Saturday, February 28, 2009

2008, Or How Nothing Ever Changes

I wouldn’t be the first one to argue that 2008 represented a particularly thin filmic year, which offered up some interesting and unique prospects – Tomas Alfredson’s Let the Right One In, Ari Folman’s Waltz With Bashir, and the small-time originals penned by Courtney Hunt and Thomas McCarthy just the tip of the iceberg – but too often these films felt loaded with ideas that weren’t fully realised. One of the main themes to emerge from the year was a desire to dredge up the past; whether that be the renowned classic, the obligatory sequel, or the staple Oscar favourite. Two films were most obvious in their desire to hark back to, re-live, or even resurrect a revered golden age of cinema, and in their failings perhaps epitomise the doomed state of an artistic year (era if you want to look closer and more bleakly at it) that distinctly lacked quality.

Maybe I’m being unfair. Is this year really that much worse than 2003? Or even 2006, in which a number of films relied a little too heavily on inspired acting to make their points? Then there’s the question of whether I’m just getting fussier, but the general dislike for 2008 (at least that’s the attitude I’m guaging) seems to be dissuading me of this, and thus the apparent mini-consensus prevents me from feeling harsh for giving
Milk a B and The Reader a B- (yes, those are the two I feel most guilty about at the moment).

But back to the films, which if you haven’t guessed yet are George Clooney’s Easter-released
Leatherheads, a rare screwball outing which couldn’t even manage Renee Zelwegger a Golden Globe nomination (and we know how rare an occurrence that is) and the epic Australia, which saw Baz Luhrmann attempt everything to remind us of one of the best years in cinema, 1939, through both theme and spectacle. Sadly it failed to live up to any of the amazing films of sixty years ago.

Admittedly, there are issues as to whether Hawks’ classic comedies can ever be replicated successfully in the same vein, and further insight into this as my dissertation topic has led to social relevance suggesting that either ‘we’ as the audience, or ‘they’ as filmmakers are unable to tap into thirties’ reverence and knowledge of society, or flimsy female-led romance. A matter for discussion but in any case Luhrmann’s extravaganza sadly felt more like a Pirates of the Caribbean installment – event, event, comedy, event, event, kiss, effect, event, comedy, event etc. – than a sly, knowing melodrama, with genuinely imposing characters. Not that I’m saying the sight of Hugh Jackman’s chest didn’t impose upon me greatly, I just didn’t really get the passion his character had for both cattle driving and Nicole Kidman. For all of Rhett Butler’s ambivalence he was pretty dastardly passionate when he wanted to be, in that loner, “look at all the uneducated hicks creaming themselves over war” kind of way; although the fact that I’ve described his character in terms of a plot point makes the film all the more successful than him.

And if there was ever an example of characters evolving solely through plot points this year it was Brad Pitt’s
Benjamin Button. Come rain or shine Benjamin Button would be doing something meaningful, whether it was changing appearance (that happened frequently), falling in love, going to war, or generally overcoming a disability that only challenged him in an aesthetic sense. A cinematographic-heavy lunge of sorts would be accompanied by a philosophical statement about either age, beauty, or the unpredictability of life, and one can really see it as a nursery rhyme; anecdotal, formulaic, and overtly simple to grasp. But all this bore enough hallmarks of traditional “importance” -- forbidden romance, black female matriarchs, against-the-odds achievement – that it garnered a rather ridiculous thirteen Oscar nominations. Similar Oscar fare reared its ugly head in the form of The Reader (which I do like despite major problems), Doubt, and the completely uninspiring Frost/Nixon. For purposes of sanity, I’m refusing to mention the eventual winner of that prize until I recover from the past three months of constant awardage.

But enough of all that negative talk;
Richard Jenkins is not in my cherished top seven of this year’s Best Actor candidates, but his nomination for an April release is the earliest in the calendar since Anthony Hopkins was noted and rewarded for his menacing Silence of the Lambs turn. An achievement, certainly since the role isn’t particularly showy and he lingered in the background for much of the race. It was a similar story for Melissa Leo, whose Frozen River saw the light of day in the summer. Her buzz carried the film to an additional nomination in the Screenplay category in an altogether despondent year for Leading Actresses, but nevertheless a fiercely contested one.

The Dark Knight and WALL·E made a ton of money, which hasn’t dissuaded Academy Members of biting a line in the past, but maybe Louis B. Mayer’s philosophy still rings true 81 years later, and in a polarised environment between industry and “quality” these films simply don’t have what it takes to fall close enough to the Oscar threshold. Frankly, I’m convinced that these will be the movies truly remembered and netflixed when the film fans of the next generation come to explore this limp year.

I recently bought Inside Oscar and from reading the first few chapters the overwhelming insight into the awards process is that it doesn’t change. I’m sure that fifty-odd years ago teenagers were incensed at Around the World in Eighty Days winning Best Picture (if they weren’t they fucking should have been) and in a cultural sense they’d probably have more reason to be than our admonishment of today’s Indian tale. But whether it’s testy European humour or third-world positivity that really gets your goat, you can be sure that when the pickings are slim people will jump on the wagon for an ephemeral escape.

Personally I’m itching for a permanent escape from 2008, and after I complete my Addict awards (they start in a couple of days) I’m gonna look to the past to provide some much-needed inspiration. And not in the form of empty fairytales, holocaust movies, or political one-upmanship.

Monday, February 23, 2009

You've Gotta Give 'Em Hope, or How Oscar Got Its Groove Back

I woke up this morning in a mangled heap. My bedsheets were congregated in the furthermost corner of my bed, I turned my weary bones to see a trail of toilet roll coming out of the bathroom. My head did, and still does, feel like a train has run over it (either that or a Slumdog Millionaire fanatic has kicked it in - they're evil you know), and my stomach is emanating a collection of sounds comparable to urban warfare.

From what I remember last night was wonderful. Hugh Jackman's hyped hosting an unrivalled success, and a classy back-to-basics style ceremony that encompassed past winners returning to present the acting awards (a bit of a strange process, but one that instilled so much pride in the leading Actress nominees at the sight of Sophia Loren and Shirley MaClaine that it hardly mattered), and it's good that the organisers of the show seemed so keen on giving these people their moment in the spotlight, however long that moment was going to last.

The best speeches of the night were the Milk wins. Especially Dustin Lance Black, who came across as so overcome, genuine, and humble, and it's encouraging to see gay men honoured for gay-themed films and the issues that said film represents confronted so passionately and gracefully. I suspect that these Oscars will be lauded, since Hugh's musical theatrics went down so well, and the film the whole world and his wife seemingly wanted to triumph did the job. Personally, it represented my most fruitful prediction score ever, with 20 out of 24 categories correct, including the wins for Penn and The Dark Knight in Sound Editing. But I should have predicted Departures (and probably would have if I'd done them a couple of days later) since virtually everyone was telling me it was in with a chance in the last week.

I will mention one positive thing about Slumdog's big win. I have always loved the idea of the cast and crew going up to collect the award together. Filmmaking is a team sport, and if Danny Boyle's film has generated anything lasting and meaningful it's the community with which its fiercely devoted set of fans embody, and the decision for everyone to be involved in its big moment seems incredibly apt in this way.

Best Win: Heath Ledger for The Dark Knight
Worst Win: Slumdog Millionaire for Adapted Screenplay
Best Speech: Dustin Lance Black for Milk
Worst Speech: There wasn't really one.
Best Dressed: Taraji P. Henson, Kate Winslet, Anne Hathaway
Worst Dressed: Beyonce, Melissa Leo
Best Moment: Philippe Petit balancing the Oscar on his nose
Worst Moment: Ben Stiller's weird Joaquin Phoenix impersonation

So I guess that's another Oscar race over, but I imagine it won't be long before we're discussing the chances of Hilary Swank, Morgan Freeman, and whoever else in 2009. My review of 2008 and Addict awards will begin in a couple of days.

The Oscar Winners (as if you didn't know)

Best Supporting Actor: Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight
Best Supporting Actress: Penelope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Best Original Screenplay: Dustin Lance Black, Milk
Best Adapted Screenplay: Simon Beaufoy, Slumdog Millionaire
Best Animated Feature: WALL-E
Best Animated Short: La Maison en Petites Cubes
Best Art Direction: Benjamin Button
Best Costume Design: The Duchess
Best Makeup: Benjamin Button
Best Cinematography: Anthony Dod Mantle, Slumdog Millionaire
Best Live Action Short: Toyland
Best Documentary Feature: Man on Wire
Best Documentary Short: Smile Pinki
Best Visual Effects: Benjamin Button
Best Sound Editing: The Dark Knight
Best Sound Mixing: Slumdog Millionaire
Best Film Editing: Slumdog Millionaire
Best Music Score: A.R. Rahman, Slumdog Millionaire
Best Song: Jai Ho, Slumdog Millionaire

Friday, February 20, 2009

2008 Oscar Preview & Predictions: The Big Six


The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Reader
Slumdog Millionaire

What Should Have Been Nominated? Where to start? I'll be talking a bit about the Academy's choice of these five pictures when I start my review of 2008 next week. But for now, let's just say that I can think of at least ten films better than Milk, my favourite in the category. Chief among them is Wall-E, which I'm sure wasn't far away, and The Dark Knight's omission from this lineup is hard to bear.

What Deserves To Win? I've cooled on all of these films but Milk is very well-made and the only one that struck a resonant chord with me. It's standard in many ways but always interesting and certainly knows itself more than these other pictures.

What Will Win? You can read theories about Benjamin Button being the "true Oscar picture", or Harvey Weinstein going all-out for his holocaust baby, but this is Slumdog's year. The media undoubtedly had a lot to do with the film's buzz and making it seem like serious fare, but since most of Hollywood seem to love it the awards press can't shoulder all of the blame. Slumdog Millionaire will win because it's genuinely cherished -- at least for now.


Danny Boyle - Slumdog Millionaire
Stephen Daldry - The Reader
David Fincher - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Ron Howard - Frost/Nixon
Gus Van Sant - Milk

Who Should Have Been Nominated? Anyone a bit more interesting. Andrew Stanton, Christopher Nolan (and I'm not even the biggest fan of his direction), and Darren Aronofsky are the major players who were left in the lurch.

Who Deserves To Win? Gus Van Sant, for the reason that the others either had relatively little to do (Daldry & Howard), or were overbearing in visual elaboration of painfully simple stories (Boyle & Fincher).

Who Will Win? Danny Boyle.

Actor in a Leading Role

Richard Jenkins - The Visitor
Frank Langella - Frost/Nixon
Sean Penn - Milk
Brad Pitt - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Mickey Rourke - The Wrestler

Who Should Have Been Nominated? TBA. My personal awards (The Addicts) start next week.

Who Deserves to Win? This is one of the best categories actually, although the only ones I'll admit to loving are Penn and Rourke. They're the frontrunners so at least there's some justice in the world. I can't decide between them just yet.

Who Will Win? I've been going back and forth on this so it's time to make a decision. Penn's advantages are that he has the lion's share of critics awards (which obviously doesn't matter much, just ask Sally Hawkins), the biopic character, the straight man playing gay card, the fact that he dies, the Best Picture nominee, and the SAG. Rourke's plus points: he has the media, the comeback story, the fact he has considerably less Actors to help him in the film, the Globe and BAFTA wins, and that Sean has already won an Oscar whereas it would be a great "story" if he were to crown a troubled career with a golden guy.

I always find that predicting from the heart is a bad idea. I want Mickey Rourke to win this, because he's bound to make a great speech and Sean Penn really doesn't need another Oscar. But something tells me that the biopic will win out again, as no other likely acting winners on the night will have played real-life people, and so I'm predicting that Sean Penn will win this particular tussle.

Actress in a Leading Role

Anne Hathaway - Rachel Getting Married
Angelina Jolie - Changeling
Melissa Leo - Frozen River
Meryl Streep - Doubt
Kate Winslet - The Reader

Who Should Have Been Nominated? TBA. My personal awards (The Addicts) start next week.

Who Deserves To Win? By a country mile it's Anne Hathaway, who has so much more to do than the other four women, and generally succeeds.

Who Will Win? I'm having jitters about Winslet's chances, what with the Meryl SAG win and the fact that nobody really loves Kate's performance. But the other four women have had similarly troubled paths, and you've surely got to think that with just the one nomination (for a performance undefeated at Globe, BAFTA, and SAG) Kate Winslet has enough supporters to win this one with ease.

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

Who Should Have Been Nominated? TBA. My personal awards (The Addicts) start next week.

Who Deserves To Win? I might be being picky but I reckon both Hoffman and Ledger are leading in their respective films. But I'm willing to admit that these aren't Jamie Foxx in Collateral-style examples of category fraud and so I'll whole-heartedly commit to saying that Ledger's performance is fantastic, and way worthier than anyone else included here.

Who Will Win? There really haven't been many posthumous nominations/wins, you know? His win seems a given, which in turn is generating talk that Academy members might tick another name instead, believing that their vote won't matter. This seems a very wayward theory to me, and if Heath's name isn't called out and received to a lengthy standing applause, I'll be shocked.

Actress in a Supporting Role

Amy Adams - Doubt
Penelope Cruz - Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Viola Davis - Doubt
Taraji P. Henson - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Marisa Tomei - The Wrestler

Who Should Have Been Nominated? TBA. My personal awards (The Addicts) start next week.

Who Deserves To Win? Again, I consider Amy Adams to be a lead in Doubt; if only for her part in the Frosty the Snowman office meeting. Hers is my favourite performance of these five because she's the principle force, introspectively coaxing us from one side of the fence to the other, and she's devastatingly effective as a naive, torn, inexperienced young woman frightened of allegiance and equally wary of confrontation. Beyond that, I like Penelope Cruz and Marisa Tomei very much.

Who Will Win? I think this is still a five-way race. Taraji P. Henson represents Benjamin Button's only realistic chance at a major award (rather like Swinton in Michael Clayton), Davis has the baitiest role in an incredibly baity film, Marisa Tomei won lots of critics stuff and her film has just the two nominations, of which its fans could easily tick both boxes on their ballots. Penelope Cruz has the only legitimate precursor in BAFTA (Winslet's Reader performance won both Globe and SAG in this category) and has been up there in the betting for a while, and Amy Adams has by far the biggest role (co-lead, if you ask me) in her film and is the kind of American starlet (like Tomei back in '92) that wins for a Supporting award.

I'm actually going to go for Marisa Tomei, because it's been sixteen years since she won, and she may mop up votes from the people who *just* preferred Penn's performance to Rourke's.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Disaster: Salvation; courtesy of More4

A couple of weeks ago I had a bit of a bitch about how on earth I was going to see the remaining films of 2008 (most of which are tiny) before the summer commences. Cue More4, who are showing the Oscar-nominated documentary Trouble the Water this Tuesday at 10pm. Fellow UK cinema-obsessees take note.

BRITS Winners

British Album - Duffy - Rockferry
Prediction: Incorrect

British Group - Elbow
Prediction: Incorrect

British Single -
Girls Aloud - The Promise
Prediction: Incorrect

British Male Artist - Paul Weller
Prediction: Correct

British Female Artist - Duffy

British Breakthrough Act - Duffy
Prediction: Incorrect

British Live Act - Iron Maiden

International Album - Kings of Leon - Only By the Night
Prediction: Correct

International Group - Kings of Leon

International Male Artist - Kanye West
Prediction: Incorrect

International Female Artist - Katy Perry
Prediction: Correct

A score of 5/11. Hmph.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

2008 Oscar Preview & Predictions: Screenplays & Sound

Original Screenplay

Frozen River
In Bruges

What Should Have Been Nominated? I suspect that the Coen's Burn After Reading finished relatively close behind, along with the other three or four screenplays that were in with a chance at the eleventh hour. It would have been a worthier nominee than a couple of these picks. Jonathan Levine's The Wackness didn't have a cat in hell's chance but it meanders topics previously treated as token in indie comedies chiefly and callously turns its characters inside out.

What Deserves To Win? Andrew Stanton's Wall-E, which I've gushed and gushed about for seemingly forever.

What Will Win? In Bruges will get a few votes but it may be stretching things to think it has reached a Lost in Translation or Eternal Sunshine level of revered originality. I think it more likely that Milk will win because its only other chance is for Sean Penn, and although Wall-E has a record number of animations for an Animated film it couldn't get a BP nod and it doesn't have a lot of dialogue.

Adapted Screenplay

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Reader
Slumdog Millionaire

What Should Have Been Nominated? Anything else???? The Dark Knight, The Fall, Let the Right One In, Savage Grace...

What Deserves To Win? Definitely David Hare's adaptation of The Reader, which undeniably trips itself up on occasion but is often thoughtful.

What Will Win? That movie about kids in India.

Original Score

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Slumdog Millionaire

What Should Have Been Nominated? James Newton Howard and Hans Zimmer's collaboration for The Dark Knight, which was apparently disqualified. Similarly, last year's masterful There Will Be Blood score got the chop. Also a special shout-out to John Powell's Horton Hears a Who score, which got nominated for a Golden Satellite and Golden Reel but couldn't manage anything else.

What Deserves To Win? A.R. Rahman will have many of the Indian headlines on Monday morning, and in terms of this set of nominees, a win for him here would be justified. Slumdog's towering, colourful music is the best thing about it.

What Will Win? Slumdog Millionaire.

Original Song

Slumdog Millionaire - "Jaiho"
Slumdog Millionaire - "O Saya"
Wall-E - "Down to Earth"

What Should Have Been Nominated? Bruce Springsteen's song from The Wrestler, and for all the world I can't understand why it isn't here.

What Deserves To Win? I'm in the O Saya camp. The Slumdog soundtrack is great.

What Will Win? It's tough because I like Peter Gabriel, he's the only big name nominee in this line-up, and there's the possibility of vote-splitting, but there are two things that suggest to me that Jaiho will probably win. The first is that when Lord of the Rings was as unstoppable as Slumdog seems this year it managed to wrestle this prize away from three superior songs. I love Annie Lennox but Into the West is nothing great. The second is the Hustle and Flow win over Dolly Parton in 2005, which proves that you don't need to be a big name or have an easy-listening track to prevail.

Sound Editing

The Dark Knight
Iron Man
Slumdog Millionaire

What Should Have Been Nominated? Eagle Eye - top notch action, and The Strangers has some spine-tingling sound effects too.

What Deserves To Win? Good category, but I think that The Dark Knight definitely trumps the others. It's so audacious and hammers home the audio thrills and spills with unflinching force.

What Will Win? I don't want to say Slumdog so I'll go for The Dark Knight, because it's not going to win a lot, and this seems to be the category where they go for loud/action.

Sound Mixing

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight
Slumdog Millionaire

What Should Have Been Nominated? Again, The Strangers. Making horror films scary is a lot more dependent upon the sound now with the countless number of visual sights we've been subjected to. Doomsday has that loud, epic but crucially natural cult grit.

What Deserves To Win? The patient, perfect mechanism of system in Wall-E; whether that be robots, spaceships, the clasp of a hand, or a foray into American musicals as cultural irony.

What Will Win? Slumdog Millionaire. They favour films with lots of music in it.

BRIT Awards: Predictions

I'm gonna soldier on with the Oscar previews later on, but first a look at the 2008 BRIT nominations and some predictions. Generally I don't think this even represents a close reading of what the best of the year was musically, but it's usually a good watch nevertheless.

British Album

Coldplay - Viva La Vida or Death and All of his Friends
Duffy - Rockferry
Elbow - The Seldom Seen Kid
Radiohead - In Rainbows
The Ting Tings - We Started Nothing

Should Win: Duffy or The Ting Tings
Will Win: Coldplay

British Group

Girls Aloud
Take That

Should Win: Girls Aloud (duh!)
Will Win: Coldplay

British Single

Adele - Chasing Pavements
Alexandra Burke - Hallelujah
Coldplay - Viva La Vida
Dizzee Rascal - Dance With Me
Duffy - Mercy
Estelle feat. Kanye West - American Boy
Girls Aloud - The Promise
Leona Lewis - Better In Time
Scouting For Girls - Heartbeat
X Factor Finalists - Hero

Should Win: American Boy
Will Win: Alexandra Burke

British Male Artist

Ian Brown
James Morrison
Paul Weller
The Streets
Will Young

Should Win: Will Young (or Paul Weller)
Will Win: Paul Weller

British Female Artist

Beth Rowley

Should Win: M.I.A!!!!!!!!
Will Win: Duffy

British Breakthrough Act

The Last Shadow Puppets
Scouting For Girls
The Ting Tings

Should Win: Adele
Will Win: Scouting For Girls

British Live Act

Iron Maiden
Scouting For Girls
The Verve

Should Win: Don't care :-P
Will Win: Coldplay

International Album

AC/DC - Black Ice
Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes
The Killers - Day and Age
Kings of Leon - Only By the Night
MGMT - Oracular Spectacular

Should Win: MGMT
Will Win:
Kings of Leon

International Group

Fleet Foxes
The Killers
Kings of Leon

Should Win: MGMT
Will Win: Kings of Leon

International Male Artist

Neil Diamond
Kanye West
Seasick Steve

Should Win: Kanye West (808's and Heartbreak is Lush), but I love Beck
Will Win: Seasick Steve (why not? he's popular)

International Female Artist

Gabriella Cilmi
Katy Perry

Should Win:
Will Win: Katy Perry

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Hottest Track: Pet Shop Boys - Love etc.

Victor Fleming Is My Stephen Daldry

I'm well aware that Victor Fleming had a rather prolific career as a silent filmmaker before his 1939 Double-KO with Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz, but compared with the Cukor's and Wyler's of the time, he was far from frequent. Adapted from the Rudyard Kipling novel, he made Captains Courageous in 1937, before the Scarlett O'Hara's and Dorothy Gale's of this world came into being. It was nominated for four Academy Awards and won one, for Spencer Tracy's co-leading performance, which he shares with and is completely outshined by child actor Freddie Bartholomew. It's a wonderful film, easy to guage narrative-wise (as you'd expect of Kipling) but remarkably slow-burning considering, and unwilling to cut any corners. I highly recommend it.

This makes a set of three Fleming films that are all masterpieces in their own rite, which I suppose is not dissimilar to the level of praise
Stephen Daldry has received from the Academy for his only three feature-length films (Billy Elliot, The Hours, and The Reader), two of which were nominated for Best Picture and all of which managed to land him a Best Director spot. His only other film prior to that was a short, which managed a BAFTA nomination, and probably assured that he could try his hand at feature filmmaking in the first place.

The only other filmmakers that have come close to having a 100% 'A' record with me are Hitchcock (obviously he made too many films for that to happen), James Cameron, and Pedro Almodóvar, although Andrew Stanton, Joe Wright, and John Cameron Mitchell are close. If there are any films I need to see by any of the filmmakers mentioned then please let me know. I'm particularly curious about Fleming's
Test Pilot and Tortilla Flat -- Joan of Arc looks a bit too intense. If anyone has seen them, weigh in with opinions. I need your help! :-)

Monday, February 16, 2009

2008 Oscar Preview & Predictions: Visuals

Art Direction

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight
The Duchess
Revolutionary Road

What Should Have Been Nominated? There's a major argument for Wall-E, which has the most imaginative and defined production design of 2008. The Fall was never going to get nominated but it has such interesting, diverse arrangement, from the colourful expanse of fantasy to the murky grime of post-war healthcare.

What Deserves To Win? There are few things in this life more overwrought than Changeling but you can muster up an ounce of forgiveness for the richness of its production. The Dark Knight is great too.

What Will Win? I'd be surprised if The Curious Case of Benjamin Button didn't win. It's the only BP nominee of the five and whichever way you look at it the thirteen-nomination haul won't prove fruitful next week.


The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight
The Reader
Slumdog Millionaire

What Should Have Been Nominated? Above all, the CFCA-nominated work in The Fall. I much prefer Roger Deakins' cinematography in Revolutionary Road to his nomination for The Reader, as he succesfully navigates the restricted visual artificiality of suburbia. I don't know how The Wrestler's Darren Aronofsky and Maryse Alberti couldn't manage a nomination between them, and it's the photography I find increasingly impressive about the gritty Mickey Rourke flick.

What Deserves To Win? The Dark Knight, which is definitely OTT, but certainly a whole lot more consistent with the tone and nature of the film than Slumdog's is. The rest don't excite me.

What Will Win? Slumdog Millionaire. It's very blatant in striking a visual chord and thus is memorable. It's also the BP frontrunner.

Costume Design

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Duchess
Revolutionary Road

What Should Have Been Nominated? This is a fine set of nominees but if I'd have had my way Eiko Ishioka's designs for The Fall (yes, again) would have been justly rewarded. Although ineligible, April Ferry's cutesy rural wartime outfits hit the spot in The Edge of Love, and don't actively seek attention in the way that some of this year's nominated costumers undoubtedly do. The Secret Life of Bees has such a bright, fantasy-style tone to it that's mimicked wonderfully by the attire of Queen Latifah et al.

What Deserves To Win? Australia and The Duchess have clothes that adhere to their respective periods and in both cases illustrate the flamboyance of their production, so it's difficult to pick a winner. Probably Australia because it seems to confound expectation and celebrate originality a little more.

What Will Win? The Duchess, since it's so definitely a costume drama. Even Milena Canonero won this in 2006 for Marie Antoinette, despite the film being unpopular and regarded as a failure by many. What do they know? :-P

Film Editing

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight
Slumdog Millionaire

What Should Have Been Nominated? Burn After Reading's mechanical seamlessness contributes to the continual satire, and Quantum of Solace is one of the more well-put-together Bond films in recent memory, cool and engaging without ever going full-blown crazy/frantic.

What Deserves To Win? Elliot Graham's work on Milk is excellent, spanning years with ease and blending archival footage gracefully, without making these forays into the past seem sentimental or unnecessary.

What Will Win? The Slumdawg. Overdone, but they love lively.

Make Up

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight
Hellboy II: The Golden Army

What Should Have Been Nominated? Doomsday. Gore, disease, physical deformation, mutation, tribal beonging. Madness. I also love the makeup in Let the Right One In, which meshes well with the setting and like the film feels very natural amidst its own physical and thematic extremes.

What Deserves To Win? The Dark Knight. Joker and Two-Face. Creeeepy.

What Will Win? The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, which wouldn't be my choice but isn't a bad one. Major gimmicky age make-up for everyone involved.

Visual Effects

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight
Iron Man

What Should Have Been Nominated? The wondrous effects-laden Eagle Eye, which regrettably offers up big budget theatrics with very little consideration for much else, and somehow manages to cast Shia LaBoeuf as someone called Jerry (surely he hasn't reached that stage yet?). But whatever, great FX.

What Deserves To Win? All of these films have so much money pumped into them that the effects were inevitably going to be impressive, but I think that the guys from The Dark Knight have the toughest job in making impact when everything around it is so equally dark and dangerous.

What Will Win? It's a semi-tough call because I'm not sure that The Dark Knight will win any other Tech awards, and so is in with a chance. But I can't help thinking that the win for The Golden Compass over Transformers last year means that cutesy and colourful wins the day, and so I'm willing to bet that Benjamin Button grabs this prize.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Down To 65 Seconds

Peter Gabriel's decision to pull out of the Oscars certainly gets my backing. Artists should not be forced to compromise for anything or anyone. It's like Radio Edits -- they're very rarely (if ever) better than the original cut. But if they're cutting down on the song performances then what on earth are they going to fill the time with?

We already know that there's going to be a tribute to comedy, which is pretty ironic given that the Academy have always treated comic films with an err of inferiority. Here are some suggestions as to how else they can fill the void:-

  • Lengthen everyone's clips to 30 seconds, and add brief clips for the tech categories.
  • Allow the winners at least 90 seconds to give their speech.
  • Give Hugh Jackman a musical number to sing, and preferably in a see-through top? ;-)
  • Let Meryl Streep do an improptu 10-minute stand-up
  • Show clips of Academy members exiting screenings, reacting to screenings, or recounting their favourite moments in cinema of the year. There's few things more generous of Actors than expressing their passion for film and disclosing their personal faves in the way we cinephiles do.

The Best News Since Ever

Girls Aloud have a signed a deal to record three more albums!

Words cannot express.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

2008 Oscar Preview & Predictions: Animated, Documentary, Foreign, Shorts

Animated Feature Film

Kung Fu Panda

What Should Have Been Nominated? I'd make a case for the major casualty in this category, Waltz With Bashir, which has a lot more merit than the panda movie. Horton Hears a Who is probably better than them both, and even made me cry. Sshh! :-)

What Deserves To Win? I found Kung Fu Panda very overrated, and culturally pretty dim in truth. I'm seeing Bolt next week, but in any case I highly doubt that it's better than the majestic Wall-E, which I gave an A-. If it is, I'll update you. The space adventure is my favourite animated film since Finding Nemo and is certainly in an All-Time Top Ten of those sorts. But if only enough of the Academy could have widened their horizons as much as Andrew Stanton's film this could have shown up in the Best Picture 'elite'.

What Will Win? Wall-E, which has the most nominations of any Animated Film (tied with Beauty and the Beast), and the only one to ever win a major critics prize

Animated Short Film

La Maison en Petits Cubes
Lavatory - Lovestory
This Way Up

What Should Have Been Nominated? Beats me.

What Deserves To Win? The only one of those I've seen is Presto, because they played it before Wall-E. I liked but didn't love.

What Will Win? I'd say that Presto has the edge because it's Pixar, but La Maison has its share of fans.

Documentary Feature Film

The Betrayal
Encounters at the End of the World
The Garden
Man on Wire
Trouble the Water

What Should Have Been Nominated? I do regret not seeing as many documentaries as I should. It's something I'm trying to remedy but it's rather difficult when there are minimal theatrically-released features (Trouble the Water has seemingly been and gone -- you can be forgiven for missing it) and the impetus to watch these documentaries on DVD in April/May evapourates fairly quickly. As it turns out the only ones I caught this year were the runaway frontrunner Man On Wire, and the ambiguous docu-nature of Waltz With Bashir. Both of these are great. Up the Yangtze, which I count as 2007 because of its release in other countries, was eligible for a place this year, and is bloody brilliant, so shame on the Academy (not for the first time!).

What Deserves to Win? Obviously I can't judge that, but I will say that Man On Wire is an excellent film.

What Will Win? Man On Wire. It's been seen by at least twice as many people as any of the other nominees, and has won nearly every critic award.

Documentary Short Subject

The Conscience of Nhem En
The Final Inch
Smile Pinki
The Witness - From the Balcony of Room 306

What Should Have Been Nominated? N/A

What Deserves to Win? N/A

What Will Win? I'm guessing The Conscience of Nhem En because it's about liberty etc. etc.

Live Action Short Film

Auf der Strecke (On the Line)
Manon on the Asphalt
New Boy
The Pig
Spielzeugland (Toyland)

What Should Have Been Nominated? N/A

What Deserves to Win? N/A

What Will Win? Toyland. It's about the holocaust.

Foreign Language Film

The Baader Meinhof Complex (Germany)
The Class (France)
Departures (Japan)
Revanche (Austria)
Waltz with Bashir (Israel)

What Should Have Been Nominated Submitted?
Nothing really stands out. Some will make a case that France should have opted for I've Loved You So Long over The Class. I've not seen the latter, but the the Scott-Thomas flick has a lot wrong with it. Germany could have submitted The Wave but I'm glad they didn't because it runs out of ideas very quickly, and I liked Baader-Meinhof.

What Deserves To Win? I can't judge because I've seen only two of five nominees, but Waltz With Bashir is different and engaging.

What Will Win? There's an apparent history of upsets in this category, but I'm not so sure that The Lives of Others (a film universally adored) triumphing over Pan's Labyrinth (something that won three oscars elsewhere) was that much of a shock. Neither was Tsotsi's win over Paradise Now. I don't think Waltz With Bashir is nailed on, but its snub in the Animated Feature category might encourage people to make sure it is truly rewarded with an "Oscar Win" label. But I wouldn't count out The Class.

Hottest Track: Passion Pit - Sleepyhead

Monday, February 09, 2009

BAFTA Reaction

I never thought that my highlight of the BAFTA's this year would come courtesy of Mick Jagger in random but fine comic form in his announcement of the Best Picture award. Supporting Actress is still a free-for-all, and Leading Actor is still neck-and-neck, but although the Rourke-Penn battle seems remeniscent of Christie versus Cotillard last year, the eventual Oscar winner was in a biopic. Never under-estimate the biopic.

I still haven't made my final predictions for some of the categories so I'll probably start with the easy ones tomorrow and mull things over throughout the week.

Prediction Score: 15/23


BEST PICTURE: Slumdog Millionaire
BEST DIRECTOR: Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire
BEST ACTRESS: Kate Winslet, The Reader
BEST ACTOR: Micky Rourke, The Wrestler
SUPPORTING ACTOR: Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight
SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Penelope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona
CARL FOREMAN AWARD: Steve McQueen, Hunger
ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Martin McDonagh, In Bruges
ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: Simon Beaufoy, Slumdog Millionaire
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Anthony Dod Mantle, Slumdog Millionaire
VISUAL EFFECTS: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
MAKEUP and HAIR: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
PRODUCTION DESIGN: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
SCORE: AR Rahman, Slumdog Millionaire
SOUND: Slumdog Millionaire
EDITING: Slumdog Millionaire
COSTUMES: The Duchess
RISING STAR: Noel Clarke
SHORT ANIMATION: Wallace & Gromit: A Matter of Loaf and Death

Friday, February 06, 2009

BAFTA Predictions

Film : Slumdog Millionaire
British Film: In Bruges
The Carl Foreman Award: Steve McQueen - Hunger (Director/Writer)
Director: Danny Boyle - Slumdog Millionaire
Original Screenplay: In Bruges
Adapted Screenplay: Slumdog Millionaire
Film Not in the English Language: Waltz With Bashir
Animated Film: Wall-E
Leading Actor: Sean Penn - Milk (Patel could win...)
Leading Actress: Kate Winslet -
The Reader
Supporting Actor: Heath Ledger -
The Dark Knight
Supporting Actress: Marisa Tomei -
The Wrestler (total lottery in this category)
Music: Slumdog Millionaire
Slumdog Millionaire
Editing: Slumdog Millionaire
Production Design:
Costume Design:
The Duchess
Sound: The Dark Knight
Visual Effects: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Make Up & Hair:
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Short Animation:
Wallace and Gromit: A Matter of Loaf or Death
Short Film:
Voyage D'Affaires
Rising Star Award: Rebecca Hall

Thursday, February 05, 2009

92. Almost Famous (2000)

Directed by Cameron Crowe
Starring: Patrick Fugit, Kate Hudson, Billy Crudup, Frances McDormand, Philip Seymour Hoffman

If you haven't seen Almost Famous, have you been living in a cave? it's about a teenager who goes on tour with a rock band (without the permission of his mother, might I add) in the hope of getting an article about them published in coveted Rolling Stone magazine. The premise seems like an adolescent boy's dream: drink, drugs, girls, sex, but William (played by Patrick Fugit -- never to be seen much again after this) isn't really interested in all that. He'd much rather sit back and act the voyeur, judging and observing the crazy characters in the band's entourage, including groupie Penny Lane (Kate Hudson), who desperately wants to maintain her prominence as the band's 'it' girl.

Almost Famous is such a success because it's able to demonstrate the fine line between unknown and celebrity, and how quickly 'celebrities' can be banished to distant memory. Patrick watches a band struggle to stay in the limelight, a woman struggle to stay important to someone, and all the while risks the wrath of his mother and places his young trust in the hands of an alien community of people, most of which aren't all that responsible. He shares the aspiration of both Penny and the band but for much more cohesive artistic reasons than their insecure goals. The desire of so many characters to become "untouchable", without any consideration for what that means beyond continuity and the here and now, emerges as something very sinister and unhealthy. The gratuity and iconography of drinking and drugs are ever-present but it's difficult to look at them in that way, and we eventually come to William's conclusion that the people we're watching are no more together than a loosely-bound portfolio of media imagery, a frayed mess of ideas.

After a series of rows the group embark on a very awkward coach trip in which few people are on speaking terms with one another; the Elton John song 'Tiny Dancer' then plays, and eventually unites them in a sing-a-long. It's one of my favourite parts of the film because it shows how when away from distraction each is able to revert to the real reason they're there in the first place, the music, and it's the only way their community (like a band, almost) is ever harmonious. Most tellingly though, it alludes to our natural human desire of wanting to be consumed by something or someone (whether it be music, love, fame etc.) and like the "Almost" in the title suggests, nobody in this film ever really gets there.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Hot Sands, Hot Air

Watching George Stevens' Giant I suddenly pondered, "Didn't Around the World in Eighty Days win Best Picture in '56? Somewhere in my mind I knew that Giant hadn't won the big prize but it's almost unthinkable that the film should go away with a sole win for Stevens himself when so much of it has the mark of Oscar glory.

The ranchland epic is complete with a 200-minute running time, spans 25 years, features many births, marriages, and deaths, an Oscar-winning director, an Oscar-nominated Actor, an Oscar-winning Actress, is adapted from a novel, has a blatant racial message, and no long-lasting out-and-out villains. It also falls into a couple of traps like similar, successful films d
id (I'm thinking The Best Years of our Lives, The Greatest Show on Earth, Ben Hur) by introducing characters we're supposed to care about without fully investing in them and being too active in creating disruption through predictable binary oppositions. Giant is a much easier watch than the marginally less-lengthy Phileas Fogg outing, and offers much more up for consideration.

Is it too heavy? If There Will Be Blood were released a year later and up against the Slumdog machine then would it have suffered a similar fate? It's not the most obvious comparison; both of these films are perhaps more stilted towards light and dark than the 1956 competitors were, but then doesn't that make Giant's loss all the more puzzling? It may be about oil and greed (to a point) but the major themes throughout are domestic (family, race, society) and so even though the Texan landscape can seem very foreign it's surely closer to home than hot air balloons and bullfighting. Maybe that's the problem; had Around the World bothered to represent the many cultures it explores with more insight and honesty than the crass stereotypes it offers up, it certainly wouldn't be as easy to digest. The same could be said for this year's Oscar favourite.

The Academy has shown trends of epic-love, most notably the late eighties/early nineties wins of The Last Emperor, Dances With Wolves, Unforgiven and Braveheart, but it can be argued that AMPAS was generally in its favour during the late fifties. Two won in the six years following Giant and De Mille's theatrical effort had won in '52. Maybe it's the Western element. Rio Grande, Shane, The Searchers and a whole host of lesser-known pictures landed in the years leading up to it, and so maybe the Academy just got tired of watching horses and dirt. Until Kevin Costner, anyway.

I'm Perturbed

I can't decide whether this advert is a stroke of genius or incredibly wrong. Maybe it's both. Incidentally, when I was at school a kid in my class looked exactly like that boy. Eyebrows and all.

Hottest Track: La Roux - In For The Kill

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

The Remnants of 2008

UK release dates may have improved considerably in the last couple of years (aided by BAFTA's wise decision to bring its ceremony forward) but there are still a couple of '08 films that won't hit British screens until well into Spring. These are mainly the indie flicks, including Synechdoche New York, Let the Right One In, Ballast, and Melissa Leo's nominated performance in Frozen River. I managed to catch a couple of those online but I couldn't find much of the others. It's telling that in January last year there were a multitude of 2007 films I needed to see whereas of right now there are only a handful of last year's offerings I'm interested in. It's a combination of earlier distribution and lesser inspiration but whatever, here's the list of films I'd like to see by the beginning of March:-

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button – Cinema (Feb 6)
Doubt – Cinema (Feb 6)
Rachel Getting Married – Cinema (Feb 6)
Gomorrah – DVD (Feb 9)
The Visitor – DVD (Feb 9)
Bolt – Cinema (Feb 13)
Hunger – DVD (Feb 23)
The Class – Cinema (Feb 27)
Wendy and Lucy – Cinema (Mar 6)
Elegy – DVD (Mar 16)

Ballast – ?
A Christmas Tale – ?
Synecdoche, New York – ?
Trouble the Water – ?
Turn the River – ?

If anyone has any suggestions as to how to see the second set of flicks (bearing in mind I live in the North East of England) please put them forward. Equally, if you feel that anything great is missing from the list and sidebar, let me know.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Finally Julia and Tilda Swinton Win Something...

The Evening Standard Film Awards took place last night, and as well as giving Tilda recognition for her excellent performance in Eric Zonca's Julia, it also found room to give my other favourite female of 2008, Sally Hawkins, a mention. Ignore the Michael Sheen win and revel.

Our Country Needs Help

While many anticipate and analyse the Oscar nominations and winners 6+ months before they're actually announced, the Eurovision Song Contest (however political and systematic it can often seem) is not quite as drawn-out a process. At least not yet anyway. The entries for the contest, taking place in Moscow on May 16th, have been flooding in over the past couple of weeks and the draw for the semi-final lineups was done last week, so I guess you could call the Eurovision coaster well and truly on its way.

The United Kingdom is among those who have submitted an entry, after a rather arduous and appalling X-Factor syle competition over the past five weeks. Much has been made of Andrew Lloyd Webber's role in this year's UK bid (he has written the song and had a big hand in narrowing down the hopefuls to sing it), but watching the show (titled Your Country Needs You) it really just feels like a way to exploit his previous attempts to find a Maria, Jason, and Nancy for his respective musicals. Thankfully, the only bearable contestant, Jade Ewen managed to win it, but maddeningly the song Lord Webber has penned is dreadful. All the bad things about his musicals rolled into one excruciating three-minute segment that's musically and lyrically banal and limited. It makes Andy Abraham's effort last year look mammoth and Daz Sampson's Teenage Life a total world-beater.

I'll be previewing the contest's entries in February and trying to find a gem among them. Most notably this year the organisers have finally changed the voting procedures from sole audience share in the hope of eliminating the clearly Eastern European bias. The solution: a jury system. Sounds like it could be just as controversial, but I'm all for change.

I'll leave you with this year's UK abomination entry...
Jade Ewen - "It's My Time"

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Top 25 Most Anticipated 2009 Releases: Part Two [10-1]

10. Adoration
Director: Atom Egoyan
Starring: Scott Speedman
Release: May
Sony Classics

I adore The Sweet Hereafter and so anything by Egoyan I await with baited breath. Scott Speedman in the lead is hardly assuring but he was a convincing victim in The Strangers. I hope it's released somewhere in my vicinity.


9. Up
Release: May
Walt Disney

Pixar have reached a rather unprecedented level of consistency, and have earned our attention for years to come. I found Ratatouille and Cars both a tad disappointing (if endearing), but let's hope that this is a winner like last year's space adventure.


8. Antichrist
Director: Lars Von Trier
Starring: Willem Dafoe, Charlotte Gainsbourg
Release Date: Autumn

Try to ignore that the plot sounds a little like Godsend. Fascinatingly Dafoe and Gainsbourg are the only cast members listed. Von Trier's Manderlay has waned considerably in my mind and this seems like a welcome change of scenery.


The Limits of Control
Director: Jim Jarmusch
Starring: Tilda Swinton, Bill Murray, Gael Garcia Bernal, John Hurt
Release: May
Focus Features

A fascinating, brilliant quartet of Actors. Jim Jarmusch going back to Ghost Dog-style? Tilda Swinton in a leadish role?


6. The Box
Director: Richard Kelly
Starring: Cameron Diaz, James Marsden, Frank Langella
Release Date: November
Warner Bros

Richard Kelly is nothing if not audacious. This story of a couple who find a box that grants them wealth, only for its opening to become fatal for someone they do not know sounds crazy but really fun, and I'm intrigued as to how well Diaz and Marsden will work as a couple.

5. Nine
Director: Rob Marshall
Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Nicole Kidman, Penelope Cruz, Judi Dench, Kate Hudson, Sophia Loren, Marion Cotillard, Fergie
Release Date: December
The Weinstein Co.

I liked Federico Fellini's 8 1/2. This musical based upon it features the best collection of Actors in a film this year (20+ Oscar nominations between them, 6 wins) and a good director -- even if he totally owes me after ruining a promising novel in 2006.


The Countess
Director: Julie Delpy
Starring: Julie Delpy, William Hurt, Anamaria Marinca
Release: TBA

Doesn't this character (a Hungarian 16th-century countess who bathed in the blood of virgins to maintain her youth) seem a juicy kind of wonderful? Delpy's debut directorial effort, 2 Days in Paris was great, and I'll love her forever for being Celine. Also love Bill Hurt, and I'm interested to see how Marinca will follow up her excellent performance last year.


3. Splice
Director: Vincenzo Natali
Starring: Adrien Brody, Sarah Polley
Release Date: September
Senator Film

Vincenzo Natali's 1997 sci-fi/horror Cube is brilliant. Adrien Brody is brilliant. Sarah Polley is brilliant. Sci-fi/spirituality (if done well) is brilliant. I can't wait until September.


The Tree of Life
Director: Terrence Malick
Starring: Sean Penn, Brad Pitt, Fiona Shaw
Release Date: TBA

The plotline doesn't sound enthralling but the same could be said for Malick's Thin Red Line and New World, both of which are not my cup of tea in essence but captivating in execution. The master returns.

1. Avatar
Director: James Cameron
Starring: Sam Worthington, Sigourney Weaver, Zoe Saldana
Release Date: December
20th Century Fox

This does seem like the year Science Fiction comes back. I left out a ton of movies in this countdown (Moon, Star Trek, Eden Log, Pandorum, The Surrogates) that fit into that ilk, though I know that it's a notoriously difficult genre to do well. Many feel that Steven Spielberg is the master of the blockbuster, but in my eyes it's this man -- Terminator 2, Aliens, True Lies, Titanic -- nobody does it better. The last time Cameron spent $200m on a film it swept the world Oscars world, and I don't see any reason why this can't be the decade's best.