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I see a lot of movies at the cinema, on average two a week. I know for many people DVD (and now Brue-ray) is their first experience of many movies. With this in mind here are ten recommendations of films set for release in the next few months.

12 March 2012

My Week with Marilyn: The true story of 23-year-old Colin Clark’s experience on the set of The Prince And The Showgirl starring Marilyn Monroe and Sir Laurence Olivier (who also directed the movie). Directed with a light touch reminiscent of the best of Monroe’s movies but the best thing about it is the fantastic acting, Kenneth Branagh is brilliant as Olivier, Michelle Williams is even better as Monroe.

19 March 2012

Moneyball: With a screenplay by Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin, Brad Pitt’s second great performance of last year does for sports movies what The Social Network did for Facebook. A true testament to the quality of the movie is that it is equally as enjoyable regardless of if you are a baseball fan or not.

Take Shelter: As a regular family man starts having apocalyptic visions he prepares for the impending doom and questions his own sanity in equal measure. A haunting movie that will stay with you long after it ends, elevated by the performances of Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain.

26 March 2012

The Awakening: An old-fashioned ghost story, if you know my thoughts on horror, you will know that “old-fashioned” is a compliment not an insult. There are a few twists and turns in the plot but nothing spectacular, the real draw is Rebecca Hall who caries the movie virtually on her own proving her star credentials.

50/50: Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as a young man who is given a 50% chance of surviving his recently diagnosed cancer. A touching and funny movie inspired by a true story and having a perfect blend of genres and styles. The whole cast is great with a special mention for Anna Kendrick who makes every movie she is in a little bit better including the Twilight movies.

2 April 2012

Hugo: Martin Scorsese’s love letter to cinema is quite possibly his best movie since Casino (1995). The young stars are fantastic and the movie looks amazing.

30 April 2012

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol: Tom Cruise is back for a fourth impossible mission. The surprising thing, it could possibly be the best movie in the franchise so far. It has been suggested that Jeremy Renner’s character Brandt is intended as a replacement for Ethan Hunt when Tom Cruise retires the character.

7 May 2012

The Artist: The black and white, (largely) silent movie has just picked up five well deserved Oscars including best picture. With two months to go until its video release there is still time to catch it at the cinema, something I highly recommend you do if you haven’t already.

21 May 2012

Shame: Beautifully shot and brilliantly acted tale of sex addiction. Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan are devastatingly good.

28 May 2012

Haywire: Steven Soderbergh’s version of a revenge B thriller stars former cage fighter Gina Carano and is amazingly the second best movie I have seen this year (after The Artist). 

TV

The five disc box set of season one of HBO’s epic Game Of Thrones is set for release tomorrow (5th March). Based on George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series of fantasy novels about the seven kingdoms of the mythical land of Westeros and the families who fight for control of them. With the second season set to premier in America next month what better time to catch up on one of the best new shows of recent years.

A note on the selection: I have no knowledge or interest in the special features these discs contain (I usually purchase “vanilla” versions), my recommendations are based purely on the movies.
All dates refer to UK release dates are are correct to the best of my knowledge.
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During a review film critic Mark Kermode has suggested the cinematic nostalgia of Hugo and The Artist would make a great double bill. With this in mind here are a weeks worth of double bills from last years movies (UK release):

Monday: Psychological Thrillers

Thematically very different but stylistically similar: Black Swan and The Skin I live in, two great psychological thrillers that both owe a debt to 70’s European horror.

Tuesday: Female assassins

Two very different takes on an idea. Hanna is the better movie but I don’t think it is as good as the reviews have suggested. On the other hand Colombiana isn’t a great movie but I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would.

Wednesday: Kooky Teens

Take a teenager who doesn’t quite fit in to school and society in general and throw into the mix a first relationship and you have a kooky teen movie. There have been two great examples one British and one American: Submarine and The Art of Getting By

Thursday: Girls in asylums

Although they look very different Sucker Punch and John Carpenter’s The Ward are actually very similar films. The Ward has sadly been overlooked and Sucker Punch unfairly slated, I know I am in a minority but I like both movies.

Friday: Vampires

Vampire movies are still coming out thick and fast, the best of from this year are the surprisingly good Priest (don’t bother with the 3D version) and the original and innovative Stake Land.

Saturday: Rocky for the 21st century

Using fighting robots and cage fighting but Warrior and Real Steel are essentially still sports movies like Rocky with all the same themes and messages and like Rock Both are very watchable.

Sunday: Classic Horror

Hammer is yet to recapture the eerie brilliance of its original gothic horror in its absence comes two brilliant chillers, Julia’s Eyes and The Awakening.

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2011 Films

All the films I saw at the cinema in 2011 ranked in order of preference:
  1. Hugo
  2. Drive
  3. The Guard
  4. Black Swan
  5. Senna
  6. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
  7. True Grit
  8. We Need to Talk About Kevin
  9. Midnight In Paris
  10. The Skin I live in
  11. The King’s Speech
  12. Moneyball
  13. Stake Land
  14. Kill List
  15. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
  16. Another Earth
  17. Melancholia
  18. Warrior
  19. 127 Hours
  20. The Way
  21. Julia’s Eyes
  22. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol
  23. Troll Hunter
  24. 50/50
  25. Source Code
  26. Submarine
  27. Super 8
  28. 13 Assassins
  29. A Lonely Place To Die
  30. The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec
  31. The Adjustment Bureau
  32. X-Men: First Class
  33. Thor
  34. Captain America: The First Avenger
  35. Limitless
  36. My Week With Marilyn
  37. The Inbetweeners Movie
  38. Take Shelter
  39. The Rum Diary
  40. Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows: Part 2
  41. The Ides Of March
  42. Real Steel
  43. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
  44. Fair Game
  45. Never Let Me Go
  46. Blue Valentine
  47. Tree Of Life
  48. The Lincoln Lawyer
  49. The Help
  50. In Time
  51. The Awakening
  52. Sucker Punch
  53. Fast Five
  54. Hanna
  55. Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark
  56. Wuthering Heights
  57. Contagion
  58. The Fighter
  59. Paul
  60. Animal Kingdom
  61. NEDS
  62. Rabbit Hole
  63. One Day
  64. John Carpenter’s The Ward
  65. Drive Angry
  66. The Beaver
  67. Beginners
  68. Bridesmaids
  69. Red State
  70. Cowboys and Aliens
  71. Rise of the Planet of the Apes
  72. The Conspirator
  73. The Art of Getting By
  74. I am Number Four
  75. Fright Night
  76. Henry’s Crime
  77. Blitz
  78. Priest
  79. Red Riding Hood
  80. Oranges and Sunshine
  81. Faster
  82. 1920 The Battle of Warsaw
  83. Win Win
  84. Colombiana
  85. Water for Elephants
  86. Immortals
  87. Battle: Los Angeles
  88. 30 Minutes or Less
  89. Hereafter
  90. Biutiful
  91. The Mechanic
  92. The Thing
  93. The Three Musketeers
  94. Anonymous
  95. Tomorrow, When The War Began
  96. The Debt
  97. Green Lantern
  98. The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1
  99. Footlose
  100. Justice
  101. Attack the Block
  102. Apollo 18
  103. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
  104. Unkown
  105. Scream 4
  106. The Silent House
  107. The Eagle
  108. The Resident
  109. Season of the Witch
  110. Transformers: Dark of the Moon
  111. The Hangover: Part II
  112. Sanctum

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A dozen movies seen at the cinema this month, but which is the movie of the month?

Contagion: a multi stranded story based around the spread of an unknown and deadly virus. The ensemble cast is fantastic and the writing and direction are sublime resulting in a perfectly paced and watchable movie.

In Time: Taking the idea of “time is money”, this is a high concept Sci-Fi movie, it has its problems but it also has some great ideas and an attractive and likeable young cast.

The Help: Given the hefty subject matter of race relations in Americas at the time of the civil rights movement it is a surprisingly lightweight movie. The story is highly manipulative and contrived, however none of these things really matter as the movie is highly watchable and entertaining thanks to fantastic performances from the largely female cast.

The Awakening: an old-fashioned ghost story, if you know my thoughts on horror, you will know that “old-fashioned” is a compliment not an insult. There are a few twists and turns in the plot but nothing spectacular, the real draw is Rebecca Hall who caries the movie virtually on her own proving her star credentials.

Wuthering Heights: a dark and brooding movie that reminds us that Emily Brontë’s story is far bleaker and less romantic than popular opinion would have you believe. The photography is stunning and the acting outstanding.

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1: Depending on your point of view, splitting the final twilight movie in two is either the only way to do justice to the seven hundred and something pages of the source novel or a cynical attempt to squeeze as much money as possible out of the “Twihards”. Given the way the movie drags I would suggest the latter is true.

Immortals: a silly action movie that comes somewhere between Clash of the Titans and 300. Surprising entertains and with great visuals. It is a perfect example of a disposable popcorn movie, isn’t a great and I’m not rushing to see it again but enjoyed it while I was watching it.

The Rum Diary: A Johnny Depp movie based on a Hunter S. Thompson novel and directed by Bruce Robinson; you can’t help compare it to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Withnail & I. sadly it isn’t as good as either but Depp is as brilliant as ever and I could watch Amber Heard all day long!

Justice: If you have seen the trailer for the latest movie of the Nicolas Cage conveyor belt you have seen the movie, that’s all there is! Predicable and lightweight but not actually a bad film. Guy Pearce makes a great villain.

Moneyball: with a screenplay by Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin you expect a compelling story and snappy dialogue, I am happy to report both are present and are helped by Brad Pitt’s second great performance of the year. Reminiscent in part to The Social Network (also written by Sorkin) and that has to be a good thing.

Take Shelter: As a regular family man starts having apocalyptic visions he prepares for the impending doom and questions his own sanity in equal measure. A haunting movie that will stay with you long after it ends, elevated by the performances of Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain.

My Week With Marilyn: The true story of 23-year-old Colin Clark’s experience on the set of The Prince And The Showgirl starring Marilyn Monroe and Sir Laurence Olivier (who also directed the movie). Directed with a light touch reminiscent of the best of Monroe movies but the best thing about it is the fantastic acting, Kenneth Branagh is brilliant as Olivier, Michelle Williams is even better as Monroe.

I was still thinking about the film I would name the movie of the month as I was putting this together, eight of the twelve movies were genuine contenders, but the movie of the month is:

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I have long held a theory about scary movies; although it has always been there in the back of my mind, I hadn’t thought about for a long time or discussed for even longer. They, it all came flooding back to me recently whilst watching the culture show on BBC2. During an interview about her new movie, The Awakening Mark Kermode asked Rebecca Hall “What’s the scariest movie you ever saw?” Her response, Don’t Look Now (1973), she went on to explain why. She had seen it alone, when she was around twelve or thirteen years old. This really struck a chord with me as if asked I would say the same movie and for the same reason. I also watched the movie at around that age, probably too young! I was really disturbed by it and couldn’t get it out of my head and still to this day think of the movie whenever I see a read coat. Directed by Nicolas Roeg’s and based on a short story by Daphne du Maurier the movie is still creepy and disturbing, it will stay with you for days after you watch it (or is that just me?) but it isn’t actually scary.

This is in stark contrast to my experience of The Exorcist (1973). For those who don’t know The Exorcist, directed by William Friedkin with a screenplay by William Peter Blatty based on his own novel is regarded as one of the scariest movies ever made. A huge hit at the box-office, adjusted for inflation it took more money than Avatar but this was all before I was born. In my formative years, the 1980’s it had fallen foul of Video Recordings Act 1984 and was considered a “video nasty”. The studio didn’t submit it to the BBFC for classification (it was never actually banned). The long and short of it, the movie was available not available on video after 1984 and I didn’t get to see it. That was until 1994. I was 18 years old and in my first couple of weeks at university. The movie was screened to a packed house in a small independent cinema. Was it the anticipation and reputation, or the packed auditorium that influenced my opinion? I’m not sure but one thing I can say, I enjoyed the movie finding it interesting, entertaining and thought provoking as well as been well made and well acted, but I didn’t find it frightening the way I found Don’t Look Now five years before.

As a child, I remember being scared of King Kong (1933) and later Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966) in a way that no modern horror has affected me. I’m yet to have the same experience again, there have been other movies that have been creepy or a bit disturbing like The Blair Witch Project (1999) and Paranormal Activity (2007) but not like the other movies I have mentioned. Have I been desensitised scary movies by early exposure or is Don’t Look Now just the most frightening movie ever made? Possibly a combination of the two, whatever the reason my early experiences have cemented my love for “genre movies” as they are sometimes (unkindly) referred. By the way if you haven’t already check out The Awakening starring the brilliant Rebecca Hall.

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Set in the early 1920’s shortly after World War I, Florence Cathcart (Rebecca Hall) has made a career out of exposing supernatural hoax’s. She is invited to an English boarding school where a boy is reported to have been literally frightened to death, an occurrence attributed to the presence of the ghost of a boy killed there years before.

A ghost story set within a haunted house is nothing new, the inclusion of children, is also something we have seen before. With an opening scene set during as séances you may be expecting something akin to The Illusionist (2006) but as soon as the action relocates to the school we move into the more familiar territory of The Devil’s Backbone (2001) and The Orphanage (2007), that’s not to say the movie borrows from these recent classics, all three movies take the basic idea in there own direction. The plot has enough twists and turns to keep the audience guessing without confusing or alienating them.

The supporting cast includes Dominic West and Imelda Staunton, both of whom do well but the film hinges on Rebecca Hall who is virtually ever present on screen. She has impressed recently in The Town, Frost/Nixon and most notably Vicky Cristina Barcelona, but this is the first time I have seen her carry a movie, a job she does brilliantly. Writer director Nick Murphy does a great job in what is his first feature, creating tension and even more importantly making us care about the characters. He is aided by a perfect setting Manderston House in Scotland, also the location for the reality TV show The Edwardian Country House (known as Manor House in the USA), also directed by Murphy.

There probably aren’t enough scares for fans of modern horror but if like me you grew up on Hammer movies you will probably like the creepy atmospheric horror. And that is where this film will succeed or fail, living up to the expectations of the audience. With all the zombies, vampires and torture porn movies that have been filling the horror genre I welcome something different especially when it is this well made.

Four Stars out of Five

★★★★

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