Monday, 8 September 2008

Friday, 29 August 2008

The Bucket List

Sometimes the biggest names in Hollywood get together to make a film that can have your heart pounding with anticipation. Oscar winners Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman decided to team-up to make a light-hearted comedy which was bound to set pulses racing and send blood pressure through the roof. When it was revealed the film was going to be about death and terminal illness it might have brought on a few sudden heart attacks and spoiled some of the excitement that had gripped fans of the pair.

Looking back through the history of film would reveal how Hollywood has avoided films about dying, and probably understandably, as it’s not the primary choice for entertainment. However, if anyone was going to pull it off it would be Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman.

Nicholson settles into the role of a rich American executive in this film with consummate ease. His experience as an actor doesn’t always draw roles of this particular profession, but it does suit his character perfectly. His iconic grin and sharp, unforgiving wit are used to put every actor or extra on edge, except for Morgan Freeman.

The wise and world-weary Freeman meets the character of Carter Chambers, an ill and aging mechanic, as if they were old friends, united yet again. When Edward Cole (Nicholson) meets Carter Chambers a bond is formed in the most tragic of circumstances.

A classic tale of first appearances being deceptive is easily distinguishable. The black, working class mechanic played by Freeman seems doomed to die having achieved little. Rich, white executive Edward Cole seems to have the money to buy his way out, but soon finds out the reality of life and death.

The two unlikely companions come together to make ‘bucket lists’ – a selection of things you need to do before you kick the bucket. This includes parachuting, becoming reunited with loved ones and laughing until they cry. It doesn’t take long for an audience to realise that in fact Carter Chambers’ life is richer, surrounded by loved ones and fond memories.

The way the plot developed was undoubtedly predictable, leaving little to surprise the audience. The implausible ability the two aging men had to take on any task as if they were teenagers was also disappointing. The bucket lists that they make also encourage the audience to think about their own mortality, and it’s impossible not to pick out the points that didn’t make the list.

Overall, The Bucket List provided funny, entertaining and touching moments, without ever reaching into the realms of greatness. Nicholson and Freeman never appeared to stretch themselves, content instead to build a simple camaraderie. They always seemed to be aware of the fine line between humour and mortality, and perhaps if they’d been allowed more freedom they could’ve created something worthy of their reputations.

There Will Be Blood

Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, the creator of Boogie Nights and Magnolia, There Will Be Blood is dramatic, intense and frankly a little uncomfortable. Anderson’s style is easily identifiable, often allowing his films to display the grandeur of the world we inhabit while exposing the flaws of human emotion. He is undoubtedly a compelling filmmaker, capable of producing movies that are both fascinating and exhausting.

The film is set in the old west and the imagery that is delivered to the screen is a throwback to the days of John Ford. Anderson includes symbolism in abundance, using the beautiful landscape to narrate the film. The complex characters that inhabit the location are the driving force behind a multi-layered story.

Daniel Day-Lewis assumes the role of Daniel Plainview, an American oil tycoon with a feverous desire for power. Plainview is immediately unlikeable, often resorting to using his adopted son to gain credibility with the local towns-people that he seeks to purchase land from. They have an abundance of oil which he seeks to buy for a smaller fee than it should demand, using trickery and deceit.

He has the swagger of a detestable salesman with no interest in his profession or the consequences of his actions, instead choosing to care only about the money and power he can gather. It’s the outstanding skill of Daniel Day-Lewis that allows him to bring a theatrical and charismatic character to the screen whilst humanising him, highlighting his vulnerability and weakness.

His confrontation with church pastor Eli Sunday (Paul Dano) is critical in establishing his moral sensibility. Sunday is quiet and calm; often only able to become animated when his faith is concerned. His evangelical preaching demands the embrace of Plainview, forcing him to step further into a community he wishes to exploit through deception and dishonesty.

The dialogue that’s exchanged is powerful, allowing Plainview to deliver superb lines articulated by a unique southern drawl. Accompanied by a soundtrack from Radiohead’s Johnny Greenwood, the desert setting appears both barren and dark, allowing you to believe you’re watching it unfold in person.

Plainview’s struggles with his own conscience and the demands of Eli Sunday produce an emotionally draining finale. The story follows an extremely unlikeable character, allowing you to focus on the thoughts and feelings of somebody you would never really wish to meet. Their positions as unknown quantities makes the final scene exchanged between Plainview and Sunday so memorable.

The film was nominated in eight Academy Award categories, and the critical acclaim is justified. However, There Will Be Blood does stumble at some of the hurdles that stand before greatness. The runtime is very long and not entirely justifiable, leading the director to include scenes and detail that is not entirely necessary.

The overall problem I had with the film was finding an angle from which to derive some enjoyment. It’s both compelling and technically excellent, but also entirely draining and discomforting. The theatrical edge to Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance cannot be critcised. His Oscar win was undoubtedly justified, and after being swept away by this performance moviegoers would be blessed were they to see a greater achievement in acting this year.

Be Kind, Rewind

Having graduated from short films, music videos and documentaries, French director Michel Gondry had introduced a freshness to mainstream cinema that had been missing for a while. His most successful full-length movie was Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind in 2004, starring Kate Winslet and Jim Carey.

When he decided to make a new piece of feature-length fiction he was once again able to assemble a cast with impressive back-catalogues. School of Rock hero, and Tenacious D legend, Jack Black, was eager to work with the French prodigy.

Mos Def, star of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Danny Glover and Mia Farrow were added to support the obvious comedic talents of Black. It appeared to be an exciting cocktail of star performers.

Be Kind, Rewind follows the story of two unlikely friends in a small, unrealistically twee suburb. The main content of the film is a variety of other people’s films, in the form of shoddy remakes produced by Jerry (Jack Black) and video-rental-store owner Mike (Mos Def). This includes Ghostbusters, Driving Miss Daisy, The Lion King and Rush Hour.

It becomes apparent early in the film that the characters of Elroy Fletcher (Danny Glover) and local simpleton Miss Falewicz (Mia Farrow) are dependant on the store, and so is the community. It’s only after conspiracy theorist Jerry magnetises himself, in an attempt to save the town from radiation, that the contents of the store become blank, forcing the local people into action.

Ghetto kids, mechanics and even Elroy and Miss Falewicz begin to get involved in Jerry and Mike’s filmmaking. Black is in his element, as each film provides and opportunity for him to produce his goofy brand of comedy. His relationship with the more reluctant character of Mike makes for a tale of unusual friendship.

Buddy comedies come and go, but few make a lasting impression. The understanding between Mos Def and Jack Black is clearly evident, but never really hits the heights of those they are literally trying to emulate. The potential is there to at least grasp at what Aykroyd and Murray brought to the Ghostbusters movies, but is stifled by the style of Michel Gondry’s storytelling.

The director, born in Versailles, is heavily influenced by pop music and his filmmaking roots are firmly planted in making music videos. He has worked with famous names such as Bjork, The Chemical Brothers and Massive Attack in the past.

It was perhaps his experience with 3 or 4-minute films that made the prospect of shooting several movies within one a mouth-watering prospect. In Be Kind, Rewind it only served to starve the audience, denying the opportunity for a flowing plotline to effectively develop.

As the local people come together various journeys of individual and communal discovery flourish. The presentation of their film at Mike’s video store provides the occasion at which friends, neighbours and relative strangers can let their guards down, forming relationships with all kinds of people in an outpouring of emotion.

Frankly it’s all a bit kitsch. Although Mike and Jerry manage to forge a very believable friendship, largely due to the sublimely subtle performance of Mos Def, the unity that is suddenly formed in the entire community is highly questionable. The coming together of people in defiance of class and ethnic division simply isn’t believable.

The characters of Miss Falewicz and Elroy Fletcher forming a relationship is also far too tentative and unlikely. Jerry and Mike cross the ethnic divide almost effortlessly, in a way that Farrow and Glover seem to find more difficult. The lack of common interest seems to make it painstakingly obvious they are an unlikely match, whereas Mike and Jerry are united through their filmmaking exploits.

Michel Gondry undoubtedly wanted to shine a little light into an American suburb, but he only managed to find enough for two people. Without the superb comic ability of Jack Black and the vulnerability produced by Mos Def the disappointing peripheral scenes could’ve overshadowed this film. Fortunately Black and Def provide great moments of friendship and comedy making this buddy comedy worth a watch.

Goodbye University, Hello Job Centre

I've been away for a little while and haven't made a post since April. In my absence I have been applying for jobs, trying to get my damn shorthand up-to-speed and watching films. I have a few reviews left in my locker, since I've still been doing my little bit on BBC Radio Gloucestershire, which I will publish as soon as possible. Stay tuned!

Thursday, 17 April 2008


Juno was the surprise hit at the Oscars this year and I have finally managed to watch it. The film received an astonishing four Oscar nominations including Best Picture, Best Screenplay, Best Direction and Best Leading Actress. The notoriety it has received is incredible considering the low budget and relatively unknown cast that had created it.

Ellen Page plays the witty character of Juno, living in a mundane American household and studying at a stereotypical American high school. It’s her humourous individualism that drives this film forward, as her pregnancy at the tender age of 16 is chronicled by writer Diablo Cody, and narrated by Page.

Juno appears to be a headstrong individual who has enough confidence to face up to her situation with relatively little help. She finds a way to adopt her child and even seeks out an appropriate couple to parent it, played by Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner. She effectively resolves the practicalities of her predicament within the opening 30 minutes of the film, with little input from the child’s father, Paulie Bleeker, or her parents.

It seems that Juno’s biggest struggle is opening up to the people around her that she has feelings for, most notably the child’s father. Michael Cera, the star of teen comedy Superbad, revises his role as a high-school nerd to play Paulie Bleeker. A combination of Juno’s inability to expose her emotions and Paulie’s social awkwardness makes taking their friendship further than a one-night-stand difficult.

Juno looks for solace in an unlikely friendship between her and Mark Loring (Jason Bateman), the man who is set to adopt her unborn child. They share a love for trashy horror films and grunge music, which is perhaps more of a throwback to writer Diablo Cody’s childhood than a contempory observation. Nonetheless Mark and Juno forge a compelling companionship which is another new experience for 16-year-old Juno.

Discovering how to form a working, sexual relationship with Paulie and how to handle love become Juno’s main concern. This is accompanied by her failure to recognise ‘boundaries’ in befriending a married, older man as well as learning to live with her step-mother, Bren (Allison Janney). The pregnancy that started the sequence of events becomes less significant as the movie develops, which is a credit to the storytelling.

The film encapsulates some of the problems faced by a 16-year-old. Juno matures into a more rounded version of herself, with her pregnancy almost acting as a decoy, luring the audience into a vulnerable state and targeting the sub-conscious.

In many ways it’s a shame that the character of Juno, who has undoubtedly captured the hearts and minds of many teenagers with the humour and sharpness of her witty retorts, is so very artificial. The film succeeds in documenting her maturing process and allows the cast to deliver hilarious one-liners which are sure to repeated by an adoring following.

However, it’s difficult to imagine a professional comedian delivering the kind of observations Juno has with such comic timing. This is made even more unbelievable when you consider she is 16, in the midst of a pubescent nightmare scenario. Her character has the feel of a teenager manufactured by the writer to be an exaggerated collection of perfected witty rhetoric and humour.

Ellen Page is only guilty of producing an interpretation of the character that is too accurate. She clearly has ‘funny bones’ and can effectively create the illusion of teen angst simultaneously. Sadly, her performance becomes irritating when it should be both funny and touching, making Juno MacGuffin both brilliant and flawed.

Tuesday, 8 April 2008


Star Wars returning to the big-screen after virtually creating the sci-fi genre was always going to be difficult. The most notable obstacle in producing prequels to the most successful movie trilogy ever made was replacing Anakin Skywalker, the boy who would grow up to become Darth Vadar.

Australian actor Hayden Christensen was entrusted with the Jedi powers to bring Star Wars to a new generation, and was thrust into the world of stardom with a bump. The widespread disappointment that the new films were met with made an immediate return to Hollywood difficult for Christensen, who has waited until now to take his next starring role.

Jumper also has its roots set in science fiction, but is based in planet earth in the present day. David Rice (Christensen) is a shy teenager struggling to deal with a difficult home life after his mother leaves abruptly in his early years. He is unaware of the power that he possesses, until he is forced to use the power of his will to save his own life.

As the name of the film suggests David develops quite a leap. In fact he can ‘jump’ through time, allowing him to escape his unhappy life and create every teenagers dream a reality. He surfs in Hawaii, eats breakfast on a pyramid and admires the view from Big Ben all in one morning.

The premise is fairly weak but still exciting, even if it’s just an opportunity to flaunt some fancy special effects and see some landmarks. David makes a friend in Griffin (Jamie Bell), who is also a fellow Jumper, and an enemy in Roland (Samuel L. Jackson), whose sole purpose in life is to eliminate Jumpers.

With Roland in hot pursuit David still tries to woo the girl of his dreams, Millie (Rachel Bilson), who he’s had a crush on since high school. With all of the vital elements in place it seemed that an ‘adrenaline-fuelled-thrill-ride’ was just waiting to happen.

Unfortunately Hayden Christensen was still displaying some of the characteristics he produced in Star Wars. He appears to be bereft of charisma, sucking the life out of the screen with little signs of a personality worth putting in a major film. His acting ability isn’t bad; it just doesn’t appear to be worthy of the roles he has inherited in his short career so far.

Young Brit Jamie Bell does his best to force some intensity into their scenes whilst star of The OC, Rachel Bilson, asks questions Christensen has no answers to. Samuel L. Jackson, who was also present in the Star Wars prequels, is menacing and convincingly deluded as Paladin and bad guy, Roland.

The plot is straight forward, allowing the characters to take their place in David’s escape from Roland. As the story concludes it becomes apparent that it won’t be as satisfying as it could’ve been, instead it alludes to a sequel or even a movie franchise. Whether Hayden Christensen will continue to land leading roles in blockbuster movies is highly doubtful, after what appears to be yet another failed attempt.

Sunday, 6 April 2008

No Country For Old Men

Discovering a pile of unattended bank notes sounds like the beginning of a B movie, with the fortunate recipients readying themselves to spend big. In No Country For Old Men Llewellyn Moss (Josh Brolin) finds two million dollars in cash after stumbling across a drug deal that went wrong. He is a hunter in the American mid-west who takes the money, but never even gets a chance to use it.

In simple terms the film is a game of cat and mouse, as the drug dealers hire hit man Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) to chase Moss. The pair are unconventional at best; they are certainly not Tom and Jerry. Chrigurh borders on being mentally insane and Moss’ inability to cover his own tracks makes him an easy target to pursue. Sheriff Bell, perfectly played by Tommy Lee Jones, also trails them. It is his character that acts on behalf of the peripheral figures in the movie, usually the lives discarded by Chigurh in his pursuit of Moss and the cash.

The break-neck pace at which the story develops makes it both taut and thrilling, even remaining engaging when nothing appears to be happening. It was adapted for the screen by the Coen brothers from the novel by Cormac McCarthy and delivers uncompromising action along with bitter, twisted moments of humour.

Moss seems only able to dig himself deeper into a hole; continually upping the ante via his poorly conceived escape plans.
Accompanied by a soundtrack that establishes a furious pace both Moss and Chigurh appear to be spiralling out of control. The music helps to charge the scenes with intensity, often forcing the film to become downright terrifying.

Woody Harrelson and Kelly MacDonald, who you may remember as the schoolgirl in Trainspotting, also support the performances of Brolin, Bardem and Jones. They both perform competently, but are undoubtedly overshadowed by a sensational trio of actors, working together to complete an excellent story.

Llewellyn Moss’ decision to take the money initiates their relationship, and is fully understood by a sympathetic audience. The greed that forces his mistake is present in the thoughts of most humans, but the errors of judgement he makes afterwards make the audience lose faith in his plight.

It’s thanks to the maddening character of Anton Chigurh that the plot remains in tact. The tattered events that are thrown together begin to come apart at the seems as the film reaches its conclusion, but the convincing performance of Javier Bardem provides enough strength to hold it together.

Monday, 10 March 2008

Marion Cotillard

Somewhat more surprising than Day-Lewis’ Oscar victory was the award given to Marion Cotillard. It’s very rare that a foreign language film is recognized by the Academy within a main category, let alone a member of the film’s cast.

French biopic La Vie en Rose tells the story of ‘the Little Sparrow’, Edith Piaf, from her humble beginnings in the 1920’s. She was moved from pillar to post during her childhood as the daughter of an alcoholic street singer and a circus performer, until some good fortune comes her way.

When she is spotted singing on the street at the age of 20 her life changes dramatically and she becomes not just a famous singer, but also a national icon. Cotillard plays every age of the singer’s life, culminating in her famous rendition of signature song ‘Non, je ne regrette rien.’

She wasn’t only a success in the film but also on the red carpet, as her full-length gown made by Jean Paul Gualtier wowed critics and fans alike.

When giving her acceptance speech she was both tearful and glowing with joy, while still managing to acknowledge the Academy in classic French style.

She said: “Thank you love, thank you life. It is true there are some angels in this city.”

Daniel Day-Lewis

When the award for Best Actor was announced at this years Oscars ceremony it was met with little shock or even any attempts to feign surprise from the audience. Daniel Day-Lewis had been touted as the favourite to win by critics and bookmakers since the nominations were announced, and so it proved to be true.

His portrayal of oil tycoon Daniel Plainview in Best Picture nominated film There Will Be Blood was the driving force behind a story about family, greed, religion and oil during the turn-of-the-century. It was this forceful and emotionally draining performance that made his win incredibly predictable, yet welcomed by all.

It isn’t his first win in the category, having collected the award for his performance in My Left Foot in 1990. Since then he has also been nominated for In the Name of the Father (1994) and Gangs of New York (2003).

He collected the award from last year’s Best Actress winner, Dame Helen Mirren, who memorably won the Oscar for her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II. On entering the stage he knelt before her while she pretended to knight him with the statuette. “That’s the closest I’ll ever come to a knighthood,” he said.

On accepting the award the famously reclusive and shy star gave his “deepest thanks” to the Academy for “whacking me with the handsomest bludgeon in town”.

The Coen Brothers

The 2008 Academy Awards was an unprecedented recognition of European acting talent which saw not even a single American actor or actress named amongst the winners.

However, it was the Coen brothers who saved the day for American filmmaking, scooping both Best Picture and Best Direction awards for No Country For Old Men. The pair, Joel and Ethan Coen, had previously received Oscar winning notoriety for Fargo back in 1996.

No Country For Old Men is a novel by American writer Cormac McCarthy, which was rewritten for film by the Coens, who also picked up the award for Best Adapted Screenplay. Joel Coen paid tribute to the writer during his speech, placing him in the esteemed company of Homer.

“I think whatever success we've had in this area has been entirely attributable to how selective we are. We've only adapted Homer and Cormac McCarthy,” he said.

Best Supporting Actor Javier Bardem was quick to attribute his success to the work of the directing duo, as he mocked his character’s haircut in the film.

“Thank you to the Coens for being crazy enough to think that I could do that and put one of the most horrible haircuts in history over my head,” he said.

Friday, 29 February 2008

2008 Oscar Winners

The acting awards at this year's Oscar ceremony were dominated by European winners, while Joel and Ethan Coen's film No Country For Old Men took four gongs, including best picture and best direction.

British thespian Daniel Day-Lewis was named best actor for his role in There Will Be Blood and French newcomer Marion Cotillard was named best actress for her portrayal of the life of Edith Piaf in La Vie en Rose.

Former Spanish rugby international Javier Bardem was named best supporting actor and Brit Tilda Swinton was awarded best supporting actress for her role in Michael Clayton.

Disney movie Ratatouille took the award for best animated feature and Juno was awarded best screenplay. Best foreign language film was given to Austrian movie The Counterfeiters, a story about forging fraudelent cash for the Nazi's during World War II.

The awards can be seen in full below.

Best picture: No Country For Old Men

Best director: Joel and Ethan Coen, No Country For Old Men

Best actor: Daniel Day-Lewis: There Will Be Blood

Best actress: Marion Cotillard, La Vie en Rose

Best supporting actress: Tilda Swinton, Michael Clayton

Best supporting actor: Javier Bardem, No Country For Old Men

Best foreign language film: The Counterfeiters (Austria)

Best animated feature film: Ratatouille

Best adapted screenplay: No Country For Old Men

Best original screenplay: Juno

Best music (score): Atonement

Best music (song): Falling Slowly - Once (performed by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova)

Best documentary feature: Taxi to the Dark Side

Best documentary short subject: Freeheld

Best visual effects: The Golden Compass

Best cinematography: There Will Be Blood

Best art direction: Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Best animated short film: Peter and the Wolf

Best short film: Le Mozart des Pickpockets

Best costume design: Elizabeth: The Golden Age

Best make-up: La Vie en Rose

Best sound mixing: The Bourne Ultimatum

Best sound editing: The Bourne Ultimatum

Best film editing: The Bourne Ultimatum

Thursday, 7 February 2008

BBC Radio Gloucestershire

This Friday (8th February) I'll be reviewing a few of the films that are on at my local cinema for BBC Radio Gloucestershire. I'll be talking to Steve Kitchen on his lunchtime show at 12 o'clock. The show is available online from or on 104.7 FM & 1413 AM.

I always knew I had a face for radio...

Tuesday, 5 February 2008


In Hollywood it seems that when something disastrous happens the Statue of Liberty is always the first to get hurt. In JJ Abram's Cloverfield the lady, ironically famous for welcoming immigrants to New York, takes the first blow as the 'big apple' is swept aside by a mysterious creature.

The making of the film had been shrouded in mystery, with only a poster sporting a headless Statue offering any insight into the plot. On the internet the theme of the project was subject to rumour and guessing for some time, following Lost creator JJ Abrams orders to keep the subject of the film highly secret.

Talk of a monster invading Manhattan was rife, reminiscent of Godzilla rampaging through Japan in the 50's, and it proved to be true.

The legend of Godzilla claims he was disturbed by Americans testing a hydrogen bomb, causing him to reak havoc on Japan in an angry response. Cloverfield offers little insight into how this creature, different from Godzilla, arrives in New York. Instead the focus is on a group of friends at a house party who film their version of events through a handheld camera.

When the head of the Statue of Liberty is thrown over skyscrapers and arrives at the feet of their appartment building the band of mates are thrust into action, trying to escape while saving friends and loved ones they've become seperated from.

The journey they embark upon is littered with obstacles such as bizarre creatures, the presence of the military and falling buildings. Fortunately for us they manage to film the whole thing, even offering a few guesses at how the monster might have gotten there, whether it was from out-of-space or under-the-sea.

The entirety of the film is shot on a camcorder which can be a little annoying, especially when accompanied by the commentary of rich American 20-somethings. The end of the film is also somewhat abrupt, which might not suit those seeking a happy ending.

Overall I'd have to actively encourage any film that features monsters smashing up a city or cities, as it's something I never tire of watching. The run-time of 125 minutes and the sudden conclusion were dissapointing for a film which was thoroughly entertaining.

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

2008 Oscar Nominations

The 80th annual Academy Awards are due on February 24th and the nominees were announced today by previous winner Kathy Bates and Academy President Sid Ganis. A couple of films yet to be on general release in the UK are included in various categories, with the front runners being No Country For Old Men and There Will Be Blood.

The favourite for the best actor award is British thespian Daniel Day-Lewis for his performance in historical epic There Will Be Blood. Cate Blanchett has been nominated in both the best actress and best supporting actress categories. Amongst Blanchett's contenders in the best supporting actress category is a 13-year-old Irish newcomer, Saoirse Ronan, who wowed critics with her performance in Atonement. Other British hopefuls Keira Knightley and James McAvoy both failed to earn a nomination.

Here is a shortlist of the nominations:

Best picture
Michael Clayton
No Country for Old Men
There Will Be Blood

Best director
Julian Schnabel - The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Jason Reitman - Juno
Tony Gilroy - Michael Clayton
Joel Coen and Ethan Coen - No Country for Old Men
Paul Thomas Anderson - There Will Be Blood

Best actor
George Clooney - Michael Clayton
Daniel Day-Lewis - There Will Be Blood
Johnny Depp - Sweeney Todd
Tommy Lee Jones - In the Valley of Elah
Viggo Mortensen - Eastern Promises

Best actress
Cate Blanchett - Elizabeth: The Golden Age
Julie Christie - Away from Her
Marion Cotillard - La Vie en Rose
Laura Linney - The Savages
Ellen Page - Juno

Best supporting actress
Cate Blanchett - I'm Not There
Ruby Dee - American Gangster
Saoirse Ronan - Atonement
Amy Ryan - Gone Baby Gone
Tilda Swinton - Michael Clayton

Best supporting actor
Casey Affleck - The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Javier Bardem, No Country for Old Men
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Charlie Wilson's War
Hal Holbrook, Into the Wild
Tom Wilkinson, Michael Clayton

Best foreign language film
Beaufort - Israel
The Counterfeiters - Austria
Katyn - Poland
Mongol - Kazakhstan
12 - Russia

Best animated feature film
Surf's Up

Best adapted screenplay
Away from Her
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
No Country for Old Men
There Will Be Blood

Best original screenplay
Lars and the Real Girl
Michael Clayton
The Savages

Best music (score)
The Kite Runner
Michael Clayton
3:10 to Yuma

Best music (song)
Falling Slowly - Once (performed by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova)
Happy Working Song - Enchanted (performed by Amy Adams)
Raise It Up - August Rush (performed by Jamia Simone Nash and Impact Repertory Theatre)
So Close - Enchanted (performed by Jon McLaughlin)
That's How You Know - Enchanted (performed by Amy Adams)

Best documentary feature
No End in Sight
Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience
Taxi to the Dark Side

Best documentary short subject
La Corona (The Crown)
Salim Baba
Sari's Mother

Best visual effects
The Golden Compass
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End

Best cinematography
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
No Country for Old Men
There Will Be Blood

Best art direction
American Gangster
The Golden Compass
Sweeney Todd The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
There Will Be Blood

Best animated short film
I Met the Walrus
Madame Tutli-Putli
Meme Les Pigeons Vont au Paradis (Even Pigeons Go to Heaven)
My Love (Moya Lyubov)
Peter & the Wolf

Best short film
At Night
Il Supplente
Le Mozart des Pickpockets
Tanghi Argentini
The Tonto Woman

Best costume design
Across the Universe
Elizabeth: The Golden Age
La Vie en Rose
Sweeney Todd The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Best make-up
La Vie en Rose
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End

Best sound mixing
The Bourne Ultimatum
No Country for Old Men
3:10 to Yuma

Sound editing
The Bourne Ultimatum
No Country for Old Men
There Will Be Blood

Best film editing
The Bourne Ultimatum
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Into the Wild
No Country for Old Men
There Will Be Blood

Heath Ledger

Back in November I wrote a blog entry about The Dark Knight, the next Batman film from director Christopher Nolan. Tragically earlier today it was announced that the film's star, Heath Ledger, was found dead in his Manhattan apartment. It is suspected that he took a drug overdose.

Police say that they do not expect foul play as his body had been discovered surrounded by pills. The Australian actor split from girlfriend Michelle Williams, with whom he has a two-year-old daughter, last September. Ledger had previously played the role of a suicidal prison officer in Monster's Ball. His performance as a gay cowboy in Brokeback Mountain was perhaps most memorable, having earned an Oscar nomination in 2005.

Ledger's death follows former child star Brad Renfro being found dead by his girlfriend last week, at the age of just 25, suspected of suicide. Owen Wilson, the star of many hit comedies including Wedding Crashers, was found bloodied and intoxicated after overdosing and slitting his wrists last August. The 38-year-old star was discovered by a family member and is now being treated for depression.

With the Oscar nominees announced the same day as Ledger's death some of the shimmer that surrounds the Hollywood industry has been darkened. The cause of death is yet to be confirmed, but if it was suicide then it will follow a recent trend that has cast a shadow over the Hollywood film industry.

Monday, 21 January 2008

Charlie Wilson's War

Charlie Wilson's War tells the fascinating true story of a sex, drug and booze fuelled politician during the cold war. Tom Hanks plays the role of US senator Charlie Wilson who, encouraged by wealthy socialite Joanne Herring (Julia Roberts), seeks to save Afghanistan from Soviet invasion during the cold war. With the support of US spy, Gust Avrakotos (Philip Seymour Hoffman), Wilson supplies the Afghans with the means to fight back against the USSR, with unknown and far-reaching effects.

Aside from the colourful character of womanising politician Charlie Wilson, the film presents an array of interesting individuals. Joanne Herring is a mature, attractive and seductive socialite, who uses her sexuality to convince Charlie that the war in Afghanistan is wrong. Fuelled initially by his lust, Wilson becomes convinced he has to make a difference when he witnesses the reality of war on ground level.

His desire to make a difference becomes reality when he gains the support of Gust Avrakotos, the spy played with a subtle deadpan drawl by Philip Seymour Hoffman. The highlight of the film had to be Hoffman entering and exiting Wilson's office several times in a row, ushered in and out on Wilson's request, as he attempted to cover up his latest scandal. It was comedy of a slapstick nature that wouldn't have looked out of place in a Carry On film, but was saved from becoming farce by the witty exchange shared between Hanks and Hoffman.

West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin including Hanks, Roberts, Hoffman and also the star of the Disney film Enchanted, Amy Adams, assembled a fine cast for the film. Even with all of the characters and superstars involved it was Hoffman who stole every scene, with his witty one-liners exposing a glint in his eye that's only evident in the most able of actors.

The rest of the film, besides Hoffman, is also worthy of praise. Hoffman undoubtedly brought out the best in Tom Hanks as the two heavyweights bounced off each other producing some great comic moments. Julia Roberts retained her usual level of performance, but never really looked to soar beyond any role she has previously played. The waste of Amy Adams in the role of Wilson's personal assistant was perhaps the most disappointing casting, as she was rarely given the opportunity to flex her acting muscles.

As Wilson sought to aide Afghanistan and its defence against Soviet invasion he made a huge and possibly telling contribution towards ending the Cold War, but perhaps created a longer term problem for the Western world. The message carried throughout the film, but cleverly shrouded in sarcasm and satirical dialogue, is the futility of war. The undertones of more recent events attributed to Afghanistan and Osama Bin Laden are still present, if not directly mentioned.

The cheesy American way of packaging this could've been 'any one man can make a difference', but then I think many of us would've been violently sick. Instead Charlie Wilson's War is simply content to tell its own story, allowing the cast and the eccentric characters to bring it to life with wit and humour not normally associated with war. I feel it was certainly a valiant effort by director Mike Nichols to produce the kind of political movie that Hollywood is often accused of avoiding.

Monday, 14 January 2008

Highlights of 2007

With a new year of films kicking into gear comes the chance to reflect on what's just passed. Here are a few of the things I enjoyed in 2007...


2007 turned out two belting comedies in the shape of a Brit-com, Hot Fuzz, and Judd Apatow's latest creation, Knocked Up. Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and Edgar Wright teamed up once again to repeat the success they had with Shaun of the Dead (2004). Knocked Up saw a performance to savour from actor Seth Rogen, in a tale of a stoner, a one-night stand and an unwanted pregnancy.


The return of Jason Bourne was welcomed at the end of the year, with Matt Damon convincing as ever as the forgetful spy who's after the truth in The Bourne Ultimatum. If the X-files has taught us anything it's that 'the truth is out there', and Bourne manages to find it by remembering a few snippets of information to put the puzzle together.


The 300 was perhaps one of the most enjoyable films of 2007. The performance of Gerard Butler as Leonidas, King of the Spartans, was enthralling, accompanied by sensational imagery and spectacular scenes of battle. When Leonidas stabs the giant he fights through the bicep mid-way through the film, you know it's going to be one heck a battle.


A plethora of good thrillers was served up towards the end of the year, with American Gangster and Eastern Promises worth particular mention. Ridley Scott managed to draw a superb performance from Denzel Washington, who plays Frank Lucas in American Gangster, as well as recovering his excellent working relationship with Russell Crowe after the pitiful A Good Year (2006). Eastern Promises was the product of another director/actor combination as David Cronenburg and Viggo Mortensen teamed up once more with outstanding results, following the success of A History of Violence (2005).

Foreign Film

German film The Lives of Others earnt a UK release this year following success at the Oscars. The movie is set in East Germany during communist rule and follows the life of a Stasi officer who is spying on a couple he suspects are Western sympathisers. As he learns more about the pair he begins to understand and even care for them, taking him on a compelling and unexpected journey.

Guilty Pleasure

So, if The Lives of Others is 'a bit of culture' then surely everyone is entitled to a guilty pleasure. Rocky Balboa saw the return of Sylvester 'Sly' Stallone to the screen, packed full of steroids and looking uglier than ever. Sly writes the Rocky films and it seems he's never been tempted to sway from the original plot, even now he's on his 6th film. Somehow it's still easy to take huge pleasure from watching him 'return to the ring for one last time' and defeat someone half his age. A new Rambo film is due later this year which is great, but personally I'm holding out for a new version of 'Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot.’