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I have now seen all the Best picture nominations, probably more than most of the voting academy members can truthfully say! Being a part time amateur film blogger doesn’t earn academy membership so rather than voting I get to sit on the outside looking in and bitching about poor choices.  If I did have a vote for the Best Picture Oscar I would struggle to chose between five films, my favourite five films eligible for this years Oscars.  Unfortunately three of my choices haven’t been nominated, making it a straight choice between two films.  Interestingly my two favourite nominated films are polar opposites; one is the most low key and down to earth, the other is the boldest, brightest, brashest and most outlandish.  In a few words, here are my thoughts on the nominated movies and their chances of picking up a little gold man on February 28th.

Spotlight: The comparisons with All the President’s Men (1976) are obvious, however where the Watergate movie was edgy and cinematic, this is a more staid and old fashioned film.  That said it is fantastic, if the was an Oscar for best ensemble cast it would be a shoe in! It would be a worthy winner and had a lot of positive buzz a few weeks ago but that seems to have passed. Like  All the President’s Men, I think it will have to settle for a nomination.Spotlight

The Revenant: Where Spotlight is very introspective and contained, The Revenant is all about the wide open spaces.  When I first saw it I thought it would win but no one seems to agree with me.  This makes me think it won’t win, it should however get cinematographer and best actor.The Revenant

Room: Not a bad film but beyond a fantastic lead performance I am not sure why it is getting so much love.  I think it is making up the numbers.'Room' is a journey out of darkness, director says

Brooklyn: The period setting makes it a very Oscar friendly film.  However I don’t hear it being mentioned in Oscar conversations, like Room I think it is making up the numbers.Brooklyn

Bridge of Spies: I am really glad to see this get a nomination as it is so much better than many people are giving it credit for.  Unfortunately it isn’t being talked out about so its probably another one making up the numbers.Bridge Of Spies

The Martian: A sci-fi film with a lot of comedy in it, how did the academy let this upstart slip in?  The simple reason, it is fun and hugely entertaining, it may not be the best motion picture of the year but it is probably the most fun.  I don’t think it will win, but if it does, it will probably be because it is lots of people second or third choice on the ballet. the martian

Mad Max: Simply my favourite film on the list but it is so un-Oscar I don’t see it having a chance, but it would be so great if it did.mad max tom hardy

The Big Short: The film seems to have divided opinion, a comedy about people who profited from the housing market crash.  The word we hear a lot of at this time of year is momentum, and this film has lots of momentum.  I really liked the film but don’t think it is the best film on the list, but I think it is favourite to win.The Big Short

I have been a little busy with work and watching movies so haven’t been posting much in the last few weeks, but I never miss movie of the month.  Here goes: January is a great month for movies in the UK filled with Oscar contenders.  Three of my top ten movies last year came out in January, how many of this January’s eleven will make my 2016 list?  More immediate than that which is my movie of the month?

Joy: Another David O. Russell / Jennifer Lawrence collaboration.  Lawrence is brilliant as you would expect.  The film is enjoyable but a little thin.  The story never seems to set out of second gear.JOY

The Danish Girl: Like Joy, The Danish Girl is an okay film with great performances.  Last years best actor Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne got all the initial plaudits, Alicia Vikander provides the films best performance.  Clearly the leading role, I an not sure why she is nominated in the supporting category.The Danish Girl

The Hateful Eight: Quentin Tarantino’s second western.  Sumptuous visuals are coupled with Tarantino’s fantastic dialogue.  The film is too long and self indulgent, but this is easily forgiven.  Great to see Walton Goggins getting a decent part.The Hateful Eight

The Revenant: Alejandro González Iñárritu’s visceral story of survival and revenge.  Stunning photography from Emmanuel Lubezki (third Oscar in a row?) and a brilliant performance from Leonardo DiCaprio.The Revenant

Creed: Revival of the Rocky franchise that at times feels more like a reboot of the original film.  Predictable but hugely enjoyable.  Michael B. Jordan and  Sylvester Stallone are both excellent.Creed

Room: Another film that is more notable for its acting than the film itself.  Brie Larson is sensational.  A good film but not one that lives up to the hype that surrounds it.'Room' is a journey out of darkness, director says

The 5th Wave: It was only a matter of time before Chloë Grace Moretz (now 18) made a YA adaptation.  Unfortunately it wasn’t a good choice.  An unmemorable movie that offers nothing we haven’t seen done better in other similar adaptations.  Maika Monroe (almost unrecognisable with black hair) impresses again and has fun with the films most showy part.The 5th Wave

The Big Short: Based on the true story of the people who predicted the financial crisis and profited from it.  The serious subject matter makes an intriguing story told in such a way that it is often devastatingly funny.  All the ensemble cast are brilliant particularly Steve Carell.  My one criticism, Marisa Tomei is too good to be given a one dimensional character and nothing to do with her.The Big Short

Our Brand is Crisis: Loosely based on the documentary of the same name about the 2002 Bolivian presidential election. Sandra Bullock is excellent as she usually is when give a decent role.  The political message is far more cutting than the surface comedy would lead you to expect.  Unfortunately it appears to have sunk without trace at the boxoffice.Our Brand is Crisis

Spotlight: The true story of the reporters from The Boston Globe who investigated allegations of child abuse in the catholic church in Boston.  The delicate subject matter is perfectly handled.  The film is understated and old fashioned in the best possible way.  The entire ensambe cast are brillient not just the two who received nominations.Spotlight

Youth: Paolo Sorrentino’s Felliniesque meditation on aging starring Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel as old friends on holiday in the Swiss Alps.  Caine and Keitel are great but I would have liked to have seen more of Rachel Weisz and Paul Dano.1280x720-XpB

So what is my movie of the month?  There are three real contenders: The Revenant,  The Big Short and Spotlight.  I could give it to The Revenant as the most cinematic of the trio, or The Big Short for being the most pleasantly surprising, or Spotlight for having the courage to be understated and un-showy.  It’s so close, if I were an Oscar voter I choosing my best picture, I would want to re-watch them all before deciding.  Not having the luxury of time to see them again, I am going for the one most want to see again: Spotlight.Spotlight movie poster

With the DVD coming out this week it has been suggested that I republish my review from last year.  Since I first shared my thoughts two things have happened, the movie found its way to number two in my top ten of 2015.  Less important but more significantly, the film has been unbelievably, largely overlooked by the Oscars.  Anyway, as requested:

“The program for this evening is not new, You’ve seen this entertainment through and through” I can’t resist, a good quote from The Doors, but is feels strangle fitting. Sicario feels very familiar as if you already know the beat if not the words. Don’t perceive this to be a problem, it helps the viewer slip easily into a world we don’t and will hopefully never know. The pointy end of the war on drugs.

Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) is an idealistic and possibly naïve FBI agent. When her job leading a hostage recovery team overlaps with the war on drugs she is enlisted into a joint task force run by Matt Graver (Josh Brolin).  Matt claims to work for the Department of Defence but is clearly CIA, he works with Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro) whose role and origin is shady to say the least.sicario

When you start a review saying how good a film looks it usually means the film itself was pretty but dull. This is far from the case with Sicario, Roger Deakins brings the same beauty to his photography that he did with Skyfall. The images are often disturbing, but boy do they look good through Deakins lenses. But all like the best cinematography it isn’t just about pretty pictures, it is how the more mundane shots are lit and framed to find the required mood. Back to the film itself.sicario emily blunt

There is a constant sense of dread, melancholy and despair that underlines the film similar to that experienced in No Country for Old Men (2007) and director Denis Villeneuve’s earlier film Prisoners (2013). This we see through Blunt’s character who is both the heart and the moral compass of the film. We as viewers are kept as much in the dark as she is as to the agenda and mandate of the task force.  Like her we are also given the opportunity to make our own mind up of the right and wrong of the situation.  While she is the heart and soul of the piece, Matt is ringmaster and Alejandro a spectre hanging over proceedings.

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The film is full of amazing dialogue that tells us all we need to know with without ever becoming Basil Exposition. One quote that frames the film comes when Kate asks Alejandro for an explanation of what is going on, his response: “You ask how the watch is made. Keep your eye on the time.” Another of his quotes is a little more arch, it is directed at Kate but is also an explanation of the film: “Nothing will make sense to your American ears. You will doubt what we do. But, in the end, it will make sense.” There are two more memorable quotes, one from Matt about why they do what they do, the other from Alejandro (again) about justice. I won’t publish them as they could stray into plot spoilers, least to say, they like the actions of the characters firmly nail their colours to the mast. The film doesn’t preach the right or wrong of the situation, it puts its characters in a scenario and lets the audience decide. This is far more intelligent film-making than we normally get from mainstream cinema.sicario Josh Brolin

Anyone who has seen The Wolfman may be understandably concerned by a Blunt / Del Toro reunion, don’t worry, they are both perfectly cast and brilliant as is Brolin. All the characters come across as real people not as sketches whose personality doesn’t stretch beyond the scenario they are in. Emily Blunt continues to show her versatility having done everything from costume drama to sci-fi action via comedy.  A special mention must be made for Daniel Kaluuya as Reggie, Blunts FBI partner, he is totally natural and believable in the role, offering a lighter and sometimes amusing angle without ever distracting from the film. He is a funny guy, not the comic relief dropped into a movie to lighten the tone. I could imagine Jessica Chastain in the Blunt role, other than that I can’t think of anyone else who could have filled the shoes (of flip-flops) of the three leads. The same is true of director, Denis Villeneuve, I can think of many top directors that could have done good job but they are sure to have distracted us with unnecessary flourishes. Interestingly the film appears to be based on an original story (early contender for best original Oscar nomination) by actor and first time writer Taylor Sheridan. It is unclear how much the taut storytelling is down to the director and how much the writer, whoever is responsible did a magnificent job.sicario-banner

The film is honest and brutal, even brutally honest, but still manages to revel in its moral ambiguity and uncertainty.  This is where a review drops in the but…. However, there is no but, I really have nothing negative to say about the film. It may disappoint a few people as it has been sold as more of an action movie than it is, but that is the fault of the distributors not the film or its makers. It is a solid film that doesn’t put a foot wrong. I don’t think it has the originality or is showy enough to win best picture or director at the Oscars, but it certainly good enough for a nomination or seven.

Unless they have moved the goalposts again, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences reserve the right to nominate between five and ten films for the “Best Motion Picture of the Year” Oscar.   This year they have nominated eight films: The Big Short, Brooklyn, Bridge of Spies, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian, The Revenant, Room, Spotlight.  From memory there have been nine films nominated in each of the last few year, the have explained this, thus: “A Best Picture nomination should be an indication of extraordinary merit. If there are only eight pictures that truly earn that honour in a given year, we shouldn’t feel an obligation to round out the number.” Far be it from be to suggest any nominations are making up the numbers!  I am relatively happy with the nominations, I have seen five (possibly six by the time I publish this) and will see the other two when they get a UK release.   But there are two potential spaces for other films to be nominated, what are the omissions and why?  Here are my suggestions:

Carol: A stunning film that has Oscar nomination written all over it, how did it miss out?  I have no idea, I think or at least hope we have come far enough in 2015/16 for the lesbian subject matter to not be an issue.  There is no conceivable reason for the film not to be nominated, unless I am just blinded by how much I loved it.Carol

Ex Machina: One of my favourite films of the year, and one of the most assured directorial debuts in a long time.  The reason it missed out?  The academy don’t like sci-fi.  Movies like The Martian and Gravity are close enough to reality to slip under the radar, but real sci-fi scares them.  A few exceptions are District 9, Avatar and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial way back in 1982.Ex Machina

Inside Out: Nearly twenty years after Beauty and the Beast, Toy Story 3 received a best picture nomination, the first animated film to do so since the Best Animated Feature category was introduced in 2001.  Pixars cleverest and deepest film, but also its most accessible.  Why wasn’t it nominated?  No reason, other than as mentioned Animated films don’t often don’t get a nod.

The Salvation: The reason it wasn’t nominated: It’s probably not on enough peoples radar to get a nod, plus it has The Revenant to deal with.  If you exclude The Sundowners (a sort of western set in Australian, nominated in 1960 alongside The Alamo), I am not aware of two westerns getting best picture nominations in the same year,the salvation

Sicario: A tense crime thriller that is nothing short of perfect.  As I have mentioned before the film isn’t originality or showy enough to win best picture but it certainly good enough for the nomination.sicario

What two movies would you pick to fill the unused places?

Back in April last year, I speculated that 2015 could be the year of the billion dollar blockbuster.  At the time Fast & Furious 7 had just become the 20th film to top a billion dollars.  I suggested that there would be four or five (more) billion dollar movies by the end of the year.  How did they do?
At the time or writing Fast & Furious 7 had passed $1.2 billion, it ended up over $1.5 Billion.Fast and Furious 7
Star Wars: The Force Awakens was my nailed on billion dollar film, it is over $1.5billion and counting, and is yet to open in China could top $2billion.star-wars-force-awakens-official-poster
I predicted Jurassic World would make a billion, made over $1.6billion and will be the years second highest grossing movie after Star Wars.jurassic-world-poster-indominus-rex
I thought Avengers: Age of Ultron would surpass the first Avengers movie, it came up about $100million short but still had a healthy $1.4billion.avengers age of ultron
I said of Minions that it would smash the half billion Despicable Me took and was spot on, but thought it would fall a little short of a billion, at £1.15billion, I was wrong.minions
After the success of Skyfall, I tipped SPECTRE for a billion, still on general releases it will increase on its current $865million but won’t make the magic billion dollars.spectre
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 took $637million, this is short of the £800million I predicted but is still a healthy return for what is essentially half a film, especially when you add it to Mockingjay – Part 1’s (2014) $755million.  It also fared better than the other two big YA franchises: Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials took $312million and The Divergent Series: Insurgent, $297million.the hunger games mockingjay part 2
The big budget flop of the year was Fantastic Four.  Not the worst “underperformance” of the year but the most publicised.  I estimated the studio would be looking for north $750million. It took just $168million.  I did say it would need good reviews and strong word of mouth, it got neither.  Compare this to Fantastic Four (2005) that took $330million.  The gap is made worse if you adjust for inflation, the 2005 movie took around $400million in today’s money (just accounting for the value of the US dollar), or closer to $500million if you adjust for ticket prices that have risen above inflation.fantastic four
Based on return on investment, the most successful film of the year is Fifty Shades of Grey, its $570million box-office represents around a 1425% return on investment, beating even Star Wars: The Force Awakens that sits at around 850% (1000% if it reaches $1billion).Fifty Shades of Grey
So what are the billion dollar contenders for 2016?
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice opens in March.  The Dark Knight topped a Billion dollars back in 2008, 2013′s Man of Steel underperformed at $668 million.  DC need to be approaching $1.5billion if they are going to compete with Marvel Studios but will probably grateful as long as the number has three commas!Batman v Superman Dawn of Justice
Captain America: Civil War opens a month later in April.  Captain America: The First Avenger took $370million. Its sequel Captain America: The Winter Soldier smashed this with $714million.  This time around they must be looking for the magic billion, especially when you consider, it isn’t just Captain America, its Captain America v Iron Man, and Iron Man has real box office pedigree.Captain America Civil War
X-Men: Apocalypse is next up in May.  2014’s X-Men: Days of Future Past is the highest grossing movie in the franchise at just shy of $748 million.  The trailer looks good, with good reviews and word of mouth it should beet Days of Future Past, I’m not totally sure X-Men has the fan-base to top a billion dollars but it could!X Men Apocalypse
Finding Dory comes out in July just in time for the school holidays.  Finding Nemo made $895million in 2003.  When you consider ticket prices are now 40% higher even before you add 3D premiums, that is well over a billion in today’s money. Finding Dory should easily top the billion dollar mark joining other animated movies Minions and Frozen.Finding Dory
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them opens in November.  As a new franchise it is an unknown quantity, but it is part of the Harry Potter universe, and the last of J.K. Rowling’s wizarding movies topped $1.3billion (for half a film).  It could just make a billion.Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story opens in December in the same slot The Force Awakens took in 2015.  This is a real unknown.  As a spinoff rather than “an episode”, part of a trilogy, it isn’t clear how people will react.  However given the good will The Force Awakens has earned I suspect it will do well, especially among fans of the original film; it is after all the story of “our most desperate hour” as described by Princess Leia in her message to Obi-Wan.  With a strong cast and an up and coming director it promises a lot.  The $773million that Guardians of the Galaxy took should be its minimum expectation.Rogue One A Star Wars Story
Check back in a years time to see who did make a billion dollars!

 

A slow month with just three new movies and one screening of a classic.

Krampus: A Christmas comedy horror that owes a debt to Gremlins.  It has both funny and horror moments and is largely entertaining but it isn’t Gremlins.Krampus

Victor Frankenstein: Do we need another remake of Frankenstein?  Yes, if it has something new to say.  Telling the story from Igor’s point of view, this new version looked like it could have something else to say.  Then it reverts to the usual clichéd camp, looking at times like the Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes movies.Victor Frankenstein

Star Wars: The Force Awakens: Large parts of the story are taken straight from the original film, this works surprisingly well.  The new characters are all good and fit well with the returning ones.  Most importantly it is a fun action adventure that gives a new hope for the franchise.star wars the force awakens

Doctor Zhivago: Rereleased as part of the BFI’s season on love.  Never turn down the chance to see a David Lean movie.  It has always been a fantastic film, all the better on the big screen.doctor zhivago

Movie of the month is:star wars the force awakens poster

A to Z of 2015

For my final post of the year, I give you my A to Z of the year:

A: Amy – documentary of the yearAmy

B: Back to the Future – we celebrated Back to the Future dayback to the future 2

C: Cate Blanchett, my performance of the yearCarol

D: Denis Villeneuve – my director of the yearsicario_dvilleneuve_rdeakins

E: Eastwood – Clint returns to form behind the camera and Scott finds his feet in front of it.The Eastwoods

F: Fast & Furious 7 – unexpectedly took $1.5billionFast and Furious 7

G: Garland  – Alex Garland debut director of the yearalex garland ex machina

H: Hardy – a worthy adaptationFar from the Madding Crowd

I: Imperator Furiosa – character of the yearImperator Furiosa

J:  J.J. Abrams – The man who awoke the forcestar wars the force awakens

K: Kingsman: The Secret Service – surprise of the yearkingsman

L: Love -BFI’s love season include cinema screenings of True Romance and Doctor ZhivagoLove

M: Mad Max – my movie of the yearMad Max Fury Road

N: Naomi Watts – putting Dianna behind her with a string of strong performancesNaomi Watts

O: Oscar Isaac – actor of the year with three very different moviesoscar isaac

P: Pixar – the first animation to make my top ten of the yearInside Out - Copy

Q: Q – Bond has gadgets again!Q

R: Roger Deakins – my cinematographer of the yearroger deakins

S: Spies – the year of the spy; Bond, Kingsman, UNCLE, SPY, Mission impossible, Bridge of Spies2015 Spies

T: Terminator – Genisys was rubbish but The Terminator got a cinematic rereleasethe terminator

U: Underperformers aka flops2015 Flops

V:  Vikander – Alicia Vikander, breakout star of the yearAlicia Vikander

W: Walking – Three movies about putting one foot in-front of the other  Walking 2015

X: X + Y – a film that deserves to find a wider audienceX + Y

Y: YA YA

Z: Zoë Kravitz – continues to impress in supporting roleszoe kravitz

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