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.
The Review: Star Trek: Generations. Police Academy: Mission To Moscow. Trail Of The Pink Panther. Movie geeks will often debate the merits of sequels, prequels, interquels and lots-of-other-made-up-word-quels, but you can be sure that any film series that’s already been to the well six times has already taken quite a lot of the well water. But the Muppets have done more than that; on and off TV for over forty years, with two Sesame Street films and two TV films as well as countless other ventures which didn’t have the name Muppet in them, so you could be forgiven for thinking that the Muppets had seen their time come and go. But what if the very nostalgia for the good times gone by was what could make The Muppets great again?
Jason Segel obviously craves that nostalgia, having tried to write a puppet Dracula adaptation while a struggling actor. Much of his back catalogue has also been filled with meditations on nostalgia or reflection, as well as themes of family and relationships, and The Muppets is built around two clear aims: to evoke an emotional response from a collective fondness for the Muppets, which might burn stronger in anyone old enough to remember the TV series from the first time around, and to explore the nature of relationships and relationships and themes of loyalty and love, using both the Muppets and their human counterparts. The early stages of the film are slightly more stylised than many previous outings, but after that The Muppets settles very much into the kind of formula established in the first three Muppet movies of the Seventies and Eighties.
Those formula elements include a small central human cast, in this case Segel and Amy Adams as the romantic couple whose trip to LA kicks off proceedings, and as both have form in this area both are well suited to their roles; Chris Cooper is more of a left-field choice as the nominal baddie, but has his moments to be allowed to chew scenery. There should also be a wide variety of smaller cameos, which indeed there are, although your recognition of some and enjoyment of many will depend on how much US TV you watch. The songs range from good to excellent, Flight Of The Conchords’ Bret McKenzie adapting his usual intense wordplay style to a more traditional musical feel, although there could possibly be time for one (or two) more of them. Finally, in terms of the Muppets themselves, unlike many other supposedly great Muppet films which end up sidelining their stars, Kermit and Miss Piggy are centre stage, and although a handful of the Muppets Tonight-era Muppets get a look in at various levels, it’s the traditional Muppets that form most of the cast, so fans of everyone from Rowlf to Scooter and Animal to Bunsen and Beaker should be satisfied with the screen time for their Muppet.
What sets this apart from previous films is that the self-referential, fourth-wall breaking comedy that typified the earlier films is not only in place here to drive many of the jokes (and the Eighties Robot is a source of lots of them alone), but by referencing back to the TV series and earlier films, and the love that the charactes themselves had for those films, that sense of nostalgia sought is powerfully evoked, and there are a selection of moments spread throughout the first half of the film that could move a few of the grown-ups in the audience to tears. But the Muppets have always been about the laughs, and the last act of the film, when the telethon to save the Muppets themselves is in full swing, captures the random anarchy of the Muppets at their very best. Almost as if someone could distill pure joy and bottle it, for Muppet fans this is an absolute treat; there is still the odd rough edge (a slightly rushed ending that’s still playing out when the credits have started rolling, for example), but for the Muppets it’s the seventh time that’s the charm.
Why see it at the cinema: My one caveat for this would be that it’s maybe not suitable for very young children, judging by the amount of fidgeting in the screening I was at. For everyone else, the laughs, the tears and the pitch perfect recreation of one very particular Muppet moment demand to be seen on the largest screen you can find.
The Score (out of 10):
Final ranking of the Muppet movies
1. The Muppets
2. The Great Muppet Caper
3. The Muppet Christmas Carol
4. The Muppet Movie
5. The Muppet Treasure Island
6. The Muppets Take Manhattan
7. Muppets In Space
When the history of mankind comes to be written, and man’s greatest achievements come to be listed, it won’t be fire, or the Pyramids of Giza, or the indoor toilet that stand proud at the top of the list. (It’ll probably be the iPhone, won’t it.) But standing in such illustrious company will be two things that could be the greatest combination since bread and slicing: James Bond films, and Blogalongabond. Illustrious and industrious blogger The Incredible Suit had one of those life-changing moments of inspiration in January of this year, upon realising that the release of Bond 23 was but 23 months away, and that blogging about all of the films would result in an average of precisely one a month.
Since then, BlogalongaBond has averted many potential tragedies, including (a) being called BlogalongaBond, which is a silly name, but no-one seemed to actually mind; (b) Bond 23 being brought forward by a month, which caused two days of mild panic before Mr Suit took the sensible decision to ignore it and carry on regardless; and (c) the fact that ITV are currently showing the films at the rate of one a week, which is generating lots of traffic now, but in about three weeks will create an unrealistic expectation in the readership of about two dozen varied bloggers. Well, I’m not writing one a week, you can forget it – it’s enough of a struggle writing one a month.
Despite this calendar based challenge proving such a struggle that I lasted precisely six months before I missed my first deadline, I always had a feeling that if a similar excellent film series lent itself to a similar calendar-based challenge, that it would be a shame to miss the opportunity. As if by chance, I found myself watching The Muppets Take Manhattan on the Bank Holiday last week, and got to wondering how many Muppet films there’d actually been. If you can’t see what’s coming next, then you’ve really not been paying attention…
Yes, The Muppets, the confusingly titled seventh theatrical release featuring Jim Henson’s creations arrives in theatres in America in November this year, but isn’t unleashed onto the British public until February 10, 2012. Just as many great TV series had their spin-offs, so has BlogalongaBond spawned another, which makes this the Frasier of cinematic blogging endeavours – or possibly the Joanie Loves Chachi of cinematic blogging endeavours if it all goes horriby wrong. You wouldn’t let that happen, would you?
What with us being in September now, that means that the BlogalongaSchedule looks like this:
- September – The Muppet Movie
- October – The Great Muppet Caper
- November – The Muppets Take Manhattan
- December – The Muppet Christmas Carol
- January – The Muppet Treasure Island
- February – Muppets In Space
- Also February – The Muppets
Which works out nicely as one a month, as long as you don’t mind doing what the Bond bloggers must do and writing about the new one in the same month as the last old one. But surely a little detail like that won’t let you stand in the way of the chance to watch all of the Muppet movies, will it?
In case you’re new to this, follow these simple steps to become part of the collective:
- Watch the movie for the month in question.
- Write about that movie on your blog.
- Post a link to that blog post on the Facebook page, which you’ll find here.
If you’re feeling industrious, and particularly into the Muppets, you could also share your thoughts on any of the following in addition to the regular schedule:
- The Muppet Show regular episodes
- Sesame Street
- Fraggle Rock
- Muppet Babies
- It’s A Very Muppet Christmas Movie (TV movie)
- The Muppet Wizard Of Oz (also TV Movie)
or the host of other Muppet related TV and video events from The Tale Of The Bunny Picnic to Kermit’s Swamp Years. But mainly, the point is to blog about the films. So you’ve got 24 days to track down and watch The Muppet Movie. You up for it?
Just in case you’re still not entirely convinced, allow me to present some clips, both classic and modern, to help seal the deal.
The Swedish Chef
Bunsen And Beaker
Pigs In Space – With The Cast Of Star Wars
The Muppet Movie – The Rainbow Connection
OK Go sing The Muppets Theme
Go on, you know you want to!
I set out this year to try to encourage people into the cinema again. As much as anything else, cinema as an experience is enhanced by having company, and I seem to be fortunate in that, by and large, the people who cohabit the cinemas that I attend generally observe the rules of etiquette that you would want, keeping their shoes on, not eating nachos too loudly and generally keeping pretty quiet. But one of my purposes was to encourage others to watch movies by sharing my opinions in the form of reviews, so I thought it would be interesting to see which of my reviews garnered most hits, and so most encouraged others to venture out.
So, here’s the list. If you work out what to make of it, do let me know, as I’m sure you’ll agree it’s a bit odd.
20. Winter’s Bone
19. London River
17. Certified Copy
16. The Expendables
14. The Rebound
13. The Crazies
12. The Illusionist
11. True Legend
10. Black Dynamite
9. Mr. Nice
7. Chico & Rita
6. Wild Target
5. Dark Souls
Over the past few years I’ve become more and more of a cinema obsessive, which is why you’re reading this blog now. But this year has made me realise how truly lucky I am; a loving wife, two low maintenance rabbits and a slightly petulant cat, all my own hair and three quarters of my own teeth, the rest sadly rotted away on a diet of cinema popcorn and fizzy drinks when I was younger. But for the last three years, I’ve really expanded my horizons and seen the films that looked interesting, even if they didn’t look like they’d be especially popular. It seems I’m pretty much on my own in doing that, or at least sometimes it feels like it.
If you live in a tiny town in the middle of nowhere, then you have my sympathy. But if you don’t, then you really should have been getting out this year to see more films like this. I see my job as to helping to encourage the masses on a similar journey to widen their horizons – thankfully, being able to write stuff like this on the internet saves me physically having to drag people off the street. (Although don’t think for one minute I haven’t given it serious consideration.) Next year, no excuses, and if you’re looking for a New Year’s resolution, then I suggest going to see at least one film that looks like your kind of thing but that you wouldn’t normally make the effort for. To help you in your decision making process, here’s 10 you should have seen this year.
You have to feel sorry for Andy Garcia. He hawked himself round what passes for chat shows on British TV these days, from everything from Top Gear to Loose Women, and for what? His best performance in nearly 20 years, an excellent Italian-American modern day farce with a wonderful cast, and the showing I was at – on a Saturday night, in a major multiplex – had four other people in, all of whom left after 20 minutes. Whoever you are, you missed a treat.
I saw my first surprise film this year, at the Cambridge Film Festival, and listening to the buzz from the audience beforehand, you would have thought it would be anything from Despicable Me to The Social Network. It turned out to be a rather grown-up animation about jazz in the Forties and lost love, but it would seem that springing this on people as a surprise is not only the best way to get people to see this, it might well be the only way.
In a year when readers of Empire voted Die Hard as their favourite Christmas movie, it’s clear that modern audiences like something a bit different in their Christmas stockings. I can only hope that more of you got to see this than at the screening I attended, which was sparse to say the least – this is a real Christmas treat, but one for those who still embrace a little of the cynical Ebeneezer in themselves. When Christmas is as commercial as it has become, then a little Finnish horror satire goes down a treat.
Here’s a movie that fought like a tiny David against the Goliath of cinematic distribution, creeping into art houses for occasional screenings whenever it could and spreading as much as possible by word of mouth. When one of those mouths belonged to one of the supporting cast, the excellent Jason Isaacs (and hello to Jason Isaacs, by the way), you would have thought people would be keen to track down a genuinely satisfying slice of Britishness. Well done to the special few who did.
So many American comedies these days end up being just “meh” rather than “ha-ha-ha”, so when one comes along that is consistently laugh out loud funny, it’s just unfortunate that the fact it’s a blaxploitation spoof seems to mean it struggles to get an audience. It’s a key example of where keeping an open mind (mainly about the fact that you only need the most passing of familiarity with the source material to get pretty much all of the jokes) can open you up to new and worthwhile cinematic experiences.
This is a prime example of keeping your eyes peeled for special events coming up at your nearest flicks, because there are often some hidden gems. Mark Cousins toured his wonderful documentary of his visit to an Iraqi village and his introduction to the power of cinema for the local children. Over twenty cities around the country were lucky enough to get not only the film, but to quiz Mark after the screening, and to understand the true passion that cinema can drive. If he can go to Iraq to do it, then surely a trip to your local cinema isn’t too much to ask.
There was much consternation when this beat out both A Prophet and The White Ribbon to the Foreign Language Oscar last year, mainly from people who freely admitted they hadn’t seen it, but it’s easily fit to sit in the same company as those other two (even if, admittedly, I would have given the Oscar to Haneke. But I digress). It’s a murder mystery and a love story that span twenty five years, and has probably the most audacious single shot of any film in the past few years. I can only assume that most people had decided that A Prophet and The White Ribbon must be better, and decided not to bother. Shame on you, frankly.
Now here’s a prime example of a movie that’s a hard sell. It’s Greek, kind of a drama but kind of a comedy, it creates a world and then makes its own rules and then exploits the possibilities of those rules to the fullest extent. It’s completely bonkers, vaguely incestuous and an incredibly uplifting but also savagely violent ending, like a sadomasochistic Shawshank Redemption. I can tell you’re tempted just by reading that, aren’t you? Well, some things defy marketing (just look at the poster if you don’t believe me) but everyone I’ve spoken to or read who’s seen this thoroughly enjoyed it. So how do you get people to watch it?
This is where I get so utterly frustrated at the distribution model we have in this country, and how hard it is for quality product to get an audience. This is a movie that graced barely a dozen cinemas in this country – it got to my local, but for one showing only. That showing was sold out, and was packed full of people, like me, blubbing their eyes out at the end of this incredible Plasticine animation, which tackles the difficult subject of mental illness head on and combines humour and sadness to impeccable effect. At the time of writing, it’s sitting at number 218 in the IMDb Top 250. Of all time. So why is it such a struggle to get people to watch?
But you know, it’s not too late. You might still be seeing the poster for this in your local cinema. The poster with quotes including “beautifully told story of bravery” and “an outstanding ensemble cast” on it. The poster with the fact that it won the Grand Prix at Cannes this year slap bang in the middle of it. That poster is still in 31 cinemas around the country as we speak. If it’s in one near you, then don’t miss out. (It’s got the French bloke off of The Matrix and the bad guy from Moonraker in it, if that helps. No?)
If you’ve read this, then thank you. Now help to restore my faith in humanity – please comment if you’ve seen at least one of these movies this year in a cinema. If not, then you know what your resolution needs to be.
Note to readers: if reading this blog in your head, or indeed out loud, you will get the most benefit from this post if your brain affects one of those nasal, John Major-style nerdy accents that signify the ramblings of a true geek. For we are about to get very geeky indeed.
At some point in the last three years, my movie going transcended from casual addiction to full-blown OCD. As with any good tradesmen, the movie obsessive-compulsive needs his tools, and in this age of t’internets and apps it’s easy to use technology to support that habit. I’ve used a few tools to effectively supplement my rampage through the finest picture houses of East Anglia and the surrounding countryside, but something that’s been an invaluable assistant for me for a few years now has been the humble spreadsheet.
I, like most other people, fall back on the unfortunately ubiquitous Microsoft Excel (other spreadsheet packages are available), and have used it in a number of ways over the years to support my habit. I’ll share a couple of those with you now, and hopefully they will inspire you, my faithful readership, to your own ways of advancing your own movie attendance to as yet unprecedented levels. (Or you can
I do use a number of online tools, such as the list functionality of My Movies at IMDb and also the Flixster element of Facebook, to keep track of what I’ve seen. But spreadsheets allow me to take that a stage further. For example, I downloaded my IMDb list for this year, and off the back of it ran up a quick pivot table of all of the movies I’d seen this year, up to the end of October, a total of 110. This allowed me to produce the following analysis on my ratings:
Firstly, this graph showing how many movies I’ve given each rating to – so no 1/10 movies (yet) this year, and a roughly normal distribution. Also plotted against this is the IMDb average score for those movies, so you can see that my views are, on average, roughly a reflection of the average moviegoer, although I do appear to have a soft spot for some 4/10 showings that others weren’t so sympathetic to. Thrilling, I’m sure you’ll agree. Even
less more interesting is this:
Here I’ve used the pivot table functionality to compare the location of my cinema attendance against the language that I saw movies in while there. Oddly, while you can see I’ve gotten a fair bit of travel in to feed my habit this year, I’ve only seen foreign language movies in Cambridge, with the singular exception of Journey to Mecca at the IMAX which mixed up Ben Kingsley and some Arabic. Fascinating.
Still awake? Good. I’m sure in the fullness of time I will come up with many other ways to carve up that data, such as the number of amimated movies I’ve seen while wearing a scarf or the total distance I’ve travelled to see movies with cats in, all of which just continue to feed my obsession. But spreadsheets not only allow me to dissect my habit to the finest level of detail – I have also regularly used them to make sure I maximise my viewing opportunities as well.
For you don’t see 118 movies in a little under eleven months by just popping in to the odd one or two. I’ve seen as many as seven in a day in previous years, although my record this year is just a humble four, but I have done that three times. But sometimes, navigating the long listings of the local cinemas, especially given that there are 31 screens in the five cinemas I most often frequent, proves a challenge in getting the most films in during the time I have available. So any time I want to have a cinema session, I break out the spreadsheet:
This is a sample planner that I whipped up a couple of weeks ago to help plan a day’s cinema visits. I had from the start of the day until I met my wife at around 9:30 p.m. to get as many in as possible, and so picked out the five movies I was most interested in. You’ll see that there are columns to enter the name, start time and duration of the film, which I tapped in manually, then also the likely duration of the trailers and ads. Two reasons for this: it does vary from cinema to cinema, and if you’re engaged in a marathon, you don’t want to sit through the same ads over and over.
The next two columns are formulas, to then work out when the actual movie starts and finishes, and then the final column at the beginning is a drop-down selector to allow me to toggle on and off whether I’m seeing the movie or not. Then, reading across, you’ll see I’ve made five minute slots across the day. There are formulas in each cell that then graphically plot out the trailers (indicated by a T) and the movie itself (indicated by an M) of the movies themselves. This way, I can use the yes / no toggle on the left to show each movie graphically and then work out how to keep the gaps to a minimum. Using this, I got four in that day, and the four which were my first choices (Saw 3D being a back-up to fill time if I couldn’t make a decent list of the others in the time available).
I’d love to find the time to evolve this spreadsheet a bit. There’s a few things, such as travel time, it would be nice to add in to make sure I’m mapping the experience correctly, as I have to navigate from cinema to cinema as well as from screen to screen. I’d like to scrape the data directly from the cinema’s websites, rather than go through the tedious process of typing in start times and film names. And I’d also like to automate the selection process, getting Excel to work out suggested itineraries for me, rather than me using this to make manual guesses. All possible with my own Excel and VBA skills, it’s just a case of having the time.
Just in case you’d find any of this useful, and if you are as much of a geek as me, then you have my sympathies. You are also welcome to have my spreadsheet, to do with what you will.
If you are as much of a geek as me, I’d love to know what you get up to with your spreadsheets. May the geeks rise up and take over the cinema!
I was at the IMAX last week watching Inception. The movie reached the final scene, got the usual gasps and howls of frustration as the title card came up, and then as the music started, everyone got up and started to move. The lady sat next to me turned to her partner and simply said, “Do you want to stay and watch the end credits? Is there anything at the end?”
I know that reaction; I’ve lived with it for nearly ten years. As I’ve descended into further and further levels of movie geekery and obsessiveness, my girlfriend was sat on the sidelines. It’s not stopped her becoming my fiancée and, five years ago, my wife, but somehow she’s stuck with me through thick and thin.
So far this year, I’ve seen 61 movies in an actual cinema, and four of those twice (in two of those cases, to take her to movies I’d already seen). Her tally is 9 for this year; against my 52 last year she managed 13. She is not averse to getting in two in one day, as long as we get something to eat in between, and I did manage to get her into three in one day a few years back (not in my league, of course, but still an impressive achievement). But as you can see, I do end up seeing the vast majority on my own.
We do try to structure our lives so I see movies when she’s doing other things, but if there’s something I really want to see she will actively encourage me to make the trip. For example, last week I made a journey down an hour of winding country roads to the town of Wisbech, as they had a tiny cinema down a back street that was showing Skeletons, and I hadn’t managed to make it to one of the four screenings in the more convenient Cambridge. She managed to find that cinema when I hadn’t (and if you’re in the area, The Luxe is well worth a visit).
When your partner, regardless of your respective genders and orientations, shows a commitment like that to your hobby, you know how much you love each other. When he / she puts up with your obsessive list making, blog starting and taking a week off work to spend time in a film festival, then you consider yourself very lucky indeed. If you have your own movie widow (or widower), don’t forget to show them your appreciation once in a while.
Seeing as many movies as I do at the cinema isn’t something you can do blindly or without careful preparation and planning. (Well, you could, but you’d have to be really not fussy about what you saw. All About Steve, anyone?) So there are a number of tools I use to help me decide what I’m going to spend my hard earned cash on. First and foremost among these is the Internet Movie Database, or IMDb for short.
Anyone who’s ever seen a film has probably been to that site, but not only does it contain masses of useful information on each film (as well as TV series, games, bus stops, kitchen sinks and the like), it can also be used to build up a useful profile of what you like and what you should be seeing. Read the rest of this entry »