I saw Steve McQueen’s Hunger on opening weekend in 2008. The UK was one of the very first countries to see his debut feature, and the Belfast screening was packed, of course. It was the best film I saw that year. A little over two years ago, I was having a pretty bad day, and decided to treat myself. Rather than wait for its January release, I booked rail and sail to Manchester, via Dublin and Wales, for an early-December screening of Shame, followed by a Q&A with McQueen after. For this screening, I stayed up until 2am, walked into town to the bus stop, got lost in Dublin, waited outside for hours for the boat, and spent most of the next day on various trains. 36 hours with just about no sleep, all to see one film. And it was the best film I saw that year.
Yesterday, the very thought of seeing just two films in one day was so unappealing I paid almost £15 for a ticket to see another. Today, I took things a bit easier. Two would do me today, especially as the first of those two was 12 Years a Slave. You’ve probably heard all those rave reviews out of Telluride and Toronto, huh? The capacity screening in Odeon West End wasn’t even the film’s first showing at LFF. Two American girls sat down beside me. You know that bit in In a World… where Lake Bell rips the shit out of that girl’s voice? These two are that girl, only considerably less irritating, I’ll add. Their droll platitudes suggested they weren’t very well acquainted: “That’s so awesome…” was a particular favourite of the pair. But they spoke with more intelligence on the films they had seen in London than anybody else I’d overheard since arriving here last Sunday.
I caught a screening of Kill Your Darlings last night as was surprised to find a film that had been written off by most of us who blog about the Oscars. The film received some good notices by critics but nowhere near enough to make it stand out amid the more buzzed about films this year. But it is a movie that should not be overlooked, no matter what the critics say.
The first thing you have to know about Kill Your Darlings is that it features a couple of standout performances – first among them, rising star Dane DeHaan is given a chance to really show what he is capable of as an actor. In a couple of years he will be the biggest thing in town. This was obvious from the short minutes he had in Spielberg’s Lincoln. Every so often an unknown comes along and you recognize that rare and necessary combination that will eventually launch them into the stratosphere. If you watch Kill Your Darlings, you will be knocked back by DeHaan. The film’s cinematographer luxuriated in DeHaane’s aqua blue eyes – the camera loves his face. But as you’ll see, it isn’t just about his looks. He embodies Lucien Carr, one of the many wild muses that inspired the Beat Poets, specifically the young Allen Ginsberg.
JC Chandor’s Oscar-nominated screenplay, Margin Call, took him ten years to write. It is a deliberate, careful study of what it takes for a man to survive on Wall Street. He’s applied the same deceptively simple writing and directing to his new film, All Is Lost, starring just one person: Robert Redford.
The film begins with a few plain-spoken words from Redford. From that point on, the film relies only on Redford’s actions, with no other dialogue spoken. Still, we learn much about his character from watching what he does. He reveals his character through a series of tests. He isn’t Job, nor is he Pi — this isn’t a film about questioning faith in a higher power, rather, about faith in one’s resourcefulness, faith in one’s self.
After all, we are born with these giant, fancy, spectacular brains. We never know what that intelligence is capable of achieving until we’re put to the test. Redford’s character brings to his challenge to survive decades of life experience etched on his face and lighting his eyes, along with basic education, courage, and good, old-fashioned wits. All Is Lost is a film about perseverance, not survival.
It’s my day off, kind of. I’m still seeing two films, and actually they’re both pretty high-profile Cannes entries: Asghar Farhadi’s The Past, for which Berenice Bejo won the official Best Actress award, and Alain Guiraudie’s Stranger by the Lake, for which he himself won the Un Certain Regard Best Director award. But these screenings are, respectively, showing at 18:00 and 21:00, so I have the afternoon to do what I want! And what do I want to do? Go to the cinema!
I’ve sort of lost all track of regular time since Sunday, so when I turned up in Leicester Square, having traversed through Green Park and along Piccadilly, to find that Captain Phillips, the film which had opened the LFF last Wednesday and which I had thus missed, was out in cinemas, I was a little caught unawares. I bought my ticket, and the chatty vendor informed me that she’d heard it was good. Well, yeh, me too. Not knowing what day it was (standard chez moi), I thought she must have heard this from friends or customers. Not bloody likely, I was seeing the second screening of the day.
The weeks are flying by as we comb through Oscar’s past. This weekend we’ll be diving in 1996, not a great year overall for film. To me it’s known as the Fargo year, though the big winner was The English Patient, which entered the race with virtually no competition. The other big challenger was Jerry Maguire, Cameron Crowe’s closest Oscar win, and one of Tom Cruise’s. But it was, as it turned out, no match for the epic sweep (Nazis!) of The English Patient. The English Patient had 12 nominations and won 9 Oscars, which puts it alongside Gigi and The Last Emperor. Only four movies won more: Titanic (the most), Ben-Hur, Return of the King and West Side Story. So that makes The English Patient one of the biggest Oscar movies of all time. Hard to believe until you start drilling down into it and what you see is everything a modern Oscar winner needs: “importance,” Nazis, love story (with refreshing sex and nudity), romance (vicarious living) and an epic sweep. This movie is one of those quintessential winners. But the other thing about it was that it had very light competition, and that allowed it to win big.
Though many still love and appreciate The English Patient (Anthony Minghella, RIP), Fargo is the one that really broke through. Other directors blooming that year included Wes Anderson (Bottle Rocket), the Wachowski siblings (Bound), Lars Von Trier (Breaking the Waves, at the onset of the Dogme 95 movement), David O. Russell (Flirting with Disaster), Paul Thomas Anderson (Hard Eight), Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet (though he’d already made Strictly Ballroom), Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, though he’d already made Shallow Grave).
We’d love to hear your thoughts on 1996, and if you have any questions for the podcasters, please leave them here.
Last Monday, I felt a cold coming on. Well, I thought it was a cold. It was tonsillitis. Not very pleasant. Got some penicillin from the doctor; by this time, the tonsillitis was subsiding. I packed what remained of the first packet out of two for London, and by the time I had run it through, my throat felt pretty much back to normal. It’s what, Thursday today? And the tonsillitis has returned. With a fucking vengeance. I do not intend to sit through nine films shivering like a fucking hobo in Helsinki and convulsing every time I swallow. FML.
The three films I saw yesterday, though all very good, were also all pretty dry, if you know what I mean. Not exactly designed to entertain. The same cannot be said for my first film today, Rigor Mortis. Chinese pop-star-turned-actor Juno Mak has now turned director, for a homage to the classic Chinese horror films of the 1980s. Vampires and ghosts and blah blah blah, you know the kind of film I’m on about, right? Bloody good fun, that’s what I was looking for. And yes sir, that’s what I got.
David Poland, over at Movie City News, has divided up the predictions into “seen” and “unseen.” I know, shocker. What, predicting movies people have actually seen? Gravity lands on top for the second time since the Gurus began. It appears, at this stage of the Oscar race, to be down to Gravity vs. 12 Years a Slave. They couldn’t be more different. The only similarity they share is both directors are not American. The reason for the enthusiasm for Gravity, btw, is that people keep reporting on how Academy members “loved” Gravity. Gurus of Gold is here.
Thing about Gurus of Gold is that, for the most part, you can bet dollars to donuts that the winner is on either of these two charts. The odds are usually, since 2004, that the film will have been seen already. If there is a sea change in how Best Picture is won, the winner will be among those that haven’t been seen. Things like this never seem possible until they happen. There is still enough time for another movie to catch fire and win the whole thing. Here’s the trick: whatever it is it has to be better than Gravity or 12 Years a Slave. If any other movie moves ahead of those two, whether it’s seen or not, it will be because it is the general audience crowdpleaser or because the voters want to recognize a beloved, unrewarded director (like Alexander Payne or David O. Russell or even George Clooney).
Full charts after the cut.
Now that 12 Years a Slave is about to open in theaters, the reviews are pouring in. With a Metacritic score so far of 93, 12 Years a Slave, were it not the tinyest bit divisive, would pass Gravity’s score of 96. But there is a small minority of critics who drag it down. Even with those, 93 is higher than most films this year.
Manohla Dargis at the New York Times writes:
“12 Years a Slave” isn’t the first movie about slavery in the United States — but it may be the one that finally makes it impossible for American cinema to continue to sell the ugly lies it’s been hawking for more than a century. Written by John Ridley and directed by Steve McQueen, it tells the true story of Solomon Northup, an African-American freeman who, in 1841, was snatched off the streets of Washington, and sold. It’s at once a familiar, utterly strange and deeply American story in which the period trappings long beloved by Hollywood — the paternalistic gentry with their pretty plantations, their genteel manners and all the fiddle-dee-dee rest — are the backdrop for an outrage.
[Spoilers abound. Do not read if you haven't seen the first episode] “Some roads you shouldn’t go down. Because maps used to say ‘There be dragons here.’ Now they don’t… but that don’t mean the dragons aren’t there.” – Billy Bob Thornton as Lorne Malvo FX’s 10-episode limited series Fargo - inspired by Joel and Ethan Coen’s 1996 film of the same name but eventually striking out in its own interesting directions – begins at dus...
Even though last week fans were treated to Rupersized episodes of “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” only one queen went home in the two-part installment, so it was really only like one episode (a moment of silence for our fallen queen Laganja Estranja. . .mmmmk?). So now it’s down to seven queens. We’re getting very close to the end of season 6 when Ru will crown the next drag superstar (or superdud if she goes with Adore). I’m sure all season long you were thinking, “Wow…when is there ...
Million Dollar Baby takes down Sideways and The Aviator. Probably the only film that really resonates from this year was Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which just gets better with each viewing, as does Sideways. Okay, fine, so do the Aviator and Million Dollar Baby. Ultimately it was not the best year for film but not bad overall. Have a listen....
We probably spend too much time talking about Lost in Translation and not enough time talking about Return of the King. But it was an important film, a beautiful film and the sum total of Peter Jackson’s vision to bring the books to the big screen. It was a pretty good year with Mystic River and Lost in Translation. Of all of them, the Coppola film has really grown in esteem as time has gone by and is as relevant and vital today as it was back in 2003. Have a listen....