Ranking the Best Picture nominees I’ve actually seen


The cacophonous Oscar chatter that breaks out at this time of year is a bit confusing for everyone who isn’t a professional film critic, because you’re unlikely to be able to see every potential contender unless your employer is paying for it. So we end up watching the fierce media battles of film v. film from the sidelines, often with a strong investment in the one we have seen and no idea what its competition is like.

While I’m confined to my flat by the slushy, slippery remains of Snowmeggadon, I’m embracing the limited view from the cheap seats. Here’s my necessarily partial and incomplete ranking of the five out of the nine Best Picture nominees I’ve managed to see this year, in order of worst to best, and of how much I want to see them take home a gold statuette tomorrow night.

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Loveless and the hollow heart of the family

First, an apology that it’s been nearly a year since I last posted. I started this blog with all sorts of visions of what I wanted it to be, and then things changed a lot, in a good way – I got a great job offer which meant moving across the country, and in my limited writing time, I wanted to prioritise working on my novel.

Second, obviously, the past four months have set off an earthquake under how women in cinema are perceived, with the Me Too campaign exposing just how eaten away the film industry is by sexual harassment and abuse. It’s sickening to realise that so many men – including those whose creative work I have deeply admired – have felt entitled to the bodies of women or other men or children for so long. At the same time, it feels like a step forward that so many brave people are speaking out about their experiences and showing that this behaviour is unacceptable. Ideally, this will lead to the industry being a safer, fairer and more honest place. I just want to get back into the saddle of regular blogging at the moment, and I’m not ready to write about this issue directly, but I do want to at some point, and it is definitely changing how I watch films and TV.

The good news is, I’m now going to the cinema regularly again, and this week I saw Loveless and Black Panther on successive nights, which was quite a double bill. There’s lots of great reviews and features on Black Panther being written by black film critics, so I don’t have anything beyond go and see it now if you haven’t – I wasn’t sure I’d enjoy a superhero film and I loved it. It’s staggeringly ambitious in both its fight scenes and its ideas, and it has perhaps the most badass female cast ever.

Now, onto Loveless, which is just as hard to forget, but possibly because you’ll be sobbing in despair.

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Why Wonder Woman’s armpits matter



The new trailer for female-led blockbuster Wonder Woman launched this week, leading to a round of angry tweets from fans over the superhero’s personal grooming.

Despite spending her life on Themyscira, an all-woman warrior island isolated from the modern world – where, in the film’s First World War Setting, women shaving had yet to catch on anyway – Diana/ Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) and her fellow Amazons have no visible body hair. In one shot, Diana flips over a van, showing apparently bleached armpits. At Forbes, Susannah Breslin accused the costuming decision of showing men’s “holy terror”  of women’s bodies, while at the National Review, Katherine Timpf argued that there’s “no debate” about Wonder Woman looking the way she was designed in 1941.

Here’s the thing, though – Wonder Woman having no armpit hair isn’t a problem on its own. It’s a problem because no women in modern Western film have armpit hair. We’ve been conditioned to accept a profoundly unnatural image as the natural way women’s bodies are, with anything else being seen as a subhuman deviance because it – crime of all crimes – doesn’t turn men on.

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The Salesman: Marriage and Masks



The Salesman, the Iranian winner of this year’s Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, is a drama about what happens when the stress of a crisis makes a marriage weaker, not stronger.

Emad (Shahab Hosseini) and Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti)’s marriage is under strain from the opening scene, when they are woken with news that their apartment building is collapsing. They and their neighbours manage to escape, but they are left homeless. The couple are also playing Willy and Linda Loman in an amateur theatre production of Death of a Salesman, where a fellow cast member offers them a flat to stay. The flat seems promising, apart from the fact that the previous tenant, a prostitute, left her things there. The Salesman is set in Tehran, but captures a universal kind of modern urban dislocation – the perennial struggle to build a home while moving from one overpriced and impersonal rented flat to another. Scenes of Emad at his job teaching literature in a local school show that he is an able and popular teacher, but faces constant minor rebellions from a classroom of lively teenage boys. He is already frustrated at their, to quote Theresa May, ‘just about managing’ station, when their lives are plunged into disaster.

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What Elle gets right about rape



Our society talks around rape, but can’t talk about it honestly. From childhood, girls are taught a list of rules to avoid unspecified danger: don’t wear that dress, don’t go out after dark, and, as a judge in Manchester said last week, don’t drink. In recent years, an increasingly fierce feminist discourse, fuelled by social media, has tried to point out that sexual violence in some form is an incredibly common experience for women, caused not by the victims’ behaviour, but by a culture which abets and covers up these crimes. But despite people across the political spectrum agreeing that sexual violence is horrifying, high-profile accusations weren’t enough to stop a man from being voted President of the United States or winner of the Best Actor Oscar.

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