While waiting for the official list of nominees in a few days’ time, I took in a couple more likely contenders. Brooklyn was a film which passed me by almost completely but then started showing up on all sorts of Best Films of 2015 lists, and has plenty of Oscar buzz attached to it, so I was keen to try and watch it before it left cinemas. And while it passed the time very pleasantly, I’m not at all sure what all the fuss is about.

Theatre director John Crowley helms this slender tale, adapted by Nick Hornby from the novel by Colm Tóibín, and Saoirse Ronan stars as Eilis Lacey, a spunky young woman who has tired of her provincial life in a sleepy Irish village in the early 1950s and (we learn in a flurry of exposition) has arranged passage to Brooklyn, New York, where a boarding house, green card and department store job await her, all arranged by a kindly ex-pat priest. Following the grim details of her voyage, she initially struggles with home sickness but eventually meets a nice boy and proceeds essentially to lead an utterly charmed life.

When tragedy does finally strike and she has to return to Ireland, life there is almost equally charmed, with her New York stories buying her tremendous street cred, and a better job and an equally nice boy are presented to her. Eventually, she makes the right choice and scampers off back to Brooklyn where presumably she pops out babies and lives in domestic bliss.

This is all presented with a great deal of charm and wit, and the supporting cast is stuffed with good turns – notably from Jim Broadbent as the aforementioned priest and Julie Walters playing the kind of batty old Irish landlady she’s cornered the market in for the past thirty years. Other parts are well-cast too with Domnhall Gleeson almost inevitably cropping up as her Irish beau and Emory Cohen – a sort of Diet Coke James Dean or Marlon Brando, all rueful lips and doe eyes and mumbling dialogue – as her Brooklyn boy. And no review of this film would be complete without mentioning James DiGiacomo as the world’s funniest eight-year-old.

So, all the details are well-captured, all the parts are well-played and I was never bored. But as a piece of movie-making, this is pretty thin stuff. There is so little jeopardy, so little tension for great swathes of the film. As luminous as Saiorise Ronan is, and as enjoyable as it is to watch Ailis grow and flourish, it would have meant more if she had been tested even a little. And the real dilemma of the story – will she stay at home in Ireland or return to the unfamiliar but much more exciting world of Brooklyn – takes half the film to appear, and when it does, is somewhat of a foregone conclusion.

A more daring adaptation might have played with the timeline a little, to present this decision as the true focal point of the film. As it is, it just appears as another diverting but not especially moving episode following the equally diverting but rather disconnected Leaving Ireland episode, the Boat Voyage episode, the Meeting an Italian Boy episode and so on.

Adding to the sense of a TV movie rather than a cinema experience is the rather ordinary presentation from the director who shoots, for example, the two contrasting beach scenes in almost exactly the same way. There is nothing done with the camera, lenses, grading, sound or editing which in any way elevates this or makes the story bigger than before.

Maybe this is what fans of the book were looking for, but not having been a fan of the book, I found myself charmed but rather unsatisfied.

Equally charming but rather more satisfying is Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies, the true story of insurance attorney James Donovan who was involved in negotiating a spy swap in Berlin as the Iron Curtain was being built. This film might suffer from the same slightly episodic feel, as we first meet suspected Soviet spy Rudolph Abel who is swiftly apprehended by the FBI. Then we are introduced to Donovan, who is given the thankless task of defending him, and quickly finds that American justice is more interested in being seen to be done than actually giving Abel a fair hearing. This narrative is intercut with material relating to the American U2 spy plane programme which eventually results in one Lt Powers being captured, and thus the suggestion of a prisoner exchange, which Donovan must mediate.

As with Brooklyn, each episode unfurls at its own measured pace, but several things elevate this above the other film. Firstly, the script (doctored by – of all people the Coen Brothers) is well aware of the danger of the structure falling apart and so there are plenty of thematic, character and dialogue moments which tether various sections to each other. It’s absolutely clear from quite early on what all of this is about: country, duty, humanity, honour.

Secondly, Spielberg mounts it beautifully and Janusz Kamiński shoots it luminously. There is something stately, elegant, old-fashioned in all the best senses of the word about this film. It was even shot on celluloid! It could almost have been made in 1952, but the clear hindsight of our modern perspective allows all sides to have the fairest of hearings.

Thirdly, among an excellent cast (Jesse Plemons, Amy Ryan, Alan Alda to name but three) Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance do astoundingly good work. Hanks is possibly the only actor alive who could have pulled off Donovan’s crucial speech about the constitution early on without either underselling it or making it sound corny as hell. And Rylance – who was seemingly scared off movies by the horrors of porno-drama Intimacy in 2001 but who seems since to have made-up with the camera – is an understated marvel. With two actors like this, who can tell you whole paragraphs with one flicker of an eyelid, it’s hard to go too far wrong. And the fact that Spielberg (who hasn’t directed a movie set in modern-day since War of the Worlds in 2005) can do this kind of stuff without breaking a sweat shouldn’t cause us to forget how few other directors can marshal sound, light and emotion this way – nor how effective it all is.

This doesn’t quite have the epic power of The Revenant or the breadth of scope of the (oddly similar) Argo, but it’s handsome, grown-up, intelligent movie making and it’s cinema craft of the highest order.

Also worthy of brief mention is The Lobster which is unlikely to trouble Academy voters much, but is a breathtakingly original undertaking. Colin Farrell (paunchy, dead-eyed) is one of a number of guests at a bizarre hotel run by Olivia Colman. Guests have 45 days in which to successfully pair up with another guest or be transformed into the animal of their choosing (Farrell has picked a lobster). Extra time can be obtained by shooting the “loners” who live in the woods during regular hunts.

The film is every bit as demented as it sounds, with great turns from other familiar faces including John C Reilly, Ashley Jensen and Ben Wishaw, but loses momentum a little in the second half when Farrell spends most of his time in the woods with other loners including Lea Seydoux and Rachel Weisz. Lovely little gags, many of them jet black, pepper the film and the discordant soundtrack and stilted acting style unite the whole very successfully. It certainly won’t bust any blocks but it’s very funny and rather disturbing, all in a good way.

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