Josh and Benny Safdie’s handheld camera shakily follows a hustling jeweller and gambling addict around New York, documenting his attempts to juggle the demands of his celebrity clients, wife, girlfriend and a circling group of loan sharks.
If you’re looking for a relaxing watch, Uncut Gems ain’t it – the camerawork, Daniel Lopatin’s electronic score and Adam Sandler’s masterful lead performance (he’s always been good at playing a man teetering on the edge – but mostly in bad films) all serve to conjure a feeling of unease and anxiety that barely lets up over the two-hour running time. It’s delirious, manic, vital stuff: Netflix’s finest film since Roma, and Sandler’s best performance since 2002’s Punch-Drunk Love.
The Stranger (S1)
We’ve wrestled with recommending this star-studded Harlen Coben adaptation – a Netflix original crime series that swaps the novel’s American setting for a fictional town in the North of England – but have concluded that The Stranger is simply too entertaining to leave out, despite being extremely silly, tonally all over the shop and packed with more red herrings than a Soviet fish market.
Sure, it makes Broadchurch look like The Wire, but how many mystery yarns feature a gruesomely beheaded alpaca as a major plot point, only to abandon all mention of it an episode later? In short, Richard Armitage’s lawyer is drawn into a web of deceit, disappearances and murder when a shadowy stranger lets him in on a shocking revelation about his own wife – but ultimately almost everyone in this bizarre simulacrum of a British town seems to have some kind of skin in the secrets game. The resulting avalanche of twists, turns and yet more shocking revelations comes close to achieving pure comic genius, regardless of its makers’ intent. Yes: this one is so bad, it’s good.
Christopher Nolan’s recreation of the British and French armies’ evacuation of Dunkirk in 1940 is an audiovisual masterpiece, richly served with moments of both quiet grandeur and epic spectacle.
With comparatively little dialogue, few CGI effects and an enemy that’s never directly seen, Nolan conjures up the hopelessness of the surrounded British Expeditionary Force, trapped between the sea and the German army and prey to horrifying attacks from the air, and the heroism of soldiers, sailors, pilots and civilians caught up in a desperate situation. Hans Zimmer’s score, meanwhile, remains a masterclass in understated power.
Yes, another World War II film – but what can we do but recommend them when they’re this entertaining? Gary Oldman is almost unrecognisable in this Oscar-winning turn as Winston Churchill, telling the story of his appointment as prime minister just as the Phony War is ending, France is poised to fall, Dunkirk is looming and Britain seems on the abyss of defeat – perhaps even invasion.
Director Joe Wright takes some liberties with the truth (the scene with Churchill travelling on the London Underground feels like an unnecessary Hollywood-style addition), but Darkest Hour still makes for an engaging character study and a rollicking story, delivered with bags of style.
A decade on from There Will Be Blood, director Paul Thomas Anderson and leading man Daniel Day-Lewis reunite for this gothic romance story – as immaculate and precisely made as the gowns created by Day-Lewis’ character, fastidious and pernickety fashion designer Reynolds Woodcock.
Reportedly Day-Lewis’ final performance, his Woodcock is a fussy genius with an explosive temper, no less obsessive than There Will Be Blood’s monstrous Daniel Plainview, but driven by a desire to create – and possess – pure beauty. He finds his latest muse in the shape of waitress Alma – excellently played by Vicky Krieps – but rather than bend to his will, she pushes back in her own fashion.
The direction and camera work, Jonny Greenwood’s wonderful score and the central performances make this a worthy swan song for Day-Lewis – but don’t be surprised if Anderson manages to coax him out of retirement for another stellar movie in another ten years’ time…
One of the best ensemble casts of the 1990s? Check. A snappy, quotable Quentin Tarantino screenplay? Check. Assured direction from action-thriller maestro Tony Scott? Check.
True Romance is a rip-roarer of a movie, packed with iconic dialogue (Dennis Hopper’s soliloquy about Sicilians being a particular highlight), cordite-singed action sequences and career-defining performances from stars Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette. Scott’s direction might be a little more conventional than the treatment Tarantino would have given it himself (and QT would surely have insisted on a better soundtrack), but this was comfortably one of the best films of the 90s – and remains an absolute banger 25 years on.
Coming to America (1988)
One of the classic big screen comedies of the 1980s (and set to get a sequel, Coming 2 America, in 2020), Coming to America stars Eddie Murphy as a pampered African prince seeking a wife in New York – and where better to find a royal consort than the borough of Queens?
The fish-out-of-water setup proves a rich source of gags, bolstered by a fantastic supporting cast including James Earl Jones, John Amos and a pre-superstardom Samuel L Jackson, but this is definitely Murphy’s show. Even if his central protagonist is a little less outwardly comedic than some previous roles, Murphy’s performances as several other characters gives him ample licence to show off his talents.
John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum
Keanu Reeves steps back into the sharply-tailored (and bulletproof) black suit of elite hitman John Wick in the third – but apparently not final – instalment in what is becoming one of the most successful action franchises of the 21st century so far.
Glossily shot with brilliantly choreographed fight sequences, this bullet-ridden thrill ride begins right where John Wick Chapter 2 left off: Reeves’ assassin has broken the rules of his underworld, there’s now a multi-million dollar contract out on him and every rival hitman and hitwoman in New York is about to make an attempt to collect the bounty. Can John find a way to live through the next few hours? He can: but it’ll require a lot of guns.
Don’t F**k with Cats (S1)
A finely crafted three-part documentary series about an internet killer and the plucky group of nerds who vow to track him down, this isn’t for the faint-hearted. While the attention-seeking videos this individual made – which begin with animal cruelty and get progressively more extreme – are not shown in full on screen, they’re described in detail and a reminder that, even outside of the dark web, there’s plenty of truly messed-up and disturbing stuff posted online all the time.
It’s a case that couldn’t have happened in a pre-internet world, making this a true crime story that goes beyond the mere retelling of a series of horrific crimes; it’s also about the nature of technology, the dark side of social media and how the forging of a more connected world isn’t always a positive thing.
This comedy-drama about the breakdown of a marriage could have come off as maudlin and sentimental in less skilled hands than those of writer/director Noah Baumbach – a filmmaker with impeccable form when it comes to chronicling family relationships in refreshing but recognisable ways.
Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson play the spouses attempting a “conscious uncoupling” for the sake of their young son, but stumbling into something far more acrimonious along the way. The setup is there for a depressing tale of love gone sour, but Marriage Story instead blooms into something far more nuanced and bittersweet.