Director: Francis Lawrence
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Joel Edgerton, Matthias Schoenaerts, Jeremy Irons, Charlotte Rampling, Mary-Louise Parker, Ciaran Hinds, Joely Richardson, Douglas Hodge, Sakina Jaffrey
As Jennifer Lawrence has transitioned from just being an actress to being a fully fledged superstar her public persona, the irreverent, funny goofball, has come to the fore. Red Sparrow, in which she is reunited with director Francis Lawrence who helmed the final three films of the Hunger Games series, gives her the opportunity to return to those qualities which first grabbed the world’s attention in Winter’s Bone, The Hunger Games and Silver Linings Playbook: strength, defiance, determination.
“Every human being is a puzzle of need. Learn how to be the missing piece and they will give you anything.” This is the mantra of the Sparrows, a special program within the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, the SVR, focused on psychological manipulation. Continue reading
10. The Beguiled (Sofia Coppola)
Sofia Coppola won Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival for her adaptation of Thomas P Cullinan’s novel, taking his tale of a man entering a world of women and bringing a distinctively female perspective, making for a different movie to Don Siegel’s 1971 version. A story about an injured Union soldier who takes shelter among the women of a small Virginian seminary during the Civil War, The Beguiled is part melodrama and part psychosexual thriller with just a dash of black comedy. An entrancing film, its tone is constantly shifting as we wonder who is manipulating who and watch a paradise become a prison. Full review.
9. Spider-Man: Homecoming (John Watts)
The superhero movie continues to be the blockbuster form of the moment and 2017 offered up three good ones: Spider-Man: Homecoming, Logan and Wonder Woman. Logan was the most audacious, Wonder Woman was the most important, but for mine Spider-Man: Homecoming was the best blockbuster of the year. Part superhero movie, part John Hughes high school drama, it is energetic, funny and exuberant, and unlike Thor: Ragnarok (which I was not as high on as many others), did not sacrifice genuine emotion to get its laughs. It even has a good villain, long the achilles heel of the Marvel movies. After finally striking a deal with Sony Pictures, Marvel Studios didn’t waste the opportunity once they got their hands back on their number one commodity. Full review.
8. Baby Driver (Edgar Wright)
Edgar Wright’s stylistically ambitious action/heist/music video Baby Driver is the coolest film of 2017. More than just a film with a killer soundtrack, Wright used the music as a key structural element of his movie. Allowing songs to play out in their entirety, he choreographed the action to the soundtrack. While such meticulous planning could have made the film feel mechanical, it doesn’t. Rather the whole thing feels like a dance. While somewhat lacking at a human, character level, it is an exhilarating film experience. In light of recent revelations, though, it will be interesting to see if the presence of Kevin Spacey in the cast has any impact on Baby Driver’s replay value. Full review.
7. Moonlight (Barry Jenkins)
This year’s Academy Award winner for Best Picture was an intimate, nuanced coming-of-age film which marked a massive step forward for the presence of LGBTQI cinema in the mainstream. A complex exploration of African-American masculinity and adolescent homosexuality, Moonlight tells the story of its lead character at three specific points in his young life, using a different actor to portray each stage with each actor bringing something distinct to their manifestation of the character. With a visual beauty that is not common for social realist drama and some very strong performances (most notably Mahershala Ali’s Oscar winning turn as drug dealer and mentor Juan), Barry Jenkins has taken a queer, black story, which you would assume to be niche, and made it universal. Full review.
6. mother! (Darren Aronofsky)
This is probably my most controversial selection because a lot of people hated this film, and I mean properly hated it. However, I don’t think I thought about a film this year as much as I thought about mother!. Darren Aronofsky’s allegory for the relationship between humanity, nature and the creator is a challenging and confronting piece of art that is intended to elicit a strong reaction. The very definition of a film that is ‘not for everyone,’ mother! will frustrate and disgust you, making you equal parts uncomfortable and angry. But whether you love it or hate it, you will think about it and you will want to talk about it. Full review.
5. The Big Sick (Michael Showalter)
First-time screenwriters and married couple Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon drew on the true story of their own unconventional courtship to create the year’s best romantic comedy. Nanjiani, a stand-up comedian best known for his role in Silicon Valley, plays himself, reliving the experience of his new girlfriend (with Zoe Kazan portaying Gordon) being placed in an induced coma while his traditional Pakistani family were unaware he was seeing a white girl. With its unique scenario and examination of the migrant experience, The Big Sick takes a genre that is often derided for being a bit formulaic and makes it insightful and personal while still being incredibly entertaining. There are also some very good supporting performances from Holly Hunter and Ray Romano as Emily’s parents. Full review.
4. Silence (Martin Scorsese)
While films like The Departed, Shutter Island and The Wolf of Wall Street have seen Martin Scorsese enjoying the most commercially successful period of his celebrated career, Silence is his most unashamedly uncommercial film in decades. Based on the novel by Shusaku Endo about Jesuit missionaries in imperial Japan (which Scorsese first read back in 1989), it is a long, slow and challenging meditation on questions of faith and doubt. Scorsese’s Catholic upbringing has always been one of the primary influences on his filmmaking, and Silence is a good companion piece to his earlier wrestles with faith in The Last Temptation of Christ and Kundun. Thanks to Rodrigo Prieto’s cinematography and Dante Ferretti’s production design, it is also one of the most beautiful looking films of the year. Full review.
3. La La Land (Damien Chazelle)
While thanks to Faye Dunaway, Warren Beatty and the team from Price Waterhouse Coopers La La Land is destined to be immortalised in trivia competitions as the only film to be incorrectly awarded Best Picture as the Oscars, that should not detract from how wonderful a film it is in its own right. After its haul of 14 Oscar nominations it is easy to forget how risky a proposition this film was. There hadn’t been an original musical of any significance come out of Hollywood since Newsies in 1992. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling may not be the world’s most polished singers and dancers but they share great onscreen chemistry, and with Damien Chazelle’s flair for directing with music and Justin Hurwitz’s fantastic score, La La Land was a joyous piece of uplifting, escapist entertainment. Full review.
2. Get Out (Jordan Peele)
Get Out was the film which came out of nowhere to become the cinematic talking point of early 2017 and remains the best reviewed film of the year. On the fiftieth anniversary of Stanley Kramer’s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, Get Out borrows that central premise – a white girl bringing her black boyfriend home to meet her unknowing family – but takes it in an entirely different, and far creepier, direction. Written and directed by Jordan Peele, best known as one half of the sketch comedy duo Key & Peele, Get Out functions simultaneously as a top-shelf piece of horror cinema and a sharp, zeitgeisty piece of social commentary. Full review.
1. I Am Not Your Negro (Raoul Peck)
A surprise pick for number one as I doubt it is featuring on many such lists, but I saw this documentary at the Sydney Film Festival this year and it blew me away. I Am Not Your Negro brings to life author, intellectual and activist James Baldwin’s unrealised book ‘Remember this House,’ a personal account of his experience of the murders of his three friends Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. Using archival footage of Baldwin, plus excerpts from the treatment for the unpublished work unrecognisably performed by Samuel L. Jackson, Raoul Peck tells the whole story in Baldwin’s distinctive voice. A great thinker, Baldwin was speaking hard truths in the 1960s which remain hard truths today. If you can find it, see it. Full review.
The Next Best (alphabetical): Blade Runner 2049 (Denis Villeneuve), Dunkirk (Christopher Nolan), Happy End (Michael Haneke), Hidden Figures (Theodore Melfi), Logan (James Mangold), Manchester by the Sea (Kenneth Lonergan), Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Rian Johnson), The Teacher (Jan Hrebejk), War for the Planet of the Apes (Matt Reeves), Wonder Woman (Patty Jenkins)
The Worst Movie of the Year:
Rough Night (Lucia Aniello)
Oh, how I wanted this to be good. We are in somewhat of a golden period of screen comediennes, and while dude-bros might kick up a stink about which is the appropriate gender for busting ghosts, there have been some really good female driven comedies in recent years. But Rough Night set its gender-flipping sights on a sub-genre – the massive party/night out that goes horribly wrong – which largely produces terrible films so, true to form, it is too. It even caused a small controversy, outraging the sex industry for its characters’ flippant reaction to the death of a stripper. As fate would have it, the similarly themed Girls Trip came out shortly after and received much better reviews.
By Duncan McLean
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer, Domhnall Gleeson, Brian Gleeson
After watching Darren Aronofsky’s mother! you are left with a question: ‘Was that a good film?’ But answering that question requires you to first consider a bigger question: ‘What makes a good film?’ Ever the provocateur, Aronofsky has crafted a film that will frustrate and disgust you, making you equal parts uncomfortable and angry. But if, in order to make their point, it was the filmmaker’s intention to draw these negative reactions from the audience, does successfully doing so make it a good film? mother! is the very epitome of ‘not for everyone,’ and the way you answer that last question goes a long way to determining whether this polarising film is for you or not.
An unnamed married couple live alone in a large house in the middle of a circular meadow in the woods. He (Javier Bardem) is a highly regarded poet who has been struggling to write anything for some time. She (Jennifer Lawrence) has been working to painstakingly restore the grand old house, his old family home which had been destroyed in a fire. Continue reading
Director: Morten Tyldum
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Pratt, Michael Sheen
Jon Spaiht’s screenplay Passengers, a science fiction romance about two people alone on a long space journey, had been around the traps for a decade having appeared on the Black List (an industry survey of the top unproduced screenplays) way back in 2007. But once they added two of the hottest stars on the planet in Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt, and an Oscar nominated director in Morten Tyldum, coming off his success with The Imitation Game, it wasn’t going to stay unproduced for much longer.
The Starship Avalon is 30 years into its 120 year journey transporting 5,000 hibernating migrants to the colony world of Homestead II when a technical glitch causes passenger Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) to wake way too early. With all the other passengers and crew asleep, and no way of putting himself back into hibernation, Jim is faced with the prospect of spending the rest of his life on this intergalactic cruise ship with only Arthur the android bartender (Michael Sheen) as company. Continue reading
Director: David O. Russell
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Virginia Madsen, Isabella Rossellini, Edgar Ramirez, Dianne Ladd, Elisabeth Röhm, Bradley Cooper
As stated in its opening titles, Joy, is “based on true stories of daring women.” It explores the way a tenacious woman manages to survive and eventually thrive in a world determined to put her in her place. This semi-fictionalised account of the life of Joy Mangano, inventor of the Miracle Mop makes a point of never actually using the phrase “Miracle Mop,” or even the stating the surname Mangano. Rather than presenting a traditional biopic, director David O. Russell has opted for a comically exaggerated fable celebrating the American Dream and tenacious, can-do spirit.
Joy (Jennifer Lawrence) was a creative young girl from whom a lot was expected but for whom things haven’t quite panned out. Seventeen years after being named high school valedictorian she is stuck in a hole, providing for her chaotic family Continue reading
Director: Francis Lawrence
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Donald Sutherland, Julianne Moore, Woody Harrelson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Sam Claflin, Natalie Dormer, Elden Henson, Mahershala Ali, Willow Shields
An important chapter in the career of one of Hollywood’s brightest young stars comes to a close as Jennifer Lawrence picks up the bow and arrows for the last time in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2, the final adaptation from Suzanne Collins wildly popular young adult series.
With Panem’s districts united in revolution under President Coin (Julianne Moore’s), the fight to overthrow President Snow (Donald Sutherland) moves to the Capitol. Snow has put the game makers to work setting booby traps throughout the streets with the aim of making sport of the rebels deaths to galvanise the citizens of the Capitol. Feeling that Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) has largely served her purpose as mascot of the revolution, Coin encourages her to take a back seat. But Katniss is determined to join the fight, motivated by revenge for the torture and brainwashing of Peeta (Josh Hutcherson). She, along with some other former games victors and recognisable faces – Finnick (Sam Claflin), Gale (Liam Hemsworth), Boggs (Mahershala Ali), Cressida (Natalie Dormer) – is put into an all-star non-combat unit whose job is to hang a couple of miles behind the frontline, exploring abandoned streets of the Capitol in (relative) safety and shooting propaganda videos. Continue reading
Director: Francis Lawrence
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore, Elizabeth Banks, Willow Shields, Jeffrey Wright, Sam Claflin, Stanley Tucci
After two films which have netted a combined $1.56 billion at the international box office, Lionsgate’s Hunger Games franchise has followed the lead of the Harry Potter, Twilight and Hobbit franchises, in becoming the latest to break a single book into multiple movies for seemingly no other reason than to inflate profits. And so we have The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part I, aka ‘The Hunger Games Part 3A.’
Mockingjay – Part I picks up where Catching Fire left off, with Katniss having been rescued from the arena by a band of rebels who have been hiding away in District 13. Katniss’ act of defiance which ended the Quarter Quell has inspired the people of Panem’s districts, and the rebels are now attempting to harness this groundswell of action and unify the districts against the Capitol. To help them achieve this, they need Katniss to serve as their standard bearer, their Mockingjay, but Katniss is more concerned with the fate of those victors who were not rescued and now find themselves prisoners of the Capitol; Johanna, Annie, and most importantly, Peeta, who the Capitol are using as their PR weapon. After failed attempts to film staged propaganda ads, the rebel leaders realise that it is Katniss’ authenticity which people most respond to, and as such she needs to get out in the field and experience firsthand the destruction the Capitol has wreaked.
Mockingjay – Part I is a very different film to the first two in the series; The Hunger Games and its superior sequel Catching Fire. For starters, this time around there is no games to serve as the centrepiece for the film, and this really changes the dynamic of the movie. Mockingjay – Part I is a darker film, both thematically and visually. Director Francis Lawrence chooses to tell the story almost entirely from the point of view of the rebels. We are rarely privy to what is going on in the Capitol. That means that we as an audience are working off the same assumptions the rebel characters are. But as it was the scenes in the Capitol and arena which gave the first two films much of their visual flair, it means that Mockingjay – Part I lacks the colour and vibrancy of its prequels. Instead, we spend the majority of the film in the subterranean bunker of the rebellion, making for a less expansive, more claustrophobic film.
Mockingjay – Part I is a war movie but not a combat film. Instead, its focus is on the behind the scenes mechanisms that are at play in war. The film explores the significant role of propaganda and messages, of symbols and songs, in unifying people in times of conflict. This is quite a topical area of exploration. As we watch the rebels and the Capitol engage in a back-and-forth through public addresses and viral video releases one can’t help but think about the parallels to the media wars between the West and Al-Qaida and now ISIS.
As their Mockingjay, their unifying symbol and standard bearer, Katniss is the revolution’s primary weapon. Peeta is the Capitol’s. His gaunt appearance leads us to assume that Peeta is being coerced and used by the Capitol to speak out against the rebellion. But is Katniss being just as used? From the start of the film we can see that she is tapped out, an emotional wreck after two rounds in the arena. But the rebellion needs her. How much, though, is this rebellion an extension of what Katniss represents and how much are the rebels simply co-opting her image and the people’s goodwill towards her to benefit their cause. The rebel leader President Coin is a cold and determined woman and we are only slightly more trusting of her than we are of President Snow. Our uncertainty of her is reinforced by her proclamations to the rebels, which are greeted with aggressive war chants in scenes that feel eerily reminiscent of Nazi rallies.
It is the performances from the deep, high quality cast that elevates the film, as it has done for the entire series. This starts with Jennifer Lawrence, who again does most of the heavy lifting. By then end of this series Lawrence’s Katniss will undoubtedly stand alongside Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley and Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor as one of the cinema’s greatest action heroines. While Mockingjay – Part I is less physically demanding of Lawrence– she only fires one arrow in the whole film – it is still her character’s emotional journey we are on. The Katniss/Peeta/Gale love triangle is again prominent; a love triangle that is saved from cliché by the fact that it is entirely unromantic. Katniss’ interest in both guys is much more about emotional support than it is romance or passion. Most of the previous characters return for this instalment – some with bigger roles, others with smaller roles – and it is the presence in these supporting roles of veteran, high quality actors like Donald Sutherland, Julianne Moore, Jeffrey Wright, Stanley Tucci and Philip Seymour Hoffman (to whom the film is dedicated) that fleshes out this world and gives it weight.
The themes of rebellion against the machine that are central to Mockingjay – Part I feel slightly insincere when presented in such a formulaic major Hollywood blockbuster. The film lacks the rebellious spirit of its narrative. There is nothing the slightest bit subversive about the film, as evidenced by the cynical, money-grabbing decision to split Collins’ final novel into two instalments. Mockingjay – Part I suffers from all of the problems that are to be expected of a ‘Part I’ movie, a film which only tells the first half of a story. The film is light on narrative events and action. The games are gone and have not been replaced with an equivalently satisfying action source. The film is much more about character development than narrative action, and while it does succeed in building up some tension it obviously lacks any sort of resolution. You leave this film feeling like you’ve only watched the first half of a movie, though you’ve paid for a whole one.
Katniss continues to be a strong heroine, Collins narrative is as engaging as it has always been, and Mockingjay – Part I performs its function within the overall Hunger Games franchise by setting up the final film quite well. However, what seems to often get lost in Hollywood studio thinking when dealing with their money-spinning franchises is that each piece should, first and foremost, function effectively as a film in its own right. Mockingjay – Part I feels like the first half of a pretty good film. Ultimately, it will fall to Mockingjay – Part II to show that there was creative and not just economic justification for the decision to break the final instalment into two films rather than a single two-and-a-half to three hour movie.
Review by Duncan McLean
Have you seen The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part I? Leave a comment and let us know what you thought.
Director: Bryan Singer
Starring: Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Peter Dinklage, Nicholas Hoult, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Ellen Page
Five years ago, the X-Men franchise was looking like it might have run its course. X-Men: Last Stand had disappointed and X-Men Origins: Wolverine was widely panned. But Matthew Vaughn’s X-Men: First Class breathed new life into the series in 2011, and now Bryan Singer, the director who helped launch the franchise, is back at the helm for the much anticipated, and confusingly titled, X-Men: Days of Future Past.
We begin at the end. It is the year 2023 and we are in the final stages of a war between the mutants and giant robots known as Sentinels. But it is not so much a war as an extermination. Knowing they have nowhere left to hide, a small band of mutants – including among others, Wolverine, Professor X and Magneto, by this point an ally – devise a last ditch plan. Kitty Pryde uses her telepathic powers to send Wolverine’s consciousness back in time. Awaking in his 1973 body, Wolverine must seek out the young Professor X and Magneto, at this point sworn enemies, and with their help change the past in order to prevent this war from ever beginning.
X-Men: Days of Future Past feels like the continuation of a story. It feels like we are picking up where a previous film left off, but we are not. As a result the first half of the movie is chock full of exposition because there is a whole story that we have not seen which needs to be explained to us in order to understand what we are now seeing. We learn how in 1973 Mystique murders scientist Boliver Trask, inventor of the Sentinels, and that act cements the general public’s fear of the mutants and leads to the green-lighting of the Sentinel project. We learn how after being captured, Mystique’s shape-shifting DNA is incorporated into the design of the Sentinels making them highly adaptable and near impossible to defeat. We learn how the machines started out targeting mutants, but soon moved on to targeting mutant-sympathising humans and eventually all humans. We start the film at the culmination of this narrative and then return to the very beginning to try and stop it ever happening, but the result is the feeling that we’ve actually missed out on quite a good story.
X-Men: Days of Future Past continues the strongly allegorical nature of the series, exploring themes of intolerance, prejudice and the fear of the other. In Professor X and Magneto we are shown two different forms of leadership and two different approaches to combatting prejudice. Professor X is the Martin Luther King figure, preaching cooperation, unity and understanding, while Magneto is more Malcolm X, calling for a more militant, fight-the-power response. These important themes are explored effectively, but still in an entertaining package. There are some impressive action sequences and visual effects, and this film contains more fun and humour than we have seen in some of the previous installments in the series. That we experience the 1970s through the eyes of a character from the future means that the sights and sounds of that era – clothes, music, hair styles, lava lamps and waterbeds – can all be played up for comic effect.
X-Men: Days of Future Past does suffer a bit from character overload, with many being very thinly sketched. The X-Men universe contains so many characters and the temptation is always there to introduce new ones each film. In this film, the dual time period means that we have two casts of characters. There are just too many characters here for them all to be meaningfully represented. Of the new characters introduced, the teenage Quicksilver is a highlight. He is responsible for probably the film’s best scene, helping spring Magneto from a maximum security prison, but despite proving himself incredibly useful he is then inexplicably left behind.
The plot of X-Men: Days of Future Past provided an excellent opportunity to wrap up the series, but, unsurprisingly, that option was not taken and the film is clearly setting itself up for a sequel (talk is that X-Men: Apocalypse will be hitting screens in 2016). With this film’s rewriting of the past essentially throwing away the events and chronology of the previous four films in the franchise, it will be interesting to see what they choose to move forward with in the sequel.
There is plenty in X-Men: Days of Future Past to please returning fans of the series, but newcomers will find this a very difficult film to get up to speed with. While it has some quite strong moments, it is very messy in terms of its screenplay and narrative and doesn’t really live up to the high expectations that preceded it.
Review by Duncan McLean
Have you seen X-Men: Days of Future Past? Leave a comment and let us know what you thought.
We have arrived at the most wonderful time of the year to be a movie buff (unless you are a more high falutin cinephile who likes to think of lists and awards as being trivial and beneath them). December brings with it a flurry of top ten lists and the first round of nominations for the award season. The Hollywood Foreign Press Association has announced its nominees for the 2014 Golden Globe awards. As always the Golden Globes only give a slight indication of how things will pan out come Oscar time, particularly as the Globes divide categories between Drama and Musical or Comedy. However, we can none the less start in earnest to speculate as to who will be in the mix when Oscar nominations are announced on 16th January 2014.
Best Motion Picture – Drama
- 12 Years a Slave
- Captain Phillips
If this award were to go to anything other than 12 Years a Slave or Gravity it can be considered quite an upset. It will be interesting to see which way this goes. There was no other film that got quite the overwhelming response that Gravity did, but 12 Years a Slave is also a brilliant and important film which is a much more traditional ‘Best Picture’ type.
My tip: 12 Years a Slave
Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy
- American Hustle
- The Wolf of Wall Street
- Inside Llewyn Davis
Again, this would appear to be a two horse race between American Hustle and Inside Llewyn Davis, with these two films plus the two favourites from the other best picture category likely to be the four main contenders for the Oscar. The fact that Joel Coen didn’t get a directing nomination might swing things in the favour of David O. Russell’s film.
My tip: American Hustle
- Alfonso Cuaron (Gravity)
- Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave)
- David O. Russell (American Hustle)
- Paul Greengrass (Captain Phillips)
- Alexander Payne (Nebraska)
Where this category is usually dominated by the directors from the best drama field there is a bit more of a mix this year with David O. Russell and Alexander Payne representing the musical or comedy category. While it is yet to be seen if voters consider Gravity to be Best Picture material, there is no doubt that it is a directorial achievement and it is not without precedent to see directors rewarded for amazing technical achievements (see Ang Lee’s Oscar win last year). In all, this is probably the strongest contested field at this year’s Golden Globes.
My tip: Alfonso Cuaron (Gravity)
Best Actor – Drama
- Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave)
- Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club)
- Tom Hanks (Captain Phillips)
- Robert Redford (All is Lost)
- Idris Elba (Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom)
An interesting field featuring veterans (Hanks and Redford), breakout performances (Ejiofor and Elba) and someone who is slowly but surely becoming quite an impressive actor (McConaughey). For mine, Redford’s work in All is Lost is the most impressive acting I’ve seen this year, but it also feels like the kind of film that will get overlooked. Don’t be surprised if momentum builds behind Tom Hanks and he’s an unbackable favourite by the time the Oscars come around.
My tip: Tom Hanks (Captain Phillips)
Best Actor – Musical or Comedy
- Bruce Dern (Nebraska)
- Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street)
- Christian Bale (American Hustle)
- Oscar Isaac (Inside Llewyn Davis)
- Joaquin Phoenix (Her)
It’s great to see an old dog in Bruce Dern back in the mix and Christian Bale’s amazing fluctuating weight gets him in the frame again, but Joaquin Phoenix was so impressive in Her, performing the majority of the film only with a disembodied voice to play off, so I’d be inclined to go that way.
My tip: Joaquin Phoenix (Her)
Best Actress – Drama
- Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine)
- Sandra Bullock (Gravity)
- Emma Thompson (Saving Mr. Banks)
- Judi Dench (Philomena)
- Kate Winslet (Labor Day)
There is a bit of a usual suspects feel to this category with every nominee being a previous Golden Globe and Oscar winner. Cate Blanchett would seem hard to beat in this category unless the voters go left field for something out of left field and opt for Dench.
My tip: Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine)
Best Actress – Musical or Comedy
- Meryl Streep (August: Osage County)
- Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Enough Said)
- Amy Adams (American Hustle)
- Julie Delpy (Before Midnight)
- Greta Gerwig (Frances Ha)
The amazing Meryl Streep gets her obligatory nomination here, but this one will likely come down to Amy Adams and Julia Louis-Dreyfus.
My tip: Amy Adams (American Hustle)
Best Supporting Actor
- Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave)
- Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club)
- Bradley Cooper (American Hustle)
- Daniel Brühl (Rush)
- Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips)
Michael Fassbender has done the best work of his career when under the direction of Steve McQueen and his performance as the violent Epps in 12 Years a Slave will likely see him edge out Brühl and Abdi for the honours.
My tip: Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave)
Best Supporting Actress
- Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave)
- Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle)
- Julia Roberts (August: Osage County)
- June Squibb (Nebraska)
- Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine)
Lupita Nyong’o was very impressive in 12 Years a Slave, her first feature film role, and Sally Hawkins earned praise for her work opposite Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine, but 2013 has been Jennifer Lawrence’s year and her combination with David O. Russell should see her strike gold again.
My tip: Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle)
- John Ridley (12 Years a Slave)
- Bob Nelson (Nebraska)
- Eric Warren and David O. Russell (American Hustle)
- Jeff Pope (Philomena)
- Spike Jonze (Her)
There are five very good screenplays nominated in this category but none is as bold as Spike Jonze’s for Her. His screenplay takes a scenario which could easily have been silly and makes it incredibly sincere and heartfelt and, as such, despite being an outsider I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he won.
My tip: Spike Jonze (Her)
Best Animated Feature
- The Croods
- Dispicable Me 2
This has to be the least inspiring collection of animated films in recent memory. It doesn’t help that there is no contribution from Pixar or Studio Ghibli, the two most consistently excellent producers of animation in recent years. As such, Disney’s Frozen, an old-fashioned feeling Disney movie, is probably favourite be default.
My tip: Frozen
Best Foreign Language Film
- Blue is the Warmest Color
- The Past
- The Hunt
- The Wind Rises
- The Great Beauty
This category lacks the out and out favourite it had last year in Amour, but there are a number of strong contenders. Blue is the Warmest Color, The Hunt and The Great Beauty have all made a bit of noise, winning numerous awards. It could go to any of those three, though Blue is the Warmest Color is probably the favourite at this stage.
My tip: The Hunt
The Golden Globes will be held on 12th January 2014
This year the most thankless job in Hollywood went to Family Guy creator Seth McFarlane, in a move which was obviously supposed to give the ceremony a bit of edginess and youth appeal (and on that front it was a success with the viewer numbers in the US up 20% from last year). The reviews of McFarlane’s performance have ranged from lightly positive to downright scathing. It’s a tough job at the best of times, but it was made all the tougher, as he alluded to, by the fact that Tina Fey and Amy Poehler had been so universally praised for the job they did at the Golden Globes a few weeks ago.
McFarlane was a bit hit and miss, as most hosts are, but was largely exactly what anyone who is familiar with him expected him to be. His opening bit, in which he conversed with William Shatner as Captain Kirk who was contacting him from the future to warn him against all the mistakes he was going to make as a host, came in at 19 minutes and was just way too long. There was a good idea there, but it was just stretched too far.
The humour in McFarlane’s television and film work comes from two sources: crossing the line of good taste and being inappropriate, and very specific pop-culture referencing. Both were on display on Oscar night. While it was apparent that he was reining himself in to some extent, McFarlane was always going to try and push things a little bit. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it crossed the line. The joke about no actor being able to get inside the head of Abraham Lincoln quite like John Wilkes Booth, was in typically poor taste but it got a good laugh. The “We Saw Your Boobs” song in his opening number didn’t go down so well, being just one of a number of incidents which led feminist commentators to accuse the host of misogyny (though as Family Guy co-writer Alec Sulkin pointed out on twitter, it seems slightly ironic to accuse the host of misogyny on a night that was also celebrating fifty years of James Bond).
McFarlane may have been better served to more heavily favour the pop-culture referencing, given he was in a room full of people who live and breathe movies and would therefore understand that kind of referencing and in-joking. His introduction of Christopher Plummer, in which he pointed to a side door to usher in the Von Trapp family singers only to have a young Nazi run in and exclaim “They’re gone!” went down a treat. A bit more of that sort of stuff and a bit less of jokes about nine-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis being a potential future girlfriend for George Clooney, and he may have got a more generally positive response.
This year it was really pleasing to see a bit of class return to the Academy Awards on the presenter front. The Oscars are an institution and an important part of maintaining that sense of grandeur is having big names presenting awards. In recent years the really big names have been notably absent, but this time around the presenters included screen legends such as Christopher Plummer, Michael Douglas, Jane Fonda, Meryl Streep (because she wasn’t actually up for an award this year) and Jack Nicholson. Their presence brought a bit of prestige to the event. That being said, I want to have one whinge. Jack Nicholson was brought out to present the Best Picture award, but had to hand over to Michelle Obama who appeared via a live video cross from the White House. Michelle Obama is a good get for the Academy, however, in this situation I don’t think she trumps Jack Nicholson (especially not on video). Jack is one of Hollywood’s absolute living legends, and being in the twilight of his career and not doing a lot of publicity means we don’t really see much of him. Michelle Obama tends to appear on the nightly news just about every day, so I felt that her presence was a waste of valuable Jack time.
As always, the presenters were a bit hit and miss in their attempts at pre-announcement banter. Paul Rudd and Melissa McCarthy take the cake for least funny seemingly adlibbed jokes, and Kristen Stewart and Daniel Radcliffe have no business being on stage at an Academy Award ceremony at this point in their careers (Stewart was her usual grumpy self but at least this time had the excuse of an injured foot).
Moment of the night from a presenters point of view was Mark Wahlberg who had to present the Best Sound Editing category in which there was a tie. Clearly taken aback by what he was reading, Wahlberg felt he needed to convince the crowd that he wasn’t having them on, so in classic Boston fashion stated “No BS. We have a tie.” When I was saying before that the presenters brought back a bit of class to the event, I wasn’t so much thinking about Marky Mark.
Despite the fact that this was one of the more open Academy Awards in recent history it ended up being a night almost entirely devoid of surprises on the awards front. Argo followed on from its dominance of the lead up awards to claim Best Picture. Daniel Day Lewis cemented his position as one of the all-time greats with his win for Lincoln making him the first man to win the Best Actor award on three occasions. Jennifer Lawrence tripped over on her way up to collect her Best Actress award. Christoph Waltz’s magic relationship with Quentin Tarantino continued as he claimed his second Best Supporting Actor Oscar from two collaborations. Anne Hathaway won the one award which was such an absolute lock you could have bet your house on it. In fact, the only major award in which the bookies’ favourite didn’t walk away with the statue was Best Director, in which Ang Lee pipped Steven Spielberg (but that category was a shambles from the moment Ben Affleck and Kathryn Bigelow were left off the nominations list).
The speeches are always the least interesting part of an awards night. After the excitement of finding out who wins you then have to sit through a couple of minutes of them listing names of people you don’t know. In a nice, if not overly subtle, comic touch, the decision was made to replace the usual play-them-off music with the theme from Jaws, with John Williams’ ominous tones letting rambling recipients know that their time was up. As is always the case, there is a bit of a double standard when it comes to playing them off, with winners of lesser awards being cut while Quentin Tarantino was able to finish his speech, walk away from the microphone and then come back to say one more thing and have the music stop for him.
Christoph Waltz spoke beautifully, Adele spoke horribly (but that is more to do with the fact that her speaking voice is every bit as ghastly as her singing voice is wonderful). Daniel Day Lewis got big laughs for his revelation that he and presenter Streep had, after much thought, decided to switch roles, as he was originally meant to play Margaret Thatcher and she Abraham Lincoln. But for mine, best line of the night goes to Argo producer Grant Heslov who, standing between co-producers George Clooney and Ben Affleck, opened his acceptance speech with “I know what you’re thinking… three sexiest producers alive.”
The Musical Numbers
The “theme” for this year’s ceremony was a celebration of movie musicals, seemingly because Les Misérables had been nominated for Best Picture and because it was ten years since the last time a musical won Best Picture (Chicago). It was a bit of a shame, therefore, that a number of the musical numbers for the evening were a bit flat.
Both Shirley Bassey, singing ‘Goldfinger,’ and Adele, singing ‘Skyfall,’ appeared to be singing within themselves, not really punching the big notes, except for the last “Gold” which Dame Shirley hammered. The cast of Les Misérables came out to sing a number, an awkward mash-up of ‘Suddenly’ and ‘One Day More’ designed to give everyone a bit to sing, even if they are not in that scene, without going on too long, which just ended up sounding a bit messy.
While there was nothing spectacular about Barbara Streisand’s performance of ‘Memories’ as part of the In Memoriam section, it was still a reasonably big deal to see her on stage. But Jennifer Hudson was the absolute standout for the night and really brought the house down with her rendition of ‘And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going’ from Dreamgirls, appropriately receiving a standing ovation.
As it turns out, after it was all said and done the moment of the night didn’t even happen as part of the ceremony, but in the interviews after. Jack Nicholson, obviously agreeing with me that Michelle Obama got in the way of valuable Jack time, decided that he would interrupt Jennifer Lawrence’s interview with ABC. Classic Jack…
by Duncan McLean