Naomi Watts surprises with an hilarious Russian 'lady of the night' and Chris O'Dowd makes an impact with his small but vital role as the teacher of Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher), the son of Maggie (McCarthy), a recently single mother doing the best she can to keep her head above water. But of course this is Murray's vehicle, and despite his wandering accent, he shines as the eponymous Vincent. Murray's command of comedy and tragedy is well used in this film that explores what it's like to be an outcast, the human need to belong and connect with others, the importance of rebellion and risk taking, generosity and loyalty.
The film is a scathing indictment of how America treats its citizens most in need, the corporate culture of winning at any cost and the news industry's insatiable appetite for whipping up fear. It's one of those 'edge of your seat' films. The tension is built beautifully and you're not patronised by obvious exposition. Instead, you gradually discover little details that make you realise, to your own horror that psychopaths do rather well in a 'dog eat dog' culture.
See it if: you love Hitchcock movies.
Playing at Palace: now.
What We Did on Our Holiday
You know what's lovely about comedies from the UK? They don't explain the jokes to you like you're a moron who can't work it out for yourself. The humour in What We Did On Our Holiday feels real and relatable - not at all forced. This movie does come down a bit hard on the message of 'when is it okay to lie' but it's enjoyable none the less.
The adult actors (Rosamund Pike, David Tennant, Billy Connolly, Ben Miller and Amelia Bullmore) all do a fine job in this family centric dramatic comedy, but special mention really has to go to the children, (Emilia Jones, Bobby Smalldridge and Harriet Turnbull) who steal the show and the audience's hearts. What We Did on Our Holiday also explores the important themes of what's important in life and how wasteful it is to spend all your time fighting with those you love – a message that's timely given how our loved ones can sometimes push our buttons at this time of year.
Instead, it's glorious, triumphant, suspenseful, inspirational and even funny – yes, a film about a mathematician breaking the Enigma Code in WWII can be funny! There were several laugh out loud moments that in no way detracted from the serious elements of the movie. Keira Knightley acted her way out of my 'bad books' in this film too, giving a great performance as Turing's fiancé and colleague Joan Clarke. If The Imitation Game doesn't win a boatload of Oscars, my money is on the awards going to my next recommendation…
See it if: you like smart people, perfect sets and costumes, and brilliant acting.
Playing at Palace: from January 1st.
Birdman (or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Michael Keaton owns the screen in Birdman, just as he has in so many films before. His focus is unparalleled, equating to a commitment to character that most actors never achieve. Keaton brings to life Riggan Thomas, an actor whose star has faded, seeking to turn his life and career around. The film is raw and surreal, with inspired cinematography. There's comedy to be found in the dark moments, as Riggan struggles to get his 'comeback' play through harsh criticism and the loss of its leading man.
While it's Keaton's vehicle, special mention goes to Zach Galifianakis, Emma Stone, Ed Norton, and Amy Ryan, who all deliver engrossing performances of nuanced, flawed characters. Like all of the films on my list, Birdman is intelligent and assumes its audience has a modicum of intelligence too. Birdman flies between heartbreaking and hilarious with ease and deserves the acclaim it's already receiving from critics far and wide.
See it if: you like your comedies dark and your characters flawed.
Playing at Palace: from January 15th, though you can catch a special preview screening on New Year's Eve at Palace Centro.