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: A Vigilante

Writer-director Sarah Daggar-Nickson’s feature debut A Vigilante is tonally abrupt, yet an engaging and thought-provoking watch.

Sadie helps domestic abuse victims escape their tormentors. Her unorthodox methods sees abusers face retribution. Sadie, however, is plagued by trauma herself…

Sarah Daggar-Nickson’s A Vigilante is a drama crossed with a revenge thriller. The film is thought provoking insofar as it meditates on the nature of revenge, and the impact of this on distressed individuals. Viewers can see that the protagonist is traumatised, but are not shown her background until about half way through the film. A Vigilante does a good job of showing diverse range of domestic abuse victims. Exhibited through group therapy sessions, the film really emphasises that anyone can be a victim. 

The atmosphere in the film is not always gripping. Dagger-Nickson juxtaposes near silent scenes with loud ones; this has some level of shock value. Nevertheless, the are a number of scenes which fail to leave an impression.

A Vigilante’s three acts are quite distinctive. Sadie’s strength and actions shown in first third, with middle third focusing on her background and motivation. The final act pushes film into thriller territory. The three acts are mirrored by the three dispositions of the protagonist. She is methodical and calculated in the first, distressed and attempting to heal in the second, and fuelled by rage in the third. 

The third act is certainly more atmospheric than what precedes it. There is a good use of close ups and over the shoulder shots in the climactic scenes. Light and shadow are utilised well here. A Vigilante boasts a strong central performance from Olivia Wilde. She is well supported by Morgan Spector in a secondary role.  The final conversion is most apt in conveying the perpetrator’s mindset. 

The main drawback of the film is its disjointed acts. The acceleration to revenge thriller feels like a departure that is not really earned by what precedes it. However finale is suitably gripping and well executed. Yet the disjointedness is seemingly deliberate. Dagger-Nickson offers what many revenge thrillers lack; a exploration of the trauma which leads to vengeance, and the fallout from this.

A Vigilante is released at cinemas and on Digital HD on Friday 31st May 2019, and on DVD 3rd June 2019.

Previews: The Addams Family Trailer, Booksmart, More!

The Addams Family Trailer

A plethora of film-related goodness in this week’s preview of coming attractions, including The Addams Family trailer, Booksmart, My Spy and more…

The Addams Family trailer is here. This first look at the new animated film gives a taste of the humour we can expect. The voice cast for this latest iteration includes Oscar Isaac, Charlize Theron, and Chloë Grace Moretz. The Addams Family is set for release on 25th October 2019.

Booksmart Trailer

Booksmart is the directorial debut from Olivia Wilde. The film received critical acclaim on its premiere at SXSW in March. The comedy focuses on two high school friends, played by Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever. The cast also includes Jason Sudeikis and Lisa Kudrow. Booksmart is due to hit UK screens on 27th May 2019.

My Spy Trailer

Dave Bautista’s latest film is action comedy My Spy. The film is about a hardened CIA operative who is at the mercy of a young girl when sent undercover to surveil her family. The film also stars Ken Jeong and Chloe Coleman. My Spy is coming soon to UK cinemas.

The Corrupted Trailer

Here is the trailer for crime thriller The Corrupted. The film is set in East London, and is about a land grab that occurred following the Olympic Games. The Corrupted stars Sam Claflin, Timothy Spall, and Noel Clarke. The film is set for release on 3rd May 2019.

Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile Trailer

Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile tells the story of notorious serial killer Ted Bundy. The film focuses on Bundy and his relationship with single mother Liz. The film’s cast features Zac Efron and Lily Collins. Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile will be released in UK cinemas and on Sky Cinema on 3rd May 2019.

Film Review: Third Person

Third Person

Paul Haggis’ ensemble drama Third Person displays shades of 2004’s Crash. The film is mostly engaging viewers, if not wholly satisfying.

Michael is holed up in a Paris hotel trying to finish his latest book when his lover comes to visit. American businessman Scott wanders into a bar in Italy where he meets a beautiful but stressed young woman. Meanwhile in New York, a former soap actress hopes to win back custody of her young child…

Third Person follows the blueprint of Crash with its seemingly separate narrative strands. Writer-director Paul Haggis’ latest film shows more poetic licence with entwining them, however. Initially, there is enough in these individual strands to capture the viewer’s attention. Little is revealed about the main characters to begin with, allowing their stories to gently unfold.

Some of what occurs in Third Person is predictable. However, this is not the film’s main problem. Third Person seems to play with themes, but does not have a lot of coherency in terms of narrative. Whilst there is a particular theme that connects the stories, this is rather loose. What is presented is shells of narrative strands, without a satisfying group of stories. The later connection of these strands appears ill-thought out. If Haggis wish to play with elements in a less rigid context, these themes or husks of story needed to be captivating. As it stands, they hold some merit, although not enough to justify the run time.

Some of the cinematography in Third Person is beautiful in a polished way. The score is a good accompaniment. Performances from the ensemble cast are good overall. Olivia Wilde stands out in particular, whilst Mila Kunis, Liam Neeson, and Kim Basinger in a small role, are decent.

Despite a stellar cast, Third Person ultimately disappoints due to a lack of strong direction in narrative terms.

Film Review: Drinking Buddies

Drinking Buddies

Joe Swanberg’s Drinking Buddies is a well-constructed indie comedy drama.

Kate works at a Chicago brewery alongside Luke. The pair get on great together, joking and flirting throughout the day. The problem is that they are both in relationships…

Writer and director Joe Swanberg has fashioned a believable comedy drama with Drinking Buddies. The great thing about the story is that it is not too obvious. The film does not take the turns that the audience may think it will.

Characters in the film are well developed. The two protagonists appear authentic in their behaviours and actions. The supporting characters are also convincing.

The friendship between Kate and Luke is intricate and believable. Swanberg has not created a glossy romantic comedy. Instead, there is an authenticity to the friendships and scenarios in Drinking Buddies. The characters live down-to-earth lives, and the mundanity of their routines is a refreshing change.

Drinking Buddies is peppered with amusing lines and incidents. The dialogue feels natural rather than forced; perhaps due to the fact it was improvised rather than scripted. More serious scenes also sit well in the overall tone of Drinking Buddies. The pace that the narrative progresses allows for character development. For some viewers, this may feel a tad slow.

Olivia Wilde offers a decent performance as Kate. Jake Johnson steals the show however as the charismatic Luke. Anna Kendrick is well cast as Jill, whist Jason Sudeikis amuses in a small role.

Drinking Buddies is the kind of relationship-focussed film viewers will want to see more of.

Drinking Buddies is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2013.

Film Review: Rush

RushPerfectly balancing drama with action, Rush is compelling viewing for  both Formula 1 fans and those with little interest in the sport.

In the 1970s, British playboy driver James Hunt is looking to break into Formula 1 racing. His rival, the methodical Austrian driver Niki Lauda has the same aspiration. The pair’s rivalry only increases as they chase their dream…

Ron Howard’s film is so well executed that it will enthrall viewers with no interest in Formula 1. It might actually work better for those who are not too aware of the rivalry between the two drivers; in this way it retains the sense of mystery and tension. Even for those who know the outcome, Rush is a most engaging film.

The story itself is not a complex one. The film pits one strong character type against an opposing one. It is the development of these protagonists and the depth of their relationship which pulls viewers in.

Rush boasts a brilliant screenplay from Peter Morgan. He really draws the two protagonists well and makes the audience care about the rivalry. The narrative is very well crafted. The emphasis (and the viewer’s allegiances) shift throughout the film.

Ron Howard directs the racing scenes with aplomb. The scenes in between help to build to the tension of the races. The driving sequences are high-energy pieces, with bombastic sound, a quick cutting rate and a combination of shots and angles. These combine to produce highly exciting sequences that situate the audience at the heart of the action.

Chris Hemsworth is most charismatic as James Hunt. He successfully portrays the playboy with a burning ambition. Daniel Brühl is well cast as Niki Lauda. His countenance is effectively jarring to Hemsworth’s charm. Olivia Wilde is decent in a supporting role.

Rush‘s premise may not appeal to all, but the end result is most satisfying. A fantastic sports drama.

In Time Trailer

Here is the trailer for new sci-fi thriller In Time. The film stars Justin Timberlake, Amanda Seyfried, Cillian Murphy and Olivia Wilde. Written and directed by Andrew Niccol, the film offers a rather interesting premise: a world where time is the ultimate commodity. For very busy people (like myself, when not enjoying copious naptime) it feels as if we may already be heading that way… Anyhow, the film is out on 1st November 2011.

Film Review: Cowboys & Aliens

Cowboys & Aliens is a watchable enough movie, but there is nothing particularly bright or exciting about it. With the talent involved in the film, it is a shame the end product is not better.

When a man wakes up in the middle of a plain with a mysterious metal bracelet on his wrist, he struggles to remember anything. Making his way into town, trouble quickly ensues when people start to recognise him. Woodrow Dolarhyde has a score to settle with the man, but this is interupted by an attack on the town by flying machines…

With the title Cowboys & Aliens, most would expect an endlessly fun movie. Unfortunately Jon Favreau’s film does not deliver on this front. The film is played quite seriously, which eliminates most of the fun that could be had with this concept. It is a shame, as Favreau did a great job in making Iron Man fun and appealing.

The main problem with the film is that the tone is all wrong. The filmmakers seem to be aiming for earnest when they should have been aiming for mirthful. Cowboys & Aliens would have worked better with an abundance of tongue-in-cheek humour, more akin to the style of Back to the Future Part III. Instead, it is a straightforward western that features aliens. The film should have been more of a thrill ride, but is far to serious for that.

Moreover, the writing is patchy, despite the emphasis on sincerity rather than fun. The film features some lazy stereotypes, such as the faithful Indian servant Nat. Even the main characters offer little reason for the audience to root for them. They are too one-dimensional, which makes it difficult to care about their fates. The cowboys and Indians strand is dull and cliché and the dialogue doesn’t help either as it is often staid.

The special effects used in the film are pretty much faultless. Likewise, set design is also good. Some of the action sequences are let down by a lack of strong direction. Cowboys & Aliens is surely one of the loudest films of the year. This is fine given the blockbuster style, but some may find it a little overbearing.

Daniel Craig is solemn as Jake; the character has little life to him. Olivia Wilde is a little livelier as Ella, while Harrison Ford is well cast as Dolarhyde. The actor certainly brings some much needed presence to the movie.

The touches of Steven Spielberg, producer of the film, are all too clear. However, in a stellar career this is not one of the filmmaker’s brighter moments.

Film Review: Tron: Legacy

Tron: Legacy is all about spectacle. Just like the 1982 original, the narrative is exiguous at times, but the special effects are captivating.

Several years after his father Kevin’s disappearance, Sam Flynn is reluctant to take over the reigns of his father’s company. Investigating a new development in his father’s mystery disappearance, Sam is pulled into a cyber world where programs duel to survive…

Tron is a strange choice for a very delayed sequel. The film did lacklustre business at the box office upon its 1982 release, although it has become something of a cult favourite since then. Tron is best known for its pioneering use of CGI. Tron: Legacy is very much the progeny of Tron; the films share similarities in terms of strengths and weaknesses.

Tron: Legacy‘s story is not the most engrossing. The film uses a similar premise to the original, albeit with the addition of Kevin Flynn already being a part of the cyber world. Sam finds an obligatory love interest in Quorra; an interesting, if fairly predictable, character. The dialogue is sometimes cringe worthy, particularly Sam’s one-liners during the action sequences. As well as harking back to the original film, Tron: Legacy exhibits shades of Gladiator in the games sequence. The film also depicts a poster of Disney’s 1979 film The Black Hole, a remake of which is the next project Tron: Legacy director Joseph Kosinski is due to tackle.

Tron: Legacy‘s strength lies firmly in the visual. The virtual world that Sam is pulled into is nothing short of stunning. A combination of neon and monochrome, Darren Gilford production design is effortlessly futuristic. Kevin’s apartment and the downtown bar are particularly memorable. Coupled with this are the film’s special effects. Special Effects supervisor Eric Barba has done a magnificent job in taking about thirty years off Jeff Bridges.

Daft Punk’s soundtrack is wonderful, and feels entirely in keeping with the tone of the film. Tron: Legacy is very aware of its 1980s ancestry, and appeases it with touches such as the inclusion of a couple of classic tunes from the decade.

Garrett Hedlund is adequate as Sam; the role does not call for too much of a range. Jeff Bridges has enormous presence in Tron: Legacy, aided in part by his multiple roles. Olivia Wilde brings a necessary stiffness to Quorra, while Michael Sheen offers some frivolity to proceedings as Castor.

Go and see Tron: Legacy purely for the spectacle. The story may not be absorbing, but the visuals certainly are.

Film Review: The Next Three Days

Dodge the numerous plot holes and The Next Three Days is an enjoyable enough thriller. Concentrate on them, however, and the film really starts to unravel.

Lara and John are happily married and have a young son, Luke. When Lara is accused of murder, their whole world turns upside down. Trying to juggle looking after Luke and fighting for Lara’s appeal, John realises that he must take drastic action if he ever wants to see his wife free…

A remake of the French film Anything for Her, The Next Three Days eschews the facts of the case, preferring to concentrate on emotions. Thus, we see Lara struggling to maintain a relationship with Luke, and John under tremendous stress as his family relationships suffer under the strain.

There is no depiction of Lara’s court case, or any police interviews with her; the film jumps from her initial arrest to a number of years later. This works to keep the audience guessing over the innocence of Lara. There is no doubt that John is convinced of her innocence, but for a long period of the film that facts are not made clear. This is one of the most effective devices employed in The Next Three Days; it keeps the audience engaged for a large part of the film.

Sadly, there are several plot holes that make the end result less than satisfactory. Once the details of the case are revealed (either in flashback sequences or in expository dialogue), several issues arise regarding how Lara was convicted. Furthermore, John’s plans to help his wife rely heavily on luck. While there is some ingenuity, The Next Three Days lacks credibility.

There is a wholly negative portrayal of law enforcement in the film. Lara believes the police did not follow-up on a crucial aspect of her story, while the police are shown to be one step behind John. Given that he is a lecturer and a complete novice in any type of crime, he adeptly fools the officers attempting to track him down.

Paul Haggis directs the action sequences capably, injecting tension with the camera work and editing. John’s transition as the film progresses is convincing; his aborted attempt at testing his bump key at the elevator is highly effective, particularly in the reaction he has following the interview.

Russell Crowe gives an excellent performance as John. He is believable both in his relationship with his son and in his desire to help his wife at any cost. Elizabeth Banks also gives a great performance as Lara, effectively conveying her frustration and misery at the situation. Liam Neeson has a minuscule role, despite his billing, while Olivia Wilde is underused.

Although the performances are good and the film retains tension and urgency, the various points of contention detract from the overall enjoyment of The Next Three Days. Suspend disbelief significantly and the film works well enough.