Oscars 2018: Best Director
With a trio of veteran filmmakers and a duo of directorial newcomers, this year’s Best Director category is undoubtedly the tightest one to call, and whilst Guillermo del Toro seems to be the named favourite after picking up awards at both the BAFTA’s and the Golden Globes, any of the five nominees stand a more than plausible chance at walking away with the top prize. Whilst del Toro himself more than deserves at least the slightest of Academy Award recognition after failing to win the Best Foreign Language gong for Pan’s Labyrinth back in 2007, no one can seriously question the remarkable directorial skills of Christopher Nolan on Dunkirk, and whilst many may see Nolan’s wartime masterpiece as more of an technical exercise than that of a classical historic drama, the chance for Nolan to finally win an award after being royally snubbed previously for the likes of Inception and The Dark Knight is a mistake that may indeed come full circle. Elsewhere, Paul Thomas Anderson is a equally prestigious and remarkable filmmaker who has seemingly bypassed the Oscar award fever, and whilst Phantom Thread is an outstanding work of melancholic brilliance, the chance to succeed may indeed seep by once again, but for the likes of Greta Gerwig and Jordan Peele for their work on Lady Bird and Get Out respectively, the Academy does deserve some form of applause for attempting to widen its’ cinematic scope when it comes to choosing films worthy of such a prestigious award, and whilst snubs for the likes of Denis Villeneuve for Blade Runner 2049 and Darren Aronofsky for mother! prove that that they can’t get it right all the time, at least the Academy are slowly catching up.
Winner – Guillermo del Toro (The Shape of Water)
Personal Favourite – Christopher Nolan (Dunkirk)
Nomination Snub – Denis Villeneuve (Blade Runner 2049)
Oscars 2018: Best Picture
With the 90th Academy Awards set to take place on the 4th of March, we begin our examination of the nominations and major snubs in each of the major categories with the prestigious Best Picture nod, a category which features this year, nine movies vying for the chance to win the top prize and whilst the easiest course is to examine elsewhere where movies have done particularly well, including winners at the Golden Globes and BAFTA’s, the Oscars do tend do pop out the odd surprise, with last year’s Moonlight win being arguably being the most iconic in recent history. With the top two in contention for the prize being The Shape of Water and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, it would be great to see Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk potentially take away for the award, but with its’ total snub at the BAFTA’s, a ceremony with a predominantly British-centred gaze when it comes to choosing the winners, Nolan’s Oscar vacuum may seemingly go on. Elsewhere, the likes of Get Out, Lady Bird and Call Me By Your Name prove that independent, ideas based movies continue to be recognised, whilst Darkest Hour and The Post seem to be the box-ticking historical dramas which although have a wide range of merits, really have no chance of taking home the award, and even with Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread potentially being the worthy outsider for the prize, it can be hard to argue between the top two favourites which have been dominating award ceremonies over the past few months. When it comes to nomination snubs, Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 is the obvious misstep whilst the widely acclaimed Logan and Julia Ducournau’s Raw are too movies which easily could have been chosen with an eye-widening and forward thinking Academy. Anyhow, here are the predictions…
Winner – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Personal Favourite – Dunkirk
Nomination Snub – Blade Runner 2049
Best Films of 2017: 10-1
10. The Handmaiden
With stunning set locations and gorgeous costume design, Park Chan-wook’s deliciously twisty and beautifully made romantic thriller is a real cinematic sight to behold. Based upon Sarah Waters’ novel “Fingersmith”, the Korean’s latest is a multi-layered mystery with a wavering narrative which keeps you gripped and guessing right until the end. Featuring recognisable elements from his previous work on the excellent Vengeance trilogy, The Handmaiden may not be Chan-wook’s boldest movie to date, but boy is it his most richest and bewilderingly erotic.
9. Get Out
Jordan Peele’s directorial debut in the form of Get Out is a crowd pleasing black comedy horror which dwells into social commentary regarding notions of racism within the heart of the white picket fenced home of the Armitage family. With a standout leading performance by Daniel Kaluuya, rib-tickling gags and an underlying narrative regarding a very particular medical operation, Peele’s movie balances the mix between comedy and horror flawlessly, and with enough B-movie elements and exploitation gore to make the whole experience more than rewarding, Get Out solidifies Peele as yet another interesting young director to keep tabs on.
Hated by most, loved by a minority, Darren Aronofsky’s jaw-dropping psychological horror is part Funny Games, part Rosemary’s Baby, and with a career best performance from leading star Jennifer Lawrence, mother! is a brutal and nihilistic allegorical work of excellence which is as tough to watch at times as it is completely and utterly bonkers in a fashion which makes the final act of Black Swan look like a Mike Leigh movie. For those who can stomach the movie’s polarising subject matter and the evasive camera work of long term Aronofsky collaborator, Matthew Libatique, mother! is Aronofsky at his most creative best.
Directed by big screen debutante Julia Ducournau, Raw is an intelligently written and brilliantly acted coming of age drama with a central narrative which focuses on leading star Garance Marillier’s hereditary and new found lust for human flesh which materialises after a particularly strange university ritual. With a number of scenes which feature genuinely shocking ultra violent imagery and an underlying black comedic tone which gives the movie a somewhat kooky, subversive feel to it, Raw is yet another superb debut for a filmmaker with, excuse the pun, exquisite raw talent.
Undoubtedly one of the greatest and most loyal Stephen King adaptations to hit the big screen, Andy Muschietti’s live action take on the novelist’s best story to date is an outstanding mix of spine-tingling horror, creature feature adventure and coming of age drama which matches the tone and feel of King’s writing to an uncanny tee. With Bill Skarsgård giving the most iconic performance of his entire career as the malevolent and undeniably haunting image of Pennywise the Dancing Clown, It manages to not only measure its’ horror elements to a genre pleasing effective degree but features too the greatest ensemble cast of young actors in years. With Muschietti on course to direct Chapter Two, the concluding half of King’s tale is indeed in the safest of filmmaking hands.
5. Manchester By The Sea
With a leading performance from Casey Affleck which can only be regarded as one of the most deserved Oscar winning roles in recent history as the grieving and emotionally unstable Lee Chandler, Kenneth Lonergan’s low-key masterpiece is a character study of brilliant proportions. Charged by a narrative which is as gut-wrenchingly powerful as it is flawlessly written, Manchester By The Sea might not seem the flashiest film on the surface, but with each and every player at the top of their respective game, Lonergan’s movie works on a level of relatability and subtlety which is rare to find in the current cinematic climate.
Recipient of the Academy Award for Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay, Barry Jenkins’ lucid and dreamlike tale of one man’s journey from youth to manhood is a dramatic work of unprecedented proportions featuring superbly understated supporting performances from both Oscar winner Mahershala Ali and Naomie Harris. With a jukebox soundtrack and stunning cinematography, Jenkin’s independant delight is hard to shake off even after repeat viewings, and for a director so young in years and filmic back catalogue, Moonlight is an impressive work of cinematic art.
After tackling space, spies and Batman, Christopher Nolan takes his enviable talents to Dunkirk, a spectacular, IMAX-fuelled masterpiece which favours the use of practical design over digital effects, sound and image over dialogue and an impressively handled three act structure reminiscent of the time-bending narrative of Nolan’s previous work on Memento. With scenes which evoke a wide spectrum of emotions throughout its’ note perfect runtime, Nolan’s movie is a tense and taut war epic unlike anything seen before on the big screen and whilst it is indeed best course of action to devour the spectacle on the largest backdrop you can find thanks to Nolan’s personal fondness of the mighty IMAX, Dunkirk is not the first masterpiece to come from Nolan and I’m sure it won’t be his last.
2. Blade Runner 2049
A sequel to the greatest science fiction movie of all time needed to be something special, and in the hands of Arrival director Denis Villeneuve there was little doubting it wouldn’t be, but what we have with Blade Runner 2049 however is a movie which surpasses even the highest of anticipation, a beautifully bold and emotionally riveting masterpiece of sound, spectacle and art house wonder which rewrites the rule book for what it means to be a big budget production. With Villeneuve not only paying homage to Ridley Scott’s original in a more than respectable fashion but adding his own distinguishable DNA to the mix, the flawless work of Roger Deakins, Hans Zimmer and leading stars Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford result in Blade Runner 2049 being a deserved science fiction masterpiece in its’ own right and one which will stand the test of time in a fashion similar to its’ equally masterful predecessor.
1. La La Land
Following up on Black Ribbon’s best movie of 2015 in the form of Whiplash, Damien Chazelle’s beautifully romantic and stunningly swooning musical drama is a cinematic wonder of enigmatic proportions. With a cross of paths between the doe eyed dreamer figure of Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling’s eccentric and passionate jazz extraordinaire, the narrative moves from the charming first acquaintance to a sombre, heartbreaking concluding act which is just a masterclass in flawless and natural filmmaking ability. The songs are sumptuous, the editing silky smooth and the location design a dreamlike ode to the history of Hollywood, La La Land isn’t just a masterpiece, it’s Black Ribbon’s film of the year and deservedly so.
“There’s No Hiding From This Son, We Have A Job To Do…”
The release of a new Christopher Nolan movie is always the time for utmost rejoice, a filmmaker who fundamentally adores the classic ways and means of cinema, and more impressively, a director who, like a modern incarnation of Steven Spielberg, is a guaranteed win for both box office and critical success, something of which each and every one of his films have achieved since his early work all the way back in 2000 with Memento. After the brilliance of Interstellar, a film which although may have been slightly divisive with critics, undoubtedly remains up there with the best work Nolan has offered up so far in terms of spectacle, the London-born filmmaker returns this week with Dunkirk, a live-action blockbuster focusing on the infamous titular evacuation which took place during the early stages of the Second World War and a movie which holds extra levels of kudos for being filmed in the heart of my very own hometown in sunny, sunny Dorset. Whilst you can expect nothing less than a movie with many different levels of wonder from a director such as Nolan, Dunkirk still manages to exceed the already vertigo-esque levels of anticipation which preceded it, and to put the experience of watching Dunkirk into words is a staggering undertaking in itself but what Nolan has ultimately accomplished can only be regarded as a masterpiece of spectacle, sound and sumptuous levels of tension, resulting in the best film to be released so far this year.
Avoiding completely the notion of a stereotypical, singular, character-driven wartime epic in the vein of Tom Hanks in Saving Private Ryan and Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now, Nolan’s determined decision to focus on the triage of land, sea and air narrative threads means that although we are in the company of many different characters throughout each of them, their really isn’t time to discover backstory for any of the respective characters before the real power of the movie starts to come to fruition. From the first opening shot, screeching bullets and the tick-tock of Hans Zimmer’s unbelievably stunning soundtrack grip you in a contortion of spellbinding unrelenting tension, with the face of Fionn Whitehead’s youth-inflicted Tommy at the heart and centre of peril for most, if not all, of the time you share his particular journey of death and destruction, all caused by the unseen entity of the enemy soldier. Whilst Zimmer is renowned for being the brains behind classic musical soundtracks of the past, Dunkirk is undeniably up there with his best work to date, using Nolan’s own personal fob-watch at the heart of the metronome-esque piece of music which fuels the rising anxiety which encompasses the main thrust of the narrative, and by utilising his work hand in hand with the simply stupendous sound design, Dunkirk is the type of movie which is crying out to only be watched on the biggest screen possible in order to truly experience the craft at the heart of it.
With the film’s cinematography being left in the hands of Hoyte van Hoytema, whose previous works includes Her, Spectre and Nolan’s own science fiction epic, Interstellar, it comes as no surprise that Dunkirk is absolutely beautiful to behold, and although the particular screening in which I was in was the normalised digital approach to projection, if you are lucky enough to get the chance to witness Dunkirk in IMAX 35mm or 70mm, take it, with scenes of tantalising air to air battles and sweeping camera shots of soldier infested beaches showcasing an artist at the top of his respective game. Whilst pretenders such as the likes of Michael Bay believe the best use of IMAX cameras is to showcase how endless amounts of pointless explosions look within the format, thank god for the likes of Christopher Nolan, a filmmaker who is grounded completely in the epic grittiness of practicality and more importantly, a director who believes wholeheartedly in the importance of film. Dunkirk isn’t simply just a movie, it is a masterstroke of spectacle and a work of artistic tendency, and a film which not only results in the best blockbuster of the year and perhaps, even the past decade, but is the finest of examples of why cinema is so darn integral and important to those who truly love to witness a filmmaker at the peak of his powers. Nolan is just that, and in spades.