The Golden Compass (Chris Weitz, 2007)

 Shakespearean polar bears would raise up any movie

The world of The Golden Compass cowers under the yoke of an authoritarian rule of religious zealots called the Magisterium. Scientists are poisoned, children kidnapped for experimentation and free thinking hindered at every step of the way. Real world religious [christian] groups have rallied against the series of books this film is based on, claiming it made them look bad. In the Netherlands we have a saying for that: ‘Wie de schoen past, trekke hem aan.’ Whom the cap fits, let him wear it.

Under Suspicion (Stephen Hopkins, 2000)

Hackman has guilt written all over him (spoiler notice)

I once spent a holiday in Barcelona trying to remember Gene Hackman’s name. I could picture his face clearly, having seen it often in movies, but the words eluded me. After days of wrenching my mind, I finally recalled. The rush of endorphins ensured his name is forever etched in my brain.

Chocolat (Lasse Hallström, 2000)

 Bonbons bring catharsis to townswomen

No matter how well-equipped your home cinema, how big your television or how loud your speakers; no place offers a better experience for watching movies than the cinema. It’s not just the size of the screen that matters, it’s the ambience. It’s the dark auditorium, full of (hopefully) quiet people sharing a viewing. It’s the décor of broad staircases, red velvet curtains, rows of pop-down seats, the low-key floor lighting, the creamy scent of popcorn. Your choice of location can mean everything to a film.

The Ides of March (George Clooney, 2011)

For your future’s sake, I’m the candidate (spoiler notice)

The Ides of March shows the power of constraint.

Ryan Gosling stars as an up-and-coming spin doctor working for a Democratic US presidential candidate. In this political drama the smallest misstep can cost one their head and yes, the film’s title proves portentous. Just as Julius Caesar was warned to be wary of the ides of March, so every character in this tale of American politics has multiple daggers aimed at their back – often in the hands of those closest to them.

Night at the Museum (Shawn Levy, 2006)

A treatise on the natural world

Is anyone else tired of that monkey? You know the one, the cute capuchin monkey that all too often features in (children’s) movies to engage in antics such as stealing things, peeing on things, acting contrary and generally being a pain in the butt. For my part, whenever The Monkey pops  up, I start to slap my face, and the face-slapping doesn’t stop until the credits.

Superman Returns (Bryan Singer, 2006)

Perhaps he should’ve stayed in space

Dylan Moran once joked about how silly it was that people were in awe of Arnold Schwarzenegger because he was good at lifting heavy things. The same can be said of Superman – whose entire repertoire here consists of lifting things both heavy and heavier. Shuttles, airplanes, ships, globes, entire continents. In Superman Returns, lifting heavy things is the panacea for all the world’s problems. Is it any wonder it has a hard time holding interest?

I Love You Phillip Morris (Glenn Ficarra, John Requa, 2009)

How far can you take a gay joke?

In a defining moment early in this film we see Jim Carrey’s character Steven Russell pounding into someone from behind with fearful intensity. Surprise: it’s not his wife, but a burly man with a moustache shouting: “Do it! Come in my ass!” Steven howls with joy as he grants the request.

The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans (Werner Herzog, 2009)

In which Nicolas Cage has a few spats with sanity (spoiler notice)

At the end of The Bad Lieutenant, Werner Herzog eats his cake and has it.

The Dark Knight Rises (Christopher Nolan, 2012)

Nolan rises to the occasion and goes for thirds (spoiler notice)

In 2008 I called it: there was no way they’d be able to top The Dark Knight and they should leave it alone. It was a perfect storm of acting talent, writing, theme, characters and timing, and after Heath Ledger’s Joker, the only way was down. My predictions proved spot on. But The Dark Knight Rises does not merely fail to live up to its predecessor: it disappoints with a vengeance.

Rien à Déclarer (‘Nothing to Declare’, Dany Boon, 2010)

Do Belgians dream of waffle-shaped sheep?

It’s easy to forget that only twenty years ago, Europe’s borders were guarded. Crossing from one country to the other was an exciting affair where passports were handed over and suspicious eyes set upon your vehicle. Border guards seem an anachronism nowadays.

The Last Airbender (M. Night Shyamalan, 2010)

Choreography trumps, well, everything else, apparently

Not having seen the original Avatar animated series, which I hear is quite the sensation, I had no point of reference going into M. Night Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender.

Voyna i Mir (‘War and Peace’, Sergei Bondarchuk, 1965-67)

War: what is it good for?

Not since Akira Kurosawa’s Kagemusha did I witness a scene of war so utterly filled with despair and destruction. This production, that brims with Soviet willpower to show Hollywood what-for, is for once genuinely deserving of the moniker ‘epic’.