Moonlight (2016)

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Moonlight features a black man’s face as its landscape, divided into three slivers of different shades – from turquoise to amethyst to black. Little do you know, the face is cleverly depicting the faces of one man from boy to teen to man. Intricately and intensely, this becomes the very arc of Moonlight, the moving art of identity, family and masculinity.

The little boy we first encounter is known as Little, whom Alex Hibbert heartbreakingly composes with a depth of loneliness and fear that will bring tears to your eyes. Bullied by school kids, chased into hiding and neglected by his troubled mother, Little stumbles upon Juan, played by Mahershala Ali, who takes him in to safety with him and his girlfiend. What follows is the journey of one boy into adolescence and then manhood, battered by fears of belonging, fears of living and ultimately fears of his creeping identity.

These three age structures first composed by Tarell Alvin McCraney, inspired rising director Barry Jenkins, of Dear White People, to create an intricate masterpiece of an almost Black Lives Matter context, illustrating abuse and torment on a backdrop of poor black communities, drugs and violence. But in spite of the harsh complexities of Moonlight, Barry Jenkins finds a tenderness and compassion that could take your breath away. The search for manhood has never been so thoughtful or moving. But of course, Nicholas Britell’s score transports the visual beauty of Moonlight into more than just a story, but a dreamlike sphere, where single moments are filled with power, melancholia, liberation and pre-eminence. Illustrated with superb intensity, each moment is powerful in itself.

I wasn’t never worth anything. Never did anything I actually wanted to do, all I could do was what other folks thought I should do. I wasn’t never myself.”

The diversity of Moonlight’s visual poetry has a gentle ability to transport viewers into a hidden world with honesty and tenacity. Barry Jenkins has delivered a powerful film.

★★★★☆

Imdb – 8.2/10  Rotten Tomatoes – 98%

Live by Night (2016)

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Ben Affleck has proven time and time again that he is an outstanding director, fuelled by an entirely impressive expertise of filmmaking from his very first Gone, Baby Gone to his more recent and highly successful Argo. But with the release of Live By Night this weekend, Affleck turns a corner with his very own adapted screenplay from Dennis Lehane’s amiable gangster novel sensation.

Ben Affleck, as lead Joe Coughlin, returns disenfranchised from World War I, haunted by the arbitrary violence and barbarism that painted his life. Filled with refractory hatred towards those in power, Coughlin becomes an outlaw on the streets of Boston, living by night in search of the next bank to rob or gamble to gain in the era of Prohibition and underground distilleries, speakeasies and gangsters. It’s not long before Coughlin is drawn into the gang war of Irish Albert White and Italian Maso Pescatore, and not much longer again before Joe ends up in their employ, working in Florida to raise Prohibition, build casinos and gain revenge.

As with all other prominent films that Affleck has directed, he passes the juiciest roles to his outstanding co-stars, with Sienna Miller as the knockout mistress of Irish mob boss Robert Glenister and Zoe Saldana as the Cuban love interest on the Florida bootlegging operation. Here is where you might get confused, because you can also throw in Chris Cooper as the God-fearing local sheriff, Elle Fanning as the good girl turned prostitute, Matthew Maher as the leader of the KKK and another handful of religious conversion and zealotry to boot. It makes more sense when you watch it yourself, from start to finish. But as a lead himself, Affleck maintains his square-jawed Batman, an observer in his own life rather than a participator, a concept built into the fabric of Lehane’s novel.

What you put into the world will always come back for you.” Simply put, this quote perfectly sums up my take on Live by Night, as more than just merely a gangster movie, but as a whole take on human life and the value of luck and fate for those who take it.

Live by Night is a beautiful film of exceptional cinematography and outstanding filmmaking, and Affleck really shines as a director of brilliant actors and vying action. Affleck knows too well how to create a haunting gangster noir worth getting lost in.

★★★☆☆

Imdb – 6.7/10  Rotten Tomatoes – 32%

The 89th Academy Awards 2017: The Full List of Nominees

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The moment we’ve all been waiting for …

Best Picture
Arrival
Fences
Hacksaw Ridge
Hidden Figures
Hell or High Water
La La Land
Lion
Manchester by the Sea
Moonlight

Best Cinematography
Arrival
La La Land
Lion
Moonlight
Silence

Best Actor
Casey Affleck – Manchester by the Sea
Andrew Garfield – Hacksaw Ridge
Viggo Mortensen – Captain Fantastic
Ryan Gosling – La La Land
Denzel Washington – Fences

Best Actress
Isabelle Huppert – Elle
Ruth Nega – Loving
Emma Stone – La La Land
Natalie Portman – Jackie
Meryl Streep – Florence Foster Jenkins

Best Supporting Actor
Mahershala Ali – Moonlight
Jeff Bridges – Hell or High Water
Lucas Hedges – Manchester by the Sea
Dev Patel – Lion

Best Supporting Actress
Viola Davis – Fences
Naomi Harris – Moonlight
Nicole Kidman – Lion
Octavia Spencer – Hidden Figures
Michelle Williams – Manchester by the Sea

Best Director
Denis Villeneuve – Arrival
Mel Gibson – Hacksaw Ridge
Damien Chaazelle – La La Land
Kenneth Lonergan – Manchester by the Sea
Barry Jenkins – Moonlight

Best Documentary
Fire at Sea
I am not Your Negro
Life, Animated
OJ: Made in America
13th

Best Documentary Short
4.1 Miles
Extremis
Joe’s Violin
Watani: My Homeland
The White Helmets

Best Foreign Language Film
Land of Mine
A Man Called Ove
The Salesman
Tanna
Toni Erdmann

Best Costume Design
Allied
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Florence Foster Jenkins
Jackie
La La Land

Best Score
Jackie
La La Land
Moonlight
Lion
Passengers

Best Song
Audition – La La Land
Can’t Stop the Feeling – Trolls
City of Stars – La La Land
How Far I’ll Go – Moana
The Empty Chair – Jim: The James Foley Story

Best Sound Editing
Arrival
Deepwater Horizon
Hacksaw Ridge
La La Land
Sully

Best Sound Mixing
Arrival
Hacksaw Ridge
La La Land
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
13 Hours

Best Production Design
Arrival
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Hail, Ceasar!
La La Land
Passengers

Best Original Screenplay
Hell Or High Water
La La Land
The Lobster
Manchester by the Sea
20th Century Women

Best Adapted Screenplay
Arrival
Fences
Hidden Figures
Lion
Moonlight

Best Animated Feature
Kubo and the Two Strings
Moana
My Life as a Zucchini
The Red Turtle
Zootopia

Best Animated Short
Blind Vaysha
Borrowed Time
Pear Cider and Cigarettes
Pearl
Piper

Best Live-Action Short
Ennemis Interieurs
La Femme et le TGV
Silent Nights
Sing
Timecode

Best Film Editing
Arrival
Hacksaw Ridge
Hell or High Water
La La Land
Moonlight

Best Visual Effects
Deepwater Horizon
Doctor Strange
The Jungle Book
Kubo and the Two Strings
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Best Make Up and Hairstyling
A Man Called Ove
Star Trek Beyond
Suicide Squad

La La Land tops the race with 14 nominations in the Academy Awards this year, and after the controversial #OscarsSoWhite last year the increased diversity striking a chord. Bring it on Jimmy Kimmel!

Lion (2016)

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The tremendously powerful Lion sneaks up on you as it softly plucks your heart strings and tempers with your emotions. But before you know it, this unbelievable true story will cause your tear ducts to brim and your soul to overflow with bittersweet joy. A captivating story filled with love, loss, pain and hope, Lion is everything you could hope for and much much much more.

Based on the efficacious 2014 memoir, A Long Way Home, the tale of Indian-Australian businessman Saroo Brierley, Lion brings the unbelievable stepping stones of finding home to life. Adapted by screenwriter Luke Davies and directed by up-and-coming Garth Davis, Lion succeeds in telling a complex story with genuine emotion, while grounding effective style and breathtaking cinematography throughout. It’s little wonder that the film has collected countless audience awards at film festivals around the world, considering the rarity of intelligent and unsentimental crowd-pleasers.

If you have ever been a child, raised a child, lost a child or met a child – or any of the above with respect to a mother – this movie will wreck you.

The compelling story of survival, through the eyes of a resourceful and witty five-year-old Indian boy, first unfolds in the company of his older brother Guddu, Abhisek Bharate, and his loving mother, Priyanka Bose. The love that little Saroo, played by Sunny Pawar, receives from his family is plentiful, but in the miserable world around him everything else is in short supply. Carried away one day by a work trip with Guddu to a nearby city, Saroo falls asleep on a train, only to find that he is utterly lost, whisked 1600 kilometres away. Evoking an unquenchable desire to find his mum again, little Saroo travels through the poverty-striken streets of Calcutta, only to fall into the loving and raring arms of adoptees Sue and John Brierley in Tasmania, played by Nicole Kidman and David Wenham.

The directorial debut of Garth Davis is nothing but sensational, with his influence of visual identity prominent in the very fabric of each scene. Davis draws out evocative images from Saroo’s journey through India, and from his recollections in later days, but dwells on them skilfully and expertly. But of course, Lion is a personal story that relies heavily on people, so thankfully the cast hits out of the park from start to finish. Little Sunny Pawar, as young Saroo, deserves recognition for his marvellous emotional anchor throughout the film, as well as Dev Patel, the older Saroo, who delivers the best performance of his career. Here, character interaction and development is key, which is where Rooney Mara, Saroo’s love interest, and Nicole Kidman, his adopted mother come in. Both delivering incredible and awe-inspiring performances, Lion would be nothing without its sensational cast.

No fancy tricks, no sci-fi – just raw and overwhelmingly powerful emotion. Whether you cry, like almost the entire cinema in my experience, or whether you ball, you should bring either a small cup or a bucket to catch your tears. Lion is one of my very highlights of the 2016 repertoire, and a film brimming with enough pure emotion, love and hopefulness to last me a long long time.

★★★★★

Imdb – 8/10  Rotten Tomatoes – 87%

Collateral Beauty (2017)

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Drawn to grief by unthinkable loss, surrounded by a world so unfair and unjust, one man navigates the deepest and cruellest pits of his heart to find his life again. Very highly criticised upon its release early this week, star-studded Collateral Beauty battles within its ability to connect with some (like me) and hopelessly crash for others.

The film unfolds with Will Smith as Howard, the guiding figure at a New York City agency in partnership with Edward Norton, Kate Winslet and Michael Pena. But after the death of his six-year-old daughter and inevitably the collapse of his marriage, Howard’s professional capabilities breakdown and his sanity slowly deteriorates. His coping mechanisms compel him to write letters to abstracts – Time, Love and Death – while lurking around, but never entering, a help centre for grieving parents. As time goes on, Howard begins to learn that although time can take, it can also give new hope.

The screenplay glides with literary allusions, visual effects are sparing and beautiful, the cast is excellent and award-winning director David Frankel, who scored success with The Devil Wears Prada and Marley & Me, brings a level of philosophical sophistication to the film very rare in contemporary Hollywood. The combination of Helen Mirren, Jacob Latimore and Kiera Knightley as Death, Time and Love, and Edward Norton, Kate Winslet and Michael Pena as Howard’s best friends, helps to carry the heart and soul of the film. Considering Will Smith clenches his jaw throughout the majority of the film, unable to express himself outside of his grief, the supporting actors challenge him impressively through outlets of existentialism, whilst visibly fighting their own wars. Collateral Beauty contains a very impressive outlook on life and the fabric of human emotion.

As it turns out, Will Smith’s own father was diagnosed with Cancer three weeks into filming. As Will Smith mentioned in a recent interview, “Having to face my father’s impending death while working on the struggles of my character, helped us to connect.” This is precisely the mesmerising character struggle that rises in Will Smith, to be able to showcase his personal grief on both an artificial and personal backdrop of hopelessness.

We’re here to connect. Love, time, death. Now these three things connect every single human being on earth. We long for love, we wish we had more time, and we fear death.

Collateral Beauty might have crashed for some, but just like me (and everyone in the cinema around me who cried in the hypnotising emotional build up), the film explored philosophy and humanity in a way that was insightful, captivating and completely wonderful.

★★★★☆

Imdb – 6.5/10  Rotten Tomatoes – 12%

A United Kingdom (2016)

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The captivating true-life romance that drew an English office clerk and the future King of Botswana into a future of rippling prosperity and incredible global influence. In a world of common interracial relationships, British filmmaker Amma Asante illustrates the remarkable history of two individuals who forged a difficult path to acceptance, love and unshaken equality for all.

A United Kingdom evolves from the very moment a simple insurance clerk, played by Rosamund Pike, and a nice African chap, David Oyelowo (who also happens to be the heir of the throne to Bechuanaland) meet at a London Missionary Society Dance. Following a secret year-long courtship, the couple marry in 1948, triggering an immediate and highly severe diplomatic fallout between Bechuanaland, London and South Africa. What unfolds is a long and treacherous battle for equality, for peace and for justice in a place where white women are buffeted and prodded.

One day things have to change and it has to start somewhere.

The film’s appeal undoubtedly lies in watching Ruth and Seretse together, while every force around them conspires to tear them apart. Pike and Oyelowo’s chemistry is truly sincere, elegant and awe-inspiring, remaining composed and full of strength in pressure that would destroy anything but wholehearted love and commitment. Oyelowo also brings to his role a stillness and poise reflective of Martin Luther King, in which his reticence and influence blossoms. This deep romance and commitment, painted on a backdrop of horror and destruction, draws out the very best in humanity’s ability to conquer all.

I think that A United Kingdom’s greatest strength in fact lies in its ability to showcase that love can conquer all, even in times of incredible heartache. Without the persistence to create change in a seemingly imperfect world, nothing worthwhile would ever come about.

I want to make pieces of entertainment and art that mean something,” director Amma Asante recently told the BBC, “I want to make movies that leave some kind of mark on you.” But A United Kingdom does more than just simply leave a mark, with its nicely paced and intelligent depiction of a story almost too good to be true. A chapter of heartstring jerking history that deserves a close reading.

★★★★★

Imdb – 6.7/10  Rotten Tomatoes – 89%

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2011)

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In 2001, the twin towers of the World Trade Centre were an unloved New York City landmark that turned into a complex emblem for torment overnight. In the difficulty of conveying a catharsis for 9/11, films rarely centre on the subject, but rather the individuals whose lives have been tampered by its horror. Jonathon Safran Foer’s 2005 novel Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, adapted by Eric Roth and directed by Stephen Daldry, ambitiously conveys the horror of loss drawn from the event, and the sentimentality of moving on.

Oskar Schell, played by Thomas Horn, is only eleven years old, yet his prodigiously intelligent, remarkably pacific and technically proficient ways draw out an articulate and seriously solemn New Yorker. His father, Tom Hanks, is a scientist turned jeweller, who cast inexplicable joy and understanding into Oskar’s life, as he struggled to cope with Asperges. On the morning of the 11th of September 2001 Oskar has his very last conversation with his dad, before he disappears into the twin towers for a business meeting – as referred to by Oskar as “the worst day”. Driven by his Socratic enquiries, Oskar sets off on a journey to rediscover his father, and to find himself in the process.

“I regret that it takes a life to learn how to live.”

The film’s premise is engaging and mysterious, drawing out one little boy’s grief to create an impacting and unforgettable story of faith, hope and determination. Illustrated as merely a ripple of the 9/11 attack, Stephen Daldry focuses in on the characters as a raw reflection of the grief and turmoil of the event, and draws hope in finding life after loss. This raw honesty of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is confronting and challenging, yet it conveys a deep emotional connection to the screen and the beautiful story of Oskar Schell, who finds his greatest comfort in shaking his trusty tambourine.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is a fascinating, mysterious and awe-inspiring film driven by beautiful close ups and striking characters. Nominated for Best Picture and Critics Choice in 2011, this film is a sensational and moving masterpiece for the ages.

★★★★☆

Imdb – 6.9  Rotten Tomatoes – 46%