Some thoughts preceding the Oscar awards ceremony 2015
What follows is a column of opinions on each of the films nominated for the Best Picture category at the Oscars in 2015.
While the Oscars are by no means a just representation of the year’s best cinema, they nevertheless have a very real effect on what gets seen and made. Once an actor becomes an Academy Award winner, they become like gold dust to Hollywood producers! But, like any art form, film is entirely subjective, so I aplogise in advance for being stern about my choices. It is no mystery why the studios have tried for years to come up with a definite strategy for making a movie successful: we – audiences – just keep changing our minds about what stories we want to see and hear.
Awards Season is a well-earned time to simply lay back and show off their wealth and power, to give their talent a time for celebration and dressing up, and to thank all the beautiful people that they have worked with etc. It is an institution of power and authority, just as is the celebrity culture and the status that awards ceremonies seek to reinforce. It is a time for the mass media to feast on the conglomerates. But I wonder, is it really a time for the filmmakers? Do they really feel enlightened by accepting an award? I certainly doubt they complain (unless, of course, one happens to be Woody Allen himself), and I am sure it helps to land them their next job because after all, one must keep there career alive if they are to do what they love doing: making movies. Unfortunately, it seems that one can only feed back into the system. I am not proposing to have a solution to this…
There has been a huge debate surrounding this film and I have come to the conclusion, regardless of whether or not it was Clint Eastwood’s intention, that this film acts as propaganda of the highest degree. Teenage boys across the West sit in theatres ‘maxing out’ to all the action on-screen and being consistently blinded by the fact that they are watching the very state of current warfare and innocent people are being killed. They should not be pumping their blood-stream with excited adrenaline. The film creates a great divide: every foreign person (at least to the American) is outcast by limited scene time, no dialogue and a look of mischief on their faces, what we are clearly meant to interpret as fearful. The opposition is all terrorists, they are all about to kill our precious American soldiers, and they are all, frankly, made to seem inhumane.
It is easy to be critical of a war film if it doesn’t give two equal accounts, however I am not necessarily saying that American Sniper needs to do that (which it definitely doesn’t), but that it simply talks and talks about America and how important their job is in serving their country, which by no means furthers a position of thought on the nature of War. We hardly need any more examples of patriotism when we have today’s media acting out on our screens 24/7.
The film does inevitably raise questions about the morality of simply serving duty regardless of the innocence. Yet, it does not provide a wider scope for thought, it cannot do so when all we see of the child is that it has a missile launcher in it’s arm. The child apparently has no hope of a sustainable and noteworthy life, so why should we care? The answer is deeply subdued in our respect for humanity, we are one and all the same etc., but the film makes it out such that a little boy from the middle-east can be drilled through the head and left in the dirt, but that an American solider must be laid to rest in glossy coffin with a circle of diligently dressed mourners. The value of life is clearly not seen in the light of equality here. And, yes, I am being deeply critical, as you could make the same point about almost any action movie, but perhaps this film just cuts too close to the bone of contemporary society and how we view the everyday world in the West. If one is ideologically content, then this probably serves less as critique than as praise!
This won’t win best picture and I feel it only got a nod in because America is America folks; it is serving its country.
I am torn with this film, torn between wanting to appraise the technological achievement, and equally finding it a detriment to the substance of the story. This film is by no means a pioneer of the long-take, we have seen Mike Figgis’s Timecode and Alexsandr Sokurov’s Russian Ark record a long take (for approx. 90 minutes) in real-time, a method of recording that was deeply appropriate for the themes recurring in the films. However, Birdman is not true to the technique of the long-take (using the editing process as a primary means to cheat the effect) and rather than immerse one simultaneously into the story (as the invisible technique of cinematography is meant to achieve), I found it dragging me out of it. I don’t want to follow the camera; I want to follow the story (a vague statement but beyond the explanation of this article!)
It was left to the actors to give great performances, which they do and they clearly explore their characters deepest motives and flaws to an illuminating and profound consequence. How I wished to cut in on their faces, or to jump a reverse or simply to watch the action unfold without floating between their spaces. It makes one realise the power of the classical editing style that has been adopted since the very beginning, it is no wonder that film pioneers like Sergei Eisenstein and Lev Kuleshov got so excited when they discovered the great extent to how stories can be manipulated, and meaning created, in the edit.
Michael Keaton, Edward Norton and Emma Stone give very credible performances. I don’t think Keaton needs an Oscar, which should go to Steve Carell, but more on that later! I do, however, believe that Emma Stone deserves the Best Supporting Actress award. She was electrifying and full of emotional complexity; I can’t say that Meryl Streep, Laura Dern or Keira Knightley pull of the same level of brilliance, although Patricia Arquette is certainly worthy of her recognition for the mother in Boyhood battling with her long-lost soul.
I am a big fan of Alejandro González Iñárritu, Amores Perros and 21 Grams were significantly bold, honest and innovate films, they still are. Iñárritu works magic with his actors, they create unforgettable screen performances with sincere and heartfelt sentiments. Let’s recall the scene with Naomi Watt’s in 21 Grams when she is faced with the trauma of a life-changing incident; it is breathtakingly authentic and even traumatic for the audience (that is why I still remember it with such exposure!)
I can’t add anything that hasn’t already been said. This film is Richard Linklater’s masterpiece. It is a revolutionary mark in the history of cinema and it is a profoundly thought-provoking journey. The film is approximately 3 hours long, but the experience is worth every moment of 12 years. Linklater navigates time like a sponge, squeezing it and soaking it up. It is staggering how Linklater paints such an honest portrait of life and manages to hit every mark with development and insight into what is, or the swiveling landscape and frailties of the human mind, condition and lifestyle. I shall not go into anymore depth here, but it is certainly evident that Linklater has expanded our knowledge of what stories are and what they can be, and not to mention what the form of film is capable of achieving. For these reasons and many more, the film surely has to be crowned with Best Picture. I do hope so.
THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL
Not much to comment on with Wes Anderson. We all know his unequivocal, delightful and tasteful style. His latest film seeks to boast that, but does do an impeccable job of comedic timing and taking stellar ensemble casts to new heights! I enjoyed the film, but I would rather see more Tenenbaum’s or Bottle Rocket’s. Perhaps I need to revisit this one. Not a winner for me, I would happily have it replaced with David Fincher’s Gone Girl, or Tony Gilroy’s Nightcrawler, or Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher, I know, harshly personal taste preferences.
Alan Turing lived a remarkable life and achieved unimaginable things. His life deserves to be shown, respected and honoured. That is precisely what Morten Tyldum achieves with this film and he does a fantastic job of giving it punches and thrills and even laughs.
Benedict Cumberbatch is extraordinary in his delicate and touching portrayal of Turing. One only needs to look at his performance face on to feel the amalgamating thoughts firing off in all directions inside his brain, it is surely no easy feat to pull-off such a dynamic portrait of a genius (though, perhaps Cumberbatch himself is a bit of a genius). Keira Knightley simply needs to be less British, although that is precisely why she works so well in this part, dare I say, she is rather moving and poignant, yet, at other times, just rather irritating!
I’ve seen the trailer about ten times, but the film is yet to be screened here. I can’t wait to see it, it is clearly an important picture, but I doubt it will replace Boyhood for me as Best Picture winner.
THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING
First off, Eddie Redmayne might just have morphed into the real Steven Hawking; I would be happy to see him take away Best Actor at the ceremony. He is physically representative as Hawking and after ten minutes or so we need not think again that this is an actor, we are watching Hawking himself. It is fascinating to see Hawking’s growth (intellectually) and decline (the motor neuron disease taking over). However, the focus of the story is more with Jane Hawking’s perspective rather than the scientific genius and his equations; the family implications, the power of love and the temptations of another life are all undercurrent themes of growth in the film.
It all becomes too glossy and mawkish for my taste, although I deeply respect the achievement of this biopic and admit to shedding a few tears myself. It is an inspiring picture and should make us all grateful for the condition that we have and the possibility that being human (with our unique thoughts and emotions) can give us the opportunity for great accomplishment.
Unleash the unforeseen beast of the awards ceremony. I have no doubt that Damien Chazelle will be the new face of every independent filmmakers stimuli. The film is flawless; it executes a perfect construction of a simple story with the power of a thousand nations. It moves us, it excites us, it thrills us, it makes us laugh, and yet it is simply a niche story about a drummer: a boy who plays the drums.
Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons are raw and ferocious in their on screen battle to be the best and do the best that they possibly can. Morals collide and thought-provoking methodologies are rife with pertinence. There is not a single lull in this film, every moment fires a canon into the next and before you realise it you will be drumming your way home (by this, I just mean beating your hands on the steering wheel like a neurotic). It is pitch perfect. I wish you to recede all your doubts – ‘but it’s a new director’, ‘it’s a niche film’, ‘I don’t like jazz or drumming’ (that’s probably because the drumming in Birdman was excruciating) – and take this film by storm! Go out and expect to let loose some energy!
Why not Best Picture winner? Because it is an exceedingly good picture for what it is, but it is what it is. It is not a pioneering achievement like Boyhood that can mean so many things and open a world of doors. This year, the Oscars have the opportunity to give Best Picture to a film that is truly different.
That’s it for my thoughts on Best Picture. And, just before I go, I think Steve Carell deserves more nods and should sweep up the Best Actor award for playing the creepiest and most impossibly menacing man I have ever, ever, ever seen or even heard of. And, almost ironically, Rosamund Pike as Best Actress, for achieving a similar formation of psychosis. Here’s to more invigorating female leads (I can’t wait to see what Reese Witherspoon produces next!)
In summary (my predictions and hopes):
Best Picture – Boyhood
Best Director – Richard Linklater
Best Actor – Steve Carell
Best Actress – Rosamund Pike
Best Supporting Actor – J.K. Simmons
Best Supporting Actress – Emma Stone