Wednesday, December 30, 2009

I'm Ringing Church Bells, Church Bells, Church Bells

My fifty favourite singles of 2009...
(Not according to ITunes, but that's another matter)


50. Pet Shop Boys – Love etc.
49. Robbie Williams - Bodies
48. The Nextmen feat. Miss Dynamite – Lion’s Den
47. Empire of the Sun – Walking on a Dream
46. Leona Lewis – Outta My Head
45. Tori Amos – Welcome to England
44. Mika - Rain
43. Bombay Bicycle Club – Always Like This
42. Adam Lambert – For Your Entertainment
41. Rihanna – Russian Roulette

40. Alexandra Burke feat. Flo Rida – Bad Boys
39. Bat For Lashes – Daniel
38. Cheryl Cole – Fight For This Love
37. Annie – Songs Remind Me of You
36. Yeah Yeah Yeah’s – Heads Will Roll
35. The XX – Basic Space
34. Lily Allen – Not Fair
33. Grizzly Bear – Two Weeks
32. Natalie Imbruglia – Want
31. The Gossip – Heavy Cross

30. Patrick Wolf – Vulture
29. La Roux – Quicksand
28. Yeah Yeah Yeah’s – Zero
27. Black Eyed Peas – Meet Me Halfway
26. Paloma Faith – New York
25. Empire of the Sun – We Are the People
24. Blake Lewis – Sad Song
23. Dan Black – Symphonies
22. Mariah Carey – Obsessed
21. Camera Obscura – French Navy


20. Arctic Monkeys – Cornerstone
Gorgeously romantic in the way that The Cure were. Honest and alarmingly flagrant with their words.

19. Friendly Fires – Skeleton Boy
"I close my eyes on the dancefloor and forget about you" -- addictive.

18. Jordin Sparks – Battlefield
Daryl Zanuck didn't know the meaning of the word epic, this is it! Better go get your armour...

17. Yeasayer – Ambling Alp
A shuffling, tentative opening turns into one of the most musically assured offerings of the year. Wisdom in every way.

16. Roisin Murphy – Orally Fixated
This song is constantly building, from the one-minute bubbling intro to the severe chorus. Roisin's is THE 2010 album I'd give anything to have right now.

15. Miley Cyrus – Party in the U.S.A.
"And a Britney song was onnnnnnnnn!". I'm a staunch defender of Miley and this song proves she's capable of writing a classic. Yeah, forget The Climb.

14.
Florence and the Machine – Rabbit Heart
What a great year this lady and her outfit had, and this was the pick of the bunch. Immense chorus.

13. Micachu and the Shapes – Lips
Packed into barely even a minute, Lips is like the wailing call of a child. The album's much the same. The shapes have promise.

12. The Maccabees – Love You Better
I actually think this is the love song of the year. Love songs are supposed to be heart-achingly sad, and this is anthemic melancholy at its finest.

11. Jack Penate – Tonight’s Today
Speaking of anthems, Penate came back with an impressive follow-up album to his fine debut. Tonight's Today trumps anything he's ever done before.

10. Ellie Goulding – Under the Sheets
"You're not the answer, I should know. Like all the boys before, like all the boys before". Sad but true.

9. Julian Casablancas – 11th Dimension
I have no idea what this song is about but I was absoloutely entranced by it. Unrelenting, and I could listen to the final thirty seconds forever.

8. Erik Hassle – Hurtful
I generally find scandinavian male voices more interesting, and Hassle really captivated me with his. Hurtful is a real powerful tearjerker.

7. Lady Gaga – Poker Face
A playful dance classic, filled with some huge lines like the opening "I wanna hold em like they do in Texas League, and marked by the now-legendary "P-P-P-Poker face, P-P Poker face".

6. Annie – Anthonio
Such an unashamedly faithful ode, and yet it feels like more of a celebration.

5. Shakira – She Wolf
Bonkers, but anyone that can factor the word "lycanthropy" into a pop song deserves major kudos.

4.
Girls Can’t Catch – Keep Your Head Up
In a similar way to The Saturdays last year, Girls Can't Catch made me feel uplifted and devoted to their chorus. This was the Itunes number one, FYI.

3. Girls Aloud – Untouchable
I'm pretending they released the six-minute version. In any case they kept the beautiful robots dancing alone. This is one of the best pop songs ever made.

2. La Roux – In for the Kill
How someone can build a song around an "OOOOh, OOOOh!" is beyond me but doesn't it work AMAZINGLY?

1. Lady Gaga – Bad Romance
Well, I didn't want to be cliche but this is such an incredible tune. As if the "Ra Ra, Ah Ah Ah" tribal lust wasn't mental enough the song shifts from raw passion to longing, extended rapturous calls for romance. It's also probably the vainest love song ever. The whole thing is a show.

Hottest Track: Miike Snow - Silvia

Friday, December 18, 2009

Brief SAG Reaction

Only two real surprises:

1) The rather random inclusion of Diane Kruger in Supporting Actress

Everybody loves the Basterds this Awards season!. On the one hand I think it's a fun and occasionally delicious performance, and on the other I find it a real shame that Melanie Laurent was campaigned by the Weinsteins in the Leading category, as she clearly would have got in here if they'd settled for Supporting. Laurent and Kruger remain outside shots, but the inevitable split that will occur from this probably means that neither will make it and the last spot will be taken up by either Julianne Moore, Academy favourite Samantha Morton, or the mishandled Marion Cotillard. At least that's my take on the situation.

And while we're on it, if Nine is going to be the worst-reviewed film to get a Best Picture nomination this decade, is it really going to get this many major nominations? It seems comparable with Memoirs of a Geisha four years ago, which got equally poor reviews and probably would have managed a spot in a ten-wide field, given its six nods. None of those, however, were for the big six categories, and so it seems to me that Marion Cotillard is on kind of shaky ground given that she now seems behind Cruz and is saddled with a film that people simply don't like? Nine will probably win the Globe but I can't see it gaining any real momentum before the Oscar ballots are posted.

2) The ensemble snub of Up in the Air

While early precursors suggested Up in the Air had enough to emerge as a solid favourite the support for it clearly doesn't rival that of previous BP winners, and it certainly seems to be dwindling under the euphoric love for The Hurt Locker. At the moment it seems like a three-way tussle between Reitman's film, Bigelow's critical favourite, and James Cameron's beastly, cinema-altering production. Say what you want for the ten-wide category but it's feeling very nostalgic to those forties Best Picture winners (I'm looking at you Rebecca and Casablanca) which only managed one or two other victories. That's possibly why Avatar might have the edge, given that it's likely to win multiple effects prizes, but at the moment it seems pretty wide open.

Hottest Track: Kelis - Acapella

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Official 2009 Golden Globe Nominations

Motion Picture, Drama
“Avatar”
“The Hurt Locker”
“Inglourious Basterds”
“Precious”
“Up in the Air”


Prediction Score: 4/5
Reaction: This is great for Avatar, and it seems completely on course for an Oscar BP nod, given that it's probably going to be completely up the alley of the Producers and Director's guilds. They didn't love precious (no Director or Screenplay nomination) but it still made it here, and you'd expect it to turn up in the SAG ensemble category. I love that The Hurt Locker and Inglourious are doing so well in the awards race thus far.


Motion Picture, Comedy/Musical
“(500) Days of Summer”
“The Hangover”
“It’s Complicated”
“Julie & Julia”
“Nine”

Prediction Score: 4/5
Reaction: I thought A Serious Man may trump Nancy Meyers' flick, but maybe it's more Oscar's cup of tea than the HFPA. Stuhlbarg managed to get in so I wouldn't say the film is looking *that* weak, but there's a long way to go until February 2nd.

Actor, Drama
Jeff Bridges, “Crazy Heart”
George Clooney, “Up in the Air”
Colin Firth, “A Single Man”
Morgan Freeman, “Invictus”
Tobey Maguire, “Brothers”

Prediction Score: 4/5
Reaction: Disappointed but not surprised at the exclusion of Jeremy Renner, but I'm not gonna worry too much until Thursday's SAG nominations.

Actress, Drama
Emily Blunt, “The Young Victoria”
Sandra Bullock, “The Blind Side”
Helen Mirren, “The Last Station”
Carey Mulligan, “An Education”
Gabby Sidibe, “Precious”

Prediction Score: 4/5
Reaction:
I'm seriously concerned at how anybody can honestly believe that Emily Blunt gave a better performance than Abbie Cornish this year. I like Emily, but really?

Actor Comedy/Musical
Matt Damon, “The Informant!”
Daniel Day Lewis, “Nine”
Robert Downey Jr., “Sherlock Holmes”
Joe Gordon Levitt, “(500) Days of Summer”
Michael Stuhlbarg, “A Serious Man”

Prediction Score:
4/5
Reaction:
Matt Damon's Informant turn is head-and-shoulders above anything else I've seen by a Leading Actor this year, unless of course you count Christoph Waltz as lead -- which I don't. Michael Stuhlbarg may show up at SAG but it's pretty competitive for those five spots.

Actress, Comedy
Sandra Bullock, “The Proposal”
Marion Cotillard, “Nine”
Julia Roberts, “Duplicity”
Meryl Streep, “Julie & Julia”
Meryl Streep, “It’s Complicated”

Prediction Score: 3/5
Reaction: I liked Duplicity and Roberts in it, though this is completely typical of the Globes. Bullock's nomination here gives her more of a chance of winning in the Drama category but I have no idea how people are going to take to that performance in the long term. I thought she was great but it's feisty in a darker way. She ain't no saintly Erin Brockovich.

Director
Kathryn Bigelow, “The Hurt Locker”
James Cameron, “Avatar”
Clint Eastwood, “Invictus”
Jason Reitman, “Up in the Air”
Quentin Tarantino, “Inglourious Basterds”

Prediction Score: 4/5
Reaction:
They liked Nine but not enough to give Marshall a nomination.

Best Supporting Actress
Penelope Cruz, “Nine”
Vera Farmiga, “Up in the Air”
Anna Kendrick, “Up in the Air”
Mo’nique, “Precious”
Julianne Moore, “A Single Man”

Prediction Score: 4/5
Reaction:
Very happy for Vera Farmiga, but I'd be vary wary of Academy favourites Judi Dench and Samantha Morton upsetting the apple cart.

Supporting Actor
Matt Damon, “Invictus”
Woody Harrelson, “The Messenger”
Christopher Plummer, “The Last Station”
Stanley Tucci, “The Lovely Bones”
Christoph Waltz, “Inglourious Basterds”

Prediction Score: 3.5/5
Reaction: Great news for Christopher Plummer, who you'd expect to manage a SAG nod as well. He's looking like the only one capable of stopping the Waltz sweep.


Total Prediction Score: 34.5/45 (77%)

Other Nominations:-

Screenplay
Neill Blomkampt & Terri Tatchell, “District 9″
Mark Boal, “The Hurt Locker”
Nancy Meyers, “It’s Complicated”
Jason Reitman & Sheldon Turner, “Up in the Air”
Quentin Tarantino, “Inglourious Basterds”

Original Score
Michael Giacchino, “Up”
Marvin Hamlisch, “The Informant!”
James Horner, “Avatar”
Abel Krozeniowski, “A Single Man”
Karen O and Carter Burwell, “Where the Wild Things Are”

Foreign Language Film
“Baaria”
“Broken Embraces”
“The Maid”
“Un Prophete”
“The White Ribbon”

Original Song
“Cinema Italiano” from “Nine”
“I Want To Come Home” from “Everybody’s Fine”
“I See You” from “Avatar”
“The Weary Kind” from “Crazy Heart”
“Winter” from “Brothers”

Monday, December 14, 2009

Golden Globe Predictions, 2009

Time to predict tomorrow's Golden Globe nominations, which are occasionally inspired and usually much more interesting than other nominees lists, given that they actually acknowledge comedy acting. Here are my predictions with some brief justifications:-

Best Picture (Drama)

An Education
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
Precious
Up in the Air

Alternate: Avatar

I don't know if Avatar has been around long enough to have managed a nomination here, which is why I'm not predicting it. These five all seem pretty strong.

Best Picture (Comedy/Musical)

500 Days of Summer
The Hangover
Julie & Julia
Nine
A Serious Man

Alternate: It's Complicated

I think that 500 Days is too well-loved to miss out, and The Hangover too was a smash hit. It's Complicated maybe has the timing but it's quite a strong category this year. We'll see.

Best Director

Kathryn Bigelow - The Hurt Locker
Clint Eastwood - Invictus
Rob Marshall - Nine
Jason Reitman - Up in the Air
Quentin Tarantino - Inglourious Basterds

Alternate: James Cameron - Avatar

I almost dropped QT for Cameron and then decided against it.

Best Actor in a Leading Role (Drama)

Jeff Bridges - Crazy Heart
George Clooney - Up in the Air
Johnny Depp - Public Enemies
Colin Firth - A Single Man
Morgan Freeman - Invictus

Alternate: Jeremy Renner - The Hurt Locker

They love Johnny Depp and Renner isn't a name. Will surely make SAG though?

Best Actress in a Leading Role (Drama)

Sandra Bullock - The Blind Side
Abbie Cornish - Bright Star
Helen Mirren - The Last Station
Carey Mulligan - An Education
Gabourey Sidibe - Precious

Alternate: Penelope Cruz - Broken Embraces

Cruz has an amazing amount of star power at the moment. This movie came out ages ago and has very little buzz, but Bright Star and The Last Station don't have much at the moment either, so she could replace one of either Cornish or Mirren.

Best Actor in a Leading Role (Comedy)

Alec Baldwin - It's Complicated
Matt Damon - The Informant!
Daniel Day-Lewis - Nine
Robert Downey Jnr. - Sherlock Holmes
Joseph Gordon-Levitt - 500 Days of Summer

Alternate: Robert De Niro - Everybody's Fine

Baldwin seems like a co-lead, and he's been nominated by the Globes in that category over on the TV side of things. Everyone else seems good to go, or as De Niro might put it: everybody's fine.

Best Actress in a Leading Role (Comedy)

Amy Adams - Julie & Julia
Marion Cotillard - Nine
Michelle Pfeiffer - Cheri
Meryl Streep - It's Complicated
Meryl Streep - Julie & Julia

Alternate: Zooey Deschanel - 500 Days of Summer

Nobody's been talking about Pfeiffer for a while but they used to love her, and she's pretty luscious in the film. Deschanel's handy but not a likeable character.

Best Actor in a Supporting Role

Matt Damon - Invictus
Woody Harrelson - The Messenger
Christian McKay - Me and Orson Welles
Stanley Tucci - Julie & Julia
Christoph Waltz - Inglourious Basterds

Alternate: Alfred Molina - An Education

Will they ignore the Harrelson lead thing?

Best Actress in a Supporting Role

Mariah Carey - Precious
Penelope Cruz - Nine
Anna Kendrick - Up in the Air
Mo'Nique - Precious
Julianne Moore - A Single Man

Alternate: Vera Farmiga - Up in the Air

If they can nominate Cruise for Tropic Thunder they can nominate Carey for Precious.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Delayed NBR Reaction

A bit of a delay since I'm having a busy weekend indulging in food, drink, and.... other things. I scored five out of eleven with one acting winner. Not great.

Best Film
UP IN THE AIR

Top Ten Films
(In alphabetical order) AN EDUCATION, (500) DAYS OF SUMMER, THE HURT LOCKER, INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS, INVICTUS, THE MESSENGER, A SERIOUS MAN, STAR TREK, UP, WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE


I keep forgetting how much people liked 500 Days of Summer. Note to self: must say more about what's wrong with this film -- you've got to do a bit of slapping down occasionally. Up in the Air's victory isn't a surprise, but the inclusion of Star Trek and Where the Wild Things Are kind of is. I think some people are expecting fireworks when the new ten-wide Best Picture Oscar category is announced but I still think there's going to be a drone middle-of-the-road set of bait devoid of much interest, perhaps with the exception of Inglourious Basterds. Good news for An Education and The Messenger (each hoping to be included in that ten) but there's a long way to go yet. I don't think Precious was ever going to be the old-school NBR's cup of tea, and that's definitely gonna be a problem at Oscar when it comes to voting for the winner (the new system favours less "offensive" films), but it's still very strong.

Best Foreign Language Film
A PROPHET

Top Five Foreign Films
(In alphabetical order) THE MAID, REVANCHE, SONG OF SPARROWS, THREE MONKEYS, THE WHITE RIBBON

So psyched for A Prophet. Not sure if The White Ribbon can make the Foreign Language lineup at Oscar. It's a very cold, difficult film to like, and if 4 Months didn't make it a couple of years ago then it doesn't bode well for Haneke's film.

Best Documentary
THE COVE

Top Five Documentaries
(In alphabetical order) BURMA VJ: REPORTING FROM A CLOSED COUNTRY, CRUDE, FOOD, INC., GOOD HAIR, THE MOST DANGEROUS MAN IN AMERICA: DANIEL ELLSBERG AND THE PENTAGON PAPERS


I think The Cove is going to sweeeeep!

Top Independent Films
(In alphabetical order) AMREEKA, DISTRICT 9, GOODBYE SOLO, HUMPDAY, IN THE LOOP, JULIA, ME AND ORSON WELLES, MOON, SUGAR, TWO LOVERS

I find it really disheartening that In the Loop and Julia, two excellent films, are consigned to an Independent championing and clearly not taken seriously enough for the actual top ten, when trash like An Education is clogging up space.

Best Actor
GEORGE CLOONEY, Up In The Air; MORGAN FREEMAN, Invictus

So boring.

Best Actress
CAREY MULLIGAN, An Education


Apart from Mo'Nique she probably had the most buzz of anyone this year and yet people aren't taking her as seriously now. It's unfair because nobody is ever going to live up to that astronomical level of expectation and she's actually really great in An Education and comfortably inside my top five Leading Actresses of the year for the moment.

Best Supporting Actor
WOODY HARRELSON, The Messenger

Probably undervalued but the Globes Lead thing is something he really doesn't need right now. Sure, it might help you get noticed more, but category confusion is bad enough for the people with high-profile films, never mind when you have a tiny little critics darling. Not everyone can have that Amy Adams in Junebug fairytale.

Best Supporting Actress
ANNA KENDRICK, Up In The Air

Destined to be nominated and lose the Oscar.

Best Ensemble Cast
IT'S COMPLICATED

A way to reward Meryl? Alec Baldwin still has a chance (especially since he's hosting) but I reckon It's Complicated is gonna have to be a smash to get him in. I'm thinking he may even get Globe, SAG, and still lose out.

Breakthrough Performance by an Actor
JEREMY RENNER, The Hurt Locker

Breakthrough Performance by an Actress
GABOUREY SIDIBE, Precious

I'd really like for Jeremy Renner to make the AMPAS shortlist but I've got a nagging feeling that he won't. Morgan Freeman has been looking a much weaker candidate in the last month but this has definitely helped his cause more than Jeremy's.

Spotlight Award for Best Directorial Debut
DUNCAN JONES, Moon; OREN MOVERMAN, The Messenger; MARC WEBB, (500) Days of Summer

Best Director
CLINT EASTWOOD, Invictus


Meh. Is Sam Rockwell still campaigning?

Best Adapted Screenplay
JASON REITMAN and SHELDON TURNER, Up In The Air

Best Original Screenplay
JOEL AND ETHAN COEN, A Serious Man

Best Animated Feature
UP

Special Filmmaking Achievement
WES ANDERSON, The Fantastic Mr. Fox

Doesn't this seem like a way to reward both? I liked Fantastic Mr. Fox so much more than Up.

William K. Everson Award For Film History
JEAN PICKER FIRSTENBERG

Freedom Of Expression
BURMA VJ: REPORTING FROM A CLOSED COUNTRY; INVICTUS; THE MOST DANGEROUS MAN IN AMERICA: DANIEL ELLSBERG AND THE PENTAGON PAPERS

Thursday, December 03, 2009

National Board of Review: Predictions

It's very scary that a year has lapsed since the last time the National Board of Review announced their ten favourite films of 2008. Last year was uninspired (in truth I've yet to be inspired by an NBR choice) with a typical bout of love for Clint Eastwood and Edward Zwick, as well as a ball-rolling canonisation of Slumdog Millionaire. My prediction score last year was six out of eleven (top ten plus winner) and none of the acting winners. Hoping for an improvement...

Best Picture: Bright Star

The NBR rewarded almost every British period drama with its big prize in the eighties and nineties -- A Passage To India, A Room With a View, Howard's End, Sense and Sensibility -- and followed that up with wins for British period drama's like Quills, The Hours, and Finding Neverland. Recent years have seen them embrace more divisive films but I think it's time they returned to unspoken love and wistful landscape. Bright Star needs this endorsement and I reckon Jane Campion's film will get it.

Best Director: Jason Reitman - Up in the Air

Wild guess. Apparently a film with mass appeal and something inoffensively charming. Jason Reitman is building up a fanbase. Expecting major losses to Precious and The Hurt Locker in the critics awards so a mention here would be valuable.

Best Actress in a Leading Role:
Meryl Streep - It's Complicated/Julie & Julia

I don't love Meryl's Julia turn but it has many fans. Word is she's dynamite in the Meyers film too. Looks ominous.

Best Actor in a Leading Role: George Clooney - Up in the Air

If he can win for Michael Clayton he can definitely win for this.

Best Actress in a Supporting Role:
Marion Cotillard - Nine/Public Enemies

Two juicy roles and they really like to reward stars for multiple turns. If this happens and they continue to campaign Marion as lead the two Actress races are going to be really interesting.

Best Actor in a Supporting Role: Christian McKay - Me and Orson Welles

Why not?

Top Ten Films:

The Hurt Locker
Invictus
Julie and Julia
The Last Station
Nine
Precious
Public Enemies
A Serious Man
Up
Up in the Air

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Getting Back to the Present

I've just realised that aside from a paragraph on The White Ribbon I haven't really discussed anything current for a while, such is the never-ending quest through film heritage. My eighties and early-nineties viewing is pretty sparse so I've been trying to remedy that, trawling through dreck like Places in the Heart, Agnes of God, and the preposterously simple disaster movie When Time Ran Out. There have however been rays of light, and I'm struggling to believe why Kathleen Turner couldn't manage an Oscar mention for either Romancing the Stone or Crimes of Passion, which I watched the other day and enjoyed immensely.

But back to the present, and a few words on some 2009 films I've seen of late.

An Education
Directed by Lone Scherfig
Starring: Carey Mulligan, Peter Sarsgaard, Alfred Molina
Grade: C

Carey Mulligan's Jenny is the perfect protagonist because her apparent telepathy with the audience allows her to voice exactly what we're thinking when we're thinking it. Nick Hornby's one-track screenplay has the fall-from-grace of a Max Ophuls film but none of the style. So many of the characters are hypocrites that it makes Jenny look positively heavenly, and so berating education with parental obsessiveness didn't do much to convince me that Jenny is capable of contravening the moral expectations of the audience at all, never mind ditching "an education".

Fish Tank
Directed by Andrea Arnold
Starring: Katie Jarvis, Michael Fassbender, Kierston Wareing
Grade: B-

Teenager Mia is fucked in more ways than one in this film, seemingly unable to escape a failed education and deprivated working-class existence, not to mention her cherry-plucking at the hands of a rugged Michael Fassbender. Her urban dance dreams are completely convincing, and valuable in terms of exposure and social aspiration, but the attempts to demonstrate how she's craving freedom (her quest to let loose a shackled horse in particular) are disappointingly blatant. Arnold also expects us to be grateful that a child survives in a random act of melodrama that feels very unnecessary.

Harry Brown
Directed by Daniel Barber
Starring: Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer, Jack O'Connell
Grade: F

Perhaps the most politically abhorrent film I've ever seen (and that's saying something), straight out of the Eden Lake sensationalist mould of British "thrillers" attempting to right the wrongs of the country. This makes Neil Jordan's The Brave One look like a world-beater, coming to a similarly immoral conclusion and scattering some grotesque characters in order to hammer home its points in shock-tactic style. It also polarises World warfare with Street warfare. War is war people.

Paranormal Activity
Directed by Oren Peli
Starring: Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat, Mark Fredrichs
Grade: B-

Major kudos for creating such a compelling film on a miniscule budget and for a while Activity does a great job of mixing the couple's relationship with the anticipation of what's to come and the levels of skepticism that emerge. It'd be wrong to say that it isn't scary but it does feel a lot tamer than The Blair Witch Project (to which it has been compared) felt ten years earlier. Rather like last year's Cloverfield I don't think it can sustain its video-camera concept and draws attention to it more than it ever needs to.

Up
Directed by Pete Docter
Starring: Ed Asner, Jordan Nagai, Bob Peterson
Grade: B-


Cars was kiddie-Pixar and as many montages and ruminations about old age won't really change the fact that Up is the same kind of thing. It really doesn't look like Pixar made it at all. The attempts to be cute are more akin to the Ice Age series, which I like but for its modest purpose as an educational heart-warming piece rather than anything else. Maybe we've been spoiled but the level of insight and entertainment in Up is probably lower than in any of their other films, with the exception of Cars.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Actress Profile: Maggie McNamara in The Moon is Blue (1953)

When I caught Otto Preminger's The Moon is Blue last month on Youtube it was mainly for Maggie McNamara, who managed a Best Actress nomination in 1953 and who I really didn't know much about, having not seen her in anything else. She actually only did four films after The Moon is Blue (her debut) and sadly overdosed at the relatively young age of 49.

This stagy comedy sees McNamara pursued by a devilishly handsome William Holden and his would-be father-in-law David Niven, one of which wants to bed her, the other to marry her. She is required to dash off some cracking dialogue in which she's very candid about sex and foreplay while simultaneously declaring her unwillingness to engage in both. Contradictory perhaps, but McNamara juggles the character's complexities with ease, and for a debut it's a remarkably assured turn, laden with some wonderful comic timing and truly inspired acting decisions.

McNamara is a tiny girl, inoffensive, not particularly pretty, but she has an undeniable presence in the film and a warm demeanor, even when she's dashing off cutting quips and generally slapping down the lapdog-style attentions of her two suitors. As the piece was originally a play (penned and adapted by F. Hugh Herbert) Maggie isn't always framed like a leading lady and lingers in the background for pockets of the action, so it's kind of surprising that she managed to emerge as such an awards favourite. The role is cute but that particular feat was definitely garnered by the performance.

Friday, November 20, 2009

If There's Anything He's a Sucker For, It's Licorice


Sixty years since Adam's Rib, wouldn't you know? Sixty years since Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn went to battle in the ultimate battle-of-the sexes. I slate Tracy a fair bit on this blog but I'll give him his due here, he's wonderful, and I've yet to see a better performance from 1949.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Anvil! The Story of Undervalued!

I didn't get around to reviewing Anvil! The Story of Anvil! after I caught it on DVD a couple of months ago. I knew very little about either Anvil themselves or the film, a story of a band's attempts to revive the limited success of their early career. The movie is very low-budget but wonderfully gets inside the mind of guitarists Robb Reiner and Steve 'Lips' Kudlow, who trail around the deceprit state of European small-time rock with the ambition of plucky teenage bandmates. It's a wonderfully entertaining film that demonstrates the battle between artistry and practicality and the fine line between celebrity and non-celebrity.

Its omission from Oscar's documentary shortlist is truly saddening as it will likely remain one of my favourite films of this year, and probably one of the best reviewed.

Flying the New Moon Route

As the shamelessly commercial Twilight: New Moon hogs up to a third of cinema screens this weekend (and surely a lot more of the box-office) I find myself unable to see even the most mediocre, middle-of-the-road Oscar vehicles. Amelia has made a paltry amount this week (less than The White Ribbon?!) but it's hardly surprising given that Mira Nair's film is the pummelled filling in the gargantuan This Is It/New Moon sandwich. Having just returned from five days in London I'm flat broke, and somehow considering paying seven pounds to see Amelia outside of my cinema subscription, on the off-chance that Hilary Swank manages a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress in a Drama.

But back to London, where I managed to do many fun things, the highlight of which was to meet blogger-extraordinaires Gabriel of
Modern Fabulousity (best known as ModFab) and Raj of Electroqueer (whose taste in music is impeccable) for coffee and a fiendishly good martini. I also did manage to see The White Ribbon, which I liked but wanted to like more. The visual saturation is better and less off-putting than in Schindler's List for example, and its starkness is stunning to behold, but Haneke's constant attempts to distance you from the characters somewhat frustrated me and it's a lot more conscious and definite about its themes than I would have liked. Haneke does however manage to get a lovely performance out of Leonie Benesch as the teenage affection of the film's narrator and true lead.

Yeah, maybe I don't want to see The Aviator: Part II after all.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Deaf Versus Dumb

Good news for thesp equality -- the BBC have cast a deaf Actress to star in its latest thriller, The Silence, which looks rather like Wait Until Dark with an aural handicap rather than a visual one posing problems for its leading lady. Genevieve Barr is the woman in question, and the series is going to presumably come out in the Spring, when the BBC go into their serious programming mode.

Bad news for thesp equality -- Just this week, the casting of a hearing actor in the deaf leading role of a New York production of The Heart is a Lonely Hunter has sparked controversy.

This argument has been going on for a long time, and reminds me of Marlee Matlin, who is sadly one of the few deaf Actors I remember seeing oncscreen. Her performance in Children of a Lesser God I liked, even if I consider her Best Actress Oscar win a bit much since I'd bury it at the bottom of a pile of great performances from 1986 (by Isabella Rosselini, Marie Riviere, Sissy Spacek, Helena Bonham Carter, among others). Nevertheless, I caught a special edition of See Hear where she talks about her achievements and she seems a very clever woman, who has been very vocal about casting issues. These two examples perhaps suggests that more needs to be vocalised, or some kind of legislation employed to prevent deaf actors being ignored.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Chaplin for £3.20

I was reading The Guardian today and spotted this article on a guy who bought a random film reel on ebay for £3.20 which turned out to be an unseen short film by Charlie Chaplin. Surely something to put on the IMDB trivia page, when it eventually gets one.

I guess one of the most famous stories is of Carl Theodor Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc turning up at a mental institution in Norway in the eighties -- I shudder to think that that particular classic could have disappeared. It does make you think though; how many lost or unseen classics are out there somewhere? Arts heritage has definitely gotten better of late but damage has been done. Let's hope there are more spectacular finds to be had.

Men of the Thirties: 1938

The Nominees Were:

Charles Boyer in Algiers
James Cagney in Angels With Dirty Faces
Robert Donat in The Citadel
Leslie Howard in Pygmalion
Spencer Tracy in Boys Town


And the Winner Was:

Spencer Tracy in Boys Town

(Spoiler Alert!)
I find this the most baffling decision of the decade. James Cagney's NYFCC-winning performance is far more interesting than any of his competitors, and he does everything asked of a Hollywood leading man i.e. have tough, masculine presence, a soft(ish) interior, and die a hero. The only missing link was the lack of a Best Picture nomination for Angels with Dirty Faces, which has its faults but is far more competent than some of the nominees (I'm looking at you, Capra and Taurog). I imagine this is the kind of decision that saw Katharine Hepburn win in 1967 and '81 and could have seen Jack Nicholson's touching but hardly worthy Warren Schmidt tie Kate's four-win record seven years ago. Cagney and Donat may have been close but both end up cigarless.


My Ratings
(in order of preference):-


**** James Cagney in Angels with Dirty Faces


Akin to a bout of German expressionism James Cagney's Caligari eyes are fierce, and the strutting, plucky way that Cagney conducts himself indicates a man who means business. Angels with Dirty Faces is a deceptively light title for what becomes a rather heavy film, but it's an apt way to depict Rocky Sullivan and his band of criminal kids. Charming, cocky tearaways in a similar sense to Fagin's pickpockets in Oliver! Cagney plays his role as a semi-willing mentor (willing in the sense that it elevates his own prestige) with extravagant, streetwise fervour, beying everyone in sight to challenge his gangland superiority. Rocky doesn't have that much actual power, but you wouldn't know it.


*** Leslie Howard in Pygmalion



It's nigh-on impossible to match the overt chauvinism of Rex Harrison in pretty much everything, and Howard as Professor Henry Higgins comes across as a much less relevant part of the film. He knows that Eliza Dolittle is the showpiece of the production and gives way to her in a similar vein as he did Bette Davis in Of Human Bondage. He bounces off her well and their mini-battles are as uproariously funny here as they are in the Best Picture-winning musical adaptation.

*** Robert Donat in The Citadel


I feel sorry for Donat, who proves -- as he did in '35 -- that he is such a likeable and charming screen presence. The Citadel has promise but ends up marooning him when the ideas dissipate, and in the final act of this film Donat is utterly helpless and ineffective. Prior to that he illustrates his character's ethical dilemna readily, somewhat disguising the insipid attempts to generate drama. He carefully develops the changing perspective of Dr. Andrew towards his profession and I had actually grown attached to the character by the time the wheels started falling off.


*** Charles Boyer in Algiers


I like Algiers much more than any of the films nominated in this category, but certainly not for its acting. The tone of the film lunges violently but Boyer stays pretty much the same, and the role requires similar things of him as the previous year's Conquest. A gangster in a much different sense to Cagney he's an elusive, no-nonsense figurehead that crumbles into a songster at the sight of Hedy Lamarr (who can blame him, huh?). But Boyer captures the tragedy of a man trapped in a district, top dog in a prison, bound by limitations, much more successfully than he ever captured Napoleon's ambition.


* Spencer Tracy in Boys Town


Tracy sidles around as a mentor figure who, unlike Cagney's Rocky, has no flaws to speak of. Father Flanagan is at the head of Boys Town's admirable but lightweight advertisement for juvenile reform, and has to sort out the restlessness of Mickey Rooney et al. He does this through the occasional lecture, which Tracy can dole out in his sleep, and he is thoroughly incapable of contributing any grit or bite to the character. A bitter disappointment.


The Snubbed

***** Cary Grant in Bringing Up Baby (& Holiday)



Not one but two classic star turns they spurned. Grant's best comes when he reacts to the ever-increasing mania going on all around him, (i.e. in Arsenic and Old Lace, possibly the finest comedic performance there's ever been). In BUB his behaviour and rationality fades in sync with this ever-maddening environment, his character eventually reduced from skepticism to acceptance in what is a rousing reversal. After all, would a man really fall in love with a girl who ransacked his wedding, lumbered him with a leopard, and single-handedly dismantled his relationship?

*** Henry Fonda in Jezebel


Another man Bette Davis swallows and spits out, but this time she doesn't have the guy quite where she wants him. Henry Fonda wouldn't say boo to a goose in many of his films and his cowardice reaches a height when he reacts to Davis's famous brazen red-dress humiliation with the trepidation of a square society Duke. Fonda is totally right for the part -- cute, investable, self-important -- but when the going gets tough the tough get going (thank you, Billy Ocean) and even though you could maybe fall in love with this guy his predictability is ultimately sad. Davis is stellar and the film ain't so much about him, but he does everything you'd ask of the character.


** Errol Flynn in The Adventures of Robin Hood



This is silly fun: Flynn is such a poser, and uses his bravado to craft Robin Hood into a dastardly commodity. The film is really all a technicolour confection, strewn with velvet and laden with pretty faces. Flynn is the prettiest though, and his snarls, smirks, and come-to-bed eyes are the intoxicating essence of a hero. It works perfectly for the film, but it's limited, and that's all he has to offer.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

The Missing Point

'night Mother (1986)
Directed by Tom Moore
Starring: Anne Bancroft, Sissy Spacek
Grade: C -

Nine years after Anne Bancroft could still get away with wearing a cocktail dress in Herbert Ross's The Turning Point she was into pernickety old woman territory in 'night Mother, a film adapted by Marsha Norman from her own Pullitzer Prize-winning play. Sissy Spacek completes the casting coup as Thelma's (Bancroft's) daughter Jessie, who casually informs her mother before their evening cocoa that she intends to shoot herself in the head before the night is out.

Norman wrings out the blackly comic mundanity of Jessie's approach to suicide (and existence in general) for a good half-hour before things get that heavy. Her meticulous preparation -- bags of clothes labelled with who she wants to donate them to, instructions on which pills her mother should take and when, a decade's worth of birthday presents -- detailed to generate irksome discomfort in Thelma and cynicism in the audience. Is death really as clinical a matter? 'night Mother doesn't come to any real conclusions about death (perhaps with the exception of the not-so-groundbreaking observation that it's inevitable) and is content to parade a checklist of issues that lack much depth or interest. In an attempt by her mother to assuage her daughter's morbid stance Jessie's mariage and son are discussed, but don't anchor our understanding of her and are hastily presented as outlets for empathy. If a woman's sole reason to stay alive is on the off-chance that she might get back with her ex-husband, I'd be tempted to load the gun myself.

Bancroft and Spacek go through the rigmarole of shifting their exchange from room-to-room in what are some very well-constructed scenes. Jessie manages to get through a day's worth of errands while soaking up her mother's flummoxed remonstrations and pleas, and it prevents the film's emotional turbulence from feeling as laboured as it might have. Anne Bancroft represents but a sliver of the film's faults but her often misguided histrionics do little to disguise 'night Mother's heavy reliance upon conservational quips and periodically shifting topics. Spacek fares better, her eyes at their hollowest best, generating poignancy against the odds and seeming completely synchronised with the dominant idea of Jessie as a fallen woman, graceful in defeat.

When watching 'Night Mother one is surely reminded of Ingmar Bergman's powerful Autumn Sonata, a film that creates such a rich historical overview of a troubled mother-daughter relationship through the same conversation-heavy style. Norman's script has theories but lacks real density and is disappointingly unequivocal in its discussion of mortality.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

How Quickly A Year Goes By...

Live Blogging Strictly Come Dancing and The X Factor: Part III

Final Ratings:-

Olly - 9/10
Lucie - 8/10
Danyl - 7/10
Joe - 6/10
Stacey - 6/10
Miss Frank - 6/10
Rikki - 6/10
Jamie - 6/10
John & Edward - 5/10
Rachel - 5/10
Lloyd - 5/10


9.58pm:
Simon is right. She didn't look comfortable. She comes up with this absurdly cartoonish outburst that seems exaggerated to get votes. But whatever. They've all sang and it was a bit disappointing really. The two best, Olly and Lucie, sang first.

9.55pm:
There's talk of her forgetting the words. Frankly, you've got a better chance of going through if you forget the words. She's singing a song that isn't originally Beyonce's, "At Last". Lovely pink eye shadow. She started well but is getting shaky. She may have forgot the words. At least she looked confused. It didn't blow me away. 6/10.

9.52pm:
Stacey is the kind of person you'd see going into the Big Brother house. Incredibly talkative. Incredibly thick. Interminably annoying. But last week she showed a different edge to her voice that I liked. But we're going from Coldplay to Beyonce...

9.45pm:
Joe Calzaghe is out of Strictly. Danni calls Jamie's version "soft", which is exactly what it wasn't. Simon calls it "fantastic" and has raved about all three of his acts this week. I get the impression that The X Factor judges have such pre-conceived, rehearsed comments for them all regardless. After a final set of advertisements Stacey will close the show with the second Beyonce song of the evening, and I'm already betting they say it was the best performance of the night.

9.42pm:
Here's Jamie singing Christina Aguilera. Eh? I hope it's not "Fighter", that song annoys me. Oh, it's "Hurt". Great song. This is Jamie's attempt to be "versatile". Frankly, I don't completely buy his edgy rock vibe in the first place. His voice sounds rather harsh and the rougher edge to the song does not work. The vocals aren't all that. 6/10.

9.38pm:
Ricky gets OK reviews but Simon says the song was too big for him. Agreed. Although we got that "you're not connecting" line again. Not entirely sure what that means. Sounds like a bit of a cop-out for "I'm not sure". Meanwhile, the Strictly results are in and the bottom two are Joe & Kristina and Zoe & James. Surprised about the latter but they'll be fine here. Joe is way worse and it's time he went.

9.36pm:
He's singing R.E.S.P.E.C.T. Not sure this is a good idea. He has the right tone for it but it's a big, big song and he's a wee thing. Bad arrangement again Cheryl. 6/10.

9.33pm:
After an eight-minute break here's Rikki Loney, whose Mum believes one day she'll see his name up in lights. How cute. I liked this guy but he disappointed me last week. He's singing Aretha.

9.24pm:
They're even wearing the Britney behind-the-ear mics. Their vocal is bad, and the backing is even louder than in Britney's concerts. Oh my god, they even did the talking part of the song. Hysterical! Way too karaoke though. Camp but laughable in all the wrong ways. 5/10.

9.22pm:
Here come John and Edward to heighten the quality. Sarcasm? Just a bit. They're singing "Oops I Did It Again" by Britney Spears. Are they asking to be ridiculed?

9.19pm:
Danni was on the fence. Simon says that Cheryl isn't managing him properly. She admits that it was a bad song choice. She's in tears. Lloyd goes up to hug her. Argh! Cheap vote-getting. Booooo!

9.16pm:
Lloyd is up on X Factor singing "Bleeding Love" in some kind of softer arrangement. He's not strong enough vocally, and certainly isn't very interesting. Very puzzling song choice. Four words: out. of. his. depth. 5/10.

9.10pm:
Chris gets 23, and oh my god, Laila and Anton got 22. What went wrong there?!

9.08pm:
Danyl gets praise, which I think was necessary after last week's debacle. Simon is way too keen to big up Danyl. He's playing a dangerous game cause nobody likes a frontrunner.
Over on BBC Chris Hollins is being gleeful and hilarious doing the jive. Very, very fun but far from accomplished. 6/10.

9.06pm:
Danyl is next. He's talented, but he gets on my wick. I'd get the impression he'd murder his own mother for a break though. He wants that beanstalk badly. The smoke machine is out in force for his ballad (I don't recognise the song), and he's typically stellar vocally. Sadly, he shaved this week. Not exciting. 7/10.

9.04pm:
Phil got a bit of a hard time, considering. Len tells him to "polish his balls", which is a tad risque. I love all the innuendo's on Strictly. It's a much warmer, cosier, tongue-in-cheek show than X Factor. Phil gets 27.

9.00pm:
Phil is as chilled as usual. Very easy to watch, although the hold looks a little awkward. They're dancing to "Mad About the Boy", which is cute. I'm only on the second vodka, since I can only pick up the glass when I get the chance. I liked Phil. 7/10.

8.57pm:
I feel like I've abandoned Strictly. The rents don't watch it, see. Phil and Katya are up next. Sue Barker and Matt Dawson are discussiing Phil's bum. Like they do. I'm more concerned about the fact they look like a pair of stone boulders. He's dancing the waltz so let's hope he's a little looser and fluid than a rock.

8.54pm:
And that song is "Where do Broken Hearts Go?". Thankfully, he has less make-up on than last week. It's a bit cabaret. The song is by a woman so it suits the tone of his voice. Alright, but very dull. 6/10.

8.52pm:
Laila and Anton are up on Strictly. Joe's turn on X Factor. He's besotted with Whitney Houston, and he's singing one of her songs.

8.46pm:
ITV have enlisted Wally Pfister to shoot Rachel's performance of Beyonce's "If I Were a Boy", a song I like in spite of its often shambolic lyrics. She's average vocally but it's an empty setup, and she's wearing denim of all things. A mess. 5/10.
I missed Natalie.

8.43pm:
Joe got 21 but isn't bottom, which means Craig got lower. Eek! Natalie and Vincent are dancing the Viennese Waltz next.
Meanwhile, Rachel is saying how surprised she was that she was in the bottom two last week. I wasn't in the slightest.

8.40pm:
Joe is dancing the jive and is truly awful. He has absoloutely no rhythm to speak of. He can't do much with his hips either. Dreadful. 2/10.

8.37pm:
I missed Craig's score because Simon was trashing Miss Frank over on ITV. Harsh but it really wasn't good. They should be singing much more urban, edgy stuff than that.
Joe Calzaghe is next on Strictly so I'm not expecting much. Another ad break during X Factor already. Dear me...

8.34pm:
Craig looked decidedly less nervous, but still wasn't great. 5/10. That could be it for him.
Miss Frank are singing a diva song and understandably don't come across as much of a "group". They mentioned Stephen Gately in the clip, too. I think this was a mistake. 6/10.

8.29pm:
Ricky gets a 10 from Alesha! And 36 overall. Olly gets raves from the judges but that really isn't saying much. Pleasantly surprised by how much I liked him as I haven't in the competition thus far. It's skin watch on the Beeb with Craig Kelly's nerves taking another test. It looks like he may have been spray-tanned this week.
Meanwhile on X Factor Miss Frank, who I love are up next!

8.26pm:
Ricky is great. I'll be surprised if he doesn't win. 9/10.
Olly is singing "Just a Fool", which is very old-fashioned but he's giving it a lot of character. I really love him doing this kind of stuff! Wow, he just strutted his hips rather sexily. Totally knocked this one out of the PARK. 9/10.

8.24pm:
Zoe gets 30. Hmm..Ricky number two is next.
Over on X Factor Olly is getting ready to sing a song by a diva. Should be interesting. I've just thought if Danyl is going to sing a love song without changing the words this week. It'd probably ensure he stays in another week. Cynic? Me? Never ;-)

8.22pm:
Alesha needs to make her input more interesting. In the second week she was ace. This is looking like 30+, which would again be generous. Loving James's chest hair.

8.20pm:
Because every clip on X Factor takes forever this is actually working out quite well. Zoe and James are dancing the jive. Zoe looks like Michelle Pfeiffer in Hairspray. James looks hunky as usual. It's got bounce and jip but I'm not that interested. 6/10

8.17pm:
Jo and Brendan get 23. Cheryl criticises Lucie, saying there's something "not connecting" with her performance. Ridiculous. I love Girls Aloud but Cole has very limited talent and absoloutely no credentials for judging singing hopefuls.

8.15pm:
She's singing that song that LMC remixed a couple of years back. She's moving around the stage, looks great, and has a lovely tone to her voice. Coping very well with the choreography. I'm really impressed! 8/10

8.12pm:
Jo is actually alright. 6/10. Whitney is coaching Lucie, who goes first and will therefore probably be a disadvantage. People are fickle and forget you.... unless you get criticised. She's singing one of Whitney's songs which may get Simon on his high horse about her not being able to live up to the original again. We'll see.

8.10pm:
Things are hotting up. Louis isn't there! I'm disappointed. But on the bright side, it's diva's night! The Cheryl versus Danni fashion war is another victory for the "older" woman. Less is more, Cheryl.
Over on Strictly it's hairspray watch with Jo Wood, who's dancing the waltz with Brendan. Amy Winehouse wants her to win don't you know?

8.06pm:
Meanwhile over on ITV the exploit artists are out in force for the start of The X Factor. Will Louis be there? Will Lloyd sing in tune? I can hardly contain my excitement.
Ali's getting a battering over on BBC. She wasn't that bad guys.


8.04pm: They're dancing to Little Richard's "Tutti Frutti" and he just sat on some woman's lap. Is that allowed? Ali definitely has good rhythm (is that how you spell rhythm?) but she looks a little out of her depth. They're not covering much of the floor either. But I'm having fun. Maybe that's the vodka? 7/10.

8.00pm: Jade receives a score of 35, which is fairly huge. Way overboard, if you ask me. Here are the sex fiends, Ali and Brian. Brian's lips are very red. They're dancing the jive, which I'm sure they've practiced quite often.

7.58pm: The judges are heaping praise to the extent where she's almost crying with pride. I'm not sure I'd go that far. I love Bruno, he's so romantic. Craig was predictably more critical but liked it. I'm sensing high scores.

7.56pm: They're dancing to James Brown's "It's a Man's World". And it probably still is. Jade's frame is very consistent, if a little too stiff to call excellent. It was glamorous. 7/10.

7.50pm: Craig mentioned the socks. Bruce danced. Bruno has jam in his doughnut. I wonder if it's sweet.... (note to self: behave!). Ricky gets 25, but I reckon he'll be fine. He's a likeable guy. Up next are Ian and Jade, who is wearing what can only be described as a french maid outfit. They're dancing the Viennese Waltz, which may explain why she looks like something that should be on top of a cake.

7.47pm: His trousers are way too short for him. How embarassing... It looks a bit like theyre drunk in a park somewhere. All I can focus on is his orange socks. Erin looks younger than usual, although I still think she's worryingly skinny. I didn't love it. 5/10

7.45pm: "You don't get anything for a pair...", absoloutely love it! Erin and Ricky number one are up first. Ricky mentions his bad knee. He's doing the jive so that knee might come in handy. My expectations for this are less than lofty.

7.42pm: Fashion watch: What on earth is Jade Johnson wearing? Hairspray watch: Cloudy with a chance of frizz. Sex watch: Ali and Brian are so doing IT!

7.38pm: I totally picked the wrong night to do this. The show has finally started! I love what Tess is wearing tonight. Gorgeous shade of blue! Already Amy Winehouse has been mentioned. Her appearance last week was a little odd, although I thought the young girl was dynamite.





7.31pm: It's looking like there's been drama in Brazil. Talk of cancelling qualifying?! Move over motor cars, I wanna see the sequins!

7.27pm: Oh for gods sake BBC, get your act together! They're showing another live performance now.... and it's, wait for it....... Primal Scream. Hmm, well for a lack of other people to judge I'll start here. There is a terrible collection of haircuts, suspect singing, but the music is good. 7/10?

7.25pm: Current beverage of choice: Vodka/Slimline Red Bull. It's gonna be one of those nights. Totally looking forward to Bruce trying to rush Bruno.

7.23pm: So the Grand Prix coverage is running over and they've decided to stick a live performance of 'Warwick Avenue' from Duffy on to fill the gap. This is totally my favourite song of hers.

7.19pm: Tonight's questions: Just what shade of pale will Craig Kelly's face be tonight? Will Louis show up? How many X Factor contestants will mention the death of Stephen Gately? (I'm guessing eight.) And will Jo Wood get the dreaded can of hairspray out? Surely it's time...

7.15pm: The night has started promisingly with Joanna's cheese coaster fetching a hefty £820. And that's just 'Flog It!'. I'm not sure the coaster was worth seeing in high definition though. They really should have put the Grand Prix coverage on instead.

Pre-Precursor Oscar Predictions

As things start hotting up on the festival/awards circuit (just 47 days until the National Board of Review announce their 2009 picks) I've decided to make some Oscar predictions. Here they are:-

Green = very likely, Amber = probably, Red = Maybe


BEST PICTURE

An Education
Avatar
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds

Invictus
The Lovely Bones
Nine

Precious
Up
Up in the Air

I wasn't wowed by the Avatar trailer but Cameron has such an amazing pedigree that I don't think it can possibly be a bad film. Maybe the lowered expectation will help it become a hit. Up in the Air and Precious seem the strongest at the moment after their smashing reception at Toronto, and An Education is exactly the kind of film Oscar likes. The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, and Up are all early releases that made an impact. The Lovely Bones and Nine, while I'm not convinced they'll be that great, are the kind of films that get nominated for being released in December.


BEST DIRECTOR

Kathryn Bigelow – The Hurt Locker
Lee Daniels – Precious
Clint Eastwood – Invictus
Rob Marshall – Nine

Jason Reitman – Up in the Air

Up in the Air seems very strong so I'd expect Reitman to get a second nomination. From there, they love Clint, and the last time Rob Marshall did a musical he nearly got the Oscar. Bigelow has raves and her film is showy visually, and I'm thinking Precious is strong enough to get Daniels into this five, even though it likely won't be remembered for him.


BEST ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE

Michelle Monaghan – Trucker
Carey Mulligan – An Education
Gabourey Sidibe – Precious
Meryl Streep – Julie & Julia

Hilary Swank – Amelia

Carey Mulligan already looks on track to join the list of nobody-to-somebody starlets that Oscar have occasionally gone for. Streep is a given, and Sidibe looks strong. From there it could be a few, so I went for the baitiest: Michelle Monaghan's indie misery and Swank's juicy biopic. I don't think Michelle Pfeiffer should be nominated, but she's bound to get that Globe comedy nomination, and in 2000 that worked for Juliette Binoche against some much harder-hitting alternatives.


BEST ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE

George Clooney – Up in the Air
Robert Downey Jnr. – Sherlock Holmes
Colin Firth – A Single Man
Morgan Freeman – Invictus
Hal Holbrook - That Evening Sun


Clooney has another big film and Colin Firth has the reviews of a lifetime. Holbrook and Freeman are veterans with baity roles. Maybe then we need some fun? Robert Downey Jnr. managed a nomination last year for a bit-of-fluff film, so why not as Sherlock Holmes, a very established literary character with notable eccentricities?


BEST ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

Marion Cotillard - Nine
Judi Dench – Nine
Anna Kendrick – Up in the Air

Mo’Nique – Precious
Julianne Moore – A Single Man


A bit of a lottery this one beyond Mo'Nique and Moore's buzzed performances. They love Judi Dench beyond measure and she looks like fun in Nine, and Cotillard in the same film may benefit from her turn in Public Enemies earlier in the year, as well as her status as an Oscar-winner. That's assuming she doesn't go lead.


BEST ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

Matt Damon - Invictus
Alfred Molina – An Education
Kodi Smit-McPhee – The Road
Stanley Tucci – The Lovely Bones

Christoph Waltz – Inglourious Basterds

If Christoph Waltz doesn't get nominated there's something very wrong. Molina and Tucci still have big buzz. Damon in Invictus is a bit of a lottery but he's looking less and less likely to get in for his terrific Informant performance so this may have to do. I expect Kodi Smit-McPhee will get all the Young Actor critic awards and might grab a nomination from SAG, who like to reward the kids.