Mini-Review: Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll

Introduction

This is a post that is a repurposing of an old-school Mini-Review Round-Up post. As stated here I am essentially done with running multi-film review posts. Each film deserves its own review. Therefore I will repost, and at times add to, old reviews periodically. Enjoy!

Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll (2010)

This is actually one of the first films I saw this year and after a little research I decided that I would include it for consideration in the 2011 BAM race.

Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll is the story of punk rock icon Ian Drury over a long and tumultuous career.

This is a very unique and creative film and there are a lot of interesting narrative and directorial choices made throughout the course of it. Upon these decisions your opinion will hinge and they are totally open to interpretation some work, some don’t and some work with mixed results but at the very least there are chances taken in this film. What stands out most in the film are the performances of Andy Serkis and Bill Milner. Both are faced with enormous challenges in this film as actors and both succeed. Serkis has a massive arc to play and many different notes and Milner has to play his character from a youth and ages with him over many years quite impressively.

Aside from that it will introduce you, if you are unfamiliar with it as I was, to a lot of good music throughout.

7/10

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Children in Films Blogathon: A Revisionist Look at the Juvenile Award

When I learned of the Child Actor Blogathon at Comet Over Hollywood, I had two ideas for it almost right away: the Jackie Searl spotlight and this one. Not too long ago I argued for why the Juvenile Award should be re-instated. In this post I will follow up on that notion to augment my case. It’s one thing to quickly cite who won while it was around and state it never should have left, it’s quite another to show you who would have had they never gotten rid of it. Now I have decided to illustrate that in three ways, including some omissions found when it was instated (it’ll make more sense when we get there, trust me). First, I will list the young actors who since the end of the award (after 1961) were nominated for an Academy Award.

These actors obviously, had there still been a Juvenile Award, would have won that. While on occasion they were awarded the prize, more often than not they didn’t have a realistic chance. Regardless, their nomination was deemed prize enough it would seem, but I disagree and as you will see there have been plenty of instances where the Juvenile award could have been handed out either in addition to or in place of the nomination.

Based on Academy Award nominations from 1961-Present:

Little Miss Sunshine (2006, Fox Searchlight)

2012 Quvenzhané Wallis Beasts of the Southern Wild
2010 Hailee Steinfeld True Grit
2007 Saoirse Ronan Atonement
2006 Abigail Breslin Little Miss Sunshine
2002 Keisha Castle-Hughes Whale Rider
1999 Haley Joel Osment The Sixth Sense
1993 Anna Paquin The Piano
1979 Justin Henry Kramer vs. Kramer
1977 Quinn Cummings The Goodbye Girl
1976 Jodie Foster Taxi Driver
1973 Tatum O’ Neal Paper Moon
1968 Jack Wild Oliver!
1962 Patty Duke The Miracle Worker
Mary Badham To Kill a Mockingbird

Personal Selections

Super 8 (2011, Paramount)

In 1996, when I was 15 and the young actors of the day where my contemporaries, I started making my own award lists. Being young myself at the time I wanted to recognize young actors where most awards excluded them more often than not. These selections reflect those that were my among my BAM award selections that were eligible and the Academy bypassed. Prior to 1996, I thought of significant performances that were worthy of noting and would’ve had a strong case for the Juvenile Award had it been around.

2012 Rick Lens Kauwboy

This one is highly unlikely as Kauwboy wasn’t shortlisted for the Best Foreign Language Film prize. However, the fact that it was the official selection for The Netherlands did make it eligible.

My young actress choice last year, Sophie Nélisse, was a year off from the Oscar calendar but also a strong possibility for Monsieur Lazhar.

2011 Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning, Ryan Lee, Riley Giffiths Zach Mills, Gabe Basso Super 8

It figures that both the best young ensemble, and perhaps individual performance, of the past 25 years got overlooked. So they are all honored here.

2009 Bill Milner Is Anybody There?

2008 Bill Milner and Will Poulter Son of Rambow

A slight wrinkle here from my original selection. Since the Academy set precedent of awarding tandems, why not do so here as well?

2005 Dakota Fanning War of the Worlds

2004 Freddie Highmore Finding Neverland

My 2004 winner was one where I was awarding a film from 2003, due to my stand on release dates, which is different than the Academy’s. Having said that I then had to factor in both my nominees and who the Academy would be more likely to pick and decided if they chose anyone it would have been Highmore.

2003 Jeremy Sumpter Peter Pan

2001 Haley Joel Osment Artificial Intelligence: A.I.

2000 Haley Joel Osment Pay It Forward

1998 Vinicius de Oliveira Central Station

1997 Joseph Ashton The Education of Little Tree

Here’s another interesting case: my winner was in a TV film which the Academy would never honor. Then two more nominees were either shifted due to my interpretation of release date rules and one erroneously in my revisionist phase. That leaves two eligible: Dominic Zamprogna in The Boy’s Club and Joseph Ashton in The Education of Little Tree. Some people besides me actually saw the latter so I’d put that one up as a winner.

1996 Michelle Trachtenberg Harriet the Spy
Lucas Black Sling Blade

Michelle was my actual winner in 1996. Sling Blade in my awards was shifted to 1997 due to its release date. It being an Oscar nominated film make it a more likely retrospective candidate.

My Girl (1991, Columbia Pictures)

This section marks personal selections prior to my picking extemporaneous year-end awards.

1994 Elijah Wood The War

I recall watching E! and hearing there was some buzz being stirred by the cast/studio for Elijah. I knew it would never happen, but it was deserved buzz.

1992 Maxime Collin Leolo

I have since expunged them but for a time I did backtrack BAM Award to back before they started. Some of these picks reflect those findings.

1991 Anna Chlumsky My Girl

1990 Macaulay Culkin Home Alone

Say what you will, but you know if the award was around that this would have happened.

1988 Pelle Hvengaard Pelle the Conqueror

1987 Christian Bale Empire of the Sun

1986 River Phoenix Stand by Me

1983 Bertil Guve Fanny and Alexander

1982 Drew Barrymore and Henry Thomas E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial

1979 Ricky Schroeder The Champ
David Bennent The Tin Drum

1972 Nell Potts The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds

Who Should Have Gotten One But Didn’t

No Greater Glory (1934, Columbia Pictures)

I honestly almost scrapped this section. However, looking back through young nominees I noticed the discrepancy that some young nominees did not get a Juvenile Award while there was one. So I figured while I was at it I’d list a few notable performances that didn’t get recognized. Those that “didn’t need one” since they were nominated as in their respective categories against adult competition have denoted those with an asterisk.

1956 Patty McCormack The Bad Seed*
1953 Brandon deWilde Shane*
1952 Georges Poujouly Forbidden Games
1941 Roddy McDowall How Green Was My Valley
1936 Freddie Bartholomew Little Lord Fauntleroy
1934 George Breakston No Greater Glory
1931 Jackie Cooper Skippy*

BAM Award Winners: Best Performance by a Child Actor 1996-2010

While the diversification of the Young Actor categories began in 2010 with a split created between Lead and Supporting Roles each category was unisex until the following year. So aside from semantical changes there have been quite literal changes to this category through the years. This post chronicles the years in which there was only one category where young leads, regardless of gender, could hope to get in. To view the nominees you can follow the hyperlinks in each individual year.

2010 Kodi Smit-McPhee Let Me In

2009 Bill Milner Is Anybody There?

2008 Will Poulter Son of Rambow

2007 Freddie Highmore August Rush

2006 Abigail Breslin Little Miss Sunshine

2005 Dakota Fanning War of the Worlds

2004 Ivan Dobronravov The Return

2003 Jeremy Sumpter Peter Pan

Peter Pan (2003, Universal)

2002 Haley Joel Osment Edges of the Lord

2001 Haley Joel Osment Artificial Intelligence: A.I.

2000 Haley Joel Osment Pay it Forward

1999 Haley Joel Osment The Sixth Sense

1998 Vinicius de Oliveira Central Station (Central do Brasil)

Central Station (1998, Sony Pictures Classics)

1997 Jena Malone Bastard Out of Carolina

Bastard Out of Carolina (1996, Showtime)

1996 Michelle Trachtenberg Harriet the Spy

BAM Award Winners: Young Actors

From 19962009 I had been satisfied with having but one category in which to honor the talented youths on film. This was one of the only places to honor them alongside their counterparts who are of age. In 2011, and perhaps more so in 2012, the nominating process became more difficult than ever as the talent pool seemed to be, if not the deepest ever, then one of them. Suddenly, I realized that I would have been eliminating people based on the size of their role and not on the quality of their performance. People like Janina Fautz in The White Ribbon and Billy Unger in You Again would be shutout of the nominating process. One of the benefits of creating your own awards is the ability to improvise.

Looking at the films and performances I’d seen I was able to create two new categories: I was able to make unisex categories for lead and supporting performances and one for ensemble work by youths, which seemed equally overdue. The goal in the 2011 awards was parity, meaning male and female lead and supporting categories and ensemble. This was achieved.

These categories have always been of great importance to me, not just because I was 15 when I started picking these awards but because youth performers are and have been greatly overlooked and under-appreciated and deserve some recognition. Especially when you consider that the Academy used to have a Juvenile Award and stopped awarding it.

UPDATE 2012: To venture even further away from negative connotations, I have decided to rename this post to remove the ‘child actor’ moniker, which to some can be seen as a slight. It’s a symbolic and semantical gesture, but no less significant for that. The group of categories and individual category names will be adjusted as necessary in the 2012 awards. Previous year will retain the same verbiage, but this post and future winners will not.

UPDATE 2013: To give each of the Youth Categories their due and for browsing convenience this post will act as a jump station to the new posts created for each of five youth categories, plus an additional post for the 1996-2009 winners.

Best Youth Ensemble

Best Performance by a Young Actress in a Leading Role

Best Performance by a Young Actor in a Leading Role

Best Performance by a Young Actress in a Supporting Role

Best Performance by a Young Actor in a Supporting Role

Best Performance by a Child Actor 1996-2010

Rewind Review- Is Anybody There?

I’m not one who enjoys the phrase “sleeper hit” because almost any movie is looking for some bit of success. However, it comes to mind for this movie because I hadn’t heard of it until midway through the week in which I saw it. Even on the independent film scene it seemed to have slipped under the radar.

This film is in a word: beautiful. It is funny in one moment, shocking in another and absolutely heartbreaking the next. It is a movie that searches for the meaning of life without ever being pretentious, and is always being sincere. The meaning is searched for backwards and uniquely. It tells the tale of Edward (Bill Milner), a young boy who lives with his parents in their old folks’ home, and who thus, becomes obsessed with death.

After a chance encounter with Clarence (Michael Caine) Edward finds him in the home. After some head-butting the two grow closer. The one sheet for this film is the kind that will get you nervous with anticipation for Michael Caine’s performance, one critic citing it as “the performance of his career.” Thankfully, this is no lie. We all know Caine can be funny, acerbic and occasionally charming. This performance, however, is magnificent in its arc and power and even the man himself was unable to control his emotion watching this film, and neither was I. He is fantastic.

Caine’s performance alone is not enough to propel this film to the heights it reaches. The film’s young lead Bill Milner proved that the success of last year’s Son of Rambow was most definitely no fluke and this film reveals Milner to be unquestionably the strongest actor of his generation. Here Milner carries much of the film alone, whereas in Rambow he and Poulter played off each other. We see Milner here as a much more complex character: dissatisfied with life, angry, rebellious, confused, hopeful for something better, and yet somehow innocent throughout all this. Holding the screen and making a story that could be morbid funny and sharing the screen with a living legend make his performance nothing short of astonishing.

This film was written as a period piece set in 1987. I wholeheartedly applaud this decision and I think it was made in large part to make the piece more intimate to allow Edward’s quest for answers about the afterlife to be conducted through his own ingenuity most of the time, as opposed to the cold and distant research that the Internet Age would provide.

Many of the frames in this film are absolutely beautiful in terms of depth (looking down hallways, corridors, on a rooftop), the use of obstruction in the foreground (occasionally out of focus) and just the overall mise-en-scène is typically interesting. For example, in a scene where Edward and Clarence are walking and talking – the shot starts on the back of Clarence’s truck with the words “It’s Magic!” dominating the scene and then pans over to find them. Everything is well thought out from lights through the back window of Edward’s mother’s car to the reflections on the windshield.

It is a tender, funny, wonderful film which will likely be branded as coming-of-age which I think would not do it justice. This film can be seen and appreciated by all as it examines the human condition more so than anything else and says some wonderful things about it.

10/10

Adding To Your Classics Library

A while back on Twitter, Bill Milner a great young actor, as well as past nominee and honoree, asked a simple yet important question: it was about bolstering his library of classics.

This is a fascinating question for me, and for any cinephile I feel, because it brings up the elusive question of “What are the essentials?”

My response was, and is, one that I think is not only apropos, but one I think a lot of people can use. Now, a reminder this is not a piece that aims to be a starter kit by cherry-picking milestones in film history, but rather one that will augment your collection when you think to yourself: “Well, what should I be getting now?”

My proposition is simple and personal, we all have our favorite directors throughout the various eras of cinema. I suggest getting the oft-overlooked works of these greats. More often than not these are the films I’ll point out as being a personal favorite.

Anyone, and everyone, can, and has, write, speak or opine on the greatness of Jules and Jim or The 400 Blows, but the film of Truffaut’s that affected me most was The Green Room (aka The Vanishing Fiancee), and its absence from DVD for so long bothered me. Hitchcock would be another good example. Everyone knows the widely recognized masterpieces he made. However, few of his films ever engaged me on first viewing like Rope did, even though he wasn’t too fond of his no-cut experiment, or for that matter Dial M for Murder, though I’ve never seen it in 3D.

Those are just two quick examples with a few films to illustrate my point. Who the directors are that you seek out the oft overlooked works in their ouevre is your choice entirely, but when one has the staples you’re filling in the pages, and, I for one have always been one to seek things out that are a little off the beaten path even amongst the most highly regarded cineastes.

Short Film Saturday: Mixtape and Disco

Disco (UK Film Council/ Virgin Media Shorts/ 2 AM Productions)

Below you will find video links to two short films by Luke Snellin. The first, Mixtape, proves just how little time you need to tell a complete and affecting tale and that’s part of why it was nominated for a BAFTA award.

The second is a companion piece which came out the following year called Disco. They both feature a similar core group of actors and a thematic similarity of young love. Essentially, my reaction to having seen Disco was it was precisely what you’d want it to be after having seen Mixtape.

Disco expands the story from a first flirtatious romance to a triangle and being tongue-tied. Without over-explaining I also want to point out you may know some of the cast members here which help make the film what it is: Bill Miler (X-Men: First Class, Is Anybody There? and Son of Rambo), Charlie Rowe (Neverland and The Nutcracker in 3D) Lil Woods (Nanny McPhee Returns) and Izzy Meikle-Small will appear in Snow White and the Huntsman.

Snellin’s work in both these films is superb, so without much further ado enjoy…

Mixtape

Disco

Review- X-Men: First Class

Caleb Landry Jones, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Rose Byrne, Nicholas Hoult, James McAvoy and Lucas Till in X-Men: First Class (20th Century Fox/Marvel)

I believe, when grading or reviewing a film, that taking a film for what it is and not comparing it something its not or not trying to be is of paramount importance. Thus, I will look at films from not just a genre perspective but also within the confines of subgenre and in some cases franchise. This clearly applies to X-Men: First Class.

It’s an action film, it’s a superhero film but moreover it’s a film in the X-Men series. I will state in the interest of full disclosure that I am a fan of the X-Men and it’s mainly through other interpretations be they the TV series I was hooked on as a kid or the films that came later.

I will here echo sentiments uttered quite astutely by my friend Joey Esposito because they are true and have bearing on any interpretation of this film. Those thoughts being that the connection many can feel to the X-Men are usually for either of two reasons: first, the mutants all feel outcast and most people at one point feel like outsiders, some more poignantly or persistently than others- this instantly adds to the appeal of the characters. However, perhaps the most intriguing dynamic in this universe is the dichotomy between Xavier and Magneto who have two diametrically opposite views on how to deal with this struggle and better yet anyone can see the logic in both approaches.

While I liked the previous installments in varying degrees, save for Wolverine, these truths and this philosophy was always hinted at and alluded to but never became central to the narrative. The films were engaging, flashy and fun, in short good entertainment that lacked that little something extra that made it necessary or desirable to revisit the film two or three times or more.

I have already seen X-Men: First Class twice because it not only gets everything I was talking about but delivers on it in spades. Never are you left wondering as the geriatric lady of infamy in the 80s advertising campaign said: “Where’s the beef?” Instantly the characters of this tale are built we see the circumstances that set Magneto on his course, likewise with Charles Xavier.

The films opening scenes are absolutely hypnotic and quickly establish suspense. The drama of the situation aided by Kevin Bacon who gives a wonderful and memorable turn in his first villainous role in some time confronts a Young Karl, played with utmost brilliance by Bill Milner, a young actor I’ve long contended is the best of his age group and he keeps proving me right. He is pushed and traumatized beyond his breaking point and it crystallizes his view of humanity. Meanwhile, Charles (Laurence Belcher) also gets a perfect introduction, not without its own bit of suspense, and we see him exhibit his nurturing, befriending nature.

Very quickly, dramatically and effectively the film establishes its characters before it really sets the story in motion, It’s a gripping start and I responded emotionally immediately which is rare. Like a few of the X-Men films it has memorable scenes with its lead characters in younger incarnations such as Cayden Boyd as Young Angel in X-Men: The Last Stand or Troye Sivan as Young Logan in X-Men Origins: Wolverine. What this film does is deliver on the promise that those early scenes show, in fact, there is a string of absolutely outstanding scenes that kick-off this film in tremendous style and the scenes end perfectly, carry great tension and importance are numerous in this film.

The success of this film hinges greatly on the strength of its script and it is simply put outstanding. The dialogue most of the time is sharp and concise and even though it wanders into typical superhero banter on occasion it is always purposeful and almost never wasted. Furthermore it communicates the philosophies of its characters, which needs to hit home, very well.

The characters are also made more interesting by the fact that they too have things at stake aside from the stakes of the plot. Not to knock that either. It’s hard to up the ante more than this film does but we’re not just seeing a spectacle because the characters are personally invested in their mission with different motives and that just makes it work that much better.

A few cast members were already singled out but a few more deserve mention. What wasn’t discussed in Kevin Bacon’s bit prior is that he, like a few other actors, was asked to speak a few lines in languages which are not his own and it just makes the experience that much more real and immediate. Having English as a substitute for foreign languages in a film is a slippery slope and I’m loving that people are trending towards using the foreign idioms themselves.

Clearly a lot of the kudos acting-wise need to go to Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy, who play the two principal characters. They are the ones that intrigue us most and who bear most of the burden and knock it out of the park. While this role isn’t a showcase of her considerable talent as Winter’s Bone did Jennifer Lawrence does very well playing Mystique and each of the initial assemblage of mutants played by Nicholas Hoult, Edi Gathegi, Caleb Landry Jones, Zoë Kravitz and Lucas Till each have their moments to contribute.

The bottom line is that this is the best cinematic representation of who the X-Men to date are and why they are loved. The story is engaging and exciting but equal in intrigue are the characters. Add to that brilliant handling of how Xavier and Magneto whom are initially friends but just can’t see eye-to-eye philosophically and you have an absolutely dynamite film.

10/10