Our Definitive Oscars Guide

Last year Chris Rock began introductions to the Oscars by addressing the institutionalised racism of Hollywood, making light of the situation and poking fun at the judges of the ‘White People’s Choice Awards’. Similarly, this year’s film season has also got underway with equal levels of entertainment. Donald Glover (A.K.A. Childish Gambino) compared American hip-hop group Migos to the Beatles, and Donald Trump momentarily laid off his own intelligence services, to instead return fire at Meryl Streep after her comments about the president-elect’s lack of respect.

Despite my best efforts, my Christmas period was not as unsociable as I’d like it to have been, and so I wasn’t able to see each and every one of the Oscar nominations. Therefore, briefly, the ones I didn’t see- Natalie Portman stars in Jackie, a biopic set shortly after the death of JFK in 1963. Spike Lee has put together a dramatic account of two bipolar poets in Touched With Fire, and The Edge of Seventeen is a relatable, yet awkward, teenage comedy. Loving follows the struggles of an interracial couple, confronting discrimination in 60s America and set in the same period, Hidden Figures also tells a story of inequity as three African-American women ascend the racial hierarchy of N.A.S.A. with their calculations of trajectory in space.

Casey Affleck really fucking hates lobster pots

Nocturnal Animals – 9/10
This is a complicated work where three worlds are intricately pasted together, and done so to full effect. The film cuts between the life of Amy Adams as an affluent art-gallery owner, flashbacks of her marriage to a striving actor (Jake Gyllenhaal), and her depictions of a novel that her former husband has just sent her. There are no pauses, no breaks, it is relentless, absorbing and frightening. He integrates these parallel plots so cleverly that immense attention has to be paid just to know which scenario you are watching; it mixes genres of a mid-western crime thriller with moments of a rom-com. Ultimately this is a gripping thriller about the execution of intelligent revenge, but it is so much more also. Despite not using any of his own clothes in this work, Tom Ford uses his portrayal of the Los-Angeles art clique as an excuse to throw every thread of his fashion, style and taste into single, stunning shots.

Moonlight – 6/10
Split into three distinct sections, this is a dramatic narrative of vulnerability, sexuality and maturity. A young man, raised by a drug-abusing, schizophrenic mother is withdrawn and uncomfortable as he comes to terms with the homosexual feelings he is experiencing. It is tense and distressing at times, but never brash or forward. Director Barry Jenkins delivers an artistically beautiful account: the camera movement interestingly varied, and the colours of Miami suburbs rich in their splendour.

Silence – 5/10
Andrew Garfield (Spiderman) is the lead in this lengthy account of two Seventeenth Century Portuguese priests, whom upon travelling to Japan witness the religious persecution of converted Christians. Full credit to the talented souls that made the trailer; I thought we were in for another Scorsese master class - this time the theme of religion seemingly interwoven into script, scenery and score. Scorsese had personally interviewed modern-day Jesuits and Andrew Garfield went through some immersive preparation, actually studying to be a Jesuit for a year. Such enormous preparation and anticipation, but so little satisfaction. Of course, it is not completely lost on the viewer, the cinematography is artistic and carries some of the duller moments.  At one point Garfield questions, “you, honourable inquisitor, do not seem to know Christianity?”. This film is about a test of true faith, and perhaps a test of faith in Scorsese too?

Moonlight certainly gets out vote for best poster design

Manchester By The Sea – 7/10
Casey Affleck begins his bid to challenge his sibling’s success with an outstanding performance as unexpected circumstances, traumatic events and frigid relationships comprise to test his character’s human spirit. Accompanied by Albioni’s Adagio in G Major throughout, a classic of the classical genre, these wintery, cold scenes of coastal America are punctuated by powerful moments and displays of warm love. Although Casey Affleck barely smiles all film, there are definitely some smiles to be had with smatterings of dark, witty humour on hand.

Arrival – 6/10
In a year that could be considered doomsday in itself, where populist demagogues charged ahead, respected individuals fell behind and the rest were pushed to the side, we could all be faulted for too often looking inward. The Arrival, like many true doomsday films reminds us we’re still just a small mass of water slowly spinning in an incalculable sphere of darkness. However, the film is caught somewhere between the mind-boggling talent of Interstellar and the epic entertainment of the likes of The Day After Tomorrow, exploiting the full potential of neither. Nonetheless, the spaceship that hovers just above earth is refreshingly different, not too dissimilar to a segment of a Terry’s chocolate orange, and the soundtrack, previously sampled by Roots Manuva, is soothing.

Fences – 5/10
Denzel Washington, this time with greying hair and an expanding waistline, adopts a role that many viewers wouldn’t associate with the usually action inspired actor. Adapted from a play, this extended metaphor for Denzel Washington’s social issues, amazingly locks you in, despite using no more that two or three sets. A biblical conversation takes place throughout, inciting ideas of responsibility and manhood - generally things we aren’t too eager to focus on. Whoever was in charge of continuity should have made sure that whilst Denzel devoured a bottle of liquor, the contents went down, not up. 

Arrival: the only Sci-Fi film ever made where the aliens live in a Motorola Pebl

Lion – 8/10
This is the sort of film that a trendy London, rooftop cinema will be screening this summer; one that like The Notebook, gives hard geezers the chance to show their missus they have a softer side. Incredibly, for almost the entire opening forty minutes, not a word is said and yet it is both captivating and heart-warming. This is testimony to the role of young Sunny Pawar and the visually striking scenes that teleport you to chaotic India. Later on, Dev Patel’s performance questions the strength of memory, as he uses newly-created Google Earth to relocate his Indian heritage. This one’s a proper tear-jerker.

Hacksaw Ridge – 7/10
Mel Gibson is behind the camera once again, negotiating the battlefield with some nifty handiwork to create some horrific scenes. Although even at its goriest, it leaves you wondering just how adept Spielberg’s opening scene in Saving Private Ryan was over twenty years ago. The attention to detail is just not quite as precise. Yet the true story of Desmond Doss is uplifting: a pacifist who enters the battlefield, not to take life, but save it. We are all desperate for another great war film, and the days of The Thin Red Line and Black Hawk Down seem distant, but perhaps we’ll have to wait until July for Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk.

La La Land – 8/10
La La Land
picked up several awards at the Golden Globes, but whilst Emily Stone emphasised a film about hope and creativity, a film by Hollywood about Hollywood seems like some sort of cinematic self-fellatio. I tried my hardest not to enjoy this, I really did, but Emma Stone’s smile, her lips ever so slightly caught and so seductive, and Ryan Gosling’s awkward charm - together they were blissful. Check out our full review here.

Words by: Ali