Tag Archives: Iñárritu

Oscars 2016: the winners

29 Feb
mad_max_fury_road_wallpaper_1920x1080_by_sachso74-d8r49ti

And the overall Oscar winner is… Mad Max: Fury Road

The #Oscarssowhite controversy notwithstanding, the ageing white males of the Academy actually seem to have got it right this year. There can be little outrage over last night’s Oscar winners, which produced only mild surprises, all of them pleasant.

For Best Picture, they ignored The Big Short which, at one stage, was leading in William Hill’s betting. At the time, I wrote that I would be shorting The Big Short, ie betting against it winning, so I’m pleased with that. Instead they chose the early favourite, Spotlight, but honour in The Revenant camp was satisfied by awards for Best Director and – obviously! – Cinematography.

Leonardo DiCaprio, to the utter astonishment of precisely no one, took best Actor at last after six nominations. The Supporting category delivered a teeny surprise K.O.: Sylvester Stallone was tipped for his elegiac reprise of Rocky Balboa in Creed, but the desire to reward genuine skill prevailed over sentiment, and Mark Rylance very justly took it down for Bridge of Spies. His restrained, unshowy performance was the anti-Leo: a cotton-wool cocoon of quiet dignity wrapped around a core of pure steel.

No shocks at all in the Actress categories, as Brie Larson won for The Room and Alicia Vikander took Best Supporting for The Danish Girl. The two screenplay awards were shared between Spotlight and The Big Short – again, no surprise – and Inside Out was the clear runaway winner in Best Animation.

But the biggest winner of the night, numerically at least, was Mad Max: Fury Road. Though it won none of the big awards (action and sci-fi movies rarely do) it took six of the technical awards, including production design and editing. Sad that Carol could not win for its sumptuous and meticulously recreated costume and production design, but Mad Max had the arguably greater challenge of creating a whole new world. Kudos to its unsung hero, genius UK comics artist Brendan McCarthy, who, as I wrote here, was behind much of the look of the film as well as its story.

Advertisements

“Should I see The Revenant?” Might as well ask, “Do I enjoy cinema?”

14 Jan
The Revenant

Leonardo DiCaprio spent the last year Rocky Mountains way. Couldn’t get much higher

The Revenant is a film of few words, and so will be my recommendation of it: Go See. This is not merely a movie. This is Cinema.

The opening battle scene is as visceral as anything since Private Ryan (and as for that bear scene….!). The landscapes, filmed in the wild Canadian Rockies, show both the exquisite beauty and the cold brutality of nature – just as the ugliness of man, in this film, is interleaved with transcendent moments of tenderness and honour.

The score, by Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto, definitely deserves an Oscar, Golden Globes result notwithstanding. As to the cinematography, it would feel like the most shocking upset in Oscar history if regular Terrence Malick cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki didn’t land his third in a row (after Gravity and Birdman). Leonardo DiCaprio is almost certain finally to take home his little gold man for the gruelling central role, rarely off screen though saying very little.

But forget the Oscars. This is just hauntingly lovely film-making, a work of unique vision and, indeed, obsession – not since Herzog hauled a steamship up a mountain, or Friedkin slapped his actors and stuck them in a freezer, has a director (Birdman‘s Iñárritu) gone to such lengths to get what he needed.

At first it grates that Tom Hardy mumbles into his beard nearly as incomprehensibly as when playing Bane. But then you relax into that, and remind yourself that the words don’t really matter, and it becomes almost a plus. The haunting images are all the story you need.

Why Birdman soars: the art of the 90-minute single take

14 Jan
Michael Keaton, former superhero actor, plays Riggan Thompson, former superhero actor, in Birdman's deft exploration of truth through artifice

Michael Keaton, former superhero actor, plays Riggan Thompson, former superhero actor, in Birdman’s deft exploration of truth through artifice

Saw Birdman with my son Sam last night, and it really is as extraordinary as they say. Every character, however small, is well delineated and has at least one great scene; Emma Stone is particularly brilliant, as so often.

But from a film buff’s point of view, the most exciting and head-scratching element is that it appears to be shot in one continuous 90-minute take, without a single cut. Ever since Orson Welles pulled off a wonderfully complex 3 min 20 sec tracking shot as the opening to Touch of Evil, directors have vied to outdo him. Gravity raised the bar last year, with Cuarón’s 17-minute opening shot made possible by digital technology. His fellow Mexican Iñárritu has now forever smashed that record with an entire film’s length. (Admittedly Russian Ark got there first, in 2002, but Birdman is filmed in a far more fluid and dynamic style.)

Fiendishly complex as it was to pull off, it is of course a digital trick, with the cuts hidden in digitally blended scenes when the camera pans to one side without a person in view. But beyond a “look ma, no hands!” desire to show off what can be done, why did Iñárritu decide to do this?

My son, who is perceptive when it comes to films, pointed out that Iñárritu’s trademark is the interlocking multiple narrative which was first displayed in Amores Perros, was developed in 21 Grams, and reached its apotheosis in Babel, which is set in four different countries in four different languages. Birdman’s single continuous take goes to the opposite extreme. Perhaps Iñárritu just wanted to do something different. He told Variety, ““It was like I was on a ladder, and I was getting a little too comfortable.”

But what is the technique’s impact on the film, its effect on the viewer? I noticed a weird thing. We are so used to the grammar of film, the cuts between characters and the sudden shifts in time and location, that they are no longer intrusive. In fact, to me, the definition of a great film is one where I lose myself within it completely, where I am no longer aware that I am watching a film but inhabit it completely, and 15 minutes or more can pass before I blink and remember that I am in a cinema at all. That’s why I always sit up close, in the third row, so I cannot see the edges of the screen.

So the long take in Birdman, which you would expect to feel more naturalistic than constant cuts, to me has the opposite effect. It is stylised, it reminds you continually of the artifice of film. The performances, as befits a comedy that is not quite a comedy, are somewhat stylised, too.

And this perfectly suits the theme of the film. On one level it is the story of a mid-life crisis, of a man who is famous for doing something he does not value (grossing billions of dollars 20 years previously in a superhero franchise) trying to achieve self-worth through putting on a “serious” play based on a story by Raymond Carver.

But it is also about the power of dreams, and the nature of truth, and the thin line between reality and fantasy, and how each can inform the other. That the superhero its protagonist used to play is Birdman, whose superpower is flight, is no accident. Nor is it that Iñárritu has cast in this role an actor, Michael Keaton, who himself is burdened with the fame of playing a superhero – Batman – in a blockbuster franchise. That Keaton is putting on a play within the film allows Iñárritu to explore notions of truth and artifice: Edward Norton’s character is a charming and manipulative bastard who can only “be real” when he is acting, on stage. He even tries to have sex with his girlfriend for real in the play’s bed scene, because it is only on stage, in character, that he has managed to get it up in the last six months.

When Keaton stands on a roof ledge, increasingly drawn into his schizophrenic fantasy that he really is Birdman, a woman shouts out: “Is this for real, or are you shooting a film?” “A film!” he says. “You people are full of shit,” she shouts back. His Birdman alter-ego, who whispers in his ear, tells him to make another blockbuster: “People, they love blood. They love action. Not this talky, depressing, philosophical bullshit.” Which, of course, is the kind of film Iñárritu has just made, though smuggled into the multiplexes under the guise of a film about a superannuated superhero, including a gigantic fantasy scene three quarters of the way through of SWAT teams and exploding helicopters and a giant robot bird-villain so it can have its cake and eat it: criticising blockbusters while at the same time benefiting from the action scene’s trailer value.

The result is an intensively artificial film which, through artifice, gets closer to exploring truth and the nature of reality than perhaps any this year. Birdman is also funny, and touching, and something of a masterpiece. Go see.