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Sunday 26 May 2019
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Mad about films

The real international madness we are living through in these times demands some escapism to keep us sane. Carnival will do the job for many but for countless others the movies are just what the doctor ordered.

As if to prove my point, last year was a bumper year for knock out films, with the appearance of some “first time” productions lining up for the big prizes, such as the mega successful Black Panther, based on the Marvel comic, produced by Marvel Studios, with its huge black cast directed by young African-American director Ryan Coogler. The mordant, cynically comic, very British account of Queen Anne’s 18th century palace intrigues, confusingly called The Favourite, is another, as well as Roma, the exquisite homage to a childhood servant/nanny of the gifted Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón, the first Netflix film to be nominated for best picture award. Black Panther and Roma each have 10 Oscar nominations, so if all goes to plan, the academy members who decide on the Oscars will allow those two films to take home a fair clutch of famous gold-plated bronze statuettes.

The current season of prestigious British and US film awards started back in November with nominations for a long string of awards followed by a rash of award ceremonies, each presaging the favourites for the revered Oscars, the grand finale of the season. Along the way the excitement has grown, trying to predict the Oscar winners from amongst the various critics awards, guild awards and other award winners, all of which either reinforce or contradict just who the viable Academy Award winner favourites really might be.

Of course, the season is not without controversy and much disappointment for many.

A hot topic in recent years has been the paucity of nominations of women directors. With no Academy Award nominations this year in that category after last year’s fairly good showing, critics point to some deserving directors and films and the academy’s oversight yet again. The paucity of non-white Academy Award nominees and winners has also become a common complaint and the academy has made efforts to right that wrong by diversifying the ethnicity of its members and so recognised some of the many fabulous actors and actresses of colour who have emerged in recent years. This year, for the first time, they have nominated Spike Lee for best director. The genius African-American director who burst onto the Hollywood scene in the 1980s has not been courted much since then but his incredibly sophisticated, hilariously wry BlacKkKlansman could not be ignored. The film won the Cannes Grand Prix and received 18 major award nominations including Academy Award for best film.

I recommend Lee’s clever cinematic interpretation of what might have happened in small town police stations to prevent the notorious Klu Klux Klan from growth and influence. It was my favourite film of 2018 for its subtlety, imagination and deftness in handling an obnoxious subject and making you laugh at the right things even if you had to cringe at the absurdity of humankind for a lot of the film.

BlacKkKlansman is a highly fictionalised adaptation by Lee of the autobiography of African-American policeman Ron Stallworth who infiltrates the KKK in the 1970s by applying to join, on the phone. Soon, his brooding Jewish colleague, passing as Stallworth when necessary, forges a personal relationship with the Klan and becomes a favourite of the grand wizard and his pathetic but dangerous loser-type followers who plan to graduate from burning crosses to terrorism, under the banner of “America first”, which we all recognise as current US political philosophy.

Prizes and awards are difficult things because judging is not an exact science and hardly ever produces the expected results. For example, you might expect some correlation between the most popular films and the ones the juries of the big awards pick, such as Black Panther, one of the most successful box office hits ever. And this is what makes the contrasting Roma a most unusual nomination for a best picture Oscar and a surprising winner of 17 other international awards so far.

The studied, Spanish language film, shot in black and white, with a lead female character who hardly speaks is an emotionally affecting domestic drama that has brought a new actress of indigenous origins to the screen, getting her several best actress nominations but Roma has not been seen on the big screen.

Roma is my other 2018 favourite for its superb craft but also for its evocation of Mexico City where I became a student in the 1970s after the military murdered over 100 young people during a student demonstration on Corpus Christi. It reminds me to live in the now as things can always get much worse.

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