‘Editorials’ Articles

86th Annual Academy Awards – Prechat

Special thanks to David Barr for joining me in this years conversation, recorded 22nd February 2014. Apologies for atrocious spelling and childlike use of the English language we’ve allegedly been speaking for almost thirty years.

DC: Best Picture. 9 nominees this year instead of 10. American Hustle, Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyers Club, Gravity, Her, Philomena, 12 Years a Slave and The Wolf of Wall Street.

DB: American Hustle to begin. It’s a pretty good film, forty minutes too long. Its fine, should’ve been funner, feels Scorsese-light, and in a year with such a strong Scorsese picture it really shows the difference in calibre between him and someone like David O.Russell. Not that you shouldn’t take each film on its individual merit, but its loveable mess routine, the screwball thing; it doesn’t work particularly well. I found that last year with Silver Lining’s Playbook too.

DC: The Fighter is my favourite of his loose trilogy of North-East American pictures he’s done back-to-back. It had the screwball mess-around flailing stuff with the characters but that’s all floating above the fairly tight narrative of the Micky Ward boxing title, even the sibling rivalry stuff that’s the real centre of the film always wraps around the boxing stuff. American Hustle deviates so far from my understanding of the real events that it’s effectively a fiction; you’re not tethered to any sort of reality. It’s a fluffy, frivolous nothing.

DB: The writing just isn’t good enough.

DC: He’s taken this original script, the first writer sharing nomination, and torn it up to create this whole new thing. I bet that original script was a much closer telling of real events. He’s jumped in, played about, but in the process lost something.

DB: He tries to inject pace into a flabby script with the distracting soundtrack and that endless fucking cameramove where they zoom into someones face.

DC: He’s watched Mean Streets too many times.

DB: About ten minutes from the end the camera crash-zooms into Amy Adams’ heel as she’s getting into a car. I just thought, why have you done that?

DC: I remember levelling some of the same criticisms at Argo last year. I just didn’t think it was substantial enough to win Best Picture, though it’s pretty much a world ahead of this film. This is no deeper than an Ocean’s 11. Good production values, hair, makeup sure, but it’s all about those big, loud performances. I liked Silver Lining’s Playbook because I felt there was a beating heart and some interesting issues bouncing around below the surface. The trailers and so on gave the impression of being a dodgy rom-com come dance contest thing, but there was such a dark undercurrent. American Hustle seems kinda soulless.

DB: I only saw it last week and it felt very small. Strangely insular.

DC: It thrives on the things that can trick audiences. The big cast, the big soundtrack, the big costumes, hair and so on. That stuff alone isn’t enough, its just furnishing. It shouldn’t be a nominee.

DB: Without enough story to sustain 2 hours 20 minutes or whatever it is.

DC: I’m glad O.Russell is in this stage of his career where he can get films made and have some commercial success, but I look back on his earlier work and it looks now as though something’s faded away. Spanking the Monkey, Flirting with Disaster, Three Kings…

DB: Even I Heart Huckabees?

DC: Well not that one so much, but for their flaws those films had an organic energy that feels ever so slightly artificial on this last one. Next up – Captain Phillips?

DB: I’ve seen seven of nine of these. I haven’t seen Captain Phillips or Philomena. Avoid spoilers.

DC: Tom Hanks is the title character. In that docu-drama style that Paul Greengrass does so well, I get the impression it’s a fairly close account of the real events, it certainly has that completely believable feeling of authenticity he nailed with United 93. I like the style, I’ve liked the way both Greengrass and Kathryn Bigelow, especially with Zero Dark Thirty last year, have perfected this style. Bringing a moviestar as enormous as Tom Hanks into that and shooting him in this way in this sort of film is an interesting experiment, with the close-held cameras, jagged editing and so fourth. It’s an immediately compelling story, simply as a tense hostage drama without getting into the wider political issues Greengrass prods at. It’s got the frenetic energy, the technical side under complete control and the actors rattling around playing it as naturally as possible. There’s a real feeling of threat there, the ‘anything could happen’ thing that comes with shooting in this way. The tension never lets up.

DB: His style sounds perfect for the material.

DC: It’s fingernail biting, edge of the seat stuff. You have to take a moment to get your breath. I’m really pleased someone like Hanks was willing to do the project. He falls too regularly into the trap of doing the Saving Mr Banks type pap projects, so to see him in something as cutting edge and contemporary, where there’s not so much of the movie star padding. There’s no hiding. When a handheld crew are buzzing around and untrained actors are waving guns in your face, he’s stripped back to relying on basic technique, it bring the strange intensity of stage acting into the cinema. It’s one of the best performances of his career.

DB: He’s the only name in the film?

DC: There’s a tiny role for Catherine Keener at the start. Much of the film is just Hanks with the four Somali pirates. I like the immediacy of it, I like how modern it feels. My parents rarely go to the cinema, yet bizarrely they found themselves watching Captain Phillips with Spanish subtitles.

DB: It’s got that kind of appeal.

DC: It’s a shame Greengrass isn’t in for Director or Hanks for Best Actor. It’s odd someone like Alexander Payne would be in there whilst Greengrass is shunted out. Not as bad as the exclusion of Bigelow last year, but still disappointing.

DB: Dallas Buyer’s Club next. Sometimes great. Entirely performance based. It had a nice visual style considering the small budget and tight shooting schedule, but it’s entirely based around McConaughey. That guy, the momentum he’s got in all his work at the moment carries through into this.

DC: It’s a good story but it’s ultimately a pretty straight-arrow conventional drama. You can throw in the AIDS stuff and the body transformation elements but it never really gets into the seedier side of this world the Ron Woodruff character finds himself caught up in, it never really delves too far beneath the surface. I don’t think it’s solely and exclusively a performance piece, certainly not compared to something like Charlize Theron in Monster, but the primary thing you take away from it is definitely McConaughey.

DB: That guys career at the moment…

DC:  The last couple of years, the way he’s built himself back up. The string of ridiculously good parts, the conclusion to that resurrection coming with the lead in the Christopher Nolan blockbuster this coming autumn. This is the capper to a great string of great parts in indie pictures, the one that gets the acknowledgement for a half-dozen great bits of work. He’s very much in vogue at the moment, from his True Detective show getting such good reviews on television to the likes of Magic Mike and Bernie in the cinema.

DB: His big scene in The Wolf of Wall Street.

DC: This is his moment. I like the setup of the film, finding the humanity in this character and so on, but I had some real issues with the last 45 minutes or so where the pacing dropped off and we started jumping over significant incidents and big passages of time. The guy directing it, Jean-Marc Vallée, lost his grip a bit and tried to rush through big chunks of narrative in a really short space of time. I’d rather they’d rebalanced the film to focus more on a shorter period than trying to push into the late-eighties. Jared Leto’s character suffered from those issues

DB: There wasn’t enough weight to your second lead dying. They skimmed over it.

DC: The dodgy passage-of-time montages in the final section with McConaughey bombing around the world picking up drugs. Too late in the film to be pulling those sorts of early second-act tricks. We should’ve been hankering down for the big ending. I found myself completely ill equipped to be suddenly dropped into a court room drama section. Then everyone’s clapping him, the easy emotional buttons are being pressed, and I’m finding myself disappointed in them for pulling such a cynical and transparent move when enough goodwill is there for it to be avoided.

DB: That final bit was missing one truly special scene to pull everything together, something to add significance to Leto’s death.

DC: I liked the scene with Leto and his father, but they squandered other opportunities. Why did he suddenly have a boyfriend near the end for no reason whatsoever?  A few years from now the main pub trivia thing that’ll be remembered about this film is that it’s the picture Matthew McConaughey won an Academy Award for. It’s Erin Brockovich or Philadelphia. Fine films, but secondary to the star turns that drive them. Do I sound hyper critical?

DB: I don’t think so, it’s exactly that. Without the performance it wouldn’t be a part of awards season.

DC: If there were still only 5 nominees it wouldn’t have made it. I get this every year, but I can’t help being a little miffed something like Inside Llewyn Davis hasn’t made it in whereas this and American Hustle are in the Best Picture race.

DB: Next up Gravity. Yes, just yes. That’s the one for me.

DC: Is Gravity your favourite of the nominees?

DB: I think so. I’ve only seen it the once. We’ve long been fans of Cuaron since watching Y Tu Mamá También on DVD at like 16 years of age.

DC: Yeah, then moving to the UK and doing the best Potter film, Children of Men and now this.

DB: He’s always had that very fluid style. It’s just the perfect cinema film; everything about it is singularly exceptional. 90 minutes long, every second efficiently packed, nothing wasted no trite back-story flashbacks with Sandra Bullock on Earth or anything. Straight in on the opening action. It’s a cliché to say it, but that opening is just pure cinema. It’s majestic.

DC: It seems too good to be true. On every level it’s a triumph. On a conceptual level, the simplicity of the premise.

DB: It’s made me not want to go into space. It looks horrible, absolutely horrible.

DC: To envision this film then to somehow, over years and years, actually figure out a way to execute that on screen. Cuaron is a true visionary. The film draws together so many different disciplines simply to create the thing. He’s literally creating a new way of making films, creating an experience of unsurpassed originality. I watched it in IMAX in London on the opening Friday and as an audio/visual experience, I found it completely overwhelming. Avatar was credited in some quarters with being a ‘game-changer’ so far as visual effects technology goes, but this is a different game – he’s working from the ground up. It’s a true original.

DB: You can’t quite believe what you’re seeing. You’re so engrossed, the sheer scale of endless space balanced against the claustrophobia of being stuck in that suit, the close-ups of Bullock’s face, it’s flawlessly achieved.

DC: The technical and the artistic are completely integrated, the visual design and the technologies necessary to realise that are one and the same. I’ve been extremely critical of the 3D format in the past and I still am, but there’s something about the way there’s no fixed camera points and they take advantage of the environment to spin and loop through and around the foreground focal point that makes it uniquely suited to 3D.

DB: The soothing tones of George Clooney’s Nespresso voice.

DC: There’s a backlash, one I can’t pretend to understand. It’s clutching at straws to find something to criticise on a film of absolute staggering achievement. The survival story is so functional and punchy and A to B to C, it’s exactly what it needs to be, as is the exploration of Bullock’s character.

DB: You can imagine if James Cameron had shot this, there would’ve been a prologue where Bullock’s on Earth, a flashback to her daughter dying, all that nonsense.

DC: The performances are very nuanced; any discussion of her past is always an appropriate accompaniment to the pressing concerns of the immediate. We get to know everything we need to know in the context of the situation they’re in. We know what drives her.

DB: We’re lucky we get to know as much as we do. She’s running out of oxygen, she’s getting carbon dioxide poisoning. My favourite shot of the year is the floating fetal position, Bullock stripping down and the camera holding still. Cuaron is a genius.

DC: Her directed by Spike Jonze Our fifth of nine. I saw it last weekend. I’m always going to have a special place for Spike Jonze. That ’99 club thing, probably the best year of film releases in our lifetime, that string of directors Fincher, PT Anderson, The Wachowskis…that turning point before the end of the century where they all put out their most mature and seminal work yet.

DB: Studios were taking risks again in a way they hadn’t for 25 years. Bill Mechanic at Fox, New Line…incredible.

DC: It felt like an important, formative part of my teenage years. Three Kings and Fight Club, Being John Malkovich, Magnolia, American Beauty…absolutely brilliant year. I’ve always felt slightly sad that Jonze has produced so few films since then. Adaptation, again with Kaufman, came out soon afterwards then he was stuck in development on Where the Wild Things Are for years and years. There’s a lot of craft in his four films, a lot of emotional investment there. He’s pondered these things a long time before hitting production. They don’t feel like scheduled efforts. He’s teetering on the edges of the metaphysical with this latest film, dense science-fiction concepts being tinkered around with. It doesn’t have the formal structural boldness of Adaptation, it doesn’t have the slightly broader audience appeal Where the Wild Things Are might’ve had, and it doesn’t have the black, surreal humour of Malkovich. It reminded me a little of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. He wasn’t involved in that project; it was a Charlie Kaufman collaboration with Michel Gondry. That was 10 years ago now, but it has the same big cast, the same soft colourised off-kilter indie sensibilities, the same poking around the edge of sci-fi whilst focusing primarily on something far simpler and more universal. I loved that film as an 18-year old and I come into watching Her at almost 28 and the essentials don’t change, all the hipstery stuff is fine and good, but it’s the central human story that makes the impact. The Arcade Fire soundtrack, the stylised costumes and facial hair, it’s all secondary to a simple love story. Eternal Sunshine and Her are great films for that exact same reason. The stuff with Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson forming a relationship, and us observing that relationship for two hours, that’s the triumph. It’s completely believable and I connected with the characters in exactly the way Jonze intended me to.

DB: I totally agree. We talk about Jonze’s visual style, his energy and quirkiness, for lack of a better word, but none of that means anything without the earnestness and truth. The stuff he gets from the cast, the work he gets out of Phoenix. It’s a brave performance, he’s put a lot of trust in Jonze that it’s not going to come across as silly or meaningless.

DC: As a concept it’s potentially laughable. If you fuck it up you make a bad film.

DB: He gets the tone so spot-on. He gets the melancholy. The emotional punches it pulls you in, it’s got a rhythm to it. Stuff like his letter to Rooney Mara’s character, it earns everything it throws at you. It builds up so much weight and really amounts to something so much greater.

DC: Megan Ellison’s Annapurna Pictures again. They financed American Hustle too, and The Master and Zero Dark Thirty last year. She’s queen of the mid-budget. It’s an artist’s work. I’m impressed with the way they work in Scarlett’s performance, considering it was Samantha Morton playing the part on set. To work around the beats of Phoenix’s stuff and make it gel in a believable way.

DB: It’s so smart. Sci-fi relating to the present day, it nails it. How many relationships are built on phonecalls, messages and stuff? Taking that a step further. I didn’t even find it strange, it’s just lovely.

DC: It’s one of those films that really highlights that divide between films people admire and films people love and treasure on a personal level. Spike Jonze exclusively specialises in these, and to have them crossover into Oscar campaigns and nominations is such a strange thing for such a personal work. It almost feels as though it has too much humanity to be caught in the cynical rat race of awards season.

DB: There’s so much heart. He must’ve been offered countless films in those fifteen years since Being John Malkovich. I think it’s probably my favourite of his four.

DC: When I wrote a small bit the other week about it I found myself coming back to Lost in Translation, which was deep amongst those films that popped up during the late-teens and had a real resonance. Sofia Coppola being Jonze ex-wife, I was thinking they must’ve had the most ridiculous marriage. Anyway, Johansson being the other major overlap, quite early in her career in 2003 and such a massive part of the two projects, I’m in awe of her ability to be part of both completely exhilarating Hollywood romances yet never feeling in this new film like she’s feeding on her own earlier work. She’s someone who deserves to have their career re-appraised. A lot of people have been quite dismissive of her abilities in the past but I really don’t think she’s given sufficient credit for balancing big blockbusters with stuff in the more independent sphere and nearly always turning in decent performances. She’s so good in this film, especially as someone without the option of relying on a physical body. She’s had to sit in a soundbooth and match her vocals to Phoenix’s live work on a screen, potentially months after it was shot, but it never feels anything other than authentic.

DB: Some really funny stuff there too. The chatroom sequence with the strangling…hilarious.

DC: That was Kristen Wiig!

DB: Really? I know Bill Hader did one of the voices too. Hilarious.

DC: Brian Cox too.

DB: And the computer game character who keeps swearing which is done by Spike Jonze I think. Just fucking hilarious.

DC: It’s a shame none of this cast found their way into the acting categories. Certainly Phoenix should be in the game.

DB: Phoenix is remarkable. His personal life has gotten in the way before of people realising what an incredible actor he is. Back to something like Gladiator even, The Master…

DC: Walk the Line.

DB: He’s just awesome.

DC: He underplays it. So many actors would try to dial it up when dealing with the more overwrought emotional stuff later on, but even then he tones it down and stays grounded.

DB: The flashback scenes with Rooney Mara. He looks so happy. I just want to be married to her.

DC: Do you think he gets with Amy Adams’ character afterwards?

DB: Maybe. Her husband who takes the vow of silence. Bald. So funny.

DC: He doesn’t even play that stuff for laughs.

DB: Is the song nominated. The Karen O song.

DC: I don’t know.

DB: I think it is.

DC: Spike Jonze has so much confidence in the story he’s telling. It plays out just perfectly. It’s a shame he’s not in the directing race. I remember being annoyed when he didn’t make it in for Adaptation either, and Kaufman’s script lost as well to something like Polanski’s Pianist movie, which just seems ludicrous with a few years hindsight. Nebraska next?

DB: Go ahead…

DC: Alexander Payne here again for Nebraska. Again. Everytime. Every fucking time he makes a film it’s in the Oscar race! They’re always pretty good, he has a clear style, he loves roadtrips, he loves grumpy middle-aged characters. Citizen Ruth, his debut, is still possibly my favourite of his films simply for breaking that template and being so unashamedly politically judgmental. There’s very much a through line cutting along About Schmidt, Election, Sideways and The Descendants though.

DB: I want to give a shoutout to Sideways. I absolutely love it.

DC: I still can’t believe I didn’t like it the first time I saw it! That 7 or 8 years afterwards where he didn’t make a film it really worked its magic on me. It’s the perfect realisation of his roadtrip fixation. Nebraska has numerous qualities that should be highlighted, but Sideways is a great, great film.

DB: Nebraska was pretty good. I don’t know if maybe I’m missing something that everyone else has noticed. I haven’t got much to say about it. Sideways was interesting on such a number of levels. I know this is somewhat different, more like David Lynch’s The Straight Story or something, but it’s just kind of nice, it didn’t make an enormous impression on me.

DC: I liked Will Forte’s character. It’s the Tom Cruise in Rain Man part, overshadowed by Bruce Dern despite being the real, beating heart of the piece. It’s a shame the awards gaze has solely been on Dern when Forte is such a significant part of what makes this work. I liked the photography, I thought it had a different flavour – possibly as a result of Payne not writing the thing, I never doubted the reality of any of these people.

DB: It’s another film that wouldn’t be there if there were just five nominees, even if Payne somehow snuck into the Best Director race, it’s on the fringes of warranting nomination. It doesn’t have that magic thing for me that lifts it into deserving serious Oscar consideration.

DC: It’s an amusing, likeable, lightly comic and lightly touching journey, but it’s no Best Picture winner. There are a lot of good films in the same realm of Nebraska that’re just as worthy of consideration. It doesn’t stand out to me any more so than Before Midnight, Only God Forgives or Inside Llewyn Davis. Payne’s a fine filmmaker, but it’s a little strange to me that his film is such a hot award contender. There’s so much focus in my life toward that terrible inclination of comparing things based on their part in awards season, too much of my cinematic year gears around these opening two months and pitting things against each other. It’s a terrible, terrible habit.

DB: It’s humble, pleasant and succeeds on its own terms. That’s all there is to say.

DC: Philomena. Stephen Frears. I like Frears. He makes films, British films, that could easily slip in amongst the prestige forgettables, but I’d never bundle him in with the Daldry’s or Minghella’s. Nebraska aside it’s a degree smaller than the other nominees, it’s a contained story.

DB: It’s set in Britain?

DC: British cast, director, writers, most of the setting. Sometimes a good story is enough. We were talking earlier today about how with Monuments Men, the critical word is that a great story has been squandered by substandard telling. Philomena pitches itself just perfectly. There’s a political dimension, but the core mystery element of someone trying to search for answers from their past really works. It’s recent history, Coogan and Dench both compliment each other, there’s an interesting character dichotomy between the cynical, hard-headed, atheistic Coogan and the wronged but devout Catholic Dench. It handles itself so well, gently but without fear of the jaggedness of the characters and the hard truths being revealed. It’s got a really lush, strangely beautiful score from Alexandre Desplat. It’s not unlike his work on Benjamin Button, but layered over this small British drama. It adds that extra sparkle, that extra thing that pushes it over the line. Frears handles it all so well. It might not have the movie-star punch of American Hustle or the visual virtuosity of Gravity, but it completely deserves to be in the race and it’s a total success on its own humble terms.

DB: Coogan plays it straight?

DC: He does. So many of his films feel like they’re not quite as good as they should be, or he’s whoring himself to Ben Stiller comedies, but as a writer and as an actor this is a great part. He ploughs the sniffiness and arrogance of his own persona into the Martin Sixsmith character and it plays extremely well against Dench.

DB: 12 Years a Slave?

DC: The big hitter. The odds on favourite to win the big award. It’s a cast and director on the edge of exploding, it’s an important subject and it’s got the period and historical elements that play so well with the Academy.

DB: Very good but not great. I can’t quite put my finger on what didn’t tip it over for me. It’s obviously an important film, especially in the US. Exceptionally made, it looks brilliant, faultless cast. I’m not sure what it was that sat slightly off. I liked that it didn’t overplay things and avoided extreme highs or extreme lows. It would be easy for a director to make a very emotionally manipulative film from that script. I liked that it didn’t do that, but I never felt as engrossed as I wanted to be. I was aware of the horror, but the empathy I wanted to feel with Ejiofor wasn’t quite there. I think back to something like Django and how I felt about the main two guys in that film, obviously not a fair comparison to jump to mention an exploitation picture in the same breath.

DC: I think 12 years is an extraordinary bit of work in many ways. I’ve been thinking about what it was that prevented it from clicking for you, and it comes down to Steve McQueen. He does this thing, Werner Herzog has a similar technique where there’s an arms length element in his straight dramatic features similar to the one he’s perfected in his documentary films. He’s no Spielberg who allows that degree of conscious emotional manipulation in where necessary to grease the audience response, an impressive and sometimes vital skill in its own right, McQueen just shows the imagery and tells the story and lets the audiences own innate sense of right and wrong do the rest. I suppose that’s a form of stylistic manipulation in its own right, letting things unfold on their own terms rather than encouraging a certain response. There’s a brawny, visceral element to it. It doesn’t pacify you from the horror. It’s unflinching. Prestige pictures suck in a lot of dodgy directors drawn to their sense of scale but lacking the talent to see how easily transparent their sloppy string-pulling is. McQueen trusts the audience. He trusts the intelligence of the audience.

DB: That’s definitely what I liked about it.

DC: I think it’s the right approach for the story. Nobody wants a paternal voice over telling you which characters are bad and which are good. It’s a snapshot of a world. I think it’s a great and challenging film. I admire it, I respect it, and it’s so striking and immersive, but it comes back to that thing again about the films you click with and love for deeply personal reasons and films you acknowledge, sometimes even grudgingly, are worthy of respect. It’s a hard film to love beyond that admiration.

DB: If it wins it deserves it.

DC: It’s not awards pap. It’s not A Beautiful Mind winning Best Picture. There’s nothing sadder than mediocrity being unfairly praised. It’s a truly deserving winner.

DB: I agree. It’s not a favourite, there’s not that attachment and weird hormonal preference I have to something like Her or Wolf of Wall Street, but I have no qualms with it winning awards. Every year we launch some kind of attack on the film we think is going to win because we don’t think it deserves it, but if 12 Years a Slave wins its, you know, an extremely honourable choice.

DC: Lastly, The Wolf of Wall Street. Martin Scorsese. I’m very pleased it’s made it into the race. It’s strange to imagine it nominated alongside these other films. It’s too fresh, too energetic to be the sort of film that’s up for Oscars. It’s the sort of film that normally gets its due respect in the aftermath of Academy apathy and ignorance, like Drive or Fight Club, but here it is! No maturing over years into a classic, it’s here today with all its dynamism, all its vigour!

DB: I can’t believe it even got made at that scale with that star power.

DC: And by a 71 year old director!

DB: And edited by a seventy-something woman! It fills me with so much joy that it exists. How can such a guilty pleasure also be a 5-star Best Picture contender?

DC: Too often my guilty pleasures are objectively terrible pieces of shit with no redeeming features to anyone but me, but here we are.

DB: Talking earlier about the tone Spike Jonze nailed with Her, what Scorsese does here is just amazing, balancing this very physical almost Buster Keaton like comedy with this absolute razor-sharp satire.

DC: It chooses to explore the concept of greed, the concept of excess in the most extreme and audacious means possible.

DB: We should probably address the criticism about the film letting them off the hook. I think it’s just preposterous.

DC: It’s the Zero Dark Thirty thing again. Did people actually watch the film? At no point is Jordan Belfort’s behaviour remotely condoned.

DB: He’s a fundamentally terrible, terrible human being. The film doesn’t hesitate in showing you that.

DC: You look into the darkest, nastiest corners of his life. He’s a piece of shit.

DB: But that doesn’t prohibit you from watching that, from spending time in that world.

DC: He’s a charismatic, amoral monster. He’s the Wolf of Wall Street. He might be scum, but that doesn’t make him an unwatchable or uninteresting character. You can’t drag your eyes away. He’s compelling. DiCaprio gives as good a comedic performance as I’ve seen. I know the Academy rarely gives comedy performances awards in those two leading categories, Roberto Benigni being the big one that jumps to mind, but DiCaprio is just a force of fucking nature. It’s the best he’s ever been. Few films have me crying with laughter in the cinema. He’s a debauched degenerate, a total nutcase. We’re there to observe dwarfs being thrown, worker chimps being paraded around and coke being blown up prostitute’s backsides.

DB: It’s the perfect metaphor for the whole banking crisis. It’s Martin Scorsese, he’s not stupid, and his point requires taking things to their absolute, absolute extremes. It’s the embodiment of what happened to the world, and we see that through the main character.

DC: He’s depicting these events because they happened. The big parties, the drugs, the disregard for any concept of a moral compass or acceptable human behaviour. The Rob Reiner father and the FBI guy are just as stunned as we are.

DB: And they got away with it! It happened like this and the film tells a story of something that actually happened. There’s no glamour in that. It’s as true as 12 Years a Slave.

DC: It’s telling an equally important story, but one that’s surface is extremely humorous. There’s no getting around that. I would never misconstrue that for excusing this shitty, insane behaviour. Onto the acting categories?

DB: Yep, go ahead.

DC: Best Acting in a Leading Role. Christian Bale in American Hustle, Bruce Dern in Nebraska, Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street, Chiwetel Ejiofor in 12 Years a Slave and Matthew McConaughey for Dallas Buyers Club.

DB: Faultless pronunciation. Bale’s always good.

DC: He plays it as well as written.

DB: It’s not an Oscar winning role.

DC: Playing the omissions game, I can’t compare him to Oscar Isaac in Inside Llewyn Davis, Hanks in Captain Philips or Joaquin Phoenix in Her. Those are such major roles in the careers of the individual actors; Hustle’s not a patch on Bale’s best parts.

DB: It’s not his fault, but he’s attaining that inclusion status now anything O.Russell directs is so awards friendly. He’s solid.

DC: Everyone who works with O.Russell on anything seems to get nominated.

DB: Bruce Dern in Nebraska was good.

DC: Yet I still can’t get over the fact we see so much of Nebraska through the sons eyes. He’s the heart of the film, not Bruce Dern. Leo DiCaprio for Wolf of Wall Street. Snubbed for Django Unchained last year, this is the best he’s ever been.

DB: So much good work from him over the last decade, escaping from that unfair post-Titanic idea of him as some sort of vacant heartthrob. It’s the culmination of the charm, his whole package. This is the perfect character.

DC: It’s a part that requires going to extreme places and DiCaprio never backs down from that. Rolling around on the floor acting out a Quaaludes overdose. It’s my favourite of the five performances.

DB: It really is brave. He’s getting so good in his work with Scorsese. He’s pushing him to go further then he has before. Scorsese’s never directed a performance quite that extreme, even Pesci in Goodfellas, it’s absolutely insane. The slapstick stuff is so good.

DC: The scene where he goes into the office where acting-mode Spike Jonze is working on penny stocks and he does that sales speech down the phone. So, so brilliant. One take, exploding off the screen.

DB: The country club lamborghini into popeye coke scene. Incredible.

DC: Chiwetel Ejiofor in 12 Years a Slave?

DB: He’s fantastic. Great. That’s an underplayed role. He doesn’t get the big flowery speech.

DC: Great face. Absolute despair, the tragic hopelessness played out, often, without dialogue. He’s in pretty much every scene.

DB: It’s never showy. It’s entirely appropriate for the situation.

DC: Someone like DiCaprio carries the baggage of being such a big moviestar into his roles, he plays on that, rolls around in it. Ejiofor is a very different beast, a true character actor, diving into the part and losing himself in it.

DB: Matthew McConaughey. We touched on his performance whilst chatting about Dallas Buyers Club. What he’s done regards his career trajectory in recent years. It’s unparalleled.

DC: Utter shit for fifteen years. A dead career.

DB: A joke. Shirtless in every movie.

DC: Nobody took him seriously. Then the whisperings began.

DB: Magic Mike, Killer Joe, Mud.

DC: It’s every film he’s made for about the last three years. Pumping out great performance after great performance.

DB: And scene stealing in The Wolf of Wall Street.

DC: Incredible. If he hadn’t had the good fortune to be here for Dallas Buyers Club I like to think he might’ve snuck into supporting actor. We’ve seen small roles here before, Dench in Shakespeare in Love, William Hurt in A History of Violence. McConaughey in Wolf of Wall Street as this shadowy vision of what DiCaprio will one day become is a revelation. He’s explosive. Sniffing coke, punching chest, talking to himself. They say he’s the favourite to win for Dallas Buyers, and I can’t begrudge him it.

DB: Dallas Buyers Club isn’t as strong as some of the other films, but he’s amazing. As a collective award to acknowledge his great resurrection. True Detective and so on. There’s no chance DiCaprio wins.

DC: Best Actress in a Leading Role. Amy Adams in American Hustle, Cate Blanchett for Blue Jasmine, Sandra Bullock in Gravity, Judi Dench for Philomena, Meryl Streep for August: Osage County. I like Adams, she’s been nominated several times, but I’m not convinced this is the role to win it for her. She’s game, she’s fun, she anchors the film, but I feel American Hustle is slightly lacking and I’d rather she stays on the subs bench for another year. Dench in Philomena is excellent but she’s won before. I haven’t seen Blue Jasmine or August: Osage County. My favourite, pending those other two, is Bullock in Gravity. She confounds her critics; she has to carry a whole film on her shoulders. Alfonso Cuaron is a master, but none of that means anything if the risk he took on casting Bullock didn’t work out. She’s so, so good.

DB: It’s her film! She’s amazing in it!

DC: All the studio comedies, the shitty attempt to buy an Oscar with The Blind Side, it’s all so vacuous and throwaway compared to what she does here. She does so much with those close-ups. The grit, the determination. I really believed in the character. She’s a familiar performer but to see her tackle something as unique as Gravity and tackle it so perfectly is enormously satisfying.

DB: I don’t understand people who’ve called her performance melodramatic. It’s exactly what it needs to be.

DC: There’s no place to hide. She holds the screen on her own with nobody to bounce off for most of the film.

DB: She’s great.

DC: How’s Blanchett in Blue Jasmine?

DB: You know what you’re getting with Blanchett, she’s always good. There’s a nice accent, very watchable. The film’s pacy, zings along, a lot of that is Blanchett being effortless, striking.  She’s incapable of being bad.

DC: She always makes something special out of any character, doubly so if the substance is there on the page. Woody Allen script.

DB: It’s a clever performance. She’s not particularly nice. You empathise with the shitty situation, despite it being a product of Alec Baldwin ripping people off with housing estates. She turns a blind eye, loves living off the millions. It all comes crashing down.

DC: Who’s you favoured best performance?

DB: Sandra Bullock. One big omission for me though – Short Term 12. Brie Larson. Joint favourite film of last year. Should be in the big categories. Picture, Director, Screenplay. For sheer authenticity. Again no overt manipulation. The more film literate you become you really start to pick up on when someone’s pulling your strings, but it never happened. The beats are so spot on. It’s funny, touching.

DC: I’ve seen her in Scott Pilgrim, 21 Jump Street.

DB: Yeah. She’s excellent. Should be nominated.

DC: While we’re on the topic – Julie Delpy for Before Midnight. Should be nominated. She’s the one. Terrific and mesmerising in both the earlier films in that series, but she really gets where that character is meant to be. So much history, so much between the lines, so much baggage between the characters. They picked the toughest and most challenging way to pick up with these guys, to an outsider they’ve had exactly the life you would’ve wanted for them after Before Sunshine. All the resentments and hatreds of a long relationship. You can see it all on Delpy, she plays it so well. It’s an extraordinary character, an extraordinary series. I hope to see her again in another decade. Best Actor in a Supporting Role? Barkhad Abdi for Captain Philips, Bradley Cooper for American Hustle, Jonah Hill for The Wolf of Wall Street, Michael Fassbender for 12 Years a Slave and Jared Leto for Dallas Buyers Club.

DB: Yep.

DC: I know there’s limited slots, that’s a fact of life, but I’ve got some snubs to run through. Daniel Bruhl in Rush was very good, Sam Rockwell in The Way, Way Back which was directed by those two guys who wrote The Descendants for Alexander Payne.

DB: They’re in it as well, aren’t they?

DC: I’m a sucker for coming of age movies. I love them so much. It’s my favourite sort-of-genre. Love them so much.

DB: You’ll love The Spectacular Now. There’s some serious coming of age going on there. I just want to be best friends with Sam Rockwell in The Way, Way Back so badly.

DC: He’s been a great supporting player his entire career, and this feels like the purest and most complete version of that.

DB: He’s awesome.

DC: Great cast in that film, and he’s such a warm, loveable presence. Not an easy part to play, charm alone doesn’t do it; it’s a surprisingly complicated character.

DB: From the outside you could see him as a bit of a loser. He’s such a nice influence on this kid.

DC: It’s a great performance. I thought James Franco in Spring Breakers was incredible to watch.

DB: “Look at all my shit”

DC: Hilarious. That was Annapurna Pictures as well. What a Company!

DB: The Academy don’t really like subversive.

DC: I like all five nominees to be honest. Jared Leto doesn’t work enough. This is the first time I’ve seen him in ages. I think back to American Psycho and Panic Room and Fight Club. He’s always a great supporting contributor. Bradley Cooper in American Hustle is good fun. We’ve already talked about the film a fair bit. I don’t necessarily thing it’s an Oscar winning part, but he’s funny in it and I like the hair curls. He’s got a better comic touch then the Hangover films ever allowed him to explore. He was isolated as the straight man there for some reason. I like his scenes with Louis CK. Barkhad Abdi in Captain Phillips is excellent, especially for a newcomer. They found this guy and stuck him against the biggest movie star in the world and he holds his own, he dominates the film. Jonah Hill in The Wolf of Wall Street is great.

DB: He really is. He lets DiCaprio go the extra mile. He knows how to feed on and improve the people around him.

DC: I agree. He’s not interested in just scene stealing, he’s happy to slot in where Scorsese wants him and play off the other characters. The guy’s seriously underrated. It’s easy to write him off as the fat frat-comedy guy, but between this and Moneyball there’s a whole new thing he’s showing us. I really liked This is the End and 21 Jump Street. He’s proved himself as a formidable comic presence.

DB: And not to forget that Superbad is probably the funniest film of all time. It’s perfection. Two-time Oscar nominee Jonah Hill. It’s bonkers. Imagine if he won? It would be so funny.

DC: When you take a skilled comic performer and drop him in with someone like Scorsese and a project with real substance – he nails it. Back to Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club, did I mention that I genuinely believed in him as a transgender woman? I bought it. He played the whole thing, the physical transformation and the dramatic sequences so well off McConaughey. It’s great support. Michael Fassbender, in my view, is the performance that should win though for 12 Years. He’s fearless. He tears into it. He’s a terrifying guy, ripping into the material, so much rage bubbling away under the surface. Frightening.

DB: Terrified of his wife.

DC: His even more evil wife.

DB: We love Fassbender.

DC: He’s got to be careful not to fall into the Christian Bale trap pre-Fighter. There could be a bit more levity in the work. He’s so intense all the time; a comedy or something lighter wouldn’t go amiss. I’d like him to have a crack at that.

DB: Off that, I’d like to mention a performance I didn’t like in 12 Years.

DC: Really? Who?

DB: Paul Dano. I’m so bored of him playing that character.

DC: He was exactly the same in Prisoners, wasn’t he?

DB: Exactly the same. I liked him in Prisoners, but it was the last time I could tolerate him playing that part.

DC: Snivelling, pathetic…

DB: Exactly. In 12 Years that was the low point of the whole film for me. He’s been pulling this same shit for five years. It’s been done.

DC: Looper, Cowboys & Aliens….same part again and again and again. You’re right.

DB: Paul Thomas Anderson will never cast him again if he keeps riffing off his work in There will Be Blood.

DC: He needs to rediscover the magic he brought to the role of ‘Klitz’ in The Girl Next Door. A great coming of age story! I love that film.

DB: Great film.

DC: Best Actress in a Supporting Role. Sally Hawkins for Blue Jasmine, Julia Roberts for August: Osage County, Lupita Nyong’o for 12 Years, Jennifer Lawrence for American Hustle and June Squibb for Nebraska.

DB: I really liked Lupita Nyong’o for 12 Years.

DC: I was a little surprised she’s been pushed so hard for awards contention. It’s a small part. She’s excellent, really excellent, but she feels far more on the periphery of attention than some of the other characters. It’s the same with June Squibb. Very secondary to other things going on. It’s not a criticism of the work.

DB: This category isn’t really blowing me away. I mean Squibb, she was funny, she had some good stuff, but it’s such a tiny role. How can you justify nominating her when Margot Robbie from Wolf of Wall Street isn’t there.

DC: I look at Only God Forgives and the amazing supporting turn from Kristin Scott Thomas and I just think, for all the mixed response toward the film, she’s absolutely psychopathic and brilliant in it. Jennifer Lawrence has a good time in American Hustle, a good ensemble, but it’s too much like she’s there because she’s flavour of the month. I haven’t seen August: Osage County or Blue Jasmine yet, so perhaps I’m in team Nyong’o afterall. I like that she doesn’t have celebrity or a persona to fall back on. It’s a really fresh face, like Barkhad Abdi in Captain Phillips. That sort of acting is the kind that deserves to be gifted prizes. *makes brief borderline racist comment. Much laughter*

DB: Jennifer Lawrence is fantastic. Winter’s Bone is one of my favourite films of recent years.

DC: It’s amazing the level of performance she brings to The Hunger Games series. No young-adult blockbuster franchise deserves a leading actress operating on that sort of level. Compared to Twilight and Potter and so on, she’s that mix of moviestar and fantastically capable character actor. Those adaptations are better than they have any right to be. They’re truly impressive. It’s to her credit she doesn’t discriminate between the likes of Winter’s Bone and that.

DB: Best Director?

DC: Alfonso Cuaron for Gravity, Steve McQueen for 12 Years a Slave, David O.Russell for American Hustle, Martin Scorsese for The Wolf of Wall Street and Alexander Payne for Nebraska.

DB: It’s got to be Cuaron for Gravity.

DC: To dream it, to realise it on screen in a form we can all watch. How do you even go about putting that on film?

DB: It’s visionary. It’s a complete, flawless handling of the concept he’s imagined. That ninety-minute length is so important, that lack of indulgence, that lack of ego almost. It’s all there to service his idea.

DC: We’ve already talked a fair degree about Steve McQueen.

DB: He’s undeniably great.

DC: A very deliberate approach, enormous control, uncompromising. All five of these feel very auteurial. You can spot these guys a mile off.

DB: I love Scorsese’s work with The Wolf of Wall Street. I know he just won for The Departed a few years ago so a win is unlikely, but his films just have such great pacing, so much momentum. I don’t want to sound like I’m beating down on David O.Russell, but his relative weakness is so, so apparent when he’s nominated alongside Scorsese’s film. Nobody does that snappy, brisk, energetic thing like Scorsese. Imitators are exposed immediately.

DC: With credit to O.Russell, he casts well, and he gets good work from the actors by getting the hell out of the way. He creates an opportunity on set for them to play about a bit, which makes for an interesting, ramshackle kind of feeling to it all. His regular troupe obviously thrives on that, they return again and again. Alexander Payne – the Academy just love him so much.

DB: I can’t see why he’s nominated. It’s serviceable, it’s well make. It’s slightly unremarkable. It shouldn’t really be in there.

DC: I like the film a lot, but I can’t justify the absence of Spike Jonze, The Coens, Paul Greengrass, Nicolas Winding-Refn or Richard Linklater. It’s a bit of an odd selection. Original Screenplay Category is next. Her, American Hustle, Dallas Buyers Club, Blue Jasmine and Nebraska. I’m not sure Dallas Buyers Club should be in there. It’s a bit rote.

DB: Nebraska, again, seriously am I missing something with Nebraska? Why is it nominated in so many fucking categories!!

DC: I understand how such a small film can get swamped by the weight of feeling towards some of the more significant releases.

DB: But there’s nothing particularly funny, particularly moving or particularly original about it. It’s just….fine.

DC: I think there’s poignancy and a gentle study of the relationship between the father and the son. Its decent work. I really think Spike Jonze’s script for Her is my favourite by some way. I want to see him getting recognition from the Academy for crafting something like that. Such a hard project to pull off. Nothing about American Hustle strikes me as particularly worthy of a writing Oscar. I know the film has a lot of goodwill toward it from US audiences because of the people involved, but it’ll be a shame if that converts into a win to make up for its likely exclusion in the Best Picture race.

DB: I think it’s safe to say nobody wants Woody Allen up there.

DC: I don’t want to get into the politics of that. Too contentious an area to express a detailed opinion on! I haven’t seen Blue Jasmine anyway, but I’d like to think these accusations, especially prior to any sort of judicial process or whatever, wouldn’t be a blackmark against his ability to put out further work and have it critically assessed on its own terms.

DB: It didn’t cross my mind once while watching the film.

DC: Best Adapted Screenplay. Before Midnight, Captain Phillips, Philomena, 12 Years a Slave and The Wolf of Wall Street. Philomena won the BAFTA the other day. Wolf is lengthy, arguably unwieldy, but I guess that’s the point.

DB: The writer of 12 Years says it’s a very faithful adaptation of the book. Doesn’t dress it up or add superfluous scenes and characters. It’s good.

DC: I’m guilty of gleeful, unashamed bias. I want Before Midnight to win. I want Richard Linklater on stage being celebrated for building on those guys and carving out a new chapter that feels fresh, totally relevant, has that continuity of character and so on whilst exploring a rich new area of their lives.

DB: Is there improv?

DC: I think they rehearse it closely, the three of them, and work it from the ground up. I think on the day it’s pretty much all in place. I want it to win. This might be the best reviewed film of last year, it deserves recognition!!! I love that they shot it in secret and suddenly sprung it on us. No hype, no expectation, tiny crew. Bang.

DB: Best Animated Feature?

DC: The Crooods, Despicable Me 2, Ernest & Celestine, Frozen and The Wind Rises. I can’t comment for I have seen none of these four films.

DB: I’ve seen Despicable Me 2. It’s good. I love the minions.

DC: I wanted to see Frozen.

DB: It was like the third biggest film of last year, right?

DC: Yeah. It’s venturing toward the big one billion. Still playing. What a hit for Disney. I’ll watch the Blu Ray. Best Cinematography. Gravity, Inside Llewyn Davis, Nebraska, Prisoners and Grandmaster. Poor old Roger Deakins for Prisoners. The perennial fail-to-win guy. Its got to be Gravity. Emmanuel Lubezki.

DB: When people say Gravity is too ‘effects heavy’ to win this category they ignore how it’s all part of the same package, Lubezki, Cuaron and the technicians. It’s a success.

DC: I agree. It’s just not comparable, these attractive albeit conventionally shot options against the way Lubezki shoots Gravity. How do you even go about photographing a film like that, integrating the live action and animation in such an unusual environment? It’s not something that’s ever been done before. He’s breaking new ground. It’s the same as when Avatar won Best Cinematography. I had very mixed feelings about that film, but it was a similarly enormous achievement in blending live sets with the digital work. How do you even go about framing that, lighting it?

DB: There isn’t a single shot in the whole film that doesn’t match or takes you out of the experience.

DC: I like that it never had a set release date. They let it hang and hang until it was ready. Deakins shoots very nice moonlight digital. I read he’s not doing the next Bond. I love Sam Mendes’ Bond and I’m looking forward to the next one, but it won’t quite be the same without that polished digital look. Hopefully they find a capable replacement. I think it’s a shame Hoyte van Hoytema who shot Her for Spike Jonze isn’t nominated. He’s doing the next Chris Nolan film.

DB: Her, for me, would come in after Gravity. He should be nominated. Tying in the futurism, the glass and shine and making it relatable. It’s very clean, how they’ve shot the city.

DC: It’s Spike Jonze best looking film. I love his Kaufman collaborations, but I’m glad he’s switched off the guy who shot those first three and onto Hoytema.

DB: It’s an omission. I’ve heard The Grandmaster looks great.

DC: It’s a shame 12 Years isn’t nominated. Sean Bobbit’s such a good D.O.P. All three of the Steve McQueen films, Byzantium, The Place Beyond the Pines…he’s building up a good body of work and 12 Years is a beautiful film. He shoots the Louisiana exteriors extremely well. Outdoors, lots of natural lighting. It’s strange how these snubbed films like Llewyn Davis and Prisoners emerge from the void to grab nominations in this category. I’m reminded of when Girl with the Dragon Tattoo won that random editing Oscar a couple of years ago. Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall looked so confused to win two years in a row. This year’s editing category is a bit of an extension of the Best Picture.

DB: Thelma Schoonmaker should be in there for The Wolf of Wall Street.

DC: Especially when Dallas Buyers Club’s there! You’re the editor, what’s your take?

DB: Nothing stands out about it. Similarly, American Hustle – thirty minutes too long. That’s not the fault of the editors, that’s all down to O.Russell.

DC: Why does a film like American Hustle need three editors? Is it the sort of thing where there were 500 different versions of it with different guys having a crack then getting fired or what?

DB: It’s either that or the release was so tight they had to bring people in to assemble different stuff. O.Russell shoots a lot of material. Meanwhile, Thelma Schoonmaker and Scorsese have sat down in her office and worked it through from start to finish. I think I read it took them almost a year to edit which is insane.

DC: Captain Phillips is good. Anyone working with Paul Greengrass must find it a tough old job working with the sort of footage he turns out.

DB: I haven’t seen it yet, but I can imagine a lot of the film being formed in the edit. Piecing together the handheld camerawork, trying to assemble something that makes sense to the audience.

DC: What’s your favoured nominee?

DB: Probably Gravity again.

DC: I love the idea of Alfonso Cuaron holding like three Oscars, completely confused with what’s happened. Any film that opens with an opening shot like Gravity deserves my support.

DB: It’s not showing off either. It works. It’s gripping; it gets you involved in the situation.

DC: Production Design is American Hustle, Gravity, Great Gatsby, Her and 12 Years a Slave. I’d love it if Her won.

DB: Gatsby admittedly has great design.

DC: Baz Luhrman isn’t afraid to avoid being paint-by-numbers. Its wild and extravagant.

DB: Her is such a great film. The little phone, his apartment, the operating system, the cards, Shanghai being brought into it. It’s got such a great world around the romantic stuff.

DC: Hustle is just garish seventies. It doesn’t deserve to win.

DB: Same with 12 Years. There’s nothing about authentic looking Southern slave ranch stuff that really does it for me. I bought into the reality, but it’s not a winner.

DC: Gravity?

DB: I’m not really familiar enough with what art direction entails in a film like Gravity.

DC: I guess the space station interiors, believable representation of the shuttle and Hubble and so on. I’ve got to plead ignorance. I can appreciate authentic looking design and I never doubted its realness…if that’s a word. Costume Design is American Hustle, The Grandmaster, Gatsby, The Invisible Woman and 12 Years.

DB: Invisible Woman? How token.

DC: Probably Hustle. The costumes are very OTT and part of the look and feel of the film.

DB: Very present feature.

DC: Quite stylised. I’d imagine if you took a time machine back to the 70s nobody actually walked around dressed like Amy Adams in this.

DB: So much boob tape. Gatsby might win.

DC: Makeup and Hair. Three nominees. No American Hustle, despite it being primarily hair-based. We have Dallas Buyers Club, a fine and deserving winner, the other two though are The Lone Ranger and Jackass presents Bad Grandpa. Do you think Spike Jonze, in producer capacity, is rooting for the Jackass team to win?

DB: I’d have Her there. Good moustaches.

DC: Wolf of Wall Street should be there for Jonah Hill’s teeth alone. The Lone Ranger though, seriously? For Johnny Depp doing black-face? Best Original Score is a dice up between John Williams orchestral mayhem on The Book Thief, Gravity, Her, Saving Mr Banks and Philomena.

DB: Arcade Fire for Her. Saw them live a few years ago. It was so good.

DC: I’m going June 6th at Earls Court. Saw them in about 2011 in Hyde Park, it was incredible. Nothing about Saving Mr Banks stood out for me.

DB: You mentioned you liked Philomena earlier?

DC: After popping out of nowhere and blowing me away with his Benjamin Button score, I’m completely in the Alexandre Desplat camp.

DB: Still possibly my most listened to score for that film.

DC: He’s had a killer five years. He’s a biggie. King’s Speech, Tree of Life, the last Potter film, Argo, Zero Dark Thirty. That’s a hell of a run. 6 nominations since 2007.

DB: I like the Best Song category. Happy by Pharrell from Despicable Me 2 is excellent. It’s upbeat. I think Karen-O for Her has it in the bag.

DC: As long as U2 don’t win for Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.

DB: A film nobody saw.

DC: We all remember when Eminem won, when Adele won. It’s an odd category. Into the techies now. Sound Editing?

DB: I think we can breeze through these.

DC: I love the songs in Llewyn Davis I should say. It’s a shame none of those made it into the Original Song category.

DB: That song about Mr Kennedy that him and Timberlake do is flat out hilarious. To write something that matches that period so well. That should be nominated.

DC: Gravity will win all the technical awards.

DB: It’s hard sometimes to tell how professional technicians in these areas feel about the standard of the work, but I can’t see a situation where Gravity doesn’t win most of them.

DC: Visual effects. Hobbit, Iron Man 3, Lone Ranger, Star Trek and Gravity. There’s no comparison there. Gravity is leagues ahead. Pacific Rim should be nominated.

DB: Pacific Rimjob.

DC: The other nominees, it’s all well-done stuff, but Gravity is so far ahead. I love how sour the relationship is between fandom and Star Trek into Darkness. Even as a non-trekkie, there’s enough residual cross-boundary acknowledgment of how much that film annoyed people.

DB: The JJ Abrams apology tour.

DC: It’s treated like The Phantom Menace. Such a disappointment after the first one. The only Documentary Feature I’ve seen here is The Act of Killing, which I’m pretty sure is going to win anyway. It’s an extraordinary film. I’m annoyed Stories We Tell, the Canadian Sarah Polley documentary, isn’t nominated. It was one of my favourite films of last year. It does so much interesting with the concept of what a documentary can be, how it ties in with Polley as a feature-film director, how narrative is shaped and the personal explored. The Act of Killing is really astonishing though; perhaps even to the point where it should be in the Best Picture race. It’s hard to talk about; it’s a truly horrifying experience.

DB: I need to see it. I started watching it with my dinner after a long day and I had to stop.

DC: It’s quite something. I haven’t seen any of the shorts.

DB: Me neither.

DC: I like that one of them is called ‘Get a Horse’.

DB: One film I’d like to bring up briefly, especially for cinematography. Is Park Chan-Wook’s Stoker.

DC: Oh yeah, really liked that.

DB: I thought it was fantastic.

DC: I was surprised it appeared in so few top-ten lists. There’re some incredibly audacious sequences in there. That piano scene.

DB: The chemistry, the relationship between the three lead characters. It’s so tense, so well directed. The performances, everyone’s going that slight bit over, Matthew Goode is so good.

DC: Coming of age horror!

DB: That scene where they murder the boy and then she’s masturbating in the shower. It’s fantastic. That was a top five for me.

DC: A few other omissions, certainly I felt Ron Howard’s Rush was better than its commercial performance would suggest. I thought perhaps more technical recognition was possible. The sound design during the race scenes, the editing. It completely captures, from ground level, the feel of 70s Formula 1. Howard usually over-eggs the pudding a bit, but it’s a great film from him. Was Jeff Nichols Mud a 2013 release?

DB: I thought it was eligible? It was terrific. Tremendous performances out of the kids, great McConaughey.

DC: Best Cinematography for The Conjuring? I know that’d never happen.

DB: It’s a great horror film. So well done as a period horror piece. Amazing production design. It should’ve been recognised.

DC: See you next year!

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My favourite 10 films of 2013

As always, several notable releases slip between the years, never fully receiving the formal acknowledgment they deserve. To their credit, Zero Dark Thirty, Lincoln and Cloud Atlas (yes, really) would appear in the top half of any list, the first two in particular worthy of praise as effusive a year later as given on original viewing.

2013 has been a terrific year with no shortage of viable options to choose from with a veritable goldmine of great work vying for contention. Titles I’ve missed or have yet to be released in the UK include Beyond the Candelabra, About Time, Blue Jasmine, Escape from Tomorrow, The Wolf of Wall Street, American Hustle and 12 Years a Slave. I’ll try to catch up with missed nominees prior to the Oscars on March 2nd.

So far as this list is concerned, many skimmed the edges of inclusion but just missed the final cut. These included the wonderful Mud, Spring Breakers, The Place Beyond the Pines, Captain Phillips, Prisoners, Pacific Rim, A Field in England, Rush, Fast and Furious 6, You’re Next, Upstream Color, The Act of Killing and Stoker. Catch me in a different mood on a different day and any of them could have made the big 10.

10) Byzantium (dir. Neil Jordan)

Even in a market saturated with inadequate efforts, there’s always room for a unique and worthy contribution to the vampire picture. Made for a slight budget by a director well-versed in the genre, Byzantium picks and plays with pertinent vampiric archetypes and carves out its own little seaside mythology as mother and daughter survive through the centuries against a patriarchal vampire hierarchy. The Sean Bobbit photography (Place Beyond the Pines, Shame) scrapes at the fuzzy edges of the grimy Hastings setting, with his soft digital frame convincingly capturing these women in danger as they struggle against the pressing threat of discovery. Very enjoyable.

9) The World’s End (dir. Edgar Wright)

The World’s End, Edgar Wright’s farewell to the Pegg/Frost ‘cornetto’ trilogy, never goes for the cheap laughs, using its superficial sci-fi exterior as effectively as its predecessors in aid of the exploration of friendship, growth and youthful nostalgia. Like Wright’s previous directorial work, and (his additional production credit Attack the Block), this is the best sort of genre picture, using the expected tropes and thrills to tread into weighty, thematically resonant areas with maturity and thoughtfulness. It’s been quite something watching the evolution of this group since Spaced, with Wright at its heart pushing forward his stylistic ambitions whilst keeping the work grounded, touching and indelibly English. At the very least, no other comedy this year is likely to feature the combination of alien robots, teenage decapitation and reckless alcoholism.

8 ) The Way Way Back (dir. Jim Rash/Nat Faxon)

It’s been a battle between this and Jeff Nichols’ excellent Mud for which ‘coming of age’ story I favoured this autumn. Ultimately I’m siding with The Way Way Back, for coasting the edge of quirk and avoiding all the pitfalls that sink so many similarly inclined pictures. Funny, warm and populated with a string of excellent support, Sam Rockwell’s perfect performance is probably the best work he’s ever delivered.

7) The Conjuring (dir. James Wan)

With impeccable production design and flawless performances, James Wan’s latest period horror is both his best work so far and a complete triumph of its type. As well as being the most satisfying horror film of the summer, it’s a stunning reminder of the elegance and beauty of the genre when in loving hands.

6) Only God Forgives (dir. Nicolas Winding Refn)

Like the most violent episode of Twin Peaks ever made, Nicolas Winding Refn’s otherworldly vision is so distinctive, so without comparison or mainstream ambition that it stands as the most esoteric of masterpieces, goading in audiences with the promise of gangster violence and Ryan Gosling then launching them off a cliff of Thai karaoke numbers and minimalist dialogue. It’s brilliant.

5) Philomena (dir. Stephen Frears)

Alongside the best original score of the year (another bow for the unstoppable Alexandre Desplat), Philomena features two perfectly observed, tightly complimentary performances from the never better Judi Dench and (co-writer) Steve Coogan, both funny, charming, and knocking lightly through the journey without smoothing down those rougher edges around their characters.

4) Sunshine on Leith (dir. Dexter Fletcher)

Knowing next to nothing about The Proclaimers, I’m ill equipped to assess whether jukebox musical Sunshine on Leith satisfies the hardcore that’ve pined over every syllable of their back catalogue for thirty years. My emotional baggage, for better or worse, limited to a spike of delight whenever the camera glosses over the Edinburgh scenery, I found this something of a voyage of discovery, engaging with the songs simply in the context of Dexter Fletcher’s film without worrying about omitted favourites or oversight. On this level, I found it inordinately satisfying, charming and a reminder of the quite unique pleasures the movie musical can offer.

3) Stories We Tell (dir. Sarah Polley)

Exploring the constructed truth of our individual memories and how we craft meaning from our own interpretations of events, Polley’s beautifully structured film is the work of a filmmaker completely engaged emotionally and intellectually with the topic, digging into the sensitive area of her parentage with the rigour of journalist and the delicacy of a painter.

2) Gravity (dir. Alfonso Cuarón)

So often are blockbusters raved as the ‘game changer’ we’ve been waiting for, so rarely do they achieve that revolutionary leap forward in the way of technological possibility in a way that’s pressingly evident in every thrilling frame. The visual achievement of Gravity makes for an almost overwhelming experience, baffling in its immersion, stripped back and exhilarating in its rawness, engaging and utterly brilliant in its simple humanity.

1) Before Midnight (dir. Richard Linklater)

Move over Toy Story, Linklater’s Before series might be the perfect film trilogy, each new instalment straddling the concerns and worries of these immaculately realised characters at a later stage in life. The triumph of Linklater’s film is that it’s never content to just pop Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke on screen and let their interplay do the work. The stakes are higher, the relationship a strained, distorted shadow of that easy chemistry of Sunrise and Sunset as Jessie and Celine slip into middle age. It’s an immense achievement to take all that energy and exuberance of the first two films and knot it around the stresses and concerns of a couple later in their relationship, finding both the pathos and strange hope that there’s still a future for these two, and that come 2022 we’ll be spending another couple of hours in each others company.

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My least-favourite films of 2013

I’m still finalising my big ten and catching up with a few stragglers before the end of the year. Before then, the sad task of mulling over a handful of key disappointments and failures.

To the Wonder (dir. Terrence Malick)

I’m completely enamoured, sick with love for Malick’s work but off the back of one of his finest, Tree of Life, this just felt trite, empty and strangely soulless. Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography stuns, but I felt this a rare ball-drop from Malick, oblique and insular in all the ways his earlier films weren’t with the frightening air of a film bordering on self-parody. Perhaps a better edit lay amongst the days of footage?

Les Misérables (dir. Tom Hooper)

Wow, what a mess. Tom Hooper’s direction sinks a terrific musical and squanders some good performances. The decision to shoot live audio was brave, and should be rightly praised for empowering the cast, but Hooper’s camerawork is baffling, maddening and lacks any form of finesse or nuance. Gaping holes of empty frame, an over-reliance on silly extreme close-ups and CG chopper shots cry out for a visual stylist capable of properly shooting the musical numbers. Les Mis on stage is too strong to deserve such a drunk, untrained captain at the helm.

Star Trek into Darkness (dir. JJ Abrams)

I wasn’t remotely surprised when fans at the annual Las Vegas Star Trek convention voted Into Darkness their least favourite entry in the twelve-film canon. It stinks of disappointment, squandering the goodwill of the tremendous 2009 reboot with nonsensical plotting, dodgy dialogue, and the terrible decision to cannibalise and replicate elements of the untouchable 1982 Wrath of Khan. Into Darkness’ failure is primarily conceptual, Abrams’ skill at handling cast chemistry and big action setpieces fighting, scene-for-scene, against the unfilmably shitty script he’s been handed.

A Good Day to Die Hard (dir. John Moore)

What the bloody hell are Fox Studios playing at? Pumping out a workable Die Hard sequel shouldn’t feel so laboured; the anguish and suffering of Willis, his fellow cast and filmmakers emanating from every scene as they stumble through one of the absolute low points of American action cinema. Boring, forgettable and inexplicably part of the same series as the original, this was a lethal missile straight to the heart of the franchise.

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Quick Bits

I’m cobbling together my Top 10 of the year, playing crazy catch-up to fit in as many missed on cinema release as possible. Only God Forgives, Mud and The Act of Killing are likely to be referenced at the end of December, so I’ll refrain from writing further until I’ve finished gathering my thoughts. It’s been a startlingly impressive eleven (.5) months, with no shortage of great work vying for celebration at years end.

 Brief recent shit:

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. All together rounder and richer than the first film, impressive in scope and ambition with a terrific Jennifer Lawrence and propulsive, purposeful setpieces. Lionsgate has a franchise on their hands here that seems determined to prove itself more relevant and interesting than anything pooped out over the summer season.

Saving Mr Banks. Great, sparky cast let down by over-reliance on convention, poor structure and bland direction. In conclusion – unremarkable, solid entertainment with some nice sequences and strong Hanks moustache. Disney will push it big for awards contention but beyond the performances, there’s nothing with the bite to warrant standing alongside the years best.

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85th Annual Academy Awards – Prechat

Special thanks, as always, to David Barr for joining me in our annual act of self-indulgence, recorded 9th February 2013. 

DC: So, we’re here again for the fourth year.

DB: Again.

DC: But with better films nominated.

DB: Same feelings. Different titles.

DC: Same mangled opinions.

DB: Best Picture?

DC: Nine nominees this year. Amour, Argo, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Django Unchained, Les Miserables, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Silver Lining’s Playbook and Zero Dark Thirty.

DB: You’ve caught all nine?

DC: Yeah.

DB: It’s good for the discussion. There’s always the bottleneck when you realise the season’s coming up and our staggered release dates lead to all the big contenders coming out in about a two-week period. Two weeks and like seven films to see, pretty annoying.

DC: I think I watched six or seven in the second half of January. Overall thoughts – the quality is exceptionally high. We’ve gone over this in previous years, there’re always obvious omissions, though nothing so outrageous I’m completely broken up about it. I think it’s unusual they’ve gone for nine rather than a full ten, but I know their voting system is such that these things happen. Strange that The Master isn’t in there. I’m glad that there isn’t an out-and-out awful film in the list. Last year we had Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, which was just excruciating, but this year…it’s all good.

DB: There’s no turkey.

DC: Even my least favourite of the films, Les Miserables, is still overburdened with enough quality that I can forgive its Best Picture nomination. I think it’s too flawed in many respects to exist beyond a couple of acting and technical nods, but it’s certainly no Extremely Loud. As for the others, I think there’re at least two, and maybe three stone cold, instant classics.

DB: For the first time since we started having these annual chats my two favourite films eligible for nomination are sitting there in the Best Picture category.

DC: There’s often a main horse we’re supporting throughout the process. Certainly the memory that springs to mind is The Social Network in spring 2011. I don’t quite have the same feelings this time as there’re multiple films I’d be happy to see winning awards. There’s no single movie I’d love to see steamroll the competition and sweep up everything. At the moment, despite the lack of a Best Director nomination, my understanding is that Argo has the shortest odds. I don’t think it’s the Best Picture of the year, polished and enjoyable though it is, it’s just a solid entertainment rather than anything really challenging, provocative and memorable. So far as the Picture category goes, I think Lincoln and Zero Dark Thirty are my favourites of the nine. Shall we go through in order?

DB: Yeah. Might be silent for the first couple, as I’ve yet to see Amour or Argo.

DC: Amour. Written and directed by Michael Haneke.

DB: What do you think of Haneke in general? I’m not a massive fan.

DC: I’ve only seen four of his films. I’ve seen this, both versions of Funny Games and The White Ribbon, which was up for the Foreign Language award a couple of years ago.

DB: Have you seen Hidden?

DC: I haven’t. He’s obviously a critics darling so far as the European festivals are concerned. I’m sure if I binged the catalogue it might click with me. I found Funny Games an impressive exercise, but it didn’t make much of a mark. Amour on the other hand, definitely made a greater impression than the other work I’ve seen. It’s a small film, one could question its placement in certain categories due to the individuals displaced and its quite niche appeal, but it deals with an incredibly difficult topic in such a humane, truthful and sensitive way. The performances are unbelievable, completely stripped back and genuine.

DB: It’s just the two performances I’m guessing.

DC: For the most part, yeah. Just the two actors on screen for most of the film. I’m surprised that this guy Jean-Louis Trintignant who plays the male lead hasn’t really played a part in this awards season. It’s such a two-parter. Those two roles are so complimentary it seems unfair that one actor is ignored as the praise drops on another. It’s Blue Valentine syndrome all over again. One individual is pushed for awards contention whilst one is ignored. Both worthy. I saw it in a busy lunchtime screening at Curzon Soho. Pindrop silence at the end. Impactful. I’m pleased the film has found its way into awards season, most importantly because without this recognition it’s unlikely I would have gotten round to seeing it. I needed the shove. I don’t realistically think it has any chance of winning anything beyond the Best Foreign Language feature, but when you’re talking about filler, certainly so far as the odds are concerned, I’m pleased to have those empty slots packed with gems like Amour.

DB: Next up Argo. Gotta love Ben Affleck. I should have seen the fucking film.

DC: Have you seen Gone Baby Gone and The Town?

DB: I’ve seen both of them. A fine actor, an even finer director. He comes across well. A very intelligent man and no doubt an intelligent film. I look forward to it.

DC: The thing about Argo is…well…it’s just an issue of quality comparable to other nominees. I can understand why it’s in awards contention, I can understand why it’s working as a fairly safe choice for people unwilling to select between some of the other options on offer, but of itself it’s merely a good film rather than a great one. Its straight-up no thrills quality, good solid story with strong direction and a fist-pumping, upbeat ending – albeit one I understand to have tenuous ties at best to the actual historical event. It’s an entertainment, not a prestige picture. Hollywood loves these movies that focus on the industry, as Argo does, and make Hollywood out to be an important and significant thing. Add a period, political dimension to that and it ticks all the boxes. It seems unusual to me though that it can be winning awards over films as impressive as something like Zero Dark Thirty. Bigelow’s movie is edgier, less sanitized, and less safe than Argo. Some of the issues it explores are deeply uncomfortable and quite troubling. Argo’s just nowhere near as rich or deep. It’s so damn safe! The industry pundits seem up in arms that Affleck has been omitted from the Best Director nominees. Why would he be there? It’s good work, but there’re multiple individuals more deserving of a spot on that list.  Another problem, which can’t be ignored, is an issue shared to some extent with Silver Lining’s Playbook, which is that, the central character and performance isn’t quite up to standard. That’s not so much to criticize Affleck as an actor, he’s fine, but it’s never better than adequate. They needed to sculpt it down, take out the ‘wife issues’ subplot that feels totally tagged on. There’s a good story, but I just can’t compare it to a film as complete and perfect as, say, Lincoln. It’s just a good movie, not a Best Picture winner.

DB: I think Hollywood loves the self-directing actor. Not too many out there. Clint?

DC: Yeah. Clooney. Redford.

DB: Affleck is pretty much the highest profile guy doing it now.

DC: All those guys are stronger actors than Affleck. I don’t wanna bag on him too much but Casey Affleck is by far the more talented screen presence. The better brother. Ben could never do what that guy does in The Assassination of Jesse James or The Killer Inside Me. He’s not the right guy for this particular film, but someone like Clooney would’ve been a decent choice. I’m being unfair?

DB: You think?

DC: I probably am. It’s not that his performance is poor, it really isn’t, but it’s never memorable. It’s not complimentary to the storytelling in the way Jessica Chastain’s work in Zero Dark Thirty is. His acting is never the thing that draws you in. It’s just…a thing going on. The supporting cast is better, though it’s interesting to note its relative lack of success in any acting categories, certainly compared to the multiple acting nominations The Master, Lincoln and Silver Lining’s have grabbed. Argo’s there in a token supporting nod it shouldn’t even have. Alan Arkin isn’t even the best supporting performance in the film!

DB: Beasts of the Southern Wild?

DC: I love it when you go into a film with entirely fresh eyes, with no pre-existing idea of what to expect from the cast or director. New faces. It’s a blank slate. All I knew was that it was set in the Deep South.

DB: It was kind of a slow-burner wasn’t it? You heard about it here and there and it built this momentum over the internet and through critics. Bit of a poster campaign.

DC: I was aware there were supposedly fantastical elements, but I didn’t know exactly what, anything about the story or anything at all really. The film is just, it sounds such a terrible word to use, but it’s magical. The young guy who directed it has such a light, natural touch. It looks at this strange little world through the eyes of this amazing child actress. Her experiences in this weird, cut-off environment. I’ve since heard the comparison to Pan’s Labyrinth in some respects, and I can see why that link has been made. Not in terms of…

DB: Tone?

DC: Not so much that, more through the melding of fantasy and reality. I don’t think it has any chance of realistically winning anything, but its there as a calling card for this guy Benh Zeitlin who made the film. If he goes on to have a successful career, people are going to look back on this as the killer debut. His Badlands. His Bottle Rocket. It’s got such polish for a first movie.

DB: It’s brilliant for something so small to be nominated.

DC: No stars. Low budget. Exploding out of nowhere. I guess The Artist last year is a good comparison, except the guys behind that were already fairly well established in France. Just a quirk of luck that it found its way into the Hollywood machine and started winning unmerited Academy Awards. Nobody involved, Michel Hazanavicius the director, will ever make another internationally successful film. Zeitlin’s work on Beasts is on a different level. Those Terence Malick comparisons aren’t undeserved.

DB: Ben Zeitlin. Remember that name.

DC: The big Z. Looking forward to his next.

DB: Django Unchained. Straight off the bat I’d say it’s the film I enjoyed the most from last year. My favourite of 2012. Glad it’s in there. If you can forgive me for dropping the cliché bombs, it’s just one of the reasons cinema excels so much as a medium. It’s that kind of crowd reaction you get with a film like this. It’s brutal, it’s funny, it’s got a good heart. It’s Tarantino. It’s violent as hell. It’s dark. It’s…

*DC pours more coffee*

DB: It’s coffee. Sorry. I’m pondering inelegantly. Big list of descriptive words as though I’m reading off a poster. It’s just the perfect cinema experience for me when I get to watch a film as joyful as Django with an audience. It’s an audience film. No other medium, short of a music gig maybe, provides that shared experience.

DC: I love Tarantino. He sits down with a blank sheet, creates characters, gives them the most beautiful, flowing dialogue then runs out and films an early draft with the best cast money can buy. I liked Django a lot. Provocative, sure, but as you say it’s got a good heart. It’s one of the more moralistic and honest films he’s made. It’s not just empty exploitation. Christoph Waltz in this is such a beacon of integrity. Such a lovely man!

DB: He’s found his muse with that guy. The two bits of work they’ve done together…just incredible characters.

DC: I like how broadly drawn the characters are, on the surface anyway. It’s classic Western stuff. A clearly defined villain and a couple of heroes.

DB: It’s set up like a fable in some ways.

DC: Tarantino doing a linear narrative. There’s no writing tricks or jumbled chronology. You just follow these amazing characters on their adventure. Now time to make a point of one of my issues…

DB: Go ahead…

DC: Maybe it’s because Sally Menke, his recently deceased editor isn’t around anymore, maybe it’s more of a scripting issue, but that third act has some problems. I don’t mind individual scenes as such, but there’s an obvious place in the third act of the film, after DiCaprio’s been killed and the momentum of a gunfight kicks into gear for the final battle, we just stop abruptly and shuffle through twenty minutes or so for no reason whatsoever. A naked torture scene, a load of stuff with a gang of Australians. QT having an awful cameo. That whole section of the film should never have made it in. The final gunfight should’ve been blended with the post-deaths earlier plantation fight. Tarantino is usually so on-the-ball with his structure, it seems odd that he’d avoid spotting such an obvious flaw with the ending of his film.  It kills the pacing. It’s really annoying! The film has a clear flow that’s disrupted for absolutely no reason. We stop the building action and cut to a series of totally superfluous monologues from Samuel L.Jackson and Walton Goggins.

DB: I’ve only seen it the once, but I certainly didn’t leave feeling that I’d been bogged down in third-act blues. His cameo was distracting, but I’m used to QT showing up at some point. It’s his universe; he always makes a distracting cameo!

DC: But never so annoying! Usually he slots in there without too many problems, but tied in with such an unwelcome halt to the third-act energy. Casting himself in such a shitty role. Totally superfluous. So much great stuff in the film, and he really hurts it by showing up at the wrong time.

DB: I’ll reserve judgment until I see it again.

DC: Look, it’s an issue, a major issue but just an issue in a film otherwise overflowing with positives. It’s mostly fantastic. So many great lines, great character beats.

DB: It’s full of great moments. The characters are so good.

DC: The angry face Sam Jackson pulls!

DB: When Django shows up on the horse? So good.

DC: I love how Tarantino gets how much audiences long for the visceral, splatty pleasure of gunfire and bullet hits.

DB: Great bullet hits. Exploding blood. I’m really pleased how well it’s been received by those audiences and also the critical community. It had become fashionable for a while to slag off Tarantino.

DC: The bandwagon. The idea that his films have been on a downward slope of quality!

DB: Yeah, where did that come from? Look at the stuff he’s been making! It’s absolutely phenomenal. Inglourious Basterds.

DC: The Kill Bill movies? I thought it was generally accepted they were excellent at the time. I’m surprised there’s this strange backlash.

DB: They’re excellent. The dream double-bill. So good.

DC: At what point was Basterds lumped in as some sort of ‘dry period’ before Django? It was a massive hit! Buckets of awards, big box-office, good reviews. People keep banging on about how self-indulgent he’s become. Has anyone seen fucking Reservoir Dogs or Pulp Fiction lately? They’re insanely self-indulgent, caught up in their creator’s joy for cinema. That’s how he approaches filmmaking! He bathes in the dialogue.

DB: He’s one of the most famous filmmakers in the entire world for exactly those reasons. I can’t believe anyone is citing them as a negative. People return to his body of work again and again and again. Django continues that trend.

DC: It has all the qualities that make his best films work. He’s in that elite band where you would never miss one of his films. It’s ‘must-watch’ stuff.

DB: For the rest of his career as a filmmaker, we’ll be there opening weekend. It’s an event. You get your Spielberg’s, your Fincher’s, your PT Anderson’s. It’s absolutely unmissable stuff.

DC: I read some criticism of the lack of female characters in Django, as though this was a recurring issue in his work.

DB: Absolute bullshit. Jackie Brown, both Kill Bill parts.

DC: Death Proof. Entirely female cast after Kurt Russell.

DB: Mia Wallace.

DC: A Western with primarily male protagonists when he’s already demonstrated how well he’s able to write lead parts for women. I think it’s unfair on him. Les Miserables?

DB: Les Miserables. *laughs*

DC: I’ve been thinking about Les Miserables a lot lately. Jim Emerson on Roger Ebert’s site, David Denby, the FilmCritHulk guy….massive essays from well-respected journalists and critics who have really taken against the film. It’s been a commercial success and received a lot of positive feedback from the public, but you know, I think they’re on to something. I don’t hate Les Mis, I respect the musical, I respect the broad themes, storytelling, the songs, a lot of the acting .

DB: Great cast.

DC: The decision to film the songs live gives a stripped down, intense quality that’s really refreshing. The actors really go for it, subtlety be damned! Big performances, no holding back, swinging for the back of the crowd! It’s let down though by a fundamental flaw, a flaw that’s so problematic that it causes untold damage to the overall product. In spite of all these distracting positives, positives that shouldn’t be ignored by those of us critiquing the film, none of it changes the fact that fundamentally, the actual filmmaking simply isn’t good enough. From simple rudimentary errors, basic stuff that a production of this size has no excuse to make, the camerawork is just so fucking poor. Wide angle lenses on close-ups, the poor editing between coverage and multiple cameras.

DB: Those fucking lenses! Horrible.

DC: Characters breaking the fourth wall.

DB: Even background extras looking into camera. So fucking annoying.

DC: It’s as though they think they’re on stage recording the anniversary edition. You shouldn’t need to stare into the cinema to make an impression. It should, where appropriate, be used sparingly. Moulin Rouge does a bit of it and just about pulls it off, but then Baz Luhrman is a much more accomplished stylist than Tom Hooper. He’s worked on enough music videos and ads to understand how to shoot this sort of stuff. There’s no consistency to it here. You jump from this maddening decision of having everyone singing down the camera to these cut-off singular numbers like Hathaway’s song where the close-up is shot with the wrong lens jammed on a tripod.

DB: It’s a strange one. The analogy that springs to mind is like a beautifully laid out toy set of well dressed, nicely decorated toys with neat little wigs and a killer tape playing, then this arrogant little child comes along and thinks he knows best. I have no great affinity with the material, but you’ve got to have some respect for the fanbase, for the importance of that musical to so many people. Tom Hooper’s on an ego-trip, thinking he’s this Oscar winning director who has a style that is the ‘only way’ this could possibly be streamlined into a grand entertainment for the masses.

DC: Pride. Hubris. Hooper.

DB: It’s always ‘look what I’m doing with the camera’, ‘look what I’m doing with this’.

DC: Compared to some of his peers, many of whom are really good at this stuff, he thinks he’s some sort of visual stylist and he simply doesn’t have that set of skills. Nobody has ever doubted that the performances are always impressive in his films, he’s got to be given some credit for that, but praising the set decoration and casting is one thing, the actual shoot really lets it down. Hooper drops in with a camera and…

DB: He mucks it up. Don’t muck it up! You’ve got Russell Crowe in your film! You’ve got Hugh Jackman! You’ve got these beloved songs, these giant sets. It’s like a student filmmaker took over his brain when they were actually filming.

DC: Watching some of the student films we made earlier, we were sixteen, eighteen years old…it’s the same sort of schoolboy errors being made by us ten years ago that a director – an Oscar winning director – is making in a massive feature film. That’s just depressing.

DB: I agree.

DC: Jumping from extreme, static close-ups on the face to these medium tracks with no finesse. The problem is, it doesn’t work, it’s jarring to the eye. It’s such an unusual blend of techniques to combine, and it just gives the impression that Hooper doesn’t really know what he’s doing. There’s no consistency to the approach.

DB: The effect of Les Miserables shouldn’t be to disorientate the viewer. It’s not a Lynch dream sequence. Why is he trying to make the viewer aware that there’s a directors hand involved in every frame of it? It’s a musical.

DC: It should be immersive. Effortlessly immersive. I’m sure Working Title would say otherwise, but Les Miserables is not a hard adaptation to spin a decent film out of. The material is all there. You just need a competent helmer. Just film it without fuss and the strength of the material will do half the work.

DB: If someone like Joe Wright had done it, we might be looking at a Best Picture winner. Admittedly it’d have Keira Knightley in it but…hey…

DC: Hooper is able to sour this great stuff with basic incompetence behind the camera.

DB: The next day I had songs stuck in my head, but all I remembered of individual sequences was how distractingly poor the camerawork was.

DC: When we first spoke about it, I called you having just watched the movie and was like ‘you’ve gotta see this film’, not blowing the trumpet for it, but just to check out how staggeringly weird Hooper’s direction is. I’m still so cracked up that the producers and lobbyists were disappointed Hooper wasn’t nominated for Best Director. Why would they assume he would be? His direction is a real weak link. It’s totally out of touch with the qualities of other areas of the production less dependent on his bitter touch. Life of Pi?

DB: Go ahead.

DC: I have problems with the Yann Martel book. Didn’t really connect with me. Very clever, but it’s just not satisfying storytelling. Ang Lee’s adaptation is an enormous improvement and makes the best of a flawed novel. Lee’s a great director, so much natural ability, soul and understanding of the work.

DB: I like Ang Lee. I haven’t seen Life of Pi. Nothing particularly compelled me to see it on cinema release. I don’t care for 3D. It’s a beautiful trailer, impressive visually.

DC: The novel struck me as a bit thin. I know many people found it rich with allegory and loved the places it went, but I think this film adaptation doesn’t so much simplify the main ideas to make them more palatable to a broad audience, but does the exact opposite. It’s exploration of faith and the nature of storytelling, all that stuff, worked way better for me than in Martel’s novel.

DB: Does it flashback to when he’s not on the boat?

DC: Yeah. The whole opening, and some ‘modern-day’ scenes with Rafe Spall.

DB: Okay.

DC: Ang Lee makes so much from so little. There’s obviously the heavy visual effects element, but it’s ultimately a floating boat with a single actor for most of the runtime. The CG tiger is always complimentary and never gratuitous. The relationship between that digital character and the boy, their strange bond, it’s so much more involving than it has any right to be. When the central theme ties up at the end, it’s so satisfying, so warm, so open to differing interpretations depending on the religious/cultural baggage and different opinions viewers bring with them. It plays to all audiences, and I’m not surprised it’s been as big a hit with the more secular crowd as it has the devout. It’s a bit like Malick’s Tree of Life in that respect, though I think Malick brings a more directly Christian ethos than Ang Lee. Life of Pi is more about the worth and purpose of faith. It’s an interesting movie. I should note that the effects work on Richard Parker, the tiger, is as photo-real as I’ve seen up until this point. Considering he’s not anthropomorphized like King Kong or Gollum, its incredible stuff.

DB: Andy Serkis should’ve played the tiger.

DC: I’m pleased Ang Lee’s nominated for Best Director and that the film has nods in a few other categories, certainly Cinematography and Visual Effects. It deserves to win those two, I think. Lee is like the exact fucking counterpoint to Tom Hooper. There’s nothing aggressive about his filmmaking, he isn’t trying to graft a style onto anything that doesn’t suit the project. The most distinctive element of his filmmaking, movie to movie, is just that honesty, that attempt to find the truth in the screenplay and convey it on screen. I remember when he did Brokeback Mountain, a sensitive story that could’ve fallen flat in other hands.

DB: An excellent film. Excellently directed.

DC: I still haven’t forgiven the Academy for giving Paul Haggis’ Crash Oscars for its script and Best Picture. Ludicrous. Laughable. Before moving onto Lincoln, and the Spielberg factor I’d also like to add that Ang Lee, like Spielberg seems pretty much the nicest man in the entire world. If I was a working actor or shitty crew member, those are the sorts of guys you’d want bossing you about every day. No ego. Lee seems so serene. No stress.

DB: No Hulk.

DC: He’s zen.

DB: He talks about how he had a lot of inner anger in his life around the time he made Hulk. It was a therapy for him.

DC: Looks like he’s mastered his personal issues, whatever they were.

DB: What a great way to get your issues out. Make a comic film.

DC: Hulk’s quite interesting actually. Caught it again late last year.

DB: The editing is so distracting.  For an experiment, it doesn’t really work.

DC: It’s a failure, but a worthy one. I like those sorts of movies. I admire the attempt to do something different. He didn’t just make a bog-standard comic film, he tried something fresh. The psychoanalysis stuff and the almost arthouse approach, with the avant-garde editing. So different, even if it fails as entertainment.

DB: The ending with the giant ‘dad issues’ jellyfish. Not good. It’s not Ang Lee’s fault, he tried something. It didn’t work. Move on.

DC: That said, Louis Leterrier, who made the more conventional 2008 Incredible Hulk, proved that empty calories don’t make for a better film.

DB: Lincoln?

DC: Lincoln?

DB: Solid. Engrossing. Flawlessly acted. Flawlessly directed. Those are my thoughts.

DC: Lincoln, like Spielberg’s War Horse last year seems like such an obvious Oscar choice. Respected veteran director, big project, period production values. On this occasion you can throw a big, prestige cast and the biopic elements. It’s fucking designed to win awards! Then here’s the upside, it eschews all the worst parts of that sort of picture. It’s so understated, so focused, but with a crew that reads like a great rock band. It’s The Who! You put together the perfect pieces and they amplify each others qualities. The most naturally gifted filmmaker, a perfectly structured, endlessly insightful screenplay. It’s touching, witty….

DB: Informative. Literate. Educational.

DC: Riveting. It throws you right into the world of nineteenth-century politics. The title of the non-fiction book Team of Rivals would be a more appropriate title than Lincoln. It’s not really a biopic, as such. It’s about passing this piece of legislation. Through the process of trying to pass that law, you learn everything you need to know about the guy, what he was like and what he achieved. Thinking of the rock band thing again, you chuck in the greatest living film actor as lead vocalist and you’ve got the goods! 100+ speaking parts, stack loads of great character actors, the Spielberg stalwarts like Michael Kahn, John Williams, Janusz Kaminski. The old crew! It gels. It clicks. I know War Horse had its detractors, some people found it old-fashioned and hokey, but compared to how sludgy some of Spielberg’s adult dramas have been – most notably Amistad, which covered some vaguely similar stuff, this is his most complete, full success as a drama since Schindler’s List.

DB: It’s the antithesis of Tom Hooper’s approach to directing. The ‘look at me look at me’ thing is absolute anathema to what Spielberg wants to do here. He knows the exact approach to take with this story and the direction is just so damn accomplished.

DC: The level of control is incredible.

DB: He always services the material. That script is absolutely at the heart of his approach.

DC: It’s absolutely suited to the period and the story. And what a great story! The compromises in politics, the opportunities it affords these characters to achieve something they know might have significant implications. The tiny window of opportunity to get this thing onto the statute book.

DB: It’s brave writing. The script doesn’t spend time dropping detail about Lincoln himself. There’s no scene of exposition. It all comes through Day-Lewis’ portrayal. His mannerisms, his voice. You hear this heavy political dialogue coming out and you get an idea of who he is and what he’s like solely through his actions.

DC: They never sensationalize the character. His own humanity, prejudices and concerns are all there. He’s this pragmatist, who looks at the political game and takes advantage of this opportunity to abolish slavery. It’s just so refreshing to watch a performance like that, writing like that…and that’s just one component of the film Tommy Lee Jones is so fired up and energetic. He seems so engaged with his character. The lobbyist characters that James Spader, Tim Blake Nelson and John Hawkes play. Everyone’s so interested! The smallest roles, Jackie Earle Haley, they’re fully engaged with their own characters journey. At any point is feels like you could spend a whole film with any of the cast, from the smallest little part upwards. It’s a complete joy! Every single character, regardless of their central significance feels real. It’s the best film Spielberg’s made in a long, long time. I don’t want to start digging back through time, but even something as effective as Saving Private Ryan fifteen years ago is no way perfect, with dodgy bookends and some inadequate writing. As an overall success in all areas, Lincoln has the goods. I was praising Tony Kushner and Spielberg’s work on Munich back in 2005, but cold, hard and brutally effective though that film is – it’s not on par with the strengths on show in Lincoln. This is an extraordinary, uplifting, endlessly satisfying film. I’m already guilty of dropping too many superlatives, but it’s up there with dramas like Amadeus and The Shawshank Redemption.

DB: Tommy Lee Jones and his housekeeper. So touching.

DC: Insanely uplifting.

DB: A lovely moment.

DC: Silver Lining’s Playbook?

DB: David O.Russell. Silver Lining’s Playbook. I’d say it’s another one of those films, I think it’s decent, but it’s been dragged into this Oscar race thanks to the talent involved. O.Russell obviously got dragged into this fanfare with The Fighter a couple of years ago, and here we are again. Big cast. Big names. Deals with bipolar disorder. Interesting stuff, that’s all well and good, but like The Descendants last year, films like that, I’m happy they’re made and they’re pleasurable, a cut above a lot of the junk out there,  but the thought of it winning Best Picture…it’s just absurd.

DC: I think it’s incredibly formulaic in so many regards. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as the experience of watching films like that is they remind you why the formula exists – it can be very satisfying when utilized correctly.

DB: It has its place. Yeah.

DC: The journey. The outcome. Exactly as expected. There’s pleasure in that predictability. The character work is good. I like O.Russell’s north-eastern US stuff. It’s a bit grungy, suburban…if he just wants to spend the rest of his career making family dramas set in these working class towns I’m happy with that, especially if it lets some big actors do something a bit stripped back and grounded. It’s a nice change from the histrionics and OTT elements of a lot of their work. It’s small, it’s contained, it’s quite satisfying but, yeah, it’s neither as contemporary, relevant or ambitious as something like Zero Dark Thirty or Django Unchained. I just can’t compare O.Russell to Kathryn Bigelow or Quentin Tarantino. His direction of this film isn’t even close to what they’re doing, yet he’s the guy who grabs the Best Director nomination. Maybe I’m being unfair? O.Russell has shown he’s got a lot of energy and mad tricks bottled up, but he holds it down in service of the material. With this and The Fighter, by working in formula, he’s able to step back, control himself, and do what’s best for the script. He’s another anti-Tom Hooper.

DB: I like him as a director. I generally like his work, but there’re bits in this where I can’t help but think a different director might’ve done a better job. There’s a farcical element to it, when they’re all in the room and everyone’s chatting over each other. Trying to do that farcical thing, the snappy Robert Altman thing…it doesn’t quite work some of the time. There’s something disjointed about it on occasions, with DeNiro giving one type of performance and Bradley Cooper doing something completely different. I admire it, I don’t want to get too down on it, but it’s got some problems.

DC: As with The Fighter, I think the thing that he really understands, more than the story, the tone, whatever…it’s the chemistry. He understands the relationships between the characters even better than the actors do. He knows exactly how to play them off each other. The relationship between the two brothers in The Fighter, the relationship between Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence here…he doesn’t just hire talented actors, he gets how to work with them to highlight that connection. The pleasure for the audience comes from those interactions. As an ability, understanding that your best trick is giving the audience as much of that chemistry as possible, that’s smart…and it works.

DB: It’s Jennifer Lawrence, basically. She makes this work.

DC: Bradley Cooper, like Affleck in Argo, is merely adequate, but O.Russell knows how to mine the most out of that chemistry and Lawrence is just…

DB: She’s the film. Much like she is in everything she does. She’s incredible.

DC: I like how sweet it is, which I guess is an extension of the way O.Russell plays this relationship out. He doesn’t mind being quite on-the-nose. I like how the darkness of the early days of O.Russell has paved the way for this older, more mature guy that’s happy to let the darkness bubble along behind the eyes. He’s got way more control than he had on something like Spanking the Monkey, which is just so angry.

DB: I kind of think he’s taken his knocks on getting stuff financed. He’s conformed. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, he’s working with good people.

DC: The Fighter is the best reviewed film he’s made.

DB: He’s stuck with it. His next film will be in the same vain. He’s probably never going to make another Three Kings. I don’t know how I feel about it. That’s a film that oozed with style. He’s really changed as a filmmaker. Three Kings was bonkers. Exploding cows, mad soundtrack, cameras zooming into bullet wounds.

DC: It’s like Aronofsky from Requiem to The Wrestler. He knows when to indulge and when to hold back depending on what he’s shooting. I’d like to think O.Russell is just acting in a way appropriate to this new material, rather than caught up in the sort of full-on, inescapable maturing process that prohibits him from ever making anything as nutty as his 90s stuff again. I hope it’s just about mastery of his emotions and not an irreversible change.

DB: I hope all this commercial success doesn’t discourage him from making those sorts of films again. You can imagine him doing another safe picture next time. I expect he’s in pretty high demand with actors at the moment. Four acting nominations is impressive.

DC: One last Best Picture nominee remains and that’s Zero Dark Thirty. Your opinions?

DB: So good. I’ve been thinking about it constantly since I saw it yesterday. It’s an excellent film. Flawlessly made, impressive without ever being showy, or in-your-face, pacing is phenomenal, performances are great, it knows exactly what the audience wants. We’ll get into the strange politics that’ve slightly shrouded its campaign. It’s something that I think deserves greater recognition.

DC: Kathryn Bigelow. Zero Dark Thirty. Prior to release I didn’t give a shit about the hunt for Bin Laden, but the prospect of Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal working together again intrigued me. We both loved The Hurt Locker, I liked the marketing campaign for ZDT and how secretive the whole thing was.

DB: Good early teaser.

DC: They did a decent job of keeping quiet until the film first screened. Lincoln, my favourite of the nine alongside this film, was an incredibly satisfying experience, but this is the one that floored me as the credits rolled. With Spielberg and Day-Lewis you have a certain level of expectation, with a wildcard like this it’s never a sure thing. I was completely speechless at the end of the film. The whole last hour kicks into the highest gear imaginable. Heart beating with excitement. Every procedural element leading, finally, into the big sequence at the compound. It’s brilliant action cinema.

DB: Looking at it as an action film, it’s got such a great structure to it. You get this hour and a half of amazing, building story that just explodes into this enthralling final assault.

DC: Jessica Chastain as this driven, determined CIA analyst…

DB: She becomes almost genderless, doesn’t she? Referred to as ‘the girl’…

DC: And completely bereft of any extraneous character information or back-story. You don’t know anything at all about her as a person outside of the journey we take together. Nothing about her family. Her past. Total obsession and focus on this single goal. As a piece of drama, as a piece of entertainment…it’s just so good.

DB: And treating the audience to that last forty-five minutes.

DC: The production design. The photography. Alexandre Desplat’s score which is ambient, exciting, grinds and builds and builds and builds to this momentum. It’s like a wheel turning and getting faster and faster and faster. The final hour you’re so involved in the film that I think if the projector broke everyone might have a simultaneous heart attack! The thrill of watching it on a tiny tv screen or laptop would probably top the kick from most IMAX features. When you finally get the end-of-level boss…it’s just amazing.

DB: The big one. The boss. He croaks it, and she gets an empty plane.

DC: The assault on the compound is a brilliant, brilliant setpiece. Once they reach the top floor and get the bullets into Osama…incredible. I buy the accusations of jingoism, but it’s never sensationalized on screen. They play it with brutal fucking accuracy and precision.

DB: It’s never glorified. It’s not a Michael Bay death of Bin Laden. Falling back at a hundred frames a second getting riddled with bullets.

DC: It’s not the end of Inglourious Basterds with Eli Roth pumping bullets into Hitler’s face and the audience cheering.

DB: It’s all done, for lack of a better word, tastefully. It’s handled so well. It’s true to the level of craft and understatement shown during the previous two and a half hours. They don’t blow it by overplaying the assassination.

DC: I’m annoyed that the ‘this film condones torture’ line of thinking has become such a big part of the critical discourse surrounding the movie. It strikes me more as dirty tactics from the opposing studios than anything. So much misguided thinking.

DB: Lots of people who haven’t seen the film, basically.

DC: Yeah. I fear that’s the case, and as a result there’s this accepted wisdom amongst areas of the press that it’s a pro-torture, neo-con propaganda flick. Hollywood makes plenty of those sorts of films, there’ve been quite a few covering aspects of the war on terror and middle east conflict. Zero Dark Thirty is often a dirty, nasty, dark movie – depicting the most horrendous events committed by the American intelligence services. It’s never glamorized on screen.

DB: It’s disgusting.

DC: It has impact on the characters. The guy who can’t do it anymore and heads back to Washington, Chastain visibly damaged by being a part of this stuff. All the CIA characters are morally compromised by the things they see and do. Worst of all, it’s never shown to have any sort of success. They gather literally no workable information from torture that aids in the hunt for Bin Laden. They only get any actual intel when they use alternative tactics. I just don’t understand where the line of thinking that says the film endorses torture comes from. I haven’t heard one coherent argument for that. The film depicts this stuff in quite a graphic way, but it’s most certainly not a good thing, and it never renders any useful information. Where has this idea come from? They get their nugget of useful information after feeding the guy up with falafel and olives around the dinner table. It’s really annoying that a film so tight, efficient and deserving of support ends up with this ridiculous line of thinking taking over any discussion. Why is this the defining talking point? Why does all talk about it, this chat included, descend into discussing whether it endorses torture? It’s bullshit. It’s a distraction from the qualities of the film wielded by those who seek to do it damage during a fierce awards season battle.

DB: It’s ridiculous, yeah. It’s a film doing its best to be realistic. I just don’t buy the accusations of Bigelow and Boal having a political agenda. The Hurt Locker was one of the most apolitical war films I’ve seen. The attention to detail in the action sequences, it’s insane. I have no doubt its as faithful to the events as they were able to be. That level of detail is replicated throughout the whole film. To shy away, to not show torture, surely that would be the pro-American standpoint?

DC: I agree. The pro-America angle would be to either totally ignore their use of torture or to directly show useful information coming from the enhanced interrogation techniques. This never happens.

DB: I agree.

DC: Any notable omissions from Best Picture this year that’ve wound you up? I’ve got a few. Andrew Dominik for his film Killing Them Softly. Focused. Direct. To the point. Short. Ignored. Totally ignored by the race. Another great production from Annapurna Pictures. It’s really unfair that it’s not a part of this season. It’s a shame. Similar feelings about Liam Neeson in The Grey. Bleak survival thriller, good film, great performance. Unfortunate release window made it, not ineligible, but basically ignored. They should’ve held it back until Autumn and Neeson might well be in the Best Actor category now. It’s been forgotten. Last but not least, The Master. Back in August after those first screenings it was considered the favourite, but it’s been pushed aside by the competition and only the performances have received nominations. It seems a real shame to me, as I think people will look back in a few years and won’t believe it wasn’t nominated for Best Picture – especially when something like Les Miserables was able to sneak in.

DB: Yeah, it seems strange when there’s one place left. I don’t think it was the best film of last year, not at all, but it definitely deserves to be in the Best Picture category.

DC: I just think there’s so much great stuff in there. The ideas, the intensity of it, and the amazing characters you can’t peg down. It’s endlessly fascinating to me.

DB: There’s nothing majorly that I’m upset about. I really enjoyed End of Watch and Magic Mike.

DC: Yeah I liked Magic Mike too. Funny. Ballsy. Good dance choreography. Matthew McConaughey should be in there for Best Supporting Actor. Brave and totally hysterical role.

DB: Best Director? We’ve got Michael Haneke for Amour, Ang Lee for Life of Pi, David O.Russell for Silver Lining’s Playbook, Steven Spielberg for Lincoln and Benh Zeitlin for Beasts of the Southern Wild.

DC: A category primarily notable for its omissions, at least where the press and pundits are concerned. Quentin Tarantino, Kathryn Bigelow, Ben Affleck, Paul Thomas Anderson and…if you speak to the press team at Working Title, our favourite guy Tom Hooper. This is a tough category because there’s so much great competition. I don’t think they went for the best five, certainly not when some of those names are out, but it’s a good mix. I can’t begrudge any of the nominees.

DB: I have a lot more passion for Tarantino than David O.Russell. That’s an odd one. Bigelow…Jesus.

DC: It must mean a lot to this young guy Benh Zeitlin to be in that ballot. In there with Spielberg and Ang Lee. That’s nice, but I can’t get away from my irritation that Kathryn Bigelow isn’t in there. Zero Dark Thirty is so well directed that it really feels like a mistake not to have her in the race. I know she won just a couple of years ago, I don’t know if that factors into peoples voting habits, but then…you know…Spielberg is nominated all the time! Five men nominated, surely that can’t be allowed! I don’t know if gender politics plays into the thinking of the Academy, but it doesn’t look good that they exclude the high profile female director worthy of a nomination when someone like David O.Russell is nominated. I admire O.Russell and like his film, but Bigelow, Tarantino and PT Anderson are operating on a whole different level.

DB: A film like Django Unchained couldn’t be made by anyone else. QT as writer/director, it’s overflowing with style in the best possible way. He’s in every frame of it. It’s total auteur work in the purest sense of the word. It’s a directors film.

DC: If I was picking the perfect five it’d be Spielberg, Ang Lee, Bigelow, Tarantino and PT Anderson. Out of those, it’s impossible to pick. It’s as though they’re scared of nominating the true best five as it’d highlight how silly – albeit addictive – awards season is. How is it possible to say that Bigelow’s direction of Zero Dark Thirty is superior to Spielberg’s incredible work on Lincoln? It’s such a weird, silly thing to try and argue! I’d be happy if either Spielberg or Ang Lee won. So much amazing work on show. It’s a great year. I could see someone like Haneke winning. Dark horse. It’s the Polanski/Pianist element. The Academy loves a surprise. I think Spielberg will probably take it.

DB: Yeah, I don’t mind that.

DC: Best Actor? Bradley Cooper, Hugh Jackman, Joaquin Phoenix, Denzel Washington and Daniel Day-Lewis. All good performances there. Denzel is impressive in Flight, as you’d expect from an actor of his caliber. Bradley Cooper is pretty good, but probably shouldn’t be nominated. Both solid, movie-star roles. Neither hit me as hard as the un-nominated Liam Neeson in The Grey. The best performance that actor has given, drawing on his personal grief to offer something I’ve never seen from him before. It might be even better than his Oskar Schindler. It’s certainly more personal.

DB: Christoph Waltz from Django should be in the actor race. Probably a political thing, sizing up a better chance of a win in the supporting category.

DC: I agree, it’s a lead role, but at least he’s been recognized! The Neeson thing really winds me up. I know the film didn’t mount much of a campaign, and the release window was shitty, but he really goes for it in that movie. So exposed, unflinchingly honest. He’s slummed it in so much shit in the last few years, it’s refreshing for him to remind us what he’s capable of. I like Hugh Jackman in Les Mis. He’s fantastic, another excellent performance from him finally given some recognition. In a different world where the film worked on its own terms, maybe he’d have a better chance at victory, but I’m not denying the strength of his acting.

DB: Yeah, I have no problem with him being nominated. Good performance.

DC: My favourite two are Joaquin Phoenix in The Master and Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln. When I first saw The Master I was confident I wouldn’t see a better acting performance in 2012. I was surprised, though I shouldn’t be, when a few months went by and I fell in love with Daniel Day-Lewis and started pitching for him to win the big awards instead. Now I’m pretty much tied on my feelings. I love both those performances so much! Phoenix is colder, harder to sympathise with…but it’s trailblazing, crazily accomplished stuff that is impossible not to admire. Day-Lewis, I just love how charismatic and likeable he is. You just want to spend all day listening to him tell stories in character, they should take him on stage or something! So drawn to the guy.

DB: I’m with Day-Lewis. It’s so un-showy. So flawless, understated. A man at the top of his craft.

DC: There’s nothing hammy or predictable about it. He just inhabits this character. How many times can you say how good Daniel Day-Lewis is as an actor? The physicality, the voice, the makeup.

DB: It’s just incredible.

DC: It’s absolutely incredible. You’re gawping. It’s not like Meryl Streep doing Thatcher, as impressive as that was. There’s no audio recording of Abraham Lincoln. He dives in and creates this complete character. You never think you’re watching an acting performance.

DB: You compare it to Daniel Plainview. Could there be two more different parts?

DC: When I saw Day-Lewis in There will be Blood five years ago, I thought it was as good a screen performance as I’d ever seen. It completely captivated me, he’s completely awesome in it, in the truest sense of the word. Never have I been more in tune with awards season as that spring where he mopped up every trophy going. Completely and totally deserved, with no competition. Most actors, even character actors, bring a shade of themselves to a role but Day-Lewis…you could stand his Daniel Plainview and his Abraham Lincoln in a room and there’s no indication that they’re being played by the same actor. I can’t complain that his victory is looking so likely. I would be delighted to see Joaquin Phoenix win for The Master, he’s excellent, so damaged, broken, curled up and vicious, but I think this is Day-Lewis’ year.

DB: Phoenix in The Master is a hard watch. Physically unpleasant at times.

DC: He doesn’t work enough. This feels like him finally reaching his potential. There’s been the high profile stuff like Gladiator and Walk The Line, but this is the kid from To Die For finally fulfilling all that early promise. He’s such a wildcard in this movie, so unpredictable and deranged.

DB: The scene with the guy in the shop when he’s taking the photograph. So good.

DC: Stealing Hoffman’s motorbike and disappearing. Hilarious. I really like the stuff at the end too when he goes to England and meets the Lancaster Dodd character for the last time, when you finally get the depth of the connection between these two guys. Hoffman is all surface, all superficiality, false bluster and human fraud. In those moments between him and Phoenix there’s this connection that’s anything but. He’s able to make Phoenix’s character almost a functional human, however batshit crazy his ideas are – they seem to almost work.  Best actress?

DB: Yep.

DC: Jessica Chastain, Jennifer Lawrence, Emmanuelle Riva, Quvenzhane Wallis and Naomi Watts.

DB: Kind of the odd that The Impossible is in there?

DC: It’s been criticized in some quarters.

DB: Bad taste, yeah.

DC: Hey, it’s the white family…again! Better make sure we survive! Better make sure those marquee names don’t get killed. Fuck the hundreds of thousands of dead brown people because Ewan McGregor is okay! I haven’t seen the film yet, but I’m sure the performances from the lead actors make it work – even if it’s a bit bad taste. Jessica Chastain in Zero Dark Thirty is excellent. Lots of good work from her since she broke out a couple of years ago. This feels like the big lead role she’s been building up to, the role that finally gives her that big chunk of screentime where she can show what an impressive presence she is. A win would definitely be deserved, amongst the complexity of the screenplay, she keeps the thing anchored to a human face. It’s a dark, focused procedural, but she’s the face behind the manhunt.

DB: She wears it well. You never doubt the ten-year journey, the impact it’s had on this woman who’s been part of the mission. When she cries at the end it’s believable.

DC: Stripped of a broader life for the character beyond what’s relevant to the story, that decision just puts twice as much pressure on Chastain’s performance. She rises to the challenge. David Fincher’s Zodiac does a slightly similar thing with the deterioration of Robert Graysmith, the character played by Jake Gyllenhaal. Having that human face helps lubricate the dryness of the procedural. It gets you through the detailed, wordy, technically complicated information. You’ve got this obsessive character running parallel. We’ve already talked quite a bit about Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Lining’s Playbook?

DB: Excellent as ever.

DC: She makes the absolute best of that character. It’s not just a construct to aid the development of Bradley Cooper and give him a ‘love interest’. It’s not Nicholas Sparks style coupledom to help ‘improve’ him. I never doubted the reality of the character.

DB: I’m glad they didn’t go down the Zach Braff arty wank fantasy direction. Lawrence brings so much. I think Winter’s Bone is one of my favourite films of the last few years.

DC: The quality of her performances in franchise fare like X-Men and Hunger Games is much higher than it’d usually be. She’s much more capable than the leads in stuff like Harry Potter or Twilight.

DB: It’s a big, popular franchise.

DC: Her work is exceptionally good though. We’re used to being fobbed off with substandard leads in family friendly blockbusters, even back to someone like Mark Hamill in Star Wars. He’s totally serviceable and perfect for Luke Skywalker, but it’s no great performance or anything. She’s just a much, much better actor than that. The main thing that’d hold me back from saying she should win, aside from the competition, is that I think this is just the beginning. There’re better films and even better roles ahead. She’s back doing sequels for those big franchises at the moment, but there’s a whole forty, fifty years ahead of great work from her. 

DB: Emmanuelle Riva in Amour? I’ll let you discuss.

DC: Excellent performance.

DB: How old is she?

DC: Something like 85 or 86. My problem, as I said earlier, is that it’s a two-parter. I can’t view her work without thinking of her co-lead.

DB: I guess he’s been crammed out. There’s so much competition for Best Actor. Where would you fit him unless you canned Denzel or Bradley Cooper? It’s hard to envision an organization like the Academy ever ditching the big names completely in favour of unknown actors in European art films. Riva is the exception, not a regular occurrence. I guess they weren’t able to fit the film into every category. It’s testament to how much people liked it that it made its way into Best Picture, Director and so on. They should be happy with that.

DC: Yeah, that’s a triumph. When the relationship is so key to the film though, it’s hard to consider the prospect of someone like Riva being in awards contention without her co-star. He’s been pretty much omitted from everything in favour of her, which makes it look as though one performance was somehow more worthy than the other. That couldn’t be further from the truth. There’s no weak link. He’s so, so good. The way the events of the film impact on the lives of these two people, it feels like it requires joint dedication if she goes on to win it. This is a two-person nomination.

DB: Looking forward to seeing it.

DC: Quvenzhane Wallis in Beasts of the Southern Wild.

DB: How old is she?

DC: Something like five, six maybe when they cast her. Benh Zeitlin tells the story through the innocent eyes of this child, who wholly and totally accepts the reality of the world she’s been born into. This strange little community, the fantastical elements that weave into the way a child perceives things. She’s really good.

DB: You think she’ll be the next Precious?

DC: And go on to do nothing? Maybe. Hard to tell. She won’t win either.

DB: Strike that last comment, slightly racist *laughs*.

DC: Precious could literally eat this girl.

DB: *laughs*

DC: I read she might be doing the Annie remake now Will Smith’s daughter has been dropped. That’s a big project.

DB: Anyone omitted from this category you can think of?

DC: Michelle Williams has played no part in this awards season. Take this Waltz, written and directed by Sarah Polley. Her work in the film isn’t just the best performance of her career, but as good as any of these performances nominated. Polley, creating a character that must draw on her own personal experiences, uses Williams as a vessel through which to explore these ideas that’re interesting to her, and it’s just dominates the film. It is the film.

DB: I agree. It’s a hard role to nail. At its core, the character does a dickish, awful thing.

DC: She fantasies about an affair and then goes about having one.

DB: Yet you still empathise with her.

DC: So well drawn, so completely enables the audience to understand why she does the things she does. You’re not judgmental about the character because you understand, if not condone, why she does the things she does and hurts so many people. It’s a relatable character with great depth and brings out the best of Williams’ abilities. It’s a real shame that it’s a film that’s already been forgotten. Seth Rogen as the husband, so straight and understated.

DB: A small film like that, understated and with a tiny, limited release. It’s just gone. It’ll only get any attention if someone like Polley makes a massive, attention-grabbing movie at some point and people start digging back through her earlier films.

DC: They all must be proud of it, and rightly so. If asked, Williams must surely cite it as some of the best stuff she’s done. You can just tell. She’s a somewhat unusual and anonymous actress a lot of the time, but you can’t imagine anyone else playing that character as well. If the ultimate job of an actor is to create a complete human being than she’s certainly done her job.

DB: She did a film with her dog…a dog that went missing or something…what was it called?

DC: I don’t know. The biggest profile stuff is probably the Marilyn Monroe thing, Blue Valentine, Brokeback

DB: What’s the name…Wendy and her dog or something.

DC: Was it good?

DB: I didn’t see it.

DC: She had a wig in it?

DB: Yeah.

DC: She’s always good.

DB: Dawson’s Creek!

DC: Impressive career. Resistant to taking lazy parts.

DB: Synecdoche, New York. Great.

DC: Fantastic. Endlessly fascinating to me. Charlie Kaufman is my kind of genius. Ebert’s favourite film of the last decade. Wrote a fair bit about the screenplay in my university dissertation. Still can’t figure out the film, but it sure winds its way into your head. Underrated.

DB: Shutter Island. She smashes it every time.

DC: Best Supporting Actor? Alan Arkin for Argo, DeNiro for Silver Lining’s, Tommy Lee Jones for Lincoln, Christoph Waltz for Django Unchained and Hoffman for The Master. All five have won Oscars before, which is why it’s impossible not to stand up and shout the names James Spader for Lincoln, Dwight Henry for Beasts of the Southern Wild, DiCaprio and Sam Jackson for Django, Matthew McConaughey for Magic Mike, Scoot McNairy for Killing Them Softly. Why are they nominating someone like Alan Arkin, when he just won quite recently, and omitting these fresh names? Arkin isn’t even the best support in Argo! I would’ve gone for John Goodman over him. He’s good, you know, it’s a decent part…but it’s strange that Arkin’s been nominated – especially when it ends up being that films only acting nomination. I bet Bryan Cranston is pissed! It’s an oddity, like they just randomly felt the urge to cram it into at least one acting category and that’s the only one that sprang to mind. I can’t begrudge Christoph Waltz for Django, he’s brilliant, but it’s completely a lead role.

DB: I’d love to see him win.

DC: DeNiro is good in Silver Lining’s. Nice to see him not slumming it for once.

DB: He’s been shit for so long. Fucking about, looking bored.

DC: Phil Hoffman and Tommy Lee Jones are both excellent, both worthy. I love Hoffman’s dancing.

DB: The most arrogant character of all time. So many job titles. Keeps getting Phoenix to make him weird drinks. Goes bright red. *laughs* He’s hilarious. I love Philip Seymour Hoffman.

DC: Tommy Lee Jones in Lincoln is probably my favourite of the five. He’s always fantastic, always picks the grumpy, cynical, middle-aged part. It’s the whole Men in Black thing, extended over twenty years of career. He’s like that in Lincoln too, but they take all that shit and give it a purpose, a reason. As this fired up, abolitionist character…there’s an idealism tied in with all that usual weariness, the guy has a complete arc over the course of the film as you eventually figure out what it is that makes him tick, what drives his politics. It’s a total counterpoint to the Day-Lewis character, the fury and dynamism set against the pragmatic, softly spoken President. The interplay between those two is so, so good. As with Sally Field, they just amplify the qualities of Day-Lewis in the lead part. It’s perfect support. It’s just so damn interesting watching him as he risks compromising some of his own values in order to help Lincoln push the legislation through.

DB: It’s such a strength of the film that it has all these elements. If it was just Lincoln’s demeanor and stuff, it might feel flat, but you’ve got Tommy Lee Jones, you’ve got the three lobbyist guys…it’s just a great mix. You fully dive into this world.

DC: The only tiny, tiny element of the film that didn’t entirely work for me, and I know it’s a pet love of Spielberg, was the father/son stuff between Day-Lewis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. It was a bit superfluous at that level of exploration.

DB: I thought maybe it’d been really cut down.

DC: Yeah, that’s possible. A couple of extra scenes could’ve helped, or total removal, but yeah…it’s such a minor issue. In a long film, it has no damaging impact, and it’s ultimately extraneous…but not enough to annoy.  I guess they wanted to show that additional dimension of Lincoln’s life. Getting back to TLJ though, his role ultimately works because it’s a compete thing, a complete journey running parallel to the lead. In terms of the strength of the performance, I just can’t compare something like this, or Christoph Waltz, to a non-scene stealer like Arkin in Argo. You could cut Arkin out without impacting that film in the slightest, but if you tried to remove these guys…

DB: I was going to say, yeah, I can’t think of a single other person who could’ve played Christoph Waltz’s role in Django. I know it was written for him, but to deliver that kind of rhetoric, the way he does it, as with Inglourious Basterds, it’s just unique. It’s like theatre, there’s so much pleasure watching this amazing dialogue spill out of his mouth. It’s such a base-level enjoyment of an actor speaking, none of these others guys quite have that quality.

DC: Yeah, I love how much he seems to enjoy playing these characters. With both this and Inglourious, he’s having a ball. That enthusiasm, you can feel it, every line…he’s having the time of his life. It’s the same sort of pleasure Anthony Hopkins seemed to take from his part in Silence of the Lambs.

DB: Silver tongued devil. Amazing.

DC: I love it when he kills DiCaprio. So satisfying.

DB: It’s brilliant.

DC: I’d be happy if he won, but going back to the start, the omission that kills is probably Leo DiCaprio.

DB: He’s very good.

DC: In terms of scene-stealers, I’d rather have someone like DiCaprio than Alan Arkin. As soon as he’s on screen, he’s so captivating, fearless in terms of what he’s willing to say and do as this atrocious, awful human being. He pushes aside any movie star ego and is willing to do absolutely everything necessary to give the performance that character requires.

DB: I love DeNiro, but I struggle to see his part in Silver Lining’s Playbook as an Oscar winning performance. Just because he’s not appearing in total dogshit doesn’t automatically warrant a nomination. He’s good, serviceable, maybe it’s just the scenes he’s in…

DC: It’s the same with Jacqui Weaver in that film.

DB: They’re fine, serviceable to the leads, but there’s nothing sensational there. It doesn’t stick in the head like DiCaprio or Sam Jackson in Django. I can’t see much of a difference between DeNiro in this and DeNiro in the first Meet the Parents. It’s a marginal improvement on the junk he’s been involved with, but it’s nothing notable.

DC: I think you’re a bit unfair.

DB: The quirks of that film, the superstitious stuff, it’s a bit of an eye-roller. It can be quite obvious, even if they keep it fairly grounded. I’m probably, yeah, being overly detrimental to his performance, but it’s…

DC: …not as good as he was in Stardust.

DB: Exactly.

DC: I also loved the guy from Zero Dark Thirty. The torture guy. Chastain’s supervisor with the beard.

DB: Wow, yeah, he’s very good.

DC: I forget his name. He’s in Lawless too. He’s excellent. Supporting actress?

DB: Go ahead.

DC: Anne Hathaway, Amy Adams, Helen Hunt, Sally Field, Jacqui Weaver.

DB: Not an exciting category. Hathaway is so certain to win.

DC: I don’t want to be too unkind towards Hathaway in Les Miserables. She does what’s required for it, but it’s hard to believe some of the exaggeration when people get overly enthused about her performance.

DB: It’s a showy part. An easy part. An Oscar part. She’s able to shave her head. That shit’s designed to win awards.

DC: It’s the sort of role her management will have known will be a cert for an Oscar push. You take this part, we’ll get you in the competition. Do the crying and singing thing for five minutes. I like Anne Hathaway, she’s a likeable enough actress, but I just can’t compare that role to the complexity and nuance required from Amy Adams or Sally Field. I don’t go in for these big, brash ‘act to the back of the cinema’ parts when there’s nothing more to them. The relationship Sally Field’s character has with her husband, her own issues and frailties. And as for Amy Adams in The Master

DB: Adams, going up against Joaquin Phoenix and Hoffman on screen, and to hold her own…that’s no easy thing.

DC: Considering how charismatic Hoffman is, and how a lesser actor could just play her role as ‘the wife’, she’s boiling over with so much fucking power. She dominates him. The character dynamics between those two, the power balance the film touches on, the way it shows how this beloved ‘leader’ of this cult is just part of a bigger power hierarchy with his quiet, outwardly submissive wife at the top. When she’s there at the end, the ‘advisor’ in the corner, making the decisions. She does so much with a glimpse or a glare. It’s a totally different sort of acting to that which Hathaway is asked to do in Les Mis.

DB: I think we’re both quite cynical about those sorts of big, showy parts.

DC: Someone playing Abraham Lincoln could’ve easily toppled into that OTT bullshit in the hands of a different actor, writer and director. It’s a tough balance.

DB: It’s eye-rolling. The Oscar cry. The disfigurement. I’ve seen this shit win awards so many times, and it doesn’t impress me at all.

DC: I don’t even think Hathaway was the best female performance in the film.

DB: Who was the other girl?

DC: Samantha Barks as Eponine?

DB: Yes. She’s better.

DC: She was in the stageshow. There’s more going on with that character for me. They’re all fighting against Tom Hooper’s incompetent camerawork. It’s just so pre-ordained that Hathaway would win. From the first trailer. A boring, boring, obvious category. It makes the category a farce. I haven’t seen The Sessions.

DB: Helen Hunt is always good.

DC: Jacqui Weaver in Silver Lining’s. Fine, but not an award-winning performance.

DB: She was nominated for Animal Kingdom a few years ago, right? Good actress, but she shouldn’t be in there. She does exactly what’s required, but it’s a ‘supporting actress’ in the simplest sense.

DC: It doesn’t require a name at the bottom of the poster. It’s secondary. My big omission in this category is probably Kelly Reilly in Flight. She has a role that runs parallel to Denzel Washington, they crossover and have a fair bit of screentime together in the second half of the film. As written, its quite cookie-cutter. The character serves a purpose, but she doesn’t really have much of an arc…or at least the focus is so on Washington that you lose something, but her work, in an underwritten role, is absolutely fantastic. The accent, the physicality, it’s much better than the part deserves. A lesser actress would coast through and be completely unmemorable, but it really sticks.

DB: I’m intrigued to see this performance.

DC: It’s testament to how good she is that she can make so much from so little. The whole focus of the script is on the male lead. She’s given nothing, no help from the film, but creates something. That takes us pretty much straight into the next category, which is Best Original Screenplay. Moonrise Kingdom, Zero Dark Thirty, Amour, Django Unchained and Flight. Don’t get why John Gatins is nominated for his script for Flight. That script has problems. The supporting roles are all underwritten. Everything that works, as best illustrated by Kelly Reilly, is due to the good cast. The trajectory of the film is predictable, thin and obvious. It’s just a one-man journey with Zemeckis’ direction and Denzel papering over the cracks. The second act is not so much saggy as non-existent, bleeding through after the opening plane crash into a structurally shaky bulk. It’s really odd that the script is here. This isn’t a bad film, far from it, but that script needed a lot more work. Gatins shouldn’t be nominated, especially not when The Master or Cabin in the Woods are out.

DB: How was the script for Amour?

DC: Very human, very personal, very grounded.

DB: Good.

DC: Moonrise Kingdom. Wes Anderson back again.

DB: I don’t like Moonrise Kingdom. I’ll get that out of the way.

DC: I don’t think it’s his best work. When he eventually wins, I’d rather it be for something else, but, you know, I liked the film. I like the emphasis on the child characters. I love the ensemble. It’s hard to work up much motivation for it, especially not compared to the stuff I’ve really loved of his, but it’s pretty good. It’s a bit of a two-horse race really, in all likelihood. Mark Boal for Zero Dark Thirty and Tarantino for Django.

DB: Both phenomenal.

DC: Even putting aside some of the issues I had with the final half hour of Django, I can’t begrudge it being a serious competitor in this race. Tarantino writes such great dialogue, great characters.

DB: Now there’s an original screenplay.

DC: A true original, but I’m not entirely convinced it’s my complete favourite. Mark Boal for Zero Dark Thirty, so intricate, so studied, informed…journalistic. It ‘boals’ you over.

DB: Boals you over…

DC: Hahaha. Seriously though, how much research did he have to do to cobble this thing together? Tarantino must have a great time writing, the words flying out of him and onto the page. Getting caught up in the world and caught up in the characters, no doubt a joyous experience for a guy like that. He takes the adventure with the characters, but Mark Boal – that shit’s the complete opposite kind of writing. Delving into interview transcripts, historical details, and access to secret records. So much hard work, running sections by experts. It makes his winning script for The Hurt Locker, detailed though it was, look practically easy.

DB: They re-wrote a lot of it after Bin Laden was found, right?

DC: Yeah, it was reworked from the ground up. The thing I love about that script though, is that even with the impressive level of research, the detail, it works primarily as an engaging, exciting drama. The dialogue isn’t just functional and contextually accurate to the sorts of meetings they’re having or whatever, it flows out beautifully. I especially like the scene where Mark Strong shows up and monologues for five minutes, slating them all for being shit at their jobs.

DB: Slamming the table! “We are failing!” *laughs* I’m happy with either of those two winning.

DC: Both thoroughly deserved. Tarantino and Boal. So damn talented. Adapted Screenplay? Beasts of the Southern Wild, Lincoln, Life of Pi, Silver Lining’s Playbook and Argo. They’re all in the Best Picture race. Argo might win this category just to bolster out its likely Best Picture win. It’d look weird if it only took one or two awards, editing and film. The script for Argo is a bit Mark Boal-lite, like the film in some respects. It’s obviously researched, but half that detail is junked to ramp up the fictionalized drama. It’s an ‘events inspired by’ rather than ‘based on’. I’ve got to give some credit to Life of Pi for streamlining and improving on that novel, though ultimately I think credit for the projects successes sits with Ang Lee. Beasts of the Southern Wild, I have no familiarity with the source material so I don’t know what sort of relationship it has with that, but I really like the thing. David O.Russell’s work on Silver Lining’s Playbook we’ve already spoken about a fair bit, so I’ll just cut to the point and say that it’s Lincoln…it’s gotta be Lincoln. It’s leagues ahead of anything else in this category.

DB: I’d go with Lincoln too.

DC: Tony Kushner. Tremendous.

DB: Its two and a half hours of dialogue.

DC: It never slows. It moves. It has pace, forward momentum, and that isn’t just Spielberg, that’s Spielberg servicing this script and bringing Kushner’s writing to audiences with energy and vigour.

DB: I got exactly what I wanted from that film. I feel informed about that period, even if I don’t read anything further. Trusting the general accuracy of the piece, I feel I know now what went on. Kushner’s script brought it to me, and kept me constantly engaged, always interested.

DC: Best Foreign Film? It’s typical that I only catch one of these prior to the ceremony, and it invariably fails to win. This time it’s Amour though, and I don’t think the competition has a chance when it’s been so celebrated in so many other categories. I’ve heard really good things about A Royal Affair and No.

DB: Best Documentary? Searching for Sugar Man is supposed to be very good.

DC: I’m surprised The House I Live in isn’t nominated, it won like the jury prize at Sundance. I really liked it.

DB: Best Cinematography. I can’t believe Zero Dark Thirty isn’t in there. The low-light shooting, it should be almost pitch black.

DC: I’ll be interested to see how it plays on home release. Hopefully it’ll transfer nicely to BluRay. It’s a bitch it isn’t nominated, but I’m firmly in the Life of Pi camp. It’s just beautiful. You’d think it’d be limiting when you spend the central hour just with sea, boat, tiger and boy…but it’s brilliantly lit and photographed, doubly impressive when the locations are so limiting and much of it is green-screen. I’m not a fan of 3D, but it’s as good an example of how that sort of thing should be done as I can think of. It’s picture frame stuff.

DB: Roger Deakins for Skyfall has been overlooked many times. Shooting digital, it’s sharp stuff.

DC: Janusz Kaminski for Lincoln. I’m pleased he’s reigned in his bad habits. From AI through to the fourth Indiana Jones I’ve disliked the way he’s overlit.

DB: Very bright, very soft. Annoying.

DC: Suddenly he got his shit together on War Horse, shooting this strange pastiche of films from sixty or seventy years ago, and that return to a more traditional style seems to have followed through into Lincoln. It looks much better than Minority Report, War of the Worlds and so on, where I just wanted Dean Cundey to return from the early nineties and give them some fucking colour.

DB: Django Unchained looks brilliant.

DC: Tarantino and Robert Richardson getting out in the wild, shooting big landscapes and exterior stuff. So nice to see! Big open deserts and mountains.

DB: It’s exactly what you want to see from a Western. Some actual scope.

DC: And on celluloid! Big canvas, big horses. Best Editing? I don’t doubt that if Argo wins this award it’ll go on to win the big one. If Lincoln takes this, and adapted screenplay, it’s looking positive, if Argo wins either of them, it’ll take the big prize. Fuck knows why Silver Lining’s Playbook is nominated? I’d have slotted in Skyfall, simply for giving us the cleanly cut action we’ve been craving from the series since Quantum’s bullshit.

DB: Not to demean the work of the two guys credited, but it’s not a difficult job to edit Silver Lining’s Playbook. That’s the sort of nomination that makes me question whether voters know what they’re talking about.

DC: Simple camera setups, minimal coverage. It’s nowhere near as complex as the attack in Zero Dark Thirty, where a thousand different editors could cut a thousand different sequences. Anyone cutting Silver Lining’s is likely to come up with the same end product. Why were they nominated?

DB: Michael Kahn for Lincoln. He’s always great.

DC: I notice that Argo shares both the same composer and editor with Zero Dark Thirty. I bet they’re more proud of the latter. Regardless of how it turns out, and which film this guy wins for editing…there’s no chance he doesn’t recognise that the level of craft in one is greater than the other. I don’t want to bag on Argo too much, I like it, but as a comparison to Zero Dark Thirty’s final hour…there’s no comparison. The intensity of that compound assault…

DB: I’m surprised Tarantino’s new editor isn’t nominated.

DC: It’s a bit flabby at the end, we’ve covered that. I know it’s primarily a script issue, but compare the final section of Django to the final section of Zero Dark Thirty.

DB: If you compare the finale of Zero Dark Thirty to almost any film you can name, it’s just a mean thing to do.

DC: Michael Kahn for Lincoln I like. Deftly jumping between multiple locations, cutting around Congress and so on.

DB: Backtracking, I should make it clear that I thought Django was exceptionally well edited. From a professional perspective, I look at it and I’m telling you, it’s a hard thing to cut.

DC: What about Lincoln?

DB: Speaks for itself. Michael Kahn knows what he’s doing.

DC: Shall we go back to the start and make our favourites clear?

DB: Quick-fire favourites. Who we think will win and who we want to win.

DC: I think Argo will win.

DB: I think Argo too.

DC: I want Lincoln…or Zero Dark Thirty.

DB: I want Django or Zero Dark Thirty. There’s no way either will win.

DC: It’s, you know, realistically it’s probably a fight between Argo and Lincoln. That’s a battle between a good film and a great one. My loyalties, as ever, lie with Spielberg. Best Director?

DB: I think Spielberg will get it.

DC: I think you’re probably right. Who do you want to win?

DB: Out of those five? Spielberg.

DC: If there’s one director that deserves to have 3 Best Director Oscars on his bookshelf, just to make a point, it’s that guy.

DB: Yeah. He’s the master.

DC: Best Actor?

DB: I both think Daniel Day-Lewis, and want Daniel Day-Lewis.

DC: I’d say the same, although Joaquin Phoenix is incredible. Best Actress, I think Jennifer Lawrence is a good bet, and I’m happy with that.

DB: I think she’ll get it. I’m fine with that.

DC: Look, if there’s one element of Silver Lining’s Playbook that deserves some sort of recognition, it’s her. She makes everyone better.

DB: Supporting actor? I think Tommy Lee Jones.

DC: Me too. I also want him to win.

DB: I want Christoph Waltz.

DC: You really love Christoph Waltz, don’t you? I like the idea of him winning for both this and Inglourious Basterds. Two opposite sides of the coin.  Supporting actress, we’ve already discussed, Hathaway will win.

DB: Yeah, Hathaway will win. I’d want Amy Adams.

DC: Original Screenplay. I think Zero Dark Thirty will win, and I want it to win.

DB: Yeah, for some reason, I just can’t see Quentin getting up there and getting it. I want him to get it.

DC: They both have one already. I’m sure they’ll be laid back about it, though it’s kind of a difficult situation in some respects. Neither will win Best Picture, so this might be the most significant; maybe even the only award that either film wins. It’ll make me sad if either walks away without a single award.

DB: I think Mark Boal will win, but there’s that big part of me that wants to see Tarantino up on stage. He gets given a rough ride for someone who brings so much. It’d be a worse industry if Quentin Tarantino wasn’t out there making films.

DC: I’d rather he’d won something for Inglourious Basterds, either for his direction or for the script. It’s a better overall film than Django and that script, maybe Pulp Fiction aside, is my favourite of his career. It’s funny in some ways; this same battle was fought at the 2009 awards. That was Boal vs Tarantino too, and the former triumphed. Maybe QT will take revenge by winning the thing!

DB: Adapted Screenplay?

DC: I want Lincoln, I think Lincoln….I fear Argo or Silver Lining’s sneaking up, especially if Argo is gonna pad out that Best Picture win. The WGA awards don’t go out until a week or so before the Oscars, so it’s hard to tell today where the good money will be by the 24th.

DB: I don’t have the same passion for this category as I do the Original Screenplay fight.

DC: There’s been no educational connection to the historical period covered by Lincoln in my life. I’m not an American. I had some idea of the outline, but it’s essentially a new story to me. Kushner’s script worked on so many levels and fully engaged me with that story.

DB: Cinematography? I want Django to win, but I won’t be too cut up.

DC: Life of Pi for me. Editing, I’m firmly in the Zero Dark Thirty camp, though I think Argo will take it.

DB: Same. William Goldenberg fighting against himself, winning for his weaker work. Jesus, how long must it’ve taken to edit Zero Dark Thirty? That’s an all-nighter!

DC: Must’ve been locked in a room twenty-four hours a day trying to figure out how to put the thing together. How much footage must they have shot?

DB: Three units moving through the compound, multiple levels of action elsewhere with Chastain and so on. The villagers coming towards them. It’s masterful.

DC: It’s just a step up from his work on Argo. Different ballpark. I’m all over Zero Dark Thirty for the sound awards too, sound editing etc. My admiration for how sharp and precise the production of that film is. Remarkable filmmaking. Wouldn’t be surprised if Les Miserables grabbed some of those awards. Capturing and mixing the on-set sound.

DB: Can you remember Everybody needs a friend, the song from Ted?

DC: Best Makeup? Les Miserables. The makeup in Hitchcock looks atrocious and it isn’t fantastic in The Hobbit either, very rubbery. Can’t see how Les Mis wouldn’t win for this. Best Original Score? Life of Pi’s is really good. Why is Alexandre Desplat nominated for his score for Argo, but not his far superior score for Zero Dark Thirty? Again, a big crossover in crew and one work clearly better than the other. So annoying! Desplat’s score for that film is the best thing I’ve heard this year. Also omitted, the awesome, rousing score for Beasts of the Southern Wild and, sadly, Jonny Greenwood for The Master. Of this five, it’s gotta be John Williams for Lincoln.

DB: I found nothing particularly memorable from the Lincoln score.

DC: It’s not his best. I liked War Horse last year, but as a grounding, holding score Lincoln is definitely good stuff. It did its job. War Horse can be accused of milking the big themes on those emotional beats; his score here is used more sparingly.

DB: Best Song. Skyfall by Adele. Adele will have an Oscar, quite a funny thought.

DC: Other than that, I can’t remember any of these damn songs. Best production design should go to Lincoln, though you can never be surprised if something like Les Miserables puts up a fight. It’ll annoy me if it does to some extent, as it’s as though they just grabbed a big bag of costumes and set dressings from the Queens Theatre on Shaftesbury and used those. Zero Dark Thirty should be nominated here.

DB: You’re right; it’s such a hard thing to do.

DC: Creating an immaculate reconstruction of the Bin Laden compound.

DB: I’m sure Anna Karenina has fantastic production design. I’ve seen the trailer.

DC: Yeah, all Joe Wright’s films are excellent in that area. I’m looking forward to seeing it. I have mixed feelings about three of his first four films, but they were always strong on this sort of stuff.

DB: Interesting to see that The Avengers has an Oscar nomination.

DC: Albeit for visual effects, doesn’t really count! Life of Pi is surely a cert. Prometheus had spectacular effects, but Life of Pi is the winner. The tiger, Richard Parker, it’s like the first time you saw Gollum. It looks so fucking real! It’s the Benjamin Button moment!

DB: Yeah, revolutionary.

DC: It’s the best fully digital creature effect I’ve seen. Best costume design seems to be pitting two shitty Snow White films against each other. I’d like Lincoln to win, but as I said, don’t count out Les Mis.

DB: You never got to see the costumes in Les Mis, Hooper was too busy zooming into the collars of their shirts.

DC: Too much time locked in on headshots, twenty feet of empty frame to the left.

DB: Just laughable. Demented. Hooper’s surely playing a joke on us all!

DC: Snubbed! Snubbed for Best Director!

DB: *laughs* Hooper winning over Fincher in 2011 was absolutely obscene.

DC: So, rounding off, I think Argo is grabbing Picture, Editing, maybe some techies for padding, and hopefully not Adapted Screenplay. I hope Lincoln mounts a good challenge and takes Director, Actor, Adapted Screenplay and Original Score. Life of Pi will grab a few minor awards, as will Les Mis for Supporting Actress, its makeup and all that sort of nonsense. It’s going to be a mixed year, with no big winners mopping up loads of stuff, and a decent, equitable mix of winners from multiple films. Many categories are in no way locked down, and likely extremely close in the voting, certainly Best Director, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor and the Screenplay categories are completely to play for. Very few people will be fortunate enough to win a clean sweepstake. At least one of Django and Zero Dark Thirty could end up coming away empty handed.  It’s just a shame that, as ever, the campaign ties up in a way that means the likely big winner isn’t the best film nominated. I hate being unkind to Argo, it’s a solid, four star adult drama, but it’s not a Lincoln, it’s not a Django, it’s not an Amour and it most certainly isn’t a Zero Dark Thirty.

DB: It could be worse; it could be a fight-off between Les Miserables and Silver Lining’s Playbook.

DC: I’m still really pleased with the nominations for stuff like Amour, Beasts of the Southern Wild and Life of Pi. All are excellent, all warrant this recognition and it’s great if the first two, especially, are able to boost their profile through these nominations. The Best Director category is mangled, it’s a bit of a strange one, and I’d like greater recognition across the board for Kathryn Bigelow and The Master.

DB: Yeah, well summed up. I’d say the best thing compared to the previous four years we’ve done this is that there’s no absolute turkey in there. We’ve both got issues with Les Miserables but it’s not like an out-and-out shit film has snuck into the Best Picture category. I haven’t seen Argo yet but it doesn’t sound as though its victory disgraces the contest, even if it’s quite a bland, safe option.

DC: The Artist winning pissed me off last spring, but the competition was all a bit flat.

DB: You’ve probably talked about The Artist in the last ten seconds more than anyone else has in over a year. Nobody cares.

DC: See you next year!

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For my very, very few readers please forgive  lack of recent posting. I’ve been on Holiday + binging TV boxsets. I’ll try to see more films beyond the usual, predictable blockbustery biggies when I’ve got a little more time.

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Summer Blockbuster Review: Total Recall (dir Len Wiseman, released August 22nd)

DC: A horrible point has been reached where they’re remaking nineties films. This is my territory! They’re encroaching on my fucking childhood playground! I saw the pain of the guys a few years older as they worked through the eighties, now I’m feeling the pain as they sneak into our decade.  Paul Verhoeven is under attack from all sides. Robocop out next summer, Starship Troopers at the script stage, Total Recall out this summer. The triumvirate of Verhoeven action classics all being remade. It’s upsetting because there’s no way they can capture what he did with those films. They’re so much of their time. There’s a particular context to being made by that one guy, the time, the way they were made that you can’t recapture…nor should you try. I mean, Total Recall isn’t just a great Paul Verhoeven film but one of the quintessential Arnold Schwarzenegger films from the height of his stardom. They shouldn’t be messing around with it. It’s sacred ground.

LA: With Total Recall too it seems to be almost unanimously liked. It goes beyond cheesy fun, though it of course works on that level, it’s a legitimately good movie. That’s point one, secondly Len Wiseman is directing it whose best-known film to date is Die Hard 4: Pointless.

DC: Wiseman’s a terrible choice for director. He’s never made a good film. The idea of a Total Recall remake angers a great deal. The casting might be the only thing that’s preventing me from completely ignoring it. Colin Farrell, Jessica Biel, Kate Beckinsale, Bill Nighy…they’ve put together a good bunch of actors, though Farrell remains a character actor suffering from moviestar confusion. This is his second consecutively unnecessary remake after butchering Fright Night last year. He needs a new agent.

LA: Is Nighy playing Cohagen?

DC: I think he’s Kuato. If you were fantasy casting you could do a lot worse.

LA: Yeah, I mean it could be Keanu Reeves or something.

DC: I don’t know how much money they’ve spent on it.

LA: It’s another $200+ million. Another one.

DC: They’re idiots. They’re fucking idiots. Find me an example of a Colin Farrell movie that’s ever pulled in the sort of numbers to make that a good business decision? They’re opening the same day as The Bourne Legacy in the US, with The Expendables II a week or so later. Batman will still be bobbling around. They’ll be absolutely crushed. Idiots.

LA: Yeah.

DC: $200 million!!! Do they honestly think it’ll pull in half a billion, six hundred to profit on original release? They’re mad! Those trailers are going to have to show off an incredibly spectacular sci-fi action epic to start drawing those sorts of crowds. It’ll have to look memorising. Eitherway, nothing will stop my objection to their hijacking of the Total Recall title, premise and brand for their film. I dislike that the character shares a name with Schwarzenegger’s. It’s never going to capture the twisted, ultra-violent, freakishly satirical vision of Verhoeven.

LA: They don’t even go to Mars.

DC: You can’t just chop out a location to justify its existence. Just make a different film! Let’s remake Jurassic Park and chop off the island part.

LA: The lack of Mars immediately puts me off. That’s such a huge, weird thing to cut out.

DC: Their justification for it was stranger still. We’re cutting Mars so a remake is fine. Mad logic.

LA: I’ve brought up its wikipedia page. James Vanderbilt’s name is there again. Mark Bomback is there.

DC: Bomback? Die Hard 4 and stuff.

LA: Yeah. Kurt Wimmer.

DC: Shit. It’s doomed.

LA: His last movie was Law Abiding Citizen, which I absolutely detested.

DC: So apart from Vanderbilt’s Zodiac work, we have the worst set of credited writers known to man. Shit director. Shit writers. The thing I don’t get about Total Recall is the scale. There’s obviously been a trend of remaking smaller 80s films and some of the big horror characters, but nothing of the size of Total Recall. This film only came out twenty years ago and it was enormous. A giant hit. It’s not some failed, forgotten nothing that has a premise intriguing enough to be expanded; it’s a big, culturally influential film. It still does good business on video, it still airs on TV all the time, and it’s one of Arnold’s biggies. It’s upsetting they’d touch it.

LA: It’s like Platinum Dunes coming out and trying to remake The Exorcist or The Shining or something. It’s almost hallowed ground. You don’t touch it.

DC: I don’t want to sound like I’m deifying Total Recall, but it’s a really significant career lynchpin for Arnold and one of his most enduring successes. It’s one of his best. It’s one of Verhoeven’s best.

LA: I think at the time of release it was the most expensive film of all time. The irony being that the very next year Arnie was in Terminator 2, which overtook Total Recall as the most expensive. Its reputation precedes it. You mention the name Total Recall and people will tell you how much they love it.

DC: Someone will immediately say “get your ass to mars” and start raving about the eye popping. Without anywhere near the same sense of humour as the Arnold version, you’ll have Farrell taking it too seriously, you’ll have a bit of effects-heavy action, but you won’t have anywhere near the same fun or exuberance as the original. Schwarzenegger’s films are so silly, so enjoyable…they exist to entertain, and with Verhoeven’s edge Total Recall is really something even more than that. It’s especially irksome that they’re doing this right now whilst all these people are still working. It’s not like Total Recall came out in like 1960. It’s not like the potential Nicolas Winding Refn Logan’s Run, where forty years will have elapsed by the time it’s eventually made, and you can trust the talent not to fuck it up.

LA: Logan’s Run is nowhere near as big as Total Recall either. This generation only really know Michael York from Austin fucking Powers. Total Recall is frightening because it’s moving in on too recent history.

DC: It’s being punished for not taking the sequel path. Because it’s a standalone film, these assholes think its fair game to strip bare. Terminator has viability as an ongoing franchise, so a fifth instalment is much more likely than a remake. Total Recall, for the good grace of avoiding sequels, is punished with a fucking remake. With John Cho! I bet Kuato won’t even be a gooey puppet this time.

LA: They won’t be able to say “get your ass to Mars”. This and The Amazing Spider-Man personify what I find most depressing about Hollywood.

 DC: Bereft of originality?

LA: The early nineties might be twenty years ago now, but it’s still very, very close in people’s memories. Where does it stop? Pulp Fiction remake? The Shawshank Redemption remake? You’re getting into territory where they’re pinching off every brand around. Reboots, remakes…is originality really so difficult?

DC: I’m not happy about The Amazing Spider-Man, but I at least have some acknowledgment and some respect that there’s a rights issue regarding the character that has to be retained, hence the existence of a new project. I wish it was with Raimi, but so be it. I don’t see why Total Recall is a pressing concern. It’s a waste of money. They will lose money! The scheduling is insane. Bourne, Expendables, a Ben Stiller movie later in the month. Pixar will still be in the cinema. Batman. So much competition, where’s it going to find $600 million? I’ve been wrong before with stuff like this, I called Sherlock Holmes over Avatar at Christmas 2009, but I just don’t see it. Wiseman is a bad director who has made exclusively bad films. Reasoning for the remake is poor.

LA: McG with Terminator: Salvation. He almost had me convinced with his bullshit talk. These really bad directors, they can talk themselves up. You can’t trust the ramblings of a director you know isn’t any good.

DC: McG disarmed me too. He seems a nice guy, so enthusiastic and gregarious. The guy directing the next Die Hard, Irish guy called John Moore; he’s a bit like that. Paul WS Anderson is like that. It’s annoying because you feel guilty as hell for hating their films so much. They’re so fucking affable that it’s physically painful having to watch how little ability they have. You really want them to be capable of expressing that enthusiasm better behind the camera. McG tried so hard with his Terminator to get the fan community on board. It was a real shame when the film was exactly what you originally expected. McG went too far in trying to compensate for his own issues as a filmmaker, in the process making something that’s too dour without enough energy or spark. It’s disappointing that he wasn’t able to pull it together; I was rooting for him, especially after all the enthusiasm. I’m not saying a post-apocalyptic action movie should be too frothy, but the balance was never right. I find the Len Wiseman’s and Brett Ratner’s more annoying. Big shitty egos and minimal talent. Wiseman’s a bit of a dick. Say what you will about Terminator: Salvation, at least it’s a proper film. Die Hard 4 has Kevin Smith and Yippee ki-yay mother GUNSHOT.

 LA: Get your ass to *insert GUNSHOT*

Thanks again to Luke Allen of MovieFarm. We didn’t get into ‘Cabin in the Woods’, the new ‘American Pie’ film, Sacha Baron Cohen’s ‘The Dictator’, Wes Anderson’s ‘Moonrise Kingdom’, the musical ‘Rock of Ages’, ‘The Raid’, ‘Expendables 2’, ‘Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter’, any of the animated stuff including another ‘Ice Age’, that Dr.Seuss adaptation, Pixar’s ‘Brave’ or the Ben Stiller/Vince Vaughn ‘Neighbourhood Watch’ which, quite frighteningly, seems to include Richard Ayoade as a lead. I’ll see as many of them as I can over the next six months!

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Summer Blockbuster Review: The Bourne Legacy (dir Tony Gilroy, released August 17th)

DC: The Bourne series miraculously increased in quality as it progressed. The question now is whether this spin-off, sidequel, sequel…whatever you want to call it, this Matt Damonless Bourne, can it continue the trend set by the first three films and improve on Ultimatum?

LA: My fathers read all the Bourne books up until the most recent one, The Bourne Deception, which is like book nine or something.

DC: Robert Ludlum isn’t involved anymore?

LA: He died like ten years ago.

DC: A new novelist?

LA: This guy Eric Van Lustbader has been writing them for a few years. My father says even the first three are only loosely based on the Ludlum books, so this new one’s probably just nicked the title. It’s only calling itself The Bourne Legacy by default because that’s the fourth book and this is the fourth film. I haven’t read it, but I guarantee it’ll have shit all to do with the book.

DC: It’s just a name isn’t it? It’s appropriate for a Damonless sequel. The Bourne Legacy. The Legacy of the character as a new lead takes up the slack, Bourne sniffing around somewhere off screen waiting to be brought back at a later point. He may not be a screen presence, but he’s sure as hell talked about, certainly as far as the first marketing stuff is concerned. I think it looks good. The trailer had energy.

LA: Tony Gilroy is responsible for writing the first three movies, then went off and directed Michael Clayton which I think is criminally underrated. It got much better reviews in the US. I sat there thinking it was fucking brilliant.

DC: It got poorly treated over here? Who slated it?

LA: It wasn’t that it was slated, it just got average reviews. Threes out of five and so on. In the US it got outstanding reviews. I was surprised it was nominated for Best Picture as at first I wasn’t really aware how well it’d gone down in the States.

DC: It’s fantastic. Tilda Swinton, so good. She won the Oscar, right?

LA: Yeah, she’s a total cunt in that film and she does it so well. I never saw his next film Duplicity.

DC: I caught it on a flight. It was rubbish.

LA: The original Bourne Trilogy hit its apex in terms of the plotting with the second film. The second film’s quite complex unlike Ultimatum, which not to its detriment, is all payoff and relentless action. You know Gilroy can do a smart, competent adult thriller. Michael Clayton’s a thriller made by adults, for adults without pandering. You know he’s a guy that can take that and apply it to a formulaic spy action film like a third Bourne sequel.

DC: They wouldn’t do justice to the franchise by just cobbling out a fourth instalment without Damon. This whole thing looks like they’re taking the utmost care and trying to make something worthwhile. The returning cast members like David Strathairn, Joan Allen and Albert Finney are reliable, and Jeremy Renner is a safe replacement for Damon. To dump in Rachel Weisz and Ed Norton on top, you know there are no half measures here. This isn’t some straight-to-DVD knockoff. They really want to continue the franchise, at least using Renner as a stopgap until Damon’s ready to return.

LA: I like that Renner isn’t playing Jason Bourne. They haven’t just recast in the way the Bond films do. He’s playing a completely different character that just happens to have been bred from the same programme that Bourne was part of. In the mythology, we’ve seen other spies, Clive Owen in the first film, Karl Urban, the dude from Domino. There’s the kungfu fight Damon has with a black guy. We know there are other spies out there that’ve been part of the same programme.

DC: It’s much like, to use a strange comparison, the Fast and the Furious franchise. In the third film the principal cast dropped out and they relocated to Tokyo. Vin made a tiny cameo at the end and they continued the series into four, five and beyond with a mixed cast. Three didn’t abandon the continuity of the first two films, nor was it ignored when four came along. Maybe Matt Damon will pop up in this. Maybe the next film will feature both him and Renner.  There’s a whole universe.

LA: I hope it doesn’t just feel like a retread of the first film with a different actor. I hope it plays as a real extension of the world and doesn’t steal too many ideas from the first trilogy. In three films we only really scratched the surface of this programme. They ground these people down until they basically became machines. Little nuances like Clive Owen’s headaches. We still don’t know an awful lot about the programme and how it functions, we just know it gets these people and trains them into ultimate killers. I’d quite like to see that expanded.

DC: The Bourne universe as set out in the first trilogy is too good and too interesting to stall with Damon’s departure. I don’t object to them exploring it further. If Damon returns or not, it doesn’t strike me as a wasted journey. Robert Elswit is lighting the thing for Christ sake! That’s a sign of quality! I think he worked on Mission Impossible last year. If this is as spectacular a fourth film as that was, we won’t have any problems.

LA: It’s a risky direction, potentially could feel a redundant one to a lot of people, but the people involved are extremely talented and Renner, he may be in his forties, but after The Hurt Locker his career is exploding. He’s everywhere. He’s even in The Avengers.

DC: He’s got this ridiculous year with Mission Impossible at Christmas, The Avengers in April and Bourne in August. I’d criticise him a little for choosing three parts that have no small degree of similarity. Too much spying.  Too many government agencies. I’d hope he has enough range to carve out some differences between those three parts.

LA: He’s gone from being the bad guy in a movie as pedestrian as SWAT, to being a name and face that people recognise as a mark of quality. I trust him to make it work. He’s become an action star! He was nominated for The Hurt Locker, it was his film really, a terrific one to get noticed with. He’s been around for ages, but to give him a blockbuster franchise he has to carry alone, finally given the lead after so much support…it’ll be interesting to see him stepping into Damon’s shoes.

Thanks again to Luke Allen of MovieFarm. See you tomorrow to chat about our final film…Total Recall!

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Summer Blockbuster Review: The Dark Knight Rises (dir Christopher Nolan, released July 20th)

LA: Possibly the most anticipated film of the year.

DC: I’m a little surprised how long it’s been since the previous movie. 4-years is a year out of kilter for a current franchise. It’d usually be out after three. I guess Nolan’s shot films between each new instalment though. He hasn’t raced through at two year intervals like Bay with Transformers. Batman Begins came out in 2005, we waited three years for the sequel, then four years for this one.

LA: I like this about Nolan’s career. He makes something like Batman Begins, his biggest movie by far at the time, but before rushing into a sequel he steps back and makes another quiet, interesting thriller like The Prestige that has, at face value, more in common with his first three films. After he’s made a billion dollars with The Dark Knight, Warner Bros offer him a $150 million to make whatever the hell he wants and he pops up with a puzzle-box like Inception. At the same time, Warner’s did a similar thing with Zack Snyder and threw money at his Sucker Punch film. Superficially, not dissimilar ideas, both exploring the idea of escaping into a dream world, but these two guys – effectively the two big frontrunners for Warner Bros at the time – and their output is operating at polar opposites of the spectrum in terms of quality and restraint.

DC: Sucker Punch is a disaster. Every element of the production fails. The damage done to individual careers, the financial loss, the offensively poor quality of the film. It’s cataclysmic. It’s a failure in the truest sense of the word. A bomb.

LA: You give your two biggest directors of the time a giant pot of money and complete creative freedom to do whatever the hell they want. It’s funny that Christopher Nolan is now effectively helping Zack Snyder get his career back on track from a position of total superiority in terms of reputation and financial clout.

DC: Nolan as a producer hiring Snyder for the Superman job?

LA: Yeah. You make a hit like The Dark Knight and then roll straight into a film as financially successful and critically lauded as Inception, and you’re basically king of the world so far as the studios are concerned. They’ve given him $250 million to make The Dark Knight Rises.

DC: It cost that much?

LA: It does indeed.

DC: Wow, so that might be the most expensive of the bunch. Excluding John Carter.

LA: You know he’s not going to squander that money though. It’s a sure thing.

DC: There’re quite a few beasts this summer. Big price tags. The difference I guess is that Nolan won’t have had a day of flab on the shoot of his film. It’ll be on time, on budget and the movie will be very profitable. Tight, controlled, came in on date. He’s not just pissing money down the drain like the Battleship guys or Stanton’s John Carter film.

LA: Christopher Nolan, his entire career, he’s brought every film in on time, on budget. Something like The Dark Knight Rises might even have a few quid spare.

DC: He’s efficient. There’s no ego. That was Snyder’s problem and it exploded in his face. Enormous damage to his reputation, and the current perception of his previous work. The community would look back much more fondly on 300 and Watchmen had Sucker Punch not imploded. His abilities will be evaluated again when his Superman film comes out next year. I hope he’s exorcised some of the demons that were plaguing him on Sucker Punch. That whole film is like a two-hour art installation where he smacked about and indulged in his worst and shittiest habits. Now it’s time to get on with some real work. His Superman could be great.

LA: It’s been filming for fucking ages.

DC: They started in like August 2011. It isn’t out until bloody June 2013! I thought Men in Black III started filming early, with a Winter 2010 through to May 2012 release. That Superman shoot is absolutely crazy! It’s a monster. I wish them the best of luck. I hate to say it, but that’s a series that genuinely does need to start afresh after the failure of Bryan Singer’s effort. Scrap that film and begin again. I have faith!

LA: We saw The Dark Knight together in IMAX in 2008.

DC: With a black guy? A black guy was there.

LA: I’d never seen a movie in IMAX before that, so I was really impressed by the scope. Almost a third of The Dark Knight Rises is in IMAX format. 55 minutes or something stupid like that. Have you seen the opening?

DC: A dodgy internet version with terrible sound.

LA: I saw it with Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol.

DC: Was it good?

LA: Stunning, absolutely stunning. The 35mm stuff will be cropped down on the IMAX screen, but the full 70mm scenes will look just amazing.

DC: Wally Pfister’s a great DOP. I heard he’s directing a movie soon.

LA: Really?

DC: Yeah, next year. I don’t know anything else about it. Moneyball was pretty. He shot that.

LA: Really? I didn’t see it.

DC: He rarely works away from Nolan, but Moneyball looked fantastic.

LA: Pfister was saying when he was filming The Dark Knight, they were conscious of the fact they’d be showing the IMAX footage on a lot of normal screens, they wasted a lot of stuff at the top and bottom of the shot. You don’t notice that at all when watching footage from The Dark Knight Rises. There doesn’t seem to be anything wasted. In terms of content, there’s a similarity with the prologue of The Dark Knight. Both introduce a new antagonist, but you’re not reminded of Heath Ledger’s Joker for a second. It makes you realise how much of an intimidating character Bane is. He couldn’t be any more different than the version featured in Batman and Robin.

DC: I absolutely trust Chris Nolan, and I’m sure I’ll be corrected on all counts, but I have a few niggling issues with the film that’re winding me up at the moment. To start with, I don’t like the title at all.

LA: The title is rubbish.

DC: I don’t know who authorised it. Did Nolan choose it? They need someone to shout in their face and let them know what a poor decision they’ve made. The fan community is almost subdued in shock and unwilling to kick up a fuss. It’s awful. A real shame as The Dark Knight is a brilliant, brilliant title for a Batman film.

LA: The fucking ‘Caped Crusader’ would have been a better title than The Dark Knight Rises.

DC: The Dark Knight Rises is too wordy. Batman colon something. Batman Rises?

LA: Batman’s colon? That’s definitely worrying.

DC: Secondly, none of the material I’ve seen beyond the dodgy youtube prologue, which I’m sure was spectacular in IMAX, has impressed me. The two short trailers haven’t impressed me. Part of me thinks it’s just a case of exposure, and as the marketing rolls on it’ll give a better impression as to the scale and size of the thing. Nothing about Tom Hardy’s character impresses me at this stage. I’m sure I’ll be wrong come July 20th. Anne Hathaway, I don’t necessarily object to the casting as much as some people, but I don’t like the costume much. It’s the goodwill built up around the franchise and built up around Chris Nolan that gives me reason to think it’ll be good. On this material alone, I’m not feeling it. Compared to Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, I thought the material put together for those two films was spectacular. By this time of year in 2005 and 2008 I was beyond excited. Photos, posters, trailers. Everything was fantastic. I saw both films four times. I haven’t got that feeling yet with this one. I’m waiting for that explosive trailer that pushes me over the edge. Compared to Prometheus, where each piece the studio drops is incrementally building this enormous hype, The Dark Knight Rises team aren’t doing their job well enough yet. Perhaps it’ll kick off in April?

LA: The only part of the teaser that intrigued me was the football field blowing up, but even that stuff looked very CGI.

DC: Not a good money-shot. Something missing.

LA: Look at it this way. Even after a great performance in Brokeback Mountain, when they cast Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight, I was sceptical.

DC: I can proudly and smugly say I defended the Ledger casting from the beginning. Nolan had cast his first few films impeccably, and Ledger had been brilliant in everything. I didn’t doubt they knew what they were doing. I was sure Ledger would give an interpretation of that character every bit as memorable as Nicholson or Mark Hamill, and I was pleased that the team didn’t let me down. I’m sure the cast of The Dark Knight Rises won’t disappoint either, but they haven’t given me a taster of it yet. They’ve yet to show anything from Hardy or Hathaway that can touch the materials being released at this stage showing off Ledger’s work. The campaign needs to get its act together. They need to have people like me waking up in cold sweats by summer.

LA: I’m interested in how Catwoman is played. It’s the thing I liked most about Batman Returns. I like the Batman/Catwoman dynamic. She shouldn’t be an antagonist. She’s not afraid to get her hands dirty, but she’s not a villain like The Joker is. She’s not afraid to kill. She’s a Batman gone rogue.

DC: Self-serving. None of the resources, twice the balls?

LA: Yeah. My two favourite Batman graphic novels are The Long Halloween and The Dark Victory. Batman and Catwoman are sexually attracted to each other, but Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle don’t know of their secret identities. That dynamic appeals to me. I know there’s a concern about there being too many villains, but I’m not worried as long as they use Catwoman properly.

DC: I’m amused that Nolan seems to have cast the entire same troupe from Inception. I know it was a massive hit, but it’s getting ridiculous! Tom Hardy, Joseph Gordon Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Michael Caine, Cillian Murphy. All you need now is for DiCaprio to stroll in.

LA: I think it’s one of these cases where I’m extremely intrigued where the story is going to go. I had so much speculation about The Dark Knight, and it was nothing like I’d expected.

DC: One thing that worries me, and I know it’s negative thinking, but Nolan is due…

LA: …a bad movie.

DC: A bad movie. It happens to everyone in the end. He’s had an unusually good run. At some point it always collapses. It happens to everyone. There’d be something strangely fitting about it being a project as high profile as this one. Eventually there’s going to be something that doesn’t quite hit the mark. People like you and I have this total expectation that it’ll be great. If it’s just okay, just pretty good, we’ll be devastated. Superhero films don’t have a great history of trilogy cappers. The third film is always a disappointment. If he turns in a great movie he’ll be the exception. People are expecting something as good, if not better than The Dark Knight. That’s a tall order. It hasn’t been done before.

LA: It’s not just superhero movies, there’re very few threequels that are as good as the first two.

DC: Let’s hope he has it in him!

Thanks again to Luke Allen of MovieFarm. See you tomorrow to chat about The Bourne Legacy!

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Summer Blockbuster Review: The Amazing Spider-Man (dir Marc Webb, released July 4th)

LA: Fuck it is all I can say. Fuck it.

DC: In Spider-Man there was a fruitcake. In Spider-Man 2 there was a chocolate cake. No cake in part 3, part of the problem. This new one, for all the flaws of the third film, could and should have brought back the original creative talent. I strongly dislike it when series undo all the goodwill built up around a cast and crew. They’d spent three films establishing a world and establishing Maguire and Dunst as the leads, the Raimi aesthetic, JK Simmons…the whole thing. There was still enough momentum to push through to a fourth, fifth, sixth film. It seems a real shame that one instalment with some mixed reviews, a film that nonetheless made almost $900 million that you’d go back to basics and reboot it.

LA: It’s annoying because one day John Malkovich was set as the villain, the next day they were scrapping the project to move forwards with a remake.

DC: I heard they had James Vanderbilt simultaneously writing treatments for a fourth, fifth and a reboot. Why didn’t Sony push forward with a fourth film with Raimi? I know the rumours are that he left of his own accord, but the impression I’ve got is that it was primarily the studio treading on his feet again; absolutely the main problem they encountered during the production of the previous film. Fobbing off a second villain that nobody on the creative side wanted to see, all that shit aside, he still turned over a film that made a killing at the box office. Now they come out afterwards and say they’re going to make a leaner, meaner, tighter, cheaper Spidey that’ll take things back to highschool and ape the Twilight model. Why then cast an actor who is almost thirty? Why reboot it in a way that seems to beat-by-beat rip-off the first Raimi film? I’m not necessarily going to judge Marc Webb as a choice of director, I’m sure he’s capable of turning in a good Spider-Man film, I’m just frustrated that a series with mileage left in it has been abandoned in favour of what is, effectively, a remake. I enjoyed the approach in the nineties with the Burton Batman series. You can ditch a director, you can even ditch a lead actor but keep the supporting cast and the wider world intact. Don’t press the reboot button and remake the first film immediately. How can $900 million worldwide for the third film not be enough to warrant chaining Maguire and Dunst to the franchise for another few years, even if they canned Raimi? It’s not like they have anything better to do! I don’t doubt Webb’s Spider-Man will make a lot of money, I don’t even doubt it’ll have some great qualities, but it just seems a real shame Sony feel a radical re-think is in order. Where does it end? Rebooting again in about 2017 with yet another remake of the 2002 film?

LA: Spider-Man 3 was no Batman & Robin. By no stretch of the imagination. It had a lot of flaws and there’re a lot of things wrong with it, but I look back on it in the same way I look back on Alien3. The fact he made Spider-Man 2, which in my opinion is up there with The Dark Knight as the best of the best…

DC: It’s still the best! As an all-rounder it’s the best comicbook film made.

LA: The reason I get so angry about it, three things, firstly Raimi had proven he could make a great, successful Spider-Man film when given the breathing room. Secondly – the Andrew Garfield thing. He doesn’t look sixteen. He looks like a man in his late twenties. If you’re going to reboot and bring it back to the teenage years, cast an age-appropriate actor or don’t bother. Thirdly, it’s rebooting the franchise so, so soon after the third film.

DC: Spider-Man only came out ten years ago. Spider-Man 3 only came out five years ago. I understand there’s a business argument for pushing out another film as soon as possible, probably the rights revert to Marvel after a period of inactivity, but it’s just annoying that a lot of people don’t seem to feel the same way. People are getting excited about the trailers and the pre-release material, and I really don’t see why. It isn’t clicking with me. I’ve watched all that material and I fail to see it. Also…sigh…predictably; it’s in fucking 3D. God what a surprise.

LA: When I saw the teaser trailer it was in 3D. When it went into the first-person mode I thought it resembled a computer game more than it resembled a movie. That sort of shot reminds you what a gimmick the technique is, and how little it adds to the experience.

DC: It looks worse in 3D. It disorientates. It hurts the eyes. It confuses. On anything other than an IMAX screen with clean transitions, good lighting and long-takes it’s a physically unpleasant experience.

LA: I agree.

DC: I’ll give The Amazing Spider-Man some credit. The cast is quite good.

LA: Denis Leary!

DC: I’m sure some quarters were criticising Batman in the same way when Chris Nolan took over, though that franchise had of course disappeared over a much steeper cliff than Spider-Man, and Begins bares little relation to any previous Batman film. Maybe on July 4th we’ll be apologising for having such issues…

LA: And maybe we’ll be looking forward to 2014s The Amazing Spider-Man 2 starring Arnold Schwarzenegger as Venom.

Thanks again to Luke Allen of MovieFarm. See you tomorrow to chat about The Dark Knight Rises!

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