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95th Academy Awards: Writing and Directing

Adapted Screenplay

Edward Berger, Ian Stokell, Lesley Paterson – All Quiet on the Western Front

Rian Johnson – Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery

Kazuo Ishiguro – Living

Ehren Kruger, Eric Warren Singer, Christopher McQuarrie – Top Gun: Maverick 

Sarah Polley – Women Talking

Something I learned this year – sequels count as adapted screenplays, which is why Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery and Top Gun: Maverick are eligible for this category. This is a tricky one and could well go to Women Talking, which received the Writers Guild Award for Adapted Screenplay. However, I see this award going to All Quiet on the Western Front, due to it being a war film which is the type of film the Academy loves. Not the most reliable criteria, I admit, and I would be happy with Women Talking as well.

Original Screenplay

Martin McDonagh – The Banshees of Inisherin

Daniel Kwan, Daniel Scheinert – Everything Everywhere All At Once

Steven Spielberg, Tony Kushner – The Fabelmans

Todd Field – Tár

Ruben Östlund – Triangle of Sadness 

Interestingly, the nominees for Original Screenplay overlap with those for Directing (aside from Tony Kushner). This is a change from how the Oscars used to play out, when Adapted Screenplay tended to be a good indicator of Directing and indeed Best Picture success. Now it seems that Original Screenplays are more honoured. While I think all of these films are intricately and effectively written, one stands out for its ingenious weaving together of multiple possibilities and explanations that somehow never gets too confusing or bogged down in detail. And it won the Writers Guild of American Award as well. I see the Daniels receiving the Oscar for Everything Everywhere All At Once.


Martin McDonagh – The Banshees of Inisherin 

Daniel Kwan, Daniel Scheinert – Everything Everywhere All at Once

Steven Spielberg – The Fabelmans

Todd Field – Tár

Ruben Östlund – Triangle of Sadness

Not to sound like a broken record, but I predict the Daniels in this category as well. Triangle of Sadness is a rather look-at-me directed film, while Tár is Hitchcockian in its staging and framing. The Fabelmans has charm and wonder to spare and could woo the Directors branch of the Academy, and The Banshees of Inisherin balances whimsy and grimness quite remarkably. However, such keen, exquisite and ambitious direction is overt in every frame of Everything Everywhere All At Once, which already impressed the Directors Guild of America to the point of winning that award. I think the Daniels will pick up the Directing Oscar as well.


Review of 2022: Awards in the Year of Women

In my previous post, I summarised the quality of films in 2022 with particular attention to horror, and also highlighted the strong output from Scandinavia. This output included The Worst Person in the World, which is a great film rather than a reference to any contenders for that title (most of them in positions of power). Though released in the UK in 2022, The Worst Person in the World was Norway’s entry for International Feature at the 94th Academy Awards. The Oscars in 2022 will likely be most remembered for Will Smith slapping Chris Rock, which is unfortunate because there were plenty of significant awards that night, not least Smith himself picking up Best Actor for King Richard, his third nomination in the category.

Jessica Chastain also won for her third nomination, picking up Best Actress for The Eyes of Tammy Faye, while Kenneth Branagh, after being nominated in a record-setting seven categories over the course of his career, finally won for Belfast’s Original Screenplay. Jane Campion, the only woman to have been nominated for Achievement in Directing more than once, won on her second nomination for The Power of the Dog, a film that oddly had multiple nominations but only received one award.

Best Picture went to the dark horse contender CODA, a wondrously touching film that also won Supporting Actor for Troy Kutsur and Adapted Screenplay for writer-director Sian Heder. 

The wins of CODA, Heder and Campion point to 2022 being a strong year for women in film. Not only did women pick up awards in major categories, but these films and various others were about female experiences. It is a trite observation to say that the film industry is male dominated, but various releases in 2022 presented female experiences for wide audiences. CODA expressed a teenage girl having to grow up too soon, deal with family disability and learn to express herself both personally and artistically, while also navigating the trials of high school and relationships. Other teenage girl experiences were given vibrant life in such contrasting works as Turning Red and Dear Zoe, Piggy and You Are Not My Mother, while female creativity was prominent in Emily and The Lost City.

Fear of men (entirely justified) were key themes in Where The Crawdads Sing, Fresh, Don’t Worry, Darling, Men and Barbarian, while attitudes towards motherhood received critical attention in Mother/Android, Happening, Homebound, Hatching and Huesera: The Bone Woman (holy hell!). Women of power and agency took centre stage in The Woman King, Fall, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever and She Said.

Perhaps most refreshingly, female sexuality and desire was a major theme in the aforementioned The Worst Person in the World as well as Benedetta and Three Thousand Years of Longing. These films demonstrated that stories about women can explore a range of different themes, serve multiple genres and entertain various audiences.

Historically, ‘the woman’s film’ was designated (by men) as a specific type of product, with all ‘regular’ films being for men. 2022 gave a strong showing of the range of content that can focus upon women and talk to any viewer who pays attention to what she said. 

90th Oscar Predictions Part Four: Writing Away

Oscars 90th Academy AwardsAdapted Screenplay


This category has an interesting bunch of scripts, drawn from novels and memoirs, and it’s great to see a comic book adaptation in there. For purely personal reasons, I’d love a superhero movie to boast a writing Oscar, so Logan is my pick. However, as this is the only award one of the Best Picture nominees is likely to win, and since the writer is a respected doyen of the film industry, I predict James Ivory will walk away with this award.

Call Me by Your Name, James Ivory (predicted winner)

The Disaster Artist, Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber

Logan, Scott Frank & James Mangold and Michael Green (preferred winner)

Molly’s Game, Aaron Sorkin

Mudbound, Virgil Williams and Dee Rees

Original Screenplay


The Best Picture winner always wins one of these other awards: Writing, Editing, Directing. For reasons to be highlighted below, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is not likely to win Editing, and it is not nominated for Directing. Therefore, I confidently predict that Martin McDonagh will pick up the Oscar for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. But personally, I would vote for Greta Gerwig’s warm, witty and rather wonderful script for Lady Bird.

The Big Sick, Emily V. Gordon & Kumail Nanjiani

Get Out, Jordan Peele

Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig (preferred winner)

The Shape of Water, Guillermo del Toro, Vanessa Taylor

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Martin McDonagh (predicted winner)

89th Annual Academy Awards – Final Predictions



With the Academy Awards now hours away, it’s time for final predictions. I’ve given my detailed views on some of the categories already, but now it’s time for the full list, including what I think will win, and what I would vote for were I a member of AMPAS (none of this ‘should win’ nonsense on my blog, thank you!).



Predicted winner: La La Land

Preferred winner: Arrival



  • Damien Chazelle, La La Land
  • Mel Gibson, Hacksaw Ridge
  • Barry Jenkins, Moonlight
  • Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea
  • Denis Villeneuve, Arrival

Predicted winner: Damien Chazelle

Preferred winner: Denis Villeneuve

With all its plaudits and despite its naysayers, La La Land looks set to pick up the big awards. I enjoyed the film fine, but do feel that others, including Manchester by the Sea and Hidden Figures, and especially Arrival, warrant as much if not more attention. So while I see La La Land dancing its way to Best Picture and Directing, my heart belongs to Arrival.



  • Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea
  • Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge
  • Ryan Gosling, La La Land
  • Viggo Mortensen, Captain Fantastic
  • Denzel Washington, Fences

Predicted winner: Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea

Preferred winner: Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea



  • Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
  • Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water
  • Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea
  • Dev Patel, Lion
  • Michael Shannon, Nocturnal Animals

Predicted winner: Mahershala Ali, Moonlight

Preferred winner:  Michael Shannon, Nocturnal Animals



  • Isabelle Huppert, Elle
  • Ruth Negga, Loving
  • Natalie Portman, Jackie
  • Emma Stone, La La Land
  • Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins

Predicted winner: Emma Stone, La La Land

Preferred winner: Emma Stone, La La Land (only one I’ve seen!)



  • Viola Davis, Fences
  • Naomie Harris, Moonlight
  • Nicole Kidman, Lion
  • Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures
  • Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea

Predicted winner: Viola Davis, Fences

Preferred winner: Viola Davis, Fences


All the acting nominees I’ve seen were impressive, and I’d be happy with most of them winning. But it would make me very happy if Nocturnal Animals could pick up something.


  • Arrival
  • Fences
  • Hidden Figures
  • Lion
  • Moonlight

Predicted winner: Moonlight

Preferred winner: Arrival



  • Hell or High Water
  • La La Land
  • The Lobster
  • Manchester by the Sea
  • 20th Century Women

Predicted winner: Manchester by the Sea

Preferred winner: Hell or High Water

Tricky ones, but I think I’ve said my piece.




  • Arrival
  • La La Land
  • Lion
  • Moonlight
  • Silence

Predicted winner: La La Land

Preferred winner: Arrival

It is always tough to determine if this award will follow patterns, or rely solely on the skill of the Director of Photography nominated. In this case, much as I love Arrival and would like it to win, I anticipate the long takes and crane shots on location in La La Land will shimmy the film to another award.


  • Allied
  • Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
  • Florence Foster Jenkins
  • Jackie
  • La La Land

Predicted winner: Jackie

Preferred winner: Jackie

This award typically goes to period films, for good reason, and all but one of these nominees is exactly that. For La La Land to win here would be a bit odd, colourful as the costumes in that film are. After its victories at BAFTA, the Awards Circuit Community Awards and the Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards, Jackie seems like a safe bet here.



  • Arrival
  • Hacksaw Ridge
  • Hell or High Water
  • La La Land
  • Moonlight

Predicted winner: Arrival

Preferred winner: Arrival

This is an interesting one, as Hacksaw Ridge won the BAFTA but Arrival the Eddie (from the American Cinema Editors). I loved Arrival and found Hacksaw Ridge pretty good, and the potential overlap between the various institutions means this could go either way. But maybe Arrival will be this year’s Mad Max: Fury Road, picking up various post-production awards if none of the ‘major awards’. For that reason, I would like to see Arrival walk away with this award, and I believe it will.


Predicted winner: Star Trek Beyond

Preferred winner: Suicide Squad

I know nothing about A Man Called Ove, and the sheer range of weird and wonderful make up designs in Star Trek Beyond make it a likely winner. That said, I would like Suicide Squad to win, because I think the negativity this film received was excessive and it would greatly amuse me if the naysayers have to admit to the existence of ‘the Oscar-winning Suicide Squad’.



  • Jackie
  • La La Land
  • Lion
  • Moonlight
  • Passengers

Predicted winner: La La Land

Preferred winner: La La Land


  • ‘Audition (The Fools Who Dream),’ La La Land
  • ‘Can’t Stop the Feeling,’ Trolls
  • ‘City of Stars,’ La La Land
  • ‘The Empty Chair,’ Jim: The James Foley Story
  • ‘How Far I’ll Go, ‘ Moana

Predicted winner: ‘Audition (The Fools Who Dream),’ La La Land

Preferred winner: ‘Audition (The Fools Who Dream),’ La La Land

As a musical, it would be rather odd if La La Land did not win in these two categories. While I’m not the biggest fan of La La Land, I did find the solo ‘Audition’ to be very stirring (being one of those fools myself), and I would be happy to see that pick up an award.



  • Arrival
  • Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
  • Hail, Caesar!
  • La La Land
  • Passengers

Predicted winner: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Preferred winner: Arrival

An interesting collection here, with two science fiction films, one contemporary (and very colourful) musical, along with two period films, one which features fantasy elements and the other, like the musical, is about Hollywood. Due to its BAFTA victory, I see this going to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, although the nostalgia and self-love of La La Land and Hail Caesar! might bring them success. For me, the production design of Arrival was a key element to its eerie alienness, and something I would like to see rewarded.



  • Arrival
  • Deepwater Horizon
  • Hacksaw Ridge
  • La La Land
  • Sully

Predicted winner: Arrival

Preferred winner: Arrival

Back in 2013, there was a tie for this award between Skyfall and Zero Dark Thirty. Both were favourite films of mine, and Arrival was my top film of last year. So maybe the pattern will continue. I would also like my top film to win something, hence my pick.


Predicted winner: Arrival

Preferred winner: Arrival

Since Arrival is unlikely to win anything else, I can see it picking up both Sound awards. And I want it to, so there.



Predicted winner: The Jungle Book

Preferred winner: Doctor Strange

After winning the BAFTA as well as an Annie Award and the Awards Circuit Community Award (as well as others), The Jungle Book looks set to pick up the Oscar as well. Much as the animals and landscapes impressed me in The Jungle Book though, the inventiveness and outright trippiness of the visual effects in Doctor Strange had me (sorry) spellbound, and it gets my vote for most impressive visual effects of last year.



  • Kubo and the Two Strings
  • Moana
  • My Life as a Zucchini
  • The Red Turtle
  • Zootopia

Predicted winner: Kubo and the Two Strings

Preferred winner: Zootopia

Kubo and the Two Strings has done very well at previous award ceremonies such as BAFTA and multiple Critics associations, but Zootopia/Zootropolis was one of my favourites of last year, so it gets my vote. It did win the Golden Globe, so maybe Disney’s delightful comedy about prejudice and tolerance might just strike a chord with the Academy members, in this time of strife and division.



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

Predicted winner: The Salesman, Iran

Preferred winner: The Salesman, Iran

The director of The Salesman, Asqhar Farhadi, has stated that he will not attend the Oscar ceremony in protest of President Trump’s policies. Whether Farhadi attends or not, as an act of defiance I hope that the Academy rewards the film, and I would too.


  • Fire at Sea
  • I Am Not Your Negro
  • Life, Animated
  • OJ: Made In America
  • 13th

Predicted winner: 13th

Preferred winner: Life, Animated



  • Extremis
  • 1 Miles
  • Joe’s Violin
  • Watani: My Homeland
  • The White Helmets


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


  • Ennemis Interieurs
  • La Femme Et Le TGV
  • Silent Nights
  • Sing
  • Timecode

Pass – I know nothing about these films.




The day before the Oscars, I saw the last of the Best Picture nominees, Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight, a haunting and soulful portrayal of a man coming to grips with his sexuality and identity. Nominated for eight awards, including Best Picture and Directing, Adapted Screenplay, Supporting Actor and Supporting Actress, Moonlight has been described as the alternative to the likely Best Picture winner, La La Land. It is easy to see why and, while I enjoyed La La Land, I find Moonlight a more impressive piece of work overall. This is because Jenkins utilises a wide variety of cinematic elements to deliver a film that operates on a number of levels, rather than La La Land’s straightforward feelgood charm. Moonlight’s aesthetic varies from long takes, such as the opening sequence that is included in a single roving shot, to handheld shaky-cam footage and swift cuts as well as point of view subjective shots during conversation scenes. The array of performances in the film range from the cool yet comforting Juan (Mahershala Ali) to the grandstanding of Naomie Harris as drug-addicted mother Paula to the subtlety of Janelle Monáe as Juan’s girlfriend Teresa who takes pity on Paula’s unfortunate son, Chiron, the central character of the film. Played by three actors over the course of three chapters of his life – Alex Hibbert as the young Little, Ashton Sanders as teenager Chiron and Trevante Rhodes as adult Black – Chiron’s life is presented in subtle but never unclear terms. His dismay over his mother’s addiction and his attachment to Juan and Teresa is understandable, while his troubled relationship with schoolmate Kevin (Jharrel Jerome) is at times heartbreaking, while the sequences of high school bullying may ring true for many a viewer. When necessary, Jenkins keeps his camera still while the characters express themselves through halting dialogue and nominal body language, minimalist communication steeped in the cultural background that the film brings to such vivid life. Sex is underplayed in the film and yet sexuality, both nascent and repressed, imbues much of the cinematic texture, at all times handled with the utmost delicacy and restraint. Whether it picks up awards or not, Moonlight deserves to be remembered as an extraordinary film, a beautiful and exquisitely balanced exploration of identity, sexuality and belonging.

89th Annual Academy Awards – Supporting Writing


As Oscar night draws near, predictions are running high as to who will walk away with golden baldies. I’ve made my predictions in what I consider the easy categories – Picture, Directing, Leading Actor, Leading Actress and Supporting Actress. Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role is trickier, as we have a varied bunch of nominees. Jeff Bridges in Hell or High Water is the only previous winner (for Best Actor in a Leading Role in Crazy Heart), he is the oldest of the nominees and he is a major star nominated for a Supporting Role. All of these factors work in his favour. However, Bridges has not won any awards for his performance, and AMPAS tends to follow the patterns of the Golden Globes, BAFTA and the various guilds. In this respect, Dev Patel’s victory for Lion at BAFTA, and Mahershala Ali’s win for Moonlight at the Screen Actors Guild, gives both of them an edge, not least because of the overlap between these institutions. As I’ve mentioned before, young actors are less likely to win, and Lucas Hedges in Manchester by the Sea will probably have future opportunities, although the same is true of Patel. Perhaps Patel’s victory at BAFTA was a moment of British pride in one of our own, and the same may be true of the American Ali come Oscar night. For my money, I would like Michael Shannon to win, because I really liked Nocturnal Animals and thought he was great in it (weirdly, Nocturnal Animals did win the Golden Globe for Supporting Actor, but the nominee in that case was Aaron Taylor-Johnson). Come the night though, because of the overlap with the SAG and the likely desire of the Academy members to reward Moonlight with something, I predict this award will go to Mahershala Ali.


Lion and Moonlight are also strong contenders for Best Adapted Screenplay and, after its BAFTA win, Lion seems a likely contender. Then again, Moonlight was the winner at the Writers Guild of America. Again due to the overlap between the Guild and the Academy, I see Moonlight as the likely winner of Adapted Screenplay, although my preference would be Arrival. For the Best Original Screenplay award, Manchester by the Sea looks like the strongest contender. Were Hell or High Water to win anything, this is the most likely. Both films feature ordinary Americans dealing with extraordinary but very human problems, but with Manchester by the Sea likely to lose out on Picture and Directing to La La Land, it seems far more likely to win in this category. La La Land could add to its collection here, but I predict Manchester by the Sea will be the winner come Oscar night.


89th Annual Academy Awards – Directing


Following from my previous post, let’s consider the nominees for Achievement in Directing:

Damien Chazelle, La La Land
Mel Gibson, Hacksaw Ridge
Barry Jenkins, Moonlight
Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea
Denis Villenueve, Arrival

As is often the case with the award for Achievement in Directing, familiarity mixes with the new. Mel Gibson is the only previous winner here, whose Braveheart also picked up four other awards including Best Picture. Much like BraveheartHacksaw Ridge is a historical war film, with some technically complex and very impressive battle sequences that would have been difficult to direct, so Gibson’s nomination makes sense. The film is also something of a comeback for Gibson, who fell out of favour with Hollywood and audiences for his extremely foolish remarks some years ago. Despite that, I suspect that his past may well prevent him picking up the award. Of the other four nominees in this category, none have previously been nominated for Directing, although both Damien Chazelle and Kenneth Lonergan were previously nominated for Writing – Chazelle for the Adapted Screenplay of Whiplash and Lonergan for the Original Screenplays of You Can Count on Me and Gangs of New York. Barry Jenkins is significant, as only the fourth black director to be nominated for the Academy Award, again suggesting a wish among Academy members to compensate for previous years’ lack of diversity. The directorial styles of the five men (as usual, women have been completely excluded this category) are distinct, Chazelle opting for a range of long takes and crane shots while Lonergan favours an intimate, composed approach. Villenueve also favours long takes but combines this with discontinuous editing and a ‘dirty sci-fi’ aesthetic, while Gibson utilises a classical style with frequent moments of slo-mo (I’ll get back to you on the style of Jenkins once I’ve seen Moonlight).


As with Best Picture, the subject matter is likely to be a factor when it comes to actual voting. Gibson delivers a true story about a character held up as an American hero; Lonergan crafts a tale of grief in small town America. Jenkins’ film is also concerned with urban American life, while Villenueve’s film features grief like Lonergan, although that is combined with aliens. While Hacksaw Ridge’s subject matter is common Oscar bait, Gibson’s own past may come back to haunt him. I confess to cynicism as regards Jenkins and Villenueve, and do not believe the Academy members will vote for a film concerned with black and LBGTQ issues, nor for a science fiction film director. Granted, Gravity did win Directing in 2013, but this can be credited to the elaborate artistic and technological innovations required for that film (and there were no aliens). This award feels like a two-horse race between Lonergan and Chazelle, but after his success at BAFTA, I suspect that the nostalgia and sheer bonhomie of La La Land is likely to win Chazelle the Oscar as well.

89th Annual Academy Awards – Initial Impressions on Best Picture


Amid great fanfare as only the Academy can deliver, the nominees for the 89th Annual Academy Awards were announced on 24th January 2017. As always, the AMPAS members have come in for sneering over their ‘snubs’ and everyone, their pet bandicoot and the bandicoot’s veterinarian (and probably the veterinarian’s tennis partner) believes that they know better. Well, I do not know better, I’m just a guy on the Internet with some views. Rather than declaring the most deserving winners, I find it far more interesting to analyse the nominees, consider what these nominations represent and make some educated guesses about what might win and, more importantly, why.

For this first post, let’s take a look at Best Picture. Drumroll, please! The nominees for Best Motion Picture are:

Hacksaw Ridge
Hell or High Water
Hidden Figures
La La Land
Manchester by the Sea

Generically, these nine films are an interesting bunch. A science fiction film (a rare nominee in itself); a domestic drama adapted from a successful stage production; a war film; a modern Western; a historical drama; a musical; a true life story; a bereavement drama; an LGBTQ drama. Perhaps these nominees show a certain self-reproach on the Academy’s part over the lack of diversity among previous years’ nominees. Fences, Hidden Figures and Moonlight could all be classed as ‘black films’, while Lion is also concerned with issues of race and racial identity. Moonlight is a film with LGBTQ concerns, a rare thing indeed for the Academy to take notice of. More cynically, La La Land and Manchester by the Sea are typical Oscar fare featuring white men dealing with the problems of being white men. While these two films are fine examples of such dramas, they are hardly challenging in their subject matter. Whereas last year’s nominees included films critical of US institutions, only Hell or High Water and Arrival offer such a critique of current events.

Several of the nominees feature award-friendly subject matter, including American history (Fences, Hidden Figures, Hacksaw Ridge), World War II (Hacksaw Ridge), nostalgia (La La Land, Hell or High Water), true stories (Hacksaw Ridge, Hidden Figures, Lion), Hollywood self-love (La La Land). As I have commented previously, films with historical settings are frequently rewarded, which would work in favour of Fences, Hidden Figures, Hacksaw Ridge and Lion (more recent history, but Lion is based on a true story, which the Academy also often rewards). However, according to various publications, the smart money is on La La Land to be the big winner, despite or perhaps because of its nostalgia for the ‘grand tradition of MGM musicals’, as well as having a record number of 14 nominations, equalling those of All About Eve and Titanic. Perhaps the light-heartedness of La La Land will work against it, while the weightier subject matter of Moonlight or Manchester by the Sea will carry them through.

Subject matter is not the only factor, however. Analysis of previous winners demonstrates that winners of the Best Picture award also win one or more of these other three awards: Directing, Film Editing, Writing (both Original and Adapted Screenplay). Five of the five Best Picture nominees are also nominated for Directing – La La Land, Hacksaw Ridge, Moonlight, Manchester by the Sea, Arrival. Of these, Arrival, Moonlight, La La Land and Manchester by the Sea are also up for Writing (the first two for Adapted, the second two for Original). Furthermore, only Arrival, La La Land and Moonlight are also up for Directing and Writing. Combine these factors with the non-award friendly genre of Arrival, and the potentially controversial subject matter of Moonlight, and La La Land emerges as the frontrunner. Were I a member of AMPAS, I would vote for Arrival, my top film of last year, but I suspect come the night La La Land will be dancing all the way to Best Picture.

Oscar Views – Part Four


Confession time: I have only managed to see one of the films nominated in the category Best Actress. That film is Carol, which I liked very much, and in which Cate Blanchett was her usual wonderful self. It is debatable whether she and Rooney Mara are both in lead roles, or indeed if Mara’s role is more central than Blanchett’s, but Blanchett is the one up for Best Actress. I would be perfectly happy for her to win, but she won’t. Since winning the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama, Brie Larson in Room has stood out from the pack. Larson subsequently picked up the Screen Actors’ Guild award and the BAFTA for Best Actress. Given the overlap of members between these institutions, I confidently predict that Larson will win the Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role. Of the other nominees, Blanchett won two years ago for Blue Jasmine but if she were going to win this year there would have been indications. Jennifer Lawrence may be an Oscar darling and I was genuinely surprised when she won for Silver Linings Playbook, but this does not appear to be her year. Charlotte Rampling in 45 Years is a left field choice, and Saiorse Ronan’s time will come, just not this year for Brooklyn.

What is striking, however, is that Best Actress is the only award I expect Room to pick up, despite its nominations for Picture, Directing and Adapted Screenplay. This is an annoying trend in Best Actress winning films – the only thing honoured about the film is its leading lady. Recent winners including Lawrence and Blanchett as well as Julianne Moore and Sandra Bullock were either in films that had no nominations beside Best Actress, or were in films that had multiple nominations but won nothing else. Indeed, the last time a film won Best Picture AND Best Actress was 2004, when Million Dollar Baby was the big winner and Hilary Swank took home her second Oscar. Interestingly, her first win in 1999 was for Boys Don’t Cry, a film that won no other Academy Awards and had no other major nominations. This is a depressing reminder of the paucity of films with major roles for women. Granted, Room is up for other awards, and much had been made of Mad Max: Fury Road’s feminist credentials, and Brooklyn is also a female-centred story. But the other nominees are all focused on male characters and traditionally male endeavours – finance, law/espionage, (space) exploration, survival, journalism. Meanwhile, the “women’s” films consist of a story of motherhood and a period romance, while Mad Max is an equal opportunities survival story. A Best Actress nomination for Charlize Theron would have been nice, but no such luck. The Best Actress nominees are largely in traditional female roles – mother (twice!), lover, wife, girl-becoming-woman. Lawrence as the entrepreneur in Joy is the more unconventional role, and applause to her for building a career in these distinctive roles. Congratulations to Brie Larson, but I wish the competition was more varied.

American Sniper


American Sniper is a film that provokes strong reactions. If a viewer is opposed to machismo and militarism, they are likely to be angered. If a viewer is inclined towards firearms and US patriotism, they may find the film laudable. But the evidence for either reaction is problematic because of the film’s stripped-down, character-centred approach, typical of director Clint Eastwood’s oeuvre.


American Sniper depicts the life and career of Chris Kyle (played by a bulked-up Bradley Cooper), the deadliest sniper in US military history. The ethics of Kyle’s actions are never questioned and the conservative upbringing that he received is not problematised. Nor is the viewer treated to a nuanced view of US military action in Iraq. Kyle joins the Navy SEALs to serve what he believes is “the greatest country in the world”; he embraces military ideology, follows orders and protects his fellow soldiers, and he has a ruthless willingness to kill the enemy. However, the film does not present Kyle’s actions as noble or profound, denying any sense of triumph in his military exploits. There are moments in the film, particularly towards the end, that are ripe for patriotic sentimentality, but Eastwood steadfastly avoids manipulative reconstruction in favour of stock footage and utilises silence rather than stirring music. War is hell, but it is not grandiose or Wagnerian, Kyle and his fellow soldiers presented as dedicated professionals doing their (extremely dangerous) job. Whatever value may be ascribed to this job comes from the viewer rather than the film. Kyle is only a hero in the eyes of other characters, and his neglect of his wife Taya (Sienna Miller) in favour of his “duty to his country” is presented matter-of-factly rather than with an emotional, ethical or political inflection. The film therefore presents Kyle’s life and career, with intricate production design, intense action sequences and powerful performances, often creating a visceral and nerve-wracking experience. The presentation, however, does not offer explicit judgement in either direction.


It is tempting to see this lack of judgment as an implicit affirmation of the philosophy Kyle lives (and, if taken as a true story, actually lived) by. But the film includes Kyle’s post-traumatic stress, his inability to leave the war behind and his encounters with other veterans who were badly injured. The film therefore depicts the cost of war and the suffering of those who fight, and barely touches on the plight of Iraqi civilians, while Iraqi combatants are largely presented as cyphers, their identities irrelevant because they are simply “the enemy”. Again, this comes back to the film’s focus on its central character – the film is about Chris Kyle, not the Iraq War or American machismo or patriotism. Nor do we necessarily gain an in-depth understanding of our protagonist, as Kyle remains largely impenetrable, only his actions apparent. This inflects the film as a whole, the events of the narrative presented without explanation or commentary. American Sniper therefore treats its audience with great respect, allowing us to decide its meaning without guidance or manipulation, offering itself (successfully) as a topic for debate and discussion.