Thursday, December 24, 2015

Film Awards 2015, part 2

  • Most Blatant Case of False Advertising Since The Neverending Story

Watching the trailer for Suffragette, it appeared that Meryl Streep had a significant role to play in this piece of historical fiction. In reality, the trailer showed almost the entirety of her performance. Meryl Streep is in this film in the same way that Sean Connery is in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves - by not really being in it at all. The comparisons between Suffragette and Prince of Thieves don't end there, however. Both focus on a character who joins the cause of the oppressed. Both lead characters challenge the injustice of the law and are thus treated as outlaws. Both feature a despicably evil male antagonist. And both don't quite live up to the subject matter. Now Suffragette is far superior to Prince of Thieves. Most films are. But there is something about it that didn't quite work for me. It's decent, but I thought it would be brilliant.

  • Best Shot

I expected Sicario to be thrilling, but I didn't expect it to be beautiful. There is a stunning aerial shot
of a convoy of SUVs serpentining (?) its way into Juarez which shows the makers of the awful True Detective season 2 how it's done. But the best shot of all captures the silhouettes of an elite team of operatives descending into a hidden tunnel as the sun sets on the Texas desert. This cinematic flair combined with excellent performances from Emily Blunt and Benicio Del Toro distinguishes Sicario from the pack.

  • The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Science and Reason and Logic and Bigotry Award for the Film which Contributes More to Science than Richard Dawkins Himself

If I ever end up stuck on Mars, I want to be stuck there with Matt Damon. I don't use the word "hero" lightly, but he is the greatest hero in American history, It's almost impossible not to like him, And it's almost impossible not to like his character in The Martian. Without exaggeration, this is the coolest botanist you're ever likely to see on screen. Matt Damon gets to deliver some cracking lines, such as: "I'm going to have to science the shit out of this." And that is quite literally what he does, since he uses his own poo as a way to grow potatoes on Mars. I wasn't a huge fan of the scenes which didn't feature Damon, but overall The Martian is like a light-hearted version of Interstellar (which also featured Matt Damon and Jessica Chastain), and it is all the better for it. It is full of science and reason and logic. And given its "white-washing" of some Asian characters who originally featured in the novel, it is also full of bigotry. Richard Dawkins would be proud.

  • Worst Car Chase

It could only be the one featured in Spectre. Bond and the henchman race around Rome in a couple of lavish sports cars. They don't drive particularly fast. There are no machine guns attached to the vehicles. There are no laser guided missiles. No banana skins are released from the rear. They don't even bump into each other. Bond simply gets a small head start on the henchman, and maintains it without much fuss for a minute or two, until he drives into a river or something like that. It is boring beyond belief.

  • Best Hagiography

The Steve Jobs depicted in Steve Jobs is an asshole. There's no denying it. He's rude, manipulative, heartless, mean, arrogant, vindictive. The film doesn't shy away from this side of him. But he's not a bad man. Yes, he's "poorly made." But his supposed worst offence - his neglect of his daughter - is amended by the end of the film. All his other petty squabbles and character flaws are covered over by the healing of this central relationship, as Danny Boyle's three act play comes to a neat close. But Steve Jobs was not a "regular type asshole." His crimes against humanity are completely overlooked. Where was the snappy pre-launch conversation with the mother of the Foxconn employee who committed suicide? This is an all too sanitized account of a flawed, modern saint. I have heard people cite Steve Jobs as an argument for allowing Syrian refugees into the States, If anything, Steve Jobs embodies the only argument for not allowing Syrian refugees into the U.S. "But he invented the iPhone!" Exactly. I rest my case.

  • Best Second Part of a Film that was Unnecessarily Divided Into Multiple Parts

I was a big fan of the first two Hunger Games films. Not so much the third, but it grew on me after the second viewing. The Hunger Games III/2 does not rival the first two in terms of thrills and the amount of Woody Harrelson we get to see, but for its sheer bleakness and subversive narrative it deserves this award. I just didn't see this end coming. That just shows you the extent to which I have been tricked into thinking that war ends well.

  • Best Remixed Christian Film

I'm convinced that Christmas with the Coopers began life as a "Christian film", with Kirk Cameron ear marked to play the lead role. It has all the hallmark signs: family values, Christian character who always finds the moral high ground, saccharine voice over, wisdom from the elderly. But then someone got their hands on the script and decided to marry it with some edginess: a young girl who swears, a gay character, some weird kissing. Much like the marriage in the film, this one is not happy. The film is entirely confused about what it wants to be. It's neither dramatic nor funny, and it has some very odd moments. And in the biggest twist of all, it ends with the Coopers doing some zany dancing in the middle of a hospital ward, because, you know, they don't have inhibitions like normal families. (What do you mean "that's almost exactly how Little Miss Sunshine Ends"?) The Coopers also don't have tact. Joyous dancing in the middle of a hospital: insensitive much? This is truly awful stuff.

  • Most Ridiculous Temper Tantrum

Imagine someone with a propensity for outbursts of rage being given some upsetting news. Now imagine that person with a lightsaber in their hand. We're treated to not one but two of these scenes in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. They feel like out-takes from Spaceballs, which is not a compliment. Yes, it's funny to see the new Darth Vader trashing things with his lightsaber and the fear of those who bring bad news. But these scenes only serve to make what should presumably be a scary character seem like a spoiled child who's just been told he's not allowed to play with the death star. We're moving dangerously close to Kick-Ass 2 territory at this point, which I don't think is where Star Wars wants to be. It's not where anyone wants to be. If this is the character whose journey we're supposed to follow over the next 17 Christmasses, then it doesn't bode well. The same goes for the character played by the new Keira Knightley. The greatest trick J.J. Abrams ever pulled was convincing the world he makes good films. The Star Trek reboots are crimes against cinema. I read an interview in which Abrams cited Terrence Malick as an influence for this Star Wars re-make. While that does explain the half-hour spent looking at a tree while the C3PO contemplates the ambiguous nature of the force in a voice-over, there is none of Malick's daring in this safe but forgettable adventure. Malick leaves himself open to boos (although he never actually hears the boos himself, since he spends his time cutting people's hair in a cave just outside Paris). Abrams has probably never heard a boo in his life (Exhibit A: Star Trek: Into Darkness has an 87% rating on RT. I will never get over that). Star Wars will make its billions. But if by some divine miracle it doesn't, just make sure the Disney executives don't have lightsabers in their hand when you tell them the bad news.

  • Best Film

I came into this film with no expectations, and without having seen any of the previous films in the series. I left Mad Max: Fury Road with a renewed faith in cinema and a strong urge to play the electric guitar while spraying chrome into my mouth. This is a film which has an enormous amount of care and craft behind it, which seems a strange thing to say about a film which opens with the title character stuffing a lizard down his throat. But in all the mayhem – and there really is a lot of mayhem to go ‘round – there is this odd but intoxicating aesthetic which is maintained throughout. Consider this film an ode to moving vehicles of all shapes and sizes, and an antidote to Spectre's excuse for a car chase. In truth, though the film bears Max’s name, it belongs to Charlize Theron’s Furiosa. Without having to say much she is an inspirational hero. We join her and her fellow escapees on a war rig as they attempt to flee the patriarchal tyrant Immortan Joe, whose hold over his people is symbolised by his control of the city’s water supply. Will their attempt at escape be successful? You can’t be certain. But what is certain is that you will have one hell of a ride watching the whole thing unfold. The cinema was made for moving pictures like this. Forget film of the year: this is the best action film I’ve ever seen on the big screen.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Film Awards 2015, Part 1

Before I moved to Aberdeen I had it on good authority that there is nothing to do other than go to the cinema. Now that I've lived in Aberdeen for 3 months, I can tell you on good authority that there is nothing to do other than go to the cinema. A Cineworld Unlimited card is therefore not a luxury but a necessity. Without one you will die. Between now and this time next year I expect to have seen over four thousand movies. This blog post will therefore be a lot trickier in 2016. For now, however, I feel capable of presenting you with The Decy's - my awards for the films of 2015.
  • Funniest Film

Maybe it was the Venezuelan heat, maybe it was the fact that it wasn't Two and a Half Men (one of the shows shown in English on Venezuelan TV), maybe it's the fact that good comedy is hard to find these days, maybe, just maybe, it was actually a decent film. But whatever the reason, this award goes to Horrible Bosses 2. This is one of those rare sequels that actually outshines the original. If you like Charlie whats-his-face from It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia then you will probably like this movie. I like Charlie whats-his-face from It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

  • Best Western

This may have been the only western I saw in 2015, but that doesn't mean that The Salvation is here by default. Which it is. Nevertheless, this Mads Mikkelsen-led revenge piece is solid to a fault.  This really is Western-by-numbers, complete with evil-mustached-gunslinger-terrorising-small-town, and woman-in-need-of-help. Well beneath the surface there is some subversive political commentary, but for this most part this is a straight shootin' western of reasonable caliber.

  • Best Film Starring Landry from Friday Night Lights

Honourable mention to Black Mass, but the gong goes to Bridge of Spies. This was a surprisingly witty and wonderfully shot film. Clean, crisp, and without a wasted moment or word. It did leave me a bit cold, however. I never felt any sense of tension, even when we arrived at the titular bridge. The movie always had the feel of a story that would end well. But it's nice to see Landry doing well for himself, eh?

  • Best Actor

For his portrayal of a young Brian Wilson in Love & Mercy, I'm giving The Decy to Paul Dano. The highest compliment I can pay to Dano is to say that if the film had spent all its time with his Brian WIlson rather than cutting to the later Wilson played by John Cusack, Love & Mercy could have been film of the year. The scenes in the recording studio are engrossing, and there is a memorable moment when Dano's Wilson plays his new song "God Only Knows" on the piano for his angry and controlling father. Here we see the genius, the sadness, and the vulnerability all at work. And then X-Factor went and spoiled it all by doing something stupid like having someone butcher this Beach Boys classic Alexandra-Burke-Does-Hallelujah style. Is there nothing sacred?

  • Best Sequel Which Erases the Memory of Mission Impossible 4

This franchise is a case of odd numbers decent, even numbers crap. I have previously expressed by dislike for MI:4 (the one where Slavoj Zizek plays the bad guy). I'm pleased to report that Mission Impossible 5 is a vast improvement, i.e. it's watchable. The opening scene with the airplane is incredible, and there is a teriffically tense sequence at an opera. It all goes a bit flat after that, but this is still by far and away the best sequel to Mission Impossible 4 released this year. A worthy winner.

  • Best Film that's Better than All Previous Jurassic Park Sequels but Still Considerably Worse than the Original
If Landry from Friday Night Lights is the omnipresent supporting actor of our times, then Bright from Everwood is the omnipresent lead actor. I can live with that. Jurassic World has little of what made the original so memorable, but there is plenty to keep you entertained, and one genuinely laugh-out-loud moment featuring Nick from New Girl.

  • Best Film Which Has Paul Giamatti Play the Kind of Character Paul Giamatti Played 15 Years Ago

There can only be one winner here: San Andreas. While The Rock received all the acting plaudits for his nuanced portrayal of a macho rescue pilot, Paul Giamatti does what Paul Giamatti does best: he plays a geeky tech guy who shouts a lot. A true return to form for Giamatti, and one for the grand-kids' college fund.

  • Worst Casting Director

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.'s Reg Poerscout-Edgerton may just have out done the Mummy 3's Ronna Kress in managing to cast the most amount of actors who play major characters from other countries. We have an American playing a Russian, a Brit playing an American, a Swede playing a German, and an Australian playing an Italian. The accents are as ropey as the film in general. Were there no Russian actors to call upon for the role of Illya Kuryakin? I seem to recall a very talented Russian actor playing Harrison Ford's nemesis in Air Force One. Was he not available? As for the role of Napoleon Solo, the list of actors considered for the role reminds me of Manchester United's recent shopping list: all big names, but none of them remotely interested. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ryan Gosling, Channing Tatum, Alexander SkarsgÄrd, Ewan McGregor, Robert Pattinson, Matt Damon, Christian Bale, Michael Fassbender, Bradley Cooper, Leonardo DiCaprio, Joel Kinnaman, Russell Crowe, Chris Pine, Ryan Reynolds, Jon Hamm, Tom Cruise. Yep, all of these actors were "considered" by Reg, but he decided that Marouane Fellaini Henry Cavill was the man for the job. Suuuuure, Reg. We believe you.

  • Best Film About a Terminally Ill Teenager that Leaves You Feeling Heartless for Hating It

Pace the Sundance Film Festival, I thought Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl was properly crap. Yet another film shamelessly sucking up to the film industry. Yet another film with CRAZY parents who make our own parents seem to boring. Wow, did his dad just say that!? Dad's don't say that kind of thing! That's crazy! I wish my dad was like that! I think Stanley Tucci is a repeat offender in this regard. Third strike and he's out. I'm serious, Stanley. Play a crazy parent again. I dare you. I double dare you motherf****r! In what could have been an interesting film about friendship with the dying, we are instead treated to "one young man's personal journey", with the central dilemma being: will he get into college? The film also lies to us. I mean flat out lies. If we can't trust the movie industry, who can we trust?

That's all for part one. Stay tuned for part 2 tomorrow, where I will be presenting eight more awards, including the prestigious Richard Dawkins Foundation for Science and Reason and Logic and Bigotry award for the film which contributes more to science than Richard Dawkins himself, as well as the award for film of the year.