‘Roma’

In limited commercial release, Netflix’s Golden Lion winner at the 2018 Venice Film Festival, Roma, is a delectable (black and white) year in the  life of a middle-class family in Mexico City in the early 1970s – with the focus firmly centred on the maid, newcomer Yalitza Aparicio.

Engagingly episodic, the restraint shown by writer/director Alfonso Cuaron (Gravity, Children of Men) results is an achingly beautiful film that unfolds in seemingly real-time. Roma is an evocation of nostalgia and time past – a memoire of (mostly) minor events as adults and children live their everyday.

Already in receipt of numerous awards and nominations for the Golden Globes, Roma is also likely to feature in numerous Oscar categories.

Rating: 87%

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‘Shoplifters’

An alternative family unit eking out a living in contemporary Japan through poorly paid contract work, shoplifting and bucking the system. Yet their compassion is such they take in a young girl found outside in the cold of winter.

The Palme d’Or winner at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival, Shoplifters is a deft, emotionally delicate feature from socially conscious filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda (Like Father Like Son, I Wish).

A faultless cast (four adults, two children), a beautifully modulated script and unobtrusive direction allows the narrative to unfold to its devastating conclusion. Shoplifters is a charming gut-wrencher of a film – and one of the year’s best.

Rating: 88%

‘Beautiful Boy’

beautiful boyQuietly directed by Felix von Groeningen (The Broken Circle Breakdown, The Misfortunates), Beautiful Boy is a humane and deeply moving (true) story of drug addiction and father/son bond.

Timothee Chalamet (Call Me By Your Name, Lady Bird) embodies the tragedy of addiction and wasted opportunity as his loving father, Steve Carell (Foxcatcher, The 40 Year-Old Virgin), is forced to dig deep to continue the emotional support so desperately needed.

The support cast is forced to take a back seat in what is essentially a two-hander. And, whilst a cycle of rehab, relapse, recovery results in the emotional impact lessening as the film progresses, the two leads are riveting in their performances.

Rating: 71%

‘A Star Is Born’

a star is bornAfter a magnificent opening 20 minutes or so as troubled rock star Bradley Cooper (American Sniper, Silver Linings Playbook) meets the big-voiced Lady Gaga, A Star is Born settles into a slow, episodic unfolding of its narrative.

Gaga’s meteoric rise into a Grammy-award winning Britney Spears-like pop star is juxtaposed with Cooper’s demise into drug and alcohol addiction. It’s his struggle that is the real focus of Cooper’s directorial debut – in spite of the fact Lady Gaga is a revelation in her first leading role.

A solid remake/adaptation of the 1954 classic starring James Mason and Judy Garland, with some fabulous tunes from both leads, A Star Is Born is nevertheless disappointing considering the hype that surrounds it.

Rating: 64%

‘First Man’

first manIn spite of knowing the outcome of Apollo 11 and Neil Armstrong’s walk on the moon, director Damien Chazelle (La La Land, Whiplash) and his taut telling of the historic moment teases out every thrill, tension and suspense.

Somber, claustrophobic and with a focus on the men and their families (a controlled, nuanced Ryan Gosling – La La Land, Drive – as Armstrong, a riveting, scene-stealing Claire Foy – Unsane, TV’s The Crown – as his wife, Janet), First Man is intimate and deeply humane. But it is also a technical tour de force, with particular reference to the editing by Tom Cross (La La Land, Whiplash), and a likely swag of behind-the-scenes Oscar nominations.

Rating: 68%

‘The Insult’

The_Insult_(film)Proving that nothing in the Middle East is straightforward, writer/director Ziad Doueiri (The Attack, Lila Says) has produced a powerful feature where a Lebanese Christian (an angry Adel Karam – Caramel, Where Do We Go Now?) takes a Palestinian refugee (a quietly nuanced Kamel el Basha – Love, Theft and Other Entanglements) to court for assault.

It’s highly political as what starts as a seemingly minor issue escalates as memories of events from the civil war come to the fore. It may lack subtly in its telling and is a tad overlong but The Insult remains an enthralling insight into conflict and potential reconciliation.

The Insult was nominated for the 2017 Best Film in a Foreign Language Oscar (it lost out to Chile’s A Fantastic Woman).

Rating: 76%

‘On Body and Soul’

on body and soul-1An oddity – an intriguing yet clinically told love story as two apparent opposites meet and against all odds become involved.

According to the workers on the shop floor at the abattoir, the new stand-offish quality controller, Maria (Alexandra Borbely, winner of Best Actress at the European Film Awards), follows the rules too closely. The Finance Director (Geza Morcsanyi – at 65 making his acting debut) looks on bemused. But then the two discover they have exactly the same dreams…

Amid gruesome slaughterhouse scenes, this intimate, challenging narrative moves slowly as the two come to understand each other.

Alongside a nomination for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, Ildiko Enyedi’s film won the Berlin Golden Bear and best film awards at Sydney, Portland, Mumbai and Sofia film festivals.

Rating: 63%

‘Loveless’

loveless.poster.ws_Stark yet rivetingly sincere, the latest feature from Andrey Zvyagintsev (Leviathan, Elena) is feel bad in extremis.

As a Leningrad couple look to divorce, so their 12 year-old son, caught in the vindictive and argumentative maelstrom, disappears.

It’s a devastating drama, with Aleksey Rozin (Leviathan, Elena) and newcomer Maryana Spivak superbly nuanced as the couple in a feature that is never afraid to allow scenes to slowly unfold in all its dour yet heightened banality. A layered slow burn, Loveless is another of Zvyagintsev’s desolate commentaries on contemporary Russian society.

One of the best films of the year so far.

Rating: 83%

‘The Florida Project’

The_Florida_ProjectLife on the margins – and director Sean Baker (Tangerines, Starlet) immerses us in the everyday of six year-old Moonee and her friends.

Newcomer Brooklynn Prince is sensational as the street-savvy kid smart-arsing her way round the run-down motel blocks on the outskirts of Disneyland. Heavily-tattooed mom, Bria Vinaite, hustles cheap perfume, knock-off Disney passes and, eventually, herself to make ends meet. As motel-manager, Willem Defoe (Spider Man, John Wick) can only look-on with a sense of powerless hopelessness.

Baker gives us magic in the mundane, a voyeuristic experience of brattish behaviour (by adults and children alike) that highlights the cycle of poverty and crime. The Florida Project unfolds quietly in a series of non-judgemental, semi-observational vignettes that focus on character rather than didactic commentary. The result is warm, humorous but ultimately tragic.

Rating: 80%

‘The Square’

the-square-the-square-film-the-square-film-review-1Ultimately uncomfortable watching as director Ruben Ostland (Force Majeure, Involuntary) presents a heady mix of odd social commentary along with moments of crazed subversion.

Arrogant gallery curator Claes Bang (The Bridge, Rule #1) finds himself in deep schtick both professionally and personally as a result of a distraction during the negotiations of a controversial new exhibition.

But what on paper appears to be a linear narrative is anything but as commentary on lack of social awareness or care is troweled on thick and fast in scene after scene. Subversive, anarchic, occasionally brilliant, overstuffed with ideas but a film that could have benefitted from being 105 minutes long instead of 152. Inexplicably, The Square was presented with the 2017 Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival.

Rating: 52%