The weather-effects team here seem to have put in an Oscar-worthy performance, perhaps having heard that I was supposed to be preaching on the Christmas story. Sadly they over-did it a bit, meaning church was actually snowed off and I am stuck inside. I’m considering heading out a bit later to the cinema and an afternoon service, but actually there’s not much I’m keen to see in the post-Awards season slump. But a friend did encourage me to blog a bit more about films, which I have not done lately for some reason. I have seen some good films in the past year so a round-up seems appropriate – not least to kick-start the decision making when I head to friends who have Netflix over the Easter break.
My film of the year was probably Get Out (all film links go to trailers) – an unusual choice of genre for me as I very rarely watch anything even vaguely resembling horror. I have described this as a horror film for people who don’t like horror films. The ingredients are there, including some gruesome moments and a few effective jump-scares, but mostly it’s layered and clever and deep and twisty, and offers a fascinating or perhaps chilling depiction of apparently liberal racism. Daniel Kaluuya performs brilliantly in the lead role which was deservedly Oscar-nominated. I also enjoyed seeing Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford as his girlfriend’s parents. It’s great seeing actors I remember fondly from The West Wing, and Allison Janney will get a mention further on. Kaluuya gave another powerful performance recently in Black Panther which I’m guessing most people will have seen, and I was pleased for him as he picked up the EE Rising Star award at the BAFTAs. Get Out was nominated as best film at the Oscars, which was an impressive achievement, but the originality of the screenplay was what won writer and director Jordan Peele an Oscar. Well-deserved.
Best film of course went to The Shape of Water, which I also enjoyed. It was a beautifully made film and as a fantasy, a rare genre choice for the top award. It brought together some cracking performances, a strangely attractive aquatic man and a lovely old-screen vibe which meant that even with some more sexual scenes, watching it with my parents was not too embarrassing. I think we all enjoyed it although it was quirky. It felt very original, although I was intrigued to hear that many elements of the story had appeared in the 1969 play by Paul Zindel, ‘Let Me Hear You Whisper’. Perhaps these allegations reduced the chances of Del Toro’s film winning best original screenplay.
Also missing out on best original screenplay were Emily Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani, whose own true life coma-complicated-courtship story The Big Sick was another film which really made me think this year. This was also quirky, with Nanjiani playing himself as more selfish and immature than perhaps an independent actor might have done. I think it works as a rom-com and is funny, but it also says things about being in an unbalanced relationship which resonated a lot for me at the time. It didn’t leave me feeling particularly good, but it’s closer to a feel-good movie than most of the Oscar contenders this year. After Hidden Figures and perhaps La-la Land last year, I’m struggling to think of a corresponding film which I could unequivocally recommend to most people as enjoyable and teenager/parent-friendly.
Most of the other films I would rate this year are more serious and even grim in places. I thought Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri was fantastic (strong language even in the trailer) and I really enjoyed the performances from Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson. They portray characters who are messy and full of contradictions, but the film clips along at a snappy pace with plenty of plot-development which is sometimes missing from more arty films. I also enjoyed The Post, particularly for the writing from Liz Hannah and Josh Singer. It took a while to get going, but the second half and Meryl Streep leading a newspaper in taking risks to expose government cover-up seemed like an important tale for our time. I also loved the dialogue in Molly’s Game, written and directed by Aaron Sorkin. He and Josh Singer had plenty of practice writing strong and nuanced female characters in the West Wing, most notably C.J. Cregg played by Allison Janney.
Janney picked up the Oscar for best-supporting actress for her powerfully unpleasant portrayal of Tonya Harding’s mother LaVona Golden in I, Tonya. It’s not a nice film, but she and Margot Robbie who played Tonya both did excellent work. I’d also praise the team who managed to edit footage of skilled skaters, stunt doubles and archive material together with the new performances so seamlessly. I probably preferred the mother-daughter dynamic in Lady Bird, another great film which missed out on any Oscars thanks to Janney, McDormand, Del Toro and Peele. This would be a stronger recommendation for families with older teens although it was appropriately rated 15. Greta Gerwig wrote and directed this wonderful coming-of-age story becoming amazingly the first woman to be nominated as best director for her debut film, and only the fifth woman to be nominated in this category ever. She’s certainly one to watch.
I was also a bit sorry that Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver didn’t win one of the sound/editing Oscars as I thought the syncing of soundtrack and action in this entertaining film deserved more of the love it got from the BAFTAs when it received the award for Best Editing. I suppose it glamourises crime and car chases but for me it combined the best of films like Fast and Furious with the musicality of La-La Land and the coolness of heist movies like Ocean’s 11. I’m looking forward to seeing what the new team do with a predominantly female cast Ocean’s 8 – Soderbergh and Clooney are producing this one rather than directing or starring in it. The poster is fab but it could go either way.
Most of the films I haven’t mentioned yet are more male-dominated. I thought Gary Oldman’s best actor Oscar for his performance as Churchill in The Darkest Hour was well-earned by him and the make-up team. I didn’t love the film although it made a strong case for the power of a great speech. I probably preferred Dunkirk as a Second World War film from a few different angles and was pleased it got some nominations and three sound/editing Oscars although this did mean Baby Driver missed out. Daniel Day-Lewis gave another unsettling but impressive portrayal of dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock in Phantom Thread, although the film picked up its only Oscar for costume design for some truly fabulous frocks.
One film I was disappointed to miss (I think I was in Germany) was Call Me By Your Name, the one Best film nominee I am still yet to see. Timothy Chalamet made an impression in Lady Bird, and missed out on the Best newcomer BAFTA to Daniel Kaluuya. I’m interested to see how far it follows Moonlight in bringing a more ordinary story of gay characters to a more mainstream audience, although quite how mainstream it went seems questionable as it was the one film I couldn’t see being repeated in my local multiplex around the awards season.
Last year I did manage to see all the Oscar nominated best films but didn’t actually see Moonlight before it had won the Oscar (once they sorted out the La-La Land fiasco). I’m hoping this run down might have given you ideas of something you might want to watch, or reminded you of something you might watch again. If it serves as some suggestions for Easter break Netflix then I wouldn’t mind seeing most of them again. Do leave me a comment if you think I’ve missed out any fab films from this last year…