A slim selection of films were viewed during the second half of the year as holidays, the World Cup and the Commonwealth Games all conspired to keep us out of the multiplex.
13th July: Begin Again. A musical love letter to NYC tinged with a slight indie vibe. Singer-songwriter Gretta (Keira Knightley) finds herself adrift in the Big Apple when her rocker boyfriend (Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine) has his head turned by fame. Talent-spotted by a washed-up music producer (Mark Ruffalo) while playing at an open-mic session, the pair set out to record Gretta’s songs live on the city streets, complete with ambient noise. A charming summer movie that shows Knightley can carry a tune. I was even tempted to buy the album.
14th September: Pride. Industrial unrest in 1980s Britain has provided filmmakers with a rich source of material: just think Billy Elliott or The Full Monty, small budget films that went on to massive critical and commercial success. Pride is the latest offering from this uniquely British genre. An unapologetically uplifting comedy-drama, Pride is based on the true tale of a group of gay political activists from London who raised money to support striking miners in the Welsh village of Onllwyn. An unlikely alliance given the undisguised homophobia of the time, but a classic case of my enemy’s enemy is my friend. Fitting for a film about camaraderie and solidarity, there’s no obvious star turn, just a selection of great character roles from the likes of Paddy Considine, Imelda Staunton, Bill Nighy and Dominic West. With a nostalgia fest of a soundtrack, Pride is British film at its very best.
28th September: Magic in the Moonlight. Illusionist Stanley (Colin Firth) travels to the south of France to unmask a beautiful young spiritualist (Emma Stone) as a fraudster. Not exactly Woody Allen’s finest hour but mildly diverting nevertheless, like curling up in front of the telly to watch a Poirot rerun on a wet afternoon.
1st October: Sex Tape. Worst film of the year by a country mile. ‘Nuff said.
5th October: Gone Girl. Read the book? Now see the film. Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike are perfectly cast as married couple Nick and Amy Dunne in the highly anticipated adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s juggernaut of a page turner. When Amy disappears in mysterious circumstances on their fifth wedding anniversary, Nick finds his life rapidly spiralling out of control as he becomes the focus of a media witch hunt. Unnerving, even if you already know the twist.
12th October: What We Did on Our Holiday. Essentially a big-screen outing for UK sitcom Outnumbered, albeit with a new set of parents and kids. That description alone would normally be enough to put me off. However, I was quickly won over by the presence of David Tennant and Rosamund Pike as the beleaguered parents (trying to keep their separation a secret) and funny man Billy Connolly as Grandpa (trying to keep his terminal cancer a secret), all while the family gathered en masse in the Scottish Highlands to celebrate a milestone birthday. And to be fair, the kids are really good too, especially in their (semi-improvised?) scenes with Connolly.
20th October: Nightcrawler. Cracking psychological thriller starring Jake Gyllenhaal that marked the start of Odeon’s Screen Unseen, which gives film fans the chance to attend preview screenings of forthcoming releases. See here for a full review of this film.
30th November: The Imitation Game. Public fascination with the secret wartime goings on at Bletchley Park show no sign of waning. The Imitation Game tells the astounding real-life story of maths genius Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) who was tasked with breaking the German Enigma code within a punishing deadline. Turing offers Cumberbatch the kind of complex, flawed and socially awkward character that he excels at playing. Brilliant and poignant. No wonder this film has created massive awards season buzz.
1st December: Whiplash. Thank goodness that the folks at Odeon selected Whiplash for their second Screen Unseen. Otherwise, I would probably have missed what turned out to be an absolutely gripping film. Miles Teller plays fiercely ambitious jazz drummer Andrew, who’s mentored to within an inch of his life by maverick teacher Fletcher (JK Simmons) while studying at a cut-throat music academy. Both characters are despicable in their own way, striving for greatness at any cost. Blood, sweat and tears splatter the practice room as they grapple for the upper hand; yet teacher and pupil ultimately share a twisted kind of triumph, a grudging moment of respect. Compelling performances from the two main protagonists, complemented by a frenetic jazz score and nerve-jangling drum solos.
7th December: Black Sea. An action-thriller of the heart-pounding, sweaty palm variety. Submarine skipper Robinson (Jude Law) assembles an untrustworthy crew to help salvage a stash of gold from the hostile waters of the Black Sea. Tensions start to manifest almost as soon as their Soviet-era rust bucket plunges beneath the waves and a series of misadventures culminate in the vessel sinking to the seabed. How will they make it back to dry land with no way of signalling for help and the air fast running out? Not a film for those of a claustrophobic disposition but extremely enjoyable all the same.
28th December: Paddington. Everyone’s favourite Peruvian bear (beautifully voiced by Ben Whishaw) goes on an adventure in London. And what an adventure he has in this glorious laugh-out-loud funny film. The bear might be computer generated but the other characters are 100% human: notably, Hugh Bonneville and Sally Hawkins as Mr and Mrs Brown; Julie Walters as their batty housekeeper; Peter Capaldi as the creepy next-door neighbour; and Nicole Kidman as an unhinged taxidermist who wants to stuff our furry hero. The audience spontaneously burst into applause as the final credits rolled, testament to our enduring love for Paddington Bear and the care that the filmmakers evidently took of him. I suspect that this film has also done wonders for the British marmalade industry.