“I always gagged on the silver spoon…”
‘I’d probably have to say… The Best of the Beatles.’ – Alan Partridge
Everyone has a blind spot in their film history. A film or collection of films they just never got round to. I have quite a few but one of the main omissions is all The Beatles films. Deciding this needs to be addressed I sat down to watch the Fab Four’s first foray into film A Hard Day’s Night.
It turns out I have seen nearly all of A Hard Day’s Night before but in archive clips from other documentaries and films. Put together as a whole it still doesn’t make much sense as Paul McCartney rambles on about his clean Granddad and Ringo Starr describes himself as a mocker.
Despite on the surface appearing to be a whole lot of surrealist nonsense, A Hard Day’s Night is funny and endearing throughout and director Richard Lester is credited with pretty much inventing the music video with a series of memorable musical set pieces. It helps of course that the music is brilliant and captures a band hitting their stride right in the middle of Beatlemania.
The screenplay won an Oscar and all of the Beatles looking comfortable on camera and playing an exaggerated version of themselves leads to an enjoyable watch and it is genuinely joyous to see such camaraderie between the band when considering the acrimonious break up that was forthcoming just a few years later. A Hard Day’s Night has become almost as beloved as the album from which it is named and it is vital viewing for any Beatles fan.
The opinion that the famously white, wealthy and male Oscar committee are favourable towards historical films that might alleviate their guilt about being white, wealthy and male is a well trodden path. Martin Luther King biopic Selma obviously fits the bill perfectly.
In the past we have had the powerful (In the Name of the Father, Schindler’s List), the boring if well acted history lesson (Lincoln), the forgettable lead performance in an otherwise solid film (12 Years a Slave) and the downright Oscar bait shit (The Help). So in which camp does Selma fall? Unfortunately there are arguments for all of them.
There is no doubting that their are powerful moments throughout Selma, but considering the subject matter that is par for the course. There are also long stretches where not much is happening. As with 12 Years A Slave, the support cast is good, particularly Tom Wilkinson as president Lyndon Johnson, but aside from the admittedly electrifying speeches, I found David Oyelowo as MLK a little bland and lacking in emotion. I am sorry to add as well, that director Ava DuVernay, chooses to forego letting the gravitas of the story provide the emotional wallop, in favour of a completely out of place and totally rubbish power ballad for the climatic scene. It is cringe inducing and quite frankly embarrassing.
Selma is by no means a bad film but it’s two Oscar nominations are perhaps generous.
Fading star and former Batman Michael Keaton plays fading star and former Birdman Riggan whilst notoriously difficult to work with but brilliant Ed Norton plays notoriously difficult to work with but brilliant Mike.
After four days I am still not sure what I think about Birdman. Brilliantly directed but also overly pretentious. Expertly acted but all the characters feel (purposefully?) like caricatures. The score fits perfectly but also becomes a bit tiresome. Birdman is an enigma.
It is always great to see Ed Norton and Naomi Watts but every character here feels like a kind of Wes Anderson cartoon. The performances aren’t bad but at no point does anybody in this film feel like they could be an actual person who exists in real life and the normally reliable Emma Stone’s bratty drug addict is just plain annoying.
It can’t be denied that Birdman is definitely ambitious but ambition alone does not make a classic film. We are talking about a best picture winner here for Christ’s sake! On that subject I am astounded that Birdman took home the best picture gong. Of the nominated films that I have seen I would put Boyhood slightly ahead and The Imitation Game, The Grand Budapest Hotel and (my favourite) Whiplash miles in front Birdman.
So is Birdman a brilliant Charlie Kaufman-esque satire on fame with art imitating life imitating art or a daft self indulgent mess? To be honest a bit of both.
A very British film from a Norwegian director.
Imitation Game tells the amazing and incredibly sad story of WWII code breaker Alan Turing.
A very talented all British cast including Keira Knightley, Benedict Cumberbatch, Mark Strong, Charles Dance and Matthew Goode all throw themselves into Turing’s story with a level of reverence that the story absolutely deserves. Cumberbatch in particular follows up a series of impassioned interviews about Turing in the films promotional run with a brilliant performance. Anti social genius he may be but Cumberbatch’s Turing is definitely not Sherlock 2.0. Cumberbatch’s portrayal of Turing is at once vulnerable and arrogant, layered and emotional without even coming close to crass sentimentality.
Keira Knightley impresses yet again with a turn that cements her growing reputation as the best British actress since Kate Winslet. More like this and Never Let Me Go and less like Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit and Knightley will find herself turning her Oscar noms into wins soon enough. Speaking of which Cumberbatch must be a big contender in the best actor stakes this year. While the supporting cast are also very strong, particularly Knightley and Watchmen’s Matthew Goode, it is Cumberbatch who has taken responsibility of this project by owning the role of Alan Turing.
Cumberbatch et al have ensured The Imitation Game will be remembered as one of the best films of 2014.
Troubled genius Robert Downey Jr plays troubled genius Charlie Chaplin.
I had no real interest in Chaplin before seeing this movie but I had heard good things about RDJ’s performance and I was not disappointed. While he earned all the plaudits for his realistic portrayal of Chaplin’s on stage slapstick persona, it is the quieter, more personal scenes in which Downey Jr shines.
The great thing about Robert Downey Jr is he plays flawed geniuses so often (Iron Man, Zodiac, Sherlock Holmes etc) but he plays them all completely differently and his Chaplin is possibly his best (if not as fun as Tony Stark) of the lot. A brilliant supporting cast of Dan Aykroyd, Marisa Tomei, Kevin Dunn, Anthony Hopkins, John Thaw et al further help to bring Chaplin to life but sometimes leave the screen a bit crowded.
My one criticism of Chaplin would be that director Richard Attenborough tries to fit too much in. In covering nearly all of Charlie Chaplin’s life in just two and a half hours it started to feel confusing as to what was going on as ‘The Little Tramp’ was married four times and did so much with his life. It is however, a testament to the quality of the film that even at such a long running time I would have happily seen proceedings stretched out for another forty five minutes in order to give the story more time to breath.
Whether you have any interest in Charlie Chaplin or not is immaterial, if you like good cinema than you should watch Chaplin.
NOMINATED FOR 3 OSCARS
2001: A Space Odyssey meets Gravity to birth really long, never ending film.
Christopher Nolan’s work on the Batman franchise and much loved modern classics Inception and Memento among others ensured that Interstellar would be the most hyped film of the year. Already featuring 8 Oscar nominees and ranking an astonishing #23 on the revered IMDB top 250 have only increased the huge amount of interest in this film. Is Interstellar worthy of the hype? There is definitely a lot to admire here.
The script does not hold back on the science but always holds the audiences hand when things get a bit too technical. McConaughey is very good, particularly in the more harrowing, emotional scenes but he is in danger of being typecast as a Texan oddball talking in hushed tones. As Cooper, McConaughey manages to pull off devastated, doting father and full on action hero in the same role as well as being compellingly intense throughout. Nobody really competes with McConaughey when sharing the screen with him (aside from John Lithgow in earlier scenes) but Jessica Chastain impresses as Coopers daughter Murphy and it is nice to see Casey Affleck in a relatively big role considering recent failures.
The main triumph though in Interstellar is Hans Zimmer’s absolutely jaw dropping score. Some of the more lengthy, boring scenes (of which there are many – more on that later) are still kept engaging by Zimmer’s masterful cacophony and this is actually the only area in which Interstellar is a rival for 2001: A Space Odyssey (beloved by Christopher Nolan – it’s influence looms large throughout the entirety of Interstellar).
So Interstellar deserves all the plaudits then? Not quite for me. Despite the heavy subject matter this is still a movie drenched in Hollywood. Possibly the only film to have more endings than Return of the King, Interstellar feels like it is never going to finish with each new revelation taking impact away from what has preceded it. The constant allusions to love holding the key go from grating to downright ridiculous when Anne Hathaway delivers a soliloquy that wouldn’t be out of place in a Sex and the City movie and some of the more emotional scenes fall a bit too close to being manipulative for my liking.
There are two fundamental problems with Interstellar. Firstly it is far, far too long and as with The Dark Knight Rises the pacing is all wrong. The second half feels rushed with major plot points covered in single scenes whereas large parts of the first half are just flat out boring. Secondly the reason that Inception, Memento and even The Prestige were so good is they kept you guessing. Inception in particular was made magical by its ambiguity and debate still rages around the enigmatic conclusion. Nothing is left to the imagination with Interstellar though as Nolan explains what is happening every step of the way. A very good film for sure but a masterpiece? Definitely not.
IMDB TOP 250 #23
WON 1 OSCAR (5 NOMINATIONS):
Best Visual Effects