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Academy Awards winners, 2016

I’m almost two months late writing this post, sorry about that! Here are my thoughts on this year’s winners (you can refresh your memories of last year’s winners with my post here):

Best Picture
The Big Short
Bridge Of Spies
Brooklyn
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
The Revenant
Room
Spotlight

Spotlight took home the big prize, after one of the closest race in awards history ever. With the PGA going to the Big Short, and the DGA going to the Revenant (and Golden Globe), there was just no predicting which one would win Best Film… Turns out Spotlight, with a SAG ensemble cast win, managed to gather a consensus, wide enough, to get this one. The Academy’s voting system, a much-discussed preferential ballot, strongly favours films that do not polarise the audience – perhaps the Big Short was just too much a ‘comedy’ rather than straightforward drama; the Revenant, on the other hand is the typical definition of a polarising film. Does Spotlight deserve this prize? You bet it does. Both relevant and contemporary, Spotlight is a masterpiece of subdued drama, a film that doesn’t have any triumphant moment, a film that celebrates investigative and important journalism. Out of a year of strong films, it definitely is one of the strongest ones and possibly my personal favourite in the bunch with Mad Max and Bridge of Spies. So very well-deserved indeed, and well done to the Academy for picking the ‘right’ film over The Big Short and the Revenant.

Best Director
Adam McKay, The Big Short
George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road
Alejandro González Iñárritu, The Revenant
Tom McCarthy, Spotlight
Lenny Abrahamson , Room

Wow, a back-to-back win for Alejandro González Iñárritu, what an achievement! This one is also a deserved one – the Revenant is absolutely gorgeously shot, no wonder he claimed that one. I still had the vaguely tiny hope that George Miller might take this one, but I guess Iñárritu’s artistic sensitivity appeals more to the Academy than Miller’s (quite literally) furious vision. I think for first-time nominees Tom McCarthy, Adam McKay and Lenny Abrahamson, it would have been a really tough one to win, so all in all I quite agree with this choice.

Best Actor
Bryan Cranston, Trumbo
Matt Damon, The Martian
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs
Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl

YAY LEO! That’s all I have to say really. There is really no need to comment on Leo’s win, other than this one was long due and we can now say ‘Academy Award winner Leonardo DiCaprio’. His performance in the Revenant is, dare I say it, larger than life –it’s hard to say if it’s real or imagined suffering at any rate.

Best Actress
Cate Blanchett, Carol
Brie Larson, Room
Jennifer Lawrence, Joy
Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years
Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn

Well done Brie! As a real fan of hers, I feel personally invested in her career and her perfomance was nothing short of a miracle. But if at her age she is an Oscar winner already, imagine how she will be in a couple of years’ time. Fantastic stuff and a much-needed young face amongst the winners. There wasn’t any real suspense in this category to be honest, like Best Actor, sometimes there are performances that are just so far ahead of all others, they immediately stand out as the strongest contender. Brie certainly was one this year.

Best Supporting Actor
Christian Bale, The Big Short
Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight
Mark Rylance, Bridge Of Spies
Sylvester Stallone, Creed
Tom Hardy, The Revenant

Aaaaaaaand here is the surprise! Oddly enough I had Mark Rylance ranked THE LOWEST in my Oscar forecast. There just seemed to be so much more momentum for Spotlight, the Big Short and the Revenant, and of course Sylvester Stallone was kind of the favourite here, after his Golden Globe win and the critics lauding his performance. I guess we should have kept a lookout for Mark Rylance – a well-respected actor, in a performance that got a lot of early buzz in a film that clearly resonated since it had many nominations. I’m very happy indeed, his Abel was quite a creation, and there’s something about his presence as an actor that’s quite fascinating.

Best Supporting Actress
Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight
Rooney Mara, Carol
Rachel McAdams, Spotlight
Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl
Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs

Well-done Alicia Vikander! I guess Oscar can’t and won’t resist an It girl –this category was actually quite close I reckon, between her and Kate Winslet who got the Golden Globe and the Bafta. But I guess Alicia’s performance was just too strong (I mean, it was a Best Actress performance more than a Supporting one, how annoying) and some of the voters might have wanted to reward her for her equally strong performance in Ex Machina. So all the momentum was on Alicia’s side really and I can’t wait to see what she does next. Although she is indeed gorgeous, let’s not forget that she is also a fantastic performer, with a natural way of acting that reminds me of Kate Winslet actually. So I’m glad she won this one, and that in between the 6 ‘big’ categories, the Academy managed to spread the prizes out and reward several films.

Best Original Screenplay
Matt Charman, Joel & Ethan Coen, Bridge Of Spies
Alex Garland, Ex Machina
Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley, Inside Out
Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer, Spotlight
Jonathan Herman, Andrea Berloff, Straight Outta Compton

This one was also largely expected. Well done Tom McCarthy for writing and directing such a story – it genuinely has some fantastic beats, again without being too melodramatic or triumphant. That’s the part I liked best about Spotlight, how subdued and restrained it was. But in my heart Inside Out was an equally deserving winner. When will we see a screenplay like this one again? Not really sure…

Best Adapted Screenplay
Emma Donoghue, Room
Drew Goddard, The Martian
Nick Hornby, Brooklyn
Adam McKay and Charles Randolph, The Big Short
Phyllis Nagy, Carol

And so Adam McKay can get a consolation here from winning Best Adapted Screenplay. To be honest I haven’t read the book so I am not sure how much of a good adaptation the Big Short is, but it is one hell of a screenplay. Quite glad the Martian didn’t win anything and I can’t figure out why it was nominated in the first place. Shame that all the other three nominees, Carol, Brooklyn and Room are all rather female-driven stories. But I guess the Big Short hit that sweet spot of Important Issue that Matters to America and also entertaining enough without being slobby on the characters and/or story construction. So again, a deserving winner and an expected one too.

Best Foreign-Language Film
Mustang
Son Of Saul
Theeb
A War
Embrace The Serpent

A fully expected win here, since Son of Saul had been sweeping prizes left right and centre since Cannes.

Best Animated Film of the Year
Anomalisa
Boy & The World (O Menino E O Mundo)
Inside Out
Shaun The Sheep Movie
When Marnie Was There

SO HAPPY ABOUT THIS ONE!! Of course if there ever was a Pixar animated film that deserved that prize, it was this one. Pete Docter’s words were wonderful, too. It’s just such an outstanding film, I reckon it should have really been up there with Spotlight and the Revenant in the Best Film category, as it just ultimately represents the best in film today…

Best Documentary Feature
Amy
Cartel Land
The Look Of Silence
What Happened, Miss Simone?
Winter On Fire: Ukraine’s Fight For Freedom

I really, really need to see this one. It’s no surprise that Amy won here, despite the controversy that followed the release of the documentary.

Best Production Design
Bridge of Spies
Adam Stockhausen, Rena DeAngelo, Bernhard Henrich
The Danish Girl
Eve Stewart, Michael Standish
Mad Max: Fury Road
Colin Gibson, Lisa Thompson
The Martian
Arthur Max, Celia Bobak
The Revenant
Jack Fisk, Hamish Purdy

This one was SUCH a strong one for Mad Max, it was really theirs to lose. It was just such unique production design, incredible stuff. I remember seeing the trailer for the first time and feeling queasy just looking at that production design, it was unlike anything we’d seen before… A deserving winner here for sure.

Best Cinematography
Carol
Edward Lachman
The Hateful Eight
Robert Richardson
Mad Max: Fury Road
John Seale
The Revenant
Emmanuel Lubezki
Sicario
Roger Deakins

Aaaaaaaaaaaand Chivo pulling out the THIRD win, oh my god amazing. I am such in awe of his talent, his commitment to natural lighting, the way he literally captures poetry on film. His filmography is such a strong testament of his talent and artistry, there’s just literally no one quite like him as DoP. Well at this level of genius, there is Roger Deakins, sure, but it’s a completely different thing, Lubezki is just so completely in a different register. The way I describe the Revenant is (and to me it’s the highest compliment I could make) ‘Iñárritu trying to emulate Terrence Malick’. And that’s how beautiful it is, just pure poetry. Oh and also a quick shout-out to John Seale who really did outstanding work on Mad Max.

Best Costume Design
Carol
Sandy Powell
Cinderella
Sandy Powell
The Danish Girl
Paco Delgado
Mad Max: Fury Road
Jenny Beavan
The Revenant
Jacqueline West

Jenny Beavan, oh boy, YOU ROCK JENNY. I mean this whole controversy around the way she dressed at the ceremony and how no one clapped for her was ridiculous but at least it brought under the limelight a category that doesn’t often get it. Well done Jenny Beavan for a) your fantastic work on Mad Max b) your bad ass and exemplary attitude in handling all of this. I guess winning the guild award in the tech categories was more of an indicator than it was for the main categories. But anyway, I’m glad she won and sorry Sandy Powell despite the double nomination!

Best Editing
The Big Short
Hank Corwin
Mad Max: Fury Road
Margaret Sixel
The Revenant
Stephen Mirrione
Spotlight
Tom McArdle
Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens
Maryann Brandon, Mary Jo Markey

The big one!! I like how all the big prizes were scattered amongst different films, it’s a bit boring to see one film sweep many categories. Anyway, this is a HUGE win for Mad Max, rarely do Best Picture and Best Editing split, but I guess they wanted to recognise Mad Max with a ‘major’ award. And to be honest it was fantastic work from Margaret Sixel and I wish there were more female editors working out there.

Best Makeup & Hairstyling
Hundraåringen som klev ut genom fönstret och försvann
Love Larson, Eva Von Bahr
Mad Max: Fury Road
Lesley Vanderwalt, Elka Wardega, Damian Martin
The Revenant
Sian Grigg, Duncan Jarman, Robert A. Pandini

A well-deserved win for Mad Max, who turned out to be the big winner of technical Oscars. It was just such a stunning universe, no wonder hair and make-up won as well, it’s such an integral part of the visual experience. I must say the Revenant was also looming large over this category, but in the end the skills displayed in Mad Max were too big to ignore.

Best Music (Score)
Bridge of Spies
Thomas Newman
Carol
Carter Burwell
The Hateful Eight
Ennio Morricone
Sicario
Jóhann Jóhannsson
Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens
John Williams

Another expected win here, I mean, what a legend, hard to believe he hadn’t won one before. Finally that particular wrong was made right. Next year Thomas… the fourteenth time might be the one!! What a category though, all these composers are absolutely outstanding.

Best Music (Song)
Fifty Shades of Grey
“Earned It”
The Weeknd, Belly, Jason ‘DaHeala’ Quenneville, Stephan Moccio
The Hunting Ground
“Til It Happens to You”
Diane Warren, Lady Gaga
Racing Extinction
“Manta Ray”
J. Ralph, Antony Hegarty
Spectre
“Writing’s On The Wall”
Sam Smith, James Napier
Youth
“Simple Song #3”
David Lang

No one saw that one coming, with Lady Gaga campaigning and being front and centre of this category! Also, I kind of hate this song, it’s the utter opposite of Skyfall – poorly written, not memorable at all. Not sure why it won here, perhaps Oscar voters just ticked off the film they’d seen and out of all of these, Spectre must have been the one that was the most widely seen…

Best Sound Mixing
Bridge of Spies
Andy Nelson, Gary Rydstrom, Drew Kunin
Mad Max: Fury Road
Chris Jenkins, Gregg Rudloff, Ben Osmo
The Martian
Paul Massey, Mark Taylor, Mac Ruth
The Revenant
Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño, Randy Thom, Chris Duesterdiek
Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens
Andy Nelson, Christopher Scarabosio, Stuart Wilson

Aaaaand that’s four for Mad Max, wow, lots of love from the Academy there! I wonder if sound mixing and editing tend to go to the same film? I believe they do but would need to check… Anyway I believe this definitely qualifies as a technical sweep for Fury Road. The Martian went home empty-handed in the hand, quite surprising for a film that relied so much on technical prowess too, but I guess Mad Max was just too big of a contender.

Best Sound Editing
Mad Max: Fury Road
Mark A. Mangini, David White
The Martian
Oliver Tarney
The Revenant
Martín Hernández, Lon Bender
Sicario
Alan Robert Murray
Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens
Matthew Wood, David Acord

Well done Mad Max for grabbing this one, I thought maybe Star Wars would ultimately win this one but clearly there was a lot of love for Mad Max’s technical achievements. And deservedly so. Sound editing is a true art, in this particular film more than others I should think; in many ways it’s as difficult as the film editing really, it’s all about recreating the sounds and making them feel real and natural. Certainly in Mad Max the level of work was really outstanding, or maybe it was just that flame throwing guitar that won everyone over!

Best Visual Effects
Ex Machina
Andrew Whitehurst, Paul Norris, Mark Williams Ardington, Sara Bennett
Mad Max: Fury Road
Andrew Jackson, Tom Wood, Dan Oliver, Andy Williams
The Martian
Richard Stammers, Anders Langlands, Chris Lawrence, Steven Warner
The Revenant
Richard McBride, Matt Shumway, Jason Smith, Cameron Waldbauer
Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens
Roger Guyett, Pat Tubach, Neal Scanlan, Chris Corbould

This one is such an upset when you really think about it. I mean, most Oscar watchers would have just never guessed that one. With all those heavy contenders, and especially Star Wars and Mad Max that just literally sweeped all the tech categories, Visual Effects was the one you would expect them to win the most. And yet, yet, little Ex Machina made its way in the voters’ head and there you are, in the face of all those big blockbusters, ultimately Ex Machina was recognised. I reckon that’s a wonderful story, and the proof that budget isn’t always everything, even in terms of VFX which would be the biggest expense in terms of making those films. Well done Ex Machina indeed.

And finally, as usual:

Best Documentary Short
Body Team 12
David Darg, Bryn Mooser
War Within the Walls
Courtney Marsh, Jerry Franck
Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah
Adam Benzine
A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness
Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy
Last Day of Freedom
Dee Hibbert-Jones, Nomi Talisman

Best Animated Short Film
Historia de un oso
Gabriel Osorio Vargas, Pato Escala Pierart
Mi ne mozhem zhit bez kosmosa
Konstantin Bronzit
Prologue
Richard Williams, Imogen Sutton
Sanjay’s Super Team
Sanjay Patel, Nicole Paradis Grindle
World of Tomorrow
Don Hertzfeldt

Best Live Action Short Film
Ave Maria
Basil Khalil, Eric Dupont
Day One
Henry Hughes
Alles wird gut
Patrick Vollrath
Shok
Jamie Donoughue
Stutterer
Benjamin Cleary, Serena Armitage

See you next year for another fantastic year in filmmaking!!

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Academy Awards nominees, 2016

The Oscar race is now well underway and here are my comments/thoughts re this year’s nominations.

Best Picture
The Big Short
Bridge Of Spies
Brooklyn
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
The Revenant
Room
Spotlight

Eight nominees, AGAIN. What is the point of having expanded this category to ‘five to ten nominees’, really? It is a nice selection, a blend of different genres – very happy to see Fury Road and Bridge of Spies here, but the chances of them actually winning seem tiny. Brooklyn and Room seem much too independent to take the top prize, and the Martian was rubbish (despite the critics and the audience’s undying love for it, which I just don’t get), so we’re left with three real contenders: the Big Short, The Revenant or Spotlight. It’s odd because there’s no clear consensus here, with the first one winning the PGA award and the second one winning the Golden Globe for Best Film – Drama… And Spotlight still sounds like the kind of film that would have the wider consensus… It’s a really tough one. I think the big prize might go to the Revenant, if the Directors’ Guild Award goes to Iñárritu in a couple of days. But if it doesn’t, then the Big Short might actually gain enough a momentum to take the big prize. Update: aaaaand Spotlight just won Best Ensemble Cast at the Screen Actors Guild awards… It really is a close race, I’m not sure which one of the three will win.

Continue reading…

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2015 review

This is the time of the year where I make up for all the reviews I didn’t write all year long! Here’s my top 15 of the best films for 2015 (last year’s post is this one):

1. Inside Out, directed by Pete Docter and Ronnie Del Carmen
2. Mad Max: Fury Road, directed by George Miller
3. Mommy, directed by Xavier Dolan
4. Bridge of Spies, directed by Steven Spielberg
5. Star Wars: the Force Awakens, directed by J.J. Abrams
6. Paddington, directed by Paul King
7. Into the Woods, directed by Rob Marshall
8. Foxcatcher, directed by Bennett Miller
9. Suffragette, directed by Sarah Garvon
10. Dheepan, directed by Jacques Audiard
11. Sicario, directed by Denis Villeneuve
12. The Lobster, directed by Yorgos Lanthimos
13. The Big Short, directed by Adam McKay
14. Tomorrowland, directed by Brad Bird / The Good Dinosaur, directed by Peter Sohn
15. Pitch Perfect 2, directed by Elizabeth Banks

Other great films: Love & Mercy, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, Kajaki

There we are, a rather predictable #1 I guess, but to me Inside Out was the best film of the year. So much has been said already about Pixar, and their uncanny ability to tell stories straight from the heart… Well, all I know is that there will never be a film like Inside Out again. Animated or not. Inside Out absolutely transcends the genre of animation – as a story, as a film, it is very close to perfection, period. It’s not even the sheer genius of the concept, or the astounding originality of it, but again that ability to speak directly to the viewers’ hearts and minds. Visually it is stunning -every detail feels like it received a tremendous amount of attention, but again it’s not just the form but also the content that makes this film a timeless experience. Watching both Riley and Joy grow up… what an amazing character journey. And the scene of Joy skating alongisde Riley’s childhood memory is pure poetry. For that scene alone, Inside Out takes the #1 spot this year.

Right behind it is Mad Max: Fury Road. Who would have thought? It’s one of those unforgettable cinematic experience, a true piece of art where chaos and disorder produce unexpected beauty and and grace. There’s no other way to sum up Fury Road: for all its wacky and rough aesthetics, it’s actually a beautiful story, like a diamond in a rough. Most of all, Fury Road never underestimates its viewers: with an economy in dialogue, and a not-too-overtly political plot, this is a blockbuster with brains, headed by a filmmaker with an unshakeable faith in the story he’s telling. Add in strong characters, each with their own sense of destiny, impeccable cinematography and production design, and the jaw-dropping backdrop of the desert, and here you have it: one of the best films of the year, and the ultimate proof that sequels can be films that stand out on their own, and should always aim to do so.

In third place is a rather peculiar and unexpected entry, which I’ve picked nonetheless: Mommy, by Canadian wunderkind Xavier Dolan. The Cannes hype, the critics, surely this film can’t be that good… Well, the good news is, that it is. Mommy is the embodiement of how character storytelling should be, an indulgent film about just the one relationship between a mother and his son. What could be so extraordinary about that? That’s where Dolan steps in, and turns it into a mesmerizing character study. Needless to say, without Anne Dorval’s bravura performance, the film wouldn’t be such a stand-out piece, but as such, it is a heart-wrenching, emotionally charged story. It feels bigger than life and yet incredibly realistic; most of all it sticks with you, long after you’ve seen it.

Bridge of Spies is a brainy, talkative thriller in which the twist is perhaps the most brilliant of all: the game is up during the opening scene. We know who is a spy, and who isn’t. Does it really matter? The setting of the Cold War automatically implies an atmosphere full of of secrecy and paranoia, sure, but ultimately there’s something higher at stake here, the definition of what a righteous man is, and what isn’t. Human morality as an overarching theme? Spielberg is more than willing to take that one on. And what a way to do that. With his usual knack for placing a rather ordinary man (Tom Hanks, absolutely brilliant) in rather extraordinary circumstances (watch this mild lawyer become entangled in an international incident), Spielberg is more than ever a director in full control of his subject matter. The film isn’t entirely flawless – it is a tad too conventional in its portrayal of a family man, and a bit too-on-the-nose about Berlin; but overall it’s a riveting piece of story-telling driven by two incredible performances. Top-notch cinematography and a score by Thomas Newman: I was sold from the start.

Star Wars: the Force Awakens: it’s almost trite to be writing about it at this point. How can a film live up to expectations this high? Well the good news is, it absolutely does. Force Awakens works as a wonderful tribute to the original saga: it is a two-hour long love letter to that universe and that’s all you would want to see as a fan. The characterisation of the new heroes, Rey & Finn, is very strong, and very well-done indeed; and that was by far the hardest part of the job. The fact that I didn’t walk away disppointed from the screen is nothing short of a miracle, and it’s all to JJ Abrams’ credit (still haven’t forgotten the horrible mess of Star Trek Into Darkness though). But, and there is always a ‘but’, the film is essentially flawed in that it doesn’t stand up on its own. Each of the individual original films –and say what you want, but it also applies to Return of the Jedi, felt like such tight-knit stories, each with their own rhythm and quirks. Here essentially it feels like a medley of everything we love about Star Wars without any real thought put into the context or the characters’ motives. Just look at the First Order and every baddie in the film: they’re all poorly explained or constructed. But it largely compensates those flaws in its willingness to make us care about Rey & Finn, Han & Leia and all the beloved characters we’ve missed so much. Force Awakens was never going to recapture the magic of the first films, but instead it carries its legacy proudly and absolutely works as an old-fashioned piece of entertainment: everything you would want from a Star Wars film then, and that’s more than enough.

Up next is Paddington. I genuinely have so much love for this film. It’s full of warmth and funny in a way only the English can be; yes it’s about a lost bear in London, but it’s mostly about yearning for a place we can call home, what family is, how can one fit into new surroundings… The screenplay is much cleverer than what you would expect from a family film, and it’s also entertaining without being too melodramatic. Paddington is the embodiement of wonderful storytelling, with great characters and yes, silly humour. You might be surprised to see it so high up on the list, but it is a proper film which, like Inside Out, showcases that animation can be so much more than just a medium.

Into the Woods. I know, I know… How can it rank higher than all these very serious films?! Well, the truth is Into the Woods stuck with me all year long. The wit of the lyrics, the reinvention of the characters, the cinematic nature of the story… all these elements were to be expected, but ultimately it’s a combination of really great directing, charismatic performances, nuanced storytelling, beautiful production design and cinematography which won me over. Yes the second half of the film drags on, but by then all the characters are engaging enough to hold our attention. It takes a wild and dark turn which is very much in sync with what the lyrics are trying to say: be careful what you wish for, fairy tales can end up in disappointment, children will listen… Beyond the amazing puns and Meryl Streep’s fantastic raping skills (!), it’s a story about parenting, grief and managing expectations. All rather dark themes for a Disney film, wouldn’t you think? Also, James Corden and Emily Blunt are both excellent as the Baker and his wife.

I was reluctant to go and see Foxcatcher -it really looked like another dull, Oscar-bait film. Which in essence it was, but clearly I underestimated its incredible asset: Bennett Miller at the helm. In his hands, Foxcatcher turns into a mesmerizing tale, the chilling and captivating depiction of the relationship between an out-of-this world Channing Tatum (so very greatly overlooked for this role) and an even more outstanding Steve Carrell. With amazing skill, Bennett Miller draws us into John Dupont’s world and into an emotionally exhausting story. The beauty of the film is that it is also very slow and with this deliberate pacing, it gradually but surely takes complete hold of the viewer, until the intensity of it is almost suffocating. Also highly recommended for its superb cinematography and an intelligent screenplay with subtle allusions to the death of the American Dream.

Speaking of Oscar bait… Suffragette was typically the kind of film tailor-made for the Academy, and like Foxcatcher I was ready to dismiss it as conventional. And in some respect, Suffragette is a conventional film. It’s a straightforward story. It’s also rather essential viewing, t-shirt controversy and historical accuracy be damned. I know the film only represents the one aspect of feminism, and it’s probably very heavily dramatised, but nonetheless it has the merit of making you think about, and genuinely feel for, these characters. Suffragette isn’t a thorough analysis of the feminist movement at all and it might not be as brainy as one would expect; in fact there are hints that it might not be so much about gender than about class, but that’s about as elaborate as it gets. As a piece of historical fiction though, as a dramatic story, it is incredibly efficient. That’s because it is laser-focused on this one amazing character, which in turn allows Carey Mulligan to give what is probably the performance of her life. I am usually not really impressed by actors –to be honest I always see acting as one element amongst others, i.e. part of a technical whole that makes up a film. But in this particular film, Mulligan is just incandescent. There’s an authenticity to her performance that’s just unrivalled. And she really is the film’s strongest asset, even if the rest of the cast is really good as well (except for the disappointing, blink-or-you’ll-miss-it appearance of Meryl Streep). Now, was the marketing campaign completely wrong? Yes. Does that make it a bad film, to be remembered as a privileged, one-sided depiction of feminism? I personally don’t think so.

Dheepan: should it rank higher than all these Hollywood films? Probably. It has tremendous artistic merit, and the Cannes Palme d’Or was definitely deserved, but it is also so incredibly difficult to watch. It’s such a dark film, much darker than you would think, and you don’t walk out of it unscathed –its raw violence was a surprise, for me at least. As always with Audiard, there are moments of stunning poetry but mostly Dheepan is a highly disturbing reflection on our society and even human nature. Its nuanced characters, bleak setting and economy of dialogue will certainly please the most demanding of film fans. I can’t say I’ve enjoyed it, but I do recognise how well-directed and well-constructed it is. The actors are all outstanding in their respective parts, too.

Speaking of bleak, let’s go into an even bleaker film: Sicario. Oh boy is this film bleak. Denis Villeneuve’s aesthetic –a rather odd combination of discoloured realism and wide travelling shots, is disturbing to say the least. It’s even oppressive. If there’s one word to describe the film, that would be it: oppressive. Only really great directors, with a clear vision and a very strong cinematic sense, can make you feel that, and so more than anything Sicario is a real showcase of Villeneuve’s talent. There’s only one director out there that feels as distinctive as him, and that person is Christopher Nolan (wow, that’s it, I’ve said it). Okay so apart from its fantastic directing, Sicario is also a well-written thriller, with rather intriguing characters and a whole lot of horrific events. If you like really moody thrillers, then this one is definitely for you. And the cinematography is utterly beautiful.

The Lobster is the kind of film that gives nothing away: it’s up to the viewer to make up their own mind as to what the context of the story is. Nonetheless it has a wicked concept at the centre of it: a society where single people are being punished and if they fail to find a partner, they are hunted or transformed into animals. The tone is completely deadpan and the events are depicted with a sense of heightened realism rather than treating the plot as science-fiction. The film is both weird and delightful, with a really sparse narrative, yet the black humour and the clever use of characters make it a really compelling story. Top-notch casting and rather delirious music make this film a successful satire.

Now for a different kind of comedy: The Big Short is at the same time wonderfully complex and brazenly entertaining. The screenplay veers towards the heist/thriller route yet there are surprisingly funny elements to it. The directing, on the other hand, is all over the place. The frenetic rhythm of it is a bit disarming at first, but gradually the film finds its pace and despite the convulsed narrative (there are at least three or four different characters each with their own story arc), it manages to come out as very solid, informative piece of entertainment. It’s a bit odd because I can’t think of any other film before that is similar to the Big Short: treating a rather serious subject with a strong comedic tone, yet not sacrificing any of the complexity or technicality of it, and with of course the underlying criticism of how these events were handled. Every actor is well-cast and the screenplay is very versatile despite the use of technical terms that may not be familiar to your everyday audience. All in all, a very convincing offering from Adam McKay.

Next I’ve put two Disney films on the same ranking: Tomorrowland and the Good Dinosaur. A Pixar film, so low in my rankings? Gasp! The truth is, the Good Dinosaur is outstanding, absolutely gorgeous and ground-breaking animation, but only in terms of the actual visual animation itself. The story as such is quite conventional and therefore a bit less successful than previous Pixar outings. Nonetheless it’s an absolute must-see in terms of the beauty of the animation: the photorealistic landscapes are absolutely stunning. As for Tomorrowland, despite falling short of its enormous ambitions, it still is a rare kind of blockbuster, one that appeals to both your heart and imagination. The film was all over the place (predictably enough), it never really knew what it wanted to be, but I still liked what it was trying to say (keep exploring, be inquisitive) without being too patronising.

And last but not least, Pitch Perfect 2 rounds up my yearly ranking. Why? Because it’s awesome, because it’s about girls supporting and liking each other and because it appeals to the (deeply hidden) teenager inside all of us.

That’s it! That was my year in films. A lot of experts were predicting 2015 to be the biggest year in film ever, and in many respect it was; it also saddens me to see the ever-increasing gap between massive blockbusters and mid-range films. We need more of those, because they will always be more original stories, or at least able to treat a subject with a less generic approach. This year was the first year where I actually struggled to find 15 films or so to include in my ‘review of the year’ post; when I think about films that released barely 10 years ago, it wasn’t so much about superheroes and action films, but more about films that, today still, shape the way I see the world –films like Brokeback Mountain, the Constant Gardener etc. Here’s to hoping for a new decade filled with talented filmmakers and original stories.

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Academy Awards winners, 2015

Here are my thoughts on this year’s Oscar winners! Last year’s post is here.
Best Picture
American Sniper
Birdman
Boyhood
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
Selma
The Theory Of Everything
Whiplash

Birdman takes flight and wins the top prize. One side of me is glad that the Academy is recognising a weird, arthouse, fiercely original film; the other side is a bit put off by the rampant narcissism and arrogance that this choice means –Birdman is a film about filmmakers and actors, and to me is nothing more than a glorified play with an obscure screenplay that I wasn’t able to grasp fully. I was a bit sad Boyhood didn’t win this one, as for the most of the awards race it seemed like it would, but then all the guilds started announcing their winners and that was that. Still, a shame that a film like Boyhood, which couldn’t have been further from Hollywood if it tried, didn’t end up winning, as I think it would have sent a strong message for independent cinema. Let’s face it, Birdman is an indie film, but it’s still made by Fox with an A-list cast. And of course it was lovely to have Whiplash & Selma as part of the nominees, even if they were never going to win. But I actually think that, with American Sniper and the Theory of Everything in there, this list of nominees is one of the weakest I’ve seen in years? It’s harsh to say so, but I think it is.

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Academy Awards nominees, 2015

Here are my thoughts on this year’s nominees. Apologies if a lot will sound like rambling/venting.

Best Picture
American Sniper
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Boyhood
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
Selma
The Theory of Everything
Whiplash

I’ll start by saying that I really don’t understand why this category was expanded –after the dismal and outrageous absence of the Dark Knight in 2008, the Academy decided to change the rules and expand the category –up to ten films can now make it in there, but WHAT’S THE POINT IF IT’S TO IGNORE CHRISTOPHER NOLAN’S FILM AGAIN? Ugh. In twenty years’ time, will people remember Interstellar or American Sniper? Sorry, I haven’t seen American Sniper, so maybe I’m being a bit unfair but I’m fed up with these choices. Birdman has artistic merit, but as a film? Very hard to make sense of. The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything seem like such obvious Oscar choices, and don’t get me wrong because I loved them both (one more than the other) but as entities, as films, it’s hard to think they will leave their mark on cinema… I’m glad Boyhood, Whiplash, the Grand Budapest Hotel and potentially Selma, which I haven’t seen, are here to fly the flag for independent, visionary film-making. And I’m relieved it does, I will be very relieved to see Boyhood triumph over all the other nominees as the Best Pic winner; there’s a small comfort in that. Because Boyhood is such an astounding piece of storytelling, and most of all, because it has such emotional strength in the way it connects with the audience –I’ll be really glad if the Academy are able to recognise that, just to prove that they’re not completely out of touch with the outside world and modern audiences. So happy Whiplash made it in also, it is hands down my second pick amongst all of the nominees.

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