Advent song for December 24: Auld Lang Syne, Scotland/Bedford Falls

I know it’s really a New Year song, but I couldn’t resist the chance to include a clip from the best Christmas film of all, and if they can sing it on Christmas Eve in Bedford Falls, then so can we. Also, I visited Scotland for the first time as an adult this year and fell in love with it, so it feels entirely appropriate to finish up with a little bit of Burns.

If you haven’t seen It’s A Wonderful Life then cancel your plans for the rest of the day and go and watch it immediately. If you have, remember that the following clip will make you cry, so don’t watch it on the train or at the office (and what are you still doing at the office? Go home!).

<A pause while you recompose yourself>

Together, all these songs provide about an hour of music, which as it happens is about how long you’ll need to eat the main course of your Christmas lunch, so as a Christmas present to you, here is a Spotify playlist of them all. Sadly Song’s song from Korea isn’t on Spotify (at least, it probably is, but I have no idea what it’s called so I can’t check), so in its place England finally gets a look-in with the King’s singers rendition of Adam Lay Ybounden. The clip from It’s A Wonderful Life is a bit longer and I’ve had to use different versions of one or two of the songs, but otherwise it’s largely the list you’ve already seen and heard here. Happy Christmas!

(If the embedded version doesn’t work for you, here’s a boring old link.)

Fairytales of New York

Image

I’ve just got back from New York, the city where every street has a song named after it, and every vista is a still from a movie. So since I am yet to get over the jet lag and I took so many photos that I am overwhelmed at the thought of uploading them, here as a lazy alternative to a real blog post is a list of my favourite New York films. What are yours?

1. Annie Hall

I could have had any of about eight Woody Allen films, but Annie Hall is the best of them and one of the New Yorkiest, and Annie is the New Yorkiest heroine ever, despite being from Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. Also, it features my favourite ever line from a film, if I had to choose – you know, the one about the eggs*.

(Actually, I did have to choose my favourite line from a film recently, for work, but I thought the one about the eggs would make me look a little weird and neurotic, and I’ve only been there three months and I don’t need them to know that already. So I went for Sloane Peterson’s “Sooner or later, everybody goes to the zoo” from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, which sounds profound but, I think, isn’t.)

2. Ghostbusters

Like Annie Hall, would probably make the list of my favourite films ever (actually, so would about half of this list). After nearly thirty years (I know!), still perfect. And really a love poem to New York City, as implicit in its luscious locations as it is explicit in Winston Zeddemore’s “I love this town!”.

3. The Taking of Pelham 123

A proper thriller, set mostly in the bowels of Manhattan’s subway system, with occasional glimpses above ground, where the steam jets that shoot out at street level echo the spikes of tension that increase as the film goes on. If you haven’t seen it, rent it today (I am, in case you’re unsure, talking about the 1970s version and not the recent remake, which I have not seen).

4. King Kong

The 1933 version. Not entirely a New York film, but it makes the cut for that incredible final scene. I also quite liked the 1970s version, and even the Naomi Watts version was OK. It’s just a really really great story. But the Empire State Building was only two years old when they made the original, which adds an extra frisson to the battle between nature and mankind that lies at the heart of the film.

5. Laura

Not just because we have the same name, but because this is the sexiest, dreamiest, most elegant piece of noir you’ll ever see and because it offers a glimpse of high society in 1940s New York, which might just be the most glamorous time and place that ever was. As it happens, Laura is showing at the BFI on the Southbank until the end of next week, so if you live in or near London, do try to go.

6. Dog Day Afternoon

There are films which I think are exemplary, one-off pieces of film-making and which I might watch every couple of years (2001, Badlands) and films which I watch at every opportunity because I love them like you love your slippers, and most of all I love the characters (Ghostbusters, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off), and then there are films which are both, and Dog Day Afternoon is one of them. Set on a hot, steamy day in Brooklyn, it tells a short but brilliant story which is laden with atmosphere, and it’s one of the films I always immediately lend to people who haven’t seen it, because it is a film everyone should see, today if possible.

7. Crocodile Dundee

There’s a dispoportionate number of 80s films in this list, but that’s because the 80s were an exciting time to be in New York City. When I first saw Crocodile Dundee I was half-entranced, half-terrified by the androgynous, highly-hairsprayed characters making up some of the supporting cast, but as an adult I just find them impossibly alluring, and it breaks my heart a little bit that I will never go clubbing in New York in the 1980s.

8. Coming to America

Like Crocodile Dundee, this film is better now than it was when it first came out, because it speaks so elequently and appealingly of a particular New York that doesn’t really exist any more. Plus, the mean Queens apartment that Prince Akeem rents now looks like a palace compared to the eggbox-sized spaces that people really live in. And, well, it’s just still funny.

9. Q: The Winged Serpent

Monster! In New York! I can’t tell you precisely why this is so good; you just have to watch it.

10. Splash

Slash was in competition with Big and Arthur for the tenth spot, because like those films it shows you the New York we all grew up with; the fantasy version of the city that we knew before we ever went there. But it wins because when I saw it I, too, thought “Madison” was a beautiful name for a girl, and couldn’t understand why Tom Hanks didn’t agree.

Not making the cut are films I love which use New York as their backdrop, but which aren’t really about New York (Synecdoche New York, The Royal Tenenbaums, Rope, The Apartment, Rear Window, West Side Story) and films which make New York look like the worst place in the world (Taxi Driver, Mean Streets). I also haven’t made room for Goodfellas, which would have been eleventh if I had been making a longer list.

*  “I thought of that old joke, y’know… this guy goes to a psychiatrist and says, “Doc, my brother’s crazy; he thinks he’s a chicken.” And the doctor says, “Well, why don’t you turn him in?” The guy says, “I would, but I need the eggs.” Well, I guess that’s pretty much now how I feel about relationships; y’know, they’re totally irrational, and crazy, and absurd, and… but, uh, I guess we keep goin’ through it because most of us… need the eggs.”

Oscars: the aftermath

The Hangover

This, I promise, is my last Oscars post for 2012. It’s the one where I compare my predictions to the results, although I can already tell you that I wouldn’t have won the million. The calculations are complicated by the fact that I made two sets of predictions, so I’m only counting the newer ones where I was specific, and not the one where I said “Hugo will win a load of technical categories”. On that basis, I accurately predicted the winners of eleven of the 24 categories, although if I wanted to be generous I could award myself an extra point for saying of the VFX category that I thought Hugo would win if the opening shot counted as a visual effect, and since awarding myself an extra point would give me a 50% hit rate, I think I’ll go ahead.

(Although I was so adamant that Woody wouldn’t win Original Screenplay that I almost think I should deduct another half-point.)

How did you do? Anyone win a million?

Full predictions and results in this attractive table, if you really don’t have anything better to do:

Category

I said

Then I said

They gave it to

Picture Hugo The Artist The Artist
Director Malick Hazanavicius Hazanavicius
Actor Clooney Dujardin Dujardin
Actress Streep Streep Streep
Supporting actor Plummer Plummer Plummer
Supporting actress Bejo Bejo Spencer
Animated feature Chico and Rita Chico and Rita Rango
Art direction The Artist The Artist Hugo
Cinematography Tree of Life Hugo Hugo
Costume design The Artist The Artist The Artist
Documentary feature Pina Pina Undefeated
Documentary short The Barber of Birmingham The Barber of Birmingham Saving Face
Film editing The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
Foreign language A Separation A Separation A Separation
Make up Harry Potter Harry Potter The Iron Lady
Original score War Horse War Horse The Artist
Original song The Muppets The Muppets The Muppets
Animated short La Luna La Luna The Fantastic Flying Books of Mister Morris Lessmore
Live action short Raju Raju The Shore
Sound editing Transformers Transformers Hugo
Sound mixing Transformers Transformers Hugo
Visual effects Harry Potter Harry Potter Hugo
Adapted screenplay The Descendants The Descendants The Descendants
Original screenplay The Artist The Artist Midnight in Paris



Oscars dresses: vote now!

From what I saw of last night’s red carpet, there were no awful dresses at the Oscars. There were some boring dresses and some mildly unflattering dresses, but no outright disasters.

On the other hand, there were quite a lot of fantastic dresses, and because I have only had four hours’ sleep and I have to go to work soon, I am going to make you talk about them so I don’t have to. Here are the four which really knocked me out: tell me which you like best, or if I’ve left out your favourite.

(Click on the pictures for bigger versions)

1. Penelope Cruz was stunning in a soft blue. She’s gone from kookily pretty to old-school glamorous without me noticing:

Penelope Cruz

2. George Clooney’s escort Stacy Keibler effortlessly outshone her ageing squeeze in a dress that made her look exactly like an Oscar, only better:

Stacy Keibler

3. Viola Davis combined gorgeous green Vera Wang with red hair au naturel and a breezy confidence that made me wish she was my friend:

viola davis

4. J-Lo looked (as always) like a sculpture of the perfect woman:

j-lo

(I will compare the actual Oscar results to my various predictions later. I think if you combine both sets of predictions judiciously I got about half of them right, including precisely none of the technical categories.)

Oscars predictions redux

The Artist
Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo in The Artist

Happy Oscars Day! I’ve changed my mind about tonight’s big winners. The momentum behind The Artist appears to be unstoppable, and I think it’ll win best picture after all, and Michel Hazanavicius best director. Hugo will win some of the technical categories in which it’s nominated, including cinematography (the one it deserves the most), but Jean Dujardin may well beat George Clooney to best actor, not because it’s a better performance, which it is, but because in the last few weeks he has gone on a charm offensive which could put even Clooney to shame. This is his time, and he knows it.

Streep is still a shoo-in for best actress, naturally, and I stand by Bérénice Bejo and Christopher Plummer as best supporting actress and actor. I can’t remember what I said about any of the others and it’s too early and I am too lazy to check, but I expect I was right.

See you over at Mostly Film from 11.30pm for live! Oscars! updates! – in the meantime I have a lunch date as well as an Oscars-themed quiz this evening, so for now please excuse me while I go and put some clothes on.*

*I am not writing this naked, you understand, but I feel like my lunch hosts deserve better than a Primark nightshirt, jogging pants and woolly snowman socks.

How to follow the Oscars

Joe Levine and Sophia Loren at the Oscars
Any excuse for a photo of Sophia Loren

If you are in the UK and want to follow the action from this Sunday night’s Oscars ceremony, there are lots of ways to do it that don’t involve taking out a Sky subscription. One of them is illegal so of COURSE I shan’t mention it here, but lots of them aren’t. Here are my picks:

  • The Oscars website has a “buzz” section showing an aggregation of Oscars-related tweets which is already trotting along at a healthy rate, leading me to suspect that it might start moving so fast as to be unreadable on the night. For a more streamlined view, try following @TheAcademy, tweeting from behind the scenes, @OscarInterviews for glimpses of the stars and @OscarGoer for an audience-eye-view of the ceremony.
  • The red carpet is being shown live on E!, which I think is on Freeview, although half-hearted attempts at independent verification of this have failed, because I can’t work the internet. Anyway, it’s definitely available through Virgin cable packages, and you can always come over and watch it at mine. Bring popcorn.
  • If you want to go meta, follow @LostRemote, who will be tweeting all of “their favourite social media moments” on the night.
  • Finally, an all-woman team featuring Jo, TindaraConcetta and your correspondent will be live-blogging the whole affair from 11.30ish on Sunday evening over at Mostly Film, as well as taking over the Mostly Film twitter account for the evening (I have promised not to tweet every thirty seconds, but who knows where the mood will take me?).

What do Stanley Kubrick, Thelonious Monk and Groucho Marx have in common?

Thelonious Monk
Clue: the answer is not "facial hair"

Give up? You might as well, because you’re not going to guess. It’s that they all brightened up my lunchtime today, courtesy of the always-fascinating Letters of Note and its upstart sibling Lists of Note. Stop what you’re doing and read all three of them: it’s worth it.

Stanley Kubrick’s list of titles in search of a script

Thelonious Monk’s advice to musicians

Groucho Marx’s letter to the Franklin Corporation

You’re welcome.

Period Pains

keira knightley

Do you watch a lot of period drama? I don’t, generally, but as it happens I have watched several hours’ worth this weekend, and I have noticed that there is a way people talk in (most) period drama which has nothing to do with the script: a mannered, diffident style which seems to transcend both character and chronology, so that it doesn’t matter if it’s rural Edwardian England (hello, The Woman In Black!) or 1950s London (howdy, Call The Midwife!) or – well, frankly, I have no real idea when Upstairs Downstairs, currently playing at a screen near me, is set, nor where, but everyone is speaking that way.

It wasn’t always like this. Nobody speaks that way in Room With A View, nor even in the 1990s TV adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. It seems to have sprung up since the early 2000s, which leads me to suspect it’s probably mostly Keira Knightley’s fault.

Pre-BAFTA Oscar predictions

an oscar statuette
Shiny!

I don’t usually make Oscar predictions, because I have only ever seen half the films on the list, and because I am no good at guessing games. But this year there are two good reasons to give it a go. Firstly, a company with whom I am professionally connected is running a competition where you can win £1m if you correctly predict all 24 winners. I can’t enter, but I’d like to record my guesses for posterity, just in case it turns out that I could have won a million.

Secondly, I am going to be live-blogging the Oscars red carpet over at Mostly Film, which will be much more fun if I have favourites to cheer for.

Caveat: I have only seen about half of the films with multiple nominations, and less than half of those nominated in a single category. If you want educated predictions by people who actually know what they’re talking about, you have come to the wrong place. But if you want half-assed guesses from an on-off film fan, I’m your girl!

These are my pre-BAFTA predictions: I may revise them after this evening.

Best picture

Nominees: The Artist, The Descendants, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, The Help, Hugo, Midnight in Paris, Moneyball, The Tree of Life, War Horse.

I think it’s a two-horse race here between The Artist and Hugo. They are both lovely films, but the nailer is that they are both about the history of film-making, and Hollywood loves movies about the movies. On the basis that The Artist is a film about American cinema made by a French director and Hugo is a film about French cinema made by an American director and deep down Americans like Americans best, I’m going to plump for Hugo.

Best director 

Nominees: Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist), Alexander Payne (The Descendants), Martin Scorsese (Hugo), Woody Allen (Midnight in Paris), Terrence Malick (Tree of Life)

I’ve been back and forth on this one. The only person I’m sure won’t get it is Woody, partly because he hates the Oscars and partly because Midnight in Paris, despite being better than anything else he’s made in the last decade, isn’t all that good. It’s quite good, but it’s not that good. Any of Hazanavicius, Payne or Scorsese could take it, but I’m going to go for Malick, because he’s never won before and his average of a film every seven years means he doesn’t have many more stabs at it left.

Best actor

Nominees: Demián Bichir (A Better Life), George Clooney (The Descendants), Jean Dujardin (The Artist), Gary Oldman (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), Brad Pitt (Moneyball)

Jean Dujardin should win, but I think they’ll give it to George. I have not seen The Descendants, because a film whose trailer includes a shot of three people sitting silently on a sofa  is a film for which there is not room in my life. But everyone loves George, and George as the betrayed husband of a possibly-dying wife has Oscar written across it in 48-point Helvetica.

Best actress

Nominees: Glenn Close (Albert Nobbs), Viola Davis (The Help), Rooney Mara (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo), Meryl Streep (Iron Lady), Michelle Williams (My Week With Marilyn)

I haven’t seen Iron Lady either, because there has been enough Margaret Thatcher in my life. But of course they’ll give it to Meryl.

Best supporting actor

Nominees: Kenneth Branagh (My Week with Marilyn), Jonah Hill (Moneyball), Nick Nolte (Warrior), Christopher Plummer (Beginners), Max von Sydow (Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close)

Max von Sydow might just upset this, but on balance I think that Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is not the 9/11 film we are looking for, and will go ungarlanded. Christopher Plummer, on the other hand, plays a gay 75-year-old dad dying of cancer in Beginners. I’m pretty sure he has it in the bag.

Best supporting actress

Nominees: Bérénice Bejo (The Artist), Jessica Chastain (The Help), Melissa McCarthy (Bridesmaids), Janet McTeer (Albert Nobbs), Octavia Spencer (The Help)

Apparently Uggie the dog is not eligible for a prize, but Bérénice Bejo is the second-cutest thing about The Artist and I think will reap the benefits of the affection that the film has inspired.

uggie
Uggie the dog

Animated feature film

Nominees: A Cat in Paris, Chico & Rita, Kung Fu Panda 2, Puss in Boots, Rango

Yeah, I haven’t seen any of these.  I think Chico and Rita will win, because it has the best poster and is about humans.

Art Direction

Nominees: The Artist, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, Hugo, Midnight in Paris, War Horse

I haven’t seen War Horse, but in the stills it looks sort of grey and dank. The others are all good-looking in their own ways, and although part of me thinks Hugo might sweep all the visual design categories, I’m going to go for The Artist, because it is visually more unusual than the others.

Cinematography

Nominees: The Artist, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Hugo, The Tree of Life, War Horse

If they give the directing prize to Malick, they’ll want to back it up with another one, and this is the most likely candidate. Tree of Life ftw.

Costume Design

Nominees: Anonymous, The Artist, Hugo, Jane Eyre, W.E.

This is another category where I haven’t seen most of the candidates, so I have just gone and looked at some pictures (see how seriously I am taking this?). The costumes in Anonymous and Jane Eyre look exactly like the costumes from every other film covering the same ground. The costumes in W.E. are a bit more interesting, but I’m never sure you should give awards for costume to films about real people on the basis that there are photos. The costumes in Hugo are good but caricaturish, and the costumes in The Artist are perfect, so that’s my bet for this one.

Feature documentary

Nominees: Hell and Back Again, If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front, Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory, Pina, Undefeated

<cough> Pina.

Short documentary

Nominees: The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldier of the Civil Rights Movement, God Is the Bigger Elvis, Incident in New Baghdad, Saving Face, The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom

<splutter> The Barber of Birmingham.

Film Editing

Nominees: The Artist, The Descendants, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Hugo, Moneyball

I’ll come clean: I don’t really know what this category means. And the nominees are the same as in all the other categories. Might as well close my eyes and take a stab at the screen.

<closes eyes, takes a stab at the screen>

I landed on The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Well, why not?

Foreign Language Film

Nominees: Bullhead, Footnote, In Darkness, Monsieur Lazhar, A Separation

I haven’t seen any of these either, although I do have A Separation sitting on my hard drive ready to be watched, so I’ll go for that. I never said this would be scientific, OK?

Makeup

Nominees: Albert Nobbs, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, The Iron Lady

Harry Potter has to win this one, really, if only for that bit at the end where everyone is old, and they handled the makeup by hardly  doing any, and just getting everyone to act old. Watch and learn, J Edgar.

Music (Original Score)

Nominees: The Adventures of Tintin, The Artist, Hugo, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, War Horse

I can never remember the music from films, or at least not until I’ve seen them several times*. What I mean is, I can’t remember the music from any of these films. But if you had to guess without hearing any of the music, you’d go for John Williams’s War Horse, wouldn’t you? It’s probably very sweeping and dramatic and heart-rending.

*The exception to this rule is the music from Les Parapluies de Cherbourg, which lodged itself firmly in my brain the first time I ever saw it, and has never left.

Music (Original Song)

Nominees: “Man or Muppet” from “The Muppets”, “Real in Rio” from “Rio” 

Why wouldn’t they give it to The Muppets? I think they’ll give it to The Muppets.

Short Film (Animated)

Nominees: Dimanche/Sunday, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, La Luna, A Morning Stroll, Wild Life

<blink> La Luna.

Short Film (Live Action)

Nominees: Pentecost, Raju, The Shore, Time Freak, Tuba Atlantic

<falls over> Raju.

Sound Editing

Nominees: Drive, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Hugo, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, War Horse

I don’t understand why The Artist isn’t nominated in either of the sound categories. It does clever and interesting things with sound, that no film has done before and probably no film will do again. But since it isn’t, I am going to take a wild stab at Transformers.

Sound Mixing

Nominees: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Hugo, Moneyball, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, War Horse

I have no real idea of the difference between this and the last category. Anyone? In the absence of any expert knowledge I shall take the same wild stab at Transformers.

Visual Effects

Nominees: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, Hugo , Real Steel, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Transformers: Dark of the Moon

I’m not sure whether that opening shot in Hugo comes under Cinematography or Visual Effects. If the latter then I think it will win this, but if the former then I think a decade’s patient work on the Harry Potter franchise should reap its reward here.

Writing (Adapted Screenplay)

Nominees: The Descendants, Hugo, The Ides of March, Moneyball, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

This is another tricky one! I feel like they might give it to The Descendants, because the Academy like to think it’s a bit quirky (it isn’t).

Writing (Original Screenplay)

Nominees: The Artist, Bridesmaids, Margin Call, Midnight In Paris, A Separation

I can’t call this one either. The obvious choice is The Artist, with an outside chance for Midnight in Paris, but Bridesmaids is a better screenplay than either. But it won’t win, will it? So, The Artist.

Reviewing my choices, I see I have ended up predicting that Hugo will win Best Picture and nothing else, which doesn’t seem very likely. Perhaps it will win costume and cinematography and art direction after all. Or perhaps The Artist will live up to early expectations and sweep the board. I sort of hope so, because it is such a likeable film.

Tonight’s BAFTAs may or may not provide a clue to the eventual outcome, and I expect I will cravenly come back and change my mind tomorrow. But for today, those are my predictions. Now please tell me yours.

Dreams of a Life, Weekend

My last cinema visit of 2011 and first of 2012 were to see two films which are completely different in theory but which each left me with a similar set of feelings. If you haven’t seen either or both of them I won’t spoil them here (not that either film is the kind you can spoil, really), but I suggest that you stop reading NOW and go to the cinema to watch one or ideally both of them.

Dreams of a Life is the true (or “true”; the impossibility of arriving at an independent truth about another person being one of its central themes) story of Joyce Vincent, a young Londoner who died alone in her flat in Wood Green in 2003 and wasn’t discovered for three years. If that sounds harrowing, it is, but it’s also fascinating, and touching, and thoughtful, and ultimately life-affirming, if that isn’t too much of a contradiction in terms. What happened to Joyce was shocking, of course, but the film is as much about her life and love and friendships as about her death, and I came away with what felt like an intimate and tender portrait of someone quite a lot like you or me. It’s not like any other film I can think of, and I think it will stay with me for a long time.

Weekend is a love story – a romance in every sense, although again, it felt very close to home. Watching it, I thought – I know these people; I’ve been to these places. There is, I think, something very English about both films, which is part of what makes them feel so familiar. But you don’t have to be English, or live here, to recognise something fundamental in each of them, because they are about real people with real uncertainties and doubts and secrets, and both make the point that you can never really know another person’s secret. And they treat that truth with an honesty that makes both films seem very grown-up, in the best sense of the term. They are both made by people I’d like to know in real life, which is praise I’ve never used about a film before, not counting Woody Allen films (and people get cross when I say I’d like to know Woody Allen in real life, so I tend not to say it any more, even though it’s true).

There are no neatly wrapped-up endings to either film and both contain a lot of sadness, but I came away from them both feeling uplifted, perhaps because both stories are also about happiness, albeit transitory happiness (which is the only real kind, because if you were happy all the time you wouldn’t know you were happy, so it wouldn’t count).

Weekend has left most cinemas now, but you can probably still catch Dreams of a Life if you hurry. But they are also both the sort of film which would work just as well on TV, so one way or another, I hope you will get to see them.

Next up on my to-watch list: The Artist, about which I am ridiculously excited.