Femphile’s Alternative Academy Awards 2018

Hello!

I’ve been on a bit of a hiatus (you may or may not have noticed) but I’m pleased to say I’m back baby! It’s been a weird month, finishing up at my last job and starting my new job this week but I am getting settled and really, it’s all quite exciting!

What is also exciting (depending on your definition of the word of course), is that tonight brings us the 90th Academy Awards. That’s 89 years of men winning Best Director, 90 years of male directors films winning Best Picture and 90 years of female artists, crew and actors being asked more about who they are wearing than about their craft, vision or talent.

Look, you probably know by now I am not the biggest fan of the Academy. The #metoo movement has blasted the doors wide open on the rampant sexism, abuse and horryfing attitudes of those whom the Academy pour endless praise on year after year (yes, Woody Allen, Roman Polanski I am looking at you). So I am not going to pretend that, to me, the Oscars are that big of a deal. The films nominated films for Best Picture barely measure up to what I would actually consider the best films of 2017/2018. Some are good, some are terrible and some are just existing somewhere in between.

What I’m aiming to do here, is to give you recommendations for other (sometimes better) films that you should watch if you’ve seen the Best Picture noms. They are films I have picked for various reasons – subject matter, narrative, visual style – but, for me, they are films which deserve to be seen just as much as the nominated films, if not more. So without further ado… Femphile’s Alternative Academy Awards begins below…!

 

If you liked LADYBIRD, watch PRINCESS CYD

Ladybird is one of my top contenders for Best Picture this year. Relatable, funny, sweet and sad – it’s Ladybird’s mother-daughter relationship that sealed the deal for me. As a first time director, Gerwig succeeds in certain places (authenticity, humour and her direction of both Soise Ronan and Laurie Metcalf), but I think Ladybird suffered from an odd pacing, and short sequences that never gave us a chance to properly get to know it’s characters. Still, it’s a film which we need right now, and one which seems to give an accurate voice to teenage girl experience.

Princess Cyd also came out in 2017, after boucning around the festival circuit, it has landed on Netflix. Directed and written by Stephen Cone, it’s the story of Cyd – a teenage girl who goes to spend the summer at her aunt’s house in Chicago. The film explores the generational gaps between Cyd and her aunt Miranda, the unresolved grief of losing Cyd’s mother, sexuality, gender and the trials of being a teenager. Though heavy in ‘issues’, Princess Cyd is a quiet and subtle film. Shot on film, and looking like a heady instagram filter throughout, Cone allows us to find our way through it – just as Cyd is finding herself. You’ll laugh and cry, and it will be no bad thing either way.

Princess Cyd

If you liked DUNKIRK or DARKEST HOUR, watch THEIR FINEST

I won’t lie to you, I have zero interest in either Dunkirk or Darkest Hour. Maybe that means I will have to revoke my cinephile license, or maybe it just means I have little time to waste on subjects that I have seen so many times before – either way, they are not my cup of tea.

What IS my cup of tea though, is Lone Scherfig’s WW2 drama Their Finest. Based on the novel, the film follows the misadventures of the UK’s Ministry of Information – Film Division team as they try to put together a morale raising epic about the Dunkirk evacuation. Protagonist Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton) is summoned to London to assist on writing scripts with the ministry as there are very few men left in the industry – most having been shipped off to war. Catrin, who is employed to write the women’s lines only to begin with, is headstrong, creative and becomes an absolute assett to the team. Amongst bombings, re-writes, heartbreak and a terrible American actor – Catrin perseveres It may not be the all-singing-all-dancing Dunkirk or star a heavily made-up Gary Oldman, but Their Finest draws from real events and gives a different perspective on WW2.

If you liked CALL ME BY YOUR NAME, watch LOVESONG

My personal favourite of the year, Call Me By Your Name doesn’t really need any recommendations to come afterwards. Just watch it on repeat and sob continuously to Surfjan Stevens. However, as the intention of this article is to give recommendations, I will give one anyway.

Lovesong is a 2016 indie, directed by So Yung Kim.  Starring Riley Keough and Jena Malone as two friends who go on an impromptu roadtrip, Lovesong is a sweet little film that gives more than I initially expected it to. Sarah (Keough) has a young daughter with her frequently absent, but successful husband. Annoyed and fustrated, she embarks on a roadtrip with her young daughter and her old college friend Mindy (Malone). Whilst at first they appear to just be friends, it soon becomes evident that the two of them have a complicated history. There are many stand-out moments in Lovesong, but it’s watching Mindy and Sarah ride the fairground ferris wheel in knowing silence which stands out the most. Beautifully shot, and with a soundtrack to match, it’s the perfect accompaniment to Call Me By Your Name.

If you liked GET OUT, watch RAW

It’s hard to pitch another film against Get Out. I’ve yet to see I can compare to it’s honest and brutal style, nor it’s phenomenal take-down of white supremacy and institutional racism. If there’s a film which deserves to win this year – it’s certainly got to be Get Out.

In the purest sense, Raw (Julia Ducournau, 2017) is right up there next to Get Out, for me. Tonally, and with the abject body horror concepts, Get Out and Raw share the same unique sense of storytelling, woven in with much bigger ideas about the society that we live in. In Raw, Ducournau explores the societal pressures on young women through the character of Justine, a former vegetarian who (upon tasting meat for the first time) gains a horrifying penchant for human flesh. Justine, and her older sister Alexia, both struggle to deal with their ‘illness’, and as much as they become a support for each other, they also become each other’s worst nightmare. Visually, Raw leaves a lasting impression (there’s plenty of gore to go around) but Ducournau’s message will stay with you for a while after switching it off.

If you liked PHANTOM THREAD

I watched Phantom Thread about three weeks ago and I am still not sure if a) I’ve fully recovered and b) whether I’ll ever truly understand it. It’s a unique film, which fits so well into Paul Thomas Anderson’s body of work, but it’s one which perhaps needs three or four viewings to get a complete handle on. If nothing else, it should certainly win best costume.

A hard film to pin down, it’s almost genreless, but if you are interesgted in the power dynamics between a sociopathic designer and his muse, then watch Dior and I. Inviting the audience behind the doors of the prestigious house of Christian Dior – director Federic  Tcheng centers the film on designer Raf Simons. Not only does Dior and I explore just what it takes to make a gown float aesthetically, or the tireless hours which the veteran seamstresses work, but also the power dynamics at play in an industry where hierarchy is of the upmost importance. If the fashion of Phantom Thread does it for you, then Dior and I will be the perfect accompaniment. Indeed if watching Reynolds obsess over his ideas on femininity, fashion and his craft – well Dior and I will certainly fill that void also.

 

If you liked SHAPE OF WATER, watch FAR FROM HEAVEN

Guillermo Del Toro has frequently stated that All That Heaven Allows (Douglas Sirk, 1955) was a direct influence on The Shape of Water, and it isn’t hard to see that within the film. If the idea of forbidden love and a harkening back to the 1950’s does it for you, then you should definitely watch Far From Heaven – Todd Haynes’ homage to Sirk’s classic.

Starring Julianne Moore, Dennis Quaid and Dennis Haysbert, Far From Heaven adapts Sirk’s original text exploring class divides into a film which features lovers hindered by sexuality, race, class and societal conformity. Cathy (Moore) is married to Frank (Quaid) and the two live a seemingly idyllic life, complete with a two kids and a white picket fence. Slowly though, their lives begin to fall apart as Cathy discovers that her husband is gay. Whilst attempting to keep the family together (and keep up appearances), Cathy ends up falling in love with their gardener, Raymond (Haysbert), which causes controversy within the neighbourhood due to Raymond being black. Haynes captures the melodramatic essence of Sirk’s film (both visually and narratively) whilst also using Cathy, Raymond and Frank’s struggles to appeal to a contemporary audience.

If you liked THREE BILLBOARDS, watch anything by the Coen brothers.

This isn’t meant to be a dig, but I have written previously about my beef with Three Billboards, so it’s probably not worth anyone’s time for me to repeat it all again here. What I will say is that Martin McDonagh’s film was so very much in the vein of the Coen brothers back catalog, that you may as well treat yourself to any Coen brothers film if you enjoyed it. You’ll probably (read: definitely) prefer them. My personal choice would be Fargo – also starring the impeccable Frances McDormand.

If you liked THE POST

Just watch All the President’s Men. Seriously.

I FINALLY saw ‘Get Out…

So, I finally saw Get Out. Took me long enough. Fortunately, I was still able to see it at the cinema, which I would 100% advise you to do – and quickly as it is set to leave UK cinemas by the end of this week.

I also am completely aware that the last thing the internet needs is another white girl’s opinion on Get Out, a film which talks explicitly about the insidious racism and duplicity of white people. Which is why I am going to keep this relatively short. Get Out is such an important film to discuss, but I am not ignorant enough to believe that I am the right person to facilitate these discussions. So as I said, this review/discussion will be short and sweet.

Daniel Kaluuya stars as Chris, a nice, normal every-man. He’s a photographer with a nice apartment, a nice girlfriend and nice dog. He leads a seemingly nice, normal and happy life. Or so we might think, if we hadn’t watched the pre-title sequence which depicts a young black man in a suburban neighbourhood being jumped by a stranger in a sports car. From there on, we are uneasy, waiting for the worst to happen.

Inevitably, it does. Chris and Rose (his white girlfriend, played by Allison Williams) take a trip up to the literal middle of nowhere to visit her parents in their grand, and very creepy, house which is miles away from anyone else. Secluded in the countryside, Chris is subjected to a weekend that begins with slightly ignorant racist comments and concludes in full blown violent racial warfare. A metaphor for the new Trump era? Maybe…

Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford are Missy and Dean, Rose’s parents who seem, on the whole, a charming albeit a little backwards. Dean repeatedly calls Chris ‘my man’, makes references to Obama and apologises for employing black workers because he ‘knows how it looks’. Honestly, he reminded me of most of the white people I know over the age of about 50. A little ignorant maybe, but harmless. Rose apologises for her parents, Chris shakes it off. But then things take a turn for the worse…

The strength of Get Out lies not only in it’s ability to be a successful horror film, but in its completeness. From the very first frame to the last, Peele knows what he wants to show us and the whole film is spent leading us down this terrifying path, unsure of exactly how deep the rabbit hole goes. He has spectacular control of the dialogue and the pacing – enabling Get Out to be authentically horrific rather than relying on cheap jump scares or bloodbaths. The monsters are not ghosts or ghouls, but rather your girlfriend’s parents or your favourite art buyer. Everyday people, in and around your lives. His command of humour punctuates the film in all the right places, allowing us a few well needed laughs. This is helped enormously by casting Lil Rel Howery as Chris’ best friend Rod, the actual hero of the film. 

Peele is also masterful at utilising visual metaphors and motifs to help us identify with Chris’ paranoia throughout the film. Chris is a photographer, and thus is someone who is concerned with seeing and observing. In this way, we instinctively trust him when he notices the oddities in the Armitage house and at the party. In the same way, Chris uses what he knows to inadvertently break Lakeith’s hypnosis – by taking a photo of him. Chris also discovers Rose’s deception through the photographs in her bedroom which depict her previous boyfriends, all of whom are black, despite her telling him she had only ever date white men. Photography, cameras and the idea of observation (passive observation being the only thing the Armitage’s victims can do after surgery) are all constants throughout Get Out  and serve to re-frame the narrative through Chris’ eyes.

Similarly, deers are a recurring motif throughout the film and one that gives a deeper gravity to Chris’ experiences. On the way to Rose’s parents, the two of them hit a deer with their car, killing it. Chris, seemingly unaware of his actions, follows the dying deer into the woodland and becomes emotional upon watching it’s distress. We are unsure of Chris’ motivations here, but it is revealed later in the film that Chris’ mother died in a hit and run. He is transfixed by the deer’s eyes, feeling some affinity for the animal. It’s inability to move also foreshadows the situation Chris finds himself in later in the film – paralysed and awaiting death.

More than this though, the deer also represent the idea of a trophy. Known for being a hunters prized kill, deers are commonly hung on living room walls and shown off to affluent peers. They are a trophy among the “hunting” class. Of course, the Armitage’s have their own deer head mounted inside their house. Chris discovers it in the latter part of the film, right before they are about to make a trophy out of him. The mounted deer stares down at him from across the room, and Chris knows that this is what he is about to become. A trophy body for white people – to be shown off and used to demonstrate their wealth and “skill”. In a similar vein, Chris is very much hunted by Rose who, as we see near the end of the film, stalks her pray before pursuing a relationship with them. Vague Visages also notes how ‘buck’ has, in the past, been used as a slur to describe black men who refused to bend to white authority – which certainly seems incredibly relevant in this context.

Watching Get Out, for me, was a measured exercise in being constantly uncomfortable. I was on the edge of my seat, always waiting for the inevitable to happen. I say for me because I am white, and I imagine my experience will differ from that to a POC. But hey, please do not take my word for it. Read Cassie Da Costa’s Feministing review, which sums it up better than I ever could.

And for goodness sake, go and see it…