Romantic comedy is one of the most popular genres and a genre that I don't often watch. When I was invited to a preview screening of The F Word I thought about it, and when seeing that it was directed by Michael Dowse, I was intrigued and wanted to see it. Dowse is a bit of a cinematic smuggler with many of his films on the surface being testosterone-laden explorations of masculinity with a surprisingly deep and emotional core at the heart of them.

Not knowing that there was more than meets the eye to Fubar is probably one of the reasons I hadn't seen it sooner, so the first film by Dowse that I saw was It's All Gone Pete Tong. The mockumentary about a DJ who loses his hearing starts out as a documentary and plays with the form to create an entertaining story about a man struggling to define who he is and what is important. After seeing it I sought out Fubar and enjoyed it as well. With the sequel Fubar: Balls to the Wall he explored the same ideas, but added some real depth and drama in unexpected ways and it was one of my favourite films that I'd seen at the Atlantic Film Festival in 2010.

The F Word is written by Elan Mastai and is based on the play "Toothpaste and Cigars" written by T.J. Dawe and Michael Rinaldi and the one-act play is expanded and tweaked into a much more cinematic form. Set and shot in mainly in Toronto, it looks gorgeous with some whimsical visual animated flourishes that add a nice texture to the film. With a romantic comedy the path is well-worn, but what I liked about the film is that it did play with the form in a way that kept it interesting for me.

At the heart of the film are Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan who have fantastic chemistry. Having only seen one of the Harry Potter films, I hadn't actually seen much of what Radcliffe was capable of and he has great comic timing which was a pleasant surprise. I first saw Zoe Kazan in the clever Ruby Sparks (which she also wrote) which subverts many of the romantic comedy conventions. Supported by Adam Driver (who effortlessly steals scenes) and Mackenzie Davis as another couple providing a counterpoint to the central friendship of the film.

It's funny and enjoyable with characters that I cared about and a story that kept me interested by moving between the characters and subplots. There is a sense that the film is grounded and exists in a world closer to reality than most romantic comedies. It's a perfect summer film that allows all involved to work within an established genre without being stifled by it.

Posted
AuthorChris Campbell
Categoriesfilm

One of the perplexing things to me is how so many Hollywood eggs are placed in so few baskets. It's a large-scale mass-production industry, but in the quest for bigger and bigger tentpoles, there is a blandness and safety that sands down the edges and makes it all ok. Wouldn't a better investment be to make 10 bolder and smaller 25 million-dollar films that could develop more talent and audiences than one film that can't take any chances? Sadly it seems that we'll be seeing fewer standalone films, more safe and obvious comedies, and more superheroes and series over the next decade or so. Hollywood doesn't know what to do, so they are playing it very safe.

Tilda Swinton in Bong Joon Ho's Snowpiercer

Tilda Swinton in Bong Joon Ho's Snowpiercer

The most interesting and exciting films for me in the summer this year are the small indies like Obvious Child, the unsettling Under the Skin, the ambitious allegorical Snowpiercer, or the intriguing sci-fi action film Edge of Tomorrow. But they're not the films that most people are seeing in the theatres and most people will see them on smaller screens at home.

So many of the conversations about blockbuster films focus on how newer films do something a bit better than the previous instalment or how they fix some of the problems from earlier versions of the series. The obsession with continuity is fascinating and it's interesting in that it seems to be important to people. With the most recent Star Trek reboot, it exists in a world that is parallel to the first series of films which has resulted in some convoluted plotting. It's a franchise or series thing. Just in the same way that you can go in to McDonalds or Starbucks and know what will be on the menu and what to expect, a film series needs to hit certain beats, include characters and situations that we have come to expect. It can be done cleverly and with skill as with the Cornetto Trilogy, or mostly ignored as the James Bond films do.

The unspoken issue at the core of much of this is that time passes and we all grow older. If you want to have an action hero jumping around being believable you need to have younger actors and if you are going to be making a series of films over a decade or two, you're going to have to replace some actors unless you show them growing older. With the most recent X-Men film, X-Men: Days of Future Past, they brought together most of the actors from two different versions of the films and it was great to see older and younger actors together, but it resulted in a lot of actors standing around not doing much at all. Logistically you want to maximize the use of actors with the constraints of a contract and schedule, so that's why you'll have bigger actors appearing two or three scenes in one location. It's easier to shoot and fast.

Instead of leaving the audience wanting more, we're given more and more and more. The Bond films would tease with "James Bond will return in..." with the name of the next film. Some characters would return, but there was an almost delightful disregard of continuity with different actors playing characters with absolutely no explanation of why they had changed. Felix Leiter was played by many different actors and it's fun to see how often they have changed him (but Bond always recognizes him).

Money is at the core of it all and it always has been. It's a business and the way that the art and the money are balanced is a challenge that is faced constantly. How do you give people what they want and have films that people will pay to see and keep it interesting. If you ask people what they want and give them exactly what they ask for they may not like it because it's a challenge to describe what you really want. The classic example in the soft drink world is New Coke which was very carefully researched based on the flavour. Apparently one of the goals with New Coke was to win in Pepsi Challenge taste tests. That happened with New Coke, but our relationship with products is complex, and people don't seem to like change, so the new formula was a failure and 2 1/2 months after it was introduced in North America, the Coca Cola Company had Coca Cola Classic bring back the original formula.

Many film series now have a secondary goal to maximize the investments in the franchise. So if you can get people interested in the earlier and future instalments it means that it's a better and safer investment. That's why the casts of so many films are large and the plots can get a bit complex as well. It's to hit as many of the potential profit-making opportunities as possible. It also plays on the nostagia of older audience members who have seen the earlier versions of the films. It's a form of selling out, which is also at the core of filmmaking. The question is really what is the price and what compromises need to be made in order to make the film.

In earlier, old-Hollywood films would be remade often based on new casts. Musicals reworked songs and plots constantly. Hitchcock remade a few of his films and many silent films were remade as talkies and then remade in colour. Foreign films are often remade to avoid subtitles and directors from around the world always have gone to Hollywood to make bigger films within the studio system, adding their own flourishes to the larger machine.

Fandom is a huge part of the marketing of films now and the endless advance speculation and teasing of images, posters, trailers, and trailers for trailers begin years before a film comes out. It changes the way that films are made and how they are written. In addition to the goal of making a film with a compelling story, there are other requirements to have secondary characters or plots introduced. This means that actors may commit to potential 6 or 9 films as that character. The contracts are worth millions of dollars, so all those investments must be maximized, so it means that the plots need to incorporate them. Then they have to work in some product placement which adds some more lines to colour within.

This isn't new and if you look at the history of Hollywood there have been all sorts of similar constraints. With the Motion Picture Production Code, many films were changed to meet the requirements. I recently watched Fritz Lang's dark film noir, The Woman in the Window which has an appropriately dark ending, which is completely undermined by a coda that Wizard of Oz-style recontextualizes the film as a dream. The modern equivalent is the Marvel coda which establishes the next film in the series, which makes the film that you've just seen and paid for into an ad for the next one (which will be better).

But the market is cruel and people are paying to see the sequels and the franchises so we will get more. Not films that we really love, but ones that we accept as being one of a series that we need to keep watching to see them get a bit better each time. It's sad that more original films that work within the blockbuster paradigm and push things a little bit like The Edge of Tomorrow or Pacific Rim don't do as well. They're more interesting to me and more entertaining, but they're a bit more challenging to watch and play with expectations more (and have slightly stronger roles for female protagonists who aren't love interests). They do eventually find an audience over a bit more time with people surprised at how much they liked that film that not many people saw. The sad thing is that with those films making less money than the safer, product-placement-heavy, and familiar character-filled films, it means that fewer chances will be taken in the future as the recycling of films and plots continues.

Posted
AuthorChris Campbell
Categoriesfilm

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.

Posted
AuthorChris Campbell
Categoriesfilm