Tag Archives: Morgan Freeman

The Best Picture Winners That Never Were – Part 2 (1991 – 2015)

pulp_fiction_new_images_for_windows

“Now are you a rusher? Or are you a dragger?”

Yup, the Oscars are almost here. The annual celebration of people doing their job very well when they’re paid hundreds of thousands of times more than you and me do for our nine-to-fives. Basically, it’s Hollywood’s Employee of the Month award with an almost ironclad guarantee that winners will go on to do something bloody awful afterwards – I’m looking at you, Halle Berry and I’m DEFINITELY not looking at Swordfish.

So what do you say? Shall we continue my list of missed opportunities and wrong decisions? I promise to be a little less controversial than I was in the first part and hopefully, hopefully, you’ll agree with some of my choices. Only one way to find out.


1994 – Pulp Fiction

The first of a 1994 double bill that lost out to the bloody terrible Forrest Gump. Yeah, I know, I’ve probably lost you already, but hear me out. My dislike for Tom Hanks aside, I simply don’t like Gump and his stupid face. The whole film just bugs me, and the fact that it has beaten a bonafide classic like Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction is just unforgivable.

The intertwined stories of gangsters, everyday criminals and Joe average that blurs the lines between good guys and bad is one of the most amazing films dedicated to celluloid. To spend the two and a half hour running-time with these characters is to spend a tenth of your day with some of the most brilliantly written characters in the history of film.

Between this, and the next film in my list, there’s no way on God’s green earth that anyone, ANYONE, can tell me that they think the escapades of Mr. Gump deserves that Oscar.


1994 – The Shawshank Redemption

Yeah, believe it or not, the Forrest Chump beat this to the Oscar too. Based on a Stephen King short story and current, almost permanent, number one on the IMDB top 250 (Pulp Fiction is 5, while Hanks’ statue thief sits at 13), Shawshank is regarded by many as the greatest film is ever made.

Frank Darabont makes his feature film debut and gets his name known around the world with what is easily the best prison drama put to film. Featuring Tim Robbins and an Oscar nominated performance from Morgan Freeman as a pair of unlikely friends working through years behind bars with each other. With escape constantly on the mind of Robbins’ innocent Andy Dufresne and Freeman’s “Red” living with the desire to just play out his time in peace and quiet; Shawshank is maybe the only film that could beat Tarantino’s Classic to the finishing line if quality of film was actually the standard used for handing out these awards.


1997 – Good Will Hunting

Genuinely, I think this is a no-brainer. Forget the star power of writers Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, Good Will Hunting is a truly original film. The story of Damon’s Will Hunting who, with the help and guidance from his court appointed psychologist (Robin Williams) learns to find his identity in a world where he can solve almost any problem, but can’t seem to shift his own personal demons.

Compare that to the film that won the Oscar that year? A film about a giant sinking boat. And while Titanic may be a visually impressive film to watch, the fact that it’s a love story, based on an unsinkable boat that sank, where the happy ever after was one of the lovers freezing to death in the water while the other clung to a lump of wood to survive? No thanks. Utter guff. And again, no staying power. All these years later, Titanic looks like a CGI laden mess, Good Will Hunting can still draw you in with its fantastic drama.


2011 – Moneyball

Definitely more of a personal opinion for this one than a flat out obvious mistake on the Academy’s part. Based on Michael Lewis’ book, The art of winning an unfair game, this Brad Pitt starring drama lost out to The Artist. Now, I enjoyed The Artist; it was a well made film that, considering what it was, kept me riveted the entire time it was on. But in my opinion, it was a flash in the pan and on second viewing isn’t half as good.

Moneyball earned a handful of nomination in 2011, including acting nods for its star and, much to everyone’s surprise, Jonah Hill. The film takes the mundane behind the scenes stuff of pre-season baseball and makes it a thrilling, interesting, drama that has you hooked early on and doesn’t let go. Its author hits his third adaptation to get a nomination for best film this year with The Big Short (the frankly amazing The Blind Side as also nominated in 2009 but lost, quite rightly, to The Hurt Locker) and honestly, this should have been his first win.


2015 – Whiplash

Now, I know I’m gonna get shit for is one, and that’s ok. There was absolutely nothing wrong with last year’s winner, the brilliant Birdman was deserving of its statue. And even when watching it again, it’s just as good; well acted, brilliantly directed and with a very cool improvised jazz score I would gladly have The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance in my collection.

But it didn’t do one thing that Whiplash did. Not only did the film completely blow me away, but the story of the young jazz drummer going up against his abusive band leader and trying to come out on top left me walking out of the cinema in a state that I can only describe as shell shocked. It’s a state I’ve been in several times after watching this amazing spectacle of a film. Every rewatch leaves me exhausted and at the same time begging for more. The only other film to do that recently is 2016 best pic nominee Mad Max: Fury Road. And only time will tell us if whatever beats it has the staying power that both of these films have.


That’s me done. For this year at least. What did you think? Do you agree with my choices? Think I’m a complete imbecile for hating Titanic and Forrest Gump? Do feel free to let me know. There’s nothing I like more than a good argument over great films!

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The Week In Film – 17 September 2014: The Age of Remakes

Welcome to the Week In Film! Steve returns from a short break to provide you with a round-up of everything worth knowing in the world of film that has occurred in the past week.

by Steve Norman (@StevePN86)

age of ultronAge of Ultron

The slow drip feed of info about the next instalment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe continued this week as a brief synopsis of Avengers: Age of Ultron was released.

It revealed that Ultron was not created by Tony Stark, as previously thought due to Hank Pym not being introduced as of yet, but Tony Stark ‘releases’ Ultron by messing about with some old tech stuff.

With this in mind could we be seeing a Pym/Ant-Man cameo in Age of Ultron? And with a Doctor Strange movie announced and strong rumours of a Black Panther movie could we see either a cameo or mention of these popular Marvel characters?

I Know What You Did In a Summer Ages and Ages Ago

Sony are looking to remake I Know What You Did Last Summer. While it was an enjoyable teen slasher film, is there really any need to reboot it? I imagine they will attempt to spawn a franchise.

Hollywood needs some new ideas. The amount of remakes, reimaginings, prequels and sequels is getting pathetic.

Another Remake

Ben Hur is set for a rehash by Hollywood. Charlton Heston starred in the successful original, famous for its chariot race and Jack Huston and Morgan Freeman are set to star in a new version written by 12 Years A Slave’s John Ridley due for a 2016 release.

Despite a good cast and noted writer on board, whenever a film of this ilk is due for modernising it makes me think of a mediocre singer trying to belt out Whitney Huston on the X-Factor.ben hur

Bourne Again

More sequel news as Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass have agreed to return to the Bourne franchise. Previously it was thought that the character had gone as far as it could and Damon stated he would not return without Greengrass, which is what led to the reasonable but not as good as the originals Jeremy Renner outing.

How this will tie in with the Renner ‘Legacy’ film (if at all) and any further plot details are some way off, but if it is as good as the first three…? There’s certainly potential for expansion in this franchise.

An Original Origin Story

It appears that almost every character on the silver screen must, at some point, have an origin story movie. Judge Dredd looks set to have one, based on the comics, but King Kong, whose early life on Skull Island has only been briefly touched on in other cinematic outings, and looks set to get his own movie looking at the back story of the big monkey.

Max Borenstein is set to write. He is the same man who wrote the recent Godzilla movie so he has experience when it comes to monster movies and perhaps we could see some lizard vs. ape action in the future.

Tom Hiddleston is set to star, in what role we do not know. Perhaps as a motion capture monkey.

Join us again next week, where we will return to give us another round up of the latest in film news.

Transcendence

TRANSCENDENCEWhatever potential Transcendence may have had is squandered by Stone Age gender and technological politics and overall nonsensical stupidity.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

I have come to the conclusion that films don’t know how to use in medias res, anymore.  Transcendence opens 5 years after its story is supposed to start, in a post-apocalyptic America where the Internet is knocked out totally and technology seems to no longer exist.  Sorry, I’ve just spoiled the end of Transcendence for you but only because Transcendence all but flips every single one of its cards in the first three minutes.  That is not how in medias res is supposed to work!  You’re not supposed to just show your ending and then wheel back to the start!  This gives me no greater understanding of the plot at large, starting at the end does not hook me any more than starting at the beginning would and, most importantly, it’s still exposition!  In medias res is supposed to start with action, somewhere exciting, to hook the viewer!  Here, I’m just being told information I would have reached by the time the story catches up, anyway!

So, that’s how Transcendence starts.  It does not get better.  The film does have a great premise, which only serves to make the fact that it wastes it on rote and poorly executed technological scaremongering all the more disappointing.  Scientist Will Caster (Johnny Depp) is shot with a radioactive bullet by a radical anti-tech terrorist group which will kill him in just over a month’s time.  Desperate to save his life, his grief-stricken wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) convinces their friend Max (Paul Bettany) to upload Will’s mind and consciousness into the form of a functioning AI program, a concept that Will has spent most of his entire life researching and working on.  Will and Max both agree and the trio set about trying to make it a reality.  Will eventually passes on but, miracle upon miracles, the plan seems to work and he wakes up as an AI.  Evelyn is overjoyed at reuniting with ‘Will’ but Max’s alarm bells are set ringing when the first thing the newly AI and self-aware Will asks for is more power…

What follows is nearly two hours of the same tone-deaf “all technology, regardless of the benefits, will DESTROY US ALL!!” message that I honestly thought we’d finally grown out of post-Y2K.  Hell, one character actually name-drops the Y2K concept at one point to let the audience know just how much of a threat AI Will is.  My issue is not the entire concept of the film, the “rogue AI” sub-genre of sci-fi is rife with realised potential, my issue is with the fact that the film never once lets up on its cynical nature.  Everything AI Will does, and I mean everything, whether it be clever stock trading or helping fix up a run-down old town or developing renewable energy sources or furthering nanotechnology, is constantly portrayed with a sense of dread.  That these are not things to be celebrated, but to be feared as they’re clearly being used as part of a larger scheme by an evil overload to take over the world!

The reason why this doesn’t work, and why it actually rather offends me, is down to the issue of tone.  Unlike other films of this type, and apparently the upcoming The Wind Rises, this is not a balanced portrayal.  It’s never “technology can be used for so much good, but it is also capable of being used for evil and destruction”, it’s always “anything that technology can provide, no matter how useful and helpful it may seem, is a time-bomb waiting to happen”.  Late on in the movie, AI Will manages to perfect nanotechnology, which enables human beings to self-heal and have unimaginable strength, and not five seconds after this development occurs does the film reveal that it’s only possible if the person receiving the nanotechnology is connected to AI Will and the film all but screams “THESE WILL BECOME AN EVIL TERMINATOR ARMY LATER ON”.  It never allows itself a moment to just show off the new technology in a positive light, it all has to be cloaked in this envelope of dread and fear for what will happen.

So, in the end, you’re supposed to side with the radical anti-tech terrorists.  You know, the ones who kill, kidnap and torture people, blow up buildings and speak near-permanently in soliloquies about how technology is going too far and is a total always-unspecified threat to everything.  Funnily enough, this didn’t take for me and such a sentiment only stayed with me when, surprise surprise, they’re proven totally right near the end.  And, no, the last-minute switch of motives to “but it only did these things for love” also didn’t take because it rang hollow, a last-minute attempt by the people involved to try and cover their arses from me making this very criticism at the film instead of an earned plot and character development.  You can’t spend 1 hour and 45 minutes bellowing one message as loud as possible and then turn around in the final 5 minutes and quickly shout something else.  It’s going to feel false.

Or, to put it another way, watching Transcendence is akin to a person acting like Billy in this clip from The Grim Adventures Of Billy & Mandy for nearly two straight hours and it’s near insufferable.

But the fun doesn’t stop there, oh no!  See because a film in 2014 has pulled out that old chestnut of “women shouldn’t science because their emotions make them unstable and will DESTROY EVERYTHING!!” and played it dead straight.  Evelyn is given plenty of chances to shut down AI Will, is told repeatedly and explicitly that the AI is not the real Will and that it is a danger to everyone else (all by men, incidentally) yet constantly she refuses to listen with her entire counter-argument for about three-quarters of the movie being “It’s Will!  It’s my husband!”  If this were a film about grieving and learning to let go and accepting that loved ones are going to die, this tract would be acceptable and, hell, could even be handled well.  Instead, she’s the sole person who is shown to be wrong about their methods of going about things, she’s the one that allows things to get to an irreparable and irreversible state and she takes at least 90 minutes (3/4 of the film) to be successfully convinced that she’s wrong because she’s a woman and “women and their emotions, amiright lads?

And don’t even get me started with a late-game conversation that strongly posits the idea that AI Will’s code is this way because it more resembles Evelyn than it does Will and that she may possibly have inadvertently futzed around with the code and caused this whole mess.  It is maddening, absolutely maddening, to have to sit through a film in 2014 that still insists that women and their emotions are volatile things and that men are the only sane force in the entire film.  “But Callum, what about that girl in the anti-tech terrorist group played by Kate Mara?  She’s speaking sense, seeing as the film proves her and her cause right.”  That’s a good point you raise and one that can immediately be dismissed by the fact that she, along with everybody else on the anti-tech terror team are not characters.  They are blank slates, not people, their entire character is their cause, the rhetoric they spout in support of their cause and their youth.  That’s it.  Hard to help buck the “women shouldn’t science” message template when you’re the barest definition of a character.

Fact of the matter, though, is I would not be fixating so much on these message issues if the actual film housing these messages was in any way interesting or well-made or less ponderously self-serious about everything.  (Well, I mean, my 300: Rise of an Empire review clearly indicates otherwise, but still…)  Yet, it is.  A slew of likeable actors who otherwise should know better line-up to collect paycheques and nothing more, giving barely passable performances with the lone exception being Johnny Depp who is awful.  He just does not seem to give one single crap at any point during this, constantly mumbling and staring off into space and seeming completely disinterested throughout.  You could do a thing with this when he becomes an AI, make it seem creepier and uncanny and off-putting that way… except that he’s like that from frame one, WELL BEFORE HE’S BEEN SHOT AND DYING, LET ALONE UPLOADED!  I haven’t seen Depp this checked out in nearly five years, he is just dreadful here.

The pacing is poor, both in terms of getting through it (the middle hour seems to drag on for ages) and in terms of story urgency and agency (there’s a two year time-skip in the middle of said aforementioned middle hour that basically makes it seem like R.I.F.T., the anti-tech terror group, spent the time sat on their arses twiddling their thumbs despite insisting that AI Will is a huge danger just moments ago).  The scale is preposterously tiny with literally nobody outside of maybe 10 people being at all concerned or at all aware of the evil sounding self-aware AI that may or may not be building up an army.  Despite costing $100 million, Transcendence looks cheap as all hell and no more so during its bafflingly stupid final 30 minutes, despite being an allegedly serious film.

And that extreme self-seriousness is the film’s major downfall here.  It’s so serious and joyless, like it’s offering up some kind of cautionary tale, imparting some kind of wisdom that only it has ever gotten and which will blow our minds when it tells us!  Except that its supposedly majorly smart wisdom is “science is scarewy” and its finale involves lots of explosions, Terminator-people and dreadfully rendered data bytes that act like vines.  It thinks it’s Ghost In The Shell or something similarly smart about the nature of humanity, but it’s actually more Surrogates.  If it didn’t have the feel of a big important serious treatise about big important serious things, it’d be easier to just write it off as a terrible dumb movie.  Instead, it’s a terrible dumb movie that has pretentions of being a smart movie and those are smug, highly irritating sh*tfests to sit through.

You could have made something great out of Transcendence.  A tight-knit relationship drama about coping with loss.  A satire about how dependent we are on advancing technology.  A thriller about an evil sentient AI that explores the worldwide consequences of such a thing and doesn’t demonise all technology on the straight-faced basis of the usually sarcastic quip “THIS IS HOW SKYNET STARTED!!”  We got none of those films.  Instead, first-time director Wally Pfister (previous of being the Director Of Photography for all Christopher Nolan films from Batman Begins to The Dark Knight Rises) has turned in a dumb piece of crap that thinks it’s got the key to the safety of future civilisation.  A film that’s terrified of science, dismissive of women and women scientists and also a poorly acted, poorly paced, cheap mess.  I felt insulted as I left the cinema, feeling like I had both had my time wasted and my intelligence stamped all over.

To think Wally Pfister turned down working on Interstellar to make this…

Callum Petch has cloned a human being, it is now a member of his band.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!

Failed Critics Podcast – Oblivion

Oblivion Tom CruiseWelcome to the Failed Critics Podcast, where this week our main review is Tom Cruise-starring, sci-fi magpie Oblivion. Gerry and James nearly get into a fit over Tom Cruise (not quite in that way), and we play ‘I Spy Sc-Fi’ when discussing the film’s very obvious influences.

Also in the pod, we review what we’ve been watching this week, including Festen, The Odd Couple and The Man From Nowhere.

Join us next week for our First Birthday celebrations. We’ll be answering everything you’ve ever wanted to know about us and film, but were afraid to ask (because you didn’t want anyone finding out you listen to this shambles).

LISTEN VIA ACAST FOR THE MOST INTERACTIVE EXPERIENCE

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A Decade In Film: The Nineties – 1991

A new series where Failed Critics contributors look back on a particular decade in the world of cinema, choose their favourite films from each year of that decade, and discuss the legacy those years have left us.

Kate has chosen to relive the nineties, because she’s old enough to remember them in their entirety This week she revisits 1991.

Beauty & the Beast

beauty & the beast

‘Tie your napkin round your neck, Cherie, and we’ll provide the rest.’

The first animation to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture, an honour which wasn’t bestowed again until Up got the nod some 18 years later, Disney present this classic fairy tale as a Broadway production. Notable voices provided by the delightful Angela Lansbury as kindly Mrs Potts, and the late Jerry Orbach, whose French accent steals the show as Lumière  the singing candelabra, in the same year he first appeared in Law & Order.

While other Disney offerings have some cracking songs, make no mistake, this is a musical. Indeed, in another Oscar first, this was the first picture to receive three nominations for Best Original Song.  From the big budget opening number, to Céline Dion warbling over the end credits, this film is all about the singing. ‘Be Our Guest’, performed by the ensemble cast of enchanted objects, is right up there with Little Mermaid‘s ‘Under the Sea’ for lyrical genius.

It’s difficult to find a huge amount of sympathy for the Beast, who really doesn’t do himself any favours considering his mission to ‘love and be loved’ is a rather time sensitive matter. Belle, our plucky protagonist, is sweet enough. But a carriage clock, a teapot & cup, a footstool and the aforementioned candelabra are the real stars. Anyone else find it really disappointing at the end, when they turn back into humans?

Father of the Bride

father of the bride

‘Our plane’s about to take off, but I couldn’t leave without saying goodbye. Thank Mom for everything, ok? Dad, I love you. I love you very much.’

A remake of the 1950 Spencer Tracy & Elizabeth Taylor romp of the same name, Father of the Bride is a simple tale of a daughter flying the nest. Like the Meet the Parents of the nineties, what makes it great is the stellar ensemble cast. Steve Martin portrays almost the same neurotic, fiercely loyal father he did in Parenthood two years earlier. Only this time he plays basketball and makes trainers for a living, so he’s pretty much the perfect dad.

Add to that the always great Diane Keaton, Kieran Culkin at the same age, and just as funny, as his older brother was when he starred in Home Alone, and Martin Short‘s inspired performance as the generically ‘European’ wedding planner Franck Eggelhoffer. There is also a bridal couple but, as these things often go, the film is less about them and more about everything surrounding them. Indeed, Wikipedia notes that groom George Newbern is ‘best known for his roles as Bryan MacKenzie in Father of the Bride (1991) and its sequel’.

An enjoyable 105 minutes for anyone who has planned a wedding, owns a daughter, or likes looking at the ridiculously lavish mansions that seemingly pass for a ‘house’ in the United States.

Thelma & Louise

thelma-and-louise

‘Shoot the radio.’

You know that feeling on the last day of your holidays when you really don’t want to go home? This is the tale of what happens when you actually act upon those feelings, under the direction of Ridley Scott. The story obviously resonated, and gained writer Callie Khouri the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for this, her first produced film.

Geena Davis & Susan Sarandon star as sunglasses and head scarf clad best friends, heading off to the mountains in their dusty convertible. Thelma is instantly lovable as the ditzy downtrodden housewife, while Louise is bolshy and demanding, with hints of a hidden past which might make you warm to her. Such is the nature of long car journeys, spend enough time with a person in a confined space and you’ll grow to love them. Or kill them. (Spoiler.)

There’s a cameo from Michael Madsen, a ‘before he was famous’ sex scene with Brad Pitt, and Harvey Keitel as the cop with a heart who is rooting for our anti-heroes. Even if you’ve never seen the film, you’re sure to know the oft-parodied ending scene. And while, at age 11 watching my mum’s VHS copy, it took me a while to comprehend the significance of the decision to ‘keep going’ in relation to the Grand Canyon, it was nonetheless pretty inspiring.

Backdraft

backdraft

‘You go, we go.’

Admittedly the initial appeal for me was the sight of William ‘Billy’ Baldwin in full firefighter get-up. But legendary director Ron Howard goes one better and makes burning buildings look sexy. Chicago’s emergency services never fail to impress on the big screen, and this depiction of their fire department is no different, gaining the auspicious title of ‘the highest grossing film ever made about firefighters’ in lieu of awards.

Baldwin and Kurt Russell are brothers and co-workers, who become embroiled in the work of a serial arsonist, the fallout of a mayoral campaign, and the deaths of several colleagues. One of them also has sex with Jennifer Jason Leigh on top of a moving fire truck. Have a guess which one. Elsewhere, Robert De Niro puts on a suitably geeky performance as an arson investigator, while Donald Sutherland is like Hannibal Lecter but with fire.

Backdraft has action, obviously, tension, and more than a little heart-wrenching family drama. Personally, nothing makes me sob like a baby more than some on screen reference to real life at the end of a movie. There are over 1,200,700 active firefighters in the U.S. today.

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves

robin-hood-prince-of-thieves

‘I’m not one of you, but I fight! I fight with Robin Hood! I fight against a tyrant who holds you under his boot! If you would be free men, then you must fight! Join us now, join Robin Hood!’

A thoroughly British affair, showcasing our rolling landscapes, our engaging folklore and our classic actors. Kevin Costner does his bit, by chucking in the occasional semi-English accent when he remembers to. Which is more than can be said for Christian Slater, as New York’s finest Will Scarlett.

Funny (sometimes intentionally, sometimes not so much) the film builds to the climactic final wedding/multiple hanging celebrations. Naturally Robin of Locksley saves the day, with a combination of arrow skills, sword fighting, and good old fashioned punches to the face. Alan Rickman is at his slimey evil best as The Sheriff of Nottingham, while Morgan Freeman’s Azeem is the person you’d most want to have your back in the woods.

The Bryan Adams rock ballad which featured on the soundtrack spent an epic 16 consecutive weeks at number one in UK charts, and somewhat eclipsed the film. Which is a shame because, to dismiss it, would be to miss out on the most amazing cameo/tribute to The Untouchables at the end.

 

See the five films Kate picked for 1990 or check out the full A Decade in Film series so far.