Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Oscar Winners 2009

The 81st Academy Awards Ceremony took place on Sunday.

Although not all reviews appear on here, this was the first time ever that I had seen every major film (except Doubt) and felt like I could legitimately whinge about the results if I was unhappy with them, like usual. But amazingly, the Oscars got it right this year! I was chuffed with all of the winners – except Best Actor – and loved seeing the Brits kicking ass across the board.

One slight grumble, however, with the BBC. I was well looking forward to watching the ceremony live but the BBC weren’t showing it. Sky Movies Premiere was the only channel showing it at 4am and I haven’t subscribed to that. Annoying. Anyway…

Here are the winners and my thoughts:

Best Picture
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Reader
Slumdog Millionaire

Happy days! Slumdog repeated its success at the Globes and BAFTAs by taking away the top prize. I still can’t believe a British feel-good film triumphed at the Oscars. Let’s hope this is the start of something new.

Best Director
Danny Boyle - Slumdog Millionaire
Stephen Daldry - The Reader
David Fincher - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Ron Howard - Frost/Nixon
Gus Van Sant – Milk

Danny Boyle is a legend. He has mastered all genres with genius camerawork, visual gags and grade-A soundtracks. And he is British. Well deserved.

Best Actor
Richard Jenkins - The Visitor
Frank Langella - Frost/Nixon
Sean Penn - Milk
Brad Pitt - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Mickey Rourke - The Wrestler

Tragedy strikes. This was the only category that got it wrong. Mickey Rourke should have won this hands-down, trailed by Langella. Unfortunately, it’s hardly surprising that America gave it to their golden boy Penn – especially as he was playing a liberal American politician.

Best actress
Anne Hathaway - Rachel Getting Married
Angelina Jolie - Changeling
Melissa Leo - Frozen River
Meryl Streep - Doubt
Kate Winslet - The Reader

Winslett wins it. Finally! Great speech too. I loved the whistle from her Dad.

Best supporting actor
Josh Brolin - Milk
Robert Downey Jr - Tropic Thunder
Philip Seymour Hoffman - Doubt
Heath Ledger - The Dark Knight
Michael Shannon - Revolutionary Road

This was only ever going to be Heath. The sad fact is, had he not died, he would never have received this award, even though he deserved it a thousand times over. The Academy would never have recognised a comic book film otherwise. The performance would have been dismissed, just as Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow had been dismissed in 2003.

Best Supporting Actress
Amy Adams – Doubt
Penelope Cruz – Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Viola Davis – Doubt
Taraji P Henson – The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Marisa Tomei – The Wrestler

Cruz – a very watchable and sexy performance. She breathes electrifying bohemian energy into Woody Allen’s film by storming in half-way through, splashing paint, ranting in Spanish, firing guns and snogging Scarlett Johannsen.

Best Animated Feature Film
Kung Fu Panda

Wall-E. Pixar’s new greatest film.

Best Adapted Screenplay
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Reader
Slumdog Millionaire

I’ve not read any of the original books but nicely done Slumdog.

Best Original Screenplay
In Bruges
Frozen River

Milk. I wish it had been Wall-E.

Best Song
Slumdog Millionaire – O Saya
Slumdog Millionaire – Jai Ho
Wall-E – Down To Earth

Slumdog. Standard.

Best Score
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Slumdog Millionaire

Slumdog again. Quality soundtrack. You wouldn’t expect anything else from Danny Boyle.


In short, a very good year.

And it was a great time to force myself to see every Oscar-nominated film. This has been the most intense cinema-going two months I’ve ever had and it has really reminded me all over again of why I’m such a film-obsessive.

Same time next year then!


Sunday, 8 February 2009


It’s been a whole three weeks since I last blogged a film review so I’ve got some catching up to do. In some ways, the wait has been beneficial in terms of writing these reviews, especially when it comes to Milk.

Had I written a review of Milk shortly after leaving the cinema, I would have been nothing but positive. But three weeks later, now that I have seen some much better films, I now realise that I have hardly thought about Milk. So I guess to quote Roy Walker: “It’s good but it’s not the one.”

Milk tells the story of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man to be elected to public office. It is Oscar season after all so the true stories were bound to come flooding out (The Changeling, Che, Frost/Nixon) and therefore, as with all true stories, we know how this one ends: in this case, assassination. So when Harvey says in the first five minutes, “I doubt I’ll live to see 50,” it has a real poignancy that pretty much drives the rest of the film.

It is a fairly fast-paced film, considering it is about politics, and at no point did I get bored. But then again, any rags-to-riches tale is enthralling. Who doesn’t like seeing the good guys go from struggling underdogs to triumphant winners? So if you strip off all of the political context then you are essentially left with Sister Act 2, Cool Runnings or even Ten Years Younger. We love seeing people triumph over time and Milk absolutely tells that tale.

Although, that is obviously over-simplifying the film.

Aside from the zero-to-hero narrative, we see a lot of insight into Milk’s character as inspirational leader, idealist and all-round charming man. Plus, the gay rights movement (and the shockingly small-minded people that they had to face) is shown to us in point-blank, grainy newsreel. Gus Van Sant realises that there is no need to act every scene out when all of this really happened and archive footage will do the job.

The young stars are all great (James Franco, Diego Luna, the very likable Emile Hirsch) but this is clearly Sean Penn’s film. It’s very strange how the majority of films in Oscar season usually focus solely on one character and how that character is nearly always played by an A-lister. Whatever happened to the ensemble? What ever happened to the rising star? (Incidentally, the answers are best illustrated by other films from this year's Oscar season so all is not lost.)

So... Sean Penn. If I’m honest, I have never particularly liked Sean Penn. He is an over-serious actor who chooses over-serious roles, not counting his turn in Friends. He is one of those political actors (who all gratefully got their comeuppance courtesy of Team America) who feel that there views should be heard on all political issues simply because they are good at pretending to be other people. He also used to go out wth Madonna, he beat up journalists and – most criminally – after Chris Rock made a joke about Jude Law appearing in every film (“Who the hell is Jude Law anyway?”) Sean Penn marched onto stage and haughtily replied: “Jude Law is one of our finest actors.”

Why so serious, Sean?

But, ranting aside, there is no denying that the man can act. He deserved his Oscar for Mystic River (and even more so because 21 Grams was released that year) and I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if the Academy favoured him again.

Despite Penn’s heartfelt performance, I really hope Josh Brolin isn’t overlooked. Playing the frustrated politician Dan White who ends up assassinating Milk couldn’t have been pleasant but he actually brings humanity to the guy. We even feel a certain empathy for the man who is struggling to support his family but has all of his thunder stolen by Milk.

Looking back, this review is nothing but positive and Milk is indeed a very good film.

But I hardly gave it a second thought the next day. Recently, some films have been so good that I wanted to see them again and others have left me thinking about them for a long time after. Milk did neither of those things.

Overall, Milk deserves the nominations it has received this year. But it certainly doesn’t deserve to top it’s competition.