Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone Review

I’ll be honest with you, dear reader, January is a difficult time for me. Especially this year, the post-Christmas slump has hit hard and I’ve found myself severely lacking motivation. I have a pile of films to watch and review, but all I’ve found myself watching for the past week is the Harry Potter films. For what feels like the millionth time. So I thought it best to put those viewing hours to use here.

Harry Potter is a tough subject to talk about now. It’s a world I’ve loved since I was a kid, I read the books multiple times throughout my tweens and teens, and I watch the films – all of them – at least once a year. All this being said, it becomes increasingly difficult to defend the public statements made by the woman responsible for writing this world I have grown to love.

I bring this up because I feel like it would be hypocritical of me to ignore the elephant in the room. As many of you know, I am LGBT (the ‘G’ part, to be specific) and I have several good friends, who I love dearly, who are transgender. I am not in a position to talk for trans people, however, I can only do my best to make sure I use my voice to make sure they’re acknowledged and heard, and that is why I deem it worthy of mentioning here.

I have, in the past, voiced support for separating the art from the artist, but truth be told, there are compelling arguments on either side of that debate, and my position on the matter is fluid and changing depending on how I am feeling at that time. I do think there is a stronger argument to separate the HP films from the original writer, given the lengths much of the cast have gone to distance themselves from Ms Rowling’s wittering. I am also reassured that she didn’t have any direct input on the scripts of the films, so she is, therefore, easier to ignore. It is my sincere hope that we one day will not have to have these discussions and qualifiers when people learn to be more accepting and learn to shut their mouths about matters that don’t affect them. I am, and will always be, on the side of the oppressed, and I hope you agree with me that these films are worthy of being viewed in their own right.

I think it has been forgotten in the mists of time just how big a deal Harry Potter was back in its heyday. It was a true phenomenon that launched a multimedia franchise now worth many billions of dollars. I was at just the right demographic for the books when they came out, you couldn’t move for Harry Potter merchandise when I was at school. They even used to have midnight launch events for the books, as mad as that sounds now.

From this whirlwind, the movie adaptation was inevitable. When something becomes that popular, you’d be mad not to capitalise on it, and that’s exactly what Warner Bros did when they snapped up the movie rights, and they’ve been laughing all the way to the bank ever since.

I understand that the films (and indeed the books) name was changed to Sorcerer’s Stone in the US, because, and I’m not making this up, publishers thought American readers wouldn’t associate the word ‘Philosopher’ with magic, essentially, they thought you were too dumb to know what a philosopher is, and this is in the days before QAnon, imagine what they’d call it now, probably ‘Magicman and his Magic Adventures’ just so they don’t leave anyone out. Don’t worry though America, I trust you know what a philosopher is, so I’m using its proper name; also, start using the letter ‘u’ in words again. We were nice enough to give you a language, at least use it properly; and learn how to say ‘aluminium’. It’s said like its spelt, but I digress.

Still, the pressure was on WB to get the movie adaptation just right. A rabid fanbase is a hard enough thing to contend with, but they are even more so when the thing you’re adapting is still so fresh, and therefore at the height of its popularity. I can only imagine the sheer number of children who applied to audition for the three main parts, I bet they were long days for the producers…

So, here’s a quick refresher for those readers who’ve not read or seen Harry Potter, incidentally, please write to me and let me know what living under a rock is really like.

Harry Potter is an orphan, living with his abusive aunt and uncle, who make him live in a cupboard under the stairs. On his 11th birthday, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) is informed by half-giant (and full-time sweetheart), Rubeus Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane) that he is a wizard, a fact hidden from him by his magic-hating relatives. He is whisked off to Hogwarts to learn magic under the great Albus Dumbledore (Richard Harris). Along the way, he meets two people who are to become his inseparable best friends Ron Weasley and Hermoine Grainger (Rupert Grint and Emma Watson) and discovers the truth behind his parent’s death and his subsequent fame in the wizarding world.

Trying to boil down the plot of any Harry Potter book/film is lie trying to get an elephant through a hula hoop. There’s so much subtext and complexity to the world and its characters that just trying to summarise it so briefly is doing it a massive injustice, but still, I did my best.

The Harry Potter film series isn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination. It took them a few films to find the right groove, and even then it wasn’t immune from the odd stumbling block; but, having said that, I do think it’s a series made at the perfect time with a perfectly assembled cast.

I certainly do not envy whoever it is that decides to remake this series in several decades, having to assemble a cast that comes anywhere near as perfect as the one assembled for these eight films. You could wait for a thousand years and not have the good luck to have actors of such high calibre across the board again. The quality of actor, and how perfectly matched they are for each part is almost eerie in how well it all fell into place.

All of this starts with the admirable casting of the three child actors picked to spent their puberty waving wands around and wearing silly clothes… come to think of it, that’s not too different from most puberties.

Joking aside, they showed a lot of faith in their child actors. They needed to pick people who would age well with the part, and whether by design or sheer dumb luck, they managed it. Of course, this meant that they had to get cracking with churning out sequels so that Harry wasn’t suffering male-pattern baldness by the time Deathly Hallows released.

All of that was in the future at this point though. The first film was very much a stab in the dark when it came to the kids, which is maybe why the adult cast is packed to the rafters with acting greats, perhaps there was a hope that such co-stars would up the game of their younger counterparts. I don’t know if this was the intention, but if it was, it was a brave one.

As it happens, the child actors are very middling in this film. They’re passable, but they’re certainly not excellent. Not quite deer-in-the-headlights, but still very wooden in places and very much still acclimatising to the job, which is to be expected. It would take a crueller man than I to blame these three pre-teens for not being quite as good as Alan Rickman yet.

With this in mind, it’s left to the adults to carry most of the heavy load in terms of acting, shepherding the youngsters through the experience until they’re good enough to carry their own weight. So, it’s a good job the cast is so bloody brilliant then isn’t it?

Richard Harris is wistful, wise and yet approachable as Dumbledore, a role he would sadly pass along to Michael Gambon later on following his passing. Robbie Coltrane makes us fall in love with Hagrid all over again with his charming performance, and Alan Rickman delivers a menacing performance in a role he would only get better in over time.

Alongside the young group of actors finding their way in this new world, I think the film as a whole has teething issues all-around. The whimsy and charming side of Hogwarts is captured well enough, but it doesn’t seem to have a strong enough grasp of the stories tone, and as a result, it can feel rather washed-out and weak when compared to later instalments.

Again, these are issues that needed to be discovered before they could be ironed out later, the film nonetheless deserves praise for being a balancing act of all the franchises elements, along with being an introduction to a potentially new audience. Like many book-to-film adaptations, there are omissions – most painfully for long-time fans was the lack of Peeves the Poltergeist – but what it leaves behind is a smooth adaptation with a light, fun (if occasionally inconsistent) tone, and a brisk enough pace to keep the whole family engaged.

As a starting point, it was out of the gates with decent enough momentum, which it needs to keep up through subsequent sequels. It is difficult to judge this as a stand-alone piece, given that it is the start of a sprawling story, but it achieves what it needed to, that is to say, it established the story elements and characters admirably, and left us wanting more from the sequels, a job well done all around for the first time out I’d say.

The Conjuring Review

There are a few recurring comments throughout a few of my reviews. Recently a prominent one was about the 80s, but one that has recurred a fair amount over the entire history of my website has been my takes on horror movies.

Since I started reviewing, my views on the genre have softened after seeing a few stellar examples of horror cinema in the years since I started. Prior to actually starting to review films and thus seeing many more of them, the horror movies I’d seen had been nothing more than a laughable carousel of cliché, as laden with predictable baggage as Heathrow’s own heaving carousels. The film I’m talking about today hasn’t gotten off the same plane as some of these films I’ve seen, but its bags have sure gotten mixed up with them.

Putting tortured analogies aside for the time being, The Conjuring is a fairly prolific new face of the genre, producing seven films in the last seven years, and while this is usually a sign that an opportunistic studio has seen dollar signs, it’s also fair to assume that the first one must be good, otherwise we wouldn’t now have the massive franchise.

Following the perspectives of two families, one of which has just moved into a new house (standard hackneyed horror plot #9742) and the other a fairly established pair of ‘demonologists’. The former experience supernatural occurrences and the latter are called in to investigate.

Putting to one side the highly original (he says, voice thick with sarcasm) plot for one moment, allow me to state for the record that your enjoyment and investment in this film will depend more or less entirely on if you believe in ghosts, demons, hauntings and all the rest of that horse-manure sold to very gullible people under emotional stress by opportunistic con-men who have as many supernatural abilities as your average can of beans. In case you can’t tell, I’m very much in the opposing camp.

This being the case, I found the film impossible to watch and enjoy, as it takes the story and the premise so deathly serious. It doesn’t stop for a moment to consider how illogical the whole business is; portraying Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) the demonologists as serious scientists, rather than jumped up fertiliser salespeople they were.

That for me was the worst part of the film, it shows them giving lectures, at colleges no less, to make us believe that all of their work isn’t a show of smoke and mirrors and the product of some very stressed people, desperate for help. Making it seem like what they did was legit, and really the product of something supernatural is incredibly insulting to the audience’s intelligence. We don’t mind believing in the unbelievable for our entertainment, this is suspension of disbelief and is vital to enjoying films & TV, but don’t try and tell us that all this is true, that’s it’s based on facts, because it’s insulting to your audience.

It would also help if the piece of entertainment was, y’know, entertaining in any way. Instead of the parade of cliché masquerading as a story we see before us.

I was prepared to look past the questionable ethics of the film presentation if it resulted in an impressive final product, but the final product we got was dull, tired, and predictable. If you’ve seen enough horror films, you’ll know enough to see all the scares coming a mile away, and what’s worse is how desperately boring it is.

Contrast this film with Halloween, two films ostensibly in the same genre but no-where near comparable in terms of quality, you can never say at any point in Halloween that nothing is happening. There’s always an intrigue, an atmosphere. In The Conjuring you could go off, make a cup of tea, maybe even a sandwich, come back and missed absolutely nothing of note. Nothing happens more or less at all for the first forty-five minutes of the film, insult us if you must to tell your story, but don’t bore us, that’s the worst thing you can do.

The film only really comes alive in its third act, and by then you’ve seen everything the movie has in its arsenal, there’s no sense of building an intrigue or an atmosphere, it just throws events at you and expects to be scared, it has all the grace and subtlety of a forklift truck that’s missing a tire.

What makes this all the more baffling is the talent it has at its disposal.

It’s directed by James Wan, whose past successes include the first Saw film, Insidious, and Aquaman, and it stars Patrick Wilson, who is an alarmingly consistent performer. Not to mention a supporting cast made up of lesser-known but no less talented actors, who are all given it everything they’ve got (besides the kids, but child actors are tricky enough even in good films) and you’ve got a mixture that should work, and does to a lot of people, apparently, but to me was about as appealing as a three-week-old banana.

Maybe it’s because I just don’t ‘get’ this type of film, or maybe I’m too much of a snob having being spoiled with classic horrors like The Shining or Halloween, but I struggle to see how this film spawned a franchise which is, and I can’t believe this is true, but it is, the second highest-grossing horror franchise ever. This film and its many, many inbred cousins have grossed nearly $2 billion at time of writing. All from this starting point; a Frankenstein’s monster of stitched-together tropes, stock characters, and insulting ethics. Some successes really make me question people’s judgement.

Soul Review

For 25 years, Pixar has proved themselves time and again as the kings of emotive animation storytelling, from their debut with Toy Story in 1995, right through to 2020’s Onward, they have proven the benefits in animation when it comes to telling important and complex stories, all the while making them accessible for a younger audience.

This was of course intended to be a theatrical release, but like many films in 2020, the wide closure of many theatres forced its release online. Unlike the release of Mulan on Disney+ though, there wasn’t any additional fee attached to its release, so it was available to all subscribers from the start, which is probably fantastic for new subscribers, giving them a reason to subscribe to get access to a new film, but I am hesitant to heap too much praise on it, as it still intends on continuing the opportunistic ‘Premium Access’ tactic again this year.

Putting issues of corporate greed aside though, I was very much anticipating Soul‘s release. Firstly due to Pixar’s consistency, and secondly because of its intriguing concept.

Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx) is a passionate jazz musician who has been awaiting his big break for most of his life. While making ends meet by teaching music at a middle school, a call from a former student lands him the gig of his dreams. On cloud nine after his long-overdue breakthrough, Joe becomes a victim of an unfortunate accident and soon finds himself in ‘The Great Before’, a hypothetical space between life and death. He must guide an unborn soul (22, voiced by Tina Fey) while trying to return to his Earthly body.

Soul is a perfect example of a story that can only be told through the art of animation. It deals with concepts that would be too abstract to take on in live-action. Its complexity also hides a lot of warmth and humour that is most at home in an animated form.

One of the best things about Pixar as creators is their ability to take complex situations and concepts and make them palatable for both a younger and a more mature audience. Take, for instance, Inside Out, which was ostensibly a film about how to properly manage your emotions, and how to deal with sadness, but it was told with such pathos and liveliness that it made it entertaining on just a base level of understanding. It wasn’t pitched too far over the heads of younger viewers because it had funny characters and moments, and yet it also wasn’t insulting to a more mature audiences intelligence.

Speaking of Inside Out, you could make a case for this film being a thematic successor to it, as they both deal with abstract concepts (emotions in Inside Out, and well, souls in Soul) that should arguably be a little too philosophical for a younger audience, but both manage to convey an emotional and poignant message regardless. They’re both set in hypothetical worlds that can’t be understood by the regular human consciousness, they’re fundamentally works of philosophical brilliance, and yet, there’s a simple charm to them that makes them universally understandable.

The subject of souls, and life after death, is a tricky one for a kids film, to begin with. You have to balance an unbiased view of the subject, without insulting anyone in the audience. It’s certainly brave for Pixar to take on this topic, and it was smart of them to keep death and the afterlife as ambiguous and abstract, yet still very artfully, as possible.

Its philosophy is not so much about what happens after death as it is about enjoying life while it’s there, and appreciating your reasons for living. It’s incredibly clever in its handling of the material and in how it conveys this through its characters.

Speaking of characters, there are very few actual human characters in the narrative, most of the time they’re beings that occupy ‘The Great Before’ which apparently doesn’t make them people at all, they’re just forms that take a shape that is feasible to a human mind, and yet still ethereal in appearance. This is a fairly ‘far-out’ idea to begin with, but it does allow for some very funny interactions and dialogue moments between them (incidentally, Richard Ayoade was a great choice of voice).

Admittedly, this makes it difficult to properly assess the central relationship of the film, that being the connection between Joe’s soul and 22, a new soul who has been avoiding going to Earth and living for centuries. There’s some very intelligent, and more to the point funny, montages of 22 and her previous ‘mentors’ who include Mother Theresa, Marie Antoinette, and Muhammed Ali, all trying and failing to help 22 achieve her ‘Earth pass’.

The sequences in ‘The Great Beyond’ are examples of the film, and indeed the creative team, at its creative peak. They introduce the concept of assigning personalities and passions before these ‘souls’ are born on Earth, it’s a very complicated idea that could have easily gone wrong. When you’re dealing with things like the afterlife and sous, the potential is there to be preachy, or to dumb it down for the kids, but Pixar never shy away from such issues, and rarely do they under or over-cook an idea.

When they are engineering relationships between human characters too, they manage to find an elusive sweet spot of using recognisable frameworks but adding just enough fresh personality to not make it seem derivative. For example, a section of the film is dedicated to the relationship between Joe and his mother, who disapproves of his ambitions as a musician. Now, we’ve seen this kind of dynamic before, many times in fact, and it could have been a cliché, but time and effort are put into showing the characters talk about their problems and properly voice their frustrations. It isn’t anything ground-breaking, but it just adds a nice cherry on top of this films already-generous trifle.

I also appreciate the portrayal of African-American life and culture in such a mainstream production. Real care is put into portraying their lives, not in any stereotypical way, but in a way that feels authentic. The jazz sequences and the scene in the barbershop about half-way through are great examples of this.

The voice cast is, as usual for Pixar, stellar. Jamie Foxx does a great job as a downbeat dreamer, and Tina Fey adds real life to a being who isn’t actually a human character. The supporting cast who make up the people who surround Joe are also noteworthy, Their characters help flesh out the world in which Joe lives, bringing it to life. There’s also a surprisingly fun role for Irish TV host Graham Norton, whose character Moonwind adds a little more depth to ‘The Great Before’.

Watching Pixar films always gives me a uniquely joyful feeling of warmth, and Soul is no different. An exploration of a complicated concept that could only work in animation, given life by the very best the art form has to offer, and lovingly portrayed by a talented cast.

Another example of the endless potential of animation, that feels like it was made with genuine love and warmth, Soul shows you what can be achieved, and provides something for all walks of life. Another home-run from Pixar.

Labyrinth Review

Jim Henson is a beloved figure the world over for his part in creating The Muppets (for more on
these anarchic creations, see The Muppets Christmas Carol review in Chapter 12) as well as
pioneering puppeteering in modern film & TV. He’s an icon of the medium who sadly died before his
time at the age of 53.

As is the case with most celebrity deaths, his shorter life only heightened the feeling of reverence
around him, making him a symbolic icon of puppetry that persists to this day.

Alongside his work with The Muppets Show and Sesame Street, Henson made two movies
independent of his most famous creations, both of which went on to enjoy a wide cult appeal and
are now considered as classic of their genre.

The first of these films was 1982’s The Dark Crystal, a property whose popularity was such that it
spawned a Netflix TV series decades after its initial release, which was also warmly-received, albeit
short-lived.

Following on from this relative success away from Kermit & Co (although still within his
puppeteering wheelhouse) came this film in 1986, a collaboration between Henson, producer
George Lucas, and writer Terry Jones (of Monty Python fame). The film also gets a boost through
having one of the world’s most famous men, David Bowie, in a starring role.

Labyrinth follows the story of Sarah (Jennifer Connelly), a frustrated teenage girl, saddled with
babysitting her baby brother Toby. In a fit of madness, she calls upon the Goblin King (Bowie) to take
her brother away. Immediately remorseful at her actions she makes a deal with the Goblin King,
forcing her to navigate a tricky labyrinth in order to save her brother, before he gets turned into a
goblin.

I found myself pleasantly surprised with Labyrinth. For many years I’d heard it talked up as being a
cult classic and how I ‘had to see it’. That kind of thing often puts me off watching a film, sometimes
out of spite, but mostly because hype is a dangerous thing, and furthermore, so are cult films.

Following that awesome segue (hello, I am a writer, smug-smug), let’s talk about cult films.

There are many different types of them. There’s the sexy (Rocky Horror Picture Show, The Lost Boys),
the terrible (The Room, Trolls 2) and there’s the odd (Donnie Darko, Eraserhead) and that’s just
scraping the tip of the iceberg. As a general rule of thumb though, a ‘cult film’ is something that
struggled to find an audience upon its first release, but later found its niche. Usually through the
midnight showing circuit.

Although I’ve heard of this film being referred to as a cult film. I’m not sure I agree. Sure, it is a little
off-the-wall, Jim Henson productions tended to be more imaginative than most, but I still think it has
a broader market appeal than most of its bedfellows.

It’s light-hearted, charming, fun and creative. There’s something to be enjoyed here for everyone, I
feel. The kids will love the silly characters and the puppets and the adults will enjoy its campy nature
and appearance of David Bowie.

The word I used a few paragraphs ago (imaginative) probably describes the film best; across all
departments too, it didn’t reserve its whimsy just for the puppets. There’s some truly remarkable
production design and costumes on display, and Henson’s incredible eye for anarchic, family-friendly
storytelling is on full display.

But the real success is undoubtably the puppets, oh my lord, the puppets, they’re wonderful. I really
shouldn’t be surprised that someone with Henson’s background nailed the puppet design, but
they’re remarkable works of creativity and engineering.
Hoggle is the highlight of the bunch. I’m interested to know just how he works, but in the same
breath, I really don’t want to know either, for fear of ruining the magic.

However he works, his
design may cause a few to recoil at the start, but his character really shines through later in the film.
I really was amazed at just how expressive he was, conveying sadness and disappointment, all the
while being a puppet, some human actors don’t have that range!

When you cast a star from another medium in your film, you’re taking a big risk; and while this
wasn’t Bowie’s first leading role (The Man Who Fell to Earth pre-dates this) he wasn’t exactly a
seasoned actor when he was cast.
While he undeniably brings a certain charisma and magnetism to the role – I also applaud him for
playing a villain when he comes from such an image-conciouss world – he can hardly be described as
a powerhouse in front of the camera.

He isn’t awful, but he certainly doesn’t look comfortable either
(to be fair, I wouldn’t be in those trousers) altogether he cuts a somewhat awkward figure in the
film. He isn’t quite menacing, but he does have a presence about him (and no, I’m not referring to his
bulge).

There is a lot to enjoy about Labyrinth when all is said and done. It did seem to drag in the middle,
despite its fairly-light ninety-minute runtime, and some of its songs don’t quite hit home, but it does
produce that brand of whimsy that Henson would become universally famous for.

It’s a fun, light
watch that feels right at home amongst him filmography, despite its flaws, it’s a very enjoyable
watch; the only thing is, you’ll end up with that song stuck in your head for weeks afterwards…

The Mandalorian Season 2 Review

I’ve long said that the possibilities in the Star Wars universe are almost endless. There’s an entire galaxy of stories to be told, and if Disney’s investors call last month is anything to go by, they fully intend to tell those stories.

After the first series showed a lot of promise, and laid the foundation for larger series arcs, in some ways there was a lot of pressure on season 2 to pick up the ball and run with it, after all, in many ways, it is Star Wars‘ tentpole series now, with no movies currently on the horizon, well, at least for the next few years anyway.

I’ve often found television difficult to review – as I’ve stated before – in fact, The Mandalorian was the only TV series I reviewed last year, and I think I’ll probably be sticking to that, as TV is so much more of a time sink than films are. Another part of the reviewing aspect I struggle with for TV is putting it all neatly into one package – but that’s what I’ll be trying to do today, as I did last year. I’ll review the whole series by its own merits, and mention specific episodes or characters as they are needed, okay, let’s give this a go.

After last seasons finale introduced us to this series’ ‘big bad’ Moff Gideon (Giancarlo Esposito) and Mando was given his task of returning The Child to his kind, we re-join our hero as he seeks out Jedi to take the young creature to his kind, and follow the inevitable setbacks he will face.

During the second season, we saw the story of Mando and his little green sidekick go from a small side-story to the main saga, to a galaxy-spanning, universe-broadening tale that widens the scope of the extended Star Wars universe. No longer is the entire focus of the series based around one family, the scope of the universe surrounding Star Wars has been widened with this series in what was a highly-necessary extension of the reach of Star Wars. The series encapsulates an entire galaxy, and only now are we really starting to get a feel for the wider reaches of its borders, and that can only be a good thing.

Admittedly, the series did not hit the ground running, although it didn’t flounder either. At the start, it felt very much like a series of video game fetch-quests. Mando would go to a place looking for a Jedi, be pointed towards someone who could tell them something, but only if they help him with the errand they’re currently running.

Sometimes this works, indeed, the first episode which revolves around Mando helping a Tattooine village bring down a ‘krayt dragon’ (basically a big sandworm) with the help of the Marshall, who happens to have Boba Fett’s armour (ooh, foreshadowing). This is a nice stand-alone tale, even though it doesn’t move the series narrative along too much.

The following two episodes also follow this formula, albeit with less success. It introduced us to the Frog Lady, who instantly became a meme, as well as Bo-Katan and her band of Mandalorians, and all it feels like it achieved was introducing the key character of Bo-Katan for later in the series, otherwise, it feels very much like filler, to continue the video game analogy, these are like side quests to your main story, they add extra slices to the ongoing experience, but don’t move the main narrative too much.

Juxtaposing this, however, is the final stretch of the series, which is excellent. I’d go as far as saying that episodes 5 to 8 (or Chapter 13 to 16, if you’re going by the series structure) is some of the best Star Wars we’ve ever seen, in any medium.

Given my love of the series as a whole, I don’t say this lightly, but I genuinely think it’s incredible work from everyone involved, from showrunner Jon Favreau to lead actor Pedro Pascal, it’s unlike anything we’ve seen thus far in the series, all while being so unmistakeably Star Wars.

At the start of the series, I wanted to see what happened next for sure, but after Episode 5 (Chapter 13: The Jedi) I was actively counting down the days to each Friday, willing the days to go by quicker, just so I could see what would happen next, and that’s a rare thing in our current instant-gratification age, it was a bold decision to release an episode a week a-la traditional TV, one that could have quite easily backfired, instead, it made The Mandalorian appointment television, especially towards the business end of the season.

It is a risk in cases of series like this that they can devolve into fan-service. Not that fan-service is always a bad thing, only when it flies in the face of the story, and that’s the key to this series. When the series does utilise fan-service, it is in the interest of the story as a whole. Take the Ahsoka Tano appearance, for example, she’s a fan-favourite character, for sure, but it felt like the series earned her presence. It spent a series and a half building up new characters and worlds, that it felt organic to introduce more established characters to the narrative.

The same can be said of the appearance of that character in the finale (no spoilers here) at the start of the series, I was sort of hoping that we wouldn’t see any character like that making an appearance, instead preferring the series to establish fresh characters, but by the time we got to that episode, I was whooping and cheering like anyone else, it was a truly magical moment.

Across the board, there was outstanding work both in front of and behind the camera. Mando himself feels like a more rounded character, the more we saw of The Child, the more we loved him, he comes to life, even more, this series thanks to the wonderful puppeteering work behind the beloved ‘Baby Yoda’.

Directing-wise, the series continues to draw an impressive stable of filmmakers. Peyton Reed and Jon Favreau make their series debut, joining long-term Star Wars favourite Dave Filoni (who directed Chapter 13: The Jedi) and returning stalwart from season one Bryce Dallas Howard. Robert Rodriguez also directs an excellent episode (Chapter 14: The Tragedy) and another series highlight comes to us from Rick Famuyiwa (who also directed two episodes last season) in Chapter 15: The Believer, which sees the return of Mayfeld from last season.

Overall then, The Mandalorian continues to go from strength-to-strength, its success was not a one-off, and long may it continue, and given how many TV series have been given the green-light in the wake of its success, so it could be responsible for a new Golden Age of Star Wars storytelling; not that its story is over yet, with a third season to be broadcast next year, there’s no sign that it will burn out yet.

A wonderful addition to the series canon. The force is strong with this series.

A Look Back at December

So, we say goodbye to the final month of the year that was. Christmas has come and gone and the New Year brings us a certain amount of hope that this year might be better, as realistically, it couldn’t get much worse.

It’s also the time of the year when wide-eyed dreamers declare their ‘New Years resolutions’ despite the fact that they’ve never managed to stick with one for longer than a week, and haven’t changed enough to indicate that this year will be different.

I’ve never been one for New Years Resolutions as you can probably tell, I’ve got this far so why would I change now? But still, I intend to bring all of my readers the very best content I can, as I try and do every year, I’ll also try and expand my horizons once more in search of new material to write about, so there’s your resolution.

Film of the Month: It’s a Wonderful Life (1947) – Directed by Frank Capra

An obvious choice, really. Not only the greatest Christmas film ever, but one of the greatest ever, period. It still manages to tug my heartstrings even after many rewatches.

I’ve really enjoyed this jaunt through a few Christmas classics, and I hope you’ve all found it a compelling read also, I don’t know yet what January will bring, but hopefully it’ll be interesting.

Before I say goodbye, I’d like to thank you all for reading. This year has been difficult for everyone, and I hope that my website has provided you with a distraction, even if just for five minutes. It blows my mind that anyone chooses to read the stuff I write, and you all amaze me every month with your reactions. Thank you, and have a wonderful 2021.

The Second Annual Major Film Reviews Awards

For a list of all eligible films, please click here: https://majorfilmreviews.com/2020/12/31/films-of-2020/ (password: filmlist)

It’s that time of year again! After their strong debut year last time out, the world decided to pull a fast one and make it hard for me to pick this year’s best and worst movies; because they’re all now coming out in 2021.

Never fear though, my dedication to bringing you top-tier film content doesn’t stop because there have been no films come out for six months, no siree. This year, I have opened the parameters to any film I reviewed in the calendar year of 2020, no matter how old they are, they’re eligible if I’ve written about them this year. (The full list of films I’ve reviewed is at the top of this page.)

I’ve tried to pick at least one 2020 film for each category so the results aren’t too skewed towards the classics, and I’ve also added two ‘Lifetime Achievement categories, one for the very best the medium has to offer, and one for the very worst, and they’ll be the final two categories listed here, a bit like the BAFTA Fellowship, but written by a guy writing this alone in his flat instead of a panel of experts.

Like last year, I’ll be awarding gongs to the very worst and very best films, working my way up in terms of importance, so I’m going to get the stinkers out of the way first.

With all that in mind, let’s look back on what 2020 brought us, and hand out some arbitrary awards!

Worst Actress in a Supporting Role:

Nominations:

Rebel Wilson (as Jennyanydots in Cats)

Frances Fisher (as Ruth DeWitt Bukater in Titanic)

Taylor Swift (as Bombalurina in Cats)

Anna Taylor-Joy (as Illyana Rasputin/Magik in The New Mutants)

Holly Hunter (as June Finch in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice)

WINNER: Rebel Wilson (Cats)

I have a ‘feline’ this won’t be the only time this film wins. Shut up, that was an actual joke.

An absolute failure in every possible sense of the word, I’m just glad I uploaded this review on January 1st, 2020 so I have another chance to remind everyone how much of a massive hairball this film was.

There were many memorable performances in Cats, all of them memorable for the wrong reasons, but Rebel Wilson might just have been the worst of the bunch… okay, second worst, but we’ll get to him later.

Worst Actor in a Supporting Role:

Nominations:

Jason Derulo (as Rum Tum Tugger in Cats)

Idris Elba (as Macavity in Cats)

Jesse Eisenberg (as Lex Luthor in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice – Ultimate Edition)

Billy Zane (as Cal Hockley in Titanic)

Corey Feldman (as Edgar Frog in The Lost Boys)

WINNER: Jesse Eisenberg – Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice – Ultimate Edition

Listen, I love DC as much as the next man, and I don’t actually hate this movie (as my fairly in-depth review of it will attest) but I don’t think they could have missed the mark with Lex Luthor any more if they’d been aiming in the wrong direction.

Maybe Eisenberg got the wrong character notes and assumed he was playing The Riddler instead of the ruthless, cold, and measured (but most certainly not wacky) Luthor, or maybe Zack Snyder is just a bit of a hack.

I feel bad giving this film an award for worst anything, as there’s a lot of good there, but Eisenberg’s performance is just terrible. Terrible enough to beat out two actors from Cats, what does that tell you?

Worst Actress in a Leading Role:

Nominations:

Judi Dench (as Old Deuteronomy in Cats)

Eliza Scanlen (as Milla Finlay in Babyteeth)

Melody Anderson (as Dale Arden in Flash Gordon)

Kate Winslet (as Rose DeWitt Bukater in Titanic)

Eileen Brennan (as Mrs Peacock in Clue)

WINNER: Eileen Brennan (Clue)

Blimey, my review of this film certainly annoyed a lot of people. One commenter wondered how I could possibly compare Clue to pantomime, and in hindsight he’s right, pantomime is actually fun.

Safe to say I don’t share the safe nostalgia goggles everyone else seems to when it comes to this film, I honestly don’t understand the tribalism. It’s just a poorly-executed B-movie guys, not the Second Coming of Christ, chill out.

Out of all the performances, this is probably the worst. Annoying, shrill, and about as funny as drowning in a pool of treacle, Mrs Peacock takes the soiled cake and wears it like a ridiculous hat (which might explain her hair) and is my pick for the worst Leading Actress I’ve watched this year.

Worst Actor in a Leading Role:

Nominations:

James Corden (as Bustopher Jones in Cats)

Robert Downey Jr (as Dr John Dolittle in Dolittle)

Sam Jones (as Flash Gordon in Flash Gordon)

Michael Jordan (as himself in Space Jam)

WINNER: James Corden (Cats)

Can somebody please explain to me the appeal of James Corden? Why is he cast in so many films when he has all the acting ability of a dying blobfish?

Even in this film, where there were more bad decisions than there are fleas on a regular street cat, Corden manages to comfortably be the worst thing on-screen whenever he’s around; managing to make his character the most grotesque in the film, and given the CGI work in this film, that’s quite an achievement.

Despite this, Corden continues to find work between shifts fawning over every celebrity that comes on his talk show. The cynical side of me says that he keeps getting cast because he’s a good little shill, but maybe that’s unfair. He must just have some kind of appeal that I’m missing.

Worst Director:

Nominations:

Tom Hooper (Cats)

Stephen Gaghan (Dolittle)

James Cameron (Titanic)

Troy Duffy (The Boondock Saints)

Jonathan Lynn (Clue)

WINNER: Tom Hooper (Cats)

Oh, Tom. What went wrong? Your future looked so promising after the one-two punch of The King’s Speech and Les Misérables, but you had to stretch just a bit too far didn’t you?

It took every fibre of my being to not give this award to Cameron, but despite my hatred of that bloody film about that bloody boat, at least Titanic was functional. At least they didn’t need to recall the original reels because of glaring visual faults. Titanic was actually technically sound, Cats was a cavalcade of poor decisions coming home to roost.

Ultimately, it saddens me to give Tom this award, as he has proved that he’s very capable as a filmmaker, but what was he thinking when it came to this? How could he look at that finished cut and be satisfied? The mind boggles.

Worst Picture:

Nominations:

Cats

Dolittle

Babyteeth

Flash Gordon

Clue

WINNER: Cats

Of course it is. I’m pretty sure you’re all sick of hearing about it by now. It might well be the worst film I’ve ever reviewed, full stop; and I reviewed The Happytime Murders.

If we’re thinking of the root of all the bad ideas that eventually became this monumental cat turd, we should maybe consider that making a film version at all was a bad idea. It’s hardly a story for the ages to begin with, is it?

I’ve been awfully cruel about this film over the past few entries, but I genuinely can’t think of a single positive thing about it. So it’s an obvious choice.

Best Music:

Nominations:

John Williams (The Empire Strikes Back, Schindler’s List)

Nino Rota (The Godfather)

Ludwig Goransson (Tenet)

Hans Zimmer (Inception & Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice)

Alan Menken & Howard Ashman (Little Shop of Horrors)

WINNER: John Williams (The Empire Strikes Back & Schindler’s List)

I mean, that is one loaded category, but there is only ever one winner in any music-based conversation that includes John Williams.

Perhaps the secret behind several classic movies, especially those made by a certain Mr Spielberg, John Williams is in an unassailable position in Hollywood, breathing rarefied air as a genuine legend of Hollywood, he helped build cherished movie memories with a wave of his baton.

Any of his classic scores would be enough to win, but even in this tough category (Speak Softly, Love is one of my favourite pieces of music also) any score that includes ‘The Imperial March’ just has to win, sorry, that’s the rules.

Best Cinematography:

Nominations:

Roger Deakins (1917)

Hong Kyung-pyo (Parasite)

Hoyte van Hoytema (Tenet)

Janusz Kaminski (Schindler’s List)

Gordon Willis (The Godfather)

WINNER: Roger Deakins (1917)

Roger Deakins might look like an affable scientist, but he is a wizard with a camera.

This film could have fallen flat if it didn’t have an absolute master behind the camera guiding it, and for all the praise directors get, it’s your cinematographer you rely on for killer camera work, and you couldn’t find a more reliable pair of hands than Roger Deakins.

The recipient of a staggering fifteen Academy Award nominations, Deakins past work includes such greats as The Shawshank Redemption, Fargo, Skyfall, and Blade Runner 2047 (for which he won his first Oscar) he remains in demand, and as sharp as ever, judging by the mammoth task that faced him in 1917.

Special mention should also be given to Hoyte van Hoytema for his stellar work, both going forwards and backwards, in Tenet.

Best Actress in a Supporting Role:

Nominations:

Kathy Bates (Barbara Jewell in Richard Jewell)

Park So-dam (Kim Ki-jung in Parasite)

Laurie Metcalf (Marion McPherson in Lady Bird)

Phillipa Soo (Eliza Hamilton in Hamilton)

Margot Robbie (Kayla Pospisil in Bombshell)

WINNER: Margot Robbie (Kayla Pospisil in Bombshell)

To stand out in a film as strong as Bombshell, you really have to bring your A-Game.

Sharing the billing with Charlize Theron and Nicole Kidman, Robbie somehow still manages to be the stand-out performance of the film; making her composite character of Kayla an emotional lynch-pin, whose experiences are as affecting as they are traumatic.

Bombshell may seem like it was released three years ago after everything that has happened in between, but the experience still sticks with me even now, and the parts I most remember are Robbie’s, her characters experiences are probably just a tenth of some experiences, and their presentation and performance are what makesBombshell so timely and important.

Best Actor in a Supporting Role:

Nominations:

Ralph Fiennes (Amon Goth in Schindler’s List)

Robin Williams (Dr Sean Maguire in Good Will Hunting & Parry in The Fisher King)

Al Pacino (Michael Corleone in The Godfather)

Robert Carlyle (Begbie in Trainspotting)

Choi Woo-shik (Kim Ki-woo in Parasite)

WINNER: Robin Williams (Dr Sean Maguire in Good Will Hunting & Parry in The Fisher King)

It was only ever going to be Robin.

Not only because Good Will Hunting is my second favourite film, but because of the tremendous difference between these two parts, the range and scope of his genius know no bounds, and I miss him every single day. Occasionally I’ll watch a film, see a character and think: ‘that would have been perfect for Robin Williams’ no-one since has managed to match his presence.

A traditionalist might have given this to Ralph Fiennes, and as much as I understand, these are my awards and put simply, I was touched more personally by these two characters, as much as Goth was a great portrayal of a terrible man, for me, Robin wins every time.

Best Actress in a Leading Role:

Nominations:

Scarlett Johansson (Nicole Barber in Marriage Story)

Sigourney Weaver (Ellen Ripley in Alien)

Emily Blunt (Mary Poppins in Mary Poppins Returns)

Kim Hye-ja (Mother in Mother)

Aisling Franciosi (Clare Carroll in The Nightingale)

WINNER: Scarlett Johansson (Nicole Barber in Marriage Story)

She could have quite easily been nominated twice if I’d seen Jojo Rabbit just a month later, but she wins for this devastatingly real depiction of an eroding marriage, and the effect a divorce has on the people in its orbit.

Opposite an equally fantastic Adam Driver (who we’ll get to soon) ScarJo is perfect as a mother and wife on the brink, showing just how much these experiences take a toll on your mental health, it’s a gripping performance in an incredible film, one that definitely deserves re-visiting again.

Special mention also to Kim Hye-ja for her role in Mother the 2009 Bong Joon-ho film which I covered in the wake of Parasite’s release, and for Aisling Franciosi whose performance in The Nightingale might seem like a lifetime ago, but still sticks in my mind as brutally harrowing, and above all, memorable.

Best Actor in a Leading Role:

Nominations:

Adam Driver (Charlie Barber in Marriage Story)

Liam Neeson (Oskar Schindler in Schindler’s List)

Marlon Brando (Don Corleone in The Godfather)

Tom Hanks (Fred Rogers in It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood)

James Stewart (George Bailey in It’s A Wonderful Life)

WINNER: Marlon Brando (Don Corleone in The Godfather)

Oh god, I don’t half give myself the tough jobs don’t I? Having to pick between three of the greatest on-screen performances ever? Yeah, no biggie.

I eventually narrowed this down to James Stewart and Marlon Brando, and it was essentially a coin toss. Choosing between them felt like choosing which leg I felt was least necessary, but after much deliberation, Brando won out.

The Godfather is still my nomination for the greatest film of all-time, and there are many reasons why, Brando’s performance is particularly high on this list, as his powerhouse performance dominates the film, demonstrating his quite considerable range across the run-time and reminding us definitively why he is one of cinema’s greatest performers. When he wanted to be, of course.

James Stewart and Liam Neeson should feel hard done-to to lose out, and the other two are just unlucky that I’ve considered all the films I’ve reviewed this year.

Best Director:

Nominations:

Bong Joon-ho (Parasite)

Sam Mendes (1917)

Christopher Nolan (Tenet & Inception)

Stephen Spielberg (Schindler’s List)

Francis Ford Coppolla (The Godfather)

Frank Capra (It’s A Wonderful Life)

WINNER: Bong Joon-ho (Parasite)

Director Bon burst into the mainstream this year following Parasite’s sweep of this year’s Oscars. He quickly became the toast of the town, and left many Korean film fans saying: ‘yeah, we’ve been trying to tell you for years he’s something special.’ Thankfully, we are now listening.

One of the many tragedies of the pandemic is that we never got to see the full effect of Parasite’s win. What could have brought a new wave of mainstream foreign filmmakers was instead left to die down as cinemas closed, sad, but I hope this can still be the case in the future.

After further exploring Bong Joon-ho’s back catalogue, I can now say with confidence that he’s one of the most exciting filmmakers around, and I can’t wait to see what he has up his sleeve next.

Major Film Reviews Hall of Shame Inductee: Michael Bay

The inaugural inductee into the MFR Hall of Shame is perhaps a predictable one, but no less deserved.

If I had a nemesis, it would probably be this man. No director has ever made so many films that have made me despair for the condition of modern Hollywood as Michael Bay, his films are lifeless, emotionless, jingoistic, simplistic and general just awful, not just quality-wise, but also morally.

James Cameron may have made me least favourite film of all time, and be more visual-effects supervisor than director, but at least he made the first two Terminator films, as well as Aliens before he decided that films should look nice but have nothing behind the eyes. Bay’s films have always been brain-dead.

Major Film Reviews Hall of Fame Inductee: Martin Scorsese

On the far, far, FAR other end of the directorial spectrum, we have this man. Someone who has been making cutting-edge, high-quality films for over fifty years, and even after all this time, he still has an eye for a killer movie, as evidenced last year in The Irishman.

Each of the decades he has worked in has their own definitive Scorsese movie. The 70s has Taxi Driver, the 80s has Raging Bull, the 90s, of course, has Goodfellas, and so on. His influence on modern filmmakers is massive, just watch the reception he got at this years Oscars. He’s a cherished director who can still surprise us with his work, he’s an absolutely worthy first inductee into my own personal Hall of Fame.

Thanks once again for joining me for this self-indulgent display of award-giving. I hope you enjoyed it, and wish you all a much better 2021.

Top 5 Films of 2020

Okay, so we know that 2020 has been a, shall we say, challenging time. Personally, I’d refer to it as a log flume that used raw sewage instead of water, but let’s be diplomatic here.

Usually, as part of my year-end posts, I’d produce a Top 10 List of that year’s films; this year has been significantly barer than others in terms of releases, however, so that didn’t prove possible.

I could have opened the Top 10 to my classic reviews too, but I didn’t think it was appropriate to heap yet more praise on films from the past when there were significant releases this year that should be spotlighted too. I also briefly considered stretching it to the usual 10 with films I enjoyed but weren’t special, but that would just de-value the list as a whole I feel.

I have made my ‘Awards’ post open to every review I’ve done, however, as that would be significantly trickier than this.

The usual rules apply: only films I have seen that received a cinema or streaming release in the UK in 2020 are eligible, most, if not all, of these five released in the US in 2019, but since I am UK-based, I’m using their release over here as their date. I also introduced a ‘one comic-book movie per year’ rule last year, but that doesn’t apply this time out. Unusually for me, there are no honourable mentions this time out either.

Okay, that’s enough delays, on with the list…

5: Onward – Directed by Dan Scanlon

Pixar have well and truly entrenched themselves into the public consciousness as the kings of animation. So much so that even films that aren’t considered their best are still great works; because their highs are so high, even their middle ground is great.

What I’m trying to say is that even though Onward probably won’t make it onto most peoples list of greatest Pixar movies, it is still a heart-warming example of the pure magic animation can produce, it retains the same emotional heart that beats at the core of all of their films while exploring new pastures and settings.

The sad reality is that even though Onward is a great film, it probably wouldn’t have made the list in a normal year. Still, it is worth remembering its quality, and the fact that it offered a brief feel-good moment in this hellscape of a year.

4: Bombshell – Directed by Jay Roach

2020 has been a year of great social upheaval. On top of the obvious COVID storm lingering over the year like a terrible sword of Damocles, it has been a year of unrest and reflection in many different quarters.

Although the general focus has been on race relations for the majority of the year, the underlying battle for gender equality has still been raging. Several very brave victims have come forward with their stories, and I’d like to think that their bravery will continue to bring about a wave of changes in all areas of every-day life.

With this in mind, Bombshell was a perfect movie for the times. Telling the story of rampant sexual harassment at the right-win broadcaster Fox News, and shining a light on the true story of the women involved, it shone a light on an all-too-recent story, but also seems to have slipped by unnoticed.

It was also a brave new direction for Jay Roach, best known up to this point for making the Austin Powers series of films, themselves not entirely politically correct in the current climate. It can almost be seen as a form of repentance from the director for these past indiscretions. Not that I’m saying his previous films were entirely sexist, they were, after all, a spoof, but it is an interesting about-face for Roach.

3: 1917 – Directed by Sam Mendes

I’ll be honest, it was a tough choice putting this in the list, as it and my second place choice can be interchangeable, depending on my feelings that day.

As much as it is a technical marvel, the real appeal in 1917 for me was the characters and story. I’m always wary of films marketed because of their central gimmick. I’m into films for character and story, as a rule, I’m not interested in how you filmed it, as long as I can make out what’s going on, but I’ll be damned if the unique selling point here didn’t work well.

I think the difference between this and, say, Avatar, which was also sold on its central gimmick of 3D and cutting-edge effects is that 1917 had an engaging story, and its unique selling point enhanced that. It added a ticking-clock element and a feeling of ever-mounting stakes, it wasn’t just a gimmick that have you a headache, it served a purpose. It was a story told in real-time, and the way it was shot serves that, rather than being a story made to fit a gimmick, it was a gimmick made to fit a story, a subtle but crucial difference, I’m sure you’ll agree.

2: A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood – Directed by Marielle Heller

Even though 1917 is by far and away the better film technically speaking; sometimes all a film needs to do to meet my approval is a lovable subject, and this was a film that melted my heart on my first watch.

Growing up in the U.K. I was never exposed to Fred Rogers at any point growing up. His show never made it this far, but the more I learn about him, the more I adore him. Like Matthew Rhys’ character in this film, I find it hard it to believe that such a wholesome man can exist without him hiding something, but I want it to be true more than anything.

I suppose him being played by Tom Hanks helps, what with him being the single most wholesome, lovable man in the world, and Hanks’ performance makes Rogers all the more likeable, he inhabits this wonderful character and delivers his best performance in years.

It might be a fairly ordinary biopic, but it is set apart by its subject, its performances, and, most of all, the size of its heart.

1: Parasite – Directed by Bong Joon-ho

I mean, were you expecting anything else?

It says a lot about a film when I take my time to recommend it to everyone I talk to about it. I feel like it was a lifetime ago when I saw it, and yet I remember it so vividly. Few films manage to affect me as Parasite did, and few manage to change me in the same way.

It opened my eyes to the wonderful work of Bong Joon-ho, and Korean cinema in general. It was accessible to a new viewer without diluting any of its themes at all. It may have been a story entrenched in Korean culture, but it is still recognisable wherever you watch it from. A good story well-told can be understood and recognised universally, and this is a terrific example.

It’s not just my film of the year, it might be my favourite film I have ever reviewed, and even if this year had been as busy as previous years, it would have taken a monumental effort to shift it from its perch at my mountaintop.

I have run out of superlatives over the months since its release in which to use to describe it. It’s magnificent, thrilling and ground-breaking. It is, and I don’t use this word lightly, a masterpiece.

Come back tomorrow for the Second Annual Major Film Reviews Awards in which I’ll be handing out my awards for the best (and worst) films I’ve reviewed this year!

It’s A Wonderful Life Review

Everyone has their own Christmas traditions. Some people like to go carolling, others might prefer a cup of cocoa in front of the fire, and some, like me, will watch a Christmas film.

We all have our favourites, of course, and I’m not going to pretend that this film has always been my Christmas Eve film tradition, but it has been in recent years because, quite frankly, there’s no better Christmas Eve film. In fact, there may not be a better Christmas film, full stop.

Even though I hadn’t seen this film until a few Christmases ago, I knew it by reputation. It’s almost like the Citizen Kane of Christmas movies; it’s universally beloved and its reputation continues to be strong, no matter how old it is.

I remember watching this for the first time, I didn’t know what to expect and was, as always, wary of its reputation, and worried that it may not live up to the lofty ambitions that it had built over the decades. I have never been so pleased to be wrong in all my life.

It’s a Wonderful Life is the story of George Bailey. We are taken on a journey throughout his life, how he saved his little brother from drowning but partially lost his hearing as a result, we see him grow up, fall in love, take over his fathers business, and then we see his downfall. In his darkest moment, George is left to ask the question: would life had been better if I were never born?

Very rarely, I come across a film that re-affirms my love for the art form. I always know that I love doing this, even if I never see a penny of profit from the venture, I love films, and I love writing about them; but sometimes a film will come along that will make every single dud I ever sit through worth it. Something so powerful that it makes me forget about all the times I sit at my computer, unsure of what I have to say, or even if I have anything to say, and this film is one of them.

There are a few films I cherish, that I could talk about for hours on end and still find new material to talk about. They all give me the same feeling, a warm buzzing in my heart, some of my deepest emotional connections have been with films, especially growing up as somewhat of an outsider, and remaining a loner, my solace became movies, they speak to me in ways that people don’t, they comfort me.

It’s A Wonderful Life instantly became one of my favourite films when the bell sounded at the end of the film, in fact, truth be told, it probably was before that. Sometimes I just know when a film is going to go straight into my favourites list. There are some that I grow fonder and fonder of as time goes by, and others I take straight to my heart.

I don’t think there’s anything I can say as a critic that hasn’t already been said for decades, I can just tell you how it makes me feel, and it gives me a whole cocktail of emotions from opening credits to end. I genuinely get teary just thinking about this film, so imagine what I’m like when I watch it!

Joking aside, there are few experiences like it. It’s surprisingly dark, for starters, especially for its time, but ultimately it is one of the most life-affirming films you can ever watch.

Charting the entire course of George Bailey’s life, it shows us all the ways we as people affect others lives, all the lives we touch and indelibly alter, and even some that we unknowingly save. George Bailey is the everyman, we grow to love him because we recognise him. He makes mistakes, but he’s human, he always goes above and beyond to do what’s right, and when we see his bad luck start to mount, we empathise.

Some modern filmmakers could do to study this film repeatedly, as it’s a near-perfect character study. As an example of how to build a character, make him sympathetic, and make his frustrations justified without making them seem selfish or entitled, it is without par. Of course, there are times when George may seem selfish, but he’s driven by entirely understandable problems. We all know what it’s like to let the frustrations of life mount on you, it’s a universal story.

Of course, all that work in writing and conceptualising this character would have been for nought had they not cast the right man to play him, and Frank Capra manages to strike gold at the perfect time with the casting of James Stewart.

Stewart is a Hollywood golden-age legend, of course, but at the time of filming this, he was considering retirement. Scarred by his experiences in the Second World War and unsure of his abilities, he was given a new lease of life by Capra; and he grabbed it with both hands. He sparkles as George Bailey, arguably his most iconic character, and what’s most amazing is the timelessness of his performance. He’s still as sympathetic in 2020 as he’s ever been and that’s testament to Stewart’s masterclass performance.

To me, the biggest testament to the legacy of this film, and quality, is in the fact that no-one has ever re-made it. In this money-obsessed industry, anything that has the slightest name-recognition is in line for a remake, and they don’t come more venerable than this, but it says more to me that no director dare touch it for fear of tainting the original than any critic could ever say. You can’t improve perfection, and it seems that the studios agree, as it is consistently re-released on new formats, this year receiving a 4K version, and shows no sign of slowing down. A tell-tale sign of an impending re-release is the withdrawal of the old version from the market, so it’s continued visibility tells me that there are no plans for a new version any time soon.

In the world of cinema, there is a pantheon of untouchable classics, that only achieve that feat with age. Like many of its contemporaries in this bracket, It’s a Wonderful Life received a mixed reception on its initial release, only time and re-appraisals can make a classic like this into what it is. Quality is ageless, and what was unappreciated once can become an undisputed classic given the right amount of time in the public eye.

To me, there is no greater example of what a Christmas movie can be. It manages an emotional connection with its audience without being too sentimental, its charm is effortless, its appeal timeless.

Not only is this, to me, the greatest Christmas film of all time, but it is also one of the greatest films of all time.