Friday 16 December 2016

Your Christmas In Film: 21 movies not to miss

It's a jungle out there: Disney's Zootropolis is a wild animated ride 

There are plenty of movies to get your teeth into over the festive season on TV, DVD, VOD and Blu-ray, from modern greats and hidden gems to genuine cinematic classics. Here's my pick of the bunch...

Sonita (2015)
Where: View On Demand
When: available now
Powerful documentary recounting the heart-breaking/uplifting story of a 14-year-old Afghan refugee living in Iran with big dreams of becoming a rapper. The film focuses mainly on her development as an artist, her friendship with director Rokhsareh Ghaemmaghami but, most of all, on her attempts to break free from the diktats of Afghan culture, as her mum tries to sell her into marriage.

The Jungle Book (2016)
Where: Sky Cinema Premiere
When: from Christmas Day, 8pm
A rich and rewarding adaptation of Rudyard Kipling's original stories that also pays fulsome homage to the beloved 1960s animation ('The Bare Necessities', 'Trust In Me' and 'I Wan'na Be Like You' all get an airing). You'd be hard pressed to find more immersive CG anywhere and the voice cast is uniformly terrific (Idris Elba, Ben Kingsley, Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson).

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (2016)
Where: DVD, Blu-ray and VOD
When: from Boxing Day
Brooklyn Nine-Nine's Andy Samberg stars as egomaniacal popstar Conner4Real in a frequently hilarious mockumentary that gives the Bieber generation the same kind of kick up the backside that This Is Spinal Tap administered to the rock community 30 years ago. The jokes come thick and fast but it's songs like 'Equal Rights (Not Gay)' and 'Finest Girl (Bin Laden Song)' that are the real highlights.

True Belieber: Popstar's Andy Samberg

The Lady In The Van (2015)
Where: BBC2
When: Christmas Eve, 9pm
The real-life tale of Miss Sheperd (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel's Maggie Smith), an itinerant eccentric who lived in a van parked on acclaimed playwright Alan Bennett's drive for 15 years. Nicholas Hytner's film (screenplay by Bennett himself) is nicely written and acted, but perhaps makes light of its tragic central character just a little too much.

Zootropolis (2016)
Where: Sky Cinema Premiere
When: from Christmas Eve
Rabbit cop Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) teams up with conman fox Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman) to unearth a massive conspiracy in this utterly charming anthropomorphic adventure from Disney. Under the ubiquitous 'You can be anything you want to be' life lessons, there are laughs aplenty, some seriously impressive world building and surprisingly adult themes. The year's best animation.

April And The Extraordinary World (2015)
Where: Amazon Prime Video
When: available now
This beautifully rendered and incredibly imaginative animation, set in a Steampunk version of 1940s France, is a delight from beginning to end. Yes, the plot is utterly daft (something about an invincibility potion and talking animals) but that's easy to forgive amidst all the mad science and breathless derring-do. Marion Cotillard voices the titular April.

April cool: Extraordinary World is something special 

The Act Of Killing (2012)
Where: Sky Atlantic
When: December 20, 2am
Jaw-dropping documentary about the Indonesian genocide of communists in the 1960s. Joshua Oppenheimer focuses on the leaders of the government death squads, men whose heinous acts have made them heroes and celebrities in their homeland. Proceedings take a bizarre turn when the killers are invited to re-enact their crimes as if in a gangster movie, complete with make-up and props, and readily agree.

Pride (2014)
Where: BBC2
When: Boxing Day, 10.30pm
I was worried Matthew Warchus's film was going to be twee and patronising – a Richard Curtis-style take on the 1984 Miner’s Strike with all the difficult, political stuff taken out. On the contrary, Matthew Beresford’s script is hilarious and moving, every performance is spot-on (especially those of Paddy Considine and Ben Schnetzer) and it's unapologetically left-wing. A real tonic after 2016's myriad political woes.

Westworld (1973)
Where: Amazon Prime Video
When: available now

Yul Brynner is the iconic Gunslinger in Michael Crichton's smart sci-fi, which sees adults holidaying in a robot-populated theme park made up of worlds based on the Wild West, Ancient Rome and Medieval England. Things start to go haywire when the life-like automatons slip their programming and rebel against their human masters. Rather less ponderous and po-faced than the recent HBO TV adaptation.

Top gun: Westworld's Yul Brynner is quick on the draw

Blue Is The Warmest Colour (2013)
Where: Film4
When: December 28, midnight

The touching, explicit and quietly devastating story of a passionate affair between two young women – played by Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos. It's perhaps too long and does get a bit gratuitous (the actresses fell out with director Abdellatif Kechiche over the sex scenes), but I'm not sure there's a recent film that better captures the raw, gut-churning power of love and loss.

Interstellar (2014)
Where: Amazon Prime Video 
When: from December 20
Astronauts Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway are blasted through a wormhole to find a new home, after drought and famine make Earth uninhabitable, in Christopher Nolan's sci-fi epic. It’s too long, the last half-hour doesn’t work at all and its desperation to carry the same philosophical heft as Kubrick's 2001 is palpable. But, for all that, Interstellar ian ambitious, absorbing and intermittently thrilling piece of work.

Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa (2013)
Where: BBC2
When: December 22, 11.05pm
Steve Coogan's maladroit DJ alter-ego is resurrected as an action hero (of sorts) as he becomes embroiled in an armed siege at the local radio station where he works as a presenter. Imagine Die Hard set in Norwich with jokes and you're halfway there. Transferring a beloved TV character to the big screen is notoriously tricky but Partridge passes with flying colours in a laugh-packed 90 minutes.

Under siege: Alan turns action hero in Alpha Papa

The Brides Of Dracula (1960)
Where: The Horror Channel
When: December 22, 02.40am
Vampire hunter Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) returns to Transylvania to do battle with the suave but fiendish bloodsucker Baron Meinster (David Peel), who has designs on a beautiful young school teacher (Yvonne Monlaur). Despite the title, Dracula himself is disappointingly AWOL but this Hammer horror is still a lot of camp fun, especially after a couple of sherries.

Hunt For The Wilderpeople (2016)
Where: VOD
When: available now
Charming, funny and really rather touching New Zealand buddy comedy from What We Do In The Shadows director Taika Waititi. When tragedy strikes, hip-hop obsessed city kid Ricky (newcomer Julian Dennison) has to go on the run with his grumpy foster dad Hec (Sam Neill). Laying low in the bush, they bicker, they bond, and do their best to avoid the authorities slowly closing in on them.

On The Waterfront (1954)
Where: Netflix
When: from December 21
Elia Kazan may have been a rat but only a fool would knock his ability as a director. Here, he extracts an electrifying performance from Marlon Brando as a wannabe prize fighter standing up to corrupt union bosses trying to cover up a murder. On The Waterfront may be a little melodramatic for modern tastes but it won eight Oscars for a reason - it's an incredibly powerful piece of work.

Deep Water: Brando stands up to corruption

The Wicker Man (1973)
Where: The Horror Channel
When: Christmas Day, 10.55pm
Nothing says 'festive' quite like a crazy cult movie full of murder, madness and paganism. Edward Woodward plays the strait-laced copper investigating the disappearance of a young girl on a remote Scottish island, Christopher Lee the island's sinister leader with an even more sinister secret. We lost director Robin Hardy earlier this year so this Christmas Day screening provides a nice tribute.

Casablanca (1942)
Where: ITV3
When: December 18, 3.45pm
Screening this most celebrated of films on ITV3 is like exhibiting a Renoir in a public toilet but, if you don't have it on DVD, sometimes you have to take the rough with the smooth. Suffice to say, the Bogart-Bergman classic is one of the finest romantic adventure movies ever made and its influence remains undimmed (this year's Allied being its most recent progeny).

Little Men (2016)
Where: Netflix
When: from New Year's Eve
Ira Sachs' poignant tale of gentrification and the poisonous impact it has on two families sees Greg Kinnear's Manhattanites move out to Brooklyn when they inherit a property from a dead relative. His decision to increase the rent of the woman who leases a dress shop in the same building provokes conflict, bad blood and, ultimately, threatens to destroy his son's only real friendship. A coming of age drama steeped in melancholy.

Broken bonds: Friendship is threatened in Little Men

Blue Jay (2016)
Where: Netflix
When: available now
Sarah Paulson (Carol) and Mark Duplass (Zero Dark Thirty) play former high school sweethearts who bump into each other after more than 20 years apart and realise the bond they shared remains strong. Filmed in moody black and white, it's a powerful two-hander (hardly anyone but the leads gets a look in), filled with the ache of loss and regret. 

Café Society (2016)
Where: DVD, Blu-ray and VOD
When: from Boxing Day
A real return to form for the great Woody Allen after his post-Blue Jasmine slump. Set in the 1930s, Jesse Eisenberg is the Brooklyn boy who travels to Hollywood to take up a job with his uncle (Steve Carrell), the powerful head of a movie studio, only to fall in love with the man's secretary, Kristin Stewart. Suffice to say the path of true love runs anything but smooth in a sharply scripted, beautifully shot and bittersweet dramedy.

West Side Story (1961)
Where: Channel 5
When: Boxing Day, 2.20pm
I'm loathe to recommend any film shown on ad-break riddled commercial TV but this is simply too good to miss. Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins' classic adaptation of the stage musical, based on Shakespeare's Romeo And Juliet, sees Natalie Wood* and Richard Baymer sing and dance up a storm as star-crossed lovers from rival gangs in 1950s New York. Best. Musical. Ever.

Sing street: It's Sharks v Jets in West Side Story

*Although, lest we forget, Wood's singing voice was overdubbed by Marni Nixon, who passed away this year.

Your Week In Film will return in January but up next is the third annual
As Human As The Rest Of Us review of the year, including my favourite - and least favourite - films of 2016...

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