The Great Gatsby

Director: Baz Lurhmann

Nominated: Costume Design; Production Design

I am completely enamored of The Great Gatsby – it’s one of my favorite movies to come out of last year. I suppose being a fan of Luhrmann’s work makes me more open to embracing the latest of his epic adventures.

Gatsby is instantly recognizable as a Baz Luhrmann film. It seems to be an amalgamation of his previous work. It has the vivid colors of Romeo & Juliet (1996), the frenetic, almost disjointed, movement and pervasive musical element of Moulin Rouge! (2001) and the epic scope of Australia (2008). All these elements combine to create another visually stunning world that is so very Baz.

The soundtrack to Gatsby is one of my favorite film soundtracks (which is saying something when I confess unabashedly that the vast majority of my iTunes library is made up of soundtracks!) I will admit that when I first heard that people like Jay-Z, Beyoncé and Will.I.Am were producing tracks I couldn’t quite figure out how Hip Hop was going to fit in a film that is very much situated in the 1920s. But somehow the music not only fits but adds another level to the world being created.

Carey Mulligan The Great GatsbyCarey Mulligan is breathtaking as Daisy. If ever there was someone who should have been born in another period of time it’s her. She flawless embodies the very essence of the 1920s. It was good to see Tobey Maguire acting again. As the narrator of Gatsby you are kind of pre-disposed to see the whole film from his perspective and you certainly get swept along on the same whirlwind adventure Nick Carraway embarks upon when he enters Gatsby’s lavish world.

And then there is Leonardo DiCaprio as the fantastical literary figure that is Jay Gatsby. I’ve been a fan of DiCaprio since I was a teenager and he was the teen pin-up in Titanic (1997, James Cameron)and continue to be not only impressed but drawn t every character he inhabits and Gatsby is no exception. Of course it does help that he looks absolutely dashing as Gatsby. The 1920s suits him. I love the vulnerability he infuses Gatsby with along with the childlike hope, everything will be okay because I have a plan so it has to work out. And yet he is such a tragic figure.Leonardo DiCaprio The Great Gatsby

Now on to the costumes because after all that’s what The Great Gatsby is nominated for (well and Production Design too but more on that later) The costumes are to die for quite simply!! I adore the 1920s and all the flapper dresses so was enraptured by all the exquisite costumes created to bring the lavish world of The Great Gatsby to life. There’s an elegance to the fashion of the 1920s and a simplicity – even to the most extravagant dresses. I love the attention of detail that went into creating an as authentic as possible world for Gatsby to inhabit. They used the tailors that had dressed F. Scott Fitzgerald in real life to make many of the suits for Leo’s Gatsby and boy did he wear them well!

The Great Gatsby Baz LuhrmannThere’s only one word to describe the Production Design and that is lavish. Gatsby’s mansion is incredible with the fabulous swimming pool as the focal point of the immense garden. The Production design really pulls the whole film together, providing the perfect stage for the epic story of The Great Gatsby. The outrageously spectacular parties thrown by Gatsby are full of frenetic movement and music reminiscent of many numbers in Moulin Rouge. I love everything about The Great Gatsby but then as I said before I am a fan of Baz Luhrmann’s unique cinematic vision.

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The Wolf Of Wall Street

Director: Martin Scorsese

Nominated: Best Picture; Best Actor; Best Supporting Actor; Director; Best Adapted ScreenplayWolf of Wall Street

I was a little underwhelmed by The Wolf of Wall Street. It was way too long to make for comfortable viewing resulting in a numb bum and lots of fidgeting on my part. And usually I’m such a fan of Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio. I was expecting it to be a bit of a riot but it turned out to be rather overblown. It was just too ridiculous to comprehend at times and yet that was the lifestyle Jordan Belfort was actually living. It kind of beggars belief. That’s not to say there weren’t some good points to the film.

Jonah Hill is continuing to go from strength to strength as an actor having moved past the awkward teen comedies of the start of his career. Even while looking like a complete tool in a way too many-colored shirt and those impressive teeth he commands your attention – no easy thing to do when sharing the screen with Leonardo DiCaprio.

Wolf Of Wall Street Leonardo DiCaprio Jordan BelfortLeonardo DiCaprio is as usual brilliant. By all accounts his character, Jordan Belfort, is a complete asshole and yet you are still drawn to him. He is charming and charismatic with easy ready smiles and very much the gift of the gab. Belfort could sell you your own kidney and you’d never even realize it, you’d even thank him for it. He sucks you into the whirlwind that is his excessive lifestyle, going from one ridiculous situation to the next without really ever questioning the legality of them. DiCaprio is probably the only person who could carry off this role, there is an intensely amiable quality to every role I have ever seen him in. It would be only fitting if this was finally the year when he moved from being an Oscar Nominee to an Oscar Winner.

Leonardo DiCaprio Jonah Hill The Wolf of Wall StreetI have to say my favorite moment was when Belfort and Donnie Azoff take ancient ‘ludes’ – the result is hysterical and tip-top acting, especially physically, on both accounts. It was the only real laugh out loud moment in the whole film for me. While the film was outrageous there were moments that felt as though they had been tamed down. Like I say I was just a bit underwhelmed with the whole thing. It may be the sort of film that grows on me with multiple viewings – I hope it is because it is some stellar acting from everyone involved.

Dallas Buyer’s Club

Director: Jean-Marc Vallee

Nominated: Best Picture; Best Actor; Best Supporting Actor; Editing; Make Up and Hair; Best Original Screenplay

Wow was Dallas Buyer’s Club challenging to watch or what? I found it difficult to watch Matthew McConaughey as Ron Woodruff because he just looks so painfully ill and it’s well-known that he underwent a dramatic weight-loss program to achieve the physicality needed for this performance. He just doesn’t look healthy at all which I found uncomfortable to witness. It did add to his performance and not just physically but emotionally as well. He undergoes a fairly decisive transformation over the course of the film in terms of personality.

DALLAS-BUYERS-CLUBAt the outset of the film he has a fairly typical outlook on the subject of AIDs, certainly at the height of the American epidemic during the 1980s. He is every inch the homophobic, red-neck, then is diagnosed himself. Of course there is the denial phase but once he finally accepts it his hustler instincts come to the fore in his search for life saving drugs. It’s this search and his subsequent frequent interaction with the gay community, the very community he shunned before his diagnosis that begins to alter his perspective. And key to this is Jared Leto as the transvestite, Rayon.

Leto is almost unrecognizable as Rayon – and makes a very convincing transvestite thanks to his somewhat effeminate looks. Rayon is a force of nature and you can’t help but be drawn to him. Despite being a force of nature Rayon is such an intensely sad and lonely character, a product of his lifestyle as it has created an estrangement from his family. There’s a tangible sadness to Rayon hidden beneath the extrovert.27LETO1_SPAN-articleLarge-v2

While I wasn’t alive during the AIDs epidemic in America I am by no means ignorant to the history of it. But then when you come from a history orientated family you grow up absorbing information across all periods of time. I often take it for granted that I know about certain events without having experienced them and forget that there are many people who know nothing about the world past their back yard. I think Dallas Buyer’s Club is an important film as it opens up a period of history, and recent history at that, to a new audience. While we know more about the disease there are still people who are woefully ignorant about AIDs and bigoted because of it.

Dallas Buyer’s Club is a thoughtful and moving film that takes quite a stark look at the attitudes around the epidemic during the 1980s, with powerful and compelling performances from its two leads, Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto. An intensely interesting film.

American Hustle

Director: David O’Russell

Nominated: Best Picture; Best Actor; Best Supporting Actor; Best Actress; Best Supporting Actress; Costume Design; Director; Editing; Production Design; Best Original Screenplay

David O’Russell seems able to pull performances out of his cast that earn them all nominations across the acting categories; he did it last year with Silver Linings Playbook (2013) and he’s done it again. And they are all performances worthy of a nomination.

American HustleAmy Adams adopts a pretty flawless English upper class accent as her alter ego Lady Edith and switches effortlessly between the two within the same sentence on occasion. She effectively becomes the narrator of the piece, setting up the story and introducing the key players. She says of Christian Bale’s character, Irving Rosenfeld, “He wasn’t necessarily in good shape and he had this comb over that was rather elaborate. He had this air about him. And he had this confidence that drew me to him” which perfectly sums him up. There was a charisma to Irving that drew you to him despite being, well let’s just say less than is usually considered, attractive. It gave Bale’s performance an intriguing quality that kept you fixated on him throughout.

Bradley Cooper is a self-assured, cocky, ambitious FBI Agent in American Hustle who becomes more manic and unhinged as the tempo of the film increases. It’s the complete opposite of his performance in Silver Linings Playbook last year but equally as compelling to watch. I always find it interesting watching characters unravel and implode which Cooper’s Richie Di Maso does quite impressively.

For me the one who impressed me the most, but then she always does, was Jennifer Lawrence as Irving’s loose cannon of a wife, Rosalyn. She is fabulous! Every time I watch her in something she seems to up the bar be it in an Oscar nominated film, like American Hustle, Silver Linings Playbook or Winter’s Bone (2010, Debra Granik) or a huge franchise film like The Hunger Games (2012, Gary Ross) or X-Men First Class (2011, Matthew Vaughn). And she’s only just started her career! She’s definitely my pick for Best Supporting Actress. I love the vulnerability she bought to Rosalyn, who by all accounts is a loud, brash character. She does things without thinking first making her the opposite of Irving who plans everything before embarking on any venture.

I always find costumes and production design more appealing in period pieces and there’s no denying that American Hustle is a period piece. It proudly screams 1970s with every fiber of it’s being. I particularly enjoyed Di Maso’s tight perm and the tiny rollers he used to keep it in tip-top condition. The 1970s seem to be one of the more ridiculous eras, certainly in terms of fashion, and American Hustle revels in it.

I really enjoyed American Hustle despite a number of my friends not having much to say for its good points. It has brilliant performances from the core characters as well as a cameo from Robert De Niro, as a Mob boss; wonderfully nostalgic costumes and settings, and an intriguing plot – what more could you ask for?

12 Years A Slave

Director: Steve McQueen

Nominated: Best Picture; Best Actor; Best Supporting Actor; Best Actress; Director; Editing; Production Design; Best Adapted Screenplay

I’ve found my film of the Oscars! 12 Years A Slave captivated me from the very first frame. I suppose it helped that I have huge respect and admiration for Steve McQueen and his work, but I think even without that this would still be my film of this years Oscars season.

McQueen makes the audience confront the difficult, uncomfortable and often taboo things that we would normally overlook. It’s something I first noticed when watching Bobby Sands waste away on hunger strike in Hunger (2008) and then again when  given an insight into the world of sexual addiction in Shame (2011). 12 Years A Slave asks the audience to witness and question the atrocious actions of White Americans during the 1800s, at the height of slavery. And while there may no longer be slavery in America or the UK, as McQueen said in his acceptance speech at the BAFTAs, “there are 21 million people in slavery as we sit here. I just hope that 150 years from now our ambivalence will not allow another filmmaker to make this film.” No body should ever be a slave! McQueen, and everyone involved in 12 Years A Slave, pushes people to react and abandon any ambivalence towards the more troubling aspects of the human condition and that makes for a powerful film.

Chiwetel Ejiofor is salient as Solomon Northup. He has an incredibly expressive face and is capable of displaying a multitude of emotions non-verbally. Watching the way he carries himself alter throughout the film is interesting. I felt that the moment he joined in singing “Roll, Jordan, Roll” was the one moment when he abandoned hope, a moment made all the more intense by McQueen’s lengthy close up.

McQueen is the sort of director who doesn’t shy away from things be they nudity in Shame or the casual violence so prevalent in 12 Years A Slave. Some of the whipping scenes and the aftermath of them are really quite graphic and made me wince. Lupita Nyong’o is a revelation as Patsey, the slave girl unfortunate enough to attract the attention of Epps. The scene where she is whipped is one of the most traumatic to watch – beaten in intensity  only by the long-held shot of the aborted attempt to hang Northup.12 Years A Slave

12 Years A Slave Michael Fassbender Chiwetel EjioforAs always Michael Fassbender is exceptional. He has formed one of those partnerships with McQueen, similar to Johnny Depp and Tim Burton, where their collaborations produce the best work out of both of them. There is an innate darkness and menace to Fassbender’s character Edwin Epps, which makes him irresistible to watch. He’s my pick for the win but I’m a self-confessed Michael Fassbender fan (turning round to find him standing next to me while volunteering at the BAFTAs is the highlight of my year so far!!)

12 Years A Slave Benedict Cumberbatch Chiwetel EjioforBenedict Cumberbatch gives another memorable, albeit brief, performance as Ford, a sympathetic yet ultimately impotent slaver. There was no noticeable passing of time until the film reached its climax with Northup’s return to his family as a free man once more, finding his children grown along with a young grandson. The gradual aging of Northup is very subtle – you only really notice it at the end of the film. This is definitely my favorite film nominated this year. It sits at the top of a pile of some exceptional films. I’d love for it to be recognized properly by the Academy.

Philomena

Director: Stephen Frears

Nominated: Best Picture; Best Actress; Music; Best Adapted Screenplay

Philomena is not a great advert for the Catholic Church in Ireland at all. It is however a wonderful film with a delightful performance by Dame Judi Dench, as the titular Philomena.

This year the Oscars are packed with films portraying the life story of real people (Captain Phillips; Dallas Buyer’s Club; Lone Survivor; Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom; Saving Mr Banks; The Wolf of Wall Street and 12 Years A Slave) and Philomena is just one of many. The real life story of Philomena Lee’s search to find the son taken from her by the church. It’s a deeply moving film, though not devoid of comedy and light-hearted moments.

Philomena Judi Dench Steve CooganThe relationship played out between Philomena, a sweet little old lady, and Martin Sixsmith, the disillusioned, cynical and disgraced journalist who takes up her story … initially out of desperation for a job … is heart warming. Philomena’s optimism and enjoyment of everything break down the walls Sixsmith has built up and they form an unlikely, odd couple, friendship.

I was impressed with Steve Coogan’s performance as Sixsmith. I cannot stand his comedic roles, especially Alan Partridge, so approached Philomena with a sense of dread but found myself completely taken in by his character thankfully.

Judi Dench is as usual impeccable and really is the heart of the film. Along the lines of The Magdalene Sisters (2002, Peter Mullan) Philomena draws attention to the less than Christian practices of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland. It leaves a nasty taste in your mouth watching young children being removed from their mothers for no other reason than money.Judi Dench Philomena

I would have the same reaction as Sixsmith – I don’t think I would be able to forgive someone like that. I would have liked to see Coogan nominated for Best Supporting Actor as their two performances are so intertwined. For me the way Philomena bounced off Sixsmith made Judi Dench’s performance not only more powerful  but more enjoyable to watch.

Nebraska

Director: Alexander Payne

Nominated: Best Picture; Best Actor; Best Actress; Cinematography; Director; Best Original Screenplay

When the nominations for this years Oscars were announced I commented on the inclusion of Nebraska being quite out there, the odd ball. And I stand by those comments having now watched Nebraska. It definitely has the most independent feel to it.

NebraskaI’m a film graduate so you would think that I’d have a deep appreciation for independent movies but the truth is more often than not I don’t. I often find independent films to be so overworked and self-aware, to the point where they border snobbery. There are a few films that I appreciate, like Brick (2005, Rian Johnson) but that list is woefully short for a cinephile. I unabashedly admit to really enjoying Hollywood fare! Nebraska sadly falls into the former category.

It’s a meandering film with a very slow pace and sadly not very much happens. To be perfectly honest it just bored me. There are a couple of moments where Bruce Dern’s drug-addled Woody Grant comes out with some chuckle worthy asides, I particularly enjoyed his comments on Mount Rushmore, but these were not enough to keep me interested in the story I’m afraid. I can’t see how his performance warranted a nomination when Tom Hanks gives a far superior and nuanced performance in Captain Phillips and was overlooked.

I think the thing that irritated me the most about Nebraska was that it was shot in black and white with no apparent reason behind that decision. It made the film pretentious and self-indulgent. It’s not like we don’t have the equipment to capture color, unlike the films created in the infancy of cinema. And more importantly it’s not like we see in black and white!

As you can tell I didn’t like Nebraska all that much and stand by my original statement that it’s the odd ball of this years Oscars. I’m sure some people not like the film but love it, I’m just not one of those people.