Tag Archives: Oscars

2018 Best Picture Nominees – Ranked From Worst To Best

Oscars Academy Awards
This time last year, I wrote about the nine Best Picture nominees.  With just 48 hours to spare, I’ve managed to watch all nine nominees in this years’ Academy Awards. Here’s my ranking, in ascending order:

Get Out9. Get Out (Jordan Peele, 2017)

Get Out was an enjoyable and innovative genre film. Nothing more, nothing less. As such, it doesn’t deserve to be in this list, especially when better films didn’t make the cut for a Best Picture nomination. The film’s first two acts were an intriguing study into racism in the 21st century, but it loses points with a messy, typically Hollywood final act.

It really makes me wonder whether the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction after the #OscarsSoWhite controversy.  It’s an incredible achievement for Jordan Peele, but one has to wonder if he’s being nominated here out of merit, or just to tick a box?

The Shape of Water.jpg8. The Shape Of Water (Guillermo del Toro, 2017)

Yes, I know it’s the most nominated film this year, and as a result it looks likely to be the big winner on Sunday night, but del Toro should be ashamed for stealing so much from Jean-Pierre Jeunet.

A green colour palette, a quiet elfin brunette, a friendship with an old hermit neighbour who watches an old black and white television set, an unusual love story. I know they say that nothing under the sun is original, but did del Toro even think about what he was doing here?

In Consequence Of Sound’s picks for the Oscars, their writer Blake Goble wrote that Blade Runner 2049 is not deserving of the Best Production Design award as it’s ‘a work of homage – to other artists like Tarkovsky and Ridley Scott. Done bigger and louder.’ In contrast, he claims that ‘The Shape Of Water is actual creation.’

So says another American who hasn’t seen Delicatessen or Amelie.

The Post.jpg7. The Post (Steven Spielberg, 2017)

A nice film, especially in the way that its final scene segues nicely  into Alan J. Pakula’s All The President’s Men – itself a Best Picture nominee in 1977; great – but not career-best – performances by Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep (together with a great ensemble supporting cast), but…that’s…about…it. A 2-hour film featuring little other than people talking to each other in offices – no matter how riveting – does not a Best Picture make.

Call Me By Your Name6. Call Me By Your Name (Luca Guadagnino, 2017)

This year’s picture postcard to heartbreak – following last year’s Manchester By The Sea – the cinematography and exuberant piano score in Call Me By Your Name is more than worth the price of admission.

Phantom Thread5. Phantom Thread (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2017)

Paul Thomas Anderson films used to be a tray of donuts; now they’re a cake stand at high-tea. Phantom Thread finds the director disappearing down the hole he started drilling in There Will Be Blood and The Master, but it’s nothing compared to the sleeze of Boogie Nights and the tension of Magnolia.

Once again, Daniel Day Lewis gives us a masterclass in how to portray petulance on screen (with some delicious put-downs), in what is touted to be his final film role. Here he seems to flesh out the male subject of Charlie Kauffman and Duke Johnson’s Anomalisa, particularly in his intolerance of people eating loudly.

Still, the film does contain perhaps the greatest breakfast order ever seen on film:

Alma: Good morning.

Reynolds: Morning.

Alma: What would you like to order?

Reynolds: A welsh rarebit….With a poached egg on top, please…Not too runny…And bacon…Scones…Butter, cream, jam…Not strawberry.

Alma: No. Raspberry?

Reynolds: What else?

Alma: Coffee or tea?

Reynolds: Do you have lapsang?

Alma nods.

Reynolds: I’ll have a pot of lapsang please.

Alma: Good choice.

Reynolds: And some sausages.

Alma: …And some sausages.

Darkest Hour4. Darkest Hour (Joe Wright, 2017)

In a lovely bit of serendipity, Joe Wright’s Darkest Hour could play in a double-bill with Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk. They could probably be intercut, as Wright’s film opens with the bureaucracy behind the  Dunkirk problem that is the sole focus of Nolan’s film.

Both films are outstanding – Darkest Hour from a performance viewpoint (Gary Oldman playing an – erm – old man, in a career-best performance), and Dunkirk from a technical viewpoint. However, the weakness of each film is the strength of the other, and vice versa.

Dunkirk3. Dunkirk (Christopher Nolan, 2017)

Nolan’s tenth feature-length picture is a beautiful – yet tense – retelling of the Dunkirk evacuation. It would probably top this list if there was a bit more humanity in the film, but Nolan instead focuses on the technical aspects of filmmaking rather than characterisation or dialogue. Filmed almost as a silent picture, it’s Nolan’s most distant work yet – perhaps to symbolise the distance of the stranded forces, so near yet so far away.

Nolan’s films are always outstanding, particularly in the way he utilizes IMAX camera technology. Filmed entirely in huge 65mm stock (75% of it using IMAX cameras), Dunkirk looks stunning and was a treat to see (and hear!) in an IMAX cinema. Quite how they filmed the spitfire cockpit sequences with huge IMAX cameras will eat at my brain forever, but I’d rather not know, I’d rather not peek behind the curtain.

This year’s Best Picture nominees feature a wealth of fantastic musical scores, but Hans Zimmer’s work on Dunkirk is well deserving of the Best Original Score award.

Lady Bird2. Lady Bird (Greta Gerwig, 2017)

Greta Gerwig has been a star on the rise for the past decade, and here she offers her directorial debut. She’s also up for the Best Director award – only the fifth time in history a female has been nominated (with only one going on to win the accolade – Katherine Bigelow for The Hurt Locker).

The always watchable Saoirse Ronan stars as the titular character in a coming-of-age dramedy, with an impressive supporting cast featuring Laurie Metcalf (‘Jackie’ from Roseanne), Tracy Letts, Lucas Hedges (also appearing in Three Billboards) and Timothée Chalamet (nominated for Best Actor as Elio in Call Me By Your Name).

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri1. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (Martin McDonagh, 2017)

None of the nine nominees this year have really struck a chord with me, like my top three of Lion, La La Land and Manchester By The Sea from last year’s line-up. Three Billboards is therefore the best of a just very good bunch.

Frances McDormand is great – but has been better before (it’s Margot Robbie who deserves the Best Actress award), McDonagh’s script walks a tight balance between tragedy and comedy, and Sam Rockwell easily earns his Best Supporting Actor nomination.

Honourable Mentions
Here are my other favourite (eligible) films from the year (in alphabetical order):

A Ghost Story (David Lowery, 2017) – a love story that transcends time, dimensions and bedsheets.

Baby Driver (Edgar Wright, 2017) – a stellar pop soundtrack and quite possibly the last time we will ever see the once fantastic, now disgraced, Kevin Spacey on the silver screen.

Blade Runner 2049 (Denis Villeneuve, 2017) – a wonderfully respectful sequel to Ridley Scott’s 1982 original, with director Denis Villeneuve still going from strength to strength.

Brigsby Bear (Dave McCary, 2017) – a nice slice of feel-good fish-out-of-water comedy from three former Saturday Night Live cast members.

It (Andy Muschietti, 2017) – could anybody make Pennywise the clown creepier than Tim Curry’s portrayal in the 1990 TV mini-series? The answer – in the form of Bill Skarsgård – is a big fat yes. One of the most innovative horrors I’ve seen in years. Look out for rising star Sophia Lillis.

I, Tonya (Craig Gillespie, 2017) – “…and the award for ‘Best Sporting Moment Set To The Music Of ZZ Top’ goes to…”. An early career peak by Margot Robbie in a more worthy contender than Get Out for Best Picture.

Ingrid Goes West (Matt Spicer, 2017) – Aubrey Plaza plays to type as a creepy stalker to Elizabeth Olsen’s perfect It girl. Unnerving, like Scorsese’s Taxi Driver with smart-phones instead of guns.

Kong: Skull Island (Jordan Vogt-Roberts, 2017) – Hollywood can still knock out a decent B-movie if it puts its mind to it.

Logan (James Mangold, 2017) – after the endless junk of Marvel and DC films over the last decade, at last something a bit different from the usual template.

Split (M. Night Shyamalan, 2016) – I’ve never really understood the appeal of James McAvoy until now. A great twist too, as Shyamalan returns to his trademark curtain reveal.

Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (Rian Johnson, 2017) – thankfully the most anticipated film of 2017 wasn’t a let-down, even if Rian Johnson did sweep the table of most of the questions posed by J.J. Abrams’ Episode VII.

The Big Sick (Michael Showalter, 2017) – finally, a rom-com that breaks the mould. Contains a great 9/11 joke. Too soon?

The Disaster Artist (James Franco, 2017) – overachiever James Franco directs and stars in a passion project about the making of 2003’s The Room, one of the best worst films ever made. Very funny, particularly for those not already in on the joke.

The Florida Project (Sean Baker, 2017) – Best Supporting Actor nominee Willem Dafoe is dependable as the manager of a motel near Disneyworld (the film is named after the construction name for the theme park). Almost a companion piece to Andrea Arnold’s American Honey (2016), the film deals with the trials and tribulations of those stuck in temporary accommodation on the outskirts of Orlando.

T2 Trainspotting (Danny Boyle, 2017) – the other mega-respectful sequel of 2017, Danny Boyle’s film spliced joyous nostalgia with a stinging sense of regret. Also, I was lucky to get to meet him when he was in New Zealand promoting the film.

Thor: Ragnarok (Taika Waititi, 2017) – from one of the greatest trailers ever put together, came a film that followed through on its promise of a fun, fun ride. I’m not sure how it will be viewed in the future – particularly next to the other films in the series – but it sure beats all the po-faced posturing by Captain America and the rest of the Avengers.

Voyeur (Myles Kane, Josh Koury, 2017) – documentaries these days are so well produced and directed, they really entertain and envelop you in a narrative that wouldn’t be possible with the restrictive talking head format of yesteryear. This film follows celebrated New York journalist Gay Talese as he tackles the story of a Colorado motel owner who claimed to have been spying, unimpeded, on his guests for decades.

Wind River (Taylor Sheridan, 2017) – Taylor Sheridan (Sicario, Hell Or High Water) can pen a decent story, usually concerning law enforcement fighting a losing battle, and Wind River is no different. Elizabeth Olsen plays an FBI agent sent to Wyoming to investigate a murder on an Indian Reservation.


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!

(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.

(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.

(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.

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