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Films I have watched

‘A Theory of Everything’ (James Marsh, 2014)

I actually quite enjoy predictable biopic-by-rote; it’s just the sheen of prestige and efforts to clog up winter awards lists that grate me down. This sort of stuff plays well with the older audiences that make up voting blocks, it’s unchallenging and conventional and it’s consequently destined to land a raft of Academy Awards nominations however little or much it deserves them. As with The Imitation Game, strong performances buoy paint-by-numbers storytelling, the perception of ‘worthy’ material pushing otherwise unremarkable filmmaking into a brutal competition it’s not equipped to fight. Eddie Redmayne drools and gurns his way through a Stephen Hawking impression. Many will be impressed, and Redmayne gives it a good crack, but in Tom Cruise Rain Man style, it’s Felicity Jones who has the tougher part and gives the more striking performance. 

‘Birdman’ (Alejandro González Iñárritu, 2014)

Iñárritu was always my least favourite of the Mexican Hollywood triumvirate; too self-consciously important, neither as gloatingly indulgent as Guillermo del Toro or as innovative and visually dextrous as Alfonso Cuarón. Well, consider this his coming-out party in the long-take pissing contest Cuarón’s been playing this last few years, a two-hour slam down of invisible cuts and uninterrupted pleasure, Iñárritu finally loosening the hell up and making a film with a lighter touch. For someone quite literally given a ‘Quentin Tarantino comeback’ in the late nineties, Michael Keaton jumps through the career-salvation window like a ravenous wolf, tearing into his best part in twenty-years with all that pent-up energy and manic charm that made him a star in the first place. Keaton’s moviestar baggage and middle-aged self-loathing makes this the ideal match of actor and material, as perfectly cast as Bill Murray in Lost in Translation and deserving of the big award denied that actor. 

‘The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies’ (Peter Jackson, 2014)

I actually like a lot of the crap Peter Jackson included – the elf/dwarf romance adds a human touch amongst CG landscapes, but let’s be honest, Jackson’s heart was never really in these films. Battle of the Five Armies is a fine, quite entertaining fantasy-action picture, but it’s burdened by the same conceptual faults as it’s two predecessors and never ascends to even the lower-tier of what the original Lord of the Rings trilogy achieved a decade earlier. The result is a misshapen bloater of an adaptation, doing much to thrill but never with any semblance of direction, succeeding under its narrow remit for Friday-night excitement but never, for a second, justifying the scope or runtime of this three-film trilogy.

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