Tag Archive | Oscars 2016

Oscars 2016 – My Predictions

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It’s that time of year again. Time to see who will be awarded with this year’s set of Oscar statuettes. Refreshingly, this year’s race for some of the categories is quite open, particularly for the big prize of Best Picture. My goal was to see all 8 contenders before tonight’s ceremony. I’ll be two short (Room and Brooklyn), but I am still going to join in the spirit of the evening with my own set of predictions. For those where I feel I can if I’ve seen all/most of the nominees I’ll be stating will win/should win if the two are different in my view. It’ll be interesting to see how well I do when I watch the ceremony live in the early hours of Monday morning here in the UK!

Best Picture

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Photo from: The Telegraph

I’ve struggled with this choice all week, changing my mind more than once. There is a great selection of eight films this year and from the six I have seen the variety has been fantastic. You have everything from the great sweeping epic of The Revenant, to the quirky black humour of The Big Short to the desert chases spectacle of Mad Max. From the winners at other ceremonies we are no clearer either, with the Producers’ Guild (PGA) going with The Big Short, the Screenactors’ Guild (SAG) going for Spotlight and the Golden Globes & BAFTAs selecting The Revenant. My hope is that Spotlight comes out on top, as of the six I’ve seen it’s my favourite, but I have a feeling The Revenant may continue its momentum.

Will win: The Revenant

Should win: Spotlight (or The Big Short..!)

Best Director

The are some wonderful achievements by directors this year, but my choice would be for the favourite, The Revenant’s director Alejandro G. Inarritu. His vision for this film is quite an achievement, as the violent, tense scenes are interspersed with moments of calm and tranquility. If he does win it’ll be twice in a row after last year’s success for Birdman.

Will win: Alejandro G. Inarritu

Should win:Alejandro G. Inarritu

Best Actor

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Well this is basically Leo’s Oscars isn’t it? Even the London’s Odeon Leicester Square has rebranded as Leodeon for the week. Is it a worthy performance for him to finally win his Oscar? Overall I say yes. He may not have a lot to say in this film, but you certainly feel he has become that character and is going through all that pain, grief, rage and hardship. It brings the film to life for the audience. I still feel his best performance was in The Aviator and was sad he lost out to Jamie Foxx that year, but an Oscar for Mr Glass wouldn’t be an undeserved one. The only other nominee I’ve seen thus far is Eddie Redmayne. I thought his performance was exceptional and more moving than the one he won for last year. Had Eddie not been successful in 2015 I’d find this a far harder choice, but perhaps once I’ve seen the rest I’ll hold another view!

Will win: Leonardo DiCaprio

Should win: Leonardo DiCaprio

Best Actress

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It’s interesting that most of the best actress nominees are not performances linked to best picture films and therefore I have yet to see any of the performances. I will say, where is Charlize Theron for Mad Max but that’s a whole other debate! My prediction is for Brie Larson for Room. She has won at every awards ceremony to date and looks almost certain to win here, unless there is an upset. I know a few people who would love to see Saoirse Ronan sneak in.

Will win: Brie Larson

Best Supporting Actor

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I have seen all but one of these performances and I’m truly torn. They are all very good in very different ways. Christian Bale is excellent in The Big Short, but no better than the rest of that ensemble in my view. Tom Hardy is a disturbing force in The Revenant, highlighting his versatility as an actor. Mark Rylance was excellent as the captured KGB spy in Bridge of Spies, but I’ve seen him even better than that on stage and Mark Ruffalo brought an added emotional element to the Spotlight team as they investigate the truth about a number of Boston’s Catholic priests. Then there is Sylvester Stallone. The Rocky movies hold a special place for many and his chances of receiving another nomination in the future seem slim. I therefore suspect that he may win this. It feels very Hollywood if he does. My heart however hopes Ruffalo or Rylance gets the nod.

Will win: Sylvester Stallone

Should win: Mark Ruffalo or Mark Rylance

Best Supporting Actress

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Having only seen two of the nominees and indeed only one of the two favourites, this is more a prediction of Oscar voters than my view based on the category as a whole. From the two I’ve seen I hope Alicia Vikander wins. She is superb in The Danish Girl, bringing the emotional heart to the story. It seems if anyone will take this from her tonight it’ll be Kate Winslet, a favourite at the Oscars, but I’m going to cross my fingers for Vikander.

Will win: Alicia Vikander

Best Original Screenplay

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Source: Variety.com

I always find the screenplay categories fascinating and think it’s unfair that they are sometimes viewed as the consolation to the films that miss out on the Best Picture award. From those I have seen I would love to see Inside Out win, as for me it was one of the most original films I’ve seen in a long time. However, as an animated movie, this seems unlikely. Therefore my vote goes to my second choice Spotlight, which I think will succeed here after its success in other awards and its standing as a Best Picture favourite. As my favourite of the Best Picture films I’ve seen, I hope it is recognised here for brilliantly bringing such an important subject to the screen in an engaging, interesting film.

Will win: Spotlight

Should win: Inside Out

Best Adapted Screenplay

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Source: Variety.com

The favourite here seems to be The Big Short and I suspect it will be successful on the night. I’ve recently finished Michael Lewis’s book and am incredibly impressed at how such a dense and complex story has been adapted in to a film which is relatively easy to follow and engages the audience in what could have been seen as a dry topic.

Will win: The Big Short

Best Cinematography

It’s seems very likely that Emmanuel Lubezki will win for a third year in a row (following Gravity and Birman) and that would be fine with me. One of the biggest strengths of The Revenant for me was how visually beautiful it is and a large part of that is down to his work.

Will win: Emmanuel Lubezki (The Revenant)

Best Original Score

My prediction for score goes to The Hateful Eight’s Ennio Morricone. The main reason – he has never won an Oscar before. This seems incredible to me when I think of all the wonderful film scores he is responsible for. Therefore I think the Academy will take this year to acknowledge him and his contribution to cinema.

Will win: The Hateful Eight (Ennio Morricone)

Best Song

Oh how this category has lost its excitement for me. The 80s and 90s seemed full of music videos of the latest song from a film, with clips from the movie within them. In fact in years gone by the theme song seemed to be a huge part of the film Not so now in my opinion and this year’s choices are less than thrilling. I’m a big Sam Smith fan, but unlike Skyfall I don’t see this as Oscar worthy. From the remaining choices I’m going to guess that Lady Gaga’s collaboration with Diane Warren will win for their song from The Hunting Ground.

Will win: ‘Til It Happens To You from The Hunting Ground

Best Animated Feature

I loved Inside Out. It’s one of the best films I’ve seen for a long time and had this category not existed I’d have expected it to be in the main Best Picture lineup. I’ll be stunned if this doesn’t prove to be another successful year for Pixar and a very worthy winner it is too.

Will win: Inside Out

Should win: Inside Out

Visual Effects

This seems to be a two horse race between Star Wars and Mad Max. It’s a tough call, as both are worthy winners. I’m sensing it’ll be a strong night for Mad Max in the creative categories, but I’m going to go with Star Wars for this one.

Will win: Star Wars

Film Editing

My vote here goes to Mad Max, whose editing is a huge part of creating its fast-paced action. It literally barely stops for breath from the moment it begins! It will be interesting just how well Mad Max does in these categories

Will win: Mad Max: Fury Road

Sound Editing & Sound Mixing

For those wondering (including me every year), sound editing relates to the creation of additional sounds in a film by sound technicians while sound mixing involves creating the overall soundscape of a film, mixing all the sounds you here in to one feature film. They are therefore different skills and may not necessarily go to the same film. Based on this year’s nominees, my choice for editing goes to Mad Max, while mixing goes to The Revenant which so successfully blends all the sounds in the film, particularly all the sounds of the natural landscape in which it is set.

Editing – Will win: Mad Max: Fury Road

Mixing – Will win: The Revenant

Production Design

I think this will again go to Mad Max, for creating such a unique world for this story, which draws the audience in so successfully as you travel across the barren desert landscape.

Will win: Mad Max: Fury Road

Costume Design

This is a hard choice and will be decided on whether the Academy goes for something more traditional or not. One of the favourites is Mad Max, which most recently won the BAFTA. I personally did love the costumes in The Danish Girl and felt they perfectly captured the 1920s era of the story. Or there is the more traditional choices of Cinderella or Carol. I’m curious to see which way this one goes.

Will win: Mad Max: Fury Road

Hair & Makeup

I think this will be another success for Mad Max, unless of course Leo’s scarred back has stayed in the minds of voters when they come to vote!

Will win: Mad Max: Fury Road

Foreign Language Film

I always regret having less knowledge of the foreign films category. My vote here is for Son of Saul, for which I have only heard good things from everyone who has seen it.

Will win: Son of Saul

Documentary Feature

My choice for this category is for Amy, the feature about the late singer Amy Winehouse. Met with some controversiality due to the family’s statements that they do not support the final product, I still think this will most likely take the award.

Will win: Amy

Documentary Short Subject

Another category in which I can only go with what I have heard and read about the nominees and therefore my prediction is for Body Team 12, which deals with Red Cross workers in Liberia during the Ebola crisis.

Will win: Body Team 12

Short Film: Live Action

Although I haven’t seen any of the short film nominees, my fingers are crossed for Stutterer, as it stars Matthew Needham (currently doing a brilliant job at the RSC as Hotspur on the King and Country tour). I’m determined to try and see this whether it wins or loses.

Will win (I hope): Stutterer

Short Film: Animated

This is perhaps the category I have heard least about and therefore this is one I can only take a guess at and say Bear Story!

So, that’s my set of predictions. In a few short hours all will be revealed! Feel free to let me know what you think will be successful this year.

 

 

 

Film Review – The Big Short

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My aim of seeing all eight Best Picture Oscar nominees moved one step closer after a recent trip to see one of the favourites to take the prize, The Big Short.

A film about the last financial crash may not immediately sound appealing or indeed funny to you; however Adam McKay’s adaptation of Michael Lewis’s book is an impressive and compelling film well worthy of your time. As someone currently reading the book, I can certainly say that McKay’s ability to turn what is quite dense and complex material in to a relatively easy to grasp script is to be commended. Best Picture aside, this is definitely a worthy contender for Best Adapted Screenplay.

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Steve Baum (Steve Carell) & his team question Jared Vennett’s (Ryan Gosling) proposition

The Big Short could have been made in to a serious film, taking the dire events of 2008 and converting them in to a dense drama, as has been the trend with other films on the crisis, such as Margin Call, which have failed to grab the interest of a wider audience. It could also have become a Michael Moore-style documentary. The fact the filmmakers haven’t chosen either of these paths is to their credit and is the key reason why the film has proven so popular. That isn’t to say it’s a laugh-a-minute comedy; it isn’t that at all. It does however brilliantly highlight the utter absurdity of the financial world that created the ticking time bomb that ultimately caused loss for so many people. Unless of course you were one of the few who could see it coming…

Another great choice, which aids in conveying such complex information in a more digestible form, is the frequent breaking of the fourth wall. Ryan Gosling (playing Jared Vennett) narrates parts of the film and the characters seemingly allow the audience to be in on the trick and often address you directly, almost to see if you think what is happening and being allowed to happen by Wall St. is as crazy as they do. It enables the audience to feel involved and engaged by the topic in a way that a dry film couldn’t. On top of this, the amusing cut-aways to “dummies guides to the more complex concepts” by the likes of Margot Robbie in a bubble bath, work wonderfully. McKay knows this is not a topic people engage with easily and challenges the instinct to switch off by presenting the material in a way that surprises you in to sitting up and paying attention.

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Christian Bale as the reclusive Michael Burry

Such tools also work so effectively here due to the quality and confidence of the cast. The film focuses on a small group of people who realised the dangers most were blind to and played the system at its own game. Arguably the source of all these people is Dr. Michael Burry (Christian Bale), a hedge fund manager whose interaction with the rest of the world is kept to the bare minimum. He communicates with investors by email and with colleagues via the scrawl on the white board outside his office. Bale has been Oscar nominated for his supporting role (this is really an ensemble piece with no true lead) and it is a great performance of a quirky, socially awkward character. Scenes in which he attempts to talk with others feel uncomfortable and he captures perfectly the essence of someone who sees himself as if in a bubble, separate from everyone else. However, he isn’t in the film that much and for me his performance is no more impressive than others.

 

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Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling)’s narration carries the audience through the events

In my view, the stand out performance is that of Steve Carrell, who plays Mark Baum (based on Steve Eisman), a jaded, emotionally troubled and suspicious manager of a Wall St. hedge fund, who after a meeting with Jared Vennett (based on Greg Lippmann), the cocky Deutsche Bank bond salesman who cottons on to Burry’s train of thought (played with greasy and arrogant aplomb by Ryan Gosling), realises the frightening possibility that the entire economy could very soon come crashing down and no one seems to have noticed.

His outrage and disgust at the stupidity, arrogance and downright suspect actions of everyone involved in the system that created the subprime mortgage sector, from the small town wannabes arranging mortgages to those they shouldn’t, through to the Wall St. suits and even the ratings agencies, mirrors how you feel watching it unfold before you. It seems utterly fantastical that this was the reality of the financial world and that it had ever been allowed to get so far out of hand. A scene in Las Vegas in which Baum meets a Mr Chau, a CDO manager, was one of my favourites. You see him grow angrier and angrier to the point where he is so appalled he has to leave before he is sick. Coupled with his shocking meeting with the ratings agencies in which he realises they don’t seem to care what is beneath the supposed triple A ratings they are dishing out, his utter disbelief is something you relate to as an audience! Carrell is thoroughly believable in the part and carried a lot of the emotional weight, whether comedically or otherwise.

 

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Charlie & Jamie (John Magaro and Finn Wittrock)

The third group are perhaps the most surprising players in this huge bet. Instead of being Wall St. types, Charlie and Jamie are young, ambitious guys who, after setting up a hedge fund in their garage, have set their sights higher after catching on to Vennett’s idea and seeing its potential. For help they turn to their mentor in the world of finance Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt) (based on Ben Hockett), whose disillusionment with Wall St. has him living off grid, growing seeds. The relationship between these three is lovely to watch as the younger men look up to Rickert, while he clearly admires their intelligence.

With these three distinct character strands covering such potentially mind-bending material, The Big Short could have lost its way. However, it moves from one to the next without losing pace or becoming repetitive. Instead it gives a greater insight in to the personalities of the varied, but small group who dared to bet against the  housing market.

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Brad Pitt as Ben Rickert

Crucially too, thanks to the script and the actors, you quite like them. Yes, ultimately their actions are being driven by the opportunity to make a fortune, but you don’t view them in the same way as the people they cross paths with on their road to success and it seems impossible that they could have prevented the crisis when so many people simply refused (or were unable) to see the inherent dangers. Ironically, Burry, Baum and Rickert and their teams seem, in some absurd way, honourable in a system of corrupt and morally defective people and by the end most of them aren’t smugly celebrating. Instead you sense their utter despair at what has happened, especially Baum.

The Big Short really is a superb film. It enables the wider world to take a closer look at the realities of what happened to the world’s economy a short time ago. It doesn’t suggest solutions. That isn’t its purpose and in flagging at its end that products called “bespoke opportunity tranches” are now being sold (effectively just another name for CDOs), it poses the question of whether any lessons were actually learnt. It’s refreshing that a film which is often darkly humorous is able to highlight the seriousness of these events and signpost the dangers for the future. If you only ever watch one film about the financial world, make sure it’s this one.

The Big Short is on general release throughout the UK. Watch the trailer here.

Film Review – The Danish Girl

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It took me far longer than planned to see The Danish Girl, a film I had been looking forward to ever since the first trailer was released last year. Overall, I wasn’t disappointed, finding this to be a genuinely beautiful and moving film.

Based on the book of the same name, it is a fictionalised account of the lives of two married Danish painters in the mid-1920s. Einar Wegener (Eddie Redmayne) is a respected and successful landscape artist, married to portrait artist Gerda (Alicia Vikander), who is struggling to find similar acclaim. On being asked by his wife to stand in for a female model, Einar’s unspoken, repressed feelings about his own identity start to come to the surface. Initially Gerda sees this as a game, creating a persona for Einar to become at functions he always detests attending with her. That person is Lili.

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Einar (Eddie Redmayne) posing for his wife Gerda (Alicia Vikander)

However, soon she cannot ignore the struggle which Einar is facing and what follows is an incredibly moving story of not only Lili Elbe (named after the river), who became one of the first known recipients of sex reassignment surgery, but also Gerda’s journey of acceptance that her life is going to be different from that she’s imagined.

The film’s success depends on the two central performances and the casting of Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander is its greatest strength. Redmayne is excellent at effectively playing two characters, Einar and Lili and I cannot imagine anyone else capable of the delicate beauty required for the roles in order to capture the emotional struggle of each one. His portrayal of Einar as he tries to understand his feelings is very believable. Scenes in which he is intently watching women, studying their mannerisms and movements, are handled perfectly by this hugely talented actor and scenes in which he visits various doctors (some of whom try to commit him) are heartbreaking. Redmayne is also superb as the shy, nervous Lili, as we watch her struggle to find her place, both in her relationship with Gerda and the wider world.

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The film’s greatest strength are th portrayals of Lili and Gerda

However for me, the emotional core of the film is Gerda, its other Danish girl and Alicia Vikander is superb throughout. She starts as the wife of a well-known artist, perhaps frustrated by her own career’s lack of such visibility and becomes someone recognised for her own talent, through the popularity of her paintings of Lili, which leads to their move to Paris. However, despite growing recognition for her art, Gerda has to learn to accept the loss of her husband. She clearly loves Einar and you feel her pain in a very real way as you watch her try and come to terms with losing him, while still being a strong, loving support for Lili. Indeed there were moments when I found myself angry with Lili for how her actions affected Gerda, such as when she admits to Gerda that she has secretly been visiting Henrik (Ben Whishaw). The power of Vikander’s performance made such feelings unavoidable for me and you become desperate for both women to be happy.

Although the focus of the film is understandably on its two leads there are lovely supporting performances. Matthias Schoenaerts is also very good as Einar’s childhood friend Hans Axgil, who ultimately develops a close bond with Gerda and is someone you hope will be there for her during such an emotional time and Ben Whishaw has a small, but important role in Lili’s journey to feel accepted for who she is.

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Matthias Schoenaerts as Hans Axgil

Although I very much enjoyed the film, I was conscious of the fact that this is a fictionalised account and this did somewhat frustrate me. For example, Henrik and Hans aren’t real people and Gerda sadly wasn’t there supporting Lili (who died after her fifth surgery, rather than her second) during her final days and I did find this a little frustrating when thinking about the film overall.

That said, director Tom Hooper has made a beautiful film, both visually (in both the sets, especially in their Paris flat and the costumes) and emotionally, due to the powerful performances of Redmayne and Vikander. I certainly felt invested in Lili and Gerda’s lives and did find the end very effecting. Although, in some respects, I think this performance by Redmayne is more impressive than the one that won him his Academy Award last year, I’ll be surprised if he is recognised two years in a row (he is a Brit after all). So far he is the lead actor Oscar nominee who moved me the most, but Leonardo DiCaprio impressed me in a completely different way in The Revenant. It’s a very close race between the two of them in my opinion. However, I’ll be sad for Vikander if she doesn’t win this year. She is wonderful in this film and a win for her would be lovely to see.

The Danish Girl is still on general release at cinemas throughout the UK. Watch the trailer here.

Film Review – Bridge of Spies

 

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The latest collaboration between Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, Bridge of Spies is a superb film and already one of my favourites of 2016. It is perhaps more incredible due to the fact that it is based on actual events, depicting one man’s determination to do what is right despite the risks to himself, during a politically dangerous time in the twentieth century.

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Mark Rylance (Rudolf Abel) & Tom Hanks (James B. Donovan)

Set during the height of the Cold War, the film recalls the arrest of a Russian KGB spy, Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance), in Brooklyn in 1957 and his subsequent trial. Determined to present the image of a fair process, an insurance lawyer James B. Donovan (Tom Hanks) is chosen by the government to represent him. A man of principle, Donovan is confronted with bias and brick walls as he mounts his defence of a man the whole country wants to see hanged. This clearly causes problems for Donovan (and indeed his family) in how he is perceived by the American public, especially once Donovan’s commitment to justice is viewed as contrary to the mood of the nation.

However, in a plot that perhaps seems as if created for a work of fiction, Donovan’s role in historical events became even more important as, on the downing of an American spy plane by the Soviet Union in 1962, it is he who is entrusted to negotiate an exchange – Abel for the U.S pilot Francis Gary Powers. However, Powers is not the only American prisoner, as the East German police have also recently captured an American economics student Frederic Pryor in Berlin. With no official acknowledged support from his government, Donovan puts himself at great risk to secretly travel to East Berlin (at the time of the building of the Wall), in the company of the CIA, to negotiate the exchange of Abel for Powers with the Russians. However, being the honourable man that he is, he is also determined to find a way to bring Pryor home too. He has no guarantee he won’t also be captured, as he finds himself in a dangerous and unstable country, as East is cut off from West Berlin.

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The film also highlights the panic in Berlin as the Berlin Wall is erected

As is to be expected by a filmmaker of the calibre of Spielberg, this is a film of the highest quality. The screenplay by Marc Charman and the Coen brothers is a tense, thrilling story, which has you on the edge of your seat as Donovan takes ever more risks, negotiating with the Russians and the Germans in order to secure a fair exchange. Having the negotiations in Germany rather than Russia means the films is able to highlight what it was like in Germany following the second world war. I found it incredibly interesting to think about that period of history from the perspective of those living in Berlin and found the scenes in which the Wall is erected, causing desperate panic, especially moving. The film also wonderfully captures the relationship that grows between Abel and Donovan, who come to respect each other’s sense of duty and service the longer they know one another.

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Tom Hanks is the perfect choice to play Donovan

The casting is also first class. Tom Hanks is the perfect choice for the principled Donovan and brings a weight and gravitas to the screen in a way that makes the audience truly admire him and feel invested in his journey. You almost hold your breath as he makes his way shivering through the snowy streets of East Berlin. His chemistry with Rylance is also crucial, as it is their relationship as Donovan and Abel that sets the tone for the rest of the film. Donovan may have only been assigned to the case initially, but Hanks is able to convey how he quickly grows to like and respect Abel as a man.

As a huge admirer of Mark Rylance for a number of years through his superb stage career, it is wonderful to see his talents recognised by a wider audience (and indeed he has been nominated for a Supporting Actor Oscar this year). He is excellent as Abel, bringing out the sense of humour and even kindness in a man who many at the time saw as evil. It is also an understated performance of a quiet man, which is perfect for Rylance, who can convey so much through so little. The film in fact begins with us following Abel going about a relatively quiet existence. You can see how he has managed to be a successful spy for so long – simply blending in with his surroundings and not drawing attention to himself. However, it is a relatively small role, which only makes me wonder at what would happen if filmgoers were to see him show just how much he is capable of as an actor in a larger part.

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Mark Rylance gives a wonderfully understated performance as Rudolf Abel

I’m thrilled to see Bridge of Spies nominated for Best Picture at this year’s Oscars. It certainly deserves the recognition, although I doubt it will win. We are all so used to Spielberg (and now even Spielberg and Hanks together) producing films of this quality that I suspect this expectation will work against it in terms of awards success. That aside, Bridge of Spies remains one of the most intelligent, thrilling, absorbing and deeply interesting and emotive stories I have seen in a long time. I felt uplifted by the end, as through this inspiring man, I was reminded of what we could all be capable of if we have the courage and the belief in ourselves to do what is right. Whether you still catch it at the cinema or see it on DVD, I cannot recommend this film enough.

Bridge of Spies is still showing at certain UK cinemas and will be released on DVD on 28th March 2016. Watch the trailer here.

Film review – The Revenant

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Continuing with my aim to have at least seen all of the Best Picture nominees before this year’s Oscars, on Wednesday I went to see the film with the most nominations, The Revenant. I admit that I wasn’t hugely optimistic about the prospect of sitting through this film after the trailer had set the scene of this being a pretty dismal slog. That said, I was actually pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this film.

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Leonardo DiCaprio & director Alejandro G.Iñárritu

Alejandro G.Iñárritu’s epic is inspired by the experiences of real life 19th century frontiersman Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio), who at the film’s start is a fur trapper amongst a party of American settlers. The danger they face couldn’t be made clearer than by the almost immediate, brutal attack by Arikara Native Americans, which brings to the screen some truly incredible, if not graphic scenes. The small group who survive look to their guide, Glass, to find them a safer route back to camp. However, not everyone likes Glass or his son Hawk (whose mother was Native American) as is made clear by John Fitzgerald (an almost unrecognisable Tom Hardy).

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The infamous bear attack is incredibly realistic

The grizzly bear attack is now widely known about and it is this horrific incident (which goes on for quite a long time and is frighteningly realistic) that results in Glass being mauled so badly it seems impossible he’ll survive. Captain Henry (Domhnall Gleeson) cannot bring himself to kill Glass and instead offers money to those willing to stay behind until he dies so that he can be given a proper burial. When one of those volunteers is Fitzgerald you know things will not end well. Events take a tragic turn when he (unbeknownst to the young Bridger (Will Poulter) who has also remained) murders Hawk, with Glass powerless to intervene, before leaving him for dead. Bridger, fearing for his life if he stays reluctantly follows Fitzgerald.

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A fight for survival for Hugh Glass

For the next two hours we are observers to Glass’s incredible journey to avenge his son’s murder. Never have I seen a film that captures better the almost inhuman ability of man to face the impossible and find the will to survive. We watch as Glass literally drags himself along, using all his survival skills to keep himself from death (whether from his wounds, the Natives, the Frenchmen in the area, wildlife or the elements). The further he gets on his path, the stronger he becomes and the more his resolve hardens. There seems no question that a showdown between him and Fitzgerald will happen. After all, it’s what Glass is living for.

The story of this film may seem dull to some, but I found this to be an incredibly cinematic experience. This feels as if it’s more than a film (perhaps aided by watching it on a huge IMAX screen). Due to the stunning, wild landscapes (the film mainly being filmed in Canada, including Alberta around Banff National Park) and the directing style of the film there were moments when I could almost believe I was actually there. I understand the director insisted on using natural light rather than electrical light and that choice certainly adds a weight of realism to the film.

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The film beautifully captures the rich, vast, natural landscapes of its setting

This immersive, sensory feeling is thanks to the brilliant work of cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (surely looking at his third Oscar in a row), who together with director Alejandro G. Iñárritu brings a brutal, visceral, but also visually rich and beautiful film to the screen. In between the violent scenes there are moments in which we watch the sky change colour, the rain start to fall from the clouds and the snow melt off the leaves. It could almost be a nature documentary in these quiet moments. It was this blend of tense action sequences, with calm, tranquil ones that took me the most by surprise and it works brilliantly in breaking up what is quite a bleak story. I would however say the film is too long, but then again by the end you really do feel the length of Glass’s arduous journey, which is perhaps the point.

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Tom Hardy gives an impressive performance as the cruel and cold Fitzgerald

There are some strong performances as well. Much has been said about whether this will finally earn DiCaprio his Oscar (this is his 5th acting nomination). As someone who thinks he should have won already (The Aviator in 2005 was his year in my opinion), he certainly deserves the award and his performance in The Revenant is worthy of the honour (impressing me in a very different way to Eddie Redmayne’s superb turn in The Danish Girl, a review of which will follow). He carries most of the film on his own, with many scenes having him completely alone, but he needs few words to bring the audience in to Glass’s world (just as well given the raspy voice he has after the bear attack leaves his throat slashed). The level of fitness DiCaprio must have needed is unimaginable, as Glass is both a hugely exhausting role, both physically and emotionally. He brilliantly handles scenes where everything is conveyed in his eyes – pain, despair, anger, loneliness, fear and determination as we watch him suffer horrible injuries, drag himself through the dirt, almost drown, be shot at with arrows by Natives and resort to unimaginable lengths to survive. Bear Grylls seems like an amateur after watching Glass! As an audience you are rooting for him every step of the way, which is all due to DiCaprio’s portrayal.

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There’s strong support from Will Poulter

Tom Hardy is also deservedly nominated for a supporting role and through The Revenant he continues to impress due to his versatility as an actor (right from his early days in Stuart: A Life Backwards for the BBC). His performance as the grizzled, half scalped, cold and self-serving Fitzgerald is impressive and believable. This is a man who puts himself before all others no matter the cost (which is almost understandable in this dangerous, unforgiving land) and you certainly see why characters such as Bridger are scared of him and what he is capable of. It’s such a complete performance; not just in terms of appearance, but the lilt of his gruff, often almost unintelligible voice, his posture and his ability to speak volumes with few words. I loved the moment you know he has realised Glass is alive and no doubt coming after him. It may be one of this man’s first real moments of fear in his life and it shows.

Praise also needs to go to Will Poulter as Bridger, whose character is caught between doing the honourable thing and his fear of death. He may go along with leaving Glass, but you never really blame him. He faces an impossible choice for someone so young and clearly intimidated by Fitzgerald.

The mood of the film is also greatly enhanced by a fine score by composer Ryuichi Sakamoto (with Alva Noto and Bryce Dessner). It is a powerful, haunting and rich soundscape that captures the essence of the period in which the story is set and well as the rugged beauty of the wilderness.

Overall I really did enjoy The Revenant. It is truly a cinematic experience and although used too often in my view, a film which truly deserves to be called an epic. It is hugely ambitious in scope, but its director, cast and crew deliver with its action, emotion and its superb way of capturing the natural beauty of the setting. There certainly aren’t many films made like The Revenant these days. You may not think it is your kind of film, but I definite urge you to see it, especially on the big screen.

The Revenant is on general release across the UK. View the trailer here.  

 

Film Review – Spotlight

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As the Awards season rumbles on, yet another film nominated for all the major awards opened in the UK last week. However, this powerful film is one that deserves attention regardless of nominations, as it shines a light on a dark, unsettling, unimaginable, but sadly very real crime – one which must never be ignored again.

Spotlight is based on the true events that took place in Boston during 2001, when the Boston Globe newspaper’s specialist investigative team, Spotlight, began to investigate the circumstances surrounding a local Catholic priest accused of multiple cases of child abuse. A story previously given little attention by the paper, its new editor believes it is surely something worthy of closer scrutiny. What they initially think to be a dreadful isolated case becomes a far larger horror, with almost 90 priests in the Boston area uncovered as being potentially linked to abuse of children, some going back decades and across different parishes, with the added revelation that this was something the wider Catholic Church was not only aware of, but also covered up. Such incredible investigative journalism earned the Spotlight team a Pulitzer prize and now their story has been brought to the screen (a process in which the original team were fully involved).

spotlight-xlargeIt is a sad fact of today’s society that over the last decade since this discovery, the link between Catholic priests and child abuse is no longer a revelation to anyone. We all know it happened, even though it still seems hard to comprehend. However, it was through crucial events such as the work of Spotlight, that this dreadful truth was revealed. The events depicted on screen caused a domino effect as more and more victims came forward. Indeed one of the most powerful aspects of the film when a list of places worldwide in which similar abuse has since been uncovered is shown during the closing credits – it is three columns of locations, for three separate screen shots. The message is clear – this was not an isolated occurrence and is happening everywhere. It is certainly a chilling visual for the audience to take away with them.

I thought this was a superb film. It is engaging and engrossing and the tension is built gradually as the team’s discoveries grow and more and more evidence falls in to place. It’s a thrilling look at investigative journalism and the audience is with the team every step of the way, as they trawl through old church directories and conduct door to door interviews. Crucially, you like the team and admire them as individuals, especially as it becomes clear that the wider community is putting pressure on them to stop. The Church is a huge part of Boston and priests seen as a higher authority. Court documents disappear and people close ranks, emphasising the power of the Church is this very Catholic community. A scene in which Robby (Michael Keaton), Spotlight’s editor, is at his former Catholic school, facing pressure to “get on the same page” as the people now in charge, is a frightening reminder that any child could have been unknowingly at risk. The priest in question coached hockey. Maybe, Robby says, they are all lucky none of them picked the hockey team.

90Scenes in which Rachel McAdams goes house to house asking questions and is confronted by an elderly former priest who freely admits his actions, but thinks there is nothing wrong with them, as he got no personal pleasure from it, is only made more chilling by how normal he appears and also be the fact that a few houses down there is a school, with children coming and going. Rachel McAdams wonderfully conveys the horror of the possibilities without uttering a word.

This is indeed a superbly acted film. One of its greatest assets is the strength of its ensemble cast, anchored by the performances of the Spotlight team of Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Brian d’Arcy James and Mark Ruffalo. Each plays a very different personality, but together they are a strong unit, conveying the commitment and passion with which these individuals carried out their work over so long (the origianl story broke in the paper in January 2002). Like many critics (and indeed awards voters) I was particularly impressed by Mark Ruffalo. Playing reporter Mike Rezendes, he is horrified by the revelations and is relentless in his pursuit of the evidence. The scenes in which he doggedly tracks down court documents are quite thrilling and as his anger grows, you feel it too, as it’s exactly how you feel yourself.

untitledThere are also strong performances from Stanley Tucci who plays the Armenian lawyer Mitchell Garabedian, determined to bring these claims to trial and Liev Schreiber as the paper’s new editor, an outsider to the area and also, as a Jewish man, someone able to have a more objective view on the Catholic Church. He seems surprised the case that starts the investigation wasn’t given more attention locally. It soon seems apparent that deep down no one in this heavily religious community really wanted to think about what could be happening, which is highlighted by neither him nor Tucci’s Garabedian being Catholic.

What also impressed me was how un-Hollywood the film is, for which praise must go to its screenwriters Tom McCarthy (also directing) and Josh Singer. The subject matter needed to be handled sensitively and clearly they have put a great deal of thought in to how to make a commercial, engaging film, which audiences can sit through, without sensationalising the events. There are no explicit scenes of what victims suffered and no lengthy scenes in which we hear the experiences of any one victim. The filmmakers treat the audience with intelligence – we know what is being spoken of without them needing to resort to scenes which would have felt sensational and unnecessary. Instead the focus is on the challenges Spotlight faced in bringing the evidence together in way which would be irrefutable by the Church.

I was hugely impressed by Spotlight and it is a very worthy contender for Best Picture this year. More importantly, it is a vital film in bringing such an important story to the wider film-going public. It’s true that this isn’t an easy subject to hear about, but as the film makes very clear, ignorance and looking the other way went on for far too long. Everyone should see this film. I certainly won’t forget it.

Spotlight is on general release in UK cinemas. View the trailer here.

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