Oscars Countdown… #4 La La Land 

La la land is pure sunshine! I defy anyone who watches it not to emerge with a smile on their face. 
Now I am biased I love love love musicals so how was I not going to love this film? But it is everything I wanted and more. This is a classic Hollywood film, a throwback to the golden days of cinema. And it is so easy to believe this is a film of that era that when a mobile rings or a modern reference is made its a shock. 

Visually it is stunning. The colours are so bright, the scenes so beautiful. Damien Chazelle conjures up an idealistic vision of Los Angeles, La La Land is love story of the city. Please someone book me a flight so I can go to Hollywood and dance among the stars! If this does not win for best cinematography it will be the biggest surprise. 

I don’t really need to go in depth on the music, suffice to say I have had the soundtrack playing on repeat ever since. Though perhaps controversially I far prefer ‘Audition’ to the films champion song ‘City of Stars’. 
Putting aside the music and the visuals the story itself is beautiful. Funny, sweet and a little bit heartbreaking here is a story of young love. A story that turns even the most cynical into hopeless romantics. They may not end up together but look how they changed each other’s lives and look at the wonderful times they had. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone play their parts so beautifully. Maybe their voices are not quite on par with the stars of Broadway but they’re endearing, and utterly enchanting to watch. 
And yes maybe it is frivolous, maybe the message it carries isn’t so deep, maybe it doesn’t face up to the problems of our time, but why should it? This is escapism at its finest! After a crappy day of work this is the film I will turn to. 
Conclusion: Musical + Emma Stone + Ryan Gosling = Pure magic!

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Oscars Countdown… #5 Hacksaw Ridge

Hacksaw Ridge is a name that put me right off, I very reluctantly sat down to watch this film but it turns out  I really really loved it.
The film set during World War Two follows the true story of Desmond Doss a pacifist who refuses to even hold a gun yet enlists as a medic because he feels it’s only right he does his part. 
Andrew Garfield is stellar in this film. I’m going to try very hard not to gush over him because I think I may have fallen a little in love! Here is a war hero who wins honour not by taking lives but by saving them. Humble, modest and idealistic with puppy dog looks, Garfield makes it all too easy to fall in love with him from the get go. And the viewers admiration only grows as we see him struggle through boot camp, fight his way onto the battle field through the military courts and finally go into real life battle at Hacksaw Ridge. 
And what a battle. The scenes at Hacksaw Ridge are horrific, and almost unwatchable, this is the real terror of war. Gibson really shows us the grisliest parts of war and we watch as one after another of the soldiers we grew attached to during the boot camp part of the film meet their bloody end. Despite the anti war message Gibson really revels in the gory action scenes.
What we are left with though is hope. When the Americans retreat with a mere 32 left dejected and broken, Doss again and again provides them with hope as he lowers wounded soldier after wounded soldier to safety. And with a bit of faith and belief they once more go into battle and emerge victorious. 
This is a great film. It has everything love, friendship, heartbreak, action and yes even a little bit of comedy, mostly provided by a surprisingly excellent Vince Vaughn as the Sergeant. This is a classic war film but remade with a new type of hero. It’s been a long time since I watched a really good action film and this fills that void spectacularly. 

Oscars Countdown… #6 Lion

Lion is just the kind of story that attracts the Oscars. Five year old Saroo falls asleep on a platform and wakes up to find himself alone and accidentally boards a train that takes him thousands of miles from home to Calcutta, we see how he survives the streets of Calcutta and is eventually adopted by an Australian family. Twenty years later haunted by images of his lost family he goes looking for them.
Dev Patel who is so prominent on the films posters doesn’t appear for the first 53 minutes, hence his nomination for best supporting actor not best actor. Whilst Patel, once he makes an appearance, gives a moving performance the film largely belongs to Sunny Pawar, who compellingly plays little lost Saroo as he wanders the streets of Calcutta. This is by far the better part of the film, as you hold your breath wondering how a 5 year old who cannot speak the language can possibly survive in this dangerous city. 
The second half lulls a little, once Saroo has established he wants to find his family he drifts around unable to do so and it becomes a little dreary as you just want the film to hurry up and get to the grand reunion that is so inevitably coming.
Nicole Kidman though is extraordinary, it is her unfolding story and emotional performance that keeps you intrigued as the film slowly meanders along. 
When the ending comes it does so far quicker than I thought, I assumed there would be some wandering through India trying to find the way home, instead Saroo spots his hometown on google maps and hops on a plane straight there. The swiftness of this discovery though is forgotten during the heartwarming and tearful reunion of Saroo and his birth mother. And even more so when you see the real footage of Saroo, his birth mother and his adoptive mother together. 
Whilst the emotional climax of the film leaves you feeling warm and happy, this film is not what I expected and honestly I’m not entirely sure if that’s good or bad. 

Oscars Countdown… #7 Fences

Fences focuses on Troy, a garbage collector mourning the loss of his not quite baseball career and struggling to cope with the hand that life has dealt him. It is not dissimilar to Arthur Miller’s ‘death of a salesman’ a man disillusioned with what life has to offer him, although here there is the added tensions of being a black man in 1950’s America. 

Less a play adapted to film more a play filmed. The film is largely set in the kitchen and backyard of Troy and Rose’s house which makes it very stagnant. This is a film of words not action. And if, like me, you are overtired when you watch it makes very difficult viewing. 
That’s not to say I didn’t appreciate the film. You cannot deny the performances are superb. The casting is spot on. Denzel Washington takes on the lengthy waxy speeches and their substantial metaphor with serious skill. He transforms into the swaggering, posturing Troy and gradually peels back the layers of this complex character. Viola Davis is equally as good, really coming into her own in the second half with a passionate and emotional performance. The two vibe off each other spectacularly. They both starred in the 2010 Broadway revival of the play and boy do I wish I saw that, I can only imagine it was electric. 
It is not just the acting that impresses, the sets are beautiful and take you straight to the heart of their home in 1950s Philadelphia. There is no cinematic magic, no special effects yet the film still delivers powerful and at times moving scenes.
This is a cleverly put together, well thought out and beautifully filmed movie. But if truth be told I’d rather go and see the play. 

Oscars Countdown… # 8 Arrival

Arrival is not your typical sci fi film there is very little action, no big aliens vs humans showdown and it is infuriatingly slow paced at times. I held off watching this film for a while certain that despite the clever idea it would at some point revert to stereotype, but I was wrong. Whilst you still have the glimpses of a world in chaos and a war brewing the film prefers to focus on Amy Adams personal response. The first glimpse of the aliens and the unfolding consequences to their arrival are all seen through her reactions with a lot of lingering close ups. The tension builds so slowly until you are on the edge of your seat and then a serious twist sends you reeling and suddenly everything falls into place. (Seriously the twist is epic!)
Our protagonist is no soldier, quiet, calm, scared yet determined she takes her time to properly communicate with the aliens and form an alliance of sorts instead of merely rushing in and declaring war. And it’s a fascinating perspective. Showing us that openness, a willing to understand and above all communication is the real difference between war and peace. The tension is at the end resolved by one person reaching out and saying the right words in one 20 second phone call.

Arrival is at the end of a day a love story. It is someone choosing acceptance and friendship over war and enemies and above all it is someone saying yes to love even though they know what lies ahead. That is what makes this film so beautiful for me.

Oscars Countdown… #9 Hidden Figures

There is just nine days to go until the 2017 Academy Awards (one of my favourite nights of the year) and that gives me just enough time to watch all nine films nominated for Best Picture.

Every year I try to watch all the Oscar Nominated films, mainly because they’re incredible films but also because its always good to know why something has won or lost.

So for the next nine days I will be watching a film a day and giving all you lucky readers my opinion, first up ‘Hidden Figures’.

I loved this film. It’s so feel good. It’s about three inspiring women who are intelligent, proactive, not afraid to chase their dreams and despite all the odds being stacked against them they get shit done. The film is aptly named these women are heroes and I feel truly ashamed that I had not heard one of their names before.

The film focuses on three African American women who worked for NASA during the heated space race when America were desperately trying to launch a man into space and catch up with the Russian space program. Space to me has always been fascinating and despite being based on historical events the film still manages to be suspenseful and had me on the edge of my seat.

It is a film about civil rights but it is also a film about women’s rights and it is hard not to feel inspired by these three inspirational women. And the actresses are fantastic. I love Octavia Spencer, truly love Octavio Spencer the woman is pure gold. She brings a smile to my face every time she appears on screen and she truly is deserving of another Best Supporting Actress Oscar. I haven’t even seen the other nominees performance yet but she already has my vote! Taraji P Henson and  Janelle Monae are also awesome as Katherine Johnson and Dorothy Vaughan and it’s a shame neither have been recognised individually.

This film is reminiscent of ‘The Help’, one of my all time favourites, a film set in 1960’s America, with a serious message… equal rights for people of all races and genders but exceptionally easy and enjoyable to watch. It has everything you want (or I want) in a film, a little bit of romance, a smattering of humour, a good soundtrack (thank you Pharrell) and  plenty of yes girl moments!

Also side note; Kevin Costner what a hero.

I would fully, fully recommend this film. The world should know who these women are and what they achieved. It leaves you with a smile on your face and I would watch it again any time I’m in need of a little pick me up.

So Best Picture nominee number one is an absolute hit, lets see how the others compare!