Outspoken, opinionated and never lost for words, Mark Kermode has carved out a career in print, radio, and television based entirely on the belief that The Exorcist is the greatest movie ever made and that the Pirates of the Caribbean films should be buried in a very deep hole where they can never bother anyone ever again.
We all have films that we love to hate and that we love to rant about. There are few that rant more concisely and cuttingly than trusted ...
What’s a hatchet job? Why is it more dangerous to praise than to criticise? And why did Mark Kermode get banned from a press screening?...
Mark Kermode on the internet and being on the receiving end of bad reviews
Are you looking for trenchant opinion, historical analysis, personal prejudice and acerbic humour on films old and new from Observer...
For decades, the backbone of film criticism has been the hatchet job – the entertaining trashing of a film by professional reviewers, seen by many as cynical snobs. But with the arrival of the internet, have the critics finally fallen under the axe? With movie posters now just as likely to be adorned by Twitter quotes as fusty reviewer recommendations, has the rise of enthusiastic amateurism sounded the death knell of a profession? Are the democratic opportunities of the internet...
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Women are sinking their teeth ever deeper into horror. We chart their rise and talk to directors Ana Lily Amirpour, Julia Ducournau and Karyn Kusama
There’s a moment in French film-maker Julia Ducournau’s prize-winning feature debut Raw in which a young vegetarian (ethereally played by Garance Marillier) finds herself unexpectedly ravenous at the sight of a severed finger. It’s a deliciously horrifying vignette, squirm-inducingly squishy, yet somehow bizarrely sensual. Like Claire Denis’s controversial 2001 shocker Trouble Every Day, Raw takes an intimate approach to the taboo subject of cannibalism, sinking its teeth into the sins of the flesh. As all great horror films should, it touches a nerve – simultaneously repelling and seducing its audience, sucking us in and spitting us out.
For horror fans, Raw is the latest in an encouraging wave of genre-bending movies which have twisted familiar tropes to new and unsettling ends. At the end of 2015, my yearly Observer list of the 10 best films released in UK cinemas featured both Carol Morley’s eerie The Falling and A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, an electrifying Iranian-American vampire western which writer/director Ana Lily Amirpour described as being the love-child of Sergio Leone and David Lynch, with Nosferatu as a babysitter. In 2014, Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook had been my pick of the year – a spine-chilling fantasia which drew on folk tales and silent film techniques as it subtly unpicked the grief and paranoia of a single mother, habitually projecting her fears onto her lonely child.
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Photograph: Justin Lubin/Universal Pictures
A young black man meets his white girlfriend’s parents in Jordan Peele’s chilling satire of liberal racism in the US
Ira Levin, author of Rosemary’s Baby and The Stepford Wives, would have cracked a wry smile at the cackling satire of this chilling “social thriller”, the directorial debut from MadTV alumnus Jordan Peele. When a preppy rich girl takes her African American boyfriend home for the first time, loving harmony turns to creeping discord. Diving deep into the broiling undercurrents of “post-racial” America, Peele’s hybrid creation starts out like a modern reworking of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, before drifting towards the more brutal territories of Kevin Smith’s Red State or Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room, via the eerie mysteries of Charles Burnett’s To Sleep With Anger. Beneath the beatific smile of 21st-century liberalism, Get Out finds the still grinning ghoulish skull of age-old servitude and exploitation unveiled during a rollercoaster ride into a very American nightmare.
The film’s title can be read as either a threat or a warning
Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo
Isabelle Huppert is astonishing as a rape victim who tracks down her assailant in Paul Verhoeven’s provocative psychodrama
You can read the provocative, strangely sardonic and icily arch psychodrama Elle in a number of contradictory ways. On one level, it’s a tonally alarming tale of sexual violence and dangerous roleplay from the director of Basic Instinct and Showgirls, the latter of which was cut by UK censors for potentially eroticising rape. On another, it’s a jaw-dropping showcase for Oscar nominee Isabelle Huppert, cinema’s most fearless screen presence, who describes the film as a “human comedy” about “the empowerment of a woman” with a “post-feminist” heroine. If the definition of intelligence is the ability to hold two contradictory thoughts in your head at the same time, then Elle is a movie designed to make its audience feel very smart indeed.
Adapted from Philippe Djian’s novel Oh…, Verhoeven’s first French-language feature opens with the ambiguous shrieks and grunts of a violent assault – a bloody violation, glimpsed in fragments, to which the film will return obsessively in variously reconfigured forms. The attack by a masked intruder is grotesque, but the aftermath is weirdly placid, as Huppert’s businesswoman Michèle tidies up, bathes and casually orders sushi. “I fell off my bike,” she tells her ineffectual son when asked about her injuries. Later, she informs colleagues: “It’s over, it’s not worth a debate.”
Photograph: Kerry Monteen/Pathe
Director Gurinder Chadha delivers a lavish yet heartfelt account of the household caught in the middle of India’s partition
Following my somewhat sniffy review of Gurinder Chadha’s uneven 2010 supernatural comedy It’s a Wonderful Afterlife, several British Asian viewers contacted me to say that the film was far funnier and more affecting than I had allowed, but required specific cultural knowledge (which I lacked) to be fully appreciated. Quite the opposite is true of Viceroy’s House, Chadha’s heartfelt and very personal drama about the traumas of partition, which strives to dramatise the epochal events of 1947 for the widest possible audience, including those who know nothing of the independence of India or the creation of Pakistan.
Cynics may complain that the resulting drama plays to the gallery as it personalises complex politics with its broad-stokes characters and Gosford Park-style heritage appeal. Yet despite an oddly underdeveloped Romeo and Juliet romance at the heart of its multiple storylines, I found myself increasingly gripped by Chadha’s handsome period drama – impressed by the accessibility of its history-primer narrative, entertained by its warm wit and occasionally boisterous charm, and moved by its melodramatic contrivances, which turn out to be more rooted in fact that one might imagine.
Gillian Anderson has ripe fun as Edwina Mountbatten, sporting an accent somewhere between HM and Mrs T
Related: Gurinder Chadha on Viceroy’s House: why I had to make a film about partition
Barry Jenkins’s Oscar-nominated coming-of-age film is a heartbreaking, uplifting, minor-key masterpiece
“Who is you?” This question echoes throughout Moonlight, the breathtaking second feature from Medicine for Melancholy director Barry Jenkins. A coming-of-age story about a young man from a hardscrabble Miami neighbourhood, this kaleidoscopic gem focuses on three periods of its subject’s life, chaptered by the different names and identities he assumes, or is given – “Little”, “Chiron” and “Black”. Lending heartfelt voice to characters who have previously been silenced or sidelined, Moonlight is an astonishingly accomplished work – rich, sensuous and tactile, by turns heartbreaking and uplifting. The first time I saw it I swooned; the second time I cried like a baby. I can’t wait to see it again.
Inspired by playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney’s postgraduate theatre project “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue”, Jenkins’s film opens with a scrawny kid nicknamed “Little” (Alex Hibbert) being chased into a derelict house from which he is rescued by Juan (Mahershala Ali). Imposing yet gentle, Juan is a drug dealer whose addicted clients include Little’s increasingly bedraggled mother, Paula (Naomie Harris). Aided by his nurturing partner, Teresa (Janelle Monáe, who also co-stars in Hidden Figures; see review overleaf), Juan takes a parental interest in this lost boy, who forlornly asks: “Am I a faggot?”
This environment may be harsh but there is exquisite beauty here, in the sunburst days and neon-tinged nights of Miami
Related: Moonlight’s writer Tarell Alvin McCraney: 'the story needed to be out there'