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By midlandsmovies, Mar 16 2018 04:19PM



Score: A Film Music Documentary (2016) Dir. Matt Schrader


If music be the food of love play on! This fantastic documentary has a who’s who roster of infamous film music composers and the sheer range of the talent on offer is worth a watch even to a passing fan of the medium.


But if you enjoy film then you must certainly be a fan. Hans Zimmer, Danny Elfman, John Williams, Trent Reznor, Tom Holkenborg, Randy Newman, Alexandre Desplat are just some of the stars interviewed in the amazing story of movie music.


Throughout, every aspect of the process is covered, as well as the historical context, and some of the pure joy is simply listening to the interviewees talking about their influences and contemporaries.


From James Cameron explaining a spotting session (where a director and composer get together to decide where music is going to be) to Hans Zimmer talking about the fear of the first meeting (“I think you better phone John Williams, I have no idea how to do this”) the trials of composing and the enjoyment of the challenges comes across in each talking-head segment.


The documentary shows Rachel Portman working on the film RACE with a screen next to her piano which a fantastic insight into her particular process whilst the film discusses motifs (such as those in Close Encounters & Lord of the Rings) and other music theory in simple but passionate terms.


Historically we see Alex North’s A Streetcar Named Desire revolutionary music as well as John Barry’s swinging big band scores (James Bond). Giving further context, current Bond composer David Arnold adds no spy film would feel like one without similar style which is the same for Morricone’s iconic sounds of Spaghetti Westerns.


From the toy piano in the intro music to the TV show Rugrats to orchestral pieces, no style is left uncovered and there’s fun to be had as the composers run through their strangest instruments in a montage of the weird and wonderful.


We are told “There’s no such thing as the wrong way to do something” as the diversity of music styles and the iconic films they are from are interrogated. Drums of Mad Max: Fury Road give way to segments about the science behind music. One of the most interesting parts describes the physiological response within the brain, followed by Moby’s “air molecules” analogy.


As Randy Newman fawns over Gerry Goldsmith we get the arrival of John Williams and his incredible splash of Star Wars and Jaws in the 70s. His rediscovery of classic orchestral scores (e.g. Superman, Indiana Jones) saw a revival of the medium leading all the way to his Duel of the Fates choir at Abbey Road.


If there was one flaw it would be that we only briefly get a piece of the history/composer before we move on to the next. Many of the explorations of genres, individual composers, music history and instrumentation go by so quickly, it can be a little frustrating. Each one alone could have entire documentaries of their own dedicated to their part but it’s a small gripe in a mostly fascinating piece.


Taking us from the need for music to cover up noisy projectors at the turn of the 20th century to Trent Reznor’s experimentations in his Oscar-winning The Social Network sound design, SCORE is a comprehensive documentary covering all the major players in over 100 years of movie music. Although brief at times, it barely misses a beat and if you’re not reaching for your LPs, CD shelf or Spotify account after watching this then I’m not sure you have any right to call yourself a film fan.


8/10


Midlands Movies Mike


By midlandsmovies, Jan 20 2018 09:57AM



Coco (2018) Dir. Lee Unkrich


Mariachi music and sumptuous Hispanic design abound in Pixar’s latest story about a young boy with dreams of becoming a famous musician. Based around the Mexican tradition of the Day of the Dead, the film follows 12-year old Miguel who enters a talent contest despite his family having banned music.


Miguel subsequently becomes cursed after stealing a guitar connected to a long lost family member and can then only be seen by the dead but no longer the living. With his body slowing turning to a skeleton, Miguel must receive a blessing from a (dead) family member in order to return to the real world before sunrise in order to aovid being stuck there for eternity.


Having been transported to the land of the dead, the aspiring musician seeks the help of Héctor, a skeleton who once played guitar, who in returns asks Miguel to take his photo back to the living world before his daughter forgets him and he disappears completely.


The film’s, somewhat convoluted, narrative hits all the regular beats – family, escaping into other worlds, life lessons and cute animals – so isn’t exactly groundbreaking in that department. That said, Pixar do this so well that I warmed to the film despite these minor criticisms.


The animation, although sadly getting closer to uncanny valley at times especially on the elderly Coco (Miguel’s great-grandmother), is in fact still utterly fantastic. As a guitarist myself I was frankly astonished at Miguel's guitar playing shots. Cartoons often use vague movements to create chord shapes giving their complexity but Pixar have produced another marvel here. From Sully’s wintery fur in Monster’s Inc. to Wall*E’s realism, Pixar have prided themselves on their technical expertise and the real strings, fingering and strumming is a fantastic addition to their repertoire.


Another standout design was the brilliant Pepita which is an imposing Alebrije – a brightly coloured mythical creature based on Mexican folk art. Acting as a spiritual guide, I can see this jaguar-eagle-ram beast becoming next Christmas’ must-have stocking filler with its cute face but terrifying wings!


The other worldly design is a celebration with its use of well-known iconography without (too) many stereotypes, although there’ll no doubt be a number of Twitter “hot takes” on its appropriation but Coco is a world away from any offensiveness with its warm celebration of folklore.


The day-glow colours maintain the visual spectacle but shouldn’t overshadow the fine sound design which is a key aspect too. Not just the reverb of the acoustic guitars but audiences will enjoy the clacking of skeleton bones, dog barks and animal screams alongside the smooth Hispanic accents. A great voice cast of Anthony Gonzalez as Miguel, Gael García Bernal as Héctor, Benjamin Bratt as Ernesto and Ana Ofelia Murguía as Mamá "Coco" Rivera are the main standouts and each one brings a unique “spirit” to their parts.


If there was one criticism it would be the narrative itself. Bordering on confusing it portrays various religious rites of passages, superstitions and customs that are slightly under-explained for the uninitiated. If it’s not a blessing or a curse, it’s a complex family tradition and with the huge number of characters the story bones felt unconnected. Although it may not be suitable for the youngest of viewers, the film never loses sight of its important themes however, and it delivers far more often than not.


As someone who lost my mother in 2017 and my musician dad just over a year ago, the film’s conclusion had me in tears with its fantastic song “Remember Me”. Its story crescendo of being remembered, family ties and getting older hit home in a personal way reminding me of the emotional ‘Father and Son’ sequence in last year’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.


Not without its flaws, I cannot honestly say it is a Pixar ‘classic’, the film does however take enough successful chances. A celebration of traditional cultures, amazing production design and a story that combines family with music, Coco will no doubt leave audiences feeling it in their fingers all the way down to their bones.


7.5/10


Midlands Movies Mike



By midlandsmovies, Sep 29 2017 11:18AM


Lights! Camera! Action! With The Shawshank Redemption, The Graduate and Grease, Leicester’s Curve Theatre is already a regional hub for brilliantly realised stage versions of some of the world’s most classic films. And tonight was no exception as Andrew Lloyd Webber’s infamous 1993 musical Sunset Boulevard (itself based around Billy Wilder’s 1950 Oscar winning noir classic) debuted in Leicester.


The musical matches the film’s narrative closely where struggling Hollywood screenwriter Joe Gillis (Hollyoaks and Strictly Come Dancing star Danny Mac) escapes his debtors and winds up re-writing the atrocious script of faded silent-movie star Norma Desmond. Desmond is played by Welsh West End stage star Ria Jones and boy does she deserve her own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.


The show opens with a bang as a full chorus explodes onto the stage with "Let's Have Lunch" which immediately whisks us into the old glamour of a bygone movie era from The Paramount production company archway to sleazy journalists, loud-mouth directors and Hollywood hopefuls.


Mac is superb as the witty writer, doing what he has to do to survive and his American style delivery is boastful yet classic at once. However, much like Norma herself, the show centres around Ria Jones but unlike the deluded and self-absorbed house-bound harridan, this starlet shines bright every time she takes the stage.


The times she is not front and centre, the play still fully delivers with the wry clothes-swapping "The Lady's Paying" being a comedy delight whilst Molly Lynch as Betty Schaefer holds her own as the lovelorn film company script-reader. Her note perfect high-pitched duet on “Girl Meets Boy” played softly against the harsher dynamics of Joe and Norma’s tempestuous turns.


The technical playing of the musical’s tunes was the show’s biggest-kept secret accomplishment. Once the curtain fell an eager Leicester crowd gathered near the orchestral pit to give specific congratulations to the fantastic (and unsung) players of the night and fully deserved it was too with the sweeping score moving from bombastic to gentle without fault.


Director Nikolai Foster kept the play moving fast and choreographer Lee Proud mixed show tune flamboyancy with tiny touches (the movement of a wine bottle past almost unnoticed between three separate characters in seconds) and that level of detail is why the 2-hour plus performance flew by joyously.




With the amazing music and Jones’ impeccable delivery, the theatre was alight with talent and the props and their unique usage became key to understanding the show’s Los Angeles locations. The staircase in Desmond’s mansion became the focus of a power-dynamic with her dominating presence looming over Mac’s Joe Gillis. As she descends her ‘stairway to Hollywood heaven’, Desmond comes back to earth with the faintest glimpses of reality peeking in behind her foolish belief of a successful return to the screen.


But finally, with all the components working perfectly with each other, Jones delivered the film’s infamous “I’m ready for my close-up” line and along with her note-holding final song, the theatre erupted into a more than deserved standing ovation. Far from a silent success, this new take on Sunset Boulevard should be sung from the Hollywood hills with its beautiful gift of glamour and glitz.


Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Jul 10 2017 05:44PM


Midlands Movies Mike uncovers an interesting new experimental feature that combines the mysticism of folklore with the modernism of an experimental soundtrack.


Staffordshire set film The Doxey Boggart is a new film from John E Smoke who is a deaf-blind filmmaker, musician and artist. Set within a nature reserve called Doxey Marshes, the film is a semi-documentary which follows a group of people investigating the local legend.


From an experimental sound artist with his guide dog to his fellow esoteric associates, they seek to uncover the truth about a ‘boggart’ (an evil or mischievous spirit) that is associated with the area.


Director John E Smoke is the aforementioned sound artist and has performed in many unusual locations including abandoned buildings and a set at Mermaid Pool in the Staffordshire Moorlands.


During one particular session of his there were claims of a ghostly image being caught on film which went viral online and featured widely in press at the time.


The film mixes a slim ‘plot’ with real-life elements as the musicians perform a set on Doxey Marshes during which a folk poem about a boggart is recited. At first nothing untoward happens but after the disappearance of a mother and child “the team are left wondering if the recital has brought something to life”.


Following their investigations the film includes field recordings and footage and borrows from 'actual' local folklore relating to 'boggarts', 'bugs' and other entities.



One of the key parts of the film is the music which assists in supporting the atmosphere of the historic locations. John E Smoke has pulled together friends in the music scene to compile a soundtrack that includes well-respected members of the experimental noise genre.


Soundtrack artists include 'Tunnels of Ah' (the solo project of the former Head of David vocalist, 'Autoclav 1.1', 'Khost' (featuring former members of Techno Animal, Final, Iroha etc), 'From The Bogs of Aughiska', 'John 3:16', 'Ian Haygreen', 'Whote', 'Satan's Bee Keeper', 'Theresia', 'Raxil4' and 'James Hoehl' alongside field recordings undertaken by John E Smoke.


With a mix of documentary, sound art and a little bit of horror, The Doxey Boggart’s eclectic combination of experimental images and dark ambient music will be released later in 2017 and also includes the release of hand printed DVD and double-CD music packs.


For more info please take a look at the trailer above and also check out further details of this Sonic Entrails production over on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/doxeyboggart






By midlandsmovies, Mar 27 2017 10:18AM

Midlands Spotlight – The beautiful ballad of Songbird from Triskelle Pictures




Midlands Movies Mike hears the sweet sounds of a new production nearing completion in the region from filmmaker Sophie Black. Her company Triskelle Pictures are putting the finishing touches to ‘Songbird’, a new short made in the area. Read on below to find out what the director is currently composing.


Sophie Black describes her new short Songbird as a Fairy Tale. In true fairy tale tradition, the Midlands based filmmaker explains it contains magic, adventure, peril, a villain and a heroine but unlike most fairy tales however, it begins at an open mic night in a 21st century bar.


Beginning life when local award-winning writer Tommy Draper (Stop/Eject, Wasteland) began working with Triskelle Pictures, the film was shot amongst forest locations in Derbyshire and what Sophie explains as other geographical “hidden gems”.


Currently crowd-funding for further support and finances, ‘Songbird’ is hoping this final round of finance raising will help with its festival campaign and promotion.



“We (also) need a little movie magic to enhance footage we are truly delighted with; we will use visual effects and a professional colour grade to make the witch creepier, the woods more ethereal, and Jennifer’s adventure all the more intoxicating”.


The protagonist is Janet Devlin (who rose to fame as a singer/songwriter after appearing on ITV’s The X Factor) and the talented musician has also written two original new songs for the film which are being released to backers as part of the campaign.


She plays Jennifer (the songbird) who takes a journey in the film to regain her voice which has been stolen by an ancient creature known only as The Collector.


The film has recently passed one of their targets £1500 and with that, the production has released the first footage of the film by issuing the first trailer which we have linked to above so please get viewing and sharing.


With everything coming together nicely, Sophie and her team are just months away from the release of this fantastic looking melodic movie and you can find out more about the project and the team behind it over on the official website: www.triskellepictures.co.uk




By midlandsmovies, Oct 10 2016 02:14PM

The Beatles: Eight Days A Week (2016) Dir. Ron Howard


Don’t let me down. The Beatles were at the height of their popularity in the mid-60s when they left their touring days behind them despite the fact they were filling out venues worldwide. This new documentary from Ron Howard tries to explain those heady days on the road before their live retirement with songs, gossip and historical footage.


The film begins with the band honing their talents during intensive 12 hour gigs in Hamburg before the recruitment of Ringo Starr and their rise to stardom via The Cavern in Liverpool. Already a tight-knit band by their early 20s, they embarked on endless UK tours as they began their first record releases beginning with Please Please Me in 1962. With manager Brian Epstein keen to keep them in the public’s eye, a single was demanded every few months and live gigs were very much part of the promotional (mystery) tour.


The documentary uses archive tapes along with some longer sequences of full songs to show the talent the band had from the very beginning. Their story continues as they break America on the Ed Sullivan show which turns them into a worldwide phenomenon with shows soon spread all over the globe.


The problem with the film – and this falls squarely on my shoulders as a HUGE Beatles fan – is that the stories and material are so well known to aficionados that there was very little new to learn here. I literally found myself mouthing along not only to the lyrics but to the stories including Harrison’s tale of Lennon’s “To the toppermost of the poppermost, Johnny” mantra.


Being the biggest band the world has ever seen has meant the tour tales have been told and re-told time again, not least in The Beatles’ very own Anthology – a documentary so in depth that nothing really comes close.


What I hadn’t seen before – and by default was the best part for me – was some of the archive concert footage showing the brilliant live performing skills of the mop-tops. Sounding uncannily like their recordings, their competency and delivery is so good and represents hours of toil on the road and on the stage. The footage also shows how small-time venues led to larger shows in auditoriums before the infamous Shea Stadium gig in New York which was their unknowing and penultimate swan song.


The footage also shows how the live shows became little more than crowd noise and screaming as well as their studio experimentation becoming increasingly difficult to capture on the live circuit.


In conclusion, the documentary is solid with good interviews, stories and structure and it covers an important part of the life of the greatest band there’s ever been. However, avid Beatles fans looking for exclusive tales will be disappointed by the lack of any new information with only the rare concert performances being truly dazzling. I’m really down.


7/10


Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Apr 3 2016 05:10PM

Midlands Movies Editor Mike Sales take a visit to the studio of Damon Baxter (aka Deadly Avenger) as the Leicester musician continues to put his skills to use on trailers for a range of Hollywood blockbusters.


It;s a sunny Sunday afternoon when I meet with Damon Baxter at Leicester’s Meatcure restaurant (great burgers by the way) to have a chat about movies, music and more with the talented trailer composer.


Previously working as a DJ at London nightclubs such as Fabric, Damon now splits his time between Los Angeles and Leicester, creating electronic soundtracks for movie trailers. No small feat coming from his small studio on a trading estate in the Midlands.


With the food going down a treat and a quick chat about Star Wars: The Force Awakens, I ask him about his career so far.


“Well, I first got into the dance scene around 2000", says Damon, "and with the likes of Fatboy Slim, Propellerheads and Jon Carter, I helped push forward the ‘Big Beat’sound”.


I asked him if that helped open up many doors? “I got to tour the world but then eventually settled nicely into a Fabric Residency alongside Unkle and The Wiseguys”.


Did that give you the breakthrough you were looking for? “Yes and no. My Deadly Avenger sound emerged when I remixed bands like Manic Street Preachers, Elbow and The Charlatans”.


And how did that leap to movies? “My ‘Deep Red’ album had a track that captured a cinematic vibe and eventually that sound was soon being used regularly for adverts, TV spots and movie trailers”


From orchestral to synthesisers via dance, Damon utilises a wide variety of sounds to create compositions that have been used on huge tent-pole move releases such as Age of Ultron, Men in Black 3 and Transformers 4. From his record label Destroy All Planets, Damon says his compositions use enigmatic and sparse arrangements to capture audiences’ imaginations.


Now finished, we both get up and head to Damon’s rusty pickup truck - which he claims belongs to a friend - and one that he’s nicknamed the “Millennium Falcon”. The second Star Wars reference of the day that I had noticed, I then realise how that franchise was a window into Damon’s world.


We headed around Leicester’s awful ring-road (luckily the city’s successful football team were playing so the roads were clearer than most days) and arrived at an industrial estate just outside the city – one that I quickly recognise from having a band residential rehearsal room for 3 years at the same location.


After acknowledging the weird coincidence we enter Damon’s studio where I am greeted with a range of movie posters. Covering the hallway and adorning the walls of the studio space itself, I witness Damon’s love of movies from framed retro posters of Close Encounters and They Live to modern blockbusters like Transformers and a ginormous 6 foot poster of Kill Bill: Vol 1.


A studio that Damon built himself, this sanctuary is a neat arena to create inspirational music. And proud of place in the corner is a full-sized Star Wars Stormtrooper costume on a mannequin set amongst his key instruments of computer, keyboard and mixing tools.


Damon went on to explain his style. “I love to use weird sounds. One of the effects on the Transformers TV spot was me hitting a metal bar outside which I mixed and put through the computer to become one of the main trademark motifs of the music”.


Using a combination of styles, Damon is also having a clear out of his DVDs on this of all days with the majority of his huge collection of 500 movies about to be given to charity in a spring clean that is not only clearing his studio for an imminent move, but also clearing his mind for Summer trailer work. Just a few of his previous summer work has included Antman, Furious 7, Chappie and The Last Witch Hunter too.


“One of the things people may not know is that I’m not always told the movie I am working on so have some free range to create something new from my own imagination whilst providing the film company with something that matches their vision”.


“I also try to combine all kinds of music into a new format. Recently I saw the trailer for Midnight Special which was brilliant as it gave the music room to ‘breathe’ rather than a traditional multiplex feel. That’s where I see my style heading towards along with my love for both the past, present and future".


Damon will next be seen at the Alfresco Festival on 27th – 30th May in Tunbridge Wells and we chat about our joint love for movies and music. Laughing at various films in his collection – Steven Seagal appears to have been a big part of his life – we then move to music and I suggest he check out both Inside Llewyn Davis (with Poe Dameron & Kylo Ren for the Star Wars fan) as well A Mighty Wind, the mockumentary from the Spinal Tap guys.


I ask him what the next stages are for Deadly Avenger. “Well, I have reworked my own tracks for use in TV shows like CSI but would love to attempt a full movie soundtrack at some point”. A great goal for an immense local talent, Damon has also kindly submitted soundtrack remixes for our own Midlands Movies events using scores and songs from films and adding his own twist to help create a brilliant atmosphere at our theme nights.


Damon says how pleased he is when his music gets used in a big production but hasn’t forgotten the local with a further keenness to offer his services to local filmmakers free of charge.


“I think I can offer some technical advice and practical pieces of music to local filmmakers to help give their soundtracks and trailers a professional quality which can sometimes be very costly on low budget films”. And this can only be a great thing for Midlands filmmakers.


With that, and the DVDs finally ready for the charity shop, we head off to enjoy the rest of the weekend with both of us humming the great “Please Mr. Kennedy” by Oscar Issac, Justin Timberlake and Adam “Kylo” Driver in a weird but satisfying duet for us both.


Midlands Movies Mike


More about Deadly Avenger :

http://www.deadlyavenger.co.uk

https://www.facebook.com/DeadlyAvenger

https://twitter.com/deadly_avenger

By midlandsmovies, Dec 19 2015 01:52PM

Midlands Movies Feature - An alternative list of "2015" films


by guest writer John McCourt


See, here’s the problem with listing my top 10 films of 2015 - I haven’t actually seen 10 films released in 2015. But the ever lovely MM Mike cut me a little slack and agreed to let me review my 10 favourite films I watched this year.


So there’s a fair few oldies on the list, and the only film in there actually released this year is a cartoon. Because I like cartoons, that’s why.


10. Adult World

An excellent little film, this. What could have been typical indie flick landfill rises above its core conceit to become something a little bit special.


Millennial/Gen-Whateverthefuck Amy, an aspiring (i.e. shit) poet, takes a job in the eponymous sex shop after her parents cut her off. She moves in with a large Hispanic transvestite, there’s the obligatory love interest provided by her co-worker at Adult World, and John Cusack plays John Cusack being a poet/dick. So far, so hipster. Although there are definite moments where you can see the film trying a bit too hard, overall its quirky charm works. Unlike, say, Frances fucking Ha, an irredeemable pile of indy wankbait if ever there was one. Best watched while lying on the sofa on a rainy Sunday afternoon, with plenty of tea and KitKats to hand.


9. Minions

So I like cartoons; sue me. This isn’t on the list to irk the purists, I truly enjoyed this film and laughed pretty hard for most of it. I love the glee and the naughtiness of the Minions, I just find them to be brilliant, unapologetic fun. It’s also an excellent placeholder while we wait for Despicable Me 3. They need to hurry the eff up with that, by the way.


8. Three Days of the Condor

I watched this again a couple of months ago to see if it was as good as I remembered it being. And oh my word yes, it was. A political thriller from a time in cinematic history when they really knew how to do them, the film follows Robert Redford’s low-level CIA researcher as he tries to avoid being killed by the people who slaughtered his co-workers while he was out picking up lunch. With not very hilarious consequences. Redford is excellent as the everyman drone, albeit a drone who happens to work for the CIA. The tension is racked up throughout as he tries to figure out who’s trying to kill him, and why. A pretty ambiguous ending too. Kind of makes you think Edward Snowden got off easy.


7. Whiplash

I watched this with my good friend and erstwhile drummer Flash Haynes, and I’ve never been so happy to be a bass player in my life. J.K. Simmons rightly took the plaudits for his portrayal of the absolutely vicious music teacher Fletcher, with an inventive and bucolic line in swearing that would give Malcolm Tucker a run for his money. But that shouldn’t overshadow the performance of Miles Teller as the little drummer boy who ends up on the receiving end of most of Fletcher’s vitriol. Teller puts in a fantastic shift as what could have been a very stereotypical “kid from the wrong side of the tracks” role, giving the character a nice depth as a driven, talented youngster striving to grab his one big chance with both sticks. He’s still a dick to Melissa Benoist though, which is unforgivable.


(Odd that both actors went on to portray superheroes, Mr Fantastic and Supergirl respectively, with wildly varying degrees of success. Simmons of course had already played the greatest J. Jonah Jameson ever committed to celluloid.)


6. Withnail & I

Thanks to Alexzandra Jackson of this parish, I had the pleasure of seeing this with my friend and reluctant writing mentor Kenton Hall on the big screen this year, at a special screening at Phoenix Cinema in Leicester with a talk beforehand from its writer, Bruce Robinson. Mr Robinson seemed to have a drink taken and was trying to sell us a book about Jack the Ripper, and that’s all I have to say about that. If you’ve seen this film, you’ll know why it’s on this list. If you haven’t, you’ve made some very odd life choices and need to get back on track immediately. Start by watching this.


To describe this film as “funny” is a bit like describing the Pacific Ocean as “a bit moist”. It is an utterly ridiculous film, hilarious from the get-go, and not even several generations of students quoting its dialogue have dulled that. Richard E. Grant’s scenery-chewing Withnail is a horrifying joy to behold, but Paul McGann more than holds his own in what is essentially a good old-fashioned two-hander. My words can’t do this movie justice, you really need to go watch it to see what I’m getting at. Watch it with friends, preferably while drinking the finest wines available to humanity


5. Birdman

An amazing film, breathtaking in both ambition and performance. Clearly only greenlit as Oscar-bait, this is the kind of film you wish Hollywood would make more of but are secretly glad they don’t, because how could they possibly keep up this quality? Michael Keaton is a washed-up Hollywood star, famous for his cinematic portrayal of a superhero, but who is now striving to get back to his acting roots and regain some credibility. Which also happens to be the plot of the movie (see what I did there?), but don’t let that put you off.


Pretty much the entire film is shot to look like one continuous take, which along with the almost continuous percussive score (which failed to win an Oscar on a technicality, which was very dick-ish of the Academy) gives the whole thing a breakneck pace for much of its running time. There are breathers built in - seemingly to give the audience a rest as much as the actors - but the overall impression is one of unstoppable forward momentum. You wouldn’t want every film to be constructed like this, but it really works here, driving the narrative along so that you can’t take your eyes off the screen for a second in case you miss anything.


An exhausting watch, but well worth it. And Emma Stone appears to be morphing into an anime character - seriously, are her eyes getting bigger with every film?


4. Manhattan

This is a love poem dedicated to the film’s main character, the New York borough of Manhattan. Shot in black and white, it’s a sumptuous piece of cinema which should have won at least as many awards as Allen’s earlier Annie Hall. It did pick up a slew of awards and nominations in various countries for Best Foreign Film, which Allen may have slyly alluded to at the end of his much later Hollywood Ending.


It’s also an idiot’s love story, with Mariel Hemingway’s Tracy being both more mature and more romantic than Allen’s Isaac. One is always tempted to read too much into the films he made with women he’d had or was in relationships with at the time (see Annie Hall and Another Woman, for example), so it’s hard not to see Manhattan as an apology to someone, an admission that he’d fucked up, and this movie is almost a mea culpa. Either way, for a number of reasons this movie always makes me cry at the end. It’s a beautiful, funny, sad story, and if you haven’t already, you owe it to yourself to see it as soon as you humanly can.


3. Annie Hall

The second Woody Allen movie on my list, watched with someone who’d never seen it before. She was as impressed by it as she should have been, i.e. very. This was Allen’s breakout movie, very firmly drawing a line between his earlier, funny films and paving the way for Manhattan, Interiors, Hannah And Her Sisters et al. It’s still very much a comedy, packed with some of the most quotable lines in cinematic history, but it’s a different beast entirely from Bananas, Sleeper and Love And Death.


Ostensibly it’s about Allen’s disillusioned TV writer Alvy Singer’s relationship with a Midwestern woman, Diane Keaton’s eponymous Annie Hall, and how it fails to work out. There’s obviously no correlation to Allen’s real-life relationship with Diane Keaton, deary me no. But enough speculation about that has been committed to print and screen without me having to comment further on it. Also, it’s their business, not ours. Whatever truth there may be in the 40 years of analysis since the film’s release, one thing doesn’t need speculating on - it’s one of the finest romantic comedies ever made. No, scratch that: it’s one of the finest films ever made.


2. Synecdoche, New York

A film I’d put off watching for a while for reasons I need not trouble you with here, this is a stone masterpiece. I’d loved to have watched this with Orson Welles, just to have him turn to me at the end and go, “Fuuuck! How did he do that??” I’m a big fan of Charlie Kaufman’s work (okay, maybe not Human Nature so much), and this, his directorial debut, managed to kick my admiration for the man up another eleventy levels. Just… Wow.


IMDb baldly states the storyline thus: “A theatre director struggles with his work, and the women in his life, as he creates a life-size replica of New York City inside a warehouse as part of his new play.” Nope, not even close. Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Caden Cotard essentially builds himself a parallel reality inside that warehouse, blurring fact and fiction, reality and fantasy, until it seems he can’t function in either version of his life any more. It’s a story of an artist’s struggle with his art, with his life, with everyone’s lives; it’s a story of hope and regret, of the pursuit of perfection where neither real life nor his constructed facsimile of that life will behave itself.


It can be viewed as a nihilist’s opera, but it’s not without its moments of purity and hope. And in the end, as a work of cinematic art, it stands head, shoulders and entire thorax above any other film made in the last twenty years or more.


1. Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid

The greatest film ever made. The writing, the cinematography and that wonderful Burt Bacharach score all conspire to make this perfect cinema. The Academy agreed, awarding it four Oscars (for Writing, Cinematography, Score and Song). Us Brits took it even more to our hearts, awarding it nine BAFTA’s.


I first saw this as part of a Newman/Redford double bill (remember those? Of course you don’t, you’re like 12 or something) with The Sting when I was 8 or 9, and it’s been my favourite movie ever since. It’s a film I try to watch at least once a year, but this year I saw it three times - once on my own at home, once as part of the same double bill I saw 40 years ago (this time at Phoenix Cinema in Leicester; the old ABC in Coatbridge is long gone), and once as part of a now-abandoned plot to educate my erstwhile partner-in-film on the best films ever made that, bizarrely, she’d never seen.


I’m a sucker for a buddy movie, and this is the definitive example. For me it defines the genre. If there hadn’t been a Butch & Sundance, there’d have been no Freebie and The Bean, no Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, no Thelma and Louise (especially that ending). Just let that sink in for a minute.


Newman and Redford are, as you would expect, excellent in their respective titular roles. Newman in particular as Butch is a career high, imbuing the character with the warmth, humour and (often self-defeating) intelligence the role demands. And Redford’s Sundance, although perhaps with less to do, comes across perfectly as his quieter, often frustrated and arguably smarter counterfoil. You get the impression that he’d follow Butch to Hell, not just Bolivia, for the shits and giggles alone.


I could write a ton more on this movie, but I think the most important thing to say is this: Go watch it. Now.

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