I missed this when it was first released. However, at the time I saw clips of the fights scenes and the slow mo bullet sequences and was duly impressed. What would i think of the film on first viewing almost 20 years later?
I never lost interest during this film and I can see why it was such a huge hit in 1999. Its heartening when any highly stylised film which isn’t utter base level bilge to take megabucks at the box office.
But heres where The Matrix succeeds brilliantly. It offers mind blowing concepts- but isn’t too deep. It offers striking visuals- which unfortunately quickly became de rigueur as many other films, commercials and pop videos copied this visual style. Not the fault of the filmmakers and as they say, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
Certain parts of the film feel like a comic book fans fapfest. The costumes assumed by the main protagonists would only be thought cool by basement dwelling geeks. Black PVC, long coats and clumpy boots- a cyberpunk’s wet dream. Soo late 90s.
But this film did dare to take to the masses something original and daring. It succeeded. Fair play especially in these times of stale remakes and turgid reboots. But don’t try to interpret things too deeply. Beneath the surface isn’t a whole lot of depth or substance. Precisely why it was so massive.
The scene need the end where we learn that Neo really is ‘the one’ is one of the most bombastic, unintentionally hilarious sequences in modern cinema. I don’t know if its pure cheese, genius or both. Which is noteworthy in itself.
But for a film that tries to show us what the modern world is really like and what it revolves around I’ll still stick with They Live. A film that accomplishes its mission statement with less gloss, has infinitely more depth, substance and charm and does so on a substantially smaller budget than The Matrix.
From the director of the quite extraordinarily brilliant How To Survive A Plague comes this film.
Marsha P Johnson was a black transvestite/drag queen (there was no ‘transgender’ then) who hung around Christopher Street in the 60s until her mysterious death when she was pulled out of the Hudson River in the early 90s. As we hear from one person captured on video back then who witnessed her body being recovered there appears to have been some kind of wound on her head. Could there be more to Marsha’s death than just the officially held cause being accidental? Was it suicide or homicide?
David France expertly tracks the work of Victoria Cruz in unearthing and unravelling what happened to Marsha whilst celebrating this revolutionaries life. Moments of this documentary are sometimes very shocking. One such is when Ms Cruz telephones a retired member of the NYPD who she asks to meet to discuss the circumstances surrounding Johnson’s death. ‘Definitely not’ he responds to her meeting request. He then warns her ‘Don’t go playing detective’. Sinister.
This film feels like new unexplored relics and answers from LGBT history being unveiled right before your eyes.
However, there are politics at play regarding the film. Some members of the non-white trans movement are slamming France’s work as hes a white cisgender (non-trans) man who is making this film rather than a trans person of colour. There have been accusations of theft of material from another project that was being made by the trans community regarding Johnson. There are also accusations that David France could get funding and distribution because hes white and cisgender. I think these accusations are just a case of sour grapes. If you are a filmmaker who has made films before, have a proven track record and can actually accomplish these projects through to fruition then you will get funding and distribution. How long have we been waiting for the fictionalised short film Happy Birthday, Marsha? I’m amused that its fictionalised- so was Stonewall in 2015. Lets see if there are protests regarding this new film if events are seen to be historically accurate.
Also, does it matter whether the person making the film is trans or cisgender or what their ethnicity is when the film they make is as great as this?
There seems to be a huge emphasis on Marsha and Sylvia Rivera when it comes to LGBT history and the Stonewall Riots. But when anyone else is represented they are lumped together and not given the same kind of detailed analysis or be the centre of attention. I’d love a similar documentary on Danny Garvin, Martin Boyce or the person widely believed to have started the riots- Jackie Hormona (Marsha P Johnson admitted in an interview that when she arrived at the Stonewall Inn on that fateful night in 1969 that the rioting had already started. The interview is here- makinggayhistory.com/podcast/episode-11-johnson-wicker/ She dashed off to Bryant Park to tell Sylvia Rivera who had taken heroin). You don’t know who Garvin, Boyce or Garvin are? Thats very telling.
A great documentary. Now lets hear about other Stonewall voices.
Why is it that when I see that Film 4 funded a film that its going to look like its been made for TV and lacking in scope or depth?
This film could have been a massive example of social justice warrior filmmaking (damn those white men in power!) But instead there are so many twists and turns that characters who were earlier stereotyped as either ‘goodies’ (the strong woman, anyone of colour, the white man labelled a ‘faggot’, the midget…) or baddies (white men with power to abuse, of course) are in fact shown to be three dimensional and fully nuanced. Everyone is capable of good and evil. Yes, even white men can be good! Its a miracle. I hope Oprah has seen this movie.
Sometimes the film’s comedical stance works wonders, sometimes it feels awkward seeing as the film is about makes the rape and murder of a young woman.
The lead character of Mildred is one of the most interesting I’ve seen in a long time and is played to perfection. In fact there are great performances all round. Woody Harrelson is fast building a filmography that would be the envy of any actor.
But the film doesn’t knit together quite right. And sometimes its ‘politiks’ feel so holier than thou that I wanted to vomit. Mildred only looks happy when embracing her black co-worker. Virtue, anyone?
On the plus side, its photographed beautifully with Ebbing looking absolutely gorgeous.
So, not a masterpiece. But with enough redeeming qualities to ensure you’re not looking at your watch.
WARNING- The ending of this film is so sugar coated that you will become diabetic.
This film is basically saying ‘Life sucks whether you have a facial deformity or not’.
Julia Roberts is great (as per). Owen Wilson is in a film that isn’t an utter embarrassment for once (way to go).
But the film feels like an overlong episode from some bright and breezy TV show. Theres no real depth even though the subject of someone being different could be examined perceptively in relation to human nature and people’s vicious pack mentality.
Theres also some vile stereotyping going on here. All the bullies within the film are white and stinking rich. The goodies either have a facial deformity, are related to him, aren’t white or are a member of another religion (the Jewish headmaster). Social justice filmmaking. Urgh.
If John Waters had made this film, the lead character would have accentuated his unique looks, dressed in drag and owned this film. Maybe Mr Waters could remake this. In fact I think hes already made that film- it had songs, dance routines, Divine and was called Hairspray.
Watch Mask instead. You get Cher and bikers thrown in as well.
I thought it was only fair to include this at the end of the list as its a re-release. But, if it was included in the list it would have been Number 1 and by some margin.
Lady Divine has a travelling Cavalcade of Perversion- a kind of circus including acts that are meant to attract yet repulse spectators. Acts such as The Puke Eater, The Bicycle Seat Sniffer and ‘two queers actually kissing on the lips!’ (this makes the paying viewers repulsed to the bottom of their stomach as much as the other spectacles they have witnessed. All except one guest who says “I know a couple of queers. In fact, I think my hairdresser’s a queer”).
But Lady Divine’s travelling sideshow is really a rouse to rob and kill the punters.
It was so amazing that Criterion/Janus Films chose to restore and remaster this early Waters’ masterpiece. Hopefully they’ll do the same with Waters’ other films (Pink Flamingos, Female Trouble and Polyester were all released by Criterion on Laserdisc in the 90s. I hope they are all released by Criterion on Blu ray).
It was great watching Divine get raped by a giant lobster and then go on a mad rampage like a very glamorous version of Godzilla- all on the big screen.
And the religious scene with Divine’s voiceover is one of the most wondrous visions I’ve ever experienced in a cinema- rosary job and all. Multiple Maniacs is the best religious movie this side of Pasolini’s The Gospel According to St. Matthew.
Even though Waters shot this classic on a cheap (and apparently stolen) camera in the late 60’s its a joy to look at. It looks beautiful in much the same way that Night of the Living Dead does in its restored and remastered form.
This year I also saw 4K rereleases of Taxi Driver, GoodFellas, Predator and Close Encounters of the Third Kind at the cinema. All these films are masterpieces and seeing them at the cinema looking and sounding great was a privilege.
9. Blade Runner 2049(Denis Villeneuve)
Its so difficult to make a sequel to a film that its a bona fide cult classic. Its almost like a suicide mission that is bound to fail.
But this film was amazing. A visual feast (and not just neon and noodles), a screenplay that warrants repeated viewings (a pleasure, not a chore) and a cast who got to grips with the material admirably. Ryan Gosling and Jared Leto were both amazing and seeing Harrison Ford again as Deckard was like meeting up with an old friend.
Oh, and a special mention goes to Dave Batista. Is this the greatest movie venture by an ex-WWE wrestler? He was one of the best things about a great movie.
8. Get Out(Jordan Peele)
In this film black men are being brainwashed into becoming a stereotype that is acceptable for affluent white people to either show off or have work as their housekeepers and gardeners.
Jordan Peele’s horror film is neither a reboot or remake and is that rarest of beasts- an original horror film. It also contained visuals and concepts that officially blew my mind. Check out the hypnosis/brainwashing scenes. Seriously mind-expanding stuff.
Black Lives Matter echoes loudly into this film with elements of inspiration from The Stepford Wives, Invasion of the Bodysnatchers and The Manchurian Candidate. But whilst all of these films ended on a sombre, pessimistic note (and were all the more powerful for it), Get Out ends positively. When I saw the film I found this to be a bit too twee by having everything tied with a great big bow. But now I like the ending. Everything in Horrorland doesn’t have be wall to wall misery and pessimism. Especially when we have enough of that in the news.
Apparently the Blu ray of Get Out contains an alternate, downbeat ending.
7. Diana: In Her Own Words(David Tillman)
I include this as whilst it was broadcast on TV in the UK its now on Netflix and is well worth watching.
As an anti-Royalist I had no respect for any of the Royals, Diana included. But on the day of this film being shown The Terrence Higgins Trust posted this picture on their Instagram profile and how Diana had changed the world’s stigma regarding HIV and AIDS with just a handshake and a photographer being present. My opinion quickly changed.
Prior to its airing there were reports that this documentary which was meant to be commemorating the 20th anniversary of Princess Diana’s death would be using videotapes of her speaking about her life which had been made for private use with her psychiatrist. Hence, before anyone had seen this film there were cries that was to be a tabloid style hatchet job of the princess and the Royals. There were also protestations from the Royal Family that this shouldn’t be aired.
After watching the programme its easy to see why they didn’t want it to be televised. The documentary was a sensitive examination of the torment of someone thrown feet first into an archaic system where outdated practices have been clung onto and encouraged. One of which was that mistresses were accepted within Royal relationships- the one Prince Charles had was Camilla Parker-Bowles. As Diana said in one of her taped interviews ‘Three people makes a relationship very crowded’.
The film brilliantly and poignantly showed how lonely and isolated Diana was and how she suffered for it. It was heartbreaking to watch.
After this programme was televised the public’s opinion was quickly reversed. There were questions in the papers as to whether a Royal Family was actually still valid and still needed especially after the revelations of this documentary. The power of filmmaking.
6. Tom of Finland(Thomas “Dome” Karukoski)
When I heard about a film being made about the life of Tom of Finland I was moist with anticipation. I love Tom’s art but knew nothing about the man himself.
I wasn’t disappointed. This film is funny, just as subversive as the man’s art and is also very sad in places. A revolution can happen through the creation of art and it’s distribution between friends and like-minded people especially when most people view the homoerotic content as sick and immoral. The film depicts this brilliantly and sensitively and pays Tom the respect he fully deserves.
Homophobia is quickly becoming a thing of the past. Tom of Finland is now regarded an artist and gay pioneer. As the final scene shows Tom appearing at a leathermans gathering. With his introduction the assembled crowd erupts into applause. Richly deserved.
5. Wonder Woman(Patty Jenkins)
I wasn’t going to go and see this film as I had seen the big budget mess that was Fatman (‘You’re racist!’) vs Superman and thought it was a massive mess that badly needed a new edit. But then the reviews for Wonder Woman were so glowing that I decided to give it a whirl.
I saw the film in IMAX. And I’m so glad I did. The film was an uplifting journey which espoused that nothing was impossible.
There has been much made of the ‘No Mans Land’ sequence and I can see why. Not only was it an amazing accomplishment but also a filmmaking tour de force. The sound alone in this scene was awe-inspiring with every step through the mud and gravel being heard as is every piece of exploding sharpnel and every bullet.
But whilst this was a scene that was a highlight of the film, the rest of the movie was absolutely joyous also. Other highlights for me were the young Wonder Woman learning her craft on the Amazonian island (including Robin Wright inhabiting her role amazingly), the voyage on the boat, the sequence in which Wonder Woman goes to an East End pub after going shopping in Selfridges, the Nazi characters especially the female Dr Mengeles, the scene in which Steve Prince is shown as a kind of suicide bomber to save lives rather than destroy them…in fact there are far too many scenes to mention here. The film was consistently brilliant from start to finish.
Gal Gadot was perfectly cast as was Chris Pine and Lucy David as Steve Prince’s Maranda Hart-like funny secretary (who shows that you don’t have to be an Amazonian to be a plucky woman on more than one occasion). It was also great to see acting heavyweight David Thewlis as a baddie.
Patty Jenkins’ vision was amazing- the legend of Wonder Woman was brought to the big screen effortlessly which is no mean feat when a comic book character is so established and has been examined both in print and on the television screen extensively. Jenkins’ film felt fresh, invigorating and abounded with energy.
A female director and a female leading lady. There was a strong sense of (healthy) feminism about the film and also a strong sense of inclusion with the members of Wonder Woman’s team all being made to feel fully included and valued. But don’t worry- this is no social justice warrior hysteria-fest. If only feminism and inclusion in real life could be like they are depicted in this glorious film.
This film was a joy from start to finish. It also made megabucks at the box office. And thats the best thing that can happen in film terms- a brilliant film deserving the acclaim and huge box office receipts it gets.
4. Long Shot(Jacob LaMendola)
This is a Netflix exclusive. And its a cracker.
Juan Catalan is falsely accused of a murder. But he was actually at a baseball game. He sets out to prove his innocence with the help of his solicitor. And then things get surreal. And I mean REAL surreal! They say truth is stranger than fiction. And this documentary just compounds that theory. Theres also a lot of unexpected humour attached to this twist- and no, I’m not going to say what it is! You’ll need to watch Long Shot to find out.
A twisted series of events told brilliantly. This is a jewel in the crown of Netflix’s original productions that of course holds Making A Murderer. And just think- at some film festivals where screenings had the Netflix logo at the start some audience members started booing. Hows that for snobbery.
3. Detroit(Kathryn Bigelow)
A reenactment of the 12th Street Riot in Detroit, 1967, this film is a powder keg just like the events its captures. The film feels authentic and realistic (some films depicting events from the past feel like faux or post-ironic tellings that look completely fake and feel just as phony).
Police brutality fuelled by blatant and socially accepted racism are depicted without any kind of sugar coating or gloss. And to that extent theres one scene in this film that really pulls no punches- a sadistic, ‘Good Ol Boy’ police officer and his goons line up the suspects of a gun shot that was heard (ironically from a started pistol) in a motel and a kangaroo court is put into play- with horrific results.
This episode in the film reminded me of the more intensely shocking sequences from Last House on the Left or The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Uncompromising, close to the bone and all the more brilliant for showing this vile incident without censor or dilution.
Everything about this film was near perfect- Bigelow’s authentic vision and confident direction needs to be applauded. John Boyega was amazing (hes rapidly becoming one of the best actors working today) and Will Poulter as the sadistic cop was just as impressive.
In these times of division and Black Lives Matter, this film is a very important lesson from history for us to learn from. Or we can just needlessly repeat events.
2. Shin Godzilla(Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi)
A Japanese reboot of the Godzilla legend- but with a major twist.
Yes, theres a huge monster reaping havoc through the streets of Japan. But the film also depicts the authorities reaction to such a disaster as bureaucratic wheels start to spin and we get to see every decision made, every reason why they has been made and the result of each decision with regards to Godzilla.
The story is told amazingly with the film building to a last resort having to be employed that may or may not work but really is a final solution as the clock is ticking, human lives are mounting up and whole areas are being destroyed.
And whats more- Godzilla himself looks fantastic and is aesthetically pleasing to the eye (like everything in the film). It must be hard to retell a story in a fresh way thats been done time and time before. But Shin Godzilla does it wonderfully.
If you want a silly, action packed monster movie akin to a Hollywood multiplex no-brainer then you’ll hate this.
But if you want an intelligent, thought provoking film that is well directed, looks beautiful and feels like nothing that has come before then this is your film.
1 Moonlight(Barry Jenkins)
I knew nothing about this film before I went to see it at the cinema. A tale of a boy’s early years and coming of age. Three different periods- three different actors.
I couldn’t believe that a film could be courageous enough to cover an issue that is still not spoken about- people of colour who are also gay. Being gay in the black community is still a huge taboo.
Moonlight is about exploring the world, finding answers, notions of what it means to be a man and examining masculinity in general, realisation of your identity not just to yourself but to those around you, fighting back, coming out and how people come to inhabit their respective roles in their world. And thats just the tip of the iceberg. This film has many, many layers but never feels contrived or forced.
The movie has a look I’ve never seen in a film before- like the feel and colour scheme of the film has been electrically charged. The look of the film as well as the events depicted within feel heightened and larger than life. This suits the film to a tee.
The diner scene near the end of the film was extraordinary- a rollercoaster of a scene that made me beam with joy by the end of it. A groundbreaking scene in a groundbreaking film.
Great direction, great acting by all involved but especially the three actors who tell the story of the central character. The film sears itself into your brain- and you feel like your life is richer for having seen it. Glorious.