Sunday, 30 January 2011

That Oscar Blog: Part One

Oh yes, it’s that time of the year again, you know, the one where I get all my hopes up that Hollywood’s most talented people are going to get the credit they deserve only to find myself disappointed to see them lose out to the people who are slightly less talented because award shows are all political. (Sorry, the cynic in me simply couldn’t resist.)

In other words, it’s time for the Oscars, and this year I planned to do another blog following the event with my thoughts, but then remembered that my blog like that last year was pretty dull, so instead I’m going to write a blog detailing my thoughts on the nominations themselves, which were announced earlier this week. I would of written this blog the day they were announced, but I hadn’t yet seen “The Kings Speech” and “127 Hours” and thought it would be better if I had seen them first.

So with back to back viewings I’m caught up enough to give at least a couple of thoughts on the nominations... and here they are... and in true Oscar style I’m gonna build my way up to the Best Picture Category to give a false sense of suspense.

Film Editing

Nominated: Black Swan, The Fighter, The King's Speech, 127 Hours, The Social Network

This one is tough for me, because in my opinion there are two clear contenders for this particular award, which are Black Swan and 127 Hours. Not to say there is anything wrong with the editing in The Social Network, The Kings Speech or The Fighter. (Maybe there’s a connection between the quality of editing and the use of the word “The” in the title). It’s just that in my opinion there is nothing particularly special about the way the other nominated films are edited.

And I found it interesting that the two films I feel deserve this award, both have protagonists that at some point, loose their grip on reality. Both films have moments where the audience are supposed to question the authenticity of the scene, if not during then after. I personally feel that editing has a great deal to do with the success of this. If not edited properly these moments quite simply fall flat.

Who should win?

Black Swan and 127 Hours both work this technique beautifully and I would be thrilled to see either of them win, but I must say I personally feel 127 Hours deserves it just a little bit more because not only does it succeed in turning a static premise into a film full of energy, it also manages to weave flashbacks and glimpses of the future into those mind bending moments in a way that is completely seamless. It would have been so easy for this film to turn out completely disjointed as a result of all the elements at work, but it plays perfectly, and that is very much down to the stellar editing job done on it.

Who will actually win?

This one is such a toss up for me I wouldn’t at all be surprised if Black Swan took it, and as I’ve already hinted I won’t be disappointed by that at all, it’s really put together well.

Visual Effects

Nominated: Alice In Wonderland, Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part 1, Hereafter, Inception, Iron Man 2

Who should win?

Erm, let me think about that one for a se.... INCEPTION!

If anything BUT Inception wins this, I might actually go on an Oscar related rampage and start picking off academy members.

Look, these days, any old moron can stick a film in a computer and add good looking visual effects, and don’t get me wrong, there is a ton of skill required to do that well, but the truth is, it’s never going to be better than practical effects. And that’s because the human eye is clever, it can tell the difference. It might just be a slight difference in the physics or a simple movement that doesn’t look quite natural, but either way the second we spot it, we are pulled out of the reality of the film. And even though it is vastly more effort to create practical effects, the film is almost ALWAYS better for it.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate CGI, its a great tool which makes things possible we never could of dreamed committing to film 20 years ago, but it should only be used when there is simply no other way to create the effect or when it is used to supplement practical effects and blend them seamlessly into the rest of the film, but never as a substitute for real visuals. (Yes George Lucas I’m looking directly at you as I say this, and I’m not even being subtle about it.)
So as I have already stated, for me Inception earned this for its wonderful use of practical effects, which both looked great and felt authentic.

Who will actually win?

Well, I’m gonna be honest here and admit that this is one award the academy are going to get right. I predict this will be Inception's one and only award of the night.

Best Supporting Actor

Nominated: Christian Bale (The Fighter), John Hawkes (Winter's Bone), Jeremy Renner (The Town), Mark Rufallo (The Kids Are All Right), Geoffrey Rush (The King's Speech)

Who should win?

For me, Christian Bale should win this statue after his incredibly convincing portrayal of a former Boxer turned addict who won’t accept his glory days are behind him in The Fighter. I mean, not only does Bale convince me of his addiction, but the man absolutely sells his, however misguided, affection for his brother. I mean, it’s so clear how much he loves and respects his brother before he utters a word. It’s a truly stunning performance and he absolutely deserves to go home with the statue. I mean, the guy makes Marky Mark’s performance tolerable. That’s Oscar worthy in itself.

I do also want to add that Renner’s performance in the Town, which was absolutely brilliant, is noteworthy and I would not complain if he took home the statue, even though it’s unlikely.

Who will actually win?

But as we proved two years ago in the “Best Actor” category, a decent impersonation of someone from history often wins over a decent original performance, so I think Geoffrey Rush will be taking this one home. He was very convincing in the role of Lionel Logue, but failed to match the layers and dimensions Christian Bale demonstrated in his performance in The Fighter.

Best Supporting Actress

Nominated: Amy Adams (The Fighter), Helena Bonham-Carter (The King's Speech), Melissa Leo (The Fighter), Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit), Jacki Weaver (Animal Kingdom)

Who should win?

This is a tough one to call because Amy Adams is a fantastic actress and a favourite of mine, but for some reason I didn’t really think much of her work in “The Fighter” for which she is nominated. So, with that said, I would absolutely love to see Melissa Leo take the award for her role in the same film. She gave a stellar performance as Marky Marks unreasonable mother in The Fighter; which completely holds the film together. Without a convincing performance here, you simply don’t believe the Mickey character's reasons for putting his family at arms length. But Leo doesn’t disappoint and she does manage to evoke a reaction from audiences that really causes them to empathise with Mickey.

As a side note I’m really disappointed to see Mila Kunis isn’t nominated in this category for her work in Black Swan, which wasn’t strong enough to win this award, but she definitely deserved to be nominated for it.

Who will actually win?

Amy Adams is an Academy favourite and for good reason. I see her taking this one despite the fact this particular performance hardly represents her best work.

Best Director

Nominated: Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan), David O. Russell (The Fighter), Tom Hooper (The King's Speech), David Fincher (The Social Network), Joel & Ethan Coen (True Grit)

I’m absolutely baffled to see Tom Hooper on this list, and even more perplexed to see Christopher Nolan being snubbed. Don’t get me wrong, Tom Hooper is a perfectly fine director and there is absolutely nothing wrong with his work on the Kings Speech, but that’s exactly the point. There’s nothing wrong with the work, but it’s far from stellar. Yet Christopher Nolan’s incredible work bringing his Inception script to life goes unrecognised. I realise it all comes down to opinion, but for me the difference in quality is so huge it is beyond me that others do not see it. And there’s an extra jolt of disappointment when I realise the academies decision probably has something to do with Inceptions science fiction routes.

Who should win?

You may be surprised to hear that despite my bitching and moaning about Nolan not getting the nomination, he would not have been my choice to win the award either way. No, while Nolan deserves the nomination, the award itself should in my opinion be bestowed on Darren Aronofsky.

Black Swan is easily on of the best films of the entire year, if not the best, and while the fascinating script, gripping performances and wonderful music all play a part in that. None of it works without Aronofsky. Every other project nominated in this category (With the possible exception of True Grit) could have been helmed by a different director and you would hardly notice the difference. And this is because no director was as integral to a project this year as Aronofsky was to Black Swan.

He brought an unusual idea to life in a way few could have and he deserves all the credit in the world for it.

Who will actually win?

I think the academy will recognise this and give Aronofsky this statue...

I know, it’s never as interesting when we agree, but that’s truly the way I feel it will go. (Probably because they Academy will all feel guilty for ignoring this film in the best Picture Catagory.)

Anywho, that's all for now, but not to worry, will post Part Two on Wednesday.

Thanks for reading
-- Dan

PS: I actually wrote the entire thing last night and this afternoon, then realised it was 3000+ words and decided to split it into two parts for the benifit any poor soul interested enough to read through this. EDIT: Part Two now availible here.

PPS: So don't say I don't do nothing for ya.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Writers Doubt

The odd thing about being a writer, for me at least, is that ever single idea feels like my last. I have this odd little doubt at the back of my mind every now and then that tells me that one day I’m going to run out of ideas, because I’m not a proper writer. Even the simple act of starting this blog by labelling myself as a writer feels wrong to me somehow. I haven’t yet earned anything from my writing and I’ve not even got an agent, so how can I possibly call myself a writer? The truth is, my doubt often pushes the fact from my mind that I may not yet be a professional writer, but I certainly have written enough and have dedicated enough time to the craft to feel like a writer. But of course, that's a logical way of looking at it and doubt has this funny way of bypassing logic.

Most writers feel doubt, no one seems to want to talk about it, but almost every writer feels like they aren’t good enough at some point, and coincidentally this is often a quality that can actually make someone’s writing stronger, because unsurprisingly, feeling like a failure can actually drive someone to achieve excellence.

Doubt manifests in different ways with different writers but I truly believe that it exists in 90% of writers, maybe more. But thankfully, the saving grace is that this doubt isn’t permanent and every now then a writer will completely overcome that doubt, it’s not permanent, it’s guaranteed to show up again mere hours or days later, manifested in a completely different way and fully equipped to make that person feel like a fraud all over again. But it can be beaten; in fact, the reason I’m writing this blog is because I’ve just managed that very thing myself.

Lately, my self doubt has taken the form of, “I don’t write as much as I used to, that means I’m a failure as a writer”. And last night I realised that it had nothing to do with my shortcomings, which are many, and everything to do with the fact that I used to get a big fat student loan every couple of months that made it much easier to find time to do it, recently, forced to find a way to pay my sizeable rent, I have had to find work. And not so surprisingly, full time work that isn’t writing related does unfortunately have a rather nasty side effect of leaving you with less time to write. And it’s only now, on this side of redundancy that I have realised this.

The other thing that kept concerning me was the very notion I mentioned at the beginning of this blog, the possibility that I had run out of ideas. I was struggling to find time to develop concepts, so naturally convinced myself that this wasn’t a matter of finding the right time or the right mindset and instead convinced myself it’s that I couldn’t come up with workable ideas anymore. This, as it happens, is bullshit.

I sat in bed last night, unable to sleep. Simply because I couldn’t shut down that section of my brain I usually reserve for developing my ideas. An idea I had had and forgotten months ago suddenly shot to the surface and started bubbling. Not only was this proof that I was far from out of ideas, but it was such an intriguing idea I simply couldn’t stop thinking about it, and then I had this unbelievable need to get it written down. So I picked up my iPhone and typed some notes shorthand notes that I planned to develop into a treatment in the morning. But no, that wasn’t enough. I couldn’t help myself; I couldn’t stop expanding the concept, introducing themes, developing motives, creating characters and the idea’s expanded so far that it became uncomfortable typing such masses of stuff into my iPhone’s tiny tiny keypad.

So I got up, moved to my desk and started writing that treatment right then and there, and worked for several hours, by 5 I was finished, and I returned to my bed with a big smile on my face, my mind at piece and swiftly fell asleep.

The last couple of months have been ripe with self doubt for me, mainly as a result of finding it difficult to find work in a related field, but that’s all changed now, maybe it will only last a couple of weeks, maybe it will only last another hour, but how can I possibly sit here this morning and doubt my status as a writer after that? The quality of the work itself is irrelevant. As far as I’m concerned writing is what makes someone a writer, having that unstoppable desire to tell a story makes you a writer, spending a large percentage of your day thinking about writing even when your doing something else makes you a writer and anyone who spends their time writing would do well to remember that next time they feel that all too familiar doubt.

This blog exists for one reason and one reason only, to document this moment, so that in future, when I’m struggling with my own doubts, I can turn to this and remind myself what I am.

Thanks for reading.