In an era when there is such a healthy abundance of film and TV, selecting your evening viewing should be luxuriously easy. However, we have such an overload of choice that sifting through the options can be exhausting. And then when you finally make a decision, it is with more apathy than eager anticipation. I have vowed to be more ambitious and adventurous with my movie and TV watching and thought I’d share my discoveries. I’ll be trying to avoid most mainstream pop culture in favour of reaching into the digital black hole on the hunt for some hidden gems. I won’t always be successful, and there will be plenty of occasions when I indulge in watercooler conversations re popular fare, but I’m going to do my best to be a more omnivorous cinephile.
Lady Bird (2017), Picturehouse Central *****
One of the best-told stories I’ve seen in a while was found in Lady Bird, the film that has been on the receiving end of high praise throughout awards season, but which UK audiences had to wait until late February to experience. Its great cast and wonderful director present a personal tale that seems firmly rooted in its context with a dynamic aesthetic and convincingly flawed characters. The mother-daughter relationship has dominated the discourse for understandable reasons, but the standout feature for me was the truth, the empathy, of the story. Everyone who has ever been a teenager and lived through all that comes with that period – fitting in (or not), romance, identity, life choices – will find something familiar. Director Greta Gerwig tells a rich tale that takes her characters on a journey of discovery, while also holding a mirror up to the audience and asking them to confront their own authenticity.
God’s Own Country (2017), Netflix ****
This heartfelt British independent movie has been on Netflix since 30th March and it’s a must-see for anyone who likes a good human story set in some iconic British countryside. It is relentlessly bleak and intense, headed up by a fantastic performance from BAFTA nominee Josh O’Connor whose character is a volatile young farmer at odds with the world. It has a bit of the Brokeback Mountain about it, only more rugged, less pretty and even more lonely.
Clouds of Sils Maria (2014), BBC iPlayer ****
Some actors struggle to shrug off early career blockbuster roles, stuck forever in the mould of angsty teen love interest or the like. It was touch and go for a time, but the Kristen Stewart on screen now is barely recognisable from the (bored?) young star of the Twilight Saga. Performing opposite Juliette Binoche, assistant and actor respectively, Stewart thrives in this film full of emotional tension and complex relationships.
Annihilation (2018), Netflix ***
Oh boy, where to begin with this…
There has been a lot of talk in the UK about the controversial distribution decision to send it straight to digital. Some films are, perhaps not perfectly suited to, but certainly comfortable on the small screen, while others deserve a whole lot more. Alex Garland’s Annihilation is just one of those. It is a film with many layers, questions and statements, spectacular effects and a mostly brilliant – if at times, indistinguishable – female-dominated cast, even though many of them ultimately serve as sacrificial lambs.
The reception of Annihilation has been pretty great, but it is really not my cup of tea. I like fantasy epics and a touch of sci-fi, but there is a heavily-marked line. Ex Machina (same director) sits on that line: a film which offers up some fantastic performances and believable nerdy science without going too far into the realms of the ridiculous. For me, Annihilation crosses that line, and somewhere along the way, leaves the door ajar for some horror elements to tiptoe in (horror aficionados would probably poo-poo this, but some scenes provoked the same mind-bending discomfort in me as horror would).
Long story short: I appreciated the artistry and technical accomplishment, and I liked that it made me think, but I did not enjoy the story or the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink visual effects. You don’t have to like a film to consider it ‘good’. If you haven’t watched it yet, make sure you do so on the biggest screen you can clap your eyes on to get the optimum visual experience.
One of the best things I’ve seen on the screen recently – small or cinema – is the curiously named The End of the F***ing World (C4/Netflix). A dark comedy that follows two misfits on a most unconventional coming-of-age love story road trip, it has all the ingredients to make it a phenomenal series. Both the leads deliver mature and dynamic performances to bring their unique characters to life. If you needed any more persuading from a more authoritative voice, the show has this week been nominated for a BAFTA TV award in a category of established heavy weights, including The Crown, Peaky Blinders and Line of Duty. It finds itself in good company which it very much deserves.
What else did I watch?
Irreplaceable You (2018), Netflix *
A poor man’s 50/50. The perfectly photogenic cast plod through an unimaginative script of melodramatic romantic comedy. Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s cancer patient in irritating while her simpering fiancé looks pretty but does little. Christopher Walken is brought in to provide some quirky character and experience to the film, but in vain.
Remember Me (2010), Netflix ***
A tolerable melodramatic love story and family drama, with some touching moments until the misguided and perplexing finale that throws the whole thing off kilter. This was Robert Pattinson in his teen-nonsense-vampire period, and while Remember Me has its flaws, the film is certainly watchable, and Pattinson was able to prove that there’s more to him than a quiff, effervescent pallor and blue steel.
The Way Back (2010), Netflix ***
Long. Great cast, including a young and shell-shocked Saoirse Ronan and feral Colin Farrell. Epic and expansive in its landscape and design, from Siberia to India. Did I mention it’s long?
Churchill (2017), Netflix ***
The stellar cast is weighty in reputation and power, but after setting up a promising personal premise, the movie becomes an amalgamation of countless things we’ve seen before. That said, any scenes shared by Brian Cox and Miranda Richardson were a pleasure to watch.