There was a monumental flub at the Oscars ceremony this year: I wasn’t invited! The organizers obviously read my blog and know I don’t like travelling. Yes, yes, that must be it.
La La Land
La La Land follows Emma Stone’s aspiring actress Mia, and jazz musician Seb (Ryan Gosling), two selfish creatives who supposedly fall in love in modern-day LA.
A ‘tribute’ to Hollywood Golden-Age musicals, there seemed to be a troubling lack of memorable, knockout numbers.
Viggo Mortensen is raising six kids off-grid in the Pacific Northwest forest, including preteen River Phoenix lookalike Rellian, and Bo (a standout George MacKay), who has secretly applied to and got into every Ivy League college.
When the children learn their mother has died in hospital, Viggo buses them to her funeral across country. Along the way, Bo and Rellian discover they’re clueless about the world, while their cousins are Typical Western Teenagers in all their ignorant, idle glory.
I was expecting a fish-out-of-water comedy, but it’s a balanced little drama that holds back from portraying Viggo’s character Ben as either enlightened or misguided.
Bad guys led by Mads Mikkelson vandalise a book, making Smug Superior Being Tilda Swinton go all Inception on them.
When Doctor Strange, an arrogant surgeon…I mean a surgeon, damages his hands in a car crash, he turns to Smug’s sorcerers for advice on spatial paradoxes and continuum probabilities. Smug is reluctant to train him in case he turns to the dark side and starts damaging library books.
Eschewing the metal-clanging showdown of superhero tradition, everyone Parkours over buildings and moving stairways. It’s like Hogwarts on acid. To think I nearly made it through a Marvel thingy without resorting to headache pills, then I got vertigo instead!
Based on the 2010 offshore rig disaster, early scenes establish Mark Wahlberg as a family man with a cutesy movie daughter whose school project explains daddy’s job deepwater drilling to the viewer.
Luckily, we’re soon off to the rig! Once the jokey banter has been mined to completion, wild-eyed BP exec John Malkovich starts giving Transocean employees grief. If you’ve seen the SNL sketch of Kylo Ren as an Undercover Boss – it’s like that.)
Its strength is the no-let-up action (the director is Peter Berg).
The Light Between Oceans
…or as I keep calling it – The Light Between Oscars – was once tipped to give Alicia Vikander another shot at Best Actress after 2016’s The Danish Girl.
Based on the novel by M.L Stedman, Australian serviceman Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender) returns from WWI to live in his remote lighthouse with wife Alicia Vikander – who is such an ingénue it looks like Fassy plucked a child bride from the sea too.
After she suffers two harrowing miscarriages, a lifeboat with a corpse and a squalling baby washes ashore, which they decide to raise as their own. Things take a Hardyesque twist when Fassy stumbles across Rachel Weisz weeping beautifully in the graveyard of the same church where the Sherbournes are holding the christening.
Vikander’s performance is so intense, she almost manages to trick the audience into thinking this overwrought melodrama is psychological horror, questioning whether the lighthouse and the baby are manifestations of her character’s break with reality.
Manchester by the Sea
Deep in a wintry Boston suburb, depressed janitor Lee’s (Casey Affleck) guilt-ridden existence is ruined by the death of his brother (Kyle Chandler), forcing him to return to his hometown of Manchester-by-the-Sea to care for teen nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges).
Like another Oscar contender, Jackie, the film is all about planning a funeral, except here the ground is too hard and cold to bury the dead. Flashbacks show Lee as a boisterous man married to Michelle Williams. The couple have a shared tragedy – the cause of Lee’s misery and the reason why he can’t stay.
Heaven knows how Kyle Chandler could come up with this Hedges kid, who is otherwise fine (cringe-worthy crying scene aside) as a selfish teen who doesn’t want his grimy life uprooted, or to be stuck with a violent, inarticulate time bomb.
Affleck is scarily believable, while the movie is saved from being too harrowing as it somehow finds humour in loss.