Lady Bird Review

Towards the end of 2019, I reviewed Little Women, a very good film directed by one Greta Gerwig, a filmmaker whose stock has been on since their first solo-directed feature, one I made reference to in my Little Women review, and one I shall now get around to reviewing: Lady Bird.

Lady Bird is the genesis point for everything that made Little Women so good, and now having watched it, it’s easier to clearly trace the through-lines of each film, and to properly contextualise what it is that made Gerwig’s telling of the old story feel so fresh and new, it is merely because she was carrying on the trends she started here.

The film belongs to a new school of coming-of-age films told through a modern, and more importantly female, eye. Something we saw last year with Booksmart and Eighth Grade to name but a few, it is easy to draw comparisons with the way this story is told and this new crop of female-centric high school stories that have seemed to emerge in the last few years (although it is worth noting that they are by no means a new thing).

The film follows the titular character (Saoirse Ronan), who gave herself that name, perhaps in a bid to craft her own identity. She constantly clashes with her opinionated mother (Laurie Metcalf) over the direction she seems to be taking in life, as well as discovering relationships with boys, and navigating high school friendships.

It’s a formula we’re used to, the high school set-up is one that stretches back decades, but rarely does a film try so hard to avoid the general stereotypes of high school life. There are characters that would seem like they should identify with certain tropes, but in truth they’re more complex than that, as people in the real world tend to be.

The central theme of the film seems to revolve around relationships, how they develop, and how they might end. Over the run-time, we see Lady Bird go through one of the most important times of her life, namely her Senior year of high school, and along the way, the people around her fluctuate and develop as events unfold.

There’s also a heavy background influence of religious imagery, and Lady Bird’s rebellion against it, she attends a Catholic school, is ostensibly a decent enough student, but she acts out from time to time. Whether that be to impress new friends, or just as a part of her ongoing character development.

The characters are very strong too, with even some of the more periphery characters having complexity and depth beyond the first glance impressions we get of them.

Lady Bird herself is a brilliant character, fantastically realised in all of her different flaws and traits, her best friend Julie (Beanie Feldstein) is her rock, the characters complement each other so well, that when Lady Bird’s focus is drawn to a new set of friends, you really feel an emotional connection, for something we’re so used to seeing in high school dramas, this is quite a feat.

Then there’s her relationship with her mother; possibly one of the most complex paternal relationships I’ve seen in a teen drama, the audience is left frequently wondering where their sympathies should lie when their personalities clash, both are seen as equally flawed in their own right, it manages to hit that sweet spot of engaging the audience without overly-frustrating them. We may recognise the frequent arguments from similar ones we hay have had with our own parents, or recognise a flaw one of the characters has that we share, that’s what makes the characters so engaging, because of their humanity.

Romantic relationships are also covered here, recognising that as teenagers, they’re bound to make mistakes, the film rarely seems to be taking a moral stance against any of its characters and their dynamics. It may suggest that one character may not be as redeeming as another, but it counter-balances this by showing that they have other traits and interests that might warm you to them more.

There’s a real heart-warming quality to some of the people represented on screen, and how they interact with Lady Bird; in particular her changing relationship with her first love interest hit home for me particularity hard, and it’s played so beautifully and subtly, it’s one of the moments that really makes you warm to Lady Bird as a character, and lets you know that her heart is in the right place, no matter how much she might be pushing against that.

This is helped by having the excellent Saoirse Ronan (always have to double-check that name) portray her. She was the heart of Little Women, and she’s arguably even better here. She seems to so easily inhabit characters that you forget she’s an actor playing the role, she makes you believe in her character, and that’s the sign of a truly great actor.

Her performance isn’t the only stand-out however, there’s Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird’s mother, a kind of ying to her yang, always pushing the characters to her limits, then there’s Tracy Letts as her father, Larry, who’s a gentler influence, a kind-hearted man with hidden emotional struggles that the film handles extremely well. There’s also actors like Beanie Feldstein and Stephen McKinley Henderson, who play characters that add to the cohesion of the world in which the film exists, but far from being part of the furniture, they have their own struggles, no matter how minor a character they seem to be.

As I said in the early paragraphs, it’s easy to see the shared DNA between Little Women and Lady Bird. The dialogue is crisp and believable, helping to round out the characters interactions with lifelike conversations; they also share a colour palate that really brings the visual presentation to life. Using the camera, and the way it is used to enhance the story, and the world that surrounds it.

In short, it’s hard not to love Lady Bird. It’s not a film to watch if you’re looking for escapist entertainment, but a film to engross you in its world and characters, some of which you may recognise from your own life, told in a fresh way by a very exciting filmmaker, who seems to have a very clear voice, and eye for storytelling.

A film of vast beauty, in many different aspects, Lady Bird is the first move of someone who, in years to come, might be considered a master filmmaker.

 

Good Will Hunting Review

I have, in the past, stated my grief at the passing of Robin Williams. As a performer, he brought great personal joy into millions of lives, whether as an eccentric alien in Mork and Mindy, or in his more serious roles like Dead Poets Society, or indeed Good Will Hunting, he was a unique and powerful presence and he is missed dearly.

When it comes to his greatest performances, there are a lot to choose from, it all comes down to personal taste. Some remember him as Mrs Doubtfire, or the Genie, but where I feel he has most stood out, is in his more tender performances, which is why I chose this to review. What I consider to be his greatest gift to the world.

When Good Will Hunting was released, it made stars of writer/actors Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, it was actually a final college assignment for Damon, it was only completed when Affleck came on board, and had a troubled journey to the big screen. After its release though, Hollywood saw the promise of these two young fledgling actors and made them stars, and the rest as they say, is history.

Story

Will Hunting (Damon) is a troubled young Maths prodigy, working at a local school as a janitor, and who through a brush with the law, ends up as the patient of an unorthodox therapist (Williams) through these sessions, Will re-evaluates his life and relationships, as well as confronting his past.

Verdict

Good Will Hunting is one of those challenging films to review. A film that is so universally considered to be good, that anything I could write about it has been written a hundred times, but never mind because I’m going to write about it anyway.

The main emotional draw of this film for me is the characters and their relationships. Especially the relationship between Will and Sean, his therapist. Will doesn’t feel like a character in a film, he feels like a human being, with flaws and struggles, as does Sean, they’re both mourning a past life and seeking comfort, Sean finds his in helping others, and Will is yet to figure out where his future lies, and each choice he makes up to that point is progressively worse.

The performances of these two bring the characters to life in a believable and engrossing way. Damon is emotional and reactionary, not knowing where to lay the blame for what has happened in his life, now given this rare chance to turn his life around. Whereas Williams dials back his usual frenetic energy into a contained, emotional performance, one that still shows glimpses of his usual self, but in a controlled way. Sean McGuire is a man with his own troubles, and that is evident in the film, but portrayed in a million subtle ways so masterfully that it makes his more emotional moments all the more affecting.

Just look at the now famous ‘it’s not your fault’ scene for this sense of escalation, the exchange changes in pitch and intensity to such an emotional peak that it causes a much-needed explosion of emotion from Will, and a sense of breakthrough for the audience, all delivered in such level and controlled tones that it’s hard to believe the man behind it once played an alien that sat on its head.

Aside from the much-admired acting, the film is tactfully shot by talented and experienced director Gus Van Sant, a man whose career has blown hot and cold, but is at the top of his game here. Always finding the right shot to aid the story, to give us the full picture, to see each side of an argument. Such a knack of filming is underappreciated as a whole, and I feel Van Sant does an excellent job of aiding the story with the camera.

All things considered then; this is a complete gem of a film. Perfectly balanced and not a minute too long. All the emotions hit home, and it finishes with an incredibly satisfying and uplifting conclusion. A brilliant script helped along with masterful performances and expert direction, and you have yourself a masterpiece of cinema, a piece of art that solidifies not only what cinema can be, but, soberly, what the world has lost in Robin Williams. He not only delivers a towering emotional masterclass, but generously supports Damon in delivering his own tour-de-force. A truly brilliant film.

Leave No Trace Review

One of the great things about film is; it can focus on one area of life that would otherwise go unnoticed, or overlooked. At it’s best it can be a mirror to society, in all its many facets, across the spectrum of life.

I say this to set the scene somewhat for the topic of today’s review, 2018’s Leave No Trace.

There are usually a fair few films in any given year that I miss, not because I don’t want to see them, but simply because nowhere near me is showing them; and such was the case with this film, which earned a fair amount of acclaim around its release, and across the festival circuit, but failed to really take a hold at the box office.

This happens frequently with films such as this, releases whose budget was used mainly on making a good product rather than on marketing, but it does mean that several great films fall through the cracks of public consciousness, this film included.

Leave No Trace is the story of a father and daughter, who choose to live life away from society, they set up camp in a national park, but their circumstances are threatened when someone stumbles across them.

Without wishing to give too much of the film away, that’s about the most I can tell anyone going in to set the scene. It documents their life and way of living in a very hands-off manner, it’s not leading the audience to judge that choice as right or wrong, it’s simply showing us how they live, and this might be one of the best choices the film makes, not taking a moral stance either way allows the characters and narrative the breathing room they need to truly connect with its audience.

It is a story of characters, and the lives they lead. We’re given very little to go on initially, but both of our lead characters gain depth as the film goes on, it’s not afraid to let the audience come to its own conclusions on their character traits and goals, it doesn’t outright spell it out for you, it trusts the audience to recognise what makes each of them tick, and why they’re in that situation. It’s a brave move, especially in a world where attention spans seem to be shortening, to trust that your film is suitably engrossing for the audience to fully invest.

Helping this cause is some genuinely beautiful cinematography and production design, all of which serves to show us the wider world in which these two characters exist. The vast forests and woods the two try and find camp in are dense and threatening in wide shots, yet made to feel homely by the characters actions, using the materials that naturally surround them to turn a wild and hostile environment into a hospitable camp; all the while the camera work is making their less-than-ideal surroundings look like a lush paradise.

The films script is light on exposition, and dialogue in general, lending the film a realistic edge, it builds a feeling of tension surrounding the characters, as their experiences start to change them as people, and change their overall life goals. A lot of things are suggested rather than outright stated, the characters body language conveying their emotions more than their words to; again, it’s a bold decision, but in the context of the film, it’s the right one. It allows the sounds of the world around them build a soundscape of their lives, putting us in their shoes by making their environment as immersive as possible.

The two main characters are what really sold the whole thing for me, the relationship and bond they shared, and how that changed over the course of the films events, really pushed the film into being something special. There’s a fiercely loyal bond that is evidently shared, but there’s a growing difference that becomes apparent also as the film goes on, as the daughter, Tom (Thomasin McKenzie), starts to search for her own way, and her own independent spirit begins to grow.

McKenzie is the real star of this film, Ben Foster, who plays her father is similarly engaging, but it’s his younger co-star who really steals the show.

The invisible bond that links the characters is tested, and this is shown fantastically by the young actress, who you may recognise from her similarly strong showing in Jojo Rabbit, the material she is given is light on exposition as I mentioned, and it takes an actor of some renown to sell their characters on mainly body language alone, but she does, and when she speaks, it feels like it’s important that we listen, her characters voice is so strong and defiant that she starts to outshine her father, it’s emotional to watch their relationship tested, even if the changes in her go unsaid, they’re certainly not unnoticed.

It’s also important to note that the film doesn’t overstay it’s welcome, it would have been easy for such a premise to drag its feet a little to extend its runtime, but I never get that feeling here, the atmosphere is slowly built, the characters undergo a journey, and coherent arcs, and it leaves us on a suitably touching finale that shows the strength of the bond the two characters share; a truly wonderful script and premise is pulled off in style by filmmakers and actors working to make this film feel special, and more importantly, feel human. A tremendous film, with tremendous heart.

Goodnight Mister Tom Review

World War II has practically been wrung for every last drop over the last eighty years, this is a point I’ve been over before, in this very book to be exact.

I agonised a bit over whether to include this film at all; it is after all a television film, not a cinematically released one, which usually puts it out of my purview, but I’m nothing if not a critical maverick, so here it is.

Goodnight Mister Tom is a film I remember from my childhood. It’s one of my dad’s favourite films, and as such we’ve watched it a lot. It brings back pleasant memories for me, which is odd given its subject matter and general atmosphere.

In my last book, I reviewed another film from my childhood that time hasn’t been kind to, so I thought it was only right to look at the other side of that coin.

Story

Curmudgeonly widower Tom Oakley (John Thaw) is forced into taking in a young evacuee from London during the Second World War. As time goes by, Tom starts to warm to the boy, and uncovers the horrible truth about his life back in London.

Verdict

There are some films which are driven by narrative, and one that is driven by character. Goodnight Mister Tom manages to straddle both of these areas quite deftly, but I’d say its true strength lives in its characters and their relationships.

There isn’t an awful lot of original idea in this film, but it uses the ideas it does have to such profound effect that you forget how often you have seen this arc before. Tom isn’t the first bitter widower in fiction, far from it, but it’s how that bitterness manifests itself in the larger story that makes his character stand out.

Tom is a man given a second chance by a horrible turn of fate; he’s given this chance by the outbreak of a war, given that the First World War is still fresh in his memory, he’s sceptical at first, but the warmth with which both characters later regard each other is enough to win any audience over.

At the forefront of this emotional rollercoaster of a film, is a towering performance from John Thaw, an actor who is often forgotten these days when discussing great British actors of the past, but who possessed such a range and left such a legacy that he is hard to ignore. This is the guy most audiences knew as the rough and tough policeman from The Sweeney, or as the intelligent, but distant Inspector Morse; here he is unrecognisable as a man struggling with multiple emotions, all the while trying to help a child who despite being forced upon him, he is undeniably fond.

Thaw isn’t the only impressive actor here, child actor Nick Robinson is engaging as William Beech, and Annabelle Apsion is fantastic as his sadistically cruel mother.

The use of a small English village as a setting was also inspired, as this familiar setting has a unique atmosphere, one of underlying hostility, and nosiness. Each character has their own agenda, and all are hostile towards Tom at the start, but in a stark parallel to his relationship with William, they warm to him, and accept him as a vital part of the village by the end.

I’ve often said how the best war stories are those that focus on the people affected by the war, the struggles they face, and the relationships they force, be that in the trenches, or over a garden fence. The war is used here as a threatening backdrop to the narrative, something that could threaten the characters at any time, but in the same sense, it is not about the war, it’s about the people caught up in it, and it does it brilliantly.

As a last word, I recently re-watched this film for the purposes of this review, and it struck me how the effect it has hasn’t dulled with age. It still manages to play tricks with my emotions by both warming and breaking my heart in equal measure. It also has one of those film endings that will bring happy tears to a glass eye. It’s a criminally overlooked gem, that I feel deserves another look.

Withnail & I Review

These past few weeks, the films I’ve looked at have had a rather ‘cult’ feel to them. First there was Little Shop of Horrors which boasts the kind of camp cult features, A Fish Called Wanda provided us with irreverent cult comedy, and now there’s Withnail & I, which is… a lot more difficult to categorise.

It’s a comedy, but it’s a lot more obscure and hard to pin down. It’s slightly surreal, very difficult to follow at times, and it’s apparent lack of direction and driving plot are defining features of its underground popularity.

What little discernible plot there is follows the exploits of two out-of-work actors; Withnail (Richard E Grant) who exudes public school education, but is a terribly deranged drug and alcohol addict, and, well “I” (his full name is apparently Marwood, but it’s never mentioned in the film, he’s played by Paul McGann) the younger of the two, he’s the one with any hint of work on the horizon. Anyway, these two decide to leave the squalor of their tiny London flat for a week’s holiday in Withnail’s uncles cottage.

It’s pretty evident early on that the films driving force is its characters rather than plot, which can at best be described as ‘meandering’. It’s a vehicle for two interesting (yet not always likeable) characters to act inappropriately in many different situations. Often while smoking and shouting.

Indeed the most memorable moments in the films are less about the story and more about the outrageous characters, who somehow manage to be over-the-top, yet strangely believable.

Our central narrator of the story, through whom we experience the film is Marwood (or “I” but that’s a hell of a lot harder to fit well into sentences without context) yet it’s arguably Withnail is the driving force of the film, always seeming to follow his will, as he has a lot more drunken confidence than the often meek Marwood.

Withnail is a the kind of character that you’d love to observe from a distance, yet would cross the road to avoid if he got too close, like a gorilla in a zoo, you’re more than happy to be in its company when it is contained behind a sturdy bit of glass, but would be so happy if it was climbing all over your wife.

He’s unkempt, aggressive (yet cowardly), extremely unsociable and a terrible influence. He constantly has dark circles around his eyes, belying his abusive relationship with drugs, forgoing sleep for days on end and replacing it with wine and whatever else he can get his hands on, we don’t need to be shown this to know it, it’s merely mentioned fleetingly, and we’re left to fill in the rest by just observing the character.

This is perhaps the best thing about the film for me, presenting the characters looks and surroundings as extensions of their personality. We know more about the characters than we are told by just looking at their surroundings in the first few scenes; a hovel in such a state of decrepitude that Marwood has to drink coffee from a saucer, as there are rats living in the washing up. This impression we’re giving of where the characters live, as well as looking at how they’re dressed, sets the scene perfectly for the films main characters, whose lives almost perfectly reflect the state of their flat.

It isn’t just the two titular characters who are played up to such a point of ridiculousness that they ultimately become believable. Firstly, there’s Danny (Ralph Brown) the pairs drug dealer, who is a combination of all the 60’s stereotypes poured into one man, and Uncle Monty (played by the late Richard Griffiths) a pompous, painfully obvious closed elderly homosexual whose cottage the two spend the bulk of the film trashing.

There should be no need to note how good the acting is, but it really is something well worthy of praise. Long-time readers will recall my fondness for Richard E Grant, a devastatingly underrated actor, who seems especially talented when playing morally-questionable alcoholics (although, as a funny side fact, the actor himself is allergic to alcohol) and as much, simply steals the show here. The intensity of his deranged rants are a wonder to behold, and his straight-faced and serious delivery is what really seals the deal.

Paul McGann and Richard Griffiths also deliver great performances, again, these are two actors who were criminally underutilised in their prime (despite their respective connections to big franchises) McGann is a bright-eyed youthful actor loed astray by the preposterous Withnail, and has the closest thing the story has to a character arc in the whole film.

My main issues with the film however, revolve around its lack of clarity. Now, I’m not the typre that needs every plot point explaining to me, but I do expect at least some plot, and what Withnail & I is isn’t so much a story as a winding anecdote, as if an elderly Marwood is reminiscing in the future, it’s not particularly an outstanding string of events, in fact, I have no doubt that in context, it’s probably a week the characters would hastily forget, given their drug and alcohol intake.

Whether or not you’ll like this film depends on how much you think a film can be carried by just characters, interesting characters, don’t get me wrong; albeit a small cast of characters blundering through the vents of a few days. It has enough memorable lines and scenes peppered in at stages of the film that give it a bit more life, and I enjoyed watching some of their escapades, but at times I also felt that the film was too impenetrable to invest in.

I suppose some might say that it is a film that maybe you’re not supposed to be invested in, or that what I’m pointing out as flaws are actually points in its favour in some circles; but films must also be judged as entertainment, and if you’re making entertainment more for your own pleasure than the audiences then you’re in trouble.

That’s not to say that Withnail & I isn’t entertaining, because it is when the dialogue starts to flow, or their thrown into a new situation, but there’s too much downtime with nothing happening, and little focus on plot that might put casual viewers off. You might see it as a surreal classic, or a confusing mess; and I’m not quite sure where I end up. I think I saw enough that I liked to be able to recommend, but I certainly wouldn’t recommend it for viewers who just fancy a light chuckle to pass the time. Approach with caution and you may end up liking it.

A Look Back at March

Well, this last month seemed to go on forever, didn’t it?

The world has ground to a halt thanks to the spread of a deadly virus, one that isn’t fictional this time, closing pretty much everything, including cinemas.

But still, I have endeavoured to keep the site ticking over with reviews of older films, both beloved classics and the more obscure, something I’ll continue as long as the isolation period lasts, as well as working on some longer-form posts, as the Harry Potter ranking was incredibly popular.

Film of the Month: Dark Waters (directed by Todd Haynes)

Reviewing this film seems like a lifetime ago, but it did occur in the month of March, believe it or not. Somewhat understandably I don’t have a lot of cinema releases to choose from, and I almost mad A Fish Called Wanda my film of the month, but I guess since I did have SOME cinema releases to choose from, I’d better make the most of it, as I’m not likely to get any more for the next few months.

It’s undeniably a strange time for everyone at the moment, and the aim of my site at the moment is to give people something to distract them from the onslaught of bad news and general low public morale, I hope that the pondering whims of a cynical British film critic can at least help kill half an hour.

Over the coming week(s) I’ll be reviewing such films as: Withnail & I, Lady Bird and Leave No Trace; as well as a few others.

Stay safe, and thanks for sticking with me.

Ranking the Harry Potter Films (and the Spin-Offs)

I solemnly swear that I am up to no good

Right, it’s been a while since I’ve done one of these, and what with me staying in and avoiding human contact (which is what I normally do, but now I have an excuse) I thought i’d take this opportunity to do something a bit more long-form.

I grew up with Harry Potter, my generation were the first to really ‘grow up’ with the books, my dad used to read me the first few books when I was about 4 or 5, and I seem to remember going to watch all the films in the cinemas.

One of the great things about the series is, it’s something that I enjoyed as a child, and my parents enjoyed with me, it was very rare the three of us ever made a cinema trip together when I was young, but we always did for the new HP films, even now, we routinely re-watch them all about once a year, it’s something we share as a family.

So it’s safe to say I’m well in the ‘Potterhead’ camp, I have all the books, watched all the films, even got sorted into a house on Pottermore (Hufflepuffs, represent) but as a critic an an analyser of films, I can watch these without the rose-tinted goggles should I wish, and I do recognise the flaws in the adaptations (where was Peeves? You cast Rik Mayall as a prankster poltergeist and then cut him out? unbelievable)

I should say before we start that there hasn’t yet been a Wizarding World film that I’ve considered bad, there are ones that are worse than others naturally, but I’ve always found something to like about them, despite their flaws, a point no more evident than in the first (or should that be last?) entry:

10: Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindlewald (2018) – Directed by David Yates

There was trouble with this film before the cameras even started rolling. With the casting of Johnny Depp seeming at the time to be inappropriate, and the further casting of Jude Law as Dumbledore also proving unpopular, the deck was set against Crimes of Grindlewald from the outset.

The resulting film was also deeply flawed, going against series canon in a way that turned fans away, and seemed very perplexing given that JK Rowling herself was behind the script, making the lapses in established canon seem even more incongruous.

It also suffers from feeling like the middle part of a story that doesn’t seem to know where it’s going, so therefore it lists without really driving the series ahead.

There are a few positives, Eddie Redmayne is as charming as ever as Newt, and Jude Law managed to win around a few doubters along the way, apart from that, the film is a rather glaring mis-step.

9: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002) – Directed by Chris Columbus

The second film in a series can be a stumbling block for any franchise, so flush with the success of the first adaptation, expectations were high for HP’s second big-screen adventure, sadly those expectations were not met.

I think what eventually kneecaps this film is the stunted progress of its child actors. While most, if not all, the children featured in the series would go on to be pretty solid actors, and even showed signs of promise in the first film, they regressed somewhat here.

They seem less at ease with being in front of the camera, looking more like rabbits caught in headlights, even Kenneth Branagh isn’t immune, seeming overly hammy and insufferable as the already pretty irritating Gilderoy Lockhart.

there are bright moments, the confrontation with the Basilisk in the titular chamber delivers sufficient action, and Harry’s hand (or should I say foot?) in freeing Dobby towards the end, to name just two, but the film ultimately suffered with weak performances, and a bit of a stale atmosphere, a worrying sign for just the second film.

8:Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007) – Directed by David Yates

Up until recently, this film sat at the bottom of my HP rankings; only edging its way up after another series re-watch.

The main underlying problem with Order of the Phoenix should really be obvious to anyone, it’s the longest book in the series, yet one of the shortest films, it’s clear that not enough time was given for the narrative to breath.

The decision to split the seventh book was, I feel, a shrewd one, and could have been a good call for this adaptation too, of course this leads to the inevitable problem of the rapidly ageing main players, who would have been even older come the final film had more films been two-parters.

But with the truncated run-time comes a rushed final product, missing a lot of details from the book; while I’m not too hung up on getting EVERYTHING from the book in the films, it does feel like a strange decision to turn an 870 page epic into a film that barely stretches over two hours.

Elsewhere, the murkier backdrops are at their murkiest, the palates of the film haven’t yet found a comfortable balance, but there is some nice acting here, Radcliffe in particular goes from strength-to-strength in each film, even if Harry isn’t particularly the most interesting character, even in a story bearing his name.

The final duel between Voldemort and Dumbledore is what ultimately takes this film above Chamber of Secrets but it had to work hard to achieve even that.

7: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016) – Directed by David Yates

Spinning-off from the main Harry Potter series isn’t in itself a bad idea. There are many conceivable possibilities within the Wizarding World for new and exciting stories.

I’m not saying Fantastic Beasts doesn’t meet this criteria in some ways because it’s a fun little story within itself, but only really becomes consequential to an overlying narrative in the closing stages; it could have quite easily been a stand-alone adventure without the need to start a new series of films.

Sure, standing on its own, it might not have the same stakes as the main series, but not everything does, you’re unlikely to match the stakes of the final two Harry Potter films, and it would have been a misstep to even try, the story of Newt travelling America looking for magical creatures would have made a nice palate-cleanser between the main series and the overarching Grindlewald arc that it bends over backwards to include

I think the best praise I can give the film is that it’s ‘charming’. Eddie Redmayne has a very lovable energy to him in the first place that translates well to Newt, Dan Fogler has the similar effect as Jacob Kowalski, as do Katherine Waterston and Alison Sudol as Tina and Queenie Goldstein, respectively.

My main issue is that these characters charms are pushed to the limit by tying them into a larger narrative. Jacob has a nice end to his story by the end of this film, so his inclusion alone is jarring, leave alone Tina and Queenie, whose quirks are quick to irritate with repeat visits.

As I say, subtract the films links to the Grindlewald story and it’s a cute little stand-alone adventure, with that aspect it’s stretching its seams, yet still has enough life and fun to appeal to HP-loving audiences.

6: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (2001) – Directed by Chris Columbus

There was a lot riding on this film as the first of the franchise; everything it did was under scrutiny from the lovers of the books, and JK Rowling herself, who insisted on the series having an all British cast.

While she got her wish for a British cast, an American took charge behind the camera. Chris Columbus (no, not THAT Chris Columbus) had experience with crowd-pleasing blockbusters; he was after all, the man behind Home Alone and Mrs Doubtfire, so it was a good fit for this series.

The first film has inevitable teething problems, having a cast so heavily featuring child actors will always face an uphill battle, especially with the calibre of the actors they were opposite, it also feels like the most tonally incongruous film in the series when compared with later instalments.

That being said, however, the child actors are nowhere near as bad as they could have been, there is a lot of promise on show, foreshadowing the very capable actors they would become (maybe having the man who directed Macaulay Culkin helped in this regard) and Columbus’ usual imagination is on show in bringing Hogwarts to life.

In many ways,m the first film is the measuring stick to which all the subsequent films were to be compared to, it would of course be surpassed when the stakes of the story were raised, but it’s a solid first step for the series to make, setting out its stall for the future.

5: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009) – Directed by David Yates

This was a tough one to rank, probably one of the hardest on the list, in fact. On one hand, it might be the film with the most glaring differences from the book on which it is based, but on the other, it shows David Yates’ growing comfort with the franchise and its darker tones, with some franchise-best performances thrown in for good measure.

This is an issue for many a book-to-film adaptation, no matter how close you get to the book, the die-hard fans will find something you’ve missed, it’s unreasonable to expect a perfect adaptation of any book, or non-visual media, into a film, there often simply isn’t the time, or something might not work on screen.

Whatever your view on adaptations, and what they miss out, it’s hard to deny that the stakes are unmistakably raised with each installment, with the crucial involvement of Horcruxes being introduced in this story, and the all-important plot developments at the films conclusion that all come together more clearly in the two-part finale.

The performances are also of the highest quality in this film, Michael Gambon has well and truly established himself as Dumbledore by this point, having taken the reins three films earlier, and the great wizards increasing vulnerability.

Not only Gambon stands out here, however, Alan Rickman continues to build the complexity of Severus Snape, as he continues to grow into the series most complex and interesting characters.

Also, from a film-making standpoint, the cinematography is also a triumph, after a stagger in the atmosphere and tone in its predecessor, this installment feels more comfortable in its own skin, and like the director has come to grips with the material.

So, despite being a bit of a mixed bag, the film still ticks enough boxes to lift it above the worst in the series.

4: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (2010) – Directed by David Yates

I must be honest, I love both parts of the two-part finale to the series. All of the series developments in character, atmosphere and narrative come home to roost in a fittingly massive conclusion, so massive in fact, that one film alone couldn’t contain it.

Now, while I still think the film is amongst the top tier of the HP series, it does suffer with the obvious problems of being the first part of a story, so its conclusion can’t help but feel anticlimactic, and more an advert for the next film than an actual ending, but in the circumstances, that can’t really be helped.

One thing i love about the films as they develop is how they build the Wizarding world, and how much it has changed come the final two films; there’s a feeling of desperation to everyone’s actions, they’re all afraid, and acting out of character in the hope of self-preservation, it all makes sense, and builds a sense of dread around all of the films events, there’s only one way for this story to end, and our nerves are shredded with the anticipation.

The performances continue to show how the cast have grown as actors over the course of a decade, I could understand if Radcliffe, Grint and Watson might have mixed feelings towards the series that made their names, but they really do grow through the experience of being Harry, Ron and Hermoine, respectively.

At this point, the character have endured a lot and their performances reflect this, giving the impression of growing tired as their journey takes them around the country, aggression bubbles up, and gets the better of them at time, but the strength of their relationship and chemistry still shine through. While the three main characters might not be amongst the most interesting in the series, their relationship is part of what makes them work.

Inevitable anticlimactic ending aside, this is a great show of escalation in a franchise which has been raising the intensity since the beginning, and we’re getting close to boiling point here.

3: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 (2011) – Directed by David Yates

For this film, take everything good I said in the previous entry, and add a satisfying conclusion to it.

I do feel like both parts are actually better viewed as one whole film, that way you get the best of all sides, but we play the hand we’re dealt, and as it stands, because this film actually has an ending, as well as everything that made Part 1 good, it has to be judged as the better of the two films.

There’s not much I can really say about this film that I haven’t already said in the last entry, suffice to say it all looks very nice, is acted very well, and its atmosphere has gone past boiling point and is now practically volcanic.

All the loose ends are left tied up, and the journey is at an end, the battle-weary Harry we see at this films conclusion is a million miles away from the wide-eyed little boy we met all the way back at the beginning, the same could be said for all the characters, for the most part, they’ve all undergone their own arcs, friends and loved ones have been lost, but the film’s finale still holds hope for all those who survived the final battle.

I suppose the only thing I can talk about now, that I haven’t already said, is where all the characters end up, there seems to be a plan that Rowling has for every character years after the films have finished.

I happen to be amongst the minority who likes the fact that Hermoine marries Ron, and not Harry. I don’t think their relationship needed to be romantic, it showed that a platonic relationship between a male and female hero can be just as strong as any other, plus, they say opposites attract, right? You can’t get more opposite than Ron and Hermoine. I also felt more more romantic chemistry between Harry and Ginny, so that made more sense, so there.

2: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005) – Directed by Mike Newell

It was only when I re-watched this a few weeks ago when I realised how good it actually is. It’s probably the most underrated Potter story in the franchise, outshone by other instalments, it’s forgotten among the discussion of the best adaptations, I think unfairly.

This is probably the best film visually in the whole series, maybe second at the worst, it’s very much a turning point story-wise in the series arc, marking Voldemort’s return to full-form, it’s very much the middle point of the whole saga, and the films atmosphere and direction exemplify this excellently.

It takes cues from its immediate predecessor in its darker tones, but paces itself too, knowing that it can’t descend fully into darkness too quickly, it needs to leave some room for future stories, so it feels very controlled, with just the right amount of darkness mixed into the series’ familiar fantasy overtures.

I like the story in this film too, how it shows us that there’s more to the world than just Hogwarts, its introduction of the other two magical schools, with the Triwizard Tournament as a framing device, allows the series scope to expand organically, and introduce a few lingering minor plot points that will stick with the series right until the end, and beyond, into the spin-offs.

I really enjoy the characters introduced too, and feel like there’s more that could have been done with a few, especially Mad-Eye Moody (Brendan Gleeson) who pops up in later films, but never enough for my taste, he’s a wonderfully entertaining presence, and the later character twist is very intelligent.

It also has some of the series’ best set-pieces, the dragon sequence and the maze towards the end are stand-outs, in fact, the final third in general is some of the franchises best, action-wise, and acting-wise.

Speaking of acting, this and the film before it show a lot of development of the three leads as actors, Radcliffe and Watson in particular (to be honest, Grint as Ron kind of rounded off at this point and stayed the same right until the end, his mood swings in Deathly Hallows notwithstanding) grow into great performers right before our eyes.

A great adaptation that would be the very best in the series, if it weren’t for…

1: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)_ – Directed by Alfonso Cuaron

Here we go, the very best of the series.

When I broached this topic on my Facebook page, a few people seemed to think that this is the only acceptable answer to the question of ‘Which adaptation is the best?’ While I agree that Prisoner of Azkaban is not only the best adaptation, but the best as a film in general, I will concede that most of the films have their arguable merits, and I won’t disagree if you prefer another film (unless it’s Chamber of Secrets).

To be fair, this film has a lot going for it; arguably Azkaban is one of the best books in the series too, and it also has the most talented filmmaker the series ever had behind the camera. I remind you that Alfonso Cuaron is the director behind Gravity and Roma even though these films are still in his future at this point, it’s still one hell of a coup for such a studio franchise to pull to bring in such an auteur.

The series improves itself by taking a break from established franchise lines. It takes a different path than the usual ‘Harry vs Voldemort’ path (although that is tangentially involved) and in the process builds one of the franchises most intriguing plots, one that explores Harry’s parents closely, and the relationships they had when they were at Hogwarts.

The introduction of Lupin, and more pressingly Sirius Black (David Thewlis and Gary Oldman, respectively) lays more groundwork for the series’ future, and introduces two of the series more interesting secondary protagonists to boot.

When I was a kid, Sirius Black scared me in this film, such was the way he was portrayed, and the way we were being led to judge him, to throw us off the scent of the real villain is masterful storytelling, and making the real villain someone who has always been in plain sight all along, without any of us expecting it is a further masterstroke.

I always felt that Rowling killed off Sirius too soon, I know this is a tangent, but indulge me. I understand that his death was part of Harry’s character development, and that by taking away a little more of Harry’s possible happy future we sympathise with him further, but I always thought a duel between Sirius and Voldemort would have been incredible, maybe he could have met his end that way, and he could have at least spent a few summers with Harry, but then, Harry was never meant to have happy summers was he?

Anyway, it’s an absolute diamond of a film, not just as a part of a franchise but as a film itself, it’s the series first flirtation with a dark atmosphere, and it produces the best possible results, the way Cuaron used the Dementors, even in very brief snaps, just added to their danger, the fear factor, and helped make this the most atmospheric film in the series.

It’s also the only film I feel competes with Goblet of Fire for ‘Best Looking’ film in the series, as previously said, Cuaron is a master of cinema, and he uses all the positives of the franchise to add to his then-growing reputation, almost as if he’d resolved himself that if he had to make a studio franchise film, he’d make the best studio franchise film he possibly could.

Well, that’s pretty much that, my quite exhaustive look at the Harry Potter franchise so far, it is worth bearing in mind that there are currently three further Fantastic Beasts films planned, so we’ll see in the future where they fit in.

Thanks for reading, and sticking around with my site during this strange time, I hope it took you mind off what’s going on in the world, even for ten minutes, and if you’re a new reader, feel free to make yourself comfortable and read a few more of my posts, it’s not as if there’s anything else to do right now

Mischief managed.