Reflections on The Oscars

Oscar 2013 Jennifer Lawrence accepts the award for best actress

After all the hoohah has died down. What did the ceremony amount to? (Ok I know I’m rather late on this one but I’ve been rather busy volunteering at the Lesbian & Gay Film Festival lately as well as doing life stuff, so sue me. I will be blogging about this Festival later). Well a lot of self-congratulatory patting on the back as per usual.

I mean Argo for best film? Yes it’s a decent seat-0f-your pants piece of entertainment with some pretty good performances (especially from Alan Arkin and the ever reliable John Goodman). But it’s pretty  average still, not the kind of film I’d see twice as David Sexton of The Evening Standard remarked. And there are problems such as over-egging the saved at the last minute narrative cliche, yes it’s fine to have dramatic license on a true story but really how many times does the audience need to be manipulated into a state of tension? And also the agent that Ben Affleck portrays, Tony Mendez, is a Latino man which makes me wonder why they didn’t just hire a Latino actor, looks rather self-indulgent. But then Hollywood would reward a film that celebrates the American film industry as saviours.

Credit due though to Affleck’s quickfire speech which showed his humility and graciousness in thanking all those who helped him when he was down and out, and could’ve easily just left him floundering. While his tribute to his wife Jenifer Garner was sweet and touching, providing a down to earth  insight into how tough it is to make marriages work when your both in entertainment, but how it’s the “best” kind of work .  Hollywood as commentators have said do like an underdog making a comeback, which goes to show that it mostly really isn’t about the quality of the films more what those films represent.

I was glad that QT got Best screenplay for Django Unchained, being full of great dialogue and set pieces such as the hilarious pillow-case  Klu Klux Klan scene, or almost anything that Dr. Schultz says.  And QT was typically cool and calm in accepting the award and thanking the actors helping him to create truly memorable characters. And that said Christoph Waltz was also a deserved and gracious winner his charismatic and spot on interpretation of QT’s challenging swathes of dialogue is truly a tour de force.

Aside from that I haven’t seen Amour yet (and I really must see this film) but it was perhaps a shame that Emanuelle Riva didn’t win on her 86th birthday. Still I thought Jennifer Lawrence’s gutsy performance as a damaged widow in Silver Linings Playbook  was faultless (kudos too to Lawrence’s humble and sweet speech after tripping up on the stairs) , and it  was good to see that film also win Best Adapted Screenplay. It was a funny and moving film with some great characterisations of mental illness which didn’t trivialise it. It also contained one of Robert DeNiro’s best performances, a definite return to form after appearing in so much unbecoming dross, so nice that he was also nominated.

Oh and isn’t Daniel Day-Lewis bloody funny, first of all his portrayal of Lincoln was typically brilliant that’s a given, but if there’s an award for acceptance speeches he’d steal it. First he brings down the house at the BAFTAs by self-deprecatingly sending up his serious method actor rep by dead-panning that he has been practising the part of himself for the last 50 years and made up mini replicas of the BAFTA set. Then he steals the show again by joking that he was meant to be play Margaret Thatcher and Meryl Streep was meant to play Lincoln, and that he had to convince Spielberg not to shoot it as a musical. As if you didn’t like Day-Lewis already, I certainly like him more after that anyway, and it just shows that he doesn’t take himself too seriously (Russell Crowe and Christian Bale take note).  Somebody put this guy in a good comedy. I mean he outshone actors who do comedy for a living , ahem Paul Rudd and Melissa McCarthy (How awkward were they).

And thank god Les Miserables didn’t win anything that significant. But I can give them Anne Hathaway’s performance as it was the saving grace of an otherwise relentlessly melodramatic and sentimental mess of a film (and what was with the disorientating bits of documentary-style shaky camera-work Tom Hooper?).

As for the controversy of host Seth McFarlane, I thought he did a reasonably good job. Ok he probably shouldn’t have made that inappropriate joke about Chris Brown and Rihanna  and the Mel Gibson joke certainly wasn’t very well judged, neither was the George Clooney paedophile  joke. But I thought there was many that did work, I particularly liked the Best Actor award joke about doing what a 9 year-old can do, and any chance to get William Shatner involved is a bonus in my opinion. The highly maligned ‘Boob Song’ I also found actually pretty funny, and I consider myself a feminist.  It  really was a knee jerk reaction to label it misogynist when McFarlane was clearly just taking an ironic dig at what actors are expected to be able to do for a film.

And that Jaws theme sure was awkward, especially when cutting out heartfelt speeches of struggling people in the film industry. Only done to the poor techies of course, god forbid they cut the speech of an actor.

Oh well until next year, and if the rumours are to be believed I really do look forward to the double-whammy of  the hilarious Amy Poehler and Tiny Fey hosting.

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Vigilante Justice- The Return of the Revenge Film

Is Harry (Michael Caine) taking it too far in his pursuit of revenge?

This is an article I wrote a few weeks back for the website I write for Sound Screen, hope you like it and feel free to post your disagreements and comments .

Revenge is a dish best served cold but  it certainly seems to be (ahem) hot right now in the cinema.  With the recent releases of Daniel Barber’s Harry Brown and F. Gary Gray’s Law Abiding Citizen and the latest instalment of the Saw franchise, as well as the less bloody Gran Turino last year the revenge film’s popularity certainly isn’t waning. And this is despite the criticisms the genre has received since revenge films like Micheal Winner’s pro-vigilante Death Wish (1974) was branded a ‘poisonous incitement to do-it-yourself law enforcement’, and legendary film critic Pauline Kael called Sam Peckinpah’s  Straw Dogs (1971) ‘a fascist work of art.’ While others simply see the films as thrilling and fun. So which is it? To answer that question it really comes down to characterisation, the angle taken and the level of violence depicted.

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Overrated Classics

Micheal Haneke: Provacative, maybe, enjoyable, decidedly not.

Micheal Haneke: Provacative, maybe, enjoyable, decidedly not.

What is it with critically lauded films that are for the most part confusing , frustrating and makes you feel like nearly everyone-else understands or gets it apart from you, and therefore you must  either be a philistine or just a little bit dim. Neither of which you feel you really are. Watching two films by recent Golden Palm winner Michael Haneke, Caché (2005) and Funny Games (2007) (admittedly not the Austrian original but seeing how the US version is meant to be virtually identical it probably doesn’t make that much difference) the other day I felt quite cheated (which I suppose people will say was Haneke’s intention meaning you never can win an argument with a Haneke fan). But having heard so much about this director, and having sucked in by the many film festival plaudits and recommendations I was convinced that I would like him.

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East End Festival: Two-Legged Horse

I went to see the UK premiere of Two-Legged Horse with some trepidation having heard on blogs how difficult it was and how several people at the Toronto Film Festival had walked out. 

The film principally concerns a poor boy (who one suspects also has a slight mental disability aswell as speech impediment) who is charged for a measly $1 a day to carry a wealthier boy and effectively act as his horse (he is referred to as a ‘horse’, ‘donkey’  or ‘beast ‘throughout). As the boy has been maimed in a land mine which also killed mother.

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Queer Cinema: Shamim Sarif and Fabulous! The Story of Queer Cinema (2006)

Reading in The Guardian today how novelist and filmmaker Shamim Sarif had managed to get two cross-cultural lesbian themed films out this year, The World Unseen and I Can’t Think Straight; was an inspiring story of how if you are determined enough, despite all the barriers, you can achieve something:

Being a gay, British-born Indian Muslim, she says, has far from hindered her career – if anything her race and sexuality equipped her with the drive and conviction needed to succeed the industry. She wants, she says, to take advantage of the freedom she has in this country to break down as many prejudices as possible elsewhere.

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Slumdog’s ‘poverty porn’

Dev Patel (Jamal), Photo: Pathé/Guardian

Dev Patel as Jamal Photo: Associated Press/Guardian

This is the comment piece which I wrote for my course. It expands on a comment I made earlier about Slumdog’s scenes of slum-life being one of the best things in the film:

Oscar winner Slumdog Millionaire has been criticised by some, notably Alice Miles in The Times, as “poverty porn”. However its portrayal of slum life was one of the best things in a film that was otherwise formulaic.

The critics, particularly the Indian critics such as leading actor Amitabh Bachchan, have derided the film as unrepresentative of “modern India”; an exploitation of third-world clichés for the entertainment of an exclusively Western audience.

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Joaquin Phoenix: That Letterman Interview

For those few of you who didn’t get Ben Stiller’s impression I alluded to here’s the original interview:

As I mentioned before Phoenix does seem to be one sandwich short of a picnic lately, and this interview is testament to that. Poor guy could only seem to chew gum and mumble monosylibically and in lieu of illuminating and funny anecdotes would say: “I’m sure something fun happened.” Provoking Letterman to comment: “Well, I’m sorry Joaquin Phoenix couldn’t be here with us tonight.” Now either he was on drugs or he’s  just so filled with ennui that he doesn’t care how he comes across.

Either way it’s a shame, even if it does make for a good You Tube video and some great Letterman quips. Will he ever recover from this? And will he ever come to his senses, offer a Bale-like apology for his behaviour (though to be fair he didn’t actually deliberately offend anyone, oh apart from maybe all his fans and hip-hop aficionados) and take up acting again? And he even if he did decide to become an actor again would Hollywood ever take him seriously.

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