The Revenant – 8.5/10

Leonardo di Caprio goads the academy with another breathtaking performance…

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How unusual is it for the one of the best films of the year to be released only two weeks in? The Revenant is due to hit cinemas on the 15th of January in the UK and it is difficult to imagine too many superior films coming out next year.

Director Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s previous film Birdman is not actually that indicative of his earlier work. 21 Grams and Babel are long, studied takes on faith, death and loss and The Revenant is a startling return to those themes.

Whilst 21 Grams and Babel were both visually stunning, Iñárritu failed to match the lofty ideas and visuals with a compelling story line, rendering both films quite a difficult, if rewarding, viewing experience.

On The Revenant everything has come together beautifully for Iñárritu and his astonishing cast. Tom Hardy is an actor in the prime of his career at the moment and in a year of excellent performances, The Revenant is his best. Barely recognizable as the Bill to DiCaprio’s The Bride, Hardy is a grotesque, barely intelligible figure.

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Tom Hardy as Fitzgerald

His co-star Leonardo DiCaprio is also in a sparkling run of form in recent years. His last five films: The Wolf of Wall Street, The Great GatsbyDjango Unchained, J. Edgar and Inception. Wow. However I am actually not massively surprised that Leo hasn’t won an Oscar during this run. As compelling as the performances were, his last three roles are very similar. We know that Leo can play a Jordan Belfort or a Jay Gatsby.

His performance here though is a thing of beauty. DiCaprio conveys more emotion with barely any dialogue than anything he has appeared in since Blood Diamond. Combined with Hardy’s career best turn, yet another strong performance from Domhnall Gleeson and a breakout performance from Will Poulter and you are left with a show stopping and incredibly disparate set of characters and actors.

Visually The Revenant is awe inspiring. The scenery is harsh but constantly beautiful and the CGI whilst used sparingly is unforgettable. One scene in particular will be remembered for years to come but I don’t want to spoil it here…

The Revenant is a director, and various actors, at the very top of their games, with a simple yet effective story, and a clear but harsh message of faith and forgiveness.

Top 5 Edward Norton Characters

Ed Norton is a tough actor to pin down having appeared in critically acclaimed blockbusters, indie flicks and disappointments. For every Fight Club there is a Death to Smoochy

Despite never quite scaling the heights that his talent fully deserved, Ed Norton is without a doubt one of the greatest living actors. Here are 5 of his most compelling and memorable characters.

5. Monty Brogan – 25th Hour

Best Quote: Too long to transcribe here but see above video. Well worth a watch even out of context.

Best Moment – The above rant, whilst brilliantly written by David Benioff, is bought to life by a self righteous and toxic Norton who somehow also brings a sympathetic edge to what is basically a diatribe of hate. It is also one of the great on screen monologues.

Spike Lee’s 25th Hour is an underrated gym that not enough people have seen. It is perhaps more poignant than ever given recent events and bubbling tensions.

4. Lester ‘Worm’ Murphy – Rounders

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Best Quote: ‘I guess the sayings’ true. In the poker game of life, women are the rake man. They are the fuckin’ rake.’

Best Moment – Worm returns to Matt Damon’s Mike McDermott’s life like a whirlwind destroying everything in his path. This is never more devastating then when Worm surprises McDermott while he is hustling a poker game for cops… it doesn’t go well.

Like 25th Hour, Rounders is a criminally underrated gem. It is also bang in the middle of Norton’s golden run starting with Primal Fear and taking in American History X and Fight Club.

3. Mike – Birdman

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Best Quote: ‘Popularity is the slutty little cousin of prestige.’

Best Moment: Mike is undoubtedly one of Norton’s more abrasive characters. Mike’s initial arrival on the set of Riggan’s play is a tour de force in snarky, passive aggressive, douchebaggery from Norton who appears to be relishing every second of playing such an arrogant jack ass.

In his later career Norton has had much more success playing supporting characters such as in Birdman, Grand Budapest Hotel and Moonrise Kingdom.

2. Derek Vinyard – American History X

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Best Quote: ‘If you come near Danny again, I will feed you your fucking heart, Cameron.’

Best Moment: Perhaps unfairly American History X will always be remembered for the infamous ‘curb stomp’ scene but Derek losing it over the family dinner table at his mother for dating a Jewish man is just as powerful.

American History X is the 32nd best film ever made according to IMDB users despite only being nominated for 1 Oscar. Like Shawshank Redemption before it however, American History X is now receiving the plaudits and the audience it initially deserved, years after the fact. Derek Vinyard is Ed Norton’s best performance but not his most iconic character. That plaudit belongs to…

1. The Narrator – Fight Club

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Best Quote: ‘I am Jack’s smirking revenge…’

Best Moment: In a film bustling with memorable scenes it is nigh on impossible to pick just one. The opening hushed narration, the first fight with Tyler, crying into Bob’s tits, the destruction of Jared Leto, the heart wrenching finale of watching society collapse with Marla by his side etc.

The defining moment for the Narrator however comes when Tyler burns his hand with Lye. Norton’s screaming and wincing makes the pain seem real and his beautiful realization ‘it’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything’ frames the rest of the movie.

Birdman – 7.5/10.

Fading star and former Batman Michael Keaton plays fading star and former Birdman Riggan whilst notoriously difficult to work with but brilliant Ed Norton plays notoriously difficult to work with but brilliant Mike.

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After four days I am still not sure what I think about Birdman. Brilliantly directed but also overly pretentious. Expertly acted but all the characters feel (purposefully?) like caricatures. The score fits perfectly but also becomes a bit tiresome. Birdman is an enigma.

It is always great to see Ed Norton and Naomi Watts but every character here feels like a kind of Wes Anderson cartoon. The performances aren’t bad but at no point does anybody in this film feel like they could be an actual person who exists in real life and the normally reliable Emma Stone’s bratty drug addict is just plain annoying.

It can’t be denied that Birdman is definitely ambitious but ambition alone does not make a classic film. We are talking about a best picture winner here for Christ’s sake! On that subject I am astounded that Birdman took home the best picture gong. Of the nominated films that I have seen I would put Boyhood slightly ahead and The Imitation Game, The Grand Budapest Hotel and (my favourite) Whiplash miles in front Birdman.

So is Birdman a brilliant Charlie Kaufman-esque satire on fame with art imitating life imitating art or a daft self indulgent mess? To be honest a bit of both.