Monday, 28 February 2011

Oscar night: blow by blow

Well here we go again! At least the powers that be freshened up the formula by hiring two terrific hosts this year - the opening film clip reel was hilarious, plus a terrific self-deprecating opening double act. I loved the but where James Franco and Anne Hathaway chatted with their mother and grandmother in the audience. The set is simple and pretty cool, with arches that turn into videoscreens.

Tribute from Tom Hanks for the films that have won Art Direction, Cinematography and Best Picture, from Gone With the Wind to Titanic, followed by the Art Direction award to Alice in Wonderland. Then he gave Cinematography to Wally Pfister for Inception, a bit of an upset as Roger Deakins (True Grit) had been the favourite.

Kirk Douglas looking frighteningly ancient but still feisty, struggling a lot and really milking the moment to present Supporting Actress to Melissa Leo. A lovely 'Oh wow!' thank you, especially with the accidental F-bomb. Then it's Mila Kunis (in the night's most glamorous gown) and Justin Timberlake presenting the animation awards The Lost Thing (short) and Toy Story 3 (feature).

In a setting meant to evoke the first Oscars, dapper white-tied Josh Brolin and Javier Bardem present Adapted Screenplay to Aaron Sorkin, who gave a rather dry but generous speech. They then give  Original Screenplay to David Seidler, who is heartfelt, clever and charming. Now Anne in a tux starts singing a song from Le Mis with lyrics poking fun at Hugh Jackman - hilarious. Even funnier, James appears in an outrageous pink evening gown to introduce Russell Brand and Helen Mirren (not promoting their upcoming film at all) to present Foreign-language Film to In a Better World.

Now it's Reese Witherspoon, looking absolutely gorgeous, to present Supporting Actor to Christian Bale, who is grateful and earthy and enthusiastic. Then a couple of TV network types took the stage - does anyone care that they've signed a big deal with the Academy? Much better, Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman emerge grinning sheepishly. After a clunky scripted bit about the history of movie sound, and the appearance of an orchestra playing classic tunes, Original Score goes to The Social Network, with rockers giving a deeply dull but genuine thank you.

Scarlett Johansson and Matthew McConaughey make a very odd couple as they present the sound awards, saying the word 'sound' over and over again: Mixing goes to Inception, as does Editing of course. We kind of tune out while these techie geniuses give their speeches. Then Marisa Tomei appears to announce the Sci-Tech awards, presented earlier. 'Congratulations, nerds.' And Cate Blanchett, looking gorgeous, presents Make-up to The Wolfman and Costumes to Alice in Wonderland - a long, dull read speech by the great Colleen Atwood.

Now we get a montage of people talking about their favourite movie songs, with Kevin Spacey joking through his introduction ('Hello, I'm George Clooney').of the nominated songs, performed by Randy Newman, then Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi. Now Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal arrive looking impossibly glamorous to present the short film awards: Documentary to Strangers No More.and Live Action to God of Love (accepted by a hilarious young guy with a massive fro). This is followed by a hilarious remix of the last Harry Potter and Twilight (and other movies) movies into musicals.

Oprah Winfrey is the next on stage to present the Documentary award to Inside Job, which of course sparks a very strong speech. And here's iconic Oscar host Billy Crystal, who gets a standing ovation, and deadpans a few jokes about hosting before a great story about Bob Hope, leading into a tribute to his 18 years as host. Somehow, Hope introduces Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law to present Special Effects to Inception. They then present Editing to The Social Network. And here's Jennifer Hudson to present the final two song performances by AR Rahman and Florence Welch, then Gwyneth Paltrow. And the award goes to Toy Story 3 and the great Randy Newman.

Now there's some sad music and Celine Dione to depress us even further while the in memorium clip reel runs.The final image is of Lena Horne, and Halle Berry gives a tribute to her, perhaps to counterbalance the all-white acting nominees this year. And here's another former winner, Hilary Swank, welcomes Kathryn Bigelow to the stage to present Directing to an overwhelmed Tom Hooper.And here's Annette Bening to talk about the previously presented Governor's Awards and the winners Kevin Brownlow, Eli Wallach and Francis Ford Coppola. Cue another standing ovation. And here's Jeff Bridges to present Actress to the lovely Natalie Portman, who gives a rambling huge-hearted thank you. And now Sandra Bullock presents Actor to, of course, the insanely gorgeous, warm and funny Colin Firth..

Finally and seemingly ahead of schedule, we arrive at Best Picture, which Steven Spielberg presents to The King's Speech, a predictable win to match all of the other major awards, which went right down the line with the guild awards. But it's a worthy year of winners, so no reason to complain. And the show felt lean and tight, even if it was a bit dull. James and Anne were terrific hosts, letting their personalities hold our interest rather than corny scripting or showy silliness, although there was a bit of both. Anne's series of outfits and hairdos were pretty amazing, although James' interest clearly waned as the evening wore on. The curtain call with the winners was a nice final touch.

And since I'm in New York tonight, it's time to go to bed (much nicer than being home in London, where the sun has just come up on Monday morning).

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Out on a limb: Oscar picks

Frankly, I know nothing, but I still do this every year, based on my own preferences and the ubiquitous buzz that's reaching a crescendo this weekend. Here's who I think will win the Oscars on Sunday, and who I want to win...

Will win: The King's Speech
Might win: The Social Network
Dark horse: True Grit
Should win: Inception

Will/should win: Colin Firth

Will/should win: Annette Bening
Might win: Natalie Portman

Will/should win: Christian Bale
Might win: Geoffrey Rush

Will/should win: Melissa Leo
Might win: Helena Bonham Carter

Will win: The King's Speech
Might win: The Social Network
Should win: Inception

Will win: The King's Speech
Should win: The Kids Are All Right

Will/should win: The Social Network

Will/should win: Toy Story 3
Surprise upset: How to Train Your Dragon

Will win: Waste Land
Might win: Inside Job
Dark horse: Restrepo
Should win: Exit Through the Gift Shop

Will win: In a Better World
Might win: Biutiful

Will win: The King's Speech
Might win: the Social Network
Should win: 127 Hours

Will win: Toy Story 3
Might win: 127 Hours

Will/should win: True Grit
Might win: The Social Network

Will win: The Social Network
Should win: 127 Hours

Will win: The King's Speech
Might/should win: Inception

Will/should win: I Am Love
Might win: Alice in Wonderland

Will/should win: Barney's Version
Might win: The Wolfman

Will/should win: Inception

SHORTS - pure guesswork
Live Action: God of Love
Animated: Day & Night
Documentary: Killing in the Name

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Critical Week: Now I'm a belieber!

Yes, the London critics were left stunned after the late press screening of Justin Bieber's 3D doc Never Say Never - mainly because we enjoyed it a lot more than we expected. Sure, he comes across as a precocious, privileged teen, but he also has undeniable charisma and talent. And the 3D was pretty good too. And there were further surprises in store. Dwayne Johnson tries to suppress his charisma in the so-serious action movie Faster, but can't quite manage it. So the film is actually rather good fun. Then Woody Allen tries to recapture his astute take on relationships in the comical London-set farce You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, but also can't quite manage it. Still, mediocre Allen is better than most of what's out there. And Anthony Hopkins tries once again to channel Hannibal Lecter in the Rome-set demonic horror The Rite, and just about manages it. It's predictable but rather good fun.

This left the week's most challenging and interesting film as Confessions, an artful, offbeat Japanese revenge thriller. Comments on two other high-profile films were specifically embargoed by their distributors, so I can't really say anything about them yet, besides this: Matt Damon and Emily Blunt star in the fantasy-thriller The Adjustment Bureau, and Johnny Depp and Isla Fisher lend their voices to the animated comedy Rango.

This coming week, we'll be seeing Julie Taymor's all-star take on Shakespeare's The Tempest, Liam Neeson in the action thriller Unknown, Channing Tatum and Jamie Bell in Roman-era action in The Eagle, the Farrelly Brothers' buddy comedy Hall Pass and Wim Wenders' 3D Pina Bausch doc, cleverly titled Pina. But of course, the most important thing this week is this year's Oscar ceremony, which is coming on Sunday night. Is it in 3D too this year?

Monday, 14 February 2011

Critical Week: King of the world

It wasn't surprising that The King's Speech dominated last night's British Academy Film Awards, although no one really expected the film to walk away with 7 Baftas, including both Best Film and Best British Film. On the other hand, everyone knew Colin Firth would win his second consecutive Best Actor Bafta.

The ceremony at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, broadcast as always on tape-delay, had a stripped-down feel this year. The red carpet watchers could barely muster up enough people to chat to, the glamour level seemed oddly low, and host Jonathan Ross was strangely subdued. Awards presenters made clumsy gaffes - most notably Rosamund Pike tearing open the envelope before even reading the nominees, or Stephen Fry introducing David Warner when he meant Heyman. And several key recipients were no-shows, including David Fincher, Natalie Portman, Geoffrey Rush, Chris Morris and Tom Hardy.

That said, the two winning actors present were the highlights: Firth with another deeply charming thank you ("I like coming here!") and Helena Bonham Carter with a rambling speech that was actually rather funny. Here are all of the winners...

Film: The King’s Speech
Foreign Language Film: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Animated Film: Toy Story 3
British Film: The King’s Speech
Director: David Fincher – The Social Network
Actress: Natalie Portman – Black Swan
Actor: Colin Firth – The King’s Speech
Supporting Actress: Helena Bonham Carter – The King’s Speech
Supporting Actor: Geoffrey Rush – The King’s Speech
Adapted Screenplay: The Social Network – Aaron Sorkin
Original Screenplay: The King’s Speech – David Seidler
British Debut: Chris Morris – Four Lions
Rising Star: Tom Hardy - Inception
Bafta Fellowship: Christopher Lee
Outstanding Contribution: JK Rowling and David Heyman – Harry Potter
Cinematography: True Grit – Roger Deakins
Editing: The Social Network – Angus Wall, Kirk Baxter
Music: The King’s Speech – Alexandre Desplat
Costumes: Alice in Wonderland – Colleen Atwood
Production Design: Inception
Make Up & Hair: Alice in Wonderland
Visual Effects: Inception
Sound: Inception
Short Film: Until the River Runs Red
Short Animation: The Eagleman Stags

Meanwhile, in London screening rooms, we suffered through the latest Adam Sandler rom-com Just Go With It, enjoyed learning about the world's most famous hairdresser in Vidal Sassoon: The Movie, and took a romantic stroll through London in the sad-sweet Forget Me Not. Not a very busy week, really, although this coming week is slightly busier, with Matt Damon and Emily Blunt in The Adjustment Bureau, the Anthony Hopkins thriller The Rite, the backstage doc Justin Bieber: Never Say Never, the kidnapped child drama Arc, the acclaimed Japanese mystery Confessions and the romantic drama Just Say Love.

Friday, 11 February 2011

31st London Critics' Circle Film Awards

The Critics' Circle held its annual film awards last night at BFI Southbank, and it was as glamorous as ever. The new venue made it much more of a cinema event as, rather than holding the ceremony in a hotel ballroom, we were in the BFI's National Film Theatre. As secretary of the Critics' Circle Film Section, I was stationed at the door to welcome all of the nominees and celebrity guests (there are two pics at the end). I also got to present an award in the ceremony to Olivia Williams (above right) as British Supporting Actress for The Ghost. Our top award, the Dilys Powell Award for Excellence in Film, went to Kristin Scott Thomas (left) and Actor of the Year went to Colin Firth (centre) for The King's Speech.
More winners: Aaron Sorkin (left) represented The Social Network, which picked up four awards: Sorkin won for Screenwriter, then read out a witty acceptance speech from Andrew Garfield for British Supporting Actor and also collected David Fincher's award for Director and the big prize for Film of the Year. Lesley Manville (centre) won British Actress for Another Year, while Conor McCarron took the Young Performer award for his work in NEDs.
Danny Boyle popped in to raise a glass of champagne from our sponsor Moet, whose Toast for a Cause supported our designated charity, the BFI National Archive's project to rescue nine silent Hitchcock films. He's pictured (left) with Jason Solomons, the Critics' Circle Film Section chair and our host for the ceremony. Producer Gareth Unwin (centre) of The King's Speech accepted both Tom Hooper's British Director award and the prize for British Film of the Year. And Sam Taylor-Wood brought Aaron Johnson with her; she presented the Dilys Powell Award.
Special guests included (left to right): Mike Leigh (whose film Another Year had 7 nominations); Manjinder Virk and nominee Christine Bottomley from The Arbor; and Edgar Ramirez, nominated for Carlos.
More nominees on the red carpet (left to right): Rosamund Pike, nominated for her roles in both Barney's Version and Made in Dagenham; Will Poulter (The Voyage of the Dawn Treader); Ruth Sheen (Another Year); and Thomas Turgoose (The Scouting Book for Boys).
And finally, here are a couple of photos of me with two of the night's brightest stars. Other nominees attending last night included David Bradley, Peter Wight, David Seidler, Clio Barnard, Jessica Barden, J Blakeson, Jamie D'Cruz, Georgina Lowe and Tracy O'Riordan. And special guests included Lucy Walker and Dexter Fletcher.

Unable to attend, Gareth Edwards (who won British Breakthrough Film-maker for Monsters) sent a hilarious videotaped speech saying that he would remain true to his British roots, with the Hollywood sign in the background. Etienne Comar (winning Foreign Language Film for Of Gods and Men) sent a terrific video thank you as well, while Annette Bening (Actress of the Year for The Kids Are All Right) sent a written message. The only other no-show was Christian Bale (British Actor for The Fighter), who's filming in China this week.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Critical Week: Up in the air

The latest Kate Hudson rom-com A Little Bit of Heaven was only screened to the press a couple of days before it opened. And it still has no US release date. These two hints tell us that something might be wrong here - indeed, the film was an uneven mix of comedy and terminal illness. But at least Gael Garcia Bernal comes out of it with his dignity intact. The week's other big film was Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son, which returns Martin Lawrence to his cross-dressing fat-suit role, this time along with his character's son, played by Brandon T Jackson. The studio has embargoed any comments about the film until next week.

Otherwise, the offerings were much smaller, and therefore much less predictable. Emilio Estevez's new film The Way stars his dad Martin Sheen as a man on a religious pilgrimage across northern Spain - it's sentimental, but also thoughtful and moving. Southern District, from Bolivia, has a swirling plot that's impossible to get a grip on, yet still manages to be mesmerising. From France, Antoine de Caunes' comedy-drama He's My Girl is a sequel to 1998's Man Is a Woman - a beautifully played and somewhat provocative blending of sexuality and ethnicity. And Black, also from France, is a heist thriller made in a funky Blaxploitation style that continually surprises (and entertains) us, right to the supernatural final act.

This coming week we have another very late screening: Adam Sandler's Just Go With It, costarring Jennifer Aniston and Nicole Kidman opens on Friday. We have two British small films: the romance Forget Me Not and the Indian subculture drama Life Goes On. And then there's the doc Vidal Sassoon: The Movie. But the week's biggest event is the 31st London Critics' Circle Film Awards on Thursday, 10th February, at BFI Southbank - my one night of glamour each year. Look for a special report on Friday.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Critical Week: Road rage

Nicolas Cage somehow managed to find yet another crazy hair-do for his latest mindless action romp, Drive Crazy, which was shown to UK critics last week. This was one of five 3D movies we saw last week - this trend is getting a little oppressive. Especially since the effect only worked on one of the movies: Werner Herzog's extraordinary doc Cave of Forgotten Dreams, which feels like time-travelling 30,000 years into human history to explore unseen cave drawings in France. The others were the underwater cave-diving thriller Sanctum, which drowns in its melodramatic plotting; the live-action/animated film version of Yogi Bear, which is more fun than it looks; and the 3D instructional film The Lovers' Guide: Igniting Desire, which has no actual instruction at all and doesn't even work as soft porn.

We were able to ditch those murky 3D specs for the rollicking and fairly simple action romp I Am Number Four, the outrageously grisly 13th century British battle movie Ironclad, the clever and harrowing terrorism thriller Essential Killing, the raucous vampire-zombie thrills of Stake Land, and Alex Gibney's startlingly insightful doc Client-9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer. Yes, it was a busy week.

Coming up we have the Kate Hudson rom-com A Little Bit of Heaven, Emilio Estevez directing his dad Martin Sheen in The Way and the Bolivian drama Southern District. There are bound to be more screenings coming up this week, but I think I'd enjoy having a few evenings off for a change. Just to recover from the eyestrain.