Oscars Countdown

Oscars Countdown: A Guide To What’s Actually The Best Picture 2013

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It's as if his eyes follow you round the room. Well, his eye dents, anyway.
It’s as if his eyes follow you round the room. Well, his eye dents, anyway.

It’s nearly over. The extended farrago over who’s better than who and the flood of yet more pointless platitudes from the supposedly great and good of Hollywood comes to an end for another year in the early hours of Monday morning UK time, with the 497th Academy Awards (probably). It’s not been a bad year for films, and the awards voters in Hollywood have got a lot more right than wrong this year. Gradually, the large field of contenders has been whittled down to just nine, through a process of expensive advertising and devious marketing, and the times when The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty, The Monuments Men, Saving Mr. Banks or The Counselor were being considered seriously for awards greatness – in other words, before people actually saw them – have long since passed, and we’re now firmly at the business end. In just over two days, Hollywood will allow a select band of people to upgrade to “Academy Award Winner” when they’re mentioned in trailers for serious films, while a host of others will have to remain content with “Academy Award Nominee” or, somewhat inexplicably the best he can yet do, “BAFTA Award Nominee / SAG Award Nominee / Independent Spirit Award Winner Paul Dano”.

For the third time in the four years that the blog has been running, I’ve managed to see all of the nominees in all of the big eight categories (picture, director, acting, writing) by the time the awards happen, compared to the two occasions I could claim that before I started blogging. However, this has led me occasionally to be sat in front of a film simply so I could claim a full house on my Oscar bingo card – mainly because I like to feel informed when I criticise the Academy for its poor decision making – but this year my only real regret was seeing The Butler about two days before it seemed to lose all of its awards momentum. At least I got to claim a full house at BAFTA as well, and I could answer the question as to whether Oprah Winfrey deserved a nod ahead of June Squibb. (Answer: no. I’m sure Oprah will be crying herself to sleep on a giant bed made of money and success at my decision.)

The process has, inevitably, thrown up a few films that should have got more love, but were inhibited either by their very nature or by the resistance of their distributors to spend flipping great wodges of cash taking out ten page ads in Variety asking voters to please, please, pretty please remember their film when casting their vote for Best Art Direction or Sound Editing. In a different year, with a slightly different sensibility, or if the Academy actually understood what people in general mean by “Best”, we might have seen Short Term 12 (too indie), Frozen (too animated), Prisoners (it looked too generic from the trailer – it wasn’t), The Great Beauty and The Hunt (too subtitled, even when one stars an actual person famous to Americans in Mads Mikkelsen), Iron Man 3 (too mainstream), The Act Of Killing (documentaries should know their place, apparently), Inside Llewyn Davis (too miserable without being melodromatic) or Before Midnight (too sequel-y). All of them are better than the first three on this list, Before Midnight better than most, but we should at least be grateful the list we do have doesn’t have any real stinkers in it.

So, for the third time in four years, here’s my ordering of the nominees for Best Picture, from least best to most best.

The Least Best Picture is Dallas Buyers Club

Dallas Buyers Club

We should all be duly relieved when something of the quality of Dallas Buyers Club is the least of the nominees in a given year. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot to enjoy about Dallas Buyers Club: the performances of both Jared Leto and Matthew McConaughey are excellent and I wouldn’t begrudge either the awards they’re nominated for (although they’re not necessarily the best). Details of Ron Woodroff’s real life may have been somewhat sketchy, leading to this being a little more myth-making than accurate reporting, but it’s the kind of story that needs a little myth-making when all’s said and done.

There are three main problems with Dallas Buyers Club. First is the lack of other characters: Jennifer Garner – who, apropos of nothing, looks amazing for 41 and being married to Ben Affleck – only develops into a living, breathing character around the halfway mark, and no-one else gets a look in; the lack of character development for Ron’s fellow club worker Denise, for example, is almost breathtaking. Secondly, it’s a story in need of a better ending, saddled with a feeling of anticlimax. And thirdly, although it has no bearing on the quality of the finished product, there really should be an apostrophe in that title.

Which is not as good as American Hustle

Christian Bale;Amy Adams

American Hustle is the movie equivalent of a decent Chinese takeaway: satisfying and enjoyable while you’re consuming it, but for some reason leaves you unfulfilled not long after. Much of what there is to enjoy is down to the performances, from Bradley Cooper’s tightly wound FBI agent to Christian Bale’s sleazy conman. While Jennifer Lawrence might be a little miscast, it would take a genuine curmudgeon to take too much offence with her stroppy headbanging, but the real highlight is Amy Adams once again twisting any man in a five mile radius round her little finger.

But beyond the quality of the acting, the rest feels as threadbare as Christian Bale’s wig / comb-over combo. There feels little new  about the story or its handful of twists, and David O. Russell’s direction lacks the narrative drive or visual flair of many of his contemporaries. It’s undoubtedly in awards contention thanks to the quality of the performances and the large voting bloc that the actors make up in the Academy, but whether or not that support will carry Hustle to the big prize remains to be seen. It won’t quite be a Crash-level shock if it does, but it will be almost as unjustified.

Which is not as good as Philomena

Philomena

I have to confess that I was checking my watch around an hour into Philomena. It wasn’t for any lack of enjoyment, as Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope’s script was doing an efficient job of pitching up the cultural differences between Coogan’s journalist Martin Sixsmith and Judi Dench as the titular Catholic mother looking for the son taken from her decades earlier, but it had never quite caught fire. Treading a tricky line between serious issue drama and gentle Brit comedy, it wasn’t so much that it couldn’t decide which to settle on, more that it was content to be a reasonable example of both.

But the power of Philomena comes in the last third, when the true nature of events has unfolded and the gentle events of the first two acts actually work to blind side you to what’s coming. Dench is, unsurprisingly, outstanding but Coogan also proves his dramatic chops and shown that he can be more than just Alan Partridge. It was a good year for Coogan, with Partridge’s big screen foray also being well received, and stranger things have happened than Philomena picking up a screenplay award in the big shakedown.

Which is not as good as Nebraska

Nebraska

Alexander Payne is becoming a reassuring brand of quality, but after the slight dip of The Descendants – hamstrung by too much repetition of scenes of explaining that someone had died – Payne has once again found his groove with a slice of family life in the American Midwest. Pulling in a wide variety of family members, it’s a slightly skewed road trip led by Bruce Dern’s befuddled father insisting that he’s come up trumps in the lottery. While Dern has drawn the lion’s share of the acting plaudits, June Squibb also has an Oscar nomination for her efforts and Will Forte has redeemed himself for a fair chunk of over-the-top comedy performances with his restrained showing.

But it’s not just the director that’s pulled his weight. Bob Nelson’s script feels so in tune with Payne’s sympathies I did a double take when seeing Payne didn’t write it as the end credits scrolled. Phedon Papamichael’s black and white cinematography also avoids cliché and justifies the decision for monochrome shooting, and Nebraska is beautifully paced and allows you to fall in love with its characters despite their flaws. It looks as if nominations are the best that Nebraska can hope for, but against the quality of the opposition, there’s no shame in that.

Which is not as good as Captain Phillips

Captain Phillips

It wouldn’t be the Oscars if there wasn’t a huge and unfair omission from the list, and probably the person most justifiably allowed to bear a grudge – even though he already has two shiny gold man-shaped bookends at home – would be Tom Hanks. Stoic and restrained for the majority, his performance in the denouement is gripping and fearlessly honest, and to not even take a nomination is a shame. Paul Greengrass also does his usual bang-up job with the direction, and if that award wasn’t filled with so many strong contenders he would have also been worth a nomination.

Captain Phillips is taut and compelling in all the ways that Greengrass’s earlier features, from United 93 to the Bourne films, were and that his previous film Green Zone wasn’t, so if nothing else it’s just a relief to see Greengrass back on top form. He’s also pulled some great performances from his Somali novices, and Barkhad Abdi is a standard bearer for that part of the cast. Captain Phillips avoids any feelings of exploitation and gives a balanced view of the story, as is so often the case with Paul Greengrass, but it’s not quite at the level of those earlier classics.

Which is not as good as Her

Her

Observation 1: Joaquim Phoenix and Amy Adams should always make films together, if The Master and Her are the benchmark of the quality of their collaborations. They get a lot more screen time together, and while Scarlett Johansson’s OS is the object of Phoenix’s affections, it’s Adams that gives him a warm, balanced human interaction. Observation 2: Spike Jonze, we’ve missed you. Only one film since Adaptation in 2002, let’s hope that Jonze can find more stories that inspire him, especially as Her shows that the quality of his writing is easily the equal of his directing and feels in tune with his earlier work from other writers.

Observation 3: Even five years ago, it’s difficult to imagine a film like this working as well as it does, but Jonze’s timing is impeccable, our acceptance of technology now enabling us to accept such a concept so readily. Despite being saddled with the most unlikely name in the history of movies and facial hair that verges on comedic, Theodore Twimbly draws in your sympathies and you find yourself rooting for his and Samantha’s relationship to work. Observation 4: What keeps this from true greatness is the slightly fudged ending, which while being brave enough doesn’t quite feel as fully formed as the rest of the film.

Observation 5: Any film that can actually make me start to like Arcade Fire is doing something clearly right.

Which is not as good as The Wolf Of Wall Street

The Wolf Of Wall Street

It’s three hours, Matthew McConaughey is relegated to an extended cameo and it’s been accused of not being sympathetic enough to the victims while its misogyny poorly serves the female characters. Does that stop it being one of Martin Scorcese’s top tier films? Not in my view. The length works in its favour, giving true scope to the true excess that defined Jordan Belfort’s era of ultimate debauchery. It would have been lovely to have more of McConaughey, but there’s enough in the other characters, from DiCaprio’s physical comedy to Johan Hill’s cheesy grin and a whole array of entertaining supporting turns.

The sympathy for the victims is trickier, as we only see one person being sucked into the scheme, but whereas the comparisons to Goodfellas are well founded, that was an indictment of a lifestyle on the fringes of society. The Wolf Of Wall Street is more of a condemnation of the culture that arose, and where the desperate needs of so many allowed them to be so easily exploited by Belfort and his cronies. As for the treatment of female characters, this is a realisation of Belfort’s view, and to attempt to give a politically correct balance to the characters would have undermined the callousness of Belfort’s world. It isn’t quite Goodfellas, but frankly, what is? When Scorcese’s legacy comes to be written, this should deserve a decent paragraph.

Which is not as good as Gravity

GRAVITY

Watching the making of videos for Gravity serves to underline quite what a technical achievement Alfonso Cuaron’s film is. The sheer level of new techniques, melded with established practices pushed to their very limits, creates a cinematic experience unlike any which have gone before and despite the success of space-based epics such as Avatar and 3D improvements like Life Of Pi, Gravity is immersive and impressive in ways that truly haven’t been seen before, and as much as I’m about to rave about 12 Years A Slave in the next section, I can’t help but feel for his breadth of vision and the clarity of his purpose, Cuaron deserves the best director award this year.

The story is painted with broad strokes but deals in metaphor and has slightly alienated some; there are no shortage of character moments, and Sandra Bullock has overcome the technical challenges imposed by the role to deliver a sympathetic study in loneliness. It will be remembered for what’s seen – and to a certain extent, what’s heard, as the music and sound design complement the visuals perfectly – but the quality of the other departments, in both writing and acting, doesn’t in any way let the side down. Gravity is one of a number of films touring cinemas as part of awards season, so if you haven’t seen it on the big screen yet, don’t let the chance pass you by, and make sure to see it in 3D.

The Best Picture Of 2013 is 12 Years A Slave

12 Years A Slave

I’ve been a fan of Steve McQueen’s cinematic work since his first film, Hunger, and I rated Shame as my film of the year in 2012. You can understand that I then approached 12 Years A Slave with a little trepidation: as McQueen edges ever closer to the mainstream, would his vision be compromised? Could his third film possibly live up to the hype? Such questions seem almost trivial once you’ve seen the film, and McQueen has once again delivered a near perfect blend of his own direction, coupled with an acting masterclass and a script that judges just the right moments to deliver a searing portrayal of life in the slave trade.

I’ve been known to cry in the cinema before, from the heartbreak of the final meal in Of Gods And Men to the tragedy of a life told in montage in Up. It is fair to say that I am in touch with all of my emotions once I’m in the darkened environs of a cinema. With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that 12 Years A Slave completely destroyed me. Rather than sobbing, tears just streamed down my face at regular intervals, I had to sit in the car for best part of half an hour while I composed myself afterwards and required a beer at the hotel I was staying at for work afterwards to enable me to sleep.

McQueen’s shot composition is from the man of a mind that grew out of art galleries but is now equally comfortable in cinemas. Here he proves beyond any doubt that he’s equally invested in his characters, portrayed as they are so devastatingly by the likes of Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender and Lupita Nyong’o. John Ridley’s script has a wonderful ear for the dialogue of the era, and 12 Years A Slave is supremely dramatic and heartbreaking without ever feeling overwrought. The only misstep might be the inclusion of producer Brad Pitt in a small role, but that’s easily forgivable given the offscreen influence he’s likely to have been able to bring to getting this made. If 12 Years A Slave wins big, then McQueen shouldn’t have any difficulty attracting whoever he wants for his next project.

12 Years A Slave is an aspect of slavery rather than a complete picture, as last year’s Django Unchained and Lincoln also explored different facets. But it exceeds either of those films in its insight into both human suffering and ultimately compassion, tinged with hope as much as it is burdened by suffering and anger. In my view, Steve McQueen has now made the two most compelling films I’ve seen this decade, and I can only hope that Hollywood shares this feeling and duly rewards it tonight.

Previous years:

A Guide To What’s Actually The Best Picture 2012

A Guide To What’s Actually The Best Picture 2010

Oscars Countdown: The Hunt For Recognition

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Rachel couldn't stop laughing at pulling out the unexpected Z, but deep down she was saddened by the shonky quality of my Photoshopping.
Rachel couldn’t stop laughing at pulling out the unexpected Z, but deep down she was saddened by the appallingly shonky quality of my Photoshopping.

At the end of a week when we’ve seen the first major awards handed out and the nominations for the gold shiny bald men unleashed upon an expectant world, it’s a good time to reflect on how well the voters of the various awards bodies have done in providing recognition for the films that deserved it. The Golden Globes and the Oscars represent opposite ends of the spectrum: the Globes voted for by 100 obscure journalists in a ceremony that has taken on an importance inversely proportional to its voting body. While you might knock the Oscars – and I have, repeatedly, during my time writing this blog – everyone wants to put some semblance of order into what’s been released and to reward those who’ve achieved in their fields, and given my plethora of year-end lists each year I’d be a touch hypocritical if I were to dismiss completely the opportunity for others to do likewise.

But the Oscars are the culmination of a season that has become as much of a campaign for votes as any political election, maybe more so given that only around 6,000 people are eligible to vote. Words such as journey, importance and momentum will get bandied about repeatedly over the next six weeks, and every single lesser award ceremony will be pored over by showbiz journalists with nothing better to do than to speculate on the outcome. There have already been casualties – step forward Tom Hanks, this year’s Ben Affleck (and that’s not a sentence I ever thought I’d say) – but while for some it’s too late, for the lucky few the real campaign starts in earnest, with a prize of up to $30 million at the US Box Office alone for those getting the “Oscar bump” of extra recognition through a nomination or a win.

I’ve written before about the main failings of the Oscars: they tend to skew away from the films that sit too close to the mainstream, they generally segregate foreign language films and animation to the margins and they have notoriously short term memories. Partly, the last of those points must be down to the need to get that bump while a film is still in cinemas and not released on DVD, which means a release in the last month of the year gives a distinct edge, but some will also quote the benefits of momentum which is crucially lost if your film was released six months ago. These days, the most prominent campaigns start with films released around the festival season in September / October, that ride a wave of acclaim across Toronto, Venice or London and then are unleashed on the general public just in time to start picking up awards nominations.

Is this year any better, then? Three guesses, but you’ll only need one.

Oscars Countdown The Hunt 1

Listed on the left are this year’s nine Best Picture nominations. The Academy will select anything between five and ten, as long as they achieved at least 5% of the vote (hence only having nine nominations for the past three years). I’ve then also assembled the top ten lists from film sites Letterboxd and the Internet Movie Database, which anyone can vote for, and Metacritic which aggregates critic reviews. (Letterboxd tends to skew more middle class while the IMDb typically has a more mainstream slant, so I’ve included them both for balance.) Three films – 12 Years A Slave, Her and Gravity – manage to appear on all four lists, so logic would suggest that they should be the front runners, yet many are considering this a two horse race between 12 Years and American Hustle. American Hustle appears to have in its favour the fact that it’s secured acting nominations in all four categories for the second David O. Russell film in a row and that it picked up the Golden Globe for best comedy, as well as a handful of critical awards prior to that. It overlooks the fact that the general public haven’t taken to it at all, so it would seem to be this year’s film reliant heavily on the actors that make up a decent chunk of the 6,000 members.

What the Academy voters have then done follows their usual pattern: firstly, no populist films, so no Hobbit or Hunger Games which the general public loved. They’ve also not picked any animations, although that may be fairer this year as while Frozen and The Wind Rises sat just outside the other three lists, none gained enough of a consensus to feel hard done by. Those films released earlier in the year, such as Before Midnight, get just a handful of nominations in smaller categories. But the biggest injustice remains that of the exclusion of foreign films, with The Hunt hit by the double whammy of actually being released in 2012.

Yes, the Oscars continue to be The World Championships Of American And British Film And Occasionally Something Australian Or Foreign If You’re Lucky. But don’t take my work for it on just being this year: here’s the same breakdown for the previous four years, since the Best Picture Oscar expanded from five to ten films, and once again with the comparable lists from Letterboxd, IMDb and Metacritic. I’ve highlighted any films not primarily in English, and it’s just the Academy voters that can’t find a way to embrace films not in English.

Oscars Countdown The Hunt 2

Only once in five years has a film not in English cracked the Best Picture nominations. While the Academy award nominations are in alphabetical order the other lists are in vote order, so the top pick of both the general public and critics in 2011 (A Separation) failed to crack the Oscar nominations. (About Elly also got neglected, and his latest effort The Past didn’t even make the Foreign Language category this year.) In fact, only nine foreign films have ever managed a nomination for the big prize: Grand Illusion (1938), Z (1969), The Emigrants (1972), Cries And Whispers (1973), Il Postino (1995), Life Is Beautiful (1998), Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), Letters From Iwo Jima (2006) and Amour (2012). That’s a rate of less than 2% of the nominations over the lifetime of the Oscars, and when you consider that the top film lists on the other sites all have a rate in double figures, it’s Oscars ought to be taking a long, hard look at themselves.

If you’re a film in a non-English language, the odds are stacked against you from the start of even winning the Best Foreign Language award. The qualifying window runs from October to September – the reason we’ve got The Hunt in the Best Foreign Language category this year, and not Blue Is The Warmest Color), and having a three month longer lead time will put a dent in the hopes of the best films, even before you consider the marketing budget needed to compete on a level playing field. If you’re being considered for the award, then first you’ll need to secure your country’s nomination – as each country is only allowed to put forward one film per year – and then you’ll need to make the initial shortlist of nine. From there, a thirty member committee whittles the list down to five by watching the nominees, and then you can vote for the final winner if you’re an Academy member and are willing to see all five of the nominations in a cinema. Good luck to anyone trying to navigate through that process, you’re going to need it.

The only way I can see to end this farce would be to scrap the Foreign Language Oscar completely, and to do away with the October to September window. If foreign language films were allowed to compete on a level playing field, and if they could secure enough backing to get a campaign off the ground, then maybe we’d see more rounded lists. In a parallel universe somewhere, the Academy did this five years ago when they expanded from five films, and the Best Picture nominee lists have looked like this for the past five years (based on the best performers across the current Oscar nominations and the Letterboxd, IMDb and Metacritic lists). I’ll leave it to you to work out whether or not you prefer these lists to the actual nominations; the films in green are in both the actual Oscar list and these, and the mauve are once again the foreign language films. Let me know what you think; for now we can only dream of a world as well rounded as this one.

Oscars Countdown The Hunt 3

Oscars Countdown: The Oscar Scorecard Of Discontent

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Seriously, what's the point of him hosting if he can't get me a nomination?
Seriously, what’s the point of him hosting if he can’t get me a nomination?

Oscars tonight, which you already knew unless you’ve been living in a hole for the past two months. If you’re watching, I’m hoping it’s because (a) you’re a fan of Seth MacFarlane or (b) because you’re on nights, have the Sky Movies package and really nothing better to do, because if you’re watching because you think your favourite films are all going to be suitably rewarded this evening when two dozen lumps of gold-plated pewter are given to those deemed most socially acceptable by their peers.

So you’ve got two options tonight if you are watching: be generally affronted by the inability of thousands of people who spend their entire lives making films to understand what’s good and what’s not in the way that rational people can, or be specifically affronted. If you’re bothered enough for the latter, then may I present my Oscar Scorecard Of Discontent.

It’s simple enough: I’ve taken the ten most discussed awards of the night, and broken each one down into four categories.

Will Win: my tip for what will take the award. Feel free to come back and judge me when I get this horrendously wrong.

Should Really Win: In that terrifying alternate reality where everyone is like me, these films win. But in that reality, I actually win all of the awards anyway. Yay me!

Must Not Win Or I Will Sulk All Day Monday: While none of these are necessarily bad films or performances, they are the ones I’ve arbitrarily deemed least worthy in their respective categories, so my sense of injustice will burn that much brighter. I don’t think it will happen, but if more than a couple of these pick up awards, my deep-seated funk may well last until midweek.

Should Have Been Nominated: Not saying these would have won, although some like The Master and Marion Cotillard clearly would have done in Parallel Universe Where I Govern Supremely.

Oscar Scorecard

If you’ve got as many unexplained anger issues as I clearly have, then feel free to have your own blank copy to fuel your own righteous indignation come Monday morning. You’re welcome.

Blank Oscar Scorecard

Oscars Countdown: A Guide To What’s Actually The Best Picture 2012

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Long may Rachel Riley keep at Countdown, so I can keep rolling out my dodgy Photoshopping each year.
Long may Rachel Riley keep at Countdown, so I can keep rolling out my dodgy Photoshopping each year.

Oscar time again, and the seemingly never ending procession of women in expensive frocks and men in generally indistinguishable dinner jackets all hoping to go home clutching a shiny bauble or two is nearly over for another year. Thankfully sanity has been restored and the Razzies have returned to their traditional date of Oscar Eve, so they and the Independent Spirit Awards get dished out today, before we get to the main event on Sunday night. While the nominations get revealed before most of Hollywood is sipping their first skinny latte of the day, meaning that we get to watch them in Blighty during the day, the same consideration isn’t given to us Brits for the awards themselves so most of us, myself included, will be tucked up in bed by the time Seth MacFarlane strides out to face his audience.

It’s the most tempted I’ve been for a few years to stay up and watch the awards, given the participation of the intermittently reliable MacFarlane and the fact that I’ve seen every film or performance in all nine of the major categories, for I think the first time ever. (I’m referring to Picture, Director, the four acting and two screenplay categories and best animated, in case you were wondering.) It’s only the fourth time I’ve managed to claim a full set on Best Picture before the awards themselves, so 2012 will go down in history with 1997, 2005 and 2010 as years I’ve claimed a full house and can pass a fully qualified opinion on how wrong Oscar’s voters have got it this year.

But I won’t be staying up, because Oscar will get it wrong. Oscar gets it wrong about 19 years out of each twenty, as I scientifically worked out last year, and I don’t believe this year will be any different. So here again, as I did two years ago, I present my guide to What’s Actually The Best Picture (of those nominated) 2012. Feel free to tell me how wrong I’m getting it in the comments section, but remember kids: this is just an opinion, no more or less valid than that of 6,000 people who actually do this for a living. Probably.

The Least Best Picture is Silver Linings Playbook

Silver Linings Playbook

It has great performances from Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro and especially Jennifer Lawrence, but Silver Linings Playbook is muddled at best, grafting a confused look at various misdiagnosed mental illnesses to an enjoyable but cheesy and predictable romance. It’s not hard to see how it got a nomination, as it ticks pretty much every one of the Academy’s boxes, and the achievement of picking up nominations in every major category is a significant one, but if there’s any justice then that’s the most that Silver Linings will be remembered for. While Jennifer Lawrence isn’t the best performance, either nominated or not, she’s the one win that wouldn’t be begrudged.

Which is not as good as Beasts Of The Southern Wild

Beasts Of The Southern Wild

To describe Beasts as interesting almost feels to be damning it with faint praise, but that’s about the best I can say. Many have been beguiled by its supposed charms, with a mix of admittedly impressive performances from non-actors and a fantastical story set among the aftermath of Katrina, but for my money the realism and fantasy never quite gel to any level of satisfaction. That shouldn’t diminish the achievement of the more realistic parts of the storytelling, but for me this marks out Benh Zeitlin, Quevenzhane Wallis and Dwight Henry as talents to watch, rather than the fully formed articles.

Which is not as good as Zero Dark Thirty

Zero Dark Thirty

Zero Dark Thirty has one of the best performances of the year in the form of Jessica Chastain. She put together a fantastic run last year as well, from a scene-stealing turn in The Help to the supportive, desperate wife in Take Shelter, and if anything her simmering, nuanced performance here is better than any of them. This discussion isn’t Best Actress, though, it’s Best Picture, and Zero Dark Thirty has managed to rule itself out with its slightly iffy political stance and controversy. I still feel that Zero does look the other way a little too much and doesn’t deal with consequence as much as it should; while the impartiality is commendable, just a shade too much agreement with the methodologies of the CIA slips through the net. (Also, as much as I love him I think the world may end if John Barrowman’s ever in a Best Picture winner.)

Which is not as good as Les Misérables

Les Miserables

Take one hot director coming off the back of his own award winning film, a variety of top Hollywood talent with a marked difference in their singing styles which probably won’t gel together particularly well and a grand total of two camera positions, and throw them into the mix with one of the most beloved musicals of the last thirty years, and what do you get? A crowd pleaser, to be sure, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t on the verge of shedding a tear by the end, but Les Miz is too reverential with its source material to make any attempt to address the structural issues with both stage musical and novel to truly satisfy as a narrative. Mind you, I think I’ll still be humming “Do You Hear The People Sing?” this time next year. Maybe by then I’ll have learned more of the words, too.

Which is not as good as Argo

Argo

I’m not greedy. I know that several thousand Hollywood types will never manage to agree on the sensible choice (indeed, you’ll notice that the film at the end of this list was only fifth on my best of the year last year), so if the Best Picture award does go to a film ranked 9/10 or better in my book, I’ll take that as a reasonable success. That means that I’ll be happy if anything from this point on the list onwards wins, I’ll be reasonably satisfied, but none of that will make up for the ridiculousness of not nominating Ben Affleck for Best Director. I didn’t rate The Town hugely, but certainly Argo and Gone Baby Gone show a man who’s found his true home behind the camera, and I think nomination and win are both well within his capability in future years. But for my money, they may as well start engraving the gold baldie now, for I can’t see past Argo to win the real award tomorrow night.

Which is not as good as Lincoln

Lincoln

It’s in danger of becoming a cliché, and it’s maybe why I’ve struggled to come up with a review for this one as of yet, but it’s absolutely true: Daniel Day-Lewis IS Abraham Lincoln. If you invented time travel and plucked the real man out of history, I doubt anyone would find him more convincing than this supreme performance from the man who is the finest actor of our, and arguably any, generation. It’s not a one performance film, and it has possibly the finest array of beards ever committed to cinema, but what holds Lincoln back from true greatness is an incredibly talky, expository first hour which stifles any forward momentum before Spielberg manages to balance his elements and deliver a rousing finale. It also has the problems with endings which have blighted the Berg’s films for the last twenty years, but that should come as no surprise.

Which is not as good as Amour

Amour

I still feel I’m doing Amour something of a disservice, but I just can’t escape the feeling that Amour isn’t providing radical new insight into the pain and suffering endured by watching a loved one slowly disintegrate before your eyes, while you stand helpless on the sidelines. It is the first film to truly expose that raw nerve and capture that experience in unflinching detail, with superb performances from Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva, and it might be the best chance Michael Haneke has to ever win the Best Director Oscar, an award which would be suitable recognition for the compelling body of work he’s assembled in his career. (Would also be worth it to see what the fake Twitter Haneke comes up with next lol.)

Which is not as good as Django Unchained

Django Unchained

Prior to this, I believe that Quentin Tarantino had made two cast iron classics that will endure well past our lifetimes, in Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill, Vol. 1. This is the hat-trick film, perfectly blending a set of performances that could have filled the Best Supporting Actor category in a weaker year with Tarantino’s rich and joyous dialogue. That the slave narrative, which could have sat ill at ease with the more exploitative elements of the revenge fantasy, actually serves to enhance the overall ensemble is testament to how good a film maker Tarantino has become, and he finally proves that he can weave gold with a straight line narrative without needing to jump back and forth or rely on extraneous subplots. He’s even seemingly accepted his own limitations as an actor, cheekily making his own role even more ridiculous, but the sad omission from Oscar night of a Best Horse award means that Tony and Fritz will go home empty handed. Criminal. Which means that… (fumbles with envelope)…

The Best Picture Of 2012 is Life Of Pi

Life Of Pi

Filming a supposedly unfilmable novel, and reaping massive box office success around the world? Check. Combining superb acting with huge effects work? Check. Asking fundamental questions about the nature of our existence and our beliefs? Check. A director who’s had one of the most diverse careers in Hollywood showing that he’s as good, if not better, when filming in three dimensions as he is in two? Check. Never more convincing performances from CGI and fake creatures interacting at close quarters with humans? Check. Not going to win Best Picture because the Academy is as clueless as usual? Check. Life Of Pi is my favourite of the nine nominated films this year, but if it wins Best Picture I’ll eat an actual tiger.

Oscars Countdown 2012: The People’s Choice

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Well, just a quick note to wish anyone staying up to watch the Oscars tonight good luck; I have a horrible feeling you’re going to need it, as I said last night. But let’s not forget that the Academy Awards are just that: a bunch of awards picked by people who make the films, or who at least used to, and consequently who should know better. But if the general public had their say, and by that I mean those committed enough to log their votes on The Internet Movie Database, then this is how the top nine films of the year would look:

9. Drive

Those sitting up tonight will be cheering Drive to the big prize. Forget Picture, Director (Nicolas Winding Refn), Actor (Ryan Gosling), Actress (Carey Mulligan) or Supporting Actor (Albert Brooks) – Drive could walk away with Best Achievement in Sound Editing (Lon Bender / Victor Ray Ennis). Surely some consolation?

8. The Help

Four nominations for this one: as well as Best Piccy, Viola Davis, Octavia Spenser and Jessica Chastain are all up for acting statues and it wouldn’t be a huge surprise if at least one, if not two, of them, picked up those statues before the night’s out.

7. Hugo

Eleven nominations, but chances are that Scorcese has the best outside shot of a win, being the most likely person to upset Michael Hava Havinac that French bloke. Sadly I’ve still not seen it, thanks to sold out showings in December.

6. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

Five nods for the American remake of the Swedish film that still felt the need to put on Swedish accents. Rooney Mara is the biggest name to get a shout, but both Fincher and the film itself missed out on the big prize. It’s not as good as the original – there, I’ve said it.

5. Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, Part 2

No Lord Of The Rings-style love-in for the end of Potter, which rattled off with eleven awards. Sadly Potter will have to be content with making Warner Brothers and J.K. Rowling filthy stinking rich.

4. Once Upon A Time In Anatolia

Hitting UK screens in March, this Turkish effort was one of over five dozen films submitted on the one per country basis for Best Foreign Language Oscar. Sadly the committee didn’t even put it on their nine film longlist – I look forward to see what Oscar overlooked.

3. Warrior

Nolte got a nod, but will likely lose out to Christopher Plummer in the career sympathy award. Sadly Tom Hardy, Joel Edgerton and the film, a totally unexpected crowd-pleaser with dramatic weight, didn’t charm the Academy.

2. The Artist

Lots of awards, cute dog, French winner, black and white, blah, blah, blah. Next!

(Yes, it’s extremely good and the most deserving nominated film. But…)

1. A Separation

If the American Academy could overcome its foreign bias (only eight foreign language films have ever been nominated for Best Picture, and the last of those was directed by Clint Eastwood), then A Separation should be celebrating success. Hopefully it can pick up some glory in the condescending foreign appeasement category.

There you have it – all that’s left is to wish everyone concerned the best of American luck. I’m off to bed, to sleep, perchance to dream of Drive or Shame winning Best Picture…

Oscars Countdown 2012: Another Fine Mess

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If the Oscars are good for one thing, it's at least the chance to roll out last year's dodgy Photoshopping one more time.

In a little over 24 hours, the eyes of the world will be on the Kodak Theater in Los Angeles for the handing out of this year’s two dozen tiny shiny bald gold men. Once upon a time, I would take the day off work the Monday after the Oscars so that I could be up all night, often in those days being glued to a tiny stream off the internet with a picture four inches wide, which was all my primitive internet connection could deal with, and watching with expectation and fascination while the awards were handed out. Then about four years ago I actually began watching enough films to have seen the majority of nominees, and quickly came to realise that a group of donkeys with pins tied to their hooves could do a better job of picking the best films and performances of the year than the Academy.

This article clearly breaks down the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts And Sciences (AMPAS) membership: the overall vote for Best Picture is voted for by the whole Academy, which if you’ve not clicked on the link is made up of a membership that’s 94% white, 77% male and 54% over 60 (and a crippling 98% over 40). I’m white, male and much too close to being over 40 for my liking, but my typical movie choices couldn’t be further from the conservative choices typically favoured by Academy voters. Consequently, looking back at the twenty years since I left school and went to university and started to get bitten by the film bug, I’ve been disappointed more often than not by the Academy’s picks. Take Best Picture for example.

Three columns. The first is the film which won Best Picture that year; the second column is, of the five or ten nominated films, the one I’d call my favourite, and the last column is my actual favourite film of that year, regardless of whether it’s in the nominated films or not. As you can see, there are only eight years of the last 20 when my favourite film has even made the nomination list, and only five when the film I enjoyed most of the nominees picked up the top award. Only in one year, 2007, did my top film of the year actually pick up the top prize of the year. One year in twenty, and that year There Will Be Blood lost out, so as many people will have disagreed with me as will have agreed.

Now, I’m not saying that I should be replacing Oscar as the definitive authority on what’s good and who’s worthy, although I probably couldn’t do any worse. No, the issue here is that there are three possible sources of enjoyment from watching the Oscar ceremony itself: to enjoy the ceremony itself, to marvel in the frippery of red carpets, fashion choices and Ryan Seacrests and to see what’s won. The last of these is undoubtedly the main purpose, the awards themselves being the Christmas cake to the icing of the ceremony and the strange marzipan that no-one ever eats on anything other than a Christmas cake that’s the red carpet. So if you’re not feeling the love for what actually wins the awards, is there any point in watching the Oscars, or at the very least sitting up all night to watch them?

Consequently Oscar night is more than likely to be a crushing disappointment for me, and this year is no exception. No Drive, Shame, Tinker Tailor or Take Shelter in Best Picture, no Michael Fassbender, Ryan Gosling or Tom Hardy in Best Actor or Olivia Coleman, Tilda Swinton or Kirsten Dunst in Best Actress, and the four big acting awards – which should go to the big names of George Clooney and Meryl Streep, and the talents of Jessica Chastain and Nick Nolte if justice is to be done – could well end up in the hands of Jean Dujardin and Viola Davis, Christopher Plummer and Octavia Spencer. Don’t get me wrong, I loved all four of those latter performances – even if the film I saw two of them in occasionally made me want to throw things at the screen – but for me they’re not the right choices, and the odds of all four prizes going to the names I’d like are about as high as Jack Nicholson turning feral and chasing the rest of the front row out of the auditorium.  When all the awards ceremony itself can offer up is rehashing Billy Crystal and excluding the performances of Best Original Song (“I’m a maaaan, I’m a MUPPEEEEEETTTTT!”), I’ll be heading for my bed at a normal time and picking out the bones from the latest fine mess in the morning. If you are staying up, best of luck, but I just hope you’re not in it for the winners; trust me, you’re going to be disappointed somewhere.

Oscar Meh Nominations Blah

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Oscar nominations were announced today. Most of the film industry has gone absolutely mad over them. I’m left wondering if the people who voted have actually seen half of these films. So here’s a little exercise. Listed below are the nine films nominated for Best Picture this year. I’ve seen the first five, and have ranked them in order, the other four are somewhat random.

  1. The Artist
  2. Midnight In Paris
  3. Moneyball
  4. The Help
  5. The Tree Of Life
  6. The Descendents
  7. Hugo
  8. War Horse
  9. Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close

Now here’s a list of eighteen films which weren’t nominated for Best Picture. Your task is to count how many films on the bottom list should have been on the top list, and consequently vice versa. If you can’t find at least four films to swap over, you’re doing it wrong.

  1. Shame
  2. Drive
  3. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
  4. Take Shelter
  5. Super 8
  6. We Need To Talk About Kevin
  7. A Separation
  8. Tyrannosaur
  9. Warrior
  10. Submarine
  11. Melancholia
  12. Senna
  13. Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes
  14. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
  15. The Ides Of March
  16. 50/50
  17. Bridesmaids
  18. Beginners

Excellent. If you’re not weeping into your cocoa at the sheer injustice of it all by now, then you have my pity.