The Problem With The Oscars Is…


So I’ve had a few issues with the Oscar nominations this year, the reasons of which I’ll outline further on. They mainly focus on the lack of diversity and the predictability of the awards which isn’t to say that I don’t enjoy them! In fact despite living in the UK I always try if possible to watch them live or at least get a live stream to see the results live, I am a little worried that post-university, job-working me won’t able to this year, but that’s another matter.

Okay so the first issue, the one that everyone’s been talking about…MAD MAX HAS 10 NOMINATIONS?! How has that happened, don’t get me wrong I understand that George Millar has been influential and the film technically is great for a blockbuster, but I’m not sure it’s really Oscar-worthy on that basis. Tom Hardy (although brilliant in whatever he does) has hardly any lines and the plot is just one long car chase which gets very tedious after the first hour. Though for me the highlight has to be the flame guitar-wielding guy as part of the villain’s entourage, now that was good! However with the abundance of great cinema we have had this year not sure it merits that many nominations, especially as another topic of controversy could have perhaps been avoided if there had been some replacements in the categories.

So the big controversy of this year’s Oscars has been the lack of black actors nominations across all four categories, as well as snubs for Best Film and other high profile awards. Whilst I agree you shouldn’t just nominate someone because they are black, it highlights not so much an issue with the nominations as it does with the lack of good roles for black actors. However I believe that there were a few missed opportunities this year:

  • Straight Outta Compton: probably one of my favourite films of the whole year, if you haven’t seen it check it out, even if you don’t like rap music! The acting was outstanding and any of the young male leads could have been nominated in lead or supporting actor and it definitely wouldn’t have been amiss in the Best Film category. Interestingly the only category it was nominated for was Best Screenplay…which was written by a white guy…go figure.
  • Idris Elba: snobbery from the Oscars towards Netflix, not a reflection on his talent or ethnicity in my opinion.
  • Will Smith: had anybody seriously heard of his film? Not sure that he deserves to be making such a fuss about a lack of nomination considering the competition this year.
  • Samuel L. Jackson for the Hateful 8: good performance in one of his first consistent lead roles in a Tarantino film but again too political and controversial to merit a nod:

Also Chris Rock hosting is going to be possibly the funniest and one of the most political Oscars, depending how much they let him get away with.

Another thing about the Oscars that I have found is that they are so predictable! I did a predictions list back in July last year and incredibly managed to get most of them right (bar Spotlight and Big Short as I hadn’t heard of them then). Is this a testament to either too much Oscar hype or so-called ‘Oscar bait’ movies, not talking about anyone..*cough* The Danish Girl *cough*. But seriously it would make people far more interested if there was actually some competition and a wider range of films considered in the Oscar pool of nominations.

Speaking of which two snubs I personally was annoyed with (though mainly for my love of these people), Johnny Depp for Black Mass and Quentin Tarantino for Hateful 8. The former had such a transformation in this film and I seriously thought it might be the first time the Oscars would take him seriously, e.g.what we thought would happen to Michael Keaton. But sadly I think the film flew under the radar and was a bit too run of the mill to make an impact. Secondly, Tarantino…well that’s just politics but I won’t go there…

Two final points: sad to see lack of recognition of Legend, the Tom Hardy starring biopic of the Kray Twins, seriously underrated this awards season, probably too British, too violent and Americans wouldn’t understand the accent.

And..I didn’t like the Revenant…waiting for the hate for that one. Technically one of the most beautiful and best films ever made but the story was so dull…DiCaprio was wasted and if he wins it’s a pity Oscar which has been a long time coming!

Tarantino: Time to Retire?


“If I have a change of heart, if I could come up with a new story, I could come back. But if I stop at 10, that would be okay as an artistic statement.” 

Tarantino to Playboy magazine

Quentin Tarantino, currently one of Hollywood’s most recognisable directors has hinted in an interview with Playboy Magazine that his run at the top of Hollywood could be coming to an end. Tarantino, whose filmography includes Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown, Death Proof, Kil Bill Vol.1 and 2, Inglorious Basterds, Django Unchained and the upcoming Western, The Hateful 8, expressed his desire to retire after directing ten films. He said “Directors don’t get better as they get older…I am all about my filmography, and one film can fuck up three good ones.” But is the king of pop culture references making the right decision? Or will he even decide to retire? Looking over his first two and last two films as a guide to how his career has changed, it is clear, that for one thing he will leave behind an incredible legacy… if he does decide to retire.

 Reservoir Dogs – 1992

Even from Reservoir Dogs we can already see the sheer talent that this self-proclaimed “maverick punk” possesses, with a solid first film packed with immensely quotable dialogue, flashy visuals, an unforgettable soundtrack and a narrative that broke all the rules. Reservoir Dogs put this indie director on the map, with a cast including Harvey Keitel, Steve Buscemi, Tim Roth and Michael Madsen, and it took the gangster genre and began to transform it, a genre revisited in Tarantino’s second film Pulp Fiction. Reservoir Dogs focuses on a group of six men who have been brought together to perform a diamond heist, which is never actually seen, an interesting technique considering the film is part of the gangster genre, where the heist is one of the most recognisable features of the gangster film. Tarantino instead chooses to focus on the fall-out of the heist, which goes dramatically wrong as the police had been tipped off and appear as the heist is taking place. The majority of the film takes place in a warehouse, the rendezvous point of the six gangsters, as they gather there after escaping the police,suspicion arises as one of their group is suspected of being an undercover cop and we see the sadistic lengths criminals will go to for the truth, to save themselves, or just to have a little fun. Nowhere is this clearer than the iconic scene where Michael Madsen’s, “Mr Blonde” tortures a kidnapped police officer. Madsen proclaiming, “I don’t give a good fuck about what you know or don’t know, I’m gonna torture you anyway” instantly establishes the sadistic nature of the villains in Tarantino’s Universe. Mr Blonde dancing across the screen to Stealer Wheels’ “Stuck in the Middle With You”‘ and the camera circling the tied up police officer like a predator stalking its prey creates a terrifying psychopath, one that is calm and collected. Despite the psychopathic nature of Mr Blonde, the use of the soundtrack and sadistic humour implicates us in his actions as we are drawn to him, this will be one of Tarantino’s lasting legacies: creating these sadistic yet ‘cool’ characters, many of which have become embedded in pop culture history. The film as a whole is a boiling pot of pop culture references, from the opening scene discussing the ‘real’ meaning of Madonna’s Like A Virgin, to the use of the 70s soundtrack throughout, it cemented Tarantino’s place in cinema as an eclectic filmmaker. His use of older songs and references throughout Reservoir Dogs brought this music and vintage chic lifestyle to an entire generation who can’t talk about tipping, Madonna or Stuck in the Middle With You without this film in mind. Reservoir Dogs is still influencing an entire generation of screenplay writers, directors and pop culture references in general, its narrative is gripping, the plot-twists will keep you on the edge of your seat and in terms of a filmography, it is still so hard to believe that this is a director’s first film, a film that very firmly established Tarantino as a director who was here to stay.

  Pulp Fiction -1994

After the success of Reservoir Dogs, Tarantino’s next film, is often lauded as being the epitome of his work. Approaching its 10th anniversary, Pulp Fiction is still as engaging and influential as it ever has been. The film focuses on the intertwining narratives of mobster wife Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman), gangsters Vincent Vega (John Travolta) and Jules Winnfield (Samuel L. Jackson), an on-the-run boxer Butch Coolidge (Bruce Willis) and Pumpkin (Tim Roth) and Honey Bunny (Amanda Plummer), a ‘wannabe’ Bonnie and Clyde couple.  The film’s plot is not as straightforward as Reservoir Dogs, as Tarantino experiments here with narrative form. The first sequences are out of order and seem unconnected, it is only after you have seen the whole film that the separate sequences make sense, making this film a different fare to what we are used to, blending the lines between indie and Hollywood films. The soundtrack and dialogue, like in Reservoir Dogs, are unforgettable, the opening scene in itself reflects the energy and the bizarre likeability of criminals in Tarantino’s films. The film opens Pumpkin and Honey Bunny, discussing robberies they have performed and the robbery that they are about to undertake in the diner they are eating in, after telling each other they love each other they draw their guns and threaten the whole diner. Then the titles cut in, on a black screen the words Pulp Fiction appear  in big, bright yellow letters and the soundtrack song Miserlou (an edgy surfer inspired song) plays. Tarantino throws you into this eclectic film head first, it’s as if the the audience is hit by a force, your senses heightened, intrigued and unsure where this film will take you. This could have been a disaster in the wrong hands, but Tarantino and his talented cast create a piece that showcases the best of everyone’s talents involved in the film. John Travolta and Uma Thurman had their careers revitalised by this film,  in what was certainly inspired casting and a huge risk on Tarantino’s part, with both actors being cast against type. John Travolta transforms from his dancing days in Grease to his iconic pony-tailed gangster and Uma Thurman transforms into a gritty wife of a mobster, worlds apart from her previous romantic smaller roles. Whilst the film is excellent, there are some parts that seem slightly irrelevant, the only word needed to be mentioned in this context is gimp, if these parts had been cut it would have felt much less superfluous. Pulp Fiction is often lauded as Tarantino’s best work, and whilst this review has focused on so many of the positives in this particular film, in terms of his filmography, most of his films are at the same level, this film is just given more attention and praise due to its innovative narrative design.Inglorious, not mentioned in detail in this article, is an excellent piece of filmmaking and the script and visuals feel far more polished than Pulp Fiction does, showing that each of Tarantino’s film have their own strengths. Whilst the acting and soundtrack within the film are inspired, if it had not been for the innovative narrative timeline, this film could easily have blended with other gangster films, like Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas. So whilst this film is on its own a definite must to watch, do not let the hype surrounding the film cloud your first viewing, it needs to be appreciated for its innovative nature and superb acting, but not as the peak of Tarantino’s career. Django Unchained and Tarantino’s other films all live up to the expectation of this film and all showcase the brilliance and increasing refinement in Tarantino’s filmmaking.

Django Unchained-2012

Django Unchained, Tarantino’s last released film had the most hype and coverage of any Tarantino film to date. Anybody who had missed Tarantino’s work before has surely heard of him after the success of Inglourious Basterds, earning Christoph Waltz an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. This feat was once again replicated in Django Unchained’s success with Oscar’s for both Best Screenplay and Waltz again as supporting actor. This film was Tarantino’s first attempt at a Western film, taking inspiration from the Spaghetti Western genre (Italian made, American set Westerns) that has heavily influenced his work. Tarantino after the film was released said the film was more of  ‘a Southern’, focusing on slavery in the southern American states, rather than the cowboys of the old West. Django Unchained is the story of a slave named Django (Jamie Foxx) who is released by bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) in return for information on slave owners that he is hunting down. Django helps him and eventually joins him and trains to become a bounty hunter by his side, so that together they can go and rescue his wife from evil plantation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio). Blood, sweat and tears are abound in this thrilling adventure, is one of the most action-packed of Tarantino’s recent films, second only to the Kill Bill films. Whilst it has been seen as controversial due to Tarantino’s treatment of slavery, a topic that is still a sensitive subject in America, and also due to his use of the ’N’ word, it is a fantastically exciting film, one that sees the tables turned on the white slave owners, the slaves getting their revenge. What’s so controversial about that? Surely Tarantino should be applauded for exploiting the rules, by reversing the race roles, the slave protagonist being the hero of the film in this era? He changed history by murdering Hitler in Inglorious Basterds, so what difference is there here? Django Unchained as a whole is an excellently made film, with vivid colours, brilliant dialogue as per any Tarantino film, Oscar-Winning and Nominated performances and an eclectic soundtrack that at times jars with the time period but somehow works. To date it is Tarantino’s highest grossing film, with a worldwide gross of $425,368,238, signalling that his career is just growing to higher and higher heights, Django Unchained could be just the film that makes him reevaluate his decision to retire.

The Hateful Eight – 2015

Tarantino’s upcoming film The Hateful Eight, coincidentally his eighth film, has not been without controversy, with a leaked script that Tarantino condemned, he claimed that he would never make the film, only to then do a live public reading which people scrambled to get tickets for, to then deciding to in the end direct the film after all. Some have suggested the leak was intentional, which seems unlikely given how guarded Tarantino usually remains over his films, but either way, he used the situation to his advantage and many people are greatly anticipating the release of the film. Tarantino claims that this will be his true Western film, speaking to Jay Leno he said “that after I taught myself how to make one [a Western], it’s like, ‘OK, now let me make another one now that I know what I’m doing.” The Hateful Eight focuses on a group of travellers stuck in a building during a blizzard, a concept that sounds reminiscent of Reservoir Dogs’ claustrophobic warehouse setting for the majority of the film. It seems from the little information we have of the new script that Tarantino is going back to his roots, having established himself as a big name within Hollywood he can now make those dialogue-heavy intense films that work so well with his fantastic writing. With the ‘Hateful Eight’ having been cast, we see a mixture of firmly established faces from the Tarantino universe, alongside new actors or actors that have had smaller roles in Tarantino films. So, let’s take a look at the ‘Hateful Eight’:

  1. Samuel L. Jackson – Major Marquis Warren: “The Bounty Hunter”

2. Kurt Russell – John Ruth: “The Hangman”

3. Jennifer Jason Leigh- Daisy Domergue: “The Prisoner”

4. Walton Goggins- Chris Mannix: “The Sheriff”

5.  Demian Bachir – Bob: “The Mexican”

6. Tim Roth- Oswaldo Mobray: “The Little Man”

7. Michael Madsen – Joe Gage: “The Cow Puncher”

8. General Sandy Smithers: “The Confederate”

With an eclectic cast and teaser trailer having been released a few months ago excitement is certainly abound for Tarantino’s film. Whether this means there is more pressure to succeed on Tarantino remains to be seen but after having created masterpiece after masterpiece (we’ll ignore Death Proof for now) it seems likely that this will be just as good, if not better than all his other films.

After looking back (and forwards) at Tarantino’s career it is clear that he is one of the most diverse, innovative and influential directors of our generation. He has taken all the rules and broken them again and again: from gangster movies to blaxploitation films; from Japanese revenge films to Westerns. Tarantino is often criticised for his lack of originality but by using ideas and genres we are already familiar with and turning them, on their head/subverting them he creates cinema that surprises us as it challenges our expectations.  So should he retire? After looking back at his collection of films it is clear to say that if he stays at this standard then no, of course he shouldn’t! He doesn’t churn films out, they are all personal pieces of work that he is devoted to and as a cinephile I’m sure he has so many genres and plot options that he has yet to explore. Metro News made an interesting point, if other directors had quit because they were getting old or after ten films, we would have lost cinema history! Imagine no Psycho, no Jurassic Park, no Vertigo (voted the best film of all time in 2012!). Tarantino’s greatest masterpieces could still be yet to come, he claims that a director’s last four films before they die (if they keep directing until then) are their worst, but Stanley Kubrick’s last four films are like the list above, outstanding: The Shining, Barry Lyndon, Full Metal Jacket and Eyes Wide Shut. Tarantino’s excuses for no longer making films seem like a sign of boredom or more likely attention-grabbing headlines, in this case, perhaps the right question to ask is; will he retire? Obviously not being Tarantino himself, we will never truly know his intentions, but with The Hateful 8 released next year, it seems Tarantino is the master of controversy and raising publicity for his films, perhaps making this extravagant claim helps to boost the significance of each film as we have to savour each and every one, control the supply and  it becomes the audience’s demand: Hollywood’s oldest trick in the book. Tarantino claims that he will turn to writing, penning plays and novels, but he has hinted that the door will always remain open to making films, if he has a good idea. Tarantino told Playboy, “if I have a change of heart, if I could come up with a new story, I could come back. But if I stop at 10, that would be okay as an artistic statement”. Considering that Tarantino is one of the most innovative and creative minds of our generation’s film industry, it’s not difficult to see him coming out of retirement in the future, that’s if he does retire at all.

Room 237 (2012): “Everyone’s A Critic”


Room 237 (2012) is a bizarre documentary concerning conspiracy theories surrounding Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. Whilst Room 237 is also entertaining, unfortunately it is for all the wrong reasons. It is an eclectic mixture of clips from a variety of random films, as well as Kubrick’s other works and clips from The Shining are added in as an attempt for the interviewees to show what messages they have gleaned from the film. These include that The Shining is proof of Kubrick’s admission that he helped fake the moon landings. Not only are these theories outlandish but they are laughable, with the smallest detail being blown out of proportion to try and support their radical analysis of the film. With the creation of internet blogging, these interviewees seem to be part of a new generation of ‘critics’, taking to the internet to voice their opinions, which sometimes don’t need to be heard. In the documentary they all claim that to a degree the film has taken over their lives, skewing the idea of ‘cinephilia’ as a love of film, and taking it to an obsessive level. Room 237 and the internet age of blog criticism shows that the saying ‘everyone’s a critic’ has never been more true, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone should be.

The Joy of Killing: The Act of Killing (2012)


Joshua Oppenheimer’s Oscar-nominated documentary, The Act of Killing (2012), is an extraordinary piece of filmmaking, and portrays a horrific situation with integrity and as much honesty as can be hoped for in a narrative based documentary. The film focuses on Anwar Congo and his friends, all members of the Pancisila Youth, a paramilitary group in Indonesia. They took part in the torture and murder of over a million people (mostly communists) during the 1960s, as part of a takeover by the new pro-regime paramilitary Government. Oppenheimer takes this opportunity to play with the conventions of traditional documentaries by encouraging Anwar and his friends to create a film by re-enacting their murders and actions through the style of their favourite American movies. However the use of costume, music and the abundance of joy in Anwar and his actors combine to reflect a surreal atmosphere and a country’s disturbing satisfaction in recreating their past horrors. Anwar, the self-defined ‘gangster’ expresses pride in his actions and discusses them flippantly, however throughout the film it becomes clear that Anwar hides behind this façade of heroic pride and Oppenheimer’s use of close-ups reveal haunted eyes and tears. Whether this is in its entirety a clever construction on Anwar’s part in playing to the cameras or a haunted man faced with the realisation and guilt of his crimes, this is a film that I urge everyone to see, regardless of how harrowing it can be.

Caché (2005) : Caché Should Have Stayed Hidden


Caché (2005), a French language film from German-Austrian director Michael Haneke focuses on a middle-class French family being spied upon, with static shots of their house (among other situations) being filmed on videotape and sent to their house by an anonymous source. Whilst this plot sounds thrilling and Haneke’s intentions seem to suggest an attempt at creating a thriller genre film, the lack of any actual suspense leaves the film falling very flat. This sense of frustration and boredom is however broken by a disturbing and unsurprising turn of events that made me audibly gasp and feel sickened, however this is all soon forgotten and the boredom soon sets in with the ambiguity that Haneke seems so intent in preserving. Whilst the film’s title Caché, meaning hidden, is an obvious nod towards the voyeuristic stalker (whose identity remains abigious), we are also implicated in this obsessive watching, evoking allusions to Alfred Hitchcock’s Read Window. Through this association it seems that Haneke was trying to recapture this fascination with voyeurism, but in a world today where everything we do is recorded and watched on phones, CCTV and social media, the film feels very outdated despite its release only a decade ago; so perhaps taking a hint from his own title, Caché should indeed remain hidden.

Neighbouring Sounds (2012) : Sound of Silence


Neighbouring Sounds (2012) is the debut film of Brazilian critic turned film-maker Kleber Medonça Filho, and focuses on the grittier Brazil, worlds apart from the carnival capital that international audiences think it is. The film focuses on themes of paranoia and the growth of Brazilian middle class (whilst seeing the decline of the upper-middle classes as a result) within this community, which Filho uses as a microcosm for contemporary Brazil. The film uses a series of interwoven characters and narratives, which at times can feel a little tedious and provide no apparent function in furthering the plot. However as a film that reflects social themes and issues perhaps it is harder for international audiences to fully understand and appreciate the significance of all elements of the film? But this does not seem to be the case in other films that focus on domestic social issues such as Cria Cuervos, Volver (Spain) and Y Tu Mama Tambien (Mexico)so it seems that the problem does not lie within the narrative but more how the director chooses to engage with and present their respective issues. There are some interesting cinematography and sound choices but overall this film feels very flat, almost monotonous, mirroring mother Bia’s boredom and sense of being trapped in a film that ultimately offers very little chance of escape. Whilst I’m sure that the film provides a very interesting critique of Brazilian society, there is little to get excited about and perhaps the director could have injected a little of the carnival spirit into the film to bring some life and variety to what is otherwise a very dull film.

Bridesmaids (2011) : Bridesmaid-zilla!


Bridesmaids (2011) is undeniably a very funny film, a rarity within the rom-com genre, but does this mean that it is in fact any different to the multitude of rom-com films that have come before it? The film focuses on Annie (Kristen Wiig), a self-destructive woman riddled with self-loathing and relationship issues, and her rivalry with divine, ‘perfect’ hostess Helen (Rose Byrne) over who will be the maid of honour at Annie’s childhood best-friend Lillian’s wedding. Kristen Wiig’s approach as co-writer and star does bring a new perspective to the comedy half of the genre, with many crude set-pieces and an all-star cast of women who prove that they can be just as funny as men. However there are a number of issues holding Bridesmaids back from its true potential; and whilst one of the positives of the film is that it never forces gender politics onto the audience, as one of very few films to feature a female majority cast and co-writer means that there will be a certain sense of expectation placed upon the film by its viewers. The film’s narrative serves to support traditional gender roles, with many of the conversations focusing around the subject of men, or jealousy between women, a sense of bitchiness that although is realistic, is somewhat of a stereotype and the ending simply reinforces the notion that women have to be in a relationship or be married to in fact be happy. So although this film is extremely funny, using crude humour to portray women in an unusually disgusting light, inspiration no doubt from their male counterpart predecessor, The Hangover (2009), don’t get your hopes up that there is equality in Hollywood just yet. But hopefully this film is the trailblazer into this foray, creating sparks rather than a blaze, so put away your bras, there’ll be no burning just yet.

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