Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Birdman, Whiplash and Foxcatcher - Oscar Nominees Feature!

       So it’s Oscar season…

       Not that I really care about the Oscars and all of that – but it just so happens that the last three films that I watched at the cinema have been recently announced on the Oscars noms list.

       So here are three quick reviews for your perusal, presented here under the guise of being linked somehow by their Oscar-iness - when in actuality I couldn't give a poop about the Oscars or their outcome.
       Although why Jake Gyllenhaal isn’t up for Best Actor for Nightcrawler or The Lego Movie for Best Animated Feature Film is just plain ridiculous! (Insert more pointless and ineffectual internet outrage here).

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

       Birdman is something special. On the surface it’s a story of a faded Hollywood star Riggan Thompson (Michael Keaton) trying to regain some artistic integrity by directing and starring in his own adaptation of a Ray Carver play.
       It’s always entertaining to see actor’s playing actors, and this behind the scenes look at a troubled production just before its opening night on Broadway is fascinating in and of itself - but there is so much more going on here than that.

       To wit: Riggan’s mental condition where he sees and hears his alter ego ‘Birdman’ (the superhero character he originally became famous for playing), whether or not he actually has any superpowers, his strained relationship with his family and friends, discussions on the nature of fame, art, the modern audience, social media and even the concept of critique itself.
       And that’s not even mentioning the astounding ‘continuous take’ cinematography, the snappy jazz drum score, the meta-humour of Keaton being a one-time Batman and Ed Norton being a method actor, Emma Stone’s impossibly big eyes… the list goes on.

       Its irreverent nature even lets it off the hook for people who might accuse Birdman of being pretentious, although it will definitely rub some viewers up the wrong way just for being so unconventional (the trailer does not do it justice at all).
       The cast is uniformly excellent, the dialogue is sharp and witty (whilst also occasionally being silly and unpredictable) and the film is also jaw-dropping on a technical level (credit to Gravity cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezeki). There’s nothing else quite like it.

       Also featuring jazz drums is Whiplash, the story of a boy’s tumultuous relationship with his band’s conductor. Intensity is in spades here on both sides of this duo: Andrew (Miles Teller) and his desire to be a truly great drummer (shedding much sweat and even blood throughout), and Fletcher (J.K Simmons) – whose explosive temperament is constantly physically and mentally abusing those who don't live up to his impossibly high standards.

       J.K Simmons is excellent here (making J. Jonah Jameson’s shouting seem like a choirboy) and almost every scene he is in is fraught with tension, dominating - despite looking like an angry turtle that’s lost his shell.
       But it’s not just all simple black and white stuff - of good versus bad. Much like in Birdman, the subject of what constitutes true artistic greatness is discussed: does Andrew deserve to be great simply because he desires it? Is that enough? Is true greatness only borne out of suffering? When Fletcher eventually reveals his motives – is he right? Does that make it all worth it in the end?

       The music is awesome throughout (even if you aren’t really a jazz fan) and the climax of the movie is a real ‘wow’ moment. Highly recommended.

       Another film that involves obsessions and an unconventional mentor is Foxcatcher, based on the true story of wrestling brothers Mark and David Schultz and their encounter with a mysterious and wealthy benefactor John du Pont.
       It’s a dark and brooding film that’s a fascinating look at the damaged psyche of two men: Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) who eternally lives in his brother David’s shadow, and du Pont (Steve Carell) whose need for approval and recognition gradually leads to a tragic end.

       Foxcatcher is a subtle and slow burning film – and the real draw here are the performances. Steve Carell is the obvious: barley recognisable under his make-up, his portrayal of du Pont is just as impressive in a physical sense (the awkward shuffling, the silent and longing looks he gives from afar) as well as in his delivery (a creepy stilted cadence).
       Naysayers of Tatum’s acting ability will be silenced by his performance here (intense and physical, but almost childlike at times in his petulance), and Mark Ruffalo quietly shines as older brother David – a saint when stacked up next to the previous two and the voice of reason throughout.

       All the performances are great, so much is conveyed by these characters (quite often when they aren’t even speaking), which makes this film unsettling, intense and fascinating to watch.

      So in summary, all three films come recommended. Oh, and if you are curious about the Oscars, here are the relevant nominations listed below:

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) – 9 nominations

Actor in a Leading Role (Michael Keaton)
Actor in a Supporting Role (Edward Norton)
Actress in a Supporting Role (Emma Stone)
Best Picture
Cinematography (Emmanuel Lubezki)
Directing (Alejandro G. Iñárritu)
Sound Editing
Sound Mixing
Writing (Original Screenplay)

Whiplash – 5 nominations

Actor in a Supporting Role (J.K. Simmons)
Best Picture
Film Editing
Sound Mixing
Writing (Adapted Screenplay)

Foxcatcher – 5 nominations

Actor in a Leading Role (Steve Carell)
Actor in a Supporting Role (Mark Ruffalo)
Directing (Bennet Miller)
Makeup and Hairstyling
Writing (Original Screenplay)

      For the full list of all 2015 Oscar nominees, click HERE. The event is due to take place on the 22nd of February.

     Not that I care or anything...

25th Jan 2015

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