5. The Batman
Director Matt Reeves’s gritty take on the ever-expanding catalog of Batman films is an outstanding entry and may just be the best bat-flick yet. Reeves’s Batman presides over a bleak, rain-sodden Gotham that is rotten to its core with drugs, corruption, and murders taking place on every street corner. The continuous cascading rainfall on the Gotham streets is reminiscent of classic film noirs such as Blade Runner and The Maltese Falcon. Batman being one of the world’s greatest detectives has been a prevalent element of the comic books for decades but has largely been unexplored in the Bat’s recent cinema outings, until now. This new iteration of the character provides a welcome reprieve from the action-heavy Batman films of the recent past and breathes new life into the character; now in his 13th cinema appearance.
Robert Pattinson, the formerly sparkle-chested vampire of the Twilight franchise, gives a fine performance portraying the iconic role of Batman/Bruce Wayne. Pattinson has shaken off his teen heart-throb status in recent years by taking on more gritty challenging roles; he is especially good in the film Good Time, and he has been rewarded by being cast as this dark emo version of Bruce Wayne. Pattinson is surrounded by a superb ensemble cast, with standout performances from an unrecognizable Colin Farrell and a deeply troubling villain played by Paul Dano. The penultimate scene appears to set up a sequel, with Ireland’s own Barry Keoghan being introduced as one of the Bat’s iconic villains. The box office numbers suggest Warner Bros would be mad not to greenlight the sequel, and I will certainly be there on opening night when it arrives.
4. The Duke
This bittersweet Geordie caper is a warm-hearted story about family, loss, and standing up for one’s beliefs. This is the real-life story of Kempton Bunton who was charged with the theft of a portrait of the Duke of Wellington by the renowned Spanish artist Francisco Goya in the 1960s. Jim Broadbent gives one of his best performances as the soapbox socialist Kempton, who drives his poor beleaguered wife, played by Helen Mirren, mad with his hair-brained schemes and inability to keep steady employment. The late director Roger Michell has been a chameleon of filmmaking for the past 30 years, displaying a wide range of thematic concerns while moving between genres of drama, thriller, and comedy. In The Duke, Michell displays his ability to seamlessly blend genres and keep the narrative chugging along at an enjoyable pace. The film perfectly glides from comedy set around avoiding a TV license inspector, to the hardship drama of unemployment in 1960s Newcastle, and back to the joyful romance of old lovers sharing a dance in their kitchen. Jim Broadbent and Helen Mirren are the heart of the story and play off each other beautifully throughout this tender, light-hearted romp. This underdog story is an incredibly enjoyable Sunday afternoon movie, the sort of film you can watch with your nan over a few cups of tea and a small plate of chocolate digestive.
3. Parallel Mothers
Spain’s greatest living film director Pedro Almodóvar returns with his 22nd feature film Parallel Mothers. The film stars the long-time Almodóvar collaborator, and seemingly never-aging movie star, Penelope Cruz. This is the 7th film that the pair have made together and tells the story of two single mothers who meet at a maternity hospital while giving birth. Janis is a later-in-life mother who is joyful about her unplanned motherhood, while Ana is a frightened teenager. The film contains a parallel story of Janis seeking answers to her ancestry, as she looks to uncover the potential unmarked grave of her great grandfather, buried in her home village during the Spanish Civil War.
Almodóvar is still creating films of the highest caliber after all these years, as this film is full of flair, is beautifully designed, and holds an incredibly measured tone throughout. The dialogue is punchy and playful, while the ensemble cast pops on screen. Cruz is especially good; her charisma and beauty are enigmatically watchable and Almodóvar loves to shoot her in extreme close-ups in the most poignant moments of her performance. Parallel Mothers is brimming with warmth and contains interesting themes of ancestry, love, broken families, and the bravery of single mothers.
2. Licorice Pizza
1970s Los Angeles nostalgia is a well-trodden path for Director Paul Thomas Anderson, as his films Boogie Nights and Inherent Vice were staged against this backdrop. In Licorice Pizza Anderson successfully returns to this well and produces an off-kilter romance between Gary, an aspiring young actor, and Alana, a jaded photographer’s assistant. Cooper Hoffman and Alana Haim, who play the romantic leads, are relatively inexperienced actors, but their chemistry and exuberance pours off the screen. Gary is a force of nature with drive and ambition, qualities that Alana is attracted to, as she craves breaking out of her melancholic state. The two set off on a whirlwind adventure that involves a successful waterbed business, robbing a psychotic movie producer, opening an arcade, and traversing the world of showbusiness.
Licorice Pizza is littered with brilliant one-liners, incredibly odd characters, big laughs, and some very funny cameos. The high tempo pace of the story is married to the image of the two leads constantly running from place to place. The film is manic madness, but Anderson holds firm on the romance at the heart of the story, which is carefully threaded through the frantic action. The film is also visually stunning, a beautiful spectacle that Anderson is very well known for. With this sun-drenched screwball comedy, Anderson is an auteur filmmaker; performing at an extremely high level, he has created something that is not only original but also extremely pleasurable to watch, and it’s not surprising that this film is a top contender for the Best Picture award at this year’s Oscars.
- Nightmare Alley
Guillermo Del Toro’s epic remake of the 1947 film noir classic of the same name is a brilliantly crafted and beautifully acted piece of filmmaking that more people should be talking about. The film rightfully garnered much critical acclaim and picked up 4 Academy Award nominations; though the fact that Best Director wasn’t one of them is a crying shame. Del Toro has a knack for assembling top-notch ensemble casts and Nightmare Alley might be his best to date. A-list stars, character actors, and real circus performers all share the limelight flawlessly.
The film tells the story of huckster Sam Carlisle, played excellently by Bradley Cooper, who gets a job at a carnival and studies the art of the con under a “clairvoyant” double act. He eventually hones his craft enough to strike out on this own in the city, with his lover and partner in crime alongside him. The dual worlds of the grimy carnival lifestyle and the sleek art-deco cityscape are masterfully woven together. The omnipotent eye of the camera glides effortlessly through the engaging action and beautiful scenery, as Del Toro cleverly dots visual clues throughout his stunning visual landscape. The film bleeds into melodrama in the third act when the hidden antagonist reveals themself, and the film becomes slightly frayed at the edges. Nevertheless, the journey our antihero is on comes to a very satisfying conclusion with Cooper giving one of his best performances in the climactic scene.
Unfortunately, Nightmare Alley drastically underperformed at the box office. The film had a large budget of $60 million for a murky R-rated thriller and only recouped $37.8 million at the box office. The rule of thumb in Hollywood is that a film must make double its budget before it starts making a profit due to the high volume of advertising revenue required when releasing a film in cinemas. This underperformance probably means Hollywood studios will be reluctant to give Del Toro another large budget in the future. Auteur filmmakers like Del Toro are now more than ever turning to streaming giants like Netflix to house their big-budget artistic films, as a cinematic release for these types of films is becoming financially riskier. Hopefully, the variety of choices currently available at mainstream cinemas doesn’t get erased by these streaming goliaths and we’re forced to only watch the repeated reboots of horror franchises and the never-ending Marvel conveyor belt of mediocre blockbusters.