Marion Cotillard has received a surprise Best Actress nomination for Two Days, One Night. Photo: Getty
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The 2015 Oscar nominations: no surprises, but a few oddities

There is little to surprise a seasoned awards-watcher in this year’s nominations – Ryan Gilbey gives his verdict.

Radiohead said it best: No surprises, please. This year’s Oscar nominations were announced earlier today. Boyhood attracted six, of which Best Picture and Best Director (Richard Linklater) should be in the bag; it will be a disappointment also if Patricia Arquette doesn’t win Best Supporting Actress. It’s no risk to say that Michael Keaton will win Best Actor for Birdman, which got nine nominations. He certainly has no competition from this year’s other most deserving performer, Ralph Fiennes, who was overlooked in the same category for his impeccable comic tour-de-force in The Grand Budapest Hotel despite that movie matching Birdman’s tally of nominations.

I would be rooting for Birdman also to take Best Cinematography (for Emmanuel Lubezki) if it wouldn’t be altogether sweeter to see Dick Pope snatch the prize instead for his work on Mr Turner. That might go some way toward ameliorating the short shrift given to Mike Leigh’s stunning film by both the Oscars and the Baftas. And to making up for the mispronunciation of the cinematographer’s surname as “Poop”. Let’s just hope that Cheryl Boone Isaacs, who made the slip-up, never has to introduce the leader of the Catholic Church.

Any deviations from the widely-circulated predictions have been minor and unlikely to have much impact on the final results. Still, it gave the seasoned awards-watcher a minor fillip to find Marion Cotillard elbowing her way into a category (Best Actress) on which few “experts” had anticipated she would make an impression. I wasn’t a fan of the Dardenne brothers’ Two Days, One Night, but what strengths it possesses are mostly attributable to Cotillard’s dogged but never defeated performance as a woman fighting for her job and her dignity. It seems unlikely she will take the Oscar; Julianne Moore, who is subtle and compelling in Still Alice as a professor with early-onset Alzeheimer’s, would do well to start clearing a space now on her mantelpiece for the statuette. But, as with Cotillard’s character in Two Days, One Night, winning is immaterial. It’s just good to see her in the fight.

Cotillard aside, here are my Top Five oddities and anomalies in this year’s Oscar voting:

Best Supporting Actor in a Film That No One Liked But Everyone Will at Some Point Watch on an In-Flight Entertainment System: Robert Duvall in The Judge.

The “We Can’t Quite Follow What’s Going On But, Hey, Hats Off For Trying” Award for Most Foolhardy Screenplay Adaptation: Paul Thomas Anderson for adapting Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice.

Best Adapted Screenplay That Makes a Mockery of the Term “Adapted”: Damian Chazelle for Whiplash, which was judged to be “adapted” because Chazelle made a short film including one scene from the movie in order to raise funding for the feature-length version. So even though the screenplay existed first, it was “adapted from” the short that came after. It’s time-travel conundrum worthy of Interstellar.

Best Picture Ignored in Other Categories and Therefore Standing Less Chance of Winning Than If It Hadn’t Been Nominated: the civil rights drama Selma. (Also nominated in the Liberal Guilt category.)

Best Supporting Actress named Meryl Streep: Meryl Streep for Into the Woods.

The Academy Awards ceremony takes place on 22 February.

Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards.

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David Keenan's new novel is a dizzying recall of adolescence

This Is Memorial Device vividly recalls the teen years of the post-punk generation. I'm just not sure I wanted to remember.

Imagine dropping down the ­metaphysical wormhole to the scene of your adolescent self, with all your mates; with all that immortal music, sex, drugs, madness and tempestuousness. For some of us it’s a place we would rather not revisit. For the post-punk generation, David Keenan’s debut novel sends us plunging into that era anyway – violently, viscerally, surreally – in this “Hallucinated Oral History of the Post-Punk scene in Airdrie, Coatbridge and Environs 1978-1986”. Keenan’s real-life west coast Scotland is the home of a fictional dissonant, radical group called Memorial Device, whose underground misadventures are transmitted through a constellation of eyewitness accounts and psychedelic reveries from the damaged, delirious misfits in and around a band that sounded, as the narrator Ross Raymond describes it, “like Airdrie, like a black fucking hole”.

Such were the post-punk provinces across the UK, vividly realised here, populated by John Peel apostles transcending dead-end reality in bedsits wallpapered with pages from the NME and Sounds, romantic young minds consumed by Johnny Thunders and Iggy Pop, Jack Kerouac and H P Lovecraft. These are murky everytowns where, as Ross writes, “music deformed my life rather than just changed it”.

Keenan – an author, journalist, jazz critic, obsessive scholar of psych-folk – has a febrile imagination and his fiction debut is a fantastical meander in intense, magical-realist prose. Much like in youth itself, you’ve no idea what’s happening, or where you’re going, each chapter a crunching gear change of new characters who fizz in, dazzle, disappear and reappear. The chapter headings are filled with unfathomable imagery:

 

22. Ships Rising Up and Passing Through the Water Full of Sunlight and Memory the Tricks That It Plays: Bruce Cook on Autonomic Dreaming with Lucas and Vanity and all the baggage that comes back to haunt you like ghostly ships at the bottom of the ocean in a graveyard beneath the sea breaking free and rising to the surface.

 

This is the breathless style that dominates the book. Full stops are sporadically abandoned for chaotic streams of consciousness (Paul Morley’s sentences are tweets in comparison), like being trapped inside the amphetamine-boggled brain of Spud in the celebrated job-interview scene from Trainspotting (a struggle at times, with none of the daft jokes). With each new voice comes more forensic musical analysis, lurid recollections – of a barbaric scalping, of wanking on acid, of porn, puke, piss – and densely packed rushes of salty information. Ross’s co-author Johnny McLaughlin recalls his sexual exploits as a 17-year-old: he was “a collector . . . a gourmet, a pussy-eater (a body-gorger) (a piss-drinker, a shit-lapper), a woman-lover, a tit-biter, an auto-asphyxiator (an ass-lover, a panty-smotherer), a heel-worshipper (a hose-hugger)”. There’s as much sex here, it turns out, as music.

There are inevitable echoes of those fellow countrymen of Keenan’s, the literary dark lords Irvine Welsh and John Niven, yet little hilarity. But, mercifully, there are also passages of surrealist beauty: through prison bars, a main character is hypnotised by the moon, bathed in its “strange silver glow that made it seem like it was on fire, like ice on fire”, feeling “like a crystal ­being cleansed”. The last chapter is stunning, a soaring, existentialist, cosmic crescendo.

Memorial Device’s lead singer, the charismatic, amnesia-blighted, journal-writing Lucas, has his writing described as “a walking frame or a wheelchair, a crutch, which when you think about it is what most writing is, something to support the figure of the writer, so that he doesn’t fall back in the primordial soup of everyone else, which is no one”. Ultimately, This Is Memorial Device uses post-punk merely as its skeleton frame. It is a meditation on memory and perspective, on the magical forces of language, on the absurdity of existence and the dreadful thoughts bubbling like toxic fluid below the fragile surface of every human brain. Despite its black-humour set pieces (and a comically colossal, micro-detailed appendix, the undertaking of a madman), it’s a serious, disturbing book, free-form literary jazz for agonised over-thinkers, perhaps like the minds of intense young men.

In these creatively risk-averse times, it’s heroically bizarre, if more admirable than lovable. By the end, you’re exhausted, and happy to file it away for ever, along with the young life you no longer wish to live.

Sylvia Patterson is the author of “I’m Not With the Band” (Sphere)

This Is Memorial Device by David Keenan is published by Faber & Faber (298pp, £14.99)

This article first appeared in the 16 February 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times