The Blind Side
The Hurt Locker
A Serious Man
Up in the Air
The expansion of the category has had some impact on the talk around the Oscars, mostly negative. It would appear that you could easily eliminate five films from the top category as being also-rans, if still good films. Where last year it would have served mostly just to allow The Dark Knight its nomination and sate the anger of so many over-hyped fanboys/girls, this year it felt as though the Academy was just reaching further to grab films from all corners, as if to indicate that they are not scared of honouring ‘popular’ films. The fact that they have never really done this and the actual small films almost always get screwed, that was left to the side of the discussion.
James Cameron for Avatar
Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker
Quentin Tarantino for Inglourious Basterds
Lee Daniels for Precious
Jason Reitman for Up in the Air
This category seems to break down into three categories as regards the chance each has of winning the prize. In the last category, essentially the no-hopers, are Lee Daniels and Jason Reitman. Reitman is the kind of director who will consistently struggle to win this prize as his skill comes through his ability to manage performance and tone rather than anything visually spectacular or inventive. Up in the Air is a pristine film with some well-composed images, but it’s script and performance-driven, similar to Juno and Thank You for Smoking. He deserves plaudits, but they won’t be sufficient for the prize. Lee Daniels has promise as an inventive director, but too many choices fall flat in Precious and he won’t win.
Matt Damon for Invictus
Woody Harrelson for The Messenger
Christopher Plummer for The Insider
Stanley Tucci for The Lovely Bones
Christoph Waltz for Inglourious Basterds
A few months ago, this would have been a serious race between two of the contenders. Really, up until anyone with a Twitter or blog saw The Lovely Bones, Stanley Tucci was the major frontrunner to take the prize. After seeing that performance, I would argue strongly for his inclusion, but for his role in Julie & Julia instead. Due to the poor reviews for Peter Jackson’s horrendous film, Tucci will have to give up his leading place in the category to Mr Waltz.
Mark Boal for The Hurt Locker
Quentin Tarantino for Inglourious Basterds
Alessandro Camon and Oren Moverman for The Messenger
Ethan Coen and Joel Coen for A Serious Man
Pete Docter and Bob Peterson for Up
Having taken home the BAFTA, it would seem that The Hurt Locker has positioned itself for a potential clean sweep at the Oscars this year. The film has garnered almost uniformly excellent reviews and its meagre box-office take appears to have had little impact on its chances come Awards season. To get it out of the way at the start, this is going to be the Iraq film to compete for the awards, to The Messenger will have to put up with being the year’s second-best semi-apolitical Iraq movie.
Mauro Fiore for Avatar
Bruno Delbonnel for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Barry Ackroyd for The Hurt Locker
Robert Richardson for Inglourious Basterds
Christian Berger for The White Ribbon
I have a slight problem in this category as I’ve been debating whether Avatar should really be eligible for a cinematography prize given that everything being filmed has been created. There has always, to me, seemed a need for the cinematography prize to be handed out on the basis of the photographer having captured what is tangibly in front of him. I’ve come around to the idea, however, as Avatar’s spectacular look is achieved, if not through literally filming the world of Pandora, through the advice and guidance that the cinematographer would have given. This advice will have contributed to the immersive nature of the film and, so, I’ll happily accept and applaud Fiore’s nomination.
Cantor Fitzgerald, the Wall Street investment house, is reportedly harbouring plans to make its ‘Hollywood Stock Exchange’ fake money spread-betting game a reality, offering investors the opportunity to make real-money bets on the financial performance of films.
Though the concerns around this are far beyond the movie world – insider trading likelihood, expanding the volume of risky products at market etc. – this could likely have some serious consequences for the quality of movies that come out of Hollywood.
Studios are already overly-focused on money-making in the films they release. This is not necessarily a negative; movie-making is a business and all movies, all of them, are not made with the aim of losing money. But the skewed view which has been fostered in Hollywood is that bigger is better or, more expensive is better. Blockbusters like Transformers 2 and Avatar, and before them the superhero and comic book adaptations, have become the central currency of Hollywood.
Audiences have been conditioned not to see films because of the talent behind them, but because of what the film is about. This has driven the growth of the wide universe of films based on existing properties (superhit children’s books, superhero comics) and has caused nothing but problems for the auteur-based projects out there. Even when you see an anomalous hit (Inglourious Basterds and District 9), this seems to have almost no influence on what kind of movies are coming out of Hollywood. They continue to operate on the assumption that the more money you spend, on production and marketing, the more money you will make at the box-office.
It’s hard to argue that this isn’t normally the case, though the reason that these films do so well is never down to the quality of the product. The behemoth summer releases are scattered across the season in a bid to make sure that, essentially, there is no other choice for the passive movie-goer. When they turn up at the cinema looking to see a film, there is a good chance that Transformers will be on in five of the twenty screens at their local multiplex and probably starting every half-hour or so. What we snobby critics and cinephiles would describe at the ‘worthy’ releases get relegated to sparse showings at inhospitable times of the day, or are just ejected from multiplexes altogether, meaning that casual watchers, those who really drive up box-office, don’t see them through a combination of inconvenience and ignorance.
Should this Cantor plan come into play – and any improvement in the economic environment and return of confidence to investment markets would make this almost inevitable, if only in germ form at first – it would surely only encourage studios to focus on huge movies, placing all their available energy into the tentpole releases so as to make them as profitable as possible. There is a chance that this could well mean that studios take more notice of aspects like script, character and direction if they do this, therefore maximising the change of turning a profit. But the incredible success of Avatar, for all its qualities, would, I venture, communicate to studios that big and simple is the best way to go. Unfortunately, the component they would fail to note would be James Cameron (or, The Talent) which is what actually turned the film into something special and successful. Chuck a journeyman behind the camera and Avatar would have fallen into the annals of flop history.
In addition, making a spread-betting market for movies would instantly shift the business aspects further to the centre of investor thought, meaning that any concerns over the quality of movies would become further sidelined (check out this Raw Story article on the news). Through neat trickery, brokers would be able to shift enough money around that even bad or unsuccessful movies become profitable, something which would remove that consideration in the minds of executives to make films, you know, ‘good’.
This is all conjecture at this point. It could well be that studios will become more cautious with budgets and spread marketing spend across their properties to achieve profit from all releases. The drop in production budgets could well have the influence that so many wanted District 9 to have this past year in making directors have to improvise and get creative due to constraints in what they can do. Plus, spreading around marketing budgets would give many independent films a significant boost in the amount of money they have to promote themselves. It’s possible that this could be a hugely positive move for the quality of output in Hollywood.
Of course, the actual problems with this lie in the risk profile of such investments, so whether the quality of films coming out of Hollywood will rise or fall will be of little concern to financial regulatory authorities. Still, worth a thought as to whether a shift in the financial model of Hollywood could prove good or bad for the industry, because heaven knows the current model is resolutely failing to promote everything equally and has skewed the focus from art to business.
It’s only fair to talk about another awards ceremony at this time of year, one which has managed to maintain its staunch anti-commercial stance and has never sacrificed its history to allow higher-grossing films into its top categories. This is partly because the films which tend to get given Razzies are often seen by millions of foolish people, a pattern which dictates future movie release schedules and therefore repeats the feat, making more bad movies which more people see and therefore perpetuating the need for the Razzies.
This year’s bunch, in full here, are particularly righteous, with Land of the Lost and Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen leading the ignominious. So, a few bulleted thoughts on the nominations:
- Sandra Bullock ‘does and Eddie Murphy’ and gets nods for Best Actress at both The Oscars and The Razzies. She gets it here for All About Steve, a film which I have not seen but is purportedly so awful as to have made some member of the MOD’s extended family spew expletives beyond the recognition of well-bred English-speaking people. Whether this nod will hurt her chances for winning for The Blind Side, as I would suggest Norbit did for Murphy when he got his Dreamgirls nod, remains to be seen.
- Nice barbed stab at The Jonas Brothers as Worst Actors. A band which appears to be attempting to disseminate abstinence-only teachings to your children, a tactic which will only end in massive number of underage pregnancies amongst fans of the stupifyingly pointless band, deserve to be kicked, beaten and knocked down at every possible point.
- Shia LeBoeuf and Megan Fox for Worst Couple is perfect. The entire pair of those films looks as though he is frightened to touch her for fear of having his hands smeared in sweat-ravaged fake tan or the germs of other men. Her nod for worst actress though perhaps should be paired with her comically inept performance in Jennifer’s Body, in which she mistakes ‘sexy’ for ‘late-80s New York hooker’.
- Also, praise to the board for the dumps taken on Hugh Hefner, Billy Ray Cyrus, Miley Cyrus and Steve Martin, on of whom can do better and the rest of which should be consigned to a dumpster to live in shame.
As it’s the end of the decade, they’ve also released their nominations for Film, Actor and Actress of the Decade, worst that is. My predictions and views are below.
- Picture: I think Battlefield Earth may have to take it on this one, though the competition is tough. I Know Who Killed Me probably didn’t offend enough people to take the prize, but Gigli is a worthy challenger. Freddy Got Fingered probably has too many dumb revisionist cult movie fans to win this one.
- Actor: Travolta and Murphy will battle it out for Worst Actor. The nod for Myers is absolutely right, especially after he attempted to shit on Inglourious Basterds this year, as if he had yet to destroy enough over the past ten years. Affleck been okay in some stuff so doesn’t really deserve it and Rob Schneider, everyone just wants to forget about Rob Schneider.
- Actress: For Worst Actress, Madonna has always been terrible but she may not have done enough to earn the title. Lohan has Mean Girls to prevent her dropping in to the race. Gigli places Lopez in a strong position to win while Carey has had Precious to redeem her a little. So it has to be Hilton, an STD which has blighted cinema for ten years now and should be deservedly eviscerated.
You can read a full list of nominations here, but I thought it best just to note a few little aberrations and nice surprises which the Academy threw our way this year.
- The Blind Side for Best Picture – I don’t know how, why or for what reason this has happened, but awards boards and ceremonies are becoming increasingly too interested in rewarding the most popular rather than the quanitifiably ‘best’ films of the year. How this syrup-fest slice of mawkish shit has managed to score a few nods, I really don’t know. This nomination does give hope however to all those Hallmark/Lifetime movies about retarded children in inner-city schools or single mothers dealing with cancer that they could one day make the leap up.
- District 9 for Best Picture – Rewarding a film which was not only popular, but broke all the present rules of blockbuster filmmaking – intelligent plotting, no on wearing catsuits and made on a budget which didn’t allow egomaniacal directorial masturbation. Blomkamp strikes on for all the people out there convinced that summers can be better.
- Lee Daniels, Best Director for Precious – Not that Precious isn’t specifically well-directed, but there seems a much better argument to have Neill Blomkamp in there for District 9 given his handling of his material. Some of the decisions in Precious make the film play a little flat, which means that some of what should be the most powerful scenes lose much of their intended force.
- Penelope Cruz for Nine – Yes, she is the only person that comes out of the film with real dignity left intact. No, this does not mean she should be rewarded over Diane Kruger in Inglourious Basterds. Julianne Moore in A Single Man and Rosamund Pike in An Education would also have been more deserving.
- No Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs – A film which not only should have been given a nod in the expanded animation category, but also for its sparkling script. Probably one which many Academy members failed to see on the same terms as a film like Up which, my opinion only, it is just as successful as.
- An Education for Best Adapted Screenplay – The characterisations are not what made An Education a decent film. That is a movie saved from flat direction and a weak script by great acting, so the script getting a nomination, over the wonder that is Where the Wild Things Are, is a travesty.
- In the Loop for Best Adapted Screenplay – A fantastic, completely deserved nomination for a film which has some great performances but, like The Thick of It, is driven by the foul-mouthed poetry of the script.
- Avatar nine, but no script – Avatar gets nine nominations in all the right places. Undoubtedly a breathtaking cinema experience, I’ll allow its Best Picture nod. But the Academy had the sense only to reward Cameron’s direction in the upper categories, meaning that it rightly competes to take home, deservedly, every technical nod it can be given.
- Nine for Hurt Locker, Eight for Inglourious Basterds – I’ve had a short-term turnaround in Inglourious Basterds, a film I didn’t enjoy in first watch, liked more on second and now fucking love. Eight nods is right. The Hurt Locker, the only film from the past year considered for my Best of Decade list, is a deserved recipient of nine nominations, with the script and Bigelow’s direction the most likely places for it to be triumphant.
Though I could gripe immediately with a bunch of the nominations given, I’m going to give the first part only of this over to the minor grips I have with the BAFTA nominations, announced this morning (and here in full via Empire Magazine).
The leading nominees, each with eight, are Avatar, The Hurt Locker and An Education. The overrating of An Education, at the expense of better British films like In the Loop and Fish Tank, is a little irritating, but the acting is so strong in the film that it seems to have elevated everything around it, including the nominated script by Nick Hornby and the nominated directing by Lone Scherfig. Avatar’s eight is mostly taken up with technical nods, which is entirely fair, but its picture nod, over Inglourious Basterds and Up, is predictable but wrong. Obviously, for those who read or listen to anything I say or write, know that I wholly agree with all The Hurt Locker nods, with my only desire to see much more attention given to Anthony Mackie in the supporting categories.
As with the Golden Globes, I can’t possibly pass this opportunity up to criticise the nomination of The Hangover for script, specifically given it is just a slightly adjusted take on Dude, Where’s My Car?. On personal taste, I probably wouldn’t have sought to reward the script for An Education, but kudos for adding District 9 which, despite a host of action movie tropes peppered throughout, is a much smarter film that the credit given would suggest.
The acting sections are all pretty good. That said, I wouldn’t have given Alec Baldwin a nod for It’s Complicated due to Anthony Mackie’s great performance in The Hurt Locker, but Baldwin is good so not too much annoyance there. Also very good indeed to see Christian McKay nominated for his amazing performance in Me and Orson Welles. Also great nod for Anne-Marie Duff for supporting actress in Nowhere Boy. This seems like the only place where Mo’Nique just might not win for Precious, so Duff and the others could nick it.
It’s a decent enough selection from BAFTA. They are slightly over-praising, as most have, An Education and, as most haven’t, Coco Before Chanel. The nomination of Audrey Tautou over the incredible debut by Katie Jarvis is jarring, but sometimes you have to give concession to BAFTA’s predeliction for costume drama, no matter the costume. But nothing but praise should be given to the nods for The Hurt Locker and District 9, though you might wish that some of the better British films, notably Moon and In the Loop, were given a little more attention outside of nods in those Brit-focused categories.
It would seem to me that the awards season should be used to reward the best films, the best performances in terms of the measurable quality of the product put out rather than the popularity of the nominees. The Golden Globes, as if edging, as my podcast colleague Tommy suggested today, towards becoming a glorified version of the MTV Movie Awards, has this year chosen to nearly-exclusively reward the popular choices.
I have no real problem with James Cameron getting best director; Avatar is an incredible achievement from a technical standpoint. But to reward that film, a confused hodgepodge of political allegory, predictable plot and stock characters, the prize for the best picture seems ridiculous. It is a huge milestone for technical filmmaking, but when put into 2D and playing on television screens across the land after its DVD release, the massive problems with the story and characters will become increasingly clear. To suggest other winners could easily be written off as me just griping that my favourite films didn’t win, but I don’t think many could deny that the success of the vision of The Hurt Locker or Inglourious Basterds far, far surpasses that of Avatar as a piece of storytelling.
Outside of that, witness the prize handed to Sandra Bullock for The Blind Side, a mawkish TV movie-style sleeper hit, beating the nuanced skill of Carey Mulligan in An Education. Witness The Hangover, winner of Best Musical/Comedy, rewarded for managing to convince an entire audience that it was funny despite having only one good performance and then three douchebags, one terrible cameo and one borderline-racist gangster. It was a weak category, but at least (500) Days of Summer spoke to a sense of truth and actually could fit into being both comedy and musical.
There should be some sense of duty for awards that, rather than pander to bringing in the largest possible audience for the truly pointless televising of the ceremony, they should seek to reward those filmmakers that have made films which, even if they failed to connect with audiences, have something to say beyond ‘see how fucking cool this looks!’
I did predict a few little while ago, but much has changed in the interim and I feel it necessary to update my prediction season for the nominees, something I will do again in early February just before the nominations are announced.
The primary change is the fall of Nine, previously considered a shoe-in for most categories, which looks likely to win absolutely nothing outside of a possible couple of technicals. Add to that the rising popularity of Inglourious Basterds and the seemingly-unstoppable attention being given to The Hurt Locker, plus the apparently disastrous The Lovely Bones, and some things have to change.
Below then are my predictions for the top few categories, with some explanation as to why and, bold as it may be, my predictions for the likely winners in each category.
Time to have a little guess again at which films could be nominated for Oscars in a couple of months time, just entirely based on hype and vague attempts to understand the predictable nature of the Academy. So, for debate and conjecture’s stake, enjoy these predictions for the Oscar nominations in 2010, post jump. Continue reading →
As we are prone to do, it feels like to kick-off the Oscar buzz season as awards from major film festivals begin to roll in and the ceremony approaches. I realise that this may feel like the kind of wishing-life-away feeling that it given as you walk into shops in mid-September and see Christmas stock out all over the place, but these will get more frequent as we get closer and can begin to actually predict what could win. This is more to provide an interesting gauge of how buzz works, how it changes and how wrong we could well end up being by the time the awards come around.
So, just for the big few categories, here’s what seems like it’s going to cause a stir this year: Continue reading →
So, in the wake of Transformers revenging the fallen all over our minds, we were in need of cooling down from the sheer anger and exhaustion felt in the studio. Though Sunshine Cleaning should have been a great example of an indie to bring us back onto home turf, it ended up an underwhelming experience. The eminently crushworthy pairing of Amy Adams and Emily Blunt, along with the solid Alan Arkin and roles for Steve Zahn and Clifton Collins Jr, just couldn’t quite drive us into anything beyond a tepid lack of satisfaction. Ideas involved were strong, but the execution was half-hearted, even if all of the above tried really hard to elevate the material. Continue reading →
Michael Haneke has won the Palme d’Or for his acclaimed The White Ribbon (review by Peter Bradshaw at The Guardian). The film, described by IFC’s The Daily as “a two-and-a-half hour parable of political and social ideas set entirely in a north German village in 1913 and 1914”, marks the first Palme d’Or win for Haneke following a number of other awards successes for the German provocateur at the festival. He has in the past won prizes for Hidden, The Piano Teacher and Code Unknown, but this is his first win of the top prize.
Alain Resnais, an outside member of the Nouvelle Vague and creator of the time-warping masterpieces Last Year in Marienbad and Hiroshima, Mon Amour, was given the Special Jury Prize in honour of his Wild Grass (review by Daniel Kasman at The Auteur’s Notebook). The Grand Prix was given to Jacques Audiard’s The Prophet (review by Anthony Kaufman at indieWIRE). The director prize went to Brillante Mendoza for his violent drama Kinatay, already torn a new one by Roger Ebert. The eminent Chicago Sun-Times voice essentially opens his review with an apology to Vincent Gallo over his past assertion that The Brown Bunny was the worst film in the history of the festival.
Ebert goes on to say:
“After extensive recutting, the Gallo film was redeemed. I don’t think editing is going to do the trick for “Kinatay.” If Mendoza wants to please any viewer except for the most tortured theorist (one of those careerists who thinks movies are about arcane academic debates and not people) he’s going to have to remake his entire second half.”
Onwards with Cannes however, The Prix de Scenario for Best Screenplay was given to Feng Mei for the Lou Ye-directed Spring Fever (review by Sukhdev Sandhu at The Telegraph). That has itself been surrounded by controversy over the decision by Ye to screen the film in Cannes without the approval of the Chinese government.
The Camera d’Or for Best First Feature was given to Australian Warwick Thornton for Samson and Delilah (interview here and review, by The Telegraph’s Sandu, which indicates the love to have come for this film), his indigenous realist drama.
Very nicely, the Prix du Jury was given to Andrea Arnold’s Fish Tank (review by The Guardian’s Bradshaw) and Park Chan-wook’s horror film Thirst (review by Twitch’s Todd Brown). Arnold, whose outstanding Red Road won the Jury Prize in 2006, had been tipped for a possible Palme d’Or this time round but will instead have to settle for outstanding reviews yet again.
The acting honours provide the most curious choices. Tarantino’s lukewarmly received Inglourious Basterds (review by Spout’s Karina Longworth) saw Christoph Waltz take home the Best Actor Prize while Charlotte Gainsbourg won Best Actress for her performance in Lars von Trier’s hugely controversial Antichrist.
Probably the most notably absentees from the possible prize winners are Jane Campion’s Bright Star, her story of the love affair between John Keats and Fanny Brawn, and Ken Loach’s fondly-tipped Looking for Eric. Bright Star was another beloved by critics in the UK while Looking for Eric didn’t quite live up to all expectations but was mostly liked too. Gaspar Noe’s Enter the Void, his follow-up to the equally loathed and admired Irreversible, seemed to spark little in the way of notice for those attending the festival, but did at least bring some searching analysis from those who did take notice.
The line-up for the Cannes Film Festival has been announced with a number of interesting projects set to bow in and out of competiton.
As all will already know, Pixar’s Up is opening the festival, the first animated and first 3D film to do so. The other most notable entry is The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus, the Terry Gilliam-directed movie already set in infamy for being what Heath Ledger was working on when he died.
In competition, Quentin Tarantino comes with Inglourious Basterds, unlikely to repeat the Palme D’or-winning success of Pulp Fiction, while other past winners include The Piano’s Jane Campion with Bright Star and Ken Loach with his Looking for Eric. Loach won a couple of year’s ago for the excellent The Wind that Shakes the Barley and is presently among the favourites to take the top prize this year.
Also involved in competition is Michael Haneke with The White Ribbon, Irreversible’s Gaspar Noe with Enter the Void, Lars von Trier with his creepy-looking Antichrist, Johnnie To with Vengeance, Ang Lee with Taking Woodstock, Red Road’s Andrea Arnold with Fish Tank and Pedro Almodovar with Broken Embraces.
Also notable is the midnight screening of Sam Raimi’s Drag Me to Hell and the return of Alejandro Amenabar with the phenomenal-looking Agora.
Could be a mighty interesting competition this year, especially given the tendency in the past few years for the festival to pick out surprise winners so it’s quite possible that all the films above won’t be in with a shout when it comes down to it.
By now, all and sundry will have seen the trailer for Quentin Tarantino’s much delayed, heavily anticipated new film, Inglourious Basterds. A very loose remake of a late-70s warploitation picture directed by Enzo Castellari, this has been circulating for some time now but has really kicked into gear in the past six months, first garnering much attention for its idiosyncratic casting and now starting to attract mixed-anticipation from forever apologists on his work and some scorn for certain aspects of what we can see.
Most of the problem I would have with the film is the casting of Brad Pitt in that lead role. Pitt recently won a deeply undeserved Oscar nomination for his performance in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and seems to have been elevated to a sort of untouchable status in Hollywood where his performances are never really watched with any critical eye by audiences. He seems able to walk into the most coveted roles in the industry without having to display anything beyond basic human charisma. He is a very watchable actor but, as brutally evidenced in this trailer, this is not the film for him. He has to play a grizzled veteran, a man entirely at home with violence and a skewed sense of patriotism. What we get here sounds more like Ben Button getting cranky.
Outside of that, the casting itself seems entirely strange, not only because he cast the hideous, execrable, annoying, talentless Eli Roth in a prominent acting role, but he has also hired the likes of BJ Novak (Ryan on the US version of The Office) and Samm Levine (Freaks & Geeks) to make up the assembled team of Nazi killers. To the Tarantino mega-fan, this will seem like another of his casting masterstrokes, but to me this reeks of constructed eccentricity. There can be nothing worse than creative decisions which seem to have been designed specifically to hit the quirk buttons and this seems very much that way.
Whether this film will be good or not, I cannot tell you at this point, but this looks like another of Tarantino’s films which will veer too far into over-clever pastiche in a way that Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction never did. I’m beginning to strongly desire just a straight film, nothing that recalls or pastiches anything from the past, nothing that’s a generic piece from a genre which only the hipster snoberati will regail in. Please, Quentin, just make something that showcases your talent rather than your ability to recall your past of watching movies all day and night.
Inglourious Basterds Trailer