My 13 favourite Draculas

I first read Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula in the early 1990s and it soon became a favourite. As today (Tuesday 26 May 2020) marks 123 years to the day since the book was published, I thought it would be fun to list some of the best film and TV adaptations. Let me know in the comments section below if I’ve missed off your favourite…

13 Dracula (1979)

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A fairly faithful retelling of the classic story, though it favours the plotting used in a 1920s stageplay over Stoker’s original. Frank Langella is a suave, sexy, fangless Dracula, and the film – while a bit humourless – has a romantically Gothic tone. Smoke billows, the score swells, characters look longingly… It’s like watching an epic music video at times, but it seduces you.

12 Love at First Bite (1979)

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Also from 1979 is this George Hamilton-starring comedy, which sees the Count evicted from his Transylvanian castle and move to New York City. The humour is deadpan, likeable and often very funny.

11 Blacula (1972)

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Count Dracula himself only appears briefly in this Blaxploitation spin on the myth. The focus is his successor: Mamuwalde, an African prince turned vampiric in 1780 then awoken in 1970s LA. The premise is hokey, but actor William Marshall makes sure Mamuwalde always has dignity and grace. The film is also one of the earliest ‘Dracula’ stories to include a subplot about a modern woman being the reincarnation of a vampire’s long-dead love. Now common, it doesn’t appear in Stoker’s text. The following year, Blacula got a sequel co-starring Pam Grier. Scream Blacula Scream is slower than the first film but is more confidently made.

10 Dracula (1931)

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Probably the most influential telling of the Dracula story ever filmed, this Universal Pictures classic doesn’t totally stand up as a piece of cinema. The acting creaks, the pace flags and the action can be flat. But its iconography – especially a cape-wearing and heavily accented Bela Lugosi as the Count, and his cobweb-strewn castle – became enshrined in popular culture. The film was, of course, the start of a long-running sequence for Universal. Made concurrently with Dracula was a terrific Spanish-language equivalent starring Carlos Villarías – Drácula (1931) – then several sequels to Lugosi’s version followed. The Count was absent from the decent Dracula’s Daughter (1936), then played by Lon Chaney Jr (Son of Dracula, 1943) and John Carradine (House of Frankenstein, 1944, and House of Dracula, 1945). Lugosi returned in the fun crossover Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948).

Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1974)

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Not the feeble version with the same name directed by Francis Ford Coppola in the 1990s, but an enjoyable 70s TV movie starring Jack Palance. It’s an abbreviated adaptation of the novel, which also throws in some cute amendments to the story. The most long-lasting of which is the same idea that had coincidentally been used in Blacula in 1972 – here, it’s Lucy Westenra who is the unknowing reincarnation of Count Dracula’s long-dead partner. (This film also codified the notion that Count Dracula is the historical tyrant Vlad the Impaler made immortal. That hadn’t been Bram Stoker’s intention.) Palance is terrific, never forgetting that Dracula is a monster but simultaneously making him sympathetic.

Dracula 2000 (2000)

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It’s schlocky, but this revamp for the new millennium has a postmodern awareness of the genre, which means it’s also a lot of fun. Wes Craven (A Nightmare on Elm Street, Scream) was the executive producer and his knowing fingerprints are everywhere – from the pure horror to the contrasting comedy. The new storyline also gives Dracula (Gerard Butler) an interesting Biblical backstory. It was followed by two lesser sequels: Dracula II: Ascension (2003) and Dracula III: Legacy (2005).

7 Dracula (1958)

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A rejigged adaptation of the novel, which makes some intelligent cuts and is quite pacy by the standards of other Hammer Films productions. It upped the amount of pain and pleasure on show in the Dracula myth – this is a film of rich, red blood and repressed sexuality – and, most notably, it introduced the world to Christopher Lee’s looming, patrician portrayal of the Count. Just like the 1931 Universe film, Hammer’s Dracula led to many sequels, sadly of varying quality. Peter Cushing, who had played Van Helsing in the original, headlined The Brides of Dracula (1960); then Christopher Lee returned in Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966), Dracula Has Risen From the Grave (1968), Scars of Dracula (1970) and Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970). After a reboot (see below), Cushing also starred in The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (1974). The sadist-tinged Taste the Blood of Dracula was the best of these, while the 1974 kung-fu crossover is fun too.

Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror (1922)

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The character names were changed in an unsuccessful attempt to bypass copyright law, but this influential silent film is still the earliest screen version of Dracula we have. (There was an Hungarian film the year before called Dracula’s Death, but that was a new plotline and now seems to be lost.) The eerily demonic Max Schreck plays Count Orlok, one of cinema’s most memorable monsters, while FW Murnau’s direction is a blueprint of German Expressionism. Every scene has darkness and danger in the shadows. Fifty-seven years later, Werner Herzog directed a creepy remake called Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979). It’s an acquired taste. 

5 Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Buffy vs. Dracula (2000)

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The story goes that the writing team behind the TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer were busking ideas for a new villain – a one-off vampire who was powerful and famous and had a certain cache. They needed someone like Dracula. Then Buffy creator Joss Whedon said, ‘Why not Dracula? He’s public domain!’ Bringing the character into the world of BTVS, even for one episode, served a purpose within the show’s story arc. The heroine Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Geller) was questioning her vamp-fighting destiny, so why not test that against the genre’s most iconic villain? But like so much in Whedon’s show, the idea is also a huge amount of *fun*. It’s a typically witty, playful script, and the regular cast have an absolute blast, both respecting and poking fun at the Dracula cliches. Playing the Count is Rudolf Martin, who coincidentally had another Drac-related credit in the same year: he starred as Vlad the Impaler in the forgettable TV movie Dark Prince: The True Story of Dracula.

4 Shadow of the Vampire (2000)

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An oddball choice, perhaps. This is a behind-the-scenes drama set during the shoot of 1922’s Nosferatu, and stars Willem Defoe as that film’s leading actor, Max Schreck. The perverse twist is that, in this version of events, Schreck isn’t just playing a vampire – he actually is one, and has been promised victims by Nosferatu’s ambitious director, FW Murnau (John Malkovich). It’s a surreal idea, and it really flies. The cast are terrific, there are some brilliantly unnerving moments, and the story contains layer upon layer of subtext. Fact/fiction, life/death, film/reality…

3 Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972)

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The seventh film in Hammer’s Dracula cycle is, in fact, not a sequel but a reboot that moves the Count into the very vivid present day of the early 1970s. It’s a time when London was still swinging and youth culture was all about coffee bars, music you could dig, wild clothes, and generally having a good time. The film may have been mocked at the time (and since) for these stereotyped flower-power characters, but that does it a disservice. Dracula A.D. 1972 is enormously likeable and vibrant, but it’s not all about partying kids. The storyline – which sees Christopher Lee’s long-dead Dracula resurrected and Peter Cushing playing a descendent of the Victorian Van Helsing – has darkness and plenty of threat too. The sequence in which Caroline Munro’s Laura and Christopher Neame’s Johnny Alucard take part in the occult ceremony that calls forth the Count stands as one of the most strikingly impressive in any Dracula film. (A.D. 1972 was followed by a less successful sequel, 1973’s The Satanic Rites of Dracula.)

2 Dracula (2020)

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Made by the creative team behind the BBC1 hit Sherlock, this recent adaptation is openly aware of previous Dracula adaptations and has a cineliterate love of the genre, but it is also completely its own beast. The script smartly, but not in any way reverentially, carves up the Stoker story up into three equal parts. Episode one is the most traditional, telling the story of Jonathan Harker’s terrifying time at Castle Dracula, but still plays around with the material in interesting ways. The middle episode then takes the vampire’s voyage aboard the Demeter – less than five pages of the novel – and expands it into a Agatha Christie-style chamber piece of paranoia and claustrophobia. The final instalment is the most daring of all, pulling a fearless storytelling trick as we follow the Count’s adventures in London. At the centre of everything is Claes Bang giving a dominant performance as a hugely charismatic yet still monstrous Dracula, while Dolly Wells is also extraordinary as a clever, sarcastic character called Sister Agatha. This is funny, scary, intelligent and exuberant storytelling of the highest order. (The 2020 series was the third version of Dracula made by the BBC. The first is mentioned below, while in 2006 there also was a fairly bloodless and confused one-off.)

1 Count Dracula (1977)

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Made 43 years before the Claes Bang version, the BBC’s first attempt at Dracula is not only one of the most faithful adaptations of Bram Stoker’s novel (the few minor tweaks are improvements). It’s also highly seductive and stylish in its own right. Made in the classic format of 1970s television (multi-camera studio for interiors, polished film work for locations), this 150-minute story contains plenty of surreal imagery, unorthodox direction and horrific scenes. But these are not examples of showing-off; each moment supports and enriches the storyline. Louis Jordan is an excellent Count Dracula, all charm and unflappable grace but still menacing, while there are also excellent performances from Frank Finlay as Van Helsing and Susan Penhaligon as Lucy Westenra. For the sections set in Whitby, the production filmed in the Yorkshire town itself – staging scenes on real locations that Bram Stoker knew well and included in his novel.

Since 2015, I’ve been attempting to watch and review as many Dracula-related films and TV episodes as possible. You can see a list of my efforts here.

 

My 50 favourite Beatles songs

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It’s an impossible task, it really is. But to mark 50 years since the Beatles officially split up – the news was announced in the UK press on Friday 10 April 1970 – I’ve attempted to list the band’s 50 greatest songs.

I began with a ‘shortlist’… of well over 100. The Beatles were *that* good, you see. Then the whittling process took quite a while. And it *hurt*. It pained me to cut out sumptuous tracks like Good Day Sunshine and Julia; joyful songs like Think For Yourself and It Won’t Be Long; life-enhancing work like Yellow Submarine and Lady Madonna; early pieces of perfect pop like I’ll Get You and Any Time at All; blockbusters like She Loves You and Taxman; innovations like Tomorrow Never Knows and Happiness is a Warm Gun; melancholic marvels like I’m a Loser and I’m So Tired; charismatic rockers like Get Back and You Can’t Do That; delightfully delicate tunes like For No One and Here, There and Everywhere; enigmatic gems like Dear Prudence and Every Little Thing; and an eclectic mix of other songs that would be most bands’ finest achievement: Wait, You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away, Back in the USSR, I’m Looking Through You, If I Needed Someone, Old Brown Shoe, I Want to Tell You, And I Love Her, I’ve Just Seen a Face, It’s Only Love, Things We Said Today, Glass Onion, Oh! Darling, The Word, And Your Bird Can Sing, and more. The Beatles really were *that* good, you see.

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But here it is. For better or worse, here is my personal, subjective, flawed and compromised selection of the 50 best songs by the world’s best ever band. Feel free to let me know your favourites in the comments section below…

50 No Reply (Lennon-McCartney)
Album track on Beatles For Sale, released 4 December 1964
The opener from the Beatles’ fourth album is a downbeat song about being blanked by a girlfriend. After a couple of years of ‘boy loves girl’ lyrics, this was something slightly deeper. ‘You’re getting better now,’ the band’s publisher, Dick James, told John Lennon at the time. ‘That was a complete story.’ Musically, No Reply is initially laid-back and soft, then features a very stirring middle eight (‘If I were you, I’d realise…’).

49 Across the Universe (Lennon-McCartney)
Track on charity album No One’s Gonna Change Our World, released 12 December 1969
Catching John in one of his soppiest moods, Across the Universe is in some ways just a pleasant melody and some purple prose (‘Thoughts meander like a restless wind inside a letter box,’ anyone?). But there’s undeniably a magical, perhaps spiritual vibe about the song too. It’s likeable. It’s also a Beatles track that’s available in a couple of different versions. The first was given to a 1969 charity LP organised by Spike Milligan. It’s the rawer and the better of the two, save for some poor backing vocals from a pair of Beatles fans brought in off the street. The second was released on the Let It Be album, and is actually the same performance – but that album’s producer, Phil Spector, slowed it down so John sounds drunk and added a Disney-like orchestral score.

48 Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds (Lennon-McCartney)
Album track on Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, released 26 May 1967
The lyrics are a meaningless mish-mash of Edward Lear-like whimsy – newspaper taxis, tangerine trees, the girl with the sun in her eyes, et al – and they go a long way in supporting Sgt Pepper’s reputation as a flower-power fairy tale. Author John denied that the title was a code for LSD (no, I’m not convinced either), but whether coincidence or not, there’s something of a ‘high’ about Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.

47 Lovely Rita (Lennon-McCartney)
Album track on Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, released 26 May 1967
An upbeat tune from Paul, who may have based its narrative on a flirty encounter with a female traffic warden. (His story has changed over the years.) Decoration around the edges comes from some fun comb-and-paper sound effects and a jaunty honky-tonk piano solo played by the band’s regular producer, George Martin.

46 I’ll Follow the Sun (Lennon-McCartney)
Album track on Beatles For Sale, released 4 December 1964
A delightfully picturesque tune, written by Paul when he was a teenager. The lyrics have a yearning for a better life, but this isn’t an angry, frustrated song. It’s more sanguine. The whole thing has a soft, unfussy feel, helped by a guitar solo that is essentially just four plectrum strikes.

45 Yesterday (Lennon-McCartney)
Album track on Help!, released 6 August 1965
You may know this one. It’s quite famous.

44 From Me to You (Lennon-McCartney)
A-side, released 11 April 1963
A carefree Beatlemania-era single, written by John and Paul while on a tour bus. Like the earlier hits Love Me Do and Please Please Me, it features a harmonica sound (how odd would the Beatles’ career have been if this motif had continued!) but the killer hook is a decent into a moody F major for the middle eight (‘I got arms that long to hold you…’).

43 Octopus’s Garden (Starkey)
Album tracks on Abbey Road, released 26 September 1969
A charming singalong written by Ringo Starr while holidaying on Peter Sellers’s boat in Sardinia, having temporarily quit the band in 1968. The fly-on-the-wall Beatles film Let It Be features a lovely moment where Ringo shows the chords to George Harrison, who then kindly offers an idea for an improvement. The result is easily the best Beatles track sung by their drummer.

42 Eleanor Rigby (Lennon-McCartney)
Album track on Revolver, released 5 August 1966
A string octet arranged by George Martin plays Paul’s autumnal tune with staccato restraint (for the first time, no Beatle plays an instrument on a Beatles recording) and it’s achingly beautiful. Meanwhile, the lyrics conjure up a Gothic-tinged story of sadness and loneliness: ‘Wearing the face that she keeps in a jar by the door’, ‘Writing the words of a sermon that no one will hear’, ‘Died in the church and was buried along with her name.’ The words are mostly by Paul, but the other Beatles chipped in ideas during a brainstorming session. 

41 Revolution (Lennon-McCartney)
B-side to Hey Jude single, released 26 August 1968
This is one of a trilogy of songs based around John’s burgeoning awareness of social activism. The slow, acoustic track Revolution 1 and the avant-garde sound collage Revolution 9 were recorded for the White Album. But when the other Beatles baulked at releasing Revolution 1 as a single (saying it was too slow), John organised a recording of this unnumbered remake – a pumped-up, electrified performance that turns the folksy tune into an aggressive rant. The severe, fuzzy guitar sound was achieved by playing straight into the mixing desk, rather than recording a speaker’s output. In the slow version, John had hedged his bets, ambiguously saying to protestors, ‘But when you talk about destruction/Don’t you know that you can count me out… in…’ By the time he taped the remake, he was more decisive: there’s no hesitant ‘in’.

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40 Don’t Let Me Down (Lennon-McCartney)
B-side to Get Back single, released 11 April 1969
A plaintive and yearning love song dressed up as a slow rocker. Written (and sung with authentic passion) by John, it also features some fun keyboard noodling by Billy Preston, a semi-official band member during the 1969 Let It Be sessions.

39 I Call Your Name (Lennon-McCartney)
EP track on Long Tall Sally, released 19 June 1964
It may lose its way slightly, with a misjudged ska section that seems to go out of time, but this is a terrific little rocker with one of John’s best vocal deliveries. (Never a virtuoso singer, he nevertheless ‘acted’ his songs better than almost everyone.) The chiming guitar sound, with George Harrison debuting his gleaming Rickenbacker 360/12, was soon copied wholesale by rival band The Byrds. Wonderful.

38 Baby, You’re a Rich Man (Lennon-McCartney)
B-side to All You Need is Love single, released 7 July 1967
One of the odder-sounding tracks the Beatles ever did, this B-side contains a bizarrely loud bass guitar – you can really hear Paul’s pick striking the strings – as well as the unnerving drone of an electronic keyboard called a clavioline. Superficially, John’s lyrics are an anthem of Summer-of-Love optimism, but there’s bite too: he’s essentially asking, ‘Yeah, life is good at the moment – but what’s next?’ (Famously, there’s also a crude dig at Beatles manager Brian Epstein: ‘Baby, you’re a rich fag Jew,’ John sings childishly at one point, hoping no one will notice.)

37 I’m Only Sleeping (Lennon-McCartney)
Album track on Revolver, released 5 August 1966
Produced during a period when the Beatles and George Martin were pushing every envelope they could find, this John song gorgeously evokes a dog-tired, half-asleep, frustrated feel. The deliberately low-energy vocals, the languid guitar strums, the tiptoe bassline, the brilliant trick of playing a guitar solo backwards… It’s a stunning marriage of lyrical meaning and sound.

36 Eight Days a Week (Lennon-McCartney)
Album track on Beatles For Sale, released 4 December 1964
Probably the Beatles’ most number-one-single-ish song that was left as an album track (it *was* released as a single in America, however), Eight Days a Week begins with a peculiar fade-in, then breezes along on an air of harmonised vocals, acoustic strums and handclaps.

35 I Saw Her Standing There (Lennon-McCartney)
Album track on Please Please Me, released 22 March 1963
The opening track on the Beatles’ debut album is a powerful rock’n’roller. It pounds away for three exciting minutes, beginning with Paul’s vérité count-in (‘One, two, three, four!’) which was left in to suggest a live performance. Along the way, there are high-pitched vocals and screams, saucy lyrics (‘She was just 17/You know what I mean’) and crafty rhymes (‘My heart went boom/As she crossed that room’). Measurelessly wonderful.

34 Blackbird (Lennon-McCartney)
Album track on The Beatles, released 22 November 1968
One of a cache of songs written while the Beatles were on a spiritual retreat in India, Paul’s beautiful finger-picking ditty can be taken either literally or as any number of metaphors. (McCartney himself suggests the words are about civil rights.) The rhythmic sound that accompanies Paul on guitar and vocal has never been fully explained: it’s probably just the sound of him tapping his foot as he plays.

33 While My Guitar Gently Weeps (Harrison)
Album track on The Beatles, released 22 November 1968
Recorded and mixed with a huge FM-radio sound, George Harrison’s best song on the mammoth double White Album is a lament about intra-Beatles politics. Tensions in mid 1968 were so bad, in fact, that George brought in his pal Eric Clapton to play on the song. The thinking was that John, Paul and Ringo would behave better with an outsider around. We can be grateful for the idea: Eric’s piercing guitar work on While My Guitar Gently Weeps adds class to what was already a very impressive track.

32 Please Please Me (Lennon-McCartney)
A-side, released 11 January 1963
The Beatles’ second EMI single and their first number one (in some charts, anyway; the UK didn’t get a consolidated chart until 1969). Written by John, who was tickled by the naughty pun in the title, it was initially a slow song a la Roy Orbison. However, George Martin then made an insightful suggestion: ramp up the tempo and increase the intensity. Full of incident and detail, the final version is brilliant power-pop that makes most other Merseybeat songs seem facile. Listening to this, you can plainly understand why so many people were excited when the Beatles broke through. They must have been immense live.

31 Hey Bulldog (Lennon-McCartney)
Album track on Yellow Submarine, released 13 January 1969
On 11 February 1968, the Beatles gathered at EMI Studios on Abbey Road. Their purpose was to record a promotional video for their next single, Lady Madonna, but rather than recreate that song’s genesis for the cameras they chose to use the time more wisely. The crew, therefore, actually filmed the band while they knocked up an entirely new track: Hey Bulldog, written primarily by John. It’s snarling and chaotic and rather wonderful – check out John’s committed vocals, the distorted guitar solo, and Paul and John’s ‘barking’ conversation during the final 30 seconds. To toss off a gem like this in an afternoon when they meant to be doing something else… Wow.

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30 [The Medley] (Lennon-McCartney)
Album tracks on Abbey Road, released 26 September 1969
This is a bit of a cheat, obviously, and in fact it means our ‘top 50’ list contains 57 songs. But the brilliance of the 16-minute medley on Album Road does not lie within the individual songs – You Never Give Me Your Money, Sun King, Mean Mr Mustard, Polythene Pam, She Came in Through the Bathroom Window, Golden Slumbers, Carry That Weight and The End. It’s in the overall, sweeping effect.

29 You Won’t See Me (Lennon-McCartney)
Album track on Rubber Soul, released 3 December 1965
A tightly controlled expression of melancholic beauty, written and sung by Paul. Every single element of the song – each instrument, the arrangement, the vocals, the sentiment – rings of intelligence and attention to detail. To call McCartney melodically gifted would be to employ rather a lot of understatement.

28 Helter Skelter (Lennon-McCartney)
Album track on The Beatles, released 22 November 1968
The most raucous and rough-round-the-edges the Beatles ever got, this wild, heavy track precursors punk by several years. Check out the angelic backing vocals contrasting with the screeching guitars, thunderous drumming and chug-chug bass sound.

27 I Want You (She’s So Heavy) (Lennon-McCartney)
Album track on Abbey Road, released 26 September 1969
The Beatles wrote several songs about their respective partners. Paul used lyrics as a therapy process while dating actress Jane Asher, while George gave the world at least one of its greatest love songs while enraptured by model Pattie Boyd. But no woman had a bigger influence on the band than conceptual artist Yoko Ono, who John met on 9 November 1966. (A fact not often mentioned is that she’d actually already met Paul.) Lennon’s undying, passionate love for her inspired this tremendous eight-minute jazz-rock number that repeats chords and the same four phrases over and over: both he and the track are obsessed. But it’s far from a solo effort. The playing by all four Beatles and keyboardist Billy Preston is crisp and compelling.

26 Come Together (Lennon-McCartney)
Album track on Abbey Road, released 26 September 1969
A sultry, seedy song written by John but the product of smart contributions from the whole band. The lyrics are self-confessed ‘gobbledygook’, but the mood is dark and dangerous and rather magnificent, while the production is impressively sharp.

25 She’s Leaving Home (Lennon-McCartney)
Album track on Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, released 26 May 1967
Evocative, stark and near-the-knuckle storytelling, beautifully performed and produced. Paul McCartney was just 24 years old when he wrote this nuanced tale of a tragic runaway, which is full of characterful phrases (‘Clutching her handkerchief’, ‘Father snores as his wife gets into her dressing gown’, ‘Meeting a man from the motor trade’). The string arrangement, by Mike Leander, is utterly bewitching. Lusher than the superficially similar Eleanor Rigby, it recalls the proud working-class mood of the 1966 film The Family Way, for which Paul wrote the incidental music.

24 Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown) (Lennon-McCartney)
Album track on Rubber Soul, released 3 December 1965
A large part of this song’s appeal comes from its unusual sound. It’s largely played on folksy acoustic guitars, but is also peppered with notes from a sitar (an instrument George Harrison had recently acquired through curiosity). Another reason for Norwegian Wood’s success is John’s witty lyric about an affair, which ends with an absurd punchline about arson. Paul’s harmonising with the lead vocal is also terrific.

23 A Hard Day’s Night (Lennon-McCartney)
A-side single, released 10 July 1964
Bursting with joy and youthful energy, the title track to the Beatles’ third album (and their first movie) was written to order by John – but its pleasingly odd name came from Ringo. During their early years of pop hits, the Beatles packed their songs with incident and interest, so here we get: an attention-grabbing opening guitar chord; breathless vocals from John (and Paul on the middle-eight); a relentless rhythm from Ringo on bass drum, bongos and occasionally cowbell; a perfectly tidy solo from George Harrison (which George Martin is expertly doubling on a piano); and a glistening, arpeggio fade-out. This is not a teeny-bopper record that was tossed off in one afternoon. An enormous amount of thought and hard work has gone into making it seems so effortless.

22 She Said She Said (Lennon-McCartney)
Album track on Revolver, released 5 August 1966
At a 1965 party attended by John, George Harrison and Ringo, the actor Peter Fonda began to say that he knew what it was like to be dead, which – because they were all on an LSD trip – freaked the others out so much he was asked to leave. But John later used the incident as the basis for this guitar-heavy track, which uses complex chord sequences and changes its time signatures in interesting ways. Ringo’s drumming is wonderful, but Paul doesn’t appear on the recording at all – having flounced off after a row.

21 All My Loving (Lennon-McCartney)
Album track on With the Beatles, released 22 November 1963
This was a rarity for Paul: a song where he wrote the words first, only later working out its melody on a piano. He then made sure he’d grab the attention in more ways than just being the author – his lead vocal begins a beat before the instruments, while his strident ‘walking bassline’ drives the song up and down its scale. George Harrison makes a late bid for glory with a Nashville-sounding guitar solo, but this is a Macca masterpiece.

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20 I Feel Fine (Lennon-McCartney)
A-side single, released 27 November 1964
Another stunner from the Beatles’ astonishingly verdant middle phase, a period where they wrote and recorded tracks of immense quality while *at the same time* fulfilling a dizzying schedule of gigs, TV appearances, interviews, filming days, radio shows and almost ceaseless travel. I Feel Fine has a Cuban dexterity, building a foot-tapper around a complex guitar riff, an off-accent bassline and some of Ringo’s most detailed drumming. It shimmies and shakes and is rather sexy. It also begins with the unorthodox tactic of including a ‘deliberate mistake’ – an artful howl of feedback.

19 Yer Blues (Lennon-McCartney)
Album track on The Beatles, released 22 November 1968
Almost immediately after hooking up with George Martin, the Beatles began to experiment with recording techniques, unconventional instruments, unusual arrangements, mixing tricks and avant-garde concepts. Their career is dotted with examples of them playing with the form of pop music and introducing new ideas to the mainstream. But every now and again, they also stripped things back to basics. Described perceptibly by the Beatles scholar Ian MacDonald as ‘half-satirical, half-earnest’, John’s Yer Blues was referencing the then-current British blues-rock scene (Cream, the Yardbirds, Jimi Hendrix, etc). Recorded during a period of unhappiness amongst the band, all four Beatles squeezed into a tiny studio and played live in an attempt to recapture the fun of the early days. It’s a warts-and-all performance; no frills, no fat.

18 Here Comes the Sun (Harrison)
Album track on Abbey Road, released 26 September 1969
Written by George Harrison in Eric Clapton’s garden while he waited for his friend to get out of bed, this vibrant, bucolic tune positively radiates with warmth and life. (It was written in April 1969, the sunniest month of the 1960s meteorologically speaking.) Brimming with charm, and powered along by handclaps and Moog-synth flutes, it captures George’s sense of escape and freedom after a depressing time recording Let It Be, an album that had tested all the Beatles’ patience.

17 Because (Lennon-McCartney)
Album track on Abbey Road, released 26 September 1969
Starting like the doom-laden incidental music from a Stanley Kubrick film, then featuring vocal-only contributions from the Beatles, Because is a very long way from the moptop era of Love Me Do. The baroque music is dominated by an electric harpsichord and a Moog synthesiser, modern devices that ironically create an 18th-century feel (John admitted it was influenced by Beethoven). Then John, Paul and George start to sing… Each was recorded three times to create a nonagon of utter beauty. It’s icy, airy, angelic. Full of wonder.

16 Twist and Shout (Phil Medley, Bert Russell)
Album track on Please Please Me, released 22 March 1963
Early in their careers – due to convention, taste and lack of writing time – the Beatles would pad their discography with cover versions. There are several great ones: a charming Till There Was You, a soulful You Really Got a Hold on Me, an energetic Money (That’s What I Want), a frantic Rock’n’Roll Music. But the best is this *wildly* exciting performance of Phil Medley and Bert Berns’ 1961 track. And it is a ‘performance’ – this is 155 unfettered, unedited, unembellished seconds of John, Paul, George and Ringo playing live in Abbey Road on 11 February 1963. Even more remarkably, it’s the one and only take they attempted that day: John had a cold, which you can plainly hear in his ragged lead vocal, and couldn’t carry on. Jumping with energy and drive and glee, the track features hair-raising crescendos, joyful drumming, and a yelp of pride from Paul during the fade-out. Oh, to be a tenth this talented.

15 She’s a Woman (Lennon-McCartney)
B-side to I Feel Fine single, released 27 November 1964
A dapper little track, this. It sounds jazzy and cool. Written by Paul around a 12-bar structure, there’s a melodic bassline and some vamping on a piano – but the foundation is a relentless series of violent guitar chops. Macca’s growly vocals are ace too, as is George Harrison’s understated guitar solo.

14 Can’t Buy Me Love (Lennon-McCartney)
A-side, released 20 March 1964
The late Beatles critic Ian MacDonald talked about Can’t By Me Love’s ‘effortless rightness’ and that sums it up perfectly. From its very first sound – Paul’s lead vocal, momentarily unaccompanied – the whole song comes fully formed and feels inevitable. Unpretentious and optimistic, it barrels along with charm.

13 Penny Lane (Lennon-McCartney)
Double-A side with Strawberry Fields Forever, released 13 February 1967
Having been wowed by the 1966 Beach Boys album Pet Sounds, Paul wanted a very ‘clean’, ‘clipped’ sound for this beautifully nostalgic song about his childhood. The lyrics mention several touchstones of his youth – the Penny Lane district of Liverpool, a favoured barbers, etc – but in generic-enough terms that it doesn’t feel parochial. (There’s also some surreal ambiguity: it’s both sunny and rainy at the same time, while the pretty nurse selling poppies ‘feels as if she’s in a play’ and ‘is anyway.’) Musically, the foundation is Paul’s prominent bassline and George Martin’s orchestral support, while freelancer David Mason provided the cute piccolo trumpet solo. There are also sound effects to punch-up certain lines: the ringing of a bell when a fire engine is mentioned, for example. It’s an astounding song – as light as air, yet packed full of detail.

12 We Can Work It Out (Lennon-McCartney)
Double A-side with Day Tripper, released 3 December 1965
This deceptively complex song marries an optimistic verse/chorus written by Paul with a darker ‘bridge’ section written by John, and perfectly illustrates why these two men worked so well together. (In the entire history of culture, has there ever been a more productive partnership? No. The answer to that question is no.) Complete with a beautiful cushion of acoustic guitars and harmonium, We Can Work It Out freewheels downhill with supreme confidence.

11 Drive My Car (Lennon-McCartney)
Album track on Rubber Soul, released 3 December 1965
It features one of Paul’s best R&B vocals and the ‘bottom end’ of the mix was inspired by bass-heavy records like Otis Redding’s Respect, but the infectious Drive My Car is far from a robotic copy of contemporary American music. This is the Beatles, after all. So as the track pumps away, we hear jokey backing vocals (‘Beep-beep, beep-beep, yeah!’) and then the lyrics – a story about a budding chauffeur – end on an actual punchline.

RubberSoul

10 Something (Harrison)
Double-A side with Come Together, released 6 October 1969
You get the sense that, while he’d written very good tracks before this, George Harrison’s Something still took his bandmates by surprise. They agreed to put it out as a single (George’s first A-side) and have all praised it publicly. Quite right too: it’s an absolute marvel. Boldly romantic, the track feels sincere and unashamed. It also benefits from enthusiastic contributions by Ringo and Paul, whose drumming and bass-playing are embellishing the central melody with world-class skill.

9 Ticket to Ride (Lennon-McCartney)
A-side, released 9 April 1965
Deceptively revolutionary, John’s Ticket to Ride has been cited as an early example of heavy metal, lauded for introducing an Indian-style drone sound into Western pop, and celebrated for its creative drum pattern. It’s certainly a key step from the Beatles’ early days of crafted pop music into something deeper, something more mature and sophisticated. But above all else, it’s *hugely entertaining*. George Harrison’s high-end guitar riff, the catchy vocal melody, the unexpected changes in rhythm, the overall 3D-like sound… It’s utterly marvellous.

8 Paperback Writer (Lennon-McCartney)
A-side, released 30 May 1966
Gleaming like polished chrome, Paul’s heavy-rock track about a budding author has such *swagger*. A domineering guitar riff, a bubbling and melodic bassline, and breaks for angelic vocals all add up to a rather magnificent three and a half minutes. There’s cheeky fun too: during some of the backing vocals, just to amuse themselves, John and George Harrison switch to singing Frère Jacques.

7 I Am the Walrus (Lennon-McCartney)
B-side to Hello Goodbye, released 24 November 1967
An epic Hollywood blockbuster reduced down into four and half minutes, this features so much musical flamboyance it’s impossible to take it all in at once. John’s lyrics use Lewis Carroll as the inspiration for a razzle-dazzle recitation of policemen, nursery rhymes, cornflakes, pornography, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, Edgar Allen Poe, the Eiffel Tower and of course the Eggmen (whoever they may be). Meanwhile, the dynamic range of the chords sees every musical letter from A to G being used, and it’s all enlivened by nonsense backing vocals, George Martin’s extraordinary orchestral arrangement, and snatches of a random radio play mixed into the fade-out. But don’t focus on the individual ingredients. Wallow in the overall effect, which is *transportive*.

6 Help! (Lennon-McCartney)
A-side, released 23 July 1965
Later, John referred to 1965 as his ‘fat Elvis period’. He was trapped in a failing marriage, struggling to be a father to toddler son Julian, and generally unhappy – despite the fame and fortune that came from being in the world’s biggest band. He therefore fed his feelings of insecurity and loneliness into a song, but then tried to hide the sincerity by turning it into a uptempo pop hit. There are some gorgeous backing vocals, which often cleverly preempt the lead, while George adds some mighty jingle-jangle guitar. Infectiously brilliant.

5 Day Tripper (Lennon-McCartney)
Double A-side with We Can Work it Out, released 3 December 1965
As sassy and hip as it’s possible to be, John’s catchy, four-second guitar riff is played 33 times and never at any point outstays its welcome. It’s especially effective when building a crescendo for a short but powerful George Harrison solo. The lyrics, meanwhile, are vague enough to mean anything you want them to – and they’re sung in unison by a simpatico John and Paul.

4 Strawberry Fields Forever (Lennon-McCartney)
Double A-side with Penny Lane, released 13 February 1967
Innovative doesn’t even begin to cover it. This is a surreal, dreamy wonderland of a song, achieved through insightful writing (all doubt and bravado: ‘That is, you can’t, you know, tune in but it’s all right’), an immaculate performance (from all four Beatles as well as various cellists and trumpeters) and a quite stunning production (the track is actually two different takes outrageously cut together at the 1.00 point when you can detect a sudden plunge into darkness). A blisteringly inventive work of art made by men at the peak of the powers.

3 In My Life (Lennon-McCartney)
Album track on Rubber Soul, released 3 December 1965
Try to name a more beautiful piece of music. Go on, I dare you. I double dare you. You won’t be able to do it. This is sumptuously gorgeous, with a soft, reassuringly warm sound and reverb-heavy vocals like John’s singing to us directly from heaven. Then, just as you’re wallowing in the bliss, comes a piano section (by George Martin) that tips the song over into ecstasy. The nostalgic and melancholic lyrics were written by John in a wistful mood, but led to a bone of contention between him and Paul. Years later, John claimed the song was entirely his – other than some minor guidance from Paul. Paul, however, said he took his partner’s lyrics and wrote the music on his own. In My Life is worth fighting over.

2 A Day in the Life (Lennon-McCartney)
Album track on Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, released 26 May 1967
By this point in their career, John and Paul were mostly writing separately. They might help polish or tweak each other’s work, but the Lennon-McCartney credit was a brand rather than an accurate reflection of labour. A Day in the Life, however, is a collaboration. John wrote the verses (about, amongst other things, a friend of a friend who’d died in a car crash) while Paul provided the bouncy middle section about catching a bus. The orchestral linking sections were Paul’s idea, but arranged by George Martin. Imaginative beyond belief, the result is a five-minute mini-symphony – sweeping and all-encompassing and deeply profound. Whether the full lyric makes literal sense is to miss the point: it’s free association, all based on the idea of perception. Consider these lines: “I read the news today…”, “I saw the photograph…”, “He didn’t notice that the lights had changed…”, “A crowd of people stood and stared…”, “They’d seen his face before…”, “I saw a film today…”, “A crowd of people turned away, but I just had to look…”, “And looking up, I noticed I was late…”, and “Somebody spoke and I went into a dream…” The song is obsessed with what it means to subjectively experience reality. It’s existentialism as a pop song: how cool is that? The music, meanwhile, has detail and nuance in each and every aspect. The unsung hero of the piece is Ringo. Just listen to how skilfully his drumming answers John’s singing in the opening verses. Meanwhile, Paul’s bassline dances around, giving rise and fall and texture to everything, and the two orchestral crescendos generate more energy in 30 seconds than entire power stations. The beat of silence between the end of the second crescendo and the crashing piano chord that climaxes the song might be the single most thrilling moment in popular culture.

1 Rain (Lennon-McCartney)
B-side to Paperback Writer single, released 30 May 1966
A psychedelic haze, featuring some brilliantly show-offy drumming from Ringo, one of Paul’s most gorgeously dexterous basslines, and vocals flipped backwards to help create a druggy, surreal soundscape. John’s lyrics are a basic ‘weather = state of mind’ metaphor, but this track is all about the *noise* – it’s intricate yet huge, delicate yet overpowering, savage yet utterly beautiful.

Rain

 

Six years of blogs…

To celebrate the sixth anniversary of my blogging habit – the first review was published on 2 April 2014 – I thought I’d flag up some of the ‘long reads’ I’ve written over the years. These are the opinion pieces, the off-topic waffles, the travelogues about filming locations, or just the reviews that went into rather more detail than usual. Here are some of my favourites…

A list of my 75 FAVOURITE FILMS of the last decade

A discussion of ITV crime drama AGATHA CHRISTIE’S POIROT, published on its 30th anniversary

Every ALFRED HITCHCOCK FILM RANKED in order of preference

RW

A review of AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON in which I visit many of its filming locations

Every episode of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER reviewed in tweets

An examination of why US sitcom CHEERS HAS THE SAME SCENE TWICE

A statistical rundown of which actors said ‘CHEERS IS FILMED BEFORE A LIVE STUDIO AUDIENCE‘ most often

Cheers

An episode-by-episode guide to 1990s sci-fi drama CRIME TRAVELLER, written to celebrate its 20th anniversary

A review of Hitchcock’s DIAL M FOR MURDER, in which I argue it’s actually an episode of Columbo

A HORROR MARATHON special as I watch and comment on every Friday the 13th, Evil Dead or A Nightmare on Elm Street movie

A look at JAMES BOND IN THE UK – how much of each film takes place in his home country?

How many JAMES BOND REBOOTS have there actually been?

casino-royale

I set off to explore the area of London where Alfred Hitchcock grew up as I review his first film, THE PLEASURE GARDEN

A review of Hitchcock’s PSYCHO where I go wildly off-topic and talk about James Bond

A blog post where I use Hitchcock’s VERTIGO as an excuse to talk about my love of cinema

Vertigo58

 

Horror Marathon: Leprechaun

Over the last few months I’ve watched all eight movies in the beyond-bizarre horror series Leprechaun. They have a dreadful reputation and I wasn’t expecting them to be anything special, but it was still a shock just how appalling most of these films are.

Here’s my journey into darkness. Happy St Patrick’s Day, everyone…

1. Leprechaun (1993, Mark Jones)
A father and daughter travel to a cabin in the countryside, where they encounter a recently revived leprechaun…

Screenshot 2019-05-19 15.51.20

Often described as a ‘comedy horror’, this rotten piece of B-movie trash is not much of either. What it does have is a mish-mash of Emerald Isle cliches – pots of gold, rainbows, wells, four-leaf clovers and drunks – thrown into a standard horror-movie set-up. Bratty teen Tory (Jennifer Aniston, just a year or so before Friends superstardom) travels with her father out to the sticks for some time away from the big city. There, doing up their cabin, are a trio of handymen – a hot one, a grown man who talks like a child, and a child who talks like a grown man. Soon, due to an accident, a 600-year-old leprechaun is released from a wooden crate he was trapped inside due to a curse and he begins to rather tamely terrorise them… The leprechaun is played by Warwick Davis (Return of the Jedi, Willow) and he’s clearly having some fun with the role, which is a Freddy Krueger-style quipster. But the script is abysmal and the direction does it no favours – you’re never quite sure if the film knows how ludicrous its concept is. Aside from Davis, the not-bad incidental music, a spirited Aniston and occasional goofy gags, there’s not much to enjoy.
Four boxes of Lucky Clover breakfast cereal out of 10

2. Leprechaun 2 (1994, Rodman Flender)
In 1990s LA, the Leprechaun is intent on finding himself a new bride – so targets a descendant of his former slave…

Screenshot 2019-06-01 15.07.36

Other than Warwick Davis’s title character, this dreary sequel contains no reference to the first movie. We begin in 10th-century Ireland, on St Patrick’s Day, which is the Leprechaun’s 1,000th birthday. (So we’re immediately contradicting the first film’s timeline.) He’s trying to ensnare a bride but his enthralled slave – who happens to be the target’s father – scuppers his plan, so he instead curses the whole family in perpetuity. A thousand years later, the Leprechaun is resurrected in LA. Still keen on finding a young, blonde, pretty bride (aren’t we all?), he goes after a dippy woman called Bridget (Shevonne Durkin). Her boyfriend, Cody (Charlie Heath), is a tour guide trying to deal with a drunken schemer of an uncle – so much so that after Bridget is kidnapped and held prisoner, both he and the film seem to forget about her plight for a while… The cast is mostly dreadful, aside from Davis and Seinfeld’s Sandy Baron as Uncle Morty, and the story beyond terrible. Not even some comic gore – such as a risible scene where a teenage boy is tricked into kissing the moving blades of a lawnmower because he thinks they’re Bridget’s naked breasts (!) – can rescue an exceedingly drab horror film.
Two sacred vows of the wee people out of 10

3. Leprechaun 3 (1995, Brian Trenchard–Smith)
On the loose in Las Vegas, the Leprechaun searches for a lost gold shilling…

Screenshot 2019-06-08 17.33.29

The first straight-to-video film in the series has tame scares, crummy gore, and a meandering, focus-free plot about a wish-granting coin, a casino boss, loan sharks who think they’re in Get Shorty, and a desperate stage magician. The story plays out in Las Vegas and our two lead characters are a pair of new friends called Tammy (Lee Anderson) and Scott (John Gatins). You can’t claim the film is taking itself too seriously. Director Brian Trenchard-Smith allows a lot of goofy humour and Warwick Davis has said this is his favourite Leprechaun movie because of the comedy. But *some* truth or drama might have been a help. It’s a film so bad, so risible, so loose and so undisciplined that it almost creeps over into some kind of conceptual art. How can a movie exist with such little tension or substance? However, the increasing amounts of sleaze and misogyny mean you can’t even enjoy the movie for camp or kitsch reasons. It’s 89 minutes and feels far longer.
One Elvis impersonator out of 10

4. Leprechaun 4: In Space (1997, Brian Trenchard-Smith)
A century into the future, the Leprechaun is attempting to wed a princess so he can take over her planet – but then a group of space marines show up, intent on killing him…

Screenshot 2019-06-15 20.02.05

A horror franchise resorting to an ‘in space’ story is not unique. Hellraiser: Bloodline, released the year before this Leprechaun film, had taken Pinhead onto a space station in the year 2127. In 2001, the tenth Friday the 13th movie, a pulpy romp called Jason X, resurrected its killer on a space ship in 2455. So Leprechaun 4: In Space is part of a minor tradition. Before you can say, ‘Aliens‘, a gang of rough space marines are on a search-and-destroy mission and are joined by a woman they don’t respect (Jessica Collins’s Dr Tina Reeves). Their quarry is the Leprechaun (Warwick Davis), who is inexplicably in the year 2096 and attempting to marry a distant planet’s princess so he can take over her kingdom. (The princess is played by New Zealand actress Rebekah Carlton and her odd-couple double act with Davis is one of the film’s few highlights.) Meanwhile, Guy Siner (Gruber from 1980s BBC sitcom ‘Allo ‘Allo) hams it up something foul as a loopy Germanic scientist. The movie merges lame horror (which is never tense) with crass comedy (which is never funny). As events unfold, we also get the Leprechaun using a green lightsabre (a cheeky reference to Return of the Jedi – which Davis starred in, of course) plus a scene where the Leprechaun has possessed a soldier and then bursts out of his body via his penis (an obvious Alien reference). Add in body horror, cross-dressing, tit-flashing, Yamaha keyboard incidental music and primitive CGI, and it’s all just shockingly terrible. It also has virtually nothing to do with the Leprechaun myth. But at least it’s not boring.
Three mineral rights (and that’s net not gross, no bonus) out of 10

5. Leprechaun in the Hood (2000, Rob Spera)
A young budding rap star and his friends accidentally awaken the Leprechaun when they steal a magic flute from a music promoter…

Leprechaun in the Hood

Just when you think this franchise can’t get any more gob-smackingly turgid… After a 1970s-set prologue in which a character played by Ice-T in an Afro wig discovers the Leprechaun trapped in a statue, we cut to 20 years later. Mack Daddy is now a music mogul, who signs a young rapper called Postmaster P (future Star Trek: Enterprise star Anthony Montgomery). He has that name because, unlike many other rap stars, he delivers a positive message – but Mack then drops him when he’s reluctant to be more lyrically aggressive. In order to get back at him, Postmaster P and his hangers-on break into Mack’s office to steal his prized magical flute. (No, honestly.) But in doing so, they awaken the malevolent Leprechaun… This appallingly directed, sloppily written dross is full of blunt dialogue delivered in direct-to-video close-ups. It’s also loaded to the point of collapse with black-culture stereotypes and clichés: incidental music that sounds like the theme from Shaft, lots of uses of the N-word, an obsession with spliffs, a reference to Martin Luther King, mentions of bitches and hoes, a cantankerous granny character, an evangelical church scene and a cameo from Coolio. It’s also the second Leprechaun film in a row to attempt to wring laughter by mocking crossdressing. We then end with a music video showing the Leprechaun rapping in a nightclub surrounding by vacant-eyed dancers.
One “Smack your bitch up, shoot your motherfucking homeboy in the face”-type shit out of 10

6. Leprechaun Back 2 tha Hood (2003, Steven Ayromlooi)
When a group of friends discover the Leprechaun’s stash of gold coins, he’s awoken from his hibernation and attempts to kill all those who have acquired them…

Screenshot 2019-07-06 18.50.58

An animated prologue effectively returns us to the Dark Ages/fairy-tale context that had been abandoned in the more recent sequels. (Although, the map of the British Isles involved in telling the backstory is… missing the island of Ireland!) Then the bulk of the movie takes place in modern-day downtown LA: a group of young friends are dreaming of better lives but are being terrorised by local gangs. When the likeable Emily (Tangi Miller) finds an ancient chest containing gold coins (which glow on people’s faces, a la the briefcase in Pulp Fiction), she generously shares the wealth around with her pals. However, Warwick Davis’s Leprechaun has been awoken and begins to hunt down the coins, killing anyone who has ‘stolen’ one… Back 2 the Hood is certainly a poor film. However, because it features characters with a *bit* of depth to them, it’s not as bucket-fillingly pukeful as some of the previous movies. It also remembers that this series is meant to be *both* horror and comedy: so next to a funny scene that deconstructs the use of the N-word is some enjoyably graphic violence.
Five beached whales out of 10

7. Leprechaun: Origins (2014, Mark Lipovsky)
Four American friends run into trouble during a day trip in rural Ireland…

Leprechaun Origins

This reboot of the series abandons any comedy and replaces it with dreary torture-porn. It’s six of one, half a dozen of another whether this makes it worse, but it certainly makes it tedious. A group of naïve American students (Stephanie Bennett, Andrew Dunbar, Star Trek Beyond‘s Melissa Roxburgh and Brendan Fletcher) are on holiday in the Republic of Ireland and visit a village with some interesting Celtic standing stones. When they get chatting to a man in a pub, he offers to show them some local culture and – nothing suspicious here! – drives them into the countryside and locks them in a cabin with no electricity. Obviously, they’re soon being attacked by the Leprechaun. However, it’s not the Leprechaun we’ve been watching for the previous six films. Warwick Davis has departed; so has the idea that the Leprechaun is a quipping trickster character. Now he’s a savage monster, more like the creature in the movie Alien, and all he seemingly wants is to murder the tourists violently. Nothing that happens in this film is interesting or engaging. You also have to contend with Irish accents that veer all over the place.
Two lucky charms out of 10

8. Leprechaun Returns (2018, Steven Kostanski)
The daughter of Tory from the first film visits the same house in the countryside to help renovate it – but the Leprechaun is soon resurrected…

LeprechaunReturns

This made-for-TV sequel is one of those modern sequels that ignore all the previous sequels. Lila (Taylor Spreitler from US sitcom Melissa & Joey) is the daughter of the Jennifer Aniston character from the 1993 original. As part of a sorority project, she visits the same rural cabin from that movie, but – GUESS WHAT! – the Leprechaun is soon awakened and starts his normal brand of low-urgency terror. Warwick Davis declined the chance to play the eponymous villain again, so Linden Porco has taken over (and is doing a fairly accurate recreation), while Mark Holton from the first film reprises his minor character of Ozzie. It’s a surprisingly watchable conclusion to one of the limpest horror franchises going. Spreitler is a really good lead (strong, brave, clever, funny), while there’s some inventive gore and the whole thing is directed more confidently than any other entry in the series. What’s most impressive is the tone, which steadily gets both funnier and more horrific the longer the movie goes on. By the last third, it’s close to the arch, baroque energy of Evil Dead II.
Seven solar panels out of 10

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)

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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.)