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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Penultimate Oscars update

Ok guys I guess you may be getting bored with the (seemingly) endless updates concerning the Oscars but I am coming to the end I swear. There will be one more after this – which combines the last few films and obviously a whole bunch of comments on the results of the 84th Academy Awards. And then it will be back to trying to work my way through 1001 Movie You Must Watch Before You Die I promise!

Kung Fu Panda 2

Director: Jennifer Yuh

Like so many animated features Kung Fu Panda 2 uses big name actors to voice the characters. And what a stellar cast it is, with actors like Lucy Liu, Seth Rogan, Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, Jackie Chan and Gary Oldman playing supporting roles to Jack Black’s Po. With Jack Black at the helm I expected it to be funnier than it was. Having said that I still found it funnier than Puss In Boots (Chris Miller).

Seth Rogan does the typical Seth Rogan act, just without the obscenities, which people either seem to love or hate. I think his voice lends itself well to animated characters. And in some ways Jack Black does the same. We get a typical Jack Black performance in an animated panda suit. He is the funniest character in the film but for me the laughs were few and far between. Gary Oldman plays the adversary spectacularly – a power-hungry albino peacock. Shen’s story reminds me of Herod just without Po in the role of Jesus. his demise is foretold to come at the hand of a panda so he orders every panda in China killed.

I quite like that the film approaches the idea of adoption and Po’s reaction to the news. I love the baby Po!!

The animation is of a high quality and actually has two very different styles. The bulk of the film is quite realistic – well as realistic as animals wearing human clothes can be. The second style of animation has a more hand-drawn feel to it which creates a softer and more dream-like quality, fitting as the style is utilized during flashback scenes.

Not the worst animated film I have ever seen but certainly no where near the best one I have seen either. It’s main selling point for me is the cast of some really big Hollywood A-Listers but even then they didn’t really live up to my expectations.

Rango

Director: Gore Verbinski

Having now seen 4 out of the 5 films nominated in the Best Animated Feature category this is definitely my stand out winner!! Unlike Puss In Boots (Chris Miller, 2011) and Kung Fu Panda 2 (Jennifer Yuh) which are meant to be funny and just weren’t I actually laughed a lot at Rango.

Johnny Depp is recognizable as the eponymous lizard and is hilarious. His voice lends itself well to animation and highlights his comedic talent. The townsfolk are a wonderfully rendered bizarre mix of animals, all pretty grotesque, with hick sensibilities.

It may be a film aimed at children but it is funny and clever enough to keep adults entertained as well. It’s adult humor isn’t the base or crude humor you sometimes find in family films which I ave to say I find refreshing. The film is packed with genre specific elements. From the costumes and it is very obviously rooted in the Western genre. However there are also elements of film noir and even  nod to war films with an ariel attack set to a redneck version of ‘Rise of the Valkyrie” – made famous by Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola, 1979) – which is one of the most memorable moments of the film for me.

I would not only watch Rango again but also recommend it to anyone regardless of if they had children or not as it is brilliant. And that isn’t something I can say about some of the other nominees in this category.

Beginners

Director: Mike Mills

You can tell immediately that this is an independent film rather than a massive Hollywood produced film. The film is led by the narrative of Oliver (Ewan McGregor) often spoken right over the top of the images. There is a lovely slow pace to the film. The first five minutes cover the back story of the film very quickly but succinctly in a series of vignettes and photo montages. And then the film is peppered with flashbacks, or rather remembrances, and again that works. Sound is used more sparingly … many of the scenes are quiet except for diegetic sound, or have music playing over scenes removed of all other sound. It forces you to experience the moment rather than think, even subconsciously, about everything else that is happening in the background.

I think my favourite relationship is between Oliver and his father’s dog, Arthur, but then this could be because I have recently got a puppy and now totally understand talking to your dog. And the dog is so adorable, even more so than the dog in The Artist (Michel Hazanavicius, 2011) I think that Arthur is actually a key character in the film as you see Oliver connecting to the dog while he goes through his grieving process.

Ewan McGregor is once again brilliant, despite the pretty dodgy American accent. He just can’t escape entirely from his Scottish accent. The relationship between Oliver and his dad Hal, who comes out at the age of 75, is beautiful. It is told with such delicacy which I guess is due to the fact that it is inspired by Mills real life. There is a sweetness to it, in the discovery of so many new things about your life, and the start of new romances and loves. The news of Hal’s illness is depicted through disassociated images of coins in patterns, a visual representation of how your mind shuts off when receiving bad news. Christopher Plummer plays Hal wonderfully, fully embracing everything around him and enjoying every minute of his new life and love with a quiet dignity.

It’s a sweet light-hearted film about love that avoids all the somewhat tired clichés attached to portraying romance in films, and I really enjoyed it. I found it refreshing with a hopeful outlook on life.

 The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn

Director: Steven Spielberg

While Tintin was enjoyable I think it fell foul of trying to have too many narratives running at the same time. The script was written by 3 different writers (all very talented!) and you can tell – the story has quite a disparate feel to it. The performance capture (or mo-cap) is a change from the norm but not the first time its been used. The mo-cap adds a deeper level to the animation as it means the performance is directly driven by the actors’ performance, both physically and verbally.

Jamie Bell brings Tintin to life admirably. Thomson and Thompson the bumbling police detectives, voiced by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, are surprisingly unfunny. Also their story seems to be a sideline to the search for the secret of the unicorn, the main narrative. Andy Serkis – the industry’s go-to guy for any motion-capture character – is probably the strongest human performance for me as Captain Haddock, the drunken washed up sea Captain. But then you would expect that as he is the cast member most experienced in filming in mo-cap. It must have been quite novel for him to play a human for once rather than an ape. He provides many of the comic moments in the film. Snowy, despite having the fewest facial movements die to being a dog, actually gives one of the most expressive and emotional performances in the film.

The film is well-directed, though you would expect nothing less of Spielberg, despite the problems with the narrative. I know it’s nominated in the Music category and yet I actually can’t remember what the music was like which doesn’t really bode very well now does it?

Margin Call

Director: J. C. Chandor

Wow what a cast Margin Call has! You have well established names like Jeremy Irons, Kevin Spacey, Stanley Tucci and Demi Moore alongside some of the most talented rising actors like Penn Badgley, Zachary Quinto and Simon Baker. It’s an incredibly talented cast and each and every actor gives a very strong performance.

The film charts the events taking place in the very early days of our current financial climate. The film is compact, taking place over just 24 hours, largely within the office complex of a large financial investment company. There are brief sojourns to outside locations – the vets, a strip club, Eric Dale’s (Stanley Tucci) house – but the majority of the action takes place in conference rooms, board rooms and offices, during the early hours of the morning.

It would be all too easy to portray the bankers/financial workers as the villains of the piece with no redeeming qualities and J. C. Chandor does a good job of presenting a fairly balanced film, deftly directing an ensemble cast. Sure there are the archetypal bankers who come across as cold and heartless with no concerns for how their actions will affect people just as long s they don’t lose any money. But then there are equally characters who are gob-smacked at the situation and the treatment of people by the ‘fat cats’ at the head of the company. Some characters like Spacey’s Sam and Quinto’s Peter (who ultimately discovers the full extent of the problem and calculates the devastating fallout) seem to question their involvement, actions and conscience, and as such are more likable than the cooler and the more callous characters of John Tuld and Jared Cohen (played by Jeremy Irons and Simon Baker respectively).

Due to the nature of the film it is very dialogue heavy but it doesn’t get bogged down in jargon and actually moves at quite a pace. I know almost nothing about the financial sector and yet I followed … and more importantly enjoyed … Margin Call. I think this is a cleverly written and directed film about a controversial topic that actually manages to portray a balanced view of events in out very recent history. Chandor allows the viewer to make up their own mind in response to the character’s actions and reactions to the ensuing crisis.

A Better Life

Director: Chris Weitz

Good little film that follows the lives of a Mexican father and son living in America. A Better Life is a bilingual film with sections in Spanish, which I have to confess kind of passed me by. Demian Bichir as the father, Carlos, gives an excellent performance switching quickly and effortlessly between Spanish and English. The story following Carlos is very much centered on the things he wants for his son, Luis (Jose Julian) – in short ‘a better life’. Luis’ story displays Hispanic gang culture and the violence that goes along with that type of lifestyle. Both Carlos and Luis are linked by their shared aspiration – both of them want better things, although Carlos wants better things for his son rather than himself.

The two narrative threads have their own distinctive style. Carlos is more rhythmic and slower paced often accompanied by more traditional Hispanic music. Luis on the other hand has a faster pace with more modern music and just generally feels harsher. The father/son dynamic is typically that of a teenage boy and his dad … the son wants more freedom while the father still wants to be involved. It has an awkward feel to their relationship, like they don’t really know each other anymore. The two worlds begin to collide when an event forces Carlos and Luis to venture into gang territory – it also creates a kind of truce between the two of them. It is a fairly slow-moving narrative that at times is a celebration of the culture and heritage. Luis seems ashamed of his heritage, doesn’t even really speak Spanish.  He is the archetypal mad at the world and everyone in it teenager. The character of Carlos effectively balances Luis out in that he is calm, considerate with a sense of honor and an aversion to violence.

Music and sound are utilized well with clear musical cues to the escalation of tension. I particularly like the way the music echoes the sound of a heartbeat during the pivotal moment. Their eventual reconciliation is moving yet at the same time bitter-sweet due to the circumstances.

The Iron Lady

Director: Phyllida Lloyd

I was born late into the Thatcher era ad therefore don’t really remember much. However that doesn’t mean I’m not aware of everything that went on during her tenure as Prime Minister. It would be interesting to hear what a non-British person’s take on the film was, as they wouldn’t necessarily get all the references or the emotions attached to the events portrayed.

The costumes are delightful and close in keeping with may of the outfits Thatcher actually wore. There is a heavy presence of the colour blue, especially in the costumes, which subtly reminds you that she was a staunch member of the Conservative party. Meryl Streep is incredible as Thatcher and thanks to the wonders of make-up she actually looks very like her. She deftly portrays Maggie at various stages throughout her life, with a heavy focus on her political career of course, and provides a kind of insight into the lengths Thatcher went to in order to change and garner respect from her fellow politicians. Alexandra Roach does a stellar job as the young Margaret Thatcher and manages to make her performance similar to Meryl Streep’s creating a cohesive character.

The choice to spend the majority of the film in flashback sequences is an interesting one and probably the best decision. The format gives Lloyd the freedom to select the key moments within a decade long political career rather than trudge through everything that occurred during her time as Prime Minister. Archive footage is slotted nicely into filmed set pieces which gives the film some sense of authenticity. I particularly liked the section concerning the decision to go to war in the Falklands.

Jim Broadbent plays Dennis well, appearing in the background as a strong and silent presence. Having said that the majority of the scenes with Broadbent in could be upsetting to watch due to Thatcher’s Alzheimer’s. It reduces a woman who was once powerful enough to run our entire country to an elderly sick lady. Indeed I found the moment when she is watching herself on television and says “I don’t recognize myself” quite upsetting – it must be awful to not know who you are. It does also raise the question as to whether it was right to make a film about Maggie Thatcher while she is still living.

The film is a rather sympathetic view of Thatcher, possibly thanks to the beauty of hindsight, which displays, but doesn’t comment on, many of the controversial decisions made during her term a Prime Minister. I wonder if my take on the film is different because I am a woman watching a film about an iconic woman directed by a woman. You can say what you like about Maggie Thatcher but you have to admit that she had to have had some serious guts to take on the job she did – not only that but hold the position for two consecutive terms – and I have to say I kind of admire her for that (despite not agreeing with many of her political decisions!)

The Ides of March

Director: George Clooney

Clooney and Gosling are a brilliant pairing and I will say once again that it is a huge shame that Ryan Gosling has not picked up any nominations.

Politics always provides good story opportunities and this is no exception. It’s not a great publicity piece for politicians or political campaigns by any stretch of the imagination. However it does reinforce all the images and ideas people have about politics like the unfaithful politician who spouts off about family being the most important thing to them. And yet somehow Clooney still manages to be a likable character as said politician, which is probably a testament to both his acting and writing abilities.

The screenplay is one of the best in the Best Screenplay category with the right balance of heavy dialogue and pregnant pauses. It works well with Gosling as he is one of those actors who has a commanding screen presence even when he is silent. My personal favourite for Best Screenplay would be between Ides of March and Margin Call however I have this niggling feeling that The Artist is going to walk away with the Oscar, as much as I don’t want it to.

Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti are equally unsavory as the campaign managers of opposing politicians. The film is actually fairly sordid what with adultery, unwanted pregnancy, suicide and of course blackmail, but Clooney presents them in such a way that you kind of just accept them as they happen. Gosling’s transformation from a slightly naive and idealistic campaign member to an extremely savvy politico is pretty subtle but it works. In a way every one of the male characters demonstrate the old adage that power corrupts but I think it is most evident in Ryan Gosling’s Stephen who goes from truly believing in Morris’ (Clooney) campaign to moving his way up the ladder through blackmail.

Another Oscars update

War Horse

Director: Steven Speilberg

Now I love the play and have read the book as well. Initially I had reservations about a film adaptation but I went to the cinema with an open mind. I came out having enjoyed the film but saying, “well it wasn’t as good as the play” and a desire to go and see the play again.

While there are some scenes or sequences that have really benefitted the move to the big screen – Joey’s epic run through No Man’s Land is the stand out moment of the whole film for me – it just doesn’t have the magic that the play does. So much of that magic comes from the outstanding puppetry and the fact that the puppeteers make the horses so lifelike and I think you automatically lose some of that by using a real horse.

And just as there are elements that flourished on the big screen there are equally elements that suffered from being on the big screen. Mainly the relationships between the characters. And especially the central key relationship between Albert and Joey. It felt as though not enough time was dedicated to their relationship which resulted in not really understanding just how extraordinarily  strong their bond is without some prior knowledge of the story. There were characters and scenes added into the film which do not exist in the play and equally there were characters left out from the play. Admittedly these only have any sort of relevance if you have seen the play as well.

Tom Hiddleston again makes a brief but shining performance as Captain Nicholls (and should really have won the BAFTA Rising Star award!) as does Benedict Cumberbatch, another exceptionally talented rising actor. Jeremy Irvine did an alright job as Albert but i didn’t really connect with him in the way that I should have. It was lovely to see Michael Morpurgo in a cameo role though not everyone will realize it is him.

John Williams does a very good job with the soundtrack managing to create something new for the film that still has ties to the music of the play. Indeed there are moments when the music was so close to that in the play that I was questioning whether it actually was. And I was overjoyed to hear The Scarlet and the Blue.

Like I say the film is good in its own right and yet it has nothing on the play. It would be interesting to know what people think of the film if they have not previously seen the play.

Real Steel

Director: Shawn Levy

The second robots hitting robots film nominated in the Visual Effects category, so you can’t help but compare it to the Transformers film. Set in the near future it transposes robots into a Fight Club situation complete with a seedy underground scene. There’s some schmaltz while father and son do some reconnecting and bonding but ultimately it’s about robots beating the crap out of other robots.

Hugh Jackman gives a solid performance as the no good father, Charlie, a down on his luck ex-boxer promoter with a gambling habit. His performance is a very physical one, especially once he starts teaching Atom to box, and he does it very convincingly. Dakota Goyo as Charlie’s 11-year-old son, Max, is actually pretty good. And that’s high praise coming from me as I often detest boy actors and yet this wasn’t the case in Real Steel. Goyo manages to play a young boy left with the father who abandoned him with the right amount of anger and hope that he will be able to have a relationship with his dad.

Atom is a great robot – solid rather than flashy with a rather enigmatic smile. The visual effects are strong and have more of a grounding in the real world. The robots in the underground fight scene are gritty, dented, broken, beat up and worn compared to the robots in the Robot Boxing League who are flashy, shiny and high-tech. The league robots are the ones that have more in common with the Autobots in the Transformers films.

I enjoyed Real Steel. It didn’t try to be anything more than what it is – a father son relationship set to the background of fighting robots. I found it to be a heartwarming story that made me smile with stunning visual effects.

The Artist

Director: Michel Hazanavicius

I said when the nominations were announced that there was an incredible amount of hype surrounding this film and it had the potential to win a number of awards. And it has already, picking up numerous BAFTAS including the big 3 of Best Actor, Director and Picture.

The music is outstanding but then it has to be as it is the driving force of the narrative in an otherwise silent film. The costumes are divine though I just adore the fashion from the 1920s. I find it extremely glamorous. There is a much more physical comedy to the performances as obviously verbal comedy doesn’t come across in a silent film, however it isn’t slap stick. The moments of heightened sound in George’s nightmare lend a surreal edge to it and actually make me think of radio plays.

Jean Dujardin as George gives a solid performance and charts the downward slide of a star unwilling to embrace the advent of new technology well although I’m not sure the performance is Oscar worthy, especially when put alongside the other nominees this year. He has the sort of charm and style of the stars of yesteryear like Humphrey Bogart and Cary Grant. He also reminds me a bit of Gene Kelly with his twinkley smile and his dancing. The dog is adorable! Berenice Bejo is beautiful as the rising young star Peppy Miller. Her story and George’s are polar opposites. She has a meteoric rise to fame and yet at the same time there is a sadness to her, especially when she is with George. Both Peppy and George’s stories are cautionary tales about fame. Peppy’s shows that fame cannot buy you happiness while George’s shows that fame and wealth are fleeting and you shouldn’t take anything for granted.

I can’t see what all the fuss is about really. In actual fact I see it as a step back in film production as it doesn’t utilize all the tools available to it. I can understand how some people would argue that The Artist is a return to a purer form of filmmaking but I disagree. There was obviously a reason why silent films have not endured in the same way as ‘talkies’ have. I do see why people have been raving about it as The Artist is a film unlike any other being made at this time but I don’t think that it is really all that special. It’s not a film I would watch multiple times. I find the dialogue cut-aways irritating and not nearly consistent enough. I would prefer subtitles despite them not being in keeping with the style of the film. And I really dislike the fact that there is dialogue in the final 5 minutes. It’s almost as if it doesn’t have faith in its own identity as a silent film.

Oscars Update 2

Puss In Boots

Director: Chris Miller

Dreamworks doesn’t seem to have the same magic touch as Pixar does although 2 of the films nominated in the Best Animated Feature category are produced by Dreamworks. Previously I have found that while Shrek (2001, Andrew Adamson) was funny the subsequent films just weren’t. And I found that to be the case with Puss In Boots as well. It just wasn’t funny – I didn’t laugh once or even really smile at all.

The concept is a bit stretched and I don’t think that the character of Puss is strong enough to carry an entire feature length film by himself. Turning classic nursery rhymes characters, such as Humpty Dumpty and Jack and Jill, into criminals is a novel idea but one that destroys characters from my childhood. I also really didn’t get the combination of humans and nursery rhyme characters – it just kept the fact it was a film in the forefront of my mind; I was unable to suspend my disbelief which in my eyes is the sign of an unsuccessful film.

Let’s hope that the other films in the Best Animated Feature categories have more to offer than Puss In Boots did.

Drive

Director: Nicolas Winding Refn

First of all – how is Ryan Gosling not nominated this season?! He is incredible in both Drive and The Ides of March (George Clooney) … and quite easy on the eyes too!

Ryan Gosling plays the strong silent type really well and is almost monosyllabic. Gosling allows the action to take place around him, almost like the calm eye of the storm, while he watches and absorbs. Seems part machine in is precise and somewhat detached approach to life – reinforced by the choice of songs for the soundtrack. Also reinforced by his lack of name – throughout the film he is known only as the Driver, and indeed thats how he is credited on imdb. Driver has a trademark style with the driving gloves, which he makes cool, and the gold scorpion jacket. Carey Mulligan gives another beautiful performance (fast becoming the best young actress working right now.) Carey is the perfect partner to Gosling … equally comfortable and powerful while saying very little, preferring to embrace the moment rather than filling it with idle chatter.

One of the creators said “it’s both a family drama and a revenge story at the same time.” There is that feeling yet it manages to form a complete narrative rather than separate ones. Winding Refn is not afraid to have moments of silence – he embraces them. The tone of the film varies. The moments between Carey’s Irene and Gosling have a slow, sensuous and quiet presence while the revenge elements have a high-energy and face pace to them in keeping with Gosling’s professional driving style. It takes the time to show the slow development of a blossoming relationship thrown into turmoil by the return of the no good husband, Standard (Oscar Isaac)

The sound in the film plays a big role especially as there is much less dialogue than in some movies which creates quite an intense film. The sound becomes much more distorted and unnatural in the latter half of the film once the trouble begins. The latter half of the film brings the criminal undertone much more to the fore, beginning with a job gone wrong. It has a much rawer, visceral energy to it … and a massive increase in the violence. There is a cold efficiency in Gosling’s actions despite a barely concealed rage just under the surface.

I really enjoyed Drive and think BAFTA had it right when they nominated it for Best Picture. In fact I think it is a much worthier contender for Best Picture than something like Midnight in Paris (Woody Allen) and yet it is only nominated in the Sound Editing category at this years Oscars. It should have received many more nominations in my opinion. And that brings me nicely onto …

Midnight In Paris

Director: Woody Allen

I really didn’t enjoy Midnight In Paris at all. The art direction is a worthy nomination as the look of the film is actually quite beautiful and manages to juggle 3 different time periods effortlessly. Then again it is set in Paris which is a nostalgically romantic city  of beauty anyway.

Owen Wilson, as Gil, does the typical Owen Wilson thing of being overly enthusiastic and fast talking which you either love or you hate. I personally hate it and therefore find his performance repetitive no matter what the role. Rachel McAdams’ Inez is bitchy and shallow – the archetypal spoilt little rich kid – in a relationship with someone she doesn’t understand or really see. Tom Hiddleston makes a brief appearance as F. Scott Fitzgerald and is one of the stand out performances of the film. Though I can’t decide if it’s due to him being amazing or the rest of the cast being rather lack lustre. Either way he is one of the few things I like about Midnight In Paris.

I found the script to be convoluted and at times hard to follow. This was mainly due to the fact that unless you have a solid grasp of history – and especially Paris in the 1920s – than many of the references will pass you by. I mean I knew many of the big names that Gil encounters, like Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Cole Porter but not enough about them to get all the little points about their characters. Indeed I knew more about Lautrec and Degas in the 3rd period towards the end of the film. You sometimes lose track of all the different characters at times as well with more and more iconic artists being thrown into the mix.

I think that there were much better films nominated in other categories, let alone created in the last year than Midnight In Paris. I cannot really see what it is that justifies its Best Picture nomination other than the fact that it is directed by Woody Allen (also nominated for Best Director). If that is the case I can’t help but feel that the film has been put forward purely on the reputation of Woody Allen rather than on its own merit as an individual film.

Oscars Nominations 2012

Today was Oscar Nominations day in Hollywood … a day when anyone even half serious about films eagerly awaits the announcement  to then pass judgement on the Academy’s decisions. And of course to begin making predictions as to who will be taking home a shiny new Oscar by the end of February!

So what did I think of the nominations? Well I shall tell you below … though I will try to keep it short.

Best Picture – My initial reaction to the films vying for the coveted Best Picture Oscar is that The Artist seems the most likely to win at this moment in time … the buzz surrounding this film is immense. I can’t see Hugo winning as it is a fantasy film aimed at children and fantasy does not have a stellar history of winning at the Oscars (which makes The Lord of the Rings sweep in 2004 even more remarkable!) but then sometimes the Academy surprises you. So far I have only seen one of the films nominated … Warhorse and while it is a beautiful film it just doesn’t have the magic that the play has.

Best Actor – I would love Gary Oldman to win … partly because I am British but more importantly because he is an incredible actor and deserves to get some recognition from the Academy. Having said that I have a feeling that it may be George Clooney’s year this year … after all he has been in a number of well received films this year.

Best Actress – Meryl Streep would be the obvious one for me here but she is nominated for playing a British prime minister and as much as it pains me to say sometimes the Academy can be a tad snobbish when it comes to the British film industry. I would love Michelle Williams to scoop this one … again another incredibly talented but overlooked actor.

Best Supporting Actor – Initial thought is I want Kenneth Branagh to win.  However not having seen any of the films nominated I can’t really comment all that much.

Best Supporting Actress – Again haven’t seen any of the films nominated so can’t comment in any detail. The Help seems to be pulling a lot of weight in this category so may emerge triumphant. Although I’m not sure how I feel about one film receiving 2 nominations in one category as I don’t think it is entirely fair (I felt the same last year when The Fighter got 2 nominations in one category … potentially the same one)

Best Director – Think it’s pretty much gonna be between The Artist and Martin Scorsese for Hugo. Of course Woody Allen is a big name director and could scoop it.

I’m gonna leave it from there having covered the main categories. Though before I go I will say this …

It does not surprise me that while Harry Potter has done well in the technical categories it has bypassed all the major ones as it is an extremely British film franchise with only one American actor that I can think of off the top of my head. On top of that it is essentially a fantasy film aimed at children. I just can’t understand how the biggest film franchise in the world has been overlooked for the major categories at the most prestigious awards ceremony in the film community.

I intend to watch as many of the nominated films as I can before the awards at the end of February so that I can actually make a fairly informed decision so keep an eye out people for more updates and opinions on the subject of the 84th Academy Awards.