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Two of my favourite movies from last year are now being released in the US, and shortly in South Africa too. They happen to be somewhat linked by their titles, which follow on quite perfectly from each other if you’re a fan of wordplay, and you could say they both deal with identity and growing up, and so their subject matter is similar too. The style of each film is very different though, but they both use music, in fact at one point it becomes a focal moment of the film, to convey their own coming-of-age stories.

I watched both Girlhood and Mommy at the Toronto Film Festival last year. Both were highlights of the fest, together with the Oscar-nominated Foreign Language contender, Timbuktu.

Both films are made by French-speaking directors – Celine Sciamma is from France while Xavier Dolan is from Montreal, Canada and about a decade younger.

Girlhood , known in French as Bande de Filles, takes place in Paris, and starts off with a body-crashing football game, played by a group of girls, as we’re introduced to Marieme – aka “Vic” – played by Karidja Touré, and we begin to follow her as she tries to find her place in both her immediate surroundings and her own world. She is driven by the need to belong but also to stand out, and so we follow along as she makes her way through joining a gang, picking up some not-so-good habits, falling in love and trying on different appearances. As we follow her journey, we see the things she says yes to, but we also see the things she turns away from, which become just as much a part of her identity. Like Boyhood, we watch Marieme as she grows up – only not for 12 years. And for once, Marieme is not a white teenager like so many movies would have, and so we are allowed to see a different part of the experience of growing up. At the same time, the commonalities that defy race are brought a little more into sharper focus.

What I love so much is that the story unfolds against a backdrop of music that is perfectly placed to carry along the emotion of the time, and all those conflicting feelings that go along with it. From the opening of Light Asylum’s Dark Allies to Rihanna and the best use of Diamonds I’ve seen, Girlhood kept me engaged the whole way. French elector producer Jean-Baptisde de Laubier has created a synth-sonic soundtrack that helps maintain this.

In Mommy, the music is instantly recognisable and it forms as much a part of the story as the words spoken by the cast. The 3 main actors are Dolan’s regulars – Anne Dorval, Suzanne Clement, Antoine Olivier Pilon. Dorval plays Diane, a single mother who has to care for her troubled, prone-to-violent-outburts teenage son, Steve, played by Pilon. The story takes place in a time Dolan has created, where parents can entrust their children to the State if they’re not able to care for them. But their neighbour Clement) is drawn into their world, and ends up helping them, so it begins to seem like the mother won’t have to give up her son after all. At least that’s what it seems like…

At 25, Dolan already has created a reputation that truly precedes him. Five features in five years, each of which has played at Cannes, with his latest Mommy, being written, directed, produced and edited by the young filmmaker too. Oh, and he also translated the film to its English subtitles. After Toronto, I went on a Dolan binge, from watching his 2009 debut, I Killed My Mother to Lawrence Anyways, in which he also starred, and saw the ability he has to visually play with identity and mother-son relationships on screen. But I like that he’s not pretentious – he likes Celine Dion and he’s not afraid to show it!

Dolan shot Mommy using the unusual square aspect ratio of 1:1, but so effectively. Combining this with the soundtrack of songs selected to musically illustrate the story makes Mommy so compelling. There is a moment where the two elements come together so sweetly, it brought tears to my eyes and made me want to keep my headphones on for the rest of the day, playing Oasis’ Wonderwall over and over again.

GIRLHOOD

Essential tracks (thank you, Internet)

Girlhood and Mommy are both currently showing in the US; Mommy opens in South Africa on February 20th.

By the actors, for the actors.

I do so enjoy watching the Screen Actors Guild Awards because the appreciation the actors show for the love they’ve received from their peers is just priceless. There are almost always tears. And they’re not just from the actors themselves. It was hard not to be moved by Uzo Aduba’s emotional acceptance speech, where she reminded us she had planned to quit acting after her OITNB audition, or recall how good Mark Ruffalo was in The Normal Heart, even if he wasn’t there to accept his award in person. As a big Orange is the New Black fan, I was thrilled to see the show score two wins, for Aduba and for Outstanding Ensemble in a Comedy Series. Those wins, together with House of Cards earning Kevin Spacey Outstanding Actor in a Drama, come just after Amazon’s Transparent won two big honours at the recent Golden Globes. Seems like it couldn’t be a better time for online streaming services. (Speaking of Transparent, Amazon graciously waived the fee for watching the series this weekend, and so I used the opportunity to catch up on the fantastic series – Jeffrey Tambor, take a bow.)

Naturally, all eyes are now upon the Oscars, as pundits predict what the SAG honours mean for the one ceremony that rules them all, taking place next month. Birdman gets a little push with its Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble, but Eddie Redmayne beat out Michael Keaton for Best/Outstanding Actor. Could he follow suit at the Oscars? The other four major categories seem all but cast in stone, following the trend set at the Globes and the Critics Choice awards – Julianne Moore (Still Alice) for Best Actress, JK Simmons (Whiplash) for Best Supporting Actor and Patricia Arquette (Boyhood) for Best Supporting Actress. As many noted on Twitter, it was frustrating to see the montage for diversity and tolerance as depicted onscreen over the years at the SAG Awards include one of the stand-out scenes of David Oyelowo from Selma but not to have the film feature in any of the nominations. At least Redmayne gave him a shout-out of acknowledgment during his acceptance speech. Still, Best Picture race looks dead set between Boyhood and Birdman. Both equally deserving. One spoke to my heart, the other captured my mind.

The full list of SAG Award winners can be found here. The Oscars take place on February 22nd in LA. 

After Thursday morning’s announcement of this year’s Oscar nominees, there has been a lot of backlash, more so than usual. There’s no pleasing everyone, so it goes, but this year it feels the backlash is rightly so.

It seems that it’s a case of one step forward, two steps backwards – all the solid steps taken last year to recognize and nominate a diverse range of actors and characters feels as if it’s been undone this year. It’s more than a disappointment that David Oyelowo is not among the Best Actor nominees. He gave a performance he was destined to play. Both he and director Ava DuVernay worked on the speeches he gave as Martin Luther King Jr in Selma, because they weren’t allowed to use the originals from the late civil rights icon’s estate. They do such a fine job, you hardly are aware of that fact. That DuVernay wasn’t nominated – historically so, as she would have been the first black female in the best director category – is another shame. It feels as if it discredits much of what the Academy stands for and honours. And let’s not even begin to talk about The Lego Movie not being nominated for Best Animated Feature.

Jokes aside, there is a very real concern behind these Oscar noms. In a year in which the issues of race and criminal justice and society’s responsibility to come together to ensure equal rights for all are actually enforced, Selma, had it been nominated for more categories, could have made quite an impact. Yes, it’s about civil rights in the ’60s, but it’s as vital as ever in these current times. It could have tapped into that collective zeitgeist, and been a positive force of the movies on real life. As this Forbes piece states, it’s right to be angry about this oversight – because of the impact this snub could have on DuVernay’s career. Although she seems like a woman not prone to backing down from much, so this could probably just push her to carry on doing her own thing.

I am, however, happy to see cinematic masterpieces that are daring and exciting, Boyhood and Birdman feature, as had been expected. The rest of the major category nominees then…

Best Picture

American Sniper

Birdman

Boyhood

The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Imitation Game

Selma

The Theory of Everything

Whiplash

Best Director

Wes Anderson, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”

Alejandro González Iñárritu, “Birdman”

Richard Linklater, “Boyhood”

Bennett Miller, “Foxcatcher”

Morten Tyldum, “The Imitation Game”

Best Actress

Marion Cotillard, “Two Days, One Night”

Felicity Jones, “The Theory of Everything”

Julianne Moore, “Still Alice”

Rosamund Pike, “Gone Girl”

Reese Witherspoon, “Wild”

Best Actor

Steve Carell, “Foxcatcher”

Bradley Cooper, “American Sniper”

Benedict Cumberbatch, “The Imitation Game”

Michael Keaton, “Birdman”

Eddie Redmayne, “The Theory of Everything”

Best Supporting Actress

Patricia Arquette, “Boyhood”

Laura Dern, “Wild”

Keira Knightley, “The Imitation Game”

Emma Stone, “Birdman”

Meryl Streep, “Into the Woods”

Best Supporting Actor

Robert Duvall, “The Judge”

Ethan Hawke, “Boyhood”

Edward Norton, “Birdman”

Mark Ruffalo, “Foxcatcher”

J.K. Simmons, “Whiplash”

Best Adapted Screenplay

Paul Thomas Anderson, “Inherent Vice”

Damien Chazelle, “Whiplash”

Jason Hall, “American Sniper”

Anthony McCarten, “The Theory of Everything”

Graham Moore, “The Imitation Game”

Best Original Screenplay

Wes Anderson and Hugo Guinness, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”

Dan Futterman and E. Max Frye, “Foxcatcher”

Dan Gilroy, “Nightcrawler”

Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris and Armando Bo, “Birdman”

Richard Linklater, “Boyhood”

Best Foreign Language Film

“Leviathan”

“Ida”

“Tangerines”

“Timbuktu”

“Wild Tales”

Best Documentary Feature

“CITIZENFOUR”

“Finding Vivian Maier”

“Last Days in Vietnam”

“The Salt in the Earth”

“Virunga”

Best Animated Feature

“Big Hero 6″

“The Boxtrolls”

“How to Train Your Dragon 2″

“Song of the Sea”

“The Tale of The Princess Kaguya”

 For the complete list, go to the Academy’s site. The 87th edition of the awards takes place on February 22 in LA.

Cue Hero the theme song that plays during the masterpiece that is Boyhood, this year’s Golden Globe winner for Best Picture in the Drama category. This film debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in January last year, so it seems a little like it’s been around for ever and has been overhyped a lot. Well, it may feel that way, but it’s an extraordinary film, and director Richard Linklater is indeed a hero, a visionary, for sticking with it for 12 years, and giving us a film with a giant heart, so much vulnerability and a kick-ass soundtrack. Selma and Birdman and The Grand Budapest Hotel, winner in the Best Comedy/Musical category are also fantastic films, with the first being a very necessary and vital piece of work that needs to be seen by as many as possible, but I will not be unhappy if Boyhood follows 12 Years a Slave last year and goes all the way to take the Best Picture Oscar. [I, like many others I know, wrote about my very personal reaction to Boyhood here.]

Selma did get an award for Best Original Song, for Glory, written by Common and John Legend. The ever poetic Common had some vital words to say in his acceptance speech. Oh, and ten points to the Hollywood Foreign Press for getting Prince to present the award!

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I have yet to see Still Alice, the movie that earned Julianne Moore – who looked absolutely smashing in her metallic Givenchy dress – her Best Actress, Drama statue, but the film seems like it will do much to open eyes to Alzheimer’s when it releases. Eddie Redmayne was in a tough category for the male counterpart, beating out David Oyelowo’s excellent Martin Luther King Jr and Benedict Cumberbatch’s mathematician Alan Turing, but his portrayal of scientist Stephen Hawking is truly remarkable.

On the TV front, Fargo may have had 7 nominations going into the night, but it only scored one, in the Best TV Movie category. Transparent made history and set an interesting precedent for online entertainment by winning Best Comedy Series for Amazon as the first studio show created by the website that sells all manner of things. It also scored Best Actor for Jeffrey Tambor, a most deserving nod for a man who I’ve witnessed at SXSW give many a generous acting workshop. He dedicated the award to the transgender community, as he plays a transgender character.

Mention was made of the Charlie Hebdo attack and in solidarity, 2014 Oscar winner Jared Leto and Cecil B DeMille Lifetime Achievement award recipient George Clooney, declared “Je Suis Charlie.” Clooney gave an endearing speech that poked fun at the dismal performance of his most recent directorial venture, Monuments Men, and exalted his new marriage to Amal Alamuddin. Sigh.

With the Oscar nominations coming out on Thursday, most of the films and actors mentioned in the Golden Globes can look forward to a nod or two. I’ll be keeping the Boyhood and Selma soundtracks playing in the background.

All the Golden Globe winners can be found here.  

Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher was a film that stayed with me long after the credits rolled at the Cannes Film Festival in May last year. Getting to speak to the film’s stars Steve Carell and Channing Tatum in LA a few months afterwards was a highlight of 2014 for me. I wanted to understand a little more about how Steve, a man we know for comedy but glimpsed a bit of his darker side in The Way, Way Back, approached the unsettling character of the real-life wealthy John DuPont, a man who invited Olympic wrestling brothers, played by Channing and Mark Ruffalo, to his estate for training, with fatal consequences. Channing is also in a different role from the ones we’ve come to know him in so far (Ricky Martin videos aside), and I like that he is up for any kind of challenge.

One thing that didn’t get captured on the video is Channing telling me how excited he is for the Chappie movie to come out, because he’s such a big fan of Die Antwoord. Add another one to the list!

Foxcatcher just released in South Africa, and is currently still showing in the US too.

Pic: Sony Pictures Classic