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2018 review

Gosh I haven’t updated this in so long, time really flies by! Here’s my annual top 15 for the films of 2018, and here’s last year’s post.

1. First Man, directed by Damien Chazelle
2. The Post, directed by Steven Spielberg
3. The Shape of Water, directed by Guillermo del Toro
4. The Incredibles 2, directed by Brad Bird
5. Mary Poppins Returns , directed by Rob Marshall
6. Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri, directed by Martin McDonagh
7. Jusqu’à la Garde, directed by Xavier Legrand
8. Phantom Thread, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
9. Lady Bird, directed by Greta Gerwig
10. Ready Player One, directed by Steven Spielberg
11. Hostiles, directed by Scott Cooper
12. Astérix et le Secret de la Potion Magique, directed by Alexandre Astier & Louis Clichy
13. Le Grand Bain, directed by Gilles Lellouche
14. Darkest Hour, directed by Joe Wright
15. A Star is Born, directed by Bradley Cooper

Predictably another space film takes the top spot this year, but Damien Chazelle’s First Man was, to me, an incredible feat of cinema. From the opening sequence which had me in tears, all the way to the moon landing, First Man kept me utterly riveted. It was unconventional in both form and content, and such a rewarding experience for the viewer. Whereas typical biopics would just go through the motions of the story, Chazelle takes the rather unexpected risk of withholding information and emotion, until it all builds up to the climactic scene. It doesn’t shy away from the more technical, realistic aspects of space flights either, yet never loses sight of the main topic: Neil Armstrong’s personal journey, the costs and the sacrifice, all in the name of a greater cause. What an achievement indeed.

In second place is Steven Spielberg’s the Post. I came out of the film absolutely amazed by Spielberg’s directing skills which are still completely intact. It’s a completely enthralling film, a love letter to the press and a showcase of great acting performances, led by Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep. The pace is relentless and the film almost plays out like a suspense thriller: the best kind of film about journalism, equal to All the President’s Men and Spotlight. As always the editing is superb but most of all, it’s an important film that doesn’t drown in self-importance; yet another excellent offering from Spielberg and quite indispensable viewing.

The Shape of Water feels like Guillermo del Toro displaying his imagination, literally, for the audience. Part fantasy, part romance, part historical fiction, it’s ultimate del Toro filmmaking, with the perfect balance of darkness and magic. It’s no wonder the Academy felt compelled to award him with the highest honour: it’s film at its most skilled, with grotesque yet absolutely delicate moments. The performances are all spot-on, and the cinematography, production and art design are stunning. And the music by Alexandre Desplat elevates it further to greatness. The screenplay for sure plays out a little bit too predictably, but in del Toro’s fantastic vision, it hardly matters at all: the sheer enchantment of having been invited into his world at all is enough.

The Incredibles is the kind of film that doesn’t really warrant a sequel: it stands on its own as a story in one film. Yet here comes the Incredibles 2, and as usual with Pixar, it’s rather impeccable story telling, with a reversal of roles in the Parr family and adventures that feel fresh enough. It’s by no means an easy feat and yet Brad Bird pulls it off again: with the kind of cinematic energy that was associated with the first film and an added layer of humour this time around -the scenes focusing on Jack Jack are absolutely delightful. That’s enough to make us forget about the weaker, heavy with dialogue parts of the plot: overall a completely satisfying, spectacular piece of entertainment.

In all objectivity, Mary Poppins Returns shouldn’t be ranking so high – yet it is. Musicals is such a tricky genre to pull off and yet this one hits all the right notes. Steeped in nostalgia, honouring the legacy of the first film, it’s also a brand-new story that is both emotional and genuine. The musical numbers are as whimsical as you would think they are, the cast is absolutely great (with a special mention to Emily Blunt, who basically pulls off the impossible) and all aspects of production design are just to die for. Utterly charming.

Now for an entire different kind of film: Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri is a dark, brutal comedy about a mother seeking revenge for her daughter’s murder. It’s the kind of irreverent film that the Coens brothers might have easily made, yet it offers very raw emotions, all channeled with absolute brilliance by Frances McDormand. It’s the kind of character study that is much too rare these days, but it also has shockingly funny moments and genuinely good screenwriting. A wickedly entertaining but also quite heart-wrenching film.

I haven’t seen many French films this year, but this one stands out the most for sure : Jusqu’à la Garde is an exercise in filmmaking and storytelling, a nail-biting family drama that plays out like a thriller but in all its smallest details, not as a big, splashy showcase of action. It’s simply the kind of film you don’t see anymore; the closest thing I can compare it to in terms of the intensity of the experience is Whiplash, and yet they’re two entirely different films. But it really is an absolutely amazing piece of filmmaking, so much so that as a viewer you feel completely immersed and the final half hour is absolutely gripping. Horrifying in its own way, but gripping nonetheless. See it if you can.

Phantom Thread: there are so many great things about this crazy, f- up film that I’m not sure where to start. The first you should know is that it is extremely, extremely twisted, but in a good way, in that the main character is the most despicable man on Earth yet you can’t help but watch him obsess over the smallest details and fall in love with a seemingly innocent girl. The second thing there is to know is that it’s so delicately well put together, so gorgeously directed, so precise in its storytelling that only a genius such as Paul Thomas Anderson could have made it. The third thing is, oh did I mention that it’s very TWISTED and sick and almost perverse but at the same time it is stunningly beautiful and enjoyable and entertaining and just downright weird. That’s it, that’s my review!

Lady Bird is a coming-of-age story that makes you ache for its characters, the kind of universal experience of being a teenager yet not quite an adult that just feels so genuine, it’s just a brilliant piece of character writing and great performances all around. It wasn’t as pretentious as I thought it would be, just very naturalistic and genuinely touching. I feel like I should write a longer review lauding Greta Gerwig’s storytelling skills, but really that’s all there is to it, just a really good, solid first film from her.

I think most people would have ranked this higher, just because Ready Player One is SUCH a big piece of nostalgia, entertainment, pop culture references all mushed together. And it is, again, an amazing showcase of Spielberg’s uncanny sense of rhythm and directing skills. But I read the book years ago and so this adaptation fell a little bit short of what I expected: the book wasn’t great literature, in the sense that it was definitely begging for a screen adaptation, yet the adaptation isn’t very successful in itself. And Spielberg really was the best, and possibly the only director, capable of pulling it off. But something about the film was a little bit too self-referential and just a blockbuster with not enough soul. Plenty of creativity and fire for sure, but generic screenwriting. Still, for the visuals alone, and the way Spielberg can set your heart pounding, it’s worth the ride.

Hostiles is one of those massively underestimated films and it annoys me that more people haven’t seen it. It’s basically a quite dark, dry Western but filmed with such poetry that it feels almost like a song or a poem put together? The slow pace, the somber music, the desolate settings, it all fits for what is essentially a character journey, but at the same time it totally grabs your attention and doesn’t let go. Quite mesmerizing. And I’ve never seen a Christian Bale performance I didn’t like. Bonus points for the gorgeous score by Max Richter, whom I’ve become completely partial to.

Astérix et la Potion Magique was such a fun-filled, beautifully animated film, for kids and adults alike, I couldn’t not mention it. Of course I was always going to like it (written and directed by Alexandre Astier, who’s been one my faves for a long time), but there was stil an element of surprise that it was simply just so good and well-written. A straightforward story told in one piece, with plenty of heart and spectacle to spare. Just the perfect bit of entertainment and accessible to all ages as well.

Le Grand Bain is another French film that makes it into my final top 15. It’s this oddball sort of comedy with misfits and against-all-odds moments, you can’t help but fall for it really. The writing is outstanding and the entire cast as well. Although it’s a bit uneven in terms of rhythm, it feels like a quirky British comedy, with lots of intelligent humour. Gilles Lellouche definitely deserves kudos for that one, for not making yet another cliché, easy French comedy.

Darkest Hour was one of the very first film I saw this year and it’s still made it to the end of the year ranking: proof that I couldn’t overlook it. Yes it’s a Very British Period Drama, with all the conventional things you would expect from a historical biopic, but at the same time Joe Wright chose quite an original way of telling it: just focusing on the most important days of Churchill’s leadership. The film is imbued with a sense of urgency -that really makes all the difference, and it’s carried by Gary Oldman’s superb performance, so overall it deserved to be on that list in my opinion.

Lastly, we have A Star is Born, Bradley Cooper’s surprisingly good film. Of course it’s sappy, of course it has all this exaggerated drama BUT it also features these amazingly good musical sequences (shot live) and two great acting performances to boot. So all in all much better than what I expected, and I completely fell for it, even if I could see while I was watching it how corny it was. Consider me sold on this one!

All done for this year’s review. Will I be doing Oscar posts this year? I’m still a bit unsure, there are loads of contenders I still haven’t seen… 2019 looks like it’s going to be another amazing year in film, so cheers to that!

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Academy Awards nominees, 2018

I am late in making this post, just like last year, but to be honest the Oscar contenders tend to come out really late in France! And I need to see most of them before writing this post. Anyway here are my thoughts on this year’s Oscar nominees.

Best Picture
Call Me By Your Name
Darkest Hour
Get Out
Lady Bird
Phantom Thread
The Post
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

The Best Picture race this year is such a close call, I feel like it hasn’t been this uncertain for years! With 13 nominations and the DGA Award, the Shape of Water feels like the frontrunner, but the Golden Globes (which split Drama and Comedy) gave their main awards to Three Billboards and Lady Bird respectively. Then there is the question of Get Out which has been the underdog, not to be underestimated, this year. And there’s always a tiny possibility of Dunkirk winning, as the preferential ballot gives a lot of weight to films that are #2 or #3 on the voters’ ballot. Ultimately I feel like the Shape of Water has the most momentum, so would be the safest bet, but three weeks ago, Three Billboards and Lady Bird had a lot of momentum as well… Of course my personal vote would go to Dunkirk, then the Post, then Call Me By Your Name! But I still haven’t seen the Shape of Water or Lady Bird. Phantom Thread was absolutely gorgeous, Get Out was of course an absolute surprise and Three Billboards was great, but in my opinion not strong enough to get the Best Picture prize.

Best Director
Christopher Nolan – Dunkirk
Jordan Peele – Get Out
Greta Gerwig – Lady Bird
Paul Thomas Anderson – Phantom Thread
Guillermo Del Toro – The Shape Of Water

Yay for a Chris Nolan nomination! I wish he could win this year but the Academy seems to dislike him. A very strong list of names, with Paul Thomas Anderson sneaking in, I think he might have stolen Steven Spielberg’s slot… But the favourite here is clearly, and deservedly, Guillermo del Toro, who I think has the most splendid filmography, and won the DGA last week. And Jordan Peele and Greta Gerwig, both as first-film nominees, feel like a breath of fresh air in what is indeed a very tough and competitive category. Well done to both of them.

Best Actor
Timothée Chalamet – Call Me By Your Name
Daniel Day Lewis – Phantom Thread
Daniel Kaluuya – Get Out
Gary Oldman – Darkest Hour
Denzel Washington – Roman J. Israel, Esq.

I wish, oh how I wish Timothée Chalamet could win this one but Gary Oldman is a lock – has been for ages, there’s just no way he doesn’t win this one. Daniel Day Lewis’ performance in my opinion is much stronger than Gary Oldman’s, but as we all know, the Academy loves to reward a make-up heavy performance and he is so long overdue. Denzel Washington’s nomination here feels like the odd one out – the film’s only nomination, but it’s good to see him among the nominees.

Best Actress
Sally Hawkins – The Shape Of Water
Frances McDormand – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Margot Robbie – I, Tonya
Saorise Ronan – Lady Bird
Meryl Streep – The Post

The Best Actress race is quite close this year, but undoubtedly the Golden Globes put Frances McDormand as the frontrunner here, with Saoirse Ronan very close behind, and Sally Hawkins is also getting the strongest reviews of her career. Meryl Streep is, deservedly, recognised here and Margot Robbie gets the ‘A-list’ nomination for I, Tonya. Overall Frances McDormand is still quite a few steps ahead though.

Best Supporting Actor
Willem Dafoe – The Florida Project
Woody Harrelson – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Richard Jenkins – The Shape of Water
Christopher Plummer – All the Money in the World
Sam Rockwell – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Very interesting category this one – sadly, no Call Me By Your Name actors, as I think Armie Hammer and Michael Stuhlbarg must have split the vote. Willem Dafoe was the frontrunner for a little while, and then with the Golden Globes and SAG going Sam Rockwell’s way… I think he will probably win it, despite the ‘backlash’ and controversy about his character. And the inclusion of Christopher Plummer here was one of the biggest surprises of the year.

Best Supporting Actress
Mary J. Blige – Mudbound
Allison Janney – I, Tonya
Leslie Manville – Phantom Thread
Laurie Metcalf – Lady Bird
Octavia Spencer – The Shape of Water

This race is also quite close – with Allison Janney in theory being the frontrunner but also Laurie Metcalf for Lady Bird is close behind. The addition of Leslie Manville here is quite a surprise – she was astonishingly good in Phantom Thread and Mary J. Blige was also very impressive in Mudbound. Octavia Spencer is surely the most underrated actress in Hollywood right now. But the Oscars logically should go the way of the SAG’s for the four actors, meaning Gary Oldman, Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell and Allison Janney as the winners.

Best Original Screenplay
The Big Sick, Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani
Get Out, Jordan Peele
Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig
The Shape of Water, Guillermo del Toro and Vanessa Taylor
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Martin McDonagh

The Best Original Screenplay category this year is crowded with frontrunners – the Shape of Water, Get Out, Lady Bird… Will Get Out win this one as a consolation prize? I should think so, and what a screenplay it is. Can Three Billboards also win this one as a compensation for no Best Director nod? Also possible. Sadly it will all probably mean that Greta Gerwig will go home empty-handed, which feels like a massive injustice. But the WGA went to Get Out so in all logic, the Screenplay Oscar should follow.

Best Adapted Screenplay
Call Me By Your Name, James Ivory
The Disaster Artist, Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber
Logan, Scott Frank, James Mangold, Michael Green
Molly’s Game, Aaron Sorkin
Mudbound, Virgil Williams and Dee Rees

I am very glad to say, this one is Call Me By Your Name’s to lose. Firstly because the Academy will want to reward a legend like James Ivory and secondly because it won the WGA for Adapted Screenplay and it was always the frontunner in this category. Nice inclusion of Logan here, and also a great nod for Mudbound and Aaron Sorkin, excellent as always.

Best Foreign-Language Film
A Fantastic Woman, Chile
The Insult, Lebanon
Loveless, Russia
On Body and Soul, Hungary
The Square, Sweden

A Fantastic Woman is getting rave reviews but I think there’s only one frontunner here: Sweden’s the Square, which won the Palme d’Or in Cannes. Sad not to see 120 BPM (Beats per Minute) in this category, such a shame that it’s not getting the award recognition it deserves.

Best Animated Film of the Year
The Boss Baby
The Breadwinner
Loving Vincent

Coco won very big at the Annie Awards, so the safest bet is on this one, even if Dreamworks is probably very pleased to see two of their films here, and the independents being represented with the Breadwinner and Loving Vincent. However I think we can safely say Pixar will win this one, and what a film – I absolutely adored Coco.

Best Documentary Feature
Abacus: Small Enough to Jail
Faces Places
Last Man in Aleppo
Strong Island

Quite a snub here for Jane, which I thought was a shoo-in for Best Documentary, but perhaps it wasn’t eligible? Agnes Varda just won an honorary Oscar, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see her Faces Places win here, unless the Academy chooses to go fully political with another choice. Icarus looks really amazing too.

Best Production Design
Beauty and the Beast – production design by Sarah Greenwood; set decoration by Katie Spencer
Blade Runner 2049 – production design by Dennis Gassner; set decoration by Alessandra Querzola
Darkest Hour – production design by Sarah Greenwood; set decoration by Katie Spencer
Dunkirk – production design by Nathan Crowley; set decoration by Gary Fettis
The Shape of Water – production design by Paul Denham Austerberry; set decoration by Shane Vieau and Jeff Melvin

This year’s technical noms are incredibly strong: here I have a slight preference for Blade Runner 2049 which simply looked amazing, but they won the Art Director Guild Awards alongside the Shape of Water, making these two the strongest contenders. There’s no denying that all five nominees would be deserving: Beauty and the Beast was gorgeous in terms of production design, Dunkirk was so perfectly and amazingly detailed and Darkest Hour also had a very strong showing.

Best Cinematography
Blade Runner 2049 – Roger Deakins
Darkest Hour – Bruno Delbonnel
Dunkirk – Hoyte van Hoytema
Mudbound – Rachel Morrison
The Shape of Water – Dan Laustsen

My favourite category, and I so hope this one goes to Roger Deakins. He is a living legend, and it baffles me that he hasn’t won this Oscar yet (14 nominations!!), but with the ASC award win, this one should be a lock. Just want to recognise a long-awaited female nominee in this category, Mudbound’s Rachel Morrison, and Hoyte von Hoytema’s superb work in Dunkirk. Nonetheless, this one is Roger Deakins’ to lose…

Best Costume Design
Beauty and the Beast – Jacqueline Durran
Darkest Hour – Jacqueline Durran
Phantom Thread – Mark Bridges
The Shape of Water – Luis Sequeira
Victoria and Abdul – Consolata Boyle

Two nominations for Jacqueline Durran, but will she win the award? The Costume Designer Guild Awards is in a couple of days, but the dresses in Phantom Thread were nothing short of phenomenal, and don’t underestimate the Shape of Water here, as it has the historical element going for it, just like Darkest Hour.

Best Editing
Baby Driver – Paul Machliss & Jonathan Amos
Dunkirk – Lee Smith
I, Tonya – Tatiana S Riegel
The Shape of Water – Sidney Wolinsky
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – Jon Gregory

Editing last year, I was reminded, didn’t go to the Best Pic winner at all, and so this year, the trend should continue: the Eddie award went to both Dunkirk and I Tonya, which, hurray, has a female editor. I think they’re the strongest contenders and either one winning would make me happy to be quite honest, even if Dunkirk will always have the top spot in my mind. The inclusion of Baby Driver here is quite noteworthy, and I think there’s a bit of a snub for Blade Runner 2049 here as well.

Best Makeup & Hairstyling
Darkest Hour – Kazuhiro Tsuji, David Malinowski, Lucy Sibbick
Victoria & Abdul – Daniel Phillips, Loulia Sheppard
Wonder – Arjen Tuiten

This category is a lock for Darkest Hour, I think, considering how much it helped Gary Oldman’s performance. It might go to Wonder which must have had extensive prosthetic work, and we won’t really know until the guild awards are held (in a couple of days as well), but I still think Darkest Hour has the edge here.

Best Music (Score)
Dunkirk – Hans Zimmer
Phantom Thread – Jonny Greenwood
The Shape of Water – Alexandre Desplat
Star Wars: The Last Jedi – John Williams
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – Carter Burwell

One of my fave categories and of course all five are outstanding composers, absolutely. I wish Hans Zimmer would win this one, and Jonny Greenwood’s score for Phantom Thread was just so incredibly tailored to the film, but Alexandre Desplat is probably the favourite here? Although he won two years ago for the Grand Budapest Hotel? I’m not really sure. Of course there is overwhelming love for John Williams in this category, and I really liked the Last Jedi’s score even though people complained that there weren’t any new cues. I am not really sure, will Alexandre Desplat get this one, or can Hans Zimmer pull off an upset?

Best Music (Song)
Mighty River – Mudbound (Mary J Blige, Raphael Saadiq & Taura Stinson)
The Mystery of Love – Call Me By Your Name (Sufjan Stevens)
Remember Me – Coco (Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez)
Stand Up for Something – Marshall (Common & Diane Warren)
This Is Me – The Greatest Showman (Benji Pasek & Justin Paul)

I REALLY HOPE CALL ME BY YOUR NAME WINS THIS ONE, Sufjan’s song is just absolutely gorgeous but I’m scared the Academy will go for the stupid Greatest Showman song (the Golden Globe winner, although Call Me By Your Name wasn’t nominated). I feel like Coco’s Remember Me also has a good chance of winning, unless they would give this one as a consolation prize to Mudbound? That’d be quite a surprise, my bet is on Coco.

Best Sound Mixing
Baby Driver – Julian Slater, Tim Cavagin and Mary H Ellis
Blade Runner 2049 – Ron Bartlett, Doug Hemphill and Mac Ruth
Dunkirk – Mark Weingarten, Gregg Landaker and Gary A Rizzo
The Shape of Water – Christian Cooke, Brad Zoern and Glen Gauthier
Star Wars: The Last Jedi – David Parker, Michael Semanick, Ren Klyce and Stuart Wilson

The sound mixing guild hasn’t held their awards yet, but there are a lot of familiar names up there, I think they’re all really quite close. In all logic, this one should go to Dunkirk, such outstanding sound mixing, but Baby Driver has a strong showing in the sound tech category and you can never underestimate Skywalker Sound techs for Star Wars. Blade Runner 2049 is also a very strong contender for all the tech categories, really, it’s a tough one. I still think Dunkirk should and will win here.

Best Sound Editing
Baby Driver – Julian Slater
Blade Runner 2049 – Mark Mangini and Theo Green
Dunkirk – Richard King and Alex Gibson
The Shape of Water – Nathan Robitaille and Nelson Ferreira
Star Wars: The Last Jedi – Matthew Wood and Ren Klyce

The sound editing guild awards ceremony is tonight – again I am expecting Dunkirk to win here, but what about Blade Runner 2049 which had a really strong sound universe of its own, and Baby Driver, same than sound mixing, which was truly outstanding? A difficult one to say really, but I am hoping Dunkirk can get a couple of awards here.

Best Visual Effects
Blade Runner 2049 – John Nelson, Gerd Nefzer, Paul Lambert & Richard R Hoover
Guardian of the Galaxy Vol 2 – Christopher Townsend, Guy Williams, Jonathan Fawkner & Dan Sudick
Kong: Skull Island – Stephen Rosenbaum, Jeff White, Scott Benza & Mike Meinardus
Star Wars: The Last Jedi – Ben Morris, Mike Mulholland, Neal Scanlan & Chris Corbould
War for the Planet of the Apes – Joe Letteri, Daniel Barrett, Dan Lemmon & Joel Whist

Ooooohh I really hope War of the Planet of the Apes gets this one, I mean really, the VFX there were just out of this world. They won the VES awards so hopefully that’s a good sign for them. However Blade Runner 2049’s special effects were just so amazing, and what about the Last Jedi and those spectacular scenes? I think this one, deservedly, will go to Apes.

And finally, as usual:

Best Documentary Short
Edith + Eddie
Heaven Is a Traffic Jam on the 405
Knife Skills
Traffic Stop

Best Animated Short Film
Dear Basketball
Garden Party
Negative Space
Revolting Rhymes

Best Live Action Short Film
DeKalb Elementary
The Eleven O’Clock
My Nephew Emmet
The Silent Child
Watu Wote/All of Us

That’s it for this year – we will get the answer to Best Pic very soon, I still think the Shape of Water with its 13 nominations will be this year’s biggest winner. See you in a couple of weeks!

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2017 review

The end of another film year! Here are the 15 best films of 2017 and here’s last year’s post.

1. Dunkirk, directed by Christopher Nolan
2. Call Me By Your Name, directed by Luca Guadagnino
3. 120 Battements par Minute, directed by Robin Campillo
4. Moonlight, directed by Barry Jenkins
5. Blade Runner 2049, directed by Denis Villeneuve
6. La La Land, directed by Damien Chazelle
7. Le Sens de la Fête, directed by Eric Toledano and Olivier Nakache
8. Coco, directed by Lee Unkrich
9. Nocturnal Animals, directed by Tom Ford
10. La Promesse de l’Aube, directed by Eric Barbier
11. Wonderstruck, directed by Todd Haynes
12. Star Wars: the Last Jedi, directed by Rian Johnson
13. Detroit, directed by Kathryn Bigelow, and Hidden Figures, directed by Theodore Melfi
14. Lion, directed by Garth Davis
15. Loving, directed by Jeff Nichols

Other great films: Get Out, Okja, T2 Trainspotting, Rock’n’Roll

It seems that there really can’t be a new Chris Nolan film that won’t top my ‘best films of the year’ list – Dunkirk was always going to grab that #1 spot for me. Both in form and content, it’s a genuine achievement, the embodiment of cinema as an art form. I’ve reviewed it elsewhere anyway, but I’ll repeat it here again: it’s such a bold move to make a film with zero narrative and yet with such powerful storytelling – it’s almost as if Nolan knows what’s expected of him and literally goes off to do the opposite. For that alone, Dunkirk deserves the top spot – you won’t find another film this year so riveting, and impactful.

My #2 film is theoretically a 2018 film but really is so unforgettable that I could not not mention it this year: Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name is a truly gorgeous film and also possibly one of the most touching coming-of-age stories told this year. Taking place in the lush Italian countryside, it has this incredible tension and emotional build-up that only masterful directors can pull off. The characterisation of both Elio and Oliver is so spot-on: both are incredibly well-written, with their contradictions, heartaches and desires. Both actors, Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer, shine onscreen – and their chemistry is completely off the charts. The overall atmosphere of the film, brought together by impeccable cinematography, editing, costume and art design, make this film a truly rare sight: an impressive re-telling of the story of first love and the impossible heartbreak afterwards.

120 Battements par Minute, or 120 Beats Per Minute, is the kind of film that’s so hard to shake off – you’ll still be thinking about it days on end. It takes a macroscopic – and microscopic, approach to AIDS, via the story of Act Up, one of the first NGOs to speak up about the epidemic. Through the force of the group, but also of its individual members, the film takes an unflinching look of how French society tackled such an enormous problem, but also the toll it took on people, and the burden it becomes for the caretakers and everyone who’s been touched from close or afar by this terrible disease. It’s such an indispensable film as we may take a lot of things for granted now: awareness of the disease, medical treatment, preventive measures etc. All of which did not exist barely thirty years ago. Robin Campillo’s work is absolutely masterful and his actors serve him well: both Nahuel Pérez Biscayart and Arnaud Valois are incredible in their respective roles.

Moonlight should really rank higher, considering how brilliant it is, the way it depicts the journey of Chiron, how well-written it is and how it’s almost like the visual form of a poem really. I’ve said this elsewhere in my Oscar post but it’s just such a strong showing of filmmaking, so powerful in all its little moments, utterly heartbreaking in its big ones. It speaks of things that are sometimes buried so deep – in a child, teenager or adult, that it really is the magic of cinema, and art.

The fifth place was a tough one to choose, but in the end, Blade Runner 2049 just had to be in the top 5 – like Dunkirk, it’s such intelligent entertainment, one that does not underestimate the audience. And in today’s age of mindless blockbusters, it’s something that needs to be appreciated and encouraged. Of course Denis Villeneuve was never going to make a bad film, but with all the expectations that came with it, BR2049 could have easily been a disappointment. Instead it’s a rather fascinating piece of filmmaking – very contemplative yet packs a punch when necessary. Roger Deakins’ cinematography probably contributed a lot to that, and it is just so visually stunning that the film overcomes any screenplay shortcomings it might have.

By any rights, La La Land should rank much higher, with its catchy tunes and hopelessly romantic look. I enjoyed it tremendously and I still listen to the songs – I just wonder if as a film on its own, does it really stand out, and are the characters strong enough? Compared to Moonlight’s for example? I love Damien Chazelle’s aesthetic, and I love musicals, I wish it went a bit bigger on the whole ‘Hollywood musical’ aspect and less so on the ‘Mia and Sebastian’ romance. Still, the sight of Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone on that LA bench is quite unforgettable – the cinema equivalent of a happy pill, if you wish, with a very bittersweet ending.

I’ve been quite good at seeing French films this year, I think, and so here’s the quintessential French comedy, with a twist: Le Sens de La Fete is a very touching comedy, yet it doesn’t have any of the sappiness or ‘easy’ jokes that French films are much too guilty of. Instead it works as a character piece – every role is superbly written, and most of all, it is incredibly entertaining, with impeccable comedic timing. The opening scene, with Jean-Pierre Bacri at its grumpiest, is a great way of setting the rest of the film: a sarcastic comedy, but with plenty of heart to spare.

My #8 pick is Coco, gosh really it should rank much higher considering what a beautiful film this is – both in terms of screenplay and visuals. The most amazing thing about Coco is that you can see Pixar’s and its director’s devotion to telling this story right, the emotional build-up is quite strong and the themes are, well, universal – who doesn’t have strained relationships with their family, yet they’re the most important thing in the world, really. Coco is a gorgeous love letter to Mexico, to family, and to music and that’s what makes it such a great film.

Nocturnal Animals is one of the first films I saw in 2017, yet it’s maintained its position in the top 10: it’s such a disturbing yet genius piece of filmmaking. Who else than Tom Ford can have such a memorable aesthetic and yet genuinely trouble most viewers, with this insane story-within-the-story, and Amy Adams’ remarkable performance as a cold-hearted gallery owner? It’s such an intense film and the twist at the end really hurts – the best kind of twist then. It’s just a really ballsy, bold film, that stays with you for a long time.

In tenth place we have yet another French film: La Promesse de l’Aube, based on Romain Gary’s book of the same name. La Promesse de l’Aube is a sweeping drama, an old-fashioned epic that focuses on a son’s love for his mother – and carried by two amazing performances by Pierre Niney and Charlotte Gainsbourg. The theme of maternal love, which is just such a strong theme in itself, is really at the heart of the film: it will make you weep with joy and sadness, to see this tale of childhood and the incredible strength that a mother’s love can represent. It also has a gorgeous score and amazing costume and set design.

Wonderstruck is a stunning film, exquisitely constructed, with two amazing performances by Oakes Fegley and Millicent Simmonds. It’s this really touching story of deaf kids – sounds very trite when you describe it like that, but ultimately them being deaf is not their defining criteria: it’s a coming of age story like any other, with the children trying to find out about their parents and eventually their identity. It has a wonderful touch of nostalgia too, and overall makes for quite a magical experience, which is something rather surprising coming from a filmmaker like Todd Haynes.

Star Wars the Last Jedi. Oh dear. We could talk about this film for ages, debate about it forever, but ultimately it comes down to this: is this a good Star Wars film or not?! And the answer is that it is: in its best moments it treads slightly on what makes the Star Wars universe so magical. Now, the film has enormous flaws that can’t be overlooked, including an entire first hour with very poor character writing and makes very little sense, plot-wise. But once the second hour starts, the Last Jedi takes off on its own completely and offers us a beautiful tribute to the character of Luke (even if the motivation for some of the characters’ actions is still somewhat murky). Ultimately it’s this very original and different take on Star Wars: perhaps less comfortable than the Force Awakens for us lifelong fans, but at least there’s something to be said for trying something new and different. Can’t wait to see episode IX really, and it warms me up to the idea of a new trilogy, even if, of course, it still doesn’t come even close to the genius of the original trilogy. Somewhere in there though, there is a really solid film that could have stood on its own.

Detroit is hard to review, because in itself it is a great film but then when you pick things apart, it starts to unravel and it’s a frustrating thing. Kathryn Bigelow still is a great director, and Detroit is relentless, superbly paced and just really well-directed, yet its screenplay falls short of that; and the frustrating bit is first lack of context, second the part where the film turns into a courtroom drama and third just the lack of any very strong commitment to take a stance on the story and defend it. As a filmmaker working on a contemporary and highly difficult subject, such as race relations in America, it is almost a moral obligation to take a stand. Yet here, something in the film feels quite procedural: it describes the facts, plays out very straightforwardly and leaves the viewer to really ponder the meaning of the events on his own. And that is a bit of a shame, as it could have really packed a punch. Still very harrowing and overall great directing from Bigelow, again it’s just the screenplay that’s letting her down a bit.

Hidden Figures is such a conventional pick, yes, but I couldn’t help fall completely for this story, three black women working at Nasa in the sixties: it has a fantastic screenplay, three amazingly charismatic leads (Taraji Henson, Janelle Monae and Octavia Spencer) and a standout supporting performance by Kevin Costner. Most of all it’s this completely inspiring tale of women working in science, basically my two favourite subjects ever. Highly recommended viewing.

Lion made me cry like a child – it’s the story of an adopted boy trying to find his biological family, so of course it’s packed with emotion. It’s also quite surprising in the way it’s directed: with these almost Terrence Malick-like shots, full of natural light, quite delicate really. The only reason it’s not higher up in my top 15 is that it is perhaps too emotional, a bit heavy-handed if you like, but otherwise a really beautiful film.

Considering how obsessed I am with Jeff Nichols’ directing, Loving should rank much higher – it’s a gorgeous story and the two main actors are incredible. It’s just that, yes, for once the really slow pacing, oddly enough, introduces quite a distance with the viewer. It’s almost as if Nichols is scared of showing any kind of emotion really, and in order to avoid any triumphalist or obvious moment, decided to go for the entire opposite: it’s almost too restrained, too removed from its subjects. Still, it’s an achingly graceful film, with tremendous performances by both Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton.

And this is it for my review of the year! Looking forward to yet another great year in film. And the Oscar nominations are soon upon us, so I will see you then!

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Seeing a new directed by Christopher Nolan film is always such an event; it comes with really high expectations -of being completely left in awe, of being dazzled, of watching something that’s potentially going to be a game-changer, especially for ‘commercial’ cinema, as I call it, ie. operating within the boundaries of the Hollywood industry. I’m glad to say, Dunkirk doesn’t fall short of that expectation -it completely, absolutely, exceeds it.
The tricky part of making a “war film” is that the genre in itself is quite restrictive. There are rules to it, and Chris Nolan abides by them -it’s telling a story about something that is so utterly visceral, and extreme, that you can’t really go about a thousand different ways of doing it. Yet there’s something that feels inherently innovative, and radical, in the way Chris Nolan chose to depict it. It’s not so much a war film as a thriller about war -which sounds like such a cliché way of putting it, but it seems like the closest description of Dunkirk, if you were looking for one.
All of Chris Nolan’s usual ‘trademarks’ (others would call those gimmicks or tricks for sure) are there: it somewhat plays with the conventional structure of storytelling (yet plays out in three clean acts), there’s a bit of fiddling around with the linear arrangement of the event and yet it’s a very straightforward story of that one war evacuation, the photography is both very natural and elegant and finally, it has a very restrained emotional aspect, which builds up to an incredibly strong, climactic ending. It’s almost as if everything -plot information, character development and background etc., needed to be withheld, and then all of the emotion released in order to achieve the greater effect. And that is indeed the essence of why Dunkirk is such brilliant storytelling. As usual with Chris Nolan, there’s nothing that’s given freely, or understated -the viewer is just thrown in there, directly, bluntly, unable to make sense of it all or at least to process it like a conventional story, until the end really, that one final emotional sequence. It’s almost like being held underwater for two hours, and then being able to breathe again. In that sense it’s quite similar to Interstellar, perhaps with less renlentless questioning, and bigger action scenes.
By Nolan standards, Dunkirk‘s runtime is quite short, an hour and forty-five minutes. Perhaps the most surprising thing about it is that there’s so very little character development. Very little in the way of traditional narrative storytelling is there, which is why it might feel really and almost baffling for audiences expecting a summer blockbuster. But frankly it’s one of the best things about the film: you don’t really need to know about the personal stories of the soldiers, civilians and pilots that we’re following. The whole ordeal of a war is just too horrible to be reduced to circumstances or context and there’s the overwhelming feeling that something more fundamental is at play here. More importantly, the sense of urgency and of looming danger is just ubiquitous -it permeates the whole film, and in a way, that’s what makes it truly successful. Of course all of that is meticulously created with the editing (both image and sound) and that’s why Dunkirk feels yet like another massive, monumental, technical achievement. Again, Chris Nolan created a film that’s probably for the ages -only time will tell. It’s just filmmaking reduced to its simpler yet most powerful form.
Of course the film is supported by immaculate acting performances (from Fionn Whitehead’s lead part to the supporting roles) and that’s even more impressive considering that the actual screenplay, as mentioned before, is quite minimal. The score, composed by Hans Zimmer, is a triumph of simplicity -it’s so carefully interwoven with the structure of the film, again with that incredible appearance of effortlessness, yet we all know it’s anything but. Production and costume design are very meticulous indeed, and the lack of computer-generated effects simply lends the film an awe-inspiring and tangible sense of reality.
Is this Chris Nolan’s best film yet? Hard to tell, but it certainly feels like his most important and most accomplished yet. That’s quite a statement for a director with such successful films, especially as he seems to keep puhsing the bar higher. It’s hard to be objective when watching a Nolan film, a director I hold in such high regard, yet I also feel confident saying that Dunkirk is easily this year’s best film. Eventually that standard of excellence has to flounder, but I’m glad to say, Dunkirk absolutely lives up to it so far, and to the rest of his filmography. Onto the next film, then!

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Academy Awards winners, 2017

And now I’m almost two months late for this post commenting the Oscar wins! I really am a rubbish blogger.

Best Picture
Hacksaw Ridge
Hell Or High Water
Hidden Figures
La La Land
Manchester By The Sea

What a Best Picture upset! And a brilliant one, too. La La Land was so far ahead, I didn’t think Moonlight could catch up with it, but I guess the Academy has changed since last year, and they wanted to send a strong message. Not that Moonlight did not deserve that win, because it absolutely did -it’s such a beautiful piece of art, almost like a long poem being filmed and yet dealing with such difficult subjects, the perfect balance between form and content in my opinion. I won’t say anything regarding the massive snafu during the announcement, I think so much has been said already on that subject, but truly it’s a shame the Moonlight win was overshadowed by that because it truly is a win for the books…

Continue reading…

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