2020 Academy Award Nominees: An Array of Brief Reviews

Here are my brief thoughts on a few award-contending films that I’m probably not going to write a full review of, either because of time constraints or in some cases because my thoughts on them need a more recent repeat viewing, or in some cases there’s not much I have to say. I’ve also given my thoughts on their chances of winning their respective Oscars.

The Lion King (2019) – Visually, it’s a really impressive film, yet somehow it’s staggeringly unimpressive in almost every other way. I don’t have a long-held love of the original from my childhood, I only saw it for the first (and second) time a couple of years ago, but I felt like this added almost nothing to the story and in some ways detracted from it. The photorealistic characters look amazing, they’re of the highest visual artistry but crucially they lack the personality afforded by the more anthropomorphised hand-drawn versions. The voice casting was generally excellent, but no amount of vocal charisma is enough to make this anywhere near as special as it needed to be a worthwhile reimagining of Disney’s most acclaimed animated classic. $1.6bn however means that Disney will continue making these, I just hope they work harder on adapting their classics in a way that actually adds something to each, not like this almost shot-for-shot remake.

Nominated for: Visual Effects. Chances of winning: Oddly low despite being completely made by VFX artists. It should be in the Animated category and people know it, though Disney are determined to package it as ‘Live-Action’.

Avengers: Endgame – I’ve been invested in the franchise from the start, so I was primed to love this and I certainly did. I saw it twice in the cinema, the first viewing being the midnight premiere screening as I couldn’t possibly wait or risk the chances of spoilers. The atmosphere was superb, the film clearly lived up to expectations. Much was said about the long runtime but it really doesn’t drag, there’s so much going on and every opportunity is taken to have fun with the characters, retroactively add extra layers of story development and nicely incorporate some fan service when possible. It holds up on repeat viewing very well and though there are bits that aren’t perfect, it does tie together the strands of the ‘Infinity Saga’ in a way that feels satisfying and complete.

Nominated for: Visual Effects. Chances of winning: Not too bad, it might happen as a way of giving recognition to the accomplishments of the whole franchise and the effects are extensive and varied so showcase many skills.

Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker – I have really enjoyed going to see the Disney-era films at the cinema but this was a messy beast of a film. It felt overstuffed, muddled, and like it pushed aside all recent development and much logic in a thankless attempt to tick certain boxes. A minor let down for me, but I’m not a huge fan of the franchise with high levels of investment and expectations. I think it may even get worse on repeat viewing, especially if seen straight after episodes 7 & 8 as part of a marathon. The characters developed in this phase of the franchise are badly let down and it’s a waste of potential that was abundantly clear when I saw ‘The Force Awakens’. Hopefully, now they’ll leave the Skywalker saga completely alone and ensure that any future films or series don’t try to ‘fix’ the problems as it’ll just make things worse.

Nominated for: Visual Effects, Score, Sound Editing. Chances of winning: Low, they release a Star Wars film each year with similar effects, score, and sound, yet this being one of the weakest instalments there’s no impetus to award it.

Missing Link – Another example of beautiful filmmaking as is always the case from Laika, their animation always looks incredible, though I didn’t feel like the story or characters did very much to keep me completely interested. I liked the character of Susan and Zack Galifinakis voiced him brilliantly, especially as the film is more comedic than some of their others, though, beyond that, it’s not a tale that’s going to stick with me for very long. I have seen it twice on Netflix while very tired and kept dozing off, missing different bits both times, so I have seen it through but not in one perfect sitting, which may be more my fault than the film’s but still I feel like the adventurous aspects could be heightened a little more so it’s the exciting adventure it promises to be in the marketing.

Nominated for: Animated Feature. Chances of winning: Very low, while it won the Golden Globe it isn’t going to get the Oscar.

I Lost My Body / J’ai perdu mon corps – This French animation is possibly the lowest-profile of this year’s Academy Award nominees available to stream on Netflix. A severed hand makes its way across the city to get back to its owner while recounting key events in his life from his youth and recent past. This premise sounds somewhat macabre but in practice the film makes great efforts to be heartfelt and charming, effectively counteracting the weirdness of the unusual first-hand perspective. Hand in hand with that is the visual style, really beautiful hand-drawn animation that I found particularly expressive and endearing. No explanation is given for the hand’s agency. It’s not enchanted or extra-terrestrial, not superhuman nor supernatural, it’s just happening and facilitating the beautiful storytelling. I watched it in the English dubbed version for ease, which featured such voices as Dev Patel and Alia Shawkat and it kept me completely invested and entertained throughout.

Nominated for: Animated Feature. Chances of winning: None, there are much more beloved films in this race.

The Odd Futility of ‘Once Upon A Deadpool’

Fox pulled a bit of a surprise out of the bag when they announced in September that there would be an ‘Untitled Deadpool Movie’ released in December 2018, just 7 months after the success of ‘Deadpool 2’.

It transpired that this shock mystery release is a new ‘family friendly’ edit of ‘Deadpool 2’, with about 20 minutes of added scenes. Shamelessly edited to obtain a franchise-low rating of PG-13 in the U.S. so it can capitalize on a slightly younger audience that hadn’t previously been able to see it in theaters. With needed cuts that all-important target was obtained.

However, here in the U.K. both ‘Deadpool’ and ‘Deadpool 2’ were rated 15 (for clarity here that means nobody under 15 will be admitted regardless of if they have an older guardian accompanying them). Therefore the nearest equivalent rating here in the U.K. would be a 12A, which allows 12’s and above to see it unaccompanied, while under 12’s can also see the movie if accompanied by an adult.

The ‘family friendly’ re-edit ‘Once Upon A Deadpool’ has been given its U.K. rating by the BBFC and it’s… a 15!

That means with all the edits, cutting out enough to placate the U.S. rating board the MPAA, they’ve not changed it in any meaningful way in the eyes of the BBFC.

There’s a clear and simple reason for this. Though the marketing has said that no ‘Fs’ will be given in ‘Once Upon A Deadpool’, meaning we know that the most offensive language has been removed, this was never the biggest hurdle for it’s U.K. classification.

Violence seems to be the most obvious explanation. U.S. audiences are far less concerned by that in their PG-13 movies than U.K. audiences are. So while the re-edited movie may be less rude and crude than before, it’s no less violent, something we care about on this side of the pond, especially when it comes to what children see.

I am fascinated by what Fox has done here, making two edits of a film to capitalize on a larger audience, and while others may hate it (especially when it comes to a character like Deadpool), I’d not be against having an option of edits for some films, especially in this genre I’m so fond of. Whether this is a one-off oddity or a new trend will largely depend on box-office success, something that will be clear in a few days time once the numbers for the U.K. and U.S. are released. 

I do think it will be a success in the U.S. and I think it will have a little success in the U.K. with fans who saw ‘Deadpool 2’ and now want to see the 20 minutes of new footage and are interested to see what else has changed. If the violence had been largely cut, I think we would be looking at a far larger success story on this side of the Atlantic as teens want something to go see with their friends as they enter the school holidays. 

Nevertheless, if it is to become a new technique used by studios to widen their audience, they might want to refine it a little, taking into consideration some international variations that would make a huge difference in overseas markets. All the work of re-editing and drastically changing a film to theatrically release it for a younger audience, seems like a lot of work for a limited reward if it only makes a discernable difference to the American theatres. 

Wonder Woman and her Enduring Love (Potential Spoilers)

UPDATE: Looks like I have a shot at being right as Chris Pine’s return has been officially confirmed for ‘Wonder Woman 1984’

Would you look at that! ‘Wonder Woman‘ has done far better than anyone expected. After the DCEU’s preceding films ‘Batman v. Superman‘ and ‘Suicide Squad’ were such disappointments and widely derided as soon as the initial fervour waned, expectations for Diana’s solo opener were considerably lowered, something I felt the effect of. It’s weirdly pleasing then to see how it has broken records weekly, probably becoming the most successful film of the new DCEU and still going strong at the box office in many places, as well as being the highest-grossing film ever by a female director.

It’s no surprise then to see that ‘Wonder Woman 2’ has already been confirmed, potentially able to overtake the production of another ‘Man of Steel’ movie, likely the troubled ‘The Flash’ solo movie, maybe even ‘The Batman’ if that continues to have issues. One reason I and others want to see another film with this character and by the same creative team is the vastly-improved tone, as ‘Wonder Woman’ brings a sense of fun and joy to the DCEU that has been missing for years, including a romance that’s actually believable. For more extensive thoughts on this read my spoiler-free review here.

There will be spoilers for ‘Wonder Woman’ from this point on, so if you haven’t yet seen the film and don’t want key points spoilt maybe read the rest of this after you’ve seen it. 

As discussion began on the sequel, rumours surfaced that Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) may be set to return in the second movie. This may surprise you as 1) he ostensibly died at the end, you can’t have missed that, it was big! And 2) the second film is (possibly) being set in the 80’s so if living he would be pretty old. Not blessed with her magical genes, he won’t age as gracefully as Diana, so theoretically he would be a nonagenarian beset by all the human ails that go along with such advanced years.

So, how could his return work?

I have a few interesting thoughts that are not ‘spoilers’ per-se as I have not based them on any comic book basis (that I know of as I haven’t read any of them). Well, in my full review of the film I tried very hard to avoid drawing comparisons with ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’ as many had already done, but I think there may be some ways the writers could resolve this issue by drawing upon (read ‘copying’) ways that franchise has kept characters alive despite all attempts to kill them and the large jump in time.

Firstly, the Wonder Woman TV show in the 70s had Steve Trevor Jr. so that’s a possible option to give Pine a way in. It would be weird, weirder than Captain America dating Peggy’s great-niece, yet completely possible. However, the film offered no real solid reason to think Steve had a child. There are a few comments about him never marrying (at least not successfully), maybe hinting he had a past love, though I’d say it’s a real stretch to take these few lines and see an underlying sub-text suggesting he has a son.

The second most likely way we might see Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor is with a flashback scene of some sort. I have no idea what this would be about or how it would fit into the story, maybe something to explain the existence of a son so that Jr. can be introduced.

For me, there’s a more interesting option, one that the film does leave just enough room for in the narrative and editing of Steve’s death (we don’t see him engulfed in flames up close, possibly as it would change the rating). Dr Moreau and Ludendorff filled that plane (we believe) with their deadly gas, though we know she also had another concoction, the strength-enhancing vials she gives her mentor. What if, the plane had the deadly gas and/or that completely different substance?

Imagine these scenarios for a moment. If Steve had even just some of the good stuff and made use of it before being engulfed in a fireball, maybe it would be just enough to give him the resilience to survive the flames and fall. True, that would then raise the question why he didn’t make his way back to Diana by the end of the historical part of the film, or the actual end of the film (which is decades later and plenty time even on foot to find her).

However, let’s go even more into the ‘Captain America’ comparison with an unlikely extensive ripping off of the ‘Winter Soldier’. Imagine the plane was being filled with the strength-enhancer instead of the deadly gas. In which case, when it exploded, Steve would have been engulfed in an intense extreme overdose, in comic book and superhero tropes (just think of any heroes created by a chemical spillage) enough to make him invincible, near immortal, likely even slowing the effects of ageing. However, I’ve learnt in my extensive study of the genre that these powers can take a little time to have an effect, sometimes making their recipient unwell or even unconscious for a time. Therefore it would incapacitate Steve, making him vulnerable to amnesia, capture, brainwashing, all the usual features that allow for massive plot twists many years in the future.

Surely they won’t do this with ‘Wonder Woman 2’, after the many and clear similarities to ‘Captain America’ it would just be asking for more unfavourable comparisons, and pretty unoriginal. Though we must remember, in this world of comics almost anything is possible and beloved characters almost never truly die. If they want to repeat the much-prasied chemistry, the writers will find a way!