Mobi’s Moscars

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Mobi’s Moscars

On this, the day of the Oscars, for the first time in my life, I have actually seen all the Oscar -nominated best movies, bar one, before the announcement of the winners.

By way of a change to my usual blog outpourings, I have decided to have a little fun and join the hordes across the world who are busy giving their opinions on who should win, and who shouldn’t .

I have called my selections: Mobi’s Moscars.

The only movie I haven’t seen amongst those nominated for best movie is ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’ which I am currently downloading and will watch over the next few days. If this movie particularly impresses me and makes me change my selections, then I will report back next week.

I would add that the official Oscar nominated lists for best actor/ actress, supporting actor / actress, director and cinematographer categories, include other movies which I haven’t seen, so I will obviously restrict my selections to those movies that I have seen. Not fair, I hear you say, but when was life ever fair?

Firstly, here’s my mini-reviews of the nominated movies, in alphabetical order.

 

Amour (French with English sub-titles)

This is a very difficult film for a 66 year old – not very fit man – to watch. For someone who is continually reminded of his own frailties, and is frankly, somewhat obsessed about how many more years he may have remaining on this earth and what fatal illness will eventually do him in, it’s not exactly the most joyful of films to watch of a Saturday evening.

The story concerns the final months of life of an octogenarian couple living in an apartment in Paris, France. The woman suffers one stroke, then another and her husband struggles to take care of her. Their well-off daughter, while outwardly distressed at her mother’s plight, reveals her own self-centred concerns when she confronts her father with the level of care he is providing to his wife of many years.

Make no mistake about it – this movie has been beautifully written, directed, filmed and acted. There is no doubt it is a masterpieces of the genre, and there are moments that shock you and others that will bring you close to tears.

But there is no sloshy sentiment here. The film deals matter of factly with the harsh realities of life, of human frailties, of immensely strong and also sadly shallow characters. You become immersed in the fortunes and struggles  of this ageing, loving couple and everything they say and do is utterly believable.

For those of you who enjoy a movie full of action, blood and guts, this this French film noire is not for you, but for those who are tired of the formulaic nonsense that is churned out by the Hollywood moguls, you might want to try something different – something that is thought provoking and takes you out of yourself for an hour or so.

But don’t expect to uplifted or walk out of the cinema whistling a happy tune. 

Jean-Louis Trintignant and Alexandre Tharaud are simply monumental in the lead roles.

 

Argo

This is the film about the rescue of 6 American diplomatic personnel out of revolutionary Iran in 1980, directed by and starring Ben Affleck.

The movie has won almost every award going over the past few months and Affleck has picked up countless best director awards, even though he has not been nominated for a best Director Oscar.

This type of movie has never particularly appealed to me, but I have been a huge fan of Affleck ever since his excellent film The Town in 2010, and given the universal acclamation, I decided to give it a go.

I wasn’t disappointed. It is a very good film. As I heard someone say the other day, it was so good that you got totally caught up in the drama and excitement of the rescue, even though you already knew the outcome. A good movie has the ability to do this, as was evident in such blockbusters as ‘The Titanic’, where everyone knew exactly what was going to happen.

There is little I can say in criticism of this movie, (but I will try). The cast provided a great ensemble performance, with no single actor being particularly outstanding, and the story romps along at a good pace to prevent our interest and excitement from flagging. All in all a highly enjoyable, and expertly made film, but whether it deserves the superlative accolades that have been showered upon it – I remain unconvinced. Personally, I think that ‘The Town’ is a much better movie.

It’s probably just me; I’m sorry but I just cannot find John Goodman believable in any role since he played Roseanne Barr’s husband in the long running American sitcom.

In my mind he always has been and always will be that slob of a working class father with dysfunctional kids and a nutcase for a wife, and everything else he has tried to do, including the role of a brooding suicidal professor in the first series of Treme, simply doesn’t come off, and he can even ruin a good movie or TV series.

He certainly doesn’t ruin Argo, and delivers as good a performance as he is able, but for me, he is always the slob from ‘Roseanne’.

(Contrast Goodman to James Gadolphino, who to me, was probably one of the better actors in Zero Dark thirty, and never once did he make me think of the Sopranos.)

There are other, unnecessary and silly  factual inaccuracies, which I only discovered after I had watched the movie, and  which have now detracted this reviewer form acclaiming the movie  from the rooftops. I will write more about this in a future blog.

 

Django Unchained

What can I say? I love Quentin Tarantino and I love this movie.

It is very funny, very exciting, very shocking and very thought provoking. It is has a great script, is incredibly well acted, and it goes without saying the direction and cinematography are outstanding.

Set in 1850, this ‘Black Western’, is the story of a German bounty hunter, who helps a freed slave to rescue his wife from a brutal Mississippi plantation owner.

In his typical, Tarantino-esque way, the master film maker amuses us with his dark, blood-curdling humour and in graphic detail, he reveals to us the horrendous barbaric cruelty of the darkest times in American history – the slave era.

Particularly noteworthy were the performances of  Jamie Foxx in the lead role, Christoph Waltz as the German bounty hunter, Leonardo DiCaprio in a spellbinding performance as the brutal plantation owner, (his best cinematic performance by a million miles), and Samuel L Jackson in an outrageous over the top ‘Uncle Tom’ performance as Stephen, (Di Caprio’s faithful slave-servant).

A host of brilliantly played cameo roles also added to the overall quality of this ‘must see’ movie.

I don’t know if this was Tarantino’s best movie. Pulp fiction, Reservoir Dogs and Kill Bill 1 take a lot of beating.

But none of those received any Oscars, so why should Django Unchained? Frankly, I can’t answer that, except to state the obvious – Tarantino has never been accepted by the Hollywood community as one of their own – as a brilliant movie maker – in spite of his movies’ universal popularity and wide critical acclaim. Was it ever thus?

To this this amateur reviewer, he is right up there with the best. Go and see it and be entertained and shocked and see something that might shake you out of your lethargy. Even if you hate it, you will not fail to be moved and provoked by it.

 

Les Miserables

I was going to write a critique of this movie a couple of weeks ago, soon after I went to see it in a Pattaya Cinema, but somehow never got round to it, so I will content myself with a mini-review today.

Firstly let me say up front that I am a huge fan of musical theatre, and if pushed would concede that Les Mis is probably my all-time favourite musical, edging just ahead of other favourite shows such as Evita, Miss Saigon, Cats and West Side Story  and Carousel.

I have seen Les Mis twice in the West End of London and have watched concert performances of the musical countless times on DVD’s, both the Royal Albert Hall anniversary concert and the more recent ‘O2’ anniversary concert. Both are fabulous shows to watch and listen to on TV and the music is inspiring as ever.

It was therefor with tremendous anticipation and excitement that I went to see the Les Miserables – the movie, especially as it had received a great number of rave reviews.

Sorry guys – I was really disappointed. By far and away the main reason for my disappointment was the woeful miscasting of the lead roles – particularly Russell Crowe as Javert and Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean.

For some totally mind boggling logic, the producers chose fame over singing ability. This is the musical which, probably more than any other, requires truly exceptional, professional singers in the lead roles.

Frankly, it would have been better if proper singers were used and these two karaoke ‘also runs’ mimed the singing. After all, Natalie Wood got away with it in West Side Story.

Hugh Jackman, while I admit that sings more or less in tune, is extremely pedestrian in all of his towering, emotionally demanding songs, His whiny, nasally, weak voice just didn’t cut it – at all!

I bet your local amateur dramatic group could have come up someone who could give a better performance.

As for Crowe! The least said about his singing the better. Let me just say that one of my all-time favourite songs from the show is Stars, and when sung by a half-way decent tenor, it never fails to move me to tears.

Crowe’s rendition only brought me to tears of despair and sorrow at the desecration of such a beautiful, inspiring piece of music. The man cannot sing worth a damn!

I can’t really comment on the ‘close-up’ filming, the live recording of vocals or the overall direction of the movie – I suppose it seemed to come across OK – because I was just too blown out by the terrible singing to be able to think too much about anything else, or take an objective view about what I was watching.

And let’s not for one moment try to assert that stage musicals can never make good film musicals as that is patently untrue.

I recently re-visited Evita with Madonna in the lead role, and say what you might about Madonna but she really lifted her game in Evita and performed magically. Antonio Banderas as Che and Jonathan Pryce, (the original engineer in Miss Saigon) as Peron were also brilliant choices and sang their hearts out to perfection.

The film version of Evita should have shown any budding film makers just how to adapt a stage musical for the silver screen and Evita deserved to win multiple Oscars instead of a single consolation Oscar for the best song. It is so much better than Les Mis in every conceivable way.

And just in case you think that Evita, (1996 ), is the exception, I would refer you to multiple Oscar winners like Oliver, (1968), and the still incredible West Side Story, (1961). It can be done, but rule number one is to get people who can sing – or dub them!

Jesus Christ Super Star (1973) is also no mean slouch as a movie, and I have the wonderful DVD which filmed a live theatre performance of Cats. It is absolutely magical, and it makes you feel you are right there in the theatre.

Nuff said!

 

Life of Pi

I heard about this Novel by Yann Martel some years back when it won the Booker prize, but I confess that the subject matter did not inspire me to sit down and read it.

However all the hoo-ha surrounding the release of this movie in 3D, which was directed by one of my ‘must see’ film directors, Ang Lee, encouraged me to go and see when it opened in 3D here in Pattaya.

I loved this movie. It was a visual feast, it was funny, exciting, frightening and inspiring, all in equal measures.

It is a magical adventure story about an Indian youth who finds himself adrift in the Pacific Ocean on a lifeboat with a zebra, a hyena, an orang-utan and a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker, all fighting for survival.

One might imagine that boredom would soon set in in such a film in such a setting, (as it did for me in Castaway), but not a bit of it.

Indeed Tom Hanks would probably have benefited from having a dangerous animal or two on his castaway island.

The story races along, and there is never a dull moment as the young man struggles to survive and come to terms with the presence of a tiger sharing his space. It is riveting stuff.

I have yet to be convinced by the use of 3D in movies and still believe that it will eventually turn out to be a passing fad.

But in The Life of Pi, the use of 3D and the standard of cinematography in general is absolutely stunning and is an incredible feast for the eyes. There is no question that when it is used in particular situations, as it was in this movie, (and also in The Hobbit), it certainly does enhance the viewing pleasure.

Suraj Sharma in the lead role as Pi is a treasure and is totally believable as a young, pubescent teenager coming to terms with his situation with humour, angst and not a small amount of courage and ingenuity.

As the story drifts further and further from reality, there is an intriguing twist in the tale, which I will not recount and so spoil your viewing pleasure, but will simply say that for me it was the ‘icing on the cake’ of a highly entertaining and thought provoking film.

Well done and thank you to Ang Lee and Yann Martel.

 

Lincoln

This is not so much a bio pic of Lincolns’ life or indeed his four odd years as president of The USA, but purely an account of the last few months of his life, during which he succeeds in achieving the passage of the landmark constitutional amendment, which forever banned slavery from the United States.

It is the story of Lincoln’s incredible battle to get this amendment passed, with the requisite two thirds majority in the House of Representatives, seemingly against all odds. The background to this event are the final months of the brutal civil war, during which no less the 750,000 people were killed. The amendment must be passed before the peace treaty is signed as the southern states would then vote against it.

The president is torn, as an early peace would save thousands of lives. As the nation confronts its conscience over the freedom of its entire population, Lincoln faces his own crisis of conscience – end slavery or end the war.

You could hardly have more epoch making subject matter, and it is not surprising that Steven Spielberg chose this as his latest block buster – clearly inspired by who is arguably, along with George Washington, one of America’s greatest ever Presidents.

It seems to me also timely and appropriate that today’s American audiences should be taken back to a time, less than 200 years ago,  when slavery was still part of their beloved nation, and when they had leaders as brilliant, inspiring and selfless as Lincoln to lead them down the right path.

With such an inspiring story, such a legendary director and one of the ‘greatest living actors’ it could hardly fail – and by all accounts it hasn’t. Lincoln was released to wide acclaim, and although it now seems unlikely that it will garner the Best Movie Oscar, Daniel Day Lewis appears to be a shoe-in for lead actor, as does Spielberg as best Director.

We shall see.

I will now go completely against the tide by declaring that I found the movie quite boring, and was singularly unimpressed by Day Lewis’s portrayal of Lincoln.

I know I am probably being a philistine and I maybe letting my prejudices subvert my good judgement, but I was simply not engaged by the political machinations which were the basis of the story, or by Lewis’ whining mock  ‘hick’ Yankee accent. It just didn’t ring true to this movie watcher.

I get more worked up watching Washington partisan intrigues on Fox news, than I did by watching Spielberg’s Lincoln. Maybe I’ve watched too much Fox news – but either way, it largely left me cold.

And before my American friends accuse me of not treating this pivotal event in American history with the respect it deserves, let me just say that I have recently finished watching the wonderful PBS documentary of the entire Civil War by Ken Burns – all 12 odd hours of it,, and was totally mesmerised by the entire story – particularly Lincoln’s part in it. I am a very interested and a ‘concerned’ student of this part of American history and am a huge admirer of Lincoln, but for me this movie just doesn’t do it.

(Indeed, digressing for a moment, for anyone who really wants to learn about American history, I can’t recommend enough that they watch The Civil WarJazzProhibtion –all by Ken Burns, and to a lesser extent New York, by Burns’ son, Ric.)

There is no doubt that Steven Spielberg is one the world’s finest filmmakers, and Lincoln is not a bad film. It is well acted, (but not superlatively so), well directed and well filmed. It is a thoroughly professional job that does the job adequately but not spectacularly or inspirationally – in my humble opinion…

 

Silver Linings Playbook

I am not a particular fan of ‘Rom-Coms’ unless they are very good and very funny – and very few of them ever are.

‘Silver’ is not too bad at all. I watched it with my girlfriend and we both thoroughly enjoyed it.

It tells the story of a bi-polar hero, Pat, recently released from mental hospital after beating up his wife’s lover, and his attempts to win his wife back. It also tells of  his growing relationship with Tiffany, a similarly afflicted bi-polar young lady who wishes to compete in a dancing competition, and somehow persuades Pat to be her partner.

It is well written, with a number of original twists, well-acted and it succeeded in keeping our interest throughout – rooting for the predictable outcome.

I confess that I found some of the early action irritating as there is little doubt that his outbursts of anger and violent behaviour should have resulted in his re-incarceration, yet the local cop does nothing – very odd.

But I guess I am being picky, as there is much to like about this endearing collection of oddballs – from his wacky OCD Father, is new bipolar girlfriend who has screwed everything in sight, and his former inmate Danny who keeps escaping and pretending that he has been legally released.

Bradley Cooper is very good in the lead role and I just loved Jennifer Lawrence as his bipolar dancing partner. She is a sexy, amiable and a very good actress.

I am a long-time fan of Robert de Niro and for me he do nothing wrong – a bit like Al Pacino. Yet again he acquits himself incredibly well as the gambling mad father who puts everything he owns on the result of a football game and his son’s dancing results.(A parlay…apparently…)

It’s all great fun and the movie deserves it plaudits. Does it deserve any Oscars? Well.. see below…

 

Zero Dark Thirty

This is the true story of the decade-long hunt for al-Qaeda terrorist leader Osama bin Laden after the September 2001 attacks, and his death at the hands of the Navy S.E.A.L.s in May 2011.

As I wrote above, in Argo, I am not a fan of this type of movie, and I have to regard Argo and Zero as the same ‘type’ of movie as both involve CIA sponsored special assignments in hostile territory, one involving a rescue and the other involving a capture.

I also mentioned in my review of Argo that if the director and screenplay are good  enough it is possible to engender excitement in a movie even though the audience knew the eventual outcome.

Unfortunately Argo succeeded, where Zero Dark thirty fell utterly flat. By the time these gallant American forces were traipsing through Bin Laden’s compound in almost total darkness, I for one had lost all interest in the eventual outcome – and in any case I already knew exactly what happened.

I can certainly see why the so called ‘establishment’ and even the White House are not too happy about the amount torture scenes in the movie.

I happen to be in the school of thought that just maybe in very extreme circumstances, a degree of psychological torture, which could include the use of water, may be justified.

However, I was frankly shocked at the amount footage devoted to some pretty brutal torture scenes at the start of the movie. I have no idea how accurate this was, but to have something approaching 30 minutes of torture footage seemed to be overdoing it a bit, and it really wasn’t very entertaining.

The movie then jumped somewhat disjointedly through the next decade, with our gallant heroine almost single-handedly and doggedly pursuing the trail to Bin laden with just about everyone around her writing her off as a bit of a crackpot. Whether this is accurate or the writers used a degree of poetic licence to make the story more interesting, I couldn’t say, and I don’t really care, for no matter how hard the film makers tried, I just couldn’t get involved in the whole process.

We knew all knew where it would end and there was nothing happening to capture our interest or imagination in the meantime. Most, if not all the characters were ‘one dimensional’ caricatures of either Islamic terrorists or cynical, hard-bitten CIA operatives.

I read somewhere that the popular TV terrorist series ‘Homeland’ was akin to  a pathetic comic book when compared to the exciting action in Zero Dark Thirty.

I beg to differ. Homeland is an exciting action movie with characters you can relate to and believe in, is vastly to superior to Zero.

OK, Zero is a true story, so that makes it difficult to invent exciting plot twists, but that doesn’t prevent the producers from doing much better with what they had – after all what could be a better story than the capture and killing of one of the most horrific and reviled terrorist leaders the word has ever known.?

As for character development? – Zero.

The writer would have done well to study the character of ‘Carrie’, the heroine in Homeland as a template for their fleshing out of Maya, the heroine of Zero. Sure Jessica Chastain did the best she could with the material available, but if sitting alone in a huge cargo plane after she had completed her assignment was supposed to move us all to tears, then she and Bigelow had better think again.

The only cast member who came shining though the dross was James Gandolfini in a cameo role as the CIA Director.

As the long movie plodded to its grim anticlimax, my girlfriend went to watch the news on another TV and asked me to let her know when they started to attack Bin Laden’s compound, which I duly did.

What a disappointment – for both of us! It was so dark and shadowy that most of the time you couldn’t work out what the sweet Fxx was going on. They kept running round the compound, mumbling indecipherably, occasionally blowing open doors and even more occasionally killing someone. You didn’t know exactly where they were in relation to where Bin Laden, where he was, who was being killed and after about ten minutes of all this ker-fuffing around we no longer cared.

We saw women screaming and kids being shepherded into bedrooms, but we didn’t know exactly who they were and we still didn’t know where Bin Laden was. Finally a man whose face was off camera was somehow dragged to the ground and shot. We never saw his face, only the very bottom part of his beard and we never saw any of the real action that we know took place, and was related to the world, immediately after they shot him.

On the other hand we saw in the grimmest and most microscopic detail the torture of detained terrorists and also the blowing up and shooting of innocent people, including CIA operatives by the jihadists.

So we could see our side being blown up and see all the wicked tortures in graphic detail but only dark, shadowy ‘suggestions’ of the last moments on Earth of Bin Laden. We didn’t see his burial at sea and neither did we see Obama and his cabinet colleagues watching from the Whitehouse. I really hope they managed to get a better view of what took place than we the people did in this pathetic apology of a movie.

I reiterate that I am not a particular fan of this type of movie genre, but even so, I thought that Director Kathryn Bigelow’s 2008 movie ‘Hurt Locker’ was a good , highly watchable movie with well-drawn characters and deserved its best movie Oscar.

In my humble opinion she really needs to go back to the drawing board and get her game together, as Zero falls seriously short of what she previously achieved with Hurt Locker.

However, I am aware that not many will agree with me.

 

The Results

I have already written more than 4,000 words so without further ado, here are my personal choices. As a departure from all other cinema awards in the entire universe, only the Mobi Moscars  have two winners in each category.

Why not??

 

Best Movies:

Life if Pi, Amour.

Best Directors:

Ang Lee (Life of Pi), Michael Haneke (Amour)

Best Actors:

Jean-Louis Trintignant (Amour), Jamie Foxx (Django)

Best Actress:

Emmanuelle Riva (Amour) and Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings)

Best Supporting Actors:

Christophe Waltz (Django) and Robert De Niro (Silver Linings)

Best Supporting Actresses:

Alexandre Tharaud (Amour) and Jackie Weaver (Silver Linings)

Cinematography:

Robert Richardson (Django) and Claudio Miranda (Life of Pi)

Honourable Mentions:

Django Unchained, Quentin Tarantino, Ben Affleck, Samuel L Jackson. Leonardo Di Caprio.

Mobi’s Doozies:

Les Mis and Zero Dark Thirty.

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Click here for this week’s collection of  Mobi-Pics