Archived entries for chris nolan

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
Dunkirk
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
Coco
Ferdinand
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
Icarus
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
Heroin(e)
Knife Skills
Traffic Stop

Best Animated Short Film
Dear Basketball
Garden Party
Lou
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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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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2014 review

Another really great film year, my friends. Here’s my top 15 of the best films for 2014 (last year’s post here):

1. Interstellar, directed by Christopher Nolan
2. Boyhood, directed by Richard Linklater
3. Whiplash, directed by Damien Chazelle
4. 12 Years a Slave, directed by Steve McQueen
5. Lilting, directed by Hong Khaou
6. The Imitation Game, directed by Morten Tyldum
7. Nebraska, directed by Alexander Payne
Gone Girl, directed by David Fincher
8. Her, directed by Spike Jonze
9. The Grand Budapest Hotel, directed by Wes Anderson
Nightcrawler, directed by Dan Gilroy
10. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, directed by Matt Reeves
11. The Lego Movie, directed by Chris Lord & Phil Miller
12. The Skeleton Twins, directed by Craig Johnson
13. Dallas Buyers Club, directed by Jean Marc Vallée
14. Captain America the Winter Soldier, directed by Anthony & Joe Russo
15. 22 Jump Street, directed by Chris Lord & Phil Miller
Guardians of the Galaxy, directed by Jamas Gunn

Other great films: How to Train your Dragon 2, Edge of Tomorrow, The Boxtrolls, American Hustle, the Wolf of Wall Street, The Armstrong Lie, Transcendance

Ahem, I think you all expected that. But the thing is, no matter how incredibly strong these films are, no matter how genuinely happy I am to sit through beautiful, life-altering films like Boyhood & Whiplash, nothing really ever came close to what it felt like to watch Interstellar for the first time, and being struck by the terrible beauty of science, and the vastness of space, and the emotions of it all, and just how strong was the story of Cooper’s journey finding his way back to his daughter. To say that the film struck a chord with me would be a massive understatement. And the magic of it is, that I don’t need to be a parent to understand how powerful these emotions are -that’s why Chris Nolan is so genuinely good I think, is that somehow he finds an authenticity and a truth in everything he does. Interstellar‘s been called pretentious and overindulging, which just seems completely at odds with everything I think he stands for? Sure Interstellar is ambitious, it takes itself really seriously, it’s flawed in many ways. But at the heart of it all, it’s really just an interpretation of what we experience as parents, as children, as human beings, in what’s possibly the most hostile of environment -outer space. Anyway, I reviewed Interstellar in my previous post, so I won’t dwell too long on it here but I think it sits very deservingly at the top of my list this year.

Now, Boyhood. Boyhood, like Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life, feels like an entire lifespan stretched across one single film. It’s a tremendous achievement in both form and content. To film over 12 years the same cast of people and characters is a genius idea in itself, but the execution is the hardest part, and Richard Linklater never fails -it flows so naturally, and feels so seamless and real, that essentially it reminds us why film was even invented in the first place. It really is the pinnacle of Linklater’s naturalistic style: full of warmth and soul as always, but also deceivingly simple by going straight for the heart. No fuss, no tricks: Linklater’s the real deal.

Whiplash also holds a really special place here -like Boyhood, it’s the triumph of independent cinema, a film fan’s ultimate dream. There’s no movie this year that will get your heart racing quite as much. A young drummer in America’s most elite conservatory meets a teacher who doesn’t know where to stop -what’s so extraordinary about that? Well nothing and everything. In his debut film Damien Chazelle redefines the teacher movie -essentially tears it apart. The sheer intensity of the way it’s filmed, in addition to the strength of the screenplay and characters, make Whiplash a unique experience. Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons are both utterly compelling, and so is the directing: it’s talent in its purest form.

12 Years a Slave, by the importance of its subject, and because of how relevant and educational it is, should really be sitting at #1 -like Schindler’s List before it, it’s a film for the ages. But because of how actually difficult it is to watch, the absolutely brutal experience that this film is, it felt a bit counterintuitive to me to have it as the Best Film of the Year -I won’t ever watch it again, although this in no way diminishes how good and how significant the film is. Steve McQueen is fearless, relentless in depicting the horror of slavery; he’s one of the boldest filmmakers of his generation and this film really confirms it. Chiwetel Ejiofor’s performance is an absolute treasure.

Rounding up the top 5 is Lilting. This one is also a very personal choice, but that’s also because it’s a very personal film: Hong Khaou is English but Cambodian-born, and there’s a depth to the story and the characters that can’t be artificial -it’s drawn from his own experience, and his own family story. Which in very odd ways is very similar to mine. Pei-pei Cheng is absolutely outstanding as the elderly mother who’s never accustomed to the country she’s emigrated in; the film is full of melancholy and yearning, yet it’s also very funny in parts and genuinely touching. An absolute must-see.

The Imitation Game is also a British film, but an entirely different beast (I’m listening to Alexandre Desplat’s score for the film as I type these words). The story of Alan Turing’s life in itself is incredibly good material for a film -but I really loved the fact that it steered away from predictable biopic films by focusing on the extraordinary story of cracking the Enigma code, and in that way, felt more like a thriller than anything else. Of course Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance makes the film (it almost is the film as the directing is a bit conventional), and again it’s a story that feels important, that needed to be told in order to honour and recognise Turing’s legacy. A very, very solid film indeed, with a skillful screenplay and fantastic performances.

Alexander Payne is one of these outrageously talented directors -beyond the ‘quirkiness’ of his style, he’s been really consistent in putting out great films with amazing dialogue and situational comedy: Nebraska‘s no different. With his clever blend of black humour and bittersweet characters, he truly is a unique filmmaker -very similar to the Coen brothers but with a more emotional touch. From Bruce Dern’s brilliant performance to the beauty of the landscapes (shot in black and white by cinematographer Phedon Papamichael), Nebraska is a little gem of a film, the perfect amount of wacky and sad all jumbled together.

So Gone Girl is a bit of an odd one to pair with Nebraska, but I really couldn’t choose which one out of the two I’d prefer. Gone Girl is a very different film, it’s Fincher jubilating at how smart and dark the story is, it’s the perfect script with the perfect director. The book was just so good already, but there’s something with Fincher that just elevates the material -I think it’s the way he’s just being so meticulous in his shots, he’s become that director where his perfectionism just bursts out on the screen. Sure he’s always trying to outsmart you and that can come off as a bit annoying, sure Gone Girl is a massive box-office hit with millions of book sales to back that up, but to be honest I love mainstream Fincher, as much as I like Zodiac-like Fincher. Also, Rosamund Pike is here to kick ass and take names, her performance is scaringly good.

By all rights Her should be a bit higher in this top 15 -Spike Jonze’s marvelous study of love and loneliness is as funny as it’s poignant. Visually it is just stunning (Hoyte van Hoytema went on to become Interstellar‘s director of photography) and Joaquin Phoenix’s performance is nothing short of genius considering all he had to interact with is a voice. It’s filled with aching nostalgia and asks some really big questions but it might have been a bit too sentimental for my tastes. Still, another really strong film for Spike Jonze -incredible well-written, perfectly executed and just a real pleasure to watch.

Actually those exact same three things could be applied to Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel! The thing with this one though, is that it’s so damn entertaining, you can’t resist it. The visuals are exquisite (would expect nothing less of Wes Anderson) and the cast of characters is just such an off-the-wall bunch; it’s another really delightful Wes Anderson treat. He’s just become so good at what he does, and in surprising ways, too –Grand Budapest Hotel has more characters than ever, yet it never feels rushed or overblown or repetitive.

Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler is the end-of-the-year surprise, the sort of film no one really saw coming: an in-depth critique of news reporting today, and a dark satire of the society we live in. Yet I believe it may have been a victim of its own hype -sure it was original, well-shot and edited, with a superb performance from Jake Gyllenhaal. Yet I am not sure it would stick in my memory as an incredible, visionary film like the ones below -perhaps first-time director Gilroy’s inexperience showed a bit in that sense, although for a debut film it is outstanding and pushed boundaries in many ways.

To close off this list of excellent films is Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, which we shall call Dawn thereafter since it’s impossibly long to type. I know, I know, a massive Hollywood sequel, I’m a sell-out etc. It’s just that I expected Dawn to unfold in a very particular way: humans are mean to apes, apes turn against humans, full-on war happens. And the great thing is that -it’s not what happens, it’s not as predictable as this. Sure there is that massive battle at the end, but really, Dawn has more dialogue and heart than your average Hollywood blockbuster, and that’s all because of this fantastic creation that Caesar represents. That’s what makes the new Apes film more character-driven and I admire having that in a multi-million franchise. Hats off to Andy Serkis and all the other actors in motion capture -they’re better actors than most human actors at this point.

So next, we have the Lego Movie which is just the most exhilarating, funniest ride I’ve had this year. Is it a giant-sized Lego commercial? Probably, but it’s also a giant-sized piece of fun and brimming with enthusiasm. The Skeleton Twins could not be more far away from that, yet it’s also hilarious and heartbreaking in its own way -watch it for Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader’s perfomances as twins Maggie and Milo try to sort out their lives. Dallas Buyers Club is another film that’s carried by its duo of performances. It’s been said before but I’ll say it again: Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto give transformative, nuclear perfromances, and that makes up for its somewhat drab directing.

Lastly, we have Captain America: the Winter Soldier, which, like Dawn, largely outshines its predecessor (I hated the first film). It’s a superhero film that’s not really one, and those are my favourites really -it feels like the first proper film that Marvel Studios have put out since they’ve created their cinematic universe. Finally, 22 Jump Street and Guardians of the Galaxy both share an element of irreverence and just plain awesomess: hard to resist both of them when there’s Ice Cube on one side and dancing baby Groot on the other.

Voilà! I did rush off a bit at the end there, but otherwise this post would have gone on for ages and ages. I must say, I haven’t seen the Hobbit, Paddington, the Theory of Everything and other potential films that might make it into this top 15, so it might be a bit early to round up the year but it is mid-December after all… 2015 looks as if it is going to be the Biggest Film Year Ever, so it’s all really exciting! See you soon folks.

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Interstellar

(mildly spoiler-ish review follows)

Christopher Nolan’s films have always been complex and challenging; in many ways he’s raised the stakes higher and higher for every one of his films, as they seem to expand and increase in size. Over the last decade, no other director has created a cinematic universe quite as fascinating and demanding as his.

Interstellar is very much part and parcel of that universe. Thematically, it is one of the strongest, most poignant and emotionally intense Nolan film yet.

Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is a former astronaut, living on an isolated farm with his two children: a teenage son called Tom and a strong-willed, bright daughter named Murph. Earth has been reduced to its most desolate state and humanity’s last hope is to try and find a new habitable planet in the vastness of the unknown universe. In a rather slow-paced, filled-with-despair first act, Cooper leaves his children and Earth behind, to explore space alongside three other doctors: Brand, Doyle and Romilly.

As a premise, it is rather straightforward and in fact, Christopher Nolan, as always, shows great care in setting up the story and establishing all the necessary ground rules for a sci-fi movie. The film brims with discussions of gravitational theory and wormhole travel; if you haven’t brushed up on astrophysics before the film, you may find yourself rather puzzled at some of the dialogue and scientific concepts used to advance the plot, but don’t fear: although this is science-fiction at its brainiest, it stays within the grasp of the audience, although that also greatly varies throughout the film. As expected, Nolan doesn’t make anything simple for anyone, and doesn’t want to make it simple, as a amatter of fact he is more than willing to leave the audience completely stranded on its own. With similarities to Inception in the extent to which he withholds information (and emotion), the first and second act of the film are a demanding exercise, as close to brain gymnastics as it gets for film goers. The way it alternates between space and Earth keeps the rhythm and the dramatic tension going, and that’s when it becomes apparent, in a completely unexpected but undeniable manner, that Interstellar is in fact a character piece, as the relationship between Cooper and his daughter Murph propels the story forward. Forget the big epic trailers you’ve seen: half an hour in, Interstellar turns out to be a very intimate film, an inner exploration of humanity looking outward, the examination of immaterial concepts wrappped up in a scientific theory. That is literally what the film is, and why it is such a stunning achievement: the use of physics, and space, and time, to describe an intangible relationship. It really is a courageous form of film-making -intricate to an almost silly level, yet incredibly powerful and resounding, because the emotional connection which underlies every single frame, every single plot element is there, and is believable. Many reviewers have said that this is Nolan’s most personal film yet, and I can’t help reusing those words. For all the technicalities and the science behind it, Interstellar delivers the most human, universal message yet.

The similarities with 2001: A Space Odyssey are glaring, obvious -yet if Kubrick took the audience on a journey through the history of humanity, Nolan’s response is to take us onto the journey of a character, McConaughey’s Cooper. Both he and Amelia Brand, in a brilliant performance by Anne Hathaway, carry the emotional weight of the film. Back on Earth that responsibility falls onto both the beautiful and equally talented Mackenzie Foy and Jessica Chastain. Aesthetically speaking, Interstellar is gorgeous and feels distinctly different from Chris Nolan’s previous films. That’s probably because it is the first Nolan film which director of photography is not Wally Pfister -replaced by Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Her cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema. One cannot help but miss Pfister’s graceful sensitivity; on the other hand, the film is much grittier and more forceful than previous Nolan films. The lack of computer-generated imagery also feels like an enormous relief: always the pragmatist, Nolan replaces glossy and shiny visual effects with more old-fashioned, less eye-decieving effects. The result is a triumph of realism and credibility, without taking away any of the awe and wonder natually associated with space. In that sense it is fair to say that Interstellar is both a visual and conceptual tour de force. It is also the reason why it is highly likely that the film will stand the test of time, just like Memento and The Dark Knight before it, albeit this of course remains to be seen in the future.

There are very few movies that feel like such an utterly well thought-out, well-constructed experience. Of course with Chris Nolan that’s been the case many times before -he’s such a meticulous director, both in his style of film-making but also in the way his films are structured. Interestingly enough, Interstellar feels more conventional in the way the plot unfolds (three distinct acts) but it is naturally complex by the nature of its subject -interstellar travel and time-bending characteristics of wormholes. There’s also less of social undertones here than in his previous movies, except for the surprisingly accurate and poetic musing of Cooper’s: “We used to look up at the sky and wonder at our place in the stars, now we just look down and worry about our place in the dirt”. But for all that’s lacking, Nolan makes it up tremendously by ratching up the emotional stakes and never losing the thread of his main theme, even when physics and time go all haywire in the film -the relationship between Cooper & Murph. He also draws an interesting parallel to that relationship through the character of Brand, who has a tragedy of her own unravelling on the side. For that I will always be grateful to Nolan; for he has truly, once and for all put the spotlight on female characters, and on how strong they are. There’s a real sense that both Murph and Brand do not need a male hero to come and save them, and that they can nurture their own ambitions and goals regardless of how the male characters interact with them. It’s a refreshingly take to see this in a big-budgeted film, and erases what was frankly Nolan’s only flaw so far: the fact that his female characters haven’t always been as well-written as their male counterparts.

There’s a thousand other things that can be discussed and analysed in this film. It will take multiple viewings before any of us can claim to have fully understood it, and that’s partly why Chris Nolan is such a visionary director. Like his characters in the Prestige, he’s an illusionist brilliantly performing an act, leading the audience exactly where he wants it to be, and yet there is something about Interstellar, again, that feels more personal, and more real than ever before. Maybe it’s the fact that you can tell that he’s poured his mind and his heart out in every frame, or maybe it’s the sheer devotion of telling that story, and that relationship, within the realm of plausible and tangible science. Ultimately, Interstellar feels like a blend of Kubrick and Spielberg’s own interpretations of science-fiction, the highly intellectual and the achingly intimate, but with the added Nolan skills of seamless storytelling and multi-layered plots. Of course, drawing comparisons with other directors is rather unfair, as he has a distinct style that’s very much his own. But no matter what his influences truly were, it doesn’t take a whole lot of knowledge to see and understand that Interstellar is in a class of its own, and that it will very much leave its own mark on the genre. Like the rest of Christopher Nolan’s films, it really is one for the ages. I cannot wait to see where he takes us next.

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