Pitch Perfect (Jason Moore, 2012) = 3/5
Let me go on record as saying I would not have watched this film if it weren't for my infatuation with Anna Kendrick. She just makes me swoon...her smile, her perfect skin, her hair, her eyes, her...oh nevermind...back to the movie. It entertained me and most of the musical numbers hit the spot, but there were far too many plot contrivances and the characters KNEW they were in a comedy. It was also too afraid to be earnest. So many potentially poignant moments were sullied by a cheap gag.
The Purple Rose of Cairo (Woody Allen, 1985) = 3.5/5
It's a tribute to the solace that cinema offers. It's often a better option than reality, and even though that element of tangibility is lacking, we can guarantee it won't desert us. The film is well executed without being particularly memorable. The notion of a movie character stepping out of a screen and into the real world had the potential to be gimmicky, but Allen handles it with grace. The director has named this among his favourite films from his own filmography, perhaps even his absolute favourite.
Eden Lake (James Watkins, 2008) = 3/5
There are some genuinely unsettling moments in this film about a couple who are menaced by a group of rambunctious youths while holidaying in the English countryside. It's just a shame that it tapers off into formula and that the pacing is very messy. Its ideological position towards the working class is also a bit too obvious.
In the Loop (Armando Iannucci, 2009) = 4/5
This spin-off from BBC TV series The Thick of It is a sharp and witty satire of 21st century Anglo-American politics and the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Rarely will you see a more quotable film, and that's largely due to the performance of Peter Capaldi. It wasn't very accessible to me since I've never seen an episode of The Thick of It, but it's really hard to fault anything on show here.
Léon: The Professional (Luc Besson, 1994) = 4/5
The film is often implausible, but the chemistry of Portman and Reno is very compelling. Portman is unbelievably precocious in her debut role—one she auditioned for at the tender age of 11. I think this is a great example of a film that bridges the gap between mainstream and arthouse cinema. I have a reputation for shying away from action films, but Besson understood the importance of crafting original characters, so I really liked this one!
Night on Earth (Jim Jarmusch, 1991) = 4.5/5
Here's a film I like to call Taxicab Confessions for the Intellectual. It's an anthology of five taxi drivers and their passengers on the same night. Each driver is based in a different city, namely Los Angeles, New York, Paris, Rome and Helsinki. Every segment has its moments. My favourite vignette would probably be the Paris one, although the most memorable performances are from Winona Ryder (the punky, talkative LA driver) and Roberto Benigni (the Roman driver who horrifies a priest with tales of his sexual deviance). Ultimately, it is a funny, tender film about the fleeting connections we forge and the wondrous breadth of human experience.
Leaving Las Vegas (Mike Figgis, 1995) = 3.5/5
Some people in this world are truly broken. They have hit bottom so hard that it has opened up to create a new one. Some people in this world will always be lonely. They know that "It gets better" is just a saccharine myth perpetuated by the privileged. This is a film for the fuck-ups in the world. Sometimes we just have to accept people as irreparably damaged. Momentary connections can ease the pang of loneliness, but they ultimately won't count for much. The screenplay is ripe with truisms and the performances from Shue and Cage are excellent. Cage's was excellent enough to snare him an Oscar, so in your FACE, Cage-haters! But hey, it's not all great. Figgis' style of direction didn't sit well with me and often made for some really mawkish scenes. You will rarely see a more depressing film in your life.
Critters (Stephen Herek, 1986) = 3/5
Nothing remarkable, but there are a lot of fun scenes here (although not as fun as Critters 2: The Main Course). It has a unique sense of humour and features some nice special effects. I have a soft spot for the Critters franchise because so many people unfairly dismiss it as a Gremlins ripoff.
Jules and Jim (François Truffaut, 1962) = 4/5
One of the best films ever made about a love triangle. Well-written, although the characters are too neurotic and thus inaccessible at times. I love the ending.
Wait Until Dark (Terence Young, 1967) = 5/5
This film terrified my uncle when he saw it at the movies as a young boy, and it terrified me when I watched it this month from the comfort of my own home. This is a scary suspense flick that echoes some of the best Hitchcock films. In my opinion, its climax is one of the greatest in the history of cinema...or at least one of the most frightening. Audrey Hepburn is wonderful as a blind woman who is a lot cleverer than people think. Alan Arkin is quietly chilling as a criminal with murderous intent. It's the type of film that makes you wish you could travel back in time to see it in theatres.
The Shining (Stanley Kubrick, 1980) = 5/5
I had the privilege of seeing this glorious film on the big screen (thank you Dendy Newtown), and this screening confirmed that it remains my second-favourite movie of all time. The Overlook Hotel is like one big playground with a myriad of intricacies and it's just so easy to get lost in this film. And trust me, once you realise how wonderful it is, you won't want to be found.
Basic Instinct (Paul Verhoeven, 1992) = 3/5
It wants to be a good film, but ultimately cannot escape its trappings as a dated erotic thriller. Stone's performance stands out, and I'm not just saying that because I got to see her crotch.
Before Midnight (Richard Linklater, 2013) = 4/5
There's a scene in Before Midnight where Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) watch the sun set behind the mountains of the Greek Peloponnese peninsula. Celine watches it intently, anticipating its inevitable sinking: "It's still there, it's still there...it's gone." I've seen sunsets in countless films, but this one had an especially poignant resonance, as I realised that it wouldn't be long until one of my all-time favourite trilogies would come to an end, and unlike the sun, it will not rise again. Unless Richard Linklater has a significant epiphany in the future, this is the last we'll see of Jesse and Celine, the couple we first met in 1995's Before Sunrise, and who rekindled their flame nine years later in Before Sunset. In the first film, Jesse wooed Celine on a train, convincing her to alight for a spontaneous Viennese adventure. In the second film, the two meet by chance at a Parisian bookstore during one leg of Jesse's book tour. Despite sharing some intimate moments in both of these films, there was never a sense of commitment between these two souls. It was the transience of their encounters that made the films so special. Fast forward another nine years to Before Midnight, where we learn quite early that Jesse and Celine are now a fully-fledged couple with twin daughters. Personally, I consider it the least enjoyable film in the trilogy, but this is only because it's the one most grounded in reality. You can read my full review here.
Come and See (Elem Klimov, 1985) = 4.5/5
Fuck this shit. I mean that as a compliment. This is almost too grim to bear, and that's because it's the most realistic war film I've ever seen. There is no emotional reprieve in the entire thing. Do not watch this if you're having a terrible day. Throw on some shitty circa-2011 Adam Sandler movie or a Care Bears boxset if you have to; just don't watch this.
The Birthday Party (William Friedkin, 1968) = 3/5
William Friedkin has directed some excellent films in his time, but this adaptation of Harold Pinter's 1957 play is not one of them. It was very hard to assign a star rating to this film. Watching The Birthday Party is the equivalent of asking for a Big Mac at Pizza Hut and refusing to leave when someone tells you you're at the wrong store. Does that analogy make any sense? Probably not, but neither does this film. This is quite simply one of the weirdest films I have ever seen. It bored me. It frustrated me. It even angered my mum who told me rather aggressively to turn the volume down. The Robert Shaw character is essentially trolled by two mysterious men (played by Patrick Magee and Sydney Tafler). I use the word trolled quite purposefully. They employ odd mind games that are designed to elicit a specific emotional response. The performances were just enough to earn the film a passing grade, but this is strictly for Friedkin completists only.
In Summary - The Must-See Films (4.5 or 5 Stars)
* Night on Earth
* Wait Until Dark
* The Shining
* Come and See