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.

BFI London Film Festival 2017 Launch

It’s that time of year again. Today saw the launch of the BFI London Film Festival 2017. The festival this year sees 242 feature films being screened, which includes 28 world premieres. Here are some picks to look out for at the London Film Festival 2017…

Headline Galas

The opening and closing galas previously announced; closing gala Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri in particular looks great. Directed by Martin McDonagh (Seven Psychopaths), the film stars Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson. Other Headline Gala highlights include Battle of the Sexes (starring Emma Stone and Steve Carell), Alexander Payne’s Downsizing, and Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water. Another highlight is The Killing of a Sacred Deer, directed by Yorgos Lanthimos (The Lobster). The film stars Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, and Barry Keoghan, and is about a doctor who introduces his family to a fatherless young man he has befriended.

Strand Galas and Special Presentations

This year sees the return of the Embankment Garden Cinema and its series of Strand Galas.   There are a number of exciting screenings, including Redoubtable (Le Redoutable). Directed by Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist) the film is a biopic of Jean-Luc Godard and stars Louis Garrel, Stacy Martin, and Bérénice Bejo. Also showing is Wonderstruck, based on the novel of the same name. Directed by Todd Haynes (Carol), the film stars Julianne Moore. Among the Special Presentations are Sally Potter’s The Party and the first two episodes of David Fincher’s upcoming Netflix series Mindhunter.

Official Competition

Amongst the Official Competition at London Film Festival 2017 are The Breadwinner (an animated film about a young girl in Taliban-controlled Kabul), and Thoroughbred, which stars Anya Taylor-Joy. The First Feature Competition includes Beast, which is about a young woman who falls for a police suspect. Also in this category is I Am Not A Witch, about a young girl in a Zambian village who is accused of being a witch. The Documentary Competition includes Jane, a film about primatologist Jane Goodall.

Strands

A highlight of this year’s Love strand is How to Talk to Girls at Parties, based on the Neil Gaiman short story. The film stars Nicole Kidman and Elle Fanning. The Debate strand features The Venerable W., a documentary about a Buddhist monk espousing anti-Muslim rhetoric. Laugh includes Brigsby Bear, a comedy about a man who tries to remake a children’s show he was obsessed with. A highlight of the Dare category is 9 Fingers, directed by FJ Ossang. The Thrill section includes the classic noir Mildred Pierce, whilst Harry Dean Stanton and David Lynch star in Lucky as part of the Journey strand.

The Cult strand includes Paco Plaza’s horror Veronica, and Create features documentary G Funk, about Snoop Dogg, Warren G and Nate Dogg. The Family strand includes fairy tale compendium Ivan Tsarevitch and the Changing Princess. Experimenta features documentary Tonsler Park, a timely film about polling stations in Charlottesville during last year’s US election.

The full London Film Festival 2017 programme can be viewed here. The BFI London Film Festival runs from 4th-15th October 2017.

Film Review: Gone Girl

Gone Girl

David Fincher’s adaptation of the best-selling novel Gone Girl is a finely executed mystery.

When his wife Amy is missing from the family home, Nick Dunne faces a media frenzy over her disappearance. Things intensify when speculation that Nick was involved in Amy’s disappearance begins to grow…

Adapted from Gillian Flynn’s novel (with the author acting as screenwriter), Gone Girl is an engaging mystery thriller. The film is superbly structured, and executed with flair.

Director David Fincher guides the story with aplomb, Given the nature of the narrative, Gone Girl could have easily been a trashy thriller more suited to television movie status with some hokey twists. In Fincher’s capable hands, however, the film is elevated beyond this. The result is an engrossing mystery with satisfying progression.

Pacing of Gone Girl is great. Viewers are engaged from the outset, with the story providing a rich hook. The reveals in the narrative are measured, and arrive at suitable intervals. It is this that keeps the audience gripped; the story is meaty enough for viewers to demand to know where it will lead.

At the heart of Gone Girl are two themes. The first is marriage, as the film plays out a complex relationship between the two protagonists, particularly through the use of flashbacks. Secondly, and more interestingly, Gone Girl satirises media coverage of missing person cases, such as the one featured in the film. The satire is on point, with parallels in sensationalist coverage abundantly clear. There are also laughs to be found within this.

Ben Affleck offers a good performance as Nick Dunne. However, it is Rosamund Pike as Amy who really steals the show with a convincing performance. Cinematography in the film is polished, and the score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross is a good accompaniment.

Gone Girl may actually work much better for viewers who have not read the book; it is the potent mystery which is so engrossing. Notwithstanding, David Fincher offers plenty besides to please his audience.

Stuff To Look At

Plenty of cinematic treats for Good Friday, including Gone Girl, Jersey Boys, and X-Men: Days of Future Past

Jersey Boys

The most surprising thing about the upcoming screen adaptation of Jersey Boys is that Clint Eastwood directs it. Not an entirely new genre for Eastwood, nevertheless it is an interesting choice. Jersey Boys is set for release on 20th June 2014.

X-Men: Days of Future Past

The third X-Men: Days of Future Past reveals a bit more about the plot of the film. What it does not explain is young Charles Xavier’s hair. Maybe Wolverine reveals what is in his future, follicle-wise, so Xavier decides to grow luscious locks while he can. X-Men: Days of Future Past hits UK screens on 22nd May 2014.

The Fault in Our Stars

Here is the trailer for the upcoming adaptation of John Green’s best-selling novel The Fault in Our Stars. Starring Shailene Woodley as a teenage cancer patient who is forced to attend a support group by her parents, The Fault in Our Stars is out in UK cinemas on 20th June 2014.

Gone Girl

In case you missed it: the trailer for the hotly anticipated Gone Girl was released this week. David Fincher’s team sure do know how to cut a trailer. Starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike, the cinematic adaptation of the best-selling novel Gone Girl is set for release on 3rd October 2014.

The Equaliser

The Equalizer

Denzel Washington stars as a former black ops commander who fakes his own death in The Equaliser. I am guessing that this film will be more action thriller than The Rise and Fall of Reginald Perrin. The Equaliser is due to hit UK screens on 10th October 2014.

Annie

The first trailer for musical remake Annie was released earlier this week. I only saw the original for the first time recently, and my lasting impression was that Miss Hannigan was everything. So Cameron Diaz has big shoes to fill. Annie will be released on 6th February 2015.

Sabotage

Arnold Schwarzenegger leads strong cast in action thriller Sabotage. With Arnie getting back into the swing of things, it is funny to think that the action star was Governor of California not too long ago. Sabotage bursts on to UK screens on 7th May 2014.

Film Review: Piggy

A British independent film, Piggy is a thriller with a mean streak. But for all its posturing, the film comes up short.

Joe is a socially uncomfortable young man who lives a routine lifestyle. Joe’s older brother John acts very much as a protector. After one tragic night, Joe finds solace in Piggy. With Piggy guiding him, Joe is led down a dangerous path of revenge…

The most crucial defect of Piggy is that it becomes boring. The set up is fine, but the narrative becomes repetitive. The same type of scene is repeated over and over, with little breaking up this monotony. Piggy does not really go anywhere, despite having numerous options to take. The dialogue is also unfortunate, at times feeling inauthentic or jarring.

Writer-director Kieron Hawkes sets Piggy up as an ambivalent character. Presumably the audience is meant to ponder over the nature of this character. The problem with this is that from the very first scene it is obvious that the existence of this character is in question. There are definite allusions to Fight Club, although Piggy does not work nearly as well as David Fincher’s film.

Piggy is a violent film, but one that shows little actual gore. Hawkes maximises the use of sound effects, rather than relying on strong images. The sound is very effective in making the audience imagine the very graphic action that is not depicted visually. Art direction in Piggy is also good. The dankness of surroundings is effectively conveyed, with some of the locations appearing particularly grim.

Martin Compston offers an uneven performance as protagonist Joe. For the most part he is fine, but occasionally he does not emit the emotion expected. Neil Maskell is believable in a small role, while Paul Anderson is well cast as Piggy. Anderson is hindered by the script, however.

Most viewers are likely to find Piggy repetitive and dull. It is a shame that Hawkes’ film did not offer something more.

Piggy is released in cinemas on Friday 4th May, and available on DVD from 21st May 2012.

Thoughts on David Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

I have come to the conclusion that Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy must be literary dynamite. The first novel must combine the descriptive prowess of Charles Dickens, the wit of Oscar Wilde and Agatha Christie’s flair for mystery. For what else could explain the success of a book that has spawned two mediocre film adaptations?

When I first heard about an English-language cinematic adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, I really could not see the point given how recently the Swedish film had been released. I was much more enthused when news of David Fincher and Trent Reznor’s attachment to the project was announced. Fincher would be the man, I thought, to fix the numerous flaws present in Niels Arden Oplev’s cinematic version of the book. The narrative would be tidied, the pacing would be rectified, and the film would sound fantastic to boot.

Unfortunately only one of these three is true of Fincher’s version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. It is pretty tough going when the best thing about a film is the title sequence. It is worse when that film is almost two and a half hours long. The title sequence is amazing, the combination of the visuals and the version of ‘Immigrant Song’ by Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross and Karen O works sublimely. However, the rest of the film is a let down. Although it is more stylish than its predecessor, the flaws are all too apparent.

This leads me to believe that The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is not a very good story. The murder mystery premise is intriguing enough. However, it is poorly executed; the climax of the action arrives prematurely. This poor pacing means that the ending feels as if it lasts for an age. Moreover, if this mystery is secondary to the two protagonists’ journeys, than the characters should be more interesting. Neither Lisbeth nor Mikael are particularly fascinating characters; they offer nothing that really engages the viewer. Without a good narrative or absorbing characters, David Fincher’s film simply offers decent visuals and a great soundtrack.

In summary, no more film versions of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo should ever be made. David Fincher should be more picky about his projects. So should Trent Reznor, who should return to contributing to film projects of the same calibre as David Lynch’s Lost Highway.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Stills

Here are some stills from David Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, due for release on 26th December 2011. Not too much can be ascertained from this images, but it is fun to guess what might be going on. In the above image it looks as if Lisbeth (Rooney Mara) is in a library, or some kind of building with a shelf and a chair. More distracting, however, are her most unusual pale eyebrows. Her look is almost reminiscent of the Mystery Man for David Lynch’s Lost Highway, and no-one wants to relive those nightmares. Below it seems like Daniel Craig is struggling for phone reception in the snow. Perhaps more than anything, I am looking forward to Trent Reznor’s score for the film. Incidentally, Nine Inch Nails also provided music for Lost Highway