The Watchers

The Watchers

Monday, 27 February 2017

Bill Paxton (1955-2017)

We at The Watchers were very saddened to hear about the unexpected death of Bill Paxton, who passed away on February 25th 2017 following complications for surgery.

In addition to his acting work, Paxton was also a producer, director and writer. Born in Fort Worth, Texas, Bill moved to Los Angeles when he was eighteen and found work as a set dresser for Roger Corman's New World Pictures. After some minor roles in films such as Stripes and Taking Tiger Mountain, he made a memorable appearance as the punk leader who harasses Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Terminator (1984)- and pays for it. In 1985, Paxton appeared in the John Hughes classic Weird Science as Wyatt's boorish bullying older brother Chet. 

In 1986, he appeared in another classic sci-fi franchise as Private Hudson in Aliens. Famous for his cry of 'Game over, man! Game over!' (which Paxton claimed he improvised, along with a lot of his dialogue), Hudson is dispatched by one of the aliens towards the end of the film. Four years later, he would complete the death-by-iconic-sci-fi-villain trifecta by appearing in Predator 2 and also being killed off.

His role as vampire Severen in Kathryn Bigelow's Near Dark (1987) is one of his most highly-regarded roles as is one of his first leading roles- that of Dale Dixon in the 1992 One False Move. He would go on to play Wyatt Earp's brother Morgan in Tombstone, Simon in True Lies, Fred Haise in Apollo 13 and Bill Harding in Twister. He also played treasure hunter Brock Lovett in Titanic, providing the framing narrative for the film. 

He is quite brilliant as Hank in A Simple Plan, opposite Bridget Fonda and Billy Bob Thornton. He would go on to appear opposite a fifteen-foot mountain gorilla and Charlize Theron in the 1998 Disney film Mighty Joe Young then in the dubiously historically accurate Second World War submarine drama U-571 before making his directorial debut in 2001 with the thriller Frailty (in which he also starred). 

He also appeared in several family friendly films, such as Spy Kids 2: Island Of Lost Dreams, Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over and as Jeff Tracy in the 2004 live-action version of Thunderbirds. Later film roles include Haywire, 2 Guns, Edge Of Tomorrow and Nightcrawler. 

In 2006, Paxton took on his first major television role, playing polygamist patriarch Bill Henrickson, living with his three wives, in the HBO show Big Love. The show ran for five seasons and Paxton would be nominated for three Golden Globes for his role. He would also go on to have roles in the first season of Marvel's Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. and was appearing in the TV version of Training Day at the time of his death. 

Director James Cameron was a close friend of Paxton's, directing him several times (in The Terminator, Aliens, True Lies and Titanic), and has paid tribute to Paxton saying:

'He was a good man, a great actor, and a creative dynamo. I hope that amid the gaudy din of Oscar night, people will take a moment to remember this wonderful man, not just for all the hours of joy he brought to us with his vivid screen presence, but for the great human that he was. The world is a lesser place for his passing, and I will profoundly miss him.' 

(Indeed, when introducing the In Memoriam section at the Oscars, a visibly upset Jennifer Aniston paid tribute to Paxton before the official montage began)

Paxton was a versatile, dedicated and talented character actor and he will be missed. Our thoughts are with his friends and family at this time.

Rhys, Matt & Tez
The Watchers

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Awards Season 2017: The 89th Annual Academy Awards

Well, that was quite something. 

There's several things for which this Oscars ceremony will be remembered for, but giving the biggest award of the night to the wrong film will be right up there for years to come. Due to some form of cock-up, Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway mistakenly named La La Land as the Best Picture winner, only to then find out that Moonlight had won it instead! Cue a lot of embarrassment and a very gracious deferral from the producers of La La Land. 

This was the first time in a few years that I was actually able to watch the broadcast live (via Sky Cinema). I thought Jimmy Kimmel was an affable host. Despite his very self-effacing demeanour, the vast majority of his jokes hit (and he was able to admit the ones that didn't). His opening monologue was political without being tubthumping, and I did particularly enjoy his banter with Meryl Streep and the comment that, given the Trump administration, at least the Oscars don't look so racist now. I quite liked the mean tweets section and the stunt with the tour bus mostly worked, if it did drag on a little. 

As you can imagine, several of the speeches were political in nature, some more subtle than others. The most pointed came when the Best Foreign Language Film of the Year was announced. Iranian director Asghar Farhadi (who directed The Salesman) was initially unable to attend the event due to the imposed travel ban. When the ban was lifted, he chose to boycott the event and instead sent Iranian engineer Anousheh Ansari to represent him. When The Salesman won, Ansari read a politically charged statement on Farhadi's behalf. 

Other noteworthy happenings from the ceremony: sound mixer Kevin O'Connell won his first Oscar (for Hacksaw Ridge) on his twenty-first nomination; Best Documentary Feature winner O.J.: Made In America is now officially the longest film to win an Oscar (coming in at an impressive 7hrs 47mins); Damien Chazelle is now the youngest Best Director winner at the tender age of 32. 

I wasn't surprised by 'City Of Stars' winning Best Original Song, although I think of the two songs nominated from La La Land I actually prefer 'Audition'. The musical numbers were scattered nicely through the evening, with Justin Timberlake kicking the evening off with a performance of 'Can't Stop The Feeling' then a wonderfully assured performance of 'How Far I'll Go' from Moana, sung by 16-year old Auli'i Cravalho. There was also a very moving In Memoriam section, beautifully accompanied by Sara Bareilles singing 'Both Sides Now' by Joni Mitchell. 

I was also really pleased by the Best Costume Design win for Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them, although it still feels very wrong that you can now call Suicide Squad an Oscar-winning film (picking up Best Make-Up and Hairstyling)

As for my predictions... well, 5 out of 6 is alright (especially given the Best Picture farrago). As I said in my predictions, if any film was going to usurp La La Land from Best Picture, it would be Moonlight. All other predictions were correct and I thought Mahershala Ali, Viola Davis and Emma Stone all gave very lovely acceptance speeches. 

Despite the mistake at the end, La La Land was still the runaway winner of the night with six Oscars to its name. Moonlight had three, with Manchester By The Sea and Hacksaw Ridge both winning two. Despite multiple nominations, there was nothing for Lion, Hell Or High Water, Hidden Figures or Jackie

Below is the full list of winners at the 89th Annual Academy Awards:

Best Motion Picture of the Year: Moonlight

Best Actor: Casey Affleck (Manchester By The Sea)

Best Actress: Emma Stone (La La Land)

Best Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali (Moonlight)

Best Supporting Actress: Viola Davis (Fences)

Best Director: Damien Chazelle (La La Land)

Best Original Screenplay: Manchester By The Sea

Best Adapted Screenplay: Moonlight

Best Animated Feature Film of the Year: Zootopia

Best Foreign Language Film of the Year: The Salesman

Best Cinematography: La La Land

Best Editing: Hacksaw Ridge

Best Production Design: La La Land

Best Costume Design: Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them

Best Makeup and Hairstyling: Suicide Squad

Best Original Score: La La Land

Best Original Song: 'City Of Stars' (La La Land)

Best Sound Mixing: Hacksaw Ridge

Best Sound Editing: Arrival

Best Visual Effects: The Jungle Book

Best Documentary (Feature): O.J.: Made In America

Best Documentary (Short Subject): The White Helmets

Best Animated Short Film: Piper

Best Live Action Short Film: Sing

Congratulations to all winners!

So that's it. Awards season is over for another year (and what a way to end it too!). As William Makepeace Thackeray says at the very end of Vanity Fair: 'Come children, let us shut up the box and the puppets, for our play is played out.'

And now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to bed. It's been something of a long night.


Awards Season 2017: Tez's Official Oscar Predictions 2017

Tonight, the great and good of Hollywood will convene to celebrate the best of film-making in 2016 at the 89th Annual Academy Awards, which will be hosted by Jimmy Kimmel for the first time.

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: Viola Davis (Fences)

Whilst an argument could be made that the role of Rose is more of lead actress one, it still doesn't take away from the intensity and passion of Davis' performance. She's won the Critics' Choice, Golden Globes, BAFTA and SAG awards, so I'm as confident as I can be that she'll be up on the stage tonight collecting a well-deserved Oscar. 

Best Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali (Moonlight)

A finely-observed supporting turn by Ali, who plays local drug dealer and father figure to young Chiron. Again, he's been a stand out winner for most awards so I fully expect to see him named tonight. 

Best Actress: Emma Stone (La La Land)

With wins at the Golden Globes, SAG Awards and BAFTA, it puts Stone ahead of the pack. Her performance as Mia is arguably the stronger of the two leads (sorry, Ryan). That said, I am less confident about my pick for this one, as it there's always the possibility that another actress (likely Natalie Portman or Isabelle Huppert) could win. 

Best Actor: Casey Affleck (Manchester By The Sea)

Affleck has been the runaway winner for his taut, muscular turn as Lee Chandler in Kenneth Lonergan's quiet study of grief. Much like Viola Davis, I don't see any other name being called out in this category tonight. 

Best Director: Damien Chazelle (La La Land)
Best Picture: La La Land

OK, here's the thing. I am as certain as I can get that Chazelle will win Best Director, and it will be deserved, because La La Land is a technically very accomplished film, from the amazing opening song-and-dance number on the LA freeway to the quiet and melancholic ending. La La Land has also been the stand-out winner of Best Picture awards (plus it won the PGA). Films about films, acting and the like do well at the Academy and its heady air of escapism is exactly what's needed at the moment. But that said, if there's any film that could rain on La La Land's parade, it's most likely to be Moonlight. Whilst I fully expect La La Land to take the main prize tonight, I wouldn't be surprised if Moonlight pulls off a surprise win at the end of the evening. 

Last year, I got 5 out of 6, with my Best Supporting Actor prediction going to Sylvester Stallone rather than eventual winner Mark Rylance. I feel pretty confident about 4 of my 6; Best Actress has a question mark on it and I'm wavering over Best Picture. But it's time to pin my colours to the mast as it were.

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

Good luck to all nominees and may the odds be ever in your favour.


Awards Season 2017: Independent Spirit Awards and Razzies Winners

 This is the first of two posts today about awards season, as it all comes to the grand finale tonight with the 89th Annual Academy Awards. They can be viewed on a dedicated Sky Movies channel in the UK and on ABC in the US.

I'll post my predictions for who will win at the Oscars tonight in a little bit, but first there's the small matter of a couple of other awards to deal with first.


Yesterday- Saturday 25th February- saw the handing out of the Independent Spirit Awards, in a ceremony hosted by Nick Kroll (Loving, Sing, Vacation) and John Mulaney (Mayne Street, Saturday Night Live). These honour films made (partly or wholly) outside the major film studio system. Some of the winners are below.

Best Feature: Moonlight

Best Female Lead: Isabelle Huppert (Elle)

Best Male Lead: Casey Affleck (Manchester By The Sea)

Best Supporting Female: Molly Shannon (Other People)

Best Supporting Male: Ben Foster (Hell Or High Water)

Best Director: Barry Jenkins (Moonlight)

Best Screenplay: Moonlight

Best First Screenplay: The Witch

Best Cinematography: Moonlight

Best First Feature: The Witch

Best International Film: Toni Erdmann

Best Documentary: O.J.: Made In America

John Cassavetes Award: Spa Night

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.

Moonlight was the big winner of the evening, with six awards (including the prestigious Robert Altman Award) Can it pull off what many would see as an upset by taking home the main prize at tonight's Oscars? That could indeed be a possibility. Casey Affleck adds another trophy to his haul (and almost certainly will add another one tonight), whilst wins for Toni Erdmann and O.J.: Made In America won't do their chances of Oscar glory any harm either. 


The 37th Annual Golden Raspberry Awards were also handed out yesterday (in their now-traditional Oscars Eve ceremony).

Here's the full 'winners' list:

Worst Picture: Hillary's America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party 

Worst Director: Dinesh D'Souza & Bruce Schooley (Hillary's America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party

Worst Actor: Dinesh D'Souza [as Himself] (Hillary's America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party

Worst Actress: Becky Turner [as Hillary Clinton]  (Hillary's America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party

Worst Supporting Actor: Jesse Eisenberg (Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Worst Supporting Actress: Kristen Wiig (Zoolander No. 2

Worst Remake, Sequel Or Rip-Off: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Worst Screen Combo: Ben Affleck & Henry Cavill (Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice)

Worst Screenplay: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Razzie Redeemer: Mel Gibson

Whilst I'm not surprised by the kicking that Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice got, at least it can count itself lucky in some respects. Hillary's America 'won' all bar one of its nominations and the co-director/writer/lead actor Dinesh D'Souza has responded to the wins (much in the same way he did to the nominations). This is the first time in the history of the Razzies that a documentary has won Best Picture.

The Razzie Redeemer wasn't voted on by the users of Rotten Tomatoes this year (they instead voted for Worst Screen Combo) but Gibson's work on Hacksaw Ridge does warrant praise. 

This just leaves the Oscars tonight. As promised, my predictions for the big winners will be coming soon.


Thursday, 23 February 2017

Review: Hell Or High Water (UK Cert 15)

A surprise inclusion for the Best Picture Oscar, Hell Or High Water is a crime thriller-cum-Western, written by Taylor Sheridan (Sicario) and directed by David Mackenzie (Young Adam, Hallam Foe, Starred Up)

Brothers Toby and Tanner Howard are robbing banks. But not just any banks; they're only targeting branches of Texas Midland Bank. And they're not taking anything from the customers or the tellers; they're taking money from the banks themselves. After two robberies- where very little money has actually been stolen- Ranger Marcus Hamilton and his deputy Alberto Parker are handed the case. But why these branches? Why so little money? Where will they hit next? And can Hamilton and Parker stop them before they do?

Hell Or High Water is a bit of an odd fish, to be fair. It's part Western, part heist movie, part thriller, part social commentary, part action. Yet from this Frankenstein's Monster patchwork comes a thoughtful, well-made film that neatly balances the different genres into a mostly cohesive whole. The social commentary is nicely underplayed (no tubthumping here) whilst the Western setting is used to good effect. 

Chris Pine and Ben Foster play the Howard brothers, with Pine as the sensible, stoic Toby and Foster as the wilder, unpredictable Tanner. The camaraderie between the two is nice to see, and really helps to sell the family relationship. While Foster gets the more showy role (and excels at it), Pine gives a nuanced and restrained performance which is all the more powerful in relief to Foster's exuberance. Jeff Bridges is superb in his supporting role as the grizzled and curmudgeonly Hamilton, also forming a nice partnership with Gil Birmingham (who plays Parker). Hamilton is a grumpy old man, but still has an incisive and analytical mind- indeed, at one point, he works out the brothers' next move before they decide themselves. 

The film has been very well cast, even down to minor roles such as an old man in one of the first banks the brothers rob (Buck Taylor) and a hard-ass waitress at a T-Bone steak restaurant (Margaret Bowman). These minor characters not only add some levity to proceedings but really help to give the flavour of the Texan towns they're set in. 

The cinematography by Giles Nuttgens is particularly good, making the most of the impressive landscapes of New Mexico (doubling for Texas). The film also has a superb soundtrack- including original music by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis- but also using existing songs by Waylon Jennings, Scott H. Biram, Gillian Welch and Chris Stapleton to provide an evocative soundscape that really enhances the film.

I originally wanted to see the film when it was released in cinemas back in September but didn't get the chance. I picked it up on DVD and I'm glad I did. A solid, decent film.

Rating: 4 out of 5


Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Review: Moonlight (UK Cert 15)

A touching, tender, coming-of-age story, Moonlight tells the story of a young black man growing up in an impoverished neighbourhood in Miami.

A timid, meek boy, neglected by his drug addict mother Paula (Naomie Harris), Chiron (Alex Hibbert) finds an unlikely mentor and father figure in local drug dealer Juan (Mahershala Ali). Later, as a teenager, Chiron (Ashton Sanders) comes to terms with his sexuality after an emotionally charged encounter with his friend Kevin (Jharrel Jerome). Ten years later, a now adult Chiron (Trevante Rhodes) and Kevin (Andre Holland) meet again as adults to discuss the past.

It's based on an unproduced play by Tarell Alvin McCraney called In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue (which is also a line in the film). McCraney receives a story credit whilst director Barry Jenkins is also credited as screenwriter. The film is structured much like a three-act play with each section focusing on a different part of Chiron's life. 

The three actors playing Chiron- Hibbert, Sanders and Rhodes- all have different challenges but all three are superb. Hibbert's innocence and quietness (he hardly speaks in the first ten minutes of the film) is a lovely complement to Sanders' sensitivity and Rhodes' laconic toughness. As the teenage Chiron, Sanders probably has the most meaty part of the film (the scenes of bullying are tough to watch and the encounter between Chiron and Kevin on the beach is breathtakingly erotic without being explicit) but there's a raw honesty in all three actors which really helps the audience get behind the character.  

Ali and Harris have been the actors most recognised for their roles, and with good reason. Ali gives a real warmth to his performance as Juan. Eschewing traditional drug-dealer stereotypes, his almost paternal care for the young Chiron is touching (none more so in the scene where he teaches Chiron to swim). He's also refreshingly progressive- explaining to Chiron that a homophobic slur is 'used to make gay people feel bad', rather than reinforcing it. But at the end of the day, he is no saint and is complicit in Paula's drug use. The film does lose a certain amount of warmth after Juan's departure (he only appears in the first section). However, Janelle Monae proves that her strong supporting turn in Hidden Figures isn't a one-off as she gives a warm and nurturing performance as Juan's girlfriend Teresa (who provides security for Chiron as a child and teenager).

Harris' performance will stay with you long after the film has ended. Paula is selfish, emotionally abusive, neglectful; by rights, you should hate her. But rather than hatred, I felt a strange kind of sympathy for- or maybe empathy with- her (especially in the last third of the film, when the now adult Chiron visits her in a rehabilitation centre). She is the only actress who appears in all three sections of the film and she gives an authentic and emotionally honest performance.

Technically, it's pretty good (although some of the camera-work is a little jolty). It doesn't overdo any of the visual metaphors which is good and the film stays mostly to the right side of pretentious. The score by Nicholas Britell is also worth a mention as it's sublime.

Whilst I don't agree with the ghettoisation of film (labelling it 'a black film' or 'a gay film'; film's film and that's that as far as I'm concerned), Moonlight neatly defies easy categorisation and provides an honest and powerful experience.

Rating: 4 out of 5


Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Review: Fences (UK Cert 12A)

Originally written by August Wilson in 1983, Fences won the 1987 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and four Tonys (including Best Play) for its initial production. Denzel Washington and Viola Davis appeared in the 2010 Broadway revival of the play, both winning Tonys for their performances. The two actors are reunited for this film version, with Washington pulling double duty as director too.

Troy Maxson (Washington) is a former baseball star in Pittsburgh. Whilst an exceptional player in the Negro League, Troy never made it to the Major Leagues (which he ascribes to racism). Now hauling trash for a living, he struggles to provide for his family. Rose (Davis) has asked Troy to put a fence up in the garden and Troy has co-opted youngest son Cory (Jovan Adepo) to help. Cory has the opportunity for a college football scholarship, which puts him on a collision course with his father.

Washington is exceptional in the lead role of Troy. Full of bluster, regret, indignation, the role of Troy is a real challenge and Washington handles it with aplomb. Wilson's dialogue is dense. Really baroque, without being flowery (I can imagine massive blocks of text on a page). Washington handles these with ease. You might not always like Troy as a character- his treatment of Cory has as much to do with jealousy than wanting to protect his child- but it's a truly brilliant performance. 

Frankly, if Viola Davis doesn't win the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance as Rose, then it'll be the biggest Oscar robbery since Brokeback Mountain not winning Best Picture (no, I'm still not over it). She is simply superb in every scene. A woman who is fiercely protective of her kin but no pushover, she is the force that binds the family together as it threatens to tear apart. It's a really meaty role which Davis- exceptional actress that she is- plays to the hilt. When Rose finally gets to call Troy out, Davis channels a fury and a rage that is quite literally breathtaking. The tsunami of emotion erupts and it is just superb.

When you have two towering performances in the leads, everyone else needs to up their game. And they do. Adepo is wonderful as Cory, wanting to step out from under his father's shadow and forge his own way in the world. There's a lovely turn by Stephen McKinley Henderson as Troy's friend, co-worker and confidante Jim Bono and by Russell Hornsby as Lyons, Troy's son from a previous relationship. A musician, Lyons- like Cory- wants his father to be proud of him.

Finally, Mykelti Williamson is heartbreaking as Troy's brother Gabe. An ex-soldier, brain-damaged during World War II and now constantly under the threat of being institutionalised for causing public disturbances, Gabe's compensation money provides the roof over Troy's head. Child-like, innocent and unworldly, Gabe is now a soldier for St Peter (Judgement Day is a constant theme). There's also a touching turn by Saniyya Sidney towards the end of the film but to discuss her role would be a massive spoiler.

Wilson completed the screenplay before his death in 2005 and it is (I imagine) a very faithful adaptation of the stage play. But that is the main failing of the film: it feels like watching a live broadcast of a performance rather than a film. Confining the majority of the action to the backyard and the kitchen robs the film of scope, and also the opportunity to see other characters rather than just hear about them. We could have seen Bono's wife Lucille, or sat in on Troy's meeting with the commissioner, maybe seen Miss Pearl and Gabe in her house. It would have made the film more alive in a way.

Sometimes I will recommend a film because of its performances, not necessarily because of the film itself. If you want to see an absolute masterclass of acting, see Fences. There's not a bad performance in the bunch. In fact, this is one of the strongest ensemble casts I've seen in film for a good long while.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5


Monday, 20 February 2017

Awards Season 2017: Writers' Guild Awards Winners

Just a quick update today as The Writers' Guild Awards were handed out yesterday (Sunday 19th February).

The film winners were:

Original Screenplay: Moonlight

Adapted Screenplay: Arrival

Documentary Screenplay: Command And Control

The Oscars have put Moonlight in the Adapted Screenplay category (as it's based on a play by Tarell Alvin McCraney, who gets a story credit with Jenkins credited for the screenplay). Under the WGA rules, because McCraney's play was unproduced, Jenkins is credited as sole screenwriter. 

Either way, the two WGA winners will go head to head in the Adapted Screenplay category at the Oscars with 20th Century Women, La La Land, Manchester By The Sea, The Lobster and Hell Or High Water in contention for Original Screenplay.

For anyone interested, Command And Control is a documentary about the near launch of a nuclear missile from Arkansas in the 1980s. So now you know. 

And now the end is near... Awards Season comes to a head this coming weekend with the Razzies and the Independent Spirit Awards being handed out on Saturday (25th February) with the 89th Academy Awards rounding things off on Sunday (26th February). 

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Awards Season 2017: BAFTA Film Awards Winners

Tonight (Sunday 12th February), at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, the 70th British Academy Film Awards were given out in a star-studded ceremony hosted once again by the utterly luminous Stephen Fry. Viola Davis, Amy Adams, Naomie Harris, Eddie Redmayne, Daisy Ridley, Dev Patel, Nicole Kidman, Ken Loach, Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Emma Stone were among some of the stars in attendance to celebrate the best in film.

Here's a full list of BAFTA winners:

Best Film: La La Land

Outstanding British Film: I, Daniel Blake

Leading Actor: Casey Affleck (Manchester By The Sea)

Leading Actress: Emma Stone (La La Land)

Supporting Actor: Dev Patel (Lion)

Supporting Actress: Viola Davis (Fences)

Director: Damien Chazelle (La La Land)

Original Screenplay: Manchester By The Sea

Adapted Screenplay: Lion

Outstanding Debut By A British Writer, Director Or Producer: Babak Arivari (writer/director), Emily Leo, Oliver Roskill, Lucan Toh (producers of Under The Shadow)

Animated Film: Kubo And The Two Strings

Documentary: 13th

Film Not In The English Language: Son Of Saul

Cinematography: La La Land

Costume Design: Jackie

Editing: Hacksaw Ridge

Make Up And Hair: Florence Foster Jenkins

Original Music: La La Land

Production Design: Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them

Sound: Arrival

Special Visual Effects: The Jungle Book

Short Animation: A Love Story

Short Film: Home

Rising Star: Tom Holland

Outstanding British Contribution To Cinema: Curzon Cinemas

BAFTA Fellowship: Mel Brooks

The first award of the evening was Outstanding British Film which, unsurprisingly and deservedly, went to I, Daniel Blake. Ken Loach's acceptance speech set the tenor for the rest of the evening- many of the acceptance speeches were political in nature, either pointing out the common humanity within creative arts or criticising policies made both here and overseas. 

I was a little surprised by Emma Stone and Dev Patel winning but it's nice to see something a bit different to the usual. Hence, it was quite lovely to see Kubo And The Two Strings win Animated Film over the juggernaut that has been Zootopia

La La Land was the big winner of the evening with five BAFTAs, Lion and Manchester By The Sea each had two. Despite nine nominations, Nocturnal Animals walked away empty-handed, as did Moonlight

So next in awards season will be the Writers' Guild Awards which will be handed out next Sunday (19th February), just one week before the Oscars. There'll be a small post about it on Monday 20th, ahead of what's going to be a busy week.

Friday, 10 February 2017

Countdown: 10 Oscar-Nominated Actors Who Have Appeared In Doctor Who

Few television shows are as iconic or as culturally dominant as Doctor Who. Even if you're not a fan, you know about the TARDIS, the Daleks, K9. Its influence is felt all over the world and- much like the Harry Potter franchise- it's seen as a bit of a mark of street cred to appear in it. This goes for actors just starting in their careers as well as established stars.

So, here are ten Oscar-nominated actors that have appeared in Doctor Who. They are listed in the order in which they appeared on the show.

1. Pauline Collins

Pauline Collins is not only one of a small group of Oscar nominees who have appeared in Doctor Who, but she's also one of a small group of actors who have appeared in both the classic and revived series too. She played Samantha Briggs in the Patrick Troughton story The Faceless Ones and then appeared as Queen Victoria opposite David Tennant in Tooth And Claw. She was nominated for the Best Actress Oscar for her performance in Shirley Valentine.

2. Richard Todd

Todd's Oscar nomination came in 1950 for his lead role in The Hasty Heart. It would be more than 30 years later before he would appear in Doctor Who, appearing as Sanders in the rather trippy and philosophical Peter Davison story Kinda.

3. Eric Roberts

Few roles in Doctor Who are as iconic as the Doctor's nemesis, The Master. Roberts (nominated for Best Supporting Actor for Runaway Train) took the role in the 1996 TV Movie opposite Paul McGann. He doesn't quite fit the role but seems to be having an absolute ball, especially with lines as camp as 'I always dress for the occasion'.

4. Andrew Garfield

One of this year's Best Actor nominees for his stunning turn in Hacksaw Ridge, Garfield appeared as Frank in the 2007 two-part story Daleks In Manhattan/Evolution Of The Daleks.

5. Carey Mulligan

The 2007 episode Blink (which introduces the Weeping Angels) is widely thought of as one of the best episodes of the revived series. That's in no short measure to the brilliant performance by Carey Mulligan as substitute companion Sally Sparrow. Mulligan would go on to be nominated for Best Actress for her role in An Education.

6. Felicity Jones

Eight years before her Best Actress nomination for playing Jane Hawking in The Theory Of Everything, Felicity appeared as socialite-with-a-secret Robina Redmond in the very fun Agatha Christie inspired episode The Unicorn And The Wasp.

7. Sophie Okonedo

Sophie Okonedo was nominated for the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role in Hotel Rwanda. She played kick-ass future monarch Liz Ten in The Beast Below (Matt Smith's second story as the Doctor). Whilst it's not very good, Okonedo is excellent. She reprises her role in a later episode, The Pandorica Opens.

8. Imelda Staunton

Imelda Staunton was nominated for Best Actress for her role in Vera Drake in 2005 (the same year as Sophie Okonedo). In 2011, she appeared as the Voice of the Interface in the Matt Smith story The Girl Who Waited. Her soothing tones help companion Amy Pond survive alone on an alien planet.

9. Ian McKellen

Acting legend Sir Ian McKellen has been nominated for two Oscars: Best Actor for playing film director James Whale in Gods And Monsters and Best Supporting Actor for playing Gandalf in The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring. In 2012, he provided the Voice of the Great Intelligence in the Christmas special The Snowmen.

10. John Hurt

The late, great John Hurt was nominated for two Oscars- for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Midnight Express and Best Actor for The Elephant Man. In 2013, he appeared as The War Doctor, a previously hidden incarnation of the Time Lord, for the 50th anniversary story The Day Of The Doctor and went on to reprise his role for audio dramas for Big Finish.

BONUS: Peter Capaldi

The incumbent Time Lord- who will sadly be leaving the series at the end of this year- is not only an Oscar nominee but an Oscar winner! In 1995, Peter won the Best Live Action Short Film Oscar for writing and directing Franz Kafka's It's A Wonderful Life. Here he is, with his award:

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Review: Loving (UK Cert 12A)

It's a surprising (and sobering) fact that interracial marriage has only been legal in the US for fifty years, following the Supreme Court's 1967 ruling in the case of Loving v Virginia, brought by an interracial couple- Richard and Mildred Loving- against their home state. Now, the story of the Lovings' marriage and their legal fight have been turned into a film, directed by Jeff Nichols (Mud, Take Shelter, Midnight Special).

Despite dealing with heavy themes and a very emotive subject, the film is gentle, thoughtful, restrained. There's barely a raised voice throughout. 

The lion's share of the praise for the film has come for the dignified performance of Ruth Negga as Mildred, whose lead performance gained the film's only Oscar nomination. There are times when she's fragile and times when she's forthright. There are no showy look-at-me histrionics, it's a very low-key and natural performance which is absolutely magnetic. Negga has a very expressive face and there are times when she doesn't say a word but you can see the emotions play across her face. This is a star-making role for an incredibly gifted actress. 

It is a shame that Joel Edgerton hasn't been praised more but his performance as Richard is just as strong as Negga's. Richard is a man of few words, a laconic, taciturn presence, but utterly devoted to his wife and children. In one of the most powerful moments, when the ACLU lawyer asks Richard if he has anything he wants the lawyer to tell the court, the response is simple: 'tell them I love my wife'.

As you may not be surprised to learn, because the focus is so much on the main couple, the other characters are not fleshed out as much. However, there's good support from Marton Csokas as the utterly deplorable police chief who arrests Richard and Mildred, Bill Camp as a sympathetic small-town lawyer who attempts to help them, and frequent Nicholls collaborator Michael Shannon in a nice cameo as Life Magazine photographer Grey Villet who helped to bring the Lovings' case to the public eye.

The film plays out against the civil rights marches and protests of the 1960s and the period detail, from the music to the cars, is spot-on and really helps to evoke the age. It's a quiet, well-made biopic about an important piece of American history.

Rating: 4 out of 5


Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Review: Hidden Figures (UK Cert PG)

Telling the previously untold stories of three black women who worked for NASA in the 1960s, Hidden Figures (directed by Theodore Melfi) is based on a non-fiction book of the same name by Margot Lee Shetterly.

It was the surprise winner of the top prize- Outstanding Performance By A Cast In A Motion Picture- at the Screen Actors' Guild Awards 2017 but, having seen the film, it's an accolade that's truly deserved as every member of the ensemble is pitch perfect.

It's been a stellar year for impressive female lead roles but Taraji P. Henson is unlucky not to be recognised for her role as Katherine Goble (later Johnson), the mathematician who helps plan the trajectory for John Glenn's Friendship 7 launch. It's a powerful and strong central performance. Katherine is a multi-faceted character- a widow, a mother, a brilliant mathematician, a black woman in a white world with all the attendant prejudices (having to use the coloured bathrooms in a different building, being given her own coffee pot rather than being allowed to use the communal one). She gets one particularly powerful moment when- drenched in a rainshower from coming back from the bathroom- she lays into her boss about her current circumstances when he questions her about where she goes.

Octavia Spencer is strong as Katherine's friend Dorothy Vaughan. Denied a supervisor's position (despite doing the work), Dorothy catches wind that NASA have bought an IBM computer to replace the work done by the manual computing team. Teaching herself FORTRAN and actually getting the IBM to work, she begins to find a new use for herself. Spencer gets some good scenes against Kirsten Dunst, who plays supervisor Vivien Mitchell, including one where she gets to call out Mitchell's implied or unconscious racism (which elicited a big laugh from the audience)

Janelle Monae is the third 'hidden figure', Mary Jackson, who wants to be an engineer. Mary fights through the courts to be allowed to study at a segregated night school in order to get the qualifications she needs to become an engineer. She's the most forthright and outspoken of the three, but it's a really nicely rounded performance. The rapport and chemistry between the three leads is really quite lovely and very believable which lends an authenticity to their scenes.

Other performances are similarly great. Kevin Costner plays Al Harrison, head of NASA's Space Task Group. A stern but fair boss, determined to get to the stars, he comes round to respecting Katherine, letting her in to briefings and giving her clearance needed, much to the chagrin of head engineer Paul Stafford (The Big Bang Theory's Jim Parsons in a role which allows him to be more than just a Sheldon clone). There's a nice turn by Mahershala Ali as Colonel Jim Johnson, a soldier who falls in love with Katherine despite them not getting off on the right foot. Glen Powell is also good as astronaut John Glenn.

Much like Loving, the evocation of the 1960s setting is exacting- the nascent civil rights movement and the spectre of the Cold War being the most prevalent ones. A scene where Dorothy and her sons are manhandled out of a library for being in the whites-only section and Mary's husband watching a news report of a bus being bombed give weight to the era. There's a good use of archive/cine-footage from the time throughout too.

This is a fascinating film, shedding light on stories that aren't well known. It's got humour, drama, pathos. It's uplifting and a great way to spend a few hours.

Rating: 5 out of 5


Hidden Figures is on general release in the UK from 17th February 2017

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Awards Season 2017: Directors' Guild Awards Winners

Just a quick awards season update as the Directors' Guild Awards (DGAs) were handed out yesterday (Saturday 4th February). The film winners are:

Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Feature Films: Damien Chazelle (La La Land)

Outstanding Directorial Achievement of a First-Time Feature Film Director: Garth Davis (Lion)

Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Movies for Television and Miniseries: Steven Zaillian (The Night Of: The Beach)

Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Documentary: Ezra Edelman (O.J.: Made In America)

I have to say, it's no surprise to see Damien Chazelle win. La La Land is a technically impressive piece of film-making and he truly deserves this award. I feel certain he'll win the Best Director Oscar as well (the DGA awards are usually a good bellwether). O.J.: Made In America is also nominated for the Best Documentary Feature Oscar (clocking in at an impressive 7hrs 47mins, to date the longest film to be nominated for any competitive Oscar), so that bodes well for that. 

The next award season update will be next Sunday (12th February) when the BAFTA Film Awards will be handed out. 

Friday, 3 February 2017

Review: Denial (UK Cert 12A)

Released in the UK on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Denial seems a scarily prescient film (especially given our current political era of post-truth and alternative facts). 

It is the story of the libel action taken by British historian and Holocaust denier David Irving (Timothy Spall) in 2000 against American professor Deborah Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) and her publisher, claiming that Lipstadt's assertion that Irving had deliberately manipulated historical fact to prove the Holocaust didn't happen has defamed him. Irving brings the action at the High Court in London and, under the vagaries of the British judicial system, it is down to Lipstadt's legal team to prove their case.

It's an undeniably powerful film, incredibly well made, well written (by playwright David Hare) and well acted across the board.

Weisz is great as the fiery Lipstadt, her brash Americanisms rubbing up against the more genteel British legal team. Initially furious that neither she nor any survivors of Auschwitz are being called to testify, she soon realises that she has to, in her words, hand her conscience over and trust they will do the right thing. Timothy Spall's performance as Irving is similarly remarkable, making an abhorrent character almost charming. There's something oddly reptilian about his performance as Irving conducts his own legal case, trying to trip up the experts. I very much doubt the real Irving is as oddly likeable.

Tom Wilkinson gives an air of dignified gravitas to his role as Richard Rampton QC (presenting Lipstadt's case to the court). The scene where he gets to cross-examine Irving is a particular highpoint. There's also a lovely turn by Andrew Scott as the charismatic solicitor Anthony Julius who helps to prepare Lipstadt's case.

Hare used the verbatim court transcripts for the trial scenes, so whatever is said by the characters in court was actually said during the real trial. It gives a sense of real authenticity. There's also a short but very moving section of the film which takes place at Auschwitz (and was actually filmed there too) where the legal team go to undertake research and there's a clash between Rampton and Lipstadt which Wilkinson and Weisz play to the absolute hilt.

I found the film fascinating, occasionally infuriating, incredibly moving and just superb. I wanted more of it. It's the kind of story that could do well as a TV mini-series. As it is, though, a tremendous piece of British filmmaking. 

Rating: 4 out of 5