Tag Archives: Oscars

Holy s***: a Catholic take on Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

16 Jan
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Frances McDormand’s grieving, angry mother faces down Sam Rockwell’s incompetent police officer in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

The defining moment of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, as good as any film we’ll see this year or next, comes, as it should, in the first few minutes. Frances McDormand stalks into a local advertising firm and demands to know: “What’s the law on what ya can and can’t say on a billboard? I assume it’s ya can’t say nothing defamatory, and ya can’t say ‘fuck’, ‘piss’ or ‘cunt’. That right?”

It’s her first line. Quite the introduction to our no-shits-given, no-shit-taken protagonist. But the key moment is not that. It’s this: moments later, she spots a cockroach waggling its legs upside-down on the window sill. We expect her to squash it. Instead, almost tenderly, she pokes it upright with one finger. It’s an insect variation on Blake Snyder’s famous “Save The Cat” advice for rendering a flawed hero likeable, but it’s also the crux of the film.

Three Billboards may appear to be all about aggression and violence, especially from the trailer, but really it’s all about forgiveness, compassion, redemption. And not the bullshit, two-bit redemption of Hollywood’s debased currency – “his daughter died so now he’ll save this other girl and that’ll make it right” – but redemption like Christ on the Cross, flogged and pierced with a lance and crowned with thorns, nails driven through his flesh into the unyielding wood, and still saying “Forgive them Father for they know not what they do”. A silent adjunct to the opening scene is that the young advertising guy is reading Flannery O’Connor’s A Good Man Is Hard to Find when McDormand enters – a story in which a crotchety grandmother finally finds grace moments before being violently murdered.

I’ve been getting Biblical on your ass here because McDonagh so clearly is. Not overtly, not at all: in fact, there’s a wonderful scene in which Frances McDormand’s Mildred comes home to find the local priest in her kitchen, and rips the sanctimonious so-and-so a new one over the church’s condoning of “altarboy-fucking” of which, since he’s “a member of that club”, he is guilty by association. It would not surprise me if this reflected McDonagh’s own views. But lapsed or not, you can’t take the Catholic out of a boy so easily. I should know.

Any redemption in Three Billboards is Biblically hard won: through being disgraced, sacked, burned and pummelled in the face; through losing your daughter and being abused by your husband and still resisting the urge to smash his head in; through a dozen tiny acts of compassion (one of the greatest, and you’ll understand the heft of it when you see the film, is simply handing a badly injured man a straw) that in the end trump revenge.

I’ve been told that actors will riffle through a putative script looking for their “Oscar moment”. In Three Billboards Francis McDormand is given one, or else creates one, with every single scene. But my favourite is just the look she gives when the police chief (Woody Harrelson), whom she blames for not properly investigating her daughter’s rape and murder, inadvertently coughs blood into her face. Her face registers surprise, shock – but also sudden and helpless compassion.

There is a Christ figure in the film, too, if you want to read it that way (and I do), who through the sacrifice of his willing death sets troubled souls on the path to forgiving, and being forgiven. It’s a typically McDonaghesque reversal that that death should be through suicide, perhaps the greatest sin of all in the eyes of the official Church.

Three Billboards is an astonishing film: sacred and profane; tragic and laugh-out-loud hilarious. I want to see it again. After a year of election upsets, they say there are no certainties. But if Frances McDormand does not follow her Golden Globe with an Oscar it will be stranger than seeing Trump in the White House; and if Martin McDonagh does not pick up at least Best Screenplay, I predict a riot. And I’ll be handing out the Molotov cocktails.

 

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Oscars 2016: the winners

29 Feb
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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.

The Big Short: now in with a big shot at the Oscars

24 Jan
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Steve Carell continues his break-out from comedy in The Big Short, now William Hill’s Oscar favourite

Just over a month to go before the Oscars, and the bookmakers are honing the odds. William Hill spokesman Rupert Adams says they have just had the “biggest move in 30-odd years of Oscar betting” after The Big Short won at the Producers Guild last night, making it the Oscar frontrunner. Odds have been slashed from 10/1 to 5/4.

It makes sense: The Revenant is an awesome movie, a true masterpiece of film-making, but many people have found it cold and brutal and hard to love. It’s not about anything much more redeeming, either, than how the drive for revenge can keep you alive against all odds. Oscar likes his films to be Important, like 12 Years a Slave; or else about film-making, like Argo (which is important, too), The Artist or Birdman.

So it makes sense if Best Film is turning into a two-horse race between The Big Short (how the financial crisis happened) and Spotlight (Boston priests exposed as paedophiles). No surprises to see Leo DiCaprio in the top spot for Best Actor: this is surely his year. Sylvester Stallone doesn’t really deserve Best Supporting, but he’s fine in Creed, and (mini-spoiler alert), he does get Very Ill, which Oscar also likes. I’d rather Mark Rylance won for his extraordinary subtle and dignified turn in Bridge of Spies, but it lacks the pyrotechnics Oscar craves.

Brie Larson, too, is a good bet in a crowded field, partly because Room is another Important film. And I’d certainly like to see Rooney Mara win as Supporting Actress for Carol: anyone who can hold their own against Cate Blanchett has a lot going for them. These are William Hill’s odds right now:

Best Picture: 5/4 The Big Short, 13/8 Spotlight, 7/2 The Revenant, 14/1 The Martian, 25/1 Mad Max: Fury Road, 50/1 Bridge Of Spies, 40/1 Room, 66/1 Brooklyn

Best Actress: 2/7 Brie Larson – Room, 11/2 Saoirse Ronan – Brooklyn, 7/1 Jennifer Lawrence – Joy, 9/1 Cate Blanchett – Carol, 2o/1 Charlotte Rampling – 45 Years

Best Actor: 1/12 Leonardo DiCaprio – The Revenant, 9/1 Michael Fassbender – Steve Jobs, 10/1 Eddie Redmayne, 25/1 Bryan Cranston – Trumbo, 25/1 Matt Damon – The Martian

Best Director: 4/5 Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu – The Revenant, 11/4 Adam McKay – The Big Short, 9/2 George Miller – Mad Max: Fury Road, 5/1 Tom McCarthy – Spotlight, 25/1 Lenny Abrahamson – Room

Best Supporting Actor: 8/13 Sylvester Stallone – Creed, 13/8 Mark Rylance – Bridge of Spies, 10/1 Christian Bale – The Big Short, 12/1 Tom Hardy – The Revenant, 25/1 Mark Ruffalo – Spotlight

Best Supporting Actress: 4/6 Rooney Mara – Carol, 2/1 Alicia Vikander – The Danish Girl, 9/2 Kate Winslet – Steve Jobs, 16/1 Jennifer Jason Leigh – The Hateful Eight, 50/1 Rachel McAdams – Spotlight

Oscars 2015: Birdman soars, but Imitation Game moves

23 Feb
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Eddie Redmayne at the 2015 Oscars, where he won best Actor

After months of jockeying for position, the Oscars had settled down to being a two-horse race between the two “B” movies, Boyhood and Birdman. The Globes gave no clue, since they split Best Picture into Comedy and Drama and honoured both films. Last night at the Academy Awards, Birdman emerged as the big winner with four of the big ones: best picture, director, original screenplay and cinematography.

Boyhood had to make do with best supporting actress, which was no mean feat given that Meryl Streep was nominated in that category. Meryl took defeat more than graciously. When Patricia Arquette gave a speech thumping the tub for gender equality and equal pay for women (the hacked Sony emails having showed how culpable Hollywood was in this regard), Meryl whooped, pointed at the stage, and shouted “Yes! Yes! Yes!” like Meg Ryan in a restaurant.

Eddie Redmayne was named Best Actor, as had seemed certain. Though he is not the winner, really, according to Eddie himself, but “the custodian”. In an emotional speech where he seemed to teeter charmingly on the verge of complete meltdown, he said: “This belongs to all of those people around the world battling ALS. It belongs to one exceptional family, Stephen, Jane, Jonathan and the Hawking children; and I will be its custodian.  And I promise you I will look after him, I will polish him, I will answer his beck and call and wait on him hand and foot.”

Redmayne was extraordinary in The Theory of Everything, and a worthy winner/custodian. But having seen Selma over the weekend, I am still scratching my head as to how David Oyelowo could not have been at least nominated, late screening tapes notwithstanding. With Redmayne you are admiring throughout of the exceptional craft in his acting. Oyelowo simply inhabits the role, to the extent that you forget entirely that you are watching an actor at all, rather than the Nobel peace prize-winning statesman who gave his life for the cause of equality. As host Neil Patrick Harris quipped when Oyelowo was cheered at the Oscars ceremony, “Oh, sure, now you like him.”

Julianne Moore finally won her long-deserved best Actress award, for Still Alice. In typical Oscar tradition, it took playing a character with a disability – Alzheimer’s – finally to nail it after four nominations. The other big winners of the night were The Grand Budapest Hotel, which came away with a raft of craft awards: production design, make-up, costume and score; and the little-indie-that-could, Whiplash, which took best editing, sound mixing and of course supporting actor for JK Simmons. The other big British movie, The Imitation Game, won best adapted screenplay, with a moving speech from writer Graham Moore that won a standing ovation from the audience:

“When I was 16 years old,” he said, “I tried to kill myself because I felt weird and I felt different and I felt like I did not belong. And now I am standing here. I would like for this moment to be for that kid out there who feels like she’s weird or she’s different or she doesn’t fit in anywhere. Yes, you do. Stay weird, stay different.”

And that’s the thing about the Oscars. They can seem empty and silly and glitzy and bland, and the run-up lasts for far too many months. But films are still the most powerful global means of expression of our age. They are our flickering campfire stories, our propaganda, our myths. They change minds, hearts and lives. And for one glorious, silly, moving night, on the stage of the Dolby Theater, it all comes together.

Academy Awards 2014: the winners and blingers of an Oscar night with no grouches

3 Mar

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That was actually a pretty great Oscar ceremony. Jennifer “J-Law” Lawrence took a little tumble before it even began this time, back on the red carpet. Any more trips and she’ll get sponsored by Expedia.com. As for the compere, Ellen Degeneres was never going to sail too close to the edge – a blessing, after the Seth McFarlane “boobies” embarrassment of last year – but she did bring a breath of fresh air.

She broke Twitter, briefly, by organising the most celebtastic selfie of all time (above), and, surreally, ordered in pizza. Chiwetel Ejiofor took the first slice; Harrison Ford looked at his dubiously, as though inspecting an archaeological relic. Ellen’s Oscars seemed to break down the barriers between celebrity and public, toppling the screen icons from a pedestal that most of them never wanted to be on in the first place. Though of course J-Law toppled from hers first.

Most of all, though, it helped that this was the strongest year for film in ages: there was never a moment where you thought, “the Oscar went to whaaaat?” And so, without further ado, the winners are…

Best Film: 12 Years A Slave. Whoop! Whoop! Whoop! So happy to see justice done. It is an extraordinary film. Chief producer Brad Pitt nobly and sensibly turned the speech over straight away to co-producer/director Steve McQueen, who was a sweet mess of nerves. He read out a long list of thanks, saying “I’m sorry about this” in a very British way for taking so long about it, and when he had finished, bounced up and down across the stage like a cuddly pogo stick. Brilliant.

Best Director: Alfonso Cuarón. I loved loved loved Gravity, but I wish Steve McQueen had won for 12 Years A Slave. Still, a worthy winner. Great to have two foreign art-movie directors vying for Hollywood’s most glittering prize.

Best Actor: Matthew McConaughey. Gutted that Chiwetel Ejiofor didn’t win this, but he’s unlucky to have come up against one of the strongest fields in ages. McConaughey is one of Hollywood’s own, and he was extraordinary in Dallas Buyers Club: a complete transformation. And he did say “all right all right all right” in his speech.

Best Actress: Cate Blanchett. Well of course. Always the bookies’ favourite, and it really couldn’t be otherwise. She absolutely carries Blue Jasmine, and what’s more, she’s about the only person ever in a Woody Allen film not to sound exactly like Woody Allen. “Julia hashtag suck it,” Blanchett said to Julia Roberts in her speech, continuing “The world is round, people!” Love her.

Best Supporting Actor: Jared Leto. He didn’t win me over. He was maybe as good as he could be in a part that was just a rainbow coalition of clichés, but I would rather have seen Jonah Hill win for his gutsy, literally balls-out performance in Wolf Of Wall Street.

Best Supporting Actress: Lupita Nyong’o. Yay!!! J-Law was fantastic in American Hustle, but we already know she’s that good. Lupita, however, is a new, fresh, raw talent, and so elegant and dignified off screen and in her speech: “When I look down at this little statue, may it remind me and every child that no matter where you are from your dreams are valid.” Somehow she makes this utterly heartfelt and charming, not hokey as you would expect.

Best Original Screenplay: Spike Jonze. Oooh, good for him! Her was a fresh, quirky, thought-provoking script, but I’m still surprised that the American Hustle bandwagon petered out quite so comprehensively as not to win this.

Best Adapted Screenplay: John Ridley for 12 Years A Slave. Fantastic to win this, I’m all for 12 Years winning as many as possible, though as Ridley himself said in the speech, the main credit goes to Solomon Northup. Scary speech by presenter Robert De Niro, incidentally: “The mind of a writer can be a truly terrifying thing,” he said. “Isolated, neurotic, caffeine-addled, crippled by procrastination, and consumed by feelings of panic, self-loathing and soul-crushing inadequacy. And that’s on a good day.” Thanks, Bob! Mostly, it’s scary because it’s true.

The Oscar nominations are in: Gravity and 12 Years A Slave get Hustled

16 Jan

The Oscar nominations have just been announced. I’ve been glued to the live stream, co-hosted by Chris Hemsworth. American Hustle and Gravity are ostensibly the main contenders, with (by my count) ten nominations each, but I have a feeling Gravity may do better; and 12 Years A Slave, only just trailing with nine nominations, has the best chance of all. Other well nominated films include Dallas Buyers Club, Nebraska, Wolf of Wall Street and Blue Jasmine. Who’ll win? The debate starts here:

Best Movie: Nominees are American Hustle, Captain Phillips, Philomena, Dallas Buyers Club, Gravity, Her, Nebraska, 12 Years A Slave, The Wolf of Wall Street

I half-fancy Gravity’s chances, even though it’s trailing third at the bookies (which makes it a worthwhile bet, odds-wise). When I saw 12 Years in preview a couple of months ago, it was easily my pick for the Oscar. Then I saw Gravity three days later – a film that couldn’t be more different, except they were both, essentially, mainstream movies shot by art-movie directors – and thought it had a strong chance.

The key thing is that it’s rare for the Academy to buck public sentiment entirely for the main award. And though critics mostly loved 12 Years, it took just under $40m in the US. The schmaltzier The Butler, by contrast, while no one’s idea of a Best Movie, took $116m.

Gravity took $256 million in the US; it also stars Sandra and George who are universally loved in Hollywood; and it can be enjoyed without controversy by any age, race or class. It would, however, be the first science-fiction movie ever to win – though when I said this to my film-student son, he argued out that’s it’s not really science-fiction; it’s just set in space.

Best Actor: Nominees are Christian Bale, Bruce Dern, Leonardo DiCaprio, Chiwetl Ejiofor, Matthew McConaughey

As I wrote last week in my review of 12 Years, it is inconceivable that Chiwetl Ejiofor will not win Best Actor. Yes, the Golden Globe went to Matthew McConaughey, for Dallas Buyers Club, and that’s also an Important Issue Film (about AIDS), which helps (plus see my update here). But not only does Ejiofor thoroughly and objectively deserve it, in the past the Academy has been so desperate to redress a perceived racial bias in award-giving that they donked the Oscar to, whisper it, Halle Berry. A bit hard on Tom Hanks, incidentally, not to be nominated, but this was a good year.

Best Actress: Nominees are Amy Adams, Cate Blanchett, Sandra Bullock, Judi Dench, Meryl Streep

Surely Cate Blanchett. I thought Sandra Bullock might have a chance for Gravity, as she’s so darn likeable in it and carries the whole film, then I finally caught up with Blue Jasmine. Blanchett not only makes her horrible, shallow, self-absorbed, clothes-horse character astonishingly sympathetic and vulnerable, she’s about the only person ever in a Woody Allen film who’s managed not to sound like Woody Allen.

Best Director: Nominees are David O Russell, Alfonso Cuarón, Alexander Payne, Steve McQueen, Martin Scorsese

The bookies favour Alfonso Cuarón for Gravity, but I reckon Steve McQueen will still edge it for 12 Years. Both are worthy. As a sometime film critic, I mentally grade all the films I see. I give five stars rarely; to maybe three or four films a year. Five-star films, to me, are not just superb in all respects, but the product of a singular vision: in other words, you cannot imagine any other director having made just that film. Argo, which won last year, only rates four stars in my book; but then 2012 was a much leaner year for good films than 2013. I think, only slightly cynically, that it will be hard to resist the attraction of garlanding the first winning black director in Oscar history (McQueen is only the third even to be nominated).

Best Original Screenplay: Nominees are American Hustle, Blue Jasmine, Dallas Buyers Club, Her, Nebraska

This is toughest of the lot. What a great selection. Blue Jasmine has a chance, but continuing Woody Allen controversy will likely scotch it, and American Hustle will edge to victory. David O Russell writes knock-out scripts, and this will be consolation on missing out on the big awards. Note that Gravity is absent. Seems other people may have agreed with David Hare’s scathing assessment.

Best Adapted Screenplay: Nominees are Before Midnight, Captain Phillips, Philomena, 12 Years A Slave, The Wolf of Wall Street

The success of 12 Years is not so obviously in its script, well though it draws upon the ornate speech of the age. Either Captain Phillips or more probably The Wolf of Wall Street will take this as a consolation prize.

The winners are announced on March 2. For my backstage tour of the Academy Awards’ Kodak/Dolby Theatre, click here.

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