Films in July (2022)

Another very quiet month for films. I failed to make it to the cinema to see Thor, but I did make it to see Minions!

Minions: The Rise of Gru
I was a little apprehensive going in for a number of reasons. 1) Minions wasn’t amazing, the little yellow guys are hilarious and adorable in shorts, but struggled to carry a whole film. 2) Sequels are hard. 3) I really, really needed a fun film, disappointment might be terminal.
I wasn’t disappointed. I loved it. Having mini-Gru grounded the film and gave the minions something to bounce off of and bounce, giggle and babble their way through they did. I adored it, and I have a whole new set of animated gifs to play with. 9 / 10

Scream (2022)
25 years after the original Scream (give or take a pandemic delay) and the gang’s all back. This time it’s a self-referential take on the “re-quel”, returning to an old concept, blending old and new casts, and everyone being aware of the rules they all need to follow. It’s a solid idea that keeps the series fresh and moving forward, certainly better than the 3rd film. However it still can’t capture the magic of the original, it occasionally stumbles too far from reality and satire into self parody (I was particularly frustrated by the level of injury people kept fighting with). 6 / 10

Venom: Let There Be Carnage
This was much, much more fun than I had expected. Where the first filmM/a> couldn’t work out whether it wanted to be dark, daft or just CGI action, this one settles firmly that it wants to be an odd couple comedy (with a scattering of CGI action. The relationship between Venom and his reluctant host is just brilliant, and stunningly played by Tom Hardy. The story doesn’t really matter that much, but gets the job done neatly, but everyone involved understands where the real gold is and just lets it shine. 8 / 10

The Sea Beast
This Netflix animation was clearly trying to capture some of the magic of How to Train Your Dragon – it’s got a similar story, similar tone and similar visual style, but it falls a bit flat on the charm. It’s a fun enough film to watch, there’s absolutely nothing that I can really point to and identify as ‘wrong’ but it just doesn’t have that special spark to it and the similarities to How to Train Your Dragon just draw attention to that absence. 7 / 10

Thor: Ragnarok
Finally a Thor film that worked for me. The first two were a bit bogged down for me, all a bit “Shakespeare in the Park”. There were flashes of humour in them, but nowhere near enough to overcome some plodding plots. However Thor post Avengers is a much more interesting character making the most of the considerable comic talents of Chris Hemsworth while letting the dramatic elements be shown rather than said for a change. Loki, Hulk, Banner, Dr Strange and Valkyrie all have substantial supporting roles, each with a similar blend of humour and tragedy, although it’s Korg who steals the show at every available opportunity. While there’s some pretty heavy stuff going on in this film, it is primarily just fun,8 / 10

Hugo
I thought this was going to be about the history of cinema, but hardly any mention of that was made until an hour in! It was as if they jammed two films together, one a story about machines and what it means to be someone who fixes them, and the other about the early pioneers of cinema and what happened to them. Both were interesting themes, but I found the muddling of the two ideas together clumsy and a bit of a waste.
I wouldn’t say the film was awful by any stretch, the characters were lovely, the storylines were interesting and the design was beautiful, but I was disappointed that the themes seemed to just meander about a bit. 7 / 10

Films in June 2022

Only 13 films watched in June, and most of them were re-watches as I worked my way through all the Jurassic Parks and Despicable Me films in advance of new installments at the cinema. I never got round to posting my review of Jurassic World Dominion as it’s own post, so here it is.

Jurassic World: Dominion
I rewatched all five previous Jurassic Pak films in the run up to going to see this at the cinema and that made me very aware of the strengths and weaknesses of the previous films, and made me appreciate the consistency. I’ve struggled a bit to write this review because it just doesn’t feel like there’s much to say about the film, it’s a good closure for the series, brings back lots of ideas and faces and does a solid job of tidying things up neatly. The only thing I can really think of to call out is that it occasionally gets a bit crowded, and that the principle villain doesn’t make much sense. But then none of it really makes sense, so it doesn’t really matter. What’s important is that the effects are good, the characters engaging and the action sequences bounce along. It was a great cinema experience and a solid ending to the series. 7 / 10

Mothering Sunday
A quietly powerful film that took me slightly by surprise. Set after the first world war it’s a snapshot of life focussing on Jane, a maid in a relatively small house. This isn’t Downton Abbey with dozens of servants and strict rules, everything is a little more relaxed. We focus on her, and her secret relationship, but we also see into the lives of the owners of the house and the lasting impact that the war has had on everyone. The performances are excellent, the direction intimate and I was completely gripped. The only problem came in a few scenes that bracket the film, jumping forward to Jane’s future. It did show the longer term impacts that events have on her, but it felt a bit unnecessary to me, and I would have been more interested potentially to see more of the stories of the other characters. 7 / 10

REWATCHES
Enola Holmes
I’m not sure whether the world of Sherlock Holmes just naturally lends itself to quirky film making, or whether once it’s been done that way once, everyone else has to follow. This is Holmes in the style that’s become familiar through the BBC series and the Robert Downey Jnr films, full of spark, and speed; bouncing around and zipping along at the speed of the genius’ mind and bringing the audience along for the ride. It’s just that this time the Holmes isn’t Sherlock, it’s his 16 year old sister, and without a Watson to explain everything to, she talks (or just rolls her eyes) at the audience directly. Millie Bobby Brown of Stranger Things fame more than carries the film, she’s charming, smart, witty, subtle and original; playing a character with all the intelligence of Sherlock Holmes, but with added emotion that is a very welcome addition. I actually really loved this film, the twists and turns of the plot were satisfying without being too challenging and although it maybe drags on a little bit and lacks some focus, I really enjoyed it and really hope that the open ending means this will turn into a series. 8 / 10

Tenet
I have no problem with complex films, I purposely go to the cinema and watch films to distract my brain from the world around me and so a film where I have to concentrate helps that. Christopher Nolan films push complexity to the limit, respecting that the audience is more intelligent than many films suppose and that they want to be challenged. The problem I found with Tenet wasn’t that I couldn’t understand it, it was that I was never given the chance to. There was no breathing room, explanations were rushed through and swiftly followed by action, I just wanted things to pause for 30 seconds to allow me to really sink into the ideas, but I was always being rushed on. Then in the middle of action sequences I wasn’t quite sure whether things were going to plan or not, because I’d never quite grasped the plan, so I didn’t understand the jeopardy and lost the emotional connection. Also in thinking about the film since watching, I’m not entirely sure it hangs together – did the stuff at the start about the bullets actually make sense and/or matter? A second watch hasn’t helped on any of this.
There are secondary problems with the film that are similar to other Nolan films as well. Dialogue was often mumbled and overwhelmed by some terrible sound mixing. The lead female character was depressingly poorly-written, little agency of her own and an object for the male characters to engage with. However the cast were very good, the stunt work superb and the creativity is certainly refreshing. 6 / 10

Despicable Me
The film that spawned a thousand merchandising opportunities! My house is full of minions and they just never fail to make me smile. They are beautifully introduced and utilised with a combination of slapstick and silly noises/words being laugh out loud funny. Although the minions are the standout stars, the film itself is very well put together, with a sweet and engaging plot that holds up to multiple viewings. 8 / 10

Despicable Me 2
The producers of Despicable Me clearly learnt from the first film that while the story was enjoyable enough, what audiences went absolutely nuts about were the little yellow minions. So not only has Despicable Me 2 been accompanied by dozens of trailers and shorts featuring the minions, but they take a much larger role in the film too. And it really works. I love those little guys. As soon as they appear I laugh and I hardly stop for breath. The rest of the film is perfectly servicable, and by itself would have been entertaining enough, but whenever you go more than five minutes without a minion, it feels like an eternity. 8 / 10

Despicable Me 3
Not enough minions. I know the point of the Despicable Me films isn’t the minions, but I can’t be the only one that is mostly watching these films for the minions. It didn’t even really feel like there was enough Gru in the film. The other characters (with the exception of Agnes) are all just a bit bland, or on the edge of irritating (Lucy). The plot is just about ok but I didn’t really like the twin brother bit. Mostly though I just found myself constantly hunting the backgrounds for minions and not finding them. 6 / 10

Minions
I love the minions. I adore them. It doesn’t matter how many times I watch their clips on youtube, I laugh every time. They can literally bring me out of a bad mood. I just can’t resist them. So I was equal parts excited and terrified by there being a whole Minion film, they couldn’t just be the comedy sidekicks, they had to carry the whole thing. The potential for disappointment was huge.
Going in with that knowledge was something of a shield, so when the film was not the greatest thing I’d ever seen, I was braced. The minions were their usual charming and funny selves when they were just left to play about. When they could do little skits, little observations and do hilarious stuff in the background. When they were needed to drive the plot forward however, they just weren’t so great. When they talked for too long, it edged from cute into irritating and the individual personalities of the minions didn’t quite stick in place all the time. The plot and characters around the minions just didn’t quite live up to those of Despicable Me, it just felt a bit by the numbers and lacking in the heart that those films did with Gru and the girls.
None of that about the overall quality of the film should really distract from the fact that I still laughed and loved the little yellow guys. But, just like with the Despicable Me films, what I loved about them were the little moments (the chandelier, the historical sketches at the start, the torture chamber), but the glue to hold those together just wasn’t as strong. 7 / 10

Jurassic Park
I can’t believe how old this film is (1993) and how good it still is. The effects still look good, thanks to some very careful direction and editing so that ropey bits are hidden behind lighting and dramatic music. There’s a decent plot behind the running and screaming, but it doesn’t get in the way of the death and maiming and even the small kids aren’t too irritating. The music is possibly the best soundtrack ever, and the moment they first see the dinosaurs and the music swells makes me beam with joy no matter how many times I’ve seen it. 9 / 10

Jurassic Park 2: The Lost World
This film should have been good, it would probably have never been as good as the first, but there was more than enough material to play with, a cast and budget to die for and yet it ends up being insulting bad. The biggest issue was the plot. The first half of the film is entirely driven by characters doing stupid things (particularly the lead female unfortunately who loudly proclaims to be an expert on these things and then does absolutely everything wrong). Then the second half when they leave the island is so riddled with plot holes that you can drive a sauropod through them. Then the crappy icing on the rubbish cake is that somehow, 4 years after the original, the special effects are substantially worse. Jeff Goldbloom is the only thing better in this film than the last, as the lead he evoloves his character from the sleazy irritation of the first to something really very watchable. 5 / 10

Jurassic Park 3
Jurassic Park 3 is not as bad as Jurassic Park 2. While it’s not a high bar to step over, it is something to celebrate. This film keeps things relatively simple, just a small number of people trying to get away from the dinosaurs through a series of set pieces that felt rather less organic than they could have done. Everything about the film is fine – it’s playing up the humour rather more than the first one did, and so it feels quite light in comparison, bordering on flimsy. I didn’t have any particular emotional investment in any of the characters but the action sequences barreled along. Some cheaper special effects were hidden away behind things being dark rather too often, but at least they were hidden I suppose. It’s fine, but it’s nothing special. 7 / 10

Jurassic World
I was particularly harsh about this film the first time I watched it in the cinema. I felt that they’d over-commercialised the idea and lost the heart and soul of it. I called out the moment early in the film where it lost me – the music swelled into the familiar theme, one that in the first film played as the helicopter swept over the beautiful landscape, eventually coming to a climax as the herd of brontosaurus are revealed to audience and characters for the first time. John Williams’ genius score carried us along with the power of nature, the joy of the paleontologists seeing dinosaurs walking around – the majesty, the surprise, the delight, the wonder. In Jurassic World, it plays as we pass over a sweeping landscape of shops at a theme park. The music automatically made me feel all the old emotions and then made me hate myself because I was connecting them with commercialisation. I acknowledged that this was possibly done deliberately to show us the wonder being turned into a dollar sign, the product placement being ironic… but it just felt hypocritical and smug rather than self-aware.
However. I’ve just watched it straight after watching the original trilogy, and while it isn’t in the same league as the first one, it’s a definite step back in the right direction compared to 2 and 3. At least this film was made with competence and even some heart, where the previous two felt like absolute cash ins that they couldn’t even be bothered to make any effort at all with.
The plot and characters make sense here, the action sequences and special effects are really well done (and mostly in the daylight rather than hidden in shadows) and the way some of the ideas have evolved shows thought rather than lazily rehashing the same things. Chris Pratt is rapidly turning into the go-to guy for this kind of charming, slightly insufferable hero. He injects an energy and a heart to the film that is otherwise sadly absent. And Bryce Dallas Howard is a perfect partner for him.
It’s not the original, but it ain’t terrible. 7 / 10

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
This film manages to find some of the heart that was missing from the previous films, raising some interesting questions about the dinosaurs and tug at the heart strings. The mixture of actual plot and action sequences is just right, never leaving it too long without some excitement, but also not dragging sequences out until they get dull. Yes, there’s plenty of cheesy moments, and the plot doesn’t make a huge amount of sense, but the characters are fun, the cast charismatic and the special effects convincing. There wasn’t a single moment of the film when I was bored or my brain escaped back to the real world. Exactly what I’m looking for in Jurassic Park films. 8 / 10

Films in May 2022

A pretty quiet month for film watching, although I did make it to the cinema for TWO multiverse films. The excellent Doctor Strange and the Multiverse (reviewed here) and the disappointing Everything, Everywhere, All at Once (reviewed here).

All the Old Knives
This is a fairly quiet thriller, but it really worked for me. It plays out mostly in two timelines – in the past a group of CIA agents reacting to a terrorist incident, and a present day investigation into what happened. The multiple timelines were well juggled, gradually building up the different threads of the incident in the past, different points of view and substories and then tying it all together in the future to get to the ‘answer’ of what happened. Thandiwe Newton and Chris Pine are excellent, very understated performances that make even the simple scenes of them having dinner in a restaurant sizzle with tension. 8 / 10

The Ice King
I had heard of the British Ice Skater John Curry, I knew he was an Olympic gold medalist (one of only a dozen) but that was it. The documentary focusses on how he revolutionized men’s figure skating, integrating art into the sport and creating something beautiful and impressive. He was also one of the first out gay athletes and the documentary is also candid about his struggles with depression and drugs. The film is made of a combination of present day interviews and archive footage which is well combined, and while it’s wonderful there are so many interviews with Curry, and he’s very frank in them, it’s a shame there isn’t better footage of the stunning works of art he created on the ice. 8 / 10

The Magnificent Ambersons
I didn’t actually know when I put this on that it was an Orson Welles film, his follow up to Citizen Kane and I don’t think I would have connected the two if not for the credits. The subject matter is similar, telling the story of a quintessential American family, but it just doesn’t quite have the shine that Citizen Kane did. Maybe I wasn’t paying enough attention, but after the opening potted history of the family, everything just felt a bit flat and disconnected, more like things were just bumbling from point to point than a smooth narrative of a great story. I’m not sure that the actors really understood either, I could never get a handle on what their motivations and feelings were so struggled to have any engagement at all. 5 / 10

Muriel’s Wedding
I was looking for a easy going comedy, and I spotted Muriel’s Wedding on Amazon Prime and remembered it as feel-good comedy with a bit of ABBA thrown in. The start and end match that, but the middle is incredibly bleak – there’s suicide, depression, cancer and some pretty serious mental health issues going on. It’s all done with the kind of irreverent Aussie style that seems to make it a bit lighter, but at heart, it’s really a bit bleak. It’s not BAD, not at all, but it isn’t frothy fun and disconnect between style and subject is either genius or mis-judged and I’m not sure which. There is some ABBA though. 6 / 10

Trolls 2: World Tour
I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the first trolls film, and I’m surprised at how much less I enjoyed the second one. It just didn’t ping for me in the same way as the first. It just felt a bit untidy, a bit forced, and the music less catchy. The idea of having different types of trolls compared to just the ‘pop trolls’ overcomplicated everything – the music, the visuals and the character list. The first one overwhelmed in a good way that made me feel immersed in a positive, happy experience. This one overwhelmed and left me underwhelmed. 5 / 10

Fantastic Mr Fox
I liked this a lot more the first time than the second. I think it was because on the first viewing I was expecting a children’s film, rather than what I now know as a Wes Anderson film. My first review commented on how fast, intricate, enjoyable and clever it was. But on the second viewing I found the film, and the main character, just too too smug and annoying. I didn’t like the way the animals were simultaneously anthropomorphized but retained key animal features (eg showing teetch), and I really didn’t get on with the casting where I couldn’t settle into the characters, too aware that they were George Clooney, Bill Murray et al. It looked beautiful, the animation and the style really something, but I just didn’t get on with it. 6 / 10

Gosford Park
A great film that really benefits from multiple viewings. There’s about 30 different characters to try and track and most of the first viewing is spent trying to work out who’s who and how they relate to each other. However they are all well developed and have their own stories to tell, with overlapping dialogue and multiple things happening in every scene. It’s definitely worth giving it a chance as it is a truly superb film with so many great performances and different layers to it. This is one of my top picks for a sofa day and I watch it almost annually and I never fail to be entertained and gripped. 9 / 10

Everything, Everywhere, All at Once

The idea of parallel universes is hardly a new one, but it certainly seems to be a popular trope at the moment, mostly thanks to Marvel I guess. But coming out at exactly the same time are two big films. One is Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness – a massive spectacular powered by the all the money the Marvel behemoth can throw at it. The other is Everything, Everywhere, All at Once, a heavily subtitled independent film costing a 10th of the budget of Dr Strange. David and Goliath. And I’m voting for Goliath.

There’s a lot of potential and a lot that’s good about Everything, Everywhere, All at Once. For a start the title is much better than the clunky Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness, still rather long, but at least there’s poetry to it. I really enjoyed the opening sections of EEAaO (as no one is calling it), thown into the world of the Wang family living not quite the America Dream. I liked the improbable hero in Evelyn Wang, played wonderfully by the always amazing Michelle Yeoh and really appreciated the realistic approach to someone being pulled out of a tax audit to be told she’s got to save the universe.

However, the mechanics then just overwhelmed the whole thing. Action sequences got bogged down, characters got lost, comic fell flat and I couldn’t get into the rhythm of it. Each time I just tried to go with the flow and not worry about the logic, another chunk of exposition appeared; just as I got the hang of that, we were thrown into another action sequence. And then the worse crime of all… it was at least 30 minutes too long.

Now I must confess, that about 90 minutes into the film I realised I wanted to go to the bathroom. I decided to tough it out, thinking there couldn’t be that much more of it left and there really wasn’t any sense of breaks that would make acceptable gaps. But it just went on and on, I did eventually nip out, not least because I had so completely lost the plot and was so bored, that I seriously considered not coming back for what proved to be ANOTHER 15 minutes. It just kept going on and on. Doctor Strange may be many things, but it was never anything other than 100% engaging. Everything, Everywhere, All at Once… more like Too Much, All Over the Shop, On and On.

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

Well first things first – the film is a lot better than the title, which is an uninspiring mess of a thing. It’s also a lot better than the first Doctor Strange film, this one is considerably more coherent and more interesting than both predecessor and title. I went in completely un-spoiled and I highly recommend doing the same, even the cast list is a spoiler that will really spoil some great reveals in the film. I’ll not spoil anything here.

With Iron Man and Captain America out of the picture, Doctor Strange is now the de-facto leader and elder statesman of the MCU despite the fact that he didn’t appear until film 14. He fits quite neatly into the gap left by Tony Stark, smart but arrogant, an aloof exterior but a heart full of emotions. Benedict Cumberbatch has grown into the role a bit, it no longer feels like a variation on Sherlock and I really enjoyed both his performance and the character. Although I’m still not a massive fan of the mid-atlantic accent.

The plot… I’m not even going to try to explain. Suffice to say that the concept of the multi-verse basically opens everything up as fair game, but can make things a bit complicated to follow. The film does a solid job of explaining what you need, without drowning in too much exposition like the first Doctor Strange film did. Spider Man No Way Home and the animated tv series What If are both good bits of revision (which isn’t a hardship as both are excellent).

The thing that surprised me most was how much this is Wanda’s film as much as Strange’s. WandaVision is an absolute must pre-watch, and I rather regret not re-watching it before going in as there were elements that I wasn’t quite sure of as I watched it when it came out. My memory of how WandaVision finished didn’t quite tally with the direction of the character arc here and I’m not convinced that it was ‘fair’ which has left a bit of a bad taste.

It’s easy though to overlook the significant events and impacts of the film on the MCU and individual characters, because the film is just such a fun ride. It’s a little over 2 hours, but I never once looked at my watch and throughout I was entertained and engaged and at points genuinely thrilled. It’s only afterwards on the way home that I started thinking about what bits of it meant and getting a little frustrated and sad. I’m looking forward to watching it again and joining it all together.

Films I Watched in Apr 2022

This was a better month for films with fourteen watches, partly thanks to a couple of weeks holiday. I managed 3 trips to the cinema – Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore (very middling, not enough beasts), Downton Abbey: A New Era (great for fans of the show) and a re-release of Encanto, which grows on me every time I see it. On top of that were seven films that were new to me, and four rewatches, including a couple of James Bond from the new collection on Amazon.

The Adam Project
It’s a Ryan Reynolds film. That kind of covers not only the who, but the what, and to a certain extent the review as well. If you like Ryan Reynolds, you’ll probably like this film, if you don’t you won’t because it’s 75% just him doing his thing. Personally I enjoy that, he’s funny, charming and his characters have a depth and humanity to them even when they’re pretending not to. The story itself, like most time travel stories, possibly doesn’t make sense if you think about it too much; so you just shouldn’t think about it too much. Just enjoy the ride. 8 / 10

Motherless Brooklyn
A really good noir mystery film. The nuts and bolts are all there, a just-about-followable political conspiracy with a dash of violence and a splash of romance in a beautifully rich 1950s New York. The noir tropes are all there and played straight without falling into parody. The twist in the set up is that the lead character has Tourette’s Syndrome, with physical tics and outbursts of random words and at first that felt gimicky, but it was (I think) well played by Edward Norton and the way the character used and managed his condition, and the way others interacted with him, was really interesting. On top of that performance Norton also wrote and directed the film and it’s quite an achievement. 8 / 10

Cats
I wasn’t going to pay good money to see Cats, but when it appeared on Netflix I figured I’d give it a try, it couldn’t possibly be as bad as everyone said. Shockingly, it really was. I honestly don’t know what they were thinking, everything about it is terrible. The visuals were just wrong even if they hadn’t been done poorly. The weird combination of human and cat, CGI fur, ears and tails on top of motion captured actors was just unsettling. The backgrounds were so badly built and rendered they were embarrassing and nothing connected together at all. Even the scale was all over the place. The unknown actors actually were more believable, but as soon as big names are appearing it’s just completely unsettling. The performances are equally all over the place – caricatures and over-egged. Many of them can’t sing (I’m sorry to say it, but Judi Dench was TERRIBLE) and even those that can are struggling through the acting elements. The music is still great, but I don’t remember the stage version struggling so much with a clunky plot.
An absolute shambles that was doomed from the start and should never have been released. 3 / 10

The House
This is an anthology of 3 discrete stop motion animations, each centered on a house. Usually a house in a place of safety, a home; but here the houses are something different, more sinister or trapping. I found the film deeply unsettling, and in fact took a few days break between the first two stories and the third. The animation is beautiful and really interesting, they’re all in the same broad style, but applied to different settings almost a past, present and future (although it’s a run down future rather than a shiny science fiction one). It’s certainly interesting, although my personal tastes at the moment meant that I didn’t enjoy the creepiness. 7 / 10

The Bubble
Despite all the horribleness, there’s still a sliver of fun to be had from the pandemic. David Tennant’s and Michael Sheen’s Staged was a hilarious take on life in lockdown for actors. The Bubble throws probably 100x the cash at the same subject and makes something without a single solitary laugh. The concept and actors are all solid, it just somehow managed to fall completely flat. I think they tried to make it too big, they took things too far and it got silly, then stupid, then annoying and eventually just turned into noise. 5 / 10

The Sparks Brothers
I had never heard of Sparks – the band led by Ron and Russell Mael. They’ve been around for 5 decades, had 26 albums, 49 singles and even after watching the documentary the only song I’d heard of was “This Town Ain’t Big Enough for Both of Us”. As a subject for a documentary they’re very interesting thanks to their longevity, their influence, their quirkiness and the number of times they’ve reinvented themselves. I did grow to like them, and respect them. The documentary is made by Edgar Wright, a talented director but a massive Sparks fan and that turns it more into a love letter than a good documentary. There are elements of conflict that are skimmed over (the rest of the band seems to be treated as largely disposable) and the editing could be a lot tighter as 2 hours 20 really tries the patience when there’s no real narrative. Also the multiple visual gimmicks are a bit much, more dedication to just one or two would have been better. It’s a nice watch, but I suspect fans of Sparks won’t learn much and the rest of us won’t really care. 7 / 10

Wolfwalkers
A really lovely animation. The story is original, like Song of the Sea demonstrating the breadth of mythology/fairy tale in even just western Europe beyond Hans Christian Anderson and Grimm. The animation is equally original, and while it didn’t always work for me (I didn’t like the flat backgrounds) I still respected it. The other thing that didn’t quite work for me unfortunately was Sean Bean, he’s very talented and does excellent voice work, but I could never forget that it was Sean Bean. 7 / 10

REWATCHES
Casino Royale
All the elements of a James Bond film were here and fairly well done, but as a whole the film didn’t really work for me. Each element was ok but nothing more than just ok, and they didn’t bond together into a particularly cohesive whole. The villain was very underwhelming and there were at least 2 plot elements too many, leading to a film that’s 1/2 an hour too long but still leaves several aspects incomplete. Daniel Craig is a good Bond, ticks all the boxes, but I’m never entirely convinced by the franchise. 6 / 10

Quantum of Solace
The more Bond films I watch, the more I wish they’d just ditch Bond and do a film all about M. Judi Dench is far and away the most watchable thing in these films, funny and scary, a professionally cold, yet not impersonal character and her interactions with Bond are almost the only thing that make him human. Meanwhile everything else goes on in usual Bond style – I have no idea what the plot was about and the whole thing was just a collection of thinly connected stunts, which to be honest I found pretty dull. 5 / 10

Lilo and Stitch
A thoroughly enjoyable film for kids and adults alike. A very well scripted film that has a solid narrative with depth to the characters, complexity to the issues and plenty of laughs from slapstick and visual humour, wit and sarcasm and impeccably delivered lines and subtle animation. It doesn’t bother covering plot holes, it just kinda ploughs straight through them bringing the audience in on the joke. It’s beautifully animated so the characters (both human and alien) really burst off the screen. Plus for the Elvis songs really felt like part of the film rather than squashed in as an after-thought. Really utterly charming.
Gantu: You are vile, you are flawed, you are foul.
Stitch: Also cute and fluffy!
9 / 10

Encanto
There’s plenty to love about this film. The whole thing is bright and beautiful, vivid characters, a plot that charges along, full of energy and spark and with some lovely sentiment in it. On my first watch in the cinema, it did not work for me. There was just too much in it, too many characters, too much colour, too much backstory, too many sentiments and even too many words in the songs. It was hard to connect with the film and I felt overwhelmed rather than immersed. However, I liked it more when I watched it at home, and then even more when I caught it a second time in the cinema after it won the Oscar. Nothing’s really changed, it’s just that each viewing makes it less overwhelming and I was able to really fall in love with the characters (all of them) and the songs (most of them – I still think the opening song is just too busy and the sappy one is just meh). But, Disney films shouldn’t need multiple viewings though, even complex films like Inside Out worked on the first viewing and then continued to grow more. 8 / 10

Downton Abbey
I once wrote of the TV series “Downton is an autumnal Sunday evening drama. You curl up under a blanket on the sofa with a nice cup of tea and a packet of biscuits and relax. It’s not gritty or challenging, you’re not expected to think or relate it to the reality of life, it’s a last vestige of calm before the crashing arrival of Monday morning.” And that’s pretty much what the film does. Other than a few more expensive and lingering drone shots, very little has been changed to adapt the film to the big screen. This would not have been misplaced as a Christmas special, in fact it could have been even better as two extended episodes for Christmas and New Year to give a bit more time to the crowded number of characters and plots. I’m really pleased that they resisted the urge to go too big with anything, there’s no huge world ending dramas, no stunt casting and nothing particularly life changing. Yes the King and Queen visit, but they’re fairly under-stated for royalty and the focus is still 100% on the lives of the characters we’ve known and loved all along.
I saw it with a packed cinema that absolutely loved it. There was plenty of laughter, some audible ‘aws’, a bit of sniffling, and stifled applause for the cringe inducing Mr Molesley in *that* scene (which when I rewatched on dvd I had to fast forward). It wasn’t much more than a polished up television episode, but it was lovely to see it with a large appreciative audience for once. 8 / 10

Downton Abbey: A New Era

It’s not often I see a film on release day, but it perfectly aligned that this film was released on the last day of some time off work and it seemed like some kind of message. Downton Abbey on a Sunday night used to be the perfect way to end a weekend with a bit of daft escapism, so ending a 2 week holiday with the film seemed to fit. I wasn’t disappointed, the second Downton Abbey film fits all the expectations you have of a Downton Abbey film, and also a fair number of the expectations you probably have for any sequel.

The most sequelly thing a sequel can do is take the characters on holiday. I don’t know whether that trope is so frequent because it’s a way to keep audiences interested, the writers having run out of ideas, or a reward for the cast and crew for proving bankable enough to justify a holiday. Either way, half of the Downton crowd end up in the South of France for an artificial story line involving a mysterious old ‘friend’ of the Dowager Countess. I never quite shook the feeling that the plot was just there as the bare minimum to justify the beautiful shots of sun and sea. It was a bit sketchy, but the sunshine was indeed lovely.

Meanwhile the unfavoured cast members got to stay in Downton and make a film. This feels another sequelly thing to do – get a bit meta. Much ‘hilarious’ irony with people bemoaning the tackiness of films, or how talking will ruin cinema. I wasn’t enthused at the plot in the trailer, but it actually ended up being quite charming and interesting, bringing some new and unusual characters to Downton, and gave some of the existing characters the opportunity to show different sides.

For all the sequel tropes on display, this film is actually better than the first. It felt more like a film, where the previous one felt like several episodic ideas cut down and then stuck together leading to an overcrowded film with odd structuring. This time the stories were better entwined and the structure flowed more organically. Somehow almost all the characters (and there are about 2 dozen of them) got a bit of development and something to do. There were still plenty of rushed bits that could have been better covered up I think, but it felt like we were missing maybe 1/2 a dozen scenes, rather than 1/2 a dozen episodes.

The film is definitely for fans of Downton Abbey, there are so many little nods and references to past events and I smiled with satisfaction at each of them. It certainly covers the full range of emotions, I beamed as characters found happiness, laughed at the wonderful Maggie Smith’s put downs and absolutely sobbed my eyes out as well. I hope we get to continue checking in for many years to come.

Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore

I rewatched the first two films in this series a little while ago, partly to prepare for this film as I remembered finding it hard to follow the second one when I saw it. Unfortunately that just reminded me that I didn’t really like them that much and so I wasn’t actually going to bother going to the cinema for the third. But I was bored, so gave it a go anyway.

I shouldn’t have bothered.

For a start, the re-watches hadn’t helped me keep track of the plot very well, so I was still a bit confused. Or rather unengaged, because I couldn’t really be bothered to work out what was going on. Maybe I’m just not a big enough Potter fan and if I was I’d get a lot more references and how things fit together. It’s also all just a bit bleak to be honest, Harry Potter does Nazis. Even if that was something I wanted to see, which I don’t, it completely jars with the whole whimsical “fantastic beasts” title.

In fact, given the criminal underuse of the beasts, it feels like the title is a bit of a bait and switch (although I guess it’s slightly less clumsy than “Crimes of Grindelwald”). Every now and then the writers remember the film title and throw one in, but they’re utterly incidental. Even the animation of them felt a bit lackluster, some nice design, but the interaction with the actors often felt flakey and obviously just CGI additions rather than anything substantive.

The cast is solid and they are creating interesting and original characters (or adding to existing ones in Jude Law’s case), and Mads Mikkelsen is certainly an improvement on the over the top Johnny Depp. I just with that they’d taken a completely different direction with the series. Fun adventure stories, mysterious animals, lean in to the ecological message even.

As I was leaving a young boy was asked if he liked the film. He replied that he liked the stick insect. When pushed whether that meant he liked the film, he replied that no, it just meant he liked the stick insect. I couldn’t agree more.

Films I watched in March 2022

March was Oscar month, so I did a push on the nominees. I did my round up of them all in this post, and am actually pretty happy with the winners, particularly CODA being named best film, because it absolutely was. It was also good enough all by itself to justify the Apple TV+ subscription which has also brought me Ted Lasso, so it’s a double win for me.

But for all that, I only watched 8 films in March, and only one new release (Turning Red – premiering on Disney+ and reviewed here). That’s a bit poor, my excuses are that work is insane and I stupidly installed Civilisation VI.

Spencer
All the talk on this film seems to have been about Kristen Stewart’s performance, and I was expecting great things. What I wasn’t expecting was that the film would be so incredibly bad that it was a struggle to stand it enough to even watch the performance. The writing, and other performances in the film are incredibly poor, “lumpy” was the word that sprang to mind. There was no subtlety, and none of the dialogue, personalities, or situations came across as remotely believable even excusing the bizarreness of Royal life. Diana herself had such a weird way of speaking and over-blown mannerisms that any attempt to recreate them feels like a caricature even if it’s not. I think Stewart is doing a very good performance, but unfortunately it’s as an unbelievable character, in an unbelievable situation with unbelievably bad dialogue. I found the film almost completely unbearable. 4 / 10

The Eyes of Tammy Faye
This biography follows the rise and fall of Tammy Faye Bakker and her husband, two of the biggest figures in American televangelism and their eventual downfall through scandal and fraud. The problem is that I don’t think anyone quite knows whether Tammy Faye was complicit in the fraud, whether she deliberately chose to look the other way and enjoy the fame and money, or if in fact she was actually too simple to even think contemplate what was going on. Rather than pick a motivation, or even creating a complex character that maybe could have blended different ideas, I felt the film makers actually just made a bit of a mess because they didn’t want to commit. I don’t know whether the character lacked agency because Tammy Faye did, or because the writers couldn’t work out what her agency was. All the impressive makeup and excellent acting from Jessica Chastain couldn’t make up for the lack of substance at the heart of the film. It’s entertaining, but in a cheesy hallmark movie kind of way rather than anything more substantial. 6 / 10

CODA
I signed up for Apple TV+ mainly to watch this film and it was one of my better decisions. It is a brilliant film, doing all the things that a good film should do – saying something interesting, exposing you to a world different to your own, being beautiful to look at and fun to watch. The characters and locations are vibrant and immediately believable, the family are each fully rich personalities in their own rights, but with complex relationships and groupings between them. The specifics of the story are original, but the themes more universal so there’s both something new to experience and something relatable.
The only minor gripe I had was some of the nuts a bolts of Ruby’s discovery as an amazing singer felt a little bit of a stretch. I cringed at the singing teacher making the teenagers sing Lets Get it On and romantic duets. But this is a coming of age story and a feel good film so I’m not going to get that cross because the film had me utterly gripped throughout and has really stayed with me. 9 / 10

The Tragedy of Macbeth
I don’t like Shakespeare. There, I’ve said it. The stories are ok, although it tends to be the same ones done over and over again, but in the original language I find them utterly indecipherable. On the plus side for this film, I studied Macbeth at school, so at least understood the plot (and all the slightly tedious metaphor and context stuff); but that also just meant that I could zone out of the dialogue completely because I didn’t need or like it. The only two saving graces of this film then are Denzel Washington’s performance (which ALMOST made me understand) and the production design. It was a fascinating style that blended stage elements and film lighting effects to make something other-worldly. So at least there was something interesting to look at while being bored by the film. 6 / 10

West Side Story (2021)
I really didn’t like the original and there’s a mixture of that dislike carrying over into this remake and being resolved. The thing that isn’t changed is that I don’t like the songs, they’re just not to my taste, but at least this version has the actors singing and so doesn’t have the dubbing issues. The dancing I also got along with a bit better this time, the choreography and scale of it meant I stayed focused on it and could see much more the beauty in the mixture of ballet and salsa and jazz. Unfortunately I still didn’t have much enthusiasm for the story, I don’t really get the starcrossed lovers thing (“I’ve seen you across a crowded room and now I will throw away all our futures for you”). The chemistry between Tony and Maria was solid and had a joy to it that I liked, but it didn’t completely blow me away and there were some deeply questionable character choices. I understand completely the decision to keep the Spanish unsubtitled, but I hadn’t expected there to be so much of it at such key moments that I just didn’t know what people were saying and so couldn’t engage fully with their characters and stories.
The film is beautifully designed, shot and directed; the cast all very solid… but the material does not sing for me, making the two and a half hour runtime a bit of a slog. 6 / 10

Robin Hood (Disney’s 1973)
One of my favourite Disney films of all time, this was a staple on rotation in my family growing up and the simple mention of it is enough to bring a big grin to my face. With the exception of a slightly insufferable love song in the middle the film absolutely charges along with an utterly improbable collection of animals in the various roles. Even after all these years, it still makes me laugh and sing along. 8 / 10

Stranger Than Fiction
What a brilliant film! I was expecting a mediocre rom-com with a typically irritating Will Ferrell character. What I actually got was a very smart, very funny, very sweet, tragic comedy that kept me smiling and guessing the whole way through. The direction was stylish without being over the top and the writing was clever without being smarmy. 9 / 10

Oscars 2022

There are 38 full length films nominated for one of the awards at the Oscars across 99 nominations. I have seen 25 of the films (66%) but thanks to multiple nominations, I managed 77% of the nominations.

Looking at the list of films there are very few that I feel strongly positive about, and even those aren’t always nominated in the right places. There are a few films I liked but feel a bit light for big award plaudits, and there are films that I have some respect for but didn’t really enjoy or connect with. To me, that’s really fundamental – you can be full of worthy material and beautifully made, but if I’m bored watching, then I’m not going to get past that.

As usual, for each of the awards I’ll quickly cover my feelings on the nominees, anything that I think is missing, who I think should win, and who I think will win. I think there’s going to be a lot of people spreading their votes around, not necessarily minding where the awards go, but trying to make sure a subset of films (Power of the Dog, Belfast, Dune, Flee, Drive My Car) all get something somewhere. But if it’s not coordinated it could get a bit weird and messy.

codaBest film detailed reviews here

  • Belfast – alright, but needlessly black and white, trying too hard
  • CODA – lovely, fun to watch, interesting story, lots to say and and it said it well.
  • Don’t Look Up – not believable enough for good satire, not funny enough for straight comedy
  • Drive My Car – not seen
  • Dune – excellent adaptation, beautifully made, a bit too cold
  • King Richard – not seen
  • Licorice Pizza – over-long, under-plotted
  • Nightmare Alley – 1/3 good, 1/3 cliché, 1/3 needless padding
  • The Power of the Dog – boring
  • West Side Story – solid enough production but the source story is not good.

I’m rather underwhelmed with this list. I think tick, tick… Boom! is a far superior film to Don’t Look Up, and a far better musical than West Side Story. I also like The Tender Bar a lot more than awards voters seem to. Of the actually nominated films I was going to give my vote to Dune. But then I finally saw CODA this week and it swept me away. Not only well made and letting me experience a world I have no experience of, but a film I enjoyed watching and can wholeheartedly recommend to just about anyone. However, I think The Power of the Dog will win instead and I have zero clue why.

power of the dogBest Director

  • Kenneth Branagh – Belfast – Sorry, I can’t get over the black and white thing, just trying too hard.
  • Ryusuke Hamaguchi – Drive My Car – Not seen
  • Paul Thomas Anderson – Licorice Pizza – I can’t remember much about the direction except that it dragged
  • Jane Campion – The Power of the Dog – Solid I guess
  • Steven Spielberg – West Side Story – the big dance numbers were well shot, gave a sense of scale and place, but a nuts and bolts direction of a musical.

I again think tick, tick… Boom! is swindled here, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s direction of a musical is a lot more creative and interesting than Spielberg’s. Also Denis Villeneuve’s Dune was all about the direction, maybe the Academy are just waiting to see if he lands the 2nd part.

I don’t have strong feelings about who should win, but it would be nice for Jane Campion to be only the 3rd woman to win, and the 2nd consecutive after Chloe Zhao last year. If we can keep the trend going we’ll have gender parity in 2110. However I don’t think that Power of the Dog will win both best film and best director, so it may be Branagh.

Best Actor

  • tick tick boomJavier Bardem – Being the Ricardos as Desi Arnaz – nothing special
  • Benedict Cumberbatch – The Power of the Dog as Phil Burbank – A big part of my dislike for the film was down to the quality of Cumberbatch’s performance as a deeply unpleasant person to be around which I guess is impressive.
  • Andrew Garfield – Tick, Tick… Boom! as Jonathan Larson – brilliant. A triple threat singing, dancing and acting performance of an incredibly complex character.
  • Will Smith – King Richard as Richard Williams – haven’t seen, but it’s a great role for him
  • Denzel Washington – The Tragedy of Macbeth as Lord Macbeth – I dislike Shakespeare intensely, but his performance almost made me understand and care

I really liked Ben Affleck in The Tender Bar, but apparently Oscars forgot that film existed. A slightly leftfield choice would be Kenneth Branagh as Poirot who was funny and heartbreaking and the only consistent thing about the whole mess of Death on the Nile. Riz Ahmed was also superb in Encounter and for real “that’ll never happen” consideration, how about Tom Holland for Spiderman?  Any of them would have been better nominees than Javier Bardem to be honest. But of the other four nominees I think any of them are worthy winners, personally I’d vote for Andrew Garfield. However I think Will Smith is probably the front runner.

eyes of tammy fayeBest Actress

  • Jessica Chastain – The Eyes of Tammy Faye as Tammy Faye Bakker: This is a transformative performance, I could barely see Chastain through the makeup, and it’s an interesting role but I think it was let down a bit by the writing which seemed indecisive as to whether Tammy Faye was a canny woman stealing and using power where she could, or a slightly simple woman at the mercy of everyone around her and unwilling to look too closely or take responsibility.
  • Olivia Colman – The Lost Daughter as Leda Caruso – I didn’t like this film. I didn’t really understand what the main character was thinking and what was driving her actions, and I’m not sure the actress or writer did either.
  • Penélope Cruz – Parallel Mothers as Janis Martínez Moreno – not seen
  • Nicole Kidman – Being the Ricardos as Lucille Ball – this didn’t feel very natural, a bit too much like a performance, someone delivering a script. The performance, and the film itself were very watchable, but felt like it didn’t quite stick the landing.
  • Kristen Stewart – Spencer as Diana, Princess of Wales – I was going to say that this seemed like a good option, until I actually watched the film last night. Stewart does an uncanny impression of someone very odd which makes it feel either creepy or ridiculous. The script is also truly abominable and the combo meant I found the film almost unbearable.

A really underwhelming set of nominations, some potentially good performances let down by mediocre material. Film makers need to do better. It feels like Catriona Balfe for Belfast is missing and Emilia Jones for CODA would actually win my vote so it’s a real shame that she’s not even nominated. Of those on offer I think I’d actually vote for Jessica Chastain for the volume of performance if nothing else.  I’m not sure who will win though, Nicole Kidman maybe?

Best supporting actor

  • Ciarán Hinds – Belfast as Pop – there wasn’t a massive amount of complexity or depth to this role. feels more like a lifetime achievement award than a genuine nomination
  • Troy Kotsur – CODA as Frank Rossi – this role on the other hand had a HUGE amount going on and it was all beautifully, hilariously, passionately and heartbreakingly performed
  • Jesse Plemons – The Power of the Dog as George Burbank – Jesse Plemons excels playing this kind of unremarkable character that other bigger characters dance around, and in some ways it’s lovely to see that recognised, but on the other hand it doesn’t really scream award worthy.
  • J. K. Simmons – Being the Ricardos as William Frawley – blink and you’ll miss it. Simmons is always great, but this wasn’t an outstanding role
  • Kodi Smit-McPhee – The Power of the Dog as Peter Gordon – it’s an impressive achievement to stand alongside the huge performance from Benedict Cumberbatch and not only hold your own, but bring another level of unsettling creepiness.

Supporting awards are interesting, is it the 2nd biggest role in a film (arguably Troy Kotsur and Kodi Smit-McPhee), is it stealing the scenes you’re in (J.K. Simmons and Ciaran Hines) or is it just doing a good job with a nuts and bolts role to fill in the narrative gaps that the story needs (Jesse Plemons)? It’s hard to compare. But in this case I’m not going to think too hard about it because it’s an easy choice anyway as Troy Kotsur completely blew me away me in CODA, and for that matter in his acceptance speech at the BAFTAS. I don’t think there’s much doubt he’ll win the Oscar.

west side storyBest Supporting Actress:

  • Jessie Buckley – The Lost Daughter as Young Leda Caruso – arguably a better written and more coherent role than Coleman’s and very well performed.
  • Ariana DeBose – West Side Story as Anita – she absolutely stole the show, lighting up the screen with her singing, dancing, shouting and crying. In fact this is the best role in the whole film even if it’s supposed to be ‘supporting’.
  • Judi Dench – Belfast as Granny – like Ciaran Hines, a solid performance but more of a default nomination I think
  • Kirsten Dunst – The Power of the Dog as Rose Gordon – better material than her on, and off screen husband Jesse Plemons had, and very worthy of nomination
  • Aunjanue Ellis – King Richard as Oracene “Brandy” Price – not seen

Another set of slightly slim pickings for actresses this year. Ironically the person I thought doing the best job of the leading 4 in Being the Ricardos was Nina Arianda as Vivian Vance and she’s the only one not to be nominated. Rita Moreno who plays Valentina in West Side Story and was Anita in the original version was also very worthy of nomination which would have made some lovely poetry. However I think it should and will be this West Side Story’s Anita – Ariana DeBose to win.  (If you get a chance, look up her winning the Rising Star award at the BAFTAs, she gives a great speech but more hilariously she was clearly not expecting it as you clearly see her say “Oh SHIT!” before remembering the cameras are on her.

Best Original Screenplaybelfast

  • Belfast – Kenneth Branagh – ok, I guess. I struggled to really understand the politics going on and I’m not sure if that’s my fault for being embarrassingly ignorant, or the screenplay.
  • Don’t Look Up – Screenplay by Adam McKay; Story by Adam McKay and David Sirota – I think the problems I had with the film were down to the writer’s not creating believable characters and motivations
  • King Richard – Zach Baylin – not seen
  • Licorice Pizza – Paul Thomas Anderson – I don’t think there was enough plot, or clarity of message
  • The Worst Person in the World – Eskil Vogt and Joachim Trier – not seen

Why do animated films not get nominated for screenplays? I think Encanto would be an interesting and worthy nominee here, there was a LOT going on and it was juggled and structured well by the writers. It seems weird that an Aaron Sorkin script doesn’t get nominated, I liked the construction of the constrained time line of Being the Ricardos a lot although maybe some of it was a bit clunky. I also think Spider Man No Way Home did a lot of clever plotting and dialogue.

Of the five, I’ve not seen 2 of them, and 2 of them I thought were actively poor so I guess that means I’d vote for Belfast and I think the Academy will lean that way too.

Best Adapted Screenplay

  • CODA – Sian Heder – well structured, completely believable, and entertaining as well. But it’s based on a French film so I’m not sure how much work there was to do.
  • Drive My Car – Ryusuke Hamaguchi and Takamasa Oe – not seen
  • Dune – Jon Spaihts, Denis Villeneuve and Eric Roth – The previous film shows just how you can make a mess of adapting this and there’s a LOT in the book to play with. Plus splitting one book into two films and still making the first film a contained entity is worthy of note.
  • The Lost Daughter – Maggie Gyllenhaal – the main character didn’t make much sense to me, I was bored by the pacing and didn’t like the way the timelines were blocked out.
  • The Power of the Dog – Jane Campion – fine? I mean, I didn’t like it, but that doesn’t mean it was bad.

Adapted screenplay is tough, are you just awarding the quality of the resulting screenplay in which case I’d vote for CODA; or is it the difficulty of the adaptation which I think would go to Dune because adapting from a novel to a film must be harder than going from one film to another. I think the academy will go for The Power of the Dog.

encantoBest Animated Feature

  • Encanto – I enjoyed this, more on the second viewing, and actually some of the ideas and characters have really stuck with me.
  • Flee – I wish I’d seen this, but I haven’t managed it
  • Luca –I found this quite unremarkable
  • The Mitchells vs. the Machines – I actually thought Ron’s Gone Wrong the superior animation on this theme, although MvsM did have more creative animation I suppose, even if personally I didn’t like it.
  • Raya and the Last Dragon – I liked the end… but found the rest a bit clunky,

Of those I’ve seen Encanto is the best. Having a documentary in the category shakes things up, demonstrating the format is more than just kids films but I think people will probably vote for it in the documentary category instead.

drive my carBest International Feature Film

  • Drive My Car, Flee, The Hand of God, Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom, The Worst Person in the World

The only one I’ve seen is The Hand of God and I found it a bit of a muddle, too long and the final section left me irritated. So I’m gonna abstain from my own choice, but surely Drive My Car will win something?

fleeDocumentary Feature

  • Ascension, Attica, Flee, Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised), Writing with Fire

Summer of Soul is the only one I’ve seen and while I thought the archive footage was an amazing find and the participants and attendees looking back at it make a powerful story, it didn’t quite sing for me. From what I’ve heard, Flee is the most original and interesting and will likely win, if the votes don’t get split too much between the three categories its nominated in.

duneBest Score

  • Don’t Look Up – Nicholas Britell – no memory of the music at all.
  • Dune – Hans Zimmer – the music wasn’t exactly full of catchy tunes, but it was very important to the scale, impact and what there were of emotional impacts.
  • Encanto – Germaine Franco – I *think* the score doesn’t really include the songs so this feels a bit of a long shot
  • Parallel Mothers – Alberto Iglesias – not seen
  • The Power of the Dog – Jonny Greenwood – no memory of the music at all

Dune is the only one of these I’ve seen where I really remember the existance of the music (as opposed to the Encanto songs) so I’d vote for Hans Zimmer (usually a safe bet).  However it might go to Jonny Greenwood because he was snubbed for a nomination a few years ago on a technicality and people were cross.

Best Song

  • “Be Alive” from King Richard – Music and lyrics by DIXSON and Beyoncé Knowles-Carter – OK song, some nice (and relevant) lyrics.
  • “Dos Oruguitas” from Encanto – Music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda – this is a bit unfortunate. The nominations had to be submitted before the film was even released and no one guessed “We Don’t Talk about Bruno” was going to be such a hit.  This song however I’ve got no memory of and when I went to listen to it again I decided it was too boring after just 15 seconds.
  • “Down to Joy” from Belfast – Music and lyrics by Van Morrison – catchy song and goes well with the film, but Van Morrison is rather problematic, so no chance.
  • “No Time to Die” from No Time to Die – Music and lyrics by Billie Eilish and Finneas O’Connell – Perfectly ok Bond theme, but I had no memory of it.
  • “Somehow You Do” from Four Good Days – Music and lyrics by Diane Warren – weird nomination, never heard of the film and it just seems to me a generic country song.

What should win – We Don’t Talk about Bruno. So much so that it seems they’re putting an extra song in the show just to make sure it’s played. I have a suspicion they’ll give it to Lin-Manuel Miranda anyway.

Best Sound

  • Belfast, Dune, No Time to Die, The Power of the Dog, West Side Story

I’ve seen all of these and Dune wins hands down, the soundscape of the film did as much (if not more) work than the actors. The others were all perfectly fine but the sounds didn’t shine in the same way.

nightmare alleyBest Production Design

  • Dune – Patrice Vermette & Zsuzsanna Sipos: there is a LOT to look at and there’s a lot of complexity in the design, evolving what’s described in the books, what’s gone before and referencing other science fiction.
  • Nightmare Alley – Tamara Deverell & Shane Vieau: I felt the film was style over substance, but there was a LOT of style
  • The Power of the Dog – Grant Major & Amber Richards: very charismatic, the limited colour pallet actually worked here.
  • The Tragedy of Macbeth – Stefan Dechant & Nancy Haigh: I don’t like Shakespeare, but the design here was extreme and actually held my attention throughout.
  • West Side Story – Adam Stockhausen & Rena DeAngelo: the most unremarkable of the lot, it felt a bit artificial and stagey, I hope that was deliberate, but it was another thing that distanced me.

These are all are doing something quite different and are completely core to the films, if not THE most interesting thing about the films. I think I’d give it to Dune, but Nightmare Alley will win on the day.

Best Cinematography

  • Dune – Greig Fraser: almost every shot of this film could be framed on a wall showing something interesting and creative.
  • Nightmare Alley – Dan Laustsen: there’s a lot of complexity (SO much shooting in the rain)
  • The Power of the Dog – Ari Wegner: I don’t remember a huge amount of creativity here to be honest.  Fun fact – Ari Wegner is only the 2nd woman to be nominated for this award and would be the first winner
  • The Tragedy of Macbeth – Bruno Delbonnel: Like the production design, the creativity of framing and lighting makes this film.
  • West Side Story – Janusz Kamiński: More a technical achievement with the large sets and choreography

Again, I can see any of these winning the award, I think I would go for Dune.

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

  • Coming 2 America – Mike Marino, Stacey Morris and Carla Farmer – even for an Oscar nomination, I’m not watching this film.
  • Cruella – Nadia Stacey, Naomi Donne and Julia Vernon – lots of creativity, but it was the costumes doing most of the work.
  • Dune – Donald Mowat, Love Larson and Eva von Bahr – actually of all the design fields, the hair and makeup was probably the one that stood out least for me on Dune.
  • The Eyes of Tammy Faye – Linda Dowds, Stephanie Ingram and Justin Raleigh – There’s a HUGE amount of work here, Jessica Chastain is completely transformed AND aged throughout the film. Andrew Garfield’s aging was not quite as good though
  • House of Gucci – Göran Lundström, Anna Carin Lock and Frederic Aspiras – I’ve not seen, but there was certainly a lot of work

I think this will be either Eyes of Tammy Faye or House of Gucci, my vote for the former (as I haven’t seen the latter).

cruellaBest Costume Design

  • Cruella – Jenny Beavan – the costumes are integral to the story and are a stunning array of creativity, not just the ‘big’ outfits either, there’s loads going on everywhere
  • Cyrano – Massimo Cantini Parrini and Jacqueline Durran – I’ve not seen the film, but the costumes on display in the trailers and clips are clearly stunning and doing a lot of work
  • Dune – Jacqueline West and Robert Morgan – the costuming is supporting a lot of the design and storytelling for different races/ranks
  • Nightmare Alley – Luis Sequeira – the costumes are great, but like a lot of the rest of the film, they were a bit derivative and not really doing anything massively original
  • West Side Story – Paul Tazewell – fine, but other than Anita’s stunning yellow dress, I can’t remember much.

Cruella hands down should win and I think probably will win. Also even I know that Jenny Beavan is an absolute legend.

Best Film Editing

  • Don’t Look Up – Hank Corwin; Dune – Joe Walker; King Richard – Pamela Martin; The Power of the Dog – Peter Sciberras; Tick, Tick… Boom! – Myron Kerstein and Andrew Weisblum

In terms of the level of challenge, I would think editing musicals and big FX driven sci fi is a bigger challenge, so for me it comes down to Dune or Tick, Tick… Boom! and the latter feels like it takes things a step forward to with not just choreography but interweaving views and threads, all connected to the music and rhythm.

Best Visual Effects

  • Dune, Free Guy, No Time to Die, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Spider-Man: No Way Home

It’s interesting to see 4 big sci fi films alongside an action film, it brings home just how much is artificially created in No Time to Die and merged together in a way that doesn’t throw the audience out of the moment. I think I would vote for No Time to Die, although I think the actual winner will be Dune.