Director: Zack Snyder
Starring: Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Jason Mamoa, Ezra Miller, Ray Fisher, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jeremy Irons, Diane Lane, Connie Nielsen, J.K. Simmons, Amber Heard, David Thewlis
While it had all sorts of problems and received a pasting from critics around the world, one thing you have to hand to Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice is that it swung for the fences. It had an idea and committed to it. It just didn’t end up being an idea which connected with audiences. Justice League, the latest film from Warner Brothers’ much maligned DC Extended Universe, is a significantly less ambitious movie. A gun shy film which shows more evidence of being chastened by the reaction to Batman vs Superman than emboldened by the success of Wonder Woman, it plays it safe and, as a result, ends up being entirely bland and largely forgettable.
Chronologically, Justice League is a sequel to Batman vs Superman rather than Wonder Woman. We find the world still mourning the death of Superman (Henry Cavill), and his passing has left it vulnerable. Winged Parademons who feed on fear have started showing up at Gotham and Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) is convinced that they herald something much worse on its way. Continue reading
Director: Zach Snyder
Starring: Henry Cavill, Ben Affleck, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Jeremy Irons, Holly Hunter, Gal Gadot, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne
“Who would win a fight between…” has long been a favourite hypothetical of young comic book fans around the world. So for those boys and girls Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice must have sounded like a dream come true. Unfortunately though, if there is one audience this film is not for it is kids. In bringing together the world’s two most iconic superheroes Zach Snyder has made the darkest mainstream blockbuster in recent memory. It is a serious film without an ounce of lightness or humour that seeks to pose ethical and philosophical questions about power, but poor execution leaves it falling short of its lofty goals.
Batman vs Superman is in a number of ways a reactionary film. At an industrial level it is absolutely Warner Brothers and DC’s panicked response to the outrageous success Marvel Studios have had with their interwoven Marvel Cinematic Universe. What was originally supposed to be a straight sequel to 2013’s Man of Steel was seemingly co-opted by the studio to become the launching pad for the DC Expanded Universe. Continue reading
Director: David Fincher
Starring: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Carrie Coon, Kim Dickens, Tyler Perry, Neil Patrick Harris
Gillian Flynn’s best-selling thriller Gone Girl was a literary sensation and was destined for the big screen. Flynn herself was given the task of streamlining the novel into a 150min screenplay, and with films like Se7en, Fight Club, The Social Network and Zodiac proving him to be a brilliantly methodical director and a master of misdirection, David Fincher was just the director to manage the various major twists and turns that Flynn’s story throws at us.
On the day of their fifth wedding anniversary, Nick Dunne arrives home to find his wife Amy missing. The police are called in but something doesn’t seem quite right. The kidnapping investigation soon becomes a murder investigation, and with an intensifying media circus that brings with it revelations big and small about their relationship, Nick finds himself the prime suspect.
Gone Girl looks at the role the media plays in turning investigations into sensations. We see the ease with which public perception is manipulated by the media, how little details and tangential titbits can be put under the spotlight and made to look incredibly significant. It is Nick’s inability to appropriately play the media game that causes him to look suspicious, and the court of public opinion judges accordingly. Ben Affleck is perfect casting in this regard. As we watch Nick being hounded by the press, and we see him breaking under the pressure of constantly being scrutinised and judged, knowing that Affleck has lived that experience adds to the character.
Gone Girl starts on the morning of Amy’s disappearance and follows the investigation from there, but we get flashbacks of their relationship narrated to us through excerpts from Amy’s diary. As such we experience Nick in an objective present, but Amy in a subjective past. What we see and know of Amy is determined by what she has written in her diary, and as the film progresses the reliability of her narration comes into question.
Unlike a traditional thriller, Gone Girl gives us its game changing reveal quite early. Barely halfway through the film we learn the truth about Amy’s disappearance. That revelation changes the focus of the film. For the audience, the investigation is no longer about working out what happened to Amy, but about revealing who Nick and Amy really are. More than just a mystery thriller, Gone Girl is a film about human relationships, and quite a cynical one at that. The film explores the place of narcissism in marriage, examining the way in which people play roles during courtship, pretending to be the person they want their partner to think that they are, or the person they think their partner wants them to be, and then how relationships break down and resentment builds when partners grow tired of playing those roles. Through its hyperbole it asks how well one can really know their partner when both are simply playing roles.
As good as Affleck is, it is British actress Rosamund Pike for whom this movie is a real breakout. Pike’s look perfectly suits Amy; the privileged, trust fund kid. We believe her intelligence, and we also believe her insecurity. After all, her trust fund is the result of a successful series of children’s books her mother wrote in which the lead character, Amazing Amy, lives out an idealised version of her own life. But there is also something mysterious and unreadable about Pike and as we start to discover more about her character she shows us something new and the film really becomes hers.
Gone Girl is an extremely interesting and engaging film, but it is not without its problems. Tonally it will cause some viewers difficulty. What starts out as a pretty straight drama gradually morphs into a tragicomedy, a perverse satire, without ever openly embracing a satirical tone. There are moments in the film that are quite brutal and others that are obviously being played for laughs. It is a very fine tonal balance that the Fincher is trying to strike, and he is not always completely successful in achieving it. Similarly, after an engrossing first and second act, the third act falls flat. Rather than building to a crescendo, Gone Girl reaches its peak at the end of the second act and then gently burns out. With a two-and-a-half hour runtime, it is in this third act that the film starts to feel long.
Gone Girl is the kind of smart, insightful, middle-budget (around $50 million) film which is few and far between in Hollywood these days. Well performed and expertly directed it is a peculiar and engrossing piece of filmmaking.
Review by Duncan McLean
Have you seen Gone Girl? Leave a comment and let us know what you thought.
Director: Brad Furman
Starring: Justin Timberlake, Ben Affleck, Gemma Arterton, Anthony Mackie
Brad Furman’s Runner Runner is a movie about gambling and as Justin Timberlake’s character Richie Furst assures us in the film’s opening voice over, “Everybody gambles.” Of course not everyone plays online poker, the focus of the film, but whenever you take a chance, whenever you put yourself in a situation where in order to get something there is a chance you could lose something, that is gambling.
Richie is a gambler in every sense of the word. He used to be a Wall Street guy but lost his job and all his savings when the stock market crashed. Having returned to Princeton to complete his Masters, he pays his tuition by promoting and playing online poker. When he becomes convinced that the site has cheated him, Richie heads to Costa Rica to confront online poker tycoon Ivan Block. Block is so pleased that Richie chose to come to him rather than going to the press that he not only refunds his losses but offers him a job and before long Richie is living the high life as Block’s protégé. But of course Block is not the legitimate businessman that Richie had assumed and Richie soon finds himself needing to get his hands dirty, watch his back and ultimately make the biggest gamble of his life.
In the hands of a different, more ambitious filmmaker Runner Runner might have been an interesting, anthropological exploration of the world of online gambling – think what Scorsese did with Goodfellas and Casino – but Furman’s direction doesn’t give it that texture, that requisite sense of authenticity. Truth be told, he may have been hamstrung by the film’s screenplay, which has some problems. The familiar man-out-of-his-depth tale is difficult to completely get on board with because it is hard to believe that Richie, who the film’s early passages at Princeton are supposed to suggest is some kind of genius, could be so incredibly naïve. He seems to be genuinely surprised to discover that something the slightest bit dodgy might be going on at the off-shore online gambling empire he has joined up with.
Justin Timberlake has persevered through the novelty of being a singer who is having a go at acting to establish himself as an actor and has demonstrated some real talent. But at this stage in his career he seems better suited to supporting roles. He doesn’t yet have the charisma as an actor (as a performer is a different matter) to be a Hollywood leading man. Comparatively, despite all the unfair flack he gets, Runner Runner comes alive when Ben Affleck is on screen. He gives Block a real presence, using his usual friendly, charming persona as a disguise for Block’s darker side. While both are forced to wrestle with some pretty stilted dialogue, their predicament is preferable to that of British actress Gemma Arterton. Her character, spray-tanned to within an inch of her life, is as two-dimensional a love interest as you will find and the lack of characterisation means she struggles to generate much in the way of chemistry with either of the male leads.
While Runner Runner has its problems, it is a well enough made thriller that it will keep you interested and as you watch these expert gamblers plan their moves, make their plays and take their chances you will have a bit of fun.
Rating – ★★★
Review by Duncan McLean
Director: Terrence Malick
Starring: Ben Affleck, Olga Kurylenko, Javier Bardem, Rachel McAdams
Terrence Malick is not your usual filmmaker. He was a philosophy student at Harvard who graduated summa cum laude before heading to Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. He was teaching at Massachusetts Institute of Technology before deciding to enrol at the American Film Institute. Since then he has had an intriguing 40 year career as a director which has amazingly only resulted in six feature films. While he left academia a long time ago, that philosophical streak still exists in his work, and as he has grown older his films have become increasingly contemplative and esoteric.
His last film, The Tree of Life, divided critics and audiences alike with some declaring it the film of the year while others found it excessively self-indulgent and pretentious. His new picture, To the Wonder is a similar style of film to Tree of Life, though likely a step further away from the mainstream and less well executed.
As a filmmaker, Malick is growing increasingly disinterested in narrative. So while To the Wonder has a narrative of sorts it is not really the primary focus of the film. We meet two outsiders living in Oklahoma. Marina is a Ukranian single mother who has moved to America from Paris after falling in love with an American, Neil. Father Quintana is a Hispanic Catholic priest who moved to the area to minister. Both have been compelled to move their by love, but both now find themself feeling increasingly isolated and distant from that love. The picture contrasts Marina’s relationship difficulties with Quintana’s crisis of faith.
For this exploration of love in its different forms, Malick is more interested in evoking than describing. Instead of getting scenes, we simply glimpse moments. Instead of having passages of dialogue, we capture a sentence here or there. The prominence of the musical score over dialogue means the film can feel almost like a silent movie.
Like The Tree of Life, To the Wonder is a visual and aural experience with an ethereal quality. The cinematography of Emmanuel Lubezki, who has worked twice before with Malick, is breathtaking. Whether in the streets of Paris, the plains of Oklahoma or the humble homes of Bartlesville, Lubezki and Malick give us beautiful, emotive images. However unlike its predecessor, To the Wonder doesn’t have the substance to support its style. The combination of these stunning images, an expressive score, and a narration of philosophical whisperings in French and Spanish has led more than one critic to liken the film to a high end perfume commercial.
An impressive principal cast including Olga Kurylenko, Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams and Javier Bardem suggests that the chance to work with Malick is obviously a draw card for actors. But don’t come expecting to see movie stars because Malick’s camera doesn’t treat them that way. Case in point is Ben Affleck, who despite being a big name star, constantly finds himself on the periphery of the frame, often with his head cut out of the picture. In the film’s first passages in Paris Affleck hardly says a word. We assume this is because his character doesn’t speak French, but then when the film migrates to America we still don’t hear from him.
To the Wonder has an impassioned spirituality. You can’t help but feel that there is an autobiographical element to Father Quintana’s longing to again experience the presence of Christ in the world around him. Unfortunately though, the film lacks clarity, with the vagueness of its events, characters and themes more likely to leave you scratching your head than deep in philosophical reflection.
Rating – ★★
Review by Duncan McLean
This year the most thankless job in Hollywood went to Family Guy creator Seth McFarlane, in a move which was obviously supposed to give the ceremony a bit of edginess and youth appeal (and on that front it was a success with the viewer numbers in the US up 20% from last year). The reviews of McFarlane’s performance have ranged from lightly positive to downright scathing. It’s a tough job at the best of times, but it was made all the tougher, as he alluded to, by the fact that Tina Fey and Amy Poehler had been so universally praised for the job they did at the Golden Globes a few weeks ago.
McFarlane was a bit hit and miss, as most hosts are, but was largely exactly what anyone who is familiar with him expected him to be. His opening bit, in which he conversed with William Shatner as Captain Kirk who was contacting him from the future to warn him against all the mistakes he was going to make as a host, came in at 19 minutes and was just way too long. There was a good idea there, but it was just stretched too far.
The humour in McFarlane’s television and film work comes from two sources: crossing the line of good taste and being inappropriate, and very specific pop-culture referencing. Both were on display on Oscar night. While it was apparent that he was reining himself in to some extent, McFarlane was always going to try and push things a little bit. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it crossed the line. The joke about no actor being able to get inside the head of Abraham Lincoln quite like John Wilkes Booth, was in typically poor taste but it got a good laugh. The “We Saw Your Boobs” song in his opening number didn’t go down so well, being just one of a number of incidents which led feminist commentators to accuse the host of misogyny (though as Family Guy co-writer Alec Sulkin pointed out on twitter, it seems slightly ironic to accuse the host of misogyny on a night that was also celebrating fifty years of James Bond).
McFarlane may have been better served to more heavily favour the pop-culture referencing, given he was in a room full of people who live and breathe movies and would therefore understand that kind of referencing and in-joking. His introduction of Christopher Plummer, in which he pointed to a side door to usher in the Von Trapp family singers only to have a young Nazi run in and exclaim “They’re gone!” went down a treat. A bit more of that sort of stuff and a bit less of jokes about nine-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis being a potential future girlfriend for George Clooney, and he may have got a more generally positive response.
This year it was really pleasing to see a bit of class return to the Academy Awards on the presenter front. The Oscars are an institution and an important part of maintaining that sense of grandeur is having big names presenting awards. In recent years the really big names have been notably absent, but this time around the presenters included screen legends such as Christopher Plummer, Michael Douglas, Jane Fonda, Meryl Streep (because she wasn’t actually up for an award this year) and Jack Nicholson. Their presence brought a bit of prestige to the event. That being said, I want to have one whinge. Jack Nicholson was brought out to present the Best Picture award, but had to hand over to Michelle Obama who appeared via a live video cross from the White House. Michelle Obama is a good get for the Academy, however, in this situation I don’t think she trumps Jack Nicholson (especially not on video). Jack is one of Hollywood’s absolute living legends, and being in the twilight of his career and not doing a lot of publicity means we don’t really see much of him. Michelle Obama tends to appear on the nightly news just about every day, so I felt that her presence was a waste of valuable Jack time.
As always, the presenters were a bit hit and miss in their attempts at pre-announcement banter. Paul Rudd and Melissa McCarthy take the cake for least funny seemingly adlibbed jokes, and Kristen Stewart and Daniel Radcliffe have no business being on stage at an Academy Award ceremony at this point in their careers (Stewart was her usual grumpy self but at least this time had the excuse of an injured foot).
Moment of the night from a presenters point of view was Mark Wahlberg who had to present the Best Sound Editing category in which there was a tie. Clearly taken aback by what he was reading, Wahlberg felt he needed to convince the crowd that he wasn’t having them on, so in classic Boston fashion stated “No BS. We have a tie.” When I was saying before that the presenters brought back a bit of class to the event, I wasn’t so much thinking about Marky Mark.
Despite the fact that this was one of the more open Academy Awards in recent history it ended up being a night almost entirely devoid of surprises on the awards front. Argo followed on from its dominance of the lead up awards to claim Best Picture. Daniel Day Lewis cemented his position as one of the all-time greats with his win for Lincoln making him the first man to win the Best Actor award on three occasions. Jennifer Lawrence tripped over on her way up to collect her Best Actress award. Christoph Waltz’s magic relationship with Quentin Tarantino continued as he claimed his second Best Supporting Actor Oscar from two collaborations. Anne Hathaway won the one award which was such an absolute lock you could have bet your house on it. In fact, the only major award in which the bookies’ favourite didn’t walk away with the statue was Best Director, in which Ang Lee pipped Steven Spielberg (but that category was a shambles from the moment Ben Affleck and Kathryn Bigelow were left off the nominations list).
The speeches are always the least interesting part of an awards night. After the excitement of finding out who wins you then have to sit through a couple of minutes of them listing names of people you don’t know. In a nice, if not overly subtle, comic touch, the decision was made to replace the usual play-them-off music with the theme from Jaws, with John Williams’ ominous tones letting rambling recipients know that their time was up. As is always the case, there is a bit of a double standard when it comes to playing them off, with winners of lesser awards being cut while Quentin Tarantino was able to finish his speech, walk away from the microphone and then come back to say one more thing and have the music stop for him.
Christoph Waltz spoke beautifully, Adele spoke horribly (but that is more to do with the fact that her speaking voice is every bit as ghastly as her singing voice is wonderful). Daniel Day Lewis got big laughs for his revelation that he and presenter Streep had, after much thought, decided to switch roles, as he was originally meant to play Margaret Thatcher and she Abraham Lincoln. But for mine, best line of the night goes to Argo producer Grant Heslov who, standing between co-producers George Clooney and Ben Affleck, opened his acceptance speech with “I know what you’re thinking… three sexiest producers alive.”
The Musical Numbers
The “theme” for this year’s ceremony was a celebration of movie musicals, seemingly because Les Misérables had been nominated for Best Picture and because it was ten years since the last time a musical won Best Picture (Chicago). It was a bit of a shame, therefore, that a number of the musical numbers for the evening were a bit flat.
Both Shirley Bassey, singing ‘Goldfinger,’ and Adele, singing ‘Skyfall,’ appeared to be singing within themselves, not really punching the big notes, except for the last “Gold” which Dame Shirley hammered. The cast of Les Misérables came out to sing a number, an awkward mash-up of ‘Suddenly’ and ‘One Day More’ designed to give everyone a bit to sing, even if they are not in that scene, without going on too long, which just ended up sounding a bit messy.
While there was nothing spectacular about Barbara Streisand’s performance of ‘Memories’ as part of the In Memoriam section, it was still a reasonably big deal to see her on stage. But Jennifer Hudson was the absolute standout for the night and really brought the house down with her rendition of ‘And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going’ from Dreamgirls, appropriately receiving a standing ovation.
As it turns out, after it was all said and done the moment of the night didn’t even happen as part of the ceremony, but in the interviews after. Jack Nicholson, obviously agreeing with me that Michelle Obama got in the way of valuable Jack time, decided that he would interrupt Jennifer Lawrence’s interview with ABC. Classic Jack…
by Duncan McLean
This year’s Best Picture race is one of the most open in recent memory, with no film being expected to dominate proceedings and take home a swag of awards. Obviously this means that it is going to be trickier than usual to tip the winner. When it comes to tipping Oscar winners it is important to remember that you are tipping who you think will win the award, not necessarily who you think should win the award. For that reason, sometimes it is more difficult to accurately tip award winners when you have seen a number of the films, because your own tastes and opinions tend to cloud your judgement. So what follows is a simple for and against for each of the nine nominees for this year’s Best Picture award. Then you can weigh up the arguments, see which you think is the most convincing, and then blindly guess the same way you do every year.
Notable Awards: Cannes Film Festival Palme d’Or, BAFTA Best Film Not in the English Language, Golden Globe Best Foreign Language Film, European Film Awards Best Film, National Board of Review Best Foreign Film, National Society of Film Critics Awards USA Best Film
Why Amour will win: Amour is only the ninth foreign language film in 85 years to even get a nomination for the big award, and the fact that it has five nominations all up, including for Director (with Cannes Film Festival darling Michael Haneke making the cut ahead of the likes of Tarantino, Bigelow and Affleck) and Screenplay, two categories which usually go with a Best Picture win, suggests that the Academy sees this film as a legitimate contender, rather than just rewarding it with an also-ran nomination. And hey, a French film took home Best Picture last year. So it can happen.
Why Amour won’t win: You want to know how many times a foreign language film has won Best Picture at the Oscars? Zero. It has never happened. The closest you can get to foreign language winners are The Godfather Part II, The Last Emperor and Slumdog Millionaire which all won Best Picture and contained sequences of dialogue in Sicilian, Mandarin and Hindi respectively.
Notable Awards: Golden Globe Best Drama, BAFTA Best Film, DGA Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures, SAG Best Ensemble Cast in a Motion Picture, AFI Movies of the Year, National Board of Review Top Films
Why Argo will win: Momentum. After initial fears that Affleck missing out on a Best Director nod meant the film wasn’t really in the running, in recent weeks Argo has firmed as the favourite after taking out a number of lead up awards. Winning the Golden Globe isn’t always the best guide to picking the Oscar winner, but winning the Directors Guild of America Award is. Despite there being two best picture awards at the Golden Globes, one for drama and one for musicals or comedy, only four times in the last ten years has the winner of one of those two awards gone on to win Best Picture at the Oscars. On the other hand, nine out of the last ten films to pick up the Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures award at the DGA awards have gone on to win Best Picture at the Oscars that year (the only one to miss out was Brokeback Mountain which was pipped for the Oscar in a bit of a surprise by Crash in 2006). Hence the reason a number of eyebrows were raised when Ben Affleck won that award this year.
Why Argo won’t win: The big red flag next to Argo is the fact that Ben Affleck did not receive a nomination for Best Director. Across the previous 84 Academy Award ceremonies, only three times has a film won the top award despite its director failing to receive a best director nomination, with Driving Miss Daisy in 1990 being the only example since the early 1930s. Of course, in the last couple of years the Best Picture field has expanded from five nominees to up to ten. So whereas once it was the norm for the five Best Picture nominees to provide the five Best Director nominees, under the new system there will always be at least four or five Best Picture nominees that won’t be represented in the directing field. The temptation is to see those films which don’t also get a Director nod as the also-rans in the field.
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Notable Awards: Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize, AFI Movies of the Year, NBR Top Films
Why Beasts of the Southern Wild will win: The Beasts of the Southern Wild is the little film that could. The surprise hit of the year, it came out of nowhere to feature prominently in a number of Best Films of 2012 lists. It definitely stands out in the field as something totally different. A small budget, artistic premise, a six-year-old leading lady and a debut director (both of whom have been nominated in their respective categories). Could the Academy voters get swept up in the fairytale of it all? It’s also not unheard of for a directorial debut to win Best Picture. Sam Mendes’ American Beauty, Kevin Costner’s Dances with Wolves and James L. Brooks’ Terms of Endearment are the most recent to have done it.
Why Beasts of the Southern Wild won’t win: Small indie films win festival awards, they don’t win Academy Awards.
Notable Awards: AFI Movies of the Year, NBR Top Films
Why Django Unchained will win: There is the feeling that Tarantino has been working his way towards Academy recognition. He is one of the most influential filmmakers of the last twenty years and the Academy don’t want to find themselves in the same situation that they had with Martin Scorsese where it wasn’t until almost forty years into his career, and after helming a number of films regarded as all-time greats, that he finally won a Best Picture and Best Director award. Inglourious Basterds got close. Could Django Unchained be the film the Academy recognises (even though Tarantino himself failed to get a nomination)? Also, Django Unchained really stands out in the field for its appeal to the youth demographic. The Academy Award ceremony has been trying hard for the last couple of years to appeal to the youth demographic, to maintain relevance and combat a declining viewership. Could the same thinking enter the voting process?
Why Django Unchained won’t win: Tarantino’s eighth feature film seemed to be firming as a real Oscar contender until the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting happened. It changed the story. After that event rather than slavery or spaghetti westerns Tarantino found himself, once again, forced to talk about excessive violence in his cinema. He then failed to receive a Best Director nomination, and unlike Argo and Zero Dark Thirty which have maintained their relevance in this race despite missing Director nominations, Django Unchained seems to have fallen by the wayside. You could also argue that Django Unchained isn’t as good as Inglourious Basterds was and it is competing in a stronger field. So if the Academy wasn’t willing to favour Tarantino in 2010 it doesn’t look like they will in 2013.
Notable Awards: Golden Globe Best Musical or Comedy, AFI Movies of the Year, NBR Top Films
Why Les Misérables will win: Les Misérables seems like an obvious contender. You have one of the most popular stage musicals in history being finally brought to the screen with an all-star cast (two of whom have been recognised with acting nominations) by an Oscar-winning director. Tom Hooper followed up his surprise success with The King’s Speech by opting for this very ambitious project. It is a significant upping of scale from his previous films and could help with the perception of him progressing and evolving from his previous success. The other X-factor for the film was the unconventional approach to shooting the musical numbers, with the actors singing live on set rather than lip-synching to pre-recorded songs. Could this experimental approach, which allows much more performative freedom to the actors, be deemed as worthy of recognition from the Academy?
Why Les Misérables won’t win: In the 1960s there were four musicals that walked away with the Best Picture award: West Side Story, My Fair Lady, The Sound of Music and Oliver! In the 44 years since Oliver! won only one musical has the award, Chicago in 2002. That is a roundabout way of saying that musicals don’t tend to fare well in recent times. And Les Misérables isn’t even just a musical, it’s practically an opera. Also, Russell Crowe.
Life of Pi
Notable Awards: AFI Movies of the Year
Why Life of Pi will win: Ang Lee, an Academy favourite, has taken a much-loved book which many thought was unfilmable and brought it to life, at the same time as showing the industry the potential of digital and 3D technologies. Life of Pi is tipped to be a major player in the Visual Effects and Cinematography fields, but the fact that the film also received nominations for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Director suggests it is seen as more than just a technically impressive film. For a film which is at best being talked about as an outside chance, it is worth noting that Life of Pi has earned more nominations than any film other than Lincoln.
Why Life of Pi won’t win: With the film being tipped to do so well in the technical categories, there is the danger Academy voters will see Life of Pi’s primary achievement being technical, that it is first and foremost a beautiful looking film. Very rarely do films come out on top in the Best Picture category on the grounds of being amazing technical achievements. Titanic ? Maybe Lord of the Rings?
Notable Awards: AFI Movies of the Year, NBR Top Films
Why Lincoln will win: Do I have to spell it out for you? A period drama about America’s most worshiped president, directed by the world’s biggest director, with an all-star cast led by arguably the finest actor of his, or any, generation. How could it not win?
Why Lincoln won’t win: For all the above reasons, Lincoln feels almost too good to be true. In the eyes of many people it just smells like Oscar bait, and sometimes the Academy reacts against that. Also, this film more than any other in the category had to deal with the weight of serious expectation when it came out. It is a fantastic film, but everyone expected it to be. Has it done enough to exceed people’s expectations and win voters over, or will the high expectations it had to deal with mean it gets overlooked in favour of one of the more “surprising” films.
Silver Linings Playbook
Notable Awards: NBR Top Films
Why Silver Linings Playbook will win: While it’s eight nominations is not the most by any candidate this year, it is the categories they came in which is significant. Usually we talk in terms of the ‘Big Five’ categories (Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, and one of the Screenplay categories). In also getting nominations in the Supporting Actor and Actress categories, Silver Linings Playbook is the first film in 32 years (since Warren Beatty’s Reds in 1981) to get nominations in the Big Seven categories. It suggests that the Academy sees this as being an excellent achievement across the board. It also should be noted that the last three films to receive nominations in the big five categories (Million Dollar Baby, American Beauty, The English Patient) all went on to win Best Picture.
Why Silver Linings Playbook won’t win: While it feels unfair to pigeonhole Silver Linings Playbook as a romantic comedy, when it boils down to it that is what it is, a brilliantly written romantic comedy. And unfortunately for David O. Russell, comedies don’t traditionally fare well in this category. In the last thirty years the only two films which could be described as comedies to have won Best Picture are Shakespeare in Love in 1998 and The Artist in 2012. Also, despite scoring nominations across the big seven categories, it is really only Jennifer Lawrence who is considered among the favourites. So it is entirely possible that Silver Linings Playbook could be staring down a shutout.
Zero Dark Thirty
Notable Awards: NBR Best Film, AFI Movies of the Year
Why Zero Dark Thirty will win: Before it had even been released, Zero Dark Thirty had already won the New York Film Critics film of the year award, and early on it was seen as Lincoln’s primary competition for the Best Picture Oscar. In recent times its momentum has plateaued a bit, particularly with Bigelow failing to receive a Best Director nomination, but still remains among the serious contenders. The film is a harsh and unimpassioned look at the hunt for bin Laden and, as such, has an immediate political significance. As yet we haven’t seen an Oscar go to a film dealing directly with the events of 9/11 and its aftermath, but none of them have been as good as this one and perhaps the closure to the story that comes from the death of bin Laden means voters are ready.
Why Zero Dark Thirty won’t win: While Zero Dark Thirty is seen as one of the real contenders it has had to deal with some controversy surrounding the perceived messages it sends about the use of torture as an interrogation method. Is the film pro-torture? The Oscars are not a ceremony that tends to court controversy. There is nothing particularly edgy about the Academy. The hint of something being divisive could frighten off the voters.
So with all that in mind, I think the nominees can be broken up into four categories…
The Contenders: Argo, Lincoln, Zero Dark Thirty
The Potential Dark Horses: Life of Pi, Silver Linings Playbook
The Outsiders: Amour, Django Unchained
Thanks for Coming: Beasts of the Southern Wild, Les Misérables
by Duncan McLean
At 5:30am Los Angeles time, Oscars host Seth MacFarlane and Emma Stone announced the nominees for the 85th Academy Awards. While there were a few categories which panned out exactly as expected, the nominations did throw up more than the usual number of surprises. Here are five of the biggest…
1) Only 9 in the Best Picture
There were a few notable omissions in the Best Picture category. Moonrise Kingdom, The Master, The Sessions and, to a lesser extent, Skyfall had all been talked about as Best Picture contenders but all were notably absent from the nominees announced. What makes that even more surprising is the Academy chose only to give out nine of a possible ten nominations. So it wasn’t even that these films were simply squeezed out by other worthy pictures, rather they were deemed not worthy of a nomination.
2) Amour gets some love
It is not often that a foreign language film gets Academy recognition outside of the Best Foreign Language Film category. So it was somewhat of a surprise to see Michael Haneke’s Palme d’Or winner, Amour, pick up five nominations including Best Picture and Best Director. If nothing else it means that Amour will be the shortest of short priced favourites to win the Best Foreign Language Film category.
3) Big names missing in the Best Director field
It was the Best Director nominations which contained the biggest surprises, primarily as a result of who wasn’t there. Ben Affleck, Quentin Tarantino and Kathryn Bigelow had all been talked about as serious contenders to take the award home, yet none of them managed to get a nomination. The most obvious beneficiaries of these ‘snubbings’ are the surprise – unexpected but not undeserved – nominations of Michael Haneke and Behn Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild).
4) Silver Lining Support
The surprise nominations in both the Supporting Actor and Actress categories both came from Silver Linings Playbook. Robert De Niro had only received a handful of lead up nominations, none of them major, for his role as Pat Sr. His surprise nomination means that there wasn’t room for some more fancied possible nominees, particularly Django Unchained’s Leonardo DiCaprio and Samuel L. Jackson. Australian Jackie Weaver came from right out of left field to score a nomination in the Supporting Actress category having not received any lead up nominations, other than as part of an ensemble cast. The Golden Globes and SAG nominations had opted for Nicole Kidman (The Paperboy) or Maggie Smith (Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) to round of their fields, but neither seem any more deserving than Weaver.
5) The Dark Knight does not rise
While I don’t think anyone was realistically expecting The Dark Knight Rises to earn a best picture nomination, most would have expected it to figure somewhere (maybe in visual effect?), but instead it became the highest profile film to be completely overlooked by the Academy this year.
1. Argo (Ben Affleck)
People have to stop talking about Ben Affleck “being on a hot streak” or “enjoying a purple patch” as a director and accept that perhaps he is just a really talented director. Maybe he didn’t ride Matt Damon’s coattails to that screenwriting Oscar for Good Will Hunting all those years ago like so many joked. Argo, Affleck’s third film, is the year’s best thriller and mixes moments of extreme tension with some great laughs. Alan Arkin and John Goodman are fantastic as the CIA’s Hollywood collaborators.
2. Hugo (Martin Scorsese)
A few eyebrows were raised when it was announced that Scorsese was going to adapt a children’s book as his next project, but with David Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret it made perfect sense. Hugo was Scorsese’s love letter to the early cinema. A visually stunning film it is also one of the few films that have been made which have convinced me there may be some merit to 3D.
3. The Artist (Michel Hazanavicius)
Of course, Hugo was not the only film in cinemas this year which celebrated the early days of cinema. Michel Hazanavicius’ The Artist went one step further, engaging with the long-lost art of silent storytelling. This was such an ambitious project, but it was just so endearing and charming that it won people over. It also came out at exactly the right time for me as I’d recently been watching a lot of Charlie Chaplin films and my interest in silent cinema was peaking.
4. Skyfall (Sam Mendes)
With MGM’s financial troubles we were forced to wait four years to see James Bond back on our screens after the disappointing Quantum of Solace, but boy was it worth the wait. Skyfall had everything you want in a Bond film, some great action sequences, a bit of humour, a fantastic villain. But on top of that, having a real filmmaker in Sam Mendes at the helm meant that the film also had an attention character development and an emotional depth that we’d never seen in a Bond before. Skyfall is not just a great Bond film, it is a great film.
5. Les Misérables (Tom Hooper)
This was not going to be everyone’s cup of tea just because of the sheer volume of singing, but Tom Hooper’s ambitious film is a cinematic achievement, successfully translating one of the West End’s most successful and most tragic musicals to the screen. Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway gave two of the year’s best performances in this gut-wrenching story of poverty and injustice, rebellion and redemption.
6. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (Tomas Alfredson)
The thing that struck me about this adaptation of John Le Carre’s novel was its stillness and quietness. You feel like it is moving slowly, but when you stop and think about you realise that a lot has been happening. We are so used to seeing spy movies in the James Bond mould, that the stillness Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is quite intriguing. An absolute all-star British cast led by a great performance from the chameleon-like Gary Oldman.
7. Moonrise Kingdom (Wes Anderson)
Moonrise Kingdom is a Wes Anderson film through and through, which means some people will love it and others will hate it. Many of his usual collaborators are back with the key additions of Bruce Willis and Edward Norton. Anderson’s films are always deadpan and contain a touch of darkness, but this ups the ante on that. As always, the use of music, in this case Benjamin Britten and Hank Williams, is very clever. But for me, the sight of Harvey Keitel in shorts alone makes this film noteworthy.
8. The Muppets (James Bobin)
This may look like a strange pick alongside the other films on this list but The Muppets was a hard film not to love. No other film this year projected pure joy the way The Muppets did, and that should be celebrated. Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller’s screenplay showed a real love for these classic characters and, along with Bret McKenzie’s songs, found the perfect balance between nostalgia and contemporary comedy.
9. Looper (Rian Johnson)
There is nothing better than being genuinely surprised (in a positive way) by a film, and for mine Rian Johnson’s Looper was the surprise movie of the year. I saw it on a whim, expecting it to be a reasonably run of the mill sci-fi romp but what I got was the most original and interesting science fiction movie since District 9. The story of an assassin from two different periods in time going head to head with himself also engaged with that moral conundrum “If you could go back in time to when Hitler/Stalin/Pol Pot was a baby, would you kill them to save the world future suffering?”
10. Seven Psychopaths (Martin McDonagh)
Martin McDonagh’s comedy isn’t going to appear on a lot of Top 10 lists but this is my list, dammit, so I’m including it. This sharply written comedy about a screenwriter who finds himself in a tough situation after his friend kidnaps the beloved dog of a local crime boss is a strong follow-up to McDonagh’s 2008 debut In Bruges. Yes there are some holes and some problems, but there are also some big laughs, with terrific comic performances from the always brilliant Sam Rockwell and the always quirky Christopher Walken carrying the film.
Not far off: The Master (Paul Thomas Anderson), The Dark Knight Rises (Christopher Nolan), Shame (Steve McQueen), The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (David Fincher), The Avengers (Joss Whedon)
The Worst Movie of the Year: Act of Valor (Mike McCoy, Scott Waugh). Not even close really. This military propaganda film in disguise (and not much of a disguise at that) proudly trumpeted the fact that all the major characters were played by real life Marines as though that were a good thing. It wasn’t.
Cinematic Highlight of the Year: Getting to see Steven Spielberg’s Jaws on the big screen as part of its high definition re-release. It was the movie which started the whole blockbuster movement, and which launched Spielberg into stardom, and it still holds up. Similarly, it was good to see Titanic on the big screen again. While the 3D transfer didn’t do much for me it was interesting to see that enough time has passed that we are all over our anti-Titanic bias and can accept that, while it has its faults, it is actually a very good film.
As the end of the year draws closer the top ten lists from different critics, magazines and institutions are coming thick and fast. Today the American Film Institute named its top ten for the year and there were a couple of surprises. The list was unranked, and looks like this:
Argo (Ben Affleck)
Beasts of the Southern Wild (Benh Zeitlin)
The Dark Knight Rises (Christopher Nolan)
Django Unchained (Quentin Tarantino)
Les Misérables (Tom Hooper)
The Life of Pi (Ang Lee)
Lincoln (Steven Spielberg)
Moonrise Kingdom (Wes Anderson)
The Silver Linings Playbook (David O. Russell)
Zero Dark Thirty (Kathryn Bigelow)
There are two major surprises for mine, one an inclusion and one an exclusion. The Dark Knight Rises making the list was a bit of a shock. It was undoubtedly one of the most anticipated and most ambitious films of the year, but it didn’t quite reach the heights a lot of people were hoping for and has been absent from most of the other top tens that I’ve seen.
The big absence is Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master. An intensely interesting film, whose links to Scientology guaranteed a level of controversy and exposure a film of this kind would not otherwise have received, The Master has been a bit of a critical darling. It won gongs at the Venice Film Festival (Best Director for Anderson and shared Best Actor between Juaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman) and is talked about as a big time Oscar contender, and has appeared in a lot of top ten lists already, including topping that of the prestigious British film journal Sight and Sound. So it’s failure to rate a mention from the AFI is notable.
The other thing about this list that is exciting for myself and other movie lovers on this side of the world is that so many of these films haven’t come out yet. With Django Unchained, Les Misérables, The Life of Pi, Lincoln, The Silver Linings Playbook and Zero Dark Thirty all due to hit screens in the next couple of months, we have a quality summer of movies to look forward to.