Tag Archives: academy awards

Oscar Bait – Get Out / Dunkirk

Title: Get Out
Director: Jordan Peele
Year: 2017
Country: USA

It’s highly unusual for a film to be out on DVD when it receives it’s Oscar nomination… this year there’s two. Get Out is an even greater rarity – a Best Picture nominee that will have been out for over a year before the Academy Awards are given out. I guess that speaks for both the quality of this film and the times that we live in as, usually, a film released this early usually gets forgotten.

So not only is this an early release, but it’s also a comedy-horror. If someone can tell me of another film of that distinct genre being nominated then please enlighten me as this feels pretty unique.

What sets Get Out apart from other horror films is, obviously, the race angle. It’s hard to go too far into a lot of it without veering into spoiler territory, but the main element is the whole ‘under the surface’ type of racism from people who claim to be otherwise tolerant. It’s all stuff that’s easy to recognise, but it becomes such a baseline that when actual racism starts to occur – such as when someone starts touching him as if he was a piece of meat on display, which echoed a scene from Ali: Fear Eats The Soul – everything feels even more heightened.

Watching this, it was hard to believe that I was watching Posh Kenneth from Skins acting his socks off in the directorial debut of sketch comic Jordan Peele. All things considered, this is a remarkable debut and is the exact sort of horror film that I really enjoy. It’s also worth mentioning the performance of Alison Williams, here’s hoping this is the beginning of more interesting roles for here.

At this point I really am glad to not be ranking this films until right at the end. So many great films this year that it’s getting ridiculously hard to differentiate between the top flight.

Title: Dunkirk
Director: Christopher Nolan
Year: 2017
Country: UK/USA

Despite being the second of the Oscar nominated films to be released, this is the film that I actually saw last. You see, I’m someone who didn’t see what all the fuss was about with Saving Private Ryan, so I kept putting off watching this again and again. Stupid really, I’ve never not enjoyed a Christopher Nolan film… so why would that stop now.

So yea, newsflash, I thought Dunkirk was amazing. I should have just trusted that it would have been because, after all, the Battle of Dunkirk wasn’t some huge victory with gung-ho Americans making wisecracks. No, this is a film about one of the largest and most miraculous retreats in modern military history.

Whilst I hate to give this film credit, I think I might appreciate Dunkirk a lot more because of Darkest HourThere is so much about Dunkirk that I didn’t know, so it was good to get that extra context before sitting down to watch this.

So this had an interesting story to tell, but that can easily be rendered dull by a poor director and script. Good thing Christopher Nolan was involved and found a way to create such an engaging film, despite there being no real central plot line other than ‘escape Dunkirk’.

The big thing that made this work was how Nolan found a way to interweave three distinct perspectives, operating in different time frames (1 week, 1 day and 1 hour) that are all cleverly brought together at the end. It allows for some excellent pieces of foreshadowing and callback as we learn more about what’s occurring.

It’s also interesting to note how little dialogue there is in a lot of this film. I guess that is part of what makes this true to life, but it just goes to prove how, sometimes, you don’t need a lot of spoken exposition to get the emotions and the story across.

There’s a lot that I really could say about Dunkirk, but I’m just going to leave this here. It really was a pleasant surprise just how much I enjoyed this film. Makes me wish I’d not waited for the home release and just seen this in the cinema.

 

Oscar Bait – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri / The Post

Title: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Director: Martin McDonagh
Year: 2017
Country: USA

I tell you, this awards season is getting harder and harder to pick a favourite. Seriously, last year it was difficult because of La La Land, Moonlight and Arrival all being incredible movies… but I am having real trouble here. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri just feels like a masterclass in acting.

If you had told me that this film was a Coen Brothers production I would have probably been taken in. I mean, this is a very black comedy starring Frances McDormand that is laugh out loud funny and yet has some extremely touching moments. Sounds like a Coen Brothers film to me.

Seriously though, for a film about a grieving mother who is relentless in her mission to bring the murderer of her daughter to justice, I haven’t laughed out loud so much in months. The script is a work of genius and I really hope that it wins the Best Original Screenplay nod as, of all the nominated films I’ve seen, it really deserves it.

Then again, the script flies because of the performances by the three leads – with Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell being the obvious standouts. Back when I watched The Shape of Water I thought I wouldn’t see a better leading female performance this year… only to be proven wrong. I also have to admit defeat that, once again, it won’t be Michael Stuhlbarg’s year as Sam Rockwell somehow makes you cheer for his utterly ridiculous and racist cop.

Going into this film I expected this to be all about the investigation, but instead this boils down to a character study about stress, grief and the sense for justice. There is a fantastic scene that really epitomises this for me, and it’s where Frances McDormand’s character gives a speech about culpability. There’s a wider message here for society as a whole (although she directs it at the church), but that’s something for another time.

Title: The Post
Director: Steven Spielberg
Year: 2017
Country: USA

On the surface of it, I should have the same complaint with The Post as I did with Darkest HourThis is a movie about a newspaper investigation (something the Academy likes), directed by Steven Spielberg (whose films usually garner nominations) and starring multi-Oscar winning actors Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks. Hell, it even includes Michael Stuhlbarg in a supporting role… which appears to be a sign of Oscar quality nowadays.

The thing is, where this contains the recipe for Oscar glory this feels like a film that has been made more because of the current political climate than in the quest for awards. Because of this, and it’s something that becomes clear very quickly, it feels like The Post will be a film that’s remembered for a lot longer.

Also, whilst they stretch the truth of the involvement of the Washington Post’s involvement in the Pentagon Papers, they don’t just invent scenes that are out of character just for the sake of an Oscar nomination reel. Also also… at least The Post is interesting and paints these characters as real people that you can root for.

Now.. as much as I love Meryl Streep, I don’t think this is an award worthy performance. There’s not a whole lot for her to work with here (unlike Frances McDormand and Sally Hawkins) but, to be fair, that’s the role and she pitches it exactly correctly. Same goes for Tom Hanks… who seems to have been forgotten by the Academy of late.

For me, the best thing about this film was just watching Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks acting together. Considering all the scandals going on in Hollywood there is something mildly therapeutic about watching these two masters onscreen together. The Post is worth a watch just for that to be honest.

Oscar Bait – Call Me By Your Name / Darkest Hour

Title: Call Me By Your Name
Director: Luca Guadagnino
Year: 2017
Country: Italy/USA

Today’s pair starts off with a film that left me emotionally winded. I didn’t find myself bawling like a lot of people on the internet seem to have ended up, but this is a film that truly moved me. And by moved I mean that I was sat there in a state of emotional shock as the credits rolled beside Timothée Chalamet’s face.

For the uninitiated, Call Me By Your Name tells the romantic coming-of-age story of a 17 year old boy falling in love with a 24 year old visiting academic with Northern Italy as the backdrop. This sounds like the synopsis of a number of different gay interest movies, I know that, but there is an honesty and a style that sets this apart. It also has world class acting and Michael Stulhbarg in a supporting role (who I have adored since seeing him in A Serious Man back in 2009).

This is about as far as I want to go when talking about Call Me By Your Name. I went into this film unspoiled and this is nowhere near old enough a film for me to delve into those. What I can say is that this movie kept me thinking days later and even got me listening to the soundtrack when I was in the office (the appearance of Sufjan Stevens helps here). The world created in this film feels like a more tolerant one than would have probably existed in 1983, but that’s a small niggle in another excellent film.

The fact that, at some point in awards season, a film like this could have been considered a front runner shows how far we’ve come. Between this film and Moonlight‘s win at the Oscars last year, it is heartening to see these slower independent films about homosexual love getting some recognition. Lightning probably won’t strike twice here in terms of award wins, but it will be interesting to see how it turns out on Sunday.

Title: Darkest Hour
Director: Joe Wright
Year: 2017
Country: UK

Right, so I really wanted to stop watching this about 30 minutes in. Pretty much every year there is one nominee that I find frustrating. Last year this was Fences and this year it’s Darkest Hour. However, unlike Fences, not only did I find Darkest Hour frustrating but I also found it quite dull.

Getting platitudes out of the way first, yes Gary Oldman gives a great performance in this film and is able to completely disappear into the character.  It’s a performance where, much like Meryl Steep’s rendition of Julia Child, he is able to give an excellent rendition of what people expect Churchill to be rather than what he was probably like.

Okay now that’s over and done with – boy did this film paint with broad strokes. Anyone who disagreed with Churchill (and actually wanted peace) might as well have been standing in the corner twirling a moustache. Similarly, I understand that this was a dark time in Britain’s history… but I am sure there were still ceiling lights. Every time Churchill gives a speech it’s like the opening scene from The Lion King.

Still this would be mostly forgivable if it wasn’t for the fact that the final 20 minutes of this film are complete and utter fiction. It’s such an aggravating choice for Joe Wright and the scriptwriter to have made to have Churchill base his final decision around the Dunkirk evacuation on a straw poll of the British public that he encountered on the longest tube ride in British history. 10 minutes for one stop? Give me a break.

In the end, if I ask myself the question of why this film was ever made – the only answer I can give is Oscar bait. I know this is why a lot of films end up getting full funding, but as a piece of art I don’t see it and, more importantly, as a way to cast light on an interesting period of history this film fails because of that awful piece of fiction on the London Underground.

Oscar Bait – The Shape of Water / Lady Bird

Happy Acadamy Award season y’all. For the first time in years I will not be staying up to watch the Oscars live… since I will be in Singapore! Now, those posts won’t be going up for another six or seven months, stay tuned for those, so let’s get started with the first of this week’s Best Picture nominees.

This year, I thought it would be fun to publish these films in pairs – the first being a film I was eagerly awaiting to see and the second being a film that I only saw because of awards season. With this being the first of the posts, I am starting with the film I was most looking forward to seeing.

Title: The Shape of Water
Director: Guillermo Del Toro
Year: 2017
Country: USA

Watching Pan’s Labyrinth in the cinema was one of those movie-going experiences that has remained with me. It is 12 years later and I still haven’t gotten up the courage to put myself through that it again… also just thinking of The Pale Man is enough to give be the heebies.

Still, the seed was planted and I have been awaiting for the next great Guillermo Del Toro film, finding enjoyment in his Hellboy films in the mean time. From the early buzz alone, I knew that The Shape of Water was going to be special. I mean, a dark romantic story between a mute woman and the creature from the Black Lagoon starring Sally Hawkins and Ocatvia Spencer? Someone sign me up.

Little did I know just how much I would love this film. Somehow Del Toro is able to make Baltimore and a secret government laboratory feel magical and surreal. Given his work on Hellboy II it’s little wonder that he can pull this off, but it feels on a completely different level here. The excellent score provided by Alexandre Desplat’s score helps to further highlight this (much like he did with his work for Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel).

How can I talk about this movie without mentioning Doug Jones as the creature. Performances like his, and Andy Serkis in Lord of the Rings, never get the plaudits they deserve and yet The Shape of Water would be dead in the water (excuse the pun) without it. The make-up job on the creature is one thing, but Doug Jones needs to get us to love him despite the fact that he ends up eating a live cat!

Finally, you have Sally Hawkins in a career best performance as Eliza – the mute cleaner who falls for the creature (I am reluctant to use the term monster because of how you fall for him). Without the spoken word available to her, she is able to deliver an exceptionally engaging and emotive (whilst not being over the top, like in the days of silent movies) performance where she is able to make your heart soar before slowly breaking it.

So yes, in any other year The Shape of Water would definitely stand out as the film to beat. But 2018 is a remarkably strong year for nominees.

Title: Lady Bird
Director: Greta Gerwig
Year: 2017
Country: USA

So occupying the second slot is Lady Bird – mainly because the trailer I saw made this look like a fairly typical (and beautifully shot) coming-of-age comedy about a misfit girl finding love and finding herself. Aaaaaaand that’s pretty much what this film is. Except that it’s a well made film with yet another exceptional performance from Saorise Ronan and an emotional turn by Laurie Metcalf.

Look, I am underselling this, but with a score of 94% on Metacritic it feels like a lot of this went over my head. Then again my experience of being a guy who has no idea about what it’s like to be in an American high school means that I don’t get a lot of this. Also, I know I taught in a Catholic school… but it didn’t have nuns and priests as teachers.

There were some real laugh-out-loud moments… however I wish that I didn’t see all the beats coming. I don’t know if I’ve just seen a lot of high school films (very possible) which ruins some of the reveals, but at least they were done well. Also, it’s nice to see Lucas Hedges and Timothee Chalamet in the first of their two big roles of the year.

Now, unlike last year, I have opted to not do any rankings until the final nominee post of the year. With a lot of these films being written up in retrospect, I know just how difficult the final ranking choice is going to be amongst the top 4. Lady Bird doesn’t rank among them, but that’s just my opinion.

Oscar Bait – Moonlight / La La Land

moonlightTitle: Moonlight
Director: Barry Jenkins
Year: 2016
Country: USA

Dear Fencesthis is how you make an essential film out of a play. This is one of the highest rated films in Metacritic history and, alongside Hidden Figurestells a story that hasn’t been told before. As such, Moonlight is one of the films I have been looking forward to seeing the most and why it’s late release in the UK has been so vexing.

Overall, Moonlight is the story of a queer black boy growing up and dealing with the discrimination that can be found in the predominantly black communities of America. He is ostracised and physically beaten by his peers, has a crack addict for a mother and the only people who are nice to him are a drug dealer and his girlfriend.

Over the course of three acts (child, adolescent and adult respectively) we witness what such a set of circumstances can do to a queer person. It’s just… really so well done and the more I think about this film the more I want to see it again.

Going into Moonlight I did not expect such an arty film. It really does make it stand out from the other films that have been nominated. So much of what makes this film special is down to the work of the director and the cinematographer. The use of colour is gorgeous and really harks back to the title of the original play: Moonlight Makes Black Boys Look Blue. 

Together the director and cinematographer also manage to give each of the chapters a distinct look due to their choice to film each one using a different type of film. The differences are subtle, but it’s enough to make it look like the film quality is growing up as Chiron grows up.

As much as I would love a film like Moonlight to take home the Best Picture nod I can’t see the academy that refused a win to Brokeback Mountain or even a Best Actor not to David Oyelowo for his incredible Selma will give a major award to this film.


Title: La La Land
Director: Damien Chazelle
Year: 2016
Country: USA

I know that this is a very snobby thing to say, but I went into this film wanting to dislike it. Well, dislike is a bit strong. When I saw a trailer for it back in the summer I was desperate to see it. Then everyone started going to see it and loving it… so out came my inner hipster.

Within the first 1-2 minutes I had goosebumps. So that’s how long that lasted. By the end of the first song I knew I was watching something special and soon-to-be iconic.  Now that it’s a day later and I think back all I want to do is re-watch this film.

I think I have mentioned before that whilst I do like some musicals (like Moulin Rouge) there are many I have seen that bored me (Across The Universe) or did not get at all (Singin’ In The Rain). However, I am much more receptive to musicals than the average person, so there was always going to be a chance that I would love it… and love it I did.

There is the magnificent chemistry between Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, the songs, the fact that so many details serve as an homage to classic Hollywood cinema, the fantastic direction and one shots, the dream ballet at the end, some proper goosebumps moments, one weepy moment and a sharp dose of honesty.

Yes, I know that when compared to Moonlight this film is a bit frothy. The thing is, it’s a fantastically well done piece of froth. Also, if you watch the film and get to the moment where Emma Stone sings her heart out in her audition and still think this is froth… then I don’t know what to say. I was genuinely moved by this film.

Ranking
1) La La Land
2) Manchester by the Sea
3) Arrival
4) Moonlight
5) Hell or High Water
6) Hacksaw Ridge
7) Hidden Figures
8) Lion


9) Fences

List Item: Watch all Best Picture Winners (to date)

So unless there is a write in candidate that wins the day I am able to keep this part of my list well and truly crossed off. It’s been a stunner of a year for nominees where I can say that I have 6-7 films that I would be okay winning.

Obviously I am Team La La Land, but if that wins remains to be seen. I have a fear that, considering the times we appear to be entering, these will end up being a political Oscars. Whilst I am okay with Moonlight winning because it is the best film of the bunch according to Metacritic… it is the Best Actor race I am more worried about.

Progress: 90/90

Oscar Bait – Hacksaw Ridge / Lion / Fences

Since 9 films are in the running for Best Picture this year it was always going to happen that one of these posts had to feature three. With the bookies’ favourites Moonlight and La La Land left to see it made sense to combine these three outside chances into one post.

hacksaw-ridgeTitle: Hacksaw Ridge
Director: Mel Gibson
Year: 2016
Country: Australia/USA

This was probably the film I was least looking forward to see. A war film directed by Mel Gibson? Oh please. I couldn’t stand Braveheart and I have no real desire to watch either The Passion of the Christ or its upcoming sequel.

And yet, here was war film that felt thoughtful. A film about the first conscientious objector to win the US Medal of Honour? Now that’s a story that could be interesting. Especially when you compare it to the likes of Sergeant York. Both are films about extremely Christian men going to war. However, where Sergeant York had this man commit mass killings we see young Desmond Doss stay true to the Ten Commandments.

It’s an astonishing story. If this had been made up for the sake of a film it would feel ridiculous. I mean here is a man who you could pretty much describe as a miracle worker or a guardian angel. On the battlefield he helped both the allies and the axis soldiers if he came across them, that alone is extraordinary.

What is more extraordinary is how fine the line that needs to to walked in order to have a character like this not be insufferable. A lot of credit has to be given to Andrew Garfield in his portrayal as well as Gibson’s direction and the work of the screenwriters. Speaking of direction, this film has a fantastic battle sequence half way through. Utterly grotesque and incredibly engaging.

Will this win Best Picture? No I honestly do not think this has a chance. It is, however, a good way for Mel Gibson to find some sort of redemption after a long period of absence where he said a lot of awful things during, what seems to be, a mental breakdown.

lionTitle: Lion
Director: Garth Davis
Year: 2016
Country: Australia

Lion is probably the most outsidiest of the outside chances in the Best Picture nominations. Honestly if I could bet money on a film not winning I would probably bet my life savings on this one. It’s a decent enough film (especially the first half), but not a film that should be on the Best Picture list.

In essence, we are watching a biographical film about a man who tries to refind his roots. As a 5 year old he was separated from his family by some 1600km and, after escaping numerous attempts to have people sell him into child sex slavery, ends up being adopted by a nice couple in Australia.

The end of this film sees him finding his mother again in a sequence that felt way too unbelievable (because it didn’t happen this way) in a third act that could have done with a little bit of editing. The first half of the film, where we are in India, just felt a lot tighter and a bit less indulgent than the adult half of the film.

I am not downplaying Dev Patel in his role as adult Saroo. He does a great job as a conflicted third-culture man struggling to find his roots. It’s just that by doing this film linearly rather than through flashbacks we don’t have any mystery about anything. In Columbo style we know all about his origins and the solution isn’t satisfying enough to warrant the lack of any real reveal.

Title: Fences
Director: Denzel Washington
Year: 2016
Country: USA

It is because of Fences that I was able to cram these three films into one post. I know this is an unpopular opinion, but I don’t really rate this film. The only thing that kept me watching and not walking out was Viola Davis (and the price of a cinema ticket). She was magnificent and if she does not win that Oscar then shame on them.

Seriously though. I know people that really thought this was a great film and thought that Denzel Washington was amazing as both actor and director. I am not one of those people. Well, I cannot argue that isn’t good in his role. There’s just too much of him.

When you watch Fences you are keenly aware that you are watching the adaptation of a play. No real attempt was made to translate it to the big screen in terms of editing or cinematography. Amadeus managed to do it as have many other films. Honestly this film was a slog.

Current Rankings
1) Manchester by the Sea
2) Arrival
3) Hell or High Water
4) Hacksaw Ridge
5) Hidden Figures
6) Lion
7) Fences

Oscar Bait – Hell or High Water / Manchester by the Sea

Title: Hell or High Water
Director: David Mackenzie
Year: 2016
Country: USA

It’s unusual for a film to have their main release in summer and still be considered once awards season rolls around. Obviously we have exceptions such as Boyhood and Mad Max: Fury Road, and this year we have a Western heist flick set in modern day USA.

Hell or High Water is one of those films that was a pleasant surprise. From the trailer and the promotional material this film looked like it had a bit of a No Country For Old Men vibe to it… and that was a film that I didn’t quite get (either I was too young or it just wasn’t for me).

I did, however, really enjoy Hell or High Water. I enjoy a film that dabbles in a bit of moral ambiguity and there are spades of it here. The entire film revolves around a series of bank robberies executed by brother Tanner and Toby (Ben Foster and Chris Pine) and their pursuit by two Texas Rangers (Gil Birmingham and an excellent Jeff Bridges).

The moral ambiguity is in their crime. The brothers aren’t just robbing any banks, they’re picking on the company that sold a bad mortgage to their mother that resulted in her bankruptcy. The money itself is to pay off debts so they can keep the ranch. Obviously it all goes horribly wrong, but in the beginning you can really see it from the brothers point of view.

The main thing I got from Hell or High Water (apart from the realisation that Chris Pine can actually act and looks gorgeous when he isn’t so well kempt) was just how the poor in the USA are kept poor by the very structures that could actually help them. There is a scene at the end where they describe how poverty has become a hereditary and contagious disease.

It’s a nice way to bookend the film, the other bookend being graffiti at the beginning of the film that reads something like “3 tours in Iraq and where is my bailout”. It really is little wonder that we have a Trump presidency…

Title: Manchester by the Sea
Director: Kenneth Lonergan
Year: 2016
Country: USA

A depressed man is given the guardianship of his nephew after the sudden death of his brother. Add in a bit of cancer and something bordering on biography then you have the perfect Oscar bait film.

Yes I am that cynical. Yes I know that Manchester by the Sea has been playing critics like a fiddle (it has a score of 96% on Metacritic). However, this is a beautifully done film with a spellbinding performance from Casey Affleck. If you compare the performance here to Leonardo DiCaprio’s role of endurance in The Revenant… well, there’s no doubt in my mind that Affleck better shows what a great acting performance is.

The thing that I appreciated most about Manchester by the Sea was the sense of realism. You go into a film like this and you expect a certain ending. Since this will have been a film with the Academy Awards in mind you would definitely expect a certain ending. The thing is, those sorts of endings aren’t the only endings in the world and that’s okay.

I’m being vague in this write up because every detail and every reveal in this thoughtful drama just adds to the experience. With Casey Affleck and Lucas Hedges both giving amazing performances as the uncle and nephew respectively (and an underused Michelle Williams, let’s not forget her).

So far, this takes top. Still got Moonlight and La La Land to come though.

Current Rankings
1) Manchester by the Sea
2) Arrival
3) Hell or High Water
4) Hidden Figures

Oscar Bait – Arrival / Hidden Figures

Last year I made sure to see as many films that had a sniff of Oscar about them in order to cover myself for whichever film won on the night. This year has been no exception and what a year it has been with 9 nominations making the cut.

For the first post collating my thoughts on the nominees I figured I might as well go for a theme: woman in science. It’s rare enough that you get a film with female leads as scientists… then poof two come along in a year.

arrival Title: Arrival
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Year: 2016
Country: USA

Right so this opening paragraph needed a substantial edit considering the colossal snub by the Academy Awards. I know that I am biased when it comes to all things Amy Adams, since I think she is easily one of the great actors working today, but how on Earth could this film have received 8 nominations without one for her. I mean, I wouldn’t say she carries the film. No, she is the film. So yea, really not happy with the Academy right now.

Needless to say, I loved this film. I love a good sci-fi movie, especially when it takes a different perspective. With Arrival we have a movie about first contact with aliens where the lead character is a linguistics professor (Adams) that is roped in to discover the reason for the titular arrival… by working out how to communicate with the aliens.

I love the aliens in this. So often in films we have some sort of human-like biped, but here they actually go with something more along the lines of a squid combined with a tree trunk. Also, these are peaceful aliens. At no point are we led to believe that there is any malicious intent, in fact it’s us humans who make such assumptions (as we would probably do so).

The big selling point for me (other than Amy Adams) is the heavy use of linguistics in this film. It feels like a smart and very well researched story that actually imparts a lot of information about linguistics. Some of the ideas about language pretty much blew my mind, as did Villeneuve’s direction.

This film is already an early favourite of mine, I must say.

hiddenfigures
Title: Hidden Figures
Director: Theodore Melfi
Year: 2016
Country: USA

When you are about to sit and watch a film where the premise is to raise awareness of the forgotten(ish) African American woman that worked for NASA you tend to expect a certain sort of film: A film that’s cliched, heavy-handed and very message heavy. Not the case with Hidden Figures.

Okay sure, this is still very much a film about racism, but it tackles it in a way that I haven’t seen that often. It’s a film about systemic racism and not necessarily racist people. The thing is, it is also a film about systemic sexism. A lot of the problems that the three main characters face are down to both discriminatory factors, which does give this film a different slant.

I know precious little about the early NASA spaceflights. Most of what I know has been cobbled together from Wikipedia and The Right Stuff, so I learnt an awful lot from this film. Not in the least that Janelle Monae is actually a really good actress. I know she’s also done moonlight, but this is an impressive turn by her.

Speaking of impressive, Octavia Spencer is a treasure as always and Taraji P. Henson shows the amazing range she has as an actress. From Benjamin Button to Empire and now this very different role for her. I can see this being the film that ends up picking up a number of Best Cast awards because of the central three as well as the performances of Kevin Costner and Mahershala Ali.

Current Rankings
1) Arrival
2) Hidden Figures

Oscar Bait – Ordinary People

List Item: Watch all Best Picture Winners (to date)
Progress: COMPLETE

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 463/1007Title: Ordinary People
Director: Robert Redford
Year: 1980
Country: USA

Well won’t you look at that. The final Best Picture winner in the bunch. I probably could have finished this off properly a long time ago… then again this is never really over. It will become a perpetual game of catch-up for the rest of my life. I don’t mind that though as, to paraphrase Anton Ego from Ratatouille, I don’t just like films I LOVE them.

Now, saving Ordinary People for last was not a conscious decision. However, the fact that all I really knew about this film’s reputation was that this is ‘the film that beat Raging Bull’ did not make me want to watch it. The fact of the matter is that I really do not understand the buzz of Raging Bull outside the performance of Robert DeNiro.

Going straight for the Cliff Notes for Ordinary People: this is a film about how a family of three cope after the death of their eldest son and the failed suicide attempt of the younger son. How do they cope in the aftermath of both of these incredibly tragic moments? This description undersells the movie, but that’s the basics of it.

The heart of the film is Conrad, the younger son played by Timothy Hutton in his movie debut. Now, I have to say that Hutton’s performance is easily one of the best I have seen in an Oscar movie. It’s little wonder that he went on to win the Oscar… for supporting actor… which is bullshit as he has more lines than Mary Tyler Moore (who was nominated for leading actress). Then again, he would have probably had NO chance against DeNiro, so that was clever of the studios.

Now, I have never been through something so traumatic as losing a family member in an accident that I survived (thankfully), but I have been to dark places. It might be because of this that I found Ordinary People particularly affecting. Similarly, it was probably the reason that I found myself getting incredibly angry at his cold mother.

Mary Tyler Moore and Donald Sutherland are both exceptional as the parents. It’s criminal that Sutherland did not get the Oscar nomination. It’s interesting to have a film where it is the father who is desperate to connect and the mother who has completely shut out any grief.

Moore gives a more nuanced performance, because that’s what the character requires. Here is a woman who is all artifice and selfishness. She loved her eldest son more as he was the proper all American boy, not the cautious and sensitive son that she decided to turn her back on. The only times where you see her begin to lose herself is when something happens that would affect how she would be perceived by other people e.g. telling a friend that their son is in therapy and what shirt to wear to a funeral.

The interactions between Conrad and his mother are heartbreaking. There are two scenes in particular that got to me:

  1. When taking a family photograph she insists that she takes a photo of Conrad and his father in order to get out of having a photo taken of her with her son.
  2. When Conrad hugs her after her return from a long trip. She is unable to even touch him.

It is the second scene that probably leads to one of the saddest moments in the entire film – a simple and powerful moment where the father realises that the woman he married is not the woman he thought he married. When he asks if she still loves him she says something along the lines of “I feel the same way now as I always have” rather than bringing herself to say “of course I love you” or similar.

In many ways this was a film that was able to do family distress better than Kramer vs. Kramer as it never drifts into sentimentality. Then again, such a court case is what is bound to happen after the conclusion. I would just hope that the father would win.

In the end I think Ordinary People was a film that needed to win after One Flew Over Cuckoo’s Nest tarnished the world of psychiatric medicine. Okay, it isn’t the fix all that it needs to be, but it isn’t all electric shock therapy. Thank you Judd Hirsch for what your empathetic performance has done for removing some stigma of seeking help.

Oscar Bait – Marty

List Item: Watch all Best Picture Winners (to date)
Progress: 88/89

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martyTitle: Marty
Director: Delbert Mann
Year: 1955
Country: USA

When I added the Best Picture list to the blog I made mention of the fact that it is a rarity for my favourite film of the year to agree with the Academy. Well, for the first time since starting this blog  I have found one. Just in time too, I only had one left to go after this.

So what is it about Marty that makes it my favourite film of 1955 (that I have seen so far). Honesty. It’s not unusual for a romantic drama to be the winner, but a film that only takes place over two days and possesses an ending that is up to your interpretation? That’s unusual.

Okay, let’s back up a bit. The film centres around Marty (Ernest Borgnine in fantastic form) a 34 year old butcher from the Bronx and the only one out of six children not to be married. Not that he doesn’t want to. He’s desperately lonely and pretty much everyone gives him grief about not settling down. The reason? No girl will agree to give him a chance because of his looks and because of his profession (or at least that’s how he sees it… it is the 1950s after all). That means no one will agree to this initial courting.

Since we now have online dating and the like, a film like Marty can feel a little bit quaint. I mean, the idea of going to a dancehall every Saturday night in the slim hope of finding a future husband/wife? No wonder you got live long bachelors and spinsters; it’s brutal and painful.

This is what Borgnine (and Betsy Blair) is able to convey in spades. Pain, desperation and the sheer amount of over-sharing that occurs when you finally come across someone who has given you the amber light.

The length of this film (at 90 minutes this is the shortest film to ever win Best Picture) is a great asset. It gives greater significance to the night that Borgnine and Blair’s characters meet and the first date that ensues. It’s honest enough about their awkwardness in order to prevent it from becoming too saccharin.

It is in the final act where we see the true reason for Marty’s perpetual singlehood – his friends. These friends are complete arseholes. The kind of friends that are happier to maintain the status quo of the group rather than one of their own be happy and end up leaving. It’s only when he realises what he really wants that Marty is able to get it. A bit of a life lesson for us all really.