An epic melodrama whereby a newly married woman returns to the London home where, 10 years earlier, her aunt had been murdered.
On the death of her beloved aunt, a distraught Paula Alquist (Ingrid Bergman – Casablanca, Stromboli) leaves for Italy vowing never to return. But in training to be an opera singer she falls in love with her coach, the charming Gregory Anton (Charles Boyer – Algeirs, Conquest). Keen to take advantage of the empty property, Anton persuades his wife to return to London. But as paintings disappear and footsteps disturb the peace of the night, Paula begins to question her sanity in the claustrophobia of the oppressive house full of memories.
Adapted from the stage play by Patrick Hamilton and directed by George Cukor (Adam’s Rib, My Fair Lady), Gaslight is an intense, occasionally overwrought, psychological manipulation of a story as Anton attempts to control, deceive and ultimately benefit from the madness of his wife.
Nominated for 7 Oscars in 1945 including best film, actor, supporting actress (Angela Lansbury in her screen debut), won 2 for best actress, set direction (black & white).
Although bolstered by a superb Marion Cotillard, La vie en rose is a somewhat standard biopic of the tragic iconic French chanteuse, Edith Piaf.
Discovered at the age of 19 singing on the streets of Paris by impresario Louis Leplée (Gérard Depardieu – Cyrano de Bergerac, Danton), Piaf (Marion Cotillard – Two Days One Night, Inception) quickly became a huge success. Raised as a child by her grandmother in a brothel, bedevilled by ill health, questionable associates (she was believed to be connnected in some way to the murder of Leplée by local gangsters) and tragedy (world champion boxer and lover Marcel Cerdan – Jean-Pierre Martins, The Gilded Cage, Saint George – was killed in a plane crash), Piaf cut a sad figure.
The ebb and flow nature of the narrative in terms of time as directed by Olivier Dahan (Grace of Monaco, Simone: Woman of the Century) creates a somewhat fractured telling as melodrama and Piaf the tragic icon dominates Piaf the woman. But the music is glorious.
Nominated for 3 Oscars in 2008 including best costume design, won 2 for best actress and make-up.
It’s the frocks that shine in this cute but shallow remake of an earlier tv movie as Christan Dior beckons a cockney cleaning lady.
A regular cleaner for Lady Dant (Anna Chancellor – Crush, TV’s The Split) gains few benefits (and late wage payments) except exposure to Dior haute couture. On learning the current beauty hanging in the wardrobe cost a staggering £500, Mrs Harris (Lesley Manville – Phantom Thread, Maleficent) is determined to purchase her own in time for the 1957 annual local town hall social. Scrimping and saving follows, supported by best friend, Violet (Ellen Thomas – The Love Punch, TV’s Eastenders). Ada gets to Paris eventually where, in spite of the snobbish Madame Colbert (Isabelle Huppert – Elle, The Piano Teacher), she gets her way – and changes the lives of those she comes into contact with as well as the future of the House of Dior itself.
Charm incarnate as directed by Anthony Fabian (Skin, Louder Than Words), Mrs Harris Goes to Paris is the saccharine-sweet embodiment of a fairy-tale as the good-natured Ada (a delightful Lesley Manville) tires of being invisible.
Nominated for 2023 Best Costume Oscar (Jenny Beaven).
Hired to follow high-profile chief engineer for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, a tough talking private detective finds himself in deep water as corruption and murder bubble to the surface.
A straightforward cheating husband case seems easy money for J.J.Gittes (Jack Nicholson – Easy Rider, The Departed) as the wife of Hollis Mulwray (Darrell Zwerling – Grease, And Justice For All) hires the private detective. But things become more complicated when the real Mrs Mulwray (Faye Dunaway – Bonnie & Clyde, Network) appears at his office – and Mulwray turns up dead.
Blackmail, corruption and murder unspool in Gittes’ so-called easy money case as 1930s LA struggles through a drought in director Roman Polanski’s (The Pianist, Knife in the Water) sublime detective thriller full of brooding suspense.
Nominated for 11 Oscars in 1975 including best film, director, actor, actress, cinematography – won 1 for best original screenplay (Robert Towne)
Any synopsis of Volver creates the vision of a melodramatic multi-seasoned telenovela as Almodóvar’s interwoven fantasy with reality tale of mothers and daughters unfolds.
Having lost her mother in a fire years earlier, Raimunda (Penelope Cruz – Vanilla Sky, Parallel Mothers) is concerned about the mental state of Tía Paula, the aunt who raised her. Having recently visited her home village, it’s there Tía Paula claimed Irene (Carmen Maura – Oh Carmela! Cuernavaca), Raimunda’s dead mother, is living with her. But all is forgotten a few days later when daughter Paula (Yohana Cobo – Vidas pequeñas, 75 días) confesses she has murdered her unemployed father Paco, who tried to rape her whilst drunk.
That’s the first 20 or so minutes accounted for! In a true-to-form Almodóvar (Parallel Mothers, Talk to Her), Volver is a melodramatic comedic delight as superstitions, gossip, ghosts and murder seemingly conspire against Raimunda to make a success of a simple life as she hides a dead body and defrauds her neighbour’s restaurant business. With a lightness of touch and perfect timing (particularly from Cruz), Volver may push the boundaries of believability but it has a charm all of its own.
Nominated for best actress Oscar in 2007.
An English country manor with the interwoven comings and goings of the upstairs gentry and downstairs staff. Sound familiar? An earlier (2001) script by a decade from Julian Fellowes predates the behemoth that was to become Downton Abbey.
Only there’s few of the niceties of the later series evident in Robert Altman’s (Nashville, M*A*S*H) delight of a feature. It’s a strained shooting weekend upstairs that’s reflected downstairs as the emnity between imperious housekeeper Mrs Wilson (Helen Mirren – The Queen, Hitchcock) and cook Mrs Croft (Eileen Atkins – Cold Mountain, TV’s Doc Martin) adds to the atmosphere. It’s all somewhat tense at Gosford Park. And to make matters worse, half way through the film, someone bumps off the wealthy, irascible host, William McCordle (Michael Gambon – Harry Potter, Judy).
Guests and staff come under suspicion. What had started as a series of related and unrelated storylines lay the foundation for a whodunnit as the earlier desperate financial manouverings of at least three of the family members come under scrutiny. But things are never that simple or that obvious.
It being an Altman film, the cast reads like a who’s who virtuoso ensemble piece with a sublime script from Fellowes that expertly provides drama, pathos, comedy and social commentary in its 137 minute running time.
Nominated for 7 Oscars in 2002 including best film, director, supporting actress (Helen Mirren), supporting actress (Maggie Smith), art direction – won 1 for original script.
Thirteen years in the waiting since Avatar with Jake Sully now living as a Na’vi with his family in the forests of Pandora. But the familial idyll is threatened, forcing them to leave and find protection elsewhere.
Happy family life of Jake (Sam Worthington – Clash of the Titans, Transfusion) and Neytiri (Zoe Saldana – The Adam Project, Infinitely Polar Bear) in the forests of Pandora is threatened by the return of a too familiar adversary. Only a cloned Colonel Quaritch (Stephen Lang – The Independent, The Lost City) and his grunts are in a very different guise. With Jake targetted for revenge, the family leave the forests to protect their people and find a home in the coastal settlements of the webbed Na’vi, led by Tonowari (Cliff Curtis – Doctor Sleep, The Dark Horse) and his initially unwelcoming wife, Ronal (Kate Winslet – Ammonite, The Dressmaker).
Unsurprisingly, Avatar: the Way of Water is a visual feast as James Cameron (Avatar, The Terminator) takes us into the depths of Pandora’s oceans and a gamut of new creatures, friendly or otherwise, and environments fill the screen. But as a narrative, it feels little more than the repeat button has been firmly pressed but with an increase in cuteness as young family members feature. The result is a tedious overlong slog of same, same. It does not bode well for films 3, 4 and 5.
Nominated for 4 Oscars in 2023 including best film, production design, sound – won 1 for best visual effects.
A tour de force adventure love story that sees director/writer/producer James Cameron exponentially raise the technical bar once again in this stunning fantasy tale.
Marine grunt Jake Sully (Sam Worthington – Hackshaw Ridge, Cake) and recent paraplegic finds himself in demand on the distant Pandora on the death of his scientist twin brother. Sully shares identical DNA – and under Dr Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver – Alien, Gorillas in the Mist) massive advances in the use of avatars have been made, of which Tom was a crucial team member. The seven foot blue avatars are being used to get to know the native humanoid indigenous Na’vi.
But the planet is under threat from mining interests: Sully is instructed to keep Colonel Miles Quiritch (Stephen Lang – Public Enemies, Conan the Barbarian) in the loop of Augustine’s plans. Torn between orders and protecting the world he feels is his home, as the avatar and able to walk Sully falls for Neytiri (Zoe Saldana – Star Trek, The Guardians of the Galaxy).
Cameron (Titanic, Aliens) transports the viewer to a completely new world of the imagination. Visually stunning, Avatar is a tale of heart and message as corporate greed destroys community, tradition and the order of things. But it’s also a love story celebrating difference and respect of the tradition being destroyed.
Nominated for 9 Oscars in 2010 including best film, director, editing, won 3 – cinematography (Mauro Fiore – Southpaw, The Equalizer), visual effects, art direction. But of course, regardless, it went on to become the most successful film at the international box office in history.
Gentle, nuanced but surprisingly inert and overly nostalgic from director Sam Mendes (1917, Skyfall).
1980s Britain and, having suffered a nervous breakdown, lonely cinema duty manager Hilary (Olivia Colman – Hot Fuzz, The Father) slowly pieces her life back together. Abused by her manager (Colin Firth – The King’s Speech, Supernova), she develops a close friendship with new employee, Stephen (Micheal Ward – The Old Guard, Rudeboy) who is looking to escape the provincial racism of the seaside town.
Colman is subtly magnificent as a woman struggling with mental health but the narrative is less than convincing as the two outsiders bond in an environment that works against them. With the art deco opulence of the cinema harking back to the glory days of cinema, Empire of Light is at times ravishingly beautiful. But time drags in this particular two hour feature.
Nominated for the 2023 best cinematography Oscar (Roger Deakins – 1917, Skyfall)
A derring-do blockbuster from 1961 with its all-star cast, the adaptation of Alistair MacLean’s best selling novel is a war time adventure as the Allies look to destroy a seemingly impregnable German fortress on the (fictional) Greek island of Navarone.
With the guns threatening Allied naval ships in the Aegean Sea, a plan to send in a crack team is developed, headed by Major Roy Franklin (Anthony Quayle – Lawrence of Arabia, Anne of a Thousand Days). But an early casualty on the island sees German-speaking Captain Keith Mallory (Gregory Peck – Spellbound, Roman Holiday) take command. Aided by Greek resistance members, the saboteurs need to overcome an extensive security network of German troops.
Inevitably for its time, emphasis was placed on the thrills and melodrama of the adventure rather than on character (or even credibility), but the frisson between Mallory and Greek general Andrea Stavros (Anthony Quinn – Zorba the Greek, Lust For Life) adds a level of personal tension to the narrative as the team fight to avoid capture and complete their mission.
As directed by J. Lee Thompson (Taras Bulba, Northwest Frontier), The Guns of Navarone became the second highest grossing film of 1961.
Nominated for 7 Oscars in 1962 including best film, director, adapted screenplay – won 1 for visual effects.