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THE ACADEMY

You won't have met our movie reviewer because we don't let him out of London. Frankly, we barely let him out of the cinema and though terrible for his vitamin D intake, it does mean he knows an awful lot about films. Here he reviews every Academy Award Best Picture nominee in advance of the Oscars (on Sunday), and we tell you where you can watch them. It's a popcorny combination.
HIDDEN FIGURES
A straightforward, uncomplicated but effective drama of the struggle for dignity, this visits a little-discussed strand of the civil rights era in the US: the battle of NASA’s African American maths whizzes, soon to be replaced by what we now call computers, for equal treatment to their white colleagues. Mad Men this isn’t, but subtlety can be a worthwhile sacrifice for some satisfaction, and this delivers in spades. A quality cast helps, with Taraji P. Henson, Janelle Monae and Octavia Spencer all terrific, and there’s a fun cameo from rising star Glenn Powell as America’s first man in space. Sometimes a broad brush gets the job done. Book
MANCHESTER BY THE SEA
Casey Affleck has all but engraved his name on the Best Actor Oscar for his devastating performance in this searing examination of grief, rage, booze, masculinity, parenthood and much else from indie don Kenneth Lonegan. The tricksy structure makes it undesirable to give away too much of what Affleck’s character is processing, but it’s about as grim as it gets – and yet this never feels like a wallow. Totally unsentimental, and yet ultimately hopeful, this could have been goofy TV movie stuff – especially in Affleck’s burgeoning bond with his nephew, a cracking breakout performance from young Lucas Hedges – but it’s mature, big-hearted and moving. Book
MOONLIGHT
A compassionate narrative of poverty and the experience of growing up gay and African American, Moonlight is both brilliant and important, deserving infinitely more than a pat on the head for representation. Compressing a life story into three 40-minute vignettes with an affecting soundtrack throughout, we follow shy, bullied Chiron as he grows from perennial victim to gym-hardened drug dealer — all while he desperately, if unconsciously, seeks the peace self-realisation might bring. His tentative steps to get there after horribly dark obstacles are barely overcome, add up to a profoundly moving experience. Book
ARRIVAL
With Prisoners and Sicario, Canadian director Denis Villeneuve has quietly been carving himself out a niche as a deliverer of classy, visually impressive thrillers, but he’s on cerebral form here. A plethora of mysterious alien craft appear at seemingly random places on Earth, and Amy Adams is the linguist brought in to attempt communication with their tentacled crew. It’s not the end-of-the-world thriller it sounds like, but instead a thoughtful — at times chilly – meditation on communication and, ultimately, free will. This is high-end stuff, with Adams putting in a fantastic performance, and a wonderful score from Icelandic composer Johann Johannsson. Book
LION
For a decent-sized hit with a big-name cast and Oscar noms a-plenty, Lion seems oddly unheralded. In truth, this is fair – there’s nothing wrong with it, but the air of Oscar-bait hangs heavily. Dev Patel and Sunny Pawa (who’s 8) split the role of Saroo, who’s tragically separated from his Indian family and ends up adopted by Australians. In the kind of twist only real life can provide, he ends up finding his family using Google Earth. So why doesn’t this satisfy, when as we’ve seen, there’s nothing wrong with the odd fist-pump? Perhaps it’s director Garth Davis’s commercials heritage – for all the story’s interest, it does feel like one enormous ad for a certain web search company. Book
HELL OR HIGH WATER
Based on its nomination, you'll be unsurprised to hear that this confident heist picture is one of the best films of the year. Chris Pine and Ben Foster star as brothers resorting to robbing banks to lift themselves out of debt, and Jeff Bridges is the grizzled law man on their tail. This may sound rote – Bridges has days until retirement, of course – but Scottish director David McKenzie (Starred Up) brings a fascinated outsider’s eye to Texas, finding rich-pickings of background colour and coaxing career-highlight performances from all concerned. This is an unfussy, subtle and old-fashioned film that’s also hugely moody and suspenseful without seeming to have to try. Book
LA LA LAND
If the thought of a musical about two good-looking people belting out show tunes on how they want to make it in Tinseltown makes you want to destroy every performing arts school in the hemisphere, La La Land might just offer a corrective. In truth, it’s been a wee bit overpraised – American critics are suckers for movies about the transcendent power of movies, for some reason – but Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are both great (of course), lending an endearing amateurism to songs that deftly avoid the trap of being too X-Factor-ey. Walk in expecting a superb date movie, not the solution to any of the the world’s problems. Book
HACKSHAW RIDGE
Mad Mel is a surprise presence in this year’s Best Director shortlist, given his PR issues in recent years. Had he submitted this under a pseudonym, however, there would be no shock, as there are few flicks more technically accomplished this year. Andrew Garfield is in the lead as real-life conscientious objector Desmond Doss, who refused to carry a rifle at Okinawa and instead displayed almost suicidal courage as a medic. Gibson’s taste for gore sits slightly uncomfortably with the first half’s old-fashioned moral drama, but he’s lost none of his intensity – in both areas. For many, Gibson is irredeemable, but for some, his journey in from the cold is complete. Book
FENCES
Denzel Washington’s third film as director, a faithful adaptation of an August Wilson play, has been attracting some criticism for feeling stagey – but how else was it going to turn out? Do people complain when Tom Clancy adaptations feature the CIA? Anyway, this is a showcase for some acting with a capital ‘ACTING,’ with Washington excellent as a middle-aged binman bitter at a life gone wrong and Viola Davis even better as the wife who must shoulder her own disappointments while also carrying the can for her husband’s. There’s not much in the way of spectacle, unless you count two all-time greats chewing greedily on Wilson’s fabulous, syncopated dialogue – so yeah, stagey, but in the best sense. Book

BIG SCREEN. GREAT OUTDOORS.


More than a little reminiscent of how 1960s caped crusaders Batman and Robin would scale buildings, only significantly more vertical, here's climber Paul Pritchard on Tasmania's Totem Pole, eighteen years after a catastrophic accident left him partially paralysed. He's about to find out if he has recovered enough to finally complete his climb. Doing It Scared is an 11-minute cut of Pritchard's journey, which forms part of the 'blue programme' at this year's Banff Mountain Film Festival tour. Together with six other shorts, take it in on the big screen at the Town Hall at 2.30pm on March 4. Or opt for the equally awe-inspiring 'red programme' at 7.30pm. You can also find the eye-boggler in Malvern's Forum Theatre on March 2 and 3.

CULINARY CHEMISTRY


If like us your last experience of a laboratory pre-dates your GCSEs, something actually relateable and sciencey this way lies. Join the Centre for Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Research at UoB for a three-course lab-based demo and workshop (on March 16), including molecular mixology and an exploration of the parallels between cooking and the development of nanoparticle catalysts for hydrogen fuel cells. Snappy, eh? It's free, but places are super limited, so registration is crucial. A digestif will follow, and you will not be made to recite the periodic table. Pinkie promise.

TAKE IN BACON


Massively dope Anglo-Irish artist Francis Bacon, arguably the greatest iconoclastic modernist of the last century and one of the most significant painters ever to have worked in Britain would, if he weren't deceased, love you to go and see Two Figures in a Room, which has gone on display at the Barber. The Brum Uni-based gallery does not own a work by Bacon, and no example has ever been exhibited there previously, so it's a big deal, even before you factor in the chutzpah of the assumed homosexual content of the piece — gay activity was illegal when it was painted in 1959. Go see.
Venue: @21, 21 Highfield Road, Edgbaston, B15 3DPwebsite
Choice: Celeriac and potato gratin (£12) Chooser: Owner

Momma Choose is a wise woman, though not always easy to please. So it was with a slight nervousness we took the discerning dynasty of din-dins to sample the new menu @21 (formerly, Harborne's Comida). Suiting its new Edgbaston digs, rather than rushing toward the ever popular pork belly (there was something akin to a middle class riot when the kitchen tried to take this off the menu), we stuck almost exclusively to novel dishes, and consequently found the next level combos Stuart and his team are now sending out, with little hints of spice that compliment rather than dictate. An unassuming sounding order, the celeriac and potato gratin is unfussy and hugely enjoyable. Served with a perfectly cooked crispy egg, tangy onions and Parmesan, watch as the dish you'd really only picked as a nod to vegetables disappears at speed. Make room also for the dilly-salt cod fritters to start, and the super succulent corn fed chicken for mains. @21 is a mid-range, independent that will feed you well everyday. Exactly what Jay Rayner told Birmingham it needed. And two thumbs up from Rosemary. Not that she'd actually put her thumbs up. Menu
  • The Keg and Grill's joined Deliveroo. We know. Menu
  • Billy Elliot's first UK tour is Brumming from March 7 to April 29. As is customary, you can book a seat (from £25). Or befriend us personally and we'll take you on press night
  • Loki has cajoled Aussie wine guru Matthew Jukes in to bring his famed roadshow to HdV on March 24. Tickets for the drop-in evening are £20
  • Happy Hour is showing at The Old Rep on March 1, marking the launch of NowBrum — three days of live performance and film celebrating the past, present and future of this here city
  • The Red Lion's showing every minute of the Six Nations. Join them?
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"Some people build fences to keep people out, and other people build fences to keep people in."  Bono, Fences
WORDS: Andrew Lowry, Katy Drohan, Tom Cullen

I Choose Birmingham, 2 St Phillips Place, Birmingham, B3 2RB

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