I’ve decided I’m going to rebrand some of my regular features here. This one will replace TV Tuesdays. I’ve started a stint on our school radio station doing weekly recommendations, so I thought I’d share them here too. Here’s the back catalogue of TV Tuesdays: #1, #2, #3, #4, #5 , #6 and #7.
Shown over the Festive period, and currently a one-off sitcom at only 29 minutes long, this is a bit of gem. It’s one of the few shows so far to have been filed, set in pandemic and is about the effect it has on families – told in a darkly comic way. We see the family on their October holiday – determined to have a family break even if won’t be as good as that trip-of-a-lifetime to the states they had planned. The editing, cutting between October and earlier in the year, is just so superb. Bitterly funny and with some winning lines from Alison Steadman.
Film: Wild Rose
There’s this tradition in British cinema for underdog stories – of those with unlikely talents in unlikely positions dreaming of more. This is up there with the best of them, with Glaswegian Rose (played by Jessie Buckley) dreaming of being a country singing sensation and a life beyond on the estate she lives on. Sad yet hopeful, and so feelgood.
Book: This Time Next Year by Sophie Cousens
As a unabashed and unashamed fan of the romcom, I end up reading a lot of them. This top tier, needs to be adapted into a tv series asap. Minnie ends up spending New Year’s Eve locked in a toilet cubicle, rescued hours into the New Year by Quinn. It turns out it’s not their first meeting, and it certainly won’t be their last. Hoping between povs and different time periods – this book beautifully balances very romantic romance with hysterical comedy.
Song: “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)” by Sylvester
Released in 1978, in a time where there was so much turmoil in lots of communities across the world, this disco anthem incredible for how it’s a joyous celebration of love and life, finding hope and happiness within the dark times -which feels apt for these times we currently find ourselves in.
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.
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.
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?’
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.
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.
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.
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.)
One sentence summary – 3 suggestions of tv shows you may have missed and will probably love. Are you not entertained? Give #1, #2, #3, #4, #5 and #6 a try.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
‘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.
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.
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.
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…)
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 showSmallville. 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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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…)
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.
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.
Insert pithy comment here about lockdown-induced breakdowns here. Read below if you’d like some movies to watch and escape into. If you’d like to chose from 9 other combinations of seven specially chosen films, then click through here – #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6, #7, #8 and #9.
Speaking directly to you right now. If you’re going to pick any of these films to watch, could you please take a chance on this one? I’m sure you won’t regret it (and I’m not just saying that because I was quoted on the poster/DVD case – humblebrag noise) I called it ‘A beautiful and uplifting tale’ then and I stick with it now. Ove is a curmudgeonly figure who looms heavily over his housing estate. When he’s fired from his job it’s the final straw and he decides he’ll commit suicide. But his new neighbour and her family inadvertently interrupt his plans, uncovering Ove’s past and hidden soft side. Few films have made me simultaneously laugh and cry to this extent. The queue to the ladies toilet at Canterbury Curzon afterwards was just was a just a line of us sniffling in disbelief at how joyous this film is. So, go watch it. Please?
An underseen gem of a period drama, set in the aftermath of WW2 when a writer (Lily James) forms an unexpected bond with the residents of Guernsey Island (Tom Courtenay, Michiel Huisman, Katherine Parkinson) when she decides to write a book about their experiences during the war. So bloody charming.
Directed by Lone Scherfig with a screenplay Nick Hornby and astonishing central performances by Carey Mulligan and Peter Sarsgaard, this is coming-of-age story about a teenage girl in 1960s suburban London, and how her life changes with the arrival of a playboy nearly twice her age. Exquisite costumes, pitch-perfect script and a stellar supporting cast.
This week’s underseen RomCom is set in 1962 New York City, when love blossoms between a playboy journalist (Ewan McGregor) and a feminist advice author (Renée Zellweger). A superlative pastiche and loving tribute to the era of Rock Hudson & Doris Day, that also has this sequence that is one of finest uses of comedic editing in 21st century cinema
Stephanie (Anna Kendrick) is a single mother with a parenting vlog who befriends Emily (Blake Lively), a secretive upper-class woman who has a child at the same elementary school. When Emily goes missing, Stephanie takes it upon herself to investigate. Camptastic cinema of the finest order.
Proof, were it ever really needed, that John Boyega has always had the charisma of a star. Written and directed by Joe Cornish, a teen gang in South London defend their block from an alien invasion. Funny, tense and a little bit scary – perfect Saturday night watching.