Tuesday, 23 January 2018

When it comes to the Oscars, there is no such thing as a snub...

There is something that always bothers me about the 24 hour period after the Oscar nominations are announced. It happens every single year and this year is no different. Within hours of the announcements being made, the internet was awash with articles listing the "biggest snubs and surprises" of this year's nominations and it is the word snub that always riles me up.
The dictionary definition of snub is as follows:

Snub - "rebuff, ignore or spurn disdainfully" or "an act of rebuffing or ignoring someone or something"; "to insult someone by not giving them any attention or treating them as if they are not important"

This implies that a wilful intent to deliberately ignore the merits of a film or individual's contribution to that film but when it comes to the Oscars this is not really the case.
People do not go out of their way to actively campaign against someone getting a nomination and the system does not ask for members to vote against a person's performance.
If you want to look for something that cruelly mocks and rebuffs the efforts of filmmakers, then look no further than the Razzies e.g. mother! being nominated for multiple "awards".

Academy members are given one vote in each category to choose the single performance or work they were most impressed with. In certain categories, only members working in the same field may vote for their counterparts, as they are the most qualified to judge the work.

With 6687 members across a number of disciplines, it is an inevitability that some people will be overlooked or not even seen by everyone. No matter how much publicity certain films may receive or how many screeners are sent out.

So when a certain name is not read out during the nominations, it is not a snub. It is simply down to the fact they did not receive enough votes.

The more appropriate word would be "surprise" or "disappointment".

For example, it is deeply disappointing that Michael Stuhlbarg was not nominated for Call Me By Your Name. Particularly when you consider that he is in three of the nine nominated films for Best Picture. His monologue at the end of the film is beautiful and moving and the very definition of a supporting performance. Sadly he was up against strong performances from the five eventual nominees but also his co-star Armie Hammer who is the co-lead but placed in supporting category to avoid competing against Chalamet. Ultimately both missed out, potentially due to their votes being split between them.

Some of the names mentioned when it comes to the issue of today's "snubs" include Tom Hanks, The Florida Project, Wonder Woman, Martin McDonagh and James Franco.

Of these, the only one that could be considered a legitimate snub would be Franco. It is possible the negative news stories surrounding his sexual conduct put voters off, with the Academy keen to avoid any potential embarrassment on the night.
For everyone else, to complain about their omission from the list, implies that someone else who made the cut is not worthy of their spot. Can you say that, for example, Paul Thomas Anderson is not deserving of his Director nomination?

So when we talk about the Oscars, which is meant to be a celebration of film, let's stick to the positives and not the negatives.

Roll on March the 4th.

Monday, 22 January 2018

Oscars 2018 - Predicting the Nominations!

The Oscar nominations are announced tomorrow Tuesday 23rd January at 1:22pm and I thought it would be fun to try and predict who will be nominated in the main categories.

Best Picture

Best Picture is always a difficult one to accurately predict correctly ever since 2008 when The Dark Knight was shockingly left out of the nominations due to only having five nominees. I think we can all agree that it is a better film than all the nominees that year (Benjamin Button, The Reader, Frost/Nixon, Milk and Slumdog Millionaire).
Ever since then there has been anywhere between 5 and 10 nominees depending on the number of votes received. Then when it comes to the final vote once the nominees are announced, the ballot is done on a preferential vote system with the films ranked by choice by the voter.

So, given this year's Awards race. Here are my thoughts on what will appear on the final list:

Call Me By Your Name
Get Out
Lady Bird
The Post
The Shape Of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best Director

Del Toro, McDonagh and Nolan are all locks in this category. Given the current climate in Hollywood, there will be a riot if a woman isn't nominated given the fact that the likes of Bigelow, Coppola and Jenkins all produced quality films and so Gerwig's indie darling so produce a nomination.
The only question mark is Jordan Peele who might end up making way for a more established name like Steven Spielberg or Denis Villeneuve.

Guillermo Del Toro - The Shape Of Water
Greta Gerwig - Lady Bird
Martin McDonagh - Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Christopher Nolan - Dunkirk
Jordan Peele - Get Out

Best Actress

As far as this category goes, there are four guaranteed names on the list with the fifth and final place up for grabs (even if this is still going to be a slam dunk for Frances McDormand this year).
With her pedigree and role in The Post, it would surprise no one to see another nomination for Meryl Streep but the acting categories often throw up a wild card and I'm going out on a limb and say it will be Jessica Chastain for Molly's Game.

Jessica Chastain - Molly's Game
Sally Hawkins - The Shape Of Water
Frances McDormand - Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Margot Robbie - I, Tonya
Saiorse Ronan - Lady Bird

Best Actor

Even though personally I wasn't that big a fan of his performance, the people of the Academy are pretty much already engraving Gary Oldman's name onto the Best Actor Oscar.
Chalamet's place is pretty much confirmed as well as he has been present and gracious runner up every step of the way. The Academy will not miss the opportunity to give Day Lewis a nomination for his final film. Although this must be the first time he will not be the favourite to win.
That leaves two places still to play for. Daniel Kaluuya has been consistently nominated for Get Out but I worry his performance is not "showy" enough for the academy and he might just miss out, opening the door for someone like Hanks or Washington. Similarly, having been a sure thing with the Globe win, Franco's place is on shaky ground given the recent new stories. However this was probably too late for the nomination process so expect his name to be read out.

Timothee Chalamet - Call Me By Your Name
Daniel Day Lewis - Phantom Thread
James Franco - The Disaster Artist
Daniel Kaluuya - Get Out
Gary Oldman - Darkest Hour

Best Supporting Actress

This the Oscar season where Mommy knows best with Janney and Metcalf's turns as the protagonist's mother guaranteed to be nominated and, given the SAG nomination, Hunter is likely to join them.
There is potential for a Wild Card entry in the form of Tiffany Haddish for Girls Trip. By all accounts it is a breakout star making performance and Melissa McCarthy was similarly nominated for Bridesmaids so there is form in this category.

Tiffany Haddish - Girls Trip
Holly Hunter - The Big Sick
Alison Janney - I, Tonya
Laurie Metcalf - Lady Bird
Octavia Spencer - The Shape Of Water

Best Supporting Actor

The Oscar is Rockwell or Dafoe's to lose at this point but this is probably the most wide open category going into the nominations as the other three spots have varied from award to award. It is likely that Plummer's last minute replacement on All The Money In The World will score a nod.
That leaves the final two places as a fight between Woody Harrelson and the two men classified as Supporting Actor for Call Me By Your Name. Armie Hammer is one of the two lead characters in the film but placed here to avoid competing with Chalamet. This means that Stuhlbarg's pivotal supporting performance could potentially go unrewarded (which is a shame as his monologue at the end was one of the standout moments from 2017). He is also starring in 3 potential Best Picture nominees which hasn't happened since John C. Reilly in 2003.

Willem Dafoe - The Florida Project
Woody Harrelson - Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Christopher Plummer - All The Money In The World
Sam Rockwell - Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Michael Stuhlbarg - Call Me By Your Name

Best Original Screenplay

The Big Sick
Get Out
Lady Bird
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best Adapted Screenplay

Call Me By Your Name
The Disaster Artist
Molly's Game

Saturday, 20 January 2018

The Commuter - review

Ah, the daily commute. It can become quite dull and routine can't it? You don't look forward to it but it is necessary for work. Doing the same thing day after day, one starts to hope one day something exciting or different might happen to alleviate the boredom.
But enough about Liam Neeson's film career since starring in Taken.
In The Commuter, Liam Neeson is man who is forced to do everything a mysterious, shadowy group of people tell him to do or his family will be hurt.
But enough about his film career since starring in Taken.
All joking aside, audiences go to these films expecting a certain type of film with a lead actor displaying a particular set of skills e.g. Neeson, The Stath, The Rock, etc.
This has resulted in some reviewers saying that they adjust their expectations and judgement accordingly.
Similar to a journey on Southern Rail, our expectations are deliberately low and with good reason. That doesn't mean however that we should let them off with bad service. This goes for genre films as well.
It is okay to give the audience what they want but there should be a benchmark for quality and they should strive to offer them something they haven't experienced before, or deliver it to them in a different, more exciting way.
So it is a shame that Neeson's character, after being threatened by a mysterious figure, is forced to uncover the identity of an unknown passenger in exactly the same plot as Non-Stop, although instead of a plane it is set on a train.
Also with Vera Farmiga as the one giving the orders, between this and Source Code, she is building a reputation as someone who loves to tell men what to do aboard commuter trains.
Like Non-Stop, there is mileage out of the central Guess Who game of spot the culprit. Is it Mike from Breaking Bad? Is it Lady Macbeth? Is it a stock broker played by Clem Fandango? Yes we can hear you Clem Fandango!
Sadly the film (literally) derails once the bad guy is revealed and that, along with a farcical scene replicating one of the most famous moments from a gladiator film, are moments so clearly signposted and as predictable as the stops along your route home.
Guess now we can look forward to Taken in a taxi in a couple of years so Neeson can complete his unique Planes, Trains and Automobiles trilogy.

2 stars

The Post - review

Picture the scene. An angry, irate President of the United States is on his phone, badmouthing and threatening the nation's newspapers for publishing stories that show their decision making, character and government in bad light.

Ah, it's almost too easy isn't it.

Back in 1971, The Pentagon Papers scandal, 7000 pages of classified government documents that proved that a number of administrations had deceived the American people about the Vietnam war, saw the owner and editor of The Washington Post put everything on the line to fight for their rights under the first amendment and freedom of press. Not only to keep their paper going but for the rights of all newspapers.
Astoundingly, this is a fight that is still going on today in the era of "Fake News" and "Alternative Facts". Now, more than ever, the papers still have a duty and an obligation to hold our governments accountable. Because as editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) says "If we don't, who will?"
The decision to publish ultimately lies with the owner of the paper, Katherine "Kay" Graham (Meryl Streep) who has taken over the running of the family business. Originally passed over in favour of her husband, she assumed the role following his tragic death.
The Post might not win the big awards this year but it would certainly win the title of Most Socially Relevant Film of 2018. Even though it is based on historical fact, you couldn't have scripted a more timely and important film for the times we live in. For not only is the integrity and freedom of the press under attack but with the current #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, the role of women in society and business is going through a period of tremendous change.
When the audience is first introduced to Kay, she is not seen as an equal by the entirely male members of the board. She has men talking over her or mansplained to on a constant basis.
Yet she finds the resolve to take ownership of her paper and decides to publish the story, no matter the cost.
Sarah Paulson, as Bradlee's wife, gives an affective and moving speech about Graham's bravery in standing up to the board and choosing to run the paper in her own way and how hard it must have been.
"When you've been told time and time again that you are not there, it's hard to believe that's not true"
It's a quote that is still resonant today and it can be applied to the woman who have courageously chosen to stand up and hold men accountable for their actions.
The most shocking thing about The Post is not the fact that some 46 years on, we are still having the same arguments about the freedom of the press or that men find the idea of a female boss astounding.
No, the most surprising fact about The Post is that it is the first time that Spielberg, Streep and Hanks have worked together. This dream team coasts along, all within their comfort zone, and while they might not be firing on all cylinders, even an average day for this trip is a great day for cinema and ultimately delivers a stirring ode to the power of the press, a wonderful nostalgic look at the old school methods that reporters had to use to find their sources and publish the news (there was no Google and no internet). It's little wonder that there are so many scenes of people anxiously waiting on or receiving phone calls.
One even wonders if Tom Hanks himself supplied all the vintage typewriters used in the Washington Post offices?
It reminds us that we have come on leaps and bounds since the Seventies but there is still a lot of vital work to do. As evidence by the final scenes where a woman is relaying the Supreme Court's verdict that "Freedom of press for the governed not the Governors", only to be shouted over by a man who has received the information by fax!
It is also admirable that Spielberg ends the film with a scene that could have served as a post credit sting setting up the Watergate scandal and a Washington Post Extended Universe linking to All The President's Men.

4 stars

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Darkest Hour - review

That Dunkirk spirit is well and truly alive and in full force at the moment in the UK. Following 2017's Their Finest and Christopher Nolan's cinematic masterpiece Dunkirk last July, it seems that filmmakers are not heeding Basil Fawlty's advice and can stop mentioning the war!
For Darkest Hour which shows what was happening across the channel as the men waited, and waited, for their salvation and evacuation.
Not only is Dunkirk the flavour of the month but this is the third screen characterisation of Winston Churchill in the last 12 months, following Brian Cox's Churchill and John Lithgow's portrayal in The Crown.
Churchill is so popular at the moment, don't be surprised if you see a feature length adaptation of the Churchill nodding dog put into production by the end of the week!
Director Joe Wright also returns to the issue of Dunkirk, 10 years on from filming that incredible single take tracking shot of James McAvoy and the troops on the beach in Atonement. However there is very little of that inventiveness and bravura filmmaking style on show here. It sadly falls into the trap that many biopics of British subjects and heroes can fall into, in that it feels more like a Sunday night BBC drama than a film destined to be enjoyed on the big screen. Yes, I'm talking about you The King's Speech (and on that topic, I much preferred Ben Mendelsohn's take on George VI than Firth's).
The only time the visual flair exhibited in the dance sequence in Pride & Prejudice and every frame of Atonement and Anna Karenina came into view was the shots of Churchill in lifts surrounding by darkness or peering through windows, slowly increasing his sense of isolation from the cabinet and imprisonment within his belief to do what he believes is right for the British people.
The film does capture how alone Churchill was in his stance against the impending pressures of Nazi Germany, feeling like he was one man against the world.
The film is perhaps too effective at this however as ultimately Darkest Hour is a two hour drama built on the foundation of one performance of bluster and bravado by Gary Oldman.
From the first time we see Churchill, Oldman disappears beneath the prosthetics and costume to completely embody the British Bulldog, and stomps, shouts and chews as much scenery as he does cigars that no one else can barely register an impact on screen. Even the great Kristin Scott Thomas gets left in the shadows as his wife Clemmie.
Rather than a big screen adaptation, Oldman's Churchill might have been better suited to a one man show on the West End where he performed some of his greatest speeches to a captive audience.
While there is no denying Winston's impact and legacy on British history, the Darkest Hour is unlikely to be the brightest moment in the history books of Oldman and British cinema. Even if it does bring him a shiny golden Oscar.

2 stars

Monday, 15 January 2018

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri - review

In Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, everyone in Ebbing has an opinion on the titular billboards erected by Mildred Hayes, never mind if they have actually seen them or not.
The same can be said for the film itself. Arriving in UK cinemas on the crest of a wave that includes 4 Golden Globes, 9 BAFTA nominations, expected Oscar nominations and posters and billboards with these facts plastered all over them, it is difficult to go into the movie without some preconceptions.
Thankfully this is one film that lives up to the (most of) the hype and still has plenty of surprises as the much of the plot has not been given away by the trailers (although many of the best lines have).
The trailer paints the film as a dark, acerbic comedy in the mould of In Bruges however it is more of a drama with darkly comic lines in it. Both deal with grief and loss but this is much darker material. And yes I know In Bruges dealt with an assassin who killed a kid.
The three billboards erected by Mildred Hayes, criticising the lack of arrests in the case of her daughter's murder, puts her on a direct collision course with two of the town's police officers cool, calm and collected Chief Willoughby and hot-headed, impestuous and racist Lt. Dixon.
These towering billboards are met by three equally towering performances from Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell, each deserving of a billboard of their own singing their praises and of the award nominations that have met them along the way.
McDonagh's scripts, much like his plays, can produce dialogue that can become endlessly quotable but also a weapon in the right hands, capable of wounding and destroying a character with a single line.
In Bruges proved this with Ralph Fiennes, who up to that point had rarely done comedy on screen, and showed Colin Farrell to be a terrific actor given the right material.
All three leads in this film are more than a match for the material and deliver it with venomous aplomb.
The majority of the praise will deservedly go to McDormand who is in career best form as a mother consumed by grief, regret and rage. They say "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned" and no one is safe from the billowing rage that takes hold of Hayes. Even those kind souls who try to help her like Peter Dinklage's James.
Harrelson plays against type, both for what we expect a Southern cop to be and also what we would expect from Harrelson's back catalogue of characters. The result is a moving, compassionate performance of a man desperately trying to do the right thing by everybody.
Compassion is a word that certainly cannot be used when describing Sam Rockwell's Officer Dixon. A complicated and unpleasant individual, he should not be deserving of any sympathy or empathy yet it is down to the skill of Rockwell that he can elicit these feelings from the audience as the film progresses, despite their initial resistance.
For the film certainly does not take the easy way out. It will challenge the characters and the audience, taking several intriguing and unexpected turns down the road.
McDonagh is not interested in spoon feeding the audience and giving them the easy answers they seek.
Because at the heart of the story, it is not about redemption or closure but the futility and impotence of rage. Everyone is raging against something but ultimately they must ask themselves if it helps solve anything. Or as one character sagely puts it does "Anger just begets anger".
The film is not without its flaws. Abbie Cornish's character is given short shrift and there is one of the worst uses of CGI you are likely to see in a mainstream movie this year.
This is offset however by the biggest crime in the film which is attempted theft by Samara Weaving who threatens to steal the entire film in just two scenes.
Three Billboards is a terrific film that proves Martin McDonagh has found his groove again following the missteps taken in Seven Psychopaths and is likely to follow the success of the Golden Globes with a BAFTA or Oscar or two. After all "Awards just begets Awards".

4 stars

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Coco - review

The arrival of a new Pixar film is usually something to look forward to. After all, this is the studio that brought us Toy Story, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles and Up. This is a studio that brought us incredible and original ideas like "What if your toys could talk?", a movie from the perspective of your emotions or a silent film starring a robot left on earth to clear up garbage. We'll just skip over Cars for now...
So why was it that Coco did not seem to be generating the same level of Joy in this Pixar fan's mind? Why didn't Coco Pop?!
On paper, it ticked all the boxes: Gorgeous animation, excellent voice cast, Pixar easter eggs plus the ability to tug on the heartstrings in a way only Pixar can.
Yet the end result left me rather dead inside. Just like the deceased members of Miguel's family I guess.
The story revolves around young Miguel. Born into a family who make shoes and have banned music due to a family tragedy, yet something deep inside him yearns to play the guitar.
A shocking discovery on the Day of the Dead leads to a fight with his family, a curse that transports him to the Land of the Dead and a quest to find his great, great, great Grandfather Ernesto De La Cruz, the greatest singer in all of Mexico.
The film plays on the importance of family and memory. Particularly the use that music can have in stimulating memory. In fact, there is a lot of work being done in this area in real life with dementia sufferers.
It also encourages us to keep the memories of those who we have loved and lost in our hearts and minds so they are never forgotten. It is this that forms the emotional core of the film and slowly the film turns on its head and the reason the film is called Coco, rather than Miguel, comes to the fore.
The problem was that with all the talk of memories and the trailer's claim to explore a world you've never seen before, it brought flooding back the memories of the 2014 film The Book of Life, produced by Guillermo Del Toro which featured a love story set in both the land of the living and of the dead and was a superior film to Coco.
It is difficult to be too critical of Coco however because despite its lack of originality, one cannot fault it's execution as come the final scenes, Pixar had once again worked its magic and despite my general feelings of indifference, managed to tug on the right guitar strings to feel a twang of emotion.

NB: Note that there is no Pixar short in front of the feature due to the selected short Olaf's Frozen Adventure being pulled from the US prints due to length, confusion and quality. Instead it played in front of special Christmas screenings of Frozen here in the UK.

3 stars