The Selfish Giant

Clio Barnard | 2013 | ★★★½
Excluded from school, fast friends Arbor and Swifty (Conner Chapman & Shaun Thomas) take to scavenging for scrap for a decidedly dodgy local dealer (Sean Gilder). Taking out his horse and cart, they soon find themselves making enough money to pay off some of their parents’ debts. However, with Arbor becoming ever more obsessed with scrapping, and with Swifty’s attentions having turned more towards horses, they quickly begin to grow apart, in this gripping grim-up-north working-class fable. The performances of Chapman and Thomas are entirely convincing, with Mike Eley’s photography, which perfectly captures the northern gloom, also proving noteworthy.

The Conversation

Francis Ford Coppola | 1974 | ★★★★½
Tasked with recording the clandestine conversations of a pair of presumably adulterous lovers (Cindy Williams & Frederic Forrest), a renowned private surveillance operative (Gene Hackman) – still wracked with guilt over a past assignment (one that resulted in the deaths of three of those involved) – starts to worry more and more, as the case slowly begins to reveal itself, about the intentions of his secretive employer (Robert Duvall) and shifty assistant (Harrison Ford). Formally adventurous, with interesting visuals and an oft stunning soundscape, The Conversation proves decidedly brave for a mainstream work. Never the less, bolstered by a seductive score and several fine performances, it also proves an engrossing, emotionally involving one as well.

Lapis

James Whitney | 1966 | ★★★★½
Set to Ravi Shankar and Alla Rakha's particularly entrancing sitar and tabla piece Raga Jogiya, Whitney’s remarkable, geometrically precise piece of computer animation – inspired by the Hindu and Buddhist Mandala symbol – proves a hypnotic, kaleidoscopic delight.

Gosford Park

Robert Altman | 2001 | ★★★★½
Gently evolving from an exquisite, beautifully observed comedy of manners to a blackly farcical murder mystery, underpinned by a subtext of gradually revealed tragedy, Altman’s antepenultimate film proves one of his best. The screenplay from Julian Fellowes is full of wit and intrigue; Andrew Dunn’s photography is noteworthy; Altman’s mise en scène is quite remarkable; and the brilliantly assembled cast is unsurprisingly wonderful, with Emily Watson’s extraordinary turn proving the pick of the performances. That said, Maggie Smith, Kristin Scott Thomas, Kelly Macdonald, Clive Owen, Helen Mirren, and Richard E. Grant (amongst so many others) are also excellent. A delight.

Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa

Declan Lowney | 2013 | ★★★
Following several memorable appearances on the small screen over the past 20 years, Steve Coogan’s best known creation (in the UK, at least) makes his big screen debut in this seldom hilarious but nevertheless consistently engaging siege comedy. Coogan is unsurprisingly excellent, as the ever heedless DJ tasked with mediating between the police and a gone-postal sacked radio presenter, who is holding his former bosses hostage. Good support comes from Colm Meaney, as the gun-wielding loon, Tim Key, as Partridge’s on-air sidekick, and – amongst many others – Felicity Montagu, as his long put-upon personal assistant. Well crafted, with plenty of good gags, Alpha Papa proves pleasantly diverting.

Silence

Pat Collins | 2012 | ★★★★½
A Berlin-based sound recordist (Eoghan Mac Giolla Bhride) returns to his native Ireland, tasked with capturing the sound of an environment free from manmade noise. As he travels along the west coast recording the sounds of wind and waves, trees and birds, he meets various locals, with whom he discusses matters historical, philosophical, and personal. Eventually, and perhaps reluctantly, he makes his way to Toraigh – the island upon which he grew up – returning for the first time in 15 years. Stunning landscape photography, an unsurprisingly vivid soundscape, gorgeously glacial pacing, and a hauntingly melancholy central performance combine to decidedly beautiful effect, in this skilful blending of fact and fiction.

Fingers & Thumbs

Jamie Thraves | 2014 | ★★★½
With a haunting score from Stars of the Lid, Thraves presents a sensuous, lyrical portrait of his son Thomas, exploring his adventurous, imaginative young life, as he tests his toughness by holding on to a hot radiator, as he plays computer games, as he fights with his younger brother Harvey, as he tries to catch floating dust, as he watches cool cartoons, and as he bounces carefree on his bed.

The Milky Way

Leo McCarey | 1936 | ★★★½
Harold Lloyd stars in this charming, unpredictable, and oft hilarious pugilistic comedy as a barely competent milkman who is conned in to becoming a boxer by an unscrupulous manager (Adolphe Menjou) – aided by his hired muscle (the scene-stealing Lionel Stander) – after he publicly humiliates the world middleweight champion Speed McFarland (William Gargan) with his remarkable ducking skills (honed over a lifetime of being bullied). The delightful Helen Mack plays his sister, who falls for said fallen champine, and in so doing complicates all of their relationships considerably. Complicating matters further is love interest Dorothy Wilson, whose attentions begin to wane as the unlikely fighter becomes ever cockier with his unexpected and, indeed, unearned success, which comes about after he wins a series of fights thrown in order to set up a big-money showdown with McFarland. Recommended.

Play It Again, Sam

Herbert Ross | 1972 | ★★★★
Excellent comic performances, wittily incisive writing, and skilfully restrained direction combine to hugely entertaining effect, in this prototypical Woody Allen romantic comedy. Allen plays Allan, a film-loving obsessive being helped through his divorce by married friends Linda (Diane Keaton), a fellow neurotic, and Dick (Tony Roberts), an unashamed workaholic. Setting him up on a series of blind dates, their help proves decidedly unsuccessful but of nevertheless considerable comfort. However, spending so much time together, and egged on by the screen spirit of Humphrey Bogart (Jerry Lacy), Allan and Linda soon find themselves falling for each other... Delightful.

Having You

Sam Hoare | 2013 | ★★★
After nine years together, a mild-mannered recovering alcoholic (Andrew Buchan) finally manages to pluck up the courage to propose to his beautiful doctor girlfriend (Romola Garai). However, the next morning a woman with whom he shared a one-night stand eight years previously (Anna Friel) turns up on his doorstep to inform him of the existence of their seven-year-old son. Unsurprisingly, this turn of events – complicated by his fiancée’s unexpected pregnancy – proves bitter-sweet. Despite its rather contrived plot, Sam Hoare’s feature debut proves – with beautiful pacing, noteworthy photography, and fine performances – to be emotionally credible and, indeed, even rather affecting.