My films of the Decade!

I’ve reflected on my theatregoing over the decade and my top television choices, but before I look ahead to films and theatre I’m excited to see in 2020 (those posts will be up over the next few days), I thought I’d have a think about my film highlights from the last 10 years. I’ve seen some people have decided to choose one film from each year of the decade, but if this is going to be my top 10 films, then I’m giving myself the flexibility of picking more than one from any one year.

So, in no particular order, these are my favourite film since 2010. It’s a personal list. They may not be the most critically acclaimed, but they are the ones that I was most impressed by, or which I love watching again and again.

Inception (2010)

I’m a huge fan of Christopher Nolan’s work (no other Batman is needed for me thanks) and not only did Inception impress me from the first time I watched it, but it is one of the few times I’ve experienced a regular public cinema audience applaud at the end of a film. It was clever, visually stunning and required its audience to focus and pay attention, not to mention a strong cast and a perfect score from Hans Zimmer.

Avengers: Endgame (2019)

I admit, I struggled for a long time to choose between Infinity War and Endgame, but in the end, I went with the one that served as the final chapter of the Infinity Saga (Spiderman: Far From Home aside). I loved Infinity War, but the fact Endgame managed to tie up the stories of so many characters in one film, in such a satisfying way, was beyond anything I could have hoped for. It was also thrilling, nostalgic, and contained the right amount of emotional gut punches. Plus I could listen to the “Portals” music cue on repeat all day.

12 Years A Slave (2013)

From my first viewing at the London Film Festival, which received a standing ovation from the audience (I’ve still never experienced that since), I’ve never been able to forget this film. It’s always an emotional experience to watch it, as the shocking true story of Solomon Northup unfolds, anchored by Chiwetel Ejiofor’s utterly breathtaking and heartbreaking performance. Am I still mad he didn’t win an Oscar for this? You bet I am! An important story that needed to be told, which makes me cry every time. You can read my original review here.

Lion (2016)

Speaking of crying during a film, Lion is another example of a film which makes me cry every time I watch it! It tells the incredible true story of a young boy, Saroo, separated from his family in India, adopted by a couple in Australia who, 25 years later, finally sets about trying to find his roots and his mother and siblings, with the help of Google Earth (in its infancy back then). The film bravely leaves young Sunny Pawar, who plays Saroo as a child, to carry the film until it moves forward in time to the present day. It could have failed, but instead it draws you in to the traumatic and heartbreaking experiences he faced, which invests you so much more in travelling with him as he seeks to find where he comes from as an adult. With wonderful performances from Dev Patel and Nicole Kidman, this remains a film I regularly recommend to people. You can read my original review here.

Arrival (2016)

Arrival may first appear to be just another alien invasion movie, but this is not Independence Day and I loved this new, intelligent and deeply emotional exploration of not just contact with aliens, but also of what it means to be human and the importance of language and communication. Linguist Louise Banks, played by Amy Adams (hopefully the next decade will see her receiving some Oscar recognition), is tasked to find a way to communicate with the mysterious aliens who have appeared overnight in the USA (and in crafts around the globe). Aided by physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), the story starts in one direction and then takes you somewhere you didn’t anticipate and it stayed with me for a long time afterwards. You can read my full spoiler-free review here.

Inside Out (2015)

Inside Out may have been presented as a children’s movie, but it also speaks to every adult who sees it, highlighting how we change as we grow up and how our memories and how we feel about them can also change and the fact it works on so many levels highlights just what a superb film it is. Who doesn’t have memories that once were joyful ones, but have since been tainted by later life experiences? Yet, Inside Out reminds us that we need the difficult memories, just as much as the happy ones and it does this through a bright, colourful story about a young girl growing up and the little creatures that live inside all our heads, representing each of our emotions. I’m not sure what it says about me that Sadness was my favourite, but I loved this film and would recommend it to people of all ages.

The Hunger Games (2012)

Some may find this an odd choice, but I thoroughly enjoyed The Hunger Games movies, especially the first one and return to them often. A largely faithful adaptation of the original book by Suzanne Collins, it includes a very strong performance by Jennifer Lawrence and shouldn’t be snobbily overlooked because of its blockbuster franchise label. Add to that the wonderful support from Woody Harrleson and Elizabeth Banks and this story of a dystopian world in which children are used in a fatal game for the entertainment of the wealthy and to keep the weaker of society in line, is one very worth your time.

La La Land (2016)

La La Land was always bound to be on my list of favourites of the decade. From the first time I watched it at the London Film Festival, I absolutely loved it. It was a fun, colourful, funny, love story, which brought the magic of the classic film musicals of the past back to the big screen for a new generation. The soundtrack is so catchy, the dance numbers visually wonderful and the central performances by Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are captivating. It was a superb blend of the past and the present and I left the cinema smiling every time. You can read my original review here.

Free Solo (2018)

Another incredible film of the decade was the documentary about rock climber Alex Honnold, whose goal was to climb up El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, but without any form of ropes, in what’s known as a free solo climb. The documentary digs in to his life, from his childhood and the reasons he first took up climbing, as well as his attitude towards life when his climbing goals are his main focus. Through those also in his life, whether friends or family, we also see the effect of his choices on those who care about him. Watching this on an IMAX cinema screen was quite something and the tension in the room was palpable as we watched his ascent. I kept having to remind myself that it really was real and not a fictional film!

The Lady In The Van (2015)

The stage version of Alan Bennett’s play was before my time living in London, so thankfully it was turned in to a wonderful film, again starring Maggie Smith as the lady of the title and is based on the unbelievable true story from Bennett’s own life – when an elderly lady, Mary Shepherd, who lived in a little van, moved on to his driveway and stayed for 15 years! It’s a charming British film, full of humour and poignancy, as we learn more about Mary and how she came to be living this way. Alongside that, we get an insight in to Bennett and his life as a writer, as he often discusses his predicament with an imaginary version of himself; a version he’d perhaps like to be more like if he dared. Boasting a cast full of British theatre acting talent and led beautifully by Smith and Alex Jennings, this is a film very dear to my heart.

The Greatest Showman (2017)

I was late to The Greatest Showman. I admit, the critical mauling when it first arrived in cinemas put me off and I just never made time to see it. That was until I watched in with my mum after it was available to rent on a streaming service and it was not what I expected. The main reason? I loved it! Yes, it’s a bit cheesy in places and yes, it’s not all true to the story of P.T Barnum, but it was hopeful, uplifting and made me feel lighter once I’d watched it. If I’m feeling a bit low, it’s still one of the films I turn to if I need a pick-me-up. Plus, the soundtrack is wonderful, ridiculously catchy and full of heart. I’ll be in line for tickets to the Broadway show when that finally happens too!

Paddington 2 (2017)

In the same way that The Greatest Showman brings a smile to my face as I watch it, the same is absolutely true for Paddington 2. I enjoyed both Paddington films, but it had to be the sequel on this list for the added joy of Hugh Grant! For those unfamiliar (surely there can’t be many of you), Paddington is a bear that lives with the Brown family in London (voiced by Ben Whishaw), who loves marmalade sandwiches and in this film gets caught up with the theft of an antique pop-up book and the treacherous antics of an ex-actor with a huge ego (played by Grant), trying to track down hidden treasure. It’s just such a wonderful family film, that deserved far more awards recognition.

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So, those are my film highlights of the year. They are personal to me and each one brings back memories that make them special. Hopefully the next decade will bring many more wonderful films too!

Spoiler-Free Film Review – Arrival (2016); an intelligent, enthralling and deeply human science fiction film

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Last night saw the UK premiere of Arrival during the London Film Festival, which will prove to be another festival highlight for me. I’ll start by saying I’m going to be careful what I write in this review, as this really is a film that you should watch unspoilt. Part of its brilliance is in not knowing what lies ahead. Are you intrigued enough? I certainly hope so and enough to keep yourself spoiler-free until you see it.

Arrival is adapted by Eric Heisserer from the Ted Chiang short story Story of your Life and the new film from director Denis Villeneuve (whose previous work includes Sicario and Prisoners) and who is currently at work on another sci-fi film – Blade Runner 2049. If this movie is any indication, the Blade Runner legacy is certainly in strong hands!

On a day as normal as any other, the world comes to a standstill when 12 huge spacecraft materialise around the globe. With no attempt at contact, fear of the unknown takes hold, as the UN seeks to bring the nations of Earth together to try and communicate with whoever is aboard in order to understand why they have arrived.

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Venturing in to the unknown in Villeneuve’s visually striking film

 

One such craft has appeared in the USA (in Montana to be precise) and the government and military set about bringing the finest scientific and linguistic minds together, which is how we meet Louise Banks (Amy Adams), whose reputation and previous linguistic assistance to the military has Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) recruiting her to the team. Combined with mathematician Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), they must try and determine the aliens’ purpose. However, as time moves on, the willingness of nations to work together comes under strain, which in turn threatens to damage any progress that’s been made, leaving Banks to use all her skill to try and make a breakthrough before it’s too late.

Arrival is not your typical science fiction movie. It is not another Independence Day-style action adventure and I’m very pleased about that. Instead, Arrival is an incredibly intelligent film, which happens to involve aliens, but is actually all about humanity; the need to pull together as a world rather than splinter and to communicate with those you may not understand in order to learn about yourself as well as them. Never has a film of this genre had so much depth and the unexpected path it takes later on, genuinely made me gasp, as I saw the whole film from a new perspective and realised what a clever and surprisingly, profoundly emotional story it is.

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Amy Adams gives a superb performance as Louise Banks

 

On top of such a superbly crafted script and story, Arrival is blessed to have such a talented actress in its lead role. Amy Adams is wonderful as Louise Banks, a woman who seems a little removed from those around her when we meet her, but who has a strength of character that you cannot help but admire. Her story is the axis around which the whole film spins and the further through the story you go, the more emotionally connected you are to her. Another Oscar nomination seems guaranteed and is very much deserved.

There is also strong support from Forest Whitaker as Colonel Weber, caught between the team at the craft and external government pressures, forcing his hand and also Jeremy Renner as Ian Donnelly, whose scientific mind perfectly balances with Banks’s, to form a strong team. He and Adams have a chemistry which is believable and a pleasure to watch.

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Jeremy Renner as Ian Donnelly

 

Jóhann Jóhannsson’s score also provides a haunting and eerie soundscape that fits the mood and tone of Arrival perfectly, enhancing the tension as the team take the first tentative steps aboard the craft, but also drawing out the beautifully emotional beats of the film as well. It is also a visually stunning film thanks to the work of cinematographer Bradford Young.

I had no idea what I’d think about Arrival before attending the screening and on watching it I cannot recommend it highly enough. If you don’t normally watch sci-fi films, then don’t let the premise put you off, as Arrival is so much more than a lazy genre label. It is smart, enthralling, thought-provoking and incredibly satisfying on an emotional level. I guarantee you will not be able to stop thinking about it once you’ve seen it. It’s general release can’t come quickly enough so I can talk about it with people!

Arrival arrives in UK cinemas on 11th November 2016. Watch the teaser trailer here (it gives far less away than the full trailer): https://youtu.be/AbHGLYLbQFI