Tag Archives: Mike Leigh

BAFTA night: Boyhood and Theory of Everything triumph

8 Feb
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Boyhood, winner of Best Film at the BAFTAs

The curtain has just closed on a night of glitz, hits and wits at the Royal Opera House, and this year’s BAFTA winners are in.

No real upsets: The Theory of Everything wins Outstanding British Film, Best Adapted Screenplay and – duh – Best Actor in Eddie Redmayne (or “Ready Edmayne”, as host Stephen Fry called him). Boyhood wins Best Director, Best Supporting Actress and Best Film (Patricia Arquette). Julianne Moore got best Actress. I was sad not to see Mr Turner recognised for cinematography, especially after the BATAs’ snub for Mike Leigh in the director category (though they compensatedby giving him a Fellowship), but the one-take achievement of Birdman carried the day.

My own predictions have come true, for once: JK Simmons is Best Supporting Actor for Whiplash, a film I have written about a lot in the past; and Jack O’Connell, about whom I wrote “a star is born” when Starred Up was released, wins the Rising Star award from quite a strong crop this year.

The BAFTAs always seem more relaxed, less rehearsed than the Oscars. Eddie Redmayne in particular has not yet learned to be dull and reserved. Asked on the red carpet what the first film he ever saw was, he replied, “Willow – terrifying. I was so scared I kept pretending I needed the loo. My friend thought I had some sort of weird bladder issue.” Even in his acceptance speech, he began by recalling a previous BAFTA night on which he had decorated the wallpaper in an unusual way due to a bout of food poisoning.

Cuba Gooding Jr took exception at Stephen Fry asking for a kiss from Michael Keaton and not from him, and planted a big smacker on his mouth. Gooding Jr seemed genuinely a little dazed after. “You have very soft lips,” he interrupted himself to reminisce a minute later. The presenter of the Best Film award was announced as “Tom Fucking Cruise!” And Ralph Fiennes was funny throughout. “We love seeing you doing comedy” he was told of Grand Hotel Budapest, on the red carpet. “Thank you very much. I took it very seriously.” With only the merest hint of a wry smile to signpost the joke.

Oh, and I was glad to see the excellent Pride recognised for Outstanding British Debut. Writer Stephen Beresford said, “It took my 20 years to get anyone to agree with me that gay and lesbian activists and a mining dispute were the ingredients for a sure-fire comedy smash…” But he was right.

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The 2015 Oscar nominations: Brit hits and Whiplash wit

16 Jan
"Whaddya mean I should be happy with my Golden Globe? I'm going for an Oscar, dammit!" JK Simmons shows his less cuddly side in Whiplash

“Whaddya mean I should be happy with my Golden Globe? I’m going for an Oscar, dammit!” JK Simmons shows his less cuddly side in Whiplash

Congratulations to Whiplash, which I blogged about last Friday as “The little film that could”, for its four Oscar nominations, including Best Picture. It opens today in the UK: read my articles about the making of it here.

The noms are a great haul for the Brits, with eight for The Imitation Game and five for The Theory of Everything, plus a deserved nod to Rosamund Pike for Gone Girl. Mr Turner managed four, which is actually not bad going for a slow film about a long-dead British artist who communicates largely through grunts. The stunning cinematography that recreates Turner’s paintings, light and all, must surely be a strong contender in that category. It is disappointing that neither Timothy Spall nor Mike Leigh were recognised for what is probably their finest work, but not as flat-out outrageous as their snub from the BAFTAs.

For the first time since 1998, there is not a single black actor among the nominees, though Selma gets a nod in the Best Picture category. That’s not yet out in the UK, so I can’t comment on whether David Oyelowo was unfairly overlooked. But the nominations are a reminder that this was a fine year for cinema, and an innovative one to boot. Boyhood was filmed over a period of 12 years; Birdman was shot in one single continuous take; The Grand Budapest Hotel was a delirious artifice; and Whiplash was a little indie film shot in 19 days that somehow muscled through to be nominated for Best Picture.

Much as critics may bemoan the blockbusterisation of cinema (and actually, even the blockbusters are a lot more competent, coherent and fun than they used to be), there’s life in the old Hollywood dog yet.

For the official Oscars site with the full list of nominees, click here.

#11: Absolutely positively the very last Cannes diary extract from 1997. In which Mike Leigh is a “patronising twat”

26 Jul
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I found myself lunching with Alan Parker, fresh from directing Madonna in Evita

Cannes, Monday May 12, 1997. Having called a halt to post-party drinking at the Petit Carlton last night at 4.30am, I woke up just in time to get to the Polygram lunch at the posh Carlton at 12.30. I introduced myself to legend-in-his-own-lunchtime Baz Bamigboye from The Daily Mail, about whom everyone here has a story to tell.

I told Baz the one I’d heard about him crawling for hours through bushes to get into a closed set, and finally getting caught by a security guard at which Baz says, “It’s okay, I’m a security guard too.” The guy replies – this is in America, mind – “No you’re not, you’re Baz Bamigboye. Now f**k off.”

Jonathan Pryce was there, but having seen his ground-breaking Hamlet when I was 13, where he was both Hamlet and, in a voice ripped from somewhere deep inside of him, the ghost of his father, I was too awed to say hi. Geoff Andrew is an old hand at these things, and told me he’d work out the best table to sit at for lunch. Accordingly he latched onto veteran BBC film critic Barry Norman – a good plan, since host Stewart Till turned out to be sat next to him, and the Guest of Honour, Alan Parker, turned out to be the man whose Reserved notice we shoved one along to make way for Geoff and me.

The director of Midnight Express and Fame was never high on Time Out film critics’ list of beloved auteurs, and his appointment as head the BFI was proving controversial, so I introduced myself as “editor of your least favourite magazine”, and we got on famously. Parker looks completely square, block-headed, compact, like a human battering ram; younger and healthier than I expected, especially after surfacing from filming Evita with Madonna; amusing, articulate and definitely not suffering fools gladly. He was particularly undiplomatic about Mike Leigh, whom he called a “patronising twat” – Parker had offered him the cash to make two films, only to find Leigh taking the piss out of his accent later.

I also asked Barry Norman what he thought of Dennis Pennis, who asks embarrassing questions of stars on the red carpet by pretending to be a “proper” BBC interviewer, which I imagine makes life hard for the real arts journos. Barry said he saw him chased by some bodyguards last year after some prank and all but shouted out “Yes! Get him!”

After which, my time in Cannes was nearly up. I just had time to look in on the New Producers’ Alliance party on the way to the station, carrying my bags with me, but for the first time fell foul of Cannes accreditation bureaucracy. Instead I found a BFI party at the British Pavilion to spend my final hour with. And then, too soon, it was time to go. Will I ever make it back here?

Little did I know that, 15 years later, I’d be back with a short film of my own I had co-written, Colonel Badd: see here. My previous 1997 Cannes diary extracts start here.

“I see famous people!”

14 Nov

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I saw Jenny Agutter, the other day. It was at the Turner Prize exhibition at Tate Britain. It’s strange to have such a potent figure of one’s boyhood imaginings step suddenly off the screen and into real life. It’s not the first time: I actually lived round the corner from her for several years, in Camberwell. The English rose of Walkabout, Logan’s Run (above) and American Werewolf in London was suddenly a bloomin’ neighbour. She passed me once in brown leather trousers, straight-backed, with three large hounds on a lead, a living Richard Avedon shoot.

That Purple Rose of Cairo moment (or Last Action Hero, if you prefer Arnie to Woody) happens a lot, in London. The worst thing is when you see someone in a bar, realise you know them, smile, wave, then realise, actually, that you’ve never met. It’s just that bloke you’ve seen on the TV.

Keira Knightley suddenly popped up on the bar table next to mine a few months ago. I’ve recently passed Mike Leigh in the street, looking lost; Ricky Gervais, jogging; Tim Spall with his son Rafe.

You feel like Dermot in Father Ted, with sheep leaping about between the confused thought clouds above your head marked ‘Reality’ and ‘Dreams’.

And what has this to do with film-making, rather than name-dropping? Well. It’s less a Heat mag version of Sixth Sense – ‘I see famous people!’ – than about six degrees of separation, which Kevin Bacon is currently plugging for the EE network. But in London, it can be two degrees, or one. You just need to bump into people. And be ready.

The reason the wonderful Sally Phillips was in Animal Charm, the Gothic horror-comedy featurette I co-wrote, is that I got in touch with her through the director of The Decoy Bride (screenplay by Sally) whom I had met on a poker boat down the Thames several years before. As you do. The reason Boy George had a hilarious cameo as a policeman was that director/co-writer Ben Charles Edwards met him at a party, and had the brass balls to just ask him.

Serendipity nearly worked again for my forthcoming collaboration with director Tony Errico, a mockumentary about a retired supervillain. A friend recommended a lovely veteran thesp with whom she played online Scrabble, and put us in touch. He was to have been the lead, but has just dropped out, having landing a lucrative Christmas show. A week before shooting. Yikes.

Crossed fingers that London can bring us another star. So if anyone knows any talented actors, late 40s to 70s, who can do a German accent and wants to bulk out their showreel, do get in touch…