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2015 in review – You had us worried there for a bit

2015 best of

There was a moment when it looked like 2015 would be a pretty miserable year for cinema. A good few moments, to be honest. Battling through my final semester of college, my film viewing was restricted, and it wasn’t until May that I saw the first of the films to make my Top 20 of the year (Mad Max: Fury Road, if you’re asking).

Highly rated horrors It Follows and A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night proved to be effective diversions that thoroughly failed to live up to the hyperbolic heights of the Film Twitter opinion machine. Furious 7 was a delightful (and dumb, but delightful) way to spend my birthday and a night away from my thesis, but that franchise continues to move away from the success of Fast Five. After Mad Max summer descended into a farce of blockbusters: the paint-by-nostalgia monstrosity that was Jurassic World, the lopsidedly bloated Avengers: Age of Ultron, the Roland Emmerich-lite San Andreas.

It was well into autumn before things picked up for me. Some early triumphs from the year made their ways to Netflix, and by then I was working on a project at the Museum of Modern Art, where keeping up to date with the better film releases became little more than a matter of staying late after work. In so many ways 2015 ended a lot better than it began.

It was Star Wars that sealed the deal. Not my favourite film of the year (in fact you’ll see it absent from the list below – but it was a close cut), The Force Awakens proved to have that little bit of magic that has been missing for all too long, a film the world can absorb the hype of that then manages to live up to expectations and be a genuinely terrific film. I saw a late screening opening night, and regardless of reservations, I left the cinema more charged than I can remember being in years.

There were, as always, dabbles in film history to charge me also. Painfully overdue, I finally viewed Kieślowski’s Three Colours trilogy, which lived up to the expectations of that teenager who caught three minutes of White on the TV so many years ago. At the cinema, I caught some real masterpieces for the first time: The Naked Spur, A Star Is Born (1954), The Masque of the Red Death, Fires on the Plain, the five-hour cut of Until the End of the World, Touki Bouki, Lonesome, and a 3D screening of the delirious Kiss Me Kate. Nothing compared to Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, which stole my heart and exhausted my mind at MoMA in November, and instantly catapulted itself into the list of very greatest films I have ever seen.

Knowing 2015 would be a busy year, my annual movie challenge was intentionally a light one. Spying an obvious blind spot in my film knowledge – Bollywood – I took to forcing myself to watch one (long) feature a month. I only scraped the surface of course, but I’ve developed an understanding of and passion for this major branch of Indian cinema, its flamboyance, its love of twists and hatred of subtext. I watched essential classics including Zanjeer, Mother India, and Mughal-e-Azam, as well as recent hits like Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge and 3 Idiots, and even contemporary madness like Dhoom, Dhoom 2, and Enthiran. I’ll be watching more in future, and I can’t recommend enough that film fans who have yet to dip their toes in Bollywood streams take care of that, and see what a sixth of people on earth considers mainstream cinema.

So on to the films of the year. As always I missed a few things. Beasts of No Nation, despite being right there on Netflix, never got seen. Clouds of Sils Maria, Bridge of Spides, Magic Mike XXL, and Creed similarly got missed. Some lauded films were appreciated, but fell short for me, like Straight Outta Compton, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, The Hateful Eight, and The Revenant. Films that narrowly didn’t make my Top 20 include Mistress America, Tangerine, Taxi, James White, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Song of the Sea, and The Big Short. The terrific farce 7 Days of Hell was considered, but rejected for the same reason A Very Murray Christmas, the worst thing I saw all year, doesn’t feature in my worst-of list – they’re both productions designed for home viewing and barely of a length to qualify as features.

 

Now, who enjoys a good list?

 

20. Queen of Earth

Alex Ross Perry’s psychological drama about the breakdown of friendship between two millenial yuppies is peppered with nightmarish oddities that keep the viewer on their toes. It’s violently negative in its lack of faith in people supporting one another in need, but not unjustifiably so. Shot in bright airy spaces, but the focus is on intense close-ups that further alienate the characters from each other. Elisabeth Moss gave one of the year’s most committed performances.

 

19. Youth

Still struggling to recreate his earlier successes in The Consequences of Love and (the near-perfect) Il Divo, Paolo Sorrentino has made his best film in seven years. It focuses on two elderly artist friends hiding from the world in a Swiss spa. Michael Caine is the retired classical composer who peaked too soon, Harvey Keitel is the Scorsese-like filmmaker who keeps pumping out films that cannot compare to the works of his youth. Finely acted and sublimely scored, and featuring a deluge of Sorrentino’s delicious, unexplained eccentricities, it is hampered only by its dialogue, which feels all too scabrously translated from Italian.

 

18. Ex Machina

As sci-fi continues to recapture the public imagination (2015 was quite a good year for it overall), this unexpected gem, a sexy Asimovian tale of A.I. versus real en-souled intelligence, became a surprise favourite for many. Written and directed by Alex Garland, known best for writing Danny Boyle’s sci-fi ventures, this was a slickly produced psychological thriller that brought together demi-perspex android Alicia Vikander and 2015 MVP Domhnall Gleeson’s computer expert for the ultimate Voight-Kampff test. Oscar Isaac’s untrustworthy tech billionaire, all creatine and superego, stole the show, along with the lush visuals. A mishandled finale was the only sour note.

 

17. Phoenix

Christian Petzold, the emerging master of German historical melodrama, weaves a strangely original yarn in Phoenix, in which a Holocaust survivor attempts to uncover if her husband served her up to the Nazis. Unrecognisable after reconsructive surgery, she is hired by her husband to impersonate his supposedly dead wife to claim an inheritance. The greater mystery is therefore known to us, creating a scintilating game of cat and mouse. Impressive period detail, Nina Hoss’s restrained performance and a jawdropping conclusion make it one to remember.

 

16. Sicario

What should feel overly familiar, another tale of cynical cops and murderous cartels, is given new life and energy in Denis Villeneuve’s Sicario. The descent of Emily Blunt’s FBI agent from go-getting SWAT member, to toughened special forces volunteer, to exhausted, disillusioned survivor, stands as a superb metaphor for the bewildering War on Drugs. Smart dialogue and incredible cinematography by Roger Deakins (the night vision sequence was one of the year’s finest) saw it through clunkier moments; it leaves a lasting impression.

 

15. Goodnight Mommy

The old dark house of classic horror is here replaced with a soulless, polished modernist monolith, a bright white country house full of dark terrors. A pair of twins – spritely, Aryan-looking – begin to suspect that their mother is no longer who she claims to be. A nasty game of powerplay ensues, with the story cleverly shifting the viewer’s allegience. Keenly cut and often blackly comic, it’s a skin-crawling horror that reinvents torture porn as Oedipal nightmare.

 

14. The Assassin

Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s stunning wuxia fable was one of 2015’s most beautiful and most frustrating films. With an intentionally obtuse storyline and an editing style that cuts away from the main action on a whim, it is not a film that satisfies a hunger for solid storytelling. What it does have however are exquisitely lush production values and, in its star Shu Qi, a remarkable feminine intensity. Many of the year’s most arresting images were imbedded in this work, in particular a dramatic cliffside confrontation slowly enwrapped in mist.

 

13. Inside Out

Pixar rarely let us down, but lately their hits have numbered their misses. But their hits remain some of the smartest, most charming and most universally appealing films to come out of Hollywood today. Pete Docter, responsible for Monsters, Inc. and Up, here takes us inside the mind of a young preteen, demonstrating her emotional turmoil through anthropomorphised emotions that dwell in a sci-fi wonderland; part playground, part bureaucratic stampede. The characters both inside and out carry the film’s hefty emotional punch, and the designs are handsome and witty. Only its repetitive, stop-and-start adventure narrative prevents it from being listed with the very top of the Pixar pantheon.

 

12. Brooklyn

Old-fashioned in the best possible way, director John Crowley’s take on Colm Tóibín’s novel, adapted by Nick Hornby, puts its money where its heart is. Saoirse Ronan beams as Eilis, a shy parochial Irish girl who moves to New York to better herself, and soon emerges from her shell, only to be torn between her new home and the one she left behind. Plus there’s an ideal romantic match on both sides of the Atlantic. Excellent period detail and finely paced, simple human drama create something traditional yet timely. Earnest, genuine, and unironic storytelling.

 

11. Spotlight 

Telling the story of how The Boston Globe broke the news of massive cover-ups of paedophilia within the Catholic Church, Spotlight repeatedly evokes the champion of the investigative news genre, All the President’s Men. While never quite reaching its forebear’s heights, it recaptures much of its energy, making the gathering of information or the biting of a new lead as thrilling as a gun battle or foot chase. It is functionally, unshowily shot, with some choice montage work, but it’s the slowly building story and the great performances, most notably Mark Ruffalo, that made this one of the year’s most surprisingly powerful dramas.

 

10. Anomalisa

Resurrecting a 10-year-old stage play, the unique surrealist Charlie Kaufman chose to visualise this tale of depression and isolation in stop-motion animation form. The antihero of the film, Michael, is so cut-off, introspective and self-obsessive, that he perceives every stranger as sharing the same, expressionless face, each bearing actor Tom Noonan’s barely shifting tones. A chance encounter with Lisa, wearing her own 3D-printed face and wielding Jennifer Jason Leigh’s sweet voice, evolves into a simple love affair with complex repercussions. At times hilarious, tragic, or nightmarish, it sculpts two incredible character studies as rich as the miniature universe built to house them. The shower scene alone guarantees this one immortality.

9. The Duke of Burgundy

Peter Strickland has emerged as a late British Lynch, an artist who understands the film camera as a literal dream machine, producing deep truth from the illogical. In this, his third dramatic feature, he explores female sexuality through a series of twisting sexual games of cat-and-mouse, as a lesbian couple indulge in sado-masochistic role-play in opulent fashion. The lavish English country estate décor, sensuous lingerie and extensive all-female cast create a gratifying otherworldliness, while the rich cinematography, sharp cutting and unexpected insect imagery add to Strickland’s ethereal scenario an extra sexy pinch.

 

8. The Look of Silence

The companion piece to 2012’s untouchable The Act of Killing, The Look of Silence sees Joshua Oppenheimer turn away from the perpetrators of Indonesia’s anti-communist genocide to look at its victims, and the survivors. In a metaphor too perfect for fiction, clear sight is given to us through an optician (or supposed optician), a man whose brother was savagely slain by government-backed gangsters. He visits these older gangsters, now local big wigs, and while performing eye exams, has them probe their despicable pasts for reasonings and methods. Mixing gut-wrenching old video testament with brightly shot contemporary footage, Oppenheimer hints that an emotional cleansing is possible, but all too late for our protagonist and his withering parents.

 

7. Mad Max: Fury Road 

Just when reboots and remakes and all-too-late sequels were becoming old-hat, George Miller undid more than a decade’s worth of talking animal abuse to bring back Max Rockatansky from his shallow, sandy, post-apocalyptic grave. An adrenaline-pumping extended chase sequence of a movie, Fury Road has all the thump and energy of the finest post-’90s action cinema with the dedicated, unpatronising world-building of ’80s fantasy. Tom Hardy grunts as Max, while Charlize Theron stands a one-armed feminist archangel as Imperator Furiosa, a second-tier thug in a cultish tribe who decides enough is enough in the face of crippling misogyny and rape. With exquisite stunts and mind-boggling costume and vehicle design, Fury Road is that rare art film in blockbuster’s clothing. Indulgences in the thrill of the chase undermine the broader themes at times, but this is still exceptional filmmaking from start to finish.

 

6. The Tribe

Part gangster movie, part coming-of-age tale, part pitch-black parody of high school dramas, The Tribe is a monstrous and brilliant work. Set at a Ukrainian school for the deaf, the dialogue is entirely in sign language, without accompanying translation of any kind. The audience is thus forced to engage doubly with the material, to absorb what story it can while the thunderous, angered performances confront them head on. Extended shots without cuts for interruption draw you further in, only to be assaulted by a McDonagh-ian propensity for sudden, horrifying violence. Other sequences our ears pick up the important sounds that could mean life-or-death for the characters on screen. It is a hopeless look at an isolated, noiseless world, that milks the potential of cinema to both reveal and conceal for everything it’s got.

 

5. The Martian

Another story of survival in space – so what makes this one different? Well for starters, Matt Damon gives his finest performance in a decade in one of his greatest roles, as astronaut Mark Watney, a cocksure scientist whose wit and ego are enough to just about sustain him after he is abandoned on Mars in a dust storm. His quest to stay alive with limited resources is created with real (or at least believable) science and exceptional wit, through Drew Goddard’s bouncy screenplay and Damon’s sardonic delivery. The momentum jumps along at a solid pace, while sequences on Mars, Earth, and in space sustain the drama without an ounce of fat. Ridley Scott, working as a director for hire, commits to a great project, tying together excellent location shooting (in Jordan) and expertly deployed special effects. A testament to human perseverance, a uniquely smart blockbuster, and just a really good time at the movies.

 

4. Son of Saul

Shot on 35mm with needle-point-shallow focus, Hungarian filmmaker László Nemes’s debut feature redefines ‘harrowing’, by bringing you into the whirling hell of a Nazi death camp and refusing to let you out. The sensational Géza Röhrig is Saul, a Jewish prisoner fit enough to be part of the team who assist in the mass murder of their own people, and thus an enforced collaborator. His impossible last chance for redemption is to save the corpse of a young man (his son, perhaps?) from the furnace, but escalating events in the camp block his way at every hurdle. An exhausting, frustrating and beautiful work, that dares to reveal the darkest, unwhispered barbarities of the Holocaust.

 

3. 45 Years

The year’s simplest, meatiest tragedy, Andrew Haigh’s 45 Years feels like the untold not-so-happy ending to many of the greatest love stories. An older couple is about to celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary when he receives a letter regarding a lost love from his past. The nostalgia and sadness bred in him stirs regret and paranoia in his wife, threatening not just the occasion, but the legacy of their relationship. Capturing beautiful moments of human interaction and shot from a permanently respectful distance, 45 Years is a remarkable story that triumphs through its two stars, the resurrected ’60s heartthrob Tom Courtenay, and the irrepressible Charlotte Rampling, at her very finest.

 

2. Carol

Todd Haynes’s sumptuous, delicious film of forbidden love in 1950s New York hits with an emotional wallop, as wide-eyed salesgirl Therese (Rooney Mara) meets older divorcee-to-be Carol (Cate Blanchett), and embarks upon a seemingly doomed lesbian romance. Made up of perfectly framed glances and erotically charged conversations, Carol highlights the cruelty of the attitudes of the time without preaching or descending into melodrama. The period detail and lighting astonish, while the score by Carter Burwell captures and holds the energy of the drama. But it’s the performances by the film’s two female leads that make this one for the ages. Heartfelt and empathetic, they carry their flawed characters with immense pride right through to the heart-stopping finale.

 

1. Hard to Be a God

One of the defining qualities of a great movie is that it either shows you something that has never been seen before, or tells a story that is unlike any you have ever seen. It has been too long since a film did both. Aleksei German’s final film (it was completed in post after his death), shot over six years, originates in a novel by Russian authors Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, who wrote the work on which Tarkovsky’s Stalker was based. It is about a group of human scientists observing a world almost identical to Earth, but still in, and seemingly stuck in, the Middle Ages. In an explosive performance, Leonid Yarmolnik plays Don Rumata, a human observer succumbed to extraordinary hubris, encouraging the peasants of this backwards planet to treat him as a god. The themes of madness and decline are handled with the gravitas they deserve, but the film retains a casual cheekiness throughout, defiantly grotesque and dirty. The lengthy takes with roving handheld cameras get you right up in the thick of it; you can almost smell the sweat and mud. German has done the near impossible, rigidly blocking his scenes despite the wild camera movements, so that his frame is perpetually full, busy, and yet with no action obscured. It is monumental filmmaking, beautiful and hideous and deep.

hardtobeagod

Good god, man!

 

—————————————————————–

So as for the worst films of 2015, well, for a year that never seemed like it was going to be a good year for cinema until the last minute, it never looked much like a bad year either. I never saw Mortdecai or Rock the Kasbah or Pan or Terminator: Typo. End-of-the-world examples of cynical capitalist cinema in the guise of Jurassic World or Minions were so blandly efficient as to escape this list. Here’s what utterly disappointed or downright infuriated this past year.

 

5. The Good Dinosaur

One step forward and one step back is Pixar’s game right now. This mindlessly banal tripe is only a patch above Cars 2 in that studio’s canon. It’s utterly unbelievable, uncrafted world, with barely a dozen dinosaur inhabitants implying rampant inbreeding, its rehashed boy-and-his-dog plot that goes nowhere new, its lazy voicework and godawful twangy score, all add up to bad family entertainment. The backgrounds are, admittedly, extraordinarily illustrated, but that’s no use when the characters in front of them look like Aardman characters crafted from nasal drippings. The magic mushrooms scene was the most socially and ethically misjudged moment in an American movie all year, and I’m including Entourage in that.

 

4. Taken 3

Climbing its way up from the very bottom a few years back, the Taken franchise now no longer feels like an advertising campaign for ISIS, at least. But this remains truly exhausted action garbage, with growling and exhausted Liam Neeson killing all the Russians in America after his ex-wife is murdered in a desperate attempt to raise the stakes. The action sequences barely thrill (as they barely thrilled when seen in the trailers), and Forest Whitaker only serves to depress with his role-slumming. The dramatic ending is gloriously, unintentionally laughable.

 

3. The Editor 

Genre spoofs are not easy, and this attempt to lampoon giallo and B-movie horror manages to bungle everything from the get-go. The look, the rhythms, the acting styles are all wrong, as if no one involved actually bothered to watch a giallo beforehand, or thought a movie all about analogue film editing might wanna look like it’s being shown on old film. The murder mystery isn’t intriguing, the horror isn’t frightening and the gags just aren’t funny – desperate as it is to find comedy in old-timey Italian misogyny, it comes off as disinterested in appearing at all respectful to women. At least it tried, but it failed utterly.

 

2. Fantastic Four

The superhero reboot no one asked for became the film no one wanted, including, it would seem, the actors or filmmakers involved. Every step is so blatantly miscalculated, from the casting (Jamie Bell as tough guy Ben, Michael B. Jordan as lovable fop Johnny, Toby Kebbell as someone with an accent) to the overly realistic look, to the epic score played over characters crossing the street or typing things into computers. Supposedly plagued by production issues, its bipolar switch in the second act reveals that no one could quite agree what kind of movie they were making. For once with a messy major Marvel-based project, the box office reflected this.

1. The Loft

Erik Van Looy’s remake of his own modestly successful Belgian thriller Loft, this is an uncompromising study in bad filmmaking. An unengaging murder mystery, that doubles as a deeply unsexy erotic thriller, The Loft starts off on the most wrong foot by having its five male stars buy an apartment together in which to cheat on their wives. By the time a dead body turns up, we already want all these men locked away for it regardless of their role in the murder. Painful miscasting and excruciating dialogue build up to a pathetic series of convoluted twists. Men’s rights activist cinema, with all the talent you imagine goes with that.

 

 

And with that, onward into 2016…

 

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A guide to recognising your Oscar nominees

The BAFTAs are now over so it is officially time to go into Oscar-mania overdrive. A fortnight from this moment fever pitch will have been reached, and four hours of so-so entertainment will begin. As someone switching on Around the World in 80 Days for the first time will think: with this many stars it has to be amazing, right?! Eh, it’s fine. The Oscars will be too.

As many have noted the problem with the Academy these days is that, coming in rapid succession after the Golden Globes, BAFTAs and VAGs (Various Assorted Guilds), the word Oscar is now synonymous with predictable. But somehow I am holding out hope for a few surprises this year. I’m also holding out hope that hosts James Franco and Anne Hathaway don’t suck – a boy can dream, right?

And the nominees for Best Picture are…

The King’s Speech

Leading the pack with an impressive, perhaps surprising twelve nominations, The King’s Speech is certainly a forerunner, though hardly anointed. It has the Hurt Locker edge, having won the BAFTA while the curiously unprescient Globes* gave their top nod to The Social Network (the Globes embarrassingly whored themselves out to Avatar in 2010). It also has a slew of top talent at next-to the height of their game – Colin Firth is a very difficult one to challenge for Best Actor, while Geoffrey Rush has lost none of his Shine (not apologising, you can’t make me) and would be a shoe-in for Best Supporting in other years. But the film has everything an Academy favourite needs: costumes and colour, wit and drama, happily-ever-after love, a WWII setting and of course a triumph-over-adversity tale that would make it this year’s Rocky if Rocky weren’t already nominated this year (see The Fighter, below).

Don’t expect a clean sweep, but if it starts one, it’ll nail Best Picture.

True Grit

The Coen brothers have been Academy favourites for some time now, and in the rare position that the film-going public at large love them also. True Grit is a spectacle alright, put together with all the flair the Coens can manage, but is it enough? Jeff Bridges could dethrone Firth (pun noticed, but unintended) for Best Actor, but despite their shared alcoholism the role is more The Dude than Bad Blake – his Oscar-winning role from last year’s Crazy Heart, and unlikely to steal the Academy voters’ hearts in quite the same manipulative way. The film’s breakthrough star, Hailee Steinfeld, has a much greater chance of taking home the Best Supporting Actress gong, although the Academy has been destructively patronising in not granting the youth a nomination in the leading category.

With ten nominations, most positively Art Direction, Costume Design and Cinematography, it may not win big, but it’d be a shock if it walked away empty-handed.

Inception

So The Dark Knight is held solely responsible for there being ten nominees in the Best Picture category now. Christopher Nolan is one of the most talented filmmakers alive today, but damn his fans are more terrifyingly devout than a Jihadi horde! So with an extra five spaces there would be further outrage/terror campaigns if his first film since The Dark Knight did not make the cut. And rightly so, Inception was one of the best films of 2010, but it is still the token audience-panderer, and has no chance of taking the big prize. The big coup would be for it to win Best Original Screenplay, but against The King’s Speech, Another Year and The Kids are All Right it seems to hold only a small chance. But technical awards should abound, and its music stands a fighting chance as the bombastic epic score against The King’s Speech‘s more traditional and The Social Network‘s more experimental nominees.

The Nolanistas will be disappointed.

The Social Network

Until recently this appeared unchallengeable to take Best Picture, but that seems uncertain now. Fincher’s drama has a lot to say for itself; it’s modern, character-driven, dripping in style. Outside of the director’s traditional thriller zone, he’s produced a mighty impressive movie. But it’s one that is greater than the sum of its parts (unlike The King’s Speech, which is simply a collection of great parts), so it will likely not clean up on the awards, which may affect its Best Picture chances. Jesse Eisenberg stands almost no chance at Best Actor, but if it loses out on Best Picture a win for David Fincher would be a great runner-up prize. Aaron Sorkin, a master of dialogue, seems destined to win a writing Oscar some day. Taking Best Original Screenplay this year is a strong possibility.

If it doesn’t win Best Picture, it could easily cut into The King’s Speech‘s spoils. It’s not out of the race yet.

The Fighter

Ah bless, how we struggle against adversity. And not just one adversity, but two! Two characters, struggling against two adversities! Why the fighter of the title could refer as easily to the struggles of the main characters as it could to the fact that the film is about boxing! OK, I’m being far meaner than this strong film deserves. The Fighter would be a superb film if it weren’t so darn familiar. With no chance at the big awards and unlikely to receive many technicals, The Fighter‘s strongest suit is in its supporting stars. Christian Bale will have little competition for Best Supporting Actor, given a superb turn as a crack-addicted former “star” boxer, unless the Academy decides to effectively dry hump The King’s Speech and throw this to Geoffrey Rush. Amy Adams, always the supporting bridesmaid, never the supporting bride, has already lost this to her co-star Melissa Leo, who is Hailee Steinfeld’s big competition. That will be a fun one to watch…

In another year it’d have had a crack at the title. All it can hope for now is a supporting sweep.

127 Hours

Danny Boyle is clearly still riding high on Slumdog Millionaire, as the same film made by any other director (not that it could have been, this well) would never have gotten a nod here. Still, it’s good to see this terrific film getting a chance at the big award – no ‘arm in that now, is there? (sorry) It’s biggest chance at an award is in the editing category, which it is undoubtedly deserving, but may be a touch too experimental for the Academy’s liking. James Franco deserves his Best Actor nomination in a role that showed the performer reveal a more mature side to himself, although the show’s host will no doubt be left a little red-faced when his name is not announced on the night. This is a problem the Academy should have foreseen and never allowed to happen.

Maybe editing, maybe nothing.

Black Swan

Quite the nail-biter (OK, I’ll stop), Black Swan looked like a major contender when its trailer first hit the internet last year, but I suspect it will be too much of a horror for the voters to make it Best Picture. A Best Director trophy for Aronofsky seems similarly unlikely, but the film will likely escape with an enviable Best Actress award in a very competitive year – Natalie Portman’s mesmerising physical presence in the film is worth a nomination before she even opens her mouth. Cinematography could go Black Swan‘s way, but competing with True Grit, Inception, The King’s Speech and The Social Network, I wouldn’t hold out hope for it.

Too gruesome to take anything more than a well-deserved Best Actress award.

Toy Story 3

Last year, Up‘s nomination in the Best Picture category made a bold statement about what a remarkable animated achievement that film was. While Toy Story 3 is also a triumph for Pixar, it is not one on the same level as Up, and its nomination in the Best Picture category only serves to give it an unfair advantage in the Best Animated Feature category, where it is up against superb (and arguably superior) competition in the form of The Illusionist and How to Drain Your Dragon. A shame really.

Pixar win another gong, but it should not have been the anointed animated victor the Academy has made it.

The Kids Are All Right

The token indie drama, this pleasant but confused little film never stood a chance at Best Picture. Mark Ruffalo, nominated Best Supporting Actor for his hardly outstanding role, needn’t bother turning up on the night, while Annette Bening is standing in for Meryl Streep this year. Its only hope is Best Original Screenplay, but even that seems far out of reach.

The Awards Are All Lost

Winter’s Bone

A curious addition, more comfortable triumphing at Sundance than in Hollywood, Winter’s Bone has few hopes of victory, though the nominations will boost its profile (and particularly that of its star). Despite its bleak setting and social commentary, it’s a surprisingly straightforward tale – perhaps why it sat well with the Academy voters – so it hasn’t really got the narrative punch to get it much of a look-in for Best Picture. Jennifer Lawrence would be a deserving Best Actress winner, but to steal it would be almost impossible; this is Natalie’s year. John Hawkes, star of several films previously but practically unknown to most, can expect a surge of interest after his turn here, but with Rush almost guaranteed the Supporting Actor gong if Bale somehow fails to take it home, he doesn’t stand much of a chance.

A miracle, albeit a happy one, is needed to get this a single gong.

As for the rest of the awards, nothing is too certain. Certainly a win for Banksy with Exit Through the Gift Shop would be a turn-up for the books, and perhaps lead to the most memorable acceptance… speech?… in Academy Award history. Biutiful has Javier Bardem behind it for Best Foreign Language Film, but after last year’s frankly insane spurning of The White Ribbon and A Prophet (as well as the noticeable absence this year of the heart-wrenching Of Gods and Men) anything could happen. Dogtooth could win the damn thing!

The real winners or losers on the night will be the show’s producers, however. They’ve taken a huge gamble on their hosts that could backfire enormously. We’ll have to wait and see.

See you in two weeks.

* Since 2004 the Golden Globes have only awarded their Best Motion Picture – Drama award to the eventual Oscar winner once; Slumdog Millionaire in 2009.

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The 82nd Academy Awards – Live!

My return to the blogosphere has been nicely timed to coincide with this year’s Oscars. As I did last year, I will be keeping my thoughts rolled out here as the night develops. Hopefully it will be a fun one, there’s definitely more room for controversy than last year. The double hosting act of Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin is an interesting one; Baldwin is at the top of his comedic game right now and Martin has managed to stay away from bad comedies sufficiently of late to be forgiven his trespasses. Although one can’t help but feel they may have missed a big chance to win a larger audience for their modestly received It’s Complicated, released a few months back.

My money is unfortunately on Avatar to take Best Picture, although there is still hope that The Hurt Locker might unseat it. Other worthy contenders such as Up, A Serious Man and Up in the Air, and indeed District 9 (hardly amazing but certainly a more worthy winner than Avatar) seem to have hardly any hope at all of winning the top award. That said, if Kathryn Bigelow can at least take Best Director the night will not be a complete disaster should Avatar win Best Picture and prove you can just fire as much money as possible at the screen and eventually people will give you prizes.

Indeed, a contest of similar intrigue has emerged in the Best Foreign Language category, where the frankly haunting The White Ribbon goes up against the outstanding A Prophet. While Hollywood may not care, it will be the big one for cinéastes to watch, aside from the battle of the mainstream behemoth and the indie upstart waged by exes James Cameron and Bigelow.

Up has Animated Feature in the bag, and will hopefully at the very least take home Best Score. The beautiful and charming film’s five nominations very much speak for themselves.

As for actors, Jeff Bridges, Sandra Bullock, Mo’Nique and Christoph Waltz seem to have their four categories all cornered. Only a surprise upset in Best Actress looks at all probable, and not very at that.

Proper commentary will resume later this evening, in the meantime I must feed and prepare for the all-night event.

In the meantime, bask in the glory of this wonderful pisstake trailer for every Oscar-winning film ever from Cracked.com…

The following takes place between 3.30pm and 9pm

Events occur in real Pacific Standard Time.

3.38pm – James Cameron is selling his wife’s dress as “Na’vi blue”. Wonder what colour Kathryn Bigelow is wearing…?

3.39pm – Vera Farminga looks amazing, although her dress looks like it might come alive an devour her.

3.44pm – E! Entertainment TV are carrying considerably less obnoxious coverage of the red carpet than Sky, so looks like I’ll be following them for the next 90 minutes or so. Just in case you needed a point of reference.

3.49pm – Is Sigourney Weaver wearing a blood-red toga?

3.51pm – Lots of nice dresses, nothing mind-blowingly stunning or godawful yet though. And no outlandish variations on the tux either. The next hour could well be hell. Why am I even live-blogging the red carpet at all?

3.57pm – For the record, the following films are the main contenders tonight that, for a number reasons (including at least one that has yet to come out in Ireland) I have yet to see: Precious…, The Blind Side, An Education, The Last StationA Single Man, Julie and Julia, Invictus. Just so that we’re on the level here.

4.01pm – A part of me is hopeful for Sandra Bullock, as she’s one of those actresses who has always been likeable but you just assumed she would never win an Oscar. I mean The Net, Two Weeks Notice, All About Steve. She’s so feisty that no matter what trash she makes you can’t quite bring yourself to hate her.

4.03pm – Amanda Seyfried is still the perfect woman. I know I said it last year, but seriously, who in the last year has challenged her crown?

4.05pm – So what, Crazy Heart gets a few nominations and suddenly every country/western singer gets an Oscar invite?

4.06pm – Miley Cyrus’s dress appears to be made out of bra.

4.08pm – Antonio Banderas appears to be preparing for his role as Saddam Hussein. In… a film I just made up?

4.13pm – Who the hell is Elizabeth Banks? Why am I only discovering Elizabeth Banks this evening? And by this evening, I mean it’s long after midnight…

4.15pm – Sarah Jessica Parker is wearing a beautiful silk… sack. It’s a sack.

4.17pm – How tall is Kathryn Bigelow? As a talentless male I like to think that an Oscar-nominated director would be as unattractive as she is talented. But nope, she’s just a bit yummy. There, I said it.

4.19pm – Charlize Theron looks like a delicious frosted cake. Her dress invites far too many suggestive jokes. I’ll keep quiet.

4.25pm – I wonder was Nelson Mandela invited… and what did he RSVP?

4.28pm – Damn you Colin Firth, so darn charming!

4.29pm – Can someone clear this up for me, is George Clooney grey or not? He looks like he’s half-dyed his hair sandy.

4.31pm – Meryl Streep’s dress looks like it’s made out of cream, smoothly flowing cream. It’s good.

4.39pm – Poor Keanu Reeves, he’ll never win an Oscar. Tonight Sandra Bullock leaves him behind.

4.43pm – Robert Downey Jr is the first major black-tie breaker, wearing a teal bowtie. Yes, that’s right, I know the colour teal!

4.52pm – As ever, Kate Winslet looks enchanting. Nothing I say here can add to how wonderful she looks in that dress.

4.58pm – Ha! Remember Cameron Diaz.

5.09pm – Anna Kendrick looks like a pink Grecian goddess. Where did she come from this past year? And how our lives have been made better. Well, not counting that Twilight nonsense.

5.12pm – Zoe Saldana’s dress looks like someone ate a Na’vi then threw it back up on her.

5.27pm – Good lord who let Nicole Richie in?

5.30pm – And we’re off! So the last two hours were pointless then?

5.32pm – Eugh, the stars are a bit pointlessly on display here. Why are the Oscars always looking for new means to make sales pitches?

5.33pm – Yay! Neil Patrick Harris!

5.34pm – Singing a solo number about the need for duets. Irony!

5.35pm – Jeff Bridges does not look impressed.

5.35pm – Here come the boys…

5.36pm – A few light stabs at Hollywood now. Fun times.

5.38pm – Meryl Streep threesome gag, they’re totally going for an It’s Complicated DVD push.

5.39pm – Alec Baldwin’s delivery is way off. Not a good start.

5.40pm – Martin and Baldwin are harassed by Avatar forest creatures. What is this, Family Guy?

5.44pm – Penelope Cruz presents the first award. My those two were quite embarrassing. Penelope’s dress looks like fire. In all the best ways.

5.46pm – Christoph Waltz came from nowhere this year with knowing but a broad knowledge of languages and a knife and fork with which to devour scenery. If he doesn’t win, then this whole night could go in any direction.

5.48pm – Phew. Thought we were going to have a night of surprises there.

5.49pm – That’s an über-bingo.

5.52pm – Wow, ads already? We’ve only had one award. Have I missed something, what’s will all this (fake?) animosity between the hosts and George Clooney?

5.56pm – Cameron Diaz and Steve Carrell, make a mess of it all. Ouch. Animated characters talk about being nominated. Fun stuff!

5.58pm – Yay! Dug is licking the camera. I love the Oscars!

5.59pm – Up wins! Thank goodness. My word that film was sheer delight.

6.00pm – Pete Docter makes a very quick but pleasant speech. Is it just me or is his head tiny?

6.01pm – Seyfried and Cyrus present the nominees for Best Original Song and slip over their lines again. A lot of teething pains this year.

6.03pm – Could a Colin Farrell-sung song win the prize?

6.04pm – Yes, ‘The Weary Kind’ takes it – first win for Crazy Heart.

6.06pm – Ouch, Chris Pine has to introduce District 9, which essentially nabbed the nomination from Star Trek. Who on earth thought that was a fair idea?!

6.11pm – Best Original Screenplay could call the rest of the night. Hurt Locker seems a lock, but Inglourious Basterds is a contender.

6.12pm – “Great movies begin with great writing,” says Tina Fey. So why is Avatar not in this category again…?

6.15pm – The Hurt Locker takes it. Interesting…

6.17pm – Mark Boal’s speech was simple but to the point. Molly Ringwald and Matthew Broderick talk about John Hughes. Don’t they usually do all the obituaries en masse?

6.19pm – This seems like an odd way to make the Oscars seem more mainstream. He made some fun films though.

6.22pm – And the stars of his films all come out. I wonder who else will get an homage like this?

6.23pm – Samuel L Jackson presents Up – no, don’t show the sad bits, I’ll cry!

6.28pm – Zoe Saldana and Carey Mulligan to present Best Animated Short Film.

6.31pm – No Pixar this year, though the fun Irish short Granny O’Grimm is worth a mention.

6.32pm – French short Logorama wins. Looks fun. Hope it’s up on YouTube…

6.33pm – Documentary Short now. I said it last year, I’ll say it again: where the hell can one see these?!

6.35pm – Music By Prudence get shuffled off stage by the orchestra pit. Poor them.

6.37pm – Danish short The new Tennants wins Best Short. That’s those three knocked down swiftly…

6.38pm – Ben Stiller as a Na’vi. Better idea than last year.

6.39pm – Best Makeup; here’s hoping for Il Divo. And Ben Stiller is rapidly becoming unfunny.

6.41pm – Na’vi tail joke = win! Win for Star Trek too. Guess it was deserved.

6.43pm – Jeff Bridges introduces A Serious Man. It is oddly under-represented at this year’s awards.

6.47pm – Best Adapted Screenplay. Lot of options. Up in the Air is the likely winner. In the Loop would be fun though.

6.48pm – Thank god they keep calling Precious just Precious. That is one exhausting title.

6.50pm – Precious (which I believe is based on the novel Push by Sapphire) wins.

6.52pm – Queen Latifah and Steve Martin have a bit of a flirt.

6.53pm – The… Governor’s… Awards? What’s going on?!

6.54pm – Hooray for Lauren Bacall!

6.56pm – Robin Williams presents the Award for Best Supporting Actress. Alas, it’s got Mo’nique scribbled all over it, despite the two charming ladies from Up in the Air.

6.59pm – Mo’nique. Bo’ring.

7.00pm – A nice speech that one, shameless plug for BET though.

7.02pm – I’m sure I’ll see it eventually, but nothing about An Education made me want to rush to the cinema.

7.06pm – Sigourney Weaver presents Best Art Direction. Surely Avatar will dance home with this.

7.07pm – Avatar wins. The presenter kinda gave that away, no?

7.09pm – Tom Ford and Sarah Jessica Parker present the costume award. It’s like beauty and the bitch. Ha, I went there!

7.10pm – This is probably the most open category yet – The Young Victoria wins!

7.17pm – Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin do a Paranormal Activity skit. Brilliant.

7.18pm – Kristen Stewart and Taylor Lautner give a little talk on respect for horror films. If only we could respect these two worthless upstarts.

7.19pm – My word these are some obvious clips they’re showing.

7.23pm – Morgan Freeman talks about sound editing and mixing. I could listen to him all day.

7.24pm – Sound Editing – surely a win for Avatar?

7.25pm – Wow, The Hurt Locker takes a techie award. Shocking!

7.26pm – Sound Mixing, another for Hurt Locker perhaps?

7.26pm – Yes it is. If Revenge of the Fallen had won an Oscar I would have hunted every one of you down and killed you all.

7.27pm – Elizabeth Banks! Who are you?

7.29pm – Know what the problem with Inglourious Basterds was? The Inglourious Basterds – they were the worst part of their own film.

7.35pm – Sandra Bullock presents Best Cinematography. She’s already acting like she’s won Best Actress.

7.36pm – Avatar wins! Seriously? How hard is it to point a camera at a green wall?

7.38pm – Demi Moore is here for the roll call of the lost. Actually, there were few huge deaths in Hollywood this year. James Taylor sings The Beatles!

7.39pm – Dom DeLuise. Now I’m sad again.

7.41pm – Karl Malden, Patrick Swayze, Jack Cardiff?! I take it back, this was a terrible year!

7.43pm – Best Special Effects coming up. Thank god, finally, an award Avatar genuinely deserves!

7.46pm – First, Jennifer Lopez (oh dear) and Sam Worthington (oh lord, his accent is death) introduce the best scores, with dancers!

7.47pm – Never thought I’d see someone dance the robot to The Hurt Locker score.

7.48pm – Eugh, The Fantastic Mr Fox music sounds like Deliverance for kids.

7.49pm – The Up score is just enchanting. Oooh, ballet.

7.52pm – Yes! Michael Giacchino wins for Up. Such gorgeous music.

7.54pm – Gerard Butler and Bradley Cooper present the Avatar Award for outstanding Avataryness.

7.55pm – One of these guys is Irish. Should I care? Which one? Can the Irish guy say something now?

7.56pm – Jason Bateman introduces Up in the Air. Finally, someone actually involved in the film!

8.01pm – Matt Damon is here to present the Best Documentary Feature award. Once again, I suspect I’ve seen none of these.

8.03pm – Ok, at least I’ve heard of The Cove and Food, Inc.

8.04pm – The Cove wins! Three great reasons to see it now, dolphins, Hayden Panettiere and now an Oscar!

8.05pm – And Fisher Stevens. I love Fisher Stevens!

8.06pm – Wow. Editing explained by a sexist simpleton. Now I know everything!

8.07pm – The Hurt Locker wins! Damn straight. Sublimely edited thriller that there Hurt Locker was.

8.13pm – Back to the hosts. My they’ve been dull.

8.14pm – Pedro Almodovar and Quentin Tarantino present Best Foreign Language Film. Why is this a separate category again? I suspect The White Ribbon will take it. Haneke’s film is damn haunting.

8.17pm – Wow, a surprise win – Argentinian film El Secreto de Sus Ojos takes the gong. Didn’t see that coming. “Thank you for not considering Na’vi a foreign language.” Nice.

8.18pm – Cathy Bates is here to masturbate Avatar. Thank goodness, we didn’t have anyone else doing that already.

8.22pm – Down to the last four. Here come the big ones! Acting gongs seem pretty predetermined.

8.25pm – Former co-stars come out to sing the praises of the Best Actor nominees. A much better idea than last year’s former idols approach.

8.27pm – This is almost too sweet. Finally, George Clooney doesn’t look miserable any more.

8.29pm – Poor Morgan Freeman, he’s really not supposed to be there.

8.30pm – Colin Farrell and Jeremy Renner spooned. Right. There’s the quote of the evening.

8.31pm – Why can’t Kate Winslet give me awards?

8.32pm – Jeff Bridges wins, utterly expectedly. Good for him!

8.33pm – Oh dear. He’s channelling the Dude just a little…

8.35pm – Wow, Jeff Bridges is really being allowed to talk!

8.39pm – Best Actresses now. God Sandra Bullock’s accent in that film is grating.

8.40pm – Oprah? Seriously?

8.40pm – Curious. Jeff Bridges went first, now Sandra Bullock. I see a pattern forming…

8.42pm – Helen Mirren: Royalty with a tattoo.

8.43pm – Carey Mulligan is so cute it makes me want to bite off my own arm. “We’re lucky she’s so young,” says Peter Sarsgaard. Which means: “You’ll win another year, dear.”

8.46pm – Oprah did not annoy me there. Maybe it’s time for to learn how to spell Gabourey Sidibe. Thanks Wikipedia!

8.47pm – God I hate Sean Penn. What is he prattling on about?

8.48pm – This is the first Academy Award and nomination for Sandra Bullock. What, she didn’t get one for Speed 2: Cruise Control?

8.51pm – She’s crying! Tears! Finally! Several hours, we finally got there!

8.53pm – Barbara Streisand is here to remind us that an African American and a woman are nominated for Best Director. Aw, bless.

8.54pm – Kathryn Bigelow takes it! Incredible stuff, and a huge upset for Megabucks Cameron. Not very important history is made, but history nevertheless.

8.57pm – Who’d have thought the director of a piece of piss like Near Dark could win an Oscar. Still, most deserved. Cameron looks none-too-pleased.

8.58pm – Tom Hanks gives Best Picture to The Hurt Locker! Amazing stuff. What a night! That’ll teach Avatar a lesson about actually waiting til the script has been finished to make the damn movie.

9.00pm – Well that’s a delightful surprise. Kathryn Bigelow is giving her final thanks and holding back the tears, dedicating her award to men and women in uniform the world over.

9.01pm – That ran over time a little. Very disappointing show but great awards, mostly deserved. Another fun night at the Oscars. Here’s to next year!

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