Category Archives: 2017

Rocks In The Attic #788: Hans Zimmer & Benjamin Wallfisch – ‘Blade Runner 2049 (O.S.T.)’ (2017)

RITA#788We saw this on opening night, which is unusual for us. Our babysitter came through and we booked tickets. Packed cinema. Mix of age ranges; young and old. Halfway through the trailers of upcoming films, something didn’t feel right. A trailer for a brainless blockbuster was playing: Skyscraper with Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson.

As is usual with trailers for blockbusters, there was lots of action and excitement. At one point, something exploded on screen; either the Rock’s biceps or a city skyscraper. The lady sat next to my wife lets out a small noise. Kind of like a small murmur of shock. ‘MmMm.’ Like saying ‘oooh’, but with your lips closed. The kind of noise you might make if you bit into a delicious cake.

That’s weird, I thought. I gave her a good once-over with my peripheral vision. She was in her late 50s, possibly early 60s, and was sat next to her husband of a similar age. Something else exciting happened on-screen, and she let out a similar noise. It wasn’t a loud noise – audible only to my wife and I sitting to her left, and to her husband, sitting to her right.

Another action-packed trailer showed, and she let out similar noises at all the mayhem. Maybe she doesn’t get out to the cinema much, I thought. Or maybe she just really likes the Rock. It could even be a food thing; maybe her husband bought her an ice-cream in the lobby and she’s really enjoying it.

RITA#788aDon’t worry about it, I thought. It’s just the trailers. I should just be happy that she’s not talking through them, or flipping through the messages on her phone.

The film started; the much-feared sequel to a classic film both my wife and I love. Based on the history of Hollywood sequels, it didn’t look promising. Indiana Jones & The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull didn’t seem too long ago, and Harrison Ford was in that turkey too. Ridley Scott’s original Blade Runner was a perfectly put-together sci-fi film. Its source material was a short story, so it wasn’t bogged down with expectations, and the film wasn’t successful enough on initial release to justify a sequel. It eventually appeared over the years in many different versions, but it didn’t need to be expanded with a sequel or a TV series.

But the choice of director for Blade Runner 2049 suggested that this may not be a complete disaster after all. I first noticed Denis Villeneuve when he blasted onto the film festival circuit with 2010’s Incendies, the tale of a pair of Canadian twins who travel to the Middle East to unravel their mother’s past. If you haven’t seen this film, it’s an amazing slow-burner. Just don’t watch it with your parents.

He followed this with two films in 2013 – Prisoners, starring Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal as a pair of fathers who take the law into their own hands, and the fantastically trippy Enemy, starring Gyllenhaal as a man who encounters his double living in the same city. Or does he?

Incendies
, Prisoners and Enemy were all relatively small films compared to what came next. 2015’s Sicario pitted Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin and Benicio del Toro against the Mexican drug cartel and was a key collaboration with writer-director Tyler Sheridan who wrote the screenplay. Villeneuve’s next film, 2016’s Arrival, showed that he could do science-fiction, and that he could do it well. Another slow-burner, considering its subject matter, Arrival was Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, redone for the 21st century. Where Spielberg gave us the optimism and wide-eyed excitement of alien contact against a backdrop of bubbling paranoia, Villeneueve’s film offers a tale of caution and trepidation. Why would aliens want to make contact with us when we’re so disconnected?

So things were looking promising for Blade Runner 2049. No, it didn’t need a sequel, but at least it seemed to be in safe hands. At least Ridley Scott wasn’t behind the camera this time (see: Prometheus, Alien: Covenant).

The film starts. It looks amazing good and sounds great. So far, so good. Ryan Gosling’s K lands his spinner on a deserted farm in a desolate landscape. He enters the farmhouse and encounters Dave Bautista’s Sapper Morton, a man he believes is a Nexus-8 replicant.

A fight breaks out between the two men, and somebody is slammed into a wall. The fucking woman sat next to me makes that annoying fucking sound yet again. ‘MmMm.’ Another heavy blow: ‘MmMm.’ K eventually ‘retires’ Morton, to the soundtrack of ‘MmMm’ from my right.

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In recent years, I’ve become a semi-professional at shushing people at the cinema. Director Joe Cornish (from Adam & Joe) calls it torpedoing, and it’s a fine art to get right. I almost got into a fight when the couple in front of me took the title of We Need To Talk About Kevin a little too literally and discussed each scene before the next one started, and took offence to me pointing out that we weren’t sitting in their living room. The couple in front of me watching Brighton Rock continued their discussion well into the opening credits of the film, earning a well-deserved ‘Excuse me, the film as STARTED’ in their ears from me.

One of the last films my wife and I saw at the cinema was last year’s Venom – we don’t get out much, and when we do we’re usually restricted to the dross that happens to be playing that weekend. The young lady sat to my immediate left starting playing on her phone a couple of scenes in. I waited a few minutes to make sure she wasn’t just turning it off, and was indeed scrolling out of boredom, before giving her a blast of ‘Please turn your phone OFF; you’re in a cinema!’ She recoiled at being called out, and then my peripheral vision caught her male companion lean forward and give me a good once-over. Just my luck, I thought. Her boyfriend is probably a bodybuilder, and will wait outside the cinema to extract his revenge. When we walked out after the film, they were waiting outside the cinema. But they were waiting for their parents to pick them up, being about 14-years old. Note to self: your peripheral vision is not the most trustable of sources.

Ten, fifteen minutes into Blade Runner 2049, and the woman sat next to my wife is still making these weird noises. ‘MmMm.’ My wife asks me to swap seats, and being the husband of the year, I oblige. Despite this change in seating right next to her, the lady continues to murmer during the next scene. Do I ask her to stop? What’s the worst case scenario here? Yes, I might get a beating from her war-hero husband who used to stack dead bodies as sandbags, but there’s a fate much worse than physical violence. What if I turn around and ask her to stop, and as the words are leaving my mouth, I notice to my horror that she looks disabled. She could be deaf, or partially deaf. She could have tourettes. It could be an involuntary noise, no fault of her own. Decisions, decisions.

RITA#788cThe cinema is practically full, and there’s nowhere to move to. Maybe she’ll quiet down as she gets used to the violence and explosions. Plus, the noise could be a lot worse, and so I decide to tolerate it for the rest of the film. Better to be tolerant than to be called out for being an intolerant arsehole, I reason with myself. The last thing I need is to be the headline of our sleepy village’s local newspaper.

Despite my neighbour’s additions to the soundtrack, I manage to enjoy the film. It’s a wonderfully realised sequel to a film that nobody asked for. The world-building feels like an extension of Ridley Scott’s film, and the whole project doesn’t ever come close to exploiting the power of the original’s legacy. The music score, a collaboration between Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch, is right on the money – both a homage to Vangelis and a bass-heavy synth update for the 21st century.

I missed out on the original soundtrack release in 2017. I was going to pick it up, but didn’t get around to it for some reason. So I was happy to see this 2019 repress by Mondo Records, featuring new spot-varnish artwork depicting one of my favourite scenes in the film: K’s Nabokovian realisation that his desires are artificial and ultimately a fallacy. The double LP is presented on one pink and one teal disc.

My only criticism is the film’s handling of the character of Deckard. Ridley Scott’s 1992 Director’s Cut of the original film suggests he’s a replicant employed to track down his contemporaries. While Villeneuve’s film doesn’t explicitly state that he isn’t a replicant, it neither confirms that he is. Yet, the thirty-year gap between the setting of the two films belies the original film’s oft-repeated claim that replicants have a short life-expectancy. A second sequel is still a possibility, so maybe we’ll find out then. Here’s to Blade Runner 2079.

Hit: 2049

Hidden Gem: Sea Wall

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Rocks In The Attic #775: Michael Jackson – ‘Monsterjam’ (2017)

RITA#775I recently watched Quincy, the 2018 documentary about Quincy Jones, co-directed by his daughter Rashida Jones (with Alan Hicks). I was hoping it was going to be a feature-length episode about the Los Angeles medical examiner, but you can’t have everything.

Watching it, I was suddenly hit by the realisation that I’m not really a fan of Michael Jackson – I’m a fan of his partnership with Quincy Jones. I can take or leave most of Michael’s earlier material both with the Jacksons, and solo; and the same goes for most of his work after he stopped collaborating with Quincy, the 1930s-born producer who outlived him.

RITA#775aThose three classic albums – 1979’s Off The Wall, 1982’s Thriller and 1987’s Bad – are perhaps the perfect blend of artist and producer; maybe the greatest collaboration since Sir George Martin and the Beatles. Without Quincy, Michael would have continued making records; and vice versa. Neither would have had the same success though. Together, they made pure gold.

This unofficial release from 2017 is a lazy wedding DJ’s wet-dream: four 20-minute continuous mixes of the King of Pop’s hits over two LPs – one blue, one red. It’s a little Stars On 45 at times, but decent nevertheless.

Hit: Billie Jean

Hidden Gem: Scream

Rocks In The Attic #680: Lorde – ‘Melodrama’ (2017)

RITA#680Last Friday, after almost a year since it first saw the light of day in June 2017, Lorde’s sophomore album Melodrama was finally released on vinyl. Lorde decided to mark the occasion by putting her foot in her mouth and getting into a little hot water on Twitter. She claimed her faux pas was entirely accidental. Hmm…really? It was an extremely specific mistake to make…

Anyway, I’m not sure why it’s taken so long for the LP to be released. You’d think that her record label (Lava Records – a subsidiary of Universal Music) would want to capitalise on Lorde’s global success, particularly as her star started to shine even brighter, with the album going on to become Grammy nominated.

After finally getting to grips with the ‘new’ record, it’s clear why her current U.S. tour is reported to be a failure. The songs – aside from the brilliant Green Light – just aren’t there. Current writing partner Jack Antonoff looks to be an interesting proposition, a good fit to Lorde’s brand of witchy, bohemian electronica; but the absence of Joel Little on the songwriting credits is telling. Even more telling is that his sole writing contribution is on Green Light, the album’s stand-out song.

So, why did I like Lorde’s debut, Pure Heroine, so much? Was it Lorde herself, or was it Joel Little’s input – both as a songwriter and producer – that hooked me in?

Maybe only album number three will tell. At Lorde’s work-rate, we can expect that to be released in 2021 – and probably released on vinyl sometime in 2022.

Hit: Green Light

Hidden Gem: Liability

RITA#680a

Rocks In The Attic #668: Weezer – ‘Pacific Daydream’ (2017)

RITA#668What the fuck happened to Weezer? I stopped buying their records a long time ago – back when the weirdness of Pinkerton was just so disappointing in comparison to their classic 1994 debut – but I don’t recognise the band coming out of my speakers anymore.

They almost reeled me back in with 2001’s Hash Pipe – a single I might easily have responded with an ‘Ooooff’ when I first heard it – but the other big single from the Green album, Island In The Sun, showed that they were more at home writing pop songs. 2005’s Beverly Hills single sealed this, and now remains the song they’re most well-known for – the Buddy Holly of the 2000s.

By the time we get to 2017’s Pacific Daydream – a horrible title matched only the sheer awfulness of the cover image – it’s clear that Rivers Cuomo is more at home writing melodic pop songs than rocking out. If it came to light that he was behind a dozen Katy Perry and Taylor Swift songs, nobody would bat an eyelid.

The strange thing is that this doesn’t even sound like Weezer anymore – with the album’s production suffering from the same generic fingerprint of every nameless Top 20 pop-rock band of the last decade.

The only reason this bland excuse for a Weezer record sits on my shelves is that I saw it listed on Amoeba Record’s online store, fully autographed by the band (presumably after an in-store signing) and in a lovely red and black splatter vinyl, for a lower price than my local record store. Well, at least it makes for an attractive Frisbee.

Hit: Feels Like Summer

Hidden Gem: Mexican Fender

Rocks In The Attic #612: Aldous Harding – ‘Party’ (2017)

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Earlier this year, New Zealand’s Aldous Harding sparked what seemed like a national debate when she appeared on Later…With Jools Holland to perform the song, Horizon, from this, her second studio album.

The resulting YouTube clip needs to be seen to be believed – it’s a great song, but Harding peppers her performance with (frankly quite disturbing) pained facial expressions. The resulting fall-out seemed to pit a New Zealand music critic, Simon Sweetman, against every misguided miltant-feminist troll in the land.

In May, Sweetman reviewed Party by comparing the record to the sound of goats screaming like humans. A very dismissive review, for sure, but when Harding’s Jools Holland performance posted online five days later, a fire-storm ensued when Sweetman repeated a similar comment on his personal Facebook page.

We seem to be living in exciting times. In recent weeks, Wonder Woman effortlessly became the highest-grossing live-action film directed by a woman, Patty Jenkins (with the film obviously centred on the strength and possibilities of womankind), and we were introduced to a female Doctor Who in Jodie Whittaker. As a father of three young daughters, I couldn’t be happier with what seems like a snowballing of strong female role models for them. My wife’s heartbreak over the death of Carrie Fisher late last year really brought home the fact that thirty years ago, strong female role models were very few and far between.

So, we arrive at the release of Aldous Harding’s Party. However flippant Sweetman’s comments were – and they were flippant – nothing of what he said was based on Harding’s gender. ‘But it’s implicit in what he said,’ the misguided militant-feminist trolls would argue. That kind of parochial attitude would suggest that all female artists are beyond criticism – but surely women should be open to the same level of criticism as men? Sweetman’s role as a critic is to prompt discussion, and in this one instance he has been very successful.

But would he say something just as rude about a male artist? Yes, I firmly believe he would – and has! One of my only dislikes about Sweetman’s approach is that he’ll completely write off an artist, and then no matter what that artist produces, their output will seemingly be forever harshly judged – case in point: Jack White can do no right, whereas a mediocre musician like world-famous-in-New-Zealand Dave Dobbyn can do no wrong. So I worry that Aldous will never be allowed back through the door.

A friend suggested that Sweetman probably thinks of himself as the Lester Bangs of New Zealand cultural critique. I’m not sure if that’s true – and maybe he has been critical of Dave Dobbyn or praised Jack White in the past, I just haven’t seen it if he has – but nevertheless I’m convinced he isn’t sexist or misogynist: everybody’s fair game. In fact, I find these claims of misogyny to be more damaging to feminism than they are helpful.

It’s similar situation to a BBC radio interview I once heard where Halle Berry was promoting her latest film. A comment from Hugh Jackman, one of Berry’s co-stars, led the oafish presenter Chris Moyles to impersonate what an African American body-double of Jackman might sound like. “Are we having a racist moment here?” Berry asked instantly.

I find that sort of accusation deplorable, and ultimately more damaging to the cause which is being fought. I regard myself as a feminist, and I’m similarly disappointed with some of the accusations raised at Sweetman – an early champion of Harding’s career, and a strong advocate of female artists, both local and international. “Iggy Pop can get away with those sorts of affectations on stage,” the misguided militant-feminists would say, “So why can’t Aldous Harding?” My only concern would be whether those facial expressions were evidence of anything more worrying bubbling underneath.

Still, like I said, Sweetman’s role is to prompt discourse. If he hadn’t highlighted the absurdity of Harding’s Jools Holland performance, then perhaps she wouldn’t have landed so squarely on my radar. It led me to watch Harding’s music video for Blend – a clip in which most people might not be able to see past the attraction of a young woman dancing provocatively in hot-pants. I enjoyed the subversive elements of the video greatly, and the allusion to the dancing Playmates in Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now wasn’t lost on me, but it was the strength of the song that hooked into me. From Blend, I moved to the video for Imagining My Man, and I was sold.

I bought the record a few weeks ago. I’m close to loving it, and will seek out her first record as soon as I can. There are still some things about Party I don’t appreciate – I don’t think I’ll ever be able to hear Horizon without imaging the Jools Holland performance, and her vocal style on Imagining My Man sounds very strange, like she’s sucking on a boiled sweet – but the album’s growing on me with every listen.

The future looks bright for my daughters, in a world that is seemingly more accepting of female role-models. The last record I bought by a New Zealand artist (before Harding’s Party) was by a woman (who has gone on to massive global success – no surprises who that might have been) and the next two I buy will undoubtedly be both by women (Harding’s 2014 debut and Lorde’s sophomore Melodrama). As a feminist, I just wish that my more militant comrades on social media would pick their battles with a little more intelligence.

Hit: Blend

Hidden Gem: Living The Classics

2017 Best Picture Nominees – Ranked From Worst To Best

Oscars Academy Awards
Every year I try and see all of the films nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. It’s a fruitless campaign – most people I know here in New Zealand don’t really give a hoot, and are just waiting for the next popcorn blockbuster to arrive after the awards season has ended. I like the annual challenge though; it keeps me sane.

BlunderOn some years I’ve managed to see them all before the awards ceremony – easy to do when there were only five films nominated. They increased this to a maximum of ten films from 2009 onwards, and so a mixture of late New Zealand release dates combined with increasing ticket prices and having children, has made this more and more difficult each year.

Blunder 2
This year, I’ve finally finished watching all nine nominees, just a month or so after the awards. It’s nicer to see the films before the awards, just so that the awards themselves don’t affect your opinion, but I’m happy just to have seen them. Here are the nine films ranked from worst to best, in my humble opinion of course:

Fences9. Fences (Denzel Washington, 2016)

In an adaptation of August Wilson’s 1985 play of the same name, Denzel Washington directs himself in the lead role opposite Viola Davis as his long-suffering wife. It’s been a long, long time since I’ve seen a film not only so dull, but with such an unlikable lead character, it’s a wonder they didn’t develop a new category for it. Denzel has played unsavoury characters before (Training Day, American Gangster), but his portrayal of Fences’ Troy Maxson really takes the biscuit.

Maxson is a failed baseball talent who now supports his family in the 1950s by collecting the city’s garbage. He takes out his insecurities and anxieties on those around him, and with many speed bumps along the way, the film is ultimately a tale of redemption and forgiveness.

My main gripe about Fences is that it’s an adaptation from a stageplay – always a marker of a boring watch. Adaptations from plays always fail to feel cinematic, and Fences is no exception with the film taking place in only a handful of locations. As a result, the drama is as boxed in as the characters find themselves.

The other unfortunate result of a stage to screen adaptation is in the language. Stageplays usually have a very particular rhythm, a specific beat, and this can be jarring on film. I really struggled through the first act of the film – essentially a one man show, as Denzel does nearly all the speaking without letting up, designed to keep theatre audiences engrossed but not ideal for keeping cinema audiences entertained.

Viola Davis is as watchable as always, in a Best Supporting Actress-winning role, but even she doesn’t have much to do except for one particular Oscar-baiting scene in which she reacts to one of the film’s major plot points. Denzel seems to sleepwalk through his performance, but I think my appreciation of him diminished after seeing a few interviews where he came across as bitter – almost angry – at his low chances of being recognized as Best Actor or Best Director.

I’ll accept that Fences did come close to redeeming itself in its very nice final scene, but watching the film in its entirety had felt like such a chore. I even had to swallow it in 15-minute bite-sized portions in order to avoid being stricken with permanent narcolepsy.

Moonlight8. Moonlight (Barry Jenkins,2016)

The eventual winner of the Best Picture award – despite what Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway might say – Moonlight is a low-budget coming-of-age drama about a young black boy, Chiron, played by three different actors across three different stages of his life. The film also won for Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actor (Mahershala Ali).

I was bored to tears with this film. It looked great, and the performances were fine, but the story just didn’t resonate with me. I’d like to think that the Academy awarded the filmmakers with Best Picture as recognition of what they managed to make with such a comparatively small budget (US$1.5m) and in such a short timeframe (twenty five days), but the cynic in me wonders whether the award was a political move to redeem themselves after the OscarsSoWhite contoversy of recent years.

Hidden Figures7. Hidden Figures (Theodore Melfi, 2016)

A Sunday afternoon Hallmark movie by any other name, Hidden Figures tells the true story of three female African America mathematicians working at NASA during the early ‘60s space race. There’s nothing particularly exciting about this slow-paced film, and if anything the subject matter comes across as a little patronising to audiences (did you know, black people can be intelligent too?).

There is nothing particularly remarkable about this film, and if Moonlight wasn’t recognised by the Academy to tick a few diversity boxes, this one definitely was. The film’s inclusion in this list seems to prove that by extending the Best Picture category from five films to ten, there’ll always be a bit of deadwood in the mix.

Hacksaw Ridge6. Hacksaw Ridge (Mel Gibson, 2016)

Hacksaw Ridge, directed by recovering alcoholic and practicing anti-Semite Mel Gibson, is a film of two halves. Another true story, the film concerns conscientious objector Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) who enlists as a medic in the US Army during World War II.

The first half, a morality tale about Doss’ struggles through basic training, feels like it comes from the same Sunday afternoon Hallmark channel schedule as Hidden Figures. But then it turns into a war movie with a battle sequence turned up to eleven, deliberately intended to out-shock the beach landing opening of Saving Private Ryan.

The events of the final half of the film are so unbelievable that if it were fiction, it would be too fantastic to be taken seriously. A title card at the close of the film lists Doss’ achievements, and if anything the film can be accused of underplaying these accomplishments in order to retain believability.

Hacksaw Ridge is a good film, but not a great film, and only a shadow of what Gibson had achieved with the pure cinema of the last film he directed, Apocalypto.

Hell Or High Water5. Hell Or High Water (David Mackenzie, 2016)

Voted as the best film of 2016 by New Zealand film critics, Hell Or High Water is a real head-scratcher of a nomination. Genre films tend to be largely ignored by the Academy – except in the technical categories – and so the inclusion of this unremarkable heist film doesn’t make a lot of sense.

The story of two West-Texas bank-robbing brothers (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) and the two cops on their trail (Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham), Hell Or High Water could have been so much better, particularly with the acting talent involved. Taylor Sheridan’s script – despite a Best Original Screenplay nomination – doesn’t flesh out the characters very well, and the film felt like a wasted opportunity.

The one truly exciting sequence – involving a machine gun – was fantastic, and one of my favourite moments of 2016 cinema.

Arrival4. Arrival (Dennis Villeneuve, 2016)

As I mentioned before, genre films are usually ignored by the Academy, and none more so than Science Fiction. Arrival is slightly different to your usual sci-fi fare though, with a focus on the humanity of interacting with alien creatures.

Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner play scientists – a linguist and a physicist, respectively – who are enlisted by the US Army to make first contact with the inhabitants of one of twelve alien spacecrafts which have visited Earth.

The film has lots of new ideas, and a fresh approach to what is essentially a retread of Close Encounters Of The Third Kind. Plot holes aside – would they really have only sent a linguist and a physicist? What about a biologist at the very least? – the film was entertaining and engaging up to the last second, although I don’t think it warrants a Best Picture nomination.

Manchester By The Sea3. Manchester By The Sea (Kenneth Lonergan, 2016)

Selected as the Best Original Screenplay by director Kenneth Lonergan, and Best Actor in Casey Affleck, Manchester By The Sea is a tough watch. The film opens on loner Lee Chandler, a janitor with something ominous in his past, who is pulled back to his hometown after a death in the family.

Affleck’s acting win is well deserved, and he’s as magnetic as ever in the title role, with slowly revealing flashbacks eventually disclosing the events that have made him what he is.

Affleck’s accomplishments were overshadowed by two lawsuits by female co-workers, who accused him of sexual advances during the filming of the hoax documentary I’m Still Here in 2010. Both cases were eventually settled out of court. While I’m always suspicious about such matters (there’s usually no smoke without fire), it does seem strange that two essentially unproven incidents were brought up seven years later to discredit his nomination – particularly by those who had no involvement at the time.

La La Land2. La La Land (Damien Chazelle, 2016)

If Moonlight was the blackest film among this year’s nominees, La La Land was undoubtedly the whitest. I usually dislike musicals, so I wasn’t expecting anything special from Chazelle’s film. But what a surprise – catchy songs, likeable characters and a nice script left me loving the film.

La La Land tells the story of two people who fall in love in modern-day Los Angeles, one a struggling jazz musician (Ryan Gosling), the other a struggling actress (Best Actress-winning Emma Stone). The accusations of Hollywood whitewashing come from the subject matter of jazz music – originally an African American art form – being explored by a pair of honkies, with only one black member of the cast (John Legend) in a minor role. Well at least they didn’t get Harry Connick Jr. to play that role!

I’ve been humming the songs in my head ever since I saw the film, and I’ve even contemplated buying the soundtrack – something I never thought I’d hear myself saying about a musical in the 21st century.

Of the two frontrunners for Best Picture, do I think La La Land is a better film than Moonlight? Of course I do. But do I think it should have won Best Picture? No, that should have been awarded to…

Lion1. Lion (Garth Davis, 2016)

Lion affected me greatly, and it was the first time in a long time I saw a film and then asked everybody I knew whether they had seen it or not. Most films released these days don’t speak to me as personally as Lion did, and it’s usually only foreign-language films that provoke that kind of personal advocacy in me (2007’s The Edge Of Heaven (Fatih Akin, Turkey), and  2006’s Tell No One (Guillaume Canet, France) being particular favourites).

An Australian production, Lion tells the true story of a young Indian boy, Saroo, who by a twist of fate becomes separated from the rest of his family in India at the age of five. Adopted overseas into an Australian family, an older Saroo begins the impossible task of searching for his long-lost family.

In the hands of an American production, Lion could easily sway into the same Hallmark channel territory as Hidden Figures and Hacksaw Ridge. Instead, the film feels like a foreign-language film (the first half of the film is actually in Hindi and Bengali anyway) simply by merit of being produced outside Hollywood.

Sunny Pawar is absolutely captivating as the young Saroo, and while Dev Patel’s performance as the older Saroo was recognised with a Best Supporting Actor nod, it’s surprising that Pawar wasn’t recognised also.

Definitely my film of the year, I’ll continue to recommend Lion until everybody I know has seen it. If you can get to the end of the film without a tear in your eye, then you’re dead inside.

Honourable Mentions
Not every film gets blessed with recognition from the Academy – some wouldn’t even want it, as it can be both a blessing and a curse – but these are my other favourite films from the year (in alphabetical order):

10 Cloverfield Lane (Dan Trachtenberg, 2016) – a great, Hitchcockian thriller set in the confines of a bunker. Tense!

Deadpool
(Tim Miller, 2016) – Marvel Comics get sweary.

Hunt For The Wilderpeople
(Taika Waititi, 2016) – a funny, sweet slice of Kiwiana.

Midnight Special
(Jeff Nichols, 2016) – a wonderfully paced thriller harking back to classic ‘70s sci-fi.

Moana
(John Musker & Ron Clements, 2016) – Disney’s beautifully rendered love-letter to Polynesia

Sing Street
(John Carney, 2016) – a wonderful bit of ‘80s nostalgia from the director of 2007’s Once.

Split
(M.Night Shyamalan, 2016) – at last, a Shyamalan film we can all get behind with an outstanding performance by James McAvoy

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
(Gareth Edwards, 2016) – not without flaws, but a nice standalone war movie set in the Star Wars universe.

Zootopia
(Bryon Howard & Rich Moore, 2016) – another Disney animation to rival the best of Pixar’s output.

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