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.)
This will be the last edition of STWS of 2020, and we’re going out with a banger of a list. Thank you so much for reading these, I do hope they’ve been useful! Here’s the back catalogue: – #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6, #7, #8, #9 , #10, #11, #12 and #13.
I’m cheating a little here when it comes to this week’s Underseen Romcom – as this is technically more of a rom-com-drama. However, it features my favourite all-time favourite trope of hate-to-love with two of the UKs finest (in both senses of the word!) actors – Gemma Arterton and Sam Claflin. She plays a former secretary, newly appointed as a scriptwriter for propaganda films, who joins the cast and crew of a major production while the Blitz rages around them. He’s the established talented writer who feels put-out being forced to work with her. The fact this story is propelled by an superb chemistry, an epic supporting cast (Richard E. Grant, Bill Nighy, Eddie Marsan, Helen McCrory, Jeremy Irons, Jake Lacy and Rachael Stirling) and is a film about making a fim – well it’s close to cinema perfection in my eyes.
Forget Darcy. Forget Rochester. You’re sleeping on Gabriel Oak. Played by Matthias Schoenaerts in this version, he’s just wonderful. He’s one of three suitors pursing Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan), a woman whose headstrong and independent nature is atypical for Victorian England. Alongside Gabriel there’s the older, prosperous and dependable bachelor William (Michael Sheen) and the young, reckless & hedonistic Sergeant Francis Troy (Tom Sturridge). An excellent adaptation with one of Mulligan’s finest & most underrated performances.
When is a Transformer movie not really a Transformer movie? When it’s this movie. This is a wonderful action/sci-fi/adventure movie rooted in the traditions of Spielberg & other 80s classics. Nostalgia is dialled up to 11 courtesy of an epic soundtrack (The Smiths, Duran Duran, Tears For Fears and Steve Winwood to name but a few). It’s 1987, Bumblebee finds refuge in a junkyard in a small California beach town. On the cusp of turning 18 and trying to find her place in the world, Charlie Watson (Hailee Steinfeld) discovers Bumblebee, battle-scarred and broken. Such a charming delight.
By no means a flawless movie (Adrian Grenier being one of it’s multiple issues) this is a really sweet, low budget indie about a conservative church choir director (Jacki Weaver) who inherits her late son’s San Francisco drag club. The by-numbers fish-out-of-water culture-clash narrative isn’t the reason to watch, the reason to give this a go is the moving performances by the club performers (Mya Taylor, Allister MacDonald and Anthony Skordi) who each portray all-too real storylines. Taylor in particular is a stand-out who hasn’t been given nearly enough opportunities since 2015’s Tangerine.
We don’t talk nearly enough about friendship break-ups. Speaking from personal experience, they hurt just as much – if not more – as romantic break-ups. This fim, about a New York woman played by Greta Gerwig (who doesn’t really have an apartment) who apprentices for a dance company (though she’s not really a dancer) and throws herself headlong into her dreams, even as the possibility of realizing them dwindles, is one of the few that depicts the painful disintegration of friendship. Funny, sad and bittersweet – one of Noah Baumbach‘s finest. Also, there’s some Adam Driver for all you stans out there (I see you Bleakley!)
Based on “The Little Broomstick” by Mary Stewart, a strange flower grants a girl magic powers. The less said about this one, the better. A really charming coming-of-age fantasy story that will linger with you long after watching.
There’s something wonderfully old fashioned yet brilliantly refreshing about this one. In this 1970s set crime drama, a woman (Rachel Brosnahan, unrecognisable from The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel) is forced to go on the run after her husband betrays his partners, sending her and her baby on a dangerous journey. Arinzé Kene (a man who isn’t yet as big a star as he deserves to be) is the man tasked with helping them on their journey. A slowburn packed with unexpected moments that makes for utterly enthralling watching.
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.
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…)
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.
You know the drill. It’s November, it’s dark at 4pm and the weather is rubbish. It’s the second weekend of Lockdown 2: The Second Cummings (or goings, amiright?!?) You want some movies to watch and escape in. I’m happy to provide with 7 here, and 7 more in each of these. That’s 63 to choose from, that’s how good I am to you. #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6, #7 and #8.
Anna (Jodie Whittaker) is stuck: she’s approaching 30 and living like a hermit in her mum’s garden shed, avoiding fully living her life due to the fact that she is crippled by the loss of her twin brother. A week before her birthday, her mother (Lorraine Ashbourne) sets her an ultimatum – move out of the shed and move on with life. Soon she is entangled with a troubled eight year old boy obsessed with Westerns, and the local real estate agent (Brett Goldstein) whose awkward interpersonal skills continually undermine his attempts to seduce her. The feature debut of writer-director Rachel Tunnard, this is a such a charming bittersweet British indie. Just delightful.
This week’s underseen romcom is a fairly recent one. I last rewatched this in April, during Lockdown 1, and I found myself craving the considerate and empathetic political career of main character Charlotte Field (Charlize Theron) in her run for the presidency, and the really positive and well-balanced burgeoning relationship she has with journalist Fred Flarsky (Seth Rogen). I genuinely could write an entire essay on their wonderful relationship and how he supports her & her career. Romantic and so so funny.
Another gem that Netflix plonked on the shelf rather than give it the fanfare it deserves. Radha (Radha Blank, who also writes and directs) is a down-on-her-luck NY playwright, who is desperate for a breakthrough before 40. Reinventing herself as rapper RadhaMUSPrime, she vacillates between the worlds of Hip Hop and theater in order to find her true voice. Intimate yet epic, scathing yet endearing – a gem that truly sparkles if you give it the chance it deserves.
Based on the book of the same name by Emma Jane Unsworth (who also wrote this screenplay), Animals is the story of best friends Laura (Holliday Grainger) and Tyler (Alia Shawkat) whose party-loving lifestyle gets tempered by Laura’s engagement to Jim (Fra Fee), disolving their friendship in the process. A beautiful, consistently funny yet devastating, mediation on modern love and friendship.
One of the consequences of having a blockbuster-free summer (Tenetaside) was that independent cinema took over our screens, even if they didn’t get the large audiences they deserve. This film is the perfect example of one of those films you probably missed and need to catch-up on. 14-year-old Leigh (Frankie Box) is an aspiring teenager gymnast’s whose world is turned upside down with the arrival of the half-brother she never knew she had. Box’s debut performance is captivating and so full of depth in a wonderfully-told bittersweet story.
A cover-up spanning four U.S. Presidents pushes the country’s first female newspaper publisher (Meryl Streep) and her editor (Tom Hanks) to join an unprecedented battle between press and government. Another film that may resonate that bit deeper due to events of recent months/weeks/days, this is the cinematic equivalent of sitting in a really comfy leather tub chair with a dram of whiskey, a cigar and some comfy slippers. Steven Spielberg at his most solid historical best.
I’ll be honest, it’s only as I’m writing these brief comments that I’ve started to see an unintended link between some of these films. Dark Waters is about a corporate defence attorney (Mark Ruffalo) takes on an environmental lawsuit against a chemical company that exposes a lengthy history of pollution. It too will have an even greater resonance around now, seeing capitalism and it’s destructive influences. A fantastic central performance by Ruffalo, this is a film that will haunt you for a long while after. So now I’m going to cheer myself up and listen to this. See you next week….