Oscar contenders help to warm the winter nights

It's that time of year again when winter passes the nadir of Blue Monday. The spendfest of Christmas has passed, the bills pour in and the nights refuse to draw out as the month drags on towards a long distant pay day.

Good reason then, to thank whoever decided this should be the season of Golden Globes, Baftas and Oscars which, in turn, dictate that the film industry begins jockeying for position in earnest.

It's time to hunker down in a plush velvet armchair, red wine glass in hand, throw an ugly stare at anyone caught talking or rustling sweet wrappers, offer up another shameless plug for the city's great Cinema City and leave the darkness outside for the darkness inside to watch this year's contenders slug it out.

There are plenty of good films shown at other times but the front runners seem to hold back on general release until about now; presumably so they can complete their runs flaunting their nominations and maximising audiences and takings.

None of which detracts from the fleeting pleasure of winter blues-beating and the smug satisfaction of taking a couch potato's part in the judging and the awards ceremonies. Let the contest commence as Ricky Gervais, Stephen Fry and Billy Crystal play the contending clips and open the golden envelopes to let slip the dogs of box office battle.


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With a score of three nominee finalists in little more than a week and another one or two from a bit earlier, I'm feeling a tad pleased with myself. It wasn't all plain sailing mind.

We need to talk about Kevin – the continuation of a disturbing cinematic progression that has given us If (the film, not the Kipling poem), Damien: Omen II and Bowling for Columbine – gets my vote for Best Actress in Tilda Swinton. Her portrayal of the purely evil Kev's bruised and abused mum really was something worth talking about.

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I know I'm swimming against the tide of opinion that has Meryl Streep's Thatcher as a shoe-in for that particular category but more of that later.

In the meantime, The Artist, a French silent (mainly) movie shot in black and white, is taking the early honours although the smart money says that come time for the Academy Awards, its appeal will have faded. By then, the Beverly Hills glitterati gathering at Hollywood's Kodak Theatre will have ceased being flattered that the movie is all about them and woken up to the realisation that it was made by their dreaded arch enemies, the Froggies.

Despite a plot that has more holes than the celluloid spools it appears to have been shot on, it is almost impossible not to be charmed by the film's star-turn, the Jack Russell Terrier trickster, Jack (watch for a perfectly executed backflip). Odd that it apparently has a Bafta nomination for sound though.

Another four-legged friend who didn't let anyone down was Joey, the title star of Warhorse. Michael Morpurgo's children's book that became a fabulous National Theatre production featuring genius puppetry and life size articulated horses now gets the full Spielberg treatment, made over with sentiment laid on with a trowel.

Joey's owner, cantankerous old farmer Ted Narracott is a Boer War veteran who doesn't talk about his discarded campaign medals (and is a dead ringer for Wishbone out of Rawhide for those old enough to remember). 'Why not?' asks son, and soon to be a hero himself, Albert of his mum Rose.

'Perhaps the bravest thing of all is not to be proud,' she says.

'What of?'

'The killing.'

Which takes us neatly to The Iron Lady.

Don't ask why I went. Perhaps we all have to face our demons. This is one film I sincerely hope doesn't win a thing.

Not that, subject apart, it's a particularly bad film; just that it would be a shame for Thatcher to be celebrated in any way at all. I've got my own definition of the hagiopic (the biography of a saint, venerated, or divine figure) genre being claimed for this biography of the Blessed Margaret.

The Iron Lady has been criticised for spending too much time on her luxurious Belgravia bolt hole and not enough on the history of her terrible reign.

Sure, the film errs towards venerating the victor of great British battles with bolshie bin men, militant miners, dying hunger strikers and arrogant Argies.

That said, briefly glimpsed re-enactments of her nation-dividing, chav-creating, war-mongering fanaticism were plenty enough to remind anyone with a modicum of humanity of her destructive 11 years atop the greasy political pole.

From its milk-snatching opening to poll tax and power protests and the cowardly death blows dealt the Belgrano my only wish was for the soaring soundtrack to switch to the Ding Dong Wicked Witch song from The Wizard of Oz.

Talking of which, I hear some of her fans are calling for a state funeral when her time comes. A Viking funeral to warm her up for where she's going would be more appropriate

•This article was first published on January 19, 2012.

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