January 10th 2021
The second of the annual traditions on this blog (the first being the look back at the previous year from last time) is the Coddies, my film awards, and here they are. As usual, films are eligible if they were released in the UK in 2020, either online or in cinemas; unlike previous years, a global pandemic shut cinemas down for most of the year. That's reflected in the stats, with my lowest total number of films in a while (39), comprising 12 at the cinema, 23 streamed and 4 on DVD - this last figure being small because it's usually been my way to catch up on films I didn't get round to seeing on the big screen, whereas this year I saw pretty much everything I wanted to.
The paucity of films is, understandably, reflected in the quality - certainly in the strength in depth. While there were a few great films, by the time I've reached the fifth or sixth places in some categories I'm starting to scrape the barrel; in particular the Best Actor list is the weakest it's ever been, with no real stand-outs. 14 films received no nominations at all, the best of them being Just Mercy (unlucky to miss out in a few categories, and maybe suffering from it being so long since I saw it), and several competing to be the worst. Eurovision Song Contest? A California Christmas? Artemis Fowl?
Well, the crowds are gathering, Drake Doremus has liked my tweet nominating him (a slight step down from Richard E. Grant last year, but never mind) and the nominees are backstage, so there's just time to point you towards my podcast with Zijian where we also review 2020 (here)... and now we're off.
Winner: Emma. - this award is always going to be a mixture between what I think is 'best' and what is actually my favourite, and while Emma had its flaws (slightly overwhelming decor; too many musical cues to let you know something is funny), it's joined the small list of films that I will return to again and again - I mean, I watched it four times in 2020 (once with commentary). Anya Taylor-Joy is the definitive Emma, the supporting cast are perfect, it's romantic and funny and surprisingly faithful to the text... the exception being the unfathomable decision to include a nosebleed in the proposal scene. While its audience was severely limited by COVID, and its place in Anya Taylor-Joy's career was crushed by the juggernaut that was The Queen's Gambit (also superb), I really recommend seeking this one out.
2nd: 1917 - a monumental effort, following the journey of two boys taking a vital message through the trenches of WWI, and filmed as one (almost) continuous take. Beautifully shot by Roger Deakins, who won another well-deserved Oscar.
3rd: Parasite - the big winner at the Oscars, this is a funny, creepy, bloody, savage look at an unscrupulous family taking over a rich household. Twists and turns, searing satire, excellent performances, the overall message of the film is ambiguous but it certainly leaves you thinking.
4th: The Trial of the Chicago 7 - a perfectly timed film about police brutality and protests in the USA, this has Aaron Sorkin's trademark dialogue and layered story-telling, as well as great performances from an ensemble cast.
5th: The Personal History of David Copperfield - a delightfully silly retelling of the classic story, led by Dev Patel and with a truly wonderful supporting cast of British thesps, it delves into farce while still weaving moving movements into the journey.
6th: The Gentlemen - Guy Ritchie back doing his thing after some big budget flops (and Aladdin - which I thought was great but was very non-Ritchie). Over-the-top gangsters, slick camera movements and a wonderful supporting turn from Hugh Grant, who's in the form of his life.
Best Actor in a Leading Role
Winner: Gary Oldman (Mank) - in a weak year for lead actors, Gary Oldman is reliably good as the drunken script-writer behind Citizen Kane: quick-witted, insouciant and, in its climactic scene as he berates William Randolph Hearst, captivating. If he wins another Oscar, this time it'll be for acting rather than prosthetics.
2nd: George MacKay (1917) - many a more lauded actor would struggle with the demands of this part, given its long takes and horrendous conditions, and he brings the fear and perseverance of the part to life compellingly.
3rd: Paul Walter Hauser (Richard Jewell) - I had high hopes for this one, particularly after his Coddie-nominated supporting role in I, Tonya, and while the overall film didn't quite live up to them, Paul Walter Hauser is great as a security guard first hailed as a hero and then wrongly suspect of planting the bomb that he uncovered.
4th: Adam Sandler (Uncut Gems) - he can act! The tension mounts in this tale of jewels and desperation, and while it's not one of the year's great films in my view, Sandler will hopefully do more of this in future. Probably won't, though.
5th: George Clooney (The Midnight Sky) - I'll be honest, most years he wouldn't have got a look in, but it's a decent portrayal of loneliness, duty, regret and desperation as one of the last people remaining on Earth after 'the incident'.
6th: Keanu Reeves (Bill & Ted Face the Music) - you have to admire the way he slips effortlessly back into his finest role. I saw this at the cinema, and while it was a delight, it really belongs on streaming.
Best Actress in a Leading Role
Winner: Anya Taylor-Joy (Emma.) - what a year for Anya Taylor-Joy! She captivated audiences in The Queen's Gambit, but I'd already been won over by her take on Emma Woodhouse, which is quite perfect. She captures the selfishness and naivety of the character, but also her fundamental good-heartedness. Has the Box Hill scene ever been done better? Expect great things from ATJ in the future (her turns in the New Mutants & Radioactive, also 2020, was less notable).
2nd: Shailene Woodley (Endings, Beginnings) - her second nomination, the first coming eight years ago, Shailene Woodley provides the fragile lead in this tale of unfaithfulness, reinvention and insecurity. For much of the film she seems entirely unsympathetic, before the viewers' understanding of her is gradually changed.
3rd: Mackenzie Foy (Black Beauty) - this Disney+ release didn't get great reviews, perhaps not helped by Kate Winslet's breathlessly over-acted voiceover for the title role, by Mackenzie Foy is strong (and brought a tear to my eye - not, admittedly, difficult to do) as the girl whose closest friend is her horse.
4th: Charlize Theron (Bombshell) - pure Oscar bait, having been transformed to play Megyn Kelly, but still very well done. I enjoyed the confusion this performance brought to certain unimaginative reviewers (she's a woman so she's good, but she might be a Republican, so she's bad), though in reality the film also struggled a bit to land any nuanced message. Accusations of victim-blaming were silly and way off the mark.
5th: Anna Kendrick (Noelle) - another performance that wouldn't normally get on the list, Anna Kendrick finds the right balance in this slightly updated take on Elf. Not a classic for the ages, but she does what she does well.
6th: Millie Bobby Brown (Enola Holmes) - a strange one, because I found her acting quite limited a lot of the time - until she was addressing the camera, at which point she was captivating and personable as the younger sister of the famous detective. Perhaps a result of her apparent popularity on Instagram.
Winner: Sam Mendes (1917) - he's far from the first person to make a film that looks like it's all one take (Birdman won a Best Picture Oscar that way a few years ago; Victoria actually was in one take), but he might be the most ambitious. The WWI setting - lengthy trenches, no man's land, war-torn France - is done perfectly, and the pulsating onward march means that every scene happens in a new place. Lovely visuals, strong acting, ridiculously good supporting cast. May lose some of its impact on the small screen, I imagine - I've got the DVD but haven't yet watched it.
2nd: Bong Joon-ho (Parasite) - taking the Oscars by storm, having previously been most notable to Western audiences for the odd film Snowpiercer, Bong Joon-ho crafted a unique film. Don't be put off by the subtitles.
3rd: Guy Ritchie (The Gentlemen) - when he fancies doing this mockney stuff he does it better than anyone else, and the layers of story-telling here are surprisingly effective. Could have done without the threat of rape, but there you go.
4th: Autumn de Wilde (Emma.) - she had a clear vision for her take on Emma, and it works a treat. Apart from that nosebleed. So weird.
5th: Drake Doremus (Endings, Beginnings) - best known for Like Crazy, a film which shares a lot of the same DNA as this one, his trademark is semi-improvised scenes where dialogue is layered over parts where the actors are not speaking. That sounds awkward, but it works, and while this isn't as good as Like Crazy, it's an atmospheric slow burner.
6th: David Fincher (Mank) - I suspect the Academy will rate him rather more highly than I have, but I found the black & white tale of old Hollywood surprisingly ineffectual - the climactic scene aside. Voters who know the background of Citizen Kane better than me will probably appreciate it more.
Best Actor in a Supporting Role
Winner: Frank Langella (The Trial of the Chicago 7) - playing the biased, bigoted judge who presided over the trial of protestors in Chicago, Frank Langella manages to be reprehensible and infuriating without lapsing into caricature. He's a man trying to cling on to the past, astonished and horrified that the dignity of his courtroom - as he sees it - is being traduced: like all good villains, he thinks he is the hero. An excellent adversary who demonstrates the very opposite of justice.
2nd: Hugh Grant (The Gentlemen) - four years since he won a Coddie for Florence Foster Jenkins, and Hugh Grant continues to pick great roles and play them wonderfully. As a campaigner against press intrusion, he must have loved the irony of playing a slimy journalist in this one.
3rd: Peter Capaldi (The Personal History of David Copperfield) - it's hard to choose between the excellent supporting cast of this adaptation, but Peter Capaldi brings a spark as Mr Micawber that elevates him to the top of the pile...
4th: Ben Whishaw (The Personal History of David Copperfield) - ...just ahead of Ben Whishaw as Uriah Heep, a marvellous spin on the 'umble clerk. Hugh Laurie was unlucky not to make this list, from the same film.
5th: Tom Hanks (A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood) - Mr Rogers is not well known in this country, so this portrayal probably had more of an impact in the US, but Tom Hanks is reliably good. The documentary is better, though.
6th: Mark Rylance (The Trial of the Chicago 7) - just edging out Sacha Baron Cohen from the same film - who lost out because of his weird accent, and may actually have been the lead - Mark Rylance gets his second Coddie nomination, this time as the lawyer who gets increasingly frustrated with Frank Langella's judge.
Best Actress in a Supporting Role
Winner: Kristin Scott Thomas (Rebecca) - sometimes the most obvious casting is also the best. This version of Rebecca was disappointing overall, miscast in other roles and lacking any real bite, but Kristin Scott Thomas couldn't be bettered as Mrs Danvers. Cruel, scornful and obsessed, she is a brooding presence through - no wonder the second Mrs De Winter is scared of her.
2nd: Tilda Swinton (The Personal History of David Copperfield) - comfortably the funniest performance I've seen from her (no, Trainwreck isn't a strong contender), she complements Hugh Laurie superbly and distinctively - an excellent addition to the ensemble.
3rd: Miranda Hart (Emma.) - you don't necessarily associate Miranda with nuanced performances, let alone heart-breaking ones, but she is wonderful as Miss Bates: ridiculous and yet devastating when Emma thoughtlessly cuts her down.
4th: Margot Robbie (Bombshell) - typically good work from the Neighbours alum, going from ambitious careerism to humiliation to reclaiming her dignity and freedom. Again, the message is nuanced but perhaps not quite thought through enough.
5th: Scarlett Johansson (Jojo Rabbit) - as the mother of the lead character, in a movie that was lauded but didn't entirely work for me, Scarlett Johansson got Oscar-nominated for the first time (alongside a Best Actress nomination for Marriage Story) and gets her fifth Coddie nomination.
6th: Mia Goth (Emma.) - as Emma's friend / matchmaking project Harriet Smith, she portrays well her naivety, subservience and later heartbreak and growth. Like everyone else in this film, she is perfectly cast.
Best Visual Effects
Winner: 1917 - there weren't many huge special effect spectacles from big budget blockbusters in 2020, so it's the turn of a slightly more subtle use of effects in this war drama that is somehow both intimate and epic.
2nd: The Midnight Sky - it's a shame this came out on Netflix, as the beautiful vistas of both space and the arctic were the main reason to watch it.
3rd: Tenet - the film itself may have been disappointing (although so many of Christopher Nolan's recent films have underwhelmed that my expectations are no longer high), but you can't fault the effects, including the climactic battle.
4th: Birds of Prey - a truly awful film, trying and failing to recast Harley Quinn's tortured mental disintegration as both amusing and a feminist triumph. But I guess the effects were good.
Best Writing - Adapted Screenplay
Winner: Armando Iannucci (The Personal History of David Copperfield) - I became a fan of The Thick Of It in 2020, having previously disregarded it because I don't find swearing funny, and coincidentally I watched this around the same time. I've not read the book so I don't know how accurate it was, but Armando Iannucci crafted a range of distinctive and comedic characters to create something that felt both Dickensian and very modern.
2nd: Taika Waititi (JoJo Rabbit) - there was a lot of good stuff in this - comedic supporting characters, a shocking and devastating reveal, the absurdity of war - and enough to get it second place, but fundamentally the attempt to balance hints of the holocaust with a comedy imaginary Hitler just doesn't work for me. It would have better without the Hitler (much like the 20th century).
3rd: Eleanor Caton (Emma.) - this contained much of Austen's text without being slavish to it, developed the romantic theme at least as well as it's done in the novel, and (sorry to repeat myself) it's only that weird nosebleed that keeps it as low as third. A gift for an excellent cast.
4th: Jack Thorne (Enola Holmes) - he's been keeping busy recently, having also penned The Aeronauts, Radioactive & The Secret Garden, and is most notable for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. This is pacy and serves its lead well.
Best Writing - Original Screenplay
Winner: Aaron Sorkin (The Trial of the Chicago 7) - sorry to be boring, but I love Aaron Sorkin and he just doesn't miss: this is his fifth Coddie win, although his first in the Original Screenplay category. While there is one awkward moment where a particular piece of dialogue is dissected to the point of self-parody, overall this is excellent, with well-drawn characters, layered narratives crossing over each other, and a slow, savage indictment of the US justice system. As a return to his courtroom drama roots (A Few Good Men having been his early calling card), it's a triumph.
2nd: Bong Joon-Ho, Han Jin-won (Parasite) - more savagery, some of it metaphorical and some of it literally bloody, this takes you by surprise in its journey from light comedy to something darker and more desperate.
3rd: Pete Docter, Mike Jones, Kemp Powers (Soul) - Pixar's best film for years, this abandons almost all pretence that it's for children, dealing in the metaphysical as well as looking at hopes, disappointments and what to do if dreams fall through.
4th: Jack Fincher (Mank) - the late father of the director David, Jack Fincher's love letter to old Hollywood will please the buffs - I must confess most of the references passed me by, but I expect it to be a strong contender at the Oscars.
Best Animated Feature
Winner: Soul - after a series of sequels and prequels, the lacklustre Coco and the fun Onward, Pixar are back to their best with this tale of a jazz musician and teacher whose big break is cut short by him falling down a manhole. It's thoughtful, sad, wise and has maybe one joke that kids will enjoy.
2nd: Onward - magic exists but so does technology, and the elves' dad died but magic can bring him back but only half of him so they need to go on a quest... perhaps too much weight of world-building, the denouement is moving but predictable (and why does no one think that their mother might want to see her late husband?), it's good but it's not their best.
Best Documentary Feature
Winner: Miss Americana - a window into Taylor Swift's life as she plans and records her new album while also becoming more political and claiming more power in her life and music. A more interesting documentary would have challenged some of Taylor's pronouncements, and to be honest this is only just a notch above a hagiopic, but it's still insightful. Scenes where she argues with her father about alienating Republicans, and where she discovers that she (deservedly) hasn't got any main Grammy nominations for Reputation, are the most memorable.
2nd: The Social Dilemma - a fascinating documentary about how we interact with social media and how it can control our behaviour, this takes second place only because it significantly overplayed its hand, making claims - particularly in the weird fictional story that's interspersed with the interviews - that it cannot substantiate. A less melodramatic film would have been more persuasive, I think.
|what am I listening to?
Gold - Ryan Adams
|what am I reading?
Football Cliches - Adam Hurrey
|what am I watching?