A Review of Several Oscar-bait films by Caitlin McGrane

Posted on February 27, 2012

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It’s Oscar season. How do we know? Not only are there the huge self-congratulatory wank-fests (because that’s essentially what awards shows are after all) but also because actors are releasing films with PERFORMANCES. And yes, that does need capitalisation. Films like The Artist, Hugo, The Iron Lady, and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy are all about the central performance by one actor (or in the case of Hugo the direction of Martin Scorsese).

Let’s begin with the first of these sorts of films I saw: Hugo. I adored this film. I laughed, I cried, and I found myself deeply affected by it. The story begins in Paris, where a little boy, Hugo (Asa Butterfield) is living in Gare Montparnasse. He is alone so he steals little bits of food and drink to keep himself alive. He is also obsessed with all things mechanical, and is stealing from a toy-shop owner, Georges Méliès (Ben Kingsley) in order to fix an automaton he was fixing with his father (Jude Law). I really don’t want to say too much about the plot, because I think part of the magic of this film is the winding story that unfolds so cleverly. There are some marvellous sequences when Hugo is chased by the station inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen) who is on a mission to catch orphans. The First World War is also delicately handled, striking the perfect balance between the sorrow and hope of the aftermath of war. It is a children’s film, but one that would certainly appeal to most people. Martin Scorsese is clearly a man who loves cinema, and has devoted his career to it. In Hugo, we see the history of cinema explained and explored through the eyes of children that gives the film a great feeling of wonder. It is an approach that is in contrast to the other film out at the moment looking at the history of cinema, The Artist.

Nice segue, no? Now I’ll start by saying that I also thoroughly enjoyed The Artist. Silent films have always appealed to me, as it was my first drama project in high school to create and perform a silent film-style piece. No doubt mine was pathetic, but since I discovered The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari from 1919 (Melbourne-folk, there is currently an extract from it on at the exhibition at the Mad Square exhibition at the NGV – CHECK IT OUT), I have loved it. The Artist begins with a great silent movie star, George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) promoting his newest offering of silent-filmy goodness in 1927. Outside the cinema a young woman, Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) bumps into him, performs for the cameras and ends up on the front page the next day. Can you see where this is going yet? The story follows the rise of Miller, and the fall of Valentin. There are two fantastic scenes in which they meet on stairs; the symbolism is almost too much. Director, Michel Hazanavicius (or Hazana-Sid-Vicious, which never fails to amuse me) hits upon the perfect amount of melodrama for a silent film. In part I think this was because he filmed the actors talking, just didn’t record sound. As we learned in year 7 drama, it is extremely easy to over-act in silent-film style. What Mr. Hazana-Sid-Vicious created is a visual feast; both Dujardin and Bejo have received worthy Oscar nominations. And I am now in love with Jean Dujardin. Especially after he fell asleep on George Clooney. Speaking of whom…

Jesus, I’m getting good at these. Right. So. The Descendants. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect when I went to see the latest from Mr Clooney. I’d heard that Clooney gives a wonderful performance, but that the film has a faintly misogynistic undertone. While I agree with the former (because, duh it’s CLOONEY), I can only kind of see where the latter is coming from. The film begins with a smiley woman on the back of a jetski or something, and then we go to the hospital where Gorgeous George (henceforth known as GG) sits bargaining for his wife to wake up. The drama begins to properly unfold as GG learns how to become a decent father again. His daughters are 10 and 17, beautifully played by Amara Miller and Shailene Woodley respectively. It’s a funny old film as when I think back on it (bear in mind I saw it last night), I’m struggling to think of what it was about without ruining the plot. The best thing about it is that it’s about family. Walking away from this film it felt like the filmmaker wanted to impart a small gem of wisdom about family: it’s fucked. Everyone’s is, in their own small way. The last shot right at the end stays with you long after the film has finished, as is so often the way. GG puts in a very fine performance of a man struggling with immediate and extended family members. Thus we have dear reader, been brought rather neatly, to my final film for this post: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

Where’s the segue you cry? Well the drama represented in The Descendants by family, is played out by the family of spies in Tinker Tailor. See what I did there? Yeah, alright that was a bit crap. But anyway, onwards… I heard about Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (henceforth TTSS) many moons ago, because I almost salivated with excitement when I saw the cast list. I’m not usually a fan of the ensemble-cast type film, but I have buckets of affection for this film. Holy moley, do I. Where you think the film starts, and where it actually starts are two different points. The film’s timeline is convoluted and confusing. However, it is not beyond comprehension, as the film takes advantage of multiple perspectives and flashbacks in order to tell the full story. It is bleak 1970s London, stuck in the middle of the Cold War that forms the backdrop for the story of a mole in MI5 (‘The Circus’). George Smiley (The One and Only Gary Oldman) is successor to Control (The Always Marvellous John Hurt) who has been informed of the mole. He has several suspects in mind, nicknamed ‘Tinker’, ‘Tailor’, ‘Soldier’, ‘Poorman’, and ‘Beggarman’. Keeping track of the names is pretty difficult, the shifting perspective and disjointed time sequences ensure you pay attention. Performances in this film are flawless: Mark Strong, Benedict Cumberbatch, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, and Ciaran Hinds to name but a few. However, do not be fooled. This is not a film about spying. Nor is it a ‘Bourne’-esque thriller. It is a film about betrayal, both personal and professional. If Gary Oldman doesn’t get an Oscar then I’m going to throw a tantrum.

Thus concludes my little summary of the films I’ve seen thus far in the Oscar season. Others on my ‘To-See List’ include: The Iron Lady, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Warhorse, Moneyball, and The Tree of Life. The Oscars are renowned for their choosing mature films for their awards, which means it is a delight to see Melissa McCarthy nominated for Bridesmaids. I’ll certainly be tuning in on the 26th of February, even if it is via The Guardian Online.

The 84th Academy Awards air on GO! at 7:30pm AEST this evening the 27th of February 2012.

Caitlin McGrane is one of You’re Dripping Egg’s contributors. To check out more of what Caitlin has to say, take a look at her review of Last Night or click here.

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Posted in: Movies