Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011) Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Noomi Rapace, Jared Harris, Stephen Fry, Rachel McAdams, Paul Anderson. Dir: Guy Ritchie.
Holmes’ pits wits against Moriarty on the eve of Watson’s wedding. Occasionally veers close to nonsense but otherwise very witty action entertainment. Set pieces are stunning, but performers are the highlight. Law and Downey are an ideal double act and Harris perfect as their seething nemesis. Rapace, alas, deserved more.
Singin’ in the Rain (1952) Gene Kelly, Donald O'Connor, Debbie Reynolds, Jean Hagan, Cyd Charisse. Dir: Gene Kelly, Stanley Donen.
A film star tires of his publicity invented romance with his leading lady, just as sound threatens their careers. Has its cake and eats it, managing to lampoon, celebrate and indulge in all Hollywood’s fantastical excess. Clever, funny, beautiful, and with astonishing dancing, it’s 100 minutes of pure cinematic joy.
Why Worry? (1923) Harold Lloyd, Jobyna Ralston, John Aasen, Jim Mason. Dir:Fred Newmeyer, Sam Taylor.
A rich hypochondriac travels to a Mexican resort to relax, but unwittingly walks into a revolution. After the set-up the story never really goes anywhere, but it hardly matters. Mildly amusing at first, once Lloyd teams-up with the gentle giant it settles into a consistent stream of hilarity. Terrific fun.
Play Time (1967) Jacques Tati, Barbara Dennek, Jacqueline Lecomte, Billy Kearns. Dir: Jacques Tati.
Monsieur Hulot gets lost in a high-tech modern metropolis. A satire about dehumanising urbanisation and technology. Sets and cinematography are stunning, each shot an intriguing visual puzzle, with gags scattered amongst the crowds. Frustratingly aimless in its unfolding, it’s more intellectual puzzle than comedy, which is a strength and weakness.
My Week with Marilyn (2011) Michelle Williams, Eddie Redmayne, Kenneth Brannagh, Judi Dench, Emma Watson, Dougray Scott, Dominic Cooper. Zoe Wanamaker. Dir: Simon Curits.
While working with Olivier in London, an insecure Monroe befriends a studio assistant. Teary-eyed nostalgia painted with very broad strokes. Williams does a respectable Monroe, and Brannagh enjoys himself as Lawrence, but it's as subtle and obvious as Mills & Boon, with dialogue that’s so clunky it starts to hurt.
Batman Forever (1995) Val Kilmer, Tommy Lee Jones, Jim Carrey, Nicole Kidman, Chris O'Donnell, Michael Gough. Dir: Joel Schumacher.
Batman fights Two-Face and Riddler, while an orphan becomes Robin. Unlike Burton’s movies, has a structured narrative focused on Batman – positives end there. Has the same schizophrenia, being part Frank Miller, part Adam West, but with added ADD. Jones and Carrey seem locked in a battle over who’s most awful.
The Gorgon (1964) Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Richard Pasco, Barbara Shelley, Patrick Troughton. Dir: Terence Fisher.
A man is accused of being a serial killer, but unknown to the public, all the victims turn to stone. Having an enemy the characters can’t even look at is a narrative hurdle it can’t overcome. The monster isn’t even unnerving, and its unconvincing mythology seems made-up on the fly.
The Deep Blue Sea (2011) Rachel Weisz, Tom Hiddleston, Simon Russell Beale. Dir: Terence Davies.
A woman attempts suicide when the romance with the man she left her husband for begins to wane. An elegant adaptation of Rattigan’s play, skilfully performed by a strong cast. But despite their talent and Davies’ natural grace, it’s too stately and modest in scope, well-mannered but feeling surprisingly in-substantial.
I watched a good many new films in 2011, probably more than any year in my life. Alas, there was not time enough for everything; I wasn’t able to fit in the charm and sophistication of Human Centipede 2, or the 3D immersigasm of Transformers 3, but I was able to fit in many films that were good.
Here are five of them, in no particular order, because I couldn’t think of one.
Take Shelter Michael Shannon, Jessica Chastain, Shea Whigam. Dir:Jeff Nichols.
Inspired by dreams of a catastrophic storm, a man decides to repair the old storm shelter in his back yard. The coming storm is, of course, a metaphor for madness; Michael Shannon knows schizophrenia runs in the family, but though he may doubt his visions, he can’t help but pay attention to his instinct to protect his family.
The film’s biggest asset is Shannon, whose tough granite-stone face is able to hide perfectly the feelings and emotions of a man teetering on the edge (see Boardwalk Empire). He’s a figure who shuffles around shyly, but whose imposing size and unpredictability make us really fear for his family.
But we never lose sympathy for our lead, and that’s the film’s great triumph. It makes us understand the fuel of a man’s madness; we like and pity Shannon’s character but at the same time remain ambivalent to how his family and friends should deal with him. Chastain, the less showy, but crucial role, has to decide whether to care for her husband or to run and protect herself and child.
Madness is normally something that appears on screen in a fantastical, exaggerated performances; this film deserves much kudos for showing ii in its devastating human form.
Hugo Asa Butterfield, Chloë Grace Moretz, Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen, Emily Mortimer, and Jude Law. Dir: Martin Scorsese
There was a bit of discussion when Hugo came out as to whether it was a film made for critics rather than children, who would find it cinematic nostalgia boring. It’s a celebration of cinema’s birth, particularly the work of Georges Melies*, and of course lacks the excitement of flying robots and CGI penguins.
But one wonders slightly if this reaction is based more on enmity between journalist critics and academic critics; there are many children’s classics – Watership Down, Bambi – that are far from bursting with action and volume. And if our children can’t cope with watching something more sedate, I think we should start worrying about them (more).
Hugo casts an air of magic that I found irresistible, and not just as a fan of silent cinema, and Melies in particular. Scorcese’s recreation of the Paris Gare Montparnasse train station is a visual treat, and even manages to use 3D sensibly as a way to give it depth and its crowd’s volume (although you can still do without it). The cast, including the children, are all practically perfect, and it even finds room for a real piece of cinematic history, Sir Christopher Lee, as a kindly bookseller. It really is a heart-warming delight for film fans, and if kids don’t like it, it’s important that you show them why they’re wrong (smack them if you have to).
We Need To Talk About Kevin Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilly, Ezra Miller. Dir: Lynne Ramsey.
A film that will really have you worrying about your children. Harrowing and deeply upsetting, the film is based around a high school shooting, and follows events before and after from the perspective of the perpetrators mother, played by Tilda Swinton. It’s a film about nature versus nurture, was Kevin simply born bad, or did his mother somehow raise him that way? The implication being that Kevin consciously knows that his mother had never wanted children.
The film jumps back and forth through time, stripping away any element that is not relevant, leaving this an extremely meaty piece of viewing. It’s not jolly, but yet somehow the finale still manages to give you a just a grain of hope for the future. Tilda Swinton deserves a full trophy cabinet come awards season. Of the five films I’ve chosen, this is surely the one people will still be talking about in 20 years time.
Oranges & Sunshine Emily Watson, Hugo Weaving, David Wenham, Richard Dillane. Dir: Jim Loach.
A quieter entry, but the better for it. If you’ve got an incredible story, then why not let it tell itself?
It benefits of course from being a true story; little known, but absolutely shocking. It’s the tale of Margaret Humphries and her discovery that thousands of UK orphans were shipped to Australia in the decades following the war, even though many of them had living relatives. The children in many, many cases did not go onto better lives, and were instead subject to abuse and almost servitude to supposedly charitable organisations.
The movie never engages in hysterics, providing believable stories of tortured souls and damaged personalities. But it’s not a Hollywood award stalking-horse, it’s a movie by Ken Loach’s son, Jim, and is built around small, but totally believable intimate performances. Even as the hero, Margaret Humphreys, Emily Watson, is just a normal good-natured social worker, whose quest to do right exposes her own vulnerabilities and quickly has her out of her depth. A film that proves you don’t have to make a lot of noise to make hearts break.
The Skin I Live In Antonio Banderas, Elena Anaya, Marisa Paredes, Jan Cornet. Dir: Pedro Almodóvar.
The scariest film of the year has very little blood, but it will mess with your mind like nothing else. Antonio Banderas is a mad doctor who has a girl imprisoned in his home, someone he has operated on to give them a superior resilient form of skin. But as he becomes obsessed with the beauty of his creation, we discover the sinister truth that brought them together, a frightening tale of revenge and psychological and sexual assault.
I don’t want to spoil the twist, but it’s definitely one that will mess with your head. Almodovar plays the scenario completely straight, as the more fantastical elements of the story are almost incidental (the skin experiment is virtually a red-herring).
This is a story about madness and psychological horror, with Banderas cast perfectly as man with a steely, stylish air whose madness and menace he seems almost able to control. Shot on beautiful sets, resplendent in their clinical elegance, this is one that really is going to stay with you and make you shudder.
is a writer for better and for worse. I got in above my station writing for M&S, but was credit crunched down to writing about sex toys, Viagra and herpes meds. I’m now taking a step back towards legitimacy by writing for JML Direct. I’m awkward and don’t like much.