Neil Gaiman writes amazing horror for kids – I once read a great article where he talks about the fact that his child wanted horror and he was surprised to discover that little existed, so he created it himself. Coraline is about a girl who moves to a small town with her parents who are so wrapped up in themselves that they barely notice she’s there. She discovers an alternative world where things are magical and fantastic, but she can only stay is she lets her eyes be replaced with buttons. How does that make sense? And yet, it totally does. Fabulous story, beautiful animation. Overall, this is just totally wonderful.
Coraline was nominated for an Oscar for Best Animated Feature film of the year.
Have you seen The Room (2003) touted as the worst film ever made? If not, go watch it (fast forward bits if you need to, especially the long and ridiculous sex scenes), then watch this. It is like watching an extended mix of The Room. Which is actually better than it sounds.
Disaster Artist is allegedly the story of how Greg Sestero (Dave Franco) met and formed an unlikely friendship with the mysterious and increasingly strange (and rich) Tommy Wiseau (James Franco), and it seems plausible, but it really doesn’t bother me if this is real or not. It’s just a load of fun.
The Disaster Artist was nominated for an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay, won a Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical (James Franc0) and was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical.
What did I know about Howard Hughes? Only that he was famously germaphobic and reclusive and rich. In all honesty, I didn’t even know why I knew of him. In this biopic of his early life, Leonardo DiCaprio the playboy, the film producer and the aviation pioneer. And it’s fabulous. DiCaprio was fabulous, as was Cate Blanchette and Kate Beckinsale, John C. Reilly, Alec Baldwin, Alan Alda, Jude Law… the list goes on.
I shouldn’t be surprised at how good it is as it is a Scorsese film. He is a master, even though I often find that I don’t like his films. But this, to me, is really as good as a film can be. Great pacing, and the cinematography is brilliant, capturing that kind of technicolour look of films from this era. Just fabulous.
The Aviator won awards for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role (Cate Blanchett), Best Achievement in Cinematography, Best Achievement in Art Direction, Best Achievement in Costume Design and was nominated for Best Motion Picture of the Year, Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role (Leonardo DiCaprio), Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role (Alan Alda), Best Achievement in Directing, Best Writing – Original Screenplay and Best Achievement in Sound Mixing.
A ship taking 5000 people to a distant human colony across the universe is damaged in a meteor storm and Jim (Chris Pratt) is woken from hibernation 90 years too early. After over a year of entertaining himself, including having conversations with the robot barman, Arthur (Michael Sheen), Jim is joined by Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence) and they try to figure out how to live in this world.
I quite enjoyed watching this film, but it is more in contemplating it afterwards that I find myself really appreciating it. It’s a strong concept (though I’m certainly making no comment on the actual science within the world), and I do like the idea of putting people in a bizarre situation and just seeing what happens. It is an absolutely stunning film – I loved watching the way the spaceship made its way through the universe.
Passengers was nominated for Oscars for Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Score) and Best Achievement in Production Design.
I cannot believe that I have not watched this film earlier. I guess I imagined that it was going to be twee and a bit cheesy and really, I guess it was. But it had huge heart, and I really loved it.
Toula Portokalos (Nia Vardalos) starts the film as a bit of a loser – an ugly ducking who dresses frumpily and works in her dad’s restaurant. But she decides she needs to get her act together. She starts to take care of her appearance and (in a fabulous twist from the usual ugly duckling story that places emphasis only on looks) studies to improve her job prospects. The she meets Ian Miller (John Corbett) and they start a clandestine affair. When they are outed, they pursue the relationship (hardly a spoiler… look at the title of the film) and find the various pitfalls of combining the families of a large, raucous, close and direct Greek family to an extremely reserved, waspish family.
There is certainly an element of ‘this is funny because people are different’, which I think could easily become tedious, but the structure worked really well to allow it to unfold.
My Big Fat Greek Wedding was nominated for an Oscar for Best Writing, Original Screenplay (Nia Vardalos).
Based on a novel by John Irving, the film follows the story of TS Garp (played, as an adult, by Robin Williams), a writer with an unusual beginning. He was conceived when his mother, Jenny Fields (Glenn Close), has sex with a dying soldier when she was a nurse in the war. As a child, she rarely panders him, and often embarrasses and dominates him. When he decides, as a young man, to head to New York to pursue a career as a writer, she follows, writes her story and inadvertently becomes a hero to the feminist cause, often overshadowing and partially defining his life.
I read this book many years ago and found it compelling, and remember thinking that the film captured the themes of the book – identity, the place of women in 1970s American culture, when it is to be a man – really well. Funny that, because watching it this time made me wonder why they hated women so much. By ‘they’, I mean many of the male characters in the film, the filmmakers, and even John Irving. Things that can be forgiven of a man have horrifying results for the women, and the women in the film are so extremely aggressively hateful of the men as well. While the individual main characters seem to truly care for each other, everyone else is a caricature, from the hooker with a heart of gold, to the militant feminists disfiguring themselves in a misguided way of supporting a rape victim, even to the horny male student insisting on forcing a sexual act from his lover.
Perhaps it is just that there is far too much story for one film, and in trying to cram it all in, too much of the important detail and nuance is lost. Or perhaps John Irving really did have that much hate.
The World According to Garp was nominated for Oscars for Best Actor in a Supporting Role (John Lithgow) and Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Glenn Close)
2027. All of the people in the world are infertile. The youngest human, eighteen-year-old “Baby Diego” has just been killed and everyone is mourning. Theo (Clive Owen) is suddenly and violently approached by his ex-wife Julian (Julianne Moore) to assist in getting Kee (Clare-Hope Ashitey), a young, pregnant woman to safety.
It’s an amazing thought – the human race dying out not from illness or disease but just not being able to make more. What drives people as a species to keep going? And what would really happen to the miracle – the occasional person who falls pregnant? This is not an easy film to watch. It’s violent and emotional and does not pull punches at any time. But it is wonderful, and beautiful, and I hope that I have the guts to watch it again sometime.
Children of Men was nominated for Oscars for Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay (Alofonso Cuaron, Timothy J. Sexton, David Arata, Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby) Best Achievement in Cinematography and Best Achievement in Film Editing.
Based on real events, the film tells of a famous member of the anti-Nazi resistance movement, The White Rose. Sophie (Julia Jentsch) and her brother Hans (Fabian Hinirhcs) were arrested after a flyering campaign at their university. They were then interrogated and, ultimately, sentenced to death.
This is a different side to the war that we rarely see. Usually, we see the horrors of the death camps, or the atrocities of the Nazis, or the bravery of the allied soldiers. Rarely do we see the other people in Germany. The ones who were incredibly brave in trying to find ways to stand up against the oppression, even if, at the time, it seemed to have little effect.
Sophie Scholl: The Final Days was nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film of the Year.
The Ides of March is a film about politics and power, focusing on those behind the scenes – the campaign managers and interns who are working on the primaries. My understanding of the primaries comes from movies, TV and NPR podcasts, and I believe that the way it works is that the race for President is essentially between two people – a Democrat and a Republican. The primaries are how they decide who those two people will be – the various candidates campaign and then a caucus of the people from that party vote, and eventually someone is picked. There’s way, way more to it than that – for example, this film is set in Ohio, and that is apparently open voting, which means both Democrats and Republicans (and I suppose everyone in between) votes in the primaries. Look, ok, I don’t really know. All I know is, there is a lot of money in it, and the candidate who gets the most votes from delegates then goes on to campaign in the race for President.
Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling) is second in charge to Paul Zara (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) on the primary campaign of Governor Mike Morris (George Clooney). Meyers is a believer – he plays clean, he is honest, and he believe that the liberal views of Morris can really make the world a better place. During the Ohio campaign, a series of events happen that rob Meyers of his naivety and leave him difficult choices.
About three-quarters of the way through this film, I was trying to figure out what Meyers would do next. I felt that things were hopeless for him, but I was unsure whether I even cared. I decided I did, and was then trying to work out what paths he had left open – what was his goal and how would he achieve it. Then I wondered about whether I was enjoying the film or not. During films, I don’t usually think this much – or at least, not consciously. If I am aware that these are my thought processes, is the film not engaging me? This is why I can’t decide if I liked it or not – because I was just so conscious of the script and trying to dissect it. Writing this now, I realise I did enjoy thinking this way during the film – especially because it wasn’t predictable.
My main criticism was that the character of Molly Stearns (Evan Rachel Wood) was very under developed. I didn’t believe the choices she made, or the manner in which she made them. For me to believe that Meyers would react in the way he did (I’m trying very hard not to put in spoilers) I needed more about Stearns. She just seemed like an unfulfilled character, and given her importance in the story, the film could have explored her more.
As a director, I think Clooney shows a particular penchant for the eyes. Perhaps it’s because his are just so gorgeous, or perhaps it’s because Gosling is able to convey a lot with a subtle lift of an eyebrow. There was an awful lot of eye and eyebrow acting in this film.
It’s got a strong cast with the usual wonderful performances from Ryan Gosling, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giatmatti and Marisa Tomei. Clooney himself was a much smaller part in the film. I used to think he was a terrible actor – gorgeous, but terrible. That’s changing – between this and The American (which I did not like, but Clooney’s performance was very strong), I think there may be more to him than a charming smile.
As far as films about power and politics are concerned, I would recommend Wag the Dog (1997) and Primary Colors (1998) first, but the Ides of March certainly captures the filth of politics and power.
The Ides of March was nominated for an Oscar for Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay.
Persepolis tells the story of a girl who grew up in Iran during the revolution and war, was sent to Austria to finish her education and then returned to Iran.
Animation allows the filmmaker to tell difficult stories, the stories of torture and death, in a way that is somewhat gentle yet still packs a real punch. By telling of the revolution and war through the eyes of a child, some of the flaws are clear, and it does leave the audience aware that this is not totally factual, but the interpretation of a reality. Having said that, it is some of the very small moments within the film that give an extremely strong sense of place, particularly in Iran. Even just the ‘fix your headscarf, sister’ spoken by several men in the film shows the place of men and women in the society and their interactions. I didn’t like the end, though, because it felt that there was more story to be told. Yes, she is no longer in Iraq. She is conflicted in her emotions about this. But what happens to her? Where does her life go? What really happens from here? I just want more.
Persepolis was nominated for an Oscar for Best Animated Feature Film.