Oscars 2019: Focusing on those in ‘Second’ Place

Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody

The 2019 Oscars have come and gone. Number ones for best picture, best actor and actress, best animation feature and so on will be remembered. They are, respectively, Green Book, Rami Malek, Olivia Colman, and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (see my review here). But what of those who came ‘second’? Are they just as memorable, if not more so?

Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz in The Favourite

Christian Bale as Dick Cheney in Vice

Two of the films nominated for best picture for this year’s awards were Vice and The Favourite. Neither of them won Best Picture. Interestingly, though, both films were about the people behind the main political leaders of the time, those in second place. In Vice, the story concerns Dick Cheney who became Vice President of the USA in the G W Bush era. In The Favourite, the main focus is on the two women in 18th Century England who get closest to Queen Anne. The women are Sarah Churchill and Abigail Masham.

Not only do the films focus on these ‘vice-leaders’, they also show how exceptionally powerful the vices were. Political machinations go on behind the scenes that make George W Bush and Queen Anne, respectively, look like weak, easily manipulated puppets. The films were an excellent depiction of how leaders of countries/institutions can be merely figureheads, with the real power devolving from influential people who work cunningly to get their own objectives met.

Other similarities between the movies were how they were filmed. Vice breaks the fourth wall constantly with a quirky narrator whose identity is revealed in shocking fashion three quarters of the way through. There is also an amusing section when credits begin to roll as if the film had ended, when in fact it hadn’t. The Favourite uses wide-angle lens shots, gloomy lighting, and lurid details often hidden from the camera to depict reality and confront the viewer.

Olivia Colman – who played Queen Anne in The Favourite – won 2019 Best Actress (read about her acceptance speech). She was excellent as the ill, dithering, batty, very sad Queen Anne. In addition to her performance it’s the stories of the aspirations of those in ‘second place’ that make The Favourite and Vice riveting viewing.

 

The Big Short tackles a sad reality

Review by Brenda Daniels

Already on circuit in South Africa, this 2008 financial crisis film was seen by myself only this week. Many viewers will of course be familiar with the story of the housing bubble that caused markets to crash eight years ago causing a fallout that spread around the world. This film continues that theme, though from a slightly different angle.

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Exodus: Gods and Kings does not disappoint

A review by Roxanne Daniels

An ominous tension is set up between brothers Ramses and Moses from the very beginning of the new biblically based film, Exodus: Gods and Kings. The lives of these two main characters are followed throughout the film; they are first seen as friendly brothers, but become enemies when Moses is exiled and then tasked by God to set the enslaved Israelites free from Ramses’ harsh rule.

The film includes all the ‘main’ events from the book of Exodus in the Bible; all the plagues are shown in full force, following on from each other suitably. A Christian could say that Exodus in the Bible is a story of the glory of God and His mighty hand setting the Israelites free by using a lowly man such as Moses. In the film however, it is more a story about the two men and their journey of being humbled to different ends.

Moses is initially against God, and will not be lowered as a man. It seems though that God, who appears to him rather strangely (this made me uncomfortable) as a little wise boy, prevails, and Moses is finally dependant on God for the Israelites’ final struggle to freedom.

I was  shuffling in my seat for the full 2 hours and 20 minutes of the film; it was gripping to say the least what with excellent filming, good acting from both Christian Bale (Moses) and Joel Edgerton (Ramses) and definitely no lack of budget for a high standard of special effects.

Although the ending of the film may be difficult to understand for those with little knowledge of the Old Testament, the film is certainly not exclusive to believers of the Bible and will be enjoyed by many.

Exodus: Gods and Kings shows in cinemas around South Africa from 24 December 2014

Christian Bale plays Moses in soon-to-be released film Exodus: Gods and Kings. Photo: Creative Commons.

Christian Bale plays Moses in soon-to-be released film Exodus: Gods and Kings. Photo: Creative Commons.

Hairstyles show deeper meaning in American Hustle

A review by Brenda Daniels

American Hustle has been nominated for Best Picture and various other awards for the upcoming Oscar ceremony on 3 March, so I went along to the South African preview to see what all the fuss was about.

The film, set in New Jersey in the 1970s, tells the story of con man, Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale), and his partner, Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams). The two meet and become lovers and then, posing as a Briton with “banking connections”, Sydney helps Irving take his underhand dealings to a new level. Caught out by FBI agent, Richie Di Maso (Bradley Cooper), they are lured into an even bigger world of crime in an effort to catch dirty politicians and the mafia red-handed.

Cooper brought a certain manic amusement to his role as an agent determined to make it big and I enjoyed this. The hoodwinked politician, Mayor Carmine Polito, played by Jeremy Renner, had a certain endearing vulnerability to him, and Irving, convincingly played by Bale, had a soft side to him, exhibiting patience with his dumb wife, Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence), and affection for his young son.

The film opens with Irving working on an elaborate “comb-over” hairdo, and most of the characters sported hairstyles that required some work. This aspect seemed to mirror the characters’ fake lifestyles, and highlighted their weak efforts at, now and then, wanting to “be real” with each other.

Apart from these mildly redeeming qualities the characters and action in American Hustle are relentlessly seedy.

It was hard, and in fact quite boring, to enjoy a two-hour film that gave no interesting message, showed no characters I could identify with enough to care about, and provided no relief from the dirt. Whilst I don’t like the 70s era with its iconic clothing, music, coiffeurs and American mobsters, there are viewers who do. They’ll get plenty in this film.

American Hustle opens at Ster Kinekor in South Africa on 28 February. It carries an age restriction of 16LS.

Jennifer Lawrence (left) and Amy Adams in a scene of American Hustle (Source: Creative Commons)

Jennifer Lawrence (left) and Amy Adams in a scene of American Hustle (Source: Creative Commons)