Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

Oscar Prediction udates on the sidebar.

Still a bit unsure. Some interesting races...

Friday, December 19, 2008

Best of 2008: Music

It's nearing the end of the year (less than two weeks now!) and so it's about time I put some year-end lists together. I love making lists, editing lists, agonising over list-placings, and so forth. This installment is all about MUSIC, and believe me, I agonised over this particular list, switching my top three albums so restlessly that I became a Caravan Girl, ate myself, exploded in a bout of Happiness, and was eventually rushed to A & E. Yet Seventh Tree still didn't top my list. Hmm ... At the risk of sounding like an Alexander Payne speech, music albums evolve in your mind over time. It's totally about longevity... and about making a fifty-minute CD that's a compact bundle of joy that you wouldn't dare remove a song from. I'm sure it ain't easy but these albums (largely) achieve something special.

I've amended last year's list to include albums which I hadn't heard by December, which included M.I.A's masterpiece Kala, Arcade Fire's meditative Neon Bible, and the runaway best album of the year, Roisin Murphy's dance classic, Overpowered. Last year's number one, Girl's Aloud's Tangled Up is now at number five, though I admittedly still listen to a few of the songs on it. The lasting ones: Damn, What You Crying For?, and the still-sublime Call the Shots. It pales in comparison to their amazing effort this year, but there's so much competition (such is the amount of decent music in 2008) that I had a major dilemna tweaking the upper rankings.

As for the singles, well, I've strayed away from the songs released from albums in the 2007 edition, since it's not really championing new music. Instead, it's pretty much the twenty-five (no, I couldn't get the list any smaller) tunes that play with my emotions the most -- whether it be plucking away at my delicate strings or urging me to dance wildly and make a complete fool of myself. They're both of equal worth, right?



Albums of 2008



10. Black Kids - Partie Traumatic

For a start, I love the three singles the Black Kids released this year -- two of which are in my singles list and the other, Look At Me (When I Rock Wichoo) a close omission. This band stands out from all those boring indie bands that are around at the moment, mixing it up musically and crucially bringing the fun factor to an exhausted (of late) style of music.




9. Alphabeat - This Is Alphabeat

I can't stand Rubber Boots either, but if you take that away this is a solid, excellent pop album, filled with plenty of cheese and tons of bite. Go-Go is a favourite (why didn't they release that?!), as well as the addictive Boyfriend. I think they hail from Denmark (or Norway?) so together with Robyn they're really spicing up the Scandinavian pop scene.




8. Burial - Untrue

The Mercury Music Prize can be very pretentious at times, but at the end of the day it does what it says on the tin. I had never heard of Burial, nor Rachel Unthank, and I certainly wouldn't have known about the wonder of Laura Marling. Burial is a mysterious man (Jo Whiley joked that there are only two known photos of him), but whatever his Pimpernel-esque status he crafts an album full of unique sounds that conjure up stark imagery and feel atmospherically dense.



7. Kleerup - Kleerup

Robyn wasn't wholly responsible for last year's incredible With Every Heartbeat, you know? Kleerup featured on it and have now released their own album, showcasing collaborations with Marit Bergman, Neneh Cherry, and fresh-faced Lykke Li herself, who you'll be seeing quite a bit of in the course of this post. It's not the most innovative or intense dance track you've ever heard, but it'll get you revved up no problem.



6. Grace Jones - Hurricane

I totally jumped on the Grace Jones bandwagon this year. I was only a baby when she released her previous album so it ain't shock of the century that I wasn't so familiar with the woman (past Slave to the Rhythm), but trust me, I feel suitably enlightened right now. Hurricane is a little gem; political, generous, epic, mammoth, and most importantly always true to itself. This Is opens the record as unapologetically as any number of novels have done in the past. A major comeback.



5. Will Young - Let It Go

I surprise myself. Not that I don't like Will Young, don't get me wrong. Hell, I voted four times for him when he won Pop Idol. I've paid for his career! But, fine as his songs have been lately (and I usually like the singles he releases) he doesn't do much for me from a musical standpoint. Being honest, there isn't much to get excited about in that way on Let It Go either, but lyrically this album is filled with such grief, pain, and the tumultuous nature of being in love with someone. It's so honest, and as such his voice is as lingering as his words. A good chunk of the album is superb.




4. Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend

Vampire Weekend's music feels so nonchalant... almost like somebody's died and you haven't noticed. But it's amazing that they can make this feel a) captivating, and b) strangely uplifting, even when you haven't got a clue why they're going on about Oxford Uni or Peter Gabriel. It's an absoloute delight, and something that stands out as original without having any entrenched gimmicks or personalities.



3. Goldfrapp - Seventh Tree

Oh, is it really number three? :'( .. I can see myself switching this top three in my head as the year's pass, since they seem to interchange in my CD player like an unrelenting pinwheel. I can say Seventh Tree is a marvel; it's majestic, gorgeous, and yet precocious and shy, spirited, wallowing. It's a paradox. How can listening to songs that proclaim love as "the folly" and have lines so negative as "you don't love me" be so gratuitous? And every song seems to build up and up... from the soaring end of Little Bird (my favourite part of the album) to the emotional breakdown in Eat Yourself and the dramatic end to A & E. What makes it number three (and this is a pretty technically perfect record) is because it feels more modest. I daren't say the word "slight". I maybe feel less generous towards the subtle than the daring, which is to a degree a reversal of my feelings towards Acting. To use an Oscar analogy (why not?) this is the inhibited Catalina Sandino Moreno to the consuming Annette Bening at #2, and the angst-ridden Imelda Staunton at #1.




2. Girls Aloud - Out of Control

I think this says it all.



1. Lykke Li - Youth Novels

It's great to be young. Very few responsibilities... good skin... you can have sex with whoever you want and not fall under an anvil of judgement. Lykke Li is just 22. You can tell this through the subjects she paruses in Youth Novels, the young love in Little Bit, where she sings about being under that familiar spell of only wanting to give an inch of yourself in fear of getting hurt, only to end up declaring yourself as no more than a possession. The line "And for you I keep my legs apart, and forget about my tainted heart" rings true also. Dance, Dance, Dance is about having fun and forgetting your troubles, Let It Fall is an all-out love fest, as she sings "And I love the way tears hit my face". But the music and lyrics often feel really mature in this way, and it's interspersed with such touching moments of sadness, heartbreak and alarming self-doubt. Everybody But Me is particularly self-critical. But what caps the album off are the volatile, aggressive tunes, like I'm Good I'm Gone and the life-changing Breaking It Up, which really encompass what this album is all about: being young, naive, impetuous, ready to blow, but having the absoloute time of your life.


Singles of 2008



1. Black Kids - I'm Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How To Dance With You
2. Kings of Leon - Sex on Fire
3. Lykke Li - Little Bit
4. Janelle Monae - Many Moons
5. Vampire Weekend - A-Punk
6. MGMT - Time To Pretend
7. Laura Marling - Night Terror
8. Pendulum - Propane Nightmares
9. Lykke Li - Breaking It Up
10. Grace Jones - Williams' Blood
11. Jordin Sparks feat. Chris Brown - No Air
12. Girls Aloud - The Promise
13. Goldfrapp - A & E
14. Kylie Minogue - The One (Freemasons Vocal Mix)
15. CSS - Left Behind
16. Kleerup feat. Marit Bergman - 3AM
17. Leona Lewis - Forgive Me
18. Estelle feat. Kanye West - American Boy
19. Burial - Ghost Hardware
20. The Saturdays - Up
21. Alphabeat - Boyfriend
22. The Pussycat Dolls - When I Grow Up
23. Duffy - Rockferry
24. Black Kids - Hurricane Jane
25. Santogold - L.E.S. Artistes

Here's to an amazing year of music in 2009. *Clink" *Clink* *giggle*

Hottest Track: Frida Hyvönen - Dirty Dancing

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Reaction... Sort of

I just handed in my final assignment and was totally in the xmas mood until...

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role
ANNE HATHAWAY / Kym - “RACHEL GETTING MARRIED”
ANGELINA JOLIE / Christine Collins - “CHANGELING”
MELISSA LEO / Ray Eddy - “FROZEN RIVER”
MERYL STREEP / Sister Aloysius Beauvier - “DOUBT”
KATE WINSLET / April Wheeler - “REVOLUTIONARY ROAD”

It's not a huge surprise, but ARGH! One lives in hope. Oscar nomination day is going to be dramatic.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Saturday, December 13, 2008

It's Coming

Courtesy of Nathaniel. Enjoy.

Oscar In Retrospect: Actress in a Leading Role, 1958


Even as I set about writing this delve into a half-century ago I think that it's perhaps a mistake to specify this as an 'Actress in a Leading Role' post. While it's often difficult to get excited about the films that get their women nominated for this, my favourite of Oscar's twenty four categories, 1958 was not your uniform year. No Elizabeth: The Golden Age's, Blue Sky's or Chocolat's plague the year's nominees, and only one of these women are playing a biopic-style character. Unsurprisingly, that's Susan Hayward, who went on to take this award after winning both the NYFCC and the Golden Globe for Drama. The scales were surely tipped even more in her favour by the fact she had lost for four nominations in the previous eleven years.

But back to the films: a self-conscious but well-played and very giving adaptation of a famous play, a brazen woman's quest to escape an ill-fated end, a chronicle of the campest childhood one could ever wish for, an epic melodrama about small-town politics and uncertain romance, and a modest, deliciously dry social satire that captures the changing moral attitudes of a new generation deftly. The final film to which I refer is Delbert Mann's Separate Tables, which is by far my favourite of the five, and is poised to emerge later on in my personal canon, so watch out!

On with the 1958 Actressexuality, which will be ordered in terms of preference. If it looks as if I'm bitching about someone a lot, try not to take it to heart. It isn't forgotten that all of these performances (if not perfect) emerge as really important to their films.




Elizabeth Taylor - Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Rating: ****

I can certainly see where Montgomery Clift was coming from when he singled out Taylor as the only woman to turn him on. Her posture; graceful, glamourous, but often forward and dangerous, is surely capable of turning a few, and so Paul Newman's Brick (a stud himself) and the utter repellence he has for Taylor's Maggie, is initially difficult to understand or accept. Of course, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof has a lot up its sleeve with which to besiege us, in the way that really only theatre-born productions can, and it can often feel like a persistent waiter, dishing out information like a ten-course dinner, whether you've exhausted your appetite or not.

But there's an awful lot to take from the film, the titular 'cat' in question being Maggie's middle-nickname, of the sort you're accustomed to seeing attached to turn-of-the-century gangsters, post-war boxers, and modern-day wrestling stars. Maggie's in a tight spot; not least because her husband can't stand the sight of her, but it's somehow fitting to talk of her in the same breath as these bustling physical brutes. She doesn't dropkick Paul Newman off the bedpost, or anything that brutishly severe (although wouldn't that have made for wonderful viewing?), but it's the tenacity she exhibits as a wife that marks her as a real force to be reckoned with, both scared of what lurks beneath her husband's strange behaviour and yet determined to get to the bottom of it.


Maggie's pressing begins with the kind of throwaway nagging that you'd expect of someone that looks like her; middle class, well-brought-up, materialistic. But Taylor soon makes you forget about these first impressions (Jennifer Garner similarly did in last year's Juno), as the film and us quickly lean towards wondering just why the blazes Brick is so damn angry. Unlike Garner's Vanessa though, Maggie's intentions are often selfish, and in the most extreme, confrontational elements of Roof Taylor lets these ingrained, underhand, ambitious (particularly in terms of class and finance) moments slip out of her framed composure and feel like something rather treacherous. That her ambition doesn't temper, even while her husband is drinking himself into a stupor, feels like we we aren't justified in giving her a chance in the first place. But looking back, Maggie never promises anything to anyone, and it soon becomes apparent that she really only flourishes while others are weak and conciliatory. A hesitant leader. Fascinating character work.



Deborah Kerr - Separate Tables

Rating: ****

I keep comparing these women to others, but I just can't help it. Sibyl, the frumpy, inhibited weakling Deborah Kerr plays in Separate Tables is a near clone of Bette Davis' Charlotte Vale in 1942's Now Voyager. Both have dastardly mothers played by Gladys Cooper (can anyone do that role better?!) but where Davis had bigger obstacles to overcome -- her trademark voraciousness in particular -- Kerr, you feel, is a lot less restricted in what she can bring to the role. But Sibyl, even as a woman who finds herself, does so to a lesser extent and in an incredibly compact setting; as well as without the impetus of a passionate, easy love interest such as Paul Henreid. Her Major (David Niven in his deserved Oscar-winning performance) is a lost soul in himself, and together with her stringent mother really ensure Kerr's mousy daughter is well and truly alone.

"B-b-b-b-but mummy" she stutters and stammers on more than one occasion. It's sympathetic but limited, and one wonders, at first, if someone like her, that sheltered and socially awkward, would be as exaggerated, unaware, defensive as she appears to be early on. But such is the brilliant understanding of people (from British stalwarts, to military men, to Americans, to cosmopolitans, to carers, and to the epitome of transatlantic glamour herself, Rita Hayworth) that Sibyl's crust of concession begins to question itself; a cultural enlightenment on a minute, claustrophobic scale. In retrospect it's a touching performance, reaching its height and drama with her shell-shocked reaction to the central event in the film, and her confrontation with David Niven's Major near the end.

A leading performance? I'm not so sure. Such is the nature of Separate Tables that everyone in it feels to be supporting each other and the themes of the film. Nevertheless, Kerr got her place, and personally I wouldn't demote her.



Rosalind Russell - Auntie Mame

Rating: ***

Few films lend their Leading Actress such a valuable amount of screen-time and silly theatrics, but Auntie Mame, as frivolous as it is, needn't purport to be about anything much more than madcap antics, efervescent dresses, and camp behaviour. Two weeks ago, a screening of Travels With My Aunt proved disappointing, the unbearable performance of Maggie Smith (whom I usually thoroughly appreciate by the way) half-channeling Russell's eccentric relative but too conscious of herself and the role that she doesn't really interact with the Actors around her, and is certainly neither as generous nor precious as an Actress. But chiefly, the reason I really wanted to see Travels With My Aunt is Russell's memorable performance in Auntie Mame, which sets a pinnacle for all those eccentric literary Aunts out there. A plea: come out, come out, wherever you are eccentric Aunts. We need you!

The role of Auntie Mame doesn't call for mountain-conquering ability but Russell does all she's asked. You never doubt that her nephew is the most important thing in her life, even as she goes off in tangents where you can't really guage what's motivating her and making her tick. It's interesting to watch Russell evolve in the film from being the whirlwind that enters your life and turns your world upside-down (allbeit a gratuitous one), to a rather tragic leading lady of life. It's of the same ilk as her Gypsy turn, except she doesn't have as much to do here, and the character is only half-heartedly three-dimensional.

I suppose it all depends on what you hold a "Leading Actress" to account for. If you're looking for a driving force Russell is it; if you're looking for a woman that fulfills expectations, she's it and more, but if you're looking for an Actress that can change perceptions of her film, I'm not sure her box is the one to tick on your '58 ballot.


Susan Hayward - I Want To Live!

Rating: ***

For better or worse, Robert Wise's I Want To Live! is a naive piece of Oscar Bait. While modern Leading Actress vehicles are no less upfront in their demands, it's an altogether more insidious, interdependent, media-centric circus that exists now. From the get-go it's fairly obvious where the film's going right up to its conclusion, with a few curve balls and about-turns meandering their way through the dull middle-portion. It's funny that Hayward owes probably as much to her film as any of these other Actresses, since it showcases the pitfalls of being a woman "with attitude" fairly ably itself. Minus the overt comedy, Katharine Hepburn's jailbird shtick in Bringing Up Baby feels almost like Hayward; gutsy, brash, over-powering, ballsy, and a la Hepburn just as likely to annoy, though less with incessance than the fact she's willing to believe that she's worth ten times that of your average con, or indeed your average cop, or crucially, your average man. Hayward's Barbara Graham is on nobody's side, but eminently easy to root for.

Laughing it off at first Hayward is still our charismatic leading lady for way past the halfway-mark, but as the realisation of the consequences of being convicted of this crime (which we're told she didnt commit, even though the real-life Barbara Graham was supposedly guilty) takes its ivy-grip, I Want To Live! turns into something quite harrowing. Her charm fades quickly, just as it's supposed to, but one wonders if this charm (endearing and revealing as it occasionally proves) is one of the few things Hayward is required to turn on and off. She carries your gaze for chunks of the film but nary improves upon what we know or heightens what we feel.



Shirley MaClaine - Some Came Running

Rating:
***

It's only been a week since I watched Some Came Running but I still had to IMDB the film for the name of MaClaine's character, who's called Ginnie. It still doesn't ring that much of a bell, and shouldn't really, since Ginnie lingers in the background of the film for long periods. This is typified by the film's early abandonment of her, introducing Ginnie as the dumb tart that follows Sinatra's Dave to his home town in Indiana, and neglecting her character for a good forty minutes while we figure out the leading man. It proves a good move, both for her and the 137-minute melodrama.

The lasting memory of Some Came Running is the image of Dave and Ginnie marrying, each for essentially different reasons, and their distance as a couple in this moment is all too evident. The two stand committed but far from united, and wholly unsure of what their marriage will mean for their future. It's the part of the film that makes the most sense, anchored by the excellent Sinatra and an assured performance from MaClaine. There isn't an awful lot to her ditzy, impetuous Ginnie, but while we're sometimes encouraged to see her through Dave's eyes, as a tiresome nuisance, it almost feels like she's fighting to vindicate her position in the film and in Dave's life.

It's almost an anti-MaClaine performance in that she doesn't have the intelligence, decision or bite we're treated to in her later creations in Terms of Endearment, Postcards of the Edge etc. but this was very early in her career, and so her naive, child-like affectations and needy, attention-seeking demeanor come across as genuine of the babyface Actress. A girl that needs to clamp on to anything and anyone; funny, loveable, but obvious, blatant and unable to draw the line. I heavily suspect that her nomination is for the eventual fate of her character, but no matter, this is lovely work.

My Ballot

Deborah Kerr - Separate Tables
Kim Novak - Vertigo
Rosalind Russell - Auntie Mame
*Elizabeth Taylor - Cat on a Hot Tin Roof*
Mary Ure - Look Back In Anger

Friday, December 12, 2008

Hottest Track - Thievery Corporation feat. Zee - 33 Degrees

Globes Reaction

I didn't personally watch the announcement of the golden globe nominations, which occurred at roughly 1.30pm my time (GMT). Instead I opted to travel to Newcastle and see Julia, starring the formidable Tilda Swinton, and The Secret Life of Bees, which meditates (to varying degrees of depth and success) about issues regarding race and family. All in all it was an actors showcase, with Tilda Swinton and Dakota Fanning showing their considerable worth.

Julia
succeeds on almost every level, getting bogged down a tad in its latter stages but managing to create a woman/boy relationship with the sentiment of Gloria and Paper Moon before it, but never seeming to make the characters concede any of their individuality. Clever. More on this, maybe. Bees is more problematic, if only because it falls into the trap of believing that large dramatic acts are the only thing that can provoke serious changes in character, and allow hidden information to be revealed and acknowledged. But hey ho... I enjoyed them both.

A word or two on the Globe nominations: Colin Farrell's performance in In Bruges is STILL my favourite male performance of the year (no joke) and so it's lovely to see him in there. I'm sad that they couldn't find room for The Dark Knight, especially as much less interesting-looking films are included there. I've started to really dislike the Golden Globes' way of doing things. Sure, you get an 'Emily Blunt in Devil Wears Prada' in every year, but is it really enough when you have to tolerate Brad Pitt and Leonardo Di Caprio being involved because they're in a half-decent December film? I'm not sure.

By the way I got 36/58 nominations correct, which is 62%.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Golden Globe Guesses

Firstly I wanna say how much I love the NYFCC for giving Sally Hawkins their best Actress award (apparently on only the second ballot as well, can you believe?), and secondly here are my predictions for tomorrow's Golden Globe nominations. It's mainly guesswork, though. Eeeeek! *Excitement*

Picture
(Drama)

The Dark Knight
Frost/Nixon
Milk
Revolutionary Road
Slumdog Millionaire

Picture
(Comedy/Musical)

Cadillac Records
In Bruges
Mamma Mia!
Sex and the City: The Movie
Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Director

Danny Boyle - Slumdog Millionaire
David Fincher - The Curious Case...
Ron Howard - Frost/Nixon
Christopher Nolan - The Dark Knight
Gus Van Sant - Milk

Actor
(Drama)

Leonardo Di Caprio - Revolutionary Road
Clint Eastwood - Gran Torino
Frank Langella - Frost/Nixon
Sean Penn - Milk
Mickey Rourke - The Wrestler

Actor
(Comedy/Musical)

Javier Bardem - Vicky Cristina Barcelona
George Clooney - Leatherheads
Ricky Gervais - Ghost Town
Brendan Gleeson - In Bruges
Dustin Hoffman - Last Chance Harvey

Actress
(Drama)

Cate Blanchett - The Curious Case...
Anne Hathaway - Rachel Getting Married
Angelina Jolie - Changeling
Meryl Streep - Doubt
Kate Winslet - Revolutionary Road

Actress
(Comedy/Musical)

Sally Hawkins - Happy-Go-Lucky
Sarah Jessica Parker - Sex and the City: The Movie
Frances McDormand - Burn After Reading
Meryl Streep - Mamma Mia!
Renee Zelwegger - Leatherheads

Supporting Actor

Josh Brolin - Milk
Robert Downey Jnr - Tropic Thunder
Heath Ledger - The Dark Knight
Philip Seymour Hoffman - Doubt
Dev Patel - Slumdog Millionaire

Supporting Actress

Penelope Cruz - Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Viola Davis - Doubt
Rosemarie DeWitt - Rachel Getting Married
Beyonce Knowles - Cadillac Records
Marisa Tomei - The Wrestler

Screenplay

Doubt
Happy-Go-Lucky
Milk
Rachel Getting Married
Slumdog Millionaire

Animated Film

Kung Fu Panda
The Tale of Desperaux
Wall-E

Foreign Film

The Class (France)
Gomorrah (Italy)
I've Loved You So Long (France)
Let the Right One In (Sweden)
Waltz With Bashir (Israel)

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Road To Somewhere

I don't know if you've noticed but I've updated the website with the full 2007 screenings page, complete with top ten and awards. The only change to the top ten I finalised in June is the addition of Up the Yangtze, which I saw earlier this year and LOVED. I've slipped it into second place (still can't get over the gorgeousness of Once) but it's a definite A. If I were to re-visit my awards I'd also probably include it in the Cinematography and Editing sections; such is its visual beauty, but I may as well wait a couple of years to make any kind of amendment to my six-month-old lists, especially since I've neglected to see Persepolis and Flight of the Red Balloon among others. Oh, and if you're curious, and you saw Yangtze in a cinema a couple of months ago for instance, I count by release date anywhere (this one landed in Canada September '07) and so that's why you'll find films like [REC] and Honeydripper etc. there too.

As well as 2007 I've also managed to do the 1994 and 1995 pages. Note that the mid-80s to mid-90s is the period I've neglected quite a lot, with viewings confined to popular T.V. comedy films like Uncle Buck and Mrs. Doubtfire. Hey, we all loved them at the time, right? Maybe not, but regardless of that Best Picture winners in this period, both that I have seen (Rain Man, Forrest Gump) and those that I haven't (Out of Africa, Platoon) hardly conjure up fond memories or wild lust. And yes I know there is a lot more to cinema than the Oscars, but I sense a lot of negativity about this period in cinema generally. I'll get there, though, I'm sure. But yeah, all of the 96-06 pages are also updated, including three new top five entries in 1998, and an "I still can't bring myself to drop you" ninth place for Joel Schumacher's wickedly OTT version of Lloyd-Webber's camp classic, The Phantom of the Opera, in 2004.

Speaking of nineties and Oscar (yes I do that a lot) I finally managed to get around to watching The Shawshank Redemption on Sunday. "Whaat?!" I hear you cry. Yes, there are most likely people who haven't seen this film (I haven't seen Goodfellas either FYI), and are these people missing out? Largely. But missing out more on spectacle, craft, entertainment, the beauty of storytelling, than any insight into what life was like in mid-century prisons. Not so long ago I watched Caged, a film about this same subject and made in the time when said subject was alive, happening, relevant. Then again, Shawshank doesn't really have the sense of responsibility that Caged did, and in truth that's really not what it's there for. Everything in it feels so matter-of-fact (death, rape, fraud) that it's a wonder the film achieves anything at all. The main reason it does work (to an exent, anyway) is because of Frank Darabont, who I previously had issues with (although I very much appreciate this recent adaptation), and who crafts a film that feels so at ease with itself, shifting phases unrecognisably, memorable without ever really over-exerting itself. The film is remarkably tight, narratively speaking -- even at its most far-fetched -- and it really is a wonder that it feels so majestic, given that much of the first half is dedicated to avoiding any insight into its often serious (and often cartoonish) events, or really any sense of scope as to the effects that prison has on these characters. As you may know, Darabont wasn't nominated for a Directing Oscar, but was for the detestable Green Mile. Figure that one out.


Before Xmas:-
  • Year-end lists for Albums, Singles etc. (Films in February)
  • 1938 & 1958 Actress Specials
  • More awards coverage and predictions
  • And if I can bear it, a review of Changeling

I Heart the LAFCA

The LAFCA have announced and it's utterly stupendously fantabolously awesome...

Picture: “Wall-E”Runner-up: “The Dark Knight”
Director: Danny Boyle, “Slumdog Millionaire”Runner-up: Christopher Nolan, “The Dark Knight”

Actor: Sean Penn, “Milk”Runner-up: Mickey Rourke, “The Wrestler”
Actress: Sally Hawkins, “Happy-Go-Lucky”Runner-up: Melissa Leo, “Frozen River”
Supporting actor: Heath Ledger, “The Dark Knight”Runner-up: Eddie Marsan, “Happy-Go-Lucky”
Supporting actress: Penelope Cruz, “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” and “Elegy”Runner-up: Viola Davis, “Doubt”
Screenplay: Mike Leigh, “Happy-Go-Lucky”Runner-up: Charlie Kaufman, “Synecdoche, New York”
Foreign-language film: “Still Life” Runner-up: “The Class”
Documentary: “Man on Wire” Runner-up: “Waltz With Bashir”
Animation: “Waltz With Bashir”
Cinematography: Yu Lik Wai, “Still Life” Runner-up: Anthony Dod Mantle, “Slumdog Millionaire”
Production design: Mark Friedberg, “Synecdoche, New York”Runner-up: Nathan Crowley, “The Dark Knight”
Music/score: A.R. Rahman, “Slumdog Millionaire”Runner-up: Alexandre Desplat, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”
New Generation: Steve McQueen, “Hunger”

Not only have LA given the BEST picture of the year their "Best Picture" award, they've also awarded Sally Hawkins' performance in Happy-Go-Lucky, my favourite turn of 2008. It doesn't seem as if Hawkins is going away, although this by no means makes her a lock -- Vera Farmiga won this in 2005 and it isn't historically water-tight, but it's a major boost. The Oscar-bait isn't getting the critical acclaim in this category so far. Love the Waltz With Bashir win too, for a change. Wall-E is obviously winning Best Picture anyway, isn't it? I can dream....

Thursday, December 04, 2008

National Board of Review: Winners and Reaction

So the NBR have just announced and, as ever, they've come up with a list of mind-numbing pearlers. Here are the winners:-

Best Film: SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE
Not at all surprising. The film with the biggest buzz at the moment.

Best Director: DAVID FINCHER, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Interesting. The NBR liked Button as we'll find out further down. I thought it might get shelved for some more conservative picks but apparently not.

Best Actor: CLINT EASTWOOD, Gran Torino
Ugh. Ugh. Ugh. They like him too much.

Best Actress: ANNE HATHAWAY, Rachel Getting Married
This is a BIG boost. Majorly competitive now in this category. For a nomination, anyway.

Best Supporting Actor: JOSH BROLIN, Milk
Franco has trumped him in the early nominees lists so this is great for him.

Best Supporting Actress: PENELOPE CRUZ, Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Not for Elegy? You sure? Lol. Pretty standard.

Best Foreign Language Film: MONGOL
Meh. Wasn't this nominated last year?

Best Documentary: MAN ON WIRE
Fine. Not a shock.

Best Animated Feature: WALL-E
Duh.

Best Ensemble Cast: DOUBT
Well this plus the Top Ten snub confirms what I thought. Acting noms but no BP.

Breakthrough Performance by an Actor: DEV PATEL, Slumdog Millionaire
Breakthrough Performance by an Actress: VIOLA DAVIS, Doubt
Making sure people remember these two, who each have supporting bids.

Best Directorial Debut: COURTNEY HUNT, Frozen River
Ditto.

Best Original Screenplay: NICK SCHENK, Gran Torino
Best Adapted Screenplay: SIMON BEAUFOY, Slumdog Millionaire and
ERIC ROTH, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Boy did they like these three films.

Spotlight Award: MELISSA LEO, Frozen River and
RICHARD JENKINS, The Visitor
Seems to exist purely as a way to say, "We liked these Oscar. Don't snub them!"

The BVLGARI Award for NBR Freedom of Expression: TRUMBO

Top Five Foreign Language Films:
THE EDGE OF HEAVEN
LET THE RIGHT ONE IN
ROMAN DE GUERRE
A SECRET
WALTZ WITH BASHIR

Top Five Documentary Films
AMERICAN TEEN
THE BETRAYAL (NERAKHOON)
DEAR ZACHARY
ENCOUNTERS AT THE END OF THE WORLD
ROMAN POLANSKI: WANTED AND DESIRED

Top Ten Films:
BURN AFTER READING
CHANGELING
THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON
THE DARK KNIGHT
DEFIANCE
FROST/NIXON
GRAN TORINO
MILK
WALL-E
THE WRESTLER

Blows for Australia, Doubt, The Reader, and Revolutionary Road. Boosts for Defiance (even though it seemed likely cause of their previous Zwick love), Wall-E, and The Wrestler, which I didn't think would be their cup of tea but was wrong as usual. Burn After Reading is a good film, and it's probably a testament to the Coen Bros' outstanding popularity amongst awards bodies last year that this film has been remembered here.

Prediction Score: 5/10 or 6/11 and none of the winning Actors. Oh dear.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

It's That Time Again: NBR Predictions

I did this last year, predicting eight of the top eleven films, but none of the four winning Actors (George Clooney, Julie Christie, Casey Affleck and Amy Ryan). This year it could be a familiar story. I feel as if the NBR will include most of the big films released in the past month, with maybe a couple of little films banded around in early nomination lists this week.

Predictions

Best Picture: The Reader

I think it's going to be this or Slumdog that wins. They went for Daldry in 2002 with The Hours, and although Reader doesn't have quite the same buzz it feels like a respectable winner. Something that needs championing as a realistic contender, anyway.

Top Ten:

Changeling
The Dark Knight
Defiance
Doubt
Frost/Nixon
Frozen River
Milk
Revolutionary Road
Slumdog Millionaire
The Visitor

I realise I've left out Benjamin Button, The Wrestler, Rachel Getting Married, Wall-E, Australia, Gran Torino etc. but there has to be casualties.

Director: Danny Boyle - Slumdog Millionaire

I very nearly put Clint Eastwood but I think Boyle's direction is likely to be showy, and the film is popular, so why not?

Actor in a Leading Role: Frank Langella - Frost/Nixon

Or Di Caprio. The ones that look bland.

Actress in a Leading Role: Meryl Streep - Doubt

Slam dunk. Thank you very much.

Actor in a Supporting Role: Michael Shannon - Revolutionary Road

Just guessing.

Actress in a Supporting Role: Kate Winslet - The Reader

Because she badly needs endorsing in this category, and the NBR really don't care for fraud.

Hottest Track: Official Secrets Act - So Tomorrow

Monday, December 01, 2008

Off and Running, Soon


It's difficult to believe that the Golden Satellites really represent much in the way of granting and dashing Oscar dreams. Sure it's nice to have your name on a nominees list in November, but the sheer number of categories and nominees within those categories makes the whole thing just a bit of a mish-mash of what we know already.

Here is the nominees list
in full.


A few points...

Josh Brolin is nominated in the comedy/musical category. Are you kidding me? Are there people watching W and seeing it as some kind of satire? It's not kind to the man but seriously wtf (?!). I will be very unhappy if he's put into this category at the Globes.

Kate Winslet nominated in the leading category for The Reader. Do the Satellites just care more about category fraud (Hoffman's supporting nomination for Doubt suggests otherwise) or is it just too big a role to get away with campaigning as secondary? That they prefer this to the Revolutionary Road turn is problematic for the Weinsteins, although it appears that The Reader could be very big this year, couldn't it?

Penelope Cruz nominated in supporting for Elegy. Why? She's supposed to be lead and made much more of an impact among critics in her Vicky turn. I can only think that they like Elegy a lot more. With multiple nominations for The Visitor and Frozen River and lots of little films featured the Satellites have thrown out a few bones.

Did anyone know Cadillac Records was even coming out this year? The film always seemed a bit of a vehicle for Beyonce but it looks like it may have worked. A nomination above Viola Davis? It might be too soon after Hudson's Dreamgirls win but ya never know. Bet Mrs. Jay-Z wishes she hadn't done that remake now.

A double nomination for Mark Ruffalo. Ignore The Brothers Bloom, which looks meh at best. I'll put that down to a combination of Blindness (the film obviously not the condition), a shortage of comedy/musical options, and love for his other nominated performance in What Doesn't Kill You. The trailer looks pretty good but the film is gritty and I'm maybe thinking Rourke's already got that base covered this year.

The Visitor
got so much love, but not for Hiam Abbas, despite a host of performances in lesser-loved small films included in the same category. Weird.

Horton Hears a Who nominated in Original Score. Yeeeeeeeeeeeee-ha! I'm convinced that's what made me cry towards the end of it. That or some kind of matinee hormones floating around. Anyhow it's very deserving.

The top ten is uninspired so I'm not even going to comment further on it. NBR is on Thursday, predictions to come.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Shaken, Stirred, and Still Sexy

Quantum of Solace
Directed by Marc Forster
Starring: Daniel Craig, Olga Kurylenko, Mathieu Amalric, Judi Dench, Giancarlo Giannini, Gemma Arterton
Grade: B

Defiance may still represent a worthy 2008 farewell for Daniel Craig but it also plays a key role in his more renowned blockbuster, a second outing as James Bond, and the franchise's 22nd offering Quantum of Solace. While, prior to 2006's Casino Royale, many die-hard 007 fans were left outraged and panicked at the appointment of Craig in the part, the success of his Bond remains a rather double-edged sword. This man is packed with attitude, charisma, a ruthless edge that's much wilder than Connery, Moore et al. but achieves impact through a relative abandonment of the grace of his predecessors in favour of coarse, arrogant necessity. For some it may be a bitter pill to swallow but it's interesting how this man has shaped Bond, changed the nature of his world, and sought to make his filmmakers obedient recipients to his call. Daniel Craig didn't edit this film but you feel like every burst of action, chase sequence, explosion, is somehow a product of the volatility he has brought to James Bond.

Quantum of Solace doesn't do any backtracking from the path Casino Royale so brusquely lain, and neither does it make any attempt to create a tale as epic or glamorous. Instead it modestly builds upon Casino, beginning with the Bond tradition of a high-speed chase to represent the organisation's chasing of leads. But as soon as that's done we get a development; M is nearly killed by one of her own personal bodyguards, and we quickly learn that there's a major criminal organisation that the British Secret Service know hardly anything about. This admission, as it turns out, is a lot bigger than it at first appears. Solace is the picking up of the pieces, the entrails of the storm, the consolidation, and as such the leads are sparse and there isn't really a clear sense of the scope of the criminality Bond is up against.

Resultantly Solace can sometimes feel stingy and slight in its compactness, giving us a very lineated systematic storyline and barely ensuring that there's enough to think about. But the quality of its troublesome collection of characters; from vengeful Bond girl Camille (Ukrainian Actress Olga Kurylenko playing a Bolivian of all things), to Swept Away's Giancarlo Giannini returning to reprise his Casino role (this time on the side of good), and most notably Mathieu Amalric's excellent turn as a villainous third-world exploit artist, provide a more than hefty sense of notoriety for Craig to digest and decode.

At just under two hours this particular 007 installment feels like a bit of an excursion, an epilogue. The events of Casino has clearly left Bond's heart and pride sorely tested, and this only forces him to become more immersed in his work. But the problem is that his task is a vague and unfocused one. This film is cohesive but what it's detailing definitely is not. Quantum of Solace reads as a preachy and pedantic title yet emerges as pretty apt -- not because the film is as firm and definite as its name (it simply isn't) but because the solace is the main element to extract from it. James Bond is alive; sexually charged, laying the smackdown, doing his job even when his employers would prefer otherwise, shaken and stirred. But make no mistake, this man is recovering, and Quantum is just the sort of firecracking stop-gap he needs.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Terror... in 150 Minutes

The Baader Meinhof Complex
Directed by Uli Edel
Starring: Martina Gedeck, Moritz Bleibtreu, Johanna Wokalek, Jan Josef Liefers
Grade: B-

The word "terrorism" injects fear into hearts and minds the world over, but "terrorism", contrary to what we're told, is a complex, deep, and really quite vague term. Uli Edel understands this, and at times dares to glorify it as a daring, exciting venture that acts as a challenge to the dominant oppressive social rule. He does this by exposing us to this straight away, and in more ways than one. The film opens on a nudist beach, cocks aloft (OK, not quite) and tits ablaze; exposure at its most natural and reputatively radical. That Edel endeavours (and seems to enjoy) waving this radicalism with the punch of patriotist flag-happiness is to an extent forgivable, and in fact allows the first half of the film to flourish.

Edel makes a dense subject magnetic and energetic, and the editing in this film often feels so vehicular and mammoth, Malick-style epic but within such a confined political study, and often confined setting. I loved the starkness of the film's pallette, which you can guage from looking at its poster, and significantly Edel guides the look and feel of the film without drawing attention to quite how radical he's being visually; often as radical as the politics Baader Meinhof is so keen to illustrate.

At 150 minutes though, you really have to wonder if this generous running time achieves a patient portrayal or lingers and drags like heavy machinery. I'm willing to concede that it's horses for courses on that point but, for me, the last hour was a slow one, unaided by a shift in tone towards the end that becomes a lot more resigned, both in terms of its characters and what fate will befall them and the realisation that their politics is becoming a lot less coherent. The treatment of the characters is also problematic. Their individuality gains importance in the film's final act but throughout The Baader-Meinhof group are depicted as just that: a group. The one character it does treat individually, Ulrike Meinhof (Gedeck), makes such a dramatic shift from working mother to gargantuan rebel that you just wish that there had been more about the characters (their background, social status, personality) to speculate on where this form of activism comes from, and the people that are drawn into it. Lord knows, there's time to do this, but there's an annoying reluctance to let us into the frey that mirrors the rigid unwillingness of society to acknowledge the roots of such a 'leftist' activist organisation.

I'll end with a likeness. Olivier Dahan's La Vie En Rose had the over-eagerness of a virile, horny teenager, itching to please, passionate, involved. The Baader Meinhof Complex familiarly rides a plaintive coaster, sticking to what it knows best but containing itself visually and thematically. There's wild abandon there; and one wishes that it shows as much fearlessness in its exploration of character as it does with its politics, but this all lurks beneath a sinister desire. If it was to be put in the context of the socialist radar Baader and Meinhof were undoubtedly a part of, this film is like the beginning of reform. Occasionally uncertain, but with penetrative direction and the very best of intentions.

Friday, November 28, 2008

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year...La La La

So here we are. It's that time of year again, although you wouldn't think it, would you? This year's Oscar race is frankly as flat as a pancake, and it'll take a lot of these unproven December releases to come up trumps to make this year's competition as juicy as last years. But still: a race is a race is a race, and it's time I made some official predictions.

I'll start by saying that Slumdog Millionaire looks like a frontrunner at this stage. It's got raves, positivity, a wonderful poster. Is is too Field of Dreams? Time will tell, but for now it's nailed on for the nomination. As is Milk, which could prove to be one of the few buzzed about films of the year that actually gets universal praise -- if early word on the other contenders is to be believed, anyway. The Dark Knight made gazillions, and feels like a pulpy Michael Mann film rather than a comic book movie, so I wouldn't put it far behind.

As for the rest, we'll see. Nothing save that batman film and Wall-E made any impact before Autumn and it's pretty much guesswork as to the other two BP slots. I'm going for Benjamin Button because it's gimmicky, has a good cast, a good director, and there's something about the trailer that's kinda Forrest Gump about it. With a hint of Golden Compass. I know, it's weird. Edward Zwick's mediocre late-year released Blood Diamond stole in to grab multiple nominations in a fairly weak 2006, and so what will his Defiance achieve in an even weaker 2008? I say it might just make a lasting impression with its New Year's audacity.

But there are other contenders; Aronofsky's The Wrestler seems incredibly heavy but no doubt popular, Revolutionary Road seems depressing but high-brow, and Doubt's trailer wails "take me seriously" with the force of a pissy banshee. Wall-E is the film I really want to triumph, and it could just become the second Animated Feature ever to be nominated in this category. Wouldn't that be lovely?

Other observations.... Eastwood's gonna get nominated somewhere. Sally Hawkins is seriously on the brink of being ousted by the star power of Anne Hathaway, unless Jolie's performance is too much for them, but I doubt it. Robert Downey Jnr. had a major year, and so a nomination for Tropic Thunder in a very weak category seems entirely plausible. Totally regretting not seeing that at the cinema now, by the way. Oh, and it's looking increasingly like Best Actor will be the most exciting race (Rourke, Penn, Di Caprio or Langella?) and Supporting Actress will be the most boring (surely Viola Davis is gonna grab that?).

Predictions follow in full. *** = lock ** = likely * = need to keep campaigning



BEST PICTURE

*The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
**The Dark Knight
*Defiance
***Milk
***Slumdog Millionaire

Alternative: Wall-E


BEST DIRECTOR

*Darren Aronofsky - The Wrestler
***Danny Boyle - Slumdog Millionaire
*Clint Eastwood - Gran Torino/Changeling
**Christopher Nolan - The Dark Knight
***Gus Van Sant - Milk

Alternative: David Fincher - The Curious Case...


BEST ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE

**Leonardo Di Caprio - Revolutionary Road
*Daniel Craig - Defiance
**Frank Langella - Frost/Nixon
***Sean Penn - Milk
***Mickey Rourke - The Wrestler

Alternative: Clint Eastwood - Gran Torino


BEST ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE

*Sally Hawkins - Happy-Go-Lucky
*Angelina Jolie - Changeling
*Kristin Scott-Thomas - I've Loved You So Long
***Meryl Streep - Doubt
***Kate Winslet - Revolutionary Road

Alternative: Anne Hathaway - Rachel Getting Married


BEST ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

*Josh Brolin - Milk
*Robert Downey Jnr. - Tropic Thunder
**Philip Seymour Hoffman - Doubt
***Heath Ledger - The Dark Knight
***Michael Shannon - Revolutionary Road

Alternative: Liev Schreiber - Defiance


BEST ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

***Penelope Cruz - Vicky Cristina Barcelona
***Viola Davis - Doubt
*Marisa Tomei - The Wrestler
*Kate Winslet - The Reader
*Elsa Zylberstein - I've Loved You So Long

Alternative: Taraji P. Henson - The Curious Case...

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Improbably President, Improbably Interesting

W.
Directed by Oliver Stone
Starring: Josh Brolin, James Cromwell, Elizabeth Banks, Ellen Burstyn, Thandie Newton
Grade: B

The very essence of "Dub-ya", a moniker we're encouraged to adopt when looking at the poster of W. (which gives us that uniform pronunciation at face value), is that George W. Bush is not just a name, and at the very least had enough humility for a nickname. Indeed, the beginning of W. feels so geared towards pushing this empathetic view of the man as an irresponsible, beer-swilling Jack-the-Lad in the 1970's that I did rather wonder if the film was a little heavy-handed in its attempts to create as rounded a portrayal as humanly possible. And in the end it feels almost as token as the dead brothers of Ray Charles and Johnny Cash in recent biopics, but I say almost because a) these scenes at least feel like a prelude to Bush Jnr's almost conciliatory delve into the political spectrum, and b) because as W. soldiers on it becomes less and less of a biopic than an examination of recent American governments and the true derivation of their aggressive foreign policy.

But that doesn't mean to say that W. spurns the traditional biopic hallmarks, letting a thoroughly bored Elizabeth Banks wander through this film in two-minute pockets and generally shedding very little light on Laura Bush or her marriage to George. It also hops back and forth in time restlessly, and there was a point towards the end that I began to think it was to its own detriment, but W. deserves credit for spanning thirty years and making each segment of time seem definitive, if visually rather plain. James Cromwell as Bush Snr. is more than a little stolid in a role that requires as much sternness as you'd expect from both a disgruntled father and an old-guard republican, and the repetitiveness of the father and son exchanges expose screenwriter Stanley Weiser's lack of insight as to just what on earth went on between the two, which feels like it ought to amount to something more sinister and a lot less bland. What we do learn is that "Poppy" was perturbed by his son's inability to hold down a job and find a suitable path in life, but W.'s familial vanilla is arduous to pore over, and the urge to purse your lips Miranda Priestley-style and exclaim "Am I reaching for the stars here?" is an increasingly overpowering one.

Still, routineness is perhaps a concession W. must and is certainly willing to make, and it's a blot on a largely successful canvas. This political drama manages to make an issue discussed to death (the Iraq war) feel as alien to us as all those pre-20th century empirical battles, where world leaders seemingly preferred quarrel to peace. Contemporary politics is hard to demonstrate, not least because we're so familiar with how it's perceived and presented - particularly in the media. For all of the fluency that Stephen Frears' The Queen exhibited it couldn't shrug off all those blatant stereotypes that we associate with the Royal Family and the government. But if life is a cartoon nobody told Oliver Stone, or the makers of W., or indeed the actors portraying the members of the presidential inner-circle, who (save Thandie Newton's hilarious face-pulling as a supposed Condoleeza Rice) carry off a debate that feels authentic and remarkably original. Its very presentness and the problems that that poses is indicative of how, in many ways, the entire setup of this film seems to work against success - not least because it's about someone who very few people like (twenty-odd percent of Americans according to opinion polls, and precious little outside of the continent). As it turns out, sitting around a table discussing weapons of mass destruction and, on occasion, the dreaded oil issue, feels a lot less self-conscious than you (or certainly I) might have imagined.

It might look as if Oliver Stone is winding down with age, tackling tricky subjects with firm neutrality (see World Trade Center), but in this venture he's proven right. Contrary to popular belief "Dub-ya" is not the spawn of the devil and is in fact as clumsy as he sounds. Portraying George Bush as a simple, passive and often ignorant President is the best way to go, and it works. Do I feel like I know the most powerful man in the world a little better now? Maybe. Not an awful lot, that's for sure. But it at least makes him, and our current political climate, clear and accessible. I'm a firm believer that fictional roles generally offer a bigger challenge to actors, but it would take a lot to convince me that there's a bigger burden to bear for an actor this year than Josh Brolin's task as the detested Pres. Brolin has an admittedly modest gamut but, then again, it's difficult to believe Bush himself has vast emotional capacity, and so the real task is very similar to Mirren's turn as Elizabeth Windsor in that he has to get us to relate in some way to this political nightmare. He has the hot-headed exasperation of a young tearaway, and even when he becomes the familiar grey-haired awkward figurehead it feels like his early days have somewhat shaped him and in a way still linger in his blunt, decisive, even impetuous nature. He gives Bush an intricacy and depth (of development if not personality) that emerges as something surprising. Defiant really of the measured, uniform, and sometimes rigid format W. can't shake off.

As the wheels begin to come off of the Iraq War wagon we're given a metaphoric sequence. Bush is chasing a baseball hit to centre field, and as he pauses to measure up the catch the ball disappears entirely. He's lost it; his grip is gone, judgement forever tarnished. It's an unapologetically basic attempt to demonstrate the realisation of a complex and dire situation, but by that time is a more-than-fitting method of displaying the man's self-evaluation. Like "Dub-ya", what you see is what you get. Devoid of much in the way of artistic swagger it's the perfect way to tell this particular story. Brash, uncomplicated, together.