Sunday, 31 January 2016

The Danish Girl (2016) (Review)

Fresh from his Best Actor win at 2015's Academy Awards for his role as Stephen Hawkin in the Theory of Everything, Eddie Redmayne's next venture continues the fully-immersive character work to tell the story of Lili Elbe, one of the first known recipients of sex reassignment surgery and documented transsexual. Joined by Alicia Vikander and directed by Tom Hooper, the film aligned as one of the most promising films of the award season, picking up two nominations for its charming leads, but just how good is biographical drama about one of the most progressive scientific and social movements of all time?

The Danish Girl documents the gender realignment of Lili Elbe (Eddie Redmayne) who felt trapped in the body of Einar Wegener, an artist from mid-1920 Copenhagen. When his wife, Gerda Wegener (Alicia Vikander) asks her husband to step in for a no-show female model, a feeling is awakened within him as he slowly morphs and adapts the feminine traits that correspond with the new muse. As time goes on, Einar realises that Lili is the closest he has ever come to finding and accepting his true self and with support from his loving wife, progresses on the path of self-discovery and identity in the face of an unaccepting and unadapted society. Multiple barriers stand in the path to true happiness, but Lili is ready to face them all to correct the error in nature that is her body.

Without a doubt, the film would not be the success it is without the two enthralling leads. Eddie Redmayne depicts the physical and emotional transformation of this inspiration real-life figure that is in equal parts understated and precise. Each moment, movement and flicker is performed with necessity, taking the audience on the journey of self-discovery; we both see and feel this transformation with unequivocal certitude and authenticity. Redmayne embodies the two individuals - Elbe and Wegener - as they become one to a degree very few others could manage. He is undoubtedly compelling, similarly to Vikander; while her character is confused, unsure and uncertain how best to support her husband, what remains unwatered is her loyalty to him. Standing next to her husband throughout, despite being fully aware that things will never be the same again, is perfectly demonstrated by her near faultless, emotionally-charged and gripping performance that is as important, if not more, than Redmayne's character(s), for it also teaches the audience acceptance, integrity and sincerity. Redmayne and Vikander perfectly compliment each other and are truly the emotional heart of the film.

Thematically deep and full of heart, the narrative remains understated yet absorbing. We truly connect with these characters and their journey, together and apart; viewers are treated like adults in understanding what many still consider today a complex and testing issue, despite being in the 21st century. Its relevance in modern society today keeps the film feeling restrictive, as done so by a lack of creativity behind the lens. Visually, nothing is added to the film that its two leads don't already do and lacks the technicalities that make other releases stand out (noticeably, The Revenant, which I reviewed previously). Whist the Copenhagen and Parisian landscape are beautifully displayed, nothing exciting or new is evident - and whilst this is not always needed, its deeply frustrating to see such high talent in front of the camera weakened by those behind it. Les Miserables and The King's Speech proved Tom Hooper to be an effective director but he failed to translate any of that technicality into The Danish Girl, which is as frustrating as it is disappointing. It is also because of this that the film doesn't always reach the emotional heights that are required from a film of this subject matter and poignance to fully work.

The Danish Girl's strengths are very clearly the outstanding work of Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander (who is very much equal to Redmayne in importance, talent and soul, I'll have you know Academy) who each translate the abundance of emotions found within the real-life narrative for all to see and experience, blossoming before our ver eyes. Whilst it lacks artistry behind the camera, when the film is effective in its emotional execution, you cannot help by feel choked up and engrossed by the story of a woman who just wants to be herself - her true self. The ending, as heartbreaking but affirmative as it is, ends the film on a high note (that is until at least one of them pick up an Oscar next month) and you can't help but feel enlightened and informed.

Summary: The Danish Girl is poignant, heartbreaking and touching, elevated by captivating performances by its two leads, but only occasionally reaches the emotional heights it has the ability to, due to little ingenuity behind the camera.

Highlight: The final moments of the film are heartbreaking but affirmative, bringing about one of the most touching and stirring moments in cinema.


2016 Oscars: Best Picture Nominees Ranked

Eight films are to go head-to-head in the race to win this year's Best Picture award at the 2016 Oscars this Sunday evening. While it may be severely lacking in other categories, the diversity of genre and style of this year's nominees is refreshing and interesting to see, making my tasks at ranking the releases all the more challenging; critical acclaim, appreciation and nominations aside, very little links these contenders as they race for supremacy. Everything from small, dependent indies to massive blockbuster hits have made the cut; films about loss and films about discovery define the mix and characters driven by freedom, integrity and reputation populate these films, illustrating and representing a wider disparity of genre and style than we have ever seen before.

The Big Short, Bridge of Spies, Brooklyn, The Martian, Max Max: Fury Road, Room, The Revenant and Spotlight will all hoping to pick up the superlative golden statue when the winner is announced at the end of the evening - which is arguably the biggest night of the cinematic calendar - and while some frontrunners have emerged and others are turning up out of formality, I've taken a look at all eight films and ranked them to establish my preference in who to hope emerges victorious. Take a look at my mini-review on each of the films below and I'll keep my fingers crossed that one of my favourites - and more importantly that my least favourite does not - emerge successful. Tomorrow I plan to make my predictions on the win, so this is entirely on who or what I would like to win.

So, here is my ranking, in descending order,  starting with one of my least favourite and/or enjoyable films in a good while is...

8. The Big Short

Honesty is the best policy, so with that in mind, I'll put it out there straight away; I really, really disliked The Big Short. It is the only one of this year's crop in which I found very little enjoyment in and would go as far as to say I intensely hated. I won't look at the Oscars the same again if it pics up the Best Picture award when the category is abundant with genuine, moving, emotional, revolutionary and sensitive films. But what does my thoughts count for when the film has been nominated for five Academy Awards including Best Director, Best Supporting Actor, and, of course, Best Picture? At the moment, for some audacious reasons unbeknownst to me, the film is considered a front runner for the superlative prize.

Messy, unbalance and tonally all over the place, some of the performances (no names named) are so paint-by-numbers you can see the paintbrush and the narrative is somehow plagued by being both overlong and lacking clarity and depth. When it does attempt to clarify itself, it comes across incredibly condescending and patronising, with too many characters you care very little about bounding all over the place, cluttering the piece with important and intolerable individuals who seemingly seek to intensify my hatred for the film. This is a film that doesn't know how to treat an audience and it very clearly shows.

Unsure whether it is a comedy, drama or political piece, The Big Short's absence of a clear direction inhibits a successful execution, resulting in a film that is as irredeemably smug as it is shallow. living in the shadow of the far superior Wolf of Wall Street of a similar thematic link just a couple of years ago, the satirical scattershot of the 2008 financial crisis is facile and laborious, cultivating feelings associated with the economic crash - the subject matter of this malapert mockery - itself. Christian Bale comes out least scathed, offering at least some depth and complexity to the character, with John Margaro and Finn Wittrock at least attempting to assert something different - you know, actual meaning - that otherwise has very few redeemable features, which begins crumbling under the weight of its own self-importance just moment after it begins. The talking heads, featuring some bizarre and bold cameos, are hit and miss, but at least something in the film actually sticks the landing.

Summary: Smug, shallow, facile and unbalanced, The Big Short cements its place of one of the most defective Oscar nominees in a long while, but at least my search for the worst film of the year is over.

Highlight: Selena Gomez's appearance. I never would have ever thought to be saying that about an Oscar nominated picture.


7. Bridge of Spies

Bridge of Spies may be an outsider in the Best Picture race, but it is a nominee nonetheless, totalling six nominations across the event. Steven Spielberg's historical drama-thriller film boasts an impressive cast of Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance, leading the script written by Matt Charman and the Coen Brothers.

Entertaining and factual, Bridge of Spies is an undeniably solid film. Hans does a stellar job as James B. Donovan in conveying his remarkable tale and journey, but is somewhat outshone by the supporting Rylance whose portrayal of Rudolf Abel - a prosecuted Soviet spy - evokes sympathy and determination, making him a very strong contender in this Best Supporting race. Spielberg presents both Berlin and New York with opulence and detail for an overall solid espionage thriller.

Yet, with such a terrific line-up, it never feels like a sum of its outstanding parts. For their acclaim and success, one would expect that the stars to align to illustrate a defying tale and result in an exceptional film, but it never reaches the levels of excellence expected - it rather falls short. It feels stuffy and only ever partially interesting, opposed to immersive or engaging, somewhat inert and stagnate in places. In a nutshell, it never reaches its full potential despite having all the elements in place to do so. It still remains a solid and entertaining picture but not quite what one should expect for a Best Picture nominee.

Summary: Bridge of Spies is a solid espionage biopic with a pedigree of individuals who do not quite live up to expectations. It never really comes together despite some strong showings.

Highlight: Rylance's performance is particularly refreshing to see, a coup for the film.


6. The Martian

Not only was Ridley Scott's The Martian the tenth highest-grossing film of 2015 and the biggest box office success of this year's nominees, it further managed an impressive seven Academy Award nominations, including prestigious nods for Best Picture and Best Actor. The Matt Damon vehicle was an indisputable critical and commercial success, further fulfilling the increasingly prevalent pattern of the 'lost in space' narratives that began back in 2013 with Gravity and was followed by Interstellar in 2014. Does The Martian live up to the hype and celebration is has received?

Compelling and enthralling, The Martian achieve in striking a balance between fact and enjoyment, suspending the often weighty material with a refreshing incorporation of humour, setting itself a part from the aforementioned 'lost in space' stories. Directorial effervescence certainly helps this picture, but the entire piece is elevated by a formidable performance from Damon, who more than earns his Oscar nominations with the gravitas of the performance. Resilience, fortitude and courage define the character of Mark Watney, who battles against the odds to survive his mission, all of which are excellently demonstrated by Damon with great belief and likability. Scott's direction helps portray the isolation of Mars and is a visual treat.

Damon certainly exiles with his performance, apparently battling against a problematic structure; The Martian ricochets between Earth and mars at an inconsistent rate, never staying long enough to develop characters or themes throughout the Earth narrative, beyond that obvious that manifests through Damon's performance. Cluttered and overrun with characters who often fail to connect, Jessica Chastain and a surprisingly good Kristen Wiig are the only ones to truly connected with their characters and give the audience some interest outside of Damon's personal story.

Summary: The Martian is an enthralling, if inconsistent tale, that balances fact and comedy well, all of which is supported by an affirming performance by Matt Damon.

Highlight: Matt Damon's performance who certainly earns with Best Actor nomination.


5. The Revenant

The Martian and The Revenant fought a very tough battle for sixth/fifth place, but the mesmerising and enchanting direction by Alejandro G. Inarritu pushes it further up the ranking.

Summary: A committed performances from Leonardo Dicaprio, matched with memerising direction from Alejandro G. Inarritu culminates in an unflinchingly grim, if overstretched film, that is best experienced on the big screen for full immersion.

Highlight: Alejandro G. Inarritu's direction and the outstanding cinematography applied are all-encompassing of the film and the truly unique selling point.


4. Mad Max: Fury Road

Today, I realised than an injustice has been made. An incredibly distressing injustice. Dismissive of, and arguably prejudice towards, I immediately wrote off Mad Max: Fury Road as a testosterone-fuelled excuse of a film that offered very little progression and narrative ground, populated instead by audacious special effects and visuals in what was slowly becoming a one-note genre. Just how wrong can one person be?

Even after critical acclaim and goodwill came in abundance for the film - which hit cinemas back in May 2015 - I neglected to even entertain the idea that Fury Road was the injection the genre so intensely needed. My eyes rolled as the film scooped 10 Oscar nominations, the second highest haul of this year's collection. In my bid to become insightful towards the acclaim it experienced, and to the category in general, I decided to do my upmost best to view each film with an open mind, electing to go for Mad Max: Fury Road to get it out of the way so the real Oscar contenders could begin to show. And now I owe the film an apology.

Arguably one of the greatest actions films of all time, Fury Road is fuelled by a rip-roaringly intense ride the entire journey. Weaving easily between all-out action, character development and stunning cinematography - all of which is topped off with an immense soundtrack and score - it truly is worth the Best Picture nomination I was initially so sceptical of. Sensually smashing through gender stereotypes and powered by feminist influences and themes, it really is refreshing to see an action film - or any film at all really - depicting such a wide range of characters and counter-types. Add that to the invigorating visuals and inventive direction, the film is quite the joy to watch and immerse yourself in.

Not without its flaws, it's pulverising action is occasionally exhausting and sometimes in need of a different approach, which is certainly limited by its wasteland desert setting that spreads for miles and miles, almost in a beautiful long take. As generally well-crafted as it is, the third act begins to lose the balance between action and character but is still well-above the rest and something completely creative and fresh. Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron and Nicholas Hoult bring it all to the performance and it certainly tells; I am positive that Theron's take of Furiosa will be an iconic delivery for years to come.

Summary: Mad Max: Fury Road is visually exhilarating, narratively progressive and defiant of the stereotypes that so often bog down the genre, meaning it produced invigorating, if exhausting results that should be remembered for a long time to come for reinventing the wheel.

Highlight: The way in which it totally rejuvenates the genre and defied all expectations.


3. Brooklyn

Historical period dramas aren't really for me. I've never been particularly interested or compelled by them in the slightest, meaning that Brooklyn was something pretty new for me. Nominated for three Academy Awards and receiving extremely solid reviews and acclaim, it may be a Best Picture outsider, but is it worthy of its nomination?

Generally, Brooklyn is a really lovely film. Decedent and opulent, as well as emotionally-charged, Brooklyn should be truly thankful of Saroirse Ronan's shattering lead performance (who I have finally forgiven for the tragedy that was The Host). Gracing each and every scene with sensitivity, fragility but an inner power, Ronan captivates the audience and takes them on the journey of a girl with her heart split between two homes - Brooklyn and Ireland. Very few manage to come close to the heart and soul that Ronan puts into this film, but Julie Walters is scintillating and memorable in her supporting role - if the competition wasn't so fierce, I would be appalled at her absent nomination, but her role just is not large enough to warrant it, especially when some players are being demoted from lead to supporting. Heartwarming and affirmative, its simplicity is a wonder to behold in a cinematic landscape so occupied with people and films thinking too much and trying too hard.

Whilst Brooklyn may loses it magic and spirit when it leaves the titular suburb by lessening conviction and starting to fade, when we reunite with the city that initially brought so much magic, the film really succeeds again. This was another tightly fought battle with Fury Road, but my niggles (and they were only niggles) were slightly fewer for Brooklyn, so they beat it to the finish line. 

Summary: Warm and affirmative, Brooklyn's magic and soul lies in a stunning performance from Saroirse Ronan in this decadent and opulent ode to an equally compelling suburb.

Highlight: Ronan's performance is most certainly Oscar-worthy and I wouldn't at all bet against her to swoop the Best Actress prize.


2. Spotlight

The rating for Spotlight has improved since my initial review for how much the film has stuck with me; I catch my self continually thinking about it, and has made a real impact on me - as a film should.

Summary: Spotlight is captivating for its grounded take on the real life investigative work performed by selfless individuals, which is in turn demonstrated by a cast who never lionise and instead approach with subtly and poise for Oscar-worthy performances.

Highlight: In a film this 'dark', highlight is probably the incorrect word, but the scene that stands out is the montage sequence with a chilling rendition of 'Silent Night' playing over the top. That, and the power of the final title cards will stick with me long after I leave the theatre.


1. Room

Room is exactly the film the Oscars were conceptualised to celebrate. Poignance and emotion define this harrowing, yet life-affirming picture about a mother and child imprisoned between four walls and  their battle and determination to escape, as well as their apprehension in acclimatising to the outsider world they have been starved of. As uncomfortable and harrowing as this film is, a plethora of beauty can be found in the Lenny Abrahamson picture that has won my support for the Best Picture award at 2016's Oscar ceremony.

Very much a tale of two halves, Room explores the dynamics between a mother and son who have known nothing but each other since their confinement, as we join their search for freedom and release, utterly immersed and compelled for them for each and every moments. An expansion of humanism and depth, despite the harrowing subject matter that is incorporated, but does not define this film, allowing us to explore the world of our protagonists without feeling detached or isolated from them, intruding or invasive, all of which is helped tremendously by the impressive directorial panache that emphasises the contracts between the worlds with detail and clarity.

It feels criminal that I have gotten so far into this review without truly acknowledging the heart, soul and magnetism of this film - Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay bring absolutely everything to the forefront of this film, with such precision and believability despite the heartwrenching and unimaginable circumstances. Larson carries the emotional weight poetically and profoundly with such conviction and rawness that you become totally mesmerised by her. Tremblay, equally convincing, brings an naivety that is beautifully portrayed and more powerful than I imagined a child actor could possibly achieve. What's even better than these two individual actors those, is the bond and dynamism they lovingly craft. I have never seen chemistry like this and it makes for the magnificence and captivating moments between them that this film centralises.

I cannot begin to commend the beauty that is found in this film. Inspiration, life affirming and tender, it explores it themes in unflinching detail, but is all the more rewarding for doing so. Larson more than deserves her Oscar nomination and I will cheer her on if she does. For Tremblay not to receive a nod himself is an upset, but he has such a prosperous career ahead of him. Room is a completely stunning and compelling film, already an absolute favourite of mine

Summary: Room is a stunning portrait of the unconditional love between two people placed in the most unimaginable situation. Life affirming, tender and heartfelt, I have found my Best Picture winner.

Highlight: It is incredible difficult to narrow it down to one moment, but it truly is the performances that make this film - Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay are absolute forces to be reckoned with and translate the emotion so profoundly. 



And that's it! The definite (well, for now anyway) ranking of the eight Best Picture nominees. Whilst my allegiances lie predominantly with Room, I will not be all that upset if Spotlight nabs the award. But nothing could be worse than The Big Short winning. Please no. 

Let me know your rankings, thoughts and opinions and make sure you check back tomorrow where I will make my final predictions before the ceremony that evening! 

Friday, 29 January 2016

The Revenant (2016) (Review)

The Revenant was practically conceptualised as Oscar Bait; an award-winning director fresh off his Best Director win, an actor who has seemingly spent his career chasing Oscar glory, a narrative reflecting an unflinching battle against all odds and the perfect release timing made this film quite the contender for award season. It seems that all has paid off well so far, with the film sweeping up an incredible 12 nominations for the 88th Academy Awards - the highest of any film this season - and more than enough Golden Globes and other accolades. That sort of hype is not always good, as it means expectations were almost as high as the stakes for the characters, in this brutal, epic adventure film starring Leonardo DiCaprio and directed by Alejandro G. Inarritu.

Hugh Glass (Leonardo Dicaprio) and his fellow hunters are suddenly ambushed and forced to flee the harrowing bloodshed at the hands of a Native American tribe. Disturbing a grizzly bear with cubs, he is then mauled within inches of his life, forcing his group to carry him on their journey to safety - a decision that does not rest well with all. Electing to stay behind with him in return for money, John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) deceives Jim Bridger (Will Poulter) into leave him for dead and killing his half-native Son in the process. A shell of his former self, Glass attempts to avenge his counterparts and unleash hell upon them in the torturous way he dealt with himself, dragging himself out of the grave and back into civilisation to the see the peregrination through with the most deadliest of consequences.

The Revenant has been constructed to bring a truly magnificent cinematic experience to the big screen, executed in a breathtaking fashion by Inarritu, who captures every landscape, expression and emotion with such precision and clarity that everything feels true, authentic and utterly absorbing. His ambition is irrefutable and almost always works, with elongated and extended shots intensifying the sheer brutality of the narrative, apparent with the infamous bear scene which is is rarely interrupted in a way to increase the tension, and the incredible opening ten minutes, which may be one of my favourite opening sequences in film history for its absolute and thoroughgoing detail and direction. His direction is immersive and arresting, something very few can execute with such resolution. It defines the film and I cannot speak highly enough of the aesthetics and layers it brings to the film - it's like nothing I have ever seen before.

Visually compelling and thematic rich, Leonardo DiCaprio further intensifies the film with poise, determination and grit, evidently pushing himself into territory previously unexplored by this seasoned actor with quite the filmography. As the magnetic focal point otherwise lacking in someone to root for, he portrays the mettle of a demolished and broken man seamlessly, aligning himself well with the prestigious golden statue that will be presented next month. Tom Hardy - despite a sketchy accent - serves the narrative well in a supportive capacity, with his vindictive nature warranting a venomous reaction from both the audience and the leading man. Domhnall Gleeson and Will Poulter's offbeat casting feels out of place on more than a few occasions, but they generally perform well, especially considering the bitter conditions and harsh landscape they face. It's decent but nothing too spectacular.

Where the film begins to unravel, however, is as the film plods along through its 156 minute runtime. Unbalanced pacing and an overstretched narrative leads the film to feel occasionally void of any progressive substance and further development, a hapless case of style over substance. As undeniably accomplished and skilful as it is, the extended runtime often detracts from the actual enjoyment of the film, stagnating and deteriorating the entertainment aspect as it plods along. In fact, at the very beginning of the film a character comments "I know you want this to be over", but little did I expect for it to resonate so truly as we approached the two hour mark. Furthermore, it drags as Glass looks for freedom yet his eventual release is over in seconds, resulting in something anti-climatic and throwaway, causing for a disparity and lack of balance that is a little disconcerting for a film with such talent involved. That said, this isn't really a film to be enjoyed as such, more to be appreciated and acknowledged for its masterful approach and gritty subject matter.

When it works, it really works; outstanding visuals, a solid direction and superb acting culminate in an undeniably strong film, all of which is unfortunately weakened by uneven pacing, an overstretched runtime and a number of liberties taken with the narrative, that make it all slightly convenient and bordering on unbelievable in many instances.  I can put that aside though, as The Revenant is the type of film the big screen was made for - a cinematic experience of mental and physical intensity for both the characters and the audience. Equally savage and poetic, dark and light, The Revenant is a film of great disparity, but one that must be experienced on the biggest screen possible to appreciate everything for how it is intended.

Summary: A committed performances from Leonardo Dicaprio, matched with memerising direction from Alejandro G. Inarritu culminates in an unflinchingly grim, if overstretched film, that is best experienced on the big screen for full immersion.

Highlight: Alejandro G. Inarritu's direction and the outstanding cinematography applied are all-encompassing of the film and the truly unique selling point.

REVISED - 7.5/10
(ORIIGNAL - 7/10)

Sunday, 10 January 2016

2016 Oscar Shortlist Predictions

2015's most lauded and celebrated films will inch ever closer to the coveted golden statue next week, when the shortlist is finally announced for the 88th Academy Awards categories. Thursday will see the unveiling of the success selection, marking the final sprint for Oscar glory, with the winners announced in the prestigious event on February 28th.

What is generally perceived to represents the pinnacle of the film industry, many actors and filmmakers dream of being bestowed with a nomination a lone, for what is surely a euphoric sensation. I have compiled the list of the films, actors, actresses and filmmakers that I expect will be basking in these emotions in just a few days time. Whilst I acknowledge not giving each of these films they attention they undoubtedly deserve, it's an amalgamation of goodwill, general buzz,  strong reviews and flat-out hope that has helped me form these lists for the most engaging and captivating categories.

Best Picture

The Big Short
Bridge Of Spies
Inside Out
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
The Revenant

As Bruce Davis, an previous Academy executive director once said, "a Best Picture nomination should be an indication of extraordinary merit". We've had a plethora of strong, gripping and intense releases this year, and assuming all ten slots are filled this year, I expect it to be quite a diverse celebration of the best. To note, I truly, resolutely believe that Inside Out should be elevated from an established Best Animation nomination (and probably win) to play in the big league for all that it achieved in being a tender, heartfelt and insightful film. I also believe that this ceremony may mark an opportunity for financially bigger films - Mad Max and The Martian - to be celebrated and praised, erasing opposition that the Academy tend to avoid these releases. It should be very, very interesting.

Results: Whilst only eight films were nominated out of a possible ten, all were included on my prediction list. Very disappointing to see Inside Out fail to cross over from the Best Animated to Best Picture as it so richly deserved to and surprising to see Carol fail to garner a nomination.

Best Director

Alejandro G. Inarritu (The Revenant)
Ridley Scott (The Martian)
Steven Spielberg (Bridge Of Spies)
Todd Haynes (Carol)
Quentin Tarantino (The Hateful Eight)

Direction has become almost as critical in films as the acting and narrative nowadays, possessing the ability to truly make or break a film. These Directors have managed to enrapture and captivate audiences with a clear and distinctive direction. Some are outlandish and audacious (Tarantino) and some are more subtle and understated (Haynes) but all are worthy of at least a nod.

Results: Well this threw up some surprises, to say the least. Only one of my predictions were correct - Alejandro G. Inarritu - and although I'm not shocked at George Miller's inclusions, the others proved a little surprising.

Best Actor

Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl)
Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant)
Matt Damon (The Martian)
Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs)
Tom Hanks (Bridge of Spies)

Each manage to convey intended emotions almost effortlessly, with many giving performances unlike anything we have seen from their filmography before. One common theme that links them is their perseverance and resilience, elevating the entire release beyond that lying in the foundations.

Results: 4/5 for this one, with only Tom Hanks substituted for Bryan Cranston, thanks his work in Trumbo - a film that had otherwise gone completely under my radar.

Best Actress

Brie Larson (Room)
Cate Blanchett (Carol)
Charlotte Rampling (45 Years)
Jennifer Lawrence (Joy)
Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn)

I would strongly argue that the females have outshone their counterparts this year, offering dazzling performances that provide empowerment and inspiration. I've spoken about my love for Jennifer Lawrence before and I do nothing but pray that the Academy recognise her for the faultless performance in Joy, in what was otherwise considered a weaker film. It's definitely a strong category - I'm holding out for a nomination for Emily Blunt too, but fear she may have been lost in this hotly-contested race.

Results: 5/5! Someone point me to the prize table, please and thank you. (Yes @ J-Law)

Best Supporting Actor

Benicio Del Toro (Sicario)
Christian Bale (The Big Short)
Mark Ruffalo (Spotlight)
Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies)
Slyvester Stallone (Creed)

Supporting cast members are just as important as their leads today, managing to perform exceedingly well in a smaller capacity but required to make an indispensable impact. These Supporting Actors have all managed to do, but will be a really difficult one to call, as no one will has really advanced from the (solid) pack.

Results: Only Benicio Del Toro switched out for Tom Hardy in this instance, who I'm incredibly annoyed I left off my list/forgot.

Best Supporting Actress

Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl)
Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight)
Kate Winslet (Steve Jobs)
Rachel McAdams (Spotlight)
Rooney Mara (Carol)

This is one of the most difficult categories to call - some of these filed under the 'supporting' headings could just as easily be classified as the lead. Vikander and Mara, particularly, should be under the Best Actress category but research has lead me to believe they will more than likely be downgraded  (undeservingly so, from what I can gauge) to supporting. Still, this will be a tough one, and taken up right to the wire.

Results: 5/5 again. Thank you, I'll be back next year.

Watching the Oscar race unfold has intrigued me over the past couple of years in particular, so I am truly excited to see how my calls match the actual shortlist on Thursday. Sometime before the 'big day', I'll call my winner and the winner from the finalised list, so be sure to check back for that. Let me know your opinions and who you think will win big when it comes to the nominations!


Overall, a pretty strong set of Oscar nominations. Below are a few of the biggest things to take away from this year's haul.

  •  Surprised at a lack of appreciation for Carol in Best Picture and Director - everything I've heard has been blooming with positivity and esteem.
  • Pleasantly shocked at the success of bigger, more commercially successful films (i.e. Mad Max's 10 nomination haul and The Martian's triumphs) flourishing where the Academy are usually so quick and readily to dismiss.
  • Again, disappointed at no love for Inside Out going for the top prize, as it feels almost disheartening to see such a spirited, celebrated and memorialising film fail to be promoted because it's an animation. 
  • Part of me expected and hoped that Mara and Vilkander would be promoted to Best Actress opposed to Supporting, as they are as essential as their counterparts in their respective films, but it further identifies just how strong and in abundance the talented ladies this year are. It's also a shame that there was no room for Maggie Smith, either.
  • At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I am invariably thrilled at Jennifer Lawrence's nomination. Surely and truly, the emotional heart and resonance of Joy, I am thrilled she was successful here. It makes her the youngest ever nominee - at the age of 25 - to pick up four Oscar nominations. Congratulations to her.

Still, I'll be excited to see how the big night unfolds and I'll post my, "who will win/who should win" predictions closer to the time.

Peace and love.

Sunday, 3 January 2016

Joy (2016) (Review)

Joy's opening screen reveals that the film was 'inspired by daring women. One in particular', implying Joy Mangano, who we spend the next 124 minutes observing her rise, fall and resurgence as the inventor of the Miracle Mop, all whilst being a divorced mother of two, and supporting her pressurising family who don't believe in her half as much as she believes in herself, her mind and her product. Joy, a comedy-drama, marks the third time collaboration of Jennifer Lawrence and David O'Russell, whose winning formula (all of which include a sprinkle of Bradley Cooper and R, for good measure) has seen the Oscar-nominated Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle. Is third time a charm in this latest offering?

Joy (Lawrence) is on the brink of debt when her father (De Niro) is dropped off on her door step from a previous relationship gone wrong - adding to her already bustling family home, which houses her conservative mother, grandmother-come-narrator, ex-husband (Edger Ramirez) and their two children. Trapped in a rut, she revives her childhood hobby of inventing, leading her to mastermind the Miracle Mop. Catching her break on QVC, thanks to executive Neil Walker (Cooper), she begins to soar to success, only to be hit with further troubles and complications, landing her in a worse position than before - no thanks to overachieving sister, Peggy and Trudy, her Dad's new girlfriend. Whether success can be resuscitated lies solely in her own hands from this point forth.

Preconceptions might have you questioning whether anyone actually wants to watch a film about a Mop, but many important and crucial life lessons can be identified in the narrative; perseverance, empowerment and dedication are found in abundance, a plethora of emotions and experiences shaping this story. The intensity of these emotions and themes is disconcertingly noticeable - in the best way possible - as what some may assume a throwaway story and simple passion project is transformed into a story with true emotional sonority and depth in an unexpected way.

The fact I found this out is devoted to one person - Jennifer Lawrence. Like many, her involvement is the reason an interested developed in the project personally, as I've continually supported and followed her work, admiring her incredible talent which never fails to move and amaze me. And surprise, surprise, she gives another Oscar-worthy performance as the troubled, yet hopeful, titular character. Initially skeptical about the film, it defied my expectations thanks to her engaging, empathetic and inspiring performance, filled with pathos and resonance that made the journey wholly enjoyable. Undoubtedly, the cast is a strong ensemble, but few instances occur where they hold even a flicker to Lawrence's captivating showcase as Mangano. Whilst she's featured in better films in her past, this is arguably one of the strongest performances to date, as the generational portrayal would expectedly pale in other hands.

O'Russell's direction is strong and clear, although maybe dips in execution and delivery when compared to his stellar previous releases with Lawrence. Unfortunately, comparisons are expected and justified, and when you released films with RT approval ratings of 92% and 93%, it's a tough act to live up to. He still manages to convey a raw and candid portrayal of the real-life story, thanks to lingering shots and solid cinematography, but to a less successful degree for a reason I struggle to name - maybe its the fact-based approach, where his previous have had opportunities to breath and develop freely of real-life restraints. Narrative structure is also a slight issue, as the third act can feel slightly over-drawn, saved only by Lawrence really cranking up the emotion.

Joy is surprisingly enjoyable outside the performance of Lawrence - it really manages the mix between drama and comedy, with some genuinely funny moments - but she is again the beating heart of proceedings. Lawrence channels the emotions and themes present in a faultless manner that must be applauded for the power it is handled in. Mangano is without doubt a truly inspiration figure for her grit and drive in the face of adversary, but perhaps when the film introduces the 'daring woman' that inspired it, Lawrence herself is at the very top of that list.

Summary: Joy surprisingly frees itself from the dubious preconceptions one might hold for a story about a Mop, but Jennifer Lawrence's sensational performance sparks the titular emotion, calling for another Oscar nomination for the star.

Highlight: Joy finally making her way to QVC is a defining moment in both Mangano's life and the film, with Jen's delivery of elation and emotion perfect. Hearing Lawrence sing 'Something Stupid'' is also worth the ticket price alone.


Friday, 1 January 2016

Rachel Platten - Wildfire (2016)

Rachel Platten's moment came at the beginning of 2015 when her inspirational 'Fight Song' became a worldwide hit, a personal anthem for many, igniting empowerment across the globe in a similar vein to the likes of her pop counterparts, Katy Perry and Kelly Clarkson. Follow up single 'Stand By You' continued said empowerment and now, exactly as the year turns, she releases a full LP - Wildfire.

Can an artist so focused and renown for her empowerment translate her enthusiasm into an entire album? I've ranked each of the twelve tracks from the standard edition of the album - out now, worldwide - 

Fight Song
Stand By You
Better Place
Beating me Up
Lone Ranger
Angels In Chelsea
You Don't Know My Heart
Hey Hey Hallelujah

Fight Song and Stand By You easily standout for all the right reasons - with the former still managing to feel enlivened almost eleven months after its initial release - while Better Place is the musical equivalent of a big, warm and giving hug when you need one the most; enchanting, ethereal and beautifully simple. Austronauts and Superman expand on the themes found in the album, while the 'Fight Song EP' tracks (Beating Me Up, Lone Ranger and Congratulations) still sound fresh, having allowed Platten time to fully identify her sound for the full LP. Even the more sonically-experimenting songs like Angels In Chelsea, You Don't Know My Heart and Hey Hey Hallelujah are enjoyable. This is a case of all killer, no filler.

Wildfire might not exactly be a game changer, nor is it likely to appeal to people outside the genre, but for those accustomed to Platten's signature sound and happy-go-lucky vibe, this is pop at its finest. It's fun and uplifting - unapologetically so - and guaranteed to make you beam, truly kicking off 2016 in style.