I finally get round to talking about the Oscars …

It’s been such a hectic week that I am only now finding the time to put my views on the Oscars wins out there into the blogosphere. Without further ado here are said thought and views on the winners of the 84th Academy Awards. (Oh and at the end there will be the final reviews of a couple of the nominated films!)

This year the winners really divided me – there were some that I thought really deserved the award and then there were others awards that should have gone to more deserving films/people.

I am so glad Rango won the Best Animated Feature Film as it really was the best animated film on offer this year – and it is just hilarious. I’m delighted for Meryl Streep and Octavia Spencer on their awards for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress, respectively, as they both produced stunning performances and it was lovely to see their hard work recognized and rewarded. Bot their Oscars were throughly deserved. The Iron Lady was the rightful recipient of the Oscar for Achievement in Make-Up as the transformation into Maggie Thatcher was remarkable. I begrudgingly agree with The Artist picking up the Achievement in Music and Costume Design as both of those elements were stunning in the film (though just about the only things that were). Indeed the music is such a central element in The Artist as it drives the entire narrative, and it was beautifully executed.

However they are the only 2 Oscars taken home on the night by The Artist that I agree with! George Clooney was robbed! He totally should have taken the Oscar for Best Actor instead of Jean Dujardin. The Academy was clearly completely under The Artist‘s spell … I don’t think that it was worthy of the Best Picture Oscar at all. There were much more deserving films in that category … especially The Help and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, SpyThe Artist has made history by being only the second silent film to win the Best Picture Oscar since 1928 but in my opinion it isn’t an entirely silent film thanks to the final 15 minutes.

In terms of the Best Screenplay from Original Material I think that the Academy was seduced by Woody Allen’s name rather than the actual content of the script. Midnight In Paris is meandering, far-fetched and far to self indulgent – there were much better screenplays in that category that could have taken the Oscar home. I was disappointed but not too surprised that Harry Potter didn’t pick up any awards … it is too British a franchise (I can’t think of a single American involved with the films).

Now I have spewed forth my views on the results of the 84th Academy Awards I will go onto the final couple of nominations that I didn’t manage to post before the ceremony last Sunday.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Director: Tomas Alfredson

So many of the films nominated at the Oscar’s this year (in various categories) have extraordinary casts and this film is definitely up the top. What makes it more of an exciting cast for me is that it is made up of some of Britain’s most talented actors, like John Hurt, Benedict Cumberbatch, Mark Strong, Tom Hardy, Colin Firth and of course Gary Oldman (with a plethora of awards and nominations held between them!)

A spy movie that isn’t actually about spies – according the esteemed Dr Mark Kermode and I kind of get what he means. The spying in this film, set during the Cold War, seems more mundane and everyday rather than the epic chases, gun shoot outs and an abundance of high-tech gadgets that are associated with the spy films, or rather franchises, of Bond and Bourne. Indeed Tinker Tailor Solider Spy is much slower and less frenetic than the Bond and Bourne franchises and offers a less glamorized ideal of life as a spy. It is a return to a simpler time and way of doing something. And it seems to me to actually be more of a psychological thriller than a spy film, as the focus becomes the growing paranoia of each character.

The music is wonderfully evocative and really creates the right emotions especially the tension of the piece. The narrative moves along at a leisurely pace and at times feels quite disjointed. However this doesn’t take anything away from it and could be seen as representative of the paranoia that is at the heart of the film. The narrative jumps around in time with no distinctive separation of the two time frames. The only way to figure out if it is a flashback (for lack of a better word) is if certain characters are still around or not. The event in Budapest at the beginning of the film appears to be the catalyst for all the events following it. It ha a muted and neutral colour palette – lots of grey, brown and orange – which gives it a drab, murky and fairly grimy feel, despite some of the opulent settings. It also situated the film very much in the time period of the 1970s.

Gary Oldman provides a strong, silent and thoughtful performance as George Smiley. It is nearly 20 minutes before he speaks for the first time. He is one of those characters who sits back and lets others talk while observing everything, the ideal personality for someone entrusted with discovering the identity of a mole. Benedict Cumberbatch really is magnificent as Peter Guillam. As with all spy films there is a focus on the minutia – noticing the little things like someone sweating too much or the out-of-place elements in ones surroundings. There are lots of significant looks and a large portion of meaning is transmitted without any dialogue, ensuring the viewer must pay close attention lest they miss an important exchange. I love seeing the office through the window in the documents lift as it offers an interesting perspective. Many of the shots are seen through windows creating a voyeuristic tone to the film. Murder, mystery, deception, sex and intrigue – Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy has it all but then these are necessary elements for any spy film!

I really enjoyed Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. It’s a spy movie striped back to basics and to me proved that you don’t have to have flashy cars, gadgets and girls to be an intriguing and imaginative spy film.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Director: David Fincher

I had previously managed to avoid The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, both the original film trilogy in Swedish and the books, partly due to not wanting to become caught up in the hype surrounding it. Now having seen the American remake I have succumbed and brought the first book (though I have yet to read it!) and will no doubt find myself watching the original trilogy in the near future. I don’t like this current trend of remaking foreign films into English less than  year after the initial release as I think it underestimates cinema goers. We are capable of watching, understanding and enjoying films with subtitles!! And in some ways it just feels lazy. Now I know I probably come across as hypocritical saying all this while not having watched the original Swedish film but the only reason I have seen the English version is due to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo being nominated in several categories at this year’s Oscars, most notably Best Actress for Rooney Mara.

The film has a very distinctive style but then that is typical for a David Fincher film. And this distinctive style continues in the sound utilized in the film creating a very atmospheric environment. The colour palette is very cold with lots of blues and greens reflecting the icy landscape of Sweden in the winter. I wasn’t quite sold on the Swedish names and locations with quite an English sounding cast as it didn’t quite gel together.

Mara’s Lisbeth is similar to Noomi Rapace’s Lisbeth and yet different enough to leave her own mark on the character. A very strong performance from a relatively unknown actress. Every member of the cast gives a great performance in a film very much driven by Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara. The film has an extremely visceral and violent energy to it and is graphic in that violence. While I liked the film I am now determined to see the original films before the subsequent English remakes come out.

The Tree of Life

Director: Terrance Malick

I’m not entirely sure what to make of The Tree of Life. It’s an impressionistic … and therefore more independent … film with lots of images woven together. Short frames all pieced together to form a disjointed whole made up of current times and remembrances. Many of the shots are from unusual or different perspectives or focus on different aspects within the frame. There are lots of close-ups of hands, the sky and trees (usually looking up from the base).

The narrative has theological concerns as Jack (Sean Penn) questions why and how we came to be and ideas of faith. The images are beautiful and stunning with some extraordinary shots. While I appreciate the visuals (and the accompanying music) there doesn’t seem to be a cohesive narrative driving the film along. It wouldn’t be out-of-place in an art gallery. It’s a very bold choice in terms of its nominations within the Best Picture and Best Director categories. Its Cinematography nomination is well deserved as the cinematography is truly outstanding. Much of the dialogue is delivered offscreen in a whisper just on the edge of hearing requiring a certain amount of focus.

I’ve said it before but I’m going to say it again, there is no denying the beauty of The Tree of Life and I guess in the right context it would work yet I wouldn’t have paid to see it in the cinema. And I was massively confused by the appearance of dinosaurs!!

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