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Posts Tagged ‘Oscar’

If you are reading this you probably already know as much as you need to about Hacksaw Ridge.  For those who don’t, directed by controversial filmmaker Mel Gibson: Andrew Garfield gives an excellent, Oscar nominated performance as Desmond Doss.  An American Medic who served during the Battle of Okinawa in WWII but refused to carry a gun making him the first man in American military history to receive the Medal of Honour without firing a shot.

hacksaw-ridge-poster

Question: is Hacksaw Ridge a good two hour twenty minute movie hiding a ninety-five minute masterpiece?  Answer, probably.  Mel Gibson has proved with Braveheart and in particular Apocalypto that he is a master of big, bold and violent action.  But he has never been able to get away with the quieter moments without being sentimental, preachy and heavy-handed.  That is why Hacksaw Ridge was an opportunity to showcase what he does best. andrew-garfield

Understandable comparisons have been made with Saving Private Ryan and Full Metal Jacket.  Saving Private Ryan is simply a matter of the brutal visceral war scenes.  While Hacksaw ridge’s portrayal of the Battle of Okinawa is more bloody and violent than Steven Spielberg’s depiction of the Normandy Invasion it is actually less shocking.  Partly because Saving Private Ryan opens with the assault on Omaha Beach whereas, Hacksaw ridge builds up to its battle, but mainly because it was new, when it first came out we had never seen anything so visceral and brutal.  In the years that have followed we have seen Black Hawk Down, Enemy at the Gates, Lone Survivor, American Sniper, as well as real conflicts and atrocities on TV news.  Full Metal Jacket is more complicated, there are two elements of comparison.  Vince Vaughn’s Sergeant Howell is very much in the vein of R. Lee Ermey’s  Senior Drill Instructor Gunnery Sergeant Hartman.  But then, the character has become an archetype, think Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant Emil Foley (Louis Gossett, Jr. in An Officer and a Gentleman), Career Sgt. Zim (Clancy Brown in Starship Troopers) or even Gunnery Sergeant Thomas Highway (Clint Eastwood in Heartbreak Ridge) When Vaughn walks in shouting and giving the recruits nicknames it looked like he would give a pastiche of Ermey, fortunately he doesn’t and is actually very good.  The second more significant comparison is the structure of the film.  Like Full Metal Jacket, Hacksaw Ridge is split into two distinct halves, the first in America, the second in country.  The difference, both halves of Stanley Kubrick’s Vietnam movie are equally as good. The war scenes in Hacksaw Ridge stand up to any other war film, but the quieter moments of the first half don’t.

sergeant-howell

I have heard the first hour of Hacksaw Ridge described as a Hallmark Channel movie, this is unkind, it is better than that, but it is overlong, preachy and heavy-handed.  How could this have been improved?  The war scenes account for over an hour of the movie.  There are moments of quiet within this that a clear break points.  It would have been very easy to jump right into the action and intersperse it with flashbacks to Doss in training and at home before enlisting.  This would come in at around 95 minutes.  A tighter more concise film done well would have both been a better watch, and would have given a greater impact.  It would also make the gaps in battle more interesting than they are.

The problem, this shorter bolder film may have been better but it would  have lacked the epic status that war films need to gain favour with Oscar voters. We may have seen a better film but would we have seen a film with six Oscar nominations?

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I recently saw Clouds of Sils Maria on DVD and was planning to write about it as part of my DVD Gems series of great films that didn’t make it to my local cinema.  I didn’t for two reasons; the film is too good, and has too much going on for a three hundred word review; secondly I keep coming back to one thing about the film, Kristen Stewart.Clouds of Sils Maria

The film stars Juliette Binoche as a world famous actress and movie star.  She splits her time between blockbuster/superhero movies and more serious films and plays.  She accepts a part in a play about a destructive relationship between an younger and older woman.  She is cast in the role of the older woman having previously made her name as the younger woman in the first production and subsequent film adaptation.  Binoche is as brilliant as you would expect but so is her co star Kristen Stewart.Kristen Stewart

Stewart plays the personal assistant to Binoche’s star.  The character is more introverted and less emotional that Binoche’s actress but is equally as passionate.  The character exudes an intelligence that is tempered by youth and naivety.  She cannot always express herself in the way she wishes to.  The greatest achievement of the part is that she is always believable.  She never comes across as an actress playing an assistant, she is totally natural and immersed in the role.  Interestingly the only other person I can think of playing her was also in contention for the part, Mia Wasikowska.  Wasikowska is probably my favourite young actress at the moment but probably couldn’t have done any better than Stewart who is totally sublime.  I am clearly not the only person to be impressed, Kristen Stewart won a César (a French Oscar), the first American actress to win one!Actress Kristen Stewart poses with her trophy during a photocall after winning the Best Supporting Actress Award for her role in the film "Sils Maria" during the 40th Cesar Awards ceremony in Paris

We shouldn’t be surprised, this isn’t the first time Kristen Stewart has impressed in a supporting role.  She bought the same naturalism and innocence to Still Alice as the daughter of Julianne Moore’s Oscar winning lead.  This ability should not come as any surprise, she has always been a talented actress.  Take a look at early roles such as Undertow (2004), Panic Room (2002) and Into the Wild (2007).  Her previously most impressive role was in Adventureland (2009) released between the first two Twilight movies.  And that is the crux of why some people don’t like Stewart and why others are surprised when she is good, Twilight!   A lot of people who dislike Stewart actually or even hate the character Bella Swan not the actress.  All the lip biting and pushing her hair back is the character not the actress, ironically, the haters she has attracted for Twilight are actually a sign of how well she captured the character.Kristen Stewart Adventureland

As far as I can see Clouds of Sils Maria is eligible for next years Oscars having received a general release in April 2105 after spending a year doing the festival rounds.  It is unlikely, but possible that Kristen Stewart could receive an Oscar nomination.   If you don’t believe me, check out Still Alice and Clouds of Sils Maria as well as some of her other movies I have mentioned, if you haven’t already, I would recommend you watch them anyway. 

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AAvengers: Captain America: The Winter Soldier set the Avengers franchise in a new direction and Marvel announced phase Three schedule covering films up to 2019.marvel-avengers

B  – Boyhood: What could have been a gimmick turned out to be the best film of the year.boyhood poster

CNick Cave: 20,000 Days on Earth was neither documentary or a narrative film, but was one of the best movies of the year.20,000 Days on Earth

DDoug Liman: Edge of Tomorrow was the enigma of 2014.  The Doug Liman directed movie received solid reviews and great word of mouth but underperformed at the box-office.edge of tomorrow

EEgypt & Exodus: Gods and Kings – Ridley Scott’s biblical epic was released on Boxing Day in the UK and few weeks earlier in some countries.  The film has been banned in Egypt as the courtiers censors are unhappy with “historical inaccuracies”.Exodus Gods and Kings

FFincher & Flynn: Director David Fincher turned Gillian Flynn’s bestselling Novel Gone Girl into an excellent movie.Gone Girl

GGuardians of the Galaxy –  Made up of a cast of largely unknown characters, it was considered a risk for the franchise.  Not only was the film great fun but was the Highest grossing film at the US box-office (and 2nd highest worldwide) for the year.Guardians-of-the-Galaxy

HThe Hobbit: After more than 20 hours screen time, The Battle of the Five Armies brings Peter Jackson’s time in Middle Earth to an end.Peter_Jackson_Hobbit

IThe Interview:  The release for the movie The interview was cancelled following threats from hackers.  Barack Obama and George Clooney joined the debate and the film received a limited Christmas day release earning $1million from 331 scenes in independent theatres.the-interview-poster

JJennifer Lawrence: With an Oscar win and two other nominations as well as a starring role in two of the biggest movie franchises, Jennifer Lawrence is probably the biggest young star in Hollywood.  She was also the most outspoken victim of hackers who stole nude images and posted them online.jennifer-lawrence

KKickstarter: the big names to come from kickstarter in 2014 were the Veronica Mars movie and Zach Braff’s ;Wish I Was Here.  Blue Ruin and Obvious Child also raised a little to help get them released.veronica-mars-movie

L Luc Besson & Lucy: After numerous movies with his name attached as a writer or producer Besson is back in the director’s chair with the surprise hit Lucy.  Making back its $40million budget back in its opening weekend.Lucy

MMcConaissance: Matthew McConaughey’s resurgence was completed with a best actor Oscar for Dallas Buyers Club.Matthew McConaughey for Dallas Buyers Club

NNightcrawler: Jake Gyllenhaal gives the performance of his career in Dan Gilroy’s feature debut.Nightcrawler Jake Gyllenhaal

OOprah Winfrey: as well as producing two movies: Selma and The Hundred-Foot Journey Winfrey proved her Hollywood power by lending her support to the independent British film Belle.Oprah Winfrey

PPaddington: What could have been a disaster turned out to be charming and funny.paddington

Q – Quvenzhané Wallis: The young star of Beasts of the Southern Wild retuned with a small part in 12 Years a Slave and starring role in the remake of Annie.Quvenzhané Wallis

RThe Rover: After his début feature, Animal Kingdom in 2010 David Michôd is back with The Rover, a movie full of subtext, foreboding and great acting from Guy Pearce, Robert Pattinson and Scoot McNairy. The Rover

SScarlett Johansson: It’s been a busy year for Johansson with the UK release of: Her, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Chef, Under the Skin and the surprise hit of the year Lucy.Scarlett Johansson under the skin

TAlan Turing: The imitation Game finally told the long overdue story of war hero and farther of computing, Alan Turing.the imitation game

UUnreleased: A region 2 DVD of Snowpiercer is available from a well know online retailer but the film is still yet to receive a UK release.Snowpiercer

VVampire: Forget Twilight, with Only Lovers Left Alive and What We Do in the Shadows there are two original ideas to kick-start the genre.Only Lovers Left Alive

W – Mia Wasikowska: After appearing in Stoker my favourite film of 2013 Mia Wasikowska is rapidly becoming one of my favourite actresses with appearances in Maps to the Stars, The Double, Only Lovers Left Alive and Tracks in 2014.Mia Wasikowska

X – X-Men: Days of Future Past: Bryan Singer returned to the X-Men franchise with a seminal story form the 80’s. It beat Captain America: The Winter Soldier at the world box-office, dragging the franchise from the shadow of Marvel Studios.X-Men-Days-of-Future-Past-chess-game

Y – 12 Years A Slave: Winner of Oscars for Best picture, Best Adapted Screenplay and best supporting actress for Lupita Nyong’o in her first feature film.Lupita Nyongo

ZThe Zero Theorem: Terry Gilliam is back after five years, and back to what he does best, making interesting films that look like the cost a lot more to make than they actually did.The Zero Theorem

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January is a strange month for cinema. While American audiences are bemoaning the lack of decent new releases, here in the UK we are enjoying this years big Oscar contenders.

American Hustle: “some of this actually happened” the true-ish story of Abscam. The performances are phenomenal but the story is a little thin. (Nominated for 10 Oscars)American Hustle

12 Years a Slave: The true story of Solomon Northup, a free man who is sold into slavery. Suffers from a week sense of time and space but still an excellent film Chiwetel Ejiofor finally gets a part to live up to the promise he demonstrated in Dirty Pretty Things. (Nominated for 9 Oscars)12 Years a Slave

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom: The CliffsNotes of Nelson Mandela’s life. Idris Elba is excellent but the film lacks is too sporadic. It would have worked better as a mini series or a two part movie like Steven Soderbergh’s Che. (Nominated for 1 Oscar)Mandela Long Walk to Freedom

The Wolf of Wall Street: My fourth movie of the year, and the fourth based on a true story. Martin Scorsese’s take on Jordan Belfort makes Boiler Room (2000) look tame. Scorsese’s best movie in years and possibly Leonardo DiCaprio’s best performance. (Nominated for 4 Oscars)THE WOLF OF WALL STREET

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit: Lightweight but enjoyable reboot of Jack Ryan sees Chris Pine as the fourth incarnation of the the character. All the cast are good but Kevin Costner steels the show.Jack Ryan Shadow Recruit

August: Osage County: The third and most accessible but possibly weakest movie based on a Tracy Letts play. The fantastic cast is led by Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts who are both nominated for Oscars. (Nominated for 2 Oscars)AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY

Inside Llewyn Davis: A week in the life of fictional folk singer Llewyn Davis set in Greenwich Village folk in 1961. A film only the Coen Brothers could have made, and all the better for it! (Nominated for 2 Oscars)Inside Llewyn Davis

The Movie of the Month is:The Wolf of Wall Street poster

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If you take a look at the top ten grossing movies of the year so far there are seven sequels (Iron Man 3, Despicable Me 2, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Monsters University, Fast & Furious 6, Oz The Great and Powerful, Star Trek Into Darkness) and a reboot (Man of Steel). World War Z (based on a book) will probably be knocked out of the top ten by The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smug leaving Gravity as the only original property to bother the top ten. Do audiences only go in large numbers to see sequels of franchise movies or do studios only commit large amounts of money to existing properties that a ready made audience? The $825million taken by Christopher Nolan’s Inception proved that a totally original movie could make money, however it would probably never been given the green light if not for the $1billion The Dark Knight took. As cinema prices creep up and audiences become ever more selective, studios become more cautious making it a self fulfilling prophesy relegating most original ideas to smaller films. With this in mind, here are my top five original movies of the year. Original movies, not a sequel, prequel, remake, re-imagining or reboot. Also, not based on a book, comic book or true story.

Stoker: In the year that the remake of Chan-wook Park’s masterpiece Oldboy limped onto cinema screens Stoker proved to be Park’s best film since Oldboy. The original screenplay was written by actor Wentworth Miller. A weird, beautiful and sublime blend of melodrama, psychological thriller and coming of age drama. Budget: $12,000,000 (estimated)stoker

Gravity: Alfonso Cuarón’s space adventure about a pair of astronauts trying to find a way home after a collision in space is a truly stunning film and the first film that should be seen in 3D preferably IMAX 3D. Budget: $100,000,000 (estimated)GRAVITY

Prisoners: Great acting from ensemble cast and stunning photography from Roger Deakins combine with taught direction French-Canadian director Denis Villeneuve making his English-language debut elevate this from a genre movie with an overt subtext to a really good film. Budget: $46,000,000 (estimated)Prisoners

The East: An original story of the murky world of private intelligence firms and an environmental anarchist collective. Written by director Zal Batmanglij and star Brit Marling. It is notable for great acting and its dark melancholic tone. Budget: $6,500,000 (estimated)The East

Pacific Rim: To call Guillermo del Toro’s monsters vs. robot movie original would be a stretch as it appears to be based on every other monster movie/comic book to have gone before it, however it isn’t directly based on any other previously produced work. It makes the list ads it is just great fun, pure and simple. Budget: $190,000,000 (estimated)PACIFIC RIM

Mud – the continuing renascence of Matthew McConaughey.
The Counsellor – Cormac McCarthy’s first screenplay is far better than has been reported
About Time – Charming and funny time travel comedy from Richard Curtis.
Blue Jasmine – Cate Blanchett, deserves an Oscar.
Elysium – Neill Blomkamp’s Sci-Fi action drama lacks subtlety but is still good

Check back at the end of the month to see how many of these movies make my top ten of the year.

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The Oscar for Cinematography is not a beauty contest, it isn’t about how pretty a film looks, it is about how well it is lit and photographed, in the same vein, the best director Oscar doesn’t go to the best film, that’s what the best film category is for! While, the Best picture Oscar is really the sum total of all the awards, the acting, the music, the photograph, the script, the direction and all the other elements that make up a film, the best director Oscar, is based purely on the process of directing. It is worth remembering that although the winners are selected by the Academy membership as a whole, the nominations are made by the academy’s directing branch. In other words, the nominations come from the directors and their contemporaries.

Michael Haneke Benh Zeitlin Ang Lee Steven Spielberg David O Russell

This years nominations are: Michael Haneke – Amour, Benh Zeitlin – Beasts of the Southern Wild, Ang Lee -Life of Pi, Steven Spielberg – Lincoln David O. Russell -Silver Linings Playbook. I am yet to see Lincoln and Amour so will reserve judgment on the strength of the category but have selected five directors I would have liked to have seen nominated:

Kathryn Bigelow – Zero Dark Thirty
Wes Anderson – Moonrise Kingdom
Ben Affleck – Argo
Sam Mendes – Skyfall
Christopher Nolan – The Dark Knight Rises

Each of them has crafted a fantastic movie that would have been run of the mill in lesser hands if they even existed. All would have been worthy winners.

Kathryn Bigelow Wes Anderson Ben Affleck Sam Mendes Christopher Nolan

Should Steven Spielberg win it will put him the elite company of : William Wyler and Frank Capra with three best director Oscars and just one behind John Ford with four. Ang Lee has picked up one win and one other nomination in the category previously (Brokeback Mountain and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon respectively), David O. Russell has been nominated before (The Fighter), it is Michael Haneke’s first nomination. Not only is it Benh Zeitlin’s first nomination, it is his first feature.

Whoever loses, or indeed those who weren’t nominated, it is worth remembering they are in good company, despite thirteen nominations between them Alfred Hitchcock (5), Federico Fellini (4) and Stanley Kubrick (4) didn’t win a single best director Oscar.Alfred Hitchcock Federico Fellini Stanley Kubrick

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Is the Best Foreign Language Oscar outdated in this era of multinational productions? The current setup is certainly a mess and needs redefining or revamping. As it stands for a film to be eligible it has to be predominately not in the English language, so far so good, but then it gets complicated. Rather than the academy picking the best five films of the year not in the English language, each country nominates one film as their selection. This is the broken down into a long list, then a shortlist before five nominations are selected. Unlike other categories, to be eligible a movie does not have to be screened in America during the prescribed dates. Instead it has to be screened in its own country. The downside to this is that if the film is subsequently screened in America it will not be eligible for Oscar contention (if it meets the criteria it is eligible in all categories in the year it is submitted as a foreign film). There is also a difference in the voting process. “Screeners” are not used, instead the four nominated films are screened in a cinema (with English subtitles, never dubbed) and any academy member wishing to vote must attend. This reduces the chances of the people voting without seeing the films as most likely happens in other categories.

Last years winner: Asghar FarhadI for A Separation

Last years winner: Asghar FarhadI for A Separation

As of 2006 the films no longer have to be in the official language of the submitting country. This is goods thing in one respect as under the old system for example a Welsh film in the Welsh language or and Australian film in Aboriginal language would have been ineligible as they are both from countries where the official language is English. It does however create a loophole that became evident in 2010. The was a certain amount of disagreement and unrest as to if Michael Haneke’s The White Ribbon would be submitted as a German or and Austrian film. It was eventually decided it was German and received a nomination as the German entry. A look at the academy website would suggest this has been outlawed: Rule Thirteen (Special Rules for the Foreign Language Film Award), section II (eligibility), subsection E states: “The submitting country must certify that creative control of the motion picture was largely in the hands of citizens or residents of that country”. I’m not convinced all this years nominations are that clearly rooted in the submitting nations:

The Canadian movie (War Witch) is set is Sub-Saharan Africa and is in a mixture of French and Lingala.

The Austrian entry (Amour) is made by a German director (Michael Haneke again!) with French, German and Austrian money and has a French cast speaking French and English.

The Danish film (A Royal Affair) is a Danish, Swedish, Czech co production.

The Chilean (No) entry is a co production between Chile, France and the USA.

And the Norwegian entry (Kon-Tiki) is a British, Norwegian and Danish co production.Best Foreign Language Oscar 2013

All this United nations of filmmaking doesn’t have any impact on if the film is any good and doesn’t detract from the fact that the movie is (mostly) not in the English language, but it seems a little silly that a film set in France, in the French language and with a German director is deemed to be Austrian.

There are a few ways around it including replacing the category with one simply for films not in the English language and taking the national ownership away from it. This in itself creates a different problem, without the support of the foreign comities (often the countries own Academy’s) will the Oscars get a suitably diverse spread of movies? There is also the possibility of dropping the category completely, there are films strong enough to make the crossover to the main categories such as Three Colours: Red, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Pan’s Labyrinth, Amelie and this years Amour. There is an argument that without the Best Foreign Language Oscar, more foreign language movies could break through and even win in the major categories.

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