Shrek (dir. Andrew Adamson & Vicky Jensen) 2001

 

shrekShrek has just turned sixteen and it is now available on Netflix.  I remember having enjoyed it when it came out, so it is interesting to see how it has fared in the intervening years.

It has aged well. It is crammed full with jokes and these are still funny, the cultural references have remained relevant and the story is that rare mixture of knowing and sweet. The cast of fairytale characters are timeless and their lines are clever and likeable. The evil lord is wonderfully nasty without being either frightening or creepy.  The story has a nice uplifting moral tone and you are longing for the heroes to prevail. The animation and delivery are both well done, Eddie Murphy is particularly good as Donkey, how bittersweet to have your most enduring role as an animated ass!
This film won the first Oscar for Best Animated Film and it is a deserving opening winner. It is a big feat to have a movie that is principled and simple enough to entertain you as a child, but subversive and referential enough to provide a new set of pleasures when you watch with your own kids. I believe that I enjoyed it just as much now as I did then.

A lovely film that stands the test of time.

20th Century Women (dir. Mike Mills) 2016

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20th Century Women is an interesting dissertation on motherhood – from the point of view of a son.

It is thoughtful and thought provoking. It has three strong female characters all of them well rounded and likeable. All three of them are excellently played and I am surprised that none of them were nominated for an Academy Award. The male characters on the other hand are less fully built and a little more caricatured.

I enjoyed the direction of the movie, Mike Mills made the narrative almost unimportant compared to the development of the characters, but completed their arc by giving a short profile of each character as they were introduced and a short synopsis of their life after the movie at the conclusion. I found this satisfying.

The Soundtrack is an odd, but not unpleasant, combination of new wave, punk and easy listening. It has been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, and, you never know, it could win. The screenplay is funny. I liked this film, it passed two hours very pleasantly. I suspect though, that in 5 years time, it’s one of those movies that I will sit on front of, on Netflix, and say “Oh yes, I’ve seen this, and I think it was good!”

 

 

Toni Erdmann (dir. Maren Ade) 2016

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Toni Erdmann is a serious comedy. It makes you laugh, but it wants you to think.

I believe that there is going to be a Hollywood remake starring Jack Nicholson, in his first role for many years. Had it been any actor, other than Jack Nicholson, I would have thought it doomed to failure, but with him in the title role, it will be interesting to see how it turns out. Who they choose to direct will be important, too.

Maren Ade is a clever director, she throws in many jokes that are not funny, in order to make you laugh out loud at the serious parts, which are absurd and ridiculous.

It’s about a father daughter relationship. They have grown apart and the dad is determined to rectify that, whether or not his daughter has time for it. Sandra Huller as Ines is very good indeed, initially irritated by her father’s attention and his worry about her life/work balance, but gradually coming to see that he might indeed have a point.

Peter Simonischek is also good as Winfried/Toni, who is at his wits end, trying to work out how to win back the lost regard of his only daughter.

This movie is slow to start, but this is purposeful, in order to make you enjoy the gentle build up to the satisfying conclusion.

I have to admit, that I haven’t seen the other films up for the best foreign language Oscar, but I can say, that one of them would need to be exceptional indeed, if it is to beat Toni Erdmann to that Academy Award.

Fences (dir. Denzel Washington) 2016

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Fences is a moving tale of a flawed character, beautifully told. The language and the acting are wonderful. It is no surprise to read that the play won a Pulitzer prize when it was first performed in 1987.

It is set in a poor part of 1950s Pittsburgh and it captures the generational tension of the time perfectly. The world that Troy Maxson grew up in is not the world his kids see and both sets of characters have difficulty realising this. Rose, his wife, spends her time making sure the two cultures don’t clash too badly; I almost felt that this play was mostly about her.

Denzel Washington both directs and plays the lead. His direction is good, he wrings the meaning and nuance out of every word. His acting is great, although, I think if there had been a different director to lead actor, we would not have liked Troy Maxson quite as much. I’m not sure we saw the nastiness, that the kids in the street ran away from, when he went out his front door.

All the actors in this film are great and really own the characters they play. Viola Davis is amazing as Rose Maxson, I can’t believe that this is not counted as a lead role, but I really hope she wins the best supporting actress Oscar.

A Single Man (dir. Tom Ford) 2009

 

A Single Man is a day in the life of George Falconer, who is grieving over the sudden death of his partner, 8 months prior. It is set in California in 1962. Public expression of his grief would have been socially unacceptable at that time and repression is a major theme of this film.

Colin Firth was nominated for an Academy Award for his part, he is in every scene and his performance is remarkable. He portrays a man barely able to keep his emotions in check despite years of practice of self-restraint. However, he is also aware that this discipline makes the liberation all the more sweet when it comes.

I can imagine that the idea, based on Christopher Isherwood’s 1964 novel, would have been difficult to pitch to a film studio, so it not a surprise that it was self-funded by the director, Tom Ford. It is his first film and he does an amazingly good job.

Everything about this movie is beautiful; the clothes, the sets, the music. I loved “A single Man” and I recommend it, but do expect to leave the cinema in a contemplative frame of mind.

Funny Girl (dir. W. Wyler) 1968

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“Hello Gorgeous”

Barbra Streisand won the Oscar for best actress for this film in 1968. This film was nominated for 8 Academy Awards in total. It is almost always included in lists of all time best musicals.

It is too bright. It is melodramatic. It is both camp and kitsch. Omar Sharif does not sing well…….but the film is about succeeding by overcoming faults and making the most of what you do have.

This movie has Barbra Streisand, who is amazing in this film, the role could have been written for her and she grabs it with both hands and wrings every piece of emotion out of it. It has some fantastic, powerful songs that still sound great almost fifty years on. It also has a line that is often included in lists of most memorable movie quotes:”Hello Gorgeous”

If you like musicals or are interested in cinema history you have to see this film.

 

The French Connection (dir. W. Friedkin) 1971

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The French Connection won best picture, best director and best actor at the 1972 Academy Awards. It consistently features in all-time best film lists. It has one of the most famous car chase scenes ever.

It is a gritty police drama set in New York. It was one of the first films to sacrifice sound and picture quality in order to give it added realism. Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider are both give great performances. The violence and swearing were supposedly quite shocking at the time but don’t seem so now. The story is good, if a little far fetched, even though it is apparently (very loosely) based on fact.

Seeing The French Connection, 45 years after it was made is also thought provoking. Society seems to have been institutionally racist and sexist. The movie set out to be provocative, but most shocking thing about the script now is the racial slurs. The only women in the film are mothers or sex objects.

If you are interested in either modern social history or the history of cinema, this is a must-see film.