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 2019 Launch

This morning saw the launch of the BFI London Film Festival 2019. In its 63rd year, the festival is screening 229 feature films, including 28 world premieres. Here are some highlights from the festival programme…

Headline Galas

The opening and closing films for the BFI London Film Festival 2019 had already been announced. The festival opens with the European premiere of Armando Iannucci’s The Personal History of David Copperfield. An adaptation of the Dickens’ classic, the film stars Dev Patel, Tilda Swinton, and Hugh Laurie. Martin Scorsese‘s hotly-anticipated The Irishman closes the festival. There is an embarrassment of riches among the other headline galas, including Rian Johnson’s Knives Out, Marielle Heller’s (Can You Ever Forgive Me?) A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood, and Michael Winterbottom’s Greed, starring Steve Coogan and Isla Fisher.

Strand Galas and Special Presentations

This year, films screening as part of the Strand Galas include Robert Eggers’ (The Witch) The Lighthouse, starring Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson. The Dare Gala is Mirrah Folks’ debut feature Judy & Punch, a fairy tale starring Mia Wasikowska. Among the Special Presentations are Takashi Miike’s First Love, and Bombay Rose, a hand-drawn animated feature from Gitanjali Rao.

Official Competition

Among the ten features in Official Competition at the London Film Festival 2019 are Haifaa Al-Mansour’s (Wadjda) The Perfect Candidate, about a young doctor who challenges Saudi Arabia’s strict social codes. Thomas Clay’s Fanny Lye Deliver’d stars Maxine Peake and Charles Dance, and is about a woman living with her puritanical husband in 17th century Shropshire. The Documentary Competition features Rubika Shah’s White Riot, about the Rock Against Racism movement, and Lauren Greenfield The Kingmaker, which focuses on Imelda Marcos. The First Feature Competition includes Joe Talbot’s The Last Black Man in San Francisco and Shannon Murphy’s Babyteeth, a drama starring Eliza Scanlon and Ben Mendelsohn.

Strands

The eleven thematic programme strands are back once more at the London Film Festival 2019. The Love strand includes La Belle Époque, Nicolas Bedos’ drama about an illustrator who uses technology to replay the past, and Ga-young Jeong’s Heart. The Debate strand is particularly strong this year with Citizen K (Alex Gibney‘s documentary on Mikhail Khodorkovsky), Chinonye Chukwu’s Sundance winner Clemency, Terrence Malick’s A Hidden Life, and Scott Z Burns’ The Report, starring Adam Driver. Comedies in the Laugh strand includes Billie Piper’s directorial debut Rare Beasts, whilst Wash Westmoreland’s Earthquake Bird in the Thrill strand stars Alicia Vikander in an 1980s Tokyo-set thriller. Cannes winner The Invisible Life of Eurídice Gusmão is among the films in the Journey category.

The Dare strand features animated coming-of-age tale I Lost My Body and Václav Marhoul’s The Painted Bird, about a Jewish boy on a journey home during wartime. The Cult strand includes Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala’s The Lodge and Lorcan Finnegan’s Vivarium, with Jesse Eisenberg and Imogen Poots. Also in this category is Richard Stanley’s Color Out of Space, a HP Lovecraft adaptation starring Nicolas Cage and Joely Richardson. The Experimenta strand includes Brad Butler and Noorafshan Mizra’s Ruptures, whilst Create includes Midge Costin’s documentary Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound. Two highlights of the Family strand are Edmunds Jansons’ Jacob, Mimmi and the Talking Dogs and Lorenzo Mattotti’s The Bears’ Famous Invasion. Finally, classics that are showing as part of the Treasures programme include David Lynch’s The Elephant Man and Roger Corman’s The Masque of the Red Death, starring Vincent Price.

The BFI London Film Festival 2019 runs from 2nd-13th October. The full programme can be viewed here.

Film Review: Under The Silver Lake

David Robert Mitchell’s Under The Silver Lake is enigmatic and compelling. Mitchell surpasses It Follows with  some outstanding filmmaking.

Sam notices a mysterious woman swimming in his apartment complex’s pool. When she goes missing, Sam embarks on a quest to discover what happened to her…

Under The Silver Lake is an engrossing mystery. For the first quarter of the film, writer-director David Robert Mitchell throws quite a bit at the audience. This includes the dog killer, the missing billionaire, and the voyeurism of the protagonist. The combination of real and imagined keeps viewers guessing.

Exposition through news reports works well to give necessary details in a succinct manner. The Comic Man brings these conspiracy elements together, propelling Sam to continue his mission. Sam functions as a detective, tracking down clues to solve the mystery. The obsession of the protagonist deepens as Under The Silver Lake progresses. Viewers will wonder where exactly the film is going. The cast of characters are enigmatic, with unusual tics. Yet none feel out of place in this bizarre world Mitchell has created. The dialogue is great; Sam’s monologues are always interesting, and often amusing. 

There are various elements in the film that hark back to other filmmakers. A Hitchcockian influence pervades the film (with the initial voyeurism reminiscent of Rear Window). Influences from David Lynch and the Coen Brothers are also present. Under The Silver Lake is very much a Hollywood film, in more than just setting. The seediness of the backdrop is palpable. References to both films and the strangeness of the city are abundant. 

The discussion on mystery that takes place is the film in a nutshell. Mitchell focuses on pop culture, questioning its dispensability and its meaning. As the film progresses, the themes become more encompassing. Mitchell gives the audience plenty to ponder. 

Camerawork in the film is great. Mitchell mixes long shots with quick zooms. The rapid, fluid camerawork is offset by more laconic shots. Cinematographer Mike Gioulakis frames some very picturesque shots. Nighttime and day time have distinct feels, capturing the idea that the city comes alive at night. The animated sequence going inside the comic book is a great device. Feels natural, despite a sudden mix of live action into animation. 

The score at times echoes the great Bernard Herrmann. The traditional score is a good contrast with the contemporary diegetic music. Older songs and presence of other archaic aspects give the film a period feel, although this is not explicit. Andrew Garfield delivers a compelling performance as Sam. Often acting alone, Garfield is energetic and always convincing. Grace Van Patten and Jeremy Bobb are good in minor roles.

Engaging, ambitious, and mesmerising, Mitchell’s neo-noir mystery is one of the year’s best pictures.

Under The Silver Lake will be released in DVD and Blu-ray in the UK on 26th August 2019.

Film Review: Lucky

Directed by John Lynch Carroll and starring Harry Dean Stanton in his second and final leading role, Lucky feels like an ode to character actors.

Lucky is a Navy veteran and a man of routine. When he falls at home, he must face the fact that his health will decline. With the reassessment of his condition, Lucky must examine what he believes…

Written by Logan Sparks and Drago Sumonja, Lucky is a character-driven comedy drama. The film focuses on the the title character, and how being faced with mortality makes him question life and its meaning. The film takes on extra poignancy with the recent passing of Harry Dean Stanton. Notwithstanding, the film would have been reflective in any case.

The film introduces viewers to Lucky as a character of rigid habits. This is established fairly swiftly, which also offers a glimpse into his personality. After his encounter with the doctor, the protagonist faces a type of existential dread which plays out with both humour and emotion.

Lucky is a well written character. He is the type of protagonist that is memorable; there is no sentimentality here. Instead, he is dry and to the point. A significant portion of the humour is derived from his unflinching delivery. The other characters in the film colour the protagonist’s world, providing a sounding board, a source of wisdom, or an antagonist.

Harry Dean Stanton is terrific in the title role, providing the droll delivery and deadpan expression he is known for. The film is also littered with character actors such as Tom Skerritt, Beth Grant, and Ron Livingston. David Lynch stands out in a minor role, providing both hearty laughs and genuine sentiment.

John Lynch Carroll has delivered a quiet picture that pulls no punches with its meditations on the essential questions. Lucky is highly amusing and will give pause for thought.

Lucky is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2017.

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: Blue Velvet Revisited

Blue Velvet Revisited

Blue Velvet Revisited is almost a video essay except it isn’t coherent enough to engage and not quirky enough to excite.

Peter Braatz, then a film student, wrote to David Lynch and asked if he could cover the production of his latest film, Blue Velvet. The resulting film is a concoction of interviews with Lynch, cast and crew, photographs, audio and footage…

David Lynch’s Blue Velvet is undoubtedly a cult classic. Given the affection towards Lynch’s work, it is unsurprising that a documentary has been made about one of his most memorable films. The audience will want some insight, some hitherto unknown background to the film. Blue Velvet Revisited, sadly, does not offer this.

Rather than a traditional format, the film is made up of archive footage captured by Peter Braatz at the time of production. There are ample on set images, as well as some interviews. The film does not seem to have a strong aim; rather it floats around with a hazy quality.

Blue Velvet Revisited begins slowly, with imagery, but little in the way of insight. The documentary gets a bit more interesting background when the focus shifts to the film set and its props. There are a couple of interesting remarks, such as Lynch discussing using technology despite his love for the organic. There are also some interesting comments on Super 8,filmmaking and lighting.

The score works well, but it needed to be interspersed with more commentary. Blue Velvet Revisited could have done with more musings from Lynch, or even from other crew and cast. There is little insight into other crew, apart from a few asides – Kyle MacLachlan’s double for example. Isabella Rossellini needed more than a sentence and some brief footage.

Ultimately, Blue Velvet Revisited suffers from a paucity of strong editing, and a lack of an overall drive. A wasted opportunity to reveal something about a fantastic film.

Blue Velvet Revisited is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2016.

Film Review: David Lynch: The Art Life

David Lynch: The Art Life

Told by the subject’s own voice, David Lynch: The Art Life is an entertaining insight into Lynch’s life and art.

Before he was a filmmaker, David Lynch was an artist. This documentary captures his early childhood memories up to working on Eraserhead, charting his interest in art and how this impacted his life…

David Lynch: The Art Life is an entertaining and informative documentary. Lynch provides narration for the piece, giving a stamp of approval to proceedings. Jon Nguyen, Rick Barnes, and Olivia Neergaard-Holm’s film combines this narrative with images from Lynch’s childhood, his early exploration into films, and of course a look at his art work.

The film paints Lynch as an artist first and foremost; his foray into films is depicted as almost accidental. Starting from early childhood memories, the subject discusses his family life, how he became engaged in art, his adolescence and early adulthood. The film covers a pivotal period in his life, ending at the making of Eraserhead. By doing so, the filmmakers are effectively saying ‘and the rest is history’. For Lynch fans, this makes perfect sense. The documentary reveals a time in his life that is not widely known, and gives some insight into the background to his successful film career.

The filmmakers view Lynch through his art work; it is the gaze through which they depict their subject. The context to his art will be interesting for fans and casual viewers alike. More amusing are the anecdotes that Lynch provides on his life at that period – these are frequently funny. Filmmakers do touch on the darkness, or peculiarity to his work, but this is discussed in the odd comment rather than being a focal point.

The film is well edited, and uses some of Lynch’s own songs as a soundtrack. As anyone who has viewed his art or seen his films will know, Lynch is a very interesting subject. Although not a definitive documentary, David Lynch: The Art Life does him justice.

David Lynch: The Art Life is being screened at London Film Festival in October 2016.