Oscars Nominations 2014

I seem to be forever apologizing for real life intruding and getting in the way of regular blog updates but it’s happened once again (actually got a real job for a while here … leaving me absolutely shattered!!) So again sorry for the lateness but here is my view on the nominations for this years’ Oscars.

Oscars 2014 PosterThe Oscar nominations were announced recently and as par for the course with me I have only seen about 6 of the films actually nominated, and most of the ones I have seen are nominated in the more technical categories. But in all fairness there seem to be a large number of the big hitters that have either only just been released or are due imminently over here in the currently waterlogged UK (this rain is really very boring now and can do one!) The curse of an unemployed cinephile means having to forego seeing many a film at the cinema. You have to pick films very selectively when the funds are low (especially when a ticket costs almost £10 off peak!) and consequentially many an excellent film is pushed to the wayside until it’s DVD release sadly losing much of the splendor it holds when viewed in a proper cinematic environment. Anyway enough random waffle from me. Let’s get down to business and waffle somewhat more specifically about the different categories.

Best Picture

Nominees: American Hustle; Captain Phillips; Dallas Buyer’s Club; Gravity; Her; Nebraska; Philomena, 12 Years A Slave; The Wolf on Wall Street

Most of the films nominated are the ones everyone expected to see in this category like American Hustle, Captain Phillips, Gravity, 12 Years A Slave and The Wolf of Wall Street. Awards buzz has been following these films for a while now. I’ve never even heard of Dallas Buyer’s Club before and only have the vaguest recollection of Her coming out so have no idea what to expect from them. The oddball for me in this category (and there is always one – last year it was Amour) is Nebraska. I’ve only seen the trailer so far but it has a much more independent vibe to it than the Hollywood big hitters it’s sharing this category with.

Best Actor

Nominees: Christian Bale (American Hustle); Bruce Bern (Nebraska); Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf Of Wall Street); Chiwetel Ejiofer (12 Years A Slave); Matthew MacConaughey (Dallas Buyer’s Club)

Again kind of the nominations we were expecting although I would have liked to see Tom Hanks nominated. The favorite this year seems to be Chiwetel Ejiofer for his much-lauded role in 12 Years A Slave. I feel that this may be Leonardo DiCaprio’s year though … goodness knows he is due a win!

Best Actress

Nominees: Amy Adams (American Hustle); Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine); Sandra Bullock (Gravity); Judi Dench (Philomena); Meryl Streep (August: Osage County)

 There are some big names within this category with 6 Oscars amongst them already. I think this will be one of the hardest categories to call this year although having said that American Hustle already seems to be on a roll this awards season.

Indeed American Hustle has someone nominated in all 4 acting categories much like O’Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook last year. Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence move to the Best Supporting Actor categories this time round.

Best Supporting Actor

Nominees: Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips); Bradley Cooper (American Hustle); Michael Fassbender (12 Years A Slave); Jonah Hill (The Wolf of Wall Street); Jared Leto (Dallas Buyer’s Club)

I’m leaning towards either Bradley Cooper or Michael Fassbender in terms of Best Supporting Actor. Having said that Jonah Hill has become an extremely talented dramatic actor – much more enjoyable to watch than any of his comedic roles. I’m looking forward to being impressed by him in The Wolf of Wall Street.

Best Supporting Actress

Nominees:  Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine); Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle); Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years A Slave); Julia Roberts (August: Osage County); June Squibb (Nebraska)

Again some fairly big names here – most notably Julia Roberts, although golden girl Jennifer Lawrence is not to be discounted. She can do no wrong in Hollywood at the moment going from strength to strength. It’s nice to see that although she is the face of The Hunger Games franchise (one aimed squarely at the teen market) her acting ability is continually recognized by the Academy year on year. She’s my pick for the win but then I’m really quite enamored of her.

I’d just like to point out that I really enjoy The Hunger Games franchise … it’s one of the few films that I actually parted with money for and saw in the cinema this year and I loved every minute of Catching Fire. I’m also literally counting down the days until we get the first installment of The Mockingjay!! It’s become something of an obsession of mine.

Director

Nominees: David O’Russell (American Hustle); Alfonso Cuaron (Gravity); Alexander Payne (Nebraska); Steve McQueen (12 Years A Slave); Martin Scorsese (The Wolf of Wall Street)

No surprise that the four most talked about films of the year have the man at the helm nominated (and all the nominees are male this year). Nebraska pops up again earning Alexander Payne his 3rd Oscar Nomination for Directing. I think Steve McQueen has a good shot at scooping the Oscar for this one.

Best Animated Feature

Nominees: The Croods; Despicable Me 2; Ernest and Celestine; Frozen; The Wind Rises

Two foreign films within this category although an argument could be made that The Wind Rises isn’t really  foreign film as it comes from Studio Ghibli. Not an argument I would make as I consider Studio Ghibli world cinema – it is Japanese after all and always so much better in that language. It’s no big surprise to see Disney’s latest offering nominated … I would have been surprised had it not been! For me though the winner is Despicable Me 2. I cannot tell you how much I love the Despicable Me films – mainly thanks to the genius creation that are the Minions. And Despicable Me 2 sees the Minions getting more screen time as they are central to the plot this time around.

Documentary Feature

Nominees: The Act of Killing; Cutie and the Boxer; Dirty Wars; The Square; 20 Feet From Stardom

Best Foreign Language Film

Nominees: The Broken Circle Breakdown (Belgium); The Great Beauty (Italy); The Hunt (Denmark); The Missing Picture (Cambodia); Omar (Palestine)

I always think of these categories as being the wild cards. I don’t think I have ever been able to call the winner, with maybe the exception of Amour last year. Usually I don’t have time to get around to watching the nominated documentaries as I’d rather watch a feature film. Having said that I have found myself watching a number of documentaries over the last year and Cutie and the Boxer, The Act of Killing and The Square are all on my watch list prior to being nominated this year. Equally The Broken Circle Breakdown and The Missing Picture were already on my – never decreasing – list of films to watch. I’m not put off by foreign language films – if the story grabs my attention I will watch it regardless of what language it is in.

Best Adapted Screenplay

Nominees: Before Midnight; Captain Phillips; Philomena; 12 Years A Slave; The Wolf of Wall Street

Best Original Screenplay

Nominees: American Hustle; Blue Jasmine; Dallas Buyer’s Club; Her; Nebraska

Both the writing categories are dominated by the big hitters nominated for Best picture with the exception of Before Midnight‘s nomination in the Best Adapted Screenplay category. With all the hype surrounding it I would say 12 Years A Slave stands a very good chance of winning … although trying to guess what the Academy is going to do is like trying to throw a bee at a dartboard while blindfolded!!

Costume

Nominees: American Hustle; The Grandmaster; The Great Gatsby; The Invisible Woman; 12 Years A Slave

My pick for costume would be The Great Gatsby no question. The fashion from that era is so sumptuous and glamorous I just adore it! And Gatsby is truly spectacular in its costumes. I really felt the level of care that went into creating an authentic look right down to using the tailors F. Scott Fitzgerald himself used! I fins it interesting that three of the nominees, American Hustle, The Great Gatsby and 12 Years A Slave, are essentially period pieces.

I think Gravity is likely to pick up a few awards across the more technical categories it is nominated in. Then it is nominated in Cinematography, Editing, Music, Production Design, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing and of course Visual Effects. I find it unusual that a film that revolves around music, Inside Llewyn Davis, isn’t actually nominated in the Music category.

Best Original Song

Nominees: ‘Alone Yet Not Alone’ from Alone Yet Not Alone; ‘Happy’ from Despicable Me 2; ‘Let It Go’ from Frozen; ‘The Moon Song’ from Her; ‘Ordinary Love’ from Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

As with the Animated Feature category it doesn’t surprise me that the song from Disney’s Frozen is nominated. My pick for this category would be “Happy” from Despicable Me 2 – it’s the sort of song that lifts you up and makes you want to dance. I should know I’ve been tap dancing to it for the last few weeks!

I would love The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug to win something – it’s an incredible feat of cinematic wizardry but as with the first two films from The Lord of the Rings trilogy it has only been recognized in the more technical categories. But then you all know what a fan of Peter Jackson’s work I am.

Well that’s about it for this post. I will try to be more organized and post more regularly – I’m gonna have to if I want to watch as many of the nominated films as I  can before March 2nd – but right now that kind of fills me with dread. I don’t have the energy to keep my eyes open long enough to watch a feature film let alone write about it afterwards at the minute thanks to work. However work appears to be winding down so I should have some free time on my hands soon (and my weekends are pretty free now too after a stupidly busy January!!)

The Wizard of Oz

Director: Victor Fleming

1939

The Wizard Of Oz“Based on The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz, the turn-of-the-century children’s novel by L. Frank Baum, this evergreen classic is one of the great film fairytales, also a first-rate musical and the vehicle that turned Judy Garland from a talented child performer into a lasting and iconic movie star.” (154-155, Kim Newman, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

I think I must have been in a nostalgic mood when I watched this as for once I found myself enjoying the film, which only ever happens once in a blue moon. On the whole I find The Wizard of Oz cloying and Judy Garland as Dorothy annoying beyond belief. This time round I was clearly in the right mood to watch it and found myself really appreciating all the technical aspects of the film. And in terms of the technical side of things the film really is remarkable. Even more so when you think about what they had to work with in 1939!

The switch between the sepia tones of the real world, Dorothy’s Kansas, and the technicolor world that is Oz is flawless. And thanks to the wonder of remastering these colors are as vivid as ever. Oz is a sumptuous land and a visual delight. The Munchkins are wonderful even if they haven’t been synched properly due to altering their voices. They are delightfully bizarre with interesting costumes. “The film has many splendors: a superb Harold Arlen – E. Y. Harburg score (ranging from the wistful “Over the Rainbow” through the infectious jollity of “Off To See The Wizard” and “Ding-Dong, The Witch Is Dead” to the classic comedy of “If I Only Had A Brain”), incredible MGM set design, hundreds of squeaky Munchkins and flying monkeys, the ‘horse of a different color’ gag, and perfect performances all round.” (154-155) The songs are, as always, ridiculously catchy and remain with you for the remainder of the day. Both my mum and I found ourselves singing “Follow The Yellow Brick Road” at random points throughout the day.

The special effects and makeup really are outstanding. For a film made at the tail end of the 1930s the make up and prosthetics are still remarkably believable. I quite like the fact that they are real people. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see a computer generated lion if anyone decided to remake The Wizard of Oz which would detract from the character. After all one of the key themes is that although Dorothy has been ripped from her world, quite literally, and deposited in a strange new world there are still familiar faces all around her.  “The “no place like home” theme, a screenwriter’s convenience to keep all the characters focussed on their quests, has always seemed like a slight cop out (why would anyone want to leave the wonders of Oz and go back to Kansas?). It never quite squares with the spoilsport interpretation of the whole film as a delirious dream in which Dorothy has recast everyone she knows as her Land of Oz friends and enemies.” (154-155)

I did find it hard to come at this film with a fresh mind as there are so many different versions and retellings floating around out there. Indeed I did find the story behind Wicked (Stephen Schwartz, 2003) rearing its head every so often which threw a whole new light on Margaret Hamilton’s iconic Wicked Witch of the West. And talking of Hamilton’s Wicked Witch of the West she is delightfully mean with a quintessential villain’s laugh, one that is oft imitated and grates on you whenever you hear it. The flying monkeys are brilliant although I do remember them scaring me as a child. Now I can appreciate the beauty and all the technical elements that went into creating them.

Frank Morgan is a lovable rogue as the eponymous Wizard, a con-man by all accounts but a rather bumbling, amiable one who you can’t help but like. Again I couldn’t help thinking about how James Franco approached the role in Oz The Great and Powerful (Sam Raimi, 2013) and it gave his character added depth he hadn’t had before.

Glinda remains as sickly sweet as ever and is the one character I have never warmed to. She is one of the elements of the film that annoys me the most and I can’t ever see that changing really. She’s just so pink and sparkly and I find her extremely insipid!

I love the trio of rag-tag misfits that Dorothy picks up along the way, made up of the Scarecrow (Ray Bolger), the Tin Man (Jack Haley) and of course the Cowardly Lion (Bert Lahr). They are all such marvelous characters it’s hard to decide who my favorite is – although when I think about it I come down on the side of the Cowardly Lion – and the actors embody them all perfectly. Ray Bolger has a very fluid movement as Scarecrow which highlights his being made of straw with little in the way of support. As the contrast Jack Haley’s Tin Man is quite a stiff performance indicative of him being rusted still for many years. He is the most obviously emotional character with the others forever telling him to stop crying before he rusts up again. Bert Lahr’s Cowardly Lion combines comedy and cuteness, creating one of the most affable characters within the film. And I do love the pretty red bow on his tail!

Now onto the subject of the most important character, that of Dorothy Gale played by Judy Garland of course. Like Glinda I have never really like Dorothy. I find her whiny and completely unable to appreciate all the wonder that surrounds her in Oz. I also always got the feeling that she isn’t really in control of her own journey – she kind of gets pulled along from one event to the next collecting people as she goes.

I’ve kind of avoided The Wizard Of Oz over the last few years because I had been so unimpressed with it the last time I watched it. I’m glad I have watched it recently and found myself rather unexpectedly enjoying the experience. Having said that I still think this is one of those films I will only watch once in a blue moon and even then only if I’m in the right mood.

Les Miserables

Director: Tom Hooper

2012

Since watching Les Miserables for the Oscars last year I am only now just watching it again which is extremely surprising to those who know me. When I like a film I go out and buy it as soon as possible so the fact that I still do not actually own the DVD (I’m borrowing my sister’s copy!) kind of says something about how I feel about it. I think my previous review was just overwhelmed by the fact that we finally had a big screen adaptation of one of my favourite stage musicals. The more I contemplate Tom Hooper’s adaptation the more I realize that my feelings towards the film have changed quite substantially since my first viewing. Indeed there is little that I actually still agree with in my previous review https://randomfilmmusings.wordpress.com/2013/01/31/les-miserables/

The music is still stunning but I often find the rearrangements jarring – this is most definitely because I’m just so used to the stage arrangements however. I understand the need for changes to lyrics (as mentioned previously Val Jean isn’t physically branded so the removal of those lyrics make complete sense) and some additions, a brief scene between Javert and Val Jean before the overturned cart.

You can feel the love and dedication of everyone involved in creating the best film they could to do justice to the epic story by Victor Hugo. I love the inclusion of numerous Les Mis actors from across the years – a real nod to not only their performances over the years but also to the fans of the musical who will recognize many of the faces in the background. Obviously the most recognizable is that of Colm Wilkinson, the original Jean Val Jean, as the Bishop.

The costume design utilizes the costumes already associated with the story from the stage while at the same time creating a new look for the film. The film uses a slightly more muted color palette than the stage show but then it has the luxury of being able to do so. On stage the colors need to be more vibrant in order to be seen throughout the theatre. Key components of the iconic costumes have been kept  and expanded upon like the iconic rosettes and Enjolras‘ jacket. Cosette’s clothing is sumptuous befitting her position as the Mayor’s daughter. The best costumes in my opinion are those of the Thenadiers, and probably the most complex as they are forever adding to their costumes with the various items lifted from their unsuspecting victims.

Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen are hilarious as the Thenadiers, the much-needed comedic element in an otherwise fairly depressing story. They have excellent chemistry, each complimenting the other well. And as we all know from Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007, Tim Burton) they are both surprisingly good singers.

Despite some people saying he’s not the strongest singer in the cast I am still mightily impressed with Russell Crowe’s Javert. I love his approach to his songs. And his portrayal of the increasingly obsessed police officer intent on capturing Val Jean is magnificent.

I am still not enamored with either Eddie Redmayne or Aaron Tveit, as Marius and Enjolras respectively. And I remain adamant that Killian Donnelly would have made a much better Enjolras – he is an incredible performer, especially as Enjolras! It shouldn’t have mattered that he was an unknown in the film world as Hopper made the best decision for Eponine when he cast Samantha Barks (an as of then untested actress in the film world though obviously not within Les Mis on stage) She is stunning! You really feel every note of pain and longing in her voice. Her “Little Fall Of Rain” was one of the standout moments of the film and reduced me to even more of a blubbering wreck then I already was by that point.Little Fall of Rain Eddie Redmayne Les Miserables Samantha Barks

“Hooper ably captures the squalor of Victor Hugo’s Paris, particularly in the early scenes that detail Fantine’s fall. Her plea for mercy, for some relief from the drudgery of her existence, is the most powerful moment in the film. It is a raw portrait of a woman in despair. For sheer emotion, no musical and very few films from recent years can match it.” (936, Ian Hayden Smith, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die) Despite Anne Hathaway only being in the film for a short amount of time her nomination, and resulting win for Best Supporting Actress is so deserved. She is incredible – there is something so raw about her performance, which makes it all the more powerful. She really endeared the character to me which is a big thing coming from me because I have always found Fantine to be cloying and supremely annoying before. “I Dreamed a Dream” is without doubt one of the stand out numbers of the entire film for me.

I find myself less impressed with Hugh Jackman the more I think about his performance – I see more flaws in his Val Jean each time I watch the film which is something that I thought I would never say. I still feel that his rendition of “Bring Him Home” is one of the weakest numbers in the film, a fact that sits uncomfortably with me as that is my favourite number in the entire show … closely followed by “Do You Hear The People Sing?”

Les Miserables BarricadesI waited the entire film for the epic barricade to appear. You would have thought given the scope of film compared to stage the barricades would have been immense but it is only in the final shots of the film that you get a barricade to rival the one of stage at The Queen’s Theatre. That final barricade is worth the wait however setting the stage for one of the most spine-tingling set pieces in film over the last few years. The final shots of all those who lost their lives during the revolution atop the breathtaking barricade are beautiful and rousing. I shall be singing “Do You Hear The People Sing?” for days afterwards safe in the knowledge that I would once again “join in their crusade” which is exactly how you should feel having seen Les Mis.