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Atomic Blonde – Director, David Leitch

This is a movie just for fun. Based on a graphic novel set at the time of the Cold War, the story is about a literally kick-ass British MI-5 agent who is sent to Berlin to recover and bring back a double agent who holds secrets both sides want. The times in Berlin are complicated and agents from both sides have become self interested in the isolated world of West Berlin. No one can be trusted as it turns out even the people who sent Charlize to Berlin. This movie has no redeeming social importance whatsoever. It is not in the category of John Le Carre or Len Deighton in terms of accuracy about the Cold War or Berlin or secret agents but it is hugely entertaining. Charlize is supported by an superb cast including David McAvoy, Toby Jones and John Goodman and Sofia Boutella. The latter might be best known as Jaylah in Star Trek Beyond. You know… the alien with the great white and black makeup. I was inspired to buy the graphic novel and the film is totally true to it. Great trash.

Blade Runner: 2049 – Director, Denis Villeneuve

If you liked the original Blade Runner you will love this sequel. Set decades after the first film you will find the dystopic future has not improved much. This time however our hero is Canadian actor Ryan Gosling and his director is also Canadian which in itself makes this a must see for all us north of Trumpland. Villeneuve clearly was a fan of the first film and his recreation of the world first dreamed of by Philip Dick in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, is perfect in every way. What is really special is that that the story extends the themes and takes us in some new directions. To tell more would be to spoil what is a great story. This movie I think should have had a Best Picture nomination but instead we get 5 nominations for technical awards such as cinematography and editing. While this film definitely deserves these nods I think the nominators missed out on what is a very special film with a great story to tell. Nonetheless for quality production values and a really fun ride (and as a huge fan of the original) I cannot recommend this movie more highly. May it be blessed with some well deserved wins unlike its predecessor.

A comment – while some movies win awards and are celebrated over others, it is often the case that those winning films are long forgotten while movies that won nothing at the time are the enduring ones. Blade Runner is such a movie. Nominate for only two technical awards in 1983 and losing both to E.T. and Gandhi, I suspect Blade Runner will endure as a classic. While E.T. might also endure I would ask those reading this blog to put up their hands if they have even seen Gandhi or will ever see it again. See? No one. LOL.

Faces Places – Director, JR and Agnes Varda

Filmmaker Agnes Varda and photographer JR teamed up to make this charming film and while I think it is worth a nod for Best Documentary, it may lose out for not being political or serious enough. Together they tour the French countryside looking for places to put faces on. Sounds bizarre but JR’s latest thing is a van that takes giant photos and then he and a team post them on the sides of buildings, rail cars or whatever seems most appropriate. Sometimes it is just gratuitous and funny and sometimes it makes a political point but what makes this film special is the relationship between its two stars. Varda is in her 80’s and JR in his 30’s could be grandson. He clearly thinks she is something special as an artist and the friendship and mutual admiration that grows between them is great to see. For a relaxing but often thought-provoking documentary I cannot recommend it more highly. Enjoy.

Dunkirk – Director, Christopher Nolan

Gotta love a good war movie. Dunkirk counts up there with some of the best but I confess I was a bit disappointed. Dunkirk is one of those amazing stories of the Second World War and was one of the major reasons that Britain was able to withstand the German onslaught at the start of the war. The expeditionary force that had been driven to the edge of the French coast by the Nazi Blitzkrieg and might have been totally lost if not for the courage of civilians who took to their small sea going craft to cross the channel and bring the boys home when the navy could not do the job. So I was expecting something like The Longest Day without John Wayne of course. In other words a series of mini stories that all add up to a big story. Instead, Nolan chose to focus on a small number of focussed stories that, while interesting on their own, never really gives the epic size of the story. Kenneth Branagh plays a general caught on the beach and we visit him every now and then to get some sense of the enormous challenge but neither he or the scenes really succeed. Once he gets back to the few personal stories of rescuers and pilots etc it is more engrossing but I still felt a bit cheated. On the plus side this movie has been nominated for most of the technical awards like cinematography, editing etc that tell you it has been very well crafted and in many ways beautiful to watch. Look for it to capture one or more of those awards but Director and Best Picture are not happening.

Get Out – Director, Jordan Peele

I am sort of surprised to see this film in the Best Film category, not because it isn’t good enough but because it is so unusual and has a director who is not mainstream. Jordan Peele is one of my favourite comics and with Keegan-Michael Key was part of a comedy team (Key and Peele) who did some very out-there sketches around issues of racism and the experience of being black in a white society which you might still find on the Comedy Channel or samples on YouTube. But on to the movie. Following on the theme of being black in white America, the movie creates a horror film around that experience. It plays on the dehumanizing experience of what it means to integrate for white American society and it is very scary. Peele can’t however avoid his comic roots and there are great comic scenes that overlay the horror. The more I try to describe this movie the more I realize how complex it really is and I mean that in a good way. An interesting note is that this movie cost only $4.5 million to make and so far has earned over $250 million in release. Definitely worth a watch but I suspect it will not win any of the big prizes in this year’s competition. Nonetheless having four major nominations says a lot and makes me look forward to Jordan Peele’s next project.

The Shape of Water – Director, Guillermo del Toro

With 13 nominations, The Shape of Water is up there with some of the biggest if not the best films of all time. Only three movies have more nominations, a total of 14 each: All About Eve, Titanic and La La Land. If I had to rank these three against Guillermo’s masterpiece I would allow that All About Eve is better but The Shape of Water is way better than Titanic or especially La La Land. Getting nominated does not necessarily mean winning. Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King won all 11 categories it was nominated for and only two other films have won 11 awards: Ben-Hur and Titanic. However La La Land and All About Eve only managed to win 6 awards despite being nominated for 14 each. So it really comes down the competition and this year The Shape of Water is up against some excellent films. Nonetheless The Shape of Water is maybe the most interesting film of the year. The story is unusual and superbly presented. It is worth all the nominations and I would have given one more. While Richard Jenkins gets a nod for Supporting Actor I can’t understand why Michael Shannon does not get a nod for his role as the villain. He is just super evil and creepy. So I will not spoil this movie for you who have not seen it yet but I will say its a love story, a sci-fi story, a fantasy story and a fairy tale so it will appeal to many. The acting is amazing, the script is great, it was filmed in Toronto, what more can I say. Guillermo del Toro has an imagination that defies definition as demonstrated by his earlier Pan’s Labyrinth that won him 3 Oscars for Cinematography, Art Direction and Makeup. He will do better this time around.

Lady Bird – Director, Greta Gerwig

Coming of age is a fairly common theme for directors and film makers and I often avoid films when the review starts out “This moving, funny, insightful, profound (whatever the descriptor) coming of age film…” Fortunately I did not read the reviews of Lady Bird before going to see it. Otherwise I would have missed a well crafted coming of age story. There see… I found another way to describe one of these. At any rate Saoirse Ronan, who plays the young woman and Laurie Metcalf who plays her mother are very much worthy of their nominations for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress. They battle each other as Lady Bird fights to realize her dream of escaping boring stupid Sacramento and head to where the action is – New England and Ivy League College. Her mother supports the family working as a nurse while her father is unemployed. So you get all the usual stuff, fumbling through first sexual relationships, rebellion against social pressure to follow a certain path, parents who provide love and hope but also strings that need cutting. While the themes are not new the acting more than overcomes the usual prejudices I have against this kind of movie. Worth its five major OSCAR nominations and winning Best Musical or Comedy at the Golden Globes. Golden Globes is right to have a Musical or Comedy Best Film award and I suppose Lady Bird was lucky to be nominated in this category but I would hesitate to call it a Comedy other than that it has a relatively uplifting ending. Still a deserving film and well worth your time to see it.