Oct 29, 2011

Oscar Horrors Continue!

Nathaniel and Team Experience are still going strong with the Oscar Horrors series. I wrote up my second (and final) contribution a couple of days ago on a film that scared me to no bounds when I first watched it. Have a read and join in the conversation!

Oct 26, 2011

Thoughts on Martha Marcy May Marlene


My Grade: A-

- This film certainly has the most interesting title of anything in 2011. Having now seen the film and understanding the reasoning behind this selection, I’m all the more impressed. They really could have settled for any generic horror flick title but they chose Martha Marcy May Marlene. Whether this works for the film in terms of advertising and box office, I don’t know, but they’ll definitely pique everyone’s curiosity.

- This is one of those films that kept me on the edge of my seat the whole time. From the opening frame to the final cut, there’s an eeriness about the atmosphere that creeps under our skin and a repressed tension that totally hooks us. Though this tension keeps building up and is never quite relieved, the film surprisingly never buckles under its own pressure. It remains intense throughout and keeps a steady tone. Also, with almost no depiction of violence, gore or really, anything gross at all, Martha Marcy May Marlene scared the crap out of me.

- Elizabeth Olsen is going to be a major film star. There have been quite a few “it” girls in recent years, boasting a combination of acting chops and beauty, and vying for attention on the account of their newcomer status. None of them have proved quite as talented as Olsen (at least on their first try) and surely not as beautiful either. I mean, this girl’s physique is made for the big screen. This face can really belong to any character and it’ll me feel like to one else can take on that role. In Martha Marcy May Marlene, she’s the mirrored image of her troubled soul, her wide and bright face masking her anxiety but her eyes letting out her haunted innocence.

As the younger sister of the noisy twins, it was always going to be difficult for Elizabeth to make a name for herself, but with this nuanced and mesmerizing performance, and all the buzz she’s been making, I have a feeling we might refer to those two as Elizabeth's older sisters in a little while.

- And while I’m on the subject of newcomers, how about that Sean Durkin? How does anyone keep so much control over their audience in their first film?
Durkin has a grip over every element of this movie. With careful framings, seamless transitions between the past and the present, and lots of mileage from the architecture (and the juxtaposition of the confined spaces of the cult house and the open spaces of Lucy’s) he shows that he understands compositions and the formal development of the medium. But equally important are the subtleties that make the film truly outstanding. A touch here, a glance there, just how a floor creaks, or how the characters utter a certain word; it all comes together perfectly.

- We’ve come to expect John Hawkes to be regularly amazing in everything he does and because of his consistent quality, it's easy to take him for granted. He finally got noticed last year with an Oscar nomination for Winter’s Bone. As the cult leader in Martha Marcy May Marlene, he’s every bit as impressive and even more frightening as he was there. I’m definitely curious to see what he’s got in the bag next. Also, the man's a terrific singer.

Oct 24, 2011

Oscar Horrors!

Apologies for my laziness in posting, but the amount of school work I'm buried in is keeping me from blogging as much as I like. I promise to be more prolific come December. For now, over at The Film Experience, I'm contributing to Oscar Horrors, Nathaniel's new Halloween themed series, where I discussed Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931) and Fredric March's Oscar win for best actor. Have a read and join the (scary) fun. 

Oct 12, 2011

Asia Pacific Film Academy announced nominees, Oscar submissions dominate

The nominations for this year’s Asia Pacific Screen Academy, Asia’s highest continental honour were announced a couple of days ago and the news bears typically Oscar-y titles. (This is one of my favourite awards of the season, actually.) Once Upon a Time in Anatolia and A Separation – Foreign Language Film submissions on behalf of Turkey and Iran, respectively – lead the pack with four nominations apiece. Joining these two films in the top category are another Iranian film called Goodbye (I reviewed it for The Film Experience at TIFF), China’s Let the Bullets Fly, and India’s Wedding Planners. Winners will be announced on November 24th and the awards ceremony will be held in Gold Coast, Australia.

The awards were first handed out in 2007 and previous best picture winners are South Korea’s Secret Sunshine, Kazakhstan’s Oscar nominated Tulpan, Australia’s Samson and Delilah and China’s Aftershock. Something tells me this year’s prize will come to the Middle East for the first time.

Here’s the list of nominees in the main categories along with my comments.

Best Feature Film
A Separation (Iran)
Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (Turkey)
Goodbye (Iran)
Let the Bullets Fly (China)
Wedding Planners (India)

Prediction: Once Upon a Time in Anatolia

The big snub of the category is Lebanon’s Where do we go now? I haven’t seen the list of all eligible titles though and I suspect it missed out because of release date regulations. Russia’s extremely well received Elena and Australia’s The Eye of the Storm are two other films I expected to see here. They’re nominated elsewhere but not in the top category.

All these five countries have been on this stage before. China has the most previous nominations with four (and one win). Turkey follows with three, Iran with two and India with one. Nuri Nilge Ceylan and Asghar Farhadi both had their films in contention here with Three Monkeys in 2008 and About Elly in 2009. Iran is not the first country to score double nominations; China got there in 2009 and South Korea in 2010 but neither country managed a win. Given the popularity of Poetry over Aftershock last year, I’d blame Korea’s loss on vote splitting. If that’s the case, A Separation might be left behind by the Turkish film this year as well. I’ve put my money on Anatolia.

Best Director
Asghar Farhadi (A Separation)
Nuri Bilge Ceylan (Turkey)
Mohammad Rasoulof (Goodbye)
Jiang Wen (Let the Bullets Fly)
Na Hong Jin (The Yellow Sea)

Prediction: Jiang Wen (Let the Bullets Fly)

The lone director nominee is the South Korean filmmaker. Ceylan has won this award in 2008 for the aforementioned Three Monkeys. Iran and China have also won the award (with different directors) in the past.

Best Actress
Leila Zare (Goodbye)
Judy Davis (The Eye of the Storm)
Shayesteh Irani (Facing Mirrors)
Nahed El Sebai (Cairo 678)
Nadezhda Markina (Elena)

Prediction: Nadezhda Markina (Elena)

The only nominee I’ve seen here is Zare and she’s very strong if a touch too cold. Hopefully I’ll get to see Elena before the ceremony too.

Best Actor
Peiman Moaadi (A Separation)
Daniel Connors (Toomelah)
Fa’afiaula Sagote (The Orator)
Wang Baoqiang (Mr. Tree)
Sasson Gabay (Restoration)

Prediction: Peiman Moaadi (A Separation)

The biggest surprise here is that none of the men from Anatolia made the shortlist. The cast was strong all around, but Muhammet Uzuner created a complex character with his nuanced performance that really stood out. Given the film’s warm reception, I think that’s the biggest snub in the nominations.

Best Screenplay
Asghar Farhadi (A Separation)
Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Ercan Kesal and Ebru Ceylan (Once Upon a Time in Anatolia)
Yoon Sung-hyun (Bleak Night)
Denis Osokin (Silent Souls)
Alexey Balabanov (A Stoker)

Prediction: Asghar Farhadi (A Separation)

Silent Souls had a good festival run last year but its only nomination comes in this category. Bleak Night and A Stoker didn’t have luck anywhere else either.

Best Cinematography
Mark Lee Ping Bin (Norwegian Wood)
Gokhan Tiryaki (Once Upon a Time in Anatolia)
Yuri Klimenko (The Edge)
Sonthar Gyal (Old Dog)
Vladimir Bashta (Brest Fortress)

Gokhan Tiryaki (Once Upon a Time in Anatolia)

I’ve seen three of the nominees here (Anatolia, Norwegian Wood and The Edge). While all are strong works, Anatolia should walk away with this one easily.

The other three categories are Best Animated Feature (where all five nominees look terrific), Best Documentary (where Iran competes with Amin) and Best Children’s Feature (where Iran competes with Wind and Fog).

The main question for me is whether one film can sweep or not. If it can, it’ll be A Separation unless the jury feels the film is over-rewarded with the sweep at Berlin. If there’s no sweep, A Separation will miss out on the top prize since the screenplay prize is a no brainer. Can it win both AND best actor or is Moaadi the one who comes up short in favour of the big prize? Can any film other than Anatolia beat A Separation to the top prize?