Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Films of 2015

Given that it is the end of the year, and it is the season of self-indulgence, and I like writing lists, I have written a Films of 2015 list.

This is not a list of what I think to be the undisputedly "Best" films of the year (I haven't seen nearly enough films in order to do that). Rather, these are the films I saw this year which I would recommend most. 

10. Bridge of Spies – in the hands of any other director and actor, this would have been merely solid. However, this is a really-good thriller with an old-fashioned feel. It doesn't quite reach the heady heights of some of Spielberg's similar works, but Hanks is on top form with a funny and intriguing script. Good turn from Mark Rylance in this tale of the importance of every individual's rights.
9. Steve Jobs – a witty and interesting look at the enigmatic man behind a corporate personality cult. Uneven though it was, it is one of the most intelligent films you’ll ever see and when it hits top gear it is electric.
8. Selma – A powerful film on MLK, with a spellbinding performance from David Oyelowo. It tells an important story well without much bombast.
7. Carol – a beautiful and tender portrait of forbidden love that is played so perfectly by Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara. Todd Haynes gives it a visual flair (all reflections in windows and glances through thick plumes of cigarette smoke) and evokes the 50s period with delicacy.
6. Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens – J.J. Abrams saves the franchise and gives it heart and soul and a new lease of life. If you’ve been hitherto unconvinced by Star Wars, then this is the one to transport you to that galaxy far, far away.
5. The Lady in the Van – brilliant comic filmmaking, driven by Maggie Smith’s knockout performance and Alex Jennings terrific incarnation as two sides of Alan Bennett. Bennett’s script is as poignant as it is hilarious.
4. Brooklyn – a lovely, lovely film about love, family and home. Saoirse Ronan delivers a thoroughly deft performance in this emotionally honest elegy which beautifully moves from comedy to tragedy to hide-behind-your-hands emotional drama.
3. Inside Out – the only imperfection with this film is that it isn’t really for its young audience. I cried like a child, but no child could understand why. Heart-breaking and wise – this will nevertheless be vitally important for slightly older children. A work of heart and genius.
2. The Martian – I can rarely remember a more joyous experience. I certainly cried once from pure joy during the "Starman" sequence. A whip-crackingly quick script, Ridley Scott producing all of his visual flair and Matt Damon being magnificent as the lead of a great cast. It never dropped its energy or its imagination, and had me enraptured from start to finish. What more can one reasonably ask of the cinema?
1. Whiplash – a near-perfect little film. Pumped with French Connection-esque adrenaline, tension and magnetism, this has the sheer cinematic energy you’d expect from an action film. But it’s a film about men sitting in a room playing drums. It’s an extraordinary achievement that thrills, terrifies and exhilarates from the first percussive beat to the last. Miles Teller is a revelation, but J.K. Simmons is a master.

(And two to look out for that haven’t yet come out on general release)
High-Rise – A bizarre and unsettling film about social collapse, where every inch of every frame appears to have been meticulously and beautifully designed.

Trumbo – A very timely film about the screenwriter who was blacklisted during the days of McCarthyism. It tells the story with oodles of wit and charm, and doesn’t beat you over the head with its message. Features a terrific big screen turn from Bryan Cranston.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

NByNW Diary: Bidding Process to host EU Referendum Result "Mired in Secrecy"

10th December
Manchester has the won the not-so-much coveted right to host the result of the EU referendum. The Electoral Commission announced the news this morning, but has attracted criticism for not holding a formal bidding process and there are even accusations of corruption.
No sooner had the EC announced the decision, then Cornwall announced that they were launching a probe into possible corruption, using a legal team drawn from their large French population.
“It is highly suspicious,” said the Mayor of Truro, who had led their David-versus-Goliath bid to host the result. “There’s been no transparency in this. What has Manchester got that Truro hasn’t?”
The Electoral Commission says that the decision was made after much consideration and has nothing to do with throwing yet another bone to the publicity machine behind the idea of a Northern Powerhouse.
The decision has drawn much interest from international figures. Seb Coe said that he was sure that the bids were considered properly, although there doesn’t seem to be much evidence supporting that view.
International expert on secretive bidding processes Sepp Blatter said “The Electoral Commission was in a battle between the devil and the angels, and I have no doubt that the authorities have sided with the angels. In this case, the angels of Manchester. If anything, their bidding process has not been secretive enough.”

Follow North by North Westminster on Twitter:

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

NByNW Diary: Statement on Preventing Donalds Immigrating

Tuesday 8th December
North by N. Westminster is calling for a total and complete shutdown on people called Donald entering the United Kingdom until our representatives can figure out what the hell is going on. According to the weary anger on social media, there is a lot of discontent towards one man called Donald, and we see no reason why we shouldn’t judge the entire group of people called Donald on the basis of the actions of one rambling extremist who preaches hate, prejudice and in favour of bombing.

In a statement, we said “Without looking into the issue in any great detail, it is obvious that the racist rhetoric of all Donalds is incomprehensible. Where this lunacy comes from and why we will have to determine. Until we are able to determine and understand this problem and the dangerous threat it poses, our country cannot be the victim of the stupefyingly damaging and batshit crazy comments from people that believe only in simple blanket answers to complex questions, and have no sense of reason or respect for human diversity, human harmony or human hair.

Follow North by North Westminster on Twitter:

Friday, December 4, 2015

NByNW Diary: UKIP's Implications Leave us Little Room to Infer

Friday 4th December
In the end, it wasn’t a catastrophe for Labour. Not even close. Jim McMahon held Michael Meacher's long-held seat of Oldham West and Royton comfortably with a majority of 10,811 (given the reduction in turnout, that’s broadly the same result as in May 2015).
This was contrary to the reports which had been put about by many of the perennial arms of the Murdoch and Right Wing Press, namely The Guardian and The New Statesman.
Ultimately, no-one expected Labour to lose, but no-one can use this result (as they expected to be able to) to claim that Jeremy Corbyn is a doomed prospect.
However, UKIP will use any fact to prove anything, and what this result apparently shows is that a bunch of people who look different have imposed their will on people who don’t look different. If UKIPers get upset with me when they infer that that was what I thought their Deputy Leader Paul Nuttall was implying when he said that Labour had engaged in “dangerous identity politics”, then let me say that he implied and I inferred. And I inferred from his implications that the phrase "identity politics" was undoubtedly attempting to divide people on the grounds of race. Which is, if I am right in this assessment, entirely shit.
Furthermore, Mr Farage says that the Postal Vote was bent. He claims this comes from an impeccable source. Easy to tweet, but you better substantiate it you frog-faced divisor.

Have I got it wrong? If so, please explain to me how? I’d so hate to think you’re bigots simply because you’d left some grey area on that matter. I normally like my non-bigots to be unequivocally non-bigots, and explicitly non-bigots. But, you know, maybe that’s too much for me to expect from a 21st century multicultural democracy.

P.S. If you didn't want me to misinterpret, you might have tried speaking clearly rather than insinuating. After all, if you're not bigots, why would you feel the need to obfuscate.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

NByNW Diary: Hilary Benn's Mysterious Phone Call

Thursday 3rd December
Hilary Benn wakes up. Same time as he does every day. Nothing feels any different from any other day.
Hilary Benn’s phone rings. He answers
“Hampsted 001138, Benn Household, Mr Benn speaking.”
“Is it safe?” says the posh voice on the other end of the line.
“I hope so,” says Mr Benn. “I’m still in my pyjamas”.
“You cannot know who I am.”
“You sound like Tristram Hunt.”
“No, no. I’m definitely not him.”
“I’ll take your word for it,” said Mr Benn, putting his trade mark specs on.
“I am a member of the insurgency.”
“Insurgency?” asked Hilary.
“Against Jeremy Corbyn.”
“I thought he was the insurgency.”
“We’re the insurgency against the insurgency,” said the posh voice.
“That’s rather confusing. Like a party with a leader and foreign secretary with completely different foreign policies.”
“Okay. We’re like the rebellion in Star Wars.”
“Don’t let a Corbynista hear you say that,” warned Mr Benn. “They’ll beat you to death with a plastic lightsabre.”
“The point is – we’re trying to save the Labour party from Corbyn.”
“Oh, but he’s a decent man and he has a mandate,” said Mr Benn.
“No! Hilary – your speech last night. It’s changed the way people see you. People are talking of you as a future leader. A future Prime Minister.”
“Oh – I’m not interested in that. I just want to do my job and my duty and then come home and cook excellent vegetarian food, washed down with ginger beer.”
“No!” said the voice once more. “It has to be you.”
“Look, last night I just spoke from my conscience and said what I thought was right.”
“Yes, and it was the first time a Labour moderate did that since Robin Cook. It was electrifying.”
“I just want to go and have my Corn Flakes and go to work.”
“Look – when Corbyn speaks from his conscience, all of his fans think that he’s some kind of vegan, atheist Jesus. When one of us speaks from his conscience, the Corbynistas think that we’re evil, agnostic Jesus. But you could be different.”
“I want an atmosphere of free debate and to work with the elected leader of the Labour Party.”
“Fine!” shouted the angry voice. “Do you not want power?”
“Oh,” replied the other voice, audibly shocked. “Really? I don’t understand.”
“I just spoke my mind not because I wanted to advance my career but because I thought it was right. You’d think that a supporter of Corbyn would admire that.”
“You think they might?” asked the voice.
“I hope they will,” said Benn.
“Good luck with that.”

Our preview of today's Oldham West and Royton By-Election is here:

Follow North by North Westminster on Twitter:

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

NByNW Diary: Benn Steals the Day by Opposing a Bennite

Wednesday 2nd December
It has been the sort of day which encapsulates the best and worst of our democracy.
The best in that the most important issue of all – the matter of war and peace – was openly discussed in great depth and at great length.
The worst in that those who made mistakes in the heat of the moment were too proud to apologise for it.
Last night, the Prime Minister let his legendary temper get the better of him and said to those Tory backbenchers who were going to vote against military action in Syria that they would be voting with (amongst others) “terrorist sympathisers”. It was insulting and unstatesmanlike, and at the start of today’s epic debate he attempted to play down the scandal, but like a child who was being told to say sorry for something he didn’t feel sorry about, David Cameron did not apologise.
Then 10 hours of debate followed. Numerous speeches were excellent. Both for and against. Yvette Cooper, Margaret Beckett, Andrew Tyrie, Sir Alan Duncan, Angus Roberston all excelled themselves, to name but a few. Hell, even Tim Farron rose to the occasion. In contrast, David Cameron was hampered by his outburst the previous evening, and Jeremy Corbyn was halting and lacking in coherence.
However, like many a Shakespearean drama, the best moment came from the subplot, which has been about the Labour party and the divisions within it. It was encapsulated when Hilary Benn stood up to speak against his leader’s position.

Benn’s famous father Tony may not have delivered the speech that his son did tonight, but he was somehow, seminally present. His son stood up for what he believed. He spoke with passion and verve and if you closed your eyes just a bit you could have seen his progenitor in the mannerisms and gesticulations that he used. When talking of the “fascists” of Daesh who hold everyone else in contempt, he produced a grand sweep of his arm as he pointed to every member of the House. It was a Bennite expression, and will live long in the memory.
Hilary Benn’s speech was about the matter at hand and he made a clear case. But the speech was also about the soul of the Labour party. His leader sat grim-faced behind him, and he got grimmer and grimmer as Benn’s rhetoric soared and drew purrs of approval from the opposition benches behind. It spoke of Labour’s role in founding the UN, in being a party of internationalism. It was not just opposed to his leader’s view on Syria, but to his leader’s foreign policy almost entirely.
As Daniel Finkelstein noted this morning, after the 1970 election defeat his father asked Harold Wilson whether he still had to speak with the opinion of the Shadow Cabinet. Today, his son took on that spirit but the irony of all ironies is this: Hilary Benn tried to reclaim the soul of the Labour party from a Bennite.
His speech was greeted with applause (unparliamentary, but allowed by the fastidious Speaker Bercow), and cries of “outstanding”. His opposite number, Philip Hammond, called it one of the great speeches. When he sat down next to Jeremy Corbyn the tension was palpable. John McDonnell looked crestfallen. The speech of the day had been given in opposition to their position and by their own Foreign Secretary.
Whether you agree with his conclusions or not, to see someone to speak with such passion and energy and conviction and good conscience and import in such extraordinary circumstances is the true celebration of what our Mother of all Parliaments gives a platform for.
The votes began and a hush descended before the result was announced. The motion was carried by 397 to 223: a majority of 174. The word was that 15 Labour waverers were swayed by Benn.
A severe moment, and it is worth echoing the words of Toby Perkins (Labour, Chesterfield) from the debate: “I envy those who describe this choice as a “no brainer”… It’s not been obvious to me, it’s been very, very difficult indeed.” He voted against military action.