JUMPCUT ALL THE WAY: The Polar Express (2004)

Directed by: Robert Zemeckis
Cast: Tom Hanks, Chris Coppola, Michael Jeter, Leslie Zemeckis, Nona Gaye, Eddie Deezen

Written by Chris Gelderd

This 2004 American computer-animated Christmas fantasy is written, produced, and directed by Robert Zemeckis. It features the vocal and motion-capture performances of Tom Hanks, Daryl Sabara, Eddie Deezen, Nona Gaye, Tinashe, Peter Scolari and Jimmy Bennett.

In the late 1950s, on Christmas Eve, a sceptical young boy (Sabara//Hanks) is whisked away from his street by a magical train called the Polar Express, overseen by a strict time-keeping but friendly conductor (Hanks). On board, the boy meets other children including a know-it-all (Deezen), a recluse (Scolari/Bennett) and a kind-hearted girl (Gaye/Tinashe) who all become friends.

The conductor sees something special about the young boy and girl and as the journey takes many dangerous and exciting routes across, through and over mountains, ice-plains and the countryside, all three of them keep an eye on each other as they rocket towards their destination; the North Pole.

Once at the North Pole with the promise to meet Santa Claus (Hanks), the quartet become separated from the train as they sneak a look around the workshop, and eventually make their way out to come face to face with Santa, and our young hero must decide if he truly believes in the spirit of Christmas once and for all…

The first ever fully motion-captured film comes from the imagination of director Robert Zemeckis, adapted from the novel of the same name by Chris Van Allsburg. With such a creative and imaginative director at the helm, it doesn’t surprise you to see this is fantastical journey taken where laws of physics are ignored, and the thrills, danger and excitement is heaped on sequence after sequence where it is obvious in places this has been made to profit the 3D experience on the big screen.

However, this doesn’t lessen the enjoyment of top-quality animation and the creepy-realism of the locations, the train itself, the wisps of snow, smoke and ice and the characters themselves. All are all rendered via computer animation to the point they can be 99% real, but it allows the other 1% to be escapist, thrown into danger and fantasy with no real risk to anyone – except maybe young viewers.

It will capture the imagination on first, maybe second viewing, but gradually on repeated watches, you come to see that the first 45/50mins or so is basically one long, dangerous train journey. It is also quite scary, un-nerving and perilous for our young heroes – scary hobos appear out of thin air to be in your face with demonic laughs and grins. Scary puppets are present in the rear carriage of the train that seem to have a mind of their own. The train itself is a monstrous beast that thunders towards and over the screen, and also races along the edges of cliff faces, ice lakes and mountain peaks where, if you’re not totally at ease, can be more nerve-wracking for young viewers than intended.

It edges into Tim Burton-esque surrealism with creepy imagery, peril and lots of tense moments that fail to capture a magical train journey to the North Pole but rather a nightmarish and disaster-filled ride that easily demonstrates exciting animation but loses that festive spirit in the story. Even segments in the finale at Santa’s Workshop edges us into peril and disaster, offering visual thrills as we race towards a crash or collision but are saved at the last minute. The soundtrack saves the film in places it drags; a thrilling and enjoyable flurry of music that is exciting, rousing and very bombastic with a sprinkling of festive charm along the way.

Tom Hanks does a superb job in his various mo-cap and vocal roles to keep your faith present as best he can, but it’s the opening and closing moments of the journey and the finale at the North Pole where he shines brightest – that wry, warm and witty Hanks gives us characters that are likeable and heartfelt, and his range is clearly on show. Our other supporting cast of relatively unknown actors help lend innocence to the children in their discovery of faith, friendship and Christmas cheer, while the mo-cap performances are near perfect in rendition.

So while the journey is itself not as magical as it could have been, the finale offers a few tender moments, much needed calm and a feel-good cheer as we discover what it means to believe in Christmas and Santa Claus; much more than toys and treats, but more about simply believing in all that is good, decent and honest. The message in the closing moments does tug at my heart-strings as it’s a wonderful summary of what Christmas should always be about, and how important it will be to preserve the magic for younger generations to come in a society so close to destroying it with commercialism.

Advertisements

The Gang Are Back In The First Teaser For ‘Toy Story 4’

“Woody has always been confident about his place in the world and that his priority is taking care of his kid, whether that’s Andy or Bonnie. But when Bonnie adds a reluctant new toy called “Forky” to her room, a road trip adventure alongside old and new friends will show Woody how big the world can be for a toy.”

Directed by: Josh Cooley

Cast: Tom Hanks, Annie Potts, Joan Cusack, Tim Allen, Bonnie Hunt

Release Date: 21st June 2019

Decade Definers: 1980s – Goonies, Gremlins and Ghostbusters: The Golden Age of the Family-Friendly Film

Written by Fiona Underhill

Full disclosure: I was born in 1980 and therefore obviously the 1980s WAS my childhood. So, I am biased when I say that the 1980s was a golden age for the family-friendly live-action film. However, I stand by it (and I’m about to show you the receipts). The 1980s were NOT a golden age for animation (which was reignited by Disney with ‘The Little Mermaid’ in 1989), but sci-fi and fantasy live-action films aimed at and featuring children, which the whole family could enjoy, were numerous and of a great quality. From epic fairytale fantasies, to aliens, robots and spaceships, to creatures on earth, to the dawn of the fear of computers and technology – there was something to bring everyone to their local smoke-filled flea pit. We didn’t get a VHS player until around 1992, so the only options were to watch a film if it happened to come up on one of the 4 TV channels (and walk to the TV to switch between those channels), or to go to our town’s one single-screen cinema. It is so bizarre now to think back on the cinema having smoking ‘sections’ (as if the smoke wouldn’t permeate the whole room) and that was how we watched films then – through a haze. The amount of choice on offer nowadays is preferable of course, but has it really improved the quality of what is on offer to children? I would argue that family films have never bettered their 1980s hey day. So, strap yourselves in for a journey back to the golden age…

Decade Defining Directors: Dante, Henson/Oz, Howard, Gilliam, Reiner & Reitman

Decade Defining Actors: Tom Hanks, Rick Moranis, Martin Short

1

Master of Puppets: Fairytale-style Fantasies

Flash Gordon (Hodges, 1980)
Time Bandits (Gilliam, 1981)
The Dark Crystal (Henson & Oz, 1982)
The NeverEnding Story (Peterson, 1984)
Return to Oz (Murch, 1985)
Labyrinth (Henson, 1986)
The Princess Bride (Reiner, 1987)
Willow (Howard, 1988)
The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (Gilliam, 1988)

This sub-genre was dominated by one man: Jim Henson. The man behind ‘The Muppets’ and ‘Sesame Street’ not only directed some stand-out films of the 80s, but had his hand (literally) in many more. The Jim Henson Company’s puppets and creatures were a defining feature of the decade and something that I have the hugest feelings of nostalgia and affection for. From NeverEnding Story’s Falkor the Luckdragon to Labyrinth’s Ludo and Hoggle; these characters were infused with such tender emotion by Henson and given fully realised character arcs and relationships with humans. It is extremely hard for me to choose, but if I had to pick just one ‘desert-island’ film of the 1980s, it would be ‘Labyrinth’. A tense and scary story, amazing creature design and David Bowie – what more could you ask for? But this sub-genre is ripe with absolute classics – ‘The Princess Bride’ is a hilarious twist on the classic fairytale with unforgettable characters such as Inigo Montoya, the giant Fezzik and Prince Humperdinck. ‘The NeverEnding Story’ shows a real-world boy, Bastian following the fantastical adventures of Atreyu and his trusty horse Artax as they battle to save the childlike Empress. ‘Return to Oz’ still haunts my nightmares with its ‘Hall of Heads’ and the terrifying wheelers. However, it has some delightfully affectionate creatures such as Tik-Tok, Billina, Jack Pumpkinhead and Gump. ‘Flash Gordon’ came from the same love of 1940s comics and serials that inspired both ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Indiana Jones’. It is an epic that traverses space, involves good vs evil and Brian Blessed. I do not know what else to tell you.

 1

A Tribe Called Quest: Adventures Run Amok

Romancing the Stone (Zemeckis, 1984)
The Jewel of the Nile (Teague, 1985)
The Goonies (Donner, 1985)
Three Amigos! (Landis, 1986)
Twins (Reitman, 1988)

The quest, the journey, the mystery, the adventure – these are tropes as old as time and ones fully exploited during the 1980s. ‘The Goonies’ is a beloved classic and involves a gang of kids finding a pirate treasure map and going on an exciting quest. ‘Three Amigos’ features SNL alum Chevy Chase, Steve Martin and Martin Short as three actors who become embroiled in a real-life battle of life and death in Mexico. ‘Romancing’ and ‘Jewel’ aren’t really aimed at children, but are PG-rated and make good companion pieces to ‘Indiana Jones’. They have a similar storyline to ‘Three Amigos’, where those writing adventure stories become involved in an adventure of their own. ‘Twins’ is the story of Arnold Schwarzenegger discovering he has a twin brother; obviously played by Danny DeVito and their quest to discover more about their parents.

1

Creature Features: Aliens, Robots, Monsters and Magic

ET: the Extra-Terrestrial (Spielberg, 1982)
Gremlins (Dante, 1984)
Gremlins 2 (Dante, 1990)
Starman (Carpenter, 1984)
The Karate Kid Trilogy (Avildson, 1984-1989)
Ghostbusters (Reitman, 1984)
Ghostbusters 2 (Reitman, 1989)
Teen Wolf (Daniel, 1985)
Teen Wolf Too (Leitch, 1987)
Little Shop of Horrors (Oz, 1986)
The Worst Witch (Young, 1986)
Short Circuit (Badham, 1986)
Short Circuit 2 (Johnson, 1988)
Batteries Not Included (Robbins, 1987)
Harry & The Hendersons (Dear, 1987)
Mannequin (Gottlieb, 1987)
Vice Versa (Gilbert, 1988)
Tremors (Underwood, 1990)

A rich history of aliens and robots visiting earth was mined with aplomb during the 80s; from the love-story (featuring a young and hot Jeff Bridges) ‘Starman’, to alien-robots in ‘Batteries Not Included’, to the classic ‘ET’ – this sub-genre offered plenty. The key was that the human story that surrounded these creatures was taken seriously and delivered with emotion, from the older people battling large corporations and dealing with Alzheimer’s in ‘Batteries’ to the single mother struggling with three kids in ‘ET’ (a story I could strongly identify with, as the Gertie of my single-parent family). Pretty much every creature you can think of got its own feature in the 80s; the mermaid in ‘Splash’ (which I’ll talk about later), werewolves in ‘Teen Wolf’ and ‘American Werewolf’, Big Foot in ‘Harry & the Hendersons’, ghosts in ‘Ghostbusters’ and ‘Beetlejuice’ and vampires in the not-quite family-friendly ‘Lost Boys’. More unusual creatures came in the form of giant underground worms in ‘Tremors’, the mysterious mogwai from the Far East in ‘Gremlins’ and the man-eating plant in 1950s-set musical ‘Little Shop of Horrors’. A home-grown robot came in the form of ‘Short Circuit’s’ Jonny 5 who befriended the beautiful Stephanie and if I were pushed, this is perhaps my favourite from this section. ‘Magic’ was introduced in a rare British entry to the 80s family film; ‘The Worst Witch’, via an ancient Egyptian inhabiting a department store mannequin and a mysterious Tibetan skull causing a father and son to swap bodies in ‘Vice Versa’. Whilst not featuring any magic, ‘The Karate Kid’ trilogy continued the fascination with cultures considered ‘exotic’ at the time and along with the cartoon ‘Hong Kong Phooey’, certainly increased interest and participation in the martial arts. It should be noted how many sequels feature in this sub-genre (perhaps demonstrating they are not a new phenomenon destroying film, as some would have you believe) and I’m going to do a shout-out here for unfairly maligned ‘Ghostbusters 2’.

 1

Fear of the Computer Age: Spaceships and Tech Going Awry 

War Games (Badham, 1983)
Explorers (Dante, 1985)
Flight of the Navigator (Kleiser, 1986)
Space Camp (Winer, 1986)
Innerspace (Dante, 1987)
Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (Herek, 1989)
Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (Johnston, 1989)

Considering the 1980s signalled the dawn of affordable personal computers and games consoles (I can remember our Amstrad and Atari with fondness), cinema actually started addressing the perceived dangers of computer technology very early on. ‘War Games’ is an unbelievably prescient and ahead-of-its-time film about a teenage Matthew Broderick thinking he is playing a computer game but actually accidentally hacking into a super-computer which controls the US military arsenal and almost starting WWIII. ‘War Games’ also managed to utilise fear of the Cold War, which very much dominated the decade, with the Russians as the perpetual villains. Of course, these films reflected a real fear and caution about what was such a new technology at the time. ‘Explorers’, ‘Flight of the Navigator’ and ‘Space Camp’ all feature children accidentally setting off in alien spaceships or earth-made rockets and their ensuing adventures. All three feature young actors who went on to adult success; including Ethan Hawke (Explorers), Sarah Jessica Parker (FOTN) and Joaquin Phoenix (who went by the name Leaf in ‘Space Camp’). ‘Innerspace’ has (a very young and hot) Dennis Quaid as a pilot, who is taking part in miniaturization experiment, being accidentally injected into the body of Martin Short. Miniaturization is also the theme of ‘Honey, I Shrunk the Kids’, which features that other most 80s of actors Rick Moranis. ‘Bill & Ted’s’ problem is less a spaceship and more time machine – which takes two very dumb surfer dude teens through history and ends up helping them ace the subject at school. In my humble opinion, 1991’s ‘Bogus Journey’ is even better.

 1

King of the 80s: Tom Hanks

Splash (Howard, 1984)
The Money Pit (Benjamin, 1986)
Dragnet (Mankiewicz, 1987)
Big (Marshall, 1988)
Turner & Hooch (Spottiswoode, 1989)
The Burbs (Dante, 1989)
Joe Versus the Volcano (Shanley, 1990)

Many of you will associate Hanks with his oscar-winning roles and Spielberg collaborations. I, however, will always think of the young, curly-haired actor who benevolently guided me through my childhood by starring in one stone-cold classic after another. Hanks began the 80s with the R-rated comedy Bachelor Party, but after that, he starred in the greatest run of family-friendly fare of any actor. Not to get too serious or maudlin on you, but my father died in a car accident in 1983 and I genuinely feel like Tom Hanks played a part in raising me. Starting with ‘Splash’, in which he falls in love with a mermaid and moving onto ‘Big’, in which the mysterious animatronic fortune-teller Zoltar causes Josh Baskin to become ‘big’ overnight – Hanks’ endearing everyman persona sold the emotion in these films. Hanks is also great at playing frustrated and thwarted by circumstance, in ‘Money Pit’, where a dilapidated house drives him crazy, in ‘Turner & Hooch’, where he plays an uptight cop teamed with a very messy and stinky mutt and in ‘The Burbs’, where he becomes obsessed with his neighbours who he believes are part of a satanic cult. Satanic cults were obviously dime-a-dozen during the 80s, because they also crop up in ‘Dragnet’, where he again plays a cop, this time partnered with Dan Akroyd instead of a large mastiff. Ritual sacrifices are ALSO a feature of ‘Joe Versus the Volcano’ (yes, I’m cheating by taking us to 1990, but there’s no way I was leaving this out). This is by far the best Hanks team-up with Meg Ryan and is, well, there is no other way of putting it, bat-shit crazy.

 

So; there you have it. Chances are, if you’re reading this, you grew up the 1980s as I did and are familiar with most of these films. You will have your personal favourites (please comment on social media with yours!) and will view the decade with similarly rose-tinted glasses to me. However, if you’re a ‘yoof’, I encourage you to dive into this decade and discover these gems for yourself. From epic fantasy fairytales, to science-fiction, creature features, adventurous quests and the ouevre of Tom Hanks – there really is something to appeal to everyone. That was the key to the 80s; films that were suitable for children, that could be enjoyed by the whole family.

My personal Top 12 (couldn’t squeeze it into 10) of 1980s family films:

12) Space Camp
11) Three Amigos!
10) The Princess Bride
9) The Worst Witch
8) batteries not included
7) The Goonies
6) Joe Versus the Volcano
5) Innerspace
4) NeverEnding Story
3) Short Circuit
2) Return to Oz
1) Labyrinth

We have more articles to share for our 80s Decade Definers, including why ‘Back to the Future’ was a game changer and a look at teenage-orientated films, so why not catch up on our previous posts before we share them with you:

The Indiana Jones Trilogy

The Birth of the Action Hero

 

The Post

Year: 2018
Directed By: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Sarah Paulson, Bob Odenkirk

Written by Chris Gelderd

For every ‘Ready Player One’, you have ‘The Post’. Director Steven Spielberg next two directorial efforts into 2018 following 2016’s ‘BFG’ include a political thriller and science-fiction fantasy. Both rely on source material, but one will include generous CGI, dazzling action and a pulse-pounding soundtrack to really blow the mind. The other relies on history, tension, engrossing acting and a grounded look at politics that transcends decades. ‘The Post’ is the latter and, in my opinion, shows when Spielberg currently is at his best delivering these kind of movies.

Much like ‘Bridge Of Spies’, ‘Munich’ and even ‘Lincoln’, this is a story with politics at the heart of it. Regardless of who or what is at the frontline of the story, it’s the looming and often unseen presence of the White House or the government in question that keeps the plot moving. With the Vietnam war as the catalyst (cue the tick box iconography of a 60s rock soundtrack, low-flying helicopters and jungle ambushes), this isn’t war film on foreign soil however – it’s a war film between the free press and the government fought in American offices and homes with printing presses, telephones and secret papers used as weapons.

At just under 2hrs, don’t expect this to jump back and forth between the Vietnam war, even if this is the root of everything. We have a few minutes at the opening, and then we are jetted back to Washington D.C for the real fight. The atmosphere is brilliant, and the sights and sounds of the early 70s look near perfect to someone young enough not to around in that decade. Everything from the press offices, the cars, the clothing and décor seems spot on and creates a perfect setting for the story. Shirt sleeves rolled up, cigarette smoke hangs in every room and a real sense of hustle and bustle that was the backbone to how the press operated under pressure.

But this is Meryl Steep and Tom Hanks’ film. While Academy Award nominated Streep delivers her role as Katherine Graham as a steadily simmering woman who fights so hard to keep her demeanour professional at all times, never letting her shell crack in front of others, I feel Hanks was over-looked also for his role as Ben Bradlee.

There is something so engrossing about Hanks in any role, and you just automatically invest in him and from the chain smoking, over-confident editor-in-chief we meet at first, he retains this but shows so much passion, drive and fight in wanting to do what is just and right that you really admire him and his team, and you cheer for him; you want him to push harder, to succeed at all costs. Streep and Hanks are the stellar actors of their generation and play off each other perfectly, and make a truly winning partnership.

With a supporting cast including Bob Odenkirk, Bruce Greenwood, Alison Brie and Tracy Lets, it’s a wide pool of talent who are character actors and need nothing more than a strong script to create a great deal of underlying tension and drama from something that is so simple when you read it on paper – no pun intended.

There are moments when the talking gets a little TOO talky, but it’s never boring or complicated to follow, and there is a strong narrative that cranks the tension up gradually every 10 minutes or so. Something happens. Someone appears. It’s little moments that build on everything else to make the bigger picture even bigger, and the outcome even more important. It has hidden messages that can be linked to the current Donald Trump administration without being a glaring “Trump Bashing” exercise, and yet never dwells on too much politics to turn you off. This is about working men and women, faced with choices that could either liberate the American people or put them all in prison – what do you do when faced with a choice like that?

You can smell the ink during a wonderfully simple moment where we witness what goes on in the printing room from creating the font stamps manually and the paper as it rolls off. Talk about a history lesson – this is how it was before the digital age, and my respect for everyone in that era increased 100% after Spielberg shows us how it was done. Plus, a nice cheeky foreshadowing of the scandal yet to come – Watergate.

‘The Post’ is a slow burning but well-paced political thriller, using every tool in the Spielberg arsenal from diegetic noise, contrasting shading, tight camera shots, stellar actors and a veteran crew without all the political conversations and jargon to deliver a relevant look at the hidden war fought on American soil that changed the free world.

As Alison Brie’s character beautifully reminds us: the press was to serve the governed, not the governors.

CHRIS’ RATING: 9 / 10

NBR Award Winners Announced

The annual National Board of Reviews awards were announced earlier this evening. Steven Spielberg’s  ‘The Post’ claimed the top prizes, including ‘Best Film’, ‘Best Actor’, and ‘Best Actress’. Greta Gerwig was awarded the ‘Best Director’ award for her directorial debut, ‘Lady Bird’.

Other NBR winners include Willem Dafoe for ‘Best Supporting Actor’ in Sean Baker’s ‘The Florida Project’, Jordan Peele won ‘Best Directorial Debut’ for ‘Get Out’, which also won ‘Best Ensemble’. ‘Coco’ took home the prize for ‘Best Animated Feature’ and Timothée Chalamet wins yet another ‘Breakthrough Performance’ award for his role in ‘Call Me By Your Name’

Full list of winners:

Best Film: The Post
Best Director: Greta Gerwig – (Lady Bird)
Best Actor: Tom Hanks (The Post)
Best Actress: Meryl Streep (The Post)
Best Supporting Actor: Willem Dafoe (The Florida Project)
Best Foreign Language Film: Foxtrot
Best Animated Feature: Coco
Best Documentary: Jane
Best Original Screenplay: Paul Thomas Anderson (Phantom Thread)
Best Adapted Screenplay: Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber (The Disaster Artist)
Best Directorial Debut: Jordan Peele (Get Out)
Best Ensemble: Get Out
Breakthrough Performance: Timothée Chalamet (Call Me By Your Name)
Spotlight Award: Patty Jenkins & Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman)
NBR Freedom of Expression: First They Killed My Father

Top Films: Baby Driver, Call Me By Your Name, The Disaster Artist,  Downsizing,  Dunkirk,  The Florida Project,  Get Out,  Lady Bird,  Logan,  Phantom Thread

Top 10 Independent Films: Beatriz at Dinner,  Brigsby Bear,  A Ghost Story,  Lady Macbeth,  Logan Lucky,  Loving Vincent,  Menashe  Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer,  Patti Cake$,  Wind River

Top 5 Foreign Language Films: A Fantastic Woman,  Frantz,  Loveless,  Summer 1993,  The Square

Top 5 Documentaries: Abacus: Small Enough to Jail , Brimstone & Glory,  Eric Clapton: Life in 12 Bars,  Faces Places,  Hell On Earth: The Fall of Syria and the Rise of ISIS

Streep And Hanks Expose A Government Cover Up In The First Trailer For Spielberg’s ‘The Post’

“A thrilling drama about the unlikely partnership between The Washington Post’s Katharine Graham, the first female publisher of a major American newspaper, and editor Ben Bradlee , as they race to catch up with The New York Times to expose a massive cover-up of government secrets that spanned three decades and four U.S. Presidents. The two must overcome their differences as they risk their careers – and their very freedom – to help bring long-buried truths to light.”

Directed By: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Alison Brie, Sarah Paulson, Bob Odenkirk
Release Date: 19th January 2018

Steven Spielberg: Top 5

Written by Chris Winterbottom

It’s going to be an interesting year for Steven Spielberg, as his upcoming adaptation of ‘The BFG’ is due to be released to UK audiences on the 22nd July 2016, and I for one am very much looking forward to it. As a child, this Roald Dahl novel about nasty and nice giants was one of my favourites, so it will be interesting to see how Spielberg’s vision fairs. The novel is obviously aimed at younger audiences, yet it also holds a real sinister edge, which I absolutely love.

Spielberg is often criticised for being overly sentimental in his films (War Horse being a near-unbearable example of this), so I do hope Spielberg finds a perfect balance between the dark edge and family-friendly tone of the novel. With this and the recent announcement that Spielberg and Harrison Ford would be re-teaming to create a fifth instalment in the ‘Indiana Jones’ saga, I thought now would be a good to go through my favourite Spielberg films. Here’s my top 5.


saving-private-ryan (1)

5. Saving Private Ryan

Criticism of this film is levelled at its sentimentality, and its inability to improve on what is one of the most groundbreaking opening sequences in cinema history. The D-Day landings which open the film is as brutal, powerful and moving now as it was upon release in 1998. I agree that the rest of the film does not reach the dizzy heights of the opening, but for me, it remains one of Spielberg’s most accomplished technical achievements. I also agree that its sentimentality becomes a little cloying by the end, but there is no doubting the technical brilliance and moving story at the heart of this film. Also the acting is superb, particularly from Tom Hanks, who delivers one of the most interesting performances of his career. Hollywood’s treatment of battle sequences changed forever after this film and it’s clear that the technical achievements have inspired other filmmakers (Paul Greengrass for example). ‘Saving Private Ryan’ is undoubtedly one of the finest war films ever made.


minority_report

4. Minority Report

This film really is an underrated gem. To tell the truth, my first viewing of ‘Minority Report’ left me uninspired; I thought it was just another middle of the road sci-fi movie. But one Christmas, I remember watching it on TV while flicking through the channels. Within seconds I was hooked and I saw a completely different movie than I did the first time around. I think this is one of Tom Cruise’s finest performances; he is so captivating and charismatic in this role it’s hard to think of another film where he is so watchable. Not to mention the beautiful cinematography which adds so much atmosphere. Where the special effects create a unique vision of the future, it is the oppressive light in the background that creates a heady mixture of noir and science fiction. The atmosphere is creepy, claustrophobic and strangely chilling. This overexposed light technique is something Spielberg has used quite often in his modern movies; he even used the technique in the recent ‘Bridge of Spies’ and it is clearly a device he will continue to use. The storytelling is also executed brilliantly and the set pieces are exhilarating.


et

3. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

A moving and expertly-crafted family story where, once again, Spielberg’s unquenchable thematic exploration of an absent father is at the film’s heart. Of course, it ends on a syrupy-sweet note but there is no doubting the films power and you would be hard pushed not to be swept up in the film’s majesty. This is a film that is as timeless as any, and E.T. himself is one of the most recognisable movie characters in history. A spellbinding performance from Henry Thomas who plays Elliot, Spielberg really did get the best from an incredibly young cast. One of the key quotes from E.T. is “I’ll be right here” and I’m sure he will be for many a year.


jurassic park t rex first

2. Jurassic Park

I personally think this is one of the finest films ever made. It is a rollercoaster ride that has all the thrills and spills you expect, as well as plenty of spectacle. But there are deep philosophical mutterings underneath the still gleaming surface, such as the fear of fatherhood and the morals of genetic engineering. This was a film long in the making for Spielberg; it is ‘Jaws’ on land and has some of the most iconic action sequences in recent cinema; the bloke on the toilet?! Wow. With strong performances throughout and Jeff Goldblum showing why he was one of the coolest actors of the ’90’s, this is one of Spielberg’s finest films and a movie that rewards repeat viewings.


jaws

1. Jaws

Of course Spielberg’s finest film has to be ‘Jaws’. Films like ‘Jurassic Park’ would not have existed if it was not for this work of genius. With the now infamous production problems with the animatronic shark, the film is an example of how financial restrictions often spark the most interesting creativity. With recent big-budget superhero films being released – films which I believe fundamentally lack imagination and creativity – ‘Jaws’ is a lesson in how to stretch a budget and invent filmmaking techniques to achieve your cinematic goal. Not seeing the shark ultimately proved to be the greatest strength of this film, because it somehow amplified the scare-factor and cranked up the claustrophobia. It was also the first film to smash the box-office; word of mouth and large publicity meant this film was sold out for weeks. Now every big-budget blockbuster tries to emulate this feat and to be honest, it works – just look at ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’. Thanks to a carefully moulded marketing campaign, no amount of bad reviews can stop a juggernaut of this scale. It is, by far, Spielberg’s greatest achievement both technically and on a commercial level. The film has inspired so many of his colleagues and even himself in recent years and will continue to do so for many more. 

Oscars 2016: Best Picture Predictions

Written by Jakob Lewis Barnes

The approach of the winter months doesn’t just mean it’s time to go shopping for a new coat, because with the cold weather and shorter days comes a growing desire for people to discuss The Oscars. It may be more than four months until the 88th Academy Awards, but that doesn’t stop anyone speculating as to who the winners and losers will be on the big night. To be honest, I’ve been guessing since this year’s ceremony ended, and whilst guesses are all we have for now, The Academy certainly have a distinct pattern to their choices, hence the term “Oscar bait”. Here are the films that are likely to make the cut and be nominated in the Best Picture category.

And the nominees are…

Sicario
Arguably, this intense thriller from Denis Villeneuve (who directed the fantastic Prisoners) is the film which started the ball rolling with all this Oscars buzz. As one of the few films in this list that has actually been released in cinemas, I can offer my personal opinion of ‘Sicario’, and if it was up to me, this would be the winner. Whilst myself, and many others, love this gritty crime flick though, it’s unlikely that ‘Sicario’ will go further than a nomination.

Steve Jobs
Nothing gets The Academy’s attention like a biopic, and with the late founder of Apple taking centre stage in this Danny Boyle production, ‘Steve Jobs’ is about as relevant as they come. A fantastic cast, led by the very talented Michael Fassbender, and Academy favourite Kate Winslet in support, ‘Steve Jobs’ has been garnering praise from early viewings and could be the frontrunner for the Best Picture award.

Suffragette
If there’s anything The Academy loves more than a biopic, it’s controversy. A cast boasting some of the best actresses around – including Carey Mulligan and Helena Bonham Carter – should boost ‘Suffragette’ and allow the feminist movement to be represented next February. It also helps that various stars, including Meryl Streep herself, voiced their concerns over the lack of opportunities and equality for women at this year’s ceremony.

Bridge Of Spies
The man responsible for classics such as ‘Jurassic Park’, ‘Jaws’ and ‘Saving Private Ryan’, Steven Spielberg, is back, and has teamed up with legendary actor, Tom Hanks, for this cold war drama. Both of these men are probably sick of the sight of these trophies, but it is very likely that this winning recipe will earn them a few more nominations to add to their resumé.

The Revenant
One man who certainly wouldn’t mind getting hold of a golden statuette is Leonardo DiCaprio, and whilst we’re sure Tom Hanks could just lend him one for the weekend, we don’t think that would quite be the same. By hooking up with Tom Hardy, and last year’s big winner Alejandro González Iñárritu (director of Birdman), Leo may well have given  himself his best chance yet at grabbing a personal award and leading his film to glory. Could Iñárritu win back-to-back Best Picture awards?

Joy
Another winning team come together once again, to bring us ‘Joy’ this Christmas. Director David O Russell, who has received nominations for his last three films (The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle), joins forces with Academy Award winner Jennifer Lawrence, and familiar faces Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro, in what could be a perfectly crafted, Oscar-bait picture. Whilst unlikely to win the top gong, it would be a surprise to see this one snubbed.

The Lobster
The film festival circuit isn’t just a fun way to spend your summer, it’s actually a breeding ground for hot productions hoping to catch the eye of The Academy. Pretty much every year there will be one or two films that thrive in the quirky world of film festivals and make it to the big stage for The Oscars. With an interesting plot, big name stars in Rachel Weisz and Colin Farrell, and plenty of hype from critics, ‘The Lobster’ could well crawl its way into the Best Picture category.

Carol
The big success story from the film festival circuit however, is undoubtedly ‘Carol’. This film, which sees Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara embark on a complicated lesbian relationship, has been lauded by critics all summer and will continue to be praised all the way through winter as it arrives in mainstream cinema theatres. It’s an outside shot, but this low-key, artistic offering could well beat the big names and steal the top prize next February.

So, with ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ unlikely to get the nod from The Academy, in favour of something more stylistically brilliant (they don’t know what they’re missing), my money is on ‘Carol’ and ‘Steve Jobs’ to fight this one out.

Oscars 2016: Best Picture Predictions

Written by Chris Winterbottom

It may be early, but with awards season kicking off, I thought I would share my tips for who will be nominated at the 2016 Academy Awards, which will be held on the 28th February. Last year’s winner of the award for Best Picture, ‘Birdman’, was part of an eight-strong group vying for that prestigious gold statuette, but the category can have up to ten films nominated. With that in mind, I’m predicting a nine horse race, considering the amount of interesting films still to be released before the big night.

And the nominees are…

Steve Jobs

After making the hugely enjoyable ‘Trance’, Danny Boyle is back to courting the big awards with this biopic of the Apple genius Steve Jobs. Michael Fassbender plays the titular character and with supporting actors in Kate Winslet and Jeff Daniels, early reviews have suggested this is the one to watch. Personally, I am looking forward to this immensely; Danny Boyle is one of my favourite filmmakers and with a script penned by Aaron Sorkin, whose other works include the wonderful ‘The Social Network’, this film looks set to be a huge success both financially and critically.

Suffragette

This recent release has seen much of its acclaim directed towards the acting performances; I am sure Carey Mulligan in particular will at least be nominated for Best Actress at the awards ceremony next February. I haven’t seen the film, but with Jennifer Lawrence’s recent essay on sexism in Hollywood, and the regular calls of discontent at the amount of roles for women and the pay they receive when they come along, I feel the Academy will include the film in the Best Picture category to acknowledge female filmmakers’ cries for equality, regardless of its quality.

Sicario

This Denis Villeneuve film is one of my favourites of the year so far. Currently, I would like ‘Sicario’ to win the award for Best Picture, but I haven’t seen the majority of the other potential nominees so it is too early to put fully commit. That said, the film is a brilliant piece of visceral, shocking and tense filmmaking. There may be nominations for its cast too, particularly for Emily Blunt and Benicio del Toro, and Roger Deakins is sure to win the Best Cinematography award for the first time. For now, ‘Sicario’ is an outsider, but we shall see what will happen in the coming months.

Inside Out

This may prove a controversial choice to some, considering no animated film has ever won Best Picture, but the amount of positive reviews for this Disney-Pixar effort may sway Academy voters. This is another film which I am yet to see, and I have to say that it is one of my big film regrets this year. I suspect that ‘Inside Out’ is the animated film most likely to pick up the Best Picture gong in February, but it still remains a big outsider. However, it was not so long ago that the majestic ‘Toy Story 3’ picked up the nomination for Best Picture, with ‘Up’ achieving this feat the year before.

Bridge Of Spies

Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks and The Cold War? I’m predicting this film will receive the most nominations of all at the 2016 Academy Awards. But I feel this movie will pull an ‘American Hustle’ – receive the most nominations, including Best Picture, but then fail to win anything. Whilst it has a chance in the Best Costume and Best Make Up categories, and maybe some of the technical categories, I just don’t feel like the ‘Bridge Of Spies’ campaign will gain enough momentum.

The Hateful Eight

Tarantino’s last two films, ‘Inglourious Basterds’ (I know it’s spelled wrong) and ‘Django Unchained’ both received Best Picture nominations, and I am certain his latest effort will deliver him another. The film’s official release date is the 8th January 2016 in the USA, which would have made this ineligible, but with a limited release on Christmas Day, I’m confident that ‘The Hateful Eight’ will be nominated. The release date is telling; films with a release date around January and February here in the UK are often the big contenders when it comes to awards. I wouldn’t be surprised if this turned out to be Tarantino’s most financially successful film, even surpassing ‘Django Unchained’, but like his previous couple of movies, I don’t think it’ll win the Best Picture award.

The Revenant

Will Leonardo Di Caprio finally win the elusive Oscar for Best Actor? Many seem to think it’ll be his year, but I think the great man will have to wait at least another year. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu enjoyed big success at last year’s ceremony with ‘Birdman’, but I think he will receive something of a muted backlash for ‘The Revenant’, at least in terms of its critical reaction. However, The Academy love Inarritu and because of this, I believe the film will be competing for the Best Picture award. More likely though, I think we could see Emmanuel Lubezki pick up another statue for his cinematography work. For those that have seen the trailer, it already looks to be a visually stunning film.

Hail, Caesar!

The Coen Brothers are back with ‘Hail, Caesar!’, a musical-comedy satirising Hollywood. The film has a 1950’s setting, during Hollywood’s golden era, and features a fantastic cast including Scarlett Johansson. This film will be the main competition for Danny Boyle’s ‘Steve Jobs’. It will certainly challenge in terms of the technical awards, like Best Editing, but in my opinion the film will most likely pick the Best Director(s) award. The Coen Brothers are no strangers to award nominations, after the receiving a whole spate of them for ‘No Country For Old Men’, ‘True Grit’ and ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’.

The Danish Girl

I am a big admirer of Tom Hooper, particularly for his work on the underrated ‘The Damned United’. But his rise to the top, in terms of British filmmakers, has come off the back of ‘The Kings Speech’ and ‘Les Miserables’. You only have to look at the poster for this movie to know that this is an unashamed, Oscar-bait project. I don’t feel like this will be much of a success at the Oscars in February, but having said that I didn’t think ‘Gravity’ would either. Sometimes there are surprises, and I am sure Redmayne will receive another Best Actor nomination for his defiant, cross-dressing role, but my gut instinct is that the film will slip under the radar somewhat.

So there you have it – my predictions for the Best Picture category. Of course, this list may well be wrong and even if it is, it does not necessarily represent the year’s best films. I often find that The Academy is completely wrong in its choices; like Christopher Nolan being ignored twice, for ‘Inception’ and ‘Interstellar’. We are talking about an awards ceremony which snubbed ‘Citizen Kane’, after all. But there is no getting around the fact that the Oscars are the most prestigious of awards ceremonies, and I think in 2016 we will see Danny Boyle and his film ‘Steve Jobs’ be the triumphant victor.