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.
To start with, a joyful happy-sad story about Chinese family discovering their grandmother has only a short while left to live and decide to keep her in the dark, scheduling a wedding to gather before she dies. The fact it’s based on writer-director Lulu Wang‘s real life experiences only adds the poignancy.
This week’s underrated romcom slot goes to a film I find myself rewatching regularly for two reasons. The first is the cast Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Julianne Moore, Emma Stone, Kevin Bacon and Marisa Tomei. The second is just how well the story is told, with every plot point weaved in and playing out so perfectly. A middle-aged husband’s (Carell) life changes dramatically when his wife (Moore) asks him for a divorce. He seeks to rediscover his manhood with the help of a newfound friend, Jacob (Gosling), learning to pick up girls at bars.
Elena (Laia Costa) and Jake (Josh O’Connor) meet by chance on New Years Eve, arguing for the same taxi. However, instead of going their separate ways after sharing a taxi ,they start a passionate relationship. The end result is a film that is quietly profound and full of intimacy, just beautiful.
This film, by writer-director Andrea Arnold, is one of the finest British movies of the 21st Century. Everything changes for 15-year-old Mia (Katie Jarvis) when her mum brings home a new boyfriend (Michael Fassbender). With his breakthrough performance here, there was no doubt that Fassbender was going to be a star. But if you come for his performance, you’ll stay for Jarvis. A nonprofessional actor who got the role after being scouted during an argument with her then-boyfriend, she’s extraordinary as an older-than-her-years teen who has little reason to hope for more than she has.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, comedy is the hardest genre for cinema to get right – a fact that was truly clear when this film came out as it truly stood out and continues to stand out. An action-comedy about a group of friends (Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams, Sharon Horgan, Billy Magnussen, Lamorne Morris, Kylie Bunbury) who meet regularly for game nights find themselves entangled in a real-life mystery when the shady brother (Kyle Chandler) of one of them is seemingly kidnapped by dangerous gangsters.
The winner of the Oscar for best documentary, this is another total must-watch. Backup singers live in a world that lies just beyond the spotlight. Their voices bring harmony to the biggest bands in popular music, but we’ve had no idea who these singers are or what lives they lead, until now. If you’re a fan of any songs from 1950s onwards, you’re going to want to watch this. (My favourite anecdote is the one about The Rolling Stones – Gimme Shelter, which is one of my all-time favourite songs.)
Screening as part of the British Film Premiere season from BBC Film and the BFI, Apostasy follows Ivanna (Siobhan Finneran), a faithful Jehovah’s Witness who lives with her two grown-up daughters Alex (Molly Wright) and Luisa (Sacha Parkinson). A religious transgression means that Luisa is shunned by her community and her family. As the separation draws out, Alex starts to question the meaning of God’s love.
Are you new around here? Then let me catch you up. Every Saturday I’ll be publishing a list of 7 movie suggestions of films from various streaming sites, saving you time and decision-making by helping you decide what to watch. Like what you see, then just leave a comment. Want even more suggestions? Check out issues #1, #2, #3and #4.
To start with, I’m chucking out the big guns. My favourite film of all-time. If you know me, you know this fact already – you’ve probably heard me harp on about it enough. A film that is as funny as it is charming as it is romantic. This is a film perfect for every mood, with truly medical qualities. Here’s a piece I wrote for Den Of Geek about why I love it so much.
Easily one of the finest science fiction movies of the past decade, think Groundhog Day meets Independence Day – where a soldier (Tom Cruise) fighting aliens gets to relive the same day over and over again, the day restarting every time he dies. His fellow soldier (Emily Blunt), may just be the answer to saving both he and the entire world.
I first saw this movie at Genesis Cinema (East London), a month prior to it’s release – in screen 4 with an audience made up of folk from New Zealand and Australia. It was the perfect audience for such a hysterically funny film. A comedy adventure film set when a national manhunt is ordered for a rebellious kid Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) and his foster uncle Hec (Sam Neill) who go missing in the wild New Zealand bush. ‘ I didn’t choose the skuxx life, the skuxx life chose me.’
This week’s underseen romantic comedy slot goes to this gem of a Brit flick. Nancy (Lake Bell) is in her mid-30s, fed up of being single but also fed up of her friend’s awful attempts at set-ups. After literally bumping into Jack (Simon Pegg), who believes she’s the woman he’s meant to be headed on a date with, Nancy decides not to correct him and go on the date. A night they’ll never forget soon follows. Wonderfully written by Tess Morris, this is a seriously funny film with a fantastic ensemble cast. Adhering to romcom tropes, yet playing wonderfully with them, any film that has a dance-off to this tuuuune has me sold.
Sometimes, when present day politics terrifies me (aka, most days) I think about the Barack Obama era, with the same degree of nostalgia one would an ex partner who you ended things with on mutually respecting yet loving terms. Should you be the same, this is an indie gem for you. It’s a fictionalised account of the first date between Barack (Parker Sawyers) and Michelle (Tika Sumpter). Understated, charming and really endearing.
The Personal History of David Copperfield (2019 – 119 mins – Amazon Prime)
If you were to ask me the oddly specific question, ‘What are you favourite five documentaries of all time?’, this would definitely be making an appearance. A story that hits me on a personal level (as I mention here), we follow Owen Suskind as he gets ready to leave his family home and move away to live on his home for the first time. It’s a situation his parents’ would never have foreseen when he stopped suddenly speaking aged 3 and a diagnosis of autism soon followed. This is a film about the magic of parents and of Disney – two powerful forces that should never be underestimated.
Welcome to the third edition of Something-To-Watch Saturday. Missed the first two instalments? Then just click here (#1) or here (#2) to sate that sense of intrigue.
Rocks (2019 – 93 mins – Netflix)
2020 has seen a quick turnaround of films popping up on VOD, and the window between their cinema release has definitely been shortened – but Rocks might just have the record of roughly two weeks from cinema to Netflix. Which is fortunate for many as Rocks is one of the finest films of this year. A beautifully moving and truly heartfelt story of an East London teenage girl (Bukky Bakray) and her younger brother (D’angelou Osei Kissiedu) left to fend for themselves when their mother leaves them behind. An extraordinarily powerful story of female friendship, one of the best movies about teenagers and one of the best British movies we’ve had in years. (Click here to read my full review)
Short Term 12 (2013 – 96 mins – Amazon Prime)
This is a perfect example of a film that is truly excellent on first watch then, when you return to it years later, you realise that a) it’s still excellent and b) the incredible success that deservedly followed for the ensemble cast. Grace (Brie Larson) is a supervisor at a group home for troubled teenagers, where she works with her partner Mason (John Gallagher Jr.). The young people in their care include Marcus (LaKeith Stanfield) and (Jayden) Kaitlyn Dever. Stephanie Beatriz and Rami Malek help round out the familiar faces at the start of their career cast. It’s a quietly moving drama, so brilliantly written and performed.
I love Guillermo del Toro and I love Gothic cinema. There was little doubt I’d love this – thankfully I *adore* this film. A true victim of inaccurate marketing, which pitched the film as a horror – which it isn’t – this is a film that will finally get the recognition it deserves with time. Beautiful to look at – every still could be framed and on a wall – this is the story of a young woman Edith (Mia Wasikowska), her mysterious first love Thomas (Tom Hiddleston) and his strange sister (Jessica Chastain). When Edith and Thomas marry, and he takes her back to his family estate – she quickly realises all is not what it appears. (Click here to read my full review.)
Zodiac (2007 – 150 mins – BBC iPlayer)
Impeccable ensemble casts appears to have become an inadvertent theme here, as Zodiac is yet another. Helmed by David Fincher we have Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey Jr., Brian Cox, Chloë Sevigny in this modern classic, which may just be the finest crime movie to have been made this century. Based on a true story, in the late 1960s/early 1970s, a San Francisco cartoonist becomes an amateur detective obsessed with tracking down the Zodiac Killer, an unidentified individual who terrorizes Northern California with a killing spree. A phenomenally gripping tale that haunts long after watching.
Brooklyn (2015 – 111 mins – Amazon Prime)
It’s due to continue raining in London for the next 48 hours, which means you deserve some good quality comfort watching. May I present you with this delight of a film, set in the 1950s, it’s the story of Irish immigrant Eilis (Saoirse Ronan) who arrives in Brooklyn desperately homesick. A chance encounter with Emory Cohen’s Tony brings her more joy than she could ever imagined, but when she’s forced to return home she’s faced with making a choice. Should she stay in Ireland with Jim (Domhnall Gleeson) or go back to Tony and her new home? The sets are extraordinary, the costumes exquisite, the writing beautiful and the acting sublime. You don’t just want to watch this, you deserve it. (Click here to read my full review)
Juliet, Naked (2018 – 105 mins – Netflix)
Of these seven slots, I think I’m going to try and always reserve one for an underseen romantic comedy. Last week was The Incredible Jessica James, this week has to be this adaptation of Nick Hornby’s 2009 novel of the same name. It’s the story of Annie (Rose Byrne), the long-suffering girlfriend of Duncan (Chris O’Dowd). Duncan’s one true love isn’t Annie, it’s an elusive musician he’s never met – Tucker Crowe (Ethan Hawke). When a never-heard-before Tucker Crowe demo arrives at their door, it could just be the ending of something and the start of something new… A charming, well-written and well-acted romantic comedy.
Welcome to the second edition of Something-To-Watch Saturday. Missed the first instalment? Then just click here to sate that sense of intrigue.
RBG (2018 – 98 mins – Netflix)
Why should I watch this?Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who passed away on 18th September 2020 aged 87, was a true icon. Given the loving nickname ‘The Notorious RBG’ in recent years, when she finally started to receive the attention and appreciation she finally deserved, this is documentary is the perfect introduction to those who knew nothing about her or for fans to celebrate her life. I could tell you here all about the amazing work she did, for men and women, and how she blazed the trail for so many people – but I think you should watch this instead and bask in her glory.
Honey Boy (2019 – 94 mins – Amazon Prime)
Why should I watch this? Shia LaBeouf started his career aged just ten, performing stand-up at comedy clubs. Film and TV roles soon followed, with Disney’s Even Stevens being the role that bought him to most people’s attention. Now 34, he’s grown up in front of the camera, with all sorts of hardships and trauma going on behind it. Honey Boy, written by LaBeouf and directed by Alma Har’el, is the closely inspired by his life story of a young actor’s stormy childhood and early adult years as he struggles to reconcile with his father and deal with his mental health. A wonderfully tender evocative movie, made all the more heart rendering by it’s layers of autobiography.
A Matter of Life and Death (1946 – 104 mins – BBC iPlayer)
Why should I watch this? I first watched A Matter of Life and Death during the second half of my first year of uni, were I was starting to fall out of love with film – unfortunate as my course was film studies… This film made me fall back in love and then some, so much so it’s still my 3rd favourite film of all time. Only upon seeing it can you appreciate just how ahead of a time this film is – the visuals and special effects, the story and its themes, the fact it was made in the shadows of WW2 – simply extraordinary. A British fantasy-romance that is truly timeless.
A Street Cat Named Bob (2016 – 103 mins – Amazon Prime)
Why should I watch this? Based on a true story, that has since resulted in 9 books, Bob was a street cat who adopted a human called James Bowen (planned in the film by Luke Treadaway). In 2007 Bowen enrolled on a methadone programme, busking in Covent Garden, and living in a supported housing programme in Tottenham, London. One night he returned home to a ginger cat (Bob, playing himself) in his hallway. When no-one claimed Bob, decided to help Bob and keep him. In doing so, James’ life was changed forever, as recounted in this very sweet feelgood movie. Click here to read my full review.
Why should I watch this? This is an example of a film that should persuade you to look past it’s subtitles if you are someone who is usually resistant to them. This Swedish film is an adaption of Fredrik Backman‘s novel of the same name. Ove (Rolf Lassgård) is a true curmudgeon, old and ill-tempered, he has cut himself off from the world since the death of his wife the previous year – and even then he had as little as possible to do with anyone as he could. He’s finally given up on life when his boisterous new neighbours inadvertently interrupt his plans. Darkly funny and uplifting, this is a real gem of a film.
The Incredible Jessica James (2017 – 83 mins – Netflix)
Why should I watch this? One of Netflix’s many own movies that seem to slip under the radar, this is a real treat to watch. It’s the story of Jessica James (a magnetic Jessica Williams) who strikes up a new friendship with Boone (Chris O’Dowd) whilst rebounding from a break-up with Damon (LaKeith Stanfield) whilst also working out what on earth she should be doing with her life. A really charming way to spend 83 mins!
‘Of all the arts, movies are the most powerful aid to empathy, and good ones make us into better people.’ – Roger Ebert
After 20 weeks, I’m going to take a break on doing Movie Mondays. Whether I bring them back, most likely in a slightly different format is still to be decided! For now, he’s an overview of the 420 films I recommended: