Diversity in the top Academy Awards: a look at the numbers

By Ray Bennett

LONDON – In the discussion about diversity in the top prizes of the Academy Awards, it’s worth noting that the Oscar for best director has gone to a white American male only five times in the 16 editions of the 21st century and only once in the last nine years.

In tonight’s 90th Oscar ceremony, only one white American male, Paul Thomas Anderson for ‘Phantom Thread’, is up for the best director award and he is not expected to win over Mexico’s Guillermo del Toro, the favourite for ‘The Shape of Water’.  The other nominees include only the fifth woman ever to be nominated, Greta Gerwig (‘Lady Bird’) and only the second African-American ( African-American, Jordon Peele (‘Get Out’) plus England’s Christopher Nolan (‘Dunkirk’).

Two black men (America’s Denzel Washington and the U.K.’s Daniel Kaluuya, from ‘Get Out’, pictured above) have best actor nominations while two African-American women (Mary J. Blige, Octavia Spencer) are nominated as best supporting actress.

This is not to overlook the vast inequalities across the rest of the Academy Awards and all the other big ceremonies nor even  the top Oscars as over the 16 years only one Latin American has even been nominated as best actor (Demián Bichir), one Latin American as best supporting actor (Benicio del Toro), one Latin American woman as best actress (Salma Hayek) although Colombia’s Catalina Sandino Moreno was nominated and not one Latin American woman as best supporting actress although Mexico’s Adriana Barraza received a nomination. Only two black men (America’s Lee Daniels and the U.K.’s Steve McQueen) and two female directors (Sophia Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow) ranked among the 70 nominees for best director before this year.

Over the 16 years of this century, Mexico’s Alejandro G. Iñárritu won as best director twice and fellow countryman Alfonso Cuaron won once; Taiwan’s Ang Lee won twice plus two demo Britain – Danny Boyle and Tom Hooper – Roman Polanski from Poland, Peter Jackson from New Zealand, Michel Hazanavicius from France, and one woman, Kathryn Bigelow from the U.S. Directors from Australia, Brazil, Canada, Germany, Norway and Spain also were nominated.

Eight of 16 best actor prizes were won by non-white Americans: three African-Americans (Denzel Washington, Jamie Foxx, Forest Whitaker), four British (Daniel Day-Lewis, twice, Colin Firth, Eddie Redmayne) plus France’s Jean Dujardin.

Ten of 16 best supporting actor awards went to non-white Americans: two African-Americans (Mahershala Ali, Morgan Freeman), three from the U.K. (Jim Broadbent, Christian Bale, Mark Rylance), one from Spain (Javier Bardem), one from Australia (Heath Ledger), one from Canada (Christopher Plummer) and two for Austria’s Christoph Waltz.

Seven of 16 best actress awards were won by non-white Americans: one African-American (Halle Berry), two from Australia (Nicole Kidman, Cate Blanchett) and one each from South Africa (Charlize Theron), the U.K. (Helen Mirren) and France (Marion Cotillard).

Eleven of 16 best supporting actress awards were won by non-white Americans: four African-Americans (Jennifer Hudson, Mo’Nique, Octavia Spencer, Viola Davis), three British (Catherine Zeta-Jones, Rachel Weisz, Tilda Swinton) one from Australa (Cate Blanchett), one from Spain (Penelope Cruz), one from Sweden (Alicia Vikander ) and Kenyan/Mexican Lupita Nyong’o.

The award for best score also has been spread around as 12 Oscars out of 16 have gone to non-American composers: three from Canada (Howard Shore, twice, Mychael Danna), two from the U.K. (Dario Marianelli, Steven Price), two from France (Ludovic Bource, Alexandre Desplat) and one each from Poland Jan A.P. Kaczmarek), India (A.R. Rahman) and Italy (Ennio Morricone) plus two for Argentina’s Gustavo Santaolalla.


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BAFTA Film Awards: my predictions and favourites

By Ray Bennett

LONDON – My hopes are with Guillermo del Toro’s dazzling “The Shape of Water” (pictured) at tonight’s 71st British Academy Film Awards although such is the high calibre of most of the nominees that it would be hard to begrudge other winners.

‘The Shape of Water” gets my vote for best film because of its sumptuous style and many small miracles of cinematic magic with glorious images and fine acting. Martin McDonaugh’s “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” also is highly deserving with its startling originality and more splendid acting. “Darkest Hour” and “Dunkirk” have great merit but also serious flaws although the sun-dappled Bernardo Bertolucci knock-off “Call Me By Your Name” hardly warrants a nomination.

The Outstanding British Film category is confusing as the very British “Dunkirk” is not on the list but the very American “Three Billboards” is. “The Death of Stalin” and “Paddington 2” are two excellent examples of British filmmaking, so this is a hard choice. It’s also difficult to separate the five directors while both screenplay categories and cinematography present a quandary.

Three memorable performances stand out for Leading Actress with  Sally Hawkins (“Shape of Water”), Frances McDormand (“Three Billboards”) and Saoirse Ronan (“Lady Bird”). Margot Robbie is plucky in “I, Tonya” although the film is all over the place and the presence of Annette Bening who overacts terribly in “Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool” is baffling. Jennifer Lawrence (“mother!”) or Rosamund Pike (“Hostiles”) would have been better choices.

Gary Oldman gives the finest portrayal of Winston Churchill I’ve ever seen on screen in “Darkest Hour”. He’s so good that the prosthetics and CGI tweaking are irrelevant. Daniel Day-Lewis gives a master class in “Phantom Thread” and Daniel Kaluuya adds depth to the witty and insightful “Get Out”. Jeremy Renner (“Wind River”) and Christian Bale (“Hostiles”) would have made better nominees than the full-of-promise Timothée Chalamet (“Call Me By Your Name”) or the not quite there yet Jamie Bell (“Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool”).

Laurie Metcalf (“Lady Bird”), Kristin Scott Thomas (“Darkest Hour”), Lesley Manville (“Phantom Thread”) and Octavia Spencer (“Shape of Water”) are all excellent in the Supporting Actress category although Alison Janney does little more than stare and swear constantly in “I, Tonya”. Hong Chau (“Downsizing”) or even Michelle Pfeiffer for her cameo in “mother!” would have been more welcome.

Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson make terrific contributions to “Three Billboards” in the Supporting Actor category and Hugh Grant’s nomination is richly deserved for “Paddington 2”. Christopher Plummer’s nod for the ragged “All the Money In the World” appears to be applause for showing up and not bumping into the furniture in Ridley Scott’s reshoot and Willem Dafoe’s presence appears to be a sympathy vote for having to put up with the amateur kids in “The Florida Project”. The great shame of these awards is that nominations did not go to Simon Russell Beale for his incisive depiction of a Soviet monster in “Death of Stalin” or Richard Jenkins for his unsentimental portrayal of a gentle soul in “Shape of Water”.

It has been a great year for film scores with nothing to separate the candidates save personal taste. I’ll be happy to see any of the nominees pick up the Bafta award although it’s a shame there couldn’t have been a sixth for Carter Burwell’s evocative music for “Three Billboards”.

In the U.K., an edited version of the awards ceremony hosted by Joanna Lumley will be broadcast on BBC1 at 9pm. The red carpet will be streamed on Facebook from 6:30pm GMT and the ceremony will be covered by BBC America.

Here are my predictions and favourites:

Best Film:

Will win: The Shape of Water

Should win: The Shape of Water

Missing: mother!

Outstanding British Film:

Will win: Darkest Hour

Should win: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Missing: Their Finest

Best Director:

Will win: Guillermo del Toro

Should win: Guillermo del Toro

Missing: Darren Aronofsky (mother!)

Best Actor:

Will win: Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour)

Should win: Gary Oldman

Missing: Christian Bale (Hostiles)

Best Actress:

Will win: Sally Hawkins

Should win: Sally Hawkins

Missing: Jennifer Lawrence (mother!)

Best Supporting Actor:

Will win: Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards)

Should win: Sam Rockwell

Missing: Simon Russell Beale (Death of Stalin)

Best Supporting Actress:

Will win: Lesley Manville (Phantom Thread)

Should win: Laurie Metcalf (Lady Bird)

Missing: Hong Chau (Downsizing)

Best Music:

Will win: Hans Zimmer (Dunkirk)

Should win: All of them

Missing: Carter Burwell (Three Billboards)

Best Cinematography:

Will win: Hoyte van Haytema (Dunkirk)

Should win: Dan Laustsen (Shape of Water)

Missing: Matthew Libatique (mother!)

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FILM REVIEW: Paul Thomas Anderson’s ‘Phantom Thread’

By Ray Bennett

LONDON – Paul Thomas Anderson’s new film ‘Phantom Thread’, starring Daniel Day-Lewis as an eccentric and punctilious fashion designer in 1950s London, is a thoroughly absorbing intellectual horror film in which the horror is entirely internal.

In something like Darren Aronofski’s ‘mother!’, the horror accelerates to fill every frame as hordes of invaders visit an orgy of shocks on a young woman and tear her carefully measured, bucolic life to pieces. Aronofski makes every outrage explicit.

In ‘Phantom Thread’, a single young woman invades the carefully measured, urban existence of an older man and turns it upside down from the inside. Keeping a steady, sedate pace, Anderson reveals the horror slowly through the reactions of one of the few actors capable of such nuanced subtlety.

Day-Lewis plays Reynolds Woodcock, a handsome and when needs be charming but fussy and pompous control-freak who makes a good living turning sows’ ears into silk purses. His small fashion-house produces custom-made gowns for dowdy, shapeless society women who imagine that an expensive outfit will render them beautiful. Obsessive, exclusive and haughty, Woodcock is happy to conspire profitably in that delusion and they adore his stern charm and shaded flattery.

Director Anderson’s witty and insightful screenplay sets the scene artfully with Woodcock’s team of expert and industrious seamstresses; the quiet order of his house; the sinister watchfulness of his sombre sister, Cyril, played with marvellous hints of malevolence by Lesley Manville (pictured); his pernickety habits even at breakfast; and the disposable young woman he’s taken for decoration and as idle bedmate. The carapace he has strived to construct bruises easily and while the title of the film refers directly to the secret messages to his late mother he sews into his creations, it also suggests the slim hold he has on his frangible pretences with the Sixties soon to come.

When he is sufficiently irritated and bored by the young woman, Reynolds has Cyril dispense with her and he soon meets another candidate, a curiously composed young waitress named Alma, played with angular poise by Vicky Krieps (pictured top with Day-Lewis), a young actress from Luxembourg. She responds to his overtures and is soon ensconced in the Woodcock home where she begins to chafe under its strict rules.

The designer appears set on yet another cycle with yet another young woman but Alma is of different mettle. The tension rises slowly but inevitably as she reveals a steely ability to manipulate things to her advantage. As Reynolds succumbs unwittingly to her sinuous manoeuvres, her intentions become increasingly portentous, especially when she gathers some poisonous mushrooms and decides to cook a meal.

Day-Lewis portrays a complex man with his usual delicacy and grace while Manville (who was named best supporting actress in the London Film Critics Circle Film Awards) hovers with potential malice and Krieps makes Alma an object of desire and menace. Mark Tildesley’s production design, the director’s camera work and Jonny Greenwood’s score are all outstandingly atmospheric. Increasingly mesmerising throughout the film’s 130 minutes, ‘Phantom Thread’ lingers in the mind long after the final haunting images.

Released: U.S. Jan. 19, 2018 (Focus Features) / U.K. Feb. 2, 2018 (Universal Pictures); Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Vicky Krieps, Lesley Manville, Sue Clark, Joan Brown, Harriet Leitch, Gina McKee; Director, writer, director of cinematography: Paul Thomas Anderson; Production designer: Mark Tildesley; Music: Jonny Greenwood; Editor: Dylan Tichenor; Costumes: Mark Bridges; Producers: Paul Thomas Anderson, Megan Ellison, Daniel Lupi, JoAnne Sellar; Executive producers: Chelsea Barnard, Peter Heslop, Adam Somner; Production: Annapurna Pictures, Focus Features, Ghoulardi Film Company, Perfect World Pictures; Rating: U.K. PG / U.S. R; running time: 130 minutes

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FILM REVIEW: Steven Spielberg’s ‘The Post’

By Ray Bennett

LONDON – Given the times, it’s no surprise that Steven Spielberg wants to tell the story of a corrupt swine in the White House who turns the press into an enemy. It’s also hardly surprising that film critics on newspapers love the earnest depiction of print versus power in ‘The Post’. It is disappointing, however, that with all the talent involved, the film is so dull. Continue reading

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‘The Shape of Water’ leads BAFTA 2018 film nominations

By Ray Bennett

LONDON – The BAFTA Film Awards nominations for 2018 are the usual mix of richly deserved and dubious possibilities with full marks for the inclusion of ‘The Shape of Water’ (pictured) and ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’ but dismay at the exclusion of the film ‘Lady Bird’ and its director, Greta Gerwig, and Simon Russell Beale for ‘The Death of Stalin’.

Guillermo Del Toro’s marvellous beauty-and-the beast fantasy copped 12 nominations including best film, best director, original screenplay, best actress for Sally Hawkins and best supporting actress for Octavia Spencer. Martin McDonagh’s riveting tale of violence and redemption in a small town matched that with nominations for best film, director, original screenplay, and best actress for Golden Globes-winner Florence McDormand among its nine, which also included nods for best supporting actor for Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson. Continue reading

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‘Shape ofWater’, ‘Three Billboards’ in London crix noms

Announcement today by the  Film Critics Circle, of which I am a proud member.

LONDON, 19 DECEMBER 2017: The UK’s leading film critics today announced the nominations for the 38th annual London Critics’ Circle Film Awards presented by Dover Street Entertainment. Martin McDonagh’s drama Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri was out front with seven nominations, including Film, Director, Screenwriter, Actress for Frances McDormand, and Supporting Actor for both Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson. In addition, as a British production the film is nominated for British/Irish Film of the Year. Continue reading

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FILM REVIEW: Denis Villeneuve’s ‘Blade Runner 2049’

By Ray Bennett

LONDON – ‘What if?” movies provide some of the most entertaining and thought provoking moments in cinema and there’s a good deal to enjoy in the sci-fi sequel “Blade Runner 2049” but its key “what if?” question gives it a hollow core.

Like Ridley Scott’s 1982 original, based on Philip K. Dick’s “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”, it’s set in a grim, dystopian future where human beings interact with hybrid robots called replicants. In the first, the job of grizzled detective Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) is to hunt down androids who threaten to outlive their designated use-by date as they tend to become dangerous. Continue reading

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FIMUCITÉ concert: ‘Stephen King’s Night Gallery’

By Ray Bennett

TENERIFE – A celebration of music from screen versions of stories by the world’s most popular horror writer, which  closed Fimucitê on Saturday night, featured world premieres of cues from the much-loved 1990 TV adaptation of “It” by Richard Bellis and the current hit feature film by Benjamin Wallfisch. Continue reading

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FIMUCITÉ concert: ‘Sword & Sorcery’

By Ray Bennett

TENERIFE – Movie composer Trevor Jones (below left), whose credits over an almost 40-year career include “Labyrinth”, “Angel Heart”, “Mississippi Burning”, “The Last of the Mohicans”, “Brassed Off!” and “Notting Hill”, was celebrated for his scores for fantasy films in a Fimucité concert titled “Sword & Sorcery: Symphonic Chronicles of a Legendary Era” at the Auditorio de Tenerife Adán Martín in Santa Cruz on Friday night. Continue reading

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FIMUCITÉ Concert: Warriors From the Silver Screen

By Ray Bennett

TENERIFE – “Exceptional!” That’s the word used by maestro Diego Navarro – the superstar of the Fimucité Film Music Festival, who knows a thing or two about great orchestras – to describe the performance of the festival’s Youth Symphony Orchestra at a concert of famous scores from action movies Thursday night. Continue reading

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