Wonder Woman (Jenkins, 2017)

Problematic in many ways, not least in non-believable world creation (the logic of relationship between Diana’s world and the world of humankind simply doesn’t make sense, as the final scene is forced to recognise in deeply unconvincing gloss mode) and the ideals of female power (the paradisaical women-only society instantly slaughters a group of newcomers and tortures the sole survivor). These matters aside, we have the issue of historicisation. Superheroes by conception are anti-democratic: the hyper-privileged individual acting unilaterally above communal laws, and so on, and the decision to place one so specifically in historical context greatly deepens this problem. Wonder Woman would have us believe that the saviour of humanity was blissfully unruffled by global atrocities preceding the First World War. The only one explicitly referenced in the film, the colonisation of the Americas, is simply ignored: the scene merely fades to the next and is never alluded to again. The unavoidable implication is that our warrior Buddha saviour is only really concerned with the suffering of white people. The film would also have us believe (until the aforementioned fudge of the final scene) that the actions of a single hero, played by an actor who is both Jewish and an ex-member of the Israeli Defense Forces, conquered the impulse of violence and destruction in human history precisely in November 1918. Neither of these conclusions are easy to stomach.


Whiplash (Chazelle, 2014)

Memorable for many reasons, almost all of them good. The film’s main achievement and its lasting impression is the visual metaphor in the final scene, in which Neiman transcends the concert and delivers his breakthrough drum solo. During it the camera cuts to the back of the concert hall with Nieman in the distance, and he appears a self-perpetuating explosion, drawing everything around him into his field of gravity: the birth of a star.

Inception (Nolan, 2010)

Pluses: Marion Cotillard. The pleasing joinder of emotion, logic, and plot in Cobb’s revelation that he knows inception works. Edith Piaf. The Gordon-Levitt fight scene in the revolving hotel corridor, for which it turns out Nolan had a set built into the shell of an airliner and literally spun it round and round. Minuses: the expectation that the folding city would provoke awe (it looked like CGI, and anything that looks like CGI cannot provoke awe). Three acts of exposition. The cheap shot ending. Above all, the dreamworlds’ lack of dreaminess.

Minority Report (Spielberg, 2002)

OK, it has some silly action scenes. Yes, its casting only makes sense from a marketing perspective. But once we’ve finished rolling our eyes we’re left with a very cool premise, a pleasingly complicated plot, some excellent cinematography, Samantha Morton gripping like a vice, and a defensible alternate reading of the whole third act (that everything after Anderton gets halo-ed is his stasis pod fantasy). There is far more to enjoy here than to sneer at.

Deadpool (Miller, 2016)

As noxious a movie as I can imagine, the only interest Deadpool affords is in wondering whether it is in fact a movie. Points for: moving images accompanied by sound. Points against: its nonsensical characterisation (Deadpool is unquestionably not the sociopathic mercenary thug the film keeps telling us he is); its structure (the whole film is in essence one set piece, explained and repeated); the totally arbitrary rules of the reality within which the movie takes place. Perhaps most damning is the movie’s use of self-awareness to point out its own failings: what starts as belaboured fourth wall breaking eventually abandons any pretence of irony and simply picks holes in the whole endeavour, its own YouTube-ready snarky deconstruction. An exercise in naked cynicism.

A Clockwork Orange (Kubrick, 1971)

Kubrick’s ouvre can be divided into two basic groups: those where his cold, observational style suits his material and those where it doesn’t. Of those in which it doesn’t, perhaps A Clockwork Orange demonstrates why most clearly. The reason the source novel is so effective is that in making teenage antihero Alex so warm and funny – so attractive – we retain more than enough sympathy towards him to believe that his violence must be more than freak pathology. The superego-ego-id framework within which the novel places and discusses him is convincing and therefore disturbing. The notions of individual agency, societal hypocrisy, and so on that are in play in the novel are elevated to a state of real urgency. In Kubrick’s movie, Alex and his droogs are exotic beings coolly observed at distance, and the world he lives in and the actions he commits are therefore a diverting but arbitrary fantasy. Any cultural, political, or psychological comment is lost. Symptomatically, as Alex Malcolm McDowell was either miscast as someone far too old to convince as a teenager or simply was not intended to: despite his strong performance, either is a mistake. He, like the movie, is visually captivating but not at all relatable. Accordingly, the movie as a whole is memorable on a technical level alone.