Sunday, 11 January 2015

2014 Movie List
Slightly later than usual, here is the full list of movies I saw in 2014 - In the order I saw them, duplicates removed and with marks out of 10. Top 20 (and bottom 10) to permitting!

American Hustle 7
Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom 5
The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty 5
Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones 6
12 Years A Slave 9
The Wolf Of Wall Street 8.5
The Railway Man 5
20 Feet From Stardom 9
August: Osage County 6.5
The Book Thief  4
Dallas Buyers Club 7
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit 5
The Invisible Woman 8
Robocop (2014) 7
The Monuments Men 4
Her 8
Inside Llewyn Davis 8
Stranger By The Lake 7.5
Non-Stop 7
The Lego Movie 7
The Grand Budapest Hotel 9
Under The Skin 8.5
Labor Day 6
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (3D) 9
Divergent (European Premiere) 6.5
Starred Up 8
The Raid 2 8
The Double 6
Calvary 9
Locke 8.5
We Are The Best 8
Tracks 7
The Amazing Spider-Man 2  7
Pompeii (3D) 6
Godzilla (3D IMAX) 9
Gladiator (Live In Concert - Royal Albert Hall) 8
X-Men: Days Of Future Past 8.5
Edge Of Tomorrow (3D IMAX) 9
Oculus 7.5
Maleficent 5
The Fault In Our Stars 8
The Anomaly 3
Belle 6.5
Tranformers: Age Of Extinction (3D) 7
Soul Boys Of The Western World : Spandau Ballet Documentary 8.5
Begin Again 8.5
Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes 8.5
How To Train Your Dragon (3D) 7.5
Boyhood 9
I Am Divine 9
Guardians Of The Galaxy (3D) 9
Hercules 5
The Inbetweeners 2 6.5
Pride 9.5
Into The Storm 6
Lucy 6
God Help The Girl 7
The Keeper Of Lost Causes 8
As Above, So Below 6
What If 8
Obvious Child 8.5
Before I Go To Sleep 7
The Guest 6.5
Maps To The Stars 7
The Riot Club 7
Gone Girl 9
Magic In The Moonlight 7.5
The Maze Runner 8
71 9
Fury 8.5
The Babadook 7.5
Nightcrawler 9
Interstella 8
Mr Turner 7.5
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Pt.1 8.5
The Imitation Game 6.5
Exodus : Gods and Kings 6
Birdman 9

Monday, 22 September 2014


In one week’s time I will have seen Kate Bush live for the first time – now there’s a statement I never thought I’d ever get the chance to say - and to mark the occasion I thought I’d try, in the run up to ‘Before The Dawn’, to write and post something every day about how much Kate, and her music, has meant to me over the years. Welcome to my Seven Moments of Pleasure...

Moment One: A Strange Phenomenon – originally posted 3rd September 2014

In February 1978, when Kate Bush’s ‘Wuthering Heights’ first entered the UK Singles Chart, I was completely and utterly oblivious to her charms. I was a 12 year-old ‘Star Wars’ fanatic, with virtually no interest in music at all – it would be several months before I bought my first 7” single, ‘Night Fever’ by The Bee Gees, and it would be quite a few more before I formed any opinion about Kate Bush, her music or the “wily, windy moors” she found herself rolling and falling on. I remember Faith Brown’s impressions of Kate and Pamela Stephenson’s, ‘Oh, England My Leotard’, more vividly than the real thing. It was another year before I owned any albums – I was given my first two long-players as Christmas presents in 1979 - and If I’m honest, I was so completely wrapped up in those first two LP’s, Blondie’s ‘Parallel Lines’ and Dollar’s ‘Shooting Stars’, I barely noticed anything else was happening in the world of music. So transfixed was I by the fact you could clearly see Thereza Bazar’s nipples through her cheese-cloth blouse on the inner sleeve, even Gered Mankowitz’s infamous Kate photos could not distract me! By the time Kate had moved on to albums No.2 and 3, I was virtually a militant in my rejection of any guitars on the records I listened to and bought. I had noted with interest The Human League’s ‘Dare’ inner-sleeve defiantly listed every type of synthesizer used on the album, and gave Philip Adrian Wright’s contribution credit as ‘slides & occasional synthesizer’ - now this was the type of band I could really get behind. Obviously I refused to acknowledge the fact that Duran Duran’s output was literally riddled with Chic-inspired guitar licks and Ultravox, fronted by guitarist Midge Ure, were using guitar riffs front-and-centre on most of their best singles.
Kate finally started to sneak into my life via my older brother’s female friends. One virtually stole her entire look from Kate’s crimped-haired, gypsy/hippy vibe, while another visited several times, brandishing the ‘Never For Ever’ album, and I was completely fascinated by the artwork before I had even heard the music contained inside. But it was one of my own school friends, Annie, who finally helped me fully realise ‘the pull of the Bush’.
Annie was my unlikely ‘heavy metal’ friend – everyone had one back then – and she owned a clear vinyl copy of ‘The Kick Inside’. During one of our endless evenings, barricaded in her bedroom, with bottomless coffee and biscuits, reading extracts from her (quite scandalous) diary and just laughing like I’d never laughed before or since, she informed me, ‘You HAVE to listen to this.’ She played me ‘Wuthering Heights’. A few years on from its release, it sounded more magical than I remembered, unlike anything else and better than ever. We played it again. We discovered that when her record player was set to repeatedly play 7” singles, it automatically landed at the beginning of ‘Wuthering Heights’ on the LP. We let it play over and over, every fade was followed by the mechanical clicks and clunks of the automatic replay, leading into THAT exquisite piano intro. Kate had finally entered my life in an evening long continuous loop, two years and three albums into her career...

Moment Two: Coming In With The Golden Light - originally posted 4th September 2014

The first Kate Bush album I owned was ‘The Dreaming’. I picked up a copy with no cover – just the inner-sleeve – for 50p from the record department of the Edinburgh Princes Street branch of Boots the Chemist where I worked at weekends and during school holidays. Self-produced and almost wilfully obtuse, it would prove to be Kate’s least commercially successful album, but one which is cited by many as her ‘lost masterpiece’. For me it would be the perfect introduction to Kate and my gateway to accepting her as a true artist. Almost completely eschewing traditional song structures, instead she was now creating fascinating soundscapes and populating them with intriguing characters and extraordinary stories. Her experiments with the Fairlight sampler meant she was no longer limited to her previous basic palette of instrumentation – instead of guitars, bass and drums - in Kate’s limitless new world, her voice could be transformed into the braying of a mule on ‘Get Out Of My House’, a breathe sound formed the backdrop for a lone choir-boy solo during ‘All The Love’ and human grunts filled ‘Sat In Your Lap’ with an unstoppable percussive energy. A million miles away from the relative simplicity of ‘The Man With The Child In His Eyes’, accepting and loving ‘The Dreaming’ meant there was virtually nothing Kate could throw at me in the future which would be quite as challenging – well, there was a certain washing machine, but we’ll get to that later.
Kate was now well and truly on my radar. In 1983, Jimmy Savile’s ‘Old Record Club’ was still going strong in a Sunday afternoon slot on Radio 1– yes, he did have a career as a DJ before he switched professions to ‘National Disgrace’ – and in one particular episode he was looking back to October 1980. Hearing ‘Army Dreamers’ again for the first time in a couple of years, it was like listening to a completely different record - that insanely complex backing vocal arrangement, the gun mechanism as percussion, the drill sergeant screaming under the chorus – suddenly I saw a link backwards from my beloved ‘The Dreaming’. My brother had a few older Kate singles. I dug them out, but his collection was far from complete. For the time being I was resigned to playing these few precious gems time and time again.
1984 was my final year at high school. I was preparing to attend the Edinburgh College of Art after the summer and my friend Annie gave me the most perfect ‘end-of-school’ / 18th Birthday gift; she bought me a copy of Kate’s ‘The Single File’. A complete collection of her 7” singles to date, from ‘Wuthering Heights’ to ‘There Goes A Tenner’, with an exclusive bonus 7” and all housed in an ivy covered, flip-top box. I was soon obsessed, playing every single – A’s and B’s – until I should have been sick of them – but here’s the thing – I NEVER WAS! Obviously, I still own the box – photo attached – and even kept it up to date with subsequent releases from ‘Hounds of Love’ onwards. I was now ready to travel back in time and re-discover the 1970’s Kate Bush albums...

Moment Three: Thunder In Our Hearts - originally posted 5th September 2014

My re-introduction to the previously ignored delights of Kate Bush’s back-catalogue coincided with my first steps into a much bigger world. I had earned a place at the Edinburgh School of Art in the summer of 1984 and the first year proved to be exhilarating and terrifying in equal measure. The foundation year was structured to give each student a glimpse into the workings of every department – from ‘fine art’ subjects like drawing, painting and sculpture to more design and craft-type skills such as graphic design, illustration, fashion design and photography. It was a fairly intense environment, but if there was one thing art students are really good at, it’s drinking, socialising and throwing a party! Over the course of that year I became particularly close to one girl, Tracey, and we have been great friends ever since. She had gone to school in an area not far from my parent’s home and we bonded over our shared love of music. My first memories included a spontaneous dance-along to Bronski Beat’s ‘Smalltown Boy’ inside the lift as it descended from the top floor of the college building to the ground-floor canteen and a pair of ‘Propaganda Trousers’ which would have out-sold the ‘Frankie Says’ t-shirts if we’d only had the sense to go into mass production. With our primary subjects chosen – Illustration and Animation for me, Drawing and Painting for Tracey, we moved into our second year. Having both spent our first year at home, we decided to fully embrace the college experience and get a flat share together. We recruited a third flatmate, Sarah, and found a place in the Viewforth area of Edinburgh’s city centre. Tracey and I moved in four weeks earlier than Sarah, so we had the whole flat to ourselves for the month of August. Aside from several evenings spent recreating the hits of the day with a tape recorder, a copy of ‘Smash Hits’ and an empty tape box as percussion, we would talk endlessly about music and our favourite artists, playing selections from my (already) vast singles collection. At the time we disagreed fiercely about her love of Fleetwood Mac, but we were on exactly the same page when it came to Kate. So, it was with much excitement we awaited the release of Kate’s newly announced new album, ‘The Hounds of Love’, and its introductory single, ‘Running Up That Hill’.
Although Tracey and I were spending a lot of our first month away from home together, I don’t remember us spending a lot of time watching TV. Aside from the Moldavian Wedding Massacre on ‘Dynasty’ – which BTW caused a rather serious hair bleaching emergency – the only other thing I vividly remember us watching together was on 5th August 1985 - Kate’s appearance on ‘Wogan’ to launch the ‘Running Up That Hill’ single.
While it may not have the surreal quality of her performance of ‘There Goes A Tenner’ on ‘Razzmatazz’ in 1981, where Kate lip-synched the song surrounded by a studio-full of slack-jawed teenagers, virtually mouthing, “What the f*ck!”, I think this television appearance, more than any other, sums up what I love most about Kate Bush. Theatrical, highly entertaining and, more or less, completely loopy!
The performance opened with Kate, flanked by six musicians (including Del Palmer and her brother Paddy) and two flag bearers, dressed in a floor-length brown coat, ‘preaching’ the lyrics from behind a lectern. There is nothing flashy about the costumes or the staging; nothing is going to get in the way of the song’s lyrics. As the song builds, and the musicians inch forward, Kate produces a full size bow. Pulling an arrow from behind her brother’s back, she crouches into position to fire the arrow, a pose which perfectly recreates the image featured on the single’s picture sleeve artwork.
Somehow over the top and understated at the same time, it puts the recent ‘do-I-sing-here-are these-the-right-dance-moves’ shambles by The Saturdays, appearing on the National Lottery programme to promote their new single, into context! Completely mesmerizing, it acted as a stunning introduction to Kate’s next chapter...

Moment Four: Take Me Deeper And Deeper - originally posted 5th September 2014

Kate’s ‘Hounds of Love’ has been my undisputed favourite album for nearly 30 years. It is easily my most played piece of music and the one I’ve extracted the most pleasure from over the years. Since its release in 1985, nothing has come close to taking its place. Aside from containing four of her best singles, all lifted from the five-track, side one of the album – a hit to filler rate that rivals Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ – it also features the extraordinary song-cycle, ‘The Ninth Wave’, a continuous narrative told across seven songs, which must stand as one of, if not THE, outstanding achievement of Kate’s career.
Having been slightly too young to fully embrace the excesses of prog rock and the ‘concept album’ boom of the 1970’s, and subsequently choosing to shun most guitar based music from my record collection, I had limited exposure to the notion of a collection of linked songs forming a cohesive story – not something that was high on the agenda for the likes of Depeche Mode or The Human League – but ‘The Ninth Wave’ completely blew me away. With all the state-of-the-art facilities of her newly built home-studio at her disposal Kate was exploring cutting edge sound design and layering the songs with some of her most raw, emotional lyrical content. The seven inter-connecting tracks which make up ‘The Ninth Wave’ tell the story of a woman lost as sea, slipping between consciousness and a fantasy filled dream-state, facing her own death and clinging to the memory of the loved ones she’s left behind. As a set of songs they are equally challenging, soothing and profoundly heartbreaking.
I spent months, and then years, trying to visualise the story in my head. I fantasised about turning the songs into a film, or animation during my college years and then for the next couple of decades have drifted back and forward into that visual and musical landscape countless times. The very thought of seeing some sort of visualisation of these songs at the up-coming concerts is literally a dream come true.
Everything surrounding the ‘Hounds of Love’ project was approaching perfection. The artwork for the album and subsequent singles was exquisite. In a medium notoriously expensive and difficult for the artist to control, the promo videos for ‘Running Up That Hill’, ‘Hounds of Love’ and especially ‘Cloudbusting’, were some of the best realised visual interpretations of her songs. Even the B-sides of the singles would become some of my all-time-favourite Kate Bush songs, with tracks like ‘Under The Ivy’, ‘My Lagan Love’ and ‘The Handsome Cabin Boy’ all sounding like experiments which may have been proposed chapters in ‘The Ninth Wave’ sequence.
Virtually everyone who has meant anything to me in my life has a connection to this album – old school friends, my art school class and countless former hmv colleagues – it’s definitely the album which crops up most often in my conversation. I wonder if anything released in 2014 will have the same lasting impact? Let’s meet back here in 2044 and see how good that Lorde album sounds then...

Moment Five: You Don’t Need Words; Just One Kiss, Then Another - originally posted 8th September 2014

1989 was a bit of a landmark year for me; aside from Kate releasing her album, ‘The Sensual World’, I got my first (and only) proper job working at the hmv store in Edinburgh’s St. James’ Centre and started the long process of finally accepting what everyone around me had come to terms with years before, I was gay. I would eventually come out to some of my closest friends and family the following year. While I always choose the more ‘traditional’ (and expected), Kylie’s ‘Better The Devil You Know’, as the song which sums up this period of my life, the first single and title track to Kate’s latest album could quite easily have been my ‘coming out song’. Don’t get me wrong, the only thing my first tentative steps onto the late 80’s/early 90’s Edinburgh gay scene and Kate’s lustful homage to Molly Bloom’s randy soliloquy from James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses have in common is they both contained the use of the words, “Oh, yes!” a lot, but the song, and the subsequent album, became my permanent soundtrack for the next couple of years.
A much ‘softer’ and, in her own words, ‘more feminine’ album, ‘The Sensual World’ contains some of Kate’s best work and, with far less reliance on the fairlight and synthesised instruments, it has a more ‘organic’ feel and has thus aged far better than her previous couple of albums.
Highlights include her work alongside the Bulgarian vocal group Trio Bulgarka, who add their distinctive singing/chanting, with spectacular effect, to ‘Rocket’s Tail’, ‘Never Be Mine’, and in particular, ‘Deeper Understanding’. While unable to speak each other’s language, Kate reported that she managed to convey what she wanted to the singers using ‘hugs and kisses’ – perhaps this would be the best way for The Kardashian sisters to communicate in future, eliminating the risk of cracking their botox assisted masks of perpetual surprise and removing the need for us to every hear anything else they have to say – the very definition of ‘Win/Win’. This later song tells the eerily prophetic tale of an isolated, lonely individual who seeks to find affection and friendship with the use of a new computer programme – as a desk-bound, would-be writer, working from home, I definitely understand the temptation to push that ‘Execute’ button!
Alongside lyrically compelling songs like ‘The Fog’, ‘Love And Anger’ and ‘Between A Man And A Woman’ sits the story of a woman unwittingly accepting a date with a pre-war Hitler in ‘Heads We’re Dancing’ – surely the perfect soundtrack to the never-to-be-seen victory show-dance we were so tragically denied due to Vanessa Feltz’s early exit from ‘Strictly’ a couple of years back – it all comes together to make Kate’s most consistent and ‘complete’ sounding LP.
The cherry on the cake, however, has to be ‘This Woman’s Work’. Rivalling ‘The Man With The Child In His Eyes’ for its directness and un-fussy delivery, a simple piano-vocal arrangement allows the song’s lyric to take centre stage and it packs quite an emotional punch – you have to wonder what was happening in the charts when the single release stalled at No.25. ‘Love And Anger’ fared even worse, peaking at No.38, while a cod-reggae cover of Elton John’s ‘Rocket Man’ – recorded for the ‘Two Rooms’ tribute album – released as a stop-gap between albums would see Kate match the No.12 chart placing for ‘The Sensual World’ title-track.
While it would be another four years before Kate would release another full album, 1993’s ‘The Red Shoes’, this would seem like a blink of an eye in comparison to the agonising twelve year wait between ‘The Red Shoes’ and Kate’s eighth studio album, ‘Aerial’.

Moment Six: These Moments Given Are A Gift From Time - originally posted 9th September 2014

While I consider ‘The Red Shoes’ to be Kate’s weakest collection of songs, it is not without merit. It’s a typical contradiction that Kate’s least compelling album contains such undoubted highlights as ‘Lily’, ‘Top Of The City’ and the track which I more often than not cite as my favourite Kate Bush song, ‘Moments Of Pleasure’. While one friend – yes, you Niall - agreed with Q Magazine’s description of the song as being, "so personal as to be impenetrable,” I think it pretty much sums up everything I love about Kate Bush – deeply personal in a way which would make it virtually impossible for any other artist to sing it, lyrically compelling and all wrapped up in a swoon-worthy piano melody. It would appear the album was forged during a period of deep personal loss and upheaval for Kate and suffers from a uniquely dense and sometimes muddled production. The characters and situations contained in songs such as ‘Constellation Of The Heart’, ‘You Are The One’ and ‘Why Should I Love You’ seem unusually pedestrian considering they were written by the same person who sang about a wife disguising herself as a younger woman to trap her adulterous husband in ‘Babooshka’, explored weather manipulation in ‘Cloudbusting’ and sang a whole song from the point of view of a musical instrument in ‘Violin’. It didn’t help that her choice of collaborators for the album was typically eccentric and eclectic, ranging from the sublime - Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Prince and Nigel Kennedy – to the ridiculous – Lenny Henry. In the end it would be another twelve years before Kate would leave these particular creative partners behind and return to working at her best – so by my reckoning we can expect Dawn French to say something funny again sometime around April 2022.
Here is where I risk everything by admitting that I found ‘Aerial’ virtually impenetrable on its initial release. Over the years I continually failed to find a way in and the album stood as the only Kate Bush album I never fully connected with. By the time ‘Director’s Cut’ and ’50 Words For Snow’ came along – both of which I managed to get to grips with and embraced them for what they were - I had almost resigned myself to never getting past THAT ‘Washing Machine Song’ or the (now somewhat unfortunate) ramblings of Rolf Harris.
Looking back, I realise that the twelve year gap between ‘The Red Shoes’ and ‘Aerial’ must have been the necessary space Kate needed to ‘detox’, freeing herself of the (comparative) creative stalemate and production excesses which had crept into her work following her 80’s success and rebuild herself as a completely different type of recording artist. No longer shackled to the restrictions of traditional song structures, avoiding any adherence to the rules of ‘verse and chorus’ song writing, ‘Aerial’ seemed almost jazz-like in its ‘free-form’ outlook and if there’s one thing I just don’t understand, it’s jazz.
In the build up to ‘Before The Dawn’, knowing that ‘Aerial’ was sure to play a part in the forthcoming live shows, I made another attempt to ‘crack the code’ and fully embrace ‘Aerial’.
To my surprise I was almost instantly drawn into the album in a way that had completely eluded me up until now. I recognised countless well-worn Kate motifs in the music and lyrics, and despite the lack of conventional song structures, I started to make stylistic connections to my beloved ‘Ninth Wave’ and many more of my favourite Kate moments. I’m not ashamed to say I had tears running down my face as the album moved from ‘A Coral Room’ into the ‘An Endless Sky Of Honey’ song cycle contained on the second disc – the only real embarrassment was the fact that this happened when I was outside, on the mean streets of Leyton, walking back from Asda, loaded down with two heavy bags of shopping - all very Mrs Bartolozzi in itself!
In a way I feel really lucky; I get to experience ‘Aerial’ as if for the first time over the next few months, aided by the extraordinary experience of seeing Kate perform a large chunk of it live.
In the spirit of ‘Moments Of Pleasure’, I will be drifting backwards through time tonight, remembering some very special ‘moments’ I have shared with Kate Bush alongside a similar roll call of great friends and extraordinary people over the last thirty years or so. I will be remembering every ‘old sock’ and ‘old shoe’, thinking about the following people on this particular dive ‘into another moment’; Tracey, Tony, Angie, Helen, Douglas, Lesley, Kelly, Kirsty, Marie, Jamii and my old school friend Annie (not on Facebook) who started it all.

Moment Seven – After The Dawn : Somewhere in between; what the song and silence say - originally posted 10th September 2014

To put the ‘Before The Dawn’ show into words would be like trying to explain colours to a blind man, sound to a deaf man, or Piers Morgan’s inexplicable success to anyone with half a brain, but I’ll try...
I’m attempting to express my feelings about the experience without actually giving away too many ‘spoilers’ about the show’s actual content, so forgive me if it all seems a bit ‘vague’ or ‘woolly’.
My overriding impression was that this is most definitely not a straight forward rock concert. You can tell from the moment you turn up outside the venue - groups of friends standing, not talking, paralysed with expectation and many still wearing the mask of ‘I-can’t-believe-this-is-happening’ blank stares which descended over them at the beginning of the year. The crowd were mostly over thirty - some WAY over thirty - and beyond leaping to their feet at the end of each song, the entire audience remained seated, transfixed by every note, every gesture, every wooden puppet unexpectedly springing to life, killing and enthusiastically devouring a bird....oops, sorry I said I wasn’t going to include spoilers!
Kate and her amazing cast of musicians and performers has delivered a theatrical show with only the merest hint of a conventional rock concert coming from the fact that the band are on stage with her during most of the performance. With a spectacular light show, projected images and films, puppets, outlandish and often sinister looking costumed performers, as well as exploding pyrotechnics and spectacular sets and stage design, this has more in common with a West End production than the Hammersmith Apollo’s usual fare. With the air of the most psychedelic and obtuse ‘jukebox musical’ ever staged, ‘Before The Dawn’ is a very personal journey through what Kate obviously perceives as her career highs and most accomplished works, held together in a vaguely themed narrative – imagine if ‘Viva Forever’, the ill-fated Spice Girls musical, had only contained b-sides and album tracks....wait, that might have actually been better! By eschewing much of her ‘greatest hits’, and by offering up a spectacular visual presentation of some of her most complex soundscapes, Kate presents a retrospective show that actually feels like she’s looking far off into her own future, rather than dredging grudgingly through her past output.
Despite being famously stage frightful, Kate herself seemed calm and relaxed throughout the show, and at one point she sits completely alone at the piano to deliver the sole selection from her most recent album, ‘Among Angels’ from 2011’s ’50 Words For Snow’, holding the pin-drop silent audience completely under her spell. Exuding a wave of maternal benevolence over the entire proceedings, it was easy to forget that Kate has been perfecting the art of ‘keeping oneself to oneself’ for the majority the last few decades. Perhaps she felt comfortably ‘at home’ in the Hammersmith space she’d previously played on her ‘Tour of Life’ shows back in the late 70’s, surrounded as she is by friends, family and several trusted musicians, but maybe she was just enjoying herself.
When, towards the end of the show, Kate thanked the audience and said, “We’ve had a lovely time,” I knew she was speaking to me directly, just as the man sitting next to me knew she was speaking directly to him.
I often feel jealous watching music documentaries about famous rock stars and influential musicians when equally famous ‘talking heads’ hold the subject aloft as ‘their defining inspiration’ or ‘the most important artist in shaping who they have become’ - the likes of Boy George explaining how important Bowie’s sexual ambiguity and artful androgyny was to him, or Pixie Lott revealing how a headless mannequin she once saw in a M&S window became the driving influence for much of her creative output ever since - I often fear I don’t have that through-line artist, until I remember I do; I have Kate Bush. Provocative, infuriating, patience shredding, challenging and, in her own words, ‘warm and soothing’, her music has become the soundtrack to virtually every important occasion in my life. I feel that this may have come full circle with ‘Before The Dawn’, a truly ‘momentous occasion’, most certainly soundtracked by the music of Kate her own words;

“We went up to the top of the highest hill
And stopped

It was just so beautiful...It was just so beautiful...It was just so beautiful...”

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Lost In Music – 20 ‘forgotten’ pop classics

2013 was the year when Tegan & Sara’s pop gem, ‘Heartthrob’, struggled to pass the 10,000 UK sales mark (despite a discounted selling price, the girls in the country for tour dates & a single - ‘I Was A Fool’ - on heavy rotation at Radio 2) while Emeli Sande’s hit-filled, bland-fest, ‘Our Version Of Events’, breezed past 2 million UK sales - let’s take a look at 20 more ‘lost’ pop classics from the past 30 years...

1 – Holly Valance – State Of Mind – Nov 2003
 UK Chart position: No. 60 – 2 weeks on UK album chart – cumulative UK sales: 24,981

The 2002 debut album ‘Footprints’ was an instant success for the former ‘Neighbours’ actress.  Containing the number one single ‘Kiss Kiss’ (the saucy ‘peek-a-boo’ nudity of the promo video had  turned the song into a massive international hit in May of that year) and the number two follow-up ‘Down Boy’, the album debuted inside the UK Top 10 in October eventually selling over 160.000 copies in the UK. Keen to maintain momentum, the follow up was recorded within a year and was preceded by the favourably received title track, ‘State Of Mind’ (No.8 in November 2003). The album contained song-writing and production credits from Mark Taylor, who’s Metro Production team were riding high after their work with Cher (‘Believe’), Enrique (‘Hero’) and Kylie (‘On A Night Like This’), Rick Nowels (Belinda Carlisle, Kim Wilde), Steve Anderson (Brothers In Rhythm) and dance producer Stuart Crichton (Kylie, Sugababes). Compared with the sultry but ‘sunny’ Euro-pop of her debut, the sound was far more experimental and a considerably ‘darker’ mix of retro 80’s synth-pop and a more mainstream take on the emerging electro-clash sound that was delivering critical acclaim, but not Top 10 success, for the likes of Goldfrapp and Ladytron. Within one month Girls Aloud released a similarly ‘flavoured’ cover of The Pointer Sister’s ‘Jump’ (No.2 in November 2003), which would act as a sound template for the majority of their future output, reinvigorate their career and setting them on an unbroken run of 20 Top 10 singles and 5 Platinum selling albums.

Sales compared to Emeli Sande’s ‘Our Version Of Events – 1.25%

2 – Siobhan Donaghy – Ghosts – May 2007
UK Chart position: No.92 – 1 week on UK album chart – cumulative UK sales: 8,851

The solo career of the former Sugababe had gotten off to a far from auspicious start. After jumping ship in 2000 after the release of debut album ‘One Touch’ (and setting in motion the ‘revolving door’ recruitment policy that would end with the eventual reformation of the original line-up as Mutya Keisha Siobhan in early 2013), Siobhan was signed as a solo artist and released ‘Revolution In Me’ on London Records in September 2003. The album peaked at No. 117 and she was subsequently dropped by the label. Donaghy spent the next couple of years writing, and eventually recording in a studio near Barneville-Carteret, France, with producer James Sanger. The songs were recorded independently and licensed to Parlaphone Records, who eventually issued the resulting album in June 2007 following the relative failure of the singles ‘Don’t Give It Up’ (No. 45 in April 2007) and ‘So You Say’ (No. 76 in June 2007). The album received predominantly positive reviews and stands as a heady mix of left-field pop – drawing comparison to its main influences such as Elizabeth Fraser / The Cocteau Twins, Kate Bush and Bjork - and the then fashionable laid-back dance grooves (akin to the likes of Morcheeba and Moloko).  Stand-out tracks include ‘So You Say’ which echoes the laid-back swagger of All Saint’s ‘Pure Shores’ and ‘Medevac’,  icy cool electronics mixed with soaring, ethereal vocals that bring to mind Florence Welsh, Kate Bush and Bjork’s ‘Big Time Sensuality’.

Sales compared to Emeli Sande’s ‘Our Version Of Events – 0.44%

3 – Frazier Chorus – Sue – May 1989
UK Chart position: No .56 – 1 week on UK album chart – cumulative UK sales: 1,396 (Cherry Red re-issue)

Signed initially to the independent 4AD label (home to Cocteau Twins, Dead Can Dance and The Pixies) in 1987, the Brighton four-piece would eventually release their debut album on Virgin Records in the spring of 1989. The album was preceded by two quirky, but radio friendly slices of pop perfection, ‘Dream Kitchen’ and ‘Typical’, neither of which broke the UK Top 50 Singles Chart, but which effectively epitomise their lyrical humour and melancholia, coupled with sing-a-long melodies and ‘arty’ instrumentation (there were relatively few singles that year that contained an oboe solo in the middle of the track).  The songs are a curious mix of Morrissey at his most lyrically whimsical (‘Hairdresser On Fire’, ‘Cemetery Gates’) and Pet Shop Boys at their Alan Bennett-esque, sardonic best (‘Rent’, ‘Being Boring’), existing as the ‘missing link’ that helped turn The Housmartins into The Beautiful South (who were, at the time ‘Sue’ was released, enjoying the first of their, subsequent seven, Top 5 albums).

Sales compared to Emeli Sande’s ‘Our Version Of Events – 0.075%

4 - Rachel Stevens – Come & Get It – Oct 2006
UK Chart position: No.28 – 4 weeks on UK album chart – cumulative UK sales: 27,029

Following on from a hugely successful career with S Club 7 (11 consecutive Top 5 singles and 4 Top 20 albums), Rachel Stevens was the only member of the group to sign a solo deal with the groups label, Polydor Records. Presumably no-one from the production team had actually told the label that is was Jo O’Meara’s vocals which had been the most prominent voice on the majority of the group’s output!  Stevens’ solo career got off to a decent start with a No.2 single (‘Sweet Dreams My L.A. Ex’) and a Top 10 album (‘Funky Dory’), but things started to lose focus after the title track follow-up single failed to make the Top 20. Over the next twelve months two further Top 3 singles were released (and subsequently stripped onto the debut album) before work on the follow-up proper began in earnest. Tracks were recorded with Xenomania (Girls Aloud), Richard X (Liberty X, Will Young), Pascal Gabriel (Erasure, S-Express) and Jewels & Stone (5ive, Hear’say, S Club 7). The first two singles (‘Negotiate With Love’ and ‘So Good’) both reached No.10 in the UK during the spring / summer of 2005, but the album release date kept slipping on the Polydor release schedule, until it was finally released in October (following the single ‘I Said Never Again (But Here We Are)’ peaking at No. 12 on the UK single chart) with limited fanfare (and a launch event at the Walthamstow Dog Racing Track!!!!!). Considering the track records of the writers and producers involved it’s hard to see why the album failed to ignite in a fairly desolate pop market. All three singles proper (as well as the ‘stripped on’ ‘Some Girls) are perfect examples of the pop-dance, electro-clash sound that was proving so successful for Girls Aloud and album cuts such as the Cure sampling ‘It’s All About Me’, ‘Crazy Boy’ & ‘I Will Be There’ are as good as anything released by Kylie in the last 10 years.

Sales compared to Emeli Sande’s ‘Our Version Of Events – 1.35%

5 – Nicola Roberts – Cinderellas Eyes – Oct 2011
UK Chart position: No. 17 – 3 weeks on UK album chart – cumulative UK sales: 19,782

At some point in the extended Girls Aloud hiatus that would last from 2009 until 2012, Nichola Roberts realised that the shoes and handbags weren’t going to pay for themselves and she needed to pull her finger out and start a solo career.  Deciding to take a more experimental approach and avoid the assembly line writing / production style employed by Girls Aloud’s key musical collaborators, Xenomania, she began writing and recording in exploratory studio sessions with producers such as Dragonette (who had just scored an international hit with Martin Solveig on ‘Hello’ , Diplo (M.I.A. , Beyonce)  and Joseph Mount (Metronomy, Kate Nash). Critically acclaimed and lauded in the UK music press, the resulting album is contemporary sounding and unexpectedly lyrically confessional.  In equal parts ambitiously experimental and palatably commercial. Prior to release, producer Diplo removed samples from lead single ‘Beat Of My Drum’ to use in (presumably better paying client) Beyonce’s ‘Run The World (Girls)’, her subsequent album ‘4’ went on to sell over 600,000 copies in the UK.

Sales compared to Emeli Sande’s ‘Our Version Of Events – 0.95%

6 - Richard X – Richard X Presents His X Factor Volume 1 – Sep 2003
UK Chart position: No.31 – 4 weeks on UK album chart – cumulative UK sales: 23,246

Starting out as an underground bootleg DJ /producer, Richard Philips, gained notoriety under the pseudonym Girls On Top, creating genre defining mash-up  "We Don't Give a Damn About Our Friends", which was a mash-up of  Adina Howard’s ‘Freak Like Me’ and Tubeway Army’s’ ‘Are ‘Friends’ Electric’. Having achieved massive commercial success with the Sugababes re-recording of this track, now just called ‘Freak  Like Me’,  Virgin Records signed Richard X as an artist and he started work on his ambitious debut album. Featuring several collaborating guest vocalists, cover versions, mash-ups and original material, the album is hard to define or categorise. Pure pop collaborations with Liberty X and Kelis delivered two Top 10 singles (‘Being Somebody’ a mash-up of The Human League’s ‘Being Boiled’ and Rufus & Chaka Khan’s ‘Ain’t Nobody’ and ‘Finest Dreams’ a mix of The S.O.S. Band’s ‘The Finest’ and The Human League’s ‘The Things That Dreams Are Made Of’) and album tracks feature a diverse list of guest vocalists including Pulp front-man, Jarvis Cocker, ‘Popstars – The Rivals’ shock evictee, Javine, Soul II Soul legend, Caron Wheeler and ultra-hip DJ (soon to be pop artist), Annie.  Overall it’s a giddy rollercoaster ride of disco-ball illuminated electro-pop-dance, offering a sneaky glimpse into the near future of pop music.

 Sales compared to Emeli Sande’s ‘Our Version Of Events – 1.15%

7 – Saint Etienne – Words & Music By Saint Etienne – Sep 2012
UK Chart position: No 26 – 4 weeks on UK album chart – cumulative UK sales: 13,112

In late 2012 Saint Etienne were at a bit of a crossroads. The bands last few collections of new material had seem them slowly slipping from chart mainstays to cult status artists with an extremely loyal fan-base, while suffering the sales dip that comes with such a slide. Universal Records were marking the end of an on-going re-issue programme, which had seen the band heavily involved in the compiling and overseeing of deluxe double CD editions of their back catalogue, with the release of the ‘Casino Classics’ box-set. This 4 CD collection of the bands remixes and re-working is a brilliant reminder of their place in the history of dance culture.  All this looking back seems to have had an effect on the overall feel of their next project. ‘Words & Music By Saint Etienne’ is practically a concept album charting and celebrating the bands enduring love of all things pop, club culture and the nostalgia evoked by music at its most powerful. ‘I’ve Got Your Music’ authentically recreates and celebrates the relentless positivity of the Stock Aiken Waterman Hit Factory production-line at its peak, the anticipation and excitement of early live experiences are explored in ‘Tonight’ and ‘DJ’ perfectly captures the exhilaration and escapism of staying out late, clubbing and worshiping at the alter of The Superstar DJ.  The accompanying live shows to support the album saw the band suitably revitalised and euphoric.
By far their most complete and accomplished collection in over a decade.

Sales compared to Emeli Sande’s ‘Our Version Of Events – 0.65%

8 – Robyn – Body Talk – Jun 2010 / Sep 2010
Part  1 - UK Chart position: No 47 – 4 weeks on UK album chart – cumulative UK sales: 24,525
Part  2 - UK Chart position: No 38 – 2 weeks on UK album chart – cumulative UK sales: 16,256
Part  3 - UK Chart position: No 168 – 2 weeks on UK album chart – cumulative UK sales: 20,066

Robin Miriam Carlsson had found success as a teenager, signing to RCA Records at sixteen and working with in-demand pop producer Max Martin, on UK breakthrough hit ‘Show Me Love’ (No. 8 in 1998). Within a year, Martin would turn Britney Spears into an internationally successful pop icon with ‘Baby...One More Time’. Robyn was ambitious but determined not to be manipulated by her record company and moulded into the manufactured Pop Princess that was soon to be Spears’ fate.  Thus began a half decade long journey of experimentation and& the eventual setting-up of her label, Konichiwa Records. In July 2007 the single ‘With Every Heartbeat’ hit No.1 in the UK and the subsequent self-titled album reached No.11.  The album was a moderate success, but never managed to fully capitalise on the success of the number one single. It was decided that her next project needed to reflect the changes in the public’s purchasing habits, embracing the cherry picking of tracks rather than the downloading of complete albums. The ‘Body Talk’ album would be  staggered, with two ‘bite-sized’ mini-albums and a third ‘full’ album acting as round-up of the previous two albums with a few new tracks, released between June and September 2010. Of all the titles on this list, the lack of mainstream commercial success for the ‘Body Talk’ albums is the most baffling. With an air of cool credibility, key tracks such as ‘Dancing On My Own’, ‘Indestructible’ and ‘Hang With Me’ pre-date (or plough a similar furrow to) the likes of Rihanna’s ‘We Found Love’, Pink’s ‘Raise Your Glass’ or Kelly Clarkson’s ‘Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You) all of which have  enjoyed massive international success.

All three albums Sales combined compared to Emeli Sande’s ‘Our Version Of Events – 3.0%

9 – Natalie Imbruglia – Come To Life – No official UK Release
UK Chart position: Did not place on UK Album Chart – cumulative UK sales: 2,362

Former soap actress Natalie Imbruglia built a hugely prosperous pop career spanning 10 years largely due to the all encompassing success of her debut single ‘Torn’ and its parent album ‘Left Of The Middle’. By 2006 Imbruglia had all but abandoned her music career to concentrate on acting. But when her Oscar for ‘Johnny English’ failed to materialise, a proposed comeback album was conceived during the promotion of the ‘Glorious: Greatest Hits’ collection. Tracks recorded over a three year period, included collaborations with Chris Martin, Coldplay and Brian Eno. The resulting album showcases a more sophisticated song-writing style within many varied sonic landscapes – including driving beats and dark atmospherics. In the UK, Imbruglia’s new label Island Records promoted ‘Want’ as the first single but when the single failed to penetrate the Top 100 singles chart the album release was cancelled. Subsequent attempts to licence the album to other UK labels were fruitless as negotiations proved ‘difficult’ and the album was never given an official UK release.

Sales compared to Emeli Sande’s ‘Our Version Of Events – 0.12%

10 – Roisin Murphy – Overpowered – Oct 2007
UK Chart position: No.20 – 10 weeks on UK album chart – cumulative UK sales: 62,954
As lead singer with under-appreciated dance/electro/trip-hop duo, Moloko, Murphy had tasted internationally success with ‘Sing It Back’ (No.4 in September 1999) and the subsequent ‘Things To Make & Do’ album (No. 3 in April 2000). The groups label had allowed her to take the time she needed to produce a ‘whenever it’s ready’ solo album, before asking her to re-consider the direction she was moving in and produce something a little more ‘radio friendly’ – she refused. ‘Ruby Blue’ was released in June 2005 to mostly positive reviews, but failed to find a wide audience. When she signed to EMI in May 2006 she stated that she intended to record a much more commercially accessible pop album with a strong disco flavour. While it’s hardly Sister Sledge’s ‘We Are Family’, it’s pretty much ‘mission accomplished’. Tracks such as ‘You Know Me Better’ and ‘Movie Star’ prowl the sleazy underground clubs of 1970’s San Francisco, creating a throbbing electro-pulse soundtrack, nodding to Giorgio Moroder’s Kraftwerk inspired euro-disco, evoking Grace Jones’ post Studio 54, performance artist, cultish sophistication and adding sly winks to Sylvester and Cerrone’s campy,  flamboyant, chemically enhanced, gay abandon.  Only one single managed to break the UK Top 40 singles chart (‘Let Me Know’ No. 28). This album is by far the biggest seller on my list...but still only manages the following rating on the ‘Emeli Sande Scale’:

Sales compared to Emeli Sande’s ‘Our Version Of Events – 3.1%

See also:

11 – Win – Uh Tears Baby – Apr 1987
UK Chart position: No 51 – 1 week on UK album chart – cumulative UK sales: unknown
Rising from the ashes of Scottish cult art-rockers, The Fire Engines (no pun intended), Win grabbed the attention of corporate sponsors (a massively influential McEwan’s Lager commercial featured their ‘nearest hit’ track ‘You’ve Got The Power’) but found little commercial success. The dizzying mix of electronic sequencing, glam beats and crushing power chords, layered with lyrics that cast a satirical and often humorous eye on popular culture and early ‘80’s politics, contained in such songs as ‘Un-American Broadcasting’ and ‘Shampoo Tears’, pre-date the likes of Jesus Jones and Pop Will Eat Itself who achieved widespread acclaim and fairly decent sales by the end of the same decade.

12 – Ladyhawke – Anxiety – Jun 2012
UK Chart position: No 36 – 2 weeks on UK album chart – cumulative UK sales: 10,987
New Zealand born ‘Pip’ Brown achieved a degree of commercial success with her eponymous debut album in 2008, following critical acclaim for her ‘Paris Is Burning’ and ‘My Delirium’ tracks. Her follow-up should have seen her move onto the next level. Record company wrangles saw the album’s released pushed back from the October 2011 to June 2012 and with no hit singles, ‘Anxiety’ came and went within a fortnight.
13 – Tracie – Far From The Loving Kind – Jun 1984
UK Chart position: No 64 (original release) – 1 week on UK album chart – cumulative UK sales: 1,182 (Cherry Red re-issue)
Discovered when she answered an ad in Smash Hits placed by Paul Weller during a search to find artists for his fledgling Respond label, Tracie went on to sing backing vocals on both the last single by The Jam (‘Beat Surrender’) and the first by The Style Council (‘Speak Like A Child’) before launching her own career with ‘The House That Jack Built’ – a No.9 hit in 1983 written by her Respond label mates, Scottish indie poppers, The Questions. Despite production and song-writing assistance from Weller and Elvis Costello, none of the other singles from her debut album made the Top 20 and the album was released with little fanfare.

14 – Shaznay Lewis – Open – Jul 2004
UK Chart position: No 22 – 6 weeks on UK album chart – cumulative UK sales: 31,552
After co-writing some of All Saints biggest hits (including the number one singles ‘Never Ever’ and ‘Pure Shores’), Lewis looked set for solo stardom when the band split under a cloud of money disputes and a fight over who would wear a certain jacket during a photo-shoot...good to see that it wasn’t anything trivial then girls! Her first single, ‘Never Felt Like This Before’ peaked at No.9, but the album failed to make the Top 20 and a follow-up single stalled outside the Top 40 singles chart.

15 – Sia – Some People... -
UK Chart position: 106 – 5 weeks on UK Album Chart – cumulative UK sales: 30,257
Before she became the number one songwriter on everyone’s speed dial, Sia Kate Isobelle Furler was a struggling singer-songwriter who had been chipping away at the music industry for more than a decade. While a fluke Top 10 single (‘Taken For Granted’) in 2000 has yet to be matched as a solo performer, she has written massive hit songs for Rihanna (‘Diamonds’), Lea Michelle (‘Cannonball’), Ne-Yo (‘Let Me Love You’) and Celine Dion (‘Love Me Back To Life’) as well as collaborating with Flo Rida (‘Wild Ones’) and David Guetta (‘She Wolf’ and the No.1 single ‘Titanium’).

16 – The Pipettes – We Are the Pipettes – Jul 2006
UK Chart position: No 41 – 6 weeks on UK Album Chart – cumulative UK sales: 31,562
Formed as ‘an experiment in manufactured pop’ by indie singer-songwriter Robert Barry (Monster Bobby) to showcase an updated twist on the Phil Spector girl-group wall-of-sound, the girl’s line-up employed a revolving door policy second only to The Sugababes. A couple of extremely catchy singles (‘Pull Shapes’, ‘You’re Kisses Are Wasted On Me’) saw them crack the UK Top 40, but there was no momentum into the album release and after a respectable six week chart run the band failed to trouble the UK chart compilers again.

17 – Tracey Thorn – Out Of the Woods – Mar 2007
UK Chart position: No 38 –4 weeks on UK Album Chart – cumulative UK sales: 25,800
As one half of Everything But The Girl, Thorn had her fair share of success and world-wide acclaim, but her post-EBTG solo efforts have had been largely ignored by the band’s broader audience. Produced by dance producer and remixer Ewan Pearson, the album mutated from (as Thorn herself described it) a “quick little record, a little bit acoustic, a little bit dance” into a full-on, pop masterpiece.

18 – Paul Haig – Rhythm of Life – Oct 1983
UK Chart position: No 82 – 2 weeks on UK Album Chart – cumulative UK sales: unknown
After his stint as lead singer with Scottish Indie darlings Josef K, this was Haig’s debut solo album and hopes were high. Signed as a solo artist to Island records and packed off to New York with Alex Sadkin (fresh from his success producing Grace Jones, The Thompson Twins and Duran Duran) the resulting album is an early ‘80’s classic. Unfortunately reviews pitched Haig as falling catastrophically between two stools – the slick dance/pop sound was considered too commercial to be taken seriously by his Josef K fan base and slightly too cutting edge and ahead of it’s time for the pure pop, New Romantic crowd.

19 – Annie – Don’t Stop
UK Chart position: 126 – 1 week on UK Album Chart – cumulative UK sales: 4,069
Similar to Ladyhawke, Annie had become an indie/pop/dance darling after making the largely unprecedented move from DJ to recording artist with her ‘Anniemal’ debut in 2004 – including underground smash, ‘Chewing Gum’.  Now signed to Island Records, the second album was recorded, including collaborations with man-of-the-moment Richard X, Girls Aloud hitmakers Xenomania and future Adele producer Paul Epworth. Unfortunately the label didn’t like what they heard and declined to release the album. It was eventually issued on an independent label over a year later.

20 – Gossip – A Joyful Noise – May 2012
UK Chart position: No 47– 2 weeks on UK Album Chart – cumulative UK sales: 12,541

Sony Music had signed Beth Ditto and her band after their breakthrough hit ‘Standing In The Way Of Control’ only for the next album, ‘Music For Men’, to land with a fairly heavy thud in 2009 - everywhere except Germany that is – the first single release, ‘Heavy Cross’, becoming one of the biggest selling songs in German history, enjoying a record breaking 82 weeks in the Top 100 Singles Chart.  Their success on mainland Europe guaranteed them another bite of the cherry and the next album would see them collaborate with Xenomania and saw them cross the line into pure pop. No-one in the UK seemed to care! The album failed to break the UK Top 40 and none of the singles even charted. The album was however a substantial hit abroad, hitting the Top 5 in Austria, France and Germany, while going all the way to No.1 in Switzerland. 

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

MY 2013 MOVIE TOP 20

Due to my ongoing ‘unemployability issues’, I spent a lot of 2013 drowning my sorrows in gallons of visual treats at the local Cineworld (and Waterloo IMAX). I saw 127 different movies on the big screen and here is my pick of the best 20, a few honourable mentions and the worst 10 films I saw this year. Dim the lights...

No.20 - The Impossible
Despite controversy involving the switching of the protagonist family’s nationality from book to film adaptation and criticism that suggested that by focusing on a some wealthy, white tourists the filmmakers had belittled the devastation endured by thousands of Thailand natives who suffered (or lost their lives) during the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, I found Juan Antonio Bayona’s film extremely respectful and moving. Both Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts give solid and affecting performances – to be administered liberally as a reminder of Watts’ acting chops immediately after any viewing of ‘Diana’ – and the fifteen year-old lead, Tom Holland, gives an emotionally charged performance that belies his age, reminiscent of Christian Bale’s introductory turn in Spielberg’s underrated masterpiece, ‘Empire of the Sun’.

No.19 - Blue Jasmine
Many critics raved that ‘Blue Jasmine’ would be hailed as “the biggest Woody in years” - ironically this was, word-for-word, Woody Allen’s diary entry for the first night he met Soon-Yi, Mia Farrow’s adopted daughter – while others proclaimed that Cate Blanchett’s performance saw her “penetrating deeply into a profoundly troubled woman” – bizarrely this was also ‘The National Enquirer’ headline the day after Allen’s relationship with Soon-Yi went public. Joking aside, while many claimed this was not a ‘classic’ Woody Allen film, overpowered by an Oscar worthy performance from Blanchett, I think the film had a lot more going for it than her admittedly powerful portrayal of a woman on the verge. Riffing freely on ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ and feeling more ‘contemporary’ and ‘relevant’ than anything Allen has written or directed since his 70’s/80’s heyday, this is a solid addition to Allen’s filmography.

No.18 - Nebraska
I’ve spent a fair bit of time with Alexander Payne in my head this year – no, this is not my sad admission of some bizarre mid-life crisis, ageing filmmaker fetish – he directed ‘The Descendants’ starring Shailene Woodley, whom I’ve spent a good few months researching for ‘The Book’ (available to pre-order on Amazon now and in all good bookshops March 2014). ‘Nebraska’ is a typically low-key, but powerful film. It is (surprisingly) funny and moving, with great performances from Bruce Dern, Will Forte and especially June Squibb as Dern’s, ‘I’m only truth-telling’, no-filter spouce.

No.17 - The Bling Ring
So unbelievable it really needs the ‘based on true events’ message to run along the bottom of the screen throughout the film, Sofia Coppola’s fifth film as director tells the story of an infamous group of Californian teenagers who went on a year-long breaking and entering spree through the Hollywood Hills homes of the rich and famous in 2008. Satirical and playful, but using some real court transcripts and dialog lifted from interviews with the actual teens, the film doesn’t try to manipulate the audience into feeling sorry for the ‘poor little rich kids’ and equally refuses to judge their actions. Some great work from a cast of, predominately, newcomers, with a special mention for a stand-out performance from Emma Watson. Awesome! Who knew!

No.16 - One Direction - This Is Us (3D)
I grew up on the outskirts of Edinburgh and as a curious teenager I recall, during my many exploratory visits into the city centre, seeing an old, run down, porno cinema called La Scala Electric – still showing lurid looking XXX films well into the early 1980’s. The front of the building had an intoxicatingly dangerous and grubby allure and everyone had a vague idea of what went on there (although you never saw anyone actually entering or leaving). Now I was never brave enough to attempt to buy a ticket or sneak into a screening of the big porno hits of the time (‘Raiders of the Licked Arse’, ‘9 to 5 Inches’, ‘On Golden Showers’ - I’m guessing here, but I’ll bet they all exist), but I’m assuming it would have felt something akin to how I felt buying a ticket to see ‘One Direction – This Is Us’. I can also only assume that the experience would have had a similarly life affirming effect – okay, maybe not. I’m a big fan of shows like ‘X Factor’ and ‘American Idol’ but I tend to lose interest in most of the music and artists these shows create. I had no strong opinion either way about One Direction. ‘What Makes You Beautiful’ is a near perfect slice of post-‘Glee’ pop and the singles from their new album show a savvy understanding of the need for boy bands to tailor their material for (as well as mature at the same rate as) their (predominately female) fan base. But nothing could have prepared me for how much I loved this movie. Aside from the obligatory, scream inducing, spare pair of pant necessitating concert footage, the film gives the viewer a rare insight into what it’s really like to walk on stage to face a massive arena crowd – you are reminded that these ‘pop idols’ are actually ‘just kids’, their nerves are sometimes (understandably) palpable and it has more than a passing resemblance to the ‘in the thick of battle’ opening scenes from ‘Saving Private Ryan’. The strongest impression you are left with is that despite the obvious perks that come with the success, the inevitability of the band’s ‘moment in the sun’ ending means the schedule is relentless and the work-load extreme, there is also real heartbreak for the parents who waved goodbye to their teenage sons as they headed off to an ‘X Factor’ audition, only for them to never really come home again. Forget what you think you know, forget the music and enjoy the best concert movie I’ve seen since ‘Stop Making Sense’. Check out the ‘extended fan cut’ of the film that appeared briefly in cinema’s at the end of the theatrical run – presumably with the boy’s ACTUAL fifteen minutes of fan tacked on at the end.

No.15 - Alan Partridge : Alpha Papa
I could never be described as a massive fan of Steve Coogan’s Alan Partridge, but everything I’d seen over the years had made me laugh and I caught the whole of the ‘Mid Morning Matters’ series when it aired on Sky Atlantic in 2012. ‘Alpha Papa’ made me belly-laugh from start to finish - from the lip-synching Roachford drive to the finale shoot-out. The film succeeds in growing the comedy (and the situation) just enough for its transition from TV to cinema (without Alan heading off on a hilarious mishap filled holiday or taking a fish-out-of-water job on an American radio station). Packing more laughs into its ninety minutes running time than every other ‘comedy’ film I saw this year put together, ‘Alpha Papa’ was by far my funniest film of the year.

No.14 - Blackfish
The only ‘normal’ (i.e non-IMAX) film I paid money to see this year – isn’t it funny how the Unlimited card direct debit doesn’t even register as ‘payment’ anymore – and it was worth every penny. Another ‘expose’ type nature documentary (along the same lines as ‘The Cove’) telling the story of one particular Killer Whale (Tilikum), who was involved in the deaths of three individuals during his thirty years in captivity, culminating in the highly publicised death of Dawn Brancheau, one of SeaWorld, Orlando’s most experienced trainers in 2010. With breathtaking library footage of Orca whales in the wild as well as in captivity, expert testimony and contributions from several ex-trainers, the film is thought provoking and informative, without over stressing its agenda.

No.13 - World War Z (3D)
In 2002, after a preview showing of ’28 Days Later’, I was lucky enough to attend a Q&A session with Danny Boyle (Director) and Alex Garland (Screenwriter) where they discussed sections of the first draft script that had failed to make the finished film due to budget restraints. Amongst the scenes they had story-boarded, but never filmed, was an extended sequence where the group of survivors flee England in a jumbo jet (flown by a blind pilot) while hoards of ‘zombies’(or ‘Infected’ as they insisted on calling them) attack the plane, throwing themselves into the engines as it takes off. I’d always wondered what these scenes would have looked like had Boyle and Garland been able to fully realise their vision. Ten years on, I was pleased to see that Marc Forster managed to deliver something of that scale and excitement with his, considerably more expensive, ‘World War Z’. Despite a well documented ‘troubled production’, a completely re-shot ending, criticism concerning its disregard for the source novel and the kind of pre-release scoffing usually reserved for the mega-budget output of James Cameron, Gore Verbinski and Michael Bay, against all the odds, ‘World War Z’ became a $500 million worldwide hit and a sequel has already been green-lit. Marc Foster delivers the best opening set-piece in any film I saw this year – in under ten minutes a cosy family breakfast of pancakes and an everyday school run descends into a full-scale city centre zombie melt-down – and the pace never really lets up, with several nail-biting set-pieces, leading to the Welsh bio-lab set finale. Many reviewers had a problem with this relatively down-beat, ‘tacked-on’ ending, but in retrospect it’s a refreshing alternative to the over-the-top, bombastic, bash-fest final acts of the summer’s big blockbusters (‘Man of Steel’, ‘Wolverine’, ‘Iron Man 3’). Especially effective is the slightly longer blu-ray cut that re-instates some of the films more bloodthirsty moments and lets the film ‘breathe out’ a little.

No.12 - Behind the Candelabra
Michael Douglas and Matt Damon give the performances of their careers in this HBO funded bio-pic – made for TV in the US but given a theatrical release in the UK. The film explores the relationship between Liberace and his long-time companion Scott Thorson – a relationship so twisted and unhealthy it makes Nigella Lawson and Charles Saatchi look like giddy teenage sweethearts. Steven Soderbergh directs with a great eye for detail and never lets the camp excess seem anything but normal in the pair’s artificially enhanced lifestyle. The real tragedy is that, as a made-for-TV movie, ‘Behind the Candelabra’ and the performances of Douglas, Damon and a scene stealing Rob Lowe, won’t be eligible for the Oscar glory they deserve.

No.11 - Sunshine On Leith
It was with some confusion that I read about a new musical, featuring the songs of The Proclaimers, set in Edinburgh of all places. This was the city in which I was born and raised and despite having its fair share of ‘gay-innuendo’ locations – Arthur’s Seat, The Mound and everyone I know has had a good lick of Edinburgh Rock in their time – I would imagine that San Francisco, New York and Brighton were more appropriate locations to set a musical. Then, when I actually saw the trailer for ‘Sunshine On Leith, I posted on Facebook that I had lost all power of subjective reasoning on the matter, so swept away was I by the views of my beautiful home-town and the strains of The Proclaimers’ ‘Over and Done With’ blasting out on the soundtrack - I couldn’t decide whether the film would be ‘pure-dead-brilliant’ or ‘utter pish’! To be honest, I still don’t know. I started crying from the moment the camera swept up from the Water of Leith into Edinburgh’s city centre and I was emitting full, gulping sobs by the time everyone was “walking 500 miles” (and walking 500 more) on the steps of the Scottish National Gallery. I may be having some sort of patriotism induced mid-life crisis.

No.10 - Good Vibrations
This independent film, which tells the story of Terri Hooley (founder of Belfast’s influential Good Vibrations record store and label), was an unexpected gem. Hooley is credited with bringing punk-rock to Ireland and was instrumental in discovering The Undertones in the late 1970’s. The film is a fairly straight forward, frank and funny re-telling of his few highs and many more lows. I missed Punk by about three years – ’77 was all about ‘Star Wars’ for me and it would be a good couple of years before I became completely transfixed by the charms of Debbie Harry, Thereza Bazar and David Van Day (but that’s another story) – so the real connection to the time, the music or ‘the movement’ are pretty much lost on me, but the scene in which an unsuspecting Hooley gets swept up in the euphoria of his first punk gig had me shedding a few tears as it perfectly encapsulates the energy and power to transform that a passion for music can generate.

No.9 - The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug (3D)
Peter Jackson really does know how to put a big budget, large scale adventure film together – the real problem seems to be that he just doesn’t know when to stop. The argument against turning the virtually pamphlet-like ‘The Hobbit’ into nearly nine hours of film is lost on me – the source novel is a separate thing, a starting point. This is ‘Peter Jackson’s – The Hobbit’ and I’m willing to go along for that ride. ‘An Unexpected Journey’ had many flaws – it took too long to really get going, the songs were a self indulgent mistake and the humour in the Troll sequence makes ‘Mrs Brown’s Boys’ look like a Noel Coward comedy – but on repeated viewings, I forgave it most of its faults – Trolls! No! But it looks like spending some time with Spielberg making the ‘Tin Tin’ movie has rubbed off on Jackson and the sequel, ‘The Desolation of Smaug’, doesn’t waste much time getting to the point - The point being ‘fun’ and ‘excitement’  - ramping up the action and maintaining a fairly even, steady pace from beginning to end. From the giant spiders of Mirkwood to the empty barrel/river escape from the Elvenking’s prison, ‘Smaug’ is a theme park ride waiting to happen. It’s easy, in the wake of all this spectacle, to overlook that Martin Freeman has, over both movies, delivered a brilliantly textured comic performance as Bilbo Baggins – virtually unrecognisable physically and in tone from his on-going turn as Dr John Watson in ‘Sherlock’ - just one of many great performances in the film- even Orlando ‘Thank-you-thank-you-thank-you-Mr-Jackson-I-just-couldn’t-have-done-another-episode-of-Casualty’ Bloom doesn’t let the side down.

No.8 - The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
I’m a big fan of ‘The Hunger Games’ books and was more relieved than anything else when the first movie didn’t turn out to be as stilted and creatively underwhelming as the hugely successful (but mostly laugh out loud awful) ‘Twilight’ movies. Gary Ross’s direction gave the first film of the trilogy (saga?) a much edgier, more vibrant and kinetic visual style and Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss Everdeen instantly achieved a depth and exuded the kind of charisma that Kristen Stewart’s Bella Swan had struggled to reach across five movies. On the down side, Ross had failed to fully convey the less obvious elements of the Katniss/Peeta/Gale ‘love triangle’ and in the climax of the film, down-playing  the full extent of Peeta’s injuries and helplessness undermines Katniss’s need to protect him, lowering the dramatic stakes as the characters move into the second film – Peeta is supposed to have lost a leg due to the injuries he has sustained and doesn’t know how to swim as he enters the water-logged arena at the beginning of ‘Catching Fire’. News that the sequel would be directed by someone else was seen as a mixed blessing. With Ross out and Francis Lawrence in, ‘Catching Fire’ spends much of its first half redressing some of the minor niggles I had with the first film – quickly clarifying the fact that Katniss isn’t really that interested in having a romantic relationship with anyone (she’s a little bit busy trying to stay alive and sparking a revolution thank you very much!), forcing home the importance of the ‘fake’ couple she has created with Peeta in order to maintain their place in The Capital’s affections, as well as showing the reality of Peeta’s ‘unrequited love’. Stripped of most of the first films tabloid baiting ‘kids killing kids’ premise, ‘Catching Fire’ is a much more straight forward action adventure with several obstacles to overcome before its explosive conclusion. The success of the first film ensured that ‘Catching Fire’, with almost twice the budget, would deliver bigger and better special effects and set-pieces. Time will tell if this second instalment will become the definitive ‘Hunger Games’ movie – It seems unlikely that the comparatively ‘doomy’, down-beat and positively grim final act of ‘Mockingjay’ will be selling many ‘Subway’ happy meals. Like ‘The Empire Strikes Back’, the other great ‘middle film’ in a beloved fantasy franchise, ‘Catching Fire’ ends under a cloud of uncertainty - one of our heroes is similarly captured and imprisoned and, in a startling final moment, with a dramatic close-up on the face of a rescued Katniss, we see her expression change, showing her ultimate realisation of what has happened and what she must become – she must take on the mantle, and embracing the role, of the ‘Mockingjay’.  21st November 2014 can’t come fast enough!

No.7 - The Way, Way Back
Following in a long tradition of disillusioned teens in coming-of-age movies that includes ‘The Graduate’, ‘Stand By Me’ and more recently, ‘Adventureland’ and ‘The Perks Of Being A Wallflower’, ‘The Way, Way Back’ was both funny and charming in equal measure. Scene-stealing performances from TV ‘superstars’ Steve Carell and Allison Janney threaten to overpower the delicate realism on display from the rest of the cast, but the affection generated by Liam James’ portrayal of Duncan and the life-changing relationships he nurtures with Sam Rockwell’s Owen and the other workers at the local water park, ‘Water Wizz’, are enough to give the film the balance it needs to be truly affecting and uplifting.

No.6 - Captain Phillips
I was lucky enough to see ‘Captain Phillips’ at a London Film Festival screening slightly ahead of its general release and while I’m not sure who I thought actually made up these festival audiences, I was surprised to find out that the crowd, whom I assumed would be the film-watching ‘elite’ – critics, media and ‘real’ film fans – were actually a bigger bunch of twats than the average Cineworld crowd I spend most of my spare time with. In a sold-out cinema, several people arrived long after the film had started and the woman in front of me took THREE separate phone calls during the performance. Despite all this going on I was pretty much gripped from beginning to end by ‘Captain Phillips’. Although the film hits many tried and tested story beats, Paul Greengrass adds layers that ensure you become totally immersed and care enough about the people on both sides of the story. This is the flip-side of every action movie you’ve ever seen – imagine Mike Leigh directing ‘Under Siege’. What pushes this movie into my Top 10 is Tom Hank’s performance. He seems to have lost some ground in the Oscar race, but in the last twenty minutes of the film, Hanks delivers the rawest and most heart-breaking scene I saw this year. Also the best 'add a word/ruin a movie' I came up with this year - 'Captain Mark Phillips'.

No.5 - Philomena
Steve Coogan was definitely ‘having a moment’ in 2013. He not only delivered my comedy of the year (with ‘Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa’) and launched a billion, “tee-hee! He said Bottom” jokes thanks to his voice work on ‘Despicable Me 2’, he also co-wrote and starred, alongside a top-of-her-game Judi Dench, in ‘Philomena’. The subject matter may have already been explored - in the rather darker, more divisive ‘Magdalene Sisters’ – but the charming and smart script packed an emotional punch and more laughs than 95% of the so-called ‘comedies’ I saw this year – well all the ones that didn’t feature Steve Coogan anyway.

No.4 - Before Midnight 
I was more than a little surprised that mid-year an early contender for my film of the year was ‘Before Midnight’, the third instalment of the long gestating relationship saga that I didn’t even know I was waiting for. This is a movie with no special effects, no ‘fast-cut’ editing or emotion prompting score. The takes are long & filled with tightly scripted, but improvised sounding, dialog and it has a main cast of just two actors (Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke) both in their early forties,  neither  of whom (with the greatest respect) would described themselves as A-listers. Maybe it’s the throw-back to Woody Allen at his wise-cracking, relationship analysing best. All I can say is that despite not particularly relating to the characters circumstances or lifestyle, I cared about what happened to them, I laughed (a lot) and the movie delivered my favourite line of dialog this year – Celine is trying to express how difficult it had been raising the couples young daughters alone, while Jesse was away on book tours or writing breaks, resorting to walking the city streets at night with the girls in a double pushchair, trying to lull them to sleep. She recalls an incident when a man tried to attack her, but gave up because she looked ‘so pathetic’ - She says, “That’s the one good thing about being over 35, you don’t get raped so much”.

No.3 - Star Trek : Into Darkness (3D) 
On its initial release, I went to see Star Trek: Into Darkness three times at the cinema and scored it a more than solid 9/10. I described it as “an ‘everything-I-could-possibly-have-wanted’ Star Trek movie”. Proving that JJ’s original ‘Star Trek’ had assembled a near perfect cast, it’s the strength of these actors working individually and in different groupings that really shines in Into Darkness. The deepening friendship and mutual respect that acts as the glue to every Kirk/Spock related Star Trek story is central to Into Darkness and acts as a believable touchstone for the events of the film’s final coda. Don’t get me wrong, I still have problems with that final act – following (but flipping) the final resolution to Wrath of Khan is just the wrong side of ‘affectionate referencing’ for me and I would have been happier if they’d had the confidence in their audience to carry Kirk’s ‘resurrection’ over into film No.3, but to be honest, that’s a small niggle in a mountain of large gold nuggets. The pre-backlash Benedict Cumberbatch adds real weight to, what might be in another’s hands, some fairly over-wrought dialogue – the first prison-cell scene is pitch-perfect and his delivery of the “I will walk over your cold corpses to recover my people” line is chilling and exhilarating in equal measure.
It’s in the script department that Into Darkness really sets itself apart. There are numerous grand-standing speeches and some very quotable lines.
There’s no shortage of edge-of-your-seat set pieces either - The entire Kronos sequence bodes well for Episode VII, riffing as it does on several key Star Wars moments including the Millennium Falcon escape from the exploding Death Star at the end of The Return of the Jedi and the dog-fight escape from Mos Eisely in Star Wars. The warp-speed chase between the ‘Enterprise’ and the ‘Vengeance’ is visually dazzling and, after the finale free-fall from space, the ‘Enterprise’ rising through the clouds might be the ultimate Star Trek ‘money-shot’. 
Best of all is the ‘space jump’ between the two Federation Starships - Exhilarating, tense and a master-class in the use of special effects and sound-design. News of this sequence must have elicited a few beads of cold sweat from Alfonso CuarĂ³n, the director of ‘Gravity’ - considering that his four-years-in-the making, ‘ground-breaking’ and ‘uniquely innovative’ film’s plot hinges on a lengthy sequence that involves his characters ‘space walking’ in a deadly debris field as they try to escape from a destroyed space shuttle to the safety of a nearby space station! I reject the revisionist reviewing that went on during the films DVD/Blu-Ray release and stand by ‘Into Darkness’ as a worthy entry to the ‘Star Trek’ franchise.

No.2 -Oblivion (IMAX)
Joseph Kosinski’s definitely knows something about creating visually compelling and immersive movies, his last film was ‘Tron: Legacy’ – Disney’s flawed but never less than intriguing franchise re-boot – and in ‘Oblivion’ he delivered the most enjoyable slice of non-franchise sci-fi this year. Many dismissed the film as being ‘style over substance’, but with ‘style’ like that I think I can overlook any shortcomings in the ‘substance’ department. Most of the criticism I read was thinly veiled dislike for Tom Cruise, and while Cruise’s days of troubling ‘Award’s Season’ seem to be over, alongside ‘Gravity’ and ‘World War Z’, ‘Oblivion’ was a startling reminder of the value of good old fashioned ‘Star Power’. Cruise, and an excellent Andrea Riseborough, along with top of the range visual design and a great score from M83 (also my favourite soundtrack of the year) elevate a fairly well-trodden premise to become the film I saw more times on the big screen than any other (four) in 2013.

No. 1 – Gravity (IMAX 3D)
 “At 372 miles above the earth, there is nothing to carry sound, no air pressure, no oxygen, life is impossible.” From the first shot of the first trailer it was clear that this was going to be a strong contender for my movie of the year - George and Sandra in space, explosions in space, Hank Williams in space - and the finished film didn’t disappoint. On the surface it’s a fairly old-fashioned edge-of-your-seat fight for survival, but if you want to look closer you might just catch a glimpse of someone exploring the instinctual need we have to make and maintain connections in life - to friends, to colleagues, to family, to our planet and maybe even to God...But with a (refreshingly) short running time, in the end, ‘Gravity’ (thankfully) doesn’t have much time for navel-gazing and what it lacks in plot and insightful dialogue is more than compensated for in its unparalleled visuals and technical complexity. As Billy Bragg (and then Kirsty MacColl) once said, “It's wrong to wish on space hardware”, but I can’t help wishing I’d seen a few more movies that so thoroughly transported me to somewhere I’ve never been before. In a year filled with some incredible visual treats, ‘Gravity’ was undoubtedly a cut above.


Cloud Atlas
The Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer attempted to bring David Mitchell’s ‘unfilmable’ novel to the big screen and the resulting film is impossible to categorise, frustrating, confusing, bum-numbingly long but never short of fascinating. A visual feast and an unexpected triumph.

The script was a little ‘dry’ for me, but Daniel Day Lewis’s performance was truly mesmerising. I can honestly say it’s the first time I’ve watched a film and had to keep reminding myself that I was watching an actor, not a real person.

In The House
This French psychological comedy is (shockingly) the only foreign language film in my list – unless you count ‘Sunshine On Leith’ which probably was subtitled in one particular Morningside cinema. Surprisingly funny and deliciously twisted.

The Place Beyond The Pines
This year’s biggest surprise in terms of what the film actually delivered compared to what was hinted at in the trailer. More of a family saga than a straight forward crime drama, the film had a lot more to offer than Ryan Gosling’s best performance of the year (sorry Nicholas, If I want two hours of perfume commercials, I’ll watch the ad breaks during ‘The X Factor’ in Christmas week).

Iron Man 3
A minor disappointment – but a triumph in comparison to ‘Wolverine’ and ‘Man of Steel’ – The final sequence is a master-class in big budget, effects heavy, action cinema, which just about makes up for a soggy middle act, a horribly miss-cast child actor and too much Tony Stark (as opposed to Iron Man).

Kick-Ass 2
I almost didn’t see ‘Kick-Ass 2, the reviews being so awful, but was glad I did. Filled with satisfying character development and a welcome continuation of the first film’s off-kilter humour and approach to the super-hero genre, I can almost forgive the shameless inclusion of a truly terrible Union J song.

Enough Said
Fine performances from the late James Gandolfini and the underrated Julia Louis-Dreyfus elevated this gentle, observational comedy. With so much going on, and with such a great supporting cast, this could easily have been extended and re-written as the whole first season of a great sit-com.

Don Jon
Most notable for featuring a Scarlett Johansson performance which has forced ‘A Tony French Opinion U-turn’! Sharp and incredibly funny.

All Is Lost
A perfect companion piece for ‘Captain Philips’ and this virtually dialog free film is a forceful reminder that ‘less can definitely be more’. Someone should pop a note through to Quentin Tarantino!

Le Week-end
A brilliant study in the ebb and flow of affection that occurs in every long-term relationship and great comic performances from Lindsay Duncan, Jim Broadbent and, a scene stealing, Jeff Goldblum.


Movie 43
By far the worst thing I saw this year (and when you see some of the others, you will fully understand the depths to which it sinks). Someone, somewhere has a some really juicy dirt on some of Hollywood’s biggest stars – That’s the ONLY explanation for this mess.

Bula Quo!
Not only did I go to see this, it was the World Premiere in Leicester Square! Who says that my social life has taken a hit since I stopped working at hmv? So bad it’s just really, really, really bad. Makes ‘Spiceworld’ look! wait, that’s really awful too....

Runner Runner
The worst ‘real’ movie I saw this year. People spent a long time and money putting this together and it really doesn’t show. Ben Affleck, not so much phoning in a performance, but actually sending it in using Morse code and Timberlake’s dead-eyed stare that counts as emotion is hilarious. The scene in which he faces of with a gang of Puerto Rican mafia thugs is as convincing as watching a rap battle between Daniel O’Donnell and Chuck D.

Why? There are undoubtedly interesting stories to be told about the life of Diana Spencer, this made-up, sub-Mills and Boone romance isn’t one of them. Poor Naomi Watts! The tsunami was a walk in the paddling pool compared to the mauling she got from the press on this one. Highlight being Watts walking out of an interview with Simon Mayo on the ‘Mayo and Kermode Film Review’ – still available as a podcast and well worth a listen.

If you find ‘Antiques Roadshow’ “a bit controversial” and consider “Call The Midwife” ‘real drama’, then this is definitely for you. I, on the other hand, thought it was bloody awful!

Papadopoulos and Sons
A truly mind-numbing British ‘comedy’ that would have been rejected by The Children’s Film Foundation for being ‘too childish’ and ‘unsophisticated’.

Identity Thief
Another tragic miss-use of Melissa McCarthy’s obvious talents – see also ‘The Heat’ – Not funny!

The Host
Low expectations were well and truly met by Stephanie Meyer’s first post-‘Twilight’ offering. Relying heavily on the kind of internal dialog last heard in the ‘Look Who’s Talking’ franchise, this, along with the insipid ‘How I Live Now’, made it a very bad year for (the undoubtedly talented) Saoirse Ronan.

Jack The Giant Slayer
A long and troubled production – I saw a trailer for this in the US as far back as 2011 – this has to be the worst Nicholas Holt film of the year...oh! wait, here comes ‘Warm Bodies’. It lost more than $100 million dollars at the US box-office for Warners and sent poor Bryan Singer scuttling back to the X-Men franchise with something to prove.

A Good Day To Die Hard

Probably the biggest disappointment of the year – the (almost) impeccable ‘Die Hard’ franchise was brought down faster and more devastatingly than an exploding Chinook in this unbelievably dim and nonsensical sequel. Everyone involved should be ashamed – except Jai Courtney ‘cos he’s HOT.