Director: Martin McDonagh
Starring: Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, Lucas Hedges, Caleb Landry Jones, Peter Dinklage, Abbie Cornish, John Hawkes
An accomplished playwright and director for the stage with an Academy Award for Best Live Action Short, Irishman Martin McDonagh announced himself as a filmmaking talent to watch in 2008 with his brilliant debut feature In Bruges. However, his third and latest film, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, takes him to a whole new level. A darkly comedic kick in the guts, this exploration of grief, anger, vengeance, but also forgiveness, is a firecracker of a movie that will make you sit up and take notice. Three Billboards is McDonagh’s best work and appears to be the frontrunner in this year’s Oscar race.
Outside Ebbing, Missouri (a fictional town), a trio of dilapidated, old billboards sit on a road rarely used since the arrival of the highway. Local woman Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) walks into the town advertising agency and, after rudimentary inquiries about what can and cannot be said on a billboard, puts a $5000 downpayment on the three billboards for a year. In simple black lettering on a red background they are to read: “Raped while dying,” “And still no arrests,” “How come, Chief Willoughby?” 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: Barry Jenkins
Starring: Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, Trevante Rhodes, Naomie Harris, Mahershala Ali, Janelle Monae, Jharrel Jerome, Andre Holland
Queer cinema has for a long time existed on the peripheries of the mainstream, in the independent and arthouse sectors, catering to what was seen as a niche audience. In recent times we have started to see this change and Barry Jenkin’s Moonlight is an important stepping stone in that process. While Jenkins is not himself gay, his film, which is based on Tarell Alvin McCraney’s unproduced short play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, has a sense of authenticity to it. It feels true to itself and its protagonist, and this year became the first LGBTQI themed film to be awarded Best Picture by the Academy. Attempting to describe Moonlight requires lots of in- words. It is intimate. It is internal. It is introspective. It is introverted. It is also extraordinary. Continue reading
Director: Theodore Melfi
Starring: Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae, Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst, Jim Parsons, Mahershala Ali
There is something romantic about the Space Race. The sheer ambition of it. Literally shooting for the moon. Particularly today when politics seems so petty the aspirational nature of it is appealing. Theodore Melfi’s Hidden Figures tells the true story of three unsung heroes working behind the scenes at NASA, using this moment of heroic scientific progress to reveal equally heroic social progress.
It is 1961, and in Langley, Virginia, NASA’s engineers are deep into planning the Mercury mission that will see John Glenn become the first American to orbit the Earth. But these are still analogue times. The ‘computers’ that the engineers use to do their calculations are people, predominantly women, seen effectively as mathematical clerical workers. Among these computers are Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae). While the work they do is critical to the success of the Mercury mission, they still live in a segregated world Continue reading
Director: Kenneth Lonergan
Starring: Casey Affleck, Lucas Hedges, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler
Over the decades the movies have provided us with many inspirational stories about people overcoming obstacles, about people rising to the occasion when the situation demands it. But sometimes people don’t, or rather they can’t. Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea, his third film as writer-director, tells the story of such a character. It is a gut-wrenching exploration of family tragedy and a complex study of the way that grief and guilt can cripple a life.
Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) is a handyman in Boston. There is something about him that strikes us the moment we meet him. It is as though he is an empty shell. He is a loner, emotionally closed off from the world. When Lee’s brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) dies from a heart attack, the result of an ongoing condition, he has to head up to Manchester to make arrangements and look after his brother’s affairs. Continue reading
The nominations for the 89th Academy Awards were announced this morning and as usual there are a few interesting inclusions and talking points, particularly in light of the diversity controversy that has surrounded the Oscars for the last few years. So who got the nod?
Hell or High Water
La La Land
Manchester by the Sea
There are nine nominees for the big gong this year. The frontrunner is undoubtedly La La Land, with its fourteen nominations equalling the record shared by All About Eve and Titanic, while Arrival and Moonlight scored eight nods each. Hidden Figures has made a late charge, riding its recent box office success to a nomination. In light of the #OscarsSoWhite controversy that has plagued the awards the last two years, it is notable that three (Fences, Hidden Figures and Moonlight) of the nine nominated films tell stories of African American characters (though this should be read as evidence of a strong year of black screen storytelling rather than some knee-jerk reaction from Academy voters). Nominations for Hacksaw Ridge and Lion, who both picked up six nominations, makes it a great year for Australian films, with it being the first time ever there are two Aussie films nominated for Best Picture in the same year. In terms of notable omissions, Silence was never really considered a lock but it also wouldn’t have been surprising if the industry’s reverence for Martin Scorsese resulted in it getting a nod.
Damien Chazelle – La La Land
Mel Gibson – Hacksaw Ridge
Barry Jenkins – Moonlight
Kenneth Lonergan – Manchester by the Sea
Denis Villeneuve – Arrival
Not a lot of familiar faces this year in the Best Director field, with Damien Chazelle, Barry Jenkins, Kenneth Lonergan and Denis Villeneuve all being first time nominees. Mel Gibson, who won the award for Braveheart 21 years ago, is welcomed back after a long time out in the cold. If Chazelle were to win, and he must be considered the favourite, he would become the youngest Best Director winner in history at only 32. It is also always worth looking at how this category reflects on the Best Picture field: Fences, Hell or High Water, Hidden Figures and Lion being the four nominees whose directors missed out.
Casey Affleck – Manchester by the Sea
Andrew Garfield – Hacksaw Ridge
Ryan Gosling – La La Land
Viggo Mortensen – Captain Fantastic
Denzel Washington – Faces
This category turned out mostly as expected with the notable call here is Viggo Mortensen’s work in the small Captain Fantastic managing to keep the star power of Tom Hanks out of the field. It would appear at this stage that Casey Affleckis the clear favourite in this category based on buzz and award season performance thus far, but who knows what impact the sexual assault controversy will have on voters.
Isabelle Huppert – Elle
Ruth Negga – Loving
Natalie Portman – Jackie
Emma Stone – La La Land
Meryl Streep – Florence Foster Jenkins
As has become standard, the Best Actress field is comprised of four nominees and Meryl Streep (who was no doubt helped by the buzz around her Golden Globes acceptance speech). It is an interesting field, featuring five quite different performances, but the front runners would seem to be Portman and Stone. The most notable omission, and one of the bigger surprises overall, is Amy Adams, who likely split her vote with her performances in Arrival and Nocturnal Animals attracting attention. Annette Benning in 20th Century Women and Taraji P. Henson in Hidden Figures were also shot but missed the cut.
Best Supporting Actor
Mahershala Ali – Moonlight
Jeff Bridges – Hell or High Water
Lucas Hedges – Manchester by the Sea
Dev Patel – Lion
Michael Shannon – Nocturnal Animals
Jeff Bridges earns his seventh Oscar nomination (for one win) here. Michael Shannon is the only other non-first time nominee. Interesting to see Aaron Taylor Johnson miss out on a nomination after winning this category at the Golden Globes. Particularly interesting given he has effectively been replaced by his Nocturnal Animals co-star Michael Shannon. Hugh Grant is also unlucky to miss out given it is he, more so than Meryl Streep, who carries the emotion of Florence Foster Jenkins. Ali the front runner.
Best Supporting Actress
Viola Davis – Fences
Naomie Harris – Moonlight
Nicole Kidman – Lion
Octavia Spencer – Hidden Figures
Michelle Williams – Manchester by the Sea
Not a lot of surprises with this one. It does mark the first time three black actors have been nominated in the same category in the same year. Viola Davis, who there was some uncertainty as to whether she would be considered in the Lead or Supporting categories, is the overwhelming favourite. Naomie Harris is the only first time nominee in the field.
Best Animated Feature
Kubo and the Two Strings
My Life as a Zucchini
The Red Turtle
Best Animated Feature is a really strong field this year which is reflected in the fact that Finding Dory missed out on a nomination. When was the last time the Academy couldn’t find room for a Pixar film in their Best Animated Feature field? Zootopia is probably the one to beat here.
And here is how the other nominations look…
Best Original Screenplay
20th Century Women – Mike Mills
Hell or Highwater – Taylor Sheridan
La La Land – Damien Chazelle
The Lobster – Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthimis Filippou
Manchester by the Sea – Kenneth Lonergan
Best Adapted Screenplay
Arrival – Eric Heisserer
Fences – August Wilson
Hidden Figures – Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi
Lion – Luke Davies
Moonlight – Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney
Best Foreign Language
A Man Called Ove – Sweden
Land of Mine – Denmark
Tanna – Australia
The Salesman – Iran
Toni Erdmann – Germany
Arrival – Bradford Young
La La Land – Linus Sandgren
Lion – Greig Fraser
Moonlight – James Laxton
Silence – Rodrigo Prieto
Arrival – Joe Walker
Hacksaw Ridge – John Gilbert
Hell or Highwater – Jake Roberts
La La Land – Tom Cross
Moonlight – Nat Sanders and Joi McMillan
Best Sound Editing
Arrival – Sylvain Bellemare
Deep Water Horizon – Wylie Stateman and Renee Tondelli
Hacksaw Ridge – Robert Mackenzie and Andy Wright
La La Land – Ai-Ling Lee and Mildred Iatrou Morgan
Sully – Alan Robert Murray and Bub Asman
Best Sound Mixing
Arrival – Bernard Gariepy Strobl and Claude La Haye
Hacksaw Ridge – KEvin O’Connell, Andy Wright, Robert Mackenzie and Peter Grace
La La Land – Andy Nelson, Ai-Ling Lee and Steve A. Morrow
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – David Parker, Christopher Scarabosio and Stuart Wilson
13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi – Greg P. Russell, Gary Summers, Jeffrey J. Haboush and Mac Ruth
Best Production Design
Arrival – Patrice Vermette and Paul Hotte
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – Stuart Craig and Anna Pinnock
Hail, Caesar! – Jess Gonchor and Nancy Haigh
La La Land – David Wasco and Sandy Reynolds-Wasco
Passengers – Guy Hendrix Dyas and Gene Serdena
Best Original Score
Jackie – Mica Levi
La La Land – Justin Hurwitz
Lion – Dustin O’Halloran and Hauschka
Moonlight – Nicholas Pritell
Passengers – Thomas Newman
Best Original Song
“Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” – La La Land
“Can’t Stop the Feeling” – Trolls
“City of Stars” – La La Land
“The Empty Chair” – Jim: The Jim Foley Story
“How Far I’ll Go” – Moana
Best Hair and Makeup
A Man Called Ove – Eva von Bahr and Love Larson
Star Trek Beyond – Joel Harlow and Richard Alonzo
Suicide Squad – Alessandro Bertolazzi, Giorgio Gregorini and Christopher Nelson
Best Costume Design
Allied – Joanna Johnston
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – Colleen Atwood
Florence Foster Jenkins – Consolata Boyle
Jackie – Madeline Fontaine
La La Land – Mary Zophres
Best Visual Effects
Deepwater Horizon – Craig Hammack, Jason Snell, Jason Billington and Burt Dalton
Doctor Strange – Stephane Ceretti, Richard Bluff, Vincent Cirelli and Paul Corbould
The Jungle Book – Robert Legato, Adam Valdez, Andrew R. Jones and Dan Lemmon
Kubo and the Two Strings – Steve Emerson, Oliver Jones, Brian McLean and Brad Schiff
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – John Knoll, Mohen Leo, Hal Hickel and Neil Corbould
Best Documentary Feature
13th – Ava DuVernay, Spencer Averick and Howard Barish
Fire at Sea – Gianfranco Rosi and Donatella Palermo
I Am Not Your Negro – Raoul Peck, Remi Grellety and Herbert Peck
Life, Animated – Roger Ross Williams and Julie Goldman
O.J.: Made in America – Ezra Edelman and Caroline Waterlow
Best Documentary Short Subject
4.1 Miles – Daphne Matziaraka
Extremis – Dan Krauss
Joe’s Violin – Kahane Cooperman and Raphaela Neihausen
Watani: My Homeland – Marcel Mettelsiefen and Stephen Ellis
The White Helmets – Orlando von Einsiedel and Joanna Natasegara
Best Live Action Short
Ennemis Interieurs – Selim Azzazi
La Femme et le TGV – Timo von Gunten and Giacun Caduff
Silent Nights – Aske Bang and Kim Magnusson
Sing – Kristof Deak and Anna Udvardy
Timecode – Juanjo Gimenez
Best Animated Short
Blind Vaysha – Theodore Ushev
Borrowed Time – Andrew Coats and Lou Hamou-Lhadj
Pear Cider and Cigarettes – Robert Valley and Cara Speller
Pearl – Patrick Osborne
Piper – Alan Barillaro and Marc Sondheimer
The 89th Academy Awards presentation will be held at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, California, on 26th February.
Director: Lenny Abrahamson
Starring: Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Joan Allen, Sean Bridgers, Tom McCamus, William H. Macy
Irish director Lenny Abrahamson’s adaptation of Emma Donoghue’s Man Booker Prize shortlisted novel Room (which she wrote the screenplay for) is a tender and at times thrilling drama about the love of a mother for her son in the face of extreme circumstances.
Five-year-old Jack (Jacob Tremblay) lives with his mother (Brie Larson) in Room, a small, grimy, sound-proof shed with a skylight. He has lived there his whole life. It is just the two of them except for once a week in the evening when he must hide in the wardrobe while a mysterious man known only as ‘Old Nick’ (Sean Bridgers) comes to drop off supplies and ‘visit’ his mother. As an audience we make assumptions about Jack and his Ma’s situation and how they came to be there, but Jack never questions it. In his limited perspective there is Room, there is outer space and there are the planets that he sees on TV, but they aren’t real. Only Room is real. Continue reading