The Watchers

The Watchers

Monday, 29 February 2016

Awards Season 2016: The 88th Annual Academy Awards

The 88th Annual Academy Awards were held last night at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. Like last year, it came up with one or two surprises and more than a few talking points.

You'd kind of have to have been living under a stone to have missed the #OscarsSoWhite controversy which engulfed social media in January when, for the second year in a row, all 20 Oscar acting nominees were white (which, given the brilliant performances by Michael B. Jordan in Creed and Idris Elba in Beasts Of No Nation seems like a bit of an oversight). Many column inches were written and several high-profile names- Spike Lee, Will Smith, Jada Pinkett Smith- boycotted the event. Given this powderkeg background, there was bound to be some nervousness over how host Chris Rock would address it. 

He did it as only he could; head on and unapologetic. His opening monologue was funny but sharp, calling Hollywood out on its 'sorority racism'. Generally speaking, Rock was more comfortable as host than he was in 2005 and handled what could have been a massively awkward situation extremely well. Not every joke found its mark, not every joke can, but he did well. Trying to raise money for his daughters' Girl Scout pack by selling cookies to the audience is a bit random, but this is the ceremony that gave us a social-media-crashing selfie and Neil Patrick Harris in his underwear, so I guess it's all relative.

The evening followed the life of a film, from genesis to execution, so the first awards of the evening were for the screenplays (something I appreciated). With wins for Spotlight and The Big Short- two films with strong social messages- the political aspects of the acceptance speeches started early with an astonishingly blunt message from Adam McKay about not voting for presidential candidates who are in the pockets of big business or banks. 

The political speeches continued with Jenny Beavan speaking about the reality that the dystopic future Mad Max: Fury Road presents being scarily close, to Leonardo DiCaprio's plea for something to be done about climate change, director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's call to eliminate prejudice and the powerful message given by Vice President Joe Biden about sexual abuse on campuses before introducing Lady Gaga to sing 'Til It Happens To You' from The Hunting Ground (a sobering documentary about the epidemic of campus abuse). I thought Sam Smith's acceptance speech- dedicating his award to the LGBT community- was sweet in intention but could have done with some fact-checking (no openly gay actor has won the Best Actor Oscar, but openly gay men and women have won Oscars in the past). 

On to the awards themselves:

Not a clean sweep for me this year but I'm incredibly happy with 5 out of 6 (especially given certain uncertainties, if that makes sense)

There were a couple of surprises- mostly, Mark Rylance winning Best Supporting Actor and Alicia Vikander winning Best Supporting Actress- but generally the awards fell where expected. I was gobsmacked yet overjoyed that Spotlight picked up Best Picture- it was the right decision. I was also pleased by the Oscar wins for Amy, the Original Screenplay win for Spotlight, Emmanuel Lubezski's third consecutive Cinematography Oscar (after Gravity and Birdman) and Ennio Morricone for his superb score for The Hateful Eight. I was surprised by 'Writing's On The Wall' winning Best Original Song, but that's down to a matter for personal taste rather than anything else. 

Mad Max: Fury Road was the big winner of the evening, with six Oscars. The Revenant took home three, with Spotlight winning two. Despite multiple nominations, there were no wins for The Martian, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Brooklyn or Carol.

Below is the full list of winners at the 88th Annual Academy Awards:

Best Motion Picture of the Year: Spotlight

Best Actor: Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant)

Best Actress: Brie Larson (Room)

Best Supporting Actor: Mark Rylance (Bridge Of Spies)

Best Supporting Actress: Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl)

Best Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (The Revenant)

Best Original Screenplay: Spotlight

Best Adapted Screenplay: The Big Short

Best Animated Feature Film of the Year: Inside Out

Best Foreign Language Film of the Year: Son Of Saul

Best Cinematography: The Revenant

Best Editing: Mad Max: Fury Road

Best Production Design: Mad Max: Fury Road

Best Costume Design: Mad Max: Fury Road

Best Makeup and Hairstyling: Mad Max: Fury Road

Best Original Score: The Hateful Eight

Best Original Song: 'Writing's On The Wall' (SPECTRE)

Best Sound Mixing: Mad Max: Fury Road

Best Sound Editing: Mad Max: Fury Road

Best Visual Effects: Ex Machina

Best Documentary (Feature): Amy

Best Documentary (Short Subject): A Girl In The River: The Price Of Forgiveness

Best Animated Short Film: Bear Story

Best Live Action Short Film: Stutterer

Congratulations to all winners and nominees!


Sunday, 28 February 2016

Awards Season 2016: Tez's Official Oscar Predictions 2016

Tonight, the great and good of Hollywood will convene to celebrate the best of film-making in 2015 at the 88th Annual Academy Awards, which will be hosted for the second time by Chris Rock. It has become a tradition for me to predict the nominations and the winners in the main six categories (the four acting categories, Best Director and Best Picture).  I've done this since 2003 with varying degrees of success. So, without further ado, here are my predictions for who will win.

Best Supporting Actress: Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl)

With no disrespect to any of the other nominees, this is a two horse race between Alicia Vikander and Kate Winslet. Both have previous wins behind them (Vikander got the SAG and Critics' Choice; Winslet the BAFTA and the Golden Globe). Both performances are strong, even if I found Winslet's more mannered and more actorly, less naturalistic than Vikander's. There would be a certain amount of pleasure in seeing Winslet win her second Oscar on the same night DiCaprio wins his first. However, because Vikander won the SAG Award- voted on by actors, many of whom make up the Academy voting list- I'm gonna put her ahead. However, I won't be at all surprised if Winslet nabs it. 

Best Supporting Actor: Sylvester Stallone (Creed)

Simply put, I found Stallone's performance in Creed to be exceptional and he actually does act as a supporting character to Donny. He's witty, wise and heartbreaking- he also has a lot of goodwill in Hollywood and a lot of people would love to see him take the main prize tonight (as Critics' Choice and Golden Globe wins have shown). Interestingly, he's won both awards he's been nominated for; I really hope he makes the perfect three tonight.

Best Actress: Brie Larson (Room)

Closest you can get to a cast-iron bet tonight. Larson's moving and emotive performance, having to convey such a difficult situation yet bearing it so bravely, has completely swept the awards season boards- SAG, Golden Globes, BAFTA, Independent Spirits- so any other name tonight would be a huge surprise. And I do mean huge. 

Best Actor: Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant)

OK. Do I think Leo deserves to win? No, I don't. His performance in The Revenant is perfectly decent but he's done better performances. Do I think he will win? Without a shadow of a doubt. We're in the same situation as Scorsese and The Departed; it almost feels like 'his turn'. Similar to Larson, he's swept the boards where he's been nominated so it's a fairly foregone conclusion.

Best Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (The Revenant)

With BAFTA, Golden Globe and DGA wins, it does look like it'll be second time around for Inarritu tonight. Interesting fact: if he does win, Inarritu will be the first director since Joseph L. Mankiewicz to win back-to-back Best Director Oscars and the first in over sixty years.  His direction is solid enough and his partnership with cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezski is one of the strongest I've seen. I would be shocked to see another director win tonight.

Best Picture: Spotlight

This might come back to bite me, but I genuinely think Spotlight deserves to win the Best Picture Oscar over The Revenant. Whether it will, I don't know. Spotlight is an absolute masterclass in cinema: its script is superb (and will, with any justice, bag the Best Original Screenplay Oscar), the acting performances throughtout the ensemble are on point, the direction is solid, the themes of the film are topical without being polemical or heavy-handed. Were I a member of the Academy, this is where my vote would be going. However, it does look likely that The Revenant might get it. 

Last year, I got 4 out of 6 (all four acting awards) but fell foul of Inarritu and Birdman. I'm not making the same mistake on Best Director this year. However, I'm not sure on Best Picture or on Best Supporting Actress. I reckon another 4 out of 6. 

There'll be a full blog tomorrow discussing my thoughts on the ceremony and a list of all the winners.


Awards Season 2016: Independent Spirit Awards and Razzies Results

This is the first of two posts today about awards season, as it all comes to the grand finale tonight with the 88th Annual Academy Awards. They can be viewed on a dedicated Sky Movies channel in the UK and on ABC in the US. 

Before we get to that, this weekend also saw another two sets of awards handed out.


Yesterday- Saturday 28th February- saw the handing out of the Independent Spirit Awards, in a ceremony hosted by Kate McKinnon (Saturday Night Live, Ghostbusters) and Kumail Nanjiani (Silicon Valley, Adventure Time). These honour films made (partly or wholly) outside the major film studio system. Some of the winners are below.

Best Feature: Spotlight

Best Female Lead: Brie Larson (Room

Best Male Lead: Abraham Attah (Beasts Of No Nation)

Best Supporting Female: Mya Taylor (Tangerine)

Best Supporting Male: Idris Elba (Beasts Of No Nation)

Best Director: Tom McCarthy (Spotlight)

Best Screenplay: Spotlight

Best First Screenplay: Room

Best Cinematography: Carol

Best First Feature: The Diary Of A Teenage Girl

Best International Film: Son Of Saul

Best Documentary: The Look Of Silence

John Cassavetes Award: Krisha

The John Cassavetes Award is given to the creative team of a film budgeted at less than $500,000. The full list of winners can be found here.

I'm overjoyed that Spotlight swept the board, with four awards (and was also given the Robert Altman Award), and I'd like to see that repeated tonight- although probably not. Beasts Of No Nation and Room picked up two awards, and Brie Larson adds another trophy to her impressive haul (with surely one more to come tonight). Many of these films also have Oscar presence as well, which shows that independent filmmaking isn't always the niche people think it is.


As is traditional, last night (the night before the Oscars ceremony) also saw the 36th Annual Golden Raspberry Awards. One film really stood out against the pack this year, garnering five awards. 

Here's the full 'winners' list:

Worst Picture: Fantastic Four and Fifty Shades Of Grey

Worst Director: Josh Trank (Fantastic Four)

Worst Actor: Jamie Dornan (Fifty Shades Of Grey)

Worst Actress: Dakota Johnson (Fifty Shades Of Grey)

Worst Supporting Actor: Eddie Redmayne (Jupiter Ascending)

Worst Supporting Actress: Kaley Cuoco (Alvin & The Chipmunks: Road Chip/The Wedding Ringer)

Worst Remake, Sequel Or Rip-Off: Fantastic Four

Worst Screen Combo: Jamie Dornan & Dakota Johnson (Fifty Shades Of Grey)

Worst Screenplay: Fifty Shades Of Grey

Razzie Redeemer: Sylvester Stallone

Fifty Shades Of Grey was the runaway 'winner' with the utter trainwreck that was Fantastic Four snapping at its heels with three. I very much doubt Eddie Redmayne will be losing too much sleep about his win, as he'll be more concerned with the Oscars tonight. It's also heartening to see Stallone get another Razzie- he is the all-time greatest Razzie winner- but this time it's for turning it all around with Creed

So that's awards season almost wrapped up. All that remains is the big one: the Oscars. So next up will be  my predictions for Best Picture, Best Director and the four acting categories.


Sunday, 21 February 2016

The Making Of Harry Potter Studio Tour

At the end of January, I was very fortunate to visit The Making Of Harry Potter tour at the Warner Bros. studios in Leavesden, just on the outskirts of London. I went with a group of friends to celebrate a milestone birthday. It was a fantastic day.

In a similar way to the Doctor Who Experience- albeit on a much, much larger scale- you start the tour with a guide who takes you through part of the tour and then you're free to explore and take your time (and as many photos as you like) with the rest of the exhibits.

One of the guided sections of the tour is the Hogwarts Great Hall:

(If you're wondering why there are Christmas trees and other decorations around, the site was still decorated for Hogwarts In The Snow)

Once through the Great Hall, you're at leisure to look around the exhibits, which not only include props and costumes and replica sets, but also feature interviews with the screenwriters, directors and effects staff who explain exactly how things were made. It's a fascinating glimpse behind the curtain, as it were. 

Potions class
Gryffindor Common Room
Dumbledore's Study
There are some amazing sights to see, including the Hogwarts Express (a fully working train), the Knight Bus, Privet Drive and the Hogwarts Bridge. You can even try your hand at wand combat or be photographed on a broomstick playing Quidditch, and- if it takes your fancy- you can even stop off and have some Butterbeer on your way round. 

The second part of the tour is more behind-the-scenes again, where the creature designers and prosthetic make-up teams divulge a few secrets. If, like me, you're a bit afraid of spiders, I'll warn you now- they do have a large scale model of Aragog on display. They also have the Basilisk, several dragons and Buckbeak the Hippogriff.

After the creature shop, it's a headlong plunge into a faithfully recreated Diagon Alley which is simply breath-taking:

After Diagon Alley, you get to see some of the original concept designs for several sets and props which is just sublime and can listen to interviews with several members of the team responsible. The level of detail is just immense, and the tour ends with a major surprise which I certainly wouldn't want to spoil for anyone. Make sure you've got plenty of battery left on your camera and plenty of space because it's a real doozy.

If you do go, give yourself plenty of time to enjoy and soak in everything. It's a real cinephile's dream. Fans of the Harry Potter franchise will be in seventh heaven here- I certainly was- but even if you're not a massive fan but like to know how films are made, there's plenty to hold your attention.

I loved it; I would recommend it to anyone and I would love to go back again.

For information about the tour, click here.


Sunday, 14 February 2016

Awards Season 2015: WGA and BAFTA Winners

We're on the home straight with Awards Season 2016 - just one more weekend to go. However, this weekend has seen two sets of awards handed out.


The Writers' Guild Awards were handed out on Saturday 13th February. The film winners were:

Original Screenplay: Spotlight

Adapted Screenplay: The Big Short

Documentary Screenplay: Going Clear: Scientology And The Prison Of Belief

Both Spotlight and The Big Short are nominated in their respective categories for the Oscars so that bodes well for them (however, I would much prefer Carol to win the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar as my main issues with The Big Short stem from the script). Alex Gibney's documentary about Scientology didn't make the cut for the Best Documentary Feature Oscar- wonder why?- but it's still interesting to see it being acknowledged.


Tonight (Sunday 14th February), at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, the 69th British Academy Film Awards were given out in a star-studded ceremony hosted for the eleventh time by Stephen Fry. Leonardo DiCaprio, Cate Blanchett, Stephen Spielberg, Julie Walters, Michael Fassbender, Maggie Smith, Benicio del Toro, Eddie Redmayne, Idris Elba and Bryan Cranston were among some of the stars in attendance to celebrate the best in film.

Here's a full list of BAFTA winners:

Best Film: The Revenant

Outstanding British Film: Brooklyn

Leading Actor: Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant)

Leading Actress: Brie Larson (Room)

Supporting Actor: Mark Rylance (Bridge Of Spies)

Supporting Actress: Kate Winslet (Steve Jobs)

Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (The Revenant)

Original Screenplay: Spotlight

Adapted Screenplay: The Big Short

Outstanding Debut By A British Writer, Director Or Producer: Naji Abu Nowar and Riper Lloyd (writer/director and producer of Theeb)

Animated Film: Inside Out

Documentary: Amy

Film Not In The English Language: Wild Tales

Cinematography: The Revenant

Costume Design: Mad Max: Fury Road

Editing: Mad Max: Fury Road

Make Up And Hair: Mad Max: Fury Road

Original Music: The Hateful Eight

Production Design: Mad Max: Fury Road

Sound: The Revenant

Special Visual Effects: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Short Animation: Edmond

Short Film: Operator

Rising Star: John Boyega

Outstanding British Contribution To Cinema: Angels Costumes

BAFTA Fellowship: Sidney Poitier

The Revenant was the night's big winner with five BAFTAs, with Mad Max: Fury Road closely behind on four.

So, assuming Ghostbusters is wrong and the world doesn't end tonight, there's one final weekend of Awards Seasons frippery to go this year- that's in two weekends' time when the Film Independent Spirit Awards and the Razzies will be handed out on Saturday 27th February and then- the big kahuna - the 88th Annual Academy Awards on Sunday 28th February.

We're almost there, people. Almost there.


Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Review: Creed (UK Cert 12A)

Michael B. Jordan reunites with director Ryan Coogler (after the powerful drama Fruitvale Station) for Creed, the next film in the Rocky franchise.

However, rather than focusing on Rocky himself, Creed focuses on Adonis 'Donny' Johnson (Jordan), the son of the legendary Apollo Creed. When we first meet Donny, he's working in an office but travelling to Tijuana on the weekends to take part in boxing matches. Realising that's where his true passion lies, Donny quits his job and moves to Philadelphia to start training as a boxer. Donny wants to be trained by the best and so seeks out Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), who is now retired and running a restaurant. Eventually Rocky agrees to mentor Donny and this unlikely pairing takes Donny to the fight of his career.

I've never been a massive fan of the Rocky films; they've been entertaining enough but they've never really stuck with me (to the point where I had to be reminded of a major plot point from a previous Rocky film as we were sat in the cinema). However, Creed is a real pulse-racing, edge-of-your-seat movie which I enjoyed a whole lot more than I was expecting to.

Essentially, it's a soft reboot of Rocky. It takes all the beats of the original film and uses them in a slightly different way (or puts a slightly different twist on them). This is no bad thing; it gives fans of the previous films a feeling of recognition, whilst making it fresh for first-time viewers. It's like Star Wars: The Force Awakens but for a sports movie.

Jordan is just brilliant in the lead role. He's an absolute firecracker on screen, quick to anger, incredibly powerful yet vulnerable as well. The conflict of being associated with the name Creed is central; does he want to trade on his old man's name or make it on his own? Is he worthy to take the name Creed? You absolutely root for him throughout. His relationship with musician Bianca (a lovely supporting turn by Tessa Thompson who isn't just window-dressing) adds another element and some of his interactions with Stallone are just dynamite. 

What can I say about Stallone's performance? Well, firstly, the awards hype he's been getting is absolutely deserved. The way Rocky is used in this film is exactly how a supporting role should be used; support the main character but have enough of a storyline of your own without overshadowing the lead. Stallone has played Rocky off and on for the best part of forty years and he knows the character inside and out. He's funny, he's wise, he's incredibly moving (yep, he made me cry). 

Coogler's direction is slick, and there are a couple of really cool technical tricks he employs. The fight sequences are particularly strong (which you'd expect in a boxing movie: one of Donny's first fights (a two-round bout) is filmed in one continuous take, bobbing and weaving around the fighters expertly without pausing for breath. The long walk from the dressing room to the ring in the final fight- which takes place at Goodison Park (home ground of Everton FC)- is another great moment. 

If you know the Rocky films, you'll get a lot out of Creed (there's a couple of nice nods to the past). However, it's not absolutely essential. Creed is accessible, high-octane, powerful and a whole load of fun. I loved it. 

Rating: 4 out of 5


Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Review: Spotlight (UK Cert 15)

In early 2002, the Spotlight investigative team of The Boston Globe published a story which had far-reaching implications for the Catholic Church: not only was there widespread and systematic sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests in the Boston area(which stretched back decades in some cases), but that senior members of the church- including the Archbishop of Boston, Cardinal Law- knew about it and did nothing to stop it. The team's investigations into this groundbreaking story is the now the focus of Spotlight, a biographical drama directed and co-written by Tom McCarthy (The Station Agent, The Visitor). 

It's not an easy watch; some of the stories of abuse that are recounted are shocking and unpleasant, and you may well feel incredibly angry and disgusted with the degree of complicity and the cover-up at large. It's a film that will raise a lot of questions and a fair bit of debate. 

Performances are strong across the board (indeed, the film won the Best Ensemble prize at the Screen Actors' Guild Awards). Mark Ruffalo is superb as Mike Rezendes, one of the reporters and a tenacious little terrier who digs into the story. Rachel McAdams is similarly good as Sacha Pfeiffer, the lone female reporter (although, refreshingly, her gender is not her sole defining feature). Her empathy and determination shine through, as she has to reconcile the investigation with the effect it would have on her God-fearing family. 

Michael Keaton should count himself unlucky to miss out on the awards hype as his performance as Spotlight editor Walter 'Robby' Robinson is another career best. Whether facing down oleaginous lawyers or confronting an old friend who was also complicit in helping cover up the extent of the abuse, Keaton is just excellent. There's great support from the ever-dependable Stanley Tucci as lawyer Mitchell Garabedian (who is fighting for the victims of abuse and who has some great scenes together with Ruffalo) and Liev Schrieber as Marty Baron, the new editor-in-chief of the Globe who sanctions the Spotlight team to investigate the scandal. 

Comparisons to All The President's Men are inevitable; while both films cover major investigations into huge scandals, they're also paeans to old-school investigative journalism (some of the most satisfying scenes feature characters rifling around in archives or looking through microfiche). In one of those interesting true-life-is-stranger-than-fiction coincidences, the managing editor of The Boston Globe at the time of the Spotlight exposes was Ben Bradlee Jr (played by John Slattery), who was the son of the Washington Post editor who published Woodward and Bernstein's reports into the Watergate scandal. Spotlight even has its own 'Deep Throat' in psychologist Richard Sipe (an uncredited voice performance by Richard Jenkins) whose telephone calls prompt the team to uncover the full extent of the abuse.

In a sobering epilogue, the film tells us of the extent to which the abuse took place, with page after page of names of cities throughout the US and the world where investigations into historic and current sexual abuse cases were set up. It shows how endemic the situation is without attaching any judgement to it. That's for the viewer to do. 

A harrowing yet compelling film, utterly gripping and brimming with righteous anger, Spotlight is without a doubt the best film I've seen so far this year. 

Rating: 5 out of 5


Sunday, 7 February 2016

Awards Season 2016: Directors' Guild Awards Winners

Just a quick awards season update as the Directors' Guild Awards (DGAs) were handed out yesterday (Saturday 6th February). The film winners are:

Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Feature Films: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (The Revenant)

Outstanding Directorial Achievement of a First-Time Feature Film Director: Alex Garland (Ex Machina)

Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Movies for Television and Miniseries: Dee Rees (Bessie)

Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Documentary: Matthew Heineman (Cartel Land)

With this win, it's looking good for Inarritu to claim a second Best Director Oscar at the end of the month. If he does, he'll be only the third director in Oscars history to claim back-to-back wins (the other two being John Ford and Joseph L. Mankiewicz) and he'd be the first director to do this in over sixty years (Mankiewicz was the last consecutive winner in 1950 and 1951). Cartel Land is on the Oscars shortlist for Best Documentary Feature, so that bodes well.

The next awards season update will come next weekend as the Writers' Guild Awards are announced on 13th February and the BAFTA Film Awards are handed out on 14th February.