The Lone Ranger

Director: Gore Verbinski

Nominated: Make-up and Hair; Visual Effects

I was a bit skeptical about The Lone Ranger, unfairly due to having watched the awful Dark Shadows (2012, Tim Burton) … something I never thought I’d say of a Depp and Burton collaboration, and was actually pleasantly surprised with how enjoyable the film is.

Depp returns to the role of lovable fool as Tonto, albeit with obvious echoes of Captain Jack Sparrow. And he is back on spectacular form too. His make-up is striking and memorable with the usual level of detail that he infuses his characters with. Despite Helena Bonham Carter being prominent on all the marketing images she has hardly any time on screen. Her character’s prosthetic leg is beautiful with such detail in the design. Ivory leg The Lone RangerLike Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa, Depp is also transformed into a much older version of his character with a rather impressive three-quarter body prosthetic. He becomes almost unrecognizable as Depp underneath it all.

Tonto is easily the most amusing aspect of The Lone Ranger and has a delightful ‘odd couple’ relationship with Armie Hammer’s John Reid who ultimately becomes the infamous Lone Ranger. The film after all is a transformation from Reid’s somewhat proper lawyer to the renowned outlaw for justice with the aid of a slightly crazy Native American in the form of Tonto.Johnny Depp Tonto The Lone Ranger

The visual effects are unnoticeable which is actually what you want them to be. If you don’t notice any visual effects then you know they’ve been done well. And Verbinski is a director who tries to do as much physically in camera as he possibly can which adds to the sense of realism. Good film with many fun elements but I can’t see it even coming close to getting the Oscar for Visual Effects as it seems guaranteed Gravity (Alfonso Cuaron) will win that one.

Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa

Director: Jeff Tremaine

Nominated: Make-up and Hair

I grew up with the Jackass boys and retain a fondness for them. I had grown quite weary of their films however because I thought they had become too extreme and lost some of the more comic elements which made me a fan in the first place, so I wasn’t really sure about this new one. However I did go and see Bad Grandpa with a friend and roared with laughter for the entirety of the film – the whole cinema did. It was hilarious, a return to the comic genius of the stunts from the early years of Jackass and punking the unfortunate American public.

In some way the title is misleading as I was expecting some of the old reliables like Steve-O and Bam to appear but it’s only Johnny Knoxville and the creative team led by Jeff Tremaine. And it’s quite a departure from the old stuff in that there is actually a narrative and story-line to Bad Grandpa. It even manages to tug on your heart-strings on a couple of occasions. That’s not to say that it isn’t hilarious and completely outrageous at the same time because it really is.

Jackass Presents Bad GrandpaJackson Nicoll,  the young actor who plays Billy, Irving’s grandson, is remarkable. he has excellent comedic timing and some serious guts to infiltrate a Little Miss Pageant (those places are pretty scary in their intensity!) And he more than holds his own against Johnny Knoxville’s Bad Grandpa, Irving.

Bad Grandpa is nominated for Make-up and Hair which makes sense as they transform Knoxville into an 86 year-old man. The make-up is fantastic and coupled with Knoxville’s performance you do believe you are watching an old man … if you haven’t seen any of Jackass before. I could still easily recognize Knoxville under all that make-up but then like I say I spent my teenage years enjoying the antics of the Jackass boys. I couldn’t understand how he managed to get away with doing so many outrageous things to the public without anyone recognizing him and then my friend reminded me that Jackass have been pretty dormant since their last film in 2010 and originally targeted quite a niche audience in the first place. And that audience were none of the public involved in the hidden filming of Bad Grandpa.Jackass Presents Bad Grandpa Johnny Knoxville Jackson Nicoll

I loved the inclusion of the Bikers Against Child Abuse because they totally break the stereotypes. You initially think there’s going to be problems when this horde of bikers appear and yet they turn out to be the ones calming down the tensions between Irving and Billy’s wastrel father, all the while keeping their attention fully on Billy and his well-being, both physically and emotionally.

Bad Grandpa was a fun movie, one that I spent most of my time laughing through and thoroughly enjoyed. And having a narrative worked well for the film rather than just a series of stunts.

Dirty Wars

Director: Rick Rowley

Nominated: Documentary Feature

In some ways I’m quite surprised this film got made let alone nominated as its subject matter couldn’t be more controversial if it tried. Dirty Wars documents the journey of the investigative reporter, Jeremy Scahill as he tries to uncover the hidden wars taking place under the control of the JSOC (Joint Special Operations Command) throughout the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. What makes it controversial I think is that it is an American setting out to expose American wrongdoings under the banner of the war on terror. However having said that there is also the feel of a conspiracy theory to it as well.

Dirty WarsSome of the images are harrowing, particularly of the bodies of dead children, some as young as one, made all the more disturbing when you remember that this isn’t a feature film and that isn’t makeup but real people who really suffered.

Dirty Wars is compelling but I couldn’t help feeling uncomfortable watching it as it raises a number of unsettling questions, not just about the war and how American troops are conducting themselves, but also about the level of complicity of the American Government – and not just under George Bush’s presidency but the current administration under Obama.

Last year Zero Dark Thirty (2012, Kathryn Bigelow) was nominated throughout the awards season – a film charting the capture and ultimate kill of the Western world’s public enemy number one – Osama Bin Laden – signaling the end of the war on terror (if you’re naive enough to believe that) and then this year we get Dirty Wars which asks the audience to take a deeper look into what is still happening around the world. The war on terror hasn’t ended and if you take the information gathered by Scahill in Dirty Wars at face value then it appears to have increased not only in intensity but in number of targets and locations as well.

It’s a very slick, polished, well-directed and edited documentary and an extremely interesting one to watch. It did make me question a number of things but I did take it all in with a sense of skepticism because after all this is only one side of a multi-faceted and complex story. Dirty Wars is definitely worth watching despite being somewhat disquieting. But then maybe that is the very reason to watch it instead of passively accepting everything the controlling governments of the Western world say is fact.

Before Midnight

Director: Richard Linklater

Nominated: Best Adapted Screenplay

I’ve not seen the first two films in what is now ultimately a trilogy. Before Sunrise (1995, Richard Linklater) and Before Sunset (2004, Richard Linklater) were films I always meant to watch but hadn’t yet got around to actually watching and now I doubt I ever will. Although this is the shortest film I have watched this awards season at just under 2 hours it is the one that has felt the longest and the one I had the most trouble with. It feels so much longer than it really is and that’s not a good thing.Before Midnight

The whole film is comprised of relentless dialogue, mainly from the two leads Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy), and yet says remarkably little. The narrative seems to revolve around the tensions in their relationship and a large portion of the film is dedicated to the same argument occurring multiple times in different locations and with increasing ferocity. We don’t even really get to see that much of the beautiful Greek location the family is vacationing in. And I felt like the supporting characters were disappointing. You weren’t really introduced to them at all and they were never developed past being sounding boards for Jesse and Celine’s self-important diatribe.

I’m sure a lot of people enjoyed Before Midnight but I really didn’t – I thought it was a piece of self-indulgent writing and directing that I found a chore to watch. Linklater’s directing style was one that annoyed me. He used hand-held shots to create a voyeuristic sense of intimacy but whenever the shot wobbled (which was often) you were reminded that you were watching something constructed, which ultimately pulled you out of the moment – the complete opposite of the intention behind using a hand-held style in the first place.

It really wouldn’t surprise me if Before Midnight went and won the Oscar because while you can never really guess what way the Academy will go year on year this feels like something they would laud over some other films.

Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom

Director: Justin Chadwick

Nominated: Best Original Song

Mandela: Long Walk To FreedomI watched the entire film waiting for the song “Ordinary Love” to appear and it’s the blooming credit song! I know this sounds like I’m complaining but I’m not because Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom was a film I very much wanted to watch and actually lived up to the hype surrounding it. And there was a lot of hype – heightened by Nelson Mandela’s death occurring on the day of the UK premiere. I did find that kind of pervaded the film and created a greater sense of poignancy.

Idris Elba was magnificent as Nelson Mandela – he ad many of the characteristics down perfectly especially the way he walked. I liked the fact that they didn’t rely on makeup to transform Elba into Mandela but rather made the transformation through characteristics and behavior instead.

The film covers a lifetime, and an eventful one at that, in 2 and a half hours. As such there are a number of events that get covered quickly and I know that a number of critics felt that too little time was spent on Robben Island – a crucial period in Mandela’s life. I do see where they are coming from but I hold the opinion that you could create a separate film from the time Mandela spent on the island. Also the clue is in the title – Long Walk to Freedom – the story continues long after his incarceration.

Naomie Harris does well, as Winnie Madikize,  in a role that is quite unsympathetic. Indeed I came away with a very negative view of Winnie. She came to love power too much, more than her husband. I saw Winnie and Mandela as two sides of the same coin – where Winnie responded with hate and violence Mandela responded with love and forgiveness.

I wasn’t surprised to hear that “Ordinary Love”, the credit song nominated for Best Original Song, was penned and performed by U2 as they have always had a connection with Mandela. What can I say about the song? Well it’s the usual U2 fare. I came away from watching Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom forcefully reminded of what a remarkable figure Nelson Mandela was and a strong urge to read “Long Walk To Freedom” (1994, Nelson Mandela, Little Brown and Company: GB) in order to learn more about his eventful life.

Frozen

Director: Chris Buck & Jennifer Lee

Nominated: Best Animated Feature; Best Original Song

Ok so Disney may have done it again – Frozen is brilliant! The animation is exquisite as always with really textured costumes this time around and the songs are back on track … and let’s face it songs play a big role in any Disney film.

FrozenI absolutely loved the fact that the story revolved around sisters. While I identified with Elsa naturally as I am an older sister, I also found myself recognizing aspects of myself in Anna too. Especially young Anna when she is constantly knocking on Elsa’s door trying to get her to play – that’s completely me and I know how much it drives my younger sister mad.

The singing is exceptional in this film but then when you cast Idina Menzel in the role of Elsa you wouldn’t expect anything else as everyone knows she has an amazing set of pipes on her. The big surprise for me was realizing that Kristen Bell did all her own vocals herself. What a dark horse. I never knew she could sing like that (and I’ve loved her since discovering Veronica Mars [2004-2007, Rob Thomas] years ago!) I couldn’t help but smile when the second snowman created was called Marshmallow but then that’s my fan girl showing as Veronica Mars fans are known as Marshmallows. But enough about Veronica Mars and back to Frozen.

My favorite song is actually not the one nominated for Best Original Song but rather “Do You Want To Build A Snowman” It’s such a catchy song (I’ve been singing it since watching Frozen) and a surprisingly emotional one. I like that it charts the whole of Anna’s childhood, one removed of not only her sister but her best friend and then her only family. 

I love the trolls who initially disguise themselves as rocks and the reindeer Sven is just adorable. But then I have said it before that one of the many things Disney excels in is creating memorable and lovable animal characters. There’s a lot of similarities to Tangled (2010, Nathan Greno & Byron Howard) though you never forget that this is a new story. Again though that’s a very Disney trait, referencing their back catalogue. Olaf, the friendly snowman who loves warm hugs, succeeds spectacularly in providing comedic moments. He is fantastic and I instantly fell in love with him. He is eternally optimistic, even when melting, and you can’t help but adore him. Olaf

“Let It Go” is the obvious song to nominate in Frozen as it is the show stopper in a film packed with musical numbers. It is spectacular both in terms of animation and vocals but then Menzel’s voice lends itself perfectly to rousing epic numbers. 

Frozen was brilliant – everything a Disney movie should be. There was beautiful animation, catchy songs, lovable sidekicks and some heart-string tugging moments. And I think it will go on and scoop the Oscar for Best Animated Feature as well as potentially Best Original Song too (though I still like “Happy” from Despicable Me 2 more)Anna, Kristen Bell, Elsa, Idina Menzel

The Croods

Director: Kirk DiMicco & Chris Saunders

Nominated: Best Animated Feature

I find Dreamworks films are a bit hit and miss with me. While initially I enjoyed Shrek (2001, Andrew Adamson & Vicky Jenson) I quickly grew bored with the series (I didn’t even bother with the fourth film) and Puss In Boots (2011, Chris Miller) was atrocious, a perfect example of secondary characters not strong enough to carry their own movie. On the flip side I absolutely love the Despicable Me films (2010 & 2013, Pierre Coffin & Chris Renaud) … but more on them later as Despicable Me 2 is also nominated in this category.

I’m kind of indifferent to The Croods – I didn’t dislike it but equally I didn’t love it. It’s quite an intense film with many tension filled moments, especially for a children’s film. There are numerous moments of serious jeopardy where you really are unsure of the outcome which results in a surprisingly emotional film.

The film is rich, vibrant and colorful with an extraordinary mix of oddities. None of the creatures are single species but rather made up of unusual combinations of species. The elephant mice are particularly cute.The Croods Elephant Mice

I thought the family dynamics of The Croods played really well. It was fun to see Nicolas Cage voice a character who is fundamentally cautious beyond reason as his career is dominated by characters who routinely throw caution to the wind without a second thought. And I loved how desperately he wishes for the demise of his batty, ancient mother-in-law. it becomes the running joke that after every dangerous moment she emerges triumphantly stating “Still alive” followed by his put upon sigh. Granny is a fun character.The Croods

Emma Stone’s Ugg is an infectiously enthusiastic character, full of curiosity who you cannot but help respond to. She’s the basis for the most moving emotional journey as she overcomes the differences holding her back from having a relationship with her father. And of course she’s the focus for the love interest as she falls for Guy … the only make not from her family. Guy, voiced by Ryan Reynolds is very much the modern man with new approaches to everything and a multitude of ideas, including inventing shoes! His pet ‘Belt” is adorable while being an essential part of his survival.

It was an enjoyable film with some really quite wacky creatures beautifully animated but so far it hasn’t even come close to matching Despicable Me 2.