Tag Archives: The Descendants

10 People You Didn’t Know Have Oscars

1. Uncle Ben

Cliff Robertson as Ben Parker in Spider-Man

Cliff Robertson as Ben Parker in Spider-Man

No, not the rice mascot.

Cliff Robertson’s Ben Parker, beloved uncle to Peter Parker, was perhaps the best-judged performance in the entirety of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy. The actor, who passed away in 2011 aged 88, was not familiar to younger audiences for anything other than this iconic role. So it will surprise some to learn that Robertson was the proud owner of an Academy Award for Best Actor, won in 1969 for his role in the film Charly.

Yep, that'll win you an Oscar: Cliff Robertson in Charly

Yep, that’ll win you an Oscar: Cliff Robertson in Charly

The disappointing flipside to this, however, is that the current Uncle Ben, Martin Sheen, has never won an Oscar. Mull on that for a moment, and then let’s move on.

2. This guy

I know that guy from something...

I know that guy from something…

More like THAT guy! That guy is Fisher Stevens. A character actor known for his snide antagonists and sidekicks, he will be most familiar to viewers of the 1990s magic newspaper TV series Early Edition, and more surprisingly familiar to fans of the Short Circuit movies, in which he donned brown-face to play Steve Guttenberg’s Indian business partner Ben, taking the lead role in the sequel.

Well that's just unfortunate

Well that’s just unfortunate

He also played an obnoxious boyfriend of Monica in an early episode of Friends, and played the villain in the ridiculous 1995 computer caper Hackers.

But when he’s not acting, Stevens is a director and producer, who notably (and not widely known-ly) produced the 2009 documentary The Cove, the film which people claimed they were seeing out of support for dolphins, but actually just wanted to catch a glimpse of Hayden Panettiere in a wetsuit. The Cove won Best Documentary, and Stevens was there to pick up the statue.

Lucky for some

Lucky for some

3. Walton Goggins

Walton Goggins in TV's Justified

Walton Goggins in TV’s Justified

Like Fisher Stevens’s Early Edition co-star Kyle Chandler (Zero Dark Thirty, Argo), The Shield actor Walton Goggins can be proud to have appeared in two Best Picture-nominated films this year – Django Unchained and Lincoln. In Django he played Billy Crash, all too comfortable with a burning-hot poker. In Lincoln he played nervous Democratic Congressman Clay Hawkins, whose backing-and-forthing on the subject of abolition much of the plot rests on. That’s some range right there.

But before any of this Goggins starred in and co-produced a short film called The Accountant, way back in 2001. That took home the Best Live Action Short Oscar, which he shared with director Ray McKinnon and producer Lisa Blount. Yet another person on the set of Django to have more Oscars than Leonardo DiCaprio.

4. Malcolm Tucker

Peter Capaldi in The Thick of It

Peter Capaldi in The Thick of It

Peter Capaldi is best known for playing Malcolm Tucker, the terror-striking Director of Communications for the British Government in satirical BBC comedy The Thick of It, and its spin-off movie In the Loop. Malcolm is one of TV’s greatest monsters, whose abuse-filled tirades make symphonies with profanities. On the flipside of that, some film fans will recognise him as the timid Danny Oldsen in the wonderful 1983 dramedy Local Hero, in which he falls in love with a girl with webbed-toes, believing she’s a mermaid.

But back in 1993 he directed the gloriously titled short film Franz Kafka’s It’s a Wonderful Life, which tied for Best Live Action Short with the film Trevor in 1995. You can watch the whole demented film here.

5. Keith Carradine

Keith Carradine, back in the day

Keith Carradine, back in the day

The Carradine name has been tainted in recent years by rambling speeches about Superman, and autoerotic asphyxiation. But David’s half-brother Keith has kept up the good work begun in The Duellists and Southern Comfort with roles in TV’s Deadwood and Dexter. If any Carradine was going to have an Oscar under his belt, it was going to be him. And he does!

But what’s strangest about this is that he won his gong for Best Song. ‘I’m Easy’, from Robert Altman’s dramedic masterpiece Nashville, was not just performed by Carradine, but written by him as well. It’s a pretty damn good tune too, I’ll have you know.

6. Dean Pelton

Jim Rash has yet to win an Oscar for playing Dean Pelton

Jim Rash has yet to win an Oscar for playing Dean Pelton

While audience’s expect to see Community’s Jim Rash dressed as Carmen Miranda before they’d imagine him in a tuxedo, Rash has a lot more to him than the gloriously flamboyantly clown he appears as on TV. Last year Rash took home a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar for his work on Alexander Payne’s The Descendants.

While Payne gave the speech, Rash unwisely spent his time on stage impersonating a meme-worthy pose of Angelina Jolie, ensuring the speech would forever be incomprehensible to future generations.

7. Christine Lahti

Christine Lahti

Christine Lahti

Nowadays more famous for not actually being Allison Janney, Christine Lahti was one of the biggest stars of ’90s hospital drama Chicago Hope, and was a Best Supporting Actress nominee at the Oscars for Swing Shift back in 1984. But like so many on this list, her biggest achievement came as a Best Live Action Short Film award, which she won for directing 1995’s Lieberman in Love (in which she also co-starred with Danny Aiello). That tops Allison Janney’s two Emmys any day!

Not Christine Lahti

Not Christine Lahti

8. Homer Simpson

Wooo-hooo!

Wooo-hooo!

No, Homer Simpson has never actually won an Oscar. In fact 2007’s The Simpsons Movie wasn’t even nominated for Best Animated Feature. There is no Academy Award for best voice-acting (there should be), so Dan Castellaneta has never won an Oscar either. In fact, if any member of the Simpson family is likely to win an Oscar, it’s little Maggie Simpson, whose short adventure The Longest Daycare is nominated for Best Animated Short this Sunday.

But while Homer has never won an Oscar, he does have an Oscar, as revealed in the season 7 episode of The Simpsons ‘Team Homer’. Displaying his trophy collection, Homer is shown to have come into possession of the Best Supporting Actor Oscar won by Dr. Haing S. Ngor for The Killing Fields in 1985.

Haing S. Ngor

Haing S. Ngor

Which is a nice way of segueing into Ngor’s win. The physician was a first-time actor when he took the pivotal role of Dith Pran in The Killing Fields. He starred in a dozen lesser-known films before he was murdered by a street gang outside his Los Angeles home in 1996, only a month after ‘Team Homer’ aired. Out of sensitivity, for subsequent syndication and DVD release Homer’s Oscar was shown to be that of Don Ameche, won for 1985’s Cocoon.

9. Lionel Richie

The epitome of ’80s cool

Here’s a strange one. Not content with having No.1 songs with ‘Hello’ and ‘All Night Long (All Night)’, the ’80s R&B icon also has an Oscar to go with his Grammys. He won the little gold man for ‘Say You, Say Me’, which he composed for the now much-forgotten Cold War ballet drama White Nights (1985). More troubling is that the music video for ‘Hello’ wasn’t nominated for Best Picture. That thing is amazing.

10. This goat

She-Goat

She-Goat

Well no, obviously this bronze goat sculpture has never won an Oscar, but, and bear with me here, it does share a home with one. Pablo Picasso’s ‘She-Goat’, cast in 1952, is one of the most recognisable works in the permanent collection of The Museum of Modern Art in New York. MoMA has one of the oldest film departments of any museum in the world, and in 1978 had an Honorary Award bestowed upon it by the Academy, “for the contribution it has made to the public’s perception of movies as an art form”.

MoMA’s Oscar has an interesting history of its own, being the subject of a theft some years back. When it was recovered, a small patch of the figure’s crown had been scratched away by crooks eager to see just how much gold the statue contains (note: not very much, it’s a very thin coating). After the recovered Oscar returned from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences fully restored, it was locked away in a drawer for its own protection for several years. However, in happy news, MoMA’s Oscar was only this month returned to the Museum, where he now greets visitors at the film entrance on 53rd Street. Hooray!

Home is where you hang your Oscar

Home is where you hang your Oscar

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2011 in review – Style, meet Substance. Substance, Style.

Now, perhaps I’m just misjudging the subtext of what I’ve read in the blogo/Twitter-sphere, but I get the impression that there is consensus that 2011 was a particularly fine year for cinema. There were definitely a lot of great films released, and compiling the list below was not easy, but was it a particularly great year?

It was certainly a standout year for American (and English-language) cinema. With some exceptions, blockbusters were smarter and tighter, and even where they failed (Rise of the Planet of the Apes) they still had ambition. Source Code led the charge for a new wave of intelligent sci-fi thrillers. Bridesmaids and 50/50 showed that American comedies could have as much heart as they had bodily fluids. Drive proved enough flair on a filmmaker’s behalf could erase any need for strong dialogue or acting – yet that film brought some great lines and fine performances nonetheless. At Cannes, The Tree of Life conquered, and around the world audiences were left mesmerised and/or walked out of the cinema.

The build-up to 2012’s The Avengers continued with two enjoyable tongue-in-cheek superhero adventures, Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger; the success of both suggested the heroic team’s first outing will be one of the biggest films of this year. If rivals DC and Warner Bros wish to meet the Avengers threat head-on with a Justice League film, the critically mauled Green Lantern and a trailer for 2012’s The Dark Knight Rises should ensure that no one wants to see a JL film without Christopher Nolan at the helm any time soon.

After a terrific year in 2010, children’s films hit a hurdle – only one children’s film cracked my top 20, and it was released in the US in 2010. Martin Scorsese’s beautiful but shamefully overlong Hugo deserves applause however, even if it did prove once and for all (to me at least) that 3D cannot be mastered even by the most talented of filmmakers. Nostalgic methadone The Muppets and the enjoyable Kung Fu Panda 2 (which featured superb sequences of traditional hand-drawn animation) also narrowly missed my list.

As for documentaries… well, for work-related reasons I saw more docs last year than any year previous. Unfortunately many of them are so obscure that there is no point in listing them here. But suffice to say it was a strong year for documentary from around the world, even if the interesting but unambitious Inside Job won most of the acclaim this year. Docs like Senna and Page One: Inside the New York Times told their stories with far more flair.

A few notes on the list. Traditionally I have stuck with what was released in Ireland during each individual year, meaning that some of the previous year’s late releases (especially the Oscar push) end up on the subsequent year’s list – there’s never been a way of avoiding that. To add to the confusion now, I spent almost half of 2011 living in the United States, so this list may see some films released in late 2010 in the US but early 2011 in Ireland, while others will have yet to arrive in Irish cinemas yet.

It’s fair to say I didn’t see as many new films in 2011 as I might have liked (so few bad ones indeed, that I do not have enough to fill a “worst of 2011” list), but I did see a huge number of films this year. On the big screen, just some of the classics I saw include: Walkabout, The Driver, Paisan, Pickpocket, Network, The Wages of Fear, Quai des Brumes, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (a restoration presented in person by Scorsese and Thelma Schoonmaker), Bridge on the River Kwai, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Orpheus, The Warriors and The Big Lebowski. Most of these were made available to me during a three-month internship I undertook at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, a position I could talk endlessly about, but will not concern you with here.

That didn’t leave much room for new films, and amongst those I missed that I suspect may have challenged the films on this list are: Paul, The Beaver, Warrior, Moneyball, Take Shelter, My Week With Marilyn, Tyrannosaur, Fincher’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Skin I Live In, War Horse and The Adventures of Tintin.

Honourable mentions for films that I saw but barely missed out on the list are: Hugo, The Guard, The Muppets, Attack the Block, Senna, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2, Bridesmaids, The Inbetweeners Movie, Cave of Forgotten Dreams and Super 8.

Now, enough stalling… shall we?

20. The King’s Speech

The eventual reigning champion at last year’s Oscars, this was a beautifully produced and (for the most part) strongly acted account of the troubles faced by the young King George VI. A powerful and memorable ending casts a positive light on an otherwise largely forgettable flm; but damn, what an ending it is.

19. Troll Hunter

One of 2011’s most unexpected delights, this “found-footage” comedy/horror used the bizarre natural landscape of Norway as the perfect paradise for surprisingly realistic CGI trolls on a budget. An outrageously straight performance by Norwegian comic Otto Jespersen as the government-sponsored hunter of the title and surprisingly effective pseudo-science about troll biology made this film a sometimes scary but consistently hilarious outing – Man Bites Dog meets Rare Exports. “TROOOOOOOOOLL!” may have been the funniest delivery of a single word last year.

18. Tangled

Disney finally put a CG challenge to their successful underlings Pixar with this gorgeous retelling of the Rapunzel tale. Colourful, enchanting, witty and light, the film was only let down by standard music numbers and a fairytale parody feel all-too familiar from the Shrek films. A superb villain, a playful chameleon and an indestructible horse were all highlights, but the film’s greatest feat is the animation in Rapunzel’s seemingly endless waves of golden hair.

 17. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol

M:I4 came out at the end of a year which had featured some strong blockbusters but had been for the most part low on action (Transformers: Dark of the Moon notwithstanding). But Ghost Protocol made up for that. Beginning with a simple prison breakout, Ethan Hunt and his team go on to infiltrate the Kremlim, abseil the world’s tallest building and embark on a chase through a sandstorm where every grain can be heard whistling violently by the camera. The story was light spy fare, but the commitment by actors and filmmakers on show were as awe-inspiring as the stunts they pulled off for the camera.

16. The Descendants

Alexander Payne’s latest is a powerful family drama. George Clooney is impressive as a lawyer nigh-widowed when his wife is left in a vegetative state after a boating accident. Trying to hold his family together, he must also deal with a sale of his family’s massive estate on which many relatives are relying. Hawaii has never looked so naturally beautiful and also hideously metropolitan as it does here. The music is wonderfully chosen from local sources, and Shailene Woodley gives one of the year’s best performances as the distraught and destructive older daughter. However, the film’s tiresome insistence on ending every dramatic scene with a punchline keeps it from being one of the greatest of recent American dramas.

15. True Grit

The Coens went west again with this adaptation of Charles Portis’s book, while still undeniably owing credit to the John Wayne-starring original. With two terrific performances at its centre by Jeff Bridges and Hailee Steinfeld and stunning golden-brown cinematography, this was a notable entry in the Coens’ canon. Expectedly wacky minor characters and some thrilling and tense shoot-outs added to the fun.

14. Pina

An incredible documentary and the finest live-action 3D film yet produced (although still far from faultless in terms of that technology), Pina is a work of love in memory of the late choreographer Pina Bausch. Wim Wenders controls the cameras but he allows Pina’s choreography to direct the film, as her company, each member an instrument of their master, performs sensational modern dance pieces. The energy and beauty of the dances are on full display, as four massive ensemble pieces are intercut with brief personal performances by each of the dancers. For the most part the 3D recreates the depth of viewing dance in theatre while allowing the viewer to feel the power and intensity of each performance more intimately. The film has emerged from a tragedy (Pina’s sudden death just before filming began) to become a testament to one woman’s remarkable legacy.

 13. Poetry

South Korean star Yoon Jeong-hee emerged from retirement to star in this superb, harrowing drama about an ailing grandmother forced to raise money for a legal settlement after her grandson is implicated in the suicide of a teenaged girl. Unexpectedly powerful and heartfelt, Poetry is carried by Jeong-hee’s sensational performance as she tries to find the will, energy and love to do whatever it takes to save her grandson from prison.

12. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

This superbly shot, atmospheric spy thriller was one of the year’s most audience-dividing films, but few could doubt its style and the acting strength of its terrific ensemble cast. Despite some pacing troubles caused by adapting an extremely meaty book, Tomas Alfredson latest film maintained tension and intrigue from start to finish, while injecting some superb character drama into proceedings. Old-school storytelling meets modern filmmaking precision.

11. Kill List

The only film on this list that I can openly say I do not know if I wish to see it ever again. This genre-shifting oddity – part thriller, part horror, part kitchen sink drama – came out of nowhere this year; a low-budget Yorkshire production. With frenzied performances and horrific but effective storytelling, editing and imagery, this unforgettable beast manages to terrorise its audience but unlike most modern horrors actually has a genuine story. Family, friendship and the damage rage can do to them are the subjects at this film’s core. Unmissable – if your stomach can handle that sort of thing.

10. We Need to Talk About Kevin

It may have suffered from budgeting problems but this drama, about a mother who cannot love her son, is crafted by truly expert hands. Lynne Ramsay directs the irreproachable Tilda Swinton as the troubled mother – uncertain if her child is evil or, worse, if her fearing that is making him so. A wonderful mesh of flashbacks weave together a devastating story, told with wonderful plays of lighting and editing. Swinton gives perhaps the greatest performance of her career to date, while co-stars John C. Reilly and Ezra Miller offer strong support.

 9. Midnight in Paris

Woody Allen’s latest comeback is his best film in decades. Owen Wilson fills Allen’s acting shoes with aplomb as a writer nostalgic for an era he has never known – Paris in the ’20s. When, escaping his passionless fiancée, he inadvertently finds himself time-travelling to that age, he finds inspiration from his idols and, unexpectedly, a truer love in the form of Pablo Picasso’s mistress (Marion Cotillard). Beautifully shot, cunningly scripted and with a soundtrack to warm the heart, the film is elevated further by a series of charming cameos; most notably Adrien Brody, hamming it up magnificently as Salvador Dalí.

8. Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky’s film about obsession on the ballet stage combines the wildness of Powell and Pressburger with the psychological and body horror of David Cronenberg. Anchored by an incredible performance from Natalie Portman, this is a stylish, sexualised psychological thriller about a mental breakdown spurred on by determination to be the best. Ominous production design and chaotic editing kept the audience as confused and terrified as its lead character.

 7. Shame

Following his sensational breakthrough Hunger, director Steve McQueen’s second film is a tragic and overwhelmingly honest portrayal of a sex addict. The year’s biggest surprise star, Michael Fassbender, gives a disturbing but spellbinding performance in the lead role as a man obsessed with his own need. Carrie Mulligan gives a fine performance as his sister, the only person who stands a hope of getting through to him in his self-destructive cocoon, but who has her own problems to deal with. Shot with the director’s now signature style of long takes and anchored cameras, Shame gets you inside the head of a man you were happier only knowing the exterior of. A gripping, sorrowful, shameless movie.

 6. A Separation

As human as any drama could hope to be, this Iranian feature tells the story of a couple as they prepare to divorce, and the effect it has on their teenaged daughter. When an accident implicates the husband in a terrible crime, the familial bonds are tested to their limit. A Separation is an incredible, original-feeling story, in which every shot is sensitively composed, and the actors play out the drama with more conviction than most filmmakers could dream of finding. An unexpected gem of Iranian cinema.

5. Drive

Taking its cue from Walter Hill’s existential car chase classic The Driver, untameable Danish filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn made his American debut with more class and style than most of Hollywood’s heavy-hitters could hope to conjure in an entire career. Shot so slickly the screen appears to ooze light and colour (and later, blood), and with a soundtrack that can only be described as “awesome”, Drive took the whole world by storm and topped countless best of lists in 2011. Ryan Gosling plays the largely silent lead role calm and cool, but the film is stolen by the enigmatic Albert Brooks as a business-savvy mafia boss who takes no prisoners.

4. Melancholia

Perhaps Lars von Trier’s finest film to date, this drama of personal agony/apocalyptic sci-fi nightmare was one of the most hotly debated films last year. It tells the story of a young woman’s lapse into a destructive depression as the very literal metaphor of the planet Melancholia begins a collision course with Earth. As our heroine, Kirsten Dunst reveals herself a remarkable actress of hitherto unexplored talents. However, several of the film’s other performances – especially those of Charlotte Gainsbourg, Charlotte Rampling and Kiefer Sutherland – deserve outstanding praise also. The film’s overture, a stunning sequence of painterly foreshadowings, and its conclusion in an orgy of emotion, light and music, make it a truly remarkable piece of filmmaking from an endlessly challenging filmmaker.

3. 13 Assassins

One of the year’s most over-looked films, 13 Assassins echoes the greatness of Seven Samurai while creating a grittier, more violent and altogether more carefree film. Takashi Miike builds the drama over the course of an hour, setting his band of samurai against an army of warriors and their utterly despicable master. When the tension finally gives way, one of the most remarkably orchestrated battle scenes in recent memory erupts in a flurry of swords, severed limbs and flaming cattle. The film’s realistic look and soundscape allow for a perverse weirdness to seep through, which provides a truly breathtaking entertainment.

2. The Tree of Life

A surprise victor at Cannes in 2011, Terrence Malick’s latest is a glorious thing to behold. The story of a Texas family is told in flashes of light and memory, accompanied by angelic music and bolstered by outstanding acting by Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain and Hunter McCracken. Through imagery of the dawn of time and the rise and demise of the dinosaurs Malick demonstrates the true reality of life; the lord giveth and the lord taketh away. Composed of one eye-shatteringly gorgeous image after the other, The Tree of Life simply has no equal in terms of skill in filmmaking. Only a misused Sean Penn and a clichéd (though beautiful) coda could be said to make this film anything less than a masterpiece.

1. The Artist

The filmmaker/actor partnership behind a pair of slight but playful French spy spoofs unexpectedly burst onto the global stage in a flurry of unbridled joy in 2011. The Artist, a silent tale of silent movies and the silent men and women behind them, is not just a throwback to the classics of old Hollywood, but is a touching, timely drama about obsoleteness and getting back on your feet. More importantly, it is a delightful, playful and utterly charming comedy that takes the visual medium to a place it hasn’t gone with such panache in over 80 years. Michel Hazanavicius directs like a silent-era pro, as if he were one of the European émigrés who built early Hollywood arriving a little too late to the party. In the lead role of former silent star George Valentin, Jean Dujardin is electric; every muscle in his body goes into his dazzling performance, his face does more work than most actors do with their entire beings. As his young muse, Bérénice Bejo provides a perfect mirror of physical support, while Valentin’s remarkable pet dog (also his co-star) steals many scenes without bending a whisker. As much homage as it is a work of sheer class in and of itself, The Artist is a joy-filled crowd-pleaser which also toys with the medium with some remarkable, truly satisfying results.

That's all folks!

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