Tag: Oscars

At the Movies: Hidden Figures

At the Movies: Hidden Figures

For me, the anomaly at this year’s Oscars was Hidden Figures, based on the book by Margot Lee Shetterley: Hidden Figures: The Story of the African-American Women who Helped to Win the Space Race. The film tells the true story of three African American women, Katherine G. Johnson, (Taraji P. Henson) Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) who played a vital role in NASA’s space launch in 1962.

The film’s title, ‘Hidden Figures’ refers to the ‘hidden’ algorithms that Katherine, uncovers, the fact that the women’s achievements were ‘hidden’ and the way in which NASA’s black women were physically ‘hidden’, sequestered in the segregated West Area Computers’ division of Langley Research Centre. But unfortunately, the movie has refused to live up to its title: it has unequivocally not ‘hidden’. It has been impossible to avoid…

And, to make matters worse, it has taken more in Box Office receipts than all of the Oscar Contenders (including La La Land!)

But I don’t want to be completely acrimonious about Hidden Figures because it isn’t all bad! It takes place in Virginia amidst the Jim Crow laws and it plays an important role in shining a light on these three women’s achievements, which might have otherwise gone un-noticed. It is also to the film’s credit that it features a leading trio of black women, aiding in the insurgency against last year’s #OscarsSoWhite campaign.

However, the film itself is anything but an insurgent: it is utterly predictable and riddled with clichés. It begins with an unimaginatively sepia toned flashback sequence in which Katherine’s parents are urged to accept her scholarship to a prestigious school that she would otherwise be unable to afford. This film sits firmly in the ‘inspirational-feel-good’ movie category, complete with a smattering of schmaltzy speeches. The film reaches a particularly low moment when Kevin Costner brandishes his ultimate one liner: ‘In NASA, everyone pees the same colour!’…

But even the cheesiest of speeches can be moving if they are well directed! (Because I’ve just realized that this must be one of the cheesiest speeches from my second favourite movie as a kid. And its fantastic.) But there was hardly anything cinematically interesting about Hidden Figures. And I found myself pretty bored in the cinema…

The film absolutely insists on hammering home its moral messages, resulting in moments that could have been poignant or enlightening, quickly becoming stale and predictable. Segregation rules dictate that Katherine must travel a mile each time she wants to use the bathroom because in her building, the toilets are for ‘whites only’. The first time we see the scene in which Katherine runs to the bathroom with all her papers, balancing precariously on her heels, we sympathize with her and the ridiculousness of the situation. However, after this moment was repeated again and again and again, accompanied each time by a cheery soundtrack (courtesy of Pharrell Williams) I found myself becoming increasingly exasperated with the unoriginality and repetitiveness of the movie rather than the ludicrousness of Katherine’s situation! And throughout the film, I felt as though the audience were completely patronized- every plot point, every moment of conflict or reconciliation was practically spelled out for us- there was no subtlety- it was as though the film makers had completely under-estimated the intelligence of their audience- which is quite insulting…

Hidden Figures Day 41

I also found the final dramatic dénouement totally devoid of tension despite the film -makers’ best efforts to make it exciting. And it actually started became quite a satisfying cinema activity to try and predict what was going to happen next in the film!

However, the thing I really disliked about Hidden Figures was that it seemed purely tokenistic. I felt that the film focused disproportionately on race and gender, which, for me, detracted from the women’s actual achievements: it was almost patronizing to view their contributions purely through this lens rather than to laud their accomplishments for NASA and the Space Race as commendable in and of themselves.

I recently saw the film Loving, which I felt dealt with racial discrimination and prejudice in more powerful manner. The film tells the true story of Richard and Mildred Loving who are banned from their home of Virginia because they are interracially married. Rather than placing race at the forefront of the story, the film focuses on their relationship. This gives the audience the opportunity to truly care about these two characters as a couple, rather than simply as victims of racial discrimination. For me, this made the discriminations all the more shocking as they were happening to a real couple that I felt I was getting to know.

I think that Hidden Figures could have been a better film if it had had focused more on its heroines’ passions and ambitions. Perhaps if I understood why they were so excited about solving this particular problem, I might have cared more about them as individuals.

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Despite all my complaints about the film, it does attempt to inspire its audience, which has to be lauded. It tells us that we have the ability to take control of our own lives and don’t have to be dictated to by norms or conventions. Each of the women are able to assert control the moment they decide to be proactive. As soon as Katherine explains how far she has to walk to use the coloured bathrooms, her boss abolishes the segregation rules. When Mary takes her plea to pursue an engineering degree to court, she is successful. And Dorothy, upon seeing the threat of automation on her job from IBM 7090, decides to re-skill (quite timely) and is consequently promoted. I suppose I quite liked Hidden Figures’ melioristic message-that the world definitely can be made better by human action..!

And finally, when the question, ‘Could Hidden Figures encourage more black women to pursue a career in science?’ was posed to a group of black female A-level students, medics and PhD science graduates, responses included, ‘These ladies were unheard of and they are inspirational role models to us. They are glamorous and pretty but they feature in a film because of their intelligence … They make science exciting, a cool thing to do.’ And so, I’ll admit that although I found the film dull, predictable, patronising uninspiring and quite annoying, clearly, not every one did. And perhaps some things are more important than whether or not I enjoyed my 2 hours at The Ritzy last week…

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At the Movies: On the Oscars (Part 2)

At the Movies: On the Oscars (Part 2)

So, moving on to some of the other categories…

Best Actor

Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea) -probable winner, my choice

Andrew Garfield (Hacksaw Ridge)

Ryan Gosling (La La Land)

Viggo Mortensen (Captain Fantastic)

Denzel Washington (Fences)

Casey Affleck is totally convincing in Manchester by the Sea. It would have been easy for him to over act some of his more agonising moments, but his restraint shows an intelligent emotional understanding of his character. I think he will win the Oscar and I think he deserves to.

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Best Actress

Isabelle Huppert (Elle)

Emma Stone (La La Land) probable winner

Ruth Negga (Loving)

Meryl Streep (Florence Foster Jenkins)

Natalie Portman (Jackie) my choice

My additions

Emily Blunt (Girl on the Train)

Amy Adams (Nocturnal Animals, Arrival)

I’m pretty sure Emma Stone will win for La La Land. She is totally effervescent throughout. Although there has been quite a bit of La La Land backlash, none of it has come her way. She was nominated for Birdman in 2015 and lost to Patricia Arquette for Boyhood- I think The Academy may feel she is due an Oscar!

I would love for Natalie Portman to win. The film is laden with close ups and as such, highly reliant on the quality and intricacies of her performance. She certainly doesn’t disappoint and brings her character to life, portraying all of the complexities, dissonances and the dichotomy of her situation. Her impression of the real Jackie Kennedy is also uncanny.

I don’t think the Oscars would be complete without their obligatory nod to Meryl Streep’s latest performance. Has anyone actually watched Florence Foster Jenkins? I’m sure she was fantastic, as per, but I don’t think she will receive another Oscar, nor do I think anyone would be that excited if she did…!

I watched Girl on the Train the other day and was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it! Emily Blunt’s performance as a wavering alcoholic and snubbed ex-wife elevates this (admittedly trashy) movie.

Music (Original Score)

Jackie- Mica Levi– my choice

La La Land- Justin Hurwitz – probable win

Lion- Dustin O’Halloran and Hauschka

Moonlight- Nicholas Britell

Passengers- Thomas Newman

The La La Land score is fab- jubilant, (slightly) cheesy, catchy and sticks in your head and.wont.get.out.

I love Mica Levi’s score for Jackie- it provides the movie with a feeling of other worldliness. It is almost beautiful and lush but it jars and you get that feeling of something cold spilling down into your stomach, that something is amiss and that something may have just gone terribly wrong- not the music you might expect for a historical biopic.

Original Song

Audition (The Fools Who Dream)- La La Land; Justin Hurwitz, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul

Can’t Stop The Feeling- Trolls; Justin Timberlake, Max Martin and Karl Johan Schuster

City Of Stars- La La Land; Justin Hurwit, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul– probable win

The Empty Chair Jim: The James Foley Story; -J. Ralph and Sting

How Far I’ll Go Moana- Lin-Manuel Miranda

My additions

Another Day of Sun -La La Land- Justin Hurwitz– my choice

Another Day of Sun announces the film spectacularly, assuring us that this will be an explosive love letter to LA on music and ambition. There’s no time to brace ourselves or prepare for this- we’re just chucked in at the deep end. For me, this song perfectly encapsulates the joy and spectacle of the whole movie.

Writing Original Screen play

Hell Or High Water- Taylor Sheridan

La La Land- Damien Chazelle

The Lobster- Yorgos Lanthimos, Efthimis Filippou

Manchester By The Sea- Kenneth Lonergan– probable win, my choice

20th Century Women- Mike Mills

Surely, Manchester By The Sea must win this award. Lonergan’s script is devastating yet witty. He clearly cares deeply about each and every one of his characters and genuinely captures their nuances and eccentricities. Many of the scenes appears as vignettes- totally compelling and complete in and of themselves. Odd moments of humour are played against maelstroms of tragedy; the film feels completely fresh.

I don’t think the Lobster should win Best Script, but I’m quite impressed that this acerbic dystopian black comedy made it to the Oscars! The script is based on a unique premise: everyone must be in a relationship or risk being turned into an animal of their choice .(!?!) The film takes our notions surrounding relationships and drags them to their absolute logical extreme. The plot is completely original and quite unlike anything I’ve ever seen before… or, probably, will ever see again!

Finally, here’s a recap of all of the past winners:

At The Movies: On the Oscars (Part 1)

At The Movies: On the Oscars (Part 1)

The Oscars are fast approaching, presenting us with a fantastic excuse to spend all our time (and money!) at the cinema to try to catch the industry’s latest showcase of premium movies. It’s also a great time to reflect on our own favourite films from the year.

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Highlights from 2016’s Oscars included Spotlight winning for best picture, Mad Max taking home 6 Oscar wins and Leonardo Dicaprio winning an Oscar for his performance in The Revenant. I was thrilled about Leo; albeit his performances in…well practically all of his other films were probably more Oscar worthy, I was glad to see him finally get the recognition from The Academy that he so clearly deserved! I remain undecided on Spotlight, although I felt it was a worthy and important story, I didn’t glean much more from the movie than I did from reading the original investigatory articles.

The controversy surrounding last year’s Oscars was #OscarsSoWhite, which pointed to the severe lack of diversity in the nominations whose key omissions included historical drama Selma and Idris Elba for his fantastic performance in Beasts of No Nation.

Idris Elba voiced his concerns at a speech he gave in Parliament in which he discussed the importance of diversity in film.

But this year, much has been done this to try to tackle the diversity deficiencies: The Academy made a pledge to diversify its own members and says that it hopes to double its women and people of colour by 2020- last year, the average Academy member was a 63-year-old white man…

The move to diversify has been somewhat successful. This year, 3 out of the 9 films up for Best Feature feature predominantly black casts (Fences, Hidden Figures and Moonlight). In the acting categories there are 7 nominees from ethnic minority backgrounds. And 13th, the controversial documentary about the unjust nature of the US justice system towards black Americans is up for Best Documentary.

I wouldn’t want to take the myopic view that this year’s nominations are a result of last year’s controversies, suffice to say it makes sense that these films are slightly more representative of their audiences…!

Best Picture

The nominations are:

Arrival

Fences

Hacksaw Ridge

Hell or High Water

Hidden Figures

Fences

La La Land (probable winner & my joint choice)

Lion

Manchester by the Sea

Moonlight

My Additions

Nocturnal Animals (my joint choice)

Jackie

I’m pretty sure La La Land will win. Its been nominated for 14 Oscars in total, a feat only achieved twice before by Titanic and All About Eve, both of which won Best Picture. Also, the award for Best Picture has almost exclusively gone to a film also nominated for Best Director, which means we can probably rule out Lion, Fences, Hell or High Water and Hidden Figures.

I’d love for La La Land to win: It unashamedly plays homage to its predecessors without cynicism. The music, acting, cinematography and direction perfectly culminate to produce a contemporary musical masterpiece.

The obvious omission is Tom Ford’s hauntingly beautiful Nocturnal Animals. Tom Ford’s direction is exquisitely detailed and perfectly complimented by Abel Korzeniowski’s Herman esque-score. The framing device connects the stories, themes and characters seamlessly, and the performances by Amy Adams, Jake Gylennhall and Aaron Taylor-Johnson are all Oscar-worthy. I was absolutely captivated throughout: for me, this film is flawless.

I found both Hidden Figures and Lion utterly bland in their portrayal of exciting real life stories. However, Jackie took a more innovative approach in its depiction of the events following the assassination of JFK, playing with chronology, offering a memorable soundtrack and facilitating the phenomenal performance from Natalie Portman. So, if the former two are in the category for best film, I don’t see why Jackie shouldn’t also be.

Best Director

Arrival

Hacksaw Ridge

Manchester by the Sea

Moonlight

La La Land(probable winner & my choice)

My Additions

Nocturnal Animals

I think Damien Chazelle should win for La La Land and I think he will. For me, Damien Chazelle is one of the most exciting directors to emerge in the last few years. La La Land is, tonally, a complete departure from his visceral masterpiece, Whiplash, but both films offer utter escapism.

Although Kenneth Longeran’s Manchester by The Sea is extremely intelligently directed, capturing the nuances and comedic moments within the tragedy,  I think it is his script that is really worthy of praise.

Barry Jenkins also deserves some recognition for his direction of Moonlight; I liked the imagery eg. use of mirrors and water tropes (identity, re-birth /baptism) although…as I’m writing this, I realise they seem a little cliché…It was, however, undoubtedly beautiful throughout.

It’s insane that Tom Ford wasn’t nominated for Nocturnal Animals- everything in this film is visually perfect and intricately designed- he uses style to create substance.

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