Empire on Demand (December 2012)

Our pick of the 10 best movies to download or stream in December

Warrior (2011), Netflix

WarriorSquareAfter The Wrestler and The Fighter, you’d think there’d be no room for another hard-hitting drama about the bottom-feeders of the fight world, but this film from writer-director Gavin O’Connor packs a hell of a punch (and kick), as battle-scarred ex-Marine Tommy (Tom Hardy) and his estranged brother Brendan (Joel Edgerton) go toe to toe in a UFC-style mixed martial arts tournament. Nick Nolte nabbed an Oscar nom for his searing performance as the boys’ father, a recovering alcoholic who divides his time between training Brendan and battling his demons. Predictable, perhaps, but powerful all the same.
Empire rating: ★★★★★

The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (2011), Sky On Demand
Despite Hergé’s assertion that only Steven Spielberg could have pulled off a Tintin movie, live action could never do justice to the Belgian’s exuberant comic books, so it’s a pity he didn’t live to see this madcap mo-cap adventure, intelligently adapted (from three separate Tintin books) by Steven Moffat, Joe Cornish and Edgar Wright, and directed by Spielberg with Raiders-era relish.
Empire rating: ★★★★

21 Jump Street (2011), Netflix
The ‘80s cop show that inspired this brilliantly-judged big-screen comedy is most famous for introducing Johnny Depp to the world, yet its preposterous concept – baby-faced detectives pose as teenagers to solve high school crime – proves a rich seam of comic chaos for the inspired pairing of Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill, resulting in the smartest and funniest TV-to-film adaptation since Wayne’s World.
Empire rating: ★★★★

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011), Sky On Demand
The sequel to Guy Ritchie’s gratifyingly successful big-screen reinvention of Arthur Conan Doyle’s consulting detective is bigger, better, funnier, but thankfully no darker, and if the women (Noomi Rapace, Rachel McAdams) still have nothing to do, the new boys – Jared Harris’ Moriarty and Stephen Fry’s Mycroft – keep Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) and Watson (Jude Law) guessing. The game is afoot – and what a hugely entertaining game it is.
Empire rating: ★★★★

The Descendants (2011), Sky On Demand
Alexander Payne’s follow-up to Sideways was a long time coming, but his adaptation of Kaui Hart Hemmings’ Hawaii-set novel didn’t disappoint. George Clooney is on splendid form as a father struggling to reconnect with his estranged children after a water-skiing accident leaves his wife in a coma. An Oscar-winning script and a uniformly excellent supporting cast make this complex film more than just a showcase for Clooney’s considerable acting talents.
Empire rating: ★★★★

Shame (2011), Netflix
Artist Steve McQueen’s film about male sexuality proved that Hunger, his film about IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands, was no fluke. Here, Michael Fassbender, is equally astonishing as the New York lothario (in the old parlance) forced to confront his sexual addiction (in the new) when his sister (Carey Mulligan) comes to stay, and he meets a woman with whom he desires to make a deeper connection.
Empire rating: ★★★★

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), LOVEFiLM
With Ang Lee’s Life of Pi in cinemas this month, it’s the perfect time to revisit his magnificent martial arts adventure, which brought foreign films into the mainstream and repatriated The Matrix’s ‘wire-fu’ technique. Although set in ancient China, and based on a novel from the 1930s, every other aspect of Lee’s film was ahead of its time, and so immersive it looks 3D even in two dimensions.
Empire rating: ★★★★★

Carnage (2011), LOVEFiLM
All the vitriol of Yasmin Reza’s brittle, razor-sharp stage play The God of Carnage is retained in Roman Polanski’s unfussy adaptation, and while unapologetically studio bound, it’s arguably even more in-your-face thanks to the power of the close-up. Jodie Foster, John C. Reilly, Christophe Waltz and Kate Winslet are all on top form, red in tooth and claw as the veneer of middle-class politeness is mercilessly stripped away.
Empire rating: ★★★★

Easy A (2010), LOVEFiLM
Emma Stone gets an easy A, and everyone else A- for effort, in this terrific teen comedy, inspired by Nathaniel Hawthorne’s stuffy classic The Scarlet Letter. A white lie about losing her virginity gets Olive Penderghast (Stone) noticed, turning to notoriety as the rumour mill gets out of hand. Smart, funny and full of quotable quotes and insightful observations, it’s not just good, it’s Mean Girls good.
Empire rating: ★★★★

Brief Encounter (1945), Netflix
A chance meeting between two happily married strangers (Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson) leads to achingly restrained romance in the fourth, final and finest collaboration between Noel Coward and David Lean, justly celebrated as one of cinema’s greatest love stories. Beautifully made and artfully restored, it’s a glorious slice of post-war cinema with which may be the most sublimely, unapologetically British films ever made.
Empire rating: ★★★★★


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