2014 Oscar Nominations Not-Remotely-Live Blog

Oscar Nominations

I wasn’t quite organised enough to have a liveblog up and running when the Oscar nominations were announced this lunchtime but I made myself a post so I’m damn well going to put something in it. I will forgo listing all the nominations as they can be found everywhere else on the internet. The important facts are these…

  • Gravity and American Hustle lead the pack with ten nominations each, closely followed by 12 Years a Slave with nine. Nebraska has a pleasing six nominations and Her continues to taunt me with five nominations and a UK release that has yet to arrive.
  • Judi Dench and Meryl Streep are competing for the Best Actress award, a title that Dench has never won and one that Streep has taken twice and been nominated for fourteen(!!!) times.
  • The only nomination for Saving Mr. Banks is for its music and this upsets me greatly.
  • Blue is the Warmest Colour has completely failed to be nominated for Best Foreign Film and that is a tragedy as it clearly is the best foreign film and if you ask me the best film overall. So there.
  • Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa has been nominated for an Oscar. Take that in. It’s for Best Makeup and Hairstyling but still, it just feels wrong. Weirdly American Hustle is not nominated in this category despite the hair being the best bit.
  • David O Russell and American Hustle continue to rhyme and sound incredibly satisfying.
  • Jonah Hill has received his second Oscar nomination. Who would have thought he’d ever be an Oscar contender considering his former career in broad comedies? Ditto for Matthew McConaughey who has moved so far away from his Romantic Comedy background he is barely recognisable.
  • Best Live Action Short is not normally a category I can comment on but somehow I have seen nominee The Voorman Problem twice and it is worthy of the win. The short stars Martin Freeman as a psychiatrist called to a prison to deal with an inmate who is convinced that he is God (Tom Hollander). It is short, clever, funny, and has famous people in it.
  • There are really only three nominees for Best Film. For the past three years I have seen the winner of the top prize at the previous year’s London Film Festival therefore this year’s winner must come from the films I saw back in October. The real list of nominees is as follows:

12 Years a Slave
American Hustle
Captain Phillips
Dallas Buyers Club
Gravity
Her

Nebraska
Philomena
The Wolf of Wall Street

Let’s meet back here on 2nd/3rd March to discuss the winners.

Top Ten Films of 2013

Top Ten Films 2013

2013 has been an above average year for films. 2013 is an excellent vintage for a film to have. In the future you can pull a DVD off the shelf, note that it was made in 2013 and be assured that there is a good chance you are buying a top quality film. Film works like wine, right?

I have agonised over the list below; there were so many films I wanted to mention but had to leave out in favour of films that either tried something a little different or spoke to me personally. I’ve tried to have a good mix of genres and styles and yet the majority seem to feature an in-depth look at human emotions, three have pivotal scenes involving a piano, and two were shot in black & white. On with the list:

10 – The Comedian

10 - The Comedian

Funnily enough this was the hardest position on the list to decide on as whatever film doesn’t make this slot doesn’t make the list at all. In the end I settled on Tom Shkolnik’s debut film about a young man living in London. Protagonist Ed is unsatisfied in his job and his love life and finds himself a little lost in his life in London. The film has no strict plot but instead features authentic feeling improvised scenes and simply offers a glimpse into a short period in the life of a character. I related to the film on a very personal level which earned it a place in my top 10 but which also makes me a little nervous to recommend it. Like another film much higher on this list The Comedian gives us a little peek at human relationships and does it in such a realistic way I couldn’t help but love it. More gushing in my review.

9 – A Field in England

9 - A Field in England

And now for something completely different… Over the past four years Ben Wheatley has made four films and cemented himself in the world of British film as a man who can produce low budget films filled with unbearable tension, extreme violence, and surprisingly real characters. His fourth film took a strange turn as he produced a black & white piece set during the civil war in which all manner of horrors occur in a field in England. The film was released in cinemas and on TV, DVD, Blu-Ray, and VOD all on the same day but that is far from the most remarkable thing about it. I couldn’t begin to explain the plot of A Field in England or the relatively tame but somehow harrowing visuals it contains. This is bold, brave British film-making; something we could do with a lot more of.

8 – Breathe In

8 - Breathe In

Two years ago Drake Doremus’ debut film Like Crazy was released and despite it being an impressive first film there was something about it I couldn’t quite get behind. In his follow-up, a story of infidelity and temptation starring Felicity Jones and Guy Pearce, Doremus has utilised his improvisational style to produce a fantastic feature. This is a film of lust and longing, and not being satisfied with the cards life has dealt you. What is most impressive is that Doremus manages to create scenes of incredible sexual tension and sensuality without ever needed to show anything more than a longing look or a gentle touch. Worth an entry on this list for its ability to replace sex scenes with piano duets without losing any of the sexiness.

7 – Philomena

7 - Philomena

2013 has definitely been a great year for films and specifically a great year for Steve Coogan. Four of his films were fighting for a position in my top ten but ultimately I could only allow myself one on the list. Philomena gets this most coveted position for being the only film of the four to bring me to tears. The story of an old woman searching for the son she was forced to give up 50 years ago is a heartbreaking one but the script, co-authored by Coogan, manages to be hilarious too. As we watch the unlikely pairing of Coogan’s uptight journalist and Judi Dench’s kind-hearted and deeply religious pensioner the film explores faith, family, and forgiveness in and even handed and enjoyable way. Ultimately the story of Philomena, deeply based in fact rather than fiction, is not a happy one but she isn’t going to let it get the best of her so neither should you. Full review here.

6 – Stoker

6 - Stoker

Stoker completely passed me by when it had a cinematic release in March of this year but in an effort to fill in some of the gaps in my film watching I caught up with the film over the Christmas break, and I am glad that I did. Stoker is written by Prison Break star Wentworth Miller and directed by Korean legend Chan-wook Park and is a stunningly shot gothic thriller. Mia Wasikowska plays a young girl coming of age who has just lost her father and is getting to know her previously unheard of young uncle, Matthew Goode, who comes to stay with her and her mother. The film has strangely vibrant yet artificial looking visuals and some brilliantly arch performances from its leads which allows the film to have its characters behave in a way that is slightly otherworldly. Stoker manages to maintain a strange tension throughout which created a sense that sex or violence could erupt at any moment. This film also features a second sensual scene focusing on a piano duet but things get slightly more extreme, as is so often the case with Stoker. A totally unique modern thriller that Hitchcock wouldn’t be ashamed to have directed.

5 – Saving Mr. Banks

5 - Saving Mr. Banks

At number 5 we have a very personal choice for myself. I really can’t tell if Saving Mr. Banks is actually a good film or just a load of sentimental nonsense as I am so blinded by all the baggage I am bringing to the film. Saving Mr. Banks is the story of the battle between Walt Disney and the author of Mary Poppins P.L. Travers as he tries to obtain film rights for the books from a woman who hates cartoons, musicals, and Dick van Dyke. As someone who grew up on a heavy dose of Julie Andrews singing there is something bizarrely nostalgic about this film set twenty years before I was born. Combine this with another fine performance from Emma Thompson and the result is me in repeated floods of tears at a press screening. If you love Mary Poppins then no doubt you will love Saving Mr. Banks, otherwise I probably wouldn’t bother. Full review here.

4 – Nebraska

4 - Nebraska

Have you ever received a letter telling you that you might have won millions and that you just need to phone a number or go to an address with your prize code to find out? Nebraska is the story of one man (Bruce Dern) who takes the letter seriously. Worrying that his father will try to take the journey to claim his prize alone his son (Will Forte) agrees to drive him there just to make sure he doesn’t die in the process. Along the way they stop off at the old man’s hometown and old family feuds resurface as people are mocking and jealous of the possible windfall in equal measure. Shot in gorgeous black & white Alexander Payne has made another beautiful film, one that shows the quirks of family and how important and frail dignity can be even as you get older. Funny and touching Nebraska is never inauthentic or cloying. Perfect. Full review here.

3 – Behind the Candelabra

3 - Behind the Candelabra

Having declared his retirement from directing films for the cinema Steven Soderbergh went on to direct this biopic of Liberace (Michael Douglas) and the story of his love affair with the initially young Scott (Matt Damon). In the UK we scuppered his plan for retirement by deciding that the film was too good for TV and gave it a cinematic release instead. In Behind the Candelabra Soderbergh has created a gloriously camp retelling of the life of one gloriously camp performer, and the life of an ego so big that he gives his boyfriend plastic surgery so that he can share more of Liberace’s features. Douglas and Damon are both playing completely against type and doing a fabulous job of it but neither are so brilliant as Rob Lowe who plays the taut faced plastic surgeon who can’t so much as close his eyes any more. The whole film is turned up to eleven and is a real joy to watch. Just don’t go expecting any subtle sexy scenes at the piano as Liberace eschews subtlety in favour of glitter, candelabras, and an on-stage limo.

2 – Before Midnight

2 - Before Midnight

We return to the theme of relationships that runs through this list as we reunite with one of cinema’s best couples and the most enduring onscreen romance. Richard Linklater first introduced us to Celine (Julie Delpy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke) back in 1995 when the two lovers met, spent a night together, and went their separate ways. 9 years later the pair were reunited in Paris and shared one long real-time conversation before leaving us with a cliff hanger. Since 2004 audiences have been left wondering whether Jesse stayed to spend another night with Celine or went back to America to his wife and child. Their love story is continued in Before Midnight as we drop back into their lives as a proper couple with their own children on holiday in Greece. Through a series of conversations we see that Jesse and Celine are still very much in love but that the years have taken their toll on the young romantics and every conversation has an undertone harking back to an argument years in the making. The Before trilogy is always pretentious, funny, and touching and as theatrical as the lengthy conversations might be the performances never stray far from my favourite adjective; authentic. Here we are watching characters we love struggle in their relationship and it is all painfully real.

1 – Blue is the Warmest Colour

1 - Blue is the Warmest Colour

The only thing that can possibly top a brief trip into the relationship of Jesse and Celine is a film that encompasses an entire relationship. Across the three hours we follow French teenager Adèle as she slowly becomes an adult and discovers her own sexuality through initial fumbles with boys and then her life changing romance with the enigmatic Emma. Director Abdellatif Kechiche has come under a lot of criticism for the film since he and the young stars (Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux) won the Palme d’Or at Cannes but none of that can do anything to stop the resulting film from being so incredible. As the relationship between Adèle and Emma waxes and wanes we see all facets of their relationship. Yes we see their sex life but we see their snotty, blotchy faced arguments too. We see their initial flirtation in a bar and their tragic post-relationship reunion in a cafe. We see their conflicting family dynamics as Adèle is introduced to Emma’s foodie family as her girlfriend and Emma is invited round to Adèle’s as a friend to enjoy some bland spaghetti. The performances at the center of the film are fantastically raw and, all together now, authentic. At the end of my screening Kechiche and Exarchopoulo came out for a Q&A but I couldn’t stay to watch it for fear of ruining the illusion that the Adèle I had been watching was a living, breathing human being and someone whose most intimate moments I had seen laid bare. This marks the third year in a row that a French film has taken my top film title; they must be doing something right. Full review here.

Top 20 Films of 2011
Top 10 Films of 2012

Out Now – 6th December 2013

Nebraska

Nebraska
Alexander Payne provides his signature blend of comedy and drama in this black and white road trip about father and son relationships, growing old, and being scammed by junk mail. In my review I call the film “perfect” but in hindsight that all seems a little bit too positive. What did you see Past-Tim?

Homefront
“A former DEA agent moves his family to a quiet town, where he soon tangles with a local meth druglord.” The DEA agent is played by Jason Statham which does not appeal but the druglord is played by James Franco who endlessly intrigues me. I’m so conflicted. And Sylvester Stallone wrote the script!? I’m so confused.

Frozen
Disney Animation, no Pixar involvement here, bring us the story of a snowman who teams up with some kids to help them find their sister in a kingdom of eternal winter. If he melts at the end I will cry.

Oldboy
When he’s not asking for your money on Kickstarter these days Spike Lee is producing unnecessary remakes of much-loved film and ripping off graphic designers in the process. I say we boycott! (Mostly because I haven’t even seen the original yet.)

Black Nativity
“A street-wise teen from Baltimore who has been raised by a single mother travels to New York City to spend the Christmas holiday with his estranged relatives, where he embarks on a surprising and inspirational journey.” Strange things happen at Christmas…

Getaway
Selena Gomez and Ethan Hawke team up in an action thriller. The whole thing seems quite bizarre. I don’t really know how to deal with Ethan Hawke when he’s not romancing Julie Delphy.

Big Bad Wolves
“A series of brutal murders puts the lives of three men on a collision course: The father of the latest victim now out for revenge, a vigilante police detective operating outside the boundaries of law, and the main suspect in the killings – a religious studies teacher arrested and released due to a police blunder.” Are the three men the three little pigs, or are they the big bad wolves? This metaphor confuses me.

Floating Skyscrapers
Tragic gay love story from Poland that is as graphic in its sex and its violence. The film is solid, and ground breaking for its country of origin, but I struggled to connect to any of the characters.

Kill Your Darlings
Murder! Sex! Drugs! Poetry! It’s the origins of the beat generation mixed with a murder mystery! Ultimately the film was a little too meandering for me and could have done with a little more meter and rhyme. What I just did there is a clever joke that I don’t quite understand.

This Ain’t California
Documentary about the world of roller boarding in the German Democratic Republic. I am almost 100% sure that roller boarding is just another way of saying skateboarding. Imagine your Dad were trying to sound cool and wasn’t quite sure of the word… now you get it!

Rough Cut
“A documentary about the making of the fictitious 1970s exploitation film Hiker Meat.” That’s right, a documentary about a fictitious film. I’d call that a mockumentary but the director prefers to call it “a ‘metamentary’, stripping back the making, unmaking and remaking of both the film and the idea”. If at all possible I will be seeing this film.

Powder Room
British comedy set in the women’s toilets. I’m afraid to see this as it would ruin the mystique built up over years of wondering just why the facilities are worth queuing for.

Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s
“A documentary on the Manhattan department store with interviews from an array of fashion designers, style icons, and celebrities.” I can only assume that Bergdorf’s is America’s version of BHS.

Klown
Danish comedy about a man who kidnaps the nephew of his pregnant girlfriend to prove that he will make a good father and takes him along on a debauched canoeing trip. Oh Denmark!

A Long Way from Home
“A couple realise their dream of retiring to the South of France. Their life changes dramatically when they meet another, younger couple.”

Nebraska – LFF Film Review

NEBRASKA

Two years ago Alexander Payne brought the London Film Festival his Oscar-winning film The Descendants. The film about family, told through the story of a father on a road trip with his offspring, was sweet, funny, and authentic. Nebraska is not dissimilar as it stars Will Forte and Bruce Dern as father and son (Woody and David respectively) who travel 700 miles to see if Woody has won $1 million in a sweepstakes. His family sees it as an obvious scam but David decides to indulge his father as he teeters on the edge of dementia.

Along their way Woody and David stop off at Woody’s childhood town and encounter greedy relatives, old friends with grudges, and a small town mentality that never forgets. Much like its predecessor Nebraska is sweet, funny and authentic; it has moments that made the audience laugh out loud alongside scenes that can easily jerk a tear without resorting to patronising those watching. Despite being set in small town America the film is instantly relatable; who hasn’t been to a family gathering and had to watch as two people try to force conversation between a disinterested group by bringing up mundane anecdotes like a foot that hurts or asking how long it took to drive a certain journey? The humour is deeply ingrained in character, is truly funny (and often quite dark) and never resorts to cheap slapstick or a pop culture reference. This is a film I’ll love just the same in fifty years time.

Payne has chosen to shoot Nebraska in black and white and in doing so has lent the film a timeless quality and allowed the performances to take the foreground as settings and other distractions melt into the background. Nebraska is a beautiful film, both visually and otherwise, and filled with numerous naturalistic performances. Dern is a fantastic weary old man and Forte dials his usual annoying performance down to a level that allows you to forget the funny faces that are his Saturday Night Live legacy. June Squibb easily steals the show as the feisty mother and wife convinced that everyone in the past wanted the get in her knickers.

I hate reviewing films like Nebraska, they’re so good I find it hard to know what to say. I think the following three words I wrote down early on in the screening sum it up perfectly: “Sweet, funny. Perfect?”

Perfect? Yes.

ETA: Five stars seems a lot, especially considering the film didn’t blow my mind or push any boundaries, but I can’t see any flaws in it either. That’s subjectivity for you.

Nebraska screens at the festival on the 11th, 12th and 15th October and is in UK cinemas on 6th December 2013.

BFI London Film Festival 2013