Friday 1 January 2021

2020 - The Year Cinema (Almost) Died

For eighteen years, I have been compiling an annual list of films I've watched over the previous 12 months. Looking back over 2020, when  for most of the year it has been repeatedly impossible to attend screenings because of the coronavirus pandemic, has been tough as I only ever record visits to the cinema, not films on DVD or on streaming services. And I really miss those visits.

Everyone has been dependent on Netflix, Mubi, Amazon Prime and others, but it is just not the same as settling down in the darkness, waiting to watch a film on a huge screen.

 Anyway, here is my shortest list since 2007. As in previous years, I have rated them all in a largely arbitrary fashion.

In 2020, I made only 19 trips to the cinema (down from 74 in 2019) and according to Letterboxd, spent  just 37.6 hours watching the unmissable to the absolute pants.

You can find ratings for the previous 17 years here.

Favourite films of 2020: Little Women / Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Absolute Melon of 2020: Uncut Gems

★★★★★: Unmissable!
★★★★☆: Definitely worth seeing
★★★☆☆: Decent film
★★☆☆☆: Disappointing
★☆☆☆☆: Pants
☆☆☆☆☆: Why was this released?


 Little Women ★★★★★

Jojo Rabbit ★★★☆☆

Uncut Gems ★☆☆☆☆

The Lighthouse ★★☆☆☆

The  Personal History of David Copperfield ★★★☆☆

1917 ★★★★☆

Queen & Slim ★★★★☆

Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) ★★☆☆☆

Just Mercy ★★★★☆

Parasite ★★★★☆

Greed ★★★☆☆

Portrait of a Lady on Fire ★★★★☆

The Invisible Man ★★★★☆

True History of the Kelly Gang ★★★★☆

Dark Waters ★★★★☆

The Hunt ★★★☆☆

Saint Frances ★★★★☆

Tenet ★★★★☆

White Riot ★★★☆☆



Tuesday 31 December 2019

Films of the Year 2019

For the seventeenth consecutive year, this is my annual list of films I've watched over the last 12 months. As ever, this means actual visits to the cinema, not films on DVD or on streaming services. As in previous years, I have rated them all in a largely arbitrary fashion.

In 2019, that meant 74 trips to the cinema (it was 73 in 2018) and according to Letterboxd, 144 hours watching the unmissable to the absolute pants. Compared to 2018, the last year has involved seeing far more decent enough films but very few that I’d want to see again.

You can find ratings for the last 16 years here.

Favourite films of 2019: Booksmart / Knives Out / Woman at War / Joker / The Day Shall Come

Documentaries of 2019: Apollo 11 / For Sana / Last Breath

Soundtracks of 2019: The Last Black Man in San Francisco / Motherless Brooklyn

Absolute Melon of 2019: Blinded By The Light

★★★★★: Unmissable!
★★★★☆: Definitely worth seeing
★★★☆☆: Decent film
★★☆☆☆: Disappointing
★☆☆☆☆: Pants
☆☆☆☆☆: Why was this released?

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker ★★★☆☆
Harriet ★★★☆☆
The Two Popes ★★★★☆:
Motherless Brooklyn ★★★★☆:
Judy & Punch ★★★☆☆
Knives Out ★★★★☆
Lucy in the Sky ★★☆☆☆
I Lost My Body ★★★★☆
Honey Boy ★★★☆☆
Le Mans ‘66 ★★★★☆
The Aeronauts ★★★☆☆
Doctor Sleep ★★★★☆
The Last Black Man in San Francisco ★★★★☆
Official Secrets ★★★☆☆
To Kill a Mockingbird ★★★★★:
Gemini Man ★★☆☆☆
Joker ★★★★☆
The Last Tree ★★★★☆
The Day Shall Come ★★★★☆
Ad Astra ★★★★☆
Bait ★★★☆☆
For Sama ★★★★☆
Inna de Yard ★★★☆☆
Pain and Glory ★★★★☆
The Mustang ★★★★☆
Hail Satan? ★★★☆☆
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood ★★★☆☆
Blinded by the Light ★☆☆☆☆
Animals ★★★☆☆
Anna ★★☆☆☆
Support the Girls ★★★★☆
The Dead Don't Die ★★★☆☆
Midsommar ★★★★☆
Spider-Man: Far from Home ★★★☆☆
Vita & Virginia ★★★☆☆
Yesterday ★★★☆☆
Apollo 11 ★★★★★:
In Fabric ★★★☆☆
Men in Black: International ★★☆☆☆
Diego Maradona ★★★☆☆
Late Night ★★★★☆
Booksmart ★★★★★:
Rocketman ★★★☆☆
Sunset ★★★☆☆
Beats ★★★☆☆
John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum ★★★☆☆
Tolkien ★★★☆☆
Woman at War ★★★★★:
Avengers: Endgame ★★★★☆
Wild Rose ★★★☆☆
Loro ★★★☆☆
Last Breath ★★★★☆
Mid90s ★★★☆☆
Shazam! ★★★☆☆
Being Frank: The Chris Sievey Story ★★★★☆
Nae Pasaran ★★★★★:
Happy as Lazzaro ★★★☆☆
At Eternity's Gate ★★★☆☆
Us ★★★★☆
Captain Marvel ★★★☆☆
Capernaum ★★★★☆
Everybody Knows ★★★★☆
Happy Death Day 2U ★★★★☆
If Beale Street Could Talk
All Is True ★★★☆☆
Vice ★★★★☆
Burning ★★★★☆
The Favourite ★★★☆☆
Mary Queen of Scots ★★★☆☆
Stan & Ollie ★★★☆☆
Colette ★★★★☆
Mary Poppins Returns ★★★★☆
Green Book ★★★★☆

Tuesday 1 January 2019

Films of the Year 2018

For the sixteenth consecutive year, this is my annual list of films I've watched over the last 12 months and in 2018, that meant 73 trips to the cinema (down from 83 in 2017).

Overwhelmingly, these visits were to my local Stratford Picturehouse and according to the stats on Letterboxd, overall this amounted to 138.6 hours of film watching.

This has been an exceptionally great year for film: there have been so many I have absolutely loved. The ten I have picked below are not necessarily the ones I admired the most but are my favourites. It was a tough choice. Others, like Roma, Cold War, The Miseducation of Cameron Post and I'm Sorry To Bother You just missed the cut.

As always, this does not include anything watched on DVD or BluRay and as in previous years, I've arbitrarily rated the films I've seen. You can find ratings for the last 15 years here.

Ten favourite films of the year: A Quiet Place / Leave No Trace / Isle of Dogs / Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri / Lucky / The Post / The Breadwinner / First Man / Dogman / Black Panther

Worst films of 2018: American Animals / Downsizing / The Meg / Tomb Raider

Great documentaries in 2018: Nae Pasaran / Three Identical Strangers


★★★★★: Unmissable!
★★★★☆: Definitely worth seeing
★★★☆☆: Decent film
★★☆☆☆: Disappointing
★☆☆☆☆: Pants
☆☆☆☆☆: Why was this released?

Mary Poppins Returns ★★★★
Roma ★★★★
 Nae Pasaran ★★★★
1Sorry to Bother ★★★★
Disobedience ★★★★
The Girl in the Spider's Web ★★★
Three Identical Strangers ★★★★
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald ★★
Widows ★★★★
Overlord ★★★★
The Hate U Give ★★★★
Wildlife ★★★
Outlaw King ★★★
The Guilty ★★★
Bohemian Rhapsody ★★★
Dogman ★★★★
First Man ★★★★
The Wife ★★★
A Star Is Born ★★★★
Venom ★★★
Skate Kitchen ★★★★
A Simple Favor ★★★
The Rider ★★★★
Lucky ★★★★
American Animals ★
Yardie ★★★
BlacKkKlansman ★★★
The Miseducation of Cameron Post ★★★★
Cold War ★★★★
The Meg ★★
Ant-Man and the Wasp ★★★
The Apparition ★★★
Mission: Impossible – Fallout ★★★
First Reformed ★★★
Hotel Artemis ★★★
A Prayer Before Dawn ★★★★
Skyscraper ★★
Leave No Trace ★★★★
The Happy Prince ★★★
In the Fade ★★★★
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom ★★★
My Friend Dahmer★★★
The Breadwinner ★★★★
Solo: A Star Wars Story ★★★
Tully ★★★
Deadpool 2 ★★★★
Avengers: Infinity War ★★★★
Lean on Pete ★★★★
The Wound ★★★
 The Deminer ★★★
The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society ★★
A Quiet Place ★★★★
Ready Player One ★★★★
Isle of Dogs ★★★★
The Third Murder ★★★★
Tomb Raider ★★
You Were Never Really Here ★★★★
Sweet Country ★★★
I, Tonya ★★★
The Nile Hilton Incident ★★★
Red Sparrow ★★★★
V for Vendetta ★★★★★
Lady Bird ★★★
Black Panther ★★★★
The Shape of Water ★★★
Early Man ★★★★
Darkest Hour ★★★
Downsizing ★★
The Post ★★★★
Hostiles ★★★★
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri ★★★★

Sunday 7 January 2018

Films of the Year 2017

Somewhat belatedly (because I am abroad), this is my annual list of films I've watched in 2017 and, in keeping with the close of every year since 2003, it's time to review the ones I've seen over the last twelve months.

In 2017, I made it to the cinema on 83 occasions - down from 96 in 2016. Overwhelmingly, these visits were to my local Stratford Picturehouse and according to the stats on Letterboxd, this amounted to 159.4 hours of cinema.

As always, this does not include anything watched on DVD or BluRay and as in previous years, I've arbitrarily rated the films I've seen. You can find ratings for the last decade here.

Since I started going to the cinema regularly and keeping track of the numbers, I now make this 826 visits since 2003. Onward and upward.

Films of the year: Dunkirk / Moonlight / La La Land / 20th Century Women

Worst film of 2017: The Mummy

Great documentaries in 2017: 
LA 92
I Am Not Your Negro


★★★★★: Unmissable!
★★★★☆: Definitely worth seeing
★★★☆☆: Decent film
★★☆☆☆: Disappointing
★☆☆☆☆: Pants
☆☆☆☆☆: Why was this released?

Star Wars: The Last Jedi ★★★☆☆
Stronger ★★★☆☆
Brigsby Bear ★★★☆☆
Dolores ★★★★☆
Wonder ★★★★☆
Battle of the Sexes ★★★☆☆
No Stone Unturned ★★★☆☆
The Florida Project ★★★★☆
Thelma ★★★★☆
Murder on the Orient Express ★★★★☆
Breathe ★★★☆☆
Thor: Ragnarok ★★★★☆
Happy Death Day ★★★★☆
Call Me by Your Name ★★★☆☆
The Death of Stalin ★★★★☆
The Snowman ★★☆☆☆
Blade Runner 2049 ★★★★☆
The Breakfast Club ★★★★★
Logan ★★★★☆
Borg vs McEnroe ★★★☆☆
It ★★★☆☆
The Ghoul ★★★☆☆
God's Own Country ★★★★☆
Wind River ★★★★☆
Patti Cake$ ★★★★☆
The Limehouse Golem ★★★★☆
Detroit ★★★☆☆
American Made ★★★☆☆
Logan Lucky ★★★★☆
A Ghost Story ★★☆☆☆
Atomic Blonde ★★★☆☆
Land of Mine ★★★★☆
Kedi ★★☆☆☆
England Is Mine ★★★☆☆
Clash ★★★★☆
Dunkirk ★★★★★
War for the Planet of the Apes ★★★★☆
Spider-Man: Homecoming ★★★☆☆
The Student ★★★☆☆
Baby Driver ★★★★☆
Risk ★★★☆☆
Gifted ★★★★☆
My Cousin Rachel ★★☆☆☆
The Mummy ★★☆☆☆
Manhattan ★★★☆☆
Wonder Woman ★★★☆☆
Graduation ★★★☆☆
Colossal ★★★★☆
Miss Sloane ★★★★☆
Alien: Covenant ★★☆☆☆
Neruda ★★★☆☆
Lady Macbeth ★★★☆☆
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 ★★★☆☆
The Handmaiden ★★★☆☆
LA 92 ★★★★☆
Their Finest ★★★☆☆
Personal Shopper ★★★★☆
Free Fire ★★★★☆
Ghost in the Shell ★★★★☆
The Lost City of Z ★★★☆☆
Certain Women ★★★☆☆
Life ★★★☆☆
Elle ★★☆☆☆
Get Out ★★★★☆
I Am Not Your Negro ★★★★☆
Kong: Skull Island ★★☆☆☆
Logan ★★★★☆
Moonlight ★★★★★
Hidden Figures ★★★☆☆
Fences ★★★☆☆
The Lego Batman Movie ★★☆☆☆
20th Century Women ★★★★★
Loving ★★★★☆
T2 Trainspotting (again) ★★★★☆
T2 Trainspotting ★★★★☆
Hacksaw Ridge ★★★☆☆
Lion ★★★★☆
Jackie ★★★☆☆
A Monster Calls ★★★★☆
La La Land ★★★★☆
Manchester by the Sea ★★★★☆
Assassin's Creed ★★★☆☆
Sing ★★★★☆

Tuesday 20 December 2016

Films of the Year 2016

We are drawing closer to the end of 2016, one of the worst years in living memory: the year of Trumpian fascism, Europe-wide xenophobia and the deaths of so many inspirational figures in music and cinema.

In cinematic terms, however, this hasn't been a bad year for watching films and so, in keeping with the close of every year since 2003, it's time to review the ones I've seen over the last twelve months.

In 2016, I made it to the cinema on 96 occasions - up from 81 in 2015. Overwhelmingly, these visits were to my local Stratford Picturehouse and according to the stats on Letterboxd, this amounted to 177.8 hours of cinema.

As always, this does not include anything watched on DVD or BluRay and as in previous years, I've arbitrarily rated the films I've seen. You can find ratings for the last decade here. Since I started going to the cinema regularly and keeping track of the numbers, I now make this 743 visits since 2003.

I know. That's a lot.

Film of the year: Arrival

Worst film of 2016: The Legend of Tarzan

Great documentaries in 2016: 
The Eagle Huntress,
Life, Animated
Bobby Sands: 66 Days
Notes on Blindness
Speed Sisters
The Fear of 13


★★★★★: Unmissable!
★★★★☆: Definitely worth seeing
★★★☆☆: Decent film
★★☆☆☆: Disappointing
★☆☆☆☆: Pants
☆☆☆☆☆: Why was this released?

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story ★★★★☆
Life, Animated ★★★★☆
The Eagle Huntress ★★★★☆
The Birth of a Nation ★★☆☆☆
Snowden ★★★☆☆
Paterson ★★★☆☆
Sully ★★★☆☆
A United Kingdom ★★★★☆
Arrival ★★★★★ (and even better on second viewing)
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them ★★★☆☆
Arrival ★★★★★
Nocturnal Animals ★★★☆☆
The Accountant ★★★☆☆
In Pursuit of Silence ★★★☆☆
Doctor Strange ★★★☆☆
Jack Reacher: Never Go Back ★★★☆☆
Queen of Katwe ★★★★☆
American Honey ★★★★☆
Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World ★★★☆☆
Swiss Army Man ★★☆☆☆
The Magnificent Seven ★★★☆☆
I, Daniel Blake ★★★★☆
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children ★★★☆☆
Deepwater Horizon ★★★☆☆
The Girl with All the Gifts ★★★★☆
Hunt for the Wilderpeople ★★★★☆
Hell or High Water ★★★★☆
Things to Come ★★★★☆
The Confession ★★★☆☆
Captain Fantastic ★★★★☆
Café Society ★★☆☆☆
Tickled ★★★★☆
Julieta ★★★☆☆
Wiener-Dog ★★★★☆
The Shallows ★★★☆☆
Bobby Sands: 66 Days ★★★★☆
Embrace of the Serpent ★★★★☆
Suicide Squad ★★☆☆☆
Maggie's Plan ★★★☆☆
Jason Bourne ★★★★☆
Couple in a Hole ★★★★☆
Star Trek Beyond ★★★★☆
The Legend of Tarzan ★☆☆☆☆
The Hard Stop ★★★☆☆
Notes on Blindness ★★★★☆
Elvis & Nixon ★★★☆☆
Independence Day: Resurgence ★★☆☆☆
Mile End ★★★☆☆
Adult Life Skills ★★★★☆
Tale of Tales ★★☆☆☆
The Keeping Room ★★★☆☆
Sing Street ★★★★☆
The Club ★★★☆☆
The Nice Guys ★★★☆☆
X-Men: Apocalypse ★★★☆☆
Money Monster ★★★☆☆
A Hologram for the King ★★★☆☆
Everybody Wants Some! ★★★☆☆
Mustang ★★★★☆
Son of Saul ★★★★☆
Arabian Nights: Volume 1, The Restless One ★☆☆☆☆
Demolition ★★★☆☆
Green Room ★★★★☆
Captain America: Civil War ★★★★☆
Jane Got a Gun ★★★☆☆
Miles Ahead ★★★☆☆
Eye in the Sky ★★★☆☆
The Absent One ★★★☆☆
Dheepan ★★★★☆
Midnight Special ★★★★☆
Speed Sisters ★★★★☆
Victoria ★★★☆☆
The Here After ★★★☆☆
10 Cloverfield Lane ★★★★☆
Disorder ★★★☆☆
High-Rise ★★☆☆☆
Allegiant ★★☆☆☆
Chronic ★★★☆☆
Hail, Caesar! ★★★★☆
Bone Tomahawk ★★★★☆
Triple 9 ★★★☆☆
The Survivalist ★★★★☆
Deadpool ★★★★☆
Trumbo ★★★★☆
The 33 ★★☆☆☆
Spotlight ★★★★☆
Creed ★★★☆☆
The Assassin ★★☆☆☆
The Revenant ★★★★☆
The Big Short ★★★★☆
Black Souls ★★★☆☆
Room ★★★★☆
The Hateful Eight ★★☆☆☆
Joy ★★★☆☆
The Fear of 13 ★★★★☆
In the Heart of the Sea ★★★☆☆

Friday 1 January 2016

A Year in Film 2015

As 2015 draws to a close, I'm back for an increasingly rare update to this blog and, in keeping with the previous 12 years, to review the films I've seen over the last twelve months.

You can find more stats than you'll ever need and the occasional review  over at Letterboxd.

As always, I only count actual 81 trips I made to a cinema - not films on DVD or BluRay - and as usual I've arbitrarily rated the films I've seen. You can find ratings for the last decade here.

★★★★★: Unmissable!
★★★★☆: Definitely worth seeing
★★★☆☆: Decent film
★★☆☆☆: Disappointing
★☆☆☆☆: Pants
☆☆☆☆☆: Why was this released?

Star Wars: The Force Awakens ★★★☆☆
Sherpa ★★★★☆
Carol ★★★★☆
Bridge of Spies ★★★★☆
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2 ★★★☆☆
Steve Jobs ★★★★☆
The Lady in the Van ★★★☆☆
The Lobster ★★☆☆☆
Listen to Me Marlon ★★★★☆
Spectre ★★★★☆
The Program ★★★☆☆
Suffragette ★★★★☆
Crimson Peak ★★★☆☆
The Walk ★★★☆☆
Sicario ★★★★☆
Red Army ★★★☆☆
The Martian ★★★★★
3½ Minutes, 10 Bullets ★★★☆☆
The Martian ★★★★★
Life ★★★☆☆
Cartel Land ★★★★☆
Everest ★★★☆☆
The Wolfpack ★★★☆☆
Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials ★★☆☆☆
The Salt of the Earth ★★★★☆
Legend ★★★☆☆
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl ★★★★☆
Mistress America ★★★☆☆
Paper Towns ★★★☆☆
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. ★★★★☆
Inside Out ★★★★★
Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation ★★★★☆
Minions ★★★☆☆
Ant-Man ★★★★☆
Love & Mercy ★★★★☆
Slow West ★★★☆☆
Amy ★★★★☆
Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief ★★★★☆
Jurassic World ★★☆☆☆
Mr. Holmes ★★★☆☆
The Dark Horse  ★★★☆☆
The Look of Silence ★★★★★
Timbuktu ★★★☆☆
The Connection ★★★★☆
San Andreas ★★☆☆☆
The New Girlfriend ★★☆☆☆
Tomorrowland ★★★☆☆
We Are Many ★★★★☆
Pitch Perfect 2 ★★★☆☆
Mad Max: Fury Road ★★★★★
The Beat Beneath My Feet ★★★★☆
The Falling ★★★☆☆
Avengers: Age of Ultron ★★★☆☆
A Little Chaos ★★★☆☆
The Salvation ★★★☆☆
John Wick ★★★★☆
Good Kill ★★★☆☆
Woman in Gold ★★★☆☆
While We're Young ★★☆☆☆
Blade Runner ★★★★★
Wild Tales ★★★★☆
Pride ★★★★★

Robot Overlords ★★☆☆☆
Insurgent ★★☆☆☆
Suite Française ★★★☆☆
A Brilliant Young Mind ★★★★☆
Still Alice ★★★★☆
Catch Me Daddy ★★★☆☆
Chappie ★★★☆☆
Blackhat ★★☆☆☆
Maidan ☆☆☆☆
Trash ★★★★☆
Kingsman: The Secret Service ★★★★☆
Ex Machina ★★★☆☆
Selma ★★★★☆
Wild ★★★☆☆
Foxcatcher ★★★☆☆
Whiplash ★★★☆☆
Exodus: Gods and Kings ★★☆☆☆
The Theory of Everything ★★★★☆
Unbroken ★★★☆☆

Friday 25 September 2015

The Clapton Ultras v Strike!

This article appears in the current edition of Strike!

A football club where minorities not only feel welcome, but get involved, can never really be a bad thing, no matter how much gushing, middle-class wankery gets written about them. Wankery that they aren't responsible for, remember...

Comment on 'When Saturday Comes' message board

Before 2012 there were no Clapton Ultras: over the space of only three seasons, a group of left-wing anti-fascist football fans have, with their passion, noisy songs and a fondness for smoke flares in support of Clapton FC, a club in Forest Gate in east London, shaken up the staid, parochial county league that the team plays in.

In doing so, Clapton fans have also attracted increasing outside interest and often unwelcome attention. One senior left-wing union official tried unsuccessfully to use the terrace where the Ultras gather as a stage for some shameless personal grandstanding, whilst far-right groups have repeatedly complained to an indifferent London FA about the Ultras 'political' flags (something we are entirely guilty of). Last year, as numbers grew to over 200 and more and more people headed east to find out what all the fuss was about, the Ultras also started to face attempts to pin one label or another onto us. We have been described both as saviours of the left and condemned as an insufficiently hard-case anti-fascist 'firm'. Memorably, someone even called us 'metrosexual Palestine hipsters', an insult so brilliantly hilarious that it is destined soon to feature on a supporters' banner.

Why it's always seen as necessary to fit everything new into a preconceived and largely pointless category is a mystery to me. Still, none of it has come close to explaining the phenomenal rise of the Clapton Ultras or the upsurge of support – over 500 supporters at the end of last season - for a lowly non-league club long overshadowed by its rich and popular neighbour, West Ham United, who are based less than a mile away.

In reality, what is happening in Forest Gate is a reflection of a growing trend amongst an increasing number of football fans who are tired of paying £50 or more for a match ticket, or simply cannot afford to, just to watch a game with no atmosphere or spectacle. At Clapton FC, most fans also support a League side, but have adopted a local team, one with a long and rich history but forever at the fringes of football, because it means watching with friends for only £6, a beer in hand, without oppressive policing or officious stewards insisting everyone remains seated. For many, this is what has attracted them to switch to non-league football, or to return to the game after often years away from regular attendance at overpriced Premiership and League fixtures.

There is something else, however, that makes the Clapton Ultras noticeably different from other groups of football supporters: their absolute opposition to the often boorishly sexist, homophobic and right-wing sentiment and behaviour tolerated at many larger clubs. This has been coupled with the adoption of the best elements of a continental anti-fascist Ultras' culture that is strengthened by the presence of many Italian, Spanish and Polish fans.

What I love so much about attending a home game at the Old Spotted Dog Ground and standing with other Clapton Ultras is not just having a few cans of Tyskie and singing daft chants throughout, but the recognition that the people around me are socialists and anarchists, that at any moment the Italian partisans song 'Bella Ciao' may erupt from the Scaffold (the ramshackle stand made of scaffolding poles and corrugated iron where the Ultras congregate), or a banner might appear in support of anti-fascists in Greece or Germany. It's the fact that we produce all our own merchandise, just like Ultras in clubs across Europe, and that our stickers pop up randomly all over the country. It's knowing that someone might shout out a reminder that Maggie Thatcher is definitely still dead, but no-one is about to start calling the referee a 'poof' or claiming that opposing fans are 'gypos' or 'chavs'. Try that kind of shit at a Clapton game and you'll quickly find out what a crowd turning on you feels like!

This attitude extends to the club's place in its local neighbourhood, one of the poorest in London and the most ethnically diverse in the country. Acts of solidarity organised by the Clapton Ultras include distributing rights cards on the powers of immigration enforcement teams, organising food donations for a local project supporting asylum seekers with no access to public funds, raising cash for local group supporting victims of domestic violence and turning up in numbers to support campaigns around homelessness and evictions. At the end of the last season, on a truly magical day involving rainbow-coloured smoke flares, we helped launch an appeal that eventually succeeded in raising funds to keep open Newham's only LGBT youth group, which faced closure because of council cuts.

For many of us, this kind of community organising is just as important as the football: the Ultras bring together, in significant numbers, a group of like-minded activists with years of campaigning experience who can make a real impact locally. This extended to encouraging more local people so Clapton FC better reflects the community where it is based: just recently, we held a stall at the local Forest Gate Festival simply to remind local people that the club still exists and is far more welcoming and family-friendly than many might imagine. It's a real necessary because, perhaps unsurprisingly, the majority of working class football fans remain white, straight and male. Constantly reaffirming our opposition to all forms of discrimination is slowly encouraging a greater level of diversity as the number of supporters increases, but not as fast as we would like.

Fundamentally, though, the Clapton Ultras remain just football fans, who happen to have created a safe, supportive space for others like themselves on the radical, largely unaligned left. It's somewhere to have a laugh, make new friends, temporarily forget what a massive cockwomble David Cameron is and still enjoy an outpouring of emotion at away game in a tiny village somewhere out in the wilds of Essex.

Disappointingly, we are not saviours of the left and definitely not a hard-case 'firm', no matter how much outside observers might want this to be true. As for 'metrosexual Palestine hipsters'? Well, as the fantastic film 'Pride' said, if someone calls you a name, you take that name and you own it. Look out for the banner in the coming season.

You can find the Clapton Ultras online at, on Facebook at and on Twitter at @ClaptonUltras

The Clapton Ultras fanzine, Red Menace, is at
The Clapton Ultras podcast, The Old Spotted Dogcast, is at

Saturday 18 July 2015

Newham Labour nominates the 'Prevent' candidate for London Assembly selection battle

There were extraordinary scenes at East Ham Labour Party last Thursday evening, as a veritable chorus line of the usual party loyalists stepped up to support Newham councillor Unmesh Desai (right), Cabinet Member for Crime and Anti Social Behaviour. Desai desperately wants to become the Labour candidate to replace new Tower Hamlets Mayor, John Biggs, as the City and East constituency London Assembly member.

One of those who spoke at the meeting was the Dear Leader himself, Sir Robin Wales, who in an surprising intervention praised Desai as a community activist who had “founded Newham Monitoring Project” (not true, he was the group's first worker, but let's move on) and who fought against the British National Party in the south of the borough. This has been the message featuring strongly in Desai's campaign for local endorsement: in emails to Party members, he has promoted himself as an 'activist' with 'a solid track record of three decades of community campaigning'.

Strangely, there was no time to mention of how Desai, with Wales' support, was personally responsible for ruthlessly engineered the removal of council funding for Newham Monitoring Project (NMP) in the late 1990s, because he saw the group as an obstacle to his political ambitions. Nor did Wales mention his own unsuccessful attempts to pressure the National Lottery to try and stop NMP from receiving funding from it in 2000.

I have had cause to remark on Desai's staggering hypocrisy before. In 2011 I pointed out the irony of a man who was kicked out of the Socialist Workers Party over allegations of 'violent extremism' becoming the council's foremost cheerleader for 'Prevent', the government programme for tackling signs of alleged extremism -amongst young Muslims. If nothing else, Desai is living proof that the 'Prevent' strategy is based on a lie: there is no inevitability about an 'escalator of radicalisation' and youthful rebellion is never a guarantee of genuinely radical politics in later life. In Desai's case, quite the opposite.

One obvious question is this: why, after all these years, suddenly bring up NMP now? I suspect one answer is that the hardline, right-wing Blairite politics that dominates Labour in Newham has considerably less attraction and potential support among party members in the wider City and East constituency, which includes both the boiling cauldron that is Tower Hamlets and the London borough of Barking and Dagenham.  That may explain why Desai, who has held no job other than Newham councillor for years, is mythologising a colourful community activism that in reality he cynically abandoned decades ago.

Labour members outside of Newham should therefore have absolutely no illusions, whatever they hear otherwise. Desai is the most definitely the 'Prevent' nominee – the front man for a counter terrorism strategy that even a senior police officer has called a 'toxic brand' – in this candidates' selection.

If the kind of candidate you decide to choose is someone the security services would happily endorse, then don't say you weren't warned.

Friday 30 January 2015

Newham Mayor Guilty of Breaching Members Code of Conduct

Public accountability proceeds, it seems, at its own solemn pace. Newham council's constitution says a standards committee investigation into the conduct of an elected member should take no longer than three months. However, six months has passed since a complaint was made against Mayor Sir Robin Wales, and only now has the committee published its groundbreaking decision - that the Mayor "breached the members' Code of Conduct by failing to treat a member of the public with respect".

Some background: in July 2014, a video [above] emerged on YouTube showing the Mayor losing control of his temper at the presence of Focus E15 Mothers campaigners at an event in Central Park in East Ham. He was so angry that the footage shows a member of council staff physically restraining him. In the week that followed, a formal complaint was made about the Mayor's behaviour, alleging that Wales had breached the Members' Code of Conduct by failing to observe the statutory principle of “always treating people with respect, including the organisations and public engaged with and those worked alongside”.

I'd met the young activists from the Focus E15 campaign for the first time only the previous weekend, when volunteering as a legal observer for a march they had organised though the borough. Appalled by the Mayor's behaviour, I gave them some advice soon after the video began to circulate about how to make a official complaint. Eventually I decided to submit a complaint myself and so, ever since, I've had a ring-side seat as the formal 'complainant' to the glacial process that has followed.

The complaint was about the conduct shown in the video, which was essentially the only evidence. However, after a meeting of Newham's Standards Advisory Committee on 31 July recommended a formal inquiry, an independent investigator was appointed. In August she interviewed me and some of of the campaigners who appear in the footage. The committee did not meet again until early October and then decided set up a Hearing Sub-Committee to consider the investigator's findings and determine whether a breach of the code of conduct had taken place. It met on 21 October and asked the investigator to rewrite her report with new recommendations. A meeting planned for December was cancelled and the Hearing Sub-Committee did not make its final decision until 15 January – but was unable to announce it because the council's constitution insists it was first checked off by its appointed 'Independent Person' (a requirement under the Localism Act 2011).

The procedure for investigating a complaint is clearly convoluted, slow and in need of reform. I have no idea either how an investigation within three months is even imaginable if evidence is more complex than a short video. I must stress, however, that the independent chair of the Standards Advisory Committee seemed just as frustrated by it as everyone else and was always as helpful as circumstances allowed. What probably hasn't helped was Wales' refusal to cooperate with the formal investigation – to this day, he has not even bothered to deny the accusation against him.

It is, nevertheless, hard to understand why there was a delay in early October to excise references to “the Mayor’s failure to deny the allegation upon which he chose not to comment at all”, when this rather embarrassing detail appears in minutes released this month. This decision was in all likelihood the work of some of the Mayor's slavishly loyal lieutenants on the committee, but as the discussions were held in secret, it is impossible to know for certain.

Even before the committee's decision was made, the question of what sanction it might recommend was always, of course, largely irrelevant. It was never likely they would adopt my tongue-in-cheek suggestion of 'anger management classes' and anyway, apart from a letter to Wales with advice on his conduct, which the Hearing Sub-Committee has asked the council's Monitor Officer to write, there are always few options available when a complaint involves an elected Mayor. His unwillingness to engage with or even acknowledge the investigation suggests any advice will disappear straight into the waste basket.

Nevertheless, what is significant is the decision itself: one of London's most powerful and imperious Labour politicians has received his first slap on the wrist in recent memory. For years, Wales has cultivated the idea that he is completely unassailable and therefore someone whose displeasure people should fear. It has worked too, I've seen it for myself both internally and amongst those who have to deal with the council. Even recently, I've been told by sympathetic insiders of threats that are a variant on “you'll never work in this town again”.

The trouble is, the notion of Sir Robin Wales' impregnability has been successfully undermined: amongst the many impressive achievements of the wonderful Focus E15 Mothers, this is perhaps the most unlikely, but it's true. It may only represent a first step, but I hope it encourages others in future who believe they have been poorly treated by the Mayor or those surrounding him to feel that it is finally worthwhile making a complaint that someone will listen to.

Maybe, too, if the Mayor ever decides to bang the table, shout down local people, issue threats or browbeat members of staff, he'll start to wonder whether his words have been secretly recorded, as evidence for a Standards Advisory Committee that has actually displayed some backbone.

The Investigation Report remains a (local) state secret, but you can see the Decision Notice here

Wednesday 31 December 2014

A Year in Film 2014

As 2014 draws to a close, it is time once again, in keeping with the previous eleven years, to review the films I've seen over the last twelve months.

According to my summary on the brilliant Letterboxd website, I've seen 93 films over 173 hours (not counting the trailers). Apparently, the infamous Sodastream sales-rep Scarlett Johansson is the actor I've seen most often and, in all honesty, have been the most disappointed with - 'Lucy', 'Her' and 'Under The Skin' were all two star films in my view, whilst 'Chef' and 'The Winter Soldier' won't make it onto my top five of the year. What will are:

1. Grand Budapest Hotel
2. Interstellar
3. Boyhood
4. Pride
5. Dallas Buyers Club.

These aren't necessarily the best films - '12 Years a Slave' is extraordinary - but the ones I've enjoyed most and look forward most to watching again.

Anyway, here's the 2014 list in full: in keeping with previous years, I only count actual trips to a cinema - not films on DVD or BluRay - and as usual I've arbitrarily rated the films I've seen. You can find ratings for the last decade here.

★★★★★: Unmissable!
★★★★☆: Definitely worth seeing
★★★☆☆: Decent film
★★☆☆☆: Disappointing
★☆☆☆☆: Pants
☆☆☆☆☆: Why was this released?

Big Eyes ★★★☆☆:
Birdman ★★★★☆:
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies ★★★☆☆
Black Sea ★★★☆☆
St. Vincent ★★★★☆
The Homesman ★★★☆☆
Kajaki ★★★☆☆
What We Do in the Shadows ★★★★☆
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 ★★★★☆
Mr. Turner ★★☆☆☆
The Imitation Game ★★★☆☆
Interstellar ★★★★★☆
Nightcrawler ★★★★☆
Fury ★★★☆☆
Citizenfour ★★★★☆
The Maze Runner ★★☆☆☆
'71 ★★★★☆
Still The Enemy Within ★★★★☆
Gone Girl ★★★★☆
Ida ★★★☆☆
Dracula Untold ★★☆☆☆
Tony Benn: Will and Testament ★★★★☆
Maps to the Stars ★★★★☆
Smart Ass ★★☆☆☆
A Walk Among the Tombstones ★★★☆☆
A Most Wanted Man ★★★★☆
Pride ★★★★★
The Keeper of Lost Causes ★★★☆☆
Finding Fela ★★★☆☆
Dinosaur 13 ★★★★☆
Night Moves ★★★★☆
The Congress ★★☆☆☆
Lucy ★★☆☆☆
Two Days, One Night ★★★★☆
Into the Storm ★★☆☆☆
God’s Pocket ★★★☆☆
Finding Vivian Maier ★★★★☆
Guardians of the Galaxy ★★★★☆
The Search For Simon ★★☆☆☆
Joe ★★★☆☆
Camille Claudel 1915 ★★☆☆☆
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes ★★★★☆
Boyhood ★★★★★
Begin Again ★★★★☆
The Breakfast Club ★★★★★
Ilo Ilo ★★☆☆☆
The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared ★★☆☆☆
Cold in July ★★★☆☆
Chef ★★★☆☆
The Fault in Our Stars ★★★★☆
The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet ★★★☆☆
12 Angry Men ★★★★★
Edge of Tomorrow ★★★★☆
Fruitvale Station ★★☆☆☆
X-Men: Days of Future Past ★★★☆☆
Jimmy’s Hall ★★★★☆
The Lunchbox ★★★☆☆
Blue Ruin ★★★★☆
Godzilla ★★★☆☆
Tom at the Farm ★★★★☆
Frank ★★★☆☆
Tracks ★★★★☆
Chronicle of a Disappearance ★★★☆☆
Locke ★★★★☆
A Matter of Life and Death ★★★★★
Calvary ★★★★★
The Past ★★★☆☆
The Raid 2 ★★★★★
20 Feet from Stardom ★★★★☆
Noah ★★★☆☆
Divergent ★★★☆☆
Captain America: The Winter Soldier ★★★☆☆
Starred Up ★★★★☆
The Double ★★★☆
Under the Skin ★★☆☆☆
The Zero Theorem ★★★☆☆
The Book Thief ★★★☆☆
Stranger by the Lake ★★☆☆☆
The Armstrong Lie ★★★★☆
Her ★★☆☆☆
Only Lovers Left Alive ★★★★☆
The Patience Stone ★★★★☆
The Monuments Men ★★☆☆☆
The Lego Movie ★★★★☆
RoboCop ★★☆☆☆
Dallas Buyers Club ★★★★★
August: Osage County ★★☆☆☆
The Missing Picture ★★★☆☆
The Wolf of Wall Street ★★★★☆
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit ★★★☆☆
American Hustle ★★★☆☆
12 Years a Slave ★★★★★

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