Best of 2020 | Every film I saw this year

2020 films top ten best of tenet shirley one night miami small axe palm springs midnight sky netflix alex moreland

I watched just shy of 75 films this year! Fewer than I’d have liked, as always, with more than one high-profile omission I’ll try and get to as 2021 begins, but I think it’s probably also the most films I’ve seen in a single year anyway.

Generally speaking, it was a fairly good year for films, for me anyway: I covered the London Film Festival, and Raindance Film Festival; I wrote a lot of reviews, and did some pretty high-profile interviews; and, of course, I saw a lot of films I actually quite enjoyed.

Collected below are my Letterboxd reviews, slightly revised and expanded in a few places throughout; I’ve also linked anything else I wrote about each film below. This isn’t a particularly strict ranking – there’s too many films for that to work, and the star ratings I gave each film were often fairly arbitrary – but I have included a ranked list of my favourite 2020 releases at the end.

You can also find my 2019 list here, which includes a couple of favourites from 2018 and 2017 too.


½ out of 5

How to Build a Girl (2020)

It’s aggressively annoying from the start, but by the end it’s a work of towering vanity and alarming narcissism – without even a hint of self-awareness. I am genuinely astonished at the depth of arrogance it must take to write a film this cloying about your own adolescence.

Beanie Feldstein, please, fire your agent before you find yourself in a sequel about flinging shit at Owen Jones on twitter.


1 out of 5

Artemis Fowl (2020)

I’d been awake for something like twenty-four hours when I decided to watch this, and I really should’ve just gone to sleep instead. Shame it was such a let-down, I used to love these books. Ah well.


2 out of 5

The Midnight Sky (2020)

Feels like two films that are sitting together quite awkwardly; there’s something oddly disjointed about how the two strands of the plot interact, neither really complimenting the other. The ending was a little trite, too.

The Prom (2020)

Watched this with my mum, who fast-forwarded through all the songs.

Stardust (2020)

Anyway, watch Velvet Goldmine.

Read More: You can find my review of Stardust, written as part of my coverage of Raindance Film Festival, here.

Death to 2020 (2020)

I’ve never been especially fond of Charlie Brooker’s Yearly Wipe shows, to be honest – they’re fine at best – but 2020 feels particularly ill-suited to his brand of snarky centrist liberal satire. The main takeaway though (aside from the fact that Brooker clearly doesn’t own the rights to Philomena Cunk outright) was that it confirmed, or at least added some weight to, a suspicion I’ve had for a while: we’re not going to get any good pandemic art from people who experienced 2020 from a position of relative comfort.

Borat: Cultural Leanings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006)

Funniest bit was the bear’s head in the fridge, I think.

Chemical Hearts (2020)

Lili Reinhart is good in this, I think, bringing a maturity the film would otherwise lack – but she’s not really the focus of the film, which is in every other respect an essentially very generic and throwaway bit of YA fare. It’ll find some dedicated fans I’m sure, but I’d be surprised if it made much of an impact.

Read More: I reviewed Chemical Hearts for Flickering Myth, and you can find that piece here.

Coalition (2015)

It doesn’t help that the cast is markedly weaker than that of the Peter Morgan films (no one here holds a candle to Michael Sheen or David Morrissey) but more than anything Coalition demonstrates the risk in writing these films so close to the events that inspired them. It ends seemingly convinced that Nick Clegg might genuinely become Prime Minister in his own right – in turn looking deeply, deeply naïve.

Read More: Coalition wasn’t the first of James Graham’s political screenplays I’ve struggled with, but I really loved his ITV miniseries Quiz, which I wrote about here.

The Front Runner (2019)

Remarkably lightweight. There’s probably an interesting film to be made about Gary Hart, but this isn’t that: it seems to mourn the failure of his campaign, with no investment in his actual policies – the closest was an offhand reference to “creating jobs in Mexico so that Mexicans don’t come here and steal American jobs” – and no sense of what it’s actually arguing for. These things should be in the public sphere! It is indicative of how a politician will go on to wield and abuse their power (see Clinton and Lewinsky), and all this “oh bluh bluh bluh, ideas have been lost out on” waffle is meaningless when the film doesn’t convey what those ideas are. Just empty posturing, in the end, nowhere near as weighty as they clearly thought it was.

Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019)

There’s a real sort of, like, “that’ll do” quality to a lot of this? Just a very offhanded quality, like all involved have finally realised it doesn’t matter, nothing matters, it’ll make a billion either way. (Was the production of this sped up so it could be released earlier? I feel like I read that at some point.) Anyway: too much CGI, not enough Zendaya, and Jake Gyllenhaal was definitely sleepwalking through it.

But! Tom Holland lives sorta near me, and was, I’m told, very polite to my friend Osbert when they ran into each other. So that’s nice.


2½ out of 5

Rose: A Love Story (2020)

It’s… okay. When it works, it’s because of Sophie Rundle’s performance, and there’s a neat little undercurrent of a relationship close to buckling under strain, but as a whole… I didn’t love it. I think mainly the problem is that it’s a little too long – it could’ve stood to lose about twenty minutes or so. Also wasn’t so sure about the closing scene – the film already had a great ending, they didn’t need to end it again. Would’ve lost that, I think.

Read More: I interviewed Sophie Rundle a few years back ahead of the second series of Jamestown.

Another Round (2020)

I’d like to rewatch Another Round, I think; in the weeks and months since I saw it, I’ve become increasingly aware of how out of step I was with general consensus. Not just in terms of the quality of the film – I was surprised to see so many people describe it as a comedy! So this is likely one that’d be worth returning to, I suspect.

Read More: Here’s my full review of the film.

The Boy with the Topknot (2017)

I have a lot of time for Sacha Dhawan – he’s a great actor, and a nice guy too – but I wasn’t so sure about this entirely. The girlfriend role was a little underwritten, mainly, but also… I’m not sure how involved the real Sathnam Sanghara was in this (he’s credited as a writer but that might just be because it’s based on his memoir), but the film did sometimes have the sense that he was too involved, that it didn’t have enough of a personal remove. Sometimes felt like it lacked perspective – becoming self-flagellating almost to avoid self-criticism, I suppose?

Dhawan really is great, though. More leading roles for Sacha Dhawan imo.

Yesterday (2019)

Mostly this reminded me of when Osbert used to insist (circa 2011) that he wrote “Yellow Submarine” and The Beatles stole it from him (when they released the song, circa 1969).

(And he was right, they did!)


3 out of 5

JoJo Rabbit (2019)

one time my sister asked me if actors needed stunt doubles to do the Nazi salute for them. thought about that a lot watching this

Rocketman (2019)

Entertaining enough, I thought. Mostly though I just truly do not understand how Bohemian Rhapsody managed to go the distance? Like, I reckon Rocketman probably benefitted from comparison to Bo Rhap, but even if they’d been released the other way around this is clearly better.

Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm (2020)

Funnier than the first, in places, but seemed a little less coherent? The best bits are the guerrilla filmmaking stuff where it feels like it could be genuinely sort of dangerous for him, and I don’t know if they pushed that enough (certainly the more scripted, plot-heavy segments felt markedly weaker). It was also about twenty minutes too long, I think.

Maria Bakalova is pretty great though. I’d like to see her nominated for the Oscar.

This Is Where I Leave You (2014)

This was nice, I thought. A little cheap occasionally, but it had a great cast and got a lot out of them. Enjoyable enough.

The Post (2017)

I think Meryl’s plotline sits awkwardly throughout – the film might’ve benefitted from giving her character more focus, or removing her entirely, rather than this sort of awkward half-measure. (Was that about her availability? Spielberg et al made this quite quickly, I seem to recall?) There’s a potentially quite nice parallel between Katharine Graham being unwilling to publish the story for fear of ‘losing’ the paper, and various Presidents unwilling to leave Vietnam for fear of ‘losing’ the war, but The Post doesn’t really push that enough for it to have any impact.

Lola Versus (2012)

Fun little glimpse at what Greta Gerwig would’ve done for twenty minutes a week if How I Met Your Father had gone to series, I guess. It’s basically fairly light and throwaway, but, well, why must a movie be good? Isn’t it enough to sit in a dark room and watch Greta Gerwig dance on a big screen?

Wild Rose (2018)

Appreciably better than, say, Yesterday or Bohemian Rhapsody – mainly on the strength of Jessie Buckley’s performance, which really is as good as everyone says – though not quite as good as A Star is Born, which it’s probably most similar to of the recent musicals.

It falters a little as it ends – the last half hour or so not quite as sharp as what came before it. I’d have preferred it to be a bit more cynical, I think (although I think I’d like to see more cynical takes on this sort of premise anyway). Still, pretty solid overall.

Game Change (2012)

Great performance from Julianne Moore, but mostly struck by how 2012 this felt – both in how kind it was to McCain (uncritically recreating the “he’s an Arab” “no, he’s a nice guy” exchange was deeply telling about the film’s blindspots) and in how worried it still seemed about Palin specifically at the end. In 2020, it feels more than a little small.

The Deal (2003)

Impressive performances, but I think it needed a stronger sense of the actual political and ideological differences between Blair and Brown; as it is the film only really gestures at them, which leaves it feeling a little slight and insubstantial.

Booksmart (2019)

I don’t know, it was fine. Lots of individually quite charming moments, for sure – mostly down to the cast, who are pretty uniformly great. (Billie Lourd really is that good, I figured it might’ve been a bit overstated, but no, she’s brilliant.)

Otherwise, I’m a little surprised it was as loved as it was. It’s a strong directorial debut, yes, but definitely a debut, with some choppy editing and tonally odd music choices throughout. I also would’ve thought that its very, uh, Warren Democrat, privileged white liberal vibe might’ve come under more criticism than it did? It wasn’t exactly a dealbreaker for me – though it did grate at times – but I’m surprised that the film was as popular as it was, given that, if that makes sense at all.

No Fathers in Kashmir (2020)

One of the first films I watched in 2020. I quite enjoyed it, which is another reminder that across 2021 I should really try and watch a lot more international, non-English language movies.

Read More: I interviewed director Ashvin Kumar about the film, though I never managed to find a home for the piece; at some point I’ll try and arrange to have it published here, I think.

What We Do In The Shadows (2014)

Entertaining enough, and it (mostly) has a good sense of when to introduce a new idea and move onto the next joke, but I did get the sense watching it that it’d probably be better suited to a television series.


3½ out of 5

Happiest Season (2020)

I thought this was nice and basically charming, though I’m not surprised it caused as much of a stir as it did; definitely felt like the script was at odds with the direction a little, the former going for something much more heightened while the latter opted for something a bit more grounded. The mishmash strains occasionally, but for the most part I enjoyed it. Good cast! Always helps.

Official Secrets (2019)

I was just thinking the other day I’d not seen Keira Knightley in anything for a while, so I figured I should get around to this. Enjoyed it a lot actually. Good cast, pretty well made, entertaining couple of hours. Would recommend!

Lovers Rock (2020)

Lovers Rock is probably the most well-crafted of the films I saw this year, a really impressive achievement on the part of all involved; I think it’s always destined to be a film I respect more than one I straightforwardly enjoy, though, if only because I tend not to be particularly invested in films in this style, with so much more emphasis on mood and tone rather than character or plot.

The Flood (2019)

Could’ve done with emphasising Ivanno Jeremiah’s character slightly more than Lena Headey’s (or, I guess, giving her a slightly more well-defined arc – the balance felt a little bit off either way), but on the whole I thought it was quite a well-made, very slick film.

Five Dates (2020)

Surprisingly really engaging; I was watching this ahead of my interview with Mandip Gill, but I ended up getting invested in the plotline with Georgia Small instead, playing that through to the end. I’d recommend it!

Read More: You can find the aforementioned interview with Mandip Gill here; I was also quoted on the Five Dates poster, which was nice!

Supernova (2020)

Quite fond of this. Strong performances, great score; found it quite moving, even despite the… I suppose predictability of it all. It is basically exactly the film you’d expect it to be, but it is very good at being that film.

Read More: You can find my full review of Supernova here.

Marvellous (2014)

Stylishly made and consistently charming, Toby Jones gives a great performance, and the way Marvellous threads appearances from the real Neil Baldwin throughout makes for a nice departure from the more standard biopic fare.

Read More: I watched this because I’d interviewed Peter Bowker, the writer, a few weeks prior; you can find that interview, which I think is one of my best, here.

The Special Relationship (2010)

Politically much sharper than The Deal – hardly excoriating, but there’s definitely a sense that Peter Morgan soured on Blair in the years since the first film in the trilogy. Michael Sheen is more assured in the role too by this point, and together it makes for a much stronger film in general.

Vice (2018)

Self-indulgent, sure, but I didn’t particularly have a problem with that (think I might’ve preferred The Big Short though? Not sure). Do wish it had had a bit more focus on Bush/Cheney’s second term, though, and I do wonder if it being so singular in its focus on Cheney might’ve perhaps exculpated others involved, at least a little.

Read More: Not one of mine, but I enjoyed this piece (on Vice, The Report, and Oliver Stone’s W) a lot.

Just Mercy (2020)

It’s quite biopic-y in places, but that’s not a problem particularly, and even then it’s a far more emotionally involved & poignant film than “quite biopic-y” makes it sound, just bursting with empathy. Great performances all round, but especially worth highlighting Rob Morgan, who is both a) astonishing and b) probably a little less likely to be discussed in all this, relative to his more famous co-stars. He’s really, really good – very memorable supporting performance.

(Plus, there’s something quite endearing about Michael B Jordan playing a soft-spoken, nerdy lawyer, despite still being very obviously ripped. That’s fun.)

Read More: Many years ago, in January 2020, I interviewed Michael B Jordan, Jamie Foxx, and Bryan Stevenson (producer of and inspiration for the film) about Just Mercy.

Scott Pilgrim vs The World (2010)

Not seen this before, and found it basically quite charming and likeable. Miracle I didn’t watch it a decade ago, mind, that could’ve done some real damage.

The American President (1995)

Just a very long episode of The West Wing – and I liked it for that reason!


4 out of 5

Ammonite (2020)

Curious to see how opinion on this one shifts and changes over the next few years; I do get the sense it’s been poorly marketed, and it’s probably suffering from the weight of those expectations. Although, I say that, has it even received a wide release yet? I’m not sure.

Read More: I wrote about Ammonite here.

One Night in Miami (2020)

I thought Kingsley Ben-Adir was really excellent in this, I’m hoping to see him at least nominated for the Oscar.

Read More: You can find my London Film Festival review of One Night in Miami here.

Shirley (2020)

Fun fact: This was the first film I saw at the first film festival I covered. Granted I’m not convinced it was a brilliantly written review, but it was a pretty brilliant film, and I suspect in the long run that’s probably what matters more.

Read More: Here’s the aforementioned review.

Tenet (2020)

I wouldn’t necessarily want to risk my life to see a Nolan film, but obviously I am much more willing to risk my life to see Alice, and she wanted to see this, so, you know.

It was good, anyway, I enjoyed it. Charming cast, impressive set pieces, I had fun with it. All in all I quite enjoyed TENET deyojne etiuq I lla ni llA .ti htiw nuf dah I ,seceip tes evisserpmi ,tsac gnimrahC .ti deyojne I ,yawyna ,doog saw tI

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Safety Not Guaranteed (2012)

Very charming; I’m always fond of Aubrey Plaza and Jake Johnson. It’s the only Trevorrow film I’ve seen, though it made me wonder – between how much I enjoyed this, and the reception to his subsequent movies – if perhaps he was poorly served by moving to blockbusters too early.

The Iron Lady (2011)

It’s to be expected, I think, that a biopic will respect or admire its subject, but it feels altogether rarer to see the depth of affection, warmth, and kindness that is extended to Thatcher here. The Iron Lady’s occasional inclination towards ‘girlboss’ feminism is easily dismissed, but the genuine love it has for Thatcher is nothing short of revolting.

The Big Sick (2017)

Found this a lot more affecting than I expected to. Loved it.

The Squid and the Whale (2005)

Hmm.

Interstellar (2014)

I’m surprised, a little, that Interstellar is spoken of as though it’s this very cerebral piece of Hard Science Fiction, when in the end it’s so warm, so much about The Power of Love. I’ve never quite bought into criticism of Nolan as being a cold or unemotive filmmaker, exactly, but this felt like the most heartfelt of his films that I’ve seen. My favourite of his, I think.

Jackie (2016)

Really beautifully made, with lots of nice, subtle details; I liked that it never shot JFK head on, always filming him from a slight angle, imposing that extra layer of remove. Quite neatly addresses an issue with all these relatively apolitical political films I’ve been watching recently, in that it’s not really political at all – it’s all imagery, all aesthetics, all iconography.

And Natalie Portman was stunning, of course.

Fruitvale Station (2013)

Structurally very deft – a really controlled effort from Ryan Coogler, with quite an acute sense of tone. Great performance from Michael B Jordan, too, understated in a way that fits Coogler’s script really well – you can see why they went on to be such close collaborators after this.

Some of the criticisms about its accuracy and foreshadowing, for lack of a better way of putting it, strike me as unconvincing – I think any stray detail of anyone’s last day would take on a certain weight by virtue of being their last day, if nothing else. More to the point, though, I don’t think Coogler did labour the point particular: it’s a portrait of a life in motion rather than one on the precipice, I think. Which I suppose is why Jordan’s performance had to be pitched so precisely, because there likely was a version of this that could’ve been oversignified – as it is it’s a remarkably careful and conscientious bit of filmmaking.

Bad Education (2020)

Surprisingly engaging, I thought. Enjoyed it a lot – Allison Janney drops out of the narrative in the second half a little, which is a shame, but otherwise I quite liked this.

Clueless (1995)

So good, so immediately. Had lots of fun with it. (By somewhat interesting coincidence, I watched it on the film’s 25th anniversary!)

The Report (1995)

I liked it; I liked its cynicism, its willingness to criticise Obama (and, briefly, Feinstein herself), and how it positions itself against 24 and Zero Dark Thirty too. The ending I think was a little too triumphant though, a little too neat – the caption at the end not given enough emphasis, I suspect.

Little Women (2019)

It took me a little while to get used to the two timelines – and to get past the sheer, seething rage I feel whenever I see Timothée Chalamet; he knows why – but there’s clearly a lot of warmth, a lot of wit, and a lot of artistry to the film. Period dramas so often have a reputation for feeling staid and distant; Little Women is immediate and bursting with heart.

Read More: Only tangentially relevant, but some years ago I interviewed Robin Swicord – director of the 90s Little Women and producer on this version – about her film Wakefield.

Palm Springs (2020)

I really really liked this! Lots of fun, Andy Samberg and Cristin Millioti are very charming, good time all round.

Red, White, and Blue (2020)

Always thought John Boyega was one of the best actors in the new Star Wars trilogy; nice to see him get a chance to really show that. Interested to see what he does over the next decade or so after this.


4½ out of 5

Velvet Goldmine (1998)

Quite possibly an all-time favourite now. Justified that Britbox subscription all on its own, frankly.

Frost/Nixon (2008)

My favourite Peter Morgan script, by some margin; probably my favourite Ron Howard film too, though I’ve seen less of his work than Morgan’s (and less recently, too).

Mistress America (2015)

Borderline insufferable, but also really fucking funny; I loved it.

I, Tonya (2017)

Hell of a performance from Margot Robbie here, just a really remarkable achievement on her part.

Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018)

If I’d watched this in 2019, I think it would’ve been my favourite film of the year; certainly it was one of my favourite first time watches of 2020, as strong (if not stronger) than most of my Top Ten list this year.

Denial (2016)

I’m surprised I don’t hear this discussed more often; it’s got a great cast, a clever (and well-executed) new angle on courtroom drama, and it’s based on a true story too. Really enjoyed it, I’d recommend it.

Starter for 10 (2006)

God, I hate students. (And University Challenge.) But I did, admittedly, really love this.

The Edge of Seventeen (2016)

Especially liked, thinking about it, that it didn’t end with everything entirely resolved – tidy but not too much so. It would’ve felt trite otherwise, and maybe a bit dishonest too.

Adult Life Skills (2016)

This was very good, in all the ways I needed it to be on that particular day. Jodie Whittaker is very much at her best here.

Mangrove (2020)

All of this is firing on all cylinders, always; not just in the obvious ways, but smaller details in the sound design, the lighting, the pacing. It’s almost a shame that the marketing focused so much on Letitia Wright (brilliant though she is), because it feels like it overshadowed how well much Mangrove owes to Shaun Parkes’ performance – the strongest of the Small Axe films, I think.


5 out of 5

Eighth Grade (2018)

Probably my favourite of the nominally similar ‘coming of age’ films I’ve watched this year, even though they’re not exactly especially similar; this struck me as a lot more thoughtful, and a lot more perceptive too. Elsie Fisher is brilliant, working with much more complex material than I realised – I’d expected the film to be, not lighthearted I suppose, but certainly some of what it touched on was a surprise. Really deftly and sensitively handled, anyway.


2020 Releases Top Ten

shirley jackson elisabeth moss odessa young rose mushrooms josephine decker hangsaman lottery neon hulu london film festival
  1. Shirley
  2. One Night in Miami
  3. Bad Education
  4. Palm Springs
  5. Tenet
  6. Mangrove
  7. Supernova
  8. Ammonite
  9. Just Mercy
  10. Another Round

I submitted my list for Flickering Myth’s end-of-year roundup before I’d seen Mangrove, which ended up knocking Lovers Rock (previously in the tenth place slot) off the list. I’ve also switched Shirley and One Night in Miami since the last time I did a ranking this year; I liked them each broadly the same amount, I suppose.

Otherwise, some particular favourites that weren’t first released in 2020 were Mistress America, Velvet Goldmine, Can You Ever Forgive Me?, Eighth Grade, and The Squid and the Whale, I think.


2021

Looking ahead to next year, my plan is to try and catch up on a few of the recent releases I skipped – the obvious Oscar contenders, like Mank, The Trial of the Chicago 7 and Ma Rainey, I figured I’d watch closer to awards season since I knew I’d want to write about them anyway.

Also – though I know I say this every year and never do – I’d like to try and watch a more varied selection of films in 2021. More foreign language movies, more indie films, and in particular more older films. We’ll see how well that goes, I guess.

You can find more of my writing about film here, and follow me on twitter @morelandwriter. If you enjoyed this piece – or if you didn’t – perhaps consider leaving a tip on ko-fi?

Film Review | Stardust (2020)

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Who are you as an artist? A space man or a mad man?

Stardust, somewhat unsurprisingly, has been met with a degree of trepidation at best, and outright opposition at worst. The film – announced in early 2019, following the success of biopics about David Bowie’s contemporaries Freddie Mercury and Elton John – inspired controversy when Bowie’s son, Duncan Jones, revealed it was being made without his permission, or in turn the ability to use Bowie’s music.

That controversy was perhaps unfair. Absent the blessing and involvement of David Bowie’s estate, Stardust had a certain freedom its predecessors lacked – freedom to, potentially, be a little more daring and a little more challenging in how it depicted the late musician. After all, most of the criticisms levelled at Bohemian Rhapsody could on some level be traced back to the influence of the surviving members of Queen, and their insistence that the film tell a particular version of Freddie Mercury’s story in a particular way, with brand management prioritised ahead of any other concerns. (Arguably the same is true of the Elton John biopic Rocketman, if admittedly to a lesser extent.) Meanwhile, you only need to look to Velvet Goldmine to see an example of a genuinely great movie about Bowie made without his permission, or any of his music either; that Stardust faced similar limitations needn’t be a death knell for the film.

All of which is to say, anyway, that while Stardust is bad – obviously Stardust is bad; you knew this already – it’s bad for other reasons.

In fairness, Stardust is fairly inventive in its approach, cannily opting not to do a broad strokes biography but to focus on one particular part of Bowie’s life: a 1971 tour across America to advertise his new album where, because of a mistake in his visa, he couldn’t actually play any music. Not having access to Bowie’s discography isn’t, therefore, as much of an issue for Stardust as it could’ve been; there’s no Jackie Jormp-Jormp, Chunk of My Lung esque replacements, this isn’t about Zaddy Starlight and the Centipedes from Saturn. Instead, it plays as a travelogue, the young Bowie moving from interview to interview, justifying himself and building his public persona through conversation alone – something which, though worlds away from the crowd-pleasing excess of Bohemian Rhapsody, had the potential to be introspective and intimate.

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Clever though this workaround is, Stardust doesn’t quite commit – despite the visa issues, Bowie still plays a handful of small shows, covering other people’s music to little impact. It never escapes the gravity of Bowie’s music, any song it plays drawing attention to the ones it can’t – particularly as the film builds to a conclusion akin to Live Aid in Bohemian Rhapsody, a final moment of catharsis and self-expression, where… Bowie covers someone else’s song.

There likely is a good film to be made about Bowie and how he constructed his image outside of his music, the performance that existed beyond the stage, but Stardust isn’t that film – in fact, there’s little sense that director Gabriel Range and writer Christopher Bell were equipped to interrogate the layers of artifice that went into Bowie’s performance. Efforts to contextualise Bowie’s work are so clunkily exposited they serve only to make him seem derivative; the occasional gesture towards more visually interesting cinematography feels listless; the script hews so closely to a recognisable formula that it feels drab and bland, damned by a series of flashbacks Range doesn’t seem to believe in and Bell’s habit of leaving most of Bowie’s growth and development to happen offscreen between scenes. There’s something deeply generic and anodyne about it all – it’s not just that Stardust couldn’t capture what made Bowie exciting and vital, but that Range and Bell seemingly didn’t even try.

As a result, Stardust feels superficial. The film positions itself as a character study of “David before Bowie”, of the insecurities and vulnerabilities beneath a carefully constructed persona – but each attempt to look at Bowie’s personal life beyond his music exposes something hollow at Stardust’s heart. It touches on Bowie’s history of mental health problems, and his brother’s schizophrenia – albeit only in the broadest terms, couched in cliché (“there is no authentic me, just fear and voices”) and more insensitive than insightful. The film is similarly limited in its depiction of Bowie’s personal relationships, too, with his wife Angela (Jena Malone) dropping in and out of the narrative at essentially random intervals – nowhere is it more obvious how lazily written Stardust is than in those scenes.

It’s a shame, because Johnny Flynn seems like he could’ve been a better Bowie in a better film, and Marc Maron is genuinely very funny throughout (“It was a room full of vacuum cleaner salesmen.” “Yeah, and it really sucked”). Otherwise, though, Stardust leaves little lasting impression. Had it been a film about a fictional musician, it likely would’ve been remembered as a fine if essentially unremarkable way to pass the time; as it is, with the weight of David Bowie’s own artistry looming behind it, Stardust just seems small.

Related:

Raindance Film Festival 2020 reviews

London Film Festival 2020 reviews

Interview with Mark Gill, director of the Morrissy biopic England is Mine

You can find more of my writing about film here, and follow me on twitter @morelandwriter. If you enjoyed this review – or if you didn’t – perhaps consider leaving a tip on ko-fi?

LFF Review | Ammonite (2020)

ammonite kate winslet mary anning saoirse ronan charlotte murchison fossil lyme regis poster landscape movie review francis lee

You were the most fascinating person here tonight, and I think the most beautiful.

It’s helpful not to think of Ammonite as a love story. It resembles one, certainly, and that’s intentional – but Ammonite quite pointedly subverts rather than embraces that resemblance, never quite resolving into the narrative it seems to offer at the outset. The romance between Mary Anning (Kate Winslet) and Charlotte Murchison (Saoirse Ronan) is positioned at some remove throughout, almost as though observed rather than felt; it’s an object of fascination, yes, but moreso for why it ultimately doesn’t work than why it almost does.

Instead, Ammonite is perhaps somewhat better understood as a character study, as a careful, delicate excavation of Kate Winslet’s Mary Anning. (At least in the sense that that is closer to what it is, as opposed to what it isn’t, i.e. “not a love story”.) Mary is cold and guarded, austere and brusque; it’s a very controlled, restrained performance from Winslet, with a deceptive precision to her bluntness. Actors are often said to anchor a film with their performance, but that’s especially true of Winslet here – much of Ammonite’s impact comes from the tactile weight of its filmmaking, which is accentuated by Winslet’s similarly grounded performance. It takes some skill to portray such a deliberately distant character, particularly in a film that fashions itself as a romance; Winslet’s Mary isn’t a straightforwardly charismatic romantic lead, to say the least. Nonetheless, she’s an engaging screen presence: guarded, yes, but uncompromising too, insistent on her own quiet corner of a world that largely ignores her.

At times that sense of coldness comes to define the film, evoked not just by Winslet’s performance but Francis Lee’s direction. Lee imbues Ammonite with a remarkable sense of place – the film is very grounded in a sense of physical experience, from the loud crash of waves and the crunch of pebbles underfoot, to the rustle of fabric and the scratch of a pencil. It has a heft to it, a weight; there’s a lot of trust placed in the texture of Stéphane Fontaine’s bleak, windswept cinematography and Johnnie Burn’s attentive sound design as Ammonite emphasises atmosphere ahead of dialogue for much of its runtime. For the most part, Ammonite is a very quiet movie, but it’s impactful because of that pared back quality, not despite it; there’s something very rich in its stillness, its willingness to dwell in long silences.

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The film isn’t always as subtle as it could be – at one point Mary describes herself as “a fancy bird in a gilded cage”, as presumably every woman in a period drama is obliged to do – but when it is, it renders those long silences fraught with meaning. Implicit in the script, and Saoirse Ronan’s performance, is that her character Charlotte has recently suffered a bereavement; her otherwise upbeat husband is withdrawn when insisting “now is not the time for another child”, and Charlotte is clearly drawn to the painted statues that represent Molly Anning’s own lost children. It’s this that sees her so frail and melancholy at the start of the film, only coming alive again through her growing bond with Mary.

Saoirse Ronan’s part here is more of a departure than the familiar period drama costuming suggests; her more recent roles, Little Women’s Jo March and Lady Bird’s Lady Bird in particular, are each much more verbose, more articulate characters than Charlotte Murchison. In a sense, she’s playing against type in Ammonite – less animated than usual, her big scenes in Ammonite smaller moments of fleeting vibrancy rather than the expressive, impassioned speeches that defined previous characters. Ronan impresses, as she always does, though it’s never her film in the way it is Winslet’s; Charlotte is very much a supporting role, a foil for Mary and another lens through which to approach and understand her.

Mary and Charlotte are, gradually, drawn to one another, and Ammonite makes much of their physical intimacy – but their connection never quite cements itself, their happy ending ultimately subverted and taken away. It recontextualises the rest of the film up to that point, prompting the question of why it didn’t work, why had the pair – clearly – not understood one another as they’d thought. Ammonite’s love story that refuses to cohere is as much a part of Francis Lee’s interrogation of class as his depiction of the rich men dominating palaeontology. Charlotte, however inadvertently, treats Mary as a thing to own, something fascinating and beautiful, yes, but like a display piece rather than a person – like an ammonite.

The film will likely prove divisive; it’s never the crowd-pleasing romance it seems to promise, and it’ll likely be misunderstood as a result. What Ammonite is, though, is compelling and engaging all the same, and ultimately something far more nuanced and complex than the alternative: it’s not a love story, but a story about the impression it can still leave behind.

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LFF Review | Druk / Another Round (2020)

druk another round mads mikkelsen thomas vinterberg tobias lindholm what a life scarlet pleasure lff review

You must accept yourself as fallible in order to love others and life.

Druk (or Another Round, to give it its English title) is a very stylish movie. There’s a sleek, glossy feel to it all, and at its best, the film is absolutely buzzing with energy: it’s going to be remembered, more than anything else, for a handful of scenes as it opened and closed, its characters dancing and laughing and celebrating together. In those moments, there’s a real sense of vitality, even urgency, to it – Thomas Vinterberg’s direction isn’t just lively but frenetic, constantly moving, dynamic, bursting with passion.

That’s not to say that Druk is always quite so heightened, though: in fact, those scenes are only as striking as they are because they stand in such contrast to the rest of the film. Vinterberg’s script (written with collaborator Tobias Lindholm) is full of carefully handled tonal shifts, moments when such excessive drinking becomes fraught with danger, not with possibility. Druk captures exhaustion as well as it does ecstasy – it’s as much about the dull monotony of a passive life as it is those moments of zeal and enthusiasm that puncture it. By the same token, when the glitz and glamour of newfound confidence gives way to something altogether more squalid, Druk handles that well too, the film taking on a certain melancholy air whenever it pauses to catch a breath.

The film is anchored by a strong performance by Mads Mikkelsen – here clearly the lead, Druk much more interested in his character rather than any particular effort to build an ensemble. As ever, Mikkelsen shines, flawlessly inhabiting that creaking, tired ennui moving to careless abandon that defines his character, all underscored by an increasingly ragged desperation for a better way to live. It’s his final scene, though, that proves most memorable – an extended dance sequence, Mikkelsen lithe and nimble, one last note of joy for the film to end on. With Vinterberg’s direction at its most kinetic, and set to the film’s song What a Life, it’s not just the most memorable part of Mikkelsen’s performance, but of Druk as a whole too – the single most stylish scene in an already very stylish movie.

druk another round mads mikkelsen thomas bo larsen magnus millang lars ranthe vinterberg danish swedish nordisk alcohol

Nonetheless, while Druk is undeniably sleek, there’s a sense that perhaps it’s a case of style over substance – underneath the gloss and the sheen, it’s a much less compelling and thoughtful film than it appears to be.

It likely doesn’t qualify as a spoiler to reveal that four teachers choosing to drink to excess does not, ultimately, go very well for them. Druk is a story of a rise and a fall; their ostensibly academic study into psychologist Finn Skarderud’s theory that people should drink continually to maintain a certain level of blood alcohol content quickly turns into outright alcoholism. Renewed vigour in their personal and professional lives is soon replaced by maudlin lethargy and a sudden reversal of fortunes; it plays oddly, though, like a remarkably niche morality tale. (Surely no one else has actually tried this? Even Skarderud later denounced the theory, claiming to have been misunderstood.) It’s not clear exactly what Druk is getting at, or what the point of it all is – whether it’s a critique of Danish drinking culture or a fairly roundabout, heavily caveated celebration.

Part of this is that, for all Vinterberg’s willingness to commit wholeheartedly to individual scenes of drunken excess, the script itself is surprisingly cautious. It’d be unreasonable, yes, to expect the film to make a sweeping, definitive statement about alcohol use (and abuse) – and any such statement would likely be a very trite one. But while the direction is perfectly pitched, the balance of the script is off – too bogged down in the specifics of the drinking, losing sight of the character study, attempts at nuance instead coming across as equivocating. (One teacher encourages a student to drink before an exam, surely a signifier that they’d gone too far, but… it does actually seem to help the student?) Meanwhile, the opening act feels sparse and pared back, almost in a hurry to start drinking, and the eventual downfall comes too quickly: whatever Druk is getting at, whether at particular point or even a general theme, is sketched too lightly to make much impact.

Perhaps Druk would benefit from a repeat viewing – or another round, if you will – to more fully appreciate exactly what it’s going for. Certainly, there’s enough going on that revisiting the film would be rewarding: Druk is full of strong scenes and individually very impressive moments, each of which make strong impressions on their own terms. The film as a whole doesn’t quite manage to cohere, though, leaving Druk feeling rather less than the sum of its parts.

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LFF Review | One Night in Miami (2020)

one night in miami regina king kemp powers kingsley ben adir leslie odom jr eli goree aldis hodge amazon oscars

You could move mountains without even lifting a finger.

It almost never matters if these things are true – those oft-repeated tales of icons meeting, shared and shared again until the stories become akin to myths in their own right. That, of course, makes it all the more remarkable that this one really is true.

One Night in Miami finds four such icons together in one place – for much of the night, in one room – each on the cusp of something greater. They’re not quite the figures they’ll become: boxer Cassius Clay (Eli Goree) is yet to take the name Muhammad Ali; Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir) is weeks away from leaving the Nation of Islam; athlete Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge) is about to retire from the NFL; musician Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.) has only recently started his own record label. There’s a sense that One Night in Miami isn’t just taking place in a hotel, but on a precipice – the weight of history is concentrated here, albeit kept largely out of frame for much of the film’s runtime. That’s perhaps One Night in Miami’s most impressive achievement: not all the ways in which it evokes these icons, but all the ways in which it quite pointedly doesn’t. This isn’t a film about four great men of history, it’s a film about four friends, celebrating, arguing, and laughing together.

Indeed, there’s rarely a sense that One Night in Miami is intimidated to tell this story – it very likely wouldn’t work if it was. Instead, there’s a certain grace and poise to how it approaches these men, and an admirable frankness in its depictions of their doubts and insecurities. Undeniably it’s a very affectionate portrayal, marked by an obvious respect – but it’s a respect that doesn’t shy away from finding and appreciating vulnerabilities that icons aren’t typically afforded. Part of this is Kemp Powers’ script; there’s a delicacy and a precision to it, but a certain ruthless efficiency too, not a line wasted in its effort to understand these men.

More crucial, though, are the performances. Kingsley Ben-Adir is perhaps the obvious standout, his mannered affect giving way to warmth and whimsy, fears and anxieties that the cultural memory of Malcolm X often doesn’t allow. (Arguably his is the most difficult role – having to accommodate the greatest weight of audience expectations – but then that’s true of each role in its own way.) That having been said, none of the four leads are shortchanged here – Powers’ screenplay is impressively balanced in its structure, a genuine ensemble piece that gives each actor the opportunity to shine.

one-night-in-miami-kingsley-ben-adir-malcolm-x-sam-cooke-leslie-odom-jr-eli-goree-muhammad-ali-aldis-hodge-jim-brown-hotel-room-hd

One Night in Miami is also, of course, Regina King’s feature film directorial debut. You wouldn’t guess it; it’s not just a confident debut, but one that makes it look genuinely easy. King’s direction is capable and assured, and she injects a real sense of momentum to the film – One Night in Miami feels very theatrical, its stageplay roots easily noticed, but King translates it to screen well. Again, much like Kemp Powers’ script, what’s most impressive is how comfortable King is in depicting these men – it’s not a stilted, weighty biopic, but instead something quite watchable. In the end, it’s light but not lightweight, earnest but not prosaic, bracing without losing any of its levity; there’s something very charming about this film, and the careful line it so seemingly effortlessly walks.

It’s not hard to see why King might’ve been drawn to this script. At the heart of One Night in Miami is a question about the relationship between art and activism: how each perceives the other, interacts with the other, and ultimately isn’t so different from the other. Some of the film’s best scenes grapple with this idea, what it means to be an entertainer in an unjust world, and how best to use the power granted to an entertainer; Leslie Odom Jr shines during a heated confrontation between Sam Cooke and Malcolm X, a confrontation that is in a sense the real point of the film.

One Night in Miami does not – and, of course, could not – resolve that question. There isn’t an easy answer: not for Ali, Cooke and Brown then, nor for King and her cast today. What’s striking, though, is the film does more than just gesture at these ideas, but genuinely engages with them where it can; it’s a very nuanced and considered piece, more successful than the biopics it’ll be compared to because it’s concerned with ideas and themes beyond strict biographical detail. That does make it, admittedly, all the more noticeable when the script stops short – discussion of “economic freedom” entirely elides Malcolm X’s communism, an omission that quietly speaks volumes about art, activism, and commerce today. 

Nonetheless, though, it’s still an impressive film, and one that’s well worth watching – One Night in Miami is dynamic and lively, and sure to prove memorable for a long time to come. There’s a sense, almost, that King and the four leads are all on a precipice of their own – that this film is the precursor to something bigger for them too, another step on the way to even greater heights. On the strength of One Night in Miami, it’s clear that whatever’s next for them each will be a sight to see.

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LFF Review | Supernova (2020)

supernova 2020 film review colin firth stanley tucci harry macqueen lake district romance

I want to be remembered for who I was, not who I’m about to become.

In Supernova, Sam (Colin Firth) and Tusker (Stanley Tucci), partners for twenty years, travel across England, reuniting with friends and family on their journey. Two years prior, Tusker was diagnosed with early-onset dementia, and in recent months his condition has deteriorated further. Each is trying to prepare the other for the future, albeit with two very different visions of that future in mind: Sam is trying to reassure Tusker that the pair will face things together, but Tusker is trying to prepare Sam for life as a widower. It’s not so much a film about what you’ll do for someone you love as it is what you won’t let them do to themselves: not the problem they’re facing together but the ones they’re so desperately trying to face alone, to keep private, to shield the other from as long as they’re able.

Neither is strictly honest with the other, and a lot of the film is about the things left unsaid – things they can’t quite bring themselves to admit, fears they’ll discuss with someone else but not each other, goodbyes they don’t want to make. So much of their communication has become strained and second-hand; delivered as a speech rather than in conversation, a secret recording found before its time and played in a private moment. It’s not unlike a fading star – words reaching someone too late the same way the light from a star takes years to arrive – and in a sense, that’s almost the real tragedy of it all: after years as best friends and lovers, walls are starting to spring up, imposing a distance between them. It’s not just a case of mourning someone before they’re gone, but losing them – or rather, losing what you were together – before they’ve left. There’s a certain truth to that, how you can be least open with the people closest to you, and it makes the moments where they do talk to each other properly – not just frustrated but shouting, not just sad but weeping, the careful facades finally falling to pieces – all the more heartbreaking.

supernova 2020 film stanley tucci colin firth sam tusker harry macqueen hinterland

Supernova goes to great lengths to foreground Firth and Tucci; they inhabit their roles with the weight of years behind them, gesturing at a lifetime of familiar habits and now-comfortable bickering. They’ve excellent chemistry together, and the film is well-balanced between them; they’re the sort of performances that’d reward repeat viewings, focusing more closely on a different lead each time. (In a sense, Firth and Tucci play two quite similar characters, offering performances underscored by the same notes – both a portrait of a life unravelling – but that serves only to emphasise the different subtleties and nuances each bring.) Neither are playing against type, particularly – arguably that’s part of what makes their characters feel so familiar and lived-in, because in a way they are – but Supernova is still comfortably among their best work.

Harry Macqueen’s direction is simple and understated, all the better to realise his admirably restrained script. There’s a willingness throughout to let those implied decades stand on their own terms – Sam insists he should help Tusker because “it’s his turn”, a simple, even throwaway line that carries so much without the need for more detailed exposition. Supernova offers a glimpse into a life, a close focus on a relationship as it comes to an end, but quite gracefully conveys an understanding of what that relationship was beyond what we see here. That grace is characteristic of how Macqueen approaches Supernova more broadly, too – there’s a careful delicacy to it all, a well-attuned sense of how best to tell this story. It’s never mawkish or overly sentimental; instead, Supernova is quiet in its emotional moments, and all the more affecting for it.

In the end, the film isn’t about raging against the dying of the light – again, like a supernova, what little light is left arrives long after a terminal diagnosis – but about turning resignation into acceptance. There’s something quite striking about the Supernova’s closing moments, and the note of relative ambiguity it ends on; it’s not quite clear what the pair said to each other in their (presumed) last conversation, or whether its final scene is perhaps metaphorical rather than strictly literal. Either way, the pair are ultimately afforded a certain privacy together – it’s not a happy ending, exactly, but it’s a reunion of sorts, and in a way that’s the next best thing.

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LFF Review | Shirley (2020)

shirley jackson elisabeth moss michael stuhlbarg odessa young josephine decker sarah gubbins susan scarf merrell

You could run fast away from me. But you don’t. Why don’t you?

Shirley is a film of small details, keenly observed; there’s a careful precision to its craft, an exactness to its story of creative struggle and personal turmoil. Such attentive filmmaking is what makes Shirley quite so deeply atmospheric, as befits a film inspired by the life and works of Shirley Jackson. Josephine Decker’s assured direction ties together some beautiful design and a haunting score – the film looks fantastic and sounds even better – and in turn Shirley offers a real sense of mounting dread.

At the centre of it all is a remarkable performance from Elisabeth Moss as Shirley, veering between unrestrained passion and eerie lucidity with characteristic skill. The camera is drawn to Moss much like houseguest Rose (Odessa Young) is to Shirley, and vice versa; Decker lingers in the close-up, a steady, unyielding gaze. There’s an intimacy to the scenes where the two are together, a striking contrast to how Shirley is shot when they’re apart – filmed from askew angles and around corners, never quite at the centre of the frame, imposing a certain distance on Shirley, positioning the writer at a remove.

This is how Decker picks through the layers of metaphor and artifice in this story of the partnership between artist and muse: as Shirley tries to understand the missing Paula, we try to understand Shirley. Critics have noted that this is not a strictly factually accurate account of Jackson’s life (most obviously in its omission of her real-life children), but Shirley is quite pointedly not a typical biopic – or even a biopic at all. It’s helpful not to think of Moss’ character as Jackson, but instead as Shirley: a similar character, yes, inspired by the real author, but a distinct creation in much the same way that the character Natalie Whaite of Jackson’s novel Hangsaman is distinct from the missing Paula Jean Welden. Much like Jackson’s own writing, Shirley is attempting to divine something deeper, beyond the constraints of purely biographical detail – it’s an effort to understand the relationships that underpin a creative life. Moss’ Shirley isn’t Jackson, necessarily, but the idea of her, of her reputation and body of work; what each of those things mean, and what they could mean, too.

shirley jackson elisabeth moss odessa young rose mushrooms josephine decker hangsaman lottery neon hulu london film festival

It’s perhaps no surprise that the film finds itself preoccupied by death; it’s a recurring theme in Jackson’s gothic fiction, and Shirley grounds itself in that work, the film bookended by reference to The Lottery as it opens and allusions to Hangsaman at its close.

Here specifically, death is key to Shirley’s understanding of creativity. A crucial turning point in Shirley and Rose’s relationship comes as Shirley’s flirts with death, pretending to eat poisonous mushrooms. Moss is quietly haunting, her character now rendered much more lucid, as though grounded by the idea of suicide: “Don’t you find it exhilarating?” Shirley asks. “Oh, most young women are fascinated by their mortality,” she continues. When Rose rejects this – “They shouldn’t be. The truth is, nobody really cares if you live or if you die” – Shirley is, suddenly, fascinated by her. It’s this that sees Rose become the writer’s muse, rather than an obstacle or imposition, redefining the relationship at the heart of the film; death is fascinating to Shirley in the same way she is also enraptured by her muse – not just a single muse by two intertwined, a real dead girl and one who comes to represent her, each played by Odessa Young.

In that captivation the film comes alive – they’re transfixed, drawn to one another, unable to look away, just like the unyielding gaze of the camera. There’s a note of danger to it: it’s not just exhilarating, but intoxicating. Here is where Shirley is Odessa Young’s film as much as it is Elisabeth Moss’, if not in fact moreso. Moss anchors the film, but Young is a crucial counterweight, and in a lot of ways it’s her character’s transformation that offers the film its throughline. How her transformation is facilitated is striking – that ambiguous suicide, borrowed from Hangsaman, if not Rose’s literal death then certainly a version of it for a version of her. Rose’s relationship with her husband changes; Shirley is grounded, lucid, finally able to finish her novel. Artist and muse find new lives through one another: danger and liberation are found hand in hand.

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Film Review | Chemical Hearts (2020)

chemical hearts lili reinhart austin abrams richard tanne amazon prime kirsty sutherland

There’s a recurring motif across Chemical Hearts, framing emotions as biological functions and chemical processes, breaking them down into hormones and endorphins and not a lot more. The almost-medical dialogue sits awkwardly in the film, the occasional references seemingly only included to justify the title, but even if the idea had been engaged with more deeply it’s not a framing device I’m especially fond of. Applying a scientific sheen to heartbreak and loss, romance and affection, joy and grief doesn’t render those experiences any more profound – it just makes them distant. Chemical Hearts is never cold, exactly, but it certainly doesn’t offer the intensity of feeling it promises in its opening lines: its characters are observed at some remove, never quite brought to life by a script more interested how they’re able to feel than what they feel.

That sense that characters are observed rather than engaged with isn’t, however, entirely a result of awkward dialogue: it’s baked into the film on a conceptual level. Chemical Hearts is yet another story that centres a white male ‘everyman’ type, positioning him as the lens to distantly approach a young woman’s trauma. If it feels familiar, that’s because it is. Chemical Hearts adapts the novel Our Chemical Hearts, part of a recent wave of Young Adult fiction that borders on the voyeuristic, where the specific tragedy their teenage protagonists have suffered is largely immaterial to the plot beats that follow. It’s not that there isn’t space for a sensitive, thoughtful film about a teenager rebuilding their life after trauma – or, indeed, about someone on the periphery of that – but Chemical Hearts isn’t that film. To its credit, it’s never as exploitative as the worst of its genre can be, and there are moments of relative quiet and maturity whereChemical Hearts distinguishes itself from those it most closely resembles, but ultimately they’re just that: moments.

Wrote about the new Lili Reinhart film, which is out on Amazon Prime today. She’s very good in it – much like she’s very good in Riverdale, albeit getting the chance to demonstrate some different skills here – but the rest of the film around her is a little lacking. Or at least I found it lacking, anyway; I did get the sense watching it that it would probably find a small-but-enthusiastic group of devotees along the way.

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Oscars 2020 Predictions

oscars 2020 predictions 92nd academy awards joaquin phoenix 1917 bong joon ho parasite renee zellweger laura dern brad pitt once upon a time in hollywood

Admittedly, I am historically not very good at this; last year, I got twelve out of the twenty-four correct. This, I suspect, is mainly because while I do follow the awards season narrative each year, I don’t actually retain a lot of it – so I’ve got a broad sense of where momentum has built, but you’d have to be quite charitable to call these predictions ‘educated guesses’, basically.

Still, though, it’s fun, and I figured since I’d probably draw up these predictions either way, I might as well get a blog post out of it. Incidentally, worth noting what the bracketed entries mean – I do these with a friend each year, and it’s three points for your first guess, two for second, one for third. So the brackets are what’s next-most-likely, from my ill-informed vantage point. (A lot of them are just guesses, and a lot of the guesses are based on stuff like “the title of this is neat”. It’s a fairly low-stakes set of predictions. I put money on them once. Won’t be doing that again.)

You can find the full list of nominees here, in case you’re curious about that. Otherwise, my predictions are as follows:

Best Picture 1917 (Joker, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood)

Best Director – Sam Mendes (Quentin Tarantino, Bong Joon Ho)

Best Actor – Joaquin Phoenix (Adam Driver, Leonardo DiCaprio)

Best Actress – Renee Zellweger (Saoirse Ronan, Charlize Theron)

Best Supporting Actor ­– Brad Pitt (Al Pacino, Joe Pesci)

Best Supporting Actress – Laura Dern (Florence Pugh, Scarlett Johansson)

Original Screenplay Parasite (Knives Out, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood)

Adapted Screenplay JoJo Rabbit (Little Women, The Irishman)

International FeatureParasite (Les Misérables, Pain and Glory)

Animated Feature Klaus (Toy Story 4, Missing Link)

DocumentaryAmerican Factory (For Sama, The Edge of Democracy)

Visual Effects The Lion King (1917, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker)

Film Editing Ford v Ferrari (Parasite, Joker)

Original Score Little Women (Joker, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker)

Original Song “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again,” Rocketman (“I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away,” Toy Story 4, “Stand Up,” Harriet)

Production Design Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (1917, Parasite)

Cinematography 1917 (Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, The Irishman)

Costume Design Little Women (Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, JoJo Rabbit)

Makeup and Hair Bombshell (1917, Judy)

Sound Mixing 1917 (Ford v Ferrari, Ad Astra)

Sound Editing 1917 (Ford v Ferrari, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker)

Animated Short Hair Love (Kitbull, Memorable)

Live-Action Short The Neighbour’s Window (Nefta Football Club, Saria)

Documentary Short Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (if You’re a Girl) (St. Louis Superman, In the Absence)

I’ve seen far, far fewer of these than I’d like – I’d had plans, vaguely, to review each of the Best Picture nominees in the days leading up to the ceremony, but those plans did not pan out. (So, “who do you want to win” is a little hard to answer, though as ever I default to “give all the awards to Saoirse Ronan and Greta Gerwig”.) If you’re interested, though, you can find what I’ve written about 2019 films here, and 2020 films here.

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Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx on Just Mercy, coping during an emotionally intense filming process, and more

michael b jordan jamie foxx just mercy interview bryan stevenson walter macmillan destin daniel cretton

Having that resource there – a real person that’s actually there, that I can call on and text and be able to ask for help [if I was feeling] lost or confused about anything, somebody that I could really lean on throughout this process to make sure we got it right? I think that was really, really important. [Bryan Stevenson] was involved with the script development, he was along for the entire process – I feel like it was a huge benefit, having Brian around.

This one was very exciting! I spoke to Michael B Jordan and Jamie Foxx about Just Mercy, their legal drama based on a true story. It’s a great film, definitely worth a watch, and it was great to talk to them too. Both very polite, which is always nice.

Busy week for me, actually, this stretch in the middle of January. Three of my most high-profile interviews, all squeezed into a fairly short space of time. Not bad! Not bad at all.

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