Sunday, December 30, 2012

Best Actress

There is very little certainty in this year's Best Actress race, outside of the Top 2, which keeps things exciting - and potentially devastating. Just the way I like it. It's been called a "weak" year for female performances, but with this line up of contenders, I can't agree. What they do lack is a clear frontrunner, but that's the case in all the major categories this year, except Best Actor.

1. Jennifer Lawrence - Silver Linings Playbook
On the back of massive box office and surprisingly solid reviews for The Hunger Games, the extremely likable, down-to-earth and hard working (these things matter in an Oscar campaign) Ms Lawrence is still a sure thing as a damaged, impulsive, mildly manipulative nymphomaniac with a heart of gold in David O'Russell's Silver Linings Playbook. For a while, she's been the one to beat for the win, but she's got tough competition in Jessica Chastain's intense, Zero Dark Thirty military operative (combine Chastain's Maya & Lawrence's Tiffany and you've pretty much got Claire Danes' Carrie Mathison on Homeland), and the heavily overdue Naomi Watts doing suffering & maternal in The Impossible.

Lawrence is great in Playbook, though. She brings an unapologetic, fiery chaos to the part that often catches you off guard and adds grim truthfulness to what could have been another feisty, adorably troubled fantasy girl (Reese Witherspoon already showed how easy it is to win an Oscar by shouting some common sense and throwing stuff around because you love a difficult man). Playbook is both a comedy and a drama and Lawrence excels at both without compromising either. She gives her character real backbone and at least sells the idea that Tiffany and Pat are rescuing each other from themselves. Personally, it feel like, at 22, Lawrence may still be too young for her Oscar, but hey, Audrey Hepburn kicked off her career with an Oscar at the tender age of 24 for Roman Holiday, and Lawrence is already a respected, and now bankable, name in Hollywood.

She also has the Weinstein Company Oscar mojo behind her, which worked a charm for both Christian Bale and Melissa Leo in O Russell's The Fighter just two years ago, and her film remains at least an outside contender to win Best Picture, which never hurts.

2. Jessica Chastain - Zero Dark Thirty
Expectations for Zero Dark Thirty built to fever pitch while it was still shrouded in secrecy. Since it's big reveal, it's bowled over critics, briefly became the Juggernaut frontrunner for Best Picture and Best Director, and with it Best Actress, and was promptly shot down with grim and fervent accusations of being torture porn. Only time will tell if Zero Dark Thirty and Kathryn Bigelow can survive the backlash but, for now, Jessica Chastain remains a strong threat for the big prize. The film revolves entirely around her character's determination and focus in a decade-long struggle to bring down Bin Laden. By any accounts a true American hero, but bearing all the predictable brunt you'd expect a woman in that position to get (some of which Bigelow is getting now for telling her story). She may be less lovable and explosively expressive than Lawrence's Tiffany, but she charts the intense, thankless journey of a tenacious woman with all the brilliance you'd expect of 2011's Wunderkind. Which brings us to the other reason she's still a real threat to win - in 2011, Chastain went from relative obscurity to critical darling and Oscar nominee by turning in no less than seven diverse and brilliant performances, from the bubbly / tragic Celia Foote in The Help, to the embodiment of maternal Grace in Terrence Malick's Tree of Life and a fantastically devoted small town wife in Take Shelter, there's no doubt Chastain got everyone's attention, and she's sealed the deal with one of 2012's most significant female leads  

3.  Naomi Watts - The Impossible
With a quick succession of nominations from the Screen Actors Guild and the Golden Globes, Watts went from being a dark horse to a lock almost overnight. And it's about time. Watts has been a perpetual also-ran for her brilliant, brilliant work in King KongThe Painted Veil, Eastern Promises, Fair Game & Mother and Child, not to mention her astonishing breakthrough in Mulholland Drive, so she is hugely overdue for some Awards attention. Say what you want, awards mean credibility and new opportunities - sure you get your Halle Berrys and, I'm sorry to say, Gwyneth Paltrows & Natalie Portmans, who follow their Oscar wins with their worst work ever, but you can't deny the difference an Oscar made to the calibre of parts offered to, for example, Nicole Kidman, Helen Mirren or Marion Cotillard. Watts has earned great respect as an actress and this year she has a meaty role as a Tsunami survivor facing her own mortality while trying to care for her son long enough to be reunited with the rest of her family. Given the fascinating journeys Watts has taken us on in past films, it's kind of a bummer that she'll likely be entering the Oscar race again doing the grief and agony thing she did so well in 21 Grams, but with Angelina Jolie trumpeting her film and Reese Witherspoon comparing her performance to the epic performances of Sophie's Choice (Meryl Streep) and Norma Rae (Sally Field) in an open fan letter to Entertainment Weekly, Watts is clearly doing something right. With Lawrence and Chastain likely dividing votes, Watts could emerge as a final stretch winner (a la Adrien Brody) on the strength of her great body of work. Or, more likely, they may wait til next year when she plays Princess Diana.

4. Marion Cotillard - De Rouille et d'Os (Rust and Bone)
Cotillard delivered arguably the female performance of the last decade as Edith Piaff in La Vie en Rose and rightly sidelined the lovely Julie Christie to claim the first Best Actress prize for a foreign language film since Sophia Loren won for Two Women in 1962. Since then, she's turned in classic supporting perfomances in Nine and Inception and played a pivotal role in a little movie this year called The Dark Knight Rises. All this to say that Cotillard has done well since joining the rank of Oscar winner.

This year, she makes a strong bid with an intense, complex performance as a sexy whale trainer trying to find herself again after being paralysed in a horrible accident in Rust and Bone. Rust is the latest from French master Jacques Audiard (A Prophet, The Beat that my Heart Skipped), so expect no sentimentality here, just complex humanity. It's a searing performance in a strong film, by all accounts, but there's no getting around the fact that it is a performance that requires non-french-speaking audiences to read subtitles, which apparently remains a detractor and means that, for the most part, her performance is the main reason most voters will be seeing the film in the first place - as opposed to Silver Linings Playbook and Zero Dark Thirty which are essential viewing in any case - which in turn puts high demand on word of mouth spreading from early adopters. She's landed nominations from the Screen Actors Guild and the Golden Globes, so there's every reason to think she's made her mark and, if enough people see her film or at least hear about it, it seems impossible she'll be overlooked. It doesn't hurt that she's hot as hell and takes her clothes off - it worked a charm for Kate Winslet.

5. Quvenzhané Wallis - Beasts of the Southern Wild
Eight-year-old Wallis is nothing short of astonishing as a miniature firecracker soaking up every last spark of life in her ramshackle, occasionally flooded community. She melts into the poetry of director Benh Zeitlin's breathtaking vision when she needs to, nails all the emotional bits, and owns it all when she rises up to claim her place in the Universe.

Keisha Castle-Hughes proved with Whale Rider that unknown little girls could become Best Actress contenders, but Wallis' particularly young age has prompted questions over whether her tour-de-force is really to her own or director Benh Zeitlin's credit. There's plenty to give Zeitlin credit for in this brilliant little film but, for my money, Wallis' performance is her her own and she's left an indelible mark on Cinema in 2012. In any case, you could argue that most great film characters are equal parts the creation of actor, director and writer. Beasts continues to be a Best Picture contender, even if it remains an outsider, so Wallis' performance should continue to bowl over voters.

6. Emmanuele Riva - Amour 
From the youngest to the oldest, eighty-five-year-old French cinema veteran Emmanuele Riva looks primed to have the year's most lauded, iconic and overlooked performance to her name as a woman facing the ravages of mortality and old age in Michael Haneke's masterful Amour. What a bummer that there are two brilliant french performances in the running in the same year. Critics groups, rightly guessing that there is space for only one subtitled performance in this year's line up, all but sidelined Cotillard in favour of promoting Emmanuele Riva's performance in Amour. After Lawrence and Chastain, Riva's was the most cited and awarded performance of the season. But when it came to the first precursors (SAG, Golden Globes), Riva was out and Cotillard was in. Critics fail. Two french performances is asking too much and, regrettably, history tells us that young, hot and exciting beats mature, dignified and masterful nearly every time. Amour continues to be the foreign film to beat in 2012, but unless Riva manages to out Cotillard or convince the Academy to make history by giving two of their five actress slots to the French, Riva's is the performance critics and bloggers will be wailing, lamenting and moaning about the morning after the Oscar nominations.

7. Helen Mirren - Hitchcock
Mirren has made a career being brilliant at many things, among them a particular knack for essaying historical women: a resilient Queen Charlotte in the shadow of Nigel Hawthorne's mad King George; a Elizabeth I of great stature for the BBC; a perfect, tricky Elizabeth II for Stephen Frears in The Queen & Tolstoy's melodramatic other half in The Last Station. This year she adds Alma Reville, Hitchcock's overlooked significant other, both in life and career, to her resumé, and rises admirably to the occasion. Either Wallis or Riva feel like more exciting nominees, but you can never count out Dame Helen, and she's gotten the required love from the Screen Actor's Guild and Golden Globes so far (keep in mind, though, that Wallis was not eligible at the Screen Actor's Guild as she is, um, not a member of the Screen Actors Guild).

The fun of watching the Awards race is not really who makes it to the final five, but rather the worthy contenders who get left in the wings. For whatever reason, these ladies did standout work that just didn't build the momentum to take them all the way. Check them out, though, and remember them:

8. Rachel Weisz - The Deep Blue Sea
Like Naomi Watts, Weisz' second Oscar nomination is hugely overdue. She has been nothing but brilliant and vital in everything she's done since winning her Oscar for The Constant Gardner, but very rarely in films that came into the Oscar conversation. The Deep Blue Sea - an arty British indie - is not such a film, but with the New York Film Critics sidelining all the big contenders to award her their Best Actress prize, Watts became a dark horse contender, and the Golden Globes kept her in the conversation by naming her one of their five Best Actress in a Drama contenders. With most of the overdue actress buzz falling to Watts so far however, Weisz' little seen turn as a married woman driven mad by a passionate affair in 1950s England seems likely to remain another in her respectable collection of close calls.

9. Emayatzy Corinealdi - Middle of Nowhere
Best Actress winner with the Gotham Awards and African American Film Critics, and nominee at the Independent Spirit Awards and Image Awards (winners pending), newcomer Corinealdi's performance as a woman deciding whether her future will or will not include her incarcerated husband, is written to defy stereotype and is generally lauded as one of the most thrilling performances witnessed this year. Oscar often makes space for significant, under-seen independent performances, but Corinealdi is up against the far more talked about Wallis and Riva.     

10. Michelle Williams - Take This Waltz
As a happily married woman flirting with infidelity, Williams undoubtedly gives one of the performances of the year - male or female - in Sarah Polley's tricky, emotionally intricate relationship drama. This is honest, ordinary life, tough going, but Williams' performance is extraordinarily layered and in the moment. Another landmark for an exceptional actress. The San Diego Film Critics named her Best Actress of the year and the Detroit Film Critics nominated her, but her film is still very much under the radar.

11. Keira Knightley - Anna Karenina
For whatever reason, Knightly is a divisive talent, and her frequent collaborator director Joe Wright's bold creative choices on this adaptation of Tolstoy's classic novel have proved equally so. She got stellar early reviews as the complex, not entirely likeable Anna Karenina, also driven dotty by a passionate, controversial infidelity, but even Knightley's past snubs for Atonement and A Dangerous Method weren't enough to earn her anything more than a Golden Satellite nomination. And no one pays attention to the Golden Satellites. But at least some notice for her performance is on record as she continues to try and get the Academy to take her seriously. Incidentally, despite its literary stature, none of the six cinema performances of Anna Karenina have ever resulted in an Oscar nomination.  

12. Mary Elizabeth Winstead - Smashed
The Phoenix Film Critics and Independent Spirit Awards nominated Winstead's performance as a happily married alcoholic woman struggling with the effects her decision to come clean has on her family and social life. No melodramatic stuff, just understated nuance.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Catching up on the Sight & Sound Top 10 - in trailers

1. The Master

2. Tabu

3. Amour (Palme d'Or winner at Cannes)

4. Holy Motors

5. Beasts of the Southern Wild

6. Berberian Sound Studio

7. Moonrise Kingdom

8. Beyond the Hills (Best Screenplay & joint Best Actress winner at Cannes)

9. Cosmopolis

10. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia

11. This is not a Film

Sight and Sound Top 10 of 2012

Ultra cool cineast magazine Sight & Sound has released their Top 10 (or 11) of 2012 & it's as wonderful & obscure as you'd have hoped (with quite a few tips of the hat to Cannes). Consider these the year's top 10 contributions to the art of cinema:

1. The Master

2. Tabu

3. Amour

4. Holy Motors 

5. Beasts of the Southern Wild

6. Berberian Sound Studio

7. Moonrise Kingdom

8. Beyond the Hills

9. Cosmopolis

10. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia

11. This is not a Film

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Catching up on the Independent Spirit Award nominees

The Indie Spirit Awards - as they ought to - have highlighted a few films that weren't on my radar before. Herewith trailers for your (& my) viewing & anticipatory pleasure

The Loneliest Planet - Best Director

Bernie - Best Feature, Best Male Lead

Return - Best Female Lead

Your Sister's Sister - Best Supporting Female 

Sound of my Voice - Best First Feature, Best Supporting Female 
I've seen this one and it's great fun - a perfect little indie sci fi that tells you just enough to satisfy & leaves enough to the imagination to stay convincing. Brit Marling was rightly singled out, but the whole cast is excellent.


Seven Psychopaths - Best Screenplay, Best Supporting Male

Independent Spirit Awards - 2013

Mostly as expected. Not that that's a bad thing. These are good movies. Brit Marling & Zoe Kazan make a showing, Middle of Nowhere does pretty good business, as does Bernie & Matthew McConaughey.  
Naturally Beasts of the Southern Wild, Moonrise Kingdom & Silver Linings Playbook lead and between the three I'd say Beasts takes the top prize. What a bummer they snubbed Dwight Henry - what a performance! And count this as the start of Ann Dowd's Oscar campaign. Moving her to supporting was a smart move. I'm also always glad to see Sam Rockwell get noticed.
Much thanks to Awardsdaily, from whence I lifted this.

Beasts of the Southern Wild
Keep the Lights On
Moonrise Kingdom
Silver Linings Playbook
Wes Anderson, Moonrise Kingdom
Julia Loktev, The Loneliest Planet
David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook
Ira Sachs, Keep the Lights On
Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild
Wes Anderson & Roman Coppola, Moonrise Kingdom
Zoe Kazan, Ruby Sparks
Martin McDonagh, Seven Psychopaths
David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook
Ira Sachs, Keep the Lights On
BEST FIRST FEATURE (Award given to the director and producer)
Fill the Void
Gimme the Loot
Safety Not Guaranteed
Sound of My Voice
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Rama Burshtein, Fill the Void
Derek Connolly, Safety Not Guaranteed
Christopher Ford, Robot & Frank
Rashida Jones & Will McCormack, Celeste and Jesse Forever
Jonathan Lisecki, Gayby
Breakfast with Curtis, WRITER/DIRECTOR/PRODUCER: Laura Colella
Middle of Nowhere, WRITER/DIRECTOR/PRODUCER: Ava DuVernay, PRODUCERS: Howard Barish, Paul Garnes,
Mosquita y Mari, WRITER/DIRECTOR: Aurora Guerrero, PRODUCER: Chad Burris
Starlet, WRITER/DIRECTOR: Sean Baker, PRODUCERS: Blake Ashman-Kipervaser, Kevin Chinoy, Patrick Cunningham, Chris Maybach, Francesca Silvestri
The Color Wheel, WRITER/DIRECTOR/PRODUCER: Alex Ross Perry, WRITER: Carlen Altman
Linda Cardellini, Return
Emayatzy Corinealdi, Middle of Nowhere
Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
Quvenzhané Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild
Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Smashed
Jack Black, Bernie
Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook
John Hawkes, The Sessions
Thure Lindhardt, Keep the Lights On
Matthew McConaughey, Killer Joe
Wendell Pierce, Four
Rosemarie DeWitt, Your Sister’s Sister
Ann Dowd, Compliance
Helen Hunt, The Sessions
Brit Marling, Sound of My Voice
Lorraine Toussaint, Middle of Nowhere
Matthew McConaughey, Magic Mike
David Oyelowo, Middle of Nowhere
Michael Péna, End of Watch
Sam Rockwell, Seven Psychopaths
Bruce Willis, Moonrise Kingdom
Yoni Brook, Valley of Saints
Lol Crawley, Here
Ben Richardson, Beasts of the Southern Wild
Roman Vasyanov, End of Watch
Robert Yeoman, Moonrise Kingdom
BEST DOCUMENTARY (Award given to the director and producer)
How to Survive a Plague
DIRECTOR: David France
PRODUCERS: David France, Howard Gertler
Marina Abramoviæ: The Artist is Present
DIRECTOR: Matthew Akers
PRODUCERS: Maro Chermayeff, Jeff Dupre
The Central Park Five
DIRECTORS/PRODUCERS: Ken Burns, Sarah Burns, David McMahon
The Invisible War
DIRECTOR: Kirby Dick
PRODUCERS: Tanner King Barklow, Amy Ziering
The Waiting Room
PRODUCERS: Linda Davis, William B. Hirsch
BEST INTERNATIONAL FILM (Award given to the director)
Once Upon A Time in Anatolia
Rust And Bone
War Witch
16th ANNUAL PIAGET PRODUCERS AWARD – The 16th annual Piaget Producers
Award honors emerging producers who, despite highly limited resources
demonstrate the creativity, tenacity, and vision required to produce
quality, independent films. The award includes a $25,000 unrestricted
grant funded by Piaget.
Nobody Walks PRODUCER: Alicia Van Couvering
Prince Avalanche, PRODUCER: Derrick Tseng
Stones in the Sun, PRODUCER: Mynette Louie
19th ANNUAL SOMEONE TO WATCH AWARD – The 19th annual Someone to Watch
Award recognizes a talented filmmaker of singular vision who has not yet
received appropriate recognition. The award includes a $25,000
unrestricted grant.
Pincus, DIRECTOR: David Fenster
Gimme the Loot, DIRECTOR: Adam Leon
Electrick Children, DIRECTOR: Rebecca Thomas
Fiction Award is presented to an emerging director of non-fiction features
who has not yet received significant recognition. The award includes a
$25,000 unrestricted grant.
DIRECTOR: Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel
The Waiting Room, DIRECTOR: Peter Nicks
Only the Young, DIRECTOR: Jason Tippet & Elizabeth Mims
ROBERT ALTMAN AWARD – (Given to one film’s director, casting director, and
its ensemble cast)
Starlet, Director: Sean Baker

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Best Actor - in Trailers

The big dogs:

Daniel Day-Lewis - Lincoln

Joaquin Phoenix - The Master

Hugh Jackman - Les Miserables

Denzel Washington - Flight

John Hawkes - The Sessions

The guys in the wings:

Bradley Cooper - Silver Linings Playbook

Anthony Hopkins - Hitchcock

Richard Gere - Arbitrage

The Dark Horses:

Jean-Louis Trintignant - Amour

Bill Murray - Hyde Park on Hudson

Best Actor

It's just a freaking strong & frankly exciting year for Best Actor with too many real contenders for the five available slots. But more just the great performances that will inevitably be snubbed, this is also a year with at least four strong front runners to win, which means we have ourselves a real race (for now at least).

1. Daniel Day-Lewis - Lincoln 
Daniel Day-Lewis still leads the race for now as honest Abe in Spielberg's much-celebrated, much-watched (good combination) biopic. He walks a touchy line of impersonation with grandiose speeches and a weird voice which could easily add up to hammy scenery chewing. But this is Daniel Day-Lewis and he has now pretty much stepped up to being the greatest actor alive. For now. Like the very best of impersonation performances (think Helen Mirren in The Queen), Day-Lewis inhabits his character, living & breathing but never over-playing him. Audiences and critics have taken to both the skill of his performance and the venerable stature of his character and, in a significant political year for America, his performance already feels a little bit iconic. When you're the frontrunner for your third lead Oscar, and no-one begrudges you, you've done something right. Incidentally, if he wins, he joins the ranks of:

  • Ingrid Bergman - 3 wins (2 lead, 1 supporting)
  • Meryl Streep - 3 wins (2 lead, 1 supporting)
  • Jack Nicholson - 3 wins (2 lead, 1 supporting)

But still stands back for Katherine Hepburn with 4 wins (all lead).

2. Joaquin Phoenix - The Master
Critics are divided on Paul Thomas Anderson's latest masterpiece, particularly around what it means and whether it means anything at all, but the one thing everyone seemed to uniformly agree on was that the Oscar already had Joaqion Phoenix's name on it. That was until Lincoln came along, and Phoenix called the Oscars "bullshit" and "the worst carrot I've ever tasted". To be fair, he was referring mostly to the horror of campaigning for an Oscar, which it's easy to agree can get ugly, and he did later try to retract his comments or at least place them in context. Does this negate his Oscar chances? With so many strong contenders, it probably does take his name solidly off the Oscar, but given the strength of his performance as an odd, wild alcoholic destructive finding refuge under the wing of Phillip Seymour Hoffman's titular Master, he shouldn't have much trouble still getting nominated. (as a side note, I see the ugliness and ludicrousness of campaigning people and putting them in competition with each other, and of course being acknowledged by your industry as the "best" is as weird as it must be flattering, but the prestige of the Oscars does keep the industry actors are privileged to work in going and, if nothing else, it means a lot to the bottom line of the movie they signed up for & for the fans who fell in love with it, one of which must surely be the reason they do it all in the first place).

3. Denzel Washington - Flight
Robert Zemeckis' first live action film since 2000's Cast Away slipped in under the radar to become a sleeper hit with audiences and critics on the strength of three things: Denzel Washington's dense, deep character study of a complex man at the center of an enigmatic disaster, John Gatins' sharp script and basically a kick ass crash scene. Washington has his Oscar for Training Day, but honestly he's got so much momentum right now it could easily take him all the way back to the podium. The industry loves him &, historically at least, Oscar loves on-screen drunks. Another threat keeping the Best Actor race edgy. A win would make him the first black actor with three Oscars.

4. Hugh Jackman - Les Miserables
Who doesn't love Hugh Jackman? The one-&-only embodiment of Wolverine has also effortlessly shown his sensitive (The Fountain) and funny (Kate & Leopold) side, and made a good case for his serious actor credentials in Chris Nolan's The Prestige. He's also in better shape at 44 than most of us will likely ever be. Now he takes the all-singing, much-wretched, ultimately-heroic lead in Tom Hooper's adaptation of the ultimate serious-minded musical, and everyone has been simply waiting to make this his moment, provided he didn't screw it up. And the first semi-reviews from critics and bloggers who have attended early screenings suggest he has done quite the opposite of screw it up. I'm not sure when last a male Actor won for a musical performance, if ever, (if anyone knows, let me know), but if momentum for Les Miserables keeps building, he poses a serious threat for the win. And just imagine what a Jackman win would do for the notoriously uncool award show's ratings.

5. John Hawkes - The Sessions
John Hawkes has become a household name of late (in, you know, indie film and awards-obsessed kinda households) with awesome, celebrated, creepy turns in Winter's Bone and Martha Marcy May Marlene and this year his and Helen Hunt's central performances, as a real-life quadriplegic poet wanting to lose his virginity and a compassionate sex surrogate, respectively, have been riding (no pun intended) a wave of joint acclaim since Sundance that shows no sign of slowing down. Hawkes' performance has repeatedly, and annoyingly (but probably unavoidably) been compared to Daniel Day-Lewis' (first) Oscar-winning performance in My Left Foot, but funnier. It's frustrating to have his performance reduced to an Oscar paint-by-numbers when the strength of his performance is not merely the complexity of his physical limitations, but the great sensitivity and humour he brings to a frankly awkward story. He's got the goods to win, but probably not in a year like this.

That seems like a pretty unshakable top 5 but, if we've learnt anything, it's that nobody knows anything.

The strongest contenders waiting in the wings, are:

6. Bradley Cooper - Silver Linings Playbook
In a career-shifting performance, that good-looking guy from The Hangover and The A Team, plays an obsessive compulsive man moving back in with his parents after a stint in a mental institution, hoping to patch things up with his estranged wife, but faced with a dilemma when he finds himself drawn to Jennifer Lawrence's depressed nymphomaniac instead. Silver Linings Playbook has proven to be an unshakably popular feelgood dramedy with legitimate Best Picture chances (although it would be a shame in a year with such strong contenders). If the film keeps building momentum, so will the chances of it's leading man. And again, the words "Bradley Cooper" will do wonders for the Oscars' TV ratings.

7. Anthony Hopkins - Hitchcock
What could be more exciting than the great Sir Anthony Hopkins playing the legendary Alfred Hitchcock? Well, at least 6 other actors, apparently. But still this has to remain a strong contender on the strength of Hopkins' star power, Hitchcock's legend and the humour Hopkins and director Sacha Gervasi bring to the part. It's not an attractive portrait of the great director, and reportedly not a very accurate one either. But that doesn't mean it's not entertaining. Most likely, the attention will be on Helen Mirren as Hitch's largely unsung partner in crime, Alma Reville. Hopkins shows no interest in doing the campaigning thing (why should he?) and in the wake of iconic performances in major Best Picture contenders, his movie and performance seem doomed to obscurity very soon after the inevitable Golden Globe nominations (presuming it contends as a comedy). But anything can happen.

8. Richard Gere - Arbitrage
To be fair, the man has had quite a career, and he's never played the Oscar game, danced the AMPAS dance, had his face in the little squares after a beautiful Actress said "and the nominees are...". And that, together with many reviews declaring this the best work of his career, by far, is the basis of the fairly strong campaign for Richard Gere as Best Actor for his performance in Arbitrage. I haven't seen the film, but the reviews are pretty convincing (especially as I found the trailer very tiresome), and if he can build a strong enough campaign.

And lastly, these dudes really have no chance of getting in, but it should be mentioned that they did contend, on the outskirts:

9. Bill Murray - Hyde Park on Hudson
Who wouldn't want to see Bill Murray nominated for playing Teddy Roosevelt? In the same year that Daniel Day-Lewis wins for playing Abraham Lincoln? It seems meant to be, but this has been far too competitive a year and Bill Murray's performance is ultimately too understated, with no wow moments. Also the film kinda tanked. Pity. Still can't wait to see it though.

10. Jean-Louis Trintignant
Don't get me wrong, this could happen, if Michael Haneke's Palme D'Or winning film hits in a big way, but it's highly unlikely. As an elderly, retired music teacher watching his wife succumb to the ravages of old age, Jean-Louis Trintignant really should be an Oscar contender. But that, of course, doesn't mean he will. There are younger, more attractive men turning in more popular performances in movies without subtitles. Again, a pity.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Please support us on Indiegogo


So our campaign to raise tuition funds for New York Film Academy went live on Indiegogo last night. Please check it out, contribute where you can and share it with your world:

A little background - My lifelong dream has been to make movies & study film abroad. I have now been accepted to New York Film Academy, and received partial funding for 20% of my tuition. I still need to raise quite a bit of funds to make my first year's studies a reality, especially at the current Rand / Dollar conversion.

Please check out the campaign & help out where you can! Also check out the other awesome, deserving campaigns on Indiegogo, like the campaign to bring back the Word Up Community Bookshop in Manhattan

Or the Face Watch campaign that allows yout o do good & get a hot watch while you're at it:

Or the many Hurricane Sandy relief campaigns, like this one:

Much appreciated.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Brilliant, She Wrote

The ladies are writing it for themselves. With Brit Marling paving her own way into Hollywood, first with thoughtful Sci Fi tinged drama, Another Earth, and now with the fun, trippy, enigmatic Sound of my Voice, ambitious indie actresses seem to be starting a very commendable trend of writing the parts they want to play.

Outside of Marling, Zoe Kazan (Elia Kazan's grand daughter) wrote, produced and stars in the smart & charming Ruby Sparks, Greta Gerwig co-wrote her career defining part in Frances Ha with boyfriend Noah Baumbach and Sarah Polley seems to have abandoned her promising career as an actress to write and direct  the remarkable stories she wants to tell instead; releasing two remarkable films back-to-back - melancholy relationship dramedy Take This Waltz and the much applauded, deeply personal pseudo-documentary The Stories We Tell.

Over in the world of television, Lena Dunham follows in the footsteps of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, taking the reigns of her own TV show - displaying either remarkable all-round talents or distinct control-freak tendencies, or both - as writer / director / producer / star of Girls. Since her acclaimed (in a Sundance kinda way) debut, writing, directing and starring in Tiny Furniture, Dunham has very much written her own significant success story and shows no sign of slowing down.

Hear hear to the young actresses ignoring, and re-writing, the fuzzy, chauvinist rules of Hollywood.

Spielberg's Actors

With Sally Field and Tommy Lee Jones charging strongly into the Supporting categories, and Daniel Day-Lewis looking set to win his third richly deserved Oscar, for Spielberg's political epic Lincoln, it leads us to the interesting bit of trivia that no actor has ever won an Oscar for a Spielberg film. Quite something considering his extensive body of work.

So - who could and should have won, who should have been nominated, but wasn't, and who would we have liked to see as contenders that would never have been able to knock down the competition?

Should have Could have Would have been winners:

1. Whoopi Goldberg - The Color Purple (1985)
Although she would have faced strong competition from Meryl Streep (Out of Africa) and Jessica Lange (Sweet Dreams), even if Geraldine Page hadn't taken the top prize, Whoopi's still-classic performance would have made for a fresh and deserving win. Like a slightly more upbeat version of Precious, with a killer final scene, she makes Celie deeply memorable. It's a pity she's never been able to equal the performance.

The Goldberg snub beats the Fiennes snub on the simple logic that her deserving win would additionally have spared us Halle Berry's cringe-worthy Oscar speech (as the first 'black' woman to win Best Actress) & opened up Supporting Actress to be won by the still Oscarless Anette Bening (The Grifters) in 1991 (over Goldberg's winning turn in Ghost).

(Incidentally, fellow Colour Purple nominees Margaret Avery & Oprah Winfrey are both great as well, but it's unlikely either could have taken Supporting Actress. It was Anjelica Huston's year, and her eccentricities are richer than Avery & Winfrey's tears. Non-nominee Danny Glover is on top bastardly form as well, but should have been campaigned as a Supporting Actor - where he could surely have knocked out Eric Roberts - rather than as lead - where he was up against a bunch of respected white dudes.)

2. Ralph Fiennes - Schindler's List (1993)
Honestly, how on earth did he miss this win? A classic, epicly intense villain that has effortlessly stood the test of time. And in the year's big Best Picture winner to boot. Sure it's easy to love Tommy Lee Jones in The Fugitive, but watch the two performances side by side and then hand out an Oscar. It goes to Fiennes. Every time. Ironically, Jones is likely contending for his second Supporting Oscar this year for Spielberg's Lincoln. And Fiennes remains Oscarless.

Should have Could have Would have been contenders:

3. Sean Connery - Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
A legendary movie dad, Connery was snubbed by Oscar after comfortably picking up nominations from the Hollywood Foreign Press Assoc & the British Academy Awards for his thoroughly enjoyable comic performance. It's unlikely he could have beat Glory's Denzel Washington for the win, but scratch the frankly superfluous Dan Aykroyd and there's plenty of room in the Supporting Actor list for Connery and his bow tie. Curiously, his win two years before (on his sole career nomination for The Untouchables) didn't seem to count in his favour.

4. Jude Law - A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)
At the height of his popularity, Jude Law's gigolo robot Joe would have made a solid follow up nomination to his breakthrough as rich young cad in The Talented Mr Ripley, before he seemed to fall out of favour right after finally breaking through to the big time with Cold Mountain. I'd easily have bump Jon Voigt for Law.

5. Samantha Morton - Minority Report (2002)
Tom Cruise & Max Von Sydow are cool & effective, Lois Smith gets her epic moment with some scary plants, but it's Samantha Morton's turn as doomed pre-cog Agatha that really stays with you. There's so much happening on her face, suggesting a whole universe of meaning with her looks of perpetual terror. She had broken into the Oscar race two years before as a lovely mute for Woody Allen in Sweet & Lowdown, and had been nothing but brilliant in between (Jesus' Son, Dreaming of Joseph Lees, Pandaemonium, Morvern Callar). She overcommits to a minor part in Minority Report and the results are splendid, but Oscar did not take notice.

6. Djimon Hounsou - Amistad (1997)
Anthony Hopkins feels a bit like a token nominee and was never going to spoil Robin Williams' (Good Will Hunting) moment, but since this is Spielberg's other slavery film, it would have been decent of the Academy to recognise Hounsou's intense and powerful central performance. He could have bumped Dustin Hoffman's Wag the Dog nomination (as enjoyable as he was, he wouldn't be overly missed).

7. Teri Garr - Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
Melinda Dillon got the nomination, but Teri Garr is just as good in the earlier half of the film. Nomination or no, neither of them was going to beat Vanessa Redgrave's Julia. Incidentally, the other lauded Encounters performance is Francois Truffaut but, though he gives a solid performance, there's nothing overtly awards-worthy about it other than the fact that he is the great Francois Truffaut.

Close misses:

7. Harrison Ford - Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) 
A broad performance, yes, but an iconic & very well judged one. A nomination as Best Actor? It seems unlikely, but perhaps not such a stretch considering the film's very respectable 8 total nominations, including Best Picture, and 5 wins. Realistically, though, there's no-one he could easily have bumped. Considering the legacy, skill & sentiment behind Henry Fonda's winning performance in On Golden Pond, nothing was going to dismantle him. Every other actor seems pretty much indispensible, outside of, arguably, Dudley Moore in Arthur. But, come to think of it, between Ford & Moore, I'd probably have voted for Moore as well. Sorry Harrison!

8. Christopher Walken - Catch Me If You Can (2002)
Probably more memorable for being the start of Leonardo DiCaprio's significant comeback, Christopher Walken owns the whole film (along with John Williams' great vintage score) in a tiny performance that kicks total ass. No-one could have played Frank Abagnale Sr the way he did; he imbues his few moments on screen with so much eccentric inspiration & melancholy wisdom, he's infinitely memorable. A deserving nominee, then, but could - and should - he have been a winner? I'd never vote against Chris Cooper (Adaptation) & Walken has his epic Oscar for The Deer Hunter. In any case, if Cooper hadn't won, Ed Harris (The Hours) or Paul Newman (Road to Perdition) would have claimed the prize before Walken even came into the conversation.

9. Ben Kingsley - Schindler's List (1994)
It's hard to imagine how the great Sir Ben Kingsley wasn't nominated for his very touching, unshowy performance in an Oscar milestone film. It's also hard to say, though, who should have bumped for his sake - possibly Pete Postlethwait for In the Name of the Father, but that feels like a different minor injustice, or Tommy Lee Jones in The Fugitive, but he's a little bit iconic in that role. Though it's a pity, Kingsley has had - and will have - plenty other occasions to shine.

10. Frances O'Connor - A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)
Another great performance in Spielberg's fascinating, odd Sci Fi (a labour of love on behalf of Stanley Kubrick). O'Connor is fantastic and makes a big impact as robot child David's very human mother, but it's hard to think whose place she could have taken. I don't begrudge Jennifer Connelly Oscar for Ron Howard's sentimental & overrated, but still excellent, A Beautiful Mind, and I love all the other nominees, down to Marisa Tomei's sensitive idiosyncrasies in In the Bedroom, and Dame Maggie Smith's ample charms in Gosford Park (lately exploited to breaking point in Downton Abbey). Perhaps I'm resisting change, but I like the line up & don't see space for O'Connor.

11. Robert Shaw - Jaws (1975)
How great would it have been to have Robert Shaw contending for supporting actor? They would have needed a bigger boat.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Sarah Polley's Stories We Tell

Sarah Polley's other 2012 film (the former being Michelle Williams marital drama Take This Waltz) is a postmodern-ish documentary about her own family; part interview doc, part found footage, part scripted, all heart, all smarts.

Stories won raves in Sundance and over at Awardsdaily, Sasha Stone has it up as a dark horse Best Picture contender. Polley is a sensitive filmmaker and it's easy to see how her intimate, intuitive approach could deliver a truly fresh indie classic.

Greta Gerwig makes her mark

After her brilliant, understated breakthrough in Noah Baumbach's Ben Stiller seriaas vehicle Greenberg, Greta Gerwig kept herself busy upstaging her headlining cast members in flop-ish commercial outings (No Strings Attached, Arthur) before signing off a fairly thankless Woody Allen role in To Rome with Love.

She's back on top form, though, in Whitt Stillman's stylised deadpan comedy Damsels in Distress and re-teaming with sort-of maybe probably boyfriend Baumbach to deliver a sly, reportedly career-best (for what that's worth) performance in Frances Ha, which she also co-wrote.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Gwyneth had a great year

After a blink and you'll miss it debut as young Wendy in Spielberg's Hook (odd they never worked together again), Gwyneth Paltrow firmly announced her presence in a series of remarkable supporting turns - Flesh and Bone, Se7en, Midnight and Valentino, Hard Eight - before cementing her fame as the still definitive embodiment of Jane Austen's Emma in 1996.

She wasted no time cashing in on her new name and pulled a Jessica Chastain in 1998 except, but with all leading parts. Hush is a bit embarassing, really, but she is excellent in A Perfect Murder, Sliding Doors is highly entertaining and just a bit brainy, she's fairly smashing in Great Expectations and, of course, Shakespeare in Love won her the Oscar which, all things (Cate Blanchett) considered, it is hard to begrudge her.

She's done plenty of great work since - Royal Tenenbaums, The Talented Mr Ripley, Possession, Sylvia, Two Lovers, even Duets - but is frankly underappreciated.

All her 1998 roles below:

Sliding Doors:

Great Expectations:

Hush - what rubbish:

A Perfect Murder:

Shakespeare in Love:

Francesco Clemente - Great Expectations Art

Using Mike Newell's latest as an excuse to celebrate Francesco Clemente's incredible pieces, used in Alfonso Cuaron's 1998 re-imaging of the Charles Dickens classic.

And the Titles:

David Lean's Great Expectations

Cinematic awesomeness. Who could paint more broadly in the colours of melodrama than Dickens, indeed.

Great Expectations. Again.

While it's primetime counterpart picks up every technical Emmy it contended for, the trailer for Mike Newell's latest adaptation of Charles Dickens' enduring classic, Great Expectations, lands, and gives reason to believe it may be worth another outing.

The technical side of things look rightly gorgeous, War Horse's Jeremy Irvine shows actual personality and Helena Bonham Carter owns Miss Havisham with eerie, gothic flair.

Filmed 19 times in total, 8 times for the big screen, Expectations is a perennially popular, but only occasionally successful, literary source. Of the movie versions, only David Lean's 1946 version really hits the mark with solid performances and gorgeous styling, but I must profess a particular fondness for Alfonso Cuaron's much maligned modern re-imagining of the tale with Gwyneth Paltrow and Ethan Hawke. 

Sure, Cuaron's version abandons most of the plot in favour of the central romance (really far less of a romance in the original book), but it's a sensual, lightly artsy romance nonetheless, with an edgy mix of sumptuous score and pop classics (including the single that introduced me to Ms Tori Amos), a welcome obsession with the colour green and sharp performances from the young ones (Paltrow in particular) and the veterans (Bancroft, in particular - awesome, if hammy, as re-named kook Ms Dinsmoor).

It may have been the Francesco Clemente paintings - a defining influence on me as a teenager - or the fact that I was quite in love with Gwyneth Paltrow - she had an exceptional year - or it could have been the admittedly the kissing in the rain scene that undoubtedly inspired much terrible poetry on my part, but I'm always happy to let Cuaron's stylised experiment intoxicate me (my admiration is justified, incidentally, by the brilliance he later showed with Children of Men).

The Pixar Rundown

Toy Story (1995)

I was "too old" for "cartoons" when it came out, but saw it because of all the hype. From the get-go, it was groundbreaking, inventive, the concept was sharply exploited and executed, it had genuine wit stemming from the characters rather than contrived setups and, most importantly, it was touching.

Not a kid’s flick at all, but a grown up movie about being a kid that kids can also enjoy. Together with The Lion King, it cemented the fact that I would never be too old for good "cartoons".

***** – for changing the industry

A Bug’s Life (1998)

It never managed to lure me into the cinema, but I caught it years later on an overnight flight.

Technically groundbreaking for its time (the crowd scenes), although it’s hard to believe now. There’s nothing wrong with it, and plenty right with it, but there's just not enough that makes it shine as a classic. Basically, it's The Seven Samurai retold for kids. As always, it’s sharp, witty, very entertaining and caters well for both kids & their parents. But it lacks the maturity and sensitivity of the Toy Story franchise.
***1/2 – superior kids entertainment, if a bit dated

Toy Story 2 (1999)

Pulled the rare trick of successfully expanding the template of the original, resulting in an even slicker, funnier and more emotional film.

Amazingly, it never feels redundant or superfluous, even years later. It's a tribute to the strength of the characters that they manage to stay fresh and never overstay their welcome. The Sarah McLachlan abandonment montage is the only detractor for me, although I seem to be in the minority. When there's singing, I have flashbacks of Pocahontas and disengage instantly. To TS2's credit, they won me back again almost instantly, before I even noticed.

**** - a perfect sequel

Monsters Inc (2001)

I didn’t see it in theatres because it struck me as a kiddies flick. I saw it on video a few years later and, yes, it is a kiddies flick, but a very good one.

Technically superb and, once again, groundbreaking (the fur). A smart idea, an inventive world and lovable characters make it a fast-paced, easily-funny adventure with well judged tenderness. The sequel threatens to dull the charm of the original, and the integrity of its studio.

**** – superior kids entertainment, not much dated

Finding Nemo (2003)

Nemo is the moment Pixar became PIXAR to me. TV promos on the crafting of the seascapes got me in the cinema, the pure experience of it got me back for a second helping.

One of the most perfectly judged family films ever - genre regardless. A compellingly simple story, a vividly inviting underwater world and high quality laughs cater to grown ups without isolating the kids. Enduringly classic comic elements – Dory, the seagulls, the dude turtles – made it into the pop zeitgeist, while the script mines truth from simple family dynamics.

Although it has plenty to say, it never preaches and significant production choices – grounding the visuals in reality, hiring Thomas Newman to score – set it distinctly apart. Why tamper with a second instalment?!

***** - a classic

The Incredibles (2004)

One year after its killer pre-Finding Nemo promo, The Incredibles was everything it promised to be – a smart, witty subversion of the superhero mythos into the real, often underwhelming world – and more; its slick, vintage spy adventure vibes shamed the James Bond franchise of its day for thrills and invention.

Plenty of serious, family stuff is blended with a perfect espionage tone and an original perspective. Really more of a grown up film that kids will also like, it’s perfectly entertaining, but also slyly angst-ridden.

****1/2 – A very well disguised, daringly grown up animation

Cars (2006)

Cars lacks the vitality and freshness of Nemo and The Incredibles, but it’s a glossy, highly enjoyable family outing none the less. This one's more for the kids (and only time would tell that Kids freaking LOVE Cars) but there’s plenty for adults to enjoy.

The plot is not hard to guess upfront, and it does tend to drag, but that's partly the point. John Lasseter quietly digs deep into the homespun goodness of forgotten small towns and offers a convincing argument for the slow, good old analogue way of life. The film admirably takes its time with its story, as it suggests you do with your life.

Once again, the studio outdoes itself with truly breathtaking scenery - from the glitzy race course to the vast arid landscapes - which elevates the film. The epic success of Cars’ merchandising is both a blessing ad a curse, as it sowed the seeds of Capitalism, and Cars 2. 

***1/2 Solid and thoughtful

Ratatouille (2007)

Pixar's annual feature, together with the pre-feauture short and next year's feature teaser, had become an event. The talky Ratatouille promo had promised a return to form after Cars, and boy did it deliver.

A creative concept well realised and beautifully played out with Parisian charm. It follows a familiar outsider-makes-good trajectory, but has such a fresh and distinct voice, and is filled with so much smouldering pleasure and feeling, that you never notice the smooth plot mechanics clicking away – you just enjoy the ride. Every time.

It paints a lovely story with searching questions on the place and role of artists in a violent and often desperate world. Remy’s goofy, defiant passion transcends plot mechanics and reaches for a touching vitality: should he bother trying so hard to be different? Is he causing more harm than good refusing to accept things the way they are?

To top it off, like Nemo before it and, particularly, Wall-E after it, you feel there should be a cinematographer to be showered with awards for the lush visuals and tone of the film. Soups, sauces and Paris have rarely looked so delicious.

***** – Classic animation, classic foodie film

Wall-E (2008)

From the moment I first laid eyes on Wall-E, I was in love. An impossibly adorable creation, the only challenge would be to keep him from saccharine fatigue throughout the span of an entire film. But Wall-E's mechanical E.T. look and enticing clicks and bloops are just the shell for a massively endearing, endlessly charming character that never leaves you wanting for dialogue.

It may be an unlikely one, but Wall-E is a masterpiece – kicking off with the same balls and brio that saw No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood open with twenty or so minutes of an isolated character in a desolate landscape with no dialogue. The story that follows is genius, following its character along a series of sharp left turns that leave you entirely unsure where it is all headed, right up to the last 15 minutes.

A classic, silent love story; potent sci-fi and a film of quietly profound ideas with a message that smartly conceals itself until the final, racing conclusion. Impeccable film making on every conceivable level, it is an uncompromising work of art which somehow endears itself to kids as well. Genius.

***** – Masterpiece

Up (2009)

It’s mix of pathos and slapstick is a bit uneven, but also daring and fresh. It’s not perfect, but manages to lives up to Pixar’s impossibly high standards.

The  nfathomably effective opening 10 minutes and the surreal melancholy of its central concept earned it its place as a Best Picture contender (although it should have been Wall-E that broke the ice), despite the sometimes misfitted humour.

A bold, poetic and welcome addition to the Pixar body of work

**** – it’s originality and pathos overshadow the uncomfortable comedy vibes

Toy Story 3 (2010)

With every reason to be redundant, Toy Story 3 is instead possibly the most thrilling of the franchise.

It very notably puts Toy Story in the very rare class of perfect trilogies, with each film building on the former, legitimately adding more depth and scope to the franchise. Even Star Wars and The Godfather faltered in the final instalment, but Toy Story ends on a high note you didn’t know it had.

The premise and characters are kept fresh with a dramatic change of location, new characters are hugely enjoyable, every joke flies (Spanish Bud soars), and the emotion of the former films is effectively heightened to breaking point, without breaking. Includes scenes of suspense almost too thrilling for kids film and an overwhelming finale built on deep, expansive, perfectly judged nostalgia and a somehow profound understanding of toys, imagination and childhood. Epic. Nervous for the fourth instalment, though.

****1/2 A trilogy doesn't deserve to be so good

Cars 2 (2011)

Why? Oh yes, merchandising. This one's for the kids. Which is forgivable, provided they alternate with films back on form for the rest of us.

Brave (2012)

Fantastic for a Disney princess outing, but disappointing for Pixar. Despite an enjoyable lead character and some potent ideas, Brave's script just doesn't gel. With five writers on board and a mid-production handover, it may be a case of too many cooks spoiling the broth, but Brave feels like a promising set up and a solid, if foreseeable resolution, with a few random scenes thrown in the middle.

It's a pity, because Brave has a lovely magic realist surrealism; a rich, gorgeous setting; plenty of funny jokes and endearing supporting characters. It also has a noteworthy lead - the first Disney princess since Mulan not defined by the finding of a husband (quite the opposite really) and a significant warrior heroine in a year filled with warrior heroines (Merida ranks far above Kristen Stewart's vacant Snow White, but beneath Jennifer Lawrence's selfless Katniss Everdeen).

It only really fails to live up to the studio's impossibly high expectations, particularly painful as it should have atoned for Cars 2's sins, but remains a highly enjoyable and haphazardly inventive family fable with an important heroine for young girls.

***1/2 Its flaws redeemed by its charm