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Here’s a biopic that focuses on capturing the feel of the era it depicts, rather than all the facts — and is all the better for it. 24 Hour Party People takes the same punk approach to storytelling as its subjects did to music, playfully throwing off the dull constraints that often make based-on-a-true-story movies feel like uninspired celluloid translations of a Wikipedia page. 

In the film’s opening scene, Steve Coogan’s Tony Wilson breaks the fourth wall to address us directly and semi-spoil the movie’s ending. But it doesn’t matter, because the ride is so fun: we’re taken on an immersive trip through the heyday of the Manchester music scene: the births of Joy Division, New Order, the Happy Mondays, and Wilson’s Factory Records label and legendary Hacienda nightclub, an incubator for acid house and rave culture. The era’s hedonism is brought to life by the movie’s frenetic editing, documentary-style cinematography, and strobe-heavy visuals. For all its onscreen anarchy, though, the movie remarkably never feels loose or self-indulgent. Its irreverence is grounded by the ironic filter of the meta filmmaking, which frequently breaks the fourth wall to draw attention to its own conceits. A refreshing rejection of biopic tropes, but also a thrilling transportation into and evocation of the Madchester era.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Music

Actor: Andy Serkis, Chris Coghill, Christopher Eccleston, Daniel Lestuzzi, Danny Cunningham, Darren Tighe, Elizabeth Kelly, Enzo Cilenti, Fiona Allen, Helen Schlesinger, John Simm, John Thomson, Kate Magowan, Keith Allen, Kenny Baker, Kieran O'Brien, Lennie James, Margi Clarke, Mark E. Smith, Martin Hancock, Naomi Radcliffe, Neil Bell, Paddy Considine, Paul Popplewell, Peter Gunn, Peter Kay, Ralf Little, Raymond Waring, Rob Brydon, Ron Cook, Sean Cernow, Sean Harris, Shirley Henderson, Simon Pegg, Smug Roberts, Steve Coogan, Toby Salaman, Tony Wilson

Director: Michael Winterbottom

Rating: R

Cheerfully outrageous yet heartwarmingly tender, the Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert was ahead of its time, daring to dive into drag and transexuality, when the rest of the world was still coming around to accepting homosexuality. On the bus which the title is named after, two drag queens and a trans woman have a road trip, that does have some difficult moments, when they drive through intolerant towns, but overall, becomes quite lovely, as the three forge a bond through drag, witty, sarcastic quips and sharing vulnerable moments. While all three leads are portrayed by cis men, and the role of Bob’s Filipino wife feels slightly stereotypical, overall, The Adventures of Priscilla is a grand ol’ time, a joyful film about finding family in a world where tolerance wasn’t a guarantee.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Bill Hunter, Guy Pearce, Hugo Weaving, Kenneth Radley, Rebel Penfold-Russell, Sarah Chadwick, Terence Stamp

Director: Stephan Elliott

Rating: R

The film that catapulted Kevin Costner to fame, No Way Out, is based on a novel by Kenneth Fearing, "The Big Clock", and is also preceded by a film adaptation of it, around 40 years prior. Director Roger Donaldson found himself in charge of a film, haunted by the Cold War and spy thriller tropes, but already aligning itself with the late 80s erotic thriller. In a way, No Way Back is a symbol of this transitional period, but by retaining the classic noir vibe (deception, fleeing, yearning), it becomes a tribute to the past. In the film's own past, a love triangle is taking shape in a rather unconventional way: layered with all three of the aforementioned dispositions. Two men want the same women, but their relationship is further complicated by professional hierarchies and the quest to own the past they both shared with Susan. 

 

Genre: Thriller

Actor: Brad Pitt, Charles Walker, Chris D., David Armstrong, David Paymer, Dennis Burkley, Fred Thompson, Gene Hackman, George Dzundza, Howard Duff, Iman, Jason Bernard, John D'Aquino, Kevin Costner, Leo Geter, Leon Russom, Marshall Bell, Matthew Barry, Michael Shillo, Nicholas Worth, Peter Bell, Sean Young, Will Patton

Director: Roger Donaldson

Rating: R

Daniel Day-Lewis earned his breakout performance as Johnny, a reformed skinhead in this tale of  interracial gay romance in Thatcher’s Britain. Gordon Warnecke plays Johnny's lover Omar, the aimless son of a Pakistani intellectual who is given a leg-up by a successful uncle when he’s put in charge of rescuing a failing laundrette in gritty South London. Remarkably, Omar and Johnny’s romance isn’t presented as all that transgressive; far more central are the experiences and attitudes towards “assimilation” of Omar’s British-Pakistani family, the elders of whom live double lives and indulge both their financial and sexual greed. My Beautiful Laundrette is transgressive in many ways, but mostly in the dizzying array of tensions it sets its sights on — racial, ideological, class, generational, and gender — an ambitious quality that can, admittedly, overwhelm at times. But ambition is an admirable flaw for a film to have, particularly one as sharp and groundbreaking as this.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Ayub Khan-Din, Badi Uzzaman, Bhasker Patel, Charu Bala Chokshi, Chris Pitt, Colin Campbell, Daniel Day-Lewis, Dawn Archibald, Derrick Branche, Dulice Liecier, Garry Cooper, Gerard Horan, Gordon Warnecke, Gurdial Sira, Jonathan Moore, Neil Cunningham, Nisha Kapur, Ram John Holder, Richard Graham, Rita Wolf, Roshan Seth, Saeed Jaffrey, Shirley Anne Field, Souad Faress, Stephen Marcus, Walter Donohue

Director: Stephen Frears

Far from feeling like English literature homework, this version of Shakespeare’s romantic comedy of errors fizzes with vitality and wit. Kenneth Branagh directs and stars in his own sumptuous adaptation, which also features a banquet of dashing talent in their prime, including Emma Thompson and a winning Denzel Washington.

Even amongst the film’s superlative ensemble (which also features a melodramatically villainous Keanu Reeves and Michael Keaton as a farcically inept policeman), Thompson stands out for her instinctive grasp of Shakespeare’s genius and easy ability to lift it off the page and give it sparkling life. As Beatrice, she deals out wry cut-downs of Branagh’s vain Benedick, all while trying to suppress the roiling romantic tension that nevertheless persists between them. It might not be set to the music of ABBA, but with Patrick Doyle’s radiant score, an intoxicatingly beautiful Tuscan setting, and an infectious, non-stop party vibe, the joyous Much Ado About Nothing feels more akin to Mamma Mia than any of cinema’s other Shakespeare adaptations.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Alex Lowe, Andy Hockley, Ben Elton, Brian Blessed, Chris Barnes, Conrad Nelson, Denzel Washington, Edward Jewesbury, Emma Thompson, Gerard Horan, Imelda Staunton, Jimmy Yuill, Kate Beckinsale, Keanu Reeves, Kenneth Branagh, Michael Keaton, Patrick Doyle, Phyllida Law, Richard Briers, Richard Clifford, Robert Sean Leonard

Director: Kenneth Branagh

Starring Ryan Gosling, Emily Mortimer, Paul Schneider, Kelli Garner and Patricia Clarkson. Lars and the Real Girl is a funny and thought-provoking look at the psychology of loneliness and the healing power of love. I rented this a few years back because of Ryan Gosling - he had just blown me away in Fracture so I was trying to catch up on his other movies. It was an unexpected gem. One of the sweetest movies I have ever seen - it was kind of like a fairy tale. With a blow-up doll. Yes, that's right.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Alec McClure, Angela Vint, Annabelle Torsein, Arnold Pinnock, Aurora Browne, Billy Parrott, Boyd Banks, Doug Lennox, Emily Mortimer, Joe Bostick, Joshua Peace, Karen Robinson, Kelli Garner, Lauren Ash, Liisa Repo-Martell, Lindsey Connell, Liz Gordon, Maxwell McCabe-Lokos, Nancy Beatty, Nicky Guadagni, Patricia Clarkson, Paul Schneider, R.D. Reid, Ryan Gosling, Sally Cahill, Tannis Burnett, Tommy Chang, Torquil Colbo

Director: Craig Gillespie

Rating: PG-13

Ray Romano and Chris O'Dowd (Bridesmaids) star in this dark comedy-thriller about a gangster who attempts a career as a Hollywood producer. It’s based on the novel that the 1995 John Travolta and Danny DeVito movie by the same name was also based on *catches breath*.

There is something undeniably funny about people in crime who try to reform themselves in Hollywood, the same thing that Bill Hader perfected in Barry. The switch from real to fake and back is equally as well-executed in Get Shorty.

Genre: Thriller

Actor: Carolyn Dodd, Chris O'Dowd, Chris O'Dowd, Goya Robles, Lidia Porto, Lucy Walters, Megan Stevenson, Ray Romano, Sean Bridgers

Director: Allen Coulter, Emin Hüseynov

Rating: TV-MA

At first glance, The Madness of King George seemed like a history lesson about King George III. Like plenty of British royalty dramas, the film has all the opulent trappings in its sets and costumes, as well as some of the best actors from the British isles. However, unlike other depictions of the monarchy, the film depicts the king not as a benevolent ruler or oppressive tyrant– instead, King George III is terribly human, with his memory failing, being unsettled by loss, and concern over his health, which involves having to look at his urine. But the historical satire, based on the 1991 stage play, still manages to have the same mockery towards the opportunistic court, while still retaining sympathy for the very nobility it mocks, through original playwright Alan Bennett’s adept writing, as well as the excellent performance of the stacked ensemble cast.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, History

Actor: Adrian Scarborough, Alan Bennett, Amanda Donohoe, Anthony Calf, Barry Stanton, Caroline Harker, Charlotte Curley, Clive Brunt, Colin McPhillamy, Cyril Shaps, David Leon, Dermot Keaney, Geoffrey Palmer, Helen Mirren, Iain Mitchell, Ian Holm, Janine Duvitski, Jeremy Child, Jim Carter, Joanna Hall, John Wood, Julian Rhind-Tutt, Julian Wadham, Michael Grandage, Nicholas Irons, Nicholas Selby, Nick Sampson, Nigel Hawthorne, Paul Corrigan, Peter Woodthorpe, Robert Swann, Roger Ashton-Griffiths, Roger Hammond, Rupert Everett, Rupert Graves, Selina Cadell, Struan Rodger

Director: Nicholas Hytner

Rating: PG-13

Based on the comic book by Daniel Clowes, Ghost World is a dark comedy that follows the exploits of teenage outcasts Enid and Rebecca (Thora Birch and Scarlett Johansson) as they navigate the many complexities of burgeoning adulthood. Central to the story is the unlikely friendship that Enid strikes up with a lonesome older man (played by Steve Buscemi), a curious relationship that drifts through various humorous and melancholy situations. It’s an original and often poignant look at alienation and identity, with Birch delivering a wonderfully deadpan and often hilarious performance, despite her entirely pessimistic attitude. It’s the type of film that’s just right when you’re in the mood for something just a little bit different.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Alex Solowitz, Anna Berger, Ashley Peldon, Bob Balaban, Brad Renfro, Brett Gilbert, Brian George, Brian Jacobs, Bruce Glover, Chachi Pittman, Charles C. Stevenson Jr., Charles Schneider, Daniel Graves, Danny Allen, Dave Sheridan, David Cross, Debi Derryberry, Debra Azar, Diane Salinger, Dylan Jones, Ezra Buzzington, Illeana Douglas, Jake La Botz, James Sie, Jerry Rector, Joan Blair, Joel Michaely, John Bunnell, Joseph Sikora, Joshua Wheeler, Joy Bisco, Kaileigh Brielle Martin, Lauren Bowles, Lindsey Girardot, Lorna Scott, Marc Vann, Martin Grey, Mary Bogue, Matt Doherty, Michelle McGinty, Pat Healy, Patrick Fischler, Paul Keith, Rini Bell, Scarlett Johansson, Sid Hillman, Stacey Travis, Steve Buscemi, T. J. Thyne, Teri Garr, Thora Birch, Tom McGowan, Tony Ketcham, Venus DeMilo Thomas, Will Forte

Director: Terry Zwigoff

Rating: R

Ben du Toit (Donald Sutherland) is a patriarch of an upper-class white family insulated from the roiling protests and violence in their suburban household outside of Johannesburg. When his gardener’s son is arrested, du Toit’s complacency is tested and he becomes embroiled in the devastating political reality outside the comforts of his gated world. 

Although it falls into the somewhat blemished category of films that center white protagonists when covering Black struggle, it does so with a piercing critical lens that confronts white denial and complicity. Euzhan Palcy’s direction is striking, depicting racism and violence with uncompromised clarity, while her unfettered dedication to getting this made even brought Marlon Brando out of retirement. Keep an eye out for him playing a beleaguered civil rights attorney - a role which notched him his final Academy Award nomination. 

Genre: Drama, Mystery

Actor: Andrew Whaley, Charles Pillai, David de Keyser, Donald Sutherland, Ernest Ndhlovu, Gerard Thoolen, Janet Suzman, John Kani, Jürgen Prochnow, Kevin Johnson, Leonard Maguire, Marlon Brando, Michael Gambon, Paul Brooke, Richard Wilson, Ronald Pickup, Rosemary Martin, Sello Maake Ka-Ncube, Susan Sarandon, Susannah Harker, Thoko Ntshinga, Winston Ntshona, Zakes Mokae

Director: Euzhan Palcy

It’s easy enough to pitch Moonstruck with the promise of Cher and a young Nicolas Cage getting hot and heavy in 80s New York, but it’s so much more than its two outsized leads. Loretta (Cher) is on track to marry Johnny (Danny Aiello) when he tasks her with inviting his brother Ronny (Nicolas Cage) to their wedding. Before long Loretta and Ronny are having a whirlwind affair that threatens to derail everything. 

Despite the somewhat risque premise, Moonstruck is a lighthearted, sentimental, romance fit for the holidays. A big cast playing the warm-hearted family rounds things out, and some of the best moments are digressions that explore the romantic entanglements outside of the central couple.  At times Moonstruck feels a bit too big, too over-the-top, too cheesy, but it’s a New York slice cheesy, it’s a ‘That’s Amore’ cheesy, it’s a cheesy that tucks you in at night after a  helping of manicotti and a big bottle of wine.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Al Therrien, Amy Aquino, Anita Gillette, Ann McDonough, Antonia Minella, Betty Orsatti, Catherine Scorsese, Cathy Ladman, Charles Scorsese, Cher, Curt Hayward, Cynthia Dale, Danny Aiello, David Hummel, David S. Howard, Feodor Chaliapin Jr., Frank Gio, Gina DeAngeles, Helen Hanft, Helen Proimos, Joe Grifasi, John Christopher Jones, John Mahoney, Julie Bovasso, Leonardo Cimino, Lisa Howard, Lou Pitoscia, Louis Di Bianco, Louis Guss, Matt Myers, Mimi Cecchini, Mimi Lizio, Nada Despotovich, Nicholas Pasco, Nicolas Cage, Olympia Dukakis, Paul Benedict, Paula Trueman, Peter Austin Noto, Robert Weil, Robin Bartlett, Sonny Bono, Stephany Hitchcock, Tim Koetting, Tommy Hollis, Tony Azito, Vincent Gardenia

Director: Norman Jewison

As long as you don’t take it too seriously and see it for the silly ‘80s comedy that it is, then A Fish Called Wanda comes as a pleasantly hilarious way to pass the time. The heist doesn’t make much sense but the farce the characters put on is as delightfully silly as they come. There are traces of Cleese’s Monty Python sketch humor here, as you’ll see in the puns and the wild physical gags he makes, and Curtis proves that comedy is her true calling. But some of the best parts of the movie are when the British characters rib with the Americans—it’s a classic feud, one you won’t help but laugh at, regardless of where you’re coming from.

Genre: Comedy, Crime

Actor: Al Hunter Ashton, Andrew MacLachlan, Cynthia Cleese, David Simeon, Geoffrey Palmer, Jamie Lee Curtis, Jeremy Child, John Cleese, Kate Lansbury, Ken Campbell, Kevin Kline, Llewellyn Rees, Maria Aitken, Mark Elwes, Michael Palin, Michael Percival, Neville Phillips, Pamela Miles, Patricia Hayes, Peter Jonfield, Robert Putt, Roger Brierley, Roger Hume, Roland MacLeod, Sharon Marino, Stephen Fry, Tom Georgeson

Director: Charles Crichton

Rating: R