Archive | February, 2013

The Oscars 2013: And the actual winners are…

25 Feb
Daniel Day-Lewis wins third Oscar for Lincoln

Daniel Day-Lewis: The Greatest Actor Who Ever Lived™

Best Picture: Argo With hindsight (and having now actually seen it, which I hadn’t when I predicted Lincoln in January), Argo seems an obvious winner. The Academy rewards films about the movies disproportionately – just look at The Artist. And it has the same message as Zero Dark Thirty – screw you, terrorists, America kicks ass! – without the unpalatable politics. It even has its own catchphrase, “Argo f*** yourself”, which is being repeated in film meetings across Hollywood. Interestingly, truth here is stranger than fiction. The real CIA agent behind the extradition of US embassy staff from Iran deliberately called his fictional film Argo after an old joke: “Knock knock.” “Who’s there?” “Argo.” “Argo who?” “Argo f*** yourself.” The title of the movie was, therefore, a barely coded “f*** you” to the Iranians they were duping.

Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln. I called this one right, not that that makes me Mystic Meg. With a third win, he is now officially The Greatest Actor Who Ever Lived™.

Actress: Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook. I mischievously called for Emmanuel Riva to win, on the grounds that her age is closer to that of most Academy voters, but there has been a growing Cult of Jennifer Lawrence in the last year, her chat show appearances turning into internet memes. She is unstoppably adorable, bizarrely untainted (so far) by Hollywood pretension. Even on the red carpet she was announcing how hungry she was, voicing what every stick-thin actress thought but would never say. Quite apart from her performance being great, people would have voted for her just to see her speech. She didn’t disappoint. After stumbling over her dress, she said: “You guys are just standing up because you feel bad that I fell over and that’s embarrassing.”

Supporting Actor: Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained. I don’t quite get this. Waltz was playing pretty much the same character with the same laborious elocution and loquacity as in Inglorious Basterds. Still, I guess they liked it enough the first time to give him an Oscar, so it makes sense to chuck another one on the fire.

Supporting Actress: Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables. Again, you didn’t have to be Mystic Meg to see this coming. Hathaway is evolving into a very complex and credible actress, able to switch effortlessly from frothy comedy to searing drama. [Her alcoholic in Rachel Getting Married was extraordinary.] Her brief role in Les Mis was such a stand-out, she was as firm a favourite to win as The Greatest Actor Who Ever Lived™.

Directing: Ang Lee, Life of Pi. Steven Spielberg had an epic subject, a terrific script, and The Greatest Actor Who Ever Lived™. As a director, all he really had to do was not screw it up. Whereas Life of Pi is pretty much unfilmable, and Lee did a bang-up job.

Foreign Language Film: Amour. If it’s nominated for Best Picture, you can be pretty sure it’s going to win this category.

Adapted Screenplay: Chris Terrio, Argo. It won Best Picture, so it’s going to win this. Sorry, Tony Kushner.

Original Screenplay: Quentin Tarantino, Django Unchained. A deserving winner. The problems I had with this film (see bit.ly/YgJfSV ) are down more to direction than writing. This was a big, ballsy piece of work with some unforgettable scenes and dialogue.

Animated Feature Film: Brave. This was Pixar’s blandest and most disappointing movie by far. Maybe Academicians don’t actually watch the cartoons. Mind you, Pirates! was not up to the usual Aardman standard, either, and Frankenweenie was perhaps always going to be too weird.

And the other awards went to….

Production Design: Lincoln.

Cinematography: Life of Pi.

Sound Mixing: Les Miserables.

Sound Editing (tie): Skyfall, Zero Dark Thirty.

Original Score: Life of Pi, Mychael Danna.

Original Song: Skyfall from Skyfall, Adele Adkins and Paul Epworth.

Costume: Anna Karenina.

Documentary Feature: Searching for Sugar Man.

Documentary (short subject): Inocente.

Film Editing: Argo.

Makeup and Hairstyling: Les Miserables.

Animated Short Film: Paperman.

Live Action Short Film: Curfew.

Visual Effects: Life of Pi.

Backstage at the Oscars: bit.ly/WjCnhI

The Oscars: backstage at the Kodak/Dolby Theater

24 Feb
Image

The view from stage at the Dolby/Kodak Theater

The first Oscars

The room at the Roosevelt where the Oscars were first held

Ever wondered what it’s like to stand on the stage of the Oscars? Well I’ve done it. And it’s like this…

The Oscars are held each year in the Kodak Theatre, this year renamed the Dolby Theatre after Kodak’s 20-year, $75m naming deal expired. It’s a new building right next to the venerable Grauman’s Chinese Theater whose pavement bears the imprint of the hands and feet of several generations of star, from the famously tiny feet of cowboy Alan Ladd (whose leading ladies were placed in ditches to make him look taller) to the bohemianly bare feet of Susan Sarandon. Round the corner is the Roosevelt Hotel, where I stayed the night, and saw the tiny room where the very first Oscar ceremony was held way back in 1929 (above). That ceremony took just 15 minutes and was attended by 270 people.

The Kodak/Dolby Theater was purpose-built for the Oscars. Surrounded, in the traditional American architectural style, by a shopping mall, it has a wonderful inner atrium around which spiral four floors of ramps, rather like New York’s Guggenheim museum. An intriguing “foot”note: its steps are built extra-shallow to cater for the precarious heels of stars who, in the immortal words of Mariah Carey, “don’t do stairs”.

In fact the lobby proved too popular with the stars during the inaugural ceremony. So many propped up the bar instead of sitting through five bum-numbing hours of awards that loads of seats had to be taken by “seat fillers”. They’re the body doubles who lurk at the edges of the auditorium, ready to leap in and keep the place looking full for the cameras should the stars need to go and powder their nose (for much of Hollywood, this is not a metaphor). So organisers simply cancelled the free bar. This apparently got everyone back inside, the cheapskates.

I came here on a guided tour rather than as an Oscar nominee (though give me a few years…). But I still got to stand on the vast stage overlooking the 3,200 seats which will on Sunday snugly house the expensively pert buttocks of Hollywood’s elite. This is where, at the inaugural ceremony in 2002, Whoopi Goldberg descended 90 feet from the ceiling on a trapeze, dressed like a bird.

“Anyone want to say something?” our guide asked. My fellow tourists looked at their feet. But would this chance ever come again? I was seized with the spirit of Sally Field: “You like me!” I shouted, arms outstretched to the empty seats which I imagined, like Frank N Furter at the end of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, filled with the cheers and tears of Hollywood’s glitterati. “You really like me!”

The guide shows us up to a box. The lower ones are reserved for ageing Hollywood royalty: Kirk Douglas, Sydney Poitier, Liza Minnelli. The upper ones are reserved for the Board of Governors, and standing up here, you can see why: you can see right down the cleavage of every leading lady.

Up a lift, we access Winner’s Walk, a long corridor lined with photos of past Oscar winners, down which new winners are herded with their 8.5lb gold-plated statuette clutched tightly to their bosom. In the Sistine Chapel, they have a special room in which new Popes are allowed to go and cry before they exit, newly infallible. The end of the Winners’ Walk is where Hollywood’s freshly anointed royalty are given a moment to sob before straightening their shoulders, lifting up their chins, and facing the media in the Renaissance Room.

It’s a great tour. And one day, I swear, to quote a certain ex-Californian governor, I’ll be back…

For my Oscar predictions for 2014, click here.

Friday films: karma karma karma karma chameleons

22 Feb
Cloud Atlas

Hanks a lot: why Cloud Atlas is Berry peculiar

 

What a day for new film releases! There’s To The Wonder, the latest from Terrence Malick, who could film paint drying for all I care and I’d go watch it. Mama, a taut horror film with Guillermo del Toro as Exec Producer. And Cloud Atlas, which is…

Actually, just what the hell is Cloud Atlas?

It’s safe to say no other film this year will screw quite as much with your brain. It’s an art movie that cost $100 million to make; a costume drama that starts in the 19th century and ends 500 years later as a dystopian sci-fi epic; a blockbuster informed by Derrida and deconstruction. It ambitiously interweaves six narratives across six time periods, linked by the notion that reincarnation dooms people to repeat the actions and relationships of their past.

And it’s by the makers of The Matrix.

Most attention-grabbing of all is the cast, which includes Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugh Grant, Ben Whishaw, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving and Susan Sarandon. It’s not so much their combined star wattage that makes you sit up, as the fact that each takes several roles within the film, swapping ages, genders and even race along with the time zone. Without wanting to spoil all the surprises, yes that is Halle Berry gob-smackingly unrecognisable as an elderly Asian doctor, and Hugh Grant as a war-painted cannibal chief (check out the very funny gallery from UltraCulture, http://bit.ly/UKRGnE).

Sometimes this degenerates into a game of ‘spot the actor’: on set, the stars sometimes didn’t even recognise each other. But it’s mostly a thrill to see a terrific cast get stuck into one of the greatest challenges of their careers. All were committed: the film is one of the biggest-budgeted independent movie ever, and a sizeable chunk of the funding fell out at the very last minute. The stars’ agents advised them to walk. Led by Tom Hanks, they stood by the project. In the end, the film-makers put up their own houses and other assets to secure the missing millions.

It was a characteristically bold move from the Wachowski siblings. In 1999, The Matrix changed the face of action movies overnight. V for Vendetta, which they scripted, became the emblem of the Occupy movement. And if Speed Racer in 2008 was pure bubble-gum, they were making up for it off-screen with their complex private lives, as Larry Wachowski changed sex to become Lana Wachowski. That’s why this tale of gender-bending reincarnation was personal enough to grip them throughout the many years since Natalie Portman first gave them the book.

“My brother this week had the sweetest line ever,” Lana Wachowski told the A.V Club website before the US release: “[He said] ‘Of course I believe in reincarnation—look at my sister.’ We, in our own lives, reincarnate as well. We have new lives. I’m sure there are people in your life who would see this version of you, as opposed to 20 years ago, and would say, ‘Wow, you’ve changed.’”

If the half-baked mysticism behind Cloud Atlas leaves me cold, that at least I can relate to. It was the genesis of my own sci-fi script, Time Squared, in which an assassin travels back in time to face his most dangerous enemy yet – himself as a young man. It’s just a pity Looper got there first, as I detailed here: http://bit.ly/XPxSel.

NB: Portions of this post first appeared in The Book magazine, http://bit.ly/XATWcb 

Star Wars: Harrison Ford rides again as Han Solo

16 Feb
Harrison Ford in Star Wars

Harrison Ford as Han Solo: “I’ve got a good feeling about this…”

So, Harrison Ford has apparently signed on for a role in the new Star Wars movie. The deal has not yet officially been announced by Disney, which last year bought Lucasfilm to add to Pixar and Marvel in a $15.5bn land-grab, but the Latino Review insists it has triple-checked with reliable sources. Entertainment Weekly, which last year reported Ford was “open” to the idea, Tweeted today: “Harrison Ford deal? My source says not yet. It will not be for weeks and perhaps months.” That sounds like “when” rather than “if”, and implies it’s just a question of noughts on the cheque.

It makes sense. Ford as Han Solo was key to the original series’ success, and not just in adding some much-needed testosterone swagger to the “use the Force” mumbo-jumbo. He also managed to squeeze some humour into George Lucas’s earnest lines. “George,” he famously told the director, “you can type this s**t, but you sure can’t say it.” He ad-libbed several sequences, including one of the best lines: when Han Solo is about to be deep-frozen in The Empire Strikes Back, and Leia tells her she loves him, he replies, “I know.”

If only there had been a few more actors like him in the trilogy of prequels.

I interviewed George Lucas a few years back, for Time Out. I remember being fascinated by his hair, which was like the whippy top of a vanilla ice-cream cone, but I don’t remember much of what he said. He only really became animated when talking about his teenage years. He had a near-fatal car accident which led him to take stock of his life, and get serious. Too serious, perhaps. But it was that love of cars which produced American Graffiti, Lucas’s warmest film and the start of his collaboration with Ford, whom he had met when he was building him some cabinets. Beats auditions.

Some Star Wars fans have expressed reservations about Disney taking over the franchise, mollified somewhat by the recent appointment as director of JJ Abrams, who rebooted Star Trek. But how can it be bad? No one could screw up Star Wars worse than Lucas himself already has in the recent trilogy.

Star Wars is the reason I’m writing about films, and latterly writing films myself. I was 13 when it lifted the top of my head clean off, and I swore during the closing credits that I would devote my life to movies. Later, when I heard that Star Wars was just the first in a projected nine films, I literally prayed to God that I would live long enough to see them completed.

Looks like I may just get the answer to my prayers. And with Han Solo riding again? It’s enough to shake your faith in Richard Dawkins.

Friday films: Die Hard vs. Reign of Assassins

15 Feb

Image

If it’s action you want, Michelle Yeoh kicks Bruce Willis in the Yipikayes

 

The week’s new releases, in 500 words:

I have a huge soft spot for the Die Hard series. The first one, in 1988, created a major movie star out of little Bruce Willis, previously known only as the wisecracking private dick from the TV comedy Moonlighting. It also redefined the action genre. Until then, muscle-bound supermen like Schwarzenegger and Stallone ruled the ‘80s. Willis’s John McLane was an Everyman: vulnerable in his sweaty vest and with glass shards in his bare feet, he survived through brain and not brawn.

The second film, inevitably, upped the ante with twice the explosions and jeopardy. But just as you were thinking “hang on, how can the same extraordinary s**t happen to the same ordinary guy?”, Bruce Willis actually said that out loud. That wink to the audience brought you back on side.

Yes, the films – and Willis himself – got tired. And the action stunts got sillier, right up to the notorious car-crashing-into-helicopter scene. But Willis’s cheeky grin and Yipikaye quips always pulled you through.

Until now.

A Good Day to Die Hard scores an impressively low 12% on Rottentomatoes.com, the cursory father-son bonding scenes sitting uneasily with the regulation explosive action. And that score is mostly from US critics – it’s unlikely the UK release has been improved by trimming the juicier action and language to win a 12A certificate (it was rated R in the States).

Sad. Still, it is the fifth in the series, and fifth films are universally awful. Except perhaps for Henry V. Ho ho.

So what should we look forward to in this week’s new releases?

How about Run for Your Wife, an antiquated British stage farce updated to star Danny Dyer, Denise Van Outen and, gulp, Sarah Harding? Nope, just remembered an urgent appointment with the acupuncturist. He’ll be sticking needles in my eyes.

Or This Is 40, a movie featuring the boring, annoying couple from Knocked Up as they enter a mid-life crisis? Judd Apatow or not, I think I’ll be washing my hair. And I’m as bald as Bruce Willis.

Nor am I rushing to see Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God, even though critics are united in their praise. This searing expose of child abuse in the Catholic church may be brilliantly topical, what with the Pope’s resignation (Magritte fans will appreciate his picture doing the rounds on Facebook, entitled “Ceci n’est pas une pape”). But it won’t half put you off your popcorn.

I am, however, down for Side by Side, a well-received documentary on the rise of digital film with contributions from James Cameron, Danny Boyle, Martin Scorsese, David Lynch and David Fincher. 

Or, if not in a film-geek mood, supernatural love story Beautiful Creatures may help fill a Twilight-shaped void. Better still, martial arts flick Reign of Assassins is said to be ace. John Woo had a hand in the action scenes. Michelle Yeoh stars. See you in the front row. 

BAFTA awards ceremony: winners, sinners and zingers

10 Feb

Argo

Argo takes Best Film, Best Director, and inspires Stephen Fry’s new beard

The BAFTA awards ceremony was terrific. Conducted with a minimum of fuss, ceremony and ridiculous frocks, and a maximum of Fryesque facial hair, it even featured Daniel Day-Lewis taking the piss out of his Method-acting ways. “Just in case of this moment,” he said, “I’ve stayed in character as myself for 55 years; had a selection of BAFTA sets downscaled and placed in my living room…”

And so, without further ado, my awards for the best BAFTA ceremony moments go to:

Most unctuous introduction: “Sumptuous and superlatively scrumptious… one of the true immortals of Hollywood” – Stephen Fry on Sally Field.

Least unctuous: “A death mask on a stick” – Billy Connolly on the BAFTA trophy.

Most bizarre introduction: Stephen Fry is famous for these. I liked “Please ululate wildly for…” and “Please spank palms audibly for…”. But the winner is for Life of Pi, which Fry supposedly mistook for an American Pie sequel: “Sadly it featured no young men pleasuring themselves with fruit-filled fancies.”

Biggest upset: Christoph Waltz beat not just Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Master) but more strangely Javier Bardem in Skyfall. But the biggest upset must still be Argo taking Best Film. Even Samuel L Jackson, presenting the award, read it out with a chuckle of obvious amazement.

Smallest upset: A three-way tie between Amour winning Best Foreign Language Film; Daniel Day-Lewis getting Best Actor; and Anne Hathaway winning Best Supporting Actress.

Most sincere acceptance speech: “This is a second act for me… I’m so grateful and proud” – Ben Affleck getting Best Director.

Least sincere: Quentin Tarantino (Best Original Screenplay, again) sounded about as chuffed as if he’d been offered a cigarette. And he doesn’t smoke.

For the full list of winners, go to http://awards.bafta.org/

Film on Friday: Pythons, zombies and Hitchcock

8 Feb

A Liar’s Autobiography: too silly?

A Monty Python reunion has got to be the highlight of the week. Even more so when it’s from beyond the grave, pushing up the daisies, singing with the choir invisible etc etc.

However A Liar’s Autobiography, which I saw at a screening way back in July, is a curious beast. It splices together a recording of Graham Chapman reading from his autobiography, with new voice-overs from Messrs Cleese, Jones, Palin and Gilliam (Eric Idle declined, perhaps in retaliation at their initial scepticism over his wildly successful Spamalot musical), in a series of loosely connected sketches by a dozen British animation houses.

The result is as patchy as an AIDS quilt but, at times, nearly as moving. Chapman was one of the first stars to come out as gay (that he was the only Python not to dress as a woman seems in retrospect a reverse clue), and the connective tissue is about his own attempts to come to terms with his sexuality. Alcoholism was one strategy (Keith Moon was a drinking buddy), but doomed to ultimate failure. Just like, sadly, the film itself. Some of the sequences are just longing for John Cleese to stop the proceedings with a “Too silly!”

And now for something completely different: the big Friday release is Hitchcock, and the thought of Anthony Hopkins punctiliously enunciating every drawl and recreating every tic of the great film-maker/ odious human being leaves me cold. Toby Jones nailed it in the BBC’s The Girl, and that’s enough for me. Besides, I’m so over Scarlett Johansson. I just haven’t plucked up the courage to tell her yet.

Give me Warm Bodies instead. At least this is a film that knows it’s stupid. The high-concept premise is the age-old Hollywood paean to the transformative power of true lurve, played out for the Twilight generation: when zombie Nicholas Hoult falls for livin’ doll Teresa Palmer, his heart starts beating again.

It makes you feel sorry for I Give It A Year, which has no “zom” in its “rom”. What it does have is the writing and directing talents of long-time Sasha Baron Cohen collaborator Dan Mazer. Is It enough? Up to a point. It’s being hailed as the best British rom-com in years. Given that of late even the brilliant Richard Curtis could only give us the lamentable Rock The Boat, that’s not saying much.

Instead, it’s left to the rest of the world to show us how it’s done. No, from Chilean director Pablo Larrain, is about life under Pinochet. It stars Gael Garcia Bernal, more than recommendation enough. And I Wish, by Japanese director Hirokazu Koreeda, is by all accounts a wonderful coming-of-age story about a 12-year-old, separated from his younger brother by his parents’ divorce, who believes a bullet train will provide a miraculous solution.

Finally, Wreck-It Ralph is a Toy Story for the digital generation, collecting favourite old characters from video-games past (even Sonic!). It comes from Disney, which has gobbled up Marvel and LucasFilm as well as Pixar in its quest for total family entertainment domination; and while it may be no instant classic, it does a good job at entertaining the adults brought along by their children.