Saturday, 6 February 2010

Should the Brightest Female Star in the Hollywood Sky really be 19?

Emma Watson, star of the Harry Potter movie franchise was yesterday named the highest paid female star in Hollywood, making £20 million including endorsements and advertising. The figure puts her above seasoned such as Angelina Jolie and  Sarah Jessica Parker.

She came 14th in the Vanity Fair list of Tinseltown's highest earners.For me, looking at the list provides a shocking insight into the priorities of the film industry. Looking at the top 5 male earners, it includes Michael Bay ($125 million), and Steven Spielberg ($85 million), and is entirely comprised of producers and directors, men with gray hair, beards and paunches. The top 10 women in the list are incredibly beautiful, all actresses, all have fashion endorsments, and all make a fraction of what the men earn. While I wish the best of luck to the lovely Watson, I cant help but think her star will fade with age, and that is terribly, terribly sad.

If It's a sign of any kind of progress, the fact that Kathryn Bigalow has gained an Oscar nomination for her work as Director on The Hurt Locker, since the it appears the big money is behind the camera, shows that things are changing, albeit painfully slowly, in Tinseltown. Her nomination makes her only the fourth woman in history to gain this accolade, while she won the 2009 Directors' Guild of America's award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures, the first woman to win this prize, a further sign of progress. Here's to hoping that Hollywood goes further down the path of enlightenment sooner rather than later.

Vanity Fairs Top Male Earners in 2009:
1. Michael Bay, producer-director ($125 million)
2. Steven Spielberg, producer-director ($85 million)
3. Roland Emmerich, producer-director ($70 million)
4. James Cameron, producer-director ($50 million)
5. Todd Phillips, director ($44 million)
6. Daniel Radcliffe, actor ($41 million)
7. Ben Stiller, actor ($40 million)
8. Tom Hanks, actor ($36 million)
9. J. J. Abrams, producer-director ($36 million)
10. Jerry Bruckheimer, producer ($35.5 million)

Vanity Fair's Top Female Earners in 2009:
1. Emma Watson, actress ($30million)
2. Cameron Diaz, actress ($27million)
3. Sarah Jessica Parker, actress ($24million)
4. Katherine Heigl, actress ($24million)
5. Reese Witherspoon, actress ($21million)
6. Angelina Jolie, actress ($21million)
7. Jennifer Aniston, actress ($20million)
8. Sandra Bullock, actress ($20million)
9. Kristen Stewart , actress ($16million)

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Best Movies Of The Noughties Pt. 1: Films 1 to 25

So, with a new decade stretching before us, and a host of end of decade polls, I figured I'd add my own 2 cents on the subject. After scooting around, and reading various lists of the best films of the noughties (rubbish word for the decade, but it's all we have), I noticed a few glaring omissions.

The Times published a very popular list, which ranks highest in the google search. No 24 Hour Party People? No Igby Goes Down? Ahem. Ok, the latter is my a person fav of mine rather than a general classic, but a British list should surely include a film which documents the most important musical and cultural movement of the past 30 years in the post war UK.

Anyway, this is my list of the best movies from the past decade, and in it I have tried to balance what I think are objectively the best movies, while adding a few of my own personal favourites, and including some of the incredible contributions of world cinema, the likes of City Of God, and Infernal Affairs (though to be honest, I'm still learning and discovering the wonders that foreign language films have to offer, and consider myself an ignoramus on the subject, despite knowing a bit). Bear in mind, this is IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER, and please feel free to let me know what you think, what I've missed and what I've clearly over-rated! Thanks guys...

1. The Departed: Scorsese directs, and an ensemble cast of amazing actors compete for his affections in a brilliant remake of the original Jap flick 'Infernal Affairs'. The result finally got the veteran moviemaker his first Oscar, after 3 decades of trying. Watch out for a prequel in the pipeline.

2. Training Day: Denzel Washington gives an Oscar-winning performance as corrupt LAPD narcotics detective Alonso, uttering the immortal lines "King kong ain't got shit on me", and, my person favourite, "this shit ain't checkers, it's chess". With a man shouting lines this good, it's surely a Scarface for the 21st century?

3. The Beach. Essentially flawed, but I couldn't help fall in love with this movie, as it captured a beautiful moment in the early noughties, when lots of young western people were discovering the wonders of South East Asia, and trying to capture a dream. I was one of them, so it meant something to me...

4. The Wrestler: It came late on, but Mickey Rourke's career-reviving portrayal of a washed-up wrestler was both tragic and moving, with excellent supporting performances including Marissa Tomei as an ageing lap dancer with a heart. It was robbed at the Oscars.

5. Avatar: Not much needs to be said about this billion dollar epic, which came right at the tail end of the decade, and will probably go onto define Hollywood aesthetics and special effects for some time to come, in the way that the first Matrix movie did a decade earlier. 

6. LOTR Trilogy: Another special effects extravaganza, Peter Jackson's epic retelling of the J.R. Tolkien classic combined wonderful storytelling with compelling performances, and, erm, a little fella called Gollum. you'll never look at New Zealand the same way again.

7. Amores Perros. 3 cleverly intertwined stories taking place in Mexico city, exploring the manifold ways that love is indeed a bitch, and including a wonderful performance by a young Gabriel Garcia Bernal. 

8. Igby Goes Down. A personal favourite of mine, Kieran Culkin, Macaulay's brother, in a brilliantly caustic social satire on the East coast upper classes, it has quite a resemblance to Catcher In The Rye, and a brilliant soundtrack. A cult classic of the decade, and one that it bound to be revived in the years to come.

9. In the Loop. Last year's first cinematic effort by Armando Iannucci and the team behind BBC's The Thick Of It. This has to have an award invented especially for it, for Best Swearing In A Movie Ever.

10. Bowling For Columbine. The noughties was surely the decade of the documentary, and Michael Moore's contributions were exceptional. Never less than highly polemical and partial, they drew criticism and praise in equal measure, but you could never doubt his sincerity.

11. There Will Be Blood. Young director Paul Thomas Anderson produced one of the greatest movies of the late 20th century when he made Magnolia, for me, and so it was always going to be a difficult job to top that achievement, but he managed it with this critique of American capitalism in the Wild West goldrush of the nineteeth century, with a brilliant performance from Daniel Day Lewis, and an approval rating of 91% on Rotten Tomatoes. 

12. Pan's Labyrinth. Guillermo Del Toro produces an exquisitely beautiful, dark fairytale of a movie, which works on so many levels, telling the story of a young girl who discovers a fantastic parallel world while in desperate circumstances after the Civil War in Franco's Spain. 

13. Ratatouille. A Pixar movie about a rat who dreams of being a Parisian Chef. It sounds insane, but as a story, it's perfect, winning a near-perfect score of 96 on Metacritic. 

14. City Of God: This 2002 movie took me to a world I'd never seen before, it's gritty documentary style and gripping narrative reveals how desperate and dangerous life is in the favellas of Rio De Janeiro. Based on a 1997 book by Paolo Lins, it won several international film awards, and for me, it's one of the best films of all time.

15. The Lives Of Others: This German-language thriller about life in Cold War East Germany deservedly won the 2007 Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. Based on a true story, it tells the story of playwrights, actors and creatives living under the scrutiny of the Stasi in East Berlin. Any resemblance that Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds has to it is purely coincidental, ahem.

16. Anchorman :The Legend Of Ron Burgundy: The tale of a pusillanimous 70s TV news anchorman played by the delightfully idiotic Will Ferrell, whose world it turned upside down when the first ever female news reporter (Christina Applegate) joins the team in the macho world of News. 

17. 28 Days Later: Danny Boyle may have come to the attention of much of the world with his Oscar smash Slumdog Millionaire in 2009, but he was building a reputation well before that. This 2002 zombie / post apocalyptic movie became a sleeper hit, and was famous for it's opening scenes, which show a deserted inner city London, and it's pioneering use of digital video cameras.

18. Children Of Men: Clive Owen and Julianne Moore inhabit a London of the near future where there has been a world crisis of fertility, and the populace live in a totalitarian state, when an illegal immigrant suddenly, mysteriously becomes pregnant. This film is worth watching for the way it looks alone, with the constantly moving documentary-style camera work and rich detail of a dilapidated England of the future, as well as a mean-ass cameo from Michael Caine as a weed-growing hippie. 

19. The Dark Knight: Heath Ledger won all the plaudits for his disturbed, brilliant portrayal of The Joker in this Batman Begins sequel, but the film is so much more than that, including an interesting allegory with the War On Terror, and excellent direction from Christopher Nolan. 

20. Lost In Translation: Romantic comedies are notoriously uncool, but Sofia Coppola's dreamy story of 2 very different strangers who fall in love in Tokyo was entrancing and enchanting, and it was the film that turned Scarlett Johansson into a worldwide star.

21. Gladiator: Blade Runner director Ridley Scott revived his critical fortunes with this "swords and sandals" historical epic, which harked back to a golden age of movie making. Oh, and Russell Crowe shouts a lot and looks scary. 

22. Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kaazakhstan: Sacha Baron Cohen's comic creation Borat exposes bigotry and anti-semitism in this documentary-style comedy which was followed by a trail of lawsuits and controversy, which just added to its' huge box-office success. 

24. Casino Royale: Daniel Craig's ruthless, steel-eyed Bond swapped campness for killer instinct in this brilliant reboot of the indefatigable James Bond franchise, with a captivatingly seductive performance from Eva Green, though the follow up, the disappointing Quantum of Solace was more a coda than a movie of its' own.

25. No Country For Old Men: the Coen brothers sucked hairy balls with their comedy Burn After Reading, but more than made up for it with this cat-and-mouse chase across the desert, with cold-blooded Javier Bardem managing to be menacing, despite having a silly Emo Philips haircut.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Oscar Nominations 2010

So, the nominations for this years' 82nd academy awards have been announced, and as usual, there are few surprises. Not much in the way of comedy, and there is a preference for worthy, preachy movies with lots of hammy acting (you know who you are The Blind Side and Precious). But the odd decent film, like Armando Iannucci's caustic political satire In The Loop has thankfully managed to sneak through. 

Reaffirming Hollywood's ability to win stuff on it's own turf after last years' big shock with Slumdog Millionaire, I predict a big sweep by James Cameron's Avatar. As previously predicted by myself, The Hurt Locker's gritty documentary style portrayal of life on the front line of bomb disposal in Iraq has won fans in the Academy, setting up a rather juicy confrontation for director Kathryn Bigelow with her former husband James Cameron. And of course, there's a big noise going for Sandra Bullocks' performance in The Blind Side. 

I'm glad to see Austrian Christoph Waltz in there for his show (and heart) stopping performance as Colonel Landa in  Inglourious Basterds, and District 9, with its' South Africa location taking it outside the usual Academy Award territory.
Here are the nominations in full, with a 'H' for my Hack bet for who will win:

Best Picture      
Avatar 'H'
The Blind Side
District 9
An Education
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
A Serious Man
Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire
Up in the Air

Best Director
Kathryn Bigelow – The Hurt Locker 'H'
James Cameron – Avatar
Lee Daniels – Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire
Jason Reitman – Up in the Air
Quentin Tarantino – Inglourious Basterds 

Best Actor          
Jeff Bridges – Crazy Heart as Bad Blake
George Clooney – Up in the Air as Ryan Bingham
Colin Firth – A Single Man as George Falconer
Morgan Freeman – Invictus as Nelson Mandela
Jeremy Renner – The Hurt Locker as Sgt. William James 'H'

Best Actress
Sandra Bullock – The Blind Side as Leigh Anne Tuohy 'H'
Helen Mirren – The Last Station as Sofya Tolstoy
Carey Mulligan – An Education as Jenny Miller
Gabourey Sidibe – Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire as Clarieece "Precious" Jones
Meryl Streep – Julie & Julia as Julia Child

Best Supporting Actor  
Matt Damon – Invictus as François Pienaar
Woody Harrelson – The Messenger as Capt. Tony Stone
Christopher Plummer – The Last Station as Leo Tolstoy
Stanley Tucci – The Lovely Bones as George Harvey
Christoph Waltz – Inglourious Basterds as Col. Hans Landa 'H' (pictured)

Best Supporting Actress
Penélope Cruz – Nine as Carla Albanese
Vera Farmiga – Up in the Air as Alex Goran 'H'
Maggie Gyllenhaal – Crazy Heart as Jean Craddock
Anna Kendrick – Up in the Air as Natalie Keener
Mo'Nique – Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire as Mary Lee Johnston

Best Original Screenplay             
The Hurt Locker – Mark Boal
Inglourious Basterds – Quentin Tarantino
The Messenger – Alessandro Camon and Oren Moverman
A Serious Man – Joel Coen and Ethan Coen 'H'
Up – Tom McCarthy, Bob Peterson and Pete Docter

Best Adapted Screenplay
District 9 – Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell
An Education – Nick Hornby
In the Loop – Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Armando Ianucci and Tony Roche
Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire – Geoffrey Fletcher
Up in the Air – Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner

Best Animated Feature
Coraline – Henry Selick
Fantastic Mr. Fox – Wes Anderson
The Princess and the Frog – Ron Clements and John Musker
The Secret of Kells – Tomm Moore
Up – Pete Docter 'H' (pictured left)

Best Foreign Language Film
Ajami (Israel) in Arabic and Hebrew – Scandar Copti and Yaron Shani
El Secreto de Sus Ojos (Argentina) in Spanish – Juan José Campanella
The Milk of Sorrow (Peru) in Spanish and Quechua – Claudia Llosa
A Prophet (France) in French, Corsican and Arabic – Jacques Audiard 'H'
The White Ribbon (Germany) in German – Michael Haneke

'Moon' Review (Dir Duncan Jones) 2009

There's nothing like a bit of old-fashioned futurism. Back in the 70s and early 80s, cinema produced a series of science fiction movies that not only excited the eyes and ears of the public, but captured their imagination, dealing with powerful, challenging issues raised by the anticipated shock of man's mastery of the physical and biological universe, environmental disaster, and the rapid advancement of technology. Whether it was Alien, Kubrick's 2001 or Ridley Scott's poetic visual masterpiece Blade Runner, moviemakers were capturing a golden (space) age of cinema. Sadly it wasn't to last.

Roll on today, to the execrable crashes and bangs of Michael Bay's Transformers, and people, or at least movie executives that call the shots, prefer pure spectacle to being challenged to ponder the big questions of mans' place in the big scheme of things. James Cameron's Avatar being the billion-dollar exception that proves the rule, of course.

Child of the 70s Duncan Jones (and son of the Man Who Fell to Earth and original space cadet, David Bowie) has created what in many ways is a love letter to that lost age of sci-fi. The action sees Sam Bell (played by Sam Rockwell, pictured), an employee of Lunar Industries alone working a 3 year contract on the far side of the moon, extracting a rare, precious mineral required for clean energy back on earth. His only company is the a robot voiced by Kevin Spacey, whos reassuring voice nannys Sam like Red Dwarf's Kryten, while at the same time appearing to manipulate him, like 2001's Hal 9000. What is he hiding?

The story begins with Sam coming to the end of his time on the moon. He is like a spacebound Robinson Crusoe, having forged a life for himself building matchstick models to entertain himself and occupy his mind, when he begins experiencing a series of visions, which raise his suspicion, causing him to investigate matters, and, well, I can't share much more without giving the story away, but suffice to say, the situation, and indeed, he himself, is not who he thinks he is.

A recurring theme of movies this type is the corrosive effect corporate greed can have, rejecting the sanctity of life for the cold comfort of the financial bottom line, and in this sense, Moon is very much reminiscent of flicks like Blade Runner, and Alien : large economic forces are at work, abusing technology at the expense of social norms, forcing people to act in ways that are contrary to their human instinct, and regardless of the cost of human life. in Blade Runner, Deckard is made to "retire" replicants despite emerging understanding that they are capable of something approaching humanity, in Aliens - corporations want to capture and use the aliens for biological warefare, as a product to be researched, harnessed, and sold, irrespective of the expense of human lives lost in the process. Here, minerals from the moon must be mined at minimum cost to the business, even if it means repeatedly (*****PLOT SPOILER HERE***) cloning the one individual trained and capable to do the job.

There's little in the way of overt "action", but Moon still manages to be completely engaging for its' entirety. The on screen interest lies not in explosions and effects, but in an incredible performance by Sam Rockwell, which must surely be worth of an Oscar nomination. He has hitherto ploughed a furrow in indie flicks (he pops up in Blow and Frost/Nixon), and the odd big budget movie (remember Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?), but largely as an unremarkable, but excellent character actor in secondary roles. Here, he is the movie, and what he achieves is incredible. (***MORE PLOT SPOILING***) Through his exploration of the various iterations of the character of Sam Bell, he explores brilliantly the nature of the human experience, provoking existential questions. What makes us who we are? Is it our memories? Our emotions? Our relationships with other people? Or our experiences?

In conclusion then, Moon is a truly wonderful movie, and though I suspect the Oscar interest this season will go the way of movies like The Hurt Locker, Up, and Up In The Air, for me this is by far more superior to any of the obvious candidates.

Hack Rating 5/5