Oscar Nom Nom Noms

The Oscar noms were announced yesterday. The Best Picture category predictably includes the critically panned ‘War Horse’, ‘The Help’ and ‘Extremely 9 and Incredibly 11,’ all of which tugged on the heartstrings with such mathematical precision that you felt violated by the time the credits rolled.

I would try to find an animated .gif to encapsulate how especially angry I am about the ‘Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close’ nomination, but I just think an animated .gif of the September 11th bombings would suffice. And even that would seem less exploitative than the film was.

If only Mark Wahlberg could’ve stopped *this* tragedy from happening instead…

Where’s Michael Fassbender’s nomination for his marvellous turn in the sextraordinary* (*I’m sorry) ‘Shame’? Apart from the expected nominations for George Clooney and Jean Dujardin, the Best Actor category is a bit of a let-down. If you had trouble getting onto IMDb last night, it’s because I was desperately trying to figure out who the hell Demián Bichir (‘A Better Life’) was at the very same time. I suppose Gary Oldman deserves a nod, but I still feel Fassbender’s raw energy outshines all in the category (although, as you may have guessed, I have yet to see/hear of ‘A Better Life’).

Also, where’s Tilda Swinton’s nomination for the maternal nightmare, ‘We Need To Talk About Kevin’? More like ‘We Need Not Talk About Kevin’, amiright? Huh? Well, I suppose we all know it’s between Viola Davis (‘The Help’) and Meryl Streep (‘The Iron Lady’) realistically.

On the other hand, the Best Supporting Actor nominations are just about bearable (since it’s already a foregone conclusion that Christopher Plummer will win every award this season for his depiction of an *whispers it* elderly homosexual). I’m still very pleased and surprised to find Max von Sydow on the list, too (the only redeeming quality of the otherwise Kleenex-abusing ‘Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close’). The one bizarre inclusion is for Jonah Hill (‘Moneyball’) who just plays an accentuated version of his own self. In the ever-increasingly unlikely situation that he does get the award, I hope it’s on the condition that it’s melted down and then poured onto his pre-adolescent head.

Best Supporting Actress is more dispiriting. Really, the Academy think Melissa McCarthy’s comedic face contortions (‘Bridesmaids’) are worthy of a nomination? Voters must clearly prefer listening to gross-out catchphrases (“Gonna climb that like a tree”) rather than the deep, insightful yearnings of Carey Mulligan a la ‘Shame.’ Also, everyone who was mad over Hailee Steinfeld (‘True Grit’) being stuck in this category last year can now direct their misplaced ire at Bérénice Bejo’s very same nomination for ‘The Artist’.

And don’t even get me started on the Best Director list! Seriously, the only way these Oscars would be worth watching is if Glenn Close decides to come dressed as Albert Nobbs:

Christopher Plummer burns some bridges

I love watching actors sitting around chatting. Usually it’s just George Clooney talking about the countless number of corns he’s seen on women’s feet (seriously), but sometimes it gets truly revealing: kudos to Mr Plummer, who’s starting to vaguely resemble a Spitting Image puppet from the 1980s, for pointing out the pretension of Terence Malick here as a director:

“Shame” is about a player, not a game…

Sex without the pleasure – and I thought watching Michael Fassbender starve to death in an Irish prison was tough. Following the revolutionary visuals of ‘Hunger,’ director Steve McQueen’s latest collaboration with the prime actor is a similarly self-destructive character study. ‘Shame’ depicts the hollow, unfulfilling cycle of an office drone and sex addict, Brandon (Michael Fassbender), who indulges in little other than pushing around excessive amounts of cash and pushing against excessive amounts of women. From the very beginning we bear witness to his wanton philandering as he spends the best part of his day in permanent surveillance mode, observing an endlessly tiresome precession of women going about their business while he fixates on their unsavoury particulars, studying flesh until it becomes his property. He silently seduces newly marrieds on the subway, staring with pointed intent until his prey has no choice but to respond.

McQueen is all too aware that a film concerned with the gruff of sexual obsession could quite easily degenerate into the kind of juvenile excesses that used to be synonymous with late-night Channel 5 and a rancid sock. Far from descending into such depths of crass or exploitative norms, however, the film succeeds in making the protagonist’s many lascivious liaisons feel compulsive rather than sensual. Under the merciless gaze of the camera, all the titillation is drained from our antihero’s encounters until, eventually, we feel as he does the unrelenting slap and unremitting grind of it all. It’s completely appropriate, then, that the movie’s moment of catharsis comes as Brandon thrusts away in the midst of a mesmerising ménage à trois as a minimalist instrumental piece substitutes the moans and groans of passion. As a freestanding sequence, it stresses the character’s mental separation from the real act of intercourse; the focus is entirely physical as McQueen lingers on sections of the body contorted in close-up and shoots without any sense of fluidity, slowly and dramatically revealing a man full of silent fury. Michael Fassbender’s alluringly enigmatic portrayal of such a desperate character is the centrepiece of this complex, cerebral story. It is a testament to his skill as an actor that the audience doesn’t leave the cinema with ‘The Female Eunich’ on their collective Amazon wishlists, as he imbues his character, clearly unable to correct his ways, with a surprising amount of empathy and warmth (and, thankfully, a distinct lack of desire to chop up prostitutes with a chainsaw.)

‘Shame’ is the understated ‘Requiem for a Dream’ of sex; it is not a rampant victimisation of womanhood, as so many films of this ilk are, but a deep, artistic portrait of a man trapped in a Dante-esque nightworld of passion, even having to dabble in homosexuality to quench his sexual thirst. It is telling that Brandon’s explicit lifestyle is only threatened when his equally as troubled sister (Carey Mulligan) arrives unannounced, complete with vintage tears and self-harm scars. In sharp contrast to her socially withdrawn and relationship-averse brother, she is an extroverted and irresponsible musician (see: broke) who finds it all too necessary to establish an immediate and intimate bond with whomever takes a fleeting interest in her appearance. Such differences inevitably lead to conflicts between the two, but not profound epiphanies or pseudo-philosophical denouements. The clinical setting of Brandon’s empty apartment forms the arena in which their childishly regressive interplay takes place. The dysfunctional upbringing they endured in that “bad place” of home is alluded to in Sissy’s voiceover while we voyeuristically partake in the aforementioned erotic engagement between Brandon and his ‘hired help.’ Indeed, New York is portrayed as a 24/7 city where gratification for any itch is easily obtained, inviting a response of enticing revulsion, but also a strange sense of pity.

McQueen’s ease with mood and framing alongside Harry Escott’s heart-synchronising score emphasise the disconnection at the centre of such an urbanised existence, exposing an Everyman plagued by insecurity and an inability to emotionally relate to anybody. A sweetly awkward (and supposedly semi-improvised) first-date with a co-worker at an upscale restaurant is a pitch perfect reminder of the failings of Brandon’s detached exterior, a sorry figure seemingly incapable of transcending physical contact. Such self-effacing zips of authenticity ensure that we feel the erosion of soul alongside the fury of bodily mistreatment, the elusive atmosphere of humiliation and determination which the screenplay manages to bottle so brilliantly.

Some critics have claimed that its slow-moving plot is a fault, but it’s best to view it as an interesting exercise in exposition: a quiet calm before an uncontrollable storm. The film sneaks up and then suddenly grips you like an addiction. Unflinching and unsettling, ‘Shame’ may take more than a few cold showers to shake, especially as it’s not a ‘Tyrannosaur’ crotch-punch but a lingering and painful depiction of a man struggling to come to terms with a condition still awaiting society’s verdict as to its actual veracity.

“The Artist”: Let me add to the choir…

I was alternately enthralled and annoyed by ‘The Artist,’ a critic’s orgy of irresistible charm. It will surely bring back sweet memories of the silent era (if you’re a hundred), but its style sometimes feels like it’s being used only as a manageable plot device.

The reason why this film by Michel Hazanavicius (please don’t make me try to spell that again) has achieved such critical heights is that its roots are not in parody, but overt self-referencing and quietly self-conscious humour. An inevitable problem of the film, however, is that it oscillates between the external, exaggerated performance style of the Hollywood silents and the more naturalistic, psychologically implied approach, both of which operate in two different registers entirely. Whereas the George/Peppy dance outtakes scene shows them off-guard and behaving as two ordinary performers on film, George’s sync-sound dream is pure physiognomic expressionism. Neither seem quite appropriate for the film and sometimes ‘The Artist’ feels like the silent novelty is only there to paper over such lack of rigour. With mise en scène duplications from the likes of Hitchcock, Sternberg and Lang, the film almost begs for affectionate applause, much like the movie’s scene-stealing Jack Russell terrier.

It’s also worth remembering that ‘The Artist’ is far from the only experiment in creatively reviving the form of silent films, most worthy of attention is Guy Maddin’s madcap charm in ‘The Heart of the World’ and ‘Brand upon the Brain!’

I have little else to say (it’s all been said before) other than my expectations for it to be a big BAFTA and Academy winner, especially as Jean Dujardin possesses a preternatural affinity for the Old Hollywood style (an almost Cary Grant/Errol Flynn combination of suavity and self-deprecation). No one likes a pat-on-the-back more than Hollywood.

P.S. I think we’re all fed up of seeing “Silence is Golden,” or a variant of, in reviews. Please step up your game, critics!

“The Irony Lady”: Guardianistas Gasp

Couldn’t agree more with Flashjordan’s comment on the Guardian’s website:

Why has this film got a wide release in Scotland whilst “The Artist” doesn’t?

Seriously, who the fuck in Scotland wants to see this movie???

Getting Scotland to sympathise with Margaret Thatcher is like asking chickens to vote for Colonel Sanders.

David O. Russell gets himself into trO.uble…

Director David O. Russell (‘The Fighter’, ‘I Heart Huckabees’, ‘Three Kings’) is currently being investigated by the Police Department of Florida after allegations of inappropriately touching his transgender niece. At first it sounds like the offbeat premise for a Sundance Grand Jury Prize-winning film, but the details become a little murky…


Russell has been accused of inappropriately grabbing his niece’s breasts during a workout session at a South Florida hotel gym on Dec. 30.

According to the police report taken 3 days after the incident, Russell’s niece … who was born a man and is currently in the preoperative phase of her transition … told cops the two had been doing abdominal exercises when he asked questions about her transformation.

The niece — who does NOT have a blood relation to Russell — told cops they began to talk about her breasts … and how certain hormones she’s taking have made them larger. According to the report, the niece claims Russell then “put his hands under [her] top and felt both breasts.” Cops say the woman said she felt “uncomfortable” … but admitted she “did not ask him to stop at any time.”

It seems this news source is already siding with the acclaimed director: “The niece — who does NOT have a blood relation to Russell.” Thanks for that clarification, TMZ. I feel much better now that you’ve put it in ALL CAPS. It’s certainly no longer a disgusting thought. To be fair, the only way this depressing story could be comically relieved is if it turns out their “workout session” involved the core-strength ball from ‘I Heart Huckabees’…

Instead, it just gets darker once David O. Russell tells all:

Investigators later contacted Russell … and according to the report, the director confirmed he DID touch his niece’s breasts … but only after she gave him permission. Cops say Russell explained that during the conversation about her chest, the niece informed him that one of her breasts was bigger than the other. The official report says … Russell told cops his niece then “allowed [him] to feel both of [her] breasts.”

According to the report, Russell told cops his niece asked him to “pinky swear” that he would never tell anyone about the incident. In the report, cops say Russell insisted he repeatedly asked his niece if she was ever uncomfortable during the incident… and claims she gave consent.

In the police report, one of the investigators notes, “Russell stated [his niece] is always causing drama since the transgender transformation and has become very provocative and seductive.

If this news wasn’t so dark and discomforting, I might have taken a quick moment to talk about TMZ’s consistently incomprehensible use of ellipses … , but the part about Russell repeatedly asking his transgender niece if he was making her uncomfortable has definitely made me feel uncomfortable.

It’s just a shame that neither of these testimonies can be used in court because of the “pinky swear.”

“The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo”: Cracking open a cold one…

Since time immemorial, David Fincher has been showcasing a crisp succession of digitally-shot procedurals (save for that unfortunate interlude of Rothian schmaltz) and here, instead of rehashing the Swedish original, we are given an electric and breathless exercise in thematic, layered development. It’s disingenuous to say that Fincher has ‘elevated’ or ‘amplified’ the source material so much as he’s taken it for a ride around the block, listened to its story and then gone off to tell his friends a slightly more interesting and exaggerated version. The film doesn’t attempt to revolutionize the pulpiness of the novel so much as enhance a few elements that have excited Fincher and Co.: the central tension of the Information Age, the way our constantly expanding body of data nonetheless fails to necessarily increase our comprehension of the world and of each other. Thus this infamous detective story is used as yet another outlet for Fincher to continue his search for that fine line between raw information and perfect knowledge that has eternally captured his soul.

This is not to detract from the singularly compelling performance of Rooney Mara; she is the beating, ripping, clawing heart of the film, demonstrating supreme authority and enthralling vulnerability in quick transition. Mara’s childlike face is perfectly framed by the spikes and chains of her character’s leave-me-alone exterior (or, as one of her t-shirts puts it, “fuck off you fucking fuck”). As for Daniel Craig, it’s a surprise to see him in something other than just his swimwear.

The film’s not an outright masterpiece: from the explosively grotesque beginning to the ambiguous ending, we are given a series of bolting scenes filmed with cold intensity. This is not Fincher’s deeper side, but rather his aesthetic interests on show. His meticulous eye for detail (some of this out-Zodiacs ‘Zodiac’) is evident throughout. That such a long film (coming in at 158 mins) remains watchable is mostly a credit to Fincher the Pop Director – he ironically repurposes Enya’s “Sail Away” at a crucial moment in a context that will fundamentally alter that song for you for ever – but Fincher the Deconstructor, who glided through ducts in ‘Panic Room’ and distorted the pitfalls of neo-noir in ‘Se7en’, is nowhere to be seen. Whilst he’s at the peak of his powers, do we really want him dedicating his time and energy on a story franchise and, dare I say it, a ‘brand’? Of course the dark eccentricities of Larson’s novel do allow Fincher to volitionally explore gender exploitation and vigilantism (Q: who could refuse a beautifully-shot torture sequence involving the tattooing of “I’m a rapist pig” on a sex offender’s chest? A: not me), but that doesn’t overlook the fact that his immaculate visual sensibilities are having to work with “thriller beach read” material at best.

Side note: My full enjoyment was somewhat thwarted thanks to an unwelcome gentleman sitting beside me. I don’t mind people sitting next to me; I always try to “love thy neighbour” in the cinema, but this teenager, who can only be described as a giant pulsating penis, was making it very difficult for me (e.g. checking his Blackbery at five minute intervals and fondling his popcorn at every opportunity). I think a distinction should be made: it is only in arthouse cinemas among fellow cinephiles that a screening can really be enhanced by a so-called shared experience. When I saw ‘Miss Bala’ last year at the Phoenix in Oxford, the entire audience were visibly gripped throughout by the protagonist’s unwilling voyage through the Mexican drug gangs. When she was set free at the end there was an audible sigh of relief as we collectively unclenched our buttocks. It was a community experience that had united us for a few hours. Afterwards, everyone milled outside the cinema, as though waiting for someone to suggest either group therapy or a drink. Whereas, at the multiplex yesterday, I had to sit there with my self-righteous, silent rage at my ‘neighbour’ who could’ve made Jesus Christ renegade on his principles. It’s pretty simple: if a David Fincher film cannot hold your full attention, then you suffer from an unfathomable condition and should be immediately euthanised upon leaving the cinema, but sadly I’m not in a position to make these kind of decisions. Yet.