Noah

Russell-Crowe-in-Noah-2014-Movie-Poster

 

Noah is a powerful mythological film that echoes The Lord of the Rings more than Ben-Hur. Its world is fantastical yet gritty and, in places, bloody, but it is never reverential, as co-writer and director Darren Aronofsky delivers a tale that need not have any direct biblical reference. The story of Noah is biblical, but it is also universal, as cultures from around the world feature myths of water and flood. Noah succeeds because it emphasises the universality of its premise and delivers a thoroughly human story, as families and communities face extraordinary conditions and respond in different ways. In doing so, the film raises interesting questions about faith, especially the forms it takes and its impact. In his best performance in years, Russell Crowe shines in a role that veers from brooding to jovial, psychotic to endearing, while Aronofsky delivers both epic scale and intimate detail, ensuring that the viewer is thoroughly engulfed in his cinematic deluge.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

captain-america-the-winter-soldier-international

Captain America is easy to dismiss as a super-powered boy scout, tiresomely attached to outdated notions of honour, duty and that old contemptible, patriotism. Captain America: The First Avenger avoided that problem by emphasising the absurdity of the character, the very identity of Captain America a tool for propaganda within the film’s narrative. Captain America: The Winter Soldier makes a virtue of its protagonist’s datedness by inserting him into a conspiracy narrative, where he does not know what is going on anymore than the audience do. This blend of 1970s-inflected conspiracy with the requisite action of the superhero genre is the strongest element of Joe and Anthony Russo’s film. Unexpected combinations are a recurring feature, as Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) must decide his allegiances with faces new and old, including Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Natasha Romanov (Scarlett Johannson), Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford), Agent Hill (Cobie Smulders) and Agent 13 (Emily VanCamp), and adapt to digital warfare and new social expectations. These combinations sometimes lead to a lack of emotional impact, as certain twists and revelations do not come as a surprise and the intimate is overwhelmed by the operatic. At other times, though, the film is genuinely surprising and manages to disrupt the Marvel universe in daring and unexpected ways. Much as Iron Man Three engaged with post-traumatic-stress-disorder, CA:TWS has a more serious tone that its predecessor, concerned with issues of surveillance and a Big Brother society, and this does not always sit well with the bombastic action. For the most part, it’s a solid superhero adventure, but smoother integration between its different elements would make  it more satisfying.

THE WINNERS WILL BE…

Oscars

Just before the big event takes place, these are my final predictions for the 86th Annual Academy Awards. At this time some people like to say what “should” win, implying that they know better than the homogenous, easily swayed entity otherwise known as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science. This is a gross misconstruing of the Academy, that consists of literally hundreds of people who vote on the various nominated films, not one monumental committee that simply hands out awards to their friends. I find the “what should win” position uncomfortably arrogant, but accept that we are all allowed to disagree. So as well as offering my prediction, I also offer what would be my pick if I were a member of AMPAS, which is not to say I’m right, but what I happen to prefer.

Best Motion Picture of the Year

12 Years A Slave

American Hustle

Captain Phillips

Dallas Buyers Club

Gravity

Her

Nebraska

Philomena

The Wolf Of Wall Street

12 Years A Slave has won multiple Best Film awards, including the Golden Globe and the BAFTA, and there is no reason to expect that will not change. I have seen six of these films (Her, Nebraska, Philomena are the omissions), and 12 Years A Slave is the most impressive, prompting knuckle-chewing and tears from me. This non-member agrees with the Academy majority.

Prediction: 12 Years A Slave

My vote: 12 Years A Slave

12-years-poster Best Achievement in Directing

Alfonso Cuarón – Gravity

Steve McQueen – 12 Years A Slave

Alexander Payne – Nebraska

David O. Russell – American Hustle

Martin Scorsese – The Wolf Of Wall Street

This looks to be another year when Picture and Directing go to different films, a relatively rare occurrence but increasingly common this century (Gladiator/Traffic, Chicago/The Pianist, Crash/Brokeback Mountain, Argo/Life of Pi). I see it continuing this year, as Alfonso Cuarón has been awarded by multiple award-giving entities and that tends to lead to the Oscar. I have no problem with this because if there is a more directed film than Gravity in the last year, I don’t know what it is. It is an astounding technical achievement, and I would have no problem with it winning Best Picture as well, but it does lack the socio-historical-political dimension of 12 Years A Slave, so it will not win that. But from a technical perspective of film craft, also known as directing, Gravity has few equals.

Prediction: Alfonso Cuarón

My vote: Alfonso Cuarón

Gravity 1

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role

Christian Bale – American Hustle

Bruce Dern – Nebraska

Leonardo DiCaprio – The Wolf Of Wall Street

Chiwetel Ejiofor – 12 Years A Slave

Matthew McConaughey – Dallas Buyers Club

Matthew McConaughey has the Golden Globe, the Screen Actors Guild, Broadcast Film Critics Association Award and many more for Best Actor. He did not get the BAFTA, which went to Chiwetel Ejiofor, but then McConaughey was not nominated there either. His performance is everything the Academy members like – actual historical figure, suffering from an illness, requires physical transformation, so he will win. He would not be my pick, however, because I would vote for a full-on, jet-propelled performance that makes a thoroughly loathsome character endlessles compelling.

Prediction: Matthew McConaughey

My vote: Leonardo DiCaprio

Dallas Buyers ClubBest Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role

Amy Adams – American Hustle

Cate Blanchett – Blue Jasmine

Sandra Bullock – Gravity

Judi Dench – Philomena

Meryl Streep – August: Osage County

Having picked up the other awards, there is no reason to expect that Cate Blanchett will not pick up the Oscar. I haven’t seen Blue Jasmine so cannot comment, as I found Sandra Bullock compelling and absorbing throughout her extra-terrestrial activities.

Prediction: Cate Blanchett

My vote: Sandra Bullock

Blue_Jasmine_poster

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role

Barkhad Abdi – Captain Phillips

Bradley Cooper – American Hustle

Michael Fassbender – 12 Years A Slave

Jonah Hill – The Wolf Of Wall Street

Jared Leto – Dallas Buyers Club

Once again, follow the pattern and Jared Leto will pick up the award. I have seen all of these and found all of them quite compelling, but Leto seemed a little slight. Were I in the Academy, I’d cast my vote for the BAFTA winner that we hadn’t heard of a year ago, who gives a sympathetic but frightening performance of ruthlessness and desperation. I hope we see more of him in the future.

Prediction: Jared Leto

My vote: Barkhad Abdi

Phillips Poster

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role

Sally Hawkins – Blue Jasmine

Jennifer Lawrence – American Hustle

Lupita Nyong’o – 12 Years A Slave

Julia Roberts – August: Osage County

June Squibb – Nebraska

This is a bit tricky, as it could go either way between Lupita Nyong’o and Jennifer Lawrence. They are the only two I have seen, and Lawrence is rather like DiCaprio in TWOWS in terms of being full-on and ferocious, while also very funny. But the Academy is more likely to reward drama than comedy, and because she moved me to tears, I would to.

Prediction: Lupita Nyong’o

My vote: Lupita Nyong’o

Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen

American Hustle – Eric Singer, David O. Russell

Blue Jasmine – Woody Allen

Her – Spike Jonze

Nebraska – Bob Nelson

Dallas Buyers Club – Craig Borten, Melisa Wallack

For all its nominations, I think this is the one award that American Hustle is most likely to pick up, and I have no problem with that. Dallas Buyers Club did not stand out for me, and the sheer creative excess of American Hustle makes it strong for me as well.

Prediction: American Hustle

My vote: American Hustle

AMERICAN-HUSTLE-poster-1024x768

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published

Before Midnight – Richard Linklater

Captain Phillips – Billy Ray

12 Years A Slave – John Ridley

The Wolf of Wall Street – Terence Winter

Philomena – Steve Coogan, Jeff Pope

As an unlikely winner of Directing, I see Writing as a far more likely award for 12 Years A Slave. This is OK by me, as the writing of the film creates an understandable and relatable world despite its period detail and the retention of 19th century dialogue.

Prediction: 12 Years A Slave

My vote: 12 Years A Slave

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score

The Book Thief – John Williams

Gravity – Steven Price

Her – William Butler and Owen Pallet

Philomena – Alexadre Desplat

Saving Mr. Banks – Thomas Newman

The music of Saving Mr. Banks was integral to the soulful aspect of the film, while music in Gravity was less noticeable. It’s hard to say, really, so a wild stab in the dark.

Prediction: Philomena

My vote: Saving Mr. Banks

Banks

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song

“Alone Yet Not Alone” – Alone Yet Not Alone

“Happy” – Despicable Me 2

“Let It Go” – Frozen

“The Moon Song” – Her

“Ordinary Love” – Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom

Take it, Disney!

Prediction: “Let It Go”

Best Achievement in Sound Editing

All Is Lost

Captain Phillips

Gravity

The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug

Lone Survivor

In space, there is no sound, yet sound plays a major part in Gravity, the sudden collisions and silence in the surroundings adding to the heart-stopping drama.

Prediction: Gravity

My vote: Gravity

Best Achievement in Sound Mixing

Captain Phillips

Gravity

The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug

Inside Llewyn Davis

Lone Survivor

The layering of sound to create the voice of Smaug really impressed me, so that’s my pick. But I think the sound love for Gravity might spread out a bit.

Prediction: Gravity

My vote: The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug

SmaugProduction Design

American Hustle

Gravity

The Great Gatsby

Her

12 Years A Slave

A nice bunch of nominees here – three period pieces and two science fiction films. Sci-fi sometimes gets a bone like this, but with Gravity heading for more major awards this might go to something else with less chance of winning other awards. Hard to be sure.

Prediction: The Great Gatsby

My vote: Gravity

the-great-gatsby-2012

Best Achievement in Cinematography

The Grandmaster – Philippe Le Sourd

Gravity – Emmanuel Lubezki

Inside Llewyn Davis – Bruno Delbonnel

Nebraska – Phedon Papamichael

Prisoners – Roger Deakins

3D cinematography will continue its winning ways in this category. Simple as that. But Prisoners looked so good.

Prediction: Gravity

My vote: Prisoners

prisoners movie poster

Best Achievement in Makeup And Hair

Dallas Buyers Club

Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa

The Lone Ranger

Make healthy people look sick and a man look like a woman. No brainer.

Prediction: Dallas Buyers Club

My vote: Dallas Buyers Club

Best Achievement in Costume Design

American Hustle

The Grandmaster

The Great Gatsby

The Invisible Woman

12 Years A Slave

Period dramas, especially the Dickensian, have an edge here, and The Invisible Woman is literally Dickens, so pretty good chance. But the costumes in American Hustle for me were so garish and horrible that I think that deserves respect.

Prediction: The Invisible Woman

My vote: American Hustle

invisible_woman_xlg

Best Achievement in Film Editing

12 Years a Slave

American Hustle

Gravity

Captain Phillips

Dallas Buyers Club

Editing is the silver bullet for Best Picture, so it will go to the Best Picture winner. But I loved the assembly and fast cutting of Captain Phillips, so I’d go for that.

Prediction: 12 Years A Slave

My vote: Captain Phillips

Best Achievement in Visual Effects

Gravity

The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug

Iron Man 3

The Lone Ranger

Star Trek Into Darkness

So much of Gravity is visual effects that it would be terribly churlish not to reward them.

Prediction: Gravity

My vote: Gravity

In these categories, I have seen none of the nominees, so I simply expect the pattern to continue.

Best Animated Feature Film of the Year

The Croods

Despicable Me 2

Ernest & Celestine

Frozen

The Wind Rises

Prediction: Frozen

Frozen_1400_x_2100_USA_Apple

Best Foreign Language Film of the Year

The Broken Circle Breakdown (Belgium)

The Great Beauty (Italy)

The Hunt (Denmark)

The Missing Picture (Cambodia)

Omar (Palestine)

Prediction: The Hunt

The_Hunt_(2012_film)

Best Documentary, Feature

The Act Of Killing

Cutie And The Boxer

Dirty Wars

The Square

20 Feet From Stardom

Prediction: The Act of Killing

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Best Documentary – Short Subject

Cavedigger

Facing Fear

Karama Has No Walls

The Lady In Number 6: Music Saved My Life

Prison Terminal: The Last Days Of Private Jack Hall

Best Live Action Short Film

Aquel No Era Yo (That Wasn’t Me)

Avant Que De Tout Perdre (Just Before Losing Everything)

Helium

Pitaako Mun Kaikki Hoitaa? (Do I Have To Take Care Of Everything?)

The Voorman Problem

Best Animated Short Film

Feral

Get A Horse!

Mr. Hublot

Possessions

Room On The Broom

I know nothing about any of these, so have no opinion.

Hitchcock Blonde

Blonde

Alfred Hitchcock, the man, the master, the myth, is one of the most recognisable names (and figures) in film history. Furthermore, Psycho is one of the most analysed films in film studies, with entire books devoted solely to the shower scene, a topic that seems more suited to a student essay. Such is the case for Nicole, played by Libby Waite, in John Holden’s production of Terry Johnson’s Hitchcock Blonde at the Maddermarket Theatre. Her arrogant and pretentious lecturer Alex, played by Edward Wallis, invites her to spend the summer in Greece with him analysing footage from a “lost Hitchcock masterpiece”, and this research trip rapidly turns into confrontations with identity, history, sexuality and responsibility. 

The story of Alex and Nicola is played out in the downstage half of the Maddermarket stage, the expanse suggesting the freedom promised by the Greek island in contrast to the psychological traps and manipulations that both Alex and Nicola play on each other. Similar powerplay occurs upstage in a parallel narrative about the filming of Psycho, as Hitchcock (John Mangan) auditions a young Blonde (Gemma Johnston) as a body double for the shower scene. This part of the stage is far more cluttered with set, props and furniture, adding to the sense of claustrophobia that both the Blonde, and as it turns out, Hitchcock, experience. While at first both Nicole and the Blonde seem at the mercy of their senior male counterparts, not to mention the Blonde’s abusive husband (Dave Myers), tables turn and power changes hands.

Hitchcock Blonde works both as a compelling psycho-sexual drama, which manages some very funny moments, and an extrapolation of film history and semiotics. As a film scholar, there was a great deal for me to enjoy (not to mention recognise) in terms of how individual frames can be interpreted, meaning read into particular cuts, the production context and practice pieced together from fragmentary information. To the play’s great credit, it does not descend too far into film geekery, keeping the emphasis on the characters’ excitement over their findings, especially when these are at the expense of human interaction. Wallis makes Alex pitiful but still understandable, while Nicole’s gradual warming to him and eventual disappointment is easy to empathise with, thanks to Waite’s performance of deep resentment, pain and barely suppressed rage. The Blonde undergoes a significant transformation, Johnston delivering a spell-binding performance of fragility and fear, that develops into strength and resolve, all the while seeming on the verge of a breakdown that only manifests in a final, shocking climax. As her antagonist/mentor, John Mangan who embodies Hitchcock in extraordinary detail, capturing the stance, the gestures and the voice with uncanny accuracy, the gauze that covers upstage giving him the appearance of archive footage of the great man. But Mangan does not simply deliver an impersonation, as he imbues Hitchcock with depth, flaws and fears, making him both compelling and creepy.

Overall, Hitchcock Blonde is a delight for theatre fans and a special treat for film buffs. Thrills, laughs and shocks are available in abundance, but the strongest impression I took away was melancholia. Alex is ultimately desperately sad, trying to recapture a sense of youth through new discoveries about Hitchcock and a fling with a woman half his age, while Nicole’s grappling with her own demons delivers little catharsis and one can imagine her remaining scarred both in body and mind. Meanwhile, Hitchcock emerges as a figure tortured by memory, desire and past sins, using film to work through his problems. As for the Blonde, her arc opens the play out to wider concerns around domestic abuse, indicating the agony of such relationships and their tragic consequences.

Dallas Buyers Club

Dallas Buyers Club

Dallas Buyers Club is a sharp and heartfelt film about personal struggle that engages with wider social issues. Jean-Marc Valleé’s account of the true story of Ron Woodroof creates an engaging, atmospheric picture of blue collar America, complete with prejudice, courage, friendship and a more expansive and angry tale of capitalist oppression. In the personal story, Matthew McConaughey shines as Ron develops from a sexist, homophobic bigot to a warm and sympathetic (though still brash and belligerent) humanitarian, humanised through his stark encounter with mortality and engagement with fellow sufferers. On a broader scale, the film works as a damning indictment of health care in America, as Ron progresses from entrepreneur to crusader against big business. An inspiring and bittersweet tale that packs serious political punch.

BAFTA

Moments before I see the show which is already going on and the results of which I am avoiding, here are my predictions for the BAFTA awards (predictions in bold):

BEST FILM

12 Years a Slave

American Hustle

Captain Phillips

Gravity

Philomena

 

OUTSTANDING BRITISH FILM

Gravity

Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom

Philomena

Rush

Saving Mr Banks

The Selfish Giant

 

OUTSTANDING DEBUT BY A BRITISH WRITER, DIRECTOR OR PRODUCER

Colin Carberry (Writer), Glenn Patterson (Writer) for Good Vibrations

Kelly Marcel (Writer) for Saving Mr. Banks

Kieran Evans (Director/Writer) for Kelly + Victor

Paul Wright (Director/Writer), Polly Stokes (Producer) for For Those in Peril

Scott Graham (Director/Writer) for Shell

 

FILM NOT IN THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE

The Act Of Killing

Blue Is The Warmest Colour

The Great Beauty 

 

DOCUMENTARY

The Act Of Killing

The Armstrong Lie

Blackfish

Tim’s Vermeer

We Steal Secrets: The Story Of Wikileaks

 

ANIMATED FILM

Despicable Me 2

Frozen

Monsters University  

 

DIRECTOR

12 Years A Slave, Steve McQueen

American Hustle, David O. Russell

Captain Phillips, Paul Greengrass

Gravity, Alfonso Cuarón

The Wolf Of Wall Street, Martin Scorsese

 

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

American Hustle, Eric Warren Singer, David O. Russell

Blue Jasmine, Woody Allen

Gravity, Alfonso Cuarón, Jonás Cuarón

Inside Llewyn Davis, Joel Coen, Ethan Coen

Nebraska, Bob Nelson

 

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

12 Years A Slave, John Ridley

Behind The Candelabra, Richard LaGravenese

Captain Phillips, Billy Ray

Philomena, Steve Coogan, Jeff Pope

The Wolf Of Wall Street, Terence Winter

 

LEADING ACTOR

Bruce Dern, Nebraska

Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave

Christian Bale, American Hustle

Leonardo DiCaprio, The Wolf Of Wall Street

Tom Hanks, Captain Phillips

 

LEADING ACTRESS

Amy Adams, American Hustle

Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine

Emma Thompson, Saving Mr. Banks

Judi Dench, Philomena

Sandra Bullock, Gravity

 

SUPPORTING ACTOR

Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips

Bradley Cooper, American Hustle

Daniel Brühl, Rush

Matt Damon, Behind the Candelabra

Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave

 

SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle

Julia Roberts, August: Osage County

Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave

Oprah Winfrey, The Butler

Sally Hawkins, Blue Jasmine

 

ORIGINAL MUSIC

12 Years A Slave, Hans Zimmer

The Book Thief, John Williams

Captain Phillips, Henry Jackman

Gravity, Steven Price

Saving Mr. Banks, Thomas Newman

 

CINEMATOGRAPHY

12 Years A Slave

Captain Phillips

Gravity

Inside Llewyn Davis

Nebraska

 

EDITING

12 Years A Slave

Captain Phillips

Gravity  

Rush

The Wolf Of Wall Street

 

PRODUCTION DESIGN

12 Years A Slave

American Hustle

Behind The Candelabra

Gravity

The Great Gatsby

 

COSTUME DESIGN

American Hustle

Behind The Candelabra

The Great Gatsby

The Invisible Woman

Saving Mr. Banks

 

MAKE UP & HAIR

American Hustle

Behind The Candelabra

The Butler

The Great Gatsby

The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug

 

SOUND

All Is Lost

Captain Phillips

Gravity

Inside Llewyn Davis

Rush

 

SPECIAL VISUAL EFFECTS

Gravity

The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug

Iron Man 3

Pacific Rim

Star Trek Into Darkness

 

THE EE RISING STAR AWARD (voted for by the public)

Dane Dehaan

George Mackay

Lupita Nyong’o

Will Poulter

Léa Seydoux

The Wolf of Wall Street

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The Wolf of Wall Street is quite a surprise. It is a far more sedate film than I expected from Martin Scorsese, a director typically associated with an extremely mobile camera and a plethora of stylistic techniques. Raging Bull, Goodfellas and The Departed are prime examples of Scorsese’s tendency to use whip pans, crash-zooms, pin holes and all manner of other cinematic devices. By contrast, The Wolf of Wall Street uses a steady, measured approach, largely recording the events of the plot rather than inflecting them, although there are some distinctive long takes. Furthermore, the dialogue scenes are remarkably long, the actors given time and space to develop their performances. This is especially true of Leonardo DiCaprio, who delivers a career-best, rocket-fuelled performance that powers the film through all manner of debauchery. If Scorsese is more sedate than usual, DiCaprio has never been more ferocious, his character Jordan Belfort powerhousing his way through money, drugs, whores, clients, friends, wives and authorities with scant or no regard for consequences. While Belfort is utterly loathsome, he is never less than compelling, a hugely charismatic and enthralling presence so utterly committed to excessive consumption that he is practically a personification of unmitigated capitalism. At three hours, the film might be too long for some, but I found the measured pace and very detailed story effective at conveying a hedonistic and voracious segment of society. Welcome to the life of the 1%. Now run away screaming.

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