Tag: Oscar

Oscar ex machina

Monday, 29 February, 2016 0 Comments

Congratulations to the Ex Machina team for bagging the 2016 Oscar for Best Visual Effects. A relatively low-key film about AI (Artificial Intelligence), it was overshadowed at the Academy Awards by Star Wars, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian, and The Revenant, but the bigger budgets and more spectacular visuals of the more famous names came up short.

The cliché rules when it comes to AI, so we should be grateful that Alex Garland’s film is more imaginative and less lazy about the subject. In the movie, Google becomes Bluebook, a nod to Wittgenstein’s notes on language games. Bluebook was founded by a tech genius called Nathan (Oscar Isaac), who retreats from Silicon Valley to create Ava (Alicia Vikander), a consciously erotic humanoid robot. The drama begins when Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), a young Bluebook programmer, arrives after having won a company lottery, and it’s his job to subject Ava to the Turing test. Thanks to the hot London visual effects company, Double Negative, Garland’s humanoids are irresistible and it’s only a matter of time before love and hate and murder are in the air. But there’s humour, too. This is one of our favourite scenes.

Best Supporting Actress: Alicia Vikander was superb in Ex Machina and her acting was rewarded last night when she won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role in Tom Hooper’s transgender drama The Danish Girl.


Watching Watson emote with redundant robots

Saturday, 27 February, 2016 0 Comments

Hollywood has become rather fond of depicting robots and artificial intelligence as threats to humanity and that’s not good for the image of the computing industry. Too much dystopia and people might begin to fear the machines. Time, then, for a spot of conviviality where people interact with the technology that will soon be bossing business, and that’s why IBM will present two ads starring its Watson cognitive computing system during the Academy Awards show.

In this clip we see Star Wars actress Carrie Fisher leading a support group for outmoded robots upset at being replaced by newer technology. She invites Watson to help them confront their anxieties and he tells them he’s a computing system that works with humans. But the “traditional” robots say they’re not interested in working with people and opt for a coffee break instead. Humour is not an easy thing to do at the best of times and it’s especially difficult for humans to make robots funny.

#OscarsSoRobotic: The bots in the Watson clip will be live-tweeting during the Oscars.


Coffee cold, chess hot

Saturday, 13 February, 2016 0 Comments

Fact-crammed sentence coming up: In 1968, the Oscar for Best Original Song was awarded to the French composer Michel Legrand for The Windmills of Your Mind, which featured in The Thomas Crown Affair, starring the late Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway, who was 75 last month.

The film also included a jazz tune, Coffee Cold, by Galt MacDermot, the Canadian composer who had just written the music for Hair, his greatest commercial success. The 88-year-old MacDermot enjoyed a moment a decade ago when his music became popular in the hip-hop scene: Busta Rhymes sampled Space from MacDermot’s 1969 album Woman Is Sweeter for the chart-topping Woo hah!!, rapper MF Doom sampled the MacDermot song Cathedral for his Pennyroyal, and Oh No released an entire album of MacDermot samples titled Exodus into Unheard Rhythms.

MacDermot’s music here is a perfect complement for two great actors in their prime.


And the Oscar goes to…

Thursday, 7 January, 2016 0 Comments

… the landscape. Sorry, Leonardo DiCaprio, your performance is compelling, but there’s more to acting than being attacked by a bear. The Revenant is a feast for the eyes, but not so much for the ears. The score by Ryuichi Sakamoto, in collaboration with Bryce Dessner and Alva Noto, is appropriately chilling but it lacks all traces of humanity. The other pain-in-the-ear is the accent of the dastard John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy). “I’m talkin’ to you,” he says in one scene, and it’s about the only understandable thing he utters and mutters throughout. Dave Schilling in the Guardian nails it:

“Fitzgerald is supposed to be from the south or some other rural area and has plans to go back to Texas to re-enlist in the army once he receives a fat payday. This affords Hardy the chance to sink his teeth into yet another dialect and boy, does he chew away at that thing. Again, Hardy’s accent seems to ride in and out on the wind, appearing when necessary and getting usurped by a generic, Star Trek: Nemesis-esque growl when he can get away with it.”

With The Revenant, director Alejandro G. Iñárritu has made a unique visual statement about survival in the face of almost impossible odds and viewers are treated to some memorable graphic moments, but the film has no soul. Worse, it is littered with the inevitable PC sops that must be offered these days to the “victims” of history, but they are too clumsy and transparent to be anything but cliché. When the dust settles after the 88th Academy Awards ceremony on 28 February at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, The Revenant will be remembered mostly for reviving a 19th century word for someone who returns from a long absence. The noun comes from the French revenant, the present participle of the verb revenir (“to return”).

Prediction: The Revenant will win an Oscar: Best Cinematography for the magnificent camerawork of Emmanuel Lubezki. He creates a truly imposing wild West from a variety of scenes shot in Canada, Argentina and the United States.


And the Oscar for best foreign-language film…

Sunday, 22 February, 2015 0 Comments

… goes to Leviathan. Well, that’s what we hope. Andrey Zvyagintsev’s film exudes contempt for modern Russia. Its story of corruption and cruelty is an indictment of the entire system. A win for Leviathan tonight in Los Angeles will be a black eye for the Putin regime and a victory for creativity. How the characters in the film feel about their country’s perverted history in captured is one of the film’s best scenes: a picnic with some local policemen, lots of bottles of vodka, semi-automatic weapons and an array of Soviet-era portraits — Brezhnev, Lenin, Andropov… the entire gallery of thugs.

Vladimir Medinsky, the Russian Minister of Culture, has called for new guidelines to ban films like Leviathan, which “defile” Russia and her culture.” Leviathan is a glorious defiling; a film that reviles what it loves with grief-stricken rage.


And the Oscar, we hope, goes to…

Saturday, 1 March, 2014 0 Comments

20 Feet From Stardom. It’s one of the five nominees in the Documentary Category and it tells of the lives and often tough times of the backup singers heard on many of the rock’s greatest songs. Tomorrow night, 20 Feet From Stardom will be up against Cutie and the Boxer, The Square, Dirty Wars and, the favourite, The Act of Killing.


“I want to thank Canada,” Mr. Affleck said

Tuesday, 26 February, 2013 0 Comments

Back when we tipped it to win the Academy Award for Best Picture, we wrote: “Sure, there’s a lot of alcoholic beverage knocked back in Argo, but the booze acts as an expression of civilization and an antidote to the emerging barbarism of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Ben Affleck stars in and directs a film that’s funny, clever, taut and a necessary reminder of the threat that faces us. Argo deserves the Best Film Oscar, and the ‘Best Supporting Actor’ award should go to Alan Arkin as Lester Siegel, a producer so cynical that the knows the price and the value of everyone in Hollywood.”

Well, Alan Arkin didn’t quite get the gong, but he did play a key role in an excellent film and that’s another milestone in an acting and directing career that stretches back over 50 years. By the way, the Argo screenplay by Chris Terrio, based on the May 2007 Wired magazine article The Great Escape by Joshuah Bearman, and chapter nine of The Master of Disguise by Antonio Mendez, is available here (PDF) for all those who would like to study Hollywood tradecraft. And congratulations to Ben Affleck for turning the script into a film that has finally pleased the Canadians. Not an easy thing to do, that.


Alcoholic beverages are now available

Thursday, 7 February, 2013 2 Comments

Quote: “Ladies and gentlemen, it is our pleasure to announce that alcoholic beverages are now available, as we have cleared Iranian airspace.” Argo, Scene 318 from the screenplay (PDF) by Chris Terrio, based on the May 2007 Wired magazine article The Great Escape by Joshuah Bearman, and chapter nine of The Master of Disguise by Antonio Mendez.

Sure, there’s a lot of alcoholic beverage knocked back in Argo, but the booze acts as an expression of civilization and an antidote to the emerging barbarism of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Ben Affleck stars in and directs a film that’s funny, clever, taut and a necessary reminder of the threat that faces us. Argo deserves the Best Film Oscar, and the “Best Supporting Actor” award should go to Alan Arkin as Lester Siegel, a producer so cynical that the knows the price and the value of everyone in Hollywood.