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.’