An unflinching look at sex addiction starring Michael Fassbender as Brandon and Carey Mulligan as his damaged, destructive sibling. Set in a nightmarish New York geared toward making sex as cheap and easily accessible as possible, this is a difficult film filled with grim, explicit scenes. What drives Brandon relentlessly toward fulfilling his desires is never fully explained, though a troubled childhood is hinted at with the gorgeously simple line “we’re not bad people, we just come from a bad place”. Instead, Brandon’s sexual compulsion is portrayed in dark tones, exposing the desperation of an addiction that is on par with substance abuse.
Highlights: The running scene and Mulligan’s rendition of “New York, New York”.
Carey Mulligan stars as 16 year old school girl Jenny, who is on course to win a place reading English at Oxford when the charismatic yet disreputable David offers her a lift in his Bristol sports car and a way to break the monotony of suburban lower-middle class life. The title’s double entendre is played out over the proceeding hour and a half, as Jenny becomes submerged in David’s murky world of lies and deceit. The film is based on the memoirs of journalist Lynn Barber, which are given a cinematic makeover by Nick Hornby. It is at times a little predictable and maybe a touch sentimental, with easily drawn characters, but it works well as a coming of age film and serves to fill a couple of satisfactory hours on a Sunday afternoon.
Highlights: To be honest I won’t remember this film forever, but it did reacquaint me with the work of Lynn Barber, who is a very good interviewer and feature writer and not at all forgettable. So in my opinion the best part of An Education is reading Barber’s interview with Marianne Faithfull afterwards.
The Artist tells the story of silent movie actor George Valentin, whose fame is on the wane, and Peppy Miller, who is a rising star of the newfangled ‘talkies’. This is a heartwarming story told with artistry, a lightness of touch and universal appeal. It’s not particularly surprising that it has been nominated for eleven Oscars, and it is the simplicity of the story and the sincere performances of Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo and John Goodman that make this film genuinely memorable. However, it seems a little excessive to nominate The Artist for eleven awards when a film as well-crafted and adrenalin-filled as Drive has barely scraped one. While The Artist has much to recommend it – it is beautifully shot, well-performed, artistic, accessible – a friend made a good point when asking “would this film have rated as highly were there spoken dialogue?” and I’m not sure it would have. Still, certainly worth a watch if you haven’t seen it.
Highlights: The smartest dog you are ever likely to see on screen.
Ah, War Horse. I was desperate to see this film from the moment I read this illustrated review on The Hairpin. For those of you who have been living under a rock War Horse is the tale of a plucky and courageous horse called Joey and the people (mainly men) who fall in love with him, set during WW1. Directed by Stephen Spielberg for Disney, this film has the schmaltz factor turned up to eleven and I’m not ashamed to say I cried on several occasions. If you love shots of horses running through fields, being brave and watching grown men struggling to conceal their amorous equestrian inclinations then you’ve struck gold with War Horse.
Highlights: There are so many fantastic moments it’s hard to know which to rate highest without giving the ending away. The goose is pretty cool though.
Telling the story of an unnamed Driver (Ryan Gosling) who quietly falls in love with his neighbour, Irene (Carey Mulligan), who is unfortunately married to an unsuccessful criminal. When the Driver attempts to help him out things go disastrously wrong, and he finds himself in over his head with some dangerous characters.
Driver appeals on several levels. It is a cool sensory feast, beautifully styled with an excellent soundtrack and some breathtaking stunt driving. Gosling’s central figure is a classic strong silent type; a version of John Wayne reimagined by Quentin Tarantino. I defy men (and women for that matter) not to form a little crush on Gosling in this role. Whilst not perfect – it’d easy to pick a few holes in Drive’s plot – this a really enjoyable, heartbreaking, exhilarating romp of a film and deserves to have received more recognition from the Oscars than a single nomination for its sound editing.
Highlights: There was nearly another score for Drive and it’s really worth a listen. You can find here. And if you fancy getting your hands on a shiny scorpion jacket of your very own you can do so here.
If you’re feeling particularly disenchanted with love this Valentine’s Day, then Blue Valentine – with its bleak, harrowing depiction of a relationship in its death throes – might well be the film to reassure you that you’re better off alone. Or you can watch it with your partner and argue over who fucked it more, Ryan Gosling’s Dean or Michelle Williams’s Cindy.
The story of their relationship is told via flashbacks to their early days, showing us how they initially bonded and fell in love alongside their final moments following a visit to a tacky love-hotel. Whilst the film is difficult to watch in places, it’s a beautifully told story with some touching moments and leaves you with plenty of food for thought afterwards.
Highlight: Dean serenading Cindy with the song “You Only Hurt the Ones You Love” outside a discount wedding shop. The same song is played again over the credits.