Netflix soared in 2019, but so did traditional technology...
Anyone who tells you "cinema is not as good as it once was" needs a reality check and the quality of 2019's filmic fare is no better demonstration of that. It's tempting to say "all the best stuff is arthouse" considering the sound of the creative barrell scraping at the mention of bland blockbusters like 'X-Men: Dark Phoenix', 'Godzilla: King of the Monsters' and 'Spider-Man: Far From Home', but even the mutiplex churned out a fair share of terrific titles this year. From Yorgos Lanthimos's delicious tragicomic satire 'The Favourite' to Greta Gerwig's delectable adaptation of 'Little Women', 2019 was full of subversive wonders.
The masses lapped up 'Joker' that - despite rampant fears of copycat violence - managed to break the $1 billion Box Office mark and looks poised for similar success this coming awards season. Not least for Joaquin Phoenix who turned out the most terrifyingly methodical turn as the titular Travis Bickle-esque clown prince of crime. The film's universal audience acclaim is undoubtedly an impressive feat for blockbusters of this kind. However, as one of the few individuals to have been disappointed by Director Todd Phillips's disjointed supervillain study (tense first half, silly second), my heart belongs to 'The Avengers: Endgame' as far as comic-book movies are concerned. A Shakesperean tragedy masquerading under the pretence of a gargantuan finale to a decade of Marvel movie mythology.
In other worlds, 'Ad Astra' similarly acted beneath the facade of a standard space opera, but was really more interested in the insular psychology of Brad Pitt's pouty starman than the planets on its event horizon. Pitt-heads would argue the actor's smug and self-knowing turn in Quentin Tarantino's ultra self-indulgent 'Once Upon A Time in Hollywood' represented a career high, but his subdued best was to be found in James Gray's thrilling thinking man's Sci-Fi.
Admittedly, the year got off to a bumpy start by way of cheesy race relations farce 'Green Book' beating Alfonso Cuaron's magnificent 'Roma' (2018) to the Best Picture OSCAR. The latter film was widely expected put to rest Steven Spielberg's statement that Netflix-produced films are "not real cinema".
Such a statement will surely be scoffed in the face of come 2020 thanks to strong awards showings for Netflix's 'Marriage Story', 'The Irishman' and 'The Two Popes' which altogether lead the pack at the Golden Globes with a staggering 15 nominations between them. And yet - while I appreciated the outstanding acting in both 'Marriage Story' and 'The Two Popes' - only Martin Scorsese's mournful mob masterpiece 'The Irishman' represents, for me, the potential of the streaming giant as a worthy substitute for the picturehouse.
'Green Book's excessively PC triumph only went to show how much more nuanced and unsentimental Barry Jenkin's audacious 'If Beale Street Could Talk' was in comparison. A sweeping romance that just happened to have racial politics as its backrop, this wonderful film suggested a universality amongst films headlined by black actors that thrived in 2019. Both Shola Amoo's 'The Last Tree' and Joe Talbot's 'The Last Black Man in San Francisco's social realist underbellies were secondary to coming-of-age storytelling unexclusive to any particular race, class or gender.
On a fluffier note, there seemed to be an abundance of music-related movies jazzing up auditoriums. Whether by-the-numbers biopics such as 'Rocketman' and 'Judy' or superfan paeans like 'Blinded by the Light' and 'Wild Rose', 2019 saw the back-catalogues of Elton John, Bruce Springsteen and Dolly Parton among countless others exploited for crowdpleasing appeal. The best of the bunch was on a lower key documentary note in the shape of a 60th birthday present for 'Hitsville: The Making of Motown'.
Of course, as ever, Foreign cinema has never been better. On Spanish shores, Pedro Almodovar delivered his most personal and possibly finest film with the beautiful 'Pain and Glory'. Antonio Banderas's searing portrayal of a fading film-maker got the tears trickling. My favourite Spanish-language production came from Colombia in the hallucinogenic, heartfelt Shrooms trips of 'Monos'. A modern-day 'Lord of the Flies'.
The Far East, meanwhile, saw its strongest 12 months in close to two decades. I was gripped by 'Burning' - a fiery consumer-sceptic thriller from South Korea - and sniffled my way through Lulu Wang's 'The Farewell'. Neither, though, prepared me for the emotional rollercoaster that came with Wang Xaioshaui's 'So Long, My Son'. A film which's three generation-spanning amalgamation of romance, history and mid-life crisis puts China on the map for untarnished storytelling.
2019 simultaneously had me questioning my own pre-judged prejudices when bratty Shia LaBeouf delivered a stunning performance based on his own father in the trance-like 'Honey Boy'. I was knocked out of the park by this dreamy act of cinematic therapy where poor old Shia almost had my sympathies...almost.
It wouldn't be a best of the year list without championship of British cinema which, once again, proved itself to be the master of female representation. With budding stars emerging in Vicky Knight and Honour Swinton-Byrne, both Sacha Polak's 'Dirty God' and Joanna Hogg's 'The Souvenir' provided physical proof that the best female screen talent was behind as well as in front of the camera.
I can only hope the BAFTAs recognize this where the Globes and OSCARS have failed to (no nods for Greta Gerwig again?!). Most of all, I hope they find space to shower 'Bait' with every prize going. Shot on black-and white, hand-made 16mm film, Mark Jenkin's earthly textural masterpiece has the potential to reshape the landscape of modern cinema. Specifically it suggests that historically popular film-making can survive in the technologically advancing world of IMAX, 3D and Digital Cinema. The film's surprising Box Office appeal is reason alone for champions of the traditional formats to celebrate and I can't wait to see what the future holds for the revived 16mm stock...
As ever, my complete top 10 of the last 12 months in movies is a rather incomplete one. I can't claim to have seen every movie to come out in 2019 with the likes of Carol Morley's 'Out of Blue', Harry Wootliff's 'Only You' and Olivia Wilde's 'Booksmart' being just some of the many titles I feel ashamed to have missed out on. I've largely discounted films nominated for 2019's OSCARS such as 'The Favourite' due to my long-standing scepticism of the Academy while major awards contenders for 2020 such as '1917', 'Jojo Rabbit' and 'Bombshell' don't hit Brit shores til' the New Year. These are the rules, however, and - with a quick pitstop at 5 movies that very nearly squeezed their way onto the list - here are the 10 best films of 2019...
Honourable Mentions: The Last Black Man in San Francisco, Hitsville: The Making of Motown, Good Posture, Midsommar, The Avengers: Endgame
10. Little Women
Greta Gerwig's delectable adaptation transcends time.
9. Pain and Glory
Antonio Banderas is magnificent in Pedro Almodovar's deeply personal meditation on art and life.
8. The Irishman
Martin Scorsese's mournful mob masterpiece
7. Honey Boy
Shia LaBeouf excels in this dreamy act of cinematic therapy.
6. The Last Tree
Trance-inducing coming-of-age winner is the British 'Moonlight'.
5. So Long, My Son
Wang Xiaoshaui's three generation-spanning familial epic.
4. If Beale Street Could Talk
A sweeping period romance with a chillingly contemporary edge.
3. The Souvenir
Joanna Hogg's most intimate movie to date.
2. Dirty God
A fiery portrait of digital age womanhood.
FILM (s) OF THE YEAR 2019...
TURKEY OF THE YEAR 2019...
12A, 148 Mins
'Mission Impossible: Fallout' (2018) - the sixth installment in the seemingly invincible spy saga - is a stellar exception to the rule. Director Christopher McQuarie - the only film-maker to direct more than one outing, having cut his teeth on 2015's 'Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation' - has nailed the perfect balancing act between real and unreal with a breathlessly confident action thriller that has beef aswell as bang for your buck.
If it's summer spectacle you crave, this serves it and then some including arguably the most spectacular skydiving sequence ever put to film; the camera spinning with vertiginous velocity around Tom Cruise's lean, mean physique as he is throttled over 30, 000 ft above ground. An IMAX viewing is essential, but 'Fallout' is every bit as concerned with ripping our ridiculously handsome hero open for psychiatric evaluation as it juxtaposes frenetic set-pieces against quietly contemplative moments of emotional reflection.
For many years, there was no "movie star" more reliable than Mr. Cruise with his mega-watt smile, toned torso and penchant for dangling off the world's tallest towers being the only safe bets as far as big Box Office money is concerned. And yet - at the precarious age of 56 with Box Office bombs in the shape of 'Knight and Day' (2010) and 'The Mummy' (2017) hot under his belt - the actor's promisingly indestructable star power has begun to wane in recent times as Hollywood ploughs ahead with prequels, sequels and reboots.
'Fallout' addresses the increasing fatigue surrounding Cruise's career by casting his IMF Agent Ethan Hunt as a man out of his time. Much like Daniel Craig's bedraggled Bond of 'Skyfall' (2012) (clearly the touchstone when it comes to "serious" treatments of action movie icons), he's not as sharp as he once was, misses the target on more than one occasion and appears significantly less quippy after pulling off trademark stunts.
Most of all, he has to contend with a villain bigger, brawnier and frankly prettier than him in Henry Cavill's sardonic CIA Agent August Walker who - within seconds of skydiving onto scene - makes a swaggering pitch for the next 007. Even MI's strongest episodes have lacked a memorable antagonist, but Cavill here is every bit Cruise's equal - a painful thorne twisting in Hunt's side that keeps us genuinely terrified for his safety and sanity.
As ever, the plot involving Hunt and the gang on the trail of stolen plutonium shells needs to be taken with a pinch of salt. However 'Fallout's greatest asset is its head-spinning blend of fiction and fact. Taking a leaf from the "real world" grit of Paul Greengrass's 'Jason Bourne' (2002-) films, Director McQuarie grounds the high-octane action in a quasi-docudrama naturalism that fisticuffs its way to the forefront in an unflinchingly brutal nightclub toilets punch-up; the camera juddering and jerking with every blow to create a nauseating notion that the audiences are every bit as shaken by the bone-crunching violence as its victims.
With such grim realities at stake, it's perhaps unsurprising that 'Mission Impossible: Fallout' should hide its grimy subtext behind a classic aura of playful extravagance. This is not a film that skimps on the globestrotting locations, glitzy gadgets and fiesty femme fatales we've come to love from the series; the latter provided with subversive panache by Rebecca Ferguson's bechdel-beating MI6 Agent Ilsa Faust who has a rugged edge painfully missing from a substantial bulk of Bond girls.
Racing to the snow-swept mountains of Kashmir for its final stretch, the film raises a toast to Hunt's fractured relationship with ex-wife Julia (Michelle Monaghan) who has undertaken a new identity so as to distance herself from her husband's ultra-dangerous lifestyle. Such touchy-feely indulgence could easily veer towards the excessively sentimental, but, in McQuarie's hands, provide a poignant insight into Hunt's tortured psyche; toying with questions about the price paid for a life of glamourous espionage.
In a world where empty 'Fast and Furious' flicks rule the roster, it's thrilling to find an action movie with eyes on heart and head as much as running, jumping and shooting. Cruise may be an ageing man, but shows no sign of slowing down with this thunderously entertaining espionage epic. No wonder we keep coming back for more!
12A, 152 Mins
If a blockbuster film-maker like J.J Abrams nostalgically captured the spirit of George Lucas's seminal vision, Director Rian Johnson - the independent auteur behind such diverse fare as low-key mystery thriller 'Brick' (2005) and uniquely innovative time-travel Sci Fi 'Looper' (2012) - subverts it with the result best described as an experimental arthouse flick masquerading as a $300 million studio behemoth.
Describing it as such risks alienating core fandom who could easily dismiss it as po-faced and pretentious which 'The Last Jedi' (2017) absolutely isn't. There's certainly crowdpleasing entertainment to be found in its opening moments which offers some of the most spectacularly-staged space-bound action ever filmed. In Director Johnson's hands, the explosions are not simply fireworks, however. The cinematography and editing have a crunchy physicality to them sorely lacking from Lucas's CGI cluttery; soaking viewers in the emotionally-drenched human toll that comes with any kind of warfare.
Such an awe-inspiring opener is largely groundwork for what's to come, though, as - upon a diversion to the swampy, sea-swept islands of Ahch-To - the film begins to stray away a from the tested formula. Keira Knightley-lookalike Daisy Ridley is back as Rey travelling to the Dagobah-inflected planet in search of the long-missing Luke Skywalker (Mark Hammil) to recruit him for The Resistance.
Right from his shadowy entrance into blackened cave walls with the immortal words "It's time for the Jedi...to end", it's clear that this is a darker, more mature Luke than the whiney pretty boy who skipped around in his white toga in the original trilogy. Mark Hammil gives a wonderfully unhinged performance a galaxy far, far away from his high-pitched wails of "NOOOOOO!" upon Darth Vader slicing Ben Kenobi back in 1977. He portrays the iconic hero as something of a PTSD-suffering War veteran.
What follows boldly breaks tropes embedded in 5 decades of movie mythos with 'Batman Begins'-style training scenes not only providing thrilling substitutes for the preposterous hyperspace jumps that usually accompany big-budget blockbusters of this kind, but allow Johnson to open up his characters' psyches for evaluation.
Communicating through the force, the film intersperses its intergalactic set-pieces with dream sequences that tip their hat towards the surrealism of David Lynch as Rey and Adam Driver's villainous Kylo Renn delve deep into each other's inner selves and uncover dark, twisted family secrets simmering beneath the surface. All this is bedding for an audacious confrontation within a Gothic-draped, blood red throne room that appears to have walked straight off the set of Lynch's 'Twin Peaks' (1990-2017).
At the centre of this slice of Lynchian art is an absurdist caricature in the form of Andy Serkis's Supreme Leader Snoke - a creature scarier and more grotesque than the Mystery Man from 'Lost Highway' (1997) and 'Mulholland Drive's Evil Hobo. The fact that details as strange as these exist in a movie of this size and scale only emphasises Johnson's artistic flourish. He treats this Sci-Fi spectacular with the same obscurity of the quirkiest indie project.
As the rebellious Rey, Daisy Ridley is terrific; perfecting a delicious balancing act of fiestiness and innocence. The most surprising performance, however, comes from Adam Driver who - having past the teething stage of 'The Force Awakens' - lets his weird, asymmetrical features do the talking in a portrayal that suggests Kylo Ren is far more than simply Darth Vader-lite.
With such dark, occasionally horror-like subject matter sprawling at its disposal, it's perhaps innevitable that 'The Last Jedi' should attempt to soften its thematic grit with some of the light, Buck Rogersy kitschiness that made us fall in love with the 1977 original. In any other movie, the addition of cute critters the Porgs would be a welcome source of comic relief yet - considering how "seriously" this film takes itself - here feel slightly inconistent.
Believe me, though, the fact that something as small and insignificant as that stands out as a misstep is a testament to the strength of the storytelling. I can only hope that the final 30 mins of whizz-bang hokum will deliver die-hard afficianados the kind of special-effects spectacle we've come to expect from this epochal franchise. This is a 'Star Wars' movie that dares to be different and all the better for it.
12A, 123 Mins
As comes with any sequel to a surprise hit, the novelty of the unexpected has naturally worn off with bigger expectations to fill bigger boots. And yet - despite barely treading on any new territory - 'Jumanji: The Next Level' (2019) still manages to deliver on its predecessor's kitschy blend of A-list B-movie fun and corporate extravaganza.
The plot is very much the same as previous with a group of exciteable teens stepping into the highly alive video game, only this time the game is broken which causes the characters to embody avatars not of their choice. This leads to more than one highly funny scene of the central cast imitating each other's mannerisms.
It's all amiable, colourful stuff buoyed by thrilling encounters with creepy critters, running ostriches and hungry snakes. The CGI looks good and Johnson is, as ever, a tremendously likeable presence.
The ending has everything in place for a big-budget remake of the classic Robin Williams starrer. I fear such a prospect might be pushing it though...
Netflix dominates this year's bozo awards, but a snub for Robert De Niro and an all-male director's shortlist threatens to derail any good work.
All you need to know about the Globes to judge their artistic merit is that they once awarded Pia Zadora the Best Newcomer award for her role in 'Butterfly' ( ). Believe me, that's a better joke than anything the central bunch of bozo journalists have come up with for yet another depressing year. Innevitably Globe defenders will pitch the time-old argument that the reason we should pay any attention to them at all is due to their inclination towards comedy (a genre Mr. OSCAR traditionally choses to neglect). And yet every year their decisions in the infamous "Best Comedy or Musical" showcase have us head-scratching, skin-picking and down-right gorging our eyeballs out in bafflement at their stupidity.
Take the addition of 'Once Upon A Time in Hollywood' - a preposterously ill-disciplined spin on the Manson Murders from Hollywood hack Quentin Tarantino - in the said category as an example. Regardless of my opinion of the film, the fact that something based on the slaughter of a pregnant actress is considered one of the five best "comedies" of the year is a steamin' pile of "BAH!".
Perhaps the show should redeem itself with 5 nods for 'The Irishman'. Martin Scorsese's mob masterpiece represents the most quintessentially Scorsean he's been in 30 years. Of course, the film wouldn't be anywhere near as successful without the presence of Robert De Niro who - after a decade of revolting comedies like 'Meet the Fockers' (2004) and 'Dirty Grandpa' (2016) - finally turned in a performance worthy of the golden age of 'Taxi Driver' (1976) and 'Raging Bull' (1980). And yet - while Joe Pesci and Al Pacino get very deserved recognition in the Best Supporting Actor stakes - the Globes have, for utterly unexplained reasons, left out the man responsible for documenting three decades of mob history through the blink of an eyelid. The word "travesty" doesn't even cut it.
The big Best Actor prize that De Niro stands no chance in hell of winning will innevitably go to Joaquin Phoenix who is skin-crawlingly self-destructive in 'Joker' (2019) - a divisive film that fills the token "comic-book movie" slot in the Best Drama list. I take no shame in expressing my disappointment with Director Todd Phillips's uneven supervillain study (one preachy third act too many) which, for my money, has robbed far more deserving candidates of the limelight.
Similarly, I'm slightly lost for words by the amount of love for 'Marriage Story' which leads the pack for Netflix who are streaming ahead this year with three films dominating the leading slots. With 6 nominations including two admittedly admirable spots for Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson, Noah Baumbach's film looks set to go head-to-head with fellow Netflix nominee 'The Irishman' for the major prizes. While the latter work will undoubtedly go down as a modern American classic, I can only predict the former's safe, schmaltzy concoctions will be long forgotten come this time next year.
Meanwhile, I haven't seen Sam Mendes's one-take WW1 epic '1917' which opens here January 10th and has garnered reviews like that of the Sistine Chapel, but am snorting in disbelief at 'The Two Popes' (another Netflix one) being recognized as one of the five best drama films of the year. For one thing, it ain't a drama, but a frothy buddy comedy and the concept of a film about two elderly men sitting watching the World Cup being even associated with the word "best" is beyond me.
Also what's Christian Bale doing in the Best Drama Actor catalogue? His hammy, unlocatably-accented race car driver was one of the defining factors that made me switch off during 'Le Mans '66'!
There are unquestionably some nice touches to be found elsewhere. Terrific to see Antonio Banderas get attention for his powerhouse turn in Pedro Almodovar's 'Pain and Glory' (2019) (a promising feat for an actor speaking in a foreign language). Similarly so for Cynthia Erivo who gets a subtle nod for 'Harriet' in a category dominated by Renee Zellweger's booming baritone act in 'Judy'. And yet I can't quite work out why Brad Pitt is in the Supporting Actor slot for his smug and overrated work in the aforementioned 'Once Upon A Time in Hollywood' when his best performance of the year was to be found in the deep space of 'Ad Astra'.
For the most damning results, though, simply skim your eyes down another all-male Best Directors. I'm yet to see 'Little Women' which turned out to be the surprise loser despite the early buzz (just one for Saoirse Ronan). Still I can't help, but tear up at the thought of Greta Gerwig, once again, getting nothing at all. Just like 2 years ago she got nothing at all for her assured direction on the wonderful 'Lady Bird' (2018).
Good job, Globes. Good job...
12A, 92 Mins
From its posters, 'Ordinary Love' (2019) which follows a retired couple coping with the fallout of a breast cancer diagnosis looks worryingly like a version of that film for the 40-55 year old market. How touching therefore that it should serve up earthy grit in the place of saccharine sweetness.
Directed by Lisa Barros D'Sa and Glenn Leyburn ('Good Vibrations' (2013)) and scripted by Northern Irish playwright Owen McCafferty, this wonderful film isn't embedded with false pretences about love surviving against disease. It makes sure to chronicle the soul-destroying impact Cancer has not only on its victims, but all family and friends associated with them. The result is an emotionally draining portrait of relationship self-destruction presented by two of the finest actors working today.
Much of the critical plaudits have been levelled towards Lesley Manville who is outstanding as the chemo-ridden Joan and deserves the highest awards going. However, the film wouldn't be whole without the heartfelt presence of Liam Neeson. He's brilliant as unexpectedly fragile husband Tom in a turn that strips him of the gruff grizzledness of his post-2000s renaissance as a meatheaded action hero and allows him to flex a "sensitive" side not seen since 'Kinsey' (2004).
The two stars have some of the most naturalistic chemistry I've seen in years. Not since Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone bonded like Twitter-gen Romeos and Juliets over a window have a duo of people felt so sublimely screen-suited to each other and yet the film almost cruelly strives to seperate them at every opportunity.
Your heart will split into splinters during a lengthy bed-bound argument where Neeson accuses his wife of "selfishness". It's well-earned heartbreak, though, as opposed to repetitive tugs at the heart-strings with such a scene speaking often unvoiced volumes for partners forced to bear the brunt of being a carer to their partner's illness.
If there's any downside to this film's immediate lack of sentimentality, its that it can occasionally render it televisual. There's a sparsity of cinematic flourish apparent in the dreary, Orwellian Belfast tower blocks and tightly compact hospital wards that encompass a substantial bulk of the running time. One wonders whether the odd Hollywood "weepie" moment might've lent a bit of accessibility to the grim, gruelling miserablism.
Ironically, however, the film's "televisual" quality turns out to be less a criticism of its lack of big screen prowess, but rather an indictment of its realism. Where cinema can tend towards sweeping liberties for the sake of crowdpleasing appeal, the small screen medium thrives in the by-the-book procedures and accuracy its long-form format can afford it. Within just over an hour and a half, the film-makers have provided a suitably unforgiving and melancholy look at human fragility that refuses to be bogged down by audience demands for a happy ending.
12A, 130 Mins
If there's any disappointment with his hugely anticipated latest film, it's that it lacks originality. This is, at heart, an old-fashioned murder mystery that makes little attempt to subvert any of the well-worn tropes woven by traditional works of this kind. That's not to say there isn't still plenty to enjoy in 'Knives Out' with its loving Agatha Christie pastiches, laugh-out-loud moments and lashings of Lynchian absurdity.
Daniel Craig serves up a cracking performance as the shambolic private eye Benoit Blanc. A delicious mix of Hercule Poirot and Peter Falk's Colombo, it's a role about a million miles away from his lean, mean Bond and one that allows Craig to exercise his surprising comic chops replete with classic one-liners delivered in a splendid Southern drawl.
Under investigation for the murder of an ageing writer (Christopher Plummer) are an all-star cast of cartoonishly caricatured characters - ranging from Michael Shannon to Toni Collette to Jamie-Lee Curtis - housed in a marvellous Gothic mansion which's scorching fireplace burns up every bit of scenery with the same vim that 'Ready or Not' (2019) recently brought to the comedy horror genre. Like in that film, there's a scabrous undertone of class politics at work here with Director Johnson poking and prodding at the stiff upper lip stereotypes usually associated with the rich; suggesting, once again, that the upper class aren't as stately as they seem.
There's a touch of David Lynch too to be found in the film's lengthy segments of slightly surreal individuals spending leisurely time in tranquility with singy-songy melodies simmering in the background to ratchet up the horrifying notion that this existence is too perfect to exist. It's all padding for a wonderfully absurdist climax featuring a Kentucky fried turn from Chris Evans that wittily makes use of slo-mo shots as means for a slice of slapstick humour.
Admittedly, the supporting cast could've had a little more flesh to them. In a world where the likes of 'The Killing' ('Forbrydelsen') (2011-2012), 'Broadchurch' (2013-2017) and 'The Missing' (2014-2016) have raised the bar for explorations of the emotional toll of serious crimes like murder and abduction, there's something slightly retrograde and dated about 'Knives Out's cluedo-style approach to its suspects and victims. Arguably, however, psychological depth is not part of Johnson's crime canvas though. Beyond being one on the horrors that lurk beneath the rich's seemingly lavish lifestyle, this is a satire on the "whodunnit" sub-genre itself. It makes a case that the cardboard cut-out characters that once occupied the cases of 'Miss Marple' and 'Murder, She Wrote' are relics of the past and should stay that way. Even so, I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with them here.
12A, 126 Mins
The key to enjoying Director Fernando Meirelles's film is to cast aside any po-faced pretensions and focus on career-best performances from two of Britain's best thespians for whom both OSCARS are surely due. Anthony Hopkins chews up the scenery with lip-licking panache as the ultra-conservative Pope Benedict XVI - his Germanic laugh being a highlight. Of course, he would never be able to lift such a film alone if it weren't for the sinewy magnificence of Jonathan Pryce who is barnstormingly brilliant as the unorthodox Argentinian Cardinal Bergoglio (now known as Pope Francis).
The film's strengths largely stem from the charming interplay between the titular two popes who play off each other with a Shakespearean tragicomic undercurrent of ageing individuals struggling to stay afloat in a digitally de-aging world. Anthony McCarten's screenplay succeeds in making lengthy, ponderous discussions about theology digestible for a mainstream audience through crackles of light-hearted laughs that take centre stage in a hillarious scene of the popes snuggled up around the telly, beer in hand, cheering at the World Cup.
Where it missteps are in moments the film attempts to delve deeper than its soft surface. Flashbacks to the cardinals's early lives feel forced and unweildy while the film barely scratches its shiny sheen when treading upon the sex abuse scandals that lurk behind the curtains of this seemingly orderly institution.
Like I said, though, this is not a film to be taken "seriously" at face value; rather one which requires you to simply sit back and sip the froth off the top of its very weak Cappucino. The theatricality of its performers is likely to elevate this to higher awards attention than it might receive otherwise, but Hopkins and Pryce have banterous chemistry not even found in the most boisterous good cop/bad cop movies!
Meet Roshan Chandy
Freelance Film Critic and Writer based in Nottingham, UK. Specialises in Science Fiction cinema.
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***** 2 Thumbs Up
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*** Waving Thumbs
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