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Ten Films for Ten Days – Day Four

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Almost inevitably, listing ten important films will include one’s favourite, so anyone familiar with me or this blog will have known this was coming. It is probably the most significant film I ever saw, because it was literally life-changing although I did not know it at the time. When I first saw Heat in early 1996, it essentially x-rayed me. As the credits rolled, I felt what can best be described as a wave of energy complete its journey through my body, leaving me profoundly affected. To all intents and purposes, it was a transcendent experience. As a direct result of seeing Heat, I gained a new appreciation of what film is and what film can do, started studying it seriously and, after a few years, decided I wanted to be a film doctor. Heat drew me to Michael Mann and he was the subject of my PhD and subsequent monograph. While my interests have broadened since then, Mann in general and Heat in particular remain of great importance to me. 

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Why do I love Heat so much? Several reasons. Firstly, it works on every level – plot, character, performance, theme, setting, production design, editing, cinematography, sound, music, direction, location – all are harmonised with utter perfection. Secondly, every time I watch it I find something new, whether it is noticing a lingering shot in a room left empty, spotting a bottle on a table, even identifying a stunt performer. Thirdly, it works on multiple levels and therefore I can watch it as a crystalline piece of cinematic craftwork, or as a gripping crime story, a sociological examination of post-industrial America, a modern urban tragedy, a philosophical investigation into hyperbolic masculinity, and the film rewards all these readings and more. If that’s not reason enough to love a film, I don’t know what is. 

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Oscar Reflections

KimmelThe Oscars are said and done for another year, and overall I am very pleased with the results. I can agree with the winners, I applaud many of the speeches and the show was a delight to watch.

Most importantly, how did I do? I made predictions in 19 of the 24 categories, and as the show started I did very well, racking up correct prediction after correct prediction. This was pleasing if a little predictable, but as things continued surprises started to appear, such as Get Out winning Original Screenplay and Dunkirk picking up Editing. Overall, I correctly predicted the winners in 15 out of my 19 picks, which at 78% is pretty good going. I’m no gambler, but every year I am tempted.

Picture Correctly Predicted? Directing Correctly Predicted?
The Shape of Water No Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water Yes
Call Me by Your Name Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk
Darkest Hour Jordan Peele, Get Out
Dunkirk Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird
Get Out Paul Thomas Anderson, Phantom Thread
Lady Bird
Phantom Thread  Makeup and Hairstyling
The Post  Darkest Hour Yes
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri  Victoria & Abdul
Wonder 
Actor Actress
Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour Yes Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri Yes
Timothée Chalamet, Call Me by Your Name Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water
Daniel Day,Lewis, Phantom Thread Margot Robbie, I, Tonya
Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird
Denzel Washington, Roman J. Israel, Esq. Meryl Streep, The Post
Supporting Actor Supporting Actress
Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri  Yes Allison Janney, I, Tonya Yes
Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project  Mary J. Blige, Mudbound 
Woody Harrelson, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri  Lesley Manville, Phantom Thread
Richard Jenkins, The Shape of Water  Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird 
Christopher Plummer, All the Money in the World Octavia Spencer, The Shape of Water
Adapted Screenplay Original Screenplay
Call Me by Your Name  Yes Get Out No
The Disaster Artist The Big Sick 
Logan  Lady Bird
Molly’s Game  The Shape of Water 
Mudbound  Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri 
Original Score Original Song
The Shape of Water Yes ‘Remember Me’ from Coco No
Dunkirk “Mighty River” from Mudbound
Phantom Thread “Mystery of Love” from Call Me by Your Name 
Star Wars: The Last Jedi  “Stand Up for Something” from Marshall
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri “This Is Me” from The Greatest Showman 
Sound Editing   Sound Mixing
Dunkirk Yes Dunkirk  Yes
Baby Driver  Baby Driver 
Blade Runner 2049  Blade Runner 2049 
The Shape of Water The Shape of Water
Star Wars: The Last Jedi Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Production Design Visual Effects
The Shape of Water Yes Blade Runner 2049 Yes
Beauty and the Beast Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 
Blade Runner 2049  Kong: Skull Island
Darkest Hour  Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Dunkirk  War for the Planet of the Apes
Costume Design Cinematography
Phantom Thread  Yes Blade Runner 2049 Yes
Beauty and the Beast Darkest Hour 
Darkest Hour Dunkirk
The Shape of Water  Mudbound
Victoria & Abdul The Shape of Water
Film Editing Animated Feature
Dunkirk  No Coco Yes
Baby Driver The Boss Baby
I, Tonya  The Breadwinner
The Shape of Water Ferdinand
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri  Loving Vincent

The biggest delights for me personally were one predicted winner and one unexpected though desired victory. When Roger Deakins was announced as the winner of Best Cinematography, I applauded from my sofa. After 14 nominations and such fantastic work in The Shawshank Redemption, The Man Who Wasn’t There, No Country For Old Men, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Skyfall, Sicario and many more, it was an absolute delight to see Deakins finally honoured for the extraordinary visuals of Blade Runner 2049. Well shot sir, well shot.

90th Academy Awards - Show, Los Angeles, USA - 04 Mar 2018

I wanted The Shape of Water to win Best Picture but expected that award to go to Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Over the course of the show, deviations from my expectations made that less likely, beginning with Get Out winning Original Screenplay. In recent years, Best Picture has also won Screenplay, Editing or Directing (making The Departed a quintessential winner for 2006). Since Martin McDonagh was not nominated for Directing, a likely win for him and the film was Original Screenplay. Without that, and with Editing going to Dunkirk, Picture became more open. And once Guillermo Del Toro won Directing, The Shape of Water seemed ever more likely. But in my scepticism, I did not see the members of AMPAS voting for a fantasy film. When Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty announced the winner, I applauded again. For a fantasy/monster/sci fi movie to win Best Picture shows that the Academy members are not as conservative as they used to be, embracing more radical and surprising choices.

The Shape of Water

The show as a whole was very well done. Jimmy Kimmell hosted with great humour, wryness and affection. I especially like Kimmell’s gag of bringing in audiences, a move he and his team pioneered last year by arranging a tour group to come into the Kodak Theater, and built on this year by taking several movie stars into a nearby screening of A Wrinkle in Time. Had I been in that cinema, my mind would have been blown by epic proportions with the sudden arrival of Guillermo Del Toro, Gal Gadot, Armie Hammer, Margot Robbie, Ansel Elgort, Mark Hamill and the rest. Plus a hotdog cannon!208643A3Perhaps the strongest legacy of this year’s Oscars, however, will be the politics. After a few years of controversy over all white acting nominees, the recent scandals over harassment and the subsequent #MeToo and #TimesUp campaigns prompted debate and resistance. Kimmel named and shamed Harvey Weinstein as only the second person to be expelled from AMPAS; actresses received greater prominence as various winners of the Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role presented major awards. Last year’s Best Actress Emma Stone presented Directing to Guillermo Del Toro, and two pairs of Oscar winners presented this year’s Best Actor and Best Actress awards: Jane Fonda and Helen Mirren to Gary Oldman for Darkest Hour and Jodie Foster and Jennifer Lawrence to Frances McDormand for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, respectively. McDormand made perhaps the most impassioned speech of the night when she encouraged all the female nominees to stand up, be counted and be counted.

TimesUpSome might complain about this political element, either arguing that the Oscars are about art which is not political, or that the Oscars are entertainment and too frivolous or commercial to engage in politics. I reject both these positions because art is and always has been political, and with its extraordinary reach it would be a terrible waste if cinema were not political. The Academy recognised this through a retrospective on war cinema, dedicated to the men and women of the armed forces and introduced touchingly by actor and Vietnam veteran Wes Studi. Secondly, entertainment expresses social and political concerns purely by its production within particular contexts – the dominance of men in the film industry and cinematic output is a political reality and one that is long overdue a challenge. As recent films have demonstrated, you can have hugely successful films with female directors and leads, and the studios apparently taking such risks demonstrates that the only risk is to conservative ideology. For certain, time is up, and my heartiest applause to every presenter and winner at the 90th Annual Academy Awards who used that grandest stage and widest audience to highlight the state of their industry and to call for change.

McDormand

90th Oscar Predictions Part Four: Writing Away

Oscars 90th Academy AwardsAdapted Screenplay

Best-Adapted-Screenplay

This category has an interesting bunch of scripts, drawn from novels and memoirs, and it’s great to see a comic book adaptation in there. For purely personal reasons, I’d love a superhero movie to boast a writing Oscar, so Logan is my pick. However, as this is the only award one of the Best Picture nominees is likely to win, and since the writer is a respected doyen of the film industry, I predict James Ivory will walk away with this award.

Call Me by Your Name, James Ivory (predicted winner)

The Disaster Artist, Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber

Logan, Scott Frank & James Mangold and Michael Green (preferred winner)

Molly’s Game, Aaron Sorkin

Mudbound, Virgil Williams and Dee Rees

Original Screenplay

Best-Original-Screenplay

The Best Picture winner always wins one of these other awards: Writing, Editing, Directing. For reasons to be highlighted below, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is not likely to win Editing, and it is not nominated for Directing. Therefore, I confidently predict that Martin McDonagh will pick up the Oscar for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. But personally, I would vote for Greta Gerwig’s warm, witty and rather wonderful script for Lady Bird.

The Big Sick, Emily V. Gordon & Kumail Nanjiani

Get Out, Jordan Peele

Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig (preferred winner)

The Shape of Water, Guillermo del Toro, Vanessa Taylor

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Martin McDonagh (predicted winner)

The Magnificent Seven

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Let it never be said that I (only) do what is obvious, as there is far more to say of Antoine Fuqua’s The Magnificent Seven than how it compares to John Sturges’ 1960 film or indeed Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai. Fuqua’s film warrants close examination in relation to its genre and period, rather than in terms of how it compares to what came before. Most obviously, Fuqua’s film can be read as a declaration of diversity, as the titular gang includes white, black, Mexican, Asian and Comanche members. Pleasingly, Fuqua and screenwriters Richard Wenk and Nic Pizzolatto ensure that race and ethnicity are not simply there for declarative purposes but as organic parts of the story. Django Unchained may have made a point of racial revenge, but here little is made of Sam Chisholm (Denzel Washington) being black, while Native American characters in the film are varied with Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier) contrasted with Denali (Jonathan Joss) on the side of vicious land baron Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard). There is also a decent line in gender relations, as Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) is as integral and capable as the men around her. This ensemble of characters are well-rounded, including the PTSD of sharpshooter Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke) and his touching relationship with Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), as well as a developing warmth between the seven and the townsfolk of Rose Creek who hire them. Narratively, the film is clear and detailed. So why the long face?

Image result for the magnificent seven horse

The problem with the film is its lack of scale. Fuqua is associated with urban thrillers such as Training Day and The Equaliser, in which his sharp, punchy style is effective because it creates a milieu of fast mouths and faster violence. During the action sequences of The Magnificent Seven, including the genuinely impressive sustained set piece that comprises the final act of the film, this style works, as it conveys suddenness, abrupt changes and viscerally draws the viewer in. But in the earlier part of the film, which introduces the characters and, critically, the setting, the pace of the editing is too fast. As a result, the environment, so crucial to the western, is not established and the film fails to place its characters and indeed viewer within the landscape. This undercuts the power of the finale, as there is little sense of stylistic progression towards this climax. As a result, we end up with a Seven that may be Magnificent, but a film that is only moderate.

Top Ten Directors – Part Four I

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Regulars at this blog (if there are any) may recall that some years ago I started posting about my favourite film directors. I posted about three of them – Steven Spielberg, James Cameron and Christopher Nolan – and then I got caught up in reviewing every new release I saw. But I thought it time to get back to my top ten, with the caveat that to credit the director as being solely responsible for any film is to utterly misunderstand the filmmaking process. So here we go…

the-last-of-the-mohicans-ending-scene

For me, Michael Mann is probably the single most important filmmaker I have ever encountered. It was in early 1996 that I first saw Heat (1996), a film that had a profound effect on me and set me on the course of becoming a film scholar and critic. I had seen The Last of the Mohicans (1992) beforehand, but Heat was my major introduction to Mann’s work. Subsequently I sought out The Last of the Mohicans again and made sure to see The Insider (1999) when it came out. Then I gathered the video tapes (and later DVDs) of Thief (1981), Manhunter (1986), The Keep (1983), The Jericho Mile (1979)and L. A. Takedown (1989). When Ali (2001) came out I made the effort to see it, by which time I had decided that I would do a PhD in film studies focused on Michael Mann (as you do). Collateral (2004) and Miami Vice (2006) were released while I was researching my doctorate, and in the week of my graduation, Public Enemies (2009) came to British cinemas, before very briefly in 2015, Blackhat. I saw them all, think about them at length, and have written and published at least something about all of them.

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Due to my research, I have a very particular view of Mann that may not communicate well to others, but here goes. Mann is a holistic filmmaker whose work demonstrates precise interaction of the various cinematic elements. Working as writer and director on most of his films, Mann has spoken in interviews of the ‘harmonics’ in his work, and indeed the various elements are harmonised to an extraordinary degree. Script, performance, cinematography, production design, editing, sound, music – all resonate in a very specific and distinct way across Mann’s oeuvre. These harmonics are what create the relentlessly lyrical movement in The Last of the Mohicans, the sleek and almost ephemeral stream of Collateral, Miami Vice and Blackhat as well as the distorted mental and physical worlds of Manhunter, the state and industrial containments in The Jericho Mile and Thief, the confusing disjointedness of Ali and Public Enemies and the expressionism of The Keep.

Manhunter

From within this extraordinary oeuvre, what really stands out as Mann’s best film, and what is the best introduction to his work? All will be revealed in my next post

Michael-Mann

88th Annual Academy Award Predictions

Oscar-2016-Nominations

 

It’s been a road of some indeterminate length, and I’ve given my views on some of the categories. But at long(ish) last, here are my picks for the 88th Annual Academy Awards. As before, these are both what I believe will win, and what I would vote for were I a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (which is not the same as “should win” – I’m not that arrogant).

Disclaimer: I may change some of these after I see Brooklyn. Also, I am changing my Supporting Actress prediction, so don’t bother pointing it out.

Picture

The Big Short

Bridge of Spies

Brooklyn

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Martian

The Revenant

Room

Spotlight

Predicted winner – The Revenant

My preference – Room

revenant-film-poster

Director

Lenny Abrahamson – Room

Alejandro G. Iñárritu – The Revenant

Tom McCarthy – Spotlight

Adam McKay – The Big Short

George Miller – Mad Max: Fury Road

Predicted winner – Alejandro G. Iñárritu – The Revenant

My preference – Lenny Abrahamson – Room

Actor 

Bryan Cranston – Trumbo

Matt Damon – The Martian

Leonardo DiCaprio – The Revenant

Michael Fassbender – Steve Jobs

Eddie Redmayne – The Danish Girl

Predicted winner – Leonardo DiCaprio – The Revenant

My preference – Michael Fassbender – Steve Jobs

 

steve-jobs-poster

Actress 

Cate Blanchett – Carol

Brie Larson – Room

Jennifer Lawrence – Joy

Charlotte Rampling – 45 Years

Saoirse Ronan – Brooklyn

Predicted winner – Brie Larson – Room

My preference – Brie Larson – Room

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Supporting Actor

Christian Bale – The Big Short

Tom Hardy – The Revenant

Mark Ruffalo – Spotlight

Mark Rylance – Bridge of Spies

Sylvester Stallone – Creed

Predicted winner – Mark Rylance – Bridge of Spies

My preference – Mark Ruffalo – Spotlight

BRIDGE-OF-SPIES-QUAD-UK

Supporting Actress

Jennifer Jason Leigh – The Hateful Eight

Rooney Mara – Carol

Rachel McAdams – Spotlight

Alicia Vikander – The Danish Girl 

Kate Winslet – Steve Jobs

Predicted winner – Alicia Vikander – The Danish Girl 

My preference – Kate Winslet – Steve Jobs

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Adapted Screenplay

The Big Short

Brooklyn

Carol

The Martian

Room 

Predicted winner – The Big Short

My preference – Room

TheBigShortCSHeader

Original Screenplay

Bridge of Spies

Ex Machina

Inside Out

Spotlight

Straight Outta Compton

Predicted winner – Spotlight

My preference – Spotlight

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Cinematography

Carol

The Hateful Eight

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Revenant

Sicario

Predicted winner – The Revenant

My preference – Sicario

Sicario-Poster-8

Costume Design

Carol

Cinderella

The Danish Girl

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Revenant

Predicted winner – Mad Max: Fury Road

My preference – Cinderella

cinderella-poster-2

Editing 

The Big Short

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Revenant

Spotlight

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Predicted winner – Mad Max: Fury Road

My preference – Spotlight

 

Make-Up and Hair

Mad Max: Fury Road

The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared

The Revenant

Predicted winner – The Revenant

My preference – The Revenant

 

Score

Bridge of Spies

Carol

The Hateful Eight

Sicario

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Predicted winner – The Hateful Eight

My preference – Carol

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Original Song

Earned It, The Weeknd – Fifty Shades of Grey

Manta Ray, J Ralph & Antony – Racing Extinction

Simple Song #3, Sumi Jo – Youth

Til It Happens To You, Lady Gaga – The Hunting Ground

Writing’s On the Wall, Sam Smith – Spectre

Predicted winner – Til It Happens To You, Lady Gaga – The Hunting Ground

My preference – Writing’s On the Wall, Sam Smith – Spectre

Spectre-poster-Daniel-Craig-Lea-Seydoux

Production Design

Bridge of Spies

The Danish Girl

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Martian

The Revenant

Predicted winner – The Revenant

My preference – The Revenant

 

Sound Editing

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Martian

The Revenant

Sicario

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Predicted winner – Mad Max: Fury Road

My preference – Sicario

 

Sound Mixing

Bridge of Spies

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Martian

The Revenant

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Predicted winner – The Revenant

My preference – Mad Max: Fury Road

 

Visual Effects

Ex Machina

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Martian

The Revenant

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Predicted winner – Star Wars: The Force Awakens

My preference – Ex Machina

TFA

Animated Film

Anomalisa

Boy and the World

Inside Out

Shaun the Sheep Movie

When Marnie Was There

Predicted winner – Inside Out

My preference – Inside Out

Inside Out

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Foreign Language Film

Embrace of the Serpent – Colombia

Mustang – France

Son of Saul – Hungary

Theeb – Jordan

A War – Denmark

Predicted winner – Theeb (complete guess and as I have not seen any, I have no preference.)

 

Documentary Feature

Amy

Cartel Land

The Look of Silence

What Happened, Miss Simone?

Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom

Predicted winner – The Look of Silence (complete guess and as I have not seen any, I have no preference.)

 

Animated and Live Action Shorts – I have no knowledge of these so no predictions or preferences.

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Oscar Views – Part Two

Oscar-2016-Nominations

Previously, I discussed the radical(ish) Best Picture nominees, but did not address the burning question of what will win? The strong contenders can be determined by other awards and nominations. The Revenant and The Martian won Best Picture at the Golden Globes for, respectively, Drama and Musical or Comedy. The Big Short won Outstanding Producer at the Producers’ Guild of America. Spotlight won Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture at the Screen Actors Guild and The Revenant was awarded Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Feature Film by the Directors’ Guild of America. The Big Short, Bridge of Spies, Spotlight and The Revenant are up for Best Film at the BAFTA awards as well, and there is significant overlap between the memberships of the academies.

In addition, Best Picture winners tend to win other Oscars as well, especially Directing, Writing and Editing. With that in mind, consider those that are up for all these awards. While Mad Max: Fury Road is a surprise nomination, it is extremely unlikely that a science fiction action sequel will win, despite George Miller’s nomination for Directing. The same goes for The Martian, which is doubly unlikely to win without a Directing nomination. This absence also makes Bridge of Spies and Brooklyn unlikely winners.

The only Best Picture nominees up for Directing, Writing and Editing are The Big Short and Spotlight, which makes them strong contenders, along with The Revenant with its existing awards. These results narrow the likely winners down to Spotlight, The Revenant and The Big Short. All these films display the tendency I mentioned before of being about “America,” and cast something of a critical eye on that peculiar, pervasive myth. The Big Short is the most critical, casting the banking industry and America’s massive social inequality as an absurdist tragicomedy. Spotlight is more ambivalent, portraying the interconnectivity of American society as responsible for terrible events as well as being capable of addressing them. The Revenant is thematically conservative, presenting a bootstrap story of one man surviving against overwhelming odds. I love all three films, and while I think The Revenant is the most likely winner, were I a member of AMPAS, I would probably vote for Spotlight, for its finely balanced and non-judgemental approach to controversial subject matter.