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The nominees for the 90th Academy Awards were announced about a month ago, voting is about to start in preparation for the ceremony on Sunday, March 4, 2018.  The nominees for best picture are:

Call Me by Your Name – Peter Spears, Luca Guadagnino, Emilie Georges, and Marco Morabito

Darkest Hour – Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Lisa Bruce, Anthony McCarten, and Douglas UrbanskiDarkest Hour

Dunkirk – Emma Thomas and Christopher NolanDunkirk

Get Out – Sean McKittrick, Jason Blum, Edward H. Hamm Jr., and Jordan PeeleGet Out

Lady Bird – Scott Rudin, Eli Bush, and Evelyn O’Neilllady bird

Phantom Thread – JoAnne Sellar, Paul Thomas Anderson, Megan Ellison and Daniel Lupiphantom_thread

The Post – Amy Pascal, Steven Spielberg, and Kristie Macosko KriegerThe Post - Copy

The Shape of Water – Guillermo del Toro and J. Miles DaleThe Shape of Water

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – Graham Broadbent, Pete Czernin, and Martin McDonaghThree Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri

Since 2009, the Academy has allowed more than five films in the best picture category.  At the same time they changed the way this category is voted for.  Unlike the other categories that appear on  ballet as a simple tick box, the Best Picture category has a larger box with a space to rank films in order of preference.  The system known as instant-runoff voting, the idea being that the eventual winner is the film preferred by the widest consensus of voters.

When counted, if a film receives more than half the votes, it is declared the winner.  If there isn’t a winner, the film with the lowest number of first-choice votes is removed from the ballot.  All ballots that places this film at number one are redistributed using the second placed film on the ballot.  This process is continued until there is a clear winner.

I have not received my ballot paper, possibly something to do with not being an academy member.  Were I able to vote, this is my ranking for the best picture nominees:

  1. The Shape of Water
  2. Get Out 
  3. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
  4. Dunkirk
  5. Phantom Thread
  6. The Post
  7. Darkest Hour

Not Ranked*

  • Lady Bird
  • Call Me by Your Name

*I haven’t ranked these films as I haven’t seen them.  Will the actual voters stick to films they have actually seen, or even better, watch all the nominated films.

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Blade to Black Panther

Back in 2009 I published an article about Blade being the most important movie Marvel had made.  Without it, and its success we probably wouldn’t have had the X-Men movies, the Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man movies, or The MCU.  At the time of writing, an Avengers movie was little more than a rumor, there had only been two releases and I don’t think we had even heard the term MCU.  There have now been eighteen films with a further two due for release this year.  Why am I talking about this now?  As I understand it, Wesley Snipes didn’t want to make Blade, he had his eye on a different Marvel Property, Black Panther.  He didn’t get to play Black Panther, but without him and Blade, we may have never seen an MCU, or a Black Panther movie.  Below, is a copy of my article from June 2009:

* * * * *

blade posterFilms based on comic books and graphic novels are big business taking billions of dollars and the box office.  Last year saw the top four comic book movies: The Dark Knight, Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk and Hellboy II gross more than two billion dollars.  Two of these films (Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk) represent some of the latest films from Marvel Studios.  Launched in the mid 90’s they have been so successful that they are now moving away from co-productions with other studios and are making their own films.  But where did it all start?

blade and frostAfter years of the rights Marvel comics being sold of for TV shows and rubbish films (often with a tiny budget) Marvel studios first film was a co production with New Line Cinema.  Not risking one of their big name comic books their first film and in some ways their most important was Blade.  Released in 1998 written by David S. Goyer, directed by Stephen Norrington and staring Wesley Snipes.  The Character was created by Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan in the 70’s as a supporting character in The Tomb of Dracula comic book.  He went on to star in his own comic book as well as making appearances in various other Marvel Titles before being picked up for this movie that spawned two sequels and a TV spin-off .

kris kristoffersontracy lordsWesley Snipes is perfect in the lead role giving the right blend of stone faced killer, brooding hero and a little deadpan humour.  He is well supported by veteran actor Kris Kristofferson as Abraham Whistler his sidekick, mentor, weaponsmith and general farther figure.  The villain of the piece is Decaon Frost (Stephen Dorff) a vampire with a plan that involves Blade.  Amongst the supporting cast is former porn star Traci Lords making one of her occasional appearances in a mainstream film.  The story is original taking ideas from the comics but no real plot details.  The reason the film works so well is its blend of action horror and the aforementioned deadpan humour.  The blood soaked rave at the start sets the tone for the movie and the directors background in music videos is evident as he keeps the action coming.

wolverineThe production had a relatively modest budget of around $45million and produced worldwide Gross revenue of $131million.  This does not appear to be much when compared to the near $600million Iron Man took or the or the $2.5billion the three Spider-Man movies have made however without the relative success of Blade these films and the X-Men films including this years Wolverine movie may never have been made.  If this is a comic book adaptation that has passed you by now is the time to give a go.  And if you like it you are in for a treat, the sequel directed by visionary geniuses Guillermo Del Toro is even better.

This is the first of a series of articles about comic book/graphic novel adaptations look out for further articles on the subject.

 

I first came across Guillermo del Toro in 1997 when I rented Mimic on Video (I didn’t see Cronos until some years later on TV). I have since seen every one of his movies in the cinema on their original release. Mimic is an enjoyable genre movie.   It doesn’t do anything outstanding but it does it with a style that made del Toro a director to look out for.  Four years later came the stunning ghost story The Devil’s Backbone.  This was closely followed in 2002 by Blade II.  A big fan of the original Blade, I was curious what a sequel would be like.  With a bigger scope and a more in-depth story it is better than the first film.  This is where I first saw a lot of the themes that have become the mainstay for del Toro stories; themes that were explored further in Hellboy and (2004) and his masterpiece Pan’s Labyrinth (2006).  My favourite film of the year and possibly the decade.  While I have enjoyed all his films that have followed, none have quite hit the highs of Pan’s Labyrinth until now! Pans labyrinth

Its traditional to start a review, if that is what this is, with a brief synopsis.  Rather than agonising over how much plot to give away in a carefully worded description, I have lifted this from IMDB “At a top secret research facility in the 1960s, a lonely janitor forms a unique relationship with an amphibious creature that is being held in captivity.”  This is as much as you want to know going in, I would certainly avoid any trailers as they give the whole story away. The Shape of Water PosterThe key to the brilliance of the movie is the central performance by Sally Hawkins as Elisa Esposito.  The part is largely without speech, but she expresses so much without words.  This isn’t achieved with a silent movie style over exaggerated performance; this is naturalistic, subtle and beautiful.  Without this central performance, the romance that is at the heart of the story would not be believable, but more importantly, we as audiences would not care about it. The Shape of Water

The brilliance of the film goes far beyond the central plot and the main characters: Richard Jenkins plays a neighbour and friend who has his own story, with his own triumphs and failures as well as being key to the central plot.  We get a glimpse of the home life of co-worker Zelda (Ocatavia Spencer).  Then we have Michael Shannon’s character he is essentially the films villain, but he truly believes he is a patriot and the hero.   All these things hold a mirror up to society, how we live and what we believe, not the society of its early 60’s setting, this is a movie for today, a movie for today.  A time of Brexit Britain, Trumps America and tensions between the two Korean states. The-Shape-of-Water-Michael-Shannon-Strickland

The film looks amazing.  Many of the visual effects are real, in camera and not digital.  The production design is stunning, not exactly German Expressionism, but certainly a couple of degrees of real world.  There is so much going on and there are some truly tense scenes, but the film drifts along telling its story with pace and a truly gentle touch.  The themes and metaphors are clear to see but not rammed down our throats.  Del Toro trusts that his audiences with enough intelligence to make their own mind up about what they are seeing as he did with The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth.  This all helps make the film totally engrossing, the time absolutely flies by; I was amazed to learn it was just over two hours long, when the credits rolled I would have guessed closer to 90 minutes. Octavia_Spencer_in_The_Shape_of_Water

Nominated for a well-deserved 13 Oscars.  It’s hard to say how many it will win; given the other films nominated, I would probably only give it three or four: Best Achievement in Directing, Best Motion Picture of the Year, Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role for Sally Hawkins, and Best Achievement in Production Design.  It is credited as a 2017 film, had it been released last year it would have topped my list of favourite films for the year. 

“Come gather ’round people, Wherever you roam, And admit that the waters, Around you have grown, And accept it that soon, You’ll be drenched to the bone.”

Things have changed in Hollywood and the full impact of them is still to be seen, this makes the awards season interesting for the first time in years.  It isn’t just about the protests, jokes and speeches at the ceremonies, for thinks to truly change it has to be reflected, in the films made and the people awarded.   Here are a few thoughts on the nominations:

Best Motion Picture of the Year

There are no massive surprises in the best picture category, the one that is a little leftfield, is the one I am most pleased about; Get Out.  Oscar has a type; there are certain types of films that don’t do well with Oscar, top of that list is comedy and horror, this is both comedy and horror.  On top of this the themes of race are sadly relevant.   I also like the idea that Jason Blum (receiving his second nomination) could be an Oscar winner.  Darkest Hour is an OK film with an outstanding central performance.  In past years along with Dunkirk it could have been a frontrunner, as it is I feel it is making up the numbers.  I just saw Phantom Thread this week , and loved it but again don’t see it winning.  The only notable omissions for me were my favourite film of the year Blade Runner 2049 and Baby Driver.  I haven’t seen two of the nominated films: I missed Call Me by Your Name, it didn’t make it to my local multiplex. Lady Bird  Isn’t released for another two weeks.  I understand  The Shape of Water has become favourite overtaking early contender Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri .  The Shape of Water would certainly be my choice, however, I wouldn’t write-off The Post.  Given the preferential count that is employed in the best picture category, the safe choice with an established director and big name stars is in with a shout.  After all, half the voters probably only saw half the movies anyway!The Shape of Water Poster

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role

It is unusual that Daniel Day-Lewis is nominated for best actor but isn’t favourite.  This is something of a shame as his performance in Phantom Thread is one of his best, far more understated than many of his other nominations.  Daniel Kaluuya for Get Out is the surprise inclusion for the same reasons mentioned in the above category.   He is fantastic in an excellent movie and truly deserves his nomination.  Denzel Washington is always great, I haven’t seen Roman J. Israel, Esq. yet, I hope to see it later today.  Gary Oldman is the clear favourite, and quite rightly, he is outstanding as Churchill in Darkest Hour.  As mentioned, I haven’t seen Call Me by Your Name yet so cannot comment on Timothée Chalamet. Darkest Hour

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role

Frances McDormand is the favourite for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.  I would be very surprised if she doesn’t win her second Oscar.  She is excellent in would be a worthy recipient, however she would not be my choice.  With a more subtle, and almost wordless  performance, Sally Hawkins in The Shape of Water is sensational.  Meryl Streep is excellent in The Post, I however would not have chosen her as a nominee.  I would have gone for Vicky Krieps for Phantom Thread.  I haven’t seen the other two nominated movies yet: Margot Robbie for I, Tonya and Saoirse Ronan for Lady Bird.The Shape of Water

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role

Already the oldest winner of an acting Oscar Beginners (2010), Christopher Plummer, has become the oldest acting nominee at 88 (overtaking Emmanuelle Riva who was nominated for Best Actress for Amour in 2013 at the age of 85) for All the Money in the World.  But the real story is that his nomination comes only three months after being cast, replacing Kevin Spacey (after the film had wrapped).  Plummer is the best thing about the film is a strong contender for his second Oscar.  The overwhelming favourite and my choice would have to be Sam Rockwell for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.  The other contenders are also all good in a strong category: Richard Jenkins, The Shape of Water; Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project; Woody Harrelson, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE OF EBBING, MISSOURI

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role

This category has been described as the battle of the mothers as the two of the favourites play the mothers of the main characters: Allison Janney for I, Tonya and Laurie Metcalf for Lady Bird.  The other nominees are: Lesley Manville, Phantom Thread; Mary J. Blige, Mudbound; Octavia Spencer, The Shape of Water. For me, the only obvious omission is Holly Hunter for The Big Sick. Lesley Manville Phantom Thread

Best Achievement in Directing

The most exciting category; whoever wins, it will be their first as a director.  Amazingly, Christopher Nolan’s nomination for Dunkirk is his first as director.  In fact, of the five nominations, Paul Thomas Anderson nominated for Phantom Thread is the only one to have previously been nominated (There Will Be Blood).  Obviously I would love Guillermo del Toro to win for The Shape of Water.  However, the other nominees are very interesting:  Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird and Jordan Peele, Get Out are both first time directors, and as a woman and a person of colour respectively, from groups who are underrepresented as directors.   Greta Gerwig and Jordan Peele

Best Original Screenplay

A strong category where any of the nominees would make worthy winners, they are: Get Out – Jordan Peele. Lady Bird – Greta Gerwig. The Big Sick – Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon. The Shape of Water Guillermo del Toro and Vanessa Taylor. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – Martin McDonagh.  The Big Sick is the one I am most pleased to see, as well as being thoroughly deserved, it is the most surprising.  Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V Gordon

Best Adapted Screenplay

Molly’s Game is notable as Aaron Sorkin first film as a director.  It is quite rightly nominated for the screenplay.  The film has fantastic dialogue as well as a complex structure that really works.  However, it wouldn’t be my choice for the Oscar, that would go to: Logan – Scott Frank, James Mangold, and Michael Green.  They have turned everybody’s favourite X Man character into a dystopian western.  The other nominees are: Mudbound – Dee Rees and Virgil Williams; The Disaster Artist – Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber; Call Me by Your Name – James Ivory.Scott Frank James Mangold and Michael Green

Best Achievement in Cinematography

There are two notable nominations in this category:  Roger Deakins – Blade Runner 2049, received his fourteenth nomination.  On the other hand, not only is it the first nomination for Rachel Morrison – Mudbound, it is the first time a woman has ever been nominated in the category.  The other nominations are: Darkest Hour – Bruno Delbonnel; Dunkirk – Hoyte Van Hoytema; The Shape of Water – Dan Laustsen. Roots

The 90th Academy Awards ceremony, will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California at 5:00 p.m. PST (That’s silly O’clock in the morning GMT) on March 4, 2018.

2018 has started well, as you would expect for awards season we are getting some of the big hitters that came out in the back end of last year in America.  Here are the movies I have seen in January, I expect one or two of them to be in contention for my top ten come year end: 

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – A mother personally hires three billboards to challenge a local sheriff to catch the person who raped and murdered her daughter.  So much more than its synopsis.  The cast are all fantastic particularly Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell.  Dark and devastatingly funny in equal measure.Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri - Copy

Hostiles – Revisionist western; in his last mission before retiring, an army captain reluctantly agrees to escort a Cheyenne chief (a former adversary) and his family home. Brutally violent but compelling drama.  Christian Bale is at his intense best.Hostiles

All the Money in the World – True story of the kidnapping of the grandson of the richest man in the world J. Paul Getty.  Overshadowed by the recasting (after the film had wrapped) replacing Kevin Spacey with Christopher Plummer.  As it turns out, Plummer is the best thing about the film.  Good, but not great.All the Money in the World

Happy End – Michael Haneke’s family drama set in Calais against the backdrop of Europe’s refugee crisis.  I don’t think anyone is expecting a happy end from a Haneke film called Happy, this isn’t as bleak as you may expect!  Intelligently shot and always interesting, Isabelle Huppert is as brilliant as ever.Happy End

Darkest Hour – During his first month in office, Prime Minister Winston Churchill, is under tremendous pressure to make peace with Hitler.  His only hope, bringing the British troops, stranded at Dunkirk home.   The film is good, Gary Oldman’s performance is outstanding. The film is best summed up by a line of dialogue, spoken by Viscount Halifax “He mobilized the English language and sent it into battle” (I believe broadcaster Edward Murrow said it in real life).Darkest Hour

The Commuter – Liam Neeson, plays the commuter of the title.  A contrived plot forces him to do things he doesn’t want to do in order to keep the story flowing and the action moving.  A by the numbers thriller with all the clichés and telegraphed plot twists you would expect.  Vera Farmiga is wasted in a confused supporting role.  Generally entertaining with an excellent opening sequence.The Commuter

The Post – Spielberg, Streep, Hanks; Three names that come with an expectation of a classy movie, it doesn’t disappoint. Streep and Hanks play the owner and editor of The Washington Post during the time of the publication of The Pentagon Papers.  Clearly made as reaction to the world today, and as such sadly relevant.The Post

Coco – Set on Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead), a twelve year old boy is transported to the Land Of The Dead and must seek the help of his ancestors to return home  before dawn.  Pixar’s best movie since Inside Out.Coco - Copy

Downsizing – High concept satirical Sci-Fi about shrinking people to about five inches tall to solve the worlds overcrowding problems.  The ideas are better than the execution resulting in a film that is always interesting but rarely thrilling.

DOWNSIZING

12 Strong – True story of the first Special Forces team deployed to Afghanistan after 9/11.  Having more in common with a classic western than a war movie.  Entertaining, informative, well made with a great cast but too gung-ho for its own good.12 Strong

Early Man – The latest from Aardman Animations is advertised as a Bronze Age comedy history, it is actually a football comedy.  A little lightweight but amusing movie.Early Man

The Shape of Water – A mute woman working as a janitor at government facility forms a bond with a captured amphibious creature.  Another dark fairytale from Guillermo del Toro full of the themes you would expect, a beautiful and moving movie, his best since Pan’s Labyrinth.The Shape of Water

Maze Runner: The Death Cure – After losing its way in the second movie the YA adaptation finds its way in a the final instalment. Retaining the action throughout, it doesn’t offer anything new but is enjoyable and exciting film, the opening sequence is particularly good.Maze Runner The Death Cure

Easy choice, my movie of the month is: The Shape of Water Poster

Super-Blue Moon

You have probably heard the expression once in a blue moon referring to a rare event, but what is a blue moon? There are actually multiple meanings. The moon occasionally appears to take on a bluish tinge, this is caused by smoke or dust particles in the atmosphere. The particles have to be a very particular size and are only caused by erupting volcanoes and forest fires. This isn’t actually a blue moon.  There are also two astronomical definitions, one of which will happen tonight: the second full moon in a month.  As the “Blue Moon” is appearing on the last day of January, February will be a Black Moon, having no Full Moon in calendar month.  The Moon travels in an elliptical orbit and is in its closest point to The earth, this is known as a supermoon will appear around 7% larger and 15% brighter than average .  

In celebration of the lunar event, here is a reminder of my favorite werewolf movies:

ONE – An American Werewolf in London (1981): The advances in CGI mean that modern horror movies are better and more realistic than old ones that look cheep and outdated; well actually NO! An American Werewolf in London is more than thirty years old and still has the best man to werewolf transformation. The movie has moments that are scary, funny and sexy, it really is the ultimate comedy horror, the word classic is an overused but when talking about this movie, it just seems insignificant.

TWO – Ginger Snaps (2000): With all the wolf effects you need a big budget to make a good werewolf movie, again NO! With budgetary constraints comes artistic invention, $4million would barely pay the coffee budget on the Lord of the Rings movies but that’s what Ginger Snaps cost to make. Fantastically developed characters full of teen angst, the film is more gritty, earthy and visceral than the pithy ironic style of most horror movies of the time. With themes of alienation, despair and transformation the entire film is a metaphor for teenage in particular puberty.

THREE – The Company of Wolves (1984): With Red Riding Hood, two Snow White movies and the TV show Once Upon a Time there is a real desire to update fairytales, it has never been done better than the Little Red Riding Hood inspired The Company of Wolves. It was also a bit of a game changer for werewolf movies, until this time, werewolves were portrayed as viscous beasts whilst vampires were symbols of sex and sexuality, but this sumptuous horror fantasy movie oozes sexual metaphors. Loosely based on Angela Carter short story of the same name, the meaning of the film is left perfectly ambiguous and open to interpretation but is filled with themes of fear and desire and has an undercurrent of sexuality and loss of innocence.

FOUR – Dog Soldiers (2002): Soldiers on a training mission gone wrong in the Scottish highlands sounds like a rip-off of Walter Hill’s Southern Comfort, in a way it is but writer/director Neil Marshall (who went on to make The Descent) isn’t afraid to borrow from the best, later scenes are equal parts Night of the Living Dead and The Evil Dead with the end being pure The Howling with a British spin. As is often the case film makers are at there most inventive whist constrained by a limited budget, this film is no exception making great use of their none CGI monsters. Again for budgetary reasons the werewolves spend a lot of time where they traditionally belong, in the shadows. The final victory of the film is the perfect blend of horror and comedy, something that is hard to get right.

FIVE – The Howling (1981): Made by Gremlins director Joe Dante The Howling is a great early 80’s horror that dispenses with many of the conventions of the genre. The film plays out like a conspiracy thriller and in the sprit of All the President’s Men and The Parallax View the main character is a journalist. A film of the same era as An American Werewolf in London, The Howling is less comical and more satirical but also in the conspiracy thriller style it is actually a little subversive, the wolf effects aren’t as good and look a little dated but aren’t bad.

Honourable mentions:

Brotherhood of the Wolf (2001): Not an honourable mention because it isn’t as good as others on the list, but because it ultimately isn’t really a werewolf movie. loosely based on a real-life Beast of Gévaudan. A series of killings in France in the 18th century that caught the attention King Louis XV who sent professional wolf-hunters to solve kill the wolves responsible.

Underworld (2003): Amazingly this film is fifteen years old.  To be honest, it is not a great movie, but the first of this werewolf V vampire franchise is a real guilty pleasure for me. Making the most of its relatively small budget underworld is a hugely stylish movie. It looks fantastic and you have to admire the actors involved for playing such a silly movie so seriously.  Bill Nighy seems to have been around for ever, this is actually the first film I remember seeing him in.  Had they known it was going to become a franchise, they probably wouldn’t have killed his and Michael Sheen’s character in the first film!

 

bafta rising star

BAFTA will be handing out its annual film awards on Sunday 18th of February.  This year’s best film nominations consist of: Dunkirk, three films that were not released in the UK until after they were nominated (Darkest Hour, The Shape of Water and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri), and a film that I hear is very good, but most mainstream cinema chains neglected to show (Call Me By your Name).  There is nothing you or I can do about the peculiarities of BAFTA nominations, or UK cinema scheduling, but there is one award we can impact upon:  The Rising Star Award.

As always, it is a strong list, each of the nominees would make a worthy winner, here are a list of the nominees along with their most significant recent movie:

DANIEL KALUUYA – Get OutGet Out

FLORENCE PUGH  Lady MacbethLady MacBeth

JOSH O’CONNOR – God’s Own CountryJOSH O_CONNOR

TESSA THOMPSON – Thor: Ragnarok TESSA THOMPSON

TIMOTHÉE CHALAMET – Call Me By Your NameTIMOTHÉE CHALAMET

My vote went to Florence Pugh but I could easily have gone for one of the other three that I have seen (Call Me By Your Name).  Florence Pugh has already won the Fandango Award (shared with the writer and director of Lady Macbeth), the rising star category of my awards.  Lady Macbeth was also my movie of the month back in May last year.

You can vote HERE

bafta rising star 2018