Archive for February 5th, 2019

2018/2019 award season round-up

Posted on February 5th, 2019 in At the cinema, Culture | 1 Comment »

Okay, here are some capsule reviews of a bunch of other movies I’ve seen this awards season.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. The Coen Brothers go to Netflix where we find them on rather frustrating form. The opening story of this anthology includes some marvellous effective moments, but judders to a half with one of those Joel-and-Ethan-what-the-hell endings. This malaise affects most of the stories to a greater of lesser degree. The third episode, Meal Ticket, works best as a traditional Roald Dahl or O Henry short story, but suffers from significant pacing problems. The largely plotless final segment might just be the best as it’s the one with the clearest idea of what it is supposed to be. It is nominated for its screenplay, costume design and original song.

Can You Ever Forgive Me? Lee Israel’s story is fascinating as her own best-selling memoir proved. This project began life as a Nicole Holofcener film with Julianne Moore in the lead. Although still credited for the screenplay (with Avenue Q’s Jeff Whitty) Holofcener has yielded the director’s chair to Marielle Heller. What Julianne Moore would have done with Lee Israel is impossible to say, but what is certain is that Melissa McCarthy is wonderful in the part, bringing her prodigious comic energy to the role, but nevertheless creating depth and pathos deep in the soul of this spiky, broken woman. Richard E Grant is enormous fun and if nothing very much happens beyond: she’s broke, she’s a forger, she’s sorry (not sorry), then who cares when the film is this well made? Both leads are nominated (Grant in the supporting category) and for its screenplay.

If Beale Street Could Talk. I found Moonlight slightly unfulfilling on first viewing but it nevertheless grew on me and at first glance I could tell that here was a filmmaker using every tool at his disposal. Beale Street is much less formally ambitious, but still darts nimbly around the timeline as it fleshes out the seemingly slight story (from James Baldwin’s novel) of pregnant Tish, boyfriend Fonny and their two families. If their predicament is a prosaic and familiar one, that’s by-and-large the point – that this or something like it is happening to millions of Americans every day. But an amazingly strong cast give it real texture, depth and warmth, and Jenkins’ fluid and confident direction knits it all together powerfully. Using lenses, cuts, sound and music to extraordinary effect, Jenkins is a real talent. He even finds a new way to film a birth scene and manages not to make it seem like showboating. It’s a real crime that this wonderful film is not nominated for Best Picture and utterly confounding that Jenkins was overlooked as Best Director. It is nominated for its screenplay, its score and Regina King has a good shot at picking up Best Supporting Actress.

Spider-man: Into the Spider-Verse. Geniuses of animation (and beyond) Lord and Miller have done it again, with this incredibly ambitious, eye-poppingly rendered and genuinely exciting slab of comic book mayhem. With vocal performances from such as Nicholas Cage, John Mulaney, Lily Tomlin and Chris Pine, this is a real treat and will no doubt walk off with Best Animated Feature (its only nomination).

Stan & Ollie. Showbiz biopic done right, focusing in on a manageable period of time, with just a few glimpses of happier times. Coogan and Reilly are exemplary, delineating the men and the characters they played and never straying into parody. Equally good – and well served by Jeff Pope’s witty script – are Shirley Henderson and Nina Arianda as Lucille Hardy and Ida Laurel respectively; and Rufus Jones is having the time of his life as Bernard Delfont. Ultimately, this paints an affecting and affectionate portrait of two men who have spent a lifetime as professional buffoons, attempting to end their career with a little dignity. It doesn’t have any ambitions beyond that, but it achieves that goal admirably. No Oscar nominations, though, not even for Best Make-up.

The Wife. This is a conundrum, and a full review would have to include significant spoilers which even this paragraph won’t entirely spare you from. What’s really going on in this literary marriage only becomes truly clear in the last third, which makes some of the early material a bit so-what and prevents us from getting inside the head of our ostensible lead, Glenn Close’s Joan Castleman. In the final act, when the film stops being a detective story and commits to being a family melodrama it works better, and it’s the details in the script (by Jane Anderson, from Meg Wolitzer’s novel) that generally make it work, although there are some clunky lines here and there. Jonathan Pryce, Max Irons, Christian Slater (yes really!) and especially Glenn Close grab the material with both hands and give it tremendous passion and sincerity, but it’s rather an odd, broken-backed experience as a whole. Glenn Closes’ nomination for Best Actress is its only mention.

Oscars 2019 – Here are the runners and riders

Posted on February 5th, 2019 in At the cinema | No Comments »

Okay – so the nominations have been out for a while and the dust has settled, but nevertheless here’s my take on what Academy voters came up with.

Let’s start with the Best Picture nominees. Eight of them this year, and there are a couple of striking omissions. Let’s start with the three I’ve seen…

Black Panther. Very serviceable and well-made movie in the professional Marvel style. If more movies like this had had better representation sooner, this would seem rather less remarkable. Compared to the dementedly ambitious Infinity War, the elegantly-structured Spider-Man: Homecoming or the bananas Thor: Ragnarok, this seems a bit ho-hum until you take the wider social context into account. Sadly, no nominations in any other major categories makes this look a bit token, even if the total number of nominations (seven) is quite impressive.

Roma. Reviewed here. Transcendently wonderful. Intimate and personal without being even remotely self-indulgent, it’s a magnificent achievement and deserves to win everything it’s nominated for. And in a world in which the Academy gives its top prize to fare such as Moonlight and The Shape of Water, it just might.

A Star is Born. Reviewed here. The safer bet for Academy voters and if The Favourite and Roma divide the “quirky” vote, this one might just slip through the middle (although preferential voting ought to solve that issue, it isn’t guaranteed).

And now the five I haven’t seen (at the time of writing).

BlackKklansman. This one didn’t appeal, and I’m not quite sure why. I’ve nothing against Spike Lee and it’s a juicy premise. Sadly, I’ll probably end up watching this on iTunes now as it’s almost gone from London cinemas.

Bohemian Rhapsody. And I was hoping to be spared this one too. I’m not fond of biopics, I have no interest in Queen and the troubled production history does not bode well. Rami Malek is amazing, by all accounts, so I imagine it will be worth seeing for his performance.

The Favourite. In a neat bit of nominative determinism, Jorgos Lanthimos’s film looks like the one to beat, although as noted, it will have to get past Roma and A Star is Born first.

Green Book. The backlash has started, so I don’t think this one is going to triumph, but Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali are surely worth the price of admission.

Vice. Ugh. Looks a bit Saturday Night Live to me, and I wasn’t a huge fan of Adam McKay’s ADHD style on The Big Short.

Reviews of all of these will follow. Best Director meanwhile throws up a bit of an oddity, with a nod for Pawel Pawlikowski whose film Cold War wasn’t worthy of a Best Picture nomination. Surely Cuaron has this one nailed on though, even if he can’t get over the line for Best Picture?

Best Actor will probably go to Rami Malek, although I don’t imagine Bohemian Rhapsody will get anything else. Best Actress I imagine will go to Glenn Close (this is her seventh nomination without a win) but I would be delighted to see Melissa McCarthy pick it up, and thrilled if it went to Yalitza Aparicio. Sorry, Olivia Colman, I think the competition is too fierce.

Best Supporting Actor is a toss-up between two lifetime achievement awards. I was previously nervous about Sam Elliot getting it, but Richard E Grant is so damn good in Can You Ever Forgive Me? that I’m now tilting back in that direction.

For Best Supporting Actress I think again the two nominations for The Favourite will split the vote and that should allow Regina King to nab it, although there is a lot of love for Amy Adams and like Glenn Close she’s racked-up a lot of nominations without a win (six).

The Favourite presumably will win Best Original Screenplay (even if it wins nothing else). The Best Adapted Screenplay of the year is almost certainly If Beale Street Could Talk, but I suspect A Star is Born has this one wrapped up.

Further down the list, I expect Best Animated Feature to go to Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse and deservedly so. Best Foreign Language Film will obviously go to Roma.

Meanwhile, I have been catching up with a bunch of films not nominated for Best Picture – some of which deserved to be. For more on those, see the next post…