The 2010s – a decade in movies


The 2010’s has been an interesting decade. I think the popularity of superhero movies has dominated and we also got the return of Star Wars so yes, Disney were raking it in these past ten years. The decade has also further cemented the popularity of streaming services and how Hollywood has looked to these services with a greater amount of seriousness than previously and that is why big name directors like Martin Scorsese and The Coen Brothers to name but two, have launched big budget movies on these platforms. Add to this major Hollywood talent taking TV and streaming exclusive rolls, and the future looks bright for these services. That’s not to take anything away from the big screen cinema experience which I still feels has a great deal to offer, and although gimmicks like 3D have begun to fall off, nothing can beat what is still such an immersive form of entertainment.

Looking back over the decade and the numerous top tens I’ve done at the end of each year (look out for my 2019 top ten tomorrow), it’s also clear there’s been many top quality movies released, some that have gone on to become firm all time favourites. Black Swan and The Revenant especially are two of my favourites of the decade. Alongside these movies I’d also place the much underrated Stoker, as well as Shutter Island and Nightcrawler, all movies with stand out central performances and directors with a unique vision.

When it comes to the massive onslaught of comic book adaptations I’d call the first Avengers movie as well as Avengers Infinity War, the brooding (and brutal) Logan and the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie all solid gold entertainment. Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Wonder Woman can also join that list. It’s a shame then that DC on a whole couldn’t live up to Marvel’s consistency with Batman V Superman and Justice League both disappointing.

Horror, so stuck in a rut for longer than I can remember began to finally discover a new lease of life with directors like Jordan Peele, Ari Aster and Fede Alverez delivering breath-of-fresh air experiences like Us, Hereditary and Don’t Breathe, and even remakes like Evil Dead and IT didn’t feel as stale as they could have done. Add to this Far Eastern gems like I Saw the Devil and Train to Busan delivered a high level of quality to the genre.

If I was to pick my personal favourite movies of the decade, I’d have to choose Christopher Nolan‘s mind-bending Inception, Alejandro González Iñárritu‘s utterly unique Birdman, the aforementioned Black Swan from Darren Arronofsky and Wes Anderson‘s captivating Grand Budapest Hotel, although the fan-boy in me might also place J J AbramsStar Wars: The Force Awakens on that list just because…

So yes the 2010’s has been a great decade. It further pioneered special effects, unique approaches to story telling and proved the blockbuster still could have depth beyond the avalanches of CGI. It also gave us career defining performances. We also have it better than ever for home entertainment. What the next decade has waiting for us I can only dream but know that the much delayed but highly anticipated Avatar sequels will be a good start.

Roll on 2020 and beyond…

Star Wars: Episode IX


Viewed – 23 December 2019 Cinema

The Rise Of Skywalker

If this wasn’t my most anticipated movie of the year, I don’t know what was. I struggled with the last entry, The Last Jedi a movie that with subsequent viewings has gone up in my appreciation but remains highly uneven. This final movie though and the conclusion of the Skywalker saga brings forth the return of a long suspected dead enemy … The Emperor! With a new threat to the galaxy, Rey and her friends intend to seek out and destroy him once and for all, whilst conflicted Kylo Ren intends to turn to him for guidance as the new supreme leader of the First Order.

I’ll admit this storyline comes a little out of nowhere and is a blatant attempt to steady the ship following some of Rian Johnson’s ill-conceived plot twists in Last Jedi … but the return of Ian McDiarmid‘s Emperor Palpetine was welcome and the ageing actor nails the necessary maniacal menace. The immediacy of the threat propelled the action from the off as we’re treated to some great battle sequences, mixed with solid character moments that showcase the chemistry this new cast still has. The psychic bond between Daisy Ridley‘s Rey and Adam Driver‘s Kylo-Ren turns out to be the big focus and is further explored and the movie used it in several creative ways. It proves the best aspect and is surrounded by many highly entertaining scenes including a plot thread involving C3P0 losing his memory and some (thankfully) well-timed humour as well as a perfect tone that took me right back to how it felt seeing Star Wars as a kid.

If I had to nitpick it would be the obviously forced Emperor plot, and the first act overly frantic. And like all Star Wars movies it has some silly bits, and there’s a couple of jarring character moments (General Hux!?!). Yet in the grand scheme of things it’s so damn enjoyable, such gripes can be forgiven. As a story that has spanned over 40 years, this felt like a fitting conclusion and ticked many of my boxes. There was a lot riding on this final movie and the conclusion of such a long running saga. There’s not a great deal here that makes this trilogy a story that had to be told other than to reintroduce Star Wars to a new generation and make up for the failings of the prequel trilogy. Yet with highly memorable characters, some great moments (and some questionable ones) I feel this has still been a worthwhile endeavour for the filmmakers and as a fan I am overall satisfied with what they achieved.

Verdict: 4 /5

Star Wars: Episode VIII


Viewed – 20 December 2017  Cinema

The Last Jedi

After what I’d call the triumphant success of Episode VII: The Force Awakens for re-establishing a much loved franchise and resurrecting it from the ashes of George Lucas’ mostly misguided prequels – I awaited this follow up in the proposed trilogy with no small degree of anticipation.  What would Luke Skywalker say to Rey on top of that mountain?  What would Kylo Ren do in wake of what he did to his own father Han Solo?  I was about to find out…

Following the destruction of star-killer base, Kylo Ren and General Hux lead the First Order in an assault against the resistance to restore rule over the galaxy. Rian Johnson (Looper) takes over directing duties and has delivered what largely looks like a Star Wars movie, has the action and confrontations you’ll expect from a Star Wars movie, but offers up a decidedly different feel than expected following Force Awakens and Rogue One.  This is a much more lighter in tone movie with what appears to be a stronger focus on a somewhat child-friendly audience with as a result, a surprising lack of menace.  Almost every serious situation is sprinkled with humour, sometimes well judged, sometimes out of place.  When two of the main bad guys end up coming off like a squabbling comedy double act, something seemed a little off.

Kylo RenThankfully we do get what we came for, especially Rey (a more mature Daisy Ridley, settling into her role) finding herself getting reluctantly trained by a world-weary and cynical Luke (Mark Hamill), and discovering a telepathic link with Kylo Ren (a still slightly bratty yet complex Adam Driver).  This as expected turns out to be the movie’s beating heart, with the myriad of space battles and daring missions onto enemy starships proving less enthralling (especially that casino sequence).  Finn (John Boyega) again sits awkwardly between hero and bumbling buffoon, with Po (Oscar Isaac) taking a (much appreciated) larger role at the forefront of the dogfights and fancy X-Wing piloting.  However the late Carrie Fisher seems to get put on a pedestal (be it intentionally or following reshoots after the iconic star’s passing) and is bizarrely given a rather God-like stature with one scene in particular just coming out of nowhere, leaving me baffled. She’s great, but her character doesn’t seem to fit in with what we’ve previously known.

That’s ultimately where Episode VIII falls a part.  Characters that we’ve grown to know and love, are poorly handled (Luke included), add to this a Saturday morning cartoon vibe to action, performances and situations, and although I still gasped at certain moments and got the feels where it counted … I also didn’t get all that invested – and I really should have.  For it’s pluses and minuses, this is still a fun, visually spectacular and at times exciting sequel.  Yet as a long time Star Wars fan, it leans closer to those prequels than either the earlier movies or the recent ones … and that’s slightly worrying.

Verdict:  3 /5

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story


Viewed – 29 December 2016  Cinema

George Lucas’ shock sale of his beloved Star Wars to Disney seemed like a concern at one stage.  Yet considering the work he’d done delivering three prequels that seemed to focus more on CGI than gripping narratives with fully fleshed out characters … perhaps it was time for another company to try their hand?  The result?  Well we got The Force Awakens and the rest as they say, is history.  Or is it?  The proposed continuation of the saga was also going to have a series of spin-off movies focusing on plots away from but connected to the main saga.  So despite that last movie’s un-argued success in bringing back a once treasured franchise … it could still all go tits up.

Rogue One

Jyn is the daughter of a scientist who at the beginning of this movie gets taken away to work on the Empire’s latest weapon.  Yes Daddy is helping build the death star.  Cue fifteen years after and Jyn is all grown up and seeking out the rebellion and the man who rescued her after her father was taken.  However along the way she befriends a reluctant assassin (Diego Luna) and his sarcastic droid and also a defected imperial pilot (Riz Ahmed).  Turns out there’s a mission to steel the plans to the death star in hope of finding a weak point, and so sets forth a sort of inter-galactic dirty dozen and boy, was I along for the ride.

droidA different beast to The Force Awakens but every bit as polished and entertaining, this boasts several stunning battle sequences that possibly eclipse that movie and strong performances, especially from newcomer Felicity Jones and her band of brothers, including a blind monk played by martial arts supremo Donnie Yen.  The movie plays itself rather serious for the most part but still finds time for gentle in-jokes and plenty of ‘was that…?’ and ‘hey that’s…!’ visual nods to Star Wars of yester-year.  Effects work is some of the best I’ve seen this year, even down to a shockingly real (sorry…spoilers) recreation of Peter Cushing’s Grand Moff Tarkin from the very first movie (apart from those eyes…).  Add to this perfect set design, costumes and some gorgeous cinematography and well, this had my jaw hitting my lap on a regular basis.  That much loved mysticism of Star Wars, especially the force, Jedi’s etc. seemed pushed aside however in favor of a more gritty ‘mission’ structure.  It also has to be said, some of the support characters were under-developed.

This could have been just a simple cash-in.  Yet director Gareth Edwards has made an inspired ‘alternative take’ on a familiar franchise and delivers a loving celebration at the same time.  So if you hadn’t figured it out already – I loved this.

Verdict:  5 /5

Star Wars: Episode VII


Viewed – 22 December 2015  Cinema

The Force Awakens

So much will already have been said, written and tweeted regarding this much hyped and highly anticipated seventh episode in the once beloved saga, that my opinion will matter little … but hear me out because to say I have been looking forward to this movie all year, is an understatement.  It’s one of those movies that surely can’t meet the giddy expectations I and many others have bestowed upon it or recapture that wonder and magic I felt on seeing the classic trilogy as a child.  Or can it?

StarWarsTFA

The story follows primarily two characters, that of storm trooper Fin (John Boyega) who has a moment of uncertainty that causes him to flee the first order (the new evil villains in place of the empire), and that of scavenger farm girl Rey (Daisy Ridley – a fantastic find).  The two unwittingly get thrown together and stumble upon wonderfully cute and attitude-filled droid, bb-8 who has a map that could lead to an in-hiding Luke Skywalker’s location.  New bad guy Kylo Ren is searching for him to prevent any possibility of the Jedi’s turning up and wrecking his plans for galactic domination.  Along the way the two would-be heroes find help from two familiar faces, namely Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca.

StarWarsTFA2Now let it be said this movie plays heavy homage to the original three movies, especially the first 1977 classic, with clever in-jokes, subtle nods and a few plot similarities.  However it also manages to sprinkle the old with many fresh ideas of it’s own and with a script that has clearly been written with genuine care for it’s characters whilst ensuring it all feels like a Star Wars movie, I came away from this very impressed indeed.  New faces Fin & Rey do a perfect job of giving us someone new and interesting to invest our time in whilst leaving them mysterious enough to build on in later sequels.  Han Solo, Chewbacca and (formerly Princess now General) Leia (Carrie Fisher) all feel vital to the plot also, with Han especially helping drive the story alongside his younger co-stars.  Add to this a villain with real depth in the shape of Darth Vader-wannabe Kylo Ren and all the ingredients are in place.  Director J J Abrams has done a stellar job, capturing the correct feel and tone and also filling the movie with spectacular action, yet making sure there was all the depth and believable characterisation that had been (for the most part) missing from the prequels.

StarWarsTFA1

I’ll add a few nit picks that are simply that, as this is a movie that does nearly everything right and fixes many issues the prequels (and to an extent) even the original trilogy had – but Supreme Leader Snoke just wasn’t very scary or intimidating and just looked like an out-dated CGI effect (made all the more jarring considering the movie’s otherwise reliance on practical effects).  Also, considering the hype surrounding Kylo Ren’s bad-ass three-pronged light sabre in the trailers; this guy is wielding it every chance he gets (even during a couple of tantrums) and so the build up to him actually using it in a duel is watered down due to over-exposure.  Also the many nods to A New Hope are a bit too blatant at times (and did we really need another death star?).

But … like I said small things in what is easily the best movie in the franchise since The Empire Strikes Back.   The Force truly has awakened.

Verdict:  5 /5