Oscar Week Film Review: The Greatest Showman

Defying the critics and showcasing the marvellous Keala Settle, there’s more to like about The Greatest Showman than you might think. Or not.

“The noblest art is that of making others happy”

There’s always something amusing about a piece of art that manages so successfully to flick two fingers at the critics and right now, none more so than The Greatest Showman. In the UK alone, it has achieved a box office consistency near the top of the list unseen since Avatar, the cast recording has been at the top of the album charts for the past two months, and such is its hold on the zeitgeist that it is now holding singalong performances across a range of cinemas.

None of which you would have predicted on its critical reception ahead of its Boxing Day release. It’s not an accurate portrayal of PT Barnum’s life, some said; it doesn’t have enough of a dramatic narrative, others sniffed; still more have derided its complete lack of any post-modern ironic edge, de rigueur for a contemporary musical so they’d have you believe. And there’s merits to all of these points though they do seem to spectacularly miss the point of the film, which is pure entertainment. Continue reading “Oscar Week Film Review: The Greatest Showman”

Oscar Week Film Review: Victoria and Abdul

Not even Judi Dench can save this irresponsible look at the British colonial legacy, Victoria and Abdul nevertheless takes two Oscar nominations into the ceremony.

“It is imperative that the royal colon receives a little roughage”

AKA The Other V&A. You can see the rationale behind Victoria and Abdul, allowing Dame Judi Dench to reprise her much-loved role from Mrs Brown with another 20 years under her belt. And directed by Stephen Frears from a screenplay by Lee Hall, hopes were reasonably high.

What results though, is a film that indulges in an irresponsible kind of historical revisionism, a refusal to engage with and interrogate the reality of British colonial rule. Hall’s version of Victoria is allowed to be coyly ignorant of the looting of Indian treasure, a champion of diversity too in an improbable twist. Continue reading “Oscar Week Film Review: Victoria and Abdul”

Oscar Week Film Review: Phantom Thread

It may be Daniel Day-Lewis’ apparent last hurrah but Phantom Thread is all about Lesley Manville’s world-conquering excellence.

“No one gives a tinker’s fucking curse about Mrs. Vaughn’s satisfaction!”

Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson and nominated for 6 Academy Awards, a lot of the attention around Phantom Thread has been around Daniel Day-Lewis’ announcement that this would be his last film role. But for me (and for any right-thinking folk), the pleasure comes from a scene-stealing supporting role for Lesley Manville which has garnered her one of those nods. (Not sure if she’ll be attending the ceremony though or giving her understudy a brief moment in the sun.)

And it is an unexpectedly engaging and surprising film. Day-Lewis plays fashion designer Reynolds Woodcock whose rule on the world of 1950s London couture is slowly slipping due to the arrival of the New Wave. His audacious arrogance, sorry artistic temperament, is brought into question when he meets Belgian waitress Alma but when a romance sparks up between the pair, the result is a far from conventional affair which leaves its gender dynamics entirely shooketh. Continue reading “Oscar Week Film Review: Phantom Thread”

Oscar Week Film Review: All the Money in the World

The drama around All the Money in the World proves more interesting than the film, if I’m honest.

“We look like you, but we’re not like you”

Perhaps unfairly, All the Money in the World will be more famous for events around it rather than for the film itself. For at the heart of the #MeToo maelstrom, director Ridley Scott took the decision to remove and recast Kevin Spacey out of a major supporting role barely a month before it was due to open.

Christopher Plummer stepped into the shoes of John Paul Getty at the last minute, delivered in nine days of reshoots and has been rewarded with an Oscar nomination for his pains. The result though. is a rather uneven film in which his performance seems at odds with those around him. Continue reading “Oscar Week Film Review: All the Money in the World”

Oscar Week Film Review: Mudbound

Up for 4 Academy Awards, Mudbound is superb and director Dee Rees is entitled to feel cheated for her lack of recognition

“My hands did these things but I was never easy in my mind”

Dunkirk may have got the honours as the most-recognised WWII film this awards season but set in and around the same period, Mudbound knocks it out of the water for my money. Based on the 2008 novel by Hillary Jordan and adapted by Dee Rees and Virgil Williams, it’s a beautifully evocative and epic piece of storytelling – directed with heart and skill by Rees – that marks it way above any preconceptions you might have about it being a Netflix release.

Set in the Deep South of Jim Crow and horrific racial violence, this sweeping story encompasses the fortunes of two families – the McAllans and the Jackson, one white and one black, one landowners and one farm labourers but crucially, both with a son who serves in the Second World War. And through the many ways in which their lives intertwine, particularly around their children, it is the connection between these two vets that proves to be the most momentous. Continue reading “Oscar Week Film Review: Mudbound”

Oscar Week Film Review: Darkest Hour

No amount of prosthetics can stop this from being my…Darkest Hour

“The deadly danger here is this romantic fantasy of fighting to the end”

Eesh. The world already has too many Churchill films, never mind the fact that two big ones were released in the same year (Brian Cox’s Churchill was the lower profile one here). And for me, there’s nothing here in Joe Wright’s direction or Anthony McCarten’s writing that merits the retread over much-covered ground.

That is not the prevailing opinion obviously, as the film’s seven Oscar nominations testify, but it is what it is. No amount of latex makes Gary Oldman’s performance palatable (and isn’t it odd that he’s getting such acclaim for a role in which he is unrecognisable), and it is a crime in the ways in which the likes of Patsy Ferran and Faye Marsay are under-utilised, nay wasted. Continue reading “Oscar Week Film Review: Darkest Hour”

Oscar Week Film Review: Get Out

The film about race that we needed. And still need. Get Out ftw.

“All I know is sometimes, when there’s too many white people, I get nervous, you know?”

The little film that could. A directorial debut from Jordan Peele, filmed for $4.5 million which has now grossed over $250 million and nabbed four Academy Award nominations to boot. Not only that, it’s a horror film too. But what underpins Get Out’s success if the fact talks about race in today’s American in a way we rarely see in our cinemas.

Puncturing the self-satisfied smugness around liberal whiteness, Peele takes a scalpel to the notion the USA is anywhere near being post-racial. Matter-of-factly portraying an interracial relationship (a political act in and of itself), Daniel Kaluuya’s Chris and Alison Williams’ Rose take the step of meeting her parents but nothing is as it seems. At all. Continue reading “Oscar Week Film Review: Get Out”

Oscar Week Film Review: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri proves just a little too problematic, despite Frances McDormand’s excellent work

“All this anger, man, it just begets greater anger”

The backlash against Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri doesn’t seem to have got in the way of its award-winning chances. But upon watching it for myself and enjoying it for the most part, equally I couldn’t escape the sense of how problematic it is in the way in tackles – or rather doesn’t tackle – class and race in the rural US.

For every statement from Martin McDonagh about the ‘deliberately messy and difficult’ nature of his film, there’s a refusal to explore the real ramifications of the behaviour contained therein, particularly the racist criminality of cop Dixon who is never really called to account for what he does. And in today’s world, in today’s America, that really isn’t good enough. Continue reading “Oscar Week Film Review: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

Oscar Week Film Review: The Post

Star names can’t hide the dullness here

“My decision stands, and I’m going to bed”

No. No, no, no. No. The fact that The Post has any Oscar nominations is testament to how much in thrall to star power the Academy is. And fair enough, the trifecta of Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep is a weighty one. But this is a dull film, rushed through production to try and capitalise on topicality, that is being severely over-recognised here.

 

Oscar Week Film Review: The Shape of Water

It has 13, yes 13!, Oscar nominations and the luminous Sally Hawkins but does Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water live up to the hype?

“Man is as silent as the grave. But if farts were flattery? Honey, he’d be Shakespeare”

First things first, Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth is probably one of my all-time favourite films and definitely one of the ones that affected me most, as anyone who saw me sobbing helplessly outside the cinema on Haymarket for a good ten minutes after it ended. So The Shape of Water had something to live up to and including Sally Hawkins in its cast was a good start.

And in its love story between a mute cleaning lady and a 7 foot tall fish monster captured in the Amazon and held hostage in a government research facility, it certainly treads a unique path. And though it may sound unconventional, an interspecies rom-com with additional gay and African-American sidekicks seems pretty much par for the course  in 2018. Continue reading “Oscar Week Film Review: The Shape of Water”