New release I Care A Lot arrived on Amazon Prime in the UK on Friday 19th February. Click here to read my review, written for Movies On Weekends.
Welcome back. Lovely to see you again, even if the circumstances (what with Lockdown 3.0 and the world on fire) are decidedly less than desirable. As always, what follows are 7 film recommendations to help you with your picking what to watch.
Dredd (2012 – 85 mins – Netflix)
It’s taken over 8 years and counting, but it feels like Dredd is finally getting some of the recognition it deserves. One of the most underseen comic book movies as well as being one of the finest of the genre. It’s a fantastic take on the 2000 AD comic strip Judge Dredd with Karl Urban (currently most recognisable for his leading role in Amazon’s The Boys) playing the eponymous law enforcer. It’s brutal (strong 18) with incredible special effects, a tau thriller of a narrative and packed full of dark humour.
Pepe the Frog: Feels Good Man (2020 – 92 mins – BBC iPlayer)
I’ve slowly but surely been working my way through the Storyville series on BBC iPlayer. It’s a documentary strand that currently comprises 35 contemporary and challenging documentaries from different filmmakers gathered from across the globe. Some are familiar titles, otten with titles slightly edited, and some are unknown gems – like this one was for me. Loosely aware of the Pepe the Frog meme but knowing nothing about the context in which it was created or how it has since been horrifically warbed and used in terrifying ways, I went in totally blind with this one. Wow. Seeing this just days before the events in Washington this week added a horrific timeliness and an answer of sorts to the question ‘How did we get to this point?’
Casablanca (1942 – 102 mins – BBC iPlayer)
I started to really get into film when I was twelve. For the next few years I’d have these phases we’re I’d discover a genre/theme/actor and obsessively get into it. My discovery of Casablanca, somewhat oddly, happened in my Summer of Film Noir (yep, I was one cool kid…) If you’re yet to see it and have dismissed it as everyone always talks about it, hear me out. Give it a try this week. Why? It’s funnier than you might think, exquisitely filmed and has some sublime performances just across the board. There’s just how brave and ahead of its time it was, whilst being truly of it’s time too. This was filmed and released in 1942 – WW2 had been raging for years with no end in sight. Watch this and dare tell me it’s not audacious and revolutionary. And, I hate to carry on referring to current events but – I think we all need some hope this week.
Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001 – 97 mins – Netflix)
This film celebrates its 20th anniversary this year – isn’t that MAD?!?! (Answer, yes. v.mad) After watching this fantastic documentary over the festive period, I was compelled to rewatch the film with fresh and informed eyes. It really does hold up (workplace sexual harassment aspects aside…). As I grow closer to Bridget’s age, having had far too many entanglements and experience that could be described as Bridget Jones moments, I appreciate all the more just how bold her character is – with Renée Zellweger capturing her and the single woman experience so beautifully. And I won’t get started on Colin Firth and Hugh Grant in this film. The former has ruined my romantic expectations for life and the latter would just ruin me.
Gone Girl (2014 – 159 mins – Amazon)
And this week’s underappreciated romcom slot goes to… Ha! There’s really not much I can say about this film because you’ve either seen it already (and seeing it here now you know you want to rewatch it) or you haven’t seen it yet (and therefore I don’t want to spoil things by telling you too much about it as you should now go and watch it). A top-tier thriller by David Fincher, dark and wonderfully twisted.
Hustlers (2019 – 110 mins – Amazon Prime)
I once saw this described as ‘Goodfellas but strippers’ – whilst I appreciate the sentiments, that buzzphrase sort of misses the point. Director and co-writer Lorene Scafaria has made a modern classic here, expertly and seemingly effortlessly utilizing the female gaze. The based-on-a-true-story about a crew of savvy former strip club employees who band together to turn the tables on their Wall Street clients is just magnificent.
Instant Family (2018 – 118 mins – Sky/NowTv and, from sunday, Netflix )
I reckon it’s a safe bet to say that you looked at the below still and formed a judgement about this film based on Mark Wahlberg and, to a much smaller extent because of her varied back catalogue, Rose Byrne. At least, that’s what I did. However, skip this one at your peril as you’ll be missing out. This is one of the finest and funniest family dramas in recent year, following a couple who find themselves in over their heads when they foster three children. Inspired by the personal experience of the film’s director, Sean Anders, this really is a feelgood delight.
It’s the last day of the year, and I’ve put off doing this list for long enough. Instead of doing a top ten films of the year, I’ve decided to do a bumper addition. 2020 brought few joys with it but quality books (as demonstrated here) and films were not in short supply. So, in no particular order, here’s my 20 films of the year. (Two disclaimers: These are of the films I’ve seen, there’s a few I just haven’t been able to fit in yet so there are a few blindspots. I’ve gone for UK release date – either in cinema or VOD where applicable.)
|Film||Running Time||Available to watch||Current price||My review?|
|The Personal History Of David Copperfield||119 mins||Amazon Prime||incl. in subscription||Film Stories|
|A Beautiful Day In The Neighbourhood||109 mins||Sky/NOWtv||incl. in subscription||Feature in FS #11|
|Parasite||132 mins||Amazon Prime||incl. in subscription|
|Portrait Of A Lady On Fire||122 mins||Amazon||MUBI add-on (free 7 day trial, then £9.99 a month)|
|Emma.||124 mins||Sky/NOWtv||incl. in subscription||Film Stories|
|The Assistant||87 mins||Sky/NOWtv||incl. in subscription|
|Clemency||112 mins||Sky/NOWtv||incl. in subscription|
|Saint Frances||101 mins||Curzon||Rent for £1.99|
|Perfect 10||83 mins||BBC iplayer||Free|
|Babyteeth||118 mins||Netflix||incl. in subscription|
|Les Miserables||104 mins||Netflix||incl. in subscription|
|The Broken Hearts Gallery||109 mins||Amazon||Pre-order for Jan 4th, £9.99 to buy|
|Rocks||93 mins||Netflix||incl. in subscription||Movies on Weekends|
|THE FORTY YEAR OLD VERSION||123 mins||Netflix||incl. in subscription|
|Lovers Rock||70 mins||BBC iplayer||Free|
|County Lines||90 mins||BFI player||Rent for £10||Feature in #21 of FS|
|Boys State||109 mins||Apple Tv+||incl. in subscription|
|Wolfwalkers||103 mins||Apple Tv+||incl. in subscription|
|The Invisible Man||123 mins||Sky/NOWtv||incl. in subscription|
Twenties (2020- : 8 x 30 mins : BBC iPlayer)
Hattie (Jonica T. Gibbs), a queer African American woman, hangs out with her two straight best friends Marie (Christina Elmore) and Nia (Gabrielle Graham), as they all try to make their dreams come true. The end result is as show that is as funny as it is scathing, with some of the most honest portrayals of twenty-something relationships, friendships and careers that tv has ever seen. The representation within this show doesn’t get seen enough on tv, with a show as good as this we can but hope it’s the first of many.
Home (2020 – : 12 x 27 minutes : All4)
Peter (Rufus Jones), his new partner Katy (Rebekah Staton) and her son John (Oaklee Pendergast) return home to Dorking from their first holiday together in France. Hiding in the boot of their car is Sami (Youssef Kerkour), a Syrian refugee. It is near-impossible to do this wonderful show justice – it’s so charming, compassionate and well-written. It’s feelgood without being saccharine, sentimental but honest and extremely well informed – unafraid to portray the labyrinthian bureaucracy of the UK immigration system. Staton is phenomenal as matriarch Katy, just as good as she was in the criminally underseen Raised by Wolves (which will have to be a future TV Tuesday pick). Kerkour is fantastic as Sami, countless moving moments come to mind – most involving his friendship with Aaron Neil‘s Raj. Sharp, refreshing and rather brilliant – you really won’t regret watching this one.
Upload (2020 – : 10 x 30 minutes : Amazon Prime)
Sci-fi related dramas can be a bit of a hard-sell, thankfully this one is a sci-fi romantic comedy with a side of mystery thriller. A man (Robbie Amell) is able to choose his own afterlife after his untimely death by having his consciousness uploaded into a virtual world. As he gets used to his new life and befriends his ‘angel’, Nora (Andy Allo), questions about his death arise. The fact this show isn”t spoken about really is mind-boggling. It’s speculative exploration of virtual afterlife is incredibly imaginative and thought-provoking, the relationships and character development immensely well-plotted within some pacey storytelling. Witty and winning – this is one I’m definitely counting down the days till season 2 for.
Official Secrets (2020 – 112 mins – Amazon Prime)
The true story of a British whistleblower (Keira Knightley) who leaked information to the press about an illegal NSA spy operation designed to push the UN Security Council into sanctioning the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Along with a fantastic supporting cast (Matt Smith, Matthew Goode, Rhys Ifans, Ralph Fiennes and Conleth Hill) this might be one of Knightley’s finest performances, understated yet powerful. A steely and tense thriller, made all the more haunting as it really did happen.
Boys State (2020- 109 mins – Apple TV+)
A thousand 17-year-old boys from Texas join together to build a representative government from the ground up – and the results need to be seen to be believed. A truly outstanding documentary that ends up revealing so much about present day politics and 21st masculinity.
Wolfwalkers (2020- 103 mins – Apple TV+)
Cartoon Saloon is an animation studio that has a truly enviable hit-rate, with Song of the Sea , The Secret of Kells and The Breadwinner each being examples of pure perfection. And now we have this addition, a young apprentice hunter (Honor Kneafsey) and her father (Sean Bean) journey to Ireland to help wipe out the last wolf pack. But everything changes when she befriends a free-spirited girl (Eva Whittaker) from a mysterious tribe rumored to transform into wolves by night. The animation is sumptuous, the story wonderfully told and the performances just magnificent. There’s also some of the finest animated hair we’ve ever seen. If there’s any justice in the world, this film will be recognised in awards season as the best animated film of 2020.
EMMA. (2020- 122 mins – Sky/Now TV)
This might just be the finest Austen adaptation we’ve ever had. At the very least there’s no point ever adapting Emma again, as it cannot beat this one. Anya Taylor-Joy plays Emma, a woman who is well-meaning but selfish, who decides to play matchmaker out of boredom but ends up playing havoc with the lives of those around her. Taylor-Joy plays Emma wonderfully, every expression being layered in meaning and revealing so much about exactly what she is thinking but is unable to say. Johnny Flynn as Mr Knightley has ruined me for men. A magnificent ensemble cast (Angus Imrie, Gemma Whelan, Bill Nighy, Rupert Graves, Miranda Hart, Josh O’Connor, Mia Goth, Oliver Chris and Callum Turner) all bring their A-game to deliver this superb screwball comedy.
120BPM (2017 – 143 mins – Film4)
This French film, following members of the advocacy group ACT UP Paris as they demand action by the government and pharmaceutical companies to combat the AIDS epidemic in the early 1990s, is sublime. At times funny, heart-shattering at others – it’s simply unmissable.
Wild Rose (2018- 101 mins – Netflix)
One of 2018’s best films, this story – Rose-Lynn(Jessie Buckley) is a troubled young Glaswegian who dreams of becoming a Nashville country star – is a total must-see. Buckley’s central performance is extraordinary, with an immeasurable amount of depth, balancing light and shade with ease. Julie Walters is simply fantastic in the supporting role as Rose’s mother. Click here to read my full review.
Set It Up (2018 – 118 mins – Amazon Prime)
In recent years, Netflix has been at the forefront of the resurgence of the romcom whilst also dropping some of the worst of the genre. This week’s underseen romcom is a gem, that uses the tropes we know & love yet plays around with them a little. Two corporate executive assistants (Zoey Deutch and Glen Powell) hatch a plan to match-make their two bosses (Lucy Liu and Taye Diggs). Deutch and Powell have fantastic chemistry, believable and easy to root for. The end result is a charming and sweet romcom.
Big Mouth (2013-2016 : 43 x 30 mins : Netflix )
In the space of a week, in two separate conversations, I had two loved ones voice genuine disbelief that I had never seen Big Mouth. Both were adamant I’d love it. Semi-reluctantly I gave it a go and, I really hate to say it, Matt and Sam were both right. I love this show so hard. I’d go into battle and fight for this show, for many reasons. There’s the comedy, it’s superbly funny with an epic voice cast (Nick Kroll, John Mulaney, Jessi Klein, Jason Mantzoukas, Fred Armisen, Maya Rudolph, Jordan Peele, Jenny Slate, Andrew Rannells and all manner of guest stars). There’s the colourful and inventive animation. And then there’s the story and content itself. Big Mouth tackles hugely important issues in an effortless, tender yet hilarious and often audacious way. I struggle to think of another show that examines sexuality, mental health, gender, body image and family dynamics to such a magnificent extent. This is a show that isn’t for teens and yet all teens need to see it.
I Hate Suzie (2020 – : 8 x 35 minutes : SKY / Now TV)
Now this is one that has a summary that doesn’t do it justice. A female celebrity (Billie Piper) has her whole life upended when her phone is hacked and a photo of her emerges in an extremely compromising position. The outcomes are regularly unexpected, sad, funny, mad and devastating. Piper is extraordinary in the lead role, with fantastic support from Daniel Ings as awful husband Cob and Leila Farzad as best friend/assistant/enabler Naomi. Click here for my full review, written for VODzilla.
Trying (2020 – : 8 x 30 minutes : Apple Tv+)
Apple TV is still in it’s infancy, but it has some gems that really do make it worth checking out. This was the first I watched and it’s still my favourite. All Nikki (Esther Smith) and Jason (Rafe Spall) want is a baby. They’ve been together for several years and it’s just not happening, till medical treatment shows it’s unlikely to ever happen. So, they decide to adopt. With their dysfunctional friends, screwball family, and chaotic lives will the adoption panel think they’re ready to be parents? With another superb ensemble cast (Ophelia Lovibond, Oliver Chris, Phil Davis, Imelda Staunton to name but a few) Trying is an effortless watch, a comedy drama as witty as it is warm.
What it says on the tin, 40 Christmas movies from across 4 different streaming sites, to get you into the festive spirit.
Uncle Frank (2020 – 95 mins – Amazon Prime)
One of the few joys to arise in 2020 has been the amount of fantastic indie movies, which arguably have had a little bit more space this year with blockbusters having been near-universally postponed till 2021 at the earliest. Uncle Frank is very much one of the cream of the crop with a lead performance by Paul Bettany, as the eponymous Uncle Frank, that deserves awards recognition. In 1973, when Frank Bledsoe and his 18-year-old niece Beth (Sophia Lillis) take a road trip from Manhattan to Creekville, South Carolina, for the family patriarch’s funeral, they’re unexpectedly joined by Frank’s lover, Walid (Peter Macdissi). The film’s focus is Frank aligning his past trauma with his present, and his fears over his family finding out about his sexuality. The end result is a film that is softly moving, immensely charming and bittersweetly emotive. Such a delight.
Monsoon (2019 – 85 mins – BBC iPlayer)
Kit (Henry Golding) a British Vietnamese man, returns to Saigon for the first time in over 30 years, after fleeing during the Vietnam-American War. A beautifully empathetic look at the immigrant experiences, of being of two places but feeling like you belong to neither. Thoughtful, delicate and graceful.
Crazy Rich Aisans (2018- 120 mins – Amazon Prime)
This week’s underseen romcom slot also serves as a Henry Golding double bill. Here he plays the heir to an immense fortune, not that his girlfriend Rachel (Constance Wu) has any idea just how rich he is as she finds out on the way to meet his family for the first time. All the romcom tropes we know and love are here, featuring a terrific and diverse cast and some spectacular riches. A really likeable and very sweet addition to the canon. Click here to read my full review.
Galaxy Quest (1999- 102 mins – Netflix)
‘Never give up, never surrender’ – that was the catchphrase of cult tv series Galaxy Quest. It’s a phrase the show’s cast Jason (Tim Allen), Gwen (Sigourney Weaver), Alexander (Alan Rickman), Fred (Tony Shalhoub) and co. know all to well. They’ve been churning out for years at various fan conventions and promo appearances. But when they’re visited by actual aliens who think the series is an accurate documentary they quickly become drawn in a very real intergalactic conflict with thousands of lives at risk. This is one of the finest comedy films, possibly ever. It’s fantastically written, parodying fandom with much love and affection, and so well performed by a cast of total icons.
Arthur Christmas (2011 – 97 mins – Netflix)
Another Christmas gem for you, this time we’re with Santa’s (Jim Broadbent) clumsy son Arthur (James McAvoy) as he sets out on a mission with Grandsanta (Bill Nighy) to give out a present they misplaced to a young girl before it’s too late and her Christmas is ruined. A sweet and heart-warming tale, with some inventive animation and charming voice cast.
Shame (2011- 101 mins – All4)
A sex addict’s (Michael Fassbender) carefully cultivated private life falls apart after his sister (Carey Mulligan) arrives for an indefinite stay. The directorial debut of Steve McQueen (who currently has a phenomenal miniseries airing on BBC every Sunday, Small Axe – five films that are love letters to Black London history) this is an astonishing and haunting film about addiction & it’s concealment under artifice. Wonderfully shot and performed, this is a total must-see.
Pan’s Labyrinth (206 – 118 mins – Amazon Prime)
Without a doubt, one of the greatest films of the 21st century, Guillermo del Toro‘s film is set in the Falangist Spain of 1944, where the bookish young stepdaughter (Ivana Baquero)of a sadistic army officer (Sergi López) escapes into an eerie but captivating fantasy world when a magical creature (Doug Jones) gives her the chance to save her pregnant mother’s life. Insert list of superlatives here – I just love this film so so so so much. (Also, any English teachers reading this, I have a great resource using the Pale Man scene to teach GCSE English Language Paper 1, Q3 – slide into my DMs if interested…)
The Vow (2013-2016 : 9 x 60 mins : Sky/Now TV )
This documentary series may just have been the most compelling thing I have watched all year. I’d been vaguely aware of the story about self-improvement group NXIVM due to the involvement of Alison Mack, who I’d loved in early years of Superman show Smallville. But there is so, so much more the story – it really does have to be seen to be believed. In episode one we met some central members of the group who are deciding to leave, all-too aware of the consequences they may face if they do. With each episode more is revealed and unravelled. What this series does so fantastically is destroy the myth of people who believe they’re ‘too smart’ to ‘fall for’ a cult. Here we see the how and why people join such groups, and the insidious reach this group had. Darkly unnerving and hard to shake off.
Hindsight (2015: 10 x 30 minutes : Amazon Prime)
On the Pilot Tv podcast, the team end each episode with a chance to Banshee a show of their choice – a show that was cancelled too soon and/or is little scene. This would be my pick, both a show cancelled too early and that wasn’t seen by enough people, with a concept I think about a lot. Becca, as she nears 40, is about to embark on her second wedding to Andy Kelly, but her joy is tempered by the absence of her old best friend Lolly who’s a no-show, having dropped out of their relationship years ago. And so, courtesy of a time travelling lift, Becca awakes in 1995 – knowing everything about her future and with chance to change it all for the better. A wonderful story about friendship, love and choices – with also some of the best uses of 90s nostalgia in recent tv history.
Industry (2020 – : 8 x 50 minutes : BBC iPlayer)
The plot summary for this is ‘Young bankers and traders make their way in the financial world in the aftermath of the 2008 collapse.’ In all honesty, having seen all 8 episodes, I have no memory of any substantial plot-impacting mention of the 2008 collapse. Instead we follow a group of young and sexy people who work in a bank be young and sexy as they work in a bank. It shouldn’t be so engrossing, yet it really is. The main reason for that is the development of both character and story over the course of the 8 episodes. The characters become more interesting, more developed yet varying degrees of incomprehensible. The story begins to get braver, saying scathing things about the industry that finds value in everything but human lives. It’s mad, ludicrous, mostly unbelievable and yet I find myself already looking forward to season 2.
A Star Is Born (2018 – 136 mins – Amazon Prime)
Bradley Cooper‘s directorial debut happens to be the 4th version of the A Star Is Born story is perfectly adapted to the 21st Century. He plays country/rock megastar Jack, who drunkenly stumbles into a drag bar and meets the love of his life, an exceptionally talented singer called Ally (Lady Gaga). As she finds fame and glory, alcoholism and Jack’s own demons send him on a downward spiral. Beautiful, loving and intimate. (Click here to read my full review)
Searching For Sugar Man (2012 – 86 mins – Amazon Prime)
For a generation of South Africans, Rodriguez was their unlikely musical hero. Not knowing anything about him or why he stopped releasing music, two documentary makers go in search of him and answers. A story about the power of art, how music can soundtrack societal change and the unexpected twist of life. Stranger than fiction, this is an incredible story about a true talent.
Military Wives (2020 – 112 mins – Amazon Prime)
There’s a group of films released in March 2020 that had their release curtailed and didn’t get the release or audience they deserved. Military Wives is one of those. Inspired by the fourth series of the documentary series The Choir, where choirmaster Gareth Malone joins communities and inspired them to come together through singing. This is a lovely watch lead by two excellent performances by Kristin Scott Thomas and Sharon Horgan.
Minding The Gap (2018 – 93 mins – BBC iPlayer)
One of the finest and most personal documentaries of recent years, three young men bond together to escape volatile families in their Rust-Belt hometown. As they face adult responsibilities, unexpected revelations threaten their decade-long friendship. Incredibly moving and profound.
The Wedding Singer (1998 – 87 mins – Amazon Prime)
This week’s underseen RomCom is the film that results in my taking any bad Adam Sandler performances personally, as he’s just so good here. He plays Robbie, a singer, who befriends new-in-town Julia (Drew Barrymore), a waitress. Both are engaged, but to the wrong people. Fortune intervenes to help them discover each other. So funny and charming, with some excellent cameos. (Side note: The film is set in 1985, so 13 years before release. If you were to make a film with the same time gap now, it would be set in 2007…)
Our Little Sister (2015 – 127 mins – BBC iPlayer)
Three sisters (Haruka Ayase, Masami Nagasawa and Kaho) live together in the house of their Grandparents in Kamakura, Japan. The news of their estranged father’s death also results in their discovery of the existence of their half sister (Suzu Hirose). The trio invite their newly-found sister to come and live with them, leading to much change for all four young women. Exquisite filmmaking.
Nativity! (2009 – 105 mins – Netflix)
There’s a good chance I’ll end up compiling a list of Christmas movies and where to find them. For now, here’s something to start you off. An uptight but secretly heartbroken primary school teacher’s (Martin Freeman) little white lie about Hollywood coming to see his class’ nativity play grows like wildfire in his rag-tag school low on self-esteem. Maybe it’s the fact I work with young people that adds another level of funny onto this film for me, but I really think this is a underseen and endearing festive treat.