As the year draws to a close it strikes me that there are a few films I’ve caught up on but not reviewed. Mostly I like to try to post my reviews in a timely fashion for when the films in question appear in the cinemas or on VOD services here in the UK. These, then, are the titles I’ve played catch-up on, so haven’t previously taken the time to go into my usual indulgent diatribes over. But they’re all worth mentioning; titles to look out for on home release or streaming services over the coming months.
A Most Violent Year (J.C. Chandor)
J.C. Chandor’s thriller about an immigrant businessman struggling to stay afloat while beset by thieves in New York circa 1981 rejects current trends in Hollywood for sensationalism or quick-fire pyrotechnics. It’s a cool, slow burner, one which owes far more to its ilk of the 70’s. Whether the film has much to say is another matter, but as a piece of restrained drama I found this one excelled beyond the norm, bolstered by the one-two punch of leads Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain.
Clouds Of Sils Maria (Olivier Asayas)
Juliet Binoche is as dependable as ever as actress Maria Enders, struggling to find her footing with a role in a forthcoming play that connects to her personally, but the real revelation of Clouds Of Sils Maria is the continuing excellence of Kristen Stewart as her close PA Valentine. Stewart has been in ascendancy of late, matching her former Twilight co-star Robert Pattinson as far as sincere attempts to shake off a much-maligned YA past go. The truth is, however, that she is just one of many reasons to see Asayas’ thoughtful film; a formal beauty that lingers long after the credits roll.
Listen To Me Marlon (Stevan Riley)
This documentary biopic of Marlon Brando proves a little more simplistic and conventional than its ghostly opening suggests it’s going to be – we run through his career film-by-film, scandal-by-scandal – yet Riley’s essay on one of the greatest of all actors also works as a love letter to the greatness of film itself. Sure, there’s the nostalgia of revisiting Brando’s powerful body of work, but the man’s own perspective on the stories we tell and why we feel compelled to tell them turns what could’ve been a mere encyclopedic exercise into something that feels specific and personal. One senses Brando used his craft to heel, or maybe even obfuscate old wounds and demons. The picture presented is of a tortured and tempestuous soul trying to make right with the world.
Magic Mike XXL (Gregory Jacobs)
The feel good hit of the summer that I was a little late to. Gregory Jacobs’ lighter, breezier sequel to Steven Soderbergh’s 2012 hit is actually the better film, hitting just the right tone for its amiable hedonistic road trip. This time the Kings Of Tampa head west for a male stri- sorry, male entertainer – EXPO of sorts. Matthew McConnaughey and Alex Pettyfer may not return, but this allows some of the other players more time to shine (chiefly Joe Manganiello, stealing a number of scenes). Magic Mike XXL works so well because it celebrates the temporary. Enjoy the moment, it says. So universally appealing is this message that it transcends the reductive ‘chick flick’ dismissals so easily flung in its direction. And while the treatment of women as, essentially, props in the dance routines goes slightly against the grain of the movie’s supposed feminist street cred, it’s worth noting that, in the film’s standout scene, it isn’t ‘Big Dick’ Richie’s improv moves that raise a smile, but rather the moment he actually talks to his audience. A serious contender for my end of year top 20 list and by far Channing Tatum’s best film.
Slow West (John Maclean)
It’s a shame I saw Slow West as late in the year as I did, because this sharp little Western could’ve been another serious contender for placement on my top 20 films of the year. John Maclean peppers his film with a Coenesque wit, but there are plenty of other charms. Michael Fassbender and Kodi Smit-McPhee play well against one another, and its heartwarming to see the latter maturing as an actor. The cinematography is regularly breathtaking as well. Clipping in at under 90 minutes, this is an easy recommendation giving you few excuses to pass it up.
Tokyo Tribe (Sion Sono)
So, here we have a Japanese gang warfare hip-hop musical. Oh, the feud may or may not sincerely be over penis size. Whatever. It’s bonkers and slightly glorious for it. A highbrow classic? Not so much. But neon hasn’t looked so dizzyingly beautiful in the rain since Blade Runner.
Spy (Paul Feig)
Bummed out that Spectre was a largely disappointing slog? Change up to Paul Feig’s Spy; a hilarious foul-mouthed showcase for the comedy stylings of Melissa McCarthy. It’s telling that 15 years on from Austin Powers, spy spoofdom has gotten this much better. Spy is a fun kick in the balls to the dreary, casual misogyny of the Bond franchise. Rose Byrne is also on fine form as the film’s villain, going blow-for-blow with McCarthy, while Jason Statham raucously sends up his own tough guy persona.
Eden (Mia Hansen-Løve)
I have to admit that while I wasn’t as wholly bowled over by Hansen-Løve’s Eden as some, this trip through the last 20 years of dance music culture remains a fine and consistent snapshot into a hedonistic world that’s often dismissed. There’s an almost inevitable sense of comedown as the film’s characters struggle to come to terms with their own advancing years (and by extension mortality) in the face of the forever young and immortal 4/4 beat, and the film feels universal for reaffirming that, regardless of the genre, music can utterly captivate, move and inspire us. And it made me dig out Daft Punk’s Homework all over again.