Archive for February, 2014

Breadth of Field

Posted: February 22, 2014 in movie reviews

Best Animated Feature (and Best Song)

Kaze-Tachinu-Hayao-Miyazaki-The-Wind-Rises-3-1024x790_large_verge_medium_landscapeToday marks the US theatrical release of The Wind Rises, the (supposedly, and self-proclaimed) final feature from Best Animator In The Known Universe Hayao Miyazaki. And extremely good it is meant to be, to, with a truly intriguing subject matter: a biography (of sorts) of Jiro Horikoshi, the man who designed Japan’s World War II fighter planes. Expect great beauty and a depth of storytelling unseen anywhere else in this category.

This high-minded use of the medium contrasts pretty obviously with the delights of Despicable Me 2: the Minions. Indeed, the lil’ farty folks so obviously steal this movie (and so obviously contributed to its astonishing nine hundred and fifty or so million dollars. Yep, nearly a billion dollars. And its’ run in China is still going. This makes it the third highest grossing animated film of all time. And it’s French.) that the next instalment is called The Minions. This movie was funny funny funny for kids and Big Kids alike. And it will have made, by Oscar Day, a billion freaking dollars.minions_movie_poster_by_oakanshield-d6oiw8x

But Frozen is a true cultural phenomenon. It has captured hearts and minds in a way that an art-house treasure and a French laugh-fest billionaire can not. But why take my word for it? Let’s hear from a representative of the film’s demographic – my first cousin once removed, Olivia. She writes, in an exclusive for Film Mafia:

image013“Initially I did not have any interest in seeing Frozen because of a remark made by one of the animators about how difficult it was to make animated women look different, but shortly after Frozen came out seeing it was almost unavoidable. Despite the fact that Frozen was probably geared toward to an audience of young children, young adults have been flocking to theatres and plastering social media with covers of Idina Menzel’s Let it Go, psychoanalyses of the different characters, and frighteningly accurate drawings. What is it that has hoards of teenagers singing Frozen tunes in the hallways? Obviously the catchy tunes and subtle adult humour, but I think the premise of true love being a bond between sisters. Teenagers are pressured by society into feeling like they have to find comfort in a romantic relationship, but the refreshingly powerful relationship between sister Anna (18) and Elsa (21), has provided the idea that soulmate could be a friend or a sister or anyone who would be willing to put their own happiness at risk to protect you. Frozen also has strong themes of accepting your own self. Elsa had to hide her powers and who she was from a young age to protect Anna and the kingdom of Arendelle, but as she sings Let It Go she finally embraces herself and what she is capable of. Frozen is definitely worth watching and worth embarrassing yourself over while singing at the top of your lungs.”

Olivia Hanna is a 17 year old who spends too much time with Netflix, her dog, and her guitar.

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Film Mafia’s Newest Contributor.

Who can argue with that? Miyazaki may have the cred, and Despicable Me 2 may have the minions, but Frozen has the hearts and minds of a generation in its steely grasp, which will also soon contain an Oscar. Two, actually – count Let It Go as a lock for Best Song, as well.

Continuing my investigation into the current crop of Oscar nominees, we arrive at…

Best Supporting Actor

The punter in me is probably recommending you lay your hard-earned on Jared Leto for Dallas Buyers Club: he comes in with a wash of awards including the Golden Globe. But I’m going to make a pitch for Michael Fassbender winning, and if the odds are good, that’s where I’m going to lay my punt. And it’s precisely because Leto won the Globe.

12-years-a-slave-michael-fassbenderHere’s the vibe: in Leto’s Globe acceptance speech, he thanked everyone for giving him this award despite the fact that he’d been away from screen acting for six years (he was off doing music I gather). Fair enough! Talent is talent and deserves respect. But this is what Fassbender has done in those last six years:

Hunger

Inglorious Basterds

X-Men: First Class

Jane Eyre

Shame

A Dangerous Method

Prometheus

And that’s just a sample.

Fassbender didn’t even get a nomination for Shame, and he deserved the statue itself (it went to Jean Dujardin for The Artist; Shame was completely ignored by the Oscars). His body of work is incredible and all leads to his performance as Epps in 12 Years A Slave. Epps is one of the most intriguing characters in years and Fassbender is perfect: contradictory, somewhat slow, sexually obsessed, domineering and yet terribly insecure, alcoholic, self-pitying, self-lacerating, and often demonic. It’s an astonishing performance of an extremely difficult character.

27LETO1_SPAN-articleLarge-v2Leto’s Rayon in Dallas Buyers Club is very sympathetic, sometimes witty and an adequate foil to the dominant performance of that film by Matthew McConaughey, but nowhere near the level of difficulty, nor, therefore, the level of achievement that Epps carries. The cross-dressing element has definitely added to Leto’s cred in the awards stakes, but how about putting on the clothing of a slaver? That’s tough too.

So it’s a tough call. Against what may be common sense, I’m calling for Fassbender to win it, both deservedly and actually. Incidentally, the other performers in this category – Jonah Hill in Wolf of Wall Street, magical discovery Barkhad Abdi in Captain Phillips, and Bradley Cooper in American Hustle, are all excellent as well and deserve their nominations, but I can’t see them pipping either Fassbender or Leto at the winner’s post.

Film Mafia continues to examine this year’s Oscar nominees! This week:

Best Supporting Actress

What looks like a nail-biter between Jennifer Lawrence in American Hustle and Lupita Nyong’o in 12 Years A Slave is actually no contest. Lawrence delivers not only the funniest performance of the year, and does so with all-others-shrink-before-my-power skill and tenacity… but Nyong’o gets whipped for ten minutes. (Actually, I don’t know how long that most infamous scene is, but it sure feels like ten minutes. For Nyong’o, I bet it felt like all eternity). And, amongst the technical virtuosity of that (single-shot) scene, she makes it. For all the proficient whipsmanship of Ejiofor and Fassbender, if Nyong’o didn’t bring it for that scene, the movie would kind of fall apart.

enhanced-buzz-wide-18973-1382147579-7While Fassbender’s Epps is certainly Northup Solomon’s antagonist, and Fassbender is up for his own Oscar, Nyong’o’s Patsey is actually Solomon’s conscience antagonist, and is, more than Epps, the most important character in the film after Solomon. She is in the first shot of the movie, and her final shot – her final unforgettable, gut-wrenching shot, despite her being almost Where’s Waldo’d in the corner of the frame, brings her huge character arc to a bitter and heart-breaking conclusion.

By contrast, Lawrence’s Rosalyn Rosenfeld (what a name!) could have been cut entirely from American Hustle. It would be a loss to that movie, for her performance is so wonderful, but, dramatically, she is very far from the film’s spine – she’s perhaps it’s wacky third nipple. It’s important that Christian Bales’ character Irving is married, but, in another telling of this tale, his wife could have remained offscreen, talked of but never seen. It would be impossible to do any sort of justice to Solomon Northup’s book without Patsey being hugely present, which she is, thanks to Nyong’o, in Steve McQueen’s film.jennifer-lawrence-american-hustle-618x400

Dramatic necessities aside, Lawrence won Best Actress last year (for Silver Linings Playbook, another David O. Russell film) and Nyong’o is making her feature debut. Best Supporting Actress is a good place to acknowledge new talent, not give another, lesser award to a star who is already shining so bright eggs have been known to cook in her presence. As voters tick the box for Matthew McConaughey instead of Chiwetel Ejiofor, they will feel better about themselves, further down the ballot, ticking Nyong’o’s box instead of Lawrence’s. That’ll make up for all that whippin’.