Truth in movies

I’m not looking for documentaries in my biopics.

American-Sniper-2014If you’re a big movie fan, you’ve noticed the wealth of movies that based on real-life events, including Foxcatcher, The Imitation Game, The Theory of Everything, Unbroken, and Wild.

Someone named Penelope Puddlisms wrote: “I read your interesting review about the Selma movie and the issue about its accuracy. It makes me wonder why anyone would risk fudging even a small bit of the facts when every other aspect tries so painfully hard to be carefully spot on and provide a documentary feel. This happens in lots of similar movies.”

That is a reasonable question. One could ask “why” of the novelist who fictionalizes real events. A lot of the real things that happen are not very dramatic. Movies often combine characters, and tighten time frames, because the absolute, unedited factual events are often BORING.

Of course, the further from the present one is, or events that took place in remote locations, not documented by camera. Inevitably, one has to extrapolate dialogue, at least.

Beyond that, and I’m neither a novelist nor a filmmaker, I suppose, it is to make a greater point about the situation.

For example, in American Sniper, a movie I have not seen, Chris Hedges writes:

Enter The Butcher—a fictional Iraqi character created for the film. Here we get the most evil of the evildoers. He is dressed in a long black leather jacket and dispatches his victims with an electric drill. He mutilates children—we see a child’s arm he amputated. A local sheik offers to betray The Butcher for $100,000. The Butcher kills the sheik. He murders the sheik’s small son in front of his mother with his electric drill. The Butcher shouts: “You talk to them, you die with them.”

I surmise, and I’m just spitballing here, that by making the bad guy more villainous, it makes the killing of “savage, despicable evil” more justifiable, even palatable.

The Imitation Game, which I liked quite a bit, nevertheless took great liberties with many characters, as you can read in Slate. For instance:

[Christopher] Hodges [author of the book Alan Turing: The Enigma] paints Turing as shy, eccentric, and impatient with irrationality, but Cumberbatch’s narcissistic, detached Alan has more in common with the actor’s title character in Sherlock than with the Turing of Hodges’ biography. One of Turing’s colleagues at Bletchley Park later recalled him as “a very easily approachable man” and said “we were very very fond of him”; none of this is reflected in the film.

Why the character alteration? Perhaps because it made a more interesting story, more of a contrast with some of the other participants.

Time magazine analyzed Big Eyes, another film I appreciated. While some parts were deemed as true:

In the film, next to nobody is allowed in the Keane house for fear that they will discover Margaret’s studio and therefore the Keane secret. Though it is true that nobody—including Margaret’s daughter and their staff—was allowed in Margaret’s studio, Walter Keane would invite socialites and celebrities to their home.

I surmise that the fiction made her seem even more isolated, since “Margaret rarely met these celebs since she was painting 16 hours per day. Even when Walter left the house, he would call Margaret every hour to ensure that she hadn’t left.”

Entertainment Weekly fact-checked Theory of Everything. Stephen Hawking deemed the movie about his life with his ex-wife, “broadly true.” I liked it, but maybe if it were less true to its source, it might have been a more exciting film.

I’m not looking for documentaries in my biopics. It may be useful to check to see how much the story varies from the facts, but I certainly never felt the need to do so before seeing any film, only after the fact.

Oscars for 2014 films

I’m hoping to see all the Best Animated Short and/or Best Live Action Short nominees at The Spectrum in Albany before Oscar night.

2015-oscar-nominees.nph“Everyone knows” that the only reasons that the Oscars matter is so 1) audiences can go to some obscure movie and complain, “THAT was Oscar-nominated?” or “THAT was an Oscar winner?” and 2) writers can put it in someone’s obituaries: “Oscar winner John Wayne…” The Academy Awards, hosted by Neil Patrick Harris, will take place on February 22.

As I’m still in movie season mode, which runs, approximately, from November to March when it’s colder, and the better movies tend to come out, I may still see a few more films before Oscar night, or shortly afterward.

I’m pleased that I managed to see the two Best Picture nominees that were released early in the year, Boyhood and The Grand Budapest Hotel. (I’m going to link to my reviews of the films I saw, on the first mention.)

Are there Oscar snubs? Should Jennifer Aniston have been nominated for Best Actress in Cake? Should The Lego Movie, which I liked, have been on the list of animated features? Perhaps. I do appreciate this breakdown of “The Whitest Oscar Nominees Since 1995” because he names names; THIS should have been chosen instead of THAT. I don’t necessarily AGREE with the analysis.

Wow, there are a number of Oscar-nominated films this season based on real events: American Sniper, Foxcatcher, The Imitation Game, Mr. Turner, Selma, The Theory of Everything, Unbroken, Wild.

Best Costume Design

#Milena Canonero, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Mark Bridges, Inherent Vice
#Colleen Atwood, Into the Woods
Anna B. Sheppard and Jane Clive, Maleficent
Jacqueline Durran, Mr. Turner

I’m rooting for Budapest, because these costumes defined the characters so well, though Into the Woods was worthy.

Best Documentary — Feature

Citizenfour
Finding Vivien Maier
Last Days of Vietnam
The Salt of the Earth
Virunga

Citizenfour, which is about Edward Snowden, played at Proctors in Schenectady for three days, but I didn’t catch it. Finding Vivian Meier is about this woman who took thousands of photos, discovered only after her death. I’ve seen a woman involved in The Last Days of Vietnam, a harrowing period, on The Daily Show. Wish I had seen these.

Best Visual Effects

Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Dan DeLeeuw, Russell Earl, Bryan Grill and Dan Sudick
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, Daniel Barrett and Erik Winquist
Guardians of the Galaxy, Stephane Ceretti, Nicolas Aithadi, Jonathan Fawkner and Paul Corbould
#Interstellar, Paul Franklin, Andrew Lockley, Ian Hunter and Scott Fisher
X-Men: Days of Future Past, Richard Stammers, Lou Pecora, Tim Crosbie and Cameron Waldbauer

Interstellar was impressive, though the film itself was sometimes tedious. Sometimes they give this to the big box office champ, which would be Guardians of the Galaxy. AND it reviewed well overall.

Best Sound Editing

American Sniper, Alan Robert Murray, and Bub Asman
#Birdman, Martín Hernández and Aaron Glascock
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, Brent Burge and Jason Canovas
#Interstellar, Richard King
Unbroken, Becky Sullivan and Andrew DeCristofaro

Best Sound Mixing

American Sniper, John Reitz, Gregg Rudloff, and Walt Martin
#Birdman, Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño and Thomas Varga
#Interstellar, Gary A. Rizzo, Gregg Landaker and Mark Weingarten
Unbroken, Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño and David Lee
#Whiplash, Craig Mann, Ben Wilkins and Thomas Curley

Four movies in common in these categories. For mixing, I’m rooting for the fifth, Whiplash, which had a sound in the music competitions that had a visceral impact. But Birdman was good too, and based on just the previews of American Sniper, I figure the competition will go to one of those two.

Best Animated Short

The Bigger Picture
The Dam Keeper
Feast
Me and My Moulton
A Single Life

Best Live Action Short
Aya
Boogaloo and Graham
Butter Lamp
Parvaneh
The Phone Call

Best Documentary—Short

Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1
Joanna
Our Curse
The Reaper
White Earth

I’m hoping to see all the Best Animated Short and/or Best Live Action Short nominees at The Spectrum in Albany before Oscar night, but I almost never see the documentaries anywhere, except, occasionally, online.
oscars-2015-supporting-actors-actresses
The best supporting players, in alpha order.

Best Production Design

#The Grand Budapest Hotel, Production Design: Adam Stockhausen; Set Decoration: Anna Pinnock
*The Imitation Game, Production Design: Maria Djurkovic; Set Decoration: Tatiana Macdonald
#Interstellar, Production Design: Nathan Crowley; Set Decoration: Gary Fettis
#Into the Woods, Production Design: Dennis Gassner; Set Decoration: Anna Pinnock
Mr. Turner, Production Design: Suzie Davies; Set Decoration: Charlotte Watts

I really thought Budapest was quite remarkable visually.

Best Film Editing

Joel Cox and Gary D. Roach, American Sniper
#Sandra Adair, Boyhood
#Barney Pilling, The Grand Budapest Hotel
*William Goldenberg, The Imitation Game
#Tom Cross, Whiplash

Putting together a coherent story that was filmed over twelve years will almost surely mean a win for Sandra Adair for Boyhood.

Best Animated Feature

#Big Hero 6
The Boxtrolls
How to Train Your Dragon 2
Song of the Sea
The Tale of Princess Kaguya

I liked Big Hero 6, but have no real info on the others.

Best Original Song

#“Everything Is Awesome” from The Lego Movie; Music and Lyric by Shawn Patterson
*“Glory” from Selma; Music and Lyric by John Stephens and Lonnie Lynn
“Grateful” from Beyond the Lights; Music and Lyric by Diane Warren
“I’m Not Gonna Miss You” from Glen Campbell…I’ll Be Me; Music and Lyric by Glen Campbell and Julian Raymond
#“Lost Stars” from Begin Again; Music and Lyric by Gregg Alexander and Danielle Brisebois

“Everything Is Awesome” is such a cheeky song. I thought the music from Begin Again was fine, and functional for the movie. Will the Academy voters throw a crumb to the fine song from Selma here? Or does it go to the dying Glen Campbell?

Best Original Score

#The Grand Budapest Hotel
*The Imitation Game
#Interstellar
Mr. Turner
#The Theory of Everything

Though I’m a music kind of guy, I don’t feel particularly savvy at comparing scores while watching a movie, because it becomes part of the texture of the whole. Maybe this is where Interstellar will win.

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

Bill Corso and Dennis Liddiard, Foxcatcher
#Frances Hannon and Mark Coulier, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Elizabeth Yianni-Georgiou and David White, Guardians of the Galaxy

From the preview, they managed to make Steve Carrell look REALLY creepy in Foxcatcher. Budapest is great, but, from the ads, so is Guardians, which I’m guessing will win.

Best Original Screenplay

#Birdman, Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr. & Armando Bo
#Boyhood, Richard Linklater
Foxcatcher, E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman
#The Grand Budapest Hotel, Wes Anderson & Hugo Guinness
Nightcrawler, Dan Gilroy

It could well be Boyhood, or Birdman, which I did not love, but which won the Golden Globes. But I’m rooting for Budapest, which was wacky fun.

Best Adapted Screenplay

American Sniper, Jason Hall
*The Imitation Game, Graham Moore
Inherent Vice, Paul Thomas Anderson
#The Theory of Everything, Anthony McCarten
#Whiplash, Damien Chazelle

I suspect American Sniper will win, but I’m rooting for Whiplash.

Best Foreign Language Film

Ida, Poland
Leviathan, Russia
Tangerines, Estonia
Timbuktu, Mauritania
Wild Tales, Argentina

There were years I’d get to see one or two of these, but not this time out. Does anyone out there have any opinion on these?

Best Cinematography

#Emmanuel Lubezki, Birdman
#Robert Yeoman, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Lukasz Zal and Ryszard Lenczewski, Ida
Dick Pope, Mr. Turner
Roger Deakins, Unbroken

I’m guessing Birdman, though Roger Deakins on unbroken is a name I actually recognize, so maybe that. Of course, I’m rooting for Budapest.

Best Supporting Actress

#Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
Laura Dern, Wild
*Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game
#Emma Stone, Birdman
#Meryl Streep, Into the Woods

Without Patricia Arquette’s steady presence, Boyhood doesn’t work. She won the Golden Globe over three of these four women, and she deserves the Oscar. My only knock is that it’s hardly a “supporting” performance.

Best Supporting Actor

Robert Duvall, The Judge
#Ethan Hawke, Boyhood
#Edward Norton, Birdman
Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher
#J.K. Simmons, Whiplash

I’ll tell you a selfish truth: I was enjoying Whiplash being this little movie that no one heard of, but that I liked a lot. Then Simmons had to spoil it all by winning the Golden Globe against all four of these guys. He deserves to win the Oscar.
oscars-2015-actors-actresses
Best Actress

Marion Cotillard, Two Days One Night
#Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything
Julianne Moore, Still Alice
Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl
Reese Witherspoon, Wild

Gone Girl played for a week at the nearby Madison Theatre, but I missed it. Jones was fine but didn’t feel like “best actress” material. I never heard of Two Days One Night. Still Alice, for which Julianne Moore won the Golden Globe, hasn’t even come to town yet. Hard to judge.

Best Actor

Steve Carell, Foxcatcher
Bradley Cooper, American Sniper
*Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game
#Michael Keaton, Birdman
#Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything

I suspect it’ll be Keaton, who won a Golden Globe for Comedy or Musical over Redmayne, who won it for Drama.

Best Director

#Alexandro G. Iñárritu, Birdman
#Richard Linklater, Boyhood
Bennett Miller, Foxcatcher
#Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel
*Morten Tyldum, The Imitation Game

I’m guessing this will be Boyhood’s director Linklater since he won the Golden Globes over the Birdman and Budapest. He’ll get a point for the vision thing.

Best Picture

American Sniper
#Birdman
#Boyhood
#The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
Selma
#The Theory of Everything
#Whiplash

If it were not very good, the fact that Boyhood took a dozen years to make wouldn’t have mattered. Had it been more conventionally made, with different actors as the boy, and makeup for the adults, it wouldn’t likely have had the same impact. But ever since I saw Boyhood, I was convinced it would win Best Picture. The way they vote, only in this category, is such that, if the voter thought Birdman or Selma or The Grand Budapest Hotel were the best films, but Boyhood was surely second or third on their ballots, it would win.
***
SamuraiFrog reviews Grand Budapest Hotel HERE. He reviews all the other Best Picture nominees, including his brilliant dissection of American Sniper, HERE.

At Central Casting, Hollywood’s Bit Players Need to Stand Out Before They Can Blend In.

The Human Seat Warmers

MOVIE REVIEW: The Theory of Everything

One of the questions the film The Theory of Everything did NOT address was how has Stephen Hawking lived to 70 with ALS?

theoryofeverythingWhen I heard the buzz about the movie The Theory of Everything, I expected that the movie-making would be less conventional. But it’s just a standard romantic biopic of boy meets girl/boy and girl fall in love/boy discovers he has ALS and has two years to live/boy and girl get married anyway/they live happily ever after (for a while).

The “boy” is astrophysicist Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne from the movie Les Misérables), who will eventually become one of the most famous scientists in the world, and author of the bestseller A Brief History of Time. The “girl” is fellow Cambridge student Jane Wilde (Felicity Jones), an unlikely pair.

Jane: So, I take it you’ve never been to church?
Stephen: Once upon a time.
Jane: Tempted to convert?
Stephen: I have a slight problem with the celestial dictatorship premise.

Great physical transformations have taken place so often in film that I think this one by Redmayne may be underrated. Yet I think the greater evolution takes place with Jones, who, over a thirty-year period, convinces the viewer of the joys and tribulations of living and dealing with someone so physically limited, yet so intellectually stimulating.

Perhaps the story, based on Jane’s memoir Travelling to Infinity, feels a tad formulaic, though occasionally quite funny. But the acting, including Charlie Cox, Maxine Peake, and Simon McBurney, who I was unfamiliar with, and David Thewlis and Emily Watson, who I’ve watched for years, is solid.

The Wife and I were glad we saw it, as usual, at the Spectrum Theatre in Albany.

One of the questions the film did NOT address was How Has Stephen Hawking Lived to 70 with ALS?

In the year-in-review stories, it’s fascinating how the ALS ice bucket challenge became a viral storm.