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2018’s Oscar nominations arrived earlier this week, offering a hopeful change of pace to shake up what most of us have come to expect from Academy voters. While an Oscar statuette is considered the highest praise an actor can receive, they’re not always awarded for the best performance on a star’s resume. Let’s take a look...
Let’s not bury the lead here - 2018 is shaping up to be Gary Oldman’s year, with the screen-vet and twice Academy nominated star looking likely to take home an Oscar for his immersive turn as UK Prime Minister and friendliest person you’re ever (not) likely to see on the tube, Winston Churchill. If he does win big, it’ll be no big surprise. Oldman’s made going to the cinema worthwhile for the better part of twenty-five years and while his take on Churchill is impressive, it’s hardly the role he’ll be remembered for. True Romance’s Dexyl Spivey or The Fifth Element’s Jean-Baptiste Emanuel Zorg may not be welcome in the Academy’s Kodak Theatre but they’re more than welcome on the DVD shelves of die-hard fans. Will Oldman's turn as a prickly PM be as fondly remembered? Don't think so.
Is there anyone who so clearly wanted an Academy Award more than Leo DiCaprio? Pick a film at random from his IMDB resume. Go on. Take a look. No matter which title you land on, his performance in that movie could easily be considered as a contender for Best Actor. Here’s someone who not only seems to pick his roles based on their ability to blow socks off but who carefully curates his personal life off-screen to maintain the illusion and allow for easy immersion whenever we see him in a new character’s shoes. The guy even started strong; making his mainstream debut with a enviable performance in 1993’s What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. After missing out with classic turns in 2002’s Catch Me If You Can, 2004’s The Aviator and 2006’s The Departed, it took him literally crawling though the mud and putting himself through hell to get what he was after. Is it his best role? Nope. Did it do the job? You bet.
You’d be forgiven for thinking Jeff Bridges had some sort of advantage when it comes to industry recognition. As the son of Lloyd Bridges and younger brother to Beau, acting was seemingly in his blood and while it never appeared that he was all that interested in awards, that didn’t stop him from turning in performances that were worthy of them. It was his role as grizzled country singer Bad Blake in 2009’s Crazy Heart that won him his Academy Award, melding two passions that are clearly close to Bridges’ heart: acting and music. However the film is almost forgettable when it comes to his extensive back catalogue. Crazy Heart better than Tron, The Fisher King or The Big Lebowski? That’s just, like, the Academy’s opinion, man.
Sort-of-cockney-sort-of-American sounding actor Christian Bale is known for going to extreme lengths in the name of professional pretending AKA acting. Sometimes he’s losing an uncomfortable amount of weight, like when he appeared in 2004’s The Machinist. Sometimes he’s losing an uncomfortable amount of hair, like he did when he starred in (and won a Best Actor Oscar for) 2010’s The Fighter - and sometimes he’s just plain losing it and it's uncomfortable, like when he got all mad at that lighting guy whilst shooting 2009’s meandering sequel Terminator Salvation. Either way, the guy’s committed, and the Academy clearly acknowledged that - even if it did take them almost 25 years. While it’s undeniable that Bale is an actor worthy of an Academy Award, it’s hard not to think his talents should have have appreciated straight off the bat in Spielberg’s 1987 epic Empire of the Sun or even 2000’s unnerving American Psycho. Perhaps, like Patrick Bateman, his early work was a little too new wave for their tastes.
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It may seem like all cinemas have to offer at the moment are glossy CGI superheroes and audience-dividing Star Wars adventures but look between the frames and you’ll see something that’s currently going unnoticed - and for good reason. It’s the waning dregs of the franchises that audiences forgot. More specifically, the would-be young adult franchises. You know the type - the ones that were adapted from popular young adult novels and came complete with soundtracks chock full of floppy-haired indie bands - and to everyone's surprise, they’re not quite dead yet.
It feels like ever since the whirlwind success of series like Twilight and The Hunger Games studios have constantly been on the lookout for the next tween-tale they can spin into Hollywood gold. However the formula for success isn’t always as cut-and-dry as simply finding a colourfully dystopian future and a couple of beautifully moody sentient cheekbones to lead it to peace. For the past few years the powers that be have been trying to preempt the inevitable conclusion of their biggest money makers by fast tracking new stories with sequel potential but despite their very best efforts, almost none of them have actually succeeded in doing what they set out to do.
Instead what these studios were left with was a sobering lesson in why you should never count your chickens before they’ve hatched. And us? We got to watch countless trailers for movies that had already been abandoned by their audiences but were determined to limp over the finish line. Films like The Divergent Series, a franchise with a plucky chosen-one hero, a society divided into five factions and a - wait, isn’t that just The Hunger Games? You may vaguely remember the release of part one back in 2014 but did you know that the franchise has released a sequel, a two-part threequel and still has an as-yet unmade conclusion in the pipeline? Didn’t think so.
What about The Maze Runner? With its down-trodden lead, trapped within a deadly-game that’s all that’s separating him from freedom… hang on, that sounds familiar too but were you aware that part three (yes, part three) is due later this year? At last, some surprising news! And these are just two of the films that made it this far. Others weren’t so lucky, like 2013’s The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones or 2014’s Vampire Academy, two movies that cut their losses after failing to impress at the box office.
While it may be true that anything can happen in the movie business, one certainty is that if something's popular, audiences are guaranteed to see more of it. However if the trial-and-error track record of the young adult genre proves anything, it's that more of the same is never a shortcut to success.
Do you think we need another young adult franchise? Let me know in the comment section below!
Cinema-wise, 2017 ended with a rift more divisive than a light-sabre swipe. Rian Johnson’s eagerly anticipated trilogy sandwich filler The Last Jedi hit screens and immediately split the opinions of seasoned Jedis and fledgling Padawans alike. Some (including Disney) thought it was exactly the breath of fresh air that the series needed, a gasp-inducing continuation that refused to let you get comfortable from the get-go, either via character twists or Porg humour. Others meanwhile felt that Johnson’s episode played a little too fast and loose with the universe, characters and Star Wars story tone that they hold so dear. For the first time ever, there was a clear love-it-or-hate-it vibe about the Skywalker saga. Talk about a disturbance in the force.
It raised an interesting point though: What is it exactly that makes a film any good? Can a film be purely good or purely bad or is the worth of each cinematic outing based purely on personal taste alone? December was an interesting time to talk about good and bad movies too, notably due to the release of James Franco’s The Disaster Artist. Debuting just a week or so before The Last Jedi, Franco’s film revealed the story behind The Room, Tommy Wiseau’s infamously terrible movie that’s since gone on to become a sleeper cult-hit with movie fans. With Franco likely to win big during award season (scratch that - already winning big) thanks to a pitch-perfect performance of a character once deemed too terrible to succeed, it blurs the lines even further on what constitutes good art in the eyes of viewers.
With movies like Star Wars, the task of earning the accolade of ‘good movie’ is an even trickier task. Fans have had years to paint their own personal futures for their favourite characters and dream up bespoke swan songs and additional adventures that no Disney-released canon storyline can ever hope to compete with. For every person who admired The Last Jedi’s unexpected new direction, there was someone disappointed that their latest trip to a galaxy far, far away left them a little short of satisfied. Try as you might, you just can’t please everyone - not even if you’re a money spewing powerhouse like Disney.
And yet it gets more nuanced still. Perhaps a film’s worth depends less on the quality of its story and performances and more on the the personal impact it has on viewers when it lands on their radars. As time has told, box office returns - despite often feeling like the be-all-end-all signifier of a film’s overall worth - mean little-to-nothing in the bigger picture of a movie’s lifespan. There’s a reason why Best Picture winners are often hard to recall but no one has any trouble fondly remembering the movies they grew up with, no matter how shoddy or bizarrely constructed they are. Rarely are the latter included amongst the former yet its these movies that shape our tastes, fill our DVD shelves and adorn our walls. What makes a movie any good? Whatever you bring to it.
What do you think separates a good film from a bad film? Let me know in the comment section below!
Author: Simon Bland