Hosts Giles Alderson and Dom Lenoir discussed their film of the year on the podcast but what was their full top ten favourite films of the year?
Take a read below of numbers 10 down to 1.
DOM LENOIR – The Son
The Son is a follow-up if not directly linked to Director Florian Zeller’s past film “The Father”. It deals with equally challenging subject matter and is what you would likely consider a straight up “Drama film”. Hugh Jackman plays the slightly absentee father, Laura Linley the mother whose lost connection with her son, and Zen McGrath plays said son. The film turns the popular trope on its head of the father not being around, as in this Hugh Jackman’s character for all his faults (namely was he to blame for breaking up the previous marriage?) steps up to offer up the teenage son staying with him and his new partner(and new mother) Vanessa Kirby to try another approach at helping his son.
The film takes a head on look at the complexities of mental health, and importantly how hard it is to see the cracks at times, or more importantly unwilling to see problems that a parent feels unable to solve. Vanessa Kirby’s character sees all and has to bare the burden of knowing about the Son’s behaviour and fearing where it must go, but having to deal with Hugh’s heartbreaking want to believe his son is getting better. The Son’s mother feels disenfranchised and perfectly demonstrates the gap that can grow when a parent and a child lose connection and how alienating it can seem.
GILES ALDERSON – The Swimmers
Sally El Hosaini’s stunning sprawling emotional heartbreaking and visually captivating tale about two Syrian sister swimmers is a must see. Hope, horror but makes a splash
Listen to our episode with Sally on how she made the film here
DOM LENOIR – Emancipation
The film starts in the grey area of the civil war where Slavery had been abolished on Lincoln’s side yet not for the southern counties and their generals. Will Smith plays the father and husband of a small family and is soon taken from his family to a distant camp to join the war effort of construction.
It’s immediately a tough film to watch, with attitudes and racism prevalent and a complete lack of humanity from the captors. The acting and scenes are handled with a sensitivity and rawness that is needed and forms as the glue to Smith’s journey.
Word soon gets out that slaves were freed up north and Smith and some companions, facing the cruel and ruthless jailor (played by Ben Foster) decide to try to make it to Lincoln’s armies. What follows is a game of cat and mice in the swamps and credit to the filmmakers and actors – you get a real sense of the dangers of the landscape, the brutality of the hunters and just how big the struggle is to escape. Hunter Ben Foster charges on his horse with the presence and terror of one of the horsemen of the apocalypse. The film has a bleach bypass look that works well in capturing the muted mood of its characters and the cinematography and music are hugely cinematic.
Director Antoine Fuqua manages to balance very well bringing the drama to life in a humble and down to earth way, whilst simultaneously bringing huge visual spectacle to the film, beauty and scale. Burning houses at night echo Roger Deakins Silhouettes, both beautiful and terrible in the vignettes of looting and war, whilst the wartime set pieces are so huge and grandiose in camera movement and scale they’d feel at home in a Spielbergian war film.
One of the positives of the film is it doesn’t sure coat or over humanise certain characters, Ben Foster’s back-story moment doesn’t really reveal any reasoning and his past reveals what should be quite the opposite to how he should feel about his hunted subjects and captives. Similarly once Smith and companions do find Lincoln’s armies, the sobering reminder is that they are only free once they have served as soldiers and often used as cannon fodder.
It is a film at its heart about inner strength, remaining strong in the face of evil and de-humanisation, and a quest to re-unite with family. It also shows the battles and war effort of the civil war as well as the landscape in a way I’d rarely seen capturing and was visually brilliant. Overall a story we may have had glimpses into before, but with a new and expansive lens this time.
GILES ALDERSON – Prancer: A Christmas Tale
Ok, slightly biased here but Phil Hawkins delightful playful clever Christmas feature has some wonderful set pieces, smart camera moves and standout performances. A real heartfelt Christmas cracker.
DOM LENOIR – All Quiet on the Western Front
War movies are often typically a mix of heroism and sacrifice, small acts of bravery and kindness found in impossible circumstances. All Quiet on the Western Front has all of those things, the difference is the message. Typically there is some great higher purpose involved that the characters must band together for and in the end an objective or some great wisdom is gained. In this film we know the outcome, we know how little ground is gained and lost despite the millions of lives lost and we know how futile it all is for everyone, but most of all the German soldiers.
We join the story with our young soldiers, fresh and hopeful and ready to find glory at war. In their minds they recant stories of recent heroes of past battles and think similar glory awaits them in this war. Before they even set a foot into the trenches they are victims of propaganda. We immediately meet the films antagonists, and it isn’t the enemy soldiers, it’s the generals and war correspondence sugar coating the facts, the deaths, the futility under the guise of some great cause.
You feel the losses of life and the scale of this deceit and suffering as well as the reality of war in the details that director Edward Berger focuses on – a pair of muddied boots hanging on a truck, the thousands of badges from dead soldiers in factories where uniforms are repaired and passed off as new, the texture of the trenches and it’s horrendous living conditions.
As we follow the journey of Albrecht Schuch’s character and his friends we are able to see glimpses of friendship and the moments of quiet people found between the horrors of war. We see the simple joys that are taken with full embrace; such as a plump bird stolen from a local farmer and secretly cooked amongst friends.
Behind the scenes of the war itself, Daniel Bruhl’s politician character highlights the film’s real message which is the hypocrisy and excess of the leaders who send their men to death and have no possible link to the horrors and reality of what is going on. Bruhl and a few others desperately plead for peace whilst ego’s and narcissism keep things in stalemate, knowing full well the death count of every minute or hour it carries on.
The heroes of the film slowly die one by one, some by bad luck, others simply by war, or losing their sense of reality in the battlefield leading them to death. As we near the end and two of the men are still alive and well and we start to think there might be redemption, it is taken away from us, this is no Hollywood storytelling.
When at last some kind of peace seems on the horizon, the most appalling atrocity occurs with a general deciding that despite the armistice being agreed his soldiers would find glory in one last unexpected push. It is one of the hardest and most horrendous things to get your head around, as men who have made it through the whole war are sent to their deaths for a totally meaningless assault, or somehow worse shot as they refuse. This is the final message of the film, in wars like this there is no redemptive happy ending, and the soldiers on either side are often just the mechanisms of cowardly power hungry generals and leaders.
It’s an utterly brilliant, all encompassing and devastating film to watch, from the grinding ominous march of the music score, to the extremely cinematic and massive scale that the war and
visuals guide you through, but what makes it the hardest is growing to like the poor souls who are thrown into it and churned out. If this isn’t a lesson against war, I don’t know what is.
GILES ALDERSON – The Phantom of the Open
Craig Roberts proving once again he a director to be reckoned with in this quirky comedy that see’s him and Mark Rylance knock out a hole in one again.
Listen to Craig chatting on the podcast here
DOM LENOIR – The Wonder
Sebastian Lellio does indeed craft one of the year’s wonders, and partly because it’s an unexpected gem. Sometimes these period dramas can feel slow and almost too restrained in an attempt for authenticity to the era and can feel a little gruelling as an audience.
Lellio’s remedy for this is by keeping the pace and mystery high, and bringing that realism in with meticulous attention to detail in aspects like the slop of the food, the uneven textures and walls of buildings and the vastness of the Irish landscape.
The film finds its engagement also in its tension, for at its core it is essentially a science vs religion debate – but with a twist…
Florence Pugh holds the line for team science, and as audience we are thrown into her perspective – dealing with a young girl supposedly alive without food for long periods of time, surely it must be trickery and religious exploitation?
Science may come in with a pragmatic arrogance but the religious folk and ironically Toby Jones who plays the doctor also seems to be more on the side of dogmatic fervour than measured thought.
This must be a religious miracle, and how dare Pugh question this. Pugh plays a fine line of ethics and grounds the film nicely as she faces resistance from everyone, from the family themselves to the doctor and the council run by people with somewhat backward views.
The biggest credit to the film-making really comes in its twist. We are led further down the idea that this miracle is a case of religious propaganda causing harm throughout, until the realisation that all this comes from a time of famine and poverty gives the film a sobering and touching third act. Both science and religion are put aside once the trick is discovered, and in the face of an unwillingness to dispel the myth it is a person who wants to save lives and save a little girl, thrown together with a nice little romance story that saves the day.
The magic of the film really takes off when we meet the family, Kila Cassidy shines as the breakout star daughter, and mother Elaine plays her uncompromising character perfectly. Niamh Algar, delivers enigmatic raw talent where you are simultaneously fascinated by the honesty of her acting yet never quite sure of her intentions or thoughts.
It’s an interesting and satisfying film to watch, and whatever you think of the intro/end segments in the theatre, it feels like a fresh and worthy contender for awards season.
listen to our podcast episode with director Sebastian Lelio, actress Niahm Algar and screenwriter Emma Donaghue here
GILES ALDERSON – All Quiet on the Western Front
Ed Berger’s harrowing, heartbreaking drama told from the German side of the war based of the novel of the same name is visually sumptuous and equally tragic in the same breath.
Listen to the podcast with director Ed Berger and stars Daniel Bruhl and Albret Schuch here
DOM LENOIR – Armegeddom Time
I think there is an expectation sometimes to reinvent the wheel with every film. Armageddon time isn’t necessarily doing that but I don’t feel it’s anything to hold against it. It has themes we have of course seen before – how your race or background affects your lot in life, or the unfairness of how events can pan out.
What it does do very well is cover the generations of a family, and the vital role grandparents can fill in finding an outside perspective and influence to children who don’t always see eye to eye with overbearing parents.
It also successfully explores the way children’s friendships can be some of the most important we form and how lost souls can come together for these formative moments in childhood. It covers the dysfunction of families in a way that is touching and challenging to the viewer.
Sometimes it’s just nice to watch a good drama, and Anthony Hopkins brings a warm touch harking back to other times. Jeremy Strong is interesting to watch outside of Succession and Anne Hathaway does what is needed as the conflicted mother. It may be a film that slips under the radar but perhaps it shouldn’t.
GILES ALDERSON – Cha Cha Real Smooth
A tender hearted Reagan is a disappointment in life but Cooper Raiff who masterfully plays Reagan is not. Joyous in its telling of humanity and how we can survive through it all done in a wonderful comedic tone in this offbeat rom-com by writer, director and star Cooper Raiff ! A talent to watch out for!
Listen to the xmas quiz podcast episode below
DOM LENOIR – Causeway
Causeway is a brilliantly crafted 2 hander and proof that you can make exceptional drama without tonnes of bells and whistles or a huge ensemble.
What makes it so impressive is that this is from debut feature director Lila Neugebauer who certainly doesn’t craft it like a first film. It’s engaging and dramatic without ever feeling slow or cumbersome like stripped back movies can be at risk of.
Equally impressive is producer Justine Ciarrochi whose first feature this also is.
The film’s message is strong, wartime PTSD for Jennifer Lawrence’s character, but equally fascinating is Brian Tyree who holds his own and has his own PTSD story. In this day and age of mental health awareness, ptsd is no longer kept for wars alone and its great that it is being recognised and dealt with across broader drama as well.
The dynamic is brilliant between the two actors, Brian a man of few words and extreme depth and Lawrence firing out an Oscar worthy performance. It is also a masterclass in writing an acting of the less is more approach, and allowing subtext to take the centre stage.
It’s a really solid movie that manages to cover heavy subjects whilst feeling original and engaging and never overwhelming. Having interviewed the Director and Producer, it was also refreshing to see how down to earth and open they were as creatives. No doubt there are long careers ahead for them both.
GILES ALDERSON – Elvis
Rich in visuals and classy in tone and camera work. Baz Lurhmann constantly keeping on top of his game in this rush through Elvis’ life. But the wondrous ability to not only delivery engrossing cinematic consistency but the skill to make us us care in this deeply moving biopic. Clever and inventive.
DOM LENOIR – See How They Run
Sometimes a film comes along that is just enormously enjoyable. It is partly down to the very capable direction, in what feels like something in the same ballpark and yet very different to a Wes Anderson film, but it is primarily down to the cast.
Saoirse Ronan is magnificent, playing the subtleties of humour to perfection and working as a charming pairing with Sam Rockwell, who does the physical comedy and lack of enthusiasm to a Tee. Saoirse absolutely nails her character and is intensely entertaining at all times, deftly walking her comedic moments with a sort of hapless brilliant realism. Rockwell is by no means a lesser performance and their dynamic is very much dependent on the success but he is the more subtle and perhaps physical comedy to her brightly burning character.
A film that could easily have been over the top is handled with the right balance of restraint and quirky charm and keeps an enjoyable pace. Should have been called See how they pun with some of Soairse’s brilliant one liners too.
It is worth a special mention to Harris Dickinson and Shirley Henderson stealing their scenes but the acting is great across the board with some excellent cameos and supporting roles. It’s just a brilliant and fun film that takes a popular play and still manages to make it fresh and engaging. It’s very hard to fault the film, with the mystery and atmosphere never neglected either and especially with how challenging making a good comedy is. Saoirse deserves full praise for her performance.
GILES ALDERSON – Boiling Point
Philip Barantini’s exceptional feature was a treat for the senses and made in one take too. Not only did it get under the skin and keep you on the edge of your seat it was masterly handled by one of the UK’s upcoming future directing stars. Oh and did I say it was shot in one take too. Hugely impressive!
Listen to the episode with Phil about how he made Boiling Point here
DOM LENOIR – The Good Nurse
It can feel like a slam dunk when you have a true story to adapt but it is of course a double edged sword. Too close to the truth and facts and you can lose structure and drama from the experience, too fictionalised and critics tear it apart. I’ve always found the key is to capture the essence of a life or event and as long as that is handled with restraint I am happy with a bit of creative lice.
The Good Nurse is an extremely tight, gripping drama which covers a key period in the life of a nurse and mother who comes to realise her close friend is in fact killing patients.
Director Tobias Lindholm favours the truth and when discussing his collaboration with Krysty Wilson Cairns (one of our podcast favourites) he talks of stripping back the story to its key elements and bare bones. Now in other hands this approach may lead to a somewhat documentary or slower pace feel but in Tobias hands it actually still delivers a very moody, accurate experience that’s fraught with tension and good drama.
Holding it together is a magnificent performance from Jessica Chastain as a mother with a serious heart condition and relying on Eddie Redmayne’s character for support.
As Krysty says, double down on the details and it’s those choices of capturing the hectic busy nature of these hospitals and the corporate money led approach to patient care that the atmosphere is set and you can see how this story occurred.
The brilliance of the film is that his actions as a murderer are not aligned with his friendship with her. He is to intents and purposes a vital and good friend to her, and despite his actions he doesn’t cross any lines personally. It’s a fascinating case study and conflict personified for Chastain. The film offers no easy answers to why he is how he is and that authenticity to life is a sobering yet important thing to watch.
It also does give a warm fuzzy feeling when the people behind the film are welcoming, humble and down to earth, and I thoroughly enjoyed my chats with Tobias, Krysty, Eddie and producer Scott Franklin.
Best acting, direction, picture and writing are all considerable for this and possibly a nod to the cinematography which really brought hospital work to life.
Listen to the episode with Tobais Lindholm & Krytsy Wilson Cairns here
GILES ALDERSON – Blonde
Startling visuals and a very Oscar worthy lead.
Actors transforming into historical figures is never easy, especially when that figure is Marilyn Monroe but Ana de Armas was so beguiling from the off it is totally understandable why all the Oscars buzz is still floating around some six months later
“Blonde,” portrays a fictionalized version of Monroe’s life, death and transformation from Norma Jeane Mortenson into celebrity and cultural sensation. It is a stunning piece of work by Director Andrew Dominik who leads us down the path of caring for the vulnerable and lost Marilyn and her ultimate tragedy with aplomb and quite frankly wondrous visuals.
It’s been described as “brutal”, “relentless” and generally unnecessary but even though there are some disturbing scenes I disagree and believe this is an important message about loss, addiction and the ‘fame culture’ that is all too prevalent now.
DOM LENOIR – The Fablemans
What makes a good film? I’ve always thought the background mechanisms and creation are vital but second to the film’s message. Who it reaches and whether it makes its audience think, feel or connect. Film ultimately is objective and whether you view a film as a good piece of its craft or not is a separate question to whether you connect with it. I find it hard to fault Fableman’s on either count, from a technical standpoint we are never going to have any complaints from a Spielberg effort and that box is thoroughly ticked for me. From a humanistic perspective I see this as a love letter to filmmaking and more importantly how they are made.
The Fableman’s follows the life of young Spielberg as he struggles with family issues and not fitting in at school. I found it a deeply personal experience, afterall many of the greatest creatives are introverts whose love for imagination and storytelling somehow sets them aside as outsiders in the popularity and appearance focused school years. One of the most interesting elements of this is an oscar calibre locker room scene when Spielberg faces down a deeply conflicted bully. It is a moment of deep confusion for the jock who simply does not understand the young filmmaker, and is forced to face his own behaviour and an act of unjustified kindness in the face of his own bad behaviour towards Spielberg. These moments of contradictions where humans are not laid out in clear terms and they react in fascinating and unexpected ways are really the closest to realism and depth we can get and it is a sign of brilliance in filmmaking. It is the scene with David Lynch that again captures something beyond your average filmmaking, a comedic touch thrown back into the wild and crazy days of hollywood past that throws something new and brilliant into the films trajectory.
We also explore the vital role of figures such as Spielberg’s mother, father and Uncle in his journey to filmmaking. Without someone to feed our imagination with good books, films, games or perspectives, how would anyone flourish into the great filmmakers of our times afterall? He treats his family story with respect and a vulnerable honesty, showing not only their inspirations and help but the conflicts and questionable behaviours. No one is perfect and it’s refreshing to see someone so successful as Speilberg’s routes and to see their struggles and challenges to fit in and finding their way in life.
Whether it connected with you or not as a film, I think it’s a brilliant film to watch for anyone keen to see the journey that we filmmakers go through, how for many it is a passion that grips us above all else from an early age and the things that end up sacrificed to follow what is often a difficult path that conventional “job wisdom” would often warn against following. People sometimes label a film overrated because of hype or expectations ahead of it, I’ve sometimes heard things that have coloured my experience but I certainly don’t think this is one of those cases. I think it’s a magnificent, honest and touching drama that can make many of us reflect on our roots or those special magic moments that inspired us so many years ago to take up the torch of filmmaking. After all, when times are tough on the long crusade of filmmaking, to know someone like Steven Spielberg was once there is a deeply comforting thought. It should certainly be up there for Best Picture and Best Direction.
GILES ALDERSON – Top Gun Maverick
What can you say that has already been said and will be said by Dom Lenoir (spoiler) below. This is a delight from start to finish. Incredible feat of film-making, ingenuity bravado and the balls to wait until cinema’s have re-opened before releasing it. What a decision that was! High fives and high flying claps all around. A must see.
DOM LENOIR – Top Gun Maverick
As I wandered into the cinema, expectations were set fairly low. These kinds of feel good popcorn drama movies with heart are few and far between these days and a lot of reboots lose touch with what made the original great.
My worries were soon dismissed. From the opening credit sequence I was putty in the hands of the filmmakers, taking me straight back to the joy of a 7 year old kid watching the original for the first time, unable to process the unbelievable excitement of fighter pilots and Hollywood heroes battling it out over Tony Scott’s romantic and heartfelt cinematic backdrops. It’s hard to actually express the joy I felt watching this movie but I assume it’s what normal people feel about their kid or favourite pet. The mistake above all others with adaptations or reboots that’s made is trying to reinvent the wheel and thinking the audience will think it’s a great idea. Director Joseph Kosinski let me know straight away that we are not only in safe hands but this is something that respects and honours Tony Scott’s classic. Not only does he respect the original, he builds on it, somehow recapturing that 80s magic whilst bringing in new action stories and characters that feel at home still.
The pace and editing from Eddie Hamilton are breathtaking, the movie manages to be utterly gripping without taking the pedal off, making the flip-flop perfectly between high octane action where I found myself literally pressed back into the seat, right up there with the pilots, to meaningful and authentically acted drama. (The scenes with Val Kilmer and Tom Cruise and remembering Goose being respectfully poignant.) The impressive thing was that in such an adrenaline filled movie, when it came to the moments that matter, restraint and subtly led the way and led the film into high drama. The casting and characterisation also really forms the glue that holds the film together with notable mentions to Monica Barbaro, and Glen Powell for standout newcomers.
The tendency can be to overlook these kinds of films in awards season and write them off as Hollywood Spectacles, but I’d say you shouldn’t. It’s very hard to make a blockbuster film this good, this universally loved, this successful. To have some of the clichés and moments you expect and for you to want them anyway is also a near impossible art, and comes down to lighter moments authentically coming from the characters, and a story and people you care about it. It’s tight storytelling that doesn’t sell out for a cheap laugh. Paramount and the entire TopGun team have my respect for their handling of this film, and the 7 year old me who loved Hollywood movies respects them even more.
I’d forgotten what it was like to love a movie so much you could watch it endless times but this is one of them. I’ve seen it 3 times at the cinema so far, was pretty much shaking with excitement at each experience and I expect to see it a lot more, I hope you all do too.
I genuinely hope it wins Best Picture, financially it may well have saved cinema and showed us why we wanted to go for those big screen experiences again, but more importantly it brought back cinema’s heart. In an age of superhero movies maybe we have lost touch with the everyday heroes that kids can grow up with and whether that’s Maverick, Hangman, Phoenix, Bob or Payback, and in Paramount’s new effort, they have returned. A perfect 10/10 hollywood movie.
Listen to Top Gun Maverick director Joseph Kosinski on the podcast below
GILES ALDERSON – RRR
SS Rajamouli’s historical comedy movie set action and special effects together in a thrilling roller-coaster of a ride! It sent CGI nerds weeping with delight. A stinking balls out masterpiece full of breathtaking set pieces. Set in pre-independent India, the filmmakers used a mix of live-action, miniatures, special effects, and CG to breathtaking effect. This movie is on Netflix now (sadly only in the Hindi version – not it’s original language) and I highly recommend you watch it. The over the top but grounded performances and camera moves are only made move believable by the way in which everyone commits one hundred percent to everything. From the fights with animals to the dance numbers. Never before have I seen a shoulder movement given such feeling!
The endless show of bravery and bravado and the scintillating action scenes are not to be sniffed at. Years in the making and with plenty of money to boot mind, there are fire and water set pieces that will blow your mind, a massive running fight all in piggyback, motorcycles vs horses, hundreds of supporting artists to create a visually pleasing but yet highly emotive and hilarious action film full of set pieces I never thought I needed let alone wanted, created the surprise highlight of the year for me. Unless you are Tom Cruise, action does not get as big as this!
Honorable mentions –
DOM LENOIR – The Swimmers & Prancer – A Christmas Tale
Breakthrough Filmmakers of the year – Conor Boru, Sonja O’hara & Eddie Sternberg
GILES ALDERSON -When The Screaming Starts, Vesper, Prey, 18 1/2, All My Friends Hate Me, The Last Rite.
Breakthrough filmmakers –Joseph Kosinski, Phil Barantini, Jennifer Sheridan, Lauren Hadaway, Kate Dolan & Cooper Raif.
Thanks for reading. Do you agree? What was your top films of the year?
Oh, and make 2023 your year as a film-maker!