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.
|what was I listening to?
Essentials - Ellis Paul
|what was I reading?
Black Beauty - Anna Sewell
|what was I watching?
At Eternity's Gate