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Top Six of First Six 2019

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As the year reaches its half way point, I take stock of what I have seen thus far. I was able to see more films for the first month, managing seven in January (although some were leftovers from December). Then work got in the way and I had to be picky about my encounters.

51380734_10100652095634775_8411628045454016512_n Godzilla Still

Most galling in this regard was not seeing the eventual Best Picture winner until after the Academy Awards took place, which has not happened for years. But at least I ticked off all eight of them, as usual some being released this year, and one creeping into my top six thus far.

Oscars-Best-Picture-Nominees-2019

2019 has had its share of prestige fodder and box office battalions, with Hollywood, Britain and other countries jostling at the cinema. The year thus far has rewarded, confounded and exceeded expectations with sequels and franchise instalments, although the best offerings came from unexpected sources. Thus, my personal six best films of the first six months of 2019 are:

 

The Favourite  the favourite

An extraordinary, acerbic, acidic and at times absurdist comedy-drama of manners, manipulation and monarchy.

 

 

 

 

 

Avengers: Endgame  Endgame 1

An enveloping, emotional, exhilarating, witty, tragic, astonishing and utterly triumphant superhero epic of extraordinary ambition and magnificent realisation.

 

 

Booksmart booksmart

A gloriously funny, beautifully sweet, sometimes surreal, touching, delightful coming of age comedy of being more than you or anyone else expects.

 

 

 

Rocketman elton-johns-biopic-rocketman-to-premiere-at-cannes-film-festival

A flamboyant, fabulous and frenetic bio-musical of a flamboyant, fabulous and frenetic talent and personality.

 

 

 

 

Us Us

A malevolent, magnificent, Marxist, satirical nightmare of demographics, doppelgängers and dance.

 

 

 

Fighting With My Family 2019-Fighting-With-My-Family-poster

A joyous, heartwarming, bittersweet delight of family, wrestling, dreams and the pride of being a freak from Norwich.

 

 

 

Honourable Mention

 

Captain Marvel marvel1

A glorious superpowered special forces adventure of memory, identity and morality, boosted with beautiful politics of diversity and inclusion.

 

 

Stinker So Far

 

X-Men: Dark Phoenix XMDP

A disparate and somewhat hollow but still brooding and atmospheric superhero adventure, spiced with the most dramatic of dramatic scores.

 

 

What will the rest of the year bring? Certainly there is much to be excited about, as Avengers, Jedi, musicians, demon clowns, entrepreneurs and more continue to compete for attention in the overcrowded cinemas. Plus there are remakes, re-releases and homages still to come. Will these six make it into the Top Twelve of 2019? Check back in six months to find out!

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Review of the Year – Part Two: Fun Stuff

2018 offered plenty of pleasures, ranging from the enjoyably silly Rampage to the grimly po-faced Mile 22. It proved an especially fruitful year for horror cinema – I missed out on Hereditary, which attracted a lot of discussion, but did catch Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman’s adaptation of their stage show Ghost Stories, which demonstrated (after)life in the anthology drama. I wasn’t as impressed by Ghost Stories as some have been, finding it a bit too neat when what I wanted was a devastating collapse of reason and rationality (which is hardly unreasonable). More effective was A Quiet Place, which proved a brilliant thrill. It’s a weird film that, if you think about it, rapidly develops major holes but, while you watch it, is absorbing and genuinely terrifying, especially if you have an aversion to bare feet.

Other horror offerings included the underwhelming The Little Stranger and the disappointing Suspiria (on which more later). Far more impressive was the surprisingly engrossing Overlord, that delivered gruesome horror in a World War II setting. But standing masked head and shoulders in the horror genre was David Gordon Green’s Halloween, a triumphant return of this classic series that provided genuine old school tension combined with modern sensibilities and awareness.

Halloween was far from the only familiar name for, as has become standard, the box office was ruled by sequels and franchise instalments. These were of varying quality, as Deadpool 2 provided more of the same to diminished returns on the laugh front, although extra characters did swell the interest. Ant-Man and the Wasp was the third MCU entry after Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War (on which more later), and proved to be a suitably light-hearted caper, although it did suffer from an overuse of the word ‘quantum’ that failed to make the techno-babble any more comprehensible.

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During the summer, Star Wars provided us with Solo: A Star Wars Story. This was perhaps not a story we needed, but it managed to be one that the fans of Han Solo deserved, breathing new life into this stalwart from a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. Similar rejuvenation occurred with Ocean’s 8. Rather than being a gimmicky cash-in, this gender-inverted caper offered a shine all of its own.

Perhaps the year’s most pleasant surprise was Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. When Jurassic World opened in 2015, I thought the franchise should go extinct, but this latest instalment went to strange and encouraging new places, and I look forward to where the dinosaurs will go next. Therefore, while there was varying quality, all of these films did provide some enjoyment.

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Mid-Year Report

Jiminy jump cuts, we’re half way through the year! 2018 has already given us Brexit shenanigans, the savaging of civil liberties by the US government and sporting events that some people enjoy. In the movie world, we saw a fantasy film win Best Picture, a superhero film with a largely black cast become a box office success, and fan responses to Star Wars reached a new low. The cinematic offerings of 2018 thus far have, by and large, been impressive. From varied award bait to adaptations of video games, novels and stage plays, franchise instalments to indie gems, January to June provided film delights aplenty. Now at the half-year point, I offer my top six of the first six months on 2018.

  1. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

three-billboards-outside-ebbing-missouri-movie-6Traditional as it was, this was the Best Picture nominee that impressed me the most. Were I a member of AMPAS, I might not have voted it for it for political reasons (more on that later), but this is the most impressive film of the year for me so far.

  1. You Were Never Really Here

You Were PosterAn extraordinary experience, to such an extent that after I saw it, I needed to take a walk just to let it settle. Describing such a exquisitely cinematic experience in words is hard (though I did it anyway), so all I will say here is that you need to see it. Off you go, you can read the rest of this later.

  1. Avengers: Infinity War

Infinity War PosterThe culmination of ten years of world and story building for Marvel Studios, Infinity War manages to do that thing you don’t expect in a franchise instalment – be surprising. Blending a myriad of characters and narrative threads, and going to strange thematic places, Infinity War continues Marvel’s mastery of the superhero genre.

  1. The Shape of Water

Water bannerWere I a member of AMPAS, I would probably have voted for this to win Best Picture, since it is a different sort of nominee that manages to blend the fantastical and the real, the whimsical and the brutal. Guillermo Del Toro has crafted a remarkable oeuvre and, while this is a career highlight, I hope he continues to give us further brilliant pieces of cinema.

  1. Phantom Thread

Phantom_Thread_PosterPerhaps the oddest film this year, one that I can only recommend in the sense that is an exquisitely crafted piece of cinema. Paul Thomas Anderson’s period romantic drama about an insufferable dressmaker could be sold on its talent, but to view it is to enter into a fully realised and often uncomfortable world.

  1. Black Panther

black-panther-posterIt says something about a superhero film when you find yourself considering the foreign policy of a fictional country, the society of which is based entirely on a fictional element. It means that the film is working so well on a generic level that you want to apply its conceits to the real world. Marvel’s venture into Afro-futurism combined super-powered thrills with debates between isolationism and interventionism, and without labouring the point struck a blow for cinematic equality.

Stinker: Red Sparrow

Red SparrowOnly one real stinker so far, and I hope that I don’t see a worse film this year. Red Sparrow had so much potential, considering its subject, its themes and talent. That made the disappointment of watching this tedious, turgid, brutal, nasty and ultimately hollow film all the more crushing.

Will the top (and bottom) films of the year include these entries or others? Time will tell, so keep viewing with Vincent to see where the year goes.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

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There is a tension within the latest instalment of the Star Wars franchise. On the one hand there is the industrial behemoth and immense legacy that is Star Wars. On the other hand there is writer-director Rian Johnson, coming from a background of independent filmmaking that includes Brick and Looper. This tension creates problems and also benefits. The biggest problem is the film is overly long and, despite having the structure of a chase thriller, Johnson presents three parallel plot lines, one of which is overdone and lessens the overall tension. This narrative baggyness is partly due to the apparent need of new Star Wars films to pay homage to what has come before, as much of The Last Jedi echoes The Empire Strikes Back while its third act is reminiscent of Return of the Jedi. Competing against this homage is Johnson’s innovations, such as this film largely picking up immediately after the events of The Force Awakens and his allowance for characters to ponder their choices, whereas JJ Abrams largely had characters making decisions at hyperspeed. These innovations are also a major benefit, with new directions for this most hallowed of cinematic sagas. The mythos and history of the Force is explored in more depth than previously seen, especially in terms of the hubris and failure of the Jedi. Explosions rock the drama both internally and externally, as ships explode in true Star Wars fashion, and interpersonal strife plagues both the Resistance and the First Order. Perhaps the most ferocious battles rage within the souls of Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and Rey (Daisy Ridley), both trying to forge a place for themselves within a chaotic galaxy while (F)orces pull them in all directions. The overall result is mostly a creative and dramatic success, The Last Jedi delivering as a thrilling space chase of legacy and identity, with a surprisingly egalitarian subtext.

Rogue One

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It opens with absence. The absence of John Williams’ theme, the screen crawl and even the words Star Wars, instead presenting the viewer with a planet in the emptiness of space. As a Star Destroyer slowly moves into view, the tropes of Star Wars reveal themselves and we quickly settle into familiar territory with mention of various planets, Jedi, the Empire and the Force. Yet, paradoxically, absence remains a dominant presence throughout Gareth EdwardsRogue One, a spin-off story that takes place leading up to the events of Episode Four: A New Hope. Protagonist Jin Erso (Felicity Jones) feels the keen absence of her father Galen (Mads Mikkelsen); Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) is spurred by righteousness but also makes hard choices; Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen) and Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang) feel the absence of the Jedi under the rule of the Empire; Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) physically manifests absence through his damaged body. Sometimes the various characters are not given as much motivation or background as they could have, but for the most part absence works as a strength in the film rather than weakness, as the emphasis upon absence and loss conveys a palatable sense of what the Rebellion fighting for, described by Saw as ‘the Dream’. Edwards skilfully creates a sense of the odds facing the Rebellion, the superior weaponry of the Empire – including the Death Star – as well as the ruthlessness of Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelssohn), Governor Tarkin (Guy Henry in a digital Peter Cushing suit) and, in a spine-tingling cameo, Darth Vader (Spencer Wilding/James Earl Jones). As a result, the viewer is unlikely to feel shortchanged by this additional story, as Rogue One strikes a fine balance between material familiar and new, resulting in a film that bodes new hope for the future of this franchise.

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

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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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Oscar Views – Part One

Oscar-2016-Nominations

It’s a wonderful night for Oscar! Or at least it should be on February 28th. As the 88th Annual Academy Awards approach, it’s time for me to look over the various categories and offer Vincent’s View on the nominees and likely winners.

I decline to arrogantly presume that I know best and say what the Academy got wrong. I don’t necessarily agree with the nominees and, were I a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, I would have voted differently. I had my own favourites last year but that’s simply my view – the assembled results of nearly 7000 people do not pale in comparison to my almighty judgement, or indeed anyone’s. What interests me is what the particular nominees say about tastes and trends about Oscar nominees, now and historically.

Beginning with the nominees for Best Picture, they are a rather surprising bunch. I have written before on the kind of film that tends to win Best Picture and the commonalities among nominees. The cliché is that biopics win Oscars, but more broadly historical films win Oscars. Historical films attract awards, presumably because the AMPAS members (not to mention other institutions) respond to the apparent gravitas of “history.” Furthermore, films “based on a true story” do well, as few things offer more “importance” than “truth.”

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With that in mind, consider the eight nominees for Best Picture:

The Big Short 

Bridge of Spies

Brooklyn

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Martian 

The Revenant 

Room

Spotlight

If the nominees were still restricted to five, I believe that the nominated films would be Bridge of Spies (based on real events), Brooklyn (literary adaptation), The Revenant (literary adaptation, based on real events), Spotlight (based on real events) and either Room (literary adaptation) or The Big Short (literary adaptation, based on real events). In addition, all of them are concerned with ideas of “America,” a common theme of Best Picture winners from Wings (1928) to Patton (1970) to Unforgiven (1992). The six films here are concerned with, respectively, the Cold War, the immigrant experience, frontierism, church and community, family, financial disaster. All of the key nominees present aspects of America in relief and highlight them to the world. Cinema has long been an important form of US propaganda, so it is unsurprising that the Academy reward films that effectively advertise the USA. And if the advertisements are about less than savoury events, like Spotlight and The Big Short, this shows a degree of self-reflection and introspection somewhat lacking in US foreign policy and election campaigning.

rachel-mcadams-mark-ruffalo-brian-dg-arcy-michael-keaton-and-john-slattery-in-spotlight-cred-kerry-hayes-open-road-films_wide-a9ace4a3a9d3d271a45d19c7c220201b7656c7eb-s900-c85

Spotlight

Two of the nominees are, however, anomalous: The Martian and Mad Max: Fury Road. I saw both films and enjoyed them very much, but to see them nominated for Best Picture is actually staggering. Both are science fiction films (space travel, post-apocalyptic), which makes them part of a very rare group. The only other sci-fi films to be nominated for Best Picture are Star Wars (1977), Avatar (2009), Inception (2010) and Gravity (2013), so to have two such films nominated in one year is quite extraordinary. Furthermore, Mad Max: Fury Road is an action movie and a sequel, only the fifth to ever be nominated after The Godfather Parts II and III, and The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers and The Return of the King. So for the first time, a sci-fi sequel is up for Best Picture! This is actually radical and groundbreaking for the Academy, and perhaps signals a possible shift in its members’ typically conservative tastes.

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