On Screens for May: Lean on time, epic in no way: Lawrence of Arabia’s of a dying breed

Normally by the time the Oscars come around, you’ve seen at least half of them. And that’s normally by the end of February. But this time around, in late-April, we had to take the Academy’s word for it that its shortlist were any good. Beyond Mank and The Trial of Chicago 7, which were both released on Netflix late last year, it’s been pretty much impossible to see any of them.

I dunno, the Oscars … they’ve kind of lost their way. The number of Best Film nominees has doubled, but the quality has halved. Some say the selection is better, like more diverse, but the award show’s ratings suggest fewer people are interested. It kind of reminds me of one of my biggest gripes: experts advising me to tailor newspapers to people who don’t read newspapers.

Length always counts
Truth is that an Oscar nomination used to provide you with a guarantee the film would be substantial – and while that would normally apply to budget and worthiness, my primary concern was running length because I tend to trust in long films. It’s hard to make a film of significant consequence in under two hours, but that’s the average length of most nominees over the last decade.

In the 1990s, the average length of a nominee was 154.5 minutes – to save you looking it up, the first Lord of the Rings film was in 2001 – a ten-year period only surpassed by 1956-1965, when the average length was 162.8 minutes. Mr Lean was anything but on his running times!

In around 2015, a rot started to set in. Shorter films, across a wider selection of genres, were being favoured. Suddenly the ordinary were being billed as extraordinary. For films released in 2017, I thought only two were exceptional (Dunkirk and Lady Bird), and for 2018, just one: Roma. The winner for that year, Green Book, represents a nadir I hope won’t be revisited, as 2019 sparkled in comparison.

The next month or so will confirm whether 2020 has continued with the recovery – it must have been hard with corona. But seriously, the aforementioned two I’ve seen so far have been routine, but little more. In truth, when Mank ended I wondered if I had somehow slept through the exciting bits. I hadn’t.

Decent opening day
Thanks to the closure of the country’s, and most of the world’s, cinemas until May 6, there’s an avalanche of Academy fodder heading our way, starting with Minari (89 on Metacritic), Nomadland (93), Sound of Metal (82) and Promising Young Woman (73) on opening day.

All four look highly promising, although you’d suspect history is going to be kinder to Minari and Sound of Metal due to their technical excellence.

Nobody likes a perennial winner, and it seems kind of unfair that Frances McDormand has received three Best Actress Oscar nominations (albeit with three supporting nods) and won the lot, while Glenn Close has four (with four more supporting) and never got a scrap (although Nicolas Cage’s is apparently up for sale so he can buy himself a decent role).

But when you weigh it up, we should all be saluting McDormand’s success. That an ordinary looking woman has done so well in an industry dominated by the ethereal is a triumph. If you don’t like McDormand, you’re probably just lookist, although a strong case can be argued that she’s had nepotistic favour from her husband Joel Coen, as he provided her first two screen credits.

Guy Richie and other crap
So what else can we look forward to coming out over the next three weeks?
Also hitting the screens on May 6 are Chaos Walking (38), Godzilla vs King (59) and Once were Brothers (61) – the latter being an average documentary about the musical career of Robbie Robertson and The Band, who are credited with being the originators of the Americana genre. Furthermore, Robertson is Martin Scorsese’s biggest music collaborator.

From May 12, we have Blackbird (53), which is a remake of the Danish film Stille hjerte, The War with Grandpa (34), The High Note (58), Guy Richie’s latest offering Wrath of Man (Not Released Worldwide), which stars Jason Statham as a heist specialist, and Spiral: From the Book of Saw (NRW), the ninth instalment of the franchise, this time starring Chris Rock as Samuel L Jackson’s shady son.

And then from May 20, we’ve got Ammonite (72), Mortal Kombat (44), Nobody (63), The Unholy (36) and The United States vs Billie Holiday (52), for which Andra Day was Oscar-nominated for the lead role.

Romantic drama Ammonite pairs Kate Winslet with Saoirse Ronan – a love affair between a palaeontologist and a geologist, but it’s not as dull as it sounds. Equally unlikely is the casting of Bob Odenkirk (Saul from Breaking Bad) as an action hero in Nobody, but he’s up to the task, according to the reviews.

Lose yourself in Kate’s world
Winslet is in the pick of the TV series doing the rounds at the moment, Mare of Easttown (81; HBO Nordic, since April 19), but while she hasn’t been this good for a while, it’s the convincing small town setting and characters that make it stand out from other similar series.

A close pick is the miniseries The Serpent (59; Netflix, since April 2). Given its popularity, its watchability is hardly a secret, although its low rating is more related to its narcissistic central character’s unpleasantness and happiness they’ve made a series about him, than its quality.

Shadow and Bone (71; Netflix since April 23) and The Nevers (58; HBO Nordic since April 12) look a bit childish, but clearly have their fans. Love Life (54; HBO Nordic from May 28) is also an acquired taste, mostly depending on whether you can stomach Anna Kendrick agonising over lots of guys.

Returning series include Pose (S3; May 3), In Treatment (S4; May 24), The Chi (S3; May 24), Black Monday (S3; May 24), The Handmaid’s Tale (S4; April 29) and the adorable Mr In Between (S3; April 26) on HBO Nordic, along with The Kominsky Method (S3; May 28) on Netflix.

If there is a potential binge-fest out there, it’s the Polish series Sexify (Netflix from April 28) – a Kinsey for the online generation, which looks like it’s been decently made. So if you watched 365 Days for even 365 microseconds, expect Netflix to bombard you with 365 recommendations a day until you see it.