Monday, 22 August 2011

5 films that should have won the Best Picture Oscar

1.  Brokeback Mountain  (2005)

To think that Brokeback is just a gay cowboy film is beyond stupid.  To say that it is a beautifully tragic bi-sexual love story is probably more like it.  It's a gripping film with powerful performances that take you to the heights and depths of human emotion.  And the film that beat it to the top gong?  Crash is unrealistic and (despite trying so hard to be clever) told its audience nothing about its central topic of racism.

What won instead?  Crash

2.  Goodfellas  (1990)

Goodfellas shows us the rise and eventual fall of gangster Henry Hill.  Superbly directed by Martin Scorsese and containing phenomenal performances from Ray Liotta and Joe Pesci, this is my number one gangster film. However, it wasn't good enough to win the Best Picture as Kevin Costner's reasonable but extremely soppy Dances With Wolves took the gong.

What won instead?  Dances With Wolves

3.  Saving Private Ryan  (1998)

This is probably the most realistic war movie that you're likely to see.  It makes you truly realise how terrifying it must have been to be involved and how horrifying the whole process of war really is.  Spielberg's directing is at an all-time high and the performance of all the cast is perfect.  Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed Shakespeare in Love but how the hell did it beat this giant of a film?!

What won instead?  Shakespeare in Love


4.  The Last Picture Show  (1971)

This is one of the best coming-of-age dramas that has ever been made.  Despite being in black-and-white, it is still a beautiful picture that focuses around the lives of teenagers in a small Texan town.  As for the film that beat it, The French Connection has a paper-thin plot and is only famous for its pretty impressive car chase.

What won instead?  The French Connection


5.  Pulp Fiction  (1994)

It hurts me to type this because Forrest Gump is my favourite film of all time!  However, the editing, the music, and the directing of Pulp Fiction were well ahead of the game and really it should have won.  

What won instead?  Forrest Gump

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Bride of Frankenstein (1935) - The List Hero Review

The sequel to James Whale's 1931 film is superior to its predecessor in many ways.  The key ingredient for me here is the development of characters (which I will get onto later).  I began watching the film with a degree of doubt after believing the monster to be dead at the end of the first movie... however, the way that this is dealt with in the opening sequence of the movie is a credit to its makers.  Onto the plot and we have a major conflict of interests as Henry Frankenstein, again played by Colin Clive, is approached by the wonderfully evil Doctor Septimus Pretorius, portrayed brilliantly by Ernest Thesiger, in order to create a mate for his monster and toasts to a new world "of Gods and Monsters!"  Frankenstein does not want a repeat of his previous mistake and we finally get a sense of how this central character (who we know so little about from the original film) is actually feeling.

Meanwhile, the monster is making its way through the woods when it stumbles upon a friendly blind man.  Here, we see more character development and feel that the monster doesn't really want to hurt anyone but doesn't know how to communicate his feelings.  Again, the movie is giving me an understanding of the character and now I can begin to feel for him... something that was severely lacking in the first film.  As a result, the blind man teaches him how to speak.  The plot then takes a few more twists and turns, making it a much more interesting flick than the previous film.

However, despite its major improvements, the film still has problems;  the monster goes from being to say "drink" and "good" in one scene, to being able to hold a full conversation in the following scene...  highly unlikely!  There is the annoying cockney "comedy" servant who is intended (I'm assuming) to offer some light relief but just comes across as silly.  Plus, there is still a major lack of creepy horror that modern cinema-goers would expect - the scene when the monster kidnaps Elizabeth is a great chance to build a bit of haunting tension... but never does so.

On the whole, a major improvement from the first but modern audiences will still find it lacking in some areas.
Rating: a respectable 3 out of 5.

Frankenstein (1931) - The List Hero Review

Despite its status as a horror classic, James Whale's 1931 adaptation of the Mary Shelley book was a massive disappointment for me.  Although the film is technically very efficient for a 1931 movie, this so-called "horror" film simply refuses to be scary in any way whatsoever; there's no tension and no haunting music to build any tension.  However, the biggest problem for me here is the lack of character development; the fact that I barely know a thing about any of the characters means that come the end of the movie I don't really care about Doctor Frankenstein (played by Colin Clive), I'm not really interested in the feelings of the villagers (the death of the young girl barely moved me), and I'm just not sure how I feel about the monster (played by the legendary Boris Karloff).  Should it be sadness at his final situation?  Joy?  Relief?  Horror?  Well, it's actually none of these as I'm left feeling rather empty. 

Sorry, but it's a... 1 out 5.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

The List Hero's Top 10 Courtroom Movies

As a nod to 2011's excellent The Lincoln Lawyer, I've put together a list of 10 good courtroom films.  Maybe some of your favourites are missing, or maybe they should be higher up the list.  Please feel free to let me know!

Here goes:

10.  A Few Good Men (1992)

Despite a great script and cast, I have to admit that I mainly enjoyed the moments when Jack Nicholson was on the screen.... "You want the truth?  You can't handle the truth!"  
Oh Yeah!

9.  The Lincoln Lawyer  (2011)

People will scream me down for putting this above A Few Good Men, but I don't care.  Matthew McConaughey's performance is better than Tom Cruise's, the movie is much slicker, and I was far more entertained!  So there!  For more about the film, see my recent review (August 2011).

8.  The Devil's Advocate  (1997)

Keanu Reeves stars as a top defence attorney who is offered a large salary by a big law firm owned by Al Pacino.  As it turns out, Pacino's character John Milton isn't quite who he says he is and the film takes some very interesting turns... some of which are a little bit head-spinning.

7.  The People vs Larry Flynt  (1996)

Woody Harrelson stars as the owner of a controversial porn magazine that is being sued by the holiest of men.  Harrelson, Edward Norton, and, in particular, Courtney Love are all excellent in another quality Milos Forman flick.

6.  Sleepers  (1996)

An all-star cast appear in Barry Levinson's emotional revenge film.

5.  My Cousin Vinny  (1992)

Who said that courtroom movies have to be serious all the time?  My Cousin Vinny, starring Joe Pesci, is not only a laugh-a-minute but also a great film.  It even earned Marisa Tomei an Academy Award.

4.  Erin Brockovich  (2000)

Julia Roberts gives a top draw performance in the title role of this Steve Soderbergh flick.  She plays a single mother who takes on a gas company for compensation.  Gripping stuff!

3.  And Justice For All   (1979)

A bit of a morality tale here as Al Pacino stars as Arthur Kirkland, a hotheaded lawyer trying to take on the system.  Famous for the final scene, in which Pacino screams "You're out of order! The whole trial is out of order!", this film received two Oscar nominations.

2.  12 Angry Men  (1957)

Sidney Lumet, who went on to direct a number of top films (Dog Day Afternoon, Network, The Verdict), received an Oscar nomination for his directing of 12 Angry Men.  The film is set in just one scene with a collection of jurors deciding on the fate of a teenage slum boy.  The setting is a hot, sweaty day and the jurors are quite happy to condemn the boy guilty as charged without barely discussing the details.  That is apart from one (played by Henry Fonda), who shows the rest the opposite side of the story.  As the story unfolds, the acting is superb and the movie is absorbing.  12 Angry Men was also nominated for Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay (as well as Lumet's directing nomination) but lost all three to Bridge on the River Kwai.

1.  Philadelphia  (1993)

This was one of the first big-budget movies to tackle the seemingly taboo topic of AIDS.  Directed by Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs), it starred a superb turn from Tom Hanks as a homosexual man, Andrew Beckett, who is HIV positive and then immediately fired by his law firm.  Hanks performance was so engaging, so real, and just so damn good that it earned him his first Academy Award.  Beckett turns to personal injury lawyer Joe Miller, portrayed with another fantastic performance from Denzel Washington.  For me, this is the most gripping of courtroom dramas, with the tension between Washington and Hanks superb at times.  The film also stars Antonio Banderas as Hanks' gay lover and was nominated for 3 Academy Awards (winning two).

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

The Lincoln Lawyer (2011) - The List Hero Review

Cocky, arrogant, but ultimately excellent at his job.  Brad Furman's film adaptation of The Lincoln Lawyer takes us into the ultra-confident world of criminal defense attorney Mickey Haller (played here by Matthew McConaughey).  The film has sharp directing and a smooth soundtrack, leaving the overall effect of a movie almost as slick as the lawyer himself.  The story, originally written by author Michael Connelly, sees Haller take on a case involving spoilt rich boy Louis Roulet (played by spoilt rich boy Ryan Phillipe).  Haller believes that Roulet is innocent but there are a few twists along the way that prove the case to be his biggest test yet.

Whilst there are no "major stars" here, the casting is pretty spot on with talented actors giving great performances;  McConaughey gives his best performance for years, and is supported by Phillipe, William H Macy and Marisa Tomei.  Some viewers may be put off by cocky characteristics given off by McConaughey's protagonist but for me this only made the challenges he faces more interesting; we suddenly see the clouds of doubt gathering above Haller's head, and again this is a credit to McConaughey for showing the audience this without ever being over-the-top or obviously doing so.

There's nothing ground-breaking about this film, and I have only seen a limited amount of the films released in 2011, but it is a thoroughly enjoyable ride and is the best I've seen this year (although this is bound to change once the "award season" begins).

Rating: 4 out of 5

Monday, 8 August 2011

Around the World in 80 Days (1956) - The List Hero Review

A gritty, edge-of-your-seat drama.  If that's what you're after, you're in the wrong place.  Michael Anderson's film adaptation of Around the World in 80 Days is light-hearted, beautifully shot, and - to a modern-day viewer - absolutely hilarious.  To say that this is the most British film I've ever seen would be an understatement.  The movie, like Jules Verne's novel, follows protagonist Phileas Fogg (played as an aristocratic perfectionist by David Niven) and his sidekick Passepartout (a role given to famous Mexican comic Cantinflas) as they shoot around the world in order to win a huge bet with Fogg's Reform Club associates.  

The film is as easy on the eye as it is to follow the plot, but what is it that makes it so funny?  Well, whether they done intentionally or not, there are a number of extremely humorous elements to this film, which - if not taken too seriously - are a laugh-a-minute.  Firstly, there are the ridiculously out-dated stereotypes of Empire (remember that the book was first published in 1873), like the savage natives of the Indian jungle attempting to burn their dead leader's widow (played by Shirley MacLaine, who is about as Indian as myself) alive.  

The point about MacLaine's lack of Indian blood also leads me nicely on to the scene in Bombay in which a number of "blacked up" white actors are performing the usual Indian activities... like snake charming.  How could you not laugh at such a ridiculous scene?!  To be honest, a lot of my personal laughs did come from the out-dated British attitudes; "no crisis should get in the way of afternoon tea" says one cog in the work of the Empire.  Don't get me wrong, I don't think that the colonisation of other countries is funny.  Quite the opposite in fact and it's films like this that show just how ridiculous it was for the British (and other nations) to think that they could just own everything.  As the chords to "Rule Britannia" fade in and out of our sub-conscience throughout the adventure, it simply further emphasises the laughs.

However, the constant references to tea and Empire aren't the only laughs available here.  There are also a number of ridiculous situations that arise; Passepartout fights a bull, Passepartout saves Princess Aouda from those pesky natives, and my particular favourite is when Fogg prizes together a wonderful sail-powered train that actually overtakes the steam engine as they race through the barely-windy American desert.  Brilliant!

Around the World in 80 Days won a number of Academy Awards, including Best Picture (beating The King and I and The Ten Commandments).  Did it deserve such recognition?  I'm not sure, but it is a very good looking movie that's a fantastic viewing on a lazy afternoon.

Rating:  a very jolly 4 out of 5

The Greatest Show on Earth (1952) - The List Hero Review

Having won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1952 (beating off stiff competition from Fred Zinnemann's classic western High Noon and John Ford's The Quiet Man) and being put together by the extremely revered director Cecil B DeMille, a movie about a struggling circus seemed like a more-than appealing way to pass a couple of hours on a Monday afternoon.  However, The Greatest Show on Earth did not live up to my expectations.  The particularly ropey plot, which occurs in small bursts between over-extensive shots of circus performances, revolves around a selection of mostly dislikeable characters travelling across America with the Ringling Brothers Circus.  These dislikeable protagonists are portrayed on screen by some very weak acting; the ever-melodramatic Charlton Heston and the incredibly annoying Betty Hutton are particular culprits.  

Although this award winning flick does have the occasional highlight; a fairly convincing train crash, the sight of a trapeze artist falling to the ground, and plenty of clips of genuinely talented circus folk, the film fails by never really focusing in on its potentially interesting side-plot.  As previously stated, I never really warmed the central protagonists, whether it be because of the acting or the characters inability to be loyal or kind the those closest to them... however, the site of James Stewart on screen is always a pleasure and it is also the case here.  His warm-hearted (and enormously under-used) character, Bubbles the clown, is hiding a dark secret that is eventually revealed - leading to a criminal investigation.  This storyline is kept on the fringes, much to my disappointment, and the movie plunders on with Hutton's character Holly (a female trapeze artist) falling in and out of love like it's going out of fashion.

And so, my Monday afternoon viewing was plagued by a number of disappointments.  Had DeMille focused on the Bubbles plot, cut out some of the circus scenes, and given Heston and Hutton the boot, we may just have had a good film on our hands... and not a movie that was voted the third worst Best Picture of all time by Empire magazine.

Rating:  a fairly generous 2 out of 5

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Should it have won Best Picture? (2000)

Here's a quick browse at previous winners of the Academy Award for Best Picture and, in comparison to fellow nominees only, whether or not they should have won the top gong.

2000 winner:

  • Gladiator  (directed by Ridley Scott)

Runners Up:

  • Chocolat  (directed Lasse Hallstrom) 
  • Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon  (directed by Ang Lee)
  • Erin Brokovich  (directed by Steve Soderbergh)
  • Traffic  (directed by Steve Soderbergh)

Should Gladiator have won?
  • Despite some historical inaccuracies and technical hitches, I'm going to say yes.  Gladiator keeps you emotionally engaged and rooting for the protagonist right until the end, and yet avoids the cheese and cliché of a film like Rocky, for example.  Russell Crowe's steely performance is so believable that we accept he can take on a the great challenges thrown at him in the Colosseum.

How does it compare to the other nominees?
  • Whilst Chocolat may have had some not-so-deep meaning of being open-minded towards new things, I found it little more entertaining than middle-of-the-road rom-com.
  • Crouching Tiger was a visual feast and contained fight sequences that matched up to those in Gladiator.  However, in terms of excitement and emotion, Gladiator is victorious.
  • Erin Brokovich probably wins on plot and emotional engagement, and is Gladiator's closest rival in my opinion, but as an overall spectacle I'd still pick Gladiator.  
  • Traffic is a visually excellent film.  Soderbegh excels with his directing here and the cast all do a fantastic turn.  Is it as exciting as Gladiator?  I'm afraid not.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

My Top 5 Oscar Winners (Best Actress)

5.    Elizabeth Taylor as Martha in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf  (1966)

4.    Louise Fletcher as Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest  (1975)

3.    Kathy Bates as Annie Wilkes in Misery  (1990)

2.    Marion Cotillard as Edith Piaf in Le Vie En Rose  (2007)

1.    Charlize Theron as Aileen Wuornos in Monster  (2003)

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

My top 10 Oscar Winning Performances (Best Actor)

As the nominees for this year's Academy Awards are released, with Colin Firth, Javier Bardem, Jeff Bridges, Jesse Eisenberg and James Franco battling it out for the prize, here are my personal 10 favourite performances that were worthy of winning the gong.

10.  Denzel Washington as Alonzo Harris in Training Day  (2001)
In three words:  Powerful, horrible, brilliant

9.  Kevin Spacey as Lester Burnham in American Beauty  (1999)
In three words:  Middle Aged Everyman

8.  F Murray Abraham as Antonio Salieri in Amadeus  (1984)
In three words:  Jealous little bitch

7.  Jack Nicholson as Melvin Udall in As Good As It Gets  (1997)
In three words:  Painfully comic awkwardness

6.  Dustin Hoffman as Raymond Babbitt in Rain Man  (1988)
In three words:  Autism done brilliantly

5.  Daniel Day Lewis as Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood  (2007)
In three words:  Powerfully brilliant selfishness

4.  Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs  (1991)
In three words:  Psychotic murdering cannibal

3.  Marlon Brando as Vito Corleone in The Godfather  (1972)
In three words:  Scene stealer extraordinaire 

2.  Al Pacino as Lieutenant Colonel Frank Slade in Scent of a Woman  (1992)
In three words:  Brilliant blind monster

1.  Tom Hanks as Forrest Gump in Forrest Gump  (1994)
In three words:  Humbling simple man

Saturday, 15 January 2011

And the Academy Award goes to...

Although the nominations aren't in yet, I've seen pretty much all of the big ones now, bar 127 Hours and True Grit.

So, here are my predictions...

Best Picture    -    The Social Network

This is the most open that the main Oscar has been since I've been a film geek!  The Social Network will go in as hot favourite, and will clearly stand a big chance, with its flawless script, high-profile director and superb acting, but I think there are other films of extreme quality competing.  Black Swan is very original, its subject matter is one that has rarely been tackled and its easily Arononofsky's best film to date, which is a strong claim to make!  The Fighter is a real-life fairytale and, moreover, is an almost perfect film with phenomenal performances from its entire cast.  These three, in my opinion, will be the hot contenders.

Inception will be hotly tipped, however I'm not sure that the movie was meaningful enough to land the main Oscar.  The King's Speech is beautifully directed, brilliantly acted and tells a wonderful story, but the tale isn't gripping enough to get the top nod.  Toy Story 3 is sure to get a nomination now that there are 10 slots up for grabs, but Pixar's previous two films (Wall-E and Up) have actually been much more powerful, add this to the strength of the competition this year and its unlikely they'll land the gong this year.  Other contenders include The Town (which was probably too predictable) The Kids Are All Right (a strong film but lacked the element of edginess that the Academy likes), and Winter's Bone (which may be slightly too dark).

Therefore, I believe it will be a close-run thing between The Social Network, Black Swan, and The Fighter.  But having had so much buzz already, I will have to play it safe and place my bets on The Social Network.

Actor in a Lead Role    -    Colin Firth  (The King's Speech)

This award will be a battle between Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network) and Colin Firth (The King's Speech).  Both performances are extremely strong, I would actually say the Eisenberg's is stronger; he is so subtle in showing the audience the deep social awkwardness of his character.  However, having played a homosexual last year, and a stuttering king this year, the Academy will be wondering where else there is to go for the highly-rated Englishman, Colin Firth.  For me, Ben Stiller should get a nod for his wonderfully awkward performance as Roger Greenberg, but the film has not received so much buzz.

Actress in a Lead Role    -    Natalie Portman  (Black Swan)

Despite some strong performances this year, Natalie Portman's appearance as a leading ballet dancer will probably be a career best.  She portrays the nervous dancer so well that you can feel the butteflies fluttering around in her stomach.  Jennifer Lawrence introduced herself to the world of cinema with a powerful performance as a girl on a mission in Winter's Bone, but is still young and, although she's nailed-on to get nominated, will have plenty of time later in her career to actually land the award.  The Kids Are All Right drew two strong performances from a couple of experienced pro's; Julianne Moore and Annette Bening.  It's hard to know exactly where their nominations will land them as they both top the bill in the film.  In my opinion, Moore steals the show but Bening's performance is still strong, and, whichever category they're nominated in, they're sure to be close contenders.  Like Ben Stiller, Greta Gerwig gives a solid performance in Greenberg but is unlikely to get a nod.

Best Supporting Actor    -    Christian Bale  (The Fighter)

Bale needs to get recognised for this film.  Throughout the years, he has put in some excellent, powerful performances, and this is no exception.  However, he faces stiff competition.  Andrew Garfield is very much the man of the moment and he was superb in The Social Network, which also featured a great turn from Justin Timberlake in a supporting role.  Geoffrey Rush was fantastic at getting the audience on side in The King's SpeechJeremy Renner continued to fulfil his potential in The Town, and Mark Ruffalo gave another grand performance in The Kid's Are All Right.

Best Supporting Actress    -    Julianne Moore  (The Kids Are All Right)

One of the hardest categories to call.  I think that if one of Julianne Moore or Annette Bening from The Kids Are All Right land in here then they may just steal it - but it will be close!  Other strong contenders include Jacki Weaver (for her delightfully evil performance in Animal Kingdom), Amy Adams and Melissa Leo (as the warring in-laws-to-be in The Fighter), Helena Bonham Carter (for her unbelievably accurate portrayal of the late Queen Mother in The King's Speech), and Mila Kunis, who I see as a far outsider, from Black Swan.

Best Director    -     David Fincher  (The Social Network)

Hard to call but David Fincher will probably get the nod.  His closest rivals will probably be Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan), David O. Russell (The Fighter), and Tom Hooper (The King's Speech).  Can't see Christopher Nolan (Inception) having much chance.

Best Animated Film    -    Toy Story 3

How To Train Your Dragon is getting a lot of love but can't see past Pixar.  Depsicable Me is great fun but too childish to win.  Toy Story 3 has all the necessary bases covered in order to grab this prize for Pixar for the 4th year running.

Best Adapted Screenplay    -    The Social Network

Best script of the year by a country mile.

Best Original Screenplay    -    The Kids Are All Right

Not sure about this one.  Black Swan will be in there, along with InceptionThe Fighter and The King's Speech.  Hard to pick but I have a feeling that The Kids Are All Right will land this one.

Best Sound Editing/Sound Mixing/Art Direction/Visual Effects    -    Inception

If it doesn't land all of these then I'll eat my hat.  Black Swan is, in my opinion, the only serious contender.  Other "contenders" will be film such as Alice In Wonderland and Tron: Legacy.