Tag Archives: movies

Oscar Bait: Out of Africa

List Item: Watch all Best Picture Winners (to date)
Progress: 73/87Title: Out of Africa
Director: Sydney Pollack
Year: 1985
Haul: 7 awards in total

If this film is to be described in a few words it would be, “Meryl Streep does Colonialism”.  If I was to describe this in more words it would be, “despite Meryl Streep and Robert Redford doing exemplary jobs this film could probably have been 45 minutes shorter.”

Saying that Streep puts in a brilliant performance is, to be honest, like saying penguins eat fish. It’s a given. However, there is only so much she could do with her Danish accent and acting skills. Similarly, there is only so long you can look at beautiful cinematography of Africa. The glacial pacing of the story depicting a Danish aristocrat moving to Africa with all her worldly possessions, catch an STD, suffer loss and lose everything by the end removes from some of the impact.

You feel for this woman so deeply at times. It gets a little hard watching her being fate’s plaything. Getting something good in her life only to have it cruelly taken from her, and yet they removed a lot of the crap she had to deal with in order to make this film. She’s an incredibly admirable woman. More so because she tried, in her early 20th century way, to help out the people whose lands were taken away by the British.

That leads me to the final thing I am going to address about this film (as enough has been said about the hair-washing scene with Streep and Redford). Here we are thirty years after Out of Africa was made and it is painful to watch just how silent the non-White members of the cast are. Only one, a tribal chief, says anything about the situation and he is pretty much dismissed. On the positive side, there is only one racial epithet from the white side… and that’s the only positive I can think of in that department.

With 14 films to go I know that I haven’t got one left that has a lower rating on Rotten Tomatoes. So, I guess, the only way is up.

Oscar Bait: Cavalcade

List Item: Watch all Best Picture Winners (to date)
Progress: 72/87

cavalcade-1933Title: Cavalcade
Director: Frank Lloyd
Year: 1933
Haul: 3 awards in total

Cavalcade had the dubious honour of being the only Best Picture winner to not have its own DVD release in the United States. Whilst it appears on a number of collections there is no specific Cavalcade release. I think this goes a long way to talk about the legacy left behind this film which beat well regarded classics like 42nd Street and I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang. It is also a film that was one of the highest grossing of 1933, so why does it lay alongside the likes of Cimarron as a Best Picture winner that has been forgotten? It’s fairly simple really; it is incredibly dated.

This film, based on the Noel Coward play of the same name, recounts 30 years in the life of a well-to-do London family as they go through the major events of the early 20th century. Touted as the ‘picture of the generation’ and ‘A love that suffered and rose triumphant above the crushing events of this modern age! The march of time measured by a mother’s heart!’ you can see why this film was so popular. We were in the Great Depression and a film that centred on someone overcoming the odds would be very appealing. The fact that a number of these events (which included the death of Queen Victoria and a rather tasteless use of the Titanic) would pale in comparison within the events of the subsequent 15 years… speaks volumes.

It isn’t just the events and the importance that is placed upon them that feels dated however. It is very easy to see that this film began life as a play since a lot of the acting and staging is still remaniscent of this. As such, many of the scenes feel a rather odd mixture of over the top and wooden. The storyline involving the servants (since this is a film set in Britain so OBVIOUSLY there is a life upstairs and a life downstairs split in the story) is, at times, infuriating since they are written with the subtlety of a sledgehammer. In fact the only time there was a real laugh in this film was because of a child screaming with rage at having not won a teddy bear in some beach sideshow. Also we have a number of needless musical scenes whose main purpose appears to be padding out the movie, with the exception of the final number which does act as a good closer.

In the end this is a film shows the benefit of hindsight when evaluating films and how things like the 20/20 Awards are a cool idea. The Academy Awards, like every award, make mistakes in terms of longevity. For every Casablanca and Gone With The Wind there is a Greatest Show On Earth and Gigi but I guess that is what makes watching all of these winning films so interesting.

Around The World In 100 Films – Australia

100WorldFilms - AustraliaList Item: Watch films from 100 different nations
Progress: 27/100

After my mistake in the opening post of the global film challenge (which I later edited out) of including Australia as the country for The Piano rather than New Zealand I have been seeking an Ozzie film to watch. After receiving a lot of suggestions from the iCheckMovies forums I went with a film that continues my recent run of animations; Mary and Max.

Country: Australia
Title: Mary and Max
Director: Adam Elliot
Year: 2009

I have long said to other film-buffs that animation is the most versatile method to produce films. I am glad that since Pixar first unveiled Toy Story back in 1995 that the world outside of Japan has really started to take animated features a whole lot more seriously. Note: this is me generalizing since I know that serious shorts and a few serious features had been produced before then.

Mary and Max is a rather serious film that perfects the balancing act between the comic and the tragic. Both of the titular characters are incredibly vulnerable people. Max, a 44-year old obese man living in New York who gets diagnosed with Asperger syndrome later in live. Mary, an 8 year old Australian with an alcoholic mother and self-confidence issues. At times heart-warming and other times heart-breaking this story of an co-dependant penpalship is not something that would have been exercised as well in the live-action form.

This is completely down to the distinctively grey style of claymation used by Oscar-winning director Adam Elliot (who was the first person to openly thank a same-sex partner during his 2004 acceptance speech… and as such is a new hero of mine). If you are into animated shorts it is very likely you will have seen Harvie Krumpet. If not click on the link and watch it. It’s okay I’ll wait.

……..

So now you see what I mean about the balancing act between comedy and tragedy in Adam Elliot’s films?

The fact that Mary and Max didn’t make it to the nominations for Best Animated Feature at the 2009 Oscars is a real shame. It was apparently a strong year for animated features and although I disagree with The Princess and The Frog having a place in the roster over this… well we all know money is a big Oscar motivator don’t we. Even if it was nominated Mary and Max would have still had Up, Fantastic Mr. Fox and Coraline to contend with (also The Secret of Kells with is an odd coincidence). But hey, maybe the Academy just aren’t ready for a film about a man dealing with Asperger’s (*cough* Rain Man *cough*).

Around The World In 100 Films – Ireland

100WorldFilms - IrelandList Item: Watch films from 100 different nations
Progress: 26/100

Continuing on with my current animation obsession I have turned my attention to a country far closer to home than South Korea.  As films go it is not ‘exclusively’ of that country with Belgium and France both listed as co-countries of origin. However, in an interconnected world such as this one there are not many films that are just one country whether it be in terms of talent, production or finances…

Country: Ireland
Title: The Secret of Kells
Director: Tomm Moore
Year: 2009

I have yet to have the pleasure to see the Book of Kells first hand since I have yet to venture across the Irish Sea (yet have been most of the way around the world… maybe Dorothy was right in The Wizard of Oz about not seeing what was in your own backyard). However, if the recurring visual motifs in The Secret of Kells are anything to go by this is osmething that needs to be rectified.

The film itself is a fictional portrayal of the events leading up to the creation of The Book of Kells which is, if you don’t already know, a heavily illustrated ‘illuminated’ book containing the Four Gospels. Since the origin of this book is not for absolute certain (although it is agreed by a majority that it was started on the island of Iona and then continued in Kells after a raid by some pesky, bloodthirsty Vikings) the film is more than able to take some creative liberties.

Our lead character is a boy of undetermined age named Brandon who lives in the Abbey of Kells with his uncle. Whilst many would be quick to paint the uncle as too authoritarian from the word go since he has turned his back on the world of books and is obsessed with the building of protective walls to fend from the Vikings… I for one greatly sympathised with him. I mean let’s face it when you are faced with an enemy that delighted in rape, pillage the delicate art of leaving no survivors you have every right to obsess over how to not have any of those three things happen to you and those under your charge. Somehow I got sidetracked defending an authority figure… must be getting old.

Anyway, the entire story is set in the backdrop of an Ireland that has recently seen the arrival of Christianity so ‘pagan’ traditions such as forest spirits and the Crom Cruach (a deity who was satiated by the medium of human sacrifice), which aids in the creation of a fantastical and somewhat threatening world. It speaks to the whole argument that just because you say something does not exist it does not make it so, and for Brendan and his forest spirit ally Aisling the danger posed by these ancient non-Christian beings is very real indeed. Thus the film exists in many conflicts. Christianity versus paganism. Immediate versus the immortal. Visions versus reality.

It is rare to find an animated film outside of East Asia and nations that existed behind the Iron Curtain that deals with such complex conflicting ideas. The fact that this is an independent hand-drawn animation makes it all the more impressive. It is also an incredibly beautiful film to look at which is in part to the distinctive look that has been adopted. It is refreshing to see an animated film that takes such care to emulate a more unknown art form (in this case traditional Irish art) and this helps to make the visuals incredibly engaging. Despite the influences being vastly different some of the characters did call to mind those in the graphic novel and film Persepolis.

I will probably be making this three animated films in a row considering my current run. I have a film in mind but whether it is the one I will end up doing is anybody’s guess.

Around The World in 100 Films – South Korea

100WorldFilms - South KoreaList Item: Watch films from 100 different nations
Progress: 25/100

Right, so at the moment I am going through a bit of an animation watching phase since the film forums I frequent are doing a best animated movies poll and I want to watch as many interesting ones so I can submit a good list. So far this has lead to a number of rewatches (including a lot of Disney and the Ghost In The Shell films) but today I decided to find an animation from a country not yet covered for the bucket list…

Country: South Korea
Title: Aachi & Ssipak
Director: Jo Beom-jin
Year: 2006

South Korea may not be a country as known for their animated features as Japan or the United States but it does house some of the largest animation houses in the world including Rough Draft Korea (who have produced the likes of Adventure Time, Futurama and Samurai Jack). Their own homegrown animated features, however, have never fared well both at home or abroad.

My previous exposure to South Korean cinema is limited to The Vengeance Triology (which includes the acclaimed Oldboy) and the Golden Lion-winning Pietà. This means that I went into this post’s film, Aachi & Ssipak, expecting a lot of blood and a large dollop of bad taste. As you can tell from the picture you I may have made a correct assumption.

Imagine, if you will, a world of the future where we have run out of fuel. Quite a normal idea for a film so far. Now, the main source of alternative fuel is faeces. So the government use addictive blue ice lollies as an incentive to crap. Oh, and some people have mutated because of their addiction to these flourescent foodstuffs, call themselves ‘The Diaper Gang’ and have stuck ID rings up the anus of a blur haired girl to cash in on her bowel movements since they are unable to crap themselves… exactly.

It is an incredibly bizarre film that would be the most scatologically-focused (a phrase I am glad doesn’t exist in auto correct) film that I had ever seen if I had not watched Saló, or the 120 Days of Sodom a few months ago. There is even a scene where the blue-haired girl (exclusively referred to by the name ‘Beautiful’) has the ID chips fitted via the means of a dildo… again a very weird film.

Getting away from the brown for the moment and onto the red as there is a lot of blood in this film. Heads explode, limbs are cleaved off oh and there is a scientist who is happy as long as he has a steady supply of fresh corpses in order to produce his monstrosities. I can’t fault the action sequences though in terms of inventiveness and engagement. When you have a group of perverted smurfs fighting a Frankensteinian creature on a motorbike you sit up and pay attention.

As much as I enjoyed the senseless violence of this film one thing that struck me was the lack of female characters. There is the blue-haired porn actress named Beautiful who is, at a number of points, getting her kit off and wearing a red PVC catsuit. Then there is the child-like major whose emotional dial is always set to psychotic. Whilst films are never going to be completely 50/50 in terms of gender (and I argue never should be completely 50/50) this lack of a female character felt a bit off. Then again women probably have more sense than to be involved in a world of faeces and leave it to the men with their guns whilst they are off actually running the world. Yes, that’s got to be it.

Oscar Bait: The English Patient

List Item: Watch all Best Picture Winners (to date)
Progress: 71/87

After dismantling the jigsaw puzzle, which was oddly traumatic after spending hours and hours constructing it, I needed to watch a movie to take my mind off of it. So rather than going for another foreign flick I thought that I would hit up the Academy Award Best Picture winner list which resulted in this:

englishpatientTitle: The English Patient
Director: Anthony Minghella
Year: 1996
Haul: 9 awards in total

I have an odd memory related to this film. I remember GMTV (a morning TV show) being on and them covering the sweep made by The English Patient with a montage of numerous actors and members of the film community declaring “and the winner is… The English Patient“. This is something that really should have meant that I might have seen this film earlier but so much commentary has swirled declaring it as over-rated so I have left it until now.

As someone who lists Fargo as their 4th favourite film of all time was always going to be hard for me to watch the film that beat it to Oscar glory. Then again Frances McDormand took the Best Actress win so I guess that’s something.

Still, with both the Fargo-beating and the spectre of this being an overrated film hanging overhead I did not exactly go into watching this film clean. Then I saw the illuminating face of Juliette Binoche as French-Canadian nurse Hana and knew everything was going to be okay. Fine, I know that it is cheap to sit up and pay attention when an actress you enjoy watching but this is what happened with this film.

The story of the film, in brief, is told primarily through flashback as we learn the identity of the eponymous English Patient (Ralph Fiennes) who lays in an abandoned monastery covered in burns. He recollects his story primarily to Nurse Hana and a Canadian thief (Willem Dafoe) and we learn of the patient’s previous life as a desert mapmaker and of his affair with the, very much married, Katherine (Kristen Scott-Thomas).

Despite Ralph Fiennes doing solid work in his lead role (and by God is he just exuding the silent sex appeal when he is not knee deep in latex) this is really a film that belongs to Binoche and Scott-Thomas. The fact that the original studio pushed for Demi Moore to play Katherine is perplexing (not least because it is painful to imagine the accent she would have to affect).

There is so much to this film that makes it a compelling watch but at 162 minutes it feels a little bit bloated and I know exactly where it could be trimmed. The dinner scene where a drunk Fiennes reproaches his fellow cartographers, some of the occupation scene with Dafoe and (sad to say this) a number of scenes with Colin Firth could have been edited without losing the formation of his intense jealousy.

As an ensemble and cinematographic piece The English Patient is a really good watch. If it was just trimmer by 15-20 minutes this could have been even better… as long as no Juliette Binoche scenes are cut.

Around The World in 100 Films – Mali

100WorldFilms - MaliList Item: Watch films from 100 different nations
Progress: 24/100

Thanks to having a lot of friends who, like myself, are really into movies which means I have access to a large number of film recommendations from more obscure nations. Whilst countries like Russia, China and India have an extremely large number of films I want to get to them later with something I really want to see (I also have to work out how I am going to reconcile the whole Mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan thing).

finyeCountry: Mali
Title: Finye (The Wind)
Director: Souleymane Cissé
Year: 1982

So, Mali ended up being the next pick and not just because it geographically links Burkina Faso and Algeria, although that is a nice by-product. I have been meaning for years to try and watch more African cinema and this is only the sixth film I have seen from the continent as a whole. As part of this whole ‘view films from 100 different countries’ I hope to rectify this and maybe get to 10 countries.

Anyway for now I am at Mali with a winner of the Étalon de Yennenga at the biannual FESPACO awards in 1983. The interesting thing about this particular award is how its retinue is not necessarily the best film at the festival but the one that best shows “Africa’s realities”. Something which, let’s be frank here, can be depressing when we talk about any nation or continent.

The story of Finye is one of those that occurs in any culture. Two protagonists who are the children of different sections of society (he, the son of a traditional chieftain and she, the daughter of a ruling member of the military) and both sides come to blows. The way this happens in the film is more unusual since rather than this being a clash between two opposing families/sections of society this depicts a more generational dispute.

Bah and Batrou are students at the local university and, after a flagrant display of corruption occurs regarding the exam results, they become part of a student resistance movement (through leaflets and protest) which results in some rather big push back from the military. The fact that this film won on the merit of depicting Africa’s realities does depress me somewhat, but then again so has watching the news recently so I’m kinda used to the feeling.

In terms of film making the main issue I had with it is that despite the good story and the hyper-realistic setting interwoven with fantastical sequences (which reminded me a bit of Beasts of the Southern Wild) was the acting. This is something that usually puts me off from watching movies from countries without established film industries since it does mean that there will be issues regarding the availability of acting talent (then again films like The Class are populated with non-professional actors and still get by really well).

Thing is, to make a film that depicts these sorts of realities you really need a director or writer who knows how bad things really are and Souleymane Cissé is competant enough to do this with the required emotional blow.

Around The World in 100 Films – Finland

List Item: Watch films from 100 different nations
Progress: 23/100

Thanks to the good people at the iCheckMovies Unofficial Forum seizing upon my call for help in my post opening up the Around The World in 100 Films I have a lot of interesting ideas for films for countries that I would have found difficult. So, thanks to you guys for that.

LeningradCowboysCountry: Finland
Title: Leningrad Cowboys Go America
Director: Aki Kaurismäki
Year: 1989

I went for Finland as the next country for two reasons. Firstly I am a fan of Aki Kaurismäki’s Finland trilogy and I have been meaning to watch more of his films. Secondly, I noticed that I go a few views from Finland for this blog and thought it would be nice if I could make sure to see a film from each country that reads my stuff (something that could get awkward).

So, Leningrad Cowboys Go America. Certainly one of the weirder film titles I’ve seen in a while and it certainly lives up to this. The Leningrad Cowboys themselves are a fictional Russian band, mostly made up of a Finnish rock band, that decide to travel to America to make it big since ‘they’d buy anything’.

What follows is an incredibly deadpan road movie as the band travles from New York to Mexico in order to play at a wedding with the eight band member lying frozen in a makeshift coffin tied to the roof of their car. On the way the band (sporting sunglasses, pointy shoes and foot-long quiffs) play at a number of bars to earn food money (which is then pocketed by their tour manager and all they get in return is raw onions) and so that they can adopt a more rock n’ roll sound. Well, that’s the sound that they are trying for but it becomes a mishmash of Russian folk, rock and country (although I  have to say whatever it is they are playing they do it very well, including a very good rendition of ‘Tequila’.

As films go it would be a very acquired taste, and Kaurismäki comedies are not exactly for everyone but, in my opinion, any film that ends with the lines “And nobody saw him again… shit happens” has got something going for it.

Around The World in 100 Films – Start Point

List Item: Watch films from 100 different nations
Progress: 22/100

Time for me to open up the second of my three film bucket list items with a rather arbitrary goal of seeing films from 100 different nations. Unlike the Oscar list item this is something that can be permanently crossed off unless I suddenly get the urge to add another batch of countries to keep this going.

Now, I have decided to count countries as long as I watched the film after I put this onto my bucket list which was (yes I made a note) on August 5th 2013. This means that some countries (e.g. Finland, South Africa, China and Israel) are not on the list yet despite me having seen them in the past. I figured using this cut off point would serve as a way to make this more challenging whilst also keeping Burkina Faso (still stoked about that one).

Whilst I was preparing this list I saw there were 21 countries on the list and instantly envisioned doing a really cool triangle number diagram as you can see below:WorldCinemaTriangleNotice the problem? Well in making that list I had forgotten that I saw a Polish film at the end of January which means poor Hungary (my most recent nation) has to lay on the outskirts since I decided to do this in order of seeing them. My inner math-geek is not impressed with this. It was later pointed out to me that a film I thought was Australian was from New Zealand, now my inner flag-geek is unhappy too.

Still 22 countries down, 78 to go. Not a bad place to start with, although there are not many of the big film nations left which will make this interesting.

Any film suggestions for yet unwatched countries will be VERY much appreciated. Bear in mind re-watches are not allowed here so films like Tsotsi, Drifting Clouds and Waltz With Bashir will not count.

  1. Germany – Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari)
  2. U.S.A. – Robocop
  3. Netherlands – De Vierde Man(The Fourth Man)
  4. Czech Republic – Kolja (Kolya)
  5. Italy – La Strada
  6. Burkina Faso – Sarraounia
  7. Argentina – El Secreto De Sus Ojos (The Secret in Their Eyes)
  8. Japan – Zatoichi Monogatari (The Story of Zatoichi)
  9. Brazil  – Cidade De Deus (City of God)
  10. Denmark – Melancholia
  11. United Kingdom – Blowup
  12. Norway – Flåklypa Grand Prix (Pinchcliffe Grand Prix)
  13. France – La règle du jeu (The Rules of the Game)
  14. New Zealand – The Piano
  15. Poland – Popiól i diament (Ashes and Diamonds)
  16. Spain – El espíritu de la colmena (The Spirit of the Beehive)
  17. Sweden – Viskningar och Rop (Cries and Whispers)
  18. Belgium – Ernest & Célestine
  19. Greece – Kynodontas (Dogtooth)
  20. Canada – The Sweet Hereafter
  21. Algeria – Z
  22. Hungary – A torinói ló(The Turin Horse)

It’s Okay To Watch Oscar Bait Sometimes… Right?

List Item: Watch all Best Picture Winners (to date)
Progress: 70/87

There are many ways that I will describe myself; geek, Pepsi Max addict, ginger but one label I wear with a true sense of pride is that of cinephile. I absolutely adore films above all other forms of artistic expression which might explain why there are three bucket list items on my list. It is fitting therefore that one of these be the first item I start writing about and the first to be included into my “in progress” section.

Oscars-Seen

Like most film lovers I do have a love-hate relationship with the Academy Awards since I have my own opinions about what films should win each year rather than the one picked by the Academy. In fact there have only been seven years out of the (as of writing) 87 films that I would concede were the best of that year:

  • 1934 – It Happened One Night
  • 1939 – Gone With The Wind
  • 1940 – Rebecca
  • 1965  – The Sound of Music
  • 1969 – Midnight Cowboy
  • 1972 – The Godfather
  • 1984 – Amadeus

So, why have the Oscar Best Picture Winners on this list at all if I rarely agree? Love it or loathe the system, and the incredibly flawed Best Foreign Language Film system, it is seen by many as THE film award. So until a truly global film award comes into existence this is the best we in the English-speaking world have.

oscar+winners

As you can see from the above graphic (which is linked to my film-watching activity) I am already a large part of the way through this list item since it is something I have been actively making my way through for a few years and I am left with only 17 to watch… but of course this is a list item that will need yearly attention once I am up to date.

The films I have left are a fairly mixed batch, but with the exception of The Life of Emile Zola, I appear to have dealt with the film widely considered the worst and borderline unwatchable, yes that is a reference to The Greatest Show On Earth.

I’ll end with the 17 films yet to be watched as I write this:

Wings, All Quiet On The Western Front, Grand Hotel, Cavalcade, Mutiny On The Bounty, The Life of Emile Zola, You Can’t Take It With You, Mrs. Miniver, The Lost Weekend, Hamlet, All The King’s Men, Marty, Ordinary People, Terms of Endearment, Out of Africa, The English Patient and Million Dollar Baby.

Oscars-UnSeen