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Sicario 2: Soldado

sicario-2-soldado

2015’s Sicario was a coming together of several brilliant talents. Screenwriter Taylor Sheridan, who also delivered great scripts with Hell Or High Water and Wind River; director of photography Roger Deakins, who drew closer to his elusive Oscar; the fine acting chops of Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro and Josh Brolin; the ever improving director Denis Villeneuve, whose subsequent films Arrival and Blade Runner 2049 cemented his standing as one of the finest directors working in Hollywood. 2018’s Sicario 2: Soldado reunites Sheridan’s writing with Del Toro’s enigmatic Alejandro and Brolin’s bullish yet principled Matt Graver, but minus the other prominent figures with Stefano Sollima behind the camera and Dariusz Wolski on lensing duties. New cast members include Isabela Moner, Matthew Modine, Catherine Keener and Elijah Rodriguez, their presence expanding the scope of this follow-up. Concerns over terrorism and pirating give the film a more global flavour, although these elements serve more as a distraction than contextualisation. The film’s subject matter feels ripped from the headlines as immigration is a prominent feature, much of the film involving Mexicans illegally entering the United States. While there is (currently) no wall, there are certainly obstacles as well as opportunities for those willing to exploit the desperate. Into this potent mix Matt sends Alejandro, with the goal of starting a war between drug cartels. The film is efficiently put together, with several gripping set pieces including a gruelling gun battle on a deserted desert road. Oddly, the film’s more affecting moments are quiet interchanges, especially between Alejandro and Isabel Reyes (Moner), daughter of a cartel head that Alejandro takes custody of. Their relationship is engaging, while Matt’s clashes with his government superior Cynthia Foards (Keener) and Secretary James Riley (Matthew Modine) highlight the political agenda. Unfortunately, these disparate elements are not cohered, while a subplot involving young Mexican-American Miguel Hernandez (Rodriguez) never convinces. Worse, the film lacks the nihilism of the original, and in its final act there are several moments that could be shockingly cruel, but instead the film loses its nerve and takes the narrative beyond its natural conclusion. The border has many interesting stories, but this is one of the lesser ones.

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Oscar Reflections

KimmelThe Oscars are said and done for another year, and overall I am very pleased with the results. I can agree with the winners, I applaud many of the speeches and the show was a delight to watch.

Most importantly, how did I do? I made predictions in 19 of the 24 categories, and as the show started I did very well, racking up correct prediction after correct prediction. This was pleasing if a little predictable, but as things continued surprises started to appear, such as Get Out winning Original Screenplay and Dunkirk picking up Editing. Overall, I correctly predicted the winners in 15 out of my 19 picks, which at 78% is pretty good going. I’m no gambler, but every year I am tempted.

Picture Correctly Predicted? Directing Correctly Predicted?
The Shape of Water No Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water Yes
Call Me by Your Name Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk
Darkest Hour Jordan Peele, Get Out
Dunkirk Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird
Get Out Paul Thomas Anderson, Phantom Thread
Lady Bird
Phantom Thread  Makeup and Hairstyling
The Post  Darkest Hour Yes
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri  Victoria & Abdul
Wonder 
Actor Actress
Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour Yes Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri Yes
Timothée Chalamet, Call Me by Your Name Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water
Daniel Day,Lewis, Phantom Thread Margot Robbie, I, Tonya
Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird
Denzel Washington, Roman J. Israel, Esq. Meryl Streep, The Post
Supporting Actor Supporting Actress
Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri  Yes Allison Janney, I, Tonya Yes
Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project  Mary J. Blige, Mudbound 
Woody Harrelson, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri  Lesley Manville, Phantom Thread
Richard Jenkins, The Shape of Water  Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird 
Christopher Plummer, All the Money in the World Octavia Spencer, The Shape of Water
Adapted Screenplay Original Screenplay
Call Me by Your Name  Yes Get Out No
The Disaster Artist The Big Sick 
Logan  Lady Bird
Molly’s Game  The Shape of Water 
Mudbound  Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri 
Original Score Original Song
The Shape of Water Yes ‘Remember Me’ from Coco No
Dunkirk “Mighty River” from Mudbound
Phantom Thread “Mystery of Love” from Call Me by Your Name 
Star Wars: The Last Jedi  “Stand Up for Something” from Marshall
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri “This Is Me” from The Greatest Showman 
Sound Editing   Sound Mixing
Dunkirk Yes Dunkirk  Yes
Baby Driver  Baby Driver 
Blade Runner 2049  Blade Runner 2049 
The Shape of Water The Shape of Water
Star Wars: The Last Jedi Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Production Design Visual Effects
The Shape of Water Yes Blade Runner 2049 Yes
Beauty and the Beast Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 
Blade Runner 2049  Kong: Skull Island
Darkest Hour  Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Dunkirk  War for the Planet of the Apes
Costume Design Cinematography
Phantom Thread  Yes Blade Runner 2049 Yes
Beauty and the Beast Darkest Hour 
Darkest Hour Dunkirk
The Shape of Water  Mudbound
Victoria & Abdul The Shape of Water
Film Editing Animated Feature
Dunkirk  No Coco Yes
Baby Driver The Boss Baby
I, Tonya  The Breadwinner
The Shape of Water Ferdinand
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri  Loving Vincent

The biggest delights for me personally were one predicted winner and one unexpected though desired victory. When Roger Deakins was announced as the winner of Best Cinematography, I applauded from my sofa. After 14 nominations and such fantastic work in The Shawshank Redemption, The Man Who Wasn’t There, No Country For Old Men, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Skyfall, Sicario and many more, it was an absolute delight to see Deakins finally honoured for the extraordinary visuals of Blade Runner 2049. Well shot sir, well shot.

90th Academy Awards - Show, Los Angeles, USA - 04 Mar 2018

I wanted The Shape of Water to win Best Picture but expected that award to go to Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Over the course of the show, deviations from my expectations made that less likely, beginning with Get Out winning Original Screenplay. In recent years, Best Picture has also won Screenplay, Editing or Directing (making The Departed a quintessential winner for 2006). Since Martin McDonagh was not nominated for Directing, a likely win for him and the film was Original Screenplay. Without that, and with Editing going to Dunkirk, Picture became more open. And once Guillermo Del Toro won Directing, The Shape of Water seemed ever more likely. But in my scepticism, I did not see the members of AMPAS voting for a fantasy film. When Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty announced the winner, I applauded again. For a fantasy/monster/sci fi movie to win Best Picture shows that the Academy members are not as conservative as they used to be, embracing more radical and surprising choices.

The Shape of Water

The show as a whole was very well done. Jimmy Kimmell hosted with great humour, wryness and affection. I especially like Kimmell’s gag of bringing in audiences, a move he and his team pioneered last year by arranging a tour group to come into the Kodak Theater, and built on this year by taking several movie stars into a nearby screening of A Wrinkle in Time. Had I been in that cinema, my mind would have been blown by epic proportions with the sudden arrival of Guillermo Del Toro, Gal Gadot, Armie Hammer, Margot Robbie, Ansel Elgort, Mark Hamill and the rest. Plus a hotdog cannon!208643A3Perhaps the strongest legacy of this year’s Oscars, however, will be the politics. After a few years of controversy over all white acting nominees, the recent scandals over harassment and the subsequent #MeToo and #TimesUp campaigns prompted debate and resistance. Kimmel named and shamed Harvey Weinstein as only the second person to be expelled from AMPAS; actresses received greater prominence as various winners of the Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role presented major awards. Last year’s Best Actress Emma Stone presented Directing to Guillermo Del Toro, and two pairs of Oscar winners presented this year’s Best Actor and Best Actress awards: Jane Fonda and Helen Mirren to Gary Oldman for Darkest Hour and Jodie Foster and Jennifer Lawrence to Frances McDormand for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, respectively. McDormand made perhaps the most impassioned speech of the night when she encouraged all the female nominees to stand up, be counted and be counted.

TimesUpSome might complain about this political element, either arguing that the Oscars are about art which is not political, or that the Oscars are entertainment and too frivolous or commercial to engage in politics. I reject both these positions because art is and always has been political, and with its extraordinary reach it would be a terrible waste if cinema were not political. The Academy recognised this through a retrospective on war cinema, dedicated to the men and women of the armed forces and introduced touchingly by actor and Vietnam veteran Wes Studi. Secondly, entertainment expresses social and political concerns purely by its production within particular contexts – the dominance of men in the film industry and cinematic output is a political reality and one that is long overdue a challenge. As recent films have demonstrated, you can have hugely successful films with female directors and leads, and the studios apparently taking such risks demonstrates that the only risk is to conservative ideology. For certain, time is up, and my heartiest applause to every presenter and winner at the 90th Annual Academy Awards who used that grandest stage and widest audience to highlight the state of their industry and to call for change.

McDormand

90th Oscar Predictions Part Five: Shoot It, Cut It

best-cinematography-2018Cinematography

Roger Deakins, Roger Deakins, Roger Deakins, Roger Deakins. I actually think it will happen this year. Previously, despite his astonishing work, Deakins has been up against exceptional competition, especially with 3D cinematography. This year, however, the nominees in this category are working within similar parameters. Hoyte van Hoytema’s work for Dunkirk is remarkable, not least his aerial work with IMAX cameras attached to Spitfires. But every frame of Blade Runner 2049 is a breathtaking work of art that you could frame on your wall, and this is Deakins’ time. Not only do I want him to win, I predict that he will.

Blade Runner 2049, Roger Deakins (preferred and predicted winner)

Darkest Hour, Bruno Delbonnel

Dunkirk, Hoyte van Hoytema

Mudbound, Rachel Morrison

The Shape of Water, Dan Laustsen

Blade-Runner-2049-620x360Film Editing

Best-Film-Editing

Editing is sometimes tied to Best Picture – note that three of the nominees this year are also up for the Academy’s highest award. However, in this case I suspect that the film cut so closely to music it might as well be a musical will pick up the Oscar. I wasn’t a huge fan of Baby Driver, but I anticipate it will be a winner. That said, personally I’d pick Dunkirk, for its smart editing between different timeframes that never confused or befuddled me.

Baby Driver, Jonathan Amos, Paul Machliss (predicted winner)

Dunkirk, Lee Smith (preferred winner)

I, Tonya, Tatiana S. Riegel

The Shape of Water, Sidney Wolinsky

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Jon Gregory 

Blade Runner 2049

Blade-Runner-2049-banner-1024x341

There is a key moment in Denis Villeneuve’s sequel to Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner when a character learns an important truth. The moment features two figures captured in a two-shot that silhouettes their profiles against a richly textured background. This instance encapsulates the film as a whole, as every frame is saturated with meaning, craft and beauty. Set thirty years after the events of the original film, Villeneuve’s follow up is not a sequel that we needed but it is one that fans of the original deserve, as BR2049 pays homage to the original, one of the most influential science fiction films ever made, while also staking out its own territory. Villeneuve and writers Hampton Fancher and Michael Green’s story of cop K (Ryan Gosling, developing his taciturn roles in Drive and Only God Forgives into something all the more eerie) searching for answers in a dystopian California builds upon the first film and explores many of the same questions about humanity and identity, what it means to be a person, what is the influence of voice, embodiment, obedience, views of self and other. Brilliantly, BR2049 takes these questions in new directions, raising issues of what constitutes procreation and the importance of digitization. Production designer Dennis Gassner and the visual effects team go beyond the huge advertisements of the first film with giant 3D projections in the Los Angeles of 2049, while interactive AI and immersive holographic environments appear throughout the film. Blade Runner 2049 therefore continues to explore the tension between what is real and what is artifice, a line that is progressively blurred and distorted. Interestingly, the film is reminiscent both of the original Blade Runner as well as more recent science fiction such as A.I.: Artificial Intelligence and Her. The recurrence of these themes and tropes demonstrates the eternal recycling of concepts in science fiction, yet BR2049 never feels stale or like something we have seen before (even though, in a sense, we have). The central uncanny conceit operates on a narrative, thematic and stylistic level, and even in the very substance of the film.

blade3

Roger Deakins is the true star here, his exquisite visuals spellbindingly beautiful while simultaneously laden with portent. Yet these images are themselves ephemeral, data that has no more physical substance than some of the characters in the film. The viewer’s reaction therefore mirrors the characters. Just as K gazes at holograms with a mixture of wonder and bitterness, so does the film invite awe tinged with scepticism. Some of this scepticism can spill over into criticism – the film’s length and languorous pace is not to all tastes, while aspects of the principal antagonist add little to the proceedings. It also sidelines exploration of its female characters in favour of male questing, which is a shame because the female characters often suggest intriguing alternatives. But overall, these are minor quibbles in a film that largely delivers on the promise of its predecessor, and will likely be analysed and debated for another thirty years.

BLADE RUNNER 2049

Oscar Reflections – Part One

Oscar-2016-Nominations

The Oscars are wrapped for another year. Once again, I stayed up all night to watch the whole ceremony, and it was TOTALLY worth it! It was a great show with significant surprises, some wonderful performances and interesting acceptance speeches.

I made 21 predictions for the Academy Awards, and was only correct in 13 categories. This is largely down to the remarkable success of Mad Max: Fury Road, which was not only a radical Best Picture nominee, but the biggest winner of the night, picking up awards for Costume Design, Production Design, Hair and Make-Up, Editing, Sound Mixing and Sound Editing. I was surprised but pleased that such a purely cinematic film was rewarded for some of its key cinematic elements. It was also amusing that every time a winner thanked director George Miller we got a reaction shot of him, as though the director of the ceremony knew Miller would not get a chance to speak himself!

Other predictable results included Cinematography, Score and Animated Feature. Emmanuel Lubezki made history with his third consecutive win for The Revenant, following previous wins for Gravity and Birdman. One day, Roger Deakins, one day. Ennio Morricone’s win for The Hateful Eight made him the oldest Oscar winner ever, and the standing ovation as he stepped up to receive his award was testament to the adulation in which this great maestro is held. Ex Machina was a surprise winner of Visual Effects, but a very welcome one. And my favourite film of last year, Inside Out, took home the Oscar for Animated Feature, which made me happy.

I also correctly predicted the winners for Achievement in Directing as well as the Writing Awards. After his Golden Globe and DGA awards, Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s win for The Revenant was in no way surprising. The Big Short‘s win for Adapted Screenplay was also expected, as was Spotlight‘s win for Original Screenplay. But like many people, I was flabbergasted when Morgan Freeman announced Spotlight as the winner of Best Picture. The success of The Revenant up to that point appeared to make it a dead cert for Best Picture, but instead, the true story of crusading journalists within an insular community picked up Hollywood’s highest award. Although this was a big surprise (and a possible indicator of Michael Keaton being a lucky charm), it does demonstrate the pattern that Best Picture winners also win one or more of Directing, Editing or Screenplay. But winning ‘only’ Picture and Original Screenplay places Spotlight in a weird category of being a numerically low Best Picture. 12 Years A Slave, Argo and Crash are Best Picture winners that received only three awards (all won Screenplay, interestingly, Adapted for the first, Original for the other two; Argo and Crash also won Editing), but the last Best Picture to win so few was The Greatest Show on Earth (1952), which also won the Oscar for Best Story.

This in no way diminishes the achievement of Spotlight, which is a very fine film and impressed me more than The Revenant. Along with the six awards for Mad Max: Fury Road, the 88th Academy Awards proved a surprising and somewhat radical bunch of winners. Long may such challenges to convention continue.

88th Annual Academy Award Predictions

Oscar-2016-Nominations

 

It’s been a road of some indeterminate length, and I’ve given my views on some of the categories. But at long(ish) last, here are my picks for the 88th Annual Academy Awards. As before, these are both what I believe will win, and what I would vote for were I a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (which is not the same as “should win” – I’m not that arrogant).

Disclaimer: I may change some of these after I see Brooklyn. Also, I am changing my Supporting Actress prediction, so don’t bother pointing it out.

Picture

The Big Short

Bridge of Spies

Brooklyn

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Martian

The Revenant

Room

Spotlight

Predicted winner – The Revenant

My preference – Room

revenant-film-poster

Director

Lenny Abrahamson – Room

Alejandro G. Iñárritu – The Revenant

Tom McCarthy – Spotlight

Adam McKay – The Big Short

George Miller – Mad Max: Fury Road

Predicted winner – Alejandro G. Iñárritu – The Revenant

My preference – Lenny Abrahamson – Room

Actor 

Bryan Cranston – Trumbo

Matt Damon – The Martian

Leonardo DiCaprio – The Revenant

Michael Fassbender – Steve Jobs

Eddie Redmayne – The Danish Girl

Predicted winner – Leonardo DiCaprio – The Revenant

My preference – Michael Fassbender – Steve Jobs

 

steve-jobs-poster

Actress 

Cate Blanchett – Carol

Brie Larson – Room

Jennifer Lawrence – Joy

Charlotte Rampling – 45 Years

Saoirse Ronan – Brooklyn

Predicted winner – Brie Larson – Room

My preference – Brie Larson – Room

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Supporting Actor

Christian Bale – The Big Short

Tom Hardy – The Revenant

Mark Ruffalo – Spotlight

Mark Rylance – Bridge of Spies

Sylvester Stallone – Creed

Predicted winner – Mark Rylance – Bridge of Spies

My preference – Mark Ruffalo – Spotlight

BRIDGE-OF-SPIES-QUAD-UK

Supporting Actress

Jennifer Jason Leigh – The Hateful Eight

Rooney Mara – Carol

Rachel McAdams – Spotlight

Alicia Vikander – The Danish Girl 

Kate Winslet – Steve Jobs

Predicted winner – Alicia Vikander – The Danish Girl 

My preference – Kate Winslet – Steve Jobs

danish-girl-poster

Adapted Screenplay

The Big Short

Brooklyn

Carol

The Martian

Room 

Predicted winner – The Big Short

My preference – Room

TheBigShortCSHeader

Original Screenplay

Bridge of Spies

Ex Machina

Inside Out

Spotlight

Straight Outta Compton

Predicted winner – Spotlight

My preference – Spotlight

spotlight-one-sheet

Cinematography

Carol

The Hateful Eight

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Revenant

Sicario

Predicted winner – The Revenant

My preference – Sicario

Sicario-Poster-8

Costume Design

Carol

Cinderella

The Danish Girl

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Revenant

Predicted winner – Mad Max: Fury Road

My preference – Cinderella

cinderella-poster-2

Editing 

The Big Short

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Revenant

Spotlight

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Predicted winner – Mad Max: Fury Road

My preference – Spotlight

 

Make-Up and Hair

Mad Max: Fury Road

The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared

The Revenant

Predicted winner – The Revenant

My preference – The Revenant

 

Score

Bridge of Spies

Carol

The Hateful Eight

Sicario

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Predicted winner – The Hateful Eight

My preference – Carol

carol-poster-752x440

Original Song

Earned It, The Weeknd – Fifty Shades of Grey

Manta Ray, J Ralph & Antony – Racing Extinction

Simple Song #3, Sumi Jo – Youth

Til It Happens To You, Lady Gaga – The Hunting Ground

Writing’s On the Wall, Sam Smith – Spectre

Predicted winner – Til It Happens To You, Lady Gaga – The Hunting Ground

My preference – Writing’s On the Wall, Sam Smith – Spectre

Spectre-poster-Daniel-Craig-Lea-Seydoux

Production Design

Bridge of Spies

The Danish Girl

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Martian

The Revenant

Predicted winner – The Revenant

My preference – The Revenant

 

Sound Editing

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Martian

The Revenant

Sicario

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Predicted winner – Mad Max: Fury Road

My preference – Sicario

 

Sound Mixing

Bridge of Spies

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Martian

The Revenant

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Predicted winner – The Revenant

My preference – Mad Max: Fury Road

 

Visual Effects

Ex Machina

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Martian

The Revenant

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Predicted winner – Star Wars: The Force Awakens

My preference – Ex Machina

TFA

Animated Film

Anomalisa

Boy and the World

Inside Out

Shaun the Sheep Movie

When Marnie Was There

Predicted winner – Inside Out

My preference – Inside Out

Inside Out

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Foreign Language Film

Embrace of the Serpent – Colombia

Mustang – France

Son of Saul – Hungary

Theeb – Jordan

A War – Denmark

Predicted winner – Theeb (complete guess and as I have not seen any, I have no preference.)

 

Documentary Feature

Amy

Cartel Land

The Look of Silence

What Happened, Miss Simone?

Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom

Predicted winner – The Look of Silence (complete guess and as I have not seen any, I have no preference.)

 

Animated and Live Action Shorts – I have no knowledge of these so no predictions or preferences.

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Sicario

Sicario-Poster-8

Sicario is a film about liminality, that which exists in a phase between states. The film’s liminal features includes the geographical borderlands between Mexico and the United States, the people who are somewhere between police and military, and a practice of law enforcement that is at best legally dubious. FBI agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) joins a special task force headed by government agent Matt Graver (Josh Brolin), only to become increasingly disturbed by the missions of Graver as well as the mysterious Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro). The viewer’s discomfort also increases, as director Denis Villeneuve creates some incredibly tense set pieces that often erupt into shocking violence, all delivered unflinchingly so that we feel the impact of bullets and the smack of wet blood. Much of the film’s power can be credited to director of photography Roger Deakins, who previously worked with Villeneuve on Prisoners. The desert landscapes are rendered in exquisite detail that is both beautiful and terrible, both at ground level and in remarkable aerial shots that serve a narrative purpose of showing us drone footage used by the task force, and a stylistic purpose for showing the bleak pitiless of the landscape. A night raid begins with the team descending from a gorgeous sunset into an inky blackness, all within a single, static shot. Multiple camera types convey this sequence, including infra red and night vision as well as normal digital photography, and yet this extra visual detail adds to the confusion and sense of other-worldliness. Similarly, Jóhann Jóhannsson’s score is menacing and invasive to the point of being oppressive, as the film moves into ever more murky territory. Sicario does not succumb to genre clichés as Prisoners did, debut screenwriter Taylor Sheridan instead maintaining the story’s conceit of liminality as well as its grim tone, as the placement of Alejandro and Macer’s position towards the events she witnesses and participates in remain ambiguous. Whereas crime thrillers of this sort often feature some measure of hope or at least catharsis, here the viewer is left with a sense of hopelessness and helplessness, a disturbing glimpse into a harrowing world where cynicism and violence are the only way of life.