10   +   6   =  

After that initial flurry on New Year’s Day, it’s been a slow start to 2017. Not any more as awards season cranks into gear. We’ve had the Golden Globes, and the BAFTA nominations, but as is always the case at this time of the year, all roads lead to the Oscars. Here’s the chance to catch up with two of the favourites for that coveted gold statuette in February, alongside a couple of classic crime throwbacks.

First up we have La La Land, a film likely to be much talked about in the next month or so. Really it should be talked about for some time to come, so good is Damien Chazelle’s modern updating of the musicals of old. He switches gears from the intensity of Whiplash to deliver a joyous wallow in the myth of Hollywood. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling play an aspiring actor and jazz pianist respectively, falling in and out of love amongst glossy musical numbers. Almost impossible to watch without a smile, it’s worth all the praise lavished on it.

The same can be said for Manchester by the Sea, although the tone is about as far removed from the above as possible. Kenneth Lonergan’s third feature tracks Casey Affleck’s return to the small fishing town of the title. He has bleak history there but the death of his brother, and the possibility he might have to look after his teenage nephew force him to confront old demons. Heartbreaking and surprisingly funny at times, Affleck does his finest work as Lonergan continues to establish himself as a crafter of very fine drama.

2016 wasn’t such a good year for the other Affleck what with his turn as Batman (perfectly acceptable performance though it was) coming in a terrible film. Ben’s back behind the camera, directing himself in Live By Night, an old school crime thriller adapted by Affleck from Dennis Lehane’s novel. That means Boston is involved, as are gangsters, the police and tragic romance. Set in the 1920s and 1930s, Affleck shoots for that classic feel, but the story doesn’t seem to quite hold up.

If Live By Night might not have nailed the golden era feel, Hell or High Water gets a lot closer. Scottish director David Mackenzie’s Texan heist thriller packs intense excitement and nostalgia together to create one hell of a ride. Working from Taylor Sheridan’s screenplay, Chris Pine and Ben Foster play brothers raising emergency funds via a series of small bank robberies. Both are superb, as is Jeff Bridges who breathes new life into the hard-bitten Sheriff approaching retirement sent out to stop them. Out now on DVD, it’s one well worth adding to the collection.

That’s all we have time for now. See you next week for more Kennedy mythologising.

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