The Watchers

The Watchers

Monday, 26 January 2015

Awards Season 2015: Producers' Guild Awards and SAG Awards Results


Well, after a brief respite, Awards Season rears its head for a brief moment as two important Guild Awards were handed out over this last weekend.

PRODUCERS' GUILD AWARDS 


The Producers' Guild Awards were handed out on 24th January. The film winners were:

Outstanding Producer of Theatrical Motion Pictures: Birdman

Outstanding Producer of Animated Theatrical Motion Pictures: The Lego Movie

Documentary Film: Life Itself

The fact that Birdman got the PGA over Boyhood has been seen as a sign that the tide is starting to shift away from Linklater's epic. Of course, there are no guarantees- but a win at the PGA is a pretty good indication of Oscar success (if you're nominated, unlike The Lego Movie and Life Itself).


SCREEN ACTORS GUILD AWARDS

The Screen Actors' Guild Awards were announced on 25th January. The film winners were:


Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture: 
Birdman

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role: 
Eddie Redmayne (The Theory Of Everything)

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role: 
Julianne Moore (Still Alice)

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role: 
J.K. Simmons (Whiplash)

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role: 
Patricia Arquette (Boyhood)

No surprises with Moore, Simmons and Arquette adding to their impressive haul of silverware, but a win for Eddie Redmayne in the awards voted for by actors (many of whom are also Academy members) puts him ahead in the Best Actor race (with Michael Keaton probably the second-placed runner). Birdman's win for Best Cast (essentially the SAG's Best Picture) adds to the speculation that it might be a triumph for Birdman come late February.

Up next in awards season is the Directors' Guild Award on 7th February and the BAFTA Film Awards on 8th February.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Review: American Sniper (UK Cert 15)


SPOILER WARNING! This review discusses and/or mentions a few important plot points. If you would prefer not to have these spoiled, please stop reading now and come back once you've seen the film.  

American Sniper is a difficult film to talk about, mostly because it deals with an emotive subject (the war in Iraq and America's part in it) and also because it is based on a true story. Any criticism of the film feels like a criticism of the person and that isn't exactly fair on those left behind. 

As much as it is possible, I am going to limit myself to talking about the film as a film- as a fictionalised account of Chris Kyle's life and work- and try and stay out of the bigger picture or wider context of the war, the military and even what Kyle was like as a real person (or what the book he wrote, which the screenplay is based on, says). This might be a bit of a cop-out but it's probably safer. For an interesting look on the historical accuracy (or otherwise) of the film, this is a good article to start with.

Kyle (Bradley Cooper) was raised by a devoutly religious family, initially becoming a cowboy and then signed up to the US Navy SEALS and acted as a sniper in Iraq, completing four tours of duty. He is credited with over 160 confirmed kills although the figure may be much higher. He married and had children and, once he left the Army, he helped injured soldiers in rehabilitation. He was shot and killed in 2013 at a shooting range in Texas by a young army veteran he was trying to help, who was suffering from PTSD.

First things first: there is a lot I didn't like about American Sniper.

Mostly, the bellicose, jingoistic, America-f*ck-yeah, hoo-rah attitude espoused by Kyle. Things were black and white: America is the greatest country in the world and anyone threatening it needs to be put down with extreme prejudice. The world operates in shades of grey, sadly, so this tunnel-visioned narrowmindedness is utterly alienating- not to mention wearying in the extreme. There's no discussion, nothing wavering from that message. They're evil, they're savages, they deserve to die. That's that. Done. I understand that some people see the world thus and that's how they operate- and no doubt for soldiers, they have to see the world in such terms in order to do the things they sometimes have to do- but, as a narrative, it's not something I can get behind.

A secondary issue is the (over)use of war movie cliches that infect the plot. A colleague talking about marriage once he gets home? Dead or injured at least. A shadowy doppelganger of the lead character, doing the same thing but on the other side? Present. That said, Eastwood has an eye for detail and does create some tense moments (such as the section of the film shown in the trailer where Kyle must decide on taking down a child armed with a missile). But after that, it does go down hill and occasionally felt like watching someone play a first-person-shooter.  

Cooper's performance is decent. Kyle is a man of few words, a lot goes on behind his eyes and the subtle hints (underplayed) that he may be suffering from PTSD work well without any histrionics. Kyle appeared to be a man unrepentant about his work- claiming that he would meet his Maker with a clean conscience- and that's a difficult sell without coming across as a psychopath, but the film just about does it. The rest of Kyle's platoon are sadly unremarkable cannon-fodder and those characters are not fleshed out at all. 

The best performance of the film comes from Sienna Miller who plays Kyle's wife, Taya. Her uncertainty at getting into a relationship with a SEAL is played well and she and Cooper have a real potent chemistry together. She is the emotional anchor of the film and absolutely sells it without going over the top. At times you feel like screaming at her 'why don't you just leave him?' but Miller's performance brings across the deep love that Taya has for her husband, which makes the end of the story even more devastating.

Kyle's time away from the forces and his work with rehabilitation is perhaps more interesting than a lot of the previous stuff, but it gets glossed over with a shortish 20-minute coda, with a presentation of the fateful day that Kyle was killed. The action takes place off-screen, with a succinct one-line text to sum it up. The mid-credits then show real-life footage from Kyle's memorial service and the end credits then roll in total silence to let you absorb the tragedy. It's undeniably powerful but utterly manipulative at the same time.

As a film, American Sniper is not without its issues. You either have to get behind the black-and-white view of the world its main character has, or be able to see past it, to engage. It's probably one of the stronger films that has been made about the war in Iraq but it's still not the Iraq war equivalent to, say, Platoon or Saving Private Ryan.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Tez

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Review: Whiplash (UK Cert: 15)


I’m addicted to music, but you won’t find a traditional jazz album in my collection. I can’t fault the musicians, some of whom are the most talented artists ever seen (Herbie Hancock, Charles Mingus, Miles Davis), but I like my music to have a discernible melody, something I can sing or hum along to. Call me a music fascist, but the way I see jazz, the band is having a lot more fun than the audience. So a film that is pitched as a “jazz thriller” didn’t have me rushing to hand over my money at the cinema. The only reason I gave Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash a go is because of all the five-out-of-five reviews its been getting, and that it stars the mind –bogglingly underrated J.K. Simmons.

One of Whiplash’s many strengths is that there is no straightforward hero or villain here, Miles Teller’s college student Andrew and Simmons’ music teacher Fletcher are far more complicated than that. Andrew wants to be one of the greatest drummers of all time. He’s cocky and callous sometimes, putting his dream first and rarely stopping to think about his family or girlfriend, but the thought of dying without being remembered in the history books terrifies him. All of the legendary sport and music stars have that self-belief bordering on arrogance which puts them at the top of their game, practicing non-stop for hours, and Andrew is no exception. Cinematographer Sharone Meir near enough shoves the camera in Teller’s face as we watch him obsessing over a piece’s percussion, blood and sweat staining his drum kit, or his reaction when Fletcher repeatedly tells him his timing is off. Andrew is far from a cuddly, instantly identifiable protagonist, but you are willing him to succeed, to make it, to the point where you will most likely be nervously fidgeting in your seat.

J.K. Simmons has, for most of his career, had to put up with bit parts, making the most of his limited time on screen (Juno, Spider-Man). It’s taken a while but Simmons has, at long last, been given a role that shows off how talented an actor he is (Chazelle also wrote the script). Fletcher is both mentor and adversary, literally pushing Andrew to breaking point because he wants to unlock the talent this young man has. Music is Fletcher’s passion, but he puts that passion across through profanity-fuelled rages, throwing instruments at unsuspecting band members who don’t make the grade. Simmons manages to make Fletcher cruel and intimidating one minute, then laugh-out-loud funny the next, a tricky balancing act that most actors would struggle to make convincing.

Whiplash is filmed as if virtually every scene is from a momentous live gig, the editing a frenzied pace as we go back-and-forth, back-and-forth between Fletcher and Teller. The film is littered with close ups of Teller on his drum kit, sweat pouring down his face, hands stained with blood; you feel Teller’s struggle, the agony he’s going through just to get a nod or a smile off of Fletcher. Chazelle knows his music, he knows the composition of the film’s title song, written by Hank Levy, inside-and-out, showing off the musicians, whether it’s bassist, pianist or the horn section with perfectly timed shots that zoom in or swiftly pan across the band. Guaranteed, this is some of the best editing you will see in 2015.

Sadly, Whiplash isn’t quite perfect; there are fifteen/twenty minutes where the film lulls. Andrew is on his knees, his dream of being the next Buddy Rich looking like it will never happen. Yet Whiplash near enough follows the rules and traditions of the sports film, except you have a band instead of a team, a rehearsal space instead of a ring. We know that Andrew is going to get another chance, so why does Chazelle’s script take so long to get to this? There’s an impressive scene where Fletcher and Teller sit down and explain the reasons behind their actions, but you still feel like the film wobbles, that it loses that ferocious pace. As Fletcher repeatedly barks throughout Whiplash, “Not my tempo!”

Aside from a quarter-of-an-hour where the film oddly shifts down a gear, Whiplash is one hell of an experience.  It’s emotional, has plenty of questions (for instance, are Fletcher’s methods of teaching barbaric or inspiring?), and, for most of its running time, fires along at a slick, white knuckle pace. Simmons and Teller have one of the most complex onscreen relationships of recent years; it’s primal, whilst also managing to be subtle. With awards season, where studios cynically churn out films that tick all the boxes to ensure an Oscar or a Golden Globe, Damien Chazelle’s debut is unlike anything you will see in cinemas this year. It doesn’t matter how you feel about jazz music, you need to give Whiplash a go.

4 out of 5

Matt

Friday, 16 January 2015

Awards Season 2015: Critics' Choice Awards


Aside from the announcement of the Oscar nominations yesterday, there was another awards ceremony to contend with. The Critics' Choice Awards were given out. Below are a list of selected film winners:

Best Picture: Boyhood

Best Actor: Michael Keaton (Birdman)

Best Actress: Julianne Moore (Still Alice)

Best Supporting Actor: J.K. Simmons (Whiplash)

Best Supporting Actress: Patricia Arquette (Boyhood)

Best Acting Ensemble: Birdman

Best Director: Richard Linklater (Boyhood)

Best Animated Feature: The Lego Movie

Best Original Screenplay: Birdman

Best Adapted Screenplay: Gone Girl

A full list of winners can be found here

The Critics Choice Awards also have categories for action movies, sci-fi/horror (which are inexplicably lumped together) and comedies, so Michael Keaton walked away with two trophies last night as he was named both Best Actor and Best Actor In A Comedy. 

Wins for Julianne Moore, J.K. Simmons and Patricia Arquette do no harm to their Oscar chances at all, whilst wins for Boyhood and Richard Linklater do likewise. Whilst it's far from sewn up, at least there's an indication on which way the wind is blowing.

After a busy week, the Awards Season mercifully takes a break until next weekend, with the announcement of the Producers' Guild Awards on 24th January and then the Screen Actors' Guild Awards on 25th January.

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Awards Season 2015: Academy Award Nominations


As announced earlier today, here is a selection of the nominations for this year's Academy Awards:

BEST PICTURE
American Sniper
Birdman
Boyhood
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
Selma
The Theory Of Everything
Whiplash

BEST DIRECTOR
Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel)
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Birdman)
Richard Linklater (Boyhood)
Bennett Miller (Foxcatcher)
Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game)

BEST ACTOR
Steve Carell (Foxcatcher)
Bradley Cooper (American Sniper)
Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game)
Michael Keaton (Birdman)
Eddie Redmayne (The Theory Of Everything)

BEST ACTRESS
Marion Cotillard (Two Days, One Night)
Felicity Jones (The Theory Of Everything)
Julianne Moore (Still Alice)
Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl)
Reese Witherspoon (Wild)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Robert Duvall (The Judge)
Ethan Hawke (Boyhood)
Edward Norton (Birdman)
Mark Ruffalo (Foxcatcher)
J.K. Simmons (Whiplash)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Patricia Arquette (Boyhood)
Laura Dern (Wild)
Keira Knightley (The Imitation Game)
Emma Stone (Birdman)
Meryl Streep (Into The Woods)

A full list of nominees can be found here.

I got 27 out of 33 (which I make as 82%) which is the same as last year. Not too bad.

Meryl Streep gains her nineteenth nomination for Into The Woods. There's a lot of love for American Sniper, and both Morten Tyldum's and Bennett Miller's nod for Best Director are interesting to see. The Lego Movie misses out on a Best Animated Feature nod but does get a nomination for Best Original Song ('Everything Is Awesome!') whilst one of Studio Ghibli's last films The Tale Of The Princess Kaguya does get a nomination.

Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and X-Men: Days Of Future Past get nominated for Best Visual Effects along with Guardians Of The Galaxy and Interstellar.

The 87th Academy Awards will be handed out on Sunday February 22nd in a ceremony hosted by Neil Patrick Harris. 

Congratulations to all nominees!

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Awards Season 2015: Tez's Official Academy Award Nomination Predictions


Tomorrow, the nominations for the the 87th Academy Awards will be announced. But they're doing things a little differently this year.

At 5.30am PST, directors J.J. Abrams and Alfonso Cuaron (last year's Best Director winner) will take to the stage and announce the first twelve categories, which will be mostly technical (Best Sound Design, Best Visual Effects and such). Then at 5.38am PST, Cheryl Boone Isaacs (president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences) and Chris Pine (Star Trek, Into The Woods) will announce the other twelve categories (which will include Best Picture and the acting awards). It is the first time that all 24 categories will reveal their nominations in the broadcast- usually it's just the major awards with the technical awards being announced by a press release shortly afterwards.

As has been my practice for the last few years, I like to try and predict who will be nominated (this is done for Best Picture, Best Director and the four acting awards). Below is my list of who I think will be named on Thursday.

NB. Just like the last few years, the Academy rules state that there could be anywhere between five and ten Best Picture nominees. I have selected ten films. If the total number of films nominated is less than ten, but one of the movies selected is named in my list of ten, I will count it as a successful prediction.

BEST PICTURE
Birdman
Boyhood
Foxcatcher
Gone Girl
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
Nightcrawler
Selma
The Theory Of Everything
Whiplash

BEST DIRECTOR
Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel)
Ava DuVernay (Selma)
Clint Eastwood (American Sniper)
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Birdman)
Richard Linklater (Boyhood)

BEST ACTOR
Steve Carell (Foxcatcher)
Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game)
Jake Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler)
Michael Keaton (Birdman)
Eddie Redmayne (The Theory Of Everything)

BEST ACTRESS
Jennifer Aniston (Cake)
Felicity Jones (The Theory Of Everything)
Julianne Moore (Still Alice)
Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl)
Reese Witherspoon (Wild)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Robert Duvall (The Judge)
Ethan Hawke (Boyhood)
Edward Norton (Birdman)
Mark Ruffalo (Foxcatcher)
J.K. Simmons (Whiplash)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Patricia Arquette (Boyhood)
Jessica Chastain (A Most Violent Year)
Keira Knightley (The Imitation Game)
Emma Stone (Birdman)
Meryl Streep (Into The Woods)

American Sniper could well sneak in a Best Picture nomination (with Selma looking to be the most likely replacement if it does). Best Director has been a bit of a crapshoot, given the DGA's announcement yesterday; I've still included Ava DuVernay but it's open.

Best Actor could see Steve Carell bumped in favour of David Oyelowo or possibly Ralph Fiennes. It could well be that Academy voters see Carell's performance as more of a supporting role and place him accordingly. The Academy do have previous on this; the year that Kate Winslet won, in every other awards ceremony, she'd been a Best Supporting Actress nominee for The Reader. The Academy bumped her to Best Actress. If Carell does get placed in Supporting Actor, the most likely casualty will be Robert Duvall. 

Best Actress seems fairly settled, although a surprise nomination for Amy Adams (Big Eyes) or Marion Cotillard (Two Days, One Night) in place of Jennifer Aniston could happen. Similarly, whilst the Supporting Actress category is pretty fixed, Carmen Ejogo (Selma) or even Rene Russo (Nghtcrawler) could get named. 

Usually a score of 15 is adequate, but given the fact that there could be anywhere between 5 and 10 Best Picture awards, I'ill be happy with a prediction of 18 or higher. Last year, I got 28 out of 34. I'm not that confident this year.

I'll add the official nominations once they're announced on Thursday afternoon.

Tez

Awards Season 2015: Razzies Nominations


For every ying, there is a yang. For every night, there is a day. For every self-important self-congratulatory awards ceremony, there is... the Razzie Awards. Dishonouring the very worst of cinema in 2014 (and, by God, there was a lot of it), the nominations for the 35th Annual Golden Raspberry Awards were announced today. 

Here are the full nominations:

WORST PICTURE
Kirk Cameron's Saving Christmas
Left Behind
The Legend Of Hercules
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Transformers: Age Of Extinction

WORST DIRECTOR
Michael Bay (Transformers: Age Of Extinction)
Darren Doane (Kirk Cameron's Saving Christmas)
Renny Harlin (The Legend Of Hercules)
Jonathan Liebesman (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles)
Seth MacFarlane (A Million Ways To Die In The West)

WORST ACTOR
Kirk Cameron (Kirk Cameron's Saving Christmas)
Nicolas Cage (Left Behind)
Kellan Lutz (The Legend Of Hercules)
Seth MacFarlane (A Million Ways To Die In The West)
Adam Sandler (Blended)

WORST ACTRESS
Drew Barrymore (Blended)
Cameron Diaz (The Other Woman, Sex Tape)
Melissa McCarthy (Tammy)
Charlize Theron (A Million Ways To Die In The West)
Gaia Weiss (The Legend Of Hercules)

WORST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Mel Gibson (Expendables 3)
Kelsey Grammer (Expendables 3, Legends Of Oz, Think Like A Man Too, Transformers 4)
Shaquille O'Neal (Blended)
Arnold Schwarzenegger (Expendables 3)
Kiefer Sutherland (Pompeii)

WORST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Cameron Diaz (Annie)
Megan Fox (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles)
Nicole Peltz (Transformers: Age Of Extinction)
Susan Sarandon (Tammy)
Brigitte Ridenour nee Cameron (Kirk Cameron's Saving Christmas)

WORST REMAKE, SEQUEL OR RIP-OFF
Annie
Atlas Shrugged #3: Who Is John Galt?
The Legend Of Hercules
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Transformers: Age Of Extinction

WORST SCREEN COMBO
Any Two Robots, Actors (or Robotic Actors) (Transformers: Age Of Extinction)
Kirk Cameron & His Ego (Kirk Cameron's Saving Christmas)
Cameron Diaz & Jason Segel (Sex Tape)
Kellan Lutz & Either His Abs, His Pecs or His Glutes (The Legend Of Hercules)
Seth MacFarlane & Charlize Theron (A Million Ways To Die In The West)

WORST SCREENPLAY
Kirk Cameron's Saving Christmas
Left Behind
Sex Tape
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Transformers: Age Of Extinction

It's good to see Transformers: Age Of Extinction and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles getting so richly rewarded for their utter excrescence. I do feel a bit bad for Charlize Theron, as I thought her performance was probably the best thing about A Million Ways To Die In The West. Also, fun fact, at the time of writing, Kirk Cameron's Saving Christmas is officially the worst-rated movie on IMDb (at the very bottom of the Bottom 100). 

For 2014, there is a new Award. The Redeemer Award is for the artist whose cinematic accomplishment in 2014 has redeemed their nomination or win on a previous Razzie Awards. The inaugural nominees are: Ben Affleck, Jennifer Aniston, Mike Myers, Keanu Reeves, and Kristen Stewart. This one is a public vote and you can vote here

Next up, I will finally make my mind up (damn you, DGA) and put up my official Oscar Nomination Predictions.


Tez