‘Exciting’ has lost its meaning

Wow, can I just begin by saying how incredibly excited I am to be given this opportunity to write about such an awesomely exciting subject. Don’t worry, this isn’t the start of some interminable Oscars-worthy speech. In truth, I’m not remotely ‘excited’ at the prospect of writing this article about the overuse of the word ‘exciting’. That’s because I’m an adult and adults tend to temper their enthusiasm with cold, hard reality.  The last time I felt genuine excitement, as in jumping around the room wild-eyed and whooping, was as a child when I awoke to find one of my dad’s old socks stuffed with toys draped over the end

Is Will Smith too toxic to be taken seriously?

After 9/11, American comedians found themselves in a tricky situation. Make fun of any of the usual standbys of their trade – politicians, authority figures, Rudy Giuliani, anyone who wore a badge for a living – and they were liable to be shouted down in an angry chorus of: ‘Too soon!’ Yet if all the jokes they could tell were sanitised and tame, their reputations would decline in an instant. It was a bold comic who tried to argue that telling jokes was a natural human response to disaster; many audiences simply refused to find things funny. Will Smith now finds himself in a similar position. The one-time Fresh Prince

Didn’t deserve an Oscar: Coda reviewed

This year the Oscar for best film went to the drama Coda – ‘Child of Deaf Adults’ – but the ceremony will now probably only be remembered for Wsscrfmhw (‘Will Smith Slapping Chris Rock For Mocking His Wife’). And we thought that mix-up over envelopes was exciting! But back to the film, which beat the favourite, The Power of the Dog, although Jane Campion did win best director, making her the third woman ever to do so. That’s three women in 93 years of the awards. If we carry on at that rate, by the turn of the next century it may even be five. Coda is only viewable on

Oscars diary: a jaw-dropping night

Oscar week is intense – and it’s been a while since it’s been as intense. The red carpet is full of eager paparazzi and interviewers waiting for a photo opportunity or a quotable gaffe. My husband and I went to a couple of parties, but the most coveted is the Vanity Fair Oscar viewing dinner at the Annenberg Center. About 100 people are invited by editor Radhika Jones, and we were delighted to be among the chosen few. The ceremony was long and snoozy, and people were scrolling down their phones for entertainment when suddenly one of the most celebrated actors in Tinseltown, Will Smith, rushed to the stage and

Will Smith’s slap was a triumph

Will Smith’s straight arm slap of Chris Rock at the Oscars was, for my money, the most interesting event ever to have transpired at any awards show in history. It pips even my previous favourite, which was when Jarvis Cocker ran onstage during the 1996 Brits to reveal his buttocks in protest at Michael Jackson’s ludicrously overblown performance of Earth Song. Did Rock ask to be attacked for humiliating Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett-Smith, on account of her alopecia? Yes, of course. But that was the point. The joke was predicated entirely on the comic getting away with saying the unsayable – a formulation of words intended to be deeply provocative

What Will Smith’s slap means for comedy

Now this is a story all about how The Oscars got flipped-turned upside down. And I’d like to take a minute. Just sit right there. I’ll tell you how I told told a joke about a chick with no hair… Well, I think we all know what the opening routine of Chris Rock’s next Netflix special is going to be. Say what you want about the Oscars, this year people are certainly talking about them. But not about the movies, about the Fresh Prince himself, Will Smith, slapping comedian Chris Rock on a worldwide broadcast in front of the Hollywood elite. Like every British comedian, after I woke up and read the news, I ran

How to save the Oscars

This Sunday’s Academy Awards will be a litmus test of whether Hollywood can uncouple itself from the political agenda of young woke radicals that is proving so unpopular in the US. Joe Biden had a stab at it during his State of the Union address, criticising the ‘defund the police’ movement for fear of a Democrat wipeout in the midterms, and the New York Times did an astonishing volte-face last week, publishing an editorial in defence of free speech. A bit rich from the paper that recently forced out its most distinguished science reporter at the behest of its junior staff for using the n-word in a discussion about the

‘What do you think the English will say?’ Pablo Larrain on his pop horror Diana film

It all looks ever so Sandringham. Formal evening garb, dining table the length of a cricket pitch, royalty nibbling in silence. As a tableau vivant it might be lit by Lichfield and styled by Hartnell. And yet something is awry. The beautiful princess feels stifled. She grabs at the tourniquet of pearls roped round her neck, whereupon it snaps. Huge gems plop into her gloopy green soup. Dauntlessly she dips a spoon in, feeds a pearl into her mouth and takes a pulverising bite. This royal Christmas is not normal for Norfolk. Spencer is the latest entertainment seeking to decrypt the myth of Diana, Princess of Wales. Its opening credits

Anthony Hopkins’s portrayal of dementia will undo you: The Father reviewed

The Father is an immensely powerful film about dementia starring Sir Anthony Hopkins, who was asleep in his bed in Wales when his Best Actor Oscar was announced, so we’ll never know if his outfit would have been a hit or a miss. Shall we give him the benefit of the doubt and say ‘hit’? Either way, he is absolutely remarkable here. I read the screenplay, available online, out of curiosity, and what he brings to the words on the page is beyond and beyond and beyond. Hopkins has played King Lear (twice) but this is his real King Lear. What Hopkins brings to the words on the page is

This film deserves all the awards and praise: Nomadland reviewed

Nomadland won multiple Oscars including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actress, and if there’d been an award for Best Film In Which The Woman In Her Sixties Isn’t The Least Developed Character In The Screenplay, Hallelujah, About Time, it would have scooped that too. Not much competition, regrettably, but you have to admire the film just for that, plus there is much to admire generally. It is based on the non-fiction book Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century by the journalist Jessica Bruder, who spent months living with older Americans who, out of economic necessity, eke out a living while travelling from place to place for seasonal employment.

No wonder viewers are boycotting the Oscars

The Oscars are in trouble. People are switching off in their millions. A paltry 9.85m Americans tuned in to the 93rd Oscars on Sunday evening. Film and TV execs will be tearing their hair out. They go to all that trouble to put on a night of glamour and back-slapping and the little people don’t even bother to watch? The really surprising thing, of course, is that anyone is surprised. The Oscars has become insufferable in recent years. It’s gone from being a celebration of celluloid achievement to a three-hour finger-wag at the masses about everything from climate change to racial awareness. Why on earth would your average American tune

It’s time to scrap the Best Actress Oscar award

If you tune in to the Oscars during the early hours of Monday morning, you’ll note – along with sickly fawning about contemporary motion pictures being high art, beautiful people in beautiful clothes, and the kind of feigned surprise that wouldn’t look out of place in a school production – two glaring anomalies in the line-up: ‘Best Actress’ and ‘Best Supporting Actress’. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has recognised a leading actress every year since 1929. It’s one of the oldest prizes for women in the arts. Back in the Twenties, when there was even less of a chance a studio would let a woman write or

‘Collective’ shines a light on Romania’s deadly corruption problem

A gripping Romanian documentary has made history as the country’s first film ever to be nominated for an Oscar in the international category. But ‘Collective’, which is also shortlisted for best documentary feature at tonight’s ceremony, isn’t a source of national pride. In fact, far from it: the movie shines a spotlight on the country’s rotten healthcare system. It follows a team of investigative journalists as they uncover deep-seated corruption in the aftermath of a deadly nightclub fire in Bucharest in 2015, that killed 65 people. While 27 died on the night of the fire, many more died in the months afterwards. They lost their lives in bacteria-riddled hospitals that were not only

10 cult films that missed out at the Oscars

It’s no great secret that the Oscar for Best Picture has been awarded to some puzzling choices over the years. Way back in 1944, the musical comedy Going My Way won the award, rather than Billy Wilder’s classic Film Noir Double Indemnity. Then flash forward to 1952 when Cecil B. DeMille’s tiresome circus picture The Greatest Show on Earth trounced High Noon, whilst in later years Dr Strangelove lost to My Fair Lady, Rocky outdid Taxi Driver and (notoriously) Driving Miss Daisy ran over My Left Foot. In recognition of this, here’s a purely personal look at ten times when the Academy Award for Best Picture went to a dubious choice, and

Riveting and heartbreaking: Sound of Metal reviewed

The multi-Oscar-nominated Sound of Metal stars Riz Ahmed as a heavy-metal drummer whose life is in freefall after losing his hearing. Ahmed learned to play drums for the part. And he learned American Sign Language. And he learned to perform with white noise in his ears. However, he did not have to learn how to be riveting because, if you’ve followed his career, you’ll know he’s been that since day one, and he is magnificently, powerfully, heartbreakingly riveting here. If he doesn’t win the Oscar I’ll be furious. That counts for nothing, I know. But it had to be said. It is directed by Darius Marder, who co-wrote the screenplay

Why are the Oscars such a lousy guide to great cinema?

Chloé Zhao’s Nomadland, predicted to win big at this year’s Oscars, is not a terrible film. It’s a slight, sentimental Grapes of Wrath-ish journey through the Discourse, with essential Discourse stop-offs at an Amazon warehouse and the rust belt. It belongs in the New Yorker, not on screen. As with almost every film to win big since No Country for Old Men 13 years ago, you just think: the ‘highest honours in filmmaking’? For that? Amid all the change that’s being trumpeted at this year’s Oscars — more women directors, more ethnic minorities — the one thing missing is any discussion about why the awards are such a lousy guide

The TV we feared they’d never dare make any more: The Singapore Grip reviewed

‘Art is dead,’ declared Mark Steyn recently. He was referring to the new rules — copied from the Baftas — whereby to qualify for the Oscars your movie must have the correct quota of gay/ethnic minority/transgender/etc people. This, he argued, will lead to the kind of leaden, politicised, phoney art we associate with communist regimes in the Soviet era and which, not so long ago, we used to find eminently mockable. If British and American producers want to lose money on TV shows and movies that no one wants to watch, then good luck to them. All that matters is that there’ll be enough brave dissenters out there to say:

The perfect film for family viewing: Belleville Rendez-Vous revisited

The selection of a film for family viewing is a precise and delicate art, particularly with us all now confined to quarters in intergenerational lockdown. Should the film-picker misjudge the terrain on ‘scenes of a sexual nature’, the entire family will be condemned to sit, agonised, through the dreaded onset of rhythmic heavy breathing and beyond, until finally someone cracks and mumbles ‘this is a bit racy’ while reaching for the fast-forward button. On the other hand, some of the full-throttle kids’ films seem designed to test adult sanity to its limit. I made the mistake once of watching Rugrats in Paris with a hangover, and when the maniacally squeaky

Joaquin Phoenix’s Oscars speech was beyond a joke

The 2020 Oscars will go down in history for two things: Bong Joon-ho’s brilliant film Parasite becoming the first foreign-language film ever to win Best Picture. And Joaquin Phoenix talking about artificially inseminating cows. Yes, in a crowded field of un-self-aware, right-on speeches and stunts during this year’s awards season – Natalie Portman’s Dior cape bearing the names of snubbed female directors certainly deserves an honourable mention – Phoenix came out on top. In his emotional acceptance speech for Best Actor, won for his skeletal, bravura performance in Joker, Phoenix was almost quaking as he talked about the need for a political unity of purpose among the Hollywood set. ‘[W]e

Satire, thriller, comedy all in one: ‘Parasite’ reviewed

Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite won the Bafta for best foreign film and is up for six Oscars and it is an involving drama. And satire. And thriller. And comedy. And allegory. And it is fabulous and enthralling on all those counts. It works on every level which is, perhaps, fitting for a film about levels and whether you are at the top or bottom in life. Essentially, it’s the story of a low-status family who gaslight a high-status family so it’s Crazy Rich Asians but Crazy Poor Asians too. Plus, it features the grimmest child’s birthday party ever. It is also a horror flick, I forgot to say. It’s set in