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Dunkirk

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
Arrival
Fences
Hacksaw Ridge
Hell Or High Water
Hidden Figures
La La Land
Lion
Manchester By The Sea
Moonlight

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…

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Academy Awards nominees, 2017

I’m really late making this post, the ceremony is in two weeks’ time! In all honesty, I was waiting to see the main contenders before writing this post, but now I feel like I’ve seen enough of them…

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

Nine nominees this year -and not too bad in terms of genre and scales. My favourite of the bunch is of course Arrival but it has very little prospect of winning despite its numerous nominations. There’s one favourite looming large and ahead of everyone, and that’s of course the much-loved, fantastic La La Land. I personally loved it, although my personal preference still goes to Arrival. But I can see why La La Land is such a favourite -it’s about the industry, the manufacturing of dreams, the limitless power of those dreams. And to top it all off, it’s a musical. Not a grand musical like Hollywood used to make, but a more intimate and contemporary one. So yeah, I can see why La La Land is the big contender. Not too far behind is Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight, a miraculous coming-of-age story, the epitome of artistic, independent cinema. If there is a political statement to be made, surely this would be the right way of doing it. And with Hidden Figures winning the SAG and Lion being shephered by the Weinstein Company, you just never know. However it’s a safe bet to say that with its 14 nominations, La La Land is a very strong favourite.

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2016 review

I think this is the time of the year when I apologise for not updating this blog anymore! But hopeully with the end of yet another year and the Oscars not too far from now, I can try and write more. Here are the 15 best films for 2016, and you can refresh your memory with last year’s post here.

1. Arrival, directed by Denis Villeneuve
2. Steve Jobs, directed by Danny Boyle
3. Spotlight, directed by Tom McCarthy
4. Midnight Special, directed by Jeff Nichols
5. Finding Dory, directed by Andrew Stanton & Angus MacLane
6. Brooklyn, directed by John Crowley
7. I, Daniel Blake, directed by Ken Loach
8. The BFG, directed by Steven Spielberg
9. Moana, directed by Ron Clements, Don Hall, John Musker & Chris Williams
10. Frantz, directed by Francois Ozon
11. Hell or High Water, directed by David Mackenzie
12. Creed, directed by Ryan Coogler
13. The Revenant, directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu
14. Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them, directed by David Yates
15. Bridget Jones’ Baby, directed by Sharon Maguire

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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.

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