Oscars 2011: The way it should have gone.

This is my attempt to slap the academy round the face and remind it that just because they all enjoyed The Kings Speech, many of the other nominees actually deserved to win. Largely because they were better. Call it redressing the balance 🙂 (I’ve covered most categories but not all)

Motion picture of the year: The Social Network

The Social Network is easily and without a doubt a much more urgent, relevant and inspiring film than the King’s Speech which is by no means a bad film; it was just an entertaining bit of fluff (albeit good fluff)…

Performance by an actor in a leading role: James Franco (127 Hours)

James Franco should have got this because he gives an amazingly restrained, yet utterly compelling performance and is on screen for virtually the entire film, on his own. Ralston had a lot more to overcome than George VI and was unable to simply spend his way out of trouble afterall…

Performance by an actress in a leading role: Natalie Portman (Black Swan)*

Natalie Portman, yes absolutely. She broke new ground in being utterly deranged, and has probably never been as frightening. As much as anything this should be a nod to her career to date.

Achievement in directing: David Fincher (The Social Network)

Fincher should get the recognition he deserves for The Social Network. End of.

Art direction: Inception – Guy Hendrix Dyas (production design), Larry Dias and Doug Mowat (set decoration)

Art Direction should have gone to Inception, which deserves to clean up on the technical awards. The film looks so exciting; so outlandish and futuristic and yet authentic and recognisable all at once.

Achievement in cinematography: Roger Deakins (True Grit)

Cinematography is at least one award that should have gone to True Grit which is a solid, beautifully crafted piece of work and easily one of the Coens’ best films to date. Deakins helped the beguiling and stunning Texan and New Mexico landscapes to really come alive and become a character in themselves.

Performance by an actress in a supporting role: Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit)

Hailee Steinfeld easily gave the best performance of any of the nominees in this category, she was selected from 15,000 applicants and the Coen’s were quoted as saying “…if the kid doesn’t work, there’s no movie.” Well, the kid worked and was key to making the movie what it was.

Best animated feature film of the year: Toy Story 3*

Toy Story 3 was just as enjoyable as I knew it would be; a natural continuation of the story so far, it more than justified itself and was a lovely way to round off a beautiful series of films. How many trilogies these days can honestly claim that?

Adapted screenplay: The Social Network – Aaron Sorkin*

Hell yeah 🙂 Sorkin deserves this and then some. So utterly compelling and it’s a movie about Facebook! (and the rest).

Original screenplay: The King’s Speech – David Seidler*

The team behind this film definitely deserve to walk away with awards (just not all of them and especially when other nominees were better in their respective categories). The screenplay for this film simply allowed everyone involved to be as good as they were and convey the gravitas and tensions necessary for a straightforwardly entertaining film.

Performance by an actor in a supporting role: Geoffrey Rush (The King’s Speech)

Geoffrey Rush was one of the best things about this film and much more someone the audience could identify with. More memorable than Firth (who was doing his best not to go “full retard”).

Achievement in music written for motion pictures (original score): Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (The Social Network)*

Reznor and Ross’s score was very cool. All pulsing beats and electronica, just up my street, it really helped keep pace with a story that zipped along and helped make sure the audience were locked in.

Achievement in sound mixing: Inception (Lora Hirschberg, Gary A Rizzo and Ed Novick)*

Another technical award to add to this impressive achievement of a film. Sound mixing was another way for Nolan to help deliver an incredibly complicated plot in the most economical and clear way he knew how.

Achievement in sound editing: Tron: Legacy (Gwendolyn Yates Whittle and Addison Teague)*

This award probably should have gone to Inception too but Tron was just so enjoyable and the sound was one of the things it did best; marrying the Daft Punk score to the delicious computer beeps and squelches that brought “The Grid” to life. So much fun.

Achievement in costume design: Colleen Atwood (Alice in Wonderland)*

Alice in Wonderland doesn’t deserve to go away completely empty handed just because the screenplay sucked. The costume designs were fun and Colleen Atwood is one of the best in the business…

Achievement in visual effects: Inception (Paul Franklin, Chris Corbould, Andrew Lockley and Peter Bebb)*

Yep. The Escher-esque “…examples of paradoxical architecture…” ; the Matrix style lack of gravity; the imagined cityscapes…

Achievement in film editing: Lee Smith (Inception)**

Again the editing is one of the central reasons why the film makes sense in the way it does; why the film stands up and was the box office smash it was. Why this film wasn’t even nominated in this category astounds me.

Achievement in music written for motion pictures (original song): If I Rise (from 127 Hours, AR Rahman, Dido and Rollo Armstrong)

To be honest Randy Newman is a bit schmaltzy and although it might work in the context of a Pixar film when compared to something like “If I Rise” it can’t compete. This is a beautiful song that smoothes over much of the trauma of what’s gone before. Rahman is such an accomplished composer and the sentiment in Dido’s lyrics makes it all O.K. again after such an intense and harrowing experience.

* = where the academy did actually get it right.
** = wasn’t even fucking nominated!

(Less than) Six Degrees of Separation

Hungarian author Frigyes Karinthy (1887 – 1938) is recorded in 1929 as being the first person to remark on the shrinking of the modern world and how this might mean any two people can be linked through no more than five acquaintances.

65 years later, and after 33 recorded screen appearances, students at Albright College, Pennsylvania, noticed that Hollywood actor Kevin Bacon had worked with a staggering amount of people and used him to illustrate this small world theory in the beautifully conceived game “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon”. The rebranded theory, having gained a massive popularity boost, became more accessible in the form of a website devised at the University of Virginia where the “Oracle of Bacon” helped people calculate the “Bacon Number” of any other actors they chose. If Karinthy is to be believed it should be possible to link anyone on the planet to Bacon. All we need to do is know an actor, or someone in the film industry. Or in my case an ex-member of the entertainment industry, my Bacon Number is 4:

1. I worked on Doctors with Christopher Timothy.
2. Christopher Timothy worked on All Creatures Great and Small with Robert Hardy.
3. Robert Hardy worked on Frankenstien with Robert DeNiro.
4. Robert DeNiro worked on Sleepers with Kevin Bacon.

Easy. Actually I’m more pleased that I’m only three steps away from DeNiro. And of course being that Robert Hardy has been a staple of the supporting cast in 4 Harry Potter movies I’m probably connected to all sorts of weird and wonderful folk. We can call Hardy a “node”, or connection point.

Another “node” revealed themselves to me as such the other day, without realising it, through the wonderful medium of Facebook. Whilst flicking idly through the contacts of one of my “better connected” friends on Facebook I found to my amusement that they’re friends with one Piers Morgan. Yes, that Piers Morgan.

I’m not a huge fan of the man but it goes without saying that he has an enormous amount of “friends” on the site (let’s refer to them as acquaintances to support Karinthy’s theory) and, being as this is what got me thinking about the whole Six Degrees of Separation thing in the first place, I couldn’t help having a cheeky look at PM’s friends. If there was anyone particularly notable or infamous it would mean they would be a simple three steps away from me.

Names thrown up in a cursory look down the list included a bewildering array of folk, some of which were terrifying to behold; James Murdoch; Jeremy Clarkson; Jimmy Carr; Paul McKenna. Others less so; Krishnan Guru-Murthy; Rageh Omaar; Sarah Brown; Yoko Ono (yes those were in alphabetical order and, no I don’t believe I’ll try and befriend them as it’d be a bit weird).

Because you’re reading this and you know me, all you need to do is add 1 for your Bacon Number (or Clarkson Number if that’s your thing) and you’ll know how many steps away you are. Of course the way this whole thing works, you may be part of an alternate more immediate chain linking to you to any of the people referenced above; one that doesn’t involve me at all. That’s the beauty of the theory. If you aren’t aware of any other route then it’s good to know that in my own small way, and without having any control over it, I have become a node myself.

A Story About Staying Positive

My name is [James Leahy]. I had an accident, and I woke up [temping in Worcestershire]. Am I mad, in a coma, or back in time? Whatever’s happened, it’s like I’ve landed on a different planet. Now, maybe if I can work out the reason, I can get [back to my previous life].

What do you call those people who are convinced that the world is there because they are? I don’t think I am (I hope I’m not) but a lot of my favourite films (The Truman Show, Vanilla Sky, Solaris) share this theme and it’s something I occaisionally think about. The paragraph above is a recurring mission statement (I hate that phrase so sorry) that continues to rattle around in my head, as it has since early last year, because my current situation is, to a degree, echoed by Sam’s predicament in Life on Mars. I’m convinced that Manchester in Life on Mars is an involuntary construct of Sam in that it just seems to have trapped him and is relentless in its refusal to release him. Worcester exudes a similarly bleak and foreboding quality to this stylised and slightly unreal Manchester of 1973 (it’s certainly not the most attractive and welcoming place in the world, something perhaps not helped by the time of year). Like Sam, I’m helped along the way by the cast of great people I’ve worked with at Aiim, the city’s branch of the Cheltenham and Gloucester, CAFCASS and latterly Sanctuary Housing (the changing of jobs in itself feels episodic). It just feels like, as with Sam, it might only be me who decides when I escape. I keep hoping that at some point it all becomes clear what I’m doing in this wretched place and I’ll realise how to escape. In the same way as the slogan for The Truman Show reads “How’s it Going to End?” I’m looking forward to seeing how that light at the end of the tunnel will manifest itself (y’know, as opposed to wondering how I’m going to die, because that would just be a bit morbid…).

I’ve finished whining now and if you’ve read this far then I owe you a drink at some point. Cheers.

Saturday’s Child Works Hard For A Living

I was born on a rainy Saturday afternoon and, as the nursery rhyme goes, I think I’ve worked hard for things generally, even if sometimes this was because I didn’t know how to work smart. Case in point is my current situation. My latest temping assignment sees me working for Aiim Europe (yes, I know they can’t spell). It’s a telemarketing data-cleaning gig that requires me to work my way through a lot of old contact information and check to see if it’s still current and goes a little something like this; “Hi. My name’s James and I’m calling from a company called Aiim Europe. We’re updating our contacts and I was hoping you might be able to tell me whether the following people are still working for you…?” [x 100 each day]. The person on the other end of the line will either respond by saying “Yes certainly, what are the names?” or (more often) “I’m afraid I can’t give you that information because of data- protection/our company’s no-name policy” or  (most frequently) “Let me put you through to someone who can help…” (you can imagine where that leads). This is only a natural response because either the person answering the phone doesn’t have access to this information or they don’t want the responsibility of leaking a colleague’s details in this age of deception and fraud.

Now it’s hard work maintaining enthusiasm and keeping going when you aren’t getting much co-operation, there’s little or no variety and the work is less well paid than anything I’ve done for years. I can’t claim it’s the worst telemarketing job I’ve had because I’m not actually selling anything, the day does actually go by quicker than you’d think and it is probably the kind of challenge I need. My boss did say that this job is a bit of a company joke as in they take bets on whether or not the temp shows up on day 2. My showing up this morning either means that I’m determined to get to the end of the job to prove to myself I can do it, I’m desperate for the cash, I’m a masochist or that I’m daft. Which one? Let me put you through to someone who can help…

Bizarre Love Triangle

Naomi and I went to see Treats at Malvern last week. I’d wanted to see this production ever since I found out that Little Billie Pipsqueak was in it and that I’d get to be in relatively close proximity to her. Sigh. Didn’t really know very much about it but was interested to see what Ms Piper would be like on stage and as she was to be joined by Kris Marshall and Laurence Fox I was keen to see the three of them lock horns. The trio worked very well together and the dynamic was good over throughout the duration. The story concerns Ann who has used Dave’s (Marshall) recent trip to abroad to get out of what, for her, must have been an oppressive and chronically demeaning relationship and she has kicked him out of her apartment and installed well-meaning and amiable but wholly-inadequate Patrick (a fantastic Laurence Fox). Now, Dave is an absolute bastard. Adopting the divide-and-conquer approach he proceeds to be aggressively nasty to Ann and genial to Patrick (after having announced his return by punching him squarely in the face and apologised by bringing him flowers).  It’s clear that Dave knows he must win Ann back or face some sort of oblivion and the recurring theme was not so much his behaviour but that he knew it was an essential strategy he must employ. The continuing issue of Ann only responding to varying amounts of emotional blackmail, slander, verbal abuse and physical violence was the most disturbing (and compelling) aspect. Ann has the choice of Patrick’s sensible, if indecisive, and optimistic behaviour vs Dave’s self-loathing, sociopathic and spiteful tactics. Both men clearly do love Ann but it is clear that Dave needs her in a way that Patrick is not capable of. Certainly Ann tries to go it alone after she realises that she is only with Patrick on the rebound yet she still allows herself to be bullied back into the relationship and although it was depressingly predictable, you can’t help wishing she could find another way. The title referred at one point to break-up sex but also to the actual process of negotiating getting back together. I hadn’t realised, because I’ve never actually read it, but Christopher Hampton wrote ‘Treats’ while working on translating Ibsen’s ‘A Doll’s House’ (which I finally picked up a copy of recently). It seems Hampton felt that the issue of women (maybe men too?) trapping themselves in oppressive and hopeless (not to mention abusive) relationships was just as relevant in the 1970’s as it had been a hundred years previous and that maybe Ibsen’s play was too subtle and not shocking enough. Except that the wife leaves the marriage in Ibsen’s play which is arguably what was so exciting about it. This made me think of Joe Penhall’s play ‘Love and Understanding’ (again two guys and a gal) where despite the happiness of the couple at the outset (perhaps ‘contentment’ is a better word) and the obviously self-destructive personality of the third party the girlfriend is drawn to sleep with the newcomer as much by his manipulations as by the inability or unwillingness of the boyfriend to react in the desired way. Or was she? We all crave excitement and if things have gotten stale (read ‘stable’ or ‘predictable’) then you might well start looking around or, at any rate, become susceptible to being lead astray. In ‘When Harry Met Sally’ Harry is discussing his recently failed marriage with a friend. His friend nods sagely and says “Marriages don’t break up on a count of infidelity.  It’s just a symptom that something else is wrong.” Harry replies, “Oh really?  Well that symptom is fucking my wife.”