Sex, lies and money are today’s hooks, lines and sinkers, starting with Stephen Frears’ Philomena. Based on the book by former BBC journalist and political press officer Martin Sixsmith, played by Steve Coogan in his straightest role yet, it features a devastating performance from Dame Judi Dench as a retired Irish nurse who embarks on a journey with the politician turned “human interest” journalist to find the son who was taken from her decades ago. With wilful record-burning and downright lies, the Catholic Church comes under fire, but Philomena is also a tribute to one woman’s all-forgiving faith as her story is shared with a doorstepping journalist in which cynicism and forgiveness come eye to eye.
Sex, while not the original sin, is the guiding thread in Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Don Jon – the coming of age of a porn addict. With a stand-out performance from Scarlett Johansson as the gum-chewing Jersey girl with ‘attitood’, Don Jon offers an intriguing look at the mediatisation of sex and love, in which reality can’t come close to the hyper-real ecstasies of porn or romantic movies. Its ending falls sharply into trite, but it’s nevertheless an enjoyably humorous journey of a boy becoming a man.
The self-lie becomes the focus of Alex Gibney’s latest documentary exploded in the midst of filming. Begun in 2009, The Armstrong Lie charts Lance Armstrong’s return to cycling after cancer as well as the doping that plagues the sport. With so much Tour de France footage under his belt before Armstrong’s revelations to Oprah Winfrey, the film, even reconceptualised, is a castrated vindication of the yellow jersey winner – Gibney taking the deceit personally and neglecting to expand upon Armstrong’s megalomaniac power manipulations.
And finally, from the former Eastern bloc there’s Boris Khlebnikov’s A Long And Happy Life – a socialist realist tale of a farmer taking on the corporate hot shots which comes a cropper to its gun toting ending and Tomasz Wasilewski’s vibrant Floating Skyscrapers. The story of swimming ace who starts to fall for a male friend, it’s a landmark in Polish gay cinema, defying everyone with its aspirational individualism. With delicate performances from its three leads and a crushingly hopeless ending, it’s a very naked exploration of relationships and the redefining of the status quo. A society of worried mothers, humiliated girlfriends and macho men that’s still very much intact.