We’re heading in to one of the most exciting times of year for movie goers. With the films most hotly tipped for awards about to open in cinemas across the country, we spoke to film programmer Jake Harvey from Phoenix Cinema and Arts Centre about what that means for you, and what he recommends that you catch before the trophies are handed out next year…

I gather you’ve already seen a few of the hotly tipped films prior to release – what’s the process from the films being announced to us seeing them in Phoenix?

“Although it’s pretty impossible to see everything, I try to see as much as possible of what we show at Phoenix through Screening Days organised by the Independent Cinema Office, festivals, plus screener copies and links sent through to me by distributors. Bigger films tend to play at festivals like Cannes, Toronto, LFF and Berlin in advance of their release. Distributors then decide when to release their films in different territories, right now it is great for Phoenix as we’re entering the awards corridor where all the OSCAR / BAFTA contenders are released so there’s an abundance of great movies that are also getting a lot of press so people know about them. Cinemas then book films in depending on what they think will work best for them, and in doing so you agree various things like length of run, terms of contract, how much a percentage of the box office you’ll pay distributor, and whether you will show it ‘all shows’ i.e. every available screening slot or ‘splits’ where you can show multiple films in the same screen. All shows is difficult for smaller cinemas with less screens as it ties up a whole screen for weeks!”

What criteria do you work on for making your choices for Phoenix’s programme?

“I always think of our audience when considering films to screen. It’s easy to get carried away and just show films that you want to watch, but that’s not a programmer’s job. You have to think about what others will love, what they’ll hate, what will challenge them… I generally have a gut feeling for what is going to do well at Phoenix and what won’t  (I’m not right all the time) and what we can take a chance on. For the strands of programme we do like 35mm club, Cinema Bizarre, Essential Cinema, Mystery Film – it’s about opening the huge history and world of film and giving some neat little access points for the audience to discover things they wouldn’t see otherwise.”

ARRIVAL

“Great piece of grown-up sci-fi from Denis Villeneuve the director of Prisoners and Sicario (even though the naff trailer makes it look like an Independence Day knock-off). Amy Adams is a linguist recruited to try and communicate with aliens after they suddenly arrive on Earth. What’s so good about it is that while there are the tropes of huge space-craft etc, it’s really about humanity and how we act to each other, the cruelty of our short lives on Earth and how we work as a species. I don’t think Villeneuve has been nominated for an Oscar yet which is daft as his work is always brilliantly controlled. With his sequel to Blade Runner due next year, it would ease people’s worries about it if he was nominated or won for a cerebral sci-fi film!”

MANCHESTER BY THE SEA

“This film reduced me to a sobbing wreck and I want Casey Affleck to win every award going. It’s about Lee, a janitor in Boston who’s forced to look after his teenage nephew after his father (Lee’s brother) dies. It’s a stunning film, humane and overwhelmingly moving – thinking about it later hits you just as hard. The supporting cast is great and the director’s previous film Margaret was criminally overlooked so I hope people go to see this one.”

LA LA LAND

“In contrast to Manchester by the Sea, La La Land just put a big dopey grin on my face and I wanted to clap all the way through it. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone play an aspiring jazz club owner and an aspiring actress who are kind of thrown together and then try to stay together as life and work get in the way. It’s a musical that makes you laugh and breaks your heart. From the director of Whiplash, it feels like an old classic Gene Kelly / MGM musical but with a modern twist, it might sweep everything at the Oscars.”

MOONLIGHT 

“The indie sensation, Moonlight gathered huge buzz on the festival circuit and opened to a record breaking limited release in America. The second film from Barry Jenkins, Moonlight follows the life of a young black man in Miami as he grows up, struggling with his sexuality and trying to find his own place in the world. With the #OscarsSoWhite controversy last year, the academy seemed to be placing their hopes on Nate Parker’s Birth of a Nation – a film now mired in controversy and a lukewarm reception. Here’s hoping Moonlight can represent black film and black talent both in front of and behind the camera, but it will be a shame if it’s the only film flying that flag.”

LOVING

“One of the films I’m most excited about seeing, Loving is based on the true story of Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial couple who were sentenced to prison in Virginia in 1958 for getting married. I’m a big fan of the director Jeff Nichols (Midnight Special, Mud, Take Shelter) and by all accounts Loving is brilliant, anchored by the lead performances of Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton as Mildred and Richard.”

HACKSAW RIDGE 

“Or The Redemption of Mel Gibson. It seems that Hollywood is willing to forgive Gibson for past incidents as there is a lot of buzz and critical praise for his new film. Based on a true story, Andrew Garfield stars as a pacifist who joins WWII intending to never fire a shot but do his bit for America by working as a medic on the frontline. It looks incredible, Gibson has always had an eye for commanding viscera and despite what many think ,he is an effective director with a knack for thrilling battle scenes. I’d expect award nods for best actor, best film and director.”

Jake’s Oscar Winner Predictions

BEST ACTRESS
Nominated: Ruth Negga, Annette Bening (20th Century Women), Amy Adams, Emma Stone, Natalie Portman (Jackie)
Winner: Ruth Negga

BEST ACTOR
Nominated: Ryan Gosling, Denzel Washington (Fences) Casey Affleck, Tom Hanks (Sully), Andrew Garfield.

Winner: Casey Affleck

SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Nominated: Naomie Harris (Moonlight), Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures), Michelle Williams (Manchester by the Sea), Nicole Kidman (Lion), Viola Davis (Hidden Figures)

Winner: Naomie Harris

SUPPORTING ACTOR
Nominated: Mahershala Ali (Moonlight), Jeff Bridges (Hell of High Water), Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea), Liam Neeson (Silence), Hugh Grant (Florence Foster Jenkins)

Winner: Hugh Grant

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Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Great Central, John has been actively involved in Leicester’s creative community for over a decade – promoting shows and releasing records under the name Robot Needs Home. He is a director of Handmade Festival, and ex member of the band Maybeshewill.

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