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86th Academy Award Predictions

Added on by Chris Campbell.

I'm lucky to have some wonderful friends and when it comes to talking about films and Hollywood and how the industry and pop culture intersect I know Kendra (@halifaxfilmgal on Twitter). She is the ultimate film fan and while her primary means of online interaction is via Twitter, the 140 character limitation means that you don't get to have more extended snarky discussions of films. So before the Academy Awards this year you'll get to read through some of her picks and mine and we'll see how accurate they are. But it's all meant in fun and hopefully it will provide you with a bit of entertainment too.

The Academy Awards are a strange thing and in a perfect world they would not be around. The whole thing is a bit strange, but the great part and what I love about it is how it enables a conversation about films to begin. But usually the conversation revolves around the people that we see on the screen and the actors are a very important part of the whole process. But most of it isn't concerned with actors, but with stars, so it's not really about films most of the time. It's part of the marketing campaign for films where subtlety and craft are not always recognized. The bigger things seem to stand out with major physical transformations of actors being highlighted more than a performance with a solid emotional core. The same seems to occur with direction and many of the technical categories. While the names of the categories include "Best", it's a very subjective thing, so it's really "What Most of the People Voting Agree Upon". That is why predicting what will win can be a bit of a challenge, and probably one of the reasons people enjoy watching the show.

The Independent Spirit Awards nominations are overall more to my taste in terms of films, but they're not as popular as the Academy Awards. But that niche is much more suited to my sensibilities. It's also where a lot of the categories are filled with films that make sense to me for being recognized. But the Oscars have a longer history and are wildly popular and a lot more people have an opinion about them, which is why so many people share their opinions about what the Academy chooses.

Over time people usually don't remember a lot of the winners. Maybe the nominees, but not so much the winners. Just looking through who won last year made me realize how I forgot about some films and didn't remember ones that won. When you look back 5 or 10 years some of the films are completely forgotten, while others that were nominated seem to be much better. It's fascinating how some films seem dated rather quickly, but other films seem a bit too early.

Ten years ago the big winner was The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King which won in many categories including Best Picture, Directing, and Editing. It's a running joke about the length of the ending of the final film in the trilogy, and I wouldn't hold it up as an example of a film that wisely cut things in the right way. For Actor it was Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean, Ben Kingsley in House of Sand and Fog, Jude Law in Cold Mountain, Bill Murray in Lost in Translation, and Sean Penn in Mystic River. Over time I would say that Bill Murray should have won, but it was Sean Penn who took home the award. Goodfellas lost out to Dances With Wolves for Best Picture, Director, Editing, and Adapted Screenplay in 1991. People like Dances With Wolves and it's easy to understand why something that is more challenging to watch like Goodfellas wouldn't be chosen. But with the benefit of hindsight, it's clear that Goodfellas is one of the top films out of Hollywood and by Scorsese. Here are the picks we have for the major categories for the 86th Oscars:

Best Picture

Kendra

Will Win: Gravity

Should Win:12 Years a Slave

A year in which it's legitimately difficult to choose a clear winner from three films doesn't happen very often. Gravity, 12 Years a Slave and American Hustle are all acceptable winners in a weaker year but I think the Academy will side with the majesty of Gravity over the heavier subject of the devastation of slavery.

Chris

Will Win: 12 Years a Slave

Should Win: 12 Years a Slave

I may be overly optimistic, but there is a real opportunity for the Academy to make a statement with Best Picture this year as a partial corrective to the somewhat embarrassing history of cinema with pro-slavery films forming a major part of it. If past patterns hold, something absent of politics like Gravity should win, or a flashy, but mediocre film like American Hustle could be the compromise. Over time I think that Her may be seen as the most significant achievement of the year though.

Best Director

Kendra

Will Win: Alfonso Cuarón

Should Win: Steve McQueen

Cuarón has the momentum and the DGA, this usually translates into the Director Oscar. However, nothing would make me happier to see McQueen win. A small part of me still wishes Scorsese could have this Oscar because Wolf of Wall Street is actually a better film than The Departed.

Chris

Will Win: Alfonso Cuarón

Should Win: Steve McQueen

The consensus is that Cuarón will win and while Gravity is an amazing technical achievement, the film itself left me cold. Steve McQueen took a challenging topic and infused it with humanity and created memorable scenes and performances of power and permanence. Scorsese and Payne are also two directors operating at the height of their powers with films that expand their oeuvre in interesting ways.

Best Actor

Kendra

Will Win: Matthew McConaughey

Should Win: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Leonardo DiCaprio

One word - McConaissance

If I was the Academy, I'd have a three way tie and give them each the Oscar. Ejiofor broke my heart. Leo was his manic best in the most fun performance of the year. McConaughey has the momentum, the 40lb weightloss and the prevailing winds in Hollywood really like to hand an Oscar to an actor that successfully reinvented himself. Call it the "Travolta Factor."

Chris

Will Win: Matthew McConaughey

Should Win: Chiwetel Ejiofor

The key to winning an Oscar for acting isn't subtlety, so physical transformations and more extravagant performances tend to be rewarded. Matthew McConaughey was solid in Dallas Buyers Club, but he was also solid in Magic Mike and many other films so he deserves an award. But Chiwetel Ejiofor has been turning in great lead and supporting performances in indies and dramas for over a decade with little recognition. With 12 Years a Slave he's starting to get the recognition he deserves, but I'm afraid he won't be taking home a little golden statue.

Best Actress

Kendra

Will Win: Cate Blanchett

Should Win: Amy Adams

It's all about Cate this year, no matter that Amy Adams was the heart of American Hustle and of Blue Jasmine's lowly three nominations, this one would be the most deserved. The only question that remains is whether or not Woody Allen's name will actually be mentioned out loud.

Chris

Will and Should Win: Cate Blanchett

Cate Blanchett is utterly compelling in Blue Jasmine and formed a fierce core to a film that could have been much less than it was without her.

Best Supporting Actor

Kendra

Will Win: Jared Leto

Should Win: Michael Fassbender

Fassbender's vitriol personified slave owner might stay with you forever but Leto's feisty Rayon is everything one could require of a supporting actor. He made McConaughey better just by being there.

Chris

Will Win: Jared Leto

Should Win: Michael Fassbender

Fassbender forms the core of Steve McQueen's two previous features and like Hunger, he appears later in the story, but is vital to the way it all unfolds and opposite Ejiofor it makes for some compelling and unforgettable scenes. Jared Leto was solid with a physical transformation thrown in as well, so that provides an edge for him.

Best Supporting Actress

Kendra

Will Win: Lupita Nyong'o

Should Win: Julia Roberts

If I were an Academy member, I would have voted for Roberts for an absolutely fierce turn in August: Osage County even when all the attention was on Meryl Streep but in this category Oscar voters love the new and beautiful giving tragic, heartbreaking performances.

Chris

Will Win: Lupita Nyong'o

Should Win: Sally Hawkins

The Academy seems to like rewarding great work from younger actors in the supporting categories and Lupita Nyong'o is amazing and will deserve her award. But a fantastic and often overlooked component in the success of Blue Jasmine is Sally Hawkins' performance opposite Cate Blanchett. She's the anchor that provides the counterpoint and springboard for the heights that Blanchett reaches.

Best Original Screenplay

Kendra

Will Win: Her, Spike Jonze

Should Win: Her

Jonze created a riveting fairy tale of a future we're not that far away from where technology is invisible and you can fall in love with software. How could we not want to honour a screenplay for that? Her has the best chance here since it's missing from Director and Actor and has too much competition in Production Design.

Chris

Will and Should Win: Her

Her is a deceptively clever film by Spike Jonze that is kind of set in the future, but is very much in the present, summing up the zeitgeist of the time in a way to tell a simple story about moving on. As I've said before I think that as time goes by the recognition of Her will grow. While it should be recognized in more categories, the Screenplay category is often where more innovative work is recognized.

Best Adapted Screenplay

Kendra

Will Win: 12 Years a Slave

Should Win: 12 Years a Slave

It's hard to choose between Captain Phillips and 12 Years a Slave here but since I still think Gravity is the likely Best Picture winner, Adapted Screenplay might be an official apology statue given to 12 Years a Slave since Captain Phillips, while admired seems to have a better chance in Film Editing.

Chris

Will Win: Philomena

Should Win: 12 Years a Slave

In another year Philomena would probably receive more recognition, but it's a fascinating story that makes you feel good, and if 12 Years a Slave receives a lot of other awards, this is a category that could provide a nod to a more traditional film that deals with issues in a human way.

Film Editing

Kendra

Will Win: Captain Phillips

Should Win: Captain Phillips

There's great work to be admired in all nominees in editing this year but keeping the story tight and tense in Captain Phillips gives it the edge.

Chris

Will Win: Captain Phillips

Should Win: 12 Years a Slave

Captain Phillips constructs a tight, tense story that keeps you on the edge of your seat and that's why it will probably win. But with 12 Years a Slave the structure and varying rhythms manage to make the journey bearable and powerful in an often subtle way.

Production Design

Kendra

Will Win: American Hustle

Should Win: Her or American Hustle

I hope the old white guys don't pick Great Gatsby. I can live with American Hustle but would prefer the more subtle but brilliant Her.

Chris

Will Win: The Great Gatsby

Should Win: Her

The old white guys are going to pick The Great Gatsby or maybe American Hustle. Subtle production design that contributes in an essential way to the story in the way that it does in Her becomes invisible when Academy members cast their ballots.

Foreign Language Film

Kendra

Will Win: Great Beauty, Italy

Should Win: The Hunt, Denmark

As always a lot of great foreign films didn't make it to the final five, but I can live with either win here with slight preference given to the quietly devastating Hunt. Go Mads!

Chris

Will Win: The Great Beauty, Italy

Should Win: The Hunt, Denmark

I've only seen The Hunt, but it was one of the best films of the year with a performance from Mads Mikkelsen that really should have been also recognized with a Best Actor nomination.

Original Score

Kendra

Will Win: Gravity or Philomena

Should Win: Her

Her is the only nominated score that impressed me out of these five. I'm guessing it won't win.

Chris

Will Win: The Book Thief

Should Win: Her

I'm guessing here since the scores didn't stay with me that much except for 12 Years a Slave and Her, but I'm not one of the people voting, so I'm thinking that there may be some recognition for John Williams again.

Original Song

Kendra

Will Win: Let it Go, Frozen

Should Win: Let it Go

Happy from Despicable Me 2 comes close in the cute factor but no song was better than Let it Go from Frozen. Plus who doesn't want to see Robert Lopez be only the 12th person in history to win an EGOT Grand Slam of show business (EmmyGrammyOscarTony).

Chris

Will Win: Let it Go

Should Win: The Moon Song

I'm going with the crowd here again in a category that is a remnant of the days were every film had a song or two in them to provide a break for folks when they watched the film. The Moon Song is actually the only song I've actually heard of the nominees and I like it, but it's a perplexing category to me.

Documentary Feature

Kendra

Will Win: The Act of Killing

Should Win: The Act of Killing

If the Academy is in "feel good" mode then we'll see 20 Feet From Stardom here, leaving the more interesting and devastating Act of Killing out in the cold. Someday in a perfect world, AMPAS will fix the Documentary category and force members to actually watch all the nominees.

Chris

Will Win: 20 Feet From Stardom

Should Win: The Act of Killing

It was a good year for documentaries and for the first time I was able to watch all of them before the awards. While I hope that The Act of Killing is recognized for telling a powerful story in a unique way, 20 Feet From Stardom is easy and fun and I don't think that the Academy enjoys too many challenges in one year.

Cinematography

Kendra

Will Win: Gravity

Should Win: Gravity

I have yet to see Philippe Le Sourd's work in Grandmaster, said to be the closest competition for Emmanuel Lubezki here but since Lubezki's already won the ASC Award as well as a pile of others for his work on Gravity it's hard to see how he could lose. ...Besides, have you seen Gravity!?

Chris

Will Win: Gravity

Should Win: Inside Llewyn Davis

With last year's winner being Life of Pi, I don't hold out much hope for the skillful capturing of light and performances to evoke a mood as opposed to computer-enhanced motion capture, so until the category is divided between actual cinematography and computer-enhanced, it's a cold technical achievement that will take home the award.

Visual Effects

Kendra

Will Win: Gravity

Should Win: Gravity

Gravity might as well have been nominated 5 times in the FX category, all others are irrelevant except for Pacific Rim which isn't even here. ...Besides, have you seen Gravity!?

Chris

Will Win: Gravity

Should Have Been Nominated: Pacific Rim

Without the effects there isn't really anything there when you look at Gravity. The best combination of effects and visual storytelling to me was the unnominated, but oh-so-fun Pacific Rim.

Animated Feature

Kendra

Will Win: Frozen

Should Win: Frozen

In the absence of Pixar, it's all about Frozen. I'll eat a snowman if Frozen doesn't win.

Chris

Will Win: Frozen

Should Win: Gravity

The smoothest, best animation of the year was in Gravity, but Frozen is the film that everyone loves for this, so that's what I'll go with too.

That's all we've got and now all that is left is to watch the show, eat the snacks and share some snark on Twitter.

The 2013 Atlantic Film Festival

Added on by Chris Campbell.

Every year I look forward to the Atlantic Film Festival. A wide range of films is shown along with parties and opportunities to connect and share with people who make films and share a love of film. It's an event that forms the heart of the film community in the region and it's a busy time that is always a lot of fun. I alternate between diving deep into films or socializing. The challenge is there are only so many hours in the day and sometimes attending a party means you'll miss a film, or that in seeing films, you are missing opportunities to catch up with people.

This year I focussed more on the films and saw some great stuff and there was more of a focus on work from Atlantic Canada which gave a good snapshot of the stories that filmmakers in Atlantic Canada were telling. The opening party was fun and a great event to share with friends as a way to make the shift from everyday life into the immersive experience of screenings, discussions, and walking. The festival was heavily concentrated in the opening weekend with films available to see throughout the entire day. That's a good way to get started.

The most surprising thing on the first day was the festival was meeting and talking with actor Udo Kier. He was in the city to work on a project and just happened to stop in at a reception and the opening party. I saw him at the reception and finally built up my courage to go and talk with him at the opening party. He was nice and generous and told me about some of the films he'd be acting in and I'm really looking forward to seeing him in Guy Maddin's Spiritismes which was partially shot in Winnipeg.

I track all of the films I see and during the Atlantic Film Festival I have been tracking things in a notebook, but this year I switched to Vesper for my notes to simplify things a bit more. Those notes are backed up with tracking things through Your Flowing Data as well as Letterboxd (because I'm a bit obsessive in that way). Last year I saw 16 features and 41 shorts and this year my total was 14 features and 47 shorts, so I was up a little bit. Here are some of the films that stood out for me this year.

The Double

The Double

I've loved everything that Richard Ayoade has directed since I first saw Garth Marenghi's Darkplace which is a completely unique 6-episode homage to 80s tv fantasy / horror tv. With obsessive attention to detail, it's a seamless recreation of television from the 80s, but it was actually made in 2004. His feature film debut, Submarine is a similarly well-crafted coming-of-age story with a French new wave feeling. With The Double Ayoade adapts Dostoevsky into a beautiful and darkly funny film that was my favourite of the festival this year. Initially it looks and feels a bit like Terry Gilliam's Brazil, but it quickly establishes it's own voice with rapid-fire dialogue and confident direction. The film moves quickly and balances the humour with an uneasy sense of things being a bit off. It's a film that I wanted to watch again almost immediately after it ended.

Borgman

Borgman

Operating in a similar surrealist mode was the film Borgman from the Netherlands. Directed by Alex van Warmerdam and shot in a deadpan and controlled style reminiscent of other Scandinavian surrealist films such as The Bothersome Man and Songs From the Second Floor it serves as a critique of class and consumer culture told in a precise and cool fashion. It was the most unexpected and surprising discoveries of the festival and it is always neat when that can happen.

Bastards

Bastards

At the other end of the spectrum was Claire Denis' Bastards, which was a dark, dark drama with Denis once again superbly balancing all of the elements with her own unique style. Carefully constructed in an elliptical way that gradually reveals more information as everything moves towards a dark conclusion accompanied by songs by Tindersticks and shot digitally by Agnès Godard. Frustratingly mysterious at times, it stayed with me for days with the disturbing images and story bubbling just below the surface. It is bold and uncompromising cinema with Denis and her collaborators pushing themselves and the form in ways that don't happen enough today.

Gabrielle

Gabrielle

The Québécois feature Gabrielle from director Louise Archambault tells the story of a woman who has Williams syndrome who is a member of a choir made up of developmentally challenged adults. With great performances from the whole cast anchored by Gabrielle Marion-Rivard (who has Williams Syndrome) and Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin as her sister, it's more complicated and subtle than most films that would deal with the subject matter. Chosen as Canada's entry in the best foreign-language category of the Academy Awards, it's a beautiful story that I really enjoyed.

Regret

Regret

There were some solid documentaries, and one that stood out was Christopher Richardson's Regret which grows out of a valedictory speech that he gave that didn't go as well as he planned. With this regret at the core of the film it becomes an exploration of why we can't let things go and will think about how things could have been. It's done with humour and empathy and it really made me think.

One of the other things I tried to do at the film festival this year was see a few more shorts and there were a lot of great shorts programs to choose from. The ones that really stood out for me were the films that made some bold choices in terms of technique and with their stories and characters. In particular I loved Kristina Wagenbauer's film Mila which is about a young girl who records and edits the sounds around her. Another story of a young girl that stood out for me was Ashley McKenzie's beautiful, impressionistic sliver-of-life Stray which explores a Cape Breton landscape in a haunting way through Stéphanie Weber-Biron's lens. Congratulations from Ira Henderson combines film footage along with scratch animation by Colleen MacIssac in an oblique and economical way to construct a story that changes before our eyes. The Québécois short, dark drama Première Neige, directed by Michaël Lalancette is a great example of how you can tell a story in a confined space with a great cast.

It's such a privilege to live in a place where every fall I can immerse myself in films and be surrounded by people who love to see and share what they have seen. There is not enough time to see it all and there are always lists of films that I add to when talking with other cinephiles who saw something amazing and then I wonder why I didn't choose that one. But everyone wins at a film festival as we see new ways of looking at the world and get glimpses of the lives of others and new perspectives on our own lives. That's why we go to films.

Summer Movies 2013

Added on by Chris Campbell.

I remember being in the theatre to see Star Wars, Superman: The Movie and Star Trek: The Motion Picture. They were eagerly anticipated and we sat and felt the excitement. The idea of something getting to the level of a film was significant. It was in the title to make sure that you didn't confuse it with something that would be on tv. These were meant to be epic and especially in the case of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, it took the ideas of the series and made them more serious and cinematic. They took some chances, didn't always work and they mostly were a surprise when we saw them as we didn't have detailed analysis of photos or posters storylines for months or years in advance. There wasn't as much to see, so it was fun, but then years later you may start to think that the films weren't as good as you thought they were.

star_wars_ver3.jpg

Nostalgia is something that everyone has. We remember things from the past as being better than they were. That's human nature. History puts a saint in every dream as Tom Waits sings. That could be why it seems that movies were better in the summers of our youth. Sometimes you do go back and see films and they hold up. That is wonderful when it happens. Most of the time there is a disconnect between the memory and how the film is. In recent years the fun of the summer movie seems to fade a lot more quickly. The mechanics of the films are more obvious as is the product placement and the sheer quantity of information about films that start trickling out years before the film has even begun shooting.

The nature of film distribution started shifting in the late 70s and early 80s. With fewer theatres and staggered release schedules, you couldn't count on seeing popular films right away. In Fredericton where I grew up there was only one movie theatre, so if a film was popular it could be there for a month or two. I read about Star Wars in Famous Monsters magazine and imagined it in my mind before I saw it. Then I loved it and had the chance to see it again a few more times as it played for a couple of months. It was the only film you could see in a theatre in the city at that time. Stunning to think about now as films will appear and drop out of all of the theatres so quickly in the multiplex world.

Summer movies now feature a lot of anticipation with stories about posters, teaser trailers, and endless speculation about casting and story arcs of the films. There was writing and speculation before, but now the sheer quantity and speed of information about films means that it is a vastly different world. A big part of this for me has to be related to aging. We all talk about how much better it was when we were young. But now it seems that the films that people rave about at the beginning of the summer become the ones that we talk about as being not that great by the time the leaves start falling from the trees. The next year it's a struggle to remember which year a film came out.

Summer movies kicked off this year for me with Iron Man 3. While Iron Man 2 was a bit of a muddle, I was looking forward to the third film since it was being directed by Shane Black who did some really interesting stuff with genre and expectations with Kiss Kiss Bang Bang along with Robert Downey, Jr. So that could be something good. But when you have hundreds of millions of dollars at stake there are only so many chances that you can take. There were flashes of interesting things, and it was fun, but there was a lot packed into the film and the product placement and links to other films or future storylines bogged it down. So it was fun at the time, but over the next few days it started to fade. Much of the pleasure of the film comes from a twist (which I won't spoil) related a bit to the casting and previous history of a character.

In Star Trek Into Darkness the plot revolves around a secret also related to a character and casting. For those who know the story there is a gasp in the theatre and for those who don't they wonder why everyone is reacting to that moment. Part of the experience with summer movies now and movies in general is related to being an analyst. Will the film make a lot of money? Was the choice of director right? Who would have been better in that part? Will they make more? These are producer, studio and industry questions, not audience questions. We like to feel like insiders, but in these discussions something is lost. It's about money and not about having fun.

While the analogy of popular culture and junk food has been around for a while, it really makes sense to me with the recent summer movies. I consume them and there is a sugar rush, but I don't want to keep eating them. Fresher, more locally produced films that reflect where they are from like local apples of various sizes, or beer made in small batches with delicious quirkiness. There is more flavour and texture in them. Not uniformity and consistency.

Hollywood is struggling to figure out the new world and what people want to spend money on. They're not taking chances, so there is an explicit appeal to nostalgia for characters and films that we've seen or even just heard about. Stereotypes and easy assumptions abound. So Star Trek and Iron Man and Man of Steel and The Wolverine redefine the characters a bit, but mostly colour within the lines that we expect. We're more excited and talk more about the casting than what actually happened in the films or how they work as films. It's a game where we try to predict the outcome, not a story that we are wrapped up in.

Despite this there were some moments that I loved in the summer on a deeper and more nostalgic level with one big budget film and two smaller ones.

pacific rim.jpg

The first truly fun time in the summer movie theatre this year was with Guillermo del Toro's Pacific Rim. Inspired by the tradition of Japanese giant robot stories and giant monster movies, it really clicked with me. The effects are an important part of the films (and they're flawless) but it's really about the characters and how they relate to each other. Working together is explicitly at the core of the relentlessly optimistic premise of the only way to save the world is to work with each other by putting aside any personal conflicts. It also featured a rare, strong, and more complex female character with Mako Mori, which has been sadly lacking from summer films for a long, long time. I loved the film and as opposed to the other summer blockbusters, it stayed with me and seeing it a second time I enjoyed it even more. That's whatI remember from seeing the films I loved in the 80s.

frances.jpg

Secondly the indie film Frances Ha grabbed me from the first frame and held me to the last. Directed by Noah Baumbach and cowritten and starring Greta Gerwig, the black and white film was nostalgic for indie art films from the 80s. I'd seen them in rep theatres in Montreal, and it brought me back to the joy of watching characters on films interacting in places where I wanted to be. Simple and small stories about complicated characters.

worlds end.jpg

Finally, The Worlds End from director Edgar Wright and cowriter Simon Pegg reassembled much of the cast from their previous two films (Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz) in the so-called "Cornetto" trilogy with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost acting at the core of the fun. Much more explicitly referencing the nostalgia for blockbuster movies, the trilogy ended on a darker and more mature note still with effects and humour, but with a darker and more realistic core. It's about growing up and aging and how you relate to your friends (and the end of the world and consumerism). It could have been like the other two films, but it pushed things a bit more and I really appreciated that. It's a fitting start to the autumn when the films become more serious and it gives me hope that we'll see more great filmmaking that can be nostalgic and original while most of the screens are filled with superheros, sequels and reboots.