The Fighter (Momentum Pictures): The story of boxer ‘Irish’ Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) and his half-brother/trainer Dickie Eklund (Christian Bale) is brought to the screen with formidable skill and energy by director David O’Russell. Set in Lowell, Massachusetts, it also explores the tensions within their large Irish family, which include his tough mother-manager (Melissa Leo), father (Jack McGee), several sisters and Micky’s girlfriend (Amy Adams). [Buy on Blu-ray or DVD from Amazon UK] [Read our full review]
Rabbit Hole (Lionsgate): Adapted for the screen by David Lindsay-Abaire from his own Pulitzer Prize-winning play, this is the story of a married couple (Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart) struggling to cope with the loss of their young child. Director John Cameron-Mitchell treats the subject with sensitivity, the two leads are excellent and Miles Teller is terrific in a key supporting role. [Buy on DVD from Amazon UK]
Brighton Rock (Optimum Home Entertainment) [Blu-ray / Normal] Cat O’ Nine Tails (Arrow Video) [Blu-ray / Normal How Do You Know? (Sony Pictures Home Ent.) [Blu-ray / Normal] Howl (Soda Pictures) [Blu-ray / Normal] I Am Number Four (Walt Disney Studios Home Ent.) [Blu-ray / Normal] Point Break (Warner Home Video) [Blu-ray / Normal] The Great White Silence (BFI) [Blu-ray with DVD] The Rite (Warner Home Video) [Blu-ray / Normal] Twilight Zone – The Original Series: Season 2 (Fremantle Home Entertainment) [Blu-ray / Box Set] West Is West (Icon Home Entertainment) [Blu-ray / Normal]
The Fighter (Paramount/Momentum): The real life story of boxer ‘Irish’ Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) and his half-brother and trainer Dickie Eklund (Christian Bale) is brought to the screen with formidable skill and energy by director David O’Russell. The story of two very different fighters from Lowell, Massachusetts, it explores the wider tensions within their large Irish family, which include his tough mother-manager (Melissa Leo), father (Jack McGee), several sisters and Micky’s girlfriend (Amy Adams).
Although the framework of the film is familiar, the performances are electric: Bale is astonishing as the crack-addicted trainer, Wahlberg nicely underplays the lead role and Leo chews up her scenes as the controlling matriarch. Working from a screenplay by Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson, director David O’Russell uses his considerable skills to transcend the limitations of the conventional boxing movie.
Part of this involves some brilliant camerawork from Hoyte Van Hoytema, which makes great use of handheld and Steadicam, drawing us in to the world of the characters and infusing the film a restless, raw energy. Another clever element is the visual look of the boxing sequences, shot on video to duplicate the TV look of HBO pay-per-view fights in the 1990s, with ringside reactions, instant-replays and image pixelation.
Like his best films, O’Russell seems to inspire technical excellence across the board: the acting, cinematography, Pamela Martin’s editing, and the convincing period detail are all stellar and they combine to create a convincing portrait of the boxing world. [Read our full review] [Odeon Leicester Square & Nationwide / 15]
Brighton Rock (Optimum Releasing): Graham Greene’s classic crime novel has been updated to the 1960s, during the Mods and Rockers era, with budding gangster Pinkie Brown (Sam Riley) in charge of a protection mob challenging the status quo of Colleoni (Andy Serkis). When a chance sequence of events leads to an incriminating photograph being taken, Pinkie seduces the innocent Rose (Andrea Riseborough) in order to avert arrest.
Directed by Rowan Joffe and co-starring Helen Mirren and John Hurt, the film got a decidedly mixed reception at the London Film Festival (where it screened in the surprise film slot) although other reviews have been more positive. It will need very good word of mouth to make an impact in the current box office climate. [Curzon Soho, Hampstead Everyman & Nationwide / 15]
Rabbit Hole (Metrodome Distribution): Adapted for the screen by David Lindsay-Abaire from his own Pulitzer Prize-winning play, this drama explores the grief of a married couple (Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart) who struggle to cope with the aftermath following the loss of their young child. Although a lot of potential viewers (especially parents of young children) will find the subject matter radioactive, this is a powerful and absorbing film filled with fine performances.
The two leads are superb as they depict complex emotions of loss and love, whilst in the supporting cast Miles Teller is terrific as the teenager Kidman’s character strikes up a friendship with. Director John Cameron-Mitchell has crafted a moving film, the kind that is rarely seen in modern Hollywood, and although the subject matter has meant less-than-stellar US box office, it is well worth seeking out. [The Renoir, Electric Cinema, Clapham Picture House, Everyman Belsize Park & Key Cities / 12A]
Sanctum (Universal): Presented as ‘James Cameron’s Sanctum’ this tale of underwater explorers who get trapped in underground caves combines his passions for deep sea exploration and 3D. However, Cameron is only an executive producer on the film which is directed by Alister Grierson and stars Richard Roxburgh as a diver who wants to be the first to explore the Esa-ala cave system in the South Pacific, only for things to go horribly wrong.
Co-starring Rhys Wakefield and Ioan Gruffudd, the posters and publicity will probably have fooled many suspecting viewers in to thinking it is the new 3D film from Cameron, which could be a disappointment for some. [Vue West End & Nationwide / 15]
The Clink Of Ice (Wild Bunch): French black comedy written and directed by Bertrand Blierabout an alcoholic writer (Jean Dujardin) who is confronted by an incarnation of his own cancer (Albert Dupontel). [Cine Lumiere]
A Little Bit Of Heaven (Entertainment Film Distributors): A romantic comedy directed by Nicole Kassell about a woman (Kate Hudson) with cancer who meets her soulmate (Gael García Bernal). [Odeon West End & Nationwide / 12A]
Nenette (Artificial Eye): Documentary by Nicolas Philibert (best known for Être et Avoir) about an orang-utan who is the oldest inhabitant at the oldest zoo in the world, in Paris. [Curzon Renoir / PG]
New York I Love You (The Works): A belated release for this collective work of eleven short films, with each segment running around 10 minutes long. The various segments star Natalie Portman, Shia LaBeouf, Hayden Christensen, Orlando Bloom, Irrfan Khan, James Caan and Christina Ricci with each shooting their part in one of New York’s five boroughs. [Curzon Mayfair & Key Cities / 15]
Silken Skin (bfi Distributors): A re-release for Francois Truffaut’s Hitchcockian tale of adultery which the director described as ‘a violent answer to Jules Et Jim’, his previous film about a love triangle. [BFI Southbank & Key Cities / PG]
An epic escape from a Russian gulag during World War II forms the backdrop for Peter Weir’s first film in seven years.
Loosely based on Slavomir Rawicz’s book “The Long Walk: The True Story of a Trek to Freedom” (more of which later), The Way Back begins with an soldier named Janusz (Jim Sturgess) being sent to a remote Siberian prison camp on trumped up charges of spying.
After enlisting the help of inmates to escape, including an ex-pat American (Ed Harris) and a tough gang member (Colin Farrell), the group venture on a massive trek across Asia where they meet an orphan (Saoirse Ronan), struggle to survive and attempt to reach the safety of India.
Weir shoots everything with convincing detail: the prison camp is believably hellish and the landscapes form a frequently stunning backdrop as the prisoners venture across sub-zero Russia, the Gobi Desert and the Himalayas on their way to India.
Visually, the film feels grittier than one might expect, with D.P. Russell Boyd appearing to use a lot of natural light and the splendour of the landscapes are frequently intercut with shots of blisters and the physical cost of the journey.
The performances all round are solid: Sturgess and Harris stand out as the two lynchpins of the group; Farrell is charmingly gruff; Ronan has presence and depth and Mark Strong is believably seductive as a prison camp veteran with his own agenda.
As a narrative experience, the initial tension of the prison break quickly becomes a fight for survival as the group struggle to eat, stay warm and avoid all manner of hardships involving the harsh landscape.
This means that it lacks conventional tension, but there is a certain pleasure in the gruelling sprawl of the story as they keep moving across a bewildering variety of landscapes and adverse weather conditions on their 4,000-mile trek.
Sequences that particularly stand out are the initial prison break in a blizzard, a lake infested with mosquitoes, a harsh desert which drives them to the brink and the latter stages which involve some famous Asian landmarks.
For the most part it is absorbing and features well drawn characters, even though it occasionally suffers from the problem of mixing English and native dialogue, which in the modern era diminishes the overall authenticity of the film.
The film hinges on the central character’s desire to get back home (hence the title) to see his wife, which we see in a recurring vision, and it is hard not to be moved by the climactic depiction of the personal set against the historical.
But although The Way Back is an undeniably powerful experience, there is a problem at the very heart of the adaptation which directly relates to the original book that inspired it.
Although Rawicz’s account was acclaimed for a number of years, in 2006 the BBC discovered records that essentially debunked his version of events, even though there is evidence to suggest that the journey may have been undertaken by other people.
Peter Weir was fully aware of the controversy surrounding the book when he made the film, hence certain key changes, and overall it demonstrates the taste, tact and intelligence that has informed his career.
But given the extraordinary nature of the journey there is something dispiriting about finding out the truth about Rawicz, even if the actual trek may have been done by someone else.
It remains a powerful and handsomely constructed piece of cinema but also suffers from the shady origins of its source material.
As usual these are my favourite films of the year in alphabetical order (just click on each title for more information).
THE BEST FILMS OF 2010
Animal Kingdom (Dir. David Michôd): The outstanding debut feature from director David Michôd is a riveting depiction of a Melbourne crime family headed by a sinister matriarch.
Another Year (Dir. Mike Leigh): A moving, bitter-sweet drama about relationships, filled with great acting, is arguably the peak of Mike Leigh’s career.
Biutiful (Dir. Alejandro González Iñárritu): Searing exploration of life and death in a modern European city, featuring a tremendous central performance from Javier Bardem.
Black Swan (Dir. Darren Aronofsky): Swan Lake is retold with glorious intensity, channelling Polanski and Cronenberg whilst giving Natalie Portman the role of a lifetime.
Carlos (Dir. Olivier Assayas): Scintillating and immersive depiction of a 1970s terrorist with a tremendous performance by Edgar Ramirez.
Enter the Void (Dir. Gaspar Noé): Technically dazzling depiction of a dead drug dealer that also features what is possibly the greatest opening title sequence of all time.
Exit Through The Gift Shop (Dir. Banksy): An ingenious and hilarious hall of mirrors which is brilliantly executed and so much more than a ‘Banksy documentary’.
Inception (Dir. Christopher Nolan): The ingenious puzzles of Christopher Nolan’s early films were given the scale of his blockbusters in this hugely ambitious sci-fi actioner.
Inside Job (Dir. Charles Ferguson): Devastating documentary about the financial crisis which plays like a heist movie, only this time it is the banks robbing the people.
Tabloid (Dir. Errol Morris): The media feeding frenzy surrounding a bizarre 1970s sex scandal provided Errol Morris with the raw material for one of the most entertaining documentaries in years.
The Fighter (Dir. David O’Russell): A boxing story which follows a familiar path but remains energetic, inspirational and funny, with Christian Bale on career-best form.
The Kids Are Alright (Dir. Lisa Cholodenko): A perfectly pitched comedy-drama that explores modern family life with genuine heart and humour.
The King’s Speech (Dir. Tom Hooper): Wonderfully crafted period drama with two brilliant lead performances and a moving story filled with hilarious one liners.
The Social Network (Dir. David Fincher): The inside story of Facebook is a riveting tale of ambition and betrayal, which sees Fincher, Sorkin and a young cast firing on all cylinders.
Toy Story 3 (Dir. Lee Unkrich): The ground breaking animated series gets a worthy final chapter whilst maintaining Pixar’s impeccable standards of story and animation.
127 Hours (Dir. Danny Boyle) Blue Valentine (Dir. Derek Cianfrance) Catfish (Dir. Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost) Four Lions (Dir. Chris Morris) Let Me In (Dir. Matt Reeves) Restrepo (Dir. Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger) Somewhere (Dir. Sofia Coppola) The American (Dir. Anton Corbijn) The Ghost Writer (Dir. Roman Polanski) The Illusionist (Dir. Sylvain Chomet) Winter’s Bone (Dir. Debra Granik)