Thursday, 20 February 2014

Top 13 films of 2013

For once, I don't have an outright favourite movie from last year, which is surprising because it wasn't a particularly strong year for film.  There was, however, a strong selection at the top of the pile, all with different strengths, and I really can't separate them.  So my top 4 are all equal...

1. The Wolf of Wall Street.  The slickest, most fun film of the year.
=  12 Years a Slave.  A masterpiece that will go down as one of the all-time greats.
=  Captain Phillips.  By far the most tense film of the year.
=  Dallas Buyers Club.  An acting masterclass.

5.  Behind the Candelabra.  A brilliant character development with amazing acting.
6.  The Hunt.  My favourite foreign language film of the year.  Shocking and hard to watch at times.
7.  The Way Way Back.  The year's (if not the decade's) most uplifting movie.
8.  Blue is the Warmest Colour.  An amazing character study with (lengthy) scenes of a sexual nature.

9.  Monsters University.  Mike and Sulley return for more Pixar goodness.
10.  Despicable Me 2.  Minion madness.  I thought this was hilarious.
11.  Lovelace.  A decent biopic of seventies porn-star Linda Lovelace.

12.  American Hustle.  Jennifer Lawrence.  Enough said.
13.  Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa.  Norwich's finest export finally hits the big screen. 

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Disney's Frozen (2013) - The List Hero Review

Like a critical supervillain, the first two months of my calendar year is usually spent observing Hollywood's awards season from my lair in the Midlands.  It has been one of my favourite pass-times for the last five or six years.  And this year has been no different.  As usual, there are the select few films that appear to be sweeping the board (12 Years a Slave & Gravity this year) and the Best Animated Feature category is no exception.  Frozen is a red-hot banker to become Disney's first non-Pixar movie to win the prestigious Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.  The box-office-smashing hit has already won the corresponding accolade at the Golden Globes, the BAFTAs, the Critics Choice Awards and the renowned animation honors, the Annie Awards - where it won four other gongs too!

But my question is this:  how?

Having laughed my head off to two of the other major animated movies of 2013 - Despicable Me 2 and Monsters University - I felt that Frozen had a lot to live up to.  However, seeing all of those accolades, I felt sure that Disney would do the trick.

I couldn't have been more wrong.

The film is set in the fictional kingdom of Arendelle, where two princesses live.  One is a normal girl, the other one has magical powers... for some reason.  However, after an accident, the one with the magical powers needs to keep the magical powers a secret from her sister... because some trolls told her so.  I hated this film.  Other than a talking snowman called Olaf, I really couldn't work out what Frozen had going for it.  The "jokes" were few an far between, and when they did arrive it was mainly Princess Anna (the non-magical one) saying one thing but then, in  a very modern-America kind-of-way, jokingly meaning another.

By Disney standards, the songs were utterly useless too.  Here are the opening lyrics to one of the early songs:
The window is open, so is that door,
I didn't know they did that anymore.
Who on Earth wrote that song?  Mickey Mouse?

So the jokes are rubbish and the songs are worse.  However, there must surely be an uplifting, meaningful message behind the film, right?  Erm... not that I can work out.  Here's a plot summary (let me know if you can work out the meaning):  Girl has (completely unexplained) magical powers that she doesn't want.  Then everyone finds out about the powers so she runs away.  Her sister goes to fetch her back.  They meet a friendly snowman (by far the highlight of the film) and fight a nasty snowman (not sure why).  Then the magic princess comes back to Arandelle.  In a parallel side-plot, that I couldn't have cared less about, the non-magic sister falls in love with a prince on the day she meets him but he turns out to be a nob (not that anyone cares because he's barely in the film) and then, at the end, she gets it on with some ice-chopper bloke that talks to his moose/reindeer.  Utter garbage.

Although the Best Animated Feature Oscar is a category that's only been open since 2001, it seems amazing that Disney (other than their Pixar movies) have not won this gong.  There have been some excellent Disney animations in recent years such as The Princess & The Frog and Tangled, which were understandably beaten to the award by Up and Toy Story 3 respectably.  However, this time last year, I was on the opposite side of the fence, hoping that Disney's Wreck It Ralph (in my opinion, one of the best films of 2012) would beat Pixar's fairly average Brave.  Sadly, it didn't.

So it seems amazing to me that a movie as terrible as Frozen is sweeping the board and taking every award in sight.  The Academy seem to have lost the plot with this award recently; I disagreed with last year's decision, I disliked Rango the year before that, and I dislike Frozen now.  And what's even more amazing is that Pixar's Monsters University didn't even get a nomination!  This means, as we watch the awards being dished out on the TV in our super-lair, the minions and I will have to keep my fingers crossed for Despicable Me 2 to snatch a shock victory.

Rating for Frozen:  It would have been 1 but I did stick with it until the end and at least children (the film's target audience) will enjoy the visuals, overlook the terrible lyrics and laugh at Olaf.  So, it's an extremely generous 2 out of 5.  

Monday, 17 February 2014

The 67th BAFTAs - I generally concur

The 67th British Academy Film Awards more commonly known as the BAFTAs, were held on 16 February 2014 honouring the best national and foreign films of 2013.

Although I personally believe that some of the nominations were lacking some of the best films and performances, the awards generally appeared to go to worthy winners.

Here's my view...

Best Documentary:  The Act of Killing

One of the most creative, artistic and downright shocking documentaries I've ever seen.  A film that's will stay with you for days.  Documentary maker, Joshua Oppenheimer, put a lot on the line in the making of this film as he meets a former Indonesian killing squad who went on to establish a powerful right-wing political organisation.  A worthy winner.  Good to see that Black Fish was also a nominee.

Best Supporting Actress:  Jennifer Lawrence as Rosalyn Rosenfeld, American Hustle

The beautiful Miss Lawrence would certainly be my choice for the award this year.  Although I didn't particularly love American Hustle, Lawrence was the standout performance.  Bringing a huge dash of humour to the role of Christian Bale's neglected wife, Lawrence shows again that she is one of the most versatile acting ladies on the planet.  One of many gongs to come her way no doubt.

Best Supporting Actor:  Barkhad Abdi as Abduwali Muse, Captain Phillips 

Great to see a Somali on my blog!  I can't believe that I still haven't seen Captain Phillips!  However, in this category is a list of nominees that I'm really impressed with:
Daniel Brühl – Rush as Niki Lauda
Bradley Cooper – American Hustle as Richie DiMaso
Matt Damon – Behind the Candelabra as Scott Thorson
Michael Fassbender – 12 Years a Slave as Edwin Epps

Abdi's fellow nominees are all excellent in their roles, although I'm disappointed that there's no Jonah Hill (The Wolf of Wall Street) or Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club), and I was particularly pleased to see Matt Damon in there (Behind the Candelabra is one of my favourite films of the year).  Thus, in such a tough category, Abdi must have given some performance!  I'm really looking forward to seeing Captain Phillips.

Best Actress in a lead role:  Cate Blanchett as Jasmine Francis, Blue Jasmine

Despite the controversy that has been surrounding Woody Allen since the Golden Globes, there can be no doubting that Cate Blanchett's performance in Blue Jasmine (written and directed by Allen) is outstanding.  Compared to her fellow nominees, there is not even the slightest competition.  Some may lay claim to the idea that Sandra Bullock's one-woman-show in Gravity is award worthy but, quite frankly, I found 2 hours of floating around in space a little dull.  On a personal note, I would have loved to have seen a little more love for Blue is the Warmest Color's Adele Exarchopoulos, who is quite excellent in the multi-award-winning French flick.

Best Actor in a lead role:  Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon Northup, 12 Years a Slave 

Very disappointed that there was no nomination for Matthew McConaughey for his work on Dallas Buyers Club.  However, if the award went to anyone else then it had to be Chiwetel or Leonardo Di Caprio for The Wolf of Wall Street.  With every one of Chiwetel's facial expressions you feel the pain or other emotion that his wrongly enslaved character is feeling.  A worthy winner.

Best Director:  Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity

Whilst I can't deny the artistic achievements of this film, I cannot agree with this award for one simple reason:  the movie bored the socks off me!  The film was produced in Britain so no great surprise that it won 6 BAFTAs (double the amount of its nearest rival).

Best Film:  12 Years a Slave

Beautiful direction, superb acting, and powerful music all add up to the fact that 12 Years a Slave is the best film of 2013.  Great stories are often told on the cinema screen, but can be let down by terrible scripts, poor acting, sloppy directors, or cheesy music.  This film isn't.  It's cinema perfection and a worthy winner.  Very disappointed with the list of fellow nominees for this award; no Wolf of Wall Street, Behind the Candelabra or Dallas Buyers Club, the two films that even come close to 12 Years a Slave, so this award was never really in doubt.

So, overall, good work British Academy.  You may have missed a few key nominations but your gang of winners is a respectable bunch.  Well done.