Posted in 2020-2029, Awards Season, Oscars

94th Academy Awards: Final Predictions

Well, it’s that time of year again. After the elongated awards season window of the 93rd Academy Awards due to the pandemic, the current awards season we’ve had feels somewhat shortened. But in that time, we’ve had the welcome return of cinemas, and there’s nothing better than seeing films where they belong, on the big screen. With that, a plethora of brilliant and exciting films have been recognised by the Academy this year and Hollywood’s biggest night is once again upon us.

Last year’s scaled-down ceremony was a controversy-free event, until the ending when a change-up of the presenting order meant it all went very badly wrong. This year, the controversy has almost been ever-present as the absolutely nonsensical idea of presenting some of the categories off-air has been resurrected. Spoiling the moment of glory for those prospective winners and denying them their moment in the spotlight. A ceremony that honours the craft of movies and movie-making should be giving every recipient of an Oscar a chance to have their moment in the spotlight and this decision does a disservice to all those nominees.

Despite this ridiculous decision, there are still 23 golden statues up for grabs, the 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

  • Ciarán HindsBelfast
  • Troy Kotsur CODA
  • Jesse Plemons The Power of the Dog
  • J. K. Simmons Being the Ricardos
  • Kodi Smit-McPheeThe Power of the Dog

Kicking things off is a race that, for the third year in a row, has seen double nominees from the same film, after Judas and the Black Messiah and The Irishman. Apart from previous winner J.K. Simmons’s nomination, the rest of the pack are picking up their first nominations. Simmons’s nomination in Being the Ricardos is a sign that Aaron Sorkin’s latest film is well-loved by the Actors branch, but given that Ricardos is the only one without a Best Picture nomination, Simmons’s chances of a repeat win are extremely unlikely, especially as he’s very much bringing up the rear in this crop of performances. Plemons does great work, but he’s very much outshone by his co-stars. Ciarán Hinds’s beautiful turn as the cheeky Grandpa in Belfast would be a worthy winner, as would his co-star Jamie Dornan, who really should have been nominated ahead of Simmons for my money.

However, throughout this race, it’s very much been a battle between CODA‘s Troy Kotsur and Kodi Smit-McPhee’s layered work in The Power of the Dog. CODA‘s ensemble win at the SAG awards could tip the scales in Kotsur’s favour. He would make history as the first male deaf actor to win an Oscar, and his turn as the raunchy but heartfelt father in CODA was hilarious and emotional, he was able to break your heart with just one word.

Will Win: Troy Kotsur 

Should Win: Troy Kotsur

Could have been nominated: Jamie Dornan for Belfast

 

Best Supporting Actress

  • Jessie BuckleyThe Lost Daughter
  • Ariana DeBoseWest Side Story
  • Judi DenchBelfast
  • Kirsten DunstThe Power of the Dog
  • Aunjanue EllisKing Richard

As was the case with Supporting Actor, there’s one performance that can be discounted right out of the gate, as her film lacks a Best Picture nomination, which is a shame as Jessie Buckley’s work in The Lost Daughter outshines her co-stars. Kirsten Dunst has finally landed a nomination, and it’s quite fitting that she’s nominated the same year that her husband Jesse Plemons receives his first nomination. To go toe-to-toe with Will Smith is not an easy feat but Aunjanue Ellis’s performance manages exactly that. Judi Dench’s turn in Belfast was a welcome return to form for her after appearing in a couple of critical and commercial flops, but with eight nominations under her belt, she didn’t need another nomination, especially when her co-star Caitriona Balfe had the more emotionally impactful role which was much more deserving of a nomination.

However, there’s been one performance that has emerged as the clear favourite. Ever since West Side Story was finally opened to audiences, Ariana DeBose’s performance as Anita has swept all before her. It’s quite poetic that 60 years after Rita Moreno’s historic win in this very same category, playing the same character, that history will repeat itself. DeBose will also become the first openly queer actress to win this award. This is an exceedingly competitive category, but Ruth Negga’s brilliant and nuanced work in Passing being overlooked is a massive head-scratching snub.

Will Win:  Ariana DeBose

Should Win: Ariana DeBose

Could have been nominated: Catriona Balfe for Belfast or Ruth Negga for Passing

Best Original Screenplay

  • Belfast – Written by Kenneth Branagh
  • Don’t Look Up – Screenplay by Adam McKay; Story by Adam McKay and David Sirota
  • King Richard – Written by Zach Baylin
  • Licorice Pizza – Written by Paul Thomas Anderson
  • The Worst Person in the World – Written by Eskil Vogt and Joachim Trier

Along with his nominations for Best Picture, and Best Director, Kenneth Branagh has written himself into Oscars history as the first person to be recognised in seven separate categories (Picture, Director, Actor, Supporting Actor, Adapted Screenplay and Live-Action Short). It’s an extraordinary achievement for Branagh and he deserves to crown that with an Oscar for his beautiful semi-autobiographical film, especially given that he’s unlikely to triumph in the Director or Picture category. Yet there’s a chance that Licorice Pizza could rain on Branagh’s parade and end Paul Thomas Anderson’s long wait for an Oscar. Plus, The Worst Person in the World is wildly popular and could be the dark horse of this year’s race.

Will Win: Belfast 

Should Win: Belfast

Should have been nominated: Fran Kanz for Mass

Best Adapted Screenplay

  • CODA – Screenplay by Sian Heder
  • Drive My Car – Screenplay by Ryusuke Hamaguchi and Takamasa Oe
  • Dune – Screenplay by Jon Spaihts, Denis Villeneuve, and Eric Roth
  • The Lost Daughter – Screenplay by Maggie Gyllenhaal
  • The Power of the Dog – Screenplay by Jane Campion

The first of several races this year that represents a fight between the two films that are the heavy favourites to be picking up the biggest prize of the night. The Power of the Dog was for a long time the heavy favourite for this award, but at the 11th hour, CODA charmed its way into hearts and minds and is poised to snatch several awards out of the dog’s jaws, and steal the thunder from Campion’s film, and it potentially won’t be for the first time if it does. However, the support Drive My Car is very strong and it could yet gazump everyone else in this category, and drive away with the Oscar.

Will Win: CODA

Should Win: CODA

Should have been nominated: The Last Duel

Best Animated Feature Film

  • EncantoJared Bush, Byron Howard, Yvett Merino, and Clark Spencer
  • FleeJonas Poher Rasmussen, Monica Hellström, Signe Byrge Sørensen, and Charlotte De La Gournerie
  • LucaEnrico Casarosa and Andrea Warren
  • The Mitchells vs. the MachinesMike Rianda, Phil Lord, Christopher Miller, and Kurt Albrecht
  • Raya and the Last DragonDon Hall, Carlos López Estrada, Osnat Shurer, and Peter Del Vecho

An impressively strong crop of nominees, and you could make a case for each of these films to triumph. Ever since this award was first introduced in 2001, a non-Disney film has only taken home the trophy six out of twenty times. With the House of Mouse representing three of the five nominees, another Disney success is on the cards as Encanto is the strong favourite to take home the statue. However, The Mitchells Vs The Machines is such an innovative and hilarious animated film about the perils of technology that is more than capable of extinguishing Encanto‘s miracle. It makes it all the more frustrating that it likely won’t, even though I do like Encanto.

But this crop could have been even stronger, as the exclusion of Mamoru Hosada’s magnificent Belle could and, maybe should have, taken the spot of one of the three Disney films.

Will Win: Encanto 

Should Win: The Mitchells vs. the Machines

Should have been nominated: Belle

Best International Feature Film

  • Drive My Car (Japan)  – directed by Ryusuke Hamaguchi
  • Flee (Denmark) – directed by Jonas Poher Rasmussen
  • The Hand of God (Italy) –  directed by Paolo Sorrentino
  • Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom (Bhutan) – directed by Pawo Choyning Dorji
  • The Worst Person in the World (Norway) – directed by Joachim Trier

Drive My Car‘s Best Picture nominee status makes this one a pretty foregone conclusion.

Will Win: Drive My Car

Should Win: Drive My Car 

Best Original Score

  • Don’t Look UpNicholas Britell
  • DuneHans Zimmer
  • Encanto Germaine Franco
  • Parallel MothersAlberto Iglesias
  • The Power of the DogJonny Greenwood

The power of a great score is that within just a few notes, it can transport you to the setting of that particular film in a heartbeat, and no score this year typifies that than Hans Zimmer’s masterful work in Dune. 2021 was a stellar year for the legendary composer as well as reuniting with Denis Villeneuve to bring the world of Arrakis to life, his work for Daniel Craig’s final bow as James Bond in No Time To Die was also worthy of praise and could have seen Zimmer get two nominations. In either case, Zimmer’s wait for that second Oscar is coming to an end.

Someone else who also could have got two nominations is Jonny Greenwood. He has been producing some truly stellar scores over the last few years, and could and have got in this category twice for his stunning work in SpencerHis score for The Power of The Dog is tremendous, but the Power of the Dog is no match for desert power.

Will Win: Hans Zimmer 

Should Win: Hans Zimmer

Could have been nominated: Harry Gregson-Williams for The Last Duel 

Best Original Song

  • “Be Alive” from King Richard – Music and lyrics by DIXSON and Beyoncé Knowles-Carter
  • “Dos Oruguitas” from Encanto – Music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda
  • “Down to Joy” from Belfast – Music and lyrics by Van Morrison
  • “No Time to Die” from No Time to Die – Music and lyrics by Billie Eilish and Finneas O’Connell
  • “Somehow You Do” from Four Good Days – Music and lyrics by Diane Warren

Poor Diane Warren. Despite a staggering 13 nominations in this category, her wait for that first win is likely to go on, as this year’s race is looking like it will be a two-way fight between Lin-Manuel Miranda and Billie Eilish. The last two Bond films have both taken home this award, so the odds look good for Billie Eilish. However, if Miranda wins, he will become the youngest person in history to claim the EGOT. Miranda had a truly stellar 2021, and the EGOT would be the best way to reward his extraordinary achievements, especially as “Dos Oruguitas” is a heartbreakingly beautiful and emotional ballad. If it were to triumph, it would be a worthy winner to go with Encanto‘s likely Best Animated Feature Oscar.

It’s just a shame that they couldn’t nominate the irresistibly catchy and chart sensation “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” as well.

Will Win:  No Time To Die

Should Win: Encanto

Best Sound

  • Belfast Denise Yarde, Simon Chase, James Mather, and Niv Adiri
  • DuneMac Ruth, Mark Mangini, Theo Green, Doug Hemphill, and Ron Bartlett
  • No Time to DieSimon Hayes, Oliver Tarney, James Harrison, Paul Massey, and Mark Taylor
  • The Power of the DogRichard Flynn, Robert Mackenzie, and Tara Webb
  • West Side StoryTod A. Maitland, Gary Rydstrom, Brian Chumney, Andy Nelson, and Shawn Murphy

Like so many technical aspects of Denis Villeneuve’s masterpiece, the sound is one of the aspects that made it such an enthralling experience on the biggest screen possible. The work of Dune’s sound team helped bring the world of Arrakis to life in such a spectacular way and so they will be richly deserved winners of this trophy.

That being said, the work of the sound teams in No Time to Die and West Side Story are very strong and could upset the spice cart.

Will Win: Dune 

Should Win: Dune

Should have been nominated: The Last Duel

Best Production Design

  • Dune – Production Design: Patrice Vermette; Set Decoration: Zsuzsanna Sipos
  • Nightmare Alley – Production Design: Tamara Deverell; Set Decoration: Shane Vieau
  • The Power of the Dog – Production Design: Grant Major; Set Decoration: Amber Richards
  • The Tragedy of Macbeth – Production Design: Stefan Dechant; Set Decoration: Nancy Haigh
  • West Side Story – Production Design: Adam Stockhausen; Set Decoration: Rena DeAngelo

As was the case with the Sound category, the Production Design played an integral role in bringing the visual majesty of Arrakis to life. Dune has got potential to completely sweep through these production/technical categories, and given it has picked up a couple of the precursors, I think it will do so. However, there could be some surprises and one such surprise could be here as Guillermo Del Toro’s Nightmare Alley. The fact it did get into the Best Picture race shows there is support for it out there among the voters and if the Academy wants to spread the love, then this could be the opportunity for them to do so.

Will Win: Dune

Should Win: Dune

Should have been nominated: The Last Duel

Best Cinematography

  • Dune Greig Fraser
  • Nightmare Alley Dan Laustsen
  • The Power of the Dog Ari Wegner
  • The Tragedy of Macbeth Bruno Delbonnel
  • West Side StoryJanusz Kaminski

Five absolutely immaculately shot films makes this an insanely hard category to predict, as any of these cinematographers would be worthy of winning this award. Ari Wegner makes history as the second woman to be nominated in this category following Rachel Morrison’s ground-breaking nomination for Mudbound at the 90th Academy Awards, but it could have been even better had Claire Mathon also been nominated for Spencer. A triumph for Wegner would be a welcome (and long overdue) victory. However, given that he’s recently captured plaudits for his magnificent work in The Batman, it could tip the scales in Greig Fraser’s favour.

Will Win: Dune 

Should Win:  Dune

Should have been nominated: Claire Mathon for Spencer or Linus Sandgren for No Time To Die

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

  • Coming 2 AmericaMike Marino, Stacey Morris, and Carla Farmer
  • CruellaNadia Stacey, Naomi Donne, and Julia Vernon
  • Dune Donald Mowat, Love Larson, and Eva von Bahr
  • The Eyes of Tammy Faye Linda Dowds, Stephanie Ingram, and Justin Raleigh
  • House of GucciGöran Lundström, Anna Carin Lock, and Frederic Aspiras

As impressive as the make-up and hairstyling work in films like House of Gucci and The Eyes of Tammy Faye is, when you realise the amount of work that was required to transform Stellan Skarsgard into the villainous Baron Harkonnen in Dune, this should be a no-brainer, but if Best Actress goes in a certain direction (more on that later), this could go in a different direction.

Will Win:  The Eyes of Tammy Faye

Should Win: Dune

Should have been nominated: The Last Duel

Best Costume Design

  • Cruella – Jenny Beavan
  • CyranoMassimo Cantini Parrini
  • DuneJacqueline West and Bob Morgan
  • Nightmare AlleyLuis Sequeira
  • West Side StoryPaul Tazewell

There’s some really impressive work across this category, but Cruella has been sweeping this category and those flashy and colourful dresses will power Jenny Beaven to her third Oscar.

Will Win: Cruella

Should Win: Cruella

Should have been nominated: Janty Yates for The Last Duel

Best Film Editing

  • Don’t Look UpHank Corwin
  • Dune Joe Walker
  • King Richard Pamela Martin
  • The Power of the DogPeter Sciberras
  • tick, tick… BOOM!Myron Kerstein and Andrew Weisblum

Editing and the now lone sound categories often go hand-in-hand with each other, so with that in mind, Dune should be locked. Yet, Pamela Martin took home the American Cinema Editor Award in the Drama category for her work in King Richard. Meanwhile, tick, tick… BOOM! triumphed in the Comedy or Musical category, which puts it in contention. However, the lack of a Best Picture nom will probably count against the latter. Dune’s desert power will see it triumph in a number of technical categories, but the wonderful work of Pamela Martin with the tennis scenes in King Richard was absolutely pulsating to watch.

Game. Set, and the Oscar goes to King Richard.

Will Win:  King Richard 

Should Win: King Richard

Should have been nominated: The Last Duel

Best Visual Effects

  • DunePaul Lambert, Tristen Myles, Brian Connor, and Gerd Nefzer
  • Free GuySwen Gillberg, Bryan Grill, Nikos Kalaitzidis, and Dan Sudick
  • No Time to DieCharlie Noble, Joel Green, Jonathan Fawkner, and Chris Corbould
  • Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings Christopher Townsend, Joe Farrell, Sean Noel Walker, and Dan Oliver
  • Spider-Man: No Way Home Kelly Port, Chris Waegner, Scott Edelstein, and Dan Sudick

With its status as the lone Best Picture nominee here, and an enthralling combination of practical and visual effects, there’s nothing stopping Dune, not even an itsy bitsy Spider-Man.

Will Win: Dune 

Should Win: Dune

Should have been nominated: The Suicide Squad

Best Director

  • Kenneth Branagh Belfast
  • Ryusuke HamaguchiDrive My Car
  • Paul Thomas AndersonLicorice Pizza
  • Jane CampionThe Power of the Dog
  • Steven SpielbergWest Side Story

At the 66th Academy Awards, Campion and Spielberg went head to head in this category for Schindler’s List and The Piano respectively, with Spielberg emerging victorious. Though this time, with The Power of The Dog emerging as this year’s frontrunner, Campion is the heavy favourite to triumph here, even with some controversy following her completely unnecessary remarks against Venus and Serena Williams at the Critics Choice. ‘

This is one category where CODA cannot stop The Power of the Dog. If Campion does triumph, it would make her the third woman to win this award, and the first time two women have won this award in consecutive years. However, the absurdity of nominating Dune for just about everything else, except for the guy whose vision made it all possible is absolute madness. Hopefully, the Academy is keeping this award safe for Villeneuve for when the time comes to honour Dune: Part Two.

Will Win: Jane Campion

Should Win: Jane Campion

Could have been nominated: Denis Villeneuve for Dune

Best Actor in a Leading Role

  • Javier BardemBeing the Ricardos
  • Benedict CumberbatchThe Power of the Dog
  • Andrew Garfieldtick, tick… BOOM! 
  • Will SmithKing Richard
  • Denzel WashingtonThe Tragedy of Macbeth

Throughout this awards season, there have been four names consistently cropping up in this race: Cumberbatch, Garfield, Smith and Washington. All of whom are thoroughly deserving of their nominations. Washington’s performance in Macbeth is strong, but it’s not the finest performance of his career. Whereas for Cumberbatch and Garfield, this is most definitely the case. Similarly, Smith’s turn as Richard Williams, also represents some of his finest ever work.

The question as to who that fifth nominee could be was the source of much speculation. Given that the aforementioned four gentlemen have all been nominated before, there was an opportunity to hand someone their first-time nomination. Newcomer Jude Hill’s sweet and impactful debut performance in Belfast or to give Peter Dinklage’s beautiful performance in Cyrano would both have been very well deserved recipients of that nomination. Performances from giant blockbusters seldom cross into the Oscars, but a nomination for Daniel Craig for his final bow as James Bond in No Time To Die would also have been a worthy nominee. Instead, it feels like the Academy would have been a more worthy nomination than Bardem’s turn in Being the Ricardos, a nomination that’s just so safe and boring, that it’s extremely unsatisfying.

Yet irrespective of who that fifth nominee was in the end, it matters not because it will be the third time’s the charm for Will Smith, as nothing will stop him from collecting his first Oscar for his magnificent work portraying Richard Williams in King Richard

Will Win: Will Smith

Should Win: Will Smith

Should have been nominated: Jude Hill for Belfast or Peter Dinklage for Cyrano 

Best Actress in a Leading Role

  • Jessica ChastainThe Eyes of Tammy Faye
  • Olivia ColmanThe Lost Daughter
  • Penélope CruzParallel Mothers
  • Nicole KidmanBeing the Ricardos
  • Kristen StewartSpencer

Last year, this award was one of the most exciting and unpredictable races, and it looks like history is repeating itself. This year’s race is proving to be equally chaotic. With no one having the advantage of their film being a Best Picture nominee, it’s an extremely open race. However, unlike last year, this particular race feels quite weak by comparison.

Ever since Spencer first screened, Stewart was widely seen as the frontrunner, and fully deservingly so for her mesmerising and transformative turn as Princess Diana. Yet that early momentum evaporated, and there were question marks as to whether she would even secure that nomination, which would have been one of the biggest snubs in Oscars history. Cruz’s work in Parallel Mothers was a deeply powerful performance that even without their films getting Best Picture nominations, and also without picking up any of the precursor nominations, these performances are thoroughly deserving of their nominations. Jessica Chastain certainly goes all in with her Eyes of Tammy Faye performance, but ultimately it feels like a performance that’s a bit too flashy and is a case of style over substance.

Kidman’s nomination is probably the most deserving out of the three Ricardos nominations, but likewise, with her two co-stars, her nomination feels so uninspiring due to the sheer blandness of the film around her. The Academy clearly loves Olivia Colman, and while she was good in The Lost Daughter, she has definitely put in better performances in her career. Ultimately, the nominations of Colman and Kidman feel like nominations that are based purely on their name, and that’s really disappointing as the Academy really should have recognised the work from some of the Best Picture nominees, like Rachel Zegler from West Side Story or Emilia Jones from CODA, both of whom were far more deserving of nominations than Colman or Kidman.

But, like Will Smith, this is Chastain’s third nomination. She’s picked up a couple of the precursor awards, and if Tammy Faye takes home the Hair and Makeup Oscar, this could align for the first Oscar for Chastain. But honestly, it’s anyone’s guess.

However, what also really stings is the lack of nominations for actresses Jodie Comer and Tessa Thompson, whose fierce and powerful performances in films like The Last Duel and Passing respectively both utterly blow the majority of the competition out of the water.

Will Win: Jessica Chastain

Should Win: Kristen Stewart

Should have been nominated: Jodie Comer for The Last Duel, Tessa Thompson for Passing or Emilia Jones for CODA

And, last and certainly by no means least…

Best Picture

  • BelfastLaura Berwick, Kenneth Branagh, Becca Kovacik, and Tamar Thomas
  • CODA – Philippe Rousselet, Fabrice Gianfermi, and Patrick Wachsberger
  • Don’t Look UpAdam McKay and Kevin Messick
  • Drive My CarTeruhisa Yamamoto
  • DuneMary Parent, Denis Villeneuve, and Cale Boyter
  • King RichardTim White, Trevor White, and Will Smith
  • Licorice PizzaSara Murphy, Adam Somner, and Paul Thomas Anderson
  • Nightmare AlleyGuillermo del Toro, J. Miles Dale, and Bradley Cooper
  • The Power of the DogJane Campion, Tanya Seghatchian, Emile Sherman, Iain Canning, and Roger Frappier
  • West Side StorySteven Spielberg and Kristie Macosko Krieger

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

It’s so pleasing to see the Academy complete the full set by giving ten films their moment in the spotlight, though some are far less deserving than others in this regard. It’s a joy to see such a mainstream juggernaut like Dune be a fierce competitor, and while it would be my choice this year, one hopes that the Academy will bestow all the awards when the time comes to honour Dune: Part Two. Parasite’s victory two years ago has opened doors for international features, and so it’s a joy to see films like Drive My Car get in the Best Picture race, though it will be great when there’s more than one international film in the race.

Netflix has been fiercely competing for its first Best Picture win over these last few years, and despite making a plethora of amazing films to try and bag that elusive Best Picture Oscar, it has not yet happened. With the most nominees this year, it was looking likely for a while that The Power of the Dog would become the first Netflix film to take home the Best Picture statute. However, Apple TV’s CODA has emerged at what has felt like at the last minute to potentially rain on Netflix’s parade.  The fact that these two films are the front runners, and that they’re both directed by women, is worthy of celebration. This really could go either way.

Will Win:  CODA 

Should Win: Dune 

Should have been nominated: The Last Duel and Passing 

————————————————–

Final counts

Will win:

  • Dune – 5
  • CODA – 3
  • Eyes of Tammy Faye – 2
  • King Richard – 2 
  • Belfast – 1
  • Cruella -1 
  • Drive My Car – 1
  • Encanto – 1
  • No Time To Die – 1
  • The Power of the Dog – 1
  • West Side Story -1

Should win:

  • Dune – 8
  • CODA – 2
  • King Richard – 2 
  • Belfast -1
  • Cruella – 1 
  • Drive My Car – 1
  • Encanto – 1
  • Mitchells vs The Machines -1
  • Spencer – 1
  • West Side Story – 1 
Posted in 2020-2029, Awards Season, Ranking

94th Academy Awards: Best Picture Nominees Ranked

Another awards season has come and gone. While this year’s awards season has unfortunately been full of controversy, it has been extremely satisfying to see films back on the big screen where they belong in 2021, after the previous year’s awards season was much changed due to the pandemic. With so many films coming out in 2021, it also is extremely satisfying to see ten films being selected for the top prize this year. This year’s crop includes a new adaptation of a classic musical, part one of an enthralling adaptation of a beloved sci-fi novel, a heartfelt coming-of-age story, the inspiring story of the father of two of the best athletes of all time, a gothic-noir thriller, and a beautiful semi-autobiographical film of the significance of the place we call home.

A (mostly) impressive crop of nominees, but as usual, only one film will emerge victorious. So, without any further ado, here’s my ranking of these films worst to best, starting with…

10. Don’t Look Up

Full review here

I always say, that every year there’s going to be one Best Picture nominee potentially that you are not going to get the fuss about. However, it has been a few years since a film has appeared in this lineup that I’ve completely and totally LOATHED. Adam McKay’s latest attempt at a satire takes that title this year, and the last time it happened, was another McKay film, Vice.

There’s not been a single one of McKay’s satirical films that I’ve enjoyed. The Big Short had its moments, but I was not a fan of it for the most part. It’s been a recurring theme throughout each of these films, there’s an overbearing smugness and pomposity to them that just winds me up something fierce. I thought Vice was bad, but here, that smugness was dialled up to the maximum, and it was just an extremely unbearable and rage-inducing film to sit through. There is an important, urgent message at its centre which I begrudgingly give the film credit for. However, by attempting to portray that message with the most unsubtle and unfunny satire, which is at times is practically insulting its audience, it renders the whole thing utterly pointless. The Academy clearly has a love for Adam McKay’s satires that I don’t think I will ever have. This film won’t want to look up and see its position in this list.

9. Licorice Pizza

It is incredible to think that for a director as beloved as Paul Thomas Anderson, he has so far, failed to win an Oscar, despite his films often getting recognition. There was much hype about his latest film, and on paper, it ticked all the boxes. A sweet 1970s set coming-of-age story, drenched in nostalgia. It could be the one film to end his long wait for an Oscar, but I for one, find the love for this film completely baffling. While it’s not as infuriatingly offensive as the preceding film on this list, it’s not a million miles off.

The film is immaculately shot and the performances of its leads Cooper Hoffman and Alana Haim are excellent. However, there’s so much about this film that just fell completely flat. Firstly, the plot (if you can call really call it that) meanders and is at times extremely tedious, and it all felt extremely aimless and unconnected. But the film commits a couple of massive indiscretions that are just completely baffling, and avoidable. The first of which is the age gap between the leads. As a 25-year-old woman falling in love with a 15-year-old boy, the age gap felt extremely icky, especially as the film wanted these two to find a way to be together. If the genders were reversed, there would be a justifiable furious outcry. There’s a fantastic piece on why this age gap is so problematic, which you can read on In Session Film. It was a problem that could have been so easily avoided, Hoffman’s character is perceived to be grown up because of how mature he is, so why not just make him an adult? As if that wasn’t problematic enough, there are also two scenes that feature instances of a deeply uncomfortable depiction of a racist stereotype that serve no purpose to this story, and could have very easily been taken out of the film.

 

8. Nightmare Alley

Now, we’re into the stuff that actually deserves to be here. The newest film from Guillermo del Toro since he scooped Best Picture and Best Director for The Shape of Water at the 90th Academy Awards. Whenever you think of the Mexican auteur’s films, chances are you might associate them with the mythical monster genre. There’s nothing quite like that in his newest film, but there’s still a distinctly noir vibe to this enchanting mystery that pulls you in and keeps you engaged. A fascinating thriller focusing on Bradley Cooper’s Stanton Carlisle, a con man who charms his way into working at a carnival. As usual with any GDT picture, the production values are all excellent, from the stunning production design, Dan Lausten’s cinematography, it’s all visually immaculate. The first half is a bit sluggish in its pacing, but from the moment Dr. Lilith Ritter (a riveting Cate Blanchett) enters the picture, the film pulls you into the mystery and never lets up.

 

7. West Side Story

In 1961, Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins’s West Side Story won a grand total of 10 Oscars, including Best Picture. 50 years later, acclaimed director Steven Spielberg took on the challenge of bringing this musical to a brand new generation. Quite the daunting task, especially for a director even one as acclaimed as Spielberg, especially when you consider that he’d never done a musical before!

In the hands of Spielberg, there was never any doubt that the film would be visually tremendous, even though Spielberg got a bit too trigger happy with the lens flares. Rachel Zegler, in her first film role, proves that she is an absolute star in the making with an incredible debut performance as Maria. Alongside her, Ariana DeBose excels as Anita with a performance that will surely land her a history-making Supporting Actress Oscar win. The story of finding love and hostility between rival communities remains as painfully relevant now as it did back in the 1960s. However, the presence of Ansel Elgort here really drags the film down. He lacks the charisma to be a leading man, but furthermore as everyone else around him by comparison, is a much more talented singer/performer, he really sticks out like a sore thumb.

 

6. Drive My Car

Grief is something that all we go through whenever someone near and dear to us departs this world. How does one process this when that happens to them? While there’s no right answer to that question, Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s moving film provides a meditative and thorough examination of this process and how we as humans cope with it. Clocking in at three hours, the film does its best to keep the audience engaged right throughout as it takes a thought-provoking look at melancholy, and how we process the grief that we experience when someone extremely close to us has passed away.

The film focuses on a renowned theatre director (an outstanding Hidetoshi Nishijima), who’s struggling to come to terms with the loss of his beloved wife. To that end, he is driven to work by a chauffeur hired by the production company. A film that touches on such a difficult subject matter, with that runtime could have very easily been a recipe for disaster. While it is extremely heavy to watch, and you do begin to feel the three-hour run time by the end, Hamaguchi’s nuanced screenplay packs a lot of layers into the film and is a thought-provoking look at how we come to terms with grief and loss.

 

 

5. The Power of the Dog

Full review here

To the first film that is one of the two favourites to be the film that takes home the big prize of the evening. Jane Campion’s return to the director’s chair after a 12-year wait was a layered Western that has much more than shootouts on its mind than Cowboys and shootouts. Focusing on the tense relationship between two brothers in 1925 Montana, one very unhospitable and unkind to pretty much everyone and every one, one very much the opposite. So when one brother gets married,  it becomes a great source of tension between the more cruel and inhospitable brother and his more gentle brother’s new family.

Brilliantly acted by its entire cast, especially Cumberbatch and Smit-McPhee, Campion’s layered and nuanced screenplay slow-burner is a fascinating exploration of the concepts of toxic masculinity and homosexuality at a time when it would have been extremely taboo to talk about both. It bides its time with its script, thoroughly exploring the characters and the internal conflicts that are raging in them,

4. CODA

Full review here

And now to the second film that’s heavily tipped to take home the top prize. Coming-of-age stories have been plentiful over the years, so it can be hard to distinguish yourself from the crowd, but this is exactly what CODA does, and it does it in a beautiful and emotional manner. Focusing on Emilia Jones’s Ruby, a child of deaf adults, as she pursues her dream of going to a prestigious musical college. A dream that her deaf family can’t understand as they’re unable to appreciate Ruby’s talent.

There are familiar narrative beats that you will see in plenty of coming-of-age stories, and while CODA doesn’t deviate from these, it provides crucial representation for the deaf community. This is a very sweet and sincere love letter to the warm embrace and the emotional support that comes with being surrounded by a loving family, with Troy Kotsur stealing the show as Ruby’s father. With just one word, he was able to break the audience’s emotions into a million pieces. Plus, the fact that the two films that are the favourites to win Best Picture are both directed by women is something to be celebrated.

 

 

3. Belfast

Full review here

No matter where we go in this crazy world we live in, you never truly forget where you come from. Those formative years can play a massive part in shaping you as a person and they may well define the later years of your life, particularly if you’re growing up at a time when your country is in the midst of political turmoil and the threat of political violence erupting at any given moment. In what is his most personal film to date, Kenneth Branagh frames all this from the perspective of young Buddy, who watches all this unfold while trying to enjoy his childhood surrounded by his beloved family.

Jude Hill excels in what is a fantastic breakthrough performance as Buddy. He leads an outstanding cast of exceptional performances. From Jamie Dornan and Catriona Balfe as his loving parents, to Ciaran Hinds and Judi Dench as Buddy’s Grandparents. The mark of a quality performance is one where you see the character and not the actor, and this applies to every member of this cast.  Given when the film is set, it seems unlikely that there’d be much room for comedy, but Branagh’s screenplay expertly balances the political tensions with brilliant moments of humour.

2. King Richard

Full review here

Venus and Serena Wiliams: two of the most instantly recognisable names in any sport. Over the course of their careers, these fantastically gifted athletes have cemented themselves as two of the best athletes not just in the sport of tennis, but of all time. While you will undoubtedly know their name, someone whose name you might not know is their father: Richard Williams. This emotionally uplifting biopic provides a detailed look at the integral impact that Richard had on two of the best athletes of all time.

The film pays tribute to the parents who sacrifice so much so that their budding sports superstars can achieve their dreams of success. Will Smith’s likely Best Actor win will be so well deserved. He’s a man who’s committed to his plan to ensure his daughters achieve their superstar dreams, and will not suffer fools gladly. In a film that is the biopic of two of the biggest stars in the history of tennis, it might seem odd to frame it from Richard’s perspective, yet the film makes you understand just how much of an impact Richard had on his daughters’ early careers. Yet, crucially,  the film doesn’t lose sight of the women in this story. Aunjaune Ellis’s towering performance as Venus and Serena’s mother Brandy goes toe to toe with Richard, and Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton as the young versions Venus and Serena are all equally brilliant.

1. Dune

Full review here

In the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, the closure of cinemas across the world meant that there was a distinct lack of the iconic cinematic blockbusters that audiences have enjoyed for decades. With the return of cinemas last year, it was extremely pleasing to see these blockbusters return to where they belong. No film typifies the wondrous experience of seeing films on the big screen in 2021 than the first half of this adaptation of Frank Herbert’s novel from visionary director Denis Villeneuve.

Villeneuve’s passion for the source material shines through with every frame. The sheer scale of the world-building is awe-inspiring, in a manner that’s akin to Lord of the Rings, for example. It sweeps the audience up with its breath-taking visual majesty, perfectly accompanied by Hans Zimmer’s score that will transport you back to Arrakis in an instant. The stacked ensemble cast is all pitch-perfect in their roles, and Villeneuve’s direction is masterful in every respect. The novel was said to be unfilmable, but Villeneuve proved everyone wrong. I cannot wait to make the trip back to Arrakis in 2023 to witness Part Two.

—————————————————————————————

Could/should have been nominated…

 

This year, for the first time in what feels like a long time, we have a full set of ten films that are up for the biggest prize. But like I do every year, I like to have a look at what could have been, because there are some films that simply put should not be in this year’s race. So if I was an Oscar voter, here are three films that would make a perfect Best Picture lineup this year. So out go Don’t Look Up, Licorice Pizza, and Nightmare Alley and in their place, we have:

The Last Duel (review). I am at a complete loss as to how this has completely missed the mark for this year’s awards season. It really should be a contender in numerous categories and should be absolutely running away with Best Actress, as with the exceptions of Kristen Stewart and Tessa Thompson, no one came close to matching Jodie Comer’s brilliant leading actress performance in this enthralling historical epic. Directed by the legendary Sir Ridley Scott, the film’s poor box office probably didn’t help matters, but that shouldn’t have mattered. Its important and timely themes meant that it should have been a frontrunner, and the fact that it’s not is something I will forever be bitter about.

Spencer (review). Speaking of Stewart, the fact that hers is the only Oscar nomination for Pablo Lorrain’s biopic of Princess Diana is so baffling. While that nomination is thoroughly deserved, the film was an extremely unique biopic that took creative liberties with the troubled marriage between Diana and Prince Charles as it was clear that the marriage had broken down. It should have been a shoo-in for production design and costumes at the very least…

Passing. The subject of race has been a major talking point over these last few years, and in her directorial debut, Rebecca Hall takes a considered and thought-provoking approach to this topical issue, and gets awards-worthy performances out of Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga. Two more actors who, along with Comer should have been nominated this year at the very least. Like The Last Duel, Passing being completely shut out of this year’s awards season is just beyond baffling.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Belle (2022)

© Studio Chizu and Toho

Belle  – Film Review

Cast: Kaho Nakamura, Ryō Narita, Shōta Sometani, Tina Tamashiro, Lilas Ikuta, Kōji Yakusho, Takeru Satoh

Director: Mamoru Hosoda

Synopsis: When a shy teenage high school student discovers the online world of “U”, she disappears under her online persona of talented singer Bell, where she soon becomes a viral sensation…

Review: Life in the 21st-century has very much become a society where the internet and social media has become entrenched in just about every aspect of modern life. Having a presence on social media is of paramount importance, especially for younger generations. Social media can be a wonderful place, giving any individual the chance to connect with like-minded individuals and to offer an escape from the madness of the real world. While this vast digital platform does offer plentiful opportunities, it is not without its perils. For his latest film, Mamoru Hosada has crafted an exquisite piece of storytelling that examines this digital universe, whilst also providing a modern update for the tale as old as time.

Suzu is a high school student living in a rural village with her father. She has a passion for singing, but ever since an extremely traumatic incident when she was a child, she has struggled to rediscover that passion that she once had for singing and song-writing. Despite his best efforts, Suzu’s father is unable to connect with her, and their relationship has become extremely distant. When she discovers the vast virtual world of “U”, it’s a place that enables Suzu to disappear into a brand new digital world. In this world, she is able to rediscover her voice and adopts the online persona of Belle, where she quickly becomes a viral sensation with her incredible singing talent, attracting the attention of the entire population of “U”. Whilst enjoying the adulation and the spotlight, Belle discovers the mystery of another avatar, known only as The Dragon. She becomes intrigued and strives to know more about him.

The vast digital world that we have at our fingertips today is an incredible one that offers anyone a plethora of opportunities to follow and meet like-minded people and to express themselves creatively. This can be a positive outlet for people, which can help boost their creative sparks. However, it can also be an exceedingly dangerous place where people can be subjected to unspeakable cruelty and callousness. Hosoda’s screenplay is hugely ambitious in this respect, as it attempts to take a thorough exploration of both the positives and negatives when it comes to this vast digital platform. Marvelling at the power that such a digital world can do for a person’s morale, whilst simultaneously highlighting the dangers and dark sides that come with internet fame and popularity, such as trolls and cyberbullying.

However, this is merely scratching the surface of the story that Hosoda has penned. It is also a profound examination of the effect that bereavement can have on a child. Not only that, but it explores the adverse effect that this can have when it comes to a child’s creative outlets and how they want to express themselves. As if that wasn’t ambitious enough, the reinvention of the classic fairy-tale of Beauty and The Beast for a 21st-century audience, adds another fascinating layer to the story. In this world of “U”, Belle strives to understand who this beastly character is. Is he really is the terrible, and evil monster that the world of U portrays him as? Or could it be that he’s just misunderstood? With such an ambitious screenplay that has numerous different concurrent plot threads being weaved together, the film could have got convoluted very quickly. However, Hosada’s expertise shines through, and his screenplay weaves them all together in a thoroughly profound and emotionally resonant manner.

When it comes to modern animation, the technology that animators have at their disposal is so advanced that audiences have come to expect the best quality animation every time. Yet such effort takes a lot of work, and even with that weight of expectation, the work that the animation team accomplishes to make the world of “U” feels like a fully realised place is absolutely astounding. Using a perfect combination of more traditional hand-drawn animation, with CG animation, the work done by every animator is absolutely astounding. On top of which, the character designs for each of the avatars in “U” is absolutely extraordinary. From Belle’s long pink hair, to her freckles, to the extraordinary detail on the Dragon. Every character in this world feels less like they are an online persona, and more like a real person. If at the mere touch of a button, there was such a vast digital world that offers a wealth of opportunities for individuals to reinvent themselves, it’s surely an opportunity that anyone would surely seize with both hands.

 An emotional and profound examination of the wonders and perils of the digital age, intertwined with a beautiful reimagining of a classic fairy-tale. Mamoru Hosoda has crafted a stunning and heart-wrenching masterpiece.

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Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

The Batman (2022)

© Warner Bros and DC Comics

The Batman  – Film Review

Cast: Robert Pattinson, Zoë Kravitz, Paul Dano, Jeffrey Wright, John Turturro, Peter Sarsgaard, Andy Serkis, Colin Farrell

Director: Matt Reeves

Synopsis: In his second year of crime-fighting in Gotham City, Batman begins to investigate a series of crimes that appear to be connected to a serial killer known as The Riddler…

Review: Ever since the character of Batman made his comics debut in 1939, there has been something that’s inescapably appealing about this iconic character. It’s a testament to Batman’s creators Bob Kane and Bill Finger, that in the ensuing decades, his popularity has not waned (pun absolutely intended). For generations of comic book fans, he has continued to be arguably the most recognisable, and popular superhero of all time. Given the character’s popularity, it’s no surprise that numerous directors have taken on the challenge of adapting him for the big screen. Over the years, we’ve seen the sublime, and the ridiculous. Now, under the vision of Matt Reeves, a fantastic new interpretation of the Dark Knight has been born.

Bruce Wayne (Pattinson) is in his second year of fighting crime in Gotham City as the masked vigilante known as Batman. Gotham is a city that’s seemingly trapped in perpetual rainfall, combined with the murky cloud of the city’s extensive criminal underworld. It’s a grim combination that gives Gotham an ominous, foreboding atmosphere, where crime is running rampant and the police are overwhelmed. When a series of brutal murders start taking place in the city, Batman and the Gotham City Police Force begin to investigate. As they begin to piece together the sadistic clues left behind at these grisly crime scenes, they begin to uncover evidence that all of these crimes are linked to a masked serial killer known only as The Riddler.

Donning The Bat’s cape and cowl is an extraordinary responsibility for the actor to take on. Many great actors have taken on this challenge, and every time, each one has brought something unique to the role. With Pattinson’s portrayal, he proves what an outstanding choice he was to take on the mantle. Batman is a character who has multiple aspects to his personality, the man he is behind the mask is a very different one to the one who dons the mask. Any actor tasked with this role must differentiate between these personalities, and Pattinson hits the mark perfectly. However, the casting of Batman is just one piece of the puzzle. One cannot have Batman without his trusted Police ally, Jim Gordon. Side by side with Batman as they solve this riddle, Wright brings his usual charisma to this role, and the pair of them make an effective crime-fighting duo. Plus, one cannot talk about Bruce Wayne’s allies without mentioning Alfred. It’s rare to see him outside of motion-capture performances, but in what screen time he has, Andy Serkis excels.

Casting is such an important part of film-making and it’s high time these people were recognised for their work, especially when the choices, like in this film are flawless. Selina Kyle/Catwoman is always a nuanced and fascinating character to explore. Not quite a hero, but far from a villain, especially when compared to some of the citizens of Gotham. We see a very interesting element to her backstory that’s seldom been explored before, and the chemistry between Kravitz and Pattinson’s Batman is extremely palpable. Of all the iconic superheroes that have graced the big screen over the years, there’s arguably no superhero that has quite more the eclectic gallery of villains than Batman. Though we’ve seen certainly seen some villains more than others. Hence, it is extremely pleasing to see the film bring to the fore many villains that haven’t had as much exposure as others.

Caking an actor in a considerable amount of makeup is not a guaranteed recipe for success, but in this instance, it works perfectly. Unrecognisable under said makeup as the dastardly Penguin, Colin Farell is clearly having a ball with this villainous role. However, in Paul Dano’s portrayal of the Riddler, here’s an extraordinary, terrifying performance that is destined to join the ranks of iconic villains that we have seen in Batman films over the last several decades. From the moment the Riddler makes his first appearance, he immediately sends chills down the spine, delightfully taunting Batman and the Gotham Police with the crimes he’s carrying out. Plus, with all the clues that he leaves at the crime scenes, it makes for a fascinating game of Cat (or should that be Bat?) and Mouse as Batman faces a race against time to solve these clues and figure out what The Riddler is planning.

After his extraordinary work with the two most recent Planet of the Apes films, self-confessed Batman fan Matt Reeves proves he was the perfect choice to helm this new take on this character. The script, written by Reeves and Peter Craig, remains gripping right throughout the 175-minute running time, whilst perfectly illustrating that Batman’s skills as a detective are second to none. Hence, the decision to pit him against the Riddler was proved to be an absolute masterstroke, as he’s a character someone who is well equipped to take on Batman in those psychological mind games. Combined with Greg Fraser’s suitably brooding cinematography that captures Gotham’s ominous atmosphere, Reeves’s direction, especially with those action scenes that are drenched in a continuous downpour, is especially thrilling. For a film that’s just shy of three hours, questions are always going to be asked about that run time, and the editing by William Hoy and Tyler Nelson ensures that the film is perfectly paced.

Through all the decades that we’ve seen Batman on screen, there’s been no shortage of memorable scores that have accompanied the Caped Crusader. Danny Elfman and Hans Zimmer have both given this character an instantly recognizable theme. With his atmospheric score, Michael Giacchino can add his name to the list of composers who have provided iconic music for this character. Through each new portrayal, the enduring appeal of Batman has been passed down through generations of audiences. With this fantastic new incarnation, the legend of The Dark Knight continues to shine brightly, like the Bat-signal illuminating the skies of Gotham City. Bob Kane and Bill Finger would be immensely proud.

Dark and filled to the brim with nerve-shredding scenes that perfectly capture the essence of everything that makes Batman who he is. Matt Reeves’s vision of this iconic character is one that will stand the test of time, as one of the best versions ever produced. 

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

CODA (2021)

© Apple TV+

CODA – Film Review

Cast: Emilia Jones, Eugenio Derbez, Troy Kotsur, Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Daniel Durant, Marlee Matlin

Director: Sian Heder

Synopsis: As the only hearing member of her family, Ruby (Jones) acts as an interpreter for her family. When the family business comes under threat, she finds herself torn between helping her family, and pursuing her dreams…

Review:  Families, it can really mean the world of difference to have them around us as we navigate this storm that we call life. They can be our influences for what we want to do with our lives, as well as being essential pillars of support as we grow up, and navigate the testing periods of our lives. There might be situations where a barrier, such as a communication barrier, prevents someone from being truly unable to fully understand and appreciate the passion that drives someone to be who they want to be. When such barriers exist, the bond and the love that each family shares can be so strong, that it has the potential to break those barriers down.

High school student Ruby Rossi is a CODA (Child of Deaf Adults), and the only hearing member of her family. When not at school, she works on her family’s fishing business. As she’s the only one in her family who can hear, she acts as a crucial link of communication between the family business and their bosses. Outside of school and her job with her family’s business, Ruby has a strong passion for singing and harbours ambitions to go to a prestigious musical college. However, this puts her in an extremely difficult position, as her family depend on her for the survival of their business. When she tells her family of her dreams, they don’t want her to go as she is integral to the survival of the business. Furthermore, because they are unable to fully appreciate her talent, they can’t understand why this means so much to Ruby. Consequently, this leaves Ruby in a difficult position as to whether she should continue to support the family business or pursue her dreams.

There’s been no shortage of coming-of-age stories over the decades. Hence, it would feel unlikely that a film in this genre could do much to reinvent the genre. In truth, there are extremely familiar beats throughout the film, but there’s something about CODA and its approach to its story that feels very sincere and authentic. A lot of this comes down to the extraordinary performances of the entire cast, but especially Emilia Jones’s wonderful leading performance as Ruby. Before production on the film started, Jones spent nine months learning American Sign Language. Putting in that time to initiate herself with what someone in that situation would go through requires an extraordinary amount of dedication and commitment. In turn, this translates into a very sweet and sincere dynamic between her and the rest of her family.

Speaking of the rest of the family, Troy Kotsur and Marlee Matlin, who are deaf in real life, give equally wonderful performances as Ruby’s parents, Frank and Jackie. Despite the communication barrier that exists between them and Ruby, they both want to do their utmost to connect with their daughter and understand her passion for singing.  The casting of real-life deaf actors is crucial, firstly because representation matters, but also because they add so much depth/sincerity to the emotional impact of the film. There’s always a risk that when it comes to such a heartwarming story like this one, it will come across as a bit too saccharine. However, Sian Heder’s script expertly strikes the right tone between the impactful family drama and outright hilarious scenes. These scenes involve some awkward moments between Ruby and her parents, who are blissfully unaware of how loud they are in certain situations, causing maximum embarrassment for Ruby.

Aside from the sweet and hilarious family dynamic that Ruby shares with her family, another crucial figure is Eugenio Derbez as Ruby’s choir teacher, Bernardo Villalobos. We may have all had one particular teacher at school who understood better than anyone else that passion you had for a particular subject. Yet, for whatever reason, be it due to bullying, or an unwillingness to come out of your shell, you were unable to fully translate that passion into realising what a true gift that you had. He’s that teacher who, through their sheer enthusiasm and passion for the subject, is able to unlock Ruby’s potential. Music teachers have sometimes been portrayed as quite the hostile and threatening type to demand excellence from their students. While Bernado is not quite on the level of throwing chairs at his students, he’s not afraid to say what he thinks when he senses the conflict that’s going on in Ruby’s mind and why she might be holding back from pursuing this dream.

The film does not reinvent the genre, because it does not need to. Its approach its story is so sweet and heartfelt, that it doesn’t matter that it plays out exactly how you would expect it to. They may be familiar beats of most coming-of-age stories, but when the characters are this well realised, in a story that’s likely to connect with all who watch that by the time the credits roll, you’ll be having a hard time trying to hold back the emotions.

While it undoubtedly has familiar narrative beats that have been seen in many a coming-of-age story, thanks to the flawless performances of its cast, this beautiful and heartfelt coming of age drama hits all the right notes.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Don’t Look Up (2021)

© Netflix

Don’t Look Up  – Film Review

Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett, Rob Morgan, Jonah Hill, Mark Rylance, Tyler Perry, Timothée Chalamet, Ron Perlman, Ariana Grande, Scott Mescudi

Director: Adam McKay

Synopsis: When two astronomers discover a deadly comet is directly on a collision course with Earth, they try to sound the alarm to the rest of the world…

Review: It’s one of the most pressing matters that humanity in the 21st century is having to contend with: the future of the planet that we call home.  It’s an issue that has attracted the attention of the world’s media and has prompted figures from all corners of the globe to take a stand and urge those in positions of power to act before it is too late. Yet, in recent years, we have seen some world leaders fail to recognise what is truly at stake for the future of our planet. Having turned his eye on the 2008 Economic crash and the rise and fall of US Vice President Dick Cheney, Adam McKay has now turned his attention to this impending threat facing humanity, the responses of those who wield the power to do something about it, and how various aspects of modern life cover this pressing issue our planet is facing. And he does so, in the smuggest and most pompous manner possible.

Astronomers Dr Randall Mindy (DiCaprio) and Dr Kate Dibiasky (Lawrence) make an alarming discovery: a giant comet is set to collide with Earth in around six months time. When it collides, it will cause catastrophic destruction on a global scale. Heading straight to Washington D.C. to inform the President (Streep) of their discovery, they are astounded when the White House doesn’t choose to take immediate action to stop the apocalyptic threat. Left with little option, they resort to other methods in order to inform the rest of the planet, in the hope that their warnings of impending doom will somehow prompt those in charge to take action to avert humanity’s destruction.

It is hard to ignore the fact that the idea for this film feels borne out of a particular world leader and his indifference towards the major issue of the environment, and the challenges that the human race faces over this important topic. This feels only exacerbated by the ongoing situation with the COVID-19 pandemic and the catastrophic failure by the US Government at the time, to deal with this crisis in a swift and efficient manner. These categorical failures of leadership seem to be McKay’s motivations for writing and directing his latest satirical attack on the current state of US politics, as well as numerous aspects of 21st-century life in general. Yet, there is absolutely no subtlety about who and what McKay is targeting. It comes across like he’s trying to say to the audience how funny or witty his satire is. When in reality, it comes across as extremely patronising. There’s an important lesson to be taken from the need to focus on the environment. However, as with both his previous films that were very much from a satirical perspective, there’s something that’s unbearably smug and arrogant about the manner in which he seeks to deliver this message.

Because of the gravity of the topic that’s being “satirised”, there was an opportunity to provide some thought-provoking, social satire that is nuanced and subtle in what it tried to convey, In reality, McKay’s screenplay, much like his previous films, is about as subtle as taking a sledgehammer to someone’s kneecaps. The satirical writing, or lack thereof, opts to beat the audience over the head with its themes so obnoxiously that it begins to actively make you angry that you don’t really care what he or the characters are trying to say, which is not good when there’s an important lesson for humanity to take away from the events being depicted. There’s no denying that McKay has assembled some of the biggest names in Hollywood for this cast, with lots of beloved actors. Yet, McKay’s dialogue is so overbearingly smug and obnoxious that you openly despise each and every single one of the characters, which makes the run time of the film feel two or three times as long.

The best of a bad bunch is easily Leonardo Di Caprio’s Dr Mindy, he tries his best but when he’s given such horrific material to work with, he can only do so much. Meryl Streep does a decent enough job at portraying a President who couldn’t give two shits about the public they’re meant to represent. However, it’s so painfully obvious who she, and her son (Hill) are meant to be a parody of, their characters might as well have been named Trump. Such a serious and important topic deserved a film worthy of this talented cast, and a director who did not take an infuriatingly offensive approach to the topic. You may well almost want the world to come to an end by the time this apocalyptic misfire of a film reaches the credits.

 What credit the film warrants for taking on such an important topic is immediately negated by its extremely condescending approach in how it chooses to approach the topic at hand. As a result, the whole film feels utterly pointless as a satire. 

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Moonfall (2022)

© Lionsgate

Moonfall  – Film Review

Cast: Halle Berry, Patrick Wilson, John Bradley, Michael Pena, Charlie Plummer, Kelly Yu, Donald Sutherland

Director: Roland Emmerich

Synopsis: When the moon is mysteriously knocked from its orbit, it threatens to cause a global catastrophe that would endanger all life on Earth…

Review: There’s something that’s oddly fascinating about the concept of a disaster movie. It’s something we hope we never actually have to live through, but when done well, it can be oddly entertaining to watch entire cities get obliterated as nature takes its revenge on us. There’s perhaps no one more synonymous with this genre than Roland Emmerich. One look at his filmography and it’s clear that he’s a director with a penchant for global destruction. So, you’d have thought that combining the concept of Earth’s only natural satellite falling out of the sky and destroying our planet, with a director whose modus operandi is worldwide global destruction would surely be a match made in disaster movie heaven? Well, no, not really.

Several years ago, astronaut Brian Harper (Wilson) was working on a routine mission with fellow astronaut Jocinda Fowler (Berry). However, the mission ends in tragedy and consequently, Harper’s reputation as a renowned astronaut is destroyed. When conspiracy theorist KC Houseman (Bradley), uncovers evidence that the moon has been knocked from its orbit, he tries to warn NASA of the impending doom, but is immediately dismissed. However, as catastrophic events start occurring across the globe, Fowler is left with little choice but to recruit Harper and Houseman for a last gasp mission to save Planet Earth before the impending moon fall destroys the planet.

To give credit where credit is due, the concept of the Moon falling off course and colliding with the planet is an extremely eccentric idea. It would certainly have been interesting to have been a fly on the wall when the concept was first pitched. The originality of the premise offers the opportunity to provide some visually eye-catching sequences, which the film does deliver. However, this is about the extent to which the film offers something that’s truly unique as the scenes of global destruction, such as massive tidal waves obliterating everything in their path, are things that we’ve seen disaster movies do countless times before. Such an idiosyncratic concept provided Emmerich with an opportunity to give audiences something as iconic as seeing the White House get blown to smithereens by an alien ship, but it failed to seize that opportunity.

Given such an absurdly bonkers premise, it would seem counterintuitive of the script to try and use science and logic to try and explain why these mysterious events are occurring. However, for some inexplicable reason, this is exactly what the film attempts. Logic and science should have been flung out of the window immediately, as these attempts to explain these events just do not serve the story in any shape or form. For the simple reason that no matter which way you slice it, the plot does not make an iota of sense at all. What should be a fun adventure of seeing a team of astronauts attempt to prevent total global destruction, becomes an unintentional comedy. This becomes all the more apparent, especially when the bigger picture of the reason why the Moon is falling comes into view.

When a script is this ridiculous, it does not make a difference as to who you cast, because every single character here is as paper-thin as they come.  Halle Berry and Patrick Wilson to their credit, do try their hardest, but to no avail. The character development, if you can really call it that, is non-existent. They’re also not helped by the fact that they’re given some of the cheesiest dialogue that you’re ever likely to hear. The primary focus should be the mission to investigate why the Moon is falling out of orbit and the ludicrously improbable mission to reverse it before it’s too late. However, the film also wastes an enormous amount of time focusing on bland and forgettable side characters that are nowhere near as interesting or compelling as the main crew. This should have been perfectly entertaining, leave-your-brain-at-home disaster movie entertainment. Which, in many ways, it is, but probably not in the way Emmerich intended it to be. Instead of laughing with it, you’re uproariously laughing at it.

In the hands of the master of disaster, this absurd concept should have been an absolute blast of lunar-themed destruction. However, it ultimately ends up being too ridiculous for its own good. 

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review, London Film Festival 2021

Belfast (2021)

© TKBC, Northern Ireland Screen, Focus Features and Universal Pictures

Belfast  – Film Review

Cast: Jude Hill, Caitríona Balfe, Jamie Dornan, Lewis McAskie, Judi Dench, Ciarán Hinds, Colin Morgan

Director: Kenneth Branagh

Synopsis: Telling the story of the lives of one family living in Belfast during the 1960s…

Review: Irrespective of where we’re born, there’s a universal truth to the saying: “Home is where the heart is.” No matter who you are or where you come from, there’s likely to be a particular place on this Earth that means a great deal to you. Perhaps it is the town where you were born, or perhaps it is the place where you made those first memories that will shape you and who you are for the rest of your life? That special ode to your hometown and the immeasurable impact it can have on your life during your formative years is the heart beating at the centre of this deeply personal film from Kenneth Branagh.

Buddy (Hill) is a young boy living in Belfast during the late 1960s. He’s surrounded by his loving family, which consists of Ma (Balfe), Pa (Dornan), his brother (McAskie), and his paternal grandparents (Dench and Hinds). Like any child, Buddy goes to school, works hard in class, and seeks to win the heart of a girl in school who he has a crush on. Outside of school, playing on the street with his friends, and going to the pictures with his family, all with the carefree innocence that any child would have. It should be the perfect family life, but it’s about to be turned upside down. The country is about to be engulfed in political tension and violence which, will bring much uncertainty to this tight-knit Northern Irish family.

Given that we see the entire film from Buddy’s perspective, there’s a lot riding on Hill’s shoulders. Fortunately, he carries the film beautifully, balancing the naivety of youth, with an acute awareness of the tricky situation that’s developing. Alongside a brilliant leading performance from Hill, the rest of the cast are faultless in their performances. As Buddy’s parents, Ma and Pa are faced with an increasingly difficult choice of what to do and how best to raise their children in the politically charged circumstances that they find themselves in. Pa’s job in England is the main source of income for the family, hence money is tight. It’s a dilemma that puts a strain on their relationship, which is only compounded by the fact that he’s away for so much of the time.

Plus with the ongoing political tension that Belfast is engulfed in, there’s a dilemma as to whether they should leave the city that means so much to both of them behind? Do they want to uproot their two children from the lives that they have built in the city? Special mentions must go to Catriona Balfe and Jamie Dornan, both of whom give career-best performances. They clearly both love one another and care deeply for their children. So, they want to do what is best for them. Furthermore, due to his father’s absence, Buddy’s mother has quite the job to raise both him and his brother, mostly by herself. As such, Ma has a tendency to be quite overprotective of both her sons, but especially Buddy. They’re not on screen together a lot, but when they are, Balfe and Dornan’s wonderful chemistry helps add so much depth and layers to their characters. It’s always the sign of a quality performance that you no longer see the actor, instead, you see the character that they are playing, and this is true across the entire cast.

For a film that’s set in a time where political tensions are on a knife-edge, where violence could erupt at any given moment, it seems unlikely that the story would allow for much humour. Yet, Branagh’s screenplay allows for plenty of humorous moments to shine through. A lot of the humour comes from the dynamic between Buddy and his grandparents. Both of them impart their wisdom and knowledge to Buddy as he negotiates this difficult period in his life. This is where Ciaran Hinds, in particular, really excels. As well as being the kind and gentle grandfatherly figure, be a little cheeky and share a humorous moment with Buddy.

Branagh’s screenplay expertly walks the line between the dark and tense nature of the political tension of the time, with the family dynamic. It would be easy for Branagh’s screenplay to get bogged down by the intense nature of the politics of the time. However, the film avoids this by keeping it focused on seeing the world, and the ongoing situation, from Buddy’s perspective. Branagh has crafted a story that anyone will be able to connect with. No matter where you are from, or no matter how far you go in this world we live in, you never forget your roots.

The most personal film that Branagh has ever made, and quite possibly his best. A beautiful celebration of childhood, the places and the people that make us who we are.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Feature, Ranking

Best Films of 2021

2021, a year that initially began as 2020 ended, with the cinemas still closed amid a continuing lockdown that kept us at home. New releases were being brought to us through the streaming services, but it was wonderful to see the cinemas finally reopen in May. That feeling of being back in the cinema, watching films where they are meant to be seen, there’s honestly nothing like it. Given that the year saw the release of many films that were pushed back, there were lots of films for cinephiles to enjoy, and so let’s have a look and see what was the best films that 2021 had to offer.

Whenever I compile these end-of-year lists, the aim is always to include films that are listed as 2021 releases on IMDB. Yet, as will probably be the case till the end of time, some films had very staggered release dates. Consequently, there are some films appearing on this list that came out in 2020, but they weren’t available to UK audiences until 2021. Hence, this makes them available for this year’s list. Also, as much as I would want to, I’ve not seen every film that was released this year, so apologies if your favourite is not on here, as I may not have seen it. On the flip side to that, some films featured here that are listed as 2021 releases on IMDB, haven’t yet made their way to UK cinemas. However, as I was able to see some of these at London Film Festival this year, this means they are eligible for inclusion here.

Additionally, as I say every year, the grades I give the films do not determine the rankings of these films. A film that gets a perfect grade is not guaranteed to be my favourite film of the year. Lists like these are always a chance for the person compiling them to be as biased as they want to be. These are the films that, for me personally, defined 2021 as a strong year for film.

Before I get into the main list, I must give a shout out to some honourable mentions. These films are excellent that you should definitely check out, but they just didn’t quite make the list:

The Power of the Dog [review]. 12 years after her last film, Jane Campion returns to the director’s chair for an enthralling Western that focuses less on the cowboys and the shootouts, and more on the tense relationship between two brothers on a 1925 Montana ranch.

Encanto [review] The first, and not the last, film on this list that has the involvement of Lin-Manuel Miranda. Disney celebrated their landmark 60th animated feature film in some style, with a beautifully animated film that depicted a heartfelt story to prove the House of Mouse still has the magic touch.

Spencer [review]. Princess Diana’s story is one that is all too well known. A tragic figure in British history, Pablo Larrain’s unconventional biopic zeroes in on a time when Diana’s marriage to Prince Charles had grown cold. There’s a lot of creative liberties in terms of the story, but it all comes together thanks to an astonishing, transformative Kristen Stewart performance as Diana.

A Quiet Place Part II [review]. The first film that I saw in cinemas when they reopened. John Krasinski returned to the director’s chair to bring us a sequel to one of the most unique horror films of recent years. Recapturing that tension that of the first film was always going to be a tough ask, but Krasinski pulled it off, delivering a sequel that proved to be a worthy follow up to the original, with an incredible performance from Millicent Simmonds.

Spider-Man: No Way Home [review]. Since the pandemic began, there’s arguably not been a film that had quite the level of hype going into it as the concluding chapter to Tom Holland’s Spider-Man trilogy. Where previous Spider-Man sequels failed, this threequel webbed all of its plot threads tremendously well and delivered an extremely satisfying film that should change the MCU as we know it.

 

Honourable mentions honoured. Now, since we had so many films this year, let’s dive into the top 15

15. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

 

review

It had been a long time coming, but at long last this year, the MCU made a film that was led by an Asian superhero, alongside a predominantly Asian led cast. A landmark moment, and thanks to the outstanding stunt work, the film brought a unique visual style to the action scenes that are unlike anything that previous MCU films had brought to the table. Thanks to the brilliant performance of Simu Liu in the titular role, a new hero was born. Plus, in Tony Leung’s Wenwu, you have one of the best MCU villains in years.

14. tick, tick… BOOM!

As time goes by and we hit the later years in life, we begin to feel the pressure of wanting to leave our mark on the world. Taking the truly tragic story of Jonathan Larson and his struggles to craft the missing pieces of the puzzle for a play he’s writing doesn’t sound like the most invigorating combo in concept. But when you have a career-best performance from Andrew Garfield, and the usual catchiness of the songs that Lin-Manuel Miranda pens, and you have an extremely emotionally impactful combination that is beautifully directed by Miranda.

 

13. In the Heights

review

Continuing on the subject of Lin-Manuel Miranda, after being delayed by a year due to the pandemic, this Jon. M Chu-directed adaptation of Miranda’s 2005 musical was the much-needed blast of sun-soaked joy that we needed after many months of cinemas being shut. Filled to the brim with a plethora of memorable songs, all of which had a unique visual style to them. The film’s screenplay packed some important changes that made it extremely topical for the political landscape of 2021. In a year that saw a number of musicals, this is the best of them all and further proof that 2021 was the year of Lin-Manuel Miranda supremacy.

 

12. Belfast

review coming soon

In this beautiful semi-autobiographical film, director Kenneth Branagh tells the story about centres on a young boy growing up in the centre of Belfast just as the Troubles were beginning in Northern Ireland. Given that background, it seems unlikely that there’d be much room for humour, but Branagh works it so wonderfully well into his script, and gets awards-worthy performances out of every member of the main cast, especially Jamie Dornan and Catriona Balfe.

11. Raya and the Last Dragon

review

In all of the 58 Disney films that preceded this one, they’d never given audiences a heroine of South-Eastern Asian origin. As was the case with Shang-Chi, the film was a ground-breaking moment for representation that had been a long time coming. A lot of lore is packed into the story, but it married that up with an extremely exciting adventure. Plus, in Raya, you have yet another fearless and badass warrior princess that gives young girls a positive role model, and Awkwfinha as the voice of a dragon. One of Disney’s best films in years.

Now for the top 10…

 

 

10. No Time to Die

review

Being one of the first films to be affected by the pandemic, and being hit with a number of subsequent delays on top of that, it was starting to feel like we’d never get to see Daniel Craig’s final turn as James Bond. But thankfully this Autumn, it was finally released to the world, and it was worth the wait. The film had the extremely difficult task of tying all the loose ends from all of Craig’s previous Bond films, and managing the enormous expectations of the fans beforehand. Thankfully, while it wasn’t all plain sailing, it was mission accomplished with a compelling story that gave one of the best actors to play Bond a memorable final bow, and the send-off he deserved.

9. The Last Duel

review

Credit where credit is due for Ridley Scott. The veteran director is, at the age of 84, is still producing incredible pieces of cinema. He’s got a history with swords and sandals epic. However, what sets this apart from his previous films in this genre is that this is a medieval epic, with a modern, and very important message. Presenting its story in three distinct acts from a different person’s point of view, the first two acts are compelling and well written. However, it’s not until the third act, that the film truly soars, thanks to the award-worthy performance of Jodie Comer. This is, along with another film in this list, one of the most important films of the Post #MeToo Era of Hollywood, that absolutely did not deserve to be a box office bomb.

 

8. Sound of Metal

review

Losing one of your senses would undoubtedly be an extremely traumatic time in your life, especially if one of those senses was integral to your job as a drummer in a band. This is the devastating position that Ruben finds himself in, and must adapt to the changing circumstances of his life. With stunning sound work, the film puts you in Ruben’s (an extraordinary Riz Ahmed) position, and examines how his life will forever be changed by this painful diagnosis. An extraordinary directorial debut from Darius Marder that shines a deserved spotlight on deaf communities across the world.

7. King Richard

review

Serena and Venus Williams. Two names who need no introduction, as they have established themselves as two of the greatest athletes to have ever lived. What you probably don’t know, is the story of their father, Richard Williams, and the impact he had in shaping their early careers. The parents of any budding young superstar athletes undoubtedly have to work tirelessly to help their children achieve their dreams, and this uplifting family drama takes us on that journey. The film is packed with incredible performances, including an arguably career-best performance from Will Smith as Richard. He’s very ably supported by star-making turns from Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton as the young Venus and Serena respectively, likewise for Aunjanue Ellis as their mother Brandi.

 

6. The Harder They Fall

review

The Western genre is one that has so often been dominated by white lead characters. Meanwhile, for any black characters in these films, they are too often reduced to bit-part roles that don’t give them a chance to shine. However, as the words “These. People. Existed.” flash up on the screen at the start of this slick and stylish Western, it is a timely reminder that these people have stories of their own that deserve to be told. Enter Jeymes Samuel, with his feature film directorial debut that puts these characters front and centre.

Looking at what Samuel brings to the table in terms of his cast and the action scenes, it almost defies belief that this is his feature film debut. His passion for the genre comes through with every frame, and with the super talented cast he has at his disposal, it all meshes together tremendously well. An enthralling and much-needed revitalisation of the Western genre.

 

5. The Mitchells vs. the Machines

review

Technology has very much become a crucial aspect of modern life. From computers to mobile phones, it seems every so often we’re bathing our eyes in the blue light of some fanciful gadget. Films have often tackled the seemingly probable eventuality of a robot apocalypse, but what if when said robot uprising begins, humanity’s last hope is in the form of a hilarious, but extremely dysfunctional family? The answer is the latest hilarious film from those animated wizards at Sony Pictures Animation.

Filled to the brim with funny commentary about how dependent we are on our gadgets, the film’s animation brilliantly combines 2D and 3D styles of animation. The voice performances are all first-class, and the film has, hands down, THE best scene involving Furbies that will ever be seen in any film, ever.

 

4. The Suicide Squad

review

It’s fair to say that DC’s first attempt to bring their collection of super villains and mould them into a team of heroes didn’t get the reception and adulation that DC would have wanted. So what do you do to make a second attempt at this crop of characters work? Well, you bring in the guy who turned an obscure collection of Marvel anti-heroes into box office gold, and apply that to DC’s equivalent collection of characters.

While the film retains some characters from the 2016 film, it’s very much a soft reboot than a direct sequel. James Gunn brings his unique sense of humour to the story, and this new iteration expertly combines previous fan favourites, such as Harley Quinn, with exciting new recruits like a walking, talking humanoid shark, and a character who’s fond of rats. On paper, it sounds ridiculous but under Gunn’s direction, the end result is glorious and gory comic book movie mayhem.

 

 

Now, when it came to the top 3, putting these three films in some kind of order was extremely tough. At one point this year, I had all three of these at #1, and they all would be thoroughly deserving of that spot. If I could have them as a three-way tie for #1, I would. But as they must be ranked, we go on with…

 

3. Judas and the Black Messiah

review

The Civil Rights Movement in the US has seen a number of highly charismatic and influential leaders take a stand and leave their mark on history. The likes of Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X, Muhammed Ali are all important figures whose story has been told throughout history. Yet there’s one important figure whose name has seldom been told, but who really should be held in the same breath as these aforementioned historical figures: Fred Hampton Jr.

The story and film’s message have only become more important and relevant in recent years since events in 2020 forced the world to have an urgent conversation about race relations in the US. LaKeith Stanfield’s leading performance as the FBI informant is incredible. However, it is Daniel Kaluuya’s transformative, Oscar-winning, supporting turn as Hampton himself that cements this biographical historical drama as one of the most important films of the year.

2. Promising Young Woman

review

Every so often there is a film that holds up a mirror to our society, that demands us to have a conversation about a particular topic. It’s the power of a truly great film. Not only do they generate a discussion, but they stay with you even after the credits have rolled. This was most definitely applicable for this enthralling directorial debut from Emerald Fennell.

Forced to drop out of med school, following a tragic incident involving her best friend, Cassie goes out at night pretending to be drunk, to catch in the act, would be sexual predators who would take advantage of a drunken woman. The film grips with you with the opening act, and only escalates when circumstances present Cassie with an opportunity to take revenge against the person who inflicted all that pain on her years ago. Fennell expertly juxtaposes bright and colourful romantic comedy moments, with the more dark and brutal revenge mission, all while getting a career-best performance from Carey Mulligan.

 

And so my favourite film of 2021 is

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1. Dune 

review

For two years running, this was my most anticipated film of the year, and it absolutely delivered on those lofty expectations. Denis Villeneuve has cemented himself as one of, if not, my favourite directors working today. He has consistently delivered incredible films every time, and it was clear from interviews in the build-up to the film’s release just how much of an impact Frank Herbert’s iconic novel had on him growing up. It was said to be an unfilmable book, but Villeneuve absolutely proved everybody wrong.

Right from the off, the film immediately pulls the audience into the world of Arrakis and Dune. Villeneuve brings the visual majesty that he brought to his previous sci-fi works, and with a packed ensemble cast tells an utterly enthralling story, or at least the first part of it. The scope of the novel meant that Villeneuve was able to take his time, and it pays off. Dune very much stands on its own as an enthralling piece of sci-fi storytelling, and it was made for the big screen. Experiencing films like this was an experience that was sorely missed in 2020, and so to get the opportunity to experience this on the biggest screen possible was absolutely special. Plus, the great news is that we’ve Part Two still to come.

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And that brings the curtain down on my list of the best that film had to offer in 2021. Thank you for reading, especially if you read all the way through! Let’s hope that it won’t be long before the cinemas reopen and we can witness more films on the big screen. What were your favourite films of 2021? Let me know in the comments below or you can find me on the following platforms: TwitterFacebook or Letterbox’d.

For my picks for my most anticipated films of 2022, please click here.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review, London Film Festival 2021

The Power of the Dog (2021)

© Netflix

The Power of the Dog  – Film Review

Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Thomasin McKenzie, Genevieve Lemon, Keith Carradine, Frances Conroy

Director: Jane Campion

Synopsis:  The relationship of two brothers in 1920s Montana is put to the test when one brother settles down and introduces his new wife, and her son, to the other brother…

Review: What does it to be a man? Even in modern times, the stereotype of the masculine man is someone who is expected to be hard, tough, and forbidden from displaying any sort of emotion that might deem them as being “weak” and “unmanly”. While someone on the outside may present themselves as tough and strong, inside they can easily be the polar opposite. They could potentially be hiding some pretty big insecurities. While we have broken down some of those absurd barriers of men being unallowed to express emotions, back in the 1920s, such an idea was unheard of. In her first film for 12 years, Jane Campion explores the concept of toxic masculinity from the perspective of two very different people.

The setting is Montana in 1925, and brothers Phil (Cumberbatch) and George Burbank (Plemons) are very successful ranch owners. Phil is the tough, masculine, and considerably more cruel brother. He regularly likes to throw around insults, especially towards George. George, by contrast, is in every sense, the polar opposite to Phil, who is considerably more friendly, gentle, and hospitable. When George meets Rose (Dunst), he becomes instantly smitten with her, and the two marry. When George brings Rose and her son Peter (Smit-McPhee) home to the Burbank ranch, it doesn’t sit well with Phil at all. Phil becomes determined to do all he can to make Rose’s and Peter’s lives a misery, which will only add further strain to the tense relationship that already exists between the two brothers.

When you picture the average Western, you may picture a scene that depicts cowboys standing outside a saloon with their guns drawn in some rural town in the Wild Wild West. While the setting is sort of the same (substitute the majestic hills of New Zealand for those of rural USA), Campion instead takes a considerably different approach to this story. Adapted from the 1967 novel of the same name by Thomas Savage, her screenplay takes a considerably slow-burn approach to the story, that’s bathed in the gorgeous cinematography from Ari Wegner. Campion is clearly not interested in those tense shootouts, and is instead more focused on who the characters are as human beings. This is a personal, emotionally character-driven piece that thrives by taking its time to thoroughly examine the internal conflicts that are brewing inside these characters, and how these can spill over into their relationships with the other characters.

As the man at the centre of this story, Benedict Cumberbatch gives a terrific performance as Phil Burbank. Due to his tendency to willfully bully and insult others around him, he is definitely not the easiest character to spend some time with. He takes great satisfaction and joy in the mistreatment of others. Yet, as the film progresses, that brash and cruel exterior is peeled away, as not everything is what appears to be with Phil, and Cumberbatch’s nuanced performance captures this superbly. There’s an internal struggle within himself, and with some of the other characters that keep you invested as the film goes on, especially between Phil and Peter. Initially, one of the targets of Phil’s cruel insults due to his lisp and some of his mannerisms, it becomes fascinating to see how the relationships change once certainly layers are peeled back. Like Phil, there’s more to Peter than what you see at first glance, and Smit-McPhee’s performance is as equally nuanced as Cumberbatch’s.

As the dynamic between Phil and Peter is the one that is given the most screentime, it does mean that some of the others, most notably between Phil and George and Rose are not given enough screentime as they maybe could and should have. Plemons is severely underutilised once we reach the second half of the film. What’s more, for all of her strengths as an actress, Dunst also doesn’t have much to do except cower in fear whenever she comes face to face with Phil. This fear of her brother-in-law leads her down a dark path of addiction. While Dunst excels with the material she’s given, there was scope for a further exploration of the demons that she’s facing. Nevertheless, Campion’s slow-burn approach to this story and to the characters ensures that the mysteries that are at the centre of the film are extremely compelling to watch as they unravel. The Power of the Dog packs plenty of both bark and bite in equal measure.

A Western unlike any other. Campion’s long-awaited return to the director’s chair bides its time with its story, which makes the film’s atmospheric journey, and the mysteries contained within, all the more enthralling to watch.