The Watchers

The Watchers

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Awards Season 2017: Directors' Guild of America (DGA) Awards Nominations

Just a quick update today, as the Directors' Guild Awards announced its shortlist earlier for their Feature Film category. These awards will be handed out on February 4th.

The nominees are:

Damien Chazelle (La La Land)
Garth Davis (Lion)
Barry Jenkins (Moonlight)
Kenneth Lonergan (Manchester By The Sea)
Denis Villeneuve (Arrival)

The big surprise here is Garth Davis' inclusion. Lion has been well regarded in this awards season, but generally in the Best Picture and Best Supporting Actor/Actress categories. This is the first mention of Davis as Best Director. Some have called Villeneuve's inclusion a surprise but several other bodies have nominated him (BAFTA and Critics' Choice) so it's not as if it's come out of nowhere.

We get a bit of a break from awards season for a week or so - the next instalment comes on Monday 23rd January when they'll announce the nominees for this year's Razzies. 

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Review: Manchester By The Sea (UK Cert 15)

Terse and troubled Boston janitor Lee Chandler's life is thrown into freefall upon the death of his brother Joe. Travelling back to his hometown of Manchester By The Sea to break the news to his sixteen year old nephew Patrick, Lee is shocked to find out that Joe has named him Patrick's legal guardian. To take this up would mean Lee having to return permanently to a town full of ghosts.

This is director Kenneth Lonergan's third feature film, after You Can Count On Me (2000) and Margaret (2011), for which he also wrote the screenplay. At the Golden Globes, Jimmy Fallon described the film in his opening monologue as 'the only thing more depressing than 2016'. And whilst the film is an emotional slog- dealing as it does with grief, loss, and the pain of the past- it's also surprisingly funny in places. There are a couple of moments of levity to lighten the darkness.

Casey Affleck is Oscar-bound for his performance as Lee. It's a taut and muscular performance, very naturalistic. At no point does it ever tip into 'I am acting' territory (the same can be said for all the cast, actually). Lee is a man adrift in the world after a terrible tragedy and thrown into a situation he doesn't know how to deal with. Affleck can say so much with a look; you can almost see the thought processes happen behind his eyes.  He has never been better on film and deserves the awards hype and critical praise he's getting.

So too do Michelle Williams and Lucas Hedges who play Lee's ex-wife Randi and Lee's nephew Patrick. Williams doesn't get a lot of screen-time but is devastatingly effective as a tough woman, later haunted by the past. Hedges is endearingly gauche and geeky as Patrick, although there's much more to the character than that- he gets a few moments of real emotion which are difficult to watch. The rest of the cast are uniformly strong, with particular standout performances by C.J. Wilson as Joe's friend George and Kyle Chandler as Joe (seen primarily in flashback). My only complaint in terms of the casting is having Matthew Broderick pop up towards the end- the scene he's in is very short but it feels like it belongs in a different film.

The script is pretty tight, jumping back and forth in time, so you need to keep your wits about you. It's a weighty, sombre piece, by no means popcorn fodder, but it boasts some of the best performances I've seen on screen for some time. One for drama aficionados.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Manchester By The Sea is on general release from 13th January 2017

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Awards Season 2017: BAFTA Film Awards and Producers' Guild Awards (PGA) Nominations

It's a double dose of awards season news today, so let's get right on with it!

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This morning, the nominations for this year's BAFTA Film Awards was announced by Dominic Cooper and Sophie Turner.

Here is a selection of the nominees::

I, Daniel Blake
La La Land
Manchester By The Sea

American Honey
Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them
I, Daniel Blake
Notes On Blindness
Under The Shadow

Casey Affleck (Manchester By The Sea)
Andrew Garfield (Hacksaw Ridge)
Ryan Gosling (La La Land)
Jake Gyllenhaal (Nocturnal Animals)
Viggo Mortensen (Captain Fantastic)

Amy Adams (Arrival)
Emily Blunt (The Girl On The Train)
Natalie Portman (Jackie)
Emma Stone (La La Land)
Meryl Streep (Florence Foster Jenkins)

Mahershala Ali (Moonlight)
Jeff Bridges (Hell Or High Water)
Hugh Grant (Florence Foster Jenkins)
Dev Patel (Lion)
Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Nocturnal Animals)

Viola Davis (Fences)
Naomie Harris (Moonlight)
Nicole Kidman (Lion)
Hayley Squires (I, Daniel Blake)
Michelle Williams (Manchester By The Sea)

Damien Chazelle (La La Land)
Tom Ford (Nocturnal Animals)
Ken Loach (I, Daniel Blake)
Kenneth Lonergan (Manchester By The Sea)
Denis Villeneuve (Arrival)

A full list of nominees can be found here

La La Land has the most nominations with 11, with Arrival and Nocturnal Animals on 9 apiece.

A couple of surprises here- mostly, the love for Nocturnal Animals. This is Gyllenhaal's first nomination for the film in this awards season- the film's other main cast (Amy Adams, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Michael Shannon) have all been previously recognised by other award bodies. I'm really pleased to see Hayley Squires' nomination as her performance in I, Daniel Blake was stunning; I think Dave Johns can count himself unlucky not to be similarly nominated in what is a very strong field. I'm surprised not to see Ruth Negga nominated for Best Actress for Loving (but that may be down to eligibility issues if the film hasn't been released here yet; it's for that same reason that Paul Verhoeven's Elle isn't in the Best Foreign Language Film category and why Isabelle Huppert was ineligible for nomination for Best Actress).

This year's BAFTA Rising Star award nominees are Laia Costa, Lucas Hedges, Tom Holland, Ruth Negga and Anya Taylor-Joy. This award is voted on by the general public and you can vote for your favourite here.

The BAFTA Film Awards will be handed out on Sunday 12th February at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, once again hosted by the frankly wonderful Stephen Fry.

* * *


This morning also saw the announcement of the nominees for the Producers' Guild of America (PGA) Awards. 

Below are the film nominations:

The Darryl F. Zanuck Award for Outstanding Producer of Theatrical Motion Pictures

Hacksaw Ridge
Hell Or High Water
Hidden Figures
La La Land
Manchester By The Sea

One big surprise name on this list: Deadpool! All the rest are- or have been- tipped as potential Best Picture Oscar nominees. Maybe the Merc With The Mouth could break the duck and actually stop comic book movies from just getting technical awards? Unlikely, as AMPAS can choose anywhere between five and ten films in a year. Besides, PGA has got previous in recognising 'genre' films (having previously nominated Star Trek, Skyfall and Ex Machina)

Outstanding Producer of Animated Theatrical Motion Pictures

Finding Dory
Kubo And The Two Strings
The Secret Life Of Pets

Four of these five films were also nominated for the Best Animated Feature BAFTA earlier today (sorry, The Secret Life Of Pets). Zootopia's been a strong contender this year so I'd expect to see it win here.

Documentary Film
(previously announced)

The Eagle Huntress
Life, Animated
O.J.: Made In America

Unfortunately, I'm only familiar with one of these films- The Eagle Huntress- so I'm unable to give any informed opinion on this.

The PGA Awards will be handed out on Saturday 28th January.

The next stop on the awards season trail will be the announcement of the Directors' Guild of America (DGA) Awards on Thursday (12th January)

Monday, 9 January 2017

Review: La La Land (UK Cert 12A)

Damien Chazelle's Whiplash was one of my favourite films of 2015. So it was with a great deal of anticipation that I went in to see Chazelle's latest film, La La Land.

A paean not only to Los Angeles, but to film, to music, to love, La La Land follows jazz pianist Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and aspiring actress Mia (Emma Stone) as they meet and fall in love against the backdrop of the City of Angels.

Where do I start? Chazelle's direction is astonishing and technically accomplished right from the get-go, where a traffic jam on the LA freeway bursts into a huge song-and-dance number. There's a beautiful sequence set in the Griffith Observatory where Sebastian and Mia's relationship intensifies, but Chazelle's directorial flair can also be seen in the smaller, more intimate, scenes where the relationship drama plays out.

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone play off each other nicely; this is their third collaboration on screen after Crazy Stupid Love and Gangster Squad and they really sell the relationship. Gosling plays Sebastian's earnestness about the purity of jazz with passion and commitment, whilst Stone's Mia is no blushing ingenue- she's a few years into her career, still schlepping to auditions, but not yet disillusioned enough to stop her dreaming. There's able support from Rosemarie DeWitt as Sebastian's sister Laura who makes the most of her single scene, whilst there's also a cameo for Whiplash's J.K. Simmons as Sebastian's boss.

Justin Hurwitz's score is beautiful and the songs range from the upbeat- the opening 'Another Day Of Sun' and the party number 'Someone In The Crowd'- to the melancholic- the beautiful 'City Of Stars' and Mia's 'Audition (The Fools Who Dream). As with all musicals, you do have to accept the inherent ridiculousness of people suddenly bursting out in song, but, if you can't do that, then you really don't have much business seeing a musical to start with.

It's a beautiful film, visually sumptuous, cracking soundtrack, a wryly funny script (also written by Chazelle) with two wonderful lead performances and a nicely bittersweet edge to cut through the candyfloss. I know we're only just getting started with the year, but already I can see this being one of my films of 2017.

Rating: 5 out of 5


La La Land is on general release from 12th January 2017.

Awards Season 2017: Golden Globes Winners

Last night, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) announced the winners of this year's Golden Globe Awards, for both television and film, in a ceremony hosted by Jimmy Fallon for the first time.

Here is the full list of film winners.

Best Motion Picture (Drama): Moonlight

Best Motion Picture (Musical or Comedy): La La Land

Best Director: Damien Chazelle (La La Land)

Best Actor (Drama): Casey Affleck (Manchester By The Sea)

Best Actor (Comedy or Musical): Ryan Gosling (La La Land)

Best Actress (Drama): Isabelle Huppert (Elle)

Best Actress (Comedy or Musical): Emma Stone (La La Land)

Best Supporting Actor: Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Nocturnal Animals)

Best Supporting Actress: Viola Davis (Fences)

Best Screenplay: Damien Chazelle (La La Land)

Best Original Score: Justin Hurwitz (La La Land)

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

Best Foreign Language Film: Elle

Best Animated Feature Film: Zootopia

Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award: Meryl Streep

La La Land has broken the record for most Golden Globes won, winning every award it was nominated for, and coming away with an impressive haul of seven gongs.

A couple of surprises with Isabelle Huppert and Aaron Taylor-Johnson winning Best Actress and Best Supporting Actor (I still can't believe Taylor-Johnson was even nominated for his atrocious turn, let alone won) but everything else went to who was expected to win, it seems. 

Meryl Streep used her acceptance speech to launch a brilliant and blistering attack on president-elect Donald Trump for generally being a descipable human being whilst several people made the joke that the Golden Globes would be wound up under Trump's presidency because it's got the words 'Hollywood' 'Foreign' and 'Press' in it.

In the TV awards, Tom Hiddleston, Hugh Laurie and Olivia Colman all took awards for their roles in The Night Manager whilst The Crown took Best Television Series (Drama) and Claire Foy took Best Actress (Drama) for her role as Queen Elizabeth II.

Tomorrow (10th January) we get an Awards Season double-whammy (you lucky, lucky people) with the announcement of the Producers' Guild Awards nominations AND the BAFTA nominations as well. 

Friday, 6 January 2017

Review: Moana (UK Cert PG)

The fifty-sixth animated feature by Disney, Moana tells the story of the headstrong daughter of a Polynesian tribe leader, who must cross the oceans to reunite an ancient goddess with her missing heart and stop the blight on her island. Along the way, she recruits Maui- a legendary shape-shifting demigod who stole the heart in the first place.

The film is beautiful. Well, that goes without saying, but everything is so vibrant and detailed- even down to individual blades of grass and the skin texture beneath Maui's tattoos (things that you might not usually notice). From the lushness of Moana's home island Motonui to the vast oceans and the underwater Realm of Monsters, it's a real treat for the eyes.

Newcomer Auli'i Cravalho is absolutely brilliant as the voice of Moana. Impetuous, strong-willed and determined, Moana refuses Maui's claims that she's a 'princess' (with all the negative connotations that brings) and sets out to save her island. But she's not perfectly equipped to do so- whilst she has a love of the ocean, she's not a wayfarer (at least not to begin with)- and when she has her crisis of faith, you really feel for her. It's an impressive vocal performance.

The other really refreshing thing about the film is there's no love story; Moana isn't expected to wed anyone or finds a dashing young man on her travels. The relationship between her and Maui is one of a grudging friendship burgeoning into respect (even one of a mentor/mentee in places)

Dwayne Johnson is on top form as Maui, the cheeky, cocky demigod. He's a larger-than-life character and the idea of having his tattoos move is a fun one. Johnson's performance is solid and really works. Jemaine Clement (Flight Of The Conchords, The BFG) is similarly great as the voice of Tamatoa, a hoarding coconut crab who gets a trippy, psychadelic Bowie-infused number called 'Shiny'- and gets a good postcredits scene too.

Rachel House gives a warm and sensitive performance as Moana's grandmother Tala whilst Temuera Morrison (Once Were Warriors, Attack Of The Clones) and Nicole Scherzinger provide strong support as Moana's father and mother. Finally, Alan Tudyk is credited as Moana's pet chicken Heihei, possibly the stupidest creature to ever appear in a Disney film and also responsible for one of the film's finest visual gags.

The music- by Mark Mancina, with songs by Opetaia Foa'i and Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda- is also really strong, taking inspiration from Polynesian instruments and sounds to create a sublime score. The songs range from the perfectly serviceable to the instant classic- with Maui's paean to himself 'You're Welcome' and Moana's heartfelt 'How Far I'll Go' the particular standouts.

All said, it's a wonderful story, superbly animated and performed, Plus it's got a cute pig and an army of sentient coconut pirates. What more do you like?

Before the film, there was an aminated short called Inner Workings which was a lot of fun- showing the battle between heart and brain in an unassuming office worker.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5


Thursday, 5 January 2017

Awards Season 2017: Writers' Guild Awards (WGA) Nominations

Yesterday (4th January) saw the nominations announced for this year's Writers' Guild Awards.

As I've previously said, I don't tend to focus on the screenplay Oscars (certainly not to the same degree as the acting and directing ones; I certainly wouldn't attempt to predict what would get nominated), but- as a writer and a film fan- I do have an interest in what's been nominated.

This year's nominations are as follows:

Hell Or High Water
La La Land
Manchester By The Sea

Hidden Figures
Nocturnal Animals

Author: The JT LeRoy Story
Command And Control
Zero Days

I'm really pleased to see Deadpool recognised, especially as the rest of the nominees are more traditional awards fare. Although, the WGA have previous form in this, giving Guardians Of The Galaxy a nomination in 2015.

Interestingly, AMPAS (a.k.a. The Academy) have stated that Moonlight and Loving will be classed as 'adapted screenplay' for their consideration, so hopefully the abominable script for Nocturnal Animals won't get a look in there.

More awards nonsense on Monday (9th February) with the Golden Globes results.