Feb 23, 2015

The morning after the Oscar night before

20/24 in a hard year — not bad. Of my four misses, I was most surprised by Big Hero Six winning. They really don't like sequels, huh? But still: a superhero origins story. I thought we were all against superheroes on this one night of the year. Pleasantly surprised Tom Cross won for Whiplash's editing, disappointed Chazelle didn't get adapted screenplay. (The Imitation Game is a truly terrible winner, even if expected). And puzzled Anderson didn't get original screenplay, even if Birdman's script is the sizzler. At one point the evening looked like the coronation of Wes Anderson ("Thank you Wes" being the rallying cry of the night). It will be remembered in this neck of the woods for Redmayne's squeal, NPH's strip, the number of boobs, underpants and skinny boys, Arquette's speech (and the cutaway to Streep), the constant self-reassurances that the Academy isn't racist, the dedication of both the top acting trophies to the degenerative neurological diseases of the subjects, that wonton act of cruelty involving The Sound of Music, and the genuinely nail-biting finish.

Feb 21, 2015

My Oscar picks 2015

'To start with the most hotly contested categories first. Best Picture is as close a race as can be between Birdman and Boyhood, two Davids in a field with no Goliaths. Birdman won all the guilds, Boyhood the BAFTAs. The Academy’s preferential ballot would seem to favor the more mild-mannered Linklater but its slightly fey, gentle spirit has always struck me as unlikely to close the deal with the steak-eaters, or Braveheart voters. Gun to head, I’m going to go with Birdman riding the same you-don’t-have-to-be-mad-to-work-here-etc spirit that helped Bob Fosse’s All That Jazz to its wins, making this the third best picture winner in a row set in the world of show business, after Argo and The Artist. Birdman is out there for the Academy, no question, but in the absence of any film addressing the state-of-the-nation or the way-we-live-now, maybe they’ll settle for a baring-of-the-showbiz-soul.   

Best Editing is usually a handmaiden of Best Picture but Birdman doesn't have a nomination — all those long, continuous takes were judged to have assembled themselves — so I expect it to go to Boyhood (and if it goes to the much-admired Whiplash instead, you can definitely count Boyhood out of the running for Best Picture).  Iñárritu will probably pick up the Best Director Oscar for Birdman, clearly a bravura directorial feat, as Gravity was last year.  The Mexicans seem to be owning this award at the moment, as they do cinematography: expect another win for Emmanuel Lubezki. And while one would normally favor Birdman’s Michael Keaton, too, for Best Actor — the academy have a having of siding with American veterans in any run-off with outsiders — Eddie Redmayne’s mixture of craft and emotion in The Theory of Everything gives him the edge. Just.' 
My picks for Intelligent Life:—

Will Win: Birdman
Could Win: Boyhood
Should Win: Birdman

Will Win: Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu
Could Win: Richard Linklater
Should Win: Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu

Will Win:  Julianne Moore
Could Win: —*
Should Win: Marion Cotillard

Will Win: Eddie Redmayne
Could Win: Michael Keaton
Should Win: Eddie Redmayne

Will Win:  J K Simmons
Could Win: —
Should Win: J K Simmons

Will Win: Patricia Arquette
Could Win:—
Should Win: Meryl Streep

Will Win: Boyhood
Could Win: Whiplash
Should Win: Whiplash

Will Win: Birdman
Could Win:—
Should Win: Birdman

Will Win: The Imitation Game
Could Win: Whiplash
Should Win Whiplash

Will Win: Grand Budapest Hotel
Could Win: Boyhood
Should Win: Grand Budapest Hotel

Will Win: Grand Budapest Hotel
Could Win: Into The Woods
Should Win: Grand Budapest Hotel

Will Win: Grand Budapest Hotel
Could Win: Into The Woods
Should Win: Grand Budapest Hotel

Will Win: Grand Budapest Hotel
Could Win: The Theory Of Everything
Should Win: Grand Budapest Hotel

Will Win: Selma
Could Win: —
Should Win: Selma

Will Win: American Sniper
Could Win: Interstellar
Should Win: Interstellar

Will Win: American Sniper
Could Win: Whiplash
Should Win: Whiplash

Will Win: Citizenfour
Could Win: Virunga
Should Win: Last Days in Vietnam

Will Win: Ida
Could Win: Leviathan
Should Win: Leviathan

Will Win: How to Train Your Dragon 2
Could Win: Big Hero Six
Should win: How to Train Your Dragon 2

Will Win: Interstellar
Could Win: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Should Win: Interstellar

Will Win:  Grand Budapest Hotel
Could Win: Guardians of the Galaxy
Should Win: Foxcatcher

Will Win: The Phone Call
Could Win: Our Curse
Should Win: Our Curse

Will Win: Feast
Could Win: The Dam Keeper
Should Win: The Dam Keeper

Will Win: Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1
Could Win: Joanna
Should Win: Our Curse

*— indicates a lock, meaning a win for someone else would constitute that rarest and loveliest of creatures, an Oscar Upset

What Hollywood sees in the mirror

'The Oscars are about self-image, picking a Best Picture that will act as an ambassador for the Hollywood filmmaking community. It’s about how the industry wishes to be seen. This year, the picture that emerges is a Dorian-Grey-like portrait of deep ambivalence.   Outside, it’s raining dragons and superheroes, but inside the comfort of the Kodak theatre it’s renegades, indies and mavericks, with the biggest haul of the night possibly going to Wes Anderson, the dauphin prince of corduroy quirk, for The Grand Budapest Hotel. Best Picture, meanwhile, has turned into ahead-to-head fight between  Linklater’s gentle, mild-mannered bildungsroman, Boyhood and Birdman, Alejandro González Iñárritu’s fabulous, nutty, bravura deconstruction of Hollywood’s superhero complex. The artistic redemption of those up to their elbows in blockbuster dollars is exactly what Iñárritu’s film is about, although one of the reasons the race has been so difficult to call is that both films represent the kind of critically acclaimed, left field pick that, in any other year, would be playing underdog to the studio’s 600lb goliath. In the absence of any such beast, the field is all underdogs — all Davids. Increasingly, the Oscars seem to be functioning almost as a kind of wish-fulfillment — a visit to an alternative universe where, for one night of the year, the industry can reward the very films it spent the other 364 days of the year coming up with watertight reasons not to make.'  
— from my piece about the Oscars and the disappearance of Hollywood's mid-budget movie for the Financial Times

Feb 15, 2015

My new Woody Allen top Ten

1. Annie Hall
2. Love and Death
3. Hannah and Her Sisters
4. Bullets Over Broadway
5. Zelig
6. The Purple Rose of Cairo
7. Manhattan
8. Manhattan Murder Mystery
9. Sleeper
10. Blue Jasmine
So I'm finally finished the text of my Woody Allen book and as is my won', I've drawn up a top ten list to contrast with the top ten I drew up before writing the book. And what can I say except: what was I smoking? Firstly, my deepest and most heartfelt apologies to Love and Death, inexplicably absent from the top ten the first time around and now tightly ensconced at number two. I first saw the film when I was nine and didn't remember much except the battle scenes and the fact that he dies at the end. The film seems to me the high water mark of Allen's pre Annie-Hall comic films —a real head rush of parody, pastiche and allusion, unashamed of its smarts — it's Allen at his most literary, but at the same time most accessible. It's no-brow. Hannah and Her Sisters: I'd misremembered this film, again seeing it at the wrong age. It's got novelistic density and detail, moves with the assurance of great cinema, with the most layered, complex tone of any of his films. Plus, it has Diane Wiest as Allen's his most appealing flake. She may even be my favorite leading lady of his. The other major mover is Blue Jasmine, which cracks the top ten with its tightness and fluency — you would never guess form it that this was the guy who labored over Interiors of September. Allen seemed to come full circle with that film — his tragic muse finally outpacing his comic one, while Jasmine is both Allen and Mia, wrapped in one. 

Feb 14, 2015


'One day, tracking shots that salalom around a maze of computer chips will look dated as montage shots of spinning newspapers, or those morse-code trails left by airplanes across maps in 1930s serials. Until then we have Blackhat, Michael Mann’s new cyber-thriller about hacking, a subject Hollywood has been trying to get right ever since Sandra Bullock ordered online pizza and accidentally tapped her way into an FBI mainframe in 1995’s The Net. From its opening scenes, in which an anonymous hacker brings down the cooling system of a Chinese nuclear plant, Blackhat announces itself as an ineffably superior beast, full of sotte voce chatter about “malware,” “remote access trojans” and “edge routers”, shots of pulsing dots swimming through fiber-optic cables and reluctant male warriors offering their profiles against   pixillated cityscapes suggestive of capitalism’s last stand. In other words, a Michael Mann movie. Our reluctant male warrior in this case is Nicholas Hathaway, a hacker languishing in high-security prison for relieving some banks of $46 million, though he is soon sprung by a US-Chinese coalition keen to use his expertise to track down the anonymous hacker — much like Hannibal Lecter in Manhunter, Mann’s adaptation of the Thomas Harris thriller Red Dragon. There, Lecter was played with cerebral suavety by Brian Cox. Here, Hathaway is played by super-hunk Chris Hemsworth, last seen swinging his hammer as Marvel’s Thor, a bold move on Mann’s against the stereotyping of computers nerds as overweight mole people. Whether audiences will buy what they get instead —which is to say, 200llbs of ripped Australian, whose bookshelves include Foucault and Derria and who pounds away at his computer keyboard with his shirt open three buttons to show an acreage of evenly tanned chest — will depend largely on how sun-kissed audiences will allow your average jailed computer hacker to be.' — from my review of Blackhat for Intelligent Life

One more and then I'm done

"... Shone’s reflections on Scorsese and his films are expressed with surprisingly lovely prose and demonstrate not only a great appreciation for the director’s work but an intimate understanding of what makes him tick, of the rhythm that beats beneath the surface of his films. In the chapter covering Goodfellas, he has this to say:“It marks Scorcese’s most ebullient performance as director, with editing, camerawork, and sound all working at full tilt to create a great, rolling, runaway ribbon of celluloid – cinema as guitar riff – that surges, chugs, and kicks like a Keith Richards guitar lick. ‘The moviemaking has such bravura you respond as if you were at a live performance,’ said Pauline Kael. ‘All you want to talk about is the glorious zigging camera, the freeze-frames and jump cuts. That may be why young film enthusiasts are so turned on by Scorcese’s work: They don’t just respond to his films, they want to be him.' Up to a point. That Steadicam shot through the Copacabana is a show-off piece of filmmaking, but it works because Henry himself is showing off in order to seduce Karen – so Scorcese seduces the audience, too. His exuberance is born of the vitality of his hoodlum antiheroes, who even as they dish out death are themselves full of life – vibrant, awful, vulgar life, with their wide suits and hot cars, their lacquered women and their terrible taste in home furnishings.” (page 149)" — Fourth and Sycamore

Feb 12, 2015


'Taylor-Wood has taken great care in the casting of her heroine: soft of voice, absent-minded of manner, Johnson manages to spill into scenes seeming both sleepy and flustered at the same time, as if she had gone to bed the night before knowing she was to star in a movie mainstreaming the pleasures of bondage porn, but had overslept and was now keen to get up to speed. What Christian does like to do — or certainly what he talks endlessly about doing, drawing up 20-page contracts which elaborate in power-point detail what he would like to do, if allowed — is to be found in what he calls his “play room”: red-velvet-lined vaulted deep in his penthouse kitted out with slings, harnesses, handcuffs, whips, and all manner of equipment seemingly on loan from the local circus.   “I thought you meant your x-box and stuff, says Anastasia, fuelling the delicious sense that both she and her director are in eye-rolling cahoots together against the resolute humorlessness of James’s book.  “Two things. I don’t make love. I fuck. Hard,” he tells her, leveling her with a particularly intense eyebrow-piercer.   “And the second?”  asks Anastasia, after a pause of such sustained magnificence that it hard not to fall just a little bit in love with her. I’m not sure how Johnsons’ career as the willing partner in middle-of-the-road sadomachistic fantasy is going to shape up, but somebody out to cast her in a comedy immediately.'  
— from my review of Fifty Shades of Grey for Intelligent Life

Feb 10, 2015

Finally, we have a race on our hands

'Even before the detection of Lou Gehrig’s disease while studying cosmology at Cambridge, Eddie Redmayne’s makes us acutely conscious of Stephen Hawking body in The Theory of Everything.  He inhabits it the same way small boys operate remote-controlled toys — with a mixture of offhandedness and feral concentration. His gangly frame is there to do his bidding, if he thinks about it at all. Shambling, shy and slouched of posture, hands shoved in pockets, he peers out from behind an unruly mop of hair, enunciating his words in a soft tumble, his mouth caught up in a crooked Cheshire cat grin, as if faintly abashed by his own brilliance.   Just how much of himself Redmayne brings to the role is was evident from his graceful turns at the podium at the Screen Actors Guild Awards, and, last night, BAFTA, where he picked up Best Actor. Finally we may have a race. That’ll teach me for complaining about how becalmed the Oscars were this year. The Oscar could still go to Michael Keaton — the academy have a habit of looking after their veterans — but Redmayne has been charming on the campaign trail, and the role of Hawking is  catnip to the actors who gave him the SAG and who make up the largest voting bloc of the academy — he spend the latter half the movie communicating emotion solely through his eyes. Together with a Julianne Moore win for Still Alice, an Oscar for Redmayne would make a clean sweep of the top acting awards for  degenerative neurological diseases' 
— my piece on the Oscar race for Intelligent Life