Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Review Round-Up: 'Hugo', 'The Artist' and 'The Iron Lady'

It's a disgrace that I'm not doing separate reviews for these three Oscar contenders, but I am behind in a big way. Behind on reviews, behind on about 100 cool other posts I want to do, behind on movie watching, behind on actual work. So screw it, because the Academy has decided to slight the world by failing to nominate the best movies this year, I will pile 23 Oscar nominations into one post. Maybe it's because, according to a survey by the LA Times, Oscar voters are 94% white and 77% are males with a median age of 62. The more I think about it, the more it pisses me off. Where were the nominations for Melancholia, Drive, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, We Need To Talk About Kevin and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo? It doesn't help to just ignore the Oscars either, because like it or not, they still mean a great deal to the movie business. Anyway, hit the jump for short reviews of Hugo, The Artist and The Iron Lady.

Hugo

I saw this one more than a week ago, and to say I was excited would be an understatement. Martin Scorsese, 3D and 11 Oscar Nominations, I was almost convinced it would be the big winner. However, like many other nominees this year, Hugo failed to live up to expectations. Aspects of it were phenomenal - Robert Richardson's cinematography was the best of the year (and if Guillaume Schiffman wins for The Artist I'm going to have a fucking hernia - more on that later), the opening shot was the best 3D shot I have seen, the love letter to cinema was truly magical (as well as educational), and Sacha Baron Cohen was actually pretty good. At the end of the day though, despite the lofty aspirations, it felt like a lame kids' adventure for much of the time and for that reason lacked emotional punch. If only they had more of the good stuff in it. Bring back violent Scorsese! I see it walking away with a fair number of technical awards, but not much else.

At this risk of sounding overly critical, I must emphasise that Hugo was still a very good movie. Just not as good as I had hoped.

7.5 out of 10

The Artist

The last hope of the Best Picture nominees, I finally saw The Artist on Sunday. It leaves only War Horse and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close unseen, which are the dregs in any event. Much like Hugo, The Artist is essentially a unique take on expressing ones love for movies. This time the focus is not the genesis of film, but the transition from the silent movie era to the "talkies" of the late 20's. Scorsese did a kids' movie. How did Michel Hazanavicius decide to do it? By making a silent film of course, in black and white, shot in the original 1.33:1 aspect ratio used in the old days (basically, a square). Complete with inter titles, The Artist really is a film you don't see every day; and that is both why I loved it, and why I'm sure it will win Best Picture this year. The total absence of dialogue and the square aspect ratio really place the actors front and centre, and the performances of Jean Dujardin, Berenice Bejo and Uggie the dog took spectacular advantage of this. There is no opportunity to hide behind good writing or an attractive voice. In the silent world, movement and physical expression is everything. It's probably why the dog's performance is so acclaimed: the playing field is finally (almost) level!

That being said, The Artist was nothing more than a very clever crowd-pleasing movie. It has something more to offer than the others because of its novel take on a bygone era. It will be remembered as the black and white silent film that won Best Picture, but not as the true masterpiece of 2011. Oh, and please stop saying that Guillaume Schiffman is going to win for cinematography. The black and white imagery was beautiful, but trying to compare it to the work done on Hugo, The Tree of Life and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is ludicrous.

8 out of 10

The Iron Lady

This movie suffers from the same fate as J Edgar (see my review here), but fortunately not to the same extent. I say this because just as J Edgar missed the interesting bits in J Edgar Hoover's life by focusing on other crap, The Iron Lady missed out on the fascinating career of one of the most powerful women in history, to focus instead on her as a senile old lady attempting to deal with the death of her husband. I mean no disrespect, but the parts of the film which focused on her time in power were a joy to behold. Why is there a need to tell a life story through flashbacks or some other gimmick when the life itself has enough powerful subject matter for a number of films? I don't know, but both Clint Eastwood and Phyllida Lloyd did it, and both films failed to resonate with anyone.

Obviously the talk of the movie was Meryl Streep's performance, and I must admit, it was terrific. But isn't that obvious? Streep doesn't do bad performances. Her make-up was excellent while in office, but as an old lady there was something seriously freaky about her neck. Still a damn sight better than J Edgar though. My view is still that the deserved winner of Best Actress this year is Tilda Swinton for We Need To Talk About Kevin, but she wasn't even nominated. Streep pulls off a perfect rendition of Thatcher, but (for me at least) that isn't what makes a truly great performance. Raw emotion does it (it's even better when bottled up or restrained). Not too much blubbing please. For that reason, my vote goes to Viola Davis for the win, Rooney Mara next (she was best, but won't win), followed by Michelle Williams and then Streep. And forget Albert Nobbs.

In the end, a great performance cannot save a film from pedestrian directing and gimmicky narrative choices.

5.5 out of 10

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