Star Trek: Voyager – season seven (2000/2001)

Workforce

Over the last few months I’ve rewatched all of the science-fiction series Star Trek: Voyager. So, as the show celebrates its 25th anniversary, here’s what I thought were the notable episodes of the final season…

Best episode:
Workforce I & II. Sadly, Star Trek: Voyager concludes with a fairly uninspiring season. The pick of the stories, perhaps, is this well-paced two-parter. It begins in the thick of the action with Captain Kathryn Janeway (Kate Mulgrew), security chief Tuvok (Tim Russ), crewmember Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan), helmsman Tom Paris (Robert Duncan McNeill) and chief engineer B’Elanna Torres (Roxann Dawson) all working on an industrial planet – and none of them can remember their true identity. Being a double-length story allows Workforce the chance to breath a little and for the character stories to bed in (Janeway, for example, has a romance). It also helps that the planet’s aliens are essentially human: the society and class interactions are more plausible than many of Star Trek’s invented cultures.

Honorable mentions:
Repression. It gets muddy towards the end, but this is a mostly watchable episode  about paranoia. Tuvok must investigate after several of the crew – all former members of the Maquis resistance movement – are attacked.
* Inside Man. The latest episode in the long-running ‘Pathfinder’ story arc sees a hologram of recurring character Reg Barclay (Dwight Schultz) beamed across space and onto Voyager. However, as is the way in such stories, not all is as it seems….
* Body and Soul. Buried inside a humdrum plot about aliens who don’t like hologrammatic life forms is a run of reasonably funny scenes that feature the ship’s Emergency Medical Hologram (Robert Picardo) inhabiting the body of his colleague Seven of Nine, giving actress Jeri Ryan a chance to have some fun.
* Nightingale. Passable fluff about Ensign Harry Kim (Garrett Wang) taking command of an alien ship. (Told you season seven was slim pickings.)
* Shattered. Another time-anomaly story sees first officer Commander Chakotay (Robert Beltran) discover he has the ability to move between different time periods – and therefore different iterations of Star Trek: Voyager’s backstory. It’s silly but at least it’s not dull.
* Lineage. A sweet one, this, with no external sci-fi plotline getting in the way. Torres discovers she’s pregnant – she and Tom Paris had married a few episodes earlier – but what should be great news causes her distress. She soon considers a prenatal procedure to reduce her baby’s Klingon-ness, leaving Tom concerned. It’s a good character story with flashbacks to Torres’s childhood that lead to a cathartic explanation of her motives.
* The Void. An interesting premise motors this episode. Voyager is trapped in an endlessly featureless region of space and the crew are forced to form shaky alliances with similarly trapped vessels.
* Human Error. Seven of Nine begins to yearn for a more normal life, so plays out fantasies on the holodeck, including a relationship with an ersatz Chakotay. It’s mawkish but at least it’s about something.
* Homestead. Neelix (Ethan Phillips), the upbeat alien from the Delta Quadrant who joined the crew in the first episode, stumbles across some members of his own race living inside an asteroid. (The fact that Voyager has been speeding away from Neelix’s home world for *seven years* – and has also had several artificial jumps further home in that time – seems to be ignored. Seriously, the ship is now an unfathomably far distance away from where Neelix grew up.) It’s a fairly drab and earnest plot, designed to write Neelix out of the show before the finale. But the last few scenes, as he chooses to stay behind on the asteroid as Starfleet’s ‘ambassador’ to the region and then says goodbye to his friends, are nicely moving.
* Renaissance Man. The plot is drivel, but it’s worth mentioning here because the final few minutes are fun. The Doctor thinks he’s about to be deactivated permanently, so admits a few secrets, betrays a few friends’ confidences and confesses that he’s in love with Seven of Nine. We then learn he’s going to survive, of course.
* Endgame. The last ever episode of Star Trek: Voyager is an oddly flat way to round off a seven-year saga. We begin with what is essentially a flash-forward: it’s 20 years later, and Janeway managed to eventually get her crew home… but it took several more years with there were some fatalities along the way. So the older Kathryn resolves to travel back in time and alter history, allowing her past self and her colleagues to get back to Earth much sooner. The sequence where the ‘present’ crew do indeed make it home lacks any emotional punch and as the end credits roll you’re left with a sense of the underwhelming rather than the joyful triumph it should have been.

Worst episode:
* Prophecy. Voyager bumps into some Klingons (again, the writers seem to have put aside just how *enormous* space is) who claim that Torres’s unborn child is the second coming or something. Then, with tedious predictability, they bang on about honour, ritual and sacred texts. Ghastly.

Star Trek: Voyager – season four (1997/98)

StarTrekVoyagerNemesis

Over the last few months I’ve rewatched all of Star Trek: Voyager. Here’s what I thought were the notable episodes of season four…

Best episode:
* Nemesis. Commander Chakotay (Robert Beltran) is stranded on a warring planet and is forced to join up with one side’s guerrilla soldiers. The culture is pleasingly odd, in the way that sci-fi can do so well when it puts some thought into it. The guest characters, for example, have an ornate vocabulary (‘glimpses’ rather than ‘sees’, ‘fathom’ rather than ‘understand’), which is not only interesting in itself but also plays a storytelling role: the more Chakotay empathises with them, the more he starts to talk like his new colleagues. Then comes an effective twist, which pulls the camping mat from under what we’d previous thought. It’s an examination of war, propaganda and the psychology of hate, enriched by visual references to movies Predator, Platoon and the Manchurian Candidate.

Notable episodes:
* Scorpion Part II. A decent opener to the season, picking up from the Borg-centric cliffhanger at the end of season three. Captain Kathryn Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) has daringly proposed an alliance with the Borg, which means her working with their appointed representative: a female drone called Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan). The latter is being introduced as a new regular character and right from the off she’s an intriguing addition – an outsider, a true rebel (rather than the neutered Maquis characters), and someone who will shake up Voyager’s too-cosy world
. In fact, just generally, season four feels like there’s been a big injection of drama. In this episode, for instance, there’s an all-too-rare falling-out between Janeway and her second in command, Chakotay.
* The Gift. Seven of Nine is the focus as she’s largely de-Borged and Janeway tries to undo her brainwashing. Meanwhile, the character who Seven is replacing in the title sequence – the underused alien Kes (Jennifer Lien) – is written out in a rather wishy-washy, sci-fi way. In the final scene, we then see Seven of Nine in her new non-Borg costume: a slinky, undeniably sexy catsuit that is patently a shameless attempt to pander to fanboys.
* Day of Honor. It initially feints at being a boring story about the Klingon heritage of chief engineer B’Elanna Torres (Roxann Dawson), but we then get an engaging plot about Seven continuing integration into the crew.
* The Raven. Another episode about Seven’s deeply hidden humanity reasserting itself in interesting ways.
* Scientific Method. Another entertaining episode. Invisible, undetectable aliens invade the ship and perform imperceptible experiments on the crew. It’s artfully directed stuff, with good roles in the story for Seven (the one person who rumbles the invaders), Janeway (who is pushed to the limit emotionally by the ordeal), and helmsman Tom Paris (Robert Duncan McNeil) and Torres (Roxanne Dawson), who have by now started a relationship.
* Year of Hell Parts I & II. The plot is timey-wimey nonsense – an alien who has a weapon that can alter history targets the Voyager – and, maddeningly, the reset button is wheeled out at the end of the 90 minutes. But for most of its run time this is a terrific, action-packed two-parter. Taking place over several months, the story sees the ship badly damaged, friends killed, colleagues put at odds… This kind of stuff is what the whole show should have been, frankly – a desperate, dramatic journey through space with genuine costs and consequences. Year of Hell makes most of Voyager seem so tepid.
* Message in a Bottle. Not the best, but at least the Doctor (Robert Picardo) gets a fun solo mission as he’s transported a vast distance across space and ends up trapped on an Romulan-occupied ship in the Alpha Quadrant. The episode is part of a loose story arc that runs through season four about the crew finally making contact with Starfleet. The final scene is a touchingly understated moment as Janeway learns that the Doctor was able to get a message back home.
* The Killing Game Part I & II. Due to a tedious plot contrivance, most of the regular characters end up in a holodeck simulation of Second World War France…. and they believe themselves to be resistance fighters repelling the Nazis. All very Secret Army. Heavy-handed but the cast are having fun with their ersatz roles. There’s also an in-joke going on. Roxann Dawson (Torres) was pregnant in real life. While they have to keep hiding the fact in B’Elanna scenes, her holodeck character is visibly with child.
* Unforgettable. An alien shows up and claims she once spent several days with the crew – and fell in love with Chakotay – but because of a quirk of her race, they’ve all now forgotten her. Film star Virginia Madsen (Dune, Candyman) guest stars.
* One. The whole crew aside from Seven of Nine and the Doctor must go into suspended animation for a few weeks while the ship passes through a dangerous nebulae. How Seven deals with the situation – and especially how the isolation affects her psychologically – works well.
* Hope and Fear. The possibility of a quick way home is dangled in front of the crew, but not all is as it seems. A fun culmination of this season’s themes, as not only is there progress in the journey to reach the Alpha Quadrant, but Seven of Nine again has a central role to play in the drama. She’s very quickly become the de facto second lead after Janeway – and the show’s most interesting character.

Worst episode:
* Waking Moments. Dream-based episodes can be tricky beasts; it’s difficult to feel the tension when you know events aren’t ‘real’. Do it well – A Nightmare on Elm Street, certain episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer – and you’re winning. This, however, falls into a cliched round of ‘I’m still asleep!’ plot twists as various crew members suffer from the same vivid nightmares. There’s also another iteration of Chakotay’s boring dream-quest motif and everything is played and staged so earnestly.

Next time: Season five

Star Trek: Voyager – season three (1996/97)

StarTrekVoyagerSeason3

Over the last few months I’ve rewatched all of Star Trek: Voyager. Here’s what I thought were the notable episodes of season three…

Best episode:
* Before and After. In the midst of a fairly pedestrian season comes this really wonderful episode, which has one of those timey-wimey plots Star Trek can do so well. As the story starts, we’re several years into the future and Voyager nurse Kes (Jennifer Lien) is now an elderly woman. We then follow her as her consciousness jumps back in time every so often, so we see her at earlier and earlier ages but she only retains memories of her future experiences. But this is not just a sci-fi gimmick. Along the way, as Kes grows younger, she develops as a character and there are effective themes concerning memory, grief, senility, trust and loss. Superb stuff. (Aptly and bizarrely, the episode itself also seems to have knowledge of what’s to come: the structure is not a million light years away from the 2000 film Memento, while there are foreshadows of events we’ll see in Voyager’s next season.)

Honorable mentions:
* Flashback. Produced to honour Star Trek’s 30th anniversary, and featuring classic-series character Sulu (George Takei), this is muddled, dull and has a plot constructed from various bits of nonsense. It even has a ‘Who knows?’ final scene because the script can’t begin to justify what’s happened. It’s mentioned here solely so we confirm that the equivalent episode made at the same time by sister show Deep Space Nine – a playful and postmodern time-travelling romp called Trials and Tribble-ations – is *far* superior.
* Chute. A not-bad one that sees Ensign Harry Kim (Garrett Wang) and helmsman Tom Paris (Robert Duncan McNeill) trapped in an alien prison. It benefits from starting with them locked up, so we jump straight into the story, but it’s a shame the show’s episodic format means they can’t be locked up for that long. Where’s the bravery to say, ‘Six months later…’?
* False Profits. As the punning title suggests, this episode sees a pair of Ferengi, money-obsessed aliens often seen in other Trek shows, crop up. They’re posing as gods on one of those Star Trek planets populated by naïve locals. It’s not the best episode but it does point the way forward: familiar Star Trek continuity from the Alpha Quadrant is starting to encroach on Voyager’s isolationism now.
* Future’s End Part I & Part II. Essentially Voyager’s take on the 1986 Star Trek film The Voyage Home, this sees our characters flung back into Earth’s past – ie, what was the present day to contemporary viewers (1996). There’s a convoluted setup, but no matter: this two-parter is not asking to be taken too seriously. The script has a sense of humour, the cast are enjoying playing their characters as fish out of water, and guest stars Ed Begley Jnr (the villain) and Sarah Silverman (a 1990s woman who helps the crew) are good value. Enjoyably daft.
* Warlord. A member of the Voyager family is possessed by a despotic leader who promptly uses their body to escape the ship. The fact the character used for this plot is the sweet and hippie-ish Kes gives this hokey episode a fun incongruous feel.
* Fair Trade. An effective one about Voyager’s alien chef, Neelix (Ethan Phillips), whose loyalties tested by an old friend involved in some dodgy business deals.
* Blood Fever. A tedious and very possibly sexist episode about chief engineer Lieutentant B’Elanna Torres (Roxann Dawson) being affected by a chemical imbalance and becoming sex-mad. But it’s worth flagging up here because of its brief, rushed ending: Captain Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) and Commander Chakotay (Robert Beltran) find the body of a Borg in some undergrowth. It was inevitable this would happen at some point in the series, given that the characters are stranded in the Borg’s area of space (and that the Borg – totalitarian, cyber-enhanced drones – had recently been given a boost of publicity thanks to being the bad guys in Star Trek movie First Contact).
* Unity. The Borg enter the story in an odd communism metaphor that sees a group of survivors unwilling to give up the order and security being part of a monolithic society had provided them. Chakotay has sympathy, largely because the group’s leader is blonde and pretty.
* Rise. A schlocky but enjoyable episode with one of those sci-fi gimmicks (an enormous elevator, basically) that works as both a setting for an action plot and as a metaphor for our characters’ predicament. Neelix and Lieutenant Commander Tuvok (Tim Russ) get lots of attention, the story feels like a disaster movie at times, and the guest alien race are refreshingly free of pomposity.
* Distant Origin. It gets lumpy in its second half, when the drama becomes very obvious, but this an entertaining one overall. For the opening few scenes, it breaks Star Trek’s usual rule by presenting the story from the point of view of guest characters: reptilian aliens who evolved on Earth in the distant past before heading out into space. (Doctor Who fans will clock this notion’s similarity to one of that show’s recurring races, the Silurians.) The story is a pastiche of the resistance faced by men like Galileo when attempting to advance our knowledge of the universe, and the script has plenty to say on the topic of science versus dogma.
* Worst Case Scenario. Torres stumbles across a virtual-reality game that’s essentially an episode of Star Trek: Voyager, and various characters take turns to play its lead character. So we see lots of version of the same narrative. As it goes, a humdrum idea. But because the roleplaying game is set during a theoretical mutiny aboard the ship, the show is able to rekindle the long-forgotten tension that existed for about 30 seconds in the pilot episode. (Half the crew are resistance fighters who were sworn enemies of the Federation! Remember?!) There are also some smart comments made about storytelling devices and even inside jokes about Star Trek: Voyager clichés.

Worst episode:
Sacred Ground. Kes in injured on an alien planet, so Janeway has to spend an entire episode humouring some smug religious types who refuse to help an innocent woman. Woeful.

Next time: Season four

Star Trek: Voyager – season one (1995)

star-trek-voyager-1

Over the last few months I’ve rewatched all of the science-fiction series Star Trek: Voyager. So, as the show celebrates its 25th anniversary, here’s what I thought were the notable episodes of season one…

Best episode:
Eye of the Needle. When this series was being developed in 1994, some big decisions were made by the production team in order to differentiate it from its Star Trek stablemates The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine. A big choice was to catapult the regular characters across the galaxy, sending them 70,000 light years and 75 years of travel away from home. This cut them off from established Star Trek continuity, which was a terrific idea given how loaded down with recurring characters and races the other shows had become. Nevertheless, this early episode dips back into the familiar well by having the crew make contact with a Romulan via a wormhole. It seems to offer a quick way home or at least a way of sending messages to loved ones. But then comes a sucker-punch ending… The episode also has a charming B-plot about the ship’s Doctor – an artificial-intelligence hologram played by Robert Picardo – and his concerns over his role in the crew.

Honorable mentions:
Caretaker. A decent feature-length pilot episode. The regular characters get good introductions and all make an impression (except maybe Jennifer Lien’s Kes, an alien who the crew encounter and adopt). It also sets up many of the fascinating ideas that Star Trek: Voyager had inherent in its make-up. After being flung halfway across the galaxy, Captain Kathryn Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) and her crew must form an uneasy alliance with a group of resistance fighters who are similarly lost. There’s also the general jolt of being removed to another part of the galaxy and knowing it’ll take 75 years to get home. Then there’s the character of Tom Paris (Robert Duncan McNeill), a convict with a shady background who is brought along on the mission and has to step up the plate… This is *a lot* of potential drama and story. It’s such a shame that it was so quickly squandered. The conflict between the Starfleet crew and the Maquis rebels, for example, is resolved in this episode with risible speed (and mostly off-screen!). The episode’s ‘A plot’ (godlike entity draws people across the universe because it wants a mate) is also wishy-washy.
* Parallax. The plot is technobabblistic nonsense – something about the ship being trapped in a singularity. But by focussing on chief engineer B’Elanna Torres (Roxann Biggs-Dawson), a half-Klingon who’s one of the former rebels subsumed into the crew, we get a bit of drama as the Maquis characters struggle to adapt to Starfleet life.
* Time and Again. Anther script powered by an awful lot of gobbledegook dialogue, but the time-travel element of the story works well: Janeway and Paris are trapped on a planet in its recent past, just hours before a catastrophe is due to strike.
* Ex Post Facto. Paris is convicted of a murder on an alien planet in a fun, film-noir-ish mystery story.
* State of Flux. A paranoia plot, which sees Commander Chakotay (Robert Beltran) under pressure as fingers are pointed at one of his former Maquis colleagues. As a character, he’s been the blandest so far and oddly stuck in the background of many episodes. So this one gives us a bit of focus on Voyager’s new first officer. (The fact that he wears a Starfleet uniform, however, continues to be maddeningly frustrating. A show with a better sense of drama would have had him accept the post of second-in-command for pragmatic reasons, but *never* lose sight of his rebellious nature.)
* Heroes and Demons. Holodeck-goes-wrong stories were already old hat in Star Trek by this point, thanks to The Next Generation’s over-reliance on the cliché, but this episode gets away with it because the Doctor finally has a chance to get out of the sickbay and engage with some guest characters. He has to go into a Beowulf RPG to search for missing crew members and the actor has a ball with the idea.
* Faces. Thanks to the meddling of some organ-harvesting aliens, B’Elanna Torres is – rather implausibly, but let’s go with it – split into two separate people: a human and a Klingon. As a metaphor for her troubled personality it’s obvious but works rather well, and the actress does a good job with the two roles.
* Jetrel. A rare bit of depth for Neelix (Ethan Phillips), an eccentric and optimistic alien who hooked up with the crew in episode one and now acts as their tour guide to the Delta Quadrant. After encountering a doctor from a race who murdered Neelix’s community, he experiences anger, doubt and maybe even forgiveness.
* Learning Curve. Perhaps Star Trek’s most low-key ‘season finale’ (because it wasn’t intended to be one when made), this story reheats the frozen Federation/Maquis conflict. Vulcan security chief Tuvok (Tim Russ) is charged with teaching some new and sarcastic crew members about Starfleet protocol. It’s cheesy but effective.

Worst episode:
* The Cloud. A boring, character-less sci-fi plot, a pointless holodeck diversion and a scene where Chakotay teaches Janeway how to talk to her imaginary friend. Eugh.

Next time: Season two

My 75 favourite films of the 2010s

To commemorate the end of the decade 2010-2019 (any word yet on what we’re calling it?!), here is a list of my favourite movies from the last 10 years.

It’s a very personal selection, based on gut instinct and emotional reactions. There are undoubtedly plenty of fine films that haven’t made the cut, but these are the 75 that have given me – subjectively speaking – the most amount of pleasure and have impressed me the most. (Why 75? That’s just how many I jotted down on a shortlist.)

I’ve listed them alphabetically, but I’ve also picked out a top 10. Have I missed off your favourite?

TOP 10 CHOICE: The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (2011, Steven Spielberg)

THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN

The finest animated film there’s ever been. A complete artificial world is created in CGI, and repeated viewings are a treat because you continually spot new things in the background of each shot. But, crucially, there’s real heart behind this movie too. You soon forget about the technology and instead get swept up in the story and charmed by the sheer talent behind it. The plot is simple but smart, with clearly defined characters. There’s wit, whimsy, danger, plenty of visual gags and madcap action – in other words, it’s very Steven Spielberg.

TOP 10 CHOICE: The Aeronauts (2019, Tom Harper)

the-aeronauts

A late entry, as I only saw this film a few weeks ago – but it was a magical experience. Watching it on my own on a cold Tuesday evening in an Everyman cinema in Crystal Palace, I was so enraptured that I felt like a child. The screen seemed enormous, I had a perfect view – level, central, not too close, not too far away – and I was totally caught up in the spectacle and the drama and the joy of a great movie. It’s a fictionalised account of a real-life scientific balloon accent in the 1860s, so this a story about reaching for the heavens in more ways than one. It’s stirring and sentimental and touching and full of wonder, while there’s a very good cast, tremendous incidental music, and a beautiful combination of cinematography and visual effects.

Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa (2013, Declan Lowney)

Attack the Block (2011, Joe Cornish)

Avengers: Endgame (2019, Anthony & Joe Russo)

Avengers: Infinity War (2018, Anthony & Joe Russo)

Bad Times at the El Royale (2018, Drew Goddard)

Baby Driver (2017, Edgar Wright)

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014, Alejandro González Iñárritu)

TOP 10 CHOICE: Blade Runner 2049 (2017, Denis Villeneuve)

BR2049

Producing a sequel to a classic 35 years after the fact was something of a risk. Ridley Scott, the director of the first Blade Runner, had himself recently made two follow-ups to his other sci-fi masterpiece, Alien (1979), and both fell a very long way short of that movie’s seductive terror. Thankfully, Blade Runner 2049 is *at least* the equal of the 1982 antecedent. Made with an understanding of the original’s power but also with a distinct voice by director Denis Villeneuve, it’s a big film, a difficult film at times, but an engrossing and hugely rewarding experience.

Bone Tomahawk (2015, S Craig Zahler)

Bridge of Spies (2015, Steven Spielberg)

The Cabin in the Woods (2012, Drew Goddard)

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011, Joe Johnston)

TOP 10 CHOICE: Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014, Anthony & Joe Russo)

captainamerica_wintersoldier16_1020.0

The decade’s finest superhero movie – and this has been a decade with a lot of superhero movies. Directors Anthony and Joe Russo make sure each element of the film is as sharp as it can be: it’s often funny, it’s often exciting, the story has a bit of substance, tension is built effectively, the incidental music is terrific, and the action scenes are sensational. There’s intrigue, espionage and mistrust. There’s wit, pathos and drama. There’s action, fun and Christopher Nolan-style theatricality.

Creed (2015, Ryan Coogler)

Crimson Peak (2015, Guillermo del Toro)

The Dark Knight Rises (2012, Christopher Nolan)

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014, Matt Reeves)

Deadpool (2016, Tim Miller)

Deadpool 2 (2018, David Leitch)

The Death of Stalin (2018, Armando Iannucci)

Django Unchained (2012, Quentin Tarantino)

Drive (2011, Nicolas Winding Refn)

Dunkirk (2017, Christopher Nolan)

TOP 10 CHOICE: Easy A (2010, Will Gluck)

911160 - EASY A

A loving homage to the kind of teen comedies made by John Hughes in the 1980s, this drily funny and very smart film stars a terrific Emma Stone as a schoolgirl who becomes notorious after a rumour circulates about her sexual appetite. Made with both a real affection for those great old 80s movies and a modern freshness, Easy A also has two of the greatest ‘movie parents’ you could ever hope for: Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci’s open-minded and carefree Rosemary and Dill. (No, honestly, those are their names.)

Evil Dead (2013, Fede Álvarez)

Ex Machina (2015, Alex Garland)

Fast & Furious 5 (2011, Justin Jin)

The Final Girls (2015, Todd Strauss-Schulson)

Gravity (2013, Alfonso Cuarón)

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014, James Gunn)

Halloween (2018. David Gordon Green)

Happy Death Day (2017, Christopher Landon)

The Hateful Eight (2015, Quentin Tarantino)

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013, Peter Jackson)

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012, Peter Jackson)

The Hunger Games (2012, Gary Ross)

Inception (2010, Christopher Nolan)

Interstellar (2014, Christopher Nolan)

Iron Man 3 (2013, Shane Black)

Joker (2019, Todd Philips)

La La Land (2016, Damien Chazelle)

The Lego Movie (2014, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller)

Logan (2017, James Mangold)

The Lone Ranger (2013, Gore Verbinski)

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015, George Miller)

The Martian (2015, Ridley Scott)

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011, Brad Bird)

Mr Holmes (2015, Bill Condon)

The Nice Guys (2016, Shane Black)

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019, Quentin Tarantino)

The Post (2017, Steven Spielberg)

TOP 10 CHOICE: Robin Hood (2010, Ridley Scott)

robin_hood_image_02

Arguably (and I’m going to argue it) the most underrated film of the last 10 years, this kind of passed by without many people getting all that excited. The most newsworthy aspect of its release was lead actor Russell Crowe throwing a tantrum in a publicity interview because it was suggested that his ‘Nottinghamshire’ accent was perhaps not 100-per-cent authentic. (In truth, it’s not even *one*-per-cent authentic.) But that’s just a blemish. Essentially Robin Hood: The Origin Story, this movie ticks the usual boxes – the Crusades, King John, Marian, the sidekicks – but also weaves Robin’s story into a tapestry that involves palace intrigue, civil rights and a coming war. Beautiful to look at, well cast, exciting, funny, and with a fascinating backstory informing everything, this deserves to be much more liked.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016, Gareth Edwards)

Scott Pilgrim vs the World (2010, Edgar Wright)

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011, Guy Ritchie)

TOP 10 CHOICE: Skyfall (2012, Sam Mendes)

Skyfall is biggest earning film in UK

The best James Bond film of the decade (regrettably there have only been two) is tremendous entertainment, full of vim and zip and energy. It’s also an engaging character story that weaves Bond’s past with that of his boss, M. “Where are we going?” asks M at one point. “Back in time,” replies Bond… After the clean slate of Casino Royale and the po-faced Quantum of Solace, this movie gives us a new Moneypenny, a new Q, the return of an Aston Martin DB5, and even a belting title song sung by a large-lunged diva. It’s stylish and confident and slick and a lot of fun.

TOP 10 CHOICE: Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018, Ron Howard)

Solo

This was a huge ask. Huge. To take such a famous and beloved character as Han Solo and *recast* him could have gone catastrophically wrong. Thankfully, both lead actor Alden Ehrenreich and the film as a whole are wonderfully vibrant and entertaining. Being a prequel, simply filling out the spaces between established facts could of course become boring very quickly. Solo, however, has more than enough panache and humour to sidestep the issue. It’s full of vivid characters, exiting sequences, romance and adventure.

Spectre (2015, Sam Mendes)

Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017, Jon Watts)

Stan & Ollie (2019, Jon S Baird)

Star Trek Beyond (2016, Justin Lin)

Star Trek Into Darkness (2013, JJ Abrams)

TOP 10 CHOICE: Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015, JJ Abrams)

ForceAwakens

This movie looks like Star Wars, it sounds like Star Wars, and it feels like Star Wars. The new generation of characters – courageous Rey, headstrong Finn, dashing Poe, adorable BB-8, villainous Kylo – are charismatic, fun, interesting and worthy successors to Luke, Leia, Han and co. Speaking of those icons, they’re not just meaningless cameos. They’re integral to the story, and are found in instantly interesting situations. The Force Awakens might be a love letter to the first three movies, but it’s still a compelling drama. On a technical level, the film is even more impressive. For a start, it’s just so wonderfully *there*. It feels physical, palpable, with heft and weight and a sense of reality. After the cartoony artifice of the prequels, this makes a geek’s heart sing. It’s my favourite film of the whole decade.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017, Rian Johnson)

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019, JJ Abrams)

Super 8 (2011, JJ Abrams)

T2 Trainspotting (2017, Danny Boyle)

The Theory of Everything (2014, James Marsh)

True Grit (2010, Joel and Ethan Coen)

21 Jump Street (2012, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller)

Unstoppable (2010, Tony Scott)

TOP 10 CHOICE: The World’s End (2013, Edgar Wright)

The World's End

This top-10 choice can be seen as standing in for all of director Edgar Wright’s classy and endlessly enjoyable work this decade; I could easily have chosen Scott Pilgrim or Baby Driver. The World’s End has the usual Wrightian tropes – great cast, huge smarts, laugh-out-loud comedy, a thrilling awareness of popular culture, first-rank cinematography and editing – but it edges the others because of two factors. It’s the finale of a thematic trilogy begun in 2004’s Shaun of the Dead and continued in 2007’s Hot Fuzz, and it caps off the series so superbly. Also, its exploration of nostalgia, for better and worse, really socks home.

X-Men: First Class (2011, Matthew Vaughn)

In summary…

It turns out that 2015 is my favourite year of the decade with 12 films on this list. 2011 and 2017 have nine entries each; 2013 is on eight; 2012 and 2014 are on seven; 2010, 2018 and 2019 on six; and poor 2016 is the weakest showing with just five.

Two directors share the accolade of most films: JJ Abrams and Christopher Nolan, each with four. Anthony & Joe Russo, Steven Spielberg, Quentin Tarantino and Edgar Wright have three each; while the following directors appear on the list twice: Shane Black, Drew Goddard, Justin Lin, Phil Lord & Christopher Miller, Peter Jackson, Ridley Scott and Sam Mendes.

In terms of multiple films from the same series, we have seven Marvel Cinematic Universe movies. The next best-represented franchise is Star Wars with five; then there are four X-Men films and two each from Star Trek, James Bond and the Hobbit series.

Doctor Who (1963-2017)

Over the last four years I’ve been on a marathon quest. In 2015 I decided to watch every episode of Doctor Who, a show I’m very fond of, and tweet some short reviews. I began with the serials broadcast in the 20th century and – rather than start with the William Hartnell-starring first episode from 1963 – watched those in a randomly chosen order. Just to keep it fun. I saw 158 stories and it took nearly two years.

WilliamHartnell

I then moved on to the seasons that have followed the show’s relaunch in 2005, and I saw and commented on these 144 episodes in broadcast order – one episode per tweet this time, even when they part of larger stories. This phase took 25 months. I brought it to an end after Peter Capaldi’s final appearance in Twice Upon a Time (2017) because I don’t want to rewatch and review stories starring the current Doctor, Jodie Whittaker, until there’s been a greater distance of time and perspective.

PeterCapaldi

In the end, therefore, this process has meant 302 tweets – some serious, some silly, all just what I thought at the time. You can view the full archive here, as well as a statistical leader board of appearances I kept as I went along: it lists every character who’s in more than one Doctor Who story, ranked by the number of individual episodes in which they appear. (Well, it entertained me to update it after each tweet.)

Horror Marathon: Friday the 13th/The Evil Dead/A Nightmare on Elm Street – Part Three

Here’s the third and final part of my journey into darkness as I systematically watch and review every movie from three horror series that share fictional crossovers. You can catch up with parts one (1980-1986) and two (1987-1991) by clicking on the links.

Spoiler warning: I’ve not blown every surprise or twist, but some of the more famous plot points are revealed.

19. Army of Darkness (1992, Sam Raimi)
Transported to the Middle Ages, a young 20th-century American called Ash must continue to fight the Deadites… and find a way to get home…

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What a bonkers movie. Gloriously so. Following on from Evil Dead II’s time-travelling cliffhanger, Ash (Bruce Campbell) is now in the year 1300 (seemingly in England). He’s captured by a local lord who wants to sacrifice him to a beast in a pit, but soon proves his worth and sets out to find the Necronomican, the book with the power to get him back to the present… Even more of a comedy than the previous Evil Dead film, Army of Darkness gets a lot of humour from Ash’s action-movie quips contrasting with the dialogue of the earnest locals (it’s a case of Schwarzenegger vs Shakespeare). The plot is structured like a Western, with Ash as the stranger who arrives to defend a town from an outside force – but rather than Henry Fonda or Eli Wallach, this outside force is an army of Ray Harryhausen-style skeletons. When the battle comes, the Monty Python-like humour continues but it’s now complemented by a siege sequence that spookily preempts Helm’s Deep from The Lord of the Rings by a decade. The whole movie is directed archly, with enormous energy and bags of wit. The hyper-kenetic and goofy style is close to a live-action cartoon and it’s brilliantly entertaining.
Eight copies of Fangoria out of 10

20. Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993, Adam Marcus)
After being caught and killed by the FBI, the spirit of Jason Voorhees transfers from person to person to continue his carnage…

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After a deliberately slow opening, which reminds us of the simplicity of the earliest Friday the 13th films, Jason Voorhees is gunned down by FBI marksmen. But that’s not the end: it turns out that ‘Jason’ is actually a slug-like parasite that can transfer from person to person. Who knew?! He can enter his new victim’s body via the mouth or, in one crass instance, the vagina. Having possessed the new host, he can then continue to murder people in violent ways. Riiiiight… This film, which is the second Friday film to use the word ‘Final’ incorrectly, has another parade of forgettable characters who come and go without much impact. (Perhaps the exception is Steven Williams’s Creighton Duke, a bounty hunter who acts like he’s the star of his own action-movie franchise.) There’s also a lot of nudity, sex, violence and gore – the latter provided by Greg Nicotero, a revered special-effects supervisor. It’s an exceeding silly film, which has a wispy plotline about Jason only being vulnerable to his blood relatives. But it does have special interest for this blogging project because this is where Friday the 13th, The Evil Dead and A Nightmare on Elm Street collide. It’s revealed that Jason’s supernatural qualities are because his mother once used the Necronomicon book from The Evil Dead series to resurrect him. (Director Adam Marcus sneaked this cross-reference in under the radar.) Then the final image of the movie is deliberately setting up a crossover sequel: Freddy Krueger’s gloved hand appears out of the ground and pulls Jason down into hell…
Five Voorhees burgers out of 10

21. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994, Wes Craven)
Ten years after starring in A Nightmare on Elm Street, actress Heather Langenkamp suffers from nightmares herself – and comes to believe that Freddy Krueger is breaking out of his fictional realm…

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Wow. Just… wow. It feels slightly unfair on all the other films in this blog series to include New Nightmare, given that it’s not a hastily churned-out slasher film. It’s a postmodern, avant-garde experiment; a clever-clever, cerebral movie that’s deep and dangerous. Series creator Wes Craven returns to write and direct a film in which Heather Langenkamp (Nancy in Nightmares 1 and 3) plays herself. The movie Heather is an actress recognisable from horror film A Nightmare on Elm Street, but is also a wife and doting mother. She’s already under pressure from a crank caller and bad dreams when her old colleague Wes Craven (also playing himself) asks her to reprise Nancy in a new Nightmare movie alongside Robert Englund (ditto). But this story is so much more than a behind-the-scenes in-joke. Langenkamp gives a fantastic performance, playing herself but doing so as an acting role – there’s no smugness or winking to the audience (well, not much). There are smart themes at play too: of fairy tales, of the power of motherhood, of the world being off-kilter thanks to a series of Californian earthquakes. The script also talks about the nature of horror stories – Craven himself explains that the evil of Freddy Krueger was contained within his film series, but now that the movies have ended he’s free to break into reality. And when he does, it’s a darker Freddy: he’s still played by Englund, but there are no quips or sense of glee. This Fred is *scary*. A marvellous, marvellous film.
Nine pairs of pyjamas out of 10

22. Jason X (2001, Jim Isaac)
When Jason Voorhees is awoken after five centuries in suspended animation, he resumes his murderous ways… IN SPACE!

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Treading the fine line between clever and stupid, this film sees a desperate roll of the dice from the Friday the 13th creative team. And it kinda pays off… After nine films with samey settings, Jason X is Galaxy Quest-style sci-fi. We begin in the year 2010 and a captured Jason Voorhees is cryogenically frozen – but so too, by accident, is one of the team working at the Crystal Lake Research Facility. Then we cut to 455 years later. Earth is now a sandstorm-blasted wilderness. A team of goggle-wearing survivors of an apocalypse discover the lab and take both bodies back to their spaceship, where they thaw them out… There’s a definite Alien-influenced, truckers-in-space vibe going on here. There are far too many characters, so while some pop more than others – the greedy professor, the android who (typically) wants to be more human – we never get enough to time to hang out with them. But the team are refreshingly vivid, broadly drawn and unpretentious. Anyway, as you’d expect, Jason wakes up and starts killing people – it’s predictable stuff and has some haphazard storytelling, but it’s generally more fun and more engaging than you assume it’s going to be. (It helps that the film is clearly not taking itself too seriously.) One death involving a face being instantly frozen in liquid nitrogen is terrific and there are also several flashes of effective comedy, such as a funny scene that spoofs the innocent days of the first Friday the 13th movie.
Seven costume designers who clearly have an obsession with outfits that show off the female characters’ breasts out of 10

23. Freddy vs Jason (2003, Ronny Yu)
Having been forgotten by the population of Springwood, Freddy Krueger recruits Jason Voorhees to enact a murderous campaign on his behalf…

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A cast of characters so one-note they could come from one of those lame comedies like Not Another Teen Movie. A script so cheesy and cliché-riddled it’s amazing that people thought it was good enough to film. A story devoid of any texture or depth. A dead-hand-on-the-tiller director who has no sense of suspense or style… The Friday and Nightmare series had both previously shown that they can experiment and do risky things – an out-and-out comedy, a metatextual drama, a diversion into science fiction – but given the chance to combine the franchises, the result is even more tawdry and cynical than you’d expect from the title. The worst film so far in this marathon – and that’s *really* saying something.
One schoolkid in the background of a scene who’s played by Kate from Lost out of 10

24. Friday the 13th (2009, Marcus Nispel)
When a group of young people venture into the woods, they encounter the sadistic killer Jason Voorhees…

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We’re now entering the era of the horror remake. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003), The Omen (2006), The Wicker Man (2006), Halloween (2007) and others had already been churned out before this one came along. In the plus column – and we’re clutching for straws here – this new take on Friday the 13th is not just a lazy retread of the original plot. Instead, after we see the climax of the 1980 movie restaged, we cut to more than 20 years later. The main story is then told in two unequal parts: a 23-minute section showing us some unlikable kids hanging out in the woods, being pricks, trading insults, having sex and getting killed by Jason Voorhees… then the main bulk of the film features a different group of unlikable kids hanging out in the woods, being pricks, trading insults, having sex and getting killed by Jason Voorhees. The rejig was done to both honour the original film *and* have a fully formed Jason as the killer. But this is a really rotten endeavour, lacking any wit or new ideas. As cheap and tatty as the early Fridays could be, there was at least a knockabout charm and a sense that tongues were in cheeks. This, however, is po-faced nonsense that’s close to torture porn. Dreadful dialogue, a blandly attractive cast and some serious dips in momentum make up for a putrefyingly awful experience.
Two missing-person flyers out of 10

25. A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010, Samuel Bayer)
Several young friends in the town of Springwood, Ohio, realise they’ve all been dreaming of the same scary man with knives for fingers…

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This remake of the original A Nightmare on Elm Street movie – which retells the story fairly faithfully – begins with a grim, humourless, portentous mood. Characters are scared and on edge; violence isn’t far away from the surface; and Samuel Bayer’s direction lacks any zip. Sadly, this means the film has nowhere to go tonally. As things develop, everything feels muted – from the low-energy performances to the drab colour scheme – and therefore the threat, the deaths, the scares and the shocks don’t have the impact they should. (They have nothing to contrast against.) It’s a shame, actually, as this is not an incompetent film. The dreams are nicely shot, there are some good actors involved, and Freddy Kreuger’s backstory is more imaginatively revealed than it was in 1984. But it all feels monotonous and sluggish.
Five micronaps out of 10

26. Evil Dead (2013, Fede Alvarez)
A group of friends take a young woman to a cabin in the woods so she can go cold turkey, but soon a malevolent force is awoken…

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The third and final remake in this blogging project is, by some distance, the best. Following the same basic plotline as the original Evil Dead, it sees a group of young friends (one of whom is Gotham’s Jessica Lucas) staying at a decrepit cabin in the woods. But straightaway there’s a difference from 1981. Unlike that film’s holidaymakers, these kids have a more serious intent: they’ve taken their friend Mia (Jane Levy, very good) away from the city so she can sober up after a drug addition. But then one of the group discovers a strange book full of punky, John Doe-in-Seven-style scribblings. Reading aloud from it, he evokes an evil spirit that soon starts to torment his friends… This is a terrifying film, with more than a hint of The Exorcist in its grungy coarseness (sample dialogue from a possessed Mia: ‘Kiss me, you dirty cunt!’). With some amazing, old-school special-effects gags and an enormous amount of graphic content (check out the Grand Guignol ending as it literally rains blood!), Evil Dead is a superbly put-together shocker.
Eight nailguns out of 10

27. Ash vs Evil Dead (2015-18)
Thirty years after his experiences with the Deadites, Ash is living in a trailer park and working at a hardware store. But he can’t escape his past…

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More than a quarter of a century after Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street, the Evil Dead series crosses over into TV. This spin-off series, which is a continuation of the films’ continuity, had Bruce Campbell reprise his most famous character for 30 episodes across three seasons. So goofy as to be essentially a sitcom with added gore, the opening episode, El Jefe, was directed by Sam Raimi, who filled it with slapstick and his idiosyncratic crash-zoom action. Ash is 30 years older than he was in the movies. He’s now living through a midlife crisis – picking up women in bars, taking drugs, living in a caravan strewn with pornography – and is noticeably more of a moron. (He’s kinda like the Fonz crossed with Mr Bean.) When Ash accidentally resurrects the same evil spirits that hounded him years before, he and his colleagues Pablo (Ray Santiago) and Kelly (Dana DeLorenzo) get involved in a horror plotline involving demonic possession.
Seven poetry reads out of 10

And relax…

Horror Marathon: Friday the 13th/The Evil Dead/A Nightmare on Elm Street – Part Two

My epic horror project continues… I’ve been watching three horror series that share narrative crossovers and recording my thoughts. You can read part one, which covered nine horror movies released between 1980 and 1986, by clicking on this link. Here’s part two…

Spoiler warning: I’ve not blown every surprise or twist, but some of the more famous plot points are revealed.

10. A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987, Chuck Russell)
Teenage patients in a psychiatric hospital must join forces to defeat Freddy Krueger…

Screenshot 2018-12-03 20.13.13

There are some big names involved in this second Elm Street sequel. After skipping the previous entry, creator Wes Craven returned to work on the script; Frank Darabont (the director of The Shawshank Redemption) also did a pass; and the cast includes Laurence Fishburne and a pre-fame Patricia Arquette. It’s decent stuff – spooky and unsettling, even inventive at times, and done with intent. You care for the characters and want to know what happens next… Kristen Parker (Arquette, giving a good performance) has been having nightmares about Freddy Krueger, so is admitted to a psychiatric hospital where all the other patients on the ward are teens who have been dreaming of him too. Handily, the institute’s hotshot new doctor has experience in this area, because she’s Nancy from the original film (played again by Heather Langenkamp, sadly looking too young to be convincing). She helps the group, but Freddy induces some of them to kill themselves, so the survivors team up to fight back… The surrealistic dream sequences are a treat, as are several of the special effects. A subplot about Freddy being evil because he was the product of rape, however, is maybe one idea too many.
Seven papier-mâché houses

11. Evil Dead II (1987, Sam Raimi)
Ash’s nightmare continues as the Deadites torment him in the cabin…

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More a remake of the first Evil Dead movie than a traditional sequel (a story-so-far prologue plays very fast and loose with continuity), this gleefully vibrant film sees Ash Williams (a foot-to-the-floor performance from Bruce Campbell) still trapped in the same cabin and still surrounded by demonic forces. Meanwhile, the daughter of the archaeologist who originally found the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis (the book that unleashed the horror in the first place) is on her way to the cabin with some friends… This is a relentlessly entertaining horror flick, clearly made with a relish for slapstick and cartoon violence. We get a razzle-dazzle hotchpotch of stop-motion photography, greenscreens, handheld shots, POV shots, crane shots, matte shots, model shots, puppets, prosthetics, monster make-up, blood, gore, decapitated heads and arch sound effects. Directed, shot and cut with a real sharpness, Evil Dead II rivals An American Werewolf in London as the best comedy-horror film ever made. (There’s also a subtle cross-reference worth noting here: Freddy Krueger’s glove appears above a tool-shed door. It was director Sam Raimi’s sly reference to A Nightmare on Elm Street, which had in turn shown characters watching The Evil Dead on TV.)
Ten copies of A Farewell to Arms out of 10

12. Friday the 13th: The Series (1987-1990)
When a pair of cousins inherit an antiques shop, they realise its contents are extremely dangerous…

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With the Friday the 13th movies taking so much money no matter the quality, Paramount decided to spin the brand off into television. Co-created by film series producer Larry Mancuso, the resulting show ran for three seasons totalling 71 episodes… and never once had any narrative connection to its parent franchise. The opening episode, The Inheritance, sees the bizarre death of an antique-shop owner, after which his niece Micki Foster (an often bra-less Louise Robey) inherits the business. Not wanting it, she and her cousin Ryan Dallion (an often expression-less John D LeMay) sell off all the stock. But then a strange man called Jack Marshak (Chris Wiggins) shows up and tells them the artefacts have all been cursed by the devil! They need to get them back one at a time, thereby establishing the episodic format of the series, and their first problem is that a malevolent, sentient doll has been given as a present to a little girl called Mary (Sally Polley)… A later genre show, Warehouse 13 (2009-2014), used much the same structure – two good-looking people hunt for powerful artefacts while being guided by an older mentor type – and indeed was accused of copying its premise from Friday the 13th: The Series. It did it so much better than this drivel, which has shallow storytelling and a drab cast of characters.
Four deals with the devil out of 10

13. Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988, John Carl Buechler)
A troubled teenager is taken to Crystal Lake – the scene of her father’s death – but she triggers the return of Jason Voorhees…

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It’s quite an achievement to make a film so lacking in distinction. In a prologue, a young girl called Tina psychically yet accidentally causes the death of her father. A few years later, Tina is now a teen (Lar Park Lincoln) and her mother has brought her back to Crystal Lake to undergo therapy with a clearly dodgy doctor. While there, she somehow manages to magically resurrect Jason Voorhees, who has been trapped at the bottom of the water since the previous Friday movie. Meanwhile, there’s a gang of teenagers with 80s hairstyles staying in a cabin nearby – all are bland, all are clichés, and all are rotten. Guess what? Jason starts to pick people off, one by one. Most of the deaths are boring; at least one is inadvertently funny. There are then about 27 false endings.
Two pearl necklaces out of 10

14. A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988, Renny Harlin)
When Freddy Krueger is resurrected he targets a previous nemesis and her friends…

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Things look promising as you go into this one. The director is Renny Harlin, who later proved he can handle suspense and spectacle with Die Hard 2 (1990), Cliffhanger (1993) and The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996); one of the writers is Brian Helgeland, who later won an Oscar for 1997’s LA Confidential. But it very quickly falls apart. And how. There’s an absolutely dreadful cast – even by slasher-film standards – playing friends who attend one of those 1980s American high schools where students drive expensive cars and fall into easily defined cliques. The key character is Kristen from the previous Nightmare film (recast with the anaemic Tuesday Knight), but soon Freddy is resurrected and targets the kids. Some of the dreams are quite fun, such as a body-horror-tastic sequence as Brooke Theiss’s Debbie grotesquely morphs into a cockroach, but this is an awful and very boring film. Admittedly, one decent idea bubbles away and then comes to the boil late on. Kristen’s meek and bullied friend Alice (Lisa Wilcox) initially seems to be an irrelevance, but she becomes stronger and more determined the longer the story goes on. By the end, she’s the one character who stands up to Freddy: as she prepares for the showdown she ritualistically ‘suits up’, collecting mementoes given to her by her late friends.
Three waterbeds out of 10

15. Freddy’s Nightmares (1988-1990)
When murderer Freddy Krueger walks free from court, the policeman who arrested him is tormented by his failure – and resorts to extreme measures…

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Watching on as the Friday the 13th series got a TV spin-off, New Line Cinema chose to do the same with their franchise. Freddy’s Nightmares, however, maintained more of a link to the Elm Street movies. The opening episode, No More Mr Nice Guy, acts as a prequel to Wes Craven’s 1984 film. Even with subsequent instalments telling self-contained horror plots, Freddy cropped up in a further seven stories as well as emceeing the show in framing scenes. The series ran for two seasons, totalling 44 episodes. No More Mr Nice Guy starts before Freddy (Robert Englund) has the ability to enter people’s dreams. He’s a child murderer standing trial and everyone knows he’s guilty. But when the judge learns that he wasn’t read his rights when arrested, Krueger has to be let go. This causes anguish for the grieving parents, as well as for cop Timothy Blocker (Ian Patrick Williams), the man who made the mistake. So they hunt Freddy down and burn him to death, with Blocker lighting the fire. As a piece of television, it’s occasionally shot with some style by film director Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Poltergeist), but the drama is feeble and the cast appalling.
Five twins out of 10

16. Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989, Rob Heddon)
When Jason is resurrected from a watery grave, he slips aboard a ship headed for New York City…

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The Friday the 13th series hits New York! Well, actually, it takes about an hour’s running time before the characters reach the Big Apple. Before that, we’re on a ship full of post-grad students. A resurrected Jason sneaks on board and slowly starts to kill them one by one… The film is garbage, admittedly, and has noticeably less gore than some previous Fridays – but at least it breaks free of the woods-and-cabins setting. There’s also a *bit* of drama going on here and there, such as nominal lead character Rennie (Jensen Daggett) having a fear of drowning caused by a prior encounter with Jason. When the survivors finally reach Manhattan, there’s some location shooting in Times Square and a subway – yet the action mostly takes place in non-descript, deserted backalleys. It’s a shame. The scenes of Jason on the rampage in New York are quite effective, but for practical and budgetary reasons they have to be fleeting.
Five pens supposedly used by Stephen King in high school out of 10

17. A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child (1989, Stephen Hopkins)
Freddy Krueger targets a group of young friends (again), but one of them has fought him before…

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The ‘final girl’ survivor of the previous Nightmare film, Alice (Lisa Wilcox), is graduating from high school alongside her boring friends. But she’s also dreaming about Freddy Krueger’s mother, a nun who was gang-raped by lunatic criminals. Before long, the boring friends begin to die in bizarre ways, and it’s in these sequences where the film succeeds the most. Director Stephen Hopkins (Predator 2) distinguishes the real world from the nightmares by using a lot of long lenses in the former and wide-angles in the latter. The nightmare sequences are also lively and grotesque and feature some old-school special effects – Alice’s boyfriend is violently attacked by a motorbike while he’s riding it; her hot pal Greta is force-fed food by Freddy; a friend who likes comic books is sucked into his own drawings; and a sequence near the end of the movie features MC Escher-like staircases. However, the story – some nonsense about Alice’s unborn son and Freddy’s dead-but-in-limbo mother – never really takes flight.
Five scar-faced limp-dicks out of 10

18. Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991, Rachel Talalay)
After a spate of suicides and strange deaths, Freddy torments Springwood’s last remaining teenager…

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The Elm Street story moves 10 years into the future for a film intended at the time to be the last in the series. It’s batshit crazy – a befuddled mix of ambitious special effects, goofy comedy, superfluous celebrity cameos and visual gimmicks. It’s never scary, and sometimes frustrating, but it zips along and is ultimately rather likeable. A social worker takes a troubled boy with amnesia back to his hometown to try to find out who he is. Given that Freddy Krueger has by now killed off all its children, Springwood has been repurposed from a sleepy Midwest suburb into a creepy, desolate frontier town populated by weirdos. (One character likens it to Twin Peaks.) The guest cast – several kids, Lisa Zane’s social worker and a bored-looking Yaphet Kotto – disappoint, as they often do in these films, but we get some truly surreal scenes in the dreamworld. One sequence, for example, features a hearing-impaired character and uses some smart sound design. We also delve deeply into Freddy’s backstory, which gives Robert Englund much more varied material to play than in the previous entries.
Six 3-D glasses out of 10

The third and final part of this horror odyssey can be read here.

Horror Marathon: Friday the 13th/The Evil Dead/A Nightmare on Elm Street – Part One

 

Over the last year or so, I’ve been watching three series of horror films that are linked by fictional crossovers: Friday the 13th, The Evil Dead and A Nightmare on Elm Street. The plan was to view every movie in the order in which they were released, jot down a few thoughts, and give each one a score out of 10. (I also sampled the pilot episodes of some TV spin-offs.)

At times it was a struggle to remain sane through 13 months, 24 movies and three TV episodes of violence, terror, murder, carnage, gratuitous nudity and an awful lot of dreadful acting. But there were surprises along the way too – and a few decent films.

Here’s the first part of my journey into darkness…

Spoiler warning: I’ve not blown every surprise or twist, but some of the more famous plot points are revealed.

1. Friday the 13th (1980, Sean S Cunningham)
The counsellors at New Jersey summer camp Crystal Lake are terrorised by a mysterious murderer…

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Young, attractive people being persecuted by an unknown killer who first murdered years previously (as seen in the film’s prologue) and now strikes in barbaric and often theatrical ways? A shameless copy of John Carpenter’s 1978 hit Halloween, the slasher film Friday the 13th is as crass as anything. But it’s also fun in a low-budget, hammy-cast, shlock-horror kinda way. There are some differences from the Halloween format, however. There’s more nudity on show here – a well as having sex, these kids go swimming and play ‘strip Monopoly’! There’s also more gross-out gore, courtesy of visual-effects genius Tom Savini. Creepy locals, a shock twist concerning the killer (spoiler: it’s a middle-aged woman) and a bizarre dream-sequence ending give the film extra interest too.
Six rainstorms out of 10

2. Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981, Steve Miner)
Five years later: trainee camp counsellors at a site near to Crystal Lake are attacked by the not-dead-after-all Jason Voorhees.

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There’s very little tension in this hastily knocked-together sequel, which repeats the same basic storyline as the first movie. This time, an even more moronic and less memorable batch of attractive young people are picked off one by one. Then for the second film running, after the killer has dispatched all the other victims with ninja-like stealth, a ‘final girl’ puts up a fight that takes quarter of an hour. Part 2’s biggest addition to the series – to horror cinema as a whole, actually – is the retconning of its main villain. In the first film, Jason Voorhees was a child who’d drowned 20 years earlier. Now we learn he actually survived and has been living rough in the nearby woods.
Four chainsaws out of 10

3. The Evil Dead (Sam Raimi, 1981)
Five friends rent an isolated house in the Tennessee woods, but on their first night they invoke an ancient, malevolent force…

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We now switch focus to a different series… Not a slasher film in the vein of Friday the 13th, The Evil Dead is perhaps the blueprint cabin-in-the-woods movie. A group of pals drive deep into the forest to stay in a ramshackle house, but when they find a mysterious old book and an audio recording, they accidentally summon forth an evil spirit that attacks and possesses them one by one… Despite clearly being made on a limited budget, this movie succeeds thanks to a cast who are memorable enough to care about (including Bruce Campbell’s Ash Williams) and a remarkably inventive job of direction by Sam Raimi. It’s genuinely tense, with a spooky atmosphere and effective scares right from the start. The camerawork and editing are clever, stylish and innovative – especially the low-angle, prowling shots from the evil spirit’s point of view. The sound mix and incidental music add a great amount as well, and once the characters start to turn into grotesque, screeching zombies – and the film becomes a gleeful splatter-fest – the special effects and gory make-up are just wonderful. A love of horror cinema is imbued into every frame.
Nine collapsed bridges out of 10

4. Friday the 13th Part III (1982, Steve Miner)
Having evaded capture, Jason continues his killing spree – this time targeting some kids on holiday at a nearby cabin.

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The action in this Friday the 13th film begins on the same day that Part 2 ended. Jason has escaped and moves on to butchering a group of young people holidaying in the area. The gang are another selection of poor actors, but maybe because they’re sketched in vivid strokes – the pregnant one, the fat one, the dopeheads, the hunk – they’re more likeable and watchable than their predecessors. The pick of the characters is Chris (Dana Kimmell, pictured), a glamorous beauty who had an encounter with Jason a couple of years previously. As a gimmick, the film was shot in 3D so there are lots of instances of characters holding objects close to the camera lens, and there are a few good gags such as a serial prankster not being believed while he’s bleeding to death. The film has far too many artificial scares to build any genuine tension, but it more or less keeps the interest. Note: this is the first film in the series where Jason dons his signature hockey mask.
Seven yo-yos out of 10

5. Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984, Joseph Zito)
Having evaded capture (again), Jason continues his killing spree (again) – this time targeting a group of kids (again) on holiday at a nearby cabin (again)…

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After a recap that neatly merges the first three Friday movies into one story, we’re into what was genuinely intended at the time as the last film in the series. The script is the usual guff – horny teenagers (one of whom is Back to the Future’s Crispin Glover) are on holiday in the woods and are killed by Jason Voorhees in violent, gruesome ways. A twist comes from the fact there’s also a local family involved, the son of which is a horror fan called Tommy Jarvis (Corey Feldman). As humdrum as all this sounds, the film is reasonably entertaining thanks to Joseph Zito, who directs with pace and a knowing sense of humour. Jason is barely seen, at least until the now-ubiquitous duel with a ‘final girl’ (Tommy’s boring sister). We then get a truly oddball ending which sees Tommy use his amateur horror-movie make-up skills.
Seven corkscrews out of 10

6. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984, Wes Craven)
A group of young friends are haunted in their dreams by the same terrifying man…

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We now cut to another rival series… In the town of Springwood, teenagers (including a young Johnny Depp) have all been dreaming of a scarred man with knives for fingers, and he has the ability to kill them in their nightmares. It’s a terrific concept for a horror film and writer/director Wes Craven builds a very effective story around it. The villain, Fred Krueger (Robert Englund), has less screentime than Jason Voorhees or Halloween’s Michael Myers, but he’s a much more flamboyant personality: all sarcastic quips and pointed menace. And the first time he murders someone is genuinely terrifying: while asleep, schoolgirl Tina (Amanda Wyss) is flung around her bedroom, defying gravity, and is ultimately hacked to death in a bloodbath. As well as this shock factor, the film’s most interesting feature is the way it cleverly meshes reality with dream sequences. There are flashes of subtle surrealism, but mostly the nightmares are solid, vivid and feel real, so you’re sometimes not quite sure where you are. This pretention to something psychologically deeper than a usual slasher movie means that A Nightmare on Elm Street is less schlocky than Friday the 13th or The Evil Dead. It also has a more compelling lead character than anyone seen so far in those series: the resourceful, smart, brave Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp), who deliberately goes after Fred in the dreamworld, intent on destroying him.
Nine boiler rooms out of 10

7. Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (1985, Danny Steinmann)
A few years after his encounter with Jason Voorhees, Tommy Jarvis is sent to an offenders’ rehabilitation camp in the woods. But when people start dying, has Jason returned?

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Back to the Friday the 13th series… Although only a year had passed since The Final Chapter’s release, this relaunch of the franchise is set several years later. Tommy (recast with John Shepherd) has been suffering since the previous film. He’s plagued by nightmares and is sent to a hippie-ish halfway house for troubled young people. But then locals begin to die and it seems that Jason is back… The storytelling is staggeringly slapdash. It feels like a compilation of scenes from different films and the plethora of characters – another cast of nobodies – aren’t worth any attention. Sadly, not much else is either. The tone is often going for goofy (comedy rednecks, stupid cops, a waitress who flashes her tits at herself in a mirror, diarrhea jokes) but it’s *never* funny. We then get a couple of ‘shock’ twists at the end, one of which is quite sly, one of which is just silly. (A fun side note: at one point Tommy dreams about when he was a child, so in the dream the character is played by original actor Corey Feldman. He shot his one scene on a day off from The Goonies.)
Two chocolate bars out of 10

8. A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985, Jack Sholder)
Five years after Nancy Thompson’s encounter with Freddy Krueger, the killer returns to torment a new victim…

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Teenager Jesse Walsh (Mark Patton) has moved into Nancy Thompson’s old house, but is soon plagued by dreams of Fred Krueger (Robert Englund), who then starts to possess him and use him to kill people… This is a weirdly limp film; it relies on music, make-up and special effects for its impact, rather than writing, acting or dramatic staging. For example, the nightmare sequences are more ‘far-out’ than in the first Elm Street film and use more ‘movie-ish’ special effects – an opening scene involving Freddy driving a school bus ends up looking like something from a Terry Gilliam film. But there’s no oomph, no rising menace. As many people have spotted over the years, there’s also an undeniable thread of homoeroticism: Jesse is often seen topless and sweaty (sometimes in his Y-fronts); there are scenes in boys’ showers and a gay bar; and a sadistic PE teacher is stripped naked and towel-flicked on the arse before Jesse/Freddy kills him. You almost have to admire the movie for its sheer unusualness. Almost.
Four parakeets out of 10

9. Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986, Tom McLoughlin)
Jason Voorhees is resurrected and continues his killing spree around Crystal Lake…

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After his traumas in the last couple of Friday films, Tommy Jarvis (recast again, this time with a lively Thom Mathews) is determined to make sure that his nemesis is dead. So, during a thunderstorm at night, he digs up Jason Voorhees’s corpse. But a bolt of lightning resurrects the killer a la Frankenstein – d’oh! We then, um, cut to a spoof of the famous James Bond barrel-of-a-gun logo. That’s right: Part VI is essentially a comedy… and you know what? It’s a hoot. Some jokes, such as the many visual gags and witty cutaways, wouldn’t feel out of place in Airplane! (1980). In fact, this self-aware tone is pretty much a precursor of Wes Craven’s postmodern horror film Scream (1996). Upon encountering a machete-wielding Jason, for example, one character says she’s seen enough movies to know he’s bad news. Because of all this tomfoolery, the film doesn’t really generate any scares or tension. The gore levels are also noticeably reduced from previous Fridays. But it doesn’t especially matter. The plot might be hokum – Jason indiscriminately kills camp councillors, paintballers and yuppies, while Tommy tries to warn people – but the film has zip and is a lot of fun.
Eight crotch shots out of 10

You can read part two of my multi-series odyssey here…

Every Alfred Hitchcock film – ranked

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Over the last couple of years I’ve been watching and reviewing every surviving Alfred Hitchcock movie. So as today (Tuesday 13 August 2019) marks 120 years since the director’s birth, here are all those films in order of preference…

53. Number Seventeen (1932)
An underwhelming, muddled mess that sees various ill-defined characters doing boring things in an abandoned house. Read the full review here.

52. Juno and the Paycock (1930)
A plainly filmed drama based on a dull stage play set during the Irish Civil War. Read the full review here.

51. The Farmer’s Wife (1928)
Soppy and forgettable melodrama. Read the full review here, where I go off-topic and discuss where Hitchcock got his ideas from.

50. The Skin Game (1931)
Badly made, run-of-the-mill drama about landowners. Read the full review here.

49. Easy Virtue (1928)
A meandering romantic potboiler. Read the full review here.

48. Champagne (1928)
Frivolous and lightweight, this silent comedy sees an heirless lose her money. Read the full review here.

47. Elstree Calling (1930)
Hitchcock directed some linking scenes for this diverting if up-and-down sketch film. Read the full review here.

46. Jamaica Inn (1939)
A well staged, but ultimately lacklustre, adaptation of the Daphne du Maurier novel. Charles Laughton hams it up something rotten. Read the full review here.

45. Mr & Mrs Smith (1941)
An attempt at a screwball comedy, with one of the genre’s leading lights – Carole Lombard. It doesn’t really come off, but is still reasonably enjoyable. Read the full review here.

44. I Confess (1953)
A po-faced Montgomery Clift plays a priest wrongly accused of murder in a drama that misfires. Read the full review here.

43. Topaz (1969)
The spy plot is often clunky and the cast is one of Hitchcock’s weakest, but there’s a certain European glamour to proceedings. Roscoe Lee Browne has an enjoyable minor role as an undercover agent. Read the full review here.

42. The Paradine Case (1947)
Good turns from Gregory Peck and Louis Jourdan make this illogical courtroom drama worth seeing. Read the full review here.

41. Rich and Strange (1931)
A married couple splurge some newfound cash on an around-the-world holiday. Throwaway but fun. Read the full review here.

40. Suspicion (1941)
Cary Grant excels – did he ever do anything else? – as a flashy cad whose marriage to Joan Fontaine doesn’t go well. Read the full review here.

39. The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934)
The first of two Hitchcock films using the same storyline about a couple’s child being kidnapped by terrorists. This version suffers a bit from stiff-upper-lipedness but is enlivened by Peter Lorre turning up as the villain. Read the full review here.

38. The Birds (1963)
Not as wonderful as its reputation suggests, but still excellently made and genuinely terrifying at times. Read the full review here.

37. Under Capricorn (1949)
A rare Hitchcock period film, this 19th-century drama set in an Australian colony town is fun to watch because most scenes are shot in long, unedited, theatrical takes. Read the full review here.

36. Foreign Correspondent (1940)
Far from Hitch’s best movie about international espionage, this loses steam after a fun opening act. But the director was so adapt at this genre that it’s still entertaining. Read the full review here.

35. The Ring (1927)
An engaging silent film about boxing and romance. Read the full review here.

34. The Manxman (1929)
Before he became the Master of Suspense, Hitchcock directed in a variety of different styles; here, for example, is a likeable melodrama about a love triangle on the Isle of Man. Read the full review here.

33. Murder! (1930)
This early talkie has a lot of vibrant visuals and an interesting plot about an actress accused of killing a colleague. Read the full review here.

32. Secret Agent (1936)
An entertaining spy film that eerily pre-empts the tropes of the James Bond stories – 16 years before Ian Fleming wrote his first novel. Read the full review here.

31. Torn Curtain (1966)
Another espionage thriller, this time with Paul Newman’s scientist defecting to East Germany and being followed by his concerned girlfriend (Julie Andrews). The plot is see-through but there are some great moments, including a macabre death scene for one of the bad guys. Read the full review here.

30. Saboteur (1942)
It lacks star power and is episodic, but this is one of several entertaining Hitchcock films about a man wrongly accused of a crime. Read the full review here, in which I discuss the context of making a war film during the war.

29. The Trouble with Harry (1955)
A pleasingly quirky black comedy about a dead body being found in the woods. John Forsythe, Hitchcock regular Edmund Gwenn and Shirley MacLaine (in her first film) lead the cast, while the autumnal colours of New England are gorgeously presented in VistaVision. Read the full review here.

28. Spellbound (1945)
Ingrid Bergman is the star attraction in this torrid, psychology-based thriller about a man (Gregory Peck) with amnesia posing as a doctor. Ignore the naïve character work; enjoy the stellar cast and the way Hitch ekes out the mysteries for all their worth. Salvador Dalí helped create the film’s oddball dream sequence. Read the full review here.

27. Downhill (1927)
Impressive silent movie starring Ivor Novello as a student whose life suffers when he makes an honourable choice. Read the full review here.

26. Young and Innocent (1937)
A lively and fun man-on-the-run story that features one of Hitchcock’s most audacious shots as a camera swoops across a ballroom full of people to focus in on a murderer. Read the full review here.

25. Waltzes from Vienna (1934)
Hitch’s only music-based film, the story charts Johann Strauss’s composition of The Blue Danube (with a rather loose sense of historical accuracy). It’s made with a sense of humour. Read the full review here.

24. Sabotage (1936)
A tense thriller set in and around a London cinema. The sequence where a boy makes a cross-city trip on a bus – while unknowingly carrying a bomb – is justly revered. Read the full review here.

23. The Pleasure Garden (1925)
Alfred Hitchcock’s first feature film is a little gem: a visually inventive and never-boring story about two West End dancers and their conflicting romantic experiences. Read the full review here, in which I set off to explore Hitchcock’s childhood and early career.

22. Strangers on a Train (1951)
A devilish thriller, based on the macabre premise of a man committing a murder on someone else’s behalf and then expecting the same in return. The tension mounts throughout. Read the full review here, where I look at the imagery of the film.

21. Family Plot (1976)
Hitchcock’s final film – released over half a century after his first – is a comedy thriller about a pair of con artists trying to track down a rich heir. The cast is terrific, with fun turns from Bruce Dern, Barbara Harris, Karen Black, William Devane, Katherine Helmond and Coach from Cheers, while the movie never takes itself too seriously. Read the full review here.

20. The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)
The one instance of Alfred Hitchcock remaking his own work. This 1950s, colour, Hollywood redo betters the original 1930s, black-and-white, British version by virtue of having a better lead cast (James Stewart and Doris Day) and a deeper sense of emotion. Read the full review here.

19. Stage Fright (1950)
A complex crime thriller set around the world of the theatre. Some critics have taken issue with what they see as a storytelling cheat, but we revel in the cat-and-mouse plotting, the suspenseful action, the eclectic cast (Richard Todd, Marlene Dietrich, Alastair Sim, Joyce Grenfell, the Major from Fawlty Towers) and the themes of lying, pretending and acting. Read the full review here.

18. Blackmail (1929)
Planned as a silent movie, then retooled during production as a talkie (Britain’s first), Blackmail is simply terrific. Starring Czech actress Anny Ondra – the first in a long line of troubled blondes in Hitchcock’s filmography – it sees a woman fight back during a rape and kill her attacker. She fears being accused of murder, then an anonymous witness attempts to extort money from her. Stunningly inventive, both visually and aurally, it also features one of Hitch’s most prominent cameos: he plays a man being irritated by a child on a tube train. Read the full review here.

17. Marnie (1964)
Tippi Hedren’s lead character is a troubled drifter, a woman who takes jobs so she can steal the company’s cash and then move on to a new town. But when she encounters Sean Connery’s wily businessman, he catches her out and develops an obsession. The movie is excellently put-together, very watchable and fascinatingly complex. But it does need to be viewed in context. Behind the scenes, Alfred Hitchcock had a reprehensible attitude to an infamous rape scene, while the story arc sees a psychologically damaged woman ‘cured’ by domineering misogyny and a forced catharsis. Read the full review here.

16. To Catch a Thief (1955)
As delightfully sun-kissed and elegant as its French Riviera setting, this stylish, witty and romantic caper film sees an effortlessly debonair Cary Grant attempting to prove that he’s not responsible for a spate of thefts. Grace Kelly is the scintillatingly sexy love interest; John Williams and Jessie Royce Landis provide entertaining support. Read the full review here.

15. The Lady Vanishes (1938)
This train-based spy caper often has its tongue in its cheek, but is still suspenseful in the classic Hitchcock way. While commuting across Europe, Margaret Lockwood’s Iris meets a friendly old woman – but after the woman goes missing no other passenger remembers seeing her. As well as the mystery plot to enjoy, there are comedic minor characters, charming model shots and dialogue worthy of a screwball comedy. Read the full review here, in which I directly compare the movie with its 1979 remake.

14. The Wrong Man (1956)
The straightest and least flamboyant film the director ever made sees Henry Fonda’s jazz musician and family man tagged for a crime he didn’t commit. But rather than the equivalent characters in the many other Hitchcock films that use this idea, Manny doesn’t flee across country to prove his innocence. He instead surrenders himself to the justice system, which is dramatised in cold, harsh detail. Largely shot in real locations, the movie has a vérité feel and a terrific cast (including an impressive Vera Miles as Manny’s anxious wife). Read the full review here.

13. The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1927)
Alfred’s finest silent film is a dark and dangerous tale, a gorgeous mixture of tension, menace, romance, visual audacity and German Expressionism. Ivor Novello plays a mysterious man who is suspected to be a Jack the Ripper-alike killer. Read the full review here.

12. Rebecca (1940)
A ghost story where the ghost never appears, this Gothic-tinged movie mixes high emotions with effective psychology. Joan Fontaine’s unnamed heroine falls for a rich man played by Laurence Olivier. But after she moves into his Cornish country house, Manderley, she can’t escape the shadow cast by his late first wife. Hitchcock shows an amazing command of the material, artfully shifting the tone from romance to mystery, from melodrama to horror. Read the full review here.

11. Lifeboat (1944)
The first in a subset of Hitchcock films that tell their stories in a single setting, this entire movie takes place in a small craft adrift in the Atlantic Ocean after a passenger ship is torpedoed by the Germans. (The film was made during the Second World War.) A ragtag collection of survivors must work together, keep each other’s spirits up, marshal supplies, perform emergency medical aid and try to find a way out of the situation. The ante is then raised exponentially when a German from the U-boat that caused the disaster is found floating in the water. An endlessly impressive, claustrophobic and never-dull film. Read the full review here.

10. Frenzy (1972)
A brilliantly seedy and grubby movie, set in a down-and-dirty, working-class London. A serial killer is on the loose around Covent Garden and an innocent man (Jon Finch) finds himself accused after his ex-wife is raped and murdered. The terrific supporting cast includes Anna Massey, Barry Foster, Barbara Leigh-Hunt, Billie Whitelaw and Bernard Cribbins, while the genuine locations and lack of any Hollywood glamour give the story a sinister, sleazy edge. (Being a Hitchcock film, there are also flashes of black comedy.) Read the full review here.

9. Psycho (1960)
A sensationally twisted horror film – the granddaddy of the slasher genre – which is enlivened by the very smart central performances from Janet Leigh and Anthony Perkins. The famously famous shower scene is still shocking and effective when you view it in context, but the storytelling that leads up to that moment might be even more impressive. Read the full review here – which, to be honest, doesn’t really talk about Psycho very much and instead looks at the connections between Hitchcock and James Bond.

8. Shadow of a Doubt (1943)
Joseph Cotten plays a mysterious man from Philadelphia who needs to lie low, so he goes to stay with his apple-pie relatives in a small, quiet town. However, his relationship with his doting niece (a wonderful Teresa Wright) is tested when she begins to believe he’s a serial killer. Complexity, ambiguity and film-noir style abound. Read the full review here.

7. The 39 Steps (1935)
A rip-roaring romp that sees Robert Donat flee to Scotland to find out why a woman was killed in his London flat. Madeleine Carroll is the spunky dame he hooks up with along the way, while John Laurie of Dad’s Army fame plays a grumpy crofter. Packed full of excitement, humour, action and panache, this is an endlessly influential movie that essentially serves as the blueprint for all the road-movie caper films that have followed. Read the full review here, where I talk about remakes of and sequels to Hitchcock’s work.

6. Notorious (1946)
One of Hitchcock’s most sophisticated works, this grown-up spy thriller sees Cary Grant’s US intelligence agent recruit Ingrid Bergman to go undercover with some Nazis hiding in Brazil. The two leads are simply sensational – their sexual chemistry is unrivalled – while there’s strong support from the likes of Claude Rains. Hitchcock directs with precision, keeping things focused and textured at all times. Sublime beyond belief. Read the full review here.

5. Rope (1948)
A dazzling example of filmmaking rhetoric, this one-set thriller plays out in real time and is shot in a succession of loooooong takes. Two young men murder a friend as an intellectual exercise then invite his loved ones round for a soirée with the corpse hidden in a nearby chest. Playful and macabre in equal measure, with a terrific cast headlined by John Dall, Farley Grainger and James Stewart. Read the full review here – see if you can spot the incredibly funny conceptual gag I employed while writing it.

4. Rear Window (1954)
Another high-concept film. James Stewart plays a housebound photographer who becomes vicariously curious about the neighbours he spies on from his apartment window. When he believes he sees evidence of murder, his broken leg prevents him from investigating directly so he recruits girlfriend Grace Kelly and housekeeper Thelma Ritter to act as his proxy. The camera never once leaves Stewart’s side, so we experience the story solely from his perspective: we see what he sees, feels what he feels. A sumptuous piece of cinematic storytelling. Read the full review here, in which – like every review of Rear Window ever published – I discuss Hitchcock’s use of point of view.

3. North by Northwest (1959)
A foot-to-the-floor adventure movie that sees Cary Grant’s oblivious businessman get caught up in international espionage. The plot is probably the least important aspect (in Hitchcock’s terms, it’s a MacGuffin – something trivial to motivate the characters). Instead, the storyline acts as a gallery space on whose walls hang a myriad of pleasures: mysteries, action sequences, comedy, sex, danger, tension, absurdity, style, panache, excitement, interesting characters, theatrical production design, thrilling incidental music and an enormous amount of fun… Read the full review here.

2. Vertigo (1958)
A profound meditation on the dangers of obsession, this beautiful and deeply meaningful movie – once voted the greatest ever made by a leading film magazine – follows James Stewart’s retired cop as he falls for a psychologically unsound woman played by Kim Novak. The craft on display in the filmmaking is stunning; the way Hitchcock reveals information, paces scenes and stokes emotions is utter perfection. The effect is close to hypnotism, so complete is the grip of the storytelling. Read the full review here, during which I go off on a tangent about how I love cinema.

1. Dial M for Murder (1954)
Beating the magisterial Vertigo to the top spot based on a decision made by the heart rather than the head, Dial M is the director’s take on an Agatha Christie-style murder mystery. We’re in an upper-middle-class world of a moneyed couple who seem at first to be happy, but there are dark secrets within the marriage. The Hitchcockian twist comes from the fact that we viewers are privy to the killer’s plan from the start… Ray Milland’s ex-tennis pro decides to bump off his wealthy wife in revenge for her having an affair. (She’s played by Grace Kelly, one of the most beautiful women ever filmed, so personally I’d have forgiven and forgotten.) We follow Tony as he meticulously plans the crime and blackmails an old acquaintance into doing the deed while he creates an alibi, but then on the night it all goes wrong… Stylish, brilliantly cast, and – as I can attest – endlessly rewatchable entertainment. Read the full review here, in which I argue my favourite Hitchcock movie is essentially an episode of Colombo.