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Dom 5There is a little academy you may have heard of who plan to announce the nominees for their film awards this week, I think they call them the Oscars.  Before that we have the Seventh Annual Groovers Movie Awards.  As ever all categories, eligibility and winners are decided by me:

Best Movie: Blade Runner 2049: Blade Runner (1982) didn’t need a sequel,  not only is this movie a worthy sequel, but it continues the story that enhances rather than diminishes the original, continuing, even expanding on the themes.  As you would expect from director Denis Villeneuve and cinematographer Roger Deakins, it looks amazing.  A love it or hate it type film; like the original, it may have underperformed at the box-office, it will find its audience in time. Blade+Runner+2049-1

Best Director: Chan-wook Park for The Handmaiden.  A labyrinthine tale that never loses its focus and always holds the audience’s attention.  Based on Sarah Waters novel Fingersmith, this adaptation sees the setting change from Victorian England to Japanese occupied Korea, making the most of the setting, the film looks amazing.  Possibly Park’s best movie since Oldboy. Chan-wook Park for The Handmaiden

Best Actor/Actress: Casey Affleck won the academy award for Manchester by the Sea, a result I certainly wouldn’t argue with.  Jessica Chastain gave to fantastic performances in Miss Sloane and Molly’s Game. Casey Affleck and Jessica Chastain

Best Dialogue: Aaron Sorkin (writer/director) Molly’s Game.  In his directorial debut, Sorkin is helped by his actors: Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Kevin Costner who makes his machine gun dialogue sound amazing. 'Molly's Game' New York Premiere

Best Editing: Jonathan Amos and Paul Machliss (editors) Edgar Wright (writer/director), Julian Slater (sound designer), for Baby Driver.  I have always been an advocate of the idea that the best editing is invisible.  Baby Drive breaks this rule with very conspicuous editing; there are long takes, single take tracking shots, quick cuts all done in time with the music.  It could have been a disaster, it’s actually a masterpiece.   Baby Driver

Best Comedy: The Death of StalinArmando Iannucci made an interesting choice with his cast using a mix of British and American accents in this story of the power struggle in the days that followed the titular death of Stalin. Farce and satire in equal parts, with a really dark undercurrent, the risk pays off, it is brilliant and hilarious.The-Death-of-Staling-Banner-Poster

Special Award: Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson.  This special award is for making interesting movie choices.  A decade ago Stewart and Pattinson became two of the biggest stars in the world thanks to the Twilight movies.  Choosing to work with directors including: James Gray, David Cronenberg, Olivier Assayas, Kelly Reichardt and Woody Allen.  They have continued making interesting and extremely good movie:  Stewart worked with Olivier Assayas for a second time with Personal Shopper, while Pattinson made Good Time with The Safdie Brothers. Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson

Fandango Award: William Oldroyd, Alice Birch, and Florence Pugh – Fandango was writer/director Kevin Reynolds debut (and best) feature, and the first notable movie for star Kevin Costner. It gives its name to this award for the best breakout film-makers of the year:  William Oldroyd, Alice Birch, and Florence Pugh are director, writer and star of Lady Macbeth respectively.   The captivating movie is the first feature for Oldroyd and Birch, and the first starring role for  Pugh.William Oldroyd Alice Birch Florence Pugh

Dom 5

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It’s that time of year again, my top ten favourite films of the year.  A really tough choice, my top five came easy, I then had a short list of twenty to choose from for the final five.  From a criteria point of view:  All films were released, and most importantly seen by me in the UK in 2017. 

  1. Blade Runner 2049: I am getting predictable.  Two years ago Sicario missed out on my top movie of the year by the smallest margin to Mad Max.  Last year Arrival took the top spot. Back in 2013, Prisoners made my top ten.  It is therefore no surprise that a Denis Villeneuve tops the tree again.  What is a surprise, is that my favourite film of the year, is one I didn’t want to be made. As a lover of the original Blade Runner I just didn’t want them to mess it up.  Far from it, the film is both excellent in its own right, and takes the original movie and its concepts in an interesting direction. Blade+Runner+2049-1
  2. The Handmaiden: Chan-wook Park’s second appearance on the list after Stoker took top spot in 2013.  His adaptation of Sarah Waters novel Fingersmith sees the setting change from Victorian England to Japanese occupied Korea.  The film looks amazing and has a plot that twists and turns in a most satisfying way.The Handmaiden
  3. Baby Driver: Every generation has a new movie about a getaway driver, Baby Driver is up there with the best thanks to a fantastic concept.  The car chases are the best I have seen in years, the soundtrack is killer.  The thing that sets it apart is the way the action is cut perfectly in time with the music.  The music becomes a character in itself. A film that could have disappeared in its own style and sheen turns out to be nothing short of amazing.  Baby Driver
  4. Free Fire: Ben Wheatley’s costume drama goes back to a more innocent time, well not exactly; 1978!  It is essentially a single location shoot ’em up  B movie set during and after a failed arms deal.  The outcome is violent but also highly amusing.  Clocking in at a brisk 90 minutes, it’s a movie a many filmmakers could learn a lot from.Free Fire
  5. Dunkirk: Christopher Nolan is yet to make a bad film.  Dunkirk looked like it would be his most conventional story to date.  The structure of three stories told over three different periods of time makes it far from conventional. The tension never lets up and is only enhanced by the lack of CGI and the imposing score.  The structure enhances rather than confuses the film.  The photography is nothing short of stunning especially when seen on IMAX. Dunkirk
  6. Atomic Blonde: Imagine if John Wick looked like Charlize Theron and was a spy in the last days of the Cold War, that would give you an idea of Atomic Blonde.  The miracle is how you make a movie like that work.  David Leitch, stunt man/coordinator and half the team behind John Wick has done it. Based on the 2012 graphic novel The Coldest City, Theron finally gets her perfect and iconic character.  There is a little more plot than the movie needs but the action is great and it looks amazing.Atomic Blonde
  7. The Death of Stalin: Armando Iannucci made an interesting choice with his cast using a mix of British and American accents in this story of the power struggle in the days that followed the titular death of Starlin.  Farce and satire in equal parts, with a really dark undercurrent, the risk pays off, it is brilliant and hilarious.  The best comedy of the year. the death of stalin
  8. Logan: Finally a Wolverine movie worthy of the character from the comic books.  More violent than anything else we have seen from the franchise.  Within the confines of a comic book movie it is also far more realistic and grounded than usual.  Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart are both fantastic in parts they have grown into in the seventeen years since the first X-Men movie.Logan
  9. Personal Shopper: After a fantastic supporting performance in director Olivier Assayas’ previous film Clouds of Sils Maria, Kristen Stewart returns to star.  A haunting film the seeps into your psyche.  Not as good as Clouds of Sils Maria but Stewart is sensational.Personal Shopper
  10. Get Out: A clever race satire dressed up as a horror/thriller.  Far more intelligent and subversive than many have give it credit for.  Best of all it is tremendous fun.Get Out

 

 

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Eight films is a somewhat improvement of last Junes sport interrupted three.  Amongst them there are two films that would have been movie of the month contenders in other months along with the eventual winner that as we hit the half way point of the year is certainly on my shortlist for the year end top ten. The contenders are:

Wonder Woman: Origin story of Wonder Woman from Diana an Amazon princess through her first adventure.  Perfect castling, a good story and sublime direction make for a classy comic book movie.  I would go as far as to say, the best DC movie since The Dark Knight nearly a decade ago.Wonder Woman

Gifted: Family drama about a single man raising a child maths prodigy.  Not totally original but not falling into all the clichés you would expect.  Its greatest strength is its performances couples with well told story.  Proof if you needed it that Chris Evans has a career beyond Cap.  Gifted

The Mummy: Universal launches its “Dark Universe” reimagining its classic monsters.  Unfortunately, it isn’t very good.  There are some good moments,  Tom Cruise and Sofia Boutella are good, Russell Crowe is terrible.  All in all, it is a missed opportunity. The Mummy

My Cousin Rachel: A young man is unsure whether to plot revenge against, or fall in love with his late cousin’s widow who may or may not have killed him.  Rachel Weisz is sensational in this Daphne Du Maurier adaptation.  Not perfect but extremely good. My Cousin Rachel

Baby Driver: the story of a getaway driver since before he was old enough to drive sounds like a genre B picture, in a way Baby Driver is, but in the best way.  Is it Edgar Wright’s best film?  That is too subjective to answer, but it is certainly his most accomplished and my favourite. Baby Driver

Churchill: Brian Cox is perfect as Winston Churchill, Miranda Richardson is even better as Clementine Churchill.  The film is both interesting and largely enjoyable but considering the subject matter sadly a little lightweight and insignificant. Churchill

The Book of Henry: With a Rotten Tomatoes rating in the low 20’s  and reviews including: “Grotesquely phony and manipulative” and “a sub-Spielbergian pastiche, “The Book of Henry” is mostly a tedious”. This is unkind, the movie is flawed and predicable (other than the mid movie left turn/genre change) but is well made and well acted.  it isn’t great but it doesn’t disserve the vitriol. The Book of Henry

Transformers: The Last Knight: A total mess of a film with an ill-conceived and poorly realised plot.  It looks good and the actors appear to be having fun.  There is little to recommend it beyond saying it is less offensive than the last couple of instalments of the franchise. Transformers The Last Knight

Had it found its way to the screen in any other month, there is a good chance Wonder Woman would have achieved the accolade of movie of the month, but there is one film that is head and shoulders above the rest, the movie of the month is:Baby Driver Poster

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“My daddy was the family bassman

My mamma was an engineer

And I was born one dark gray morn

With music coming in my ears

In my ears”

Baby Driver Poster

Back in the mid 90’s I was a student of film, obsessed with every new idea whilst simultaneously being immersed in the movies of the past.  Just to confuse matters I also had one eye looking to the east; I was discovering films from both Europe and Asia in depth for the first time.  It was at this time that I first saw Quentin Tarantino’s first two movies Reservoir Dogs (a couple of years after its original release) and Pulp Fiction (on opening night).  As with many other people at the time I couldn’t decide if I should marvel at the originality or recoil at the plagiarism of Tarantino.  I soon came to realise what Tarantino was doing wasn’t plagiarism, it wasn’t even homage, it went so much deeper than that!  Quentin Tarantino was, and hopefully still is a sponge sucking up all that he comes into contact with; but when you squeeze that sponge, you don’t get what went in, you don’t even get a mixture of what went in, you get the best bits of what went in coloured by Tarantino’s own vision.  Why am I saying this? Because this week I have seen Baby Driver, written and directed by Edgar Wright, the British director I can’t help comparing to Tarantino. 

Yet to be released in the UK or USA, Baby Driver currently has a Rotten Tomatoes approval rating of 100% based with an average rating of 8.5/10; to put it another way, its bloody good!  Is it Edgar Wright’s best film?  That is too subjective to answer, it is certainly his most accomplished, and I think it is my favourite.  For the uninitiated, here is the obligatory synopsis:

baby driver Ansel Elgort

Baby (Ansel Elgort) has been a getaway driver since before he was old enough to drive.  Following a childhood accident we learn about as the narrative unfolds, Baby suffers from tinnitus.  To drown out the hum of his condition he listens to music on his IPod (other fruit and none fruit based devices are available).  Anything beyond this would be a spoiler, the trailer already gives too much away.

Kevin Spacey Baby Driver

What is so good about what on the surface is a genre movie with a thin plot? The answer to that is both obvious and strangely intangible.  The largely recognisable cast (Ansel Elgort, Jon Hamm, Eiza González, Lily James, Kevin Spacey, Jon Bernthal and Jamie Foxx) are all fantastic, particularly a surprisingly understated Kevin Spacey.   His performance is as measured and deadpan as when he appeared in the David Mamet penned Glengarry Glen Ross a quarter of a century ago.  Elgort is a revelation displaying both more subtlety and likeability than in his more teen friendly movies.  Hamm and Foxx are clearly having the most fun with the most character roles.  But the brilliance goes so far beyond just the performances.  The characters anchor the movie but the sublime script keeps the movie ticking along perfectly keeping the audience in the palm of its metaphorical hand.  I wouldn’t go as far as calling the trailer bait and switch, but it is as wonderfully misleading as you would expect in a few subtle ways.

Baby Driver

The aforementioned references to other movies are exactly subtle, but they aren’t heavy-handed either.   I can see Smokey and the Bandit (1977), The Driver (1978), The Blues Brothers (1980), Point Break (1991) and Heat (1995).  There is probably also a bit of Reservoir Dogs (1992) and Drive (2011),not to mention Monsters, Inc. (2001) that is both seen and referenced. I haven’t even mentioned the music yet.  Edgar Wright has described writing a scene for every song used, a feat he really has accomplished.  It’s so easy slip a few classic tracks into a movie, Baby Driver does so much more than that.  The music choices aren’t always obvious, but they are always perfect, and perfectly fit the movie.  There are little moments of brilliance including scenes cut to the rhythm of the song, or rewinding a song to time with the robbery.  There are also moments we hear from Baby’s point of view with the drone of tinnitus.

Ansel Elgort;Lily James

This is Baby’s story so we only get as glimpse or a mention of the other characters when they are not interacting with Baby.  This works well for the film as a whole but does leave Lily James’ Debora a little thinly drawn.  This is a filmmaking choice rather than a mistake.  It actually works to the benefit of the other characters, namely; Doc (Kevin Spacey), Buddy and Darling (Jon Hamm and Eiza González) who we don’t always know what to expect from them.  The Atlanta setting is also key, set in LA, Chicago or Boston it would be a different film (It couldn’t be set in New York traffic) it also gives us marvellous southern accents and evokes the outlaw spirit of films from the 70’s and 80’s.

Fun, funny and charming, Baby Drive manages to be both original and familiar a totally joyous  experience and the perfect antidote to the soulless blockbusters and heavy counterprogramming of the summer.   

 

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