Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Critical Week: If the shoe fits

Some big movies were screened to UK critics this week, including Disney's new live-action Cinderella, starring Lily James and Richard Madden, plus the likes of Cate Blanchett, Helena Bonham Carter, Holliday Grainger and Downton Abbey's Sophie McShera. Directed by Kenneth Branagh, this takes a more sumptuous, old-fashioned approach than Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland or last year's Maleficent, and it's rather charming. This screening included the first London showing of the hilariously entertaining short Frozen Fever, which will definitely further the franchise.

The other gorgeously well-made big-budget film was Suite Francaise, based on Irene Nemirovsky's acclaimed novel and starring an especially superb Michelle Williams, Matthias Schoenaerts and Kristin Scott Thomas. We also had very late screenings of two films opening this week around the world, and both have had their reviews embargoed until later in the week: Neil Blomkamp's Chappie and the Vince Vaughn comedy Unfinished Business. 

A bit further afield, there was Salma Hayek energetically fighting off a steady stream of goons in Everly, Julia Stiles and Scott Speedman facing creepy child ghosts in Colombia in Out of the Dark, Jean Dujardin chasing an elusive drug dealer in The Connection, a group of kids trying to be themselves in the astute comedy-drama Geography Club, some comically inept East End London criminals in the rather tired Hackney's Finest, and a subtle exploration of unexpected young love in Berlin in Silent Youth.

Coming up this week: Sean Penn in The Gunman, Charlotte Gainsbourg in Samba, Virginia Madsen in Walter, the hit American teen comedy The Duff, another meta-comical American rom-com Playing It Cool, the British indie drama The Goob, and the Colombian drama Gente de Bien.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Critical Week: Adele and Glom forever

As always, the Oscar ceremony on Sunday night (early Monday morning live in London) was packed with classic moments, not least the awkward reunion of Idina Menzel and John Travolta, aka Adele Dazeem and Glom Gazingo. The other inspired presenter pairing was non-nominees Jennifer Aniston and David Oyelowo. Neil Patrick Harris peppered the ceremony with zingy off-handed one-liners, and lots of stiff scripted ones that made the show drag badly in the middle. Thankfully, the winners accepted their awards with a rare boldness, championing worthy big issues and refusing to accept the play-off music. Frankly, the movies should be more about this kind of thing: provoking thought by rocking the boat.

On the other hand, some of the winners were definitely not up to par - Birdman was far too heavily awarded. But it's about show business, so the voters couldn't resist, even though there were better films nominated. Big Hero 6 was the least of the animated nominees. And The Imitation Game's script is its weakest link. But never mind, history is likely to remember Boyhood as the film of the year no matter who won. And let's hear it for the Savage Grace reunion of winners Julianne Moore and Eddie Redmayne!

As for screenings last week, I took it a bit quietly. The biggest movie was The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water, a surreal romp that never tries to be anything but bonkers. The best film was Celine Sciamma's Girlhood, an astonishing, artful exploration of how it feels to be an outsider. And there was also Jennifer Lopez in the overwrought slushy thriller The Boy Next Door, Kodi Smit-McPhee in the mopey and introspective All the Wilderness, and the darkly inventive, provocatively moving Brazilian drama Futuro Beach. We also had the launch of this year's BFI Flare line-up, which looks unusually strong (the festival runs 19-29 March).

Coming up this week, Michelle Williams in Suite Francaise, Hugh Jackman in Chappie, Salma Hayek in Everly, Jean Dujardin in The Connection, British crime thriller Hackney's Finest, and horse-racing doc Dark Horse, plus catching up on things I skipped last week...

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Requisite Blog Photo: Spongemania

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Out on a limb: Oscar picks 2015

Sunday night's ceremony looks like it could feature a few big upsets (hopefully). And a new host in Neil Patrick Harris also means that the show itself will be less predictable. Apart from the acting categories, several races seem too close to call this year, which always makes the ceremony more fun to watch. My groans will be loudest if Birdman wins either film or actor, and my biggest cheer will be if anything other than Big Hero 6 wins animated feature.

I'll be watching the ceremony at the official Ampas Oscar party in London this year - it starts at 11pm and goes until 5am, shortly after Best Picture is announced. Then I can go home and take a long nap!

Here are my choices and predictions - I doubt I'll do as well as last year, when I only missed one...

PICTURE
Will/should win: Boyhood
Could win: Birdman
Dark horse: American Sniper

DIRECTING
Will win: Alejandro G Inarritu - Birdman
Could/should win: Richard Linklater - Boyhood

ACTOR
Will/should win: Eddie Redmayne - The Theory of Everything
Could win: Michael Keaton - Birdman
Dark horse: Bradley Cooper - American Sniper

ACTRESS
Will/should win: Julianne Moore - Still Alice

SUPPORTING ACTOR
Will win: J.K. Simmons - Whiplash
Should win: Mark Ruffalo - Foxcatcher

SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Will/should win: Patricia Arquette - Boyhood

FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
Will win: Ida
Should/could win: Leviathan

ANIMATED FEATURE FILM
Will win: Big Hero 6
Could win: The Tale of the Princess Kaguya
Should win: How to Train Your Dragon 2

DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
Will/should win: Citizenfour
Could win: Virunga

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Will win: The Imitation Game - Graham Moore
Could win: American Sniper - Jason Hall
Should win: Inherent Vice - Paul Thomas Anderson

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Will/should win: The Grand Budapest Hotel - Wes Anderson, Hugo Guinness
Could win: Birdman - Alejandro G Inarritu, et al

PRODUCTION DESIGN / COSTUMES 
Will/should win: The Grand Budapest Hotel

MAKEUP
Will win: Foxcatcher
Could win: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Should win: Guardians of the Galaxy

ORIGINAL SCORE
Will/should win: Johann Johannsson - The Theory of Everything
Could win: Alexandre Desplat - The Grand Budapest Hotel

ORIGINAL SONG
Will win: Glory - Selma
Should win: Everything Is Awesome - The Lego Movie

CINEMATOGRAPHY
Will win: Birdman - Emmanuel Lubezki
Could win: Mr Turner - Dick Pope
Should win: Ida - Ryszard Lenczewski, Lukasz Zal

SOUND EDITING / SOUND MIXING
Will/should win: American Sniper

VISUAL EFFECTS
Will win: Interstellar
Could win: Guardians of the Galaxy
Should win: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

FILM EDITING
Will/should win: Boyhood
Could win: Whiplash
Dark horse: American Sniper

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Critical Week: Sleepless in Seattle

In the absence of UK press screenings, critics had to actually buy tickets (shock horror!) to see Fifty Shades of Grey on Friday morning with the superfans. Surprisingly, the film isn't that bad, and works as a rather well-made guilty pleasure. It's made a box office fortune, but earlier reviews might have broadened the audience even further.

Big movies screened this past week include the all-star British sequel The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, reuniting the likes of Judi Dench, Maggie Smith and Bill Nighy plus Richard Gere and Tamsin Grieg (comments are embargoed). Will Smith and Margot Robbie star in the conman romp Focus, which uneasily mixes a heist thriller with a rom-com. Chris Hemsworth plays a hacker in the cyberthriller Blackhat, another awkward mix of mystery drama and romance.

A little further afield, the fan doc Backstreet Boys: Show 'Em What You're Made Of is engaging without scratching the surface; Francois Ozon's The New Girlfriend is utterly magical filmmaking with amazing performances and some complex, important things to say; the low-budget The Last Straight Man is an astute two-hander exploring male friendships and relationships and the blurred line of sexuality; Dreamcatcher is an award-winning doc that can't help but inspire us to reach out to our community; Kissing Darkness is a corny gay comedy-horror about vampires in the woods; and Global Warming is a collection of four provocative comedy-drama shorts by Reid Waterer - two are very good, two are just ok.

This coming week's screenings include Celine Sciamma's award-winning Girlhood, Jeremy Renner in Kill the Messenger, the animated hit The Spongebob Movie: Sponge out of Water, Kodi Smit-McPhee in All the Wilderness, Julia Stiles in Out of the Dark, Sion Sono's Tokyo Tribe and the Brazilian drama Futuro Beach.

And I'll be watching the Oscars live all night Sunday night - best picture is usually announced just as the sun is coming up on Monday morning in London.

By the way, the blog passed 100,000 hits this week.

Monday, 9 February 2015

Critical Week: Bafta celebrates Boyhood

It was the biggest night in the UK film calendar, as the British Academy Film Awards were handed out at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden. Richard Linklater's Boyhood emerged as the big winner, taking Film, Director and Supporting Actress. Pictured above is the movie's attending cast and crew, plus Tom Cruise, who presented Best Film. Alas, Linklater was absent due to the Directors Guild Awards the previous night in Los Angeles.

The other big winner was Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel, which took home five Baftas: Original Screenplay, Score, Production Design, Costumes and Make-up & Hair. Other triple winners were The Theory of Everything (British Film, Actor, Adapted Screenplay) and Whiplash (Supporting Actor, Editing and Sound). Pictured at the right is Best Actress winner Julianne Moore with presenters Henry Cavill and Chris Evans, and Best Actor winner Eddie Redmayne with the person he played in the film, Stephen Hawking.

Bafta is always a strange one, because the BBC refuses to broadcast it live, waiting a few hours and chopping it down to two hours to show later at night - meaning there are several "awards presented earlier" bits in the closing credits. This butchers the ceremony's flow and momentum, leaving it feeling oddly dry and dull. It doesn't help that Stephen Fry has been hosting just a bit too long - he's still timely and pithy, but offers nothing remotely new from year to year.

As for other awards, Bafta usually gets to present at least one worthy winner that Oscar ignored, and Sunday night's was The Lego Movie, which won Animated Feature. It was also great to see Ida win Foreign-Language Film and Pride's writer and producer win the Outstanding Debut award. Finally, it was no surprise that Jack O'Connell won the Rising Star Award - he's had an awesome year with Starred Up, '71, Unbroken and even 300: Rise of an Empire.

Meanwhile, Screenings this past week were all rather low-key titles, including the strikingly involving transgender comedy-drama Boy Meets Girl, the enjoyable British indie alien invasion adventure Robot Overlords, the astonishing Ukrainian deaf-gang drama The Tribe and the eye-opening narrative documentary The Man Who Saved the World. I also got a chance to see Blade Runner: The Final Cut on a big screen for the first time in advance of its re-release in a couple of months.

This coming week's collection will include the event movie Fifty Shades of Grey, Will Smith in Focus, Chris Hemsworth in Blackhat, Francois Ozon's The New Girlfriend, the Kiwi drama The Dark Horse and the acclaimed doc Dreamcatcher.