With the Oscars just one sleep away for us Kiwis, I made it my mission this weekend to ensure I got to at least one of the Oscar films I had yet to see – and I made it! As such, I can now say that I have seen 8 out of the 9 best film nominees this year – with the only one I missed being Nebraska. Without further ado then, here are my reviews of my final three, then my predictions of who I think will and should win at tomorrow’s big party.
Going into this I knew that the performances from Matthew McConaughey (enjoying a spectacular ‘McConaissance’ in Hollywood thanks to a string of fantastic film roles plus True Detective) and Jared Leto were what everyone was buzzing about. I also knew the outline of the based on real events story – a red-neck sometimes mechanic sometimes gambler contracts AIDS, at a time when people didn’t really understand it, or understand how best to treat it. He is forced to confront his inner homophobe and go to some extraordinary measures to secure some more time on earth for not just himself, but also his new friends – also afflicted with the disease.
What I didn’t realise was how long this script had been floating around Hollywood (around 12 years) or how long McConaughey in particular had been struggling to get it made. The fact that they did get it on the big screen – and to such a welcome reception from Oscar no less – is worth celebrating in itself. But what about the film itself you ask? Some critics have applauded the performances but criticised the film for being a little patchy and tonally all over the place. I agree about the performances but disagree with the rest of it. For me this was a gripping watch from start to finish – I had no idea how it ended so it kept me hooked in all the way through. I also was particularly appreciative of the way they handled the more dramatic moments – like Philomena this film steered clear of obvious heart string tugging, but still succeeds in being a powerful, emotional and educational watch.
That said – this is the McConaughey and Leto show. Leto – who many in my age bracket will remember fondly from teen TV show ‘My So Called Life’ – completely transforms for his role as transgender AIDs victim Rayon. He imbues the character with equal parts compassion and desperation – and is the counter to McConaughey’s rough around the edges main character. And there is a reason why McConaughey has picked up so many awards so far – and will pick up the Oscar tomorrow I predict – he manages to make quite an unlikeable character relatable enough that you really care what happens to him. He isn’t his usual suave self, and is forced to pull on dramatic chops we didn’t even know he had. A thoroughly deserved Oscar winner, and a fantastic watch all around. 4 and a half multi-coloured M&Ms from me.
Like many worthy Oscar winners before it, 12 Years a Slave – telling the true story of a free man (Solomon Northup) who is abducted and sold into slavery – is a story you endure rather than enjoy. That said, it is something I would recommend enduring. There are many times when it won’t be a pleasant experience (one scene in particular provoked much seat shuffling and hiding behind fingers from the audience I was in) but you won’t regret your 2 and a half hours in the cinema, I promise you that now.
Slavery has surprisingly been a topic that Hollywood hasn’t spend that much time on – I say surprisingly given the massive role it played in America’s history and in comparison to the libraries of films made about the holocaust. I have heard stories of American audiences walking out of this – and I can understand why. But it isn’t a film which sits there and goes ‘Americans – look what your ancestors did’ – it is a film which said ‘this is a true story of what happened to one man, oh, and by the way – things like this are still happening around the world today’. It could easily have been accused of being America bashing – what with a British director (Steve McQueen – not THE Steve McQueen), British star (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and British supporting actor (Michael Fassbender) – but this isn’t McQueen’s point at all. His point is to make a film that will make you think – but do so it such a way that you are gripped by a fascinating (and horrific) story and told with a beauty missing from many films of its kind.
The performances too are across the board excellent – and in any other year BAFTA winner Ejiofor would be a shoe-in for the Best Actor Oscar. Equally Fassbender’s thoroughly deplorable slave master would be a solid supporting actor winner. Oscar love may be found here for the brilliant Lupita Nyong’o, who plays fellow slave, and recipient of Fassbender’s attentions, Patsey. She is superb in all of scenes, and may well walk home with the little gold man tomorrow. Elsewhere there are great turns from the likes of Sarah Paulson, Benedict Cumberbatch and Paul Dano – with possibly the only bum note being the slightly miscast Brad Pitt (who also produced the film). Don’t get me wrong, I am a fan of the now older Pitt, but his appearance did take me out of the film somewhat. Which is a shame, as otherwise this film is a thoroughly immersive experience, well worthy of the 5 M&Ms I hereby grant it.
Anyone despairing about a lack of originality in Hollywood will be well and truly heartened by this immensely creative and thought-provoking outing from two of the guys with the coolest names in the movies – Spike Jonze and Joaquin Phoenix. The film is set in the not so distant future (cue Tina Fey & Amy Poehler’s ‘just like Joaquin Phoenix’ gag) and tells the story of recently divorced loner Theodore, who spends his days writing personal letters for people who don’t have the time (or inclination) to do it themselves. Outsourcing at its most extreme. Already interacting with his computer a great deal (one particularly amusing scene early on shows Phoenix having a verbal ‘chat room’ interaction with a woman who…does odd things with cats) he takes it one step further. He falls in love with his Operating Systems (OS) – voiced by Scarlett Johansson.
Of course, Samantha the OS is no Siri, she has the ability to learn and develop through her experiences – rendering her a thoroughly perfect partner for Theodore. Their relationship is the focus of the film – and forces you to think about what really matters in a relationship, how important is a physical being, and many other ponderous ponderings. Kudos should go to Jonze for creating a world where you are pondering not only these questions but also a raft of others, thanks to random little moments and touches which have you thinking – is this really what the future would be like? And if it is, would it really be so bad?
Although the performances are excellent here – Phoenix is suitably buttoned down from his crazy real life persona, Amy Adams does a fantastic job in a small but pivotal role as his friend and neighbour, and Olivia Wilde and Rooney Mara put in excellent turns as well. And Chris Pratt proves again that if it is cool, he is in it 😉 But for me the winner by a country mile here is Jonze – and I for one am gutted that he didn’t get a Best Director nod here. He creates a world unlike anything I have seen before – and everything from the music to the costuming to the lighting imbues the film with a slightly ethereal feel, which seems to fit for a future Los Angeles. My only criticism of the film was that it did drag a little near the end – I thought it was about to end and it didn’t, and I was surprised it only clocked in at 2 hours as it felt longer. That said though – that is a small price to pay for a thoroughly creative, thought-provoking and moving flick. 4 raspberry M&Ms from me (yes, raspberry M&Ms exist and they are AMAZING).
My Oscar Picks
Ok then, now it is time to lay my blog reputation on the line:
Best Picture: Will Win – 12 Years a Slave. (Should win – Gravity. Although 12 Years will be a thoroughly worthy winner, Gravity took film making to a whole new level, and deserves all the love we can possibly give it).
Best Director: Will Win – Alfonso Cuaron for Gravity (Should win – Alfonso, no doubt about it).
Best Actor: Will Win – Matthew McConaughey (Should win – Matthew McConaughey. The Academy will reward him not just for this role but making the transition from beefcake rom com star to ‘serious dramatic actor’. They love that stuff).
Best Actress: Will Win – Cate Blanchett (Should win – Amy Adams or Sandra Bullock. This is a tough one for me as I haven’t seen Blue Jasmine – Blanchett may well be deserving of this – and given the hype she probably is. But based on the other four performances it is Adams and Bullock who stand out for me, both taking their considerable talents to the next level in American Hustle and Gravity respectively. But this will be Cate’s night).
Best Supporting Actor: Will Win – Jared Leto (Should win – Jared Leto. See Dallas Buyer’s Club review above ;-)).
Best Supporting Actress: Will Win – Lupita Nyong’o (Should win – Lupita Nyong’o. This was the toughest category for me to call – in both my work and whanau Oscar sweepstakes I have actually picked Jennifer Lawrence to clean up here, and she may still do so – as Hollywood really does love her right now and she was great in American Hustle. But I think the Academy will show some love to the generally excellent 12 years cast by giving Lupita the gong here. I think…)
But anyway, who cares what I think – it is all down to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. So tune in tomorrow and find out…