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89th Academy Awards (Predictions and Thoughts)

Who Should win:

Best Picture: Manchester by the Sea

Best Director: Denis Villeneuve (Arrival)

Best Actor: Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea)

Best Actress: Emma Stone (La La Land)

Best Supporting Actor: Dev Patel (Lion)

Best Supporting Actress: Michelle Williams (Manchester by the Sea)

Best Original Screenplay: Manchester by the Sea

Best Adapted Screenplay: Arrival

Best Editing: Hacksaw Ridge

Best Cinematography: Moonlight

Best Original Score: Moonlight

Best Documentary: 13th

Who probably will win:

Best Picture: La La Land

Best Director: Damien Chazelle (La La Land)

Best Actor: Denzel Washington (Fences)

Best Actress: Emma Stone (La La Land)

Best Supporting Actor: Mahreshala Ali (Moonlight)

Best Supporting Actress: Viola Davis (Fences)

Best Original Screenplay: Manchester by the Sea

Best Adapted Screenplay: Moonlight

Best Editing: La La Land

Best Cinematography: La La Land

Best Original Score: La La Land

Best Documentary: OJ: Made in America

Thoughts

* La La Land, though not nearly the equal of Chazelle’s Whiplash, will be the big winner with the key awards + most of the techies (costumes, sound etc). I suspect a total haul of 7-9 Oscars followed by a bit more backlash and rep as an ‘undeserving’ winner. From my end, it’s hard to work up any irritation as the film is a) perfectly charming and likeable b) by no means the weakest BP winner in recent years c) no obvious injustice in its triumph i.e. no Crash vs Brokeback or Boyhood vs Birdman chaos. It’s nice to have a popular hit film at the front of the pack with solid production values, good, memorable dance sequences and two winning performances. It’s not the best, but that doesn’t much matter. People actually like it!

* There’re no duds in there this year except for Fences, which is too stagey and shouldn’t have been adapted to film. Denzel Washington has never been much of a director. Hidden Figures and Lion are conventional oscarbait pap, albeit both fairly well done for what they are. Dev Patel should be in the leading actor category rather than support, as should Viola Davis. Taraji Henson should probably be nominated for HF. Hacksaw Ridge rises above inadequate writing through technical accomplishment and brilliant battle sequences. Unlike some, I’m pleased Mel Gibson has been welcomed back after a decade’s penance.

* The terrific Hell or High Water feels more like a wannabe cult midnight movie than something that’s floating around an awards ceremony. If it’s entitled entry to the party, why no love for High Rise, Green Room or The Invitation? Hopefully the Academy recognizes the perennially brilliant Ben Foster at some point soon.

* Moonlight, Manchester by the Sea and Arrival are, from my end, the best of the nominees. My ideal night would involve them carving up every award three-ways.

* I suspect the domestic violence stuff has tanked Casey Affleck’s campaign for Best Actor. Denzel is the safe, boring, cuddly choice – the black Tom Hanks. I’d like to be wrong. I make no comment on the veracity of any accusations against Affleck, but as an acting performance it was the extraordinary centre of a completely brilliant piece of dramatic filmmaking. I love Manchester by the Sea. I love it.

* Scorsese’s Silence should be nominated in most major categories.

* Viggo Mortensen was quite good in Captain Fantastic.

* Amy Adams in Arrival is probably the best performance of her career. I’m extremely surprised she missed the cut. The obsessive desire to shortlist Meryl Streep for the most rote of performances has long since stopped being funny. This was Adams’ year for that fifth nomination slot!

* Ava DuVernay deserves to win Best Documentary for her brilliant 13th. Might go some way to making up for the stunning fuckuppery that occurred with Selma a couple of years ago. There’s an alternate timeline where Boyhood and Selma split those Birdman honours!

* On the point of Selma and DuVernay’s exclusion in Feb 2015, I’m generally supportive of this whole #oscarssoblack trend. Dragging a more diverse membership into the Academy is no bad thing if it improves the range of features pushed during awards season. There are wider concerns beyond the Academy about studios hiring female and p.o.c film directors/cinematographers which seem bigger issues than an award ceremony register – but some improvement is better than no improvement. If a great project like Moonlight finds it easier to source financing and find an audience next year and the year after, that’s no bad thing.

* When the fuck is Sarah Polley going to make another movie?

* I’m pleased Alejandro González Iñárritu doesn’t have anything out this year. I’m sick of throwing rotten fruit at the television screen as he steals Best Director from more deserving nominees.

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My Favourite 10 films of 2016

Anomalisa (dir. Charlie Kaufman)

Pete’s Dragon (dir. David Lowery)

High Rise (dir. Ben Wheatley)

The Invitation (dir. Karyn Kusama)

Ghostbusters (dir. Paul Feig)

Arrival (dir. Denis Villeneuve)

Green Room (dir. Jeremy Saulnier)

Supersonic (dir. Mat Whitecross)

The Conjuring 2 (dir. James Wan)

Knight of Cups (dir. Terrence Malick)

Other assorted opinions and random things

* I enjoyed both MCU films, 10 Cloverfield Lane, Star Wars: Rogue One and some leftovers from 2015 like Love & Mercy, Trainwreck, The Walk, Carol, Steve Jobs & The Visit.

* Over the holidays I intend to catchup with some missed stuff like Everybody Wants Some, The Witch, The Lobster, Swiss Army Man, Don’t Breathe, The Jungle Book, Neon Demon, Voyage of Time, Zootropolis and Hunt for the Wilderpeople.

* Now You See Me 2 was unwatchable. Batman v Superman was noisy and incoherent. Deadpool was puerile and overrated but I would’ve loved it as a teenager.

* I thought Spielberg’s BFG was a lesser effort, though not without charm. From my end, Disney’s Pete’s Dragon was the forgotten gem of the summer, out-beasting the adequate Fantastic Beasts, out-Spielberging a C-grade Berg and topping Stranger Things in terms of 80s nostalgia porn.

*Malick’s Knight of Cups was a massive improvement on To the Wonder.

*The Conjuring 2 is a really likeable and scary horror sequel – a rarity. The new Blair Witch movie was alright too, and deserved to be more successful.

*Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters is very funny and didn’t deserve to get caught up in some sort of online culture war. No original-cast or original-continuity sequel would’ve worked as well.

*On television, I was on board for Better Call Saul, Daredevil, Preacher, Westworld, Peaky Blinders, Rick & Morty, Broad City, Game of Thrones, House of Cards and engaged in way too many conversations about Making a Murderer.

*Musically, I liked PJ Harvey’s Hope Six Demolition Project, Radiohead’s Moon Shaped Pool, The Last Shadow Puppets Everything You’ve Come to Expect, Leonard Cohen’s You Want it Darker and Peter Doherty’s Hamburg Demonstrations. I’m still pissed with Kanye West for not putting out a CD of Life of Pablo and refuse to listen to it. Hamilton Soundtrack is still in solid circulation.

* In 2017, I’m looking forward to Twin Peaks Season 3, Alien: Covenant, Blade Runner 2049, Dunkirk, Star Wars Episode VIII, Guardians 2, Furious 8, John Wick 2, The Dark Tower, Logan, the entire awards run list I’ll catch in January (La La Land, Fences etc), and other similar boring things that 30-year old white men all like.

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Leonard Cohen 1934-2016

Falling for a songwriter

I barely even acknowledged the existence of Leonard Cohen before 2008. I’d known, and liked, Jeff Buckley’s Hallelujah cover, and I suppose I knew the Cohen name, but I’d never lingered or thought about it any further. I’d coasted through an intensive musical education during my time at university, but it was shamefully Brit-centric and didn’t take in septuagenarian songwriters from Montreal.

My parents went to a concert at Greenwich O2 in July ‘08, a concert captured for posterity in the excellent ‘Live in London’ album and DVD. I remember them raving about how extraordinary they found it at the time, but wasn’t really paying much attention and nodded along in a generally vague fashion.

It made a bigger impact when they bought four tickets for the return gigs in November, insisting Anna and I come along to ‘experience’ Cohen live. I was tempted to ignore the texts at first – offers of freebies to London events were in no short supply – but something about their passionate insistence, and the desire to make something of my post-Hayes autumn pushed me into accepting.

I’d almost completely forgotten until a couple of weeks before the event, stealing a copy of the piss-coloured first Greatest Hits from the parents’ collection and sticking it on my iPod. The mid-seventies 12 track only covers the first four albums, never hitting the middle aged growl, and exclusively exploring the biggest ‘hits’ of Cohen’s softer voice. I was fascinated and enchanted, surprised to never have listened before and immediately narrowing in on ‘Suzanne’ and ‘So Long Marianne’ as album highpoints.

Anna bailed out in favour of a Razorlight ticket clash at Brixton Academy, regrettably preferring an evening of shirtless Johnny Borrell to LC. I’ve never really forgiven her, though the extra seat proved useful for bag and coat storage.

We were in the back row, north left of stage, hidden away in the upper tier. There were over 10,000 people in the venue that night, our seats at such steepness that I thought we’d topple out into the void and crash down onto stage as flesh confetti. During the interval, sandwiched between ‘Anthem’ and ‘Tower of Song’ – both heard for the first time in that room – I was convinced I was watching the best concert of my life. There were also chips! Surprisingly good concert chips! And beer. You’d think O2 would mangle the catering, but chips/beer/Cohen proved an irresistible mix. It was as though management knew the night was special and upped their game.

Cohen blasted through over 25 songs in total, taking in over forty years of career. The times outside were strange ones, with an unpopular government in office, the world mired in financial collapse and a disappointing James Bond film on general release. In that room though, never usually good for live music, Cohen crushed the despair out of the audience. An artist unfairly smeared as being downcast and grey brought a crowd to its feet.

We left a song or two before the end of the encore, keen to miss the crush on the way to Greenwich North. It seems peculiar behaviour on retrospect, as half the crowd had waited a lifetime to see this artist, and we’re strolling out of the door early. I suppose I didn’t feel compelled to stay until the last clap. I’d been radicalised into a guerrilla fighter of the Montreal militia, planning a lifetime of summers on Hydra and Jewish occupation of the ear drum. The sooner we got out of that building, the sooner I could head home and start the real work.

2008, of course, was not a year of fantastic resource. I’d just moved house, I was still broke from the previous place, and my only luxury was a short holiday booked for the following spring with the proceeds of a utility rebate. Old habits persisted, so I chose the way of the animal and downloaded Cohen’s entire back catalogue illegally. I got the works, the full eleven studio albums that existed at that point, some live records, anything I could get my hands on. Usually when making a commitment to an artist with history I’d start slowly, falling hard for the Greatest Hits and then delicately probe onward with the supposed ‘best’ albums. With Cohen I threw caution to the wind, racking up some hundred plus songs in chronological order. Starting with ‘Suzanne’ on 1967’s ‘Songs of Leonard Cohen’ and marching forth, I ploughed through that back catalogue with militant dedication. Obsessing, learning, memorising, it was the most instant and intense musical connection of my life being lived out decades after most of the work had been born.

Anna took convincing. I tried to play albums, to her general disinterest, leaping on tickets for Cohen’s show the following summer at Weybridge, Mercedes Benz world and hoping her baring witness would make a second believer. I mean, she chose to go and see Razorlight over him the first time around. Fucking Razorlight!

There was a little improvement before the date itself, until one night a couple of weeks out where she demanded, to my surprise, for the iPod to be docked and some of those delicate early tracks to float over sleeptime. I remember laying in the bed as ‘Last Year’s Man’ played, knowing I’d come close to succeeding in my desire to force Cohen into the relationship next to Pete Doherty. Perhaps they could light each others cigarettes?

The concert in Weybridge was, in many ways, a disaster. No fault of Cohen or his exemplary band, but the outdoor location, atrocious weather, and non-existent infrastructure made for a miserable day. It was the sort of concert we still invoke when wallowing in gallows humour, its failings shining through the ages and always there when pondering how well or badly an event is going. ‘It could be worse; it could be Mercedes Benz world’. Many memories rise up, from the crappy disposable ponchos we bought, to the sheepish attendant who mopped dry our seats, the mushroom crepe and granule coffee I tried to feed Anna and the relentless, unyielding onslaught of rain. Cohen shone out through the hell, winning Anna’s affection even if his presence couldn’t quite make up for the shitty afternoon itself. Hundreds of cups of tea were required to correct the damage.

As my interest deepened to novels and biographies, my playlists took on more colourful flavours, splitting apart the songs into strange, personalised categories based on mood and association. New artists were in the mix again, I needed people in my life who were still producing. Cohen was like a blanket, but the tracks that existed were locked in place. There wouldn’t be any more. There had been a successful world tour, debts had been paid, life would return to normal. I suspected I’d seen him for the last time.

*

January 2012. A new album. ‘Old Ideas’ was certainly his most technically accomplished and interesting release since 1992’s ‘The Future’, the 10 tracks gently sliding by with Cohen’s spoken voice layered over his touring bands expert play. I love the recordings on the post-resurrection releases. His songwriting is always reliably brilliant, but the backing singers and arrangement accompanies the older, lower-energy vocal so beautifully that it feels like the ultimate realisation of what he’s been striving for since his voice deepened out in the early eighties.

The new tour went on for ages. I’m still questioning why we never tried to go to one of the earlier European dates, but we finally attended again in September 2013. By this time, his songs had spent several years in stereo circulation, as loved by Anna as myself. Tickets in the basket. No flood of rain this time, no stupid fucking poncho. Prime seats, with an album to back the whole thing, experienced in real-time with the hardcore. Of course, my interest appeared mild alongside the lifers, the enthusiasts and crazies that followed the band around the continent – around the world, but we were just pleased to see him again in a better environment.

I remember very little of that third, and probably final, concert. It’s as though my feelings were so intense and detailed at both Greenwich ’08 and Weybridge ’09 my brain, knowing this might be the last time, wanted to just preserve the moment in the moment and not extend itself to filling my somewhat unreliable long term memory bank. We had uninterrupted, direct line-of-sight, close to stage. It was obviously too much for my brain to handle!

*

The story wasn’t over, further albums would emerge unexpectedly and at short notice with 2014’s ‘Popular Problems’ (incredible) and 2016’s recent ‘You Want it Darker’ (great). Both were much the same breed as ‘Old Ideas’ and dominated my listening habits for weeks. Both slot in with the previous work, an organic part of a life’s music and a worthy continuation of expression demonstrated throughout a career stretching through six decades.

And now he’s gone, of course, as all things are. I don’t know how I feel about it. On one hand, Leonard Cohen as a man is uniquely suited to that final rite of passage; on the other hand those of us left behind have to deal with the floods of feelings accompanying that end. I hoped he could cling on for the same 107 years his Buddhist master-bro Kyozan Joshu Sasaki achieved in the Mount Baldy monastery where Cohen spent most of the 1990s.

One last tour. The hundredth birthday spectacle in Autumn 2034. Book my ticket! But not now. It’s over.

My favourite ten Leonard Cohen songs

I should caveat this list with the insistence that it would shift and change on a daily basis and that it’s shitty to choose favourites, because I love pretty much every song on every album. Except for ‘Jazz Police’.

In age order…

Suzanne (Songs of Leonard Cohen, 1967)

Sisters of Mercy (Songs of Leonard Cohen, 1967)

So Long Marianne (Songs of Leonard Cohen, 1967)

Famous Blue Raincoat (Songs of Love and Hate, 1971)

Is This What You Wanted (New Skin for the Old Ceremony, 1974)

Memories (Death of a Ladies’ Man, 1977)

Take This Waltz (I’m Your Man, 1988)

Closing Time (The Future, 1992)

Going Home (Old Ideas, 2012)

A Street (Popular Problems, 2014)

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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.

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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

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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.

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My Favorite 10 Films of 2014

Favourites of 2014

As always, the discrepancy between UK/US release dates has pushed a few releases into the blurry divide. Her, Escape from Tomorrow, The Wolf of Wall Street, 12 Years a Slave and Inside Llewyn Davis would all be in there if they were earlier/later up the release schedule. I also didn’t catch Disney’s Frozen until January, but it was well worth the near-insane levels of pre-teen hype.

Narrowly missing out on this years top bunch are The Raid II, Locke, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The Grand Budapest Hotel, 22 Jump Street, Frank, Noah, Only Lovers Left Alive, Interstellar, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and the mismarketed summer favourite Edge of Tomorrow.

My least favourite couple of the year, for old time’s sake, were the inert and humourless Robocop remake and Sony’s second crappy Amazing Spider-Man movie.

10) Snowpiercer (dir. Bong Joon Ho)

9) The Lego Movie (dir. Phil Lord & Chris Miller)

8 ) Guardians of the Galaxy (dir. James Gunn)

7) Gone Girl (dir. David Fincher)

6) The Babadook (dir. Jennifer Kent)

5) Inherent Vice (dir. Paul Thomas Anderson)

4) Calvary (dir. John Michael McDonagh)

3) Nightcrawler (dir. Dan Gilroy)

2) Under the Skin (dir. Jonathan Glazer)

1) Boyhood (dir. Richard Linklater)

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86th Academy Awards – Predictions

12 Years a Slave (Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Supporting Actress)

Gravity (Best Director, Best Editing, Best Original Score, Best Cinematography, Best Visual Effects, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing)

Dallas Buyers Club (Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Makeup/Hair)

Blue Jasmine (Best Actress)

American Hustle (Best Original Screenplay)

The Great Gatsby (Best Production Design, Best Costume Design)

 In conclusion, Gravity to be the biggest winner with about 7 wins, 12 Years a Slave to take the big prize but lag on 3-4 wins. Other honours split, including Dallas Buyers Club grabbing the acting awards and a token Original Screenplay trophy for American Hustle or Her, depending which way the wind blows!

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86th Annual Academy Awards – Prechat

Special thanks to David Barr for joining me in this years conversation, recorded 22nd February 2014. Apologies for atrocious spelling and childlike use of the English language we’ve allegedly been speaking for almost thirty years.

DC: Best Picture. 9 nominees this year instead of 10. American Hustle, Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyers Club, Gravity, Her, Philomena, 12 Years a Slave and The Wolf of Wall Street.

DB: American Hustle to begin. It’s a pretty good film, forty minutes too long. Its fine, should’ve been funner, feels Scorsese-light, and in a year with such a strong Scorsese picture it really shows the difference in calibre between him and someone like David O.Russell. Not that you shouldn’t take each film on its individual merit, but its loveable mess routine, the screwball thing; it doesn’t work particularly well. I found that last year with Silver Lining’s Playbook too.

DC: The Fighter is my favourite of his loose trilogy of North-East American pictures he’s done back-to-back. It had the screwball mess-around flailing stuff with the characters but that’s all floating above the fairly tight narrative of the Micky Ward boxing title, even the sibling rivalry stuff that’s the real centre of the film always wraps around the boxing stuff. American Hustle deviates so far from my understanding of the real events that it’s effectively a fiction; you’re not tethered to any sort of reality. It’s a fluffy, frivolous nothing.

DB: The writing just isn’t good enough.

DC: He’s taken this original script, the first writer sharing nomination, and torn it up to create this whole new thing. I bet that original script was a much closer telling of real events. He’s jumped in, played about, but in the process lost something.

DB: He tries to inject pace into a flabby script with the distracting soundtrack and that endless fucking cameramove where they zoom into someones face.

DC: He’s watched Mean Streets too many times.

DB: About ten minutes from the end the camera crash-zooms into Amy Adams’ heel as she’s getting into a car. I just thought, why have you done that?

DC: I remember levelling some of the same criticisms at Argo last year. I just didn’t think it was substantial enough to win Best Picture, though it’s pretty much a world ahead of this film. This is no deeper than an Ocean’s 11. Good production values, hair, makeup sure, but it’s all about those big, loud performances. I liked Silver Lining’s Playbook because I felt there was a beating heart and some interesting issues bouncing around below the surface. The trailers and so on gave the impression of being a dodgy rom-com come dance contest thing, but there was such a dark undercurrent. American Hustle seems kinda soulless.

DB: I only saw it last week and it felt very small. Strangely insular.

DC: It thrives on the things that can trick audiences. The big cast, the big soundtrack, the big costumes, hair and so on. That stuff alone isn’t enough, its just furnishing. It shouldn’t be a nominee.

DB: Without enough story to sustain 2 hours 20 minutes or whatever it is.

DC: I’m glad O.Russell is in this stage of his career where he can get films made and have some commercial success, but I look back on his earlier work and it looks now as though something’s faded away. Spanking the Monkey, Flirting with Disaster, Three Kings…

DB: Even I Heart Huckabees?

DC: Well not that one so much, but for their flaws those films had an organic energy that feels ever so slightly artificial on this last one. Next up – Captain Phillips?

DB: I’ve seen seven of nine of these. I haven’t seen Captain Phillips or Philomena. Avoid spoilers.

DC: Tom Hanks is the title character. In that docu-drama style that Paul Greengrass does so well, I get the impression it’s a fairly close account of the real events, it certainly has that completely believable feeling of authenticity he nailed with United 93. I like the style, I’ve liked the way both Greengrass and Kathryn Bigelow, especially with Zero Dark Thirty last year, have perfected this style. Bringing a moviestar as enormous as Tom Hanks into that and shooting him in this way in this sort of film is an interesting experiment, with the close-held cameras, jagged editing and so fourth. It’s an immediately compelling story, simply as a tense hostage drama without getting into the wider political issues Greengrass prods at. It’s got the frenetic energy, the technical side under complete control and the actors rattling around playing it as naturally as possible. There’s a real feeling of threat there, the ‘anything could happen’ thing that comes with shooting in this way. The tension never lets up.

DB: His style sounds perfect for the material.

DC: It’s fingernail biting, edge of the seat stuff. You have to take a moment to get your breath. I’m really pleased someone like Hanks was willing to do the project. He falls too regularly into the trap of doing the Saving Mr Banks type pap projects, so to see him in something as cutting edge and contemporary, where there’s not so much of the movie star padding. There’s no hiding. When a handheld crew are buzzing around and untrained actors are waving guns in your face, he’s stripped back to relying on basic technique, it bring the strange intensity of stage acting into the cinema. It’s one of the best performances of his career.

DB: He’s the only name in the film?

DC: There’s a tiny role for Catherine Keener at the start. Much of the film is just Hanks with the four Somali pirates. I like the immediacy of it, I like how modern it feels. My parents rarely go to the cinema, yet bizarrely they found themselves watching Captain Phillips with Spanish subtitles.

DB: It’s got that kind of appeal.

DC: It’s a shame Greengrass isn’t in for Director or Hanks for Best Actor. It’s odd someone like Alexander Payne would be in there whilst Greengrass is shunted out. Not as bad as the exclusion of Bigelow last year, but still disappointing.

DB: Dallas Buyer’s Club next. Sometimes great. Entirely performance based. It had a nice visual style considering the small budget and tight shooting schedule, but it’s entirely based around McConaughey. That guy, the momentum he’s got in all his work at the moment carries through into this.

DC: It’s a good story but it’s ultimately a pretty straight-arrow conventional drama. You can throw in the AIDS stuff and the body transformation elements but it never really gets into the seedier side of this world the Ron Woodruff character finds himself caught up in, it never really delves too far beneath the surface. I don’t think it’s solely and exclusively a performance piece, certainly not compared to something like Charlize Theron in Monster, but the primary thing you take away from it is definitely McConaughey.

DB: That guys career at the moment…

DC:  The last couple of years, the way he’s built himself back up. The string of ridiculously good parts, the conclusion to that resurrection coming with the lead in the Christopher Nolan blockbuster this coming autumn. This is the capper to a great string of great parts in indie pictures, the one that gets the acknowledgement for a half-dozen great bits of work. He’s very much in vogue at the moment, from his True Detective show getting such good reviews on television to the likes of Magic Mike and Bernie in the cinema.

DB: His big scene in The Wolf of Wall Street.

DC: This is his moment. I like the setup of the film, finding the humanity in this character and so on, but I had some real issues with the last 45 minutes or so where the pacing dropped off and we started jumping over significant incidents and big passages of time. The guy directing it, Jean-Marc Vallée, lost his grip a bit and tried to rush through big chunks of narrative in a really short space of time. I’d rather they’d rebalanced the film to focus more on a shorter period than trying to push into the late-eighties. Jared Leto’s character suffered from those issues

DB: There wasn’t enough weight to your second lead dying. They skimmed over it.

DC: The dodgy passage-of-time montages in the final section with McConaughey bombing around the world picking up drugs. Too late in the film to be pulling those sorts of early second-act tricks. We should’ve been hankering down for the big ending. I found myself completely ill equipped to be suddenly dropped into a court room drama section. Then everyone’s clapping him, the easy emotional buttons are being pressed, and I’m finding myself disappointed in them for pulling such a cynical and transparent move when enough goodwill is there for it to be avoided.

DB: That final bit was missing one truly special scene to pull everything together, something to add significance to Leto’s death.

DC: I liked the scene with Leto and his father, but they squandered other opportunities. Why did he suddenly have a boyfriend near the end for no reason whatsoever?  A few years from now the main pub trivia thing that’ll be remembered about this film is that it’s the picture Matthew McConaughey won an Academy Award for. It’s Erin Brockovich or Philadelphia. Fine films, but secondary to the star turns that drive them. Do I sound hyper critical?

DB: I don’t think so, it’s exactly that. Without the performance it wouldn’t be a part of awards season.

DC: If there were still only 5 nominees it wouldn’t have made it. I get this every year, but I can’t help being a little miffed something like Inside Llewyn Davis hasn’t made it in whereas this and American Hustle are in the Best Picture race.

DB: Next up Gravity. Yes, just yes. That’s the one for me.

DC: Is Gravity your favourite of the nominees?

DB: I think so. I’ve only seen it the once. We’ve long been fans of Cuaron since watching Y Tu Mamá También on DVD at like 16 years of age.

DC: Yeah, then moving to the UK and doing the best Potter film, Children of Men and now this.

DB: He’s always had that very fluid style. It’s just the perfect cinema film; everything about it is singularly exceptional. 90 minutes long, every second efficiently packed, nothing wasted no trite back-story flashbacks with Sandra Bullock on Earth or anything. Straight in on the opening action. It’s a cliché to say it, but that opening is just pure cinema. It’s majestic.

DC: It seems too good to be true. On every level it’s a triumph. On a conceptual level, the simplicity of the premise.

DB: It’s made me not want to go into space. It looks horrible, absolutely horrible.

DC: To envision this film then to somehow, over years and years, actually figure out a way to execute that on screen. Cuaron is a true visionary. The film draws together so many different disciplines simply to create the thing. He’s literally creating a new way of making films, creating an experience of unsurpassed originality. I watched it in IMAX in London on the opening Friday and as an audio/visual experience, I found it completely overwhelming. Avatar was credited in some quarters with being a ‘game-changer’ so far as visual effects technology goes, but this is a different game – he’s working from the ground up. It’s a true original.

DB: You can’t quite believe what you’re seeing. You’re so engrossed, the sheer scale of endless space balanced against the claustrophobia of being stuck in that suit, the close-ups of Bullock’s face, it’s flawlessly achieved.

DC: The technical and the artistic are completely integrated, the visual design and the technologies necessary to realise that are one and the same. I’ve been extremely critical of the 3D format in the past and I still am, but there’s something about the way there’s no fixed camera points and they take advantage of the environment to spin and loop through and around the foreground focal point that makes it uniquely suited to 3D.

DB: The soothing tones of George Clooney’s Nespresso voice.

DC: There’s a backlash, one I can’t pretend to understand. It’s clutching at straws to find something to criticise on a film of absolute staggering achievement. The survival story is so functional and punchy and A to B to C, it’s exactly what it needs to be, as is the exploration of Bullock’s character.

DB: You can imagine if James Cameron had shot this, there would’ve been a prologue where Bullock’s on Earth, a flashback to her daughter dying, all that nonsense.

DC: The performances are very nuanced; any discussion of her past is always an appropriate accompaniment to the pressing concerns of the immediate. We get to know everything we need to know in the context of the situation they’re in. We know what drives her.

DB: We’re lucky we get to know as much as we do. She’s running out of oxygen, she’s getting carbon dioxide poisoning. My favourite shot of the year is the floating fetal position, Bullock stripping down and the camera holding still. Cuaron is a genius.

DC: Her directed by Spike Jonze Our fifth of nine. I saw it last weekend. I’m always going to have a special place for Spike Jonze. That ’99 club thing, probably the best year of film releases in our lifetime, that string of directors Fincher, PT Anderson, The Wachowskis…that turning point before the end of the century where they all put out their most mature and seminal work yet.

DB: Studios were taking risks again in a way they hadn’t for 25 years. Bill Mechanic at Fox, New Line…incredible.

DC: It felt like an important, formative part of my teenage years. Three Kings and Fight Club, Being John Malkovich, Magnolia, American Beauty…absolutely brilliant year. I’ve always felt slightly sad that Jonze has produced so few films since then. Adaptation, again with Kaufman, came out soon afterwards then he was stuck in development on Where the Wild Things Are for years and years. There’s a lot of craft in his four films, a lot of emotional investment there. He’s pondered these things a long time before hitting production. They don’t feel like scheduled efforts. He’s teetering on the edges of the metaphysical with this latest film, dense science-fiction concepts being tinkered around with. It doesn’t have the formal structural boldness of Adaptation, it doesn’t have the slightly broader audience appeal Where the Wild Things Are might’ve had, and it doesn’t have the black, surreal humour of Malkovich. It reminded me a little of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. He wasn’t involved in that project; it was a Charlie Kaufman collaboration with Michel Gondry. That was 10 years ago now, but it has the same big cast, the same soft colourised off-kilter indie sensibilities, the same poking around the edge of sci-fi whilst focusing primarily on something far simpler and more universal. I loved that film as an 18-year old and I come into watching Her at almost 28 and the essentials don’t change, all the hipstery stuff is fine and good, but it’s the central human story that makes the impact. The Arcade Fire soundtrack, the stylised costumes and facial hair, it’s all secondary to a simple love story. Eternal Sunshine and Her are great films for that exact same reason. The stuff with Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson forming a relationship, and us observing that relationship for two hours, that’s the triumph. It’s completely believable and I connected with the characters in exactly the way Jonze intended me to.

DB: I totally agree. We talk about Jonze’s visual style, his energy and quirkiness, for lack of a better word, but none of that means anything without the earnestness and truth. The stuff he gets from the cast, the work he gets out of Phoenix. It’s a brave performance, he’s put a lot of trust in Jonze that it’s not going to come across as silly or meaningless.

DC: As a concept it’s potentially laughable. If you fuck it up you make a bad film.

DB: He gets the tone so spot-on. He gets the melancholy. The emotional punches it pulls you in, it’s got a rhythm to it. Stuff like his letter to Rooney Mara’s character, it earns everything it throws at you. It builds up so much weight and really amounts to something so much greater.

DC: Megan Ellison’s Annapurna Pictures again. They financed American Hustle too, and The Master and Zero Dark Thirty last year. She’s queen of the mid-budget. It’s an artist’s work. I’m impressed with the way they work in Scarlett’s performance, considering it was Samantha Morton playing the part on set. To work around the beats of Phoenix’s stuff and make it gel in a believable way.

DB: It’s so smart. Sci-fi relating to the present day, it nails it. How many relationships are built on phonecalls, messages and stuff? Taking that a step further. I didn’t even find it strange, it’s just lovely.

DC: It’s one of those films that really highlights that divide between films people admire and films people love and treasure on a personal level. Spike Jonze exclusively specialises in these, and to have them crossover into Oscar campaigns and nominations is such a strange thing for such a personal work. It almost feels as though it has too much humanity to be caught in the cynical rat race of awards season.

DB: There’s so much heart. He must’ve been offered countless films in those fifteen years since Being John Malkovich. I think it’s probably my favourite of his four.

DC: When I wrote a small bit the other week about it I found myself coming back to Lost in Translation, which was deep amongst those films that popped up during the late-teens and had a real resonance. Sofia Coppola being Jonze ex-wife, I was thinking they must’ve had the most ridiculous marriage. Anyway, Johansson being the other major overlap, quite early in her career in 2003 and such a massive part of the two projects, I’m in awe of her ability to be part of both completely exhilarating Hollywood romances yet never feeling in this new film like she’s feeding on her own earlier work. She’s someone who deserves to have their career re-appraised. A lot of people have been quite dismissive of her abilities in the past but I really don’t think she’s given sufficient credit for balancing big blockbusters with stuff in the more independent sphere and nearly always turning in decent performances. She’s so good in this film, especially as someone without the option of relying on a physical body. She’s had to sit in a soundbooth and match her vocals to Phoenix’s live work on a screen, potentially months after it was shot, but it never feels anything other than authentic.

DB: Some really funny stuff there too. The chatroom sequence with the strangling…hilarious.

DC: That was Kristen Wiig!

DB: Really? I know Bill Hader did one of the voices too. Hilarious.

DC: Brian Cox too.

DB: And the computer game character who keeps swearing which is done by Spike Jonze I think. Just fucking hilarious.

DC: It’s a shame none of this cast found their way into the acting categories. Certainly Phoenix should be in the game.

DB: Phoenix is remarkable. His personal life has gotten in the way before of people realising what an incredible actor he is. Back to something like Gladiator even, The Master…

DC: Walk the Line.

DB: He’s just awesome.

DC: He underplays it. So many actors would try to dial it up when dealing with the more overwrought emotional stuff later on, but even then he tones it down and stays grounded.

DB: The flashback scenes with Rooney Mara. He looks so happy. I just want to be married to her.

DC: Do you think he gets with Amy Adams’ character afterwards?

DB: Maybe. Her husband who takes the vow of silence. Bald. So funny.

DC: He doesn’t even play that stuff for laughs.

DB: Is the song nominated. The Karen O song.

DC: I don’t know.

DB: I think it is.

DC: Spike Jonze has so much confidence in the story he’s telling. It plays out just perfectly. It’s a shame he’s not in the directing race. I remember being annoyed when he didn’t make it in for Adaptation either, and Kaufman’s script lost as well to something like Polanski’s Pianist movie, which just seems ludicrous with a few years hindsight. Nebraska next?

DB: Go ahead…

DC: Alexander Payne here again for Nebraska. Again. Everytime. Every fucking time he makes a film it’s in the Oscar race! They’re always pretty good, he has a clear style, he loves roadtrips, he loves grumpy middle-aged characters. Citizen Ruth, his debut, is still possibly my favourite of his films simply for breaking that template and being so unashamedly politically judgmental. There’s very much a through line cutting along About Schmidt, Election, Sideways and The Descendants though.

DB: I want to give a shoutout to Sideways. I absolutely love it.

DC: I still can’t believe I didn’t like it the first time I saw it! That 7 or 8 years afterwards where he didn’t make a film it really worked its magic on me. It’s the perfect realisation of his roadtrip fixation. Nebraska has numerous qualities that should be highlighted, but Sideways is a great, great film.

DB: Nebraska was pretty good. I don’t know if maybe I’m missing something that everyone else has noticed. I haven’t got much to say about it. Sideways was interesting on such a number of levels. I know this is somewhat different, more like David Lynch’s The Straight Story or something, but it’s just kind of nice, it didn’t make an enormous impression on me.

DC: I liked Will Forte’s character. It’s the Tom Cruise in Rain Man part, overshadowed by Bruce Dern despite being the real, beating heart of the piece. It’s a shame the awards gaze has solely been on Dern when Forte is such a significant part of what makes this work. I liked the photography, I thought it had a different flavour – possibly as a result of Payne not writing the thing, I never doubted the reality of any of these people.

DB: It’s another film that wouldn’t be there if there were just five nominees, even if Payne somehow snuck into the Best Director race, it’s on the fringes of warranting nomination. It doesn’t have that magic thing for me that lifts it into deserving serious Oscar consideration.

DC: It’s an amusing, likeable, lightly comic and lightly touching journey, but it’s no Best Picture winner. There are a lot of good films in the same realm of Nebraska that’re just as worthy of consideration. It doesn’t stand out to me any more so than Before Midnight, Only God Forgives or Inside Llewyn Davis. Payne’s a fine filmmaker, but it’s a little strange to me that his film is such a hot award contender. There’s so much focus in my life toward that terrible inclination of comparing things based on their part in awards season, too much of my cinematic year gears around these opening two months and pitting things against each other. It’s a terrible, terrible habit.

DB: It’s humble, pleasant and succeeds on its own terms. That’s all there is to say.

DC: Philomena. Stephen Frears. I like Frears. He makes films, British films, that could easily slip in amongst the prestige forgettables, but I’d never bundle him in with the Daldry’s or Minghella’s. Nebraska aside it’s a degree smaller than the other nominees, it’s a contained story.

DB: It’s set in Britain?

DC: British cast, director, writers, most of the setting. Sometimes a good story is enough. We were talking earlier today about how with Monuments Men, the critical word is that a great story has been squandered by substandard telling. Philomena pitches itself just perfectly. There’s a political dimension, but the core mystery element of someone trying to search for answers from their past really works. It’s recent history, Coogan and Dench both compliment each other, there’s an interesting character dichotomy between the cynical, hard-headed, atheistic Coogan and the wronged but devout Catholic Dench. It handles itself so well, gently but without fear of the jaggedness of the characters and the hard truths being revealed. It’s got a really lush, strangely beautiful score from Alexandre Desplat. It’s not unlike his work on Benjamin Button, but layered over this small British drama. It adds that extra sparkle, that extra thing that pushes it over the line. Frears handles it all so well. It might not have the movie-star punch of American Hustle or the visual virtuosity of Gravity, but it completely deserves to be in the race and it’s a total success on its own humble terms.

DB: Coogan plays it straight?

DC: He does. So many of his films feel like they’re not quite as good as they should be, or he’s whoring himself to Ben Stiller comedies, but as a writer and as an actor this is a great part. He ploughs the sniffiness and arrogance of his own persona into the Martin Sixsmith character and it plays extremely well against Dench.

DB: 12 Years a Slave?

DC: The big hitter. The odds on favourite to win the big award. It’s a cast and director on the edge of exploding, it’s an important subject and it’s got the period and historical elements that play so well with the Academy.

DB: Very good but not great. I can’t quite put my finger on what didn’t tip it over for me. It’s obviously an important film, especially in the US. Exceptionally made, it looks brilliant, faultless cast. I’m not sure what it was that sat slightly off. I liked that it didn’t overplay things and avoided extreme highs or extreme lows. It would be easy for a director to make a very emotionally manipulative film from that script. I liked that it didn’t do that, but I never felt as engrossed as I wanted to be. I was aware of the horror, but the empathy I wanted to feel with Ejiofor wasn’t quite there. I think back to something like Django and how I felt about the main two guys in that film, obviously not a fair comparison to jump to mention an exploitation picture in the same breath.

DC: I think 12 years is an extraordinary bit of work in many ways. I’ve been thinking about what it was that prevented it from clicking for you, and it comes down to Steve McQueen. He does this thing, Werner Herzog has a similar technique where there’s an arms length element in his straight dramatic features similar to the one he’s perfected in his documentary films. He’s no Spielberg who allows that degree of conscious emotional manipulation in where necessary to grease the audience response, an impressive and sometimes vital skill in its own right, McQueen just shows the imagery and tells the story and lets the audiences own innate sense of right and wrong do the rest. I suppose that’s a form of stylistic manipulation in its own right, letting things unfold on their own terms rather than encouraging a certain response. There’s a brawny, visceral element to it. It doesn’t pacify you from the horror. It’s unflinching. Prestige pictures suck in a lot of dodgy directors drawn to their sense of scale but lacking the talent to see how easily transparent their sloppy string-pulling is. McQueen trusts the audience. He trusts the intelligence of the audience.

DB: That’s definitely what I liked about it.

DC: I think it’s the right approach for the story. Nobody wants a paternal voice over telling you which characters are bad and which are good. It’s a snapshot of a world. I think it’s a great and challenging film. I admire it, I respect it, and it’s so striking and immersive, but it comes back to that thing again about the films you click with and love for deeply personal reasons and films you acknowledge, sometimes even grudgingly, are worthy of respect. It’s a hard film to love beyond that admiration.

DB: If it wins it deserves it.

DC: It’s not awards pap. It’s not A Beautiful Mind winning Best Picture. There’s nothing sadder than mediocrity being unfairly praised. It’s a truly deserving winner.

DB: I agree. It’s not a favourite, there’s not that attachment and weird hormonal preference I have to something like Her or Wolf of Wall Street, but I have no qualms with it winning awards. Every year we launch some kind of attack on the film we think is going to win because we don’t think it deserves it, but if 12 Years a Slave wins its, you know, an extremely honourable choice.

DC: Lastly, The Wolf of Wall Street. Martin Scorsese. I’m very pleased it’s made it into the race. It’s strange to imagine it nominated alongside these other films. It’s too fresh, too energetic to be the sort of film that’s up for Oscars. It’s the sort of film that normally gets its due respect in the aftermath of Academy apathy and ignorance, like Drive or Fight Club, but here it is! No maturing over years into a classic, it’s here today with all its dynamism, all its vigour!

DB: I can’t believe it even got made at that scale with that star power.

DC: And by a 71 year old director!

DB: And edited by a seventy-something woman! It fills me with so much joy that it exists. How can such a guilty pleasure also be a 5-star Best Picture contender?

DC: Too often my guilty pleasures are objectively terrible pieces of shit with no redeeming features to anyone but me, but here we are.

DB: Talking earlier about the tone Spike Jonze nailed with Her, what Scorsese does here is just amazing, balancing this very physical almost Buster Keaton like comedy with this absolute razor-sharp satire.

DC: It chooses to explore the concept of greed, the concept of excess in the most extreme and audacious means possible.

DB: We should probably address the criticism about the film letting them off the hook. I think it’s just preposterous.

DC: It’s the Zero Dark Thirty thing again. Did people actually watch the film? At no point is Jordan Belfort’s behaviour remotely condoned.

DB: He’s a fundamentally terrible, terrible human being. The film doesn’t hesitate in showing you that.

DC: You look into the darkest, nastiest corners of his life. He’s a piece of shit.

DB: But that doesn’t prohibit you from watching that, from spending time in that world.

DC: He’s a charismatic, amoral monster. He’s the Wolf of Wall Street. He might be scum, but that doesn’t make him an unwatchable or uninteresting character. You can’t drag your eyes away. He’s compelling. DiCaprio gives as good a comedic performance as I’ve seen. I know the Academy rarely gives comedy performances awards in those two leading categories, Roberto Benigni being the big one that jumps to mind, but DiCaprio is just a force of fucking nature. It’s the best he’s ever been. Few films have me crying with laughter in the cinema. He’s a debauched degenerate, a total nutcase. We’re there to observe dwarfs being thrown, worker chimps being paraded around and coke being blown up prostitute’s backsides.

DB: It’s the perfect metaphor for the whole banking crisis. It’s Martin Scorsese, he’s not stupid, and his point requires taking things to their absolute, absolute extremes. It’s the embodiment of what happened to the world, and we see that through the main character.

DC: He’s depicting these events because they happened. The big parties, the drugs, the disregard for any concept of a moral compass or acceptable human behaviour. The Rob Reiner father and the FBI guy are just as stunned as we are.

DB: And they got away with it! It happened like this and the film tells a story of something that actually happened. There’s no glamour in that. It’s as true as 12 Years a Slave.

DC: It’s telling an equally important story, but one that’s surface is extremely humorous. There’s no getting around that. I would never misconstrue that for excusing this shitty, insane behaviour. Onto the acting categories?

DB: Yep, go ahead.

DC: Best Acting in a Leading Role. Christian Bale in American Hustle, Bruce Dern in Nebraska, Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street, Chiwetel Ejiofor in 12 Years a Slave and Matthew McConaughey for Dallas Buyers Club.

DB: Faultless pronunciation. Bale’s always good.

DC: He plays it as well as written.

DB: It’s not an Oscar winning role.

DC: Playing the omissions game, I can’t compare him to Oscar Isaac in Inside Llewyn Davis, Hanks in Captain Philips or Joaquin Phoenix in Her. Those are such major roles in the careers of the individual actors; Hustle’s not a patch on Bale’s best parts.

DB: It’s not his fault, but he’s attaining that inclusion status now anything O.Russell directs is so awards friendly. He’s solid.

DC: Everyone who works with O.Russell on anything seems to get nominated.

DB: Bruce Dern in Nebraska was good.

DC: Yet I still can’t get over the fact we see so much of Nebraska through the sons eyes. He’s the heart of the film, not Bruce Dern. Leo DiCaprio for Wolf of Wall Street. Snubbed for Django Unchained last year, this is the best he’s ever been.

DB: So much good work from him over the last decade, escaping from that unfair post-Titanic idea of him as some sort of vacant heartthrob. It’s the culmination of the charm, his whole package. This is the perfect character.

DC: It’s a part that requires going to extreme places and DiCaprio never backs down from that. Rolling around on the floor acting out a Quaaludes overdose. It’s my favourite of the five performances.

DB: It really is brave. He’s getting so good in his work with Scorsese. He’s pushing him to go further then he has before. Scorsese’s never directed a performance quite that extreme, even Pesci in Goodfellas, it’s absolutely insane. The slapstick stuff is so good.

DC: The scene where he goes into the office where acting-mode Spike Jonze is working on penny stocks and he does that sales speech down the phone. So, so brilliant. One take, exploding off the screen.

DB: The country club lamborghini into popeye coke scene. Incredible.

DC: Chiwetel Ejiofor in 12 Years a Slave?

DB: He’s fantastic. Great. That’s an underplayed role. He doesn’t get the big flowery speech.

DC: Great face. Absolute despair, the tragic hopelessness played out, often, without dialogue. He’s in pretty much every scene.

DB: It’s never showy. It’s entirely appropriate for the situation.

DC: Someone like DiCaprio carries the baggage of being such a big moviestar into his roles, he plays on that, rolls around in it. Ejiofor is a very different beast, a true character actor, diving into the part and losing himself in it.

DB: Matthew McConaughey. We touched on his performance whilst chatting about Dallas Buyers Club. What he’s done regards his career trajectory in recent years. It’s unparalleled.

DC: Utter shit for fifteen years. A dead career.

DB: A joke. Shirtless in every movie.

DC: Nobody took him seriously. Then the whisperings began.

DB: Magic Mike, Killer Joe, Mud.

DC: It’s every film he’s made for about the last three years. Pumping out great performance after great performance.

DB: And scene stealing in The Wolf of Wall Street.

DC: Incredible. If he hadn’t had the good fortune to be here for Dallas Buyers Club I like to think he might’ve snuck into supporting actor. We’ve seen small roles here before, Dench in Shakespeare in Love, William Hurt in A History of Violence. McConaughey in Wolf of Wall Street as this shadowy vision of what DiCaprio will one day become is a revelation. He’s explosive. Sniffing coke, punching chest, talking to himself. They say he’s the favourite to win for Dallas Buyers, and I can’t begrudge him it.

DB: Dallas Buyers Club isn’t as strong as some of the other films, but he’s amazing. As a collective award to acknowledge his great resurrection. True Detective and so on. There’s no chance DiCaprio wins.

DC: Best Actress in a Leading Role. Amy Adams in American Hustle, Cate Blanchett for Blue Jasmine, Sandra Bullock in Gravity, Judi Dench for Philomena, Meryl Streep for August: Osage County. I like Adams, she’s been nominated several times, but I’m not convinced this is the role to win it for her. She’s game, she’s fun, she anchors the film, but I feel American Hustle is slightly lacking and I’d rather she stays on the subs bench for another year. Dench in Philomena is excellent but she’s won before. I haven’t seen Blue Jasmine or August: Osage County. My favourite, pending those other two, is Bullock in Gravity. She confounds her critics; she has to carry a whole film on her shoulders. Alfonso Cuaron is a master, but none of that means anything if the risk he took on casting Bullock didn’t work out. She’s so, so good.

DB: It’s her film! She’s amazing in it!

DC: All the studio comedies, the shitty attempt to buy an Oscar with The Blind Side, it’s all so vacuous and throwaway compared to what she does here. She does so much with those close-ups. The grit, the determination. I really believed in the character. She’s a familiar performer but to see her tackle something as unique as Gravity and tackle it so perfectly is enormously satisfying.

DB: I don’t understand people who’ve called her performance melodramatic. It’s exactly what it needs to be.

DC: There’s no place to hide. She holds the screen on her own with nobody to bounce off for most of the film.

DB: She’s great.

DC: How’s Blanchett in Blue Jasmine?

DB: You know what you’re getting with Blanchett, she’s always good. There’s a nice accent, very watchable. The film’s pacy, zings along, a lot of that is Blanchett being effortless, striking.  She’s incapable of being bad.

DC: She always makes something special out of any character, doubly so if the substance is there on the page. Woody Allen script.

DB: It’s a clever performance. She’s not particularly nice. You empathise with the shitty situation, despite it being a product of Alec Baldwin ripping people off with housing estates. She turns a blind eye, loves living off the millions. It all comes crashing down.

DC: Who’s you favoured best performance?

DB: Sandra Bullock. One big omission for me though – Short Term 12. Brie Larson. Joint favourite film of last year. Should be in the big categories. Picture, Director, Screenplay. For sheer authenticity. Again no overt manipulation. The more film literate you become you really start to pick up on when someone’s pulling your strings, but it never happened. The beats are so spot on. It’s funny, touching.

DC: I’ve seen her in Scott Pilgrim, 21 Jump Street.

DB: Yeah. She’s excellent. Should be nominated.

DC: While we’re on the topic – Julie Delpy for Before Midnight. Should be nominated. She’s the one. Terrific and mesmerising in both the earlier films in that series, but she really gets where that character is meant to be. So much history, so much between the lines, so much baggage between the characters. They picked the toughest and most challenging way to pick up with these guys, to an outsider they’ve had exactly the life you would’ve wanted for them after Before Sunshine. All the resentments and hatreds of a long relationship. You can see it all on Delpy, she plays it so well. It’s an extraordinary character, an extraordinary series. I hope to see her again in another decade. Best Actor in a Supporting Role? Barkhad Abdi for Captain Philips, Bradley Cooper for American Hustle, Jonah Hill for The Wolf of Wall Street, Michael Fassbender for 12 Years a Slave and Jared Leto for Dallas Buyers Club.

DB: Yep.

DC: I know there’s limited slots, that’s a fact of life, but I’ve got some snubs to run through. Daniel Bruhl in Rush was very good, Sam Rockwell in The Way, Way Back which was directed by those two guys who wrote The Descendants for Alexander Payne.

DB: They’re in it as well, aren’t they?

DC: I’m a sucker for coming of age movies. I love them so much. It’s my favourite sort-of-genre. Love them so much.

DB: You’ll love The Spectacular Now. There’s some serious coming of age going on there. I just want to be best friends with Sam Rockwell in The Way, Way Back so badly.

DC: He’s been a great supporting player his entire career, and this feels like the purest and most complete version of that.

DB: He’s awesome.

DC: Great cast in that film, and he’s such a warm, loveable presence. Not an easy part to play, charm alone doesn’t do it; it’s a surprisingly complicated character.

DB: From the outside you could see him as a bit of a loser. He’s such a nice influence on this kid.

DC: It’s a great performance. I thought James Franco in Spring Breakers was incredible to watch.

DB: “Look at all my shit”

DC: Hilarious. That was Annapurna Pictures as well. What a Company!

DB: The Academy don’t really like subversive.

DC: I like all five nominees to be honest. Jared Leto doesn’t work enough. This is the first time I’ve seen him in ages. I think back to American Psycho and Panic Room and Fight Club. He’s always a great supporting contributor. Bradley Cooper in American Hustle is good fun. We’ve already talked about the film a fair bit. I don’t necessarily thing it’s an Oscar winning part, but he’s funny in it and I like the hair curls. He’s got a better comic touch then the Hangover films ever allowed him to explore. He was isolated as the straight man there for some reason. I like his scenes with Louis CK. Barkhad Abdi in Captain Phillips is excellent, especially for a newcomer. They found this guy and stuck him against the biggest movie star in the world and he holds his own, he dominates the film. Jonah Hill in The Wolf of Wall Street is great.

DB: He really is. He lets DiCaprio go the extra mile. He knows how to feed on and improve the people around him.

DC: I agree. He’s not interested in just scene stealing, he’s happy to slot in where Scorsese wants him and play off the other characters. The guy’s seriously underrated. It’s easy to write him off as the fat frat-comedy guy, but between this and Moneyball there’s a whole new thing he’s showing us. I really liked This is the End and 21 Jump Street. He’s proved himself as a formidable comic presence.

DB: And not to forget that Superbad is probably the funniest film of all time. It’s perfection. Two-time Oscar nominee Jonah Hill. It’s bonkers. Imagine if he won? It would be so funny.

DC: When you take a skilled comic performer and drop him in with someone like Scorsese and a project with real substance – he nails it. Back to Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club, did I mention that I genuinely believed in him as a transgender woman? I bought it. He played the whole thing, the physical transformation and the dramatic sequences so well off McConaughey. It’s great support. Michael Fassbender, in my view, is the performance that should win though for 12 Years. He’s fearless. He tears into it. He’s a terrifying guy, ripping into the material, so much rage bubbling away under the surface. Frightening.

DB: Terrified of his wife.

DC: His even more evil wife.

DB: We love Fassbender.

DC: He’s got to be careful not to fall into the Christian Bale trap pre-Fighter. There could be a bit more levity in the work. He’s so intense all the time; a comedy or something lighter wouldn’t go amiss. I’d like him to have a crack at that.

DB: Off that, I’d like to mention a performance I didn’t like in 12 Years.

DC: Really? Who?

DB: Paul Dano. I’m so bored of him playing that character.

DC: He was exactly the same in Prisoners, wasn’t he?

DB: Exactly the same. I liked him in Prisoners, but it was the last time I could tolerate him playing that part.

DC: Snivelling, pathetic…

DB: Exactly. In 12 Years that was the low point of the whole film for me. He’s been pulling this same shit for five years. It’s been done.

DC: Looper, Cowboys & Aliens….same part again and again and again. You’re right.

DB: Paul Thomas Anderson will never cast him again if he keeps riffing off his work in There will Be Blood.

DC: He needs to rediscover the magic he brought to the role of ‘Klitz’ in The Girl Next Door. A great coming of age story! I love that film.

DB: Great film.

DC: Best Actress in a Supporting Role. Sally Hawkins for Blue Jasmine, Julia Roberts for August: Osage County, Lupita Nyong’o for 12 Years, Jennifer Lawrence for American Hustle and June Squibb for Nebraska.

DB: I really liked Lupita Nyong’o for 12 Years.

DC: I was a little surprised she’s been pushed so hard for awards contention. It’s a small part. She’s excellent, really excellent, but she feels far more on the periphery of attention than some of the other characters. It’s the same with June Squibb. Very secondary to other things going on. It’s not a criticism of the work.

DB: This category isn’t really blowing me away. I mean Squibb, she was funny, she had some good stuff, but it’s such a tiny role. How can you justify nominating her when Margot Robbie from Wolf of Wall Street isn’t there.

DC: I look at Only God Forgives and the amazing supporting turn from Kristin Scott Thomas and I just think, for all the mixed response toward the film, she’s absolutely psychopathic and brilliant in it. Jennifer Lawrence has a good time in American Hustle, a good ensemble, but it’s too much like she’s there because she’s flavour of the month. I haven’t seen August: Osage County or Blue Jasmine yet, so perhaps I’m in team Nyong’o afterall. I like that she doesn’t have celebrity or a persona to fall back on. It’s a really fresh face, like Barkhad Abdi in Captain Phillips. That sort of acting is the kind that deserves to be gifted prizes. *makes brief borderline racist comment. Much laughter*

DB: Jennifer Lawrence is fantastic. Winter’s Bone is one of my favourite films of recent years.

DC: It’s amazing the level of performance she brings to The Hunger Games series. No young-adult blockbuster franchise deserves a leading actress operating on that sort of level. Compared to Twilight and Potter and so on, she’s that mix of moviestar and fantastically capable character actor. Those adaptations are better than they have any right to be. They’re truly impressive. It’s to her credit she doesn’t discriminate between the likes of Winter’s Bone and that.

DB: Best Director?

DC: Alfonso Cuaron for Gravity, Steve McQueen for 12 Years a Slave, David O.Russell for American Hustle, Martin Scorsese for The Wolf of Wall Street and Alexander Payne for Nebraska.

DB: It’s got to be Cuaron for Gravity.

DC: To dream it, to realise it on screen in a form we can all watch. How do you even go about putting that on film?

DB: It’s visionary. It’s a complete, flawless handling of the concept he’s imagined. That ninety-minute length is so important, that lack of indulgence, that lack of ego almost. It’s all there to service his idea.

DC: We’ve already talked a fair degree about Steve McQueen.

DB: He’s undeniably great.

DC: A very deliberate approach, enormous control, uncompromising. All five of these feel very auteurial. You can spot these guys a mile off.

DB: I love Scorsese’s work with The Wolf of Wall Street. I know he just won for The Departed a few years ago so a win is unlikely, but his films just have such great pacing, so much momentum. I don’t want to sound like I’m beating down on David O.Russell, but his relative weakness is so, so apparent when he’s nominated alongside Scorsese’s film. Nobody does that snappy, brisk, energetic thing like Scorsese. Imitators are exposed immediately.

DC: With credit to O.Russell, he casts well, and he gets good work from the actors by getting the hell out of the way. He creates an opportunity on set for them to play about a bit, which makes for an interesting, ramshackle kind of feeling to it all. His regular troupe obviously thrives on that, they return again and again. Alexander Payne – the Academy just love him so much.

DB: I can’t see why he’s nominated. It’s serviceable, it’s well make. It’s slightly unremarkable. It shouldn’t really be in there.

DC: I like the film a lot, but I can’t justify the absence of Spike Jonze, The Coens, Paul Greengrass, Nicolas Winding-Refn or Richard Linklater. It’s a bit of an odd selection. Original Screenplay Category is next. Her, American Hustle, Dallas Buyers Club, Blue Jasmine and Nebraska. I’m not sure Dallas Buyers Club should be in there. It’s a bit rote.

DB: Nebraska, again, seriously am I missing something with Nebraska? Why is it nominated in so many fucking categories!!

DC: I understand how such a small film can get swamped by the weight of feeling towards some of the more significant releases.

DB: But there’s nothing particularly funny, particularly moving or particularly original about it. It’s just….fine.

DC: I think there’s poignancy and a gentle study of the relationship between the father and the son. Its decent work. I really think Spike Jonze’s script for Her is my favourite by some way. I want to see him getting recognition from the Academy for crafting something like that. Such a hard project to pull off. Nothing about American Hustle strikes me as particularly worthy of a writing Oscar. I know the film has a lot of goodwill toward it from US audiences because of the people involved, but it’ll be a shame if that converts into a win to make up for its likely exclusion in the Best Picture race.

DB: I think it’s safe to say nobody wants Woody Allen up there.

DC: I don’t want to get into the politics of that. Too contentious an area to express a detailed opinion on! I haven’t seen Blue Jasmine anyway, but I’d like to think these accusations, especially prior to any sort of judicial process or whatever, wouldn’t be a blackmark against his ability to put out further work and have it critically assessed on its own terms.

DB: It didn’t cross my mind once while watching the film.

DC: Best Adapted Screenplay. Before Midnight, Captain Phillips, Philomena, 12 Years a Slave and The Wolf of Wall Street. Philomena won the BAFTA the other day. Wolf is lengthy, arguably unwieldy, but I guess that’s the point.

DB: The writer of 12 Years says it’s a very faithful adaptation of the book. Doesn’t dress it up or add superfluous scenes and characters. It’s good.

DC: I’m guilty of gleeful, unashamed bias. I want Before Midnight to win. I want Richard Linklater on stage being celebrated for building on those guys and carving out a new chapter that feels fresh, totally relevant, has that continuity of character and so on whilst exploring a rich new area of their lives.

DB: Is there improv?

DC: I think they rehearse it closely, the three of them, and work it from the ground up. I think on the day it’s pretty much all in place. I want it to win. This might be the best reviewed film of last year, it deserves recognition!!! I love that they shot it in secret and suddenly sprung it on us. No hype, no expectation, tiny crew. Bang.

DB: Best Animated Feature?

DC: The Crooods, Despicable Me 2, Ernest & Celestine, Frozen and The Wind Rises. I can’t comment for I have seen none of these four films.

DB: I’ve seen Despicable Me 2. It’s good. I love the minions.

DC: I wanted to see Frozen.

DB: It was like the third biggest film of last year, right?

DC: Yeah. It’s venturing toward the big one billion. Still playing. What a hit for Disney. I’ll watch the Blu Ray. Best Cinematography. Gravity, Inside Llewyn Davis, Nebraska, Prisoners and Grandmaster. Poor old Roger Deakins for Prisoners. The perennial fail-to-win guy. Its got to be Gravity. Emmanuel Lubezki.

DB: When people say Gravity is too ‘effects heavy’ to win this category they ignore how it’s all part of the same package, Lubezki, Cuaron and the technicians. It’s a success.

DC: I agree. It’s just not comparable, these attractive albeit conventionally shot options against the way Lubezki shoots Gravity. How do you even go about photographing a film like that, integrating the live action and animation in such an unusual environment? It’s not something that’s ever been done before. He’s breaking new ground. It’s the same as when Avatar won Best Cinematography. I had very mixed feelings about that film, but it was a similarly enormous achievement in blending live sets with the digital work. How do you even go about framing that, lighting it?

DB: There isn’t a single shot in the whole film that doesn’t match or takes you out of the experience.

DC: I like that it never had a set release date. They let it hang and hang until it was ready. Deakins shoots very nice moonlight digital. I read he’s not doing the next Bond. I love Sam Mendes’ Bond and I’m looking forward to the next one, but it won’t quite be the same without that polished digital look. Hopefully they find a capable replacement. I think it’s a shame Hoyte van Hoytema who shot Her for Spike Jonze isn’t nominated. He’s doing the next Chris Nolan film.

DB: Her, for me, would come in after Gravity. He should be nominated. Tying in the futurism, the glass and shine and making it relatable. It’s very clean, how they’ve shot the city.

DC: It’s Spike Jonze best looking film. I love his Kaufman collaborations, but I’m glad he’s switched off the guy who shot those first three and onto Hoytema.

DB: It’s an omission. I’ve heard The Grandmaster looks great.

DC: It’s a shame 12 Years isn’t nominated. Sean Bobbit’s such a good D.O.P. All three of the Steve McQueen films, Byzantium, The Place Beyond the Pines…he’s building up a good body of work and 12 Years is a beautiful film. He shoots the Louisiana exteriors extremely well. Outdoors, lots of natural lighting. It’s strange how these snubbed films like Llewyn Davis and Prisoners emerge from the void to grab nominations in this category. I’m reminded of when Girl with the Dragon Tattoo won that random editing Oscar a couple of years ago. Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall looked so confused to win two years in a row. This year’s editing category is a bit of an extension of the Best Picture.

DB: Thelma Schoonmaker should be in there for The Wolf of Wall Street.

DC: Especially when Dallas Buyers Club’s there! You’re the editor, what’s your take?

DB: Nothing stands out about it. Similarly, American Hustle – thirty minutes too long. That’s not the fault of the editors, that’s all down to O.Russell.

DC: Why does a film like American Hustle need three editors? Is it the sort of thing where there were 500 different versions of it with different guys having a crack then getting fired or what?

DB: It’s either that or the release was so tight they had to bring people in to assemble different stuff. O.Russell shoots a lot of material. Meanwhile, Thelma Schoonmaker and Scorsese have sat down in her office and worked it through from start to finish. I think I read it took them almost a year to edit which is insane.

DC: Captain Phillips is good. Anyone working with Paul Greengrass must find it a tough old job working with the sort of footage he turns out.

DB: I haven’t seen it yet, but I can imagine a lot of the film being formed in the edit. Piecing together the handheld camerawork, trying to assemble something that makes sense to the audience.

DC: What’s your favoured nominee?

DB: Probably Gravity again.

DC: I love the idea of Alfonso Cuaron holding like three Oscars, completely confused with what’s happened. Any film that opens with an opening shot like Gravity deserves my support.

DB: It’s not showing off either. It works. It’s gripping; it gets you involved in the situation.

DC: Production Design is American Hustle, Gravity, Great Gatsby, Her and 12 Years a Slave. I’d love it if Her won.

DB: Gatsby admittedly has great design.

DC: Baz Luhrman isn’t afraid to avoid being paint-by-numbers. Its wild and extravagant.

DB: Her is such a great film. The little phone, his apartment, the operating system, the cards, Shanghai being brought into it. It’s got such a great world around the romantic stuff.

DC: Hustle is just garish seventies. It doesn’t deserve to win.

DB: Same with 12 Years. There’s nothing about authentic looking Southern slave ranch stuff that really does it for me. I bought into the reality, but it’s not a winner.

DC: Gravity?

DB: I’m not really familiar enough with what art direction entails in a film like Gravity.

DC: I guess the space station interiors, believable representation of the shuttle and Hubble and so on. I’ve got to plead ignorance. I can appreciate authentic looking design and I never doubted its realness…if that’s a word. Costume Design is American Hustle, The Grandmaster, Gatsby, The Invisible Woman and 12 Years.

DB: Invisible Woman? How token.

DC: Probably Hustle. The costumes are very OTT and part of the look and feel of the film.

DB: Very present feature.

DC: Quite stylised. I’d imagine if you took a time machine back to the 70s nobody actually walked around dressed like Amy Adams in this.

DB: So much boob tape. Gatsby might win.

DC: Makeup and Hair. Three nominees. No American Hustle, despite it being primarily hair-based. We have Dallas Buyers Club, a fine and deserving winner, the other two though are The Lone Ranger and Jackass presents Bad Grandpa. Do you think Spike Jonze, in producer capacity, is rooting for the Jackass team to win?

DB: I’d have Her there. Good moustaches.

DC: Wolf of Wall Street should be there for Jonah Hill’s teeth alone. The Lone Ranger though, seriously? For Johnny Depp doing black-face? Best Original Score is a dice up between John Williams orchestral mayhem on The Book Thief, Gravity, Her, Saving Mr Banks and Philomena.

DB: Arcade Fire for Her. Saw them live a few years ago. It was so good.

DC: I’m going June 6th at Earls Court. Saw them in about 2011 in Hyde Park, it was incredible. Nothing about Saving Mr Banks stood out for me.

DB: You mentioned you liked Philomena earlier?

DC: After popping out of nowhere and blowing me away with his Benjamin Button score, I’m completely in the Alexandre Desplat camp.

DB: Still possibly my most listened to score for that film.

DC: He’s had a killer five years. He’s a biggie. King’s Speech, Tree of Life, the last Potter film, Argo, Zero Dark Thirty. That’s a hell of a run. 6 nominations since 2007.

DB: I like the Best Song category. Happy by Pharrell from Despicable Me 2 is excellent. It’s upbeat. I think Karen-O for Her has it in the bag.

DC: As long as U2 don’t win for Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.

DB: A film nobody saw.

DC: We all remember when Eminem won, when Adele won. It’s an odd category. Into the techies now. Sound Editing?

DB: I think we can breeze through these.

DC: I love the songs in Llewyn Davis I should say. It’s a shame none of those made it into the Original Song category.

DB: That song about Mr Kennedy that him and Timberlake do is flat out hilarious. To write something that matches that period so well. That should be nominated.

DC: Gravity will win all the technical awards.

DB: It’s hard sometimes to tell how professional technicians in these areas feel about the standard of the work, but I can’t see a situation where Gravity doesn’t win most of them.

DC: Visual effects. Hobbit, Iron Man 3, Lone Ranger, Star Trek and Gravity. There’s no comparison there. Gravity is leagues ahead. Pacific Rim should be nominated.

DB: Pacific Rimjob.

DC: The other nominees, it’s all well-done stuff, but Gravity is so far ahead. I love how sour the relationship is between fandom and Star Trek into Darkness. Even as a non-trekkie, there’s enough residual cross-boundary acknowledgment of how much that film annoyed people.

DB: The JJ Abrams apology tour.

DC: It’s treated like The Phantom Menace. Such a disappointment after the first one. The only Documentary Feature I’ve seen here is The Act of Killing, which I’m pretty sure is going to win anyway. It’s an extraordinary film. I’m annoyed Stories We Tell, the Canadian Sarah Polley documentary, isn’t nominated. It was one of my favourite films of last year. It does so much interesting with the concept of what a documentary can be, how it ties in with Polley as a feature-film director, how narrative is shaped and the personal explored. The Act of Killing is really astonishing though; perhaps even to the point where it should be in the Best Picture race. It’s hard to talk about; it’s a truly horrifying experience.

DB: I need to see it. I started watching it with my dinner after a long day and I had to stop.

DC: It’s quite something. I haven’t seen any of the shorts.

DB: Me neither.

DC: I like that one of them is called ‘Get a Horse’.

DB: One film I’d like to bring up briefly, especially for cinematography. Is Park Chan-Wook’s Stoker.

DC: Oh yeah, really liked that.

DB: I thought it was fantastic.

DC: I was surprised it appeared in so few top-ten lists. There’re some incredibly audacious sequences in there. That piano scene.

DB: The chemistry, the relationship between the three lead characters. It’s so tense, so well directed. The performances, everyone’s going that slight bit over, Matthew Goode is so good.

DC: Coming of age horror!

DB: That scene where they murder the boy and then she’s masturbating in the shower. It’s fantastic. That was a top five for me.

DC: A few other omissions, certainly I felt Ron Howard’s Rush was better than its commercial performance would suggest. I thought perhaps more technical recognition was possible. The sound design during the race scenes, the editing. It completely captures, from ground level, the feel of 70s Formula 1. Howard usually over-eggs the pudding a bit, but it’s a great film from him. Was Jeff Nichols Mud a 2013 release?

DB: I thought it was eligible? It was terrific. Tremendous performances out of the kids, great McConaughey.

DC: Best Cinematography for The Conjuring? I know that’d never happen.

DB: It’s a great horror film. So well done as a period horror piece. Amazing production design. It should’ve been recognised.

DC: See you next year!

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My favourite 10 films of 2013

As always, several notable releases slip between the years, never fully receiving the formal acknowledgment they deserve. To their credit, Zero Dark Thirty, Lincoln and Cloud Atlas (yes, really) would appear in the top half of any list, the first two in particular worthy of praise as effusive a year later as given on original viewing.

2013 has been a terrific year with no shortage of viable options to choose from with a veritable goldmine of great work vying for contention. Titles I’ve missed or have yet to be released in the UK include Beyond the Candelabra, About Time, Blue Jasmine, Escape from Tomorrow, The Wolf of Wall Street, American Hustle and 12 Years a Slave. I’ll try to catch up with missed nominees prior to the Oscars on March 2nd.

So far as this list is concerned, many skimmed the edges of inclusion but just missed the final cut. These included the wonderful Mud, Spring Breakers, The Place Beyond the Pines, Captain Phillips, Prisoners, Pacific Rim, A Field in England, Rush, Fast and Furious 6, You’re Next, Upstream Color, The Act of Killing and Stoker. Catch me in a different mood on a different day and any of them could have made the big 10.

10) Byzantium (dir. Neil Jordan)

Even in a market saturated with inadequate efforts, there’s always room for a unique and worthy contribution to the vampire picture. Made for a slight budget by a director well-versed in the genre, Byzantium picks and plays with pertinent vampiric archetypes and carves out its own little seaside mythology as mother and daughter survive through the centuries against a patriarchal vampire hierarchy. The Sean Bobbit photography (Place Beyond the Pines, Shame) scrapes at the fuzzy edges of the grimy Hastings setting, with his soft digital frame convincingly capturing these women in danger as they struggle against the pressing threat of discovery. Very enjoyable.

9) The World’s End (dir. Edgar Wright)

The World’s End, Edgar Wright’s farewell to the Pegg/Frost ‘cornetto’ trilogy, never goes for the cheap laughs, using its superficial sci-fi exterior as effectively as its predecessors in aid of the exploration of friendship, growth and youthful nostalgia. Like Wright’s previous directorial work, and (his additional production credit Attack the Block), this is the best sort of genre picture, using the expected tropes and thrills to tread into weighty, thematically resonant areas with maturity and thoughtfulness. It’s been quite something watching the evolution of this group since Spaced, with Wright at its heart pushing forward his stylistic ambitions whilst keeping the work grounded, touching and indelibly English. At the very least, no other comedy this year is likely to feature the combination of alien robots, teenage decapitation and reckless alcoholism.

8 ) The Way Way Back (dir. Jim Rash/Nat Faxon)

It’s been a battle between this and Jeff Nichols’ excellent Mud for which ‘coming of age’ story I favoured this autumn. Ultimately I’m siding with The Way Way Back, for coasting the edge of quirk and avoiding all the pitfalls that sink so many similarly inclined pictures. Funny, warm and populated with a string of excellent support, Sam Rockwell’s perfect performance is probably the best work he’s ever delivered.

7) The Conjuring (dir. James Wan)

With impeccable production design and flawless performances, James Wan’s latest period horror is both his best work so far and a complete triumph of its type. As well as being the most satisfying horror film of the summer, it’s a stunning reminder of the elegance and beauty of the genre when in loving hands.

6) Only God Forgives (dir. Nicolas Winding Refn)

Like the most violent episode of Twin Peaks ever made, Nicolas Winding Refn’s otherworldly vision is so distinctive, so without comparison or mainstream ambition that it stands as the most esoteric of masterpieces, goading in audiences with the promise of gangster violence and Ryan Gosling then launching them off a cliff of Thai karaoke numbers and minimalist dialogue. It’s brilliant.

5) Philomena (dir. Stephen Frears)

Alongside the best original score of the year (another bow for the unstoppable Alexandre Desplat), Philomena features two perfectly observed, tightly complimentary performances from the never better Judi Dench and (co-writer) Steve Coogan, both funny, charming, and knocking lightly through the journey without smoothing down those rougher edges around their characters.

4) Sunshine on Leith (dir. Dexter Fletcher)

Knowing next to nothing about The Proclaimers, I’m ill equipped to assess whether jukebox musical Sunshine on Leith satisfies the hardcore that’ve pined over every syllable of their back catalogue for thirty years. My emotional baggage, for better or worse, limited to a spike of delight whenever the camera glosses over the Edinburgh scenery, I found this something of a voyage of discovery, engaging with the songs simply in the context of Dexter Fletcher’s film without worrying about omitted favourites or oversight. On this level, I found it inordinately satisfying, charming and a reminder of the quite unique pleasures the movie musical can offer.

3) Stories We Tell (dir. Sarah Polley)

Exploring the constructed truth of our individual memories and how we craft meaning from our own interpretations of events, Polley’s beautifully structured film is the work of a filmmaker completely engaged emotionally and intellectually with the topic, digging into the sensitive area of her parentage with the rigour of journalist and the delicacy of a painter.

2) Gravity (dir. Alfonso Cuarón)

So often are blockbusters raved as the ‘game changer’ we’ve been waiting for, so rarely do they achieve that revolutionary leap forward in the way of technological possibility in a way that’s pressingly evident in every thrilling frame. The visual achievement of Gravity makes for an almost overwhelming experience, baffling in its immersion, stripped back and exhilarating in its rawness, engaging and utterly brilliant in its simple humanity.

1) Before Midnight (dir. Richard Linklater)

Move over Toy Story, Linklater’s Before series might be the perfect film trilogy, each new instalment straddling the concerns and worries of these immaculately realised characters at a later stage in life. The triumph of Linklater’s film is that it’s never content to just pop Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke on screen and let their interplay do the work. The stakes are higher, the relationship a strained, distorted shadow of that easy chemistry of Sunrise and Sunset as Jessie and Celine slip into middle age. It’s an immense achievement to take all that energy and exuberance of the first two films and knot it around the stresses and concerns of a couple later in their relationship, finding both the pathos and strange hope that there’s still a future for these two, and that come 2022 we’ll be spending another couple of hours in each others company.

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