I happened to be at Chalk Farm tube yesterday, waiting for a train. As a bus user, I’m always curious to see what kind of ad campaigns studios are running on the underground for their current releases. At the moment, as a right-thinking film fan, you might be in a state of near-priapic delight at the wealth of prestige movies in cinemas. There’s posters up for The Wrestler, Slumdog Millionaire, The Reader, Milk and Frost/Nixon, breathlessly described with attention-grabbing quotes like “the feel-good film of the decade”, or “a contender for Best Picture”. It is, of course, January, and rather shamelessly the studios are chucking out their high-calibre movies as we pile headlong into Awards season.
It strikes me, not for the first time, to being pretty unfair. In an ideal world, it would make more sense for film fans to be treated to quality movies across the course of the year, rather than clustered together in some faintly undignified race to get them under the noses of various voting academies. I’m probably not alone in having wished this, particularly during the gloomy Summer months when everything’s being choked out by Spider Potter And The Quantum Of Crystal Skulls.
Anyway, the BAFTA nominations were announced this morning, which I guess is where I’m heading with this blog. Currently, it’s all about the seemingly unstoppable rise of Slumdog Millionaire, a film that five months ago was in danger of losing its American distributor due to concerns over its apparent lack of commercial prospects. There is something, certainly, about the film’s underdog status that’s clearly struck a chord, both in the UK and US. And it’s a good film, although I think tales of its unfettered brilliance have been greatly exaggerated. I wonder, perhaps, if its success is partly reflective of some broader and maybe more nebulous cultural uplift tied in with Barack Obama’s imminent investiture. Hey, here’s a new President, he’s not George W Bush, now everyone wants to feel good, right? But maybe I’m just looking too deeply into it. Certainly, last year, as the credit crunch bit hard and before Obama’s campaign really took off, there was much Oscar talk circulating around The Dark Knight: a bleak film full of unlikeable and dysfunctional characters that seemed, in its way, to chime with the times. On the subject of The Dark Knight, I don’t buy this posthumous Oscar for Heath Ledger chatter, by the way. The internet is full of it – which is perhaps no surprise, considering how vocal a presence the comic book community has online. He’s good, sure, but it’s only a portrayal of a pretty two-dimensional comic book character we’re talking about here. It’s hardly Daniel Day Lewis in There Will Be Blood, say.
For my part, I’d hope some sense might prevail when the BAFTAs (and, also, the Oscars) are handed out. You can give Mickey Rourke as many awards as you like for his extraordinary work in The Wrestler, and I’m torn equally between Angelina Jolie for Changeling and Kristen Scott Thomas for I’ve Loved You So Long. I don’t think Kate Winslet is particularly good in either The Reader or Revolutionary Road, which is a truly wretched film. Robert Downey Jr was fantastic in Tropic Thunder and Tilda Swinton much better in The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button than she was in Burn After Reading. In terms of Best Film, well, out of all those nominated the one I liked the best was Frost/Nixon. It’s an intelligent and witty film with strong, measured performances that brought what might at first appear a fairly un-sexy subject to life with great skill. But I don’t think it’ll win.
I would have liked excellent Terence Davies’ Of Time And The City receive greater recognition, but there. Still, as they say, all will be revealed on February 8. Can you bear the suspense..? At least Masterchef’s back to keep our minds from moithering on such matters too much.
Here’s the nominations in the key BAFTA categories anyway:
THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON
OUTSTANDING BRITISH FILM
MAN ON WIRE
CHANGELING Clint Eastwood
THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON David Fincher
FROST/NIXON Ron Howard
THE READER Stephen Daldry
SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE Danny Boyle
FRANK LANGELLA Frost/Nixon
DEV PATEL Slumdog Millionaire
SEAN PENN Milk
BRAD PITT The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
MICKEY ROURKE The Wrestler
ANGELINA JOLIE Changeling
KRISTIN SCOTT THOMAS I’ve Loved You So Long
MERYL STREEP Doubt
KATE WINSLET The Reader
KATE WINSLET Revolutionary Road
ROBERT DOWNEY JR. Tropic Thunder
BRENDAN GLEESON In Bruges
PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN Doubt
HEATH LEDGER The Dark Knight
BRAD PITT Burn After Reading
AMY ADAMS Doubt
PENÉLOPE CRUZ Vicky Cristina Barcelona
FREIDA PINTO Slumdog Millionaire
TILDA SWINTON Burn After Reading
MARISA TOMEI The Wrestler