Posted in 2010-2019, Film Feature

92nd Academy Awards: Final Predictions

Another awards season is now coming to a close, and every year it comes by, there always seems to be some kind of controversy attached to it. This year is no different, having given us one of the most divisive movies in a long time in Joker. Yet said film has lead the way with the most nominations (11). Furthermore, there has been a notable lack of diversity in the acting nominations, just barely avoiding another #OscarsSoWhite situation, and much like the Golden Globes and the BAFTAs, a distinct lack of women in the director category, in spite of some truly excellent films made by women.

While it’s crystal clear that some work needs to be done on those matters, it has been a very strong year to round out the 2010s on the big screen and once again, there are 24 golden statues to give out. So who will be clutching one of those 24 golden statues that are on offer? Time to have a gaze at my metaphorical crystal ball and give my predictions, as well as give my own two cents on each category, minus the documentaries and the short films.

Best Actress in a Leading Role

  • Cynthia ErivoHarriet
  • Scarlett Johansson Marriage Story
  • Saoirse Ronan Little Women
  • Charlize TheronBombshell
  • Renée ZellwegerJudy

Last year, Olivia Colman unexpectedly (but very happily) took the statue ahead of strong favourite Glenn Close. This year, Renee Zellweger’s performance as Judy Garland has been sweeping all before her, so a triumph for her seems certain. However, her likely win is frustrating given that her performance was easily the best thing about an otherwise bland/forgettable biopic.

Johansson has become the first actor to be nominated in lead and supporting since 2007, and her work in Marriage Story was arguably a career best. Charlize Theron was on reliably excellent form in Bombshell, Saorise Ronan’s excellent performance in Little Women has ensured she has very impressively chalked up a fourth nomination at the age of 25. While it is embarrassing that Cynthia Erivo is the only person of colour to get nominated, her performance as the inspirational civil rights icon Harriet Tubman was more than deserving of recognition, as was Awkwafina whose heart-wrenching performance in The Farewell was snubbed.

What’s more, the Academy’s refusal to give horror films a look in is baffling when two of the best performances by women in leading roles came from Florence Pugh (Midsommar) and especially Lupita Nyong’o (Us), the latter of whom’s extraordinary dual performance really wipes the floor with the likely winner, and the fact it’s not in the conversation at all, is just mind-boggling.

Will Win: Renée Zellweger 

Should Win: Scarlett Johansson

Should have been nominated: Lupita Nyong’o for Us/ Florence Pugh for Midsommar/ Awkwafina for The Farewell 

Best Actor in a Leading Role

  • Antonio BanderasPain and Glory
  • Leonardo DiCaprioOnce Upon a Time in Hollywood
  • Adam DriverMarriage Story
  • Joaquin PhoenixJoker 
  • Jonathan PryceThe Two Popes

It seems a sure bet The Academy will ensure that Joaquin Phoenix becomes the second actor to win an Oscar for playing the Joker, eleven years after Heath Ledger’s posthumous win in 2009. Despite the backlash in some quarters to the film, his performance has been widely recognised as its main strength. Though he’s got some considerable competition, most notably from Adam Driver’s heart-breaking work in Marriage Story, likewise for Antonio Banderas’s very personal performance in Pain & Glory. Jonathan Pryce’s nomination came as a mighty surprise, especially given the bemusing absence of Robert De Niro, who gave his best performance in years that was more than worthy of recognition.

In an ideal world, this would be Driver’s trophy but Phoenix will have the last laugh here.

Will Win: Joaquin Phoenix

Should Win: Adam Driver

Should have been nominated: Robert De Niro for The Irishman 

Best Supporting Actress

  • Kathy BatesRichard Jewell
  • Laura DernMarriage Story
  • Scarlett JohanssonJojo Rabbit
  • Florence PughLittle Women
  • Margot RobbieBombshell

By far and away, one of the biggest snubs when the nominations were announced was the absence of Jennifer Lopez in this category for her stunning work in Hustlers. Given that she was nominated for pretty much every other awards show going, it was a massive surprise to see her not nominated. 2019 was the year that Florence Pugh truly made a name for herself. It’s worth reiterating that her outstanding work in Midsommar was worthy of a nomination. However, it is pleasing to see that in the year she made a name for herself, she’s duly rewarded with a well deserved Oscar nomination. Johansson had a small, but extremely effective part in Jojo Rabbit, which served as the emotional core of Taika Waititi’s film.

But like the other two acting awards, this has got Laura Dern’s name on it. To make a divorce lawyer a likeable character is quite the skill and it will ensure that she ends her long wait for Oscar gold.

Will Win: Laura Dern

Should Win: Laura Dern

Could have been nominated: Jennifer Lopez for Hustlers or Zhao Shuzhen for The Farewell 

Best Supporting Actor

  • Tom HanksA Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
  • Anthony HopkinsThe Two Popes
  • Al Pacino The Irishman
  • Joe PesciThe Irishman
  • Brad PittOnce Upon a Time in Hollywood

The fourth and final acting award of the night, and again it is looking another lock, this time for Brad Pitt’s incredible work in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. There’s definitely some dark history attached to this character, but Pitt’s charm and charisma is so effortless that along with Leo DiCaprio, he’s so much fun to watch.  To see Joe Pesci come out of retirement for Martin Scorsese’s gangster masterpiece was just wonderful to behold, and alongside Al Pacino, they made an effective compelling trio of powerful performances in Scorsese’s gangster epic. Tom Hanks’s first Oscar nomination in 19 years was long overdue, and while he made for a perfect Fred Rogers, this is Pitt’s trophy to lose.

Will Win: Brad Pitt

Should Win: Al Pacino/Joe Pesci (can’t split them)

Should have been nominated: Jamie Foxx for Just Mercy or Song-Kang-ho for Parasite 

Best Director

  • Martin ScorseseThe Irishman
  • Todd Phillips Joker
  • Sam Mendes1917
  • Quentin TarantinoOnce Upon a Time in Hollywood
  • Bong Joon-hoParasite

Like with BAFTA and the Golden Globes, the best director category is, rather disappointingly, another all male affair. When you consider some of the films that were made by women, is extremely disappointing. The films made by these men are (mostly) great (looking at you Todd Phillips) but when you have the likes of Greta Gerwig, Marielle Heller or Lulu Wang or heck even Olivia Wilde, get shut out, it is deeply frustrating. It makes you wonder what these directors have to do to break down that barrier.

However, of the five to get nominated, by far the one that stands out the most is the work of Sam Mendes and the stunning work that is done to make 1917 such an immersive experience that puts you on the ground with these men. Bong Joon-ho is definitely a threat to Mendes due to his breath-taking work with Parasite, but a second Oscar for Mendes would be a fitting way to celebrate what is one of his finest films.

Will Win: Sam Mendes 

Should Win: Sam Mendes

Should have been nominated: Greta Gerwig for Little Women or Lulu Wang for The Farewell

Best Original Screenplay

  • Knives OutRian Johnson
  • Marriage StoryNoah Baumbach
  • 1917Sam Mendes and Krysty Wilson-Cairns
  • Once Upon a Time in HollywoodQuentin Tarantino
  • ParasiteBong Joon-ho and Han Jin-won

Five extremely strong screenplays competing here, but given that four of the five are Best Picture nominees, Knives Out‘s chances of an upset are sadly slim to none. Given the criticisms in some quarters of 1917’s screenplay, it seems unlikely to add to its probable slew of Oscar wins in the technical categories. Noah Baumbach could yet pull off an upset to add to Marriage Story’s Supporting Actress win, but this seems to be a race between OUATIH and Parasite. Tarantino has twice won this Oscar twice before, and a hat-trick is definitely possible, but it likely won’t be the case. While Parasite is a surefire bet to win Best International Feature, this should be Bong Joon ho’s richly deserved moment in the spotlight.

Will Win:  Bong Joon-ho and Han Jin-won for Parasite

Should Win: Bong Joon-ho and Han Jin-won for Parasite

Should have been nominated: Lulu Wang for The Farewell

Best Adapted Screenplay

  • The IrishmanSteven Zaillian
  • Jojo RabbitTaika Waititi
  • JokerTodd Phillips and Scott Silver
  • Little WomenGreta Gerwig
  • The Two PopesAnthony McCarten

To have taken on an adaptation of a much beloved novel, one that has been many times over, and put your own stamp on the material, providing audiences with the definitive adaptation of said novel is a credit to Greta Gerwig. Given her snub in the director category, it would be very satisfying to see her win for only her second feature film. Furthermore, it would make her the only woman to win in this category in the 2010s, which given the lack of diversity in the directing category is indicative of the obstacles facing female writers and directors.

Yet she has some stiff competition in the form of Taika Waititi who had the extremely tricky task of adapting the novel Caging Skies for the big screen. There was an enormous risk that this could have backfired badly, and it definitely divided critics and audiences right down the middle. The divisive nature of Jojo might just help it swing back in Little Women’s favour though, but it’s very close to call.

Will Win: Taika Waititi for Jojo Rabbit

Should Win: Greta Gerwig for Little Women

Should have been nominated:  Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster for A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Best Animated Feature Film

  • How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden WorldDean DeBlois, Bonnie Arnold, and Brad Lewis
  • I Lost My BodyJérémy Clapin and Marc du Pontavice
  • KlausSergio Pablos, Jinko Gotoh, and Marisa Romá
  • Missing LinkChris Butler, Arianne Sutner, and Travis Knight
  • Toy Story 4Josh Cooley, Jonas Rivera, and Mark Nielsen

One of the more unpredictable categories this year. In years gone by, the Academy has always leaned towards Disney/Pixar films, and so often they run away with it. Yet, due to the fact that Toy Story 4 isn’t as highly regarded as the 3 that came before it, that could count against it. Indeed, this year’s race has seen the majority of the prizes being split up between Klaus and Missing Link.  Hence, any one of these three could end up claiming the trophy.

Will Win: Klaus

Should Win: Toy Story 4

Best International Feature Film

  • Corpus Christi (Poland) – Directed by Jan Komasa
  • Honeyland (North Macedonia) – Directed by Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov
  • Les Misérables (France)– Directed by Ladj Ly
  • Pain and Glory (Spain) – Directed by Pedro Almodóvar
  • Parasite (South Korea) – Directed by Bong Joon-ho

While France could have nominated the much beloved Portrait of a Lady on Fire, it’s hard to look past this being another hit from the Bong for Parasite.

Will Win: Parasite

Should Win: Parasite

Could have been nominated: Portrait of a Lady on Fire (France)

Best Original Score

  • JokerHildur Guðnadóttir
  • Little WomenAlexandre Desplat
  • Marriage StoryRandy Newman
  • 1917Thomas Newman
  • Star Wars: The Rise of SkywalkerJohn Williams

This would appear to be a straight up battle between Guðnadóttir and Newman. But even 15 nominations later, and after producing a stirring, breath-taking score for 1917, there’s a substantial chance that Newman could lose out yet again. Which begs the question, what has he got to do to end his run without an Oscar?! If she wins, Guðnadóttir will become the first woman to win since the score category became one single category. While Desplat’s score for Little Women was delightful, it’s unlikely he’ll be claiming his third Oscar. The nomination for Williams does feel like a token nomination, and is more of a celebration of his work in general, given that his score for The Rise of Skywalker was, like the film itself, unremarkable. Alan Silvestri deserved a nomination for the “Portals” track alone.

Will Win:  Hildur Guðnadóttir

Should Win: Thomas Newman

Could have been nominated: Alan Silvestri for Avengers: Endgame

Best Original Song

  • “I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away” from Toy Story 4 – Music and Lyrics by Randy Newman
  • “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again” from Rocketman – Music by Elton John; Lyrics by Bernie Taupin
  • “I’m Standing with You” from Breakthrough – Music and Lyrics by Diane Warren
  • “Into the Unknown” from Frozen II – Music and Lyrics by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez
  • “Stand Up” from Harriet – Music and Lyrics by Joshuah Brian Campbell and Cynthia Erivo

While Rocketman definitely could have got a few more nominations (Costumes and Best Actor), the one nomination it has picked up is likely to end in triumph for the Elton John biopic. As well as her nomination for Best Actress, Cynthia Erivo’s soulful performance of “Stand Up”, probably represents its closet challenger. However, a victory for Elton would be a fitting tribute to a true legend of the music industry.

Will Win:  (I’m Gonna) Love Me Again Rocketman

Should Win: “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again from Rocketman

Best Sound Editing

  • Ford v FerrariDonald Sylvester
  • JokerAlan Robert Murray
  • 1917 – Oliver Tarney and Rachael Tate
  • Once Upon a Time in Hollywood Wylie Stateman
  • Star Wars: The Rise of SkywalkerMatthew Wood and David Acord

Back at the 90th Oscars, it was a case of Baby Driver going up against Dunkirk in these two sound categories. This year, it’s once again a tale of revving cars vs warfare as Ford v Ferrari goes head to head with 1917. The work of the sound team on Ford V Ferrari is extremely impressive, and a big part of the film’s success. However, every technical aspect of 1917 helps to make it such an immersive cinematic experience, and the astounding work done by the sound team should put this out of reach of all of its competitors.

Will Win:  1917

Should Win: 1917

Best Sound Mixing

  • Ad Astra – Gary Rydstrom, Tom Johnson and Mark Ulano
  • Ford v Ferrari – Paul Massey, David Giammarco, and Steven A. Morrow
  • Joker – Tom Ozanich, Dean Zupancic and Tod Maitland
  • 1917 – Mark Taylor and Stuart Wilson
  • Once Upon a Time in Hollywood – Michael Minkler, Christian P. Minkler, and Mark Ulano

Likewise for the Sound Editing, this one should be going the way of 1917 as war films tend to do well in the sound categories, though again Ford V Ferrari represents its biggest competitor.

Will Win:  1917

Should Win: 1917

Should have been nominated:

Best Production Design

  • The Irishman – Production Design: Bob Shaw; Set Decoration: Regina Graves
  • Jojo Rabbit – Production Design: Ra Vincent; Set Decoration: Nora Sopková
  • 1917 – Production Design: Dennis Gassner; Set Decoration: Lee Sandales
  • Once Upon a Time in Hollywood – Production Design: Barbara Ling; Set Decoration: Nancy Haigh
  • Parasite – Production Design: Lee Ha-jun; Set Decoration: Cho Won-woo

Another category that feels very open given that all these nominees are in the Best Picture race. However, given that 1917 and Parasite are the front runners in that particular race, it’s looking like to be another battle between these two. Both the lavish home of the Park family, and the squalid dwellings of the Kim family were constructed from scratch. Yet the work done to eerily recreate the horrors of WWI trenches, No Man’s Land and a town that’s been battered by warfare, stand just a fraction above in my opinion. Though, given that the Academy so often likes films about Hollywood, don’t rule Once Upon a Time in Hollywood out of this.

Will Win: 1917

Should Win: 1917

Could have been nominated:

Best Cinematography

  • The Irishman – Rodrigo Prieto
  • Joker – Lawrence Sher
  • The Lighthouse – Jarin Blaschke
  • 1917 – Roger Deakins
  • Once Upon a Time in Hollywood – Robert Richardson

Roger Deakins produced further evidence of his unrivalled mastery as a cinematographer with his scintillating work in 1917. As well as making that one shot element of the film work so well, some of the shots especially the ones at night were just absolute feasts for the eyes. After FINALLY winning that first Oscar for Blade Runner 2049, Deakins will be claiming that second Oscar, a fitting recognition for one of the best ever cinematographers.

Will Win: Roger Deakins

Should Win: Roger Deakins

Should have been nominated: Pawel Pogorzelski for Midsommar

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

  • BombshellKazu Hiro, Anne Morgan, and Vivian Baker
  • JokerNicki Ledermann and Kay Georgiou
  • JudyJeremy Woodhead
  • Maleficent: Mistress of EvilPaul Gooch, Arjen Tuiten, and David White
  • 1917Naomi Donne, Tristan Versluis, and Rebecca Cole

Two years ago, Kazu Hiro won this award for his work in transforming Gary Oldman into Winston Churchill. This time around, he and his fellow makeup artists work their magic to turn Charlize Theron and John Lithgow into Megyn Kelly and Roger Ailes respectively, and once again the work is extraordinary that should ensure another Oscar comes his way. With its likely wins in Best Actor and Best Original Score, Joker represents Bombshell’s biggest threat.

Will Win:  Bombshell

Should Win: Bombshell

Best Costume Design

  • The IrishmanSandy Powell and Christopher Peterson
  • Jojo RabbitMayes C. Rubeo
  • JokerMark Bridges
  • Little WomenJacqueline Durran
  • Once Upon a Time in HollywoodArianne Phillips

Of the six nominations it received, this category unfortunately probably represents Little Women’s best chances of success, and while period pieces usually do well here,it’s by no means a given that it will win (see last year with Black Panther triumphing over The Favourite.) Furthermore, both Sandy Powell and Mark Bridges have already won multiple awards in this category, but hopefully the power of those lavish 19th century frocks will propel Jacqueline Durran and, Little Women, to victory.

Will Win: Little Women

Should Win: Little Women

Best Film Editing

  • Ford v FerrariAndrew Buckland and Michael McCusker
  • The IrishmanThelma Schoonmaker
  • Jojo RabbitTom Eagles
  • JokerJeff Groth
  • ParasiteYang Jin-mo

To have made a three and a half hour film feel so well paced that it rarely drags is a testament to Thelma Schoonmaker’s talents as an editor. Through her collaboration with Scorsese, she has bagged three Oscars and with The Irishman, it should bag her another Oscar. Yet it likely won’t, further raising the very real possibility of The Irishman walking away empty handed. As Russell Bufalino would say “It is what it is.”

The brilliant way that the two opposite strands of the sharp and witty story in Parasite come together is a testament to the marvellous editing by Yang Jin-mo, that should be rewarded with the trophy. But it would be dangerous to write off Ford v Ferrari as the editing helps ensure those racing scenes are as well realised as they are. Given that editing for Jojo Rabbit and Joker was fairly unremarkable, Lee Smith’s role in helping the continuous tracking shot element of 1917 has been unfairly overlooked.

Will Win:  Yang Jin-mo 

Should Win: Thelma Schoonmaker 

Should have been nominated: Lee Smith for 1917

Best Visual Effects

  • Avengers: EndgameDan DeLeeuw, Matt Aitken, Russell Earl, and Dan Sudick
  • The IrishmanPablo Helman, Leandro Estebecorena, Stephane Grabli, and Nelson Sepulveda
  • The Lion KingRobert Legato, Adam Valdez, Andrew R. Jones, and Elliot Newman
  • 1917Guillaume Rocheron, Greg Butler, and Dominic Tuohy
  • Star Wars: The Rise of SkywalkerRoger Guyett, Neal Scanlan, Patrick Tubach, and Dominic Tuohy

Last year, Black Panther grabbed the MCU its first three Oscars, but incredibly the record-breaking franchise has never won an Oscar for visual effects. Now would be the time for the Academy to recognise the extraordinary work of these artists whose work has been such an integral part of the MCU. The Irishman, and its use of the de-aging technology generated plenty of chatter, but not all of it was positive. While it would be ironic it would be if a Scorsese film beats a Marvel film to an Oscar, further disappointment for the MCU’s visual effects artists, and Scorsese are probably afoot, because the technical mastery of 1917 should ensure it is triumphant.

Will Win:  1917

Should Win: Avengers: Endgame

Should have been nominated: Captain Marvel

And, last and certainly by no means least….

Best Picture

  • Ford v FerrariPeter Chernin, Jenno Topping, and James Mangold
  • The IrishmanMartin Scorsese, Robert De Niro, Jane Rosenthal, and Emma Tillinger Koskoff
  • Jojo RabbitCarthew Neal and Taika Waititi
  • JokerTodd Phillips, Bradley Cooper, and Emma Tillinger Koskoff
  • Little WomenAmy Pascal
  • Marriage StoryNoah Baumbach and David Heyman
  • 1917Sam Mendes, Pippa Harris, Jayne-Ann Tenggren, and Callum McDougal
  • Once Upon a Time in HollywoodDavid Heyman, Shannon McIntosh, and Quentin Tarantino
  • Parasite Kwak Sin-ae and Bong Joon-ho

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

Unlike last year, that had a slew of films that felt undeserving of the Best Picture nominations (one of which ended up winning), the overwhelming majority of the films here are very much deserving of their place at this table. While, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood seemed to be the odds on favourite at one point to take home the big prize, it has since lost momentum. This has enabled latecomer 1917 to storm into the lead, with Parasite not too far behindThese two have been battling out for the top prizes and so it’s likely that one of these two films will take home the big prize.

Should Parasite emerge triumphant, it will become the first foreign language feature to win Best Picture, which would be a hugely significant accomplishment. In my eyes, as these are my two favourite films of this entire awards season, a win for either of these two masterpieces would be more than well deserved. That being said, I’m hoping for a 1917 victory, but should Parasite take home the trophy, there will be no complaints from me, as to paraphrase Al Pacino in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, “What a pair of pictures!”

Will Win:  1917

Should Win: 1917

Should have been nominated: Knives Out

——————————————

Final counts

Will win:

  • 1917 – 7
  • Parasite – 3
  • Joker – 2
  • Bombshell – 1
  • Jojo Rabbit – 1
  • Judy – 1
  • Little Women – 1
  • Klaus –1
  • Marriage Story – 1
  • Once Upon a Time in Hollywood – 1
  • Rocketman – 1

Should win:

  • 1917 – 7
  • Marriage Story3
  • Parasite – 3
  • Little Women – 2
  • Avengers: Endgame – 1
  • Bombshell – 1
  • The Irishman1
  • Rocketman – 1
  • Toy Story – 1
Posted in 2010-2019, Film Feature

92nd Academy Awards: Best Picture Nominees Ranked

The time has come for Hollywood to pay tribute to the best of the best that 2019’s cinematic offerings had to offer. With that comes a plethora of films competing for glory. With a total of nine films up for the big prize this year including a look at one of the most notorious villains in comic book history, a gripping war epic, another adaptation of a beloved novel, a thrilling satire at a capitalist society, and a love letter to the Golden Age of Hollywood.

There’s lots of quality to be found in this year’s bunch, but only one will walk away with the trophy. So the time has come to rank these from worst to best (per my opinion of course) starting with….

9. Joker

Full Joker review here

By far and away, Joker is the most divisive film among this year’s nominees. Every there’s always at least one film that I feel doesn’t deserve to be in the lineup, and this is that film for me. There’s no question it has plenty of admirers, most notably winning the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival. On the flip side, it has no shortage of of detractors. While Joaquin Phoenix’s performance is superb and is likely to win him the Best Actor Oscar, the film has attracted plenty of criticism for being a poor imitation of the films that have quite clearly acted inspiration for the film, (namely Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy).

Now, I’m not of the opinion that Joker is a bad film. However, it should not be in the Best Picture conversation. Phoenix’s performance elevates it considerably beyond its pretty mediocre script, (as well as a great Hildur Guðnadóttir score) Furthermore, there’s nothing really remarkable about it. As well as arguably being a poor imitation of those aforementioned Scorsese films, it has plenty of problematic elements. Most notably, its depiction of mental health which leaves a lot to be desired and the fact that it felt as though it couldn’t make up its mind as to whether it was demonising its lead character, or heralding him as a hero against the backdrop of a broken society.

Now for these next eight that do (at least for my money) deserve to be in the conversation….

8. Little Women

Full review here

Even with the great calibre of all the other eight nominees, it feels like a disservice putting such a good film so low. However, it’s indicative of the quality of the eight remaining nominees that a film as good as this comes in eighth place. However, take nothing away from Greta Gerwig and what she has accomplished with only her second feature film. Having made something so wonderfully original for her directorial debut, her follow up reiterates what a talent she is both as a writer and a director. This beloved novel has had many adaptations in the past, but Gerwig puts her own stamp on the source material, with glorious results.

A key ingredient of why this film works is the brilliant work of each of the actresses playing the March sisters. The chemistry that they share feels so warm and affectionate. Like all siblings, they frequently go between loving each other, to loathing each other. What’s more, each sister brings something unique to the story. With every aspect of the production design and costumes on point, and another delightful Alexandre Desplat score, the entire ensemble cast all give excellent performances. Though the show is definitely stolen by Saorise Ronan and Florence Pugh, the latter of whom certainly made 2019 a year to remember with her first Oscar nomination.

 

7. Ford v Ferrari

Full review here

The mark of a truly great sports film is one that invests you in its story from the get-go, even if you’ve never heard of said event before. This is something that Ford V Ferrari does so brilliantly, but this is more than just a film about the 24 Hour Race at Le Mans in 1966. The intense battle between two men both striving for greatness in their fields, and the battle between them and the giant corporate machine that threatens to stomp all over their work is what keeps this well oiled machine of a film running smoothly.

As well as this absorbing drama, the work of the sound teams brings the film’s racing scenes to life in an exhilarating manner. With a truly excellent cast full of excellent performances, the best work comes from Matt Damon, and especially Christian Bale. Mixing in the back and forth between company head honchos and the absorbing, immaculately crafted racing scenes ensures that makes for extremely compelling storytelling, that helps this film race past the finishing line in flying colours.

6. Marriage Story

Full review here

Marrying someone you love can sometimes be a long-lasting and blissful experience that lasts the rest of your life. However, for others, it will sometimes end in heartbreak, causing the two people to go their separate ways. Noah Baumbach captures the pain of the divorce process with such raw emotion, which is lifted in part from his own experiences following his divorce from actress Jennifer Jason Leigh.

If I had my way, Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver would be winning Best Actress and Best Actor for their heart-breaking, powerful and emotional performances. With every moment, you feel the affection that they have for each other, and both strive to make this process as amicable as possible for the benefit of their son. But at the same time, there are moments where you feel the pain and rage that they’re both going through at that particular moment. In such a heavy drama, it’s a testament to Baumbach’s strong screenplay that he weaves some humorous moments expertly into the script, but it never negates the emotional weight of the story.

 

5. Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

Full review here

Quentin Tarantino films are so often known for two things: sharp, well written dialogue and some stylistic violence. And while his latest film ticks both those boxes, it definitely features more of the former than the latter. There’s something that feels very personal, almost fairytale like about this film, and it’s something that sets is apart from the rest of his filmography. It’s the director’s very personal love letter to the Golden Age of Hollywood, that so very obviously inspired him as a director.

Recruiting two of the most charismatic actors in the business definitely works in the film’s favour. The duo of Leo DiCaprio’s Rick Dalton and Brad Pitt’s (likely) Oscar winning turn as stuntman Cliff Booth serve up a delightful bromance that I could watch all day long. While Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate was criminally underutilised, what screen time she had, she used effectively. Tarantino films of the past (mainly Inglorious Basterds) certainly demonstrate his fondness to rewrite the history books. With that, he takes us on an exciting journey through 1960s Hollywood, and provides us a very very satisfying pay off.

4. Jojo Rabbit

Full review here

The second Best Picture nominee to have created a fierce divide between audiences. Taking on subject matter like this is a brave decision for any film-maker. It could have all gone horribly wrong, but if anyone was able to take on this sort of premise and make it work, then Taika Waititi was the man to do that. And that’s just what he did, in spectacular, and truly hilarious, style.

In a similar vein to Marriage Story, there was a risk that the sharp and relevant satire could have negated the more intense dramatic moments of the film. Yet Waititi walks this line masterfully, combining the comedy and the devastating drama, whilst introducing the world to the star in the making that is Roman Griffin Davis. At a time when toxic ideologies have reared their ugly head, and have not been consigned to the history books where they belong, it’s a damning indictment on society that a film like this and its central message, of love triumphing over hate, feels all the more relevant in today’s society.

3. The Irishman

Full review here

Martin Scorsese and gangster movies are just a match made in heaven. Every time this legendary director ventures into the world of gangster film-making, it always seems to be a recipe for greatness and this is no exception. One of the most expensive Netflix productions to date, telling the fascinating story of delivery driver turned hitman Frank Sheeran and how he rose through the ranks of the mob, leading him to meeting charismatic Union Leader Jimmy Hoffa.

Under the expert vision of Scorsese, and long-time editor Thelma Schoonmaker, the three and a half hours fly by as Scorsese absorbs you into this compelling and fascinating story that spans over multiple decades. Getting the best performances in years out of DeNiro and Pacino, whilst bringing Pesci out of retirement for one last hurrah. All three men are on stellar form, and DeNiro was inexcusably left out of getting a deserved Best Actor nomination, alongside Pesci and Pacino in the Supporting category. If this is Scorsese’s last venture into the world of mobster/crime films, then the Godfather of the genre has certainly bowed out in the finest way possible.

2. Parasite

Full review here

South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho is a name that might not be as instantly recognisable as a Tarantino or a Scorsese, but after watching his latest film, you’ll be hard pressed not to be utterly speechless by the brilliant work that the South Korean director has put together. Like last year with Roma, the fact that it stands a legitimate shot at becoming the first film not in the English language to win the top prize speaks volumes as to how well liked this film is, and it well deserved.

Looking at a case of one family living at the bottom of the barrel of society, who find a way to improve their situation by gaining employment with a family steeped in wealth. Filled to the brim with sharp, relevant commentary about the capitalist society that dominates many countries around the world, that simultaneously weaves in some brilliant humour into this story. This is just the tip of the iceberg as to the brilliance of this story that Bong Joon-ho has constructed, combine that with razor sharp performances from every member of this cast, and the end result is something that is a layered, enthralling piece of storytelling that you’ll want to revisit many times over.

1. 1917

Full review here

Being the history student I am, I gravitate to war films. But this is not the reason why Sam Mendes’s magnum opus is my pick for the Best Picture of 2019. It’s for the fact that it is an astounding cinematic achievement that just floored me in every way. Filmed to look as if it is one continuous tracking shot, it should clean house in the technical categories, and ensure that the legend that is Roger Deakins picks up another Oscar. But all that technical mastery would count for nothing, if the story being told in front of the camera was not compelling and emotionally investing, which it absolutely is.

Focusing on two young English soldiers who must go behind enemy lines to deliver a message to call off an attack to prevent an absolute slaughter. The premise is simple but it’s extremely effective, and that’s down to the extraordinary performances of Dean-Charles Chapman, and especially George MacKay who demonstrate they are far more than just the uniforms they are wearing. From the first minute, I was thoroughly invested in their mission, and the extraordinary camerawork fully immerses you in the time and the place. You do feel like you are on the ground with these men, and it never let up throughout the tense two hour run time. One of the finest war films ever made, not only is 1917 my favourite film of 2019, after multiple viewings, it has now cemented itself as one of my favourite films of all time.

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Could/should have been nominated…

Unlike last year, this year nine films have been chosen for the top honour. Yet once again, I find myself asking, why not just make it a perfect ten and nominate one extra film to have the honour of being in the company of these (mostly) great films. What could have joined their company? If I had my way, out would go Joker, and then choose from any of the following three films to make it a perfect ten:

Knives Out (review): After getting all that vitriol for Star Wars: The Last Jedi, it is delightful to see that Rian Johnson is now officially an Academy Award nominee, and very much deservedly so. Giving the Whodunnit genre a 21st century do-over, and the end result was an utter blast from beginning to end, with one of the best ensemble casts of the year.

Avengers: Endgame (review): Is this me being super biased towards one of my favourite franchises of the last decade? Perhaps, but the fact remains that this film marked the crowning glory of an extraordinary ten year journey, the like of which has never been seen in cinema before. Akin to Return of the King being very deservedly bestowed with a record-breaking number of Oscars for its extraordinary work, the extraordinary work that has gone into this franchise deserved to be recognised with a Best Picture nominee. The Academy definitely nominated the wrong comic book movie.

The Farewell (review): Honestly, how this film got completely overlooked baffles me. Telling a deeply personal story that draws from director Lulu Wang’s own background, it’s a story that anyone no matter where they are from, or where they grew up can connect with. On top of that, it boasts an Oscar worthy performance from Awkwafina.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review, London Film Festival 2019

A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood (2019)

Image is property of TriStar Pictures and Sony Pictures

A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood – Film Review

Cast: Matthew Rhys, Tom Hanks, Susan Kelechi Watson, Chris Cooper

Director: Marielle Heller

Synopsis: An investigative journalist is sent to do a small piece on the popular children’s TV personality Fred Rogers. As the two begin to strike up a friendship, it changes both of their lives forever…

Review: Growing up as children, we all had that one programme that was our favourite. The one that we would watch religiously, and many many times over. For countless upon countless children who grew up in the United States, that programme would undoubtedly have been “Mister Rogers’s Neighborhood.” The star of that show, was Fred Rogers, a figure beloved by millions and one whose impact on the world of Children’s TV, and one journalist, simply cannot be overstated.

The aforementioned journalist is Lloyd Vogel (Rhys) who’s in a rough spot in his life. His wife has just had a child, and his estranged father (Cooper) tries to contact him. Though, Lloyd is absolutely not interested, and firmly rejects his father’s attempts to reconnect. When Lloyd is sent by his employer to do a piece on Fred Rogers, he is extremely reluctant to put it mildly. However through each meeting, the two begin to strike up a friendship that helps Lloyd see the relationships in his life, as well as his job from a wholly different perspective. Through this, it enables him to begin to rebuild the bridges between him and his father.

In terms of perfect casting choices, you couldn’t have picked a more perfect actor to portray Fred Rogers than Tom Hanks. Hanks has proven time after time of his sheer talent as an actor, and once again he’s such a pleasure to watch. He imbues Rogers with such a warm and friendly personality that you can’t help but just fall in love with him and his joyful personality. Opposite him, when you first meet him, Lloyd is the antithesis of joyful. Battling being a father whilst simultaneously dealing with the difficult relationship with his own father. Initially, he doesn’t take on his assignment with Mr Rogers with much enthusiasm. Yet, as his time with Mr Rogers goes on, it completely transforms his life for the better.

There’s one particular moment when the two of them are out in public that could have come across as too saccharine for its own good. However, the moment is so touching and emotional that it should without fail, warm your heart and leave you smiling from ear to ear. For any viewer who may be unfamiliar with Rogers’s show, director Marielle Heller wonderfully recreates scenes from Mister Rogers’s Neighbourhood so that anyone who has never watched an episode can be brought up to speed and appreciate the wonderful work that has gone into recreating these scenes. Given that the documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? told Fred Rogers’s story in detail, writers Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster make the wise choice to tell the story through Lloyd’s perspective, based on the article “Can You Say… Hero?” by the real life Lloyd, Dan Junod.

While Lloyd’s stiffness towards Rogers could grating to some, it’s understandable given the pressure he’s facing. The story is a little predictable in the direction that it goes in.  Yet given that such a story is filled with such positivity, is certainly not problematic by any means. It serves its purpose in telling this story effectively. Indeed, in an age where people are becoming more and more aggressive towards each other due to any number of factors, this is a film with an extremely timely message. It can serve as a very strong reminder of what Fred Rogers stood for, that kindness and affection towards not just your neighbour, but for everyone in general, can go a long way towards making society a better place for everyone.

With yet another superb performance from Hanks at its core, in a society that is becoming all the more fraught and divided, this is the film, and in particular a message, that at this moment in time, the world would do well to take heed to.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Bombshell (2019)

Image is property of Lionsgate and Annapurna Pictures

Bombshell  – Film Review

Cast: Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, Margot Robbie, John Lithgow, Kate McKinnon, Connie Britton, Malcolm McDowell, Allison Janney

Director: Jay Roach

Synopsis: As the United States gears up towards the 2016 Presidential Election, one of the country’s most prominent TV networks, Fox News, is rocked by allegations of sexual harassment allegations against its chairman Roger Ailes…

Review: Back in 2017, the shocking details of the sexual behaviour of powerful men like Harvey Weinstein, and his appalling conduct of sexually harassing women became public. The disclosure of such appalling revelations gave life to such powerful and important campaigns like Time’s Up and the Me Too movement, which have started vital discourses about sexual harassment. Yet, one year earlier, thanks to the brave courage of women, an equally loathsome dynasty, deservedly fell from grace.

The attention of the entire United States, and the wider world alike, is focusing on the 2016 Presidential election, with controversial candidate Donald Trump emerging as the front runner for the Republican Party. But behind the scenes at the conservative leaning Fox News, the company’s chairman, Roger Ailes, is perpetrating a rampant scheme of sexual harassment against his employees. With employees so often powerless to do anything about it, it goes unchallenged for a significantly long period of time. Until some decide, that it’s time to drop an explosive bombshell on their employers.

Thanks to the work of the makeup team (lead by Darkest Hour‘s Oscar winner Kazu Hiro) Charlize Theron puts in an excellent, transformative performance as notorious Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly. She’s one of network’s greatest assets, but in the wake of wake of some sexist comments that are fired her way by following one of the televised debates, she becomes the centre of attention of not just Ailes the Fox News audience, but of the country as a whole. Kelly initially seems willing to let the matter slide, in order to further her career. But as time goes on, amid the rampant nature of the abuse that is going on, means that she has to take a stand.

The film approaches the matter from three perspectives, that of Megyn Kelly, Gretchen Carlson (Kidman), and fictionalised producer Kayla Pospisil (Robbie). The contrast between Carlson and Pospisil could not be more apparent. The former is starting to get extremely tired of the culture that she’s witnessing at the network, and is preparing herself for a possible legal showdown. Meanwhile the latter is determined to forge a career at this network, an approach that begins to waiver when Ailes himself (a brilliantly slimy John Lithgow) takes a liking to Kayla, and subjects her to the sort of demeaning treatment that he almost certainly subjected many women to. It’s a deeply uncomfortable moment that puts this whole scandal into perspective.

While it would have made quite the statement had this film been written and directed by women, writer Charles Randolph and director Jay Roach approach this tricky and emotional subject matter from an empathetic standpoint. Pitching this as a satire ran the risk of negating the heavy subject matter and making light of the abuse that these women suffered. The approach taken is at times, rather sensationalist and is scratching at the surface. Nevertheless, it doesn’t take lightly the awful abuse that these women endured. Regardless of political persuasion, it serves as a necessary reminder that there’s the bigger picture to focus on. Specifically, that women to this day experience this sort of harassment in workplaces across the world.

It could have been overtly gratuitous with some decisions it makes, but it chooses to keep the awful treatment that these women were subjected to front and centre, and never is that more apparent than in a heart-breaking scene between Kayla and a co-worker. Ailes and Weinstein have deservedly fallen from grace, but the bigger picture remains that predators like them almost certainly remain very much at large, in workplaces all across the world. Crucially, women must not be afraid to speak out, because when they do, it can shine a light on individuals  who perpetrate such loathsome schemes. Change won’t happen overnight, but we can kickstart efforts to stamp out this repugnant behaviour.

Combining such weighty subject matter with satire is always risky. However, with a broadly empathetic approach to its storytelling combined with three strong performances, it’s a timely reminder of the vital importance of initiatives like Time’s Up and the Me Too Movement.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

1917 (2019)

Image is property of Universal, DreamWorks and New Republic Pictures

1917 – Film Review

Cast: Dean-Charles Chapman, George MacKay, Mark Strong, Andrew Scott, Richard Madden, Claire Duburcq, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch

Director: Sam Mendes

Synopsis: In the height of the First World War, two young English soldiers face a race against time in order to prevent a British battalion walking into a deadly enemy trap…

Review: When it comes to war films, filmmakers so often choose World War II, and/or the plethora of amazing human stories that took place during this time period as inspiration. However, for Sam Mendes, his inspiration for telling a story set in the heart of the First World War, came from a much more personal connection. After being inspired by the tales told by his grandfather during his time as a soldier, Mendes chooses World War I as the backdrop for his second foray into war film-making. He takes us straight to the front line, to the year seen by many as the turning point in the Great War, for an exhilarating cinematic experience that you’re unlikely to forget in a hurry.

Two young English soldiers, Privates Blake (Charles-Chapman) and Schofield (MacKay) are given an extremely perilous mission by their commanding officer. Intel has been received that one of their battalions is about to walk into a deadly enemy trap that would annihilate the battalion, and Blake’s brother is among their ranks. Setting off on a seemingly impossible mission, these two young soldiers must venture behind enemy lines and deliver the message calling off the attack, in order to prevent the massacre of his brother’s battalion.

As the two soldiers whose journey is at the centre of this pulsating story, the performances of Dean-Charles Chapman and George MacKay are phenomenal. The entire film is focused on their journey, meaning that it is all resting on their shoulders and they rise to that challenge in extraordinary fashion. The screenplay by Mendes and Krysty Wilson-Cairns, keeps things focused with military like precision on the two soldiers and their mission, while simultaneously fleshing both of them out to be so much more than just the uniforms they are wearing. The plethora of British acting talent that pop up throughout are welcome presences, but ultimately they are nothing more than extended cameos to drive the plot forward.

With the flawless acting in front of the camera, the work done behind the camera is equally sublime. In the build up to the film’s release, there was considerable promotion of the one shot method that Sam Mendes utilises to tell this story. While this could be a seen as a gimmick, its use here is tremendously effective to fully immerse the audience in this setting, which is likely to be in no small part down to Roger Deakins.  After finally grabbing that long overdue Oscar, Deakins continues to be at the peak of his powers as a cinematographer. While Blade Runner 2049 showed him at his visual best, the work that he does in making the continuous tracking shot to be such an effective method of story-telling for this mission proves once again that in terms of cinematographers working today, he is almost second to none.

By all accounts, life in the trenches during WW1 was horrendous. and the work of the production design team to recreate these horrors are jaw-dropping. The sheer amount of meticulous details that are present in these sets is completely astounding, it only helps to add to the increasing suspense of the unfolding mission. Likewise for the sound teams, with every bullet fired and every time a plane flies overhead, you feel every moment of it, capturing the brutality of war with frightening realism. It makes you feel like you’re on that front-line with these men, every step of the way.

After a staggering fourteen Oscar nominations and no win to his name, this has to be the time for Thomas Newman to break his Oscar hoodoo, as his accompanying score is truly breath-taking and befitting of the emotional journey that is being depicted on screen. Mendes and every single member of his crew have pulled off an astonishing, remarkable cinematic triumph. Above all, thank you to Alfred Mendes for telling your stories, that will now live on forever.

From the powerfully emotional performances of its leading men, to the technical mastery behind the camera, 1917 is simply put, one of the finest war films that has ever been put to screen.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Little Women (2019)

Image is property of Columbia Pictures, Regency Enterprises and Sony Pictures

Little Women – Film Review

Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Eliza Scanlen, Laura Dern, Timothée Chalamet, Meryl Streep, Tracy Letts, Bob Odenkirk, James Norton, Louis Garrel, Chris Cooper

Director: Greta Gerwig

Synopsis: Telling the lives of the March sisters as they navigate the transition from adolescence to adulthood in a post Civil War USA…

Review: After the storming success of her unique and original debut film, that added her name to the select few women to have been nominated for an Oscar for directing, the world was the oyster for Greta Gerwig. For her sophomore feature, she would have likely had the green light to make anything that she so desired. Therefore, to give the beloved novel by Louisa May Alcott another adaptation seemed to be unnecessary. However, Gerwig has taken on this adaptation, and breathed new life into this beloved story, in magnificent style.

In a post Civil War United States, we meet the March sisters: Jo (Ronan), Meg (Watson), Amy (Pugh) and Beth (Scanlen). We see their lives from two different time periods, firstly in a post Civil War setting, mixed in with flashbacks to their time spent growing up together in Massachusetts. Jo is determined to make her own way in the world to pursue a career as a writer, Amy wishes to become an artist, Meg dreams of becoming an actress, and Beth aspires to be a musician. They assist their mother (Dern) in any way they can while their father is away fighting in the war. Growing up, the sisters spend a lot of their time together, supporting their mother any way they can as their lack of money means that luxuries are extremely hard to come by.

Straight away, the chemistry between the four sisters leaps off the screen. There is a warm feeling that comes off in the relationships that they have with each other. Their chemistry feels very sincere and genuine, which is a credit to the talent of the actresses playing them. As anyone who grew up with one or more siblings will tell you, they love and care for each other. Yet, at any given moment, that can flip on its head and that love can turn to loathing. Every member of this cast delivers delightful performances, from Meryl Streep’s hilarious turn as their snidey (but hilarious) Aunt, to Laura Dern as their steadfast and extremely patient mother, to Timothee Chalamet as their childhood friend, who becomes the man that they all would dream of marrying.

However, the stars of the show (as they should be), are the titular little women, the March sisters. Gerwig’s screenplay explores in great detail the pressures that women like the sisters would have faced during that time period. Finding themselves in a position where they would love nothing more than to follow their hearts, but they are frustrated due to the constraints that society placed on women at the time. The strength of the screenplay ensures that Gerwig gives each of her stars excellent material to work with. It enables each of their personalities to shine through and though each of them all give sincere performances, the performances by Saoirse Ronan’s Jo and Florence Pugh’s Amy shine the brightest.

The score by Alexandre Desplat is befitting of the warm and delightful ambience that the film generates. Similarly, Jacqueline Durran’s wonderful costumes perfectly illustrate the calibre of such an esteemed, Oscar winning costume designer. The film adopts a non-linear approach to its storytelling, which can perhaps be a little jarring at first to any viewers who may be unfamiliar with the source material. It’s a testament to the Alcott’s novel that it can still resonate with people over a century and a half after it was first published, proving it to be a timeless piece of storytelling. Furthermore, it has proved to be a springboard for a talent like Greta Gerwig to adapt it once again for the big screen so beautifully. She retains those powerful core messages that will especially resonate with everyone regardless, of their gender, but especially for women who grew up with sisters.

One might have argued that this beloved novel did not need yet another adaptation. However, a terrific ensemble cast led by Ronan and Pugh, combined with Gerwig’s excellent screenplay ensures that this latest adaptation will charm its way into your heart.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Feature

Top 10 Most Anticipated Films of 2020

Happy new year cinephiles! It is 2020, a brand new decade is upon us, and that means there’s a lot of exciting films to come our way over the next 12 months.  So without further ado, I present to you my picks for my top 10 most anticipated films that are set to hit UK cinemas in 2020.

Just a quick note to say that certain films that have marketed 2020 releases such as The Lighthouse, Waves, Just Mercy etc will not be counted here, partly because I have seen some of these at London Film Festival, and a few were included in my best of the year ranking, even though they are set to arrive into UK cinemas this year. Before we get into the main body of the list, I have a few honourable mentions, that I am looking forward to, but they just didn’t quite make the list. These are:

Venom 2, So if you saw my review of the first film, you’ll know that I hated it and it was one of the worst things I saw in 2018. However, Andy Serkis attached as director for this sequel has me intrigued. Given Serkis’s expertise with motion capture work, I hope that he can use that expertise to make something more compelling than that awful first film, and less of the horrendous cheesy dialogue would be great as well.

Godzilla VS Kong, The MonsterVerse hasn’t exactly had the easiest of starts to its existence as a cinematic universe. Both 2014’s Godzilla and 2017’s Kong: Skull Island were both beset by similar problems, namely too little screen-time for their eponymous titans, in favour of mostly very bland humans. Last year’s King of the Monsters certainly packed more action, but was bogged down by a problematic script. We go to these films to see giant monsters throw down, so if they can focus more on that and less on the humans, this titanic clash certainly could be an enthralling spectacle.

The French Dispatch, Wes Anderson’s films are almost always eccentric, but that eccentricity doesn’t prevent his films from being wonderfully crafted pieces of art. After making the wonderful Isle of Dogs in 2018, the quirky director makes his return to live action. With another stacked cast including Anderson regulars like Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Frances McDormand, Owen Wilson and Adrian Brody.

The EternalsThe Infinity Saga might have wrapped up 23 films worth of MCU build up, but even after all that, the folks at Marvel are not showing any signs of slowing down. The studio has proved that it can take lesser known properties in their roster of heroes, and make extremely entertaining movies out of them. With an exciting cast, the studio will be hoping they have another Guardians of the Galaxy on their hands.

Soul,The first of two Pixar films scheduled to come out in 2020, is from the mind of Pete Docter, the visionary genius behind two of the studio’s most emotional films in Up and Inside Out, which means the odds of this being another emotional tear-jerker from Pixar are extremely high.

Honourable mentions have been honoured, let’s see what cracked my top 10:

10. Birds of Prey

Release date: 7th February

By far and away, one of the best aspects of 2016’s Suicide Squad, was Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn. So after said film seemingly left the DCEU in limbo, Margot Robbie is once again, suiting up once again as Harley Quinn. This time, however, she has ditched Jared Leto’s Joker, in favour of some more female company. Together, Harley and this group of women find themselves up against Ewan McGregor’s villain: Black Mask.

Of all the comic book movies slated to come out in 2020, four out of them will be directed by women, and all five of them feature women in significant, leading roles. This can only be a good thing not just for the comic book movie genre, for the film industry as a whole. Let’s hope that under Cathy Yan’s direction, that Harley and her band of vigilantes can start 2020’s superhero offerings with a bang.

 

9. Last Night in Soho

Release date: 18th September

The mere mention of certain directors can be enough to generate anticipation, and Edgar Wright is certainly one of those names. After directing the fast paced, and extremely entertaining Baby Driver, his next project as a director is being teased as a psychological horror film set in 1960s London with a cast that includes includes Thomasin McKenzie, Anya Taylor-Joy, Matt Smith and Dame Diana Rigg.

 

8. A Quiet Place: Part II

Release date: 20th March

For years, John Krasinski was most likely known from his role in the US version of The Office, but then he transitioned into a film director. As far as first films go, A Quiet Place was a masterfully well made horror film, that placed a real emphasis on sound. Having also written and starred in the first film, for reasons you will realise if you have seen the first film, Krasinski is just behind the camera this time.

The plot once again features real life wife Emily Blunt leading the Abbot family and her children, who have discovered some useful information that could defeat the terrifying sound monsters that have ravaged the planet. If this film can rebuild that tension that the first part was able to capture so masterfully, another horror gem could be on our hands. But, best be quiet about it.

7. Mulan

Release date: 27th March

Despite their three live action releases in 2019 enduring decidedly mixed reactions from audiences and critics, the Box Office returns for said films were more than prosperous for Disney, leaving them to continue on with their mission to remake all their live action classics. Next on their list is the 1996 classic Mulan.

From the trailers, this looks as though it has potential to be considerably more faithful to the Chinese legend, as there will be no Mushu to be found here. With an all Chinese cast, and this being only the second Disney film with a female director (Niki Caro) and a budget above $100 million, following A Wrinkle in Time, Disney will be hoping that this is the film that brings the honour back to their live action remakes.

 

6. Onward

Release date: 6th March

Pixar so often find that magic touch in their films that can make grown adults bawl their eyes out at the beauty and the emotion of the events on screen, and when the studio is focused on crafting original stories (e.g Coco and Inside Out), they usually craft something pretty special.

This tale of two brothers off on a magical quest has all the recipe of being another Pixar classic. With Chris Pratt and Tom Holland voicing the brothers and Julia-Louis Drefyus and Octavia Spencer also lending their voices, it has all the makings of potentially another Pixar classic that will get the audience sobbing uncontrollably.

5. No Time to Die

Release date: 2nd April

After what feels like an absolute eternity, and amid constant speculation as to whether Daniel Craig would hand back his license to kill, the actor’s final outing as 007 is finally making its way to cinemas. With a production that seemed to be cursed from the outset, most notably being original director Danny Boyle being forced to drop out and an injury to Craig on set, new director Cary Joji Fukunaga has an almighty mission to deliver the goods.

Mixed in with the usual faces are an intriguing crop of new cast members including Lashana Lynch as a new 00 agent, Ana De Armas as a CIA operative, and Rami Malek as a rather sinister looking villain. After two great films, and two so-so films under his belt, Daniel Craig will be aiming to bow out on a high note.

 

4. Wonder Woman 1984

Release date: 5th June

Back in 2017, the DCEU was in limbo somewhat having had its previous two entries the preceding year, take something of a critical mauling, Hence, a lot was riding on the first Wonder Woman film to succeed, which it did in emphatic style. Now with another blast back to the past, 1984 strangely enough, we see Diana Prince battle a new foe in the form of Pedro Pascal’s Maxwell Lord as well as possibly Kristen Wiig as the Cheetah.

Goodness knows what Diana has been doing with her time in the years between WW1 and 1984, but with Patty Jenkins back in the director’s chair for this sequel, along with Birds of Prey, there’s every chance that this sequel can replicate the success of the first WW film, and should it achieve that it will be a further boost for the DCEU as it bids to continue along the trajectory that’s been set by the first WW and last year’s Shazam!

3. Black Widow

Release date: 1st May

SPOILER ALERT if you’re one of the very few people who didn’t see Avengers: Endgame, but said film sadly marked the heroic demise of Natasha Romanoff as she sacrificed herself to help the Avengers gather the Infinity Stones to save the universe. For a long time now, fans have clamoured to see her get her own film, especially given the success of Captain Marvel. While it is a little strange that this film has come now, given her Endgame fate,  it is great to see it finally happening.

Rumoured to be set between the events of Civil War and Infinity War, it teases more of her back story that has been so often the subject of fleeting mentions in previous MCU films, so to see Scarlett Johansson back in this role is undeniably exciting. Add in a top drawer cast that includes Florence Pugh, Rachel Weisz, and David Harbour, everything is in place to ensure that this off Phase Four of the MCU with a bang.

 

 

2. Tenet

Release date: 17th July

Christopher Nolan, a director who can generate anticipation by a mere mention of his name. There are many who believe that the director hasn’t made a bad film yet, and his latest promises to be the usual mind-bending wizardry that we have come to expect from Nolan. With a stellar cast that includes John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, Kenneth Branagh, and of course a customary appearance from Sir Michael Caine, expect more mind-bending awesomeness when this one debuts in cinemas….

 

And, my #1 most anticipated film of 2020 is……………………………………………………

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1. Dune

Release date: 18th December

In a similar vein to Christopher Nolan, Denis Villeneuve is another director who’s name just captures the attention. Having hit a hot streak with Sicario, Arrival and Blade Runner 2049, Villeneuve has proved himself to be one of the best directors working today, and now a fresh adaptation of the 1965 by Frank Herbert is in his sights.

In the wake of the film by David Lynch, which the director promptly disowned upon release, the potential for something truly special, especially with arguably the most stacked cast of the entire year that includes Timothee Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Charlotte Rampling, Zendaya, Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem and Jason Momoa. Fans of the novel can have hope that this masterful director can do the novel justice, which given that this is reportedly the first of two films, offers much promise.

Thus concludes my picks for the most anticipated films of 2020, What are your most anticipated films for this year? Let me know on any of the following platforms: Twitter, Facebook or Letterbox’d

Thanks for reading and here’s to another great year of cinema!

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Feature

Best Films of 2019

It is fitting in many ways, that as we reach the end of the decade, that a number of the franchises that have had a massive impact in the last ten years of cinema have been brought to a close. 22 films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe gave a very satisfying pay off, the curtain closed on the Skywalker saga for the final time, and the less said about that Game of Thrones finale, the better. Meanwhile, Netflix continues to assert itself in the industry producing some stellar content, all while an exhaustive amount of discourses and debates on a variety of subjects relating to film have raged all year long. It was certainly an eventful year of cinema to close out the decade, and so the time has come for me to rank all that 2019 had to offer on the big screen, at least of the films I saw.

Due to staggered UK release dates, it can be extremely messy to determine what film belongs in what year. Therefore regarding the eligibility of films for this list, I always aim to include films that are listed as 2019 releases on IMDB. Also, some of the films listed here haven’t yet made their way into UK cinemas, but since I was fortunate to be able to catch some of these films at London Film Festival this year, they are eligible for inclusion. On the other hand, there’s a 2019 release that doesn’t get its UK wide release until February 2020, so that film will be deferred for my 2020’s list, and I am absolutely certain that will make an appearance.

Secondly, the grade a film receives does not necessarily determine its place on the list. Getting the perfect grade does not mean it will rank higher than a film that got a lower grade. This is, as is the case for all of us who review films, our one chance to be completely biased about the films that we enjoyed the most, and these are the films that I will remember from 2018.  Before I get into the main list, some honourable mentions need to have their time to shine. These films are excellent that you should definitely check out, but they just didn’t quite make the list. First up…

Ad Astra [review] Many films have illustrated just how terrifying the eternal chasm that is space, and Brad Pitt’s enthralling turn as an astronaut who must venture deep into space in search of his long lost father is another example. It’s a slow burner, but well worth the investment.

Harriet [review] Harriet Tubman’s story is nothing short of inspirational, a woman born into slavery who escaped and then daringly made several missions to free people from this appalling institution. This biopic, while told in a very conventional manner, tells her story with sincerity, and boasts a magnificent performance from Cynthia Erivo, whose career as an actor is going from strength to strength.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood [review coming soon] Tom Hanks is simply put, one of the most charismatic answers in the business, and so the decision to cast him as the legendary TV children’s presenter Fred Rogers was an utter masterstroke. As you’d expect Hanks’s performance is wonderful and Marielle Heller’s direction is so charming, that it’s guaranteed to give you a warm feeling by the time the credits have begun to roll.

Hustlers [review] For women who work in a strip club, it can be a difficult situation to find themselves in. For one group of women however, it’s a situation they choose take full advantage of, by devising a scheme to get back at the wealthy patrons of the strip club that employs them. With an excellent group of actresses at its core, and a fascinating story, the entire show is stolen by an electric, awards worthy performance from Jennifer Lopez.

Toy Story 4 [review] After Toy Story 3 wrapped up one of the best animated trilogies ever, in beautiful and heart-wrenching fashion, many were left wondering, was there any need for another Toy Story? Fears that this would prove to be a cynical cash grab were soon dismissed as Pixar, as they so often do, delivered the goods with a fourth film that absolutely needed to be told. It doesn’t quite match the lofty standards set its predecessors, but it comes mighty close.

Captain Marvel [review] It shouldn’t have taken as long as it did, but 2019 marked the first time that the Marvel Cinematic Universe had a female led film, and it was certainly worth the wait. While the story was certainly a tad formulaic, it was extremely entertaining and flew its way to a billion dollars at the Worldwide Box Office, firmly shutting up those individuals that tried to derail the film prior to its release.

Little Women [review] Making yet another adaptation of the classic novel by Louisa May Alcott seemed to be a tad unnecessary. However, in the wake of her stunning directorial debut. Greta Gerwig took this beloved novel and put her own take on it, and in so doing may have created the definitive big screen adaptation.

Honourable mentions have been honoured, time to crack on with the main list, which due to the vast number of great films we have had this year I’ve made it into a top 15 list, and we begin with…

15. Official Secrets

review

Working for the government can put any employee in a difficult position, especially when they handle such confidential information. For one employee, deciding that a confidential memo demands to become public information, she bravely takes on her government by leaking the aforementioned memo to the Press.

The intrigue is maintained throughout thanks to some excellent writing and a sensational lead performance from Keira Knightley who carries the film on her shoulders magnificently. There’s a very important message at the centre of this gripping film that remains very relevant to the world we live in today, namely that governments need to be held to account when they try to sweep such damning information under the rug.

14. Midsommar

review

After terrifying audiences with his debut feature Hereditary, Ari Aster has reinforced his growing reputation as a horror maestro with his sophomore feature. Telling the story of a woman goes with her boyfriend to a Swedish Pagan festival, and some dark and disturbing events soon start to unfold.

With a magnificent, haunting, awards worthy lead performance from Florence Pugh, that captures raw grief and pain in such a powerful manner. One of the best directed films of the year, filled with some thought provoking themes and imagery, with plenty of scenes that I will certainly not be forgetting in a hurry.

13. Ford V Ferrari

review

The mark of a great film, especially one about a sporting event, is that you shouldn’t have to be the most devout follower of said sport to be thoroughly invested in it. The 24 Hour Race of Le Mans isn’t the most glamorous, or indeed the most iconic of sporting events, but that didn’t prevent James Mangold from crafting an extremely compelling film about it.

With a truly excellent cast full of excellent performances, the best work comes from Matt Damon, and especially Christian Bale. Mixing in the back and forth between company head honchos and the absorbing, immaculately crafted racing scenes ensures that makes for extremely compelling storytelling, that helps this film hit race past the finishing line in flying colours.

12. Marriage Story

review

The day the two people tie the knot is so often the happiest day of those people’s lives, but sometimes, that loving relationship can be soured, causing people to go their separate ways. The pain of the divorce process is captured so powerfully by director Noah Baumbach, as two people go through a problematic and painful divorce that will push both both parents to the limits, whilst trying to do what’s best for their son.

With awards worthy performances from just about everyone, though without any doubt, the spotlight shines brightest on Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver. The performances of these two are arguably the best performances of the year. To go from a funny moment, to a remorseful moment in a heartbeat is a skill, and it’s a testament to the strength of Baumbach’s screenplay that he combines these two contrasting emotions so strongly, without tainting the experience.

11. The Farewell

review

Family, an institution that can mean so much to so many of us. When such sorrowful news about a loved one’s declining health reaches our ears, it can be difficult news to take. Especially when, the traditions between generations and cultures can be such a stark contrast.

The film is such a surprise with how much humour it finds in this situation, but Lulu Wang expertly balances the delightful moments, with ones that are just raw with emotion. At the centre of all, Awkwafina gives the performance of her career as a woman who’s caught between two different customs and traditions. No matter who you are or where you’re from, you’ll connect with this film in some capacity.

Now for the top 10…

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review, London Film Festival 2019

Just Mercy (2019)

Image is property of Warner Bros

Just Mercy – Film Review

Cast: Michael B Jordan, Jamie Foxx, Brie Larson, Tim Blake Nelson, Rob Morgan, O’Shea Jackson Jr, Rafe Spall

Director: Destin Daniel Cretton

Synopsis: After a man is convicted of murder of a young woman and sent to death row, a defence attorney begins to uncover some startling facts about the case….

Review: It’s not exactly news that in the USA right now, the country has had, and continues to have a major issue with racism. Such an issue, extends to many facets of life in the country, and one particular example being the the justice system and the rule of law. A system that has some very fundamental flaws and biases, that can see people arrested for the most trivial of things. Likewise one that can see potentially innocent people, be sent to prison in spite of some very iffy/suspicious witness statements or evidence.

Walter McMillian, known to his friends and family as Johnny D, is on death row after he was found guilty of murdering a young woman. When attorney Bryan Stevenson takes on his case, he starts to investigate the case in substantial detail. Through some extensive and thorough examination of all the evidence, with the support of Eva Ansley (Larson), all is not what it seems with this case. Stevenson, believing that McMillan may have been wrongfully convicted through some spurious evidence and witness statements, makes it his mission to leave no stone unturned in his investigation, and to do all he can to clear McMillan of this crime.

Courtroom dramas such as these have definitely been adapted for the big screen before. However, while it doesn’t strive away from your typical courtroom drama, the sheer strength and emotional weight of the story are what bring the emotional levity to the situation. This film’s power and urgency lies in Andrew Lanham’s and director Destin Daniel Cretton’s script, which is not trying to be anything new in terms of courtroom dramas, and it doesn’t have to be in order to be extremely effective. Simply because it is trying to shine a light on an issue that is still prevalent in the US to this day. With people are being sent down for crimes they definitely didn’t commit, whilst simultaneously highlighting and the appalling institutional biases that still occur to this day in the US justice system, particularly for people of colour, it shows a fundamental problem that urgently needs addressing.

Michael B Jordan is nothing short of sensational as Bryan Stevenson, the attorney who bravely takes on McMillan’s case. Given the emotional magnitude surrounding the case, he would be forgiven for cracking under the intense pressure that comes along with taking what is to many people, an already closed case. While Larson’s screen time is limited, she is also excellent as the assistant to Jordan’s Stevenson. However, it’s Jamie Foxx’s heartbreaking performance that is by far and away, the most awards worthy. Giving his best performance since Django Unchained, you can see from his body language that the years on death row understandably have taken their toll on him. Yet through Stevenson’s relentless desire to uncover the truth, it brings him the faintest glimmer of hope in the darkest of situations for him and his family.

One of the many great aspects of film is its ability to shed light on such stories that people around the world may not know about. However, these hard-hitting stories need to be mandatory viewing for everyone. The whole point of a justice system, in any country the world over, is to hold a fair and unbiased trial that examines all the evidence without prejudice. Yet time after time in the US, the system is shown to be completely rigged to the extent that people, especially people of colour, are seemingly condemned before any trial has even begun. Changes will not happen but overnight, but with powerful pieces of storytelling like Just Mercy, one would hope that the tide eventually start to turn to prevent situations like this from happening again.

With a trio of fantastic performances at its centre, and an emotionally charged story packed with an urgent, powerful message that must be heard the world over. This is so much more than just your typical courtroom drama.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Cats (2019)

Image is property of Universal, Working Title and Amblin Entertainment

Cats – Film Review

Cast: Francesca Hayward, Judi Dench, Jason Derulo, Idris Elba, Jennifer Hudson, James Corden, Ian McKellen, Taylor Swift, Rebel Wilson

Director: Tom Hooper

Synopsis: A group of Cats known as the Jellicles come together to make a decision known as “the Jellicle choice,” a decision that will give one lucky cat an exciting new opportunity to start life anew….

Review: It was almost an event unto itself. Back in July this year, a trailer landed onto the internet, but this was no ordinary trailer, it was something much more horrifying, this being the trailer for Cats. Quickly becoming this overnight, much talked about sensation, but for all the wrong reasons. The collective claws of the internet came out and the film became the subject of much ridicule and being the butt (or should that be tail) of so many internet jokes, it seemed completely dead on arrival. It should come as no surprise to learn that it is a complete furry cat-astrophe.

The plot, if you can really call it that, is focused on a group of cats known as the Jellicle cats. An abandoned cat, Victoria (Hayward) is found by the group and they take her in. Every year, the leader of this group must make the Jellicle choice, a decision which will give one lucky cat the chance to start a new life. The big problem is this “plot” only comes into view about two thirds of the way through the film. For the first two thirds, a bunch of rather famous people take it in turns to sing a song. It almost feels screenwriter Lee Hall and writer/director Tom Hooper were playing with a proverbial ball of string before they realised they needed to have a plot, of some kind.

You’ll never look at your cat the same way ever again…

The only actor who can really take any sort of credit for their performance is that of newcomer Francesca Hayward, as she shows glimpses of her talent as a singer and a performer. Yet, in a cast filled to the brim with so much talent, you expect so much better considering the calibre of the likes of Judi Dench, Ian McKellen and Idris Elba. The most fundamental job for a musical is to have good music, and there are a couple of strong performances to be found. Jennifer Hudson’s rendition of “Memory” is impactful and “Beautiful Ghosts” written by Taylor Swift and Andrew Lloyd Webber certainly has some touching moments about it. The rest of the music is perfectly fine, but beyond those two songs, it is all just very generic and forgettable.

But what’s unfortunately not so forgettable, is the visuals, and more specifically the look of the actors in these bizarre concoctions of “cat-suits”. While certain elements such as the fur look at least somewhat plausible, overall they most assuredly don’t look completely look like cats, but nor are they human. It is the most peculiar hybrid that is guaranteed to invade your nightmares. The very fact that at times you can quite clearly see their human fingers, and other human like features is just comically inept and extremely distracting. Seemingly no effort whatsoever has been made to modify the appearances of the actors to make them even vaguely look feline. Their hands don’t look like paws, and their human noses are extremely noticeable. It’s just a gigantic mess.

Given that such high calibre films like The King’s Speech, and the 2012 version of Les Misérables on his CV, one would really expect better of Tom Hooper to try and make this musical adaptation translate to the big screen in a manner that is not inherently horrifying. Yet in spite of some visually splendid production design, this monstrosity proves that not everything translates to the big screen. This adaptation is one that should have stayed on the scratchpad of ideas, where it deserved to remain, eventually to be scratched into oblivion where it belongs. Someone should have paws-ed for thought before green-lighting this thing, but they didn’t, and this nightmare came to fruition, which isn’t good news for anyone.

Take away Francesca Hayward’s promising performance, along with a few good songs, and there’s really not that much to salvage from this monstrosity. A furry nightmare of hellish proportions.