Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Black Widow (2021)

© Marvel Studios

Black Widow  – Film Review

Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh, David Harbour, O-T Fagbenle, William Hurt, Ray Winstone, Rachel Weisz

Directors: Cate Shortland

Synopsis: Set between the events of Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War, something from Natasha Romanoff’s past draws her back to her early days as a KGB assassin and her training in the ominous Red Room…

Review: Since making her MCU debut back in 2010, it didn’t take long for Natasha Romanoff to establish herself as an integral part of the MCU and its core group of badass superheroes who will stop at nothing to save the world. Even if it comes at great personal cost for the hero, as Natasha’s MCU journey brought was brought to a devastating conclusion where in 2019’s Avengers: Endgame, she heroically sacrificed herself to ensure that all those who were snapped away, were eventually able to come back. Given that tragic fate in Endgame, it does seem a bit odd to have a Black Widow solo film be released now. However, even though it has definitely come a few years too late, it is joyous to see this beloved character finally get her own moment in the spotlight.

Picking up just after the events of Captain America: Civil War, Natasha is on the run from the authorities having violated the Sokovia Accords. She is laying low in some picturesque terrain, in the middle of nowhere, planning her next move. When she receives a package from someone in her past that connects to her training in the mysterious Red Room and the Black Widow programme, she heads to Budapest. Whilst there, she reunites with her “sister”, and fellow Black Widow recruit, Yelena Belova (Pugh). When deadly forces come after them, they resolve to find the Red Room, and bring down the man behind it, the villainous Dreykov (Winstone).

Given that she has played this role for over a decade, Scarlett Johansson once again shines as Natasha/Black Widow, in what is in all likelihood, her last ever appearance in this role. Though given we know what ultimately happens to her character, the journey that screenwriter Eric Pearson takes her on for this film gives the audience an understanding of certain events in Natasha’s past that previous MCU films had only given the most brief of references to. While Johansson has plenty of moments to shine, Florence Pugh as Yelena is the one who ends up stealing the show. Given the MCU’s use of humour, a lot of these moments come about in interactions between Yelena and Natasha, as well as their adoptive parents Alexei (Harbour) and Melina (Weisz), the former of whom is clearly having a lot of fun in this role as Red Guardian, the Russian equivalent to Captain America.

With so many MCU films having come before it, it’s almost an expectation at this point that the film will be accompanied by exhilarating action scenes, which this film has. While they are unquestionably exciting to watch and competently directed, action scenes like this have become so commonplace that you have to make something special to stand out, and unfortunately, the action scenes here are very much run-of-the-mill for the MCU. While the performances of all the main cast shine, what is often a big problem for MCU films is their villains are disappointing, and sadly the film’s antagonists very much fall into that bracket. While Winstone is menacing as Dreykov, his iffy Russian accent leaves a lot to be desired. Likewise, for the film’s secondary villain Taskmaster. Those who have played the PS4 Spider-Man game will know what this character can be like, and unfortunately, this on screen iteration of Taskmaster feels but a poor imitation of what had the potential to be a very intriguing antagonist.

While the second and third acts are thrilling to watch due to its strong themes of female empowerment, and the Captain America: Winter Soldier-esque espionage thriller elements that are at play, there’s unfortunately one inescapable fact that this film cannot shake off. Namely that, as this new phase of Marvel kicks off, the films and TV shows becoming inter-twined, the potential impact that a Black Widow solo film could have had on this franchise has been lost due to the time in which it has taken for it to come to fruition.  Due to the knowledge that we have as to where this character’s arc ultimately concludes, releasing it as the first film to launch Phase 4 means that the lack of stakes present here really hamper the potential that it had to become a top-tier, game-changing MCU film. What might have been had the film been released during Phase 3 instead?

The wait for a solo Black Widow film limits its overall impact on the MCU in general. However, thanks to its strong story and the introduction of some exciting new characters, Johansson’s swansong in this role does justice to this beloved character that played such an integral role in the MCU over many years.

Posted in 1990-1999, 2000-2009, 2010-2019, Ranking

Pixar Films: Ranked

When you think of animation studios that combines superb animation and compelling well-rounded characters who come in all sorts of lifeforms, there aren’t many studios out there who do it better than Pixar Animation Studios. Ever since they released their first film to the world in 1995, they have consistently crafted breath-taking and emotional stories that almost never fail to tug on the heartstrings of audience members everywhere. Furthermore, it would be fair to say that Pixar revolutionised the animation industry, as their debut feature film was the first entirely computer animated featured film. In the years since, the studio has only gone from strength to strength, crafting some of the finest animated films to have graced the big screen over the last three decades.

Earlier this year, the studio celebrated its 35th birthday this year. And in honour of that occasion, and with their new film Luca now out on Disney+, I’m going to take a look at all of their feature films that they have released thus far, and rank them all from worst to best. To Infinity and Beyond!

23. Cars 2

The only film on this list that is truly terrible. Was anyone really asking for a sequel to a film that, even at the time, was one of the studio’s lesser efforts? To give the film the tiniest minuscule of credit, it did try to do something different with an international espionage side plot, that felt like something out of James Bond or Mission Impossible. However, this is decidedly ruined by numerous jokes that seemed to be primarily aimed at younger audiences. But, by far and away, the biggest misstep is the filmmakers’ baffling decision to make Tow Mater a central part of this premise. As a supporting character, he was just about bearable, but as the main character, the hazard lights should have been blinking from the word go. Even with Sir Michael Caine lending his voice to a British secret agent, that is not nearly enough to save this severely lacklustre sequel from its place on the scrapheap.

22. Cars

Speaking of the studio’s lesser efforts, comes the first film in a franchise that somehow spawned two sequels. Sentient cars seems an extremely bizarre concept on paper, but in the hands of Pixar, it just about worked. By this point, the studio hadn’t really put a foot wrong, but it had to come to a point when one film that didn’t quite hit those lofty standards, and Cars is very much that film. It is your average run-of-the-mill story about an egotistical character, in this case, Lightning McQueen, who is brought back into the slow lane when he comes across a down-on-its-luck town. The film is not nearly as memorable as those that came before it, yet, it does the of keeping you entertained. Though this is one of those films that, like this film’s sequel definitely felt as though it was geared more towards the younger generation.

21. Monsters University

Before they became best friends and co-workers at Monsters Inc, there was a time before Mike Wazowski and James P. Sullivan were rivals, as they learnt the ropes of how to become a top scarer at Monsters University. This uni’s modus operandi is to teach budding young monsters how to become a good scarer, so that they’re ready for life at Monsters Inc. The only prequel that the studio has thus far created, it is fun and enjoyable enough, with some good ideas in concept. Unfortunately, while seeing Billy Crystal and John Goodman return to their iconic roles is a joy, the plot, and the majority of the supporting characters, are pretty forgettable.

20. Cars 3

After the horror story that was this film’s predecessor, the bar was set very low for the third adventure featuring Lightning McQueen. Thankfully, this was a step up from Cars 2, but then again, that wasn’t too hard. The film takes the decision to stick more closely to the first entry into the franchise, where instead of looking at McQueen’s early journey into the world of racing, it goes the opposite direction. When a younger and newer race car starts to compete and become a serious threat to McQueen’s chances of success, McQueen has to reinvent himself to stay relevant. There’s plenty of familiar tropes found in lots of sports movies here, but it’s decent enough entertainment, and easily the best film in the franchise.

19. The Good Dinosaur

It’s common knowledge that several million years ago, an asteroid caused the extinction of the dinosaurs. But what might have happened had that asteroid instead missed the planet and dinosaurs continued to roam the Earth? When he gets separated from his family, young dinosaur Arlo must find his way home, and finds himself accompanied by a Neanderthal human child whom Arlo must try to reunite with his family. The Good Dinosaur boasts some spectacular animation, but given that just about every other film on this list also boasts stellar animation, that isn’t nearly enough. The film has a sweet sentiment about the importance of one’s family, but when you look at the film, and certain events that take place, it’s hard to not see the very obvious similarities between this and a certain Disney film involving lions.

18. Brave

After seeing Disney Animation Studios’ great success with the Princess genre over the years, Pixar clearly fancied taking a leaf out of their sister studio’s book, with their own version of a Princess tale. The results were decidedly a mixed bag. What Brave has going in its favour is the feisty, flaming haired protagonist Merida, a Princess who is a dab hand with a bow and arrow and definitely does not conform to what society expects from her, which puts her on a collision course with her mother. The big creative direction that the film chooses to go in, is an odd choice, and while it does provide for some laughs, and a touching look at the relationship between mother and daughter, it sadly feels like too much of a creative misstep.

17. A Bug’s Life

If you’re a studio that absolutely revolutionises the animation industry with your very first film, whatever your next film happens to be instantly has an uphill task to match those lofty heights. Following in the wake Toy Story was always going to be a tough act for any film to follow, but A Bug’s Life has plenty of things going for it that make it a strong film in its own right. The story about about an underdog (or should that be under-ant?) who has to prove his worth to his people has admittedly been done numerous times. However, there’s lots to like about lead protagonist Flik, as well as the leader of the colony Princess Atta. Additionally, there’s plenty of humour to be found with the colourful troupe of Circus bugs that enter on the scene to defeat those dastardly grasshoppers.

16. Finding Dory

After playing her part to reunite Marlin with Nemo in Finding Nemo, for the sequel to Pixar’s adventure through the big ocean blue, the loveable Blue Tang Dory became the centrepiece of the sequel. Which, thankfully, was not just a cynical cash grab. When Dory remembers something of her past that could lead her to her long lost parents, she sets off on another adventure in a bid to reunite with them. There aren’t any appearances from Bruce and co, and those pesky (yet hilarious) seagulls are only given the most fleeting appearances. Though in their place, are an equally amusing collection of characters, including a hilarious pair of sea lions and a grumpy but loveable octopus. Note to Cars 2, this is how you take a supporting character from one film, and successfully utilise them as a main character in a sequel film that is not extremely annoying.

15. Soul

After going deep into the emotions of the emotions that define who we are as people for his last film, Pete Docter went one step further with his next film. Taking a deep psychological look at humanity, the essence of what makes us who we are and our existence as human beings, and asking what is it we were put on this Earth to do? Focusing on Joe Gardner, the very first Pixar film to feature a Black lead character, who is deeply passionate about jazz music. After suffering a fatal accident right after landing his dream gig, Joe ends up at the Great Beyond, where souls who have lived their lives ascend.

Convinced though he has more to give, he ends up at The Great Before, where fledgling souls get their personalities before heading to Earth. The film is bold in its attempts to tell a very existential story, that will surely speak to anyone who has a passion for something, and for that it is to be commended. However, the film lacks that emotional punch that so many films before it have. Furthermore, what positive steps forward it makes for representation is hindered somewhat by a problematic creative decision that could have very easily been avoided.

14. Incredibles 2

Another sequel a long time in the making. The Incredibles was a game changer for the superhero genre, as it came out at a time when superheroes and superhero films were not quite the dominating force that they have since become. Hence, the sequel to Pixar’s answer to Marvel’s first family wasn’t quite as revolutionary. Nevertheless, it proved to be a worthy successor to the ingenuity of the first film. It took a risk by picking up straight after the events of the first film, but it was a risk that paid off. With superheroes still unable to come out of hiding, a corporation offers superheroes the chance to regain the public’s trust, which has Elastigirl front and centre, leaving Mr Incredible on parenting duties. And little baby Jack Jack almost steals the entire show.

13. Toy Story 4

After the third instalment of Pixar’s most lucrative franchise wrapped everything up in a beautiful and emotional manner, questions would have undoubtedly been to whether there was really any need for a fourth entry into this franchise. Would this be a worthwhile sequel that earnt its place, or a cynical cash grab of the nostalgia of fans who grew up with these characters? Thankfully, it was definitely the former as it earnt its place as a worthy continuation of this beloved franchise. While the majority of the old gang were side-lined, the film tells a story worth telling, most notably for Woody as he has an important decision to make, after having been reunited with Bo Peep. While it was a shame to see the rest of the old gang side-lined, the film introduces a bright and memorable collection of new characters including the voice talents of Keanu Reeves, Keegan Michael-Key and Jordan Peele, and yes, even a loveable plastic fork named Forky.

12. Monsters, Inc.

Every night before bed as children, we may have been told of a story by our parents about the supposed monster that was hiding under our beds. Well what if there was, and these monsters were just looking to utilise the screams of terrified children as a means to power the city that the monsters live in? On that description, that does sound completely terrifying, but leave it to Pixar to take that premise and turn it into a winning formula. Focusing on the small and not very intimidating Mike Wazowski and his best friend, the much more intimidating James P. Sullivan. These two are together are the top scarers at Monsters Inc. Everything is going well for them, this is until an adorable little child named Boo comes along to challenge the perception that these monsters have about human children. Much like Woody and Buzz, what makes Monsters, Inc. roar is the winning dynamic between Mike and Sully, which is no small part due to the excellent voice work of Billy Crystal and John Goodman.

11. Onward

Imagine a world where the wonder of wizardry and magic, co-exist with the modern technology that we have in the world today. When two brothers receive a gift from their late father that they barely got to know before he passed away, they set off on a magical quest to bring him back to life for a day via some magical wizardry. The ensuing adventure is extremely funny and exciting, but the heart of the film lies in the relationship dynamic between the brothers (wonderfully voiced by Tom Holland and Chris Pratt) that really pulls on the heartstrings. Even in the face of such devastating personal tragedy, such as the loss of a parent at a young age, the love and support that one can find from a brother can be an emotional and unbreakable bond, especially for an older sibling that they looked up to and relied on to get them through those difficult years. This film wonderfully celebrates that.

And so we come to the top 10, and believe me when I say that ranking these movies was extremely hard. As in all honestly, all these films are as close to perfect as a film can get, but as this is a ranking list, they must be ranked, and so on we go with….

10. Ratatouille

There’s some extremely satisfying about tucking into a delicious meal that was lovingly prepared by someone. Yet it takes a certain kind of skill to take ingredients of a dish and turn it into a culinary masterpiece. We may go to fancy restaurants to have the pleasure of the finest chefs in the world serve up a delicious meal. So the idea of one of those chefs being a rat that has a real culinary talent, sounds like a repulsive idea in real life. Yet, under the vision of Brad Bird, it works an absolute treat.

Inspired by his hero Gusteau, Remy dreams of becoming a world renowned chef. The problem is that given who he is, it seems an impossible goal. This is until he meets Linguini, a bumbling garbage boy at a nearby restaurant who works with Remy to help them both achieve their goals.  It may be a familiar story of not being afraid to be who you are, but with under Bird’s direction, and a wonderful Michael Giacchino score, the end result is Chef’s kiss, a five star delight. Bonus points for the extremely clever pun in its title.

9. Toy Story 2

Given the phenomenal success that Toy Story enjoyed, a sequel was bound to happen at some point, and it really set the benchmark for the studio on how to craft a sequel that goes very very close to matching its predecessor. When Woody is toy-napped by a collector, he finds out he was once the star of a much beloved children’s TV show, along with a handful of new toys, namely Jessie the Cowgirl, Stinky Pete the Prospector, and Bullseye the Horse. With plans for Woody and his new friends to be sold to a museum in Japan, Woody’s loyalty is torn in two directions, between his new gang, or being loyal to his beloved owner Andy.

Picking up on the first film’s themes of what is the true purpose of a toy, whilst continuing to explore Woody’s relationships with his friends, both old and new. The film is once again filled with plenty of heart, emotion (see Jessie’s When She Loved Me moment) and brilliantly humorous moments, such as the traffic cone sequence, and of course the wonderful references to The Empire Strikes Back. And to think, originally, the film was planned to be a straight to home video release!

8. Up

There’s no way anyone can talk about this film without talking about the opening 10 minutes. Without a single word of dialogue, and just that beautiful score from Michael Giacchino, the heart-breaking montage captures blissful young love and marriage, before transitioning into the devastation of miscarriage, and the sobering fact of mortality. And that’s just the first ten minutes!

The opening montage is undoubtedly the film’s strongest asset, and if someone makes it through that montage without sobbing their eyes out, I would genuinely worry that their soul is missing. The ensuing adventure that follows after the montage is also extremely entertaining. Focusing on an elderly Carl who’s determined to fulfil his last wish to his beloved Ellie by fulfilling their dream to relocate to the picturesque Paradise Falls in South America. Throw in an eccentric collection of creatures, the plucky young Wilderness Explorer Russell, and the late Christopher Plummer in the role of the villain, and you have the only film on this list that secured a Best Picture nomination!

7. Finding Nemo

The ocean, a vast, deep, dark, terrifying, and seemingly never-ending place. It’s not the sort of place that you would want to have to venture across to try and find your son. However, that’s exactly the task that clownfish Marlin faces. As a single father due to a traumatic incident in his past, he’s overly-protective of his son Nemo. However, after he’s fish-napped by scuba divers he must venture across the ocean to reunite with him. Thankfully, for him he’s not alone in this task as he’s accompanied by Dory, the forgetful Blue Tang fish.

Pixar’s animation is almost always on point, but the work that is accomplished to capture the depth and vastness of the ocean is an extraordinary accomplishment. As well as Marlin and Dory, the film is filled with an eclectic bunch of characters, from friendly(ish) sharks, to super laid-back sea turtles, to those ominous seagulls (mine!). The film demonstrates the unshakable love that a parent has for their child, and one who will stop at nothing to be reunited with them, the love of a parent who will stop at nothing to be reunited with their child. But most of all, you must remember: “Fish are friends, not food!”

6. WALL-E

It says a lot about any film that if it can absorb its audience into the world its created, all without any character uttering a single word of dialogue, at least for the first 30 minutes or so, that is an extremely impressive achievement. In the far future, Planet Earth has been long abandoned by humanity due to excessive consumerism and climate change. One of the last beings left to clean what has been left behind is a Waste Allocation Load-Lifter: Earth-class robot (or WALL-E).

This bot’s existence is a very lonely one, until a very sleek futuristic looking robot named EVE shows up, looking for signs of life on the surface of the planet. As the two central characters, WALL-E and EVE sharing such heart-warming chemistry, the film is proof that any love story, even if it is one about two robots, can melt your heart if done well. Despite being released in 2008, the film has only become more relevant in recent years with the acceleration of climate change that represents an existential threat to our planet, and our very way of life.

5. The Incredibles

Cast your minds back to 2004, a time before the landscape of superheroes and Hollywood was forever changed by the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the gigantic money making behemoth that it is today. Superhero films were being made, but they didn’t quite enjoy the popularity they do now. So in many ways writer/director Brad Bird was ahead of the curve, with this thrilling superhero flick, that one could argue is the best un-official Fantastic Four film that has been made to date.

When superheroes are declared illegal and must adopt regular lives, the lives of the Parr family are forever changed. This is until Bob (AKA Mr Incredible) gets a chance to don his superhero outfit for a secret mission, in the hopes that it will enable supers, like his family to come out of retirement. Though behind the scenes, the dastardly plans of arguably Pixar’s best villain Syndrome, force this super-family to suit up to save the world. Thanks to its exhilarating action scenes, an entertaining dynamic between the titular family and a fantastic array of supporting characters, this is one of the best superhero films ever made. Incredible by name, incredible by nature.

3= Toy Story 3

It is a rare feat for a third film in a franchise that can lay a legitimate claim to be the best film in the franchise, but it’s a testament to the magic that director Lee Unkrich brought to the table for this entry into the studios’ most successful franchise, that no one could really argue if anyone said this is the best of the franchise.

After an 11 year absence, Woody, Buzz and all of the gang returned for what was meant to be the last hurrah for these beloved characters. With Andy now heading off to college, having long moved on from playing with his toys, they are all left are left with a heart-breaking dilemma as to what to do. Believing that they’ll be better off at a day care where toys are constantly played with find themselves, life appears to be rosy for them, until it decidedly isn’t. This culminates in a thrilling Shawshank Redemption-esque prison break, and the hilariousness of Spanish Buzz. And to cap it all off, not one but two extremely tear-jerking moments that should have had anyone who grew up with this franchise sobbing their eyes out.

3= Toy Story

The one that started it all, and the film that made history as the first fully computer animated film, and it certainly set the bar very high for the franchise and for animated films in general. We may have always wondered as kids what happens to our toys when we leave the room, what if they came alive? Working on that genius premise of the lives our toys live when we’re not at home, the film is filled to the brim with an array of colourful characters, and the studio arguably created their most memorable characters in the lovable cowboy doll Woody (voiced wonderfully by Tom Hanks) who gets jealous when his owner Andy, gets a shiny new toy, Buzz Lightyear, to usurp him as Andy’s favourite toy.

The lovable nature of Woody may or may not be down to the man that lends his voice to him, but just about every character here is memorable, and the dynamic between Woody and Buzz cemented these two as one of the most iconic duos in cinematic history. Even decades and multiple films later, the one that started it all off, is still one of the best films that Pixar has made.

2. Inside Out

The human brain is a wonderful thing, and as we go about our lives, the emotions we feel at any given moment, make us who we are. But what if the emotions in our brains also had emotions? Focusing on the five emotions in the head of 11 year old Riley as she is uprooted from her cosy Minnesota life to California, and the adjustment that she, and her emotions go through during this time. The premise of this film is quite simply, from the mind of Pete Docter, is a work of absolute genius. Furthermore, it matches that extraordinary innovation with an extremely witty, and emotional story.

Furthermore, with one of Pixar’s most memorable voice cast including Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Mindy Kaling, Bill Hader and Lewis Black as Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Fear and Anger respectively. Each actor perfectly brings their emotion to life in a hilarious and emotional manner. While these five are great, one must not forgetting Richard Kind’s beautiful performance as Bing Bong. It’s a film that definitely feels more geared to older audiences with some of its ideas, whilst serving an important reminder to us all that while we may dislike feeling sad, it is acceptable to let that emotion overwhelm you, because it’s an emotion that plays an integral role in our lives.

1. Coco

As this list has demonstrated, Pixar have no shortage of incredible films that are filled with beautiful storytelling, excellent characters, and absolutely stunning animation. However, on a personal level, nothing has captured the beauty, and the wonder of their work, quite like this beautiful look at the culture of Mexico and the celebration of Día de Muertos, or The Day of the Dead festival. For young Miguel, he aspires to be a musician and play for the world, but due to an incident in his family’s past, music is outright banned. Determined to not let his family’s hatred of music stop him from pursuing his ambition, he mistakenly finds himself in the Land of the Dead, and must get home safely before it’s too late.

Touching on so many deep themes including, family, music, grief and the need to remember loved ones after they’ve moved on from this world, it’s all just captured with so much beauty and emotion. Pixar’s animation is often just absolutely mesmeric to look at, however the animation here, particularly in the Land of the Dead, is some of the best animation I’ve ever seen. And for a film where music is such an integral part of the story, the music is so immaculately beautiful and emotional. Just typing the words “Remember Me” is just making me want to break down crying. I genuinely don’t think I’ve cried quite as much whilst watching a film at the cinema, as I did with Coco. I adored this film so much but what makes it hit even harder is that just a week or so after seeing this film, my grandmother (the only grandparent I ever knew) passed away. Every time I watch this film, and hear those beautiful lyrics, I always think of her and my late mother. For these reasons, Coco holds such a special place in my heart and it is my favourite Pixar film.

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And that concludes my ranking for each and every Pixar film, thank you so very much for reading, especially if you read all the way through! What did you think of my list? Do you agree or disagree my choices? Please comment below and let me know.

You can connect with me on any of the following platforms: Twitter, Facebook or Letterbox’d, cos you’ve always got a friend in me!

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

In the Heights (2021)

© Warner Bros

In The Heights  – Film Review

Cast: Anthony Ramos, Corey Hawkins, Leslie Grace, Melissa Barrera, Olga Merediz, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Gregory Diaz IV, Jimmy Smits

Director: Jon M. Chu

Synopsis: In the Washington Heights area of New York City, the owner of a bodega aspires to one day relocate to the Dominican Republic to fulfil a childhood dream…

Review: Whenever someone mentions the name Lin-Manuel Miranda, many will undoubtedly immediately think of his work with the hugely popular musical Hamilton. Winner of an incredible 11 Tony Awards, thanks to a release of a recording of the show on Disney+ last year, it gave those who hadn’t had the chance to see it revel in its wonderful performances and irresistibly catchy tunes. Yet, Hamilton was not Miranda’s first foray into the world of musicals. Before he enjoyed phenomenal success with his adaptation of the life of one of the founding fathers of the United States, there was In the Heights, a musical penned by Miranda about the place where he grew up. Now, in the hands of director Jon M. Chu, comes an adaption that, it will not shock you to learn, is an absolutely euphoric blast of sun-soaked joy.

For any musical, the opening number is arguably the most important one of them all, as it has the task of setting the scene and getting the audience in the mood. Through this absolute bop of an opener, we meet our protagonist Usnavi (Ramos) the owner of a bodega in the Washington Heights area of New York City. Usnavi has fond memories of his childhood and the beach bar in the Dominican Republic that was once run by his father. With the bodega, and a handful of other businesses in the area at risk of going out of business, he becomes determined to raise enough money to leave New York behind and return to the Dominican Republic to reopen his family’s bar. But over the course of one summer in this vibrant Latino community in Washington Heights, as Usnavi meets with old friends and makes some new connections, there’s every chance that this will be a special, unforgettable summer.

The opening musical number introduces us to an array of the people and their livelihoods in this particular neighbourhood in the Big Apple. From Usnavi’s cousin Sonny (Diaz) who helps him run the bodega, Abuela Claudia (Merediz), the neighbourhood’s matriarch who played an integral role in raising Usnavi, Kevin the owner of a nearby business and his daughter Nina who’s returned to the area after a year in college, her relationship with Benny (Hawkins), to finally Vanessa (Barrera) an aspiring fashion designer, who Usnavi has developed a massive crush on. For each and every single person in this neighbourhood, they are all motivated by their own “sueñitos”(little dreams).

As the film’s central character, Usnavi is immediately a very charming and likeable presence. Following on from his role in Hamilton, this is Anthony Ramos’s shot at a leading role, and he does not throw it away. He’s constantly thinking about his sueñito, to run that beach bar that was such an integral part of his life growing up. Yet he’s reminded of just how special this area of New York, and the people who make it home are to him. Chief among these people is his crush Vanessa. For her, her sueñito is to become a fashion designer, and Barrera’s performance is equally impressive and emotionally heartfelt in a terrific cast. There is not a false note to be found anywhere in any of their performances.

As one comes to expect when Lin-Manuel Miranda pens the music, the soundtrack is packed to the brim with irresistibly catchy and joyful songs that will be filling your eardrums for weeks afterwards. As well as the irresistibly catchy music, what is equally impressive is the choreography that accompanies each and every musical number. Furthermore, each song and musical number has its own unique vibe, which comes from the variety of backdrops for each song, and the excellent use of lighting and camerawork that director Jon. M. Chu utilises. The screenplay by Quiara Alegría Hudes touches on a number of very topical themes like family, identity, aspirations, and what it means to be a part of a community. Given that the original musical was written in 2005, Hudes’s screenplay has made some important changes to the plot that makes it in tandem with modern day events, such as the aspirations of the Dreamers. This crucially lends an extra weight to the stories of the people that are being brought to life on screen, because they will undoubtedly reflect many of the hopes and dreams of the people in this community.

While each and every song here are certified jams, the film is just ever slightly let down by some pacing issues in and around the middle act of the film. However, if you’re going to pick a soundtrack to be the music to your summer, you’re unlikely to find a more vibrant, soulful and downright joyous than this one. It might have taken a while for this adaptation of this musical to lift our spirits and infect our eardrums with its joyful tunes. After the difficult time that has been had by all over the last year or so, this is the perfect blast of euphoric enjoyment that we all need and deserve, and it was certainly worth the wait.

Filled with a plethora of wonderful characters, and some certifiable bops jammed packed throughout, In The Heights is the positive, life-affirming blast of joy that the world needs right now.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

The Father (2021)

© Lionsgate, Film4 and Canal+

The Father  – Film Review

Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Olivia Colman, Mark Gatiss, Imogen Poots, Rufus Sewell, Olivia Williams

Director: Florian Zeller

Synopsis: An elderly man suffering from dementia refuses any assistance from carers or his family as he ages. As his condition begins to worsen, he tries to make sense of his situation…

Review: As human beings, we go through our lives so often surrounded by our loved ones, and for many, nothing can beat the warm embrace that family and friends can provide for us. But, what if one day, someone who you’re very close to, suddenly turned around had no idea who you are, or what they used to do for a living? There’s no getting away from the fact that dementia can have a devastating effect on a person’s mind. It is estimated that around 54 million people around the world currently living with dementia. Through his directorial debut, Florian Zeller provides a unique look at this disease can have on not just the sufferer, but their closest relatives as well.

Anthony (Hopkins) is a man who is suffering from dementia and is slowly starting to lose his grip on reality. His daughter Anne (Colman) tries to plead with her father to get him a professional carer to help him with his condition. However, Anthony point blank refuses, as he believes there is nothing wrong with himself, and is determined to live his life on his own terms. Consequently, by rebuffing her offers of assistance, it begins to erode Anne’s patience with her father, which has a knock-on effect on Anne’s relationship with her husband, especially as all is not what it seems in Anthony’s mind. As his grip on reality slowly starts to dissipate with each passing day.

Adapted from the play “Le Père“, approaching a film that deals with such delicate subject matter is always a challenge for the filmmakers. However, the screenplay by Zeller (who also wrote the play) and Christopher Hampton takes an extremely innovative approach in how it tells its story. Namely, it chooses to frame the film entirely from the perspective of its lead character. By doing this, it lets the audience into the mind of Anthony himself, to see how living with this disease can have such a debilitating effect on the person’s day to day life. Day-to-day conversations are continuously changing. One minute, there’s someone on screen informing Anthony (and the audience) as to who they are. Yet in the very next scene, they might be someone completely different. Through Zeller’s brilliant direction, you wonder are they who they say they are? And crucially, the audience gets a glimpse of what living with this disease must be like.

Anthony Hopkins is an actor who needs no introduction. With his distinguished career whose career is now in its seventh decade, he has given so many brilliant performances across a lifetime of wonderful work. Yet with this heart-breaking performance, it’s easily the best performance he has given in a very long time. He starts off the film in a very buoyant mood, but with each passing scene, it becomes clear that this disease is taking an immeasurable toll on his well being. Given that his character shares his name with the actor portraying him, it is evident that Zeller had Hopkins in mind when bringing this performance to life, and it pays off massively with an astonishing performance. Alongside him, Colman’s role of Anne is more subdued, but we sympathise with her as she tries to show love towards her father, even if that is starting to wear extremely thin as Anthony’s condition takes hold, and his stubborn refusal to accept her help.

This is far from an easy watch, but what Zeller has accomplished through this study of this disease, is an emotionally powerful film that will hopefully be extremely effective in increasing awareness about this disease. Given that it is estimated that the number of people suffering from dementia across the world will rise to 130 million by 2050, this is fast becoming a very serious issue that demands our increased awareness as a society. For the simple reason that it is entirely possible that we, or that someone we love, may well suffer from this disease at one point in our lives.

A careful approach to its subject matter, extremely innovative direction, and an absolutely heart-breaking lead performance from Hopkins, all combine to make The Father an extremely moving, and unforgettably devastating drama.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

A Quiet Place Part II (2021)

© Paramount Pictures and Platinum Dunes

A Quiet Place Part II  – Film Review

Cast: Emily Blunt, Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe, Cillian Murphy, John Krasinski, Djimon Hounsou

Director: John Krasinski

Synopsis: The surviving members of the Abbott family, now armed with the knowledge as to how to defeat the terrifying creatures that have hypersensitive hearing, head out into what remains of civilisation…

Review: There’s something that feels rather eerie about a film that features a world that’s forever changed by a deadly event, especially when you consider when it was poised to be released to the world. The time was March 2020, the premiere had taken place, and the film was due to be released to the world, until it was forced to be delayed due to the global pandemic that was sweeping the planet. Additionally, for a film that has a premise that centres on a world where being silent is of the utmost importance, it was reminiscent of when in those early months of the pandemic, those usually packed streets that we see across the world, became eerily quiet for an extended period of time. As such, there’s much about this franchise that feels very relevant for the tough times that we have been experiencing in the past year.

Following an extended, and thrilling, prologue that shows the very first day when these terrifying creatures began to wreak unspeakable devastation on our very noisy world, things fast forward to the present day of this world. We pick up right where they left off for the Abbott family. Following the events of the first film, Evelyn (Blunt), their new born son, deaf daughter Reagan (Simmonds), and son Marcus (Jupe) depart from their now destroyed home, in search of a new place to find shelter away from the monsters. Their search leads them to a base that’s currently occupied by  Emmett (Murphy), a man whose experiences in this apocalyptic world have made him very suspicious of what remains of humanity.

A key element of what made the first film the unique and nerve shredding experience it was, was the marvellous way the film uses sound to put the audience on the ground with these characters.  Going into the sequel, one might have wondered if Krasinski and his sound team had caught lighting in a bottle, and would be unable to repeat their feat this time around.  However, not only have they managed to recapture that brilliance, they have arguably gone better with their sound work. Through Krasiniski’s screenplay, that tension that was expertly crafted into the first film is brilliantly recaptured here, keeping the audience on the edge of their seat as they, like the characters on screen, strive to not make a sound. Krasinski builds on his brilliant directorial debut, opting in numerous instances to use multiple long takes, showing the audience truly just how perilous this world is, and how even the slightest misstep could spell be your downfall.

Much like the first film, the performances from all of the cast are excellent. Though she has a much more withdrawn role this time around, Emily Blunt is once again as the parent who must take care of a new born infant, and at the same, time defend her family. Though given the tragic fate that her husband Lee in the first film, there’s a void to be filled there, and Millicent Simmonds is the one who steps up to fill that void. This sequel shifts its focus from the older generation to the younger, and Simmonds steps up to the challenge, and gives the best performance in the film. Given that she herself is deaf, it adds so much authenticity to the character and the challenge that she faces to protect her family in this perilous world. With Blunt in a more withdrawn role, this gives Cillian Murphy’s Emmett the lead role amongst the adult cast, and he seizes that opportunity with both hands.

Given how much of a success the first film turned out to be, Krasinski would be forgiven if he had taken a silent moment before committing to making a sequel to A Quiet Place. Therefore, it is testament to him that with two extremely well made horror films now under his belt, he has cemented his growing reputation as a director to watch. After the extremely tough year that cinemas have had to endure since were first forced to shut their doors, films like A Quiet Place Part II serve as a powerful reminder of the power that cinema can have, especially when it’s seen on the big screen.

A marvellous continuation into this terrifying world that expertly recaptures that builds upon the aspects of what made the first film such a special and unnerving experience. A perfect example of how to pull off a riveting sequel.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Godzilla vs Kong (2021)

Image is property of Warner Bros and Legendary

Godzilla vs Kong  – Film Review

Cast: Alexander Skarsgård, Millie Bobby Brown, Rebecca Hall, Brian Tyree Henry, Shun Oguri, Eiza González, Julian Dennison, Kyle Chandler, Demián Bichir, Kaylee Hottle

Director: Adam Wingard

Synopsis:  When the Monarch corporation seeks to use Kong for a secret mission, their plan puts Kong on a direct collision course with Godzilla, and almighty battle for monster supremacy ensues….

Review: It feels like that for as long as cinema has been around, the cinematic powerhouses of King Kong and Godzilla have roared and stomped their way to establish themselves as iconic pop culture titans. Titans that in years gone by, would have no problems drawing massive crowds into packed cinemas across the world. While the former made his first big screen appearance in 1933, and the latter in 1954, their first on screen meeting came in 1962. Yet, ever since the wheels of the MonsterVerse were first put back in motion in 2014, it feels like the franchise has been building towards another clash between these two legendary monsters. Nearly half a century after their first meeting, and armed with the wonders that modern CGI can produce, these two cinematic behemoths are once again, scrapping it out for titan supremacy.

The film picks up a number of years since the events of King of the Monsters. In that time, the Monarch corporation has been observing Kong at his home on Skull Island. A team of scientists led by Nathan Lind (Skarsgard) and Illene Andrews (Hall) are seeking to locate what they believe to be some kind of unique power source that supposedly can be found in a mythical location, somewhere on the planet. For this mission to succeed, they believe that Kong is best placed to guide them to this mystical location. However, before they can get started with their mission, they cross paths with Godzilla who is seemingly being provoked into hurting people, which may or may not be connected to something another sinister corporation’s mysterious activities. So when these two cross paths, a gargantuan clash between two of cinema’s greatest titans erupts.

When it comes to these films, the audience is there for one thing, and that is to see giant monsters beat the ever living shit out of each other. To their credit, all of the films have had their satisfying moments with these enormous showdowns, though admittedly some have done it better than others.  With Godzilla Vs Kong, the battle scenes depicted here are potentially some of the best that this franchise has ever produced, as they are extremely entertaining to watch, and the work that is done by the visual effects artists is extraordinary. With these monsters movies, a sense of scale is imperative, you need to feel the size and the scale of these monsters, and with the enthralling showdowns that the film gives us, they succeed whilst making us humans feel like teeny ants by comparison.

For all the fun and exhilaration that the gargantuan showdowns, this franchise has (with the odd exception) had a difficult ability to craft human characters that are well developed and to really make the audience care about them. Once again, for the most part, the human characters have the most minimal amount of development, and exist in this franchise to mainly serve up exposition to the audience. It has been a common theme in this franchise to have such talented actors involved, only for them to be serviceable pieces to the plot, when they have the potential to be so much more. While the overwhelming majority of the human characters here, both old and new, are once again serviceable to the plot at best, the one exception to this is the connection that Kong has with Jia, a young deaf girl. The arc of her character ensures that she is, by far and away, one of the most well developed human characters this franchise has produced.

The plot concerning the human characters is extremely silly, and one can definitely question whether any aspect of the screenplay makes one iota of sense. However, that isn’t strictly necessary when it comes to a film that features a giant ape and a giant lizard squaring off against one another. You come to watch two cinematic titans having a good old scrap, and that is exactly what this film delivers. Furthermore, in a year that has been turbulent for the big screen experience that has seen cinemas for the most part stay shut, this is the sort of film that audiences need to just sit back, relax and enjoy the ride that is depicted on screen. As Ishirō Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) said way back in 2014’s Godzilla said, “Let them fight,” and watch the monster mayhem unfold in all of its glory.

While beset with the familiar issue of (mostly) uninteresting and disposable human characters, when it comes to the main event of titans engaging in a fight to the death, this epic showdown is a roaring success.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

The Mitchells vs. the Machines (2021)

© Netflix, Columbia Pictures and Sony Pictures Animation

The Mitchells vs. the Machines  – Film Review

Cast: Danny McBride, Abbi Jacobson, Maya Rudolph, Michael Rianda, Eric Andre, Olivia Colman, Fred Armisen, Beck Bennett, John Legend, Chrissy Teigen, Blake Griffin, Conan O’Brien

Directors: Michael Rianda and Jeff Rowe

Synopsis: When a robot uprising occurs during a family road trip, one dysfunctional family becomes the last hope for humanity…

Review: It isn’t exactly news that humanity as a species have become rather obsessed with all gadgets of various shapes and sizes that have a screen in them. Whether it be phones, laptops, tablets or TVs, if we’re not working, chances are high that we will have our eyes glued to those gadgets that are “bathed in ghoulish blue light”. But what if those machines that we are so dependent on, instead decided to do away with humanity as a species and rule this planet for themselves? While humanity’s over-reliance on technology is far from an original concept, in the hands of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, the duo who helped to bring the visual wizardry of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse to life, they’ve turned that concept into this bonkers, but uproariously entertaining adventure.

Katie (Jacobson) is as an aspiring filmmaker, who is one step closer to her dream job after being accepted into a film school. Her ambitions don’t sit well with her technophobe father Rick (McBride). Due to her ambitions and his own issues with technology, he struggles to connect with Katie. Fearing that they may drift apart for good once Katie has settled into college, Rick decides to take the entire the family go on a cross-country road trip, which is meant to be in theory one last family outing. Unfortunately for the Mitchell family, their family trip coincides with the beginning of a robot uprising determined to eradicate humanity from the face of the Earth. Consequently, this quirky, oddball family find themselves as the last hope for humanity to stop the robot apocalypse.

While many may well see Disney and its subsidiary Pixar as the top dogs of animation movie making, there are certainly plenty of studios that are producing some stellar animation flicks that are certainly capable of challenging Disney and Pixar’s status as animation top dogs. For Sony Pictures Animation, Into The Spider-Verse was the perfect example of an innovative, unique stunningly crafted piece of film-making that really pushed the boundaries of what this medium could accomplish. Under the direction of first time directors Michael Rianda and Jeff Rowe, this enthralling adventure continues that trajectory with a unique and exhilarating blend of 2D and 3D animation styles.

As with the animation, the voice work of the cast is exceptional across the board. As the film’s central protagonist, much is resting on Katie’s shoulders and through the excellent voice work by Abbi Jacobsen, she carries the film marvellously well. There will be many out there who empathise with Katie as a quiet somewhat introverted individual who’s passionate about what she does, and Jacobson imbues Katie with a fiercely independent, yet extremely likeable personality. Due to his difficult relationship, and his immense disdain for technology, the strained relationship between Rick and Katie features at the centre of the film. McBride excels as a father who strives to find the balance between being the stern parent trying to steer his children away from the allure of the screens, whilst simultaneously trying to do his best for his daughter.

While the voice talents of Jacobsen and McBride are given most of the spotlight, the performances of Maya Rudolph and co-director Michael Rianda are perfect as mother Lin and Katie’s brother Aaron, are given plenty of screen time to flesh out their characters. Though, like with any film that features a robot apocalypse, the need for a strong villain is imperative. In this instance, that antagonist is PAL, a super intelligent AI who’s basically like if the personal assistant in your phone went rogue and tried to kill you and all of humanity in the process. Proving that the no one plays an antagonist better than the British, the casting of Olivia Colman in this menacingly evil, and simultaneously hilarious role, is an absolute masterstroke.

At 113 minutes, the film is certainly longer than average when compared to most animated adventures. However, from the word go, the momentum that’s generated from the film’s wild and exhilarating story ensures that at no point does the film lose the momentum that it has generated. It moves from fun road trip film to a battle for humanity’s survival with effortless ease, as a wild mixture of hilarious gags and thrilling action help to keep the plot going at a frenetic and exhilarating pace. Furthermore, it packs plenty of heart-warming character moments in between absolutely thrilling action scenes that will definitely be appreciated by man and machine-kind alike in equal measure.

With its perfect combination of bonkers and hilarious action and sincere heartfelt character moments, the latest Lord/Miller collaboration sets the bar high for the rest of 2021’s animated offerings.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Nomadland (2021)

© Searchlight Pictures

Nomadland  – Film Review

Cast: Frances McDormand, David Strathairn, Linda May, Charlene Swankie, Bob Wells

Director: Chloé Zhao

Synopsis: After the death of her husband and the loss of her job, a woman purchases a van to live as a modern day nomad…

Review: Home, is where the heart is. Yet, for each and every one of us, this is a word that can mean many different things. For some, it could be that place you grew up, or a place that’s significant in your lives, or it could be where a person’s family resides. No matter what this word may mean to each and every one of us, there’s a moment early on in this beautiful film from director Chloe Zhao that perfectly captures the essence of this story. As a character is talking with Fern (McDormand) about a tattoo she has:”Home, is it just a word? Or is it something you carry within you?” With just this one simple song lyric, from “Home is a Question Mark” by The Smiths, it encapsulates the heart that is beating at the centre of the film.

Years prior to the events of the film, Fern lived and worked in Empire, Nevada, with her husband. They both had jobs working in a US Gypsum plant, and it’s immediately apparent that these were joyful years for Fern. Yet, times have sadly changed. As a result of the Great Recession of 2008, the plant that was essentially the glue that held together Empire’s economy closed, and Fern has lost her job. But the most devastatingly blow of all, is the death of her husband. Following the collapse of the town’s economy, Empire has become a ghost town and all of the residents have since moved on. With all the attachments she once had to Empire now gone, she sells most of her belongings and purchases a van and starts a new life for herself as a modern day nomad roaming the heart of the American West, taking seasonal work wherever she can find it.

Adapted from the non-fiction novel Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century by Jessica Bruder, the premise of the film is simple, but sometimes there is beauty in the simplicity of life, and the film celebrates this. Thanks to the absolutely stunning cinematography from Joshua James Richards, the film shines a light on a way of life that many will no doubt be extremely unfamiliar with. There will be many who are no doubt accustomed to the metropolitan lifestyle of a city that never sleeps. The bright lights and the constant noise of the urban metropolis. A world where chatter is constant, life is almost always continually moving. There is none of that in this nomad lifestyle, just the quiet, peaceful atmosphere of the open road. Although such a lifestyle does come with its challenges, most notably the isolation.

It’s in no small part down to the extraordinary performance of Frances McDormand that pulls you into this story. Having won an Oscar a few years for her portrayal as a fierce and pissed off mother on the search for justice in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, this is a very different kind of role for the veteran actor. It’s much more withdrawn and subdued, and yet like the great actor she is, McDormand rises to the challenge in spectacular fashion. Aside from McDormand’s wonderful work, and an equally sincere performance from David Strathairn, as Dave, a fellow nomad who strikes up a close friendship with Fern. The rest of the film’s cast consists of real life nomads, and what could have been a somewhat risky move, instead turns out to be a masterstroke by Zhao. By choosing to have real life nomads, most of whom are portraying a fictionalised version of themselves, it lends an air of authenticity to the events that are being depicted on screen, which consequently helps you to sympathise with the people in this community, and the lives they lead.

The story does sometimes feels a bit aimless, and the pacing does stutter in one or two places. Yet, there’s a touching moment of poignancy throughout the film, that signifies the importance of remembering someone. An importance which is especially emotionally resonant for a community that could feel like it has been left behind by our modern day Capitalist society. In a similar vein to The Smiths lyric that is mentioned at the beginning, there’s another quote that feels especially emotionally resonant. “what’s remembered, lives.” Due to these emotionally trying times that we’re living in, where lots of people may have been feeling isolated and lonely, there’s a lot can be learned in being kind to one another, especially for those who may have a different lifestyle than what most people do.

Poignant and quietly moving, with a subdued but touching leading performance from McDormand, Nomadland is an emotional and celebratory study at an underrepresented way of life.

Posted in 2020-2029, Awards Season

93rd Academy Awards: Final Predictions

After the strangest year in living memory, we’ve reached the end of another (somewhat elongated) awards season cycle. To think that last year’s awards season was just a few weeks shy of the entire world being brought to a halt because of the COVID-19 pandemic is quite remarkable. While we were all celebrating that historic night, we all had no idea what was about to come our way. The world might have been brought to a halt for quite some time, and our cinemas might have been shut for the most part over the last 13 months or so. Yet even with that, that hasn’t stopped plenty of high quality films from being released, and now the time has come for Hollywood’s biggest night, although it will certainly be a very different ceremony, in comparison to previous years.

As the curtain comes down on another awards season, a controversy never seems to be too far away from occurring in one form or another. Yet, this year seems to have been remarkably (and thankfully) controversy free. Of course, there have been the usual discussions about blatant snubs, which we will certainly touch upon. But with this collection of nominations, history has most certainly been made. After last year’s ground-breaking moment that saw a film not in the English Language win Best Picture for the first time ever, it is looking extremely likely that more history will be made.

So once again, with 23 golden statues up for grabs, question remains as to who will claim Oscar glory? Time to have a gaze at my metaphorical crystal ball and give my predictions, as well as give my thoughts on each category, minus the documentaries and the short films.

Best Supporting Actor

  • Sacha Baron CohenThe Trial of the Chicago 7
  • Daniel KaluuyaJudas and the Black Messiah
  • Leslie Odom Jr.One Night in Miami
  • Paul RaciSound of Metal
  • LaKeith StanfieldJudas and the Black Messiah

Kicking off my predications with a category that has five absolutely perfect performances across the board.  I like each and every one of these performances, and all are worthy of being nominated. Baron Cohen’s work might have had him as an early front runner, but once Judas and the Black Messiah was given a wide release, there was only going to be one winner. Daniel Kaluuya’s extremely memorable turn as Black Panther Party chairman Fred Hampton has been sweeping all before him, and very deservedly so. Kaluuya’s output as an actor in the years since he got his first nomination for 2017’s Get Out has been flawless (Widows, Black Panther, Queen & Slim) and so it’s fitting that with what is perhaps his best performance of his career, that the Brit will win his first Oscar. Though it must be said, LaKeith Stanfield’s inclusion here is a massive head scratcher, when he’s very much the lead in Judas and the Black Messiah shrugs… 

Will Win: Daniel Kaluuya 

Should Win: Daniela Kaluuya

Could have been nominated: Alan Kim for Minari

 

Best Supporting Actress

  • Maria BakalovaBorat Subsequent Moviefilm
  • Glenn CloseHillbilly Elegy
  • Olivia ColmanThe Father
  • Amanda SeyfriedMank
  • Youn Yuh-jungMinari 

While it is mental to think that Glenn Close somehow hasn’t won an Oscar yet, the memories of the most unexpected shock a mere two years after Oliva Colman took the trophy ahead of Close in the Best Actress race will be fresh in many minds. It was the most unexpected, yet simultaneously delightful win. Now, these two are back competing against one another for the Supporting Actress gong. But this time there’s no chance of a repeat as both are unlikely to win. Close’s nomination is an indication of her being an Academy favourite even though, she was also nominated for a Razzie for this very same performance. Maria Bakalova’s performance was certainly the best part of Borat 2. But this time, it seems as though both Close and Colman will not emerge victorious, as Youn Yuh-Jung’s tender performance as the playful and charismatic grandmother in Minari should land her an Oscar, and if she wins, she will be the third oldest Best Supporting Actress winner in history.

Will Win:  Youn Yuh-Jung 

Should Win: Youn Yuh-Jung

Could have been nominated: Ellen Burstyn for Pieces of a Woman

Best Original Screenplay

  • Judas and the Black Messiah – Screenplay by Will Berson and Shaka King; Story by Will Berson, Shaka King, Keith Lucas, and Kenny Lucas
  • MinariLee Isaac Chung
  • Promising Young WomanEmerald Fennell
  • Sound of Metal – Screenplay by Darius Marder and Abraham Marder; Story by Darius Marder and Derek Cianfrance
  • The Trial of the Chicago 7Aaron Sorkin

Five very strong screenplays all round, and as all five of these films are Best Picture nominees, there’s no obvious weak link. Yet, it would appear that this is a straight fight between Chicago 7 and Promising Young Woman. Emerald Fennell’s screenplay has been taking home plenty of awards in this awards season, whereas Sorkin has only taken the Golden Globe. Promising Young Woman is definitely the more daring and bold of the two films, and has generated plenty of online discussion since it became available to watch in the UK. The last time a woman won this award was way back in 2007 with Juno, so it would be a just reward for Fennell’s bold and daring directorial debut to be rewarded with a screenplay win.

Will Win:  Emerald Fennell

Should Win: Emerald Fennell

Best Adapted Screenplay

  • Borat Subsequent Moviefilm – Screenplay by Sacha Baron Cohen, Anthony Hines, Dan Swimer, Peter Baynham, Erica Rivinoja, Dan Mazer, Jena Friedman, and Lee Kern; Story by Baron Cohen, Hines, Swimer, and Nina Pedrad
  • The FatherChristopher Hampton & Florian Zeller
  • NomadlandChloé Zhao
  • One Night in MiamiKemp Powers
  • The White TigerRamin Bahrani

With two of these five being Best Picture nominees, it’s pretty much a straight fight between these two for the statue. Given that Chloe Zhao is almost certain to triumph in terms of Directing and Best Picture, she might just make it a hat-trick with another win for her screenplay to go along with those wins. Yet, given her certain triumphs in those aforementioned categories, it could stand to reason that the voters may want to use this a chance to reward other films. Therefore, The Father could sneak a win, due to its extremely innovative approach to how it tackles the depiction of dementia.

Yet, I’m backing Zhao to make it a hat-trick. Furthermore, to see the recipients of both the screenplay categories be awarded to women would be a truly historic moment.

Will Win: Chloé Zhao

Should Win: Chloé Zhao

Best Animated Feature Film

  • OnwardDan Scanlon and Kori Rae
  • Over the MoonGlen Keane, Gennie Rin, and Peilin Chou
  • A Shaun the Sheep Movie: FarmageddonRichard Phelan, Will Becher, and Paul Kewley
  • SoulPete Docter and Dana Murray
  • WolfwalkersTomm Moore, Ross Stewart, Paul Young, and Stéphan Roelants

When it comes to this award, so often the recipient is a film made by Walt Disney Animation Studios or its sister studio Pixar. In the 2010s, only on two occasions was the winner not a film from either of those two studios. Going into the new decade, it looks likely that trend will continue with Soul surely expected to triumph. While Soul is undeniably beautiful and bold with the philosophical themes, in the age of fully computer generated animation, the art of hand drawn animation is one that deserves to be celebrated more. While I did enjoy Soul, I found Cartoon Saloon’s Wolfwalkers to be much the stronger film. It captures the majesty of the hand drawn animations style beautifully and combines that with a gorgeous, magical and emotional story. Yet, its howls are almost certainly going to fall on deaf ears.

Will Win: Soul

Should Win: Wolfwalkers

Best International Feature Film

  • Another Round (Denmark) – directed by Thomas Vinterberg
  • Better Days (Hong Kong) – directed by Derek Tsang
  • Collective (Romania) – directed by Alexander Nanau
  • The Man Who Sold His Skin (Tunisia)  – directed by Kaouther Ben Hania
  • Quo Vadis, Aida? (Bosnia and Herzegovina)  – directed by Jasmila Žbanić

The fact that Thomas Vinterberg is nominated for Best Director is surely enough to tip the scales in Another Round’s favour. Bottom’s up!

Will Win: Another Round

Should Win: Another Round

Best Original Score

  • Da 5 Bloods – Terence Blanchard
  • Mank – Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross
  • Minari – Emile Mosseri
  • News of the World – James Newton Howard
  • Soul – Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross, and Jon Batiste

I’ll touch on this more a bit later on, but the fact that this is the only category in which Da 5 Bloods has scored a nomination is really disappointing. Yet, Terence Blanchard thoroughly deserves his nomination, and the same goes for Emile Mosseri’s soothing score for Minari perfectly captured the vibe of of the film. Yet in a year when Trent Raznor and Atticus Ross have been nominated for their excellent scores for Mank and Soul, it is their work on Pixar’s latest film that should see the duo pick up their second Oscar following their wins for The Social Network back in 2011.

Will Win: Soul 

Should Win: Soul

Could have been nominated: Ludwig Goransson for Tenet

Best Original Song

  • “Fight for You” from Judas and the Black Messiah – Music by H.E.R. and Dernst Emile II; Lyric by H.E.R. and Tiara Thomas
  • “Hear My Voice” from The Trial of the Chicago 7 – Music by Daniel Pemberton; Lyric by Daniel Pemberton and Celeste Waite
  • “Husavik” from Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga – Music and Lyric by Savan Kotecha, Fat Max Gsus, and Rickard Göransson
  • “Io Sì (Seen)” from The Life Ahead – Music by Diane Warren; Lyric by Diane Warren and Laura Pausini
  • “Speak Now” from One Night in Miami… – Music and Lyric by Leslie Odom Jr. and Sam Ashworth

It’s no wonder that in such a tumultuous year for humanity as a species, that a number of powerful songs have emerged. Fight for You and Hear My Voice would both be more than worthy winners. Yet, with Leslie Odom Jr’s nomination in Supporting Actor unlikely to transform into a win, this would be the best place to reward him for the powerful ballad that is “Speak Now”. The lyrics of this beautiful song are extremely emotive and timely, and Odom Jr’s vocals are extraordinary.

Will Win:  Speak Now from One Night in Miami 

Should Win: Speak Now from One Night in Miami 

Best Sound

  • Greyhound – Warren Shaw, Michael Minkler, Beau Borders, and David Wyman
  • Mank – Ren Klyce, Jeremy Molod, David Parker, Nathan Nance, and Drew Kunin
  • News of the World – Oliver Tarney, Mike Prestwood Smith, William Miller, and John Pritchett
  • Soul – Ren Klyce, Coya Elliot, and David Parker
  • Sound of Metal – Nicolas Becker, Jaime Baksht, Michelle Couttolenc, Carlos Cortes, and Philip Bladh

The conversion of the two sound categories into one seems to be a rather lazy move on the Academy’s part, and seems to have been done purely so members wouldn’t have to work out the difference between Sound Mixing and Sound Editing. Regardless, the fact one of these films has “Sound” in its title is a massive help. On top of which, the most extraordinary sound work is a fundamental part of what made Sound of Metal such a powerful and moving experience.

Will Win:  Sound of Metal 

Should Win: Sound of Metal

Best Production Design

  • The Father – Production Design: Peter Francis; Set Decoration: Cathy Featherstone
  • Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom – Production Design: Mark Ricker; Set Decoration: Karen O’Hara and Diana Sroughton
  • Mank – Production Design: Donald Graham Burt; Set Decoration: Jan Pascale
  • News of the World – Production Design: David Crank; Set Decoration: Elizabeth Keenan
  • Tenet – Production Design: Nathan Crowley; Set Decoration: Kathy Lucas

The first of three battles that seems to be a head to head between Ma Rainey and Mank. Given Mank is the only one with the Best Picture nomination, and added to the fact that it’s been sweeping most of the awards in this category all season long, it stands to reason that Mank will be victorious.

Will Win: Mank 

Should Win: Mank

Best Cinematography

  • Judas and the Black Messiah – Sean Bobbitt
  • Mank – Erik Messerschmidt
  • News of the World – Dariusz Wolski
  • Nomadland – Joshua James Richards
  • The Trial of the Chicago 7 – Phedon Papamichael

While Erik Messerschmidt’s work on Mank is extraordinary, Nomadland has been taking the majority of the awards in this year’s awards season, and when you look at the sheer beauty of the film’s cinematography (see the above image), it is easy to see why.

Will Win: Nomadland 

Should Win: Nomadland

Should have been nominated: Lachlan Milne for Minari

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

  • Emma. – Marese Langan, Laura Allen, and Claudia Stolze
  • Hillbilly Elegy – Eryn Krueger Mekash, Patricia Dehaney, and Matthew Mungle
  • Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom – Sergio Lopez-Rivera, Mia Neal, and Jamika Wilson
  • Mank – Gigi Williams, Kimberley Spiteri and Colleen LaBaff
  • Pinocchio – Dalia Colli, Mark Coulier, and Francesco Pegoretti

Ma Rainey Vs Mank, round 2. The victor will be Ma Rainey.

Will Win:  Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Should Win: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Best Costume Design

  • Emma. – Alexandra Byrne
  • Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom – Ann Roth
  • Mank – Trish Summerville
  • Mulan – Bina Daigeler
  • Pinocchio – Massimo Cantini Parrini

The third and final battle between Ma Rainey and Mank, and I think in this decider, Mank will take it as it’s evident that a lot of work went into capturing the glamour of 1930s Hollywood.

Will Win: Mank 

Should Win: Mank

Best Film Editing

  • The Father – Yorgos Lamprinos
  • Nomadland – Chloé Zhao
  • Promising Young Woman – Frédéric Thoraval
  • Sound of Metal – Mikkel E.G. Nielsen
  • The Trial of the Chicago 7 – Alan Baumgarten

It may well be the case that Chicago 7 could be this year’s The Irishman, in that it scoops lots of nominations but walks away empty handed. It looks that way, but perhaps this award could be its saving grace as the film was edited tremendously well. Yet so often film editing and the sound categories go hand-in-hand, as the last few years have seen this award go to a sound editing/mixing winner. Since that has now become one category, the odds could well be in favour of Sound of Metal.

Will Win:  Sound of Metal

Should Win: Sound of Metal

Best Visual Effects

  • Love and Monsters – Matt Sloan, Genevieve Camailleri, Matt Everitt, and Brian Cox
  • The Midnight Sky – Matthew Kasmir, Christopher Lawren, Max Solomon, and David Watkins
  • Mulan – Sean Faden, Anders Langlands, Seth Maury, and Steven Ingram
  • The One and Only Ivan – Nick Davis, Greg Fisher, Ben Jones, and Santiago Colomo Martinez
  • Tenet – Andrew Jackson, David Lee, Andrew Lockley and Scott Fisher

So often this category is dominated with flagship blockbusters, but as most of those got pushed back, there seems to be little chance of anything stopping Christopher Nolan’s mind-bending, time-reversing/inversing shenanigans from collecting its only Oscar.

Will Win:  Tenet

Should Win: Tenet

Best Director

  • Thomas Vinterberg – Another Round
  • David Fincher – Mank
  • Lee Isaac Chung – Minari
  • Chloé Zhao – Nomadland
  • Emerald Fennell – Promising Young Woman

Prior to this year’s awards season, only five women had ever been nominated for Best Director, and never had two women been nominated in the same year. It is history in the making to see two women make up this year’s shortlist, and both these women are fully meriting of their spots in this year’s line up. The fact that Emerald Fennell directed Promising Young Woman whilst being heavily pregnant speaks volumes to her stamina and dedication. But to give credit where credit is due, Zhao wrote, directed, edited and co-produced Nomadland, which like with Fennell, speaks wonders to the level of commitment that Zhao put in to bring this project to life. Either of these women would be worthy winners. While my personal preference is for Fennell, in addition to her likely win for Best Picture, Chloe Zhao should be clutching two of those golden statues come the end of the evening, potentially three if she wins for her screenplay.

Although, as was the case at the Golden Globes, this category could have been three women had Regina King made the shortlist, and while there’s no real weak link in these category, I would have linked to have seen her be rewarded for her incredible directorial debut with a nomination here.

Will Win: Chloé Zhao

Should Win: Emerald Fennell

Could have been nominated: Regina King for One Night in Miami

Best Actress in a Leading Role

  • Viola Davis – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
  • Andra Day – The United States vs. Billie Holiday
  • Vanessa Kirby – Pieces of a Woman
  • Frances McDormand – Nomadland
  • Carey Mulligan – Promising Young Woman

Easily one of the most difficult categories in this entire awards season to predict. Unlike last year, there has been no consistent winner with each of these nominees winning in different awards ceremonies. Honestly the five performances here are all worthy of being bestowed with the award, but it is exceedingly difficult to predict who is gonna triumph. But I will try anyway, so here goes nothing.

Andra Day’s performance as Billie Holliday is easily the best thing about the film, and as last year showed, a good performance in a so-so biopic can still get you the win. Vanessa Kirby’s powerful performance could get her the win but the lack of nominations for her film anywhere else means her chances of a triumph are extremely slim. Viola Davis is a beloved actor, and she was extraordinary in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, but the argument could be made that her performance was more supporting than lead. Hence, this leaves the two women who appear in Best Picture nominees. Given that Nomadland is looking a certainty to win Best Picture, McDormand’s status as a producer of the film means that she would win an Oscar. Which leaves Carey Mulligan, who in my opinion gave the most layered performance that is the best of these five, and so I am predicting her for a win.

Although yet again, in another year that saw an absolutely stunning performance by an actress in a horror film go completely unnoticed, it really is baffling as to why the Academy seems to overlook these performances as Elisabeth Moss’s unforgettable performance in The Invisible Man could have got her a nomination.

Will Win: Carey Mulligan

Should Win: Carey Mulligan

Should have been nominated: Elisabeth Moss for the The Invisible Man

Best Actor in a Leading Role

  • Riz AhmedSound of Metal
  • Chadwick BosemanMa Rainey’s Black Bottom
  • Anthony HopkinsThe Father
  • Gary OldmanMank
  • Steven YeunMinari

An extremely strong Best Actor line up this year, and it could have been even stronger.  At this moment it’s looking like a battle between Hopkins and Boseman. Hopkins’s devastating performance is his best work in years, and he could yet take the trophy following on from his BAFTA win. Riz Ahmed (the first Muslim to be nominated for Best Actor), could be a wildcard but I don’t think it is his year, although I am certain that Ahmed will win an Oscar one day. But this should be a posthumous win for Chadwick Boseman. Every time he’s on screen, you can feel the pain of a man who knows he’s giving one of his last ever performances, and he pours that passion into what is a moving final performance for Boseman, who tragically died last year. Even if Boseman was still with us, he would be a very strong contender and so this is the perfect opportunity to reward Boseman’s glittering, but tragically short career, with a well deserved posthumous win.

But the shameful fact that Delroy Lindo was snubbed for his brilliant performance in Da 5 Bloods is still a really disappointing snub, especially when you consider that he could have easily been nominated over Gary Oldman. The release of Spike Lee’s latest joint was extremely timely as it coincided with the horrific events that unfolded in the USA in the wake of the murder of George Floyd. Yet at the same time, had it arrived much later in the year, it might have been more in contention for some of the top prizes.

Will Win: Chadwick Boseman 

Should Win: Chadwick Boseman

Should have been nominated: Delroy Lindo for Da 5 Bloods or Kingsley Ben-Adir for One Night in Miami…

And, last and certainly by no means least….

Best Picture

  • The Father David Parfitt, Jean-Louis Livi, and Philippe Carcassonne
  • Judas and the Black Messiah Shaka King, Charles D. King, and Ryan Coogler
  • MankCeán Chaffin, Eric Roth, and Douglas Urbanski
  • Minari Christina Oh
  • NomadlandFrances McDormand, Peter Spears, Mollye Asher, Dan Janvey, and Chloé Zhao
  • Promising Young WomanBen Browning, Ashley Fox, Emerald Fennell, and Josey McNamara
  • Sound of MetalBert Hamelinick and Sacha Ben Harroche
  • The Trial of the Chicago 7 Marc Platt and Stuart Besser

Click here to see my ranking of the Best Picture contenders.

In this most strangest of years, and awards seasons, the big prize is looking like a lock for Chloe Zhao’s poignant film about the life of the modern day nomads. The Trial of the Chicago 7 might have been an early favourite, perhaps due to the passion that was surrounding it as it was release very close to last year’s US Presidential election. Had that election gone the other way, it might have maintained that momentum and turned it into a victory. Judas and the Black Messiah and Promising Young Woman both carry powerful and urgent messages that demand audiences to keep up the fights against racial injustice and sexual assault and rape respectively, and for my money these are the most important films that have emerged over the past year or so. Hence a victory for either of these two films would be more than worthy of the top prize. Yet, all the pointers point towards a Nomadland victory.

Will Win:  Nomadland

Should Win: Judas and the Black Messiah

Should have been nominated: One Night in Miami and Another Round

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Final counts

Will win:

  • Nomadland- 4
  • Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom – 2
  • Mank – 2
  • Promising Young Woman – 2
  • Soul – 2
  • Sound of Metal – 2
  • Another Round – 1
  • Judas and the Black Messiah – 1
  • Minari – 1
  • One Night in Miami – 1
  • Tenet – 1

Should win:

  • Promising Young Woman – 3
  • Judas and the Black Messiah – 2
  • Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom – 2
  • Mank – 2
  • Nomadland – 2
  • Sound of Metal – 2
  • Another Round – 1
  • Minari – 1
  • One Night in Miami – 1
  • Soul – 1
  • Tenet – 1
  • Wolfwalkers -1
Posted in 2020-2029, Awards Season, Ranking

93rd Academy Awards: Best Picture Nominees Ranked

After what is one of the longest awards seasons in living memory, it is finally time for Hollywood to pay tribute to the best cinematic offerings of 2020/21. It was certainly a strange year that forced cinemas to stay shut for many months, hence the slight delay to the main event this weekend. But that didn’t prevent a number of outstanding films from being released. With a total of eight films up for the big prize this year: including the behind the scenes of how one of the most iconic films of all time came to be, a couple of heart-warming tales about life in America (from two very different perspectives), a gripping and timely courtroom drama, a heart-breaking character study of a man suffering from a terrible disease, an urgent film about an overlooked figure of history, and a dark and thrilling tale of revenge.

There’s lots of quality cinema in this year’s crop, but only one scoop that Best Picture crown. So, without further ado, let us rank these from worst to best (as always per the opinion of yours truly), starting with….

8. Mank

It seems like every year there’s always one film, no matter who you are, that you just don’t get the fuss about, and this year Mank is that film. I never thought a film by David Fincher would be the bottom of this list, yet here we are. When you have get a maestro like Fincher directing a film, that covers how the script of one of the most influential films of all time Citizen Kane came to be, expectations are going to be set high. Having watched (and loved) Citizen Kane for the first time just before watching Mank, it raised my expectations even higher. Furthermore, with a cast that is packed with talent like Gary Oldman, Amanda Seyfried and Charles Dance, surely that’s a sure-fire hit for cinematic gold. Yet, sadly for me, this film just didn’t match those lofty expectations.

To give credit where credit is due, Fincher directs the film beautifully. The production design, costumes and cinematography are all absolutely stunning, and the performances across the board are all very good, with Amanda Seyfried being a particular highlight. What let the film down for me is the script, it had its moments, but I just wasn’t as intrigued by the film as I wanted/expected to be, and that is really disappointing.

7. Minari

Full review here

For generations and generations of people looking to migrate to the United States, the notion of the American Dream to achieve economic success has been the source of their desire to move to the country. Yet, that desire to achieve that dream is not always so straightforward, and in this semi-autobiographical film from Lee Isaac Chung, Minari captures one family’s trials and tribulations as they bid to achieve that dream by opening and running their own farm in 1980s Arkansas.

The cast is filled with impeccable performances, from Steven Yeun’s loving but stern portrayal as the family’s patriarch, to Youn Yuh-jung’s likely Oscar winning turn as the family’s Grandmother. The interaction between her and little David (Alan Kim) is extremely heart-warming, but also extremely amusing. While the film focuses on the lives of this one family, the themes about finding identity in what can be at times (especially right now), a very unforgiving world, is something that we can all relate to.

 

6. The Father

Full review coming soon

Sir Anthony Hopkins is an an actor whose career started all the way back in 1960. Over the years, he’s given us plenty of extraordinary performances. Yet, as his career reaches its seventh decade, it is quite the accomplishment to say that a film released in 2020/21, could arguably be the greatest performance that he has given across his glittering career. In this heart-breaking film from Florian Zeller, it might just have got the best ever performance out of this veteran actor, or at least his best performance since his memorable Oscar winning turn in Silence of the Lambs.

The way in which Zeller directs this film is extremely innovative, and it pays off as it is clearly to try and establish to the audience just how much of an effect a disease like dementia can have on the human brain. As well as Hopkins’s absolutely devastating performance, special mention must go to Olivia Colman’s tender performance as the daughter of Hopkin’s character. It cannot be easy to watch someone you love go through this terrible condition, and who is put in the most uncomfortable position of watching her father’s condition slowly deteriorate. The way the film is told from his perspective enables the audience to go into his mind as his grip on reality slowly begins to unravel, and it’s truly harrowing to watch, especially if someone you love has been affected by this terrible disease.

 

5. Nomadland

Full review coming soon

The Economic Crash of 2008 was undoubtedly an extremely tough time for lots of people. Countless jobs lost, lives and economic livelihoods shattered. For one woman, having lost everything that tied her to a town where she spent many happy years of her life, it leads her to selling most of her belongings and starting a new life as a modern day nomad, living in a caravan in the American West.

Written, directed, edited and produced by Chloe Zhao, Nomadland’s beauty lies in the depiction of the nomad lifestyle. It is a lifestyle that undoubtedly comes with its challenges, but due to the inspired casting of some real life nomads, it brings their lifestyle to life in a manner that is poignant and emotional. The beauty of the film shines through, in part thanks to the gorgeous cinematography, which makes it feel like a world away from the constant noise of the capitalist world that seemingly (at least pre the COVID-19 pandemic) never stops turning. At the centre of all of it, is a subdued, but wonderful performance from Frances McDormand. While it is not my favourite film of this year’s crop, it would be a very worthy winner if, as expected, it takes home the top prize on Oscar night.

 

4. Sound of Metal

Full review here

Imagine if you’re a musician, music is your passion and you live for the thrill of playing music to live crowds. But what if one day, you begin to realise that you are rapidly losing your hearing and your entire future career as a musician is in jeopardy? It’s a position that no one would want to be in, yet it is a position that Ruben (an extraordinary Riz Ahmed) finds himself in. Faced with an impossibly difficult decision, he must decide how to handle the devastating loss of one of his senses, and he seeks assistance from a centre for the deaf, led by a very compassionate recovering war veteran.

Directed beautifully by Darius Marder in a passionate directorial debut, the film shines a light on the deaf community in an extremely touching manner. Bolstered by some absolutely extraordinary sound work, the film’s heart comes from the time that Ruben spends with the deaf community. And most importantly of all, the film is a lesson about coming to term’s with one’s circumstances, whilst reminding the world that deafness is not a disability.

 

3. Trial of the Chicago 7

Full review here

There are certain names that automatically just capture attention whenever they’re brought up in discussions, and Aaron Sorkin is certainly one of those names. Having written a plethora of memorable screenplays over the years, he made a seamless transition to directing. for his second film, he writes and directs once again, to tremendous effect to tell the story of the Chicago 7, who were essentially put on trial in front of the whole world in the build up to the 1968 Democratic Convention.

The film draws a strong correlation between the protests that occurred in the 1960s over the Vietnam War to the protests that erupted across America in response to systemic racism, in a year that felt extremely politically charged due to the 2020 US Presidential Election, and the previous four years under an administration that sought to swiftly quash any dissent and protest. Filled to the brim with top performances, there’s so many that could have got nominations, but in the end it was Sacha Baron Cohen’s excellent turn as Abbie Hoffman that took the deserved plaudits. Once seen as perhaps the frontrunner, it might have lost a bit of steam since its release last October, but it still remains a powerful piece of filmmaking from Aaron Sorkin.

 

2. Promising Young Woman

Full review here

Rape and sexual assault are never comfortable subjects to talk about, but in the years since the Me Too Movement spoke out, it has forced the world to have an urgent conversation about these subjects, and how women are too often subjected to this kind of horrific abuse. In her bold and daring directorial debut, Emerald Fennell tackles these themes head on, and in so doing has created a film that holds a mirror to society in an extremely arresting manner.

At the centre of this thrilling tale of revenge is Carey Mulligan’s Cassie. A woman who once had a bright and promising future, but due to this traumatic incident, her once bright future has faded. Instead, she is focused purely on her revenge mission. Mulligan’s tour-de-force performances keeps you hooked from the get go as you watch her go about her mission to extract revenge against those who caused her that trauma all those years ago. The film keeps you guessing right until its ending, which has, and will undoubtedly continue to generate much discussion in the coming years.

1. Judas and the Black Messiah

Full review here

When you look back at how the Civil Rights movement is taught, there are certain powerful historical figures that are universally recognised all over the world. Names such as Martin Luther King Jr, Rosa Parks, Malcolm X to name but a few. Yet the name of Fred Hampton is not one that is nearly well known, probably because it is barely taught at all, and that is staggering. As when you watch this extraordinary film, it is incomprehensible to work out why this man’s name is not mentioned in the same breath as those other names.

What makes this film so relevant and so extremely powerful is the unmistakeable parallels between the time that Fred Hampton campaigned against injustice, and in the 21st century. To put it bluntly,  not a lot has happened in all those years as the systemic racism that Hampton rallied against is still very much present in our society, as demonstrated by the worldwide protests that took place in 2020, with people taking a stand. While LaKeith Stanfield does incredible work, it’s the absolutely scintillating performance from Daniel Kaluuya that drives the film forward as he imbues Fred Hampton with powerful leadership qualities. Every time Hampton is on screen talking, you’re listening to what he has to say.  “You can kill a revolutionary, but you can never kill the revolution.” Over fifty years later, and Hampton’s words are truer now than perhaps they’ve ever been.

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Could/should have been nominated…

Every time I come to write this list, I always ask myself why the Academy doesn’t fill take the opportunity to nominate the maximum number of 10 films for the top honour? While these eight do all (just about in the case of one film) deserve their spot for the biggest prize of the night, I always like to have a look at what could have joined their ranks to compete for the top honour. So, what could have joined their company? Well if I had my way, Mank drops out, and then I choose the following three films to make it a perfect ten:

One Night in Miami (review): Four influential figures of the Civil Rights Movement, one fictionalised evening, directed by Academy Award winner Regina King, I mean what more needs to be said? Adapted from the Kemp Power’s stage play of the same name, the film isn’t held back by its stage play roots, as the four performances of the men playing these historical figures are all extraordinary. Furthermore, the screenplay that goes deep in exploring powerful historical themes that very much related to today’s society.

Another Round (review): There’s an undeniable joy that comes when no matter what the occasion, we sit down and have a tipple or two to celebrate. Yet you’d think that no one would have a drink whilst working on their day job Yet that is exactly what a group of four schoolteachers do to try and bring a bit of excitement back in their lives. Thomas Vinterberg’s film expertly walks the line between comedy and tragedy, whilst getting one of the best performances out of Mads Mikkelsen in a long time.

Wolfwalkers (review): Seldom do animated films make the leap from the animated category to competing for the top prize. Yet in the case of Cartoon Saloon’s Wolfwalkers, this is a film that absolutely deserves to make that list. In an era where most animation studios are going for fully CGI animation, there’s something to be admired about a studio that creates hand drawn animation, and Wolfwalkers is a magically enchanting tale that continues to enhance Cartoon Saloon’s growing reputation as a powerhouse animation studio.