The Social Network
Well, it’s almost upon us. The 2011 Academy Awards take place around six o’clock on Sunday evening, local time, or stupid o’clock on Monday morning for those watching on these shores, and two dozen of the frankly odd looking (well, they are) gold statues will be handed out to those deemed the most worthy recipients. There will be few people in attendance, though, that have seen every nominated film and can give a genuine view on the respective worthiness of each of the nominees; to be honest, for most people with busy lives seeing all of the nominations for Best Picture is enough of a challenge.
And for all my love of movies, rather shockingly only three times in my life have I managed to see all of the nominated films before tiny gold men were handed out. It gets easier every year, thanks partly to those people who don’t fork out the cash to watch films in the cinema, as piracy has reduced DVD and international release windows, so most of the films in question arrive on these shores either at the same time, or very close to, their debut in America.
Just two weeks to go until the annual climax to the Awards season, and we’re up to the BAFTAs this weekend. It’s easy to think of the Oscars as quite literally a marathon; thousands of runners, many of which are there to look stupid or make up the numbers, which are narrowed down as they can’t keep the pace, until there’s either a front-runner out on their own, slogging through the awards season like Paula Radcliffe, or there’s a couple which are competing in a nail biting finish right up to the line. At this point this year we have what has pretty much become a two horse race – it would seem that it’s either going to be The King’s Speech or The Social Network, unless something sneaks in and springs a Crash level of surprise at the last minute, like a charity runner in a comedy outfit beating out the professional athletes. There is one thing that stands out about both of these films, and indeed all but one of the Best Picture nominations this year – they’re all really, really short.
Well, not short in terms of the average film you see these days, but they are a lot shorter than the average Oscar winner of years gone by. Allow me to prove this with the use of a well placed graph.
The blue line indicates how long each Best Picture winner has been since the awards began in 1927. There’s a few where the lengths have varied over the years due to Director’s Cuts, studio interference and the like, but to be honest it doesn’t matter how many versions of Gone With The Wind they make, there’ll never be one short enough to remove the need to wear surgical stockings to avoid getting a DVT while watching it. The black line is the underlying trend, which as you can see got longer in the Fifties and then longer again through the Seventies and Eighties, but has been getting shorter since.
They key point in there has been the two hour mark (120 minutes if your mental arithmetic isn’t as sharp as you’d like). Only three winners of the biggest of the little gold men in the last two decades have been under that mark; they were The Silence Of The Lambs, Chicago and Crash, and on that basis not a suggestion that shorter films are a trend we should welcome. The midpoint average in those two decades is actually over two hours and ten minutes. But this year, we only have one film out of the ten which is over two hours:
To illustrate how short this year’s field are in comparison, looking at the bottom end, there have only ever been two winners shorter than 127 Hours (and they’re Annie Hall and Marty, in case you were wondering). Right, that’s the science bit out of the way, but what does it all mean? (Other than I spend more time coming up with pretty but pointless graphs than I really should, but of course you knew that already.) The key question is, of course, are these films getting shorter, and is it a trend we can expect to continue?
There was a view that Inception this year proved that audiences can cope with more demanding fare and that films don’t need to be dumbed down, but at the end of the year it’s proven to be the exception rather than the rule. What’s missing from many of this films that has characterised winners in the past is the level of sub-plots and secondary characterisation. Often sweeping historical epics will concern themselves with great expanses of the passage of time; although The King’s Speech nominally spans two decades, most of the drama is over two fairly short periods. That’s not to say this year’s films are poorer by any means, but they are somewhat leaner affairs than most winners from the past.
As to what’s driving that, then look no further than the box office. The Hurt Locker, last year’s winner, was the lowest in terms of box office performance for many years; films have largely been shunted into this two month “corridor” around December and January in order to be fresh in voters’ minds, but that means that there’s stern competition for screens, and for the studios to get the return that they perceive award nominations and the shiny statues themselves will bring in terms of extra cash to line their pockets. A film like Inception could play only three or four times a day at the box office due to its length, but the films at the other end of that spectrum above could get five or even six showings a day in, and films like The King’s Speech have been packing out most of their showings. That driver of box office is likely to keep lengths down; while we might get the occasional longer film, three hour epics in awards season will be very much the exception rather than the rule for as long as cinemas are in business.
As to what will win this year? The Social Network is two minutes longer than The King’s Speech, so if historical precedent means anything, it might just give it the edge, but that’s not even enough time to go out and buy extra popcorn, so it probably doesn’t mean very much in terms of choosing a winner from those two. But ultimately, this year’s nominees have proved one thing – it’s not how long it is, it’s what you do with it that counts.
Yes, it’s party time – end of the year, Christmas dinner is eaten and everyone’s learning the words to Auld Lang Syne ready for the weekend. At the end of my first year of blogging, I thought would be sensible to reflect on what’s happened in cinema, and indeed what’s happened to me, over the course of the year. The purpose of my blog, which I’m going to attempt to reinforce as we enter 2011, is that I firmly believe that the vast majority of movies can be improved by watching them in a cinema, and that there are still a significant number of good movies being made.
Our window into this world of movies, and sometimes the only crumb of comfort at the start of a poor movie, is the trailer, and for the last seven months I’ve picked out a selection of half a dozen trailers each month that caught my eye, in an attempt to encourage you, the reader, to see as diverse a range of movies as possible. So I’ll start this look back at the year with a selection of trailers that really stood out, for one reason or another, and I’ve come up with half a dozen of them, unsurprisingly.
Trailers are a fine art, and in the wrong hands can completely destroy anticipation for a movie (see this trailer for Tamara Drewe that probably ended up doing not only that, but costing it some of its audience in the process, having pitched this as a Richard Curtis-lite fluffy rom-com, which it most certainly isn’t). I’ve also already blogged this year on my frustrations at trailers which effectively give the game away; the best trailers give a flavour of what the movie is about, enticing you in, but still leave you to discover the true delights of the movie while you’re watching the full length version, not the two minute digest.
Anyway, these are the six trailers which I felt this year were the finest exponents of their art.
Best Trailer Where The Movie Didn’t Quite Live Up To The Trailer: The Brothers Bloom
I must confess to not having seen Brick when it came out, but it did get a lot of good word of mouth, and consequently I was looking forward to director Rian Johnson’s latest effort. This got stuck in release hell and took two years to finally land in cinemas, and it was evident when it did that it was maybe just a little too quirky for its own good. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s an OK movie, but the trailer is fantastic, and it’s almost a mini movie in itself. Shame something got lost in the final cut.
Best Use Of Old Music That Everyone Was Sick Of But Now Really Likes In A Post-Modern Retro Way Trailer: Four Lions
Confession time: I like Toploader. I used to have their first album on Mini Disc; in fact, it was the only album I owned exclusively on Mini Disc when I still had a player. Thankfully my taste in film has always been a little better, and indeed a little wider, than my musical taste, but at least when this trailer got everyone bopping along to the much derided “Dancing In The Moonlight” I could feel that, for once, I was ahead of fashion and trend, rather than trailing painfully in its wake.
Best At Not Giving The Game Away Trailer: A Single Man
If you want to know how to cut a trailer together, then this is pretty much a masterclass from the school of “let’s stick lots of press quotes so people know how good it is in among some random footage”. (Which is a pretty long and rubbish name for a school.) It’s a work of art, quite literally, and reflects the aesthetics that director Tom Ford brought to the movie without giving away vast reams of plot, or even dialogue. It helps when you have Colin Firth and Julianne Moore so that people know the acting will be up to scratch when the movie arrives, of course.
The Ronseal Award For Doing Exactly What It Says On The Tin: Jackass 3D
Did the world really need another Jackass movie? One minute and twenty three seconds into the trailer, when a giant hand covered in flour made me laugh as much as anything else I saw this year, I knew the answer. Probably not, but what the heck!
Most Iconic Trailer Of The Year: Inception
The most recognisable trailer of the year, the subject of numerous spoofs, mash-ups and even this South Park parody, and oddly the trailer actually gives a lot away; but you wouldn’t know this until you’d seen the movie at least once, and probably twice, because the trailer is so well constructed and the movie itself so densely packed.
Best Trailer of 2010: The Social Network
I liked it so much, I bought the soundtrack. (Thankfully that cost me 99p from iTunes.) As perfectly constructed as the movie it was promoting, it was a perfect storm (editing, soundtrack, dialogue, story) of the elements to make a great trailer, and I quite literally will never tire of watching it.
So that’s your lot for this year. 2011 doesn’t look the most promising in terms of output, but there’s already some great trailers in the offing for the first few months – here’s hoping that the movies they’re promoting turn out to be just as good, if not better.
…is Christmas, obviously. But Hallowe’en is still a good time for moviegoers, for a variety of reasons. So whether you love or hate this season, being inside a cinema should be high on your list of possible options this weekend.
Love: Paranormal Activity 2
If you want to truly get the spooky feel, then the best bet would be some out and out scares. There are other seasonal options around (neither of which I’ve seen yet, I hasten to add), Saw 3D finishing the horror series, and while the first two were great scares and more thoughtful horror movies with great twists, it’s been pretty much downhill from there. There’s also Burke and Hare, but the trailer suggests this is broad comedy through and through. So if you’re looking for things that go bump in the night, then may I suggest the follow up to last year’s low budget chiller.
I’ll be honest with you – if you don’t buy into the concept at least a little then you may be struggling to get the most from this one. It’s also largely a retread of the first movie, with just enough to keep it different, although it does attempt to expand the story of the original. (I know, I’m really selling it, aren’t I?) But if you can find a darkened cinema with enough like minded other individuals, there’s enough jumps and scares here to leave you wandering nervously into the night. (Clue’s in that last sentence – movies like this shouldn’t be watched in the daytime.)
Hate – Pretty much anything else
I’ll be honest – I’m not a fan of Hallowe’en. Even if I didn’t have some religious leanings, I’ve never been that into ghosts or ghouls, and if there was an All Hallows equivalent of “Bah humbug!”, I’d be saying it right now. (I may have to come up with one, come back to me on that.) But why not escape the constant barrage of over-sugared seven year olds arriving at your front door with a box of eggs, a suspicious looking paper bag and a collection of malicious grins beneath those Spider-Man masks, and head down to your local multiplex or art house?
Rounding out the top 4 (number 5 is an odd looking film about owls fighting in slow motion) are Despicable Me, RED and The Social Network. The latter is an instant classic that will have people banding around words like zeitgeist and Timberlake, the former are two perfectly acceptable pieces of entertainment, one for the family and one for the grown ups, but both with plenty of enjoyable moments. But if you have any sense, then you’ll see The Social Network, if you haven’t already, and possibly even if you have. But please, just get out there and see something.
(Timbergeist? For the Hallowe’en bah humbug? No, sounds more like something you’d wear on the day. Or maybe they all need to be sweet related. Humph bonbon?)
It’s that time again – except it isn’t. Today is the 12th October, in case you’re not reading this on the day it was written, and normally I get my half dozen out at the beginning of the month, so as to whet your anticipation for the upcoming cinematic extravaganza to come in the next four and a bit weeks. So what gives? Here’s half a dozen excuses to go with the trailers; don’t say I never get you anything.
1. For the first time since I got married, more than five years ago, I took two weeks off work in a row. The first of these consisted of me sitting in the Cambridge Film Festival for long stretches, the second sitting in Cornwall or on the M25 for long stretches. So I got behind on my blogging in the first week, then it stopped altogether in the second. Whoops.
2. On my return, my wonderful Dell laptop decided that it didn’t recognise the power lead, and so while I awaited a new one I then went slightly stir crazy.
3. Having seen 21 movies in 11 days during the period of the Cambridge Film Festival, even I was admitting to a little movie fatigue. (Actually, that’s not true, I was going cold turkey in Cornwall, but it probably did me good to have a bit of a break.) You also got two in September, thanks to said film festival, so I’m not feeling too bad right now.
4. All of the reasonable or good movies out in the first couple of weeks of the month I’d actually already seen (Made In Dagenham, A Town Called Panic, at a push Mr. Nice), and by my entirely arbitrary rules I exclude anything from this line-up if I’ve already seen it.
5. There were a fair few indifferent movies released as well (including The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud, the trailer for which actually made me lose the will to live briefly. Do track down the poster, though, in which Zac Efron looks legally dead).
6. I did write a Half Dozen before, but my cat ate it.
Right, enough excuses – here’s the six that have most intrigued me this month. I managed to see all six of September’s selections (the first time I have seen all of my Half Dozen in a particular month) – let’s see how I do this time.
The Social Network
This is, so far, the most perfectly constructed trailer of the year, from the editing to the use of Scala’s cover of Radiohead’s Creep, and I have a physical compulsion to watch this to the end if I start it. David Fincher’s Seven remains one of my all time favourite films and he’s never produced a film any less than interesting – I can’t wait to see what he’s done with Aaron Sorkin’s dialogue.
For some reason, this summer’s trifecta of action entertainment, The Expendables, The A Team and The Losers, failed to deliver in large quantities two things – satisfying action and any genuine sense of fun. Maybe we’ve not had our last shot at that this year though, as this has a quality cast to die for – not least Ernest Borgnine, who’s 94, God bless him, and felt this worthy of turning up for. Gotta love him.
Mary and Max
Yet another example of how the most interesting animation is often being done in environments other than computer graphics. With a fascinating voice cast and some potentially complex material, this one looks truly fascinating.
My only disappointment in this is that they’ve underestimated the willingness of people such as myself to sit through the five and a half hour original mini-series, the version on general release clocks in at a mere two hours and forty-five minutes. I may have to see it twice in an attempt to replicate the desired bum-numbing effect.
The Kids Are All Right
Oscar nominations are already being suggested, and this would seem to be typical fodder for the awards season. In an unfortunate way, this actually makes it slightly less interesting, but hopefully the expectations won’t hold it back, and I also hope it can avoid comparison to other movies, in a “this year’s Little Miss Sunshine” kind of way. Oh, wait…
Burke and Hare
Simon Pegg is another one of those actors that has worked up enough good will that I will give anything he does a go. When it’s a new John Landis movie, that really shouldn’t be a stretch. However, I’d be lying if I said that the extremely broad tone and the very wavery accents weren’t making me just a tad nervous, but it certainly qualifies as interesting.