Talking Movies

February 25, 2011

Oscar Schmoscar: Part II

The annual parade of pomposity and razzmatazz known as the Academy Awards lurches around again this Sunday, so here’s a deflating reminder of its awful track record.

The Academy has long shown a baffling inability to tell the difference between a good movie and a hole in the ground, and an artist and a hack. The Academy did not nominate David Fincher for Best Director for Seven, Fight Club, or Zodiac. The Academy did nominate him for Best Director for The Curious Case of Benjamin Boring Button. It has now nominated him again for The Social Network. There are two interpretations. The uncharitable one is that the Academy cannot tell the difference between an inane ‘drama’ and a crackling drama. The other is that they only noticed that Fincher could direct at all when he paid his dues with Benjamin Button by making a movie that ticked all the boxes for the Academy’s consideration, which resulted, by an odd coincidence, in a dire movie…

The Academy Awards have been skewed for seventy years because of their habit of giving the right people the wrong awards. The Academy gave Jimmy Stewart the Best Actor Oscar for The Philadelphia Story. Jimmy Stewart didn’t even give the best male acting performance in The Philadelphia Story never mind in all the films made in 1940. They were giving him the award because they felt guilty about not awarding it to him the previous year for Mr Smith goes to Washington. The Oscars have been chasing their tails ever since, just look at Nicole Kidman who really won for her performance in Moulin Rouge! but was given the award for her far less impressive turn in The Hours. Al Pacino, in the most famous of the Academy’s belated accolades, was finally given his Best Actor Oscar for the now forgotten display of scenery chewing that was Scent of a Woman. He was not given the Oscar for his roles in The Godfather, Serpico, The Godfather: Part II, Dog Day Afternoon, Sea of Love, or Glengarry Glen Ross, all of which would have been more worthy of such recognition.

The Academy has a terrible habit of getting stuck in default-setting for automatic nominations. In the mid-1990s it seemed that every attempt to compile a shortlist of original scripts ended in despairing wails that there were no original ideas in Hollywood anymore, until someone asked if Woody Allen had made a film this year. Another nomination to Woody, and then they only had 4 more scripts to find… Meryl Streep’s ridiculous run of nominations is further proof of this approach. The Academy may like to delude itself that all these nominations prove she’s a throwback to the Golden Age, however, Streep’s painfully mannered accents and overwrought performances made Katherine Hepburn feel impelled to let it be known that Streep was her least favourite modern actress; “Click, click, click” she said, referring to the wheels turning inside Streep’s head.

We don’t need the Academy to tell us that The Social Network was a riveting film. We don’t need them patronising Inception by giving it a Best Picture nomination because it was a box-office smash, but not nominating Nolan for Director thereby signalling they’re not taking it seriously because it’s mere entertainment.

In fact, we don’t need them, period.

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October 22, 2009

Fantastic Mr Fox

Wes Anderson deploys all his cinematic trademarks to bring Roald Dahl’s beloved children’s story to stop-motion animated life and the results are, well, yes, rather fantastic actually…

The film opens with Mr Fox (voiced by George Clooney) and his wife (Meryl Streep) breaking into a farm to steal chickens in a sequence devised as one long tracking shot, scored by the Beach Boys’ Heroes and Villains, and filled with ridiculous acrobatics by the foxes to avoid detection before they fall for the oldest trick in the book. When we fast-forward two human years/twelve fox years Mr Fox is raising a moody cub and is a social columnist for the local newspaper having promised his wife that he is retired from poaching. Yeah, that’ll last. Sure enough Mr Fox has a mid-life crisis and bullies his grouchy attorney Badger (Bill Murray) into securing him a new tree-home with a view – a view of three farms run by the evil farmers Boggis, Bunce and Bean.

Clooney’s Fox, not unlike his Danny Ocean, plots an audacious poaching strike on all three farms. Clooney’s always distinctive voice is perfect casting as its mixture of charm and unctuousness captures the arrogance that gets Fox into trouble and the quick-wittedness that gets him out of scrapes. This scrape is though is very tricky as he incurs the wrath of the smartest of the farmers Bean, richly played by Michael Gambon in a vocal performance that occasionally recalls Ben Kingsley’s villain in Sexy Beast, who makes it his mission to kill Fox even if he has to dynamite half the countryside to do so. Indeed requests for dynamite are just one of many requests issued to Bean’s chief henchman Petey, (voiced by Jarvis Cocker who performs a campfire song which is then hilariously critiqued by Bean) the funniest of which involves a plaintive request to fetch a ladder.

Anderson has injected so much of himself into this story that Dahl would probably raise an eyebrow. Some of the greatest comedy moments come from the indie director filming scenes with his too hip whip-pans and artful long takes of deadpan dialogue, then having the be-suited animals suddenly behave like animals, or from adding lines only adults will appreciate like the besieged Fox sighing “Well this is just going to turn out a complete cluster-cuss for all concerned” and filming confrontations in the style of spaghetti westerns. Mostly this Anderson-isation of Dahl works but the lack of explanation of why animals living in 1950s England sound American occasionally grates when we’re given nonsensical moments like Owen Wilson’s cameo as a high-school sports-coach, while Jason Schwartzman’s neurotic shtick as Fox’s moody cub, intensely jealous of the attention his athletic cousin Kristofferson is given by Fox, wears thin very quickly.

Seeing Anderson’s unmistakeable style in stop-motion is endearing but it is the mixing of his studied sensibility with Dahl’s anarchy which raises this far above the rival auto-pilot ‘the moral is always be yourself’ animations of Dreamworks. Recommended viewing.

4/5

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