james debate
james debate

Sunday 19 May 2024

Another Premier League campaign in the history books and it was... basically what we expected. Manchester City did claim a record breaking fourth consecutive title, but were unexpectedly pressed until the last day by an impressive Arsenal title charge. At the foot of the table, no mercy for the newcomers, as all three newly promoted clubs received their marching orders, a stark reminder of the massive step up that the Premier League requires.

premier league 2023 2024 manchester city champions

Is the Premier League becoming predictable? If the fact that I'm lazily reusing the same image as last year is any indication, yes a little. The league is waiting for a club to come along that can step up to challenge City, and while Arsenal have given it a go, the lack of credible competition from the club's biggest clubs such as Liverpool, Manchester United and Chelsea has made it all too easy for Pep's boys in recent seasons. Liverpool, City's main title rivals of late, have the air of a club in stagnation, and while Jurgen Klopp will be missed, there is also a sense that a little fresh impetus may be required. Manchester United, for all the hype, have suffered yet another false dawn, and the glory days are looking far away indeed. Of City's potential rivals, arguably Chelsea look the club with the clearest upwards trajectory, but the Blues have struggled for consistency and fitness, their 6th place finish making clear that they are still some way off challenging at the top of the table.

Outside of the title race, Unai Emery continues to impress, improving upon Aston Villa's already impressive 7th place the previous year with a remarkable top four finish that will see the Birmingham club return to the Champions League for the first time since 1983. Newcastle failed to live up to their pre-season hype, with a solid season that nevertheless did not deliver the kind of progress their wealthy owners would have hoped - the disastrous £60million signing of Sandro Tonali, who would go on to miss the entire season following a ban for gambling, certainly didn't help.

As for the Premier League team of the season, predictably good showing from Manchester City and Arsenal. Jordan Pickford gets my nod for best goalkeeper. While Raya may have slightly better statistics, he also has a far better defence. The fact that Pickford even comes close is, for me, the more impressive accomplishment. Given Aston Villa's remarkable season, it was a very difficult decision not to include Ollie Watkins, but at the end of the day Erling Haaland is still the league's top scorer by some distance. It's remarkable that a 27 goal season is being viewed by some pundits as a disappointment!

Now let's get to some awards and the team of the season:

The Ephemeric Premier League Awards 2024:

Winners: Manchester City 

Relegated: Luton Town, Burnley, Sheffield United

Player of the Year: Phil Foden (Manchester City)

U-21 Player of the Year: Cole Palmer (Chelsea)

Best Goalkeeper: Jordan Pickford (Everton)

Top Scorer: Erling Haaland (Manchester City) (27)

Most Assists: Ollie Watkins (Aston Villa) (13) 

Manager of the Year: Unai Emery (Aston Villa)

Best signing of the season: Cole Palmer (Chelsea)

Worst signing of the season: Sandro Tonali (Newcastle United)

The Ephemeric Premier League Team of the Season 2024:

english epl bpl premier league best team xi of the season 2023
So there we have it, another season of Premier League football gone by. We'll see you again next season!

Thursday 2 May 2024

Created by Graham Wagner, Geneva Robertson-Dworet, Jonathan Nolan
Network Amazon
Starring Ella Purnell, Aaron Moten, Walton Goggins
Genre Science Fiction, Satire
Running Time 45-74 minutes

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Fans of geeky TV series are eating well. Hot on the heels of Netflix's really-pretty-good 3 Body Problem adaptation last month, comes Amazon with an even less likely adaptation of the celebrated Fallout series of videogames. 

So first of all, what is Fallout? In terms of its setting, Fallout takes inspiration from midcentury imaginings of the "world of tomorrow". Thinly veiled Cold War propaganda about the coming atomic age and how a combination of nuclear power and capitalism would bring us all flying cars, robot butlers and commuting to outer space. Fallout imagines a world where the future came to pass exactly as those 1950s propaganda films predicted: a world of all-American nuclear families, where everyone looks, dresses and talks like the 1950s, living in Googie houses and surrounded by sci-fi tech rendered with a retro-futuristic "atom-punk" aesthetic. But with that future came the darker side of atomic power, nuclear war. 

So Fallout is a satire of the politics and consumerism of the era. A cautionary tale against rampant jingoism and unregulated greed. Set in the nuclear wasteland of that obliterated world of marvels, each game in the series typically involves a series of factions and characters fighting over what remains, each with their own comically zealous ideology. 

Amazon's new TV adaptation adheres very closely to both the tone and moralism of the source material. This is a deeply silly world, with colourful characters that range from hopelessly naive to comically selfish, but always with a grain of truth to their motivations. It is also a very violent world, as the cold hard reality of the horrors of war continually crash against the blinkered optimism of its premise. This violence is over-the-top and bloody, just as fans of the games will expect. TV fans can imagine something like The Boys to get a sense of its severity.

Without spoiling too much of the story, Fallout follows three main protagonists. The first is Lucy, a young woman who has grown up in a vault, constructed pre-war to shelter survivors until enough time had passed to allow them to reclaim the surface. This is a classic Fallout trope that mirrors the opening of most of the games. Starting off in a vault, with characters completely alien to the shenanigans happening on the surface, is a great way to introduce newcomers to the setting, allowing both the character and viewers to discover this world at the same time.

The second is The Ghoul, a pre-war actor heavily irradiated by an atomic blast in the war, rendered horrifically disfigured, yet functionally ageless by his mutations. Scarred by this post-war world, and dark secrets in his past, The Ghoul serves as a more experienced window into the setting, cynical and jaded, his sense of morality long-since eroded.

Possibly most interesting is the third protagonist, Maximus. Maximus is a squire in training with the Brotherhood of Steel, a faction modeled on the old medieval Orders of Knighthood. Their objective is, essentially, to seize and hoard all modern technology from the wasteland, in order to prevent humanity from using it again to destroy itself. The Brotherhood has always been one of the more fascinatingly grey factions in this world, torn between the often cruel fanaticism of their ideology and a de facto role as protectors of the wasteland denizens. Fittingly, Maximus is one of the more enigmatic characters in the franchise. Often driven by acts of nobility and a sense of wanting to "do good", but more often driven by his ego, ambition and desire for self-preservation.

There is so much about this adaptation that is on point. Amazon have nailed the look and feel of this world, from the visual aesthetics, to its music. The set and prop design is incredible, imagining all kinds of whacky retro-futuristic technology that has never existed, but looks functional.

The writing is also very strong, capturing the satirical tone of the source material, the humour, homages to pop culture and pulp fiction. The story is a little derivative, it has to be said. The whole "vault dweller leaving the vault to find a family member" has been done at least a few times already in Fallout. For the most part though, the story is fine. If the story could be a little more original, though, the character stories are thoroughly excellent. The main protagonists all have fascinating arcs with plenty of tantalising details left to be explored in future seasons. The secondary characters, too, are great, and I was surprised by how engaged I found myself by some of these B-plotlines.

There are some moments where the dialogue can fall flat. The show is always trying to be so subversive and irreverent that sometimes can lead to exchanges that are more cringe than satirical absurdity. A particular scene between Maximus and Lucy talking about the mechanics of sex comes to mind.

Ultimately, any quibbles I have with this series are minor. Fallout stands as a rare example of something that is, at the same time, a great adaptation and also a work of high quality in its own right. The series fits perfectly into the world that already existed, but also stands on its own and expands that world. 

Videogame adaptations have historically had a bad reputation attached, although this seems to be changing in recent years. Both Sonic and Mario have had well-received big screen outings, and then The Last of Us came along and became one of the biggest and most critically acclaimed television hits of 2023. Fallout seems to have followed that trend. It is easily one of the best videogame adaptations yet created, one that looks set to become both a critical and commercial hit. But where Last of Us was a direct adaptation of the story in that game, Fallout is an entirely original tale, one that can be taken in any number of directions. I can't wait to see what comes next.

Wednesday 24 April 2024

Genre Electro-swing
Label Verywise Studio
Producers Caravan Palace

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In the electro-swing genre, few names hold as much cachet as Caravan Palace. Since their emergence in the late 2000s, the Parisian group has become the great mainstream success story of the genre, combining their jazz and swing influences with a modern club-infused style that manages to feel both fresh and retro at the same time.

If their recent work has shifted more into pop sensibilities, their new album Gangbusters Melody Club leans much more heavily towards the group's jazz roots. This is immediately apparent from their lead single and opening track MAD, a low-tempo brassy number that sounds like a surprisingly tense remix of Minnie the Moocher.

Fans of the group's more modern, dancey sounds will feel right at home with second single Mirrors, a track much more in the vein of Lone Digger or Plume. A bouncy, high-energy tune with an irresistibly toe-tapping chorus.

This is an album full of highlights, and this level of fun and energy is maintained throughout. Special 81 is another top track, with a kind of distorted big-band vibe, or Reverse with its fun tempo changes and sax-solo. But my personal favourite has to go to Raccoons, a super-funky swagger of a tune that is just bursting with fun. Of all the album's tracks, it is the one that sounds most different to the usual Caravan Palace fare, yet works so well.

Ultimately, Gangbusters Melody Club might be the best work yet from Caravan Palace, a sublime blend of modern dance sensibilities with retro influences that should appeal to a broad range of tastes. The production is silky smooth, with barely an ill-conceived beat within its dynamic, textured instrumentalisation. The whole thing is just a ton of fun.

Must Listen :
Special 81

Sunday 21 April 2024

Created by David Benioff, D.B. Weiss, Alexander Woo
Network Netflix
Starring Jovan Adepo, Eiza González, Jess Hong, Alex Sharp, Liam Cunningham
Genre Science Fiction
Running Time 44-63 minutes

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It is safe to say that I was skeptical when I heard Netflix were adapting Liu Cixin's seminal Remembrance of Earth's Past trilogy, the first novel of which is titled The Three-Body Problem. As much as I love these books, it was difficult to imagine how they might be successfully transposed to the screen. This is, after all, a series that derives its success more from heady concepts than satisfying character-drama, with minimal action outside of the denouement of each novel.

I was even more skeptical when I heard that Netflix were putting David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, creators of the HBO fantasy drama Game of Thrones in charge of the adaptation. Not to belittle that series, which was obviously quite a critical and commercial success, but it seemed like an odd fit for such an intellectual, slow-burning piece of literature to be placed under their creative control. I certainly couldn't picture it.

It turns out I was wrong. Say what you want about Benioff and Weiss, but GoT shows that they clearly know how to make compelling TV that can expand even niche genres to a mass audience. With 3 Body Problem, it seems they may have done it again.

Reviewing an adaptation of something is always challenging. How much credit do you give an adaptation for the quality of its source material? To what extent can something be considered a good adaptation if it makes material changes to that material? 

It's a difficult balancing act to craft something that works in its own right, without losing the qualities that worked for the original. With their adaptation, Benioff and Weiss have made some pretty significant changes to the structure of the story, but for the most part these changes have proven to be good decisions.

To keep things relatively spoiler-free, this first season is a (mostly) straight adaptation of the first novel in the series, as well as the opening sections of the second novel. 3 Body Problem is set on present day Earth. Scientists have started mysteriously dying off in seemingly unrelated incidents, the only link being that each scientist had previously been sent a virtual reality game of mysterious origin. The series follows a group of five former students of one such scientist and their attempts to unravel the mystery, the truth of which portends a grave reality for mankind.

Right off the bat, fans of the novels will note some pretty immediate and significant changes. The original novel focused on a single protagonist, instead of five. I've seen some reviewers commenting that this character from the first novel was therefore "split" into five, with this decision usually being raised as some kind of criticism. To be clear, this is not true. If you see any reviewer commenting as such, then they are clearly only pretending to have read the books. What the writers have actually done is introduce the protagonists from later books at the beginning of the story. These aren't new characters, they're just appearing sooner than in the novels. 

While potentially controversial, I think this is a pretty smart choice. Television is different to literature. Whereas a novel might give you a dozen hours to get to know a character, the running time of a television show is far shorter. Introducing these characters, now, allows the TV audience to get to know and form a connection with these characters right from the start, rather than using up valuable narrative momentum to try and introduce unfamiliar characters later on.

In addition, to be quite frank, the original novels weren't perfect. A common criticism of the first book is that its protagonist lacks depth and personality, essentially functioning as a surrogate for the reader to learn about this world. In that sense, replacing their role in the story with the much more developed protagonists from later novels is a very shrewd choice that makes more efficient use of running time to develop compelling character arcs.

This also explains why the first season already makes a start on adapting the plot of the second novel. The protagonist of the second novel goes on to form a central figure in the mythos of the trilogy. If they didn't give us at least a taste of that now, that character would have had very little to do in this first season, making his later elevation in importance quite jarring.

So, while there are changes, in general I'm quite pleased with them. I think these changes make for better television and, in some cases, even fix flaws in the source material.

It's impressive how tight everything feels in this production. This is not a small cast, but for the most part each character is well-utilised. The showrunners manage to capture the key moments of the books, including some which are difficult to visualise, and often with creativity and ingenuity. The production quality, in general, is very high. The show simply looks great. The imagery, the special effects, the use of music, the moment-to-moment pacing and tension.

That's not to say 3 Body Problem is without its share of flaws. For whatever qualities they may have, Benioff and Weiss are not great dialogue writers. It's mostly fine, but there are a number of moments where characters will speak in stilited, unnatural ways that often feel like fourth wall breakers. It might be that they don't fully trust the audience to follow proceedings, or simply that they sometimes lack the dexterity to formulate the right dialogue. Performances are generally very good, but can occasionally feel a bit wonky. Often this is a direct result of the dialogue.

There is a slight issue in the pacing. Specifically, as the action crescendos towards the climax of the first novel, and then drops off immediately as the narrative switches to the plot of the second novel. It's pretty clear when that happens, and it does have the effect of the last few episodes feeling anti-climactic. 

Overall, I am pleasantly surprised. They've made a good effort at adapting a very tricky novel, and have come away with something that has broad appeal, without losing its substance. I'm very keen to see how they tackle the next two books. There are some very visually challenging scenes that they will need to figure out, and some real blockbuster moments of immense drama and scope. Unlike before, this time I can actually picture it working.

Tuesday 19 March 2024

This week saw a significant milestone in the 2024 elections, as Joe Biden and Donald Trump were mathematically confirmed to be their respective parties' nominees for the Presidential race, making it official that 2024 will see a rematch of the 2020 race. With the stage set, now seems a good time to take stock and provide a way-too-early preview of where things stand, and what we can expect as we head into the campaign.

2024 us presidential congress election house senate trump biden democrat republican

Setting the scene
While this week's primaries maybe have technically confirmed each party's presumptive nominee, in truth there has been little question of the outcome for some time. As the incumbent President, there was never any serious doubt that Biden would be nominated by the Democrats and, similarly, Trump's stranglehold on the Republican Party is such that his nomination, too, has seemed a foregone conclusion - although the level of anti-Trump sentiment during the primary has been surprising, more on that later.

While this may have seemed a foregone conclusion to political analysts, polling has consistently shown that most voters did not believe, or realise, that these two would end up being the candidates. This is a fascinating little quirk that illustrates the stark disconnect between political coverage and the average voter. While the politically engaged like to obsess over every slight news event and extrapolate how every headline might affect the electoral outcome, the truth is that most Americans are so disengaged that they weren't even aware of the overwhelming likelihood of this matchup. I flag this, as it will become relevant when we consider the predictive value of current polling.

One way or another, barring some unforeseen event, this is the Presidential race we have. So who will prevail? That is what I intend to consider with the rest of this article. It is, of course, far too early to make any kind of reasonable predictions or forecast. That will come closer to election day. But we can at least provide some general sense of the direction in which things are heading, and how they are likely to change in the coming months. 

It is also worth mentioning that, in addition to the Presidential election, 2024 will also see contests for the House and Senate. For the purposes of this article, I will be focusing on the Presidential election specifically, although I will provide a brief summary on the state or play for these legislative elections.

What do the fundamentals say?
In analysing any election, the logical place to start is the beginning. What is our starting point heading into this election? What priors and presumptions can we draw from history, an understanding of electoral mechanics, and the general macroscopic state of the nation, before even looking at the current data?

The first thing to note is that incumbency advantage is a very real thing in Presidential elections. Incumbent Presidents usually win. In fact, in the last 100 years, only 5 of 19 Presidents have failed to win re-election, including one of this year's candidates, Donald Trump. This is a well-studied phenomenon. Partly it is because incumbents will hold greater name recognition, but it also owes to the fact that voter preferences tend to be surprisingly fixed. Voters don't like to second-guess themselves or admit a mistake. So if they voted for someone previously, they are highly likely to do so again.

This effect is even more pronounced in political rematches. We don't have many examples of this in Presidential races, but in Congressional races it happens much more frequently than you would think, and almost always ends the same way as the previous contest. The most recent example we have of this at the Presidential level would be the 1956 election, which also ended the same way as the preceding contest. Again, this likely is due to voters becoming entrenched in their opinions, but there's also a certain taint that comes with being an electoral loser. Voters like a winner. This is the reason why Trump spends so much time talking about winning, and why he has consistently pretended to have won the 2020 election, which he didn't.

It is also worth highlighting that this being a Presidential election year likely helps Democrats. In recent history, Democrats have tended to perform better in Presidential election years than in midterms (see later - some suggestion that this may be changing). These elections tend to have higher turnout among young and more demographically diverse voters, who tend to vote heavily Democratic.

What can we glean from recent election cycles? This has been surprisingly under-reported, but the Trump era has largely been a period of decisive electoral victories for Democrats. 

Democrats won the 2018 midterms by historic landslide margins, no mean feat considering they have historically performed so poorly in midterms.

In 2020, Biden defeated Trump by a wide electoral and popular vote margin, expanding the map into states like Arizona and Georgia that Democrats haven't won in a generation. That they did this against an incumbent President (incumbents, as noted above, rarely lose) is a remarkable overperformance that for some reason hasn't really been talked about.

Then we have the 2022 midterms. The President's party usually suffers heavy losses in a midterm, especially if they're a Democrat (due the demographic disadvantage, noted above). Yet somehow, Democrats actually made gains in the Senate, and came very close to holding their House majority despite predictions of a red tsunami.

All three of these election cycles represent historic over-performance from the Democrats, by any reasonable metric. More notably, they arguably demonstrate diminishing electoral returns for Trumpist Republicans with each cycle. 

Then there's the economy. Unemployment is consistently at record lows. While inflation and gas prices have been high in the post-pandemic recovery, both have been consistently declining under Biden. By any metric the economy is booming right now, a very strong indicator for Biden.

A common refrain in a Presidential election is to ask voters if they are better off than they were four years ago. In this respect, Biden has arguably the easiest pitch in the history of Presidential politics. Four years ago, America was in the midst of a pandemic that killed millions, with an economy in freefall and double digit unemployment. Trump left office with an economy in ruins and the ignominy of being one of the only Presidents in modern history to see a net decline in jobs during his tenure. By any metric, the country is in a far better shape now than it was four years ago

Lastly, let's consider Biden's approval ratings. These are, it has to be said, fairly mediocre. Most approval ratings released over the past month have him in the low 40s (the average of the 9 most recent polls on 538 comes to 42%, with a range from 39% to 47%), which is historically pretty middling. It's higher than Trump, who spent most of his Presidency with approval in the 30s, and lost, but lower than Obama, who did have low 40s approval ratings in his election year, but started to push into the high 40s by this point and remained there until election day, which he ultimately won fairly comfortably. Approval ratings are far from an exact science, and not massively predictive, but one would typically expect a candidate with approval lower than the mid 40s to struggle. It is not clear how well that holds when up against a competitor with even worse approval ratings. It is also worth noting that incumbent approval ratings tend to improve as we get into election year, so watch this space.

In summary, we have an incumbent, overseeing a booming economy that has recovered significantly from one of the darkest eras in American history, running in an election cycle that history tells us will be demographically favourable for his party, on the back of a historic electoral overperformance in a cycle that was demographically less favourable than the current one. Approval ratings are a mild concern, but we would expect them to improve, and they aren't a mile off from where we would expect a winning incumbent to be.

This establishes a baseline expectation that 2024 "should" be a good year for Democrats. Only, this hasn't been the story of the 2024 election so far. In fact, most coverage has been painting the exact opposite picture, one in which Trump has the advantage. Why is this the case, and is it a valid depiction of the current state of the race?

What do the polls and other data say?
In short, the current Biden pessimism is coming from the polls. You will no doubt have seen the media breathlessly pointing to the polling aggregators. RealClearPolitics currently has Trump up 1.6%, DecisionDeskHQ has him up 1.2%, Race to the WH has him up 1.4%. Other aggregators, in fairness, are not showing this - The Economist and PollingUSA both currently have Biden ahead on aggregate. But the question here is about perception, and for whatever reason it is typically the aggregates that show Trump ahead which get the most media coverage.

I have a few things to say about this, as the media is generally quite poor at reading and reporting on polls, and right now they are ascribing far greater value to this metric than they should be. 

But before we dig into the specifics of the polls, I want to look at the rest of the available data. Pundits often treat the polls as the one and only source of data when discussing electoral prospects, but this is not the case and there are a number of other metrics that have predictive value.

First up, Congressional retirements. Elected officials from one party retiring or declining to run for re-election in large numbers is generally a bearish sign. It indicates that those officials have low expectations for their electoral prospects or the state of the party as a whole. Right now, the Republican party is seeing a mass efflux of Congressional members, which is not being matched by the Democrats.

Fundraising depicts a similar dynamic, where Democrats and Biden are significantly outraising Republicans and Trump, and indeed there are numerous stories of state Republican parties being on the verge of insolvency in key states like Michigan. 

But probably the most important additional data point I want to consider, one which is often overlooked in media, is the actual election results. With all the talk of polls, it's easy to forget that there are actual special elections taking place all throughout the year, some as recently as just a few weeks ago.

Once again, Democrats have been performing strongly here. Democrats have been outperforming in special elections relative to their baseline - ie, relative to what one would expect in a break-even year based on the partisanship of the electorate. In fact, currently they are outperforming their baseline by 11% on average. This is a very important point to note. Special election overperformance was one of the key indicators in 2022 that Democrats were headed for a good year, one which most pundits ignored.

It is also important to note that Democrats have not just been outperforming their baseline, but also the polls. Taking the most recent special election, NY-3, as an example, the polls had the race at D+3 on average. The actual result was D+8. We can see this consistently across special elections. Democrats are not just performing better than we would expect from their baseline, but also significantly and consistently outperforming their polls.

Lastly, let's briefly consider the primary elections. I am reluctant to read too much into primary election results, as they generally are not predictive of the eventual general election. I don't, for example, think you can make any conclusions by the number of people who voted in the Democratic primary vs the Republican primary, or the margins in general. What is interesting, however, is to look for consistent patterns in polling errors, and we have seen exactly that in this year's primaries. 

Polling has significantly and consistently underestimated Biden's vote share and overestimated Trump's vote share in these primaries. Most polling was showing Biden with 60-70% in the primaries, a lacklustre result for an incumbent. He generally ended up with 80-90%+. It was a similar story on the Republican side, where Trump was typically polling 80-90%, but mostly ended up with 60-70% in most races, and even ended up losing a few contests to Nikki Haley. If you consider that Trump is running as, essentially, an incumbent, then those results could be a bit of an alarm bell for November. The primary vote data actually gets worse for Trump the more you look at it, with particular weakness in the crucial suburbs that swung the 2020 election, and which Trump desperately needs to win back in 2024.

So overall we have some fairly mixed data. Fundamentals paint a positive picture for Biden, as does most of the data (retirements, fundraising, election results), but then the polling right now ostensibly is showing Trump in the lead. How do we square this apparent discrepancy? Let's have a closer look.

Analysing the data
The first thing to note, with respect to the polling averages, is that a 1.5% margin is not statistically significant. Most polls have a minimum margin of error of 3-4%. So even if you accept that the polls have Trump ahead by around 1.5%, this falls well within that margin. In other words, what these polls are really saying is that there is 95% confidence that the current position lies somewhere within Trump +5 to Biden +4. Not exactly definitive. 

The second, and most important thing to note is that we are still early in the election cycle, and polls at this stage are generally not very predictive - in fact, they are less predictive at this stage than some of the other data referenced above, such as special election results.

This shouldn't come as a surprise. As noted earlier, most voters aren't even aware that these two are the candidates at this point. They just aren't paying attention yet, much less in a position to have established a firm intention as to November. More to the point, it's not surprising to see the challenger leading at this point in an election cycle. Gallup, ABC, Washington Post all had Romney leading at this point in 2012, for example. This makes sense, as the challenger will have already been well into their campaign since the start of the primary - in this case, Trump has been campaigning since the end of the last election. Biden, by comparison, has been busy running the country, and is only just now beginning to switch into campaign mode.

In fact, about the most consistent pattern we can see historically in relation to early polls is that the incumbent tends to improve their numbers in the months leading up to the election, likely for the reason noted above. So, even if you believe that Trump is about 1.5% ahead in the current polls, history tells us that the numbers are likely to improve for Biden as we get closer to the election. Given the very narrow margin, that could easily swing the advantage towards Biden.

It is also worth noting that most polls right now are using what they refer to as a registered voter model, rather than a likely voter model. This means that the polls' current turnout model may not accurately represent the likely electorate in November. One of the commonly proposed explanations for why the polls don't reflect the actual election results is the idea that Trump is performing well with low-propensity voters who are less likely to vote, the idea being that they didn't turn out for special elections, but might in the general election. If this is correct, then you would expect the likely voter models will remove a lot of these less-likely voters, and move the numbers more in Biden's favour. A recent example of this in practice is this week's new poll from Florida Atlantic. Last month they had Trump up by 4%, this month they switched to a likely voter model and Biden is up by 2%. As you can see, the potential swing from this switch is very significant.

So there is good reason to think that poll numbers are likely to improve for Biden in the coming months. But I'll go further, there is also very good reason to think that the current polling averages may not be an accurate depiction of the current state of the race.

To demonstrate this point, let's revisit the 2022 election. The 2022 election is generally considered to have been a massive shock, one of the biggest polling misses in recent history. Polling averages, and the pundits that read them, were emphatic that Democrats would be decimated. When that did not happen, everyone was shocked. Only, they shouldn't have been shocked. I wasn't shocked. In fact, the uncannily accurate preview on this very blog predicted a close contest in the House and Democratic gains in the Senate. This wasn't just wishful thinking, it was based on the data. Data that most in the media either ignored or misinterpreted. 

What happened in 2022 was that there was a material disparity between the established, reputable, high quality pollsters (Quinnipiac, Ipsos, Monmouth, Morning Consult, The Economist, Marist), who were generally showing more positive numbers for Democrats, and the other lower quality pollsters (Rasmussen, Trafalgar, Harris), which generally showed the massive Republican gains that never materialised. This was the story of the 2022 election. High quality polls did, in fact, predict the strong Democratic performance, but they were drowned out in the averages by the much larger volume of, frankly, low-value data.

It seems very few in the media actually learned anything from 2022, and the narrative of that election cycle has largely been dumbed down to "the polls were wrong". The idea that, in actual fact, some polls were pretty accurate in 2022 requires more nuanced analysis and critical evaluation than they are willing, or able, to provide.

This is crucial to our understanding of the 2024 election, because it seems that very much the same thing is happening. The Economist recently did an analysis showing that, once again, there was a material disparity between the high quality polls, which were more favourable for Biden, and the low quality ones, which were more favourable for Trump.

In fact, if you look at the recent polls, it's really only the likes of HarrisX and Rasmussen, pollsters with a very long and consistent track record of having a "house effect" (read: bias) towards Republicans, propping up this Trump advantage. Most of the recent polls from high quality pollsters (Ipsos, Reuters, Quinnipiac, I&I/TIPP, Civiqs, Emerson, Morning Consult) all show Biden in the lead. Of the high quality pollsters, it's really only the one NYTimes poll showing a Trump advantage at the moment.

One last observation on the current polls. In general, I am hesitant to dig too much into the underlying data in the crosstabs. I've seen a lot of people in the media digging into these numbers and drawing all kinds of wild conclusions (on both sides) - more on this later. But there is some useful data to be gained here, specifically where they have polled individual policy issues. In particular, I note a lot of these more Trump-favourable polls are also finding significant majority support for things like nationwide abortion bans and shutting down planned parenthood, things which have never been popular in the past. If you show me a poll that says a particular candidate is more or less popular than before, I may not buy it, but it is plausible. The idea that a majority of the country could suddenly completely change their values and beliefs on historically entrenched topics like abortion, is simply not plausible to me. This, to me, is a red flag that those polls may be over-representing Trump supporters, who already hold those beliefs.

To be clear, this is not about predicting polling error based on the last election, which is notoriously unpredictable and changes with each election cycle. This is simply to point out that some pollsters are more reliable than others, and currently much of the Trump-favourable poll numbers are coming from pollsters with a poor track record. 

So it seems quite plausible that this current Trump advantage in the polls (slight as it is) may simply be another 2022-style mirage. Accordingly, this apparent disparity between the polls and other data may end up not being such a mystery after all, and just vanish as time goes on. 

Going back to the question posed at the end of this piece's introduction: is the current media depiction of this race as one where Trump is winning fair and accurate? Probably not. 

This narrative appears to be based on a fairly superficial and un-nuanced interpretation of just one out of several data points, and completely ignores other valid data. 

Taking a more holistic view of the available data, these apparent inconsistencies make a lot more sense. The fundamentals and most data are perfectly consistent with an election year that favours the Democrats. The polls, when subjected to a bit of critical scrutiny, also would seem suggestive of a more favourable environment than the aggregated average currently shows. 

Make no mistake, this is a close race, even if it is likely leaning towards Biden at the moment. A lot can change in the next eight months. But unless something major happens, like a health scare or scandal, my current expectation is that Joe Biden remains most likely to win the election.

This goes both ways, though. Trump being the same age as Biden, could equally have his own health scare. We also haven't considered the giant elephant in the room of Trump's ongoing criminal prosecutions. It's entirely possible that Trump could be a convicted felon by the time of the election, and even if he isn't, his trials will be occupying a huge amount of media coverage, not to mention Trump's time that he could otherwise be spending on the campaign trail. So while it is fair to say that Biden has potential downside that could turn this election against him. You would have to say that the potential downside is far greater for Trump.

To me, the current state of the race is clear. You would expect Biden to have an advantage over Trump, and the present data seems to support that this is the case. I don't think you can reasonably argue the alternative at the moment, without cherry-picking and ignoring valid data. It also seems most likely, based on historical patterns and the potential exposures both candidates face, that the race will continue to move towards Biden over the coming months. In short: you'd rather be Biden than Trump right now.

Debunking a few myths
I wanted to dedicate a segment of this article to debunking a few common myths, prevalent in how those in the media and social media tend to analyse election data. 

Myth: the polls show Trump support surging among young voters/minorities/[insert demographic here].

Answer: as noted above, there's been a lot of coverage in the media about the underlying data in the polls. NYTimes recently ran an article talking about Trump's historic surge in support among young voters. Others have observed Trump making historic gains with black and hispanic voters, a result that, if true, would represent the most significant racial realignment since the civil rights era. The problem is, it probably isn't real. 

The cross-tabs in polls are notoriously messy, and commonly show wonky results. This doesn't mean the top-line result of those polls is not accurate, often they are even when the cross-tabs look strange. 

More often than not, reading too much into this data will result in embarrassment. With the NYTimes piece, for example, NYTimes ran this huge, headline press-release about the youth-vote finding from their first poll, only for their follow up poll to show the exact opposite result (a finding which, strangely, did not merit its own headline). Regarding these claims of a historic racial realignment, even aside from the fact that this seems unlikely on the surface, it's also worth noting that polling in recent election cycles has shown similar shifts, that ultimately did not materialise in the general election. In 2022, for example, Democrats actually performed better with hispanic voters than in 2020, despite polls showing a big shift towards Trump. 

At the end of the day, big claims require big evidence. Better evidence than notoriously erratic cross-tabs. We see this kind of crazy cross-tab shifting every election. It usually amounts to nothing. Until we get some actual data verifying these claims, let's maintain a healthy skepticism. It's a classic example of not worrying about how the sausage gets made.

Myth: the polls always underestimate Trump, so we should assume he will outperform the polls in 2024.

Answer: I've seen a lot of this kind of suggestion, including from people who should know better. The idea is that Trump outperformed his polls in 2016 and 2020, and so we should assume he will do so again this year. As such, if he is roughly tied in the polls or if Biden leads narrowly, we should assume Trump is actually winning.

This is, of course, nonsense. Despite what you may have read, the polling errors in 2016 and 2020 were not actually all that unprecedented, nor were they all in the same direction in every race. For example, Trump outperformed 2020 polls nationally, but underperformed in certain key states like Georgia and Arizona. Trump-affiliated politicians also significantly underperformed polls in both 2018 and 2022, and Trump himself has significantly underperformed his polls so far in 2024. 

Bottom line, polling errors are notoriously difficult to predict and usually change from one election cycle to the next, even with the same candidates. Polling error in one election does not suggest there will be a similar error in the next. In fact, usually the opposite is true as pollsters overcompensate for their previous bias. There is no particular reason to believe that Trump will outperform his polls in 2024, and in fact some evidence to suggest the opposite.

Myth: Biden needs to win the popular vote by 4%+ due to the electoral college.

Answer: this myth is based on the observation that Hillary Clinton won the national popular vote in 2016, but lost the electoral college, and Biden won the national popular vote in 2020, but won key states only narrowly.

This is not a particularly strong analysis. It is well observed that the electoral college advantage changes with each election cycle. It is not especially predictable, nor interconnected enough that you can say an X% decrease nationally correlates to a Y% decrease in a particular key state. While it is true that Biden likely would have lost in 2020 had the national popular vote been a tie, the opposite was true in 2012 when Obama had this advantage over Romney. Similarly, in the most recent election cycle in 2022, Democrats won statewide races in key states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, Georgia and Arizona despite losing the national popular vote. So it can and will change, and we can't assume Biden needs to win the national popular vote by any particular margin. In fact, there is evidence to suggest that the electoral college advantage will be narrower this year, and that Biden may only need a small national popular vote advantage, if any.

 The discrepancy between the November polls and recent election results is explainable by Trump's strength with low-propensity voters who are more likely to vote in November

Answer: I've already addressed this particular line of thinking earlier in this piece. The idea here is that the polls are so much more pro-Trump than the actual election results so far because Trump is polling disportionately well with voters who are less likely to vote in special elections and primaries.

I want to be careful here, as this isn't a terrible theory and there's no hard proof against it. It is, after all, a theory based on the absence of data, so there is fundamentally no way to prove or disprove it. There are, however, a few things about this that don't hold water. It does nothing to explain why the polls for the primaries and special elections were themselves wrong, for example. It's all well and good to say the early election results don't look like the November polls, because we expect a different electorate in November, but they didn't look like the early election polls either! Were they polling those races based on the expected November electorate? That makes no sense whatsoever. If they were then that seems like a pretty glaring polling flaw.

The bottom line is the pollsters got those election results wrong. They can pontificate all they want about why November will be different, but no amount of theorising will erase the wrongness of their early election polls. It's quite simple, if they were wrong with these elections, they could easily be wrong about November's election too. That's not saying they will be, but this particular theory is not a hugely compelling argument that they won't.

How about the House and Senate?
So far we have mainly been focusing on the Presidential election, but we will of course also have the legislative elections in 2024. Once again, every seat in the House is up for grabs, along with several Senate seats. What do we expect here?

In the House, Democrats appear to have the edge. For the last several years, Republicans held an absurd systemic advantage in the House due to gerrymandering, the process by which politicians choose their voters rather than the other way around. From 2010 to 2020, this was so bad that Democrats needed to win nationally by about 5% in order to take a majority. 

However, following the recent redistricting process, and the broader implementation of anti-gerrymandering laws, this advantage seems to have all but vanished. In fact, in 2022 Republicans won the national popular vote, yet only managed a slight edge in the House, by 6 seats. 2024 is expected to be demographically more favourable for Democrats, on top of which Democrats currently lead in the national popular vote polls. Anything can happen, but on the surface it is difficult to imagine Democrats not taking the majority when they came so close in 2022 and seem almost certain to improve on those numbers in 2024.

In the Senate, the situation is very different. 2024 is an absolutely brutal map for Democrats. They currently hold a 1 seat majority, and need to defend seats in reliably red states including Ohio, West Virginia and Montana, as well as key swing states like Arizona, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. By contrast, there are no clear pick up opportunities for Democrats. The closest possibilities seem to be Florida and Texas, two states which are reliably Republican at the moment.

In order to hold their Senate majority, Democrats will need there to be some ticket-splitting. That is to say, they will need states that Trump is almost certain to win, like Ohio, Montana, Florida, Texas, etc, to vote for a Democratic Senator. Ticket-splitting is increasingly rare, especially in Presidential election years. 

Democrats will be buoyed by the positive early polling in those states showing the Democratic candidate running ahead of Biden, which indicates that they could possibly hold those Senate seats even if Biden loses the state. The trouble is there is zero margin for error. Democrats will almost certainly lose the West Virginia seat now than Manchin has retired, which means they need to run the board on basically everything else. With margins this close, you would expect them to lose at least one, even if they are polling ahead. It's possible, but highly unlikely that they hold this majority.

Ok, so that is all for now. If you take one thing away from this piece, it is that we are still very early in the election cycle. We don't have a huge amount of concrete data, and there is good reason to believe that what little data we do have is prone to change. 

It is far too early to draw any kind of conclusions about how these elections will go, but the baseline fundamentals favour Biden, along with much of the early data. There has been a lot of noise about the polls potentially leaning the other direction towards Trump, but under greater scrutiny that narrative appears not to be hugely compelling. It is very early and we will get much better data in the coming months. As always, this blog will publish a final forecast shortly before the election. Until then, remember not to get too caught up in the media's hysteria. Data will fluctuate up and down over the campaign, it always does. Not every single little data point is significant, even if it makes for a punchy headline.

Saturday 9 March 2024


oscars 86th academy awards 2014
Welcome back to The Ephemeric. It is Oscar season again, and once again March is the month in which I know not the light of day. I could make the same joke as last year by copy pasting the intro blurb, but instead I'll just get straight to some predictions so we can all go on with our day.

Some years are difficult to predict when it comes to the Oscars. This is not one of those years. There's always the chance of a few curveballs, but for the most part there are some pretty clear favourites for each of the major prizes. As usual, I will predict the likely winner for each prize, and then condescendingly lecture you as to why the Academy is wrong about it. Ready? Alright, let's get to it.

Best Picture

  • American Fiction – Ben LeClair, Nikos Karamigios, Cord Jefferson, and Jermaine Johnson, producers
  • Anatomy of a Fall – Marie-Ange Luciani and David Thion, producers
  • Barbie – David Heyman, Margot Robbie, Tom Ackerley, and Robbie Brenner, producers
  • The Holdovers – Mark Johnson, producer
  • Killers of the Flower Moon – Dan Friedkin, Bradley Thomas, Martin Scorsese, and Daniel Lupi, producers
  • Maestro – Bradley Cooper, Steven Spielberg, Fred Berner, Amy Durning, and Kristie Macosko Krieger, producers
  • Oppenheimer – Emma Thomas, Charles Roven, and Christopher Nolan, producers
  • Past Lives – David Hinojosa, Christine Vachon, and Pamela Koffler, producers
  • Poor Things – Ed Guiney, Andrew Lowe, Yorgos Lanthimos, and Emma Stone, producers
  • The Zone of Interest – James Wilson, producer
And the winner: Oppenheimer
Who should really win: The Holdovers
Explanation: This seems to be a bit of a foregone conclusion. Oppenheimer has swept most of the major awards and is the runaway favourite to win. It's a fine film, but I have to say it left me a little cold. The choppy, rushed pacing that jarringly jumped between scenes, years and stories with little context, feeling more like a 6 part miniseries that was cut down to fit a Hollywood film length. Of all the films this year, the one that has stuck with me the most, and the one that I expect will endure the best, is The Holdovers and its timeless, bittersweet and, above all, human story.

Best Director

  • Justine Triet – Anatomy of a Fall
  • Martin Scorsese – Killers of the Flower Moon
  • Christopher Nolan – Oppenheimer
  • Yorgos Lanthimos – Poor Things
  • Jonathan Glazer – The Zone of Interest
And the winner: Christopher Nolan - Oppenheimer
Who should really win: None of the above
Explanation: I have to say none of the films above really grabbed me for their directorial brilliance. Many have pacing issues. When I think of the films with the most essential direction in 2023, I think of Alexander Payne's work on The Holdovers, Bradley Cooper's work on Maestro and, yes, Greta Gerwig's work on Barbie.

Best Actor

  • Bradley Cooper – Maestro as Leonard Bernstein
  • Colman Domingo – Rustin as Bayard Rustin
  • Paul Giamatti – The Holdovers as Paul Hunham
  • Cillian Murphy – Oppenheimer as J. Robert Oppenheimer
  • Jeffrey Wright – American Fiction as Thelonious "Monk" Ellison
And the winner: Cillian Murphy - Oppenheimer as J. Robert Oppenheimer
Who should really win: Cillian Murphy - Oppenheimer as J. Robert Oppenheimer
Explanation: Cillian will definitely win. This one I will go along with. He is a phenomenal actor and did a superb job in creating a depiction of Oppenheimer to which audiences could connect. Without Murphy, there is no Oppenheimer.

Best Actress

  • Annette Bening – Nyad as Diana Nyad
  • Lily Gladstone – Killers of the Flower Moon as Mollie Burkhart
  • Sandra Hüller – Anatomy of a Fall as Sandra Voyter
  • Carey Mulligan – Maestro as Felicia Montealegre
  • Emma Stone – Poor Things as Bella Baxter
And the winner: Lily Gladstone – Killers of the Flower Moon as Mollie Burkhart
Who should really win: Carey Mulligan – Maestro as Felicia Montealegre
Explanation: Easy to predict. Gladstone has won most of the major awards, and you know the Academy loves to pretend that it can somehow assuage its white guilt by giving awards to actors who shine a light on the crimes of the past rather than, you know, actually doing anything to make a difference. Picking a worthy winner is more challenging. Gladstone is absolutely brilliant and definitely a strong contender, but so too is Emma Stone and Carey Mulligan. I think if I had to choose, I would go with Mulligan, the performance which, more than any other, connected with me and made me feel something.

Best Supporting Actor

  • Sterling K. Brown – American Fiction as Clifford "Cliff" Ellison
  • Robert De Niro – Killers of the Flower Moon as William King Hale
  • Robert Downey Jr. – Oppenheimer as Lewis Strauss
  • Ryan Gosling – Barbie as Ken
  • Mark Ruffalo – Poor Things as Duncan Wedderburn
And the winnerRobert Downey Jr. – Oppenheimer as Lewis Strauss
Who should really win: Robert Downey Jr. – Oppenheimer as Lewis Strauss
Explanation: It took every fiber of my being not to pick Ryan Gosling, whose performance in Barbie was brilliant, hilarious, and easily the highlight of a strong film.

Best Supporting Actress

  • Emily Blunt – Oppenheimer as Kitty Oppenheimer
  • Danielle Brooks – The Color Purple as Sofia
  • America Ferrera – Barbie as Gloria
  • Jodie Foster – Nyad as Bonnie Stoll
  • Da'Vine Joy Randolph – The Holdovers as Mary Lamb
And the winnerDa'Vine Joy Randolph – The Holdovers as Mary Lamb
Who should really win: Da'Vine Joy Randolph – The Holdovers as Mary Lamb
Explanation: Another one that seems obvious, and I agree with the Academy here. An excellent performance of an excellent role in an excellent film.

Best Original Screenplay

  • Anatomy of a Fall – Justine Triet and Arthur Harari
  • The Holdovers – David Hemingson
  • Maestro – Bradley Cooper and Josh Singer
  • May December – Screenplay by Samy Burch; Story by Samy Burch and Alex Mechanik
  • Past Lives – Celine Song
And the winnerAnatomy of a Fall – Justine Triet and Arthur Harari
Who should really win: The Holdovers – David Hemingson
Explanation: I think this one is going to Anatomy of a Fall, which has already picked up this prize at the Golden Globes and BAFTA, but personally I couldn't pick any film for this award over The Holdovers. Smart, funny, pitch perfect in its writing and pacing.

Best Adapted Screenplay

  • American Fiction – Cord Jefferson; based on the novel Erasure by Percival Everett
  • Barbie – Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach; based on characters created by Ruth Handler
  • Oppenheimer – Christopher Nolan; based on the biography American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin
  • Poor Things – Tony McNamara; based on the novel by Alasdair Gray
  • The Zone of Interest – Jonathan Glazer; based on the novel by Martin Amis
And the winner: Oppenheimer – Christopher Nolan; based on the biography American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin
Who should really win: American Fiction – Cord Jefferson; based on the novel Erasure by Percival Everett
Explanation: This is a tricky one. American Fiction has been picking up a lot of writing awards, and as an adaptation of a very well regarded novel it enters this contest in a strong position. But this is one of those awards that I can see Oppenheimer picking up if it has as good a night as people seem to be expecting.

So there you have it, The Ephemeric's picks for the year. Enjoy the Oscars tonight, and when the results go as predicted, remember that you heard it here first! 

Sunday 25 February 2024

Hello and welcome back to 2024's final post from the Hot List. This week we will be looking at the most exciting new movies set to hit the big screen in 2024, after the cutoff point for this year's awards season.

ephemeric hot list most best hottest anticipated new movies films 2024 exciting

Cinema is a funny medium. More so than with other forms of art, you can predict with surprising accuracy how good a particular project is likely to be, sometimes even before a single frame has been seen. Take my 2023 Hot List, for example. Oppenheimer, Killers of the Flower Moon, Maestro, Rustin, Spiderverse, Past Lives, The Killer, The Holdovers, all movies contesting awards this year. This wasn't an aberration, you can see this in any of my previous previews. Why is this the case? Perhaps due to the collaborative nature of the medium. A good novelist or songwriter can sometimes have an off-day, but for a film to fail requires the director, writer, producer and cast to all have off-days, which is much less likely where good talent is involved.

But 2024 is looking to be an unpredictable year. Unlike in previous years, the big hitters are less obvious (with one clear exception). There are a great many projects that on paper look like they could be a hit, but few with the kind of ironclad proven pedigree that I would go so far as to call them a sure thing. That's not to say that this is not going to be a good year in film. On the contrary, it means the year is wide open for new filmmakers and risk-takers to make their mark. There are a number of projects for which I am very excited, and I am thrilled to share those with you now.

So without further delay, the key films to keep an eye on in the coming year (trailers linked in the title where available), starting with number 15:

15. Bird

bird andrea arnold barry keoghan best most anticipated film movie 2024First up we have Bird, the upcoming drama film directed by Andrea Arnold, marking her first narrative feature since 2016's American Honey, having more recently worked on the acclaimed TV series Transparent and Big Little Lies

This film stars Barry Keoghan, one of the industry's most buzzworthy actors today. Keoghan is on an incredible run these past few years, having delivered awards-contesting roles in The Banshees of Inisherin and Saltburn. Could Bird be the film that bags Keoghan the big prize?

The film explores themes resonant with Arnold's signature focus on the fringes of society, shot across various locations in the south of England, including Gravesend, Dartford, Ashford, Bean, Kent, and the Isle of Sheppey. The plot remains under wraps, but the combination of Arnold's celebrated directorial approach and the leading actors' rising profiles promises a compelling cinematic experience. A release date has yet to be announced, but this is expected to hit the festival circuit later in 2024.

Release Date: TBA 2024

14. Joker: Folie à Deux

joker 2 folie deux sequel joaquin phoenix lady gaga best movies films 2024
The first Joker film was something of an odd concept. A classic, comic book villain origin story, presented in a style more reminiscent of a gritty Scorsese psychological crime thriller. It's fair to say it was met with a polarizing response. People either loved it or hated it, perhaps best illustrated by the fact that the film would go on to garner an astonishing 11 Academy Award nominations (and 2 wins), despite a meagre 69% Rotten Tomatoes score. 

It was also supposed to be a one-off experiment, with no connection to a broader cinematic universe (as was the style at the time) or sequel. Yet here we are, 2024, and an unlikely sequel, Joker: Folie à Deux is incoming. Joaquin Phoenix reprises his Oscar winning role, joined by Lady Gaga as Harley Quinn, as well as the greats Steve Coogan and Brendan Gleeson. It's also apparently a musical... yeah.

If you enjoyed the first Joker and its bizarre combination of genres and sensibilities, then this looks to be right up your alley. But if you were one of those who didn't quite know what to make of the original, it's safe to say this won't convert you.

Release Date: October 2024

13. Gladiator II

gladiator 2 II sequel russell crowe ridley scott paul mescal best films movies 2024
On the subject of unexpected sequels, Gladiator II. Yes, you heard that right, Ridley Scott has decided to make a sequel to his 24 year old classic, despite the notable handicap of everyone in the first film being dead by the ending credits. But don't worry, this isn't a Roman zombie apocalypse (although I'd watch that), it's a tale of the hitherto unknown illegitimate son of the first film's protagonist, on a journey to learn the truth about his biological father. 

It sounds like a terrible idea, but the return of Ridley brings legitimacy, as does the casting of Paul Mescal, one of Hollywood's most exciting young actors. Mescal is joined by an excellent cast that includes Denzel Washington, Pedro Pascal, and Derek Jacobi.

The studios clearly have high hopes for this continuation of the Gladiator saga, and have chosen a plum November release date, with the clear intention of mounting an awards campaign.

Release Date: November 2024

12. Civil War

civil war alex garland beach ex machina 28 days later best films movies 2024 kirsten dunst
Alex Garland is a name that demands attention. The acclaimed speculative fiction author of The BeachThe Tesseract, 28 Days Later, more recently turned successful film director with Ex Machina and Annihilation. His newest film, Civil War, hits a little closer to home.

This is a dystopian action film starring Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons, and Nick Offerman. Set in a near-future America engulfed by a Second Civil War, the film follows journalists navigating through a nation divided between the government and separatist "Western Forces." 

Civil War is slated for a premiere at South by Southwest on March 14, 2024, and a theatrical release on April 12, 2024

Release Date: April 2024

11. Conclave

conclave edward berger western front ralph fiennes john lithgow stanley tucci pope best films movies 2024
Here's one with some real award winning potential. Conclave is the latest from German-Austrian filmmaker Edward Berger, who took the industry by storm in 2022 with All Quiet on the Western Front. That film was met with widespread critical acclaim, but came a little bit too much out of nowhere to really contend for the big prizes. Now Berger is no longer an unknown quantity, and the expectation will be there.

Based on the Robert Harris novel of the same name, this film follows Cardinal Lomeli, played by Ralph Fiennes, as he seeks a successor for the deceased Pope, uncovering a secret in the process. The cast includes John Lithgow, Stanley Tucci, and Isabella Rossellini.

Release date is still TBA, with distribution rights only having been confirmed at the end of 2023. But this is expected to release during the peak awards season of 2024.

Release Date: TBA 2024

10. We Live in Time

we live in time john crowley nick payne florence pugh andrew garfield best films movies 2024
We Live in Time is an upcoming romantic film from director John Crowley, best known as the award winning director of Brooklyn. His latest is a collaboration with writer Nick Payne, one of the great playwrights of the past ten years, known particularly for the brilliant, award-nominated productions Constellations and Elegy.

Little is known of the plot, other than this is a love story featuring a strong cast headed by Florence Pugh and Andrew Garfield. This is one of those projects where the sheer weight of talent tells you that it will be something worth watching. In particular, seeing Payne continue to expand his work in cinema makes for a tantalising prospect.

Release date is to be announced, but it is expected that this will be hitting the various film festivals this summer, with a wider release in the second half of the year.

Release Date: TBA 2024

9. Inside Out 2

inside out 2 sequel pixar best films movies 2024
Something a bit on the lighter side, we have a sequel to what is perhaps Pixar's greatest film, Inside Out 2. The first film was a brilliant, funny, deceptively insightful metaphor for the internal struggle of growing up, acclaimed by many to be among the greatest animated films ever made. The sequel will follow where that film left off, charting the next stage in life, with whole new emotions and struggles to master. 

The cast sees Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, and Lewis Black return, while Tony Hale and Maya Hawke join the crew. Pete Docter no longer directs, but is replaced by newcomer Kelsey Mann. Pixar has an excellent track record of giving directorial debuts to its behind the scenes crew, we'll see if Mann marks the next of these success stories.

Inside Out 2 will release this summer.

Release Date: June 2024
Unexpected sequels seems to be a bit of a recurring theme in 2024 (who says originality is dead?). Next on this list we have Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F, a long-awaited fourth entry in the classic Beverly Hills Cop franchise, last seen some thirty years ago in 1994.

Eddie Murphy, of course, returns in the title role. He is joined by previous co-stars Judge Reinhold and Paul Reiser, while Taylor Paige and Joseph Gordon Levitt join the cast as newcomers.

While it would be easy to be dismissive of this project, especially after Murphy's recent lacklustre return to Coming to America, who cares. Beverly Hills Cop is awesome, and I'm looking forward to seeing this.

Release Date: July 2024

7. Dune: Part Two

dune part two timothee chalamet best movies films 2024
A more expected sequel. The sprawling literary series of Dune has long held a reputation as unfilmable, at least over the duration of a film (a miniseries came pretty close). So when Legendary Studios committed the cash for a big budget, multi-part epic adaptation that may never have even seen completion had the first installment not been a success, it was one heck of a gamble.

Yet, against the odds and under the expert stewardship of Denis VilleneuveDune: Part One was a critical and commercial success. Its success means that we will get that second half to the story, with Dune: Part Two

Dune: Part Two will feature the same creative team and cast of the first film, following Timothée Chalamet's Atreides' thirst for revenge against the conspirators who destroyed his family, and a greater focus on Zendaya's Chani, seen only briefly in the first film, as her group of Fremen collaborate with Atreides in this quest

The first film was an epic adventure that I can't wait to see concluded. Who knows where the series will go from there. There have been rumours of a third film and Legendary is said to be working on a TV spin off.

Release Date: March 2024

6. The Apprentice

the apprentice trump ali abbasi sebastian stan jeremy strong gabriel sherman best films movies 2024This next one is tasty, for a number of reasons. The Apprentice is a biographical film about Donald Trump. But, wisely, it avoids his recent political history, focusing instead on a young Trump, his relationship with his father, and his burgeoning career in the 1970s and 1980s.  

Sebastian Stan will portray Trump, joined by Jeremy Strong and Academy Award nominee Maria Bakalova.

I am generally wary of films with a political connection released during an election year. What makes this one stand out is the creative talent behind it. This is the debut western production of director Ali Abbasi, a hotly tipped Iranian filmmaker whose filmography to date has garnered numerous awards on the international films circuit, including Cannes, Palm Springs and the European Film Awards. It's being written by Gabriel Sherman, the writer behind the brilliant Roger Ailes expose and its Golden Globe winning miniseries, The Loudest Voice.

The concept and cast is strong, but the talent behind this hints at a genuinely hard-hitting political film. One that is likely to generate a lot of buzz when it releases.

Release Date: TBA 2024

5. Nosferatu

nosferatu dracula vampire bill skarsgard robert eggers willem dafoe best films movies 2024Nosferatu is a gothic horror film directed by Robert Eggers, featuring Bill Skarsgård as Count Orlok. This American production, a remake of the 1922 German Expressionist classic, itself an unofficial adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula.

As with the original film, Nosferatu explores a tale of obsession and horror between a young woman and a vampire. The cast includes Nicholas Hoult, Lily-Rose Depp, and Willem Dafoe

Eggers has been quietly building a track record for edgy, critically acclaimed films, with the likes of The Witch, The Lighthouse and The Northman to his name. Nosferatu marks his biggest production to date, one with the potential to take his star to the next level.

Filming took place in Prague and Romania, capturing the film's 19th-century Romanticism. It's set for release on December 25, 2024, by Focus Features in the US and Universal Pictures internationally.

Release Date: December 2024

4. Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire

ghostbusters 4 sequel frozen empire paul rudd finn wolfhard bill murray dan aykroyd  rick moranis sigourney weaver grace mckenna best films movies 2024Ghostbusters fans are eating good. After a few decades of waiting for a true sequel to 1989's Ghostbusters II, we are getting a fourth entry in the series just three years after the excellent Ghostbusters: Afterlife.

This new entry, Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire appears to be swinging for the fences. Its predecessor seemed to be testing the waters, trying out a new cast of characters, while retaining enough of the old and enough (in truth, gratuitous) nods to nostalgia to ensure a profitable return. Following the commercial and critical success of Afterlife, it now seems that the studio has the confidence to go big.

The cast of Afterlife returns, but so too are members of the original film cast. These classic characters appear set for a larger role this time around, having been given more of a surprise cameo role in Afterlife. What follows is, otherwise, a wholly original story, as opposed to Afterlife's rehash of old villains and plotlines. I don't know how they finally convinced Bill Murray to do this, but I am very excited about it.

Release Date: March 2024

3. Here

here robert zemeckis tom hanks eric roth best film movie 2024
An adaptation of the Richard McGuire graphic novel, Here is an upcoming drama directed by Robert Zemeckis, covering the events of a single room and its inhabitants over many years, from the past to the distant future.

Here reunites the creative team behind classic film Forrest Gump, with writer Eric Roth and stars Tom Hanks and Robin Wright all on board. The wider cast also includes the likes of Paul Bettany. The film is said to use new generative artificial intelligence to face-swap and de-age actors.

Scheduled for a 2024 release by Sony Pictures Releasing. Zemeckis is generally good value, even if it's been a while since he has blown us away with one of his films. Perhaps Here will mark his return to form​.

Release Date: TBA 2024

2. Kinds of Kindness

kinds of kindness emma stone jesse plemons willem dafoe yorgos lanthimos best films movies 2024
This one is pretty simple. The Academy loves Yorgos Lanthimos. His last two films, The Favourite and Poor Things were up for, and won, Academy Awards, yet the biggest prizes have so far alluded him. Expect a narrative to form that Kinds of Kindness could be the one that finally gets his due. 

As for the film itself. Much of the plot is under wraps, but is said to be an anthology of stories set in contemporary America. It features an ensemble cast that includes Lanthimos frequent collaborator (and congratulations on your next Oscar, Emma) Emma Stone, along with Jesse Plemons and Willem Dafoe, evidently very busy actors who have already been featured on this list. 

An exact release date is yet to be revealed, but this is in late post-production and expected to release sometime in 2024.

Release Date: TBA 2024

1. Blitz

best films movies 2024 blitz steve mcqueen saoirse ronanBut my number one pick for the year is the upcoming World War II drama, Blitz by Steve McQueen. Hollywood loves a good World War II drama, and Steve McQueen is one of the darlings of the industry, having previously won the Best Director Oscar for 12 Years a Slave, becoming the first black filmmaker ever to do so. 

As the name suggests, his latest is about Londoners during the Blitz, with an ensemble cast that features Saoirse Ronan, Harris Dickinson, Stephen Graham, and, interestingly, musicians Paul Weller and Benjamin Clementine.

This is an Apple production, a studio with some pedigree now, and a burgeoning reputation for delivering awards calibre films. The release date is to be confirmed, but expected to be in the latter half of the year when the awards season gets underway.

Release Date: TBA 2024

So there you have it folks: The 2024 Hot List. I will be back with many more articles in due course, but for now let's make 2024 a great year together.

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