I’ve seen 7 out of the 9 nominees for best film, missing out on Fences (slightly disappointingly) and Hacksaw Ridge (less disappointingly). Below are my reviews of the 7 films I have seen, and on Saturday I’ll post my preferences and predictions for what will win both this category, and all the rest too.
I had high hopes for this film and I’ve heard almost nothing but praise for the film, but I had a very different reaction to it and I’m wondering if I was just in a terrible mood or something. For the first 20 minutes or so of the film I was just plain bored. It was so slow to get started, I came for a film about aliens and I started with a moody character study of a woman losing her child. Also it was just dull to look at, I am SO fed up of science fiction films (or anything dramatic really) having a thick blue/grey filter applied over it! To top it off, either the sound mixing was off or my cinema had speaker issues because I struggled to hear crucial lines of dialogue.
After that initial disappointment, the film did get better. I found the focus on linguistics as a science fascinating and I definitely appreciated the gender balance with the man being the sidekick for once (although why the theoretical physicist became the linguistics assistant I’m not entirely sure). And it built to a very interesting and satisfying conclusion, which actually addresses some of the very issues that I’d thought were holes or flaws as I was watching.
I think my frustrations probably came from a lack of fore-knowledge about what the film was. I was expecting a sciency film and even some action, but in fact it was much more of an emotional story, just in a science fiction framework. I’m not sure the balance of those elements really worked out as well as it could, and certainly the trailer set different expectations. I should have got round to watching it a second time so that I could judge it more fairly, I suspect I will think better of it then.
Hell of High Water
This film seemed to come a little out of nowhere and slightly defies description, everything I try to write just makes it sound rather dull. So I won’t describe the story, instead I’ll say that it’s enough to keep your brain hooked, the acting is enough to keep your heart gripped and the style is enough to keep your eyes transfixed; all while seemingly completely effortless. I thought it managed to be both old school and original. Hard to describe, but very easy to recommend.
This is one of my favourite films I’ve seen recently, it blends a great number of different elements together very well – it’s a drama and a comedy, a feel good story of people coming together to achieve something while also having the depth of the racial segregation of the time. It maybe could have gone firmer on the issues, maybe it could be seen as going too light and making change seem as if it was an easy win at NASA. I think the film choses to be a film that people will enjoy, with plenty of laughs and heart, and presenting the segregation and for me, it worked as a celebration of these women’s achievements, and made a very watchable, approachable and enjoyable film while also reminding us of the issues they had to overcome.
La La Land
I had been stunningly underwhelmed by the first trailer for this, which was entirely without words and made up only of two pretty people looking at each other, looking into the camera, and looking into the distance; all accompanied by plinky plunky music. Oh and occasional dancing. And some flying. The second trailer was marginally better as it implied there was some actual plot. The final film managed a little more plot, but not a massive amount more. I remain, fairly underwhelmed.
It actually got off to a good start, I really liked the opening musical number – proper traditional musical stuff with everyone bursting into a coordinated song and dance number. I liked the old style combined with the modern setting of a traffic jam and some modern dance (parkour and skateboards and the like). Then we meet our ‘heroes’ and my hackles immediately go up because I didn’t particularly sympathise with either of them. He’s a sanctimonious jazz fanatic who’s more interested in telling people why they’re wrong then he is in paying the bills. She was sort of better as the wannabe actress reaching the end of her patience with awful auditions… until the writers decided to take a break from reality and give her a shiny new prius. The film itself lost a lot of my sympathy when they opted for a flashy musical number in Wannabe’s immense house with her trio of beautiful housemates. Maybe that sort of thing really does happen in LA, but it felt like a fantasy to me, and not in a good way. A slightly sleazy fantasy. They didn’t start a pillow fight, but I wouldn’t have been surprised if they had.
The rest of the film swung wildly between two distinct tones and I’m not sure either held up. The old-school fantasy musical/screwball romance, would have made a nice change from the usual Hollywood stuff, but the two leads were no Debbie Reynolds or Gene Kelly, their singing and dancing was acceptable but far from outstanding. The more gritty reality of their relationship was more within their talents but felt disjointed. To add insult to injury, as per usual it was too long, and the fantasy ending tacked on felt like a cop out from the writers who still couldn’t make their mind up whether it should be fantasy or reality.
I know a lot of people have really loved this film, but I just don’t see it. I *wanted* to love it, because heaven knows some escapism is much needed, but I just didn’t think it was very good.
I thought this film was entirely “fine”. I mean, it was just… fine. I’m not sure how much more I can say about it (although obviously I’ll try). The choice to tell it linearly was an interesting one, I knew enough about the film to make the opening third feel like an overly-extended introduction, with little sense of tension, just more curiosity about how it would connect through. There was nothing wrong with it, but it just felt like it was dragging the opening out until what I thought was the main story – the search. Maybe it would have worked better to intertwine the two stories, making it clear that it was more about the journeys (metaphorical and literal) than about the destinations. The end of the film and the emotional release felt rather manipulative, and I thought downplayed a second element that I would have liked to have been explored a bit more. When compared to other films, like Manchester by the Sea for example, the writing and acting all felt a lot more obvious and less nuanced, there wasn’t much subtext left for the audience to follow. I sound overly critical, it was still an interesting and entertaining film, it just wasn’t outstanding.
Manchester by the Sea
This is a pure character study film. There’s not a huge amount of narrative, there are really only two plot elements – one in the past and one in the present; one that drove the characters into their current positions, and then the one that pushed them out of it. The film is centred around Casey Affleck’s character for which he is rightly getting extensive praise; but the characters around him are just as complex and well portrayed, even those that get very little screen time. It’s a film of silences, looks and the things that people are really saying when they’re talking about something else. It’s all well done, but what makes this film stand out is about 10 minutes in the middle which I will not spoil, but literally took my breath away with the emotional impact. I was in a sold out showing and the impact just rippled through the audience as people realised what was happening and gasped and responded in a way I’ve rarely heard. In contrast to that moment, the rest of the film feels comparatively low key, and frankly a little too drawn out at times (as usual, losing 20 minutes would have greatly improved it) but that is mitigated by the fact that for all the heartache, it’s also a very funny film, in a naturalistic way that completely supports the sense that these are just absolutely normal people.
I really wanted to love this film, and I am so disappointed that I didn’t. For me, it committed the cardinal sin of being boring. I can recognise that a lot of it is incredibly good. The story of this character and the way it is told is interesting – three acts, each focusing on a relative small time period, spread across a couple of decades of his life showing how things change as you grow up, and how they do not. I can certainly recognise the superb acting, not least the achievement of three individuals (two of them very young) playing the same person. I can acknowledge the art in the direction style, even though for me the hand held footage, and frequent swirling camera moves and narrow depth of focus left me having to close my eyes at times (possibly the film would benefit from being on a smaller, more intimate screen). But I can’t change the fact that I was bored. I know *why* the character said so little, why there were so many silences and long pauses, and that I’m *meant* to feel uncomfortable and fill those silences, but that doesn’t change the fact that I moved through understanding the point and started thinking about other things. Like that I didn’t like the blurred background. Or that the sound effects were sometimes overly intrusive. I can respect this film, but I just didn’t like it.