All recommended films

Mad Max: Fury Road

The fourth instalment of George Miller’s punky post-apocalyptic ‘Mad Max’ saga feels like a tornado tearing through a tea party. In an age of weightless movie spectacles, here’s a movie that feels like it was made by kidnapping $150 million of studio money, fleeing with it to the Namibian desert, and sending footage back to Hollywood like the amputated body parts of a ransomed hostage...

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Hyena

On the surface, the London-set crime thriller ‘Hyena’ has moving parts familiar from the workings of many a murky cop film: a dodgy policeman and his even dodgier boss; an unscrupulous civil servant; brutal Albanian drugs dealers; and a helpless female victim of a sex trafficking ring...

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Once Upon a Time in America

In 1968, Noodles (De Niro) returns to New York an old man after 35 years of exile, ridden by guilt. His cross-cut memories of the Jewish Mafia's coming of age on the Lower East Side in 1923...

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Good Kill

Following the release of ‘American Sniper’ earlier this year, a joke from controversial stand-up Frankie Boyle started doing the rounds on Twitter. ‘Not only will America go to your country and kill your people,’ it went, ‘but they’ll come back 20 years later and make a movie about how killing your people made their soldiers feel sad.’ It’s a sentiment that’s impossible to shake while watching ‘Good Kill’...

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Jauja

In Spanish, the word jauja (pronounced ‘how-ha’) means a land of milk and honey, longed for but never reached. Argentine director Lisandro Alonso couldn’t have found a more appropriate name for his magical film about yearning and illusion. On one level, ‘Jauja’ is literally about people on a quest for territory...

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The Water Diviner

You know him as a surly lunk of slab-faced Aussie manhood. But Russell Crowe shows his squishy side as the director of this soft-hearted war melodrama. He also stars as Connor, a farmer whose three sons are missing presumed dead on the WWI battlefield of Gallipoli. Coming on like Liam Neeson without the leather jacket, four years later he travels to Turkey, dad-on-a-mission style, to bring home the bodies of his boys. Once there, he encounters the obligatory sneering British officer who orders him back to Australia.Crowe has worked with some of the best, and it’s rubbed off. ‘The Water Diviner’ is solid and old-fashioned – the kind of film you can imagine watching with the family on Boxing Day, eyes half-closed. And it’s even-handed, showing the Turkish side of the story. Directing gives Crowe plenty of chances to show off his chiselled, rock-hard-at-50 physique. But the film pulls in too many directions – including a soppy, sappy romance with a young Turkish war widow (Olga Kurylenko) who reads his future in a coffee cup. Still, it might be overdone, but it’s never boring.

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Tinkerbell and the Legend of the NeverBeast

The seventh and final instalment in the DisneyToon Studios fairy franchise proves surprisingly lively, even if the title is a bit misleading: it’s actually Tink’s big-hearted pal Fawn (voiced by a spirited Ginnifer Goodwin) who takes centre stage. Fawn adopts a cute baby hawk without realising that the bird may grow up to snack on the fairy population of Pixie Hollow. She gets a telling-off from Queen Clarion, yet soon she’s tending to a mysterious furry grey monster with a thorn in its paw. Clearly taken with the big guy, she refuses to believe he’s the destructive force the legend of the NeverBeast says he is.The film plumbs no great depths. But it snappily combines frisky aerial action, a sprinkling of fairy dust and much cuddly bonding with the massive furball of the title (a sweetie at heart despite appearances). It’s expertly crafted for very young kids, and the snappy length (67 minutes!) makes it a useful option for parents seeking a U-certificate family diversion over the holidays.

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Suite Française

This is a handsome and intelligent adaptation of the writings of Irène Némirovsky – the Russian-born French writer who died in Auschwitz and whose two unpublished novellas emerged in 2004 as one book, ‘Suite Française’. In her late thirties at the time of writing, Némirovsky fictionalised the lives of people around her in German-occupied France.Taking the novel’s lead, Saul Dibb’s nuanced, compelling film offers an intriguing close-up portrait of Bussy, a northern French village forced to host a garrison of Nazi soldiers. At the film’s heart is a sort-of romance between timid Lucile (Michelle Williams), and a cultured, piano-playing Nazi officer, Bruno (Matthias Schoenaerts). But more lasting than the film’s romantic angle is the snapshot that Dibb (‘Bullet Boy’, ‘The Duchess’) offers of a class-ridden society under the spotlight of occupation.The themes of collaboration, compassion and betrayal run through the film, and characters who initially seem to be one thing, like Lucile’s hard-hearted mother-in-law (Kristin Scott Thomas), emerge as more complex. Even the film’s portrayal of the Nazi soldiers is satisfyingly complicated. Also refreshing is a sense that we’re thrown into the middle of the uncertainty of war; ‘Suite Française’ works hard to free itself from the benefit of hindsight. The film is not without its problems – Michelle Williams is an elusive lead, and a wide array of characters come at the expense of depth – but it’s a knotty, thoughtful piece of work nonethe

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Shaun the Sheep the Movie

Only Aardman – the British creators of Wallace & Gromit, Morph and other lovable, mouldable characters – could find an irresistible movie in industrial amounts of clay and a story of an amnesiac farmer and his flock at loose in the big city. Much of the beauty of this big-hearted, stop-motion-animated caper (a spin-off of the insanely successful kids TV series) is the entire absence of decipherable language (instead imagine grunts, mumbles, bleats and screams) as Shaun the Sheep tries to engineer a day off from Mossy Bottom Farm and instead causes the often-bewildered farmer to bang his head and wander off into the metropolis (which looks a lot like Bristol, where Aardman has its HQ). Amid the chaos, it’s sometimes hard to work out exactly which sheep is Shaun, but that doesn’t matter when there are great slapstick scenes in a hospital, a hair salon, a fancy restaurant and an ominous animal pound. Maybe an hour would have been enough, but even the slower patches have charm to burn.

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