Why a film doesn’t have to be ‘high art’ to be great.

Part 3 in a series about Mad Max: Fury Road at the Academy Awards. Part 1Part 2 and Part 4.

women of mad max

The women of Mad Max: Fury Road. Image courtesy of Warner Bros.

The most charitable reading of the “Inarritu refusing to clap for Jenny Beavan” incident is that maybe he’s a snob and thinks his film was better. I’ve now decided that I won’t see The Revenant after this incident, but I was never desperate to see it because I didn’t like last year’s Best Picture winner, Birdman. It was the film I was most excited to see, and the one I was most disappointed by. By comparison, my expectations for American Sniper were so low that I quite enjoyed it. The impression I got from Birdman is that Inarritu likes to make ‘high art’ – art that’s important. I could tell because Michael Keaton kept shouting about how important he was. It was beautifully shot though, I don’t begrudge Inarritu for his directing awards, I just don’t think his films (although I’ve only seen Birdman, so it’s actually film) have much substance. Maybe he dismissed Mad Max: Fury Road as being ‘just’ an action blockbuster. Just because it’s an action blockbuster, it doesn’t mean it wasn’t one of the best films of 2015.

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Why it can be good, and not so good, to read other people’s reviews.

I started this blog to write about television, and occasionally I write about film and books as well. But I wasn’t using it, so I decided that I would write at least 500 words every day this year. Depending on what I write, the length of the piece varies. What I’ve noticed since I’ve started writing more television reviews is that I’m not reading reviews on any other websites.

The main benefit of that is that I’m focusing on my own opinion of the episode, rather than having my opinion influenced by other people. On the other hand, if I’m not sure about whether I like something or not (my initial reaction to Birdman was “huh”, and I didn’t know what to make of it), it’s useful to seek out both positive and negative reviews and think about which one you agree with the most. My method is to get inspiration from the articles and use them as a source if I use specific ideas in my own review. I read Kayla Kumari’s review of The Good Wife‘s “Dark Money”, before I wrote my own, but the time between reading her review and writing my own was long enough that it didn’t matter as much. But of the shows I write about regularly, Jane the VirginBetter Call Saul and Justified, I’ll only occasionally read a review over at The A.V. Club or on Alan Sepinwall’s blog afterwards.

I’m still relatively new to this, so there are people who watch television more critically than I do. It’s a skill I’m still developing. Therefore I need to read other people’s reviews to enhance my own insight into what I’ve just watched. My case in point for this week is Justified. Last week, I wrote a more of a recap than a review in that it was mainly a plot summary that didn’t go into theme or character at all. Then I went to the review over at The A.V. Club, and read a fantastic character study into how Raylan’s personality was informed by the antagonistic relationship he had with his now dead father. The hatred of Arlo is what drove Raylan for four seasons, and the show has definitely changed since he died – why is Raylan still in Harlan? Given that I watched the first four seasons of this show in succession (it wasn’t quite a binge watch, since I was finishing my Masters degree at the time), I haven’t watched it as critically as I have shows that I watch on a weekly basis. Then in my review this week, I was looking too much into Boyd changing the magazine on his gun – on their podcast, Joanna Robinson and Ryan McGee thought it was just an illustration of how Boyd can no longer trust Ava – this makes the most sense, but I still hope there’s more of a possibility than that. It was a semi-ambiguous moment, and I need to remember that just because other people see it differently than I did, it doesn’t mean that I interpreted it wrong. Just differently. Still, I haven’t read any other Justified reviews this week, so I only know the opinions of two people. It’s food for thought.

Another thing I wrote about last week was my issues with the second series of Broadchurch. On her podcast with Ryan McGee, Mo Ryan articulated some of her problems with the show – I had heard that it was soapy, but that’s not necessarily the whole problem. What was good about the first series of Broadchurch is that it wasn’t about the big twists, and it has become that in the second series, instead of a character based piece about the murder of a child in a small town. It became more Scandal than Friday Night Lights, to use Ryan McGee’s analogy. You can read more about the issues with the second series of Broadchurch over on Mo Ryan’s website.

So my new goal is that once I have written my review of a film or television show, I’m going to seek out others. It’s the best way for me to think more critically, and definitely the best way for me to learn.

Oscar predictions, but not in every category

The Academy Awards are on Monday afternoon here in Australia, and while I won’t be able to watch them live, I’m still going to try and make predictions. I’m also a little more informed than I was for the Golden Globes, but still not completely informed, so let’s see how this goes.

Best Picture

  • American Sniper
  • Birdman
  • Boyhood
  • The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • The Imitation Game
  • Selma (the one I want to win because it was snubbed)
  • The Theory of Everything
  • Whiplash

The only one of the films I haven’t seen in this category is The Theory of Everything, which I’m hoping to see at some point tomorrow. Of the seven I have seen, my top three are Whiplash, Selma and The Grand Budapest Hotel. Then there’s Boyhood, followed by The Imitation Game and American Sniper the next level down, with Birdman as my least favourite (I had an argument with someone about Birdman this week on the internet, so everything is normal). I think the race is between Boyhood, Birdman and American Sniper. I’m going to go for Boyhood out of these three because I want it to win the most, and also Birdman was beaten out by The Grand Budapest Hotel at the Golden Globes. Then again, Birdman won the top award at the SAG, DGA and PGA awards, so I have no idea. American Sniper is in at third because it’s been a commercial success, and there’s every likelihood that the other two films could split the vote, even though AMPAS uses preferential voting.

Best Director

  • Alejandro González Iñárittu, Birdman
  • Richard Linklater, Boyhood
  • Bennett Miller, Foxcatcher
  • Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • Morten Tyldum, The Imitation Game

There’s discussion of Birdman and Boyhood splitting the Best Picture and Best Director Awards, but I’m going to go out on a limb and go for Anderson, even though Linklater will probably (and deservedly) win this one. I haven’t seen Foxcatcher, and I didn’t think there was anything remarkable about The Imitation Game. You know who would have been a better nominee than Morten Tyldum? Ava DuVernay.

Actress in a Lead Role

  • Marion Cotillard, Two Days, One Night
  • Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything
  • Julianne Moore, Still Alice
  • Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl
  • Reese Witherspoon, Wild

The only performance I’ve seen in this category is Rosamund Pike, and she was fantastic in Gone Girl, especially given that the only other role I’ve seen her play is Jane Bennet in Pride and Prejudice. The momentum seems to be with Julianne Moore, so I’m going to make a safe choice there.

Actor in a Lead Role

  • Steve Carell, Foxcatcher
  • Bradley Cooper, American Sniper
  • Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game
  • Michael Keaton, Birdman
  • Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything

Eddie Redmayne seems to be winning every award for his portrayal of Stephen Hawking, so that’s my prediction. Of the performances I have seen, they’re all great, and I’m surprising myself by going for Bradley Cooper (although I’ve been watching some more Alias, and Will is much more interesting now, so that might have something to do with it), who I didn’t know had that performance in him.

Actor in a Supporting Role

  • Robert Duvall, The Judge
  • Ethan Hawke, Boyhood
  • Edward Norton, Birdman
  • Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher
  • J.K. Simmons, Whiplash

I’ve seen two of these performances, and Ethan Hawke was fine in Boyhood, but he had nothing on J.K. Simmons, who has deservedly won all of the lead up awards, so I’ll be thrilled and unsurprised if he wins this one as well.

Actress in a Supporting Role

  • Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
  • Laura Dern, Wild
  • Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game
  • Emma Stone, Birdman
  • Meryl Streep, Into the Woods

Meryl Streep was great in Into the Woods, but she has enough Oscars, and I think Patricia Arquette is the best of the nominees here. She’s also won the awards in the lead-up to the Oscars, so I think she’s a lock. She grounds Boyhood, and that film wouldn’t have worked with a lesser performance. The scene where she’s crying at her kitchen table at the end of the film is gutting, because she’s been through so much. I’d also be perfectly happy if Laura Dern won for Wild, which I am yet to see, but I really love Laura Dern.

Adapted Screenplay

  • American Sniper, written by Jason Hall
  • The Imitation Game, written by Graham Moore
  • Inherent Vice, written for the screen by Paul Thomas Anderson
  • The Theory of Everything, screenplay by Anthony McCarten
  • Whiplash, written by Damien Chazelle

I think this one should go to Whiplash, which I have no reason for other than personal biases – I’m not very good at predicting awards for writing.

Original Screenplay

  • Birdman, written by Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr. & Armando Bo
  • Boyhood, written by Richard Linklater
  • Foxcatcher, written by E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman
  • The Grand Budapest Hotel, screenplay by Wes Anderson; Story by Wes Anderson & Hugo Guinness
  • Nightcrawler, written by Dan Gilroy

This should go to either Richard Linklater or Wes Anderson. Linklater’s a more interesting case because I have no idea how he wrote the screenplay for Boyhood – did he write it all at once or did he make changes as he went along and saw how the actors were developing? Anderson’s script however is beautifully structured and has stories within stories, so it’s my pick.

Foreign Language Film

  • Ida (Poland)
  • Leviathan (Russia
  • Tangerines (Estonia)
  • Timbuktu (Mauritania)
  • Wild Tales (Argentina)

I’m going for Ida here, because it’s also been nominated for the cinematography award – the films in this category that get nominated for other awards seem to win this one.

Animated Feature Film

  • Big Hero 6
  • The Boxtrolls
  • How to Train Your Dragon 2
  • Song of the Sea
  • The Tale of the Princess Kaguya

I’ve seen Big Hero 6 and HTTYD2, so this is complete guesswork, so I’m going to go for The Tale of the Princess Kaguyabecause why not?

Cinematography

  • Emmanuel, Birdman
  • Robert Yeoman, The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • Lukasz Zal and Ryszard Lenczewski, Ida
  • Dick Pope, Mr. Turner
  • Roger Deakins, Unbroken

This is the one award that Birdman deserves to win, so I’m going for that.

Editing

  • Joel Cox and Gary D. Roach, American Sniper
  • Sandra Adair, Boyhood
  • Barney Pilling, The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • William Goldenberg, The Imitation Game
  • Tom Cross, Whiplash

These are all really good nominees. Adair did some amazing work on Boyhood, which was a feat of editing over a long period of time. I feel like the film coult have been a bit shorter though. After Adair, I’d predict Barney Pilling, because The Grand Budapest Hotel is a film that works because of its timing, which wouldn’t have worked without great editing. I’d also love to see Tom Cross win for Whiplash, just for the scene where the drummers are all taking turns to get a spot in the band for some competition. That’s some of the best editing I’ve seen all year.

Best Original Song

  • “Everything Is Awesome,” The Lego Movie, Music and Lyric by Shawn Patterson
  • “Glory,” Selma, Music and Lyric by John Stephens and Lonnie Lynn
  • “Grateful,” Beyond the Lights, Music and Lyric by Diane Warren
  • “I’m Not Going to Miss You,” Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me, Music and Lyric by Glen Campbell and Julian Raymond
  • “Lost Stars,” Begin Again, Music and Lyric by Gregg Alexander and Danielle Brisebois

I have only heard “Everything Is Awesome” and “Glory”, the second of which is one of the best songs I’ve heard in the last few months, so I’m going for that one.

Now let’s see how right I am on Monday night.

The meta-narrative of “Birdman” is more interesting than the film itself

Birdman is the most pretentious film I have ever seen. Or at least the most pretentious film in my recent memory. I have been waiting to see Birdman for months, and this is the most disappointed I’ve been with a film since Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part II. There are parts of Birdman that I quite like, but with the exception of two scenes, they all occurred in the first hour and a half of the film. As soon as Michael Keaton started yelling at the New York Times theatre critic, I realised what this film was really about: actors, directors and writers are artists and they matter more than the rest of us. No wonder the Academy nominated this film for nine awards.

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