The 93rd Academy Awards, a night like no other.

Oscars 2021: What's Next For Chloe Zhao, Daniel Kaluuya and Other 2021 Oscar  Winners - Flipboard

10th February 2020, approximately 4am UK time and history is made as Parasite becomes the first film not in the English language to win the prestigious Best Picture Academy Award. A night of celebration that now seems a lifetime ago.

It is fair to say that the last 14 months or so have been strange, every day life has changed in ways none of us would have foreseen when Parasite won. During the past year and a bit I have often been reminded that it isn’t just us “normal” people who have been effected by the Pandemic, but the rich, famous and adulated stars who we mistakenly believe sit in their ivory towers oblivious to the struggles of every day life. Further proof if needed arrived in what can only be described as THE oddest Academy Award ceremony I have ever witnessed.

There were people who said that under the circumstances the ceremony shouldn’t even take place this year, but perhaps due to those very circumstances, it was more important than ever to host the event, even if it was going to take a radically different format to what we know, and as became the night progressed, love about the Academy Awards. Pandemic or not some of the artistic decisions on show tonight by event director Steven Soderbergh were baffling and awkward, but an interesting night nonetheless.

Oscar predictions: Will every Best Picture nominee win an award? - GoldDerby

The Nominees

The main personal sticking point this year was that unlike most years I have not managed to see the majority of the nominated films. I usually at the very least get the Best Picture nominees watched, but this year I managed just 4 out of the 8, some of them such as The Father is not released in the UK until July so it has been hard this year. Again circumstances put of every ones control dictate that somewhat. The point is I went into the ceremony rather blind and therefore I can’t really say whether the winners were the best choice out of the nominees or not, however Anthony Hopkins must be career-best sensational to be picked above Chadwick Boseman, (one of the night’s true surprises).

The Ceremony

In the last couple of years, pre-COVID the Academy Awards has managed quite nicely without a designated host. I can’t help thinking that last night would have massively benefitted from having a host, someone who could keep a handle on proceedings, and give the audience the impression that at least one person knew what was going on.

The main issues were a lack of cohesion, a feeling that things were being made up on the huff, someone was insuring that all the boxes were ticked but weren’t entirely convinced of the order they should have been ticked in. Alex Zane who gamely presented Sky’s coverage would announce the upcoming award only for that not to happen when returning to the station. It was all a bit messy.

As for the awards themselves, a quite frankly baffling decision was made to rarely show any clips when announcing nominees. In a year when it is well documented that audiences are not as familiar or had opportunity to see some of the nominated films, to help with context you would have thought they would have shown clips. Every Oscar ceremony I can remember had clips of the artists work to admire. Instead we had those awkward moments where a presenter is gushing about the nominees work and the nominee has to look into the camera whilst they are being gushed about. It was similar to when people sing you Happy Birthday, you never know where to look when that is happening.

Maybe to compensate for the lack of clips, all acceptance speeches were allowed to run for their entirety, which was very nice, but……………………in some cases I think I would rather have had the clips. I know it is a moment of a lifetime but you know if you give some people an inch etc. With no clips, montages (I really missed celebratory montages) or musical numbers the ceremony still managed to almost hit the 4 hour mark. I’m not entirely sure how.

The setting was interesting but with no live audience and unless nominated, none of the A-List celebs there it all felt a little bit flat, a bit like the 2017 East Midlands local, small Business awards that I helped organise.

I’m not massively into celeb culture but I do love the glitz and glamour of Oscar night, seeing some of the classic actors making rare public appearances, the opening monologues, the montages that more than often than not truly celebrate an aspect of Cinema. Perhaps for obvious reasons these were not there, but I have to say I did miss them. The random pop songs that seemed to accompany presenters and winners onto and off the stage gave it a kind of BAFTA feel, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I want the Oscars to feel special.

Then we got to the In Memoriam section. Without being over dour I always look forward to this segment as it is a time to quietly reflect on those who have contributed so much to our love of Cinema who have sadly passed. However this time they raced through it as if everyone had somewhere more important to be. Double Academy Award Winner. 104 year old Olivia de Havilland was passed over so quickly it was all rather disrespectful, even more so when you consider the show had just dedicated 10 mins to a cringeworthy music quiz.

As for the quiz, which culminated in Glenn Close twerking, it was rightly or wrongly the only time that this ceremony dared to drop its guard and have a little bit of fun. The problem it wasn’t that fun and just raised the volume slightly of the awkward (bored) laughs that had sprinkled through the auditorium from the start. I did genuinely think at first that the broadcasters had forgotten to go to an ad break and this was being broadcast unbeknownst to the participants.

Bryan Cranston presented the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award from the Dolby Theatre, the current traditional home of the Oscars. I found it quite moving seeing the place and we can but hope that the Ceremony next year is back there.

The final headscratcher was the running order. We had Best Director awarded in the first hour which I didn’t mind, but the Best Picture surely should always be the final award. It’s what the ceremony builds up to and this year it was brought forward to be before the Lead Actor and Actress awards. An odd idea was made worse when the ceremony ended on a damp squib as Anthony Hopkins winning Best Actor wasn’t there or even in London on Zoom and the ceremony that had struggled to keep people engaged took one last gasp before completely dying on its arse.

The Best Picture award surely is the culmination of the evenings celebration, more often than not taking into account all the elements that have gone before it. It was like they had forgotten about the Lead acting categories.

The Winners

I don’t mean to be negative, the Academy Awards is one of my favourite nights of the year, and I’m really pleased that there was any kind of ceremony at all, but a lot of didn’t work for me.

Like I said at the starter I haven’t seen a lot of the films so I can’t really judge whether they would match my personal choices. However I am thrilled for Daniel Kaluuya, who went onto make one of the most out of control Oscar acceptance speeches of modern times. I would have liked to have seen Chadwick Boseman (Ma Rainey’s was one of the films I have seen), but delighted for Anthony Hopkins. I haven’t seen The Father yet but I feel Hopkins has been overlooked in previous years so delighted he has been recognised.

I haven’t seen Nomadland (hopefully will this week) but it can only be a good thing that Chloe Zhao won Best Director. It still total shite that only 2 women in 93 YEARS have ever won this award. With each ground-breaking moment, think Halle Berry with Monsters Ball, you hope that that will open the floodgates a bit more. Lets hope that, unlike the Leading Actress category has proved since, that Ms Zhao’s door remains wide open for all females to be allowed to compete at the highest level.

Frances McDormand was perhaps a surprise winner, but now joins an incredibly exclusive club of 3 Acting Academy Awards. A lady who probably preferred the low key of this ceremony. She is all about the work and is a roll model that all young people should look up to. What a professional, what an actress. I look forward to watching Nomadland this coming weekend.

Overall, I am delighted and thrilled that they were able to get any kind of show together this year. I did enjoy it, at the end of the day, it was still the Oscars, lets hope that the 94th Academy Awards can throw caution to the wind and make it the spectacle that I’ve always enjoyed.

About me

My name is Dominic Holder and I like to promote the beauty and wonder of Cinema in my writing. I spend a lot of time promoting the power of Cinema as a tool of wellbeing to anyone and everyone. I love all kinds of films but in particular, I am a devoted fan of Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks, John Williams, Star Wars, Disney and Marvel. My love of Cinema stems from a trip as a 4-year-old to local cinema in Bolton to watch a Star Wars/Empire Strikes Back double bill, it was the first in a series of life-changing moments, I knew from the moment the Imperial Star Destroyer engulfed the screen at the start of  A New Hope I was hooked. Thankfully nearly 40 years later I still get excited and still find escapism and happiness within this wonderful medium.

You can follow me on Twitter @DomHolder and read some of my reviews on Letterboxd at letterboxd.com/DomH

You can read more of my blogs on Film at www.dominicholder.wordpress.com

I want to watch ALL the films

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Yes that’s right, every last one of them. One of the least expected symptoms of lockdown that I have experienced is what I refer to as “Watchlist anxiety”. With so many streaming services just a touch of a button away and the lack of anything else to do, other than having an arm wrestle with some guy called Barry over a toilet roll in Tesco, I started to build up some watchlists. Before I knew it, it was massively out of control.

It’s time for some stats

Thinking Math GIF

Now according to Google there are thought to have been approximately 500000 films made. A rather ambitious estimate is that I have seen around 2000 individual films, which is 0.4% of them, so its clear I have some catching up to do. In fact if I was to watch one film a day it would take me a more than likely unachievable 1369 years to watch them all. That is if I watch one a day, which has only really been possible since lockdown. In my normal life I reckon I probably get through about 150 films a year, so I’m looking at around 4000 years to complete. But the other problem is, people keep making films, and I think it would be unreasonable for them to stop just to allow me to catch up.

Kevin Feige: “Guys we’re not going to make any more films for the MCU because Dom has still got 498,000 films to watch, so we’re gonna hang fire so he can catch up”.

The other issue is of course, and I know I’m not the only one here, but I love a good re-watch. I am of course a Spielberg nut, but throw in the MCU and Star Wars and there is at least 60 films there that I have to watch on a regular basis, and the true rub here is, I have to watch them in order, oh yes, if you’re going to do something you have to do it right.

Me: Hey guys I see you’re watching Empire of the Sun

Friend: Yeah that’s right

Me: So what did you guys think of The Color Purple, it’s great isn’t it?

Friend: erm, well we haven’t watched that one yet

Me:

Samuel L Jackson What GIF by Coming to America

The rewatches are my comfort blankets, as much as I love watching new stuff and getting that buzz from new films when they really hit you, I want to go back and watch every Spielberg from Duel (watched again this morning, it is Spielberg day, see below) and watch how his filmmaking changes over the years, likewise the MCU from IronMan onwards, it feels odd to me that you would just select one at random, or maybe I’m just odd.

The Plan

Planning GIF by memecandy

I have a number of subscriptions, Netflix, Disney + and for now anyway, Sky Cinema through Now TV. On top of this I have an extensive DVD/Blu-Ray collection and I tape (its always tape, I’m a child of the 80s) stuff off the TV like Film4 and TCM. Away from the subscriptions I love collections. As already stated I have to watch Spielberg in order, the MCU in order, Star Wars in order and believe it or not I have also in the past 12 months thrown PIXAR and the Disney Classics into the mix, and I haven’t even mentioned Bond yet. The anxiety is caused by making sure I am getting the most out of my subscriptions and also not neglecting my slightly unhealthy fandom.

Therefore I have come up with a rota, a 15 day cycle if you will. A chaos organiser, an anxiety destroyer, and overwhelming overwhelmer.

Courteney Cox Thats Not Even A Word GIF

Day 1 – Netflix – this will invariably be a new film. Yes there is plenty of stuff I have seen before that may be fun to watch, but primarily I need to use it for the new stuff. Netflix is the bully of the group though, as it is the place most likely to pique my interest with new stuff so may shove some of the other days out of the way.

Day 2 – Now TV – I only have this for 6 months, and is quite limiting on what I haven’t seen, although there should be enough to tide me over

Day 3 – Planner – So this is my Sky box, films recorded from places like TCM. This is always a good day as invariably it is a classic film that I have never seen before.

Day 4 – Disney Plus – Now here is the problem, if I take out all the Disney classic cartoons, the PIXAR, Star Wars and the MCU, take out the Documentary’s and all the shorts there are currently still 324 films on Disney Plus, a remarkable amount of those I haven’t seen. I made the decision the other day to start at the top (they do a handy A-Z) and work my through them, so I watched Kirk Douglas in 20000 Leagues Under the Sea, one of the 498K ticked off, you see it works…………… yes I will consider therapy.

Recent news broke that Disney Plus was launching its Star service for more grown up viewers and at least another 250 films on that. At my current rate that is about 5 years worth of watching on its own.

tom hanks comedy GIF by RETRO-FIEND

Day 5 BBC iPlayer/Kanopy – The BBC iPlayer has some fantastic classic cinema on there and Kanopy is a new service for me. It is free because I work for a University and it has a huge library of everything from World Cinema to early cinema, just this week I watched Plan 9 from Outer Space and looking forward to revisiting the Chaplin back catalogue that is on there.

Day 6 – Spielberg day. I don’t care how many times I have watched them all before, I never get bored. Close Encounters of the Third Kind for example, I have to watch that film 2 or 3 times a year and I always notice something new when I watch it. In a World where we need to do things that benefits our wellbeing, then watch what you like…………as long as its in order.

Day 7 – DVD/Blu-ray – I have to justify the collection, it is apparently taking up valuable shelf space, and cupboard space, and wardrobe space, oh and loft space. I have to be seen to be taking that 5 step walk across the living room to the shelf to be selecting one. I have to be careful though, this is the ultimate rewatch policed area

Wife: I don’t know why you have all of them, I bet you only watch about 4 of them

Me: That’s not true, I watch them all, an equal amount (never sounded more unconvincing)

Wife: I can clearly see your Aliens blu-ray in your hand, right this second, and I know you watched that the other night because I heard you say “somebody wake up Hicks” from the other room

Me: I was just putting it back (easily beat the previous level of sounding unconvincing)

Wife: Yeah whatever, by the way I hate that I know that it is an Aliens blu-ray.

Image result for Large dvd collection
Not mine by the way.

Day 8 – Google Play – I have this other account where I don’t own the physical media and they aren’t often on streaming services so I have them on here, e.g. Tim Burton’s Batman (still my favourite Batman film) so once again to justify my outlay the Google Play account gets a turn. Like a kid who has just asked for Roblox vouchers, I actually asked for Google Play vouchers for Christmas just so I could add to the collection,

Animated GIF

Day 9 – Amazon Prime – My least favourite of the streaming services, however occasionally good things turn up on there, such as Fellini’s 8 1/2 and the black and white version of Parasite. I just keep it for the free delivery of the Blu-rays really.

Day 10 – MCU – Again back to the collections, and so I don’t get distracted in my one man, doomed to failure, mission of getting through the Disney Plus back catalogue, a separate day for the MCU.

Day 11 – PIXAR – this is of course followed by PIXAR for the same reason as the MCU, which brings me neatly onto

Day 12 – Disney Classics – There’s 56 of these bad boys so that’s 2 years work right there, assuming I don’t miss a cycle. I wonder if my daughter will still want to watch these with me when she is 55 years old and we’re just getting to Moana.

Day 13 – Bond – I can take or leave Bond if I’m brutally honest but I do own them all on DVD/Blu-ray and similar to Spielberg and the MCU it would be nice to watch them all in order. Anthology you say, ah pish. In fact I think there are some that I have never seen so there we go, I can watch a franchise and chip away at that outstanding 498k. Besides with No Time to Die delayed again, I have time to get up to speed with this James Bond chap.

Day 14 – Film Docs – This can be anything from the monumental Empire of Dreams to a making of doc on a DVD that I have never watched. I always claim to never have the time to watch the extras, well there you go…….BUILT IT INTO THE SCHEDULE!!!!

aint nobody got time for that GIF

Day 15- Star Wars – It’s where it all started, the obsession of Cinema and film is right there in those 2 words. I love all 11 films and I don’t really care how often I see them. They are like old friends, they are my childhood, they are my adulthood and I think we are very fortunate to live in a time when we have almost unlimited access to them.

That’s it that’s the plan, pretty cool eh? If this all sounds a little OCDish then please note that this is very much tongue in cheek, but film fans are notoriously about order, whether that is how you file your DVDs to what order to watch films in. There are entire websites dedicated to the order the Star Wars films should be watched in.

We live in a time when we have never had it so good, regarding access to films, but the amount of times I have sat for an hour just scrolling through streaming services procrastinating over whether to watch Willow for the 80th time or take a punt on The Apple Dumpling Gang (it’s on the list, oh yeah!), when in fact a little bit of order can make that decision for me. If I added up the time I spent scrolling, well that’s probably 20 films or one Lord of the Rings, right there.

futuristic technology GIF
Me arriving for opening night of No Time to Die in 3390

So by the year 3390 I should have caught up, of course by then Cinema will be a totally immersive experience, but I’m sure, Tom Cruise will be making Mission Impossible 83 live from Alpha Centauri and there will be a new Spiderman reboot in the works and there will still be the financial toss up between some pick n mix or a villa in Marbella, rest assured I’m somewhere there will be a watchlist that will require some detailed plan of action

About me

My name is Dominic Holder and I like to promote the beauty and wonder of Cinema in my writing. I spend a lot of time promoting the power of Cinema as a tool of wellbeing to anyone and everyone. I love all kinds of films but in particular, I am a devoted fan of Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks, John Williams, Star Wars, Disney and Marvel. My love of Cinema stems from a trip as a 4-year-old to local cinema in Bolton to watch a Star Wars/Empire Strikes Back double bill, it was the first in a series of life-changing moments, I knew from the moment the Imperial Star Destroyer engulfed the screen at the start of  A New Hope I was hooked. Thankfully nearly 40 years later I still get excited and still find escapism and happiness within this wonderful medium.

You can follow me on Twitter @DomHolder and read some of my reviews on Letterboxd at letterboxd.com/DomH

You can read more of my blogs on Film at www.dominicholder.wordpress.com

2021, the year to try to enjoy films again

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This is a blog that I have pondered putting together for some months now and a new year led me to think that now may well be the right time. I spend, probably too much, time on Social Media because I adore watching films and I like talking about them. My hope was that I would find many like minded people, on Twitter in particular. Twitter is a place where I have very few followers who know me personally so I could be somewhat anonymous, a wry stranger who would occasionally drop into a conversation uninvited and deliver a line of Shakespearean wit and then disappear, leaving the gang of merry tweeters to wonder who the humourous stranger was that had just interrupted their discussion on Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

Fortunately, there are many such people on Twitter, who find and take great comfort in this dazzling of artistic mediums. They generally appear to share my love and fascination with the World of Cinema, appreciating the beauty and skill involved in every frame of celluloid (or whatever the digital equivalent is). Films have always been about escapism, they have been a comfort blanket when the World has thrown crap in my general direction. “There are always movies” I would be heard to yell, after Liverpool got thumped at home, or a school exam had been failed brilliantly, or mum had decided tonight would be the night for the infamous fish pie.* Films were there to take the burden of life’s pressures from me. They were like a friend. If life appeared to be filled with excrement, stick on Back to the Future, watch Indy get chased down by a bolder, watch the Ghostbusters cross the streams, watch the three men sing the little lady to sleep with a rap song, within minutes the World would be right again.

Does anyone know the lyrics to the three men rap? (I love the song but  can't find the lyrics anywhere) - Three Men and a baby/Little Lady Answers  - Fanpop
Hey Mary, did you brush your teeth?

What I didn’t expect from my trips to Twitterland was to be encountered by the dark side. There is a popular # called #FilmTwitter which if you use at the start or end of one of your tweets will notify it to large parts of the film fan community on Twitter and hopefully start a fun conversation. However, what this hashtag does more often than not is similar to when that dude opens the puzzle box at the start of Hellraiser, it unleashes the Cenobite dwellers of Film Twitter. These are the people who hate everything, the people who’s childhoods have been ruined more times than those of us who used to watch every episode of Rolf’s Cartoon Time.

There is a more sinister side to the FilmTwitter dark troopers, and that is that their hatred now has a platform, and in most occasions a pseudonym or anonymous platform for them to spout their views. Now before I go any further, I am not for one minute suggesting that people are not allowed to dislike a film, or for that matter comment on it explaining why they don’t, of course they are. If everyone in the World liked the same things then it would be quite boring, however we would also probably be now onto Three Men and a gaggle of Great Grandkids (not sure that title would clear the censors but whatever).

The problem we have now is that people love a “like”, a “retweet” a “share”, it’s what makes the unpopular popular, and the best way to do that, is to launch into a film and let it (a piece of art designed to entertain, lest we forget) have it with two Uzi 9 millimeters.

There is an unfair phrase banded around that nobody hates Star Wars more than Star Wars fans. This all came about after the release of Rian Johnson’s Episode VIII The Last Jedi in 2018. Now personally, I thought it was fantastic, and here is why. I thought it dared to be different, I thought it wanted to tell a new story, with familiar characters in a Universe that had from day one embraced diversity and shown that regardless of who or what you are you can become all you are meant to be. As Yoda famously uttered in Empire Strikes Back “judge me by my size do you?”. The online response to this film (again piece of art designed primarily to entertain) was quite frightening. Again, I must reiterate, you don’t have to like a film, whether that be Star Wars, Jaws or Police Academy 7, it is perfectly ok to not like a film. But this wasn’t a dislike, this was pure hatred.

Here comes that sinister side, I was mentioning earlier. Some people hated this film so much that they PAID to watch it several times just to build up the evidence, just to back up their arguments. I followed one Twitter user who knew The Last Jedi to the most finite detail, that can only be achieved by studying the film, like a scholar of Shakespeare would. He knew so much about this film, more than I (someone who loved it) hadn’t even noticed. He knew everything about it, and hated it. There was a teeny tiny part of me that admired his dedication to his loathing, but generally I actually felt quite sorry for him. Not because he didn’t like the film, like I said perfectly entitled to that, but he seemed to be dedicating every minute to attempting to destroy this film, with every bead of energy he could muster.

STAR WARS EPISODE 8: THE LAST JEDI – US Wall Movie Poster Print - 30cm x  43cm / 12 Inches x 17 Inches VIII: Amazon.co.uk: Kitchen & Home

Now obviously he was never going to succeed, he was a nameless faceless keyboard warrior, but he obviously felt it was important enough to him to do all of this. He launched an online petition (he wasn’t the only one) to get Episode VIII officially removed from the Star Wars cannon. This was pure dedication. The reason I felt sorry for him was, I couldn’t help thinking, what a waste of time and energy, why make yourself this miserable. Why not watch something you do like and put that amount of time and energy into promoting that film so that more people can see it? By constantly going on about Star Wars either in a positive or negative way you arouse the interest of people who are yet to see it.

The repetition doesn’t help either, there is always one joker who thinks, when asked which is his favourite of the 4 Indiana Jones, that they are the first person to come up with the not very witty response “pah, not sure what you mean there are only 3 films to me (smug face, smug face). Toxic fandoms, they achieve nothing. Actually that is not strictly true, crying, basement dwelling man babies managed to force Daisy Ridley and Kellie Marie Tran off social media, bleating on about ruined childhoods like some entitled toddler who has been told to turn Paw Patrol off as its past bedtime.

The other sinister side of Social Media is that there are films that no-one has even seen yet that are apparently awful. Steven Spielberg is due to release a re-imagination of West Side Story in December 2021 (delayed from 2020). This is a film that is designed for Twitter to tear it apart before even so much of a trailer has been seen.

So here is the thing. Lets make 2021 the year that we just get back to why we are interested in Movies in the first place, and that is to be entertained. We don’t need to think too deeply about them, they are there to take people away from their every day lives and offer some escapism. Yes of course they are there to make money and obviously there are a lot of films about social realism and other such issues, but they are still films and the primary aim is to entertain as an artform.

Think back to the first time you saw the Star Destroyer, engulf the big screen at the start of Star Wars, or when Marty realised what the serious shit he would experience at 88mph was, or when Sally inspired half the patrons in a New York deli to order what ever she was having, or when Cap heard a distant radio signal informing him that help was “on your left”.

Think about Donald O’Connor singing Make em’ Laugh, Harold Lloyd hanging precariously from a clock face, Charlie Chaplin making bread rolls dance, Mary Poppins inventing words like Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, or Michael telling Fredo that he knew it was him, or Red walking across the beach to meet Andy, or Brody’s realisation that a bigger boat was required, or Buzz flying with Woody in Toy Story, or Axel Foley disarming an unmarked Police car with a banana, and Ripley advising the Alien Queen to step away.

Making 'Em Laugh Till You Hurt - OZY | A Modern Media Company
To Infinity and Beyond: My love for Toy Story – Pop Cultural Studies
Does Jack Latvala keep falling for the banana-in-the-tailpipe trick so he  can be CFO?

These are all magic moments that have been revered for decades. We are now at a stage where we are not allowed to enjoy such things, because ultimately waxing lyrically about things doesn’t get any likes, or retweets, it doesn’t get any attention.

Movies are a wondrous thing, the artform of my generation. They give out hope, they give credible diverse roll models. It’s time to stop trying so hard to find fault and just let yourself go. Life is way to short to be this angry about everything.

If you are the sort of person who finds fault in most films, then my guess is that its not the films that are the problem……….it’s you.

Here’s to a wonderful year of Cinema in 2021. If you let it, it could be the best ever.

About me

My name is Dominic Holder and I like to promote the beauty and wonder of Cinema in my writing. I spend a lot of time promoting the power of Cinema as a tool of wellbeing to anyone and everyone. I love all kinds of films but in particular, I am a devoted fan of Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks, John Williams, Star Wars, Disney and Marvel. My love of Cinema stems from a trip as a 4-year-old to local cinema in Bolton to watch a Star Wars/Empire Strikes Back double bill, it was the first in a series of life-changing moments, I knew from the moment the Imperial Star Destroyer engulfed the screen at the start of  A New Hope I was hooked. Thankfully nearly 40 years later I still get excited and still find escapism and happiness within this wonderful medium.

You can follow me on Twitter @DomHolder and read some of my reviews on Letterboxd at letterboxd.com/DomH

You can read more of my blogs on Film at www.dominicholder.wordpress.com

*my mums is a phenomenal cook, just the fish pie really never again.

Who is the main villain in Jaws

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Jaws is often tricky for me to write about, because it is quite difficult to find an angle or idea on it that hasn’t been covered several times before. I could write a review of the film, but I’ve done that before and besides everyone who has a passing interest in the film will have read plenty of reviews and seen the film several times.

Therefore I thought I would write a few thoughts on who I consider to be the main antagonist of the film. In my mind there are three main candidates and I’m going to take a look at them all here.

1. Bruce the Shark

Original Jaws Shark Restored for Museum of Motion Pictures – /Film

It is a very simplistic view to blame all of the events in Jaws on the shark, but surely he is just going about his daily business being a carnivorous animal that is on the hunt for his lunch and dinner. The fact he stumbles across a beach with a bunch of people who like to spend their time splashing around in the water, therefore attracting his attention is just an added bonus for Bruce. It’s kind of like a free all you can eat buffet and lets be honest there isn’t a person reading this who wouldn’t go back for seconds if confronted with tressel tables full of pork pies and chicken legs, so lets back off Bruce for doing what comes naturally.

Film journalist Mark Kermode famously said that Jaws is not about a shark, it is a tale of masculinity and relationships. He was maybe referring to the the fact that the shark is a mere subplot to what is going on around them. I don’t think that’s true and is a little unfair on our Bruce, who like I said was just doing what sharks do. It doesn’t discriminate, it is not out for revenge (that comes later in film 4) it is just looking after itself. My feeling about the shark in Jaws is that it actually, in a strange quirk of fate becomes one of the heroes in the end, and I’ll explain why a little bit later.

2. Mayor Vaughn

Mayor Larry Vaughn | Fear world Wiki | Fandom

Mayor Vaughn is your typical politician, he constantly has one eye more on the bottom line than on the safety and wellbeing of the public he has been elected to serve. Mayor Vaughn is quite a prescient character these days, particularly when you consider how governments have handled the management of the Coronavirus, desperately trying to balance the economy against health. So much so that Mayor Vaughn has found himself unwittingly at the mercies of many an internet meme creator over the past year, as the similarities between his crusade to keep the beaches open through fear of loss of income is mirrored by a number of todays politicians who perhaps have struggled to see the bigger picture.

Personally I think what makes Vaughn a bigger villain is that he makes all the same mistakes again in Jaws 2. He may be misguided and uneducated in the first film but surely there is no real excuse for his actions in the 2nd film. I’m always annoyed in Jaws 2 when Vaughn and fellow rich git Peterson kick off about Brody being in the observation tower at the beach. Surely a beach that has had a number of shark attacks in the past couple of years would have some kind of patrol.

Vaughn is a coward and isn’t strong willed enough to be considered the true villain of the piece. In the first film he goes from an exuberant outgoing town representative to a shaking, chain smoking nervous wreck, which makes his stupidity in the second film even more gauling.

3. Quint

Was Captain Quint from Jaws Based on a Real Person?

Now here me out on this one. I love Jaws, I think it is a phenomenal film, no questions asked about that, but I have to be honest it doesn’t make my Spielberg top 10, and that is down to one person, Mr Quint. I appreciate that he is a fan favourite and Robert Shaw’s performance is brilliant, but I just can’t stand him.

Quint is an arrogant bully, he is also a bit of a know it all who takes great pleasure in putting people in their place. It starts out with him interrupting the town meeting by running his fingernails down the blackboard, I mean honestly who does that? He then refers to the shark as a bird, and talks whilst eating.

We next meet him teasing Hooper in the boat yard, although Hooper stands his ground by tying the perfect bowline knot much to Quint’s frustration. It is Quint’s idea to head out into the deep ocean to catch the shark, despite all the attacks thus far occurring close to shore. Once out in the deep blue, his constant nip-picking of Hooper from the way he drives the boat to how he spends his spare time is teasing bordering on nasty. He always has to get one up on the crew, in particular Hooper.

Hooper: That’s twenty footer

Quint: Twenty-five

Oh come on how do you know that just by looking at him, you cantankerous old barnacle. It’s not just Hooper who gets it from Quint. He continuously teases Brody about his wife and then in a moment of complete shithousery smashes up the boat radio. Well thanks a lot.

I’m going out on a limb here and saying I think the true villain of Jaws is Quint. He is cold and calculated and has no redeeming qualities about him, and now I turn to the hero of the piece, the aforementioned Bruce, who decides like me, he’s had enough of him, so decides to have him for lunch. For me it’s a bit like when the T-Rex spoils the raptor party at the end of Jurassic Park, it’s a moment of triumph and applause for this naturally trained killer, a punch the air moment if ever there was one.

About me

My name is Dominic Holder and I like to promote the beauty and wonder of Cinema in my writing. I spend a lot of time promoting the power of Cinema as a tool of wellbeing to anyone and everyone. I love all kinds of films but in particular, I am a devoted fan of Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks, John Williams, Star Wars, Disney and Marvel. My love of Cinema stems from a trip as a 4-year-old to local cinema in Bolton to watch a Star Wars/Empire Strikes Back double bill, it was the first in a series of life-changing moments, I knew from the moment the Imperial Star Destroyer engulfed the screen at the start of  A New Hope I was hooked. Thankfully nearly 40 years later I still get excited and still find escapism and happiness within this wonderful medium.

You can follow me on Twitter @DomHolder and read some of my reviews on Letterboxd at letterboxd.com/DomH

You can read more of my blogs on Film at www.dominicholder.wordpress.com

The overseer: Spielberg’s Top 10 Production credits

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Hi folks and welcome to my latest top 10. I’m going a little bit left field and looking at the Top 10 films where Spielberg hasn’t directed but has been credited as Producer or Executive Producer. One of the attractions of Spielberg to me growing up, was even if he wasn’t in the directors chair he seemed to be involved in the majority of films that I enjoyed growing up.

With over 170 Production credits to his name, putting a Top 10 wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be at first. I immediately discounted any that he had directed, and obviously ignored the dozens currently on his announced slate on IMDB. I have also culled a few more by not looking at sequels, however this still left me with a plethora of options. So I decided to go with the heart and not the head on this one, which means quality productions such as the Coen’s True Grit are left off and also there is the omission of crowd favourites Innerspace and The Money Pit which would have been 11 and 12th respectively if I had too.

One further caveat is that I haven’t seen all the films on the list so I may have missed some of your favourites that I’m not too familiar with. So without further ado, here is the Top 10 list of my favourite Spielberg Production credits.

10. Twister (1996) Dir: Jan De Bont

After the stresses and strains of the emotional experience of Schindler’s List, Spielberg was taking an unprecedented 4 year break from the Director’s chair. He was, however, very much keeping his head in the game with his Producers hat on, with a variety of TV shows, the hilarious and anarchic Animaniacs and the rather damp squib (pun very much intended) Seaquest DSV. Movie wise is was a mixed bag, including the fun and sprightly Caspar (which again just missed this list) and the cringeworthy Flintstones (Steven Spielrock anyone???).

1996 was a summer of big blockbuster action films, with Roland Emmerich’s fantastic Independence Day leading the way, Michael Bay showing considerable restraint, by his standards anyway, with the ridiculously entertaining The Rock and we met Ethan Hunt for the first time as Mission Impossible burst onto our screens via the Channel Tunnel.

Crashing into the 2nd place in the Box Office chart that summer was Twister, a film about a group of storm chasers battling to find the Big one in the American midwest. With spectacular, Academy Award nominated visual effects (it lost out to Independence Day), the film actually touches on a number of Spielbergian themes, our group of Chasers are all Science nerds, there are broken relationships, there is the destruction of small town America, it is all there. The script is a bit hokey, but whoever watches films like this for Shakespearean delivery, this is a perfect Sunday afternoon movie.

9. *Batteries Not Included (1987) Dir. Matthew Robbins

batteries not included (1987) - Photo Gallery - IMDb

I watched this again recently and to be fair it has aged, but what we have here is a simple tale of triumph over adversity and an enormous sense of a community coming together to beat the odds, which are traditional Spielberg themes.

The film is anchored by a beautiful pair of leading performances from Jessica Tandy as the dementia suffering Faye and the dazzling Hume Cronyn who plays her steadfast husband Frank. Originally conceived as a story to be included in Spielberg’s Amazing Stories, the idea had enough legs to be made into a full length film.

It’s a charming tale, with plenty of 1980s schmaltz, that tales off slightly in the final act. A film that still appeals to all ages, the adults will enjoy the nostaglia, and the youngsters will giggle at the alien antics.

Worth noting also that *Batteries Not Included was the screenwriting debut of Pixar legend Brad Bird who would go on to direct The Incredibles and also some of the later Mission Impossible franchise. I wouldn’t be too surprised if the bigwigs at Pixar didn’t get a large portion of their ideas for 2008’s UP from the set up here as there are plenty of shared themes, not least the last house standing setting.

8. Poltergeist (1982) Dir. Tobe Hooper

Steven Spielberg actually directed Poltergeist, crew member confirms | The  Independent

Yeah I know, Spielberg directed Poltergeist, yadder, yadder, yadder. Erm, no he didn’t, and to constantly claim that he did is quite offensive to Tobe Hooper. Yes Spielberg was by all accounts a very hands on Producer, and a number of themes smack of Spielberg, not least the Suburban setting, the dysfunctional family, the young children in peril etc, but those are just the headlines and this is Hooper’s film.

Despite the setting and the family dynamic, the characters, in particular the adults don’t really fit the Spielberg mould of the time. The Freelings are pot smoking ex-hippies, trying to hold onto their youth, whilst they can, (one fan theory I read was that the whole plot was imagined by Diane whilst high off the pot!!). The reliance on effects that are now quite dated, again doesn’t appear to fit in the practical mentalities of Spielberg at the time, i.e. E.T, Raiders etc.

Poltergeist has some terrific setpieces and the most terrifying clown this side of IT, and is again one of those films that nostalgia has been kind too, and it makes this list because Steven Spielberg produced it, not directed it.

7. Deep Impact (1998) Dir Mimi Leder

Casting de Deep Impact (1998) - SensCritique

1998 was the year of Twin film battles, where films with similar themes go head to head. In animation we had Dreamworks Antz, facing off against Pixar’s A Bug’s Life, Peter Weir’s The Truman Show up against Ron Howards Ed TV, and Spielberg’s own Saving Private Ryan and Terrence Malicks The Thin Red Line.

As far as audiences were concerned however, the biggest battle was the fight to save the Earth in two films about cataclysmic asteroids are set to crash into and destroy Earth films. Winning this particular box office battle was Michael Bay’s, Bruce Willis starring preposterous (even for an asteroid film) Armageddon, which inexplicably was only held off the number 1 spot for the year by Titanic.

Personally, I always thought from viewing both Armageddon and Deep Impact that the Mimi Leder film was superior, in every way, from the science involved to the script, (Armageddon’s is so hilariously bad, its actually quite fun). The main difference between the two, is that Deep Impact has very little if any testosterone and with Leder at the helm why would there be, there is a seriousness with the situation, we are drawn into the characters, we care for them, we want them to succeed. We don’t really give a toss about Bruce and his neanderthal mates.

Deep Impact is a classic Friday night movie, with a fabulous ensemble cast, who all contribute. Booking the trend somewhat of 90s action flicks and in complete contrast to Armageddon’s gung ho, if there is a lead in Deep Impact then it is surely the excellent Tea Leoni’s determined journalist, who more than holds her own alongside Morgan Freeman (playing the President we all wish they had now), Robert Duval’s seasoned Astronaut and an early role for Elijah Wood.

Armageddon may have triumphed at the box office but there is no doubt which is the superior film.

6. Men In Black (1997) Dir. Barry Sonnenfeld

Men in Black' Was the Last Movie of Its Kind | Hollywood Reporter

Probably the film in the list that had the least input from Spielberg, here very much Executive Producing through Amblin, however that is no reason not to include it. Very loosely based on the early 1990s comics by the same name, (the films are considerably lighter in tone than the comics), Men in Black deals with a fictious Government agency who deal with extra-terrestrial life that lives, generally in perfect harmony with humans on Earth, the catch being, that humans don’t know about due to the MiB organisation.

The first and by some considerable distance the best of the series is helped by a brilliant double act, taking the buddy movie to new heights. We have the seasoned old pro, the craggy faced Tommy Lee Jones, playing it straight as die throughout, alongside the cocky new recruit, an at the top of his game Will Smith. The chemistry between the two leads is fantastic and it is a shame that they have struggled somewhat to replicate that in the lacklustre sequels that followed.

Once more the effects are really good and Sonnenfeld demonstrates some of his Gothic tendencies that he employed so well in his Addams Family films in the early 90s.

Men In Black was a box-office monster, helped in no small part to the star wattage of Biggest Star in the Galaxy at the time Will Smith, it helped that he had an absolute banger of a theme tune to accompany it, but this film would have been nothing without Jones’s, sardonic and occasionally moving performance.

5. Gremlins (1984) Dir. Joe Dante

Gremlins - info and ticket booking, Bristol | Watershed

There are three rules that you have to follow if you’re going to take care of your Mogwai, it becomes apparent quite quickly that they are all utter balls. We all know about the nonsense of not eating after midnight, I mean when does that end, can you book a table at the breakfast buffet or is there a certain time you have to reach before you can kick back with a croissant. There’s also the issue of time zones but lets not go there. But what about never getting them wet, through fear of multiplication, yet at one point the hoard of Gremlins are clearly seen walking through snow with no ill effect. Then there is the fear of bright lights, which a bit like when you ask your teenage kids whether they heard you ask them to empty the dishwasher, depends on what mood they are in at the time, for example the Gremlins seem ok in the lighted kitchen when they are helping themselves to the cake mix.

Now lets not be an old fuddy duddy about this, these glaring plotholes are part of pop culture folklore and are very much a part of the appeal of this perennial festive classic. Mixing extreme lightness, carol singing Gremlins, break dancing Gremlins, even Snow White singalong Gremlins, with terrifying darkness, the chainsaw attack, the grizzly water fountain finale and worst of all the reason why Kate doesn’t celebrate Christmas, we have a film that at one point you think the whole family could enjoy and the next would make an interesting double bill with Driller Killer.

I’m sure Gremlins was made with one eye firmly on the merchandising potential and this has often raised questions at to who this film is aimed at. What is undoubted is that it is hilarious and at times scary as hell. A sequel, which many devotees prefer to the original, I’m not one of them, arrived 5 years later and was more a satirical look at movie sequels and merchandising tie-ins. The original though is a black comedy that has landed itself firmly in the pop culture lexicon for the past 30 plus years. Still to this day, despite it’s obvious nonsensical plot, it is tremendous entertainment and Christmas just isn’t Christmas without it.

4. Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) – Robert Zemeckis

15 Things You Might Not Know About Who Framed Roger Rabbit | Mental Floss

Ok, the mixing of live action and animation was nothing new in 1988, Disney themselves had been making films since the early 1940s in this format, however films that had placed an animated lead character alongside a human lead were few and far between and seen as little more than a gimmick.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit is in all sense an purposes a Film-Noir with a Looney Tunes, technicolour back drop. From the hilarious prologue short cartoon “somethin’s Cookin” starring Roger and the (we found soon after) hard drinking, womanising Baby Herman we have the tone set, for one of the most innovative blockbusters of the 80s.

There are plenty of elements of this film that perhaps are aimed at an older audience, for example one of the scariest villains of any childhood with the horrific Judge Doom, and of course the Femme Fatale who quite frankly will have many of the male and female audience questioning their sanity.

Technically magnificent, it still very much holds up today. Bob Hoskins is brilliant as the cynical, grieving, hard drinking Eddie who has a particular dislike for Toons, but the true star of the show is Zemeckis, who never lets get away from its noir routes.

3. Super 8 (2011) Dir. J.J Abrams

J. J. Abrams's 'Super 8' Zooms In on a Dark Secret - Review - The New York  Times

It is no secret how much of an influence Spielberg has been on the career of J.J Abrams, and in 2011, Abrams made Super 8, his love-letter homage to Spielberg, in this quite brilliant science-fiction tale. This is the entry in the Top 10 that is probably the least talked about, and has largely been forgotten by the film community, which is a crying shame as I would say it is easily in my Top 10 movies of the last decade.

It’s all here in this one, clear references to E.T, and The Goonies from Spielberg’s back catalogue, with touches of Stand By Me and even Alien, it is sci-fi, action mixed with nostaglia all set in a nice Spielberg inspired Suburban community.

Led by a sparking young cast the film is told from their point of view as they try to solve the riddles of the mysterious goings on that follow a train crash in their town. The friends agree to get together to help make a horror movie using a Super 8 camera, a further nod to Spielberg’s own childhood, and over time they bond. The film is a thrill ride in the traditional Spielberg way, at times it is genuinely scary and at other points, deeply moving, the main character has recently lost his mother in a workplace accident, the absent parent a recurrent Spielberg theme.

A film about friendship, a film about belonging, this is more than just a kids monster movie. It’s legacy lives on with the Netflix produced, and majorly Spielberg inspired Stranger Things.

2. The Goonies (1985) Dir. Richard Donner

The Goonies' cast: Where are they now? % | Gallery | Wonderwall.com

In 1985 Spielberg was taking his first real steps into Directing films, aimed more at critical acclaim that box office receipts, with his adaptation of Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. Having been dismissed a nothing more than a popcorn peddler, a PT Barnum figure if you will, by many a critic, Spielberg decided to focus on what was deemed more grown up material.

Thankfully, it didn’t mean that he had lost his sense of humour or his desire to be involved in wholesome family entertainment. Whereas the Color Purple dealt with themes of domestic abuse, incest and segregation, in 1985 he produced two of the most iconic 80s films that were as far away from the above as possible (actually may be not the incest, but we’ll come back to that later in the blog).

The Goonies is one of those rare breed of films, where you would be pushed really hard to find anyone who has anything bad to say about it. It is a very simple of tale of friendship and adventure, a real kids adventure film that has spanned the generations, from people like myself who loved it since its release, to my parents who were delighted at the time that there was a film that wasn’t a cartoon or involved galaxy’s far far away to entertain the kids, and now my children who watch it now and can’t comprehend that it was made 35 years ago.

And that there is the point, The Goonies is timeless, it is so fresh it could have been made last week. Perfectly cast from the noble Sean Astin as self appointed leader, to 80s icon Corey Feldman as the most punchable but still likeable Goonie, Mouth. Then there is my favourite, Ke Huy Quan, fresh from playing Indy’s card playing best mate, as the inventive James Bond fanatic Data, and of course the Pop Culture icon, Jeff Cohen’s Chunk, who’s confession scene is possibly the finest moment in the whole of 80s cinema.

The tomboyish Martha Plimpton playing the sarcastic Steph, a pre-Thanos Josh Brolin playing the tough older brother, and every schoolboys crush Kerry Green as cheerleader Andy round out one of the most likeable casts of any film.

Terrific pantomime villain support comes from Anne Ramsay, Robert Davi and a young Joe Pantoliano as the criminal Fratellis, add to the brilliance of this simple piece of entertainment.

You don’t hear of anyone stating they don’t like The Goonies, because there is nothing not to like. I would question anyone who disagrees with that probably doesn’t like films at all, but for a film about a bunch of kids looking for buried pirate treasure (btw didn’t know the name One-Eyed Willy was a bit dubious when I was a kid……….ah innocence) to still be this endearingly popular 35 years on is an absolute credit to everyone involved. Now about that incest……..

1.Back to the Future (1985) Dir. Robert Zemeckis

FXRant: "Back to the Future," Einstein Jump

Ok we’ll get to that shortly. Back to the Future could well be the perfect film. It is entirely possible that no film made before or since has resonated or landed in the pop culture psyche as much. Similar to the Goonies it is one of those films that everyone has seen, and everyone, even none film fans get a little smile on their face if you mention it.

When I was growing up in the 80s and as was often the way in Manchester, school holidays were often dominated by bad weather, and my older brother and I had a stock pile of films recorded from the BBC and ITV that would regularly be watched almost on loop. There was obviously the Star Wars trilogy, the aformentioned The Goonies and of course Back to the Future, possibly the most quotable film for me and my brother.

What is often overlooked with Back to the Future is the perfection that is it’s screenplay. My brother now lives in America and it dawned on me during a recent WhatsApp video call just how much we quote the film in general conversation, and I’m not just talking about the “Great Scott’s” of this world I’m talking the more subtle lines. For example, if my brother is wearing something a bit unusual, I will say “and what are you wearing Dave?” which Marty mutters to his brother Dave who is inexplicably wearing a business suit in the altered future………my brother is not called Dave.

My brother and I used to cook lunch during the School holidays and he would often jokingly throw in the line “Damn it Man, I sliced my hand” in honour of Marvin Berry cutting his hand trying to open the boot of his car whilst the keys were locked inside, or if one of us was playing music at an annoying volume, the other walk into their room, and say “hold it fellas, I’m sorry you’re just too damn loud”.

It’s little things like this that make this film special to everyone who has had the pleasure of seeing it. Similar to the Goonies, it is incredibly fresh and could have been made last week. Led by Michael J Fox as Marty McFly, nobody my age (I was 8 when the film was released) had ever seen anyone cooler than Marty. He was the most awesome character growing up and is probably still my favourite now when all said and done.

Are there issues? Well you could argue that the mother/son incestuous connotations is a little Oedipal, and some may today question the friendship between Marty and Doc, but from a story telling point of view it is brilliantly done and in the case of Marty and Lorraine, (played by another 80s icon the simply stunning Lea Thompson), is resolved carefully without too much cringe.

Worth noting also that Back to the Future has my number 1 punch the air moment when George, a suitably awkward Crispin Glover, finally stands up to Biff, quite possibly the greatest screen bully ever, played with dotable menace by Thomas Wilson. It still gets a cheer to this day.

Back to the Future was followed up by two quick fire sequels in 1989 and 1990 and, despite never truly hitting the heights of the original, are fantastic watches, and may well be the second and third part of the most complete trilogy. Pray tell nobody gets the insane idea to reboot, remake or simply go back in time to update the original. Some things are best left well alone.

About me

My name is Dominic Holder and I like to promote the beauty and wonder of Cinema in my writing. I spend a lot of time promoting the power of Cinema as a tool of wellbeing to anyone and everyone. I love all kinds of films but in particular I am a devoted fan of Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks, John Williams, Star Wars, Disney and Marvel. My love of Cinema stems from a trip as a 4 year old to local cinema in Bolton to watch a Star Wars/Empire Strikes Back double bill, it was the first in a series of life changing moments, I knew from the moment the Imperial Star Destroyer engulfed the screen at the start of  A New Hope I was hooked. Thankfully nearly 40 years later I still get excited and still find escapism and happiness within this wonderful medium.

You can follow me on Twitter @DomHolder and read some of my reviews on Letterboxd at letterboxd.com/DomH

You can read more of my blogs on Film at www.dominicholder.wordpress.com

The cheers: Spielberg’s Top 10 crowd pleasing moments

Following on from my recent blog about the most nerve shredding moments in Spielberg’s back catalogue which you can read here, I thought I would take a look at the moments that most fans of Spielberg look for in his films, moments where elation and rejoicing lead to punch the air instances, that allow the audience to give little cheers or even rapturous rounds of applause, even when you are watching it in your lounge alone.

This top 10 is a mixture of individual shots, or carefully choreographed setpieces, but each one makes you thrilled to be watching and helps build the understanding that the main purpose of any film is to entertain. Quite frankly this could have been a Top 100 list (maybe I’ll do that one day) but I have narrowed it down to the following 10. As always, there will be some of your favourites that I haven’t included, but that is why God invented the comment function on blogs. I’ve also tried to not include scenes that I have talked about in previous blogs, so no beach scene from Jaws or opening scene from Raiders here. I hope you enjoy the choices that I have picked regardless.

10. Spyder Search – Minority Report (2002)

In a previous top 10 I have praised the brilliance of the opening scene of Minority Report, but the other stand out scene in a film full of stand out scenes is the building search by the robotic Spyders that are unleashed to take retinal scans of all the occupants of the building as they search for the “on the run” John Anderton who is hidden away in the building after a rather grimy eye operation.

This scene almost sneaked into my nail shredding top 10, but what moved it to this one was because despite moving towards the edge of our seats, we marvel at the genius of the filmmaking on display. Firstly we have the robotic, futuristic spyders that scamper across the screen like a herd of genetically enhanced futuristic cousins of the supporting cast of the Spielberg produced Arachnophobia. Secondly, we can marvel at Janusz Kaminski being at the very top of his game as he glides his camera around the staircase at the entrance, to a sensational tracking shots from above the invisible roof staring down into the individual departments. The attention to detail here is staggering as Tom Cruise’s Anderton hides, from the more animalistic than robotic Spyders, submerged in an ice bath only to have his cover blown by the tiniest air bubble that leaves Anderton’s nostril and slowly almost silently impacts on the surface.

It’s Spielberg being playful, it’s Spielberg being fluid in his direction, there are no quick cuts or edits here and as an audience we sit an applaud the audacity of the scene from its simple premise to it’s peerless execution.

9. The Vote – Lincoln (2012)

The first of the genuine punch the air moments of this countdown, the vote on whether to approve the thirteenth amendment of the US constitution, that if passed would abolish slavery and involuntary servitude. In what is possibly Spielberg’s most dialogue heavy film, with lengthy but always intriguing monologue upon monologue extolling the virtues of the argument on both sides, we are left in no doubt that this is going to be tight decision.

As anyone who knows their history, will know the outcome of the vote, so similar to the conundrum facing Ron Howard with Apollo 13, or to a lesser extent James Cameron with Titanic, the challenge here is to make a widely known outcome remain in the balance. Spielberg manages this by never really letting the audience in on the running total, by painting the moral dilemma across the faces of all those who’s role it is to cast a vote. Of course the outcome is a success but the feeling of euphoria as the final count is announced is sensational, hell even Tommy Lee Jones cracks a smile.

8. Mine Cart Chase – Temple of Doom

The Top Ten Greatest Indiana Jones Scenes - Part 3 | Page 3

Bit of a marmite film in Spielberg’s filmography, over the years it appears that people really love it or really dislike it, there isn’t much middle ground. However, one thing pretty much all fans agree on is the rip-roaring mine cart chase in Pankot Palace’s rather spacious basement.

After avoiding turning to the Dark Side and rescuing Willie from a burning pit, our intrepid hero joins up with Short Round and Willie and attempts to escape the dungeon like mine that has housed all the villagers children. Indy manages to battle his way through henchman upon henchman, and manages to avoid being attacked via Voodoo and eventually overcome a big dude on the worlds slowest conveyor belt (Aldi would not be impressed).

Once that is out of the way, he swings on a conveniently placed chain, knocking more henchman off the platform towards a watery grave, and lands perfectly in the mine cart with Short Round and Willie. (Btw, that whole swinging sequence…..awesome). Choosing to ignore the good advice to take the left tunnel, Indy sets off on a ride that would have the queues backing up at Alton Towers. They are once again pursued by a bunch of foolhardy goons, who really should have known what was down the tunnel and therefore known it wasn’t going to end well.

Sure enough a handy railway sleeper in place the travelling morons are catapulted off the track and into the strangely lava filled abyss (are they in a volcano, what’s going on here?). Still our triumvirate press on, but another gang of idiots is in pursuit, and they try and steal Short Round. Another pesky trip hazard puts pay to them and all is clear, phew.

Only the problem is there’s a bit missing from the track, should have took the left tunnel Indy, and unlike Keanu driving his bomb ridden bus there is no one to put a mysterious little ramp to assist with clearing the canyon. Fortunately Indy and co are on a bit of downslope and manage to perform the perfect launch and landing you know as if it was all in a days work. Fantastic stuff, oh and then the breaks fail, and Indy teaches us all why it is so important to have a good pair of walking boots if going searching for fortune and glory. Hanging onto the out of control cart using his Karimor’s as a breaking mechanism, Indy brings the cart to a halt inches away from the crash barriers, getting some scorch burns in the process.

Yes they made it. Slight issue though, you see whilst Indy and co were having fun on the ride, colossal git Molaram decided to send a dam’s worth of water down the track to flush them out. Will they escape the torrent, you bet they will.

Joking aside, what we have here is Spielberg at his frenetic best. The action is fast and furious but we are never in doubt as to where we are up to, the quick cut editing that is often in play in modern action cinema is not here, the kinetic energy is such that we as an audience are transported onto that mine cart, it’s a pure thrill ride and for me the highlight of the film.

7. The first task – Ready Player One

Ready Player One': 16 Key Differences Between Book and Movie | IndieWire

There are people who claim that Spielberg doesn’t make exciting films anymore. In the past 10 years we have been treated to political grandstanding in the script heavy Lincoln, the worthy and noble War Horse and the Espionage thriller Bridge of Spies. Critics started to wonder whether this famed popcorn peddler had finally moved on, or maybe worse, even lost his touch on how to entertain the masses. His attempts at family friendly films such as The Adventures of Tintin (more on that soon) and The BFG had been technically wonderful but had struggled to find a huge audience. Some times even the best have to mine their back catalogue and so here we have it, Ready Player One, described by this very blogger as a Greatest Hits film from Spielberg.

That was my first reaction to seeing it at the cinema and like all Greatest Hits albums, you know all the tracks and you can sing along happily and it makes you think of times touched with nostalgia and warmth, but there is nothing new there.

On repeat viewings, (and Ready Player One hugely benefits from repeat viewing), it becomes clear that the film is so much more than just a glorified compilation album. This is Spielberg properly letting his hair down, you could argue he has not had as much fun since he introduced the world to DNA created dinosaurs on Isla Nublar.

This is never more demonstrated than the completion of the first task, where Spielberg throws enough pop culture references and Easter Eggs to keep even the most nostalgia cynic among the audience interested. Whether it an appearance from an old favourite, the T-Rex, to the rampaging Kong, we are treated to 5 minutes of breathtaking action, packed with thrills and spills. What’s most impressive in this sequence considering it was made at the height of MCU/DC battlegrounds, once again the editing is tight without ever being disorientating or confusing. Demonstrating a clear eye for detail their is no need to cut every half second, Spielberg once again shows that trust the audience, give them a chance to take in as much as possible and do it with enough bravado to want to watch it over and over again.

6. Trip through Bagghar – Tintin

The Adventures of Tintin

Spielberg’s first all encompassing trip into Motion Capture is the not talked about enough “The Adventures of Tintin, the Secret of the Unicorn”. Yet another Spielberg that rewards repeat viewings as the level of detail here is quite phenomenal.

A film that is often described as an animated Indiana Jones films, the comparisons are fair and should be taken as a massive compliment. The scene pictured above where Tintin and Captain Haddock pursue the evil Red Rackham is a flashback to the motorbike and side car chase from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade where dad and Indy clumsily fight off the German soldiers.

The scene in question, is a chase through the town of Bagghar which culminates with a quite staggering 5 minute single shot taking into account crumbling buildings, sliding buildings, raging rivers, rascally birds of prey and the money shot to end all money shots, a ride down an telephone wire desperately holding onto the remaining front wheel of the motorbike.

There is so much going on here, but once again you are never in doubt where the action is up to and it is a perfect demonstration of how motion capture can be used to astonishing effect. In a film packed full of beautiful moments and clever imagery, we have a scene that would not have looked out of place in one of our favourite Archaeologists films.

5. The Caravan on the Cliff – Jurassic Park:The Lost World

Shame Files Podcast: The Lost World: Jurassic Park | Cinedelphia

By the time The Lost World was released, everyone who had a passing interest in dinosaurs had probably seen Jurassic Park and marvelled at the CGI creations that still astonish today. The problem facing Spielberg on this sequel, a film that he has since admitted he made somewhat on auto-pilot, was how do you create that sense of wonder again? Unfortunately that moment never truly arrives, it’s more “oh look dinosaurs again…cool” rather than, Sam Neil’s eyes perfectly capturing the thoughts and reactions of the first film.

Before I go any further, I have to say that I actually enjoy lots of The Lost World, in particular one scene that I think is just phenomenal, namely the caravan on the cliff. Vince Vaughan and Julianne Moore are trying to fix the broken leg of an infant Tyrannosaur in the caravan before mum and dad notice that they are missing.

This scene actually starts with one of Spielberg’s funniest visual gags as Jeff Goldblum’s Dr Malcolm descends from the High Hide without gripping the rope properly.

We are then treated to an ominous overhead rustling of trees shot, as Malcolm (showing no sign of injury from his 50 foot plummet) joins Sarah and Nick in the caravan just as mum turns up………oh and she is not happy. The first indication that she is a tad vexed is a quite brilliant shot of a jeep being tossed over the side of the cliff like you would perhaps flick at annoying bug who maybe encroaching on your dinner. The parenting team of T-Rexs are suddenly there, giving a dual aspect threat on either side of the caravan, but they don’t attack. That’s because they know their infant is in there. It’s one of Spielberg’s less obvious depictions of a family dynamic, but the power is all there.

A few threatening nudges of the caravan that spells out the consequences if their young is not returned make the human trio see sense and attempt to return the offspring to the parents, once this has been done, the T-Rex’s retreat, but only to shelter their traumatised youngster. They are not going to let this kidnapping go unpunished.

“HANG ON TO SOMETHING!!” yell Nick and Ian in unison, well that is the understatement of the year as mum and dad open a giant can of dino whoopass on the caravan and push it gradually towards the cliff edge. Now this is double trailer so the delays and red herrings here are spectacular, as the first half of the caravan heads for the abyss it is caught by the heavier end, however Sarah can’t hold on and plummets presumably to a watery death, but she is stopped by the safety glass of the caravan………………which slowly but surely begins to crack under her weight.

Just in time, Ian catches Sarah just as falling equipment smashes the window. Left dangling in mid-air the T-Rex’s nip off, presumably for a coffee and hob-nob, and our trio have Eddie (the always great Richard Schiff) turn up to help them out of the stricken caravan. He manages to tie a rope around a tree (very Nedry-esq) and lower it for the trio to clamber onto. Realising the top half is now starting to slide on the mud towards the cliff top, Eddie attaches the caravan to the tow-cable on the front of his jeep and puts all power into the rear wheel drive and begins slowly but surely to pull the caravans back onto the cliff top.

Problem is coffee break is now over and mum and dad come back to complete their work, which is bad news for everyone, in particular Eddie, who despite the hob nobs is made short work of by Mr and Mrs Rex. Of course with Eddie out of the way there is no-one to control the Jeep which means the Jeep is now going to also make a swift exit in the only direction that it can, towards the cliff top taking the caravans with it with one of Spielberg’s most exhilarating shots.

It’s a shame in many ways that the film never really matches up to that 10 minutes, but when a film has such an outstanding scenes that appears to be several leagues higher than the rest of it, there is a tendency to dismiss everything that came before or after it, which actually does The Lost World a disservice as there is lots to enjoy throughout. However as stated at the start of this entry, despite this thrilling breathtaking scene, it misses that one breathtaking moment, which brings me sneakily onto the next entry.

4. The Brachiosaur reveal – Jurassic Park

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom's Lack of Wonder is Deliberate and Important  | by Edward Punales | Medium

The secret of a truly great cinematic moment is when it can still make you gasp in wonder, maybe get a lump in your throat or punch the air in sheer delight no matter how many times you have seen that moment. Think about the first time you saw the Death Star Destroyer streak across the starry sky, at the start of Star Wars, or Josh Baskin dancing on the floor piano in Big, or George laying out Biff in Back to the Future in one punch. These are moments that made us all fall in love with cinema and why we come back for more constantly, and also lead the passion for repeat viewings.

If people reading this can think back to the very first time they saw Jurassic Park, especially if you watched it on its original cinematic release, you will no doubt remember the gasp, and definitely in the screening I was in back in 1993, the cries of “woah” and believe it or not the small ripple of applause as we suddenly knew what Alan Grant had gone all wide eyed about as the beautiful, majestic Brachiosaur strode gracefully across the meadows of Jurassic Park.

I’m just going to pause slightly now, for dramatic effect. Seriously just think of that moment when you first saw that. In a film of outstanding set pieces, this moment of tranquility is the stand out moment for me. It makes me want to weep thinking about it, it makes me want to grab my kids and sit them in front of it and say “Watch this!!!” (they’ve all been made to sit through before of course). . I want to thank John Williams for having the good sense to drop the score completely from the approaching Jeep to the first site of the dinosaur. I want to thank Dennis Muren and his team for producing such a moment and Gary Rydstrom for having the beautiful sound configuration. But most of all It makes me want to say thank you to Steven Spielberg for believing and realising such a vision from the pages of Michael Crichton’s book. It is moments like this why we return to films over and over and put our faith in the power of Cinema to thrill and excite people, and at times like this it is more vital than ever for people to enjoy such perfection.

3. The Truck Chase – Raiders

Raider's of the Lost Ark: The Truck Chase | Cappa Toons!

In a film that was prepared and storyboarded down to the last spec of dust there is sensational set piece after sensational set piece. In a previous top 10 I ranked the iconic opening scene as Spielberg’s number 1 movie opening, here in the top 10 crowd pleasing moments I pick my favourite scene from Raiders for number 3, but rest assured this could have been higher if written on another day.

A scene perfectly choreographed, a scene that demonstrates practical stunt work of the highest standards that looks as fresh today as it did almost 40 years ago when made. It’s also an endearing scene for the characterisation of Indy, proof if proof were needed that this was no superhero, this was once again an ordinary man in an extraordinary situation, (yes I appreciate he was only there because he wanted to be but still you get the point). From the moment that the trucks icon begins to bend under the weight of Indy we know that he is going to have to improvise to get out of this mess.

Of course, somebody like Tony Stark would have a built in gadget or some on the way from a distant A.I but Indy just has his strength and his whip, oh and his hat which remarkably he keeps hold of, even when making the perilous journey under the truck and then being dragged behind it holding onto the trusty whip, I suppose when a hat fits, a hat fits.

Similar to the Mine Cart chase from Temple of Doom, or even the chase through Bagghar in Tintin, we have a clear idea of who is where and what is happening. A lot of the credit must go to Michael Kahn and his editing team for keeping such a tight reign on proceedings.

It’s also a scene that helps demonstrates that the villains of the piece are not over the top demonic beasts, they to are fallible humans who have no answer to Indy’s attempts to ram them off the road.

In a scene packed with swing and counter swing I think my favourite part is when Indy is dragged behind the truck, it’s a moment that I still cheer enthusiastically today as if I’m watching Liverpool come from 3-0 down to beat Barcelona in the Champions League Semi-Final (if people don’t know what I’m talking about well take a look at this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7HldRlTZj_g)

Indy may not have completely won the day with this scene, but the reason it is such a crowd pleaser is that it is a scene not only of excitement but one of hope, we all love to see the bad guys get a bit of beating and if nothing else this scene helps reassure that perhaps everything is going to be ok……as long as whatever we do, we don’t look at it.

2. E.T and Elliot take flight

E.T. the extra-terrestrial - ET - Steven Spielberg - Character profile -  Writeups.org

One of the most iconic images of Cinema for that there is absolutely no doubt, but it is the moment 35 seconds prior to this that is the true moment of unadulterated joy. Elliot with E.T as his passenger rides through the woods and comes to what he believes to be a dead-end. Not so as E.T uses his kinetic powers to take control and speeds off into the mist heading straight for the cliff edge (more cliff edges), and then it happens……just as they are about to plunge into the chasm they take off, with John Williams’s iconic Flying theme hitting the perfect musical cue for company.

Away they soar above the trees, the glorious, luscious trees, with their bustling wildlife and the endless possibilities of uninhibited adventure, this is every childs dream and Steven Spielberg captured it perfectly. It is best summed up, when moments after the iconic trip in front of the moon, Elliot lets out a triumphant cheer, yes Elliot we are with you all the way, this is just wonderful.

There really isn’t an awful lot more I can say about this scene, that hasn’t been said numerous times before, but once again it is an absolute gift of a scene and one that it is very difficult to imagine modern cinema without it.

1. The Mothership lands – CE3K

SYFY - Close Encounters of the Third Kind: Joe Alves interview | Close  Encounters of the Third Kind was supposed to have flying aliens and other  design secrets

Whenever I have been asked in the past, what is about Spielberg that makes you such a fan, the first thing I mention is the last 30 minutes of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. I feel if there is anyone who wishes to know what Spielberg has to offer the world I would show them this.

I don’t think Close Encounters is Spielberg’s best made film but I have made no secret over the years that it is my personal favourite (and we all know there is some insanely good competition). I also think thematically it is the quintessential Spielberg film. It’s all here, ordinary man in extraordinary situation, a difficult and testing family lives, including the ubiquitous absent parenting. There is also the child eyes looking with wonder at what is often a scary world for adults. There is the music, perfectly put together by the maestro, and then there is the magic and wonder, the light show, the star lit skies, the shooting stars, it is all there, it is Spielberg summed up in 2 and a bit hours.

However, nothing comes close to the last 30 minutes. Almost balletic in its execution, dialogue is at an absolute minimum as humans and aliens communicate through light and music. We watch events unfold, like Roy (played with childlike enthusiasm by Richard Dreyfuss) with a huge grins on our faces, praying that this is actually happening. We are treated to a visit from 3 sentry spaceships sent on ahead, who perform a dance like joust above the humans before retreating from whence they came.

This is just the appetiser to the main course, which arrives in a cacophony of rumble and yet more dazzling light shows as the mother-ship, with the size and look of a small city arrives and descends onto the landing strip. There then follows the music and light spectacular, which if real would have been one of the finest classical music concerts ever. It is truly breathtaking and I absolutely love it.

What makes it interesting now is that it has been described by some as quite a dour ending, with Roy abandoning his family to follow his dreams, in fact Spielberg has been quoted as saying he would struggle to make such an ending if he made it today. Due to studio pressure, Spielberg went back to Close Encounters in 1980 and added extra scenes including the interior of the mother-ship, which isn’t as bad as people claim it is, it just doesn’t really add anything.

I was recently asked to list my film choices for a film version of Desert Island Discs and it will be no surprise to any of you who have read this far that Close Encounters was the number one pick. The brilliance of Spielberg is that is left with any one of his films, I would be kept entertained during my time there, but Close Encounters will always be my go to.

Thanks for reading

The nail shredders: Spielberg’s Top 10 most nerve jangling moments.

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Among all the wonder and magic, there is of course a serious side to Spielberg’s work. The man can build tension, like LEGO build bricks. Here in my latest Spielberg Top 10 I take a look at 10 of the most tense moments in his films. This was a tough one and I’m sure people will point out personal favourites that didn’t make my final cut, for example there is no room for the excrutiating ascent up the hill at the climax of Duel as David Mann’s car starts to give up the advantage, likewise the caravan cliffhangar in the Lost World, which will be saved for a later countdown. I hope you enjoy the list but as always, comments, discussion and feedback very much welcomed.

10. “Let’s go, let’s do it, let’s go, let’s go, let’s go, let’s go let’s publish” – The Post (2017)

Meryl Streep, The Post, and the Best Movie Dress of 2017 | Vanity Fair

Meryl Streep’s Katherine Graham has the most difficult of decisions to make. Taking over the paper started by her father and then ran by her late husband (who committed suicide), she had no real journalistic experience and was often overruled or patronised by her all male board. Through a series of contacts the paper gets hold of a number of documents that would show that America’s involvement in the Vietnam war was a lost cause. If the Post were to publish it would be a major news coup and hugely increase their circulation, on the other hand it may bring criminal charges against the paper from the United States government. The shareholders and board members don’t wish to publish because of the latter, where as Editor in Chief Ben Bradlee (an underrated and very gravelly Tom Hanks) believe it to be in the nations best interest as the press have the right to publish. The question here is, does Katherine have the backbone to stand up to the misogynistic board who feel she is greatly out of her depth.

Spielberg’s brilliance here is that he manages to ring enough tension in a two and half minute phone call that the viewer can literally chew on it. It’s also a major turning point in the film, Katherine finds her feet and her inner confidence that results in one of the finest transformations of character in a Spielberg film as she delivers the most cutting line to her board “This is no longer my father’s company. It’s no longer my husband’s company. It’s my company.” She is now in control and don’t you doubt it.

9. Abandoned in the Woods – A.I (2001)

Scene Pick: 'AI' – David is Abandoned in a Forest - Word Matters!

Spielberg’s hidden masterpiece is almost 3 films in one, you have the psychological, almost horror, first act where Monica and Henry Swinton get given David, a prototype Mecha child, to help come to terms with the supposedly terminal illness of their son Martin. The second act is a chase movie, where David desperately searches for the fabled Blue Fairy whilst avoiding being caught by the authorities, and the third and final act is projected science fiction as David is transported thousands of years into the future to discover his and his loved ones fate.

The focus for this top 10 will be the climax of Act 1 where (SPOILER ALERT), Monica abandons David in the woods, after one too many accidents involving David and her miraculously recovered son Martin, Monica realises that David is potential danger to the family and must be removed. However, knowing that David will be destroyed if returned to his maker, Monica can’t bring herself to do that so she plans a picnic for David in the woods with the ulterior motive to leave him there to defend for himself.

David is programmed to love Monica, but the real question is, can Monica love David back? This scene demonstrates the torment and conflict that Monica, played wonderfully throughout by Frances O’Connor, is going through. As a distraught and terrified David hammers on the window of the car as she pulls away we are left with the indelible image of David drifting into the distance silhouetted perfectly in Monica’s wing mirrors.

It’s a Spielberg speciality to show case parent and child separation, but here we don’t have a real human child, or do we? With David showing some sentient characteristics, we are left wondering just exactly what Monica has just abandoned in the woods.

8. The Phone bomb – Munich (2005)

Photo de Yigal Naor - Munich : Photo Yigal Naor - AlloCiné

2005 was the fifth year that Spielberg released two films in the Cinema. Once again, he attempted to follow the formula of one for the multiplex crowd and one for the serious Cineastes. What was slightly different this time was that both Munich and the darker than dark War of the Worlds (more about that one later in the blog) were both desperately bleak films, that offered little in the way of optimism or sentimentality that Spielberg had often been accused of, (although War of the Worlds does have a rather interesting ending that isn’t really in keeping with the tone of the rest of the film).

Courting controversy from it’s inception, Munich could possibly be Spielberg’s most misunderstood and misrepresented film. A tale of “eye for an eye” brutality and the glorification of revenge wasn’t something that Spielberg was used to having to deal with. What Munich actually is a fictional, taut, tense thriller set to the backdrop of horrific real life events. A film that is tense from the word go, there is very little to lift the gloom, but a fascinating watch all the same. A film that is truly difficult to tear your eyes away from once it starts.

There are a number of scenes that i could have chosen from Munich to include in this blog, but I have gone for the phone bomb scene as it includes perfectly orchestrated set up, sweat inducing close calls, involving a potentially devastating victim who was an unintended target.

Spielberg perfectly captures the horror and conflict of the attackers, illustrating the inner turmoil of the so called “good guys”. Munich is an astonishing piece of Cinema and deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as the Schindler’s Lists and Saving Private Ryans of this world.

7. Raptor attack – Jurassic Park (1993)

10 Reasons The Velociraptors Are The True Stars of The Jurassic ...

If the T-Rex attack in Jurassic Park is pure Cinematic monster horror, then the stalking of the children in the kitchen by the Raptors is pure nail biting Cinema. Cold and calculating the Raptors engage in a game of cat and mouse with young Tim and Lex as they shelter in one of the theme parks as yet unopened kitchen (bearing in mind no-one has been in that kitchen yet, that cupboard door really should shut better).

The T-Rex attack is pure terror, whereas there is a more sinister edge to the Raptors. Game keeper, and part-time alarmist, Robert Muldoon explains how the Raptors systematically work out their surroundings, remember they never attack the same part of fence twice. Dr Grant has already informed the audience how Raptors work as a team, “you stare at him, and he just stares right back. And that’s when the attack comes. Not from the front, but from the side, from the other two raptors you didn’t even know were there.” Oh yeah, and just when you think these 6 foot turkeys can’t get anymore menacing, they can open doors as well.

The Raptors appear to enjoy the hunt, the teasing of their prey, the wicked grin of torment that seems to light up their faces as they realise they have the children cornered. Some quick thinking involving a slippery floor and a fridge door relieves the pressure and tension for a while. However, whilst the T-Rex would slump despondently away waiting for the next flicker of movement, the raptors won’t be pacified with that, they want the victims they are working as a team to get.

It’s yet another fine example of perfectly choreographed tension and is Spielberg at his most fluid. Talking about perfectly choreographed tension….

6. “Pipet….Pipet” – Jaws (1975)

Watch a Great Deconstruction of the Jaws Beach Scene - /Film

Ok, so this might seem an obvious choice to include but what we have here is a young director throwing everything into one of the most carefully constructed storyboarded scenes in modern Cinema. Packed to the rafters with clever camera fakes and comical red herrings, (that’s some bad hat Harry). At this point of the film we know there is a shark out there, we know also that the mayor wants the beaches open, so you know what is going to happen, it is not going to end well.

So the true mastery of this scene, is that despite the audience knowing all of this, Spielberg manages to wring the tension out of every oversized towel on the beach. Similar to the T-Rex attack in Jurassic Park, Spielberg drops the score, employing John Williams to be more than just a character technique, bringing in the ominous dur dum at just the right moment. The red herrings have swam away, leaving the stage for the arrival once more of Carcharodon carcharias to grab an Alex Kintner sized snack.

Capturing the frozen in fear moment with Cinema’s most famous dolly shot, the first of two nods to Hitchcock, replicating his innovative camera work from Vertigo, accompanied with a Bernard Herrman inspired violin screech reminiscent of Psycho.

A scene that anyone reading this blog will have seen a thousand times, but there is a reason we go back to watch it again and again, we love the fear.

5. The basement search – War of the Worlds (2005)

The Basement Scene in War of the Worlds (2005) - YouTube

Back to 2005 for this one and Spielberg’s completely unfamily friendly summer blockbuster. Packed full of post 9/11 paranoia, War of the Worlds, like Munich, is a thoroughly draining watch from start to finish. Unusually for Spielberg there isn’t much preamble or steady build up with him, with the Super Bowl trailer money shot of an articulated lorry plunging off a collapsing highway onto the wooden houses of suburbia in the before the 30 minute mark.

That’s because War of the Worlds is more than just about attack, it is about survival, it is about resourcefulness. However, the stand out sequence, takes place in the grungy basement of the just slightly more than deranged Ogilvy, played with delicious menace by Tim Robbins. With a set that wouldn’t look out of place in an Eli Roth movie, the sense of unease is palpable from the start. Things reach a pinnacle of desperation when the aliens send in a probe to explore the basement. What follows is an almost dialogue free 8 minutes of sheer bottom clenching tension.

Once again employing the red herrings, a trusty old boot, a handy mirror, Spielberg is mining his back catalogue to good effect, check out the ripples in the water, and the unseen menace that is all around. Whilst all this is going on there is a terse battle of wills between Ray (Tom Cruise) and Ogilvy. Ray, Ogilvy and Rachel ( a quite brilliant Dakota Fanning) are then joined in Hell’s kitchen by three of their Alien assailants. The attention to detail here is tremendous, the spin of the bike wheel straight out of the H.G Wells novel.

Watching this scene again for the purposes of writing this blog, I can honestly say this scene could have been even higher. It’s absolutely masterful, in a film that once again doesn’t quite get the attention and love that it deserves. This is gripping stuff from Paramount logo to Morgan Freeman voiceover.

4. Entering the gas chamber – Schindler’s List (1993)

Schindler's List Scene - YouTube

In a film that has many moments of quiet desperation and thoughtful reflection, there are a number of scenes that potentially could have been considered for this blog, the one though that always makes the room that you are in fade into obscurity for me is the scene involving the women who are sent to what they and the audience believe to be the gas chamber. I’m not going to go into any more of the detail of the scene and talk more about why the film is so affecting.

There are many times when Schindler’s List feels like a documentary and it is easy to forget at times that there is a narrative to what we are watching. In this particular scene, you become so absorbed in what’s happening, that you wonder why the cameraman continues to film, why don’t they help?

Filmed with largely non-professional actors, this scene is so real, you can feel the cold, you can smell the fear and the tension is such that at times you just want to look away. This is devastating, yet vital cinema.

3. Cinque’s experience on the Tecora – Amistad (1997)

Amistad 1997 ( Scene of slaves on the ship ) FULL HD mp4 - YouTube

Amistad is a film that often flatters to deceive but in the middle there is a sequence so brutal that you wonder if you have actually started watching a different movie. As Cinque, (played with indomitably stunning screen presence by Djimon Hounsou) reflects on the horrors that he experienced on board the Tecora as they sail across the Atlantic.

As a depiction of hell on earth, we are “treated” to an observation of a claustrophobic, deeply unpleasant setting, where slaves a chained together so desperate for nutrition that they are eating food off each others faces. We witness brutal torture and attempted rape, whilst slaves are herded like cattle into the dark, non ventilated underbelly of the slave ship. We watch babies being born in these most squalid of conditions, but worse is yet to come, as we witness the horrifying reality of slaves being chained together and having stones tidied to their feet to ensure when they go overboard they will not be coming up for air.

I struggle to think of a more upsetting scene in Spielberg’s filmography. Yes the liquidation of the ghetto in Schindler’s List and the Omaha Beach battle of Saving Private Ryan are devastating but we watch those almost in stunned numbness. This scene is so up close, you can almost taste the sweat and tears. The tension is sickening, and is perhaps made the more prescient with the current global climate into the way we treat certain people. Amistad deserves to be seen more widely.

2. Barry’s kidnapping – Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

Deanna Crisbacher : Cutting Edge: Close Encounters Of The Third Kind

In Close Encounters we are treated to magic, wonder and scenes of such cinematic beauty that I’m not ashamed to admit they make me weep. In a film that is mainly about family, we are introduced to single mum Gillian, and her young son Barry, when Barry is woken by his toys who have mysteriously come to life, so far so very not Toy Story. After meeting his new friends in the kitchen Barry is seen giggling as he chases the shadows across the ranch that Gillian rather strangely seems to own. This scene is partly to demonstrate that children often find excitement in things that adults fear.

When Barry’s new friends return to take him on a little trip, Spielberg goes into full on 1970s horror mode. Dousing the house in dusty hue, turning on the red glow of the electric hob, with Gillian’s panic and sweat dressed white shirt we are one chainsaw away from having dinner with a man wearing human skin as a mask.

Throwing all the practical effects that he can at the screen, Spielberg manages to turn up the tension by praying on the most primal fears of adults, anonymous house invaders , your appliances coming alive, oh and the failure to protect your children. As Gillian cowers in the corner, screaming in the throat gargling way that dominated 1970s horror films, we have young Barry loving being drawn towards the orange light, culminating in the famous keyhole moment, with the door opening to reveal an Oz type wonderland.

Despite Gillian’s best attempts, Barry is not going to be denied his chance to play with his new friends and heads off through the cat flap. What is so brilliant about this scene is that it is so simple, yet so effective. The scene reflects every parents worst nightmare, and it’s such an exhausting 3 minutes that you almost want to pause the film to go have a lie down.

1. The battle of Remelle – Saving Private Ryan (1998)

Saving Private Ryan's Bodycount | Saving Private Ryan Wiki | Fandom

There are people who claim that Saving Private Ryan starts and ends with the devastating opening Omaha Beach sequence and that the following two hours are rather plodding and not much happens. Well those people are quite frankly wrong. Watching the Omaha Beach battle is a numbing experience, it’s one of the most visceral attack on the senses, however the battle of Remelle is in many ways just as effective.

With the Omaha Beach battle we are thrown straight into the action, there is no time to survey the scenery, take in the view, plan the route of attack, you are just straight into it. With Remelle, there is planning, there is a setting of the scene, and there is definite whiff of inevitability about the upcoming fight. This leads to the most nerve wracking two minutes I’ve ever experienced in the cinema.

Once the planning is in place, the sticky bombs made, the platoon sent to their various sentry posts, the bridge rigged with explosives and the path of destruction laid out for the enemy troops to trundle down to receive the mother of all ambushes.

Now back to that nerve wracking, tension inducing two minutes. With everything in place the signal is given from Private Jackson up in the clock tower that the German 2nd SS Panzer Division were nearly in the bombed out town. The brilliance here from Spielberg, like the pounding thump of the off screen T-Rex approaching in Jurassic Park, we hear the rumbling approach of the tanks, crunching the rubble and scraping the metal as it moves off screen.

Spielberg holds the camera looking down the trench, and then we see the terrifying sight of the German tank goes past the entrance to the town corridor only to abruptly stop, turn it’s gun turret down the rubble strewn street, as if eyeing up its potential prey. The audience takes a breath, and watches as the tank reverses and then straightens up and then proceeds down the street towards the allied forces.

What follows is 20 minutes of more intense battle, if anything more personal combat than on Omaha as we see individual one on one, some time hand to hand combat between assailants. Some of the deaths in this battle are more than horrific, due to the face we have invested 2 and a half hours in these characters, we’ve grown to like them, we don’t want to witness their pain and suffering, but we watch we’re convinced that they will triumph. One particular knife fight is desperately upsetting to watch.

This is possibly Spielberg’s most underrated sequence, overshadowed by the brilliance of Omaha, but Remelle is the embodiment of what those brave souls went through. The human sacrifice made in that conflict was never more painfully illustrated than in the Battle of Remelle.

About me

My name is Dominic Holder and I like to promote the beauty and wonder of Cinema in my writing. I spend a lot of time promoting the power of Cinema as a tool of wellbeing to anyone and everyone. I love all kinds of films but in particular I am a devoted fan of Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks, John Williams, Star Wars, Disney and Marvel. My love of Cinema stems from a trip as a 4 year old to local cinema in Bolton to watch a Star Wars/Empire Strikes Back double bill, it was the first in a series of life changing moments, I knew from the moment the Imperial Star Destroyer engulfed the screen at the start of  A New Hope I was hooked. Thankfully nearly 40 years later I still get excited and still find escapism and happiness within this wonderful medium.

You can follow me on Twitter @DomHolder and read some of my reviews on Letterboxd at letterboxd.com/DomH

You can read more of my blogs on Film at www.dominicholder.wordpress.com

The Spielberg Top 10: Best Opening Scenes.

To grab an audience you have to start well, all the great films pull the audience in, you could argue that you need to grab them in the first 5 minutes or people may lose interest. Like writing, if I waffle on too long you won’t read the rest so without further blathering, here is my personal TOP 10 opening scenes in Steven Spielberg directed movies.

10. The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (2011)

Steven Spielberg Provides An Update on the Second Tintin Film ...

Spielberg’s first foray into the world of motion capture is occasionally forgotten when discussions around Spielberg’s most dynamic films arise. Unfairly labelled by some as an animated Indiana Jones film, The Adventures of Tintin packs enough of an individual punch with scenes of audacity bravado as to clearly stand on it’s own two feet. None more so then this cracking opening tracking shot as the camera follows the mischievous Aristidis Silk through an outdoor market. Shot largely from the ground up the camera stops on a street artist painting a portrait of a young man who’s back is to us. On completion the Artist shows his finished article, it’s Tintin as familiarised in Herge’s collection of stories. It’s the first of a number of lovely moments in a vastly underrated film.

9. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

That Moment in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977): First ...

“Are we the first?…Are we the first to arrive?” Yes, I annoyingly shout this whenever I go to a friends or family members house for dinner etc, in my head it never gets old, however some of the invites have dried up over the years.

The opening scene of Close Encounters is packed full of mystery and red herrings (see the headlights come out of the dust) and sets the scene perfectly for the wonders that are to come. Subtle and made with practical effects, it hooks the audience straight into the story. Where did these planes come from? Why does the old man claim the sun came out at night and sang to him? Great stuff.

8. Always (1989)

Opening scene to the Steven Spielberg film, “Always” (1989) - YouTube

A very brief moment here in one of Spielberg’s least appreciated films, but it is a moment of perfectly dexterous showmanship. Two sleepy fisherman whiling the hours away when in the background, entering the shot from above a seaplane making an unexpected landing. The plane disturbs the fishermen from their slumber but it’s breaking system doesn’t seem to be helping much. The camera stays transfixed as the plane stealthily approaches the stricken boat with its panicked occupants and just as the we the audience grip the corners of our seats as the Fishing boat is about to be made into two the plane lifts off, tickling the tops of the heads of the fishermen, who duly make a swift exit into the lake. You can watch the whole wondrous 55 seconds here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=upPHSDqj5x0

7. Munich (2005)

Munich (Part 1) - YouTube

Changing tone completely now, we have one of Spielberg’s most controversial films, Munich. Starting with opening titles that tell us “the following is based on real events” we are greeted by a group of men trying to scale a fence outside the Munich Olympic village. They are given a helping hand by a group of unwitting American athletes, all the while John Williams, tense heart beat of a score pounds away in the background and Janusz Kaminski’s bleak cinematography creates an atmosphere of incredible unease. We are then thrown into the middle of the terrorism plot as we watch them change clothes, load up their weapons and move to their targets apartments. It is nerve shredding tension that never lets up in the two and half hour running time that is perhaps Spielberg’s best kept secret.

6. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)

Fun with Franchises: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989 ...

Who doesn’t love a good origin story? Who loves them even more when they last no more than 10 minutes? Indiana Jones’s third adventure is just a fantastic film, it really is, it’s packed full of laughs, family bonding and adventure. None more so than this opening salvo that returns Indy to his childhood as a Boy Scout. The casting of Sean Connery is often talked about as a stroke of genius by Messrs. Spielberg and Lucas but do not underestimate the casting of the late River Phoenix as a younger version of Harrison Ford. His screen time may be very short but that introduction of the character, including the origins of his fear of snakes and the famous scar on his chin is beautifully put together.

I could have quite easily included all four Indiana Jones films opening scenes in this top 10 as they all start with a bang in one way or another, but I plumped for Last Crusade (and spoiler alert one other) because it gives Indy a little bit of backstory, and 10 minutes in we are already grinning from ear to ear.

5. Saving Private Ryan (1998)

Saving Private Ryan: 21 facts you didn't know? Mel Gibson was ...

I know what you are thinking, FIFTH???? Well, it’s only so low because strictly speaking it’s not the opening scene, which of course is the old man (who I won’t name in case hasn’t seen it yet) visiting the war cemetery.

Taking 25 days to shoot with over 1000 extras the Omaha Beach landing is the most visceral attack on the senses. With no accompanying score the audience are asked to dodge the bullets and mortars and they come whistling across the soundwaves as we catch glimpses of limbs being blown off, men being incinerated, men being mowed down by relentless machine guns. We want to look away, we want it to be over but we don’t.

Personally the for me, Spielberg’s greatest achievement with this scene is making the audience realise that these were not trained killers, they were ordinary men sent into an extraordinary/hellish world to try to defend their freedom. That first 25 minute is one hell of a History lesson and one that should never be dismissed as just entertainment.

4. Jaws (1975)

Top 10 Movie Opening Sequences | Some Films and Stuff

Dur-dum………Dur-dum……..Dur-dum. Ok if you’ve never seen Jaws, then why are you reading this blog? No only kidding, but if you’ve never seen Jaws you have been stood next to a body of water, where somebody, usually your dad has made the Dur-dum sound, and you know what that means, that your dad is implying there is a man eating shark in that water. It’s universal, it’s know globally, that’s the brilliance of it.

Now on the face of it, who wouldn’t take Chrissie up on her offer for a touch of skinny dipping, fortunately for Tom Cassidy, too many sherbet lemons meant that he missed out on a night time sea based frolic and Bruce therefore had to waltz in the waves with Chrissie alone, albeit a tad aggressively.

A lot of the success of Jaws was down to onset mechanical failures, proving once and for all that the things you can’t see are far scarier than those that you can, and this opening scene continues to terrify to this very day. A real stomper.

3. Bridge of Spies (2015)

Bridge of Spies Film Locations - [otsoNY.com]

I make no secret of my love of Bridge of Spies, I think it is a piece of immaculate film making that demonstrates that classical methods can still be effective. In an almost dialogue free game of cat and mouse the opening 10 minutes of Bridge of Spies, is a lesson in meticulousness and attention to detail that can be sadly lacking in the current age of quick cut superhero dominated cinema.

There is a quiet assurance on display here, a calmness to Mark Rylance that embodies his performance throughout. It’s one of Spielberg’s quieter opening scenes but it’s massively effective, who is the man? Why are they after him? It’s a quite wonderful opening to a wonderful film.

2. Minority Report (2002)

MINORITY REPORT (2002) - The Arrest of Howard Marks - YouTube

How do you explain a rather tricky concept to an audience without overdoing the exposition? Simple, show the entire process from start to finish in one nail biting, ass kicking 12 minute opening salvo. It worth pointing out that as slick as Spielberg is here, this is another Janusz Kaminski masterpiece. The saturated grey and blue tinge adds to the cold atmosphere of a man going through the personal turmoil of watching his life unravel as his adulterous wife is locked in the arms of her suave lover. Meanwhile, Det Anderson (Tom Cruise) pieces together the future crime, almost in balletic fashion as Schubert’s No8 Unfinished Symphony plays dauntingly over the action.

As the time ticks by we know already they are against the clock to prevent the crime, we are totally engaged from the get go. The arrival at the street the Mark’s live on a moment of pure beauty as the pre-crime officers descend on zip-wires onto the lush, green, parkland. The slight delay whilst Anderton confirms that Howard left the door open all add to the palatable tension.

It truly is a most wonderfully choreographed scene, it’s Spielberg at his most playful.

  1. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
Long-lost Indiana Jones Raiders of the Lost Ark footage found on ...

Quite possibly the greatest opening of any film, never mind a Spielberg film. It’s quite difficult to imagine now, but coming off the back of the disappointing 1941, Raiders of the Lost Ark was considered a huge gamble by the studios involved. The Wonderkid had come unstuck with the commercial and critical failure of 1941. In order to start to rebuild his reputation, Spielberg has claimed that he has never been so prepared to make a film as he was for Raiders. Every scene had a storyboard, every minute detail was planned in advance, this film had to come in on budget and on schedule. He achieved both, with scene after scene of perfect action and adventure.

The opening scene has got everything, thrill, spills, gore even humour, note Indy’s face when he grabs the branch to prevent himself from falling into the Abyss, only for the branch to slightly give way, this was no superhero, this is was an ordinary man in an extraordinary situation etc.

If filmed today, this scene would have been edited within an inch of it’s life, imagine if you will Michael Bay shooting this opening scene, but thankfully Spielberg allows the scares and the claustrophobia to prevail, Douglas Slocombe’s cinematography and Norman Reynolds stunning production design instantly transports the audience into this hellish, booby trap ridden cavern.

Then the crowning glory, the rolling boulder, pure genius. The brilliance of Raiders is that as breathtakingly stunning this opening sequence is, it doesn’t peak here and keeps going for the next 100 or so minutes. The opening sequence isn’t even my favourite in the movie, I reserve that for the truck chase, but this is Spielberg at his most prepared, at his most free, at his most playful, he is here to entertain and boy does he ever. What a way to introduce you to one of Cinema’s most iconic heroes.


I dedicate this blog to commemorate the sad loss of Allen Daviau 14/6/42 – 15/4/20 – a true Spielberg legend in every way.

About me

My name is Dominic Holder and I like to promote the beauty and wonder of Cinema in my writing. I spend a lot of time promoting the power of Cinema as a tool of wellbeing to anyone and everyone. I love all kinds of films but in particular I am a devoted fan of Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks, John Williams, Star Wars, Disney and Marvel. My love of Cinema stems from a trip as a 4 year old to local cinema in Bolton to watch a Star Wars/Empire Strikes Back double bill, it was the first in a series of life changing moments, I knew from the moment the Imperial Star Destroyer engulfed the screen at the start of  A New Hope I was hooked. Thankfully nearly 40 years later I still get excited and still find escapism and happiness within this wonderful medium.

You can follow me on Twitter @DomHolder and read some of my reviews on Letterboxd at letterboxd.com/DomH

You can read more of my blogs on Film at www.dominicholder.wordpress.com

The 91st Academy Awards

Image result for 2019 oscar winners

I’m not ashamed to admit that I absolutely love the Academy Awards and have watched every year since, I think 1993 when Schindlers List swept the board. As a Brit, we can be very dismissive of an event that amounts to little more than just an annual backslapping event where, highly decorated individuals award highly decorated individuals by claiming that for one year only, they are the best. However, to have this cynical view is to hugely miss the point. The Academy Awards are meant to be a celebration, yes they are cheesy and yes an inordinate amount of time is spent trying to figure out what people are wearing, but the glitz and the glamour are what makes it what it is. A chance to take stock of where my favourite art form currently is.

Lets get one thing clear, the Academy Awards rarely, in my opinion give awards to the Best Films of the year, or even the films that will last long in the memory, and 2019 was certainly no exception to the rule. Green Book, this years Best Picture winner, was a light, fluffy piece that barely scratched the surface on the subject matter that it was based upon. Compared with the other nominee that tackled race issues in America, Spike Lee’s Blackkklansman, to me there is no comparison, not only in the quality of the filmmaking but also the handling of the subject matter at hand. My thoughts are that out of the two, Green Book was the safer choice for an Academy, who desperate to show they are moving with the times, couldn’t quite be persuaded to award their highest prize of the year to a film that could be considered a political hot potato in the current landscape. Likewise, moving with the times is one thing, but awarding a black and white, non American language, made not for Cinema film Best Picture also proved to be a step too far for the Academy to take on this occasion, as pre-tournament favourite, and Netflix produced, Roma also missed out on the biggest prizes I personally am ok with this, I admired the astounding beauty of the film but I needed a bit more to convince me that I would need to watch it again or root for it as the overall best film. The Director and Cinematography gongs that it took home were hugely justified.

Ok, before I go on, I have a confession to make, I haven’t seen The Favourite yet, and will hopefully catch up with it before the week is out but I have seen the rest of the Best Picture nominations. My vote would have gone to the previously mentioned Blackkklansman and I would have also picked Adam Driver in Best Supporting Actor over Mahershala Ali, who was great in Green Book, but Driver kept me guessing as to which way his character was going right up to the very end of that film and I found it a completely magnetic performance.

So onto the ceremony itself, dogged with controversy before a limousine even pulled up to the red carpet, with a host in Kevin Hart first being hired then fired, a decision to not let all the Best Original Song nominees perform on the night, which was partially rescinded (4 out of the 5 had a warble), the decision to not let last years winners announce this years winners in the acting categories, again rescinded, and the daddy of them all………….a decision to not present all 24 categories on air, with 4 being moved to advert breaks. This last one was beyond ridiculous and was a potential smack in the mouth of the nominees and winners of those categories. The Academy was coming across as quite Orwellian with its “all categories are equal, yet some are more equal than others”. Thankfully, once again common sense prevailed and all were to be given their moment and rightly so. These people may not get to sit on the front row but its because of them that certain people do get to sit in the VIP seats.

So I was a little nervous before the ceremony started with no host, I personally think Jimmy Kimmel had done a solid job in the last 2 years and would have had no qualms with him getting the hat-trick, alas it became the job nobody wanted or seemed fit to do. With memories of Snow White fuelled nightmares of when last time the Academy went hostless being shown relentlessly on YouTube, the biggest gamble the Academy had made in 30 years was about to be unleashed on the audience.

And what an unleashing. If you going to go big, then go in BIG. Queen, with Adam Lambert, roared onto the stage, blasting the ear wax out of a possibly unsuspecting crowd with renditions of stadium rock anthems We Will Rock You and We Are the Champions. The crowd in the auditorium and, I suspect watching at home, embraced this cacophony of rock as the complete antithesis of the comedic monologue, Javier Bardem, in particular, was not holding back headbanging away as if he was in the back seat of the Murph Mobile behind Wayne and Garth. So far so good for the new look Academy Awards.

Once everyone had found their breath and their seats again, we got on with the more traditional act of actually handing out awards. First on stage was the comedy SNL triumvirate of Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and Maya Rudolph, who briefly raised the hope on the watching audience that the Academy had cunningly bluffed us all and had indeed secretly lined up a host or hosts. Oh and what a treat that would be, anyone who has watched Fey and Poehlers 3 opening monologues (or is a duologue if two are doing it) at the Golden Globes would know they would be outstanding hosts. Here they didn’t disappoint, firing off some zingers including a great gag about Netflix and how it was possible that their microwave would make a movie next year.

As soon as Ali was announced as Best Supporting Actor, they left the stage with him and that was that. However what followed was a host of mainly young, upcoming stars from a diverse range of backgrounds from the quite brilliant Awkafina and John Mulaney, who made my favorite joke of the night when he remarked at his first Oscars. “I want these people to like me to a degree I find embarrassing,”  to the strange choice of Serena Williams who didn’t look that happy to be there.

I did miss a few of the more traditional faces, I always like to see some of the legends being themselves and there wasn’t a lot of that this year. Michael Keaton turned up halfway through to present Best Editing and seemed almost like an imposter surrounded by all these young upstarts. Having said that the irrepressible Barbara Streisand almost stole the show and actually did steal Richard E Grant’s heart as she sassed onto the stage to deliver a speech on behalf of Blackkklansman. Further to this Bette Midler charmed audiences everywhere when she sang “Where the Lost Things Go” from Mary Poppins returns with enough Diva gesturing to ensure that the Old School charm of Oscar was simmering away nicely in the background.

The highlight of the night, however, was to come when Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga sent the audience, literally Gaga with a spellbinding renditon of soon to be crowned Best Original Song winner, Shallows from A Star is Born. Its a big song at the best of times but to perform like that on the Biggest stage surrounded by peers was possibly the one moment that will be talked about for decades to come.

I always look forward to the In Memoriam section of the Oscars, not because I take any great pleasure in those lost, but usually because it is a quiet moment of reflection and is often the emotional heartbeat of the ceremony. This year was no different as the faces of those lost, some I knew, some I didn’t played across the huge screen accompanied this year by the conductor Gustavo Dudamel who guided the Los Angeles Philharmonic, through John Williams “Leaving Home” from Superman. This poignant moment, especially when Margot Kidder appeared really captured the solemnity of this section. As is the case most years, there is always omissions, and whilst I know the Academy can’t include everyone, Gary Kurtz should have been there. I’ll give the Academy the benefit of the doubt with Stanley Donan having only passed in the last couple of days.

Back to the awards, and finally some recognition for Spike Lee’s outstanding contribution to modern American Cinema with his Best Adapted Screenplay for Blackkklansman. Presented by Samuel L Jackson, who’s personal impartiality (rightly) went out of the window when his cheer echoed around the auditorium. Lee went on to make a speech about love, unity and ensuring the correct choice was made in 2020. He even dropped the F-Bomb for good measure which has largely gone unreported. Lee’s involvement in proceedings, however, wasn’t to end with this award.

The leading Actor awards, which were nailed on last year when Frances McDormand and Gary Oldman surprised no one with their wins last year really did provide the shocks this year. The often, unfairly, maligned Rami Malek won for Bohemian Rhapsody ahead of favourite Christian Bale and gave a quite wonderful speech, and Olivia Coleman brought the house down when triumphing over the perennial bridesmaid Glenn Close for her turn in The Favourite. Coleman could not have been more British in her speech, self-deprecating, witty, and the emotions just about kept hold of. She truly was a phenomenal winner on the night (I haven’t seen the film yet) but there was a little bit of heartbreak for Glenn, who I know will win one day.

Alfonso Cuaron took Best Director, as many predicted, which seemed to confirm the bookies number one pick of Roma to be crowned as Best Picture winner. But no, this most unusual of Oscar ceremonies had one more rabbit in the hat. And the Oscar went too……………..GREEN BOOK. Cue wild delirium by the Green Book posse, cue Spike Lee attempting to leave the auditorium before being ushered back into his seat. It is highly likely that the newly introduced preferential voting system, where members rank the films 1-8 as opposed to just picking their favoured film, will have seen Green Book over the line, but if that’s what it took, that’s what it took.

The lack of host only really showed we didn’t have a host at this point, with Julia Roberts having to lean into the microphone, whilst the Green Book party began to warm up, to tell everyone that “erm well that’s it everyone, go home now” or words to that effect.

Once again another year is over. I really enjoyed the show, I always do, I missed some of the magic, I love a good “lump in the throat” montage (see the YouTube clip below for an example from last year) but again I saw the celebration, I don’t think the Best Film of last year won, that was clearly A Quiet Place which wasn’t even nominated, but they rarely do win. All I know we now live in an age where Spike Lee is an Academy Award Winner and Olivia Colman has become the most unassuming Biggest Star on the Planet. Till next year folks.

A long time ago in a little old cinema in Bolton

Image result for Cannon Cinema Bolton 1980s
Cannon Cinema Bolton, circa 1996

I believe I had been to the Cinema before, possibly to see some Disney re-issues such as Snow White and Bambi, I have a vague recollection of seeing the long since forgotten Disney “classic” The Spaceman and King Arthur in about 1980, but despite growing up to truly appreciate the majesty of Snow White and Bambi, as a 3-year-old, they didn’t at the time leave much of an impression. Fast forward 2 years and my life was to be changed, forever thanks to a trip to the building captured in the above photo (albeit the photo is taken many years later).

There were 2 Cinemas in Bolton back in the early 1980s, the aforementioned Canon Cinema and the imposingly impressive Odeon seen below,

Odeon Bolton
The Odeon Cinema in Bolton circa 1962 before scandalously being turned into a Bingo Hall in 1983

The Odeon shut down in 1983, and the building became a Bingo Hall later that year. I’m sure I went to the Odeon as a kid, maybe to watch Superman 2 and I remember thinking this was the Cinema to be at. Behind the doors of this strong, obstinate stone edifice, adventures and high thrills were turned from imagination to actual moving images on a screen so big it surely could be seen from some of these distant galaxies that I would be exploring inside the walls.

I started infant School, as a 4 year old, in January 1982, in those days they always had 2 intakes into the School year so as not to frighten the kids with Summer birthdays like me into having to deal with the politics that came with being in infant school when you had only just turned 4. I had settled in quite well and had made a good friend who I will refer to as Cozi. I seem to recall Cozi would often go on about a film called Star Wars and how it was an adventure set in Space and had lots of creatures in it including a giant walking bear. I probably was more concerned at the time with which disguise Mr. Benn would pick on his next trip to the costume shop near to his home on Festive Lane.

Then one day I remember my dad coming home from work and announcing that the Cinema in Bolton was showing both Star Wars and something called The Empire Strikes Back as a double bill (whatever that is) and that we were going to watch it. Ok, that sounds fun I thought and went straight back to wondering whether Mr. Benn would ever pick that Wizard costume that he was seen wearing on the opening titles.

I had almost forgotten about the trip until it actually happened, I don’t recall the journey to town, I couldn’t tell you whether it was by car or train, I couldn’t tell you what the weather was like, I can’t even recall what time of day it was, but I can tell you the disappointment I felt as we approached the Cannon Cinema and not the Odeon. The Odeon looked like it would protect you from a Nuclear Blast, it looked like the sort of place that will comfortably shield you from an apocalypse whilst you were in there. There were steps leading up to its front door for crying out loud, only important buildings had those. No, we were at the tiny Cannon cinema, that looked like a row of shops on a busy main road. So naff did it look from outside that next door to its left was a wig shop, its there on the photo above, with its blue parasol covering its window. Hmm, yes it was fair to say I was slightly underwhelmed. However this was all about to change, the lack of curb appeal was going to be instantly forgotten.

Next to the wig shop was a rectangular perspex picture frame jutting out from the wall. It had little fairy lights around its perimeter, it looked all sparkly and twinkly, my 4-year-old eyes were drawn to it like a homing beacon from a mothership sending me a signal. As I stole a glance at it, I noticed a picture, of an imposing, monstrous man in black armour with a red sword literally reaching out of the picture frame to me. Flanked on either side of him, was a collection of otherworldly characters, including what looked like the giant Bear that Cozi had been going on about. There seemed to be a lot of action going on here, people with laser guns, a man who looked like a gold robot, spaceships and in the middle of it all, large white writing of the words STAR WARS on the left and THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK on the right. I remember staring at this poster and my imagination ran wild, I can remember vividly taking a step back and turning my young head, skyward all the way to the top of this no longer, tiny looking building.

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Double bill poster similar to the one I remember from outside the Cannon Cinema in 1982.


Next to the poster was another silver frame with fairy lights around its edging. This one had the teasing words “Coming Soon” in gold lettering just above it. In this poster, less is given away as intriguingly there was a picture of a young boy’s arm reaching across a starry backdrop to touch fingers with a spindly, brown and bony finger, over two brilliant bright letters which simply read E.T.

So in we went. Into the foyer with its plush red carpets, that seemed strangely sticky, I remember having to queue whilst an usher checked tickets with my dad and then in front of them, there appeared to be a person selling sweets and OMG, Minstrels!!!!. Hey, this place is alright, they sold Minstrels. There was an odd smell in the air, one I’d never experienced before and in the corner, I could see a glass box with a bright light shining down into it. Within that box was a form of wizardry that I had never dared imagine. Hundreds of little yellow creatures were bouncing up and down at an incredible rate. It looked at first as if they were trying to escape their glass prison but on closer inspection, they appeared to be jumping on a giant trampoline.

It was at this point that the Cannon Cinema in Bolton revealed one of its wondrous, magical secrets. As stated earlier the non-descript, plain, almost boring front of the cinema, gave little to no indication of the magic that was on offer. The double bill was to be shown on Screen 2, the jewel in the Cannon Cinema’s darkened, velvet crown. To get to Screen 2 though was a journey in itself as the Cinema revealed it’s Tardis-like interior, with corridor after corridor, staircase after staircase, my four-year-old legs felt they had walked to this fabled Galaxy far far away. We had reached the bottom of the stairs that would turn out to be the final ascent.

The following 10 seconds were going to have a monumental effect on the rest of my life, I remember walking up the steps that opened out to what seemed like a landing with half a wall. On approach to this half wall I could peer over it, and there it was, bathed in warm red, a huge stage and a colossal red curtain, with furrowed pleats, being lit by uplighters that despite having the power of a 10 watt bulb managed to cast the right amount of light and shade to instantly set the heart racing. What was behind that curtain? Before this stage, but beyond this half wall there was row upon row of maroon seats all facing the red curtain, all bathed in this omnipresent red glow. As we reached the top of the stairs, my dad led us to the right and I saw that there was the same amount of seats again in the top half of this cavernous room. We headed up some more steps to the right of the main ones we had just come up and about 3 rows up found our seats.

The seats had to be pulled down to sit on, this was indeed very exciting. I did what all 4-year-old boys would do at this point and launched my bottom to the back of the seat forcing it to bow at its hinges forcing my knees up into the air, as I giddily swung back and forward, much to the chagrin no doubt of my parents and the other patrons in the row behind me. I remember seeing a short scorch mark in the armrest of the chair, probably from a cigarette from a previous showing, I glanced around and saw the dark walls capturing whatever glow they could from the red curtain, reaching into the heavens and then the ceiling filled with dozens of twinkly stars, which of course turned out to be fairy lights and not a privileged insight into the Universe that was about to start in about 10 minutes. The only other light in the room came from the soft glow green lettering of the EXIT signs at the front of the auditorium. I had been in this room for less than 2 minutes and I already wondered why anyone would want to EXIT.

Now bearing in mind this was double bill I was probably destined to sit here for the next 4/5 hours which for a 4-year-old is quite an ask, so I imagine that toilet breaks did occur, I’m sure there must have been some respite between the two films but I don’t remember that detail.

After a while, once everyone was settled into their seats, the lights started to dim, the room was already dark but now it was plunging us into a pitch black environment save for the red curtain and the green EXIT signs, it was the type of dark that when you look to the right to see your parents you can only make out the fact that they are there, but you can’t see them.

Then there was a sound I will never, ever forget. There was a whir and a distant squeak and right before my young impressionable eyes the giant red curtain started to part and the biggest TV screen I had ever laid eyes on was revealed. It was a brilliant white light that illuminated the room, I turned round to take in the whole room and saw that this brilliant light was coming in a straight line from a tiny square hole at the back of the room. Millions of tiny dust particles danced merrily in its beam as this powerful, Alien-type ray fired at the screen. Then the screen almost crackled into life with a large black circular cue mark firing into the top left-hand corner of the screen. I don’t recall exactly what happened next, but no doubt we were treated to 10 minutes of adverts for Butterkist Popcorn and a man riding a surfboard in order to sell us Old Spice aftershave.

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Old Spice…….for Old Men
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Butterkist, Butterkist Rah Rah Rah!!!!

There was possibly trailers but I don’t recall any, being 1982, there may have been one for that young boy who seemed to have a friend with a very bony, brown arm set against a backdrop of stars and forests. That be as it may, I do recall my mum nudging me to let me know that it was about to start. That briefest of moments of total silence as the adverts/trailers ends and the collective throng impatiently wonder, is this finally the film.

Now I don’t know if this is just me, and I sure as hell don’t wish to brag, but I have always had this uncanny ability to remember my thoughts and feelings on certain films from the first time I saw them, even if I have seen, as is the case with Star Wars, the same film hundreds of times since. I can remember even 35 years later my thoughts and imaginations of the first time I saw it. I remember clear as a bell the pale blue lettering that appeared on the black screen ” A long time ago in a galaxy far far away…..” and then……….. BANG!!!!!! As if every brass instrument in the known universe struck up in unison, I shot about 15 foot into the air as the Yellow Stenciled Star Wars logo flashed before my eyes for the very first time. For the second time in a little over 20 minutes, life changed forever.

Then followed the crawl that seemed to come from the basement and pass off into some unknown galactical heaven never to be returned. (I used to wonder as a child whether some random space probe, out for a probe, would wander past those words and nonchalantly nod and say good morning to them as they passed). I do remember my mum breaking every cinema code violation, but for good reason, by leaning over and reading the words of the crawl to me, I was only 4 so give me a break and besides what the hell was a custodian? I recall thinking that Princess Leia’s ship was called the Custodian for many a year.

Once the crawl had a bid a fond farewell to the audience, the camera scans down to reveal Tatooine in all its golden glory as John Williams swells to an imposing conclusion of his magnum opus theme tune. Then BOOM, the Tantive IV bursts across our screens, arriving without warning from behind our heads. Where are they heading? Are they being chased? Oh, you bet your ass they are being chased?

Of all the life-changing moments that I have described happening to me in this somewhat brief 20-25 minute window into my infant life, the next one is possibly the one moment in my life, if you take away all the truly important and memorable such as family, my wedding the birth of my children, that still fills me with a comforting warm glow that will stay with me forever. As the Tantive IV sets off on its doomed journey across our screen, it struck me, something was firing laser beams. If you remember earlier I talked about a square hole at the back of the room that was shooting this brilliant white beam across the auditorium, well from inside that square hole now emerged the most glorious of all sights. An Imperial Star Destroyer spread across the screen, like a giant mountain rising out of a darkened ocean. It was bigger than enormous, it was bigger than humongous, it was the size of heaven and it glided across the screen with such ominous grace that the whole cinema was caught in its tractor beam-like aura. When was it ever going to stop? Was it ever going to stop? I sure hoped not.

Now I don’t plan to go through the entire film scene by scene but as mentioned a moment earlier I will point out the distinct thoughts and feelings that I know I had when I watched Star Wars for the very first time. I remember being really nervous when Obi-Wan first scared off the Sand People as he seemed to be a Jawa and I wasn’t mad keen on them after what they had done to R2 and 3PO. I distinctly remember thinking that Dr. Evazan was going to be a nice guy the way he almost apologetically starts with “he doesn’t like you….”. I remember the whole cinema laughing when Han told Luke “that’s great kid, now don’t get cocky” and furthermore when he asked the Falcon “come on baby, hold together”. I remember feeling that Chewbacca (the big bear) was going to rip C3PO to shreds when R2 goes into a probably unassailable lead in a game of Dejarik. I remember being scared of the trash compactor monster when it popped its beady eye out from beneath the garbage for the briefest of cameos. I remember feeling sad when SPOILER ALERT Obi-Wan sacrificed himself against Vader, and strangely even sadder when SPOILER ALERT Biggs gets taken out by Vader whilst he was hanging back, just far enough, to cover Luke during their attack run on the Death Star.

What I remember the most however was a feeling of absolute euphoria as Han squealed YAHOO! as the Falcon blasts one of the two Tie-Fighters off Luke’s tale forcing the second Tie Fighter to knock Vader out of position leaving Luke all clear to blow that thing and go home. I remember distinctly Vader spinning out into Space and realising there and then that he wasn’t dead and would probably come back, that in itself was as enticing a prospect as a young usher stood at the front of the auditorium with her mobile ice cream stall suspended from her shoulders in preparation for the interval that was moments away.

Then Star Wars finished and I can only assume there was a period of say half an hour maybe between films. I do remember the ice cream seller and I do remember the similar, yet different yellow scrawl that started off the film. Here’s the thing, I was 4 and had already sat for 2 hours, was I going to make it through another 2+ hours. I still have memories of watching Empire on that occasion but they are not as vivid as Star Wars. Maybe I did fall asleep, which is unlikely, I was never a particularly good sleeper at the best of times and this was definitely the best of times. I put it down to familiarity. We were the last family on the street to own a video recorder and Star Wars was on the TV every year at Christmas, but not Empire, we had to wait until Christmas 1988 to see that one. We got a video player that year and I remember being incredibly frustrated that Empire was on ITV at the same time as BBC 1 were showing Back to the Future, you could only record one, and I was outvoted 4 to 1. Anyway, I digress.

So there was a 6-year gap between viewings of Empire Strikes Back which as a youngster obsessed with Star Wars was a lifetime. I recall the film being set on an ice planet but couldn’t tell you too much about that. I remember vividly the asteroid field I do remember being shocked that Yoda turned out to be well Yoda, I definitely remember the sequence in the cave where Luke battled Vader and Luke’s face appeared in the damaged Vader mask, probably down to the excellent design of that scene, there were times in the following years where I wondered whether I had dreamed that scene. I remember finding out that Darth Vader was bald, I remember Cloud City and meeting Lando, I remember Han being frozen in carbonite and the Luke versus Vader conflict, but in my head that all happened out on the platform where Vader cut off Luke’s hand and revealed the big twist that I shan’t spoil for anyone here who hasn’t seen the film yet.

When watching it again in 1988 I had no recollection of the space slug, the bounty hunters, the Ugnaughts or even that Obi-Wan was in the film.

The overriding memories of that day, however, were that I was sat in a truly magical place, a building so unassuming on the outside, but a purveyor of fascinating gifts on the inside. My love of Cinema was born that day and it has never left, I still get a tingle of excitement when I walk through the door into the room and see that giant screen in front of me. It is a privilege to live in a time when I am witness to such groundbreaking art that is designed primarily to entertain and make people happy. That trip to the cinema made me realise that whenever things are looking a little bit gloomy that the imaginations of the likes of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg to name just two are an invitation to relax and be thrilled in the various wonders that they put on the screen for our pleasure.

Dom

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Postscript, – as is the way of things, both the Cinemas mentioned above have long since gone, the Odeon building, which has ceased to be a cinema in 1983 and turned into a Bingo Hall until 2004 was demolished in February 2007. The Cannon Cinema survived until 1998 with a special screening of Casablanca marking its last ever show. The building laid empty for years before being demolished in 2006 to be replaced by a block of flats called Picture House.