The Watchers

The Watchers

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Awards Season 2016: Film Independent Spirit Awards Nominations

So here we go, Awards Season 2016 is off with today's announcement of the 31st Film Independent Spirit Awards nominations. These awards recognise films made wholly or partly outside the traditional studio system. 

Below is a selection of nominations:

Best Feature
Beasts Of No Nation

Best Director
Sean Baker (Tangerine)
Cary Joji Fukunaga (Beasts Of No Nation)
Todd Haynes (Carol)
Charlie Kaufman & Duke Johnson (Anomalisa)
Tom McCarthy (Spotlight)
David Robert Mitchell (It Follows)

Best Male Lead
Christopher Abbott (James White)
Abraham Attah (Beasts Of No Nation)
Ben Mendelsohn (Mississippi Grind)
Jason Segel (The End Of The Tour)
Koudous Seihon (Mediterranea)

Best Female Lead
Cate Blanchett (Carol)
Brie Larson (Room)
Rooney Mara (Carol)
Bel Powley (The Diary Of A Teenage Girl)
Kitana Kiki Rodriguez (Tangerine)

Best Supporting Male
Kevin Corrigan (Results)
Paul Dano (Love & Mercy)
Idris Elba (Beasts Of No Nation)
Richard Jenkins (Bone Tomahawk)
Michael Shannon (99 Homes)

Best Supporting Female
Robin Bartlett (H.)
Marin Ireland (Glass Chin)
Jennifer Jason Leigh (Anomalisa)
Cynthia Nixon (James White)
Mya Taylor (Tangerine)

A full list of nominees can be found here.

Carol leads the field with six nominations in total (including, rather interestingly, two Best Actress nods- rather than relegating one of them to the Supporting Actress category), while Beasts Of No Nation and Spotlight each have five. 

The next major announcement for awards season isn't until 9th December with the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Awards, so you get a bit of a break from this vapid nonsense until then.


Sunday, 22 November 2015

For Your Consideration: Possible Contenders For Awards Season 2016

It's that time of year again, folks.

For the next 3 months-ish- the Film Independent Spirit Awards nominations are announced this coming Tuesday (24th November), the Academy Awards are on February 28th 2016- the blog will be littered with awards season stuff. So, apologies if you're not a fan and welcome if you are.

As usual, here's some wild prognostication about what could make a showing in this awards season.

Fresh off the back of his Academy Award win this year for The Theory Of Everything, Eddie Redmayne might get another Best Actor nod for his work as transgender pioneer Lili Elbe (born Einar Wegener) in Tom Hooper's The Danish Girl. Similarly, Hooper might get recognised for his direction and Alicia Vikander may get a Best Supporting Actress nod for her performance as Wegener's wife Gerda. 

I'm Not There director Todd Haynes reunites with Cate Blanchett for Carol, a love story based on a novel by Patricia Highsmith (The Talented Mr. Ripley, Strangers On A Train). Blanchett plays the eponymous Carol who falls in love with a younger woman, played by Rooney Mara. Both Blanchett and Mara could get acting nods and the film may get a Best Picture nomination.

It might be another Good Showing for the Brits(TM). Maggie Smith's imperious turn in The Lady In The Van might see her get a Best Actress nod (virtually guaranteed for BAFTA, although whether the appeal will travel is not known). Similarly, Carey Mulligan's powerful performance in Suffragette should see her getting noticed as Best Actress, along with Helena Bonham Carter in the Supporting Actress category.

Two films based around the movie business might also feature. The first is Hail, Caesar!, the Coen Brothers' latest film (which stars Ralph Fiennes, Josh Brolin, Tilda Swinton and George Clooney). The second is Trumbo, about the screenwriter Dalton Trumbo who was blacklisted and imprisoned during the Communist witchhunts of the 1950s. Bryan Cranston might get a Best Actor nomination for playing Trumbo. 

Biopics tend to do well, so there should be some recognition for Johnny Depp's superbly chilling performance as mobster James 'Whitey' Bulger in Black Mass whilst several members of the cast of Steve Jobs have also been pointed out as being particularly award-worthy, namely Michael Fassbender (as Jobs) and Kate Winslet (as Joanna Hoffman). There's also been some buzz about Seth Rogen's performance as Steve Wozniak, so who knows, he might also get a mention (hell, Jonah Hill's got two Oscar nominations so anything's possible!)

On the subject of biopics, David O. Russell's latest film Joy may similarly do well. The story of Joy Mangano, who invented the Miracle Mop, it stars Jennifer Lawrence in the title role with Bradley Cooper and Robert de Niro in supporting roles. All three actors have had awards nominations- and in Lawrence's case, a win- working with Russell, so lightning might strike twice (thrice, in some cases). 

But what about Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens? Could it get a Best Picture nod? Frankly, I've no idea. The original Star Wars did- but has been the only one of them so far to get that recognition. I fully expect the technical categories to be where the film will get a mention, similarly with films like SPECTRE and the Marvel movies.

The timetable for the major awards in 2016 is as follows:

Film Independent Spirit Awards
Nominations announced: November 24th 2015
Awards ceremony: February 27th 2016

Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Awards
Nominations announced: December 9th 2015
Awards ceremony: January 30th 2016

Golden Globes
Nominations announced: December 10th 2015
Awards ceremony: January 10th 2016 (hosted by Ricky Gervais)

Critics' Choice Awards
Nominations announced: December 14th 2015
Awards ceremony: January 17th 2016

Producers' Guild Of America (PGA) Award
Nominations announced: January 5th 2016
Awards ceremony: January 23rd 2016

Writers' Guild Of America (WGA) Award
Nominations announced: January 6th 2016
Awards ceremony: February 13th 2016

BAFTA Film Awards
Nominations announced: January 8th 2016
Awards ceremony: February 14th 2016

Directors' Guild Of America (DGA) Award
Nominations announced: January 12th 2016
Awards ceremony: February 6th 2016

Golden Raspberry Awards (Razzies)
Nominations announced: January 13th 2016
Awards ceremony: February 27th 2016

Academy Awards (Oscars)
Nominations announced: January 14th 2016
Awards ceremony: February 28th 2016 (hosted by Chris Rock)

So, in the immortal words of Bette Davis in All About Eve...


Saturday, 21 November 2015

Review: SPECTRE (UK Cert 12A)

Bond is back. Everything present and correct; the guns, the girls, the gadgets. This time, a cryptic message from Bond's path puts him on the hunt for a shadowy cabal. As Bond travels in search of the elusive SPECTRE, M faces a challenge to close the 00 unit down by political forces who see the secret service as a prehistoric relic.

Performance-wise, everyone is really strong. This is Daniel Craig's fourth outing as Bond and he's as assured and suave as ever. There's less of the cerebral psychodrama that made Skyfall so good, which puts Craig more into the traditional ass-kicking mode- which is no bad thing. Ralph Fiennes' M is a nice blend of stern boss and compassionate friend whilst Ben Whishaw's delightfully geeky Q provides some of the nicest moments in the film, particularly involving unveiling the truly sublime Aston Martin DB10.

Christoph Waltz was the perfect choice for the role of Oberhauser, equal parts charm and menace. His confrontations with Bond really crackle and he's an imposing presence throughout. You may not be entirely surprised by where they go with his character, but it works in the context of the story. Monica Bellucci is barely on screen for five minutes and her role is largely as a stepping stone (by sleeping with her, Bond gets the location of the initial SPECTRE meeting) but Lea Seydoux fares better as Dr Madeleine Swann. Madeleine isn't a damsel in distress, although by dramatic necessity ends up being one, and can certainly handle herself. There's some good interplay between Seydoux and Craig which sells that relationship.

The film's opening sequence- which includes a wonderful unbroken tracking shot through the Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico City- is impressive and sets the tenor for the rest of the film. The car chase in Rome is another particular highlight, whilst the film has taken a Guinness World Record for the largest on-screen explosion. You'll definitely know it when you see it. There's also a brilliantly choreographed and visceral fight scene between Dave Bautista and Craig aboard a train (channelling From Russia With Love). In fact, there's quite a lot of callbacks and inspirations taken from the Bond 'canon' which will please long-standing fans.

Strangely, it feels very much like a swansong for the Craig era. Several hanging threads have been tied up and brought together. Whether Craig will do another film, I don't know, but if this is his last one, it's a hell of a way to go.

Rating: 5 out of 5


Friday, 20 November 2015

Review: The Lady In The Van (UK Cert 12A)

Truth can often be stranger than fiction. In the 1970s, writer Alan Bennett lived in Camden where he encountered a homeless woman who called herself Miss Shepherd who lived in a clapped-out old van, travelling around the suburb. Bennett offered Miss Shepherd the temporary use of his driveway; she ended up staying there for fifteen years. Bennett wrote a memoir which was later adapted into a play and now a film.

The Lady In The Van is a witty, moving and occasionally poignant comedy-drama ably performed by the cream of British acting talent, led from the front by a truly superb performance by Maggie Smith.

Miss Shepherd is a cantankerous old biddy, haughty, belligerent - and an absolute gift for any actress. Smith originated the role on stage (and reprised that role for a 2009 radio adaptation) so she would be the natural choice to portray her on film. Of course, there's much more to her than just be a cranky old bat and Smith mines the pathos of the character without ever coming across as pathetic. There are moments when you truly feel for her as the story of her life comes out, and she also gets some of the film's most funny lines- her waspish tongue cutting across the genteel hypocrisy of her Camden neighbours (who all agree something must be done to help Miss Shepherd but heavens forfend that they're the ones to actually do it). This ranks as one of Smith's finest performances which, in a career as good and as wide as hers, is saying something. 

Matching Smith's superlative performance is Alex Jennings whose performance as Alan Bennett transcends mere impersonation (although he has nailed Bennett's soft Northern tones). There's an unusual and interesting conceit to the film in which Jennings plays two versions of Bennett- the one who lives and the one who writes- and has them talking to each other and bickering like an old married couple. It's initially disconcerting but I think it works. He acts as the grounded foil to the eccentric Miss Shepherd and their strained odd-couple relationship develops over the course of the film.

The rest of the supporting cast is a veritable Who's Who of British stage and screen acting- Jim Broadbent, Roger Allam, Frances de la Tour, Deborah Findlay and Gwen Taylor all make appearances and there are small roles for the vast majority of the film cast of The History Boys (which was also directed by Nicholas Hytner). 

Bennett's script (adapted from his memoir) does have the ring of the stage about it but that's not necessarily a bad thing. The film starts with the caption that this is 'mostly true' and there are things that have been embellished or concocted for dramatic purpose- at a couple of points, the writer Bennett does point out that he didn't actually say that (usually at moments of frustration). There's also not a marked difference showing the passage of time - it's just mentioned- almost always in a throwaway manner- in the script

This is the kind of project that BBC Films do so well. The film is well made, the script strong, the cast fantastic. A pure joy.

Rating: 4 out of 5


Thursday, 19 November 2015

Review: Black Mass (UK Cert 15)

In the 1970s, James 'Whitey' Bulger was one of the most powerful and dangerous mobsters in America. He controlled almost all organised crime in South Boston and, in an attempt to eliminate competition from the Italian mob, became an informant for an old friend, John Connolly, who was working for the FBI. This forms the central crux of Black Mass, a gritty, brutal crime drama directed by Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart, Out Of The Furnace) and starring Johnny Depp as Bulger.

Depp has, for a long time, played very broad characters or even caricatures, hidden under tics and quirks. His performance as Bulger is a very different beast altogether. Bulger is a controlling, vicious, violent psychopath, utterly ruthless and not afraid to get his hands dirty. He barely raises his voice above a gravelly rumble but is utterly in control. There's a scene at a dinner table where Bulger goes from convivial to utterly sinister and then back to cheerful bonhomie, to the shock and discomfort of everyone else round the table. It's one of Depp's strongest performances of the last decade.

Joel Edgerton plays FBI agent Connolly, a Southie boy done good. Initially an honest man, his own morals become compromised in his dealings with Bulger. In some ways, it's reminiscent of Leonardo DiCaprio in The Departed and Connolly becomes more and more frantic to keep things from falling apart and to keep his boss (a steely Kevin Bacon) from pulling the plug. It's a decent performance by Edgerton, albeit lacking something of the spark that Depp has.

Benedict Cumberbatch pulls off a convincing Boston accent to play Senator William 'Billy' Bulger, Whitey's brother and old friend of Connolly. The senator turns a blind eye to his brother's criminal ways and keeps his two worlds separate. David Harbour and Corey Stoll impress as a corrupt FBI agent and a bulldog US attorney respectively, with Stoll only introduced late in the day as the net starts to close on Bulger. 

As you can imagine, this is a vividly macho film with the female characters getting particularly short-changed; Dakota Johnson makes an early appearance as the mother of Bulger's son, but soon gets sidelined, while Julianne Nicholson has a few potent scenes as Connolly's wife Marianne, managing to imbue what could have just been a cardboard cut-out nagging wife with a bit of life. Juno Temple's screen time is pretty short and only seems included to show just how ruthless Bulger could be. This is very much a man's world.

It's an unrelentingly violent film too, with brains being splattered against windshields and unfortunate snitches garrotted left, right and centre. There's no glamour to the gore, it's not beautifully or artistically shot (the same can be said for the whole film actually; it's a gritty, downlow kind of film). It's a fact of the lives that Bulger and his associates lead. 

It's a truly engrossing film, which grabs you from the get-go. It's a long film as well (over 2 hours) but doesn't feel like it. A gripping and absorbing crime thriller.

Black Mass is on general release from 25th November.

Rating: 4 out of 5


Monday, 16 November 2015

Review: Suffragette (UK Cert 12A)

It's a sobering thought to realise that the UK has only had universal suffrage for less than a hundred years. It was 1928 before all women over the age of 21 were allowed to vote; in 1918, women and men over 30 who met certain property criteria could vote. The suffragette movement, headed by Emmeline Pankhurst, would often use civil disobedience to make their points. Many suffragettes were imprisoned and several gave their lives for the cause. 

Written by Abi Morgan (Shame, The Iron Lady) and directed by Sarah Gavron, Suffragette tells the story of the women's suffrage movement through the prism of a fictional character, laundress Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan) who gets caught up in a suffragette riot on her way from work. She gradually becomes more involved in the movement which causes friction at home and work. Meanwhile, the suffragettes resort to more and more extreme measures to get their voices heard.

Mulligan's performance as Maud is just superb. Maud really goes through the wringer, imprisoned, beaten and (in one particularly unpleasant scene) force-fed, then ostracised from family and friends for daring to speak up. The irony is at the beginning Maud isn't at all interested. Mulligan has some great scenes opposite Ben Whishaw, who plays her husband Sonny, who is opposed to the movement. There's a particularly well-written scene where Maud asks Sonny what they would have called their child had it not been a boy. I fully expect to see Mulligan's name crop up in the upcoming awards season as this is a truly brilliant performance. 

Helena Bonham Carter is similarly excellent in her role as Edith Ellyn. Ellyn is a fictional character, although based in part on a suffragette called Edith Garrud. Ellyn is a chemist and one of the instigators of a more extreme type of protest. I fully expect to see Carter recognised in awards season too. Meryl Streep is as good as always as Emmeline Pankhurst but, if she's onscreen for longer than five minutes, I'll be surprised (which does make the poster slightly misleading). She gives a rousing speech from a balcony and then disappears into the back of a cab. Whilst the story of the suffragette movement would be whitewashed without a mention of Pankhurst's role, I do wonder about whether this scene is particularly needed.

Other performances are similarly strong: Anne-Marie Duff is a strong presence as Maud's workmate Violet Miller who helps get Maud into the movement and there's a good turn by Romola Garai as a local MP's wife who is also sympathetic to the cause. FInally, Natalie Press is powerful as Emily Wilding Davison, the suffragette whose actions at the Epsom Derby brought the movement to widespread attention. 

In terms of the male characters, you may expect them all to be unsympathetic oppressive bastards. This isn't entirely the case, although both Samuel West and Geoff Bell fulfil those roles as the local MP and the lecherous laundry boss respectively. Whishaw's performance is strong but Sonny's sympathy only extends so far before social pressure becomes too much for him. Similarly, Brendan Gleeson is good as Inspector Arthur Steed, a man charged with finding and dealing with any suffragette actions. He has some particularly good scenes with Mulligan as Maud and Steed clash heads.

So, it's well acted, well written for the most part (the script manages to mostly avoid the tendency to be overtly preachy), and the period detail is impeccable. However, the whole thing is let down by some frankly nauseating camerawork. It uses the handheld approach for scenes that really don't need it which does detract from what's actually going on in the scene.

That niggle aside, this is a well made film about an important part of British history and should be seen widely.

Rating: 4 out of 5


Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Review: Legend (UK Cert 18)

London in the 1960s. The Kray twins are some of the most dangerous gangsters operating in the city. They're mad, bad and dangerous to know- or cross. Legend takes a look at their rise and fall, told through the prism of Reggie's relationship with Frances Shea (Emily Browning) who became his first wife.

The film, written and directed by Brian Helgeland (L.A. Confidential, Mystic River), starts with the Krays already established as players in London's underworld so neatly sidesteps any origin story issues. It's a decent crime drama, with absorbing performances by Tom Hardy in the dual roles of Ronnie and Reggie.

As Reggie, Hardy is suave, charismatic, persuasive- it's easy to see why Frances falls for him- but he's able to turn on a sixpence. As Ronnie (who starts the film declared insane and in an asylum), he's almost occupying a different plane of reality, but is not less dangerous. Browning is good in a role which could have just easily been a two-dimensional gangster's moll but actually has a bit of substance; Frances tries to get Reggie to go straight but the lure of that life is too much.

Supporting roles are generally strong: Tara Fitzgerald is good as Frances' disapproving mother, whilst Christopher Eccleston is impressive as police officer 'Nipper' Read who tracked the Krays down. John Sessions gets a fruity little cameo as Lord Boothby, a peer whose links to Ronnie gets him into hot water, whilst Kevin McNally is strong as British Prime Minister Harold Wilson whose own administration gets tainted by the scandal. Paul Bettany, Colin Morgan, David Thewlis and Taron Egerton also put in great performances.

As befitting a film about some of the most violent gangsters ever to operate in London, the film earns its 18 certificate with unflinching violence (and copious swearing). It's a blackly funny film as well, with a lot of the humour coming from Ronnie and his slightly skewed view of the world.

The film is well-made but it's not particularly spectacular or powerful. There's an awful lot of 'tell, don't show' through the overuse of Frances' narration which undermines things slightly and there are several liberties taken within the story from what is generally the accepted truth about the Krays which perhaps don't ring as right. All said, decent enough.

Rating: 3 out of 5