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Monthly Report: October + November 2013

Another month or two, another bunch of movies seen. October was a bit middling with few real highlights, but November picked up in a big way. November 11 in particular was a great day, with two 5/5 movies seen, something I don’t think has ever happened before. Good times.

Fright Night (Craig Gillespie, 2011)
A solid horror movie, albeit one with few surprises along the way. What I really liked about it was how the characters and their reactions felt largely believable. They filled standard parts for a horror film, but they did in such a way that they didn’t come off as mere archetypes. That was cool, and a spark of just the kind of thing I’d expect from the director of Lars and the Real Girl.
3/5

Room 237 (Rodney Ascher, 2012)
I wouldn’t take any of the theories on Stanley Kubrick‘s The Shining presented in this documentary as anything resembling facts, but it’s nonetheless quite fun to listen to people talk about something they’re passionate about and have devoted a lot of time to. It’s all fairly well executed and presented, but it does get a bit samey at times. Perhaps a shorter run time would have been a nice idea.
3/5

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God Bless America (Bobcat Goldthwait, 2011)
As subtle as a bowling ball, and roughly as sharp, but at its best, it’s a really funny black comedy; at its worst, it’s Goldthwait soap-boxing in the guise of 10 minutes long montages of TV parodies. It’s a good movie, but hardly a step forward from his previous film World’s Greatest Dad.
3/5

Good Bye Lenin! (Wolfgang Becker, 2003)
A sweet story combined with an interesting look at East Germany at the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall. While the basic premise of a lie that needs to be upheld is far from rare, the setting and earnestness makes it work here. A fun and fairly touching watch.
4/5

Magic Mike (Steven Soderbergh, 2012)
The acting is the strong point of the film, with Channing Tatum doing everything right in the lead and Matthew McConaughey putting in a supporting turn that’s charisma all the way through. The story is fine, but you’d expect a Soderbergh movie about male strippers to either have more to say, or at least put a fresher spin on things. There’s a lot of angles that could be explored here, and it feels like there’s plenty of missed opportunities. Not the director’s bravest effort.
3/5

A Nightmare on Elm Street (Wes Craven, 1984)
Very 80s-y. Freddy is more goofy than anything, and the ending is awful, but it does have its moments. Although not many.
2/5

The Eye (David Moreau & Xavier Palud, 2008)
Jessica Alba sees something scary and freaks out. Repeat a thousand times. Roll credits. Weak horror movie with a story that moves at a snail’s pace.
2/5

Avalon (Axel Petersén, 2011)
Kind of dry, like many Swedish films tend to be. Johannes Brost puts in a strong lead performance, and really shines when his character is stricken by guilt. Those scenes are the highlight of the film. The rest, I could take or leave. The ending is pretty but weak.
2/5

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Side Effects (Steven Soderbergh, 2013)
Twisty, tense and entertaining thriller that keeps you on your toes throughout. The antidepressant element of the plot helped introduce some welcome ambiguity to the proceedings, and Rooney Mara puts in a performance at least as good as the one in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Just a damn solid film.
4/5

The Innkeepers (Ti West, 2011)
Perhaps not so much a slow-burner as a late-starter, The Innkeepers lulls you into first thinking it’ll be one certain kind of horror film, only to carefully flip your expectations upside down – or at least 90°. By the end of it, the tension and atmosphere had me clutching my pillow tightly. Great pacing, wonderful execution, and a very compelling set of lead characters. Best horror film I’ve seen in quite some time.
4/5

Win Win (Tom McCarthy, 2011)
There’s little particularly new or noteworthy about the story and characters in this film, but fine execution goes a long way and makes this a solid and enjoyable watch regardless. With a lesser cast, this could have turned out really weak.
3/5

Martha Marcy May Marlene (Sean Durkin, 2011)
While there’s a lot to like about this film, the best reason to see it is to witness Elizabeth Olsen‘s terrific performance in the leading role. There’s a lot of tricky emotions at play for her character, and she nails it all. The rest of the movie can’t really hope to match it fully, but that says more about Olsen than anything else. It’s a fascinating character study, as much about paranoia as about cult life, and while the ending really caught me off guard, it did so in a way that made me reevaluate what the film was really trying to say. And that’s fine. As is the movie.
4/5

The Guard (John Michael McDonagh, 2011)
Brendan Gleeson is in fine form here, playing a somewhat grumpy policeman. He and Don Cheadle have plenty of fun interactions with one another, rising above your usual “buddy cop” routines. The plot itself might be somewhat familiar, but that’s not what you should be here for; the Irishness of both the humor and the tone is what makes the film stand out.
4/5

We Need to Talk About Kevin (Lynne Ramsay, 2011)
The opening scene had me immediately enthralled. 10 minutes in, I had found 10 or so things about this film I really loved. And then it just kept on going at that same high level. A horrific tale to be sure, but it’s impossible to tear one’s eyes from the screen. A top-notch performance by Tilda Swinton, and Ramsay’s directing is flawless. Had I seen this when I was first getting into movies some years ago, it would have blown my damn mind. Even watching it now, it still does.
5/5

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Gravity (Alfonso Cuarón, 2013)
I wasn’t all that enamored by Cuarón’s much-beloved previous film Children of Men, finding it visually impressive but sterile to a fault in terms of story and characters. I was thus a bit wary of Gravity, in spite of all the praise it has been receiving. Well, Gravity is good. It’s really good. Great, in fact. The visuals are certainly the highlight here too, but they’re combined with solid characters (Sandra Bullock has probably never been better), thematic food-for-thoughts, and more suspense and excitement than you can shake a stick at. Wonderful.
5/5

Headhunters (Morten Tyldum, 2011)
Cool Norwegian thriller that ramps up and transforms as it moves along. Some of the more comedic parts feel a bit out of place, but that’s about the only major gripe I have with the film. Everything else is pulled off really well, which makes for a captivating ride.
4/5

Skyfall (Sam Mendes, 2012)
Exhilarating action scenes, solid plot and characters, interesting theme of old vs new, expert pacing, and visually stunning. That last thing is almost done to a fault, as there were times when the flashy cinematography took me out of the moment. Overall, however, this is a very fine action film, one of my favorite Bond movies, and another winner from Sam Mendes.
4/5

Six Degrees of Separation (Fred Schepisi, 1993)
Six Degrees of Separation somewhat fails to get its point across, and the transition from stage to screen is not a particularly smooth one. Whether Will Smith is just ill-suited for this kind of theater material or whether it was just too early in his career for him to tackle it, I’m not sure. He’s not bad, but his part is one that ought to sparkle, and it doesn’t here. The cast is fine for the most part, though the acting is lacking in “oomph” until Stockard Channing‘s big emotional scene towards the end.
2/5

Total # of new films seen: 18
Average score: 3.4 / 5
Best film of the months: We Need to Talk About Kevin
Worst film of the months: The Eye

 
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Posted by on 1 December, 2013 in Monthly Report

 

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When Worlds Collide: Why The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is strange to this Swede

Note: You might want to check out my proper review for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo before continuing reading this post.

In a filmed interview with David Fincher for Sweden’s leading newspaper Aftonbladet, the reporter made mention of the fact that the director’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was the most expensive movie production to have ever taken place in Sweden. Fincher seemed genuinely surprised and expressed embarassment over this, as though the thought had never crossed his mind. For him, a film with a budget of $90 million didn’t seem like a big deal – although to be fair, he does go on to say that he hates how making a film has to be such a huge project. Regardless: In Sweden, numbers like $90 million are unheard of. This country I call myself a citizen of has never been a hotspot for foreign filmmakers, least of all those in Hollywood. When George Clooney came here a few years ago to shoot the 10 minute opening segment for Anton Corbijn‘s The American, it was enough to garner nation-wide news coverage. And that was for a short sequence in a comparatively small arthouse-y film.

Every Swede recognizes this.

So a big-time American production like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo being made entirely in Sweden is rare. I can honestly say that watching the film was a unique experience for me, although not necessarily in a good way. Here we have Mr. James Bond himself, Daniel Craig, watching a news report on the Swedish channel TV4 with its classic logo on screen. Now he’s in his office, with the traditional Swedish Christmas candelabras in the windows. Oh look, now he’s bording a train with the national railways company SJ’s logo on it. At times, the framing of certain shots seemed to be deliberately emphasizing these things so iconic to us Swedes. Maybe that’s just my imagination playing tricks on me, but the end result was a mild sense of distraction. Why do all this? As easter eggs to the Swedish viewers? As I noted in my review of the film, all these details make for a very accurate depiction of Sweden, but it’s weird having them side by side with a big foreign star like Craig.

More annoying were the inconsistencies with regards to written text. Throughout the film, you see plenty of books lying around. These have Swedish titles clearly printed on the front. Fine. But then there are plenty of newspaper clippings where everything is written in English. I get that the articles and headlines are more important to the story than some random books that are essentially just set decoration, and that it’s crucial to convey their message to the audience, but it quickly became another source of distraction. There are other things as well that suffer the same fate, such a news report on TV towards the end of the film where a large sum of money is mentioned. The money is measured in euro, again to give foreign viewers some idea of the quantities being discusses. Nevermind that Sweden hasn’t adopted the euro as currency and that we still use our old krona, which is the currency money is measured in in real news reports. This is admittedly a minor quibble, though.

And then we have the spoken language, which is always problematic in English-language films set in non-English-speaking countries. I have never been a fan of the “English with an accent” approach that’s often utilized. All too often, the character gets lost in the dialect to the point where the dialect becomes the character and everyone sounds exactly the same. One example of many is The Illusionist (2006), set in Austria around year 1900 where everyone speaks English with (I assume) Austrian-sounding accents. Yes, I get why the English language is used: because Americans hate reading subtitles. But filtering English through accents adds no sense of immersion for me, because I’m still fully aware that the characters wouldn’t be speaking the language at all. I would be much happier if the actors would just use their normal voices instead, as that way they’d be able to provide more nuances to their characters. I suppose that’s why I have never been bothered by Kevin Costner‘s performance in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves like so many others have. He hardly ever bothers to use a British accent in that film, instead speaking in a voice more comfortable to him which allows him to exhibit a bit more range.

So The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo takes place in Sweden with Swedish characters who speak English. I’ll concede that this film uses the method better than most do. The Swedish supporting actors all do a fine job with this. The oldies speak English the way old Swedish people tend to speak English – with a particularly jagged accent referred to by some younger Swedes as “politician English”, after a long line of Swedish ministers who have learned the language in school but never spoken it much until they find themselves at international conferences and such. Then you have some characters in the film who speak it a bit more smoothly, such as Martin Vanger (played by Swedish actor Stellan Skarsgård). This I can buy, as that character struck me as the type who might have more international connections than others and is thus more well-versed in English. Daniel Craig doesn’t bother with a whole lot of accent either, which again I’m fine with; his character Mikael is a journalist who has presumably spent a lot of time researching and interviewing people from foreign countries. This isn’t explicitly stated, but I can believe that. But then we have Rooney Mara in the central role of Lisbeth Salander, who is definitely heavily accented but in a “wrong” way. Hers is either a massively failed attempt at sounding Swedish, or a subtle hint at future developments in the planned trilogy. I know that nobody in this film makes any mention of her odd way of speech, though.

Another confusing language issue: nobody ever says “cheers” or “toast” when drinking in the film. They all say “skål”, the Swedish equivalent. Only to then revert immediately back to English. Puzzling. Another small thing like that is a particular greeting Lisbeth uses as she enters her and Mikael’s base of operations a few times: “hej hej” she says, which is certainly a Swedish greeting but one that A: doesn’t quite fit the character, and B: is another out-of-place Swedish expression used amid all the English.

This might all seem like nit-picking. It probably is. None of it is likely to have much effect on the enjoyment of the film for non-Swedes, and Swedes are but a small percentage of the total audience for this film. As I’ve said repeatedly throughout this post, I understand why most of these things are in the movie. That’s why I didn’t make any mentions of them in my review. I don’t know how much these distractions influenced my fairly negative opinion of the film. I’d like to think that I was able to look past them. I certainly had issues with the film that weren’t related to the minor details.

Should I care about these things at all when I’m often willing to look past them in movies set in other countries? Amélie is one of my favorite films, yet French people have criticized it for its lack of colored characters when it’s set in Montmartre, a highly multicultural part of Paris. I find Amélie to be a wonderful film regardless. I’ve never been to France. There is nothing in the film that conflicts with the world as I have experienced it myself. Can I justify Jean-Pierre Jeunet‘s decision to not have any character in Amélie have dark skin? No. But I can easily ignore it.

Ignoring things does not make them go away, though. The difference between inaccuracies in Amélie and ones in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is that I’m acutely aware of the ones in the latter due to personal experience, whereas those in the former I only learned about from external sources. As I said earlier in this post, foreign movies being set and filmed in Sweden is extremely rare. I’ve never had a reaction to a film before like I did with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. This is why I chose to write this blog post.

Maybe this isn’t something that interests you, but it interests me. I like finding out others’ views on films set near where they live. I would love to know what Iraqis thought of Three Kings. What Jordanians thought of Body of Lies. What Spaniards thought of Vicky Cristina Barcelona. By learning about other people’s opinions, I can see the world in different lights.

Even if it is just over small details in a film.

A closing note: Many reviews of Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo compare it to the Swedish film from 2009. I chose not to do that in my review, saying that since Fincher’s is a readaptation rather than a remake, it deserves to be judged on its own merits. It does. I will say here that I liked the Swedish movie much better, although this later film has made me question whether the first one really was as good as I first thought, seeing as some of the flaws appear in both of them. I will also say that Rooney Mara’s Lisbeth, while its own character, is far less intriguing than the one played by Noomi Rapace. The American movie doesn’t do enough things different from the Swedish one to really warrant its existance. I hope Fincher doesn’t sign on for the sequels. There are better things he could use his talent on. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo felt like a big enough waste of time as it is.

 
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Posted by on 26 January, 2012 in Misc.

 

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Review – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

David Fincher has in the past shown that he is a master of the modern thriller, and his films have often been soaked with tangible atmosphere. Seven was so filthy and grim that I felt as though I would never be clean again. The same goes for Fight Club, where further ambience was added by it being viewed by a protagonist whose mind was frayed by insomnia. The Game played the paranoia card, putting me right in there with Michael Douglas‘ character, having me wonder where the danger is and whether it was real or just, in fact, part of the game. The more subdued Zodiac concerned itself more with the mystery of the murders, constantly egging me on and telling me there was more beneath the surface, a lurking darkness threatening to destroy the lives of the people investigating it from both the outside and from within. Even Fincher’s comparatively weaker thrillers like Panic Room and the disowned Alien 3 had tension to spare.

So what the hell happened?

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is cold and unwelcoming, yes. This is fine. These can be useful qualities for the genre. What is lacking is a sense of danger, an air of uncertainty, and a driving force to push the story along and me along with it. There are scenes with bite, but for the most part this is a toothless thriller from a man who used to be all fangs.

Set in Sweden, the story of the film revolves around a mystery: Who killed Harriet? The daughter of wealthy Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer), she disappeared 40 years ago. Henrik is convinced that someone in his family murdered her. This doesn’t seem far-fetched; the Vangers are essentially a bunch of loners and Nazis, says Henrik. The killer keeps sending him a gift every year on Harriet’s birthday: a simple flower painting. Someone is toying with him.

To figure out the mystery, he enlists journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig). Mikael, recently convicted of libel againt a corrupt businessman, is reluctant to accept the job but realizes that he needs the money now that his career is in jeopardy. More importantly, the well-connected Henrik promises him information that would prove his innocence. Mikael isn’t the sole protagonist, though. A young hacker by the name of Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) also figures into the story. It takes a while before she encounters Mikael proper in the movie, but she eventually helps him with the investigation. Keeping the two leads apart like this for almost the entire first hour is a smart move, as it allows us to get to know their characters and understand what’s at stake for them as individuals, rather than as a unit.

Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander

A big draw of the story – which has been told before in Stieg Larsson‘s novel and in Niels Arden Oplev‘s Swedish film from 2009 – has always been the character of Lisbeth. Dressed in black with multiple piercings and tattoos, constantly on guard against the world, and with a troubled past. Strong-willed but slight in stature, keeping a lid on her words until she needs to make a point. By having a lesser-known actress like Rooney Mara play the role, it’s easy for us to accept her as a proper person. Regardless, I am not fully wowed by her performance. She plays the bottled-up aspects well enough, managing to be oddly intriguing despite her pricklinees. It’s the scenes where she has to show strength and wrath that I don’t fully buy into. Meanwhile, her co-star Daniel Craig has problems of his own. The character Mikael is a more conventional one, almost an every-man albeit with a sharp and honed intellect. Craig is a fine actor, but one who rarely manages to fully disappear into a role. There are times when he comes off as too strong. Too stoic. Too James Bond. I never get the sense that he’s in danger. If this sounds overly harsh, it’s not by intention. Both performances are overall serviceable.

There are bigger issues I have with the film. One is that the solving of the mystery isn’t handled very coherently. We’re introduced to suspects at a rapid pace. Clues are discovered and delved into rapidly. Mikael and Lisbeth interview old witnesses and police officers, examine newspaper clippings and study bible quotes. Often presented in speedy montages, I found it hard to keep track of the connections, the whos and the whats. When they arrive at a likely culprit, I was wondering how they got there. More importantly, I was questioning whether they knew how they got there. For a film where solving the case is the central focus of the story, this is a serious flaw.

The climax of the film is handled well. However, the film sputters along for a good 20-30 minutes after that. Tying up loose ends of the case is fully acceptable, yes, but there is a lot of stuff going on there that seemingly has more to do with the overarching plot of the trilogy rather than the story of this first film. It’s likely that these parts will feel more warranted as the two sequels arrive, but for now, it makes for an odd sense of pacing towards the end. I was ready for the end credits to roll a good 15 minutes before they did.

Again, I fear this review has come off as too negative-sounding. There are things I like about the film. Most of the supporing performances are good, with Plummer as the stand-out. Here’s Henrik, an old man who recognizes the importance of being hospitable even when under personal stress, who has had a successful career and knows how to get things done. And yet there’s a slight glimmer in his eyes that makes me think he knows more than he lets on, no matter how jovial and open he seems. It’s a strong showing from the veteran actor, making me all the more eager to check out his awards-toted performance in Beginners. Another one who impresses is Yorick van Wageningen, who plays Lisbeth’s newly appointed guardian Per Bjurman. His character is not one of nuances but a complete monster, and it’s imperative that we hate him. The script does half the job for him, but there is no denying the sleaziness he brings to the part. You might say a one-note character requires less effort to play, but that one note needs to be played to its fullest possible effect. van Wageningen holds nothing back.

While I didn’t feel much tension in the film, I can’t fault the score for it. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross have crafted a solid soundtrack here, one which at times becomes quite palpable and provides a raw texture to the movie. I’m one of the seemingly few who never noticed their acclaimed work on The Social Network while I watched that film. This certainly didn’t happen here. Another thing I need to give serious props for is the way Fincher and company have captured Sweden. Every design choice, every item in every frame is spot-on, from the candelabras in the windows to the news presentations on TV. Everything looks just as it should, so a bravo is in order.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is not a terrible movie by any means, but it is a lukewarm one. Had this come from a less accomplished director, it would be understandable. But this is David Fincher, a director who has proved himself to be in possession of great talent and a keen eye. Considering this, the film becomes almost baffling. What was he going for here? Why did he choose such a cold and distant tone for a story wrought with intense violence and evil? Why is the investigation process such a mess when he did it so well and intriguingly in Seven and Zodiac? Why why why indeed.

Score: 2/5

There. That’s my formal review of the movie, where I of course have offered my subjective opinion of it but while doing my best to view it from a fair and unbiased point of view. I have refrained from comparing it to the Swedish movie, because there’s no reason to. This is a readaptation of a book I haven’t read, not a remake of a film I have seen, so it deserves to be judged on it own merits. There is a lot more I have to say, however. It doesn’t suit the tone I want in my reviews, but expect another blog post on it either later today or tomorrow.

UPDATE:  Here it is.

 
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Posted by on 26 January, 2012 in Reviews

 

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Why I remain zen about the Oscars nominations

Me on Twitter, being a fool

Click here for a full list of the Oscar nominations.

As I was watching the live stream of the Oscar nominations announcement, here is what went through my head:

“Wow, this is fun. A screenplay nod for A Separation, Rooney Mara getting nominated for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Tree of Life up for both Best Picture and Best Director, Gary Oldman finally scoring his first acting nomination… A fair share of surprises and interesting oddities. I bet there’s going to be a lot of happy people on the internet today.”

Re-read that last sentence. Yeah, I don’t know what I was thinking either.

Of course everyone was angry. My Twitter feed quickly filled up with outcry about what was snubbed, what undeservedly got in, and how the Academy members are a bunch of idiots with no taste. “Why no love for Drive!?” “No Michael Fassbender!? #OscarsFail” “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close for Best Picture!? #lol #smh” “Melissa McCarthy and Jonah Hill are now Oscar nominees? Kill me now.” “Transformers: Dark of the Moon – 3 nominations. Shame – ZERO. WTF?” “Somewhere in a bar, Tilda Swinton is drowning her sorrows. What the HELL, AMPAS?”

I do not begrudge people for being passionate about films they love. It’s what being a movie fan is all about. Here it was mostly expressed in negative ways, however. Many were happy about so-and-so being nominated for this-or-that, but a majority of the comments I read were focused on complaining about the nods and snubs they disagreed with. It got a bit tiresome. Surely we should be celebrating the good stuff instead of dwelling on the bad, no? But whatever. Everyone is entitled to their opinion.

Speaking of opinions: did you know that they’re subjective? And that there’s no such thing as “right” or “wrong” when it comes to taste? And that not everyone likes the same stuff that you do? And that the Academy members are people with their own opinions?

I like awards season. At times, I even love it. But it’s for the brain, not for the heart. I like seeing the ebb and flow of the race, sussing out which films have buzz going for them, spotting the dark horses, and trying to determine which of my hunches should be followed up on. This is completely separated from how I feel about the movies themselves. The truth is that I haven’t seen most of the films nominated for anything yet. Hell, I’ve only seen two of the Best Picture nominees at this point: Midnight in Paris and The Help, both of which I enjoy but wouldn’t put on my own ballot were I an Academy member. Don’t take my lack of personal viewing as a reason for why I remain so detached, though. I was more caught up last year and had more horses I loved in the race, and I still had no problem remaining zen about the nominations.

The Academy voters like what they like. There is no reason for me to be neither overjoyed nor sad if their opinions do or do not match my own. I don’t need Nicolas Winding Refn to be nominated for Best Director to know that I thought Drive was a great piece of movie-making. I thought Super 8 had jaw-dropping visual effects and a teriffic performance by young Elle Fanning, but I’m fine with AMPAS not nominating that film for anything. And the fact that Corey Stoll wasn’t nominated in Best Supporting Actor for playing Ernest Hemingway in Midnight in Paris doesn’t mean he didn’t steal in the film in my eyes.

If there is such a thing as “objectively good film” – and I doubt it more for each passing year – it’s clear that the Academy voters don’t concern themselves too much with the concept. I assume that’s what gets people so riled up: that “Best Picture” is supposed to go to what is objectively the year’s best movie – hence the outrage that Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close was surprisingly nominated when most critics found it lacking. It’s currently at 48% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, a fact that many people have cited the past few hours. Many haven’t seen it themselves, probably because of the lukewarm critical reception and, if I may be a bit presumptious, because it was written off as not likely to score any Oscar nominations.

But now more people probably will check it out, if only to see if it’s “worthy” of its Best Picture nomination. Which brings me to the good aspect of awards season: the way it brings attention to movies that otherwise wouldn’t be seen by as many. If not for awards season, there’s little chance that something like The Artist – a French black & white silent film – would have ever been talked about outside of hardcore cinephile circles. Smaller films from previous years like An Education and Winter’s Bone also garnered more attention thanks to the whole Oscars thing, which has lead to more interesting roles being available for their stars Carey Mulligan and Jennifer Lawrence. The Oscars and other awards ceremonies can thus do good things for movies. Perhaps this is why many people get so emotionally invested. We all want the films we love to be seen by as many as possible. Both for the sake of people seeing good movies, and so that the men and women who made them will gain added exposure and be allowed to make more great films in the future. Still, the point is diluted when you go from “I hope Fassbender gets nominated so that he’ll get more awesome roles” to “By snubbing Fassbender, AMPAS once again proves that their members have their heads up their asses.”

To me, words like “worthy” and “deserving” tend to be misused in Oscars discussions. It’s a contest to get the most votes from the Academy members. If you do well in this contest, you get in. That’s the mark of being deserving of an Oscar nomination. I get what people are saying, though: this or that movie does not deserve to be called one of the best films of the year. What I feel often goes wrong is that the sentiment gets warped by the wording and context. A movie can be worthy of attention, accolades and acclaim in our eyes, yes. But what tends to be conveyed instead is that “this film does not deserve to be liked by the Academy members”, which is something I don’t think we have any right to say.

By all means, express love for the films you adore and spew bile on the films you hate. You are definitely entitled to. Your opinion is as important and valid as anyone’s. But allow the same courtesy to the Academy members. They’re often the same people who make the movies you enjoy seeing.

A few closing notes on the nominations…

Max von Sydow

  • A big congratulation goes out to my fellow Swede Max von Sydow, who got an unexpected Best Supporting Actor nomination for Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. It’s always nice to see Swedish actors recognized internationally.
  • Drive, which I’ve seen at the top of more 2011 Top 10 lists than any other film, got its sole nomination in the Best Sound Editing category. 12 years ago, this very same fate befell another film with lots of devoted fans: Fight Club. They both made roughly the same amount of money at the box office, too.
  • It has been 30 years since a film won Best Picture without also being nominated for Best Editing. If this holds true this year too, there are only four conceivable Best Picture winners: The Artist, The Descendants, Hugo, and Moneyball.
  • Yes, Transformers: Dark of the Moon got three nominations: Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Visual Effects. Don’t be upset about how it doesn’t deserve to call itself an Oscar nominee. The Oscars are meant to reward great crafts work within their respective fields. The overall quality of the film is irrelevant.

What nomination were you the happiest over?

 
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Posted by on 24 January, 2012 in Oscars

 

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Things I wonder about in films

What’s going on in all the windows on Jeff’s side of the yard in Rear Window? We only get to see what happens across from him.

In Crank, how does Chelios get into the swimming pool on the roof of a bad guy’s building without any of the security guards noticing?

Just when the hell is it safe to feed a mogwai if you can’t do it “after midnight”? I know they touched on this in Gremlins 2, but there’s still no answer.

Primer. In general.

Has Brian Cox ever been young?

If Lloyd and Harry in Dumb & Dumber are such morons, how do they come up with that clever ploy to get back at Sea Bass in the diner? It’s pretty much the only smart thing they do in the entire film.

In Demolition Man, they mention that the 61st amendment allows naturalized citizens to become president. So what are all the other new amendments about?

Why is La Padite chopping at a tree stump at the beginning of Inglourious Basterds?

In Drive, why are the strippers so calm during the hammer scene?

What is that accent Rooney Mara is using in the trailer for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo? It’s certainly not Swedish.

 
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Posted by on 10 December, 2011 in Misc.

 

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Some Oscars thoughts this early in the race

With Venice, Toronto and Telluride over and done with, awards season is underway. This is always a fun time of the year for me as a movie fan, so I’m sure I’ll be chiming in as the journey to the Kodak Theatre progresses. What fascinates me is of course the films themselves (though I won’t be seeing any of them anytime soon myself, unfortunately), but also the race. The PR strategies employed by the studios. The jockeying for position. The films that fail to gain traction despite heavy pre-hype. The contenders that arrive from out of nowhere. Trying to gauge the Academy’s taste is something people often say is easy to do (hence the idea of Oscar bait), but AMPAS can be very fickle indeed. Always be prepared for the unexpected.

But it’s very early in the race, and speculating about what’s going to win at this point still seems a bit premature to me, especially considering all the films that haven’t been seen by anyone yet. As I said, I haven’t seen any of the films myself, and I don’t have any juicy inside info to offer. There are other sites than mine that offer more up-to-date news and analyses of the whole thing (I highly recommend In Contention).

So what do I have to offer Oscars-wise at this time? Just my own random thoughts and observations.

We still have no clear frontrunner for Best Picture, which is a pleasant development. Anything can still happen. By this time last year, The King’s Speech was the film to beat already (though doubts would arise as the year came to a close). Same with Slumdog Millionaire three years ago. But now there’s still life in the race. The Descendants is looking strong so far, but it’s a comedy, and AMPAS are generally reluctant to give films like that their big prize. There’s summer’s big surprise hit The Help, but it’s going to need a good push to stay fresh in people’s minds. Political drama The Ides of March seems like it would be right up the Academy’s alley, but it has met with solid-but-not-great critical reception. The Tree of Life remains a big question mark. And there are plenty of big ones still unseen, such as Clint Eastwood‘s J. Edgar, Stephen Daldry‘s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and Steven Spielberg‘s War Horse.

Gary Oldman, Oscar hopeful

In contrast, the Best Actor field seems to be stabilizing somewhat. George Clooney (The Descendants), Jean Dujardin (The Artist) and Gary Oldman (looking for a long overdue first nomination for Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy) have all gotten the necessary praise and seem safe bets, along with recently unveiled Moneyball‘s Brad Pitt. And barring a complete flop by J. Edgar, Leonardo DiCaprio appears likely to join them. Who could oust any of them? Michael Fassbender, for one. Both Shame and A Dangerous Method could do it for him. Ryan Gosling maybe, whether it’s through Drive or The Ides of March.

Speaking of Drive, I have no idea what it will have any chance at being nominated for. Critics have loved the hell out of it, but what branches of the Academy will take a liking to it? Maybe none at all. I could easily see that happening.

People have been talking for way too long about how Best Actress will come down to Glenn Close vs Meryl Streep. The latter’s The Iron Lady still hasn’t shown, but I’d put my money on Close of the two. There’s a better story to be told with her winning for Albert Nobbs. Hopefully something will heat up this discussion though, because it’s been stale for months. I’m hoping for a late resurgence of Tilda Swinton love myself. What happened to We Need to Talk About Kevin anyway?

And what’s going to happen to Woody Allen‘s Midnight in Paris? It raked in more money at the box office than any of the director’s previous films and was being called the first possible Best Picture contender of the year. But therein lies the problem: it arrived way back in spring. What can be done to keep it in the running? An Original Screenplay nod seems likely, in any case.

Not happening.

Remember when people were talking about Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2, Super 8 and Rise of the Planet of the Apes as possible Best Picture nominees? Oh the joys of summer speculating. None of them seem very likely anymore, do they?

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo seems to be a return to his dark 90s thriller roots for David Fincher. Which is great, because those movies of his were excellent. Don’t expect the Academy to fawn all over it, though. They were very happy to ignore Fincher until he started playing to their tastes with The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. I am not expecting The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo to be an Oscars contender at all, except possibly for star Rooney Mara.

Pixar’s Cars 2 made tons of money this summer but is by far the studio’s worst received film yet. This means that their usual playground Best Animated Feature might be an exciting category for once. Will The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn strike gold, or will its motion capture make the Academy deem it ineligible? If that one’s out of the running, Rango might be the horse to beat.

Nobody’s talking about Sweden’s submission to the Best Foreign Language Film category, Pernilla August‘s Beyond (Svinalängorna). We haven’t won that Oscar since 1983. I don’t think that’ll change this time around.

Finally, some largely baseless early Oscars picks. Please don’t hold me to these even a week from now. I’m just guessing. I still reserve rights to proudly proclaim “I told you so!” if I happen to be right, however.

Best Picture: War Horse

Best Director: Steven Spielberg – War Horse

Best Actor: Brad Pitt – Moneyball

Best Actress: Glenn Close – Albert Nobbs

Best Supporting Actor: Nick Nolte – Warrior

Best Supporting Actress: Shailene Woodley – The Descendants

Best Adapted Screenplay: The Descendants

Best Original Screenplay: J. Edgar

Best Animated Feature: Rango

Best Foreign Language Film: Poland – In Darkness

 
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Posted by on 20 September, 2011 in Oscars

 

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