Archive for the ‘ Films ’ Category

Films in April

New releases at the cinema:
Love, Simon: At face value, this is a solid teenage coming of age/romance flick with all the extremes of characters, improbably large houses, apparent lack of actual school work and endless stream of beautiful people that you’d expect. It knows exactly what it is, and it does it extremely well. Yes, the cast are all clearly in their twenties playing teenagers, but they’re charismatic and good together. It’s completely emotionally manipulative and knows exactly what strings to pull at every point so that all the emotions of joy, sadness, frustration and anger are delivered like punches. I loved it. I loved it even more because it does all that with a gay teenager at it’s core and showing the awful additional pressure of having to come out, on top of all the usual horrors a teenager has to go through. It’s taken too long for this movie to be made, but it’s finally here and it’s a beautiful triumph.

Isle of Dogs: I was apprehensive going into this, I find Wes Anderson a bit much sometimes and from the clips I’d seen the animation looked a little hard to like. But I was wrong. I really loved the film. The level of quirkiness was amusing rather than irritating, the odd style of animation worked really well to hold the attention, and the story was both entertaining and original. The only thing I wasn’t a fan of was using a lot of big Hollywood names in the cast, which I found a little distracting and hard to engage with some of the characters rather than just thinking of them as “the one voiced by Bryan Cranston” etc. What really surprised me though was that there were so many kids in the audience and they seemed to really engage with the film, no talking or squirming and hardly any toilet breaks, which I really wasn’t expecting. Heartily recommended then for the whole family.

Ready Player One: I really loved the book, but I can’t say I remember any of the details, so I didn’t feel frustrated by any of the changes. I was excited when I heard that Steven Spielberg was making it and what has resulted is a really good, fun Spielberg film. It’s a family adventure film with bright lights, big performances, wit and excitement. I can see that some might be frustrated at the popcorn-ness of the whole thing, but I found it a really entertaining romp. I was never bored, I smiled at the references I got and didn’t notice the ones I didn’t. It’s not a work of art, but I don’t think the book was either. It does what it sets out to do and with Spielberg at the helm, it had the perfect guide.

Funny Cow: I don’t know whether I misunderstood the point of this film going on, but I was expecting the story of a woman trying to be a comic in working class northern England. It’s really really not. It’s the story of a woman growing up in that environment, with the poverty and acceptance of domestic violence. The story around her being a comic is barely there at all, there’s no sense of how she learns her trade, or develops her jokes. The inter cuts of her as a comedian in the future aren’t even showing her being actually funny for the most part. The character development are thin, the metaphors are laid on with a trowel and even though it was only 100 minutes long it felt desperately over-long. That Maxine Peake’s performance still managed to be outstanding even with that mediocre material is truly a marvel.

New for me
The Florida Project
(amazon): This film is worth watching for the visuals alone. It’s a really stunningly beautiful looking film, the vibrancy of the colours and the light of the Florida sunshine are shown off with creative framing and long lingering shots. The way the small children inhabit and completely own the large open world around them is wonderfully shown through the cinematography.
This film follows a structure that I tend to find frustrating. The first half, possibly even two thirds, doesn’t really seem to have any structure. It’s just following some characters around on a seemingly endless summer. I found this a little tedious, but I can also see that by just immersing in daily life, you get a much better sense for the situation and people than if anything was forced through narrative. By the time the plot actually reveals itself (some of the threads of which of course were laid in the first part) it feels like both a relief to finally be going somewhere and a disappointment to see the characters get thrown even more challenges, even if you don’t actually like them very much. Unfortunately, I didn’t like the ending. I see what they were trying to do, but I found it jolting and frustrating.

Detriot (amazon): While an incredibly powerful and horrific historical event, I think this was desperately let down by the choices the film makers made. At 2 hours 20 long it lacks the intensity it needed, it felt like an eternity before it actually reached the key events. I lost track of all the characters repeatedly, struggling to join them up in different sections of the film. It would have been much better to either just focus on seeing all the events through one character’s eyes, or maybe to inter-cut the timelines to spread out the different phases (set up, ‘the incident’ and the court case).

Borg vs. McEnroe (amazon): There wasn’t enough to this film to justify it really. It’s pointed out early on the contradictions in the characters and that’s basically the entire premise. It’s just not enough to keep interest over that length of film. The comparison to Hunt vs Lauda as depicted in Rush is obvious, but that film made more of the characters and had a series of ‘matches’ between them (plus, I just find Formula 1 infinitely more interesting and exciting than tennis). Borg Vs McEnroe presents only one match between them. Yes there’s the emotional build up to it which of course plays into the actual tennis, but it’s just not enough. I was utterly bored.

Brazil (amazon) : I’ve been meaning to get around to watching this film for years and years. It started off well, I was fascinated by the unique style of it and the quirkiness of the world that somehow still seemed to make internal sense. But after a while the novelty of that wore off and I just got a little bored of the actual plot.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer (amazon): There are some interesting choices here and although by the end I could see why those choices were made, there were times I came very close switching it off. The story is terrifying and horrible, forcing a family to chose someone to die, or lose everyone. The problem is that all the characters are played slightly unreal. No one talks or acts like normal people. They all seem to speak incredibly openly and frankly, without real emotion. As the film goes on you see that there are things that there are things they don’t talk about, and also that there are feelings there. That contrast is very powerful, and also the un-relatability of the characters makes the film something other than the expected emotional thriller that it might otherwise be. But that cleverness doesn’t make the film any easier to watch and the uncanny-valley aspect may be a complete turnoff for some. This may be one of those films where it’s too clever for its own good.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (netflix): How did this happen? How do a huge number of people, spend a lot of time and money making a film and at no point realise that their two lead actors are horrifically miscast. I don’t think it was the actors’ faults, they seem competent enough, but they were completely wrong together and in this film. They just never seemed comfortable or really grounded in the film around them. The script they were working with was pretty rubbish too in fairness to them, not giving them much to go on to justify the apparent relationship or supposed professional experience when they’re endlessly floundering around. Really it should have been the set up that was the most unbelievable thing, but that actually worked in a bonkers kind of way, with impressive creativity, vibrancy and flavour crammed into every scene. It was certainly beautiful to look at, and there were some well done pieces (the opening handshake sequence in particular). But every time the two leads were on screen (or the OTT Clive Owen or random Rihanna for that matter) the whole thing just fell apart.

Risky Business (amazon): This is a tricky one. I mean it’s not aged hugely well and the attitude towards prostitution, particularly when it’s exploiting teenagers on both sides is pretty horrific. There’s a lot of incredibly ‘problematic’ activity. But, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy it. Even though it completely ignores the issues around sex trade, it does have some interesting things to say about the pressure on kids to get into good colleges, with the implication that they can screw up their whole futures just by making childish errors. It’s also entertaining and funny, largely thanks to Tom Cruise back when he was charming rather than a rather dull action hero. It’s a shame Rebecca De Mornay didn’t have quite the same charisma, although she was hamstrung by the endless flip flopping of her character and the film’s lack of investigation into her horrible situation. It’s hard to give a positive review of a film that focuses all its energy on the rich white guy who may not be able to get into Princeton rather than the teenage prostitute .

The Bodyguard (amazon): I’d really never seen The Bodyguard. I can’t say I feel that I’ve really been missing out on anything for all these years, but it was a good example of the genre. Made in 1992 it falls in that slightly odd inter-decade style, not quite big enough hair for the 80’s, but too cheesy and soft focus for the 90’s. Predictable as anything, but solidly entertaining.

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Films in March

I said a while ago that I was going to start including films and books here, so I think it’s time I delivered on that. So, I’m going to try to do a quick monthly round up of what I’ve watched and read.

New releases:
The Square (cinema): There’s some great stuff in this film. Some properly laugh out loud observation and humour, particularly in the weird reality of a modern art museum. It would have worked really well as a sitcom in the vein of W1A or The Thick of It. Unfortunately it was in the wallowing pretension of a 2.5 hour long film, which was determined to ram home some messages and morals as well. There were too many strands, and many of them were just left hanging or forgotten. So the film was both too long and incomplete. It’s a shame because the funny bits were incredibly well done.

Mute (Netflix): The style will be incredibly familiar to anyone who’s seen Bladerunner or Altered Carbon, but it’s a solid entry into the genre that kept me engaged the whole way through. I can’t think of anything else to say really, it’s not a classic for all time, but it’s perfectly satisfactory.

Annihilation (Netflix): I thought this film was absolutely rubbish. It took me two attempts to get through it because I was falling asleep on the first viewing, and that was even before I reached the part where everything got completely bonkers. I didn’t mind that the overall setup was weird, I objected to the fact that they kept trying to explain it with science (which was both dubious and boring), and that the characters made no sense at all. I actually watched the whole thing a second time because I read so many good reviews that I was beginning to think I’d missed something. I watched it with someone who’d read the book and added some background and context that made things make a bit more sense… but I still didn’t particularly like the film and from the sounds of it I wouldn’t like the book either. Some people may say that it didn’t get a cinema release because studios are scared that people won’t watch ‘smart’ sf. But the problem isn’t that this is too smart, it’s that it’s too stupid!

New for me:
Colossal (Amazon Prime): The concept at the centre of the film is bonkers, but that really doesn’t matter because, like all good science fiction, it’s about the fallout from the central idea. The character development here is fascinating and the things go in directions that you might not predict, but that still make perfect sense. The whole thing is smart, original, witty and incredibly satisfying.

Once (was on Amazom): I gave this film two attempts, the first time I wasn’t feeling it I assumed it was because I was in a grumpy mood, but even a couple of weeks later in the middle of a relaxing day, it still didn’t work for me. The biggest personal problem was that I didn’t really like the music in it, but I think even without that I would still have been slightly irritated by the noodling tempo and awkward characters.

Hampstead (Amazon Prime): Twee. There really is no other word for this than twee. It’s passably entertaining thanks to the always wonderful Diane Keaton and Brendan Gleeson but they’re struggling with a clunky script and the supporting cast are bogged down with ploddy characters.

Rewatches
How to Train Your Dragon 2 (DVD): This is the kind of film that’s just joyous to watch, I had a smile on my face just about the whole way through the film and at one point laughed so suddenly I choked on my ice cream. The world is immersively vibrant, the character are completely alive, the story is completely engaging and the script is hilariously snappy, the whole thing is just a complete joy. I will admit that there were a couple of scenes that dragged a smidge and surprisingly I found Cate Blanchett’s the weakest performance (and accent) of the bunch, but those are really very minor quibbles. I could cheerfully have gone straight back and watched this a second time!

The Terminal (Amazon Prime): This is a very sweet comedy with a slightly uncomfortable thread of xenophobic drama. The concept of someone living solely in an airport is quite a cute one, but the way they manage to get the character stuck there, and the way he is treated by immigration is pretty horrific. The film is very much a throwback to Tom Hanks romantic comedies of the past, which in some ways is good, but in other ways seems like a bit of a waste of his and Spielberg’s talents. I like that the film avoids some of the standard cliches and I really enjoyed the first 1/2 but there’s some more dramatic stuff in the 2nd half that felt a little misplaced within the overall tone. And dear lord there’s a lot of product placement! Still, I will happily watch Tom Hanks do just about anything.

90th Academy Awards

Yesterday I posted my full reviews of 8 out of the 9 nominees for best picture and my thoughts on what should and will win (tldr – I think Dunkirk should win, although I didn’t see Ladybird which might have been a contender, but I think Shape of Water will win). By my count there were 4 films which received at least one nomination, and I saw 23 of them, a very respectable 52% (the same as last year). In terms of nominations there were a total of 106 slots, and I saw the films that contributed to 82 of them, 77% which I’m very happy with (7% higher than last year). I’m just kicking myself I haven’t seen Ladybird which is the only film with more than one nomination that I haven’t seen (plus it looked good and I really want to see it). Below are my thoughts on the nominations, occasional mentions of missed nominations and my predictions for what will win.

Lead Actor:

  • Timothée Chalamet, Call Me by Your Name – He did a good job with a very mediocre script, forced to talk in a way that no real human person would ever talk.
  • Daniel Day-Lewis, Phantom Thread – I never got a sense of what this character was really like, whether he really loved or cared about any of the other characters or was even self aware of what he was like. Not sure if that’s script or performance, but either way, it didn’t make for a strong nomination.
  • Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out – Interesting. This didn’t occur to me while I was watching, but there’s a huge range to the performance from quite cheesy comedy and the kind of ridiculous situations that appear in horror films, but also there’s real depth to the character and the quality of Kaluuya’s performance make this more than ‘just’ a cheesy horror.
  • Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour – unrecognisable physically and completely inhabiting the role, far from just a caricature
  • Denzel Washington, Roman J. Israel, Esq. – Sorry Denzel, I haven’t seen it. Although I’m sure he’s superb as usual
  • Wouldn’t it have been something to see Hugh Jackman here for Wolverine in Logan. It really was an impressive performance in Logan, that delivered incredible emotional punch. Tom Hanks gave a storming performance in The Post as well, maybe that’s just what is expected from him now though. Of course it wouldn’t have mattered because the award should and will go to Gary Oldman. For the record my runner up would be Kaluuya.

    Lead Actress:

  • Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water – an impressive performance with the restriction of zero dialogue
  • Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – McDormand for me was about the only thing that truly worked in this film.
  • Margot Robbie, I, Tonya – Just like her character, I don’t think she’s got as much attention and praise as she deserved. It’s a brash performance on the surface, bordering on comedy sometimes, but there’s also depth to it.
  • Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird -I haven’t seen it, but she’s 23 and this is her third nomination (this, Brooklyn and one for supporting in Atonement 10 years ago!)
  • Meryl Streep, The Post – I was expecting a powerful character and performance and was hugely surprised and impressed that the character was nowhere near as forceful as expected, but the performance was exquisite as usual
  • Again, it’s bad luck to be nominated this year against Frances McDormand, but Robbie is the runner up for me. I would have put Jessica Chastain in for Molly’s Game too, seems odd that Vicky Krieps wasn’t nominated for Phantom Thread given she actually had a more interesting character than Day Lewis. I’m also a bit surprised that Judy Dench wasn’t nominated for Victoria and Abdul.

    Supporting Actor:

  • Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project – not seen.
  • Woody Harrelson, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – a quiet performance, mostly quite unremarkable, but with some very nuanced scenes in the middle. Shame his character didn’t make much sense. The nice guy he played didn’t go at all with his actions – why did he not do a better job of communicating with the family of a murdered girl, or dealing with an out of control subordinate?)
  • Richard Jenkins, The Shape of Water – wonderful as ever. Many of his scenes look on the surface to be the comic relief, but there’s a depth to him that’s heartbreaking.
  • Christopher Plummer, All the Money in the World – not seen, but it’s an impressive achievement to turn in a performance at such short notice
  • Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – he played all the extremes of his character expertly, despite the fact the plot made very little sense for him.
  • I think Sam Rockwell will win, and I don’t think I disagree. I could also have put Patrick Stewart in here for Logan

    Supporting Actress:

  • Mary J. Blige, Mudbound – I didn’t think there was much nuance in the role or the film as a whole.
  • Allison Janney, I, Tonya – hilarious and terrifying, this is a long way from CJ and a great comedic and dramatic performance all at once.
  • Lesley Manville, Phantom Thread – a performance as someone restraining their feelings is only impressive if they also reveal what it is they’re restraining. I didn’t know whether Manville’s character loved or loathed those aorund her, or just didn’t give a crap and was thinking about her pay cheque or what was for lunch.
  • Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird – She’s one of the reasons I’m annoyed I haven’t seen this.
  • Octavia Spencer, The Shape of Water – sorry, but there wasn’t enough here to warrant a nomination for the always excellent Octavia Spencer.
  • I align with popular opinion again and will be happy to see Allison Janney lift the award. Wouldn’t it have been lovely to see Carrie Fisher in here for Star Wars

    Director:

  • Dunkirk, Christopher Nolan – the scale of the filming was phenomenal. The sheer number of extras, special effects and visual effects, stunts, sets and locations that required coordination breathtaking. And then to not lose the individual stories in there, was a true marvel.
  • Get Out, Jordan Peele – was there anything outstanding in the direction of this? I don’t really think so. The script and performances, yes. But the direction, while well done, wasn’t anything special that I recall.
  • Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig – I wish I’d seen this so that I could offer comment beyond “only the 5th woman to be nominated for best director”.
  • Phantom Thread, Paul Thomas Anderson – It was stylish, in the way that you’d expect a story set in 1950s about fashion to be stylish. The richness and attention to detail, focus on stitches and the perfection was very real.
  • The Shape of Water, Guillermo del Toro – if the director is to blame for a runtime, then I think this is where the film fell down. The pacing was too slow, spending too much time really drilling home every look, every bit of body language, until all subtlety was lost and I was bored.
  • I think this one should go to Christopher Nolan, it’s the bigger achievement to deliver a technically difficult film and make a film that’s more than just a technical achievement. The absolute cynic in me wonders if they’d give it to Greta Gerwig for political reasons, but I think they’ll award Guillermo del Toro. Missing – I wasn’t actually a big fan, but wouldn’t it have been fantastic for Patty Jenkins to be nominated for Wonder Woman and double the number or women director nominations

    Animated Feature:

  • The Boss Baby – I didn’t like the trailers so didn’t bother. There seems some surprise it was nominated.
  • The Breadwinner – not even heard of it I’m afraid
  • Coco – There was a lot of good in Coco in terms of the bigger stuff – style, message and heart; but I was slightly underwhelmed with the ‘small’ stuff like plot and pacing.
  • Ferdinand – looked unremarkable
  • Loving Vincent – this looked like an incredible artistic achievement, although I’ve got no idea of the plot etc.
  • I rather hope Loving Vincent wins from the point of view of the greater artistic achievement, but I think it will go to Coco.

    Adapted Screenplay:

  • Call Me by Your Name, James Ivory – awful. No one talks or behaves like real human beings.
  • The Disaster Artist, Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber – Not seen
  • Logan, Scott Frank & James Mangold and Michael Green – I was impressed at this film, a moving character piece about aging, while also still an entertaining superhero film.
  • Molly’s Game, Aaron Sorkin – the master of dialogue is on fire here, except for a miss-step (on a park bench) that I found unforgivable.
  • Mudbound, Virgil Williams and Dee Rees – the dreary narrative was completely unnecessary and spoilt the film.
  • Of that list, I think I’d vote for Molly’s Game, but I suspect the Academy will go for Call Me by Your Name. Death of Stalin should have been nominated.

    Original Screenplay:

  • The Big Sick, Emily V. Gordon & Kumail Nanjiani – I know it’s based on a true story, rather limiting the creativity, but the structure didn’t work for me, I just didn’t see the couple in it, they had too little time together for this to feel like the romance was justified.
  • Get Out, Jordan Peele – both classic and original, a by the numbers horror film with the twists and turns you’d expect, but with a modern look at race that just adds to the horror.
  • Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig – not seen
  • The Shape of Water, Guillermo del Toro, Vanessa Taylor – solid idea, but I just don’t think there’s anything remarkable here.
  • Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Martin McDonagh – sorry, but this didn’t work for me. I didn’t feel that the story made any sense, that the characters (including the off-screen ‘town’) behaved logically and threads were raised and dropped indiscriminately (particularly the race element and the criminally underused ‘black best friend’ cliché)
  • I would have like to see I, Tonya here, the creativity of mixing interviews and live action, and breaking the fourth wall was really innovative and worked incredibly well. Get Out is the winner for me, but I think the award will go to Three Billboards.

    Cinematography:

  • Blade Runner 2049, Roger Deakins – beautiful. I was bored almost to tears by the film, but at least that gave me plenty of time to appreciate the visuals.
  • Darkest Hour, Bruno Delbonnel – I didn’t think there was anything special here
  • Dunkirk, Hoyte van Hoytema – completely immersive in each of the settings
  • Mudbound, Rachel Morrison – the cinematography does stick with you, you can almost feel the mud and the rain and the dreariness of the environment. Also, the first ever woman to be nominated for cinematography. Yup, really.
  • The Shape of Water, Dan Laustsen – the tone of water throughout was quite mesmerising, it did have a very interesting and immersive style to it.
  • Roger Deakins for Blade Runner surely, if for no other reason than this is his fourteenth nomination and he’s never won!

    Best Documentary Feature:

  • Abacus: Small Enough to Jail – not seen
  • Faces Places – not seen
  • Icarus – the revelations of the Russian state driven doping scandal were breathtaking, but the documentary structure was muddled and confusing given the filmmakers seemed to stumble into the revelation by accident.
  • Last Men in Aleppo – not seen
  • Strong Island – an incredibly powerful and personal account of the murder of the filmmaker’s brother.
  • Of the two I’ve seen, Strong Island would be hard to beat.

    Best Foreign Language Film:

  • A Fantastic Woman (Chile); The Insult (Lebanon); Loveless (Russia); On Body and Soul (Hungary) The Square (Sweden)
  • I haven’t seen any of these, despite having seen several really great foreign films last year, but I suspect that the year of release is different. I’ve heard great things about both Loveless and A Fantastic Woman so i think I’ll guess at A Fantastic Woman.

    Film Editing:

  • Baby Driver, Jonathan Amos, Paul Machliss – the key thing about this film is the editing and the sound, keeping many of the sequences feeling like music videos without making it gimicky or annoying is an impressive achievement.
  • Dunkirk, Lee Smith – there was a huge amount to be pieced together here, but I wouldn’t think it was anything that other blockbuster action type films do.
  • I, Tonya, Tatiana S. Riegel – there are some clever edits for the ice skating segments, and some very well timed edits for the pieces to camera
  • The Shape of Water, Sidney Wolinsky – I didn’t notice the editing at all. Is he responsible for how drawn out it was?
  • Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Jon Gregory – Ditto
  • I think Baby Driver was the one that was doing the most interesting and original work here.

    Sound Editing / Sound mixing – the same films are nominated for both and I still don’t understand the difference

  • Baby Driver – As for editing, the sound landscaping is integral to the film, perhaps the entire point of it.
  • Blade Runner 2049 – I watched this on one of the superscreens with the boosted sound system and I do remember a lot of deep rumbling noises that helped me not fall alseep
  • Dunkirk- the sound was absolutely key to the immersiveness of this film, the gunfire and explosions, the sound in the plane and the relative peace of the chugging boat engine.
  • The Shape of Water – so much dripping that I noticed a higher than normal percentage of the audience taking bathroom breaks
  • Star Wars: The Last Jedi – a lot of created noises blending together
  • As usual, I’m going to completely guess here. Let’s go Dunkirk for mixing and Star Wars for editing.

    Production Design:

  • Beauty and the Beast – if you’re just developing an animated film into a real life, I’m not sure you can really take credit.
  • Blade Runner 2049 – yup, lots of interesting design.
  • Darkest Hour – nothing special I thought, lots of recreating historical stuff and not much creativity that I could see.
  • Dunkirk – ditto.
  • The Shape of Water – Very beautiful and interesting to look at, the mixture of period industrial, with the detailed homes of the characters and the theme of water across absolutely everything.
  • I sometimes wonder whether animated films are eligible here, the design of Coco was absolutely stunning. I think Shape of Water was the most creative and original.

    Original Score:

  • Dunkirk, Hans Zimmer – another one of the excellent and complex elements building this film
  • Phantom Thread, Jonny Greenwood – sorry, I can’t remember the music.
  • The Shape of Water, Alexandre Desplat – the tonal wateriness of this was impressive, blending with and supporting the style of the film.
  • Star Wars: The Last Jedi, John Williams – still managing to bring something new to the Star Wars score after all these years. A legend.
  • Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Carter Burwell – I’ve got no memory of the music I’m afraid
  • I do love John Williams, but I think I’d have to vote for Hans Zimmer’s Dunkirk score. I suspect the academy will reward Jonny Greenwood, but for the There Will Be Blood soundtrack which was disqualified on a petty technicality a few years ago.

    Original Song:

  • Mighty River from Mudbound, Mary J. Blige – unremarkable, and I’m not 100% sure that it went with the style/tone of the film, I think it just played over the end credits.
  • Mystery of Love from Call Me by Your Name, Sufjan Stevens – I at least remember this song being in the film and the tone matches much better. I wouldn’t chose to listen to it, but I also wouldn’t necessarily switch the radio off.
  • Remember Me from Coco, Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Robert Lopez – not only matching the film in tone and style, but a really integral part of the story. Not my favourite Disney song, but it’s a solid entry.
  • Stand Up for Something from Marshall, Diane Warren, Common – I’ve not seen the film, but I like the song and it seems to match the subject at least.
  • This Is Me from The Greatest Showman, Benj Pasek, Justin Paul – a catchy tune, with a powerful message and the absolute heart and soul of the film.
  • This is Me should and will win.

    Makeup and Hair:

  • Darkest Hour – I presume this nomination is all about making someone who looks nothing like Churchill a dead ringer for him. Which was impressive.
  • Victoria and Abdul – I have no memory of anyone’s hair or makeup.
  • Wonder – some heavy prosthetics work I understand, particularly challenging on a young child I would imagine.
  • I find this category baffling. Only 3 nominations, but where are films like Guardians of the Galaxy and Star Wars which have a huge amount of complex hair, makeup and prosthetics, requiring skill and creativity. Or even just Shape of Water for the monster design and making it something the incredible Doug Jones could work in. Guardians should win this one, but Darkest Hour will.

    Costume Design:

  • Beauty and the Beast – does it really count if you’re just re-creating something done in animation?
  • Darkest Hour – similarly, it’s all just straight period costume, and not exactly an exciting period (costume-wise) at that
  • Phantom Thread – given that the costumes were about as much a part of the film as any of the characters, there really was some outstanding work
  • The Shape of Water – unremarkable
  • Victoria and Abdul – more recreating period pieces, but they’re a lot more varied and impressive
  • What I think should win, and what will win – The Phantom Thread

    Visual Effects:

  • Blade Runner 2049; Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2; Kong: Skull Island; Star Wars: The Last Jedi; War for the Planet of the Apes
  • By this point, I’ve lost the will a bit, I’m not sure how to really compare those films. I’m semi-randomly going to pick Star Wars. They turned puffins into porgs

    Shorts
    I watched 4 out of the 15 shorts, which is pathetic to be honest, but I ran out of time to seek the documentaries and live action shorts out on youtube.

    Animated Short:

  • Dear Basketball – stunning. Stunningly animated, a beautiful poem and a powerful message. Less than 4 minutes long and so powerful.
  • Garden Party – odd. The animation is a little uncanny valley, but it’s cleverly constructed.
  • Lou – cute idea, nice animation on Lou and everything you expect from Pixar.
  • Negative Space – trailer only. The animation looks original and nicely animated.
  • Revolting Rhymes – based on Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake’s work, this trailer really made me want to watch.
  • Dear Basketball is the clear standout.

    Best Documentary Short Subject:

  • Edith+Eddie – available on Youtube but I only watched the trailer. It looks heartbreaking
  • Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405 – as above.
  • Knife Skills – unlike some of the others here that I felt I should watch, I actually wanted to watch this based on the trailer
  • Traffic Stop – not sure that I feel I need to watch the rest of the film after watching the depressingly familiar trailer
  • Heroin(e) – availabie on Netflix. A fascinating case study of an American town that has a catastrophic drugs problem, but not with the standard from the point of view of the violence or criminality, but from the point of view of the people trying to save lives. Very interesting
  • A hard group to compare, particularly only based on the trailers, Knife Skills, because I think more people would watch it.

    Best Live Action Short Film:

  • DeKalb Elementary; The Eleven O’Clock; My Nephew Emmett; The Silent Child; Watu Wote/All of Us
  • I’m out of time, so I pick The Silent Child entirely randomly.

    90th Academy Awards – Best Picture Nominees

    My thoughts on the nominees for Best Picture at the 90th Academy Awards, tomorrow I’ll share my picks and predictions for the other awards.

    Call Me By Your Name
    I wasn’t enthusiastic about seeing this, I thought the trailer was tedious and the name ridiculous. But there was nothing else on and it’s getting a lot of award nominations, so I gave it a try. It was insufferable. I was bored, annoyed and irritated by hokey writing and cheesy direction. The characters never talked like normal people, the development of the relationship never felt natural and it was so slow I was begging it to be over. The film makers made a critical error when they didn’t spell out the age difference, they did eventually indicate that Elio was 17, but Oliver’s age was never given (apparnetly he’s 24 in the book) and Armie Hammer is 29 and looks considerably older, so I wasn’t sure how creeped out I was supposed to be. The acting was good though, even if they were delivering a nonsensical script.

    Darkest Hour
    This is a film of a performance. Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill is nothing short of miraculous. The physical transformation is key to it, I don’t believe that anyone but his closest friends would have recognised Oldman beneath the prosthetics and makeup. However this isn’t just an impersonation, because Oldman also delivers depth to the character. I’m sure the physical transformation helped him find the character, and mimicking the intonation and phrasing helped the voice; but it is the realisation of complex, contradictory and fully rounded person that is gaining him the awards. I don’t think the film around the performance really rises to the same level. The rest of the characters are sorely under-developed, with people either for, or against our hero; heroes and villains. The narrative itself indicates just how precarious events were, and just how easily Churchill could have been wrong; but the emotional presentation manipulates you to villainise the critics anyway. While the period sets and costumes were very impressive, much of the direction was unremarkable, bordering on twee at times, and there were some clunking scenes and lines in the script. Really this is a 10/10 performance in a 7/10 film.

    Dunkirk
    I had a couple of problems. First – I didn’t understand the structure of the film until near the end. I’ve had a couple of people suggest that I’m an idiot, but a similar number of people have agreed that it’s confusing. Once you know that the there are three stories woven together but that each is covering a different period, it makes sense. But without that knowledge, I was distracted by the fact it was dark in one scene and light in the next; everything seemed to be happening too fast in one of the stories and that meant it lost some emotional impact (it’s not an incredibly bad day, it’s an absolutely horrific week). The second problem was that I couldn’t keep track of the young soldiers, I think that was intentional, after all these are just a small representation of the thousands of men there, they are just faces to some of the numbers. But it did mean, in a practical way, I couldn’t keep track of some of the action and connect bits up.
    Everything else about the film however is incredible. Literally breath-taking, I can’t remember the last time I jumped or gasped so much in the cinema. It’s an immersive and intimate experience that shows up in your heart rate. Every actor gave it their all, but also showed restraint – there are very few moments of big emotion, for the most part everyone is just too tired and resigned for that. It’s a superb piece of film making.

    I, Tonya
    The early months of the year are always a mixture of optimism and slog for film watching. The wave of award nominated films make for some real jems, but also some dull pretentiousness. I seem to have had a bit of a role with films that I’m told are Good, Important and Worthy, and that I have found underwhelming and frankly a bit dull. Thank heavens for I, Tonya. Finally I got to watch a film that I found both impressive and thoroughly entertaining. I knew the headlines of the story of Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan, but none of the details or the backstory. A mark of the success of the film is that by the time it came to the ‘incident’ I had sort of forgotten about it. The background is absolutely fascinating and that, and the quality of performances would probably have been enough to make this a good film. But it’s the construction of the film with interviews to camera that really make it stand out. I laughed out loud throughout the film from the humour, the ridiculousness of the situations and occasionally the horribleness of the characters. Despite the number of award nominated films I’ve watched in recent months, I can’t think of one I’ve been so happy to have seen.

    Ladybird
    I’m kicking myself because this is the only film that I haven’t managed to see. It doesn’t actually seem to have got a very wide release in the UK, neither my local Cineworld or Odeon are showing it which is a real shame, particularly as it has only been on release a week and it’s been snowing pretty much the whole time limiting my desire to travel. I am looking forward to seeing it, the trailer had a nice balance of humour and drama, and also looked quirky and stylish without being irritating.

    Phantom Thread
    I was uninspired by the trailer, but my favourite film reviewers both vouched for it – Mark Kermode has a tendency to like rather pretentious twaddle, but Simon Mayo is usually more reliable for knowing what ‘normal’ people actually like to watch. So given they both gave it an enthusiastic review for being both meaningful AND enjoyable I gave it a try. They let me down.
    Firstly it committed the cardinal sin of being boring, I continually wanted to look at a watch I wasn’t wearing to see how much longer I’d have to endure, and while it wasn’t quite bad enough that I would have given up on it, I certainly was wishing for it to be over faster than it was. There were brief moments of wit, but they were too small and too dispersed to give any real enjoyment. I didn’t quite get a handle on the characters, I never felt like they had a strong enough core to define them. I didn’t really know whether they liked each other, let alone loved one another. The style of it was vaguely interesting, and some of the ideas too, but neither was well enough developed to really make that the centrepiece of the film. I was utterly underwhelmed.

    The Post
    It’s somewhat astonishing that Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg have never worked together before, and when you add on an excellent supporting cast and an interesting, and topical, historical event you’re on to a winning formula. I would suggest that the film doesn’t really do much more than put those ingredients together and let it go, there’s not much in the way of embellishment or decoration to it, but then good ingredients do speak for themselves. Everyone is on solid form and the whole thing trips along nicely, just about keeping me understanding a story and background that I knew almost nothing about. I don’t think there’s anything particularly remarkable about the film, but when it brings so many greats together, it can’t help but be something a little bit special.

    The Shape of Water
    I’d been looking forward to this film. I’ve enjoyed many of Guillermo del Toro’s films and been impressed by the style and blending of fairy tale and horror. For the first half hour or so of the film I tried to immerse myself in the beautiful look of it, the quirky characters and the unusual pacing of the dialogue with chatty characters balanced by the silence of the lead characters, who still managed to say a lot even if they weren’t speaking. But after a while I realised that I was trying to immerse myself in it, and trying to enjoy it, rather than actually being immersed or enjoying it. It felt like it was trying to force feelings that weren’t there. After I realised that, the rest of the film became a little bit of a slog. When the dream sequence started my brother and I looked at each other and just rolled our eyes. I was actually very glad it was over when it eventually trudged to a halt.
    There’s something bugging me about the whole film. At its heart it’s a basic monster movie, I know a lot of people have related it to Beauty and the Beast, but for me it was more King Kong. I don’t know at what point it was decided to try and make it ‘more’ than ‘just’ a monster movie, but I think that was a real mistake. Monster movies, or science fiction, or horror already have all the scope to say more than just “the monster needs to escape”, there is always subtext and metaphor, but they don’t have to make a song and dance about it. Yes, they can form a connection without speaking, we get it, we don’t need long drawn out scenes to make the point. You can still get all that power without sacrificing pacing, action, comedy or character. And you can certainly integrate those things without having to have each scene and character fulfill one aspect. For the amount of talent, money, and runtime that this film has, it actually had less impact than something like Hellboy, or Pan’s Labyrinth. Fundamentally – I was bored. Also the constant sound of trickling water left me quite distracted by my need to go to the bathroom.

    Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
    A film which is hard to really describe, and I find hard to decide whether I liked it or not. I think for me it fell a little too much in between a lot of different posts, but I know that is the very thing that has worked for a lot of people. I laughed, cried, gasped and flinched in all the right places; and each with a depth and enthusiasm that isn’t often found in films; but somehow the combination left me cold. The elements of farce driven by the underlying tragedy is certainly deftly delivered by cast and crew. However there seemed to be a lot of unanswered questions and unexplained character steps that didn’t really sit right with me. At the start characters were hated and excused and I didn’t understand why, and then by the end there seemed to be forgiveness and redemption that likewise didn’t seem explained. I didn’t understand (and still don’t) why a town would be so angry at the mother of a murdered girl, why the town wouldn’t be scared at the idea of a rapist, why they wouldn’t be questioning the sheriff more. I didn’t understand why such a ‘nice’ sheriff would do a bad job liaising with a murder victim’s relatives, or why he would do nothing about a staff member who was clearly completely out of control. I think to me this is a film where all the individual scenes were excellent, but bringing them all together and understanding the underlying context of the characters and the community around them, just made no sense at all.

    What I think should winI’ve found this a rather disappointing year for best picture nominees to be honest. I thought Call Me By Your Name and Phantom Thread were actively bad; Three Billboards and Shape of Water were flawed, and Darkest Hour was clunky. The Post was a solidly entertaining film which i would happily recommend as a good film to watch, but not as remarkable as the names behind it might have inspired and not really Best Picture material. I haven’t seen Ladybird which is massively annoying me as I come to write this. So I’m left with Dunkirk and I, Tonya. What a bizarre choice to have to make. While I really, really enjoyed I, Tonya, and actually found Dunkirk a little confusing on first watch, I think I have to go for Dunkirk in the end. It’s the far greater achievement in terms of filming the un-filmable and deserves the accolade.

    What will win
    I think it’s down to Three Billboards or The Shape of Water really and I’m not sure which way it would go. Would the Academy give it to a ‘monster movie’ or is it actually time that people are looking beyond the simple labels. I think Three Billboards will be recognised in the acting categories, and that might be where the emphasis is. So, I think The Shape of Water will win.

    Films I watched in 2017

    Overall 176 films watched this year, 133 (76%) of them were films that were new to me, which I’m pretty pleased with, including 31 cinema visits. I joined Picturehouse and regularly go to the Central which is generally a really lovely experience (we even refer to it as the Happy Place). 89 of the films from the now sadly departed Lovefilm, that was about £1.12 per film. I’m really missing the service, my film watching plummeted after it ended. It was such an easy way to watch films, no faffing about trying to decide what to watch (something fun, versus something worthy) from the limited selection available between Netflix and Amazon. Without Lovefilm I would never have come to love film so much. Between Netflix and Amazon I watched 23 films. The rest are a combination of normal TV, my own DVD collection or other sources and are often watched in bulk with days where I just decide to watch films, barely moving from my sofa and binging through 6 or 7 films. Bliss.

    2017 films
    I’ve slightly modified how I track dates so it’s now going by UK release dates, not the year that IMDB gives by default, this will stop films falling between the gaps at the beginning of the year. I watched 52 films from 2017 and my film of the year was Hidden Figures. I’ve watched this film 3 times and it has never failed to make me laugh, cheer and sniffle a little. It’s a very rare thing unfortunately – a film with an important dramatic core that’s also hugely entertaining.

    Honourable mentions:

    • Ma vie de Courgette (My Life as a Courgette) – a Swiss, 65 minute stop motion animation about abandoned/rejected/alone children and it’s absolutely beautiful.
    • Star Wars 8: The Last Jedi – I’m a little surprised to see this on the list, but I can’t deny that it did everything a Star Wars film sets out to do (which comes with its own constraints), and it did it well.
    • Paddington 2 – this is one that maybe says more about me (and possibly the world of 2017), but the easy humour and HUGE heart of this film really spoke to me.
    • Bar Bahar (In Between) – an Israeli film about three women living their lives in Palestine. This film was immensely satisfying to watch and has really stayed with me since I saw it.
    • Dunkirk – literally took my breath away. Even though I didn’t understand the construction it was still a stunning enough film to get 8 out of 10, and I suspect if I watched it again and understood the interweaving timelines, it could go higher.
    • Kedi – a Turkish documentary about stray cats. Beautiful cinematography by and about people who love the city and love cats.
    • Wind River – a very well put together thriller that easily avoids a lot of the annoying cliches that lesser writer/directors would have fallen into and therefore deserves considerable praise

    Worst of 2017
    14 films go only 4 or 5 out of 10 which counts as ‘bad’ in my book. Some ‘standouts’:

    • Bad ‘good’ films – I seem to be in the minority, but I really didn’t like Jackie, La La Land or The Big Sick; respectively too narrow a focus, unsympathetic unrealistic characters, and a film about a relationship where one half is unconscious most of the time.
    • Not funny enough – The Party, and The Lego Ninjago Movie
    • What a colossal waste of talent and idea – Suburbicon (two different stories, one of which was interesting but completely smothered by the other, which in turn is trite compared to the other), and The Greatest Showman (so many good elements and so completely botched in delivery).
    • Just plain rubbish – Power Rangers, Life, Bright

    Foreign Language (16, 9%)
    When I looked at the long list of films a set that really stood out to me were some of the ‘foreign language’ films that I saw. Our Little Sister (Umimachi Diary) and Mustang, alongside the above mentioned Bar Bahar (In Between) are all incredibly powerful and enjoyable watches, each about groups of girls/women living in very different locations, cultures and contexts and how they live. Each film had me completely engrossed and sad when they ended that I wouldn’t get to spend more time with the characters. Train to Busan (Busanhaeng) meanwhile was one of the best zombie films I’ve seen in a long time, a masterpiece of the genre. Mind you, there were still some turkeys in there and while many people raved about them I found Toni Erdmann absolutely unwatchable due to the cringe factor and The Red Turtle (La tortue rouge) boring beyond belief.

    Documentaries (12, 7%)
    Film documentaries are as varied in tone, subject and quality as the rest of the film landscape. While Kedi was my favourite of the year, I have to acknowledge that it was literally and figuratively fluffy. Similarly The Beatles: 8 Days a Week gives a wonderful insight for those of us too young to experience Beatlemania was like, but is hardly challenging. Unfortunately the films that were more hard hitting slightly stumbled for being obviously one-sided in their investigations, but 13th and Where to Invade Next are both still worth a watch. Somewhere in the middle areLife, Animated; Weiner and Williams all of which get unprecedented and fascinating access to talk to respectively an severely autistic who engages with the world via Disney films; a disgraced-redeemed-disgraced politician; and the incredible man and family who runs the Formula 1 team. I wouldn’t bother with either Notes on Blindness or My Scientology Movie though, the first was INCREDIBLY boring and the second which was too broad and one-sided.

    Animation (18, 10%)
    Animation is another genre that is a microcosm for film as a whole able to deliver any genre, just through the medium of hand or computer drawn, or stop motion animation. On the pure fun side of things I really enjoyed Sing and Trolls, neither doing anything particularly original, but they were enjoying to watch. For something with a bit more depth I’d recommend Kimi no na wa (Your Name) or Kubo and the Two Strings, the latter in particular had an utterly gorgeous animation style. Weird to have a whole year with no new Disney or Pixar films.

    Comedies (26, 15%)
    Given that I don’t like cringe comedies, or gross-out ones, there’s often not much in the comedy section that I’d recommend, but this year’s viewing felt a little better. From this year the standout was The Death of Stalin which had a very weird tone whereby the comedy was absolutely hilarious, but it was combined with some horrible historical tragedy that was rather bizarre. A trio of films about men also gained 8’s out of 10 – Eddie the Eagle, Swiss Army Man and The Nice Guys. For a bit of gender balance Bad Moms was a lot better than it sounds.

    Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror (30 in total, 17%)
    I couldn’t be bothered to tie myself in knots about whether something is SF or Fantasy, so I’ve lumped a load of stuff into this broad bucket, and still haven’t ended up with much of note. Except for Star Wars, and very well put together horror film Get Out there were no 2017 films scoring above a mediocre 6. In fact overall there were only two 8/10 films – Age of Adaline which surprised me as a surprisingly rich storyline and subtle performance from Blake Lively; and WarGames which holds up really well despite being over 30 years old. Sadly there were far more disappointments – Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 2 just seemed to lack the magic, I think thanks to a trudging plot. Wonder Woman did absolutely nothing for me, boring me like the other DC universe films that fail to balance humour, plot, character and action. SF was responsible for some of the big turkeys I saw this year – Life, Power Rangers, Bright and The Circle; and some older awfulness from Ghosts of Mars, Gods of Egypt, Assassin’s Creed and The Love Witch.

    Action (20, 11%)
    A broad genre of ‘films where stuff happens’, often at volume and with explosions. To be successful in this category I should not want to take my eyes off the screen and ideally be on the edge of my seat; a bonus would be actually caring about the outcomes. That’s more of a challenge than it should be, many of the superhero films for example failed to have me engaged in the battle scenes due to the lack of jeopardy with seemingly invulnerable characters (Wonder Woman, Suicide Squad). Dunkirk is the outstanding offering in this category though, I was completely engrossed in every moment and fully engaged with the characters as well. Free Fire meanwhile took the other extreme basically committing almost every moment to a protracted gunfight to entertaining effect. I gave bothThe Accountant and The Legend of Tarzan 8/10 as well, but now have almost no recollection of them; but that’s not necessarily the nail in the coffin that it would be in other genres.

    Other (53, 30%)
    For stuff that doesn’t fall into the other categories I’ve just grouped them together, everything from hard hitting message movies, to films almost without plot that are just letting you share in the characters’ lives for a while. The standout here was I, Daniel Blake will have you feeling all the emotions with an intensity that will leave you exhausted – I raged, cheered and laughed out loud and sobbed my way through half a box of tissues. Amazing characters – Sully: Miracle on the Hudson gives Tom Hanks full potential to show his mastership of this, and the structure of the film had me gripped; Captain Fantastic took me on a complete rollercoaster of emotions about how a single father raised his children – confusion, support, respect and horror. Hell or High Water is a film that almost defies description but I would highly recommend it. There are a lot of films in this category that could easily be unremarkable but shine because of the performances – 20th Century Women, Lady Macbeth, Manchester by the Sea, Trumbo, Battle of the Sexes and Weekend.

    Rewatches
    These are films that I can watch over and over again and they never disappoint me, they’re all good at what they do, which may not always be about being outstandingly challenging films, but they always leave me happier after I’ve watched them. Musicals (Kinky Boots, Singin’ In the Rain, Moulin Rouge!), Disney films (Zootropolis, Lilo and Stitch, Moana, The Incredibles) and other animations (How to Train Your Dragon, Despicable Me) tend to fall into this category. And just to prove I don’t dislike all comedies, there are a fair few of those too – Hot Fuzz, Deadpool, The Full Monty, The Birdcage, A Knight’s Tale. And the ever reliable Ocean’s Eleven and Gosford Park

    The full list
    Continue reading

    89th Academy Awards

    I think there are 48 films nominated for at least one Oscar, and a total of 106 nominations for the full length films. I’ve managed to see 25 of the films (52%) covering 75 nominations (70%). I’ve linked to reviews on my other website where I’ve seen things. I only managed to see a couple of the shorts unfortunately. I wish they were more easily available. Here are my preferences and predictions for the winners across all the categories, even the ones I have absolutely no knowledge of.

    Film (see my previous post for detailed reviews)
    Academy_Award_trophy

    • Arrival – I wasn’t a fan, but I don’t think I viewed it fairly
    • Fences – I haven’t seen it, but from what I hear it’s a bit too theatrical to be the best film, the stage play was already heavily rewarded and I don’t think ‘just’ translating the cast and the words to a different medium is necessarily worthy of award
    • La La Land – I thought it didn’t successfully blend gritty modern relationship drama with old school musical fantasy, leaving me disappointed
    • Hacksaw Ridge – not seen, but broad opinion doesn’t seem to have been positive
    • Hell or High Water – I enjoyed this film a lot, and was impressed at how solidly put together it was, but I don’t think it was ‘outstanding’
    • Hidden Figures – wonderfully entertaining, but it takes slightly too light-hearted an approach to be a worthy Oscar winner, it is however likely to be one of my favourite films of the year
    • Lion – a good film, but not a great film. I wasn’t a fan of the structure (either much too long an ‘introduction’ or a film of two halves that struggle to stick together) and there wasn’t much subtlety on offer.
    • Manchester by the Sea – I thought this was a very powerful film, mostly thanks to the performances but certainly supported by a great script and interesting direction to make this a very strong contender for best film
    • Moonlight – I may be one of the only people that didn’t like this film. I respect it a lot, but I was bored.

    What’s missing – outstanding films from last year were a little thin on the ground I thought. My top film was Eye in the Sky, but as ‘just’ a thriller it didn’t get a look in, even if it was a superb one. Money Monster was a similarly tightly put together piece. I’m ok with not seeing Jackie there as I thought was a better performance than film (flawed in the decision to only show a short period of time, giving no context for the character’s emotions). I didn’t like Nocturnal Animals either, I thought it confusing and unnecessarily arty (what was that opening?!). I haven’t seen 20th Century Women; I, Daniel Blake; or Loving, but all got a lot of praise and are under-represented in the awards (or not at all for I, Daniel Blake). Deadpool would have been a hilarious addition (it got a golden globe nod), and maybe it deserved it for originality and balls alone.
    What should win: I’m really not that blown away by the selection, my pick would probably be Manchester by the Sea.
    What will win: La a Land

    Director
    lalaland

    • Denis Villeneuve (Arrival) – I was frustrated by the disjointed and unbalancing direction of Arrival but in hindsight it makes a lot of sense.
    • Mel Gibson (Hacksaw Ridge) – I haven’t heard anything particularly positive about it
    • Damien Chazelle (La La Land) – I don’t think any of the things I didn’t like La La Land were due to the director, and it’s no easy achievement directing musicals
    • Kenneth Lonergan (Manchester by the Sea) – I would have actually preferred a less arty and fussy directorial style, the writing and acting didn’t need it and it might have improved the runtime and pacing.
    • Barry Jenkins (Moonlight) – I didn’t like the direction, but I can respect it

    What should win: I don’t really care
    What will win: La La Land

    Actress
    jackie

    • Isabelle Huppert (Elle) – Not seen
    • Ruth Negga (Loving) – Not seen, but I’ve loved her on Preacher and other TV work
    • Natalie Portman (Jackie) – a great performance, although I thought it came a little close to impression with the strange voice for my tastes, but I think the writing actually limited the scope of her performance.
    • Emma Stone (La La Land) – I thought the character was badly written, but Emma Stone still delivered.
    • Meryl Streep (Florence Foster Jenkins) – can’t help but think that this is more a political nomination than anything else, which isn’t to say that Streep wasn’t good in a delicate balancing act of comedy and tragedy. Actually, the more I think about it the better her performance seems.

    Who’s missing – poor Amy Adams, did she split the vote with Nocturnal Animals and Arrival or did she just get pushed out by Trump’s hatred of Streep? I’m not sure either performance would have won the award, but she should be here. Taraji P. Henson in Hidden Figures was also wonderful. Annette Benning seemed to have a lot of buzz for 20th Century Women.
    Who should win – Natalie Portman
    Who will win – Emma Stone

    Actor
    manchester

    • Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea) – superb.
    • Andrew Garfield (Hacksaw Ridge) – not seen
    • Ryan Gosling (La La Land) – I’ve never enjoyed Gosling’s performances and between him, and his character, I wasn’t a fan here either.
    • Viggo Mortensen (Captain Fantastic) – not seen
    • Denzel Washington (Fences) – not seen, he’s impressive in the trailers, but then if he’s ‘just’ re-creating the exact same performance that he won a Tony for is that really fair? Getting multiple bites of the pie surely?

    Who’s missing – I thought Tom Hanks was a shoe-in for Sully, he’s always incredibly good and a popular nominee, although I’ve no idea if it’s deserved. Colin Farrell for The Lobster? Michael Caine for Youth?
    Who should win and will win – Casey Affleck

    Supporting Actress
    lion

    • Viola Davis (Fences) – as for Washington above. With the added souring that she should almost certainly be in the best actress category, not supporting, she won the Tony for *lead* actress.
    • Naomie Harris (Moonlight) – impressive
    • Nicole Kidman (Lion) – I was instinctively going to say that she wasn’t in it enough to warrant the nomination, but then I thought about the half dozen or so scenes she does have and the level of emotion and power and started thinking differently. The film in general is a bit heavy handed, but Kidman delivers it in spades.
    • Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures) – she was good, but outstanding? I’m afraid not, she just didn’t have the material
    • Michelle Williams (Manchester by the Sea) – I wanted to see more of the character, her story was never really told, only in how it related to the other characters (oh crap, is this film a Bechdel test failure?), which is a shame because given what she did with what little time she had, she would have been incredible.

    Who should win – I think it’s Kidman for me, but Williams would have been triumphant if only she had an extra scene or two
    Who will win – Viola Davis

    Supporting Actor:
    moonlight

    • Mahershala Ali (Moonlight) – he was wonderful, but I think actually the three actors playing Chiron were just as good.
    • Jeff Bridges (Hell or High Water) – I really liked this film, and Bridges was great as usual, but I don’t think Bridges’ role was anything outstanding – curmudgeonly and rude isn’t a stretch
    • Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea)- yes. The range that this young actor showed was incredible, carrying the weight of the humour in the film while never leaving any doubt he was also struggling and suffering.
    • Dev Patel (Lion) – supporting? Hmm, I guess he didn’t appear for the first third of the film. It’s a powerful performance, and I love watching him, but it’s something of a “what you see is what you get” role, without the nuance of some of the others.
    • Michael Shannon (Nocturnal Animals) – to me this is an odd choice, it was Aaron Taylor-Johnson as the ‘bad guy’ that was by far the more powerful performance, I’ve utterly forgotten Shannon’s character.

    Who’s missing – if Meryl gets a nom for Florence Foster Jenkins it’s a shame Hugh Grant doesn’t also, his performance walked an even narrower line between tragedy and humour. Ralph Fiennes was startling (and irritating) in the otherwise mediocre A Bigger Splash.
    Who should win – Lucas Hedges
    Who will win – Mahershala Ali

    Original Screenplay
    hellorhighwater

    • Hell or High Water – An interesting idea and very solidly delivered, the mix of drama and humour is well handled and I was gripped throughout
    • La La Land – nope, the writing was what I mostly took issue with La La Land, the characters, the dialogue, and mostly the ending I thought were errors
    • The Lobster – I liked both halves of this film, but thought they didn’t work well together. I am glad to see it here though as something a bit unusual
    • Manchester by the Sea – the structuring of this was superb and the way the past and present intertwine is delicately done
    • 20th Century Women – haven’t seen

    What should and will win – Manchester by the Sea

    Adapted Screenplay
    hiddenfigures

    • Arrival – I’ve no idea how much of this came from the original, so it’s a bit hard to know. The story and idea are certainly great and cleverly gradually revealed through a tricky narrative, but that might all have already been there.
    • Fences – from what I hear, there wasn’t a great deal of adaptation involved in taking this from stage to screen, with the film feeling much like a play.
    • Hidden Figures – I loved this film, so I loved the writing. Taking a non-fiction book and making an entertaining and engaging narrative seems a greater achievement, but then it seems a number of liberties may have been taken
    • Lion – I think it’s the true story that’s amazing here, the adaptation was fairly by the numbers and unremarkable. It would probably have benefited from some creativity in interweaving the stories or filling in gaps.
    • Moonlight – I think it’s an achievement to write a film that says a lot without saying a lot, it’s about more than the words and the structure and depth of this film is impressive.

    Am I supposed to be looking for a good final result or a good adaptation? Surely the bigger achievement is the one that requires the most rewriting, or taking something rubbish and making it good without losing sight of the original?
    What should win – Hidden Figures
    What will win – Moonlight

    Animated Feature Film
    kubo

    • Kubo and the Two Strings – gorgeous, original and lovely
    • Moana – great story, completely 3 dimensional characters, beautiful design, powerful emotion and laugh out loud humour – it had everything
    • My Life as a Zucchini/Courgette – I’d never even heard of this and couldn’t find it anyone
    • The Red Turtle – ditto
    • Zootopia/Zootropolis – I enjoyed it a lot while I watched it, but it wasn’t one that I’ve thought back on

    What’s missing – nothing for Pixar! I didn’t think Finding Dory was anything like as special as things like Inside Out, but I’m surprised it didn’t appear here. Similarly surprised that neither Jungle Book nor The BFG came in. The literally and figuratively beautiful Ethel and Ernest should both be nominated and winning this category. Another great year for animation.
    What should win – Moana edges it slightly for me. Or Kubo. I wouldn’t actually mind
    What will win – Zootopia – it’s got a rather powerful message on immigration that I don’t think the “Hollywood Liberal Elite” will ignore. Good for them.

    Foreign Language Film

    • Land of Mine (Denmark), A Man Called Ove (Sweden), The Salesman (Iran), Tanna (Australia) , Toni Erdmann (Germany)

    I’ve not seen any of them, I’m a bit ashamed of that
    What will win – Salesman has got the political oomph given the director was effected by the travel ban, but I think Toni Erdmann has been more popular.

    Documentary – Feature
    lifeanimated

    • Fire at Sea – I thought this was terrible. Pretentious arty nonsense which, with the exception of one sequence and one interview, failed to really add any understanding to either the crisis as a whole, or the impact on the island.
    • I Am Not Your Negro – not seen
    • Life, Animated – An fascinating look into one family’s life, thanks to frank interviews and family videos you see their history and how they reached where they are. It’s not really making any sweeping statements or education on what autism means, but as a “case study” it’s wonderful.
    • O.J.: Made in America – not seen, not least because with last year’s dramatization there’s already a lot of OJ around. Also it’s incredibly long, at 467 minutes, really this is a mini-series!
    • 13th – A fairly traditional documentary looking at race and imprisonment in the US via a lot of academic and expert talking heads and a small amount of archive footage. If going this traditional route, I thought there was a bit more scope for better graphics and usage of data, particularly to strengthen the opposing side of the argument to make it more balanced. I don’t think that would have changed the overall point, but actually made it stronger.

    What’s missing – I really enjoyed 8 Days a Week, I like the Beatles, but this actually made me understand what it was like to be a Beatles fan, and also some insight into what it was like to be just a group of lads from Liverpool and suddenly the most popular people in the world. I learnt something about the band and the people. I think this would probably be my pick for winner.
    What should win -of the three I’ve seen I thought Life, Animated was the least flawed, but 13th was the more important.
    What will win – 13th

    Documentary Short

    • Extremis – available on Netflix, very powerful and incredibly moving, I wish it had been longer
    • The White Helmets – available on Netflix and well worth watching. Some of the footage is incredible and the situation and people are amazing (in opposite ways).
    • 4.1 Miles, Joe’s Violin, Watani: My Homeland – not seen

    The documentary short is an incredibly powerful category, I wish it were easier to see more of them. It’s hard to pick which of the two I’ve seen is better, particularly given that I suspect the other three are just as good.
    What will win – Extremis

    Live Action Short

    • Ennemis intérieurs, La Femme et le TGV, Silent Nights, Sing, Timecode

    What will win: Ennemis intérieurs

    Animated Short Film

    • Blind Vaysha, Borrowed Time, Pear Cider and Cigarettes , Pearl , Piper

    What will and should win: Piper is the only one I’ve seen (on the front of Finding Dory and it was absolutely gorgeous, so I’ll vote for it here

    Original Score
    passengers

    • Jackie – I actually throught the score was obtrusive and too heavy
    • La La Land – lovely. The songs are catchy, and the themes are well developed and entwined through the film.
    • Lion – Blended elements from lots of different styles together, reflecting both Indian and Australian culture and the overlaps between them
    • Moonlight – an interesting mix of music was played, was that original music or soundtrack?
    • Passengers – I’ve no memory of the score

    What should win and what will win – La La Land

    Best Original Song
    moana

    What’s missing – I loved the music from Sing Street (review), it came from the characters so much, so it’s a shame that didn’t get a look in
    What should win – I really love the Moana song, and it might stand a chance if the La La Land songs split the vote and the love for Lin
    What will win – City of Stars I should think, unless the La La Songs split the vote and/or Lin Manuel Miranda’s current success and fame carries him through.

    Sound Editing: Arrival, Deepwater Horizon, Hacksaw Ridge, La La Land, Sully
    Sound Mixing: Arrival, Hacksaw Ridge, La La Land, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi
    I’m hazy on the distinction, but to me it seems that outstanding sound is about taking complex, multi-layered ‘noises’ and blending them into a coherent whole. So something like La La Land doesn’t really seem complicated enough to warrant awards.The sci-fi ones have much more complicated work to be done, blending real sounds, generated ones and balancing them all so the audience can make sense of them. Anything like Hacksaw Ridge or 13 Hours, the sounds are so important for making battle feel real, but not so real the audience can’t see or understand what’s happening.
    What will win: Hacksaw Ridge for editing and Arrival for mixing
    Production Design
    fantastic-beasts

    • Arrival – the design work was interesting but it was hard to get excited about given the over use of grey and dingy lighting.
    • Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – the blend of fantasy and art deco New York was beautifully done and very evocative
    • Hail, Caesar! – replicating the design of the period is well done, but it’s working from a known starting point
    • La La Land – there’s a subtle and clever blending of modern LA and old school musical.
    • Passengers – I’m not sure that any of it is particularly ‘realistic’ but the design is all suitably sci-fi, particularly things like the robot bartender

    What should win: Fantastic Beasts
    What will win: La La Land

    Cinematography
    sillence

    • Arrival – one of my least favourite pieces of cinematography, I thought the lighting and the colourisation were dull and killed the energy of the film.
    • La La Land – yup, fine. Nice.
    • Lion – The different styles for India and Australia, and the different periods the film covered were all interetingly done, with the cinematography reflecting the culture
    • Moonlight – I was not a fan, it made me feel a bit dizzy, but I can recognise that it was very good.
    • Silence – haven’t seen, but from the trailer it did look impressively epic

    What should win: Lion
    What will win: La La Land

    Makeup and Hairstyling

    What will win: Star Trek? No criticism to the make up and hairstyling on Suicide Squad, but it cannot be “Oscar winning Suicide Squad”

    Costume Design
    florencefoster

    • Allied – not seen, but the costumes looked fairly standard period stuff from the trailer
    • Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – the fantasy elements of the costuming is very subtly done
    • Florence Foster Jenkins – Just like everything else in this film, the costumes walk a very fine line between ridiculous and period, which is very cleverly done
    • Jackie – should you really get an award for perfectly recreating costumes and outfits? What was the ‘design’?
    • La La Land – there’s some nice costuming here, a main contributor to the old-school musical vibe of the film to counteract some of the modernity.

    What should win: Florence Foster Jenkins
    What will win: La La Land

    Film Editing
    arrival

    • Arrival – I’m not sure how much of the interweaving of the jumping time line was done in the script and how much in the editing, but I would assume the little flashes were editing and they were certainly very cleverly done, keeping you inside the characters head.
    • Hacksaw Ridge – not seen
    • Hell or High Water – I don’t really remember anything clever or outstanding with the editing, but then that may be the magic of good editing
    • La La Land – the musical sequences were well put together, supported the old-school feel of the film
    • Moonlight – Does the editor decide how long to make the pauses? If so, I wasn’t a fan

    What should win – I’m not really sure what I’m looking for, so I’ll say “I don’t mind”
    What will win – La La Land

    Visual Effects
    rogueone

    • Deepwater Horizon – not seen, but the effects in the trailer were impressive
    • Doctor Strange – the effects were impressive, but I actually found them overwhelming at times. Some of the smaller stuff was subtly done though (eg the cloak)
    • The Jungle Book – it’s interesting that Jungle Book ended up in this category, rather than as an animated film, if everything other than one boy was cgi, even the backgrounds I believe, then isn’t this an animated film and not a visual effect?
    • Kubo and the Two Strings – a stunning achievement, but mostly this is old school ‘effects’, ie models and manipulation, so it’s not as diverse as some of these.
    • Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – lots and lots of different types of effects

    What should win: I think that Jungle Book and Kubo, although superb, just didn’t have as many different types of effects to show off. So… Star Wars for me.
    What will win: Jungle Book

    Nominees for Best Picture

    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.

    Arrival
    arrivalI 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
    hellorhighwaterThis 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. 

    Hidden Figures
    hiddenfiguresThis 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
    lalalandI 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.

    Lion
    lionI 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
    manchesterThis 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.

    Moonlight
    moonlightI 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.

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