January 1st 2020
Happy new year! As is tradition, let's start the year with the Coddies, the long-running film awards I dish out every year on this blog. This is the 11th annual awards ceremony, and for the second year in a row the number of films I've seen has fallen slightly - just 50, down from 53 in 2018. As always, films are eligible for inclusion if they were released in 2019 and I saw them in 2019 (or if I saw them on general release in 2019 but they were actually released in late 2018; I don't think anything falls into that category this year, though). Because I go by UK release dates that seem like distant memories now, as the typical Oscar-y films are released in December in the USA and January over here. No idea why.
Of the 50 films, 29 were at the cinema, 17 were streamed and 4 were on DVD - that includes 5 I watched on Netflix in the last week. Imagine if I'd kept that rate up all year. As is often the case, the Best Actor category was the one where I had to make the most painful omissions, with excellent work from Viggo Mortensen, Anthony Hopkins, Adam Driver & Daniel Craig all unlucky to miss out.
One of these years I'll do a Razzies equivalent, but until that day I'll quickly say that the worst film of the year was Men In Black: International, and arguably the worst performances were from Chris Hemworth in both that film and Avengers: Endgame. Without further ado - other than to mention that Richard E. Grant liked the tweet in which his nomination was announced! - here are the results:
Winner: Rocketman - an inventive, moving, funny telling of Elton John's life, with stand-out performances and superb use of his extensive back catalogue. Comparisons with Bohemian Rhapsody were obvious (biopic of singer & gay icon, directed by Dexter Fletcher) and, while the R-rating was over-emphasised in reviews, this was definitively better.
2nd: Joker - the comic book movie genre has needed shaking up for a while, and this was a perfect way to do it: retelling the Joker story as a Scorsese-style portrait of misery and self-destruction (and regular destruction).
3rd: Green Book - I wrote about this last year: a moving story of the way two men from different backgrounds can learn from each other, against the backdrop of racism in the deep south of America. Ignore the silly backlash.
4th: The Two Popes - two stellar performances from masters of the craft, adapted from a play by the playwright, this mostly avoids easy characterisations and conclusions in its fictionalised view of an unprecedented papal situation.
5th: Marriage Story - this deconstruction of a divorce, where both husband a wife still have a lot of love and affection for each other, is beautifully told and acted. The two leads work their subtext well, alongside a strong supporting cast.
6th: Avengers: Endgame - a phenomenal achievement to bring to a close (sort of) an 11-year saga: it is more flawed than other instalments, and the Russos fall a long way short of Joss Whedon, but it is remarkable nonetheless.
Best Actor in a Leading Role
Winner: Taron Egerton (Rocketman) - cocky, damaged, self-hating, jubilant, fearful, proud, loving... every aspect of Elton John's complex character is captured brilliantly, making a sympathetic lead even when he's throwing a tantrum. The singing is great as well. Follows Rami Malek last year as the second Coddie winner to play a famous singer.
2nd: Joaquin Phoenix (Joker) - this film is entirely centred around Phoenix as Arthur Fleck, whose transformation from downtrodden failure to murderous clown could not have been bettered by anyone else in Hollywood.
3rd: Jonathan Pryce (The Two Popes) - not flashy, but this is a masterclass from an actor who has decades of experience. Hopkins will probably pick up the prizes but (though he was excellent) Pryce was even better.
4th: Christian Bale (Vice) - still doing untold damage to his body for our entertainment, Bale piled on the pounds to play Dick Cheney, but as ever there's far more to his performance than the physical change - he becomes Cheney.
5th: Eddie Murphy (Dolemite is My Name) - he's back! After years of dross and inactivity, the charismatic star of the 1980s has returned as the larger-than-life star of blaxploitation films - very much not my humour, but Murphy is great.
6th: Willem Dafoe (At Eternity's Gate) - playing Vincent Van Gogh, Dafoe very much looks the part but also portrays superbly the desolation of genuis - without resorting to histrionics (much).
Best Actress in a Leading Role
Winner: Scarlett Johansson (Marriage Story) - she's had three Coddie nominations for supporting roles, but this is her first win, a superb and nuanced performance opposite a similarly great Adam Driver. The most publicised clip has unfortunately focused on dramatic explosions, when the whole point is what comes before.
2nd: Jillian Bell (Brittany Runs a Marathon) - a surprisingly empathetic portrayal of a woman who struggles with weight and decides to change her life, this is funny without being (forgive me) broad - a significant (forgive me) change of pace.
3rd: Melissa McCarthy (Can You Ever Forgive Me?) - another actress who has swapped larger-than-life comedy for something subtler, this was great work as a woman who lets a simple ruse spiral horribly out of control.
4th: Brie Larson (Unicorn Store) - in her directorial debut, this is an intriguing performance that, in another actress's hands, would be cloying and unbearable - this performance (and film) is optimistic, strange, maddening and endearing.
5th: Rachel Weisz (The Favourite) - listen, Academy, you really got this wrong. There are two leads in this film (which I must admit I didn't love by any means) and neither of them is Olivia Colman. Weisz is excellent, and just edges...
6th: Emma Stone (The Favourite) - ...whose journey from scorned servant to rival to favourite to... well, a whole range of things, is well portrayed even if it's not up there with her previous Coddie-winning work.
Winner: Todd Phillips (Joker) - there was one great Scorsese film in 2019, and it wasn't The Irishman: this was a great blending of The King of Comedy / Taxi Driver with a classic comic book villain - while it's been criticised in some corners as a weaker version of those classics, I think that's unfair: Phillips has made a masterpiece, and a signifiant film.
2nd: Dexter Fletcher (Rocketman) - with unfinished business from how he was treated on Bohemian Rhapsody, Fletcher showed what he wanted to do, and it's epic - beautifully told, with the highlights being the flights of fancy throughout.
3rd: Rian Johnson (Knives Out) - he loves to attack new genres, and his spin on a classic whodunnit is wonderfully put together with an incredible cast, perfect setting, and a run of twists to keep you on your toes.
4th: Peter Farrelly (Green Book) - who'd have thought that a man known for his gross-out comedies (alongside his brother) would produce such a tender (yet funny) film? It's all about questioning prejudices, and he epitomises that.
5th: Noah Baumbach (Marriage Story) - imagine if Woody Allen had ever made good films, and this is what you'd get: exploration of a relationship, but with believable characters and excellent dialogue. And no weird age gaps. Next up... co-writing the Barbie movie with his partner Greta Gerwig? All right.
6th: Jonah Hill (Mid90s) - his directorial debut is, perhaps surprisingly, a microbudget tale of a pre-teen who discovers a love of skateboarding. Too many subplots, perhaps, but it reels you in and is a very promising sign of things to come.
Best Actor in a Supporting Role
Winner: Mahershala Ali (Green Book) - the Academy & I are in agreement on this one: the second Oscar & first Coddie for Ali, whose supporting performance alongside Viggo Mortensen is astonishingly good - he'd be a deserving winner just for the scene where he offers Mortensen's character a promotion, which has more layers than an onion.
2nd: Jamie Bell (Rocketman) - as the long-suffering songwriting partner of Elton John, Bell is quieter and works superbly alongside the larger performance of his co-star. Beautifully done. And beautiful hair.
3rd: Joe Pesci (The Irishman) - it's a shame that Pesci is such a reluctant movie star, because he has so much class, and it's wonderful to see him back working with Scorsese & De Niro - he escapes the bonds of de-ageing more than others.
4th: Richard E. Grant (Can You Ever Forgive Me?) - hopefully my newest fan won't be too upset to miss out to Mahershala Ali again, but he was great as the alcoholic foil to McCarthy's lead (and also perfect in Star Wars).
5th: Timothée Chalamet (Beautiful Boy) - one of the finest actors of his generation, this performance as a drug addict whose life goes off the rails, back on the rails, then off and on again, is a bit Oscar-baity (unsuccessfully) but excellent.
6th: Al Pacino (The Irishman) - his best work in years, a big performance without the excesses that he's too often prone to these days - Scorsese, who was directing him the first time, certainly brought out the best in him.
Best Actress in a Supporting Role
Winner: Olivia Colman (The Favourite) - the story is mad (and I have no idea how true it is), the character of Queen Anne is absolutely crackers, but Colman allows you to empathise even in the insanity - the scene with the rabbits is a favourite (although, overall, this black comedy wasn't really my thing). Not a lead role, though, Academy.
2nd: Zoey Deutch (Zombieland: Double Tap) - a breath of fresh air in a film that was rather disappointing in its otherwise unimaginative re-tread of the original, Deutch was hilarious throughout. Also, Lea Thompson's daughter. Huh.
3rd: Laura Dern (Marriage Story) - playing the divorce lawyer for Johansson's character, she is smooth, professional, ostensibly friendly but clearly ruthless - as shown when she wins 55:45 custody just to win over her fellow lawyer.
4th: Linda Cardellini (Green Book) - the secret weapon in the film, as a wife whose relationship with Mortensen's larger-than-life Italian-American bouncer is surprisingly touching; she more than holds her own. It's been a good year for Cardellini, who also co-starred in Netflix's Dead to Me and played a key, albeit small, role in Avengers: Endgame.
5th: Kathy Bates (On the Basis of Sex) - in a largely disappointing biopic of Ruth Bader-Ginsburg, with good performances but an underwhelming script, Bates does her thing perfectly as a legendary but reluctant attorney.
6th: Regina King (If Beale Street Could Talk) - I was surprised by her Oscar win, if I'm honest, but this is good, classy, work in a film that many people loved but that I found fundamentally frustrating in its story-telling.
Best Visual Effects
Winner: The Lion King - visually astonishing in its recreation of animals, even if the film was fundamentally pointless.
2nd: Captain Marvel - the best de-ageing we've seen so far (and a lot less distracting than The Irishman), the years roll off Samuel L. Jackson as he plays a major supporting role here.
3rd: Spider-Man: Far From Home - all the stuff we take for granted is done superbly, but the absolute masterclass is the scene where Mysterio taunts Spider-Man with a series of illusions. Wins points for being meta, too.
4th: Star Wars IX - typically great work, with some de-ageing thrown in, and re-purposing of Carrie Fisher off-cuts.
Best Writing - Adapted Screenplay
Winner: Anthony McCarten (The Two Popes) - based on his own play, this film never feels stagey, making the most of a range of locations (and flashbacks), but more importantly avoids simplistic conclusions - or focusing absolutely on abuse in the Catholic church. Both popes are given their due, and their conversations are intriguing and believeable.
2nd: Todd Phillips, Scott Silver (Joker) - I suppose it's adapted, although this was largely invention and owed little to The Killing Joke, the most obvious point of comparison. A compelling downfall with social commentary thrown in.
3rd: Paul Mayeda Berges, Gurinder Chadha, Sarfraz Manzoor (Blinded by the Light) - as the tale of a young Muslim boy growing up in northern England who finds inspiration in Bruce Springsteen's songs, this is far from perfect but it's fascinating and moving. Perhaps could have done with one or two fewer characters.
4th: Barry Jenkins (If Beale Street Could Talk) - it was disappointing that there was not more ambiguity thrown in (also, since the main character definitively could not have committed the crime he was accused of, why didn't more people reference that fact in his defence?), but this is a well-told story of desperate circumstances.
Best Writing - Original Screenplay
Winner: Noah Baumbach (Marriage Story) - hints of Kramer vs. Kramer but with the focus shared between husband and wife, the layers of subtext in this are beautifully handled - so that, when the explosions come, we know that neither side really means it, and also that both know the other doesn't mean it. Avoids simplistic outcomes, and when it appears that the balance has shifted one way or the other, it is quickly rebalanced.
2nd: Lee Hall (Rocketman) - an odd year for Lee Hall, who also brought us Cats, but hopefully he will be remembered more for this triumph - mixing humour, tragedy, joy and redemption for a brilliant and imaginative biopic.
3rd: Rian Johnson (Knives Out) - a whodunnit that quickly becomes something else entirely, before working its way back again, this is a wonderful twist on a familiar formula. The supporting cast are so well-drawn that it doesn't really matter that they get minimal screen time, and I hope we see more from the beautifully-monikered Benoit Blanc.
4th: Adam McKay (Vice) - this doesn't seem to be as loved as The Big Short, which McKay co-wrote and directed, but to me it is more successful: a dark character portrait that does a fine job portraying Cheney, including some unexpected angles. Some sillier reviewers were upset by the fact that the character was given one brief moment to defend his actions.
Best Animated Feature
Winner: Toy Story 4 - for me, the best instalment since the first: old characters (except Buzz) are well-served, and there are some great comic additions voiced by Tony Hale and Key & Peele. The Toy Story is still a good one.
2nd: The Lion King - well-crafted and utterly pointless.
Best Documentary Feature
Winner: Fyre - the festival for the beautiful people of Instagram, this exposed the very worst of 'influencer' culture and it would take a heart of stone not to laugh at their soggy tents - although the misfortunes of the locals were less funny.
2nd: The Great Hack - looking into Cambridge Analytica et al, no doubt this was very important but it struggled to hold my interest - which, I guess, is how they get away with it.
January 16th 2020
Right. You know the drill. Here we go.
1. What did you do in 2019 that you'd never done before?
I forgot to keep a list this year, so the only things I can think of (that aren't covered in question 21) are buying (and using) a slow cooker, and trying fish curry. It was surprisingly pleasant. At the age of 34, it's time to stop trying new things, right? Oh, wait. I voted Green. That was new. I didn't care for it.
2. Did you keep your New Year's resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
I didn't make any last year, and I'm not making any this year. Take that. But, if all goes well, I will have a crossword published this year that features the phrase "New Year's resolution" in one of the clues, so that's not nothing.
3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
You know it.
4. Did anyone close to you die?
It's been a very long time since I've been to a funeral. Something to look forward to in my later years, I guess.
5. What countries did you visit?
Scotland, a lot, for work - although I snuck in a couple of evenings at the Edinburgh Fringe again, which was fun and varied. Also Wales, with my brother and some of his friends - actually, we stayed in England but made the hop across the border to visit Hay on Wye, where I exhausted my interest in the town's book shops in about the time it took Simon to peruse one shelf. Fortunately one book shop had a cinema that Will & I could escape to, in order to watch Stan & Ollie.
6. What would you like to have in 2020 that you lacked in 2019?
Last year apparently I said I wanted Funko Pops from The Office, so I got that wish in 2019. This year I'd love to stage a play (or, I suppose, "have a director's credit", if I need to phrase the answer in line with the question). Reading through the script with my drama group tonight, so let's hope that goes well!
7. What dates from 2019 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
Some big moments in 2019, several of them involving football: watching Stenhousemuir with my parents; seeing Wolves knock Manchester United out in the FA Cup quarter-final with my friend Rich; sitting with the Watford fans as they came from behind to knock Wolves out in the semi-finals. Other favourite memories from the year include hosting a Taskmaster day; doing a read-through of the first draft of my play with improv friends; and performing with my improv group in three "Scratchpad" evenings. Christmas (December 25th - see, etched) was also great and will live long in the memory.
8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
I'll pick two: I had my best finish in the Times Crossword Championship, coming in 8th, and I got 98% in the first module of my maths masters. Returning to studying maths after 12 years, it was nice to know I can still do it. Actually, I'll chuck in two more time-related ones, because why not? They're unimpressive enough that you won't think I'm boasting. I did the Times crossword in less than 5 minutes for the first time (twice, now: 3m 52s and 4m 58s) and I ran 5km in less than 25 minutes.
9. What was your biggest failure?
My hair? Can I say my hair? It's getting less.
10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
Just the usual colds and back pains. Every time I get up to running 10km, I injure myself shortly afterwards, so - while it was nice to get up to that distance again after the bad back injury a couple of years ago - it's very frustrating. Even this morning I had to stop because my right knee was in pain, which is new - usually my left leg is the problem. Progress? Oh, and my feet hurt a bit from walking the (majority of the) Cotswold Way with Dad and friends, but that was great fun so I don't mind a bit of a limp.
11. What was the best thing you bought?
2019 was the year I finally bought a new laptop, as my old one had been on its last legs for some time and routinely took 10 minutes to load properly. The new one is much better. I also bought myself a replacement mobile phone, having beaten up the previous one (same model), but have yet to take it out of the box. So hopefully it's good.
12. Whose behaviour merited celebration?
Rob & Kari got married; Steve & Laura got pregnant and have basically promised to name their child Colin. My parents were very much celebrated in a lovely party to mark their farewell from Chiselborough on Dad's retirement. Of course, I've reserved most of my celebration for Wolves in 2019, as we finished seventh in the Premier League and are through to the Europa League knock-out rounds.
13. Whose behaviour made you appalled and depressed?
14. Where did most of your money go?
Paying off my mortgage.
15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
Improv! You'll be bored of me talking about this by now, but what I've discovered this year is that I love being on stage, with friends, making stuff up. The EscaPROV shows - particularly the last one, which we were all in - as well as a Theatre Throwdown and some course showcases have been highlights of the year and have made me nervous / excited. Not everything has gone brilliantly - we're all still learning - but it has mostly been great.
16. What song will always remind you of 2019?
Hotel California by the Eagles, as I had the great pleasure of seeing them live in 2019 - along with Richard, Martin, Simon, Mum & Dad. It was my Mum's first ever gig, and a nice bookend given that my first gig was seeing an Eagles tribute band (Talon) with my Dad.
17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
i. happier or sadder?
Well, it's not been a great a week, but mostly happier. 2018 was a pretty tough year, all told, and 2019 was better.
ii. thinner or fatter?
Thinner. Just about. Despite the vast quantities of chocolate I've been eating since Christmas.
iii. richer or poorer?
Richer. That's what you get for sidestepping Woodford, baby.
18. What do you wish you'd done more of?
Over the last year or two I've had some great conversations about my faith - including such divergent topics as creation, evolution, and why I believe that Christians should only be in relationships with other Christians - but I've not done that as much recently, and I should do it more. Glorious things can happen.
19. What do you wish you'd done less of?
Arguing about Brexit.
20. How will you be spending Christmas?
After the triumph - that's right, I'm calling it - of the Christmas BBQ I hosted in 2019, I'm not sure what Christmas 2020 holds in store. I loved hosting for my parents, brother, and brother's cat, but I have no idea what the new Thomas family Christmas looks like (although I suspect the BBQ might be a one-off). Simon's threatening a vegetarian Christmas, so maybe that.
21. What have you achieved from your '40 by 40' list?
In 2019 I achieved the following:
- Watched Stenhousemuir F.C.
- Karaoke (Meat Loaf's classic Two Out of Three Ain't Bad)
- Paid off my mortgage
- Saw the Eagles live
- Persuaded Simon to give up tea for Lent
- Hosted a Christmas BBQ
- Finished 9 of the BBC's Big Read list
- Visited 11 of the parish churches in Bristol & Avon
22. Did you fall in love in 2019?
Yes. With Raul Jimenez and Adama Traore.
23. Which University friends did you see?
A new question! Sort of. I've been answering this question in a different answer every year for the last few, but having realised - rather belatedly - that the quiz was missing a Q23, this now has a place of its own. And what a year for it, as I've broken my record of recent times with a massive 22: Andy, Ant, Charissa, Dom, Ellie, Guy, James, Jason T, Jason Y, Jen, Jez, John, Josh, Larry, Matt, Rich, Rob, Sinead, Sophie, Steve, Stu & Tom.
24. What was your favourite TV program?
My obsession with Taskmaster, which took hold in late 2018, continued to grip me in 2019, and I'm pleased to say I passed the mania on to Simon. I've also enjoyed Gotham (I'm on the final series), Dead to Me, Selfie and a bunch of old favourites. The Gavin & Stacey Christmas special was a wonderful return, too.
25. Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year?
Louisa May Alcott.
26. What was the best book you read?
I finally finished Anthony Seldon's book on Gordon Brown! Not exactly gripping, I guess, but it was still very good. Noughts & Crosses was excellent. Was Far From the Madding Crowd in 2019? If so, that was unexpectedly hilarious.
27. What was your greatest musical discovery?
2019 was the year where I finally started to get Tom Waits, listening to his (original) version of Downtown Train over and over. Beautiful. My favourite album of the year - and decade - was Taylor Swift's Lover, but I'm not sure that counts as a discovery.
28. What did you want and get?
I got another Listener crossword published, and this was has seems to have been very well received by the lovely people who sent me letters. Hopeful of getting into the top ten favourite ones of the year, which will be announced in March. I also wanted turkey burgers & turkey sausages for the Christmas BBQ, which were surprisingly hard to track down but I eventually managed, driving across Bristol in the week before Christmas to pick them up from a Sainsbury's car park. And I got the general election I was hoping for, solely because I love staying up all night blogging about it here.
29. What did you want and not get?
A trip to the FA Cup final with Wolves. Football is beautiful and cruel.
30. What was your favourite film of this year?
You've seen the Coddies already - if you haven't, they're in the archive - but the two other films I saw for the first time in 2019 and particularly enjoyed were Adrift and The Way, Way Back.
31. What did you do on your birthday, and how old?
34, and my improv group were here for a rehearsal. Fernando made canneloni, Mills made a crossword cake (!) and a great time was had by all. After that I watched a Wolves Europa League match that I'd recorded while the others were there. Simon bought be a great book a Wolves shirts over the years, which inspired me to dig out my old ones and realise I had a full XI worth of them now.
32. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
33. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2019?
I grew out my beard! After years of mostly goatee, I committed to the full beard and I have to say I'm very happy with how it's turned out. Requires some care when trimming, but I'm prepared to put in the hard yards.
34. What kept you sane?
35. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
Morena Baccarin & Karen Gillan.
36. What political issue stirred you the most?
Brexit, and my continuing arguments with anyone who won't accept the referendum result.
37. Whom did you miss?
It was sad that Nick & Karen left the drama group, as they're both great people and very talented actors.
38. Who was the best new person you met?
It's gonna be improv again - assuming I've not got my courses mixed up (very possible), I had the pleasure of getting to know Mills, Ed, Emma, Rachel, Tim, Katie and several others in 2019.
39. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2019:
I'm not a good dramatic actor. I'm sticking to comedy from now on.
40. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year:
You leave them laughing when you go / And if you care, don't let them know / Don't give yourself away
Both Sides, Now - Joni Mitchell
|what was I listening to?
Essentials - Ellis Paul
|what was I reading?
Black Beauty - Anna Sewell
|what was I watching?
At Eternity's Gate