The BAFTAs: The Artist brushes off the competition

The Artist swept the BAFTAs on Sunday night, taking seven awards including best film, actor and director. The Iron Lady, Hugo, Senna and Tinker, Tailor also took two awards each while Martin Scorsese was awarded a BAFTA fellowship, the British Academy’s highest honour. Nonetheless, the evening belonged undeniably to Michael Hazanavicius’ silent movie, adding another set of statuettes to his burgeoning trophy cabinet.

The Artist has swept both the critics and the awards this year. Backed by the influential Weinstein brothers the film had already won big at the Golden Globes, SGA and DGA awards before this latest haul. Aside from the best film, best director and best actor prizes, the movie also bagged prizes for its screenplay, make-up, cinematography and music.

Yet while it is undoubtedly an excellent and deserving winner, the predictability of victory has rather dulled this year’s awards season and caused a number of other strong productions to be overlooked. Thank heavens, then, for the only real shock of the evening, a win for Senna in the best editing category. Asif Kapadia’s real footage based account of Ayrton Senna’s life and times was acclaimed on release but has been largely forgotten in the last few months. A dual win today (it was also named best documentary) was not only a pleasant surprise but might just reignite some interest.

The Iron Lady, Tinker, Tailor and Hugo will arguably be more disappointed with their showings, although both The Descendants and Drive failed to win anything despite high billing. George Clooney will certainly be cursing his luck that a silent, independent French film should overshadow his starring turn as a Hawaiian property developer.

Despite this, the most predictable win of the entire night was probably Christopher Plummer’s for best supporting actor in Beginners. Plummer has virtually swept the board in his category, and Sunday was no exception. He plays a 75 year-old who finally comes out as gay and starts a new life before falling prey to cancer. The role has been widely acclaimed and, aged 82 but with few major awards, he appears to be making up for lost time.

The Skin I Live In also surprisingly edged A Separation in the contest to be named best foreign language film. Pedro Almodovar is one of the most decorated, and eccentric, living directors but the beaten Iranian piece is seen by many as one of the year’s outstanding productions.

Oscar nominations: Hugo’s 11 outdo Clooney and The Artist

And lo, it’s that time of year again – an exciting time for we film journalists, as we pore over the list of Academy Award nominations. The Oscars being nothing if not predictable, here’s an overview of the favourites.

The nominations have seen two films stand out – Martin Scorsese’s Hugo netted the most nominations with 11, closely followed by Michael Hazanavicius’ The Artist with 10. It’s The Artist however that’s really being talked up for the big awards. It’s a heavy favourite for Best Picture, although Alexander Payne’s The Descendants has the potential to spoil the party for  Hazanavicius, who’s also up for Best Director. He’s the favourite there too, although that one could be pretty close. Payne and Terrence Malik (for Palme d’Or winner Tree of Life) could potentially sneak it on the night, but the main challenge will be from the veteran Scorcese – his 2007 win for The Departed could stand against him though.

The acting categories could see some surprises. George Clooney is the Best Actor favourite for his role in The Descendants – he’s a Hollywood favourite and despite multiple nominations has only ever received one Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, for Syriana. He faces a potential threat from The Artist’s Jean Dujardin, but it’s Gary Oldman (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) that Clooney should really be looking out for – this is, shockingly, the veteran actor’s first ever nomination, and the Academy may decide to reward an acting legend for long service.

There seem to be two main candidates for Best Actress. Meryl Streep (for whom this is an incredible 17th nomination) is seen by some as a shoe-in for her much-praised performance as Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady, especially given the Academy’s recent form in rewarding biopic roles. She has, however, already won two Oscars, and the Academy may instead decide to bestow the honour on relative newcomer Viola Davis for her powerful performance in The Help.

Christopher Plummer (Beginners) looks a shoe-in for Best Supporting Actor, though there’s a possibility the honour could go to the 84 year old Max von Sydown (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close) – the veteran actor is on only his second nomination and has never received an Oscar before. The competition for Best Supporting Actress appears close, looking like it could go one of three ways. Jessica Chastain is perhaps the favourite for The Help, but Berenice Bejo (The Artist) and Octavia Spencer (The Help) should not be ruled out.

Elsewhere, Best Original Screenplay competition seems to be between The Artist and Midnight in Paris (also look out for nominee A Separation – the Iranian film is a heavy favourite for Best Foreign Language Film). The Descendants looks a sure bet for Best Adapted Screenplay – Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is its nearest rival, but if you’re looking for a bit of a left-field option, consider baseball film Moneyball, which has been attracting a bit of attention.

The truth will be revealed on February 26th.

Baftas: Tinker Tailor and The Artist look set to clean up

With the Golden Globes officially over, the focus of awards season shifts, temporarily, to our side of the Atlantic. The nominations for the British Academy of Film and Television Awards 2012 have been announced, and the ceremony itself will take place on February 12th. As if this wasn’t enough, the winners of the London Critics’ Circle Film Awards were announced on Thursday 19th January. As the Oscar speculation builds, let’s take a look these recent developments.

Having walked away with an impressive collection of accolades from last week’s Golden Globes, the team behind The Artist are likely to leave the Baftas with similar booty. A tale of dignity and fragility with all the 1920s Americana of an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel, The Artist looks set to make a storm on February 12th. Having collected 12 nominations as well as Director and Actor of the Year awards from the Critics’ Circle, I wouldn’t be surprised.

This is by no means a one-horse-race, however, contrary to what Steven Spielberg may have hoped. The Best Film category includes Tomas Alfredson’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Nicolas Refn’s Drive which have been rewarded for their striking imagery and calculated performances with 11 and 4 nominations respectively.

By contrast, The Descendants sees George Clooney as head of a dysfunctional family, à la Little Miss Sunshine without the laughs. Despite resounding success at the Globes, this scrapes the barrel with only 3 nominations. The Help, our final contender for Best Film, is a warm-hearted glance into the world of civil rights through the microcosm of the American household, set to the tune of 5 nominations – on par with Spielberg’s War Horse.

The nostalgia of The Artist and The Help is a continuing theme, and My Week with Marilyn has received six nominations including one for leading actress Michelle Williams. Similarly, Woody Allen has received a nomination for Best Original Screenplay for the charmingly nostalgic Midnight in Paris which sees Owen Wilson clinking glasses with the likes of Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Other somewhat older stars have also successfully established their place at this year’s ceremony. Meryl Streep is nominated in the best leading actress category for The Iron Lady, and Martin Scorsese will enter the Royal Opera House with ten nominations between two films, Hugo and George Harrison: Living in the Material World.

The 32nd Critics’ Circle Film Awards are testament to the abundance of British talent this year. Most notably, Lynne Ramsay’s We Need to Talk about Kevin took British Film of the Year, and Olivia Coleman, not recognised with a Bafta nomination, was awarded British Actress of the Year for her work in The Iron Lady and Tyrannosaur. Michael Fassbender’s performances in A Dangerous Method and Shame earned him the British Actor of the Year spot, and Andrew Haigh won Break-through British Film-maker for his intimate romance, Weekend.

It seems that this has been a year of inventive sentimentalism, though this is truer of the Bafta than the Critics Circle, who have leant towards grittier stories. Regardless of speculation concerning trends and precedents, however, only time will tell as to whose nominations will materialise into Bafta success: the net has been cast widely, the decisions will not be easy.

By Francis Blagburn


Films about films: The rise of self referential cinema

As the festive period recedes into the past, there are two feature films still at cinemas that, unlike bulging waistlines, are a welcome reminder of Christmas. Hugo, directed by Martin Scorsese, and Michel Hazanavicius’ The Artist both have lavish visuals and melodramatic styles that sit warm among the heartstrings in the colder weather. Both have also earned great plaudits from critics, lead the way in Oscar nominations, and have (spoiler alert) French(ish) leading men named Georges. They also share a more fundamental trait: they are both films about films.

In some ways this isn’t surprising; we expect self-obsession from Hollywood, an industry poised to inflict the awards season on the public this winter. There are many historical examples. The idea seems to have originated in Los Angeles: A Star is Born tells the simple story of a rising young actress making her name. However, it can be seen in films around the world: as recently as 2009 Pedro Almodovar made Broken Embraces, a brilliant but eerie tale of an aging director that’s just a little too personal. Sunset Boulevard is perhaps the greatest film about Hollywood, and finds its captivating story in the sadder side of the business – the later years of an aging star. David Lynch followed on in this tradition with Mullholland Drive, depicting a sinister effect of glossiness in film-land.

The style of films about films can vary greatly. There is the straightforward biopic, ranging from the successful (see the young Robert Downey Jr. in Chaplin), to the more bloated (Howard Hughes somehow made tedious in Scorsese’s earlier The Aviator). This kind of movie was twisted with characteristic verve by Johnny Depp and Tim Burton in Ed Wood, a film about the worst film-maker ever (which ironically brought ‘Ed’ belated cult appreciation). Then there are the more layered examples – Boogie Nights, about the porn industry, which after many shenanigans ends with another film starting to get made. Get Shorty is a gangster film about making a gangster film; its meta final line is ‘endings man, they weren’t as easy as they looked’.

The first thing to say about 2011 additions to a slightly specific genre is that they should both be seen – most importantly, they have engaging stories. Obsessed with cinema, they have deep fascination with early films in particular, nostalgically harking back to the silent era through different plot techniques, and eliciting delight from modern audiences even when remembering the clunkiest of technologies. With this they are not too saccharine, as they acknowledge the inevitable sadder side of progress: both main characters (the two Georges) are left behind to some extent with the advent of ‘talkies’.

One reason for this recent focus on film-making can be posited through thinking about Hugo. In marrying a story about Georges Méliès’ films from the 1910s with probably the best use of 3-D yet seen, Martin Scorsese links the old with the very new. 3-D was supposed to be the future, but is now looking pretty tired (see the re-release of Titanic this spring). Despite this, the development obviously caught Scorcese’s eye, and as he experimented, thought hard about the past too (one of the films key successes). The Artist has the same dichotomy at its heart, set more specifically in 1929. Is it a coincidence that this was the year last major stock market crash? Almost certainly. But the same phenomena can be seen elsewhere; films like Super 8 and Cloverfield are shot on hand-held cameras as they become available to a mass market.

Why do films about films matter? We might ask. Well, what is initially an observation only for the enthusiast extends out to other areas of life. They say that you should ‘write about what you know’, and Hollywood in particular has found a rich vein of material following this advice. More generally, the brief and by no means comprehensive list of films above shows that greats of today often hark back to older movies – from Spielberg to Tarantino the masters are extremely cine-literate. The Artist and Hugo are rich and loving in their treatment of cinema history, teaching us to treat change with respect, but also asking us not to forget the past. Don’t be surprised if either win a couple of golden statues. But then Hollywood hands those out all the time – it’s the films that live long in the memory.

By Robert Griffiths

Here comes the silence – The year of the silent film.

2012. Here comes the silence. Don’t worry this article contains no plot spoilers for ‘Dr Who the Movie’ (still thought to be in pre-production if a serious project at all). No, the coming silence concerns film direction rather than extra-terrestrials. Critics from all corners have suggested that the international acclaim levelled at The Artist, released nationwide this week, will lead to Hollywood copycat features for years to come; a deafening wave of silent pictures.

For those who have missed the furore surrounding the film, it stands a very good chance of being the first silent film to be nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award since Wings in 1927, the inaugural winner. The Artist has received overwhelming popular and critical responses wherever it has shown and has brought fresh focus to a medium otherwise left unrecognised.  Director Michael Hazanavicius perfected the art of pastiche on his French-language releases the OSS spy-film spoofs. He has brought these skills to bear on a topic close to his heart. Hazanavicius’s previous pictures also starred Jean Dujardin, The Artist’s charismatic lead. Dujardin’s character struggles with the transition to ‘talkies’ as the career of young Peppy Miller, played by Hazanvacius’s wife Berenice Bejo, takes off.

In the case of The Artist, the artistic medium is defined by the narrative; a silent movie about the silent movie era. Hopefully it is this obvious narrative appropriateness which will prevent Hollywood producers justifying unnecessary mimic movies. That doesn’t mean silence will disappear from the cinemas though. In fact, over the last few years silence, and directorial reliance on images, rather than dialogue, to carry a narrative, has grown into a prominent part of artistic cinema. Many of the 2011’s best received hits, such as Tinker Tailor, Drive, and We Need to Talk about Kevin, were stories told through images rather than relying on dense dialogue. Neither Ryan Gosling nor Gary Oldman can have been overly taxed learning their lines yet still delivered consummate, physical performances, inhabiting their characters in much more than just larynx. Terrance Malik’s The Tree of Life, Lars von Triers’ Melancholia and Andy Serkis in Rise of the Planet of the Apes demonstrated the variety of ways in which the silent image can convey meaning. Juxtaposition of familial drama and the conception of the universe played a central part in Malik and Triers films, connections and concept that can only be understood through images.

2011’s greatest cinematic loss, Ken Russell, keenly understood the power of the image. In interviews he often spoke of the ability to communicate with actors without words, almost telepathically, as the more he could do that with an actor, the more they could do that with the camera and audience. Whilst he was earning a reputation as a rebellious firebrand filmmaker he was in fact incredibly traditional in his philosophy. At its core cinema is an artistic medium built on connections an audience makes when viewing a series of images at great speed. Cinema, although certainly influenced by theatre and the written word, is an inherently visual medium. Film music plays a dual role in this process. Both aiding interpretation of the image through accompaniment and generating tension or suggesting realism in the silences.

Silence, in a performance setting, forces interaction. This is the premise at the core of 20th century classical music composer John Cage’s 4’33’’. The score directs a performer to sit in silence at a piano on the understanding that an audience will sit in silence, as they would for any piece of music, listening intently, interacting with the sounds of the world rather than a piano sonata. Absence of dialogue in a film forces an audience to interact with the images on screen; stitching them together, organising what they see. This is what allows people to understand a film like The Artist. It’s this interaction with the image that made Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy so interesting – what did that glance mean? It is what made The Driver such an enigmatic character; what made audiences empathise with an animated ape.

The Artist is part of a wave of mainstream films that celebrate the image, returning to the birth of cinema. (Martin Scorcese’s Hugo with its homage to 3D’s early life could be viewed as part of this movement.) We find cinema being introspective in its subject matter but in doing so it returns to a point of interaction; silence.

– Sam Poppleton

All I want for Christmas is yet another Shrek spin-off

Christmas is coming, and that can only mean one thing… yes, OxStu film is taking a break. But have no fear; here’s a guide to what’s coming this holiday season. Oh, and a brief spoiler, fans of sequels, prequels and remakes can look forward a festive treat.

We’ll open with the big December movie, Hugo. This could well be brilliant and should at least be worth a watch; it’s a Martin Scorsese film, a labour of love to the Brian Selznick novel, and his first in 3D. The requisite all star cast (Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen amongst others) tell the story of a Parisian orphan acquainted with George Méliès, a filmmaking pioneer. Already acclaimed as a masterpiece by James Cameron and with reputedly stunning effects, Hugo is arguably the most exciting new release next month.

I loved Shrek, Shrek 2 wasn’t bad, Shrek 3 was. We can all be thankful, then, that Dreamworks have finally put everyone’s favourite green ogre to bed. Instead we can look forward to Puss in Boots, a prequel following a supporting character. Joy. Antonio Banderas continues to voice Puss, Chris Miller remains as director while Guillermo de Toro is both producing and voice acting. Don’t hope for too much though; Jack and the Beanstalk meets Pan’s Labyrinth seems unlikely.

With the spirit of reboots in the air, Sherlock 2 and Mission Impossible 4 both promise action galore, one in Victorian London, the other in every big city between Sydney and Svalbard. While Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law give us high jinks and cross-dressing, Tom Cruise has his serious face on in what looks like another bad Bourne imitation (for other examples see MI3, Quantum of Solace). All I can say is that the Kremlin will explode. Expect car chases, gunfire and a scarcely credible explanation of what ‘Ghost Protocol’ actually means.

Tired of remakes yet? No, me neither. Thank heavens, then, for The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Despite the snide comments, this could turn out to be an excellent film; David Fincher just made the (rather brilliant) Social Network, our artfully illustrated heroine is played by Rooney Mara, who also featured in last year’s best film, while Daniel Craig puts the ‘6 pack’ in ‘moody Scandinavian thriller’. Do you like to temper your mince pies and presents with a little violence, torture and sadism? If so, Happy Christmas.

Another trio of rehashes includes the Thing returning to our screens after 29 years, New Year’s Eve, the tepidly awaited follow up to the turgid Valentine’s Day, and Happy Feet 2. In the battle to plumb the depths of mediocrity my money is on New Year’s Eve, although it faces stiff competition from everyone’s favourite tap dancing emperor penguins. At least body horror fans will have something to cheer if that Cronenberg box-set doesn’t appear in their stocking.

In short, expect a December filled with fairytales, romance, explosions and sword fighting cats. Enjoy.

Alexander Lynchehaun