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There is always a film that everyone is talking about, earlier this year it was Top Gun: Maverick, a few years ago it was Cats.  Maverick, because it was so good, surprisingly good,  Cats on the other hand was for the wrong reason, it was a car crash (so I’m told, I chose not to see it).  But now we have another film that everyone is talking about for the wrong reasons, Don’t Worry Darling, not because it it’s a poor movie, this started way before release.  It is all because of things that may or may not have been going on behind the scenes.  This is a great shame because the film is actually really good!  I’m not going to go into what has gone on, that’s all pretty well publicized, but I will just dip into the effect before getting back to the film.  The film is currently sitting on an IMDB rating of 6.2 but when you dig a little deeper and look at the spread of voting it looks like there is more going on.  Nearly half the voters gave it seven or more out of ten, so you would expect an average in the mid sevens.  However, a whopping 23.3% of voter gave it one out of ten.  Even movies that average around five out of then only get 10-15% one out of ten votes.  In the interest of balance 13.6% gave it ten out of ten, this is also artificially high.  Possibly the Harry Styles effect?  Whatever the reason, I suspect the ratings are even less reflective of the movie than usual.  But so many people choose to watch a movie based on ratings and reviews.

Back in 2009 I predicted Olivia Wilde to be the next breakout movie star.  She was coming off the back of a show stealing performance in The OC and was also outstanding in House, and starting to get film roles.  Although she has had a good career, she hasn’t been the star I predicted.  Little did I know that was a good thing, as it gave her the time to pursue her real interest, directing.  Her first feature Booksmart (2019) was fantastic, and she has a couple of future projects rumoured to be in pre-production including the obligatory comic book movie.  Don’t Worry Darling is a far mor ambitious project in scope, style and production.  Set in an idyllic late 50’s company town that is drenched in pastel colours as much as it is in sunlight.  The production design is nothing short of perfect combined with the cinematography the film has a real visual style and language.  This doesn’t happen by accident; this is clearly a director taking charge of every detail.

It is difficult to give a synopsis beyond the setup, most of which is in the trailer:  Every morning the men, many of whom are somewhat insecure and dweeby, leave their beautiful homes and even more beautiful wives, dressed in perfect suits, and get in their stylish 50’s cars and drive out of town and race across the desert to work at the “Victory Project”, a mysterious endeavour they are not allowed to talk about.  The wives stay at home cooking and cleaning or go shopping and to dance classes.  They know nothing of their husbands work beyond it involves “progressive materials”.  Our focus is on the youngest and most beautiful of the couples, Jack and Alice Chambers (Harry Styles and Florence Pugh).  Making the most of their perfect lifestyle we are introduced to them at a party with their friends and neighbours.  Everyone in the movie, including a pregnant woman seems to have an alcohol intake that James Bond or Don Draper would struggle to keep up with.  The hedonistic lifestyle is personified by Bunny (director Olivia Wilde), she seemingly spends most of the film with a cigarette in one hand and a martini in the other.  Wilde is fantastic and would steal the show if Pugh weren’t so mesmerising.  The Line “work hard, play hard” is even spoken at one point.  The guru at the centre of the Victory Project is Frank (Chris Pine) and his wife Shelly Gemma Chan, both on top for with a strange creepy charisma of a cult leader, or serial killer.

There is clearly more going on than what we can see on the surface, as the movie unfolds and reveals itself it manages to hold the viewers’ attention and interest, but it never totally lives up to the early promise.  The ending and payoff is good but not spectacular.  If there is a crissum, it is with the script.  The story is a little thin for the visual treat and propulsive direction.  There must come a point when the movie reveals itself, and while the reveal is handled well, it is no great surprise.  This prevents it from ever reaching the greatness of a few movies I was going to mention but won’t for fear of spoilers.  But this doesn’t make it a bad film.  It is dripping with style, and the performances, particularly Pugh and Wilde. Harry Styles isn’t bad, he isn’t the best actor in the world, but he clearly has a lot of charisma.  He spends most of his time alongside Florence Pugh who has repeatedly proven to be one of the best young actors around since her debut less than a decade ago in The Falling (2014), and her breakout role in Lady Macbeth (2016), this sometimes helps him, but at others shows him up. 

While it has its visual style firmly in the 50’s melodrama this isn’t a piece of fluff, but then most 50’s melodramas weren’t either!  There is a lot going on thematically, and its deeper than the trailer would have you believe.  These themes and the subtext are never far from the surface.  Rather than try to put them into words, I am going to borrow the words of Terri White: There are a handful of brilliantly compelling ideas at the heart of Don’t Worry Darling. Bodily autonomy, female desire, misogyny, radicalisation, coercive control, female complicity, late-stage capitalism, the dysfunction of the nuclear family. There is a certain section of society (I would include the 45th US President in that list) who will hate this movie, because its about them.  They will not knowingly go to watch a movie like this, I just hope a few of them stumble into see it by mistake.  Having said that they probably wouldn’t recognise themselves on screen anyway! 

A potentially exciting note to end on, I don’t think this is Olivia Wilde’s masterpiece, I believe she has a lot more to say.  To temper that optimism, if she were a man there would be no question she would get the chance, its never as certain for a female filmmaker.  But don’t worry, I somehow don’t think she is going to let anything stop her. 

“That’s not how quantum physics works” Tony Stark

Since Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018) the multiverse seems to be the latest trend in sci-fi/fantasy.  Despite Avengers: Endgame telling us there was no such thing as the multiverse, it has become an important part of the MCU first on TV in Loki and What If…? But now on the big screen Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness, despite the fact the multiverse makes no sense, at least in the way depicted in this movie. 

As much a Sam Raimi movie as an MCU movie.  It has been suggested he was given more creative freedom than on the Spider-Man movies, and it shows.  While it fits within the franchise the tone is closer to Rami horror than his previous foray into superhero movies.  The idea of possession and reanimation are straight out of Evil Dead as is the Darkhold, that they may as well have called the Necronomicon.  To top it all off there is a great Bruce Campbell cameo.  The fulcrum on which Phase Four is placed, and probably the introduction to phase five as it opens the door for characters who weren’t previously available in the MCU due to complicated rights issues. 

The MCU is beginning to feel like a comic book, not just something based on a comic book.  It is common in comic books for larger stories to be told across multiple titles.  As well as Endgame and the previous Doctor Strange, this movie references Spider-Man: No Way Home, WandaVision and What If…?  The latter most significantly despite being the least seen.  At the centre of the film we have a new character America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) a character with the ability to travel the multiverse.  A fun character that works well playing off Strange.  If they don’t find a way of using her, she could be reduced to a human MacGuffin a little like Ava Starr / Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen) in Ant-Man and the Wasp.  This would be a shame.  Just to make those of us who have been with the MCU from the start feel old, Gomez is younger than the franchise.  Born in April 2006, the same month Jon Favreau was hired to direct Iron Man some months after the franchise was conceived. 

Ultimately as you can probably gather from what I have said, that I enjoyed the movie.  However, there is an issue, it makes absolutely no sense.  I am not talking about the fantastical side of the story, you have to suspend disbelief to what any movie, I am saying the multiverse as seen here doesn’t make sense.  There are far too many theories on how a Multiverse works, but within the MCU the suggestion seems to be that they are Quantum.  A quantum multiverse creates a new universe every time a diversion in events occurs.  This is similar to the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics.  In these theories the alternate universes are endless as each decision, each flap of a butterfly’s wings will create a new branch.  Therefore, in theory, it is possible that in some universes a character could have a doppelganger.  However, this could only happen if the changes that made the new branch happened after the character was conceived.  Given that on average, each time men ejaculate they release nearly 100 million sperm, and each sperm would result in a different person, or no pregnancy at all!

 If we concentrate on what they call Earth-838, we know that there are certain characters that exist (or existed) in both this universe and the MCU Earth-616 (did I get those the right way around?): Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), Karl Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor), Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch), Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams), Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen).  The first deviation we know happened is that Peggy Carter became The First Avenger, possibly in the way seen in What If…?.  This one would imagine would have a different outcome to the war and Hydra.  What we do know is that it appears that the creation of Shield didn’t happen.  The power in this world is The Illuminati. (Forget Dan Browns conspiracy fiction, there really was an Illuminati.  The Bavarian Illuminati, founded on 1 May 1776 in Bavaria.  An Enlightenment-era secret society, their goals were to oppose superstition, religious influence over public life, and abuses of state power) Given that this major diversion from the timeline happened somewhere around 1941it is likely that a lot of these characters would have been born.  That’s before we get to Wanda’s children.  How did a variant of Wanda have the same children as the ones created by Wanda in the fantasy in WandaVision? 

Shortly after Doctor Strange came another multiverse movie, Everything Everywhere All At Once.  Written and directed by Daniel Kwan, Daniel Scheinert based on the Modal realism theory.  The title refers to the “villain” of the movie, who has the power to see and feel everything everywhere all at once.  This results in the belief that nothing really matters, in any universe and the plan to suck all of the multiverse into an infinite void of nothingness.  This is an interesting point, as it has often been a criticism of the use of time travel and multiverses within stories.  It reduces the stakes.  As is often said, No one stays dead except Uncle Ben. In this movie our hero (Michelle Yeoh) doesn’t exactly travel between universes, the way it is used is a little different to anything.  Receiving universal critical praise and doing exceptionally well at the box-office, it is a better and more fun movie than Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness

Around the same time as seeing these two movies I read a book The Midnight Library by Matt Haig.  This gives a more believable multiverse within its own fantasy.  The protagonist, Nora chooses to take her own life.  She wakes up in the library of the title, where she is given the choice to live a different life, the life she would be living had she made a different decision in the past.  As she steps into the different lives it becomes clear that the decisions she makes effect not just her, but all the people around her.  The promise, when she finds the life in which she’s the most content, she will remain and live out that that life.  There is no great surprise, the message and the outcome are clear from very early on.  If we are not to multiversed out by then, there will be a movie adaptation, StudioCanal and Blueprint Pictures optioned the film rights a week before the book was published in 2020. 

The presence of Reed Richards/ Mister Fantastic (John Krasinski) and Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) suggest this is the door that will bring The Fantastic Four and The X-Men into the MCU.  But, it is a door they cannot close!  This is going to require some creative storytelling so we don’t end up with all MCU stories being multiverse movies, as much fun as they have been they could get very boring very quicky.  The more we explore it the less sense it will make, and lets not forget, we no longer have Tony Stark to tell us “That’s not how quantum physics works”. 

In 2019 I posted about how I thought Green Book would win the best picture (it did), and not the bookies favourite, Roma.  For the same reason, I believe CODA and Belfast have as much chance of winning as the bookies favourite Power of the Dog.  This is not to say any one of the movies is the best film of the year, my personal favourite is Dune, but even that can not be considered “The Best” as art is far too subjective to say one thing is better than another. 

The important thing to remember about Best Picture, is that the nomination and voting process is different to the other categories.  It is the only category in which every member of the Academy is eligible to submit a nomination and vote on the final ballot.  But more important than this is the vote itself.  In all other categories voters simply tick the box for their favourite; the best picture is decided by a preferential ballot (also known as: instant-runoff voting, ranked-choice voting, or single transferable vote), Essentially, a movie needs to achieve over 50% of vote.  To achieve this, each voter has to rank the movies in order of favourite.  If more than half of voters pick a film as their number one choice, it wins.  If no film achieves this, the lowest ranked film is eliminated.  The votes that went to the lowest ranked film are transferred to the next highest ranked film on each ballot paper.  This process is continued until one film achieves over half the ballot. 

The result of this, is that the film that gets the most first place votes, often doesn’t actually win.  For this reason, the none offensive middle of the road movie that gets lots of second and third place votes is more likely to win than the bolder more controversial movie. 

Drive My Car is favourite to win Best Foreign Language Film.  A category with possibly the fairest voting process.  There is no guarantee that anyone voting for best picture (or any other Oscar) has actually seen the film.  Except the Best Foreign Language Film, where not only must they watch the films, but must watch them how intended, in a cinema.  The nominated films are selected by the Foreign Language Film Award Committee (who watch all the submitted films).  So called “screener” DVD’s are not used in this category (not sure how covid has affected this), any Academy members wishing to vote must attend an official screening of all five nominated films.

If CODA does eventually win, I will be happy, as it is my second favourite of the nominated films I have seen, and accept Dune is both a genre picture that doesn’t fare well at the Oscars, but is also only half a movie.  Maybe Dune Part Two will do as well as Return f the King did despite being the weakest of the trilogy! 

My somewhat belated top ten movies of 2021 is here!  I wanted to re-watch a couple of movies before setting on both the ten, and the order.  There have been a couple of changes.  Since 1998 I have been visiting the cinema a couple of times a week averaging around 110 movies a year.  Then 2020 happened! We entered 2021 in lockdown with all UK cinema’s closed.  From when cinema’s reopened in May until the end of the year, I saw 51 movies; if you pro-rata that for a full year i would still have seen less than 80 films in a full year.  Let’s hope for an improvement in 2022!  Back to the matter at hand.  I always pick my top ten movies of the year based on films released in the UK in said year, and seen by me in the cinema.   Two things came together to prompt a slight change, I couldn’t decide on the final film in my top ten, and there was only one film I streamed that would have made my list.  That is how Promising Young Woman made the list:

1: Dune – Denis Villeneuve ‘s adaptation of (half of) Frank Herbert’s seminal sci-fi novel is finally with us.  I first watched David Lynch’s adaptation of Dune when I was around ten years old.  I loved it and have watched it numerous times since.  A couple of years later I read the book, it was even better.  Villeneuve’s film looks amazing, the cast is fantastic and the storytelling is sublime.  It hits all the same beats of the Lynch movie but is a true adaptation to a movie as it relies on show don’t tell where the earlier version uses a lot of voiceover to speed the story along and vocalise the inner monologue of the characters.  The great news is that part 2 has been green-lit.

2: Another Round – In 2012 Thomas Vinterberg made an outstanding film called The Hunt starring Mads Mikkelsen.  The pair are back with another stunning movie.  Exploring men’s relationship with alcohol, and each other it asks a lot of questions of its characters and audience, to its credit it doesn’t try to answer them.  The winner of the best foreign language movie at the Oscars this year, I think it’s a better film than the (six out of eight that I have seen) nominations for best picture. 

3: Last Night in Soho – Edgar Wright’s much anticipated movie is very different to his previous work.  Flipping between drama and thriller it is essentially  a psychological horror that owes a debt to giallo.  Thomasin McKenzie and Anya Taylor-Joy are both sensational; it is also a fitting final performance for the great Diana Rigg.  If I am hyper critical, it loses its way a little in the final act, but it still works.

4: The Green Knight – David Lowery’s movie adapted from the 14th century poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.  Not afraid to embrace its origin, the narrative is poetic and ambiguous.  The photography is stunning, and  Dev Patel is fantastic.  Finally an Arthurian movie to rival Monty Python and John Boorman.  Sadly it didn’t get a much of a release, but believe me its worth the effort to see it on the big screen.

5: Petite Maman – A modern day fantasy/fairy-tale written and directed by Céline Sciamma.  Clocking in at just 82 minutes and with little plot beyond the concept, on the surface it is a very slight film, its is however enchanting and enthralling.

6: Titaine – It’s taken Julia Ducournau five years to follow up her debut feature, the visceral horror Raw, it was worth the wait.  Comparisons with David Cronenberg are inevitable both for the body horror, and the auto-eroticism, while valid there is a lot more going on.  There is so much to unpick both in the story, and the subtext, I am looking forward to a second viewing.

7: Spider-Man: No Way Home – I went into this with very low expectations, I wasn’t a fan of Far From Home, and the multiversity had already been explored to brilliant effect in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.  To add to this the MCU hasn’t had its best year.  I was so wrong, not only was the film excellent, probably my favourite live action Spider-Man movie, and also a fantastic cinematic experience as other audience members reacted to what was happening.

8: Pig – Nicolas Cage plays a reclusive truffle hunter.  When he goes looking for his stolen pig, you would expect a John Wick style revenge thriller.  What we get is a much more low-key and thoughtful movie, and Cage’s best performance in years.

9: The French Dispatch – Wes Anderson is back with an anthology film that is just about the most Wes Anderson movie ever.   The ensemble cast is filled with all the Anderson regulars and a few faces to his repertory company.  Wonderfully quirky, I have heard mixed reviews, personally I loved it.

10: Promising Young Woman – Many people got to see Emerald Fennell’s movie a couple of years ago, we only got it in the UK in 2021.  Sadly it dropped during lockdown so I only got to see it on TV.  The basic story is given away in the trailer, but it doesn’t always go where you think it will.  Carey Mulligan is devastatingly brilliant.

The final month of the year has been a good one at the cinema despite the best efforts of Covid.  The eight movies I have seen include more than one of my top ten movies of the year.  I got to see one of my favourite classic films at the cinema, I was also invited to a regional premier, giving me the chance to see The Kings Man three weeks before general release.  Here are the movies I watched:

Petite Maman – A modern day fantasy/fairy-tale written and directed by Céline Sciamma.  Clocking in at just 82 minutes and with little plot beyond the concept, on the surface it is a very slight film, its is however enchanting and enthralling.

Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City – Just five years after Resident Evil: The Final Chapter the game based franchise has already received the reboot treatment.  Where the original mainly franchise focussed on one character this film operates as more of an ensemble, Kaya Scodelario as Claire Redfield is nominally the lead, but Hannah John-Kamen as Jill Valentine is the MVP.  Leaning more into horror, it isn’t a great film, but it is largely enjoyable and fun.   

The Kings Man – Explaining the origin of The Kingsmen by weaving them into the events of the first world war.  The tone doesn’t completely work as it flips between serious/sombre, and silly fun.  It largely gets away with it as the cast is excellent.  Not as good as the first film but much better than the sequel.

Spider Man: No Way Home – I went into this with very low expectations, I wasn’t a fan of Far From Home, and the multiversity had already been explored to brilliant effect in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.  To add to this the MCU hasn’t had its best year.  I was so wrong, not only was the film excellent, probably my favourite live action Spider-Man movie, and also a fantastic cinematic experience as other audience members reacted to what was happening.

West Side Story – I’m not a fan of musicals so was never going to love this, but I did enjoy and appreciate it.  As you would expect from Steven Spielberg it is supremely well made and looks amazing.  The cast is excellent especially Rachel Zegler and Ariana DeBose.

The Matrix Resurrections – Written and directed Lana Wachowski without her sibling and usual collaborator, this belated sequel was something of a risk.  The Matrix was a masterpiece, the sequels were a disappointment, did we need another instalment?  In short yes!  It isn’t a great film, but it has merit for a couple of reasons, it provides a coda that actually makes the sequels better, but most of all, it’s great to see Neo (Keanu Reeves), and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) again, as well as few excellent additions, notably Jessica Henwick. 

The Red Shoes – Never missing a chance to see one of my favourite classic movies projected on the big screen. Powell and Pressburger’s masterpiece is one of my favourite movies and one I have long wished to see at the cinema.  It didn’t disappoint.  

Titane  – It’s taken Julia Ducournau five years to follow up her debut feature, the visceral horror Raw, it was worth the wait.  Comparisons with David Cronenberg are inevitable both for the body horror, and the auto-eroticism, while valid there is a lot more going on.  There is so much to unpick both in the story, and the subtext, I am looking forward to a second viewing.

But what’s my movie of the month? There a few contenders but it has to be the one I am still thinking about, Titane.

Check back in the next few days to find out which of these movies made my top ten of the year.

Happy New Year