This week the path towards the Oscars became clearer with the presentation of the rather less prestigious Golden Globes.
A small pool of reviewers, the so-called Hollywood Foreign Press, get together and pick some winners from both film and television. And this year their nominations offended the easily offended more than usual – not diverse enough, they said, too white, too old.
But the Golden Globes still give a pretty good indication of who and what are likely to feature at the more important Academy Awards.
And in the end, nobody could complain about the lack of diversity among the recipients, regardless of the much derided, all-white voters.
The late Chadwick Boseman was a popular winner for his performance in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, as was Daniel Kalluya for a film called Judas and the Black Messiah, and Andra Day, in the title role of The United States versus Billie Holliday.
It seemed in tune with the times that the award for Best Animated Film should go to Pixar’s Soul.
Meanwhile Asian-Americans scored big too at the Golden Globes – Chloe Zhao for directing the Best Film, Nomadland, and a rare thing, an American film, Minari, winning Best Film in a Foreign Language.
In fact, belying the critics, old-school Hollywood might have been the big loser this year.
Aaron Sorkin scored Best Script for The Trial of the Chicago 7, but that love-letter to the classic Citizen Kane – Mank – got nothing for all its many nominations.
Whether the Oscars will follow in these footsteps remains to be seen. I suspect the post-MeToo sensation, Emerald Fennell’s Promising Young Woman may feature rather more in April.
However, my own beef about the award selection has nothing to do with how diverse or representative they are. It’s that they’re all a bit feeble.
Maybe my judgement was affected by watching a Netflix documentary series about five of the greatest Hollywood film-makers ever, going off to cover the Greatest Story Ever Told.
It was called Five came back, and it followed five directors after they enlisted in the armed forces for World War Two.
Their job was to make a series of propaganda films, loosely titled “Why We Fight”. And each one came back to make even greater films.
Five came back’s smart move was to marry these Golden Age directors with their equivalents from following generations.
For instance, Paul Greengrass champions the great poet of the Western, John Ford – a labour of love he repeated this year with a more tangible tribute, that very Fordian film, News of the World.
The hard-boiled writer, director and actor John Huston is spoken for by Apocalypse Now’s Francis Ford Coppola, while the Italian immigrant teller of modern fairy tales Frank Capra could have no better mouthpiece than Mexico’s Guillermo Del Toro.
Making up the numbers were was the versatile George Stevens, a comedy specialist originally, who after the War made the superb Diary of Anne Frank, and my own personal favourite, that superb craftsman William Wyler.
I was delighted to learn that Wyler was also a favourite of Steven Spielberg, who regularly screens Wyler’s masterpiece The Best Years of our Lives at his home.
It was the story of three servicemen coming back from the war - the same journey faced by the five Hollywood directors four years after they joined up.
There’s no time to cover the three-part series Five Came Back in any depth, other than to urge you to seek it out.
Apart from anything it’s a reminder of what makes a director great – the ability to tell a story - and a good story trumps self-conscious “diversity”, flag-waving “representation” and audience “targeting” any day.
This week’s selection seems to be all about targeting audiences – particularly those important older audiences who seem to be on the minds of the studios right now.
But first a tear-jerker called Supernova.
Calling Supernova a “tear-jerker” may be a little unfair. It implies the sentimental plucking of the heart-strings – the sort of thing Frank Capra used to do so effectively in films like It’s a wonderful life.
But Supernova is far more restrained – a remarkably assured second film by writer/director Harry McQueen. It’s the story of a middle-aged couple’s road trip to the Lake District.
American-born Tusker is a writer, his long-time partner Sam is a musician. Both seem to have put their careers on hold for a year or so, though Sam plans to revive it with a small concert at the end of the week.
Tusker teases him that he’s been out of the public eye too long.
The roles of Tusker and Sam benefit from the friendship of the stars, Stanley Tucci and Colin Firth. Much has been made of the fact that originally they were to play the other roles, though I can’t imagine it.
They are perfectly recast here – Tusker, playful and waspish, Sam, earnest but loving.
However, there’s more to this trip than simply getting away from it all for a week or so.
Tusker, it transpires, is suffering from early-onset Alzheimers – a disease that seems as regular an occurrence in Baby Boomer movies these days as Aids used to be during in the Gay Rights movies of the Eighties and Nineties.
But Tusker is determined not to go down without a fight, and he’s organized this trip to be a memorable one for Sam.
Along the way, the couple visit old friends, eat and drink well, and explore the heavens with Tusker’s prize possession, his telescope.
And underscoring every event, every conversation is the fact that can no longer be avoided.
Tusker is slowly losing his grip on who he is. Supernova asks, 'will the book he claims to be working on prove too much for him in the end?'
The temptation in a film like this is to leaven the potential tragedy with carefully placed moments of comedy.
But the tone of Supernova remains consistently warm and human. Partly it’s the script, of course. But even more it’s because of the beautifully judged performances by both Tucci and Firth.
Tucci has the showier part, though Firth is never overshadowed.
But of course it’s not a competition. In fact, their most telling moments are when they’re simply listening to each other, allowing those expressive faces to tell the untold parts of the story.
OK, uncharitable critics could complain that there’s rather too much untold in this story – particularly a story called Supernova. It’s as if director Harry McQueen can’t bear to end it.
But the climax is quiet and effective, showing off Colin Firth’s unexpected musical talents.
The Food Club
The poster of a Danish film called The Food Club pretty much tells you all you need to know.
Three women of a certain age, wine glasses in hand. Behind them, lunch on the tables of a restaurant in a sunny clime. And near them, the smiling faces of potential happy endings. Safe to say The Food Club is no stranger to the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel format.
But it’s not just “Oldies in the sunshine” - Italy this time, rather than India. It also boasts bits of Sex in the City – vibrator jokes ahoy! – bits of any recent film about food, and bits of any British film starring Celia Imrie or Julie Walters.
Meet our heroines – Marie, Vanja and Berling, all off to Italy with a Food Club that offers a long weekend of Italian cooking classes.
Marie needs cheering up. She’s just been dumped by her husband, with whom she’d been planning a romantic second honeymoon over the fettucine.
The other Two Musketeers are Vanja, a not so merry widow, who prefers to hang on to the memory of her late husband, and the frisky Berling – the Celia Imrie character.
The three are welcomed by the dashing chef Alessandro and the other three course-members.
There’s the ultra-serious Greenie couple – who fasts at a cooking course? - and the always smiling Jacob. Which way will he go, we wonder?
Marie claims not to be interested in romance. She prefers plotting to win back her husband, reading books called “How to win back your husband.” Thanks, I got it…
It’s about now the writer and director of The Food Club start to realize that three attractive, older women and a string of Italian meals are not quite enough to fill an entire movie.
Marie, Berling and Vanja are going to have to do more than simply gaze at the Mediterranean and toy with delicious pasta dishes. More important, they’re all going to have to want something.
Well, not Marie. We all know what she wants.
Leaving Marie to hanker after husband Henryk, we explore the back-stories of Berling and Vanja – particularly their relationships with their families.
Why does Berling not get on with her daughter, the film belatedly enquires? Is that glamorous exterior covering up hidden doubts?
And Vanja – isn’t it time she moved on from the memory of her late husband? Is there someone a little closer at hand, with whom you could see sharing a bottle of vino and a slice of frittata?
Now for certain tastes – and I confess I’m putting my hand up here – The Food club may be a little contrived and thin, with both problems and solutions tacked on, as and when required.
However, in a spirit of full disclosure, I have to reveal that the party of older women behind me begged to differ.
Mind you, when the lights went up they all started chatting in Danish. I imagine that makes all the difference.
Never Too Late
A film I’d planned to leave quietly alone was yet another one aimed at the old folks at home, though the casting of Australian caper movie Never Too Late seems to imply bigger ambitions than just Adelaide suburban cinemas.
It stars American James Cromwell as former Lieutenant Jack Bronson, with Englishman Dennis Waterman as his former 2IC, Jeremiah Caine.
Leaving aside the fact that no Englishman has been called “Jeremiah” since the days of Oliver Cromwell, let’s meet the rest of the Chain Breakers – former Vietnam war vets.
They are Aussie “Screw-loose” Wilson, played by Jack Thompson and Kiwi James Wendall, Roy Billing.
Never too late opens with Jack Bronson faking illness and attempting to either break in or break out of a retirement home – it’s a little unclear which.
Turns out he’s trying to hook up with an old flame, Norma. After fifty years of courting, Jack’s decided to take the plunge. Except she’s been whisked away to be treated for – you’ve guessed it – Alzheimer’s.
Curiously – and significantly – many of the staff at the rest-home for veterans of the Vietnam War are actually Vietnamese.
We’ll save this possibly important plot-point for later, maybe. But first, let’s set up the basic premise. Jack wants to put the band back together.
The idea is that the four Expendables – I mean Chain Breakers – will revive their old skills and combine to do one last caper. I mean, mission.
They’ll break out of the rest-home, break into the nice hospital where Norma’s been put up, and then, I don’t know, kidnap her or something, and go off and get married.
Well don’t worry if the task seems a little opaque. From the out, there seems very little chance of anything actually happening.
Every time Bronson’s Heroes manage to get out, they’re immediately rounded up by security, and then have to start the whole dreary exercise again.
For something clearly intended to be a bit of a comedy romp, Never too late - belying its name – certainly takes its time getting started.
Promising bits of plot are set up, then abandoned, while the wobbly narrative keeps tripping over heart attacks, forcible restraint, sudden death and a nagging suspicion it’s forgotten what it was about.
Worst of all about Never too late is the waste of a perfectly good cast. Norma’s played by the great Jackie Weaver, and all four of the Chain Breakers are capable of rather more than dropping their trousers and hurling crotchety abuse at each other.
Dennis Waterman may have aged a bit since his glory days as Terry McCann in TV’s Minder back in the day, but he surely didn’t deserve as little as this. Hopefully he had a nice time in the Adelaide sun shooting this picture.
A long way from the glory days of Hollywood, in other words, though once again the target audience, depressingly, seemed to warm to it, especially the slapstick bits.
Ah well, who needs a story that makes sense, they obviously thought? Give us a bit about old people not being able to work the remote and we’re happy!
And far be it from me to stop people having a bit of harmless fun, particularly in these rather challenging times.