Film Highlights of the Decade 2010-2019

As the decade reaches its close, I take a look back at some of my favourite film trends and cinematic highlights from the last ten years…

The New Breed of Unmissable Directors

This decade has seen the emergence of a new breed of directors delivering must-see films. Leading the pack in Hollywood are Damien Chazelle and Barry Jenkins. Chazelle has delivered one of the decade’s best pictures with Whiplash, and two other fantastic films (La La Land and First Man). Meanwhile Jenkins gifted us two beautiful, nuanced pictures with Moonlight and If Beale Street Could Talk. Jennifer Kent has also created two different but powerful movies (The Babadook and The Nightingale), making her mark.

Other impressive directors who have emerged this decade include Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station, Creed), Robert Eggers (The Witch, The Lighthouse), Ana Lily Amirpour (A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night), Justin Simien (Dear White People), and Julia Ducournau (Raw) also offered impressive debut features.

Excellent Late Franchise Entries

It really has been a decade of remakes, reboots, and belated sequels. Whilst many of these have been passable or forgettable, a couple of late franchise instalments have really stood out. George Miller bucked the trend to deliver one of the best films of this decade with Mad Max: Fury Road. The exhilarating fourth chapter in the franchise was breathtaking. Director Christopher McQuarrie re-teamed with Tom Cruise for the sixth Mission: Impossible film, and produced the best of the franchise and one of the best action films of the decade with Mission: Impossible – Fallout. Elsewhere director Steven Quale revived the tired Final Destination franchise with the very entertaining final chapter Final Destination 5.

Career Resurgences

This decade has seen a notable uptick in the careers of certain veteran actors. After a fairly quiet previous ten years, Laura Dern’s resurgence has been most rewarding to watch. This decade has seen the actress in an array of film roles including The Master, Certain Women, Marriage Story, and the upcoming Little Women. She has also been memorable on television in Twin Peaks and Big Little Lies. Michael Keaton has also had a belter of a decade, after a fairly unremarkable 2000s. He had major roles in Spotlight, The Founder, and Spider-Man: Homecoming (living long enough to become the villain), and was nominated for an Oscar for his brilliant turn in Birdman. Regina King has always delivered solid performances since her debut in Boyz n the Hood. It is only in the last few years that she has finally received the praise and calibre of roles she deserves, winning an Oscar for her role in If Beale Street Could Talk and playing the lead in the critically acclaimed show Watchmen.

Paddington Bear

In a bleak decade politically, Paddington Bear has been the hero we needed. Paul King’s Paddington and Paddington 2 have been a salve against the cruelties of this decade. A lead who is decent and kind (not to mention incredibly cute) has cut through the cynicism of the current world. The films were very entertaining, and a wonderful escape from current affairs. Paddington 2 in particular was very memorable and enchanting, with Hugh Grant on top form.

Christopher Nolan

If the decade had to belong to a single director, in terms of both critical acclaim and box office receipts, then that filmmaker would be Christopher Nolan. No one has been able to create original tentpole blockbusters in the way he has this decade. Nolan began the decade on top form with the action-thriller Inception, one of the biggest films of the year. He followed this with the final chapter of the Dark Knight trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises. The film is just about the most hopeful blockbuster of the decade, reaching a peak of exhilaration that is difficult to match. Interstellar and the truly superb Dunkirk exhibited Nolan’s comfort in a range of genres. With the upcoming Tenet, Christopher Nolan’s films are always hotly anticipated.

Park Chan-wook and Chung Chung-hoon’s Continuing Collaboration

Director Park Chan-wook and cinematographer Chung Chung-hoon collaboration began in the 2000s, working on three films together (Oldboy, Lady Vengeance, and Thirst). The fact that their partnership continued into this decade is a benefit to us all. With Stoker and The Handmaiden, Park and Chung delivered two of the decade’s handsomest pictures. The photography, the mise en scène, and the style are truly beautiful.

Trent Reznor Film Scores

After composing pieces for films earlier in his career (including for David Lynch’s Lost Highway), the 2010s was when Trent Reznor’s career as a composer really took off. His collaborations with Atticus Ross have been a highlight of cinema this decade. Highlights include the partnership with David Fincher (which netted Reznor an Oscar for The Social Network), as well as Mid90s and the recent Waves. Reznor and Ross also created the superlative score for the show Watchmen.

Directorial Debuts By Actors

This decade has seen some brilliant directorial debuts from well-known actors. These actors have proven their talents extend to behind the camera Highlights from this trend include Greta Gerwig’s wonderful Ladybird (Gerwig co-directed Nights and Weekends, but Ladybird was her first solo effort), and Jordan Peele’s fantastic Get Out. Other notable debuts include Chris Morris’ Four Lions, Olivia Wilde’s Booksmart, Joel Edgerton’s The Gift, Bradley Cooper’s A Star is Born, and Brie Larson’s Unicorn Store.

Film Review: The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

Jacques Demy’s classic musical The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is just as enchanting fifty-five years after its original release. 

Geneviève is in love with Guy, a young car mechanic. When he is drafted to serve in the Algerian War, Geneviève and Guy each take a different path…

Originally released in 1964, Jacques Demy’s sung-through musical gets a rare re-release as part of the BFI Musicals season. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg focuses on the poignancy of first love, with its bittersweet romance. Told in three chapters, the film is about the blossoming romance between Geneviève and Guy, and the path each takes when life gets in the way. The story unfolds in an engaging manner, allowing viewers to empathise with the two protagonists as the narrative takes its turns. 

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg sets up an initial friction between the passion of first love and the practicalities of living. Yet it is more nuanced than this, offering characters who make thoughtful choices. The sting that both Geneviève and Guy experience at different times is palpable. Demy successfully captures the range of emotions, translating them perfectly to his audience. 

Music in the film, by Michel Legrand, is wonderful. There are some very memorable sequences and pieces. The use of colour is also striking. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg harks back to the technicolour of the 1950s. The costumes and styling really help to set the era. The 2013 restoration is fantastic; images in the film are wonderfully vibrant. Catherine Deneuve is great in this early role. She really embodies the part of Geneviève. Nino Castelnuovo is also great, as is Anne Vernon. 

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is a must-see for fans of the musical genre, and will prove very rewarding for even casual viewers. Demy’s film is an essential musical. 

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg will be released at BFI Southbank and cinemas UK-wide on 6th December 2019.

Film Review: The Nightingale

Jennifer Kent’s sophomore film The Nightingale is brutal and engrossing. The film is a wonderful showcase for Kent’s conferrable talents.

In 1825, Irish convict Clare suffers a traumatic experience. As she seeks revenge, Clare enlists the help of Billy, an Aboriginal tracker, to guide her through the Tasmanian wilderness…

After the success of 2014’s The Babadook, writer-director Jennifer Kent’s second feature has been eagerly awaited. The Nightingale does not disappoint in its scale and its scope. The film is a trial by fire, delivering a multifaceted retribution tale. 

From the very beginning, the tone of The Nightingale is unsettling. Things quickly get worse, setting up the revenge narrative. Kent ably maintains a sense of tension throughout. The mission is fraught with danger and horror. Nevertheless there is a building of hope to punctuate the bleakness. 

Kent does not shy away from the visceral with The Nightingale. Some of the sequences are incredibly brutal, making them very difficult to watch. The filmmaker forces her viewers to confront evil; it is uncomfortable but not exploitative. Like The Babadook, the film is preoccupied with grief. Here, the anguish is spread out. There is of course the grief of protagonist Clare dealing with a profound and immediate loss. Billy himself deals with the loss of family, but also the loss of a country. Kent places the theft of Australia at the centre of the film, never shying away from the loss and the torment of Aboriginal people. It is of course a wider critique of empire, yet very much a film about Australia. 

The narrative progresses well, with the threat of peril always looming. Sound design in the film is most effective. Kent’s direction places viewers with the protagonists in an intimate and intense manner. Performances are great all round, with Aisling Franciosi delivering an impressive turn. Baykali Ganambarr, Damon Herriman and Sam Claflin are also solid. 

The Nightingale is an unremitting and unforgiving film, yet it is also very powerful viewing. Jennifer Kent is clearly a filmmaker to watch.

Film Review: State Like Sleep

Writer-director Meredith Danluck’s State Like Sleep is a slow-burn thriller. Despite its talented cast, the film is indolent.

Katherine returns to Brussels, a year after the death of her famous actor husband. As she visits her ailing mother, Katherine attempts to find out what happened to her late husband in the days leading to his death…

Written and directed by Meredith Danluck, State Like Sleep crosses a mystery thriller with a drama. The film takes a little while to get going. In the meantime, Danluck establishes the protagonist Katherine and the background to her return to Brussels. The narrative unfolds through a series of flashbacks as Katherine grapples with her past and the troubles of her present.

The question over the death of Stefan is positioned at the centre of the film, once the narrative gets going. Yet the mystery is not gripping in a traditional sense. As Katherine attempts to find answers, viewers are not enveloped with notable twists or satisfying reveals. State Like Sleep is more concerned with exploring grief than offering an open-and-shut case. The theme of hiding is returned to throughout. From the very beginning, when Katherine makes her escape from the apartment, it is clear that this is a character wary of the spotlight. The focus on grief makes for a thoughtful drama, but hinders momentum as far as the thriller aspects are concerned.

State Like Sleep‘s downfall is in this lack of drive. The film takes a while to get going, and even when the central plot emerges the film has no sense of momentum. There are a number of strands, but none of these lead anywhere satisfactory. Danluck’s film needed a sense of urgency which is sadly missing. Performances are solid throughout, despite the narrative. Katherine Waterston is a strong protagonist, and Michael Shannon always delivers.

State Like Sleep is a let down thanks to the lack of narrative drive. The themes explored a decent; the film is just lacking a good plot.

State Like Sleep will be available on Digital Download from 18th November and can be bought here

Film Review: Running with the Devil

Jason Cabell’s solo directorial debut Running with the Devil is refreshing in its commitment to harsh realities over cheap thrills, for the most part. Unfortunately this doesn’t make the film particularly memorable. 

The head of a drug cartel sends two of his trusted assistants to investigate why a batch of cocaine went missing on its way from Mexico to Canada. The pair need to go through the chain to identify the problem…

An early shot of Running with the Devil is reminiscent of the very famous tracking shot from Goodfellas. Writer-director Jason Cabell uses this to set up a sharp contrast between the glamour of recreational drug use, and the brutality of the growing and supply industry. 

This contrast returns time and time again in Cabell’s film. The Colombian family existence is a world away from The Cook’s comfortable lifestyle. The narrative begins to pick up pace at around twenty minutes in. The film is sufficiently engaging, although it is relatively silly situation which propels the story.  

Given the nature of the film, Running with the Devil is not as tense as it could be. There are some heightened moments, but the film is a little flat for a thriller. The tracking of the cocaine and its steadily increasing price is a good device to emphasise the length and danger of the journey. The complete lack of character names is an odd stylistic decision. 

The use of dialogue is restrained; exposition is takes prominence in practically every conversation. There is not a lot of character building in the film, which is fine for the purposes of the story, but does not help with the generating of tension. A few key moments lack the gravitas they should have had. Cabell may have felt he needed a wild ending, but the twist  is unearned and rather disappointing. 

Performances in Running with the Devil are perfectly fine. None of the cast members really excel. Nicolas Cage is more restrained than normal, Leslie Bibb and Laurence Fishburne are not stretched by the film. The score tries its best to add tension, but is sometimes intrusive. The editing is abrupt on occasion. 

Running with the Devil is a case of execution not quite matching ambition. 

Running with the Devil will be available on Digital Download from 4th November 2019, and can be pre-ordered here

Film Review: Angel Heart

Alan Parker’s neo-noir thriller Angel Heart is rightly considered a classic. Parker’s nightmarish vision is just as indelible over thirty years later.

Private investigator Harry Angel is hired by a man to track down a singer who owes him a debt from years ago. Angel starts tracking down leads, before the investigation takes a dark turn…

Angel Heart’s noir premise is straightforward enough; a private detective on a case to track down an individual. Nothing is as simple as it seems however, as the case leads him to travel far and wide to chase down any viable lead. Viewers suspicions are raised from the beginning, with his mysterious client. The picture features a film noir set up, which gets increasingly darker as narrative progresses. 

Set in 1955, Angel Heart has hallmarks of a noir mystery. The dialogue is very much in keeping with the genre. Angel’s exchange with Dr Fowler feels like it is could be straight out of a classic-era noir. There some great lines and turns of phrase used in the film. Based on William Hjortsberg’s novel Falling Angel, writer-director Alan Parker’s screenplay keeps the audience hooked with its well-developed turns. Parker imbues the film with a sense of mystery that only increases as the story advances. 

The setting of the film envelopes viewers. There is an otherworldly atmosphere that permeates Angel Heart. The hidden underside of the big city feels like it is brimming to the surface more and more as the narrative progresses. Attention to detail in the film is great: the styling of Cyphre, Angel’s dishevelled look, the 1955 period aspects such as the identity cards. Production design is noteworthy, with some distinctive looks such as Margaret’s salon. 

Sound works very effectively to build tension. The pulsating heartbeat is a good effect, whilst the sudden cessation of sound is startling in the film’s climax. Grisly images add to the sense of horror, with the shock of the first body conveyed with a gory close up. Close ups and reactions shots are used efficiently throughout the film. The rapid cutting of the voodoo artefacts is a successful conveyance of descent into horror. Furthermore, the cross-cutting between Angel discovering the body and the tap-dancing outside really amps up the horror. A long shot of the beach conversation is striking. The use of light and shadow very atmospheric in key sequences. 

Casting in Angel Heart is great overall, but particularly with lead Mickey Rourke as Angel. Rourke delivers a strong central performance, inhabiting the role of the jaded investigator. Robert De Niro is as believable as ever as Cyphre. His delivery really helps to heighten the character. Meanwhile, Lisa Bonet is memorable as Epiphany. 

With its horror crescendo of a conclusion, Angel Heart truly is a fantastic noir mystery. The film is atmospheric, curious, and engrossing. 

The Alan Parker approved 4K restoration of Angel Heart is released on 4K UHD, Blu-ray, DVD and Digital on 14th October 2019.

Film Review: Godzilla: King of the Monsters

Director Michael Dougherty’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters is something of a po-faced monster movie. The emphasis on the human characters weighs the film down.

It has been five years since Godzilla attacked, and the monster has not been seen since. Agency Monarch has to fight against a series of monsters, as the monsters battle each other…

Director and co-writer Michael Dougherty (with co-writers Zach Shields) brings the monsters together with Godzilla: King of the Monsters, a follow up to 2014’s Godzilla. The opening ten minutes is an exciting introduction to the film, succinctly introducing the narrative set up. After this, the film settles into a standard pattern for an action blockbuster, with several scenes there to provide exposition on the monsters and current state of affairs, interspersed with big action set pieces.

There are a few good thrills, where Dougherty plays up horror aspect of the monster movie. The additional monsters are introduced quite quickly; it feels like a rush to pit the monsters against each other. Viewers do not get to have a full appreciation of these new monsters.

The script is rather lacklustre. The dialogue is exposition heavy, and lacks any particular character. The explanation of Dr Russell’s actions, which occurs about a third of the way through the film, is bizarre in its need to illustrate the rather basic things she mentions with images. The film does not really earn its moments of gravitas, as the characters are not fleshed out in any meaningful way. The frequent cuts to the human activity during the big fight sequences exposes Godzilla: King of the Monsters‘ flaws.

The moving camera does help to infuse the film with a sense of urgency. The CGI effects are not particularly seamless. In some of the scenes, there is simply a whirlwind of CGI and bright lights, which is not particularly exciting to watch. The real star of the film is the sound. The sound effects for the monsters, in particular, are most impressive. The film boasts a good cast including Ken Watanabe, Vera Farmiga, and Kyle Chandler. The script does not give them much to work with unfortunately.

Given the high-concept premise, Godzilla: King of the Monsters should have been a lot more fun.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters is available on DVD, Blu-ray™, 3D Blu-ray™ and 4K Ultra HD from 14th October 2019.