Heliophage


Oscars 2013
March 2, 2014, 9:46 pm
Filed under: film

What I think will win and should win — and a few random comments. It was, as has been widely noted, a very good year. I remember in 2005 being pretty nonplussed, after the awards, by Million Dolllar Baby, thinking that it was pretty good, but that Hollywood should be able to produce  ten or so films that good in a year, and a few a good bit better. Last year was the sort of thing I had in mind

Best original screenplay: Will win – American Hustle, because people like the film a lot, and the screenplay, while baggy, is part of the reason. Should win — Her, because it is  remarkable and fresh.

Best adapted screenplay: 12 Years a Slave should and will win. Its use of voice and idiolect is remarkable.

Best cinematography: Gravity should and will win. I’m really interested by the debate about whether CGI is changing what best cinematography can or should mean,  whether the category should be split and so on. This will, after all, be the fifth year in a row the award has gone to something very heavy on the CGI (previously: Avatar, Inception, Hugo, Life of Pi: short titles seem to rule) and that’s not the only way of achieving true excellence in cinematography. But this is such a starting achievement, by a cinematographer that everyone already knows is terrific, that for this evening let’s put all that aside.

Best editing: Genuinely hard. The experts at In Contention seem pretty sure that it will be Captain Phillips, and it did win at the ACE awards. To my ignorant outsider eyes  that seems a bit of a stretch for a film people did not like enough to get Paul Greengrass or Tom Hanks (who was amazing) nominated. So I’m going to say Gravity both should and will win. But I’m probably wrong on the second.

Best score and best song: Steven Price Should and will win for Gravity, a terrific piece of work.  I continue to think that it is truly weird that Hans Zimmer didn’t get nominated for 12 Years, but there we go. Let it Go will win and should win best song (maybe if I’d seen Happy in context I’d feel different – but hey, it’s a belting well-built show tune with a good message and fractals too)

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Against American Hustle, in favour of Tim’s Vermeer
January 22, 2014, 11:29 pm
Filed under: Artworks, film

A couple of film posts from me over at The Economist’s blogs.

One was on the Oscar nominations, to go with a very nice graphic by my colleagues Guy and Lloyd. While it is kinder than people close to me have been about American Hustle (or “that piece of shit”, as it is known in Orpington), it concludes that:

“Gravity” and “12 Years a Slave” are both, in their ways, landmarks of film. “Gravity” is a tour de force that uses a well-executed B-movie peril-in-space plot to provide a transcendent visual and aural evocation of the vast, the empty and the intimate. “12 Years”, which if it wins Best Picture will be the first film by a black director to do so, navigates the landscapes of slavery with a poise that does nothing to diminish the horror of its story, or the audience’s empathy – indeed its consummate artistry magnifies them. For both of those films to lose to yet another likeable, comfortable story about the American government running con games in the 1970s — also the subject matter of last year’s winner, “Argo” — would be a travesty.

Whole thing here

Second was on Tim’s Vermeer, a really wonderful film by Teller. For me, the key sentence in the piece is  “‘Tim’s Vermeer’ is a film that those who see it will think about a lot over the years”. Which is to say that I’m not sure I have quite got the levels of revelations within revelations and reflections on reflections quite right in this first take. Ask me again in a few years time.

It begins:

“SUNDAY in the Park with George”, by Stephen Sondheim, is a work of art about a work of art which takes place, in part, within a work of art. The life, or at least a life, of the painter Georges Seurat is imagined running through, around and past his magnificent “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte”. The musical is said to have a particular importance to Teller, an American stage magician. Sondheim’s “Finishing the Hat”—in which a paean to the sublime rewards of creation triumphs, just, over an accounting of its costs—can reportedly move him to tears.

So it is hardly remarkable that Teller’s first film as a director is also about a work of art and its creation, seen from the inside. But that is one of the few things about “Tim’s Vermeer”, which opened in Britain this week, that is not remarkable. Simultaneously charming and challenging, it asks its viewers at the same time to celebrate art—in fact, on that front it does not merely ask, it demands—and to question it. [read the whole thing]

And whether I quite got it right or not, Teller liked the piece, which makes me happy.



Oscars 2014: Metaprediction
August 23, 2013, 12:49 pm
Filed under: film, Media

I notice that the Oscar prediction season has started. I can understand why this is of no interest to many sane people, but I quite enjoy it. And I may enjoy it even more this year (though that will depend to a certain extent on the movies…) This is because last year, as I blogged, the excellent Kris Tapley told his podcast sparring-partner Anne Thompson that “There’s no way to Nate Silver this kind of thing” — and this year Nate Silver plans to Nate Silver not just this kind of thing, but the thing itself.

His track record is held by some to suggest that he won’t do very well. But it seems to me that the way to measure his predictions is not against the outcome per se, but against other people making predictions, such as those pooled together at the Gurus o’ Gold site. Last year the statistical model put together by Ben Zauzmer did better than half the gurus and not as well as the other half, though this was because he felt there was insufficient data to call some of the races: on the races he called, Ben did as well as one of the better gurus. I suspect that, with more experience, more resources and quite a strong incentive to shine Nate Silver may do better than Ben.

So my metaprediction is that, if Silver chooses to predict all of the races, or a large majority of them, he will beat most of the gurus, but not all of them; the best of the gurus will do better. My further prediction is that if he keeps it up over five years, no single human predictor will beat him continuously.

And while I am at it, I predict that the predictinator will predict that Gravity will win the special effects oscar — and that it will be right.

 



Nate Silver-ing your Oscar predictions
February 28, 2013, 10:17 am
Filed under: film

This should be read in the context of an earlier post over at The Economist’s Prospero blog, a venue which very occasionally stoops to being an outlet for my filmic thought. 

I’d like to preface this by saying that I am a big fan of Anne Thompson and Kris Tapley’s Oscar-race podcast. It has just the sort of insider-knowledge-pitched-slightly-over-my-head vibe that I like in conversational podcasting. The general respect and affection in their relationship is given spice by just the right amount of occasional needle and crossness. I like Anne hitting the table (at least I assume that’s what she’s doing). And most of the time it seems to me to have just the right balance on the question of whether taking the Oscars seriously is silly or not.

But I have to take exception to what they say on statistical approaches to predicting Oscar outcomes about seven minutes in to their post-Oscar post mortem. Noting but dismissing the predictions at Fivethirtyeight.com, we have the following exchange:

Anne: He got a lot of his predictions wrong because it was a very crude system he was using

Kris: There’s no way to Nate Silver this kind of thing

Anne: Exactly– you have to have a little bit of knowledge, experience, intuition — [to] see the movies, talk to people, you know — what we do for a living is required.

The evidence this year, though, suggests that there are ways to Nate Silver this kind of thing — that is, to come up with a good prediction based simply on the data available and statistical models based on past races.  Let’s compare the results from the “Gurus o’ Gold“, a college of 14 Oscar predictors to which Anne and Kris belong, with the results from a statistical model put together by Ben Zauzmer, a student at Harvard.

Ben used his statistics to predict the results of 21 of the 24 races. He got 4 wrong. If you look at the aggregate results for the gurus in the same 4 races, they got 5 wrong. Looking at the gurus individually, I count 4 who did better than Ben on this subset (including Anne), and 8 who did worse (including Kris).

If you want to make Zauzmer’s stats look worse, then look at the whole field of 24 awards. Ben didn’t make predictions in the categories of documentary short, live action short and animated short categories because he doesn’t think the data are strong enough. If you count this failure to engage as getting the results wrong Ben gets seven mistakes out of 24. The gurus have five out of 24. But look at the gurus individually and six did better than Ben (including Anne and Kris), six did worse. So even on the less charitable interpretation of what he achieved, he’s right in the middle of  the pack.

If by “Nate Silver-ing” you mean calling every race accurately then no, you can’t Nate Silver the Oscars, or at least no one has managed it yet. But the idea that you need to have a lot of insight or insider knowledge to do as well as the people who are best at it doesn’t seem to wash. An outsider with data and stats can, it seems, do as good a job as reporters doing it for a living.

By pointing this out, though, I do not for a moment mean to suggest that Anne and Kris should pack up shop. The results of a race matter, for sure — but so does, like, the race. Things being overtaken, leads stretching out, resources being squandered or carefully husbanded — that’s what’s fun to watch. And in this case, for me, there’s a bonus in the insights into what matters to film people and what is seen, and not seen, as working. Not to mention gossip. The stats don’t give narrative or context or tangential insights, and that’s what interests me, much more than the final results. I will be listening to Anne and Kris again next year. But that doesn’t mean that, on the home straight, stats aren’t as good as most gurus and better than quite a few — and the gurus might get better if they acknowledged that.



Not exactly my films of the year
January 3, 2012, 10:55 pm
Filed under: film

I’ve seen, and listened to via podcast a number of films-of-the-year lists, enjoyed them, agreed with them in parts, don’t see much reason to add another to them. But it was quite a filmish year for me, with my first visit to Sundance and over 50 cinema trips (dismal by professional standards, I know, or even real cinephile standards, but more than I think I’ve managed any other year), and a recap seems in order. So here are two lists, first of the ten films I most regret missing this year, then of moments in film that mattered to me.

What I missed that I regret most (in quasi chronological order)

  1. Benda Balili
  2. Submarine
  3. Meek’s Cutoff
  4. A Separation
  5. Tree of Life
  6. Project Nim
  7. Skin I live in
  8. Kill List
  9. Take Shelter
  10. Deep Blue Sea

Looks like my missed list would be a pretty good best of list in other parts. (I should say I have mostly only myself to blame — I think the excellent Greenwich Picturehouse showed all but two of those)

A similarly quasi-chronological list of moments that moved, mattered and stunned

  1. The girl in the car close to the end of Life in a Day, who hasn’t done anything special but wants to be in on what’s happening.
  2. The distraught shepherd phoning home from the high pasture near the end of Sweetgrass
  3. The doping/seduction/murder in Animal Kingdom. (Also the remarkable painterly scenes of the boy alone in the house at night; also the cut to the gallery scene; also…In dramatic terms, this was pretty much my film of the year)
  4. The bullet-time-ish moment where he finally gets it right in Source Code (quite ambivalent about the double coda after this, though I appreciate some of why it was needed). It’s like Ecclestone’s “Just this one time, everybody gets to live” moment in The Doctor Dances, one of the Moff’s great moments
  5. The God’s presence at Monaco sequence in Senna
  6. The bit where Elle Fanning acts at the boys in Super 8
  7. The amends made in the barber’s shop in The Interrupters
  8. The lift scene in Drive
  9. The automaton starts to draw in Hugo (actually, pretty much all of Hugo…)
  10. The Burj Khalifa exterior sequence in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol
When I did the missed list it came out at ten with no forcing. The moments list was a bit longer and so I trimmed: here are the cuttings
  • The Siberian shore lingered on, repeatedly, through rippled panes of glass in How I Ended This Summer
  • “Allow it” in Attack the Block; way to define a hero..
  • The death/goat on the table in Il Quattro Volte
  • The final stairway sequence of Russian Ark (yes, I know — but it was new *to me* this year…)
  • Rhinoceros“: Midnight in Paris (more generally, Corey Stoll; but for a moment, Brody…)
  • “Loser loser loser” at the end of Moneyball

Update: too self congratulatory on getting ten first time when counting missed films. Melancholia, We need to talk about Kevin and Tyrannosaur should probably have been on it too, edging out Meek’s Cutoff and Submarine


Oscars 2011
February 26, 2011, 1:53 pm
Filed under: Artworks, film

Is this thing still on…

Apologies for a profound lack of blogging about the earth system and energy and climate and plants and the sun and geoengineering and stuff. I may try and catch up with some past product and do better in the future. I may not. In the meantime, here are my Oscar predictions, because that’s what I wanted to post today…

In what may be a personal best for the past decade or so I have seen eight out of the ten nominees for best picture, and the two I haven’t seen, 127 hours and Winter’s Bone, aren’t going to win. The rest are all pretty good films, I think, which I suppose is encouraging. Despite the inaccuracy and tendentious political revisionism I liked and admired Kings Speech a lot, and see no particular reason to doubt what seems the accepted wisdom in terms of it winning (the fact that it’s now taken more than $100m makes that even surer, I suspect). If I trusted Social Network’s sense of geek motivation more, and if it didn’t have that terribly pat last scene with the young female associate telling Mark Z what the moral was, I might hold more of a torch for it. But as is I don’t think it will be hard-done-by to lose.
In years to come Toy Story 3 may well be remembered in a way that neither of the other two are, and there’s precedent in Return of the King for giving the final part of a trilogy an oscar meant for the thing as a whole, but I don’t think that the prejudice against animation can be beaten by a second sequel. True Grit seems to me a very good film — indeed I have now seen it twice, and liked it as much or more the second time. But it is not, I think, going to be a winner. Inception seems ruled out judging by the inexplicable decision not to nominate Nolan as director, and very highly though I think of it I have to say the On Her Majesty’s Secret Service part of it does seem misconceived, or poorly handled, or both.
So it’s The Kings Speech, and while we’re at it, Colin Firth for best actor. Three reasons beyond the obvious qualities of the performance: 1) TKS isn’t the best movie unless that’s a great performance, so if is best movie Firth kinda has to get it. 2) Obviously a lot of people liked A Single Man and there’s always that second bite effect. 3) I don’t see any of the others except possibly Franco as serious contendors. Bridges is too soon and the performance not interesting enough, Eisenberg is good in a way that the fact of the nomination rewards in and of itself, same probably goes for  Franco and who if anyone has seen Biutiful.
Following on, I think and hope that Helena Bonham Carter has a good shot at best actress in a supporting role. It’s a lovely performance, funny and touching and, indeed, supporting, and it  comes across really well in the film thanks to sympathetic direction. Also, she’s been a round for a while, she’s good, she’s fun and she hasn’t got one. I think two actresses from The Fighter cancel each other out (though I thought Amy Adams was splendid) and that Animal Kingdom — which I look forward to with huge anticipation and may indeed see tonight — is just too obscure. Finally a weird atavistic faith in Academy voters makes me think that they surely can’t really commit the absurdity for voting for Hailee Steinfeld’s very fine leading performance in the utterly inappropriate category it has been nominated for. Maybe I am wrong about that. Roger Ebert thinks so. It would be a travesty, but there have been travesties before and there doubtless will be again. I am choosing to think that this will not be one.
David Seidler for best original screenplay seems certain, in the light of the above. I find it slightly perplexing as I feel sure I have read that there is/was also a stage version which would seem to me to make it adapted, but maybe I’m hallucinating. An even firmer lock is surely Aaron Sorkin‘s for best adapted screenplay.
Perhaps just because I’m getting bored I am going to say that that’s it for TKS — a good haul and a clear win but not a complete rout. Best actor in a supporting role will go not to Geoffrey Rush but to Christian Bale. It’s such a very good piece of acting, and at the same time one well pitched to appeal to/flatter the practitioners of that craft. I obviously wouldn’t be surprised if Rush won, as some seem to expect, but he has one already and good though he is, the part doesn’t actually go anywhere, which seems to me to undercut the performance. I was ready for the wartime fate of one of his sons to be a powerful reveal at the end of the movie, and the fact that that didn’t happen made me aware of the lack of any other real resolution for him; one of the sons may be in uniform in one of the all-the-nation-together cutaways during the speech, but I couldn’t swear to it.
The fact that I can’t makes me a little cagey about Tom Hooper as best director. It would seem natural in a film which seems very likely to get best film and best actor and an award for screenplay and a supporting role too. But I can’t say that the direction really blew me away. Fincher is a triffic director, hasn’t won an oscar though he should have done for Fight Club, and Social Network has won the Golden Globe and the BAFTA in this category. Not that the globes count for much, but the Bafta seems telling in that everything else went for TKS; if Hooper doesn’t get a BAFTA with home crowd advantage, will he really get an oscar. That said, Tom Hooper won the Directors Guild award, and that is a more reliable indicator than either of the others. But I still feel somehow that it will be David Fincher who wins.
Even if he doesn’t, Social Network’s editors Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter will surely take home their award. Without their editing Sorkin’s script would be a lot harder to parse. They might be joined by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross for the score. I must say that, lacking subtlety, I preferred Hans Zimmer’s score for Inception, and because I think it needs the love I will say that that’s my prediction, though either Reznor or the-bloke-who-did-TKS are probably as likely or more, and on a second viewing I liked the True Grit score even more than the first time. Yes, there are a bunch of fences here and I straddled all over them, but if I have to get down I am going to get down on Hans Zimmer‘s side. Inception should also take visual effects and sound, twice. It won’t, I suspect, win art direction, which along with costumes will go to Alice in Wonderland.
Inception deserves more, if only for being the only live action film in the box office top ten last year that wasn’t an adaptation, a sequel or both. (Here’s a truly scary thing: the next highest non-sequel non-adaptation live-action film on that list was Adam Sandler’s Grown Ups) But I can’t see how Inception gets more given the big Nolan diss on best director, which still seems insane to me even if my outrage makes me a figure of fun to Anthony Lane. Possible exception would be Wally Pfister’s cinematography, but I strongly suspect he will be beaten by Roger Deakins getting his much deserved cinematography oscar, at last, for True Grit. And he did indeed deliver a great looking film.
Documentaries. Have only seen one of these, though I might possibly get to Inside Job tomorrow. Among the features I would have tended to assume Restrepo, but others tell me it could be Inside Job or even Waste Land, which I am going to back simply because I recently met the director. Incomprehensibly, to me, serious people seem to think that Exit through the Gift Shop both will and should win; to me all the cleverness of the film, such as it was, simply underlined that I really didn’t care what parts of it were true and to what extent. I have no idea about the short docos. Maybe Killing in the name. Short live action, I hear, is all but certain to be Na Wewe. Staggered that Gods and Men isn’t on the best foreign language feature list (appears to have done festivals only so I guess not eligible), and in its absence a bit flummoxed.
Toy Story 3 obviously wins best animated feature and I would expect also takes best song (here there’s a definite Return of the King thing, since Randy Newman’s songs for both the first two were nominated). And not having seen the animated shorts I think Pixar may well do the double with Night and Day, which may well be the best use of 3D I have yet seen. But animation voters tend to deny Pixar their love when it comes to shorts, and UK cinemas no longer seem to screen the nominees, so who knows.
There seems a near universal agreement that Natalie Portman will win for Black Swan, a daft film that everyone including its director seems to misunderstand (clues to reversing this misunderstanding: concentrate on why the Cassel character cast her in the first place, and think how much clearer things would be if it were made obvious that he is incapable of an erection). It’s a strong performance, but fails quite badly in a few places. There’s a near insurmountable problem with the 60 seconds or so we see of her as the black swan on stage, which do almost nothing to convince us that her sexuality has indeed been unleashed. Not sure how it could, in context. For myself I would far prefer to see Annette Bening win for a truly terrific, nuanced and moving performance. So I am going to say that she will, and appeal to the fact that the academy audience is aging to back my otherwise poorly founded and sentimental choice.
Other stuff: Make up: Barney’s Version, because I don’t think a film as poorly received as The Wolfman can really be commended. Foreign language film: In a Better World.
What I’m most likely to be wrong on: Portman v Benning, Bale v Rush, Bonham Carter v Stanfield, Zimmer contra mundis, Waste Land, Tom Hooper. If I have called more than three of those right I will allow myself some chuffedness; if I have all six right I will consider myself an Awesome Seer. You have been warned.
UPDATE: So no noticeable awesomeness, or even chuffedness. Struck out on actresses: Portman I sort of expected, Leo I really didn’t. (And having just seen Animal Kingdom, I disagree with it too. Jacki Weaver is staggering in a vaguely similar controlling-mother-of-violent-men role.) Wise people were saying that Reznor would get one and he duly did, and again Inside Job, tipped by many, beat the field. That said, strong vibe that Fincher would  win turned out not to be right. I wish that the voting numbers were made public as they are in the Hugos and we could see what was close and what was not.
That said, by my count I beat Roger Ebert in predictive accuracy, because when submitting my predictions to the beat Ebert contest I changed short animation to “The Lost Thing”, the Shaun Tam animation, at my wife’s suggestion. Beating Ebert may not be much, but I guess it’s something.



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