Monday, March 30, 2015

REVIEW: Fast and Furious 7

In yet another highly lucrative victory for multicultural Australia, RMIT’s own Chinese-Malay-Australian filmmaker James Wan takes the helm for the seventh outing of the Fast and Furious franchise. Wan graduated from the SAW series, via the ‘quiet-quiet-bang’ horror blockbusters Insidious and The Conjuring, to this highest of high profile releases. From the first frame it’s clear Wan is comfortable moving from his favoured ‘low budget / more creative control’ model, to working with quarter of a billion dollars and an already tightknit clique of actors and producers.

Brought even closer by the untimely death of lead actor Paul Walker, the team that makes Fast and Furious 7 both in front of and behind the camera are a shining example of diversity and successful collaboration. When Vin Diesel announced his daughter would be called Pauline in honour of Walker, it was no headline-grabbing stunt. These actors are close and the Fast and Furious series is no brain-dead ego-driven blockbuster, it just makes more money when it’s sold that way.

Lent unusual dramatic heft by Walker’s death, the storyline is a committee-driven series of ludicrous setups that permits even more ludicrous stunts (some performed by the rapper-turned actor Ludacris) to take place with a joyful ignorance of insurance premiums.

And it’s fun. Lots and lots of fun.

We’re talking driving a Lykan Hypersport out of the 45th floor of a skyscraper, INTO ANOTHER SKYSCRAPER sort of fun. It’s like the producers supplied near illegal levels of sugar and an endless supply of Matchbox cars to a group of seven-year olds and said ‘yes!’ to everything they came up with.

What storyline there is involves bad guy (Jason Statham) avenging the incapacitation of his brother (Luke Owens) in the previous film, and our heroes fighting for their gritty-yet-affluent lives. The plot also takes in a terrorist Jakande (a constantly agitated Djimon Hounsou) and a government official called Mr Nobody (a wry ‘just-here-for-the-paycheck’ Kurt Russell) vying to steal some powerful spyware. It’s all just as daft as it sounds, but somehow, amidst all the revving engines and breaking glass there is time to get to know characters’ quirks and engage with their dilemmas, which are usually solved by driving fast, firing guns or, in one memorable scene, flexing a muscle.

Amidst the flying cars, furrowed brows, convenient amnesia and hammy dialogue, possibly the most incredulous scene is one in which an American government official congratulates a rogue hacker on a job well done. Hey, it’s Hollywood!

While militarised drones, US covert ops and mass surveillance figure largely in the film’s mechanics, screenwriter Chris Morgan never aims higher than providing a skeleton for spectacular entertainment, and why should he? Other less-seen and more acclaimed films can ask the questions. Diesel and co have worked hard to make this franchise not only hilarious fun, but also a showcase for a new definition of friends-as-family. Virtually all non-explanatory dialogue is about the value of domestic relations, most notably an extended postscript focusing on Walker and Diesel’s friendship. Even those who haven’t seen previous instalments won’t have trouble in seeing how vital Walker is to the series and how important he is to the others. And if you haven’t it’s striking how involved you can become with the predicaments of characters barely sketched. Even (Game of Thrones’) Nathalie Emmanuel’s Ramsey, who is rarely in a non-life-threatening scene and never formally introduced to anyone, stops to appreciate the affecting moment of Paul Walker fooling around with his son and hugging his wife on a beach as the sun sets.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Calling the Oscars 22/02/2015

After the nominations were announced on January 15th, and the annual accusations of sexism, racism, xenophobia the field actually looks, well, pretty good. Well, a nerdy white guy (Wes Anderson) is doing surprisingly well, and everyone black will have to settle for being acknowledged with Best Original Song, but that aside, the batch of films being considered is actually very strong. Despite some snubs they’ve won a lot of love away from the incestuous pit of opulence that we think of as Hollywood. The dynamics certainly suggest that this is the toughest field to pick with professional Oscar pundits (yes, some people make a living just following the Oscars every year) splitting their predictions in more categories than usual.

American Sniper has earned more than every other film put together and continues to divide audiences. Boyhood (aka '12 Years a White Guy') is inarguably a wonderful piece of filmmaking and a film unlike any other and Birdman has style to burn.

One thing you can guarantee will attract complaints however is Neil Patrick Harris. Despite being dashing and talented, he could give out money and cars and there'll still be tweets about how much better Amy Poheler and Tina Fey were hosting the Golden Globes.

Best Picture
Only going with eight contenders from a possible ten, this is essentially a tight two-horse race between “Boyhood” and “Birdman”. Both have done well in the awards rounds (as has “The Theory of Everything”). Most critics favour “Boyhood”, but it’s far from a lock in. There hasn’t been this much uncertainty around a Best Picture race in years.

"American Sniper" (Clint Eastwood)
"Boyhood" (Richard Linklater)
"Birdman" (Alejandro González Iñárritu)
"The Grand Budapest Hotel" (Wes Anderson)
"The Imitation Game" (Morten Tyldum)
"Selma" (Ava DuVernay)
"The Theory of Everything" (James Marsh)
"Whiplash" (Damien Chazelle)

Will Win: "Boyhood"
Could Win: "Birdman"
Should Be Here: "Nightcrawler" and "Gone Girl"

Best Director
Until recent years, Director fell with Editor and Picture winners, but not any more. So much love has fallen Birdman’s way the Academy is likely to reward it somewhere, and Iñárritu has a lot of love in the (big) actor’s guild. Linklater’s achievement is remarkable though, and a very tough call. I’m arguing that “Birdman”’s marvels are technically obvious and it’s the sort of thing that’s hard to deny, despite whether these tricks and marvels actually serve the story or not. In a close race I see the Director / Picture split to reward each of the favourites, and as amazing as Linklater’s achievement is, it doesn’t stun in the way “Birdman” does.

Alejandro González Iñárritu, "Birdman"
Richard Linklater, "Boyhood"
Bennett Miller, "Foxcatcher"
Wes Anderson, "The Grand Budapest Hotel"
Morten Tydlum, "The Imitation Game"

Will Win: Alejandro González Iñárritu "Birdman"
Could Win: Richard Linklater "Boyhood"
Should Be Here: Ava DuVernay, "Selma"

Best Actor
While it’s not Keaton’s “time” in the way it was Jeff Bridges’ a few years ago, the preceding festivals have honoured him as if it’s his wake. An award seem a fitting end to this season. He’s in a very close race with Eddie Redmayne who has been getting huge raves, won the Screen Actors Guild and BAFTA award (which historically predicts that the Oscar is his) and many prognosticators have him down as the likely winner, but I see his youth is a disadvantage here. It’s a tough one to choose, and it’s grown tougher over the last few weeks as people point to his farcically bizarre turn in the expensive and ambitious sci-fi flop “Jupiter Ascending” as counting against him. He’s played the award circuit beautifully (he even had time to get married) so it certainly seems like a fairytale time for him. Sometimes two favourites can split votes, which some are predicting is happening here, and Bradley Cooper is also emerging as a serious contender, so this is a real nailbiter.

Steve Carell, "Foxcatcher"
Bradley Cooper, "American Sniper"
Benedict Cumberbatch, "The Imitation Game"
Michael Keaton, "Birdman"
Eddie Redmayne, "The Theory of Everything"

Will Win: Eddie Redmayne, "The Theory of Everything"
Could Win: Michael Keaton, "Birdman"
Should Be Here: Jake Gyllenhaal, "Nightcrawler"

Best Actress
Julianne Moore, on the other hand, is someone whose “time” it most definitely is. She’s a lock in for Best Actress for a challenging role that no one has a bad thing to say about. Felicity Jones put in an extraordinary performance that has been feted everywhere too, but Oscar loves acknowledging a career as much as a role.

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

Will Win: Julianne Moore, "Still Alice"
Could Win: Felicity Jones, “The Theory of Everything”
Should Be Here: Scarlett Johansson, "Under The Skin"

Best Supporting Actor
It would be very surprising for anyone other than JK Simmons to take this one. He’s won everything going since last year’s Sundance Festival in the lead up to Oscar night and this one is his.

Robert Duvall, "The Judge"
Ethan Hawke, "Boyhood"
Edward Norton, "Birdman"
Mark Ruffalo, "Foxcatcher"
J.K. Simmons, "Whiplash"

Will Win: J.K. Simmons, "Whiplash"
Could Win: Edward Norton, "Birdman"
Should Be Here: Riz Ahmed, “Nightcrawler”

Best Supporting Actress 
One of the night’s surest bets, Arquette has been a frontrunner in this category for at least six months. Her nearest competition, a fiery and bug-eyed Emma Stone, could surprise as Christoph Waltz did for “Inglorious Basterds” in 2009, but she’s a long shot and she’ll have further chances. If they use the clip from “Boyhood” where Arquette is sending her son off to college, she’s a lock in.

Patricia Arquette, "Boyhood"
Laura Dern, "Wild"
Keira Knightley, "The Imitation Game"
Emma Stone, "Birdman"
Meryl Streep, "Into the Woods"

Will Win: Patricia Arquette, "Boyhood"
Could Win: Emma Stone, "Birdman"
Should Be Here: Jessica Chastain, "A Most Violent Year"

Best Editing
Editing down 12 years of footage seems like the sort of achievement that sticks in the mind and it’s arguable it could be rewarded here. However, the last-minute love for "American Sniper" with its tension-building cuts and fine action scenes is likely to find some love below the line, and I think here (and in the sound categories) are its best chance. “Whiplash” could easily slip in – the last ten minutes of that film are also a masterclass in building tension, but most of the love for that film come form the under-4o contingent in the Academy, and they haven't quite got the numbers.

"American Sniper"
"The Grand Budapest Hotel"
"The Imitation Game"

Will Win: "American Sniper"
Could Win: "Whiplash"
Should Be Here: "Citizenfour"

Best Original Screenplay
Another very close race, "The Grand Budapest Hotel" is seen as the favourite, and a major category win for Wes Anderson would be well-deserved for a film that no one dislikes. A win for “Birdman” wouldn’t be a surprise and it could easily trump its main competitor and "The Grand Budapest Hotel".

"Birdman," Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr. and Armando Bo
"Boyhood," Richard Linklater
"Foxcatcher," E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman
"The Grand Budapest Hotel," Wes Anderson; Story by Wes Anderson and Hugo Guinness
"Nightcrawler," Dan Gilroy

Will Win: "The Grand Budapest Hotel"
Could Win: "Birdman"
Should Be Here: "Selma"

Best Adapted Screenplay
The best chance for a win for “The Imitation Game” lies here, and it would be harsh for the film to go home with nothing. “Inherent Vice” is just too oddball to get enough votes, and though “Whiplash” is beloved, it will likely be seen as ‘too indie’ by enough of the Academy who all will have been exposed to Harvey Weinstein’s ‘a vote for the Imitation Game is a vote for Alan Turing’ campaign.

"American Sniper," Jason Hall
"The Imitation Game," Graham Moore
"Inherent Vice," Paul Thomas Anderson
"The Theory of Everything," Anthony McCarten
"Whiplash," Damien Chazelle

Will Win: "The Imitation Game"
Could Win: "Whiplash"
Should Be Here: "Gone Girl"

Best Cinematography
A stunning tour de force of artistry and orchestration, Lubezki was once the eternal nominee until last year’s win with “Gravity” and he’s a near lock-in to take home this year’s too. Few in the industry would begrudge him this despite the field. Deakins is well overdue for his, but he’ll likely have to wait, probably for 2017’s Oscars where he will likely be nominated for the Coen Brothers’ “Hail, Caesar!”

"Birdman," Emmanuel Lubezki
"The Grand Budapest Hotel," Robert Yeoman
"Ida," Lukasz Zal and Ryszard Lenczewski
"Mr. Turner," Dick Pope
"Unbroken," Roger Deakins

Will Win: "Birdman"
Could Win: "Unbroken" or "The Grand Budapest Hotel"
Should Be Here: "Under The Skin"

Makeup and Hairstyling
In a gesture that will seem to say ‘look, we don’t just reward famous people who look like someone else’ "The Grand Budapest Hotel" will likely beat Foxcatcher here. By a nose.

"The Grand Budapest Hotel"
“Guardians of the Galaxy”

Will Win: "The Grand Budapest Hotel"
Could Win: "Foxcatcher"
Should Be Here: "Into the Woods"

Best Costume Design
The Academy, and, in fact most of us, love a strong Costume contender that you can sum up in a eye-catching frame, and "The Grand Budapest Hotel" is full of eye-catching frames. It will likely win big and win here.

"The Grand Budapest Hotel," Milena Canonero
"Inherent Vice," Mark Bridges
"Into the Woods," Colleen Atwood
"Maleficent," Anna B. Sheppard and Jane Clive
"Mr. Turner," Jacqueline Durran

Will Win: "The Grand Budapest Hotel"
Could Win: "Into the Woods"
Should Be Here: "A Most Violent Year"

Best Production Design
It’s hard to miss the work that went into "The Grand Budapest Hotel" and you can expect it to be deservedly rewarded here.

"The Grand Budapest Hotel"
"The Imitation Game"
"Into the Woods"
"Mr. Turner"

Will Win: "The Grand Budapest Hotel"
Could Win: "Mr. Turner"
Should Be Here: "Selma"

Best Original Score
Good lord Alexandre Desplat, give someone else a turn. His seventh and eighth nominations come this year, and it could be the year he finally wins. Those both his scores are strong, people seem to remember “The Theory of Everything”’s score more easily. Jóhannsson has already won the Golden Globe, and I’m picking him. Expect to see RMIT graduate Ben Frost here in the next few years.

"The Grand Budapest Hotel," Alexandre Desplat
"The Imitation Game," Alexandre Desplat
"Interstellar," Hans Zimmer
"Mr. Turner," Gary Yershon
"The Theory of Everything," Jóhann Jóhannsson

Will Win: "The Theory of Everything"
Could Win: "The Grand Budapest Hotel"
Should Be Here: "Under The Skin"

Best Original Song
This is likely to be the ‘moment’ we can acknowledge the staggering injustices perpetrated on African Americans by old white American men, and the infinitely more trivial injustices perpetrated by old white men of the Academy. Overlooking Ava DuVernay for Best Director and David Oyolowo for Best Actor for their brilliant turns in the story of Martin Luther King and the march from Selma to Montgomery to demand voting rights will have to make do with a nod to a song by John Legend an Common. The song is fine, and it does contain an overt reference to Ferguson riots early on which will jar beautifully when they perform it, but I’m sure a bunch of people will be disappointed “Everything is Awesome” won’t take it.

"Everything Is Awesome" from "The Lego Movie"; Music and Lyric by Shawn Patterson
"Glory" from "Selma"; Music and Lyric by John Stephens and Lonnie Lynn
"Grateful" from "Beyond the Lights"; Music and Lyric by Diane Warren
"I’m Not Gonna Miss You" from "Glen Campbell…I’ll Be Me"; Music and Lyric by Glen Campbell and Julian Raymond
"Lost Stars" from "Begin Again"; Music and Lyric by Gregg Alexander and Danielle Brisebois

Will Win: "Glory"
Could Win: "Everything Is Awesome"
Should Be Here: "Spooks" from Inherent Vice

Best Sound Editing
The push to acknowledge “American Sniper” will likely find love here, though “Birdman” is likely to be the (’it won more though it didn’t win the most coveted categories’) in its race against “Boyhood” and this is a category where it’s likely to pick up a nod.

“American Sniper”

Will Win: "American Sniper"
Could Win: "Birdman"
Should Be Here: "Under the Skin”

Best Sound Mixing
Never an easy category to predict, the divisive “American Sniper” could pick this up, as there is a long history of war movies being rewarded here, though “Birdman” made a strong case for winning this with its overt layering of sound.

“American Sniper”

Will Win: "American Sniper"
Could Win: "Birdman"
Should Be Here: "Fury”

Best Visual Effects
At last, a list of films that actually got shown in cinemas. Tough to predict the Academy hivemind here.  “Interstellar” for all its vaulting ambition may be rewarded here, though they do love throwing a bone to blockbusters here and “Apes” or “Guardians” could easily nab it. One of the few Australians in this years field turns up as part of the team nominated for “X-Men: Days of Future Past”, go Adelaide’s Tim Crosbie!

“Captain America: The Winter Soldier”
“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”
“Guardians of the Galaxy”
“X-Men: Days of Future Past”

Will Win: "Interstellar"
Could Win: "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes"
Should Be Here: "The LEGO Movie”

Best Foreign Film
Best Foreign Film, for its idiosyncratic selection procedure, accusations of bias and snubs so egregious that the award has become almost irrelevant to the prospects of the winner, has turned out a batch of very watchable films this year. “Ida”, with its surprise nomination in Cinematography, is the favourite, though a strong campaign for Argentina’s “Wild Tales” could see this sneak in for the upset.

"Ida" (Poland)
"Leviathan" (Russia)
"Tangerines" (Georgia)
"Timbuktu" (Mali)
"Wild Tales" (Argentina)

Will Win: "Ida"
Could Win: "Wild Tales"
Should Be Here: "Force Majeure"

Best Animated Film
Cries of ‘OMG, where is ”The LEGO Movie”?’ are still finding their way into throats of people across America as office parties assemble to fill out their Oscars pools, and it is one of the most notable surprises in the field. “Big Hero 6” has been adored by almost everyone who’s seen it (with a lot of adults admitting to tearing up), but “How To Train Your Dragon 2”, a step up on the massively successful and beloved original, is the favourite. Personally, The Tale of Princess Kaguya, a stunning hand-drawn tale, is a film to watch if you haven’t already.

"Big Hero 6"
"The Boxtrolls"
"How to Train Your Dragon 2"
"Song of the Sea"
"The Tale of the Princess Kaguya"

Will Win: "How to Train Your Dragon 2"
Could Win: "The Tale of the Princess Kaguya"
Should Be Here: "The LEGO Movie" 

Best Documentary Feature
As I wrote elsewhere, “Citizenfour” is one of the more exciting documentary films to have been released in the last few years. It’s beautifully assembled and compellingly told, and doesn’t come with an agenda to push. It’s also the most hyped, the most awarded and most seen of the batch and is a virtual lock in for the win.

"Finding Vivian Maier"
"Last Days in Vietnam"
"The Salt of the Earth"

Will Win: "Citizenfour"
Could Win: "Virunga"
Should Be Here: "The Case Against 8"

Short Film – Animated
“Feast” benefits from having played before ‘Big Hero 6’ so is the likely winner here, though all of these are worthy, if heavy on the cute side.

“The Bigger Picture”
“The Damn Keeper”
“Me and My Moulton”
“A Single Life”

Short Film – Documentary
Having not seen all of these, the film about old white men, “Crisis Hotline”, seems like the safest bet for a group of voters whose demographics are so well known. Having said that, the short film categories are voted on by a much smaller group of people, those who watch all nominees, so we’re talking about a group of old white men with time on their hands, which makes “Crisis Hotline” seem an ever safer bet.

“Crisis Hotline” Veterans Press 1”
“Our Curse”
“The Reaper (La Parka)”
“White Earth”

Short Film – Live Action
“Boogaloo and Graham” is the safest pick here from a very diverse group, though “Aya” is the most cinematic.

“Boogaloo and Graham”
“Butter Lamp (La Lampe au Beurre de Yak)”
“The Phone Call”

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Calling the Oscar Nominations

While far from an exact science, I cannot stop myself from theorising about how the Academy will award the films of 2014, so I'm mainly doing this for my own purposes. I will of course revisit and revise this list up until the day of the Academy Awards, but now, after months of listening to podcasts, following blogs and Twitter accounts, and hours before the announcements, here are my picks for the Academy Award nominations:

Best Picture
American Sniper
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
The Theory of Everything

Here, I expect Boyhood to be rewarded. Birdman will give it a close run but I think the others are also-rans. Good chance Whiplash may sneak into this list too which would be great. The pool of voters expands and diversifies every year, which has been great news for independent film companies. By far the largest division of the 6000-odd voters is the Actors Branch who often reward actor-friendly directors and actor-turned-directors, which explains why Clint Eastwood is highly likely to feature here.

Best Director
Richard Linklater - 'Boyhood'
Alejandro Gonzalez Innarritu - 'Birdman'
Wes Anderson ' 'The Grand Budapest Hotel'
Morten Tyldum - 'The Imitation Game'
Ava Duverney - ' Selma'

Very close call. It’s hard to leave out Clint Eastwood, who, even when he's just being OK gets waves of adulation from the actors in the branch thinking this might be the last chance they can show their respect. I'm picking Innaritu to take this one. Birdman is audacious and stylish and you canNOT avoid that style wherever you look. Selma was looking much stronger in November, but support for it has tailed off over the last few weeks. Though few agree, I (cynically perhaps) feel the chance to award an African American female director who has made a widely-applauded film, is too good a chance to pass up.

Best Actor
Michael Keaton - 'Birdman'
Benedict Cumberbatch - 'The Imitation Game'
Jake Gyllenhaal - 'Nightcrawler'
David Oyelowo - 'Selma'
Eddie Redmayne - 'The Theory of Everything'

This is an incredibly tight race, with a good four or five other actors who could sneak in – it would be brilliant to see Tom Hardy make an appearance for 'Locke' or, more likely, Steve Carrell for 'Foxcatcher' or Ralph Fiennes for 'Grand Budapest Hotel'. Last year Tom Hanks was meant to be a shoo-in for 'Captain Phillips' and many thought Robert Redford would make it for single-handedly starring in 'All Is Lost'. Despite it not being remotely his 'time', this is Michael Keaton's to lose. Bradley Cooper may knock out Gyllenhaal or Oyelowo for his lead role in American Sniper, he's certainly incredibly popular amongst the Academy. Redmayne is his closest competition. Again, I'd love to see Gyllenhaal surprise everyone, 'Nightcrawler' is certainly his strongest role yet and the Academy would certainly be able to relate to characters such as the one he portrays.

Best Actress
Amy Adams – ‘Big Eyes’
Felicity Jones – ‘The Theory of Everything’
Julianne Moore – ‘Still Alice’
Rosemund Pike – ‘Gone Girl’
Reese Witherspoon – ‘Wild’

Many are saying Jennifer Anniston will win a nomination with her ‘look Academy, no makeup!’ turn in ‘Cake’, which barely anyone has seen and still fewer are rating as any good, and there’s a good chance she will. Though the Globes and other awarding bodies will want the glamour and clicks that giving her a (quite possibly worthy) nomination, I’m going with Amy Adams. Marianne Cotillard could sneak in for 'Two Days One Night', which no one would begrudge her. Rosemund Pike got huge attention for 'Gone Girl', Witherspoon (the only one likely to challenge) also loses the makeup for 'Wild', which is apparently great (even better is her role as a producer for both 'Gone Girl' and 'Wild'), and Felicity Jones is the magnificent true star of 'The Theory of Everything', but Julianne Moore has this one in the bag. She’s adored far and wide, she’s paid her dues several times over, and she has the 2014 trifecta of starring in the box office-storming 'Hunger Games', the Cannes-winning 'Maps to The Stars', and this incredibly tough role as an Alzheimer’s patient. The Oscar has been considered hers since it was previewed early last year. 

Best Supporting Actor
Edward Norton – ‘Birdman’
Ethan Hawke – ‘Boyhood’
Mark Ruffalo – ‘Foxcatcher’
Robert Duvall – ‘The Judge’
JK Simmons – ‘Whiplash’

If JK Simmons doesn’t take this home there’ll be an outcry. Likely to be the only Oscar given to 'Whiplash', his titanic, divisive role is undoubtedly worthy of the win. Yet another acclaimed Ruffalo performance will likely go unrewarded, Hawke’s commitment to Linklater's project is outstanding and Norton and Duvall show how little effort they need to expend to get results. 

Best Supporting Actress
Patricia Arquette – ‘Boyhood’

Emma Stone – ‘Birdman’
Keira Knightley – ‘The Imitation Game’
Meryl Streep – ‘Into the Woods’
Rene Russo – ‘Nightcrawler’

A good chance that Laura Dern could knock out Rene Russo for her role in ‘Wild’ but either way this is likely to go to Arquette, who carries so much of the emotional heft of 'Boyhood'. Knightley makes the most of her part and she is embracing challenging roles in a way few would have expected a decade ago - she may be performing a nominated song come Oscar night too. Russo is an absolutely casting coup in 'Nightcrawler', and Streep...well, yeah. What did you expect?

Best Adapted Screenplay
American Sniper
Gone Girl
The Imitation Game
The Theory of Everything

Many say ‘Wild’ could also get in the mix here, which could be a good sign of the Academy’s (very) gradual gender balancing – especially if it came at the expense of 'American Sniper', which many critics have found ethically problematic, and just a bit rubbish. My money is on The Imitation Game, as it is an amazing story, if not particularly brilliantly told.

Best Original Screenplay
The Grand Budapest Hotel

A tough call, I’m picking 'Boyhood', though 'Grand Budapest Hotel' could claim a win here, and 'Birdman' could easily take it given how much critics have warmed to it. 'Nightcrawler' is a masterwork in documenting the capitalistic headrush of Los Angelean sociopathy, but its unrelenting bleakness is perhaps not seen to be as artfully assembled as the open-sourced approach of Linklater and his actors.

Best Cinematography
Emmanuel Lubezki – ‘Birdman’
Dick Pope – ‘Mr Turner’
Robert Yeoman – ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’
Roger Deakins – ‘Unbroken’
Oscar Faura - The Imitation Game

Not much of a contest here. Lubezki is very likely to take this, though Deakins has been long, long overdue and Angelina Jolie’s ‘Unbroken’ – widely cited as an Oscar frontrunner for much of last year could see some well-deserved love here. 'Mr Turner', which was widely thought to have been a vehicle for Timothy Spall has divided audiences, though no one has a bad word to say about how beautifully JMW Turner's world is portrayed, wisely choosing not to echo Turner’s style. 

Best Editing
The Imitation Game
The Grand Budapest Hotel

An errant category at the best of times, Best Editing has seen some odd films rewarded over the last decade and it is far from a category used to pad out the award numbers of the Best Picture winner. The seamless edits of 'Birdman', the formal precision of 'Grand Budapest' (or 'Gone Girl' even), the decade straddling weaving of 'Boyhood' or the ricocheting cross-cutting of 'Whiplash' are all frontrunners. For me, 'Boyhood' gets it by a nose. 

Best Costume

The Grand Budapest Hotel
Into the Woods

This is a tricky one, but I think 'Maleficent' will sneak over the line. The Academy rarely rewards faithful adaptations of eras or times, preferring their winners to stick in the memory. The colours and designs are so strong and true to the hyper-real nature of the story I think either this or 'Into the Woods' will take it, though no one would begrudge the brilliantly detailed and controlled 'Grand Budapest' taking this too. 

Best Hair and Makeup
Guardians of the Galaxy
The Grand Budapest Hotel

'Maleficent' and 'Into the Woods' could easily turn up here too, but obvious transformations regularly trump subtle work when the Academy rack their collective brain for what strikes them as striking work. Steve Carrell certainly fits this bill for his work in 'Foxcatcher', and this is likely to be as close as he gets to his first Oscar. 

Best Original Score
The Theory of Everything
The Imitation Game
Gone Girl

This category is a very tough call. Would be wonderful to see Mica Levi's score for 'Under the Skin' make a surprise appearance, but previous winners tend to dominate this field. Don’t be surprised to see Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’s score for 'Gone Girl', Hans Zimmer’s notably (and appropriately) unsubtle work on 'Interstellar', Alexandre Desplat’s 'Unbroken' score (one of the few widely-commended aspects to the film), and the Golden Globe winning 'Theory of Everything' score by Icelandic minimalist Jóhann Jóhannsson. He’s the favourite, just ahead of Desplat, and I’m picking him too. It is a beautiful score.

Best Original Song
Glory – ‘Selma’
Everything is Awesome – ‘The Lego Movie’
Yellow Flicker Beat – ‘The Hunger Games Part I Mockingjay’
Split the Difference – ‘Boyhood’
Lost Stars – ‘Begin Again’

The smart money is on Glory, which won the Golden Globe, though how anyone can get Everything is Awesome out of their head long enough to consider anything else is beyond me. Opportunity from 'Annie' is also a strong chance for making this, as is the title track to ‘Big Eyes’.

Best Production Design
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Into the Woods
The Imitation Game

If there’s one thing you remember about 'Grand Budapest Hotel' it’s the look and the intricate work done with mise en scene. If it’s rewarded anywhere it will be here. 'Into the Woods' has a strong chance, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see 'Maleficent' turn up here too, probably at the expense of 'Interstellar'.

Best Sound Mixing
American Sniper
Into the Woods

Musicals are often rewarded here because gee it's hard to mix music and speaking together. Therefore, despite the hue and cry of 'Interstellar', the distant and intense explosions of 'Fury', the echoes of gunfire and the panicky static of 'American Sniper', 'Into the Woods', like 'Les Miserables' is most likely to be rewarded here.

Best Sound Editing
American Sniper
Guardians of the Galaxy

Big showy efforts and blockbusters tend to be rewarded here, so this is likely to be a showdown between 'Interstellar' and 'Guardians of the Galaxy'. 'Whiplash' has been generating a lot of love over the final few weeks, and it is a peerless job, though the canvas may be too small to earn the nomination. 'The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies' and 'Fury' could both show up here strongly too.

Best Visual Effects
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Guardians of the Galaxy
The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies

Could be that the 'Transformers' and 'X Men' efforts make it in here too. 'Planet of the Apes' was a brilliant and widely-lauded achievement and ran very well at the box office, which may get it over the line. It would be surprising for The Hobbit not to take home anything in its final installment, but the effects weren’t notably better than The Lord of the Rings’ ten years ago. 'Interstellar' is a narrow favourite, which is surprising given the underwhelming critical response to a film that couldn't help but be compared to '2001'. Still, there is much love for Christopher Nolan in the Academy and this may be their best chance to give him a nod. 

Best Animated Film
How to Train Your Dragon 2
The LEGO Movie
Big Hero 6
The Tale of Princess Kaguya

Anyone who saw 'The Tale of Princess Kaguya' has been left struggling to explain the beauty of what the hand-drawn film and its wild mixture of nostalgia and ground-breaking intricacy, but then very few people have actually seen it. Far more likely is the blockbustering 'LEGO Movie' or the much-loved and widely-seen 'How To Train Your Dragon 2', which took the Golden Globe. Likely to be out of these two, I’m picking 'The LEGO Movie' as this did very well outside of the US too, where an increasing proportion of the Academy hail.

Best Documentary Feature
Finding Vivian Maier
Life Itself
Last Days in Vietnam
Keep On Keeping On

‘The most thrilling movie of the year’ was, by many accounts, the documentary about Edward Snowden, 'Citizenfour'. That the producers are currently being sued and having accusations of assisting Edward Snowden hasn’t tarnished its chances and it has been a real surprise. There’s a very good chance of ‘The Case Against 8’ turning up here and the universally-acclaimed ‘Virunga’, I see the biggest competition coming from the Roger Ebert documentary 'Life Itself', which was interestingly assembled, as if addressing accusations of playing to the Academy before it was even made.

Best Foreign Film
Force Majeure
Wild Tales

Despite ‘Force Majeure’ being one of my (and many other’s) Top 10 films of 2014, the slow, elegant and surprisingly short ‘Ida’ is a clear favourite amongst prognosticators here. 'Leviathan' was a surprise winner at the Globes, especially as it is a ‘slow Russian film’, which has never been the easiest proposition to sell to a time-starved Academy member deciding which of the dozens of screeners they’ve been plied with is most worthy of their attention. My money is still on 'Force Majeure' as it is such a strong story and with one of the most memorable scenes of recent years.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Wrapping up 2014 in End of Year Lists

I spent most of 2014 as an observer and occasional participator rather than a recorder. My new full-time journalism course and new job at a newspaper meant I saw fewer gigs and interviewed fewer musicians than before. Admittedly, I also wrote an awful lot about things besides music. Because of this I am putting little stock in this year's lists. As with every year, there are too many blind spots to render it of much use rather than keeping score of the year's releases and cultural tendencies. Benji may be a depressing listen for many, but as an achievement in storytelling and mining a seam of songwriting rarely sought in this day and age, it's a massively impressive work. Sonically, A Sunny Day in Glasgow seem to remain one of the most under-appreciated bands currently working. The cross-continental collective sound like they're breaking new ground with every release and this was a real surprise. The divisive song Seasons by Future Islands seems to be feted so highly because it must surely appeal to a great many music nerds to see a fearless, charismatic man on stage with a slightly receding hairline. It's a cracking song, though the album doesn't quite hold up all the way through. Caribou's Our Love does, though it never touches the heights of opener Can't Do Without You. Alvvays were on repeat for much of the year, though their infectious indie pop is unlikely to win fans to the genre despite being well-reviewed.
Anyway, these are the records that made 2014 for me:
3. Our Love CARIBOU
4. Alvvays ALVVAYS
6. Run the Jewels 2 RUN THE JEWELS
8. Lowtide LOWTIDE
9. Makthaverskan II MAKTHAVERSKAN

1. L For Leisure JOHN ATKINSON (Soundtrack)
2. L’amour LEWIS (Reissue)
3. Spiderland SLINT (Reissue)

1. Marry Me Archie ALVVAYS
2. Can’t Do Without You CARIBOU
3. Oppressive (The Best Gay Possible) PET SHOP BOYS
6. Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck) RUN THE JEWELS FEAT. ZACH DE LA ROCHA
9. Easy Money JOHNNY MARR

1. L-Fresh the Lion
2. Hideous Towns
3. Alvvays
4. Blair Dunlop
5. Viet Cong


1. Dolly Parton ETIHAD STADIUM
3. Johnny Marr CORNER HOTEL
5. Parquet Courts LANEWAY FESTIVAL

1. The Stickmen CORNER HOTEL
2. Love of Diagrams CORNER HOTEL
3. Kirin J Callinan LANEWAY FESTIVAL
4. Jack Ladder  CORNER HOTEL
5. Dynamo CHERRY BAR

1. Fargo
2. Media Watch
3. True Detective
4. At the Movies
5. Sherlock

1. Frank
2. Under the Skin
3. Her
4. Nightcrawler
5. L For Leisure
6. Force Majeure
7. Nymphomaniac Vol I
8. Sunshine on Leith
9. We Are The Best
10. Blue is the Warmest Colour
11. Whiplash
12. Interstellar
13. Black Coal, Thin Ice
14. Gone Girl
15. The Theory of Everything
16. Edge of Tomorrow
17. Predestination
18. Cavalry
19. The Grand Budapest Hotel
20. It Follows

1. Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo’s Film Reviews – Radio Five Live
2. Serial - NPR
3. Screen Talk - Indiewire
4. In Our Time With Melvyn Bragg – BBC Radio 4
5. From Our Own Correspondent – BBC Radio 4

Alt-J. I listen to it, I frown at it, and I just don't get it.

“I don’t think anybody, me included, knew it was illegal.” - Rebekah Brooks

The Calgary band Viet Cong will blow up, and Taylor Swift's Australian tour to break records.