Monthly Archives: September 2012

Under the Influence – Woody Allen

Woody Allen  may seem a far cry from the other people I’ve written about in this section (David Lynch, Ingmar Bergman and Charlie Kaufman). But regardless of that, he’s still had a profound influence on me as an aspiring filmmaker. Plus, who would want to read about heavyweight dramatic directors or surrealist headfuckers all the time? Variety is, the spice of life.

Work ethic

It’s an obvious one, but a good one. Since the mid 1970’s, Woody Allen has released a film every year. Someone in Woody Allen: A Documentary (I forget who) said that “the moment he finishes editing one film, he starts writing the next one”. It’s an admirably ethic, and of course, something to aspire to, to be able to keep making films at such a steady rate, especially considering his age (he’s 76). Hell, even David Cronenberg said that, by releasing films a year apart (he’s currently working on his follow up to Cosmopolis I think) is him “doing a Woody Allen.”

Of course, a film a year can lead to some bad work (I loathed Vicky Christina Barcelona), but it can also lead to a streak of fantastic, endlessly watchable films (just look at his output in the 80’s). And as long as a filmmaker can remain talented, then they’ll always produce more good than bad.

Versatility

Allen is more versatile than people think. Period.

Look no further than the physical comedy of Sleeper, the heartfelt romance of Annie Hall, the creative meditations of Stardust Memories and the powerful, searing drama of Husbands and Wives.



That’s right, these four films, all wildly different, have one thing in common – the inimitable Mr. Allen.

Then you can look at his work  outside of film – his standup comedy, his book of short stories, his Broadway plays. He’s so much more than that guy that churns out a slightly different rom-com every year, and how can a filmmaker not want to be as versatile and adept at doing so many different things behind, in front of, and even away from the camera.

Writing Comedy

Writing comedy is a total nightmare. I’ve tried it several times and I just can’t quite get to grips with it yet. But Allen does it so well, so effortlessly, from his standup work that leads to a fantastic punchline (The Moose is a testament to this) to simple one liners, like the end of Love & Death – “I’m dead and they’re talking about wheat.”

The way Allen writes comedy just feels natural, so imbued into his characters and sensibility, it all works wonderfully. And that’s the best thing about the way he writes it, they rarely feel just like cheap one liners, they always feel like viable things that one of his characters would say. Who else but Isaac from Manhattan would say “of the two of us I was not the immoral, psychotic, promiscuous one.” His jokes work as more than just jokes, they work as elements of these characters.

Cinematography

The way Allen’s films are shot is nothing short of wonderful. Of course this is as much to do with the cinematographer than Allen himself, but the way the shots are constructed, the placement of the characters, it all feels so natural and real. Creating shots that look like they’re showing a piece of life so effortlessly is difficult, and to see it done so effortlessly is quite something.

Words really can’t describe how these things influence me, because it’s difficult to explain that with images, so I’ll just let the images (a few shots from Manhattan) speak for themselves.


 If this image in particular doesn’t prove my point, then I’m afraid that nothing will.

Getting great performances

Allen, particularly in the 70’s and 80’s managed to get consistently fantastic performances out of two wonderful actresses, Diane Keaton and Mia Farrow. Both woman give their career best performances in Allen films, Keaton in Annie Hall and Farrow in Broadway Danny Rose.

As an aspiring director, there’s something about seeing these performances, and the skill of Allen, who writes these excellent roles and helps the actresses realize them, that is influential in a simple way. That it’s more than possible to consistently create good characters, and help to get performances that can further elevate them.

Writing

Last, and of course not least, is Allen’s almost peerless skill as a writer, from his characters, to his jokes, to his wonderfully emotional endings:

“Not everybody gets so corrupted. You’ve gotta have a little faith in people.” – Manhattan

“For the first time in a long time, I felt at peace.” – Another Woman

How can you not be inspired by such brilliant writing?

 

That’s… Well, that’s it for Mr. Allen I suppose. I’m not quite sure how to best end this post though, but perhaps this image from Stardust Memories can sum it up best.

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Updated Oscar Predictions – The season begins

So, after asking around, I was enlightened by Sasha from Awards Daily and Scott from THR that the Oscar season is officially considered underway after the recent Telluride and Toronto film festivals. Taking this into consideration, I’ve deicded to update my predictions, although there only small changes to my predicted final five, I’m going to start including a few other contenders in the categories too.

Best Picture

  • Les Miserables
  • Anna Kerenina
  • Beasts of the Southern Wild
  • The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
  • Django Unchained
  • Lincoln
  • The Master
  • Life of Pi
  • Argo
  • The Silver Linings Playbook

Contenders

  • Amour
  • The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
  • Zero Dark Thirty

Changes: The Dark Knight Rises and To the Wonder out. Life of Pi and The Silver Linings Playbook in.

Best Director

  • Tom Hooper for Les Miserables
  • Joe Wright for Anna Karenina
  • Paul Thomas Anderson for The Master
  • Stephen Spielberg for Lincoln
  • Ang Lee for The Life of Pi

Contenders

  • Quentin Tarantino for Django Unchained
  • Michael Haneke for Amour

Best Actor

  • Daniel Day-Lewis for Lincoln
  • Joaquin Phoenix for The Master
  • Bill Murray for Hyde Park on Hudson
  • John Hawkes for The Sessions
  • Hugh Jackman for Les Miserables

Contenders

  • Bradley Cooper for The Silver Linings Playbook
  • Jamie Foxx for Django Unchained
  • Logan Lerman for The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Best Actress

  • Keria Knightley for Anna Karenina
  • Marion Cotillard for Rust and Bone
  • Quvenzhane Wallis for Beasts of the Southern Wild
  • Viola Davis for Won’t Back Down
  • Jennifer Lawrence for The Silver Linings Playbook

Contenders

  • Naomi Watts for The Impossible
  • Julianne Moore for What Maisie Knew

Changes: Laura Linney (Hyde Park on Hudson) out and Jennifer Lawrence (The Silver Linings Playbook) in.

Best Supporting Actor

  • Alan Arkin for Argo
  • Christoph Waltz for Django Unchained
  • William H. Macy for The Sessions
  • Jude Law for Anna Karenina
  • Phillip Seymour Hoffman for The Master

Contenders

  • Leonardo DiCaprio for Django Unchained
  • Bryan Cranston for Argo
  • Ezra Miller for The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Best Supporting Actress

  • Anne Hathaway for Les Miserables
  • Amy Adams for The Master
  • Sally Field for Lincoln
  • Helen Hunt for The Sessions
  • Maggie Smith for The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Contenders

  • Judi Dench for The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
  • Samantha Barks for Les Miserables

Best Original Screenplay

  • Amour
  • Django Unchained
  • Seven Psychopaths
  • Moonrise Kingdom
  • The Master

Contenders

  • To Rome With Love

Best Adapted Screenplay

  • The Silver Linings Playbook
  • Lincoln
  • Life of Pi
  • Anna Karenina
  • Argo

Contenders

  • On the Road
  • The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

 

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Review – Lawless

Lawless is something of a curious beast. While it seems somewhat reliant on obvious tropes and planting its feet in familiar ground for this kind of crime drama, it does so in such a manner that it rarely feels as if it has nothing to say, trying constantly to break out of the constraints and cliches of the kind of film that it is, and, more often than not, it succeeds.

It tells the story of the three Bondurant brothers, Howard (Jason Clarke), Jack (Shia LaBeouf) and Forrest (Tom Hardy), focusing particularly on the latter two, as they attempt to make their way and earn their share in Prohibition era America. The two of them are polar opposites, Jack being ambitious but cowardly, whereas Forrest carries himself with great strength, despite being a man of few words, especially compared to his brother. The two actors also give very different performances. LaBeouf, for instance, who recently spoke out against the studio system, as well as lining up to work with Lars von Trier, is clearly trying to make a mark on the indie scene, and it seems to come through in his performance, but not in a good way, he comes across as over eager, and it begins to grate. Hardy on the other hand, is reserved and powerful, bringing to mind his excellent performance in Warrior last year.

The cast in general is easily the highlight of the film, featuring an excellent performance from Jessica Chastain, the breakout performer of last year, who carries herself with a mix of serenity and, later in the scene, a host of nervous tics, so uneasy and afraid, it’s a wonderfully minimal performance. The ensemble also includes Gary Oldman, in what is essentially a cameo as big time bootlegger Floyd Banner, bringing his A game to the small role. Mia Wasikowska also appears, all too briefly as a love interest for Jack, her performance simple, natural and sweet, you can’t help but wish she was given more to do. The standout of the strong ensemble is easily Guy Pearce as Charlie Rakes, a flamboyant, feminine villain, who does not like to be touched.


Guy Pearce in Lawless

One of the film’s major issues comes from its pacing. The majority of the first act establishes character, and does so reasonably well, but the narrative itself moves at a sluggish pace, spending far too long finding its feet. It suffers here as, nothing much of consequence really happens for a while, the whole thing feels very sterile for a while. Then, once Pearce arrives on the scene the film explodes with brutal violence. These scenes of violence are often sudden and shocking, roaring into life with great effect. It’s a shame that the film needs these to really bring it to life, especially with a cast as good as this, they can’t help but feel underused (in the case of Pearce and Wasikowska) or wasted (in the case of Oldman)

Lawless is one of the most visually stunning films I’ve seen all year though. This is not to say it’s got gorgeous visual effects or glorious landscapes (director John Hillcoat sticks mainly with muted and grey colours, much like in The Road). However, the costumes, from Hardy’s, as I have seen it affectionately named on Twitter as the ‘Hardigan’, to Pearce’s suits and Chastain’s dresses, and shot selection and construction are wonderfully picturesque.

All in all, Lawless is something of a mixed bag. It can’t quite decide if it wants to break out of its genre conventions or embrace them, and this strange duality is seen all around the film, from the excellent costumes and muted backgrounds to the uneven performances. Well worth seeing for an excellent Pearce and a solid, engaging narrative, but don’t expect it to reinvent the wheel.

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