What a brilliant month of new films! It’s collections of films like these that make this gig worthwhile. Plenty here to head to in February if you’re stuck, or indeed just schedule into the Netflix queue later in the year.
Inherent Vice is unseen at the time of publication, check back soon for the verdict.
Note: This list is by no means complete, we’re only rankin’ wot we seez.
Note 2: Where two films get the same rating they’re ranked alphabetically
Man, Machine – ★★★★★
Gleeson is superb and displays a very different kind of energy when opposite Isaac as mentor, and Vikander as test subject.
Joaquin Phoenix is a stoned 1970s P.I. who has more in common with Hunter S. Thompson than Sam Spade, none the less Inherent Vice is a good old-fashioned detective yarn. Phoenix plays Larry Doc Sportello who looks like a cross between Quint from Jaws and Wolverine. Only in looks mind as this sweet, soft-hearted soul can’t stand to see people unhappy. It takes him all of thirty seconds to decide to help his ex girlfriend get untangled from the web she’s found herself trapped in, resulting in a series of lives becoming intertwined.
Extremely funny thanks largely to the physical face magic of Joaquin in delivering Paul Thomas Anderson’s take on Thomas Pynchon’s novel. An outstanding supporting cast of Josh Brolin, Joanna Newsom, Reese Witherspoon, Benicio Del Toro and more round it out for one of the most enjoyable and rewarding films of the year so far. Like all good detective fiction it’s always about a dame, here played by Katherine Waterston who isn’t some one-dimensional, box-ticking stereotype.
Worthy of repeat viewings to catch all the intricacies, PTA has once again succeeded in adding another stand out film to his already impressive arsenal.
Good Man – ★★★★½
The star of the show is of course Keaton. What none of the film’s marketing really revealed was just how troubled his character was and how much Birdman would deal with his state of mind. This is basically a film about a man on the verge of collapse experiencing hallucinations as he battles with his own sense of self-importance.
A Most Violent Year
The Moral Compass – ★★★★
Think Heat/Insider-era Michael Mann, The Godfather Part II, Serpico, The French Connection and you’re in the right territory.
Sticks and Stones… – ★★★★
In the age of The Voice, X Factor and instant gratification, Whiplash calls a halt to all the nonsense and simply proclaims it you want to be the best you have to earn it.
El Condor Pasa – ★★★★
This is the perfect January film to make you take stock and sort your life out, or maybe just go for a nice walk in the woods.
Doing the dirt, on the double – ★★★★
Where to start? Denis Villeneuve’s film is a story whose plot summary (“A mild-mannered college professor discovers a look-alike actor and delves into the other man’s private affairs.”) is so simple that you’d almost disregard it except for that word “look-alike”. The doppelgänger is one of literary fiction’s great inventions and has led to many great films of paranoia and madness – The Double, Adaptation and Another Earth being some recent favourites.
Villeneuve’s film is an ode to David Lynch and plays out on a literal level and a symbolic level. Maybe everything doesn’t make sense or fit together, but there’s enough hints, metaphors and symbols here to feed a hungry film studies student for a month. Women equals spiders. Who knew.
All In- ★★★½
There are many moral musings and orations which will ultimately make or break the film for a viewer but if you can get past the fact that Wahlberg is an associate English professor then you’ll do just fine.
Fanatical Mr. Fox – ★★★½
Ruffalo and Tatum are fantastic as a somewhat more serious Bushwhacker brothers. They dance around the screen like apes, constantly on edge sensing danger ambling from one foot to another. One scene in which they have a pre-bout warm up is hypnotic.
The Theory of Everything
Keep Going – ★★★½
It goes without saying that Stephen Hawking’s life is incredibly inspirational and makes for perfect January watching but it’s hard not to watch James Marsh’s biopic of Hawking and not dwell a little on the things that have been left out. The book is adapted from Jane Wilde Hawking’s book and yet the real-life struggles of the relationship between Hawking and his second wife Elaine Mason are kind of glossed over, with Mason arriving as an after-thought. Instead it’s a glossy depiction of Jane and Stephen’s relationship which survived for so long against the odds, but ultimately crumbled. Eddie Redmayne is superb in a challenging physical performance which must have played havoc with his body, he deserves to be in the Oscar conversation.
Testament Of Youth
War Torn – ★★★½
From tearful hanky-powered farewells on train platforms to the ordeals of a bloody, muddy military hospital James Kent’s feature debut tries to push all the buttons for a timeless melodramatic tale of war.
Big Hero Six
While not a complete exercise in money-making, Big Hero 6 does feel a small bit concocted to ensure all possible markets are reached. Setting the action in San Fransokyo – thus allowing you to have a golden gate bridge and a skyscraper back-drop – covers the Asian and American markets in one clean sweep.
Baymax (pronounced Betamax in my mind but maybe I just need my ears syringed again) is a first-aid diagnostic robot whose purposes is to help. When its creator perishes in a fire, it’s up to Hiro (see what they did there) to try and get to the bottom of the mystery. The best parts are the interactions between Baymax and Hiro giving the film it’s humour and emotional centre. Towards the final act the plot becomes boring and predictable and doesn’t do anything The Incredibles hadn’t already done 11 years ago.
War Porn – ★★
Eastwood has taken Kyle’s tale and crafted it into a tremendous work of propaganda. The American hero with two children, the perfect wife, a man who was doing his country proud.
Kingsman: The Secret Service
Spy Kings 2D – ★★
It starts out well enough but slowly wears away any goodwill as the laughs and fun moments are put to one side. A film for 13-year-olds.