OSCAR Winners 2012

The Oscars played it very very very safe this year (well..  this year and every year in fact!): the biggest shock was probably the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo winning best Editing (quite unexpected, especially because the editors had won it last year with The Social Network). Hugo went home with most of the technical awards, best scripts awards given to Woody Allen and Alexander Payne and the big ones (film, director, actor) went to the Artist as expected… And the Artist for Best music too. Meryl graced our screen once again with her class and beauty and her oscar is one of the most deserved of the year. She is the embodiment of greatness! And finally, Spielberg got home with no award, however he got a big thanks from Octavia Spencer.

Check out my post of Oscar Snubs

Best Motion Picture of the Year

The Artist (2011): Thomas Langmann  (WINNER)

The Descendants (2011): Jim Burke, Alexander Payne, Jim Taylor

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2011): Scott Rudin

The Help (2011): Brunson Green, Chris Columbus, Michael Barnathan

Hugo (2011/II): Graham King, Martin Scorsese

Midnight in Paris (2011): Letty Aronson, Stephen Tenenbaum

Moneyball (2011): Michael De Luca, Rachael Horovitz, Brad Pitt

The Tree of Life (2011): Nominees to be determined

War Horse (2011): Steven Spielberg, Kathleen Kennedy

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role

Demián Bichir for A Better Life (2011)

George Clooney for The Descendants (2011) 

Jean Dujardin for The Artist (2011) (WINNER)

Gary Oldman for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)

Brad Pitt for Moneyball (2011)

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role

Glenn Close for Albert Nobbs (2011)

Viola Davis for The Help (2011)

Rooney Mara for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

Meryl Streep for The Iron Lady (2011) (WINNER)

Michelle Williams for My Week with Marilyn (2011)

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role

Kenneth Branagh for My Week with Marilyn (2011)

Jonah Hill for Moneyball (2011)

Nick Nolte for Warrior (2011)

Christopher Plummer for Beginners (2010) (WINNER)

Max von Sydow for Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2011)

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role

Bérénice Bejo for The Artist (2011)

Jessica Chastain for The Help (2011)

Melissa McCarthy for Bridesmaids (2011)

Janet McTeer for Albert Nobbs (2011)

Octavia Spencer for The Help (2011)  (WINNER)

Best Achievement in Directing

Woody Allen for Midnight in Paris (2011)

Michel Hazanavicius for The Artist (2011)  (WINNER)

Terrence Malick for The Tree of Life (2011)

Alexander Payne for The Descendants (2011)

Martin Scorsese for Hugo (2011/II)

Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen

The Artist (2011): Michel Hazanavicius

Bridesmaids (2011): Kristen Wiig, Annie Mumolo

Margin Call (2011): J.C. Chandor

Midnight in Paris (2011): Woody Allen  (WINNER)

A Separation (2011): Asghar Farhadi

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published

The Descendants (2011): Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, Jim Rash  (WINNER)

Hugo (2011/II): John Logan

The Ides of March (2011): George Clooney, Grant Heslov, Beau Willimon

Moneyball (2011): Steven Zaillian, Aaron Sorkin, Stan Chervin

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011): Bridget O’Connor, Peter Straughan

Best Animated Feature Film of the Year

A Cat in Paris (2010): Alain Gagnol, Jean-Loup Felicioli

Chico & Rita (2010): Fernando Trueba, Javier Mariscal

Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011): Jennifer Yuh

Puss in Boots (2011): Chris Miller

Rango (2011): Gore Verbinski  (WINNER)

Best Foreign Language Film of the Year

Bullhead (2011): Michael R. Roskam(Belgium)

Footnote (2011): Joseph Cedar(Israel)

In Darkness (2011): Agnieszka Holland(Poland)

Monsieur Lazhar (2011): Philippe Falardeau(Canada)

A Separation (2011): Asghar Farhadi(Iran)  (WINNER)

Best Achievement in Cinematography

The Artist (2011): Guillaume Schiffman

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011): Jeff Cronenweth

Hugo (2011/II): Robert Richardson  (WINNER)

The Tree of Life (2011): Emmanuel Lubezki

War Horse (2011): Janusz Kaminski

Best Achievement in Editing

The Artist (2011): Anne-Sophie Bion, Michel Hazanavicius

The Descendants (2011): Kevin Tent

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011): Angus Wall, Kirk Baxter   (WINNER)

Hugo (2011/II): Thelma Schoonmaker

Moneyball (2011): Christopher Tellefsen

Best Achievement in Art Direction

The Artist (2011): Laurence Bennett, Robert Gould

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (2011): Stuart Craig, Stephenie McMillan

Hugo (2011/II): Dante Ferretti, Francesca Lo Schiavo  (WINNER)

Midnight in Paris (2011): Anne Seibel, Hélène Dubreuil

War Horse (2011): Rick Carter, Lee Sandales

Best Achievement in Costume Design

Anonymous (2011/I): Lisy Christl

The Artist (2011): Mark Bridges

Hugo (2011/II): Sandy Powell  (WINNER)

Jane Eyre (2011): Michael O’Connor

W.E. (2011): Arianne Phillips

Best Achievement in Makeup

Albert Nobbs (2011): Martial Corneville, Lynn Johnson, Matthew W. Mungle

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (2011): Nick Dudman, Amanda Knight, Lisa Tomblin

The Iron Lady (2011): Mark Coulier, J. Roy Helland   (WINNER)

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score

The Adventures of Tintin (2011): John Williams

The Artist (2011): Ludovic Bource   (WINNER)

Hugo (2011/II): Howard Shore

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011): Alberto Iglesias

War Horse (2011): John Williams

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song

The Muppets (2011): Bret McKenzie(“Man or Muppet”)   (WINNER)

Rio (2011): Sergio Mendes, Carlinhos Brown, Siedah Garrett(“Real in Rio”)

Best Achievement in Sound Mixing

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011): David Parker, Michael Semanick, Ren Klyce, Bo Persson

Hugo (2011/II): Tom Fleischman, John Midgley  (WINNER)

Moneyball (2011): Deb Adair, Ron Bochar, David Giammarco, Ed Novick

Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011): Greg P. Russell, Gary Summers, Jeffrey J. Haboush, Peter J. Devlin

War Horse (2011): Gary Rydstrom, Andy Nelson, Tom Johnson, Stuart Wilson

Best Achievement in Sound Editing

Drive (2011): Lon Bender, Victor Ray Ennis

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011): Ren Klyce

Hugo (2011/II): Philip Stockton, Eugene Gearty   (WINNER)

Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011): Ethan Van der Ryn, Erik Aadahl
War Horse (2011): Richard Hymns, Gary Rydstrom

Best Achievement in Visual Effects

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (2011): Tim Burke, David Vickery, Greg Butler, John Richardson

Hugo (2011/II): Robert Legato, Joss Williams, Ben Grossmann, Alex Henning  (WINNER)

Real Steel (2011): Erik Nash, John Rosengrant, Danny Gordon Taylor, Swen Gillberg

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011): Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, R. Christopher White, Daniel Barrett

Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011): Scott Farrar, Scott Benza, Matthew E. Butler, John Frazier

Best Documentary, Features

Hell and Back Again (2011): Danfung Dennis, Mike Lerner

If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front (2011): Marshall Curry, Sam Cullman

Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory (2011): Joe Berlinger, Bruce Sinofsky

Pina (2011): Wim Wenders, Gian-Piero Ringel

Undefeated (2011): Daniel Lindsay, T.J. Martin, Rich Middlemas  (WINNER)

Best Documentary, Short Subjects

The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldier of the Civil Rights Movement (2011): Robin Fryday, Gail Dolgin God Is the Bigger Elvis: Rebecca Cammisa,
Julie Anderson

Incident in New Baghdad (2011): James Spione

Saving Face (2011/II): Daniel Junge, Sharmeen Obaid- Chinoy   (WINNER)

The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom (2011): Lucy Walker, Kira Carstensen

Best Short Film, Animated

Dimanche (2011): Patrick Doyon

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore (2011): William Joyce, Brandon Oldenburg  (WINNER)

La Luna (2011): Enrico Casarosa

A Morning Stroll (2011): Grant Orchard, Sue Goffe

Wild Life (2011): Amanda Forbis, Wendy Tilby

Best Short Film, Live Action

Pentecost (2011): Peter McDonald

Raju (2011): Max Zähle, Stefan Gieren

The Shore: Terry George, Oorlagh George   (WINNER)

Time Freak (2011): Andrew Bowler, Gigi Causey Tuba

Atlantic (2010): Hallvar Witzø

Oscar Biggest Snubs

Oscar’s 2012 Biggest Snubs

Yes, it’s that time of the year again,when newspaper and magazines are covered not only by the news of the movies that got nominated for the most prestigious Awards, but also the mentions of the ones that didn’t. When those golden statuettes are handed over to the makers behind the “Artist” (Let’s all face it: it’s going to happen), some big names are not going to be there among the audience. In fact, some truly deserving movies have been absolutely snubbed! Social networks like Twitter or Facebook all had their chances to raise their concerns about what’s gone unnoticed by the Academy. Most people seem to have been raging especially about one absence:  Ryan Gosling. Obviously writing and complaining about all this could seem a pretty pointless exercise… But not necessarily… The history of the Oscars is full of great snubs (and consequently people going up in arms against the Academy), but it’s also full of strange victories which might not have been particularly deserving, if it wasn’t for the fact that they happened to follow some great snub (most notably: Whoopy Goldberg missing out for “The Color Purple” and the following winning for “Ghost“, or even Martin Scorsese’s constant snubs over the years and his recent win for “The Departed”, just to mention a few). It is well known that Oscars are not aways given to the most deserving film (or person).In 1994 Pulp Fiction and Shawshank Redemption both lost out to Forrest Gump. In 1998 Saving Private Ryan was shockingly beaten by Shakespeare in Love (cute film, yes, but Oscar worthy?)In 1989 Driving miss Daisy won over 4 more deserving films “Born on the Fourth of July“, “Dead Poets Society“, Field of Dreams, “My Left Foot“…  And back in 1980 Ordinary people won over both Elephant Man and Raging Bull. Many of those movies that today we consider masterpieces never got an Oscar: Taxi driver, Goodfellas, Apocalipse Now and Citizen Kane are just 4 of them… And I could go on forever. But the travesties don’t stop with Feature of Films. When it comes to awarding actors and directors it is just as bad: Stanley Kubrick or Alfred Hitchcock, Robert Altman, David Lynch never won. Ralph Fiennes lost in the year of his brilliant performance in Schilndler’s List and somehow Marisa Tomei won as a supporting actress for My Cousin Vinny” (yes, I am not kidding!). Ok, let’s stop here, before I get a heart attack…

This is my list of the 10 biggest snubs for 2012. Let me know if you agree.

1 ) Ryan Gosling

This is the second time in a row that Ryan gets snubbed by the Academy. Last year for some obscure reason he was not even nominated for his great performance in Blue Valentine ,which was just as strong and powerful,l if not more, than the one by the nominated Michelle Williams (here’s my review of that film). It’s all even more shocking this year, since not only he seemed to be the front-runner with his dramatic (and yet restrained) performances in both Drive and the Ides of March, but also he also showed us his comedic timing with his supporting role in the surprisingly good Crazy Stupid Love.

 2) The Adventures of Tintin. The Secret of the Unicorn

Ok, we all probably agree that this wasn’t the greatest masterpiece of all time: the story felt segmented and slightly anticlimactic towards the end, the comic timing wasn’t always there, and the character of Tintin wasn’t always as engaging as he could have been. But as a piece of animation, it was impressive, rich, inventive and skilfully put together. Instead the Academy chose to ignore Spielberg’s first foray into 3D animation veering towards a much the more restrained and old-fashioned approach of A Cat in Paris  (Click here to see a clip from it) and Chico and Rita (here’s the trailer). While this was surely a choice to be praised and commended for, I’m not sure the same can be said about nominating uninspired filler-films like Kung-Fu Panda 2, Puss in boots. Even Rango, though probably the most deriving one on the US list is in the end rather forgettable.

 3) Drive

In a year of so many average-to-OK films, surely this one should have made the list, not just as a film or for its directing (and of course for Ryan Gosling as I have just mentioned above), but also for its stylish look, sharp and yet never flashy editing (which gave the film an almost palpable tension) and its use of music. Instead, one of the best films of the year  was relegated to just 1 nomination of best use of Sound Editing (a nomination which I always find very hard to distinguish from Sound Mixing. In fact they usually always go together, except in this case where Moneyball was nominated for sound mixing instead of Drive). And while I am at it, I should also mention the non-nomination for Albert Brooks (who many thought was a shoe-in) for supporting actor. All quite shocking, I have to say. In fact, a real shame!… And talking about “shame”…

 4) Michael Fassbender

Whether you liked  Shame or not, nobody can deny that Fassbender’s performance in the film was truly mesmerizing. The entire film focused on Micheal’s face and his body as he literally exposed himself to us. His every single weakness, every single thought and every single body part is there for us to see, as his tortured soul descend more and more towards hell. And even if  Shame was a bit too much for the Academy’s taste, his performances in both Jane Eyre , A Dangerous Method should at least have been noted. One thing is certain: both Fassbender and Goslinghave been the actors of 2012, and yet neither of them appears to be nominated.

 5) Tilda Swinton

Tilda’s haunting and shattering performance in We Need to Talk About Kevin was absolutely astonishing and possibly one of the best of her career. The fact that she’s not even among the list of nominees is nothing short of truly baffling. It seems that the film is another of those “downer” which are usually too harsh, too depressing and basically just not friendly enough to appear next to the word Oscar. In fact, not only Tilda didn’t make the list, but nor the film, nor its director, nor its script, nor the truly terrifying Ezra Miller (as the “Kevin” from the title), not even the ever perfect John C. Reilly (as Tilda’s husband in the film) who’s always getting sidelined, but who sooner or later should really be recognised for his many great characters over the years.

 6) Senna

This wasn’t a big surprise since we already knew that the film had not even made the long-list among the documentaries to be considered for the nomination, but that doesn’t make it any less of a snub. In fact it’s probably an even bigger one! Not that Senna needs any more awards or recognition to prove how good it is.  Made of just archive material and no talking-heads Senna was one  of the most powerful film (not just documentary) of the year not just for the Formula 1 fans but even for people like me who can hardly tell you the difference between a Ferrari and a McLaren. Riveting, inspired, incredibly moving and yet missing from the Oscar 2012.

 7) 50/50

Of course this isn’t masterpiece and some people may argue it shouldn’t really deserve any Oscar, but if the Help is up there, together with Bridesmaids and, let’s face it, Midnight in Paris, why can 50/50 be there as well. After all it was one of the bravest films coming out of Hollywood last few year which not only was able to tackle a subject like cancer with the constraints of a comedy, but it also did it with great respect, incredible taste and yet without hiding away from the harsh reality of the subject matter. Anyone in the film deserved to be at least mentioned: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, acutely observed performance, Seth Rogen‘s honest turn as best friend of somebody who’s been diagnosed with cancer, Jonathan Levine‘s directorial decisions to handle such a delicate subject without any of the lush, or even syrupy and cheesy ways that usually come with such a Hollywood product. Even Will Reiser‘s script (written from his own experience, usually a winner formula for getting an Oscar) was snubbed by the Academy.

 8) Leonardo di Caprio

Leo has never been very lucky at the Oscars. In 1993 was nominated for his greatest performance in What’s eating Gilberg Grape, but lost our to Tommy Lee Jones for the Fugitive (yes, indeed!!), back in 1997 he was the only person in the whole crew from Titanic who was completely snubbed (though he was one of the main reason for the astronomical success of that movie). He also lost for both the Aviator and Blood Diamonds and was sidelined for his roles in Catch me if you can and Revolutionary Road. J. Edgar is definitely not a good film (And that’s why it received zero nominations! Here’s my review), but nor is The Iron Lady (and here’s the review for that one too) and yet that didn’t stop Meryl Streep for being nominated (and hopefully win her 3rd highly deserved Oscar!). Leo’s performance was not just the best thing in the film, but actually very good. Unfortunately it probably suffered too much by all those way-too-many layers of latex of all the prosthetics he was forced to wear, but I would have certainly chosen him over Brad Pitt in Moneyball (By the way, how strange to find Pitt nominated for Moneyball and not The Tree of Life).

 9) Motion Capture Performance

During the recent Oscar campaign Fox has been asking Academy members to consider Andy Serkis’s turn as Caesar in Rise of the Planet of the Apes as one of the top male performances. However when it comes to Motion-capture technology, it is very hard to tell where does the actual performance come from:is it the actor behind the pixels or  the animator who took the performance and transformed it and enhanced it. It is a fair argument, however the same can be said about normal performances and direction orediting. Was that particular reaction just spot on because of the greatness of the actor or because of the way the director cheated the actor into it and the way the editor was able to smoothly cut it into the film (famously Hitchcock used to have fun in shocking his actresses by unzipping his pants and filming their reactions to be used in his films to be used in completely different contexts. And Spielberg himself told stories of how he got some of the best performances out of children by cheating, playing or even lying to them). Whatever the truth is, you can still tell Andy Serkis out of all the apes in Rise of the Planets of the Apes: his eyes in the film tell a thousand more words than any of the other performances in any other film of the year. It’s about time the Academy starts recognising this new art.

 10) Steven Spielberg

The Academy and Steven Spielberg have always had a troublesome relationship ever since Jaws in 1975 (which was nominated for best film, but not for best director). The biggest snub came ten years later in 1985 when The Color Purple was nominated for 11 Oscars (except for director) and ended up winning none. In 1987 Empire of the sun won none of the 6 nominations (and once again Spielberg didn’t make the list),   Schindler’s list was the game-changer of course and Saving Private Ryan confirmed that things were indeed changing as he won his second Golden Award as best director (however missing out of best film, which shockingly went to Shakespeare in Love). Since then his films have arguably been less good (and this statement comes from somebody who adores Spielberg!!) so it’s not surprising to find the number of nominations and awards getting slimmer and slimmer. Even his 2005 Munich which received 5 nods, didn’t actually win any Oscar. War Horse is certainly a flawed movie, but some of the best sequences in it are good because of Spielberg and not despite of him. Nominating the film and not his director always makes very little sense to me. Even more so, in the case of War Horse (especially when it’s missing out against  In a year when even Tintin missed out on its chance for an Oscar it seems to me that we are going back to the early days when Spielberg was ignored just because it was Spielberg. We may have to wait until next year with the release of his next Lincoln to see whether the spell can be broken (or, somebody may argue, whether he can actually make a good film). If you’re interested,

11) Harry Potter

This has always been something peculiar: not a single Harry Potter movie has ever won an Oscar. Some of you may say “well, rightly so”, but it has to be said that this isn’t just the most successful movie franchise in history (close to 7 billion $ at the time of writing this, in the cinema alone) but it has been quite groundbreaking on the level of care and attention as far as set design, art direction, costumes, and special effects. And let’s not forget John Williams’ classic soundtrack. Were any of those elements any less impressive then the ones in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy (which actually ended up getting awards left and right on every single instalment?). I would probably take this even further and say that the last few films have even been beautifully filmed and choreographed. recently a lot of fans have been campaigning for Alan Rickman to be nominated for the latest instalment. This is something that sort of makes sense if you have watched the entire series and considered the character that Mr Rickman has been creating throughout the 8 films. Unfortunately Academy awards doesn’t always work like that and to give something to an actor who only appears for a few minutes in a film (even though it has happened before) is something of a rarity. With 3 nominations this year, hopes are still high, but it will be rather shocking if even this film (arguably one of the best!) didn’t win anything.

12) Commedies

This is part of a never-ending debate at the Oscar: comedies very rarely get award recognitions, as if the genre isn’t to be taken seriously, or worse as if comedies were easier to make. That it probably one of the few good things about the Golden Globes, where awards are given to both comedies and dramas (though sometimes the line between them is very hard to define: is 50/50 a drama or a comedy? And what about the beautiful Beginners, incidentally another overlooked film at the Oscars this year). As any writer or director will be able to tell you, it’s a lot harder to make a smart comedy that is genuinely funny and feels fresh than a make people cry with one of those heavy-weight dramas, with period costumes or grand sets. However, once again comedies have been snubbed by the Academy in favours of those typical weepy (Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close being the worse offender). And so Bridesmaids got overlooked for the best feature film, and so did My Week with Marilyn, Crazy Stupid Love and of course50/50. Oh wait, what about Midnight in Paris? Well, Woody Allen seems to be the only person on the planet whose film can be nominated for an Oscar, even if it’s only half memorable

here’s the definitive list of all the biggest Oscar omissions and snubs.

OSCAR NOMINATIONS 2012

The Oscar nominations have just been announced today (January the 24th). The awards will be given on February the 26th

BEST FEATURE FILM:

This year it seems that the Artist might just win it. I didn’t unexpected to see Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, which hasn’t really been making many lists for favourite movie this year. War Horse had to be in the list, however it’s interesting to see that Spielberg didn’t really gets any nod (nor for directing, nor for Animation)

Actor In a Leading Role

Unexpected but quite a well deserved nomination for Gary Oldman, however my vote goes to Clooney (he’s also the front runner on the list). Most newspapers obivously picked up on the fact that it’s a battle of the “hot” as Clooney and Pitt are both nominated.

Actress In a Leading Role

Is there any chance for anybody else but Meryl Streep? Don’t think so. I did like Michelle Williams too though.

Actor In a Supporting Role

Good to see Christopher Plummer nominated (I did say in my review at the time he might  get it). However I am quite pleased to see Kenneth Branagh on the list too. The surprise is Jonah Hill, who probably can’t believe his luck!

Actress In a Supporting Role

The Oscars voter might for for Octavia Spencer (just like the Golden Globes voters). I thought the move to put Bérénice Bejo forward for supporting actrtess was actually quite clever (thus avoiding to compete against Meryl Streep or Michelle Williams)

Directing

Mallick is unexpected, but it’s a battle between Michel Hazanavicius and Alexander Payne. Woody Allen seems to be the only person alive who is allowed to get nominated for an Oscar when directing (or writing) a comedy.

Cinematography

All very well deserved nominations. The Artist might get it, but the photography on both the Tree of life and War horse was quite astonishing. It’s great to see Jeff Cronenweth nominated for his cold touch in the girl with the Dragon tattoo.

Animated Feature Film

I find shocking that Tintin is not in the list for best Animated Film, however it’s good to see some brave choices, like Chico and Rita… But was Puss in boots better than Tintin? And Kung Fu Panda 2?!?! Are we kidding?

Art Direction

All well deserved nominations and even though Harry Potter should finally be recognised for something

Costume Design

Documentary Feature

Documentary Short

Film Editing

Some people say that the best editing is also the most invisible one… Which is probably why usually very flashy editings seem to win awards left and right (JFK style just to mention one glaring example), in which case Moneyball should really win… However it will once again be the Artist, even though the film was a bit too slow and definitely 20 minutes too long.

Foreign Language Film

Makeup

Music (Original Score)

Music (Original Song)

Short Film (Animated)

Short Film (Live Action)

Sound Editing

Sound Mixing

Visual Effects

Writing (Adapted Screenplay)

Writing (Original Screenplay)

In the end, not too may surprises of course. The Artis is obviously coming through as the main contended in the big categories, the Descendants is going to be the one to beat.

On the acting front, Meryl Streep is the frontrunner as we all know… and I do also feel this is George’s year (yes, he did win, but as supporting actor).

What do you think? Leave us a message  and share your thoughts

The Iron Lady – Review

The Iron Lady (2011) 

Director: Phyllida Lloyd. Writer: Abi Morgan. Cast: Meryl StreepJim Broadbent.

What could have been an insightful, challenging and even controversial film about one of the most loved/hated politician of the twentieth century, instead ends up being just an empty vessel for Meryl Streep to showcase once again that she’s Oscar worthy! As if we didn’t know that already… The most Oscar nominated living actress in history really does indeed become the British Prime Minister in the “Iron Lady”. Unfortunately Meryl alone is not enough to lift an otherwise flat and quite superficial biopic.

Some may argue that sometimes her performance veers slightly too much towards parody, but that’s mainly a problem with the staging and the direction of the film itself.

“The Iron Lady” is trying too hard to please everyone that in the end it just disappoints everyone. It wants to be too much like “The King’s Speech” (there’s even a scene which feels lifted directly from it, where Margaret Thatcher is rehearsing her voice… I was waiting for her to stammer at any point), but here the baggage behind the main character is just too big and edgy to get away with such lightness. Margaret Thatcher is a complex character with an even more complex life: to try to reduce it and compress it all into a film of less than 2 hours is a tough task and “The Iron Lady” suffers from trying to do it. Major events like the Falklands war, or the miners’strike,  are given just a few minutes and it all ends up feeling a little bit like reading a page from Wikipedia: yes, all the facts are there, but it all feels a little bit too superficial… And a film about Margaret Thatcher should be anything but superficial.

The film is structured through a series of flashbacks as it also try to give a more intimate portrait of the old Prime Minister in her first stages of Alzheimer. This is probably the most revealing and poignant part of the film (though not without its problems too). Once again Meryl manages to step above the mannerism and the caricature and brings some unexpected humanity into her character as the so-called iron lady becomes now more like an old rusty iron lady or worse a paper-thin weak old woman (with the aid of some impressive make-up. The people behind the make-up in J.Edgar should watch and learn!!): her performance as an old woman is something to wonder at!

However the film doesn’t quite know what to do with all this material and all the characters around Mrs Thatcher. Are we supposed to like this controversial and yet influential British politician? Are we really meant to feel sorry for her? What is it try to tell us by showing the Iron Lady as a weak old woman stricken by illness? It’s all rather too easy to be controversial, and too thin to be thoughtful, too friendly to be considered seriously.

In the end all we are left is a marvellous performance for a film that doesn’t quite deserve it.

6/10

The Ides of March – Review

The Ides of March (2011)

Directed by George Clooney. Starring Ryan GoslingPaul GiamattiGeorge ClooneyPhilip Seymour Hoffman

As many before me have pointed out, this film is clearly an early Oscar bait for the forthcoming awards season: it’s slick, handsome, subtle and has some great performances all around.

As a massive fan of the West Wing and political dramas in general, I was always going to like a film that takes place behind the scenes of a political campaign to elect a candidate at the US primaries. But on the other hand, maybe because of my knowledge of the genre, I couldn’t help feeling a certain sense of déjàvu in the depiction of both the plot and the types of characters. Yes, politicians are double-faced, scheming, deceiving, fast talking… This is an immature democracy soaked in disappointments and yet at the same time in colourful optimistic rhetoric.

We’ve seen most of this before, but despite its unremarkable familiar atmosphere, the film looks and feels so good and has enough confidence and tension to keep you thrilled throughout. And just when you’re about to think “this might be a tiny bit slow”, it pulls off a couple of truly unexpected twists and turns it from a political drama into a pulsating thriller. I must confess, at one point I was literally lost as to where it was all heading to.

Clooney co-wrote it, directed it and stars in it too. As a the man behind the camera, he handles it all with great subtlety and films it more as a theatre play, relying on the skills of his actors rather than big actions scenes, or car chases and shootouts. As the man in front of the camera, he takes a step back from the central stage and lets Gosling and the rest of his might cast to do most of the work.

Ryan Gosling in his third movie in a row in little more than a month confirms himself as the actor of the year: his performance is perfectly pitched: strong, charismatic and clever in a way that makes it very easy to like and identify with, despite the weaknesses and darker shades of his character. Paul Giamatti and Philip Seymour Hoffman, unsurprisingly, are perfect as always and Evan Rachel Wood and Marisa Tomei both shine in their limited supporting roles.

In the end Clooney might have more chances at the Oscar with his wonderful performance in the “Descendants” coming out soon (which I’ll be reviewing next), and anyway it’s probably a bit too early to make any Oscar predictions (will people still remember this film next February? I can hardly remember it after just a few days…), but this is still a solid political/thriller of the caliber we don’t get many these days, which treats its audience as thinking human beings capable of actually following a plot without the need to spell it out right from the title itself.

7.5/10

Beginners – Review

Beginners (2010) 

Director: Mike Mills Writer: Mike Mills Stars:  Ewan McGregorChristopher Plummer and Mélanie Laurent 

They may tell you that this is a comedy. You might have read about it on newspapers and magazines, you might have seen the poster looking more like one of those US rom-com than anything else… You’ve probably even looked at the trailer which sells it as an Indi-like comedy (and only hints to something else behind it), but be aware…

To a certain degree this is comedy in the most Shakespearian sense of the word (where even the most dramatic plays are considered comedic just because they end well). There are certainly some inspired funny moments here and there, however if you decide to go and watch “Beginners”, get ready to bring some tissues along because behind the laughs and the weird quirky tone, there’s a really heart-breaking story at its core.

The film essentially intercuts between two timelines: the first one follows the few last months of the charming, flamboyant and playful 75 years old Hal (an Oscar-worthy role by Christopher Plummer) who has recently come out as gay and most crucially who’s terminally ill with cancer. Don’t worry, I am not giving away anything: the film actually starts with his son, Oliver (Ewan McGregor in what’s probably his best performance) clearing up his deceased dad’s apartment.

The second timeline centres around his Oliver himself having to live with and accept the death of his father as well dealing with a new relationship with a free-spirited French actress, Anna (Melanie Laurent).

The film moves backwards and forwards between the two timelines and as it unfolds, it underlines the many contradictions of life: there’s light and darkness, music and silence, joy and sadness, laughs and tears (mainly tears as far as I am concerned: I was a total wreck by the end of it!), life and death.

It’s a film feels incredibly personal and yet it actually manages to be universal. After all it deals with the things we all very familiar with: parents, love, loneliness, death.

The beauty of it all is its attention to details: it’s a film made by simple moments which are so small and yet carry so much meaning. Like clearing a house after a person has died, going through their clothes, their personal properties, having to deal with the practicality of having to write a death certificate, but also, the clear realisation that life goes on for the living.

It is poignant and yet hopeful. It’s probably not for everyone, and it may have a few moments where it drags a little bit, but in the end it’s so disarmingly honest and beautifully observed and despite having a “talking dog” (and getting away with it) it feels incredibly truthful and real and I’d love to recommend it, but I’m aware that it’s a really tough watch and it’s a hard film to love. However it stayed with me long after the  credits finished rolling

7.5/10

Inside Job – Review

INSIDE JOB (2010) 

Directed by Charles Ferguson. Narrated by Matt Damon.

When reviewing a documentary like this I think it’s fair to make a distinction between the subject matter of the documentary and the actual merits of the film-making itself.

On the subject matter front, “Inside Job” surely deserves all the awards it is receiving (it recently won the Oscar for best documentary too). The film sets to explain the reasons (or arguably, some of the reasons) behind the financial crisis that’s hit the whole world. How did we end up where we are and whose to blame?

It could be a fairly dry and dull subject , and a rather complicated one too, but Inside Job, for most of it, manages to keep it simple and gripping at the same time without dumbing it down too much. Inevitably it ends up focusing more one one side of the argument (the  bankers) as opposed to following the more controversial route (going against the politicians. Though they do get mentioned, the film prefers not to be so hard on them as it is on those corporate people, obviously a much easier target).

And since we are all on the same boat in this never-ending financial crisis and we are, forgive me the term, rather pissed off at the way the whole thing has been carried out and handled, we are perfectly happy to see it all laid out the way it is and eventually everyone will come out it feeling even more angry and frustrated than they were before.

On that respect the film obviously really works.

As a piece of film, “Inside Job” is less interesting.

Its pace is very uneven: sometimes a bit too fast when it should be slow and a bit slow when you just want it to get on with it, for example there are way too many beginnings (one of them is probably there just because it plants the seeds for one of the best jokes  of film later on about the instability of Iceland). Not everything hits home as it probably should and not everything is as clear as it should be. After a while one million begins to sound a lot like 10 millions or 100 millions or even a billion… it’s just a whole lot of money which we’ll never see anyway… It gets slightly repetitive.

In most sequences the documentary unravels like a series lectures of economy: it is mainly voice over driven (read by Matt Damon who seems to be everywhere these days), visualized by unimaginative graphics and straight forward unremarkable archive footage. The real skill here seems to be more in the writing than the actual film-making. That’s by no means a criticism. This isn’t a film by Micheal Moore and, for most of its length, it doesn’t even try to be one: there are no stunts, and, on the surface, no tricks either.

And yet, everyone who has seen this film will most likely remember the last third, which is probably the closest thing to something that Michael Moore would do, and to me, the most interesting part. It is the moment the film-makers turn against their contributors: economists, journalists and professors, who are just as guilty as everyone else.

Watching them squirm in their seats having to defend  themselves when they thought they were just there to give us a history lesson is the most pleasurable part of the film.

And because we all want to point fingers and blame everyone for their greedy needs, we probably fail to notice the slightly biased use of the editing: I’m thinking of all those moments when questions are asked off-camera just so that we can catch the surprised faces of the people who are being interviews, and then the films cuts away to the next sequence, without giving them really the chance to answer.

We really don’t mind though: we hate those people anyway and as long as they look stupid and guilty we are happy with it.

In the end, it’s great to see a documentary like this, on a subject like the big economic crisis, getting all the awards it’s getting and though that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a masterpiece, I hope it does mean we are ready to chance the way people regulate our economy…

7/10

Animal Kingdom – Review

Animal Kingdom (2010) 

Directed by David Michôd. Starring Ben MendelsohnJoel EdgertonGuy PearceJacki WeaverJames FrechevilleLuke Ford.

This is a really tough watch… And yet, it isn’t the violence itself, because actually there’s very little of it, but the constant sense of eerie dread and tension that permeates the whole film and makes it almost unbearable to sit through.

Some of the most violent acts happen all of a sudden (hence even more shocking), towards the beginning of the film and take you completely by surprise and then, in the words of writer-director Michôd, “you’re just left with the aftermath”. Supposedly that’s how violence is in real life.

It’s a clever device that throws the audience right off-balance from the start. From that moment onwards, we know we can expect anything at any moment. So the idea that something could happen at any point is more distressing than the violence itself.

That is the most successful aspect of”Animal Kingdom”, a film that otherwise threads through a well know pattern and feels like many other crime films.

But forget the jokey Tarantino of Pulp Fiction, or the epic almost-romantic Coppola of the Godfather, this is a serious crime film, and it feels real!

“Animal Kingdom” is a drama at every turn and twist and it depicts the lives of a family of criminals in Melbourne. Obviously it all benefits from having a series of (very convincing) performances from actors who don’t carry the burden of recognition.

Right from the start we are catapulted in the middle of it and it’s up to us to work out who’s who. I did confess I was a bit lost in the beginning and took me a while to actually be able to recognize all the characters. Also I didn’t think the main character (James Frecheville) was particularly interesting to watch: his face is pretty much black for most of the film, which I suppose is the point of the film (his mother dies right at the beginning and he doesn’t even flinch) and yet this detachment he didn’t make him particularly sympathetic and in the end I thought that was an error in judgement.

As the film unfolds, slowly we begin to see how terrifying these people (animals) really are, even the most innocent looking ones: the figure of the mother, Smurf, played by Jacki Weaver is one of the scariest creation I’ve seen in a long time. On the surface she’s a small, gentle, smiley mother who gives full-mouth kisses to his sons, but behind all that, hides the pure evil (witness a wonderful scene in which she asks for her own grandson to be killed).

Her Oscar Nomination for supporting actress is truly deserved.

Behind the (artificial) sense of reality, Michôd uses every trick in the book to make it feel cinematic at the same time : the slow-motion as people walk towards camera, the long elegant tracking shots (reminiscent of Scorsese’s early gangster’s films) and finally the music itself

As if the subject matter wasn’t tough enough, Sam Petty’s ominous score rumbles along through the subwoofer (that “.1″ from the 5.1 surround sound) in a series of prolonged low monotones, which you almost feel in the stomach and make those tense sequences feel even more dangerous.

The only oddity, which I didn’t think was needed at all, and adds nothing to the film, is the use of voice over at the beginning and at the end (especially coming from a character as blank as J). In fact, generally speaking, the script is the most un-remarkable thing about the film.

When it all finally ended, I was gagging for some fresh air and I couldn’t wait to go outside in the freezing cold London of these days and breath with relief

This is by no means a criticism to the film, in fact quite the opposite: it’s the proof that the film worked for me. Having said that, I wouldn’t want to call it entertaining or  want to watch it again, but I’ll certainly look out for what Michôd will do next (hopefully with a more original story).

7.5/10

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