Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Critical Week: Oscars for everyone

The 90th Oscar ceremony on Sunday night felt unremarkable, running along without incident with a line-up of winners that was never surprising. There were some nice touches along the way, including host Jimmy Kimmel's opening newsreel montage and his dry, sharply pointed opening monolog. Many of the thank you speeches were also topical, touching on key themes of inclusion and diversity. The star moment went to an impassioned Frances McDormand.

Meanwhile, the show was stolen by Tiffany Haddish and Maya Rudolph, who appeared holding their high heels to present a couple of awards. That made as strong a statement as any, and their banter was flat-out hilarious. Clearly the producers worked overtime to compile a diverse list of presenters, with an emphasis on women and ethnicities. Some of the homage sequences were a little odd (looking at war movies through the decades?), and Kimmel's star-packed trip to the cinema next door was clever but rather corny.

Other highlights included powerful performances of all five song nominees and welcome wins for A Fantastic Woman and long-time nominee Roger Deakins. Although the sweep by The Shape of Water felt somewhat excessive. A good film rather than a great one, its message to outsiders was certainly timely. And frankly, if the ceremony was more entertaining, we wouldn't mind if it was longer.

Meanwhile, back in the screening room, Rooney Mara stars in the biblical drama Mary Magdalene, which is a little too reverent to properly spring to life, despite a strong cast that includes Joaquin Phoenix, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Tahar Rahim as Jesus, Peter and Judas, respectively. Gringo stars David Oyelowo, Charlize Theron and Joel Edgerton in a lively, funny, entertaining but ultimately pointless action comedy. Peter Rabbit is a fast-paced, genuinely amusing romp mixing photo-real animation with live-action (Domhnall Gleeson and Rose Byrne are adorable) to riff on the classic Beatrix Potter stories. And the documentary Mansfield 66/67 traces the final years of the iconic bombshell, whose notorious friendship with Satanic church leader Anton LaVey sparked rumours of a curse surrounding her death at age 34.

Coming up this week are screenings of Alicia Vikander in the Tomb Raider reboot, Bella Thorne in Midnight Sun, Mathieu Amalric in My Golden Days, the dark drama My Friend Dahmer, the teen drama Screwed and something called Attack of the Southern Fried Zombies.

Saturday, 3 March 2018

Out on a limb: Oscar picks & predictions

Here we go again: it's the 90th Academy Awards, and it seems as predictable as always. Hopefully they'll throw some surprises in on Sunday night. So even though I rarely get many of these right, here are my votes, who I think will win and who might sneak in and take home the prize. I'm always hoping for an upset...

Will win: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Could win: The Shape of Water
Should win: Dunkirk

Will / should win: A Fantastic Woman
Could win: The Insult
Dark horse: Loveless

Will / should win: Coco
Dark horse: The Breadwinner

Will / should win: Faces Places
Could win: Strong Island

Will win: The Shape of Water - Guillermo del Toro
Should / could win: Dunkirk - Christopher Nolan

Will / should win: Call Me by Your Name - James Ivory
Could win: Molly's Game - Aaron Sorkin
Dark horse: Mudbound - Virgil Williams, Dee Rees

Will / should win: Three Billboards - Martin McDonagh
Could win: Get Out - Jordan Peele
Dark horse: Lady Bird - Greta Gerwig

Will / should win: Frances McDormand - Three Billboards
Could win: Sally Hawkins - The Shape of Water
Dark horse: Saoirse Ronan - Lady Bird

Will win: Gary Oldman - Darkest Hour
Should win: Timothee Chalamet - Call Me by Your Name

Will win: Allison Janney - I, Tonya
Could win: Laurie Metcalf - Lady Bird

Will / should win: Sam Rockwell - Three Billboards
Could win: Willem Dafoe - The Florida Project

Will win: The Shape of Water - Alexandre Desplat
Should win: Phantom Thread - Jonny Greenwood

Will win: This Is Me - The Greatest Showman
Should win: Remember Me - Coco

Will win: Blade Runner 2049 - Roger A Deakins
Should win: Dunkirk - Hoyte van Hoytema

Will win: Baby Driver - Paul Machliss, Jonathan Amos
Should win: Dunkirk - Lee Smith
Dark horse: I, Tonya - Tatiana S Riegel

Will win: Blade Runner 2049
Should win: The Shape of Water

Will / should win: Phantom Thread

Will / should win: Blade Runner 2049
Dark horse: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2

Will / should win: Darkest Hour

Will win: The Shape of Water
Should win: Dunkirk
Could win: Blade Runner 2049

Friday, 2 March 2018

Critical Week: Out of the shadows

Amid an unprecedented onslaught of snow and freezing temperatures, London critics caught up with a few big titles this week. Jennifer Lawrence is the main reason to see Red Sparrow, an overlong, rather muddily plotted Russian spy thriller. And Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams make the most of a surprisingly smart, funny script in the action-comedy Game Night. Then there were two new sci-fi films by hotshot British filmmakers, released directly to Netflix in the UK: Annihilation is Alex Garland's followup to Ex Machina, and it's a swirling, gripping, smartly obtuse odyssey starring Natalie Portman. Duncan Jones' Mute stars Alexander Skarsgard against type as a shy Amish barman in a Blade Runner-esque Berlin, but the plot gets lost amid its murky gyrations.

Further afield, The Lullaby is a gleefully grisly South African horror film that plays with some deeper, darker themes but never quite digs in to them. From Russian filmmaker Sergei Loznitsa, A Gentle Creature is a gorgeously shot and cleverly acted Kafkaesque parable about a nation that has lost its own soul. And I tracked down the final two Oscar nominated features I hadn't seen: The Breadwinner is a powerfully moving, flat-out gorgeous Irish-Canadian animated drama set in Taliban-era Kabul, while there was also this best actor nominee...

Roman J. Israel, Esq.
dir-scr Dan Gilroy; with Denzel Washington, Colin Farrell 17/US ***
Denzel Washington gives one of his most enjoyably textured performances yet in this offbeat legal drama, which tells an intriguing story while grappling with some very big issues. Washington is the title character, a veteran lawyer whose life changes drastically when his more-public partner dies. He ends up going to work for slick hotshot George (Colin Farrell) while trying to help some vulnerable clients and taking some dodgy actions that benefit him personally but also put him in danger. The film is gripping as it follows Roman as he begins to emerge from his shell, breaking rules, ruffling feathers, flirting with an unfeasibly gorgeous charity lawyer (Carmen Ejogo) and, when he discovers that George has both a mind and a conscience, begins mentoring him without him even realising it. As it gets increasingly knotted, writer-director Dan Gilroy (Nightcrawler) loses control of the overlong narrative, with some over-detailed tangents and undercooked themes. And the side characters never seem to have a life of their own. But the smart script allows Washington to continually add wit and subtext to each scene. And he makes the film worth watching.

It's Oscar night on Sunday, which here in London means staying up all night to watch the ceremony live from Los Angeles. Naps will be required. And this coming week, I'll catch up with Rooney Mara in Mary Magdalene, Domhnall Gleeson in Peter Rabbit and the documentary Mansfield 66/67, among other things.