Oscar Winners 2011

The Academy Awards ceremony is over and the statuettes have been given all away exactly to who we thought might win… Once again, Oscar disappoints in originality, courage, boldness, and predictability reigned.  But in most cases what was to be expected was also the best available choice.

If you really asked me Toy Story 3 should have won and Christopher Nolan should have been recognized at least as a screen-writer, or even better as a director for what was one of the most inventive and original film of the year: Inception. Instead the Academy opted for the most obvious Tom Hooper: his directing on “The King’s Speech” was showy, obvious, by number and lacked of any subtlety (you can see read my review, which was written long before the film even got released).

Is this guy really worthy of standing in the same league as Steven Spielberg, Clint Eastwood, Peter Jackson, Roman Polanski,Oliver Stone, Milos Forman, Francis Ford Coppola, Robert Wise, George Cukor, Billy Wilder, Martin Scorsese, Vincente Minnelli, David Lean, John Ford, Michael Curtiz, just to mention a few?

And yes, of course, Colin Firth was good, but was he really better than James Franco in 127 hours, a film that was entirely dependent on him stuck in a hole? No, he wasn’t. However he deserved the Award last year for “A Single Man” and even Colin himself knows that (that’s why he thanked Tom Ford in his speech).

The Social Network, even though that too was a flawed movie, felt more like a solid piece of film-making.

Well, you can obviously tell I am a bit disappointed…. Oh well, that’s the way it is. The King’s Speech joins the list of Oscar winner crowd-pleasing films, like Shakespeare in Love or Crash, Ordinary People, Driving Miss Daisy and so on. Films that found themselves at the right time in the right place and got away with winning (Let’s face it, even the Hurt Locker last year). Not bad ones, but not that great either.

On the whole this was one of the lamest show in the last few years. James Franco was under-used and Anne Hathaway she felt stiff and was confined by a silly, bitty, and unfunny script.

There was nothing remarkable about the show itself: no glamour, no drama, no surprises… It makes me wonder whether I should have gone to bed earlier and watch the highlights tomorrow…

Few nice moments but that’s about it, just nice: Natalie Portman’s speech, Colin’s Speech (though he has been better before), Melissa Leo cursing and droppping the “F” bomb at one point (hahaha), Christian Bale showing that he has got a heart and that nerd guy who got the Oscar for the short film who said “I should have got a haircut”.

On the whole a pretty forgettable show, with very forgettable hosts.

Here’s the list of all the winners and some comments:

BEST PICTURE

The King’s Speech – WINNER

BEST DIRECTOR

Tom Hooper – The King’s Speech – WINNER

BEST ACTOR

Colin Firth – The King’s Speech – WINNER

BEST ACTRESS

Natalie Portman – Black Swan – WINNER

Beautiful performance and a well deserved Oscar.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Christian Bale – The Fighter – WINNER

A very showy performance, but still a good one. Also Christian redeemed himself for all the bad he did, by getting moved and giving a nice speech.I just hope that beard is there for some reason!

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Melissa Leo – The Fighter – WINNER

I knew it the moment I saw the fighter.

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

In a Better World – Denmark – WINNER

I haven’t seen this yet, but it’s winning awards left and right… I’m getting curious.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

David Seidler – The King’s Speech – WINNER

Yawn… How predictable… Poor Nolan

BEST ANIMATION

Toy Story 3 – WINNER

Was there any other choice? This should have got the Best feature film too!!

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Aaron Sorkin – The Social Network – WINNER

Well, of course.

BEST ART DIRECTION

Alice in Wonderland – WINNER

mmm.. Not so sure, really. A tilted tree is really not enough for getting an Oscar. But then again, it was the easiest and laziest choice.

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

Inception – WINNER

This was a surprise, but a very welcome one. It was certainly a harder film to light that True Grit. However Rogers Deakins will have to win sooner or later.

BEST SOUND MIXING

Inception – WINNER

BEST SOUND EDITING

Inception – WINNER

Both this and the previous award are very very hard to differentiate for me, so it’s good to see them going to the same film.

BEST ORIGINAL SONG

We Belong Together (from Toy Story 3) by Randy Newman – WINNER

20 nominations for Randy Newman and this is only his second win. Also it brings the Oscar count to “2” for this wonderful film, so I’m just happy for it.

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

The Social Network – Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross – WINNER

The most original score for sure. Totally deserved!!

BEST COSTUMES

Alice in Wonderland – WINNER

The only redeeming feature of that film.

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

Inside Job – WINNER

Pity for “Exit through the gift shop” which was an extremely entertaining doc (and it would have been good to see who would have collected the award). But this one was clearly a better one.

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT

Strangers No More – WINNER

BEST FILM EDITING

The Social Network – WINNER

Clearly this was some of the best edited film (especially if you’ve seen the special feature on the DVD). 127 Hours was a more flashy one and slightly more interesting, but they say that the best editing is the invisible one.

BEST ANIMATED SHORT FILM

The Lost Thing – WINNER

BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM

God of Love – WINNER

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

Inception – WINNER

Well, was there really anything else?

BEST MAKE-UP

The Wolfman – WINNER

A lazy Award. I’m sure voters just saw Baker’s name and voted for him. The film was rubbish and in fact it’s impossible to tell what was make-up and what was CGI (including the clip that was shown during the show)

To conclude, the only thing I am pleased about is that a little film like The King’s Speech once again follows the a trend set in the last couple of years whereby small, indie movies do better than Hollywood biggies… But hey, they could have done the same thing just by rewarding “Black Swan” or “Blue Valentine” or even “Animal Kingdom”.

OSCAR 2011 – Nominations for Best Animated Short Film

While waiting for the 2011 Oscars (tomorrow night, Sunday, February 27th) these are the five 2011 Oscar animated short nominees.

DAY AND NIGHT

Directed by Teddy Newton. Starring Wayne Dyer. US (Pixar Animation)

The personifications of daytime and nighttime learn to get along.

THE GRUFFALO

Directors: Max LangJakob Schuh. Helena Bonham CarterJames CordenTom WilkinsonJohn Hurt. BBC. UK

A cunning mouse goes for a walk in the forest and outwits a succession of predators

LET’S POLLUTE

Directed by Geefwee Boedoe. Starring Jim Thornton. USA

In the spirit of 50’s & 60’s educational films, ‘Let’s Pollute’ is a modern satire on how pollution is our heritage and keeps our economy growing strong, while instructing us how to be better polluters for a better blighted tomorrow.

THE LOST THING

Directed by Andrew Ruhemann, Shaun Tan. Starring Tim Minchin. Australia, UK

A 15 minute animated short film based on the highly acclaimed picture book by multi award winning author and illustrator, Shaun Tan. A boy finds a strange creature on a beach, and decides to find a home for it in a world where everyone believes there are far more important things to pay attention to

(OFFICIAL WEBSITE)

MADAGASCAR, CARNET DE VOYAGE

Director: Bastien Dubois. France.

“Told in the form of a travel notebook, the story follows the steps of a Western traveler who is brought face to face with the Malagasy customs and rituals, especially the Famadihana, the ritual of the turning of the bones.”

(CLICK HERE TO WATCH IT IN FULL)

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

Howl – Review

Howl (2010) 

Directed by Rob EpsteinJeffrey Friedman. Starring James FrancoMary-Louise ParkerJon HammJeff DanielsTreat WilliamsDavid StrathairnBob Balaban.

I went into “Howl” really wanting to like it. Maybe because I had heard it was a film that tried to do something different, or maybe because I’ve always liked Allen Ginsberg’s poetry or maybe even because in the last few months I have started to think James Franco is one of the most interesting new actors around.

On paper this sounded like the dream film for me. However, leaving the theatre I couldn’t help feeling a sense of disappointment for the failed attempt that it is.

In the end “Howl”  is just a bit of a mess… I can now see why it took so long to be released here in the UK (they’re probably hoping to cash in on the back of James Franco’s notoriety with 127 Hours).

The film is essentially a biopic, not of a person, but of a poem (That by itself is a pretty new concept). How did the poem came about, when it was written and the controversy it caused… And obviously the poem itself.

The directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, are mostly known for their documentaries The Times of Harvey Milk and The Celluloid Closet. In fact this film too was originally intended as a straight documentary. The decision for the change was due to fact that apparently there is very little material  of Ginsberg himself as a young person, during the time Howl was conceived.

This a certainly not a very conventional film: apparently every word and every scene has been drawn from existing material, whether from interviews, accounts, articles, court transcripts and so on. It follows several different strands and jump through several timelines. A real collage of different stories each with their own different style, pace and music and all put together sometimes in a seemingly random fashion: almost like a film within a film… within a film.

There are several different sides to the film.

There’s Ginsberg himself, beautifully and carismatically played by James Franco, as he’s being interviewed by a faceless reporter. This section has a sort of late 60s look in its greenish-tinted color However as he talks about his life, there are flashbacks to his life, all filmed in black and white. These are the ones who feel more superficial, even though are potentially the most interesting one and certainly the most cinematic ones. Unfortunately they’re too sporadic, too brief and the constant interruption and voice over  somehow alienates its audience and makes it really hard to emotionally engage with any of it. In the end, I can’t help feeling that this part only really scratches the surface.

The other layer in the film is the obscenity trial which in 1957  tried to ban the publication of the poem and prosecuted its publisher. This is the most straightforward part of “Howl”, filmed like a court room drama and focusing on the arguments between the prosecutor (played by David Strathairn) and the defense lawyer (Jon Hamm), though the testimonies of a series of  mainly pompous and prejudiced witnesses from Jeff Daniels to Mary Louise-Parker. It is in a way the most engaging and interesting part of the film too also it shows you how far away that 1957 now is.

Finally, there’s the poem itself: some of  which is performed by James Franco in a club to a group of people in complete awe, but most of it is depicted with semi-abstract animated pieces peppered throughout the movie.

This is the more “showy” part of the film and the most “arty” too (in the worse sense of the word) in my view.

There’s a line at some point in the film, during the trial where somebody says “Sir, you can’t explain poetry, this is why it’s poetry”. Well, the film-makers should have probably listen to their own script a little bit more carefully and follow the advice.

The moment the poem is visualized the film fails as it limits it, shrinks it and trivializes it.

In the end the James Franco is the saving grace of the “Howl”. The blend of styles and the several strands of story are just too ambitious. The film feels over-crammed with things and I can’t help thinking it would have worked a lot better if the film-makers had chosen a simpler way to tell the story, without succumbing to arty devices.

6/10

BAFTA AWARDS 2011

BAFTA AWARDS 2011 – RESULTS & COMMENTS

The BAFTA Awards for 2011 have just been given out. Once again it proved how biased these awards are towards British Films. The King’s Speech was the big winner of the evening (no surprise there), grabbing all sorts of awards (7 in all). Here’s the list of all the winners and some quick comments from me.

Best Film – The King’s Speech

Like it was predicted. I wonder if in a few years time we’ll be remembering this film, or Inception and Toy Story 3. Oh well, it was so predictable.

Leading Actor – Colin Firth – The King’s Speech

Well deserved I supposed, but my votes would have gone to James Franco, especially since Colin had won it last year.

Leading Actress – Natalie Portman – Black Swan

She was pretty amazing in that film, so totally deserved. And I am so happy that annoying  HAILEE STEINFELD didn’t get it for True Grit

Director – The Social Network – David Fincher

Well, I am happy it wasn’t Tom Hooper.. but it should have gone to Nolan for INCEPTION

Cinematography – True Grit – Roger Deakins

Totally deserved, though it was a hard choice, Matthew Libatique did a great job for BLACK SWAN and INCPETION (Wally Pfister) looked amazing!

Adapted Screenplay – The Social Network – Aaron Sorkin

Well, there was no other choice for this, was there? He should get an Award every year just for his West Wing!!

Orange Wednesdays Rising Star Award – Tom Hardy

Well deserved. He stole every scene in Inception and he’s going to be huge with the next Batman movie. Let’s face it ANDREW GARFIELD was Ok on the Social Network, but very transparent on Never Let Me Go

Animated Film – Toy Story 3

Well, of course. What else was there?

Original Screenplay – The King’s Speech – David Seidler

This was to be expected, but it’s a shame Inception couldn’t make it.I can see this might be one of those differences at the Oscars.

Supporting Actor – Geoffrey Rush – The King’s Speech

One of the most controversial win, not because Geoffrey Rush didn’t deserve it, but because we all thought it was going to go to Christian Bale. I guess it was probably a way to punish Bale for his recent behavior. Anyway, his Oscar is coming soon…

Outstanding British Film – The King’s Speech

All pretty predictable of course, however since it got the Best film, this award should have really gone to somebody else. Mike Leigh’s Another Year for example was left empty-handed.

Outstanding Debut by a British Writer, Director or Producer – Four Lions – Director/Writer – Chris Morris

This was also pretty predictable, but a lot of people though THE ARBRO  was a better film. My vote would have gone to EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP , a documentary which I really enjoyed, but also I would have loved to see Banksy collecting the award… hehehe.

Supporting Actress – Helena Bonham Carter – The King’s Speech

A bit of a travesty in my view. This performance was a real caricature and pretty one-dimensional. Brits love Helena, so it was all rather predictable. It’s a pity for LESLEY MANVILLE or ANY ADAMS

Special Visual Effects – Inception – Chris Corbould, Paul Franklin, Andrew Lockley, Peter Bebb

Well deserved.

Production Design – Inception – Guy Hendrix Dyas, Larry Dias, Doug Mowat

As Above

Costume Design – Alice in Wonderland – Colleen Atwood

A pretty obvious choice considering the nominees.

Film Not in the English Language – The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo – Søren Stærmose, Niels Arden Oplev

I don’t really get this. I never really understood the success of this film, especially in a year when you have films like THE SECRET IN THEIR EYES, and OF GODS AND MEN. However I’m happy BIUTIFUL didn’t get it, since it was the most depressing film of the year!

Make Up & Hair – Alice in Wonderland – Valli O’Reilly, Paul Gooch

Well, the only other choice was HARRY POTTER, but then again, they’re probably waiting for the next one.

Editing – The Social Network – Angus Wall, Kirk Baxter

Following the rule that the best editing is the invisible one, then this is probably a deserved award. However it should have gone to Lee Smith for INCEPTION

Sound – Inception – Richard King, Lora Hirschberg, Gary A Rizzo, Ed Novick

Well deserved, but the sound on 127 HOURS was truly amazing.

Original Music – The King’s Speech – Alexandre Desplat

It was the obvious choice, but INCEPTION‘s music by Hans Zimmer was almost revolutionary and it is still the most memorable.

Short Animation – The Eagleman Stag – Michael Please

Short Film – Until the River Runs Red – Paul Wright, Poss Kondeatis

After writing this list, I wrote to the Evening Standards the following email, an extract of which, once again, got published on the 15th of February. (It’s the second one they publish, the first  one was for Harry Potter)

After 63 years of BAFTA and 82 years of Oscars (and everything else in between), It must be really hard for these poor people to come up with an acceptance speech that is original, succinct, sharp, witty, but most importantly memorable.
Sam Leiht’s hit the nail right on the head: “better embarrassed than forgotten”. Last thing you want to do is to give a lousy speech: and yet there are still those who end up just making long list of boring names nobody knows anything about, or those who read from cue-cards!
For crying out-loud people: you’re actors!! Act! Remember your lines!! And perform for your audience!
I am not necessarily saying you have to do what Roberto Benigni did at the Oscars in ’99 (though that was pretty awesome.. and definitely memorable!), jumping up and down and shouting “I want to make love with all of you”, but I’m sure you could do better than just thanking your mom and your agent or your beautiful husband/wife.
That Bafta show last night was on the whole pretty lame, in my view, and the only real memorable speech was the one from Helena Bonham Carter (mainly because for some reason she was allowed to break the rule and to go on for a lot longer than she was allowed to).
In their defense, it must be said that nowadays there are too many Movie Awards around and, if you are Colin Firth, from the King’s Speech, you know you’re going to have speak more than once: so what do you do in that case? Do you give the same one over and over again, do you give your best earlier on (maybe at the Golden Globes), or do you hold out for the Oscars (because let’s face it, that’s the one that gets remembered).
I really hope Colin Firth opted for the latter as the one from last night was pretty forgettable… in fact I can’t even remember what he said.
It’s all probably part of a bigger discussion on whether we really need all these awards…
Warren Beatty was right on his acceptance speech in ’76 when he said “We want to thank all of you for watching us congratulate ourselves tonight”, because that’s essentially what they all do. C’mon guys, be a bit more creative!

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