Its awards season! It's wonderful, frustrating, meme-worthy, a one trick pony and cant-take-your-eyes-away-for-a-second-ly ravishing. Today marks the start of the va-va voom period in the awards season calender where things get serious (sorry Golden Globes, although this was worthy)..
The PGA (Producers Guild) are announced today so we're now at the point where we shall see if American Sniper in on target to upset Boyhood which lets face it is humpty dumpty sitting on a bald golden wall.
Selma is the only film of this year's Best Picture nominees not to be released as yet. Thatll be on the 6th Feb. I'm still behind on American Sniper and Whiplash also so will make time to watch those in the next week or so. The other five I have seen 11 times between them in the cinema since they were released so maybe I can bust open an opinion or two on them in the next few paragraphs...
The Theory of Everything
Where better to start than the most immediate viewing, The Theory of Everything.
The unavoidable start point in all this is the remarkable physical transformation of Eddie Redmayne as one of those most beguiling and storied presence' of the last half century. Redmayne portrays the intelligence and wit of Hawking with a nuanced, precise interpretation which is interwoven into the main narrative of the dissolution of an untenable marriage. Felicity Jones, playing Hawking's first wife, Jane, provides a fine emotional counterpoint to Redmayne's Kodak theatre pyrotechnics.
As pleasant and well acted this picture is however, I can't get away from a nagging feeling that a film titled 'The Theory of Everything' even though positioned as a double entendre of sorts aims less for the stars than maudlin sentimentality which while solidly earned, should have been the base plate for a film of wonder and ideas. A higher plane melodrama is still a melodrama and bolder choices in the writing department may have produced more interesting if less universal results. Of course there's a limit to this creativity as the screenplay was adapted from Jane Hawking's 'Travelling to Infinity; My Journey with Stephen' which provides the framework for a more introverted and introspective narrative.
Ultimately as much as there is to commend about the performances, with Redmayne turning out a career performance which is up there with the top 4/5 of the year, I found myself left somewhat frustrated by a lack of ingenuity that does a slight disservice to the grandstand expectations the film sets out for itself at the outset.
GIVE ME STAGGERING!
Grade: B-/C+ (6.5/10)
Or the unexpected virtue of timing.
From the outset there was a ravenous buzz. The Venetians were seen coming out of festival screenings with bellisimo murmurs. And yet after that initial critical steam train burst through the limited release dam there was an almost subdued collective exhale. Would the bubble burst, would it continue to grow. It continued to grow. And why not?
Birdman is everything one would wish a Best Picture nominee to be. It is full of technical glee, outstanding and varied performances, stunning cinematography, edge-of-the-seat editing, a playfully inventive score. In many ways it seems just to begin with that score. Mixing Mahler with percussive elements is a pretty novel idea but it's not just a stunt. Everytime this marmite melange lifts it head above the parapet it serves as a timely reminder of the film's gleeful self-awareness.
And who to portray that central struggle of art vs commerce than Michael Keaton?! If you were to read about this inspired piece of casting on its embryonic IMDB title page you would think this was purely a stunt. But what director Alejandro Inarritu (21 Grams, Amores Perros) and his team of collaborators are able to acheive with this fantastic blend of stunt and Brechtian' wisdom.
With such fizzy sherbet antics on display, a lesser auteur would be satisfied with creating a head-spinning merry-go-round and faking the outcome (so to speak) but Inarritu was somehow able to approach the landing with integrity and honesty and in doing so elevate his picture into something Fellini and Bergman would be proud of. Much of this IS due to Keaton's performance which is at turns bombastic, naive, pathetic and empowering.
That's not to say the film is perfect. For example the theatre critic, Tabitha, played dryly by Lindsay Duncan almost feels too acute a portrayal of artistic antagonism. It's very on the cuff and perhaps a little too black and white for a film that deals in shades rather than monotones. But taken as a whole, this is as fine an example as English-language cinema has provided on a critique of self and in doing so in an inventive and thoroughly original manner.
Grade: A- (9/10)