Thursday, March 26, 2015

Best Picture of 1996

In sharp contrast to the last year of review, this one has gone from first review to verdict in under two weeks. I haven't managed that in a very long time. I can't guarantee this will last, but let's continue to ride the wave, shall we? Here now are my thoughts on these five fine films.

The nominees for Best Picture of 1996 are:
  • The English Patient
  • Fargo
  • Jerry Maguire
  • Secrets and Lies
  • Shine
Interestingly, four of these pictures are independent movies, produced outside of the studio system. That correlates well with the fact that many of them were helmed by writer/directors. I don't have official statistics at hand, but I suspect it's relatively unusual for 80% of the nominees to fit that category. Additionally, all five pictures feature some brilliant ensemble acting, so all in all, it's a tough bunch to separate.

I genuinely liked each of these films so there's no sense in naming a least favourite. But in order to make my way to a most favourite, I suppose I have to eliminate something first. That honour goes to Shine, but as I said, it's not because I didn't like it. I just didn't like it as much as I liked the others. I saw both The English Patient and Secrets and Lies when they were first released, and I don't think early-20s me appreciated them then as much as pushing-40 me did the second time around. Nonetheless, they too will be set aside for the purposes of this verdict.

Now that I've unpatriotically excluded the Australian and British films, I'm left with two American films, either of which could easily stand as my favourite. As I entered into this year of review, I fully expected that Jerry Maguire would win out, based on my prior fondness for the polished, inspirational and fun movie. And while that fondness has not diminished, the quirkiness of Fargo just tickled my fancy a tad more this time around, along with its fantastic cast and captivating story. Hence, Fargo officially becomes my favourite Best Picture nominee from 1996.
Best Picture of 1996
Academy's choice:

The English Patient

Matt's choice:

Fargo


Your choice:


Chime in with your favourite in the poll above or the comments below. Next up, we again move to a year that has been chosen exclusively due to the convenience of a local screening. The TCM Classic Film Festival has just begun here in Los Angeles and there are numerous Best Picture nominees on offer. The current plan is to attend a screening of The Apartment this weekend at the world-famous Grauman's Chinese Theatre, with Shirley MacLaine in attendance, so 1960 will be our next year of review.

And the nominees for Best Picture of 1960 are:
  • The Alamo
  • The Apartment
  • Elmer Gantry
  • Sons and Lovers
  • The Sundowners
Of course, this is all dependent on me getting in to the screening. Since I don't want to fork out the hundreds and hundreds of dollars for a festival pass, I'll be taking a chance on buying an individual ticket on the day of the screening. So don't be surprised if the next year of review ends up being something else entirely...

Monday, March 23, 2015

1996 - Secrets and Lies

After an early morning trip to the airport, Kat and Charlie are back home, with my in-laws in tow. As everyone attempts to recover from their jet lag - and at 13 months, Charlie doesn't know if it's day or night, the poor little guy - I managed to write up my thoughts on the last film of this year of review.

Our final contender for the 1996 Best Picture prize is...


Secrets and Lies
Director:
Mike Leigh
Screenplay:
Mike Leigh
Starring:
Timothy Spall, Brenda Blethyn, Phyllis Logan, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Claire Rushbrook
Academy Awards:
5 nominations
0 wins

After her adopted mother passes away, London optometrist Hortense Cumberbatch (Jean-Baptiste) - probably not related to Benedict - decides to track down her birth mother. As a black woman, she is understandably surprised to discover that her mother is Cynthia Purley (Blethyn), a white woman who, despite a good heart, has the smarts and social graces of a small puppy. Cynthia and Hortense slowly develop a camaraderie but Cynthia baulks at introducing Hortense to her other daughter, Roxanne (Rushbrook), an ungrateful council worker. Eventually, however, Cynthia invites Hortense to a family gathering, hosted by her somewhat estranged brother, portrait photographer Maurice (Spall), and his wife Monica (Logan). It is at this soiree that the dysfunctional family's secrets and lies are finally exposed.

At first, Secrets and Lies comes across a little like a soap opera, and given the title, that's perhaps appropriate. The secrets and lies in this family are indeed of soap opera quality: life-changing and nothing less. But once you accept each character's predicament, the shades of soap opera fade away and you're left with quite an emotional ride. Writer/director Mike Leigh allows his audience to really absorb these people's lives by keeping an easy pace and often utilising lengthy and static shots in which the action (or mere dialogue, as the case may be) plays out in all its voyeuristic glory. The outdoor barbecue scene is particularly fascinating. There's tension, sure, which has been set up by the prior circumstances, but for the most part, the scene is just a seeming melange of very real and mundane conversations. It's captivating fly-on-the-wall stuff.

Due to the single-shot style, the entire picture would fall apart if the actors weren't engaging, but thankfully, the ensemble here is genuinely superb, working very well off each other. At the centre is a beautifully subdued performance by Timothy Spall (pictured), who many will recognise as Peter Pettigrew, but I first noticed him in a sarcastically memorable guest role in BBC's sci-fi sitcom Red Dwarf, clearly showing his comedic chops are on par with his dramatic ability. As a woman trying to get some answers, Marianne Jean-Baptiste is intelligent and vulnerable, earning herself a Best Supporting Actress nod in the process. And yes, that's Downton Abbey's Mrs. Hughes, Phyllis Logan, turning in a strong performance as Spall's uptight wife. Stealing the show, though, is Brenda Blethyn with a powerhouse portrayal that could so easily have fallen into caricature. Cynthia is larger than life, for sure, but Blethyn roots her in reality, wearing her emotions on her sleeve. Secrets and Lies also received nominations for Mike Leigh's direction and screenplay, but sadly, the film walked away without any Oscars at all.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

1996 - The English Patient

After three weeks away in Australia, my darling wife and child return to LA on Monday. While that will do wonders for my emotional well-being, I suspect it will also mean an end to this notable streak in blog posts. I'll cram one more movie in before they return, but I may not get a chance to write about it immediately. We shall see...

The Academy's choice is up next in our look at the Best Picture nominees of 1996...


The English Patient
Director:
Anthony Minghella
Screenplay:
Anthony Minghella
(based on the novel by Michael Ondaatje)
Starring:
Ralph Fiennes, Juliette Binoche, Willem Dafoe, Kristin Scott Thomas, Naveen Andrews, Colin Firth, Julian Wadham, Jürgen Prochnow, Kevin Whately
Academy Awards:
12 nominations
9 wins, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Supporting Actress (Binoche)

In the war-torn Italian countryside near the end of World War II, nurse Hana (Binoche) tends to a severe burn victim (Fiennes) with an English accent and a horrible case of amnesia. Through a series of flashbacks, we learn that our English patient is actually László de Almásy, a Hungarian cartographer who was helping to map the Sahara for the Royal Geographical Society in the months leading up to the war. The expedition is joined by English couple Geoffrey and Katharine Clifton (Firth and Scott Thomas), but during one of Geoffrey's many absences, Almásy and Katharine begin an affair, which to say the least, causes emotions to run high for everyone involved.

It's not difficult to understand why the Academy bestowed its top honour on The English Patient. It's exactly the sort of epic they love: romance, danger, sweeping landscapes. With a tight script, spectacular visuals and expressive performances, it truly is an example of filmmaking at its finest. That said, it may not be to everyone's taste. While it would be hard to ignore the extraordinary artistry that writer/director Anthony Minghella has crafted, I could certainly understand if it didn't strike a chord with all who see it. Maybe I'm even talking about myself here. I'd be hard pressed to pinpoint why exactly, but I can't shake the feeling that I didn't love this film as much as I should have, considering what a brilliant accomplishment it is. Perhaps it's just a matter of taste, but even that seems unfair somehow because I really don't have anything bad to say about the film. It's almost as if I'm trying to convince myself that I didn't like it, when the truth of it is that I actually found it incredibly entertaining on almost every level. Human brains are fickle indeed.

As potential validation of its brilliance, it swept the awards on Oscar night, winning nine in total. Not too surprising since its costume and set design featured both period and foreign elements, two predictors of Oscar success. And where Fargo's cinematography was assisted by blankets of white snow, The English Patient exploits its blankets of yellow sand to exquisite advantage.

The cast, too, are exceptional, many of them using this film as a stepping stone to even greater things. Ralph Fiennes is solid as the charming yet stubborn adventurer who, when suffering from third-degree burns, looks uncannily like another heavily made-up Fiennes character. I also immensely enjoyed Kristin Scott Thomas, who is very fluid and available as the emotionally torn lover. Earning a Best Supporting Actress Oscar, Juliette Binoche has the purest heart in the film, although there was perhaps one too many sudden moments of bursting into tears. The always-watchable Colin Firth is as affable as ever (until his final moments, of course). And that's a pre-Lost Naveen Andrews (pictured) as the shirtless, luscious-haired bomb defuser.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

1996 - Fargo

Last night, I had the pleasure of attending a pub trivia night here in Los Angeles. Pub trivia is a staple of weeknight life in Australia and, in fact, I was even a pub trivia host for quite some time back home, but a mixture of a scarcity of time and a scarcity of venues hosting such events has meant I haven't been to one in rather a long time. I'd like to think my movie knowledge helped our team to second place, although I let my teammates down when I represented them in the speed round and failed under pressure to name a movie beginning with the letter N. The shame.

Now, let's take a look at another Best Picture contender from 1996...


Fargo
Director:
Joel Coen
Screenplay:
Ethan & Joel Coen
Starring:
Frances McDormand, William H. Macy, Steve Buscemi, Harve Presnell, Peter Stormare, John Carroll Lynch
Academy Awards:
7 nominations
2 wins, including Best Actress (McDormand) and Best Original Screenplay

Car salesman Jerry Lundegaard (Macy) hatches a plan to end his financial woes by having his wife kidnapped and pocketing the ransom money that his father-in-law, Wade (Presnell), will be forced to fork out. Jerry hires unlikely criminal duo Carl and Gaear (Buscemi and Stormare) to carry out the deed but things go awry when Gaear goes rogue and shoots a state trooper and two passersby on a barren country road outside of Brainerd, Minnesota. While Jerry and the kidnappers bicker over how to sort out the mess, Brainerd's police chief, Marge Gunderson (McDormand), takes charge of the investigation into the multiple homicides and her congenial persistence soon gives Jerry cause for major concern.

Fargo opens with a caption informing us that, while the names have been changed, everything that is about to occur actually happened. I don't know whether it was because of the film's current well-known status in pop culture or because of the Coen brothers' reputation for offbeat stories or maybe it was just because I'd seen it before, but I didn't trust that caption for a second. A true story? Really? Turns out my disbelief is only partially justified. The Coens did indeed grab their inspiration from a real-life wood chipper incident and used an amalgam of other criminal events, but the specifics of the plot and the idiosyncrasies of character are entirely fictional.

Reportedly, they inserted the opening caption in order to manipulate the audience into accepting the somewhat far-fetched elements of the story. For me, however, I'll willingly accept any plot detail, whether it's appropriated from reality or not, as long as it's within the film's verisimilitude. And Fargo's verisimilitude is never broken. Yes, these events are implausible and occasionally coincidental, but all are set up convincingly and are always engaging. In fact, the plot is excitingly intricate with many captivating and unpredictable twists and turns that I simply didn't even care about the authenticity of it all. It's just brilliant story-telling, plain and simple, irrespective of whether it really happened or not.

The film's style is unmistakably Coen brothers, a curious blend of whimsy and intrigue, culminating in that tense climactic (and now iconic) wood chipper scene. And in keeping with that kooky style, Fargo features a barrage of mildly vexing regional accents, most of them coupled with Minnesota nice, a sort of perpetual politeness that lends a pleasing air of incongruity to an otherwise seedy crime story. The experience is enhanced further by some decidedly beautiful cinematography by frequent Coen-collaborator Roger Deakins, who makes the snowy Minnesotan landscapes seem like another character all its own. The Academy shortlisted him for his work on this film, but sadly he has never won a golden statue, despite a total of 10 nominations over the years, five of them for Coen brothers films.

A magnificent cast is yet another element contributing to Fargo's quirky atmosphere. Steve Buscemi is perfectly cast as Carl, the inept yet indignant criminal who is regularly described as generally odd-looking.
Earning an Oscar for Best Actress, Frances McDormand delivers an appealing portrayal of a small-town police chief. Marge may seem simple and straightforward on the surface, but McDormand augments that unassuming nature with a deep sense of urgency and determination when required. My favourite, though, is William H. Macy (pictured) as the desperate and misguided car salesman turned wannabe mastermind criminal. Macy inhabits Jerry's nervous disposition to naturalistic perfection. His sketchy smiles attempt to cover up his internal struggle, but the cracks are showing and it is delightful to watch.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

1996 - Shine

It's been a few months now since I moved to Los Angeles and I've already landed my first TV role, so I'm happy to conclude it was a wise move. About a month ago, I shot a couple of scenes for Marc Maron's self-titled sitcom on IFC. Season three begins in May, so I don't know exactly yet when my episode will air, but watch this space.

Next up in 1996's battle for Best Picture...


Shine
Director:
Scott Hicks
Screenplay:
Jan Sardi
Starring:
Geoffrey Rush, Noah Taylor, Armin Mueller-Stahl, John Gielgud, Lynn Redgrave
Academy Awards:
7 nominations
1 win, for Best Actor (Rush)

The true story of a unique man, Shine explores the life of pianist David Helfgott, from young boy to adolescent (Taylor) to maladjusted adult (Rush). The child of immigrant parents, Helfgott was taught piano at a young age by his father, Peter (Mueller-Stahl), who also imparted an intense passion for winning at all costs. As a teenager, David wins a prestigious music competition and is invited to study in America, but his father cruelly denies him this opportunity. Later, he is offered a scholarship to the Royal College of Music in London, but this time, Helfgott Senior's protestations are ignored and David pursues his musical dreams. The pressure turns out to be too much, however, when after successfully performing Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3, a piece renowned for its high degree of difficulty, David suffers a mental breakdown and winds up under psychiatric care. Years later, he is coaxed into returning to play in public, his impetus still to make his father proud.

Shine is a delicate portrait of an eccentric and troubled man. At first, though, it's hard not to wonder how strangers find him so endearing. He's obviously unpredictable and more than a little bit grabby. While we assume he's harmless as we watch in the context of a motion picture, I imagine if I were to actually come across someone so invasive of my personal space, my first reaction would probably not be to welcome him with open arms. Nonetheless, the inappropriate touching is easily brushed aside, allowing us to be enchanted by his enthusiasm for life.

A brilliant collaboration between director Scott Hicks and cinematographer Geoffrey Simpson creates some superb imagery that may seem gratuitously artistic, but on deeper examination, serves to represent a different perspective of the world. Aren't cinematic metaphors wonderful? The script uses less of a metaphoric style and, although it is interesting and well-structured, suffers a little from occasional blatant exposition. Some of the characters are also unfortunately written in a somewhat one-dimensional way. David's father is perhaps the biggest stereotype. He's a man who loves his son so much that he refuses to give him any independence, evidenced by indignant cries of "I know what's best!"

In performance, though, Peter Helfgott is spectacularly watchable, thanks to a very nuanced and passionate performance by Armin Mueller-Stahl, Oscar nominated for the role. Lynn Redgrave is also worthy of mention, delivering a believable portrayal of a woman who, on the page, seems almost unbelievable. I mean, how does a sane woman fall in love with a man who seems incapable of true emotional connection? But Redgrave's tenderness makes it work. Noah Taylor as the adolescent David is called upon to show his range, beginning as merely quirky and innocent, but eventually becoming manic and frenzied, before handing the baton to Geoffrey Rush (pictured). And Rush is nothing short of phenomenal, a performance worthy of the Best Actor Oscar that he won. It may seem like yet another case of a technical performance of a disabled person winning the Oscar, but despite the affectations, Rush's portrayal is natural and accessible, which is no mean feat, considering the character he's playing is anything but. On top of that, Rush performed all the piano-playing himself and he's spectacular, at least to my mildly musical ears. His rendition of Rimsky-Korsakov's The Flight of the Bumblebee is positively chilling.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

1996 - Jerry Maguire

The streak continues. Let's move right along now to our next year of review. I kicked it off last night by visiting the New Beverly Cinema, a brilliant revival movie house here in Los Angeles that is every cinema aficionado's dream. Before the film, I was treated to trailers of some of the other 90s films screening later in the month, as well as a teaser featurette for the 1966 comedy Not With My Wife, You Don't!, starring Tony Curtis, Virna Lisi and George C. Scott. I have a feeling I will make my way back to this cinema again.

The first subject in our look at the 1996 Best Picture contest is...


Jerry Maguire
Director:
Cameron Crowe
Screenplay:
Cameron Crowe
Starring:
Tom Cruise, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Renee Zellweger, Kelly Preston, Jerry O'Connell, Jay Mohr, Bonnie Hunt, Regina King, Jonathan Lipnicki
Academy Awards:
5 nominations
1 win, for Best Supporting Actor (Gooding)

Hard-working sports agent Jerry Maguire (Cruise) grows a conscience seemingly overnight and decides that his industry needs to start treating their clients less like money-making machines and more like close friends. He impulsively writes a lengthy mission statement for his agency and prints enough copies for everyone in the office. Unsurprisingly, upper management disapproves of his "fewer clients, less money" approach to business and summarily fires him. In a failed attempt to bring all his clients with him to start a new firm, he leaves the office with just one remaining client, football wide receiver Rod Tidwell (Gooding). He is joined by Dorothy from accounts (Zellweger), who, inspired by Jerry's brave outspokenness, throws caution to the wind and walks out with him. While the two struggle to keep the new company afloat, they also struggle to navigate through their burgeoning romance.

A modern classic, Jerry Maguire feels comfortable and familiar. Though, I guess to be fair, I've seen it a number of times before, so it's not entirely surprising that it's familiar to me. And sure, it's a little sentimental and manipulative and Hollywood, but it's sentimental and manipulative and Hollywood in exactly the way that I find entertaining. There's a reason inspirational music is layered on top of romantic turning points. It makes you feel stuff. And Jerry Maguire made me feel stuff, I'm not ashamed to admit it. Underneath it all, the film explores that incredibly accessible theme of not quite knowing what you want but knowing that you want do something great.

It's hard to think of another film in recent history with as many well-known lines. In fact, not since Casablanca has one film spawned such an abundance of quotable quotes that have entered the pop culture lexicon. "You complete me." "Help me help you." "The key to this business is personal relationships." "You are my ambassador of kwan." And, of course, the two that found their way into the AFI's 100 Greatest Movie Quotes, "You had me at hello," and "Show me the money!" That last one features in what is possibly the most famous scene of the movie, a sequence so endearing and electrifying that it's almost impossible not to smile while experiencing it.

Not only are Cameron Crowe's direction and Oscar-nominated screenplay on point, but he has also assembled a superb cast. With his used car salesman smile, I often feel Tom Cruise comes across as superficial, but as a sports agent, his mild insincerity seems fitting and earned him a Best Actor nomination. In her breakout role, Renee Zellweger nails her portrayal of the cute and insecure Dorothy. Bonnie Hunt is both droll and genuine as Dorothy's concerned sister. Little Jonathan Lipnicki is beyond adorable with his infectious smile. Jay Mohr is perfectly smarmy and slimy. And Beau Bridges is excellent in an uncredited role as the bold father to a rising football star. But the two standouts among this incredible ensemble are Regina King and Cuba Gooding, Jr (pictured). They display brilliant chemistry together and both deliver knockout individual performances. King is amazingly honest as the strong yet vulnerable football wife. And Gooding won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for the sort of role that doesn't often get recognised with awards. Rod Tidwell is brash and showy, but Gooding balances Rod's cockiness with a genuine sensitivity that is on beautiful display during several heart-to-hearts with Jerry. Even his famed acceptance speech seemed in line with the character for which he won. It was both full of heart and full of you-can't-play-me-off-stage-with-your-orchestral-music.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Best Picture of 1987

I believe I've yet again broken the record for the longest period between the first review and the verdict. At around nine months, reviewing 1987's Best Picture nominees has certainly taken a long time, all the more shameful considering it's not even a 10-nominee year. But let's wrap it up now with my thoughts on which film should have taken home the trophy.

The nominees for Best Picture of 1987 are:
  • Broadcast News
  • Fatal Attraction
  • Hope and Glory
  • The Last Emperor
  • Moonstruck
Quite an eclectic bunch. Period war films and epic biopics are stalwart genres for the Academy, but this year also saw the poorly represented comedies and psychological thrillers have their shot at the limelight.

It will be no surprise to anyone who read my previous review that Hope and Glory is being eliminated from the running first. Contrived in script and performance, it did not appeal to me at all. Beyond that, it's a much tougher decision. Moonstruck is incredibly charming and funny with some beautifully touching moments, but the crazy performance by Nicolas Cage precludes me from naming it my favourite. In a similar fashion, The Last Emperor is sumptuous in design, easily the most visually stunning of the five, but a slightly aloof script means I'll set it aside as well.

That leaves two films that I enjoyed immensely. Broadcast News is captivating and moving with a cheeky sense of humour. However, for a completely different reason, Fatal Attraction affected me more. Its thrills may be old tricks, but they're still extremely effective and what more can we ask of cinema than to be affected emotionally, whether it be sadness, joy, or in this case, nervous apprehension bordering on terror. Simply entertainment. Thus, I now officially proclaim Fatal Attraction as my favourite Best Picture nominee from 1987.
Best Picture of 1987
Academy's choice:

The Last Emperor

Matt's choice:

Fatal Attraction


Your choice:


Let me know what you think of 1987's nominees in the comments and/or by voting in the poll above. Meanwhile, as I attempt to continue my viewing streak, I've decided on the next year of review based on the fact that Jerry Maguire is playing at the New Beverly Cinema tonight. So, we now move to 1996's Best Picture contenders, a nice bunch of mostly independent flicks.

And the nominees for Best Picture of 1996 are:
  • The English Patient
  • Fargo
  • Jerry Maguire
  • Secrets and Lies
  • Shine
Stay tuned...

1987 - Hope and Glory

Well, this is a rarity. Two posts in two days! That hasn't happened since the first year of this blog. But rather than question it, let's just see how long this renewed enthusiasm lasts.

We now take a look at the final nominee in 1987's battle for Best Picture...


Hope and Glory
Director:
John Boorman
Screenplay:
John Boorman
Starring:
Sebastian Rice-Edwards, Sarah Miles, David Hayman, Geraldine Muir, Sammi Davis, Susan Wooldridge, Derrick O'Connor, Ian Bannen
Academy Awards:
5 nominations
0 wins

Hope and Glory is the story of family life during wartime, as seen through the eyes of a young boy, Billy Rohan (Rice-Edwards). When World War II reaches suburban London, Billy's father (Hayman) enlists to serve his country, leaving Billy and his mother (Miles) and two sisters (Muir & Davis) to survive the constant threat of air raids. Billy occupies himself with daily strolls through the rubble in his street, collecting shrapnel from the previous night's shelling, and soon he joins a gang of like-minded boys his age, although he never quite fits in.

It's not often that I really don't like a movie, but Hope and Glory didn't grab me at all. The subject matter seemed interesting enough, and indeed, I've enjoyed many coming-of-age war films, but the contrivances and cliches, particularly from the laboured performances, left me with little to which I could relate. Everything just felt so staged and fake, which is surprising since this is often cited as writer/director John Boorman's most personal film.

The picture received many favourable reviews and accolades, and it appears to be considered somewhat of a classic, so perhaps I'm missing something, but what confuses me the most are references to this film as a comedy. Granted, there are amusing moments - or at least, attempts at humour - but it honestly hadn't occurred to me while I was watching it that this could be categorised as comedy. Much of the style is simply overwrought for my taste, be it intended as comedy or otherwise. The only time it seemed vaguely appropriate was during the few short fantasy sequences when Billy imagines himself involved in the war. But the impact of these scenes is severely lessened due to the rest of the film being played in a similar exaggerated style. It's almost as if Boorman created a film in the style of 1940s cinema, with its melodramatic acting and overly sentimental dialogue, but sadly, I suspect that was unintentional. Which is a shame because if it had been made in the 1940s, I doubt I would have judged it as harshly. I'm not sure what that says about my cinematic expectations.

While I found it difficult to relate to much of the emotional content, at least I found one familiar topic to which I could wax nostalgic - backyard cricket. I may not have been able to bowl a googly at Billy's age but the reference to the six-and-out rule did make me smile. It also reminded me how much I miss watching cricket. I mean, the bloody World Cup is on right now and I have to be satisfied receiving score updates on my phone because I can't watch a single game in this country unless I want to pay $99 a month for the privilege. But I digress...

Hope and Glory didn't receive any acting nominations, so at least I agree with the Academy on that. I can forgive the child actors for being a little hammy, but the other members of the cast get no such mercy. Sarah Miles cries too quickly and laughs too loudly. Ian Bannen merely plays the idea of a crotchety old man, without any real truthfulness. Derrick O'Connor is probably the only actor who manages to avoid histrionics, but unfortunately it's not enough to make us forget the rest of the performances.

I think it's fair to say I did not care for this film.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

1987 - Broadcast News

It may be a few weeks past already, but since this is my first post back after the Oscars ceremony, it would be remiss of me not to offer a small debrief. As I predicted, Birdman and Alejandro G. Inarritu took home the Best Picture and Best Director gongs respectively. The lesson there is: Never go against the guilds. All in all, I managed to pick 20 of the 24 categories, which sounds impressive, yet that's exactly the way it played out last year, as well. I'd love to credit my superior analysis, but I have to at least acknowledge that there were very few surprises. The favourite won in almost every category, so it turns out that playing it safe is a good strategy.

My darling wife and child are both in Australia at the moment, while I remain here in Los Angeles. This seems like the perfect opportunity to make some real progress on Matt vs. the Academy, but they've already been gone for almost two weeks and this is the first post I've managed to write. Still, I'm determined to pick up the pace while I can.

As such, here is the next contender in 1987's Best Picture race...


Broadcast News
Director:
James L. Brooks
Screenplay:
James L. Brooks
Starring:
William Hurt, Albert Brooks, Holly Hunter, Robert Prosky, Lois Chiles, Joan Cusack, Jack Nicholson
Academy Awards:
7 nominations
0 wins

Set in the exciting world of television journalism, Broadcast News centres around three colleagues of a local news station. Jane (Hunter) is the fiery producer with integrity and ambition. Her best friend Aaron (Albert Brooks) is the reliable reporter with dreams of being an anchor. And Tom (Hurt) is the new member of the team who relies all too much on his good looks and charm for career advancement. Soon, a subtle rivalry emerges between the two men, as Aaron gets passed over for a temporary anchor position in favour of Tom. Their careers are not the only place for competition, however, when it becomes clear they both harbour feelings for Jane.

There's something very neat about Broadcast News. Perhaps it's the cute dialogue that, on occasion, seems almost too perfect. Albert Brooks' character, in particular, is a constant stream of witty self-deprecating one-liners that it starts to feel slightly dated. Then again, maybe I'm just jaded. The script by James L. Brooks (no relation to Albert) is genuinely funny and moving, and I was always entertained, so now that I think about it, I guess cute and neat are part of what makes the film so enjoyable.

Another part is, without question, the performances. Holly Hunter and William Hurt (pictured together) create a plethora of very real moments. They are natural and nuanced, even when intensely staring at each other, displaying the sort of electric chemistry most romantic comedies can only dream about. And if that weren't enough, there is another sort of chemistry, equally engaging, albeit in a more platonic way, between Hunter and Brooks. As best friends, their characters are clearly comfortable around each other, and the two actors deliver some sparkling repartee. Brooks' performance is clearly the comic relief (if you can even classify it as that in a picture that is itself a comedy) and he is sublime in that role, even if his dramatic moments don't quite hit the mark. Fittingly, all three performers earned Oscar nominations.

Supporting them are a gaggle of comedic actors, including Joan Cusack with her trademark silliness. Her little brother John also appears in a bit part as an angry messenger. Strangely, they are both credited incorrectly as "Cusak". And then there's Jack Nicholson as the national news anchor. He only appears briefly a couple of times and, on the surface, it seems like he would be too cheeky and cool for that kind of austere occupation. But there's a rare subtlety to his performance and he pulls it off. I mean, really, what else did I expect? He's Jack Nicholson.

Broadcast News was nominated for seven Oscars, including Best Picture, but sadly, it didn't collect a single trophy. Probably because The Last Emperor won everything.