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Disliking actors

It’s safe to say that actors get more attention than any other position involved with making a movie. People like Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Julia Roberts, Tom Cruise and so on are mega-celebrities, household names and constantly in the public eye. Those of us who are more into film than the average movie-goer can rattle off the names of this director or that screenwriter, but most people tend to focus on the actors. The Descendants isn’t “the new Alexander Payne film.” It’s “the new George Clooney film.” This line of thinking often seeps back to critics and bloggers in a way. I can only speak for myself (though I see this in the writings of many people), but I know I certainly spend some time in my reviews talking about the actors. He was great, she was awesome, this guy did the best work of his career, etcetera. Even a brief cameo can be worth mentioning. But when was the last time I talked about, say, the sound mix of a movie? I don’t think I ever have, which seems unfair. The sound of a movie is always present, affecting me from beginning to end. And yet I’ll still be more inclined to mention the performance of an actor with 15 minutes of total screentime. I don’t have any real reason for this, other than the fact that it’s an established way of thinking that I rarely reflect over.

Since the actors is what many people care the most about when they see a film, they get a lot of passionate support. Everyone has their favorites, whether they’re Ryan Gosling, Robert De Niro, Catherine Deneuve, Tilda Swinton, Humphrey Bogart or what have you. The ones that make you want to see everything they’ve ever been in, or whose mention in the opening credits always puts a smile on your face.

"No no no no no no no!"

But then there’s the other side of the coin: the actors you hate. They keep popping up in movies you see, and you’re never impressed by them. You find them distracting, boring, annoying, overbearing. You wonder how they keep getting work and why people would pay to see them. Whether they’re leading stars or supporting players, you wish they would just retire. Some oft-mentioned targets for derision nowadays seem to be Megan Fox, Michael Cera and Shia LaBeouf. Others have more unusual dislikes. For instance, a real life friend of mine thinks Peter O’Toole is pretty much the worst thing in the world. To each their own.

I try to maintain a positive attitude as much as I can when it comes to film. That’s not to say that I won’t point out stuff I don’t like, but I do try to focus on the good things. This goes for acting too, especially since acting is a two-man job. A great performance is the result of a collaboration between the actor and the director. The director needs to convey just what it is they want from the actor. Some director-actor pairings just don’t function, because the people work in ways that don’t gel. Time constraints during shooting can mean that there’s just not enough time to get that one really great take. There can be many factors at play, and a lackluster performance can not always be blamed solely on the actor. Actors are among the many tools a director uses to craft a film. Is the hammer to blame when a nail bends? Some actors can shine in anything. Others need the right project and motivation. That doesn’t mean that the latter group is bad at what they do.

All I need from an actor to convince me that they have talent is one good performance. No matter how many hum-drum rom-coms Kate Hudson stars in, I’ll always have Almost Famous to remind me of how good she can be. Adam Sandler can be in as many unfunny films as he likes, because Punch-Drunk Love still tells me he has real chops. And while I went a long time thinking that Keira Knightley was pretty much useless, that changed once I got around to seeing Atonement. Another example: Keanu Reeves. Often described as wooden and life-less, but what if he had stuck to comedies a la Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, a film many seem to like him in? He’d be much more loved today, I reckon. On a side-note, I thought he was pretty good in Thumbsucker too.

Anna Faris. Not one of my favorites.

As such, there are few actors I find unbearable. Few, but they’re there. Two examples stand particularly tall – or low. One is Orlando Bloom, who is just boring as all hell. Boring in Lord of the Rings, boring in Pirates of the Caribbean, boring in Troy, boring boring boring. The other is Anna Faris, a particularly annoying example as she happens to be in my favorite film Lost in Translation. Her effort there isn’t terrible, but then it boils down to nothing but a caricature of Cameron Diaz (would it be unfair to label her entire career as that?) with maybe 5 minutes of total screen-time. She tends to stick to comedies, despite the fact that she’s never funny or charming. Even when she ventures out of that comfort zone to try out different stuff, the results aren’t pretty. Evidence A: her turn in quirky horror film May, where she plays a seductress with a tone so disconnected from the rest of the movie. Highly jarring, and a blight on what is otherwise a very fine film.

That said, I’d be happy to be proven wrong about both Bloom and Faris. If you know of any great performances they’ve turned in somewhere, please let me know.

What actor(s) do you dislike?

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Posted by on 22 March, 2012 in Discussions

 

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“Final” 2011 Oscars Predictions

I haven’t been keeping quite as close a look at the Oscars race this awards season as I have the last few years. I’m not entirely sure why this is, but the result is that I find it hard to make confident predictions in quite a few categories. And it’s not even like last year, where a lot of uncertainty basically boiled down to whether The King’s Speech or Alice in Wonderland would pick up the most arts and crafts wins, or just how strong The Social Network still was. This year, there are plenty of categories where I have trouble even boiling things down to two possible winners. Then again, I did really poorly with my guesses last year – thanks to overconfidence in The King’s Speech, stubborn and ill-conceived faith in Annette Bening, and those damn short categories – so perhaps being a bit aloof about things will turn out to be a blessing.

So for what it’s worth, here are my picks in the various categories. They’re final, unless I change my mind. My predicted winners are in BOLD CAPS.

BEST PICTURE

THE ARTIST
The Descendants
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
The Help
Hugo
Midnight in Paris
Moneyball
The Tree of Life
War Horse

Back in September when the race was still wide open, I made a baseless guess that the unseen War Horse would turn out to be the eventual Best Picture winner. At the end of 2011, The Artist had established itself as the front-runner, yet I had a hunch that it would run out of steam and not end up the victor. Well, here we are a few days away from the ceremony, and I have to concede that I was wrong on both of those occasions. It’s hard to see The Artist losing at this point.

BEST DIRECTOR

Woody Allen – Midnight in Paris
MICHEL HAZANAVICIUS – THE ARTIST
Terrence Malick – The Tree of Life
Alexander Payne – The Descendants
Martin Scorsese – Hugo

Most of the time, Best Picture and Best Director go hand in hand. Yet year after year, there’s always people predicting a split between the two. This is rarely wise, as when a split does happen, it’s always a major surprise – think Crash / Brokeback Mountain. So I’m playing it safe and going with Hazanavicius.

Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 22 February, 2012 in Oscars

 

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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?

 
18 Comments

Posted by on 24 January, 2012 in Oscars

 

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My Best Picture Oscar nomination predictions

Roughly in descending order of probability:

The Artist
The Descendants
The Help
Hugo
Moneyball
Midnight in Paris
War Horse
The Ides of March

The Ides of March is my “no guts, no glory” pick. It’s no fun being right if you just play it safe. I will probably have more to say Oscars-wise after the nominations are announced. Just putting my predictions up here so I can say “I told you so” later on.

 
11 Comments

Posted by on 24 January, 2012 in Oscars

 

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I’m making a list, to check twenty-twice…

As you may know, I haven’t made a Top 10 of 2011 list yet, for two reasons. 1: There have been so many of them published in the blogging world lately that mine wouldn’t add anything new to the discussions. 2: I just haven’t seen enough films for the list to really mean much. Such a list made now would nigh-assuredly look vastly different to the same list made a year from now. While it’s true that all ranked opinionated lists are fleeting by nature, this would probably be a particularly big shift.

So when will I have seen enough to make my list? I didn’t make my 2010 list until just this past September. It was right after catching up with Scott Pilgrim vs the World, which I then haphazardly decided was the last 2010 film I had really high hopes for. In hindsight, I could have waited a bit longer. I have since seen some movies that could might well have made it onto the Top 10, such as Easy A and Cyrus. While the latter wasn’t really on my radar at that point, I had been wanting to see Easy A for quite some time. I really should have held out for that one. It slipped my mind.

So for 2011, I’m getting organized. I have compiled a list of films I must see before making my Top 10 for the year. These are films I figure there’s a good chance I might really like, and thus would have a good shot at making my 2011 list. After some reminding research, I ended up with a collection of 22 movies. For some, it’s because they’re by a director whose prio work I admire. For others it’s because of the actors involved, an intriguing premise, strong word of mouth, or just a gut-feeling. Many are among the current slew of Oscar hopefuls.

By no means are these all the 2011 films I want to see, or the ones I’ll see before any others. Some haven’t been released here in Sweden yet. Many I’ll catch up with through rentals, so the randomness of Lovefilm will also play a part (unlike Netflix’s neatly ordered rental queues, Lovefilm only offers a tiered system of organizing). Also, this list was put together on the spur in 10 minutes or so. There might be films that have slipped by my attention, so there could be later additions.

Here is the current list in alphabetical order.

The Artist – because crowd-pleasers can be pleasing.

The Beaver – because as polarizing as the response has been, the premise fascinates me.

Bridesmaids – because it’s Judd Apatow.

Carnage – because it’s Roman Polanski.

A Dangerous Method – because why wouldn’t I want to see Keira Knightley get a beating?

The Descendants – because it’s Alexander Payne.

The Future – because I have never been able to forget Me and You and Everyone We Know.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – because while I think it’s an unnecessary idea, it’s still David Fincher doing a thriller.

Hanna – because it sounds fresh and people I trust have recommended it to me.

Horrible Bosses – because I’m a big fan of comedies and Kevin Spacey.

Hugo – because of a gut-feeling and Martin Scorsese.

The Ides of March – because of Ryan Gosling.

Martha Marcy May Marlene – because too many people have talked about it for too long for it not to be worth seeing.

Melancholia – because it’s Lars von Trier.

Rampart – because The Messenger showed great potential in the Oren Moverman, Woody Harrelson and Ben Foster trinity.

The Skin I Live In – because I can’t look at that poster without being thoroughly intrigued, plus I haven’t seen many Pedro Almodóvar films.

Sleeping Beauty – because I need more Emily Browning to wash the taste of Sucker Punch out of my mouth.

Submarine – because I like the main character’s coat.

Take Shelter – because I want to be prepared for the end of the world.

We Need to Talk About Kevin – because of Tilda Swinton.

Win Win – because the trailer made it seem so by-the-numbers, yet everyone has so much love for it.

Young Adult – because Jason Reitman seems incapable of making films that aren’t great.

What 2011 films do you still really want to see?

 
13 Comments

Posted by on 14 January, 2012 in Lists

 

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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

 
8 Comments

Posted by on 20 September, 2011 in Oscars

 

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