Monday, 29 February 2016

Critical Week: Oscar night 2016

The Oscars were handed out on Sunday night in a brisk Hollywood ceremony hosted by Chris Rock, who gave the event an #OscarsSoWhite theme. That felt a bit much at times, because the important point was made so forcefully right at the top of the show. There was far too focus on specifically black issues, which sidelined the inequality in other ethnicities, plus gender and sexuality. The LGBT audience was insulted when Anohi wasn't invited to perform her nominated song. Even worse was the sexist parade of scantily clad women as The Weeknd performed his song. So while racism was positively addressed, there's still a long way to go before Hollywood properly confronts diversity.

At least that theme gave the ceremony its only jaw-dropping moment, when Stacey Dash appeared to wish everyone a "happy Black History Month". Mainly the show played it very, very safe, only livened up by anarchic comics like Sarah Silverman and Louis CK. And of course Sacha Baron Cohen seriously going for broke as he introduced a Best Picture nominee in character as the ridiculous Ali G. Honestly, it seems like Oscar's ratings problem is that the ceremony is completely lacking in these kind of entertainingly bonkers moments. (Why do pundits always call awkward moments the "worst" bits of the show? They're always the only thing you remember!) And the truth is that its the fast-paced parade of no-nonsense awards presenting in minor categories that makes viewers tune out. Next year, bring back Rob Lowe and Snow White.

Awards-wise there were a few surprises, with a handful of upsets including Sam Smith's win for his Spectre theme and Ex Machina's visual effects triumph. Two other deserving surprises caused me to shout out loud: Mark Rylance for Supporting Actor and Spotlight for Best Picture. My other big cheer came when the gorgeous Stutterer won for Live-Action Short. Director Ben Cleary and producer Serena Armitage came along to two events I hosted as chair of the London Critics' Circle Film Awards: our nominations announcement event in December and our ceremony in January, where they won the Short Film prize.

I watched the Academy Awards at the official Oscar London event, a live all-night telecast in a cinema with a crowd of industry people cheering on their friends. It was almost like being at the ceremony itself, even if we were watching the show from 1.30 to 5am! As always on Oscar night, I went to bed as the sun was coming up.

As for films I watched over the past week, the screening line-up included the gorgeous Foreign-Language Oscar winner Son of Saul, Sacha Baron Cohen's mixed gross-out action comedy Grimsby, the devastating Ibsen-based Aussie drama The Daughter, the oddly mannered relationship-collapse drama Like You Mean It, and the wonderful film-fan-catnip documentary Hitchcock/Truffaut.

This coming week's screenings include Gerard Butler's sequel London Has Fallen, the drone thriller Eye in the Sky, Tom Hiddleston as Hank Williams in I Saw the Light, the animated sequel Kung Fu Panda 3, the period drama Marguerite and the short film collection Mexican Men.

Saturday, 27 February 2016

Out on a limb: Oscar picks & predictions

Here we go again: my annual list of hopes and fears about Sunday night's 88th Academy Awards ceremony. I'll be watching the show live in central London all night (it starts at 1.30am London time and finishes as the sun comes up) with the smartly dressed Oscar crowd! As always, I will be hoping for upsets, political statements and surprises. If Iñárritu's The Revenant wins everything this year, as Iñárritu's Birdman did last year, it will just be boring. Here's how I think it'll go, and what I want to happen. Obviously, this is just guesswork...

Best Picture
Will win: The Revenant
Should win: Spotlight
Dark horse: Mad Max: Fury Road

Foreign Language Film
Will / should win: Son of Saul (Hungary)
Could win: Mustang (France)
Dark horse: Theeb (Jordan)

Animated Feature
Will win: Inside Out
Should win: Anomalisa

Documentary Feature
Will win: Amy
Should win: The Look of Silence

Will win: Alejandro G Iñárritu, The Revenant
Should win: Lenny Abrahamson, Room
Deserving upset: George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road

Will win: Brie Larson, Room
Should win: Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years
Dark horse: Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn

Will win: Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
Should win: Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs
Dark horse: Bryan Cranston, Trumbo

Supporting Actress
Will win: Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl
Should win: Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs
Could win: Rooney Mara, Carol
Dark horse: Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight

Supporting Actor
Will win: Sylvester Stallone, Creed
Should win: Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies

Adapted Screenplay
Will win: The Big Short, Charles Randolph and Adam McKay
Should win: Carol, Phyllis Nagy
Could win: Brooklyn, Nick Hornby

Original Screenplay
Will / should win: Spotlight, Josh Singer & Tom McCarthy

Will win: The Revenant, Emmanuel Lubezki
Should win: Carol, Edward Lachman
Dark horse: Sicario, Roger Deakins

Original Score
Will win: The Hateful Eight, Ennio Morricone
Should win: Sicario, Jóhann Jóhannsson

Original Song
Will win: Til It Happens to You, The Hunting Ground
Should win: Manta Ray, Racing Extinction

Film Editing
Will win: The Revenant, Stephen Mirrione
Should win: Mad Max: Fury Road, Margaret Sixel

Production Design
Will / should win: Mad Max: Fury Road
Could win: The Revenant

Costume Design
Will win: Carol, Sandy Powell
Should win: Mad Max: Fury Road, Jenny Beaven

Makeup & Hairstyling
Will / should win: Mad Max: Fury Road

Sound Editing
Will win: The Revenant
Should win: Sicario
Could win: Mad Max: Fury Road

Sound Mixing
Will win: Mad Max: Fury Road
Should win: The Martian
Could win: The Revenant

Visual Effects
Will win: Mad Max: Fury Road
Should win: Ex Machina

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Critical Week: Boys will be boys

It's been a relatively low screening week here in London, mainly because most of the PR agencies were at the Berlin Film Festival. The biggest movie screened here was the Coen brothers' new Hollywood romp Hail, Caesar!, and it was a nice surprise to see that it's a more serious film than it looks. Along with deliriously knowing pastiches of 1950s movie genres (including Channing Tatum's show-stopping song and dance "No Dames", above), there's something much more thoughtful going on here.

We also had one of Robin Williams' last films, Boulevard, an intimate drama about a 60-year-old man finally coming to terms with his sexuality. It's beautifully played by the entire cast, and remarkably sensitive. Golden Years is an oddly fluffy British romp about retirees who set off on a bank-robbing spree when their pensions are lost. At least the cast is solid. And Naz & Maalik is a clever comedy about two teens in Brooklyn who, over one afternoon, are confronted with issues of religion, politics and sexuality.

Coming up on Sunday is the Oscar ceremony (all-night in Britain from 1.30am to 5.30am), which I am watching live at the official Ampas party in town. It'll be a lot of fun being with a large crowd of diehard movie fans, then travelling home as the sun comes up. As for screenings, I've got Gerard Butler's action sequel London Has Fallen, Sacha Baron Cohen's spy comedy Grimsby, Geoffrey Rush's drama The Daughter, the filmmaker conversation doc Hitchcock/Truffaut, the American politics doc The Brainwashing of My Dad, and the short film collection Mexican Men, among other things.

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Critical Week: Bafta night 2016

It was a Valentine's theme for this year's Baftas, as the British Academy Film Awards fell on February 14th. The ceremony was eerily subdued, with host Stephen Fry engaging in the same witty erudition he has used in 10 previous ceremonies. There were no musical performances this year to break the monotony, and only a few memorable moments (Rebel Wilson's speech was the comedy highlight). Valentine's touches included an opening Kiss Cam, which yielded the unexpected sight of Leonardo DiCaprio locking lips with Maggie Smith. And Leo reunited with his Titanic costar Kate Winslet - both were winners (above).

Speaking of which, awards themselves took a fairly predictable route, with only a few mild surprises. The Revenant nabbed five (film, director, actor, cinematography, sound); Mad Max: Fury Road won four (costumes, editing, production design, makeup/hair); and Star Wars: The Force Awakens won two (visual effects and rising star for John Boyega, below). The other prizes were scattered between Room, Steve Jobs, Bridge of Spies, Spotlight, The Big Short, Brooklyn, The Hateful Eight, Amy, Inside Out, Theeb and Wild Tales.

Frankly, the Bafta ceremony needs a shake-up. First, find a new host who can bring some fresh attitude and a spin on the usual format. Second, broadcast the entire ceremony live rather than on a tape delay with a third of the categories left out. In the Instagram age, the winners are all public knowledge before the show airs, so this archaic approach from the BBC is simply absurd, and it belittles Bafta's impact.

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C R I T I C A L   W E E K

As for films I saw this past week, the biggest was Zoolander 2, a sequel just as silly as the original, which means that it feels like a disappointment. But I laughed. The best of the week was Sing Street, the latest hugely involving music-infused drama from the brilliant John Carney (Once, Begin Again), this time set in mid-80s Dublin. Terrence Malick's Knight of Cups is an evocative, kaleidoscopic exploration of the emptiness of fame. Strikingly photographed and played (by Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett and Natalie Portman, among others), it feels oddly lacking in insight. Richard Gere is a mopey homeless man in Oren Moverman's beautifully observed but painfully slow Time Out of Mind. And the inventively stylised Belgian drama The Brand New Testament takes a witty premise (God is alive and living in Brussels) and spins it into something involving and thought-provoking.

This coming week we get to catch up with the Coen brothers' all-star Hollywood comedy Hail, Caesar, Robin Williams' final drama Boulevard and the British heist movie Golden Years, among others.

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Critical Week: Teen spirit

A highlight this week was the Oscar-nominated Mustang, a pointed Turkish drama about five sisters whose strong personalities are at odds with their restrictive culture. It's beautifully made by first-time feature filmmaker Deniz Gamze Erguven (she's a Turk based in France, so it's the French entry for the Academy Awards). The film has such a striking point of view that it's impossible not to be caught up in its earthy, honest narrative. And what it has to say is remarkably timely.

Other movies screened this week include Ryan Reynolds' entertainingly snarky superhero romp Deadpool, which is perhaps too snarky for its own good but will have genre fans overflowing with praise. Dakota Johnson, Rebel Wilson, Leslie Mann and Alison Brie grapple with sex and the city in the comedy How to Be Single. Keanu Reeves investigates a perplexing, possibly supernatural-tinged murder in the choppy mystery Exposed. Natalie Dormer seeks her twin in the horror movie The Forest, which is unsettling and creepy until it turns silly. The creepy Austrian drama Goodnight Mommy, which morphs into an original but over-the-top horror thriller as it goes along. And a young junkie throws his life away on the streets of Montreal in the murky, meandering arthouse drama Love in the Time of Civil War.

Coming up over the next week we have a very late screening of Ben Stiller's comedy sequel Zoolander 2, Christian Bale in Terrence Malick's Knight of Cups, Richard Gere in Time Out of Mind, Aidan Gillen in John Carney's Sing Street, and the Belgian comedy The Brand New Testament.

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Critical Week: The right stuff

It's been another odd collection of screenings for London critics. Julianne Moore and Ellen Page (above) give their usual storming performances in Freeheld, a true story about legal equality that feels a bit simplistic even with such strong characters. Chris Pine and Casey Affleck are excellent as quiet heroes in The Finest Hours, the true story of a 1952 ocean rescue that's told on an impressively grand scale. The British comedy Dad's Army brings the iconic 1970s TV series to the big screen with a terrific A-list cast but almost no comical energy. I'll See You in My Dreams is a nice but mopey and inconsequential romantic drama starring Blythe Danner, Sam Elliott and Martin Starr.

Further afield, Adrien Brody stars in Backtrack, a ghostly Aussie thriller that gets increasingly ridiculous as it goes along. Also from Australia, Oddball and the Penguins is the relentlessly charming and surprisingly important story of a big sheepdog that finds a new calling. From Greece, the acclaimed drama Xenia insightfully explores issues of immigration, community and sexuality through the eyes of two lively brothers. Battle Mountain is a properly inspirational doc about Scottish cycling champ Graeme Obree and his attempt to break a world record at age 48. And Peccadillo's latest collection, Boys on Film 14: Worlds Collide, features nine edgy, inventive short films from around the world, many dealing with political issues like class, homophobia and HIV.

Among this coming week's offerings, we have Ryan Reynolds in Deadpool, the Oscar-nominated Mustang, Freida Pinto in Desert Dancer and the Canadian drama Love in the Time of Civil War.