Posts Tagged ‘golden globes’

sunny_pawar_as_saroo_bierley_in_the_film_22lion22_2

**** (out of five)

The storytelling in Lion is a triumph of taste over temptation. The source material, the non-fiction 2014 book by Saroo Brierley A Long Way Home, was ripe for bombastic, sensational, sentimental treatment. Instead, director Garth Davis and screenwriter Luke Davies have delivered the tasteful version, one that avoids practically all the story’s potential landmines in lieu of honest emotion. It is a film of great integrity.

Brierley was brought up in Tasmania having been adopted from Calcutta at around five years old. He had been separated from his birth family in bizarre, practically tragicomic circumstances; twenty-five years later, he used Google Earth to attempt to find them again.

The film is structured in two halves. The first – and most successful – follows Saroo, at age five, in India. Saroo is played by Sunny Pawar, who is one of those kids – found after a massive casting process in India – who just nails it. He’s incredible, traversing a mostly dialogue-free hour without missing a single beat. Every shot he’s in contains emotional truth and credibility, but – like all great actors! – there’s a second, underlying layer going on, in which he deftly adds degrees of comic grace. It’s astonishing. There is one wordless close-up that took my breath away, before I practically started chanting, “Give him the Oscar, now!”

The second half sees a grown-up Saroo played by Dev Patel, who easily gives his finest performance to date. He’s completely believable as an Australian-raised Indian born fellow, Aussie accent and all, despite being a Brit. More importantly, the sometimes over-earnestness he’s delivered in many of his roles – the worst examples being in the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel franchise – is absent here. He gives a delicate performance of subtlety and grace.

Grace is also the word for the remarkable screenplay, which should definitely be a front-runner for the Adapted Screenplay Oscar come late February. Australian novelist / screenwriter / poet / critic Davies (Candy, Life) skips the expository scenes lesser films would show and rewards our intelligence with unexpected moments that are so much more revealing. Thus the salacious and sensational perils young Saroo faces as an orphan in Calcutta – forced mutilation as part of a begging ring, sexual slavery – are dealt with glancingly, almost quietly, certainly – here’s that word again! – tastefully. In the second half, Saroo forms a relationship with a fellow student, Lucy (Rooney Mara), but Davies spares us any scenes of them flirting, kissing for the first time, falling in bed together; he knows we understand all that stuff, and that it’s not what this story is really about. His screenplay is a monument to narrative elision.

The film comes close to being an instant classic. It’s hampered by two things. The first is almost unavoidable – that the underlying story, and the film’s promotion, have given us the ending in advance, which really does sap the film of suspense. It’s got a lot of elements – especially heart – but suspense isn’t one of them. It must be said, it would have taken an almost superhuman effort of collective restraint on the hands of marketers, producers and media to avoid this.

The second is that the film drops its energy for a long stretch in the second half. There are scenes where Mara’s Lucy – already the least defined character in the script – is, essentially, inaudible (and I was seeing the film in the best possible circumstances, a critic’s screening room), and around her, other members of the cast are allowed to deliver their lines so quietly as to cause one to strain to hear (which affects tremendously Kidman’s big monologue, which also feels – weirdly for a film of such taste – like Oscar-bait). During this section, the storytelling loses specificity. I was honestly but not deliberately confused for a period as to whether Saroo was living in Hobart or Melbourne, for example.

Ultimately though, the film is a triumph. You will weep like a ninny (I did) and it will feel good. I suspect it’s going to be an enormous financial success in Australia, where the Indian sections may sit more comfortably than, say, for a mass-market, mainstream American audience. I also think it has a very good chance of destabilising some of the front-runners at the Oscars. It is a very fine film, and Davis and Davies have proved an exceptional collaboration. See it.

UPDATE: I was spot-on about its Aussie Box Office appeal —

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**** (out of five)

La La Land arrives with a lot of hype. If you’re in the business of Oscar prognostication, it’s in a 50/50 race for Best Picture with the very different kettle of fish Moonlight. (Neither of these, of course, might come to pass; momentum could easily arise for such bigger fare as Sully, Arrival, Fences, Live By Night or the tiny and bleak Manchester By The Sea.)

It is Damien Chazelle’s dream project, the script he already had in his drawer when his film Whiplash was not only made, but became an Indie hit, a critical darling and a Best Picture nominee. J.K. Simmons won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar. Chazelle had his moment, his blank cheque, and he cashed it on his Dream Project, an old-school musical he had been developing for years with his musical collaborator (and old school chum) Justin Hurwitz. He’d originally hope to make it for less than a million dollars; ultimately, he had at least thirty times that.

It shows. The opening number, a (perhaps digitally aided) one-take wonder involving an enormous amount of singers, dancers, cars and an LA freeway, is jaw-dropping, a statement of intent that fills the viewer with trust: This is gonna be great! For much of the film that trust is constantly rewarded. Emma Stone, tasked with carrying the film emotionally, appearing in about eighty percent of the scenes, singing, dancing and stealing your heart, is sensational (she must be the Oscar Best Actress front-runner, along with Isabelle Huppert for Elle). Ryan Gosling, very much supporting her, does so with characteristic grace – and a lot of heart. They’re a terrific team.

She plays Mia, an aspiring (and perhaps talented) actress in Los Angeles; he plays Sebastian, an aspiring (and definitely very talented) jazz musician (Chazelle’s signature motif). They fall in love, manage their careers and partake in a stack of original musical numbers along the way.

It’s a true musical, in that characters break out into song and dance when they’re feeling big emotions, and when a musical number is on, anything goes: shoes can appear out of nowhere, skies can lighten or darken, walls can disappear. Certainly the lighting can get jiggy. And, in its depiction of a dame and a dude up against the bright lights of show business in Hollywood, it’s utilising tried-and-true musical formulae, constantly. What’s fascinating is that it’s totally contemporary; the style may be 1953, but the potholes in the freeway are 2015. LA has been art-directed to look magical (there aren’t that many old-school street lamps, I know it) but it’s still modern, lonely, dusty, car-cramped LA, and the casting directors suck.

The original songs by Hurwitz are very good and some are great (if you’ve seen it, I bet you’re humming City of Stars right now). They express the characters’ inner thoughts, they allow them to comment explicitly on their frustrations and longings, they speak of hopes and dreams and, of course, of love. They’re at times plaintive, at times bold and brassy; motifs shimmy throughout. Indeed, it’s a little jarring when Hurwitz’s compositions are supplanted by known music (a sequence at a party incorporating a swathe of famous ‘80s hits) and deliberately different-sounding music (the songs attributed to and performed by a colleague of Sebastian’s, played excellently by John Legend). Stone and Gosling both have fine pipes, Stone in particular, and something about their singing sounds authentic, as though if it were more perfect, it would be less real.

At 128 minutes, the film does feel a little long, and the story definitely slows and muddies in the second act. Because it’s a story based on a thousand others, a story that is part of our collective moviegoing DNA, we’re generally ahead of it, which contributes to the problem. But the ending – and it’s an extended one, a big, ambitious epilogue – is tremendously satisfying. I could feel the large group of critics at the screening I attended sitting on their hands, resisting the uncouth impulse to applaud.

imageOpens in Australia on Jan 28 2016

****1/2 (out of five)

Brie Larson has just won the Golden Globe for her lead performance in Room, an audacious and inspiring film, a coherent, complex and confident blend of arthouse experimentalism, mainstream thriller and serious drama. It’s one of the best films, easily, of this “Awards Season”.

Larson and Jacob Tremblay play a mother and her son living in extreme circumstances – they are confined to a small area (their “room”) in which they are obviously imprisoned. Occasionally, “Ma” is visited by a man they call “Old Nick.” When Jack, the son, turns five, Ma figures it’s time he found out the truth about the nature of “room”.

By turns arthouse experiment, tense thriller and family drama, and enormously moving, Room has a cumulative power. Inspired by a rash of lurid and horrendous crimes in the US and Europe (particularly a famous case in Austria), Room avoids tabloid sensationalism completely and seeks to explore its tremendously challenging subject with honesty. Although author Emma Donoghue, working off her own novel, has never spoken to any of the women who inspired Larson’s character, she has done her research, and is obviously committed to serious contemplation of trauma and its effect. Irish director Lenny Abrahamson (the film is an Irish / Canadian co-production, and Donoghue is an Irish woman living in Canada) shoots the script with reverence and invention. The first half is haunting, the thrilling bits are tense as hell, and the drama reaches sensitively into difficult spaces. An excellent, excellent film. Be advised: it may be too much for some sensitive viewers or survivors of trauma.

My Oscar thoughts continue. Now for…

BEST ACTOR

This is Matthew McConaughey’s to lose, and he’s not going to lose it. His work in Jean-Marc Vallée’s Dallas Buyers Club is sensational and the male performance of the year, without a doubt. He’s got the Globe and the Screen Actor’s Guild Award on his shelf already. He’s a lock.

The bridesmaid.

The bridesmaid.

The only other horse in this race is Chiwetel Ejiofor for 12 Years a Slave but he’s not going to win and nor should he. Ejiofor, as the extremely unfortunate Solomon Northup, suffers from being in the strange position (just like Forest Whitaker in The Butler, not nominated for Best Actor here) of playing the least dynamic character in his own movie. Although 12 Years a Slave is Northup’s story through and through, and he’s in every scene, it is the performances of Lupita Nyong’o (nominated for Best Supporting Actress) and Michael Fassbender (nominated for Best Supporting Actor), along with a gallery of excellent actors in smaller roles scattered throughout the twelve years such as Sarah Paulson, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Giamatti, Alfre Woodard and Paul Dano, that really grip as performances. Ejiofor is fine, perhaps excellent, and he certainly holds the movie together, but it’s a passive role, limited to bearing a burden (admittedly a very heavy one) and reacting to the horrors around him. As the title suggests and the movie makes very clear, all Northup has to do for twelve years is survive. He makes very few major choices and does not undergo any major transformation. His arc is very limited, and, therefore, so are Ejiofor’s options as an actor. Given his screentime, he also has limited dialogue to perform.

The bride.

The bride.

McConaughey’s role in Dallas Buyers Club could not contrast more. Playing the also-real Ron Woodroof, a Texan electrician, rodeo rider and homophobe in 80s Dallas who contracts HIV through hetrosexual unprotected intercourse with an intravenous drug user, McConaughey has to attack every challenge not available to Ejiofor, and he hits every single one of them out of the park. Every thing he does in the film is a major choice (from the very first one – letting himself believe he actually has the “faggot disease”); he undergoes an absolutely, positively staggering transformation, from real, grade-A homophobe dick to compassionate caregiver and fighter for the rights of the neglected and marginalised, and therefore has a huge, and extremely clear, character arc. As befits McConaughey, who has one of the best mouths for dialogue in Hollywood, his character never shuts up – he has pages and pages of brilliantly written dialogue with which to etch his indelible character. He displays humour, rage, intense grief, sensitivity, total lack of sensitivity, and, above all and most importantly, real change. He also manipulates his body weight throughout the movie to portray the physical ravages of the disease but that, while impressive on a technical level, is not why he should, and will, win. McConaughey’s Woodroof is a true, real-life hero, and he doesn’t start that way: he earns his heroic status every step of the way, every minute of the movie. The actor has been having a stellar last few years – the kind of run very few actors get but all the serious ones dream about – and this tops it off. But even if he’d been a total unknown in his debut feature lead, like Hilary Swank in Boys Don’t Cry and Geoffrey Rush in Shine, he would still – like Swank and Rush did – walk away with the Oscar. He deserves it. A lock.

Okay, now that the dust has settled – meaning that everyone in LA has appeared on at least one radio or television show, podcast, blog, column or street corner, pontificating about the Oscar nominations, I will now pontificate about the Oscar nominations. Enjoy, and please, do not be afraid to comment. I’ll continue to post throughout the categories, but let’s begin with…

BEST ACTRESS

Cate Blanchett and Amy Adams are on Centre Court here. Blanchett received reviews of the “Give her the Oscar now!” variety when Blue Jasmine came out, but that was many months ago, which is a lifetime in an Oscar campaign (the risk always being the dreaded phrase “That came out this year?”) Somehow, though, she’s maintained momentum, buoyed hugely by her recent Golden Globe win.

But Amy Adams also won a Golden Globe. How, you ask? And here things get funny, and they get funny about the concept of “funny”. Amy Adams won the Globe for Best Actress in a Comedy or Musical – and American Hustle is definitely not a Musical (despite a fine soundtrack). By contrast, and gaining the superior position of receiving her award later in the ceremony, Blanchett won her Blue Jasmine award for Best Actress in a Drama.

Blanchett. Drama?

Blanchett. Drama?

Except not only are both movies comedies, Blue Jasmine is the more obvious comedy. It’s a Woody Allen film full of Woody Allen one-liners, situations, characters (including stereotypes) and comic set-pieces. Interiors it is not. It’s not even Match Point. It’s not even Deconstructing Harry, and it’s a million miles from Husbands and Wives and Crimes and Misdemeanours – which, by the way, were also comedies. The placement of Blanchett in the “Drama” category was ludicrous. But many things about the Golden Globes are. So the beef there is with them, not Blanchett.

So back to the performances themselves and their likelihood for the Oscar. For my money, Blanchett’s performance is too much. I – and this is not only very much a personal taste thing but also, I feel, a minority view – could “see the acting” the whole way through. It was what the British call virtuosic or bravura acting – acting which calls attention to itself. It’s awfully fun to watch but it’s also just extremely proficient hamminess. Which is absolutely not calling Blanchett a ham. All brilliant actors are capable of hamminess if they want to use it, while not all hams are capable of brilliance.

Adams. Comedy?

Adams. Comedy?

Adams’ performance in American Hustle, by contrast, is simply brilliant (not bravura, “virtuosic” in the British sense, or hammy); it’s subtle, endlessly layered, and perfect. I gave her my MOVIELAND Award for Best Actress of 2013. Playing a con-woman who is conflicted in love and life, juggling street intelligence with emotional cross-wiring, and layering an intense sexuality throughout, it is the performance of her career and the performance – in any category – of the year.

Adams comes with more freshly-baked presence, not only being “younger” (at least in terms of the industry) than Blanchett but having her film released much more recently and to many many more Oscar nominations. But I suspect the Oscar will go to Blanchett – just. She won the Screen Actor’s Guild Award for Best Actress, which is huge, as the Actors are the biggest voting bloc of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. And she kind of has this going on for her: “Well, if you didn’t give it to her for Elizabeth (it went to Gwyneth Paltrow for Shakespeare in Love), and you don’t give it to her for this, then what kind of bloody performance are you expecting from her to actually give it to her for?” Whereas Adams has this: “Just wait, we’ll give you one. We just have to give Blanchett one first. To make up for Elizabeth…”