Cake (2015)

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The career of romcom favourite Jennifer Aniston has had its highlights. This has clearly been one of them with her awards nominations proof that she can do seriocomic as well as hitting some notes of pathos when given the right material. A chronic pain sufferer who develops an obsession with the suicide of a fellow group member we are impressed by her orneriness and quips. Gradually the tragedy behind her back pain and scarred face is revealed against a plot of discovery and the range of worried people around her as she approaches some kind of horrible breakthrough. Patrick Tobin’s script is sharp and wise while Rachel Morrison’s photography gives us some very fine views of Los Angeles. Quietly impressive.

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Suite Francaise (2015)

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This adaptation of one of Irene Nemirovsky’s books found many years after her death in Auschwitz is powerful in a small way. It relates the problem of occupation when the Nazis take over France in 1940 and a small village is caught between collaboration and subtle forms of resistance. Lucille is living with a terrible mother in law in the second best house after the mayor and a German lieutenant is quartered with them. The struggle to survive in moral squalor and an impossible love story between invader and local are sad, inevitable and unenviable. Europe has ever been thus.

Mahogany (1975)

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There were a few fashion films made in the 70s – Eyes of Laura Mars and Lipstick come to mind – but none was so in love with the business of costume as this, a vanity project by Berry Gordy for his lady love, Miss Diana Ross. A classic career girl/rags to riches tale this one has Tracy come up from the slums of Chicago to the glitter of Roman society and that’s where we come in – a success reviewing her choices which have seen some pretty rum outcomes. Strange and effete photographer Anthony Perkins (who was himself married to fashion photographer Berry Berenson) makes her a modelling star, Jean-Pierre Aumont carries the keys to the kingdom, but activist turned wannabe politico Billy Dee Williams keeps dragging her heart back to Chicago, once again matching Miss Ross after his turn in Lady Sings the Blues. Gordy was assisted by Tony Richardson and Jack Wormser on directing duties, while the magnificent montage that decorates the midpoint sequence was made by Jack Cole. And the clothes were designed by Ross. Oh! What could be more fabulous than to love and be loved in return by a film such as this?

John Wick (2015)

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Sometimes it just takes a great line of action to get your attention.  Here it’s based on the theme of revenge – only the guy out to get his attackers is a hitman who’s taken early retirement. His wife has died, they’ve stolen his Mustang and murdered his dog in front of him. And the man is played by that most beautiful of men, Keanu Reeves. Handily, the film is directed by two stunt coordinators (though only one is credited) and they know how to make Reeves move in a convincing manner as he offs vile Russian after vile Russian. The body count is extreme. The film looks great, the plot works and there’s a sequel in the works. Another beautiful person was involved in the making of this straight arrow film – Eva Longoria, that smart as hell writer/director/producer.  No dogs were hurt during the making of this thriller.

Black Rock (2012)

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Take three girls with some differences to resolve, put them on an island where they camped as children and introduce some liquor and three badass soldiers recently returned from serving in Iraq.  There may not be too many examples of feminist grindhouse but this is probably it. It’s another feather in the cap of husband and wife team Mark Duplass and Katie Aselton (who also directs and stars) with kickass support from Lake Bell and Kate Bosworth. You go, girls!

While We’re Young (2015)

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Noah Baumbach has made some pretty smart and funny movies about pretty smart and funny people but this one really hits a nerve. Perhaps it’s the zeitgeist – the childless fortysomething creatives pitched against a world of baby fascists and hipster wannabes who will lie, cheat and thieve their way to get ahead. Or perhaps it’s just a great script with all of the above just, y’know, incidental to the bigger picture of contemporary humanity. Whatever. It’s great!

Jupiter Ascending (2015)

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The Wachowski Brothers have made some fabulous films. Now they are brother and sister their vision seems to have corrupted somewhat. This isn’t exactly the product of collective insanity because there are some spectacular visuals and a pretty cool premise – an illegal alien (Mila Kunis) turns out to be the Queen of Earth according to some actual extraterrestrials. But enough about reality. This is just …. insane.

Walk Softly, Stranger (1950)

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David O. Selznick’s European protegee Alida Valli was teamed once again with regular Joseph Cotten for this postwar meditation of small time cardsharp, gambler and allround thief Chris Hale on his return to his home town. Except that’s not his name and he is charming in a way that his Uncle Charlie was in Shadow of a Doubt for Hitchcock.  He falls for the charms of his boss’ daughter Elaine (!) who is wheelchair bound since a ski jump accident at St Morita and she lets him away with obvious lies. Until his past begins to catch up with him. Happily they don’t part company at the end as they did for Carol Reed – but this time it is a different kind of happy ending. And the film actually predated The Third Man but stayed on the shelf for 2 years. Cotten had a great face and the camera dwells on it as we empathise with a man who has an intractable but not entirely insurmountable flaw. Another interesting entry for director Robert Stevenson.

The Princess Bride (1987)

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Deconstructing the fairytale was never more fun with the Cliffs of Insanity, the Pit of Despair and the Rodents of Unusual Size decorating this reinvented wonder told by Peter Falk to his grandson Fred Savage with no kissing and more violence as per his requirements. What a story that William Goldman wrote and with a classic cast directed just so by Rob Reiner. As you wish.

Blackhat (2015)

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Michael Mann is a serious and admirable director whose work has always been distinguished by a commitment to visual expression.  This probably seemed like a good idea – an exploration of computer hacking after a near-disaster at a Chinese nuclear reactor. However the shooting style is as murky as the story with its bizarre tracking shots through tunnels, tedious interracial romance to appease an Asian audience and a frankly uninteresting hero (Chris or is it Liam? Hemsworth) taken out of prison to effect the wishes of the plutocracy. This barely stands up to a single viewing. What was Mann thinking???