2019 Oscar Nominations – My Thoughts

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The nominations for this year’s upcoming Academy Awards have been announced and we now know exactly which films will be vying for the coveted golden statuette. My general opinion is that it’s a pretty poor mix of films, especially in the Best Picture field. This is in-keeping with the ongoing fiasco they are facing from not having a host, facing controversy with a proposed new category and relegating certain categories to be announced in commercial breaks. But it is what it is and the Oscars are never going to be universally correct for everyone’s tastes. In fact, 2018 in general wasn’t a great year for films and there were just too many films that disappointed and didn’t reach their full potential.

Best Picture

A Star Is Born
BlacKkKlansman
Black Panther
Bohemian Rhapsody
Green Book
Roma
The Favourite
Vice

Predicted Win: Roma

I really do think this is a poor field. This category can have between 5 and up to 10 nominees depending on the Academy’s votes and I’m surprised there are only 8. At the time of writing, I am still yet to see A Star Is Born. BlacKkKlansman, Green Book and Roma are probably my favourites but they are all films that have some serious flaws. I liked Bohemian Rhapsody but I’m surprised it’s featured here as it recieved quite a mixed response and especially for all of its behind-the-scenes drama. I also like both The Favourite and Vice but neither film is their respective directors best work and I have some serious issues with both of them. Black Panther is here for a different reason I think, mainly to satisfy more casual filmgoers and despite the rapturous response from both critics and audiences it recieved, I think it really succumbs to all the usual third act antics and Michael B. Jordan’s villain isn’t as developed as everyone seems to think he is.

I think Roma will win here as it’s the only deserving winner from the films that I have seen. I loved Green Book but its subject matter would be a problematic win. Despite me really liking BlacKkKlansman, it’s not Spike Lee’s best work and has a really wobbly first act and is very preachy in its main message. Even being nominated, unfortunately Roma represents Netflix’s continuing rise and the inherent problems of their films distribution is only going to increase. Now that they have a filmmaker of the calibre of Alfonso Cuarón on board, they’re only going to go from strength to strength.

As for films that were snubbed, it’s a real shame that Widows didn’t get quite the response it deserved as this would have been a really deserving film here, as would Boy Erased and also First Reformed and Leave No Trace. The other Awards contender that looked likely to gain a spot was If Beale Street Could Talk but I am yet to see the film. It was never going to be nominated for anything but my controversial personal favourite film of last year, Sicario 2: Soldado, also is more than worthy of a place here.

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Best Actor

Bradley Cooper for A Star Is Born
Christian Bale for Vice
Rami Malek for Bohemian Rhapsody
Viggo Mortensen for Green Book
Willem Dafoe for At Eternity’s Gate

Predicted Win: Christian Bale for Vice

I think this is a three way race between Bradley Cooper, Christian Bale and Rami Malek. Although I am still yet to see A Star Is Born, I think Bale is the deserving winner who delivers a knock-out performance as Dick Cheney in Vice. Cooper could win here as he has hasn’t received a Best Director nod for his directorial debut and Rami Malek won at the Golden Globes so it could be any of the three. Viggo Mortensen is also brilliant in Green Book and the performances in the film really carry it but I don’t think he’ll win.

It’s a shame that Ethan Hawke hasn’t been nominated here for his excellent performance in First Reformed, Robert Redford for his swansong The Old Man and the Gun and Clint Eastwood for The Mule. Benicio Del Toro is also wonderful in Sicario 2: Soldado, which again never would have featured but it’s criminal he wasn’t nominated for the first film.

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Best Actress

Glenn Close for The Wife
Lady Gaga for A Star Is Born
Melissa McCarthy for Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Olivia Colman for The Favourite
Yalitza Aparicio for Roma

Predicted Win: Glenn Close for The Wife

This is a very strong category and I think it’s a race between Close and Colman. I think Close is more likely to win due to her Golden Globe speech but both have never won the coveted Award. It’s great to see Yalitza Aparicio get a nomination here for Roma which she was so good in and this will undoubtedly boost her career. It would have been good to have seen Toni Collette’s career best performance in Hereditary to be featured here as well, but instead of who is difficult to call. Nicole Kidman also puts in a great performance in Destroyer.

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Best Supporting Actor

Adam Driver for BlacKkKlansman
Mahershala Ali for Green Book
Richard E. Grant for Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Sam Elliott for A Star Is Born
Sam Rockwell for Vice

Predicted Win: Richard E. Grant for Can You Ever Forgive Me?

A fairly weak collection of nominations. I think Richard E. Grant could win this as even though Mahershala Ali is probably the strongest competition, he has won recently for Moonlight. That said, Ali does seem to be getting all the Awards so far. It’s good to see Sam Elliott nominated but surprising to see Sam Rockwell as his performance as former President Bush is overshadowed by Christian Bale in Vice and he won just last year for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Adam Driver has continued to get attention for his performance in BlacKkKlansman but I don’t think he’s particularly great in it so I think he’s a wasted slot in this field. Daniel Kaluuya in Widows would have been a much better choice, as would Joel Edgerton for his sinister turn in Boy Erased or even Josh Brolin in Avengers: Infinity War.

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Best Supporting Actress

Amy Adams for Vice
Emma Stone for The Favourite
Marina de Tavira for Roma
Rachel Weisz for The Favourite
Regina King for If Beale Street Could Talk

Predicted Win: Regina King for If Beale Street Could Talk

This is another strong field for actresses this year but I think Regina King will win for her rapturously acclaimed performance in If Beale Street Could Talk. Any of these would be worthy winners and I’m particularly happy to see Marina de Tavira get nominated as I think arguably she gives the best performance in the film. Sometimes the Academy can surprise! It’s also interesting to see both Weisz and Stone recieve nominations, not just one of them. As for omissions, I’d love to have seen Tilda Swinton featured for her three performances in Suspiria.

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Best Director

Adam McKay for Vice
Alfonso Cuarón for Roma
Pawel Pawlikowski for Cold War
Spike Lee for BlacKkKlansman
Yorgos Lanthimos for The Favourite

Predicted Win: Alfonso Cuarón for Roma

This is a weak field this year and I think this will be a very easy win for Alfonso Cuarón as his influence is all over Roma and many will appreciate it for its autobiographical quality. Spike Lee and Yorgos Lanthimos are good nominations but neither of their films are their best. Adam McKay’s nomination is laughable. Like Marina de Tavira in the Best Supporting Actress category, it’s suprising to see a nomination here for Pawel Pawlikowski, but a welcome one. A stronger field would have consisted of Steve McQueen for Widows, Luca Guadagnino for Suspiria and Paul Greengrass for 22 July.

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Best Original Screenplay 

Paul Schrader for First Reformed
Nick Vallelonga, Brian Hayes Currie and Peter Farrelly for Green Book
Alfonso Cuarón for Roma
Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara for The Favourite
Adam McKay for Vice

Predicted Win: Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara for The Favourite

A good selection and a tough one to call. I suspect The Favourite is probably the mostly likely to win here, as that script perhaps carries the film more than the other films. It’s particularly pleasing to see Paul Schrader feature even though the film was snubbed in other major categories as the script. Ideally, I’d like to see Schrader win but I think that’s a tall ask.

THE FAVOURITE

Best Adapted Screenplay

Eric Roth, Bradley Cooper and Will Fetters for A Star Is Born
Charlie Wechtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott and Spike Lee for BlacKkKlansman
Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty for Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Barry Jenkins for If Beale Street Could Talk
Joel Coen and Ethan Coen for The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

Predicted Win: Charlie Wechtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott and Spike Lee for BlacKkKlansman

Another strong selection and another tough one to call. I think Holofcener and Whitty deserve to win for Can You Ever Forgive Me? but seeing as BlacKkKlansman has won this Award so far in other ceremonies, perhaps this might again. Good to see The Coen’s get a mention here too.

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Best Foreign Language Film

Capernaum
Cold War
Never Look Away
Roma
Shoplifters

Predicted Win: Roma

Rather ignorantly I must admit, I am yet to see most of these films and the only one I have currently seen is Roma. But over the past few years, there have been some excellent films nominated (possibly even better than the main Best Picture category!) so I will definitely watch these at some point. This is a difficult category to call as I have predicted Roma to win Best Picture so it might seem a little unfair if it were to take the gong here as well. If Roma doesn’t win here, I suspect Cold War will win, particularly as it’s managed to achieve nominations in other major categories.

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Best Animated Feature

Incredibles 2
Isle of Dogs
Mirai
Ralph Breaks The Internet
Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse

Predicted Win: Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse

This is another interesting field and I think the race is probably between Incredibes 2 and Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse. Pixar normally dominate this field and whilst reviews were very positive for this long-awaited sequel, Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse could edge it as no-one expected it to be as good as it is. I think it would be my personal choice as well as I found Incredibles 2 a rather underwhelming sequel.

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Best Cinematography

Matthew Libatique for A Star Is Born
Lukasz Zal for Cold War
Caleb Deschanel for Never Look Away
Alfonso Cuarón for Roma
Robbie Ryan for The Favourite

Predicted Win: Alfonso Cuarón for Roma

This isn’t all that strong a field and I think this is probably Roma‘s to win again, as it really aids the film in how it tells its story and it is beautiful to watch. The same can be said for Cold War, which is probably the next contender if Roma doesn’t take it but I think that would be unlikely. A stronger field would have included Sean Bobbitt for Widows, Seamus McGarvey for Bad Times At The El Royale, Benjamin Loeb for Mandy and Sayombhu Mukdeproom for Suspiria.

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Best Editing

Barry Alexander Brown for BlacKkKlansman
John Ottman for Bohemian Rhapsody
Patrick J. Don Vito for Green Book
Yorgos Mavropsaridis for The Favourite
Hank Corwin for Vice

Predicted Win: Hank Corwin for Vice

Unless Christian Bale wins for his performance, I think this is Vice‘s best shot at an Oscar.

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Best Production Design

Hannah Beachler and Jay Hart for Black Panther
Nathan Crowley and Kathy Lucas for First Man
John Myhre and Gordon Sim for Mary Poppins Returns
Eugenio Caballero and Barbara Enriquez for Roma
Fiona Crombie and Alice Felton for The Favourite

Predicted Win: John Myhre and Gordon Sim for Mary Poppins Returns

These are all worthy nominees and it’s a tough one to call. My hunch would be Mary Poppins Returns seeing as there’s always a film that hasn’t featured in the main categories and then gets this and hairstyling. If not, then probably The Favourite.

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Best Costume Design

Ruth E. Carter for Black Panther
Sandy Powell for Mary Poppins Returns
Alexandra Byrne for Mary, Queen of Scots
Mary Zophres for The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Sandy Powell for The Favourite

Predicted Win: Sandy Powell for The Favourite

I think this is again between Mary Poppins Returns and The Favourite, but I think The Favourite will probably edge it here.

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Best Make-Up and Hairstyling

Goran Lundstrom and Pamela Goldammer for Border
Jenny Shircore, Marc Pilcher and Jessica Brooks for Mary, Queen of Scots
Greg Cannom, Kate Biscoe and Patricia DeHaney for Vice

Predicted Win: Greg Cannom, Kate Biscoe and Patricia DeHaney for Vice

This is probably another one for Vice in terms of how it aids the performances.

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Best Original Score

Terence Blanchard for BlacKkKlansman
Ludwig Görannson for Black Panther
Nicholas Britell for If Beale Street Could Talk
Alexandre Desplat for Isle of Dogs
Marc Shaiman for Mary Poppins Returns

Predicted Win: Ludwig Görannson for Black Panther

A mixed bag. Firstly, how did Marc Shaiman get in here? I’m also surprised that Alexandre Desplat managed to get in as well. Terence Blanchard’s score is good but I think the win will be for Ludwig Göransson. There were loads of snubs in this category that could have dramatically improved this – West Dylan Thordson for Glass, Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans for Boy Erased, Johann Johannsson for Mandy, Thom Yorke for Suspiria and Justin Hurwitz for First Man.

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Best Original Song

‘Shallow’ in A Star Is Born
‘All The Stars’ in Black Panther
‘The Place Where Lost Things Go’ in Mary Poppins Returns
‘I’ll Fight’ in RBG
‘When A Cowboy Trades His Spurs For Wings’ in The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

Predicted Win: ‘Shallow’ in A Star Is Born

This seems to have dominated so far so I suspect this wins.

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Best Sound Mixing

Tom Ozanich, Dean A. Zupancic, Jason Ruder and Steven Morrow for A Star Is Born
Steve Boeddeker, Brandon Proctor, Peter J. Devlin for Black Panther
Paul Massey, Tim Cavagin and John Casali for Bohemian Rhapsody
Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montano, Ai-Ling Lee and Mary H. Ellis for First Man
Skip Lievsay, Craig Henighan and Jose Antonio Garcia for Roma

Predicted Win: Skip Lievsay, Craig Henighan and Jose Antonio Garcia for Roma

A tough one to call here but again, I would say if Roma has a sweep, this could be another award to add to its collection, but First Man could also prevail here as it’s a more technical film.

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Best Sound Editing

Ethan Van der Ryn and Erik Aadahl for A Quiet Place
Benjamin A. Burtt and Steve Boeddeker for Black Panther
John Warhurst and Nina Hartstone for Bohemian Rhapsody
Ai-Ling Lee and Mildred Latrou for First Man
Sergio Diaz and Skip Lievsay for Roma

Predicted Win: Ethan Van der Ryn and Erik Aadahl for A Quiet Place

This category is A Quiet Place‘s sole nomination and I think it could actually win here, as sound is so important to the central conceit of the film.

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Best Visual Effects

Dan DeLeeuw, Kelly Port, Russell Earl and Daniel Sudick for Avengers: Infinity War
Chris Lawrence, Mike Eames, Theo Jones and Chris Cobould for Christopher Robin
Paul Lambert, Ian Hunter, Tristan Myles and J. D. Schwalm for First Man
Roger Guyett, Grady Cofer, Matthew E. Butler and David Shirk for Ready Player One
Rob Bredow, Patrick Tubach, Neal Scanlan and Dominic Tuohy for Solo: A Star Wars Story

Predicted Win: Paul Lambert, Ian Hunter, Tristan Myles and J. D. Schwalm for First Man

A very intersting if not slightly disappointing field and a tough one to call. I’m gobsmacked that Christopher Robin and Solo: A Star Wars Story have been able to garner nominations. I think the winner will be First Man. Glaring omissions include Aquaman, Mandy and Annihilation.

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Overall

So based on my predictions, I’m predicting Roma to be a very dominant presence with the other Best Picture nominees perhaps picking up an Award here and there. Roma’s success isn’t certain though and this makes for quite an exciting year due to how unpredictable it is. In the technical categories, Roma, The Favourite and First Man potentially pose the biggest threat.

There are a few films that, inevitably, have been overlooked. These include:

  • Widows – no nominations at all despite getting good reviews and being released in Awards season
  • Boy Erased – some found this to be Awards bait but I really liked it
  • First Reformed – other than one nomination for its screenplay, this deserved to feature more
  • Sicario 2: Soldado – my personal favourite film of 2017, although this was never going to get a nomination

But other than these, a generally unremarkable set of nominations and it’ll be interesting to see who goes home with what award.

The Academy Award Winners will be announced on Sunday 24th February

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Ranking The Comic-Book Films of 2018

The comic-book genre is continuing to reach new heights and 2018 brought 7 new films (6 live-action, 1 animation) to the table. This continues the trend of an increase in this type of film each year. As a reflection on last year, in this post, I will rank these films in order of my personal preference.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe reached giddy heights this year, particularly with Avengers: Infinity War acting as a culmination of all the films thus far and a storyline that will carry on in the upcoming Avengers: Endgame. Many would argue that Black Panther was the studio’s crowning achievement with it being the first Marvel film to earn lots of Awards nominations and even be nominated for the Best Picture Academy Award through its progressive representations of diversity. Whilst Ant-Man and the Wasp didn’t receive as rapturous a response as Marvel’s two other efforts, many felt it to be an enjoyable pallette cleanser ahead of Endgame.

DC mainly sat the year out but struck big with Aquaman in December which recieved positive reviews, course-correcting their shaky track record so far. It also made a splash at the box office earning over $1 billion dollars along with Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War.

Whilst three films were meant to be released in the X-Men film series last year, only Deadpool 2 made it into release which was another success for the studio. Now that the merger between Fox and Disney is underway, the future of this series is unclear but fingers crossed Dark Phoenix and The New Mutants get a release this year.

Finally, Sony had an interesting year with the genre. Venom, a Spider-Man spin-off focussing on the famous nemesis released and there was a big divide in response, critics mixed and audiences generally liking it. It also surprisingly did well at the box office which has resulted in a sequel being greenlit. Lastly, Sony also released the animated Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse in December which opened to surprisingly overwhelmingly positive reviews despite the marketing of the film making it look rather lacklustre.

Overall, I would say this was a disappointing year for the genre in that nothing really excelled and this has been quite a hard list to rank as many of them are very similar in quality. Let’s get started!

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7) Venom

Venom is a strange concoction. I can’t say I liked the film much and for a lot of it, it is embarassing to sit through. The script is so obvious and cliched and story beats so haphazardly and embarassingly put together. Brock’s girlfriend, Anne Weying, played by the always brilliant Michelle Williams, is a particular sore point as Brock betrays her for the sake of journalism very early in the film and then has the cheek to hang around her trying to win her back. At the beginning, Tom Hardy’s performance is cringeworthy and his character is an annoying loser and an embarassment of a low point of an entry into the career of journalism. Furthermore, the action sequences are ostensibly terrible, resorting to shaky-cam and there is a complete lack of any choreography or movement, making them also incoherent despite them being conventional.

Bizarrely, when Venom enters the film, the film begins to unknowingly start to create an interesting dynamic between the symbiote and Brock, with some rather juvenile but interesting humour. Hardy does better in these scenes and the back-and-forth fares well.Also, there is a genius post-credit scene that hints at a better sequel. With this and Tom Hardy finally coming to terms with his character towards the end of the film, I would strangely look forward to a sequel. (My full review here)

There is now a big step in quality…

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6) Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse 

I’m not sure how to position this film between 5th and 6th place and a rewatch may bump this up but for the moment, I have it 6th. Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse is an energetic and entertaining film that is heartfelt and provides a refreshing spin on the popular superhero. It packs some good twists in its storyline and should be a delight for comic-book fans through some more obscure and metatextual references. It finds big success in playing with comic-book convention and it manages to not fall into certain pitfalls of the genre. But it’s not quite as good as it could have been as it falls into typical problems of a lacklustre villain who is underdeveloped and underused and the customary final act fight is a little tiring. (My full review here)

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5) Aquaman

Aquaman just about works as a film and it is a largely entertaining underwater extravaganza that is consistently visually stunning. I was frequently in awe witnessing the underwater world Wan created and there are many shots in the film that are wonderfully crafted. Even when the characters are on land, the visuals are excellent and a chase scene in a Sicilian setting is choreographed particularly well. As for Aquaman himself, James Wan certainly embraces the more corny aspects of the character but manages to inject a lot of heart and development to make him more likeable which is a relief. This cheesy tone Wan goes for isn’t entirely successful and the film is stuffed with formulaic dialogue and plot points. It’s also overlong at a whopping 143 minutes and although not to as bad an extent as other films, it does succumb to a CGI-fest in its final act. (My full review here)

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4) Black Panther

Black Panther is a mixed bag and has some severe structural problems that really hinder the film. Coogler fails to develop what are some really interesting ideas and the action sequences are surprisingly poor. That said, it is mostly entertaining and the first half is quite strong. On the strength of some of the characters and with a firmer grasp of the material, there is potential for the future. At least Coogler has created a film that is very standalone in the canon. Black Panther isn’t concerned with setting up future sequels or constantly referencing other films, which is a good thing as there have been some installments that have fallen down this rabbit hole. That said, I really don’t understand why this film is being heralded as one of the best superhero films of all time and the Oscar nominations honestly bewilder me. (My full review here)

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3) Avengers: Infinity War

Avengers: Infinity War begins very strongly with some bold choices in its narrative. The Russo Brothers manage to juggle all the character arcs well and manage to craft a coherent, unified narrative that doesn’t feel overstuffed. What I particularly liked about this film given its flaws was how the Russo’s have admirably attempted to adapt the character of Thanos to the big screen, with Josh Brolin putting in a scene-stealing performance. The idea they had that this film was going to be from his perspective is an interesting one and this would have really worked well and made the film more fresh if they had actually gone in this direction and focussed on him more. There are a number of scenes from his perspective where his motivations are made clear and Brolin’s villain is one that can be empathised with. Thanos has to make a number of key decisions, some that bring a lot of emotional pain and this is dealt with really well.

Unfortunately, the film runs into problems as it then starts to involve too many characters which impact the film tonally and they then makes a cheap, poor choice in its conclusion which is really frustrating. There is always the risk in these kind of tentpole films to lose focus when there is a whole roster of characters to follow and whilst each superhero does get their moment to shine, some inevitably do get more screentime than others. That said, the Russo’s clearly have tried their best and the choices they have made are generally sound in terms of characterisations. (My full review here)

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2) Deadpool 2 

Deadpool 2 was a pleasant surprise given how I wasn’t a big fan of the first film. The film manages to successfully expand on its predecessor and wind up being a far superior film. The jokes land far more consistently than the first film and it’s a far more engaging narrative which successfully subverts the genre and develops the now familiar character. The first film failed to do this with its obvious jokes and its formulaic narrative. Ryan Reynolds once again, completely inhabits the titular role. Director David Leitch slickly directs this sequel (after Tim Miller exited) and as expected, the action sequences are creative and visually pleasing. The laughs fly in frequently to the point where I couldn’t stop laughing and missed the next one. This is definitely a film which requires repeat viewings to fully appreciate this film. The film isn’t perfect and its chief problem is its rather shambolic construction but the laughs make up for it and it all just about comes together in the end. (My full review here)

And the best comic-book film of 2018 is…

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1) Ant-Man and the Wasp 

This is probably a controversial decision but for me, Ant-Man and the Wasp was an absolute blast from start to finish. It is just as good as the original and like it, it is full of heart and character-driven moments. Director Peyton Reed further develops the innovative action sequences through the creative variations in size and spectacle in the first film, a car chase fares particularly well. This is aided again by confident performances from the cast all around and the additions of new cast members make the film feel fresh. Laurence Fishburne and Randall Park fare the best out of the new additions, Fishburne fitting perfectly into this world and Park is frequently hilarious as a bumbling, slightly useless agent. Like Black Panther, this film feels refreshingly standalone within the Marvel canon and despite my frustrations at Infinity War‘s ending, it does tie in well to it. It’s not particularly deep like my winner of last year, Logan, was, nor does it reinvent the genre but this is my top pick purely based on how enjoyable it is. I can’t wait for another sequel if they’re this good. (My full review here)



What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments or tweet @TheFilmMeister


 

Holmes and Watson (Review)

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⭐⭐ (Poor)

Director: Etan Cohen
Starring: Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly, Rebecca Hall, Rob Brydon, Steve Coogan, Kelly Macdonald, Pam Ferris, Lauren Lapkus, Hugh Laurie, Ralph Fiennes
Certificate: 12A
Run Time: 89 mins

With a cast this strong and the idea of making a comedic version of Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous detective sounding like genius on paper, Holmes and Watson sadly fails to deliver on that promise. Etan Cohen’s sophomore directorial effort to the relatively funny Get Hard doesn’t seem to understand Sherlock Holmes well enough and the film’s narrative is very lazy and uninspired. Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly seem to be having fun at least but for both actors, they are laden with a bottom-of-the-barrel script which subjects them to some excruciating dialogue. The film wastes its wider cast too, especially Ralph Fiennes whose role is more of a cameo rather than a relatively high billing on the poster. There’s a couple of slight chuckles to be had (I think I laughed perhaps twice or three times throughout the whole film) but virtually all of the film’s jokes don’t land. It’s quite shocking to witness the lack of creativity in this film as it really isn’t hard to come up with at least one exciting set piece. The ending is particularly bad and is set on the Titanic which is both a cheap move and historically inaccurate to this time period.

Whilst Holmes and Watson seems like a travesty on paper, it isn’t quite as bad as the critics are making out. I laughed two or three times which is better than none. Also, at least the film isn’t offensive. Daddy’s Home, another Will Ferrell vehicle, for example is far worse in that it is mean-spirited in tone and its characters infinitely more annoying. Whilst that’s hardly a ringing endorsement for this film, there is worse out there. Ultimately, it’s a real shame that Holmes and Watson doesn’t fulfil the potential it had on paper and the end result is very disappointing.

⭐⭐ (Poor)

Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey & Rodney Rothman
Starring: (voices of) Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson, Hailee Steinfeld, Mahershala Ali, Brian Tyree Henry, Lily Tomlin, Nicolas Cage, Liev Schreiber
Certificate: PG
Run Time: 117 mins

Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse is a surprisingly good film that has plenty of heart,  well-developed characters and manages to put a fresh spin on the famous Web-Slinger amidst the superhero fatigue. The marketing siginificantly diminshed my expectations as it looked to be a crowded, overstuffed film that struck a boisterous tone. The idea of having multiple versions of Spider-Man is an interesting one and it gives this film a chance to bring back many fan favourites and explore alternative characters that have been previously marginalised.

This film follows Miles Morales instead of Peter Parker (who features as well), a mixed race teenager who struggles to fit in at school and doesn’t meet the lofty expectations of his parents, specifically his policeman father who also doesn’t see Spider-Man as a benefit to the city. When Miles gets bitten by a radioactive spider to become the eponymous superhero, he stumbles across Kingpin who is trying to experiment accessing parallel universes in an effort to bring back his deceased wife and son. This then, as one would expect, causes problems and different versions of Spider-Man are brought into Miles’ dimension. These include Peter Parker, Spider-Gwen and more obscure versions of the character such as Spider-Noir and Spider-Ham.  They all have to team up to defeat Kingpin so that they can return to their respective universes before they deteriorate.

Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse succeeds in playing with comic-book convention and it manages to not fall into certain pitfalls of the genre. Perhaps the most impressive is how it tells the origin stories of all the characters in the film without spending too much time and doing it in a comedic manner. This is a fun and fresh take on this and allows the film to get to its main narrative thread quicker. The voice cast are all excellent and all seem to be having fun. Although not quite as funny as it could have been, there’s plenty of laughs to be had in this film as well through physical gags to obscure comic-book references for the fans. There’s also a very touching Stan Lee cameo made all the more heartfelt since his passing.

With all that said, I don’t think it’s quite as good as it has been made out to be. It does succumb somewhat to typical third-act antics with an overlong and not particularly exciting final battle. Despite some hints at a more fleshed out character, the villain Kingpin is underused and quite one-dimensional. Both problems this film has are also the downfall of Aquaman as well, currently playing in cinemas too.

Overall, Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse is an energetic and entertaining film that is heartfelt and provides a refreshing spin on the popular superhero. It packs some good twists in its storyline and should be a delight for comic-book fans through some more obscure and metatextual references. But it’s not quite as good as it could have been as it falls into typical problems of a lacklustre villain and a slightly tiring third act.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Aquaman (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: James Wan
Starring: Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Willem Dafoe, Patrick Wilson, Dolph Lundgren, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Nicole Kidman 
Certificate: 12A
Run Time: 143 mins

The DCEU has had a very rocky ride to date and for every glimmer of success that some of the films have hinted at, they then take a regressive step backward. Aquaman is the first film post-Justice League, the long-awaited team up which ended up being a disappointment that was pulled in many different directions by its authors. Having James Wan in the director’s chair is a good sign, an individual who has gone from strength to strength in his career and has been a key figure in revitalising the horror genre. As a character, Aquaman has never really appealed to film audiences through his ability to communicate to fish which isn’t exactly a superpower. Certainly, his character introduction in Justice League left a lot to be desired.

Aquaman just about works as a film and it is a largely entertaining underwater extravaganza that is consistently visually stunning. I was frequently in awe witnessing the underwater world Wan created and there are many shots in the film that are wonderfully crafted. Even when the characters on land, the visuals are excellent and a chase scene in a Sicilian setting is choreographed particularly well. As for Aquaman himself, James Wan certainly embraces the more corny aspects of the character but manages to inject a lot of heart and development to make him more likeable which is a relief. This cheesy tone Wan goes for isn’t entirely successful and the film is stuffed with formulaic dialogue and plot points. It’s also overlong at a whopping 143 minutes and although not to as bad an extent as other films, it does succumb to a CGI-fest in its final act.

The cast all mostly coast along and embrace the silliness of it all. Jason Momoa has clearly settled into the role enough to successfully carry his own film and won me over early on. Momoa has good chemsitry with Amber Heard and it’s good to see stalwarts like Willem Dafoe having fun. Patrick Wilson’s villain is a little disappointing due to a general lack of character development, even if the actor gives it his best effort. That said, Yahya Abdul Mateen II’s portrayal of the secondary villain, Black Manta is excellent and there is certainly potential in a future film for him to be a bigger bright spot.

Rupert Gregson-William’s score is worthy of mention and he crafts some memorable themes for the character. It’s good to see that he has experimented a lot more compared to his score for Wonder Woman which was unfortunately not memorable.

Overall, Aquaman is a serviceable entry in the DCEU that succeeds more on the strength of its visual effects. Its function as a film is mixed in its shabby construction and corny tone. The general likening of this film to Phase 1 Marvel films is an astute comparison – that it’s entertaining but doesn’t really have much depth. Regardless, it’s a step in the right direction for the DCEU and one would hope this success can continue.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Roma (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Starring: Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira, Fernando Grediaga, Jorge Entonio Guerrero
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 135 mins

One would have thought after having directed Gravity, director Alfonso Cuarón would tackle another behemoth of a project. Unconventionally, Cuarón has chosen to make this black-and-white Mexican drama that draws many personal parallels to his upbringing in Mexico City in the 1970s. Roma‘s story follows Yalitza Aparicio’s maid who works for a well-off family who cooks and cleans and is someone who the children regard as family. Yet, Mexico City is presented as a turbulent setting in this period with student protests and police violence part of the everyday norm.

Viewers may well get frustrated with this film as it takes a while for the story to get going but Roma succeeds more based on the feelings of intimacy it provokes and the relationships between all of the well-developed characters. Especially once the film reaches a climactic event about two thirds of the way through, it is a masterfully haunting, meditative piece and deeply emotional. As to be expected, Roma is consistently visually arresting. Cuarón’s first time as cinematographer is an unqualified success who uses deep depths of field within each frame which give the film a personal, dream-like quality. The performances by the cast all round are excellent with Aparicio brilliant in the leading role as the reserved yet maternal maid who Cuarón digs deeper into her psyche as the film progresses. Equally impressive in her performance is Marina de Tavira as the mother of the family, a character who goes through her own upsets, but has a true respect for her family and the maids.

Whilst it took a while for Roma to work its spell on me, when it did, I was utterly transfixed and resonated emotionally wih the film. I suspect on a second viewing, it’s a film that I could like even more when it begins to reveal its deeper meanings. It fully deserves all the Awards attention it is recieving and the film works both on a visual and narative level.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Bird Box (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Susanne Bier
Starring: Sandra Bullock, Trevante Rhodes, John Malkovich, Danielle Macdonald, Lil Rey Howery, Jacki Weaver, Rosa Salazar, Colson Baker, B.D. Wong, Tom Hollander, Sarah Paulson
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 124 mins

Positioned as a cross between A Quiet Place and The Happening, director Susanne Bier’s post-apocalyptic thriller Bird Box lacks originality but is very entertaining. Essentially A Quiet Place with sight substituted for sound, this film follows Sandra Bullock’s Mallory, an expectant mother who manages to make it to safety when people start commiting mass suicide after being infected by an unknown entity. This story is told in flashback to Mallory escorting two children onto a boat down a river to get to safety wearing blindfolds in the present and we learn how she got to this point.

The best thing going for Bird Box is its convincing performances by its strong cast. John Malkovich is the standout as a pessimistic, boozy homeowner who harbours some of the survivors whilst they figure out what to do next. Malkovich could play this role in his sleep and he is given many of the script’s best lines. Both Trevante Rhodes and Lil Rey Howery are also charismatic in supporting roles.

Technically, this film is very proficient and handsomely shot by Salvatore Totino. There are some good action sequences too and a section where some of the characters risk their lives to get groceries from the supermarket is particularly nail-biting. This tension is heightened by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ subtly effective score.

Despite the film being entertaining, I’m unsure as to whether the decision to tell the story in a fragemented timeline is a good one. Some of the action sequences do feel a little stunted as we flick back-and-forth through the two different time periods. The fate of the characters is also obvious as we know what will eventually happen, which results in the film never being able to live up to its suspense potential. What perhaps would have been better would be to keep the first scene of Mallory’s river escapade and then tell the film in chronological order to come back to this moment, which still would have sustained a mystery element.

Bird Box is a solid film for Netflix and it’s a shame that the spectacle of this film can’t be beheld on the big screen for its memorable imagery. Regardless, despite being rather unoriginal, Bird Box partly makes up for in execution and entertainment but it is frustrating that the film cannot live up to its high-concept potential.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Mowgli: Legend Of The Jungle (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Andy Serkis
Starring: Rohan Chand, Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Benedict Cumberbatch, Naomie Harris, Andy Serkis, Matthew Rhys, Frieda Pinto
Certificate: 12A
Run Time: 104 mins

It seems a minor miracle that Andy Serkis’ long gestating alternative take on The Jungle Book has actually made it out for public viewing. First, the film recieved numerous delays and then Warner Bros got cold feet, thinking they had a disaster on their hands and the film was then unceremoniously acquired by Netflix. Part of the reason for this trepidation was undoubtedly the widescale success of Jon Favreau’s 2015 Disney film which recieved unanimous praise.  Serkis’ film could afford not to be anything other than stellar otherwise it would be unfavourably compared to Favreau’s take. Serkis takes a different look at these characters audiences have come to cherish by sticking more closely to Rudyard Kipling’s original material, offering a much darker and grittier take compared to Disney.

Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle is an ambitious film that is consistently entertaining and is very different to other interpretations that have come before it. The darker tone Serkis strikes suits the material well and results in a film that is more adult and this makes the stakes much more realistic for the character we have come to love. This is certainly not a film for younger audiences. Serkis again proves to be a master of motion capture and this film represents further evidence of his talents, that extends to the rest of the cast as well. The wild animals of the jungle look like their acting counterparts and this gives them much greater empathy.

The performances are great with both Andy Serkis as Baloo and Christian Bale as Bagheera the standouts, who have more of a wilder streak than Bill Murray and Ben Kingsley in Favreau’s version and both share a good chemistry. Matthew Rhys is also well cast as a human hunter in the native village, who is just as much a villain as Benedict Cumberbatch’s Shere Khan. Rohan Chand is solidly cast as the titular character but lacks the likeability of Neel Sethi’s performance in the 2016 film. Benedict Cumberbatch is also suitably nasty as Shere Khan in the limited screentime he has and it’s a shame that he isn’t all that developed.

The main problem with Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle is it doesn’t try to strike a dark enough tone. Having a 12A rating means it still appeals to slightly older children but cannot quite push the boundary in merciless violence to really deliver the additional bite the film needs. It also lacks the energetic pace of Favreau’s film whose film flows much better but this film is never boring.

Visually, the film also looks unfinished. Serkis’ intentions are admirable and the visual ideas posed here are good but it doesn’t look like he’s been given the budget to fully realise his film which means the film doesn’t look as refined as Favreau’s photorealist vision. This means that Serkis’ film has too have a good story to overcome the unfinished visuals which it has, which is the main success of this film. Serkis knows that character work is most important.

Overall, Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle is an ambitious retelling of Rudyard Kipling’s classic material and whilst it is ultimately a success, it is likely to be underappreciated due to releasing so quickly after the 2015 Disney film. It’s also a real shame that Warner Bros seemed to have such little confidence in this work and had Serkis been allowed to refine the visuals, this could have been a very good film. Instead, this film has been dumped on Netflix and unfortunately, one can only imagine how much better this film could have been had it of recieved a proper post-production and distribution.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

The Old Man And The Gun (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: David Lowery
Starring: Robert Redford, Casey Affleck, Danny Glover, Tika Sumpter, Tom Waits, Sissy Spacek
Certificate: 12A
Run Time: 93 mins

If The Old Man And The Gun is indeed Robert Redford’s swansong, it will be a very good note to go out on. This is an entertaining heist film based on a true story that poses some interesting questions yet deconstructs the generic constructs of the hist film with Redford’s portrayal of an older-aged bank robber with manners, Forrest Tucker, who is oddly charming, feel-good and unthreatening. After escaping prison for the umpteenth time, Tucker conducts an unprecedented amount of heists with an equally older-aged crew whilst Casey Affleck’s rookie family-man detective is hot on his tail. However, he also meets a new companion, Sissy Spacek’s peaceful horse rancher.

David Lowery’s film is a mature and oddly elegiac study into the psyche of the criminal, as he interrogates existential themes of a man who cannot not commit criminal acts as it makes him tick. Redford’s robber doesn’t know a life other than the one he has lived and despite finding a love interest, cannot settle. Lowery’s film is also consistently comedic, with many laughs to be had despite this being a serious subject.

The performances are uniformly excellent with Robert Redford being the standout, with his seductive but low-key and charming performance. Redford has some strong support from Sissy Spacek and their relationship is maturely portrayed on-screen. Danny Glover and Tom Waits are also excellent as members of Redford’s gang, with Waits getting a satisfying speech mid-way through the film.

Visually, The Old Man And The Gun looks sharp, with some great cinematography from Joe Anderson, who constructs some memorable shots. David Lowery’s regular composer Daniel Hart’s score is also fitting with the film, using jazz to create a soothing mood.

Overall, The Old Man And The Gun is a fine note for Redford to go out on (should this be his last role which he has alluded to) and for the most part, is an entertaining and original heist film. The amiable tone it sustains throughout is impressive and it makes for a satisfying tonic to the more gritty, thrilling aspects of the conventional heist film, yet revels in nostalgia to older 70’s heist films, mirroring the younger Robert Redford’s then-burgeoning career. I haven’t always been a fan of Lowery’s filmography but I really liked The Old Man And The Gun and it’s a film that has the potential to further develop on rewatches.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Suspiria (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Luca Guadagnino
Starring: Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, Mia Goth, Sylvie Testud, Jessica Harper, Chloë Grace Moretz 
Certificate: 18
Run Time: 152 mins

After heightening his career with the Academy Award nominated Call Me By Your Name, it seems a strange choice for director Luca Guadagnino to follow it up with a remake of an Italian giallo horror film. However, Guadagnino has proven multiple times that he doesn’t stick to convention and here he chooses to reinvent Dario Argento’s cult classic as a more radical and feminised affair. This remake relocates the narrative to an Autumnal 1977 Berlin and the political violent uprising of the Baader-Meinhof faction. Dakota Johnson plays the film’s protagonist who gains a place at the Markos dance academy, where strange things happen almost instantaneously, as it is revealed early on that the academy is ruled by a coven of witches.

Suspiria is an ambitious remake that manages to justify its existence by diverting heavily from the original. It features some memorable horror imagery, beautifully lensed by Sayombhu Mukdeeprom and revels in its grandeur that it takes its time in setting up, over the course of six chapters and an epilogue. The feminist-charged performances in this film are great, with the standout undoubtedly Tilda Swinton, who has three roles in the film and excels in all of them. Dakota Johnson is equally excellent in a role that has more development than one initially expects.

That said, Suspiria faulters in these ambitious in that it often feels very heavy, almost like a PhD thesis and this self-seriousness is undone by some of the more silly aspects of the Argento-influenced horror, which the film erratically veers between. Argento’s film is laughable in places and this is translated over to this remake as well. Crucially, for a film that is meant to be a horror film, it isn’t scary and because of the laughable nature of the subject material, it’s merely mildly unsettling in parts. The pacing is also langorous and there are stretches where the film lacks energy. Suspiria also represents Radiohead lead Thom Yorke’s first foray into film scoring. His score is excellent on its own, a mix of instrumental orchestral pieces and songs but it doesn’t always fit in with the film.

In summary, Suspiria is a mixed bag that succeeds more than it faulters. It’s a film that has the potential to improve on future rewatches. Regardless, I’m glad it exists and Guadagnino makes a strong case in what it means to remake a film. I think this is probably a better film than the original, which I have more problems with than this. Whilst an interesting experiment and Guadagnino has some great ideas, Suspiria isn’t quite the knockout it looked and deserved to have been.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)