2014 went off to a great start with a whopping 56 films in total, 45 of those being new-to-me films (that is, films I haven’t seen before). See the full list of films I watched in January HERE. My theme for the month was ‘Carry On Joking January’ where I aimed to watch as many Carry On films and comedy films as possible. Unfortunately I watched nowhere near the amount I had planned. Nevertheless, I did watch a great deal of them I hadn’t already seen, along with an Ealing comedy Passport to Pimlico (Henry Cornelius, 1949) and another classic British comedy The Big Job (Gerald Thomas, 1965).
(5) Saving Mr Banks (John Lee Hancock, 2013)
The life of P.L. Travers, author of children’s classic book Mary Poppins is brought to life in this story which documents Walt Disney’s attempts to persuade Travers into giving him the rights to adapt Mary Poppins into a Disney film. As the film progresses, the film flashes back to memories of Travers’s childhood, which are used constructively to inform her present, and offer depth to her character. Mary Poppins is a much loved tale in many households, and Saving Mr Banks is a heartwrenching and touching tribute to its legendary author. Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson are charming, comical, and will no doubt be memorable for their performances in this film. The soundtrack is similarly wonderful, cleverly mixing the tracks from the present and the flashbacks to create a sense of continuity and fluidity to keep the suspension of disbelief at its core. A truly wonderful film, Saving Mr Banks is a tale of family that will no doubt be a Disney classic to treasure in years to come.
(4) Blackfish (Gabriela Cowperthwaite, 2013)
Blackfish was an eye-opening documentary focusing on the treatment of performance whales in the Seaworld parks in America. Exploring the ways in which the whales are mistreated and exploited for human entertainment in the parks, the film conveys to audiences what happens when nature fights back and the Seaworld entertainers are injured, and in some cases they die. Blackfish provides a context for the views offered on exploiting whales for entertainment, and draws on the views of both sides. The documentary essentially conveys how the Seaworld trainers are in many cases brainwashed into believing that the animals are being treated as they deserve, and the films shows through interviews with trainers that they are given a basic script to follow for when visitors ask questions about the animals in captivity. As the film progresses however, it highlights how startlingly abusive the treatment of the animals can be, offering a perceptive outlook on a company that has been entertaining children and adults alike for decades. It’s a heartwrenching documentary, and not one to be taken lightly, and as a person who is very much against animal abuse in all forms, I found this film thoroughly moving.
(3) The Arbor (Clio Barnard, 2010)
The Arbor merges documentary and drama to explore the life of Andrea Dunbar, the Northern playwright of classics such as Rita, Sue and Bob Too, and The Arbor, which was named (as was the film) after the rough estate known as ‘The Arbor’ in Bradford where Dubar grew up. Director Barnard experimentally tells Dunbar’s story through a technique used in theatre called ‘Verbatim theatre’ in which the procedings of a hearing or trial are brought to life word for word as the dialogue is performed by actors on the stage. Barnard applies this technique typically found in contemporary political dramas to The Arbor to great effect, bringing Dunbar’s past to life through actors miming the words from interviews Barnard had with Dunar’s family and friends. Passages from Dunbar’s plays are acted out in the open on the street where Dunbar grew up. The film is very experimental and creative in its approach to filmmaking, and Barnard does a wonderful job in making it all work to tell an emotional and eye-opening tale of the famous playwright who died at the age of 29 from a brain haemorrhage after being physically weakened by alcohol. I’m a huge fan of Barnard after I saw her film The Selfish Giant at the London Film Festival, and The Arbor lived up to my expectations of an example of more flawless underclass filmmaking from Barnard. The Times weren’t kidding when they said “Britain had found a new filmmaker to be proud of”.
(2) The Innocents (Jack Clayton, 1931)
Clayton’s hauntingly mesmerising adaptation of Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw is convincingly brought to life in an eerie tale of a young governess that is hired to care for two young children who live with their nanny. What appears to be an example of happy companionship soon turns ominous when strange things start happening around the house, driving the governess, who is performed by Deborah Kerr in convincing hysteria, to madness until the film’s touchingly tragic finale. Clayton creates a sense of horror by leaving the audience and the characters unaware of whether the bumps in the night are indeed real, or a figment of the governess’s vivid imagination. Similarly, there is a strong element of Freudian repression and uncanny running throughout the narrative that creates a strong sense of unease in the spectator, leaving the memory of this truly dark tale of horror linger in the imagination long after the closing credits.
(1) What Maisie Knew (Scott McGehee, 2012)
There is no other film that I watched in January that could possibly deserve to beat What Maisie Knew to the top spot. A gorgeously poignant exploration of the effects of the breakdown of marriage in contemporary society told through a little girl’s eyes, this beautiful and poetic tale is based on a novel by Henry James. What perhaps is most worthy of note in the film is the acting of Onata Aprile who steals the show as Maisie, the child torn between her parent’s breakup. Co-starring in the film is Joanna Vanderham who is perhaps known best for her role as Denise Lovett in popular, British, BBC1 drama The Paradise, Julianne Moore (a personal favourite actor of mine), Alexander Skarsgård who I have only actually seen in Melancholia although he was fantastic in that, and Steve Coogan. Despite the array of notable and experienced actors however, Aprille completely dominates the film with her subtle fragility and utterly compelling performance. What Maisie Knew is perhaps the most underrated film of the last few years and it completely deserves the top spot this month.