Politics or Perfection?

A look at this year’s questionable Oscars nominations.

It is around this time each year that people complain about the alleged ‘terrible’ Oscars nominees. 2012 has been no exception, with many outwardly disagreeing with the Academy’s choices. However, although it has been heralded as one of the worst years for cinema in a long time, it is undeniable that there have been films far superior to those nominated that haven’t received the recognition they duly deserve. This is not a new trend but a factor of the Academy Awards that has taken place since their inception in 1929.

The Oscars nomination process is one that clearly adheres to a number of set rules and principles. It is governed by a political process that means certain types of films can never make it to the short list and the same people can’t win on numerous occasions. It is arguable that were a director to jump through the hoops and make a film that ticks all the right boxes, they would have no problem garnering that much sought after Oscars nod. Being the most esteemed award to be offered to members of the film community, you would presume it should commend originality, artistic merit and exceptional acting skills, however, more often than not, those films that are placed in the limelight are simply safe choices that are average at best.

The top films of the previous year can be split into two main categories. The first illustrates a celebration of nostalgia, featuring allusions to the past and the supposed Golden Years of cinema. It is this category that has captured the hearts of the Academy and therefore landed this year’s Oscars nods. Hugo, which leads the pack with 11 nominations, is a commemoration of the work of George Méliès, much forgotten following his decline as a result of the first World War. Similarly, The Artist, which is just behind with 10 nominations, is a homage to the silent era and captures the devastating effect the advent of the talkies had on silent actors. Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, with 4 nods, perhaps best encapsulates the ethos of this year’s nominations as it delightfully explores the disenchantment of one’s own era and longing to be part of artistic ages past.

The second group can be collated due to their unconventional intensity that often treads a fine line between gratuity and tastefulness. Perhaps due to the controversial nature of their content these films have been largely overlooked, despite featuring some of the best performances of the year. It is surprising that We Need to Talk About Kevin received no attention despite Tilda Swinton giving arguably her finest performance and an exquisite cinematography that blended the beautiful with the grotesque. Similarly, Michael Fassbender’s performance in Shame is flawless in its delivery, yet due to the tender subject of the film, never stood a chance.

In the Best Foreign Language Film category, Pedro Almodóvar’s The Skin I Live In received no recognition despite being one of the best films of the year, let alone one of the best foreign films. However, again due to the controversial nature of its content it is perhaps understandable that it was never considered.

Olivia Coleman’s turn in Tyrannosaur was a brutal portrayal of a woman trapped in an abusive marriage and yet she didn’t receive any notice. Ryan Gosling in the graphic Drive, Australia’s Snowtown, Britain’s Kill List. These were all brilliant films but never had a look in due to the constraints placed on what constitutes an ‘Oscar Worthy’ film.

There were, however, a number of surprising omissions that can’t be disregarded due to contentious content. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who gained a Golden Globe nod for his part in 50/50 was nowhere to be seen, as was Charlize Theron for Young Adult. The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn, infinitely better than Kung Fu Panda 2 yet perhaps dismissed due to Spielberg’s numerous nominations for War Horse. Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia, most probably forgotten due to the excitement over the director’s ill advised Nazi comments.

So far it appears that the only awards ceremony that seem to have acknowledged the year’s truly best films is the London Critics’ Circle Awards. Unafraid to buck the trend, they heralded the real deserving films. It remains puzzling how films as trite as Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close or as emotionally manipulative as War Horse can be given any attention yet this seems to be the way of the Hollywood circle. One piece of advice: don’t go looking to the best picture nominees for a decent piece of cinema.

Taken from The Student, published Tue Jan 31st 2012.

Platige Image: Unappreciated Animation

Platige Image is an award-winning post-production studio founded in Warsaw, Poland in 1998. Specialising predominately in commercial production, they focus on creating advanced animation and quality special effects for films.

One of their more notable works includes Andrzej Wajda’s Oscar-nominated film Katyn, for which they did the special effects. Telling the story of the 1940 Katyn massacre, in which Polish citizens and prisoner of war officer’s were ordered by Soviet authorities to be mass executed, Platige were responsible for retouching over 160 scenes, which entailed around fifteen minutes of film footage.

Recently, the studio has done a considerable amount of editing on the films of Lars von Trier. At the beginning of 2009, they began working on over eighty takes for von Trier’s Antichrist. This project, led by Jakub Knapik, proved to be a great challenge, as they were working directly with von Trier who was incredibly meticulous about each individual detail of production. Often unhappy with the way the team had edited a scene, it became a long and laborious process, but one whose success is clearly evident in the film’s captivating images. Not only this, but the effects they were working on were far removed from the explosions and very in-your-face style predominant in Hollywood, instead focusing on an unusual blend of subtlety and horror. The influence their work had on the final version of Antichrist is considerable.

Read more…

Taken from SubtitledOnline, published online Wed Dec 7th 2011.

Classic Cult: Musicals

Musicals as a genre within film have been approached somewhat apprehensively in recent years and yet they formed an integral part of the formation of modern cinema. The transition that occurred in the 1930s from the silent films, popularised by luminaries including Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, to a new form of entertainment made possible through the arrival of sound marked the beginning of the musical feature.

However, beyond the success of the early musicals that were made between the 1930s and 1960s (and a handful released each year in the following decades) it has remained a relatively unappreciated genre. Away from smash hits such as Singing in the RainThe Sound of Music, and the animated films of Walt Disney, there have been a surprising number of cult musicals which cannot be overlooked when considering this distinct genre.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show is the ultimate cult musical. With much of its success generated from midnight screenings featuring hundreds of dedicated followers clad in transsexual attire, it has gone on to harbour some of the most bizarre instances of audience participation. Projectiles of toast, toilet paper, water and rice alongside answering back to the screen and mass reproductions of the “Time Warp” make this not just a cult film, but a cult experience.

Numerous famous musicians have featured in cult musicals that have developed a devoted fan base often years after their initial flop. The Wiz is an urban retelling of L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz featuring an all African-American cast set in a fantasy version of New York City. With Diana Ross as Dorothy, reconfigured as a Harlem school teacher, and Michael Jackson as the Scarecrow, It illustrates a combination of soulful song and dance numbers written towards the end of the blaxploitation movement.

Few cult fans will be unaware of Labyrinth, a fantasy film directed by Jim Henson, starring David Bowie as the beleaguering Goblin King, Jareth. Its combination of puppetry, human performances and Bowie crotch shots – which have sparked pages of critical analysis – mean it remains one of the best cult musicals ever made. Rock opera Tommy, based upon the album of the same name is a musical by British band The Who. Starring Who lead singer Roger Daltrey as a deaf, dumb and blind pinball wizard, and featuring terrific cameo performances from the likes of Oliver Reed, Jack Nicholson and Tina Turner. It is a surrealist production that features one of the most innovative soundtracks of the genre.

In recent years, cult musicals have received less acclaim, generally staying predominately under the radar. However, Lars Von Trier’s Palme d’Or winning Dancer in the Dark, starring Icelandic singer Björk has redefined the musical genre by introducing an extreme emotional aspect to what is generally frivolous escapism. It is clear from examples like this that it is anything but a dying genre. Still retaining merit in what is often a prejudiced art form, musicals are constantly reassessing the necessary requirements for entertainment.

Taken from The Student, published Tue Oct 4th 2011.