For the first time in years, I’ve actually seen all this year’s Best Picture Oscar nominations before the event. For what it’s worth, these are my impressions. I’d be interested in yours.
My prediction for the winner is at the end.
12 Years A Slave
This is a Serious and Worthy film based on a True Story. It contains Proper Acting and Excellent Cinematography.
Unfortunately, it is a let-down. As we know the outcome for Solomon Northup, the drama of following his life is reduced. Things happen in the 12 years but we don’t get a sense of development or even much sense of time passing. Even the nastiest scene seems contrived and not actually as nasty as it would have been.
Big hair, outrageous dresses, con artists and a Robert de Niro cameo. Populated with unlikeable characters, your enjoyment of this film will probably depend on whether you are more sympathetic to criminal rogues or corner-cutting cops. Amy Adams’ dress-of-two-halves may be a decider, too. Louis CK plays the only likeable character. Slick and fun, if you’re in the mood.
Tom Hanks is the ordinary American hero (again) at the heart of this one but the depiction of the Somali hijackers has more than the usual one dimension, which makes it more believable and more interesting. There’s some tarting up of the real Phillips’ image (apparently) and it contains a Navy Seal recruitment ad, but there’s also genuine tension and Hanks’ final scene is excellent. The Danish film, The Hijacking, is probably a more sweatily, uncomfortably realistic depiction of such a situation though.
Dallas Buyers Club
Matthew McConaughey completes his journey from dreadful romcoms to star in this, the fourth True Story in this list, and he is quite brilliant. There is legitimate criticism that making a Southern homophobe the hero of this story about HIV/AIDS treatment is a dreadful cop-out – and it’s not mitigated by him teaming up with an etch-a-sketch gay drag artist – but it somehow highlights both the corruption of the underlying ‘healthcare’ business and the dismissive social attitudes to those suffering.
It wobbles a bit from time to time but McConaughey’s performance and getting your head round the awful consequences of not having the NHS keep you involved.
This is why 3D was invented: so you can get an idea of what floating in Space feels like. For sheer technical excellence this must be seen and it’s gripping enough that you can forget you’re wearing (extra) glasses.
The first part of the story is, I think, believable. But it gets a bit daft and hard to swallow (the Wall-E propulsion method does actually work in a vacuum!). It also centres around Sandra Bullock, not everyone’s cup of tea, doing a fair amount of emoting.
Probably not a lot of point on a 2D TV screen.
I have a weakness for Spike Jones and Charlie Kaufmann stuff and I found this enchanting. Set in a future just a few minutes away, where lonely men can have a sexy Siri to talk to, Her adds a level of Artificial Intelligence and explores what might happen. The fantasy doesn’t go where you expect it to (it is not the sad male fetish fantasy that Emily Maitlis described) and it has a lot to say about human interaction in general. Maybe not everyone’s cup of twee/tea but it might well be my favourite of the crop. Amy Adams, again, is really good (and is more fully clothed).
A Black&White Indie film with great performances from Bruce Dern and June Squibb. Full of clichés and improbabilities, deliberately off-the-wall characters and a weak underlying plot, Nebraska nevertheless is a delightful watch. Old codgers can be really interesting, even when they’re just grumbling around.
Probably Alexander Payne’s best film so far.
A heart-breaking True Story about what fecking nuns used to get up to in Ireland in the 1950’s. Its well told (although a certain amount of licence was taken with the chronology) and well-played, both by Coogan and Dench. No Partridge in sight.
This may be a conventional film but it does its job well: you will be moved and amused.
The Wolf of Wall Street
If you can’t spare the 3+ hours to watch this, see American Hustle instead, the ‘lite’ version of The Wolf…. But Scorsese’s film does the gross glamour, indulgence and greed much better – and it has all the drugs that Hustle strangely omits. It’s an amoral presentation of amoral characters, full of indefensible exploitation and abject selfish arrogance: what a fun ride! Echoing the format of Goodfellas, we watch the exploits of the Finance mafia and marvel at how they got away with it for so long.
And The Winner Is…..
Gravity, I reckon. Apart from the fact that the Oscars almost always follow the Director’s Guild, this is a stunning advance in film-making, and that’s what Hollywood likes to celebrate. It’s also about home, family and all the other sentimental tosh that they like. There’s a theory that 12 Years A Slave must win because it’s a Serious and Worthy (yet still positive!) story about Slavery, but pretty much everyone involved is a Limey, so it can’t be that authentic….
Her, Philomena and Nebraska are too small to win and the Scorsese tale is not one to be celebrated in austere times. The others are curate’s eggs.
But, for me, the best film of the last year was the documentary The Act Of Killing. With a little luck and justice it may get the Best Documentary statue.