The Best Films of 2015

Caren Pistorius in Slow West

 

 

 

There’s a tendency among people who watch a lot of films to boost ones that stand out rather than ones that are good. This can lead to some perverse choices in the “best of” lists that proliferate at this time of year. So that probably explains the rogue nature of the list below – ha ha. If you’re expecting to find Spectre (not at all bad) or the latest Marvel movie or Jurassic World, look elsewhere. These are just the films, of the maybe 350 films or so that I’ve watched in the past 12 months, that jumped out and grabbed me. Some of them are 2014 releases.

 

 

 

 

Ten Best

 

 

Paddington (dir: Paul King)

Operating in Mary Poppins territory, this adaptation of Michael Bond’s books is charming, funny and clever, has jokes for kids and some more thoughtful though never intrusive observations for adults, integrates the animated bear from darkest Peru with the live action brilliantly and there’s even an action-star gag by support-playing baddie Nicole Kidman that’s aimed at ex-husband Tom Cruise.

 

Wild (dir: Jean-Marc Vallée)

The redemptive drama is a hard sell, but this one about a broken woman’s long trek to self-realisation works in every way. Reese Witherspoon is believably frail as the wee girl dwarfed by her huge rucksack (metaphor), director Jean-Marc Vallée uses music perfectly and does something many directors have forgotten all about – he structures his film visually, using the editing suite to full advantage. His compositional work is remarkable.

 

Ex Machina (dir: Alex Garland)

Just as we are realising that technology’s grip is icy, and Google might not be our friend, along comes Alex Garland’s directorial debut, a dystopian slab of hard sci-fi in which geeky Domhnall Gleeson falls for robot Alicia Vikander while hipster tech uberlord Oscar Isaac looks on. A three-hander – give or take – getting perfect performances from all concerned, and it glistens like a tiny, beautifully cut gem.

 

Kajaki (dir: Paul Katis)

A gaggle of British squaddies with names like Tug, Spud and Smudge wander into a minefield and suddenly their casually homophobic banter is replaced by focused professionalism and a sharp interest in staying alive. Gruesomely tense, horrific in its depiction of the damage inflicted by IEDs, is this the best British war film since Ice Cold in Alex? It’s a great war film by any standards.

 

It Follows (dir: David Robert Mitchell)

Sexual intercourse as an engine of death isn’t new in horror films, but It Follows finds a simple and brilliant new way of telling the story all over again – zombies who are “slow but not dumb” and might appear any time, any place, anywhere, dressed in nightwear or perhaps not very much at all. A lurchingly subjective camera, expressionistic framing and Disasterpeace’s Wendy Carlos-alike score help rack up the intensity even further.

 

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (dir: Ana Lily Amirpour)

The Muslim jilbab as a kind of vampire’s cape – what a brilliantly observed idea that is in one of the strangest horror films of recent times, which combines something of the mass-observation aesthetic of photographer Sebastião Salgado with the disjointed cool of early Jim Jarmusch. Shot entirely in California, yet clearly a film about and for Iran, it’s a fascinating, Middle Eastern take on the Let the Right One In “innocent vampire” genre.

 

Slow West (dir: John Maclean)

Michael Fassbender’s astonishing run continues with this out-of-nowhere debut by John Maclean, an exquisitely wrought western making clear its debt to old pulp novels and their love of hard-tack glamour and salty danger. Tense as hell, in fact the whole film is one long, slow build towards a great finale. And it looks the business too.

 

Aferim! (dir: Radu Jude)

There hasn’t been a great Romanian film for about ten minutes, but here’s a slightly different sort than what we’re used to – a historical picaresque following an 1830s cop and his son as they seek to capture a Gypsy and return him to his owner, a rich boyar whose wife has been too free with her favours. Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon inspires some of the look and pace of it, and Don Quixote is clearly also a reference, though Cervantes didn’t finish on as gruesomely gripping a high as this does.

 

Theeb (dir: Naji Abu Nowar)

It takes a while for it to sink in, but what we have in Theeb – as we follow the exploits of the youngest son of a Bedouin tribe in the Laurence of Arabia-era desert – is a story straight out of Rider Haggard territory. It’s the sort of ripping adventure that once upon a time emboldened Spielberg and Lucas to make Indiana Jones but is done without a cocked eyebrow here, with genuine danger, tough decisions, cruel fate and a bit of socio-economic background (the collapse of the Ottoman Empire) all adding spice.

 

Mommy (dir: Xavier Dolan)

With Tom at the Farm it became clear that Xavier Dolan was something of a genius. Mommy is further proof, a tough drama about the stumbling relationship of a flaky mother (Anne Dorval), her aggressive, firecracker ADHD teenage son (Antoine-Olivier Pilon) and their nervous neighbour (Suzanne Clément). It wears its emotions out there on a selfie stick – “fuck off” in this film often means “I love you” – and there are at least two scenes so powerful you might have to remind yourself to breathe.

 

 

 

Honourable Mentions

 

Victoria Almeida in What's Left of Us
Victoria Almeida drives the boys crazy in What’s Left of Us

 

 

Appropriate Behaviour (dir: Desiree Akhavan)

The life and times of a second generation Iranian, or of a confused bisexual, or of a girl in the big city, or of a struggling 20something – Desiree Akhavan gets it all just right in this through-the-fingers New York comedy.

 

Maps to the Stars (dir: David Cronenberg)

Still Alice won her the acting accolades, but Julianne Moore is actually better in this return to nightmarishness for David Cronenberg, as a fading star and member of a family for whom the term fucked really doesn’t cover it. The Player meets Sunset Boulevard.

 

Life After Beth (dir: Jeff Baena)

Aubrey Plaza gives it her absolute all as a newly dead zombie trying to have a relationship with old boyfriend Dane DeHaan – who finds her a whole lot more into him than she used to be – in a genuinely inventive comedy made all the better by the presence of John C Reilly and Molly Shannon as Plaza’s concerned parents. Dead funny.

The Tribe (dir: Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy)

Shot entirely in Lithuanian sign language, acted by first-timers and set in a school for the deaf where a new boy finds that the descriptor “sex and violence” barely covers what’s going on, this film sounds like a stunt – and it obviously is to some extent – but it’s a stunt that works. And the lack of dialogue is no bar to understanding when emotion this direct and action this unambiguous is concerned.

The Babadook (dir: Jennifer Kent)

There’s a touch of The Innocents in this highly atmospheric Aussie horror about a mother driven to desperation by her needy child. Or is it the child we need to feel worried for? Sure, it goes slack in the middle, and becomes over-focused on telling us that writer/director Jennifer Kent has seen a whole load of old horror movies, but wait for the finale – barking, scary and brilliant.

 

The Book of Life (dir: Jorge R Gutierrez)

A Mexican flavoured animation with a Day of the Dead theme and a plot with a distinct Orpheus and Eurydice flavour – she’s dead and he goes after her into the underworld (ish). The visuals are spaghetti western meets Ren and Stimpy, the songs are jaunty and mariachi-flavoured and the voicework (Ice Cube in particular) is exemplary.

 

Pictures of the Old World (dir: Dusan Hanák)

“The best Slovak film ever made”, the reputation of Dusan Hanák’s disarmingly simple documentary from the early 1970s – about the dirt poor lives of ancient peasants up in the back of beyond – is entirely deserved. “I’m going to die this year, I can feel it,” says one old timer. And that’s what it’s about – quite starkly. Death.

 

Two Night Stand (dir: Max Nichols)

Breakfast at Tiffany’s, The Pink Panther, It Happened One Night and The Dick Van Dyke Show are all in the mix in this subversive comedy about a girl (Analeigh Tipton) who has hook-up sex with a stranger (Miles Teller) and then gets stuck in his apartment. Old-school screwball romance follows, charmingly, smartly and at speed.

 

Predestination (dir: Michael and Peter Spierig)

Robert Heinlein’s sci-fi story All You Zombies provides the backbone for the Spierig brothers’ follow-up to the similarly idea-crammed Daybreakers, a “guy walks into a bar” tale of a hermaphrodite (Sarah Snook) who walks into Ethan Hawke’s bar and tells him a story about time travel and the paradoxes that erupt from it. Refreshingly hard sci-fi.

 

Frequencies aka OXV: The Manual (dir: Darren Paul Fisher)

Strip away the romance and what is human courtship about? Status, clearly, according to this lo-fi, highly fascinating film about “what happens when a high frequency meets a low frequency” – hot, smart girl meets average guy, in other words. It’s patchily acted and a bit speechy towards the end, but there are enough ideas in this bizarre film for about 12 Hollywood blockbusters.

Turned towards the Sun (dir: Greg Olliver)

A simple and revelatory documentary about 90-something poet and Second World War hero Micky Burn, a long-form visual version of a Daily Telegraph obituary whose power lies in the richness of Burn’s Zelig-like life. He was – just one for-instance – the guy in the secret radio room at Colditz.

 

What’s Left of Us aka El Desierto (dir: Christoph Behl)

A simple but powerful Argentinian zombie movie about a girl, a boy and another boy all locked up together in a house while the world goes to hell in a handcart outside. And inside, it turns out, once sexual dynamics and the fallout of a fetid love triangle start to exert themselves. Victoria Almeida is a powerful and provocative lead, the sexy counterweight to the hothouse atmosphere of death.

 

Tusk (dir: Kevin Smith)

Kevin Smith reminds us how good he can be with a film about a guy (Justin Long) being turned into a walrus by a demented surgeon (Michael Parks) while his much-cheated-on girlfriend (Genesis Rodriguez) searches for him. A simple film, it somehow manages to be funny and appallingly gruesome at the same time.

 

Face of an Angel (dir: Michael Winterbottom)

Michael Winterbottom’s drama takes the bones of the Meredith Kercher/Amanda Knox case and constructs a brilliant meditation on the modus operandi of the media, as well as a modern-day Dante and Beatrice tale in which film-maker Daniel Brühl is smitten by virginal Cara Delevingne, as anyone watching probably will be too.

 

While We’re Young (dir: Noah Baumbach)

Not-as-young-as-they-once-were couple Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts try to keep up with hipsters Adam Horovitz and Amanda Seyfried in a very Jewish New York comedy – smart, dry, a touch bitter – about the importance of being not just true to yourself, but of doing this absolutely and totally properly.

White God aka Fehér Isten (dir: Kornél Mudruczó)

Kicking off with a quote by Rilke, this unique Hungarian film is like a Disney animal flick about the adventures of a mongrel, except done as existential sci-fi – what exactly would happen if dogs had the same degree of consciousness that humans have?

 

The Salvation (dir: Kristian Levring)

Director Kristian Levring used to be a Dogme man, but shouts “I’m so over all that now” with this remarkable western that’s like a fusion of Sergio Leone, John Ford, Sam Peckinpah and Robert Aldrich, with a perfectly cast Mads Mikkelsen as a Clint Eastwood-alike quester after vengeance. If looks could kill…

 

Run All Night (dir: Jaume Collet-Serra)

Another of Liam Neeson’s geri-actioners, though this time he’s back with director Jaume Collet-Serra for a deliberately retro dash for the finish in which strong, silent Neeson takes on the good guys, the bad guys and eventually the whole of New York. Hugely overwrought, entirely satisfying, it’s genre done properly.

 

Still the Water aka Tutatsume no mado (dir: Naomi Kawase)

If Douglas Sirk had been Japanese he might have come up with this overheated love story about teenage lovers hedging towards full penetrative sex as the waves crash, storms rage and their families conspire against them. Leisurely, beautiful, lusty and lovely, an unusual mix of the entirely natural and the gigantically metaphorical.

 

Phoenix (dir: Christian Petzold)

The latest of a string of dark, intelligent films that director Christian Petzold and actor Nina Hoss have made together is a revenge drama set in the aftermath of the Second World War where Hoss, just released from a death camp, is recruited by her own husband to play his dead wife – he doesn’t recognise her, obviously – and she plays along. Oh deary deary me.

Marshland aka La Isla Mínima (dir: Alberto Rodriguez)

Stunningly good-looking policier about an ageing Franco-supporting cop and his younger more democratic sidekick investigating a murder out in the photogenic Guadalquivir marshes in 1980. Brilliantly acted and shot, with locations and music to match, it’s even got does a car chase in an entirely new way. Did I mention how good it looks?

 

Little Accidents (dir: Sara Colangelo)

Old school 1970s-style humane ensemble drama with a standout Boyd Holbrook as a survivor of a terrible mining disaster whose testimony about the event at an upcoming hearing are going to decide the futures of a whole lot of people in town. An ambling drawl of a movie, with Elizabeth Banks and Jacob Lofland almost as good as Holbrook, surely a star of 2016.

Turbo Kid (dir: François Simard, Anouk Whissell, Yoan-Karl Whissell)

Utterly on-the-nail pastiche of 1980s straight-to-VHS movie-making, a post-apocalyptic Total Recall meets Mad Max story of a BMX-riding kid, called Kid, gaining special powers, falling for a special girl (a special Laurence Leboeuf) and saving the world. Funny and gory, with in-jokes for nerds, and a fabulous John Carpenter-like soundtrack by Le Matos.

 

Mad Max: Fury Road (dir: George Miller)

Pedal-to-the-metal furious punk-funk madness, with a barely speaking Tom Hardy as Max, the road warrior on the road with badass Charlize Theron (the film’s real star) while director George Miller obsessively choreographs the relentless chase/action mayhem around them.

 

Tomorrowland (dir: Brad Bird)

Whatever happened to the futurism of jet packs and flying cars? Brad Bird answers the question with jaw-dropping visuals in a modern-day Wizard of Oz quest-adventure coolly received by critics with ass/elbow disassociation disorder.

 

Cop Car (dir: Jon Watts)

Another of those great Kevin Bacon movies he comes up with every few years, with our guy as a really bad cop on the trail of a couple of kids who have nicked his car, unaware there’s something in the boot they really don’t want to be discovering. A high-concept B movie of real distinction, lean, simple and with smart, believable dialogue, especially for the kids.

 

Palio (dir: Cosima Spender)

A remarkable documentary about the Palio, a horse race run in Siena, Italy, twice a year, which takes such pains to introduce us to its characters – chiefly, the young buck hoping to steal the grizzled champion’s crown – that when the race kicks off, you’re really in the medieval square with the riders.

Minions (dir: Kyle Balda, Pierre Coffin)

After the boring Despicable Me 2, who’d have thought that a spin-off – the backstory of Gru’s little yellow helpers – would have worked this well. Brilliantly animated and written, it’s a breathless, idea-packed, funny, inventive animated comedy.

 

I Believe in Miracles (dir: Jonny Owen)

Even if you have no interest in the 1970s, or British football, or managerial legend Brian Clough, this documentary about his astonishing success and idiosyncratic style will have you hooked. “The most charismatic man I ever met,” says one former player, part of the team of underdogs he willed to European Cup success, twice.

 

 

And if you want to watch or buy any of the films, this Amazon link will allow you to do just that – enjoy!

 

 

© Steve Morrissey 2015

 

14 December 2015-12-14

Toma Cuzin as the escaped Gypsy in Aferim!

 

Out This Week

 

Aferim! (StudioCanal, cert 18)

In spite of the fact that it won the Silver Bear at Berlin, Aferim! had no proper cinema release in the UK, and even its home entertainment release is a muted affair. What a terrible shame that is, because it’s a hell of a film, a powerful wonder following a cop and his son on a rambling journey through 1830s Romania. Shot in a slightly mucky black and white – easier to get period settings right when colour isn’t a problem – it’s a Don Quixote meets Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon affair, with the chase after an absconded Gypsy (Toma Cuzin) providing the loose frame of a rambling plot. Because of this slave story aspect, it’s also possible to read it as a cockeyed Romanian take on Tarantino’s Django Unchained, and there are definite moments when writer/director Radu Jude’s screenplay rolls around in the comic possibilities of language, QT style. Such as when cop Costandin (Teodor Corban) and son Ionita (Mihai Comanoiu) happen upon a priest at the side of the road. “Gypsies,” Costandin asks the priest, “are they human or are they the devil’s spawn?” And out comes a long, hilarious, non-stop racist rant from the man of god – “Hungarians eats a lot, Germans smokes a lot, Arabs has many teeth, Armenians is lazy, Serbians cheats a lot… Gypsies gets many a beating. Gypsies must be slaves.” Tarantino would be proud. Keenly satirising the modern return to an ugly European nationalism, Jude manages to avoid the tendency of picaresque dramas to be formless and gradually winds us into the world not just of the bluff, boozy Costandin, an Oliver Reed of a man, and Ionita, a tender soul, but also into the life of Carfin, the Gypsy they eventually apprehend. This leads to a gruesome and entirely gripping finale in which the other focus of Jude’s satire – money – snaps wincingly into focus. With its period setting, Aferim! clearly doesn’t sit easily with other great films from Romanian New Wave (a long list includes Child’s Pose, Tuesday, After Christmas, 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days, The Death of Mister Lazarescu), which might explain why it’s been so overlooked. But it’s a modern morality tale all the same, and a great one at that.

Aferim! – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

 

 

Vacation (Warner, cert 15)

I had grim expectations of this reboot of the old Chevy Chase franchise. But I laughed so hard in the first ten minutes that my prejudice just curled up and died. And the jokes were varied too – over the opening credits there were clickbait-style photos of holiday photo fails (people throwing up on a rollercoaster, sort of thing). Then we met Ed Helms as Rusty Griswold, a pilot on a dowdy domestic service, Griswold’s job allowing writer/directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan M Goldstein to show that they could do Airplane! gags (turbulence leading to Griswold repeatedly feeling up one of the female passengers). And this was followed by an introduction to the Griswold family and in particular the younger son Kevin (Steele Stebbins) whose ragging of older brother James (who, he insists, has a vagina) is both awful and very funny. Stebbins continues to be the funniest thing in the film as Rusty and wife Debbie (Christina Applegate) take the family off on a re-run of the family holidays of yore, when he and dad would go to frowzy theme park Walley World. The circle is complete, the reboot has reached back to the time when Chevy did exactly the same thing. It seems that whether it’s Norman Wisdom or Adam Sandler, there is a real constituency for comedies in which half-men are repeatedly mocked for being half-men. I’m not part of that constituency, and at some point during Vacation the accumulated weight of the failures of Rusty and older son James (Skyler Gisondo), due to a lack of balls or brains, started to make me feel sorry for them, rather than find them funny. As if to rub it in we have Chris Hemsworth as the boorish hyper-successful husband of Rusty’s sister (Leslie Mann), a character we’re also clearly meant to laugh at, though the writers have more sympathy for him than they do for Rusty. Maybe they’re as transfixed by his big comedy cock sticking through his Calvin Kleins, as is Rusty’s wife Debbie, in a scene familiar from the trailer. So – Vacation is furiously hilarious to start with, and keeps the ante high with its jokes about Albanian cars, omigod gags about paedophilia and properly toilet humour about bathing in shit (a callback to the “floating turd” of Chevy-era Vacation movies). But kicking people who are down doesn’t make me laugh, and the attempt to redeem these utter dorks – with character arcs, sentimentality and the like – doesn’t fit a film that’s selling itself as a breezy anarchic whoosh.

Vacation – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

 

 

Eden (Metrodome, cert 15)

Mia Hansen-Løve’s drama about the rise and fall of a French DJ is heavily based on the career of her own brother, Sven, who co-wrote the screenplay with her. The arc is 1992’s hedonist raver to 2012’s has-been, with a suggestion that Paul (Sven’s avatar, played by Félix de Givry) and pal Stan (Hugo Conzelmann) are the guys who were always one step behind Daft Punk, in terms of talent, timing, cool and success. You might expect a film about the house/acid house scene – rave to grave, maybe – to be frenzied and always driving forwards. Instead, the Hansen-Løves give us something altogether more chilled: discrete moments from a life, delivered obliquely, forcing the viewer to fill in the blanks. There are endless scenes of coming and going, with Greta Gerwig and Brady Corbet arriving and going in starry cameos, real-life DJs Terry Hunter and Tony Humphries turning up as themselves, then going, Kate Moss and Adrien Brody name-checked at one point as having “just been in” to one club or another. I’m not sure this episodic structure works, and it seems that Mia Hansen-Løve is trying to do for the rave years what her husband Olivier Assayas did for the early 1970s with Something in the Air (aka Après Mai). Assayas pulled it off, majestically, but the Hansen-Løves don’t. Not only is the film too reverential and solipsistic, it fails to explain the attraction of club culture – you’d never guess the idea was the generation and consumption of euphoria. As the years fly by in jumps, the action shifts from France to New York, to Chicago and back to Paris, where, finally, Eden actually turns into something worthwhile, as Paul’s life spins out of control after a mind-breaking melange of the usual (hot but horrible women, great but destructive drugs, wild but useless friends and a critical depletion of the raw animal spirit) and he hits crisis point. Is it worth sitting through the first bit to get to the second? Well, there are lots of small touches that make it clearly the work of someone who’s been there, and MH-L has a fabulous way with actors – you forget they are actors, in other words. Is that enough?

Eden – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

 

The Bad Education Movie (EV, cert 15)

The Bad Education Movie is Holiday on the Buses with a couple of shots of Jack Whitehall’s ballsack thrown in for extra texture. In other words it lazily takes a British TV comedy, sends everyone involved off to somewhere cheap and cheerful, raunches things up a touch because this is da movies, and then introduces a couple of character actors to try and give the impression of the whole thing having a big-screen life of its own. It’s good fun, if you’re in the mood for a day of kiss me quicks and an STI. And if you’re not up on Whitehall’s shtick, it’s essentially Ricky Gervais’s – the boss who’s a tool but doesn’t realise he is one. This time though the boss is a teacher, though Whitehall plays the appalling Mr Wickers with such enthusiasm he can bounce the entire film over various gaping holes. Iain Glen is a good choice as drafted-in welly, playing the hard-nut leader of the Cornish Liberation Army that Wickers and his kids run into after they abandon the boring itinerary put together by severe PTA member Joanna Scanlan and instead go to the pub. Cue a series of jokes which might, if we’re being charitable, be satirical swipes at the current state of permanent terrorist alert. Though the film is actually happier when it’s rolling around in the world of the visual gag – like the one about a holy relic consisting of a saint’s foreskin which resembles a pork scratching. I think that’s a first.

The Bad Education Movie – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

 

 

The Wolfpack (Spectrum, cert E)

This 90 minute thing is a curse sometimes. Here’s a delightful and fascinating documentary that would be perfect at 60 minutes, but at 90 it’s just a bit flabby. And it tells such an interesting story, about a lively family of New York kids who have been brought up in almost total incarceration by their parents. Well, not total imprisonment, but subject to a sort of extreme home-schooling, if you will – some years they’d leave the house maybe nine times, others not at all – forcing the kids to become friends with each other and create their own entertainment. This came in the shape of their own filmed homages to films they revered – Reservoir Dogs being easy, Batman requiring a costume made from yoghurt pots and cardboard, The Godfather a bit more commitment in the acting department. Commitment is something the Angulo family have in spades, whether it’s the parents’ determination to keep their kids safe, or the kids’ to their DIY art. Beyond its initial reveal, the film doesn’t have much to say, perhaps because it doesn’t want to finger the parents, with whose permission the film has clearly been made. We can draw our own conclusions, though. That the South American-immigrant father was a tinpot tyrant who persuaded his timid Mid-Western wife, using a mix of hippie bullshit and old-school patriarchalism, of the wisdom of living away from the world and raising their kids in a kind of secluded purity. And, strangely, that the bright, engaged teenage kids don’t seem to have suffered too much from their ordeal. In fact their screen-fixated, isolated upbringing might make them more suited to the world outside than something a bit more normally normal.

The Wolfpack – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

 

 

Un Homme Idéal (StudioCanal, cert 12)

Mathieu (Pierre Niney), a crappy writer with a day job doing removals, happens upon an old diary while he’s doing a house clearance of a dead man’s apartment. It’s a vivid account of the former inhabitant’s time as a soldier in Algeria as the country was trying to throw off the French colonial yoke. Plagiarising the diary wholesale, Mathieu becomes an overnight success and soon is living the high life, with a hot girlfriend in the shape of Ana Girardot (of The Returned) as the icing on his cake. Things get interesting while he is sojourning with her BCBG parents in the South of France, where he is meant to be hammering out his follow-up novel, but is of course finding it tough. And then the “I know what you did last Summer” letters start arriving, at exactly the same time as the godson of his girlfriend’s parents is beginning to wonder if this writer is in fact all he says he is. Un Homme Idéal, aka A Perfect Man, plays out like an inversion of a Hitchcock film – our guy is guilty, even though we’re on his side – with similar gloss and awed attitude towards beautiful women. But Hitchcock would never have jeopardy coming from both a blackmailer and a suspicious godson at the same time, and this weird double attack doesn’t do the film any favours, though it must be said that writer/director Yann Gozlan and co-writers Guillaume Lemans and Grégoire Vigneron do eventually streamline things a bit with a character cull. No spoilers. Perhaps best watched as a comedy that never cracks a wink.

Un Homme Idéal aka A Perfect Man – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

 

 

Black or White (Signature, cert 12)

If you’ve ever seen The Postman, Kevin Costner’s mad epic in which Costner’s postie single-handedly brings about the re-establishment of western civilisation after an apocalypse, you’ll know that his death-or-glory leanings didn’t die with Waterworld. Here, he’s the producer and star, and sets out to sort out the entire race problem in the US. FFS. No matter what you might say about his vaingloriousness, he’s absolutely fantastic as the grandfather trying to retain custody of his mixed-race granddaughter (Quvenzhané-cute Jillian Estell) after the death of her mother, while Octavia Spencer, as the girl’s father’s mother, is the black grandma convinced the little girl should live with her own kind – since white America will always see the kid as black. Spencer is also great, indeed when is she not? But Black or White is a courtroom drama – since the custody issue eventually resolves itself into a legal battle – that won’t simply get on and be a courtroom drama. Instead it gives us backstory and character studies, all beautifully done, for sure, of the lives of Costner and Spencer and the people who orbit them. It makes a show of being racially even-handed with much equivalence – between Costner’s drink problem and the crack habit of his granddaughter’s wayward dad (André Holland), between comfortably wealthy lawyer Costner and go-getting entrepreneur-in-her-own-garage Spencer, between his casually superior (though unfailingly not racist) attitude and her high-handedness. It all gets a bit wearing, this “on the one hand/on the other” and it’s noticeable that the film is at its best when it lets its actors fly – particularly Spencer, who does hellish spitfire like nothing on earth. Small shout to Paula Newsome as the judge presiding over the unruly courtroom where black and/or white is eventually to be resolved. Every time she opens her mouth the film kicks up a gear, and doubles the impression that what this really needed was to be set entirely in her bailiwick. But then that’s Costner – overreaching.

Black or White – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

 

 

 

 

© Steve Morrissey 2015