• Holly and Phil are good presenters who did nothing wrong, but Queuegate is only part of the problem.

    Last week Holly Willoughby and Phillip Schofield, like many people in the media were given a fast-track, to pay their respects to the late Queen in Westminster Hall. A harmless gesture but one that has prompted an overreaction amongst Twitterati who believe that their ‘crime’ of doing what others did made them ‘arrogant’, ‘out-of-touch’ and ‘too posh to queue’. Subsequently, a petition was set up, aiming to have them axed from presenting This Morning, which the two have successfully made their own for the best part of 13 years, gathering 65,000 signatures, which I for one will never sign.

    Now the weird thing is that they were not the only media personnel who did the opposite of fellow daytime stalwart Susanna Reid (she did queue with her mother) and yet, all the attention seems to be focused on them, as if they were the only ones who did so. And whether they are not in the same rank as a Sky News journalist whose only appearance on television comes from news reports, the fact remains they are media personnel who were entitled to ‘fast-track’ their way into the queue for the purpose of doing what all in their position were doing.

    With the barrage of criticism, something Willoughby, once seen as the nation’s sweetheart, has never faced before, one would assume both her and Schofield had set fire a £50 note in front of a beggar or stolen the entire contents of a food bank, such it has been.

    The response from people has been to jump on a fictitious bandwagon and use the theory that because they are famous and rich, they are seen as ‘superior’ to others and maybe seen as a personification of an example of the seemingly escalating gap in modern times between the richest and the poorest.

    But what it really is is an excuse to try and find a way to peddle them out of hosting This Morning for a variety of reasons, which goes long before last week. One is that a section of sore Corbynistas haven’t forgiven them for their infamous yet innocent selfie with Boris Johnson during the 2019 General Election. One that people want change, as 13 years can be a drag for some people and would rather the likes of Vernon Kay and Josie Gibson were given the gig full-time after their stint over the summer. Or the plausible theory that people simply do not like them, whether that’s a long-lasting or recent thing, caused by the sense of over-exposure that some celebrity figures become accustomed to.

    After all, between December 2016 and November 2017,. Schofield appeared not just as co-host of This Morning but fronted a documentary about Prince Philip, did a South African travelogue with his wife, launched a new gameshow called 5 Gold Rings, made a cameo appearance on The Keith and Paddy Picture Show, continued hosting the British Soap Awards and began a Christmas themed show called How to Spend it Well at Christmas. And in early 2018, Dancing on Ice returned meaning that within a 14-month period, he had appeared on 8 different shows and that’s not including the self-depracating We Buy Any Car adverts. By contrast, Ant and Dec were hosting 3 shows a year then and Jeremy Clarkson was only doing The Grand Tour.

    And maybe there is an element of overexposure that has perhaps turned people off them.

    Now Schofield is down to three, with This Morning and Dancing on Ice sitting alongside his annual stint of the Soap Awards. But therefore appear to be a primetime factual show on the horizon and no gameshow he hosts has turned up this year. Once the go-to-guy for quiz shows, the cost of 5 Gold Rings led to its cancellation last year and The Cube hasn’t appeared this year, likely on another rest just two series into its revival after being flattened in the ratings last autumn by Strictly.
    The situation is similarly bleak for Willoughby who in 2012 could lay claim to hosting or appearing on The Voice, Celebrity Juice and a revival of Surprise Surprise, all successful alongside her This Morning work. And in 2018 her career peaked arguably as a temporary co-host of the wildly popular In a Celebrity. But fast-forward to 2022 and there is a contrast.

    This Morning remains a relatively popular fixture by daytime standard and Dancing on Ice, despite being past its peak in ratings terms, is still capable of pulling in a decent 4-5 million viewers in the first quarter, figures ITV struggle to obtain for the rest of the year in that same Sunday evening slot.
    But in terms of new programmes, she is floundering. The several times delayed The Games finally arrived to bad ratings which led to its axing after one series and Freeze the Fear which she co-host with Lee Mack on BBC1 wasn’t a consistent ratings hit either.
    In fact she had the unfortunate distinction of presenting both these underperforming shows in the same Tuesday 9pm slot in May with Fear getting a poor 1.8m compared to Games’ worse 1.6m, with consolidated ratings not making much impact either. Making matters awkward is that her Freeze the Fear co-host Lee Mack had The 1% Club airing around the same time which by contrast was a big ratings success.

    And that follows from the BBC1 game show Take Out which was also considered a ratings flop last summer after an equally underwhelming pilot, a show she co-host with the usually flop-proof Bradley Walsh. Coincidentally Walsh’s Beat the Chasers would secure double the ratings of The Games the following week, showing her unfortunate case of persistently choosing the wrong projects lately.

    So Queuegate is ultimately the latest in a string of issues that have darkened a cloud over the once-formidable duo, whose criticism of them once could have been seen in some quarters as sacrilege.

    As a pair they are in danger of being pulled apart by the angry social media mob, as well as the inevitable public humiliation that will see their names associated with pushing in front of a queue (Domino’s has already started) regardless of whether they insist they followed the rules.

    Now it’s likely they will survive this scenario but what each need is a separate format in a good slot in the schedules that can generate positive word of mouth and big ratings. Right now, it’s too soon to think that but in a year from now, Willoughby and ITV should consider a return of Surprise Surprise, returning as that seems to be the show that features her at her most suitable, whilst Schofield should either look for an innovative quiz show where viewers can look past his presence or at the least a travelogue series that can get him back in the ratings good books.

    The fact that neither were shortlisted for Best Presenter at next month’s postponed NTAs is likely down to there being only 4 nominations instead of 5, but Alison Hammond seen as more popular shows overexposure and not being among the current flavours may have an impact.

    This Morning is still the favourite to win Best Daytime Show again for 12th year running, but the first big test for their brand will be if they can overcome the controversy to win again. Losing will inevitably be blamed on Queuegate, making the situation more awkward.

    Whether it happens or not, by withering the storm, This Morning will have them for the foreseeable and Dancing on Ice is here to stay with them hosting for now, though, like many shows with a shelf life, it would be a surprise if the show lasts another full five years, hence why both should think long-term.

    If they want to be known for being more than just Phil and Holly, the next move or two each make will be crucial. More
    original commissions flopping could result in Holly becoming the next Anthea Turner, whilst Schofield knows his status as a TV don could be deemed fragile in a cutthroat industry if the flops and negative wave persist, a possible dinosaur in the making. Phillip and Holly were made by the accepting public but a frustrated public can break them. It’s possible they will bounce back but only time will tell.

  • Why I won’t be watching the Queen’s funeral.

    Monday is going to be a unique day in our history as a country. Whether you’re a pro-monarch individual, a republican like myself or even neutral in the subject of monarchy, the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II is going to be a day that will mean something to a lot of people.

    The fact that it’s been declared a bank holiday shows the significance of the occasion and in terms of television ratings, it has a chance of being the most-watched television broadcast in UK history, which the 1966 World Cup final currently holds the record of, with a peak of 30million at the very least a realistic prospect.

    In context, so far this century, only the Euro 2020 final reached that rating, with the funeral of Princess Diana being the previous broadcast to achieve that all the way back in 1997.

    And whilst it may end up being the most-viewed British TV moment, it is an event that I will not be watching.

    One reason is because I am a republican and the true basis of calling the UK a complete democracy is by giving the public a say in the matter of whether they want a monarchy in the first place.

    Now it may be too soon to even think about referendums like that given King Charles hasn’t even had the Coronation and he, along with his family, are in the throes of grief with the weight of the world watching adding to their pressure.

    But if there was a referendum on keeping the monarchy, I would vote to abolish it given we have general elections that set in stone the true leader of the country, someone the public chose as Prime Minister.

    And unlike various remoaners and Liberal Democrats who claim to be accepting of democratic decisions, if the public voted to keep the monarchy, I would support and stand by that decision because then the consensus would be official, even if a physics teacher is as worthy of several mansions as a monarch.

    And though the death of a law-abiding individual is of course tragic, if a person who never met that said individual chooses not to watch anything related with his or her funeral, that person should be entitled to that as much as someone who would do the polar opposite.

    As much as I admire and have a great fondness for Jack Nicholson or Morrissey, even I would not choose to watch their funeral when that day arrives, even if it was televised because a funeral is really for those close to them.

    The fact that this is the late Queen is no different because, regardless of status, no human has the ability or God-given right to ensure or enforce every person watches their funeral, as we all breathe the same oxygen as everyone else. Whatever your intentions on Monday, freedom of choice is the cornerstone of any functioning country like the one us Brits have and everybody has the right to avoid having anything to do without being judged and vice versa.

    I believe that a funeral is not actually an official goodbye because even though the person is not physically present, the memory of that individual remains intact and the viewing of that person via a video clip or camera footage,however they are accessed, as well as remembrance, brings a sense of omnipresence.

    It could be argued that society has reacted too far with regards to the closure of the likes of McDonalds, cinemas and the cancellations or reschedulings of medical visits for what is after all the day of someone’s funeral, unlike Christmas or Bank Holidays.

    For those eager to observe the funeral, there are also those whose viewpoints are neutral, or in some cases, irrespective of taste, not bothered, of which there is bound to be a considerable amount, regardless of the point that it is only for one day.

    Nobody is duty bound to have anything to do with the events on Monday and rightly so, hence why I will be treating the day like any regular day. Maybe I will do some reading. Maybe I will watch a film. Or go for a walk around the village, curious if I will see anyone else doing the same.

    But what I do know is Monday will be as regular for me as Tuesday will be when the UK does what needs doing, and recognise that no matter how sad or unfortunate events are, whether they involve us or not, life must go on for all our sakes.

  • Cineworld going bankrupt isn’t a surprise and though it may be down, it’s not out.

    Yesterday, Cineworld Group, which owns not just the eponymous cinema chain here, but the likes of Picturehouse and Regal Cinemas in the US filed for bankruptcy. With debts of around $5billion, it has filed for the dreaded Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection with hopes of exiting it within the first quarter of next year.

    But it should not come as a surprise for two reasons. One is because I haven’t been to a Cineworld since October last year due to a lack of urgency to see films that don’t have the appeal they used to. It is quite a surprise given I used to go weekly and I’m not alone.

    The second reason, albeit more dramatically, is the chain still feeling the effects economically following the Covid pandemic, which shut down its cinemas on two separate occasions for months at a time, and sent many to seek reinforcement in the form of streaming, boosting in popularity what was already proving a liked pastime.

    Though the likes of No Time to Die, Spiderman: No Way Home (the 3rd and 4th highest-grossing films in the UK to date), The Batman, Jurassic World: Dominion, Doctor Strange 2, Thor: Love and Thunder, Minions: The Rise of Gru and Top Gun: Maverick have proven to be huge successes in the last 12 months, taken in over $8billion combined worldwide, the reality is those amounts are not enough.

    Even with the upcoming releases of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever and the belated Avatar: The Weight of Water, two films which may or may not equal the box office heights of the first films, the lack of other smash successes and a set of streaming acquisitions are still going to play havoc with Cineworld’s potential.

    Before Covid struck, cinema was on fire in 2019, with a record 9 films in a calendar year joining the billion-dollar club, including Avengers: Endgame going on to become the highest-grossing film of all time, The Lion King, Frozen 2 and the first billion-dollar grossing film in Joker. That Toy Story 4 ended up in 8th place for the year tells how seemingly unstoppable cinema visits were.

    There was also a considerable number of films making between $300m-$500m from Knives Out, John Wick 3, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, It: Chapter Two & Maleficent 2, and even a decent portion of films in the $150m-$250m, from Downton Abbey and Rocketman to Glass and Ford vs Ferrari.

    Even if Netflix snabbed Sandra Bullock for a film like Bird Box or lured Martin Scorsese for having the pockets deep enough to fund The Irishman, cinemas would have accepted that given just how popular cinema releases were.

    But now if you look at the top grossing films worldwide so far this year on Box Office Mojo, outside of an impressive too five, it does resemble something of a damp squib, even if the numbers are far stronger than the previous two years, which unlike this year were not exactly traditional as calendar years go.

    For instance, so far this year, in terms of films that have grossed a figure between $350m and $550m, there have only been 3 English-language films that have had worldwide grosses in that range, Uncharted, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and Fantastic Beasts 3, all three of whom made little over $400m each, the latter seen as an underperformer when compared to the previous two films in the series.

    By contrast, by the end of this month in 2019, 9 American films had fallen into that range, the lowest being Dumbo at just over $353million and How to Train Your Dragon 3 with a little past $520m, with Once Upon a Time in Hollywood approaching its final $374m gross and It: Chapter Two only just being released.

    By the end of that year, the surprise success of the $311m grossing Knives Out meant another viable franchise would fall into the laps of the cinema chains. But last year, the bane of cinema owners, Netflix had gobbled up the rights to the two Knives Out sequels for $400m, making a healthy sum for the studio originally financing it but nothing for cinema chains, losing out on many millions because of the deal.

    And that’s just one example of streaming forcing a studio’s hand at the expense of cinema giants. They will have lost hundreds of millions of dollars more as a result of high-profile family films going to Disney+, such as Turning Red and the upcoming Pinocchio remake with Tom Hanks and Disenchanted, amongst other films that are going to the likes of Amazon Prime (Thirteen Lives) and AppleTV+ (Jennifer Lawrence’s upcoming Causeway).

    Seeing more of those films be released on that platform will likely make families think twice about spending money on a cinema trip when they can wait a few months for the film to turn up on a streaming site the kids are likely accustomed to, another issue that Cineworld faces, not helped by the cost-of-living crisis.

    As much as David O Russell’s Amsterdam has a fabulous cast and Don’t Worry Darling is generating buzz, it’s unlikely either film will have a gross akin to Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, barring a miracle. The same applies for the likes of the darkly intriguing The Menu or the upcoming Ticket to Paradise, a George Clooney & Julia Roberts comedy that feels like the sort Netflix ironically would make, which may end up grossing no more than $100million worldwide when cinemas could do with it grossing closer to $300million.

    In fact, outside of Black Panther 2 and Avatar 2, the only other films coming out in America that could become huge blockbusters this year are Dwayne Johnson’s Black Adam and Puss in Boots 2 in the USA at Christmas, but even with those, they won’t be enough to solve Cineworld’s debt crisis.

    As if the problem of a lack of $350m-$550m grosses aren’t enough, another problem lies with the lack of films hitting $200m-$300m worldwide.

    16 English-language films grossed numbers between $150m and $300m in 2018 and the number rose to 18 in 2019, 19 if you include Parasite, the very rare case of a foreign film connecting with British and American audiences in a mass market scale. So far this year, the total number of films in that range is nine, two of which were considered underperformers, Morbius and Lightyear, and of which only one, Elvis, has grossed closer to $300m than $200m.

    Now time will tell whether other awards contenders like Amsterdam or Don’t Worry Darling or Damien Chazelles’s Christmas release Babylon gross figures higher, lower or roughly the same as Elvis, let alone Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, but the study of 2019 in box office grosses implies that maybe cinema grosses in the modern era may have peaked. And rather than reaching those levels in a post-lockdown world, it seems multiplex owners are climbing up a greasy pole in a futile attempt to better their peak, not helped by a drop in potential hits throughout the year.

    Next year may have the likes of Guardians of the Galaxy, Aquaman, Mission: Impossible, Indiana Jones and Dune 2 but even they may not be able to help reach the levels Cineworld needs to unravel itself out of debt. And if Cineworld struggles, what’s to say other chains will too? And if they struggle, where are the tentpoles going to go?

    Cineworld faces a range of problems, but in doing so, it needs studios to put their money where their mouth is and take on the streamers.

    Rather than letting the only man who doesn’t have flops, Leonardo DiCaprio, take off to Netflix, a studio needs to invest in a film with him in a lead role that can prove a worldwide box office hit,no matter what he asks. Same with Ryan Reynolds, amongst more.

    Instead of having three to four year-gaps as Daniel Craig’s films often did, the Bond films need to be every two years.

    To keep up with streaming giants paying $200m for an original star-driven action thriller, instead of tired reboots and remakes nobody craves for, the studios need to offer to pay for the film themselves, even if it means breaking even at most.

    Studios should find more films that generate intrigue, positive word-of-mouth and a sense of nothing seen before in a good way that cinemas will benefit from screening. They also need to let movie stars and directors have the freedoms the way streamers do to justify making films for cinema release that can appeal more than what the streamers are offering.

    Cineworld can get through this but it requires a team effort because that is the only way to get people like me back to the cinema regularly. Ditching the Unlimited membership and replacing it with a Bargain Tuesday-style offer could even be one way of enticing because what use is Unlimited to someone who only goes once a month or two?

    If Cineworld wants to survive, it needs the help of the studios, even at a price.

  • Why Liberal MP Layla Moran tweeting about restoring the foreign aid budget to 0.7% because of Pakistan is wrong in a cost-of-living crisis

    The cruel reality in Britain

    On Wednesday, in response to the floods that have caused devastation in Pakistan, the Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran tweeted that the government should restore the foreign aid budget from the recently-cut 0.5% of GDP back to the original 0.7%.

    Now of course she is entitled to an opinion because we all are, much as it is often painful to accept it, but it is an opinion that is frankly stupid. There are two reasons why; one, because she is a sitting politician for a party that may turn out to be a kingmaker in the next election, and two, because the UK is being battered by a cost-of-living crisis, with potentially worse to come.

    The first duty of a politician should be to put the interests of the country they represent first and foremost. Now that isn’t a nationalistic sentiment designed to irritate people who see themselves as internationalists, it is just a form of common sense. And never has that been more of a compulsive demand than today, where only last week energy bills were capped at £3,500, and this week, we learn that good prices have inflated to 9%.

    So when Moran put out on Twitter that the foreign aid budget should be restored to 0.7%, something that is not cheap, at a time when every penny generated in this country ought to be put towards the priorities of the very British people she claims to served, I was disgusted.

    The biggest mistake that the Conservative-Liberal coalition government, and David Cameron as PM, made in office was putting into law a requirement that 0.7% of GDP went to foreign aid.

    Now whilst those in favour of it will argue that 0.7% is not that much, the reality is it works out to billions when you factor in that in 2020, a year dominated by lockdown, GDP was £2.04trillion, of which by law, just over £14billion was handed in foreign aid.

    In 2021, the total GDP went up to £2.2trillion but the 0.5% cut meant instead of £15billion, the foreign aid budget went to £11billion. Now when you look at the fact that such large amounts were still paid even when the UK emerged from a set of economy-crippling lockdowns, it is scandalous to think how the foreign aid budget wasn’t temporarily paused entirely to fund payments.

    After all, for example, retaining the £20 a week Universal Credit top-up at a cost of £6billion for people in Newquay, Rhyl & Bolton amongst others would have been a better use of British money than helping out Nigeria, Rwanda and Bangladesh amongst others.

    But looking at the present day, we have a situation that is in some form more worrying than the Covid pandemic, which is how people are going to fund the basics in life from energy to food, and instead of just low-income households, this is a problem with a realistic prospect of affecting those working full-time in decent paying jobs to even middle-class business owners.

    In the wake of the London riots of 2011, one standout moment came when a teenager confronted then-Mayor of London Boris Johnson over why cuts were being made to local services whilst so much money was being given to Syria. 11 years on, it appears that politicians have failed to grasp the idea that foreign aid, though plausible for its intentions, is somewhat of an insult to British people whose livelihoods and areas could be improved with the money saved from it.

    Foreign aid is a good idea but only if all economical issues in one country have been resolved and all politicians should realise that even if that means never, the infinite pursuit of securing security for all in their country must take precedence at the expense of those less unfortunate on the other side of the world.

    The Liberal Democrats may be good at winning by-elections, but the belief they could not win a general election majority is a relief with the likes of Moran appearing ignorant of the problems in her own homeland, or at the least, not putting the British at the total mindset of her concern in this time of worry.

    We are at a point where even if we wanted to, we cannot be charitable to other nations, because of the lack of economic stability in our country. As much as it sounds selfish, it is awful bloody truth that the best way to escape from from the financial pitfalls waiting for us Brits like shotgun-wielding gentry on a rabbit-hunting exercise is by ensuring that every penny generated here is spent only here, until at least the days of economic strength are noticeable.

    By gabbling on about extending foreign aid in a time of national crises, Layla Moran not only made herself look cut from the same cloth as her Conservative counterparts as far as being out-of-touch goes, but accidentally triggered a much-needed debate as to whether foreign aid is necessary right now.

  • The events in Ukraine are dreadful, but how dare Boris Johnson tell Brits to endure energy prices because Ukrainians are paying in blood

    Since Vladimir Putin began his unnecessary and brutal invasion of Ukraine six months ago, we’ve seen images and heard stories of events that frankly have no place in a civilised continent like Europe. Shelled apartment blocks. A theatre sheltering women and children being targeted by airstrikes. The image of a heavily pregnant woman being stretchered away from a destroyed hospital. The now infamous Bucha massacre. Etc.

    Repulsed by these occurrences, British people rightly agreed to take in tens of thousands, if not more, of Ukrainian refugees, whose presence appear to have secured the general support of both the wider public and media, unlike displaced nationals from other war-torn nations in the last decade. After all, there wasn’t a Concert for Afghanistan and the usually immigration-critical Daily Mail must have had the left gobsmacked when it called for Ukrainian refugees to be let in here on it’s front page.
    One suspects that more people would have offered if it were not for the lack of space in their homes preventing them from cohabiting.

    It was a measure of delight to see scenes where Ukrainian children were applauded by British schoolchildren as they enrolled in their new school and hear stories of the likes of Chris Tarrant explaining why they took in Ukrainian refugees. It also gave an equal sense of irritation when stories were heard of British people unable to provide the assistance they were open to offering because of bureaucratic red tape and families in Calais being told to travel to Paris or Brussels to further their application.

    And though there’s reports of some families opting out of the scheme once the suggested six month minimum placement has been met and the cost-of-living crisis adding financial pressure on households, even with the government’s £350 monthly payout to those housing them, the overall feeling is that British households will stick by the Ukrainians they have likely become accustomed to. And rightly so. In fact, if it gets to a point where the war in Ukraine carries on longer than feared, the option of offering dual British citizenship to those already here and incoming should be seriously considered.

    But we also have to remember that we are in a cost-of-living crisis, which as winter approaches runs the risk of spilling into a catastrophe. With the actions in Ukraine came the punishment in the form of Britain, amongst other nations, issuing sanctions to Russia which destabilized the Russian economy. Putin, not one to take things lightly, responded by cutting gas supplies to countries in the EU, which in turn has led to a shortage, which in turn has led to an increase in wholesale energy costs, which in turn has contributed to the rise in energy prices now being felt in practically every household here.

    Now some can argue that if those countries agreed to Putin’s demands to pay for gas in roubles to restore Russia’s economic woes, perhaps the energy crisis would not be troubling as it is. Others will argue punishing Russia financially is a necessity in an attempt to shorten the war. Others could even say that punishing Russia economically would have been a pointless exercise, not just because of the impact it would have on innocent common Russians, but also because they would be inclined to push on with their invasion in the face of irreversible economic decline due to their masculine-fuelled sense of national pride.

    But we have to face facts. The sanctions installed on Russia appear to have slightly backfired because the deficit in gas supply now means energy prices are reaching an all-time high with the current amount standing at an already overpriced rate of £1971, up from £1277 at year’s start. There was already a growing sense of horror at that amount being announced, so a different term that goes beyond horror ought to have been called when it was revealed that the energy price cap could go up to around £3,500 when the new price cap comes into effect on October. And word has been going around that may rise even further in the new year to figured as high as £6,000.

    Even if the intentions of shortening a war by doing what has led to where energy prices are at come across as noble, it does not change the fact that no household in Britain should pay out of its own pocket more than £1971 for energy when it shouldn’t even be that amount in the first place.

    When the likely next PM Liz Truss appeared on Andrew Marr’s Sunday morning BBC1 show earlier in the year, she suggested that regardless of the increase in cost-of-living, British people should stop to think about the horrors that the Ukrainian people were enduring in their homeland. Now that is something that people should be doing and have done, but at the same time, having outrage at village massacres and apartment blocks with frightened families of all ages doesn’t mean that people should ignore the difficulties they are facing in this country.

    It’s easy for a politician in a high salary with expenses to say that but it’s a different scenario if you are a nurse or a teacher or van driver or baker or those doing multiple jobs who can’t help but notice if the increase in energy, alongside the other basics, mean at the end of the month, more month than money.

    And at the time, though she acknowledged times would be tough for the British in terms of prices, energy wasn’t forecasting as to be near as high as it has been implied, nor was it as pricey as it would become, hence why Truss could get away with saying it.

    But when Boris Johnson stated yesterday during his latest visit to Ukraine that the British people should endure the energy price hikes on the grounds that Ukrainians were paying in blood, it made my blood boil, not to mention feeling relieved that he won’t be PM in two weeks time.

    The tone-deaf statement does have its sense of consideration for Ukraine but on the flip side, not even that can mask the seeming disregard he has for the majority of British households.

    There has been an unfortunately overused saying that has come to reflect life for some in this country which is ‘heating or eating’. It used to be a term that would effectively refer to low-income households but such is the scale to which the cost-of-living, it’s now affecting much more than just those that fit into that demographic, such as households where the occupants are in steady respectable-paid jobs. Such is the scale of prices that it runs the risk of some households not being able to even choose between heating or eating, a scandal for what is apparently the sixth richest country on Earth.

    And it’s not just households that are being battered by the energy price cap. Only this week, it was reported that a vase-maker in Bath, already paying £14,000 annually in energy, would face bills going up to £100,000, forcing her to put prices up for her work that would lead to an unviable business model, potentially costing the jobs of her and colleagues. And that is just one business.

    Anyone with basic common sense would see events like a maternity ward being bombed or a village like Bucha enduring occurrences which are frankly too disturbing even to mention here as an outrage that define the stuff of nightmares. But the stuff of nightmares also involves the idea of people falling ill from malnutrition or even starving to death to keep themselves or their relatives warm, or pensioners freezing to death because of the inability to afford basic heating, especially after likely working all their lives.

    These ideas cannot be dismissed as hyperbole because there are households that simply won’t be able to endure the scenario. And though these would be on a completely different scale to the events in Ukraine, they serve as an outrage nevertheless.

    When Boris Johnson said that British people should endure the price hikes, he essentially insulted the people who may very well find themselves in that situation,and not just them, but hard-working families in steady well-paid jobs who face the once-unthinkable prospect of paying such staggering amounts that even with their lifestyle may not even be enough.

    What makes his suggestion worse is that last week, the front page of The Guardian reported that an unbelievable 45million people, around 70% of the country, could be in fuel poverty by January. This crisis is not something that is affecting the typical one of two some might say, but the vast majority in the country.

    Our thankfully soon-to-be-ex PM essentially insulted the vast majority of Brits in this country in a statement that may just be the most out-of-touch ever made by a sitting British PM, a tail-end to a reign that began so promisingly.

    By asking us to consider others when that is rightly done anyway, he also devalued practically every person in the country he serves. How dare you, Boris Johnson.

  • This year’s Best Picture Oscar nominees ranked 10-1

    And so the time has arrived for the unveiling of what the Academy has voted as the best film of 2021, a solid year for cinema. And with an eclectic mix of films ranging from coming-of-age in the 1970s and childhood in the Troubles, to natural disaster satire and Japanese arthouse, as well as a couple of dubious choices, here is the worst-to-best countdown from 10-1 of what the Academy deem to be the best films at this year’s ceremony.

    10. Nightmare Alley

    One of two films unworthy of their presence in the category, Guillermo del Toro’s follow-up to his Oscar-winning The Shape of Water made for his first disappointment since Pacific Rim.
    Though assembling an excellent cast of actors including Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Richard Jenkins, Willem Dafoe and Toni Collette, this noirish period piece suffered from a lack of genuine excitement and a painfully overlong running time.
    Its terrible box office return ($38m worldwide on a $60m budget) suggests its target audience were still reluctant to go to the cinema because of the pandemic, a wise decision to avoid a piece which would have been better off sent to streaming to save the journey.

    9. Dune

    The second of two unworthy nominees, Denis Villeneuve’s attempt at a two-part space epic suffered with a ridiculously slow pace in its first half denting whatever sense of modest recovery its second half obtained.
    Also suffering from being overlong with a pace suited to arthouse fare and not nine-figure blockbusters, outside of okayish action sequences of which there aren’t enough, the solid ensemble cast of Timothee Chalamet, Josh Brolin, Oscar Isaac and Javier Bardem amongst others could not do for the blockbuster what they have consistently shown in adult-skewing fares. Even the visuals don’t strike as interesting enough and only the worthwhile Stellan Skarsgard’s villainous role is the only performer to come out of it positively. A clear misfire from Villeneuve who failed to do for here what he achieved with Arrival and Blade Runner 2049.

    8. Don’t Look Up

    In a category where some impressive ensemble casts have been assembled, Adam McKay’s satirical observation of how scientists and those with power and money would react to an impending asteroid collision had the strongest.
    And though it’s downer ending may end up being the ultimate depressing movie ending, the strength of its ensemble including DiCaprio, Lawrence, Hill, Blanchett, Streep, Rylance, Perlman and Chalamet disappearing into their roles and its sense of deep thought-provoking serves as a lesson in what to do if, heaven forbid, the ultimate threat to humanity becomes a reality.

    7. The Power of the Dog

    It already has the Best Film Globe and the BAFTA to its name, but so did Three Billboards and 1917 and they didn’t get to the podium at night’s end.
    Jane Campion is a dead cert for Director but whether her tale of rivalry, jealousy and sexuality in 1920s Montana involving a rancher and his brother’s newlywed wife and stepson will take the top prize has been thrown in the air by some recent victories of other films.
    As relatively intriguing and commendable as it turns out, if it does win the Best Picture trophy, one suspects this will be seen as one which won’t be held in high regard as previous winners as the years progress. One positive though if it does is it’s a classic compared to last year’s winner, the hollow dullfest that was Nomadland.

    6. King Richard

    Will Smith is the odds-on favourite to take Best Actor for his role in the biopic of the father of Serena and Venus Williams who guided his daughters in a my-way-or-the-highway approach from childhood toward tennis history.
    By not focusing on the predictable stance of the Williams sisters journey and focusing more on the grit and determination of their firm but fair father, the end result is a biopic that is as inspiring as it is entertaining, with the strongest scenes coming from observing why Richard does what he does.
    It’s highly unlikely it will take home the nights top prize but it well and truly earns its place among the nominees, coming in as this year’s true-life underdog tale.

    5. West Side Story

    It may have flopped at the box office thanks to a $100million budget that for what the film showed was completely unjustifiable, but Steven Spielberg’s remake of the 1961 musical completely earned its nomination.
    From its riveting opening number to the interpretations of the songs holding on their own to the power of its tragic elements, its place is special in that it bettered the original, largely thanks to its direction which gave the film a higher energy value.
    It’s unfortunate that its box office wasn’t as higher as it should have been, but whether it wins the Oscar or not, it should deservedly find a larger audience as time progresses.

    4. Coda

    A remake of the French drama La Family Belier, not only was this a clear improvement on its original basis but a funny, touching and informative story about a gifted teenage girl torn between picking a musical career or helping her deaf parents and brother continue making ends meet.
    With its strong acting performances from Emilia Jones and an Oscar-tipped Troy Kotsur, the combined study of working-class life and music storytelling makes for a splendid piece of overcoming-adversity.
    Made by Apple+, its recent victories at the SAG and PGA Awards have made this a dark horse in the Oscar race and could see it beat Netflix to the honour of first Best Picture winner from a streamer.

    3. Licorice Pizza

    Though perhaps the best director working in cinema today, Paul Thomas Anderson has yet to win an Oscar for directing or writing, nor see any of his work take Best Picture. His chances of screenplay are good but the quest to direct a Best Picture winner will almost certainly go on.
    A coming-of-age tale set in 1970s California depicting a friendship between a 15-year old schoolboy and an older photographer’s assistant, it plays as Anderson’s funniest film to date.
    A show-stealing appearance by Bradley Cooper to a set-up of a drunken motorcycle stunt involving Tom Waits and Sean Penn, it makes one watch out for its lead stars Alana Hain and Cooper Hoffman, son of the late Anderson collaborator Phillip Seymour, whilst adding as another impressive entry in its directors oeuvre

    2. Belfast

    Kenneth Branagh’s semi-autobiographical tale of a young boy growing up in the midst of the Troubles marks the first time he has directed a film nominated for Best Picture.
    Perhaps the best film he’s made to date, it speaks volumes in justifying its Oscar nominations with actors from Jude Hill, Caitriona Balfe, Jamie Dornan, Judi Dench, Ciaran Hinds and Colin Morgan finding the right key in each of their roles.
    A family drama both humorous and moving, from its opening sequence transforming a pleasant residential street into a location of carnage to the various occurrences relatable in a young child’s life, its chances of winning Best Screenplay are more likely than Picture.
    But if this takes the Oscar, despite being second on this countdown, it would be a deserving win whilst proving how British cinema flourishes in a Brexit Britain recovering from COVID.

    1. Drive My Car

    The last several ceremonies saw a foreign language film nominated in the Best Picture category with Parasite famously winning two years ago. In what’s becoming a bit of a deserved tradition, this Japanese arthouse drama which premiered at Cannes last year is the latest foreign nominee, impressive given it’s also the favourite for Best International Feature Film.
    Telling of a widowed theatre actor who travels to Hiroshima to direct a play and his bonding with a young female chaufferer assigned to drive him, its three-hour length is no issue as not one frame ought to be removed from the quietly beautiful piece courtesy of Ryusuke Hamaguchi.
    Being realistic, it’s unlikely it will do a Parasite and win the Academy’s highest prize, but a nomination is just as good given the hopeful exposure it will give, to go with what is likely going to be a victory in the aforementioned International category. A moving adult drama that delivers a mixture of sensitive direction, fascinating characters and superb storytelling, it can be said without hesitance that this is the best film nominated for Best Picture, even if it doesn’t go away with that specific trophy.

  • Six Films: William Hurt

    The sudden death at 71 of William Hurt marks the passing of an actor whose versatility, tendency to cross generations and ability to pick solid material marks for a true loss to the world of cinema.
    Here are just six memorable films he made from a career much more than just these.

    A huge talent.

    Children of a Lesser God (1986)

    After winning a Best Actor Oscar for Kiss of the Spider Woman, Hurt followed that with a touching piece about a teacher of deaf students who comes into contact with the school’s deaf janitor, played in an Oscar-winning role by Marlee Matlin.
    The two gradually form a relationship which is tested by his insistence on getting her to open up to him and prove her deafness should not be the obstacle she accepts it to be.
    Though Matlin is the stronger performer emotionally, Hurt’s performance is equally impressive and more challenging role to pull off, given the sign language he had to learn as well as dictate what Marlin’s character is saying. Succeeding at not being dominated onscreen by his co-star’s, Hurt would justifiably receive a second consecutive Oscar nomination (three times for Broadcast News) for this role.

    The Accidental Tourist (1988)

    One of the best American dramas of its decade, this tale of a love-triangle saw Hurt portray a travelling writer who specialises in books advising tourists whilst holidaying around the world.
    Grieving from a tragedy that effectively destroyed his marriage, his acquaintance with a dog-handler who he requires assistance with whilst he goes on a business trip results in starting a new relationship, made complex when his estranged wife reappears.
    Both funny and moving with highlights from Geena Davis’ Oscar-winning supporting role to its often great script, Hurt’s everyman persona helped retain focus throughout.
    Interestingly this would mark the last film starring Hurt to be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, having starred in films nominated in five of the last six ceremonies, though no reflection on all his choices in in the coming years.

    Second Best (1994)

    An underrated feature of British cinema in the 1990s saw Hurt convincingly portray a Welsh post office worker who adopts a troubled young boy whose father is dying from AIDS. As their relationship progresses, the bond undergoes moments that are both joyous and challenging with the film focusing on the struggle to avoid being seen as second best and make the adoption process succeed.
    A box-office failure, it is a film that is in urgent need of reappraisal, not just because of Hurt’s quietly restrained performance,but because of its ability to create a relationship story with honesty and believability, especially given the genteel nature of its lead character.

    Smoke (1995)

    One of the examples of why 1995 will go down as one of the best years in cinema history, Wayne Wang’s comedy ensemble piece of characters living in Brooklyn saw Hurt star alongside Harvey Keitel, Forest Whitaker, Jared Harris and Harold Perrineau Jr.
    Playing another bereaved author, Hurt portrayed Paul Benjamin who frequents Keitel’s cigarette shop, battles writer’s block and takes in a teenager whose theft of a criminal’s money inadvertently places him in danger.
    Though likely remembered by some for the slowly-zoomed in closing monologue Keitel delivers to Hurt, the whole picture is memorable overall for his multi-strand narrative and interweaving of characters with a sound combination of hysterical humour and genuinely moving scenes, all courtesy at the scribe of the gifted Paul Auster.

    Dark City (1998)

    Hurt starred in two sci-fi films in 1998 and whilst one Lost in Space was a negatively reviewed, respectable box office performer, Dark City proved to be a box office disappointment but getting high acclaim, including being named by Roger Ebert as the year’s best.
    What made this more appealing than traditional works was its hybrid of genres, bringing action and sci-fi into a moody, noirish setting whilst including a unique set of twists on top of its visually striking appearance.
    In a genre which so often gets it wrong, this played as a sci-fi action film but with a brain, boosted by the roles of Rufus Sewell as the main hero, Kiefer Sutherland as the suspicious doctor and Hurt in the old-fashioned moody, suited detective role who falls victim to a memorable and yet unexpected demise late in the film.

    The Yellow Handkerchief (2008)

    Alongside more mass-market roles in Vantage Point and The Incredible Hulk, Hurt also made this medium-budget road movie which saw the director of Second Best work as cinematographer.
    He played a newly-released convict embarking on a road trip to attempt a reconciliation with his ex-wife and is joined by two teenagers, played by Kristen Stewart and Eddie Redmayne, where the reasons for his imprisonment are shown as well as a sense of self-discovery upon all three.
    Appearing a lot tougher than usual, Hurt headlined a trio representing the past and the future of leading actors.
    Essentially guiding his younger co-stars along the way to mirroring his respected and successful career, it played as a metaphorical preparation of passing the baton whilst displaying his hold on the screen.

  • Who should win the Best Actress Oscar?

    Unpredictable this year indeed.

    With Oscar season in full swing, last week it was the turn of the leading males and this time it is the turn of the leading females in what is arguably the most unpredictable category in years.
    That it is difficult to call this year who will win is a testament to the talents of the five individuals nominated, whilst picking a choice has proven more challenging.
    Let’s look at the five contenders.

    Olivia Colman – The Lost Daughter

    A complex and peculiar character, Colman’s personification of the middle-aged Leda Caruso saw her receive her second Oscar nomination, following from her first Oscar victory in 2019 for The Favourite.
    From her outburst to a group of rowdy lads in a cinema to her awkward refusal to remove herself during a beach gathering, Colman brings as much intrigue as depth to the character, justifying her nomination in the process.
    But of the nominated performances, hers is the fifth best nominated, although what that only shows is how widespread the talent has been this year
    If this was done last year, maybe she would have been a deserving winner but this year, she ought to just stick to being nominated. It does imply though that another Oscar victory in future is likelier by the year.

    Penelope Cruz – Parallel Mothers

    Every couple of years, an actress in a foreign language role will be nominated in this category. Recent examples have included Marion Cottilard, Isabelle Huppert and Yalitza Aparicio. Since 2000, only two actresses have been nominated multiple times in foreign language roles, Cottilard and Cruz, the latter scoring her first nomination in 2007 for Volver.
    15 years later, under the same director, Cruz is nominated for her role as Janis, a new mother whose friendship with a young mother she gave birth alongside with in the hospital leads to life-altering discoveries.
    Cruz, also both a previous winner and nominee in the Supporting Actress category, delivers perhaps the performance of her career, certainly out of the roles under Almodovar, with one particularly moving sequence earning her nomination outright.
    Some could say that it was Cruz’s inclusion that prevented the expected nomination for Lady Gaga from appearing and she will go in to the ceremony as the dark horse, but a victory would be more than deserved. She has the honour of being the only Spanish actress to win a Supporting Actress Oscar and could, understandably, make history again in the Leading category.

    Nicole Kidman – Being the Ricardos

    Kidman’s portrayal of Lucille Ball is her fourth nomination in this category and fifth Oscar nomination overall, coming 19 years after she won her only Oscar to date for The Hours. Her odds of being a two-time winner shot up when she scooped the Golden Globe in January and in spite of being in her early 50s for acting out a role of someone shown from their late 20s to early 40s, her acting ability forgives that. More so is that, along with Actor nominee Javier Bardem, she carries what is an underwhelming feature from Aaron Sorkin where the acting is the only impressive part of the film.
    From the scene showing her film contract terminated to her dictatorial controlling of the show’s rehearsals to the two-header confrontations with her husband/co-star, Kidman makes her case for being nominated in spades, but it feels ideal that she takes the Globe whilst another actress takes the Oscar. But if the oldest nominee does end up on the podium, it will have a large degree of justification.

    Kristen Stewart – Spencer

    Of all the five nominees, perhaps this is the one that deserves to be rewarded with the statuette. Having spent the most part of the last decade abolishing the perception she will be known just as the girl from Twilight, this was the moment where Stewart officially became a truly fine modern actress with her presentation of Princess Diana in the final days of her marriage to Prince Charles.
    Disappearing into her role of arguably the most-loved public figure of her generation, from the get-go one has to be reminded that this is an American playing this English role. Slaying any naysayers who felt she was not right for the role, from accent to posture to the multiple range of emotionally charged scenes, this essentially comes across as effortless powerhouse acting at times.
    With director Pablo Larrain giving Stewart her Jackie moment in a film that feels slow to engage story-wise, Stewart’s effortless acting is the sole great aspect, making the film worth viewing just for her alone. In a category full of solid roles, it is Stewart that ought to take home the statuette on her first try at the awards.
    Though she was weirdly snubbed at the SAGs and, perhaps less weirdly so, the BAFTAs, the Oscar nomination gives the Academy the chance to right the wrong where the Actors Guild went.

    Jessica Chastain – The Eyes of Tammy Faye

    What the head says.

    Jessica Chastain is one of those actresses that one is extremely confident in saying will win an Oscar one day. Her delivery of strong versatile female characters have been personified in Zero Dark Thirty, A Most Violent Year and Molly’s Game. Her role of unorthodox and inclusive televangelist Tammy Faye whose career, fortune and reputation were bought down in public as a result of her husband’s fraudulent activities is another to add to in a list that will almost certainly continue growing.
    In a rise-and-fall-and-rerise tale that travels from her youthful days and whirlwind marriage to her becoming a titan in the world of Christian television, Chastain transforms herself at times to the point of being unrecognisable, singing, praising, dividing and crying her way through a film that gradually improves, no thanks to its lead performance of someone who just wants people to care about everyone.
    With the SAG award under her belt, Chastain goes into the ceremony as, if pressed, the favourite to win and even if she defeats Kristen Stewart, one can still applaud the decision to hand over her first Oscar, surprisingly nine years after her previous nomination.

  • Why John Bercow should be seen as a bully and Priti Patel should not.

    Bercow only has himself to blame.

    Today it was announced that former Speaker of the House (and ardent anti-Brexiteer) John Bercow was effectively banned for life from holding a Commons pass. Not because
    he bashed Jacob Rees-Mogg and Kwasi Kwarteng over the head with a dumbbell coated in the EU flag but because an investigation had found him to be guilty of workplace bullying.

    Among the words or terms used in the report were “intimidating”, “verbal abuse”, “mimicking” and “derogatory”, with the insulting of a colleagues background included. Now this man was the Speaker of the House, a job title which involves scrutinising the behaviour of politicians and displaying a form of leading by example, notably during the frequently rowdy weekly PMQs sessions. Essentially, of all the posts in Parliament, even that of the PM, this is perhaps the one job which demands complete respect from all sides and vice versa.

    So what does it say when the person in that very position, regardless of their supposed lack of neutrality, turns out to have been a bullying sort who left one private secretary describing her time working for him as “genuinely horrible” “undermining” and “consistently upsetting”. One incident supposedly involved a mobile phone being thrown so hard that it smashed into pieces into a nearby individual.

    The Speaker of the House is in a position where he or she is expected to chair parliamentary meetings in the Commons without a shred of bias and effectively be treated as a god, the one in charge of the people in charge of the country, at least for half an hour on a Wednesday afternoon.

    It begs the question as to whether Bercow allowed his sense of self-respect to go over his head with those he bullied and forget about those professionally beneath him, as if he felt they were beneath him overall. His job was was to put politicians in ORDER. And yet he couldn’t put himself in ORDER.

    But as Twitter showed today, once the news of the findings came out and criticisms came from Boris Johnson and other Conservative MPs like Andrea Leadsom, a comparison was made to a politician who found herself in a similar situation.
    A politician who had been found to have broken the Ministerial Code, considered to be serious enough to expect a resignation, after being found to have bullied fellow staff in the Home Office, and leading to a six-figure payout to a disgruntled civil servant.
    That politician is none other than Priti Patel, who subsequently apologised and just happened to have remained in her job of Home Secretary.

    But as unpleasant as supposedly “shouting” and “swearing” in the workplace is, if someone has been seen to not do their job properly in a high-pressure setting as the Home Office, then, as long as it’s occurring precisely there, it may be in that case a necessary evil. Working for the Home Office essentially involves keeping our country safe, deciding who comes here, who shouldn’t be here, who has slipped under the radar, keeping check on what is needed of our police force, amongst many other requirements. It is thus the department that revolves around the single most important issue in any democratic nation; keeping its citizens and visitors safe.

    So when a Home Office senior civil servant Sir Philip Putnam resigned, claiming that Patel had created a culture of fear within the Home Office, one felt maybe there was a reason.
    After all if somebody at the Home Office is not doing a job properly, a department that rightly should require everyone to be at their top of the game, that has the potential to create serious problems for the general public.

    In defence of Patel, one can see why creating a culture of fear in that department may have been necessary as a degree of motivation, especially if it is designed to keep the public safe.

    But by labelling Patel a bully, one would also have to dish the same out to Gordon Ramsay, whose foul-mouthed rollockings to underperforming staff have some reasoning behind them if their carelessness risked ruining the service and thus potentially the whole restaurant for staff and customers. Or Sir Alex Ferguson, essentially the poster boy for the so-called ‘hairdryer treatment’, where shouting in the faces of underperforming footballers would be seen as the motivation to improve. Or James Cameron whose temper tantrums on the set of Titanic for other people’s mistakes were enough to make Kate Winslet vow only to work with him again if the money was good enough.

    By unleashing volcanic tempers, they got results that benefitted more than just them. Ramsay would go on to get Michelin stars, create tons of jobs for restaurant staff and become the world’s most well-known chef. Ferguson is the most successful manager in the Premier League and seen by some as the greatest manager of all time, especially after seeing how United’s form dipped after he left. Cameron would be rewarded for Titanic with 11 Oscars and the honour of having directed for a film studio the highest-grossing film at the time. Patel supposedly “shouting and swearing” as Home Secretary can be seen as justifiable if an underperforming staff mistakes or underperformance make the nation less safer.

    Unlike Patel, Bercow didn’t have the pressure of national security or a restaurant empire or a football tournament or a nine-figure budgeted movie. All he was was the Speaker, a role that frankly seems easygoing compared to spearheading those.
    That Patel apologised and acknowledged any upset caused whilst Bercow even denies bullying and refused to apologise implies a staggering arrogance of a man who simply had no justification for acting the way the investigation has found.
    Ramsay, Ferguson, Cameron, Patel and others were justified in losing their tempers if underperformance led to potential trouble for those around them. Bercow didn’t have that pressure or defence and should be banned from commentating on Sky News or TV shows like The Last Leg until he starts by admitting and apologising for what’s been found to happen that unlike some, he is a bully and only a bully.

  • The Oscars: Who should win Best Actor?

    Can Denzel join the 2-time club?
    The perrenial favourite.

    It’s Oscar month and to commemorate it, four special articles will be published discussing the nominees in four key categories, Actor, Actress, Director and Picture, each to be published on Fridays leading up to the ceremony.

    First up for discussion is the category of Best Actor.

    Benedict Cumberbatch – The Power of the Dog

    A previous nominee for The Imitation Game, the Sherlock star’s performance of a menacing, unpredictable, homophobic and mentally cruel rancher in early 20th century Montana stands as one of his most fascinating characters to date, with an intensity just from a simple glare that brings comparisons with the villainous roles of Daniel Day-Lewis and Gary Oldman.

    Cumberbatch chews the scenery as the bull-castrating, horse-whipping, alpha-male Phil Burbank whose underlying layers ask more questions than what the first impressions let on.
    It’s more likely, if anything, he will scoop Best Actor at the BAFTAs for this role but one thing this shows is it’s not a question of if he will nab the gold statuette but when.

    Javier Bardem – Being the Ricardos

    A previous winner of Supporting Actor for No Country for Old Men and nominated twice before in leading, it’s plausible that on his third crack at the leading gong, Bardem’s pursuit of that very award will remain elusive.
    That’s not to say it goes undeserved.

    His nomination is earned for the role of the Cuban musician Desi Arnaz who found widespread fame on I Love Lucy, demonstrating a talent for singing and a conveyance of charm, irritation, intimidation and remorse.
    The casting may seem controversial because of Bardem’s Spanish heritage and the actor portraying Desi aged from 22 to 36, despite him being 52 when filming, but his range is one of the few positives of the film that only survives on the strength of its lead performances.

    Denzel Washington – The Tragedy of Macbeth

    The only one of the five nominees to have scooped the Leading Actor award previously, having won 20 years ago for Training Day, the nine-time overall nominee could be the strongest opposition to Will Smith.
    As with his prior Oscar victory, the 67-year old shows how good he is when playing to his dark side, this time taking on the role of the Scottish lord in Joel Coen’s black-and-white colour-blind adaptation of Shakespeare’s bloody play.
    American accent aside, Washington is impossible to take eyes off screen as he combines delivery of multiple complex monologues with a performance that suggests a crazed king who sees himself as indestructible.

    The best thing about the adaptation, his memorable performance in a career stacked with them shows one of is not too old for the role if done well and though surprising it will be to see him win for this, it’s a role worth winning for.

    Andrew Garfield – Tick, Tick…Boom

    Like Cumberbatch, Garfield is a two-time nominee, having previously been nominated for Hacksaw Ridge, incidentally nominated the same year as Washington was for Fences. It’s likely both men will stay seated once the winner is announced again but Garfield can at least say he got the Golden Globe for his role of ambitious musical composer Jonathan Larson in his quest for notice and success.

    He nails the relentless never-say-die approach. He nails the anxiety. He nails the determination and disappointment and redetermination. He nails the singing. He nails the likeability, even when he puts his career ambitions over that of others. But he doesn’t nail the worthiness of an Oscar winner. At least for this role. This is not Garfield’s year but there are other years to come.

    Will Smith – King Richard

    20 years ago, Smith on his first leading nomination for Ali rightly lost to Washington. This year, it’s likely going to be the other way round and understandably so. Unlike Bardem, this should be third time lucky in the Leading Actor race for the 53-year old who has always come across as someone who would eventually score an Oscar, even with a 15 year gap between his previous nomination for The Pursuit of Happyness and this.
    As Richard Williams, the man arguably the reason for his daughters making it into the tennis history books, Smith makes the firm-but-fair father not so much pushy but justified in his motives, mixing overprotection with a we’re-doing-this attitude that gives Smith the sort of role he works best in. It’s also typical that it is impossible not to root for him to succeed given the threat of what’s at stake if all fails, often reminding us this is truth.
    The scene that wins him the Oscar; his monologue to young Venus informing of the racist beating he took as a youngster, powerfully delivered to a degree that suggests it may not be entirely acting, effectively representing a cross-generational community via recollection.
    In a category filled with solid work, it is Smith who deserves to take the trophy.

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