AICN-DOWNUNDER: Oscar Picks, Green Lantern, Easy Virtue and Eric Bana's directorial debut!!
Published at: Feb. 20, 2009, 12:27 p.m. CST by merrick
In our world we do not understand this code of easy virtue.
With the Oscars fast approaching, the audience figures surely dropping to record lows, and the ceremony itself a blur of hastily-performed songs and interpretive dance numbers, we perform that most joyous and pointless of tasks: the Oscar picks. We realise there is little value to our guesses, and little value to the winners (CRASH can win as many Oscars as it likes, it don't make it a good film), but who doesn't enjoy slapping a note of currency on the table and presenting their guesses? Possibly a lot of people. Nevertheless, here are my picks for the major categories.
Who should get it: I was arguing that this was a good year for Oscars recently, citing that there was no example of a crap, over-praised film getting ideas above its station. Of course, it was then pointed out to me that, similarly, there is no work of unassailable greatness such as THERE WILL BE BLOOD or NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN. And that's kind-of the problem: I really like all of the Best Picture nominees, but there's nothing there I'd cite as a potential Greates Film of All Time. BUTTON has more promise than delivery, SLUMDOG is very good but a tad overrated, THE READER is terrific, and MILK, admittedly, does come quite close. FROST/NIXON is my favourite of the bunch, and would probably pip MILK for my vote.
Who will get it: It's the year of the SLUMDOG, make no mistake.
Who should get it: How much is the Oscars a lifetime achievement award, and how much should it be a lifetime achievement award. For instance, should David Fincher get an Oscar? Of course; he has, at minimum, directed two of the greatest films of all time (ALIEN3 and THE GAME... just kidding). But should he win it for BENJAMIN BUTTON, which doesn't hit the heights of his best work? The best directed film of the bunch is FROST, but I still have a sour taste in my mouth from Howard's A BEAUTIFUL MIND win. Gus Van Sant certainly deserves a win for MILK, as does Daldry for the underrated THE READER. Hm. I think I'd actually give it to Van Sant, now I look at it.
Who will get it: I'm going to have no problem watching the great Danny Boyle getting long-overdue recognition.
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Who should get it: For telling a story that is deceptively non-straightforward in its complexity, and doing it so well, my vote would go to Peter Morgan for FROST/NIXON. Even if he was adapting his own work. But that makes the win all the more legitimate, doesn't it?
Who will get it: Simon Beaufoy for SLUMDOG.
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Who should get it: I'll confess to a slight bias here. Over the past few months, my girlfriend has converted me into a fully-blown Mike Leigh fan. From his popular works such as SECRETS AND LIES to his more obscure MEAN TIME (starring an extremely young Tim Roth, Gary Oldman and Alfred Molina -- track it down!), I've been won over to a style that I didn't think would ever appeal to me. MILK is a close second, but I'd tick the HAPPY-GO-LUCKY box.
Who will get it: Can SLUMDOG win this one as well? No? In that case, Dustin Lance Black's gigantic credit at the end of the MILK trailer should be an indication that the bigger the font, the bigger the Oscar chances. Also, as my friend Paulie pointed out, it's the era of Prop 8 in California, and they're going to want to give it something.
Who should get it: If I could choose this year's upset, it would be Richard Jenkins winning the award. And, like everyone else in this category, he absolutely deserves it. My honest response is that every single one of these actors should get it. My non-pussy response is that I'd vote for Sean Penn.
Who will get it: I know everybody's saying Rourke, but I've put my money on Penn. I know it's a tad risky, but if I'm just picking the favourites, what would be the point?
Who should get it: No question, Kate Winslet.
Who will get it: No question, Kate Winslet.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Who should get it: Is there any way I can say Heath Ledger without sounding like either a politically-correct grandstander or a total fanboy? Brolin, Downey Jnr, Hoffman and Shannon were all great. But if I'm totally honest about who gave the best performance, it really was Ledger. It's just a shame that the depth of his performance is overshadowed by other, louder factors, even if they do all lead to the same conclusion.
Who will get it: The only certainties in life are death, taxes, and Ledger's Oscar.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Who should get it:Amy Adams was great in DOUBT, Penelope Cruz was great in VICKY CRISTINA (although her role was much flashier than the other, equally-deserving female performances), Viola Davis was terrific but just not on screen for long enough in DOUBT, and Taraji P. Henson may not have had any melodramatic moments that cynically announce themselves as Oscar Moments, but her performance in BUTTON was incredibly consistent and worthy of the award. My vote, though, would be for Tomei in THE WRESTLER. She was just so damn good.
Who will get it: I honestly don't know who the favourite is. Tomei? Cruz? Either way, I have a feeling this one is going to go to Henson for BUTTON. Call it a hunch. Or call it wildly off the mark. Probably the latter, but I'm still sticking with it.
And there are my guesses. Whether I get slaughtered in my Oscar pool or not remains to be seen, but I'm feeling confident!
And now, on with the actual movie news...
Having been raised on the awesomeness of Rod Taylor (TIME MACHINE! THE BIRDS!), I set about trying to track him down for an interview on my show. What better than to interview a cinematic legend that has since been forgotten? Well, the moment I began trying to track him down, it was announced that Tarantino had secured him for INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS. Typical. The news that Taylor would be playing Winston Churchill was actually announced in late 2008, but I somehow missed it until the other day. And as Taylor is Australian and his casting has been perplexingly overshadowed by other casting news, I thought it was worth mentioning. It's Rod Taylor Awareness Week at AICN-D.
Elsewhere, ScreenHub is reporting that THE GREEN LANTERN will shoot in Australia later this year, with the production being split between flooded New South Wales and fire-ravaged Victoria. Seriously, this country is fucking insane at the moment. Floods and fires. You'd think we'd be able to combine them and cancel out the problem, wouldn't you? Anyway, expect the GL movie to feature Hal Jordan, not just because he's probably the most recognised Lantern, but because a second unit will be shooting the Avalon airshow in March, just outside of Melbourne. If you're attending, please remember to NOT wear yellow. Safety first, people.
ScreenHub, doing a lot of heavy lifting this week, has also mentioned that the third NARNIA movie, VOYAGE OF THE DAWNTREADER is very likely to shoot in Queensland this year. Apparently, one of the conditions is that the Gold Coast needs a new processing lab, and Village Roadshow is currently in the process of opening one. NARNIA and GREEN LANTERN both filming in Australia. And you thought our weakened dollar was a bad thing.
Earlier this week, production began on ANIMAL KINGDOM, the debut of writer/director David Michod. It's a essentially an Australian mafia movie (loosely inspired by real events), told through the eyes of a teenager entering (cue movie trailer voice) their world of crime. The cast includes Guy Pearce, Ben Mendelsohn, Joel Edgerton and Luke Ford. From what I've heard about the script, this is definitely one to keep your eye on.
There is a current trend in Australia of low budget genre movies. Now, to qualify "low budget", you'll need to remember that AU$6 million, which, if you tripled it, would be considered a low budget indie in America, that six mil is a pretty high budget in Australia. So when I say low budget, you know I'm talking about Eastern Europeans carrying wheelbarrows full of devalued cash to buy a loaf of bread. And good on them! (The Australian filmmakers, not the historical suffering Europeans, but good on them, too.) Another film that's been brought to my attention is DAMNED BY DAWN, described by the filmmakers thusly: DAMNED BY DAWN is a supernatural ghost film, centering on a Banshee who wakes the dead. Then blood is shed as all hell breaks loose. Partly inspired by the classic Hammer horror films, DAMNED BY DAWN is steeped in atmosphere with heavy doses of Irish mythology. The film was shot over 26 days & nights in Ballarat in central Victoria & in the outer eastern suburbs of Melbourne. Funding came from private investors - we didn’t even bother with the FFC (as they were known at the time). We’re locked in to having the film completed in April & are currently negotiating distribution. Written and directed by Brett Anstey, the film's official website can be found at www.damnedbydawnmovie.com, and the trailer can be seen by clicking here. And really do check out the trailer, 'cos it looks fucking great.
To end the news on a horrible note, the Victorian bushfires that have either directly or indirectly affected everybody in my home state, have now claimed in excess of two hundred lives. Amongst the deceased is Reg Evans, a prolific Australian actor whose appeared in MAD MAX, GALLIPOLI, EVIL ANGELS (aka A CRY IN THE DARK), and JAPANESE STORY. Evans was helping his neighbour fight a fire attacking his house, and, reports suggest, was running back to his own house to help his wife Angela. Tragically, both Reg and Angela died in the fire. Our condolences go out to their family, and to the families of everybody who has suffered in Australia's worst natural disaster in history.
AWARDS, FESTIVALS AND SCREENINGS
59th Berlin International Film Festival
Though it missed out on some of the bigger prizes, MARY AND MAX, the animation by HARVIE KRUMPET Oscar winner Adam Elliot, received a special mention from the jury. Next year's lock for a Best Animated Picture nomination opens in Australia on April 9.
Interesting that the release of CHANGELING has spurred people to go and see... GRAN TORINO. Not interesting that people are seeing HE'S JUST NOT THAT INTO YOU.
1. HE'S JUST NOT THAT INTO YOU
2. GRAN TORINO
3. GHOST TOWN
4. SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE
5. TRANSPORTER 3
RELEASED THESE PAST TWO WEEKS
Melissa Leo is a shoo-in for that Best Actress Oscar, Ricky Gervais appears in a film he might have made fun of on EXTRAS, if I hear one more critic talk about what an insight this film is then I'll dump them for a younger blonde, Clive Owen continues to regret turning down James Bond, horror remakes continue to bore me, an original horror film gets a modicum of respect from me, Anne Hathaway is a shoo-in for that Best Actress Oscar, Kate Winslet is a shoo-in for that Best Actress Oscar, and Seth Rogan is a shoo-in for that Best Actress Oscar.
HE'S JUST NOT THAT INTO YOU
MY BLOODY VALENTINE 3D
RACHEL GETTING MARRIED THE READER
ZACK AND MIRI MAKE A PORNO
LOVE THE BEAST
Australian release: March 12
The UK show "Top Gear" is a pretty good example of how alchemy works. For those who have not seen it, it's a show about cars that appeals not only to the vehicular-obsessed (like my brother), but also those who would not, under normal circumstances, be caught dead catching a car show (like myself). With its high production values, humour and intelligence, the show manages to make its subject accessible to all, showing just why people love dissecting every element of a car, without dumbing itself down for its target audience, ie: people who know this stuff already.
The "Top Gear" model has inspired two different productions in Australia. The first is "Top Gear Australia", a basic facsimile of the UK show, which, on the surface, looks just like its parent, but completely misses the point and therefore fails to work. The second is LOVE THE BEAST, Eric Bana's directorial debut. It's a documentary about Bana's love affair with his Ford, only it's so much more than that. What Bana has clearly taken from "Top Gear" is the idea that to make a film about something you are deeply interested in, but others may not be, it has to be funny, personal, and tell a story. Human beings love stories, which is why a film about a guy who has owned a car for twenty-five years can capture and maintain our attention for its entire running time.
Bana's film is about how a car he bought when he was sixteen brought he and his friends together. It kept them out of trouble, he says, as every spare moment was devoted to fixing it up. Now, twenty-five years later, he and his friends are still close, still working on the car, still competing in races.
Bana successfully weaves elements of his career -- his beginnings in stand-up comedy, to his film work, to red carpets and talk shows -- into the story of his actual life. His family, his cars, his friends. It's probably the most effective example of a movie star trying to convince you he's an every day guy, largely because Bana never tries to convince us of this. It's very fly-on-the-wall for the most part, interspersed with interviews from Jay Leno, Dr Phil McGraw, and "Top Gear"'s Jeremy Clarkson.
Most people will be drawn in by the movie star appeal of Bana, and the publicity is right in focusing its attention on him and the celebrity cameos. That's what's going to get people along to see it. The film itself, however, is so much more than that; a look at not just the fact of motor obsession, but the reasons behind it. It shows us the danger and appeal of rally driving, the differences of opinions between an Australian car lover, an American car lover, and a British car lover. It's about how a common passion can unite people, and keep them united for decades upon end.
But, more than that, it's a funny, interesting, well-made film that's well worth your time.
LET THE RIGHT ONE
New Zealand release: January 9
Australian release (Melbourne): March 5
Australian release (Sydney): March 19
SHAUN OF THE DEAD has a lot to answer for. The pitch -- "A romantic comedy. With zombies." -- made it an instant must-see, but also produced a ton of similarly-themed genre-benders. The recently-announced PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES, where the synopsis is included in the title, is a pretty good example of this. My favourite has to be this: "Hey, remember that 1985 Swedish film MY LIFE AS A DOG, by Lars Von Trier? Now imagine with vampires!"
Such is the idea behind LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (actually, that's the idea I've imposed upon it for the benefit of those who've seen MY LIFE; the film is actually quite original). A coming-of-age film about a pre-teen boy falling for an unconventional girl. It was a film that circumstance caused me to miss at last year's Melbourne International Film Festival, and seeing it pop up on so many Best Of lists made me cringe at my own carelessness.
Australia is now finally seeing the film's release (after New Zealand got it in January), and it's a film that's worth the wait. It does suffer somewhat from overhype; not just because it's very, very good instead of being great, but because any film that is as careful and evenly-paced as this one deserves lowered expectations, if only so one can align their own mood with that of the film.
Essentially, it's a sweet love story between a 12 year old boy, and a girl who, we can infer, has been twelve for a great many years. The film is based on the book by its screenwriter, John Ajvide Lindqvist. I haven't read it, but it does feel like the adaptation suffers a little by spreading its focus amongst a variety of very interesting tangents. The brief side-story of the woman who, tragically, doesn't fully realise she's been turned into a vampire is an incredibly interesting one, but doesn't compare to the central tale of the two kids. Small moments between them (Oskar's Rubik's Cube and Eli's Faberge Egg) beautifully illustrate how different, yet how identical, these two kids are. They are moments that could so easily be overbaked, but are handled with a deftness by Lindqvist and by the director Tomas Alfredson.
To be warned: it is a film that will divide people. In the over-simplified categories of Good or Bad, I'd definitely come down on the Good side, even though I had some very minor issues with it. At the end of the film, I noticed a member of the audience (not, I'm presuming, a critic) approach a stranger and ask what they thought of it. The woman seemed incredulous. "It was really bad, right?" as if she couldn't believe she was the only one who'd just seen that. I can certainly understand her position. If you've never seen Hallstrom or Bergman, or been exposed to really any European cinema, LET THE RIGHT ONE IN must seem like the most boring film in the world.
Though I recommend this film very highly, make sure you're not going in expecting 30 DAYS OF NIGHT or SHAUN OF THE DEAD or (Heaven help us) TWILIGHT. This is a vampire film for the arthouse crowd, not an arty film for the vampire lovers, and as such, it really, really works.
Australian/NZ release: March 19
It's inevitable that any story directed by Stephan Elliott will be eclipsed by the story of Stephan Elliott, or, more precisely, his fascinating career trajectory. After the utterly unexpected hit of 1994's PRISCILLA, QUEEN OF THE DESERT, Elliott's follow-up, WELCOME TO WOOP-WOOP, brought him right back down again. It was a commercial and critical flop, and his third feature, EYE OF THE BEHOLDER (starring Ewan McGregor and Ashley Judd) fared only slightly better. In fact, if you get a chance, check out KILLING PRISCILLA, the documentary about the making of BEHOLDER. If you still want to be a director after watching it, then you're utterly insane.
I'd presumed -- based not on the quality of his work, but on his disagreeable relationship with critics and financiers -- that we'd probably seen the last of Elliott. I didn't think he'd make another film, and if he did, I certainly didn't expect it to be a superbly-constructed audience pleaser. Those who like to engage in Schadenfreude will be sorely disappointed; I'm afraid he's made a terrific film.
Love or hate PRISCILLA, there's no denying the cast is extraordinary. Hugo Weaving, Guy Pearce and man-god Terence Stamp as drag queens. Fantastic. Though there's no real casting-against-type in EASY VIRTUE, there are some surprises to be found: Jessica Biel is amazing. Sure, there are a dozen other actresses who probably could have done more with the part, but Biel doesn't put a foot wrong. She plays an American racing car driver who, upon meeting her mother-in-law, instantly begins to upset the delicate English sensibilities of the family she's just entered into.
It's based on a play by Noel Coward, which, if you can believe it, was made once before by Hitchcock. (I know, it's one of the few Hitchcock films I haven't seen either. Guess what I'll be doing this weekend? That's right: getting a haircut.) Coward's writing is very, very precise, and it's not unreasonable to expect an actress with credits such as "Seventh Heaven", SUMMER CATCH and I NOW PRONOUNCE YOU CHUCK AND LARRY to perhaps not quite get her tonsils around it. But no, Biel is quite convincing, and carries the film well from start to finish.
The rest of the cast is quite brilliant, though this fact is hardly surprising given the parents are played by Colin Firth and Kristen Scott Thomas. Thomas plays the sardonic, cutting, controlling, droll Englishwoman so perfectly, you completely forget that this archetype has been well worn in the past. Firth is also great, but he's got the easier task as the antiestablishment unshaven patriarch who can sit back and comment on the proceedings.
Kris Marshall also enjoys the benefits of the crowd-pleasing archetype -- although, were these characters archetypes when Coward wrote the play, or did he make them so? Answers on a postcard -- playing the poker-faced sarcastic butler. Thankfully, his role is not overwritten (as this type so frequently is), and the part is carried on Marshall's looks alone. Also great is the inclusion of Latauro Crush Katherine Parkinson as one of Biel's new sisters-in-law; so brilliant in "The IT Crowd", Parkinson transfers her pitch-perfect delivery to a big-screen drama (or, rather, a laugh-track-less comedy) without missing a beat. Though I've not rabbitted on about them as much as their co-stars, Kimberly Nixon and co-lead Ben Barnes are also spot-on. There's no stunt casting here, no sign of studio-forced actors. From start to finish, every actor nails it.
It's been a while since I've laughed this loudly in a movie, although the fact that cinema had to go back and dig up Noel Coward's writings to do so shouldn't be too surprising. Despite a mild lag in pace towards the end, this film really works. After little consideration, I can bestow upon it the only real sign of success: it's a film for people who wouldn't normally see such a film. Now see it.
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