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I became a MAMIL in the summer of 2015, and it has been a constant source of exhilaration, camaraderie, calm, and some damn fine cake. However, during all the stuff that happened last year, I stopped riding for a while: in fact, I only rode my bike a handful of times between mid-July and March. I became anxious about riding, about even getting changed to ride. It was too windy, too cold, too wet. I told myself there were good reasons, but in fact I was scared; of being slower, less fit, less strong; of not enjoying it, of never being able to enjoy it again.

Winter miles…

Instead, I devoted myself to the gym, riding the upright indoor bike to at least try and stay fit, get endorphins coursing through my system, feel like I’m doing something. And slowly it became true that winter miles (even in the gym) might make for summer smiles.

Back in the Saddle

I started riding again in March, after what seemed like an interminable winter. The predictably unpredictable Spring weather continued through April even into June, as I rode through freezing hail at Lacock, through a cloudburst up from Wotton under Edge so intense I could barely see the road in front of me. On the other hand, I rode over the old Severn Bridge to Chepstow in glorious sunshine. I pushed myself into tackling new hills; Cowcombe, Hyde, Horsley and Frocester were all achievements I couldn’t have imagined last Christmas.

Severn Bridge Chepstow

All this was gearing up to a charity fundraising challenge I had set myself. In his last weeks Dad was cared for by the fabulous team at the Sue Ryder Leckhampton Court Hospice near Cheltenham.

And in the end, thanks to my wonderful network of friends, family and indeed a few strangers too, I’ve raised more than £1,500 (plus £320 GiftAid) for the Hospice. This is so much more than I had originally hoped for. Thankyou all.

#Ride4Ryder (Sunday 24th June, 129km, 1,453m)

This was the main target of my training, a long ride of 80 miles that included some daunting Cotswold hills. The day was hot, comfortably over 80º, and I was definitely apprehensive. But my buddy Miles proved the quiet voice of determination and resolve that helped us both get around.  He’d never ridden 70 miles, let alone 80, so for quite a while he was in uncharted territory. Being (even) heavier than me, he was also less tempted to be aggressive on the climbs, and I can only thank him for that.

‘Easy Chris’ … ‘Steady Chris’ … ‘See you at the top’

Sue Ryder Leckhampton Court Hospice cycling sportive 2018 route

I think this is called back-loaded…

Sue Ryder Leckhampton Court Hospice Ride 4 Ryder Sportive 2018

I love cycling alone, but I love it more with a mate.

Tale of the Century (Sunday 29th July, 169km, 1,056m)

Miles and I had meant to ride 100 miles last year, but somehow it never happened, so I had always targeted this date as it would have been Dad’s 80th Birthday. The 5 weeks between the Sportive and the end of July had been virtually unbroken sunshine and heatwave. Except that final weekend, when it poured with rain and the wind blew at 20-30mph for much of the 7 hours we spent in the saddle. Miles and I set out in heavy rain, and rode through countless fords flooding Cotswold lanes, avoided fallen tree branches, and ploughed through gusty headwinds for most of the journey home.

Tetbury Oxford Century 100 miles

I focused my charity efforts on these two rides that both had strong connections to my Dad, but it turned out there were two other significant days out that made this summer even more special for me as a MAMIL.

Giro di Garda (Tuesday 21st August, 67km, 1,313m)

Lake Garda Bardolino Cycle 50 miles We spent an idyllic week in Bardolino on Lake Garda in August, and I had planned this route for a day’s bike hire. These are the foothills in the area but they’re many times higher and longer than anything in the Cotswolds, albeit not quite so steep. I was more than nervous as I set out along the beautiful lake shore. After an hour riding it was more than 90º, which was actually more of a problem than the hills. But the views and the downhills were spectacular, and I enjoyed a fabulous lunch of polenta with porcini at the top of the second climb.

 

Misty Mountains (Sunday 10th September, 74km, 1,470m)

Welsh Mountain cycle bwlch rhigos

A friend recommended riding the Bwlch and Rhigos climbs in South Wales as they are longer and steadier than many English hills. The weather was not good: started greay and misty, became downright foggy at the first summit of the Bwlch, and at the foot of the Rhigos it started pouring with rain. 4 miles and a few hundred metres climbed and it was still pouring. As I started descending into the wind I could barely see for water on my glasses and the road was a series of rivers. By the time I got back to the Bwlch summit it had mercifully stopped, but now the visibility was down to less than 25m. Descending was actually terrifying for a few miles.

But eventually I reached the valley and the a gentle 10-mile drop back to Bridgend. This was proper fun. Fast roads, the growing pride in having scaled those peaks in genuinely awful weather, the adrenalin of it all.

Bwlch viewpoint wales

The Bwlch summit: a classic Welsh mountain vista

Rhigos wales mountain viewpoint

Views from the Rhigos not improved by pouring rain

The Velominati Rules are almost infamous among MAMILs. But I’m especially drawn to #9, which definitely applied to my best rides. I’m looking forward to more.

If you are out riding in bad weather, it means you are a badass. Period.

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Mad Men is one of my favourite TV series, documenting the good/bad old days on Madison Avenue through the 1960s from JFK to **SPOILER ALERT** Coca-Cola teaching the world to sing.

What it also documents is how many ad agencies in the 1960s were kept afloat by Big Tobacco. Don Draper’s agency is frequently over a barrel to the whims of its Lucky Strike clients, and not just by advertising their cigarettes despite the growing health evidence against them. But all that advertising clearly worked, for a while. Almost everyone in the ad agency and their social milieu smoked, a lot, at work and at home, in the bar and in the car.

Who could blame them, when doctors smoked Camel, cowboys smoked Marlboro and your favourite actors sent cartons of Chesterfield as Christmas presents?

doctors camel smoking advert

Cherish your T-Zone. That’s what will go first…

Ronal Reagan Chesterfield cigarette advert

Because cancer is forever, not just for Christmas

With hindsight, it’s almost terrifying how long it took to establish restrictions on the marketing of cigarettes. The first UK study linking smoking and lung cancer was published in 1954, but a TV ban took a further 11 years to take effect, and health warnings on packs another 6 years. 47 years later, it’s still pretty easy to buy ‘death-sticks’. Apparently the Government needs the tax revenue.

Our generation’s tobacco?

More than 10 years ago, Nicholas Carr was already discussing the impact of the worldwide web on human brains in his tremendous book, The Shallows. The immediate access to knowledge about anything and everything, at a moment’s notice, was already starting to shape the way our brain’s memory and attention systems worked. And this was years before the smartphone really put such astonishing power in the palm of our hand.

And so ad spends have morphed out of tobacco into technology; Amazon, Apple, Samsung, Google, Facebook and more. Celebrities talk to their devices instead of gift us cigarettes.

samuel l jackson siri apple iphone advert

In 20 years time, will we look back on this and shudder?

Last week Apple released iOS12, its latest operating system, with a new Screentime feature prominent in its announcements. In short, this is a tool to help users measure and restrict the time they spend on their phones. Apple has included a self-regulating device in its newest products, because it feels it should help people use them less.

I might be wrong, but I Reckon this is Apple getting ahead of the game. Rather than wait years for clinical evidence that excessive mobile phone / social media use can have damaging consequences, they are trying to beat the slow-moving regulators to the punch.

Before the smartphone became ubiquitous my older child (now 16) was bullied through their mobile phone. More recently, our younger child (12) experienced spiteful classmates setting up closed chat groups that excluded her, and created a ‘fake’ avatar account to anonymize herself.

My own experience is that keeping up with constant updates on Twitter can become all-consuming, and often a source of anxiety as the sound of these channels is increasingly angry, extreme and even sinister. They’re an always-on way to remind yourself how shit the world can be. Or they’re packed with irrelevant trivia that dissolves brain cells.

I’m not saying phones are like cigarettes; they don’t kill you if used properly. But I’ve already set Screentime to help me reduce my ‘just having a quick look at…’ time, and I will be encouraging my family to do the same. Right now it’s mid-afternoon and I’ve not opened Facebook or Twitter yet, which (sadly) is saying something.

Maybe I’ll start talking to people more, or writing, or reading, or just doing nothing. Because doing nothing can be better than doing something.

It’s not hard to feel a bit shit about stuff sometimes; Trump, Brexit, school bullies, Mrs Brown’s Boys. So with a beaming glow in my heart I’m delighted to express my undimmed faith in the power of people to be amazing, and to do amazing things for other people.

You’re my inspiration…

20 years ago I ran the London Marathon to support Macmillan Cancer Relief, whose wonderful nurses had helped my Mum during her treatment and recovery from breast cancer.
Last month, my cycling buddy Miles and I rode the 30th edition of the Ride 4 Ryder cycling sportive; 80 miles through the Northern Cotswold Hills to support the Sue Ryder Leckhampton Court Hospice on the edge of Cheltenham.

This hospice is the only facility in Gloucestershire that provides 24/7 in-patient care, as well as day services and Hospice at Home care. It’s estimated that as many as 4,000 people in Gloucestershire are in need of hospice care, while Leckhampton Court has just 16 in-patient beds. Helping people to have a good, dignified death takes medical expertise, round-the-clock care and huge amounts of compassion and empathy. And all that takes money; in this case £10,000 per day.

Leckhampton Court only receives 32% of its funding from the Government; the rest has to comes from donations, which is why we chose to ride to raise money for the hospice and its team who cared for Miles’ Father-in-Law and my Dad, both of whom spent their last days receiving peerless, compassionate, dignified care.

Sue Ryder Leckhampton Court Hospice Ride 4 Ryder Sportive 2018

Of course this is the start, we’ve not seen the hills yet…

Winter miles make for Summer smiles…

For 5 months up to March I didn’t ride my bike at all on the road – as previous readers might know it’s been a funny old year. I spent many hours over the winter doing strength intervals to simulate hill climbs, cadence drills, sprints and ‘just f***ing pedal HARD’ sessions to drive away the demons and the doubt.

But slowly I rediscovered this hobby I’ve loved so much over the past 3 years. I’ve ridden over 1,000 miles since then and am as fit as I’ve been in ages. I’ve ridden in freezing hail and gale-force winds, in torrential rain and 85° heat.

And it seems to have paid off in that I feel I can ride faster than before with a lower heart rate, that I can get up hills I wouldn’t have dared attempt, and I have become much better at knowing how hard to ride, how much to eat and generally how to reach the end of a ride tired, but not broken.

Setback

A few weeks before the sportive I was cycling into work in Bristol, a 30-mile commute I tackle only occasionally. It was a lovely day and I had made really good time. The last few miles are on a shared cycle / foot path and it’s always busy in the mornings. I was cycling quickly but with care when from a side lane I hadn’t even seen came a cyclist I didn’t even see until we collided. A schoolboy (aged 11-12?) had come out of the lane and not stopped until he hit my front wheel. 5 seconds earlier or later and it would have been a near-miss. One second earlier and I would have smacked into him and it would have been worse for both of us.

The short version is that he was unhurt but his front wheel was knackered. I had a sore hip and elbow for a few days, but needed a new helmet and spent over £200 getting my bike repaired.

Ride 4 Ryder #30

This wasn’t my longest day on the bike, but it was the hilliest, and most of the climbing came in the last 1/3 of the distance.

Sue Ryder Leckhampton Court Hospice cycling sportive 2018 route

I think is called back-loaded…

The first 40km were simply lovely, through beautiful villages on great roads and a great warm-up for what was to come. The first serious climb was Dover’s Hill, a very steep but mercifully not-too-long brute that, had I driven up it beforehand, I would have sworn I’d never be able to complete. On this and the longer Saintbury Hill at 85km I helped myself to keep turning the pedals by remembering and thanking out loud the people who have sponsored me. Your donations really did help me get over those hills. Thank you.

The last 45km were fantastic for Cotswold scenery, but relentlessly unforgiving. But we battled on and were thrilled to arrive at the Hospice with only a few km to ride.

Sue Ryder Leckhampton Court Hospice Ride4Ryder Sportive 2018

Not bad for 75 miles…

The volunteer marshals and all the teams helping on the day were fabulous, positive and encouraging, a tribute to the Hospice and its ethos. It was something to see the building where my Dad spent his last weeks after nearly a year since my last visit. But I couldn’t feel anything but gratitude and pride that I have had the privilege and fortune to ride my bike to raise money for this hospice.

Sue Ryder Leckhampton Court Hospice Ride4Ryder Cycling sportive 2018

The 1st floor windows behind me were Dad’s room.

So thank you to everyone who has sponsored me so far; the total is slightly under £1,200, far more than I had originally hoped for. But, to be honest, I’m hoping now for more.

This coming Sunday 29th July would have been my Dad’s 80th Birthday. Miles and I have long talked about riding 100 miles as a target, so to commemorate Dad’s birthday and complete a double-ride, we’re riding from Tetbury to Oxford and back – actually 105 miles by my route, and we would love to raise some more funds for Sue Ryder.

So if you had considered it, or even if you hadn’t, or even if you’ve already donated, how about a little more?!

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/chrismoodyforleckhamptoncourt

Thank you very much. I’ll let you know how we get on…

Guidance

This blog almost certainly contains something that someone somewhere will manage to find offensive or at least annoying. To those people I respectfully suggest you lie down in a quiet, dark place for a short while, and think about how you might try to chill out a bit.

Meh indifference

Way back in the 2000s (remember them, eh, kids?!), the smart response to so much content online was meh, like, whatever. It seemed to be a badge of honour, an attitude, that you were, like, so not interested in all this trivial nonsense. You could rise above it. Who needed LOLcatz anyway?

Now Bento, ‘the keyboard cat’ dies and it makes the national news.

The amount of memes and content and reposting and churnalism has overwhelmed us. We’re increasingly incapable of setting our Slow Thinking System 2 to work, rationally processing and analysing the world. Ever-shorter attention spans are driving TL:DR, while ‘intelligent’ algorithms drive us deeper into social and political echo chambers where we only see stuff we already like.

Confirmation bias becomes embedded, debate mutates into violent shouting matches, and the idea of constructive compromise is an outdated weakness.

Anger Inside Out

From meh to outrage

The apathetic shoulder-shrug has long gone, now everything is outrage and offence, hyperbole and superlatives. With no sense of irony, it’s almost impossible to overstate the speed at which the internet can go apesh*t over anything and everything.

In case you’ve not experienced this, allow me to outline the (all too predictable) process.

  • Newspapers splash headlines about ‘fury’ or ‘storm’ as though the nation is up in arms, when in fact they’re simply reposting a few angry tweets or comments from random individuals
  • These headlines spark reactions in others (even if the headline bears little resemblance to the substance in the article). Remember, people aren’t reading the article, just assuming the headline is true
  • Outrage spreads like a wildfire, no one checks the actual facts and ‘an internet storm’ is born. 140 (or even 280) characters is never enough to convey the real nuances or shades of grey
  • The speed with which it spreads seems to validate the outrage through a herd mentality: if so many people are in on this, it must be something…
  • Scepticism or restraint is seized upon as condoning the outrageous behaviour. As President George W Bush made clear more than a decade ago, there is no permissible middle ground

Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists

  • And before anyone can draw breath, today’s trending topic of outrage is tomorrow’s ‘seen it, don’t care’. The relentlessness of 24/7 online news, and its ethos that no story is too small or extreme to merit a manipulative headline from which they can sell ad space, means that something else will come along, probably in time for the evening rush hour, or tomorrow’s breakfast news, or lunchtime.

Perhaps the first time I remember this was in 2001, before Social Media even existed, when the hilarious Chris Morris satire “Brass Eye” lampooned sensationalist news stories, often at the expense of MPs and celebrities. Its ‘paedogeddon’ episode about internet paedophiles created a storm among many of the Great and the Good, claiming it to be offensive and calling for it to be banned without having even seen it.

More recently there was Steve Martin’s tweet about Carrie Fisher in the aftermath of her death in December 2016. His attempt to pay tribute to his friend was swamped by moral fury and he removed it within 72 hours.

steve martin carrie fisher tweet december 2016

In the US, Starbucks’ has produced seasonal red cups to replace its usual white & green to celebrate the festive season. They’ve done this for years, such that their release has become a signpost for the season of good will. Until 2015, when the plain red ‘design’ was decried as an ‘attack’ on Christmas, part of the systemic societal ‘persecution’ of Christians and Christianity in the US.

Starbucks Seasonal Red Cups Christmas Festive

I can see a cheapskate cost-reduction that’s pretty offensive, but an attack on Christianity?!

The entertaining and insightful writer Jon Ronson has written extensively about our current culture of offence and shaming. This review of his book “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed” is terrific, and gets to the heart of things when it discusses

…a scuttling crowd of people who want nothing more in life than to be offended. Offence, for this lot, is not a straightforward emotional response, instinctive and heartfelt. It’s a choice, something they actively seek.

When did we move from offence being a spontaneous and unconscious response to a strategy for life?

 

Time to Change assert that 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem this year, and half of those people will feel the isolation or perceived shame of their condition is worse than the condition itself.

I was diagnosed with depression on 9th October 2017, but my shame started some time earlier. I know now that my depression built up over many months during which I gradually lost confidence in myself across almost every aspect of my life and I felt certain that others had lost confidence in me.

 

Much more than just a bad day…

I’ve worked long hours in rapidly-changing environments for 25 years. Last year’s professional challenges were no worse than I’d experienced before, except that I responded differently.

  • I felt ground down, chronically exhausted. My mind felt like treacle: I struggled to concentrate, to finish even simple tasks.
  • I could see colleagues working long hours. They seemed to be coping, so what was wrong with me? Was I inefficient, or just not up to it anymore?
  • Some days I was snappy, others I felt like I was moving in slow motion. I was convinced people would notice, but when no one said anything it was merely more ‘proof’ that they couldn’t rely on me and were managing without me.

 

Flight, not fight

No two depressions are alike. It’s an intensely intimate condition, to which our reactions are entirely personal and often irrational.

My feelings of low mood, inadequacy and guilt had little basis in fact, but I believed them. This in turn affected my behaviour in ways that became increasingly self-fulfilling.

I was sure I wasn’t good enough; at my job, as a Dad, as a son. I started avoiding social situations where I might feel vulnerable, even going to the pub or cycling with friends. But while not doing things reduced the immediate anxiety, it only exacerbated my low mood and isolation.

 

Getting there…

My colleagues and the directors at Indicia have been outstanding in their support towards my recovery. I could highlight four key areas:

  • Communication: it really is good to talk. I was consulted about who would be told and what was said to colleagues and clients about my absence. I’ve always known I can speak to colleagues and bosses who will listen and hear me without judgement.
  • Sensitivity: when I returned to the office after 2 weeks away, I was amazed and moved to find my email inbox virtually empty. Someone had thought to remove the hundreds of client project messages, internal announcements and other emails. I was kept away from client emails until we all agreed I could handle it. This made a huge difference.
  • Patience: it took me 3 months since returning to be ‘back’, during which time I was on reduced responsibilities and hours with limited client contact.
  • Flexibility: the variability in how I feel day-to-day has been significant and unpredictable. They have taken this in their stride without me feeling any more guilt than I piled on myself.

 

Ladders and Snakes

Over these last months I’ve often felt that I’m ‘not depressed enough’ or in the ‘right way’. I still sometimes experience huge variability in Good Days and Bad Days, or even volatility in the same morning that it makes me afraid people will lose faith, or that I’ll never be ‘right’ again. It’s as though I have a very full glass, into which something even quite small can make it overflow.

Fortunately, I have learned many things about myself and my depression since October. I know that it’s a selfish disease that can isolate you, often without you realising. So, in my recovery I’ve started to work and live far more consciously in many ways:

  • Setting clearer work priorities: on a daily basis, being aware of what has to be done, and what might be distractions: just getting things done
  • In tandem with that, clearer boundaries between work and home
  • More awareness of, and conscious efforts to have better sleep, exercise, diet
  • A mix of counselling and self-help exploring CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) and other techniques
  • Daily Mindfulness, usually 15-30 minutes at lunchtime to (re)focus and understand how I’m feeling. This can be both proactive (training for my brain) or remedial (to give myself some space, reduce anxiety). I recommend it to everyone.
  • Medication

 

Looking Forward

I’m also setting myself a longer-term goal for the months ahead. The Sue Ryder Hospice in Cheltenham cared for my Dad during his last weeks in 2017. It’s the only full-time residential palliative care facility in Gloucestershire and its staff are fantastic.

2018 is the 30th anniversary of their Cycling Sportive, so on Sunday 24th June I will be riding 80 miles from Cheltenham around the Northern Cotswolds to raise money for the hospice. A month later, on Dad’s Birthday, I will complete my first ever 100-mile ride, starting from home in Tetbury. Having had 5 months off the bike over the winter I’m now back in training, which is also helping my recovery.

I’m setting myself a target of raising at least £500, but with your help I could raise much more. Your donations would support me on the roads in training and on the day. If you want to join me in person on either ride, please let me know. Please visit my JustGiving page, and give whatever you can.

Thank you.

There might not be too many sportsmen who can unite Piers Morgan, Brian Lara, Gary Lineker and Jeremy Corbyn, but it appears Cyrille Regis can. His tragically early death on Sunday, aged just 59, has led to tributes from all around the globe.

Cyrille Regis Goal Celebration West Bronwich Albion

Big Cyrille was one of my childhood heroes. In an era when most children I knew liked Liverpool (because they won everything), I was a contrarian, a West Brom fan. I loved Cyrille Regis and Laurie Cunningham, Bryan Robson and Derek Statham, Brendan Batson and John Wile and Ally Brown. West Brom played great football, had a great kit and scored blinding goals, and Cyrille was their centre-forward.

At the time, I didn’t really understand about the racism and abuse he and other black players suffered, I just loved the way he played. He was young (barely 20 years old when he joined West Brom), and he seemed to love playing football and scoring goals. Why wouldn’t he be a kid’s idol?

What a player, what a man.

It says something about his calibre as a person that he could play for West Brom, and their arch-rivals in the Midlands – Wolves, Aston Villa and Coventry – and have each club regard him as a superstar, and each club rise to salute him if he ever returned to play against them. Journalist Pat Murphy knows more about sport in the Midlands than most; I commend his tweets and comments unreservedly.

Regis trained as an electrician while playing non-league football as a teenager in the 1970s, but only a few years later he became only the third non-white player to be capped for England (out of more than 950 players at that time). He’s been described as an ‘icon’ in countless tributes today. This NME cover is from the week after Margaret Thatcher was elected Prime Minister. The article isn’t about him, but about the general state of football, and they chose Regis, still just 21, in full flight to represent the sport.

That’s an icon.

Cyrille Regis NME cover

How many musicians get on Match of the Day?

Two years ago this week the world was mourning David Bowie and Alan Rickman but I am more sad tonight, because I loved Cyrille Regis, perhaps at a time when not that many people did. I re-enacted his goals with my Subbuteo teams. I created new ones, but they were always absolute belters. And I am sad tonight because we’ve lost one of the Good Guys.

RIP Cyrille.

Despite all the other stuff that 2017 has thrown at us (including more in the last few days, sigh), I can say I have seen some bloody good films this year. As our children are growing up, we’re seeing a more varied range of films on the big screen and at home, so for the first time this list of my favourites for the year is purely based on those I saw in the cinema (and a summary of the best I saw at home too…)

Buckle up…

10. La La Land
This came with an inordinate amount of hype that it almost lived up to. There are fabulous scenes that are acts of pure cinematic joy, but there’s a lot of bitter alongside the sweet. And the ending is terrific simply because it’s not that fairytale-dream-come-true.

9. Goodbye Christopher Robin
Perhaps because I saw this as I was becoming more aware of my own mental health issues, but this resonated so strongly with me. I’ve loved pretty much everything about Winnie the Pooh and his friends forever, and the dramatisation of their creation by a shell-shocked A.A.Milne and his son was touching and extremely moving. Domnhall Gleeson is fantastic as Milne, at times broken, at times putting his game face on to meet society’s expectations. Sometimes his actions are heartbreaking to our contemporary eyes, but the film sympathetically shows his suffering too. Margot Robbie is great at making an unsympathetic character very real, while Will Tilston and Alex Lawther portray Christopher Robin with amazing tenderness and depth, and Kelly MacDonald is superb as Christopher’s Nannie.

8. Thor: Ragnarok
This is a blast from start to finish. By a street it’s the funniest superhero film, and all of it in a good way. Taika Waititi is one of my discoveries of the year, and I love his sense of humour, both as a director and voice actor of the stone-man Korg. It’s full of great lines, features Hulk brilliantly, and introduces Valkyrie as a strong new female character. I could see this again in an instant, not something I can recall thinking about other Marvel films (except one – see later)…

7. The Killing of a Sacred Deer
Yorgos Lanthimos makes unusual films and this is no exception. The subject matter is one thing, but the style and tone is virtually unique to him. Dialogue is clipped and often monotone, there’s a sense of underlying dread and darkness in almost every scene, and yet it’s also shot through with jet-black humour, often surreal and disturbing in its own right.

The revelation here is Barry Keoghan as Martin, a young man who infiltrates the seemingly nuclear family of Colin Farrell’s heart surgeon and Nicole Kidman. From the start there’s something unnerving, almost other-worldly about him, and it gets worse from there. He’s utterly compelling, and I found the whole thing almost hypnotic.

Killing of a Sacred Deer barry keoghan martin

You should see him eating spaghetti, that’s REALLY unsettling…

6. Blade Runner 2049

Blade Runner 2049 ryan gosling

Another release that almost out-hyped itself, this is an astonishing piece of visual creativity. So many frames a so beautiful. I said about Skyfall that Roger Deakins should win the Cinematography Oscar, but this is an even stronger case to celebrate his talents.

I’ve read and heard so much about this complex film to go into the details. I did find it a bit over-long; its deliberate pace and sparse dialogue means you really feel the time passing. This is a fantastic work of art and it tackles big and weighty themes mostly successfully, but I left the cinema thinking I needed to see it again to really process it. I’m sure that will happen sometime soon, but it left me somewhat unfulfilled (unlike my Top 5…)

5. Baby Driver
I love Edgar Wright’s films, and this may just be my new favourite. He’s taken a nothing-very-original plot about a getaway driver doing just one more job for the Controlling Gang Boss so he can escape, and turned it into a breathtaking, thrilling musical, choreographing jaw-dropping car chases, often pretty strong violence and more mundane things besides to a fabulous playlist of songs from more than 50 years of music. The details are stunning, the overall effect is uplifting and exciting. For its familiar themes and characters, it’s not like anything I’ve seen in ages. Loved it.

4. Get Out

Get Out Daniel Kaluuya

It takes something to out-unsettle The Killing of a Sacred Deer, but Jordan Peele’s stunning debut manages it, being both much funnier and more grisly at the same time. Daniel Kaluuya is near-perfect as Chris, the charming and handsome boyfriend of Rose. She wants to take him home to meet her family, and it gets weirder from there pretty quickly. Unpacking, laying bare and then stomping all over White Liberals’ underlying racism, Get Out reveals its secrets in stages. It cracks along at a real pace, but the full story only becomes clear late on, and you’re kept on the edge of your seat until the final seconds.

3. Paddington 2
This is a joy: nothing much more to say, really. It creates a fantasy version of London that’s just close enough to reality for us to easily suspend our disbelief that a CGI talking bear from Peru is at the heart of this brilliant film. There’s laughs throughout (surely Hugh Grant’s career high?!), a prison sequence that is a straight-out homage to Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel, and real jeopardy that reminded me of Toy Story 3. And any film that can make me think of those two greats has got to be good.

Grand Budapest hotel Prison Ralph Fiennes

Paddington 2 prison brendan gleeson

2. The Death of Stalin
The most scabrous comedy I’ve seen in ages, mostly because it centres on truly horrible people who have done and continue to do truly terrible things, who suffer from the most horrific paranoia, yet continue to utter belly-laugh funny lines. The ensemble cast is amazing and it never shies away from the atrocities committed in the name of Soviet Communism.
The Death of Stalin

1. Dunkirk
We saw this on my Dad’s 79th Birthday, just a couple of weeks before he died. We’d taken him out to lunch, but the Hospice staff said he wasn’t really well enough to see a film, which we had hoped he might be. So after leaving him to rest, we went to the iMax screen in Cheltenham, the first film I’ve seen on such a screen.

It’s such an overwhelming experience that I don’t believe words can fully describe it. Again there’s a sparse script that forces your attention to the visuals and the details. It’s intense, thrilling, human, terrifying and sobering.

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Perhaps most strikingly compared to so many films these days, it doesn’t outstay its welcome. It tells a story (here driven by the experience rather than plot or characters) and gets itself gone in barely 100 minutes (almost an hour shorter than Blade Runner 2049). It truly needs to be seen, and I hope it wins all sorts of awards. I want more film-makers and films like this to be rewarded.

Dunkirk Beach

Before I go…

I saw some pretty terrific films at home this year, so in no particular order, consider this list a recommendation…

x+y: a sensitive, human, moving depiction of teenagers some of whom happen to be on the Autism Spectrum
What We Do in the Shadows: brilliantly funny mockumentary by and starring Jermaine Clement and Taika Waititi about the adventures of a group of house-sharing vampires.
Their Finest: another great WW2 drama, proper characters, lovely stuff
Nightcrawler: wow. Jake Gyllenhaal goes full-on as the citizen-journalist in this chilling companion piece to Network…
Whiplash: the film Damian Chazelle directed before La La Land. IMO it’s better, virtually a horror film about being the best you can be, with an outstanding villain and tremendous Big Band music.
It Follows: a very unsettling horror film about sex and the way it can really f**k you up.
Hidden Figures: fabulous telling of a story that needs to  be more widely known.
Train to Busan: a brilliant, kinetic, heart-stopping zombie thriller from Korea. Amazing.
The Babadook: another great horror film, this one a dissection of grief and the dismantling of a young mother’s psyche.
John Wick: I love me a good Keanu Reeves film, and this is a VERY good Keanu Reeves film. Brutal, simple, takes no prisoners.

Spiderman – Homecoming: Ferris Bueller with suits & powers. Tom Holland is great as the 19th Spider-Man since the Millennium and Michael Keaton a top villain. Loved this.