My Ballot: 2014 EE BAFTA Rising Star Award

Whenever there is a publicly-voted award in the film world I will share my thoughts and vote here.

The first thing that bears saying is that I may have to mark down on my calendar other open-to-public-voting awards through the year so that I manage to post in this series more than once in a year. Regardless, here we are again at the BAFTAs this time replete with a new sponsor and another Rising Star Award race.

What I really like about this award year after year is that it’s a body-of-work award given to a young actor on the rise. However, on occasion nominees make it mainly on the strength of one performance.

Once again this is a pretty strong field and even though I am not 100% studied on all the candidates this year there are four I have something of a viewing history with. It wasn’t easy but I had a definite choice among these impressive nominees. And, importantly, it’s additional incentive to catch up on the titles making up the other candidates’ work. I have been a bit remiss in seeing some of the award-winning much ballyhooed titles of 2013 namely 12 Years a Slave, which marks one of the most acclaimed debuts in recent memory (Lupita Nyong’o), and Blue is the Warmest Color (Léa Seydoux), though I have seen quite a few Seydoux’s titles and enjoyed her work.

Dane DeHaan in Chronicle (20th Century Fox)

George Mackay is perhaps the best surprise on this list for me. I am familiar with his career as a young actor when he appeared in Peter Pan, which would’ve won a Best Youth Ensemble had it existed (he was Curly), then in the overlooked The Thief Lord, and in one of Daniel Radcliffe’s in-Potter-franchise departures The Boys Are Back. The 2013 titles are ones I have not heard of prior to this announcement, but I look forward to finding them.

Dane DeHaan, already a BAM Award nominee for Chronicle, is a close runner-up for my vote in this award. Had I caught his most recent titles that may have changed my mind, but the odds were stacked against him.

They are stacked against him because of Will Poulter. One of the myriad viewing tasks I’ve wanted to undertake was to see all of Will Poulter’s TV and film work from the UK heretofore unavailable to me. The reason that is that the first two parts I saw Poulter play, Son of Rambow and The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader he was not only nominated for my BAM Awards but won (for Son of Rambow Best Performance by a Child Actor and for Narnia Best Supporting Actor). I will soon, thanks to Netflix, see Wild Bill which earned Poulter a London Critics’ Circle Award nomination for Young British Performer of the Year. Son of Rambow set a precedent most young actors wouldn’t be able to live up to, but following very different paths Poulter and Milner have both proved their mettle and staying power. With his nerdy, American persona of Kenny Rossmore in We’re the Millers Poulter, introduces himself to a new audience who witness him only scratch the surface of his capabilities, and really only on the comedic end.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010, 20th Century Fox)

In my estimation, and in the estimation of those who watch more carefully, Poulter has already arrived. However, to most the appearance in We’re the Millers and the forthcoming The Maze Runner adaptation will signal his announcement as a cinematic presence for those who don’t know. He has the credentials but also defines the rising aspect of the award more so than the fellow candidates who have made a bigger, more notable splash in mass media consciousness terms. Simply because in my mind he’s already arisen selecting Poulter as Rising Star is a no-brainer to me.

The Ballot is open through February 14th, 2014. One vote per person, register via Twitter of Facebook.

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Top 15 Films of 2010

This like my 2009 List is a repost and has been added here virtually without change from its original appearance elsewhere.

15. Entre Nos

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With an election and events that would steal headlines towards the latter part of the year it is no wonder that the illegal immigration debate has hit the back-burner in the socio-political landscape of the country as we saunter into 2011. However, as a nation that once permanently etched that it sought the world’s “tired, your poor…huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” it is a persistently relevant debate whether it is treated as such or not after all we are a land where “all men are created equal” but certain “men” have always had to fight to prove it.

It is taking such grandiose and abstract ideas and incarnating them in narrative where you will find great fiction. This is what triple-threat Paola Mendoza does so deftly in this film wherein a mother and her children come to the US after their husband/father only to be abandoned in a strange land and needing to struggle just to survive.

14. Secretariat

Secretariat (2010, Disney)

I have my very own personal bugaboo with horse racing movies. Typically, there comes a point where in an imaginary but definite line is crossed and the purity of just riding and the wild beauty therein takes a back seat to the grueling nature of the competition. The sport is dangerous, as are most, and creates a moral gray area as it is hard to know whether a horse really wants to run or not. However, by all accounts the story of Secretariat is a different one. The horse was one of a kind: part animal, part machine. So that stumbling block is cleared. More impressive is that as a spots fanatic I am seeing a movie in which I already know a majority of the story, and of course those who have seen enough movies can surmise, but this film still manages to suspenseful- what an amazing trick.

Lastly, of course, the story really makes a connection due to its characters. We learn their circumstances and see their journey more so than the horse’s meteoric rise, we become fully invested in them and their plots as much as the Triple Crown pursuit.

13. Easy A

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Wit is a rare commodity in film these days, wit in combination with an actual point being made is even more rare. If you combine that with a film that both pushes narrative forward with 21st century storytelling devices like webcasts but is also reverential of classic films like those of John Hughes and the original, not the Demi Moore, Scarlet Letter then you really have something.

Combine that with the star-making, dead on performance of Emma Stone and you’ve got something special that is one of the best films of the year and without question the best straight-up comedy.

12. Le Petit Nicolas

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This, for you my dear reader, will likely be the one of the most unnerving selections on this list because it is likely you have not heard of it and gaining access to it will prove rather difficult.  To the best of my knowledge this film didn’t see US release in either 2009, the year it was released in France, or in 2010.

I only managed to nab a copy off Amazon from a re-seller in Canada where it had already hit DVD. This film does a number of things quite well: it tells a tale of childhood whimsy without being insipid or condescending. It manages to tell a tale of naive misunderstanding without getting ridiculous and all the while remaining funny and clever throughout.

It also seems to be an adaptation in the proper spirit, while I am unfamiliar with the books upon which this story is based judging by the Pierre Goscinny I am familiar with, Asterix, it seems very much in keeping with his tone. It is a film that is absolutely delightful, a word I rarely use, from start to finish.

11. The Red Riding Trilogy

Red Riding: In The Year of Our Lord (2009, IFC Films)

OK, so here’s were scoffers can have more fun while I know this makes it technically a Top 17 list bear with me: The Red Riding Trilogy was a project released on British television in 2009, however, it hit US theaters in Spring 2010 and Netflix later on. So that and the way it’s told and shot qualifies it as cinema and its release date in the US makes it eligible for this year. As for the three films? Well, part three set in 1983 is the best of the installments, however, devoid of having seen the other two it is likely to be highly unintelligible. The films are highly co-dependent of one another, therefore to separate them is next to impossible. As a unit they stand as one work, they are sold as such therefore I evaluate them as such and give them one and not three spots on this list.

It is a tale of murder and intrigue of the highest artistry that requires you to stick with it and begs you to follow it through to its harrowing and artistic conclusion.

10. My Soul to Take

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Being a fan of the horror genre is a bit like going back to a well too often. You visit it repeatedly in hopes of finding refreshment but you usually come up empty. I consider myself fortunate then to have in the last few years have found films I have deemed worthy to place in my list.

My Soul to Take is a bit of a throwback by director Wes Craven but what it does do is tell a story that is deceptively involved, not dumbed down and an unpretentious whodunit. Furthermore you get within this film a teaser beginning that is rather than the highlight of the film a tone-setter for the ever-increasing tension level of the tale.

9. Machete

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Here we are again with the same theme, illegal immigration but a vastly different variation. Robert Rodriguez absolutely delivers on the promise that was teased at in the Grindhouse double-feature a few years ago. Not only is Machete as portrayed by Danny Trejo every bit the cinematic badass you want him to be, on par with Eastwood and Bronson in their most iconic works but it is also deliciously funny both because of the writing and intentionally cheesy production values.

You get in this film hilarious one-liners, insane plot devices and extraordinarily didactic dialogue which all suits the tale perfectly. It was likely the most enjoyable film-watching experience from start to finish that I had last year.

8. Waiting for ‘Superman’

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George W. Bush once asked the very important question “Is our children learning?” After watching Waiting for ‘Superman’ it’ll become quite clear that no, our children is not learning. However, this film is not propagandist. It has quite a few citations to back up its claims that the educational system in America is fundamentally broken. However, even more important than that in my estimation is that it also becomes a very involving emotional experience. While your intellect is often stimulated as you learn ugly, inconvenient truths you never heard before you are involved in the story as you learn the plight of educators who fight for change, children caught in the system and parents who are seeking and hoping for the best for their child.

7. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

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This is without question the best and most artful mash-up style film that you will likely see for quite some time. As I cited earlier if you’ve ever wondered what mixing comics, video games and film would be like the answer can be found within this film and therein lies the rub: you’ll either love it and walk away enraptured like I was or your eyes will hurt and your brain will boil over in your head and you’ll die- or something like that.

It’s the epitome of a go-with-the-flow type movie: it has either sold you on its strange universe within the first 10 minutes or you’re never buying. It’s a film that’s unafraid and many times that is the absolute best kind to watch whether you like it or not.

6. Kick-Ass

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The superhero movie may be on its way, if its not already there, to supplanting the vampire film as the cinematic dead horse that just keeps getting beaten. It is at the very least impending if you’ve looked at the Summer 2011 slate. With that in mind it makes this last gasp even more wonderful and marvelous.

I have seen it again since its initial release and I still liken this film to the original Batman, meaning it absolutely earned its closing line and lest we forget that Batman was made back when everything Tim Burton turned a camera towards turned to gold so it is high praise indeed.

While much less ballyhooed than Emma Stone, Aaron Johnson no doubt had a breakout kind of role here, his buoyed by the fact that he had quite a few 2010 releases to follow.

This is a film more so than most that deftly and fluidly moves between emotional notes with tremendous ease and propels it to this spot on the list.

5. City Island

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I like my independent films to be un-convoluted. It seems as if sometimes independent filmmakers take that mantle to mean that they need to tell a certain kind of story and not just their story how they want it told, which is supposed to be the idea. City Island most definitely has the right idea and from start to finish just consistently makes decisions that are true and accurate and not merely for shock value.

It is a personal and personable tale which is also a somewhat comedic twist on a Greek tragedy in parts. Even with some of the plot devices employed there is always a humanity and understanding behind all the actions the characters take.

It is proof there is room for real people, real acting and great narrative all at the same time in the same film.

4. The Ghost Writer

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To elaborate on a point I made in my initial review students of film, whether they seek to critique or make films, or just generally like films, should watch this so that they might better understand the true meaning of the term ‘Hitchockian.’ This is a word you hear far too much. It’s almost akin to saying that anyone who drives a car in the fast lane is like (insert favorite race car driver here). Just because you are attempting something in the same vein doesn’t make it the same or as good as. Few and far between are those who can try to impersonate Hitch and come anywhere close.

This comes very close, dangerously close and note that it’s Roman Polanski who does it and not some anonymous who has a a resume littered with straight-to-video releases. The intrigue, tension and at times surreal atmosphere of this film are hard to match and this truly stands as one of the best of the year and if its the last we see of Mr. Polanski, what a way to go.

3. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Review- The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

The first word that came to mind when I completed viewing the latest Narnia was “glorious.” Which I stand by but perhaps triumphant would be more astute as the film lived up to my hopes and not my expectations, and there was a wide gulf between the two.

Sometimes going through a Top Films list can be a bit like going through a new land with a very crudely drawn map and it can be difficult to judge through various similar compliments what the lay of the land is until you hit a signpost (read number) the way the list breaks down, for this year anyway, is: 15-11 is the third stratification, amongst the best of the year but not quite up to getting a BAM Best Picture nomination, which is reserved for the top 10. Then from 10-4 is the second tier, the elite films. From this point forward you have the crème de la crème.

What may also be interesting to note is that Narnia once again had to overcome the Potter hurdle. This installment was released just after the Potter series did about as much as you can with a truncated tale. Yet Narnia trumps it again, which I likely would not say for 2 of the 3 books but would for the movies and therein lies the beauty of adaptation.
 


2. The White Ribbon

The White Ribbon (2009, Sony Pictures Classics)

Had I not already taken a few leaps of faith I may have been tempted to label The White Ribbon #1A, however, that does not seem fitting. Secondly, since I am already in disclaimer mode: Yes, I am aware that this film was up for Oscars last year, much to my befuddlement it walked away empty-handed.  It qualifies for 2010 to my mind because I, being but a voracious moviegoer do not get the free, advanced screening treatment that many a critic/blogger do, so unless I owned stock in Amtrak I can’t be on a train up to New York every weekend for every limited release. Thus, The White Ribbon only hit Philadelphia, where I first saw it, in January of 2010.

With all its BAM Nominations how is this film #2? Partially the nomination process is a bit mysterious to myself I try not to consciously keep a running tab of what film has what number of nominations and just decide category-by-category. The acting without question is virtually unparalleled by anything I’ve seen in a long, long time such that it was a contributing factor to the birth of new categories. It is also one of the best examples of how chilling and effective a film can be and also how much foreshadowing can be done (paradoxically to things we never see) without answering questions but instead leaving doubts.

It’s not that The White Ribbon does anything wrong per se, in fact, I’ve seen it three times and only saw my top film the once. They’re two very different films and each has their place and their point to make. Both are a tribute to this class of film and both will have a resonance cinematically and otherwise it’s just a matter of picking your poison so without much further ado the best film of 2010 is…

1. Inception

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You will rarely if ever see such an audacious combination of high concept and highbrow. Typically, a film dealing in dreams is too busy being aloof to tell a coherent much less have an intelligent storyline. Nolan’s film is not, in my mind, overly-concerned with trying to confound quite on the contrary one of the few negatives you could say about it is that it is very concerned with making sure the audience is still holding on tight almost as if the subtext of certain lines of dialogue is “Are you still with me here?”

Yet it manages to impart its information in a way that is not overly-expository, we never learn what’s eating at Cobb all at once. In fact, we don’t know there is anything for some time. An important point is danced around in one scene and cleverly revealed later. A character unaccustomed to the world of dream espionage is the vessel through which we learn.

Inception takes a wild vision of the future and makes it seem mundane and doesn’t make a spectacle of itself but slowly builds a world and a narrative. It’s a blur slowly coming into focus and with each ratchet towards clarity more and more meaning can be inferred. It is a grandiose tale told in the intimacy of the psyche of its characters. It’s a tale that reduces large concepts into characters that dresses as a heist film only to shed that skin and reveal something even more appealing.

Yet through all its brashness, pomp and circumstance there is a deft hand at the controls of this tale too. It is a film that does hint at larger meanings that travels through the catacombs of the mind and makes you consider if you are reminded of someone… a man you met in a half-remembered dream.

Honorable Mentions

Best Short Film



Day & Night

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While people were all distractedly getting in touch with their inner-child as they watched Toy Story 3, a film that is eerily similar to the first two yet supposedly much better somehow, they also forgot that they had just witnessed another work of true Pixar genius in Day & Night. So impressed was I by this short that I wrote it its own review and honestly believe it was worth the price of admission 3D and all and that Toy Story 3 was just icing on the cake.

Jury Prize

The Complete Metropolis

Metropolis (1927, Kino)

Some critics will have Jury Prizes in their lists and some festivals award them as well. They’re basically a way of saying “I couldn’t really give you anything but I wish I had so here’s something for being just so friggin’ awesome.” My Jury Prize for this year goes to a film that was miraculously found and restored to more closely match the cut screened at its premiere in 1927 than had been seen in many years. In some ways it was brand new but having a silent with a reputation competing against new films is unfair to both parties. So my Jury Prize is proudly awarded to Jeff Matakovich, Benjamin Speed, Bernd Heller, Robert Gray and Kino for the wonderful reconstruction of The Complete Metropolis.

Review- The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Will Poulter, Skandar Keynes, Ben Barnes and Georgie Henley in The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (20th Century Fox)

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is in a word, though there could be many, many more; glorious. Absolutely glorious in every single, solitary respect. Not only does it work brilliantly as a standalone tale but it also closes a chapter in a series with great effect. How it functions within the series will be detailed later.

The first thing that should be commented upon is the virtuosity of the players involved. Now this tale does have a rather big obstacle to overcome as in this tale the Pevensie quartet becomes a duo, as Peter (William Moseley) and Susan (Anna Popplewell) are scarcely seen but worry not Georgie Henley and Skandar Keynes are very strong and prodigious leads in the film. They each face their own trials and tribulations in their journey and support the film equally. Will Poulter, who broke out with his earth-shatterlingly good performance in Son of Rambow, is flawless in the part of Eustace Scrubb. He applies the affectations of an uptight, snobbish brat with great aplomb from a pitchy voice to flared nostrils and as his character mellows those layers peel back. Truly, Son of Rambow was most fortunate to have both he and the incomparable Bill Milner in the fold and The Dawn Treader would be so much less than it is without Poulter.

Lastly, and here is where we discuss this film in the context of the series, there is Ben Barnes. Ben Barnes, as Caspian, who is now a King; reprises his role but not identically to the last installment. In Prince Caspian a decision was made that the Talmarines, to differentiate themselves as men of a different nation, should be Spanish or speaking in a brogue thereof. Barnes did what he could to work with this impediment but that decision along with some in structuring made that installment a little less than it could’ve been. Therefore kudos are in store for the production team, principally the late great director Michael Apted, for deciding to rescind said decision. Ben Barnes speaking in his true voice is another actor entirely and he is a credit to this film.

This film, unlike many fantastic voyages, actually allows you to get into the character’s head a bit. In fact, that’s really what the enemy is all about: exploiting fears that each of the characters have. The characters are seen alone, the characters dream and they do battle with an enemy that knows how to defeat them. Mist or fog can be a very effective cinematic motif, as evidenced by eponymous films but you add a sentient nature to said mist and a whole other level is reached. Especially with the way it is framed and how the characters very infrequently sense its presence. I wrote recently of the jolting scares to be found in the most recent Harry Potter, well that is trumped by the ominous looming and chasing of the mist in this tale which gave me goosebumps on more than one occasion, as did some other events, CG or not.

Speaking of CG this may be an aspect of this film, which is almost taken for granted. To go through a laundry list of awe-inspiring visual achievements that the effects artists conjure up in this film would be tedious. However, it does need to be said that the work in this film is so accurate and precise that it likely goes overlooked by many. It has been short-listed for an Academy Award nomination and if it does not receive said nomination it will be one of the greatest injustices they’ve ever perpetuated [It didn’t get it, surprise, surprise].

This film is expertly edited and flows like a dream and treats time like a tinker toy. It makes the film move very briskly throughout but grinds the action nearly to a halt when things need observing in the minutest detail. If you had no notion of the time you’d swear the film is at least 20 minutes shorter than it really is, which is a testament to the pace of the tale.

You can’t have a sweeping epic story line without a sweeping epic score and this film most certainly has that as well, as there’s not much it doesn’t have. The score always matches but doesn’t overpower or over-accentuate the film and is dazzling.

The superlatives could continue to flow but I saw this film twice on the weekend so that should say something. I may see it anew to gauge the 3D quality, for the time being bear in mind that it is post-converted so buyer beware [I did end up seeing it in 3D later on and the conversion was pretty good] .

You have in this tale characters who are human therefore flawed and must struggle mightily against the darker parts of their nature to achieve their goal. You also have here in a series an ending as should the films continue different characters coming to the fore, even if this wasn’t the case the ending is quite the effective tear-jerker. This is without a doubt one of the most complete cinematic experiences I’ve had in a while, one of the best films of the year and a no questions asked must see.

10/10

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is available on DVD and Blu-Ray today.

The Trouble with The Magician’s Nephew

The Chronicles of Narnia (Scholastic)

So yesterday the beans were finally spilled that it will be the Magician’s Nephew that is the next book in The Chronicles of Narnia that will be adapted into a film. Now I had been one of a select group of fans who had adamantly supported The Silver Chair as the next book that should get adapted and not just for continuity’s sake, as Eustace, played by Will Poulter, in the only character that crosses over to that book from Dawn Treader.

The fact that this debate exists is interesting and indicative of a few things that are unique about the Narnia series as opposed to other fantasy properties.

First, it needs to be acknowledged that the chronology was always likely to be fractured. Those seeds were sewn by C.S. Lewis himself. For it was Lewis himself who wrote The Magician’s Nephew after the other six installments and pleaded, mostly to no avail, that it be read before The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. As a child I did not read it as such. When the first film was about to be released I searched for information on reading order and finally took the tales in properly.

Of course, we all know The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was the first film and subsequently that the producers decided that it was to be the Pevensie tales would be told first. Whereas in other fantasy properties you typically have a continuity in the personages populating the tale. Lewis, however, is true to the name of his series and this series are about the stories and about the land rather than a particular lead or group thereof.

If one adheres to Lewis’s reading plot the books that have been adapted thus far are numbers two, four and five. The decision to go to The Magician’s Nephew, an origins tale, at this point is a curious one on a few accounts.

Firstly, I find it a bit of a curious business decision. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader just crossed the $400 Million mark in international box office receipts and it is a film that took the somewhat unusual path in this day and age of building by word-of-mouth. Due in part to the disappointment most felt in Prince Caspian it didn’t break out of the box strong but had staying power when people realized this one is very good indeed.

With a franchise redeemed, at least in a financial sense, it would seem like the most obvious decision in the world to go next to the one tale that had any sort of connection.

Will Poulter in The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (20th Century Fox)

Furthermore, it needs to be noted that while the film doesn’t make it explicit I assumed Will Poulter is playing quite a few years younger than he is in Dawn Treader. Given some time off he may not look the part of Eustace as much as he does now. Not that I think he’d be replaced but it just might seem a bit awkward or need a bit of a re-write when the Silver Chair‘s time does come.

With this sort of momentum I even entertained the wild fantasy that funding would be sought for both potential next films to shoot simultaneously and release one shortly after another. The fact of the matter is the remaining volumes need not all have the same director as each has its own sensibility.

Pipe dreams aside, personally I would’ve liked Silver Chair next not just because I prefer that story but because it made more logical sense. The series has already pleasantly surprised me in two of its three installments so I am more than willing to withhold judgment but as I said it strikes me as odd.

With Narnia being by its very nature a more fragmented series it does raise some doubts as to what its cinematic future is. Let us assume the tale works as well as possible and the marketing draws in enough fans new and old, then what?

After The Magician’s Nephew the books that remain are: The Horse and His Boy, book number three, a more introspective tale than any of the others. It always struck me as having a Carol Ballard’s Black Stallion vibe, which would make it rather an artistic venture and as such it’s a gamble. I can’t see the producers gambling twice in a row so I predict this book would be the 6th film of the series.

The Silver Chair being the runner-up this time around would thus be the 5th film adapted and naturally The Last Battle would close out the series.

If films four and five connect then I think it’d be safe to assume they could afford a gamble and a closing chapter.

When it started there were no guarantees, and there still isn’t, that this series would see completion. It’s an older property than the other big budget films and has Christian overtones, which do not appeal to some but it’s never been about that to me it’s been about great storytelling.

In conclusion, I do like The Magician’s Nephew and definitely think there’s potential there with new cast members and story which re-examines some familiar motifs. I am just not sure it was the right choice as the next film. However, if it does well this series will be one step closer to following in Harry Potter‘s footsteps, proving you can plan a massive series and achieve it. If you consider that I believe two of the first three Narnia installments trump Potter it is very exciting news regardless of which novel they chose to adapt next.