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By midlandsmovies, Dec 20 2019 10:05PM

Midlands Movies Top 20 Films of 2019





20. A Vigilante Dir. Sarah Dagger-Nickson

What we said: “Great cinematography helps focus the story on a stellar performance from Wilde, who plays both a hard-nosed enactor of violence and, in flashback, a sensitive and emotional victim-turned-avenger. It has a smart and timely premise and is a quality movie tackling the issues surrounding domestic abuse. Olivia Wilde gives a career-best performance as the woman fighting this head on, and this exciting debut is a successful revenge film that delivers more insight into the topic than similar movies”

Click here for full review





19. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker Dir. JJ Abrams

What we said: "with so many people to please, JJ has stuck safely to familiar beats. And although too familiar at times, The Rise of Skywalker is a fitting tribute to this trilogy and may just bring a bit of hope, and certainly a tear to your eye, knowing we’ve finally left this galaxy far, far behind".

Click here for full review





18. One Cut of the Dead Dir. Shin'ichirô Ueda

What we said: "Made on just $25,000 with a cast of unknowns, this surprising Japanese “horror” is an underground bloodbath success. Clever and knowing with plenty of comedy, One Cut of the Dead is as much about low budget zombie filmmaking as it is a low budget zombie film. A genuine indie gem, the film is in love with other rom-zom-coms but its true romance is with the filmmaking process itself".

Click here for full review








17. Us Dir. Jordan Peele

What we said: “The cast excel in their physical portrayal of their ‘other’ selves. Mixing slasher and home-invasion tropes with a Twilight Zone episode, Us is another frightful look at the current politics and issues facing the United States/U.S./‘Us’. And Peele’s masterful handling of a wide range of deeper meanings, along with a love for horror staples, sees Us continuing his spectacular cinema successes”.

Click here for full review





16. Fighting with My Family Dir. Stephen Merchant

What we said: “The film gets by on so much heart and has funny (and when needed, dramatic) scenes that mean audiences will empathise with the lovable characters from the outset. With crowd-pleasing humour, a tender heart and some affected drama, the film is brought to life with a simple and engaging directorial style from Merchant but the excellently delivered performance from the whole cast is the real contest winner here”.

Click here for full review





15. Brightburn Dir.David Yarovesky

What we said: “The movie's superhero genre-homages are a pleasure to watch as Brightburn has an interesting idea and a surprising amount of gore and horror making it a fantastic what-if fantasy film. With a mother desperate for a child to love, the film gives more depth to what could have been a throwaway fright flick and although firmly in the b-movie genre, I hope it gains enough of a cult following to deliver a sequel to its rather dark finale”.

Click here for full review





14. Can You Ever Forgive Me? Dir. Marielle Heller

What we said: “This career-defining role showcases McCarthy’s dramatic ‘chops’ and Richard E Grant channels some Withnail but is more likeable here – especially when pleading with McCarthy about being her only friend. Unobtrusive directing helps focus on the characters and it really is the McCarthy and Grant show here so can I ever forgive her for those awful comedies? Well, based on this performance, I’d be a fool not to”.

Click here for full review





13. Glass Dir. M Night Shyamalan

What we said: “It is to Shyamalan’s credit he not only got to finish a trilogy started 19 years ago but to do so in such a satisfying manner. Glass surprises by being the kind of dark, tension-filled shattering success that are nowadays shuffled off to Netflix when they should be enjoyed on the big screen as it provides more than satisfying thrills from the beginning until the end”.

Click here for full review





12. Lords of Chaos Dir. Jonas Åkerlund

What we said: “Whilst band members dispute the historical accuracy of some of the events in the film, it is then somewhat ironic the film concerns itself with character dualism, surface personality and the clashing viewpoints of each member. And Lords of Chaos dramatizes a bleak story with a great combination of multi-layered performances and grave scenes of violence. Ghastly but gratifying”.

Click here for full review





11. The Irishman Dir. Martin Scorsese

What we said: “A loving goodbye, age has mellowed them all and the film’s measured pace brought me into a satisfying world of sleaze, bribery and immorality. The Irishman is first-rate as an extraordinary drama of historical importance and covers contemporary themes of authoritarian corruption and violence. But it is also a more than pleasurable and honest love letter to the group’s past creative endeavours together”.

Click here for full review





10. Joker Dir. Todd Phillips

What we said: “And so, throwing in many modern political issues as it does along with a complexity not seen in many graphic novel-inspired films, Joker is not perfect but if you fancy something with a little more depth – think Nolan’s trilogy and then some – then the flick has enough thoughtful ambiguity and an amazing central performance to make it more than worthwhile”.

Click here for full review





9. Her Smell Dir. Alex Ross Perry

What we said: “Moss’ terrific central performance allows us to be drawn into her shocking exploits without condoning what she is doing to those around her. As she poisons herself one event at a time, the interesting dynamics are slowly teased out and revealed as the narrative progresses. From the excellent performances to the grotesque but engaging breakdowns, Her Smell is an intense and satisfying tour down a boulevard of broken dreams”.

Click here for full review





8. Destroyer Dir. Karyn Kusama

What we said: “With a tremendous cast throughout and first-rate scenes exploring the consequences of violence, Destroyer is an exceptional thriller from start to finish. But more importantly, it will destroy all preconceptions you had of Kidman as she delivers a superbly astonishing turn in the type of heroically repellent role I’d love to see more of”.

Click here for full review





7. Apollo 11 Dir. Todd Douglas Miller

What we said: “And as I type this on a laptop that has 1,500 times more processing power than the lunar module, the reality is that this was a dangerous mission with men strapped into a claustrophobic metal box stuck to the world’s biggest firework. Covering both science and patriotic emotions, Apollo 11 is a must-see for space enthusiasts and for the rest, you can bask in the jaw-dropping and immaculate footage which brings the electrifying lunar landing to life”.

Click here for full review





6. Booksmart Dir. Olivia Wilde

What we said: “The movie balances coarseness with an emotional heft that is incredibly satisfying. The two leads, Feldstein and Dever, are simply wonderful and some off-the-wall sequences on a boat, at a murder mystery party and as toy dolls are a giddy joy. A poignant conclusion and some believable drama throughout, the balance of laughs and moving scenes were affecting in this impressive film. Booksmart therefore comes highly recommended as a fun night out for all”.

Click here for full review





5. Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood Dir. Quentin Tarantino

What we said: “The film demonstrates that Tarantino truly is in a class of his own in a period where franchise building has mostly replaced the draw of the big-named actor. But this incredibly satisfying love letter to these fictional pulp princes and real-life silver screen starlets provides a brilliant fantasy romance steeped in the glow of an era long gone. Helter Skelter in a summer swelter indeed”.

Click here for full review





4. Border Dir. Ali Abbasi

What we said: “Abassi uses themes of family and genetics to tackle the problems of being an outsider as he injects realism and history into his tall tale. A cracking drama with added fantasy elements, Border is both compassionate and shocking and comes hugely recommended as it combines amazing performances that go beyond the prosthetics with a host of disturbing images you simply won't forget”.

Click here for full review





3. Thunder Road Dir. Jim Cummings

What we said: “With a startling low micro-budget, Cummings has created a true masterpiece – with his talented self, rightly so, at the centre. Is it a dark comedy drama? Is it a reflection of contemporary American talking-points? Well, it’s all that and more but without doubt it comes hugely recommended as not just one of the best debut films of the year, but one of the best films period”.

Click here for full review





2. Avengers: Endgame Dir. Anthony and Joe Russo

What we said: “At the conclusion, the Russos have delivered exactly what was needed by assembling a perfect narrative, cast and, more difficultly, a rewarding ending to the most epic of stories. With their cinema-changing franchise, everything in Endgame is not just perfect comic-book fare, but the pure pinnacle of movie entertainment and was a gargantuan and gratifying game I never wanted to end”.

Click here for full review





1. The Favourite Dir. Yorgos Lanthimos

What we said: “With its added darkness and the Machiavellian machinations of the three protagonists, the film is full to the brim with incredible performances alongside some eccentricities in its technical aspects, plus we mustn’t forget its terrific quip-filled script. It’s a formidable film from a director who takes weighty themes and provides a theatre for three mighty actresses to deliver some of the best performances of the year and possibly of their career”.

Click here for full review



By midlandsmovies, Dec 20 2018 03:12PM

Midlands Movies Top 20 Films of 2018


Well, 2018 has been a mixed bag – for me the Summer blockbuster season was as bad as there’s ever been – yet at the start of the year were some fantastic Oscar-winning and nominated films that were difficult to beat later on as the year drew to a close. Amongst some of these well-known heavy hitters, streaming service Netflix once again featured strong with its investment in smaller productions allowing filmmakers to take more risks than ever before.


You can check out our Worst of 2018 list here – which showcases more than its fair share of duffers – but what was more shocking, for me anyways, was my disappointment with some of the critics’ big favourites. For example, Paul Shrader’s First Reformed with its fantastic central performance from the ever-reliable Ethan Hawke had a tough first half essay to get through. Mandy too had an almost unwatchable first half before hugely picking up in its second and third act but not enough to forget that painful start. And the slow beginnings were even more prevalent in the beautiful to look at, but impenetrable to me, Roma from Alfonso Cuarón. Roma? More like coma, am I right? Arf arf.


But in all seriousness, I had the same reaction to Roma as I did with Boyhood (review here) – the dull meandering and almost non-existent narrative and lack of characterisation gave me little to connect with. It wasn’t just the art-house head-scratchers though. Mission Impossible: Fallout had reviewers frothing with praise but I found the film a superb genre action film with great stunts but nowhere near the game-changer some were claiming (review here). Ditto for the thematically strong but rather bland Black Panther.


With all that in mind, it has been still very difficult to choose just 20 films. My Top 10 has remained quite consistent but trying to fit in just 20 meant that a few favourites were close but failed to scrape through in the end. So more than honourable mentions must then go to:


* Blockers - the best feel-good American comedy in a long time

* Cargo – Netflix’s emotional and excellent zombie drama with Martin Freeman

* Hereditary – if for nothing else than Toni Collette’s mesmerising performance

* Calibre – the best of British in a fantastic dark thriller

* Score: A Film Music Documentary – essential viewing for the film connoisseur

* Deadpool 2 – for me, surpassing the first with its better villains and support cast

* Coco – Pixar’s Mexican flavoured music animation plucked hard on the heart strings

* Molly’s Game – bets its solid hand on Sorkin’s writing and two glorious performances from Chastain & Elba



20. The Night Comes For Us. Directed by Timo Tjahjanto

“Similar to The Raid with its mix of Indonesian gangs and corrupt cops fighting for honour and power using the most violent means possible. The Night Comes For Us has oceans of spilled blood and the bone-crunching punches and killings soon leave bodies piling up and martial arts fans will lap up the phenomenal fight choreography. Stylish and frenetically chaotic, the film is not for the queasy but its wild action and furious violence results in an intense experience that you won’t forget in a hurry”. Click here for full review



19. Phantom Thread (2018) Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson
19. Phantom Thread (2018) Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson

“Acting legend Daniel Day-Lewis plays dress-designer Reynolds Woodcock who creates fabulous clothes for a series of high class clients before meeting seemingly innocent waitress Alma played brilliantly by Vicky Krieps who is soon pressing Woodcock’s buttons with her bold observations. Phantom Thread explores the idea that true inspiration and creativity develops when recognising our own mortality and by only pushing oneself to the extremes do we come close to perfecting our passions”. Click here for full review



18. Sicario 2: Soldado. Directed by Stefano Sollima

“Whilst a little rough around the edges, a strong script, a cast of dedicated performances and a moody score from Hildur Guðnadóttir, Sicario 2 shoves its problematic politics right in the audience’s face. Simply telling them to deal with it. The ruthless scenes are a stark reminder that audiences should be challenged to get them thinking whilst the film does this alongside some unforgiving excitement and entertainment”. Click here for full review




17. Bohemian Rhapsody. Directed by Bryan Singer

“Rami Malek is without doubt stunning as Freddie Mercury. A shed-load of hits from Queen’s back catalogue are obviously interspersed throughout and Broken into three parts – the film shows Freddie’s killing of his past persona growing up, then the campy frolics and hedonism of operatic orgies and a final head-banging ending with pulsating riffs and joyous rock – if only there was a Queen song that encapsulated all this. A glossy but unfussy musical biopic”. Click here for full review




16. I Kill Giants. Directed by Anders Walter

“Based upon the graphic novel by Joe Kelly (writer) and Ken Niimura (artist), I Kill Giants has a fantastic Madison Wolfe playing a disturbed young girl Barbara Thorson who is a dungeons and dragons playing loner who escapes the troubles of her life by retreating into a world of fantasy. A strong cast of performers are led by Wolfe who is front and centre, and deservedly so, from the start. Dealing with difficult issues and seen from the viewpoint of a bright but troubled young girl, the final twist in the tale tackles much heartbreak within its skilful narrative. But, as we are moved on this poignant journey, I Kill Giants becomes one fictional world you won’t want to escape from”. Click here for full review




15. BlacKkKlansman. Directed by Spike Lee

“With a tight screenplay by Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott and Spike Lee, BlacKkKlansman is adapted from the 2014 book of the same name by Ron Stallworth – a real-life detective who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan in the early 1970s. Powerful and political, the film succeeds owing to the amazing delivery from all its cast but it’s the commanding performances of Washington, Driver and Harrier who make this a formidable criticism on the continued structural racism plaguing the USA”. Click here for full review




14. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. Directed by The Coen Brothers

“A 6-part anthology film with each story having its own charms, the Coens have managed to weave varying amazing stories into a cohesive and thematic whole. Where Hail Caesar tackled Roman epics (and musical numbers) amongst its Hollywood setting, the Coens' influence here come from their love of American frontier films - another classic genre linking their modern takes within established cinematic history. Not diverging greatly from their usual style, the death-obsessed duo deliver another historical romp with a great cast and amazing outdoor locations”. Click here for full review



13.Three Identical Strangers. Directed by Tim Wardle

“This excellent documentary comes from Tim Wardle who re-discovers one of the more bizarre stories from the early 80s and re-positions it as a far more complex and dark tale than initially thought. Chilling, thrilling and fulfilling the documentary serves up a triple whammy of satisfying characteristics and combined with the revealing and candid interviews with the put-upon and exploited participants, it ends up being one of the best documentaries of 2018". Click here for full review




12. Isle of Dogs. Directed by Wes Anderson

“You could read Isle of Dogs as a cultural discussion, an auteur animation, a fight against power, a look at family units or just simply a tall children’s tale and all would be valid. Like the best of Pixar – Isle of Dogs takes universal ideas and delivers them back to a young and a mature audience to interpret without flagrantly pandering to either. Highly recommended, this surprising litter of canine characters and prevailing pedigree pups is an absolute joy throughout their adventures on Trash Island”. Click here for full review



11. Revenge. Directed by Coralie Fargeat

“A rape-revenge action horror, the film is certainly not for the faint at heart as Fargeat has created a visceral show of bloody violence and dreamy imaginations as a young girl escapes into the wilderness to hide and stalk her tormentors. The nasty action should bring in the splatter fans, whilst the more discerning can enjoy a depth of character and ideas rarely seen in this brand of furious filmmaking. With intense scenes, Revenge is a non-mainstream cinematic coup that explores slightly deeper themes than your average personal payback piece to provide exploitation pleasures and explosive sequences”. Click here for full review




10. I, Tonya. Directed by Craig Gillespie

“With the spotlight firmly on Margot Robbie’s portrayal of flawed figure skater Tonya Harding, she gives depth to a demonised woman where those around her seem far worse than herself. Whilst also being the first woman to successfully land a triple axel in competition, Harding will sadly now be remembered as a modern villainess yet the film, with Robbie’s tremendous efforts, attempts to give a more nuanced reassessment of one of the most infamous scandals in sport”. Click here for full review




9. Thoroughbreds. Directed by Cory Finley

“Olivia Cooke joins fellow horror stalwart Anya Taylor-Joy as friends who begin a dark alliance together and Thoroughbreds is another fantastic addition to their careers. With Cooke’s sociopathic Amanda matching Taylor-Joy’s prim ‘princess’ every step along the way and Yelchin showing why he is a talent so sorely missed, the film delivers a wonderful atmospheric mix of morbid themes. Thoroughbreds is an accomplished exploration of both egotistical and conflicted morals with an exceptional cast working at the top of their game”. Click here for full review




8. Annihilation. Directed by Alex Garland

“The film has a group of powerful female scientists investigating a para-scientific phenomenon as we follow their every step, involving ourselves in their personal, scientific and emotional lives throughout their excursion. Annihilation ends up being an engaging piece of excellent sci-fi tropes and characters that have clear motivations and are well acted by the cast – and Garland adds enough new ideas to the mix to create a successful slice of intelligent story-telling”. Click here for full review




7. The Shape of Water. Directed by Guillermo del Toro

“Del Toro’s always had a flair for the colourful and enjoys the mix of reality and dream worlds. Yet after a few throwaway gems like Crimson Peak and Pacific Rim, he has hooked all the prize pieces together in this film about fantasy love. A fishy fable like no other, the stupendous Shape of Water is as simple as a child’s story yet at the same time goes to depths only a master filmmaker of del Toro’s skill can reach”. Click here for full review




6. First Man. Directed by Damien Chazelle

“First Man is a fantastic voyage of both a mythical yet somewhat conventional man. Ever the reluctant hero and considering he completed one of the most, if not the most, infamous achievements in human history, moon-lander Neil Armstrong’s commitment to science, family and getting the job done comes across strong in Chazelle’s portrayal. First Man is a first-rate biography mixing an amazing directorial confidence in cinematic techniques to explore what drives us all to unimaginable personal and public feats of endeavour”. Click here for full review




5. American Animals. Directed by Bart Layton

“As the heist narrative evolves, American Animals’ unreliable narrators continue with the film even stopping and rewinding like Haneke’s Funny Games. Yet the boys involved truly find out that life is not like the movies. With the real-life protagonists expressing deep remorse for their actions – whilst still disagreeing on many of the details of the incidents years later – the film shows its obsessions with diverging stories from days gone by. And like the characters, the film itself grows up and delivers a beautiful, fun and at times deadly serious look at the theft of maturity”. Click here for full review




4. Apostle. Directed by Gareth Evans

“An ensemble cast delivers gripping drama throughout Apostle as Dan Stevens visits an emerging cult-like community at the turn of the century. Cinematic in style, production and themes, the movie is a dark and disturbing parable that is anchored by great performances with the actors, and director Evans, helping to raise Apostle by infusing it with flavour, believability and a thematic depth rarely seen in your standard cult genre movie. A divine statement on spirituality and the supernatural”. Click here for full review




3. Avengers: Infinity War. Directed by Anthony & Joe Russo

“A film in which no one feels safe and a few fan-pleasing cameos from films past, Infinity War is as huge as anyone could have asked for… and this is explosive summer blockbuster cinema of the highest order without question. A greatest hits album in all senses of the word, Infinity War is a compilation of scenes containing previously established crowd-pleasers and remixes of the popular tropes. Yet the Russos add enough new material, depth and high stakes to lay down the gauntlet to other filmmakers resulting in this absolute gem of a movie”. Click here for full review




2. A Quiet Place. Directed by John Krasinski

“Mostly avoiding jump scares, the real silent success is Krasinski himself who has taken an original idea and created a script and debut film with hugely entertaining results. Throwing in scenes of real anxiety, unease and boldness, Krasinski’s virtuoso film uses each of these elements to create a satisfying horror blend that delights, but has more than its share of frights”. Click here for full review




1. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Directed by Martin McDonagh

“Showing complex struggles from start to finish (including the police, ex-husband, strangers and even the dentist) “Three Billboards” fans the flames of passions and is a brilliant advertisement for the continued talent of McDonagh’s own dark interests. Delivered impeccably by a fantastic cast, the film provides no clear answers but continues the ideas set down within In Bruges. Like that movie, the idea that carrying the pain of past misdemeanours can not only be a detriment to others but mostly to one’s own soul”. Click here for full review


Mike Sales

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