Saturday, February 24, 2007

My week and the Oscars

First off, I would like to take this occasion to curse the internet, computers, faulty wires and my left foot. I had most of this entry all typed up when my foot dislodged the wires connecting the laptop to the mains, therefore turning off the power, thus losing everything. Excuse me while I raise my fist to the sky and lament my misfortunes…

…okay. Now, I just cannot fathom that it is already Saturday. You see, Saturday will inevitably lead onto Sunday, which will, in all probability, lead onto school. Sunday also means the Oscars, but to be honest it’s the return to school that’s making the most fuss in my head right now. Not that I can complain too much about my midterm break, it was quite enjoyable, if brief. I saw a lot of films, took up walking every day and went to the cinema. I’m going to start with the cinema trip, because I’m a sucker for that moment when the the lights dim and the music starts…

Notes on a Scandal (2006) Richard Eyre

Back in late 2006 I read the Zoe Heller novel and loved it. I thought it was gripping, well written and fresh. The characters were deftly drawn and it employed the use of unreliable narrator, that old trick that still works time and time again. And yet, when this film was released, I didn’t immediately run out to see it. I’m not sure why, just a lack of incentive.

After finally viewing it on Thursday evening in Cineworld (I love this cinema so much, I need to give it a name drop now and again), I still feel a little…underwhelmed. Notes on a Scandal: based on a magnificent novel, with a competent director and screenwriter at it’s helm, two seasoned and versatile actresses in the leads, with a score by Philip Glass. It ticks every box, and yet somehow I felt that this film was less than the sum of it’s parts.

Let me start with the score: Glass, although not my favourite contemporary composer, is a guy I like and admire. “Einstein on the Beach” is a masterpiece and his score for “The Hours” is probably my all time favourite film score. I’ve listened to that cd innumerable times, and so, it appears, has Glass. It sounds like he struggled with creating an original score and nicked from his previous work. The familiar motifs, pulsing strings, repititive piano lines increasing as the tension in the film increases; they’re all here. The music works in the context of the film, but unfortunatly the main purpose it served was to remind me of the (far superior) music in “The Hours”.

Both leads are great, Blanchett easily embodying the flighty, fey art teacher caught up in an affair with a 15 year old pupil, and Dench presiding over everything with her frightening eyes and disaproving voice-overs. A friend commented, of Dench’s preformance that it was a hard role to play badly, which is true, but I think she managed to inject enough pathos into the aged History teacher to make me both supremely terrified by her and also sorry for her. The casting of an actor of roughly the right age for Stephen Connolly was a brave move.

I’m still not entirely sure why this film didn’t completely work: the tension felt a little forced at times, or maybe it was because I enjoyed the original novel so much, but something made this film fall at the last hurdle just short of being a Great Film.

I do need to give it props for including a totally random conversation about Siouxsie and the Banshees. Yay!

Other films I’ve watched this week include The Deer Hunter, Blow Out, Taxi Driver, Casablanca, The Big Sleep, Little Miss Sunshine, The Graduate, Twin Peaks Season 1 (okay, not a film), Laura, Jezebel and Live Flesh. As I’m not arsed writing out a big post about all these films, I’ll just mention some highlights:

Christopher Walken in The Deer Hunter: I stayed up till 4am this morning watching this film, because I literally couldn’t find one moment to stop watching. Robert De Niro was always going to be great in it and Meryl Streep fleshed out her character well, but for me the standout star was Walken. Cast away any images of him dancing around a hotel to the strains of Fatboy Slim; this is a young Walken, nervy and hollow cheeked (he achieved this look by eating nothing but bananas and rice), playing his character with such sympathy and wild-eyed destructiveness that you root for him until the very end. Without giving away any spoilers, I’ll just say that how his character ends up is one of the worst (in a good way, I mean) and most emotional moments I’ve ever seen on screen. The transition from floppy-haired innocent in the first third of the film to the vacant monster he becomes is rendered even more awful by the way Christopher Walken plays it with such subtle intensity.

"La Marseillaise" in Casablanca. When I first saw the film I think I was too young to understand most of the themes and the storyline, but that scene where Victor makes the band play "La Marseillaise" moved me alot. Watching it again earlier in the week, I was in tears. It’s a beautiful, stirring scene in a movie full of memorable moments. My other favourite scene is...oh, it's a tie between when Rick is left at the train station with the note and the final scene at the airport. I also love reading all the stories about the filming of Casablanca; how the mechanics tending to the plane were all actually midgets, how Ingrid Bergman asked the writers which guy she was supposed to be in love with and they hadn't a clue so they instructed her "Just play it down the middle", the fact that "As Time Goes By" was going to be taken out in favour of an original song but was left in at the last minute, how Ronald Reagan (!) was going to play Rick...I love trivia like that. They really don’t make films like Casablanca any more, and no, The Good German doesn’t count.

The Graduate. This, for me, was the biggest surprise. I rented it from the library for no particular reason, I have no great love for Dustin Hoffman and I didn’t know too much about the film. It was a revelation, the music, cinematography and storyline combining humor and sadness in a beautiful wa. It’s a subdued film, filled with quiet moments of reflection between the funny parts and the hurtling chase of the last twenty minutes. I already want to rewatch it!

Every film (and tv series) I watched over the week had something going for it, whether it was Humphrey Bogart’s rapport with Lauren Bacall in The Big Sleep or Bette Davis’ pop-eyed fury in Jezebel.

Now, onto the Oscars tomorrow.

I’ll freely admit it, I’ve seen very few of the nominated films. For example, the Best Picture Category:

The Departed
Letters From
Iwo Jima
Little Miss Sunshine
The Queen

Out of these, all I’ve seen is LMS. Which, incidentally, I enjoyed – great ensemble work, moving, humourous, some parts didn’t quite work but a sweet little film. I’m longing to see The Departed and The Queen and will be most definitely be catching them on dvd.

Anyhow, I’ll run through the main categories and pick my favourite. Disclaimer – not who I think will win, who I want to win.

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published
Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan

Children Of Men
The Departed
Little Children
Notes On A Scandal

Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly For The Screen

Letters From
Iwo Jima
Little Miss Sunshine
El Labertino
Del Fauno (Pan's Labyrinth)
The Queen

Best Achievement In Directing
Clint Eastwood (Letters From Iwo Jima)
Stephen Frears (The Queen)
Paul Greengrass (United 93)
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (
Martin Scorsese (The Departed)

I do kinda think it would be hilarious if Marty lost out again, but another part of me feels sorry for the guy. Just give it to him, already!

Best Performance By An Actress In A Supporting Role
Adrianna Barraza (Babel)
Cate Blanchett (Notes On A Scandal)
Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine)
Jennifer Hudson (Dream Girls)
Rinko Kikuchi (Babel)

Best Performance By An Actor In A Supporting Role
Alan Arkin (Little Miss Sunshine)
Jackie Earle Haley (Little Children)
Djimon Hounsou (Blood Diamond)
Eddie Murphy (Dream Girls)
Mark Wahlberg (The Departed)

Best Performance By An Actress In A Leading Role
Penelope Cruz (Volver)
Judi Dench (Notes On A Scandal)
Helen Mirren (The Queen)
Meryl Streep (The Devil Pears Prada)
Kate Winslet (Little Children)

This is the category I’m most interested in, having seen three of the nominations. It’s most likely going to be a walkover for Mirren, which is not a bad thing, but I’m still hoping for Penelope Cruz. Volver got so snubbed this year at the awards and unjustly.

Best Performance By An Actor In A Leading Role

Leonardo DiCaprio (Blood Diamond)
Ryan Gosling (Half Nelson)
Peter O'Toole (Venus)
Will Smith (The Pursuit of Happyness)
Forrest Whitaker (The Last King Of

Although Will Smith was great (and is the only performance here I’ve seen), I think they should just give O’ Toole the fricking award. He’s waited long enough.

Best Motion Picture Of The Year
The Departed
Letters From
Iwo Jima
Little Miss Sunshine
The Queen

I can’t wait until I see The Queen.

Right so – it’s nearing 5pm and I’m still in my pjs. Sayonara!

1 comment:

Ann Marie said...

That's a lot covered in the one blog. I've only seen a small few of the films that are up for oscars. once Pan's Labyrinth wins something I'll be happy :)