Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Review: Before Midnight


Who we were isn't lost before we were us
Indigo is his own
Blue always knew this

Tori Amos - Your Cloud

There's something that fascinates me about pulling off the perfect cinematic trilogy. It's a tough nut to crack.

With Before Sunrise, Before Sunset and now Before Midnight, Richard Linklater has cracked it. It's a wonder he pulled off even one enduring classic built entirely around two characters having a conversation. Instead, together with co-writers & stars Delpy & Hawke, he has delivered three films, each as lovely as the other, enriching rather than diluting what went before and demanding repeat viewings. Like any great trilogy, the first made a lasting impact on the popular zeitgeist, the second stuck to the template but upped the stakes, and the third changes the way we view the former, while faithfully playing out the characters and narrative we've come to love. Brilliant work, Linklater.

But Before Midnight is more than just a brilliant final instalment in a great, unlikely trilogy. It's also a harrowing / humorous dissection of a full-bodied relationship, and one of the best grown up films you'll see this year.

Every relationship is defined by the perceptions and participation of both parties. Things are only ever how we choose to see them. Jesse and Celine (SPOILER ALERT) are now officially together, with kids, and see their relationship very differently. What does it take to make it last, and is it worth trying? A preface between Jesse and his son casts a shadow of domestic responsibility over the enchanting encounters of the first two films. Yes, they made the choice we kind of hoped they would, despite the complications they would entail. Now those complications must play themselves out in the real world (or as real world as a family holiday at the Greek villa of a famous writer can be). There's no literal ticking clock here like in Sunrise and Sunset; The clock that ticks is in the unspoken tensions between Jesse and Celine. Or perhaps only in Celine's head. Or perhaps, as Celine would insist, fate. Whatever the cause, the metaphysical clock is set in motion to decide if Jesse and Celine will have a happily ever after. 

In a way,  for all its indie-kids romantic origins, Before Midnight is the anti-rom com. This is about the work it takes to keep the pieces of any relationship in place, and the terror that strikes when the bond is called into question. Relationships can't be all long walks and profound talks in beautifiul cities. Any choice you could have made, no matter how magical, will ultimately require work. And sacrifice. 

This time round, Linklater allows a number of ancillary characters to join the conversation in the middle section of the film, adding their perspectives to the question of love in the modern age - can it last? Is there any point in expecting it to? Wouldn't relationships be easier if we just take off the pressure and accept the expiry date? Only one party offers a differing view, but she makes a compelling case. Either she has been very lucky, or the others are doing it wrong. Or philosophise around their own fear of failure.

Both leads are brilliant, fleshing out characters they created nearly two decades ago, and replacing the awkwardness and uncertainty of the first two films with years and years of shared subtext, layered into the long takes and free flowing naturalism. It's hard to understand how well the actors have to know their characters, and each other, to work in so much complexity without losing the in-the-moment authenticity. 

But it's Julie Delpy who gives one of the unmissable performances of the year. Celine has always been the more complicated character - even their host, Patrick, tells Jesse he is the only great writer he knows who has a partner more interesting than he is - but, in Midnight, she is not in a great place. The mundane responsibilities of motherhood, and the intense devotion she feels for her family, leave her tired and she is keeping score of every sacrifice she makes for the sake of her relationship with Jesse that takes her further and further from the independent intellectual she always planned to be. She loves her family but fears losing herself to them, especially to Jesse. From domestic logistics to gatherings of friends to vicious arguments, Delpy plays it all with a constant swirl of resentment, bitterness, wit and devil-may-care independence simmering beneath the surface.  


Delpy & her co-writers aren't scared to take Celine to dark places - we feel her frustrations, but also how she traps herself in her own contradictory feministic rhetoric and impossible expectations. She's a woman who, in fighting for autonomy, insists on being unknowable, too easily plays the victim, denies her own insecurities and refuses to admit her overwhelming need to be loved, to be appreciated and, likely most embarrassingly for her, to be attractive and desirable, despite age crystallizing her bitterness, pessimism & melancholy into a temperament she knows she wouldn't put up with. But that is why Celine is Celine and Jesse is Jesse. The very things she criticizes in him are the things she needs from him. For all her complaints, even she does not know what she really wants. Overwhelmed by the frailty and frustrations of their relationship, she cannot imagine how it could last, or be worth the trouble, and sets about finding enough faults to end it before it can disappoint her. 

The power in Delpy's performance is that she never succumbs to easy melodrama or playing Celine for laughs (although she is very funny). She believes in Celine, even as she lays out her fears and flaws for us to criticise. 

Jesse is still much the same carefree, pretentious kid he's always been; trying to reconcile his romantic views of life with the unsolvable complications his choices have left him with. If he seems happier and more carefree than Celine, she would insist it is only because he is more willfully naive, and selfish, but he ultimately emerges as a heroic romantic; with his eyes wide open, but his heart open wider. The same boy who plucked up the nerve to ask Celine to get off the train with him in Vienna is now the boy who'll keep asking her to spend her life with him, no matter how many times it takes.

Ultimately, Midnight is a brutally honest study of the moments we choose to save or break a relationship. The truth is, in those moments it can go either way. Celine implies it is fate, but the film suggests it has a lot more to do with choice. The things we break we often break out of fear. It's tempting to feel that if something can fall apart, it was never made to last. As if being breakable is reason enough for it to be abandoned. But we are all breakable. And it is precisely in fighting for each other in the breakable moments of our relationships that the strongest bonds are formed; the moments when we can transcend our fears, insecurities & selfishness to create something we decide will last with another person as breakable as we are. Love is losing ourselves. That is the point. And selfless love will hold us together if we let it. 


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

American Film Institutes Top 10 Films of 2013

Good list. Good year for cinema.

12 Years a Slave
American Hustle
Captain Phillips
Fruitvale Station
Gravity
Her
Inside Llewyn Davis
Nebraska
Saving Mr Banks
The Wolf of Wall Street

To be honest, American Hustle feels lightweight to me (sight unseen), but the NY Film Critics anointed it Movie of the Year, so I guess I should start adjusting my expectations.

It's a pity some of the fantastic indie fare, like Before Midnight, Mud, Before Midnight, Blue Jasmine and Before Midnight didn't make the cut, but how great is it seeing The Coens, Mr Scorsese, Spike Jonze, Alexander Payne & Steve McQueen dominate (not to mention Paul Greengrass and Alfonso Cuaron)? 

They save their list by nodding Fruitvale Station over The Butler. Smart move.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Review: About Time


There are three things you may have noticed about About Time:

1. It is a Richard Curtis movie

2. It is a time travel movie
3. It is a Rachel McAdams romantic-type movie.

While it succeeds admirably at point 1, it fails miserably at point 2, and I would like to make a case for point 3 meaning something far meatier connotations than it currently does. (And, yes, amazingly points 2 & 3 have co-existed before).


Point 1:

Being a Richard Curtis movie, it is of course charming, cutely eccentric, unashamedly sentimental and just potty-mouthed enough to remind you it is British, and therefore less shallow than an American movie. For this reason alone, About Time will do quite well. 


Are they not adorkable?

Point 2:

As a time travel movie, it's pants. If you're interested in the philosophical nature of time travel scenarios, the unforeseen consequences of altering past decisions or the worrisome establishing of multiple timelines (and you should be), About Time will drive you bananas. Curtis is not so much interested in time travel so much as ruminating on how to spend our limited time on earth wisely. 

Curtis makes some lovely observations about family & how to live an ordinary life well and, perhaps, he's on to some poignant points.It's just a pity he's not into tight plotting or space-time continuum logic. Perhaps I've been spoiled by too many great episodes of Fringe and Community, but when time travel / alternate realities are introduced to the plot, it is to be taken seriously (preferably with gloomy, mind-bending results). 


Curtis doesn't, and he makes this clear upfront by the whimsically casual way he Bill Nighys time travel into the story. Sure, when it comes to magic realism, the less exposition, the better, but forgive me for wanting to be at least slightly baffled by the unforeseen implications of tiny shifts in time. I'm pretty willing to suspend my disbelief and overlook plot holes for time travel conundrums, but there need to be some solid ground rules / internal logic. Curtis stays light on internal logic, favouring a more freewheeling approach instead.

Tim's time travel abilities leave little in the way of undesired consequences, but much in the way of magical fun & male wish fulfillment. It's kind of a straight-forward Erase / Rewind situation, with a few arbitrary twists and bugs (sperm logic, anyone?) thrown in for some plot tension. 

But who cares? It's not the point. You're not watching a Time Travel Movie, you're watching a Richard Curtis movie. Since the point of the movie is kind of not over-thinking life, but just enjoying it, I suppose a similar approach is to be advised for the film itself.


Point 3

Yes. This is the second time travel romance that Rachel McAdams has made. How bizarre. This one makes the other one seem more legit from a time travel point of view. But I'd probably still want to watch this one again before that one. 

It is very bizarre that Curtis seems intent on presenting Rachel McAdams as some kind of frumpy, quirky, smart, loner girl. Yeah, no, vintage dresses, hipster glasses, brown hair & a weird obsession with Kate Moss do not the lovely McAdams into an outsider frump make.

I really wish the description "a Rachel McAdams movie" would carry with it more weight and thrill of anticipation. She's really a much better actress than her agent seems to think. Someone please give this woman a good script. I'd really love to see her play a murderer, or a vile politician, or basically any character not impossibly adorable and lovely. At least half the time.   

But more to the point, McAdams is lovely and huggable as ever in About Time. Domhnall Gleeson is equally charming and together they have a sweet chemistry. Though all the meet-cutes, chat-cutes and grow-cutes would appear to indicate that Tim and Mary are soul mates of sorts, just one single tiny fight would have gone a long way to making their relationship more believable. More problematically, it is unforgivable that Tim never bothers to mention his gift / condition to Mary. Especially since he does little with it but trick his way into her life, heart and pants. 

Really, it kind of fails as a romcom, cause it's ultimately much more of a father-son movie, which bring me to my conclusion.

Conclusion

Taking the film for what it is, here is what is great about it:

  • Bill Nighy 
  • The father-son bits of the story 

Curtis makes a strong case for the importance of (eccentric, accepting, British, tea drinking) families, and presents a touching, incredibly sincere (if underdeveloped) father-son relationship. Again, Curtis is painting in broad strokes of father-son relationships generally (as neither character is developed enough to really delve into the relationship specifically) but, in its final stretch, Curtis' script and film find a sincerity and depth nothing else in the film touches, and emerge with easy sentiment marginally defeated by an authentic delivery of earnest longings. If only Curtis could give us a more workable plan for spending less time at work and more time with teenage sons (standing in a cupboard and clenching your fists likely won't work for most of us). 

All in all, a somewhat lazy, but quite charming & uncommonly meditative Richard Curtis outing. Probably great for first dates. Even better for father-son dates (although, if you already do those, you probably don't need to see this).



Friday, November 22, 2013

Review: The Place Beyond the Pines


Derek's Cianfrance's debut, Blue Valentine, blew my freaking mind. A searing, uncommonly intimate portrait of a young marriage alternately blossoming to life and crumbling away that performed beautifully on every level. It was a heart-, nay gut-wrenching powerhouse indie. To stop me going on about it any longer, you can go here to read my Blue Valentine Review.

Cianfrance's second film as writer and director, The Place Beyond the Pines, is a slower, more measured exercise; a great sophomore effort that shows Cianfrance is not interested in repeating himself, but in letting his stories guide him through the maze of human relationships.

In Pines, Cianfrance and his two co-writers Ben Coccio & Darius Marder, are interested in father-son relationships and the defining presence they have on the lives of men; how deeply the fact of being a father, or a son, fulfillingly or not, impacts how we shape our identities.

Pines is not as intense or swooning a film as Valentine. It's a more ambiguously contemplative slow-burner, boldly presented in three divergent but narratively & thematically connected chapters. On the surface a crime thriller (or three crime thrillers), but really a multi-generational, multi-protagonist (always a difficult trick to pull off) character study.

Chapter 1:

The strongest of the three and the one that feels most likely to succeed as its own full-length film. It's almost a pity when Pines moves on from it, but everything that follows gives it a different resonance & weight of context. In a way, it lingers far longer in the memory precisely because Cianfrance abandons it so soon.

This chapter follows Luke (Ryan Gosling), a heavily tattooed hipster/stuntman who seems to exist purely to smoke broodily on the edges of society & look ridiculously cool doing dangerous stuff on a motorcycle. A spark is awakened, though, when he learns that a former fling Romina (Eva Mendes) has given birth to his son & he sets out to be an involved father & breadwinner - even if it means robbing banks (spectacularly, with motorbike getaways) & luring Romina away from her stable family life with a new boyfriend. 

You can't deny the guy his passion and dedication to being a present father, even if his presence is destabilizing. When Luke says that that he wants his son to know him - because he didn't know his father & look how he turned out - it comes off massively poignant rather than trite. Surely Fatherly love of such conviction counts for something, even if the father in question is less than stable? Well, that's the question. 


This segment of the film has everything going for it. Cianfrance writes a great character for Gosling and Gosling, when given great characters, is naturally dynamite. He plays Luke all coiled rage and beautiful intentions. He doesn't say much but he has a helluva lot more to do than look cool (there's a lesson here for Nicolas Winding Refn). This is a great character with a great trajectory, and Cianfrance gives him some great scenes - from 
crying in a church to racking up the tension as he passive aggresively puts together a baby cot in Romina & Kofi's house (uninvited) to his final moments on screen, he is electric. Gosling & Mendes also have great onscreen chemistry - Mendes, with this and last year's Holy Motors, is starting to make a legitimate case for being taken seriously. Starting.


DOP Sean Bobbitt also does some of his best lensing here, milking some gorgeous shots from both Luke's theme park workplace & his time spent on motorcycles. He also creates a gentle, melancholy intimacy for Gosling & Mendes' sad-awkward-beautiful family portrait. I should also mention that Ben Mendelsohn is fantastic as Luke's odd/unpredictable/white trash employer/friend/crime mentor.

Chapter 2:

The story moves on to Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper), a nervous-seeming cop who becomes a hero, and alienates his family as he wrestles with his conscience, after he kills a perp in the line of duty, in less-than-ideal circumstances. It's all less angsty than it sounds because a) Bradley Cooper is good, but not yet as good at inner turmoil as he is at loud, cutesy bi-polarism and b) Avery is kind of a passive character who seems to feel bad about a lot of things but not do much about them. When he does take action, you can't help but question his motives.

Which brings us to the next part of the story, which introduces Ray Liotta as Deluca, a tough, sinister corrupt cop leading a band of similarly tough, corrupt cops who tries to draw Avery into his circle of extortion. Moral dilemmas ensue. Ray Liotta is great, of course. Rose Byrne is also around, as Avery's longsuffering wife but, while she has some good moments, her presence feels like a bit of a wasted opportunity.


This part of the film is odd, but not in a bad way, simply because it takes the narrative in such a different direction and seems to change the tone so sharply. As a character, Avery is hard to read or warm up to and, though there is a clear sense of chaos brewing, it is hard to tell quite how it is going and how it will all tie together.

Chapter 3
AJ (Emory Cohen) is a teenager sent to live with his father in Schenectady to help him stabilise after he gets in trouble over drugs. His father, however, is distracted by his campaign to be elected New York City General and a son with drug-related misdemeanors is less than convenient. The father in question is Avery Cross.

At his new school, AJ befriends broody loner Jason (Dane Dehaan) and, sensing a shared void, the two strike up a tentative friendship. Jason is a sensitive kid, ready to boil over under the surface, while AJ is a jock of sorts, hiding his frailty under a layer of douchiness. What neither boy knows is that Luke is Jason's father and their stories are inextricably linked.   

Both young actors are excellent (although Dehaan is the broody standout) and the writers must be commended for writing such vivid teenagers: complex beasts negotiating posturing and insecurities they don't yet fully understand. Far from the jocks and nerds trope usually presented as high school standards, they are authentic, unsure adolescents trying to find their way into adulthood and sensing that they may be looking for the same things.

This part of the film works and really drives things home because Cianfrance takes it slow and gives it plenty of time to breathe. Things rise to a slow, broody conclusion that simmers out into the film's thematic inclinations. 

In the end it all comes together as a slow burner that was always intended to be an enigmatic thinkpiece rather than a straight drama or thriller. Cianfrance is more interested in the legacy of fathers and sons, the choices - even bad ones - that produce life and belonging, and the ones that leave a void.

Each of the characters is somehow marked by the choices of those who went before them; Luke never knew his father while Avery is always living in the shadow of his. Both AJ and Jason, in turn, continue to live out shadows of the secret crimes, compromises & sacrifices of their fathers, without even knowing it. It is simply imprinted on their spiritual DNA.




Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Review: Gravity


With a Metacritic score as high as 96 and talk of Best Picture gongs, it's best to go into Gravity with normalised expectations.

This is not an arthouse sci-fi extravaganza in the tradition of 2001: A Space Odyssey. It is also not an unspeakable horror film detailing a slow suffocating death in outer space (both a pity and a huge relief).

It is, however, breathtaking visual filmmaking and a marvel to behold. Director Alfonso Cuaron beautifully marries fancy (CGI) camera work (read long, slow, complex shots) with perfectly rendered special effects, a romping spacey score, deathly silence, where needed, and sharp pacing to put us right out in space with Dr Ryan Stone (Bullock) and Matt Kowlaski (Clooney), he taking in the beauty of space while she focuses on fixing whatever it is she is out there to be fixing.

(As a side note, it's weird that Cuaron fought to have a woman in the lead and then gave her a man's name, for no apparent reason. Not important, just odd.)

Disaster ensues, of course, in the shape of Russian space debris of some sort and the next 90 minutes are a breathless survival adventure, during which Dr Stone will learn life-affirming adventures. It's great stuff. It's just not the artistic masterpiece we may have been led to expect. Make no mistake - it's a great, gripping, expertly made film. You'll probably want to see it twice because, visally, it will blow you away. You just have to set your expectations at standard, script wise.
 
It's kind of like Cast Away, in space, with a woman, but much leaner and far more exciting. Like Cast Away, it puts one of the most likeable people in Hollywood in extreme, isolating circumstances where they must learn to let go and stop trying to control life. Unlike Cast Away, the action in Gravity is confined to what must be just a few intense hours in the life of Dr Stone. In Cast Away, Tom Hanks cries over a basketball. In Gravity, Sandra Bullock howl's with a dog. But I digress.

The other important thing about Gravity is that it centers almost entirely on a 50+ woman all alone in space. And still made tons of money at the box office. Take that 14-year-old-boy-demographic. More importantly, it is also the moment that Sandra Bullock finally approaches enough credibility as a character actress to start justifying her Blind Side Oscar as a career Oscar (this will all change for the worse if she manages to steal Cate Blanchett's Oscar). For the most part, her performance as Ryan is understated, heartfelt and appropriately subtle. It's just a pity the script didn't allow the second half of the film - and by extension Dr Stone's journey - to be as understated as the first. It may have tipped a gripping adventure yarn into haunting, devastating masterpiece territory. Or maybe not.

Gravity does have philosophical ambitions beyond the great visuals, but they're closer to Richard Curtis' In Time positivity vibes than Kubrick's abstract ruminations on consciousness in 2001. That's not necessarily a bad thing. Simple contentment may be the smartest thing of all.

All in all, you really have to see Gravity, but just expect a good night at the movies, not your world to be changed. Then you should be fairly blown away.

Another side note: this movie has amazing sets. For real.

And on a final note, Emmanuel Lubezki. Seeing as the whole ship on digital cinematography has clearly sailed (was there ever even a debate), we can accept that the way-overdue Director of Photography (the man behind the camera for Tree of Life, Children of Men, The New World, Lemony Snickets etc) will finally be bagging his first Oscar. 3D seems to do the trick lately, but he is well and truly deserving. For this and everything else he has shot. Huzzah.


Tuesday, November 5, 2013

2013: The year black history took center stage

The acquittal of George Zimmerman in July this year (for the shooting of Trayvon Martin in February 2012) made it tragically clear that racism, fueled by ignorance, fear and rote assumptions, is alive and well in America (as, sadly, it is all over the world).

Not that everyone didn't know about it before, but the Zimmerman / Martin saga got everyone talking, and angry, about it again. It couldn't be timed better, then, that three emerging black directors managed to sneak three powerful dramas (okay, two plus The Butler), telling the real-life stories of black Americans across the ages, past the Hollywood powers that be.

12 Years a Slave, The Butler and Fruitvale Station feature exceptional black (and white) ensembles, are directed by black directors with strong, unique vision and written by exceptional black writers (okay, The Butler was written by a white guy). Considering it's also the year that gave us Idris Elba as Nelson Mandela and some legit African bros playing some of the most complex terrorists a mainstream director has dared to put on screen, 2013 is truly an embarassment of black American riches.

None of these films are made by, or feature, Tyler Perry (proof that there is a God), nor have they been been confined to the Tyler Perry target demographic. Helped along in no small part by the presence of Madame Oprah, The Butler crossed the $100 million box office threshold in America (not bad for a film that tells four decades of American history from a black perspective), while 12 Years a Slave is working its way up with $8.7 million so far from selected cinemas. Its epic aggregate score of 97 on Metacritic so far - based on 45 critics' reviews - should help boost word of mouth and, oh, its chances of actually winning all those Oscar races it already, inevitably, leads (Picture, Director, Actor, Supporting Actress & Supporting Actor). Fruitvale Station, by comparison is more of an independent affair, but one that's made quite an impact thanks to its Sundance victories and the presence of Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer as Producer and actor. $16 million in Box Office and an 85-er on Metacritic is not bad for a film about an ordinary black guy that got killed. 


Last year kind of set the stage for this, with both Lincoln and Django Unchained priming the conversation on slavery (in wildly different ways). But both films revolved around the white men fighting the good fight against slavery on behalf of their black brothers. And both were told by white writers and white directors. Nothing wrong with that, but in a world where black people were systematically oppressed by white folk in far too many countries, there is something very significant about black artists telling black history in their own voice.

Also, while Lincoln was mesmerising historical cinema (for those with the patience to let it cast its spell) with great dialogue plenty of food for either thought or the soul, depending on how you're wired, I found Django cheap, offensive and even exploitative (not to mention overlong and self indulgent, but those can be forgiven) in the way it presumes an eye-for-an-eye bloodlust on the part of black slaves which belies the incredible grace and restraint with which black leaders like Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela fought for freedom. But I digress. 

So where does that leave us? With three films pondering racial inequality across American history - slavery in the mid 1800s, the fight for civil rights in the 1960s and the inherent tension, and danger, of being a black man in America today (as Trayvon Martin so tragically discovered) - entering the awards race with full force: 

  • At this stage, 12 Years a Slave makes a strong case for Best Picture, Adapted Screenplay, Actor, Supporting Actor and Supporting Actress. It may be too harrowing / painful / divisive to pan out in most of those, but it still enters the race as strong as any movie could hope to. 
  • The Butler's heavy sentiment and impressive Box Office make it another strong contender for that Best Picture slot reserved for the movie that made everyone cry, just a little, even if they didn't want to, even if its not really actually all that good (for recent examples, see: War Horse, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, The Blind Side, The Help), as well as Screenplay and even Director (box office talks)
  • The great Chiwetel Ejiofor goes head-to-head with Robert Redford for Best Actor, in 12 Years and All Is Lost, respectively, while former winner Forest Whitaker is a strong nominee contender for his complex, decade-spanning role as the nominal Butler in, well, The Butler. 
  • The Butler's Oprah Winfrey and 12 Years a Slave's Lupita Nyong'o battle it out to win Best Supporting Actress (at this point, there is no-one who can touch either of them), with Fruitvale Station's Octavia Spencer in the wings with another strong performance (wildly different from her Oscar-winning role in The Help).
  • Both 
    Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips) and David Oyelowo 
    (The Butler) are at the very least on the Supporting Actor radar, as a freedom-fighting son and complex maritime terrorist, respectively.
  • And don't count out Fruitvale Station which remains a contender, in the "respectable indie" slots, for Best Picture and Original Screenplay (though deserved, Best Director and Best Actor seem like extremely long shots in already-crowded fields).

But why does this matter? Who cares about Oscars anyway? They annoy everyone with their middle-of-the-road play-it-safeness and overlong, outdated, self-important ceremonies. But they can make or break both careers and profit margins. There is a reason so much energy goes into marketing movies and performances as Oscar contenders - there is a prestige to being singled out that highlights films and performances, for better or worse, and shapes the annual, and ultimately historic, cinematic narrative. 


Like it or not, the Oscars are still influential. The large majority of the population live in the middle-of-the-road and are interested in being told which films are worth stepping off the beaten box office path for, without straying too far from their comfort zone. The prestige of awards attention, warranted or not, can drastically shape the opportunities available to filmmakers. 

As a case in point, Octavia Spencer took some flack for her Oscar-winning role as sassy 1960s maid Minny Jackson in The Help; some seemed to find it demeaning that she had to lower herself to play a maid - and remind America of its way-too-recent sins - to get awards attention, while other, more legitimately, lamented Minny's more stereotypical traits as a loud, sassy, chicken-eating, church-going African American woman (although Supporting Actress is built on sassy caricatures of all racial persuasions). But the truth is that her Oscar in a very real way put her in a position to produce a film like Fruitvale Station and promote it to Sundance glory. That's how it goes. Sometimes you have to window dress to change the narrative or the perception of what is possible, what is plausible. As long as the window-dressed subjects are in any way deserving, who's complaining? And this year sees many very deserving performers getting some significant spotlight. 

So having, potentially, four to seven worthy black performances nominated in one year, with two or three "black" films by black directors filling up the Best Picture line-up, and a black man heading up the Best Director race, is, regrettably, very significant.

Let's hope 2013 marks a shift in two ways:

1) A serious evaluation of America's cruel racially divided past, and the lingering racial tensions that make fatal racial profiling seem like acceptable behaviour.

2) The first step towards a world where having multiple black nominees in any awards category is no longer newsworthy.


It is very likely that the race will shift towards "easier", less controversial films like Gravity or Nebraska, and that is fine. However it plays out, the tide has started to shift.

UPDATE: In case you needed any proof that racism is alive & well, here's Sean Hannity calling 12 Years a Slave 'black propaganda' and warning us that it will enable black youth to be lazy. He complains that white guilt is being exploited with yet another slavery movie. I'd diss the guy but really what could make him look worse than his his own words? If white guilt is still alive and well, it's because white privilege is still around. Those who prefer to pretend it doesn't exist are clearly on the winning side of it. I don't remember Schindler's List being called Jewish propaganda (although now that I say that I'm sure it was, and please don't tell me about it). 

Monday, March 18, 2013

The SAFTA Feature Film Nominees in Trailers

Material (winner)


Otelo Burning:


Semi-Soet (Semi Sweet):


Die Wonderwerker (The Miracle Worker):



South African Film and Television Awards 2013

The SAFTAs have announced their latest winners and, I'm sorry to say, I find them somewhat underwhelming. Kudos to the entertaining and skillfully made films that were honoured, but I must contest a few of the winners. 

No director other than Katinka Heyns has any real right to the award this year. She's a national treasure and every one of her films is a landmark in South African cinema. At least her husband, Chris Barnard, took home a well-deserved statuette for his elegant, enigmatic screenplay.

Die Wonderwerker seemed an obvious pick for Best Feature Film, as it is simply one of the most impressive South African films in years, but if the Eugene Marais Africana biopic seems too stuffy a choice, and too Afrikaans, there's solid drama in Otelo Burning, or good genre filmmaking in Semi-Soet. Material straddles the difficult line between drama and comedy and, though it has some great moments, it never really takes off as either.

At the end of the day, I'm presuming Material's win has much to do with it's decent box office and cross-cultural appeal (far too much South African cinema seems aimed at a racial demographic). While Material is an enjoyable enough film - and Vincent Ebrahim's performance as Cassim's proud, traditional father is clearly a deserving winner - it has too many parts that fall flat (most of the non-stand up comedy, the Zoo Lake hi jinx in particular) or under perform (Cassim's romance lacks some serious sizzle) to be hailed the best South African film of the year. Nonetheless, it's not a bad film.

More bizarre is Riaad Moosa's win as Best Actor. Not merely because Dawid Minnaar is exceptional as Eugene Marais in Die Wonderwerker, but because Moosa's performance is easily the weakest thing about Material. While clearly a talented stand up comedian and a very easy guy to like, he lacks the charisma and gravitas to carry the film - through its funny or serious bits - and the film struggles because of it. Odd choice.

For Supporting Actress, Denise Newman  must have been a formidable contender, and a twin statue for the Material parents - collectively the best thing about the film by far - would have been awesome. But congratulations to Matshepo Maleme for A Million Colours regardless.

I also happen to find Elize Cawood's performance as Maria one of the best of the year, locally or internationally, but I have no reason to contest Lindiwe Ndlovu's Best Actress victory for Little One.

Beyond that, it's easy to see how slickly produced Semi-Soet and period Afrikaans musical Pretville cleared out most of the remaining technical awards.



Here are the Film nominees and winners:

Best Feature Film:
Die Wonderwerker (The Miracle Worker) - Sonneblom Ateljees (Pty) Ltd
*Material - Zukrafin Pty Ltd
Otelo Burning - Cinga Productions
Semi-Soet - Scramble Productions

Best Director of a Feature Film:

Katinka Heyns - Die Wonderwerker (The Miracle Worker)
*Craig Freimond - Material
Wayne Thornley - Adventures in Zambezia
Darrell James Roodt - Little One

Best Actor in a Feature Film:

Thomas Gumede as Year One in Otelo Burning
Nico Panagio as JP in Semi-Soet
Jack Devnarain as Ronnie in 31 Million Reasons
Dawid Minnaar as Eugene in Die Wonderwerker
*Riaad MOosa as Cassim in Material

Best Actress in a Feature Film:

*Lindiwe Ndlovu as Pauline in Little One
Nolwazi Shange as Dezi in Otelo Burning
Javashree Basava as Padme in Lucky
Eliza Cawood as Maria in Die Wonderwerker

Best Supporting Actor in a Feature Film:

Mpho Osei-Tutu as Dezi in Otelo Burning
*Vincent Ebrahim as Ebrahim in Material
Louw Venter as Hertjie in Semi-Soet
Marius Weyers as Gys in Die Wonderwerker

Best Supporting Actress in a Feature Film:

Denise Newman as Fatima in Material
*Matshepo Maleme as Busi in A Million Colours
Anneke Weidemann as Jane in Die Wonderwerker 

Best Writing Team of a Feature Film
*Chris Barnard - Die Wonderwerker
Craig Freimond - Material
James Whyle and the cast workshop - Otelo Burning
Darrell James Roodt - Little One

Best Cinematographer of a Feature Film
Koos Roets -  Die Wonderwerker 
*Trevor Brown - A Million Colours
Trevor Calverley - Material

Best Editor of a Feature Film
*Ronelle Loots - Die Wonderwerker
Aryan Kaganof - Man on Ground
Megan Gill - Material

Best Production Designer of a Feature Film
Francois Coetzee - Semi-Soet
Jackie Lotz - Zama Zama
Anita van Hermet, Chantal Carter - Otelo Burning
*Bathoni Robinson - Pretville

Best Music Composition
*Orangotang Music and Michael Bester - Semi-Soet
Zethu Mashika - Zama Zama
Tiago Correia Paulo, Alan Lazar - Otelo Burning
Bruce Retief - Adventures in Zambezia

Best Costume Designer
*Nerine Pienaar - Semi-Soet
Mia Zwiegers - Zama Zama
Ruy Filipe - Otelo Burning
Nerine Pienaar - Pretville

Best Make up/Hair Stylist
Theola Booyens - Semi-Soet
Elzette Winterbach - To the Power of Anne
Charlie Runge, Lee-Anne Nourse - Pretville

Best Sound Designer of a Feature Film
Barry Donnelly - Die Wonderwerker
Jim Petrak - Semi-Soet
*Charlotte Buys - Material

Best Student Film
E-lectricity - AFDA: Etienne Fourie, Robyn Oetle
LYFSTRAF - AFDA: Rudi Steyn, Martina Della Togna, Gianfranco Human, Sarah Muhoho
*Die Windpomp - AFDA: Miklas Manneke, Jade Galbraith

Best Short Film
*Umkhungo - Matthew Jankes
Loot - Greg Rom
There are no Heroes - Kyle Stevenson

Best Animation
I've Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts - Jungle Beat Sunrise Productions
*Adventures In Zambezia - Triggerfish Animation Studios
ZA NEWS - Both Worlds

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Best Movie Music of 2012

1. Jonny Greenwood - The Master


Jonny Greenwood's second collaboration with Paul Thomas Anderson may be a less piercingly intense experience than its predecessor, but it's no less broody or brilliant. Feeling like a free jazz exploration of the loose-limbed but tightly coiled tensions that hold Joaquin Phoenix's Freddie Quell together, Greenwood's score is a restrained, integral part of Anderson's enigmatic film.


2. Dan Romer & Benh Zeitlin - Beasts of the Southern Wild


The perfect score for a film of incredible creativity and poetry. Writer / director / composer Benh Zeitlin's creative ambition alone is hard to resist, but this is one of the year's very best scores in its own right. There are probably more interesting tracks to post than this - which any avid watcher of the trailer will recognise - but try to resist Once There was a Hushpuppy. Try. You can't.



3. Alexandre Desplat - Zero Dark Thirty

Alexandre Desplat scored no less than nine films, including two Best Picture nominees, in 2012 and it's massively to his credit that he managed two distinct scores for middle eastern CIA thrillers in the same year. He was nominated for the more upbeat, at times sentimental, Argo which is effective, but not nearly as mesmerising as his sparse, eerie score for Zero Dark Thirty; a key element to the measured pacing of Kathryn Bigelow's slow, tense procedural thriller. Maya on Plane is the emotional climax of the score, beautifully bringing together its themes.


4. Alexandre Desplat - Moonrise Kingdom

Desplat's other best work of the year lies in his second collaboration with cult indie aesthetist Wes Anderson. Miles from his playful work on Fantastic Mr Fox, his full-bodied orchestral score provides the climatic catharsis that sets Moonrise Kingdom's emotional impact apart from previous, subtler Anderson outings.    


5. Thomas Newman - Skyfall

Thomas Newman is an eternal innovator; always digging up new textures, new angles and new instruments with which to deliver his unique, layered scores. With legendary scores for Shawshank Redemption, American Beauty, American Beauty, American Beauty, WallE & American Beauty to his name, it's a shame he's the most nominated composer at the Academy Awards never to take home the prize (the spiritual cousin of Cinematographer Roger Deakins, also Oscarless for Shawshank Redemption & Skyfall). Skyfall charts fresh electronic ground for Newman and is, obviously, already one of the classiest action scores around.


Runner ups:

6. John Williams - Lincoln

I'm frankly surprised just how much I liked John Williams' Lincoln score. Alternating restrained, simple dignity that makes me feel like President Bartlett is about to something awesome on The West Wing with bouncy banjo & violin ditties that bring to mind old-timey hayrides and line dancing. It's authentic-feeling stuff that just makes you want to hug Daniel Day-Lewis.


7. Dario Marianelli - Anna Karenina

I love everything Marianelli has done with Joe Wright, and his sumptuous, inventive work here is no exception. With the first half of Anna Karenina playing like a casual ballet of sorts, Marianelli's score does much of the heavy lifting to create the momentum that draws us into Anna Karenina's eccentric stylings. 

  

8. Mychael Danna - Life of Pi

Something inside me just rebels against recognising the Oscar winner (which is just ridiculously contrary of me), but Mychael Danna's Life of Pi is in all fairness a lovely score of Parisian Indian whimsy & epic, soul searching magic.



9. Reinhold Heil, Johnny Klimek & Tom Twykwer - Cloud Atlas

The Cloud Atlas Sextet is written into the script and is a key piece of the puzzle that connects "everything"; plenty of pressure on the composers, then, to deliver a suitably striking piece of music that could believably haunt the minds of the film's characters. The film itself covers a vast, ambitious array of landscapes and emotions, which the score gamely and effectively follows.


10. Ryan Miller - Safety not Guaranteed

This sweet indie charmer has a solid indie rock score from Ryan Miller, but this song, which is an original composition for the film, just kills me. Both the version Mark Duplass performs in the film and the fully produced version over the credits. Mild spoiler alert. 


Saturday, February 23, 2013

Oscar - Best Picture

What a weird year for Best Picture. So many good films, yet such a strange turnout. Let's recap:

Argo

Metacritic: 86
US Box Office: $128 Million
7 Nominations: Picture, Supporting Actor, Editing, Adapted Screenplay, Music - Score,  Sound Editing, Sound Mixing
Awards: Everything (Critics Choice, Golden Globe, BAFTA, Producers Guild, Directors Guild, Screen Actors Guild Ensemble, Writers Guild, Editors Guild, Scripter Award, 9 Critics Groups' Best Picture)

For:
  • Admired since its release to date
  • No one hates it, everyone can agree on it
  • A (mostly) true story with suspense, comedy & a weight of political importance
  • NB - Hollywood & the CIA working together to make a happy ending
  • When critics scared off Zero Dark Thirty, they nearly unanimously flocked towards Argo, making Ben Affleck seem like a lock for a Best Director nomination
  • When the Oscars felt otherwise and excluded Affleck from the Best Director race (marking it as less significant than Amour and Beasts of the Southern Wild), Affleck and Argo became overnight underdogs. And everyone loves an underdog.
  • Immediately after Affleck's Oscar "snub" as Director, Argo wins Picture and Director from the Critics Choice and Golden Globe awards
  • Argo becomes the little Iranian comedy / thriller that could and goes on to win the Directors Guild Award, the Producers Guild Award, the Screen Actors Guild ensemble award and everything else (significantly, its adapted screenplay beats logical frontrunner Lincoln to both the Scripter and Writers Guild award).
  • When even the British Academy Awards name it Best Picture and Affleck Best Director, it's clear we have an unstoppable juggernaut on our hands, barring the Oscars resisting groupthink enough to stick by their guns. 
  • NB - Ben Affleck's charm offensive, backed by Producer George Clooney's legendary smile,  continue to win hearts as their film wins all the awards.
  • All in all, Argo remains the film everyone likes and no-one hates. That does tend to win Oscars these days. It's not the 1970s anymore.
Against:
  • Argo still has no Best Director nomination. No film has won Best Picture without it's Director being in the race since Driving Miss Daisy in 1990.
  • Even Lincoln - a period film about a law being passed - has better Box Office
  • Lincoln, Life of Pi, Silver Linings Playbook & Les Miserables all have more Oscar nominations than Argo. Box Office and Nominations aren't everything, but they are something. They show to what extent the public and the Oscar voters responded to the film.
  • The Academy may resist the peer pressure from the Guilds and stick to their guns - they presumably excluded Ben Affleck for a reason and may decide to back the films they did initially respond to.
  • There may even be Argo backlash at this point, considering it's a very good film being held up as a great one. Don't count on it, though. It didn't work for The King's Speech

Amour


Metacritic: 94
US Box Office: $4 Million (lowest)
5 Nominations: Picture, Director, Actress, Original Screenplay, Foreign Language Film
Awards: Cannes Palme D'Or, European Film Awards, Cesars, National Society of Film Critics Best Picture of the Year

For:
  • Started off with a bang, winning the Palme D'Or (or Parmz Dorz, as Twitter Michael Haneke would say) at Cannes and went on to win every Foreign Language Film Award (excepting the Golden Satellites who went with Intouchables) and clean out the European Film Awards and the French Cesar Awards
  • The frontrunner by a mile to win the Best Foreign Language Oscar
  • A dark horse to upset Best Actress 
  • With the Oscars announcing their nominees early, they couldn't copy and paste the Producers Guild and Directors Guild. Thinking for themselves, they lavished love on Amour, nominating it for five big ones.
  • Michael Haneke previously contended for Best Foreign Language Film for The White Ribbon in 2010 but lost, unexpectedly, to The Secret in their Eyes. That gives Haneke a bit of an Oscar IOU.  
Against:
  • Subtitles scare the average Cinema goer, and a film that requires them has never prevailed as Best Picture
  • Amour is an unsentimental film about the decay of old age, and death. Not a feel good situation. 
  • The lowest Box Office of all the nominees suggests that the arty Amour has a select audience only 

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Metacritic: 86
US Box Office: $12 Million
4 Nominations: Picture, Director, Actress, Adapted Screenplay
Awards: Sundance Grand Jury Prize (Dramatic)

For:
  • Micro-budget Sundance Jury Prize winner
  • An Indie Spirit favourite, with four nominations
  • A very early, dark horse Best Picture and Best Actress contender that somehow survived the hype & release of Lincoln, Zero Dark Thirty, Les Miserables and Django Unchained to be embraced by the Academy 
  • A wildly unique cinematic experience with a bold perspective and execution, it marks the arrival of a distinct new talent in producer / director / writer / composer Benh Zeitlin  
Against:
  • Shoestring indies about poor, 8-year-old black girls' metaphorical, emotionally cathartic journeys, flooded with poetic impressionist imagery and ambiguous magic realism don't tend to win Oscars.
  • If the Academy loved it enough to give it Best Picture, they wouldn't have overlooked its exceptional cinematography and score.

Django Unchained

Metacritic: 81
US Box Office: $158 Million
5 Nominations: Picture, Supporting Actor, Original Screenplay, Cinematography, Sound Editing  
Awards: None

For:
  • Tarantino is a true original with only one Oscar to his name - for writing Pulp Fiction
  • Django joins Lincoln in bringing America's slave history back into the zeitgeist. It's a topic worth talking about 
Against:
  • Django is a morally challenging, abrasive film. It is also indulgent and unfocused and, though significant and daring, certainly not Tarantino's best. The only equality at play here is the equal right to an unhealthy gun culture. That is my opinion, but I raise it because I am sure Django is not everyone's cup of tea. It's highly unlikely to be backed by enough Academy members.
  • The film's strong black performances - by Jamie Fox, Samuel L Jackson & Kerry Washington - were overlooked
  • Leonardo DiCaprio's much buzzed villain was similarly overlooked, indicating a lack of support from Academy voters.

Life of Pi


Metacritic: 79
US Box Office: $112 Million
11 Nominations: Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Editing, Cinematography, Production Design, Music - Score, Music - Song, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Visual Effects 
Awards: None (other than every Visual Effects Award, almost every Cinematography Award, a Golden Globe for Score and two surprise Sound Mixing Awards)

For:
  • Eleven nominations suggest the Academy loved Life of Pi, and certainly it's an easy film to like and a hard one to hate.
  • With Life of Pi, Ang Lee filmed an "unfilmable" book (can we please stop using that clearly irrelevant term?) which previous directors (Jean Jeunet for one) had attempted and walked away from. He stretches himself technically and has to balance the spectacle of the film with its nuanced spiritual undertones. He pulls it off beautifully and clearly the Academy noticed. It's a distinctive visual film with enough heft and gentle emotion to feel like a significant Oscar contender.
  • It's the clear frontrunner to win Score, Cinematography and Visual Effects, and a strong contender for Sound and Sound Mixing as well. Wins beget wins and these could translate to bigger categories like Best Director and, at a stretch, Best Picture.
  • Ang Lee appreciation has really taken off in the weeks leading up to Oscar night
Against:
  • It may be too lightweight or family friendly for a Best Picture winner.
  • No wins so far other than the technical categories.

Lincoln


Metacritic: 86
US Box Office: $177 Million (highest)
12 Nominations: Picture, Director, Actor, Supporting Actress, Supporting Actor, Adapted Screenplay, Editing, Cinematography, Music - Score, Production Design, Costumes, Sound Mixing
Awards: None (other than every Best Actor Award, a Screen Actors Guild award for Supporting Actor and some Critics Awards for Supporting Actress)

For:
  • Spielberg's biopic is such a lovingly detailed, layered, respectful, immersive work. It's a pity it has so many people actively campaigning against it - wait, that's against. I'll get there.
  • Pre-release, it was already considered a strong Best Picture contender, just based on calibre
  • Post-release (to critics), it had lived up to expectation, even exceeded it, and was cemented as a Best Picture contender
  • Post-release (to the public), the public loved it, earning it the highest box office of all the Best Picture contenders, the president loved it, screening it at the White House, Bill Clinton loved it, endorsing it at the Golden Globes
  • With 12 nominations, the most of all this year's contenders, the Academy clearly loved it.
  • If any director was to join ???, a??? and ??? in the distinction of having three Best Director Oscars, wouldn't you want it to be Spielberg?
  • A huge cast led by the brilliant and universally acclaimed Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field and Tommy Lee Jones.
Against:
  • Jeff Wells, & a whole bunch of critics / bloggers actively campaigning against Lincoln, mainly on grounds of it being boring (regardless of its great box office)
  • The NY Times, at least for more ostensibly moral / historical reasons 
  • Spielberg already has two Oscars
  • Despite consistent nominations across the board, Lincoln has yet to win a major award outside of the acting races.
  • There's no way Tony Kushner should have lost the Scripter and Writer's Guild awards for his adapted screenplay. But he did. 
  • Although each of its 12 nominations are richly deserved, it is the frontrunner in only one - Best Actor. It's even only a strong threat in two - Best Supporting Actor and Best Director.

Les Miserables


Metacritic: 63 (Lowest)
US Box Office: $146 Million
8 Nominations: Picture, Actor, Supporting Actress, Music - Song, Production Design, Costumes, Make Up & Hair, Sound Mixing
Awards: Golden Globe Best Picture (Comedy / Musical) (Also every Best Supporting Actress award and Best Actor (Comedy / Musical) Golden Globe)

For:
  • Pre-release expectations for Les Miserables were epic
  • Although divisive on release, those who loved it were giving tear-soaked standing ovations and declaring it the obvious, hands-down Best Picture winner.
  • Anne Hathaway's live, single-close-up-take rendition of I Dreamed a Dream is zeitgeist dynamite
  • Wolverine sings in a tenor and weeps, and wins a Golden Globe
  • Les Mis beat Silver Linings Playbook, which is understandable as the Globes are such suckers for Musicals they even nominated Mama Mia, but still significant, considering Playbook's general momentum
Against:
  • Wall to wall singing isn't everyone's cup of tea
  • Hooper's creative choices - mostly his preference for extended close-ups - have been criticised
  • The live singing trick has been as much criticised as celebrated; mostly it is celebrated in reference to Anne Hathaway & criticised in reference to Russell Crowe.
  • Hooper's snub in Best Director implies appreciation, but not passion, from the Academy

Silver Linings Playbook

Metacritic: 81
US Box Office: $103 Million
8 Nominations: Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Adapted Screenplay, Editing
Awards: Golden Satellites Best Picture (and sweep)

For:
  • It's this year's quirky little indie that could. Who can resist a quirky, crowd pleasing romantic comedy? Well, many, actually, but far many more ate it up hook line and sinker and those who really support it, really support it
  • No one really cares about the Golden Satellites, but when an indie comedy wins pretty much everything, people do notice, and wonder if the movie can repeat the trick elsewhere
  • Bradley Cooper - he of The Hangover - gives a career-changing performance, and instantly ups Oscar telecast ratings
  • Jennifer Lawrence's brilliant, sudden rise to the very top of the A-List with this & Hunger Games' $408 Million box office
  • David O'Russell's comeback - he fell badly out of favour when he screeched insane insults at Lily Tomlin on the set of I Heart Huckabees - yes, you can relive it here - and pissed off George Clooney by allegedly assaulting extras, but made a big comeback with 2010's The Fighter, earning universal praise, his first Best Director nomination and Oscars for Christian Bale and Melissa Leo. That appreciation clearly remains, as he is the very unlikely recipient of a Best Director nomination over presumed frontrunners Kathryn Bigelow & Ben Affleck.
  • More than that, O'Russell has a great PR story, making no secret of the fact that he adapted Matthew Quick's book to make his son, who suffers from unspecified mental illness, feel he has a place in the world. Even I can't resist that story, and I only mostly like the film.
  • The film was nominated in every category it reasonable could have been - including each of the four acting categories: an honour it share with Sunset Blvd, A Streetcar Named Desire, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Network and, most recently, Reds (amongst others). The Academy clearly like this movie. A lot.
  • Dr Oz, who has helped lend the film a heft of seriousness as an important film about the stigmas around mental illness.  The jury's out on that one, but the speculation can't hurt it's Oscar campaign.
Against:
  • Don't tell anyone, but ultimately this is just a romantic comedy, which drops in quality somewhat in the second half. It's still a really good rom com, but as a film about mental illness it feels underdeveloped, and it may not hold up well as a Best Picture winner. 
  • Bradley Cooper gives a good performance, yes, but his portrayal of bi-polar highs and lows doesn't stand up against 10 minutes of Claire Danes in Homeland. Sorry bro.

Zero Dark Thirty

Metacritic: 95 (highest)
US Box Office: $90 Million
5 Nominations: Picture, Actress, Original Screenplay, Editing, Sound Editing
Awards: National Board of Review Best Picture, 10 Critics Groups' Best Picture

For:
  • Still the best reviewed film of the year
  • Jessica Chastain's Maya remains one of the definitive screen characters of 2012 (okay that's just my opinion, but it will endure to be true. Just watch!)
  • Pre-release, Zero Dark Thirty was one of the most hotly anticipated films of the year and, post-critics-release, it didn't disappoint, being hailed almost universally as a masterpiece
  • Before the torture debate started, it was winning every single Critics Choice Award available, paving a seemingly unstoppable path to an Oscar clean sweep.
Against:
  • Even before the torture debacle really took off, the possibility of Bigelow joining the distinguished company of Frank Capra, Fred Zinneman, Robert Wise, William Wyler, Billy Wilder, Elia Kazan, David Lean, Milos Forman & Clint Eastwood as history's two-time Best Picture / Best Director winners - in the span of only three years no less - freaked people out. Some felt her career filmography simply doesn't warrant this kind of distinction, which is probably a fair point. Personally, I feel if she made the best movie of the year twice in a row, power to her. As for being distinguished by Oscars, Kevin Costner had one before Scorsese. Sandra Bullock has one, but Julianne Moore doesn't. Mira Sorvino has one, but Annette Bening doesn't. The list goes on. Career filmographies and Oscar wins are clearly separate things.
  • Then the torture debate began and things got really ugly. Bigelow & writer Mark Boal were accused of being pro-torture, the CIA was accused of sharing classified information and actors like Ed Asner & Martin Sheen (although he later clarified his position) actively campaigned against Zero Dark Thirty. It stopped winning awards and ended up nominated only in the most unavoidable fields.
  • Critics needing something new to vote for quickly bandied behind Argo, a lighter, happier, non-controversial middle eastern alternative to Zero Dark Thirty.
  • Its lack of nominations for Directing, Sound Mixing, Score and Cinematography are telling.

What will win: Argo
What should win: Zero Dark Thirty
What might win: Lincoln


After the cut, the Best Picture contenders ranked by Metacritic scores & Box Office: