Tag Archives: academy awards

New to streaming & DVD: Wind River lingers like a chill…

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I wish I hadn’t watched Wind River on a Saturday morning. It’s an evening movie; when it’s over, you can lock your doors and hopefully not have nightmares.

That’s the unsettling effect Taylor Sheridan’s latest had on me. I’m currently working through some of the most buzzed-about movies of 2017, and of course this was something I wanted to see.

Sheridan’s screenwriting career so far has given us the Oscar-nominated Hell or High Water, and the Denis Villeneuve-directed Sicario, which starred Emily Blunt as an idealistic FBI agent helplessly mixed up with shady alphas Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro in the war on drugs.

In Wind River – Sheridan’s first time as writer-director – Elizabeth Olsen’s Jane Banner is another FBI agent out of her depth, this time not in Sheridan’s native Texas but in the wintry wild west of Wyoming.

Jurisdictional matters have dragged Banner in to investigate the death of a teenage Native American girl, who was found frozen and barefoot in the snowy tundra by Jeremy Renner’s quiet wildlife officer, Cory Lambert, for whom the case has disturbing echoes of his own grief.

Technically Olsen is in charge of the investigation, but with his deep connections to the land and to the dead girl’s marginalized community, the story belongs to Renner’s softly-spoken cowboy as he supports the outsider FBI and the tribal police.

Olsen is not completely robbed of agency like Sicario’s Kate Macer, yet she has no backstory, and we never learn what makes her so driven.

She looks like she should be reading the news in a warm studio somewhere, as she is comically underprepared for the conditions and isolation (‘Shouldn’t we just maybe wait for some backup?’ she bats her lashes. ‘This isn’t the land of backup, Jane … this is the land of “you’re on your own.”‘)

Where Macer was caught at the border by political forces beyond her control, Banner plants face-first into a community blighted by poverty, addiction and hopelessness. I wasn’t sure if she was merely incompetent and inexperienced, or if she was truly meant as a symbol for governmental disinterest and mishandling.

The violence, when it comes, is more personal and depressingly universal, but no less brutal and shocking.

Verdict? Despite the shaky camera triggering my vertigo, I thought Wind River was another well-made action thriller. Renner and Olsen are great, but I don’t feel that the movie is as ambitious or exciting as Sicario, perhaps because it lacks the tension and moral conflict between the leads.

Sheridan really stands out for his dialogue, and as auteur he delivers on a similar level to previous directors of his scripts, especially in the realistic-yet-stylish bursts of violence, and that creepy sense of dread that outlasts the film.

Mudbound – historical page-turner becomes solemn NETFLIX prestige

“Mudbound is the Oscar movie we need right now,” admonished The Washington Post.

The female-helmed drama about two families – one white, the other black – living side by side in the Jim Crow South, seems to embody the term “Oscar bait”, with its all-star cast and script adapted from Hillary Jordan’s 2006 Bellwether Prize-winner (for ‘socially engaged fiction’).

It is also extremely well-timed; it follows in the wake of #OscarsSoWhite, and appears during a season when the industry is under scrutiny for its systemic sexism.

One snag – Mudbound is distributed by the inexperienced awards player Netflix, and voters apparently remain sniffy about a streaming service project that shuns traditional theatrical runs.

There was a landslide of articles emphasizing the tough shoot and the transformation of star Mary J. Blige, and warning voters that the movie should not be overlooked.

For me, Mudbound’s Netflix berth (there were no other takers following its Sundance premiere) meant I actually got to see it – while I can’t compare it to its competition, as Oscar movies tend to reach UK screens after awards season.

Narrated by members of both the McAllan and the Jackson families, the story unfolds when stubborn Henry McAllan (Jason Clarke) drags his prim wife Laura (a simpering Carey Mulligan) and their small children to a dilapidated shack/farm in the Mississippi Delta, where the frequent rains leave them stranded in acres of mud.

The lives become entangled with those of their share tenants, Hap and Florence Jackson (Blige), who keep house for the McAllans. Their voices are joined by Henry’s brother Jamie (Garrett Hedlund) and the Jackson’s son Ronsel (Jason Mitchell), who are both returning from WWII Europe.

The veterans form a bond that riles racist McAllan patriarch Pappy, while Laura becomes infatuated with her brother-in-law (although unlike the prickly character of Laura in the book, she doesn’t check his shirts for lipstick, or take her frustrations out on Florence).

Some writers have described the movie as focused on Florence and Laura as two Strong Women whose differing views of the world are shaped by race and class. According to Refinery39, “both women…feel the growing weight of a patriarchal society bearing down on their shoulders...”

This is an interesting projection, as writer-director Dee Rees concentrates on the friendship between two men. 6’2 leading man Hedlund’s Jamie is portrayed as more heroic and enlightened, while Ronsel (as played by quirky little character actor Mitchell) is far less remarkable than his book counterpart.

There is a frightening and brutal scene near the end, but so much of Jordan’s historical page-turner has been cut (including a drunken Jamie’s comic encounter with a hapless cow) that I can’t work out why the movie is still a two hour-plus slog.

With a small budget and short shoot, it has a sparse yet epic feel, especially in the flashback scenes, and we get lots of stunning farmland vistas courtesy of Rachel Morrison’s cinematography (the first woman to be Oscar nominated in the category).

Blige got a best supporting actress nod for doing little more than look dignified with her arms crossed, while Dee Rees earned an adapted screenplay nomination for turning a compulsively readable historical suspense into solemn prestige.

Come on Academy, time to change? Thoughts about this year’s awards

I watched the Oscars feeling very ill. I didn’t really watch through choice, but thanks to a miserable cold, I couldn’t sleep!

The ceremony was a bit of an ordeal, and I think I might have hallucinated that there was a bear in the audience?

DiCaprio winning because it was his turn.

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Leo finally won an Oscar! He deserved it for transforming himself and shivering a lot. (I’m shivering right now! Gimme an award!!) And even more importantly, it was his turn!

People were really rooting for Leo. Maybe in three years (around the time Leo’s yacht party finally ends) his triumph could be viewed as less convincing – a “career Oscar”.

There are a lot of people adamant that he should have really won for Gilbert Grape back in ’93 over veteran character actor Tommy Lee Jones (it was his turn) for The Fugitive. They’re forgetting that people at the time felt it should have gone to Ralph Fiennes for Schindler’s List.

Now 2015 was a weak year for the Best Actor race. Michael Fassbender was an early front runner, but Jobs flopped financially. And Leo’s campaign just gained momentum – he really did the PR and worked the events.

However, don’t forget Creed’s Michael B. Jordan and Beasts of No Nation’s Abraham Attah both being passed over – in the year when anger over all-white slates of nominees came to a head:

The so-called category fraud

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Category fraud is an established campaign tactic.  Alicia Vikander’s leading role got lumped in the supporting category because she didn’t stand a chance in the stacked Best Actress race.

The Academy loves its starring performances big and bold, meaning understated portrayals can be overlooked.

And Vikander’s win wasn’t really just for The Danish Girl. A lot of critics/awards bodies preferred her in Ex Machina and even The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Vikander’s become a critical darling over the last year, and the industry wanted to hand her recognition for her successful breakthrough.

The Oscars have always skewed towards younger actresses and older actors. Maybe they should have age categories, or an Oscar for best breakthrough, or rising star, like the BAFTAs.

The Oscars didn’t get Carol.

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Each year, The Hollywood Reporter speaks to different members from some of the Academy’s disciplines. On the condition of anonymity, they reveal their brutally honest take on the year’s nominees.

This year, one of the acting branch members had something to say about Mara’s role in Carol: “That part needed an Audrey Hepburn, an enchanting, alive, beautiful young woman, instead of this depressed person whom I never believed Cate Blanchett would have fallen in love with.”

It’s not about a couple of hotties getting it on! Therese is meant to be withdrawn and numb, before growing into a poised woman like Carol. Mara nailed it, and she was won best actress at Cannes. (She was in the supporting category at the Oscars.)

Vanity Fair did a great piece on why Carol is not the Academy’s type of film.

The public thinks awards voters are omnipotent

“Well, that actress has been nominated for two Oscars,” they’ll harrumph. “I think the Academy knows more about acting than you!”

Ah yes – the mysterious, all-knowing and infallible Academy. One copy of Oscar Machinations for Dummies coming up. Alternatively, this is a pretty good article about membership in the Academy.

Change has been promised, although how it will play out is uncertain. At the moment, white, male (76 per cent), and old (the average age is 63) seems to be the order of the day. I mean, you’d never have guessed by their voting choices right?

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There were a few best actor/actress picks this year (like most years) that likely only got in because those actors’ names (or their directors) easily become part of the awards conversation.

Matt Damon was merely amicable in The Martian, while The Danish Girl was not Eddie Redmayne’s best work. On this entire planet, with all its great storytellers, the voters couldn’t find some fresh faces to honour? I follow bloggers that have more imagination and passion when it comes to film.