Awards For Play-It-Safe Times


Journalists ran a popularity check on this year’s British Academy nominations, and found that the films least popular with the public were most popular with film critics; it was ever thus.

What’s different this year is the depth of conservatism expressed by the award wins. A very Home Counties cowboy film to lead the pack. Something for Will Smith (who didn’t turn up). Gongs for the cosily nostalgic ‘Belfast’ and ‘West Side Story’. Even the admittedly still wonderful Dame Shirley Bassey was wheeled out to sing a half-century-old Bond song.

This meant no Stephen Graham, whose role in ‘Boiling Point’ was head and shoulders above anything else this year. No Ruth Negga or Tessa Thompson for the brilliant ‘Passing’. No rank outsiders (anyone else see the superb ‘Compartment No.6’, ‘Benediction’ or ‘The Innocents’?) Instead, big wins for Hollywood royalty, UK grandees and a disturbingly clueless sweep-up of the rest.

I’d suggest we’ve fallen back into the past, but the past was often more adventurous. No wonder the ceremony is barely watched at home. Awards ceremonies were never meritocratic – you only have to look at the appalling omissions of past lists. It seems as if every year new checks and balances are put in place to ensure fairer voting, but this just seems to make any kind of cohesive statement about what British awards should be less and less likely.

Personally I’d guide audiences toward what they could be watching, although in a year when the biggest talking point – 007’s return – got pretty thoroughly ignored, all bets are off from now.

35 comments on “Awards For Play-It-Safe Times”

  1. Liz+Thompson says:

    Well I found The Green Knight very interesting, although the dim lighting did it no favours, but then I was also busy comparing it to the original poem…….

  2. Stu-I-Am says:

    Well, there’s nothing for it but to add more categories to make sure as many as possible win something. Kind of like participation trophies awarded in youth athletic competitions. Did you hit your marks and speak your lines correctly with no prompting or second takes required? Winner!

  3. Paul C says:

    Agree with all of your post but I did enjoy The Power of the Dog (on the big screen) and wouldn’t quarrel with the film of the year or best director awards. I thought Licorice Pizza was superb but no recognition at the BAFTAs – not that I would waste my time watching it or any other awards ceremony. The saccharinity is always unbearable.

  4. admin says:

    I have my suspicions about ‘saccharinity’.

  5. Helen+Martin says:

    Suspicions, admin? Those ceremonies usually are, although I can’t imagine Dame Shirley falling into that category.
    My objection to these awards is the limitation put on the right to be considered. In North America we are only allowed to consider Hollywood productions except for a token “best foreign film” award. The assumption is that the awards are meant to encourage the national industry. I could certainly wish that films were more broadly shown. Yes, I know that there are all sorts of streaming services and so on but that is not really seeing films as the creators intended, is it?

  6. Debra Matheney says:

    films continue to disappoint. I used to try and see the nominees but haven’t been bothered for several years. I tried to watch French Dispatch. UGH! Like you, Christopher, I found Passing deeply moving. I liked Belfast, although a bit sentimental for my taste. The child actor was a wonder to watch. Haven’t seen the Dog movie yet. I was seriously annoyed by how the child was treated in The Piano, which everyone else really liked, so I am not 100%sold on Campion. West Side Story is a case where the original was more enticing. too many Marvel films and not enough quirky, thoughtful ones.

  7. Bob Low says:

    Debra – I saw “The Piano” when it came out and thought it was one of the most stultifyingly dull, eye-wateringly pretentious films I’d ever seen. After about twenty minutes, I kept praying for Laurel and Hardy to turn up. “The Music Box” is a truly of profound meditation on the meaning of life by comparison – and only 20 minutes long!

  8. Joe says:

    I don’t think you can have winners in participation events Stu. In future award ceremonies everybody will take part and do well. But obviously a good deal more gushing than that. Fabulously well. It will be a very long evening though.

    I don’t know if anyone else has noticed this or perhaps it’s me, but I am find it increasingly more difficult to understand what people are saying in some films. It’s not my hearing but a mix of mumbling, slurring and sometimes attempted accents. Although it takes a few minutes to tune in to another language, like American, in some films what I’m talking about is often completely indecipherable. Jumping back and replaying repeatedly at increasing volume doesn’t usually help either – still sounds like mmmmhhertl – plus it’s difficult to rewind in the cinema. Although at least in an auditorium there is some relief in seeing other couples turning to one another with quizzical looks mouthing ‘what?’ Resorting to subtitles can occasionally solve the mystery at home but whilst acceptable when the film is in Korean shouldn’t really be necessary when it’s in English.


  9. Stu-I-Am says:

    Really CF ? You expect the general cinema (movie) going public to fork out/over anywhere from about £ 12-15 or USD 10+ for films with complex characters and emotions ? As it happens, I saw ‘Boiling Point’ (though I thought Vinette Robinson as the sous chef stole it from Graham), ‘Compartment No.6’, ‘Benediction’ and ‘The Innocents’ — all wonderful art house fare. Worthy of the bankable motion picture equivalent of the Hearst (formerly the Good Housekeeping) Institute ‘Seal of Approval ?’ Not in this life.

  10. Stu-I-Am says:

    @Joe Joe, of course. By ‘winning’ I mean (facetiously) be rewarded for essentially showing up. And no — that film (and TV) sound ‘problem’ is not you — at least probably not most of it. Some of that has to do with filmmakers deliberately making the sound difficult for (questionable) artistic reasons, actors mumbling to simulate what a half-arsed director thinks is naturalistic speech and a general lack of attention to sound when a film is being made these days,

    Perhaps most important is a noticeable lack of understanding of the fine art of sound mixing — with ever more complicated film technology to deal with and the distinct differences required for editing sound for theatres, streaming and home theatre systems. Too often the process of capturing, creating and shaping great sound (other than maybe major effects sound) is essentially an afterthought.

  11. snowy says:

    Ahem… the year 1936 wants a word…

    “In the film industry, more than in most businesses, original thinking is taboo, for our mental processes are done by syndicate. We are the victims of parrot cries…”

    Film Production (1936) by Adrian Brunel

    An intriguing if now largely forgotten person in British Film history.

    [One of his other books ‘Nice Work. The Story of Thirty Years in British Film Production’ (1949) might make an interesting read for those once in the biz, [it’s quite short 217pp].]

  12. Jan says:

    What if “West Side Story” sets a trend and instead of remaking foreign films into U.S. films half of which have such poor sound quality – @ least as far as the speech goes – I find them about as difficult to understand as the original foreign language versions! Joe’s quite correct

    Then of course Mr F and most everyone else pipes up on here to say “and of course this Hollywood production cannot hold a candle to the original Finnish/Spanish/ Latvian film”

    Sorry I digress – but wot if a terrible trend is set whereby old fashioned musicals get remade into modern more relevant, politically correct versions? They have remade old horror pictures a good few times but imagine the possible remakes of a few popular mainstream musicals. The mind boggles.

    I daren’t go on.

    Here apart from.”Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” have they remade (m)any musicals?

  13. Stu-I-Am says:

    @Jan Jan — first, as far as the Spielberg’s ‘West Side Story,’ what you (and others) see as ‘politically correct,’ I (and others) see as more realistic, authentic — with its urban renewal backdrop and the use of ‘Nuyorican’ Spanish (without translation) from time to time. Does that distract from the core musical itself ? Not to me. Since most of the classic musicals were written with mainstream audiences in mind, it’s unlikely that any one approaching the enduring popularity of ‘West Side Story’ (and a director with a rep any less than Spielberg’s) would find funding for a dramatic, and what you would call, a ‘pc’ film makeover. Musicals are notoriously difficult enough to properly bring to the big screen by their very nature.

  14. Joan says:

    I think some of us are overthinking films and the reason we go to the cinema. When we make our way into the theatres these days it is because we really want to get out and experience film away from the couch and Netflix. To me it is a form of escapism when the lights go down and you are transported into the future or the past and other people’s lives. Gosh we really need something to look forward to these days.
    I loved West Side Story, woke or not. I also loved the original but was too young to have seen it on the big screen. The Bond movie was very enjoyable, and of course over the top! The Last Duel is not the same even on a 85” screen, like Dunkirk. One film that really lost out was Greyhound, the Tom Hanks film that was made for the wide screen and was released on Apple TV!
    Not sure about the Oscars, but at least we have been able to see some of the films this year up for awards. When I finally saw The Piano, I found it unpleasant, not saying it wasn’t good or worthy, but certainly not for me.
    I can’t help but quote Russell Crowe in Gladiator, “ are you not entertained?” and that’s what it is really about.

  15. Glasgow1975 says:

    I read a really interesting article a few months ago about the problem of ‘sound’ in modern films. It all boiled down to Sound Editors etc not being seen as important anymore compared to he actor’s or director’s ‘vision’ and the assumption that everything can be fixed ‘in the edit’ which is often impossible without decent sound recording in the first place. Plus the face some cinemas aren’t even set up to play the sound properly anyway.
    I’m sure if you Google you can find it, or similar…

  16. Joel says:

    i’m looking forward to seeing campion’s newest movie. i thoroughly enjoyed “the piano”. i am not surprised that it seems a majority of straight men didn’t care for it nor could they identify with being essentially a slave because of their gender. as i have recently learned concerning music, not everything is written/created for me. the same holds true for any other art form. if it’s not catching my attention, and i have no desire to engage in it, it doesn’t make it bad, just not for me. i personally found the original west side story movie very boring. the acting was of it’s time, the dialogue seemed childish and other than some of the songs, the music was difficult to get into. i haven’t seen spielbergs’, but am more inclined to with hopes that i might enjoy it. the idea the new one is “woke” because the actors are actually of hispanic origin is one of the most asinine things i have ever heard. if they had a movie where all of the white actors were really japanese, but with whitened skin and ridiculously enlarged eyes, im sure it would be just as hideous and embarrasing as when, say katherine hepburn, mary pickford, myrna loy, luise rainer, emma stone, scarlett johansson, rex harrison et al took on a “yellow” roll. which has been done 1915 – 2017. i did get to see “jesus christ superstar” in east berlin after the wall was down. it was done in a more symphonic style as opposed to the 70’s rock. i absolutely loved it. it’s all in what you connect with.

  17. Jan says:

    Stu don’t get me wrong I see no reason why Spielberg shouldn’t do all the remaking he wants but I reckon that a new film, telling a new story truly reflecting how life is now would be a tale more worthy of telling than a remake of a film that was already pretty great in its way. ( Maybe even with Spielberg giving way and letting a new director sit in the chair!) Was is remake really the best option?

    Was it really worth it doing West Side Story 2020? Do new actors and backgrounds and authentic language make it something better – a better, perfect 2020 vision perhaps?

    Life changes our balance of view changes I can’t be seeing anything wrong with that. Rather than telling a tale from a particular moment in the 20C aren’t there different better stories to be telling now? Let’s have something new and hopefully popular for whole new audiences to find

  18. Paul C says:

    Recommend a film entitled The Duke on release in the UK at the moment. A low-key Ealing type comedy with Jim Broadbent in marvellous form as a cantankerous elderly dreamer. I laughed out loud a lot and left the cinema with
    a warm glow.

  19. Stu-I-Am says:

    @Jan Jan — Apparently Spielberg always wanted to make a musical and chose to redo ‘West Side Story.’ His ‘take’ or approach was to look at the Upper West Side of Manhattan in the mid-’50s and mirror what was actually happening there and then. So — if anything — it was a more authentic vision of the setting, rather than somehow a particular point of view reflecting our times.

    When you have Spielberg’s rep (and ‘bankability’) in the industry, you pretty much get to do what you want. Let’s face it, we’re all ‘prisoners’ of others’ choices when it comes to entertainment, and certainly cinema. And the ‘choices’ of those who write the cheques, in particular. We get what we get. Fortunately, there are far more options thanks to new distribution methods and their need for product but, these are still ‘finite’ or ‘limited’ in terms of personal preferences and choice, in the scheme of things.

    There are a number of musicals, in particular, which do take on contemporary issues, some more successful than others, of course. As I said before, musicals are different animals and can become ‘beasts’ when brought to the big screen. As Artificial Intelligence (AI) becomes ever more sophisticated, maybe one day you’ll be able to conjure up at will your very own films with top creative talent selected from menus. Perhaps, even involving two Golden Age detectives and their supporting cast. Add a new character or two into the bargain, sure — all ‘authentic’ based on detailed analysis of prior work.

  20. Alan R says:

    “Best” is likely the most subjective word in the dictionary. Oxford Dictionary defines it as “of the most excellent or desirable type or quality”.

    My best 2021 movies (at least those I enjoyed best) includes “The Power of the Dog”, “Belfast”, “The Harder They Fall”, “Nobody”, “Justice League. Zack Snyder’s Cut” and many more. There can only be one “West Side Story” for me. I love the slightly cheesy 50s original.

  21. BarbaraBoucke says:

    Thank you, Paul C. The preview alone was a treat to watch. I will buy the DVD when it becomes available.

  22. John Griffin says:

    In the interests of authenticity ‘Seven Brides for Seven Brothers’ could be remade with the running repairs of the torn cheesy theatrical backdrops going on while the action/singing occupies the foreground. I always imagined it that way, to my amusement

  23. Jan says:

    Stu I have read over what you wrote about Spielberg’s take on W.S.S. and tbh I am having a bit of trouble understanding it. To be sure I am having a bit of a thick day today. (Work was a nightmare) I don’t really understand what you are saying. i have read it over a few times the penny might drop in a bit.

    Maybe my take on this is a bit of an off the wall view of things but sometimes when watching a film from the 40s, 50s , 60 or beyond (in either direction) + I think you can see what the ideals of masculinity, of beauty, fashions or make-up trends were at the particular time of a films creation. You also see what was socially acceptable at any given time a glimpse of societal norms. You get to sometimes see wasn’t so acceptable.

    Films, books plays and tv are very much OF their moment and retreads, revisits no matter what their qualities (and Spielberg is no slouch to be sure) you can look again at but do you really improve on owt? Honestly I’m not sure that you do. Maybe it’s more a gift to a younger generation allowed to look into a previous world in a different way.

    The only exception the only film I can bring to mind that voids my view that remakes are largely a waste of time + talent is funnily enough “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”! Before you decide I’ve completely lost it on the bend – bear with me here.

    There’s been a few runs at that film with the backgrounds varying from small town America to big cities. (Often with big stars in the films too) I think in one of the lesser versions of “Bodysnatchers” might even have been set in the future.

    Every time someone has had a go at “Invasion of Body Snatchers” its sort of revealed what the big concerns and worries were at that particular moment in 20C history. Which is interesting. We are not talking here about what is socially “acceptable” at the particular times this particular story is recreated – but basically about what people are truly worried about and frightened about. Not about what they are aiming to be but what is really concerning them.

    The Commies were coming in the 50s, urban violence, decay and control are involved in the Donald Sutherland 1970s contribution. I can’t even recall specifically what Kidman and the Daniel Craig were up against but there were a couple of lower budget versions that were also interesting. Maybe there’s something in that particular tale or the fact that its sci-fi that makes it the exception.

  24. Jan says:

    On a less complicated topic what’s your favourite musical then Stu?

    I think my two favourites are (ahem)

    Little Shop of Horrors. “Somewhere that’s Green” being my favourite song.
    Camelot. “If ever I should leave you” being my favourite song.
    Weirdly enough its probably as much about the film( the music video!) that accompanies the 2 songs as the songs thenselves

  25. Stu-I-Am says:

    @Jan Jan — Spielberg decided he wanted to remake ‘West Side Story.’ What Spielberg wants, he usually gets because of his track record. His vision included casting Latino actors and using untranslated Spanish as ‘accents’ here and there which the New York Puerto Ricans of the time and place would have used — against the backdrop of the extensive urban renewal of the location that was going on at the time. This ‘renewal’ was the clearance of poor neighborhoods to make way for eventual gentrification of the area and Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. These elements, among others, very much make his version ‘of its time’ as you put it — far more so than the original. The original was a typical Hollywood ‘whitewash’ of these (unpleasant ? uncomfortable ?) details for a mainstream audience — however entertaining it is. So — in many ways (and to many disenfranchised by the original…) he ‘redresses’ this intentional ‘oversight.’

    Is his version ‘better’ for these changes ? To many in the Latino community, yes. To others maybe yes, maybe no — but with the glorious core musical intact, being more ‘realistic’ or ‘authentic’ adds to its entertainment value and certainly makes it different from the original. If nothing else, it introduces us to a good many wonderfully talented Latino actors and dancers who few of us knew existed before. That has to be worth a great deal.

  26. Stu-I-Am says:

    @Jan Jan — Pretty much any of Sondheim’s (even ‘Anyone Can Whistle’ which closed after nine performances but fortunately ‘lives’ through an original cast album). Also his little known ‘Evening Primrose,’ about a secret group that lives in a department store. Has the memorable, poignant, ‘I Remember.’ Then, anything with Patti Lupone (‘Sunset Boulevard,’ ‘Evita,’ ‘Les Misérables’ st al). Sorry about work being a nightmare. We probably have managed to run this musical business into the ground. I think I heard the sound of a collective yawn followed by multiple heads hitting keyboards in Blogland.

  27. Joan says:

    Stu I wonder why everything has to be so authentic these days. In the original WSS George Chakiris as Bernardo was really 2nd generation Greek, did that make any difference? He could have passed as a Latino easily. As an Actor one takes up a role, and plays it, that’s their job.

  28. Alan R says:

    I think watching movies made long ago has the benefit of exposing us to how society addressed different subjects – in those times. Remaking a movie is to bring that story or tale into how present society views the subject. It is the same but different. Both have value.

    Ku Klux Klansmen in “the most controversial film ever made in the United States”, Birth Of A Nation, were presented as the saviours of America. The complex film was much admired by President Woodrow Wilson and was shown at the white house and very well received. It was a major commercial success at that time. Its content is abhorrent to most of us today. But it does offer us a peep-hole into how people thought and acted in 1915 however despicable. Can we appreciate old movies for what they originally stood for and use them as a historic view of the past? Can we enjoy updated remakes? The same but different?

  29. Jan says:

    Oh Aye Stu – good points there ‘re the talent
    I doubt any one else bothers reading not 2 worry. Today’s a different day and Cheltenhams on the tellly

  30. Stu-I-Am says:

    @Joan Joan — Not so much a matter of ‘needing’ to be ‘authentic.’ It was Spielberg’s creative choice. Since he was going to remake ‘West Side Story,’ he decided to use Latino actors/dancers and untranslated Spanish here and there. And use the backdrop of extensive urban renewal in the location which affected both sides, as a story element. You can argue none of this was necessary, but you could say the same about any number of elements in other Spielberg films just about all of which were major successes at the box office. This fact, in turn, means he — along with maybe two or three other contemporary directors — gets pretty much carte blanche when it comes to creative vision. ‘Better’ or just ‘different?’ Take your pick.

  31. Joel says:

    “authenticity” has at times bothered me because it forces me to change my perceptions and sometimes seen unpleasant or ugly beliefs and behaviour…as i get older, im thankful for my perceptions being challenged, as i hope it will keep me from being hidebound and unchangeable, like my parents who, god love them, and i do, are 79 and 88

  32. Helen+Martin says:

    Have courage, Joel. Behind those solid facades I’m sure your parents are just unwilling to change just yet. They’ll join you eventually. (I’m 79 and will be 80 in May so anything is possible.)

  33. Ian Luck says:

    I detest award ceremonies. All the back-slapping and fake bonhomie just makes me want to vomit. Give the deserving their awards, but don’t bother showing it. Nobody these days gives a tinker’s cuss about watching slimy TV like the Oscars any more. Put a list of what and who on the IMDB site, and those that are interested can find it.

  34. Helen+Martin says:

    I’ve always thought that deciding how to vote in those award things would be difficult. How you think the role ought to be played (or directed, or filmed or costumed) would affect your vote and is your opinion correct? How would you know?

  35. Paul C says:

    Good point, Helen – who did you vote for, Chris ?

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