Oscars Countdown

The Oscars: A Guide To What’s Actually Best Picture 2017

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89th Annual Academy Awards - Show
It just says “404 Not Found”, Warren. What does that mean? WHAT DOES IT MEAN?

Oh hai, readers. It’s that time again. Tuxedos are being rented, fashion designers are rubbing their hands together with glee and retailers of gold polish in Hollywood are experiencing their annual upturn in sales. In just a few short hours, two dozen individuals or groups of people will be in receipt of a bronze paperweight plated with gold, and will then forever be referred to as “Academy Award Winner” in any future publicity material. I’ve long since given up on sitting up for the Oscars while they’re on – this year I have further mitigation in the fact that I’m at paid work tomorrow, for the first time in nearly a year – but I can never manage the disappointment that comes with films that I’ve formed a personal attachment to coming away empty-handed.

This well-dressed parade of injustice used to cause me to dislike the Academy Awards and their ilk for quite a few years, but I’m rather more at peace with it now, not least because I see the benefits of a box office boost to a film’s time in cinemas. Since my reason for starting this blog was to encourage people to see more films in cinemas, anything that can achieve this end can’t be all bad in my book. But I can’t help but feel that, this year more than many in recent years, the best film is likely to miss out, despite being a favourite of many more lauded and respected critics than yours truly.

But we’ll get to that. First, a gentle reminder of how the biggest film prize of the year is whittled down. Any motion picture, of more than forty minutes in length, shown for seven consecutive days at least three times a day (including one evening showing) in Los Angeles County, and advertised to the public by normal processes, between January 1st and December 31st 2017 can be considered as the best film for 2017. This year that’s given us 341 motion pictures that have to fight it out for the title of Best, and those competing can be a little confusing to British cinema fans. Not just for the fact that films like Lady Bird have only just arrived in cinemas, but for the fact that Paddington 2 won’t be eligible until next year, and David Brent: Life On The Road is one of the eligible films, despite being in UK cinemas eighteen months ago.

Anyway, I’ve been through the list, and I can tell you that of that 341, I’ve managed to see over 140 of them, with a handful more due in British cinemas in the next couple of weeks. One year I’d love to be able to say I’d seen them all, and could pass a truly informed opinion on what the Best Picture is, but given that this year I’ve seen My Little Pony: The Movie (eligible), I’m prepared to take a pass on the other 200 and assume that the cream of the crop can be found in what I’ve managed to view already.

So, firstly here is the breakdown of the films that would have been on my longlist had I been putting together a Best Picture rundown:

10/10:

Baby Driver; Call Me By Your Name; Coco; Dunkirk; Foxtrot; Lady Bird; Phantom Thread; The Killing Of A Sacred Deer; The Shape Of Water

9/10:

Blade Runner 2049; Brawl In Cell Block 99; Chasing Coral; Dawson City: Frozen Time; A Fantastic Woman; Lady Macbeth; Loveless; Okja; Personal Shopper; Raw; Star Wars: The Last Jedi; Thelma; Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Cast me away on a desert island with that lot and I’d be a happy man for quite a while. But we’re in the business of finding the top 1, not the top 22, so you need to know what would have made my list.

So if I’d had to make a nomination list of nine to match the Academy’s, then my 10/10 choices would have filled it out quite nicely. The personal disappointment starts here, in that the Academy and I could only agree on five out of the nine: of those that didn’t make it in, I can only presume that Coco was too animated, Foxtrot too obscure (Israel’s submission for Best Foreign Language got only to the top nine of that category, not to the final five), The Killing Of A Sacred Deer too wilfully odd and Baby Driver too general entertainment (and also too lacking in a major supporting role for Christopher Plummer, if you get my drift).

But five out of nine is not bad, and for me represents the strongest year since the 2010 awards, the last time I would have given five of the nominees a 10/10 rating. Here though, for the avoidance of any doubt, is my official ranking for this year’s awards in reverse order of appreciation.

The Least Best Picture is Darkest Hour

It might be about to give Gary Oldman a first Best Actor award – which, as so often, is richly deserved but probably not for this role – but this generic biopic is all bluster and little subtlety, and this comes from someone who’s a founder member of the Joe Wright Appreciation Society, for his work on the likes of Hanna and Anna Karenina which I am willing to bet money I liked more than you did. This, though, feels the most awards-baiting entry of the nine nominees available.

Darkest Hour

Which Is Not As Good As The Post

It’s good, solid, reliable Spielberg delivering yet another good, solid, reliable Oscar contender, but one that falls slightly short in the drama stakes compared to its journalistic relatives such as All The President’s Men and Spotlight. Nice to see Thanx and Meep (as I would hope she would sign herself on Twitter) sharing a screen though.

The Post

Which Is Not As Good As Get Out

Controversial opinion of the year: I think Get Out is a great film, I think it’s the most important film of the year in many ways, I would instantly list Jordan Peele as someone whose next film I would watch with no prior knowledge of content or talent involved – but, despite a satisfying ending that deviates from expectation, I did find that the film lost its way in the last half hour or so, and there’s just occasionally a lack of subtlety that I think will come in Peele’s next films.

Get Out

Which Is Not As Good As Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Now that the go-to way to hammer home your message appears to have become renting three billboards, decking them out with similar posters, and driving them to the location of a tragedy, it’s no wonder that Three Billboards is at the top of public consciousness right now. Given that Martin McDonagh is still using Peter Dinklage to make short people jokes, nearly a decade after In Bruges, I’m still now quite sure how this walked off so easily with the Golden Globe and the BAFTA. I don’t think we need to have our film characters held to the same moral standard as the people who act in them or who hold political office, but I can also understand why that moral ambivalence has made a few people uncomfortable.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri

Which Is Not As Good As The Shape Of Water

It might just be Pan’s Labyrinth 2: Electric Merman Boogaloo, but that doesn’t stop The Shape Of Water being an utter delight. Sally Hawkins should immediately be given a damehood, the freedom of anywhere she likes and free ice cream for a year for her magnificent performance, and the cast around her are equally impressive. It’s just the occasional feeling that more could have been done with Michael Shannon’s grotesque baddie that keeps this further from my top spot.

The Shape Of Water

Which Is Not As Good As Dunkirk

If I’m a Joe Wright fan, then I’m practically at the level of stalker for Christopher Nolan. Putting aside the disappointment of Interstellar, he eschews movie stars and manages an intimate focus on three different aspects of war. He’s also convincingly selling us a war film about a retreat and a relative defeat, but finding the spirit without being jingoistic. I do wish I hadn’t enjoyed watching the dogfight sequence in 4DX quite so much, though. (Wheeeee!)

Dunkirk

Which Is Not As Good As Lady Bird

I believe that Noah Baumbach, Greta Gerwig’s partner, offered to direct this when Gerwig was developing it, but Gerwig decided to make it herself. Based on this, she should offer to direct his next ten films, as she’s much, MUCH better at it. Its greatest trick is the quick cut montages which offer all of the detail and emotion of major events in short bursts, but I wouldn’t want to sell short the performances or the magnificent script, where not a single word feels superfluous.

Lady Bird

Which Is Not As Good As Phantom Thread

I keep a spreadsheet which records every film I’ve seen in the past ten years, and that also enables me to track the record of any director over that period. Paul Thomas Anderson has now become the first director in that decade to deliver four bona fide masterpieces (There Will Be Blood, The Master and Inherent Vice being the preceding three). This might just be the best of all of them, and it’s as immaculately constructed and utterly beguiling as any of its lead character’s creations. Vicky Krieps was properly robbed of a Best Actress nomination, though – hurry up and retire, will you Meryl?

Phantom Thread

This, of course, means that…

The Best Picture Of 2017 is Call Me By Your Name

Call Me By Your Name

I don’t think this is going to win Best Picture. If I get up for work in eight hours to discover it has, it will be a moment as beautiful as a Michael Stuhlbarg monologue at the end of a gorgeous Italian summer. I’ve seen this twice in a cinema and found myself even more mesmerised by the film’s beauty the second time, and I do believe that Luca Guadagnino’s work as director is one of the film’s most underappreciated assets, Best Director nomination notwithstanding. (The blocking and placement in the fountain scene alone gives me goosebumps.) I just hope talk of a sequel is unfounded, some perfect moments can’t and shouldn’t be replicated.

So that’s it, my list of the nine nominees in order for another year. To finish, please find my increasingly squashed scorecard of the decade so far, since the nominations expanded, to see how this year’s ratings compare to years past. And if you’re watching the awards, just remember that it’s only an awards show. Have fun.

Oscar Scorecard

 

 

Oscars Countdown: A Guide To What’s Actually Best Picture 2016

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cumberbatch-photobomb
A throwback to a more innocent time.
As I write this, we’re just hours away from the 2017 Academy Awards ceremony, when once again the most hated people in the Divided States Of America (liberals) gather together to honour the great and the good of American film, including a much larger than usual number of actors of diversity and one French woman who’ll probably go home empty handed, but hey. We should all enjoy it before California is forced to secede from the union when Trump finally declares an orange fatwah on Meryl Streep. Next year’s Trump Oscars® will be hosted in Bowling Green, Kentucky, the main awards will see slight tweaks to Best Looking Actress / Supporting Actress and the obituary roll will feature a host of right wing actors who died in fake terrorist attacks.

Yes, there is a teeny tiny chance that the Oscars may become a smidge political this evening. That’s a real shame, because it’s actually been a pretty good year for film again, and if we’re going to try to celebrate the best that Western cinema has to offer, then that should at least get a look in. I don’t begrudge actors, producers or key grips the chance to use the forty seconds before the orchestra kicks in at fortissimo to make the point about press freedoms are being eroded or civil rights are being wound back about thirty presidencies, because we should all have focus on the world around us and quite how quickly it could go down the crapper if we’re not careful. Films give us a window into the world that can be escapist and uplifting or reflecting and deeply meaningful, so we shouldn’t lose sight of the goal of celebrating quite how good cinema can be at its best.

Maybe people feel that films don’t have anything to teach us about politics? But films aren’t just a window into the world, they can be a window directly into the most powerful political minds in the world. Bill Clinton once said that the greatest perk of being in the White House was the movie theater, which has around 40 seats and four comfy armchairs with footstools at the front. Jimmy Carter watched 480 films there in his four year terms and rumours abound that Nixon invaded Cambodia after he watched Patton twice in a week and couldn’t stop talking about it.

You probably haven’t missed, if you’ve been watching the news, that President 45 (yeah, I’m a liberal too, suck it up) has already had his first White House screening, a movie nominated this year for Best animation. I’m not sure what message the administration will have taken from Finding Dory – maybe they didn’t read too much into it – but as I go through the list of this year’s films, in keeping with the slightly more political leanings of the times, I’ll also pass a brief thought on the suitability (or not) of each of the candidates for another White House screening.

I’m also limiting my selections to the nine films nominated for Best Picture, so that you don’t have to put up with my usual grumbles around the flaws with a voting system that, once again, selected out of an extremely diverse list of 336 eligible films a collection of live action, English language films predominantly produced in America and featuring mainly American talent. Given that, even with my prolific cinema attendance record, I’ve only managed to see 148 of these 336 films so far – with many still to be released in this country – there may be even more injustices than I can list here.

Among the films that should have been in the mix are in a better, fairer system that doesn’t rely on large numbers of the voters having seen the films are American Honey (probably too long and rambling for the Academy to watch in large numbers), Captain America: Civil War (too blockbustery), The Edge Of Seventeen (too commercial looking), Everybody Wants Some!! (too testosteroney), The Handmaiden (too obscure – it didn’t even get South Korea’s nomination for Best Foreign Language), Hunt For The Wilderpeople (too much of an action sequence at the end), I, Daniel Blake (too worthily British), Jackie (too stylised), Kubo And The Two Strings (too animated), The Lobster (too old, it came out in 2015 here), The Neon Demon (too shallow), Paterson (too poetic), Silence (too late in getting released and Scorsese’s already had his career reward), Sing Street (too lightweight), Toni Erdmann (too foreign, particularly galling given how much of the film is in English), The Witch (too niche horror) and Zootopia (too cute). All of these are better than the first four films on this list and at least three of them should have been genuine contenders for the big prize.

Here, then, are the films nominated for Best Picture at this year’s Academy Awards, given my definitive, binding and indisputable ranking of the nine films up for the biggest gong. (Warning: some of the Trump comments contain very mild spoilers.)

The Least Best Picture Is Hacksaw Ridge

hacksaw-ridge

Is it really a good idea to make a film about a pacifist who went to war and then to make war look so incredibly cool? The film treads water for the first hour with Vince Vaughn and Sam Worthington playing pale imitations of the R Lee Ermey school of shouty military men, before Andrew Garfield finally makes his case for running into battle without a gun and the fun starts. For, while the film does a reasonable attempt at capturing the horrors of war, it also has men waving flamethrowers in slow motion and bullets ricocheting off helmets. It’s like a shinier, cheesier Saving 75 Private Ryans.

Why Trump should watch: It shows a shining example of a man putting his principle and his morals above violence and hatred.

Why Trump shouldn’t watch: It makes war look so cool that it’s a good job it didn’t feature a nuclear holocaust, otherwise we’d all be ****ed.

Which is not as good as Fences

fences

Viola Davis would be a worthy winner of Best Actress, so maybe the Academy still has some diversity issues if she has to drop down to Best Supporting to get recognition. It takes a little patience to get through the first half hour, which is mainly Denzel refusing to let anyone else get a word in edge-ways, before it settles into stellar acting set pieces and gasp-inducing plot twists. However, watching Denzel Washington’s attempts to make yet another scene set in the back yard look visually interesting (camera pans slowly to the left; camera pans slightly more quickly to the right) can be excruciating at times, and if there was a vote to give this film a new name, the clear winner would be Stagey McStageface.

Why Trump should watch: To get an idea that it’s real people with real lives who live in the inner cities and working classes.

Why Trump shouldn’t watch: It sees a man who’s committed a variety of crimes in his past and who isn’t that pleasant in the present eulogised and forgiven in the future. Don’t get any ideas, Donald.

Which is not as good as Hidden Figures

hidden-figures

There’ll be much made of the fact that this film does wonders for showing both women and black people as strong role models and in a positive light, but there’s a maligned group that this white man is also thankful to Hidden Figures for successfully bringing to the screen: mathematicians. Yes, not only do black women get portrayed in a deserved spotlight for their role in getting John Glenn into space, but this makes people who scribble complex equations on a blackboard or who program insane looking, room sized computers look amazing, and as a mathematics and computer science graduate that’s my wildest dream come true. As powerful as the story is, though, it’s telling remains fairly conventional.

Why Trump should watch: As a reminder that NASA do lots of really important stuff. Hopefully the sequel will focus on their vital work on global warming.

Why Trump shouldn’t watch: The Russians come out on top at the start of the film when they win the space race. But it would be cool to be friends with Russia, right?

Which is not as good as Lion

lion

I am old enough that my first on-screen sight of Nicole Kidman was during a film night when on a school holiday at the age of eleven in BMX Bandits. Just a boat-based thriller with Billy Zane, a marriage to Tom Cruise, a dodgy Batman sequel, a Stanley Kubrick swansong, an Oscar-nominated musical, a duet with Robbie Williams, an Oscar, a BAFTA and a host more nominations later and seeing her up for her fourth Oscar nomination doesn’t feel like much of a surprise. Who’d have thought it? Looking forward to Sunny Pawar’s screen trajectory, which will presumably see him go the other way and after a tempestuous marriage to one of the Fanning sisters, he’ll end up in a cheesy Australian film about hoverboards. Anyway, Lion is a worthy, compelling true life tale that would have been a stronger contender had it not got slightly bogged down in the Dev Patel section.

Why Trump should watch: To see compassion, loyalty, humanity and stories of hope against the odds.

Why Trump shouldn’t watch: It may just reinforce the idea that all the information you need is on the internet. Don’t forget your intelligence briefings, Donnie…

Which is not as good as Hell Or High Water

HR6A2779.CR2

This got shamefully overlooked on its release at the start of the awards period, probably because it hit cinemas in August in the States and September here. But somehow it managed to channel the small amount of momentum it had from its debut in Un Certain Regard at Cannes into nominations at the Oscars. While Jeff Bridges puts in the kind of solid, charismatic work we’ve come to expect from him, his other three co-stars (Gil Birmingham, Chis Pine and Ben Foster) are equally good in their own ways. Taylor Sheridan’s script mixes crisp dialogue with poignant reflection and David McKenzie’s direction brings it to thrilling life.

Why Trump should watch: It shows the desperate lengths modern Americans are driven to in a society which continues to channel wealth further and further to the rich.

Why Trump shouldn’t watch: The Native American comes off worst. Let’s hope that isn’t an omen for the pipelines.

Which is not as good as Manchester By The Sea

manchester-by-the-sea

Have sexual harassment allegations against Casey Affleck scuppered not only his but the film’s chances? In a year when we seemingly can’t separate film from politics, maybe it’s no surprise that the slightest hint of impropriety, even deep in someone’s past, is enough to taint their candidacy as a leading actor. It would be a shame if it has, for while I can’t and won’t comment on Affleck’s private life, I do believe that he gives the best performance of any of the nominated actors this year. Michelle Williams also shows how it’s possible to command the screen with a bare minimum of screen time and we can but hope that this is just one of many beautifully nuanced character studies to come in the next few years from Kenneth Lonergan. Although I have to agree with Mark Kermode on one point: lose the Albioni Adagio next time.

Why Trump should watch: Misbehaving in the middle of the night can have devastating consqeuences which lead to bitterness and isolation, and these guys don’t even have Twitter.

Why Trump shouldn’t watch: Women just pop up occasionally in the background.

Which is not as good as La La Land

la-la-land

Did you hear about the woman who fell in the river in Paris? She was in-Seine! INSANE!! A-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha. Anyway, I’ve had the soundtrack of this in the car on a loop since I saw it, so I pretty much knew all the words by the time the backlash kicked in. There are suggestions that La La Land isn’t revolutionary and relies too much on nostalgia for its thrills, among a thousand other complaints, but that overlooks Damien Chazelle’s laser-scalpel focus on his central characters and his ability to discard supporting characters the moment they’re not required. Let’s be clear: I’m not convinced that either Seb or Mia are great people – Seb in particular is a textbook definition of an arse – but it’s a modern couple that have both chemistry and realistic dancing and singing skills in a musical that mixes great tunes with a wistfulness about the passage of time and the small margins by which choices define our lives and separate beautiful dreams from bitter reality.

Why Trump should watch: A reminder that the arts are critically important, even if it is classic films that a film buff hasn’t watched or white man jazz.

Why Trump shouldn’t watch: Man is obnoxious, rude, self-absorbed, mansplains simple concepts badly and still ends up getting everything he wanted.

Which is not as good as Moonlight

moonlight

I would be thrilled if this wins the main award, because it’s supremely beautiful and as quietly devastating as anything I’ve seen on screen in years. It’s difficult to know how Oscar will go sometimes: if the glamour and romance of La La Land triumph we probably shouldn’t be surprised, but if actors want to reward their peers for some magnificent performances (Mahershala Ali, Naomie Harris and Ashton Sanders to name just three), gorgeous direction and cinematography and a script that delivers gut punches from the quietest of exchanges then they should have put their cross next to this one. There is a poetry in the scene construction and in the simpler moments that resonates long after the credits have rolled.

Why Trump should watch: Given the speed at which his presidency is rolling back the rights of minorities, a little understanding into how people explore their own nature and why it’s so important to value our differences could go a long way.

Why Trump shouldn’t watch: There’s a few black people here doing drugs and getting in trouble. It’s not *all* black people.

Which means that…

The Best Picture Of 2016 Is Arrival

arrival

While Moonlight is the most deserving film of the year, the one that had the most profound effect on me personally is Arrival. A commanding performance from Amy Adams that was shamefully overlooked in awards season, themes of communication that are achingly prescient in these times, sci-fi concepts that might not be completely original but that are extremely well handled and direction from Denis Villeneuve that should make everyone with a pulse excited about Blade Runner 2049. Rapidly becoming one of my favourite film makers, Villeneuve delivered one of my favourite films of the past ten years and for me, by just a tiny shade, the best film of the year. (Good luck Moonlight, though.)

Why Trump should watch: Above all, the themes of this film are rooted in making simple decisions which can have ramifications through our entire lives, the power of communication and the importance of getting your facts straight.

Why Trump shouldn’t watch: America manages to isolate itself from every other country in the world and white American people attack illegal aliens but that doesn’t stop things turning out generally OK.

Your bonus content: my annual list of how the films rank out of ten, including those I saw this year that scored a 10/10 that didn’t make the grade. See you next year, if we’ve not had a nuclear holocaust by then.

oscar-score-ranking-2016

Oscars Countdown: The Oscar Scorecard Of Discontent 2016

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Countdown Board 2014 Oscarz
The award for Best Repeated Re-Use Of Poor Quality Photoshopping From 2014 Goes To… The Movie Evangelist! (Aw, shucks, it’s an honour.)
Apologies, only a fleeting post for this year’s Oscar Countdown, as other things have taken over my life for the time being. I’m normally fairly dismissive of the Oscars and their inability to pick the correct films, and so for the past three years I’ve used the blog to vent my moderate disdain at some of the shambolic selections made, especially by predicting before the awards what will win, and what should.

As I spend more and more time working in other media away from my blog – I was asked by two different radio stations if I could help them with their Monday morning Oscar coverage, which I’ve had to regretfully decline – I also find myself somewhat significantly distracted this year by events in real life. I won’t go into details here, so as not to put a complete downer on your Oscar buzz – and most of those close to me will already know the details anyway – but I’m currently mourning the death of my mother just nine days ago, and on occasions such as this the glitz and glamour of Oscar night feels more trivial and less significant than ever. (Apologies if this is a bit too much detail but this is a blog, not a film review site, and you’ll occasional get bits of me stuck in here. Sorry.)

Anyway, good luck to anyone staying up tonight, and despite my hitherto unheralded levels of apathy, I still couldn’t resist being briefly distracted for long enough to complete an annual tradition: The Oscars Scorecard Of Discontent. For those that don’t know the drill, each year I summarise the Will-Wins, the Should-Wins, those films whose success will cause me to stomp around for days with my lip protruding like a sullen teenager in protest at the unfairness of it all, and a shout out for the most significant efforts that didn’t even make the cut. As always, the nominations for that last category would make a cracking film festival in themselves.

So here’s this year’s Oscar Scorecard Of Discontent. It’s a tough call on the main category, but almost every other award feels nailed on.

 And, of course, feel free to fill out your own copy if you’re staying up for the night so you can play along and keep a close eye on your own levels of discontent.

Oscar Scorecard Blank

Happy Oscar Night, everyone, and may all your favourites be picked.

Oscars Countdown: A Guide To What’s Actually Best Picture 2014

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Rachel couldn't stop laughing at pulling out the unexpected Z, but deep down she was saddened by the shonky quality of my Photoshopping.
Yet another excuse to roll out my dodgy Oscarz Photoshopping. I canz do lolz.

It’s that time again. The carpet is reddened, the bald heads are polished, the seat fillers are preparing to do their thing and the finest fashion houses on the West Coast are delighting at the sound of cash tills ringing or whatever noise 21st century cash registers actually make. Awards season reaches a climax on Sunday with the somethingth annual Academy Awards (the number’s not important, look it up if you’re really bothered, it’s eighty-something, they’re all basically the same anyway). There’s more reason than most this year to actually watch the awards, because Doogie Howser M.D. / Barney Stinson himself, Neil Patrick Harris, is hosting and I think it’s fair to say if he does it to the standard of the other awards shows he’s hosted, it should be a job for life if he wants it. Not convinced? Then try watching his opening number for the 2013 Tony Awards. If the opening to the Oscars is half as good as this, it’ll be the best thing to happen to the ceremony in years.

But it’s not just an excuse to have some song and dance and to see quite how poorly John Travolta can pronounce somebody’s name. (Am I the only one hoping he gets Best Foreign Language Film to present this year?) There are also some awards to be given out, and one film will get to stand alongside the other eighty-ish greatest films of all time already accorded the honour of Best Picture, including Crash, Chicago, The Greatest Show On Earth, Driving Miss Daisy and Titanic. Yep, I don’t even need to tell you that this awards ceremony is to justice and fairness what John Travolta is to public speaking, you already know it, but that doesn’t stop us all from some harmless speculation on who’s going to fare the best come the early hours of Monday morning.

I do wonder if the choice of host is in some way to compensate for what’s a fairly middling selection of films this year. At the end of the post you can see a breakdown of all of my ratings for films nominated for Best Picture since the award increased from five films, but even those at the top end of the chart aren’t the most inspiring films ever made. I weep just a tiny bit that the likes of Mr. Turner, Nightcrawler, Calvary, Under The Skin, Foxcatcher, Inherent Vice and Gone Girl haven’t picked up more recognition, but I won’t claim to be the slightest bit surprised. Equally inevitably, I can say that the three Foreign Language film nominations that I have seen – Ida, Leviathan and Timbuktu – are all comfortably better than at least half of the Best Picture nominations this year.

So as Oscar and his chums will get the final decisions wrong as inevitably as Transformers and Alvin And The Chipmunks sequels will continue to be inflicted upon us because we keep paying to watch the damn things, I’ve managed to see all eight Best Picture nominations so once again present For Your Consideration: the only ranking that really matters, my own view on the films that could walk off with the big one from least best to best. (Disclaimer: as far as I know, all of the Oscars are the same size, it’s just a figure of speech.)

The Least Best Picture Is The Imitation Game

Oh dear. The Imitation Game feels like it occupied a screen in my local cinemas for ever, but I fear they may have been the only one as Morten Tyldum’s film actually took slightly less money than Mrs. Brown’s Boys D’Movie in the UK last year. Rapturous public acclaim from those who have seen it can only indicate that many of those people don’t actually watch many films, for there’s only really two good things about The Imitation Game. Those two things are named Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley and both deserve the nominations in this year’s acting categories they’ve won themselves, although the fact that neither is likely to actually scoop the award is also a fair assessment.

Where to start with the problems, then? First off is the direction, which is flat, lifeless and rarely does anything above pointing a camera in the direction of the nearest stationary actor. Then there’s the script, which botches almost every aspect of Turing’s life and is a structural mess. Most of the remaining background characters are well-acted but one dimensional cyphers, Turing is made out to be somewhere between a sympathiser to the opposition and a traitor (which is all swept under the carpet late on anyway) and the title cards over the final shot are so condescending as to be deeply insulting to anyone with an IQ more than their shoe size.

But it’s the general contempt for its audience that rankles most about this year’s Weinstein Company vehicle for awards success. I’ve visited Bletchley Park and the National Museum Of Computing, and it’s a deeply enthralling place that’s awash with momentous history. Here it’s reduced to man builds magic box, man turns on magic box, magic box works, the end, which is a narrative non-event of the highest order. Good performances will only go so far, and good luck to The Imitation Game for fleecing the British public of over $20 million, but this is a desperately average film at best and a Turing travesty at worst.

Which Is Not As Good As American Sniper

American Sniper

Speaking of contempt for your audience, there’s nothing like showing you simply don’t give a stuff about the quality of your end product when one of the most discussed facets of your film is the incredibly fake baby that’s unconvincingly passed around to comedic effect in the second half of the film. It’s an insult to just about everyone when you can’t even be bothered to put that right, but sadly it’s also indicative of the slightly sloppy notes creeping into Clint Eastwood’s last few films.

There’s a problem with what American Sniper is, which is an unbalanced, flag waving action movie. That’s set the American box office alight but box office success and critical quality make poor bedfellows. There’s also a problem with what it isn’t, which is true to Chris Kyle’s story if the book is any judge; the film gives Bradley Cooper moral uncertainty and a sense of self-righteousness that aren’t exactly a reflection of Kyle’s own telling of his story, and you can’t help but feel that the more interesting film – and the one which the Eastwood of ten years ago might actually have made – would be one which steers closer to Kyle’s own public record of his motivations and experiences.

I would also like to go on record as being mystified that Bradley Cooper has been nominated for Best Actor or Supporting Actor three years in a row, which puts him in an exclusive club along with Spencer Tracy, Gary Cooper, Gregory Peck, Marlon Brando, Richard Burton, Al Pacino, Jack Nicholson, William Hurt and Russell Crowe. I’m sure he’s a lovely bloke (and he’s also impressively bilingual), but not one of his three nominations has really been in the best of the year. Sorry Bradley.

Which Is Not As Good As Birdman

Birdman

Hopefully I made my feelings about Birdman pretty clear with my review. I understand that many people enjoyed this but I can’t help but feel it’s been rewarded for technical achievement rather than artistic endeavour. Actually, maybe that’s the way forward – a combination of two sets of scores, one for technical and one for artistic, in the same way as ice dancing. It couldn’t be any more convoluted than the current voting process.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate Birdman, and I love almost everyone associated with it, but even thinking about it now, six weeks after having seen it, leaves me feeling slightly exhausted. I will be a grumpy Gus if this picks up the big award, but I have a horrible feeling it might because it’s packed full of Actors with a capital A and we’ve seen much worse Actors films (*cough* Crash *cough*) walk off with the main award in the past.

Which Is Not As Good As The Theory Of Everything

The Theory Of Everything

The Imitation Game and The Theory Of Everything have a lot in common: they’re two British films that have two high-flying British actors in significant roles, where the man has a role which features a requirement for an increasing level of acting tics and mannerisms. Both the lead actor and actress in each case have picked up an Oscar nomination of their own and both films were nominated for both best British film and best film at the BAFTAs. And in both cases, the two main performances are by some distance the two best things about the film.

The Theory Of Everything isn’t by any stretch of the imagination as frustratingly poor as The Imitation Game, but neither is it up to the standard of director James Marsh’s previous work, including Project Nim, Man On Wire and the excellent and overlooked Shadow Dancer. It’s a pretty standard narrative set in a chocolate box Cambridge that doesn’t pan out in the way that you expect such stories to – although many going in will already know the outcome – but it’s told in a conventional, straightforward fashion and it’s both showy and understated in a rather conflicted manner.

Then there’s rather a significant step-up in quality…

Which is Nowhere Near As Good As Selma

I don’t believe that the acting has been overlooked in Selma for reasons of race or colour, but I do believe that the nominated actors all have the attention-grabbing, theatrical roles that normally get nominated and it becomes that much harder for those whose work is less clip-worthy to nudge their way into the nominations. Selma has been all but excluded from the final breakdown. You have to go all the way back to Decision Before Dawn in 1951 to find a film with a Best Picture nomination and only one other nomination in a minor category, and that really doesn’t reflect well on the Academy’s voters who had plenty of opportunities to recognise the work done here.

There have been a few reports that the tension between LBJ and Dr. King have been overplayed, but this would hardly be the first film to adjust the truth slightly for narrative purposes (yes, that is a reference to you, The Imitation Game), but there’s still enough well placed fact here to pack the punch that the story needs to. From a gut wrenching opening explosion to scenes of focused tension when the gathered masses attempt to march out from Selma, director Ava DuVernay has a strong handle on the material and isn’t afraid to shock a little to get your attention. The song over the closing credits makes a contemporary reference to what’s happened in Ferguson over the past year and it serves as a direct reminder that the issues here haven’t gone away in the intervening fifty years; in fact, Selma could scarcely have been released at a more relevant time.

I do hope this will give career impetus to David Oyelowo, in a film littered with top draw performances from British actors such as Tom Wilkinson and Tim Roth. Maybe the moral of the story is that if you’re a British, you need to be putting on an accent as posh as Keira Knightley’s plummy Imitation Game Brit-warble, rather than flawlessly mimicking the accents from across the Atlantic.

Which Is Not As Good As Boyhood

Boyhood

Yes, other films have watched children grow up, but never over the course of a single film to such remarkable effect as Richard Linklater’s latest towering achievement in direction: one that will, if there’s a shred of natural justice left in this overly glamorous farrago, see him pick up an award for direction that his career has long since justified. The Before trilogy may have inadvertently charted the evolution of a relationship over a quarter of a lifetime, but Boyhood is a timelapse on adolescence quite unlike anything that’s ever been attempted before.

And we shouldn’t just applaud the fact that twelve years is an insanely long time period over which to be producing a film, with no guarantee that the end product would have ended up even useful (or that the actors would have made it to the end of the process they started). Having to pick someone at the age of six and to hope he’ll still be interesting in a dozen years is an unenviable task, but Linklater gets round this somewhat by using Ellar Coltrane as the prism through which to examine the transition from childhood to adulthood, rather than the focal point.

Absolutely greater than the sum of its parts, the lead actors are all still magnificent – and Hawke and Arquette would probably both have one in a slightly quieter year, although Arquette hopefully still will – but the real power of Boyhood is in absorbing it, ideally in a single sitting, and allowing the repetition and the rhythms to wash over you.

Which Is Not As Good As Whiplash

Whiplash-7567.cr2

I’ve seen a few reviews which take issue with a number of aspects of Whiplash. They can be broken down into two main categories: firstly, that the events of Whiplash are somewhat lacking in realism. Your average hospital drama does a fairly appalling job at accurately portraying the finer points of medicine, so I don’t believe we should get too hung up on the mechanics of music school. However, this also applies to some of the story structure (one character being explicitly and repeatedly told not to do something at all costs, before doing that in less than thirty seconds in a manner that’s then never explained or referred to again). While I can see where that’s coming from, I believe that Whiplash – almost perversely for a film based around jazz drumming – operates at the level of an opera, with two main characters going to extraordinary lengths to win the approval of their audience and their peers and as such, any plot manoeuvres are best not dwelt on for too long.

The other criticism, and one which carries a little more weight, is the idea that Whiplash is at best ignoring the perils of bullying, and at worst justifying that as a means to an end for artistic greatness, almost as if genius cannot be attained without suffering. I have a different take: J.K. Simmons’ Terence is modelling Miles Teller’s Andrew into his own image, even if he’s not doing so intentionally, and this is a classic power struggle, a battle for dominance between two alpha males at the cost of their very souls, and neither can reflect on their actions with any sense of pride by the end.

In between theatrical plot twists and enhanced egos there lies Whiplash, a film oozing confidence and doing a much better job of its jazz drumming soundtrack than Birdman managed to. For the first two-thirds it’s a compelling character study, but then as the plot moves up a tempo or two we reach a breathtaking climax that had my heart almost beating out of my chest. Whiplash is darkly enticing, thrilling without the promise of evolution or redemption and it does so with a jazz soundtrack that might even win a few converts. If nothing else, it elevates J.K. Simmons to the level of recognition he’s long since deserved.

The Best Picture Of 2014 Is The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Grand Budapest Hotel

There’s probably around a dozen or so directors who, if marooned on a desert island, I would be content if nothing else but the products of their career’s labours washed up beside me. (Ideally a giant TV to plug in next to the palm tree would be nice). While Wes Anderson continues to make films that flirt with the deep sadness of the human condition but yet in which every single element is lovingly crafted, his last pair of films – this and Moonrise Kingdom – have been not only as good as anything else in his career, but are as deep, meaningful and hysterically enjoyable as anything else being made anywhere today.

If you want to know which film brought me more pleasure than any other last year, then look no further. But The Grand Budapest Hotel ups the ante by setting itself across four eras, each of which comes shot in its own typically relevant and period friendly aspect ratio and which emphasise the evaporation of time that comes to the best of us before we can even come to terms with it. Anderson might just have perfected the formula he’s been honing since Bottle Rocket and before.

The cast is astonishing, even those in barely a couple of scenes able to walk off with entire films elsewhere, but the pairing of Anderson with Ralph Fiennes is a masterstroke that I hope history will look back on and regard with greater significance. (Admittedly I only placed Fiennes eleventh on my performances of the year last year, but I think I was maybe being a tad harsh.) You can see why Anderson migrated entirely to stop-motion for The Fantastic Mr Fox for his films have a love, a care and an attention to detail that’s rarely seen outside the world of physical animation. It’s that unbelievable attention to detail and the total delight of the script, the direction and the performances that cause me to rate this film top of the Oscar pile for 2015. Expect the Academy voters to have totally ignored me.

And finally, as promised, my rankings out of 10 for all the Best Picture nominees in the six years since the category expanded. Sorry I’ve missed five of them, but I still think that’s a pretty good record. It doers hopefully show that this isn’t a great year, but I will keep my fingers crossed that one or two decent films  will pick up something before the Oscars are over for another year.

Best Picture Rankings

Previous years:

A Guide To What’s Actually The Best Picture 2013

A Guide To What’s Actually The Best Picture 2012

A Guide To What’s Actually The Best Picture 2010

Oscars Countdown: The Oscar Scorecard Of Discontent 2015

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It’s Oscar night, and that means two things:

1. I’m going to bed because I’ve got better things to do than stay up until 5 a.m. watching an awards show when I will most likely bitch about the result.

2. If you’re reading this then you may actually be watching the ceremony. Good luck to you.

Having noticed a sudden spike in traffic of 100% today to my blog, mainly composed of people searching for the search terms “Oscar” and “scorecard”, although well done to the one person who arrived here by searching for “reese witherspoon can’t act” and, more bizarrely, the two people who both searched for “composition of air 3d pie chart”. Just for you two:

If you don't get this joke, Google "Moon Safari".
If you don’t get this joke, Google “Moon Safari”.

For the rest of you, here’s my completed scorecard for this year with my usual categories:

Oscar Scorecard 2015

And here’s a blank one for you to fill in while you wait for Neil Patrick Harris to shuffle along:

Oscar Scorecard Blank

Whatever you’re doing tonight, have fun!

Oscars Countdown: The British Are Going (Mad)

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2015/01/img_2587.jpg

The nominations for the BAFTA film awards have been announced this morning, and once again those compiling the nominations have between them managed to prove at best case that two good performances are all you need to make a good film, and and worst that the British film is simply a pandering lapdog still craving the attention and validation of America rather than attempting to stand on its own two feet. The nominations in particular for Best British film have left me so irked that I’m currently sat in the cafeteria at Stonehenge trying to get this off my chest, having toured one of the world’s great heritage sites full of 5,000 year old monuments and I’m left to wonder if these stones could talk, would they come up with a more contemporary, relevant and worthy set of picks. Each year I publish a handful of posts in the run-up to the Oscars in an effort to remind myself that awards are meaningless and just because they don’t reflect my own opinion, it shouldn’t ruin my day when they’re announced.

But wow, this year takes the biscuit in a category already renowned for encouraging the receipt of flour-based baked goods. In the time since I started blogging, an era during which the BAFTA film awards have moved to a pre-Oscar slot in a desperate attempt to secure an influx of Hollywood glitterati and so seem pointlessly relevant, the following films have been the “Best” British Film:

– In 2011 The King’s Speech beat out Another Year and Four Lions
– In 2012 Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy overcame Shame, Senna and We Need To Talk About Kevin
– In 2013 Skyfall came out on top of Anna Karenina and Les Misérables
– Last year, Gravity beat The Selfish Giant and Philomena

The awards twelve months ago embodied everything wrong with the dual main categories: no-one in their right mind would have considered Gravity a British film, with it beating not only a stunning piece of work from deserving British director Clio Barnard but also arguably a better awards season type film in Philomena. But the Best Film was 12 Years A Slave, and this wasn’t even nominated for Best British Film despite a sufficient qualifying connection, a British director and two outstanding lead performances from British actors.

So what’s gotten me so riled up this year, that’s possibly even worse than last year’s farrago? Part of the problem stems from what’s actually been an outstanding year for British film, in which we are so spoiled for choice that you could fill British film two or three times over with quality picks. What the voters of BAFTA have come up with for Best British film is:

’71
The Imitation Game
Paddington
Pride
The Theory Of Everything
Under The Skin

That’s not a bad list, and there are a couple of excellent films on it. The first problem is that those films are Paddington and Under The Skin, and the two films from that list that have made it to the Best Film overall list are certainly the two least interesting and arguably the two worst: The Imitation Game and The Theory Of Everything.

The Imitation Game is a real frustration as its only two positives are the performances of Benedict Cumberbatch – a man now so all powerful he can get a lead role in an animation about penguins despite being demonstrably unable to say penguins – and Keira Knightley. Other than that it’s a film that fudges its issues and has barely the merest pretence of drama, an Emperor’s New Clothes of acting mannerisms with a narrative that does poor service to both the war effort and Turing himself; no mean feat when it actually overplays his war contribution in many ways.

I enjoyed The Theory Of Everything, but again it’s a film that survives on the performances of its two leads and precious little else. Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones are both exceptional, but the rest of the film is placid to a fault and it’s a chocolate box Cambridge that explains science politely and tries its hardest not to cause offence at any other time. It’s not a patch on director James Marsh’s last two films, Man On Wire and Shadow Dancer. I still believe that Under The Skin will be being discussed in ten years’ time; I find it hard to believe that too many people will remember The Theory Of a Everything in ten weeks.

But not only have the two films most likely to find the common denominator even though they’re not very good made the Best Film, I would argue that there are at least another ten films more worthy of a place on the Best British Film list for last year. In descending order of greatness, they are:

Mr Turner
Calvary
The Double
Next Goal Wins
Starred Up
Kajaki: The True Story
Lilting
The Possibilities Are Endless
Belle
Northern Soul
(And possibly an eleventh: I haven’t seen The Testament Of Youth as it’s not out yet.)

I can accept that you may believe not all of these ten films or the four in the Best British Film category are better than The Imitation Game or The Theory Of Everything, but if you can sit there with a straight face and tell me that none of them are – for that is the implication of the BAFTA nominations – then can I politely suggest that you don’t watch enough films. Anything on that list of fourteen which didn’t make the Best Film list above would be an ideal way of starting to put that right.

But before I go, I must also mention the most egregious omission from the nominations. As I’ve indicated, Mr Turner didn’t make it into the nominations, but Mike Leigh has at least picked up awards for various categories in the past for Secrets And Lies and Vera Drake. However, the snub handed out to what to me was the performance of the year by Timothy Spall has left me incredulous. There truly is no justice at awards time, but that probably won’t stop me getting my knickers in a twist when the Oscar nominations come out. Joy of joys.

Oscars Countdown: The Oscar Scorecard Of Discontent 2014

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I just have this horrible feeling American Hustle's going to win everything. Will they never learn, Matt? WILL THEY NEVER LEARN!
I just have this horrible feeling American Hustle’s going to win everything. Will they never learn, Matt? WILL THEY NEVER LEARN!

You might think it’s odd that someone who professes to like the Oscars so little tends to write so much about them. It’s not that I’m opposed to recognising greatness – you only have to take a look at the list-based awesomeness that is my end of year review each year, which can be found by clicking on any of those “Review Of…” links just up above – it’s just that Oscar and his 7,000 Hollywood mates get these decisions completely right about as often as Halley’s Comet passes.

I don’t stay up for it these days, not least because I tend to use my annual leave either for seeing Mrs Evangelist or for spending my time in film festivals, but for those who do it can be a somewhat tortuous endurance event, with four hours of occasionally handing out an award to someone you’ve never heard of for a film that you might not have seen broken up by the host – this year it’s Ellen DeGeneres but frankly it could be your mum for all the difference it makes – desperately trying to be funny while not offending anyone and for UK viewers, some Z-list celebs giving hollow opinions to whoever’s hosting on Sky Movies this year (I can’t be bothered to look it up).

Anyway, if you’d like something to pass the time between now and stupid o’clock GMT when the awards start, here’s my annual Oscar Scorecard Of Discontent. You can see what I’ve gone for, then I’ve made a blank one for you. Just print it off, fill it out, and then tick it off as the awards come round. If you’ve then mostly circled “Must Not Win Or I Will Sulk All Day Monday” in about eight hours, then you have my deepest sympathies.

If you are staying up or having a party, good luck, we’re all counting on you, have a great time and I’ll see you in the morning, nice and refreshed for either elation or bitter disappointment. Or, as is usual, a fair old mix of both.

Oscar Scorecard 2014