The Ritual Film Show

Meryl gives Oscar a polish

Meryl gives Oscar a polish

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.

American Hustle
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.

Captain Phillips
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.

Gravity
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.

Her
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).

Nebraska
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.

Philomena
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.

14 thoughts on “The Ritual Film Show

  1. lovely write up .. sat through the baftas just to watch Stephen Fry but having only seen one of the films not caring who won
    This is just a cut & paste of what I posted before ..
    ‘ere has anyone else noticed that Gravity is just a remake of Disney’s Jungle Book
    Jungle Book is a simple story of a journey by Mowgli from the jungle to a village
    but it isn’t told like that
    instead it is a set of about 6 set-pieces scenes – usually a song & dance number – which are in themselves totally static. Each scene is linked by a bit of moving out of that scene … to show there is movement
    Gravity is just a bunch of set pieces scenes to show off some camera or special effects trickery, but the whole thing is driven by a journey – to get back home
    the scenes are static and there is a little movement shot to join them

    The dramatic imperative to get a move on in Jungle Book is supplied by the threat of a tiger – get home before the tiger rips you to shreds … which in Gravity is fast moving space debris
    The Snake Kaa trust in me – is all Clooney ever says
    King Louis give me the power of man’s red fire .. its all about scientific endeavour
    Baloo bare necessities . forget about your trouble and your strife – at the end its a decision of whether despite all the trouble – is life worth living
    Mowgli meets vultures as a sign he’s about to die – and Bullock faces death too
    the elephants are NASA .. all that might but useless – when the comms go down
    Bullock even ends up in her undies ( like Mowgli’s loin cloth ) crossing a river walking toward a village

    Good film – not enough singing

  2. I’m seeing Her tomorrow, which will give me all except TWOWS and Captain Phillips (neither of which interested me). So I’ll get back to you.

      • Huh, it got taken off last week to make way for kiddies’ half-term films and I assumed they’d be putting it back this week but they haven’t. So today I saw Only Lovers Left Alive, tomorrow I’m seeing the Dickens film (forget the name) and Thursday the cinecast of War Horse. Saturday I’m off to Texas but I assume Her has been and gone over there by now. So I’ve missed it.

        I disagree with most of you about 12 Years A Slave – I liked it a lot, thought it did show the passing of time, and admired the acting including Brad Pitt’s. The expression on his face when the character realised he was going to have to put his money where his mouth was was priceless. I enjoyed American Hustle but it’s not Oscar material. Loved the hairdos, but I remember the 70s well and nobody wore frocks like Amy Adams’ – not in the daytime anyway. I hadn’t seen Jennifer Lawrence before and thought she was really good.

        I also remember the 80s, when I worked in HIV/AIDS prevention, and I thought Dallas Buyers Club was very well done. Hooray for Matthew and Jared. Also liked Philomena a lot, but my favourite of all was Nebraska – love Bruce Dern in anything and June Phibbs as his wife was a hoot. At one time I worked for a charity working with young people with learning difficulties, and I was always being brought letters like the one in the film and having to explain that they weren’t real and nobody had won £1 million.

        Oh, I’ve forgotten Gravity – I liked that too, thought the special effects were magical, and it’s the first film I’d ever seen in 3D. I specially liked the end. So I’d love to see Nebraska win but think it’s not mainstream enough…um…[sits on fence] Gravity or 12 Years. I don’t usually watch award ceremonies as I think they’re a load of nonsense, but as I’ll be in someone else’s house (and in an appropriate time zone) I may find myself watching this year’s Oscars anyway!

  3. I’ve only seen Gravity, Philomena and 12 Years. In fact, I typed out a comment wholeheartedly agreeing with you re 12 Years under Peter Bradshaw’s video Oscars plug earlier, then deleted it because I didn’t want to get into a row with CIF trolls. I really didn’t rate it at all – apart from the acting, which I thought was superb (apart from Brad Pitt, who was abysmal). I thought the direction was really humdrum (even the messing around with chronology at the start, which could have been an interesting directorial choice, felt arbitrary and pointless). It had a few striking images, but the storytelling was clunking. And yes, with no sense of time passing. The music was horrible, the brutality was fetishistically lingered upon ad bloody infinitum, the ending was anticlimactic (his words on arriving home were like something French & Saunders would have put in a 12 Years spoof)… The whole thing made me stressed, then bored, then cross for having been put through it.

    Gravity I thought was OK. Technically impressive but, as you say, it gets increasingly ridiculous as it goes on. I was kind of expecting more really. And I used to like Bullock but her face is so waxy and weird these days. At least the helmet covered up the botox sheen reasonably well, but she doesn’t look like a real human being any more. And that was the main component of her charm: that she was kind of a realler version of Julia Roberts.

    And I loved Philomena: great storytelling delivered with the passion and righteous rage that 12 Years lacked. And as you say, Coogan reeled the Partridge in really well. I thought he totally held his own opposite Dame Judi. The only false note for me was the relationship with Anna Maxwell Martin as her daughter; somehow she seemed to me too far removed from her, more like a granddaughter than a daughter. Maybe I’m projecting my own complex relationship with my mother into everyone else’s but it all seemed too supportive, too straightforward, too compassionate, too indulgent. Where was the irritation, the impatience, the frustration? But that was a minor quibble. No, it wasn’t a ground-breaking piece of cinema but it told me things I didn’t know (again, unlike 12 Years) and it made me cross for the right reasons!

    • Yep. All true. I withheld my sense of frustration at 12 Years in my precis above but Steve McQueen is a visual artist, not a storyteller. That didn’t matter too much with Hunger and Shame, as they were fairly static portraits, but the need to deliver the story is vital in Solomon Northup’s case. McQueen failed his memory.

      Given your personal take on Philomena’s daughter, I’d be interested in your attitude to Dallas Buyers Club, bish. Or am I being crass? (If so, I apologise!)

  4. I enjoyed your reviews Chris. Unfortunately, or possibly fortunately, La Grande Bellezza,
    my personal favourite of 2013 is not included in the Oscar nominations for Best Film but is listed under best Foreign Film, a convenient loophole.
    I agree with your views on 12 Years particularly the fact that there is no sense of time elapsed. It didn’t feel like twelve years, more like twelve weeks. I would add that the script was poor as was the obligatory casting of Brad Pitt (co-producer of the film). The one image I took away from the film that I believe does show a glimmer of Steve McQueen’s genius is the steamboat scene. The red paddlewheel of the steamboat relentlessly cutting into the water, leaving large ridges in it’s wake, symbolizing I believe, the scar tissue on the slaves backs. *lr

    • A gem in the back catalogue! Same old nonsense B – “a convenient loophole”? You haven’t even watched the greater number of the listed movies, but still you find your favourite hard done by; the obligatory sideswipe at an established star (I know you prefer East Germans in dodgy suits who can’t act) and some pretentious and fanciful waffle about symbolism, the only glimmer of supposed “genius” (which you alone are able to divine I suppose). Shakes head, mutters, pity you won’t ever read this.

      • Hi Brendan. As thread owner, I received your comment. Whilst there’s obviously more going on between you and lr than meets the eye, I have no problem with her complaint/observation. La Grande Bellezza was very much admired and did win the Best Foreign Film gong at the Oscars, Golden Globes and BAFTA. I still haven’t got round to watching it but I’ve seen a couple of earlier Paolo Sorrentino films which were very good indeed (Il Divo, in particular).
        As I said, my choice for best film of 2013 would have been a documentary about Indonesia’s violent history: we can all seem somewhat pretentious on occasion…..

  5. I usually make the effort to see all the features plus all the documentaries but this year I couldn’t be bothered so I’ve not seen Phillips and I’m not particularly interested, nor Dallas, nor Her. nor Nebraska, nor Philomena, nor Wolf. I shall see Her and possibly Wolf. My wife tried to drag me to Philomena on Sunday, I said not bothered, she went alone and told me I would have liked it, maybe.
    I have a large flat screen, a good audio system and a Netflix account; they’ll all be on dvd within 3 months.

    12 Years; I was overwhelmed with this film and my immediate reaction was that everyone should see it so I’m at a loss to understand the negative comments here. You’re treating it like a drama, it was way too personal; to be a drama, I saw it as a documentary.
    One thing that film can do is transport us to places and situations to which we might never go, Gravity is a good example, we got a feeling for that environment and her situation, Mallick’s film the New World also, you understood the reality of the first visitors to the new world. 12 years exposed you to the reality of slavery, and rubbed your noses in it; it wasn’t supposed to be entertainment, you weren’t supposed to enjoy it, but you were supposed to see it.
    Hustle: I liked this film a lot in the same way that I enjoy James Bond, it was sheer entertainment and I left the cinema chuckling. An interesting and intriguing story and some excellent performances, altogether a film I’d recommend to my friends.

    Gravity, I wasn’t bothered about seeing this one but a lifelong film maker friend who’s judgement I trust insisted that I see it, not only see it but also do the glasses. My inclination was correct, 3D is vastly overrated and it was boring. It will obviously get the special fx prize but anything else would be stealing from the righteous owners.
    Act of Killing is high on my list.

    • “it wasn’t supposed to be entertainment, you weren’t supposed to enjoy it, but you were supposed to see it” – you see, I think this was my whole problem with it. In all honesty, I probably approached it somewhat as a duty, thinking, “I’m gonna hate this. It’s gonna be unwatchably brutal and tense and won’t tell me anything I don’t already know.” And those fears were confirmed. But worse than that (although perhaps as a result), it didn’t move me. I didn’t find it powerful. It was this big inert thing up on the screen.

      I’m exaggerating a bit (there were of course fleeting moments of beauty that transported), but I wasn’t swept away in/by it. It makes me think now of a play I saw a few years back at the Almeida, “Ruined”, about the use of rape as a weapon of war in the Democratic Republic of Congo: a brutal, horrific, shocking piece of theatre but one that was so timely, so humane, so deeply felt that it moved me and stayed with me more than probably anything else I’ve seen on stage. It was truly amazing. And so so powerful. I wouldn’t want to see it again but in a way, I did enjoy it. Because it took me somewhere else. I’m afraid “12 Years” didn’t, for some reason. Maybe it was too concerned with the ‘exterior’, directorially speaking, rather than Solomon Northrup’s internal life. Maybe it was presented too dispassionately for me and I need my dramas to be more overtly emotive (though of course I like to think that isn’t the case!). Maybe as I say, I just viewed the film through my existing prejudgement of it. But I did leave feeling overwhelmingly relieved that it was over and slightly annoyed with myself for, somewhat against my better judgement (if only of myself and my cinematic tastes), having gone to see it.

  6. Only seen Gravity so far. Went downhill after the 1st 20 minutes, I thought, but what a 20 minutes..

    Matthew Mc had a good year. Never liked him much, but he’s really been doing some fine work lately. Also hearing raves about True Detective. Might be worth a look for those of us missing our Breaking Bad fix.

    Didn’t have any interest in “Her”, until reading this. Will now add it to the Netflix queue. Cheers.

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