As it was for many, 2020 was a disaster for cinemas. Doors were closed for much of the year and even when they opened, the major studios’ reluctance to release their big properties into a compromised theatrical market left them light on product. Depsite this, it has actually been a pretty good year for movies. The space created by the near total absence of mega-blockbusters allowed those small and mid-level films which had found a home on streaming services to enjoy more of the spotlight than they might have initially expected.
While the demands of reworking curriculum on the fly for online delivery meant that I didn’t get to write as many reviews this year as I might have liked, I still got to see plenty of films. Here are my top ten for 2020…
Director: Marielle Heller
Starring: Matthew Rhys, Tom Hanks, Susan Kelechi Watson, Chris Cooper, Maryann Plunkett, Enrico Colantoni
Growing up in Australia, we didn’t get Mr. Rogers. We got Sesame Street and a plethora of other American children’s television shows, but any awareness of Mr. Rogers was picked up secondhand, through mentions and references in other things we saw. In America, however, Mr. Rogers was an institution. For 912 episodes from 1968 to 2001, Fred Rogers, an ordained Presbyterian minister, would don one of his iconic cardigans and host the children’s television program Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Looking straight down the barrel of the camera, in a gentle but never condescending voice, he would speak directly to the millions of children who tuned in everyday in a manner that made it feel like a one on one conversation. Never shying away from life’s difficult topics, his aim was to provide children with positive ways of dealing with their emotions. Marielle Heller’s A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, based on Ton Junod’s 1998 magazine feature “Can you say ‘Hero’?”, examines the power of Rogers’ worldview even on a hardened adult. Skilfully constructed around a brilliant performance from Tom Hanks, even those with no pre-existing investment in Mr. Rogers will find this tale uplifting. Continue reading
Director: Josh Cooley
Starring: Tom Hanks, Tony Hale, Annie Potts, Christina Hendricks, Tim Allen, Madeleine McGraw, Keanu Reeves, Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele, Joan Cusack
Over the last 25 years Pixar have produced numerous original and imaginative films which have helped establish them as the world’s premier animation studio. But there is no doubt that Toy Story is their flagship franchise. The Toy Story trilogy are beloved in a way that only a handful of film franchises can genuinely claim to be. This is why the surprise announcement that we were going to receive a fourth film was greeted with equal parts excitement and hesitancy. With the series having been so perfectly closed out with 2010’s Toy Story 3, what was there left to say? Why were we reopening this story? Were the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Star Wars franchise and the live action remakes of their animated classics not enough to satiate Disney’s thirst for profit? It seemed unnecessary and rife with potential to tarnish something which was, in many people’s eyes, perfect. How many really good have there been with a ‘4’ at the end of the title? But by now we should know that Pixar can be trusted. Continue reading
Director: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Sarah Paulson, Bob Odenkirk, Tracy Letts, Bradley Whitford, Bruce Greenwood, Alison Brie, Matthew Rhys
What does it say about the world today that Steven Spielberg, cinema’s great dreamer and entertainer, finds himself compelled to drop everything and make an overtly political film? In presenting the dilemmas and decisions behind the Washington Post’s defiance of a court injunction to publish the Pentagon Papers in 1971, The Post is a film about then that is really about now. For if ever there was a time we needed to be reminded of the importance of the press speaking the truth to and about power, of a free press representing the governed and not the government, this is it. Continue reading
Director: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Scott Shepherd, Alan Alda, Austin Stowell, Dakin Matthews, Amy Ryan
The big guns have been rolled out for Cold War espionage thriller Bridge of Spies, Steven Spielberg’s contribution to this year’s Oscar hunting season. Directing his first film in three years, the Hollywood master has teamed up for the fourth time with star Tom Hanks on a screenplay from Matt Charman and the Coen brothers.
In 1957, at the height of the Cold War and the accompanying thermonuclear hysteria, the CIA capture a Soviet spy, Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance), living in Brooklyn. With the eyes of the world watching, and the American justice system under the microscope, it is important that Abel is seen as getting a fair trial. So James Donovan (Tom Hanks), partner in a successful insurance law firm, is appointed by the state as Abel’s public defender. While aware that defending the most hated man in the country will likely make him the second most hated man in the country, Donovan believes it is his patriotic duty to do the job. Continue reading
Bright and early on 16th of January the President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, was joined by actor Chris Hemsworth to announce the nominations for the 86th Academy Award to be held on 2nd March. A full list of the nominees can be found here. While there was plenty that we saw coming, as usual the Academy did throw us a few curve balls. This year has been heralded as quite a good year for Hollywood in a critical sense. While some years you would struggle to find five worthy nominees in each category, this year there seemed to be an abundance. As a result most of the surprises have come in the form of omissions rather than inclusions. Here are my picks for the five biggest…
1) The near complete shutout of Inside Llewyn Davis
The Coen brothers have become Academy favourites in recent years and their latest film, Inside Llewyn Davis, has been a critical darling and was expected to be a serious contender. As such, it was a surprise to see it miss out on a Best Picture nomination. This is made all the more significant by the fact the Academy chose only to nominate nine films when there are ten spots available. So it didn’t miss out in favour of something else. It was simply not chosen. Not only did it miss out on a spot in the main category, it was almost completely frozen out, missing out on nominations in the directing, screenwriting and lead acting categories where it would have been considered a chance. In only receiving two nominations (for cinematography and sound editing) Inside Llewyn Davis probably trumped Saving Mr. Banks as the big loser out of the nomination announcements.
2) No Best Actor nod for Tom Hanks
Probably the biggest individual surprise omission was Tom Hanks missing out on a nomination for his performance in the title role of Captain Phillips. A two-time Best Actor winner, Hanks’ was considered by many to be the frontrunner in this category. A win would have put him alongside Daniel Day Lewis as the only men to win three Best Actor Oscars. But as it is that will have to wait for another year.
3) No Best Actor nod for Robert Redford
Robert Redford is a bone fide Hollywood legend but has never won the coveted gold statue. His performance in JC Chandor’s All is Lost, where he played the sole character in the picture, was simply remarkable and left many thinking it put him in the mix for Best Actor – in situations like this the Academy has been known to give someone an award almost as a pseudo-lifetime achievement award. But Redford failed to receive a nomination, with the suggestion being that the film’s distribution company, Roadside Attractions, didn’t campaign as hard as they could have.
4) Blackfish misses out on a Best Documentary nod
Surprises don’t tend to get noticed as much in the documentary categories simply because not as many people have seen them. But in this case, plenty of people have seen Blackfish. The doco exposing the unacceptable living conditions and treatment of the performing Orcas living in Seaworld parks was well received critically and commercially and would have been expecting a nomination.
5) David O. Russell does it again
I don’t know if you can really call this a surprise, but it is definitely historically notable. For the second consecutive year a David O. Russell film has managed to score nominations for Best Picture, Director and Screenplay and all four acting categories. It has only happened 13 times in 86 Oscars ceremonies, so to do it twice, let alone in consecutive years, is impressive to say the least. It seems if you want to get nominated for an Oscar your best bet is to get yourself in a David O. Russell film.
By Duncan McLean
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
Director: Paul Greengrass
Starring: Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Abdirahman, Faysal Ahmed, Mahat M. Ali, Michael Chernus
In 2009, international headlines were made when Richard Phillips, the captain of the cargo ship Maersk Alabama, was taken hostage by Somali pirates for four days before being rescued by the US Navy. He wrote a book about his experiences, Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALS, and Dangerous Days at Sea, and now Paul Greengrass – the director the of The Bourne Supremacy, The Bourne Ultimatum and, more relevantly, United 93 – has brought the story to the screen in the impressive Captain Phillips.
We have all heard about Somali pirates and how dangerous the journey around the horn of Africa can be for cargo ships without really knowing how it works. The notion of seafaring pirates seems so old-fashioned that it is, for the uninitiated, difficult to fathom how the practice still takes place in the present day. As such, part of what makes Captain Phillips so interesting is the procedural nature of the film. Almost a docu-drama, the film shows us how high seas piracy functions in the modern world. We get to see not only how a small group of pirates can take possession of a massive container ship, but also the processes the container ships go through in the face of a pirate threat. But don’t let Greengrass’ devotion to detail and process fool you into thinking this film is in any way bland. Captain Phillips is intense, gripping storytelling.
Emotionally, the film is carried by a strong leading performance from Tom Hanks. Phillips is a veteran seaman. When he is aboard he is all business. He likes to be prepared, and initially gets his crew offside by insisting on running emergency drills. But when those emergency threats become real as the boat is approached by a skiff containing four pirates armed with automatic weapons, there is no one the crew would rather have in charge. Alongside a strong sense of duty and responsibility, Phillips is a cool head under pressure and a quick thinker. He is a schemer. The brilliance of Hanks’ performance is that so much of it is about what the character is thinking. But what propels this performance to sit among the very finest work that Hanks has produced are the post-trauma scenes in which Phillips, who has to this point been so measured, is simply unable to process the incredible ordeal he has just been through. Those scenes are devastatingly effecing. Hanks is a certainty to earn a Best Actor nomination at next year’s Academy Awards and will be a real chance of joining Daniel Day Lewis in the three Oscars club.
Hanks is the only name in the cast unless you count the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearance from Catherine Keener as Phillips’ wife at the beginning of the picture. However his performance is complemented by some equally strong work from the supporting cast, most notably the four first time actors who deliver impressively nuanced performances as the Somali pirates.
One of the great strengths of Captain Phillips is the way that it chooses to humanise the Somali characters when it so easily could have presented them as a terrifying other. Greengrass breaks from Phillips’ point of view by subtitling the Somali characters, so that unlike Phillips we can always understand what they are saying. In doing so he gives us access to those characters. Instead of one collection of bad guys we see four distinctly different men, displaying different emotions and reacting to the experience, and to the figure of Phillips, in individual ways. Their captain, Muse, is a man acting out of desperation. Not just the desperation of poverty which compels him to steal and kidnap to stay alive, but the desperation to prove himself to the other men in his village who deride him for his slight build. He goes on his own emotional journey in the film as he attempts to prove himself as a leader, with the way he finds himself simultaneously drawn to and pushing away from Hanks’ Phillips because he possesses the leadership qualities Muse aspires to being really interesting. The humanising of the Somali pirates is helped by the fact that despite being the aggressors and as such the villains of the film, they are also consistently the underdogs, and as an audience there is something in us which is compelled to sympathise with the underdog.
It is always impressive when a film based on high profile actual events, and therefore with a well-known outcome, manages to create and maintain legitimate dramatic tension. With Captain Phillips, Greengrass goes much further than simply maintaining dramatic tension. He delivers one of the most intense, gripping and interesting films of the year.
Rating – ★★★★☆
Review by Duncan McLean