I’ve been catching up on some of the oscar nominated female led documentaries recently, here are some of my mini reviews.
A Girl in The River: The Price of Forgiveness
Directed by Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy (Song of Lahore, Saving Face), this film won the Academy Award for best short documentary film. Set in Pakistan, Saba is the victim of an attempted honour killing committed by her father and uncle for marrying without parental consent. The documentary follows her story and the legal proceedings that followed. The story is both human and political, showing the unfair and sexist legal process and the pressure upon her to forgive her attempted murderers (which would grant them their freedom). Throughout the film Saba is shown struggling with her decision, her community and village elders demanding she make peace despite it putting her in danger. Overall, A Girl in The River: The Price of Forgiveness is both compelling and infuriating.
The Hunting Ground
Directed by Kirby Dick, the film explores the epidemic of sexual assault on college campuses in the United States, the ways in which the college’s try to hide it and the effect it has on the victims. The majority of the film is young men and women describing their experiences at college cut together with horrifying statistics and statements from college current and former staff. Whilst it has some questionable statistics present in the film the raw emotional core is one of anger and betrayal by the college system one which I believe can be felt here in the UK as well. The Hunting Ground is a battle cry against the colleges who have tried to keep these women silent and is a compelling documentary to watch.
Directed by Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech, Les Misérables), starring Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything, My Week With Marilyn) and Alicia Vikander (Testament of Youth, Ex Machina). The Danish Girl, is loosely based on the relationship between the danish artists Lili Elbe and Gerda Wegener as well as Lili’s journey in discovering her gender identity and eventually becoming one of the first transgender women to have sex reassignment surgery.
I’ll be honest, I didn’t really enjoy this film. It felt lazy in many of the ways it depicted Lili’s body dysmorphia, ticking every on-screen transgender cliché in the book. (Shots of Lili examining herself in the mirror, hiding female clothes under male etc) It was incredibly cringe-worthy in places, with cheesy dialogue. “You’re different from most girls” remarks a suitor the first time Lili goes out in public, she replies with a simpering smile “That’s not a very original line”. Lili’s character felt underdeveloped, and her character lacked complexity and depth beyond her gender identity.
Performance wise, Alicia Vikander’s performance carried this film as Lili’s wife. Eddie Redmayne however, is over the top and almost caricature like. Aspects of the film I did enjoy included the beautiful array of costumes designed by Paco Delgado and the chemistry between Vikander and Redmayne in the earlier scenes.
Overall, The Danish Girl lacked subtlety and depth and I was disappointed with it.
Directed by Ava DuVernay (I will Follow, Middle of Nowhere), Selma follows the campaign in 1965 led by Martin Luther King Jr to secure equal voting rights by marching from Selma to Montgomery in Alabama. The film is nominated for best picture at the Oscars this year.
One of the main aspects I really liked about this film was the juxtaposition shown between domestic life and the racially motivated violence. It was deeply disturbing how integrated this violence was in their lives and this was shown through the clever editing of this film showing scenes of Martin Luther King being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and an act of terrorism inter cut together. King’s wife Carlotta King (played by Carmen Ejogo) describes in the film the “fog of death” hanging over their lives and this really hammers home the very personal struggles for King’s family.
David Oyelowo’s performance as Martin Luther King Jr was brilliant. He really captured King’s presence, charisma and presence but also his human nature. There was a great interview with David Oyelowo and Ava DuVernay recently that said they wanted to show King had an ego, he had faults and that simply he was a human man. I think that’s something important to remember. That he was an ordinary person who stood up for civil rights.
As well as humanising King, the film was very human centred. It showed the happy, communal spirit of the movement, it showed family and friendship but it also showed the extreme brutality from one human to another. Whilst this was heartbreaking, I did like that the violence was not sugarcoated. They made it clear that it was unprovoked, cold blooded murder based on prejudice. In that way the film is very powerful and moving.
I also liked that Ava DuVernay decided to add more women into the film when she became director. She said in a recent interview that it would be lying to show a film about the civil rights movement that didn’t include women because they have always been such a vital part of it. I think having that representation of women in this way is vital. Ava DuVernay is the first black woman to ever be nominated for a golden globe for best directing and she was nominated for Selma. I think that is a great step and that the film is brilliant.
The film is particularly relevant given the events in Ferguson over the past six months regarding police brutality against black people. Watching this film knowing this and how in many ways little has changed was completely heartbreaking. It’s easy to look back at the civil rights movement at this time and demonize the people who caused this kind of oppression, racism and brutality so that you can separate yourself from them and know you’re not like that but it’s important to remember that the civil rights movement is still not over.
Written and Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu (who is nominated for 2 Oscars for this film), Birdman tells the story of a washed up former blockbuster film star best known for playing an iconic superhero called “Birdman”. It follows the rehearsals and previews leading up to his opening night on broadway. It focuses on his relationship with his family, his ego and art. When I first came out of seeing this film I was slightly speechless, I had no idea what my opinion of it was. I think that Birdman is one of those films you really have to let sink in and process.
Filmmaking wise, it was incredibly interesting due to the long shots following the actors down the winding corridors of the theatre and clever editing techniques, the whole film felt like one continuous shot and in that way it brought you deeper into the film and made you feel more connected to the characters. The cinematography was fantastic, especially the colouring and lighting. Another interesting element was the soundtrack which was almost exclusively drums, which kind of felt like a drum role up to the pinnacle moment on opening night of the broadway show in this film. It also felt like a drum based street performance which is reflected in the film a few times when the characters are walking through the streets of New York and I thought that was really different and innovative.
One of the most interesting themes I found in this film was the idea of a true actor. There’s a lot of talk about truth in this film, about being honest with what you are. This is highlighted by Edward Norton’s character Mike (Oscar Nominated) who feels true on stage but false in real life. Protagonist Riggan (Michael Keaton) struggles with this because he wants to be seen as an actor but is seen as a celebrity. Although it’s not explicitly mentioned it’s about the film industry and whether you’re a real actor if you appear in a superhero epic rather than for example indie films. So I definitely think the casting of Michael Keaton, former Batman was a great choice. Current actors and films are mentioned such as Iron Man which again brings you closer into this world and makes you think upon this idea of true acting and the notion of “selling out”. Michael Keaton’s Oscar nominated performance in this film is fantastic, he shows this struggle with his ego incredibly well and the father-daughter relationship portrayed with Emma Stone (also Oscar nominated) was also very believable and compelling.
The most talked about scene in this film is Riggan’s monologue about critics. This occurs after an important critic says she’ll destroy his play without even viewing it because she hates who he is and what he stands for in terms of culture (again sell out vs true acting). He talks about how critics just slap a label on art instead of talking about the technique and meaning. I think this is what resonates with a lot of people when they come to review this film because it’s something everyone who has ever reviewed art has been guilty of and I think it’s interesting to see that highlighted so poignantly in this film.
The film is definitely full of surprises and gets very strange at times but it is a very interesting watch.
Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée (Dallas Buyers Club, The Young Victoria) and based on the memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed. Wild tells the story of protagonist Cheryl (Played by Reese Witherspoon) who feels like she has messed up her life and decides to walk a 1000 mile hike across the pacific crest trail. In short, it’s about loss. Whether that be in the form of losing a loved one, losing yourself or losing your way. The narrative jumps back and forth from the hike to Cheryl’s past slowly revealing what led her to taking this challenge and how the hike affects her.
I really enjoyed this film, it was very moving and was an incredibly powerful story of self forgiveness and moving on. The film overall was beautifully shot, contrasting the beautiful scenery on the hike to the more dreary shots during Cheryl’s darker past. Reese Witherspoon’s performance was fantastic, I can definitely see why she has been nominated for an Oscar for this film. One of the main reasons I was attracted to seeing this film was that the screenplay was written by Nick Hornby (An Education, High Fidelity, About a Boy) who is a writer I’m a big fan of. I was not disappointed, I thought it was well written and I enjoyed the relationships portrayed in the film. In particular the relationship between Cheryl and her Mother (Laura Dern, who is also nominated for an Oscar for this film). I’m really pleased I saw this because it’s rare to see such a female driven film especially one with such positive female relationships. I also liked the relationship between Cheryl and her ex-husband, it was refreshing to see friendship there instead of resentment or bitterness.
Overall I thought this was a really positive and uplifting film and I highly recommend!
It’s that time of year again when I watch all the films nominated for best picture at this years Oscars. The nominations were released today so if you don’t know what they are:
The Imitation Game
The Theory of Everything
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Although I was surprised to see a lack of Gone Girl and Nightcrawler. I have already seen 3 out of the 8 films nominated (Boyhood, The Imitation Game and The Grand Budapest Hotel.) However it’s not surprising I haven’t seen most of them due to the fact they are only just coming out in UK cinemas! I plan on watching the rest over the next few weeks. I didn’t find the nominations for best actress surprising in the least but I am especially pleased that Marion Cotillard was nominated for Two Days, One Night. Again, with the best actors it was fairly predictable. I do find the lack of diversity in both these categories disappointing but once I catch up with the films nominated I will hopefully have a better understanding for their reasoning. With those nominated for best director it’s hardly surprising again but I would have liked to see Ava DuVernay nominated for Selma.
I look forward to watching the rest of the films nominated and seeing who wins on the 22nd of February!
Last night I attended a preview screening of Mr Turner that included a Q&A with director Mike Leigh (Nominee of 7 Oscars).
Mr Turner is a biopic of the famous British painter J.M.W Turner starring Timothy Spall. I went into the film knowing very little about Turner and his work, I knew who he was and some of his paintings but very little else. One of the things this film does well is show the very physical way in which Turner painted, spitting at his work, blowing powder at it and using powerful brush strokes. Full credit to the cinematographer Dick Pope for this film because visually it was stunning. Many of the scenes alluded to Turner’s work which was a great touch. Leigh explained that they had access to a lot of Turner’s work including his colour charts so they were really able to see how Turner approached colour and could incorporate it into the film’s cinematography which I found really interesting.
I did have a few issues with the film, during the Q&A an audience member praised the portrayal of the women in the film and Turner’s positive relationship with them. I definitely disagree with this opinion, in fact I saw the complete opposite. Turner in the film came accross as deeply misogynistic, sexually abusing his housekeeper and on the whole only interacting with women if he got something in return (usually sex). I also (partly because of this) found Turner’s character to be incredibly unlikable the majority of the time. The whole film takes the angle of empathising with him and portraying him as a gentle man who happened to be a painting genius and in some ways this was successful, for example I enjoyed his relationship with his father and the scenes at the art gallery. But a lot of the time I found myself really disliking Turner as a character, and I can get on board with unlikeable characters if that was their intended purpose but it was clear from the Q&A that this wasn’t how I was supposed to perceive him. There were a mix of funny and sad moments in the film, it was also clear that Turner was incredibly passionate and forward thinking showing him embracing the new technologies of steam trains and early photography and acknowledging how photography was going to change art. Which of course he was right about. Mike Leigh described Mr Turner as a modern Biopic as it does leave a lot up to your interpretation rather than being strictly factual.
I had the opportunity to meet Mike Leigh after the event, I asked him what his advice would be for aspiring filmmakers and he said “Never compromise” and encouraged me to keep filming lots.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the event but to be honest I wasn’t a big fan of the film.
This film was well deserving of the Oscar it received for “Best Original Screenplay”. It is by far the most original and unique film I’ve seen for a long time. Written and Directed by Spike Jonze.
The plot centres around a lonely man named Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) in the process of getting divorced. He buys the new OS1, which is advertised as the world’s first artificially intelligent operating system, it is described that “It’s not just an operating system, it’s a consciousness,”. The OS names herself Samantha (Scarlett Johansson) and the film explores their relationship.
I think that “Her” was a really interesting view into how people connect. It’s incredibly thought provoking and has a really interesting perspective on love and relationships. Although parts of it are sad, this is not a miserable film. The cinematography is beautiful and Joaquin Phoenix brings a brilliant performance.
The film works as a realistic, believable romance, “To have an intimate relationship with somebody requires a leap of faith,” says Jonze. “Even after years you don’t really ever know how they see or think about the world. Our subjectivity is so completely our own.”. The film also works as a satirical commentary on the way in which technology connects everyone to the world but also isolates us from real human contact.
This was my favourite of the films I watched for my personal ‘Oscars Challenge’.
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Arthur C. Clarke
I’m probably the last person to jump onto the bandwagon about this film, “Gravity” was released in November 2013 but I think out of all the films I have been watching in the run up to the Oscars it is the one that has been hyped up to me the most. In all honestly I went into the film expecting not to like it, I expected to enjoy the cinematography and special effects but not the film as a whole. I was most definitely wrong.
“Gravity”; directed by Alfonso Cuarón, centres around the character Dr Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock), who after six months of NASA training has been sent into space to attach a new scanning device to the Hubble space telescope as an engineer. She is accompanied by the charismatic character Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) who is an experienced astronaut. However, on a routine spacewalk to fix this device, disaster strikes. The shuttle is destroyed, leaving both characters completely alone spiraling out into the depths of space.
The cinematography was beautiful as expected, and it was definitely worth seeing in 3D (which I normally don’t agree with, but I will make another blog post about that). Although occasionally they did do the typical cliche trick of objects ‘flying out of the screen at you’ which did distract from the experience a little bit but not massively. All in all the 3D added another layer to the imagery in the film. Now, I’m not going to give any plot spoilers, but throughout the film you are incredibly invested in the characters as you get to know them, particularly the protagonist Ryan. In truth, I really enjoyed this film it is absolutely stunning and the narrative is engaging, emotional and very well performed by Sandra Bullock. I highly recommend!
Here is a little bit about the making of the film:
“I want us to be sued by NASA when they see the film.”- Alfonso Cuarón
I’ve made it my mission to watch all the films nominated for best picture before the awards in March.
If you’re not already aware these are:
Dallas Buyers Club
12 Years a Slave
The Wolf of Wall Street
I’m already quite far behind having only seen Dallas Buyers Club, The Wolf of Wall Street and Nebraska. Although I’m seeing Gravity tonight and American Hustle tomorrow night.
The reason I’m doing this is because I’ve never been in a position where I’ve seen all the nominated films for “Best Picture” at the Oscars, I’d like to see what are arguably some of the best films of the past year before the awards are given.