10   +   5   =  

Smart is the key word this week as a collection of clever (or wannabe clever in the case of our DVD release) films roll out. From big budget to small, it’s nice to know not everything has to be dumbed down to find success, so settle back for spot-on cultural references, intimate understanding and an abundance of warmth.

And there we were thinking Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale had given us the definitive Batman. It turns out a small plastic figurine turned vapid animated hero is the real Dark Knight we need. After stealing what was already a very good show in The Lego Movie, Will Arnett’s lonely Batman gets his own spin-off in The Lego Batman Movie. It also affords him the chance to strike out and make a friend or two amidst battling a needy Joker. Life in the Batcave isn’t all it’s cracked up to be of course, though luckily for us it’s on point and very funny.

Fences is the kind of film that sometimes slips by unnoticed, at least as far as the Academy is concerned. Adapted by August Wilson from his own Pulitzer Prize winning play before he died (back in 2005), it zeroes in on an African American waste collector in 1950’s Pittsburgh as he tries to raise his family and understand what’s happened to him in the past. Alongside nods for Best Picture and Adapted Screenplay, Denzel Washington finds himself nominated for his lead performance, as does the always excellent Viola Davis for Supporting Actress.

Mike Mills thrives in the tricky comedy-drama space, a genre difficult to balance. His latest effort, 20th Century Women, is the story of three women exploring love and freedom in 1970’s California. That means impeccable period design, sunny cinematography, a great soundtrack and some top draw performances, especially when the likes of Annette Bening are involved. Mills has described the film as a love letter to the women who raised him; focusing the plot on Bening and the help she seeks from Greta Gerwig and Elle Fanning to raise her son. Like Fences, it’s the kind of smart, independent drama that’s no longer meant to exist.

Gone Girl might just have sparked a new trend for women-fronted psychological thrillers, though it seems girl has to make it into the title to describe the title character. The Girl on the Train arrives on DVD after a successful outing last year. Emily Blunt plays the person, or girl as the title has it, witnessing suspicious goings on from a train window. The story twists and turns and never really succeeds. If this is Gone Girl mark 2, it’s a much less successful version. But BAFTA has thrown a nomination Blunt’s way so there must be something to watch.

That brings us to an end for now. Have a good week and I’ll see you back here for something special in the moonlight.

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