“It’s that evocation of the intangible interface between the mundane and the monumental that lends Ordinary Love such universal appeal – the sense of down-to-earth characters quietly wrestling with the cosmic mysteries of life and death, love and grief, with a mixture of sorrow and laughter”.
“Can You Ever Forgive Me? is a lively and compelling film with a sharp script and wonderful performances. It offers up no cheap sentiment or overblown emotion but is nonetheless affecting and quietly heartbreaking in its insightful and honest portrayal of loneliness, alienation and unlikely friendships”.
“Amplified by an electric soundtrack that doffs its baseball cap to the likes of techno and happy house, Beats is a taut yet transcendent time capsule of a movie. It’s a rhythmic celebration of our formative years, capturing the reckless essence of youth itself”.
“The streak of melancholic nostalgia running through Once Upon a Time in Hollywood might have blunted the razor-sharp edge of Quentin Tarantino, but it only emphasises the care he puts into his craft”.
“The film’s big moments are amplified by a prominent but unobtrusive operatic score, and the stylish visuals really help to compliment a script which heightens the sense of frustration and unrest caused by government corruption”.
“A bleak, but richly textured tale of a toxic, tragic relationship between aspiring filmmaker Julie and her obnoxious boyfriend Anthony. The performances are stellar and nearly every frame is carefully composed like a desolate yet delicate painting”.
2. The Irishman
“Presenting the mobster life as a rich tapestry of violence, corruption, and lingering sorrow, The Irishman marks a reflective curtain call in the Scorsese saga of crime movies”.
“Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver are already held in high regard, and this is arguably the best they’ve ever been. Nicole and Charlie are presented as very real people, both having made mistakes, there’s no immediate side-taking in the couple’s complicated battle”.
“A Simple Favor is a film determined to entertain at all costs and that determination is intoxicating. Feig surrounds his neo-noir plot in fun, frothy comedy and together it serves as a playful showcase for the excellent leading ladies at the film’s centre”.
“Lady Bird is a warm and wacky love-letter to adolescence which marks an important directorial debut for Gerwig. The identifiable style and substance from her career-to-date has carried through into her craft behind the lens, and her work carries a lot of emotional baggage along with the whimsical humour”.
“Dumped (Larguées) is brilliantly blithe and full of fun, encapsulating the insouciant essence of a holiday in the sun. Time away from day-to-day trials and tribulations can offer up an opportunity to reflect, and while their trip is initially planned to help Françoise recover from her marital woes, hers isn’t the only emotional baggage that needs to be checked. Lang delivers an entertaining cinematic excursion that you won’t want to come back from”.
“Blindspotting’s core steeliness can, in fact, be glimpsed early on, as Diggs’s man-with-a-van Collin – out beyond his curfew, two days before his probation ends – witnesses a cop shoot a fleeing suspect in the back. Should he report the incident, and potentially put himself back behind bars? Where a declamatory film would have made this quandary the whole show, director Carlos López Estrada pushes on”.
“Smarzowski attacks the corruption of Roman Catholicism from behind the camera lens with powerful propagandic piece Kler, but it’s a directorial damning that’s delivered with deft deliberation and a darkly dry sense of humour”.
“Widows is a riveting and rampant thriller that carries heft in its subject matter, but also captures the intrigue and exhilaration of the heist genre. It’s probably McQueen’s most mainstream work to date but doesn’t lack his signature visionary style. His acute artistic flair is as prominent as ever in a vehement, violent Chicago, adding considerable flesh to the bones of Flynn’s compelling screenplay to form a captivating cinematic caper”.
“First Reformed is a thought-provoking, engaging film that will challenge and shock cinema-goers, and Ethan Hawke brilliantly immerses us into Toller’s increasingly disturbed psyche. Tapping into society’s collective anxieties, Schrader delivers a mesmerising movie that is so strange and unsettling, and yet scarily topical in the craziness of the current climate”.
“In Phoenix, Ramsay has a major ally in staking her case for bleak psychological artistry. Weighed down with the horrific ballast of things he has suffered and seen – he’s a Gulf War veteran and former FBI agent, too, with the scars to prove it – Joe comes to life in an almost gruellingly subtle and interiorised performance”.
“Phantom Thread is a grandiose tale of toxic love that is completely bizarre in its brilliance. With stunning orchestral sounds leading us through the turbulence and the tension of Reynold and Alma’s relationship, Paul Thomas Anderson pulls the strings from afar, masterfully conducting a svelte swansong for leading man Daniel Day-Lewis”.
“Molly’s Game is a modern-day Goodfellas but with the bullets tucked up its sleeve, and Chastain delivers a turn that really ups the ante of her unsurmountable talents. Through the extraordinary woman the tabloids labelled as the ‘poker princess’, Sorkin has achieved the crowning glory of his cinematic career to date”.
When it launched in 2007, Skins was one of the most talked-about, controversial shows on British telly. Featuring sex, drugs and…more sex and drugs, these high school kids really caused a stir. Some have faded out of the public eye since, but a selection have gone on to be huge!
“David Lowery serves up a surreal slice of paranormal absurdity with A Ghost Story, finding long-lasting intimacy in a film that is utterly and eternally universal. The lonely protagonist is trapped by space but not time, creating thought-provoking cinema that intelligently highlights both the significance and insignificance of the marks we leave on the world in our wake”.
“As a work of filmmaking, it’s an immediate classic, fit to stand beside the best of Werner Herzog and Stanley Kubrick – though it’s also entirely its own thing, classical to its bones yet not quite like anything that’s come before it”.
“There is tremendous entertainment value in the dinners and musical evenings that the women lay on for their wolfish guest. Kidman’s delivery of the line, “Would you cay-uh for a digestif, corporal?” is very entertaining”.
“With its minimalistic cinematic approach, Manchester by the Sea manages to tell a heartrending story with maximum impact. Lonergan’s precise filmmaking, both in the script and the visuals, is cleverly geared towards the performance of Casey Affleck, which doesn’t for one second fail to deliver”.
“Raw marks a masterful directorial debut from a skilled filmmaker who presents a visceral feast for the eyes and ears that should be avoided at all costs by the sensitive and squeamish. It may be the most disgusting film I’ve seen at the cinema but the frequent shocking sequences are reined in by a sharply clever script that ensures that the craft of storytelling is at the forefront of the film’s vision”.
“Moonee, along with her friends Scooty and Jancey, goes off exploring around odd pastel coloured buildings that resemble the run-down ruins of a Wes Anderson set, and through their playful escapades the movie masterfully captures the mischievous adventure of childhood. The narrative flows like a summer holiday; wild and sprawling with no strong sense of where one day ends and another begins”.
“Jordan Peele achieves shockingly smart satire as well as shuddering trepidation with his remarkable directorial debut. His subversive vision is powerful and scarily topical, and is transformed into an intensely enjoyable cinema experience”.
“The trick to why La La Land works so well is the clever balancing act between nods to romanticised nostalgia and the harshness of reality. For example, mesmerising musical sequences can be ended abruptly by the shrill sound of an incoming call, illustrating the juxtaposition between the era they revere and the world we live in today”.
I was fortunate enough to spend a day covering this year’s Chicago International Film Festival, and can share with you my capsule reviews below!
God’s Own Country
Francis Lee’s coming-of-age coming-out feature debut has been labelled as the UK’s answer to Ang Lee’s critically acclaimed romance Brokeback Mountain; Britback Mountain if you will, but it replaces sentimentality with bleak, bruising reality. Set in the beautifully sprawling Yorkshire countryside, the progressive plot centres around Johnny (Josh O’Connor), a young farmer who works tirelessly all day and binge drinks at night to avoid acceptance of his sexuality. When his family hire Romanian farmhand Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu), a simmering romance ensues, and his passion is unleashed. The power of Lee’s filmmaking comes from the effective simplicity. He slowly builds atmosphere as Johnny’s feelings rise within him, and this pent-up tension is portrayed immaculately. There are questionable character traits as the story develops that don’t always ring true, but minor problems aside, this is a refreshing and compelling exploration of LGBT issues on the big screen.
Rhys Fehrenbacher stars as J in They, the feature debut by writer-director Anahita Ghazvinizadeh which tackles gender identity. Born as a boy but identifying as a girl, J takes hormone blocking medication to postpone puberty while they embark on a journey of self-discovery. When J’s parents are away for the weekend, older sister Lauren (Nicole Coffineau) and her boyfriend Araz (Koohyar Hosseini) arrive to look after her. Unfortunately, the acting comes across as amateurish and this in turn makes J’s interactions with those around her feel stilted and unnatural. What begins as an intriguing premise loses its way around halfway through when a dinner scene at Araz’s Iranian parent’s house is dragged out so long that you’d think they’d changed the reel and put a different movie on.
A character study is the focal point in steamy Chilean drama Los Perros, written and directed by Marcela Said who began her filmmaking career in documentaries. The central character is Mariana (Antonia Zegers), a bored and restless kept woman who wants to break out of the caged life she’s found herself in. Controlled by both her husband Pedro (Rafael Spregelburd) and her father Francisco (Alejandro Sieveking), she seeks solace from her horse-riding instructor Juan (Alfredo Castro), an ex-colonel with a dark and mysterious past. Visually the film is very impressive and cinematographer Georges Lechaptois takes full advantage of the stunning backdrop it unfolds against. Zegers gives a strong lead performance as Mariana’s unpredictable nature drives the story forward. However, once the initial metaphor is established and Mariana is seen to be the titular ‘dog’, the narrative treads water through the final act.
In Steven Soderbergh’s crime comedy caper Logan Lucky, Adam Driver delivers what could be his career-best performance to date as hapless one-armed barman Clyde Logan. His brilliant role has inspired a reflection on cinema bartenders who know their craft from their crap.
Passengers wasn’t a great film, but it did have a great bartender in Arthur, played by Michael Sheen. The android smooth operator serves up drinks to star-crossed lovers Jim and Aurora on luxury spaceship Avalon and injects welcomed humour into the script, albeit not always intentionally.
When the Gecko brothers played by George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino turn up at the Titty Twister rock bar, they are greeted by an intimidating leather-clad barman called Razor Charlie. Portrayed by Danny Trejo in a brief but memorable sequence, it soon transpires that all is not what it seems with the drinking-den clientele.
Sick Boy (T2)
Twenty years after the iconic original, Jonny Lee Miller reprised his excellent role as the entrepreneurial chancer Simon ‘Sick Boy’ Williamson. Now running the soulless Port Sunshine establishment, he sarcastically remarks that ‘the great wave of gentrification hasn’t hit us yet’.
When heavy drinking Henry Chinaski is a regular at the other side of your bar, it’s fair to say that you will have your work cut out. In steps Eddie played by Frank Stallone (Sly’s younger brother). When he’s not battling and bickering with Henry indoors as shown in the image above, they are out in the lot having a street fight.
Bob (The Drop)
Tom Hardy certainly isn’t known for having a subtle approach to acting, but goes against the grain with a nuanced performance is Boston-set crime drama The Drop. Running a bar used by local criminals as a drop-off point for ill-gotten goods, he gives a powerhouse turn that should go down as one of his best.