Friday, 22 February 2013

Oscar Best Picture Rundown #4

With Pulp Fiction and Inglourious Basterds receiving award love upon their release, the Academy has shown they are adept to a hint of Quentin Tarantino. It will come as no surprise that Django Unchained has been nominated (although, perhaps a surprise that it comes as no surprise – Django is, after all, everything you’d come to expect from a Tarantino film about slavery. Violence, use of racial slurs, etc. and what with the Academy seeming a little stern considering their anger at Zero Dark Thirty, you'd be mistaken for thinking they would have been offended by many elements from this film) It is the anti-Lincoln, and although Tarantino hasn’t been nominated for Best Director, don’t be surprised to see him pick up a statuette for Original Screenplay.

Will it win?
I doubt it very much. As I mentioned, it’s the anti-Lincoln, depicting a rather different reaction to slavery in an alternate universe presented to us in a brilliant way by Quentin. It’s tough to even say whether Django Unchained would have been nominated if the category hadn’t extended its number of nominees back in 2009, so a win is unlikely.

Film: 4.5/5
Chances of Winning: 2/5

Read my Django Unchained review here



15, 2013, Directed by Andres Muschietti 
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Megan Charpentier, Daniel Kash  

With a range of impressive treats under his belt, Guillermo Del Toro is a more-than-welcome name attached to the production of films. Director of Pan's Labyrinth and the two Hellboy films, as well as producer of chiller The Orphanage, his presence brings with him a visual influence that the Spanish movie man has come to be associated with.

Mama (produced by Del Toro, directed by Andres Muschietti) bears this visual element, an out-and-out chiller and purveyor of the gothic. The film stars actress of the moment Jessica Chastain as Annabel, a black-bobbed rock chick who falls into looking after her boyfriend's nieces following their resurgence after a 5-year disappearance. An unexpectedly early turn of events counts Nikolas Coster-Waldau (of Game of Thrones fame) out of the house action, leaving Annabel to tend for the girls. Naturally, things start making all sorts of noises in the night, and it becomes clear that the children may have not been alone during their absence...and may have been followed back by something that is growing jealous of Annabel.

An opening that upholds promise, we are presented with a scene of context that refuses to hold its cards close to its chest; refreshing in the horror genre. Similarly, the first half - stuffed with enough jumps and chills to convince you Mama may be the real deal - speeds along at full pelt. It's a crying shame that this is where the film peaks. What follows is an Insidious-esque descent into disappointment, sprinkled with only a few genuine scares. Memorable scenes (layered with a hint of comedy that grounds the film with an improbable sense of realism) fail to live up to the first act's set-up, although Chastain does her best in her first horror leading lady turn (no surprise,) even if you feel aware that this film is lower down the food chain of recent film appearances. 

The background story is what saves this from becoming an inescapable plummet. Yet, with an emotive climax that relies far too heavily on CGI to extract the intended reaction is what ironically stunts any emotion you may be feeling. What it builds to is the sense that what you are watching is a squandered opportunity.

Mama, for all of its promise, is not the daddy.



Thursday, 21 February 2013

Oscar Best Picture Rundown #3:

The shortest film amongst a set of films which almost half exceed the 2 hour barrier, Beasts of the Southern Wild may have had the lowest budget and the most unknown talent attached, but nothing has prevented Benh Zeitlin’s independent charmer, about a community beyond a levee in New Orleans, from being recognised... wholeheartedly deserved recognition, at that. Zeitlin’s nomination for Director may have been stolen from under Affleck’s nose, but this feat isn’t to be taken away from the first-timer. Quvenzhané Wallis’ groundbreaking nomination for Best Actress – at 9, the youngest ever – solidifies Beasts as the film that is happy not to win, but grateful to be nominated none-the-less.

Chances of Winning:
Appearing alongside the powerhouse hefty films in the mixer this year (Argo, Life of Pi, Lincoln,)  counts Beasts of the Southern Wild squarely out of this race - although, love for the film hs been expressed by a few big names in Hollywood, meaning it could potentially have several votes behind it.
Film: 4.5/5
Chances of Winning: 2/5

Read my Beasts of the Southern Wild review here


Oscar Best Picture Rundown #2:

Ben Affleck’s third stint behind the camera has proved to be his most acclaimed – no small thing, what with the abounding love for both Gone Baby Gone and The Town – and an Oscar nomination was always going to be a certainty upon its release late last year.  The plot recounts a CIA operative attempting to rescue six U.S. diplomats by leading them out of an increasingly more violent Iran by showcasing them as a film crew on location to shoot their science-fiction film, Argo. Both intense politically-charged drama and witty Hollywood satire (thanks to John Goodman and Oscar-nominated Alan Arkin’s roles as hotshot producers,) Argo - for all of its Sidney Lumet-esque 70s politics - is an immensely enjoyable flick that succeeds at everything Affleck wanted it to.

Will it win?
Following its recent mammoth runaway success this awards season in all the leading categories, Argo has gone from dark horse to serious contender in a matter of weeks. Affleck being snubbed by the Academy for a nomination in the Best Director category initially stunted its chances, (the last time Best Director wasn’t won by a filmmaker behind the Best Picture was in 2006 – Ang Lee reigned supreme for Brokeback Mountain over the victorious Crash,) 2013 is looking likely to re-set that stat. Affleck will be both unofficial king and unsung hero of the Oscars. 
Film: 4.5/5
Chances of Winning
: 4.5/5

Read my Argo review here


Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Oscars Best Picture Rundown #1:

 This Sunday, awards season comes to a close as the Oscars arrive; perhaps not as important as once billed, seeing who picks up an Academy Award statuette is still the most entertaining night on the film calendar. This year, nine films have been nominated for Best Picture and every day leading up to the big night, I will be running through each film and rating its chances of winning. Presented by Seth MacFarlane, the ceremony will be broadcast live through the night on Sky Movies Oscars (check the top-notch official poster below.)

So, time to grab your popcorn and get your sweepstakes ready - the rundown starts here..! First up?


Michael Haneke, the Austrian auteur, is renowned for making films so bleak you’ll either love ‘em or hate ‘em (see: Funny Games, Hidden, The White Ribbon.) But rarely does a film garner such unanimous praise as the French–language film Amour has done since it's Palme d'Or win at Cannes Film Festival last May. His emotionally-driven love story about a long-married couple who have to deal with a trauma when illness strikes is elevated by the two central performances (Emmanuelle Riva – officially now the oldest Best Actress nominee ever,and Jean-Louis Trintigant - cruelly overlooked) making this Haneke’s most acclaimed film to date. A nomination, and probable win, in the Foreign Picture category is a no-brainer; its appearance in the main category is a nice touch.  

Will it win?

If Haneke hadn't received a nod in the Best Director category, Amour's chances would be non-existent. But its aforementioned Foreign Picture nomination counts it out of the race. Last year’s winner (The Artist) may have been French-affiliated, but a foreign-language film has actually never won the top prize since the ceremony's conception in 1929. Nine have been nominated (including Amour,) with Clint Eastwood’s Japanese-language Letters from Iwo Jima being the most recent in 2006. Crazy to have to count Amour out when it is probably the most unanimously praised film out of all the nine nominees.

Film: 4.5/5
Chances of Winning: 1/5

Read my Amour review here


Monday, 18 February 2013

Wreck-It Ralph

2012, PG, Directed by Rich Moore
Starring: John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Jack McBrayer, Jane Lynch

Ralph is bad. Ralph – with his over-sized block hands - is programmed to wreck things in the arcade game he has long been a part of. When the arcade lights go down at the end of a tiresome day, Ralph is ostracised in favour of the game’s hero Fix-It Felix, Jr., left out of the parties held at his penthouse and the cakes baked by his fellow characters. This day-to-day occurance is what brings Ralph to Bad Anon, a support group for video game villains. ‘I will never be good...and that’s not bad,’ villains ranging from Mario baddie Bowser to a House of the Dead zombie are told. Not content with this rationale, Ralph (voiced by ultimate supporting actor John C. Reilly) decides to take matters into his own large hands and does the unthinkable: skips games (via Game Central Station, of course!) in hope of winning his very own gold medal. 

The latest Disney outing may not reach the heights of Pixar movie magic, however Rich Moore's animation does have a hint of the untouchable Toy Story; once the gamers have departed the Arcade for the day, we are drawn into the game, unveiling a whole world beyond the screens. Moore immerses us into the virtual world seamlessly, delivering the film in the guise of an actual video game. With the world comes the rules (namely the one Ralph breaks - stick to your game,) the video game character interaction (two fighters from Street Fighter calling it a day and heading for a beer is priceless,) and the fears (Toy Story's characters feared the shelf...these characters fear the 'Out of Order' sign.) It is a broadly well-realised concept that really succeeds. Add to the mixer the nostalgic element at play, and Wreck-It Ralph becomes equally as watchable for adults as it is for kids.

As Ralph bumbles his way into a first-person shooting game (in a standout scene, we see how the characters incorporate the paying gamers into their world,) right through to landing in Sugar Rush, a sickly-sweet racing game populated by saccharine little children and fulsomely sprightly adults, a smile will be firmly fixed on your face. It is in this game where he meets 9-year-old Vanellope Von Schweetz, a candy-pun-spewing handful who forges a friendship with our titular hero. Voiced by comedienne Sarah Silverman, the character may irritate a touch to begin, but it is doubtful her existence as a 'glitch' (for the techno-phobes: a system fault) won't tug at the heartstrings by the end; left out by her fellow characters, just like Ralph, there is more than a hint of Monsters Inc.'s Sulley and Boo here. Not a twosome as near as memorable, however Ralph and Vanellope are endearing enough to make you root for 'the Wreck-It guy' to aid the 'glitch' in realising her dreams of participating in a cup race...a true underdog story.

Wreck-It Ralph may not reach the heights of Pixar's best, but don't be fooled - this is still a cut above the rest, and superior to Disney's recent offerings Filled with references galore, laugh-out-loud quips and top-notch characterisation (including a homeless Q*bert,) this - as well as the charming pre-feature short Paperman - is an unadulterated joy to be shared with all.

This game is not over.