Saturday, 25 February 2017

Out on a Limb: Oscar picks & predictions

Once again, here are my choices and who I think will win at the 89th Academy Awards on Sunday. My track record on this is a bit spotty, but I am a realist, knowing that Oscar voters often award the wrong people for the right reasons.....

Will/should win: La La Land
Dark horse: Moonlight

F O R E I G N   F I L M
Will win: The Salesman
Should/could win: Toni Erdmann
Dark horse: A Man Called Ove

A N I M A T E D   F E A T U R E
Will win: Zootopia
Should/could win:  Kubo and the Two Strings

Will win: 13th
Should win:  Fire at Sea
Could win: OJ: Made in America

Will win: Damien Chazelle - La La Land
Should win:  Barry Jenkins - Moonlight

Will/should win: Isabelle Huppert - Elle
Quite likely: Emma Stone - La La Land
Dark horse: Natalie Portman - Jackie

Will/should win: Casey Affleck - Manchester by the Sea
Quite likely: Denzel Washington - Fences
Dark horse: Ryan Gosling - La La Land

S U P P O R T I N G   A C T R E S S
Will win: Viola Davis - Fences
Should win/dark horse: Naomie Harris - Moonlight

S U P P O R T I N G   A C T O R
Will win: Mahershala Ali - Moonlight
Should win:  Lucas Hedges - Manchester By The Sea
Dark horse: Dev Patel - Lion

O R I G I N A L   S C R E E N P L A Y
Will/should win: Kenneth Lonergan - Manchester by the Sea
Could win: Damien Chazelle - La La Land

A D A P T E D   S C R E E N P L A Y
Will/should win: Barry Jenkins - Moonlight
Dark horse: Luke Davies - Lion

Will win: Justin Hurwitz - La La Land
Should win:  Mica Levi - Jackie

Will win: City of Stars - La La Land
Should win:  Audition (The Fools Who Dream) - La La Land

Will win: Linus Sandgren - La La Land
Should win:  James Laxton - Moonlight

P R O D U C T I O N   D E S I G N
Will win: David Wasco - La La Land
Should win:  Jess Gonchor - Hail, Caesar!

F I L M   E D I T I N G
Will win: Tom Cross - La La Land
Should win:  Joe Walker - Arrival

Will/should win: Madeline Fontaine - Jackie
Could win: Mary Zophres - La La Land

Will/should win: The Jungle Book

M A K E - U P   &   H A I R
Will/should win: A Man Called Ove

S O U N D   
Should win:  Arrival
Will win: La La Land

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Critical Week: In the shadows

I only saw two movies this week - but then I am on holidaat the moment! Dane DeHaan stars in A Cure for Wellness, an overlong, visually sumptuous horror thriller set in a Swiss sanatorium where something nasty is going on underwater. Alas, the script simplifies things rather than deepening them over two and a half hours. More enjoyable is the Matt Damon romp The Great Wall, a big East-meets-West action adventure blending mythology with history. Silly and over-reliant on digital effects, but entertaining.

On Saturday, since I'm in Los Angeles, I was able to attend the Dorian Awards winner's toast at The Pikey on Sunset Blvd. I'm a voting member of Galeca, which hands out the prizes, but I'd never attended the event. It's a casual, lively gathering featuring champagne and frites, and I enjoyed a chance to interact with other critics as well as the winners and special guests. Here are some pics...
The creators, writers and cast of The Real O'Neals turned up to collect their award for Unsung TV Show of the Year.

Left: composer Nicholas Brittell and actor Trevante Rhodes collected the awards for Moonlight, including Film, Rising Star (Rhodes), Director, Screenplay, Actor (Mahershala Ali) and LGBTQ Film. Right: cinematographer Lunis Sandgren accepts the award for La La Land as Visually Striking Film of the Year.

Left to right: actress Amy Landecker picked up the award for Transparent as TV Comedy, Michelle Visage collected the prize for RuPaul''s Drag Race All Stars as Campy TV Show, and producer Ashley Golden was presented the award for Full Frontal With Samantha Bee as TV Current Affairs Show of the Year.

The event was unusually relaxed, allowing for some terrific rambling conversations, photo ops and lots of laughter. A highlight for me was getting to meet Bradley Whitford (right with his partner Landecker) and having a lengthy friendly drunken political rant about Trump and climate change issues. Exactly the kind of conversation you'd want to have with Whitford! Of course, now I want to plan a trip back to LA every year to coincide with this event.

See the full list of Galeca nominees and winners.

Movies opening here in the USA this weekend that look interesting include Jordan Peele's offbeat horror Get Out and the Nicholas Hoult thriller Collide. Hopefully I'll have time to see one of them this weekend, along with watching the Oscars on Sunday at a normal hour (as opposed to the live 1am to 6am in London). And then it's back to London on Monday!

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Critical Week: Taking care of business

I'm in Southern California visiting my family this week, so haven't exactly been trying to keep up with movies. I didn't even get to watch the Baftas - I had to read about them instead. I managed to catch one film that needed to be reviewed: John Wick: Chapter 2 sees Keanu Reeves return as the weary expert hitman dragged back from retirement to clean up another mess. It's a bit more reliant on the mythology this time, which makes it a little less fun. But the film is still slick and clever, and dares to pay attention to its plot and characters.

There were also a few films on the airplane. Keeping Up With the Joneses is a lively but inane action comedy with an ace cast led by Zac Galifianakis, Jon Hamm, Gal Gadot and Isla Fisher. It's a nicely made, engaging romp about discovering that the new neighbours are spies, but it's also preposterous fluff. The Little Prince is an odd adaptation of the children's classic, which wraps it into the story of a little girl fantasising about the adventures of her old neighbour. While most of it looks great, some of the animation is simplistic and plasticky. And some of the story's gyrations lose the point. Morgan is a terrific little thriller starring Kate Mara as a corporate officer sent in to evaluate an experiment that might be going wrong. This involves the creation of an artificially engineered human-like being (Anya Taylor-Joy) and her nervous minders. Sharply well-made and seriously unnerving.

My holiday visiting friends and family in Los Angeles and nearby continues over the next week - doing my work remotely, but not in press screening mode. A couple of films opening here this weekend might be worth a look, including The Great Wall, A Cure for Wellness and Fist Fight. And I will attend the Galeca Dorian Awards winner's toast on Saturday - watch this space for a report.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Critical Week: No wallflower

As awards season heats up, the films screened to critics begin to feel more eclectic than usual. One higher-brow offering was Lady Macbeth, which I missed in the festival rounds last autumn. Florence Pugh stars as a woman who finds a rather grisly way to take control of her life in 19th century England. It's gruesome and clever. The Space Between Us is a romance between two teens in which a sci-fi plot point becomes little more than set dressing. It's a well-made film, but the script remains resolutely superficial.

On the extreme other end of the spectrum, The Lego Batman Movie is a frantic comedy that's very funny but also somewhat exhausting. From Romania, Graduation is a powerfully challenging drama that grapples with huge themes in a way that's sharp and resonant. And All This Panic is a loose, beautifully shot and edited documentary that feels like a narrative feature about a group of teen girls navigating crises that feel like the end of the world. To them at least.

I'm flying off to California for the next couple of weeks to visit family and friends. And I'll also catch up with some movies along the way, which I'll cover here. First on my list is John Wick Chapter 2, as I'm missing the big London press screening. I'll also be over there for Bafta on Sunday night, and perhaps more relevantly for Oscar two weeks later.

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Critical Week: Don't throw in the towel

Press screenings are still a bit thin in London, mainly because we saw most current releases at film festivals in the autumn. One new entry was the British movie Jawbone, starring Johnny Harris and Michael Smiley (above), along with Ray Winstone and Ian McShane. It's a remarkably thoughtful boxing drama with a proper emotional kick. The German drama Jonathan centres on a teen caring for his dying father and finally discovering why there's a rift in his family. It's also thoughtful and moving, and beautifully filmed. From Israel via London, Who's Gonna Love Me Now? is a startlingly honest documentary that meaningfully grapples with themes involving family, sexuality and life purpose. And I had a chance to revisit the 1969 classic Easy Rider, with sharply restored imagery and sound. A remarkably loose movie that has a lot to say about American culture, plus terrific performances from the young Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper and Jack Nicholson. Finally, I also caught up with a TV series being released on video in the UK this week...

dir-scr Morgan Jon Fox
with Jordan Nichols, Seth Daniel Rabinowitz, Jacob Rickert, Leah Beth Bolton, Ryan Masson, Chase Brother 
16/US Dekkoo 1h56 ***
There's an artistic sensibility to this web series that makes it worth a look, as creator Morgan Jon Fox uses swirling photography and non-linear editing to follow the emotional lives of his characters rather than create coherent plotlines. The problem is that this leaves everything feeling a bit thin and wispy, as events and characters are undefined even though they are going through some big emotions. The premise centres on two young artists in Memphis: Billy (Nichols) has an inexpressive boyfriend (Masson) with depression issues, while Daniel (Rabinowitz) wants to run off to the big city. They get a new housemate (Rickert) and have some personal crises, but while a lot happens to them, the filmmaking approach is so loose and mopey that there isn't much proper emotional impact. Frankly, the title of this series is a mystery. The relationships are written, never quite lived-in or believable, and only vaguely sexy. And some of the writing and acting isn't terribly convincing. But it looks great, the cast is likeable and the idea is clever enough to sustain itself through eight brief episodes.

Films coming up this week include The Lego Batman Movie and the acclaimed British drama Lady Macbeth. I'm also getting ready for a trip to Los Angeles to visit my family and friends - I'll be there for both Bafta and Oscar, as it happens. Watch this space...