Yalitza Aparicio for Roma
Glenn Close for The Wife
Olivia Colman for The Favourite
Lady Gaga for A Star is Born
Melissa McCarthy for Can You Ever Forgive Me?
She’s won it all so far – Golden Globe, SAG and BAFTA – and there’s no reason not to expect Olivia Colman to continue her winning ways. I love Colman in The Favourite, but Yalitza Aparicio’s performance in Roma does something even more special, conveying so much with little gestures and body language. Plus it would be nice for an indigenous performer to win an award. I suspect we will see Queen Anne getting an Oscar though.
Prediction – Olivia Colman
Preferred winner – Yalitza Aparicio
Christian Bale for Vice
Bradley Cooper for A Star Is Born
Willem Defoe for At Eternity’s Gate
Rami Malek for Bohemian Rhapsody
Viggo Mortensen for Green Book
Bohemian Rhapsody had two elements that impressed me. One was the music, for which I will credit Queen. The other is Rami Malek’s performance as Freddie Mercury, which is pretty brilliant. After his victories at the Golden Globes and BAFTA, I see no reason not to expect Malek to add to his collection. But if it were me, I would vote for Christian Bale’s transformation into the devious, manipulative slug of Dick Cheney in Vice.
Prediction – Rami Malek
Preferred winner – Christian Bale
Amy Adams for Vice
Marina de Tavira for Roma
Regina King for If Beale Street Could Talk
Emma Stone for The Favourite
Rachel Weisz for The Favourite
Prediction – Regina King
Preferred winner – Rachel Weisz
The smart money appears to be on Regina King, and I am yet to see If Beale Street Could Talk (I suspect it can). Having seen the others, Rachel Weisz did do something special in The Favourite, and I’d be OK with her becoming a two-time winner.
Mahershala Ali for Green Book
Adam Driver for BlacKkKlansman
Sam Elliott for A Star is Born
Richard E. Grant for Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Sam Rockwell for Vice
Having not seen Green Book (yet), I predict that Mahershala Ali will add to his collection. But personally, I was touched by San Elliott’s quiet gruffness in A Star Is Born, and of those I have seen, probably vote for him.
Prediction – Mahershala Ali
Preferred winner – Sam Elliott
Recently, I took on a new job which takes up rather a lot of my time. Therefore, I haven’t posted as much as I, and you, my devoted fans, would like. With the Oscars just around the corner, here’s my quick predictions for the awards, and a few of my own thoughts on them.
I’ve see all but one of these (hopefully get to Green Book one day). All have their strong points, some more than others. My personal favourite film of last year is up for multiple awards, but after its success at the BAFTA awards, I think this year AMPAS will, for the first time, award a film not in the English language the coveted prize of Best Picture. Roma is a magnificent piece of work that makes the ordinary extraordinary, all through the power of cinema. For that, I see AMPAS voting for Roma as Best Picture, and also Best Foreign Language Film for good measure.
Prediction – Roma
Preferred winner – BlacKkKlansman
Alfonso Cuarón for Roma
Yorgis Lanthimoss for The Favourite
Spike Lee for BlacKkKlansman
Adam McKay for Vice
Pawel Paliwkowski for Cold War
Much like Best Picture, I think the Academy will reward Roma, not least for the amazing direction and indeed multi-tasking of Alfonso Cuarón. I would personally vote for Spike Lee for his disruption of cinematic norms, but I see Cuarón picking up his second golden baldie.
Prediction – Alfonso Cuarón
Preferred winner – Spike Lee
Sometimes a film sells itself to you in its first moments. From its opening credits, Roma had me transfixed by a sequence of water rinsing a floor, while a plane passing overhead is reflected on the water. This prolonged sequence highlights the beauty in the mundane and the extraordinary appearance of the ordinary, as Alfonso Cuarón’s tale of domesticity is rendered epic through the magic of cinema. Covering the life of a Mexican family in the early 1970s, largely from the perspective of maid Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), writer/director/cinematographer/editor/producer Cuarón renders a story that is intimate and grandiose all at once. Domestic dramas are juxtaposed with political upheaval, familial fractures blend with social commentary. Cuarón utilises monochrome, deep focus photography, long takes and often pans to capture the full extent of the action. These long panning takes are the film’s great strength, as they convey the texture of life passing from one aspect to another, showing the shocking and gripping alongside the heartwarming and touching, the major flowing seamlessly to the minor. Roma is a true cinematic wonder, a reminder of what film can do using its essential elements, a work of art that recalls and reasserts the wonder of those early flickering marvels at the end of the 19th century.
Adam McKay’s Vice is based on, or at least inspired by actual events. The majority of its narrative, however, is speculation, and the film never lets the viewer forget this. Accusations of taking liberties with the truth are spurious because the film uses various devices to emphasise its own fictionality. Voiceover, direct address to camera, supertext, a weird Shakespearean interchange, and even, halfway through the film, premature credits highlight again and again that the filmmakers ARE MAKING THIS UP. Unfortunately, McKay is so focused on proclaiming the artifice of the film that he neglects to tell a coherent story. The career of Dick Cheney (played by an unrecognisable Christian Bale) is a remarkable one of political manipulation, Cheney’s apparent lack of regard for anyone outside his immediate circle something that is ripe for satire. McKay’s repeated interruptions to his own narrative blunt this satire, resulting in an incoherent mishmash where the events themselves are both hilarious and horrifying, but the presentation of these events is jarring to the point of being gimmicky. The film is a far less satisfying whole than the writer-director’s previous effort, The Big Short, which dealt with the presentation of similarly bizarre events. The first half of Vice, covering Cheney’s early political career, especially suffers from McKay’s approach, although the second half, focused on Cheney’s time as Vice-President of the United States under George W. Bush (an excellent Sam Rockwell), is more focused and succeeds in expressing the scale of Cheney’s Machiavellian manoeuvring that twists the US Constitution and other laws to his advantage. But considering the film’s overtly critical stance, the likely audience for Vice are unlikely to be bowled over by Cheney’s lack of ethics. The end result is a missed opportunity, that could have been an insightful dissection of a grim turn in US politics, but instead ends up a flashy but messy portrait of an unashamedly nasty piece of work.
Mary Queen of Scots is a film of Ps and Qs. It possesses perfect performances from its entire cast, especially its leading queens, Saoirse Ronan as the eponymous Mary and Margot Robbie as Elizabeth I. Ronan has been an electrifying screen presence since Atonement, and her subsequent roles in such varied fare as Hanna, Brooklyn and Lady Bird have highlighted her extraordinary talent and charisma. Here she excels as Mary, a woman driven by ambition but tempered by compassion, focused on achieving the throne of England and seeing herself as the saviour of Scotland. Presented by director Josie Rourke as well as costume designer Alexandra Byrne as a Joan of Arc-esque figure, Mary commands the screen and her court, until the political power plays of her courtiers undermine her. Meanwhile Elizabeth – played with anguish and steely resolve by Robbie – manages her court with Machiavellian cunning often disguised as acquiescence. The scheming amongst nobles both English and Scottish is a narrative parallel between the two major strands of Beau Willimon’s screenplay. Rourke expresses these strands with visual parallels as well, cutting between graphic matches of each queen or between similar drapes or sheets. These veils are significant as these women are veiled from the world around them, unable to trust the men whom they work with while these same men plot against her. This is the grimmest of the film’s Ps, as Mary Queen of Scots is a tale of two women encountering the ruthlessness of the patriarchy. Threatened by these women who offer compassion, understanding and equal religious rights to their subjects, the nobles of both countries manipulate and manoeuvre around their sovereigns, resorting to any means necessary to further their pursuit of power. The final image of Mary’s face, which recalls the opening scene, underscores the tragic tone of this grim portrait of the parallels of power and the pitilessness of patriarchy.
The other day, a cat offered its opinion on the Oscar nominations. At any other time, this would seem strange, but Oscar season is when all opinions on film quality and aesthetic worthiness become, according to all and sundry offering opinions, The Truth. Whatever the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences nominates for awards, everyone from a broadsheet critic to a tweeting cat knows better.
I have opinions on the nominations, but I’m more interested in what they represent rather than knowing, let alone deciding, The Truth about the best films of last year. I am pleased to see some of my favourites from last year nominated, and while other top films of mine have been largely or entirely overlooked, I don’t think the Academy members are wrong, just have different views. In the run up to the awards, I’ll post my views and predictions on the various nominees, but for starters, let’s consider the nominees for Best Picture.
The dominant story around the nominations is the inclusion of Black Panther. The first superhero film to receive this accolade, it is also a significant black film. A blockbuster with a predominantly black cast, that succeeded critically and commercially with its incorporation of commentary about racial history and isolationism, the nomination of Black Panther is a hugely significant cultural event. Criticism of this nomination is largely based around the film’s lack of aesthetic quality: seemingly the film ‘is not really good enough’ to be nominated.
These criticisms do not specify the standards by which film quality should be measured, and imply elitist attitudes against blockbusters and superhero films in general. This cultural prejudice is interesting, since while less harmful, it is no less a prejudice than that based on skin colour. Artistic merit is subjective, and while there may be critical standards that could be considered objective, perhaps from the practitioners such as editors and cinematographers, these standards are unlikely to be universally accepted. Therefore, it seems more appropriate, and certainly less arrogant, to embrace the various subjective positions and accept the wonderful diversity of perspectives.
Speaking of diversity, I wonder if a predominantly white superhero film would have attracted such discussion. The nomination of Black Panther probably is more a political statement than an artistic one, as the members of AMPAS present themselves as progressive. The other nominees also suggest this different approach, with only two of the Best Picture nominees focused upon white men. Of these, I am yet to see Vice so will post my review subsequently, but at the very least it seems to be a satire of conservative white power, a point underscored by Christian Bale’s acceptance speech at the Golden Globes.
A Star Is Born is probably the most traditional and conservative of the nominees, being a remake of a popular rags-to-riches story in which a man helps a woman while wrestling with his personal demons. I loved the film and have no problem with it being nominated, but I am glad it is the only typical nominee. The biopic Bohemian Rhapsody is also typical, but its focus on a gay musician of Asian descent makes it unusual. Films focused on gay characters have received limited awards attention, Philadelphia, Brokeback Mountain and Moonlight being earlier examples. I’m not the biggest fan of Bohemian Rhapsody, and controversy around its director may keep it out of the frontrunning, but I applaud its inclusion.
Another film with homosexual elements is The Favourite, a surprising inclusion because of its focus upon women but also because it is such an odd film. ‘Costume dramas’ do attract attention – see Sense & Sensibility, Elizabeth, Shakespeare In Love – but rarely with this level of frank sexuality and dark comedy. To me, it is another weird choice, and all the better for it. Roma I am yet to see, but from a racial and gender perspective it is refreshing to see a film about a working-class woman in Mexico recognised. Green Book casts an eye over American racial history, much like Driving Miss Daisy, 12 Years A Slave and Hidden Figures, and once I’ve seen it I’ll let you know what I think.
Speaking of American racial history, I am thrilled to see my favourite film of last year nominated in multiple categories. BlacKkKlansman draws attention to important events with contemporary parallels, while engaging with and subverting cinematic norms. Spike Lee has long been a public face of African-American cinema, and Academy recognition brings attention to this important film.
It is easy to read many of the nominations as political. I do not see this as a problem. Film and the film industry are political, and in an age of social media everyone can be politically engaged. By engaging with debates over representation through their attention to films that address gender, race and sexuality, the members of AMPAS demonstrate social engagement. Ironically, to perpetuate lofty and undefined levels of ‘artistic quality’ would be more elitist and out of touch, as AMPAS has long been accused of. This is a radical time, and what we see in these nominations are contributions to debate and discussion. One of the most prominent platforms in the world is contributing to the debate, and that is something I applaud.
The Death of Supermanis one of the bestselling comic books ever published, shifting over six million copies upon its release in 1993. The story’s bold premise and provocative artwork is turned into animated pictures, complete with a fine ensemble of voice actors. The Death of Supermancharts the arrival of the seemingly indestructible alien beast Doomsday, its rampage through Metropolis (and the Justice League) and its battle with the Man of Steel. Like many a superhero tale, The Death of Supermanalso engages with ideas of identity and roles. A romance blossoms between Lois Lane and Clark Kent, the latter of whom struggles to reconcile his public and secret identities. The other members of the Justice League, including Wonder Woman, Batman and Green Lantern, as well as Lex Luthor, also worry about Superman’s role, and these concerns run throughout the film and its sequel.
The adaptation struggles to bring the emotional heft to the screen, not least due to rather stilted animation. Compared to recent fare likeIncredibles 2and Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse, this superhero adventure feels lacklustre and uninspired. Character movements lack fluidity, backgrounds are often under-developed and the film falls into an unfortunate space between comic book and animation, lacking verve and dynamism. Where The Death of Supermandoes succeed, perhaps surprisingly, is in its brutality. The violence inflicted by Doomsday is bloody and often graphic, from crushed and severed heads to battered and bloody heroes. The eventual conflict between Superman and Doomsday is compelling and does deliver in the physical and emotional stakes, even though the end is known. While the journey to the climax is not always engaging, it is a hard viewer who does not experience a lump in their throat
The follow-up, Reign of the Supermen, is more successful in the animation stakes, offering greater vibrancy and movement. It also has a good line in humour, which is while present is less at home in The Death of Superman. In Reign of the Supermen, the humour is effective, especially the comedic quips of the Flash and Green Lantern. The film also does some exploration of power and its proper uses, the various ‘Supermen’ offering different takes on the concept. On the downside, the Supermen as well as the overarching plot seems overtly derivative of other cinematic superhero adventures, which leads to the film feeling like a half-hearted imitation of The Avengers. Overall, this double bill falls short in several ways, but does provide thrills and laughs in others.