“For whatever reason, he spared a hamster”
When you see as much theatre as I do, it can be difficult to keep up to date with cinematic releases – if I have a night off, I rarely want to spend it in a dark room… – but I have tried my best this year to see at least some of the Oscar-nominated films, so that I can chip in once they’ve been distributed in a way that will doubtless cause some controversy or other.
Arrival – I absolutely adored this and am a little surprised it didn’t figure higher in some of the bigger prizes, Denis Villeneuve’s intelligent and restrained direction, Jóhann Jóhannsson’s beautifully elegiac score, Bradford Young’s cinematography evoking all the potential of worlds beyond our ken. And of course Amy Adams, deeply moving as the linguistics professor whose life is opened up by her encounters with alien beings who just want to talk.
Elle – Huppert finally gets her first Academy Award nomination after a 40 year long career of extraordinary creative daring and depth (and making a mockery of the studio politics-spawned narratives that mark several successful campaigns #poorLeo,Viola Davis being long-overdue…). Paul Verhoeven’s Elle is undoubtedly a challenging watch but powerful with it, Huppert’s instinctively cerebral approach completely rethinking conventional rape survivor storytelling.
Fences – Denzel Washington’s recreation of his Tony-winning Broadway production of August Wilson’s classic play is, perhaps, predictably theatrical in a way which means it never really makes the most in the change of medium. It feels like a play being remounted on film, an excellent play which results in a very good film, but not quite adventurous enough. Washington is superb as Viola Davis who is deservedly the front-runner for gold, but one day soon we’re going to have to talk about category fraud as just like Alicia Vikander in The Danish Girl last year, this ain’t a supporting role.
Jackie – clever but a little dry and not quite as gripping as I wanted. I was also very distracted by the faces that kept popping up (Deborah Findlay, Penny Downie, David Caves?!)
La La Land – we build them up, we tear them down. Had I seen La La Land pre-hype, I might have loved it. In the end, I couldn’t quite see what all the fuss was about – it was an enjoyable film for me but not a particularly memorable one and in the context of the other films in the midst, one of the weaker entries. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are thoroughly charming but also feather-light.
Hidden Figures – some have critised the glossiness of Hidden Figures but for me, this is what is long overdue, these kind of stories getting this kind of Hollywood treatment. The frankly amazing story of African-American women’s contributions to NASA and the space race shines under director Theodore Melfi’s hands and in the understated performances of Taraji P Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe, gain real power and the exposure they most certainly deserve.
Lion – weepy but good.
Loving – a little bit disappointing if I’m truly honest. Ruth Negga is spectacular, achingly eloquent with a script that doesn’t give her the hugest amount to say as one half of interracial couple Richard and Mildred Loving whose struggle for recognition changed the law. But the film as a whole doesn’t quite have the emotional engagement that I wanted and un fact, the most powerful moment – and the one that actually made me cry – was the epilogue in which his fate was revealed.
Moonlight – the biggest threat to La La Land’s domination tonight is Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight, the kind of film to inspire the worst outpourings of white prvilege you ever did see – a film about black gay sexuality? Whoever could want to see such a thing or think it award-worthy? Well a hell of a lot of people actually, especially when it is done as artfully and tenderly as this, split into three, this is fiercely proud film-making (from an unproduced play by Tarell Alvin McCraney) and full of sensational performances, not least Mahershala Ali and Naomie Harris (who shot her scenes in 3 days!)
Moana – one of Disney’s better recent efforts, pleasingly girl-positive storytelling and songs from Lin-Manuel Miranda – what more could you want?!