Do you hear the people sing?

lesmis

Inspired by my friend Rachel, who puts a note about every film she sees on Facebook, I thought I’d try to recap all the films I’ve seen this year with a monthly recap. Place your bets now on how soon I give up…

I watch – and like – a lot of cinema. But my all-time favourites tend to fall into two categories: films where everybody sings or films where everybody is miserable (closely followed by films that are funny). Well, January was basically quids-in for me. Lots of misery! Lots of singing! In some cases both of these things! And sometimes some funny bits too!

The first film I saw this year was Quartet, a film that is blatantly cashing in on the grey pound a la The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. It has an epic cast – not just the central quartet of the posters, but also the likes of Michael Gambon, Sheridan Smith, the granddad from Outnumbered and that one from the Vicar of Dibley who goes ‘nononononono’. It’s a bit filthier than you’d expect and plenty of fun, albeit with some serious moments. The ending is something of a cop-out, and it’s hella predictable – but it’ll be worth a watch when it comes on telly in the near future.

This was followed by Seven Psychopaths. Now this was a film I felt incredibly conflicted about. It was, in places, very funny. The performers were very watchable. The seven psychopaths are not actually the seven shown in the trailer. FALSE ADVERTISING! But the knowing post-modern smugness really got my goat. It’s written by Martin McDonagh and stars Colin Farrell as an Irish playwright called Marty – so we’re invited to see this character as a cipher for the writer. In the same way, the story is sort of Marty’s life and sort of the film he is writing, also called ‘Seven Psychopaths.’ Movies that are self-referential always walk a fine line, especially those about writing (Adaptaion, anyone?), and the most annoying scene in the film involves Marty joking how much people criticise his women characters, clearly McDonagh’s dig at his own critics – but saying you’re aware of a fault doesn’t make it any less true: there are barely any women in this and those there are are two-dimensional, unrealistic plot devices. it’s also incredibly white to boot. McDonagh clearly has some talent – but not as much as he thinks he does – and I suspect he’d be really irritating in real life. The film is just about saved by the actors and by the pace – for all its faults (and they are legion), it is still a lot of fun. So I kind of liked and hated it in equal measure… make of that what you will.

The Impossible was the first film I saw this year where, when the credits rolled, all you could hear was stunned silence punctuated by sobbing. It’s not an easy watch – the first film about the tsunami pulls no punches in its incredible special effects. The storyline feels utterly ridiculous – were it not for it being true. The film has received a lot of criticism for being about the struggles of Westerners, by casting white ‘name’ actors and by not emphasising the struggles of local people affected by the crisis. Not all of these criticisms should be conflated. That there is scope – necessity, even – to tell the stories of those who lived in the region is without doubt. Hopefully these kinds of films can now be made. But this is a true story – an incredibly true one – and therefore perfect film material. Having a film with some level of happy ending is also perhaps a good thing for the first one out – the tsunami was so awful that it is good to know some good came out of it. Given that a Spanish family were involved, however, it feels less forgiveable that they didn’t cast actors of Spanish origin and that they changed the father’s name. Ewan McGregor, Naomi Watts and the kids who play their children are completely brilliant – but I still don’t understand why it couldn’t have been Spanish actors, especially as the people making the film were Spanish. It’s worth a watch, though, as even though you can’t help noticing the white Western bias, it’s a very dramatic, well-shot, well-acted tale that keeps you gripped.

pitchperfect

Misery, you say? Singing, you say? Fuse the two together? Well, then, tere’s no wonder that I loved Les Miserables. I love the musical anyway, and I’m not going to comment on the musical or story aspects as the film has to use the source material at its disposal. As for the film, it was visually stunning. I saw it in IMAX and it took my breath away (the second time I saw it was on the normal screen and it wasn’t as good… and I am genuinely very tempted to go a third time before they stop showing it in IMAX – that’s how pretty it is). As for performersm everyone was good – Aron Tveit was a real revelation for me as Enjolras (and was also damn good looking), whilst Samantha Barks has come a long way from being perved over by Dame Edna on Saturday night TV – she was also fabulous, although Eponine has always been a great part – much better than the underdeveloped and sickly Cosette. Hugh Jackman is great – his voice isn’t quite big enough to do ‘Bring Him Home’ justice, but the emotion of it works. Anne Hathaway, looking very Winona-esque in parts, is as fantastic as everyone says, although I am not entirely sure what I think about them filming ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ entirely in the style of the Sinead O’Connor ‘Nothing Compares 2U’ video. I didn’t want to see Russell Crowe in this. I don’t really rate him and couldn’t imagine him singing. I’m sure you’ll have seen lots of reviews criticising him – but, honestly? He wasn’t that bad. He captured the arrogance covering brittleness and pain of Javert very well and his vocal, whilst a bit thin and lacking, was hardly Piers Brosnan in Mamma Mia! dreadful. Perhaps going in with low expectations of him made me enjoy him more – the same is true of Sacha Baron Cohen (Helena Bonham Carter as herself is watchable as ever, even if the role is hardly a stretch). I imagine the film is divisive, but as someone who unashamedly loves films like Sister Act, The Wedding Singer, Evita and even Mamma Mia! this is already one of my all-time favourites, and I doubt my love will change.

That little list of films I love will go some way to explaining why I liked Pitch Perfect a lot too – especially when you add the likes of The Breakfast Club, Heathers and Election to the list. I liked Glee in its first series (series two went off the boil and then it went to Sky so who cares what happened then?) but it could only ever dream of being this likeable. A good mixture of snark, sass and singing – and NO MR SCHUE! What’s not to love? Well, the stereotyping isn’t so great (especially of its non-white characters and its gay characters, who are all a bit underdeveloped and/or mental), the love plot suggests at one point it might go somewhere that it doesn’t, and the lazy references to The Breakfast Club were just lazy. But I enjoyed the songs and it was still damn funny – not as good as it should be, but compared to other high-school films, it holds its own.

I had intended to see something this week but that’ll end up ticking into February, so the last film I saw in January ended up being The Sessions. Now this was a tightly paced film (Wham bam thank you mam indeed – appropriate, given the subject matter) that didn’t outstay its welcome. Everyone in the cast was on great form (and what a gift of a role William H Macy had as the priest), the dialogue was great and you ended up caring about these characters – I say ‘characters’, but it was based on a true story – although I very much suspect certain scenes were fabricated for the film (these will be very obvious when you watch it) as they seemed far more Hollywood than real life.

So January got the cinema year off to a pretty good start for me – but then it’s coming up to Oscar season, that’s to be expected. More of the potential Oscar winners to watch in February – and I’m not convinced the next batch will fare quite so well…

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