My 10 Favourite Films of the 21st Century

There have been some amazing films that have come out over the past 20 years, ever since we entered the new millennium, and here are just some of my absolute favourites.

Firstly, here are some honourable mentions: Blade Runner 2049, Get Out, God’s Own Country, Gone Girl, Her, I, Tonya, La La Land, Little Miss Sunshine, Little Women, Memento, Moonlight, Mulholland Drive, Phantom Thread, Searching, Serenity, Shaun of the Dead, Spirited Away, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Train to Busan, Wild Tales & Zodiac

10. Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018)

Mission: Impossible has always been one of the most underrated film franchises of recent times. Despite a bevy of famous directors (including, Brian de Palma, John Woo, JJ Abrams, Brad Bird and Christopher McQuarrie) and famous actors (including the man himself, Tom Cruise) at the helm, the franchise has always been on the verge of widespread success, producing fun and serviceable popcorn action thrillers.

However, with it’s sixth instalment, Fallout, the franchise crosses the threshold from serviceable entertainment into a real sophisticated, classy and visceral piece of cinema. With brilliantly directed action sequences, compelling characters (particularly Rebecca Ferguson’s Ilsa Faust), thrilling tension, and great performances, Fallout is not just a great Mission: Impossible film, but a great film altogether. It’s definitely the best action film of the 21st century (and sorry, but it’s much better than Mad Max: Fury Road). Hell, it might even be the best action movie ever made.

9. Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)

This isn’t the last Coen brothers film that will appear on the list (see: number 2), but this is definitely the best film they’ve made in the last 10 years. It’s possibly their most Marmite film in their filmography (some people rank it as one of their favourite films of Coens; some people rank it among their worst), however, I absolutely love it.

It’s depressing, melancholy, sombre, subversive, darkly funny and strange in all the best ways, and I love it’s cinematography, songs, performances (including by a breakout Oscar Isaac) and some glorious cameos (including by the always great Adam Driver). It’s the sort of film that sticks with you long after the credits roll, and stays with you your entire life.

8. A Separation (2011)

Asghar Farhadi’s brilliant fifth feature, A Separation is him at his best and most heart-breaking. It’s most definitely the second best non-English language film of the 21st century (we’ll get to number one soon enough), and one of the best dramas I’ve ever seen.

The film boasts one of the greatest scripts ever written, with brutally frank and straight-talking dialogue, and makes us feel sympathy equally all of our lead characters, despite their bad or morally ambiguous actions. One of the most underestimated films to come recently, A Separation is most definitely worth a look.

7. Knives Out (2019)

Rian Johnson’s epic murder mystery comedy isn’t for everyone, but for the people that get it (like me), they really get it. The film is odd hybrid of an Agatha Christie murder mystery and a witty, suspenseful and darkly funny popcorn thriller. It’s neither a straight-up mystery, nor a spoof movie – it finds itself somewhere in the middle. It’s a strange pastiche of the whodunnit genre that simultaneously embraces and subverts the genre’s conventions.

What’s so brilliant about the film, however, is that you never notice all this while you’re watching it. It’s properly cinematic, really thrilling, entertaining, funny and filled to the brim with great performances and compelling characters. I mean, Ana de Armos is a frigging star through and through. I can’t wait to see the sequel, even it’s just for Daniel Craig’s barmy accent alone.

6. Paddington 2 (2017)

If you’d asked me about 3 years ago, I would probably say Paddington 2 is my favourite film of the 21st century. However, eventually ending up at number 6 is still pretty good.

This sequel to the 2014 adventure comedy centred on the Paddington Bear books by Michael Bond, improves everything about the original in spades. It’s more entertaining, more thrilling, funny and even more heartfelt. By the end, you’ll both be in floods of tears and your heart will be lifted by the level of compassion that Paddington has for the planet and it’s people.

It’s just the film we need for right now, and anyone with a soul and beating heart will surely be incredibly moved by this wonderful, wonderful movie.

5. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

Spider-Man have gone through a hell of a lot through the past two decades – we have had three separate actors portraying the Marvel superhero across three distinct franchises (in 7 movies). However, who’d ever thought that the best portrayal of Spider-Man would actually come from an animated movie, with Miles Morales as the lead.

Spider-Verse is really beautifully animated, and filled to the brim with wonderful and hilarious characters. It’s also a film with a real love of comic books, and has a willingness to embrace the more wacky, crazy parts of the medium. It’s possibly the best animated films of the past 20 years, and definitely my favourite superhero movie of all time (and yes, its better than The Dark Knight – there, I said it).

4. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Charlie Kaufman’s 5th feature, is a masterclass in how to tell an tired, unoriginal story in a new and innovative way. Centring on a estranged, bickering couple (Kate Winslet and Jim Carrey), who decide to erase each other from their memories, the film combines a nonlinear narrative and wild genre experimentation to create something wholly original.

It’s the sort of film the explores the concept of romantic love, and the importance of memories and how our memories are what defines us, yet manages to do it in a very mainstream, and accessible (yet very strange) way. It’s also got some glorious performances by Kate Winslet and an out-of-character dramatic Jim Carrey. If you’re looking for something a little unorthodox coming from the 21st century, then definitely check out Eternal Sunshine.

3. The Social Network (2010)

Sometimes a film comes along where the writer and the director are both collectively working at the height of their powers. And The Social Network is one of those movies. In this movie, we see director, David Fincher (Fight Club, Se7en, Gone Girl) and writer, Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing, The Trial of the Chicago 7) coming together to make arguably the greatest biopic movie of all time (and it’s a movie about Facebook).

Not only that, but the score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross is absolutely fantastic, and the editing is some of the best editing done in the history of cinema (that hacking scene is utterly incredible). What is really miraculous about the film, however, is that Fincher is able to turn a film about Facebook (which could of been so boring) into a rollicking, cinematic, and oddly, fun feature film.

The Social Network does not get half as much attention as it should do – give it another 25 years, and hopefully, it will be seen as the classic that it deserves to be seen as.

2. No Country for Old Men (2007)

The Coen brothers’ 1996 classic, Fargo is definitely my favourite film of theirs, but if I had to pick their most polished, most well-made feature in their filmography, it would definitely be No Country for Old Men. Like a lot of their films – the plot is extremely simple (it’s essentially a cat-and-mouse thriller about the hunt for a suitcase of money), but that doesn’t mean it’s any less extraordinary.

What’s so brilliant about No Country is that it’s a masterclass in “show, don’t tell” storytelling – it gives just the right amount of exploratory dialogue, and treats it’s audience with the upmost of intelligence. It the possibly the absolute pinnacle of visual storytelling, only made more impressive by some beautiful cinematography by Roger Deakins (who, if you didn’t know, is the greatest cinematographer in the whole world – and that’s not a opinion, that’s just a fact).

Also, Javier Barden as Anton Chigurh – possibly the best bad guy ever?

1.Parasite (2019)

Now, every film on this list is absolutely brilliant, but Parasite is on an another level. Parasite is a special movie – the sort of movie that comes around once every few decades or maybe even once in a lifetime.

The black comedy-cum-thriller-cum-social satire is the 7th feature by South Korean writer-director, Bong Joon-ho (who formerly crafted the brilliant films, Mother, Snowpiercer and Memories of Murder), and is a real miracle of film. Film students and film critics will be analysing it for decades to come to figure out just how Joon-ho did it. Somehow, Parasite manages to be equal parts funny, tense, suspenseful and dramatic, and manages to work as about 10 different genres all at once.

But what might be the best thing about Parasite (and the reason why it got widespread media coverage, universal critical acclaim, and huge box office success) is just how entertaining the film is. Joon-ho is able to turn a tired social message into something that is really cinematic and gloriously thrilling. Watching Parasite is like watching Alfred Hitchcock at his best – we are seeing Joon-ho at the absolute total command of his craft, and he has proven himself to be one of the greatest film directors of his generation.

Yes, Parasite is the best film of the 21st Century, but Parasite may even be more than that. It may even be the greatest film ever made in the history of cinema.

What I Watched in Lockdown: Month #2 – April

Aw, April. After March was possibly the craziest and oddest month of our collective lives, April was a learning curve for everyone, as we tried to get used to our new surroundings.

Although it originated from truly terrible surroundings, this actually seemed like quite a uniting time as everyone in the whole world was sharing one big similar circumstance. Everyone was stuck in their respective homes – no one could see friends, see family, go to the cinema, go to a restaurant or really do anything. And, actually it was nice to see everyone – no matter what race, gender, age, class or nationality – deal with the same issues for once.

And, it was actually quite a calming time for me. I loved it, and I watched a lot of films. These include:

  • Lots of new films, that I watched on streaming services, instead of at the cinema. Streaming services including the subscription-based ones (including Netflix, Amazon Prime and DisneyPlus, along with Shudder, which I got for a while during lock-down (it wasn’t worth it)), free streaming services (including BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, and of course, YouTube) and streaming services were you buy rentals (including Google Play, Amazon or Curzon Home Cinema). The new films I watched on streaming services include Bacurau, Swallow, Love Wedding Repeat, Tigertail, Blow the Man Down and Sea Fever. I also re-watched The Invisible Man and the National Theatre Live taping of the stage play, Fleabag (which was very lovingly put onto streaming for charity). The best of these films was Bacurau (with a big honourable mention for Swallow), and the worst was definitely Love Wedding Repeat.
  • During lock-down, me and my dad started a film club, in which he would show me a film I’ve never seen before, while I would show him a film he’s never seen before. The classics I watched for the first time include the Orson Welles classic, Touch of Evil; the iconic war film, Apocalypse Now; the other iconic John Travolta dance film (that isn’t Grease), Saturday Night Fever; the 60s Paul Newman film, The Hustler; the Stephen King-David Cronenberg adaptation of The Dead Zone; Apocalypse Now documentary, Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse; the classic Humphrey Bogart classic, The Maltese Falcon and the 80s Best Picture winner, Platoon.
  • Films I showed my dad that I re-watched include the Coen brothers films, Inside Llewyn Davis (which I love), Barton Fink, The Man Who Wasn’t There and A Serious Man. Others include the forgotten gems, Begin Again, Searching and Leave No Trace, and the terrific recent gems, One Cut of the Dead and The Peanut Butter Falcon.
  • Otherwise, I watched Knives Out twice this month. Yes, that means that I’ve seen it six times now. The first time, I watched it with a commentary track from director, Rian Johnson, while the second time I watched it normally.
  • Speaking of Knives Out, I watched a lot of films that Johnson says influenced his work. Before this month, I watched 80s twisty-turny thriller, Deathtrap and the whodunnit parody movie, Murder by Death. In this month, however, I watched some Agatha Christie adaptations, including Evil Under the Sun, Death on the Nile, Murder on the Orient Express (the 1970s one) and The Mirror Crack’d, as well as the 70s mystery thrillers, Sleuth and The Last of Sheila. I also watched the 2015 miniseries of Christie’s And Then There Were None, which was great by the way, if you haven’t seen it.
  • Other random films include: Mr. Right, a mediocre Sam Rockwell black comedy; Tigers Are Not Afraid, a terrific and underrated fantasy horror in the vein of Pan’s Labyrinth (which was pretty much the only other film I watched on Shudder), and QT8: The First Eight, a documentary about Quentin Tarantino. I sort of let go of watching Studio Ghibli films in April (don’t worry, I start again in June), however I did watch the underrated Ghibli gem, Whisper of the Heart.
  • I did also re-watch a lot of films with my family during this month. This includes a favourite from my childhood (and one of my mum’s favourites), the Pixar movie, Finding Nemo, and The Shining sequel, Doctor Sleep, which I undoubtedly think it better than the original. I also re-watched the 2016 comedy, The Nice Guys, another go-to comfort movie for me.
  • I also continued to watch The Simpsons during this harsh and difficult time. I carried on watching random episodes, finishing the sixth and fifth seasons. This re-watch really established to me that The Simpsons is so good – the writing on this show is better than most shows on nowadays.
  • Other random TV seasons I’ve seen include: the first season of Ozark; the first season of Pure; the second season of Mark Kermode’s Secrets of Cinema, and the fifth season of Better Call Saul. They were all good, but the fifth season of Better Call Saul was near perfection (bring on season 6).
  • Outside And Then There Were None, I also watched some miniseries, including Tiger King (like everyone else on the planet – remember when that was the biggest thing ever) and Quiz, a dramatisation of the Who Wants to be A Millionaire scandal (which was fantastic, by the way).
  • I also read this month (that’s right, sometimes I read) – I started to read some comics. I read Volumes 7 (consisting of issues 31 to 36) and 8 (Issues 37 to 42) of Brian K. Vaughn’s Saga, one of my favourite comic book series. I also read the second volume (Issues 6 to 10) of the underrated series, Skyward.

Bring on the Month 3, where caution: I was A LOT of films.

What I Watched in Lock-down: Month #1 – March

Well, 2020 has been… an experience, hasn’t it.

Ever since March, life has changed for pretty much everyone in the world. Coronavirus – or Covid-19 – has all of a sudden become the most famous celebrity in the whole world, and everyone abruptly discovered a new vocabulary, including “social distancing”, “pandemic”, “isolation” and “quarantine”.

It became the biggest thing in the world around March, especially half way through the month. It is still going on now, but it’s definitely dialling down, and will probably never again reach the craziness of mid-to-late March. The whole pandemic is like a TV show that started off as biggest show on television, and is now petering out (but still has a devoted fan-base) – it’s like Twin Peaks, Glee or Heroes. And, like these shows, the pandemic will hopefully be cancelled soon, only getting a revival in the press when it is properly finished.

And, like everyone, we were put in lock-down in late March, not being able to go outside, go to cinema, go to a restaurant, see friends, see family, or just really do anything that doesn’t involve doing it in the house. So, therefore, like everyone, I got a load of brand new projects, and this included watching a lot of films.

Firstly, during the first half on the month (the 1st to the 16th), where the world had not really changed that much, it was pretty much business as normal. This includes:

  • A load of new films, that I watched at the cinema (remember when we could do that). This includes – Portrait of a Lady on Fire, The Invisible Man, Downhill, Onward (and the short film that proceeded it, Playdate with Destiny), The Photograph and Military Wives. Yes, that’s right, Military Wives was the last film I watched at the cinema. I mean, Military Wives was good and everything, but if I die of Covid-19 and that is the last film I see at the cinema, I’m gonna be pissed. Overall the best of these films are either The Invisible Man or Portrait of a Lady on Fire (both so great – Portrait a little overrated, and Invisible Man was better than many thought), while the worst was definitely Downhill.
  • Also, I watched Taylor Tomlison’s new stand-up special, Quarter Life Crisis, which was very good. It was broadcast on Netflix – a eerie foreshadowing that we would get a load of new films on streaming services.
  • I continued to watch Studio Ghibli movies – the anime movies that were produced by Hayao Miyazaki’s film studio – ever since were brought to Netflix in February. In February, I watched Kiki’s Delivery Service, Castle in the Sky and Porco Rosso, and re-watched My Neighbour Totoro, while in March, I watched The Secret World of Arrietty and The Cat Returns and re-watched Spirited Away.
  • I also continued to watch a lot of Mark Ruffalo films, which I started to watch after seeing Dark Waters in late Feb. This includes Foxcatcher and Just Like Heaven, and re-watching Zodiac and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, the latter two are two of the best films of the 21st century.
  • Other random first-time watches include: the 2016 horror film (that the podcast, The Evolution of Horror recommended me), The Autopsy of Jane Doe; the underrated Best Picture nominee, In the Bedroom; the overrated Noah Baumbach movie, Mistress America, and the solid Sidney Lumet thriller, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead. A re-watch includes Ready or Not, a film from last year, that I really liked.
  • In terms of TV, I watched the fifth season of Inside No. 9. This was good, but was not as good as the utterly brilliant fourth season.

Now, we get to the time were the world went to shit. This is a new world, where new releases were either delayed, or taken straight to streaming. With the world in extreme turmoil, I started to watch favourite films and childhood favourites. Also, feeling like I won’t have this opportunity again, I decided to watch a bunch of old classics I’ve never seen before. Watches includes:

  • I re-watched some of my favourite films, including Fargo (believe or not, a go-to comfort film for me), Toy Story 2 (which I’m loving more and more on each re-watch) and last year’s Knives Out (which I watched for the fourth time).
  • I also watched some of my favourite films from childhood, including Ocean’s Eleven and Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Both were good, but not as great as I remembered, especially Ocean’s Eleven.
  • Also, when I got DisneyPlus in late March, I watched a lot of their content, including their two short films, Lamp Life and Forky Asks a Question: What is Money?.
  • I started watching some classic films, starting with 1949 classic, The Third Man.
  • As we had to get used to our new surroundings, I started to watch new films on streaming services instead of at the cinema. This includes The Platform and Vivarium – both solid, if slightly underwhelming satirical movies.
  • Other random watches include: The Invisible Man director, Leigh Wannell’s other film, Upgrade; the 1970s musical thriller (that Edgar Wright recommended me), Phantom of the Paraside, and re-watched the 2011 Steven Soderbergh thriller, Contagion, which for some reason, I found slightly relatable.
  • Also, as a go-comfort move, I re-watched my favourite show from my childhood – a little show you may of heard of called The Simpsons. I re-watched a lot of random episodes and finished the eighth season. This brought me back to my childhood at this really heard time, and really established for me that it is indeed one of the best TV shows of all time.
  • Otherwise, I also finished the second season of Lost in Space and the twelfth season of Doctor Who. Both were solidly good seasons.

Now, the next two months were peak lockdown, so prepare for a lot of movies in the next few months.

Streaming Options: The Wretched Review

One of the streaming titles to gain a lot of popularity since the beginning of the COVID-19-enforced lock-down is The Wretched, a supernatural horror film. Only playing on streaming platforms (including Amazon, Google Play, and YouTube) and some drive-in cinemas, the film has become a huge success due to a lot of big, blockbuster films that have been delayed. In fact, the film has become the first film since the 2018 superhero blockbuster, Black Panther to keep the top spot at the box office for 5 weeks.

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The film focuses on a young teenage boy, Ben (John-Paul Howard), who moves back in with father, who he has been estranged with since his parents’ divorce. He begins to suspect that his next-door neighbour, Abbie (Zarah Mahler) is actually being possessed by an ancient witch, harming her family around her. With the help of his new friend, Mallory (Piper Curda), he must find a way to stop her from hurting him or his family.

From the outset, you can tell that the plot feels very inspired by the 1954 Alfred Hitchcock classic, Rear Window, in how Ben begins to spy on his neighbours, and begins to suspect that something is not quite right with them. In this scenario, Ben is James Stewart and his best friend, Mallory is Grace Kelly. It’s so similar in fact, that Ben is actually wearing a case throughout the film, having just broken his arm.

You could also compare the film to Disturbia, a 2007 thriller, which was essentially a rip-off of Rear Window, but instead, done from a more teenage perspective. This is essentially what this film does – it tells a Rear Window-type plot from a teenage perspective, but mixes it with more supernatural chills. In fact, the film owes more of a debt to kids’ films, like the fun 2007 animated movie, Monster House (in which young teenagers investigate their supernatural house next door) and the 2008 fantasy adventure, The Spiderwick Chronicles (in which a teenage boy and his siblings fight against demons and ghouls).

This is a little bit of a problem of the film, as is sometimes uncomfortably mixes teen angst and drama with genuine scares and chills. It is a similar problem that the recent film, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark in which it branded itself as properly scary horror film, but was also a movie that needed a primarily young target audience.

By extension, the feels like it should be a lot scarier than it is. There are certain sequences at the beginning that are quite chilling, like the actual monster itself, and seeing it appear subtly in baby monitors or the corner of Ben’s eye. It’s almost like seeing a teen version of Paranormal Activity at some points. However, it feels like it slightly abandons this after around half an hour, and the film trades in scary chills for more of an adventure, exciting thrill ride.

This is another problem about the film – is that sometimes there is just too much going on. Other than struggling to balance a variety of tones and target audiences, there is a lot of plots and story threads that the film is trying to go for. The film is about Ben, his development and his relationships, as well as dealing with the threat next-door, that turns into a supernatural threat.

There is also a large amount of characters and actors vying for screen-time. Although, it is definitely Ben’s story, other characters include his father, his father’s girlfriend, Mallory, her sister, Abbie, her family, and many more. Not only that, but on top of all of this, the film then tries to do 2 big twists at the end. It almost feels like the script was trying to be too ambitious and trying to do too many things, that it doesn’t end up that successful doing any of them.

That being said, the film is still very pacey and thrilling. The film is very well-directed by Brett Pierce and Drew T. Pierce. They might be a little out of their element directing a full-on, scary horror film, and would probably be better crafting more a children adventure film. However, saying that, they are still capable of making a movie that is fun, entertaining and exciting, with many thrills and some relatable and interesting characters.

Overall, The Wretched is a perfectly fine diversion. It isn’t perfect, and possibly needs a little bit of more work put into the script, and overall thought put into exactly what it wanted to be. However, saying that, if you are looking for a fun, pacey and thrilling horror movie, then you should definitely give this a watch.

Rating: 6/10

Streaming Options: The Vast of Night review

If you are looking for a bit of sci-fi fix during lock-down, then you should definitely check out the newest Amazon Prime original, The Vast of Night. The film was first shown at the Sundance film festival in 2019, and was then brought by Amazon Studios, who are screening it free for anyone with an Amazon Prime subscription. It can also be screened in certain drive-in theatres in the US, and let me tell you this is the sort of movie that is pitch perfect for a drive-in movie watching experience.

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The film is inspired by vintage 50s-60s science fiction television, like The Outer Limits and especially, The Twilight Zone, with a healthy dose of The X Files also thrown into the mix. In fact, the whole film is framed as an episode of a The Twilight Zone-type show, called Paradox Theatre – the film begins on a old-fashioned curved television with a fuzzy connection, with an authoritative-like narrator. And, at various times, the film slips back into this just to remind us of that framing device.

The film focuses on the relationship between teenage switchboard operator, Fay Crocker (played by Sierra McCormick) and young radio DJ, Everett (Jake Horowitz), two people living in a small, desolate town in New Mexico. The two soon start investigating strange sounds coming out of the radio and switchboard, which leads to them discovering various stories from the townsfolk about close encounters and alien invaders.

Much in the same way as Mulder and Scully in The X-Files, Fay and Everett are contrasting and opposing figures that bicker, argue and have really great chemistry. Fay is more of a wide-eyed, optimistic figure, who wishes to stay in this small town, while Everett is more of cynical, arrogant and charming figure, who is desperate to get away from this town. And, as is the case with The X-Files (the early seasons, especially), the two have brilliant chemistry, but it never really slips into a sexual, or romantic pairing, and is much more effective only hinted at. This small piece of characterisation works really well, and is elevated by great performances McCormick and Horowitz.

The film is a really wonderful jump back into science fiction, a genre of which has gone by the wayside slightly ever since the COVID-19-influenced lock-down began. I mean, since big block-busters have been delayed until September, it’s obviously we would be getting a lot less of effects-driven sci-fi movies. However, The Vast of Night is much more of a low-budget affair for sci-fi movies, centring more on the unseen threat that is looming in the skies.

The film has a very standard, ordinary way of telling it’s story, and never feels the need to be subversive or satirical in any way. The film is unlike the works of filmmakers like, say, Edgar Wright or Jordan Peele, which are trying to balance soft parody with an actual story – this is down-the-middle sci-fi story told completely straight. It is clearly made by someone with a real affinity for this kind of genre, as director, Andrew Patterson (in his directional debut, no less) gets all the details about this era completely spot-on, from the clothes, the cars, the old-fashioned TVs and the old-fashioned circuit boards. I know it sounds like a cliche, but it really does feel like you are transported back to the late 1950s. And, much is the same way as these old-fashioned sci-fi shows, the experience that these kids are going through does feel genuinely wonderful and thrilling. It really evokes the awe and wonder that is felt like watching The X Files and other sci-fi films, like Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977).

Patterson also has a great visual style to offer, and in particular, the camera work done by cinematographer, M.I. Littin-Menz is very interesting. The film is not afraid to hold a shot for a long time, and gives us many long panning shots and uses of steadicam. For example, there is a shot of Fay doing work on the circuit system that holds for a very long time and doesn’t cut away.

There is also a really extraordinary sequence, in which the camera pans from Fay to Everett, who are on different sides of the town. All done in one long, ambitious sequence, the camera glides through the air, going past people and cars, and brings to mind similar sequences in recent Oscar winner, 1917 and latest Netflix original, Extraction.

There is a mixture between this and some more intricate camerawork. This sort of camerawork feels very inspired by the works of Edgar Wright – it is fast, quick, with loads of edits. It also places a big emphasis on close-ups, like keys going into the ignition, or records being put on a record player. It’s the mixture, between the these two opposing styles – the long, panning shots and the fast, quick edits – that give the film a really unique and interesting visual style.

This visual style is also very arresting in other areas. In another strange sequence, Kay and Everett talk to some on the radio about his close encounter experience, and the film literally cuts to black for quite a long time (about 1-2 minutes long) while the listener talks about his experiences. This is a heavily ambitious, and quite strange moment that just adds to the film’s unique visual style.

Overall, the film’s visual style is fantastic, the cast are really wonderful and it beautifully captures the era it is portraying, but overall, I yearned for more substance. The film is just really an exercise in style – the story does sometimes lack a bit of depth – but saying that, it is a really great exercise in style.

The Vast of Night is overall, a really lovely movie that really clicks. For anyone in the mood for a good, old-fashioned piece of sci-fi, particularly with the lack of sci-fi entertainment at a time like this, The Vast of Night is really worth watching. So, if you have an Amazon Prime account, definitely check this out.

Rating: 8/10

Streaming Options: Never Rarely Sometimes Always Review

Never Rarely Sometimes Always is a real indie treat that you can now catch on streaming. The film had a brief theatrical run in cinemas during mid-March, before the COVID-19 pandemic took off, and it’s now available from all different streaming services. It is available from all the usual providers, including Google Play, Amazon and Youtube, where you can stream it for, at the cheapest, £3.49.

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The plot centres on a young 17-year-old girl, Autumn (Sidney Flanigan), who suddenly gets pregnant. Feeling like she doesn’t want the baby, she decides to get an abortion, however, her local clinic doesn’t help her. She decides to travel to Pennsylvania with her cousin and best friend, Skylar (Talia Ryder), to get proper support for her decision.

The film is written and directed by indie director, Eliza Hittman, who was previously at the helm of 2015’s Beach Rats. The two lead stars, Flanigan and Ryder are very much unknowns, but I doubt they will be for much longer after the release of this movie. The closer thing that we get to a star in this movie is Theodore Pellerin, a small indie actor, appearing in the TV shows, On Becoming a God in Central Florida (2019-present) and The OA (2019). Hittman, and her two stars, Flanigan and Ryder are the real geniuses here, that make the film work so well.

The two central performances by Flanigan and Ryder are really quite terrific. For two very young actresses, Hittman is very confident with them, placing the movie squarely in their hands. Very much in the same vein as the lead performance by Julia Garner in another recent streaming title, The Assistant, these stars are often shot in tight, intense close-ups, and they pretty much appear in every single scene.

What is really wonderful about the performances, however, is how much they underact. Normally, when actors are portraying hormonal teenagers, they tend to overact, and make their characters almost caricatured. However, Flanigan and Ryder never do this – they play it a minimalist way, which is so refreshing to see. And Hittman is key here too, as she lets the actors breathe and perform, in a freeing way.

Hittman is really brilliant here as the director. She is very good at doing subtle film-making, than never feels the need to be melodramatic, or overwrought. She never feels the need to judge her characters or their actions, and this makes for very sensitive viewing. She also never feels the pressure to cut away frenetically, and lets the camera linger for a long time.

One of the scenes that brutally captures this is a scene in which Autumn has a consultation with a doctor about her abortion. This is where the title of the film comes into play, as the doctor asks Autumn to reply to her questions with either “never”, “rarely”, “sometimes” or “always”. The scene is really haunting, and through Flanigan’s performance, it beautifully tells a whole story in not many words.

The film also works so effortlessly because of the central relationship between our lead characters. Their relationship has echoes of the central characters’ relationship in the 1969 classic, Midnight Cowboy in how they don’t actually communicate that much with each other, but they don’t need to – they are so comfortable with each other, they don’t really need to talk.

There is a really beautiful scene that showcases this, in which the two get on each other’s nerves, Autumn gives Skylar a “fuck you”, Skylar gets angry and moves forward two seats, and then the two just silently reconcile. There is another beautiful scene in which, while Skylar is kissing a man to get money for the both of them, the two of them hold hands. Their relationship is sweet and soulful, and you can tell that Autumn has a special bond with Skylar, where many others don’t.

Hittman also treats the film’s central topic of abortion very uniquely. Many of the scenes involving abortion – from the first clinic talking her out of having an abortion to the uncomfortable and heartbreaking consultation that Autumn has with a doctor – feel painstaking real and authentic. It is really refreshing to see a movie take on such a touchy subject with real bravery and brio, as well as take on this subject and not judge any of the characters for their actions. The film never feels pro or anti abortion, and this is so refreshing to see.

Overall, Hittman has created a really wonderful film in Never Rarely Sometimes Always. She, and her two central stars, Flanigan and Ryder have turned this film into a engaging, immersive and very interesting experience. You should definitely check, because it’s definitely a contender for one of the best films of the year.

Rating: 9/10

Streaming Options: Extraction Review

A film that is gaining a lot of attention at the moment is Extraction, a recent Netflix original, that stars Chris Hemsworth in the lead. The film is directed by former stuntman, Sam Hargrave, and written by Joe Russo, the director of the biggest movie of all time, Avengers: Endgame, which of course, also starred Hemsworth.

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The film follows Tyler Rake (Hemsworth), a rebellious and loner black-market mercenary, who is hired to rescue the kidnapped son (Rudhraksh Jaiswal) of imprisoned international crime lord. But, being set in the murky underground of weapon dealers and drug traffickers, the already deadly mission becomes even harder and almost impossible.

Being called Netflix’s big action movie of the moment, that is gaining more attention because of the lack of content due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the film is gaining a lot of attention, and a lot of popularity and viewership. With all that buzz, the result is a little disappointing, albeit a perfectly fine serviceable action diversion.

The first half of the film is particularly solid and quite entertaining. It starts off well, and once we get to the central mission, it gains real momentum. Much has been made about how the film has a whole sequence around about half way through, that is all done in one continuous, interrupted shot. Much in the same way as this year’s Oscar winning, 1917, the sequence is heavily ambitious, going through buildings, up and down stairs, driving in cars, through gunfights, and even at one point, switches perspectives from different characters. Much like 1917, the sequence is incredibly visceral, and only makes the action and drama all the more intense.

Also, a lot of the fight sequences in the first half, particularly this one-shot sequence, are incredibly well-choreographed and thrilling. These sequences feel very inspired by the almost balletic fight scenes of Gareth Edwards’s The Raid films, or the John Wick films. These brilliantly put-together fight scenes just make the film so much more thrilling and intense.

But after the one long shot sequence, the film starts to go downhill. This really starts to happen when the film tries to incorporate some drama and depth into the film. This occurs when Rake goes to visit his former teammate, Gaspar (played by David Harbour), and during this, the film explores Gaspar and Rake’s history, as well as Rake’s tragic back-story. However, all the drama just doesn’t quite click into place. Harbour and Hemsworth are fine, but because of the cliched writing and quite dull direction, it all feels a little dramatically inept. It also feels like the film is attempting to play the part of a really good action movie, by adding some depth to the film, but not really putting the effort into making the drama innovative or particularly interesting.

Another part of the film that has gained a lot of attention is the film’s excessive violence. Towards the end of the film, there is a hell of a lot of people who get shot and killed. And after a certain amount, it really starts to loose it’s power. The viewer just ends up feeling desensitised to the violence, and it has no impact in the slightest. Also, the violence never feels as visceral or gruelling as it should be. For an 18-rated film (or “R” in the United States), it doesn’t feel like they really take proper advantage of this, and violence ends up lacking a real bite or edge.

Other than that, the performance by Hemsworth is fine, but that’s pretty much it – just fine. He is trying to be very serious here, and he lacks the comedic ability he has gained over the past few years (with projects like Men in Black: International and 2016’s Ghostbusters), and the charisma he brings to a role like Thor. However, if he is attempting to be the serviceable type of action hero, he is perfectly fine at doing that, although this is a little disappointing, considering we’ve seen him do so much more.

Extraction is a little bit a film of two halves – the first is actually pretty good, but the second half lets it down. But, saying that, considering that most of us don’t have much to do at the moment, Extraction is a perfectly serviceable diversion, that much in the same way as The Lovebirds, will pass the time finely.

Rating: 6/10

Streaming Options: The Lovebirds Review

One of the first movies to have been bought by Netflix amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is The Lovebirds, a film that was originally going to have a proper cinema release. However, it feels like it might have found it’s right home at Netflix, as the streaming service specialises in making light, frothy but quite fun comedies.

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The film follows a couple, Jibran (Kumail Ninjiani) and Leilani (Issa Rae), who when they first meet, are deeply in love and crazy about each other, but fast forward 4 years later, the two are constantly at each other’s throats. On the verge of breaking up, they are brought together when they witness a murder, and become embroiled in a murder mystery. While attempting to clear their name (and uncover the truth about the mystery), they must figure a way how they (and their relationship) can survive the night.

As you can tell, the film is very influenced by 2010’s Date Night and 2018’s Game Night in how it features a central couple who become caught up in a labyrinthe mystery all over the course of one night. The film is directed by Michael Showalter, who previously directed the 2017 comedy film, The Big Sick, also starring Ninjiani. The film has also had some unfortunate comparisons to last year’s middling Stuber, another film starring Ninjiani, that also centred on the chemistry he had with his co-star (that time with Dave Bautista).

It’s safe to say that from the outset, the film is much, much better than Stuber, but nowhere near as brilliant as The Big Sick. The film is a fairly entertaining and amusing comedy, and is often the case with Netflix comedies, it passes the time well enough. It might possibly be better viewed in the background while you’re doing something else.

The real problem with the film is that it isn’t as tightly-plotted or clever as it should be. Although I say the film has a complex mystery at it’s core, the mystery itself never feels as complex, labyrinthe or satisfying as it should be. The film also isn’t as intense, thrilling or suspenseful as it requires it to be. For example, there is a sequence in this film, in which our main characters are tortured by the bad guys (by taking either hot boiling grease to the face or a kick from the horse), and yet the sequence never feels intense or scary, and ends up coming across as a tonally inept and unfunny moment.

Overall, we never feel the danger that the characters are going through, and we’re always pretty much convinced that they will make it out of the night in tact. This is crucial, because if you think about all of the most famous mystery comedies movies (like the Pink Panther films, 1963’s Charade, or last year’s Knives Out), they always strike a brilliant balance between high-stakes tension and funny comedy.

This is a shame, because something that Showalter did with The Big Sick was to handle numerous different tones with a real grace and ease. Possibly the problem with the film is that unlike The Big Sick, the film doesn’t have the wonderful writing duo of Ninjiani and Emily V. Gordon. Without them, the film doesn’t really strikes it’s tonal balance perfectly. Also, the film doesn’t seem to have the depth or just, plain ambition of The Big Sick. It is a pretty straightforward, down-the-line mystery comedy that doesn’t try to do anything new.

That being said, the film is still pretty funny. Rae and Ninjiani are too absolute brilliant comedic figures, and unlike Ninjiani with Bautista in Stuber, the have really terrific and buzzing chemistry. Also, strangely because Rae does not have much of a cinema resume (apart from the 2020 film, The Photograph and the television series, Insecure), the two of them are very charismatic figures that the camera clearly loves.

The humour is pretty standard, and at times cliched for a modern comedy. It is almost a check-list for jokes – there is a bit where our lead duo start nervously talking in front of a police officer; a bit where they start singing at loud volume to a song on the radio; a bit where they are forced to go to a supermarket to change clothes, and many more. The comedy is not very clever, or particularly innovative, but saying that, I did laugh. It does pass the 5-laugh test with ease, and that’s mainly due to Rae and Ninjiani bringing sizzling energy to an otherwise unoriginal screenplay.

The Lovebirds overall, might not be as ground-breaking or brilliant as The Big Sick, but coming a year after the very mediocre Stuber, it is a welcome return to form for Ninjiani. Coming out on Netflix, the film passes the film finely and is a welcome distraction for anyone wanting new content.

Rating: 6.5/10

Streaming Options: The Assistant Review

One of the newest films that have taken to streaming due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is MeToo/ sexual harassment drama, The Assistant. The film was due to have a cinema release date around this time, but due to cinemas closing around the globe, the film has become available on all regular streaming platforms, including YouTube, Google Play and Amazon.

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The film is centred around on a young woman, Jane (played by Julia Garner), who begins an internship at a film production company, with the ultimate goal of becoming a producer. While dealing with the job’s long hours, and not being able to see her friends and family, she begins to face harassment and systemic oppression by her co-workers. Not only that, she begins to learn the shady behaviours and practises in use for hiring new female employees.

The film is a timely one, and one that could only be made now, in this day and age. It feels like it is very much set in a pre-Me Too era, and before Harvey Weinstein and Time’s Up. It’s a slightly painful movie, in that we see that all of the old practises (like bullying, sexual abuse and The Casting Couch) were were not only done, but also, blindly accepted by everyone around Jane.

The film, however, from the outset, sounds like it should be an acidic and angry take on these issues, however, the end result it much different. Don’t get me wrong, you will most likely leave the film feeling angry and disgusted, but the film itself is instead more of a slow, affecting drama, with more of a slow, methodical pace.

If the film was made by a filmmaker like, say, Spike Lee, the film would instead of had a more angry, spiteful and anarchist way of telling it’s story, and if it was told by a filmmaker like Quentin Tarantino, it would possibility have more room for escapism and possibly a happy ending.

Instead, The Assistant dips into more of the misery involved, showing the pain-staking misery that Jane is feeling, and the dull, monotonous work that she is doing. In fact, the ending of this movie almost has a message that if she wants to succeed in this industry, then she must have to accept these horrors, and try her best to ignore them. This is why this film would pretty much only work now – in a world where these horrors have been widely publicised, the film feels like a haunting time capsule to a time that once was, or even more haunting, how it still is in some places.

This, by extension, is also what makes the film so interesting – it has a very “show, don’t tell” approach to it’s storytelling. The director, Kitty Green doesn’t straight up tell you what is happening in the office, but instead, let’s you make up your own perceptions of what’s happening. This is important as it puts you right in Jane’s shoes, as like her, we slowly uncover the horrors in the office.

This is extended by the way in which Green deals with the movie’s villains. Jane’s boss, who is doing all the shady encounters with his employees is actually never seen – only discussed by his employees and heard screaming and shouting over the phone. This makes it all the more effective, as we are left to imagine just how scary and awful he is.

This slow, affecting drama is kept throughout the whole movie, with the exception of one particular scene. In this scene, Jane goes to complain to a manager, Wilcock (Matthew Macfadyen) about the sexual abuse, to which he at first acts sensitively, but as the scene progresses, almost laughs her out of the office. The scene then ends with an absolute brutal stinger from Wilcock, which not only spells out what is going on in the office, but, makes you realise the whole office is involved in an almost cult-like network that protects this sort of thing from getting out. And Green brilliantly does this all with 4 words – “you’re not his type”.

The scene is decidedly different from what we’ve seen before, and is the moment where the film really spells out what it is actually about. It is brilliantly performed by Macfayden (who you’d be fooled from the marketing is second biggest part of the film), who much like his character in Succession, gets the perfect mixture between false charm and creepy sliminess. But, ultimately this scene is absolutely crucial to the plot, as it just confirms to Jane what has been going behind closed doors.

Despite all of this, however, the film really belongs to Garner. The 26-year-old actress is finally getting a chance to show her talents in a lead role to a movie, having already appeared in the hit Netflix TV show, Ozark (of which she won an Emmy for). Appearing in almost every scene, she holds a confidence unseen by almost anyone her age. Also, Green often positions Garner in a tight close-up through a lot of the film, but she never struggles with this, and this only showcases her brilliant acting ability.

A haunting and timely portrayal of sexual abuse and workplace bullying, The Assistant is absolutely terrific. It is worth watching even it is just for seeing Garner’s acting talents, and the brilliance of Green behind the camera. You should definitely check it out, as it’s definitely one of the best films on streaming right now.

Rating: 9/10

Streaming Options: Calm with Horses Review

If you are running out of fresh, new films to watch on Netflix and Amazon Prime (and also, AppleTV+ and Disney+), then one of the other options for you is Calm with Horses, the directional debut for Nick Rowland, from a screenplay by Joseph Murtagh. The film is available from the usual streaming providers, including Google Play, Amazon and YouTube to rent and buy, from the cheapest price of £3.49.

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The film is set in dark rural Ireland, in which the young ex boxer, Douglas “Arm” Armstrong (Cosmo Jarvis) is a feared enforcer for the drug-dealing Devers family. His devotion to the family, however, is divided; and this is made more complicated by him trying to be a good father to his autistic 5 year son, Jack, and his friendship with Jack’s mother, Ursula (Niamh Algar).

One of the most acclaimed films of the (to be fair, early) year so far, it fair to say that Calm with Horses is absolutely terrific. The film is a really emotional, hard-hitting drama that will leave you emotionally shattered by the end of it. It is also a really haunting portrait of a man who is properly torn between his personal and professional life.

That, for me, is the most successful element of this film. There have been countless dramas about a gangster caught between his criminal life and his personal life, and most of the time, they don’t do either of them successfully. There are some brilliant examples, obviously (like Goodfellas or Breaking Bad), but sometimes, it can feel like they don’t properly depict someone who is divided in his life.

One of the ways the film does this brilliantly is the supporting characters. In his personal life, he has Jack’s mother, Ursula, while on his criminal life, he has his best friend and partner in crime, Dymphna, played by Barry Keoughan. We really believe the connections that he has with both of these people, and his makes Arm’s divide even more heart-wrenching.

Also brilliant are these two supporting performances. Ursula is played by Algar, who has been an up and comer on the rise for the past few years, appearing in a variety of underrated projects, including the great television series, Pure (2019-present). While, Keoughan has been more of a mainstream actor, appearing in acclaimed movies like Dunkirk (2017), The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017) and American Animals (2018), whilst working with iconic directors like Christopher Nolan and Yorgos Lanthimos. The two give so much depth to what could of been one-note characters, as each of them are also going through a bit of a divide, albeit in a smaller-scale way.

But, the film really belongs to Jarvis. The actor is fairly new to the scene, and was a musician prior to this, only appearing in some high-profile projects like Lady Macbeth (2016) and Peaky Blinders (2019). And, what is really accomplished is that he doesn’t feel like a new actor, he really commands the screen, and has real gravitas. He overall, gives a really heartbreaking, emotional performance which makes you like him and feel empathy for him all at once.

Other than the performances, the film is also really well shot. It has really gorgeous cinematography, and this makes the film seem very sophisticated and classy. In particular, the car chase sequences towards the end are also really well shot. Car chase sequences are often really hard to get right, as they can sometimes appear messy and noisy in their construction, but Calm with Horses gets it really right, and they never appear confusing or discombobulated.

With a plot that is quite miserable in it’s concept, the end result for the film is that it could have easily of been misery porn. However, it never feels like that, mainly because there is a small strand of black humour running through the film. This comes from the interactions that Arm and Dymphna have with various other characters, and it really works and is very effective.

Overall, Calm with Horses is really terrific. It shows us that everyone involved (from director, Rowland to stars, Jarvis, Keoghan and Algar) has a bright future ahead of them, and is just a solid, emotionally-wrenching drama that really clicks. I will definitely be looking at it during my run-down of the best films of the year.

Rating: 8.5/10