Tag Archives: Whiplash

Smell my crystal balls: which nominees will take the Oscars

24 Jan
la-la-land-ryan-gosling-emma-stone-1

The magic of movies: Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in La-La Land

I saw La-La-Land a few months ago at a press screening, and I’ve never been more sure of an Oscars blitzkrieg than for this gossamer confection. It flatters the ageing voters of the Academy by recalling a bygone age of Hollywood musical glamour, but brings enough modern cynicism to make it seem brand-new. There were times, I kid you not, I wept just for the sheer beauty of the composition and colour scheme, let alone in sympathy when Emma Stone’s saucer-sized peepers filled with tears.

And so it’s proved: it received 14 nominations today, matched only by All About Eve and Titanic. Some friends of mine have remained unmoved by the film. No accounting for taste. I’m longing to see it again.

So what other films may get a look-in at the Oscars? Just get a whiff of my crystal balls:

Best Picture. La-La Land. Duh. Not even after Brexit and Trump can I believe that this safest of sure bets will be overturned, though both Moonlight and Manchester by the Sea have passionate fan bases (and I also very much liked Arrival, though it’s hard to love it).

Directing. Damien Chazelle for La-La-Land. His previous film, Whiplash, was nominated for Best Picture, though he himself missed out on being the youngest nominee for Best Director. He will make up for it by being the youngest winner, at (gulp) 32.

Leading Actor. Not La-La-Land, for once. Ryan Gosling was perfectly Goslingy, but never reached that extra gear that Oscar demands. Casey Affleck is the contender to beat for Manchester on Sea.

Leading actress. When I saw Arrival, at an early preview, I thought Amy Adams good enough to win it. Then I saw La-La-Land and, sorry Amy, that statuette is Emma Stone’s. Which suits me, since when I reviewed Easy A for The Times back in 2010 I went out on a limb to predict she’d become a huge star. But then last weekend I saw Jackie. Natalie Portman is EXTRAORDINARY. She disappears into the part completely. And as the only thing Hollywood loves to reward more in an actor than excessive weight loss/gain or disability is the impersonation of a famous figure, she has a chance of upsetting the La-La-Land bandwagon. Still won’t, though.

Supporting Actor. I’d like Jeff Bridges to win for his subtle, elegiac performance as the ageing marshall in Hell or High Water. But then Moonlight hasn’t come out in the UK yet, and they tell me Mahershala Ali may well take it. Fair enough. He was good in House of Cards, and it would be a pleasure to see an antidote to #OscarsSoWhite.

Supporting Actress. Viola Davis is tipped to take this for Fences. Again, the damn thing’s not out yet, so I cannot possibly comment.

… And then La-La-Land will sweep many of the smaller awards, too, especially cinematography, production design and song. It can’t possibly win Best Documentary, however! I’d like that to go Ava DuVernay’s 13th, one of the best docs I’ve seen in ages, available to view now on Netflix.

Oscars 2015: Birdman soars, but Imitation Game moves

23 Feb
Eddie Redmayne

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.

BAFTA night: Boyhood and Theory of Everything triumph

8 Feb
boyhood_still

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.

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.

4 articles about Whiplash, the little film that could

9 Jan
Miles Teller and JK Simmons in Whiplash, described as "Full Metal Jacket set at Juilliard"

Miles Teller and JK Simmons in Whiplash, described as “Full Metal Jacket set at Juilliard”

A really terrific little movie opens next week: Whiplash, about a young drumming prodigy’s fractious relationship with his terrifyingly perfectionist mentor, which although made in 19 days on a budget of $3 million is attracting Oscar buzz. I was commissioned by the Guardian to write four different pieces on the film, which is especially close to my heart as my son is an ace drummer himself (check out his band Venus Envy on Soundcloud).

Whiplash’s young writer-director had lofty goals, setting out to do for drumming what Martin Scorsese once did for boxing. But in many ways it’s less like Raging Bull than like Stanley Kubrick’s Vietnam masterpiece: producer Jason Reitman describes the film as “Full Metal Jacket set in Juilliard”.

Check out my Guardian pieces, which came out today:

— Why Whiplash is not just about drumming, but a psychological thriller, sports/war movie and mismatched buddy movie all in one. Discover the “Dead Poets Society from hell”.

— How do you make an Oscar-worthy feature in just 19 days? Despite cracked ribs and a car crash, this is how Damien Chazelle got it done.

— Both lead actors in Whiplash underwent an extraordinary transformation for their roles. From Lon Chaney Jr to Holly Hunter and Daniel Day-Lewis, discover the ten biggest transformations in film history.

— Einstein himself said that “genius is 1% talent and 99% hard work”. From Isambard Kingdom Brunel to Marie Curie, here are ten great men and women who owe as much to perspiration as inspiration.