Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Red Sparrow (2018)

Image is property of TSG Entertainment, Chernin Entertainment and 20th Century Fox

Red Sparrow  – Film Review

Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Joel Edgerton, Matthias Schoenaerts, Jeremy Irons, Charlotte Rampling

Director: Francis Lawrence

Synopsis: A Russian ballerina is enrolled into a top secret programme that trains its recruits to become highly skilled agent known as Sparrows. Her primary target quickly becomes a CIA agent who is in possession of some top secret information.

Review: The United States of America and Russia,  two countries with an extremely murky history. A history that teased the terrifying prospect of nuclear conflict that lasted the best part of the 20th century. As such, it opens the door for filmmakers and storytellers to tap into this relationship of sorts between these two countries and how that may develop in the years to come. Mix that in with elements of espionage and seduction, and you have the materials to make a dark and unsettling espionage thriller.

Yet despite ticking all these boxes, there is something about Red Sparrow that just never  hits the mark. Adapted from the novel of the same name by Jason Matthews, it’s intriguing premise offers much, but the hope that this intriguing premise would deliver a compelling story feels really misguided. Marking his first project since completing the Hunger Games franchise, Francis Lawrence has reunited with his Hunger Games collaborator Jennifer Lawrence (no relation) to tell this story of Dominika. A gifted Russian ballerina who suffers a devastating accident which destroys her career as a ballerina. Unsure as to what she should do next, she is pushed into the direction of the Sparrow programme, and it’s from this moment, her life will never be the same again.

The trailers certainly made the movie look as though it was going to be an intriguing espionage thriller, yet sadly it really is not all that thrilling. The screenplay by Justin Hythe certainly offers up an intriguing first act, including some very dark scenes that could have taken the story in a very interesting direction. However, it all quickly fizzles away into insignificance before long. A story with this premise should not be this mediocre, but several scenes just meander and it all becomes just not very interesting to watch. The actual plot itself is extremely convoluted, and it all just gets a little bit messy.  There’s some impressive camerawork involving the moment her ballerina prospects go up in flames, but there’s not much else to shout about, which is frustrating given some of the work we have seen from Lawrence as a director (see Catching Fire).

Lawrence has shown that since she hung up her bow as Katniss that she can take on a variety of different roles and make them her own. Her performance is admirable as she tries to hold the film on her shoulders, but the extremely lacklustre material she has been given to work with prevents her from doing so. Though her accent does slip on occasions, she gives comfortably the strongest performance. The rest of this very talented cast are by and large either extremely under-utilised or not given enough development to really make the audience care for them. Edgerton is perhaps the only exception, but even then the development he gets is thin, at best. Meanwhile, other actors such as Jeremy Irons seem really miscast in their roles.

The chemistry between Lawrence and Edgerton is serviceable, but it could and really should have been so much stronger given the talent of the actors. The plot is so convoluted that by the time the credits begin to play, you’ll be wondering if it was worth it, and the answer sadly, is probably not.

An intriguing premise, thrown away on an extremely convoluted and messy plot, combined with very bland and forgettable characters, all of which results in an extremely disappointing finished product.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Feature

90th Academy Awards: Predictions

Hollywood’s biggest night is upon us once again, and the Academy celebrates it’s 90th birthday. For such a significant milestone in the Academy’s history, it is extremely fitting then there is a plethora of really good films that are up for the big prizes this year. A story about a woman who falls in love with a fish man, a film about the power of advertising, a return to the world of replicants, a journalism drama, the story of the Dunkirk evacuation, a love story set in 1980s Italy and a film about a dress designer that marks the final on screen performance of the legendary Daniel Day Lewis. Of course, for all the great films there can only be one winner in every category and so it is time to predict the winners in the majority of the categories (I have not seen the documentaries and animated shorts) and chime in with my own thoughts on who should take home that coveted golden statue come the end of the night.

Best Actor in a Leading Role

  • Timothée Chalamet Call Me by Your Name
  • Daniel Day-LewisPhantom Thread
  • Daniel Kaluuya Get Out
  • Gary Oldman Darkest Hour
  • Denzel WashingtonRoman J. Israel, Esq.

It is looking likely that this will be the occasion that Gary Oldman finally strikes Oscar gold, for a transformative, mesmerising turn as Winston Churchill. He’s been sweeping the board throughout this awards season and it would be more than deserved. At times, you forgot it was him under all that make up, his captivating performance binds the whole film together, and it would be a major surprise if Oldman is not victorious.

Will Win: Gary Oldman

Should Win: Gary Oldman

Best Actress in a Leading Role

  • Sally Hawkins The Shape of Water
  • Frances McDormandThree Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
  • Margot Robbie I, Tonya
  • Saoirse RonanLady Bird
  • Meryl StreepThe Post

It’s a similar story with the leading actress category as McDormand has also been sweeping the board with her terrific and heartbreaking work as a mother desperately seeking answers over her child’s murder. That being said, Saorise Ronan could be something of an underdog with her beautiful performance. What’s more to say, for a film in which she has no dialogue, Sally Hawkins should also not be ruled out. A victory for any of these three would be more than worthy but the writing is on the billboard for McDormand and she should take home her 2nd Oscar.

Will Win: Frances McDormand

Should Win: Sally Hawkins

Could have been nominated: Vicki Krieps for Phantom Thread

Best Supporting Actor

  • Willem Dafoe – The Florida Project
  • Woody Harrelson – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
  • Richard Jenkins – The Shape of Water
  • Christopher Plummer – All the Money in the World
  • Sam Rockwell – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri 

Billboards’s domination should continue here as much like the preceding two categories, Rockwell has been cleaning house and is the hot favourite to win his first Oscar. His work in Billboards was extraordinary and despite the excellent efforts of all the gentlemen nominated in this category with him, this is most definitely Rockwell’s to lose.

Will Win: Sam Rockwell

Should Win: Sam Rockwell

Could have been nominated: Harrison Ford for Blade Runner 2049

Best Supporting Actress 

  • Mary J. Blige – Mudbound
  • Allison Janney – I, Tonya
  • Lesley Manville – Phantom Thread
  • Laurie Metcalf – Lady Bird
  • Octavia Spencer – The Shape of Water

The last acting category and another very likely triumph, this time for Alison Janney. Her work as the vicious mother of Tonya Harding was uncompromising, yet at the same time very funny. Yet one could feel that Laurie Metcalf’s work opposite Saoirse Ronan in Lady Bird was the much more sincere performance as a mother who also wants what’s best for her daughter but tries to be a little bit more compassionate about it. Like the previous acting categories, Janney has definitely got this one wrapped up.

Will Win: Allison Janney 

Should Win: Laurie Metcalf

Could have been nominated: Holly Hunter for The Big Sick

Best Director

  • Christopher NolanDunkirk
  • Jordan PeeleGet Out
  • Greta GerwigLady Bird
  • Paul Thomas AndersonPhantom Thread
  • Guillermo del ToroThe Shape of Water

Meshing three inter-weaving storylines and making them all flow seamlessly is an extraordinary feat of directorial mastery, and for that Nolan could yet take his FIRST Oscar (err what?!!?). Yet this one is seemingly heading towards Del Toro. Though that would not be an undeserving win for an extraordinary film-maker, there is fierce competition from both Greta Gerwig and Jordan Peele, both of whom made their directorial debuts in almighty style. But the odds are in Del Toro’s favour.

Will Win:  Guillermo del Toro 

Should Win: Christopher Nolan

Could have been nominated: Denis Villeneuve for Blade Runner 2049

Best Original Screenplay 

  • The Big Sick – Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani
  • Get Out – Jordan Peele
  • Lady Bird – Greta Gerwig
  • The Shape of Water – Guillermo del Toro and Vanessa Taylor
  • Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – Martin McDonagh

Five very strong screenplays, any of these would be a worthy winner, but it seems as though it’s a race between Get Out and Three Billboards. Peele’s screenplay is razor sharp in terms of its humour and very relevant social commentary that makes it a hot favourite, and deservedly so. That being said, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri also balances the extremely dark nature of its subject matter, and injects it with extremely black humour that hits the mark. It could be a very close call.

Will Win:  Get Out

Should Win:  Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Could have been nominated: Coco

Best Adapted Screenplay

  • Call Me by Your NameJames Ivory 
  • The Disaster ArtistScott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber
  • LoganScott Frank, James Mangold and Michael Green
  • Molly’s GameAaron Sorkin
  • MudboundVirgil Williams and Dee Rees

Call Me By Your Name has been pretty much sweeping this category across this awards season and so its success here is looking almost guaranteed. It is somewhat surprising to see a superhero film nominated, but that is a testament to the sheer quality of Logan’s screenplay that it deserves its place here and in another year, might have even taken home the gold.

Will Win:  Call Me by Your Name 

Should Win: Logan

Could have been nominated: Blade Runner 2049

Best Animated Feature Film 

  • The Boss Baby
  • The Breadwinner
  • Coco
  • Ferdinand 
  • Loving Vincent 

In contrast to last year, this is something of a weak category for animation. The power of Pixar will get Coco through here. Though the omission of the Lego Batman Movie proves that the Academy must have a vendetta against Lego for some strange reason.

Will Win:  Coco

Should Win: Coco

Should have been nominated: The Lego Batman Movie

Best Original Score 

  • DunkirkHans Zimmer
  • Phantom ThreadJonny Greenwood
  • The Shape of WaterAlexandre Desplat
  • Star Wars: The Last JediJohn Williams
  • Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, MissouriCarter Burwell

Zimmer’s score certainly helped to add massive amounts of tension to Dunkirk. But the work of Desplat goes hand in hand with the beautiful work that you see on screen. Though Jonny Greenwood’s work on Phantom Thread is equally mesmerising so it’s by no means a foregone conclusion.

Will Win:  The Shape of Water

Should Win: The Shape of Water

Could have been nominated: Blade Runner 2049

Best Original Song 

  • “Mighty River” from Mudbound – Music and Lyrics by Mary J. Blige, Raphael Saadiq and Taura Stinson
  • “Mystery of Love” from Call Me by Your Name – Music and Lyrics by Sufjan Stevens
  • “Remember Me” from Coco – Music and Lyrics by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez
  • “Stand Up for Something” from Marshall – Music by Diane Warren; Lyrics by Common and Diane Warren
  • “This Is Me” from The Greatest Showman – Music and Lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul

This seems to be a battle between “This is Me” and “Remember Me” though “Mystery of Love” could certainly pull off an upset. With music being a central part of Coco, that could give it an edge but “This is Me” seems the most likely to triumph

Will Win:  “This is Me” from Greatest Showman

Should Win: “Remember Me” from Coco

Best Sound Editing

The sound categories this year seem to be a battle between the slick and stylish work of Baby Driver versus the heart-pounding intensity of Dunkirk. The work done by both these teams is very impressive, but Dunkirk‘s technical mastery should be enough to get it home with the Oscar in tow.

Will Win:  Dunkirk

Should Win: Dunkirk

Best Sound Mixing

  • Baby Driver Julian Slater, Tim Cavagin and Mary H. Ellis
  • Blade Runner 2049Ron Bartlett, Doug Hemphill and Mac Ruth
  • DunkirkMark Weingarten, Gregg Landaker and Gary A. Rizzo
  • The Shape of WaterChristian Cooke, Brad Zoern and Glen Gauthier
  • Star Wars: The Last JediDavid Parker, Michael Semanick, Ren Klyce and Stuart Wilson

As with the Sound Editing category, it is Dunkirk VS Baby Driver and as before, though either would be more than a worthy winner, Dunkirk’s sound wizardry is second to none.

Will Win:  Dunkirk

Should Win: Dunkirk

Best Production Design 

  • Beauty and the Beast – Production Design: Sarah Greenwood; Set Decoration: Katie Spencer
  • Blade Runner 2049 – Production Design: Dennis Gassner; Set Decoration: Alessandra Querzola
  • Darkest Hour – Production Design: Sarah Greenwood; Set Decoration: Katie Spencer
  • Dunkirk – Production Design: Nathan Crowley; Set Decoration: Gary Fettis
  • The Shape of Water – Production Design: Paul Denham Austerberry; Set Decoration: Shane Vieau and Jeff Melvin

To take the world of Los Angeles in the future and have it look so dazzlingly authentic gives Blade Runner 2049  a real shot at winning. However in a similar vein, fusing the fantastical elements of the story with the gritty nature of 1960s Cold War America gives Shape of Water a real chance of taking the award out of the hands of those replicants.

Will Win:  Blade Runner 2049

Should Win: Dunkirk

Best Cinematography

  • Blade Runner 2049Roger Deakins
  • Darkest HourBruno Delbonnel
  • DunkirkHoyte van Hoytema
  • MudboundRachel Morrison
  • The Shape of WaterDan Laustsen

Simply put, #DeakinsorRiot. One of the finest cinematographers ever is due on Oscar and this better be the one that gives him the damn statue after 14 previous attempts.

Will Win:  Roger Deakins

Should Win: Roger Deakins

Best Makeup and Hairstyling 

  • Darkest Hour Kazuhiro Tsuji, David Malinowski and Lucy Sibbick
  • Victoria & AbdulDaniel Phillips and Lou Sheppard
  • WonderArjen Tuiten

As previously mentioned, the extraordinary work that helped transform Mr Oldman into Mr Churchill should ensure Darkest Hour is triumphant.

Will Win:  Darkest Hour

Should Win: Darkest Hour

Best Costume Design 

  • Beauty and the BeastJacqueline Durran
  • Darkest HourJacqueline Durran
  • Phantom ThreadMark Bridges
  • The Shape of Water Luis Sequeira
  • Victoria & AbdulConsolata Boyle

The dresses that were on display in Phantom Thread were sumptuous in their design and while the work done by Jacqueline Durran in Darkest Hour and Beauty and the Beast deserves plaudits, this one belongs to Phantom Thread.

Will Win:  Phantom Thread

Should Win: Phantom Thread

Best Film Editing

  • Baby Driver Paul Machliss and Jonathan Amos
  • DunkirkLee Smith
  • I, TonyaTatiana S. Riegel
  • The Shape of WaterSidney Wolinsky
  • Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, MissouriJon Gregory

When you take a film that intertwines 3 differing story-lines and it is all edited so brilliantly that should be more than enough to ensure that Dunkirk flies home with this Oscar.

Will Win:  Dunkirk

Should Win: Dunkirk

Best Visual Effects

  • Blade Runner 2049 John Nelson, Gerd Nefzer, Paul Lambert and Richard R. Hoover
  • Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2Christopher Townsend, Guy Williams, Jonathan Fawkner and Dan Sudick
  • Kong: Skull IslandStephen Rosenbaum, Jeff White, Scott Benza and Mike Meinardus
  • Star Wars: The Last Jedi Ben Morris, Mike Mulholland, Neal Scanlan and Chris Corbould
  • War for the Planet of the ApesJoe Letteri, Daniel Barrett, Dan Lemmon and Joel Whist

Aside from the fact that the remarkable work Andy Serkis has done with this revived Apes trilogy should have ensured he at the very least got nominated, the work that is done on these films has been extraordinary and deserves to be recognised. That being said, Blade Runner 2049 will probably take this one home. Also why on earth is Kong: Skull Island here?

Will Win:  Blade Runner 2049

Should Win: Blade Runner 2049

Could have been nominated: Thor: Ragnarok

And last but certainly not least….

Best Picture

  • Call Me by Your Name Peter Spears, Luca Guadagnino, Emilie Georges, and Marco Morabito
  • Darkest HourTim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Lisa Bruce, Anthony McCarten, and Douglas Urbanski
  • Dunkirk Emma Thomas and Christopher Nolan
  • Get Out Sean McKittrick, Jason Blum, Edward H. Hamm Jr., and Jordan Peele
  • Lady BirdScott Rudin, Eli Bush, and Evelyn O’Neill
  • Phantom Thread JoAnne Sellar, Paul Thomas Anderson, Megan Ellison and Daniel Lupi
  • The PostAmy Pascal, Steven Spielberg, and Kristie Macosko Krieger
  • The Shape of WaterGuillermo del Toro and J. Miles Dale
  • Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, MissouriGraham Broadbent, Pete Czernin, and Martin McDonagh

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

An incredibly stacked year, full of some terrific works and usually there is one film that is a clear runaway favourite, but not so this year as there are a few that have a legitimate shot at taking home the biggest prize of the night.  Three Billboards will undoubtedly be buoyed by its BAFTA and SAG victories but success for The Shape of Water at the Critics Choice and Producer’s Guild of America Awards, highlights the unpredictability of this year’s crop. Though usually it requires a Best Director nomination to stand a good chance of scooping Best Picture, Three Billboards might just defy that expectation and become only the fifth film to win without a Best Director nomination. However, my hope is that The Shape of Water will emerge triumphant, it would go nicely with Del Toro’s probable victory in the director category, but this is extremely close to call.

Will Win:  Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Should Win: The Shape of Water

Could have been nominated: Blade Runner 2049

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Feature

90th Academy Awards Predictions: Best Original Screenplay


It’s the biggest night for Hollywood and myself and a few film bloggers have gathered together to give our own take on each of the categories and provide our thoughts on who should emerge victorious. So without further ado, let’s take a look at the nominees for the Best Original Screenplay. The nominees are:

  • The Big Sick – Written by Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani

  • Get Out – Written by Jordan Peele

  • Lady Bird – Written by Greta Gerwig

  • The Shape of Water – Screenplay by Guillermo del Toro and Vanessa Taylor; Story by Guillermo del Toro

  • Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – Written by Martin McDonagh


Once again it is a very strong year in terms of the screenplay categories, both in this category and in the adapted category, with five really strong screenplays. It’s tough picking a winner as any one of these would be more than a worthy winner.

There’s much to love about The Big Sick, in terms of how it really is a romantic comedy with a very unique premise that is both very funny and very heartfelt.

Get Out marks an astonishing directorial debut for Jordan Peele, and with a screenplay that is razor sharp in terms of its humour and very relevant social commentary that makes it a hot favourite, and deservedly so.

Lady Bird is a coming-of-age drama unlike any other that brilliantly and beautifully captured what it means to be a teenager.

The Shape of Water is an absolutely beautiful love story that has powerful themes of redemption and acceptance at its core.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri balances the extremely dark nature of its subject matter, and injects it with extremely black humour and it’s the perfect recipe for a wonderful film that really goes to show the power of advertising.

This is perhaps one of the categories that is not a nailed on victory and while it seems as though it is a race between Three Billboards and Get Out, there could yet be a shock in store

Predicted winner…

Get Out

Should win…

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Click the links below to view our thoughts on the other categories:

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Feature

90th Academy Awards Predictions: Cinematography


Continuing in the coverage of the biggest night for Hollywood. Myself and a few film bloggers have gathered together to give our own take on each of the categories and provide our thoughts on who should emerge victorious. So let’s take a look at the nominees for the Best Cinematography. The nominees are:

  • Blade Runner 2049 – Roger Deakins

  • Darkest Hour – Bruno Delbonnel

  • Dunkirk – Hoyte van Hoytema

  • Mudbound – Rachel Morrison

  • The Shape of Water – Dan Laustsen


The cinematographers, the geniuses who give the film each its own unique look, and yet again four supremely talented men and for the first time ever, a woman (about damn time!) are up for recognition for their work.

The overwhelming favourite to take home the trophy is Roger Deakins for his work with Denis Villenueve in Blade Runner 2049. Simply put, as a cinematographer he is one of the best in the business but that Oscar has somehow eluded him over the years, but given his mesmerising work in Blade Runner, one of the most breathtakingly beautiful films ever made, it looks as though this will be the time for Deakins to finally claim that long overdue Oscar.

That being said, there is still a chance that Hoyte van Hoytema could sneak a win as Dunkirk is an impressive cinematic achievement in its own right. The camera work really makes you feel like you’re on that beach with those soldiers.

Likewise, the work from Dan Lausten on The Shape of Water is also mesmerising to look at and next to Blade Runner possess the most vivid colour palette among this year’s nominees.

Darkest Hour also boasts some excellent visual splendour, but it’s unlikely to emerge victorious.

While history was made with Rachel Morrison becoming the first female cinematographer ever to pick up a nomination for Mudbound. Time’s certainly are changing in Hollywood, and while Morrison winning would be a wonderful surprise, it is time the Academy recognised the extraordinary talents of a man who’s been the brains behind some of the most stunning visual films in recent years.

Predicted winner…

Blade Runner 2049

Should win…

Blade Runner 2049

Click the links below to view our thoughts on the other categories:

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Feature

Ranking the 2018 Best Picture Nominees

The Academy Awards celebrates its 90th birthday this weekend and to celebrate this significant milestone in the Academy’s history, it is only fitting that there is an excellent selection of films that are up for the most prestigious award of the night, this of course being the Best Picture. A total of nine films have been selected for the prize, but only one film will walk away victorious. The films up for this prize are certainly an interesting bunch. A story focusing on some brave journalists, a couple of love stories, a visceral telling of the evacuation at Dunkirk, a deeply unsettling tale of racism and one woman’s quest for justice. There was a lot to love about these films and so it is time to rank them from worst to best, starting with…

9. Call Me By Your Name

Now, I know that many people around the world have fallen head over heels in love with this film, I sadly am not one of these people. Something about this film just didn’t land with me as much as it did with many a film critic. It was undoubtedly a beautifully shot film, with lush cinematography and a terrific score. What really drags this film down for me is the story. Though both Armie Hammer and Timothée Chalamet both give solid performances, with it being a love story, I just was not invested enough in their romance. The film’s pacing is severely slow and it means the film drags. Though it does have an extremely powerful closing scene that is memorable and very emotional, the rest of the film in my mind, sadly is not.

8. The Post

Full review here

Steven Spielberg as director? Check. Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep on board? Check. A film about a time when journalists and the White House clash over top secret documents? Check. All the ingredients for greatness, but sadly there’s something about this Spielberg picture that just doesn’t quite hit its mark. Given the current incumbent in the White House, it’s little wonder Spielberg fast-tracked it into production. The themes of this film are really relevant in this “fake news” era, but the film really struggles to get going in the first half, before finally giving a tense second half. You would expect something more from a director as gifted as Spielberg, but it just never matched those lofty expectations.

7. Phantom Thread

Full review here

Daniel Day Lewis is one of the greatest actors to have ever lived. The only man to win three Best Actor awards and for one final bow, back with Paul Thomas Anderson in this beautiful tale about a dress designer who falls in love with a woman, and the sometimes loving, sometimes extremely testing relationship that plays out on screen. As a film it is masterfully directed and the three central performances of the film bind it all together. Day Lewis is of course superb, but it’s the work of Vicky Krieps that captures the most attention. Going toe-to-toe with Day-Lewis is not easy, but she pulls it off, and it’s a fascinating relationship to watch. The costumes are stunning and the music is equally so. A worthy send off for a sublime actor.

6. Darkest Hour

Full review here

World War II. Britain at war with a tyrannical man threatening to wreak havoc on the continent. It was truly a desperate situation, and one man stepped up when his country needed him most. That man was Winston Churchill and what maybe a career defining performance, and one that is looking extremely likely to bag Gary Oldman the Best Actor gong this year. The actor is barely recoginseable under the make up, but it helps make his performance feel so powerful and authentic. You just see Churchill on screen and not the actor, and that is worthy of praise. With an impeccably acted cast, as Churchill faces a race against time to evacuate British soldiers from Dunkirk (more on that later). It manages to inject humour into this bleak situation, and serves a reminder of that indomitable British spirit that help this nation through the Second World War.

5. Get Out

If ever a film that was released in 2017 that felt timely, it was Get Out. A year that saw some horrifying events take place in America, hence making the directorial debut from Jordan Peele an extremely relevant and important piece of cinema. Fusing comedy and horror is walking a very fine line, but given Peele’s comedy roots, he absolutely walks that line perfectly. In that one minute it’s a happy scene and the next it’s utterly horrifying. Daniel Kaluuya is perhaps the best he has ever been in the lead role in a film that has such significant and relevant social commentary.  It’s a remarkable achievement for Peele and all the more impressive that it has stayed in the Awards conversation all this time,  despite coming out in February in the States.

4. Lady Bird

Full review here

Growing up, something we have all got to go through at one point in our lives, and though this is not anything new in movie making and story telling, nothing has captured it quite as well as this film. Written and directed by Greta Gerwig, also making her directorial debut along with Jordan Peele, this film just captures those struggles that we all go through as teenagers so affectionately, that it made it really unlike any other coming-of-age drama. Saorise Ronan’s magnetic performance at the heart of it all is the reason why it all just clicks. Like with Oldman, you don’t see the actress only the character that she has become, likewise with Laurie Metcalf as her mother. Likewise with Peele, Gerwig’s debut behind the camera means that she has a very bright future ahead of her.

3. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Full review here

Much like Get Out, when you fuse two genres that are so different like comedy and horror, the result can be a gigantic mess. Similalrly fusing comedy and tragedy can be equally problematic. Yet again this tale of a woman grieving over her daughter’s murder and her fury with the inaction by the authorities is both dark and in places deeply tragic. Yet it manages to be extremely funny, finding humour in the most unlikely of places. Frances McDormand has been winning plaudits left, right and centre, and much like Oldman, it would be an enormous surprise if she is not clutching that trophy by the end of the  night, likewise for Sam Rockwell in the Best Supporting Actor category.

2. Dunkirk

Full review here

Christopher Nolan, a director whose name will immediately capture the attention of cinema goers across the world. Dabbling in history for this film about the Miracle of Dunkirk, proved that as a director, he can take any genre and make an extremely compelling, magnificently crafted film. The film-making on show here is flawless, the use of practical models adds so much authenticity to the story and from a technical standpoint it’s just astounding to watch. Though there’s not much dialogue, and the characters do not have much in the way of character development, the story that Nolan crafts is edited, fusing three varying narratives into one so faultlessly.  In terms of the technical categories, this film is bound to pick up a few awards in that area.

1. The Shape of Water

Full review here

Of all the things you can say about Guillermo del Toro, one thing is for sure, this man is a visionary director, and no film better exemplifies this than this absolutely stunning film. If you tell someone the basic premise of this film they would probably look at you in utter bemusement that a film like this could be so emotive and so heartfelt, but it is that and then some. McDormand is favourite but as a mute woman who falls in love with this creature, Sally Hawkins is mesmerising which is so remarkable given that she has no dialogue in the film, and is superbly supported by Octavia Spencer, Michael Shannon, Michael Stulbarg and Richard Jenkins especially. It’s soaked in absolutely gorgeous visuals and the cinematography is equally dripping in breath-taking beauty. A truly magnetic and immersive piece of cinema and one of del Toro’s best without any question of a doubt.

Could/should have been nominated…

While for the most part, all of these films deserve to be awarded with this recognition, there are a few films that for my money could have been included. Here are three that for my money could have joined the above:

Blade Runner 2049 (review) – The sequel to the film that shaped science fiction, that in turn was a worthy companion piece and one of the best films of 2017. Denis Villeneuve’s film was technically astounding with breath-taking cinematography and a really emotionally investing story. While it’s technical brilliance has been recognised and one that should see Roger Deakins finally win the Oscar, it deserved a Best Picture nomination (#DeakinsorRiot).

The Big Sick (review) – Romantic comedies can sometimes be so generic, basically retelling the same story over and over, but The Big Sick certainly isn’t that. It was a tremendously funny film about the real life exploits of its star Kumail Nanjiani, who despite pressure from his parents falls in love with an American woman, who develops a very serious illness. It was a very sincere story, told with heart and though its original screenplay nomination is well deserved, it could have got a lot more than that.

Coco (review) – Pixar is synonymous with telling emotional stories that leave its audience members to absolute blubbering messes, and its latest is no exemption. This was a beautifully told story about one boy’s passion for what he wants to do despite being completely forbidden from doing so by his family. The animation is magnificent and the music is delightful. Incredibly only three animated films have ever been nominated for Best Picture (Beauty and the Beast, Up and Toy Story 3) and Coco had more than enough quality to join that category.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Lady Bird (2018)

Image is property of A24, Universal Pictures and Scott Rudin Productions

Lady Bird – Film Review

Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, Lucas Hedges, Timothée Chalamet, Beanie Feldstein

Director: Greta Gerwig

Synopsis: Lady Bird  (Ronan) is a 17 year old woman in the final year of high school, while having a tricky relationship with her mother, must negotiate friendships, romance and the prospect of college…

Review: For some, those teenage years  are the best times of your life, on the brink of adulthood but not quite at that point where you have to start looking after your own affairs. It’s something that we all go through and is as much a part of life as death and taxes. As such, to make such a film about going through that particular period of life, and to give it such a refreshing and unique spin is a very impressive feat, even more so considering that this is the film that marks the directorial debut of Greta Gerwig.

Focusing on Christine or Lady Bird as she prefers to be known, as she navigates her final year of school before heading off to college. Before that can happen though, she experiences everything people go through in their final year of school, establishing friendships, making new relationships, and bickering with your parents. It is such a simple, almost by the numbers premise that has been done so many times before. Yet through her remarkable and screenplay that has some razor sharp wit and humour, Gerwig fashions a story that will be relatable to almost all who watch it, as everyone will have remembered that point in their lives when they were in the exact same position as Lady Bird finds herself here, particularly when it comes to moving away from home and settling down at college/university.

A key reason as to why this film feels so fresh and so impactful is the performance of Saoirse Ronan. You know that when you just see the character and not the actor is when you know you’re witnessing a good performance, and that is applicable for almost everyone in the film. Everything about her just feels so real and genuine, and though she has a bit of a temper (let’s be fair who didn’t when they were a teenager?) she is effortlessly watchable.  To have already garnered three Oscar nominations at the age of 23 is a staggeringly impressive achievement and it is a testament to her wonderful ability as an actor. With everyone everyone else on screen giving perfect performances, it does feel like you’re watching real people with real lives, rather than watching a film.

Special mention must go to Laurie Metcalf as Lady Bird’s mother. This Mother-Daughter relationship makes up the most significant portion of the film. It is a relationship that is far from perfect, indeed it’s a pretty fraught one at times. Yet there is a clear respect for one another, even if they don’t always show it. In everything the film says about the typical struggles a teenager goes through, especially for teenage girls. It manages to tell them in a manner that almost no coming-of-age film has done before. What’s more, the film is utterly hilarious, it finds its humour in all of those little moments that life throws at us when we’re on the brink of adulthood. The road of life is full of ups and downs and this film captures those moments of joy and heartbreak and tells them with such affection, that you will want a pal like Lady Bird around in your life. She’s just that lovable.

A familiar tale, but told in such a refreshingly original manner, this is a coming-of-age drama done almost to perfection, with a stunning turn from Ronan at its centre. 

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Phantom Thread (2018)

Image is property of Universal Pictures and Annapurna Pictures

Phantom Thread – Film Review

Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lesley Manville, Vicki Krieps

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

Synopsis: Reynolds Woodcock is an accomplished dress designer, with a set daily routine and some extremely wealthy clientele. When he meets Alma, a strong willed woman, his daily life and routine is turned upside down.

Review: When it comes to actors and method acting, there is perhaps no one who does this better than the one and the only Daniel Day-Lewis. With every role he takes on, he goes to extraordinary lengths to get into character, and he has done so across his career. It is an approach that has served him well, becoming the only man to win three Best Actor gongs. Reuniting with his There Will Be Blood director Paul Thomas Anderson, for one last hurrah after he announced he would retire from the profession, it is safe to say that one of the most legendary actors to ever grace our screens has gone out on a very high note indeed.

Telling the story of meticulous fashion designer Reynolds Woodcock, living in 1950s London. He is a man who lives his life with a very strict routine and any break from that routine is most certainly not welcome. Yet whilst on a break from his daily life he meets a woman named Alma (Krieps) and falls head over heels for her. Before long the two of them are in a relationship with Alma assisting Reynolds as he makes his luxury garments. Yet while Alma’s arrival is initially a joyful one, things soon start to turn a little difficult as Alma’s presence starts to interrupt his fastidious way of life.

With this his swansong performance, he once again adopted his meticulous approach to the roles he takes on, as he learned how to create and design a dress all on his own, and it adds so much sincerity and conviction to his performance, you really get the impression that he’s a man who not only knows his craft, but is one of the best in the business. Of course by being so good at what he does, it does mean he comes into friction with people when his routine is disturbed. These people are mainly of course Alma, and his sister Cyril (Manville) who is an instrumental part of why Reynolds’s business is the success it is.

Opposite Day Lewis, who of course has landed a final nomination, both women really shine in excellent performances that earned Manville an Oscar nomination. Both have to wrestle with Reynolds’s stubborn mannerisms, but Krieps can count herself really unfortunate to not have landed one as well as it’s her relationship with Reynolds that becomes the spotlight of the picture.  To hold her own opposite Day Lewis, and perhaps maybe even outshine him is an extraordinary feat that should see more scripts get pushed in her direction.

Like the process of designing and making an extravagant gown probably is, the film is written and directed meticulously and superbly by Anderson. He takes his time with his three principal characters and gives each of them their moment to really shine. All three are extremely well fleshed out and strong-willed and so to see the sparks fly between these very fierce personalities clash is almost always utterly compelling.

Something would have gone very badly amiss if the costumes on display weren’t absolutely sumptuous, rest assured that is simply not the case. The production design likewise is immaculate, as is the beautiful cinematography and Jonny Greenwood’s score is both beautiful and haunting in equal measure. The film does maybe suffer from a few pacing issues in part, but it remains an exquisite piece of cinema and if this is to be Daniel Day Lewis’s final bow, then this truly magnificently talented man has ensured that he leaves behind a legacy to the art form of cinema that will never diminish.

Immaculate production elements combined with three remarkable performances ensure that Day-Lewis is given a send off worthy of one of the finest actors to ever grace the big screen.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

The Shape of Water (2018)

Image is property of Fox Searchlight Pictures and TSG Entertainment

The Shape of Water – Film Review

Cast: Sally Hawkins, Richard Jenkins, Octavia Spencer, Doug Jones, Michael Shannon, Michael Stuhlbarg

Director: Guillermo del Toro

Synopsis: In the middle of the Cold War, a mute woman working at a top secret research facility develops a unique relationship with an amphibious creature that has been brought in for testing.

Review: Hollywood is certainly no stranger to stories about love, but when you have a director like Guillermo del Toro, here’s a filmmaker who’s certainly no stranger to making a couple of films about some intriguing creatures. Hence, to merge these together for a film with themes of love and acceptance at its core, and fuse these with some fantasy elements, it’s a unique mishmash of genres, the latter of which is right up del Toro’s alley. It’s most definitely bold film-making, but it also happens to be exquisite and beautiful film-making at the same time.

Set in Cold War 1960s USA, Elisa (Hawkins) is a mute woman working at a top secret research facility as a cleaner. She goes about her shift as normal with close friend and co-worker Zelda (Spencer). Their job is very unremarkable, about as mundane as it gets. This is until the arrival of an extremely rare amphibian creature that has been brought in to give the USA an advantage in the Cold War arms race changes everything for Elisa as she forms a very close relationship with the creature.

Love at first sight

To have a leading role in a film and be a mute requires an actor to have extraordinary ability, and thankfully Sally Hawkins has that in abundance as she delivers a truly  remarkable performance. Without saying a word she manages to convey the trauma that her past has clearly inflicted on her. Yet through it all she shows such raw and powerful emotion, about her life and her feelings for those around her, which is an extraordinary accomplishment.  The way that del Toro builds the relationship with his leading lady and the creature (portrayed by GDT regular Doug Jones) is beautiful to watch and to do so without either character uttering a word is all the more remarkable. It serves as a timely reminder that love is such a powerful emotion that it transcends anything, be it disability, gender, race, religion.

Alongside Hawkins, Octavia Spencer provides excellent support as Elisa’s best friend and who also serves as her sign language translator. Likewise for Richard Jenkins as Elisa’s roommate who’s desperately trying to get back on the scene as an artist, who also has his own set of problems that he’s trying to fight. The two of them give Elisa the support she needs as she tries to build her romance with the creature. On the opposite side of that coin comes Michael Shannon’s Strickland, who definitely does not share the emotional connection that Elisa has for the creature. It’s a similar role for Shannon, this no nonsense mean-spirited bad guy, but he does it so well it’s undeniably intriguing to watch.

The work done by the make up team to create the creature is once again absolutely extraordinary, and with some absolutely mesmerising production design and cinematography. The film looks immaculately beautiful, which works to reflect the incredibly heartfelt and touching story that del Toro brings to the screen, which is boosted by an immaculate score provided by Alexandre Desplat. Not everything that you see on screen is pretty mind you, what with it being set in the Cold War, there’s a fair few agendas flying around.

The central themes that this film champions remain as relevant today as they did over half a century ago.  Pitching this film was probably not the easiest film to have been given the green light, but when you have a director like del Toro on board you’ve got enormous potential for greatness, and this is his drenched masterpiece.

A beautiful blend of genres results in a touching and powerful story, soaked with gorgeous visuals and an absolutely stunning turn from Hawkins, this is cinema at its most majestic and magical.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Black Panther (2018)

Image is property of Marvel Studios

Black Panther – Film Review

Cast: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B Jordan, Lupita Nyongo’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Letitia Wright, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Andy Serkis

Director: Ryan Coogler

Synopsis: In the wake of his father’s death, T’Challa returns to his homeland of Wakanda, to be crowned King. Yet as he seeks to continue the Black Panther legacy, challenges to his rule begin to emerge…

Review: For all the might and marvel that the MCU has built and delivered to audiences all around the world, there was always something missing from this vast and enthralling universe. No, not a female led superhero film (though that is on its way), but a film that taps into a vast culture that up until now hadn’t really been explored. A culture that encompasses the beautiful continent of Africa, and all the beauty it has to offer. Indeed, little Easter Eggs were placed in earlier films but now at long last, it takes centre stage.

Following on from the events of Civil War, T’Challa returns to his home of Wakanda, a technologically advanced nation in Africa that has chosen to shield itself and its absolutely awesome technology away from the world. However, trouble is brewing for T’Challa as events from the past are threatening to reap terrible consequences on Wakanda and its people. All the while, T’Challa must balance his duties as the King of his country, whilst also being the iconic Black Panther, being a King is sometimes not the great thing it is so often cracked up to be.

After reinvigorating the Rocky franchise so succesfully with Creed, Ryan Coogler takes on what his comfortably his largest project to date. Yet much like Taika Waititi before him, he brings his own sense of style to the story and indeed to the wider Marvel Universe. The work that is done to establish this world of Wakanda is so breath-taking and done in such a vivid manner, it feels like it almost could be a place on this planet, which regrettably it is not. Of course it being an MCU film certain things are almost guaranteed to be present, such as the humour. While a few jokes can be hit or miss, for the most part, the humour adds to the scenes but never compromises the experience of what is ultimately a very personal story about a man, his duty to his country, and to his family, and what that means to his country.

Ready to pounce…

Speaking of which, Boseman continues his excellent work as both the man and the hero, but special mention must go Letitia Wright as the King’s technological whizkid of a sister, Shura. She has all the technological toys that she and her brother get to utilise, and their chemistry is excellent. Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o is also on excellent form as the tough warrior Nakia, as is Danai Gurira as the head of the Dora Milaje, a fearsome squad of badass female warriors serving Wakanda. This cast packs plenty of stars and nearly all of them really get their moment in the spotlight. Coogler’s muse though seems to be Michael B Jordan, and as Erik Killmonger, he comes across as a strong villain who’s well fleshed out, and you fully understand his motivations.

Re-teaming with his cinematographer from Creed, and recent first time Oscar nominee for cinematography  Rachel Morrison, the film is beautifully shot with stunning shots of the Wakanda landscape. There are more than a few insanely good action sequences to relish but the film is not reliant on these to tell the story and let the audience have fun. The deeply personal story that Coogler and co-writer Joe Robert Cole craft is what makes this story so invigorating. It has central themes that will hit home with any and all who watch it. It’s extremely relevant and important film-making in this respect, and for Marvel to continue to break new barriers, after an incredible 18 films into their Universe, is an important and remarkable achievement.

 A gripping personal story, packed with vibrant colours and costumes, terrific characters and a fascinating look into a breath-taking civilisation, it’s another landmark achievement for the MCU. Wakanda forever!


Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

The Post (2018)

Image is property of DreamWorks Pictures, Universal and 20th Century Fox

The Post – Film Review

Cast: Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Bob Odenkirk, Sarah Paulson, Jesse Plemons

Director: Steven Spielberg

Synopsis: When classified government documents concerning the Vietnam War end up in the hands of journalists for The Washington Post, they must decide whether to risk their careers and the paper’s legacy and publish these documents, whilst risking the wrath of the United States Government.

Review: There is something to be admired about those people who go above and beyond to try and report the facts in this crazy world we live in, especially at a time when journalists in this day and age find themselves under intense scrutiny. As so many people, especially certain world leaders, just dismiss stories about them that paint them in a negative light. Yet, the work these people do plays such a vital role in our society, and that cannot be ignored, especially when the work of journalists .

Indeed, the work of journalists has helped to break some pretty major stories like the enormous scandal that engulfed the Catholic Church, making films such as this and 2015’s Spotlight feel extremely relevant in today’s society. When some government secrets that reveal some shocking truths concerning the US Government and the Vietnam War fall into the hands of The New York Times, the US Government forbids them from running any further stories. When the same documents fall into the hands of The Washington Post, the editor Ben Bradlee debates with the paper’s first female owner Katharine Graham as to whether these documents should be published.

In much the same way that Spotlight was a very dialogue driven film, The Post follows in that manner. Therefore the screenplay has to be of a very high calibre, and that quality is ably provided by Spotlight’s scribe Josh Singer as well as Liz Hannah, marking her first foray into screenplay writing. Though the first half of the film delves into newspapers and business, it does mean that unless you’re extremely well versed in the worlds of newspapers, business, stocks and shares, then this could feel a little bit over-whelming. However, once we get to the small matter of whether the story should become front page news, is where it becomes very intriguing to watch.

Under the guidance of such a masterful director like Spielberg, the performances of everyone really shine. Yet in news that should not be surprising to anyone, the limelight belongs to Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks (more the former than the latter though). It is fascinating two of the biggest actors in the business, who had never worked together prior to this film, engage in some deep discussions about whether or not the decision is made to go to print. With this role banking her a 21st Oscar nomination, it’s little wonder that Streep is regarded as one of the finest women to ever grace the big screen, as no matter what the role is, she never fails to impress. Much like Streep, Hanks almost always impresses and as Ben Bradlee, the man who helped break the infamous Watergate scandal, he’s a man who is absolutely committed to telling the public what he feels they have the right to know.

Though the script doesn’t fully portray the important role that The New York Times played in the leaking of the documents, it does remind everyone that at such times when the press is under such fierce criticism, that this industry and indeed these people serve a role that needs to be respected. Otherwise politicians would try to  to sweep certain things under the rug. Though the film doesn’t carry the emotional sucker punch like Spotlight did, the key message about journalism integrity and the commitment to the truth retains its indispensable value to our society and our democracy.

Assured direction from Spielberg, and strong performances from Streep and Hanks ensure this trio of extraordinary talents provide a timely reminder of the power of the press and the fundamental aspects of a democracy.