Oscar Night Musings

As the countdown to Hollywood’s most glamorous and illustrious of nights draws steadily to a close, film fans the world over are keenly speculating which of the year’s films and actors will be going home with the ultimate in cinematic accolades. Sadly for myself (and millions of other film fans who find themselves on the wrong side of the Atlantic), I will have to patiently await reading the results in tomorrow’s morning paper- bound to brighten up the Monday morning commute, unless Whiplash wins Best Picture, in which case I would strongly advise everyone avoid contact with me until at least mid day.

So in the spirit of idle speculation, here are my predictions for the main categories in this year’s Academy Awards:

Best Picture (Boyhood, Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance, American Sniper, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game, Selma, The Theory of Everything, Whiplash)

Fortunately this category is not solely judged on box office success. Was this the case, Clint Eastwood’s ‘war porn’ feature American Sniper would be the hands down winner of Best Picture having taken a whopping $300 million at the US Box Office- a figure that continues to rise. Sadly, I feel this commercial success speaks more to the stark American brand of patriotism rather than a discerning cinema viewing public. In addition, the film has been widely criticised by many as propagating  xenophobic violence against Muslims. Personally, I don’t think this film should be featured in this category at all- but the gun totting masses of the US have undeniably spoken.

The general consensus of most media speculation seems to be pitting Boyhood and Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) against each other in a two horse race as far as this category (and that of Best Director) are concerned. Personally, I would be happy with either walking away with this award, however I feel that Boyhood deserves this win through its sheer unabashed ambition and bravery. The commitment and love dedicated to this 12 year project is ground breaking and marks a pivotal moment in film making. The film manages to simultaneously be about nothing all that extraordinary and yet encapsulate everything that it means to be alive; capturing the human experience in all its mundane splendour and providing a cinematic time capsule of history, documenting the past with the urgency awarded by it being filmed when it was current. It truly is the most deserving film  in this category, and at the risk of embarking on a Kanye West-eqsue tirade on the ‘importance of creativity’- this film really has broken the mould of classical film making practice and it would be a huge injustice for it not to be recognised as such. 

Best Director (Alejandro G. Iñárritu for Birdman or (The Unexplained Virtue of Ignorance), Richard Linklater for Boyhood, Bennett Miller for Foxcatcher, Wes Anderson for The Grand Budapest Hotel, Morten Tyldum for The Imitation Game)

Again, the hot contenders in this category seem to be Alejandro G. Iñárritu for his deliriously surreal theatre satire Birdman and Richard Linklater for Boyhood. Again, both directors are enormously deserving of the gong, but in this category I would like to see the award go to Iñárritu. Where Linklater broke the rules of film making in terms of the time line of production itself (the spasmodic creation of the script and the film itself) in Birdman we see Iñárritu play with the conventional narrative structure of cinema, and demonstrate innovative verve and creativity in the seamlessness of the film, appearing to have been shot in one single take. The film is acerbic, electrifying and wholly original- with all the makings of a cult classic; and as such has fostered a dramatic split in opinion. It seems to be somewhat of an acquired taste, whereas Boyhood appears to have profited unanimous praise from critics, peers and viewers alike. Time will tell.

Best Actor (Steve Carrell in Foxcatcher, Bradley Cooper in American Sniper, Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game, Michael Keaton in Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything)

While I feel that the British offerings at this year’s Academy Awards may be overlooked in the coveted Best Film and Best Director categories, the Best Actor gong sees fierce competition emerging from across the pond. While it’d be satisfying to see Keaton win the award for his madcap performance in Birdman, I feel this year’s deserving winner surely should be Eddie Redmayne for his outstanding, compassionate and unflinching portrayal of Professor Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything. While fellow Brit Benedict Cumberbatch delivered a credible performance in The Imitation Game, Redmayne’s performance is extraordinary in its all consuming physicality as he captures the stages of Hawking’s life with unrivalled realism. 

Best Actress ( Marion Cotillard in Two Days, One Night, Felicity Jones in The Theory of Everything, Julianne Moore in Still Alice, Rosamund Pike in Gone Girl, Reese Witherspoon in Wild)

Julianne Moore will undoubtedly go down in Hollywood history as being the actress most repeatedly and inexplicably snubbed for the best actress Oscar. It seems absurd that an actress of such longevity and versatility, and who possesses such discerning judgement when choosing her roles would be passed over time and time again in this category. Perhaps this will finally be her year, as her sympathetic and honest portrayal of a sufferer of early onset Alzheimer’s disease in Still Alice has awarded her universal acclaim, having already received several accolades for her performance including the Golden Globe for Best Actress, a Critic’s Choice Movie Award, a SAG Award and a BAFTA. Moore has stated that she felt she should have won an Oscar already- stating that her role in Far From Heaven (2002) was the performance that should have won her the award as it was a part that was written specifically for her. Well, whatever she claims, winning this most prestigious of acting awards will be a definitive moment for her after all these years of solid and consistent performances. I for one hope she is finally the victor. 

Other predictions- 

Supporting Actor- Sadly Ethan Hawke will undoubtedly miss out on this in favour of J. K Simmons for Whiplash 

 Supporting Actress- Patricia Arquette Boyhood 

 Animated Feature Film- Big Hero 6

Cinematography- Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)/ Ida 

 Documentary Feature- Virunga 

 Foreign Language Film- Ida

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50 Shades of Cultural Decay

Four years have passed since 50 Shades of Grey was first released as an eBook, and as Valentine’s weekend approaches, bringing with it the cinematic release of the book’’s film adaptation, I can’t help but feel the same dull ache of anxiety, sadness and anger that the novel first evoked in me- not exactly the prescribed response the author intended.

Before I start, I must concede; I have not read the trilogy. I have absolutely no desire to, even for research purposes, and I can confidently say that even being in possession of a cinema pass; I will vehemently refuse to watch the film. While many die-hard fans will deem me ill equipped to comment on the story due these facts, it doesn’t’ silence my voice speaking out about the disturbing narrative of abuse, manipulation and coercion which this author has flagrantly and irresponsibly dressed up as a romance. A story which soon will be subject to even further mass consumption, as even those unable to digest the direly written exercise in ‘erotic’ fan fiction swarm to view it on the big screen.

I won’t delve further into just how poorly written this ‘novel’ is, the few pages I skimmed had me laughing out loud, not just at the atrocious, heavy handed sexual metaphor (Jackie Collins is pure poetry in comparison), but in its adolescent simplicity- complete with text message speak. But I’ll desist in launching into a full scale diatribe surrounding the death of literacy; E. L James is not the sole perpetrator on that count.

The main source of my consternation regarding this franchise lies in the fact that it not only normalises but effectively glamourises a relationship that has all the disturbing characteristics of abuse.

The hysteria that mounted following the release of the first novel was palpable and ubiquitous, with mainstream media heralding a new age of sexual liberation for women granted by the emersion in this ground breaking ‘’mommy porn’’. Women were actually talking and thinking about sex, seemingly for the first time. Frankly, this assertion was and is entirely ignorant and extremely insulting. This is the 21st century, and in Western society women are plenty sexually liberated, and as such have been consumers of video and literary pornography since these mediums began. Victorian literature is littered with sexuality, albeit less explicitly and crudely depicted. None the less, carnal desire, homoeroticism and masturbatory fantasies were prevalent, and (shock horror) the majority of these were penned by and for, wait for it- women.

Yet it appears, for a majority of women reading the novel this was their first foray into the world of private titillation, which would be completely acceptable if not for the nature of the actual narrative surrounding these characters. My concern was then, and still is, that the glamourisation of what is evidently an abusive relationship would instill skewed values surrounding sexual politics into young, inexperienced and impressionable girls who would be simultaneously awakened by the explicitness of the novel and enthralled by the enigmatic male lead and the lavish world he represents. In a society where young girls feel insurmountable pressure from the media, is this really the first depiction of a ‘desirable’ sexual relationship we want them to experience, or even worse, try to emulate?

I also fear that in an age where we are bombarded with never-ending news stories where the validity of rape allegations are constantly under debate due to the notion of varying levels of consent, this story perpetuates the idea of the victim being complicit in their abuse due to their willingness to participate in other sexual acts. Interestingly, I always wondered about the ’50 Shades of Grey’, the title referred to (besides the obvious allusion to Christian’s full name). It occurs to me now that it is a grim reminder that there is supposedly a grey area where the notion of consent is concerned. This sits very uncomfortably with me as it perpetuates the ‘rape culture’ that seems sadly prevalent in the media today, whereby women are viewed with suspicion and doubt when coming forward as victims of sexual crime.

It seems unbelievable to me that any critic, or reader would deem this novel or its representation of women as empowering, yet this argument prevails in online debate. I see no hint of empowerment in a story about a young virgin who is stalked, manipulated, controlled and coerced into a multitude of sado- masochistic sexual scenarios (many of which she is entirely uncomfortable with) by a powerful entrepreneur who coldly deems their relationship as a business transaction- even imploring her to sign a contract to ensure her silence regarding their illicit liaisons .

The eponymous Mr Grey, in anything other than a Chanel suit would be deemed a predator, a stalker and a bully. Anastasia would have called the police and had his sorry ass hauled off long before being privy to his sex dungeon had he been Joe everyman lurking around outside her house. But with his charming, polished veneer, the promise of rides in his private helicopter and visits to his country house what woman could possibly resist his charms, even if he is in essence a deviant and a sociopath? She sacrifices her integrity, her virginity and her freedom; both sexual and personal to a man who stalks, manipulates and abuses her and we are told to consume this horrific tale as a romance merely because he ticks all the superficial boxes of ‘’what women want’’. This alludes to not only an alarming and pervading materialism, but also a fundamental deficit in the representation of contemporary women in the romance genre (not that I feel this story sits comfortably with any variant of a romantic label)- but again, E.L James would not be the only writer on trial for crimes against female representation, nor depictions of materialism. But I digress.

Anastasia’’s sexual awakening and her introduction into the world of BDSM may have been liberating, if it were at all on her terms. The story places her instead in a position of subservience- both in and out of the bedroom, as Christian proceeds to gain control of all aspects of her life. She has no agency in this scenario and begins to acquire all of the characteristics of a victim, and he an aggressor. In fact, the story has garnered much criticism from womens’’ rights groups as countless victims of domestic abuse have likened Christian’’s unrelenting control, emotional manipulation and possessiveness to typical behavior depicted by their own attackers.

In addition, the novels have actually attracted much criticism from the BDSM community, who argue that not only compliance, but respect and adherence to personal boundaries are an essential aspect of a sado/ masochistic union. Partners are to be equal in the decision making parts of these relationships and the power dynamic most often is confined solely to the bedroom.

We are to believe that women reading this novel were suddenly sexually awakened to the world of S&M, but let’s be honest- BDSM is not a fad, it is a fetish and often a lifestyle choice for many and is not something that people suddenly just get into on a whim. It’s a very personal sexual preference; if you are aroused by sadism or masochism I’m pretty certain you would know about it before flicking through a trite piece of fan fiction. Sexual preferences and practices are discovered through experimentation and relationships, not dictated like fashion trends. No, I believe what this novel did was plant some ill advised notion of ‘kinkiness’ into the minds of women who were previously unfulfilled in their sex lives and were led to believe that THIS was the antidote, this was the cure to their non-existent sex lives with their partners. But what does the novel provide other than titillation from a woman being subservient and dominated, put into scenarios that are solely gratifying to her male partner; in essence the same sexual politics depicted in mainstream phallocentric pornography. Feminist? I think not.

The fact that this film has been marketed to coincide with Valentine’’s weekend is frankly sickening. Even though it has clearly been thoroughly tamed down and romanticised to placate the censorship boards for general release, the underlying tone of abuse prevails. In fact, upon seeing the trailer, my boyfriend, (who was miraculously, and enviably previously unaware of what the 50 Shades of Grey novels entailed) turned to me and said ‘’Who the fuck would go watch that on Valentine’’s day? It’s not romantic at all’.’ Says it all really.

I implore you all to defy this unsuitably marketed film, and the destructive message it promotes. Go out and celebrate the day as you usually would- either celebrating love or mocking it as a tacky, commercially constructed Hallmark holiday. I urge you- just don’t watch this film.

A Most Violent Year- Misnomer Murders

There seems to be an irksome trend emerging in cinematic circles for bestowing mediocre dramas with fawning praise based solely on one or more decent acting performance.

Take this year’s offering from JC Chandor; the heavy handedly entitled A Most Violent Year. Much like last year’s much overhyped American Hustle, this ‘crime drama’ fails on both generic counts as it crucially lacks a solid plot- line and does not delve fully enough into the characters’ development to attain credence as a character drama.

Following his enigmatic realisation of angst ridden folk musician Llewyn in last year’s Inside Llewyn Bowen, Oscar Isaac gives a solid performance as the film’s cut throat, rags to riches protagonist, Abel Morales. The film follows him as he endeavours to prosper amidst legal investigations tarnishing his credibility and violent competitors threatening the safety of his employees and his family. Sadly, his performance at times verges on generic cliché; as though his sole preparation for the role consisted of binge viewing 80s Pacino and De Niro whilst soliloquizing in front of a mirror. Unlike the pivotal performances of these crime genre veterans however, the character is not awarded a thunder clap climactic moment- of self realisation, or redemption, or violence. The film meanders around a multitude of mundane incidentals, for example the uncertainty of whether his loyal bank manager will honour his loan agreement now he is under federal investigation; this culminating in a montage of tedious exchanges where Morales entreats basically everyone who will listen to put up the money for him; including a previously unmentioned younger brother who vanishes from the narrative as quickly as he appears.

Jessica Chastain is smouldering in her depiction of Abel’s polished to perfection wife Anna. Her nuanced character and powerful performance feel under utilised however, and much like the film as a whole leaves one waiting, hoping for more than is delivered.

There is a fatal lack of urgency, with no element of real danger imposed on the protagonists and no emotional connection to these characters, who, though obviously flawed, are not awarded the space or agency to develop into anything more than vehicles for a dull narrative which plods along relentlessly whilst inciting no climactic drama or resolution.

In all, the film offers some credible acting performances from actors who are steadfastly climbing to the top of their game. It is a pity then that this feature did not provide them with better material in terms of both character development and a cohesive and exhilarating thriller narrative. Even the violence the title so resoundingly forewarns fails to deliver.

Rating- 5/10

The Lego Movie- No Go Movie

The Lego Movie follows the story of Emmet, a wholly unexceptional, everyday Lego minifigure who is mistakenly identified as ‘the special’ – the most extraordinary person alive and incidentally the key to saving the world. He is swept away on a mission to save Legodom from the threat of an evil tyrant for which he finds himself wholly ill equipped.

Though not entirely lacking in charm, The Lego Movie just doesn’t hold the emotional gut- punch or the likeability of characters of a Pixar or Disney production. The characters are under- developed, generic and too numerous to find ourselves fully invested in them at any point in the story.

The ‘cameo’ appearances of Batman, the Green Goblin etc appear really tacked on, and sadly bring no real comedic value- disappointing as Will Arnett (Arrested Development) as Batman should have been brilliant. The wealth of comedic talent providing the voices have really been done a disservice with this lack lustre script, which was evidently a secondary priority after the graphic effects- which are fairly impressive.

The voice talents are evidently planted there to appeal to the adults in the audience; Will Farrell,  Chris Pratt (Parks and Recreation), Elizabeth Banks (30 Rock), Alison Brie (Community), Charlie Day (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia). This calibre of stars, all of which have fame which is solidly rooted in comedy, brings the promise of a much higher level of entertainment, and one which spans several age groups. This sadly isn’t delivered.

This is definitely one for the kids, though leaving a lasting impression on even them is doubtful. With the one exception of the overbearingly catchy and annoying ‘Everything is awesome’ song, which will no doubt be ringing in the ears of regretful parents for months to come.

Many of my peers have raved about this film, and although I admit there is a nostalgic charm about it; the look of the props in the film- the flowers, coins, horses and vehicles being aesthetically authentic to the Lego figures we played with as kids- this just isn’t enough though. The high standard of content in modern animation just hasn’t been met in this film, and, sadly as often is the case- all the major laughs are given away in the trailer.

Rating:  4/10