Archive for March, 2018

A busy month of cinema going.  In addition to the films listed below I also saw a ten year anniversary screening of the brilliant but controversial Martyrs.  The contenders for movie of the month are:

Red Sparrow – If you have seen the trailer you would be forgiven for thinking that Marvel had re-cast Black Widow and made an origin movie. This couldn’t be further from the truth, more George Smiley or Harry Palmer than James Bond. Jennifer Lawrence reteams with her Hunger Games director Francis (no relation) Lawrence for an old school spy thriller. Lawrence is convincing as a ballerina forced into a new career. The action is more verbal than physical, but the visuals are often brutal and unflinching. The supporting cast are also excellent, particularly Matthias Schoenaerts as Lawrence’s creepy spymaster uncle. The plot is full of twists and turns but not so much that you can’t follow the story leading to a satisfying conclusion. It is not a film I expect to go down well with audiences, which is a shame, I loved it.Red Sparrow

Wonder Wheel – Woody Allen movies can be a bit hit and miss, this one is certainly more in the miss camp. Ginny (Kate Winslet) is unhappily married to Humpty (Jim Belushi), deluding herself that her affair with pseudo-intellectual flake Mickey (Justin Timberlake) is more than just a fling. Things are shaken up by the arrival of Humpty’ s daughter Carolina (Juno Temple), on the run from her mobster husband. Temple is excellent, Belushi is terrible, he wants to be Brando in a Tennessee Williams play. Shot by three time Oscar winner Vittorio Storaro, the film looks great, it is just really dull and plodding.Wonder Wheel

You Were Never Really Here – A welcome return from Lynne Ramsay. The plot of a hired killer/enforcer sent to rescue a Senator’s daughter sounds like something we have seen many times before, most notably David Mamet’s underrated Spartan (2004). But this is so much more nuanced than that. Existing in a dream like state reminiscent of Ramsay’s earlier Morvern Callar (2002), the film has little interest in plot, instead, it concentrates on the fractured mind of its protagonist Joe (Joaquin Phoenix). All this is aided by another great score by Jonny Greenwood. Not one for the multiplex masses, but a fantastic film for those who like this sort of thing, like me!You Were Never Really Here

Gringo – A first feature for director Nash (brother of Joel) Edgerton. A south of the border comedy crime drama about corrupt corporations and a hapless everyman. Charlize Theron and David Oyelowo relish their comedy roles, Joel Edgerton once again proves his versatility. Amanda Seyfried isn’t given much to do. Even Sharlto Copley isn’t bad. A fun movie but not as funny as it should be. And for those, who have seen the film, and are wondering, the answer to the question is Revolver!Gringo

Mom and Dad – The concept of this movie is totally bonkers, the execution is total B movie schlock, but it actually works thanks to some great style touches, and Nicolas Cage going totally Nicolas Cage! For reasons that are never really explained suburban parents go berserk and try and kill their own offspring. The film could be taken as a straight tongue in cheek comedy horror, or as a satire on the relationship between teenagers and parents. With themes of mothers being jealous of their daughters and fathers resenting the loss of their youth, the latter reading is certainly topical. Don’t expect a masterpiece or anything particularly memorable but as disposable fun, it isn’t bad.mom and dad

Love, Simon – Taken on its own merits, Love, Simon is a coming age, high-school drama, a genre that is two a penny. On this basis it doesn’t come close to other recent films of the genre, the highlights being Lady Bird and Edge of Seventeen. However, it is hard to take on its own merits for a simple difference in the plot. Simon, the main character is gay, and the obligatory teenage crisis of the movie is his coming out. This is the first overtly mainstream YA movie I have seen with such a storyline making it potentially a watershed movie. In one way it’s hard to believe it hasn’t been done before as the story fits the genre really well, it follows all the usual beats of a person whose seemingly perfect life comes crashing down because of bad decisions, he then spends the final act trying to put them right. The film is enjoyable and entertaining largely thanks to a likeable cast and the right amount of humour.love simon

Tomb Raider – Reboot of the successful but rubbish Angelina Jolie vehicle. Telling an origin story, Alicia Vikander (who is actually older than Jolie was when she took the part) plays a young Lara Croft raiding her first tomb. A more serious, and slightly more grounded take on the character it is notably better than the original two movies. However the story is very derivative, some of the set pieces are borrowed directly Indiana Jones, some of the CGI is poor and Walton Goggins is wasted playing a one dimensional character. Alicia Vikander makes a likeable charismatic lead, if there is a sequel, it will hopefully have a better script.Tomb Raider

Ready Player One – There was a time when blockbusters were fun, it was called the 80’s! If anyone can recapture that its Steven Spielberg, he hasn’t disappointed. Largely existing within a virtual reality world where anything goes, the movie is filled with pop culture references; not being a gamer I didn’t get a lot of the game references, but the film ones are nothing short of joyous. There is a whole scene and extended set-piece involving a Stanley Kubrick movie that only Spielberg could have pulled off. At its heart the story is a quest, the subject of many games, but also one of the oldest basis’ for a story going back at least as far as Homer. It is a little sentimental and clichéd in its message, but that isn’t actually a bad thing especially when it’s done style, and without cynicism. More fun than anything Spielberg has made for nearly thirty years, and like some of his earlier films, one that will be enjoyed for years to come.Ready Player One

Unsane – A young woman looking for a support group following an incident with a stalker accidently commits herself to a mental institution. Steven Soderbergh’s second feature since coming out of “retirement” is tonally similar to his earlier film Side Effects. Shot using iPhones giving some unusual and sometime unnerving visuals. Depending on your point of view the film either perfectly balances multiple ideas, or is a confused by having too many ideas, I am leaning towards the former. It certainly holds a mirror up to some topical issues, as well as been a straight horror tinged thriller. By far the best thing about the film is Claire Foy who is excellent, I am now suddenly intrigued and excited to see what she does as Lisbeth Salander.


Pacific Rim: Uprising – After moderate success and five years, no one expected a Pacific Rim sequel to ever happen. With Guillermo del Toro busy making the Oscar winning The Shape of Water, directing duties passed to Steven S. DeKnight who has a solid pedigree in television. The film offers absolutely nothing new or original but is great dumb fun.Pacific Rim Uprising

Isle of Dogs – Following 2009’s Fantastic Mr. Fox, Wes Anderson returns to the world of stop motion animation. Set in Japan, a corrupt dog hating mayor exiles the canine population to a trash island under the guise of quarantine. A young boy travels to the Island to rescue his beloved pet. Charming, funny and touching helped out by an amazing voice-cast and a fantastic soundtrack.isle of dogs

A Wrinkle in Time – Based on book of the same name by Madeleine L’Engle’s that has been a children’s staple since its first publication in 1962, or so I am told. I had never heard of it! Directed by Ava DuVernay with a solid cast it was sure to be good. Sadly it isn’t. It is well made, visually spectacular, and largely well acted, but that’s about all it has going for it. The story is dull and the plot wafer thin at best, the good v evil / light v dark story lacks any subtlety.A Wrinkle in Time

Never has a movie of the month come with so many caveats; firstly had Annihilation been screened at a cinema it would almost certainly been movie of the month.  I tend not to count reissues towards movie of the month, again Martyrs would have been a strong contender if I did.  I considered giving it to Red Sparrow just to be contrary as everyone seems to hate it.  Finally, You Were Never Really Here is probably the best movie this month, but I’m not sure how many times I will want to re-watch it, however, my chosen movie I have already seen twice.  I saw a preview about a week and half before release, went a away, read the book on which it is based, and watched it again (in IMAX), my movie of the month is: Ready Player OneReady Player One Movie of the Month.jpg


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Around ten years ago I watched Martyrs on DVD based on multiple recommendations. I understand it had a cinema release but certainly not at any of my local multiplexes (I didn’t visit independent cinemas often back then). My feeling at time was that I thought the film was excellent, but I didn’t want to see it again. Fast forward a decade and one of my local independent cinema’s, the Mockingbird in Birmingham advertised a 10 year anniversary screening. Never one to pass up the opportunity for seeing a classic on the big screen, how could I refuse!

Below are my thoughts on the film from my first viewing a decade ago published at the time:

Martyrs I sat down to watch Martyrs with no real prior knowledge of what it was going to be about. It had been recommended to me and I put it on my DVD rental list without reading a synopsis or review. It actually went on general release in the UK earlier in the year but didn’t make it to my local cinema. The disk came through a few days ago, I watched it not knowing what to expect.

I sat down to watch Martyrs with no real prior knowledge of what it was going to be about. It had been recommended to me and I put it on my DVD rental list without reading a synopsis or review. It actually went on general release in the UK earlier in the year but didn’t make it to my local cinema. The disk came through a few days ago, I watched it not knowing what to expect.

The film is split into three relatively distinct parts, it begins with a girl escaping from captivity. This is done without any back story of who she is, how she came to be imprisoned or who her captors were. Traumatised she is put in a home where she befriends a girl of a similar age. It looks at this stage as if the film could develop into a ghost story along the lines of The Orphanage or The Devils Backbone. Then suddenly the story jumps forward fifteen years to where the rest of the film is set other than a few flashbacks. The second part begins with a happy family eating breakfast on a Sunday morning, clearly this must be connected to the earlier story but at this time we don’t know how. The final part is completely unexpected. It is impossible to say any more without giving the plot away so I will leave it there. The final third takes the most unexpected turn and is truly difficult to watch. Without describing what happens it probably isn’t possible to put into words the experience of watching it but I will try; disturbing, traumatic and upsetting all spring to mind but all fall woefully short. The film doesn’t so much have a twist but it unfolds in an unusual direction, I can’t draw any conclusions as to the meaning of the film without giving away the plot. For the same reason I won’t include the trailer, it gives too much away.

Controversial in its native France, it was released uncut here in the UK in cinemas and on DVD with a simple warning “Contains sustained strong bloody violence and horror”. It has been mistaken by some reviewers as torture porn. Whilst in many ways it is far more brutal than Hostel or Saw, there is far more going on here. There are rumors of an American remake on the way, if you want torture porn wait for that, I’m sure it won’t disappoint. Taking a step away from the horror and controversy of the film the thing that sets it apart from many other films of the genre is that it is really well made. The main attraction of the film is great acting. The two female leads give really strong performances. Mylène Jampanoï who plays Lucie is well established but Morjana Alaoui who plays Anna is a relative newcomer in only her second film.

A little like with Antichrist, it is such a strong and powerful film, with so much to say for itself that I feel I must recommend other people see it. However I make this recommendation fully in the knowledge that many viewers will hate and detest the film, others will be sickened and offended by it, even the ones who like it will be shocked by it. You have been warned!

So what do I think after a second viewing?

The film is just as powerful and disturbing as before. Whereas first time around I was unsure of what to make of the ending, I now believe it is intentionally left open to interpretation. I have a stronger view on the meaning of the ending but would rather people drew their own conclusions. After all, the meaning is probably as influenced by what the viewer brings to it as what they see on the screen.

The second feature for directed by Pascal Laugier, it was reported at the time that his next film would be a sequel and/or remake of Hellraiser. This fortunately didn’t happen, some movie are just too iconic to be remade! his next film was actually the Canadian and French (English language),The Tall Man (2012 film), an under-seen and underrated horror thriller. His next film, Ghostland (2018) is in the can but does not have a UK release date as yet. The remake of Martyrs I mentioned came along in 2015. I haven’t seen it so can’t comment, given the 4.0 IMDB rating (22 Metascore) I’m not in any rush.

I have already booked to return to the Mockingbird next month for a double bill of Audition (1999) & Battle Royale (2000). Another film I loved first time around but haven’t re watched, and one that I have seen many times and have since read the book on which it is based.

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Before I say anymore, let me nail my colours to the mast; the cinema is the best place to watch films, I watch over a hundred films in the cinema and have done so for the past twenty years.  Regardless of how good a home setup is, it isn’t the same, therefore home viewing is a last resort! Why am I telling you this?

I have recently watched Alex Garland’s new movie Annihilation at home, and not at the cinema, not by choice, but because short of a transatlantic flight it wasn’t possible for me to see the film as the director intended.

To give a little context, this is not a direct to video release in the traditional sense, made by Paramount Pictures and Scott Rudin Productions, the film was intended for a cinema/theatrical release.  Then a financier at Paramount got cold feet when test audiences described the film as “too intellectual” and “too complicated”.  Said financier was then kind enough to spare us stupid audiences the embarrassment of being confused by the film, what a hero!  The studio decided to release the movie properly in the US and China but sold the rest of the world rites to Netflix for their streaming service.

I suspect anyone reading this will know who Alex Garland is.  For those who don’t, he is a bit of a Renaissance Man.  I first came across him in the late 90’s when he wrote his début novel and cultural touchstone The Beach (1996), that was later turned into a far better than it is given credit for movie.  His next novel The Tesseract (1998) was equally as good; it was also turned into a film but was far too abstract to work on screen.  His final (as yet) novel The Coma (2004) featured fantastic woodcut illustrations by his father, Nicholas Garland.Alex Garland Novels

Garland then turned to screenwriting producing a mixture of adaptations and original stories for: 28 Days Later (2002), Sunshine (2007), 28 Weeks Later (2007), Never Let Me Go (2010), and Dredd (2012).Alex Garland screenwriting

He then made his directorial début with one of the best, and most intelligent movies of 2015, Ex Machina, the film that also introduced most of us to the brilliant Alicia Vikander.  This brings us up to date and to Annihilation.   As you may expect from all this background, I loved Annihilation and am greatly disappointed that I did not get to see it as intended on the big screen.Alicia Vikander Ex Machina

A brief synopsis: A lighthouse in Florida is hit by a meteor.  The area is quickly overtaken by a “shimmer” that blocks all communication with the outside world.  For reasons that happen in the first act, but I don’t want to spoil, a biology professor (Natalie Portman) joins an expedition led by a doctor (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to ender the shimmer.  Things get a little strange from here.Annihilation

I went into the movie knowing about as much, possibly even less than I have described above and think the film is the better for it.  What follows works on so many levels.  The film is loosely based on a novel by Jeff VanderMeer, it is reported that Garland read the novel once, then wrote a script based on it without refereeing back to the book.  Without reading the book, which I haven’t it is impossible to tell how much of the subtext is Garland and how much is author Jeff VanderMeer.  The strongest themes that come out are grief and depression, but this is all overshadowed by a compulsion to dominate and destroy.  Does this refer to the West’s interference in the rest of the world, our refusal to accept integration, or simply our destruction of the environment?  Probably a mixture of all of the above! Its strength comes not from the answers it gives, but from the questions it asks, thus making the film not about black and white absolutes, but about what we the audience bring to it.  I have heard comparisons with  Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival; while the subject matter has little more than a passing resemblance, the mood very similar.Annihilation

As well as the brilliant, and aforementioned Natalie Portman and Jennifer Jason Leigh, the cast also includes Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, Tuva Novotny and Oscar Isaac, all of whom are excellent.  The subject of the largely female cast is broached and dismissed brilliantly within the narrative.  However, I can’t help the sad feeling that at least part of the studios lack of confidence in the project stems from the shortage of Y chromosomes!  I can only assume that Netflix paid all or most of the budget, reported to be around $50million, why else would the studio take such drastic action, they would have almost certainly made its money back.  Interestingly, it is actually Netflix that come out of this looking best following the critical mauling they have recently received for their Sci-Fi, “Netflix Originals” needed a credible movie.  What Happened to Monday was good but lacked any buzz on release the way it would have given a cinema release.  David Ayer’s Bright, and Duncan Jones’s Mute were both better than reported.  The Cloverfield Paradox’s surprise-release certainly got people talking, but not in a good way, I haven’t seen it so don’t know if the reaction is fair.  With Annihilation, Netflix have a degree of credibility, and have also got people talking, this can’t be a bad thing for them.Annihilation

We are in a strange time for cinema as technology is moving faster than the film industry can understand.  It may be a period that ends with films being simultaneously released for both home and theatrical release as advocated by film critic Mark Kermode.

This all adds up to a brilliant film, that should be seen on a big screen, a screen we measure in feet not inches!



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Today is International Women’s Day at a risk of being accused of mansplaining, I thought I would take a look at the five female nominees for the best director Oscar.  With Greta Gerwig recently becoming the fifth woman to be nominated in the 90 year history of the Academy Awards it is hard to avoid.  Is the problem a lack of woman making movies or those that are not getting the recognition?  Probably a combination of both. Here are the female directors who have been nominated for a best director Oscar to date:  

1976 – Lina Wertmüller for Pasqualino Settebellezze aka Seven Beauties – Unfortunately I haven’t seen this movie and couldn’t get hold of a copy before writing.   Described as a comedy drama, the film appears to tells the story of an Italian who will do anything to survive through crime, prison, a mental institution, the army and a concentration camp.  At the time of her nomination, she was in her late forties with about a dozen credits behind her.  She was also nominated for the screenplay.  A strong year, the other nominees were Sidney Lumet (Network), Ingmar Bergman (Face to Face), Alan J. Pakula (All the President’s Men), and the winner, John G. Avildsen (Rocky).  Amazingly, Martin Scorsese wasn’t nominated for Taxi Driver.  Now 89, Wertmüller has continued to make movies, her last credit was for a documentary: Roma, Napoli, Venezia… in un crescendo rossiniano (2014).  Amongst her credits are Travolti da un insolito destino nell’azzurro mare d’agosto aka Swept Away, the film that was remade by Guy Ritchie and starring then wife Madonna. Pasqualino Settebellezze

1993 – Jane Campion for The Piano – A generation later New Zealand director Campion became the second nomine with her third movie, The Piano.  I must admit I find the movie a real slog, however it is worth watching for Michael Nyman’s amazing score.  The film won Oscars for Holly Hunter (Best Actress in a Leading Role) and Anna Paquin (Best Actress in a Supporting Role) as well as Campion for the original screenplay.  It was also nominated for Best Picture, Best Cinematography (Stuart Dryburgh) Best Costume Design (Janet Patterson) and Best Film Editing (Veronika Jenet).  The other nominees were Robert Altman (Short Cuts), Jim Sheridan (In the Name of the Father), James Ivory, who has just won his first Oscars for Best Adapted Screenplay, Call Me by Your Name, (The Remains of the Day) and the winner Steven Spielberg (Schindler’s List).  Campion continues to write, produce and direct for film and television.  For me her most interesting work includes the poorly received In the Cut (2003) and the TV show Top of the Lake (2013 and 2017). The Piano

2003 – Sofia Coppola for Lost in Translation – Coppola was best known as the daughter of Francis Ford Coppola, and for her (not great) performance in The Godfather Part III.  Then in 1999 she made a sensational directorial debut with The Virgin Suicides.   Then came Lost in Translation, the film that made a star of Scarlett Johansson and reminded us how great Bill Murray is.  The film was also nominated for Best Picture (and for my money should have won) and Coppola won her only Oscar to date for the Original Screenplay.  The other nominees: Clint Eastwood (Mystic River), Fernando Meirelles (Cidade de Deus aka City of God), Peter Weir (Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World) and the winner, Peter Jackson(The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King).  Return of the King also won best picture despite being the weakest movie nominated in the Best Picture and Best Director categories, and the weakest of the Lord of the Rings movies.  Coppola has made another four features since her nomination but none have improved on her masterpiece. Lost in Translation

2009 – Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker – Finally we have a winner.  This was the last Oscars I actually watched.  I feared it would lose out to the  giant Smurph movie.  There was no need to worry, it walked away with Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Film Editing, Making Kathryn Bigelow the only woman to have won a best director Oscar.  The film was also nominated for Best Actor (Jeremy Renner),  Best Original Score (Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders), Cinematography (Barry Ackroyd).  The other nominees for best director were: James Cameron (Avatar), Jason Reitman (Up in the Air), Lee Daniels (Precious), Quentin Tarantino (Inglourious Basterds).  In the decade since The Hurt Locker was released Bigalow has only made two further films, Zero Dark Thirty and Detroit.  While I can’t complain about the quality of his work, I would like her to be a little more prolific, after all her back catalogue includes two of my favourite movies, Point Break and Strange Days. The Hurt Locker

2017 – Greta Gerwig for Lady Bird – Gerwig co-directed the low budget Nights and Weekends.  A decade later, her solo feature début made her the fifth woman to be nominated for a best director Oscar, she was also nominated for Best Original Screenplay.  The other nominees are Christopher Nolan (Dunkirk), Jordan Peele (Get Out), Paul Thomas Anderson (Phantom Thread) and the winner Guillermo del Toro (The Shape of Water).  While I think the right person won this time, I am keen to see what Gerwig does next on both sides of the camera. lady bird

Who will be the next woman to win a directing Oscar?  I am keeping an eye on Ava DuVernay, Lynne Ramsay, Sally Potter, Clio Barnard, Amma Asante and Patty Jenkins. 

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Oscar 2018

I have posted more about this years Oscars than for years, and very little of it are complaints about the nominations.  For once there are no bonkers decisions to get upset or argue over, are there?  Here is a very quick roundup of the winners in a paragraph or less per category:

Best Motion Picture of the Year – The Shape of Water – I really expected Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri to win this one.  So glad The Shape of Water Won.the shape of water

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role – Gary Oldman _ Did anybody expect anything else!gary oldman

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role – Frances McDormand – Extremely strong category.  I can’t argue with Frances McDormand, she was the heart of a fantastic movie.  I would have picked Sally Hawkins, Margot Robbie and Saoirse Ronan were also outstanding.  Not sure Meryl Streep was doing in this category.Frances McDormand

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role – Sam Rockwell – Toughest category, all were good enough to win, it went to the right man though.Sam Rockwell

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role – Allison Janney – There was only ever going to be one winner here.  Lesley Manville was a very close second for me.  Disappointed that Holly Hunter didn’t get a nomination.Allison Janney

Best Achievement in Directing – Guillermo del Toro – As with best picture, well deserved, unlike best picture I did expect this one.  He really should have won over a decade ago for Pan’s Labyrinth (Sorry Martin Scorsese, you won the wrong year for the wrong film!).  Hopefully not the only nomination for the other nominees, they all made outstanding movies.Guillermo del Toro

Best Original Screenplay Get Out –  Jordan Peele – The award that should be retitled the Quentin Tarantino award for making a film that is to edgy to win the Director or Picture award.  Jordan Peele deserves this for the most surprising and original film to be nominated in many years.Jordan Peele

Best Adapted Screenplay – Call Me by Your Name – James Ivory – I haven’t seen the winning film so can’t comment other than to say it’s hard to believe at 89 years old, its James Ivory’s first Oscar.James Ivory

Best Achievement in Cinematography – Blade Runner 2049 –  Roger Deakins – At Last!!!Roger Deakins

Best Achievement in Costume Design – Phantom Thread – Mark Bridges – – The obvious choice, but probably the right one.Mark Bridges

Best Achievement in Sound Mixing – Dunkirk – Gregg Landaker, Gary Rizzo, Mark Weingarten – I don’t know enough about sound mixing to comment, but the movie did sound amazing. Gregg Landaker, Gary Rizzo, Mark Weingarten

Best Achievement in Film Editing – Dunkirk  – Lee Smith – The editing in this film was exception but was it overshadowed by the brilliant structure?  I would have gone for Baby Driver (Paul Machliss, Jonathan Amos).Lee Smith

Best Achievement in Sound Editing – Dunkirk – Richard King, Alex Gibson – I would have gone for Baby Driver (Julian Slater), the movie was all about the way it was edited, the sound being more important than on just about any other movie, and it was done so well!Richard King, Alex Gibson

Best Achievement in Visual Effects – Blade Runner 2049 – John Nelson, Gerd Nefzer, Paul Lambert, Richard R. Hoover –  The effects for all the nominated films were exceptional.John Nelson, Gerd Nefzer, Paul Lambert, Richard R. Hoover

Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling – Darkest Hour – Kazuhiro Tsuji, David Malinowski, Lucy Sibbick – Perfect choice.Kazuhiro Tsuji, David Malinowski, Lucy Sibbick

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Song) – Coco – song “Remember Me” – Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Robert Lopez – I didn’t give the category much thought, I though The Greatest Showman would win, glad Coco did.Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Robert Lopez

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Score) – The Shape of Water – Alexandre Desplat.  I loved this score,  I think I prefer Jonny Greenwood’s for Phantom Thread.  Special mention for Dunkirk (Hans Zimmer), I’m not sure I would want to listen to it as a piece of music but it really worked in the context of the film.Alexandre Desplat

Best Achievement in Production Design – The Shape of Water – Paul D. Austerberry, Shane Vieau, Jeffrey A. Melvin – No one else had a chance.Paul D. Austerberry, Shane Vieau, Jeffrey A. Melvin

Please note I have seen all the films I have commented on except the one where I explicitly mention that I haven’t seen the winning film.  I have skipped all the categories where I haven’t seen all or most of the nominated films. 

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With all the talk of the race for the best picture, the more interesting Best Director category has been slightly overshadowed.  One thing that is certain, whoever wins it will be there first Oscar.  Three of them have previous nominations, only one, Paul Thomas Anderson for directing. 

Christopher Nolan – Dunkirk.  He is also nominated for Best Picture for Dunkirk.  His previous nominations are; Best Original Screenplay for Memento (2000) and Best Picture for Inception (2010). Christopher Nolan

Greta Gerwig – Lady Bird – Nominated for her solo directorial début, Lady Bird (she co-directed Nights and Weekends (2008) with Joe Swanberg), Gerwig is also nominated for Best Original Screenplay but not for Best Picture (Lady Bird is nominated for Best Picture but Gerwig is not one of the named producers).Greta Gerwig

Guillermo del Toro – The Shape of Water – Amazingly, del Toro has never won an Oscar! His only previous nomination was for Original Screenplay for Pan’s Labyrinth (2006).  He is also nominated for The Shape of Water in the Best Picture and Original Screenplay categories.Guillermo del Toro

Jordan Peele – Get Out – Get out is Peele’s début as director, he is nominated for Best Director, Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay.  They are his first nominations.Jordan Peele

Paul Thomas Anderson – Phantom Thread – The veteran of the group, he is nominated for Phantom Thread in the Best Picture category as well as for best director.  His previous nominations are: Best Adapted Screenplay for Inherent Vice (2014), Best Picture, Best Director and Adapted Screenplay for There Will Be Blood (2007), Best Original Screenplay for Magnolia (1999) and Boogie Nights (1997).Paul Thomas Anderson

Who will win?  My choice would be Guillermo del Toro but I would be happy to see any of them win, they deserve to for different reasons. 

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The Oscar Goes to?

Who will win the Best Picture Oscar? The smart money is still on Three Billboards, but there is always the chance of an upset.  One thing is certain, after last year’s debacle,  the presenters will go onstage with the correct envelope this year. Here is a brief roundup of the chances of each movie:

The Favourites

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – Started out as early favourite experienced a mid race backlash from some audiences but has cleaned up in other top awards and is the clear favourite again. It still has its detractors so may fall victim of the voting system by picking up fewer second or third place votes. three billboards outside ebbing missouri poster

The Shape of Water – My personal favourite, was made favourite with some bookmakers after its release but it has fallen back behind Three Billboards since the BAFTAs.  As with BAFTA, Guillermo del Toro probably stands a better chance in the Best Director category.  Its best chance is that it is less divisive than Three Billboards so should pick up more second and third place votes. The Shape of Water Poster

The Contenders

Call Me by Your Name – The only nominated film I haven’t seen yet.  Quite simply, I haven’t heard a bad word said about it from audiences or critics, that has to count for something. call me by your name

Lady Bird – As we keep being told actors are the largest voting group within the academy and they supposedly vote for their own, will this manifest itself in a best picture win or for Greta Gerwig in the director category?  In the year of #MeToo it can’t help to be directed by female director, and in what feels like a time of change, a first time director too.  And let’s not forget, it’s also a great film.lady bird

The Dark-horses

The Post – A really solid, but not an exceptional film, but it has a very prescient message.  It will get votes, I can hear cries of “they don’t make them like that anymore” from “traditional voters”.  Like Argo a few years ago, it will pick up lots of second and third places on the preferential ballot; given the people involved in making it: Hanks, Streep, Spielberg, it could also be the go-to movie for voters who didn’t bother watching some/all of the nominated films.  Finally, it is the film that will lose the least when viewed on a screener, rather than projected.   the post

Get Out – Very highly regarded in the industry, when being interviewed and asked about films they have enjoyed recently, many actors and directors have said Get Out.  On the downside comedy and horror don’t do well in this category and this is both comedy and horror!get out

Making Up The Numbers

Dunkirk – Great film, but it feels more like a great achievement in directing, a category that it is also nominated in.  I also wonder if a WWII movie without American characters will drum up much interest with the American academy? Dunkirk poster

Phantom Thread – Possibly Paul Thomas Anderson’s best film, but too understated for big awards and it has no “Oscar Buzz”.Phantom-thread-poster

Darkest Hour – As with Darkest Hour, it is a WWII movie set before America joined the war, it is also the weakest movie on the list.  It should however be a shoe-in for best actor Gary Oldman. darkest hour

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Of the nine movies I have seen this month five are eligible for this year’s Oscars , all five are nominated.  Fifty Shades Freed is eligible for next year’s Oscars, it is unlikely to feature, but it does have eight Razzie nominations.  None of this matters, what really matters is the winner of my my movie of the month, here are the contenders: 

Phantom Thread – I have a strange relationship with the films of  Paul Thomas Anderson, I like most of them but don’t love any of them.  I have seen all of his films, but have only seen one or two of them for a second time.  Phantom Thread is one of his most restrained and constrained movies, that is what is so great about it.  Daniel Day-Lewis is as brilliant as you would expect, he is however totally overshadowed by Lesley Manville and Vicky Krieps.  The best thing about it: Jonny Greenwood’s score. Phantom Thread

Roman J Israel, Esq – A strange film about the inadequacies of the overburdened American legal system.   The film is good, Denzel Washington’s Oscar nominated performance is outstanding.Roman J Israel Esq

I, Tonya – The title card tells us “based on irony-free, wildly contradictory, totally true interviews with Tonya Harding and Jeff Gillooly”.  This tells you as much as you need to know about the movie.  The story is so bonkers, if it weren’t a true story you would dismiss it as unbelievable! Margot Robbie is amazing, Allison Janney is even better, but the real star is the editing, both in the format of the film, and its composition.I Tonya

Loveless – On the surface, this is film about a young boy, unwanted by his parents who goes missing. This all happens in the first couple of scenes, most of the film deals with the parents search, but there is far more going on. Reminiscent of Michael Haneke in both it’s Stark depiction, and it’s stunning but measured photography. The full metaphor is probably lost on me as an outsider but I certainly got a sense of a society whose glossy veneer is collapsing or rotting from within, it is after all set in Putin’s Russia! Hopelessly bleak and full of despair, I loved it but don’t know many people I would recommend it to.Loveless

Black Panther – So much has been said about Black Panther, possibly the most significant is the quality of the villains, Andy Serkis as Ulysses Klae, the over the top moustache twirling comic villain and Michael B. Jordan as the more interesting and nuanced Erik Killmonger (with a name like that, he was never going to be a hero!).  The supporting cast is fantastic, all the characters played by Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright, and Daniel Kaluuya were interesting enough that they could have had their own movie. Angela Bassett is sadly underused. Not as original or as fun as Thor Ragnarok, but it certainly has enough going on to please Marvel fans and for those who are new to the series. Importantly, It also works as a standalone film.Black Panther

Fifty Shades Freed – On a positive note, the film is competently made. The acting isn’t as wooden as the previous film. Dakota Johnson isn’t terrible in the lead. That is about all I can say on a positive note! The downside; to call the plot wafer thin would be an understatement. The story is poorly told at best. The most damming thing about the film is how dull and boring it is. For a film that markets itself as a kinky BDSM movie, the only pornographic thing about it is the gratuitous displays of wealth.Fifty Shades Freed

Lady Bird – Writer, actress and darling of the indie scene Greta Gerwig turns her hand to directing; she is clearly a natural. Coming of age drama told with an easy and style that elevates it above its genre. Saoirse Ronan is brilliant in the lead as are Tracy Letts and Laurie Metcalf as her parents, that latter picking up a well deserved Oscar nomination. The brilliance of the storytelling is that most viewers will see something of themselves in at least one of the characters. I look forward to what Greta Gerwig does next whichever side of the camera she decides to work on.Lady Bird

Dark River – A woman returns home to the family farm for the first time in fifteen years following the death of her farther. All the bleakness and despair of God’s Own Country without the hope. Ruth Wilson is brilliant as you would expect.

Dark River

Game Night – Surprisingly good comedy: The trailer for Game Night is terrible, on the strength, or weakness to be precise, I nearly didn’t bother watching the movie. The movie however is extremely funny and well worth a look. Its greatest strength is the combination of the script and the performances. No matter how absurd the story gets Rachel McAdams, Jason Bateman and especially Jesse Plemons play it straight and deadpan. Like all the best comedies, it doesn’t hide from the aforementioned absurdity, it embraces it.Game Night

I, Tonya, Loveless, Lady Bird, Dark River and Black Panther are all brilliant, and could have been winners in previous months.  Game Night was the most presently surprising movies this month, Other movies have won for less.  The clear winner of movie of the month is: Phantom ThreadPhantom-thread-poster

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