Previews

Trailer comparison: Hidden Figures and Fences.

I saw Hidden Figures back in early January at a preview screening at Odeon. Since then I’ve been bombarded by trailer after trailer for the film.

This wouldn’t be a problem if it were a teaser we were talking about, but no. The final Hidden Figures trailer is the most tragic case of spoiling an entire film since we saw the same thing happen to Room around this time last year. These aren’t isolated cases, either. Trailers for Batman vs Superman and Viggo Mortensen’s Captain Fantastic were the other major culprits from last year, and I could list more if I wanted to spend time thinking about it. The unfortunate mentality of sheer desperation – of studios and editors thinking the only way to get audiences to pay for a film is by showing everything to them beforehand – is currently one of my biggest problems with the film industry.

Honestly, this is a case of a film blowing its entire load prematurely – and yes, the analogy to an overeager, desperate man unable to contain his excitement for the payoff is entirely appropriate. Within the Hidden Figures trailer – having seen the film and liked it very much, I can tell you for certain – we see brief clips from every major scene in the movie, beginning to end; we hear literally every relevant piece of dialogue, swiftly cut together at speed so as to fit it all in; and the overarching theme of the film is thrust upon you with virtually no sense of subtlety.

I’m going to put the trailer below to help illustrate my point. However, I will say this: if you have not yet seen this trailer and plan to see the film anyway (it is actually worth your time, hence my frustration), don’t watch it. Don’t ruin it for yourself. I know if I had seen this trailer beforehand, I likely would not have enjoyed Hidden Figures as much as I did. But then, I like to be surprised when I watch a film; perhaps you see a cinema trip as more of a risk and like to know absolutely every detail you’re going to see, in which case go ahead and watch this trailer. We’ll just continue to not understand each other.

There is a clear stopping point for me in that trailer – or rather, a point at which it becomes obvious they’re giving away too much. It is the line “I don’t know if I can keep up in that room”, as the general tone shifts to not-so-subtly make it clear that ‘hey, this is a film with a serious message you know’. Tonal shifts like this should be the film’s domain, not its trailer. But again, the trailer is too focused on squeezing every possible detail into two minutes, to let you know you might like this movie, if you liked its incredibly condensed version. It’s not too difficult to decipher, as well, that there is likely an agenda at play with the trailer for this film, if not the film itself. However, I’m going to save this part of my analysis for another article on each of the nine Best Picture nominees.

In contrast, the first trailer for Fences, another Best Picture nominee this year, is a much better example of a well executed trailer than the fast, desperate cutting of the Hidden Figures equivalent. If you watched the one above, now check out this trailer, and observe the clear difference between the two. Note there has since been a second trailer, similar to this but with only a few extra details added, though I haven’t seen that version shown in UK cinemas.

We’re left in no doubt from the Fences trailer that it also tackles some interesting themes and social issues; but it communicates this in much less words than the Hidden Figures equivalent, and does it without spoiling many of the film’s major scenes. In fact, this trailer communicates its message through clips from (seemingly) two major scenes, showing only brief glimpses of a few others while leaving the rest to the imagination, in effect building anticipation for the overall film. I think Hidden Figures could have achieved this too, though perhaps not to the same effect (there aren’t many actors with the screen presence of Denzel Washington, after all).

Bear in mind my comments here are not directly related to the quality of each film; rather, I’ve focused entirely on critiquing their trailers, though to do so is important as the quality of a trailer does correlate with how many people are going to see the film in question. I will be giving my thoughts on the films themselves when I give my breakdown on each of the nine contenders for the Best Picture Oscar in a separate post, to come soon.

Film reviews, LFF 2016

Moonlight.

moonlight-pic-1

On paper, Moonlight is a film that faced an uphill battle from the start. This film, perhaps more than any other this year, breaks conventions, and not just for the sake of doing so, but in order to tell its story. That story, and the tiny cast of characters we meet along the way, have helped Moonlight deservedly become one of the favourites for February’s Best Picture race at the Oscars on a relatively small $5 million budget and reportedly tight shooting schedule.

In reality, Moonlight is made a success precisely because it didn’t face an uphill battle when it came to its production crew. Director Barry Jenkins and his small, exclusively black cast give their all to tell a story often left untold in media and literature; that of a young black man, growing up in a rough neighborhood with an addict for a mother and surrounded by drug dealers, who discovers he’s gay. The latter part of that premise is what’s new here, but the rest of it shouldn’t be disregarded – this doesn’t come across as a heavy-handed social justice movie. On the contrary, its themes and ideas are there to complement its story, rather than force an agenda down your throat.

Central to this character-driven plot is Chiron, played over the course of the film by three different actors (Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders and Trevante Rhodes) as the story is split into three acts spanning childhood, adolescence and adulthood. Naomie Harris, brilliant as ever, plays his drug-addicted mother in a role for which she deserves recognition in Best Actress categories during awards season, while Mahershala Ali gives a similarly outstanding performance as crack dealer Juan, who becomes a father figure to Chiron in the first act.

One of the things I loved about this film was that it takes an issue often associated with ‘social justice’ and ‘political correctness’ – homosexuality – and puts it in an environment where those terms are alien; a community where common slang still involves words like faggot being thrown around liberally. In Moonlight the issue of homosexuality is real; it’s an intrinsic part of Chiron’s life, yet one he struggles to comprehend and doesn’t feel able to engage with openly or inwardly. It’s a world away from Facebook and Twitter, where everyone is bravely typing behind their computer screens, telling people they don’t know what they can or can’t say. For me, only through a film like Moonlight, which portrays the harsh realities that kids in certain communities face growing up, can an issue like this truly be engaged with in a helpful manner.

Anyone concerned about having to sit through uncomfortable sex scenes needn’t worry – this is certainly no Blue is the Warmest Colour. Essentially it’s a story about what’s left undone, what’s left unsaid in Chiron’s life; he himself is clearly an introvert who struggles to articulate his feelings at the best of times, having grown up without a father, and a mother who, when she wasn’t taking drugs, spent her time prostituting herself in order to pay for them. There is little here to offend anyone who appreciates good storytelling within its contextual setting.

Should Moonlight steal a few headlines in the early months of next year during awards season, there may be some who’ll try to claim it’s merely a reaction to last year’s “whitewashing” controversy, with its exclusively black cast. I hope I have communicated here that to do so would be a disservice to this film. It’s one of my favourite movies of the year, and the acting is some of the best I’ve seen this year. Whatever Moonlight wins in February, it has earned on merit – not because of some online social justice movement.

10 / 10

Previews

BFI London Film Festival 2016 – preview.

lff-2016-pic-1

I’ll say it right now; there is an intriguing battle shaping up for Best Picture at the Academy Awards next year.

On one hand, the favourite (quite clearly, for a reason I’ll go on to detail); Damien Chazelle’s La La Land, a musical about classical Hollywood and the kind of artistic work that the Academy usually goes for. On the other, an underdog, but almost certainly the film to win if Chazelle’s effort misses out: Nate Parker’s Birth of a Nation. Yes, that it shares its name with a certain other movie released in 1915 is intentional, as is the poignant choice to make it almost exactly 100 years after its namesake dominated headlines as the first mainstream American feature length film.

Now, anyone who follows the Academy Awards will know that this decision can be as much about politics as it is about finding the best film of the year. And anyone who paid attention to the controversy surrounding last year’s ceremony will also know that the issue of race has been a prevalent one for the Academy of late. In fact, it seems 2016 in general has been a year in which the issue of race has prominently reared its head, with cases of unbridled racism, perhaps naively thought conquered, regularly hitting headlines in the US and – to a lesser extent but let’s not deny the unfortunate side effects of ‘Brexit’ – in the UK as well.

So I think the Academy is set to find themselves in a rather awkward spot come January/ February time. Whichever of the above two contenders wins the top prize is likely to affect the narrative surrounding the decision, and that narrative is likely, once again, to be about race.

I said La La Land was the clear favourite. That is because I honestly believe it’s the one the Academy will choose if they are to choose honestly. Without asking themselves which one they ‘should’ choose. But there is a chance, with the racial undertones of the past year, that they will opt for Birth of a Nation, and for many people it would feel like a victory in more ways than one.

I’m of course saying this without having seen either of these films. They will both be screening at the BFI London Film Festival, which begins this evening with another racially charged movie: A United Kingdom, a British film directed by Amma Asante. When I first heard this film would open the festival, I immediately thought of how the UK had been split by Brexit in the Summer – and the title of the movie took on an almost ironic tone, as if it was pointing out to all of us that our United Kingdom was not, in fact, living up to its name in 2016.

A United Kingdom, starring David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike (both of whom I’m sure will feature once again in the acting categories at the Oscars – Oyelowo may well get his win this year) tells the story of the real-life romance between Seretse Khama, first president of Botswana, and Ruth Williams, a woman he met while touring in Britain and took back with him to Botswana as his bride. As one might imagine, it proved rather controversial on both sides, and with the racial tensions of today, this film may therefore be another dark horse to look out for in February.

Those are the main headliners of the festival, but not necessarily the films I am most looking forward to. From what I’ve read, heard and seen, this year’s lineup is incredibly strong, and there are quite a few on my list to check out in the coming days.

This includes new films from some of my favourite modern directors; Francois Ozon (with Frantz, a monochrome WW1-era romance), Korean director Park Chan-wook (most famous among Western audiences for 2003’s Oldboy) with new movie The Handmaiden, and Denis Villeneuve (whose next project is the Blade Runner sequel) with sci-fi Arrival starring Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner.

My most anticipated, though, is the new film from Japanese director Kiyoshi Kurosawa, who is making his return to the J-horror genre for the first time since 2001’s Pulse, with Creepy. Admittedly an uninspired title at first glance, and last year’s festival wasn’t exactly kind with its promised return to this genre (Hideo Nakata’s Ghost Theater was rather laughably bad and a far cry from his vintage work), but I still have high hopes for Kurosawa’s return. Pulse remains one of my all-time favourite horror movies and his films outside the genre have been almost as impressive.

Other films that have made my watch list include: Queen of Katwe, a biographical film about a Ugandan woman – Phiona Mutesi – who proves to be a chess prodigy and competes at the world championships; Graduation, for which Romanian filmmaker Cristian Mungiu shared the Best Director award at Cannes; and Personal Shopper starring Kristen Stewart, the director of which (Olivier Assayas) shared that Best Director prize at Cannes with Mungiu. Also a few highly rated Australian films, including hard-hitting documentary Chasing Asylum (about Australia’s harsh immigration policies) and Goldstone, sequel to 2013’s underrated Western Mystery Road.

There are more, many more of course, but I’m going to leave the rest for the imagination right now. Hopefully I’ve adequately whetted your appetite for the festival. I’m pretty hyped about what awaits, a little tired already thinking how busy it’s going to be, and looking forward to the inevitable surprises beyond what I’ve highlighted here.

Whatever happens, it’s going to be a memorable festival, and an interesting few months leading up to the Academy Awards next February. Enjoy the ride!

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Oscars 2015: Reaction and final thoughts.

Oscars pic 2.

Awards season is finally over, and it ended on a night that won’t have provided many shocks for those who’ve been following the build-up to this year’s Academy Awards. Let’s be honest though; viewers and industry professionals don’t exactly tune in to the Oscars for their unpredictability factor. I’ve already covered my broad feelings toward the ceremony in my preview and have no intention of commenting on little details like ‘what the stars were wearing’. I’ll leave that sort of thing for people who care. Instead, let’s focus on the actual films – I’ll quickly go through the main categories I looked at and made predictions for beforehand, while giving my thoughts on the results.

Production Design. I predicted: Grand Budapest Hotel. Winner: Grand Budapest Hotel.

The first of four wins on the night (joint most), The Grand Budapest Hotel deservedly took home the Oscar for one of the categories it was expected to do well in. Mr Turner deserved more of a look-in than it got here, but I didn’t really expect it to.

Costume Design. I predicted: Grand Budapest Hotel. Winner: Grand Budapest Hotel.

Again there was no surprise here, though the selection wasn’t great in this category (when your main competition is Into the Woods, you must know you’ve got a decent chance). I considered Inherent Vice a distant dark horse for some unique costume design of its own, but it was always going to be a shock if The Grand Budapest hadn’t won in this category.

Make up and Hairstyling. I predicted: Guardians of the Galaxy. Winner: Grand Budapest Hotel.

While I can understand the logic of giving this to Wes Anderson’s film (knowing it would likely miss out in the ‘major’ categories), I really didn’t consider ‘make up and hairstyling’ to be one of its standout strengths. On the other hand, this was one of the signature qualities of Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, and the fact it didn’t win this one smacks of a slight snobbery in the voting process. That would be a shocker…

Visually one can't deny The Grand Budapest Hotel was stunning, and always the favourite to pick up awards related to its production.
Visually one can’t deny The Grand Budapest Hotel was stunning, and always the favourite to pick up awards related to its production.

Sound editing. I predicted: Interstellar. Winner: American Sniper.

Well, although I didn’t foresee it being in this category, I did say American Sniper would inevitably pick up an award from somewhere during the night. After all, they couldn’t not reward this film in some way for its overly one-sided patriotic qualities – despite how inherently dishonest some critics may consider that portrayal to be. But let’s not get into that right now. Fair play to Clint Eastwood for another successful hit; he’s still one of my favourite professionals working in the industry.

Sound mixing. I predicted: Whiplash. Winner: Whiplash.

I had a slight suspicion that Interstellar might have stolen this one from Whiplash, and it wouldn’t have been such an undeserving travesty if that had been the case… actually, yes, it would have been. Thankfully, the award went to my film of preference; a film that mixes its sounds so immaculately that I could barely stop myself from moving along with it for the duration of the experience. Sound played a large part in making Whiplash simply extraordinary, and I’d go so far as to say if it hadn’t won in this category, it would have been the greatest injustice of the night.

Visual Effects. I predicted: Interstellar. Winner: Interstellar.

Nice to see Interstellar get recognition from somewhere (the other categories in which I predicted its success didn’t quite go its way), and one can hardly argue with its award for visual effects. Well, I could: my personal preference was for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, but whatever. Couldn’t help feeling this was little more than a consolation prize for Nolan’s space opera, though, whose team may have been discreetly hoping for more on the night.

There would have been some who felt Interstellar deserved more on the night; I wouldn't really count myself as one of them.
There would have been some who felt Interstellar deserved more on the night; I wouldn’t really count myself as one of them.

Best editing. I predicted: Boyhood/ Whiplash. Winner: Whiplash.

Said it, didn’t I? “If you’re a betting person, place them on Whiplash as an outside chance” – should you have done so, you’re now counting your winnings. You’re welcome.

Cinematography. I predicted: Grand Budapest Hotel. Winner: Birdman.

A category in which Birdman set the tone for the rest of the evening with its first win; I had thought Grand Budapest Hotel would take this one home, with Mr Turner expectedly overlooked in favour of the big names. I’ll give Birdman its dues here though – it was a beautifully shot film. In fact that may have been my favourite thing about it, and of all the film’s four wins on the night, this was arguably its most deserving.

Best Score. I predicted: Interstellar. Winner: Grand Budapest Hotel.

Another category in which I thought Interstellar would find success for Hans Zimmer’s score, though in all honesty I did prefer Grand Budapest Hotel, which had an excellent soundtrack of its own. Not the year’s best; as I said in my Oscars preview, 2014’s best score actually belonged to Nightcrawler in my opinion. Though perhaps it was too understated (not to mention somewhat niche) to have expected success on the big stage.

Animated film. I predicted: Big Hero 6. Winner: Big Hero 6.

Anyone who read my review last week will know the high regard in which I hold Big Hero 6, so I’m happy it won here. Having said that, I haven’t yet seen every other film in the category and it wouldn’t surprise me if this was more a case of ‘voting for what’s familiar’ rather than what’s technically best; I can’t shake the feeling, for example, that Studio Ghibli’s The Tale of the Princess Kaguya might just be better than it has gotten credit for. Alas, I don’t yet have the adequate perspective to judge.

Best Foreign Film. I predicted: Ida/ Leviathan. Winner: Ida.

Always looked a straight fight between Ida and Leviathan for the Oscar here, with Ida having the slight edge after its victory in the BAFTAs earlier this month (though Leviathan did win at the Golden Globes prior to that, so the playing field was somewhat level). Unfortunately I haven’t seen the Polish film; I have seen Leviathan. It set a pretty high standard, so if Ida can beat it not once but twice, I’d assume it’s worth checking out also.

Best adapted screenplay. I predicted: Whiplash/ American Sniper/ Theory of Everything. Winner: The Imitation Game.

Graham Moore's emotional acceptance speech for his adapted screenplay was one of the highlights of the evening.
Graham Moore’s emotional acceptance speech for his adapted screenplay was one of the highlights of the evening.

Little awkward; the three possible winners I suggested in this category all missed out. To be fair I think The Imitation Game is more than deserving, though I wonder whether it won here simply because it was inevitably set to be overlooked in certain other categories. Was this ultimately more of a sympathy vote?

Best original screenplay. I predicted: Birdman. Winner: Birdman.

No surprise here. I was personally rooting for Nightcrawler, against all logic that it could actually win in a category that also included Boyhood and Grand Budapest Hotel. Birdman a deserving winner, though this was ultimately part of an uncomfortable trend during an evening that almost became exclusively ‘Birdman appreciation night’ – which, I’m afraid, left a slightly bitter taste in one’s mouth.

Supporting actress. I predicted: Patricia Arquette. Winner: Patricia Arquette.

So we get into the acting categories, and there’s no real credit to be given for anyone correctly predicting who was going to be the winners here. The four winners to take home these awards, Arquette here and the three to follow, were the worst kept secrets of this year’s awards. At least they all thoroughly deserved the recognition. Patricia Arquette’s performance in Boyhood may just have been my favourite of the lot.

Growing old gracefully... Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke were as much a part of Boyhood as its central star Ellar Coltrane.
Growing old gracefully… Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke were as much a part of Boyhood as its central star Ellar Coltrane.

Supporting actor. I predicted: J.K. Simmons. Winner: J.K. Simmons.

See above. The only slight nagging problem I have with J.K. Simmons’ headline-stealing performance in Whiplash is that I feel it slightly diverted voting attention from the movie as a whole – one which was more than deserving of being a strong contender for Best Picture. In the end certain voters were probably duped into thinking it was all about Simmons. For me it wasn’t; while he was great, the extraordinary whole he was a part of was even better.

Best Actress. I predicted: Julianne Moore. Winner: Julianne Moore.

See above. I haven’t yet seen Still Alice but have heard enough about Moore’s performance to trust that voters made the right call on this one.

Best Actor. I predicted: Michael Keaton. Winner: Eddie Redmayne.

The one acting category that I think was a closer contest behind the scenes than the rest, to the point where I was initially convinced Michael Keaton would take it. Ultimately it still went to the overall favourite, and there’s no argument from me as Redmayne’s timeless portrayal of Stephen Hawking was arguably more deserving than Keaton’s Birdman or fellow dark horse Bradley Cooper for American Sniper. The latter looked a real possibility as the Oscars approached, and I’m guessing it was ultimately a lot closer than one would have expected.

Best Director. I predicted: Richard Linklater. Winner: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu.

Well, this was no real surprise as Inarritu also picked up the top prize at the Director’s Guild awards just two weeks prior. Yet… the jury’s still out for me, as to whether he was more deserving than Richard Linklater for Boyhood. While I had been sure that Birdman was going to walk away with Best Picture, I would have been satisfied had Linklater picked up Best Director as somewhat of a consolation prize. That Birdman took both, in the end, slightly unbalanced the night for me. Boyhood was at least equal, if not greater in its respective achievement as an outstanding piece of filmmaking.

Best Picture. I predicted: Birdman Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). Winner: Birdman Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance).

"Wait... we won what now?"
“Wait… we won what now?”

The main event had been painted as a two horse race between Birdman and Boyhood, and the latter was certainly the closest challenger (at least until American Sniper reportedly became a surprising dark horse in the final few days before the ceremony). In reality, the writing had been on the wall for two weeks, since Inarritu won the top DGA award as mentioned above. This was a clear indication of in which direction the industry voters were heading; straight to Birdman, the romantic love letter to theatre aficionados and critics everywhere. I find myself slightly torn, as I enjoyed the film as much as anyone, but when I stop to ask if it was truly the best in this group, let alone of the past year (I’ve been trying not to mention The Babadook), I’m forced to answer: probably not. At least not when it’s in the company of the beyond exhilarating Whiplash. Simmons should have a word with those voters… Oh wait, he did. And they voted for him rather than his film.

One other honourable mention has to go to a short film that I haven’t yet talked about here or in my preview, and it would be remiss of me not to do so as it was made by a local production team from my home city, Belfast. That is Boogaloo and Graham; winner of the ‘BAFTA Award for Best Short Film’ and one of the nominees in the ‘Best Live Action Short Film’ category at the Oscars. This touching 15 minute story, about two young boys who bond with a couple of pet chickens, is set in 1970s Belfast during the troubles; such a setting provides a fascinating backdrop for the relationship between the two brothers and their chickens, which is both heartfelt and humorous.

It’s a refreshing scenario considering the overload of negative images most people have of that time period, though the film doesn’t shy away from the reality of it. One scene in particular highlights the potential dangers that lurked if you ventured out on your own at night in Belfast in 1978. I don’t want to give away all its secrets here though. If you have some spare time you can watch the film now on BBC iPlayer.

While I haven’t always sounded particularly positive about the Oscars in general, Boogaloo and Graham and its production team, the sole representatives from Northern Ireland, helped show what it can mean for those who aren’t among the big names and don’t often get the chance to be a part of such a spectacle. For them it becomes an unforgettable evening, whether they take home the prize or not (to do so is, I imagine, only a bonus on top of the recognition for just receiving a nomination).

Spectacle is ultimately what it’s all about, and that’s what most of us enjoy the Oscars for. Though our personal favourites may not always be recognised or generally considered suitable for the night itself, it is still a celebration of film and its cultural importance to our society. That we can occasionally have such differing individual opinions about them is one of the great things they offer us as a whole; the ability to appeal to almost any taste. Long may it continue, and long may I reserve the right to disagree with ‘the Academy’.

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Film Awards Season.

Sunday night’s BAFTA film awards ceremony was entertaining, predictable and, at times, a reminder of the emotional capacity that films have. To hear Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette speak of watching Ellar Coltrane and Lorelei Linklater literally grow up in front of their eyes as they worked together through the 12 years of making Boyhood, or J.K. Simmons comment on how much he feels like the late blooming newcomer; these moments remind you of why such ceremonies are important to people in the industry. It’s about sentiment, at the end of the day; a special event when you (through the eyes of a celebrity host) can look at the major stars and say “thank you for entertaining us”.

Of course the key terms there are ‘major’ and ‘sentiment’. My two favourite films of last year, The Babadook (Jennifer Kent) and Nightcrawler (Dan Gilroy), were neither of those, though that the latter was at least an American movie starring Jake Gyllenhaal in the title role did help it gain some BAFTA/ Oscar recognition – even if it was just to make up the numbers in certain categories. Nonetheless such an edgy piece of work is inevitably overlooked in favour of the more emotionally hard-hitting ‘Best Picture’ nominees: Boyhood, Birdman, American Sniper, Selma and The Theory of Everything all share that feel-good, pat-yourself-on-the-back-for-a-job-well-done theme. Which is not to say they’re bad movies (Boyhood and Birdman would both be in my top 5 for 2014); frankly it just means the ones that receive the big awards are not always technically the ‘best’ in that year when all’s taken into account.

Or perhaps I’m wrong in saying that. It’s all about objective opinion after all, and while numerous great films from 2014 (including not only the aforementioned two but also Pride, Frank, Belle, among others) have been ‘snubbed’ as one would say, maybe the top nominees simply represent the films that appealed to the most people. The Babadook, for example, despite being hands-down my favourite film of 2014, is obviously going to have a more niche audience (as an Australian horror movie, about an unknown monster, by a first time female director and no major stars in tow) than, say, The Theory of Everything and Selma, both biographical films about two of the best known public figures of the past century, with appropriately large budgets to back them up.

It is primarily for this reason that many of us take these big awards ceremonies with a dash of salt. In the end I feel (and this is just my opinion) that this creates predictability for the benefit of everyone who wants to enjoy a good evening out, which in turn creates what really is just a ‘ceremony’ whereby all the major players meet to pat each other on the back, and those not part of that elite group are excluded because they couldn’t get enough people to vote for them.

It may not have the all-round feel good vibes of a mainstream biographical story, but The Babadook was a masterpiece in its own right.
It may not have the all-round feel good vibes of a mainstream biographical story, but The Babadook was a masterpiece in its own right.

But let’s not be bitter, Graeme. The Babadook did, after all, get some just recognition at its own respective national awards (the ‘Aactas’ in Australia; ceremony took place on January 29th), tying with Russell Crowe’s The Water Diviner for Best Film, while Jennifer Kent deservedly took home Best Original Screenplay and Best Director at that event. So this goes some way to appeasing me, and means I can feel slightly better, on this occasion, about actually focusing on those quality films that have been nominated for the upcoming Academy Awards (Oscars) ceremony due to take place in just under two weeks time. Who would I like to win? Who will win? Let’s go through the main categories and see.

Production Design – Nominees: The Grand Budapest Hotel, Imitation Game, Interstellar, Into the Woods, Mr Turner. Quite an open category at first glance; Grand Budapest Hotel is the favourite here, with Interstellar in 2nd place, though Mr Turner was a beautiful film in its own right.

Who’d I like? Mr Turner. Who’ll win? Grand Budapest Hotel.

Costume Design – Nominees: The Grand Budapest Hotel, Inherent Vice, Into the Woods, Maleficent, Mr Turner. Grand Budapest Hotel is standout favourite again, though Into the Woods and Maleficent are 2nd and 3rd placed dark horses. Nice to see Maleficent nominated, if only to see something different getting in on the Oscar action.

Who’d I like? Inherent Vice. Who’ll win? Grand Budapest Hotel.

Make up and Hairstyling – Nominees: Foxcatcher, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Guardians of the Galaxy. A curious category with only 3 films making up the nominations, I’m actually surprised not to see Birdman nominated here due to its apparent roots in the theatre. Foxcatcher and Grand Budapest Hotel are better films overall, but surely Guardians will take this one home.

Who’d I like? Guardians of the Galaxy. Who’ll win? Guardians of the Galaxy!

Sound editing – Nominees: American Sniper, Birdman, Battle of the Five Armies, Interstellar, Unbroken. My personal vote goes to Birdman here, though it’s not a favourite in this category alongside Interstellar and, curiously, The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies. If I had to say which, I’d go Interstellar to win.

Who’d I like? Birdman. Who’ll win? Interstellar.

Sound mixing – Nominees: American Sniper, Birdman, Interstellar, Unbroken, Whiplash. This absolutely, surely has to be Whiplash to win. And yet, Interstellar probably remains the slight favourite to take this home. But I refuse to believe Whiplash will be overlooked here.

Who’d I like? Whiplash. Who’ll win? Whiplash!

Visual effects – Nominees: Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Guardians of the Galaxy, Interstellar, X-Men: Days of Future Past. Ah, the typical “Hollywood blockbuster” category. May seem quite open at first glance, though in reality it’s between two: Interstellar and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. The former just won the BAFTA and will probably succeed here too. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes deserves it more, for the sheer scale of its detailed motion capture.

Who’d I like? Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Who’ll win? Interstellar.

Best editing – Nominees: American Sniper, Boyhood, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Imitation Game, Whiplash. Boyhood is the favourite for its seamless transition through 12 years in the lives of its main actors. I wouldn’t be entirely shocked to see The Grand Budapest Hotel or Whiplash take this one home though. I’m personally going for Whiplash; if you’re a betting person, place them there as an outside chance.

Who’d I like? Whiplash. Who’ll win? Boyhood/ Whiplash.

Cinematography – Nominees: Birdman, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Ida, Mr Turner, Unbroken. Another interesting category that will probably be won by Grand Budapest Hotel, though again I think Mr Turner deserves significant recognition here.

Who’d I like? Mr Turner. Who’ll win? Grand Budapest Hotel.

It had its flaws, but Mr Turner also had some beautiful imagery.
It had its flaws, but Mr Turner also had some beautiful imagery.

Best score – Nominees: The Grand Budapest Hotel, Imitation Game, Interstellar, Mr Turner, The Theory of Everything. Hans Zimmer (Interstellar) has his name written all over this one I think, though I’d like to highlight something: Nightcrawler, for me, had 2014’s best all-round soundtrack and James Newton Howard surely deserved at least a nomination here for his work on that. But I digress.

Who’d I like? Grand Budapest Hotel. Who’ll win? Interstellar.

Animated film – Nominees: Big Hero 6, Boxtrolls, How to Train Your Dragon 2, Song of the Sea, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya. Unlike most people, I’m afraid I didn’t much care for the Lego Movie when it came out and don’t so much care that it has been ‘snubbed’ here either. As a result though, it has left this category refreshingly open. Probably between Big Hero 6 and How to Train Your Dragon 2 as the two favourites; while the popular vote may go for the latter, I think Big Hero 6 should (and ultimately will) take it home.

Who’d I like? Big Hero 6. Who’ll win? Big Hero 6.

Best foreign film – Nominees: Ida, Leviathan, Tangerines, Timbuktu, Wild Tales. I’m afraid I’ve only actually seen one of these films, though it was so good that I’d expect it to win here. Basically a two horse race between Russian drama Leviathan and Polish drama Ida. Interesting that 2014 Palme d’Or winner Winter Sleep hasn’t been nominated.

Who’d I like? Leviathan. Who’ll win? Ida/ Leviathan.

Adapted Screenplay – Nominees: American Sniper, Imitation Game, Inherent Vice, The Theory of Everything, Whiplash. Surely has to be Whiplash to win for me. American Sniper and The Theory of Everything are also frontrunners; the latter had BAFTA success in the same category and the former may just appeal enough to that American sense of patriotism to bring home the award.

Who’d I like? Whiplash. Who’ll win? Whiplash/ American Sniper/ Theory of Everything.

Expect Clint Eastwood's very American biographical war drama to pick up an award somewhere.
Expect Clint Eastwood’s very American biographical war drama to pick up an award somewhere.

Original Screenplay – Nominees: Birdman, Boyhood, Foxcatcher, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Nightcrawler. My personal vote goes straight to Nightcrawler here (which Dan Gilroy wrote and directed, in what was his directorial debut), but it’s a clear underdog in such strong company and has little chance, especially next to the big two of Birdman and Boyhood.

Who’d I like? Nightcrawler. Who’ll win? Birdman.

Supporting Actress – Nominees: Patricia Arquette (Boyhood), Laura Dern (Wild), Keira Knightley (Imitation Game), Emma Stone (Birdman), Meryl Streep (Into the Woods). Another category in which there is a glaring absence: where’s Amy Adams for Big Eyes? I would have considered her a dark horse (having just won a Golden Globe for her performance too). No doubt that Patricia Arquette will win though, and I think there’s few who deserve their award more.

Who’d I like? Patricia Arquette. Who’ll win? Patricia Arquette.

Supporting Actor – Nominees: Robert Duvall (The Judge), Ethan Hawke (Boyhood), Edward Norton (Birdman), Mark Ruffalo (Foxcatcher), J.K. Simmons (Whiplash). Of course if there were any who deserved their respective award more, one could hardly go wrong with an argument for J.K. Simmons here. On paper this should be a tight category, with Edward Norton, Mark Ruffalo and Ethan Hawke more than deserving of a close contest. It won’t be.

Who’d I like? J.K. Simmons. Who’ll win? J.K. Simmons.

Simmons' performance in Whiplash was about a lot more than shouting in people's faces, though he does so on more than one occasion...
Simmons’ performance in Whiplash was about a lot more than shouting in people’s faces, though he does so on more than one occasion…

Best Actress – Nominees: Marion Cotillard (Two Days, One Night), Felicity Jones (Theory of Everything), Julianne Moore (Still Alice), Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl), Reese Witherspoon (Wild). Another clear favourite here in Julianne Moore, but my vote would go in Rosamund Pike’s direction for her gloriously sadistic portrayal in Gone Girl. Unfortunate that Felicity Jones will be overlooked for what was also an excellent performance alongside Eddie Redmayne in Theory of Everything.

Who’d I like? Rosamund Pike. Who’ll win? Julianne Moore.

Best Actor – Nominees: Steve Carell (Foxcatcher), Bradley Cooper (American Sniper), Benedict Cumberbatch (Imitation Game), Michael Keaton (Birdman), Eddie Redmayne (Theory of Everything). Unlike the other acting categories there isn’t quite a standout favourite in this one, though Michael Keaton has to be whom the smart money’s on. I say that despite him being alongside Redmayne, who easily walked away with the Golden Globe and BAFTA in the same category at those awards. But I have a feeling he’ll fall just short of making it a treble. Steve Carell is a nice addition, albeit just to make up the numbers.

Who’d I like? Eddie Redmayne. Who’ll win? Michael Keaton.

Best Director – Nominees: Wes Anderson (Grand Budapest Hotel), Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Birdman), Richard Linklater (Boyhood), Bennett Miller (Foxcatcher), Morten Tyldum (Imitation Game). I was probably more pleased than most people to see Bennett Miller get a nomination here, especially as Foxcatcher was overlooked in the ‘Best Picture’ category (due no doubt to it having a less sentimental story than, say, The Theory of Everything). Having said that, Damien Chazelle’s exclusion despite his work on Whiplash counterbalances such enthusiasm. An intriguing three horse race (with Wes Anderson a dark horse behind Inarritu and Linklater), I’m almost sure this will ultimately go to the man who deserves it most: Richard Linklater. However, we all know that’s only because the actual best director of 2014 (Jennifer Kent for The Babadook) didn’t get anywhere near a nomination. What’s that? I said I wouldn’t be bitter? Oh, sorry.

Who’d I like? Richard Linklater. Who’ll win? Richard Linklater!

Best Picture – Nominees: American Sniper, Birdman, Boyhood, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game, Selma, The Theory of Everything, Whiplash. The main event holds quite an interesting two horse race that got even closer with the results of the BAFTA/ DGA awards on Sunday. Here’s why: while Boyhood picked up ‘Best Film’ as expected in the UK, Birdman director Alejandro G. Inarritu was being awarded the prize for ‘outstanding directorial achievement in a feature film’ at the Director’s Guild Awards. Only seven times since 1948 has the film recipient of that award not gone on to win Best Picture at the Oscars, though 2015 is surely a year in which it could happen. While I thoroughly enjoyed Birdman, there’s little doubt for me that Boyhood is the greater achievement and all-round better film – just. Irrespective of that, this category also contains Whiplash, and it deserves a say in this conversation – it may just be the best (and certainly the most powerful) of the three.

Who’d I like? Boyhood/ Whiplash. Who’ll win? Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance).

Check back in two weeks for my reaction to the 2015 Academy Awards, due to take place on the 22nd February.