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Non-Review Review: Phantom Thread

Phantom Thread is certainly a beautiful film.

In many ways it resembles the dresses designed by the artist at its centre. It is elegant, well-composed, stylish. It looks perfect and has just the right texture. Phantom Thread is a meticulously-produced piece of work, with every technical aspect of the film delivered to the highest possible standard. More than that, Phantom Thread is a very clever and incisive film, one that arguably feels much more suited to this particular cultural moment than Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

Tailored to the role.

However, Phantom Thread feels like one of Reynolds Woodcock’s dresses in another manner. As fantastic as it might look, it is not designed for living. There is one memorable sequence in the middle of the film where Woodcock actually confiscates the dress from a patron because it is not being treated with the pomp and ceremony that he expects. These are dresses for display, designed to leave observers breathless. It never ignites the same passion as Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, never feeling as anchored in appreciable human emotion.

Phantom Thread often feels too much like strolling through Woodcock’s parlour, the audience invited to examine the sheer craft and cleverness of what is being done, but warned in the starkest possible terms not to touch anything. There is beauty, but no feeling.

Make it sew.

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Non-Review Review: The Raven

The Raven is one of those concepts that might have been interesting to follow from the pitch phase. It seems almost impossible that anybody thought the movie, in the condition that it was released, was a good idea – so I’m curious at how various people were convinced to sign on and to help shepherd it to the screen. Of course, my inner cynic suggests that money was a prime motivating factor, but it’s very hard to imagine anybody being convinced that “Edgar Allan Poe lives through se7en in 1849 Baltimore” would prove the basis of a massive cash windfall.

There must have been something of interest here, something worthy of attention at some point in the process, rather than just the half-hearted attempt to knock-off one of those nineties serial killer knock-offs with a slight change of scenery.

A shadowy figure...

A shadowy figure…

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Non-Review Review: Lincoln

Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln might just be the most fascinating exploration of the overlap between legal, moral and democratic power ever produced. Abraham Lincoln’s name might brand the film, and Daniel Day-Lewis’ sensational performance might hold it together, but there’s a very clear sense in watching Lincoln that the film is more preoccupied with lofty philosophical questions about the role of a ruler in a democracy. The Civil War and the 13th Amendment provide a backdrop, but Lincoln seems more concerned with how those elected must wield the mandate given from the people. Must they always represent the views of the people who elected them, or is their job to lead?

Note: Not a Vampire Hunter...

Note: Not a Vampire Hunter…

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International On-Line Film Critics’ Poll Nominees Announced…

The nominees for the 2012 International On-Line Film Critics’ Poll 2012 have been announced. Open to all films released in the United States between November 2011 and November 2012, it allows for a slightly different playing field than the Oscars typically does. It also means that I am (as a non-American) far more likely to have seen all the nominees, with only Lincoln yet to see among the Best Picture nominees. Anyway, I will be sending in my ballot soon enough, but take a gander at the full list of nominees below. It’s a strong list, to be sure.

iolfcp1

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Watch! Spielberg’s Lincoln Trailer…

The first full trailer for Spielberg’s Lincoln has appeared on line. I have to admit, I’m looking forward to this one. I actually liked his two films from last year much mroe than most – while neither came that close to making the end-of-year best-of list, I thought they were solid pieces of film-making for what they were. I’m hoping for a bit more from Lincoln, and I guess time will tell, but Daniel Day Lewis looks an inspired choice.

Let me know what you think.

Is There Method to the Madness: Christian Bale’s Weight & Method Acting

Christian Bale is losing a massive amount of weight again for his role in the upcoming Concrete Island. It’s rather topical, given that the actor took time out of an interview to lambaste those who would deride his massive amount of weight loss for The Fighter:

‘To be honest, I find it laughable that it’s considered to be some f—ing gimmick — it’s so patronizing. For God’s sake, do people not understand what a pain it is to do? It’s as though it’s some comment about, ‘Oh it’s easy for him, because he’s done it a bunch of times.’ It’s not easy, it’s not fun — it’s horrible.”

In fairness, I think Bale misses the general thrust of the argument when he makes the (entirely fair) point that it’s a very difficult process. I don’t think anybody will argue that such control over his own body mass is easy (as, if it were, I’d probably choose to be the epitome of physical fitness, but it doesn’t work that way). I think the general question is whether such a large fluctuation in weight adds a benefit to his roles that is worth the physical strain. Is there a gain for the pain, so to speak?

What's the skinny?

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The Sean Connery Effect: Pardon My Accent…

Sean Connery turned eighty last week, and there were all manner of celebrations. I can’t really add too much that hasn’t already been said about the legendary actor, with his smooth Scottish accent and effortless charm, but I got thinking about Sean Connery and what I think of when I hear the name or what I associate him with. And, without a doubt, it’s that thick Scottish accent, which just makes even me weak at the knees when I hear it.

I have something I need to get off my (very hairy) chest...

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Non-Review Review: Nine

I have to admit, I greatly enjoyed Nine, even if it never really felt substantial or fulfilling. I’m not convinced that the film works as a story, but it does provide director Rob Marshall the opportunity to put together setpiece after setpiece, each choreographed with impeccable skill. Indeed, given his ability to stage glitzy sequences and the sheer volume of talent in front of the camera, coupled with lavish production values and a mesmerizing setting, it’s easy to forgive Nine its faults – the most glaring of which is that nothing really happens for the first three-quarters of it, and then stuff happens which doesn’t necessarily feel earned in the last quarter. Still, it looks damn pretty and the soundtrack is quite catchy.

Now that's a showstopper...

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Awards Season Forecast…

It’s summer time! That means blockbusters, comic book movies! It’s comic con time! That means more blockbuster and more comic book movie gossip! It seems that everything from the Tron viral campaign to the impending release of the Alice in Wonderland teaser is generating a lot of buzz. And quite right, too. We do live in the era of the geek. However, once we get into autumn proper, there are more prestigious films approaching. Looks like the studios are sticking to the tried-and-true “cram as many Oscar contenders as you can into the least amount of time” method, and there’s a huge schlock of films coming out. Here are just some of the main ones I’m looking forward to during awards season.

Starring Morgan Freeman? Check. Directed by Clint Eastwood? Check. Story of an iconic figure? Check. Story of triumph over adversity/prejudice? Check. Set in the past? Check. Oscar Gold? Check.

Starring Morgan Freeman? Check. Directed by Clint Eastwood? Check. Story of an iconic figure? Check. Story of triumph over adversity/prejudice? Check. Set in the past? Check. Oscar Gold? Check.

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Will Inception land Christopher Nolan an Oscar Nomination (or Two)?

I loved Christopher Nolan before The Dark Knight made it cool to do so. My love affair dates back to the relative indie Momento, the backwards-staged thriller in which a wronged insurance salesman attempts to find out who killed his wife, but is blocked by his inability to form memories. So, our hero makes studious notes and tattoos himself with all the pertinent information before he forgets it. A hokey premise to be sure, but it worked. The film went on to receive a nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay for Nolan and his brother. This is, despite critically-praised hit after critically-praised hit, Nolan’s only Oscar nomination.

There was a lot of Oscar buzz around The Dark Knight, with commentators suggesting that even if the genre film was locked out of the Best Picture category Nolan would be guarunteed a nod as Best Director. He’d made a geek property the biggest summer blockbuster ever, proved that Imax was a viable filming method and assembled a cast full of folks that Hollywood loved (Heath Ledger, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman). He’d delivered one of those rare pop cultre masterpieces. Alas, it was not to be. He couldn’t even get a nomination in the Best Adapted Screenplay, despite the most concise distilling of seventy-years’ worth of comic book history on to celluloid.

I’m not bitter, and had expected the snub – though I had anticipated Darren Aaronoski or Clint Eastwood to take the fabled fifth spot.

Nolan films Batman to the max... the (i)Max...

Nolan films Batman to the max... the (i)Max...

Anyway, Oscar prognosticators, clearly not allured by the whallop-crash-bang movies flooding into cinemas at the moment, have already started looking at next year’s awards. There are are all the usual suspects – Clint Eastwood’s untitled-as-of-yet Mandela biopic starring Morgan Freeman, Daniel Day-Lewis in a musical based on Fellini’s 8 1/2 (creatively titled “Nine”), and Martin Scorcese’s Shutter Island with Leonardo diCaprio and former Watchman Jackie Earle Haley. Ever one to follow fads, I’ll be taking a closer look at these in the coming days.

I’m going to one-up these tea-leaf-readers and ask whether Christopher Nolan’s next film might earn him that coveted (but deserved) director’s nomination. The movie won’t be released until 2010, so it’ll be February 2011 before we know for sure (sooner based on advanced word and actually seeing the film – but that’d take the fun out of this), but let’s have a bit of fun with this. If I get it right, I’m a box office guru. If I get it wrong, well, there was no way I could reasonably get it right, right?

We don’t know much about Inception except that it’s loosely science-fiction – it takes place within “the architecture of the mind”. That bodes badly for a Best Picture Nomination, but doesn’t rule out a nomination in the Director category, not least of which for an established director. Look at Peter Weir (The Truman Show) or Stanly Kubrick (2001). So, not as solid gold as a Nelson Mandela biopic or a damned holocaust film, but not a dealbreaker.

Guy Pearce, Used Car Salesman

Guy Pearce, Used Car Salesman

The cast is pretty solid. Leonardo diCaprio and Ellen Page have received Oscar nominations, but never won. This will mark Michael Caine’s fourth consecutive film with Nolan. And there’s some pretty solid support there from Joseph Gordon-Levitt (who has always been a respectable performer, if not a box office giant – though he is filling in from the increasingly-taken-seriously James Franco) and Cillian Murphy (who has yet to give a performance for an American audience that establishes him as a bona fides actor – The Wind That Shakes the Barley, Breakfast on Pluto, 28 Days Later and Intermission were all Irish or English films). So, a very respectable cast, if not quite Oscar-laiden. There’s also the release date to be considered – based on filming news and the guestimated scheduling of other films (read: Warner Brothers will want Batman 3 for Summer 2011), fate would seem to point to an early 2010 release date. Which is good for those of us dying to see it, but bad for the film’s Oscar chances.

And now the moment of truth. My best guess: no Best Picture nomination, no Best Director nomination, possibly a Screenplay nomination. The film will be out of Hollywood’s very short-term memory come the 2010/2011 awards season. It’s that simple. Over the past few years, every Best Picture nominee has been released in the last three months of the year. This has led to a ridiulous glut of awardsfare over a ridiculously cramped period, but as long as it continues to happen, the powers that be will continue to take it for granted. And as long as the powers that be take it for granted, the longer studios will continue to release in that narrow window. It’s a viscious cycle.

Besides, edgy films in underappreciated genres tend to have better luck in the writing categories (both winning and acheiving nominations).I readily admit that I might be getting ahead of myself here – it’s quite possible that the film may suck, but I doubt it. Besides, it’s just as likely that Daniel Day-Lewis’ next film could be a dud or that Clint Eastwood could forgt how to direct drama. Nolan’s record (Momento, Insomnia, Batman Begins, The Prestige, The Dark Knight) stands to him, and at least gives him the benefit of the doubt. I’m looking forward to the film as one of the highlights of 2010.

Well, that was fun. Now I don’t feel so bad speculating about the 2010 Oscar ceremony!