56 Oscar-Nominated Films, Zero Cinema Trips

I watched 56 films in 41 days. Let me tell you, even in the middle of lockdown with nothing else to do, it was no small feat.

When the Academy Award nominations were announced on March 15th I decided that because my social life is more-or-less non-existent right now, I would watch all of them. I’ve attempted this for the last few years because I’ve stayed up overnight to report on the Oscars for work. Last year I managed five.

This year, I was pleasantly surprised. In terms of diversity – though there’s a long way to go and the bar for the Oscars is on the floor at this point – there were a decent amount of films that explored sexuality, starred Black and Asian actors, and for the first time two women have been nominated in the Best Director category (took them bloody long enough).

In all seriousness, I was happy to see that since the launch of the #OscarsSoWhite protest in 2015, the awards’ diversity actually is improving. Seeing Billie Holiday’s story told by the incredible Andra Day, as well as learning more about Fred Hampton’s murder and the work of the Black Panther Party, and seeing Disney’s minute nod towards a lesbian character in Onward was actually great. Though there’s a lot more work to be done, I was glad to have undertaken this 56-movie challenge in 2021.

The other good news is that I didn’t go to the cinema for any of these films, which means this year’s Oscars is inadvertently accessible – I already had Netflix, a good amount of the shorts are available free on YouTube and Vimeo, and the rest of the films were sourced by attending online film festivals, and asking around for Disney+ and Amazon Prime passwords. Cinema tickets are expensive, and subtitled and audio description screenings sometimes aren’t offered, so the fact that all of these films could be found online is something that I really hope the industry keeps going in future.

Anyway, ahead of mainlining coffee and staying up until 5am covering the actual awards, here are my own winners and losers of 2021.

Here are my winners

Best Picture: While last awards I watched Parasite and felt that it stood way out ahead of the other nominees, this year it was particularly difficult to choose a favourite.

I narrowed it down to four: Sound of Metal, Judas and the Black Messiah, Minari, and The Father.

Each of these films I feel like I could write a full essay on. The Father’s direction and use of different actors to distort your perception of time; the relationship between Soon-ja (Youn Yuh-jung) and David (Alan Kim) in Minari that tore my heart to shreds; Daniel Kaluuya’s stunning portrayal of Fred Hampton in Judas and the Black Messiah.

Ultimately, my favourite of the year is Sound of Metal. At this point it comes down to personal taste because the standard was pretty incredible, but Sound of Metal really fitted my own style in terms of music, costume design and tone. I loved the use of sound throughout the movie to bring you in and out of Ruben’s world as he comes to terms with being Deaf. Riz Ahmed absolutely knocked it out of the park with a realistic depiction of trauma with waves of acceptance and outbursts of frustration and anger, while Olivia Cooke does a fantastic job of contrasting a gritty and visceral first act with the soft put-togetherness of her world in Paris.

I find it hard to concentrate on films that are over two hours long, but Sound of Metal is so intense and original that I barely felt time passing while watching it, and in that way I can see myself coming back to see it several more times.

I’m hoping for the Best Actor award for Riz Ahmed. If you want to see him elsewhere, Mogul Mowgli came out in 2020 and is truly fantastic.

Worst Picture: Tenet. I hated it. Maybe it’s on me for watching it three wines deep, but the beginning was so complicated that by the time anything interesting happened I had no emotional connection with the characters and was totally uninvested. By the end even with explosions going on I couldn’t force myself to care about anything other than the fact that Kenneth Branagh had popped in with a Russian accent.

The visual effects it’s nominated for are amazing, and would be even better in a cinema setting, but several people have said that they would only really enjoy it on a second or third viewing, which honestly to me is a failure of storytelling.

Author @priya_ebooks described it best as a “smooth brain” movie. “No plot, just vibes”.

Biggest Tear-Jerker: If Anything Happens I Love You, an animated short on a family bereaved by a school shooting. I’m not American, so for those who have a deeper fear of guns this will hit you even harder. I cried so hard it was actually audible – like not a sexy little tear down my cheek, but a racking, loud, ugly sob. If you’re looking for a cathartic cry then this animated short will get it done in just 12 minutes.

If You Only Have 30 Minutes: Two Distant Strangers. It’s a 32-minute short on Netflix depicting police violence against Black men in America in a cyclical time-travel style. For Black viewers, the film will probably tell you what you already know, but for white viewers like me and my mum, who I watched it with, it was an unflinching look into the hyper vigilance that Black people in America have to live with when navigating the police.

At the moment, with Daunte Wright, Adam Toledo and countless others just this year murdered by the police, this subject is all over the news, however Two Distant Strangers is one viewpoint with really original direction and the fantastic casting of Joey Bada$$ that’s well worth a watch if you have half an hour and a Netlix account.

The One I Told My Friends About Most: Promising Young Woman. It goes without saying as most people know what this film is about by now, but trigger warning for sexual abuse, violence and rape.

I have a few problems with this film – the ending was too Hollywood, neatly tied up with police intervention despite the police barely prosecuting violence against women in real life – however it did prompt several angry conversations with friends about men taking advantage of drunkenness, the “nice guy” trope, and the film’s timing in relation to Sarah Everard’s murder in London. The film was punchy and clever, and although it wasn’t my favourite movie of the year, it is an important voice within the #MeToo movement and a cathartic portrayal of trauma.

To go along with Promising Young Woman, a brilliant exploration of recovery after sexual assault is the TV show I May Destroy You, which was wrongfully snubbed from a lot of awards this year but is totally worth watching.

Carey Mulligan GIF by Coolidge Corner Theatre - Find & Share on GIPHY

Best Film On Netflix: Given that a lot of young people already have Netflix – or access to a Netflix password – it’s probably the cheapest way to binge Oscar films without having to subscribe to yet another streaming platform. I really thought hard about this because there’s a lot of great competition, but I had to choose Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.

The film was originally a play, and to be honest, that does come through. The film isn’t very dynamic in terms of the way it uses space, and it is quite monologue-heavy, however its strength is in its actors. Chadwick Boseman’s last performance before his death was intense and charged, his emotion adding fire to the film, while Viola Davis’ voice and confidence does Ma Rainey justice.

There’s amazing competition on Netflix this year – Pieces of a Woman and The Trial of the Chicago 7 were up there for me – but Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is really a must-watch for Boseman’s performance alone.

Best Film On YouTube: For absolutely no cost, Feeling Through (and a mini-documentary about how the film was made) is on YouTube. The film stars the first ever DeafBlind actor to appear in a film (Robert Tarango), and worked extensively with the DeafBlind community to ensure that the film was accurate, and accessible for its disabled cast member.

The short explores one night between a homeless teen and a DeafBlind man, who he helps to the shop and the bus stop. Before this year I hadn’t seen many short films, and I was really surprised by how emotional this film made me so quickly, and how deep the relationships and atmosphere becomes when limited to 20 minutes. The film really touched me and opened my eyes to the little interactions that can change people’s life, and is so worth watching considering that it’s free on YouTube.

My Overall Top Fifteen

I narrowed my favourites down to fifteen.

Unfortunately some of these are still only available at film festivals or are a little expensive to rent, so I’ve highlighted some easy options for renting and watching cheaply.

  1. Sound of Metal – Amazon Prime, free to watch
  2. Judas and the Black Messiah
  3. Minari
  4. The Father
  5. The United States vs. Billie Holiday – Hulu
  6. Promising Young Woman
  7. Another Round
  8. Nomadland – Disney+
  9. Feeling Through (short) – YouTube, free
  10. Two Distant Strangers (short) – Netflix
  11. The Man Who Sold His Skin
  12. A Love Song For Latasha (documentary short) – Netflix
  13. Genius Loci (short)
  14. Better Days
  15. Wolfwalkers

The 93rd Academy Awards ceremony will be broadcast on Sunday 25 April at 6.30pm ET / 10.30pm GMT.

12 Off-The-Beaten-Track Things To Do In Paris

View from Sacré-Cœur (Picture: Emily Chudy)

I’ve been living in Paris for the last year, as part of my ongoing quarter-life-crisis, and some of the best things I’ve done and enjoyed while living here have actually been fairly low-key, out-of-the-way activities. Don’t get me wrong, the Eiffel Tower and L’Arc de Triomphe are incredibly beautiful and well worth visiting, but sometimes the little things can be just as fascinating, and can make you feel like you’re getting to know the city on a deeper level.

Whether you live in France, or you’ve been here a couple of times and want to do something a little different, or you’re just too petrified of heights to go up Notre Dame or the Eiffel Tower (same), there are loads of off-the-beaten-track attractions in Paris to go and see.

Here are 12 of my favourites.

Sainte Chapelle

Sainte Chapelle is a small chapel just a short walk away from Notre Dame. It’s much quieter than some of the bigger tourist destinations, and it’s stunning. There are stained glass windows wrapping around the whole top floor, and on a sunny day it’s breathtaking when the light filters through the glass. It’s free for people under-26 so it’s worth a visit if you’ve already been to Notre Dame.

8 Boulevard du Palais, 75001

Parc Montsouris

If you’re staying in the south of Paris make sure you go to Parc Montsouris, it’s one of the most beautiful parks I’ve seen. It’s a good size, it looks like a damn meadow and there’s even a really cool abandoned railway on one side called the Petite Ceinture which is really pretty and slightly spooky. Worth a visit if you’re staying in the 14th arrondissement.

Les Catacombes

The Catacombes are underground ‘ossuaries’ which are filled with the skeletons of SIX MILLION people. This place is honestly the strangest and creepiest attraction I’ve ever been to. Almost all the way around the underground passages you’re surrounded by skulls, and I went by myself so I feared for my life the whole time… But it’s really fascinating, and definitely a unique experience.

1 Avenue du Colonel Henri Rol-Tanguy, 75014

Rue Crémieux

Rue Crémieux is a little road near Gare de Lyon filled with really sweet candy-cane-coloured houses. There’s nothing to do here really aside from having a look around, but if you’ve got a spare afternoon and you’re near the area it’s a really nice spot to take some photos and enjoy the scenery.

Rue Crémieux (Picture: Emily Chudy)

Square des Batignolles

If you’re staying in the 17th arrondissement, Square des Batignolles is a really cute park with a gorgeous stream, loads of trees and beautiful flowers all over. It’s very small so if you’re on the other side of Paris it might not be worth the journey, but if you’re in the area it’s a gorgeous spot to stop off and have a picnic.

Le Cordonnerie

La Cordonnerie is just a tiny little bar, but it’s cozy, friendly, and in a great location so it’s perfect for if you’ve been out in the centre of Paris all day… And beers are €3. Cocktails are also really cheap (and pretty strong) so if you’re strapped for cash it’s a great spot.

28 Rue Greneta, 75002

Le Potager du Marais

As I’ve learnt, Paris can be pretty tough if you’re vegetarian or vegan, but Le Potager du Marais has loads of choice and it’s all delicious (and pretty reasonably priced as well). I had a vegan lasagne when I went and it was really good. The restaurant is also in a great area, so there’s loads of stuff to do – like the Centre Pompidou – before you eat.

24 Rue Rambuteau, 75003

59 Rivoli

59 Rivoli is an art collective in a former squat in the middle of Paris. Filled with about 30 artists’ studios, the building is amazing to walk around, because you can see so many different styles and works-in-progress all in the same place, and maybe even catch an artist at work. It’s also free to enter, so if you’re on a budget this is a great gallery to visit.

59 Rue de Rivoli, 75001

Wall of 59 Rivoli (Picture: Emily Chudy)

Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen

Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen are a gorgeous set of flea markets on the outskirts of Paris, and they’re filled with amazing finds, like records, vintage postcards and old discarded film rolls. I bought a set of camera negatives from 1934, which are amazing to look through. If you’re an antique nut or you really like history and old trinkets this flea market is definitely worth going to.

Berthillon

Berthillon does the best ice cream in Paris, no question. Try the ‘wild strawberry’ flavour and thank me later.

29-31 Rue Saint-Louis en l’Île, 75004

Belleville 

If you’re looking to spend an evening somewhere or go for a drink, Belleville is a great place to go. It’s fairly cheap, has a fun atmosphere for bars and restaurants, and there’s loads of cool street art on most of the roads. Belleville Park also has one of the best views in Paris, and is worth a visit for the unique skyline alone.

Montmartre Cemetery

It might seem a little morbid to walk around a cemetery as a tourist activity, but Montmartre Cemetery is filled with winding boulevards, gorgeous trees, and little rolling hills. It’s less busy than famous Père Lachaise so it’s a really peaceful place to walk around, and it’s on the way to Montmartre Village, so you can easily incorporate it into the rest of your visit.

View of the Eiffel Tower (Picture: Emily Chudy)

*

Getting Ready To Move Again

A fun mix of divorced parents, university, travel, weird landlords and high London rents have meant that I’ve moved house a lot over the past seven years. In total, I’ve lived in about nine different houses or flats since I was 18, give or take, and I’m about to move again. This time, to a different country.

Each time I move I shed possessions like leaves, giving away books and clothes and objects until I have only the things that truly matter: love letters, photo albums, my laptop. Right now I have about three weeks to condense everything I own, and I’m still stuck in the frustrating phase of trying to use up every bottle of shampoo and making weird recipes with the food I don’t want to waste.

Each time I move I decorate as if I’ll be in that room for years, when in reality it’ll be one, at the very most. In the last seven years the longest I’ve stayed in one place was 18 months, the shortest just two weeks. I’ve been in my current flat for five months, and this time I halfheartedly blue-tacked postcards to a few walls but it mostly stayed bare.

This flat was always going to be temporary, and although I complain about the tiny bathroom (you can use the loo and shower at the same time) and loud neighbours, I’m actually really going to miss it. I’ve never lived alone before, and I probably won’t again as I prefer having people around, but it’s been a really great experience. In some ways it’s nice to know that everything’s yours, including the mess, including the quiet, including all of the food.

 

In truth, although none of the places I’ve lived have truly been mine, a little part of those buildings have stayed with me, and a little part of the person I was has stayed in each place. I doubt the new tenant of my old flat in Wandsworth will be able to get the ghost of my spilled nail varnish up from the carpet. Perhaps the person living in my second year uni room will occasionally feel the air tremble with the echo of my glorious, drunken singing (I do a pretty amazing rendition of Groove Is In The Heart). What I’ll take away from my current flat is the church bells that go off at 7AM every day, and the painful hangovers they produce.

It’s hard to leave each time, but I love moving. Setting up my alarm clock by the bed, hanging up my clothes, arranging books, buying house plants and swearing you’re not going to let them die this time, it’s a small fragment of hope, like a relationship still blooming into its honeymoon period. In the beginning you cross your fingers that it’ll last forever but deep down you know part of its worth is in its transience.

Maybe you’ll find toxic mould in the ceiling, maybe you’ll realise you’ve found the place you want to spend the rest of your life in. You might have to let go eventually, but it might be fun this time. It might be.

*

Review: St Vincent at Le Trianon, Paris

[Still from Los Ageless (2017) by St Vincent – directed by Willo Perron] – my photos from the gig were too awful to include
Tuesday 24th October 2017.

It starts with a film. The Birthday Party, co-written and directed by Annie Clark, plays on a big screen to welcome the audience. The dark comic short does two things as a ‘support act’ for the concert: it sets a creepy Stepford-wives aesthetic tone for the rest of the show, and reminds the audience that everything in the show, right down to its support, will be Annie Clark to the core.

As the first song, a stripped-back Prince Johnny, begins, Clark is at the opening of the stage curtain. As each song continues she is given more and more space to perform, then by the fifth song, Cruel, it is revealed to the audience that there will be no live band at all, instead it is just St Vincent on her own with a guitar and a backing track. This exposed set-up, offset by her incredible guitar talent and dramatic vocals, makes for a seductive performance.

The show is a crescendo; it’s first edged in with older songs, the pace picking up as she moves through her discography until she catapults into the second half of the show saying, “don’t worry, Paris, I know you like to dance too.” Trippy, surreal video projections (produced by Carrie Brownstein) meet her electronic new material before the show comes to an emotional ending. The starkness of her performing on her own means this trippy aesthetic is maximised and indulgent.

There’s something in the show for everyone; old fans will appreciate a good amount of time being dedicated to her previous albums, and new Masseduction is played in its entirety – again, a risky move that pays off simply because every song on it is complete gold.

For some, the lack of a band might have been a bit of a let-down, but for me it was a bold move that paid off. St Vincent’s appeal has always been in her strangeness and this unembellished show feels defiant and innovative.

As a lone performer, Clark is impressively commanding. Upbeat songs like Digital Witness filled the room as if it was being performed by a full band, and guitar shreds like at the end of Birth in Reverse were only more intense for being the audience’s only focus. Her solo performance also added a sense of vulnerability during slower songs. The venue was so quiet during Happy Birthday Johnny I could hear the guy next to me trying not to cry. There was a shuddering silence in the moment between the song’s ending and the audience’s applause that felt almost like magic.

Clark does a great job of imbuing the show with dramatic moments of quiet; intimate songs like New York, in which she doesn’t even have her guitar, contrast beautifully with upbeat songs like Los Ageless, which had the crowd dancing like a pulse, giving the show a dramatic feel. This intensity worked really well in the medium-sized venue, but I can imagine would fall a bit flat somewhere larger, where the quiet moments get lost and the upbeat songs need a full band to fill the space.

Smoking Section followed Slow Disco to finish the show. The poignancy of Slow Disco moved me to tears, its violin and melancholy lyrics reminding me of the particular kind of loneliness that follows an exciting day filled with people. If Slow Disco was the moment of wistfulness, Smoking Section was the haunting solitude of falling asleep, a half-ballad that comes to life and stays with you long after you leave. It was the perfect moment of quiet to end the theatrical show on, and for me encapsulates the essence of St Vincent’s music: alive, and always with you.

Set List

Marry Me

Now, Now

The Strangers

Actor Out of Work

Cruel

Cheerleader

Strange Mercy

Digital Witness

Rattlesnake

Birth in Reverse

——————————–

Hang on Me

Pills

Masseduction

Sugarboy

Los Ageless

Happy Birthday, Johnny

Savior

New York

Fear the Future

Young Lover

Dancing With a Ghost

Slow Disco

Smoking Section

Visit St Vincent’s website for tickets and more information.