Archive for December, 2014

What a great year for going to the movies. Here are the MOVIELAND / FILMMAFIA AWARDS 2014. Below, you’ll find our Top Ten for the year. Also, listen to the ceremony on the Movieland Podcast here:

https://itunes.apple.com/au/podcast/movieland-awards-2014/id668507582?i=328380848&mt=2

Best Film:

MV5BMjQ4NzY0ODg0N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjY3OTc2MjE@._V1_SX214_AL_Force Majeure

Best Direction:

Ruben Östlund for Force Majeure

Best Feature Documentary:

20,000 Days On Earth by Jane Pollard and Iain Forsyth

Best Australian Film:

(only given when Best Film is not Australian)

Felony

Director Matthew Saville

Best Lead Performance by a Man:

Tom Hardy, Locketumblr_mxdnqzUyej1qe5f96o1_1280

Director Steven Knight

Best Lead Performance by a Woman:

Luminita Gheorghiu, Child’s PoseLuminita-Gheorghiu

Director Calin Peter Netzer

Best Supporting Performance by a Man:

JK Simmons, Whiplash

Director Damien Chazelle

Best Supporting Performance by a Woman:

Patricia Arquette, Boyhood

Director Richard Linklater

Best Original Screenplay:

Nightcrawler by Dan GilroyUnknown

Director Dan Gilroy

Best Adapted Screenplay:

A Most Wanted Man by Andrew Bovell

Director Anton Corbijn

Best Edit:

Tom Cross for Whiplash

Director Damien Chazelle

Best Cinematography:

Fredrik Wenzel for Force Majeure

Director Ruben Östlund

Best Production Design:

Adam Stockhausen for The Grand Budapest Hotel

Director Wes Anderson

Best Original Score:

Daniel Landin for Under The Skin

Director Jonathan Glazer

Worst Film:

Tammy

Director Ben Falcone

Top Ten

10) Whiplash – Damien Chazelle, with excellent performances from JK Simmons and Miles Teller.

9) We Are The Best! – Lukas Moodysson

8) Boyhood – Richard Linklater, with an intriguing performance by Ellar Coltrane, who ages from 5 to 17 in the film, and excellent support from Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke.

7) Two Days, One Night – the Dardenne Brothers, with a superb lead performance by Marion Cotillard.

6) Under The Skin – Jonathan Glazer

5) The Grand Budapest Hotel – Wes Anderson, with Ralph Fiennes at his comedic zenith.

4) A Most Wanted Man – Anton Corbijn, with Phillip Seymour Hoffman in one of the roles he left behind.

3) Locke – Steven Knight, with Tom Hardy in an astonishing performance.

2) Nightcrawler – Dan Gilroy, with an excellent Jake Gyllenhaal.

1) Force Majeure – Ruben Östlund. Film of the Year.

2014-Happy-New-Year-Number-Gold-Wallpaper-HD-1024x8342014 has come to an end, and while there are undoubtedly some seriously good movies still to be released before the Oscars, it’s time to look back on what we’ve seen. There have been some terrific releases this year that have already cleaned up some major awards, some that haven’t but are still worth investigating, and, of course, some serious disappointments.

Ruben Östlund’s Force Majeure, which won Un Certain Regard at Cannes this year, is definitely my favourite film thus far, which is far from saying it’s the film that made me feel the best. This devastating look at how fragile family life can be is truly (and opposed to superficially) referential of Kubrick and Haneke – indeed,  Östlund stated to me in an interview that Haneke was a major influence on him at film school. It’s a major work from a filmmaker on the cusp of major status. Watch him start to win the big ones over the next decade.

Working in another vein but also examining marriage with deadly and brutal invasion, David Fincher’s Gone Girl took a nearly-good novel and made a nearly-great film out of it. It’s not as incisive as Force Majeure, but it’s even more cynical about that most singular institution we pretend to hold dear. Marriage in Gone Girl is a pinàta, and by the time the film is over, it’s been beaten to death. Fincher’s film, unlike FORCE MAJEURE, is not a new Classic – but it’s good, and made inroads as an important film this year.

Moving into the realm of happiness, Lukas Moodysson’s We Are The Best was the happiest film of the year, telling the story of how a band comes together, when that band is punk, composed of twelve year-olds, and living in Stockholm in 1982. For me, this film wins the “Best Climax” award – the ending is truly, madly, deeply joyous, and a monumental ode to the act of creation.

On the creepy side, Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler is just terrific – a totally awesome entertainment, all the more so if you like your satire as bitter and black as a Turkish espresso. Jake Gyllenhaal’s Lou Bloom is a truly despicable creation, a sociopath to rival De Niro’s Rupert Pupkin in Scorsese’s King of Comedy. Come Awards Season all the talk will be about Gyllenhaal, but Rene Russo – Gilroy’s wife – gives an outstanding support performance.

The Dardenne Brothers, who lost out at Cannes but won the Sydney Film Festival Prize, offered their most commercially approachable film ever with Two Days, One Night, which, for me, was the most suspenseful film of the year (thus far). What a plot! A woman wakes up and is told that unless she can persuade the majority of her sixteen colleagues to forego their annual bonuses, she’ll be fired. She has the weekend to persuade them to deliberately forego a significant parcel of money to keep her on. If the final scene doesn’t have you white-knuckling your armrest, you simply must be dead.

Kill The Messenger was a Lumet-influenced, coolly proficient journalism thriller, with a calmly excellent performance from Jeremy Renner, who, let’s face it, has not capitalised properly on his Hurt Locker Oscar nomination until now (playing the guy who shoots arrows really well in the Marvelverse is not a Meryl Streep Choice). David Ayer’s Fury is an excellent and tense tank movie and again shows how brilliant Brad Pitt is at filling a large screen. Whiplash is an intense and highly original melodrama that will propel journeyman (and brilliant) actor JK Simmons into the Awards Club, and Locke is simply stunning from start to finish, a film that plays its cards as a gimmick (the whole thing is shot in a car!) but wins its hand by being ludicrously suspenseful and oddly moving. Tom Hardy gives the performance of the year, unless you can give that honour to Ellar Coltrane, who let Richard Linklater shoot him for twelve years for Boyhood and became awesome as it happened. Well, not really. His performance is natural and charming but hardly technically precise. Hardy’s, in Locke, is that in spades. It’s amazing.

You can’t say that Phillip Seymour Hoffman was at his absolute best in A Most Wanted Man, mainly because his character, and thus his performance, is so low-key (he’s playing a spy in a La Carré movie!), but the film itself, from Anton Corbijn, is amazing, a beautiful, melancholy spy thriller for the post-9/11 scene in an accessible key. It’s up there with Force Majeure for me for film of the year thus far. For an esoteric ride, Jonathan Glazer’s third feature Under The Skin, with Scarlett Johansson as a creepy alien, was gleefully strange and quite brilliant. Matthew Saville’s Felony had one of the sharpest screenplays of the year, by Joel Edgerton, who also gave an excellent performance in the film, as did Tom Wilkinson and Jai Courtney, who finally had a role with nuance and ambiguity.

Also on the Australian front, Tony Mahony and Angus Sampson’s The Mule, written by Sampson and co-star Leigh Whannell, is strangely touching and tender, especially given that it’s essentially about two dudes waiting for another dude to poo. The 1983 production design is spot-on – Paddy Reardon deserves many awards – avoiding cliché and evoking emotion. Amazing details fill every frame, from the food to the wallpaper, the cars and the beer cans – let alone the clothes and hairstyles. It’s evocative enough to make the film entertaining on design merit alone, but there are great performances too, especially the double act of Ewen Leslie and Hugo Weaving as the cops assigned to get the evidence out of Sampson… literally.

The documentary about the skateboarding Pappas brothers, All This Mayhem, proved the truism that you don’t need to be interested in the ostensible subject matter to love the film. I couldn’t give a toss about skateboarding and I was enthralled. I am completely into theatre producers, and Gracie Otto’s The Last Impresario, about Michael White, was catnip to me, but it’s a terrific film by any measure, fast and fun. Not an Australian film but featuring an Australian subject, the Nick Cave filmic essay 20,000 Days On Earth probably proves that you do need to like the subject to like the film, but if you are a Cave fan (I am), it’s gold. And while we’re celebrating Aussies in foreign films, Rose Byrne stole every scene of Bad Neighbours she was in, cementing her place in the “new Hollywood comedy” firmament in the process.

Indeed, some Aussie films did far better overseas than here, the best example being Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook, which was essentially hailed as a modern horror classic in the UK while being pretty neglected here. Of course, there was a lot of talk of all Australian films being neglected at the box office this year, and they almost universally were. Some, such as My Mistress and Canopy, really probably had no real audience to begin with, while others, such as Predestination and The Rover, may have been expected (hoped?) to have performed far better than they did. The problem is an archaic 120 day window that remains in stuffy place for films between their theatrical and home release dates; hopefully this will get rectified in 2015. It must.

Moving back off our shores, in terms of the top-shelf stuff from far-flung lands, Child’s Pose, from Romanian Calin Peter Netzer, is, essentially, a thriller, but, like the recent films of Asghar Farhadi  – A Separation and The Past – it offers a depth of meaningful, emotional engagement far beyond that genre’s typical aspirations, and, indeed, far beyond those of your average “straight drama”. Its thrills are thrilling, but its drama is intense, moving, and extremely rewarding.

On the disappointing side, What We Do In The Shadows, from the usually reliable Jermaine Clement and Taika Waititi, was terrible, a juvenile sketch stretched to feature length and, horrendously, never funny. Joon-ho Bong’s Snowpiercer could have been so good but was, instead, crippled by a third act that was talky and dull. Men, Women and Children, from normally brilliant Jason Reitman, was defiantly not brilliant, instead being preachy and dull. Calvary lacked conviction, peppered with stereotypical, cliché characters and a “have your cake and eat it too” attitude to its subject matter (systemic child abuse in the Catholic church). And Noah was ill-conceived, a strange attempt at art-film fantasia  shackled by the very biblical conventions it was trying so desperately to subvert.

There were many other good films: Paddington, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Nymphomaniac Part II, The Invisible Woman – and many, many bad ones (I’m looking at you, Tammy). Overall, though, I have to say: it’s been a great year thus far for movies.

Roll on Oscar Season! I will report. And tomorrow: The Film Mafia / Movieland Awards 2014!

** (out of five)

St_Vincent_posterContrived and melodramatic, Theodore Melfi’s debut feature St. Vincent is a desperate, “look at me!” example of screenwriting-by-numbers. Every possible story beat is walloped within an inch of its pre-programmed life: you’re meant to cry at minute eighty-nine, but by god you’re gonna cheer at minute ninety-four!

Bill Murray, in an Oscar-baiting performance, is very good, as is Naomi Watts (as a hooker with a heart of gold!), and that’s it. They’re doing their best in a seriously derivative, predictable and frankly schmaltzy tale of an old Brooklyn boozer, Vincent, who starts looking after the enjoyably upbeat son of his new neighbour, Maggie (Melissa McCarthy, the most over-rated actress in Hollywood, again delivering a completely unbelievable performance, alongside her ludicrous Tammy, also of 2014).

The kid is played by a genial fellow named Jaeden Lieberher, and he’s fine, and the scenes between him and Murray have no essential problems in the acting department. It’s the script that is terrible. The only reason you won’t be able to predict each of the gazillion creaky plot twists is because you’ll be astounded, in this day and age, that someone made such an obvious, over-used, creaky, old-fashioned, easy choice. Spoiler alert: just when you thought things couldn’t get worse, Vincent has a stroke. Cue acting. Sorry, Bill; they’re not gonna give you an Oscar for this.

The Interview *** (out of five)

the-interview-is-the-interview-controversy-a-publicity-stuntEvan Goldberg and Seth Rogen’s The Interview has a fantastic comic premise. A celebrity tabloid tv interviewer, Dave Skylark (James Franco) is highly admired by North Korean ruler Kim Jong-un (Randall Park). When Skylark and his producer Aaron Rapaport  (Rogen) are invited to North Korea to interview Kim, they are corralled by the CIA into assassinating him.

It’s a spectacular hook, and, given all the hoopla and shenanigans surrounding the release of this film, it’s a pleasure to report that the rest of the film bears up to the excellent conceit. There are a lot of very funny moments, lines, scenes and set-pieces in The Interview, as well as a relatively sophisticated plot structure – and depth of characterisation – for “this kind of movie” – being the kind of movie that stars Seth Rogen.

It’s not quite as funny as Rogen and Franco’s last collaboration, This Is The End, but it shares that movie’s relentless embrace of throwaway lines, snatches of clever dialogue that are only ever meant to be caught by half the audience, but which come in such abundance that there are plenty for all. These “quick-bite” laughs are the stuff that allow comedies to survive second viewings, and The Interview is definitely be one of those films – like Zoolander or Dodgeball – that you’ll happily watch, and enjoy, again, and perhaps again.

Unlike a sloppy example of this type of thing, such as The Internship, which had no real characters,  Skylark, Rapaport and Kim are strongly drawn, and the relationship between Kim and Skylark – the joke being that they get on great, and Skylark has second feelings about killing Kim – is meaningful and intriguing. At its heart, the film is much more about friendship and loyalty than it is about killing a foreign leader or even making fun of one. Rogen plays straight man (while still getting plenty of laugh lines) while Franco’s gleefully and strangely fey Skylark and Park’s boyish Kim get to romp and roll, Franco perhaps a little too much at times, but always with loyalty to the intent of the material – which is not to insult an entire populace, but which does make very strong points about why that populace is not being served properly by its leadership. The film is political – very much so; as satire it is very broad; as broad comedy it is surprisingly, and pleasingly, smart.

One thing I must note: the prevalence of “gay jokes” is disappointing, especially in an otherwise clever film. Surely Rogen and his ilk can put those out to pasture where they belong.

Annie ** (out of five)

Annie Movie Film 2014 SinopsisAnnie, the stage musical, is pretty hoary, but boy is it fun. So is this somewhat inventive, relentlessly sunny update – to a point. If I was a nine year old girl, this would be the best movie I could even imagine. Who cares about the plot? An orphan wants to “find” her parents; instead a rich man with a cold heart finds that heart warmed by said orphan. Song and dance! In this case, with plenty of autotune.

Previous film versions of Annie have been “classic” versions, but this one updates the text like the Donmar Warehouse takes on a play, if the Donmar Warehouse had autotune. All the songs have been relentlessly rearranged for the Beyoncé generation, adding as much body percussion (if that’s what you call slapping your own body) as possible. The kids seem to sing in their own voices, very few of them pretty. The acting is, like the singing, often spare and untrained. And there lies some charm, although not a huge amount. The thing is rough, wild and wooly, and kids are gonna love it. But, the longer it goes, the more it strays from the original musical, and the more cause there is for fans to dislike it.

As Annie, Quvenzhané Wallis, who was so brilliant in Beasts of the Southern Wild, simply doesn’t make it her own – by a country mile – and it’s glaringly obvious that her performance has had to be dealt with in the editing room in a less than loving way. She’s cut into, she says her line, and she’s cut away from as quickly as possible, therefore creating a cypher at the heart of the movie – it’s an Annie without an Annie. She’s way too obviously directed – “Look here! Smile here!” – and never believable. The fact that the filmmakers never let her breathe is a worrying concept: did they only cast her because she was Oscar nominated for Beasts? She certainly can’t sing, and one would have thought that would have been a pre-requisite for this role.

As for the rest, Rose Byrne (as Big Daddy’s secretary Grace) does the best work in the film (hello!), with a winning combination of – well, everything. Byrne is the best actor in the game at the moment for this sort of thing. Jaime Foxx, as Big Daddy, seems deeply uncomfortable throughout. Bobby Cannavale gives a spirited try at a mischievous character who is both not in, and a bit of a stand-in for a character in, the original show. Finally, Cameron Diaz does a fine job of Miss Hannigan, which may account for her rather extraordinary amount of screen time. Sometimes the film seems not like Annie but Hannigan. Diaz, remember, won us all over in the comedy realm (There’s Something About Mary) and she gives a big and satisfying comedy reading here.

Don’t let anyone cheat you into thinking this is a “Black Annie,” or some sort of Deep Urban Annie. This Annie is as fanciful as it gets, with every level of wish-fulfilment – and every level of urban fantasy – as the stage play, despite its black leads. It’s a stylised movie taking place in a ludicrous Manhattan-as-Kingdom-Come neverland of pure moviemagic. It has no politics and bears no political scrutiny. Its “backness” is superficial, in the sense that nothing about the movie speaks to any sense of the black experience, nor the poor experience. Even the poor kids seem well-off. I’ve seen more realistic urchins (the word “orphan” is verboten in this film) on stage, in lily-white, traditional productions.

I can’t imagine being the songwriter of the originals, listening to this film. I’d tear my heart out and die. It doesn’t sound good. With the exception of Hard Knock Life, which is beautifully conceived, the songs have been mangled and many are unrecognisable (or cut). There are a few new ones, one of which is actually quite lovely and the others, forgettable. The plot has been twisted like a Rubik’s Cube (take that, Gen Zeds!) so that you go “Ah, they’re using that character to do that plot point from the show!” But most of the plot has been jettisoned altogether. Don’t expect a Barack Obama number, let alone We’d Like To Thank You George W. This Annie never goes to the White House. She’s too enamoured with her penthouse.

The One I Love ***1/2 (out of five)


MV5BMTgzODMyMjcyOV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMTAyMjMyMjE@._V1_SY317_CR3,0,214,317_AL_Charlie McDowell’s intriguing little three-hander is a dramatic RomCom with a Twilight Zone hue. And Twilight Zone is the right reference; besides the characters in the film likening their situation to being in an episode of that show, it’s also a handy catch-call for something that is neither SciFi, Fantasy nor Horror but has a plot mechanism that falls between the cracks of those genres.

Mark Duplass and the ever-more compelling Elisabeth Moss play a couple who are not doing well. Their counsellor, played by Ted Danson (yay!), gives them the address of a property in Ojai, California that, he claims, has helped many couples before them re-discover the love. When they get there, they gradually discover that the house and its surroundings offer more than peace, beauty and a lovely pool.

To say more would be to spoil things, because the film has some very nicely calibrated twists and turns. It’s gently funny, it’s compelling, the performances are excellent, and it flies in the face of conventional romantic films, always carving its own path. Satisfying, charming and recommended.

Paddington **** (out of five)

movies-paddington-bear-teaser-posterPaul King’s Paddington, only his second feature, may seem worlds away from the surreal humour of the television series he’s best known for directing, The Mighty Boosh, but it isn’t, really. Full of stylised sets, fantastic one-liners and sight gags, and truly surreal touches, this big, charming, vibrant and heart-warming Paddington pretty much gets everything right, including the bear, and will appeal to all ages.

It’s all about integrity to the source material and Paddington’s got it in spades. I met Paddington at a very tender moment in my life – I had been moved to London from Sydney at age seven, an only child, with no friends in my new city and a total sense of displacement. My parents immediately bought me a Paddington Bear, who became my fast friend. I could relate to his story, coming to London from across the planet (Paddington is sent to London on a ship from Darkest Peru, alone, and seeking a family to live with); we were kindred souls. I loved the books, the animated television series, and I was not going to be happy if this big screen version wasn’t appropriately respectful.

I had nothing to worry about. King is obviously a true fan and he’s made a true and wonderful Paddington movie, that tells the origin story and then adds a plot element that is entertaining and never too greedy – the vast majority of the screen time, rightly, concerns Paddington and his relationship to London and his new family, The Browns. The themes and concerns of Michael Bond’s original series of books and television shows are all there, and the personalities are too.

The big theme, of course – and it always has been – is acceptance of difference (read: racial tolerance) and specifically of refugees. Paddington, as a bear sent to London with a note around his neck saying “PLEASE LOOK AFTER THIS BEAR”, is evocative of actual methods used to deal with displaced children in England during WW2, and the expanding metaphor is obvious. No-one in the film – no passers-by, no neighbours – sees a bear walking down the street, but they do see someone “else”, and they, like all of us, react differently, depending on their own reserves of tolerance and acceptance. Bond’s books and tv shows took on all the post war immigration, and the movie doesn’t need to really update anything to take in all the worldwide refugee issues since the 1970s (when Paddington reigned supreme); it’s all there. Indeed, it’s laid on strongly, which I liked – even the youngest kids in the audience couldn’t fail to hear the message.

Adults will enjoy plenty of jokes aimed squarely at them (there’s one in the prologue that is jaw-droppingly inviting, letting us oldies know we’re well and truly accounted for) and even the comic action set-pieces, of which there are many, because they’re so spectacularly and wittily mounted. Paddington was always getting into scrapes, and he does so here, including a chase of a pickpocket through London that is simply spectacular, hilarious, and even moving. In fact, those are three good words for the whole film.

The acting is all spot-on. It’s loaded with English thesps (I can’t tell you who Michael Gambon played, but I saw his name in the credits at the end, so he must have voiced an elder bear in the film’s early scenes) but it’s all about Hugh Bonneville and Sally Hawkins as the Browns, and they’re both perfect. Hawkins has more smile in her eyes than any actor I know, just right for Mrs. Brown, a beacon of instant acceptance, while Bonneville, in a Colin Firth-type role, plays the statistician who needs to listen to his heart as well as his head, a rock of ice who simply melts over the course of the film.

Firth, famously, was gently fired from voicing Paddington when he kept sounding too – well, old – and Ben Whishaw does a fine job. I can vaguely remember Paddington’s voice from the tv series but Whishaw’s works. As does the CGI creation of visual Paddington. He’s less “cartoon-cute” than the bear in the books and tv series, presumably the better to blend in with his human co-stars, and that works, too. He’s in almost every scene, getting into scrapes, bumbling, spinning, eating, growling, fumbling and… always eating. He’s delightful and gorgeous but never “adorable”. And that works best of all. Paddington is not a baby or a puppy. He’s a fifty-something refugee bear who’s just trying to understand the ways of his adopted culture, and fit in without losing his own identity. He doesn’t want your pity. Just your marmalade.

What an excellent film.

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