Need a hand with film recommendations for July? Look no further! With the good weather well and truly arrived - and school holidays on the horizon - our movie man James King is back with his must-see picks for the summer days.
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Viceroy’s House (2017)
Downton in Delhi? There are certainly similarities between the iconic English show and this period drama, not least that it stars the Earl of Grantham himself, Hugh Bonneville, as Admiral Mountbatten, the last Viceroy of India. But there’s way more political punch in this eye-opening look at the country’s path to independence - and the creation of Pakistan - in 1947. A fine supporting cast - Gillian Anderson, Simon Callow, Michael Gambon - keep things gripping, even when the story occasionally feels more like a history lesson than a movie.
From writer/director Jon Stewart - the comedian and TV host who presented The Daily Show on Comedy Central for many years - Irresistible stars Steve Carrell as a top Washington spin doctor and strategist who heads out to heartland America to try and drum up interest in the Democratic Party following their defeat at the 2016 Presidential election. His method? To persuade an everyday farmer to run for mayor, capturing the national imagination in the process. Smart stuff - and big laughs - that also stars Rose Byrne and Chris Cooper.
Up in the Air (2009)
One of George Clooney’s best sees the great man play Ryan Bingham, a highly-focused human resources expert who travels America helping companies downsize by firing employees. When Ryan falls for a fellow frequent flyer (Vera Farmiga) and has to deal with an ambitious new colleague at work (Anna Kendrick), his simple life starts to get more colourful. A brilliantly witty and warm comedy drama.
London Boulevard (2010)
A seriously starry cast list is the reason to watch this gritty drama about an ex-con who gets a new job protecting a young actress. Colin Farrell and Keira Knightley lead the pack but there’s also Anna Friel, Ray Winstone, Stephen Graham, Eddie Marsan and Ophelia Lovibond too - a roll call that more than makes up for the film’s occasionally clunky twists and turns.
Love, Sarah (2020)
Celia Imrie is one of those actors who will always elevate a movie, even if she’s only in it for a few minutes (remember her brilliantly bonkers - and brief - turn in Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again?) Lucky for us, she’s the lead in this Richard Curtis-esque comedy drama about an ageing mother who decides to fulfil her late daughter’s dream of opening the best bakery in Notting Hill. Sweet and sugary? Occasionally. But Celia can deliver a putdown like few others, making this fluffy confection more filling than you might imagine.
Several films from the hit vampire series starring Kate Beckinsale have now landed on Netflix but it’s this first outing that’s still the best. Kate plays Selene, an elite blood-sucker called a Death Dealer, obsessed with beating the vampires’ greatest enemy: the werewolves. When she meets a human called Michael (Scott Speedman), she realises that her past might hold dark secrets. Silly, yes - but Underworld boasts some serious style and a great lead performance too.
Pieces of a Woman (2020)
Vanessa Kirby (so great as Princess Margaret in The Crown) is unforgettable in this raw - but ultimately rewarding - look at a woman trying to cope with the loss of her baby. It’s a tough watch, of course, but there’s nevertheless much to be gained from seeing a character on the edge slowly regain control of her life. Kirby was Oscar-nominated for her turn and is currently one of the busiest Brits in Hollywood, with two Mission: Impossible films and projects with Hugh Jackman and Joaquin Phoenix in the works.
Winter’s Bone (2010)
Before she was catapulted into the Hollywood A-List, a 19-year old Jennifer Lawrence wowed arthouse audiences with her performance in this gritty, low-budget thriller about a girl in rural Missouri hunting the woods for her wayward father. Hugely impressive work from the future megastar, landing her multiple awards nominations and roles in blockbusters such as the X-Men and Hunger Games series.
The Guilty (2021)
Jake Gyllenhaal’s latest edge-of-your-seat drama dropped straight onto Netflix last year, telling the high-tension story of 911 phone-operator and the mysterious call he answers from a kidnap victim. It’s now up to him to do what he can from the confines of his office. Another explosive performance from Gyllenhaal makes this brilliantly claustrophobic drama a must-see.
Love & Gelato (2022)
Jenna Evans Welch’s bestselling YA novel gets the Netflix movie treatment, starring Susanna Skaggs as Lina - a 17-year-old visiting Italy only to fulfil her mother’s dying wish. When she discovers a journal that her mum kept back when she lived in the country too, suddenly Lina’s mind opens to romance, art and fabulous food. Sugary sweet? Of course. But if you’re desperate for a Mediterranean holiday, this is the next best thing.
Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa (2013)
Everyone’s favourite North Norfolk radio star got the big screen treatment nine years ago and whilst the larger format might not suit hapless Alan quite as neatly as the small screen, there’s still plenty to enjoy. When a co-worker is fired and tries to take over the station, Alan sees his chance to play the hero… even though he caused the sacking in the first place. Steve Coogan is, once again, brilliantly awkward in the role that turned him into a household name.
Bridget Jones’s Baby (2016)
There’s no Hugh Grant this time around but American star Patrick Dempsey does a decent job as the new man in Bridget’s always-complicated love life. So complicated, in fact, there’s even a baby on the way for the 43-year old with the big pants. But who’s the father? Renée Zellweger returns to the character that bagged her an Oscar nomination back in the noughties - and it’s like she’s never been away.
Cuban Fury (2014)
Nick Frost shows off some serious moves as the former salsa king who decides to slip his dancing shoes back on after discovering his beautiful new boss is a ballroom fan. Mixing plenty of Strictly with a little Full Monty, Cuban Fury is a seriously charming rom-com that was unfairly overlooked at the box office. Rashida Jones, Ian McShane and Olivia Colman co-star.
Love & Friendship (2016)
The supremely talented Kate Beckinsale stars in one of the best recent Jane Austen adaptations, telling the story of scheming Lady Susan and the lengths she’ll go to to get a husband for her daughter and herself. No-one does a comedy-of-manners quite like Austen, and with pitch-perfect supporting performances from the likes of Stephen Fry, Chloë Sevigny and Tom Bennett, this is eighteenth-century satire at its finest.
Spielberg’s nineties smash asks the question 'What if Peter Pan *did* grow up?' The result? He’s now a workaholic lawyer called Peter Banning (played by Robin Williams) who has to reconnect with his magical past when his children are kidnapped by old foe Captain Hook (a superb Dustin Hoffman). Julia Roberts co-stars in this uneven by enjoyable spectacular, featuring an early role for Gwyneth Paltrow as the teenage Wendy Darling.
The Hunger Games (2012)
With a prequel - The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes - being readied for filming, here’s the original adaptation of Suzanne Collins' sci-fi page-turner, starring a pre-megastardom Jennifer Lawrence as the heroic archer from District 12, Katniss Everdeen. Support comes from Liam Hemsworth, Elizabeth Banks and Woody Harrelson but it’s always been Stanley Tucci’s flamboyant TV host Caesar Flickerman who steals the show for me.
A little-seen cracker starring Matthew McConaughy, this one. A hermit hiding in his boat out in the swampy Mississippi wilderness is discovered by two young boys who agree to help him escape the bad guys tracking him down. Touching and tender, this features one of MM’s most underrated performances, plus a surprisingly grubby turn from the usually squeaky clean Reese Witherspoon. A must-see.
An Angel at My Table (1990)
The true story of Kiwi writer Janet Frame, who suffered a disturbing and eventful upbringing in the forties before becoming one of her country’s most celebrated novelists. An award-winning classic from New Zealand filmmaker Jane Campion, whose must-see films The Power of the Dog and The Piano - both Oscar winners - are also on Netflix. Gripping, heartbreaking and unforgettable.
Reviews haven’t been that kind to Chris Hemsworth's latest, a Netflix premiere about a science boffin who tests his formulas on imprisoned criminals. But with Top Gun: Maverick actor Miles Teller in a supporting role (the two films even share the same director) and a healthy sense of its own ridiculousness, Spiderhead is a fun slice of science-fiction that at least looks good, even if it doesn't entirely live up to its promise.
Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)
This biopic of the late, great Queen frontman Freddie Mercury might have had a troubled production but with Rami Malek's remarkable (and Oscar-winning) performance at its heart, you wouldn't notice. It doesn't even matter if you're a fan of Queen of not. This is an inspirational tale of a true one-off, the spiritual leader of a band who fought against the odds (and fashion) to become one of the UK’s biggest entertainment exports. It will rock you!
The Craft: Legacy (2020)
The cult nineties movie about four schoolgirl witches gets a contemporary reboot, perhaps lacking the coolness of the original but with a strong message of inclusivity that’s nicely played. There are even some nods to the first film for the fans too. Relative unknowns Cailee Spaeny, Zoey Luna, Gideon Adlon and Lovie Simone star although look out for bigger names David Duchovny and Michelle Monaghan too.
Man Up (2015)
The multi-talented American actor and director Lake Bell stars as Nancy, an unlucky-in-love thirtysomething mistaken by bumbling Jack (Simon Pegg) for his blind date when he sees her at Waterloo Station. Instead of correcting his error though, Nancy keeps up the pretence, resulting in an eventful night out in London featuring a stalker, an ex-wife and the amusing use of a fire extinguisher. Oh, and true love of course. Co-starring Sharon Horgan, Rory Kinnear and Olivia Williams.
Liam Gallagher: As It Was (2019)
It's not the former Oasis frontman covering Harry Styles, but rather an insightful and hugely entertaining look at his life following the split with his brother Noel and the new generation of fans worshipping the ground he walks on. Liam's secret? What you see is what you get. He’s a rock 'n'roll one-off, totally dedicated to the cause and with a sense of humour that's irresistible. May he 'live forever'!
One of the silliest films of all time is also one of the funniest, an inspired spoof of disaster movies (in this case, about an out-of-control passenger plane) that's so packed with daft gags you'll need to watch it at least twice to get them all. Some of the humour might be a little dated but the air of straight-faced stupidity is contagious, perfectly played by all the cast but especially by the legendary Leslie Nielsen, who'd go on to the do the same thing all over again in the Naked Gun movies.
War Dogs (2016)
Jonah Hill and Miles Teller are gun-runners for the US military in this wild, crazy and eye-openingaction drama loosely based on true events. Is it glamourising or criticising their behaviour? The jury's still out but with Bradley Cooper and Ana De Armas as co-stars, plus some deliciously dark humour, there's plenty of reason for you to watch and decide for yourself.
What's Your Number? (2011)
The brilliantly ditzy Anna Faris is often better than the films she stars in and that's certainly the case with this cheeky laugher about a young woman struggling to balance her past romances with finding 'the one'. But whilst it may be occasionally clunky, it's another polished performance from Faris (who's now really showing her skills hosting hit podcast Unqualified) plus there's a pre-Avengers Chris Evans charming everyone in his wake as her laidback musician neighbour.
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (2011)
The Cold War has never been more atmospheric than in this all-star adaptation of the classic tale of espionage and double-crossing. Gary Oldman leads the cast as crinkly British intelligence officer George Smiley with Colin Firth, Kathy Burke, Benedict Cumberbatch, Stephen Graham, John Hurt and Tom Hardy adding extra mystery to the proceedings. Moody and masterful. You'll be gripped.
Jennifer Lopez: Halftime (2022)
If any showbiz megastar has a life worthy of a documentary then it’s Jenny From the Block. Starting with her childhood in The Bronx and going all the way to her eye-popping Superbowl show alongside Shakira, Halftime might be produced by J-Lo herself - and therefore lacking any real dirt - but her focus and determination across all aspects of her life is still an inspirational thing to behold.
WATCH: Jennifer Lopez in tears in trailer for intimate Netflix documentary Halftime
Every now and then Adam Sandler takes a break from dumb, throwaway comedies and makes a film that reminds us of what he’s really capable of. Hustle is one of those movies. Described as ‘Rocky meets Jerry Maguire’, The Sandman plays a scout for a Philadelphia basketball team who believes he might finally have found the prodigy he’s always dreamed of. Gritty, gripping and effortlessly likeable, this is a Sandler slam dunk. Co-starring Queen Latifah.
Tom Hardy stars alongside… er… Tom Hardy in this slick biopic of notorious London gangsters Ronnie and Reggie Kray. He is, as you’d expect, hypnotically powerful in both roles whilst the film’s 1960s setting is flawless. It’s good to see a focus on Reggie’s wife Frances too (Emily Browning), exploring how the gangster’s criminal lifestyle affected his family life. It’s certainly not for the faint-hearted though. The twins’ reign over the city’s underworld was brutal and Legend doesn’t pull any punches.
A young Asa Butterfield - now best known as Otis in Netflix’s Sex Education - stars in this flamboyant fantasy about a young boy who lives alone in a Parisian railway station in the 1930s, maintaining all the clocks on the platforms whilst also trying to figure out the secret behind one of his late father’s inventions. Eye-popping and eccentric, Hugo is another masterpiece from acclaimed film-maker Martin Scorsese. Chloë Grace Moretz, Jude Law, Sacha Baron-Cohen and Ben Kingsley co-star.
The true story of lesbian and gay activists who helped raise money for striking miners during the infamous 1984 dispute is brilliantly handled by stars Bill Nighy, Imelda Staunton, Dominic West and Paddy Considine. It’s anything but worthy, a riot of one-liners and eighties pop that manages to be both angry and uplifting at the same time - not a million miles away from Britflicks such as Brassed Off and The Full Monty. A definite crowd-pleaser.
News of the World (2021)
The ever-reliable Tom Hanks lends his heavyweight power to this moody Western about a Civil War veteran returning a long lost girl to her family. The great man is, of course, superb as Captain Jefferson Kidd but it’s co-star Helena Zengel - just twelve years old at the time of filming and hailing from Germany - who picked up a raft of awards nominations. Impressive stuff.
The Ghost Writer (2010)
One of Ewan McGregor’s best (and, unfortunately, least remembered) movie roles sees him as a journalist hired to pen the memoirs of a former British Prime Minister (a brilliantly slippery Pierce Brosnan), uncovering dark secrets about his past along the way. Look out for a superb Kim Cattrall too, as an eerily efficient personal assistant to the PM. Taut, stylish, grown-up thrills.
12 Years a Slave (2013)
A masterpiece that won multiple Best Picture awards, this epic - and true - tale of injustice hasn’t lost any of its power over the years. Chiwetel Ejiofor is unforgettably driven as Solomon Northrup, a Washington musician kidnapped in 1841 and sold into slavery but it’s perhaps Lupita Nyong’o who shines most brightly in her breakthrough role as Solomon’s friend, the heartbreakingly tortured Patsey. She rightfully won an Oscar for her turn and roles in Black Panther and Us followed.
The Impossible (2012)
Based on the experience of María Belón and her family in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami tragedy, The Impossible features jaw-dropping effects and haunting set-pieces plus inspiring turns from Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor and - in his first film after starring as Billy Elliot in London’s West End - future Spider-Man, Tom Holland. Even as a fifteen year old he has serious charisma, even though he hadn’t even decided on a full-time acting career by this point. Hugely affecting.
Steve Coogan sports a frankly remarkable set of false teeth to dazzle his way through this biting comedy about a retail millionaire (Sir Richard McReadie) trying to organise his opulent birthday party on a Greek island. But underneath the showiness, Richard’s world is falling apart. Flashing between past and present, it’s easy to spot that this guy is loosely based on real people. But even though it has a lot to say about pride, vanity, and the immorality of some of the fashion industry, Greed is also just brilliantly funny.
Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa (2008)
The second instalment of the slightly overlooked animation franchise sees New York zoo animals Alex the lion, Marty the zebra, Gloria the hippo and Melman the giraffe crash land in an African nature reserve, leading Alex to a happy reunion with his long lost parents. More good-natured fun, with Sacha Baron-Cohen’s Julien the lemur stealing almost every scene. And if you’re a fan, check out the other Madagascar spin-offs and sequels on Netflix too.
Knight & Day (2010)
Has Top Gun: Maverick got you in the mood for more Tom Cruise? Well this fun romp (co-starring Cameron Diaz) features Tom at this most charming, playing a rebellious secret agent who embroils an unsuspecting car dealer in his whirlwind adventure. Viola Davis and Peter Sarsgaard co-star, with a small role for a pre-superstardom Gal Gadot too. Glamorous, globe-trotting escapism.
Man of Tai Chi (2013)
Keanu Reeves took his love of martial arts to the next level by both starring in and directing this moody thriller about an underground fight club. It’s a shame that it bombed at the box-office since the action scenes are spine-tingling and Keanu is, as always, a master of straight-faced authority. It might not be The Matrix or Point Break but it’s still worth a look.
The Peruvian bear with a love of marmalade sandwiches (and a voice just like Ben Whishaw) heads to London for a new life with the eccentric Brown family in this flawless adaptation of Michael Bond’s legendary stories. The key to its success? So many things. Charm, humour, adventure and a unique visual style all add up to a homegrown classic. The even-better Part 2 is also on Netflix, with Part 3 currently being filmed!
The force of nature that is Lin-Manuel Miranda (writer of songs for Encanto, Hamilton and In the Heights) voices Vivo’s title character - a rainforest mammal called a kinkajou - as well as composing the tunes for this animated musical about a small animal with big dreams. His mission? To travel from Cuba to Miami and deliver an important message for his best friend. Vibrant, funny and with seriously catchy tunes, Vivo also features the voices of Zoe Saldana and Gloria Estefan.
Anyone else remember Bandslam? Vanessa Hudgens followed up her High School Musical success with another teen singalong - this time with a cooler edge - about a group of student misfits out to win a local talent competition. With great tunes and sharp gags, Bandslam should have been massive (spoiler: it wasn’t). Never mind. With a host of producing, presenting and acting gigs on the pipeline, Vanessa’s having the last laugh.
The Crow (1994)
Nearly thirty years on this legendary cult movie still has plenty of power, not least because of its tragic history (star Brandon Lee was fatally wounded during filming and the film was completed using a stunt double and digital effects). But this story of murdered rock star Eric Draven, resurrected in order to get his revenge, also continues to deliver the goods because of some serious gothic style and a blistering soundtrack. A nineties classic.
Run Fatboy Run (2007)
Here’s a great pub quiz question: Which former ‘Friends’ cast member directed this hit rom-com, starring Simon Pegg as a loser who tries win back his girlfriend by entering a marathon? The answer is David ‘Ross’ Schwimmer - and a fine job he does. Look out for him in a cameo role too, handing Simon a beer during a race! Easy laughs and sweet romance, co-starring Thandiwe Newton and Hank Azaria.
The devastating true story of Saroo Brierly, separated from his parents in Khandwa, India, as a young boy before being adopted by an Australian couple and moving to Tasmania. Twenty five years later Saroo decides he wants to head back to his home country and track down his biological family. Dev Patel, Rooney Mara, Nicole Kidman and David Wenham star in this spine-tingling award-winner.
The Lost Daughter (2021)
Actor Maggie Gyllenhaal’s first film as a director is a haunting, must-see tale of a professor (Olivia Colman) spending a holiday in Greece coming to terms with her past. Whilst she’s there she also becomes fascinated with a glamorous fellow traveller (Dakota Johnson), who’s hiding her own secret. A fascinating and beautifully told story of motherhood and regret, with Paul Mescal and Jessie Buckley in supporting roles.
Ali & Ava (2022)
One of this year’s best British films stars Adeel Akhtar and Claire Rushbrook as the title characters, both Bradford natives but with different backgrounds and family lives. A romance between them causes ripples in the community but this is a story told with such a big heart it never feels heavy-going. Great to see Adeel Akhtar get a BAFTA nomination for his joyfully eccentric performance as Ali too.
Channing Tatum stars as likeable bad boy Shawn, a New York street hustler who starts to find success in the lucrative - but highly dangerous - world of illegal fighting. It’s sometimes brutal, of course, but Channing’s doing what he always does so well: playing the cheeky beefcake with a heart of gold. The result? A drama with real punch.
The Invention of Lying (2009)
The ever-provocative Ricky Gervais - whose latest stand-up show Supernature is now on Netflix - co-wrote, co-directed, produced and starred in this cheeky fantasy set in a world where everyone tells the truth. The big chuckles are there, of course, but things also take a philosophical turn too - no surprise from a comedian who likes talking about religion almost as much as he likes wearing black t-shirts. So prepare to have your brain tickled as well as your funny bones.
Into the Wild (2007)
Emile Hirsch is unforgettable in this heartbreaking true story of Christopher McCandless, a disenchanted university graduate who decides to explore America by car, foot and even kayak instead of doing what society expects of him. Jena Malone, Kristen Stewart and William Hurt co-star, with confident and insightful direction from the man behind the camera too - a certain Sean Penn.
Django Unchained (2012)
Another slice of crazy genius from writer/director Quentin Tarantino, this one starring the great Jamie Foxx as a nineteenth century freed slave in America’s south, travelling the states to track down his lost wife (Kerry Washington). Christoph Waltz won an Oscar for his turn as Django’s oddball sidekick Schultz but it’s a white-haired Samuel L Jackson and an especially slimy Leonardo DiCaprio who really make a mark.
Cast Away (2000)
Classic Tom Hanks action drama that sees The Nicest Guy in Hollywood play a Fed Ex employee stranded for four years on a remote island after his plane crashes in the South Pacific. Tom’s performance is, of course, flawless. Filming was even stopped for a year so that he could could lose weight, grow a beard and generally look as though he’d really been stranded for months on end. Nevertheless, few would disagree that even the great Tom is almost upstaged by his co-star, Wilson the Volleyball.
Thirty years after he started in Formula 1, the legendary racing drive Michael ‘the Red Baron’ Schumacher is celebrated in this archive-packed look at his life and career, especially Ferrari’s early noughties dominance in the top tier of motorsport. As this is authorised by his family it’s always more about honouring than digging for dirt, but there’s still enough tension, warmth and insight to keep things interesting.
Jackass 4.5 (2022)
The dumb daredevils are back with their fourth movie outing, looking a little bit worse for wear these days but still with the same goal: to pull off as many dangerously stupid stunts as possible. It’s all ridiculously childish, of course, but there’s something weirdly reassuring about how Johnny Knoxville, Steve O and the boys don’t seem to have changed their behaviour one bit since their noughties heyday. Long may it continue.
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