The Umbrella Academy: Season 1

I un-enthusiastically loaded up netflix on Saturday morning with the intention to watch a documentary film that had been recommended to me. There was a big splashy advert for The Umbrella Company, and I thought that was probably a better choice to watch while consuming breakfast and the first cup of tea of the day, and I’d come to the documentary when I was a bit more awake. Spoiler alert – I never made it to the documentary, and instead just spent the whole day watching the 10 episodes of The Umbrella Academy with only a couple of pauses to seek food and fresh air.

Even though I’m not too keen on reading comic books/graphic novels, I’ve always been drawn to the superhero genre, and X-Men were my entry point. The Umbrella Academy is clearly a close relation of the X-Men (or a rip off if you’re feeling uncharitable) and therefore plays to similar themes of normal/other, identity, destiny and found families. The tone of Umbrella Academy is slightly more grungy though, a little bit steampunk, a bit more sweary and a lot less spandex.

The series is mostly set in ‘present day’, I think there was a specific reference to it being 2019, but there are no mobile phones, a slightly clunky fudge to prevent some of the problems being solved too easily. A diverse group of children, born under unusual circumstances and with a random set of powers, were purchased by an eccentric white rich guy, and trained in the titular academy to be a team of superheroes. Now they’re in their late 20’s, disillusioned and separated until the death of their adoptive father brings them back together. There are also a lot of flashbacks to them as children to gradually see how their upbringing made them who they are, and then there’s time travel, so we also get to see the future. The different threads can get a bit messy and hard to track at times, but if you let it wash over you, it actually hangs together very well. There are a few clunky transitions to flashback, but for the most part we never stay anywhere long enough to get bored or be put to sleep with exposition. It’s very much show, don’t tell.

The group of characters are well developed, both individually and with a complex network of relationships both past and present. I expected Ellen Page to be excellent, but the rest of the cast were unknown (until I imdb’ed and spotted that Klaus was actually Nathan in Misfits and I hadn’t recognised him at all!) and they all delivered nuanced performances as characters who’ve grown up under weird circumstances. I loved the family relationships and all the baggage bubbling barely under the surface and exploding at inevitably the worst times.

The plot is twisty and satisfying; I did guess the main twists quite a way in advance but it was still interesting to watch how they came through. The 10 episode format works well and I’m glad they went that route rather than a film which wouldn’t have given all the characters enough room to breath. There were a couple of episodes that dragged a bit in terms of plot, but there were still enough character moments to make them worthwhile. Not all the plot ideas really went anywhere and some big questions that were left unanswered, but hopefully that was deliberate to leave plenty of material for another season.

There’s creativity to the style as well that I liked. The direction and design, when at its best, was clearly drawing heavily from the comic book style. So much of the story and character in graphic novels has to be driven by the images, and that is carried over to the television series. There were scenes that I ended up rewinding just to fully appreciate the style, or to focus on a different part of the screen to see what other characters were doing, I must have watched the above scene half a dozen times, in just two and a half minutes it perfectly expresses every character, establishes the style and even gives you the layout of the house. It’s funny and sad and just perfect.

I went into this series expecting absolutely nothing and emerged 10 hours later completely obsessed with it.

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Films in March

Us
With Jordan Peele’s second film I was expecting something similar to Get Out, so was slightly surprised to find a more classic slasher film than creepy psychological thriller. To be honest, I’m not a huge fan of the genre so am probably not the best person to review this film, but it seemed to me like a good example of the genre. The set up was solid, the characters vibrant enough, the bad guys suitably creepy and scary. I really liked the humour of it, watching it in a cinema there were a lot of laughs that were well placed to break the tension. The ending I thought was a bit ‘meh’, I’d almost rather they didn’t explain it at all as the back story just felt incredibly underdeveloped and improbable. Not really my kind of film, but well done (I think).

Disobedience
Rachel Weisz is an incredibly watchable performer, but the film as a whole is a bit of a slog. I never felt I had a good grasp of the orthodox Jewish community that was really at the centre of the film, and so I couldn’t really understand where the boundaries were that the estranged Ronit was pushing. It was just too slow to really hold my attention even with Weisz.

Velvet Buzzsaw
This was all over the place. There were bits of it that came close to doing something interesting, but then kept drifting back towards predictable and unimaginative, or just bludgeon you with the idea until it feel worn out. There are characters that set off in a direction and then lurch in a different one; great actors that are delivering in one scene and then phoning it in in another. There are some beautiful shots, but just like the way it is presenting the modern art world – it’s all surface and no substance.

The Usual Suspects
The first time I watched this film, many years ago, I didn’t really enjoy it because I didn’t know what was going on (almost certainly ‘cos I wasn’t paying attention). This time watching it, I didn’t really enjoy it because I knew what was going on. When you know the twist at the end the rest of the film is just not that exciting.

Books in March

Arthur C. Clarke – Rendezvous with Rama
Arthur C. Clarke was one of the authors who sparked my love of reading science fiction and it’s a toss up between him and Asimov for the title of most quintessential science fiction author. But I haven’t re-read anything of his in ages, and Rendezvous with Rama seemed a good place to start. It’s interesting coming back to it after reading many other SF authors, there are things which he does effortlessly, but aspects that I’m used to in more modern SF writing that’s completely missing. Clarke manages to near effortlessly get the story started and moving along, there’s hardly any pre-amble or scene setting, it’s all immediately there with no fuss and nothing but incredibly believable and grounded set ups. What’s less present though are the characters, each one is efficiently introduced for their purposes, but no time is wasted really getting into their feelings beyond what’s needed to explain their actions. They’re not cold though, they’re all clearly complex individuals who clearly have their own stories, it’s just that only relevant facts are shared. I will confess I struggled to keep track of the complicated geography and descriptions of Rama itself, which is weird because I remember Clarke’s ability to describe things being a lot better, so maybe I just missed something obvious. Clarke is always efficient, anyone writing this book today would have taken three times as many pages and left nothing to the imagination, but even with that sparsity Clarke still delivers tension, humour and a true sense of wonder.

Alan Connor – Two Girls, One on Each Knee
This is a book about cryptic crosswords, and is written in a style that will appeal to those that like cryptic crosswords, but becomes slightly tiresome for those that have a more casual interest. There’s a lot of material about the history of crosswords, their rules, how to solve them and even cultural relevance – but because it’s all broken up into small chunks and delivered seemingly randomly it can be a bit hard to follow. I always felt like I was brushing the surface rather than fully understanding any depth.

Stuart Turton – The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle
This book sounded right up my street – a murder mystery at a 1920’s house party combined with a ‘weird’ element of bodyswapping and time loops. I was excited to start reading it and settled in to read a big chunk in one setting. But I struggled to get into it. And then I struggled to stay engaged. And then I started questioning things. Then I started picking holes in things. Then characters eventually started asking the things I’d asked hours ago. And then it was just a matter of plodding on to the end.
This is a first novel from the author, and even won the Costa Award for first novel, but I felt it still had a lot of work to be done. The mechanics of the ‘weird’ raised too many questions for me (what remained between timeloops, how the overlapping worked…) and I didn’t have confidence that the author knew the answers. Someone like Claire North does such an incredible job building her ‘weirdness’ and establishing the rules, that she’s set a high bar for me on how I expect things to be watertight.
The murder mystery elements were fairly solid though, with plenty of different characters, threads and branches interweaving into a complex net. In fact, I found myself repeatedly wishing I was just reading that as a straight story without the weirdness which over-complicated all the characters and twists, but I’m guessing that wouldn’t have sold so well.

Agatha Christie – Peril at End House
A very enjoyable outing for Hercule Poirot. I like that he’s played up as really quite obnoxious and annoying, it’s like the narrator of Captain Hastings is just rolling his eyes the whole time. The case is well plotted out with a couple of zigs and zags and although I guessed some of the elements quite early on, I was never certain and so continued to buy into different options as they also came up.

The Haunting of Hill House: Season 1

I was looking for something that would be a satisfying, but un-challenging box set for a weekend of dreary weather, mild illness and catastrophically low motivation. The Haunting of Hill House turned out to be a near perfect fit for my needs.

This series delivers a number of fundamental horror principles very solidly:

1) Is it supernatural or not? The twists and turns play out very nicely over the 10 episodes, supported by characters holding different positions and in turn evolving their thinking as the audience does. If you see the monster in the first 5 minutes there’s no mystery, just a battle for survival. But if you spend hours not sure whether the monster exists or if people are crazy, that’s far more interesting.

2) Family dynamics are the real horror. As much as this is a story about a haunted house, it’s a story about a haunted family. The series follows a sibling group demonstrating how differently people can respond to trauma, and how those differences can tear a people apart and bond them together. The individual characters are all complex individuals and played by actors more than capable of demonstrating their depth; while the connections and conflicts between the siblings are equally complex and fascinating.

3) Stuff that’s festered is more scary. I’m not just talking about some of the ickiness, but also by tracking two major timelines, and flashing back occasionally to key points in the intervening period, it allows you to see the huge, life changing impacts that events have. Being scared and getting over it is one thing, but when it’s shaped the characters lives for decades, that’s really scary. The plot and interweaving of the timelines was carefully done and I rarely felt frustrated to be pulled from one to the other.

Overall, The Haunting of Hill House is a very satisfying and solid horror series. It’s not without flaws, I struggled early on to track who was who, particularly tracking the children to their grown up counterparts, and there were a fair number of classic horror story problems whereby people often did dumb things that pushed the bounds of credibility. But that’s almost part of the genre itself. The series uses its running time well and leaves just the right amounts of closure and unanswered questions. A great binge watch for a dreary weekend.

Books in January and February

Those of you paying attention will have noticed that in January I didn’t share my usual monthly digest of what I’d been reading, that’s because it was a rather embarrassing tally of just two books. I thought I’d make up for it in February, but frankly that was an even more pathetic count of just one book. This is mostly due to the fact that I’m working in a different office at the usual, and rather than a nice 2 hours each day on tubes to power through books, I have an unpleasant 2 hours driving slowly on clogged up motorways. That’s doing wonders for my podcast backlog, but not much for the reading list.

T Kingfisher – Swordheart
Another great book from T Kingfisher. There’s something incredible substantial about her characters – the way they speak, act and think just feel like fully realised individuals that are interesting and fun to spend time with. If I look at it objectively, I think there are some weaknesses in the storyline – maybe a little too much plodding between events and dragging things out. But as the characters are so nice to spend time with, I really don’t mind just sitting in a wagon listening to them talk. I really do adore her work.

Claire Evans – The Fourteenth Letter
A book that’s basically absolutely fine. There’s nothing to complain about, but also nothing to get excited about. The characters are engaging enough, but at first there are too many and then they don’t seem to really go anywhere; the plot moves along sufficiently, but lacks any real depth. I found something a little off though, it starts off quite easy going, gradually introducing some mysterious elements, but that light tone never quite hardens despite some very violent and disturbing subject matter. Maybe it’s that disconnect that left me feeling completely nothing about the book.

Martin Edwards (editor) – Silent Nights – Christmas Mysteries
A nice collection of mystery stories that are vaguely Christmas themed. By nature of short stories, particularly mysteries there isn’t much scope for developing characters and rich pictures, but the Christmas themes immediately give a little more richness. Some are very predictable, some are ridiculously improbable, but they’re all satisfying enough for a cold evening curled in an armchair.

Films in February

Because I spent so much time writing about Oscars, I forgot to do my round up of films in February. It’s probably a bit repetitive with the Oscar posts as most films were related to awards, but for completeness I thought I’d better still make the post.

NEW RELEASES
Green Book
I’m a bit unsure about this film. On one hand, it’s a nice film about the development of an unlikely relationship with a lot of laughs and smiles along the way and I really quite enjoyed it. The central performances are all big and the characters are complex and interesting. However, I was also uncomfortable that this was a film about racism, bigotry and systematised hatred and oppression; and if that film is ‘nice’ it’s probably missing something. Not every film has to be hard hitting and challenging, but this one just made me feel a bit uncomfortable. Maybe it’s because it’s being award nominated and is another of those films that if it had been released in May or October, I wouldn’t be so critical towards.

The Wife
I never quite made it to the cinema to see this film, so rented it from Amazon as part of an award nominations blitz. I’d been intrigued from early on about the ‘mystery’ of the film, but was slightly disappointed to realise that it was fundamentally exactly what you think it is. The overall plot and writing was in fact a bit clunky throughout, I think the flashbacks rather over-egged the pudding and I wonder if there was a more elegant solution to those. However, for all the lack of subtlety in the overall structure of the film, Glenn Close’s performance is absolutely mesmerizing. She sold the emotions, conflicts and contentedness of her character in ways that were beyond the script (somehow) and brought an otherwise middling film to life.

NEW TO ME
BlacKkKlansman
I struggle with this film. At it’s heart is a story that is completely ridiculous, and yet is apparently true. In the 1970’s the first black cop in Colorado Springs, persuades his department to launch an extensive investigation into the KKK. He does this by joining the KKK, with himself playing the member on the phone, and a white (Jewish) colleague playing the member in person. I mean, why does the white cop not just talk on the phone too? That central question bugged me the whole way through the film. It also bugged me that it seemed to be presenting itself as a dark comedy, but wasn’t really funny enough, and I’m not entirely sure it was dark enough either – the ineptness of this branch of the KKK seemed to undermine the horrors they committed. And then, the film ends with news footage of horrible events in present day America which just didn’t feel appropriate with the light tone the film ended on. It felt like finger wagging, when the rest of the film had done very little to actually educate or elevate the discussion.

REWATCHES
Roma – I’ve watched this film twice now. On first watch I was incredibly unimpressed with it, but the amount of critical praise and number of awards it was getting made me think I may have missed something. On second watch, looking for the things that people had praised, I could see that I had been overly harsh on the film. I could see the beauty in the cinematography, and I was certainly more appreciative of the acting, particularly from absolute new comer Yalitza Aparicio. However, I still feel, there is just not enough meat in the film. All the characters and relationships are quite straightforward and there’s very little attempt to develop them. Everything feels very surface, no attempt to share the backstory of either characters or history, it’s just a sequence of things that happen. On first watch I was completely bored, on second watch I was a bit more engaged, but already, less than 10 minutes after finishing watching, it’s fading from my memory. I’ll raise my review from “awful” to “fine”, but it’s nothing more than that.

X-Men: Days of Future Past – After the disappointment of X-Men First Class, I was happy to see the original cast back for this installment, even if they were accompanied by the younger generation who I’d felt just didn’t have the heft that the Sirs Stewart and McKellan and the Mighty Jackman brought to the franchise. As it turns out, either the older generation’s support, or the much improved supporting cast raised everyone’s game a notch and the whole gigantic cast all came together to form a rather glorious whole. The time travel plot was a little of a bodge, but hung together pretty well, with just enough bouncing back and forth and interweaving that I never found myself frustrated to be in one time or the other.
It did what superhero films at their best have always done, partner the brutality of the metaphor with a sense of fun and awareness. The characters acknowledge their ridiculous situations and the fact that (for the most part) their powers don’t actually help them know what they should do, they just provide additional, spectacular, options. The film mixed character, action and plot very neatly, and I was never once bored. In fact my only complaint would be that I wanted even more – more characters, more interactions, more action and more jokes. After the disappointments of First Class and The Wolverine, the series is back on track, I’m sure the fact that it’s Bryan Singer back writing and directing is absolutely no coincidence.

The Secret Life of Pets – From the studio that brought you Despicable Me… and it’s just not that good I’m afraid. It has some really great observational bits about pets, really capturing dogs and cats as animals while still anthropomorphising them for the story. The attitudes and actions are perfectly captured. Unfortunately the story just isn’t anything special. Actually, it was something special when it was done in Toy Story, but fundamentally the whole pitch of Secret Life of Pets is to retell Toy Story with pets not toys. It just wasn’t original enough to hold the attention. BUT the pet stuff did make me laugh the whole way through, so it’s still fun to watch.

Mr Blandings Builds His Dream House – I don’t think this is the best of Cary Grant’s films, he seems to be a little on auto-pilot at times, playing the tired, down-trodden city man with a dream a little too tired. It’s missing the aspect of barely controlled mania that he brings to some other roles, I kept waiting for the explosion. The dryness of his best friend and wife make up for it though, the snide background remarks are wonderful. I also loved the opening scene, watching the busy family try to live in the tiny space on top of each other, it’s comfortably familiar and hilariously well observed. I do still prefer the re-imagined version in The Money Pit though.

East is East – Another great film from Film Four looking at a subject that really wouldn’t make the cut in Hollywood. It’s great fun, but also really challenging in its subject matter, a challenging but charming look at family life across cultures.

Oscars: Films of 2018

There are 37 feature length films nominated for Oscars this year, and I’ve seen 21 of them (57%), slightly better than last year’s percentage of 52%. Those 37 films add up to 106 nominations in total, and thanks to me ticking off some of the bigger ones, I’ve managed 70% of the nominations in total, although that’s 7% fewer than last year. The two big ones that I missed are Vice (which I’m not that sad about) and Can You Ever Forgive Me (which I am a bit).

Picturesee yesterday’s post for the longer version

  • Black Panther – A great superhero film, proving something that didn’t need to be proved.
  • BlacKkKlansman – a ridiculous story that makes no sense, even if it is true. Muddled in tone.
  • Bohemian Rhapsody – brilliant fun to watch, but not brilliantly well done
  • The Favourite – gripping, charming, heartbreaking, startling
  • Green Book – a ‘nice’ film about the development of an unlikely friendship, but it lacks the heft required for a story addressing deep seated racism
  • Roma – beautiful to look at, but ultimately lacking in substance
  • A Star Is Born – entertaining in places, but problematic in others
  • Vice – the only one I didn’t manage to see.
  • Prediction – I’d like The Favourite to win, but it will almost certainly be Roma.

    Director

  • Alfonso Cuarón – Roma) – \the aesthetic is spot on, but I never got the impression there was anything going on beyond what I could see
  • Spike Lee (BlacKkKlansman) – I didn’t really notice much in the way of direction I’m afraid.
  • Pawel Pawlikowski (Cold War) – haven’t seen it.
  • Yorgos Lanthimos (The Favourite) – the quirky tone of the direction brings alive the script and performances, adding nuance and changing perspectives all the time.
  • Adam McKay (Vice) – not seen
  • What’s missing – I would have like to see John Krasinski here for A Quiet Place for the way that he communicated so much with such restricted sound. I also always think that the directors on epic blockbusters like Black Panther or Avengers Infinity War deserve recognition for the immense juggling act to make massive set pieces, stunts, close ups and entire CGI worlds all blend together. And it would of course have been nice to see a woman here.
    Prediction – Cuaron will probably win for Roma, but again, I think The Favourite is the more impressive achievement.

    Actor

  • Christian Bale (Vice) – not seen. I do always feel a bit weird about the heavy prosthetics work, makes it harder to work out how much is acting and how much is just makeup.
  • Bradley Cooper (A Star Is Born) – he was good, but I was incredibly irritated with the ridiculous voice that made it hard for me to understand him.
  • Willem Dafoe (At Eternity’s Gate) – not seen
  • Rami Malek (Bohemian Rhapsody) – another case of a chunk of the work being done by prosthetics (mostly teeth!), but even with that, the performance shone through, not only as an impression but as a rich, complex and fascinating character
  • Viggo Mortensen (Green Book) – this was a good performance, making a comedic character grounded; there’s not much in the way of subtlety, but it’s still a rich performance.
  • Who’s missing – Journeyman was a film that no one seemed to notice and yet had a superb performance from Paddy Considine. A bit surprising that Ryan Gosling didn’t get a nomination for First Man, but maybe it was just too quiet a character. Joaquin Phoenix for You Were Never Really Here.
    Prediction – I think Rami Malek has got this one in the bag.

    Actress

  • Yalitza Aparicio (Roma) – a quiet performance, incredible for a first time actress
  • Glenn Close (The Wife) – not an amazing film (I haven’t reviewed it yet), but Close is phenomenal
  • Olivia Colman (The Favourite) – perfect casting, Colman is heartbreaking and hilarious
  • Lady Gaga (A Star Is Born) – I was really impressed at her performance, she was a wonderfully rich character with confidence and vulnerability, a joy to watch.
  • Melissa McCarthy (Can You Ever Forgive Me?) – not seen, but I’ve loved Melissa McCarthy since Gilmore Girls
  • Who’s missing – Emily Blunt for A Quiet Place, Jodie Whittaker for Journeyman, Viola Davis for Widows. I haven’t seen Mary Queen of Scots, but I’m surprised not to see Saoirse Ronan and/or Margot Robbie here.
    Prediction – Glenn Close is fantastic and has miraculously never won an Oscar despite 7 nominations and this performance certainly justifies a win. But I would also be more than happy if the wonderful Olivia Colman or the impressive Lady Gaga won.

    Supporting Actor

  • Mahershala Ali (Green Book) – an excellent performance that brings some subtlety to a slightly mediocre script, I’m just a little bemused that it’s considered ‘supporting’.
  • Adam Driver (BlacKkKlansman) – Driver is more than capable of Oscar worthy performances, I just didn’t think he had enough material here.
  • Sam Elliott (A Star Is Born) – all I remember is the growling voice, not really the performance
  • Richard E. Grant(Can You Ever Forgive Me?) – I haven’t seen it, but how wonderful was the pure joy that he has for the nomination
  • Sam Rockwell (Vice) – not seen
  • Prediction – Mahershala Ali seems to be sweeping the boards, and I guess he was the most impressive of the ones I’ve seen. I’d kind of like to see Richard E. Grant win though, just because he seems so lovely.

    Supporting Actress

  • Amy Adams(Vice) – not seen
  • Marina de Tavira (Roma) – I don’t think there was enough to this role to make it outstanding
  • Regina King (If Beale Street Could Talk) – not seen
  • Emma Stone (The Favourite) – I liked this performance a lot, she’s sparky and has a great arc
  • Rachel Weisz (The Favourite) – this role at first seems the simplest of the three women in this film, but that understates the subtlety beneath the surface which is a true achievement
  • Prediction: It seems like Regina King is a dead cert for this, although I would pick Rachel Weisz from the ones that I’ve seen.

    Original Screenplay

  • The Favourite – there’s a lot packed into the screenplay here, building up layer upon layer of comedy and tragedy
  • First Reformed – not seen
  • Green Book – very formulaic
  • Roma – Everything great about this film is in the visuals and the performances, the story and script are insubstantial and unremarkable.
  • Vice – not seen
  • Prediction: I hope and think The Favourite will win

    Adapted Screenplay

  • The Ballad of Buster Scruggs – This is 5 short films stuck together, and I just wish it had been blended into one feature.
  • BlacKkKlansman – I didn’t think the events actually made any sense (why didn’t the white police man just talk on the phone?), and although that’s the history, I don’t think the screenplay did anything to address it.
  • Can You Ever Forgive Me?
  • If Beale Street Could Talk
  • A Star Is Born – I have real issues with A Star is Born, I think there are a lot of issues that could and should have been addressed that were just completely ignored and I don’t think it did enough to move the original storyline into a new century.
  • Prediction: Of the ones I’ve seen, I wasn’t particularly impressed by any of them. If Beale Street Could Talk?

    Animated Feature

  • Incredibles 2 – I thoroughly enjoyed this
  • Isle of Dogs – manages to be quirky but not irritating and really enjoyable
  • Mirai – not seen
  • Ralph Breaks the Internet – I was not impressed at this at all, it wasn’t doing anything new, riffs about pop-up ads are out of date before they started.
  • Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse – the most comic book feeling comic book film yet.
  • Prediction: I’d be happy with either Isle of Dogs of Spider-Man, but I think the latter will win.

    Foreign Language Film

  • Capernaum (Lebanon), Cold War (Poland), Never Look Away (Germany), Roma (Mexico), Shoplifters (Japan)
  • Prediction: Surely a slam dunk for Roma? The only other one I’ve seen is Shoplifters which didn’t blow me away, although I’ve heard good things about both Capernaum and Cold War.

    Best Documentary

  • Free Solo; Hale County This Morning, This Evening; Minding the Gap; Of Fathers and Sons; RBG
  • Prediction: Embarrassingly I haven’t seen any of these. I suspect the Academy will vote for RBG but that may be more about the subject of the documentary than the quality of it, but I’ve heard much better things about Free Solo.

    Documentary Short

  • Black Sheep, End Game, Lifeboat, A Night at The Garden, Period. End of Sentence. – I haven’t seen any of these I’m afraid.
  • Prediction: A Night at the Garden?

    Live Action Short

  • Detainment, Fauve, Marguerite, Mother, Skin – Nope none of these either
  • Prediction: Shrug – Marguerite.

    Animated Short

  • Animal Behaviour – cute and funny
  • Bao – I was a bit uncertain about it to be honest, but I spoke to someone to whom it is culturally very close and he adored it
  • Late Afternoon – this is only the trailer and it doesn’t give you much to go on, but the animation style is beautiful.
  • One Small Step – Absolutely beautiful, truly stunning.
  • Weekends – I wasn’t a big fan of the dream bits, but the rest of it was really lovely.
  • Prediction: A fairly tough category, but my choice would be One Small Step

    Original Score

  • Black Panther – everything in this film is an evolution growing from pan-Afican roots and the music is no different.
  • BlacKkKlansman – I didn’t notice it
  • If Beale Street Could Talk – not seen
  • Isle of Dogs – the music was really creative using traditional themes much like Black Panther, supporting the tone of the film perfectly, just quirky enough but not insane
  • Mary Poppins Returns – lovely, just lovely. Using the foundations from the original film and developing them.
  • Prediction: It seems a little unfair to compare musicals with non-musicals, they’ve got such different jobs to do, so while Mary Poppins is obviously the most memorable, I’m not sure it’s fair. I think Black Panther will win, but I actually prefer Isle of Dogs I think.

    Original Song

  • “All the Stars” from Black Panther – I’m not a fan, but I think it works for the film
  • “I’ll Fight” from RBG – Solid, but I’m not sure how well it would have fit in a documentary, but not having seen it I can’t really say.
  • “The Place Where Lost Things Go” from Mary Poppins Returns – beautiful. Perfect for the film and just lovely. Watching on Youtube has just reduced me to a sobbing mess again.
  • “Shallow” from A Star Is Born – I don’t actually like this song much, it seems unfinished, like they gave up writing lyrics for the chorus (“In the shallow, sha sha shallow…”). I prefer Always Remember Us This Way which seems much more connected to the film.
  • “When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings” from The Ballad of Buster Scruggs – is this good? I mean it’s cute and fits the film, but seems pretty basic to me.
  • Prediction: I think Shallow will win, but I wish it were Mary Poppins.

    Sound Editing:

  • Black Panther, Bohemian Rhapsody, First Man, A Quiet Place, Roma
  • Prediction: A Quiet Place. For no other film is the sound so absolutely critical .

    Sound Mixing

  • Black Panther, Bohemian Rhapsody, First Man, Roma, A Star Is Born
  • Prediction: Who knows… Bohemian Rhapsody?

    Production Design

  • Black Panther – the design is original, creative, grounded, detailed and absolutely critical to the film.
  • The Favourite – the world of 18th century court was beautifully created, I presume exagerated for comic effect in places and rich and colourful.
  • First Man – How much was ‘design’ and how much was just recreating history? I’m not saying that’s easy, but it’s not as impressive as creating from scratch.
  • Mary Poppins Returns – the fantasy worlds were all fun and vibrant, but I don’t think they had the depth that they need to be outstanding – I didn’t really believe any of them existed when the camera wasn’t rolling.
  • Roma – I don’t necessarily understand these things, but to me Roma is more about the cinematography than the production design, it’s not *designing* anything, it’s just real.
  • Prediction: Black Panther surely?

    Cinematrography

  • Cold War – not seen, I just know that it’s a weird aspect ratio and black and white.
  • The Favourite – this was doing something very interesting with lenses and the like, but actually I never felt like it was drawing attention to it, just making it a part of the film.
  • Never Look Away – not seen
  • Roma – I will aree that there are some beautiful shots in this film, and despite being in black and white it felt vibrant, BUT I also felt that the black and white was a little over-processed. The whole thing felt like it was trying too hard – look at me, I’m black and white and this long, lingering shot is beautifully framed. It didn’t add to the story.
  • A Star Is Born – can’t say I really noticed it.
  • Prediction: I think it will go to Roma, although I prefer The Favourite.

    Makeup and Hair

  • Border, Mary Queen of Scots, Vice
  • Prediction: I’ve not seen any of them and not even heard of Border, but I think this is a battle of wigs over imitation prosthetics. It feels to me like there are a lot of options missing from here – The Favourite (the wigs!), and the prosthetic work in various sci-fi films. I suspect Vice will win.

    Costume Design

  • The Ballad of Buster Scruggs – there were some fun designs here.
  • Black Panther – the costume designs were integral to the look of the film, evolving something new from multiple different traditions.
  • The Favourite – beautiful, but I’m not sure how much were based on existing historical designs.
  • Mary Poppins Returns – one of the only films I remember specifically noticing the costumes during the film, the drawn but real costumes in the ‘bowl’ sequence was fascinating.
  • Mary Queen of Scots – as for The Favourite, I’m not sure how much was just historical.
  • Prediction: Black Panther was doing the most interesting work

    Film Editing

  • BlacKkKlansman, Bohemian Rhapsody, The Favourite, Green Book, Vice
  • Prediction: I don’t think the editing really stood out on any of those that I saw, I suspect Vice may have been a bit more creative though.

    Visual Effect

  • Avengers: Infinity War – an huge amount of CGI, but not overwhelming and it all felt real
  • Christopher Robin – I didn’t get on with the un-canniness of the animation here, they were cute, they just didn’t quite ‘resolve’ into the environment.
  • First Man – the strength and weakness of the effects is the recreation of the experience of early spaceflight which is shaky and terrifying, and frankly made me nauseous and had to look away from the screen.
  • Ready Player One – from my recollection, this was a little overwhelmingly CGI, the bits that were set within a game that made perfect sense, but I’m not sure that made it outstanding.
  • Solo: A Star Wars Story – Unlike Avengers, I was always aware that everything was a special effect.
  • Prediction: It’s almost too easy to do incredible things in CGI these days, just rendering everything isn’t impressive anymore, it’s when things blend seamlessly that it’s impressive, which is why I think it will go to First Man, although I think Avengers demonstrated more different aspects.