The Best Films of 2014

OK. I made a mistake. I wrote out most of my top 10 films of the year and then, apparently, didn’t save the post. That means I now have to do the whole thing again, which is a bummer, because it took a while. Therefore, this might be slightly abridged as I skim through most of the list.

A couple of other notes. I have included all films released in the UK in 2014, even if they were up for awards in last year’s awards season so some of these you might think shouldn’t be valid, but they are. So there.

Finally, last time I did this it turned out I miscounted and had 11 films in my top 10. I see no reason to change. However, I’m still going to start the countdown at 10. Ha. My list, my rules. I only realised my mistake when I got to number 3 last time, so there were two number 3s, but seeing as I know going in I have 11 films this time, we’ll have a joint 10th.

So, at 10…

=10. Calvary – dir John Michael McDonagh

Where McDonagh’s brother, Martin, followed up his brilliant small Irish crime thriller In Bruges with the underwhelming 90’s-style Pulp Fiction knockoff Seven Psychopaths, John Michael goes a different route after his debut, The Guard.

Calvary takes a philosophical look at matters, slowing the pace down to something far more contemplative. Brendan Gleeson is again the lead, this time as a priest who is told in confession that in one week he is to be killed and he should use the time to put his affairs in order. The time is used to meet his parish and try to diagnose the underlying motives that might exist before his date with destiny. It’s brilliant and understated and well worth your time.

=10. Frank – dir. Lenny Abrahamson

In 2013, Abrahamson’s brilliant What Richard Did made my list. Frank doesn’t quite reach those heights, but it’s still a very funny black comedy about the fictionalised life of Frank Sidebottom creator Chris Sievey. Michael Fassbender takes the lead inside the papier-mâché head (as far as we know) and adds another string to his bow.

9. Paddington – dir. Paul King

Look. When I first heard about this I assumed it would be bad. Like the Thomas The Tank Engine movie or something. It isn’t. It’s delightful. Funny, fun, good all-round family entertainment. So don’t make assumptions.

8. Dallas Buyers Club – dir. Jean-Marc Vallée

It won lots of awards. Justifiably. It signalled a peak in the McConaughsance as well as having a great supporting performance by Jared Leto. It dealt with a difficult topic sensitively and humourously. It was just great. And it’s on Netflix already.

7. Edge of Tomorrow – dir. Doug Liman

If they’d given it a better title (like Live. Die. Repeat. which is all over the bluray box, for example) and a slightly better trailer, this would have been a monster smash. It’s by far the best action film of the year (and yes, I include the Marvel films which were fine, but nothing more). It’s perhaps the best action film since Inception. It’s the kind of thing we need to encourage Hollywood to make more of, rather than Transformers movies, so go out and do your bit by buying a copy. Now.

6. The Boxtrolls – dirs. Graham Annable, Anthony Stacchi

A lovingly made stop-motion animation that has undercurrents of Roald Dahl in its heart. It’s delightful and weird and deserves to be seen by many more people. I’m not sure it’s as good as ParaNorman, but that was brilliant. This is close.

5. 12 Years A Slave – dir. Steve McQueen

This has probably only fallen down this far due to recency bias. This came out a year ago and you probably know everything about it by now. It’s a genuinely great film.

4. Nightcrawler – dir. Dan Gilroy

Set aside the fact that I read the title and hear ‘Nightcrawler, Nightcrawler…’ to the tune of the Beegees Night Fever for a moment. This is a great character study with a brilliant central performance by Jake Gyllenhaal. Gyllenhaal has become a firm favourite of mine now, after a string of great movies (Zodiac, Source Code, Brokeback Mountain) and great performances in flawed movies (Prisoners, Jarhead, End of Watch). He seems to have great taste in scripts. This may now be at the top of the list, certainly performance-wise, if not film-wise.

3. Pride – dir. Matthew Warchus

Pride follows in what has become a tradition in British film-making of funny, heart-warming movies about issues, often with a historical context. The Full Monty was the first, but following on from that was Brassed Off, Billy Elliot and Made in Dagenham. Pride may be the best of the lot.

Set in the mid-80s as the AIDS epidemic was taking off and the miners strike was hitting its peak, Pride follows a group of London gays and lesbians who set to support the miners of a small, Welsh village. An unlikely alliance is made. The film is based on a true story and, by all accounts, gets almost every detail bang on. It’ll make you laugh, it’ll make you cry. It’s the feel-good film of the year. And some other clichés. Seriously though, it’s brilliant.

2. Boyhood – dir. Richard Linklater

A film literally 12 years in the making and one that may clean up in the coming months. Richard Linklater got his cast together once a year for 12 years to film the childhood of a boy (Ellar Coltrane). It’s moving and powerful and something that is unlikely to ever be attempted again, let alone pulled off so well. Its strong central dramas at the core are brilliantly realised, with great performances by Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke. I’m not sure I can do it justice…

1. Under The Skin – dir. Jonathan Glazer

So I want to get into this movie a bit more. In 2013 I reviewed everything I saw. In 2014… not so much. But I feel I have something to say about this. It will contain spoilers though. I’ll highlight the spoiler section clearly when I get there, don’t worry. It’ll be after the embedded trailer.

When I see films I give them a rating in a little database I have. It helps me keep track of what I’ve seen and gives me a broad idea of where films fit in but it’s far from hard and fast. My initial rating for Under The Skin slotted it in 8th for the year, but it’s got the (coveted?) number one slot because, more than any other film, it’s the film that has stayed with me the longest and made me think more than any other.

The film has little in the way of story. Scarlett Johansson plays an alien driving around Glasgow, picking up men to seduce and lure back to her lair where they are engulfed in infinite blackness. It is purposely obtuse, it is unlike anything else. It is bizarre, scary, haunting, and, on some level, erotic. It is, as I am proving, indescribable really.

It’s a film I can’t guarantee you’d like. It’s a film I would expect a lot of people not to like. But, as I said, it stayed with me more than any other film on this list. I think it is a masterpiece.

SPOILERS

I’m not even sure these will be spoilers, but they are my thoughts on what the film means and they may give away things that you wish you didn’t know before seeing the film.

Johansson’s alien is seeking out men and through the course of the film her encounters are all different (as you would hope), while her approach in all situations is pretty much the same. Her demeanour doesn’t change. In no way is she the reason the different men react in the way they do.

We live in a culture which demeans women or tries to subjugate them. The culture will try to tell women that the way in which they are treated is because of them, and that men can’t be blamed. ‘Rape culture’ says that women shouldn’t drink to excess, shouldn’t wear short skirts or show skin, and that if they do then it’s their fault if they get assaulted. While that is the extreme end of the spectrum, those attitudes are present in all areas of life – the home, the workplace and all social spaces. There was a revealing video recently of a woman who just walked through the streets of New York recording all the comments that were sent her way. These are things that, fortunately, I am not subject to, and don’t even occur to me most of the time, but which are commonplace across society.

If women are held responsible in society for these things – “It only happens because they dress too sexily/dowdily” is the kind of comment you hear from people justifying the unsolicited complements or put-downs – then this film is a reaction to that. Johansson never alters in her approach to men but the reactions she gets are across the board – nervous, admiring, obsessive, assault. Johansson doesn’t court these reactions. She is neutral. They are the true nature of men asserting themselves in ways they feel are appropriate. The film is designed to show the lie at the core of the ‘blame culture’ that surrounds us. The responsibility for how women are treated by men lies with the men, not with the women.

Now, I don’t know if this is what Glazer and Johansson meant when they made the film, but that’s my reading, and I do find it interesting that Johansson is involved. Johansson was, of course, hacked several years ago, with nude photos being leaked over the internet. This was a massive violation, with many people pointing the blame at Johansson for having the photos in the first place. Things have taken a turn since then and when Jennifer Lawrence was hacked earlier this year, her reaction was not to apologise for having the gall to have nude photos for her own private reasons, but instead label the theft and publication as a sex crime and to call out people for asking her to apologise.

These cases of photo theft are just the extreme end of men taking a form of ownership of female bodies and sexual freedom. It’s an important topic and one that should be addressed. Of course, it’s not one that many in the media want to address because so much of what the media does is predicated on the exploitation of female flesh.

That then gets into whole other discussions about sex, pornography and so on that I’m not tackling here. It’s merely to link the themes of this film to the pervading narrative in our culture.

Under The Skin has a lot to say, but makes the audience work for it. Like great art should. And Under The Skin is certainly that.

The Wolf of Wall Street

Some kind of fevered masturbatory fantasy rather than something with anything of value to say

Some kind of fevered masturbatory fantasy rather than something with anything of value to say

The greatest opening line to a movie comes from Goodfellas:

As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster

It sets the scene, it draws you into the journey of how Henry Hill became a gangster and then how it destroyed him. The opening line to The Wolf of Wall Street might as well be “As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be rich”. It’s only a small change but it makes the world of difference. Martin Scorsese seemingly wants to do for Wall Street bankers what he did for the Mafia by filming the story of Jordan Belfort, a self-made Wall Street multi-millionaire who rode the wave all the way to the top and then couldn’t let go, destroying himself in the process. Only he’s not quite as destroyed as many of us might hope.

The film is problematic in many ways, but the first thing to say is that Wolf is a very funny film. Funnier than anything Scorsese has done for some time, and certainly the funniest performance of Di Caprio’s career, including some brilliant physical comedy, something of which I didn’t think him capable. Also, at three hours long, the film does not feel anywhere near as blaoted as one might fear. It rips along at a rare old pace and doesn’t really give you a chance to draw breath. But all of that leads to the however…

However, if Goodfellas is the equivalent of a big fat juicy steak meal (says the vegetarian), something that leaves you full and satisfied, Wolf is something else entirely. It’s full of empty calories. It’ll make you feel sick, it’ll make you fat, it’ll do nothing good for you. Here’s the thing. The film depicts the debauchery that was (is?) common-place amongst Wall Street traders. It is full of sex and drugs and drink and wasted money. It is life turned up not to 11 but 12. It is the thing we (hopefully) would hate to become were we living in a world of unlimited resources.

The better poster. The one that has some art behind it. Less representative of the film though, given it has some art about it.

The better poster. The one that has some art behind it. Less representative of the film though, given it has some art about it.

But the problem is that the film isn’t just depicting these things, it is these things.

The film is packed with nudity but it crosses the line between artistic merit and pornographic excess. Is there a justification for the lengths it goes to? I can’t see one. Likewise, there’s no equality. There’s a difference between portraying misogyny and being misogynistic and The Wolf of Wall Street crosses the line into the latter category. The women are treated pretty abysmally throughout and, ultimately, it comes across as leering and masturbatory. At times one can’t help visualising the other side of the camera as a 71 year old man asks a bunch of naked 20-somethings to do his bidding and it’s not exactly comfortable. This may be a representation of the behaviour that carried on with these people but we got that message in the first half hour. The constant repetition is unnecessary – the very definition of pornography, no? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-nudity in films and neither am I anti-pornography per se, but in this context it is unnecessary and uncomfortable. There needs to be some kind of authorial voice or something.

So The Wolf of Wall Street is a film that was enjoyable, though bloated, but the longer you reflect on it the worse it becomes. A leering and seedy exercise that unfortunately bears a resemblance to the worst of Michael Bay’s “fucking the camera” extremes.

D+

Film Length: 2 hours 59 minutes – Feels like: 2 hours 30 minutes

The Best Films of 2013

So this year I inadvertently conducted an experiment, writing reviews of everything I saw (including stand-up and music, but centred around films). I didn’t intend to do this when the year started, but that’s how it turned out. By the end of the year it was a bit of a slog. I didn’t always have things to say about films and, at various times, I got behind and had to blitz a few to get back up to date (witness my delayed best of year list!). I won’t be doing the same in 2014, though I will still post the occasional review when I feel I have something to say. A Wolf of Wall Street post will follow this shortly. In the meantime, here’s a quick run down of what I thought were the best films of the year, in reverse order…

10. Behind the Candelabra

A camp classic. I was completely unaware of the story of Liberace and this was a brilliant film getting me up to speed. Funny, scary, twisted and heart-breaking at various junctures, and the kind of thing you rarely get to see on screen.

9. No

Another true story I was completely unaware of – the advertising campaign that ousted a dictator. That dictator being Augusto Pinochet in 1988. Imaginatively shot to bring the era to life, and shot through with the kind of humour borne of the oppressive regime. Uplifting, fun and informative.

7 & 8. Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa & The World’s End

I’m not separating these two brilliant British character comedies. Both spin incredible stories out of the familiar, be that familiar characters, familiar ensembles, familiar settings. Both show Hollywood how to make good comedies – something Hollywood has been pretty bad at in recent years. Strong characters, strong stories and let those naturally bring the comedy forward, rather than forcing it.

6. What Richard Did

An antidote to American high school movies. A realistic portrayal teenagers coming of age. Likeable kids give fantastic performances, the film then throws in a heartbreaking twist, literally what Richard did. This film offers something that’s all too rarely seen and deserves a far wider audience.

5. Zero Dark Thirty

An enthralling telling of the hunt for and assassination of Osama Bin Laden, which gets stuck into the both the process and the moral stand points of the global hunt, culminating in a stunningly realistic visualisation of events at Bin Laden’s compound which serves as a thrilling and tense counterpoint to almost every espionage and action film of th last few decades.

4. All Is Lost

Daring and highly original film of man versus nature. Robert Redford is all at sea, battling his boat and the elements as he tries to survive.

3. The Sessions

Both heart-warming and heart-breaking, this is the story of poet and polio sufferer Mark O’Brien and his quest to lose his virginity. This is a film of touching and rare humanity that makes you think about life and the role sex plays. An incredible central performance from John Hawkes is complimented by Helen Hunt as his sexual surrogate and William H Macy as the priest Mark seeks counsel from.

2. Gravity

Yes, it’s a B movie with a B movie script, but it also does things on screen that you’ve never seen before. Tense, exciting, breath-taking – literally and metaphorically. The kind of film that needs to be seen in the cinema, and the first film that really merits the use of 3D.

1. Cloud Atlas

Insane on many levels and I’m still not entirely sure it works, and yet I was blown away. It’s like nothing else. It’s ambition is off the charts and for that alone it deserves to in the top 10, but then there’s what it actually accomplishes. It tells 6 interlocking stories, which don’t really interlock. It uses actors to play multiple roles across those stories, often unrecognisable. It has Buddhist undertones but leaves it to the audience to draw conclusions. It’s not for everyone but it is most definitely for me. Outstanding.

What’s interesting (to me) is the wide variety in there. Aside from numbers 7 & 8, the Britcoms, there’s a huge range of topics, styles and genres. There really is no film like any other on there. ven Alpha Papa and The World’s End are only really united by being British comedies, the films themselves are very different beasts. Looking back over the list, I saw 64 films at the cinema in 2013 and 26 of them I rated at 8/10 or better. That’s a really impressive hit rate. But it does bring me round to the other question. The worst films of the year. Here is my list of shame, the 5 worst films I saw this year and to save any confusion, the worst is the last one I list…

5. Elysium
4. To The Wonder
3. Kick Ass 2
2. A Good Day To Die Hard
1. Parker

Frozen

The story of the Canadian folk hero, a moose, and his best friend the snowman

The story of the Canadian folk hero, a moose, and his best friend the snowman

Frozen, the new Disney film based on Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen, has been garnering rave reviews everywhere it goes and, to be honest, I’m struggling to see why. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with it – it’s a perfectly entertaining film. It rattles along, has some laughs along the way, and has some strong female characters at the centre of it who don’t need to be validated by a man. It’s fine. It’s good fun. But nothing more. It’s not up there in the pantheon of great animated kids movies. For me, it’s a little behind Tangled, the 2010 retelling of Rapunzel, but it doesn’t get up there with the great films Pixar have produced (even if their standard has dropped the past couple of years) or the best of Disney from the past.

Still good fun though. Worth a watch.

B

Film length: 1hr 42mins – Feels Like: 1hr 50mins

All Is Lost

all-is-lost-poster2

In the past 12 months there has been a spate of sea-faring movies, starting with Life of Pi, through A Hijacking and Captain Phillips, and now we have what is perhaps the most remarkable of them all, All Is Lost.

Robert Redford players “The Sailor”, a man in a yacht in the middle of a deserted ocean. We join him when he wakes to find water pouring into his sleeping quarters and all over his computer and radio equipment. Heading outside to investigate, he discovers a rogue shipping container floating in the middle of the ocean that his yacht has drifted into. Redford sets about fixing things but it’s downhill from there. The remarkable things about the film are that a) it is played out as a virtually silent movie (about two thirds of Redford’s lines are said in voiceover before the film gets under way) and b) that Redford is the only actor on screen.

The nature of the film provokes questions about Redford’s performance. How much of what he does is acting? It’s a physical feat, one all the more impressive given his age (77), but so much of what we think of as acting isn’t required in this film. There’s no interaction and little or no emotion, beyond some minor exasperation at the predicament he finds himself in. But it’s pretty incredible, none the less.

At the same time, the technical aspects of the film are just as impressive. The special effects in the storm sequences are pretty incredible when one considers the scale of the movie. We all too often take these things for granted, especially in the big budget blockbusters, but this isn’t one of those and yet it remains immaculate.

Ultimately, this is a special film. It grips you throughout despite breaking all the rules for what you expect from a film. There is no conflict, beyond man versus nature. There is no emotion to draw you in. But from beginning to end you can’t take your eyes off the screen.

A-

Film length: 1 hour 46 minutes – Feels like: 1 hour 30 minutes

Saving Mr Banks

Tom Hanks and Emma Thomson cross rivers of blood. Only Liam Neeson can save them...

Tom Hanks and Emma Thomson cross rivers of blood. Only Liam Neeson can save them…

Mary Poppins is an all time classic film beloved by adults and children around the world, but it’s journey to the screen took over 20 years and the finished product wasn’t loved by the author of the book upon which it was based. Saving Mr Banks tells the story of the final stage of the jounrey from book to screen, with Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) pulling out all the stops to convince PL Travers (Emma Thomson) to sell him the rights to her story. It is a lovely film set around a brilliant performance from Thomson but being a product of Disney films, there are some questions that have to be asked about how truthful it is, specifically with regard to the final scene.

Before we get on to that, and the aspect of the story that I found of particular interest, I want to look at the story a little more. There are two strands which run throughout the film, the first concerning Disney’s attempts to buy the rights from Mrs Travers, and the second concerning Travers’ childhood growing up in Australia and her relationship with her alcoholic father. I understand the narrative need for the sequences in Australia but unfortunately the film doesn’t quite find the right balance in cutting between these sections meaning that the moment you leave Thomson you and yourself aching to get back to her part of the story and losing the impact of the earlier section. This could, in part, be due to the fact that Thomson’s performance is so strong that it casts a shadow when she’s not on screen, but I think it’s also down to the fact that the tone between sections differs wildly. Travers’ tut-tutting school-ma’am attitude has a lightness of touch that keeps a smile constantly on the lips, while the Australian sequences are melancholy and lack the lightness of touch and sparkle. While this is appropriate for the aspect of the subject these sections examine, it does mean they don’t fit the tone of the rest of the film, leaving an ultimately uneven experience.

Now, what interests me most is what this says about an author’s ownership of the story and characters. For me, the film portrays Travers’ wariness about letting someone else take control of her characters as being almost petty. Disney is a caring man who would never do any harm to her beloved Mary Poppins, and of course we, the audience, all know that an all-time great film will be the result. But of course that presents an unfair picture. What of all the good, personal novels that are ruined by Hollywood? Without the benefit of hindsight, how would Travers know what fate would befall her character? (And that’s setting aside the fact that she didn’t like what was done with the film ultimately). Look at, for example, The Golden Compass, the adaptation of Phillip Pullman’s Northern Lights. A film which tore the heart out of the source material. Or as Travers’ herself says in Saving Mr Banks, “Poor AA Milne”, whose Winnie the Pooh lost his soul at Disney’s hands.

The film seems to be saying that, while it understands her reluctance to sell, ultimately that is the right thing to do, which leads to the (is it or isn’t it) troubling final scene. This may be a spoiler, so you have been warned. Travers attends the premier of the film and, when it reaches its conclusion with Let’s Go Fly A Kite, a song which is given some emotional resonance earlier, Travers is shown crying. While she says “I hate cartoons” by way of explanation, the implication is that she has been drawn in and won over by what she has seen on screen and it has exorcised some long held demons for her.

I completely understand and accept this as a narrative device for telling the story, and I have no issue with true stories being tweaked to make them fit a narrative arc – it can be a necessary evil to make the story resonate – but I feel here the film is trying to have its cake and eat it. “She says she hates it” defenders can say and baldly, on the page of the script, that is true, but that is not what is shown on screen. I know I am not the only one to have drawn these conclusions from the way this scene is shot.

As I say, I don’t think, ultimately, this matters, but I do think an acknowledgement needs to be made somewhere. The story isn’t well known enough for it to outlive the film – this will, no doubt, become the definitive version, and that can be troubling. Hopefully the bluray edition will feature some documentary evidence which tells the *real* true story as well.

B+

Film length: 2hrs 5 minutes – Fells like: 1 hour 50 mins

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

The-Hunger-Games-Catching-Fire

I don’t get it. This film has been widely and wildly praised and I just don’t get it. I quite liked the first film, although it was a good half an hour too long, With some good editing it could have been a rip-roaring young-adult thriller, but instead it was ponderous and yet still lacked a little context.

This second film suffers from the same kind of issues, but added to that, it also comes across as a cover version of the first film. In the first film, Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark were chosen from their sector of the new world order’s version of America to be representatives in The Hunger Games. The Hunger Games are a fight to the death between 24 teenagers from the 12 different sectors. Last one alive, lives on with immunity. It’s like Battle Royale, but with a weak romance instead of the chutzpah to follow through on the concept. So, when we left them, Katniss and Peeta and faked a relationship on national TV in order that they both might be saved. In Catching Fire, we meet them touring the provinces and living the lie but President Snow (Donald Sutherland, sleepwalking through the role of one of the most tedious villains around) sees a threat in Katniss and wants her done away with. For some reason he doesn’t just arrange for the train that carries her around to crash, but instead sets up a “QuarterQuell” – a 25th anniversary Hunger Games in which all surviving winners head back into the dome and only one can survive.

So we head back into the games, but this time, instead of a bunch of obnoxious teens, we’re also given a couple of old people to work with too. Now, the problem is that more than half the film is needed* to set this up and get them back into the games. Considering so little plot is dealt with it’s unfathomable that it should take so long on the screen. Then, realising that the they’ve already done the ‘kids killing other kids’ bit once, the games quickly dispense with that bit, and President Snow, via Games’ designer Plutarch Heavensbee (apparently that’s a name, and he’s played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman who kinda makes it seem like a paycheck role), unleashes some surprises. These surprises made me laugh out loud. They are ridiculous and the way they’re handled made them seem rather desperate. When a reveal comes they make a little more sense, but that just makes you think that the writing and directing could have done a better job.

Jennifer Lawrence does a very good job at trying to hold it all together. I’m a big fan of hers, but it’s just a shame she’s attached to all of this and can’t go off and make more interesting stuff.

Yawn.

Film length: 2hrs 26 minutes – Feels like: 3 hrs

C-

*That much time is not needed

Gravity

Sandra Bullock is into goldfish role-play

Sandra Bullock is into goldfish role-play

Imagine you dislike cucumber. Maybe you do, maybe you don’t, but for the sake of this, you really dislike it. In your mind, it’s essentially flavourless and makes everything around it soggy, so while, in and of itself, it isn’t an issue, it makes everything around it that bit worse. Then imagine a friend cooks you a meal. They’re a really good cook and you trust that whatever dish they prepare for you will be delicious. They mention that a key ingredient is cucumber and you think about objecting before saying to yourself, “you know what, I trust my friend as a chef”. The meal is a revelation; you have rarely eaten anything so delicious. You have to acknowledge that the meal probably wouldn’t be quite so good without the cucumber. The cucumber is a vital part of this meal. It’s like Lebowski’s rug – it really ties the meal together. This is not to say that you like cucumber, this is to say that your friend’s cooking is brilliant. He is a brilliant chef.

3D cinema is cucumber, while (here’s the big reveal) Gravity is the meal and Alfonso Cuaron is my friend, the excellent chef*. The fact that Gravity is such a great film and is enhanced by the 3D doesn’t mean that 3D is a good thing in general. Generally speaking, in fact, it gets in the way and distracts you from the main event. Look, I even wrote a blog about it ages ago. In fact, as I can’t trust you to go back and re-read my old pieces, let’s excerpt the relevant passages here:

“It is something often (seemingly) ignored, but when you look at a film as striking as, say, Far From Heaven, the use of colour is used to emphasise emotion, to fill the audience with warmth and enables us to further empathise with Julianne Moore. Compare this to the stark, cold blues in Gattaca which give the whole film a cold, clinical, detached feel which serves to distance the viewer. 3D doesn’t – or hasn’t yet – been used in such a way to draw in or distance the audience. If someone works out a way to do this, that gives the film an additional emotional core not available in 2D, I will happily become a 3D convert…

…It may well be that it takes a true artist to unleash 3D in a way which will truly exploit its potential…

…The test will be whether artists like Mallick, Paul Thomas Anderson, Martin Scorsese and the Coen Brothers start using the technology and what they do with it.”

Cuaron is the artist that 3D cinema has been waiting for, someone who understands how to use 3D as a tool to help his story-telling, rather than purely as a novelty that gets in the way. And that brings us to a simple fact. Gravity may be the most beautiful looking film you will ever see. The visuals are stunning, but more than that, the directing is stunning. There is a certain majesty to the manner in which the camera floats weightless around the screen, performing an intricate dance with the actors and objects. You feel both that you are there in the midst of space alngside Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, and you feel the effortless glide of the story pulling you along.

Ah yes, the story. This is very simple. A crew are repairing the Hubble telescope. George Clooney is the veteran astronaut while Sandra Bullock is a rookie making the repairs. They are struck by some space debris and things go wrong. Can they survive? You don’t need more than that. It is a B movie concept, cut to B movie lengths – a slim 90 minutes – and that’s all it needs to be. It has no pretensions and it understands that epic is something you are, not something you become by bloating a script.

The film is crafted to slowly ratchet up the tension, to draw the audience in, to make you hold your breath. The 3D is used to bring the weightlessness to life, to help the audience live this nightmare along with the cast. It’s subtle. Not so subtle as you ignore it, but not obvious enough to truly notice it. It allows you to become part of the film.

Beyond that there’s nothing else to say, except you have to see this film. And if you can, you should see it in IMAX 3D – the biggest and best way to see it.

Well what are you waiting for? Go. Now.

A

Film length: 90 minutes – Feels like: 90 minutes

*Disclaimer – Alfonso Cuaron is not actually my friend. I cannot testify to his skills as a chef.

Thor: The Dark World

Image from Mis-Matched Siamese Twins Monthly

Image from Mis-Matched Siamese Twins Monthly

The original Thor film was a curiosity of 2 parts. Directed by Kenneth Brannagh, the scenes on Asgard, the home planet/realm of Norse God Thor (Chris Hemsworth), were treated as weighty drama filled with Shakespearean import while the scenes on Earth were imagined as being somewhere between Hanna Barbera, Playschool and Charlie Chaplin. Suffice it to say, it was the latter sequences which stood out, while Asgard was stuffy, emotionless and ultimately tedious (as well as being a brilliant advert for Mr Sheen).

Thor: The Dark World looks to repeat the formula, though the lack of a Brannagh makes the Asgard scenes that little bit more approachable while the story sidelines the fantastic Loki (Tom Hiddleston) for the bland Makelith (Christopher Eccleston, who does his best in a thankless role), a trade off which perhaps balances the two sides a little better but still fails to produce a truly thrilling ride.

The story sees Makelith and his men imprisoned by Thor’s father some time ago, and escaping in the modern day to track down the magical Aether, a mystical power source which will enable Makelith to take over the world. Or something.

Meanwhile, Thor’s earth-bound girlfriend Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) stumbles across the Aether because of a thing. I mean really – does it matter? Is it even explained? Not really. Does it make sense? No. Does that matter? Not really.

The pace of the movie is just about fast enough, though the scenes on Asgard still drag it down, but ultimately the film is redeemed with a fantastically fun end sequence using portals. No, that doesn’t make sense either, but it’s pulled off with enough comic panache that it gets away with it.

Fun while it lasts.

B-

Film length: 1hr 52mins – Feels like: 1hr 50mins

Escape Plan

Arnie and Sly get stuck in ITV's The Cube

Arnie and Sly get stuck in ITV’s The Cube

This should perhaps be considered an addendum to the B movies post of a few weeks back as it’s a continuation of that theme. It’s not quite the big dumb action movie that Sly and Arnie used to specialise in, but it’s close and it does represent the first time that these two have co-top-billed a movie.

The story finds Stallone as an expert at testing the security of prisons. He’s offered a big pay check to test out a CIA prison that is designed to be a more secret Guantanemo and dives in without a thought of the implications of getting involved with the CIA. So, in a matter of minutes he’s whisked away to an unimpeachable prison where, who should he find but Arnie. When his failsafe measures fail, he has to set about escaping for real, and Arnie latches himself on for the ride.

It’s a simple concept and it’s not without its flaws – if these prisoners are that of the grid why not just kill them? And why allow them to mingle with each other? – but you know what you’re getting in to. If you go along for the ride there’s plenty of fun to be had here. It’s a pleasantly dumb way to pass a couple of hours, and at no point does anyone make any stupid jokes about being too old for this shit, which makes for a pleasant change.

B-

Film length: 1 hr 55 mins – Feels like: 1 hr 45 mins