Preview: The 2014 Cinematic Landscape

Who invited January over?

Yep, the most miserable month of year has reared its ugly head again. However for film fans (and let’s be honest, who isn’t?) the arrival of the dreaded January means two things: One, it’s awards season, so watch out for the heavy hitters making their way around cinemas, and two, it’s time to look forward to another calendar year choc-a-bloc with films ready to burst loose and onto our screens.

I guess we should start looking then…

(All release dates are subject to change, so don’t be booking your holidays around them. Because I know people do that. What? Just me?)

 

January

The Wolf of Wall Street – Director: Martin Scorsese, Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio

That’s right, having spent the best part of a decade working together, Scorsese and DiCaprio are remaining true to form and battering out another collaboration. This time Leonardo DiCaprio is Jordan Belfort, a New York stockbroker who got rich overnight in the late 1980s. The Wolf of Wall Street is based on a true story and by all accounts, it’s a pretty hectic tale. Jonah Hill and Matthew McConaughey are part of this brash comedy that apparently didn’t go down too well with a few elderly Academy members, as reports suggest Scorsese and the cast were severely heckled after a screening. Sounds like a lot of fun then! Out January 17th in the UK.

Inside Llewyn Davis – Directors: Joel and Ethan Coen, Starring: Oscar Isaac

From the outrageous to the harmonious, Joel and Ethan Coen have rustled up another helping of their highly sought-after Kool-Aid. Set around the wintry Greenwich Village folk scene in 1961, the film depicts a week in the life of Llewyn Davis, an aspiring musician out of luck. This has earned rave reviews on the festival circuit, and could springboard Oscar Isaac into Hollywood stardom. The Coen Brothers are often meticulous in their film-making – details matter as much as one-liners – and with T-Bone Burnett orchestrating the music production, Inside Llewyn Davis may well cause one or two Academy Award-shaped upsets come March. Out January 24th in the UK.

 

February

Dallas Buyers Club – Director: Jean-Marc Vallée, Starring: Matthew McConaughey

It’s only February and here we are looking at Matthew McConaughey’s second film on the list (and it won’t be his last)! The true renaissance man of cinema has knocked role after role out of the park in recent years, be it as a gritty lawyer in The Lincoln Lawyer, an eccentric stripper in Magic Mike or a pact-making fugitive in Mud, and this is shaping up to be another home run. After being diagnosed with AIDS, hustler Ron Woodroof sees life in a new light, shining brightly on giving back to those in need. Dallas Buyers Club has an air of Milk about it, which can only be a good thing. Also watch out for a supporting performance from Jared Leto that is generating quite a helping of Oscar buzz. Not bad for a singer. Out February 7th in the UK.

The Monuments Men – Director: George Clooney, Starring: George Clooney, Matt Damon

Argo meets Inglorious Basterds. Now that doesn’t sound half-bad, does it? Only, replace stranded United States embassy staff with some art masterpieces, and Diane Kruger with Cate Blanchett, and you’ve got yourself George Clooney’s next directorial venture. It’s quite a change from running for president in The Ides of March, although some political elements look set to remain. Clooney and company are going to have to do exceedingly well to usurp Quentin Tarantino’s take on World War II, however with a cast including Bill Murray anything’s possible. Out February 21st in the UK.

 

March

The Grand Budapest Hotel – Director Wes Anderson, Starring: Just about everyone

Wes Anderson and that distinctive directorial style returns with a story about a heralded concierge, a young lobby boy and a stolen painting set in a hotel between World Wars. Anderson must have a phone book brimming with Hollywood stars, each of whom is in his debt. Or maybe he just makes interesting films (yep, probably this one). Bill Murray – hooray again – is joined by Saoirse Ronan, Jude Law, Ralph Fiennes, Tilda Swinton, Edward Norton, Jeff Goldblum and a whole host of other people you’d want to have round for dinner. There’s no doubt this’ll have laughs, but without the naive innocence on show in Moonrise Kingdom, will those laughs be enough to win over audiences? Maybe Anderson has another trick up his sleeve. Or in his hair. Out March 7th in the UK.

The Zero Theorem – Director: Terry Gilliam, Starring: Christophe Waltz

The man behind Monty Python has turned his head to existential science-fiction in this odd-sounding fantasy-drama. About a computer hacker’s search to uncover why and how human beings exist (he should check out The Meaning of Life, by the way), The Zero Theorem even tends towards comedy by the sounds of it. The hacker’s bosses, succinctly named the ‘Management’, strive to distract him by sending a lusty love interest to his place of work. This ‘Management’ lot obviously don’t understand the first rule of um, management – getting results. Surely Christophe Waltz (who plays our lead) won’t deliver results with his attention diverted elsewhere?! This could throw up anything really. Out March 14th in the UK.

 

April

The Double – Director: Richard Ayoade, Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Jesse Eisenberg

After his coming-of-age debut Submarine was well received by audiences and critics alike, the stone-faced Richard Ayoade has decided for his second film, to direct Jesse Eisenberg… twice. This peculiar outing about a man stalked by his doppelgänger won over viewers when it premièred at the Toronto International Film Festival, and then carried much momentum onto The Culture Show with Mark Kermode during its life at the BFI London Film Festival. Mia Wasikowska is included in the Jennifer Lawrence and Elizabeth Olsen future of cinema party, and if that’s not enough to clinch your attention, Eisenberg versus Eisenberg in a wit-off is something you have to see in 2014. Out April 4th in the UK.

Transcendence – Director: Wally Pfister, Starring: Johnny Depp

He’s the reason most Christopher Nolan films look as wholesome as they do, but now someone else has to do the same for Wally Pfister (good luck Jess Hall!). Transcendence is his first venture into the directorial chair, and therefore could go either way. Given the extraordinary standards set by his previous work though, don’t expect anything to be left to chance. This story of death, life, and uncompromising power has morality at its heart and a string of Nolan’s acting repertoire to provide the beat. Johnny Depp meets Morgan Freeman, Rebecca Hall and Cillian Murphy in what is quite simply a exceptional line-up. Out April 25 in the UK.

 

May

Frank – Director: Lenny Abrahamson, Starring: Domhnall Gleeson, Michael Fassbender

Frank hasn’t been released anywhere yet, therefore we don’t know an awful lot about it. Abrahamson’s last film, What Richard Did, garnered positive reviews from critics, but doesn’t seem to share many similar characteristics with his upcoming piece. About a young musician looking for a break and finding solace in a mysterious, enigmatic band leader who invites him to join, Frank is described as a comedy, a drama and a mystery on IMDb (which is fitting really, because its content certainly is unknown for the most part). Domhnall Gleeson charmed 2013 and Michael Fassbender has developed a reputation greater than most, so we’re in good hands here. It’s also nice to see Scoot McNairy involved, who excelled in Gareth Edwards much talked about debut Monsters. Out May 9th in the UK.

Godzilla – Director: Gareth Edwards, Starring Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen

Speaking of Gareth Edwards, his triumphant 2010 debut has landed him at the helm of the most anticipated blockbuster of the coming summer. Roland Emmerich butchered more than just the Japanese monster in his take on Godzilla fifteen years ago, he also tarnished the immediate legacy of the giant mutant lizard. It looks like Edwards is delving back into the franchise’s original backbone – the trials and tribulations of human nature and greed – which is a good idea in an era where blockbusters have to be intelligent, or its bust. Aaron Taylor-Johnson is a solid lead and Elizabeth Olsen has done a whole lot of right so far in her young career. It must be wary of high expectations, however those expectations are only lofty on the back of Edwards’ previous successes. Out May 16th in the UK.

 

June

22 Jump Street – Directors: Phil Lord and Chris Miller, Starring: Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill

After the surprising critical and commercial success of the first film, it’s time for Jump Street: The College Years. Undercover cops Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill are set to return and after their prior personal triumphs, the pair find themselves surrounded by fraternities and hipster clubs in college. Joint directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller have two highly marketable films out in 2014 – the first being The Lego Movie – but both have difficult obstacles to overcome. For 22 Jump Street it’s all about bettering the predecessor, and that will be a big ask. Out June 6th in the UK.

A Million Ways to Die in the West – Director: Seth MacFarlane, Starring: Seth MacFarlane, Charlize Theron

Ted worked out well for Seth MacFarlane, so why not turn his head towards the west? After losing the love of his life to cowardliness, a man finds bravery in the form a gunslinger’s wife, only now the gunslinger wants his wife back. This one sounds like referential humour in abundance. Expect many a cowboy gag and acoustic twang. MacFarlane does blunt comedy very well in animated form, and his cross-over into live action was a successful one. Only time will tell if he can strike an even better balance second time around. Out June 6th in the UK.

 

July

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes – Director: Matt Reeves, Starring: Gary Oldman

Cloverfield director Matt Reeves tries his hand at an Apes sequel, and will do well to live up to standards set by the first. There’s no James Franco (he’s too busy doing weird indie stuff), nor does Freida Pinto return. However, Gary Oldman has been lined up to take the reins and there can be absolutely quarrels with that appointment. Set eight years after Rise of the Planet of the Apes, human survivors of the virus unleashed at the end of the first film bond together in a movement against Caesar’s growing forces. The Picasso of motion-capture acting, Andy Serkis, is back as Caesar in an outing that pertains to being far more action-packed than the first. Out July 17th in the UK.

Jupiter Ascending – Directors: Andy and Lana Wachowski, Starring: Mila Kunis, Channing Tatum

In what appears to be 2014’s Cloud Atlas (and hopefully not 2014’s After Earth) Jupiter Ascending will be strung together by mythology, scintillating visual landscapes and probably some croaky language not-of-this-earth. The human species has fallen mightily, and exists near foot of the evolutionary pyramid, where Mila Kunis cleans toilets for a living. Her unfulfilled existence is about to change however, as she is targeted for assassination by the threatened Queen of the Universe in an attempt to ensure her own longevity. You’ve got to hand it to the Wachowski’s: they’re not afraid to dream and do big. In the same vein as their previous films, this’ll likely split opinion. Out July 25th in the UK.

 

August

Guardians of the Galaxy – Director: James Gunn, Starring: Lee Pace, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Zoe Saldana

The Avengers’ cousin, this will be Marvel Cinematic Universe’s second offering of the year after Captain America: The Winter Solider, and the first in its own particular superhero story strand. A group of misfits including a warrior, a tree-human hybrid and a squirrel are recruited by a stranded pilot in space as he attempts to fend off a number of cosmic threats and ensure the galaxy’s survival. Guardians received an electric reception

Guardians received an electric reception at the 2013 San Diego Comic Con and there’s a large degree of buzz surrounding the film. With very little exposure in the run up to its release – unlike The Avengers which was preceded by feature-length films for each character – it may not make as big an impact as expected. Out August 1st in the UK.

Hercules: The Thracian Wars – Director: Brett Ratner, Starring: Dwayne Johnson

Much like the battle of White House destruction supremacy that played out in 2013, this year will have its own inter-Herculean duel as two re-imaginings of the Greek demigod come to fruition. The second and more anticipated of the two will be directed by Brett Ratner and will star the franchise re-energiser himself, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, alongside film veterans John Hurt and Ian McShane. Can The Rock layeth the Smacketh-down on both a monstrous warlord and a February release of the same name? Out August 8th in the UK.

 

September

Posh – Director: Lone Scherfig, Starring: Sam Claflin, Natalie Dormer

At the time of writing, September is looking pretty starved in the film front. It’s sandwiched amongst that awkward post-summer blockbuster, pre-awards season gap, when many people are heading back to work, school or uni. However Danish director Lone Scherfig has this upper-class thriller lined up to hopefully quench our end-of-holiday blues. Sam Claflin and Game of Thrones’ Natalie Dormer will star as new members of the Riot Club at Oxford University. With very little known about Posh, let’s place it somewhere between National Lampoon’s Animal House and Pathology for now. Out September 19th in the UK.

 

October

Gone Girl – Director: David Fincher, Starring: Rosamund Pike, Ben Affleck

David Fincher has accumulated quite the portfolio of films throughout his career, along with a fair few fans too, so it’ll be interesting to see how this seemingly more straight-forward narrative will go down. Based on a novel of the same name, Gone Girl sees conundrums take precedence as a woman disappears on the day of her wedding anniversary. Fincher doesn’t often disappoint his supporters, and the mystery-thriller element here should be enough for him to juggle with and embroider his own spin. Heck, he’s got Batman as his lead for goodness sake. Out October 3rd in the UK.

 

November

Interstellar – Director: Christopher Nolan, Starring: Anne Hathaway, Matthew McConaughey

In his first film since neatly wrapping up the trials and tribulations of Batman for a while (oh… right) Chris Nolan is taking to space for his next voyage. Hey look, Matthew McConaughey is back again! And this time Double-M is joined by Nolan archivees Anne Hathaway and Michael Caine, plus Jessica Chastain, in a sci-fi tale about discovering the bounds of life and surpassing the un-surpass-able. Ahem. Expect wormholes aplenty and probably even some dimension-hopping, time-travelly stuff too. Nolan hasn’t made a bad film in, well, ever, so Interstellar will open with very high expectations. Will it be stellar? Out November 7th in the UK.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 – Director: Francis Lawrence, Starring: Jennifer Lawrence

It’s becoming a late-November outing to be thankful for, but with two excellent predecessors, the less-well-regarded Mockingjay (Part 1, to ruffle even more feathers) has hype, expectations and box office records to live up to. Jennifer Lawrence will reclaim the bow for a third time as she helms the rebellion against President Snow and his viscous Capitol. Francis Lawrence infused Catching Fire with more politically current themes, and created an altogether bleaker but better film than first time around – and first time around was pretty damn good. Going by the material in the third book, Francis Lawrence has an even bigger task on his hands here. Part 1 is out November 21st in the UK, with Part 2 to follow a year later.

 

December

Dumb and Dumber To – Directors: Bobby and Peter Farrelly, Starring: Jim Carey, Jeff Daniels

Anchorman 2 by association, and we’re not off to a great start with the title. Much like the return of the Burgundy-brigade after nine years in December 2013, the dimwits are set to return in December 2014 after twenty years doing absolutely nothing. Not really, both Carey and Daniels are far bigger stars these days, raising the question: will it be harder for audiences to acclimatise to their characters’ now Hollywood stupidity? Fortunately, the Farrelly brothers are once again fronting up the sequel which does actually sound quite funny: the duo are on the hunt for a new kidney, so now is probably a good time to find that long-lost child. Out December 19th in the UK.

The Hobbit: There and Back Again – Director: Peter Jackson, Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen

And finally, we once again end the year at the end of the Hobbity adventure. Peter Jackson’s extended extension of J. R. R Tolkien’s ‘The Hobbit’ has improved with age, but will probably never please the hardcore Tolkienati. We’ve been there twice and it’s time to go back again as the world finds out the fate of Bilbo, Gandalf and their company of dwarfs, in their joust with Smaug. The amount of book pages remaining is wearing thin, so it’ll be interesting to see how Jackson expands this final instalment across almost three hours (which he’ll surely do). The Hobbit films haven’t really been a patch on The Lord of the Rings trilogy, but I’ll certainly miss Jackson’s endeavours into Middle Earth when the franchise finally nestles up. Out December 19th in the UK.

 

 

Some more potential hit or misses:

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (Kenneth Branagh): This year’s Jack Reacher, only Tom Cruise is younger and cooler. Out January.

Non-Stop (Jaume Collet-Serra): Taken on a Plane. Out February.

Nymphomaniac (Lars von Trier): Wherever von Trier goes controversy follows, and this has controversy smothered all over it. Along with a lot of other… stuff. Part I out February, Part II out March.

The Amazing Spiderman 2 (Marc Webb): Three and Four are already confirmed, and although the first regeneration was a success, counting chickens is a dangerous game. Out April.

Chef (Jon Favreau): Favreau’s Iron Man set a yet-to-be-reached bar for the franchise, and he’s back with RDJ in this tasty comedy. Out May.

The Fault in our Stars (Josh Boone): It’s probably time for a summer weep-fest. Out June.

Transformers 4 (Michael Bay): Let’s not even kid ourselves. Unfortunately, out July.

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez): The next chapter in this graphic novel-driven saga. Out August.

Search Party (Scott Armstrong): Matthew Abbadon from LOST is in it. Out September.

The Maze Runner (Wes Ball): Brimming with youthful potential, will this be the next Hunger Games? Out October.

Horrible Bosses 2 (Sean Anders): The first was pretty average, but Christophe Waltz has been snapped up for this one. Out November.

Exodus (Ridley Scott): Scott’s movie-making binge continues with this account of Moses, played by Christian Bale. Out December.

 

What are you looking forward to seeing in 2014? Comment below!

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American Hustle (2014)

★★★★

Director: David O. Russell

Release Date: December 20th, 2013 (US); January 1st, 2014 (UK)

Genre: Crime; Drama

Starring: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Jeremy Renner

“Some of this actually happened.”

These are the first words you see on screen as American Hustle rolls along the runway in preparation for a turbulent take-off. The next thing, an obtuse, balding Christian Bale spends a good few minutes chained to mirror, meticulously attempting to glue hair to his head. And it’s brilliant. One minute the film is poking fun at itself, the next it’s indulging in extended Hollywood grooming. Whether or not you actually believe that any of what is to come actually happened is irrelevant. Batman is fat and bald. Only he’s not Batman, he’s the first of five characters who, placed in any other film, could easily be dismissed as unlovable. Yet these characters, these jaded and faulting human beings are the epitome of most things great in American Hustle — and trust me, most things are great.

After a string of loan scams gone right, con-man Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and his partner Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) are caught cheque-handed by exuberant FBI Agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper). Along with a reluctant Sydney, who is posing as a Brit with banking connections, Irving is manipulated into joining DiMaso in a plan to take down four potentially corrupt political figures, including the well-meaning New Jersey Mayor, Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner). If Irving does not oblige, he fears the loss of his adopted son from his marriage with an uncontrollable wife, Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence).

First thing’s first: American Hustle serves up an abundance of heart to go along with bountiful amounts of razzmatazz and wild hair-pieces, and this is no small part down to David O. Russell’s focused direction, a direction particularly zoned in on his characters. Since making The Fighter in 2010, Russell has admitted that people are the most important elements of his films, that they infuse soul into his work, and this is certainly true here. At best the plot is slightly overloaded, but then it probably should be given the elaborate scam unfolding on screen. Russell deflects all attention away from these various narrative layers and strands though, and gives his characters the limelight. Unselfishly too — this character-based production style is something that doesn’t always necessarily invite directorial attention, rather the actors take most of the plaudits. However Russell’s passion for people, which is as much on display in both The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook as it is here, means he most likely doesn’t want all the plaudits no matter how much he deserves them.

It’s not often that a truly A-list cast amalgamates where each actor delivers a tip-top performance. Normally, either there’s not enough material to satisfy so many hungry egos, or a severe case of weary cheque-collecting goes on. This could not be further from the truth in American Hustle, as the five stars bring out the absolute best and most flamboyant in one another. As Irving Rosenfeld, Christian Bale is the centrepiece of events, the instigator of many of the crazy goings-on (whether he likes it or not). “He had this air about him.” Sydney is absolutely correct. At the beginning, you get the feeling Irving is growing tired of his surroundings, he’s let himself go but not so far as to come across as weak — what we see externally is carefully tended (the hair), what we don’t see is tucked away (the stomach). It’s not until the glamorous and vibrant Sydney Prosser glances over into his life that Irving experiences an ambience of regeneration. Adams embodies seduction; she mesmerises the viewer as much as she does Bale and it’s obvious her character Sydney (or is it Evelyn?) has had a lot of practice in hiding charmingly behind a veil of otherness.

Bradley Cooper, who put in a career-best performance in David O. Russell’s previous film, is astoundingly funny as Richie DiMaso. He has the 70s jumping off him: a curly perm, outlandish clothing and that wise-cracking demeanour, one which harks back to more serious crime outputs such as Goodfellas, and even Scarface. DiMaso manoeuvres in the opposite direction to that of Irving — he becomes too cocky, dragged into a world of madness. As American Hustle trumpets on, it becomes an electric game of one-upmanship between Irving, Sydney and DiMaso. Nobody really knows who is playing who. There’s an air of unpredictability about proceedings. All of this makes for more compelling viewing as the sentiment hanging-on-every-word becomes agreeably essential.

Irving’s estranged wife Rosalyn is another firecracker in this celebration of absurdity and Jennifer Lawrence throws herself at the character. She delivers many of the funniest lines very well (“Don’t put metal in the science oven”) yet still manages to evoke heartfelt sympathy. It’s clear Rosalyn is under appreciated, struggles with demons and craves some consistent attention from Irving, or anyone really. To be able to stand on, and subsequently pull off, both sides of fence — the staunchly comedic and starkly vulnerable — is a testament to Jennifer Lawrence’s ability as an actor and storyteller. Newcomer to the David O. Russell school of actors (perhaps the coolest club going in Hollywood) is Jeremy Renner, a welcome addition. As Mayor Polito, Renner is more likeable than ever in a very different role from those he has partaken in recently. His outrageous facial expressions during a sing-a-long with Bale is a standout moment.

Harking back to David O. Russell’s preferred filmmaking style, behind all of the madness, these characters still feel like real people (they listen to each other’s phone calls in the other room for heaven’s sake). None of them really want to be where they are. Perhaps they are wearily sucked in, or can’t seem to find a way out. Better lives, that’s all they’re after. They create attractively unattractive personas in order to acclimatise to the anarchy. Yet you still want to love them in the end. Unlike the plot, which arguably outstays its welcome, not one single character does.

The saying ‘never a dull moment’ has rarely been more fitting. Everything here is so over the top and brash. When names such as Carmine Polito and Victor Tellegio are sprayed around, it’s not hard to imagine the kind of entertainment on show. There absolutely is a sense of indulgence, but it’s more than simply self-indulgence, rather a communal kind between filmmaker and audience. A conversation about coriander and perfume smelling like “flowers, but with garbage” essentially sums up American Hustle: it sort of doesn’t make sense, but the circus-like pandemonium makes the film great because it allows people to thrive and evolve.

I left the cinema thinking American Hustle was a good film, and many hours later it is still growing on me. There is a good chance it will for a long time. It’s euphoria and desolation. Furious and funny. Organised chaos which descends (or ascends) into disorganised chaos. Somewhere along the way, Bradley Cooper, in his most vociferous New Yoik accent says, “You might even get sick of me!” He could be referring to the fabulous five on show (or six, if you include David O. Russell).

If so, honestly Bradley? Not in the slightest.

CBF’s Genre Toppers: Comedy

After spending most of the day trying to fix my laptop (and succeeding, evidently) I think some laughs are in order. Therefore, it is time for five funny comedies! Everybody loves to laugh and there are not many better places to go than the cinema to be prompted in that direction. I have been a fan of comedy for as long as I can remember and the great thing about the genre is that it does not discriminate — everybody enjoys it.

Anyway, let the hilarity ensue!

Johnny English (2003)

I am okay with this.

Released in 2003 and directed by Peter Howitt, Johnny English stars the incomparable Rowan Atkinson as the title character and the only British spy left in action after an attack on MI5. English — confident, yet lacking in the intelligence department — is tasked with finding the perpetrator of the attack and recovering the stolen Crown Jewels, with assistance from the far more capable Interpol Agent Lorna Campbell (Natalie Imbruglia).

This is the one of the first comedy films that I can remember watching and laughing uncontrollably at throughout. Rowan Atkinson really is a comedic genius, with everything from his facial expressions to his timing absolutely spot on here. The film acts as a sort of parody of James Bond, and Atkinson is exceedingly good at making the audience root for a rather unintelligent, out-of-depth British spy. There are a few particularly funny scenes (the sewers), but in general the film is bursting with laughs. Natalie Imbruglia does a fairly good job at portraying English’s more sensible partner, although the apparent romance between the two is a little far-fetched (I guess that is comedy though, right?). John Malkovich hits just about all the right notes as the villain of the piece with his dodgy French accent (it only adds to the humour) and sublime hair.

Johnny English does not attempt to take itself too seriously and this works in its favour as the film delivers barrels of laughs and entertainment.

Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

“Come on! Bin bags make great clothes, we could sell millions of these!”

The first film to be nominated in all four acting categories at the Academy Awards since 1981, David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook stars Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper as recently widowed sex addict Tiffany Maxwell and bipolar Pat Solitano, respectively. After being released from a psychiatric ward, Pat’s primary aim is to reconcile with his ex-wife who wants nothing to do with him. Meanwhile, having just lost her husband Tiffany has her focus on an upcoming dance competition. After the two meet, they agree to help each other out with Tiffany ensuring Pat’s letters reach his ex-wife, as long as he partners Tiffany in her dance competition.

Well that was a long synopsis. The first thing to say here is Jennifer Lawrence is the greatest living being and Bradley Cooper have tremendous chemistry which more or less makes this film as good (and funny) as it is. They work so well together, in fact, that they are working together on another two future films, one of which David O. Russell is back directing. Lawrence is absolutely on fire at the moment (no pun intended) and can do wrong, and Cooper has put in a steady stream of really great performances in recent films such as, The Place Beyond the Pines and Limitless. It is no surprise, therefore, that the foundation of all things good about Silver Linings Playbook is in the dynamic between the duo. Combine that with a witty, energetic and sensitive script, along with magnificent supporting actors like Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver and you have a very funny but also very moving film.

Much has been said about this film’s careful depiction of mental illness and how positively it is put across on-screen, but purely in terms of comedy, Silver Linings Playbook is up there with the funniest films in recent years.

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)

“For the hundredth time, the camera’s this way!”

Next, we take a trip back to 1986 where Ferris Bueller’s Day Off has just graced cinemas around the world, garnering much critical acclaim. Matthew Broderick stars as Ferris Bueller, a teenager who decides to take a day off school (imagine that?) with his girlfriend Sloane (Mia Sara) and best friend Cameron (Alan Ruck), where they go out and explore their freedom whilst simultaneously attempting to avoid the school principal in any way they can.

It took me a long time to get around to seeing this film, which is regrettable because it is one of the best feel-good comedies out there in my view. In terms of sheer laughs, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off probably is not the funniest on my list, but it certainly is the funnest. Be it the inventive ways the trio try to avoid the principal or the principal himself’s various ordeals throughout, this film grasps the ‘be positive’ attitude more than any other I have seen. Broderick, Sara and Ruck work well together in the three prominent roles, with Broderick keeping the audience on their toes as he breaks the fourth wall a number of times — this I thought was an interesting ploy used by director John Hughes and one which worked well. Jeffrey Jones is hilarious as the principal (or ‘Dean of Students’) and makes a more than adequate nemesis opposite the trio.

John Hughes has a brilliant knack for comedies and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is definitely one his more heartfelt, if not one of his funniest.

In Bruges (2008)

Directed by Martin McDonagh, In Bruges was released in cinemas back in 2008. It stars Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson as two Irish hitmen who are relocated to Bruges, Belgium after a hit goes wrong. But what they believe to be another job turns out to be something else entirely.

“Man, you’re small.”

Since its release in 2008, In Bruges has gone on to claim cult status and is regarded as a classic by many. McDonagh’s brand of black comedy is in full force here, and both Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson deliver it with ease. The two leads are hilarious in their roles, playing off each other to great effect and both generating much empathy from the audience, particularly Farrell whose character, Ray, has played an accidental role in the murder of a child. McDonagh’s sense of direction comes through in abundance here, with each character playing an important part in the film and each scene executed with finesse. The Bruges setting is beautiful and greatly adds to the poetic nature of the script and the fairy tale aspect of the film. Although this is primarily a comedy, there are a few touching moments which take the film above and beyond the comedy genre. Ralph Fiennes and Clemence Poesy are both effective in, metaphorically, very different supporting roles — the former about order and conviction while the latter exudes freedom and new beginnings.

In his directorial debut, Martin McDonagh has created a gem in In Bruges: often hilarious and occasionally touching, this is a winner.

O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)

O Brother, Where Art Thou? opened in cinemas in 2000 and is directed by the Coen brothers, Joel and Ethan (although Ethan is uncredited). Set amid the Great Depression in 1930s America, it stars George Clooney, John Turturro and Tim Blake Nelson as three convicts — Ulysses, Pete and Delmar, respectively — who escape capture in order to search for hidden treasure, whilst evading a lawman who is in pursuit.

“My ears are burning. Can anybody smell smoke?”

This is just fantastic. I first watched this in school (school finally comes up trumps) and have been a big fan ever since. The rural Mississippi setting creates a dusty, woody atmosphere (which is by no means a bad thing), shoving the three leads right into the heart of the hardships of the depression in 1930s America. With nothing but themselves and their brains — well, Ulysses’ brain — to keep them on the correct path, they must rely on trust and luck more than anything else. The Coen brothers, as I have mentioned in one of these blogs previously, have an exceptional eye for selecting locations to film and, more than any other film on this list, the dusty plains of rural Mississippi are unequivocally suited to the mood and script of O Brother, Where Art Thou? In terms of the script, it is witty, wacky and insightful and is delivered with nothing but enthusiasm by Clooney, Turturro and Nelson. Of course, I cannot forget about John Goodman, who is very funny playing the brash, obnoxious Bible salesman “Big Dan” Teague. There are plenty of laughs woven throughout the film and they all hit the mark without going overboard — this film is out there at times, but not too far out there. Finally, the soundtrack is rich and hugely satisfying, giving the film a nice twang.

O Brother, Where Art Thou? is another corker from the Coen brothers, full of quips and ambition. It is a triumph in filmmaking in my opinion.

 

Here are a few honourable mentions, films that I really like but not quite as much as the aforementioned five:

Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987) — The original comedy road trip film, Planes, Train and Automobiles sees Steve Martin and John Candy unwittingly team up in order to find a way home for Thanksgiving, but not without a few mishaps on the way.

American Pie (1999) — The raucous teen comedy which paved the way for more like it, the original American Pie is by far the funniest and probably the least offensive. You do not need to be offensive to be funny, right?

Bruce Almighty (2003) — Jim Carrey is in full comedic flow (facial expressions and all) in Bruce Almighty as he portrays an unlucky guy who is given God’s job for a week. Chaos, commence.

Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story (2004) — Alongside Johnny English, Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story is one of my long-standing favourite comedy films, and it is still as funny now as it was back in 2004. Yes, it is still dodging those wrenches.

The Hangover (2009) — Hopefully Kermode won’t see this.

Which films make you laugh the most?