for the first time, and being struck by the terrible beauty of science, and the vastness of space, and the emotions of it all, and just how strong was the story of Cooper’s journey finding his way back to his daughter. To say that the film struck a chord with me would be a massive understatement. And the magic of it is, that I don’t need to be a parent to understand how powerful these emotions are -that’s why Chris Nolan is so genuinely good I think, is that somehow he finds an authenticity and a truth in everything he does. Interstellar‘s been called pretentious and overindulging, which just seems completely at odds with everything I think he stands for? Sure Interstellar is ambitious, it takes itself really seriously, it’s flawed in many ways. But at the heart of it all, it’s really just an interpretation of what we experience as parents, as children, as human beings, in what’s possibly the most hostile of environment -outer space. Anyway, I reviewed Interstellar in my previous post, so I won’t dwell too long on it here but I think it sits very deservingly at the top of my list this year.

Now, Boyhood. Boyhood, like Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life, feels like an entire lifespan stretched across one single film. It’s a tremendous achievement in both form and content. To film over 12 years the same cast of people and characters is a genius idea in itself, but the execution is the hardest part, and Richard Linklater never fails -it flows so naturally, and feels so seamless and real, that essentially it reminds us why film was even invented in the first place. It really is the pinnacle of Linklater’s naturalistic style: full of warmth and soul as always, but also deceivingly simple by going straight for the heart. No fuss, no tricks: Linklater’s the real deal.

Whiplash also holds a really special place here -like Boyhood, it’s the triumph of independent cinema, a film fan’s ultimate dream. There’s no movie this year that will get your heart racing quite as much. A young drummer in America’s most elite conservatory meets a teacher who doesn’t know where to stop -what’s so extraordinary about that? Well nothing and everything. In his debut film Damien Chazelle redefines the teacher movie -essentially tears it apart. The sheer intensity of the way it’s filmed, in addition to the strength of the screenplay and characters, make Whiplash a unique experience. Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons are both utterly compelling, and so is the directing: it’s talent in its purest form.

12 Years a Slave, by the importance of its subject, and because of how relevant and educational it is, should really be sitting at #1 -like Schindler’s List before it, it’s a film for the ages. But because of how actually difficult it is to watch, the absolutely brutal experience that this film is, it felt a bit counterintuitive to me to have it as the Best Film of the Year -I won’t ever watch it again, although this in no way diminishes how good and how significant the film is. Steve McQueen is fearless, relentless in depicting the horror of slavery; he’s one of the boldest filmmakers of his generation and this film really confirms it. Chiwetel Ejiofor’s performance is an absolute treasure.

Rounding up the top 5 is Lilting. This one is also a very personal choice, but that’s also because it’s a very personal film: Hong Khaou is English but Cambodian-born, and there’s a depth to the story and the characters that can’t be artificial -it’s drawn from his own experience, and his own family story. Which in very odd ways is very similar to mine. Pei-pei Cheng is absolutely outstanding as the elderly mother who’s never accustomed to the country she’s emigrated in; the film is full of melancholy and yearning, yet it’s also very funny in parts and genuinely touching. An absolute must-see.

The Imitation Game is also a British film, but an entirely different beast (I’m listening to Alexandre Desplat’s score for the film as I type these words). The story of Alan Turing’s life in itself is incredibly good material for a film -but I really loved the fact that it steered away from predictable biopic films by focusing on the extraordinary story of cracking the Enigma code, and in that way, felt more like a thriller than anything else. Of course Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance makes the film (it almost is the film as the directing is a bit conventional), and again it’s a story that feels important, that needed to be told in order to honour and recognise Turing’s legacy. A very, very solid film indeed, with a skillful screenplay and fantastic performances.

Alexander Payne is one of these outrageously talented directors -beyond the ‘quirkiness’ of his style, he’s been really consistent in putting out great films with amazing dialogue and situational comedy: Nebraska‘s no different. With his clever blend of black humour and bittersweet characters, he truly is a unique filmmaker -very similar to the Coen brothers but with a more emotional touch. From Bruce Dern’s brilliant performance to the beauty of the landscapes (shot in black and white by cinematographer Phedon Papamichael), Nebraska is a little gem of a film, the perfect amount of wacky and sad all jumbled together.

So Gone Girl is a bit of an odd one to pair with Nebraska, but I really couldn’t choose which one out of the two I’d prefer. Gone Girl is a very different film, it’s Fincher jubilating at how smart and dark the story is, it’s the perfect script with the perfect director. The book was just so good already, but there’s something with Fincher that just elevates the material -I think it’s the way he’s just being so meticulous in his shots, he’s become that director where his perfectionism just bursts out on the screen. Sure he’s always trying to outsmart you and that can come off as a bit annoying, sure Gone Girl is a massive box-office hit with millions of book sales to back that up, but to be honest I love mainstream Fincher, as much as I like Zodiac-like Fincher. Also, Rosamund Pike is here to kick ass and take names, her performance is scaringly good.

By all rights Her should be a bit higher in this top 15 -Spike Jonze’s marvelous study of love and loneliness is as funny as it’s poignant. Visually it is just stunning (Hoyte van Hoytema went on to become Interstellar‘s director of photography) and Joaquin Phoenix’s performance is nothing short of genius considering all he had to interact with is a voice. It’s filled with aching nostalgia and asks some really big questions but it might have been a bit too sentimental for my tastes. Still, another really strong film for Spike Jonze -incredible well-written, perfectly executed and just a real pleasure to watch.

Actually those exact same three things could be applied to Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel! The thing with this one though, is that it’s so damn entertaining, you can’t resist it. The visuals are exquisite (would expect nothing less of Wes Anderson) and the cast of characters is just such an off-the-wall bunch; it’s another really delightful Wes Anderson treat. He’s just become so good at what he does, and in surprising ways, too –Grand Budapest Hotel has more characters than ever, yet it never feels rushed or overblown or repetitive.

Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler is the end-of-the-year surprise, the sort of film no one really saw coming: an in-depth critique of news reporting today, and a dark satire of the society we live in. Yet I believe it may have been a victim of its own hype -sure it was original, well-shot and edited, with a superb performance from Jake Gyllenhaal. Yet I am not sure it would stick in my memory as an incredible, visionary film like the ones below -perhaps first-time director Gilroy’s inexperience showed a bit in that sense, although for a debut film it is outstanding and pushed boundaries in many ways.

To close off this list of excellent films is Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, which we shall call Dawn thereafter since it’s impossibly long to type. I know, I know, a massive Hollywood sequel, I’m a sell-out etc. It’s just that I expected Dawn to unfold in a very particular way: humans are mean to apes, apes turn against humans, full-on war happens. And the great thing is that -it’s not what happens, it’s not as predictable as this. Sure there is that massive battle at the end, but really, Dawn has more dialogue and heart than your average Hollywood blockbuster, and that’s all because of this fantastic creation that Caesar represents. That’s what makes the new Apes film more character-driven and I admire having that in a multi-million franchise. Hats off to Andy Serkis and all the other actors in motion capture -they’re better actors than most human actors at this point.

So next, we have the Lego Movie which is just the most exhilarating, funniest ride I’ve had this year. Is it a giant-sized Lego commercial? Probably, but it’s also a giant-sized piece of fun and brimming with enthusiasm. The Skeleton Twins could not be more far away from that, yet it’s also hilarious and heartbreaking in its own way -watch it for Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader’s perfomances as twins Maggie and Milo try to sort out their lives. Dallas Buyers Club is another film that’s carried by its duo of performances. It’s been said before but I’ll say it again: Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto give transformative, nuclear perfromances, and that makes up for its somewhat drab directing.

Lastly, we have Captain America: the Winter Soldier, which, like Dawn, largely outshines its predecessor (I hated the first film). It’s a superhero film that’s not really one, and those are my favourites really -it feels like the first proper film that Marvel Studios have put out since they’ve created their cinematic universe. Finally, 22 Jump Street and Guardians of the Galaxy both share an element of irreverence and just plain awesomess: hard to resist both of them when there’s Ice Cube on one side and dancing baby Groot on the other.

Voilà! I did rush off a bit at the end there, but otherwise this post would have gone on for ages and ages. I must say, I haven’t seen the Hobbit, Paddington, the Theory of Everything and other potential films that might make it into this top 15, so it might be a bit early to round up the year but it is mid-December after all… 2015 looks as if it is going to be the Biggest Film Year Ever, so it’s all really exciting! See you soon folks.

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2013 review

I’m officially the worst at keeping this blog updated! I would keep apologising but the truth is that it’s been harder finding time to sit down and write a post. However I have been thinking about this one for a long time -so without any further ado, here is my top 15 of the best films for 2013 (last year’s post here):

1. Captain Phillips, directed by Paul Greengrass
2. Short Term 12, directed by Destin Cretton
3. Before Midnight, directed by Richard Linklater
4. Lincoln, directed by Steven Spielberg
5. Django Unchained, directed by Quentin Tarantino
6. Gravity, directed by Alfonso Cuaron
7. Zero Dark Thirty, directed by Kathryn Bigelow
8. Promised Land, directed by Gus Van Sant
9. The Hobbit: the Desolation of Smaug, directed by Peter Jackson
10. All is Lost, directed by J.C. Chandor
11. La Vie d’Adèle, directed by Abdellatif Kechiche /
To the Wonder, directed by Terrence Malick
12. The Master, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
13. Life of Pi, directed by Ang Lee /
Monsters University, directed by Dan Scanlon
14. About Time, directed by Richard Curtis /
Blue Jasmine, directed by Woody Allen
15. Trance, directed by Danny Boyle /
Side Effects, directed by Steven Soderbergh

Other great films: Snowpiercer, Kick-Ass 2, Rush, The Way Way Back, Prisoners, Despicable Me 2, World War Z, The Place Beyond the Pines, Seven Psycopaths

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