MY FAVOURITE FILMS OF 2018

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A little later than usual this year but here is my third annual favorite films of the year list. I was fortunate with my freelance work, Karen winning comps and just being in a general a regular cinemagoer to see 58 films either in cinemas, via screeners or released via Netflix. This includes films that were 2018 American releases but reached Australian cinemas early 2019 hence why this list is always a little delayed. I’ve also been part of end of year lists for X-Press Magazine and put together an end of year list for HEAVY magazine which includes disappointments and surprises for the year in cinema.
There were some films I’m sad to say I haven’t got around to seeing yet that I think might have made the list if I had, Sorry To Bother You, If Beale Street Could TalkBlacKkKlansman, Cold War, Isle of Dogs and most of all You Were Never Really Here and Won’t You Be My Neighbour? So that tradition continues for another year but this is a list of the ones I did see below. I had a good run of films at the Brisbane International Film Festival this year and some screeners for my work for X-Press magazine turned out to be some of the most interesting and rewarding films of the year. Star ratings are on a four star scale as per the reviews I read from the late great film critic Roger Ebert.

 

Finding Your Feet Not Reviewed ***

Last Flag Flying Not Reviewed **1/2

I Feel Pretty Not Reviewed ***

Ellipsis Published at X-Press Magazine 15FEB18 ***

We Don’t Need A Map Published at X-Press Magazine 22FEB18 ***

The Death of Stalin Not Reviewed ***

Deadpool 2 Not Reviewed ***

12 Strong Published at Scenestr Magazine 07MAR18 **1/2

In The Fade Published at X-Press Magazine 08MAR18 ***

Ant-Man and The Wasp Not Reviewed ***

Border Politics Published at X-Press Magazine 18JUL2018 **

The Spy Who Dumped Me Not Reviewed **1/2

Solo Not Reviewed **1/2

The Wife Not Reviewed ***

The Happytime Murders Published at Scenestr Magazine 24AUG18 **

Book Club Not Reviewed **1/2

The Flipside Not Reviewed **1/2

The Predator Not Reviewed *1/2

Loro Published at Scenestr Magazine 21SEP18 ***

A Simple Favour Not Reviewed ***

Celeste Published at Scenestr Magazine 15OCT18 **1/2

Terra Nullus Not Reviewed 1/2

My Generation Not Reviewed **1/2

Halloween Not Reviewed ***

King of Thieves Not Reviewed **

Bohemian Rhapsody Not Reviewed ***

Loveling Not Reviewed **

Spitfire Published at X-Press Magazine 15NOV18 ***

Colette Published at X-Press Magazine 20DEC18 **1/2

Creed II Not Reviewed **1/2

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse Not Reviewed **1/2

Aquaman Published 10JAN19 9 Likes – 46 Views ***

Bumblebee Not Reviewed **1/2

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs Not Reviewed **1/2

Stan & Ollie Not Reviewed ***

The Mule Not Reviewed ***

On The Basis of Sex Published at Weekend Notes 07FEB19 ***

 

HONOURABLE MENTIONS

 

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Mission Impossible: Fallout Not Reviewed ***

It is just as well this list is called My Favourite Films of the Year rather than the Best of. It’s hard to remember the distinction sometimes and to make peace with those that end up in the Top 10 and those that don’t even rate a mention. The Mission Impossible films are style over substance, nothing has quite matched the 1996 original and yet in director/scribe Christopher McQuarrie they have found something new that works. They’re all set up and payoff for mind blowing action but cleverly staged with tongue firmly in cheek. In briefing rooms characters murmur about their past and stare off into the distance but the best performers are those who convey much with little. Rebecca Ferguson and Vanessa Kirby I’m looking at you. My father once told me the James Bond books by Ian Fleming were light fare but the character of Bond became more whole and nuanced as you read more of them and that is the case with Ethan Hunt and his movies and to a lesser extent his team. McQuarrie plays with the history finally and gets some good results. There was a moment with a sweeping shot of Tom Cruise running across a rooftop with a panoramic view of London and I just thought who the hell else is making movies like this anymore with a movie star. Barring Christopher Nolan, the answer is no one and Nolan doesn’t shoot action like this.

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Tully Published at X-Press Magazine 10MAY18 ***

Tully sank like a stone at the box office but I enjoyed this film, aided in no small part by the work of Charlize Theron. This film deals with the “reality” of being a parent, that sense of losing yourself and your future. It can be gloomy but it taps into a certain feeling that is only part of the parenting experience but it is a part and one that should be acknowledged. “She’s also in that time and place where everybody sees her as a Mum first and foremost including even herself and she’s wondering what the hell happened to me? All except Tully, Tully wants to know who Marlo is and acts like there’s more to her than being a Mum while telling her that is the most amazing thing about her.

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A Quiet Place Published at Scenestr Magazine 05APR18 ***

A Quiet Place may not be the deepest most profound movie made last year but it is cleverly put together and a lot of care taken. First of all it actually creates characters with depth and for extra points it does this with minimal dialogue, it takes its central premise seriously and plays with the sound effects of the film as a result and it leaves an air of mystery for us to fill in the blanks. The best stories are always about something deeper and this one is not about monsters coming for you if you make a sound. This is about the fear that drives parents to protect their children and the bond that creates. We can expect big things from first time director John Krasinski and actress Millicent Simmonds, Emily Blunt remains a talent. “The oldest child (Millicent Simmonds) is deaf and a teenager. This sets up two great ideas. The first being a young girl who can’t hear, but she is prey to creatures that can hear but not see her. The second is how do you express and work through your emotions as a teenager with your parents in a world where you can’t make a sound for fear of death.

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Black Panther Published at Buzz Magazine 22JUN18 ***

Black Panther was a cultural milestone for a lot of people and I am happy for all that were touched so much by this movie. I cannot share that same level of enthusiasm but I find a lot to recommend. I am often drawn back to my favourite scene where the villain Killmonger is reunited with his father in their apartment in Oakland. The vistas of  heavenly African plains seen outside through the blinds are out of their reach. Their forebears no where to be seen, just a son and the father he lost when he was too young. The depth of what director Ryan Coogler was saying in this moment and how it would resonate with audiences immediately touched me. In Killmonger, Coogler gave one of the most compelling Marvel villains ever by reuniting with frequent collaborator Michael B. Jordan. The finale becomes too much of a CGI fest, other character motivations feel wrong and purely there for plot convenience but there are rich themes here, a fantastic roster of supporting characters, a great action sequence set in Korea and a rousing score. “All of the above characters are effectively sounding boards for T’Challa to hear a different point of view. You can’t help but wonder if an amicable chat couldn’t have solved most of the problems the characters face but then again maybe that’s the point. T’Challa’s character arc is to learn how to be a good leader and he learns this from engaging with his mirror image found in Killmonger.” It’s just too bad they wasted Angela Bassett and Forest Whitaker and that’s something I can’t forgive.

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Roma Not Reviewed ***

For a while there, Roma was the frontrunner for Best Picture and I would’ve been perfectly happy if it had won. Roma is gorgeous, spiritual, moving and audacious. For the first time in my life I saw a film on my television and I thought it really needed to be seen on the big screen. The fact that it was Netflix release is beyond ironic. Things seem to be happening in the foreground that are missed way too often. I admire the approach of director Alfonso Cuaron demanding that we pay attention, meditate on what is being shown and consider our own lives and what is truly important. There are scenes that I still think about now that exemplify his skills as a master storyteller. The central performance by Yalitza Aparicio is one for the ages. Yet some things, passed me by, some things dragged on too long and some things were hard to take in on the TV. I really wonder if seeing it on the big screen really would’ve rendered a completely different experience?

Vice Published at Scenestr Magazine 19DEC18 ***

Vice is not as entertaining as director Adam McKay’s previous “serious” film The Big Short but it is more ambitious in intent and scope which is saying something. I was disappointed that Christian Bale did not get more acknowledgment for the strength of his performance which is more than just make-up effects. Amy Adams and Steve Carrell are also good, this stirred up a lot of old feelings from my youth and I hope the film resonates and gets us thinking about what type of a world we want to leave our kids. Yet it also feels like a film that will play one way to one audience and another way to the other. The Big Short was more clear cut and an easier story to connect to I believe. “In the end the man famous for his heart problems is seen losing his heart both metaphorically and physically in the quest for prolonged life both politically and literally. Meanwhile the rest of us have to live in the aftermath of his decisions. Is that a criticism of unbridled power or just proof you either have it or you don’t?“.

The Breaker Upperers Published at Scenestr Magazine 27JUL18 ***

The Breaker Upperers highlights the talents of writer/directors and stars Jackie van Beek and Madeleine Sami and New Zealand comedy in general. It plays as a broad comedy in the first half and then it swerves into a more testing second half where it surprises with some of the characters choices and dealing with them. I’ll admit I found the second half more troublesome but it still remains one of my favourite films of the year with jokes and performances I continue to revel in. “As directors, the pair balance conflicting emotions in any given scene, one example is a slow-mo sequence that plays up the awkwardness of an enforced striptease while also taking in the realisation of betrayal on someone’s face at the same time. They show a deft hand for portraying how perspectives and truths can be different for each character, reserving judgement of most to allow each cinemagoer to come to their own conclusions“.

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Woman at War Published at Weekend Notes 18OCT18 ***1/2

Woman at War from Iceland has rich themes and is centred around the engaging character of Halla played by Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir, a middle aged choir conductor secretly conducting a one woman war against corporate greed and environmental destruction. The film has something to say but maintains a quirky sense of humour throughout and features some wonderful Icelandic landscape. “The film has a wonderful subtle underline about the way women of a certain age are viewed and the choices they have to navigate. She is in a job that is artistic and nurturing and in her spare time she carries out rebellious and dangerous acts. She appears to have no social group outside of work besides her twin sister. In a telling dichotomy, she releases information to the masses of her actions unseen and hidden and yet shows openly the child she is set to adopt with pride to her small choir. The reactions are telling too.

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Ash Is Purest White Published at Weekend Notes 19OCT18 ***1/2

Ash Is Purest White is a time spanning crime film that showcases the changing prosperity of China by focussing on one character, a female criminal with more integrity than any of the men who surround her on screen. I loved the small details in this film, the way director Jia Zhangke lets moments breathe and observes human behaviour and the extraordinary performance by star Zhao Tao. “It’s a love story first and foremost, but not in a romantic way – it’s about the imprint of a man onto a woman of his strength and value system, even though he seldom proves capable of living up to it himself.

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Green Book Not Reviewed ***1/2

Brushing aside Oscar controversies, the behaviour of Spike Lee who if he was white would have been called a sore loser, I’d ask you to reflect on this film on its own merits. Maybe you will find it lacking and if you do that’s fine and valid. Me? Well I liked it, the audience I saw it with liked it, they laughed and cried in all the right places. Just like they had in Hidden Figures or Darkest Hour or any other number of mainstream history films where filmmakers seek to evoke emotions and play things as broadly as possible. Maybe you wanted something more incendiary or original and I hear you but I liked this movie. I liked the central relationship, I liked how it made me feel and I liked what happened to the characters along the way and how they could be honest about where they started. This was definitely one of the best films I saw last year.

 

THE TEN

 

10. Avengers: Infinity War Published at Buzz Magazine 01JUL18 ***1/2

This definitely feels like the first part of a two part season finale for a TV show. If you’re not watching the show it’s going to play very differently for you than a fan but a fan… I am. Plot delivered on the run, characterisation in singular moments built off the backs of previous films, by any standard metric this film cannot be judged. Yet for what it is, it is wholly satisfying, epic, exciting and moving. We could take for granted what Marvel Studies have pulled off here but we won’t. “Knowledge of previous films certainly helps but you have it to the Russo brothers as directors, they seem to know what to do with these characters. Nordic God of Thunder, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) in five minutes here seems to be more consistently and thoughtfully fleshed out here then he was in his three solo movies. The introduction of the bantering mixed bag of space mercenaries, the Guardians of the Galaxy is so in keeping with the tone of their movies that you imagine their director/writer James Gunn was brought into consult but no it seems the Russos just get it.

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9. Arctic Published at Weekend Notes 19OCT18 ***1/2

Much like A Quiet Place, Arctic‘s strengths is knowing what type of film it is and leaning into that rather than looking externally. The central character performed here by the ever effective Mads Mikkelsen remains sparingly outlined, he’s a man lost in the icy wilderness trying to stay alive his actions saying more about him than any dialogue could, how he treats a hill to climb as much a revelation as any mention of his father. There’s hints here and there but the situation and how he navigates it remains the most compelling part of the tale and from it a spiritual musing on the meaning of life and death comes forth. “There are no sweeping vistas either of the landscape – if our hero can’t fly away over the next horizon then neither should the camera, further allowing the audience to share his perspective. There is a spare and matter of fact observance of what is happening which makes everything as a result far more dramatic, including for example a reveal of frostbite. In this film, actions speak louder than words and slowly we understand very clearly what this man is risking and what he will potentially gain.

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8. Annihilation Not Reviewed ***1/2

Annihilation is not a fun movie but it will become a modern sci-fi classic. A mystery at the centre of it is genuinely thought provoking and the film proves unsettling with no real easy answers and horrifying images. The complex characters don’t ask for your sympathy either. This may be the scariest film of the year. The lack of success for the film and its distribution by Netflix worldwide speaks to the changing nature of blockbusters in Hollywood but as long as people like Alex Garland get to tell stories we can all breathe a sigh of relief.

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7. The Endless Published at X-Press Magazine 29MAR18 ***1/2

The Endless is cut from the same cloth as Annihilation, a site of strange going-ons with a central mystery entered by our heroes who have their own complicated histories. Shot on a much more low budget the writer/director/leads Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead have made a great movie that has a bigger heart and more satisfying resolution than the Natalie Portman star vehicle. See it with as little foreknowledge and expectations as possible. “The Endless works best the less you know about the story, a gradual unfolding of mysteries centered around two brothers who don’t have much more than each other and how that can keep you going but also fill you with resentment. A low budget film that feels very low-key but gradually grows more epic as time goes on. The production values of a B-grade genre film matched with the mindboggling premises of a David Lynch or Alex Garland film.

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6. Lost in Paris Published at X-Press Magazine 24MAY18 ***1/2

Every year there are unexpected gems that come along, I had no expectations for this film but it very quickly grew on me. A light quirky comedy with pathos and romance it makes you fall in love with old slapstick, warm heartedness and yes Paris itself of course. “Yet it is Gordon and Abel so comfortable in their own skin that are a joy to see front and centre in a romantic comedy. Neither looks the conventional idea of a movie star which adds authenticity to their characters and their plight but as the film goes on they become more beautiful to us just for being who they are. At one point Dom is asked “Where is the handsome man?” by Fiona who he is falling in love with. The implication of her question is rife with embarrassment and Dom looks embarrassed. She then looks him in the eye and says “You? No way.” Dom straightens up and says “Yes, way.” Before lighting a cigarette and looking like a cool cat, and I thought how very French and how very charming. Just like the movie.

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5. Ladies in Black Not Reviewed ****

Cracking the Top 5 is Ladies in Black, an Australian film from director Bruce Beresford about a young girl Lisa (Angourie Rice) coming of age in post-war Australia. There were times I thought of my own parents and the households they grew up in and the friendships they made during this movie. It’s true the film is gentle and broad and comforting in a way that it could have chosen not to be but in looking back it is a reminder that change has always been present and always navigated by the young and old. There is a moment when a young couple talk about their past lives while looking out over a mountain range. In the end while they’re honest about the past they choose to not dwell on it but to move forward and it is one of my favourite scenes.

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4. In the Aisles Not Reviewed But Mentioned in Our BIFF 2018 Coverage ****

Seen at BIFF 2018, In The Aisles is a film I hope many others discover in time. Set around a night shift of retail workers it is meticulously constructed and moving. We get to know these people but only gradually outside of the prism of who they are at work. The film understands the landscape of the shelves, the grace of the pallet jacks, the secrets of the back rooms, the tensions of the work parties and the longings created by a staff member not showing up. It is aware that while not all of who we are is what we do at work it is where most of our waking hours are spent and how much purpose and identity the roles and relationships we have there give us. Just a fantastic movie.

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3. The Favourite Being Edited ****

A perfectly rendered period film with a little bit of edge to it. Forget all the talk about historical accuracy, the film is a character piece about three fascinating women and the changing nature of their relationship. The three leads Olivia Colman, Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz revel in the opportunity to sink their teeth into such meaty parts too. There is some very clever choices made visually which harken back to different periods and commentary on gender tropes throughout. “We begin with Queen Anne guided by Lady Churchill almost maternally. Weisz cuts a figure often in men’s clothes, constantly shooting off rifles in the field and meeting the gaze and remarks of the men of parliament as she runs the country. Queen Anne relies on her a great deal for confidence and affection and Lady Churchill never lies to her about anything. Enter the younger impoverished cousin of Sarah Churchill, Abigail Hill. She needs work and patronage and we find out quickly that she is a survivor.

2. A Star Is Born Published 26FEB19 7 Likes 21 Views ****

A Star Is Born will stand the test of time, people will remember this film fondly, they’ll become nostalgic about it as one of the great romantic films of their youth, Cooper will go on to become a powerhouse director and Lady Gaga will now shift between art forms and being alternative and mainstream. Because while this is a star vehicle in the very classic sense it is also a moving portrait of addiction and the kind of pain that feeds it and the kind of love that redeems it. Everything seen and heard has been well thought out to the ninth degree but all in service to authenticity, a wonderful balancing act that has been pulled off to create one of the most moving films of the year. “The film articulates well the intoxicating elements of fame but also its emptiness and its precariousness. This is a phenomenally well crafted film with a maturity and confidence that is unique for a first time director and could have only come about through a real passion and drive. With this Bradley Cooper does not promise to become a great director – he is one.

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1. First Man Published at Scenestr Magazine 11OCT18 ****

I’m an surprised as you are following such out of the box choices with Eye in the Sky in 2016 and In This Corner of the World in 2017, I thought In the Aisles might get it but in the end I keep realising how much I loved this movie. How much its singular focus on one man, one marriage and one family better told the story of the whole space program and all involved. How its visceral action scenes were more exciting than any comic book movie and how poorly overlooked the wonderful performances from Ryan Gosling and Claire Foy were. Most importantly of all how much my heart aches looking back and thinking of that scene on the moon. “No great thing is done by one great individual alone. ‘First Man’ reveals this by focusing on one individual achieving something great. What drove him and those around him to do the impossible? Up in the heavens, his home planet the size of his thumb and in quiet solitude, the film offers one possible answer with an action taken by Neil Armstrong. Yet the film also reminds that it is the journey not the destination that matters. This is one of the year’s best.

 

Well that’s it for another year, hope you enjoyed and please feel free to share your own thoughts and feelings about your favourite films from 2018. I’m also sharing Honest Trailers Oscar 2019 from the team at Screen Junkies or as they are now called Fandom Entertainment.

-Lloyd Marken

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BEST DRESSED AWARDS SEASON 2017 PART II

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The Independent Film Spirit Awards were held the day before the Oscars and saw Moonlight sweep the ceremony. There were many big stars there on the night but for me my favourite dress was worn by a newcomer. Lily Gladstone who was nominated for Best Supporting Female for her work in Certain Women wore a Adrianna Papell with a fabric I can’t shake the feeling I’ve seen somewhere before.

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The next day the 89th Academy Awards too place and the stars came out in a dazzling array of gowns. To make sure this post doesn’t end at 100 words and two photos I’ll add in the gowns that my wife and mother liked. Well they liked several but these are the ones they offered up as a favourite if they had to only pick one and believe me they didn’t want to.

 

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My mother liked Taraji P. Henson wearing custom made Alberta Ferretti for best dress then Meryl Streep’s, Nicole Kidman’s. Others enjoyed were Kirsten Dunst and Auli’i Cravachi’s white dress on the red carpet, Denzel Washington’s wife, Samuel L. Jackson in his blue velvet suit jacket and Aldis Hodge. Alberta Ferretti has been designing for 44 years and once in the 1990s renovated a 13th century castle into a hotel.

 

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Karen’s favourite was television presenter Guiliana Rancic wearing Georges Chakra couture and enjoyed the trend of blue velvet throughout liking Taraji’s dress and SammyJ’s suit as well. She was also taken with Auli’i Cravachi’s red dress that she performed in on stage and Ruth Negga’s dress.Lebanese based Georges Chakra is a major international haute couture fashion house regularly dressing celebrities and featuring on fashion magazines in Gossip Girl and The Devil Wears Prada. A Chakra collection has been present at every Paris Fashion Week since 2001. Rancic who covers several red carpets a year for her work with E! Entertainment Television Network uses him as one of her go to designers.

Which leaves me in the awkward position of repeating one of their choices. There were no clear stand outs for me, that’s why Brie Larson’s Rodarte dress from the Golden Globes remains so special. A real immediate absolute favourite don’t always come around. That said I think my favourite Oscar dress is Taraji’s too. For the sake of variety I will point out Felicity Jones looked cute, I liked Busy Phillips dress and I think Nicole Kidman’s dress showed off her figure well.

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So what was your favourite dress at the Oscars? Did you enjoy Janelle Monae trying to channel Halle Berry’s classic dress wearing Ellie Saab herself, Image result for janelle monae oscarslovers of Salma Hayek did you approve of her choice, Image result for salma hayek oscars 2017 was there a favourite suit of the evening, Image result for samuel l. jackson 2017 oscars anybody dig the gold outfits

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or was red more your colour

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or did you stand up and applause any dress that got the twins out front and centre? Let us know below.

Until next year.

-Lloyd Marken

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MY FAVOURITE FILMS OF 2016

In the past 14 months if ticket stubs and memory is to be believed I saw 50 films in a cinema. 7 of them were released in 2015 for that year’s Oscar race even if I came to see them in Australia cinemas in early 2016; they were Youth, Steve Jobs, Spotlight, The Force Awakens, The Big Short, The Hateful Eight and Brooklyn. There were a handful films I saw more than once and they were mostly blockbusters Batman Vs. Superman, Rogue One and with far more enthusiasm Deadpool and after seeing The Force Awakens twice in December 2015 I went back for third, fourth and fifth helpings. There’s only one other film I’ve seen five times at the movies and back then I had a lot more diverse social circle. Whatever the flaws of Star War 7 and Deadpool there was real love and affection that drove me back to them to watch rather than waiting months for release on some other platform.

I didn’t see the well-received Australian made Hacksaw Ridge directed by Mel Gibson whose personal faults have never pushed me away from his work – I look forward to seeing his latest effort but weekend after weekend I shook my head and made a different choice or stayed at home. Hell or High Water is a different story, I wanted to see it but by the time I suspected it must have hit our shores I found out I had missed the boat by a couple of months when I was very busy with work. My best friend has the best tastes in popular culture and has led me to many a great film I would have ignored. He’s pointed out Your Name is one to see and fellow bloggers have also praised it. I hope to find out for myself soon. I am interested too in the collaboration of Isabelle Huppert and Paul Verhoeven with the film Elle. I’ve barely seen any foreign films and certainly none of the well regarded ones this year. Like Room from last year I’m interested in Manchester by the Sea but just don’t feel like seeing a movie that will make me more depressed at the moment.

So it seems silly to really sit here and write a list of my Favourite Films for the year. Yet I found it kind of interesting to see I’d written a review on my site of every film I’d seen in the cinema and two that were original content for Netflix. Films I hadn’t seen at the movies but were 2016 releases like Triple 9, Zootopia and The Secret Lives of Pets didn’t encroach on a hypothetical top 10 so why not rank them.

One final disclaimer, these are not the 10 best but my favourite films from the year. Yes I am trying to grade them on artistic merit but films that made me feel more are going to see their stocks rise and how I feel about them is going to link back to what appeals to me personally I’m afraid. In a way it’s easier to pick a Top 5 than a Top 10 because of this.

The 43 films were as follows and I’ll even belatedly throw in a star rating based off Ebert’s 4 Star system.

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The Founder January 18th 18 Likes 393 Views ***

 

Hunt for the Wilderpeople Published August 11th 24 Likes 99 Views ****

Eye in the Sky Published March 29th 8 Likes 96 Views ****

Bad Moms Published October 11th 14 Likes 66 Views ***

Deadpool Published March 17th 6 Likes 61 Views ****

Star Trek: Beyond Published August 20th 14 Likes 56 Views **1/2

Batman vs. Superman Published April 1st 7 Likes 56 Views ***

Sully Published September 27th 13 Likes 55 Views ***1/2

Suicide Squad Published August 26th 15 Likes 53 Views **1/2

 

Arrival Published February 8th 15 Likes 49 Views ***1/2

The Girl on the Train Published February 3rd 13 Likes 47 Views ***

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot Published September 6th 12 Likes 47 Views ***

Jackie Published February 10th 12 Likes 46 Views ***1/2

Finding Dory Published August 20th 10 Likes 44 Views ***

Moonlight Published February 12th 15 Likes 42 Views ***1/2

La La Land Published February 2nd 13 Likes 42 Views ***1/2

Love and Friendship Published August 29th 14 Likes 41 Views ***

Ghostbusters (2016) Published August 20th 10 Likes 41 Views **

 

Fences Published February 18th 17 Likes 39 Views ***1/2

The Siege at Jadotville Published February 13th 14 Likes 39 Views ***

The Nice Guys Published August 10th 11 Likes 39 Views ***1/2

Eddie the Eagle Published April 23rd 7 Likes 39 Views ***

Hail, Caesar! Published April 20th 11 Likes 35 Views ***1/2

Office Christmas Party Published February 17th 10 Likes 34 Views **

Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie Published September 30th 14 Likes 34 Views ***

Jason Bourne Published August 25th 9 Likes 33 Views **1/2

Central Intelligence Published August 14th 14 Likes 32 Views **1/2

Captain America: Civil War Published May 27th 7 Likes 30 Views ***1/2

 

The Accountant Published February 9th 17 Likes 28 Views ***

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back Published January 18th 13 Likes 25 Views **1/2

Alice Through the Looking Glass Published August 10th 12 Likes 24 Views **1/2

Zoolander No. 2 Published March 29th 2 Likes 24 Views **

Blair Witch Published January 18th 9 Likes 22 Views ***

X-Men Apocalypse Published September 29th 11 Likes 21 Views ***

The Boss Published April 22nd 4 Likes 21 Views **1/2

The Huntsman: Winter’s War April 21st 7 Likes 21 Views ***

Doctor Strange Published January 18th 11 Likes 20 Views ***

Sausage Party September 30th 9 Likes 20 Views **1/2

 

Rogue One Published January 13th 11 Likes 18 Views ***

Bridget Jones’s Baby Published January 18th 11 Likes 17 Views **1/2

Kung-Fu Panda 3 Published February 17th 7 Likes 13 Views **1/2

 

Hidden Figures ***1/2 Published at http://scenestr.com.au/news/movies-and-tv/hidden-figures-review-20170223

 

Out of them I’ll go into a bit more details about some that deserve an Honourable Mention and those that are my 10 favourite films of 2016 – for now.

 

Honourable Mentions

 

Image result for bad moms gifsBad Moms Published October 11th 14 Likes – 66 Views ***

The best popular mainstream gross out comedy of the year and centred around motherhood no less. After years of watching guys do it, it’s nice to see the girls proving they can be as irresponsible, self-centred and crazy as the boys. “Kunis, Bell and Hahn share a nice chemistry in this film with Kunis holding it all together as the lead, Bell doing some inspired physical comedy and Hahn stealing the show by doing whatever the hell she wants. A late scene where she explains motherhood to Kunis gives the film heart and a message. All the best gross out comedies have these two qualities. There’s been a few comedies released this year, none of them had the audience laughing as much as Bad Moms. Do yourself a favour.

 

Image result for siege at jadotvilleThe Siege at Jadotville Published February 13th 14 Likes – 39 Views ***

A company of Irish soldiers faced an onslaught of a far superior force in war torn Congo in 1961. Their heroics have been made into a film sparing no expense from Netflix. Knowing this really happened and what they received upon their return gives this movie depth and heart. “The Siege at Jadotville is a real throwback to old war movies that your Dad loved to watch on a Sunday. Modern production values are there and a dry Irish sense of humour bleeds through every now and again but the cast are mostly types not people, the soldier with glasses, the sniper (Sam Keeley as Billy Ready), the gruff old Sergeant (Jason O’Mara as Company Sergeant Jack Prendergast). Their emotive faces tell enough and Jamie Dornan acquits himself well as Commandant Pat Quinlan who as a person gets the most rounded out beside the exasperating political figures.

 

Eddie the Eagle Published April 23rd 7 Likes – 39 Views ***

Eddie the Eagle is cookie cutting filmmaking about sports and underdogs and yet it charms the hell out of you just like its hero. Eddie the Eagle was a very special underdog indeed and Taron Egerton gives a wonderful performance while Hugh Jackman charms as a gruff coach who didn’t exist in real life. “Eddie the Eagle implausibly showed up at the 1988 Winter Olympics as Britain’s sole Ski Jump competitor. His performance was so significantly behind the second last place getter that a new rule was instituted making it more difficult to place in the sport for the Olympics. There are those to this day who were embarrassed that he was there and confounded by his popularity. That’s because they don’t know what it’s like on that factory floor or in that office cubicle. Eddie had dreamed the impossible dream and we like dreamers. We need them, when they achieve something they keep our dreams alive. They make anything possible, thank you Eddie.

 

Batman vs. Superman Published April 1st 7 Likes – 56 Views ***

Both this blockbuster and Rogue One were flawed beyond belief but neither was boring and in light of the growing conveyor belt sameness of Marvel’s work and other disappointing blockbusters for the year I can’t help but reflect that the good stuff in these films should be recognised. Zack Snyder has created a dark downbeat nonsensical universe in his DC films which has completely missed the point of Superman as a hero. However Batman and Alfred Pennyworth yet again star on the big screen and play a new variation of their characters and relationship with humour, charm and action. The best fight scene with Batman ever put on screen is in this movie, it just doesn’t feature Superman. The hypocrisy of the ‘heroes’ actions and the comical motivations deflate the film but this is still a vision that is unique and oddly compelling. “Yet when he [Christopher Reeve as Superman] said “I never lie.” you not only believed it but you believed in the possibility and rightness of such a thing. He felt pain being belted into a building and outright desperation whenever Lois was threatened. Yet he was inherently good and awesome as a symbol too. Cavill strutting into the Senate hearing halfway through this film could’ve been an opportunity for Superman to say something but alas…

 

Related imageRogue One Published January 13th 11 Likes – 18 Views ***

Rogue One has a lot of good ideas that shed new light on the Rebel Alliance and the Empire from the original Star Wars. The ideas for all the characters are interesting too but barring the comic relief of Alan Tudyk as K-2SO they never become too emotionally involving. The technical proficiency of the action and special effects though shine throughout and the third act purely on a spectacle level maybe the most epic and satisfying of the year. “We are told who they are rather than shown half the time and when we are, we just don’t care. The plot is always moving from planet to planet and set piece to set piece that the characters themselves barely get a chance to interact and grow relationships. We know they are inherently good people and we do want them to succeed but we are not scared for their safety and that is a huge misgiving for this type of film.

 

Image result for the girl on the trainThe Girl on the Train Published February 3rd 13 Likes – 47 Views ***

A sexy thriller (seriously there’s like at least 4 or 5 sex scenes and they’re all sexy), that flirts with gender politics and has a mandatory neat twist. Elevated by the cast, none shines better than Emily Blunt who is on fine form here. “The film works strongest when dealing with perspective and prejudice, why do the other women stare at Megan in yoga class. Are they threatened by her beauty or do they know something about her character? Is she highly sexual or do others like to imagine so? Is she a victim, a manipulator or something more sinister?  The answer is of course the same it has always been, the same it has been for most men and women since time immemorial. She is not one thing or the other.

 

wtf tina fey whiskey tango foxtrot kim barker robert carlockWhiskey Tango Foxtrot Published September 6th 12 Likes – 47 Views ***

I sent an application to the United Nations once saying I wanted to go work in Afghanistan. I never got a reply. Watching Whiskey Tango Foxtrot reminded me of a time and place I wished I’d found myself a part of even if I should have done a lot more than wish if that’s what I really wanted. When the call came for journalist Kim Barker she answered it and the resulting film about Kim Baker delights as a workplace war comedy starring the talented Tina Fey and allowing Margot Robbie and Christopher Abbott to shine in supporting roles. “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot tells another story from the War on Terror, it invites us to laugh and then maybe to think but mostly the coda for the film is to live your life to the full, embrace the challenges, get through them and then move on and live your life the best you can now. Like in war. Operation Enduring Freedom ended on the 31st December 2014. US Troops remaining in Afghanistan serve as part of the ongoing Operation Sentinel’s Freedom.

 

Image result for jackie movieJackie Published February 10th 12 Likes – 46 Views ***1/2

Natalie Portman’s performance is on key throughout this challenging film which breaks down how a lot of the Kennedy myth was put together but may only truly be enjoyed by those who believe in the power of it for better or worse. A haunting moody piece about grief and how we react to it, the film is also slow paced at times but can’t be faulted for demanding full attention from its audience. “Grief stricken at the loss of a husband who cheated on her, cool and collected at times and at others almost hysterical certain facts long known but never pondered come forward. She held her husbands blasted apart head in her lap all the way to the hospital. What the hell does that do to someone? Less than a week later she marched through Washington with world leaders despite all kinds of security concerns that an assassin could target them again. She took her kids to the coffin and she trained her son to salute it with the whole world watching. Why was ensuring President Kennedy’s legacy so important in helping her grief for an imperfect man that she loved?

 

Related imageMoonlight Published February 12th 15 Likes – 42 Views ***1/2

Split into three distinct moments in one young man’s life, Moonlight shows clearly what legacy the action of loved ones can have on a child’s development. Despite the cost of bullying and betrayal that Chiron endures there is hope at the end of this story. Hope for his life is just beginning. “Left to fend for himself, a drug dealer named Juan notices him one day and befriends him. Why he feels compelled to do this is only hinted at but he is played by Mahershala  Ali whose performance looms over the rest of the film. He is the only positive male figure the boy nicknamed Little will ever have teaching him how to swim in one beautiful scene of the boy being cradled in his arms amongst the waves. This is a hard man who shows this boy nothing but gentleness, the most obvious answer to why is he immediately recognised something in Little of himself and wants to protect the innocence he has lost but this man is a criminal and there are limits to what he can do. Perhaps we’re all protective of children and their fragility, there is a scene where Chiron asks what a certain word his mother called him means and it kind of breaks your heart.

 

Image result for lala landLa La Land Published February 2nd 13 Likes – 42 Views ***1/2

Arguably the best looking film of the year, I wonder how much came from digital enhancement. With two winning lead performances from Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone who share fantastic chemistry the film delights with big musical numbers that make the best use of modern technology. Ambitiously adding subterfuge to his own movie writer/director Damien Chazelle also offers up a film about artistic ambition and the struggles that come with daring to dream. The ending was not expected but is powerful and heartbreaking. Suckers for perfect happy endings beware but hopefully at the very least this encourages Hollywood to make more musicals and one with the modern possibilities engaged here. “The film opens up on the disused freeway ramp where parts of Speed were shot with an impromptu dance number by many stuck in LA traffic with a one take tracking shot over several vehicles and choreographed dancers. It’s kinda awesome but has little to do with what the rest of the film will be about.

 

THE TEN

 

10. Captain America: Civil War Published May 27th 7 Likes – 30 Views ***1/2

When you’re the big dog, people like to kick you if they smell opportunity and Marvel have become so successful it’s tempting to take for granted what they do except nobody else seems to be doing it nearly as well. There are missed opportunities, there’s no distinct visual style here and we suspect a little too easily that everything is going to be alright no matter what the stakes. Yet these guys always bring it back to the characters and never more so than here. Everything Captain America does here is for a childhood friend who he served together with in war and thought was long dead. Tony Stark well you’ll have to see the film but this plays off eight years of world building throughout the franchise and nobody else is doing that with their franchises. They lack the patience and they lack the heart. Plus that airport scene.”Which is fine because the film is not really about the Sokovia Accords, it is about Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) and what lengths Steve Rogers will go to protect his friend and fellow veteran while at the same time Tony Stark is trying to protect the Avengers as best he can. Stark and Rogers have always been at odds with their contrasting personalities and world view points. There is an extra layer there in the sense that Rogers is partially a creation of Howard Stark’s and a friend of Tony’s Dad. He’s perversely both father figure and rival son for Stark Senior’s approval. The ground work for this had been laid previously and in this film finally gets paid off.

aliens scifi spaceship arrival9. Arrival Published February 8th 15 Likes – 49 Views ***1/2

Arrival is a thoughtful blockbuster about the need for us to communicate better with each other and with the outside world. A film that plays with the concepts of time as it tells a simple universal story of hope, fear, love and loss. Oh yeah there’s aliens in it too. “It feels right and real that contacts with aliens would be set up in a tent city with dimly lit rooms and the lime green shading of a hospital full of tired middle aged bureaucrats questioning each other’s ideas on a regular basis. The aliens themselves are always seen with a sense of wonder (their design is original and interesting too), how to get to them starts off in a simple fashion but is suitably otherworldly and unnerving.

Image result for fences movie8. Fences Published February 18th 17 Likes – 39 Views ***1/2

This is a hard movie to watch at times but it always feels real even if set bound like the stage play it originally was. There are rich themes about mortality, legacy, fathers and sons, husbands and wives, infidelity and the history of race in America. The central character is hard to watch at times, hard to understand, hard to forgive and we share in that challenge as audience members with the characters around him who are part of his life. This is writing and performing of the highest level and Denzel is so good as Troy Maxson but it is Viola Davis in one powerful moment articulating the limits and trials and hopes and dreams of 1950s housewives everywhere that is devastatingly beautiful and painful that makes this film such a must see. “As the film goes on Maxson inhabits scenes he‘s not even in, after watching him with his family throughout we grow to feel some of their emotions. As he winds up for another lecture we shake our heads at the repetition and the lack of self-awareness and yet when he’s gone we feel the lack of his presence as keenly as the family does. We understand perhaps that for better or worse we are who are fathers made us and whether they did us proud or said they loved us we want to make them proud and we do love them.

7. Hail, Caesar! Published April 20th 11 Likes – 35 Views ***1/2

A movie for people who love the movies made by people who love movies too. Set in 1950s America there are parallels to today’s world, call-backs to the type of films old Hollywood produced and that wonderful intelligent witty dialogue that we’ve come to expect from the Coen brothers. Plus look out for Alden Ehrenreich who steals the show and whose star is on the rise. As a film buff I loved it. ” Yet this is not a film that exclusively looks back with rose tinted glasses, the Red menace of the Cold War evokes the same fear that ISIS does now, there is a Latino starlet Carlotta Valdez (Veronica Osorio) hoping for the same opportunities afforded her white co-stars, this is the era of McCarthy which may remind us a little that we now tear ourselves apart with political tribalism and humming in the background when Hollywood is in the final bloom of its Golden Age is the advent of stars demanding more and television only a few years away threatening the revenue streams that were taken for granted.

6. The Nice Guys Published August 10th 11 Likes – 39 Views ***1/2

What a year for Ryan Gosling, in La La Land he sang and danced and proved Emma Stone and him should make another five films together. Nominated for an Academy Award for La La Land, his best performance this year gone is as a washed up Private Investigator, flawed father and comic relief to tough guy Russell Crowe. He is fearless in this film at being funny and get the word out because we need more movies like this. A tough fun throwback to the period it is set in of 1970s film noir by writer/director Shane Black. “Crowe with his impish smile and easy charm points to possibilities, the film’s best scene maybe in a park late at night with Healy talking to the younger Ms. March. She tells him you’re not a bad person and the look on Crowe’s face says he wants her to believe it.

5. Sully Published September 27th 13 Likes – 55 Views ***1/2

Sully has a lean runtime as it is but in search of drama they beefed up the PTSD angle of the flight crew and positioned the crash investigative team as antagonists. It might have been more interesting to go into more detail of his wife’s story or that of the flight attendants relayed in Sullenberger’s memoir but no matter. Whatever its flaws, Clint Eastwood has directed the best action set pieces of 2015 – yeah you fucking heard me. I wept not one tear for Jyn Erso or Batman but when that ferry arrived at the wing I felt my face crack. As someone who has read a lot about the story, the things that he got right honour so many who lived through this on that fateful day. It’s an extraordinary story rendered justice and pathos on the big screen by two of America’s icons. Eastwood and Tom Hanks. “Sully is an American hero. We should cherish that simple reassuring fact until the end of time that such things can be true and real in this day and age. Yet Chelsey Sullenberger is also a man, a quiet professional of considerable skill and talent but a human being with flaws and doubts like the rest of us. Clint Eastwood’s film accepts both these truths can co-exist but has something to say about how each responded to the events of January 15, 2009.

4. Hidden Figures Published February 24 at Scenestr ***1/2

Hidden Figures is a Hollywood rendering of an important story of bright African American women who broke down career barriers and overcame racial prejudice in a volatile time for America socially. With a rocking soundtrack from producer Pharrell Williams, great humour and pathos there are scenes that may not have played out like this in real life but they’re satisfying and emotionally moving. “Whether it is Costner smashing down a segregated toilet sign, Parsons comically reeling at Henson’s insight or a several female calculators led by Spencer marching into the new computer room to run it. Contrived though it may be, it is uplifting storytelling and aspiring for young girls out there interested in science and maths that have been wrongly told that’s not their strong suit.

3. Hunt for the Wilderpeople Published August 11th 24 Likes – 99 Views ****

Every year there’s always a film that surprises you and comes out of nowhere to become one of your favourites. A story of one boy camping out in the New Zealand wilderness with his ‘uncle’ the film boasts a great sense of humour, wild characters, an involving family unit in flux and the best car chase ever put to film in New Zealand. “His name is Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison), he’s a big kid who’s had it a bit rough, he’ll tell you he doesn’t care about anything, ready to argue with anybody who puts him down and he’s constantly using words from pop culture to describe himself as a bad-ass street kid. Aunt Bella sees right through him in 10 seconds flat. A home maybe the most important thing you can give a child and by that I don’t mean a nice house to live in. Bella (Rima Te Wiata) lives with Hec (Sam Neil) who was a wanderer who used to live in the woods before he met her. Kids are not the only ones who need a good place to call home.

2. Deadpool Published March 17th 6 Likes – 61 Views ****

We don’t get great blockbusters as much as we like to think; the superhero genre has been with us for a while now and needed a shake-up. A film like Deadpool made against the odds cannot be celebrated and praised enough no matter how much money it makes. This was hands down the most fun I had at the movies last year, witty and meta in a way I could only have dreamed about in the past with well-made action sequences and characters who had well defined and believable relationships. A gem. “T.J. Miller as Wilson’s best friend Weasel has his moments which are a bit like his comedy. His acceptance speech at the Critic’s Choice Awards last year was awesome but the guy just doesn’t always do it for me and that’s true here too. I suppose since this is a review I should probably be more articulate in my opinion of Miller but  I really would rather write about how amazingly hot Jennifer Garner is. I mean seriously those cheekbones, that smile. By the way Jenny there was absolutely nothing wrong with the black one.

Image result for eye in the sky

1. Eye in the Sky Published March 29th 8 Likes – 96 Views ****

It turns out the first great film of 2016 was for me the greatest film of 2016. Released so long ago it never had a shot at the Oscar race the fact remains this is a near perfect film dealing with current discussion points about drone warfare, counter terrorism and the intertwining of the battlefield with politics. It boasts the late great Alan Rickman’s final performance but the film belongs to Helen Mirren as military commander ordering a strike and Aisha Takow playing a little girl selling bread on a street corner in Kenya. “Missiles hovering high in the sky waiting for civilians at trade deals to come and answer their phones. Boys selling cheap plastic buckets to act as a cover story for an agent while he operates multi-million dollar miniature drones to fly inside a safe house. Bread in a wood fired oven potentially being a death sentence. Gavin Hood’s film powerfully conveys a brave new world with the same old truths of human nature. We want to raise our children in peace, go to work, come home and see them playing in our yards. But war has always existed and people die in wars.

Well as always thank you for reading and I encourage you to mention in the comments your favourite films of the year and why. As Oscar nears it’s interesting to note how many of the Ten are not in contention at that ceremony. Of those that are, I found this video about them from Screen Junkies very amusing.

-Lloyd Marken

HOW WOULD YOU DO THE OSCARS?

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It was February 2005 when I watched the 77th Academy Awards hosted by Chris Rock. That’s the last great Oscars telecast I remember. It was a gradual thing Jon Stewart took over the following year and it wasn’t as good but that was alright because Steve Martin and Whoopi Goldberg hadn’t been as good as Billy Crystal right? As time dragged on though, and more ceremonies occurred I couldn’t shake the feeling that the Oscars just didn’t measure up the same away anymore. If I look back over the past few years there’s always bits and pieces I love from all of them but always something lacking. The host sucks, the host was the only good thing, not enough skits, the skits sucked, the speeches were boring, the people accepting were played off by the orchestra before they could start. I would not be surprised either if I popped in a tape of a show that I remember as praiseworthy from the 1990s to find its no worse or better than the ones we see today. The thing I can’t shake though is that at some point the Oscars got scared, it rushed itself not allowing time for individual moments to breathe and organically occur and it worried about getting viewers in rather than celebrating its own community. It would be too easy to pick apart the high pressure work performed by dozens of professionals on a grand stage in front of a worldwide audience. Therefore I thought it would be interesting to put forward some ideas of my own and inevitably celebrate that which has worked in the past.

The Host

Bob Hope, Johnny Carson and Billy Crystal are the Kings of Oscar hosting. This year the television networks have allocated their respective late night hosts to the Awards Show they’re broadcasting, CBS gave James Corden the Grammys, NBC slotted in Jimmy Fallon for the Golden Globes and so ABC have given Jimmy Kimmel the Oscars. Kimmel is edgy, very LA and approaching gravitas that comes with long term tenure. There’s a hope he will shake up things but there was a similar hope when Seth McFarlane was named to host and we know how that turned out. Choosing a late night talk show host makes sense given Carson’s reign at the gig but Carson was lightning in a bottle, Image result for the academy awards johnny carsona superb comic performer, movie star good looking with average folks appeal in his Nebraskan sensibility. Jon Stewart did this twice with only middling success, my favourite David Letterman bombed big time with his snark going over like a lead balloon with the celebrities on their night of nights, Fallon the current king of late night looked intimidated at the Globes earlier this year leaving basically day time host Ellen DeGeneres as the best since Carson – and her Emmy Hosting gigs were far superior to her Oscar ones. I’d love to see Samantha Bee and Jon Oliver tear the place down and I think James Corden actually could do a real good job but I would be looking at a stand-up comic more than a talk show personality to be named host.

A few big hitters include Jerry Seinfeld (he’s so big and established he wouldn’t be afraid to push people around but maybe is too much of an outsider), Louis C.K. (same thing but again outsider) Aziz Ansari (too TV maybe go with Emmys or Golden Globes for him first) and Amy Schumer.Image result for AMY schumer award shows Schumer is hip and cool, not an old white guy, has a hit movie and would take aim and fire at some of the absurdities of Hollywood. Would be more than happy to see her have a go but I can’t help but think that a funny Hollywood comic superstar would be a good choice. Crystal, Steve Martin, Whoopi Goldberg have all had their go. You know who never did? Who has the gravitas, the comic chops and was king of the box office for a bit. Eddie Murphy. Now I know Eddie hasn’t been a big deal in a while but a few years ago he was announced to host with Brett Ratner producing, then Brett said dumb shit and had to pull out and Eddie stood by his friend and withdrew too. Related imageBut Eddie can deliver if he has a good writing team behind him because I believe this sincerely, people would like to see a comeback from that kid who did Delirious. The monologue should be solid, few have been bad in the past few years (Franco and Hathaway I’m looking at you) and as a former stand- up he should be able to spot opportunities when they come up. My favourite hosts of the past decade are easily Tina Fey and Amy Poehler doing the Golden Globes three years in a row but they don’t seem interested and others like Will Ferrell, Steve Carrell and Kristen Wiig only seem interested in doing presentation skits in awards shows rather than the whole thing. By the way look for Key and Peele to host Oscars soon, they’re good comedians and solid actors in their own right and I find it hard to believe the Academy hasn’t already asked them at least once.

The Opening

In 1996 a landmark occurred when Billy Crystal returned after Letterman bombed. It had been a couple of years since he hosted and he was missed. He was inserted into old movies as himself and that year’s nominees. Letterman even showed he was a good sport and showed up in it to mock his failure from the previous year. It feels more played out these days but when done well it never really gets old. Hell even Anne Hathaway and James Franco had some good bits in one such skit. Last year there was an amazing opening montage, easily the best from the past decade that Oscar has done. It displayed moments from the nominees, blockbusters and everything in between; themed around personal perseverance in a day it brought tears to my eyes with its empathy and hopefulness. It does mean however that if the AMPAS want to they can go big this year, one year they had Cirque du Soleil perform up in the rafters. Maybe it’s time to go big again Academy. Imagine Eddie or Amy inserted in Hacksaw Ridge, La La Land, Manchester by the Sea, Moonlight, Hidden Figures, Fences or Arrival.

The Presentations

If you look back over the years there are always at least a couple of good presentations. Some from really good actors being given funny lines and some from some of the funniest people we have working in Hollywood.

Ben Stiller, the aforementioned Wigg, Ferrel, Fey, Poehler, Steve Martin, and it would be great to see them all back doing their thing. It probably doesn’t get more moving than Christopher Reeve in his wheelchair after the riding accident. Sometimes there can be real quirkiness in the choices, one year a sound effects choir introduced those categories. R2D2, C3PO and BB-8 came out last year. However not everybody has to have a bit, some can wax lyrical about cinematography “The camera allows us to see ourselves like we’ve seen ourselves before – looking like Ryan Gosling.” or something like that and then get off the stage. It would be nice if before presenting the nominees for technical awards like sound editing, sound effects editing to remind the nominees that there’s five of you and nobody gives a shit about your arse cause you ain’t famous so you know you got five seconds each. Thank your wife and then let your buddies thank their wives. Because if you want to get laid tonight you better thank your wife if you win. If there are any female nominees in the technical categories don’t worry, your husband will not hold out having sex with you if you don’t thank him. You get back to the hotel room and he’d be like I can’t believe it, I gave you twenty two years of my life, supported you in your career, helped raise the kids and you couldn’t remember my name in front of a billion people. I am so upset, I’m not having sex with you tonight…..oh you’re wearing those stockings. Never mind. And this is why you really are running the world. But seriously male or female nominees either nominate one person or let everybody thank everybody real quick. If one person in your group is shy or boring, they’re out. There can be no room for weak links. You have got 30 seconds. Actually that’s not true, Harvey Weinstein has 30 seconds, and a special effects supervisor has 12 seconds. If you’re ugly you got 10! So that’s two seconds for each of you!

Sketch Bits

In the old days this might have been a montage of animal performers before Mike Myers hurriedly grabbed the envelope off a grumpy Bart the Bear. These days it will have Neil Patrick Harris re-enact Birdman’s famous scene in his tighty whities or have Ellen DeGeneres get pizza for the stars in their million dollar frocks.

Nothing wrong with that, it’s the growing trendy of daggy celebrities done so well by Fallon. I believe the host should remain present throughout the rest of the evening but more of less reacting to what’s going on. I got a long night planned anyway.

Montages

Hollywood used to do the best montages and then a few years ago the kids on YouTube started doing it better. The day after a tribute to James Bond was done at the Oscars, better online contributions went viral. Jon Stewart even joked one year that the whole show was montages. Yet done well they elevate the whole thing, one year they brought performers on stage to perform a raft of best songs from previous decades and it linked you to previous generations. This year I would suggest two major montages. One saluting women of cinema, given the range of strong female performances this year it would be neat and also relevant given current cultural dialogue about gender politics. Hidden Figures for example taps into this in a big way. Imagine iconic moments from Audrey Hepburn, Katherine Hepburn, Deborah Kerr, Bette Davis, Jane Russell, Marilyn Monroe, Liv Ullman, Mary Tyler Moore, Lilly Tomlin, Noomi Rapace, Meryl Streep, Glenn Close, Sally Field, Whoopi Goldberg, Hattie McDaniel, Ginger Rogers, Lauren Bacall, Nicole Kidman, Natalie Portman, Kate Winslet, Susan Sarandon, Julia Roberts, Jodie Foster, Jane Fonda, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Emma Stone, Jessica Chastain, Sigourney Weaver, Emma Thompson, Cher, Charlize Theron, Winona Ryder, Claire Danes, Amy Adams, Felicity Jones, Cate Blanchett, etc.

The second would be long overdue, the work of stunt performers. There’s been a push for at least the past decade for them to get their own Oscar category and maybe this would be a step in the right direction of proper recognition. Sure practical stunts are being replaced by CGI since the heyday of the 70s and 80s but there is still plenty of stunt work being performed and a montage could show the classic stunts we all know and love with behind the scenes footage giving these men and women their day in the sun. There are plenty of stories too. Rick Sylvester’s Union Jack Parachute Ski Jump from The Spy Who Loved Me, Image result for movie stunts Jophery Brown’s bus jump from Speed “ If I’d been directly in the driver’s suit it probably would have broken my back”, Image result for movie stuntsBud Elkins driving that motorcycle over the border fence in The Great Escape, Zoe Bell on the hood of that Dodge Challenger in Death Proof, Related imageVic Armstrong’s work as Indiana Jones, Heidi Moneymaker’s work as Black Widow, Bill Hickman stunt driving in The French Connection, stuntwoman Lila Finn who doubled for Vivien Leigh and Donna Reed right through to doing work on Robocop 2, Yakima Canutt who pulled off that famous stunt in Stagecoach. Image result for yakima canuttAnyway the list goes on. The montage could include personal anecdotes about their injuries, close calls, relationship with stars they double for or love of the job. Perhaps mention of some stuntmen and stuntwomen who died doing what they loved. To introduce this montage get an actor who is noted for doing some of their own stunts, Burt Reynolds, Keanu Reeves, Tom Cruise if you believe the hype, and Johansson who trains phenomenally hard in her role as Black Widow often doing more interesting stunt work than her male co-stars in The Avengers movies. Maybe the most perfect choice would be Jackie Chan.

Song Performances

Most song performances have been strong over the years, something as intimate as Dolly Parton singing Travelin’ Thru, to Beyoncé and Idina Menzel giving sterling performances right through to moving pieces as Lady Gaga was joined on stage by real sexual assault survivors performing Til It Happens To You. The energy of Everything is Awesome to the power of Glory. As a template, you could see the potential from this year’s best song nominees. Justin Timberlake’s Can’t Stop the Feeling is idiotic but kind of catchy. Hopefully they’ll avoid trying to get the crowd involved with a bunch of middle aged actors looking uncomfortable although it would be worth it if Harrison Ford ended up punching Timberlake in the face – hey we can dream. Still it is an up-tempo number and if you put a bunch of kids there on stage enjoying it my cold heart will melt.

Superstar Sting showing up to sing Empty Chair with the lights dimmed and a montage of reporters lost in the field would be particularly moving. Don’t even say the clip was of all reporters lost doing their job until after the clip too. Not everybody is going to know it’s from the critically lauded documentary Jim about the sadly deceased correspondent James Foley. Audition (The Fools Who Dream) needs a big performance from a big star, Beyoncé, Gaga, somebody of that calibre. Maybe a Broadway star the film community doesn’t know. Think Idina or Kristen Chenoweth before everybody knew who they were. The big production number should go to How I’ll Go from Moana and come early in the piece in case any kids are still up. Lots of lights, moving props and dancers with Auli’i Cravalho singing her heart out.

Which leaves us with City of Stars; this should be sung by Emma Stone and Gosling at piano with their innate chemistry while dancers recreate scenes from the film in the background. The power of the ending should be recreated in this on stage performance. Think Eugene Levy’s wonderful touching of Catherine O’Hara’s cheek at the end of performing A Kiss at the End of the Rainbow in character or the heartfelt singing of Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova doing Falling Slowly.

Speeches

Look there’s no denying we want to hear Emma Stone more than who won Best Film Editing speak and so she’ll be given more time. That is fair enough, but give the editor 30 seconds and if it looks like they’re wrapping up soon let it go. They might be about to tell you that their parent recently fought cancer. This can’t be stated enough, some of the most heartfelt and best moments of Oscars past are the speeches that were allowed to just happen in the moment. Don’t terrify people; let them tell their story at a moment of personal triumph. If after 30 seconds they’re bombing jokes or boring us nobody is going to have a problem if the music starts to kick in a little. Hell the recipient will probably thank you even. But stop apologising for the length of the telecast, this is your community you’re celebrating and the people tuning in aren’t just interested in the next blockbuster to pack their kids away in air conditioning for two hours, they’re cinephiles and they’re digging this as much as footy fans dig the halftime commentary.

Honorary Oscars

I know this is never going to happen, The Governors ball allows AMPAS to honour at least 3 recipients a year, focuses an evening more on just a few awardees and takes away the pressure of a live television audience but we’ve lost something with not handing out these Oscars on Oscar night.

Peter O’Toole, Sidney Lumet, Blake Edwards, Robert Altman, Clint Eastwood, Kirk Douglas, Deborah Kerr, Ennio Morricone, Michelangelo Antonioni. These were some of the lifetime achievement awards handed out in the years I started watching. Films like Bronco Billy and Honkytonk Man got on my radar because of Eastwood’s montage for the Irving G. Thalberg award. Who amongst us didn’t have tears in our eyes when Kirk Douglas made a speech having prepared endlessly for it following a stroke.

Michael standing with his brothers in the stands just a proud son. Deborah Kerr years after retiring flown over from the other side of the Atlantic who simply said “I’m amongst friends.” Anybody know who Michelangelo Antonioni is? He’s an Italian film director who I doubt I have seen the films of but I also doubt I have not seen the films influenced by his work. Oscars always echoed the ghosts of the past, gave a sense of community amongst this sea of celebrity that these rich pricks really just wanted to tell good stories and that the past was never forgotten. As a film buff my first awareness of so many classics came from Oscar ceremonies that remembered and championed work from the past as well as the present. A good choice for a foreign director of lauded classics now would be Wim Wenders who has influenced a whole generation of filmmakers. After ruining the perfect symmetry of Sly Stallone winning the Oscar for Creed last year it’s probably time to give him an Honourary Oscar but maybe some kids out there know who he is. They won’t know who Gene Hackman is; imagine a montage of his work on Oscar night followed by him making his first public appearance in close to a decade. The crowd would go ballistic!Image result for gene hackman oscarAl Pacino, Warren Beatty, Robert Duvall, Dustin Hoffman, Clint Eastwood, Kevin Costner, Frances McDormand are all potential presenters. Traditionally Honourary Oscars go to those who haven’t won in competition but to see Gene I’d just about do anything and if some young film buff out there notices his work and is inspired to watch The Conversation or Missippi Burning the way I was to watch Bronco Billy or Serpico then that’s a goal scored.

Well they’re just some thoughts, any pet peeves or treasured moments you have from previous Oscars or any things you would suggest for the broadcast. Whatever happens next Monday, I’ll be tuning in, judging the fashion with my wife and mother, texting my best friend during the ad breaks in another part of the country long into the evening about who won and who missed out. Maybe the ceremonies since 2004 haven’t been that bad, maybe the ones before weren’t that great. It doesn’t matter; it’s Hollywood’s night of nights and mine too.

-Lloyd Marken

LA LA LAND: A MODERN MUSICAL

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La La Land comes advertised as a joyous throwback to romantic musicals of olden days but while looking to the past for inspiration it should be more fairly recognised for being a much more ambitious modern taken on those old films. Critically acclaimed and award winning you can already sense the backlash mounting from cynical minds ready to pick at its flaws. In hindsight it may be obvious to note that a steadicam take in a musical would be neat or that CGI could open up the possibilities of old musical numbers. Just because the ingredients were there all along doesn’t change the fact that it took a smart chef to make a tasty new dish. A classic that may not endure in the years to come it will remain for fans of a certain age a heartbreaking ode to romance when ironically it’s real theme is about ambition.

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The film opens up on the disused freeway ramp where parts of Speed were shot with an impromptu dance number by many stuck in LA traffic with a one take tracking shot over several vehicles and choreographed dancers. It’s kinda awesome but has little to do with what the rest of the film will be about. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are both stuck in the traffic and have an altercation signposting immediately for us that they will fall in love. He is a down on his luck bar musician with a deep abiding love for jazz. She’s a beautiful young woman auditioning for roles in Hollywood, so you know a barista on a film lot. Both have respect for art forms of the past and dreams to bring something forth of their own artistic merit into the present. Slowly they keep running into each other and romance blossoms but dreams are hard to pursue in Hollywood where many dreams have come to die. Will their love give each other resilience and support or will it too be broken by the disappointment that can come from not realising your dreams?

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This is the third onscreen pairing of Gosling and Stone who have an easy chemistry and benefit from the film history they’ve already established for themselves. It’s interesting to note neither were originally intended for their parts and yet are kind of perfect. Gosling gets a bad rap for being too handsome and too cool but I feel he invests most of his characters with deep passion always subverting the coolness his characters want to exude. Think the visible shaking of the Driver holding the hammer over his assailant or financial trader Jared Vennett exclaiming I’m jacked to the tits down the phone line.

Stone who is beautiful in that cute girl next door way always belies some smarts in her characters. Think of the love interests she played in Amazing Spider-Man or Superbad who always seemed to know more than what the lead male characters did. With little subtle choices here she shows her character knows how impossible her dreams are and what costs choices have in our lives. There are a lot of scenes here where Stone says a lot with her eyes more than her words and it can be devastating. In a year of so many wonderful female performances that were broad, strong and nuanced, it is these subtleties that will mean there is no injustice if she takes home Oscar at the end of the month.

The style of the film changes tonally throughout, the meet cutes at the beginning amuse, as the romance blossoms we’re treated to exciting musical numbers where our leads literally float through the air and then as the relationship develops and is called on to face challenges the numbers disappear and a regular Ryan Gosling indie hit appears. It says something about all involved that the transition to a late dinner argument feels authentic and seamless. These later scenes and outcomes may feel out of place with how the film was sold but sadness does give stories depth when done honestly.

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The production of this film is perfect, LA is rendered with love in all its beauty, the flat vista spreads out before us, our characters attend parties at houses on hills with swimming pools no regular schmo could afford, the sun brightens every day and every night is moonlit. This is a beautifully, lit and shot film by cinematographer Linus Sandgren, quite possibly the best of the year. The choreography of the dances are beautiful but also human and heartfelt without the polished sharpness of professionals. Barring the finale which hits you with a flurry of emotion, the stand out sequence may be Stone and Gosling dancing around each other on a hill at sunset looking for their cars but really dancing around each other metaphorically and literally. Whether the sunset was CGI enhanced I don’t know, it has the controlled look of a studio set with the natural power of outdoor shooting. For a musical there is the one stand out song of City of Stars with only a couple more, don’t look for several new tracks to fall in love with but the music in it by Justin Hurwitz is enjoyable. Damien Chazelle’s direction is confident on his second feature film giving equal care to capturing the way our bodies slowly reach out during a first kiss right through to the big production numbers. Dreaming lovers walk the streets of 2016 Los Angeles thanks to his vision.

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For those that have gone to Hollywood to be an actress or open up a jazz bar I salute you. Especially if you have failed. Taking your shot should matter, so few of us do and you did it. La La Land is a movie for you and for the million like you because even though you failed where the hell would we be if there weren’t dreamers like you. La La Land understands those dreams and those dreamers but it also understands the cost of it. A cliché in a Hollywood film is a darkly lit corner at the back of jazz bar where a washed up saloon singer sings about lost love in such a way that you feel he’s lived the story of that song. We look at his strained face; we hear his rising voice, feel the pounding of those piano keys. We don’t feel it, we know he’s lived that song’s story and La La Land the movie knows it too and sings it like never before.

-Lloyd Marken