Director: Dan Scanlon
Cast: Tom Holland, Chris Pratt, Kyle Bornheimer, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Mel Rodriguez, Octavia Spencer, Lena Waithe, Ali Wong, Grey Griffin, Tracey Ullman
Two elf brothers, Ian and Barley, were brought up by their widowed mother in a magical world which has gradually forgotten how to use magic. On Ian’s 16th birthday, the brothers embark on a quest in order to spend a brief moment with their dead father. This Pixar animation has a rather formulaic and uninspired start, but it gradually finds its feet and ends up being an entertaining and moving story of brotherly bond.
Director: Robert Eggers
Cast: Willem Dafoe, Robert Pattinson, Valeriia Karamän, Logan Hawkes
In the end of the 19th century, a grizzled lighthouse keeper and his new assistant arrive in a remote lighthouse off the coast of New England. When a storm strands them on the island, the isolation and heavy drinking begin to take a heavy toll on their sanity and sense of reality. Like The Witch, Robert Eggers’ second feature is an unusual and unsettling horror-tinted drama. This highly original film delivers a mix of shocks and laughs, some wonderfully archaic dialogue, and two towering performances. Jarin Blaschke’s stunning cinematography, which uses an almost square aspect ratio, adds to the feeling of claustrophobia.
Happy Death Day
Director: Christopher Landon
Cast: Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Ruby Modine, Charles Aitken, Laura Clifton, Jason Bayle, Rob Mello, Rachel Matthews
A selfish and arrogant college student finds herself living the same day in a loop in which she is brutally killed by someone in a mask. She hopes that finding the killer will restore normality. This horror comedy gives us yet another version of Groundhog Day, which is at least acknowledged in the final scene. I kept waiting for Scott Lobdell’s script to add a new twist to the old formula, but it never does. Followed by Happy Death Day 2U (2019).
Director: Peter Berg
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Kevin Bacon, John Goodman, J. K. Simmons, Michelle Monaghan, Alex Wolff, Themo Melikidze, Michael Beach, Vincent Curatola
Following Deepwater Horizon, Peter Berg stages another real-life American tragedy. On April 15, 2013, two homemade bombs explode close to the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Two Chechen brothers are quickly identified as the culprits and a massive manhunt is launched to catch them. Mark Wahlberg plays a fictional everyman cop who takes part in the police operation. This is a gripping no-nonsense action thriller and a moving tribute to the city of Boston.
Director: Christopher Nolan
Cast: John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, Dimple Kapadia, Michael Caine, Kenneth Branagh, Martin Donovan, Aaron Taylor Johnson
An undercover agent is recruited to an organisation called Tenet. He learns that someone in the future has developed technology which allows its users to move backwards through time, and it could be used to destroy the world. Inception and Interstellar proved that Christopher Nolan is able to tell complicated and demanding science fiction stories without dumbing them down for his audience. This, on the other hand, is probably his weakest film, and several long scenes of exposition are not enough to make it fully comprehensible or, more importantly, captivating. Throughout the story, it is unclear what exactly is at stake and why we should care about these characters when we know nothing about them, in some cases not even their name. The action set pieces are nice but not spectacular enough to sit through them twice, first forwards and then backwards.
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Cast: Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Ray Winstone, Emma Watson, Anthony Hopkins, Logan Lerman, Douglas Booth, Madison Davenport
Noah learns of God’s plan to wipe the wickedness from the Earth with a great flood and embarks on a project to build a massive ark which can save his family and two of every living creature, but doom the rest of humanity to extinction. He gets help from the Watchers, fallen angels who look like the stone giants in The Hobbit. Darren Aronofsky’s retelling of the legend of Noah’s Ark is a fantastical rather than a biblical epic. The script by Aronofsky and Ari Handel mixes elements from the Book of Genesis, the Book of Enoch, and pure fiction to imagine how this well-known myth could have literally happened. The screenwriters even manage to throw in some anachronistic contemporary issues like environmentalism and vegetarianism. The resulting spectacle is big, bombastic, stupid and ridiculous, but it is not totally without entertainment value.
Dark Phoenix / X-Men: Dark Phoenix
Director: Simon Kinberg
Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Sophie Turner, Tye Sheridan, Alexandra Shipp, Jessica Chastain
The follow-up to X-Men: Apocalypse is set in 1992. During a rescue mission in space, Jean Grey absorbs the energy of an alien life force, which makes her the most powerful being on Earth. As her emotional state becomes unstable, Jean finds herself at odds with her X-Men friends and the shapeshifting aliens who have come to reclaim their powers. When assessed in isolation, the final release in this X-Men series seems like a perfectly entertaining superhero movie. However, the movie doesn’t hold up to scrutiny so well when I began to wonder how many times I’ve seen any particular scene before, how all the events fit in the overall franchise timeline, or why Professor X and Magneto haven’t aged at all in 30 years since X-Men: First Class.
The Florida Project
Director: Sean Baker
Cast: Willem Dafoe, Brooklynn Prince, Bria Vinaite, Valeria Cotto, Christopher Rivera, Caleb Landry Jones
6-year-old Moonee and her young and feckless mom Hallee live in a cheap motel in Kissimmee, Florida. While the mother struggles to make ends meet, the daughter is left to her own devices. Set in the shadow of Walt Disney World, Sean Baker’s plotless social realist drama delivers a brutally believable contrast of dreams and reality in modern day America. It’s all good and well, but the problem is that Baker fails to evoke any empathy from me for Moonee and Hallee, who are some of the most irritating characters I have ever seen on screen. Willem Dafoe’s performance as the motel manager is just about the only bright spot in the film.
The Social Dilemma
Director: Jeff Orlowski
This topical documentary delves into the world of data mining and surveillance capitalism. The former employees of Tech Giants like Google, Facebook, and Twitter explain how the platforms have evolved from the noble origins into the ruthless user manipulation systems that they are today. Jeff Orlowski’s compelling film doesn’t provide any big shocks, but it does manage to illustrate how cleverly and intricately the social media sites are designed.
Director: Betsy West, Julie Cohen
Throughout her legal career, US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (1933-2020) was a strong advocate of equality and women’s rights, and in her later years she became something of a pop icon. This biographical documentary is informative but not exactly captivating. There is not much to tell about Ginsburg apart from her dedication to law, so the film occasionally feels like a filmed CV.
Director: Albert Hughes
Cast: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson, Natassia Malthe, Marcin Kowalczyk, Jens Hultén, Leonor Varela
Some 20,000 years ago in Europe, young Keda is about to prove his manhood by hunting a bison, but he suffers an accident and is left for dead by his tribe. Keda attempts to makes his way back home through the hostile environment with an injured wolf as his companion. The Hughes brothers are best known for their gritty urban dramas like Menace II Society and Dead Presidents. However, Albert Hughes’ first solo effort is a prehistorical epic, which is consistently gripping if not always believable. Like Quest for Fire almost 40 years ago, the characters communicate in an invented language. The film looks absolutely stunning.
Director: Mike Flanagan
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Kyliegh Curran, Cliff Curtis, Carl Lumbly, Zahn McClarnon, Emily Alyn Lind, Bruce Greenwood, Jocelin Donahue, Robert Longstreet, Carel Struycken, Alex Essoe, Zackary Momoh
The Shining, Stanley Kubrick’s claustrophobic horror classic was based on Stephen King’s 1977 novel. This belated sequel must strike a balance between Kubrick’s loose adaptation and King’s 2013 novel. The story revolves around a creepy cult who track down and kill children who have the shining in order to extend their own lives. Dan Torrance, now a recovering alcoholic, is compelled to protect a young girl with extremely strong psychic abilities. Almost 40 years have passed, so it is unfair to compare this to the 1980 film, but I must admit that I was captivated by this long and uninteresting story only when it returned to the Overlook hotel. The rest feels like a second rate X-Men movie.
Toy Story 4
Director: Josh Cooley
Cast: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Annie Potts, Tony Hale, Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele, Madeleine McGraw, Christina Hendricks, Keanu Reeves, Ally Maki, Jay Hernandez, Lori Alan, Joan Cusack
Toy Stories 1, 2 and 3 form one of the finest film trilogies ever made. Now, nine years later, the story continues regardless. Bonnie, who is anxious about starting kindergarten, can only find solace in Forky, a new friend she crafts from trash. When Forky comes to life, Woody feels compelled to protect him for Bonnie’s sake. The fourth episode maintains Pixar’s quality standard in terms of animation, writing, and characterisation, but it is a totally unnecessary addition to the series, which now replaces a perfect ending with a less perfect one. The franchise turns Buzz into a buffoonish sidekick and jumps the shark with Forky, who doesn’t make any sense to me within the rules of this universe. Academy Award winner for Best Animated Feature.
Kätilö (The Midwife)
Director: Antti J. Jokinen
Cast: Krista Kosonen, Lauri Tilkanen, Pirkka-Pekka Petelius, Leea Klemola, Seppo Pääkkönen, Elina Knihtilä, Tommi Korpela, Johannes Brotherus
Towards the end of World War II, when Finland is close to accepting the peace terms set by the Soviet Union, a young Finnish woman who works as a nurse at a German POW camp in Lapland falls in love with an SS officer. This adaptation of Katja Kettu’s 2011 novel is visually striking, which is sadly the only positive comment I can make about this laboured effort. Thanks to the confusing and unfocused script and the poorly defined characters, I was not swept along by the drama or the romance at any point. I could also not get over the fact that the characters communicate in Finnish, whether they are Finns, Germans, or Russians.
Tell Me Who I Am
Director: Ed Perkins
When Alex Lewis lost his memory in a motorcycle accident, his twin brother Marcus helped him to reconstruct the first 18 years of their lives, but decided to redact the deeply traumatic aspects of their childhood. This story is fascinating and unusual, but Ed Perkins’ documentary feels simultaneously bloated and incomplete. He overstretches and overdramatises the big reveal, which in the end doesn’t amount to much more than two sentences, and I’m sure was already disclosed in the 2013 book the Lewis brothers wrote with Joanna Hines. Disappointingly, the film sheds no light on the people who inflicted the trauma.
Three Identical Strangers
Director: Tim Wardle
In 1980, three 19-year-old men accidentally discover that they are identical triplets who were adopted by three different families. Their reunion becomes a minor media sensation, but the heartwarming story takes a dark turn when the brothers uncover the real reason why they were separated at birth. This very captivating documentary tells a rollercoaster ride of a story, which is alternately exhilarating, joyous, moving, sad, disturbing, and infuriating.
Director: Taika Waititi
Cast: Roman Griffin Davis, Thomasin McKenzie, Taika Waititi, Rebel Wilson, Stephen Merchant, Alfie Allen, Sam Rockwell, Scarlett Johansson, Archie Yates
Towards the end of World War II, the timid 10-year-old Johannes “Jojo” Betzler remains a devout Nazi. His dedication to the cause begins to crumble when he befriends a Jewish girl his mother is hiding in the attic, which doesn’t make his imaginary friend Adolf Hitler very happy. A dark comedy about the Third Reich does not sound like an easy proposition, but somehow Taika Waititi pulls it off. Like La vita è bella, the film finds an awkward but just about perfect balance between the laughs and cries. The performances are all excellent. Waititi’s Academy Award winning screenplay is loosely based on Caging Skies by Christine Leunens.
Director: Jonathan Levine
Cast: Seth Rogen, Charlize Theron, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Andy Serkis, June Diane Raphael, Bob Odenkirk, Alexander Skarsgård
Fred Flarsky is an idealistic journalist who quits his job on moral grounds. That same night, he runs into his childhood babysitter Charlotte Field, now U.S. Secretary of State, who offers him a job as a speechwriter as she gets ready to announce her presidential campaign. This is a funny and likeable, but highly implausible romantic comedy. Rogen plays the same drug-loving, foul-mouthed loser he always does, but he has great chemistry with Charlize Theron. However, the politics in the movie are total Hollywood wish fulfillment.
Director: Steven Bognar, Julia Reichert
Six years after General Motors shut down their factory in Dayton, Ohio, a Chinese Fuyao car glass company reopens the plant. The owners attempt to make the factory profitable, but it appears to be at the expense of safety and basic workers’ rights. This terrific documentary was shot from 2015 to 2017, and it gives the audience a deliciously intimate and uncensored look at the culture clash that escalates between the Chinese owners and the American workers. Academy Award winner for Best Documentary Feature.
Director: Harry Bradbeer
Cast: Millie Bobby Brown, Sam Claflin, Henry Cavill, Helena Bonham Carter, Louis Partridge, Frances de la Tour, Burn Gorman, Adeel Akhtar, Fiona Shaw
Enola Holmes, the baby sister of Sherlock, is a self-taught and critically thinking 16-year-old girl. When Enola runs away from home to investigate the disappearance of her mother, she meets the young Viscount Tewkesbury, whose life seems to be at risk. This is an adaptation of the first book in The Enola Holmes Mysteries series by Nancy Springer. The movie is funny, enjoyable, disposable, and anachronistic. Millie Bobby Brown, who also co-produced, gives a commanding lead performance.
Director: Dome Karukoski
Cast: Nicholas Hoult, Lily Collins, Colm Meaney, Derek Jacobi, Anthony Boyle, Patrick Gibson, Tom Glynn-Carney, Craig Roberts, Genevieve O’Reilly
This drama about J.R.R. Tolkien attempts to capture the dramatic circumstances that turned an orphan Catholic boy with a keen interest in languages into one of the biggest selling fantasy writers of all time. Just as Tolkien falls in love with a Protestant girl and finds his true calling, he and his tight-knit group of friends must face the trenches of the First World War. Literary biopic is not the most exciting genre, and this conventional film does not offer surprises. There is certainly very little here for the casual fans of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. It is beautifully shot and well-acted, though.
Director: Ari Aster
Cast: Toni Collette, Alex Wolff, Milly Shapiro, Ann Dowd, Gabriel Byrne
Following the death of her estranged mother, Annie and her two children suffer strange visions. Are these supernatural occurences or symptoms of the mental illness running in the family? Ari Aster’s feature debut is a powerful and unsettling horror film. That is, up to the point when we find out what is actually happening. After that it gets silly. Toni Collette gives a physically draining performance.
Director: Mike Flanagan
Cast: Carla Gugino, Bruce Greenwood, Carel Struycken, Henry Thomas, Kate Siegel, Chiara Aurelia
Jessie and Gerald travel to a remote cabin to spice up their marriage, but things take a dark turn when Gerald suffers a heart attack while Jessie is handcuffed to the bed. This gripping and intense thriller escapes its confined setting inside Jessie’s head, as she looks back on her failed marriage and her childhood traumas. Based on Stephen King’s 1992 novel.
Isle of Dog
Director: Wes Anderson
Cast: Bryan Cranston, Koyu Rankin, Edward Norton, Liev Schreiber, Bill Murray, Bob Balaban, Jeff Goldblum, Scarlett Johansson, Kunichi Nomura, Tilda Swinton, Ken Watanabe
Following an outbreak of canine flu, all the dogs of Megasaki, Japan are banished to Trash Island. 12-year-old Atari flies a plane to the island in order to find his beloved Spots. Wes Anderson’s second stop-motion animation is marginally better than Fantastic Mr. Fox, his unbearably whimsical adaptation of Roald Dahl’s book. Like all of his work, it is meticulously designed and shot, but the story didn’t grab me at any point.
Leave No Trace
Director: Debra Granik
Cast: Ben Foster, Thomasin McKenzie, Jeff Kober, Dale Dickey, Dana Millican, Michael Prosser, Derek John Drescher, Isaiah Stone
A traumatised war veteran and his 13-year-old daughter live totally off grid in a forest park in Oregon. The father and daughter slowly begin to drift apart after the authorities force them to abandon their isolated existence. Debra Granik’s follow-up to Winter’s Bone is another subtle, slow-burning, and powerful drama about marginalised people. Based on Peter Rock’s novel My Abandonment, which is based on a true story. Despite her tender age, Thomasin McKenzie gives a terrific performance.
Ford v Ferrari
Director: James Mangold
Cast: Matt Damon, Christian Bale, Jon Bernthal, Caitriona Balfe, Tracy Letts, Josh Lucas, Noah Jupe, Remo Girone, Ray McKinnon
In the early 1960s, Ford Motor Company decides to challenge the hegemony of Ferrari at Le Mans. They hire Carroll Shelby to design a racing car, and the talented but difficult Ken Miles to drive it. This long but confidently entertaining drama is based on a true story (although the Ford executive played by Josh Lucas comes across as a clichéd movie villain). Damon and Bale give commanding performances in the lead and James Mangold stages the 1966 race with imagination and verve. Academy Award winner for best film and sound editing.
Director: Martin Scorsese
Cast: Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Tadanobu Asano, Ciarán Hinds, Liam Neeson, Shinya Tsukamoto, Issey Ogata, Yoshi Oida, Yōsuke Kubozuka
In the 17th century, two Portuguese Jesuit priests travel to Japan to find their mentor, who is rumoured to have renounced his faith. They discover a country where Christians are systematically persecuted and tortured until they agree to commit apostasy. Following The Last Temptation at Christ and Kundun, this adaptation of Shūsaku Endō’s 1966 novel completes Martin Scorsese’s unofficial trilogy on faith. He spent several decades bringing this deeply personal project to the screen, but the resulting drama appears to be for believers only. The film is visually arresting but the story is a painfully long, slow and monotonous slog through misery, and it didn’t engage me at any point. The narration, for the most parts, is unnecessary.
Director: James Gray
Cast: Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Ruth Negga, Liv Tyler, Donald Sutherland, John Ortiz, Greg Bryk, Loren Dean, Nataha Lyonne, John Finn
In the near future, man has colonies on the moon and Mars. Some 30 years earlier, an expedition commanded by H. Clifford McBride travelled further to look for signs of intelligent life, until it all went quiet near Neptune. Now Major Roy McBride is sent out to make contact with his long-lost father when the mission spacecraft is believed to be the source of mysterious power surges which threaten the entire solar system. Apocalypse Now meets Interstellar in James Gray’s slow but hypnotic meditation on cosmic loneliness. Roy’s trip to the heart of universal darkness includes some awe-inspiring ideas and stunning set pieces, even if its conclusion left me a bit underwhelmed. Brad Pitt gives a wonderfully understated lead performance.
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Cast: Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz, Nicholas Hoult, Joe Alwyn, James Smith, Mark Gatiss, Jenny Rainsford
In 1711, two women vie to be the favourite of Queen Anne of Great Britain, who is physically and mentally frail. Lady Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough, is the queen’s lover and the de facto ruler. Her tainted cousin Abigail Hill arrives at the palace as a scullery maid, but quickly climbs the ranks through her wits and charm. This entertaining dark comedy is based on real events, but its details have been embellished. The film gives us an interesting look at one brief moment in history, but it doesn’t add up to much more. The sets and costumes are stunning, but Robbie Ryan’s camerawork draws a bit too much attention to itself. Although the entire cast is superb, Olivia Colman was singled out with an Academy Award for her brave performance as Queen Anne.
Director: Teemu Nikki
Cast: Matti Onnismaa, Hannamaija Nikander, Alina Tomnikov, Jari Virman, Heikki Nousiainen, Ilari Johansson, Santtu Karvonen
Veijo Haukka is a misanthropic car mechanic who runs a side business as a pet euthanizer. When a troubled young man wants to put down his family’s dog for financial reasons, events slowly escalate to tragedy. This grim and darkly comic drama offers Finnish miserablism at its purest. It starts with everyone being miserable and ends with everyone being miserable, injured, or dead. Even the first romantic scene ends in a near-death experience. The film would perhaps be more bearable if any of the characters were believable three-dimensional human beings. The performances range from the charismatic (Onnismaa) to the irritating (Virman).
Director: Kris Pearn
Cast: Will Forte, Maya Rudolph, Alessia Cara, Terry Crews, Martin Short, Jane Krakowski, Seán Cullen, Ricky Gervais
Mr. and Mrs. Willoughby are so mad about each other that they have no time for their four children, who plan to orphan themselves by sending their parents on a treacherous vacation trip. This Canadian animation has a promising start, but by the second half it is all over the place, both literally and figuratively. On top of the Willoughbys, the script throws in an orphan baby, a candy factory owner and a singing nanny. The biggest problem is that all of the characters are forgettable, inconsistent, and visually dull. Based on the book by Lois Lowry.
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Cast: Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Seth MacFarlane, Riley Keough, Katie Holmes, Katherine Waterston, Dwight Yoakam, Sebastian Stan, Brian Gleeson, Jack Quaid, Hilary Swank, Daniel Craig
Jimmy Logan is an unemployed construction worker with a bad knee and his brother Clyde is a bartender who lost his lower arm in Iraq. These two West Virginian brothers plan to change the family’s fortunes by robbing the Coca-Cola 600 race. There’s only one hitch, the explosives expert they need is currently serving time. Steven Soderbergh returns from his brief retirement to direct a working class version of Ocean’s Eleven, and it turns out to be one of the most purely enjoyable movies he has ever made. The script is snappy and the cast is terrific.
Director: Mel Gibson
Cast: Andrew Garfield, Sam Worthington, Luke Bracey, Teresa Palmer, Hugo Weaving, Rachel Griffiths, Vince Vaughn, Ryan Corr, Richard Roxburgh
When the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor, Desmond Doss wants to become a combat medic. However, it’s an upward struggle because Desmond refuses to carry a firearm or kill a man due to his religious convictions. This true story of an unlikely war hero is based on the book The Conscientious Objector by Terry Benedict. Mel Gibson’s drama is consistently gripping, whether Desmond is enjoying a tender moment in the home front, challenging his comrades and superiors in the training phase, or facing the horrors of war in the Battle of Okinawa. Andrew Garfield gives a very strong lead performance. Academy Award winner for best editing and sound mixing.
Director: Peter Farrelly
Cast: Viggo Mortensen, Mahershala Ali, Linda Cardellini, Sebastian Maniscalco, Dimiter D. Marinov, Mike Hatton, Von Lewis, Brian Stepanek
In the early 1960s, the short-tempered Italian American Tony Vallelonga takes a job as a driver and bodyguard for Dr. Don Shirley, a black classical pianist whose band is about to embark on a concert tour which takes them to Deep South. The two men are very different, but they have a lot to learn about themselves and about each other. This true story, which is based on interviews and letters, treads lightly on the racism of the period and its characters, but it delivers an utterly charming and laugh out loud funny, not to mention crowd pleasing, portrayal of an unlikely friendship. At the center of it are two towering performances by Mortensen and Ali. Academy Award winner for best picture, original screenplay, and supporting actor (Mahershala Ali).
Director: Asif Kapadia
Diego Maradona was one of the finest but most controversial footballers in the history of the game. He captained Napoli to their first and last Serie A titles in 1987 and 1990, and led Argentina to their second World Cup title in 1986, but wrecked the second half of his playing career with his cocaine addiction. He is described to have two different personalities. Diego is the nice boy from the slums of Buenos Aires who loves the ball, Maradona is the badly-behaved global footballing icon. Asif Kapadia’s Senna was a riveting sports documentary which was assembled primarily from existing material. He uses the same method here, but his film does not have the same effect, perhaps because Diego Maradona is a more divisive and less relatable person.