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88th Academy Awards (Predictions)

Who should win:

Best Picture: Spotlight

Best Director: George Miller (Mad Max: Fury Road)

Best Actor: Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant)

Best Actress: Brie Larson (Room)

Best Supporting Actor: Sylvester Stallone (Creed)

Best Supporting Actress: Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight)

Best Original Screenplay: Alex Garland (Ex-Machina)

Best Adapted Screenplay: Adam McKay/Charles Randolph (The Big Short)

Who probably will win:

Best Picture: The Revenant

Best Director: Alejandro G. Iñárritu (The Revenant)

Best Actor: Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant)

Best Actress: Brie Larson (Room)

Best Supporting Actor: Sylvester Stallone (Creed)

Best Supporting Actress: Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl)

Best Original Screenplay: Tom McCarthy/Josh Singer (Spotlight)

Best Adapted Screenplay: Adam McKay/Charles Randolph (The Big Short)

I suspect Mad Max: Fury Road (still thrilled by all those nominations) will gobble up most of the techies + editing, production design, costumes and makeup. In terms of win number it’ll probably come tops but Revenant will trump it to the big two (+ actor and cinematography). It’s a fine film, but the relentless banging on about challenging filming conditions is tiresome (this shit doesn’t come close to an Apocalypse Now or Fitzcarraldo), and I can’t help shake the feeling the overrated Iñárritu is about to win consecutive Oscars despite not warranting frontrunner status.

I might tweet periodically through Sunday night until passing out due to exhaustion/annoyance.

Pre-Oscars catchup

‘The Big Short’ (dir. Adam McKay)

Very impressive ability to convey extremely complicated detail re-financial crisis in palatable, audience-friendly way. Really nailed that knack of not speaking down to the audience whilst not being impenetrable. Perhaps lacking in the bravura or edge of The Wolf of Wall Street. McKay’s comedy films have always had an unusual, weird kind of intelligence to them so it’s nice to see him pushing against the ceiling of his talents. Always good to see Christian Bale in non-grimdark mode.

‘Room’ (dir. Lenny Abrahamson)

I loved Brie Larson in the criminally under-seen Short Term 12 and I loved her even more in this. Same goes for Abrahamson who rolled out a gem with Frank and just builds on that promise. I haven’t read Emma Donoghue’s novel – by all accounts terrific – should have done that. It’s beautifully constructed, with a really stand-out score and a tremendous supporting cast. The central relationship between the boy and mother worked so well with Abrahamson handling the tricky subject matter with the same proficiency as he dealt with the mental health stuff in Frank.

‘Spotlight’ (dir. Tom McCarthy)

All the President’s Men and Zodiac quality procedural brilliance meets a fuckstorm of incredible character actor roles and worthy, provocative subject matter. Tom McCarthy drags me back to those happy days of The Wire Season V! The resurrection of Michael Keaton’s career is a joy to witness. Where were these parts ten or fifteen years ago?  Completely absorbing, completely satisfying to watch, actors bouncing around knowing knowing they’re doing their best work. Great.

I’ve seen all the Best Picture nominees now (except Brooklyn – out DVD 29/02). My loose favourites list goes something like Mad Max Fury Road, Spotlight, Bridge of Spies, The Martian, Room, The Revenant, The Big Short. It’s the best list of nominees since spring 2011, and to be honest I’d find any of those pictures a pretty worthy winner.

January bits (so far)

‘The Hateful Eight’ (dir. Quentin Tarantino)

Reflections of Reservoir Dogs, but with the self-indulgence and period-fetish of his more recent work. People like to quibble about weak points in Tarantino’s canon, but I’ve yet to truly dislike any of his films after 8 features. Angst over the length was bowled away by the sheer quality of the craft and relish of the cast. He makes it look so easy.

‘Joy’ (dir. David O. Russell)

I’ve felt David O. Russell has been slowly disappearing up his own asshole with his last couple of features. I liked many things about Silver Lining’s Playbook and American Hustle, but there was a tinge of artifice and contrivance creeping into play that failed to satisfy quite like his more bitterly honest earlier stuff. Lawrence is excellent, albeit miscast – too youthful, the rest fails to really shift away from the sorts of problems the previous two pictures presented, but with an added identity crisis to boot. Is Joy a messy screwball relationship comedy or a drama of aspiration? I doubt even O.Russell knows.

‘The Revenant’ (dir. Alejandro González Iñárritu)

I find it hard to get excited about Iñárritu’s films, from the interesting but overrated Amores perros to the fun, frothy but really overrated Birdman. The Revenant had me from the start with its confidence, daring and beautiful, terrifying photography (Emmanuel Lubezki really is the master). DiCaprio deserves the awards simply for being such a trooper and diving into this shit so fearlessly. The audacity of Herzog with the beauty of Malick. I thought it was terrific.

‘Creed’ (dir. Ryan Coogler)

I remember thinking when Rocky Balboa came out in 2006 that it was probably the weightiest instalment since the original, but I’m thinking that honour now passes to this sequel-come-spin-off. I’m staggered by how satisfying it is and pretty much awed that such a fresh, character-centric story could pop up 40-years into a franchise. This isn’t just a good Rocky film but legitimately one of my favourite films of the season and well-deserving of all that praise/awards recognition floating around.

Other stuff:

*I‘ve blasted through all thirteen episodes of Marvel/Netflix’ impressive Jessica Jones, which held together better than the three other mixed-bag MCU shows. I liked much of last year’s Daredevil, but this is the first Marvel show I feel completely works as its own thing, with a steel spine and a really brilliant central character/performance bouncing off a truly intimidating threat. It’s so tight and focused. The feature film division and the other shows have a lot to learn from what they’ve done with this.

*I’ve read Stephen King’s 11/22/63 and Dan Hodges’ One Minute to Ten. Both were solid.

*I was quite sad about Alan Rickman and super sad about David Bowie. Apparently Celine Dion’s husband and thousands of other people died too but I didn’t give a shit about them so I’m generally fine with it.

2015 thoughts

I was lazy and didn’t see enough.

I really liked films Kingsman: The Secret Service, Ex-Machina, John Wick, Inside Out, Krampus, It Follows, Bridge of Spies, Whiplash and The Martian.

I really liked tv shows Fargo, Parks & Rec, Better Call Saul, Daredevil and Orange is the New Black.

Boyhood was a much better film than Birdman and should have won the Oscar in February.

I was disappointed with Avengers: Age of Ultron, Spectre and Crimson Peak. I hated Terminator Genisys. Ant-Man was a very pleasant surprise. I was deeply troubled by the politics of American Sniper.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Jurassic World – the two biggest movies of the year – brought their respective franchises back from the brink, guaranteeing future interest by letting me wallow in the warm bath of nostalgia backed with fresh casting and strong setpieces. I liked both more than expected.

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation and Furious 7 were probably the best instalments of their respective series.

I need to catch up on The Gift, Carol, The Lobster, Trainwreck, Spy, Joy, Sicario, Legend, Brooklyn, The Walk, Everest, Macbeth, 45 Years, The Diary of a Teenage Girl, Amy, Son of Saul, Knight of Cups and The Look of Silence.

In 2016 I’m looking forward to Creed, Anomalisa, The Hateful Eight, Spotlight, Deadpool, Captain America: Civil War, Star Wars: Rogue One, Batman vs Superman, Ghostbusters, the Independence Day sequel and The BFG. I hope Terry Gilliam, Spike Jonze, Sarah Polley, PT Anderson and David Fincher get their next projects off the ground. I hope Terrence Malick releases some of the stuff he’s already made.

My favourite film of 2015, with no real competition was Mad Max: Fury Road for all the multitude of reasons illustrated by so many others

July

I watched some American films. Also, Penny Dreadful S03, Hannibal S03, True Detective S02, Marvel’s Agent Carter S01, Inside Amy Schumer S01 a load of old monster-of-the-week X-Files episodes + the first half of Netflix’ Wet Hot American Summer prequel series.

‘Ant-Man’ (dir. Peyton Reed)

Surprise surprise, after a year of expecting Marvel to finally shit the boat post-Edgar Wright they prove us all wrong by crushing it for about the five millionth time. After being underwhelmed by the messy Avengers: Age of Ultron, I never realised how much I needed a low-key MCU entry with middling scale and minor ambition beyond an intense desire to entertain. Rudd is such a likeable presence and never feels like he’s leading a cast with the pressures and responsibilities of a pricey Disney investment on the line. For the first time in years I was able to shift my thinking away from the baggage of the shared-universe concept and focus simply on the story and characters at hand.

‘Inside Out’ (dir. Pete Docter)

Many seem to believe Pixar are in the midst of some sort of dry spell, albeit a dry spell where no production gains less than decent reviews and $500m+ in receipts. It seems unfair to punish the studio for not producing outright masterpieces on every occasion, as if the excellent Monsters University not attaining the flawlessness of its predecessor is somehow sacrilege. I think Inside Out is probably their best work this decade and can stand proudly alongside Wall-E, Up, Ratatouille era. These guys make sophisticated, conceptually tricky ideas, ideas of immense complexity, not just glow but radiate off the screen. I’m in awe of how the Pixar team shape this stuff into funny, living audience-friendly product without sacrificing a shred of the artistry.

‘Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation’ (dir. Christopher McQuarrie)

Christopher McQuarrie is just a tremendous craftsman, delivering the best entry since the ‘96 De Palma picture. I like the standalone nature of these stories, the increasing bravery and ingenuity of Cruise in approaching these stunts and the total understanding of the tone required by Baldwin, Pegg etc. The Vienna opera house sequence is simply a great setpece, wonderfully conceived and beautifully executed by McQuarrie, Cruise and Rebecca Ferguson. Ghost Protocol was essentially the astounding Dubai sequence with a skeleton film wrapped around it. McQuarrie’s picture, by comparison, keeps throwing on the great moments and boundless energy making for yet another terrific summer action picture after the highs of Furious 7 and Mad Mad: Fury Road.

‘Terminator Genisys’ (Alan Taylor, 2015)

Yeah, so this one stunk.

Genisys never justifies its own existence, failing to delve into the rich series mythology to find a story worth telling and instead opting to, effectively, follow T3’s lead in offering up another stale remake of T2: Judgment Day. If you’re going to extend the franchise beyond the definitive ending of James Cameron’s two pictures, at least bring something to warrant dragging out audiences for a fifth time. Fandom has no problem conjuring endless interesting stories in the Terminator-verse, so why do studios so consistently fail to capitalise on the possibilities available? Why does this sequel – with no shortage of talent behind and in front of the camera – mangle itself into circles and eventually disappear deep up its own asshole with thunderously boring setpieces, an atrocious third-act and little in the way of vision, purpose or direction. Why return to this set of characters again when there’s so much obvious fruit to be picked from elsewhere in a post-apocalyptic world? Why am I stuck watching yet another actor as John Connor going through the motions trying to stop the same shit in the same way against the same ‘new model threat’. A series with so much possibility is rendered tedious and unoriginal for the third consecutive film.

Rian Johnson’s Looper, a superior time-travel actioner with a fraction the budget of these ‘sequels’, is a more faithful Terminator follow-up than anything this mob has offered up in the last quarter-century.

June stuff

‘Jurassic World’ (dir.Colin Trevorrow)

This theme park is negligently run, with seemingly no formal disaster policy or preparation, an incompetent staff and lax H&S. It’s populated by chronically stupid personnel with little to no sign of any regional Hispanic workers. Perhaps they realised it’s a death trap?

I mostly found the film a ball, more than a sniff of John Sayles bonkers ‘raptors with guns’ draft from 2005 and other development-process residuals fashioning an audience-pleasing retro feel quite unlike most of this summer’s output. It’s a Frankenstein’s monster of about twenty other films with an inexplicably Christmassy opening, multiple uses of John Williams’ themes and an endless succession of references to the original picture. Trevorrow might be pushing his luck with the more self-aware qualities, but it’s an enjoyable, dinosaur action picture that greatly improves on the two previous sequels. Messy, flawed but unashamedly dumbo monster fun.

If there’s one big miss, it just goes far to highlight how great Spielberg really is at this shit. He’s the grand master at pulling decent work from a supporting cast where Trevorrow falls headfirst at the character beats and chemistry, nailing the big awe and action technicals whilst showing a tin-ear for the cast fizz.

Other American shit I’ve watched:

‘It Follows’ (dir. David Robert Mitchell): Near perfect indie horror. Fascinating and terrifying ideas, strong young cast, amazing synth score. I loved this.

‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ (dir. George Miller): Best of 2015 thus far. Impeccable craft, ingenuity and entertainment value. Extraordinary performance from Theron, great practical vehicle stunts and refreshing gender politics.

‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’ (dir. Joss Whedon): Feels like a step back down for MCU after the A++ of Winter Soldier and Guardians. Great characters and humour let down by a pedestrian ‘threat’ and excessive bloaty runtime.

‘Furious 7’ (dir. James Wan): A series operating at its absolute highest level for the third consecutive film. Wan persevered through the difficult production and has produced a ballsy, giant, enormously entertaining blockbuster.

‘John Wick’ (dir. Stahelski/Leitch): Keanu Reeves best, and possibly only, good work since the original Matrix. Extremely impressive choreography and world building for such a tight budget.

‘Insidious 3’ (dir. Leigh Whanell): An elegance and technique missing from most horror sequels, let alone round 3. Blumhouse Productions are doing a lot of solid work recently so I’m happy to continue engaging with their strange little astral-projection mythology.

Academy Awards – Thoughts

Who will win (probably!):

Best Picture – Birdman

Best Director – Richard Linklater (Boyhood)

Best Actress – Julianne Moore (Still Alice)

Best Actor – Eddie Redmayne (A Theory of Everything)

Best Supporting Actor – JK Simmons (Whiplash)

Best Supporting Actress – Patricia Arquette (Boyhood)

Best Original Screenplay – Birdman

Best Adapted Screenplay – The Imitation Game

Production Design/Makeup/Costumes to The Grand Budapest Hotel, Cinematography to Birdman and a few of the technical awards to American Sniper.

Who should win (of those I’ve seen!):

Best Picture – Boyhood

Best Director – Richard Linklater (Boyhood)

Best Actress – Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl)

Best Actor – Michael Keaton (Birdman)

Best Supporting Actor – Edward Norton (Birdman)

Best Supporting Actress – Patricia Arquette (Boyhood)

Best Original Screenplay – Nightcrawler

Best Adapted Screenplay – Inherent Vice

For reference, I’ve seen 7/8 of the Best Picture nominees. I missed Whiplash.

It’s the least invested I’ve been in a ceremony in over a decade. The omissions cut too deeply. Selma blocked out of director/actor/screenplay, Gone Girl blocked out of picture/director/adapted screenplay/editing, Jake Gyllenhaal snubbed for Best Actor for Nightcrawler (my favourite performance of last year) and – most bafflingly of all – The Lego Movie excluded from the Best Animated Feature category. What the fuck.

The prevalence of some rather vanilla biopics grates. In what mad world do Academy members prefer Cumberbatch/Redmayne and their respective films to David Oyelowo, Gyllenhaal and Joaquin Phoenix?

I’m disappointed Birdman is looking like a big winner. It’s an enjoyable, funny picture, great performances (I’m pro-Keaton all the way), but it’s a performance piece and not the Best Picture. Boyhood deserves the prize. American Sniper is politically toxic and shouldn’t be nominated in any major categories. Playing well in deluded US red states is in no way indicative of quality.

February

‘Kingsman: The Secret Service’ (Matthew Vaughn, 2015) 

Long may the Matthew Vaughn/Jane Goldman dreamteam continue, here to be as anarchic, provocative and shamelessly juvenile as they can get away with! It’s thirty minutes too long, the villain(s) never quite work and half the audience will be gone by the end, but it’s a funny, uninhibited picture with some audaciously batty sequences (Colin Firth church massacre!) and no seeming interest in courting the sort of broad audience required for further sequels. Vaughn seems incapable of taking filmmaking particularly seriously. He’s just pissing about. I like that. 

‘The Guest’ (Adam Wingard, 2014) 

I completely flipped out for Wingard’s last film You’re Next, so it’s great to see him build on that promise with another tight, genre-literate and unfailingly entertaining thriller. He’s one of those guys just waiting to hit the mainstream circuit and crush a bigger project. Dan Stevens was linked to Fox’s Escape from New York remake recently. Someone get Wingard on that job! He’s here with ultra-violence and black humour to save us from a generation of vanilla hackery! 

‘Jupiter Ascending’ (The Wachowski’s, 2015) 

Inconsistencies, faults and all, I’ve a lot of respect for what the Wachowski’s try to do with their work. There’s so much heart and such unabashed pursuit of their interests (exploration of identity/self-discovery/magpie-mythology /mad action), it’s hard to dislike them as filmmakers even as they wave goodbye to the latest chunk of studio money with an overbudgeted underpeformer whose failure was visible from years away. I really wish I liked Jupiter Ascending more than I do. Channing Tatum as a surfing wolf-merc, Sean Bean as a human/bee hybrid, nutty world building and bonkers design; it’s the stuff cult is made of (re: Chronicles of Riddick), inert storytelling and lack of momentum sadly holding an otherwise enthusiastically mad project back from triumph. They’ll come crawling back to the Matrix franchise in the end of course, in the way of a defeated army seeking refuge on familiar territory, but for now I suppose I can’t help but admire their steadfast refusal to play by the rules. 

‘Selma’ (Ava DuVernay, 2015) 

I watched Selma in the aftermath of the almighty stink kicked up by its general exclusion from awards season. There seems to be a wide critical incomprehension over how the likes of The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything slipped into so many categories at the expense of DuVernay’s movie, views I wholeheartedly agree with when it’s clearly a sharper, more relevant picture than those two dry, awards-friendly biopics. Through its exclusion, Selma provides a useful role in awards-season commentary, highlighting the ongoing diversity-issues at the Academy and their never-ending commitment to acknowledging ‘worthy’ prestige pictures and obviously awards-friendly performances over films with real grit and purpose. DuVernay’s picture is marvellous, its omission shining a bright spotlight on its qualities. David Oyelowo is unshowy, chameleonic and flat-out extraordinary as MLK, complimented every step by DuVernay’s assured, confident direction. There’re no sweeping cameras and big score, this is historic document pitched down at dirty, cheap street-level, crawling through the shit with the activists. Perhaps too raw for the Academy.

January

 ‘Wild’ (Jean-Marc Vallée, 2015) 

Immediate flashbacks to Mia Wasikowska in Tracks about a year ago. Nick Hornby adapted this one, and its very much another performance vehicle with minimal thrills beyond Reese Witherspoon’s great central role and Laura Dern (flashbacky fun) – both deserving their Academy acknowledgment. Witherspoon’s having a killer year between this, Inherent Vice and the £££ of Gone Girl. Hooking up with a director as adept with actors as Vallée was a smart move, one hopefully to be repeated in the career of a slightly underrated performer guilty in the past of too regularly picking crap projects. 

‘The Double’ (Richard Ayoade, 2014)

I really fell for Richard Ayoade’s debut Submarine, so it’s frustrating that his follow-up is so flimsy on substance with humorous beats that just don’t hit their mark. There’s a relatively effective T.Gilliam feel to the office bureaucracy, production design is appropriately retro and the cast are game, but Ayoade’s tonal aim is off and the black comic edge + darker dramatic elements never quite align.

‘American Sniper’ (Clint Eastwood, 2015) 

Extraordinarily accomplished on a technical level, wonderfully acted and edited, somewhat troubling politically. Whilst never shying from the impact warfare has on its lead, Eastwood’s idolatry of Chris Kyle, dehumanisation of his Iraqi opponents, elimination of any content to challenge the consensus of those filling cinemas in the US and creepy, propagandist, flag-fetishising nonsense makes for an experience that frustrates as much as it entertains. There’s been a huge audience for this picture amongst the demographic flattered by its approach, a support I can’t really see crossing over into international markets less enamoured by red-state tunnel vision. The scene where Kyle and his wife watch the 9/11 attacks on television, the rage for REVENGE burning in his eyes = hilarity that should immediately discount Eastwood’s movie from any sort of awards contention.

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