Advent song for December 3: She Won’t Be Home (Lonely Christmas)

Sometimes I think Erasure might be my favourite band of all, even though I’d never heard this song until I started looking for 1980s Christmas songs. This was the fourth track on the 1988 EP that you will mostly remember for Stop!, which is one of the best pop songs ever ever ever. This doesn’t quite live up to that billing, but it’s still awesome.

Have you ever seen Erasure live? I never have, which seems like a terrible oversight. Next time they’re playing, let’s all go.

Advent song for December 2: Christmas Was A Friend Of Mine

Not a seasonal edition of the Killers classic, but something even better: a 1981 single from Dutch singer and composer Fay Lovsky, who is as cool in real life as she looks in this video, having written music for various films and shorts, played all the most interesting festivals and worked with Joni Mitchell, Simon and Garfunkel, Jona Lewie and Sven Radzke, among others. She also plays the musical saw, the ukulele and the theramin.

This is a better clue than yesterday’s song was to this year’s theme, which is Christmas Songs Of The Nineteen Eighties. Some you will know, some you won’t, all are excellent. Was the eighties the best decade for Christmas songs? Almost certainly, with acknowledgments and apologies to glam rockers of yore.

Every man’s worst nightmare: It’s Oscar time!

Well, that was a peculiar year, wasn’t it? No less so in Hollywoodland and environs than anywhere else, and although most of the films in contention for the 93rd Academy Awards were made in pre-Covid times, pretty much all of them have been released in the context of a global pandemic, which means the publicity circuits, audience buzz, box office takings and everything else that tells us in a normal year how well a film has been received are all shot to pieces. What I’m saying is that yes, I may only have seen half of the Best Picture candidates this year (Nomadland, The Father and Minari don’t have a UK release yet and even in lockdown I have better things to do than watch Mank), but if I get even more of my predictions wrong than usual it’s not completely my fault.

Let me get the categories about which I have zero idea over and done with quickly: the only one of the International Picture contenders I have seen is Another Round, but as it’s the one that’s certainly going to win, because Academy members have heard of Mads Mikkelson and will have made the effort to watch the film he’s in, even if they haven’t gotten around to all the others, that’s OK. I’ve gone one better with the documentary categories – Feature and Short – where I haven’t managed to see any of the nominees, and only partly because I spent most of April too ill to do anything but sleep, read and eat soup (I’m almost recovered now, thank you for asking). So I’ll go with a combination of bookies’ odds and experts’ views and plump for My Octopus Teacher for feature and Love Song For Latasha for short.

Soul will win for both Original Score and Animated Feature, but it doesn’t have a nomination in Original Song, which I expect to go to Leslie Odom Jr for Speak Now from One Night In Miami, because everybody loves Leslie Odom Jr and everybody loves Regina King, whose film it is, and I don’t think it’s going to win either of the other categories it’s nominated in (Supporting Actor and Adapted Screenplay).

I had a good time with this year’s Live Action shorts, but I can’t see the winner being anything other than Travon Free’s Two Distant Strangers which as well as telling a timely and eloquent story does so with a wit and a flair that doesn’t always make it into “issue-led” pieces.

I had what I’m going to call a reasonable time with the Animated Shorts, two of which are made by Pixar alumni and one of which, Erick Oh’s Opera, is such a dazzling technical achievement that I think it probably should win, but my pick instead is If Anything Happens I Love You which, although it has more than a hint of Raymond Briggs about it, is nonetheless sharp and fresh and heartbreaking. It’s currently available on Netflix, as are Two Distant Strangers, My Octopus Teacher and Love Song For Latasha.

I’m devastated to have to tell you that the Sound categories have been combined into one this year, so that I can no longer take pride in explaining the difference between Sound Editing and Sound Mixing in a way that makes sense to nobody but me. There’s just one Sound prize now, and it will of course go to the film that’s all about sound; Darius Marder’s dazzling Sound Of Metal. In the other tech categories I am predicting Tenet for Visual Effects, Mank for Production Design, a double whammy for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom in both Hair and Makeup and Costume Design, and a nod to The Trial of the Chicago Seven for Editing. I haven’t seen Nomadland because it’s not landing in the UK for another week but I’m tipping it for Cinematography based on not very much more than the trailer:

Original Screenplay is a clear choice between Emerald Fennell’s Promising Young Woman and Aaron Sorkin’s The Trial Of The Chicago 7 but I think will go to the former on the basis that for the last couple of years Academy voters have seemed inclined to reward plucky experiments over accomplished rehashing of things we’ve already seen, and while TTOTC7 is a lot of fun, nothing about it is anything other than familiar. Adapted Screenplay is harder to call but everything I’ve seen makes me think this will be a winning year for Nomadland, here and elsewhere.

On to the big six! I am not expecting any surprises here, with supporting actress almost certain to go to Youn Yuh-jung for Minari on the basis that it’s a pretty lame list to begin with and even BAFTA ignored Olivia Colman in The Father, so there’s no chance Oscar won’t do likewise. Supporting actor is a stronger field, but Daniel Kaluuya‘s turn as Fred Hampton in Judas and the Black Messiah is so compelling that I think he’ll win overwhelmingly in this category, whatever Samuel L. Jackson says.

Actress is where I get stuck. Everybody loves Viola Davis, and she is terrific in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, but it’s not a great film: like Fences, another film adaptation of an August Wilson play in which Davis featured and did win the Oscar, it’s very obviously a play which doesn’t quite successfully translate to celluloid. And Andra Day is incredible as Billie Holiday but again, little else about the film has left an impression on the world at large. With apologies to Vanessa Kirby who is a very good actor but I think is right out of contention on this one, Frances McDormand and Carey Mulligan both have good cases for a win for Nomadland and Promising Young Woman respectively, but I’m leaning towards Carey Mulligan, and I can’t quite say why. This is the prediction I’m least sure about.

Another point against Viola Davis is that Chadwick Boseman will certainly win Best Actor for Ma Rainey, because even though it’s not a great film, it was his last and he is excellent in it and he is the superhero of Hollywood’s hearts and there’s just not a chance that this prize will go anywhere else, even though Riz Ahmed in Sound of Metal is revelatory, or would be if he isn’t always that good whatever you see him in.

The big two will, I think, go to Chloe Zhao and Nomadland, because the people who love it really love it, and nobody seems to hate it, which means people will have it floating around their top three and it will slip through ahead of Promising Young Woman, which some people hate, and The Father, which nobody loves. The only chance of an upset here is if The Trial of the Chicago 7 emulates its SAG Awards victory and takes Best Picture, which I think is possible but not probable.

I’m not staying up to watch tonight, so I will check in tomorrow and award myself points depending on how close I get, with a celebratory Monday night gin martini if I get the big six right. It’s not like I’ve got anything else to do.

Here’s the complete list:

PictureNomadland
DirectorEmma Zhao
ActorChadwick Boseman
ActressCarey Mulligan
Supporting ActorDaniel Kaluuya
Supporting ActressJoun Yuh-jung
Original ScreenplayPromising Young Woman
Adapted ScreenplayNomadland
CinematographyNomadland
Production DesignMank
EditingThe Trial of the Chicago 7
Costume DesignMa Rainey’s Black Bottom
Hair and Make upMa Rainey’s Black Bottom
VFXTenet
SoundSound of Metal
ScoreSoul
SongSpeak Now from One Night In Miami
International FeatureAnother Round
Animated FeatureSoul
Animated ShortIf Anything Happens, I Love You
Documentary FeatureMy Octopus Teacher
Documentary ShortLove Song For Latasha
Live Action ShortTwo Distant Strangers

Advent windows of Greenwich, part 3

My final set of photos includes a particularly bad snap of window number 17 at 32 Hyde Vale, which was one of my favourites but those houses are so grand and their front gardens so expansive that I couldn’t get close enough for a good shot. You might just have time to get along there yourself before the end of the day, but if not you’ll have to take my word for its being one of the best of all. (You could, of course, also go and look at the official photos on adventwindows.com.)

I don’t have time to go for a walk today because we have to squeeze in all the Christmas TV we haven’t caught up on yet, and finish all the Christmas food. Tomorrow, though, in a belated “new year, new you” bid, I am going for a swim at Charlton lido. Wish me luck.

Advent windows of Greenwich, part 2

I have a cast-iron excuse not to go for a walk today, because I am awaiting the arrival of a dog (only for the afternoon; in this case a dog is just for Christmas, not for life). In the meantime I am vaguely contemplating taking the tree down before it gives up the ghost completely and all the ornaments fall off, but I think I can eke it out until Monday, which is the day before I go back to work and therefore the proper day to take the decorations down and fill the house instead with early spring flowers – a tip I got from Richard Madeley, of course.

So today I think I’ll use up the Christmas cheeses on a Hawksmoor-recipe macaroni cheese (I have experimented with various recipes and this one is the best, although I will be using different cheeses from theirs and a mix of semi-skimmed milk and double cream rather than full-fat milk, because I have some of both to use up and it’s Christmas so everything should have double cream in it) and catch up on the TV Christmas Specials I have missed. If you don’t have anything more pressing, I suggest you do the same, but either way it’ll take you mere moments to enjoy advent windows 9-16, with apologies for the peculiar angle of day 10, which I couldn’t get closer to because an angry man was parked in front of it.

Advent windows of Greenwich, part 1

I was planning a new year’s day walk, but it’s just started to rain and there’s something on ITV called “Britain’s Favourite Walks” so I have decided that watching that, while writing this, also counts. I walked a lot in December; partly to try to regain some basic fitness after Covid left me unable to walk up a flight of stairs without getting breathless, and partly because every year St Alfege Church in Greenwich organises a series of advent windows, where a combination of residents, schools and businesses around the parish each decorate an outdoor window on their premises, with a new one “opening” each day from December 1 to 24, and I’ve meant to go every Christmas that we’ve lived in Greenwich and never gotten around to it until now.

My photos don’t do justice to all of the entries, but you’ll get the idea – and during a Christmas when we couldn’t meet up with other people or go to carol services or gather in the market with mulled wine and mince pies, it was a good way to feel a part of something communal, especially when I arrived at a window at the same time as someone else and we’d do the social-distancing dance.

If you are local you still just about have time to do the trail yourself, because the decorations will stay up until Sunday 3rd, but if like me you’re happy to stay warm and indoors and look at the evidence of someone else’s walk, here are days 1-8 of the windows, with the rest to follow in two more parts (probably over the weekend, but I don’t like to over-promise).

Advent activity #24

There is no instruction behind door number 24 on Edie’s advent calendar: it simply says IT’S CHRISTMAS EVE!, which is true. You probably have either much too much to get done today or nearly nothing to do at all, and in either case you can accompany the doing of it with a Christmas Eve playlist which I have made just for you. It’s a bit wistful in tone, which seems right for Christmas 2020, and it features four acoustic guitar tracks by Will Moore, who is also Edie’s dad (and my brother), which means we’re still sticking approximately to the theme.

The rest of the songs are ones you know (well, you’ll know them all, just not necessarily these versions) and we begin with the John Denver/Muppets version of Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, which is GUARANTEED to make you smile. The video is lovely and below, but listen on Spotify too because the sound quality is much better and the piano is beautiful . (I always said Rowlf was the most talented Muppet.)

Merry Christmas to you, and remember – one day soon we all will be together, if the fates allow; until then, we’ll have to muddle through somehow.

Advent activity #23

Today is our last BREAK day, which is good timing because everyone needs a break from time to time and I definitely needed one today, although I woke up feeling bright-eyed and cheerful for reasons I can’t necessarily explain but am not going to interrogate too deeply. Take it where you find it, that’s what I say.

And where we find it today is with everybody’s other favourite band: the wonderful Erasure, who have never done anything that wasn’t brilliant and perfect, and this rendition of Gaudete, a track previously featured on these pages in a better-known version by Steeleye Span, is no exception. Even better, it’s taken from a 2013 Christmas album, Snow Globe, which I can’t really believe I didn’t know about, but I also don’t think I did, and now I’m going to listen to the whole thing for the rest of the day. Rejoice!

Advent activity #22

In sharp – and if you are a believer in a supreme being, clearly intentional – contrast to yesterday, I had a horrible day today. But about halfway though it a wise friend reminded me that, as Tom Hanks advises us, this too shall pass. And it has, or at least the feeling-rubbish has passed, even though the situation that prompted it (which is very boring and money-related) is not yet entirely resolved.

I think I may have left it too late to MAKE CHRISTMAS CARDS FOR MUM AND DAD but I did post them one. I’m never sure whether the sending and receiving of Christmas cards is a thing that us Generation X-ers are supposed to be over, what with us all having multiple ways to talk to each other already and the obvious waste of paper, but it’s still magical to get something through the post that is hand-addressed to you and that isn’t boring, and so I am still doing it. If I didn’t send you a Christmas card this year it’s either because we don’t know each other or I don’t have your address, and in either case if you send it me I will gladly add you to my list for next year.

Anyway, at least we can have an on-point song here from formerly-biggest-star-in-the-world Jim Reeves. It even has bonus crackling vinyl noises, for additional old-timey pointage.