Sunday, March 2, 2014

The Oscars 2013–My Picks

Over the past couple days I’ve run my eye over the Best Picture, now my annual let’s pick all the winners attempt. Last year I did pretty poorly I must say, so onto this year, to see if I can get at least half right. It’s a tough year though this year, no standout will-win-them-all-film (or so I thought before filling out the ballot).

OK, let’s do it:

Best Motion Picture of the Year


American Hustle (2013)
Captain Phillips (2013)
Dallas Buyers Club (2013)
Gravity (2013)
Her (2013)
Nebraska (2013)
Philomena (2013)
12 Years a Slave (2013)Adobe Photoshop PDF
The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

In this category there’s only two chances; maybe three. American Hustle is the smokey with 12 Years a Slave and Gravity being the only real short priced fancies. None of the other 6 have a hope in hell.

Does anyone really think Nebraska or Philomena are a chance? Sure The Artist won a couple years ago, but I can’t see the Academy ever doing something like that again. And besides neither of them have won anything, and if you’re a little film that could you gotta win something along the way.

12 Years a Slave had all the early running, and I think it’ll get the win. But I’m not sure if it’ll win the most awards.

Tip to win: 12 Years a Slave
Should win: Inside Llewyn Davis
(not nominated, so give it to 12 Years a Slave)


Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role


Christian Bale for American Hustle (2013)
Bruce Dern for Nebraska (2013)
Leonardo DiCaprio for The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)dallas_buyers_club_ver5
Chiwetel Ejiofor for 12 Years a Slave (2013)
Matthew McConaughey for Dallas Buyers Club (2013)

Bruce Dern gets the nomination for being old, DiCaprio gets it for reminding people he’s no longer a teenager . It’s down to Bale, McConaughey and Ejiofor.

McConaughey gets the award for losing weight and being a trooper who made a lot of shite and then turns the corner and does good stuff. Really it’s as much an award for his work in True Detective.

I’d give it to Bale because he’s the best actor in this group, and he really had a great part that he just disappeared into; McConaughey was just playing his usual Texan character minus 30 kg.

Tip to win: Matthew McConaughey
Should win: Christian Bale


Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role


Amy Adams for American Hustle (2013)
Cate Blanchett for Blue Jasmine (2013)
Sandra Bullock for Gravity (2013)
Judi Dench for Philomena (2013)
Meryl Streep for August: Osage County (2013)

blue_jasmineThe only one of these I haven’t seen is August: Osage County, because really why would you do that to yourself. The trailer was enough for me to give it a wide berth. And based on that Meryl Street is playing her usual “watch me deliver my lines” performance. There’s no way she can win, but geez, she won for the truly shite The Iron Lady, so anything is possible.

Absurdly some people think Sandra Bullock has a shot at winning this. Bizarre. I need to go back and see how much chatter there was about Helen Hunt winning Best Actress for Twister

Forget it, the discussion pretty much is pointless, Cate Blanchett will win, and if they released the vote count it’d be by a long long way. I knew she had this won the moment I saw it back in September, and nothing I’ve seen since will change my mind.

She gave a performance for the ages in Blue Jasmine, and she’ll finally get the award she should have won 14 years ago for Elizabeth.

Tip to win: Cate Blanchett
Should win: Cate Blanchett


Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role


Barkhad Abdi for Captain Phillips (2013)
Bradley Cooper for American Hustle (2013)
Jonah Hill for The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Michael Fassbender for 12 Years a Slave (2013)
Jared Leto for Dallas Buyers Club (2013)

As with the Best Actor films, all 5 come from films nominated for Best Picture.  Mark Harris in Grantland makes a damn good case that increasing the number of Best Picture nominees has actually increased the number of nominated films. It certainly seems to be true with the acting categories.

Jared Leto plays a transsexual. This is apparently one of those brave performances that deserves an award. It would have been braver if they had actually cast a transsexual to do the role (haven’t they seen Orange is the New Black?).

Anyhoo he wins it. I’d give it to Michael Fassbender but apparently he hasn’t done any campaigning, and you need to do that. Jonah Hill? I liked it when he wasn’t on the screen, Bradley Cooper had a good wig, and I hate giving it to amateurs like Abdi. Let’s see if he can act in anything other than a film that requires him to be a Somali first.

Tip to win: Jared Leto
Should win: Michael Fassbender


Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role


Sally Hawkins for Blue Jasmine (2013)
Julia Roberts for August: Osage County (2013)
Lupita Nyong'o for 12 Years a Slave (2013)
Jennifer Lawrence for American Hustle (2013)
June Squibb for Nebraska (2013)

Again only one film not nominated for Best Picture. I thought Sally Hawkins was great in Blue Jasmine. It’s damn hard to stick with Cate Blanchett and not be reduced to a footnote, but Hawkins’s character lived. I am almost almost going to tip her. But c’mon, she has no hope of getting past Jennifer Lawrence. No one would get past Jennifer Lawrence… unless they were portraying the degradation of slavery.

I’ll tip Lupita Nyong’o for it because I figure voters think Lawrence won last year, doesn’t need the win, and let’s be honest she’s as big a female film star as there is in the world right now, supporting actress awards are not for her.

Tip to win: Lupita Nyong’s
Should win: Sally Hawkins


Best Achievement in Directing


Alfonso Cuarón for Gravity (2013)
Steve McQueen for 12 Years a Slave (2013)
David O. Russell for American Hustle (2013)
Martin Scorsese for The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Alexander Payne for Nebraska (2013)Gravity_Poster

Perhaps the toughest category to pick of the big ones. Take out Payne – he’s there for choosing black and white. Forget Scorsese – he’s there because he’s Scorsese. But it could be any of the other three.

I’m tipping Cuaron because I think the voters are still impressed that he was able to look it all so realistic. Is that due to his direction or due to the team of guys doing the special effects?

I’d probably vote for Russell, but only just over McQueen. Both are a big chance to win later in their careers.

Tip to win: Alfonso Cuarón
Should win: Russell or McQueen


Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen


American Hustle (2013): Eric Warren Singer, David O. Russell
Blue Jasmine (2013): Woody Allen
Her (2013): Spike Jonze
Nebraska (2013): Bob Nelson
Dallas Buyers Club (2013): Craig Borten, Melisa Wallack

American_Hustle_2013_posterWell Woody Allen won’t win, and to be honest the script suffers from the usual Allen idiosyncrasies – everyone seems to have stopped living in 1990. Cate Blanchett's character for example enrols in a computer course – you know, to learn how to use a computer. Ahh yeah, right. And she wants to be an interior decorator, yep 1985’s most popular movie occupation of rich women.

Also her character hooks up with a wannabe politician, and yet he doesn’t even do a Google search to find out some more about her before asking her to marry him? Not a chance.

Time to leave the 90s where they were Woody (and seriously, is there no one who worked on the movie who pointed this out to him?)

Her is a big chance. It has that, “wow what an edgy out-there idea”.

Nebraska and Dallas Buyers Club? Nope. The first is dull; the second is pretty standard fare.

That leaves it between Her and American Hustle. I think Hustle is the one more likely, and I’d probably vote for it as well

Tip to win: American Hustle
Should win: American Hustle


Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published


Before Midnight (2013): Richard Linklater
Captain Phillips (2013): Billy Ray
12 Years a Slave (2013): John Ridley
The Wolf of Wall Street (2013): Terence Winter
Philomena (2013): Steve Coogan, Jeff Pope

12 Years as a Slave. Not even close.

Of the 10 screenplays nominated, only one was not nominated for Best Picture. In this category none of the other 4 are considered any chance of winning Best Picture, so 12 Years gets it.

Tip to win: 12 Years as a Slave
Should win: 12 Years as a Slave


Best Animated Feature Film of the Yearfrozen_ver12


The Croods (2013)
Despicable Me 2 (2013)
Ernest & Célestine (2012)
Frozen (2013)
The Wind Rises (2013)

Get out your mortgage and put it all on Frozen. A Disney film that is massively popular and is an old style animated musical? Lock it in.

I haven’t seen The Wind Rises so I can’t judge that, but I preferred Frozen above Despicable Me 2 and The Croods (and having 2 girls under 11 believe me I have seen them enough times to judge!)

Tip to win: Frozen
Should win: Frozen

Best Foreign Language Film of the Year


The Broken Circle Breakdown (2012): Felix Van Groeningen(Belgium)
The Missing Picture (2013): Rithy Panh(Cambodia)
Jagten (2012): Thomas Vinterberg(Denmark)
The Great Beauty (2013): Paolo Sorrentino(Italy)
Omar (2013): Hany Abu-Assad(Palestine)

Haven’t seen any of them. Probably won’t ever see anyone of them. So Blue is the Warmest Colour wins Cannes, is reasonably commercially successful and doesn’t get nominated? Bizarre.

Tip to win: The Great Beauty seems to be the favourite


Best Achievement in Cinematography


Gravity (2013): Emmanuel Lubezki
Inside Llewyn Davis (2013): Bruno Delbonnel
Nebraska (2013): Phedon Papamichael
Prisoners (2013): Roger Deakins
The Grandmaster (2013): Philippe Le Sourd

A tough one. Poor old Roger Deakins is up for his 10th nomination, and his 5th in the past seven years. He won’t win though.

Could it go to the black and white Nebraska? I hope not. For me I’d give it to Bruno Delbonnel because I loved the look of Inside Llewyn Davis (actually I’d give it to Sean Bobbitt for 12 Years as a Slave because there were scene that just drank up the scenery).

But I reckon everyone will forget the special effects and give it to Emmanuel Lubezki for Gravity, and that’s ok. The bloke who shot Tree of Life and Children of Men deserves a gong.

Tip to win: Gravity


Best Achievement in Editing


12 Years a Slave (2013): Joe Walker
American Hustle (2013): Alan Baumgarten, Jay Cassidy, Crispin Struthers
Gravity (2013): Alfonso Cuarón, Mark Sanger
Captain Phillips (2013): Christopher Rouse
Dallas Buyers Club (2013): Martin Pensa, John Mac McMurphy

This is tough – do voters really know what is good editing? Generally it means the film with the most editing seems to win. The editing in Captain Phillips had a lot of cuts to keep everyone tense, but is that really good? 12 Years as a Slave had very few quick cuts. Is that good?

I have a sneaking suspicion that a lot of the “technical” type awards are going to Gravity even though I’d probably give this to American Hustle.

Tip to win: Gravity


Best Achievement in Production Design


12 Years a Slave (2013): Adam Stockhausen, Alice Baker
American Hustle (2013): Judy Becker, Heather Loeffler
Gravity (2013): Andy Nicholson, Rosie Goodwin, Joanne Woollard
The Great Gatsby (2013): Catherine Martin, Beverley Dunn
Her (2013): K.K. Barrett, Gene Serdena

A lot has been made of how Her was designed, but I think it is a bit too minimalist for voters’ attention. American Hustle has that great 1970s look, great_gatsby_ver6but The Great Gatsby had a lot of pizzazz – it looked like it was more concerned with production design than just about anything else. And bugger it, CM and Beverly Dunn are Australian, so get on board.

Tip to win: The Great Gatsby


Best Achievement in Costume Design


American Hustle (2013): Michael Wilkinson
The Great Gatsby (2013): Catherine Martin
12 Years a Slave (2013): Patricia Norris
The Grandmaster (2013): William Chang
The Invisible Woman (2013): Michael O'Connor

Down to Gatsby and American Hustle I reckon. Gatsby had the glitz, American Hustle had the 1970s.

I’m going to bet the glitz wins it, but I am less sure than with production design

Tip to win The Great Gatsby


Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling


Dallas Buyers Club (2013): Adruitha Lee, Robin Mathews
Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa (2013): Steve Prouty
The Lone Ranger (2013): Joel Harlow, Gloria Pasqua Casny

Dallas Buyers Club pretty easily I reckon. And alas Jackass and The Lone Ranger miss out on a chance of getting on the list of worst movies ever to win an Oscar. 

Tip to win: Dallas Buyers Club


Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score


The Book Thief (2013): John Williams
Gravity (2013): Steven Price
Her (2013): William Butler, Andy Koyama
Saving Mr. Banks (2013): Thomas Newman
Philomena (2013): Alexandre Desplat

Give Thomas Newman the damn award! He’s only been nominated 10 times without a win! How did he not win for American Beauty? In 1994 his score for The Shawshank Redemption (a beautiful score) was beaten by The Lion King and it’s interesting that Frozen didn’t get a nomination.

I listen to a lot of movie scores while working, and none of these 5 have really grabbed me. Her could be a smokey given the Arcade Fire aspect, but Gravity is the only one of these that is going to be up for lots of other awards, so I reckon it’ll take it.

Tip to win: Gravity


Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song


Despicable Me 2 (2013): Pharrell Williams( "Happy")
Frozen (2013): Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Robert Lopez("Let It Go")
Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (2013): Bono, Adam Clayton, The Edge, Larry Mullen Jr., Brian Burton("Ordinary Love")
Her (2013): Karen O("The Moon Song")

All 4 make for a really good selection. But while U2 did win the Golden Globe for Best song, that’s the Hollywood Foreign Press, and they like the big stars. This is the Oscars. A Disney song that is so popular it has almost overtaken YouTube with the number of covers and parodies? The original version on YouTube has been watch 118 million times. The Academy loves Disney songs and they love being able to vote for a big success.

Even a version of it featuring the different languages the film has been dubbed into has been watched 11 million times:

This is the surest thing of the night.

Tip to win: Frozen


Best Achievement in Sound Mixing


Gravity (2013): Skip Lievsay, Niv Adiri, Christopher Benstead, Chris Munro
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013): Christopher Boyes, Michael Hedges,Michael Semanick, Tony Johnson
Captain Phillips (2013): Chris Burdon, Mark Taylor, Mike Prestwood Smith, Chris Munro
Inside Llewyn Davis (2013): Skip Lievsay, Greg Orloff, Peter F. Kurland
Lone Survivor (2013): Andy Koyama, Beau Borders, David Brownlow

It’s technical so Gravity wins it. But the sound of Captain Phillips – inside the ship the lifeboat etc was pretty tricky and done well. And also the singing and etc in Inside Llewyn Davis could get it the win. But nah.

Tip to win: Gravity


Best Achievement in Sound Editing


All Is Lost (2013): Steve Boeddeker, Richard Hymns
Captain Phillips (2013): Oliver Tarney
Gravity (2013): Glenn Freemantle
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013): Brent Burge
Lone Survivor (2013): Wylie Stateman

This category is essentially about how big did it all sound – the explosions etc (it used to be called Sound *Effects* Editing.

And it’s technical so you know…

Tip to win: Gravity


Best Achievement in Visual Effects


Gravity (2013): Timothy Webber, Chris Lawrence, David Shirk, Neil Corbould
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013): Joe Letteri, Eric Saindon, David Clayton,Eric Reynolds
Iron Man Three (2013): Christopher Townsend, Guy Williams, Erik Nash, Daniel Sudick
The Lone Ranger (2013): Tim Alexander, Gary Brozenich, Edson Williams, John Frazier
Star Trek Into Darkness (2013): Roger Guyett, Pat Tubach, Ben Grossmann, Burt Dalton

Did I say “Let it Go” was the surest thing of the night? Sorry, this is it:

Tip to win: Gravity


Best Documentary, Feature


The Act of Killing (2012): Joshua Oppenheimer, Signe Byrge Sørensen
Cutie and the Boxer (2013): Zachary Heinzerling, Lydia Dean Pilcher
Dirty Wars (2013): Rick Rowley, Jeremy Scahill
The Square (2013): Jehane Noujaim, Karim Amer
20 Feet from Stardom (2013): Morgan Neville

No idea.

Gold Derby says 20 Feet from Stardom so I’ll go with that.

Tip to Win: 20 Feet From Stardom


Best Documentary, Short Subject


Cavedigger (2013): Jeffrey Karoff
Facing Fear (2013): Jason Cohen
Karama Has No Walls (2012): Sara Ishaq
The Lady In Number 6 (2013): Malcolm Clarke, Carl Freed
Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall (2013): Edgar Barens


Best Short Film, Animated


Feral (2012): Daniel Sousa, Dan Golden
Get a Horse! (2013): Lauren MacMullan, Dorothy McKim
Mr Hublot (2013): Laurent Witz, Alexandre Espigares
Possessions (2012): Shuhei Morita
Room on the Broom (2012) (TV): Max Lang, Jan Lachauer


Best Short Film, Live Action


That Wasn't Me (2012): Esteban Crespo
Just Before Losing Everything (2013): Xavier Legrand
Helium (2014): Anders Walter
Do I Have to Take Care of Everything? (2012): Selma Vilhunen
The Voorman Problem (2012): Mark Gill

Haven’t seen any, but they have to go on your ballot so…

Tip to Win: Lady in Number 6, Get a Horse, The Voorman Problem

So I’ve got Gravity winning 7 awards, Dallas Buyers Club getting 3 and 12 Years a Slave, Frozen, American Hustle, and The Great Gatsby winning two each.

The tally makes me think perhaps Gravity can win the big one, as voters just get into the habit of writing down the word.

So now all we have to do is sit back and wait for the awards… so we can then start wondering about next year’s award, which look to be brilliant.

This year we have films out by directors David Fincher (Gone Girl), Christopher Nolan (Interstellar), Wes Anderson (The Great Budapest Hotel), Paul Thomas Anderson (Inherent Vice), Terrence Malik (Knight of Cups), Ridley Scott (Exodus), and Clint Eastwood doing Jersey Boys, plus Angelina Jolie directing Unbroken (written by the Coen brothers!).

I got my popcorn all ready to go.  

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Oscars Time–Best Picture: Part Two

We left off yesterday having looked at Dallas Buyers Club, Philomena, Gravity, Nebraska and Her. That leaves 4 films to go, and one of them needs to win it…

The last film I looked at was Her, which featured Amy Adams, so lets go to American Hustle in which she absolutely shone. American_Hustle_2013_poster_thumb[1] 

This film was the one of the all the nominees that I was most looking forward to seeing.

An excellent cast, a very good director (even if a lot of his films I like more than love).

But while I could appreciate it all, it didn’t grab me like I hoped. I kind of got bored about three quarters of the way through.

It’s all very well done. Christian Bale is excellent: putting on an absolute acting clinic. Amy Adams is great. Not only does she have to spend the entire movie letting everyone know she is not wearing a bra, but she has a great time doing an English accent that doesn’t always hold because her character is only pretending to be English so the accent is not meant to hold.

For me the main drawback was Bradley Cooper. For most of the time I felt like most of the acting was being done by his wig. His character didn’t feel all that different from his character in last year’s Silver Linings Playbook (another David O. Russell film that didn’t grab me as much as it should).

I also didn’t buy Jeremy Renner as the mayor.

The big moment though that did it for me was when Robert de Niro has a brief cameo. In that 3-4 minutes he is there the movie gets a fricken jolt. Maybe it was just seeing de Niro play the role of a gangster again, but as soon as he was gone I wanted him back, and for the movie to be about him.

And also the only one in the scene who could go with de Niro was Bale. Everyone else was blown off the screen; only Bale was able to stay with him.

The film also features Jennifer Lawrence, and while it’s pretty much illegal to dislike Lawrence in anything, I don’t think her performance deserves an Oscar. It was for me a bit showy, and sure she’s meant to be showy, but I didn’t miss her that much when she wasn’t there.

In the end the film has some good lines, a niciesh twist at the end, but I think it all would have been much better had it been written and directed by the Coen brothers. The thing that struck me the most about it was I couldn’t work out why this story needed to be told.

It seemed more an exercise in trying to make a really cool film set in the 1970s with whacked out 1970s clothes and hair.

It’s based on the ABSCAM of the 1970s an actual FBI operation that used con artists to con corrupt politicians.  It is good that they changed enough to make it more fiction than fact. It meant Russell could play around with reality and not be constrained by any particular need to tell the truth.

Unfortunately that was not a choice made by the makers of The Wolf of Wall StreetWallStreet2013poster.

This 3 hour tale of Wall Street greed was clearly made by a director who worships at the alter of Martin Scorsese. It features Leonardo di Caprio playing a role that might as well be a stockbroker version of Henry Hill from Goodfellas. Heck at times his voiceovers and talking direct to camera sees him using an accent that is not all that different from Ray Liotta saying “For as long as I can remember I always wanted to be a gangster.”

It even has a goofish second banana character, with Jonah Hill playing Donnie Azhoff. He doesn’t ever approach  Joe Pesci in Goodfellas and is probably more on a par with Joe Pesci in Casino.

In fact the whole film seems to be directed by a bloke who thinks Casino is Scorsese's best film. It’s always loud, lacks any subtlety and rather wears out its welcome well before the 180 minutes is up.

It’s all a bit sad to discover the director actually is Martin Scorsese.

This film has certainly split viewers and critics. Some think it a masterpiece of satire, others that it kinda of it just a bit of a mess.

The problem is in adapting the real life tale of Jordan Belfort, Scorsese and the screenwriter Terence Winter decided to be faithful to the truth. This film would have worked much much better by just using Belford’s life as a step off – as indeed was the case with the 2000 film, Boiler Room.

By trying to tell an accurate story of Belford, it meant any attempt to satirise his character was pretty much reduced to just showing us how extravagant it all was… and then showing us again... and again.. and…

Nothing in this film has the bitter satire of the scene in Boiler Room where the young stockbrokers sit around in an any empty house with seemingly just a couch and TV as the only furniture in the place while they watch Wall Street and revere Gordon Gecko like a god – taking turns quoting his dialogue verbatim.

No doubt commerce students will now quote this film in years to come.

The closest we come to arch satire in this film is where a woman is shown getting her head shaved for $10,000 – the shaving, rather than being done in a the fun kind of way that happens with say the Shave for a Cure, is here shown as a brutal event, and to me brought up visions of women after WWII who had collaborated with the Germans being sat in the middle of the town square and getting their hair shaved as punishment.

But such moments are pretty much limited. There’s a lot of excess, but it’s just excess. It doesn’t really shock (stock brokers like strippers and hookers? Who knew!)

Novelist Raymond Chandler once wrote that when he got stuck with what to do next in a novel he had a guy come through a door holding a gun. It seems here, whenever the screenplay got bogged down Scorsesse and Winter decided to have a naked woman come through the door.

If you like looking at naked women, then this is the movie for you.

It’s one of those movies where women are treated badly and you’re supposed to realise that “that’s the whole point”. It’s one of those movies where if you say you hate the over the top extreme of it all, and the way Scorsese presents Belford as a king, you get told you’re supposed to think that because you know… satire!

I’m not sure how much satire there is in having Belford himself get to play a self aggrandising cameo role right at the end. I don’t think Scorsese is actually satirising this excess, I think he’s revelling in it.

It’s also a bit of a dated movie. It’s from the 1990s, it isn’t really about anything that leads up to the GFC. If you want to see a movie about that, go get out that sadly neglected Margin Call. It’s a much better film than this one (my pick for Best Pictured of 2011).

And really Marty. 3 hours? You’d think in all that time you could give Kyle Chandler more screen time.

The best thing about the film is the cameo of Matthew McConaughey in a role which is based on a real person but features a scene that didn’t happen in real life. I’d like to see McConaughey win the Best Supporting Actor for this bit part (he’s not nominated). It was one of the few scenes that lingered on after the film had ended, and one of the few that did feel like real satire.

Captain Phillips is also based on a true story and tries to stick to the facts. Directed by Paul Greengrass who knows how to do a good thriller, it depicts the events of the hijacking of a US cargo ship by Somali pirates. Captain_Phillips_Poster

It turns out that the real Captain Phillips was perhaps not so heroic as depicted, and perhaps his actions as captain made the hijacking more likely.

I’m not too perturbed by those steps away from truth because when you get down to it, this is more a thriller than an historical record. The ship did get hijacked and the broad strokes all happened, so that’s good enough for me.

Greengrass really does the tension aspect well, and that’s no mean feat when you essentially have a company of Navy SEALS and a couple US Navy warships going up against 4 Somali hijackers in a lifeboat.

For mine this film got nominated because of Tom Hanks. Put someone else in his role – someone less serious – and I think the movie’s thriller aspects would take over.

Personally I found Lone Survivor a better movie – and one which also keeps to the facts (mostly). I think the final scene of Tom Hanks probably got this film the Oscar nomination (and it is very well acted).

I enjoyed the movie, and would probably watch it again, but it’s no Best Picture in this year, or any other year. Other than relating something that happened it has nothing to say. A better film would have put a bit more light and colour into the goodies and baddies aspect. At times it goes there in but it feels like it’s being done just enough so the filmmakers can say “look we are aware of the shades of grey”.

Adobe Photoshop PDFThere aren’t any shades of grey in the final nominee – 12 Years a Slave – which depicts the story of a man who for 12 years was a… errr slave. OK the title is kind of a spoiler.

Based on a true story, it is very faithful to the source. The film takes us through the experience of being a slave in the pre-Civil War years of the the Southern states of America in a manner that is quite odd not to have been done before.

Given the plethora of Holocaust films you would have thought there would have been many more honest films on slavery. It’s odd that Spike Lee hasn’t made one. It is even more odd that this is made by Steve McQueen – a black man yes, but he is English.

Perhaps it is reflective of the fact that American audiences are happier to pay to watch WWII atrocities than they are ones that feature Americans – especially given it is likely such a film likely won’t exactly play well in former confederate states.

While watching this film there is a bit of the great joke made by Amy Poehler at the Golden Globes, “I loved “12 Years A Slave,” and I can honestly say that after seeing that film, I will never look at slavery the same way again.”

I mean what does it tell us? Slavery is bad. We knew that surely. But still geez, it is told well. And even though you think you know how bad it was, there are scenes in this film that hit you in the gut.

The acting is top notch. Chiwetel Ejiofor in the lead role is astonishing – probably won’t win Best Actor though. Lupita Nyong'o will likely win Best Supporting actress, but I don’t know if she deserves it – her role is not very deep, and a bit one note – even if that note is played very well. And I kind of hope she doesn’t because I suspect it’ll sentence her to the role of the answer to a trivia question.

Paul Giamatti has a brutal small role that will stay with you for a long time, and Michael Fassbender in the role of Ejiofor’s owner might be the best thing in the film. He deserves the Best Supporting award, but it seems it’ll go to Jared Leto for Dallas Buyers Club.

And finally the film is just beautifully shot. Sean Bobbitt was robbed not to be nominated for Best Cinematography.

It’s nominated for nine Oscars, and I wouldn’t be too surprised if it just wins the one – for Best Pictures.  It was the one film of the nominees which after watching I kind of just sat and thought, and thought it was a film that needed to be made.

Normally I prefer films to win that are set in the present day. And yes there’s a bit of Oscar bait about this film – it tackles a tough subject, it’s based on a true story, it is a history. The best equivalent is probably Roman Polanski’s The Pianist (which did not win Best Picture – Chicago, really??!)

But just because it is the type of film that often wins doesn't mean it shouldn't. And of the nine it gets my vote.

But for me the best film of the year wasn’t nominated. My favourite film of the year was the Coen brothers Inside Llewyn DavisInside_Llewyn_Davis_Poster.

Admittedly I am a huge Coen brothers fan, but while I wouldn’t put this in their top echelon, it’s still a wonderful film.

It’s another period piece, and sort of based on a true story. But it’s only very loosely based (more inspired by I guess) on the life  of folk singer Dave van Ronk (the album cover of “Inside Llewyn Davis” is the same as “Inside Dave van Ronk”.)

It tells the story of a bit of an odyssey undertaken one week by a struggling folk singer in the early 1960s – just prior to Bob Dylan coming along and taking folk to the pop charts.

He’s got talent, but he’s hopeless – like all good Coen brothers’ protagonists are.

Oscar Isaac in the lead is great. Absolutely robbed not to get nominated for an Oscar, and I’m glad that the bloke I thought was destined for big things after first seeing him in the Australian film Balibo has indeed gone on to big things.

He does his own singing and does it perfectly for the period.

Justin Timberlake in a small role is excellent, Carey Mulligan rounds out a big year with a role that seems like a sort of Mary Travers. She delivers one line where she says “obviously” just so perfectly.

And Coen regular John Goodman delivers probably the best of the lines in the film with absolute relish.

It wasn’t a great year for film, in my opinion, and so I’d be giving my vote to not a great film, but one I know I’ll be watching a few more times in my life. I can’t say that about any of the the actual 9 nominated films.

It also features a great cameo part by F. Murray Abraham looking every bit Mitch Miller (even though he’s playing a mix of Miller and Albert Grossman) in which he tells Davis after hearing him play, “I don’t see any money here”.

It’s such a brutal line to give to an artist hoping to earn a living, and the despair in the line flows throughout the film.

The trailer captures the film perfectly, and also includes Davis and Marcus Mumford (who is not in the film) singing “Fare Thee Well”

Friday, February 28, 2014

Oscars Time–Best Picture: Part One

The Academy Awards are on Monday (Australian time) and so I’m going back to those old days when I used to actually write things on this blog at regular intervals and am going to run my eye over the Best Picture nominees. Later on the weekend I’ll give my picks for every category. Thee are nine nominees this year, so I’ll break this into two parts otherwise it’ll very much be tl;dr.

A word of warning, there’s a fair few spoilers ahead, so it’s probably best to skip the sections on any movie you haven’t seen.

As usual with the Best Picture nominees there is a fair swag of films based on true stories. The Academy loves truth, because it gives them the sense that film is a weighty art form that deals with weighty subjects, and given the usual length of said films, done in a weighty manner.

And as is always the case, there’s a fair bit of grey going on between truth and “film truth”. Rather foolishly this has bled into the campaigns for the awards themselves where film companies are now employing historians to “fact check” the rival studio’s films.

I’m pretty flexible on historical accuracy. But if the fib is done that alters the entireDallas_Buyers_Club_poster conceit of the film I usually get a bit sniffy about it. It’s why for example I think it is important whether or not the Mathew McConaughey character, Ron Woodroof, in Dallas Buyer Club was gay (or at least bisexual) or whether he was actually the homophobic redneck that he is portrayed as.

The spine of the films is essentially about a homophobe who gets AIDS, sells drugs to AIDS sufferers (all of whom are gay) and along the way he learns a valuable lesson about people and life…

If that guy in reality was gay himself, then the rest of the film takes a fairly different turn – and certainly one that would have been no less dramatic. Indeed it would have been much more interesting, and also a better reflection of the period when many gay AIDS sufferers around America set up similar drug clubs selling anti-viral drugs not yet approved by the DEA.

But that aside the film was quite well done. It didn’t really say anything that hasn’t been said before (and said better). It’s a period piece about the 1980s and as such it rather lacks the punch it might have had had it been made in the mid-1990s when it was written.

McConaughey is excellent in a pretty showy actor role. He got to lose a lot of weight – which is a big thing when men do it, and the required thing when women do it. He does a good job being a Texan showoff because you know that is a stretch for him….

Overall though I think the role was a bit of a caricature, as was Jared Leto’s role playing his transsexual business partner. They’ll both probably win Oscars for their roles. I wouldn’t vote for them, and I wouldn't vote for the film for Best Picture either.

It’s a nice safe film that doesn’t really challenge anyone’s preconceptions.

Philomena_posterPhilomena is another one that is a sort of true story period piece as it charts the true life story of Irish women Philomena whose child in the 1950s was taken away from her and adopted out by the nuns of the Catholic Church.

If you have any hatred of the Catholic Church for how it acted in the past, this film will definitely reinforce your views.

It seems though that the films takes a few liberties – one of the senior nuns of the convent lives longer than she did in reality, and thus is around at the the denouement, whereas in reality she had been dead.

This fib gives Steve Coogan a good scene that has you cheering, but it doesn’t really affect the spine of the film, and thus I didn’t have any problem with it.

The other fib is more problematical – Coogan’s character, Martin Sixsmith and Philomena did not travel to the USA together looking for her son. Given that’s a good half of the film, that pretty much puts this firmly into movie truth territory. But again it doesn’t in my view ruin the spine of the film SPOILER– women loses son due to practices by Catholic Church, journalists helps her track him down, they find out he has died, and is buried in Ireland.

The film makes the nuns out worse than they are – though perhaps not worse than they were – because in the book the modern day nuns are all quite nice and helpful. But the big problem for me is that the film really is pretty slight.

It certainly does hit the right emotional targets, but again it is pretty safe. It is really just a very well done mid-week movie. Judi Dench is wonderful to behold, and Coogan is excellent as well. It’s one of those films when people ask me if it’s good, I tell them that it worth watching when it comes out on DVD. I’m quite surprised it got nominated. Back when there were only 5 nominations, I don’t think there is any way it would have made the list.


The reason the up to 10 nominations policy was introduced was for films like Gravity. After The Dark Knight missed out on A nomination it was decided to increase the number of nominations to ensure big blockbuster films that might have missed out because they were not deemed arty enough would be included. The real reason was to ensure popular films were nominated so people might actually watch the broadcast. 

I don’t think there was any need to increase the nominations. Good big budget and big box office films have always had a chance at the Oscars – if they deserved it. Think Gladiator, the Lord of the Rings trio, Titanic, Jerry Maguire, Apollo 13, Forrest Gump, The Fugitive.

The problem isn’t the Academy, it’s that from 2004 (when LOTR won) to 2008 (when The Dark Knight missed out) the big blockbusters were dominated by comic book films like Spider-Man2 and 3, Transformers, the Harry Potter films and a lot of cartoons. A film about action figures has to be bloody good to be worth nominating for best film, and to be honest no ne of them were.

The tendency toward cartoon/superhero/teenage fiction adaptations pretty much leads to a lot of very popular films that are, let’s be honest pretty shit. The Hunger Games was fine popcorn entertainment, but is it really anyone’s idea of the best film of the year?

Obviously it is someone’s idea, but heck when I was 14 I thought Top Gun was about as good as a film could possibly be, but even I didn’t think then that it was the type of film deserving of a Best Picture nomination.

Here are the top 10 box office films for last year in the USA:

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Iron Man 3
Despicable Me 2
Man of Steel
Monsters University
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Fast & Furious 6
Oz The Great and Powerful

Gravity got a nomination, but no other one really you could say was robbed. Three animated films and 2 action hero films.  Let’s go back 10 years to 2003:

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
Finding Nemo
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
The Matrix Reloaded
Bruce Almighty
X2: X-Men United
Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines
The Matrix Revolutions
Cheaper by the Dozen

Again only one film got nominated – Lord of the Rings (it won) – the rest, much as I have a soft spot for Finding Nemo, are not great films, and in many cases they are awful. Jesus, people actually paid to see The Matrix Revolutions?

15 years ago?

Saving Private Ryan
There's Something About Mary
A Bug's Life
The Waterboy
Doctor Dolittle
Rush Hour
Deep Impact
Patch Adams

Again just one nomination – SPR – and while I think There’s Something About Mary deserved a nomination – if only for how influential it was on film comedy – no one would be arguing that The Warterboy deserved Oscar love.  

OK 20 years ago:

Jurassic Park
Mrs. Doubtfire
The Fugitive
The Firm
Sleepless in Seattle
Indecent Proposal
In the Line of Fire
The Pelican Brief
Schindler's List

This time two of the top ten made it (Schindler’s List and The Fugitive), and really looking back it feels like a damn good year for film. Had In the Line of Fire and possibly The Firm been made this year or last I think they would have been considered serious chances to be nominated for Best Picture. That is more a reflection on how shite films are now compared to then. Compare In the Line of Fire to Olympus Has Fallen or White House Down, and you see the difference between films 20 years ago and now.

But the point is that at best one or maybe two big blockbusters in the past would get nominated. That The Dark Knight missed out was just one in the long, long line of possible dumb Oscar snubs. But it was no reason to change the rules. And to be honest, I think the film rode on the back of Heath Ledger. He got the award, and anything more than that would have been overkill.

But then Slumdog Millionaire won the Best Picture that year, and as the saying goes, I’ve seen better film on teeth than that.

Which brings us to that one blockbuster for this year, Gravity. Now I know I am very much at odds with the vast majority of folk, but I found it an absolute bore.

Sure the special effects are brilliant, but I could give a damn. It’s CGI. So they’ve got a good computer. Big deal, in 5-10 years time the effects will look a little old. The few times I come across Avatar on Foxtel I am struck by how cartoonish it all looks. Nothing seems real, and once the special effects no longer seems special, you’re left, as you have been since film was invented, with the story and the characters, and in Avatar they alas, also seem fake.

And so it is with Gravity. I think people get a bit transfixed by things happening in space, as though that gives a story greater meaning. But really this film’s narrative wasn’t much deeper than Twister. And Sandra Bullock’s character and performance was no more breathtaking than her character and role in Speed.

I didn’t really care that the science in the film is dodgy as all heck, for mine the film’s narrative creaked all the way. Medical engineer Sandra Bullock (Yeah. Ponder that casting) and astronaut George Clooney (where we get to see George Clooney acting as what an astronaut would be like if that astronaut was acting like George Clooney) are trapped in space due to flying debris (great effects, very impressive), and thus they have to travel through space to another space station to get back to earth.

It’s Lassie Come Home rebooted in space really, and with about the same amount of depth. I mean you really would be shocked to hear that Sandra Bullock’s character lost her daughter in a car accident.

Feel the pathos.

On the way George Clooney gets to be George Clooney – or at least what he wants people to think is who George Clooney is. But cripes. This is no The Right Stuff.

I was very nearly asleep by the time [major spoiler] George Clooney comes back from the dead to tell Sandra Bullock how to start up the space capsule.

At a certain point in this pretty short movie, you realise it’s a bit like a computer game where Sandra Bullock has to solve certain clues and do certain physical things to get to the end. And even though it was only 90 minutes, the end couldn’t come quick enough for me. Because let’s be honest, we knew how it would end.

If you thought Sandra Bullock was not going to get back to earth then you probably have never seen a film made in the past 120 years.

A predictable narrative is fine. Not every film needs to end like Chinatown. But I need more than effect to sustain my journey to the end. I was actually more tense watching World War Z and I knew in that film there was no way in hell Brad Pitt was going to die. (As an aside, what a terrible adaptation of the book was that film. Just awful)

So the effects are great. Really great. How they did it I have no idea. So give it the Oscar for Best Visual Effects.

It’s a very good popcorn movie (well not really for me, given I was bored, but for everyone else). But Best Picture? Nope. Doesn’t mean it won’t win it, but it doesn’t get my vote.

Nebraska_PosterIf you don’t want big popcorn and you want arty, you get it in spades with Nebraska.

It’s shot in black and white don’t ya know! Feel the artistic merit!

Why was it shot in black and white? Well no reason really. Sure it looks nice, but if you think you can’t make the heartland of America look beautiful in colour, you probably need to go watch Badlands or Days of Heaven.

It seems the director, Alexander Payne was trying to evoke The Last Picture Show, but most of the time I felt like it was evoking more a film school project done on small budget.

I was no fan of Payne’s The Descendants, and thought Sideways massively overrated.  So maybe I just don’t get Payne’s films (love Election though).

This story of an elderly man (played by Brice Dern) who thinks he’s won the sweepstakes lottery and his son driving to Lincoln, Nebraska to pick up his winnings is a nice basis for a film. They stop off at Dern’s home town and we meet his family and old friends, and that’s about it.

To me it was a film trying to be deeper than it was. The trip probably symbolises something, but not really, the people in the town and their interactions don’t say anything in the way that such things in The Last Picture Show did.

It’s a character driven film, but I didn’t really give a stuff about any of the characters. I’m usually a sucker for father-son stories, but aside from one moment when the son (Played by Will Forte) sticks up for his Dad to an old acquaintance, I didn’t get any emotional hit.

Geez it was boring. 

The ending just kind of ended. And I was glad it did.

Bruce Dern certainly is great to watch, but that deserves a Best Actor nomination, not a Best Picture one. I think the only reason it got nominated was because it was done in black and white and so it must be more meaningful than it really is.

The other very arty film is Her.Her2013Poster

It’s a film set in the future where a guy does a job that will never exist in the future (seriously, writing birthday cards and personal letters for other people is going to be a job? Yeah nah.)

In this future an operating system can talk in a sexy voice (Scarlett Johansson’s) and is able to learn , love and etc. And of course when computers are able to learn we know what happens next – yep, they become self aware, and Skynet is built and they all kill us.

Except in this version of the future they just get us to fall in love with them, all the while they’re screwing around with other computers and then eventually they dump us.

So not a lot better really.

Look it’s a typical Spike Jonze type film. It’s clever in its own way. It looks great – the architecture, the layout, the etc is all good. But the film really suffered from not enough actual people.

Johansson's voice sounded weird – it seemed to come from nowhere , so it felt like it was just a voiceover rather than coming out of a speaker. I know most of the time it is coming out of an earpiece that Joaquim Phoenix is wearing and so we were essentially hearing it how he was mean to the hear it.  but it felt quite disconnected for me.

Mostly the film failed for me because SPOILER when the operating system leaves, I was not the least bit sad. And for a film about a romance, that’s not good.

I actually wanted to see more interaction between Phoenix and Amy Adams because when that occurred the film actually felt like it had some emotion. Maybe that was the point. But I kind of hate movies that have you hating or being bored with something and being told that that is the point of it all.

Maybe the problem was I saw this parody of the film first:

(Part two tomorrow).

Sunday, January 26, 2014

2014 Australian Open recap: Stan’s the man

So two weeks ago a bloke write a post for The Drum in which he stated:

“But most certain of all is that the men's tournament will be won by one of the top-seeded players.”

Now in my defence I did mean one of the top 10, but yeah, Stan Wawrinka coming through, and being the first player to beat both Djokovic and Nadal in the one grand slam (Federer has a couple times beaten Djokovic and Murray to win, but not Nadal and one of the other) was not really on the cards.

Even prior to the final it didn’t look that likely. Nadal thrashed Federer who had thrashed Murray (really the last part of the 3rd set was a flub) and Tsonga. He looked to be peaking at the perfect time.

It was time to invite Pete Sampras down to hand out the trophy to Nadal for winning his 14th title (and thus equal with Sampras). It’s a tough game, men’s tennis. Best of 5. Can go for easily over three hours. Anything can happen. But c’mon. Put down your glasses.

No one told Wawrinka however, who came out and pushed Nadal around all the way through the first set. He won it easy, deservedly, and confidently.

But we’re talking Nadal here, El toro. The strongest mental player in the game. The come back is possible even probable.

Winning a grand slam though is both a mental and physical test and the body needs to be able to last the 7 matches. And it can go at any moment. A slip, and lunge, a twinge.

And Nadal’s body, which conversely seems built of steel and at times as fragile as rusted iron, was unkind.

His back twigged. A spasm? A muscle pull?

Who knows. But he was off for an injury break after being broken at the start of the 2nd set.

The crowd booed. Spurred on perhaps by Wawrinka taking a bit of issue with the time out, because certainly it was the precise moment if you were going to indulge in some gamesmanship to call for the trainer.

The crowd was perhaps chastened by memories of Azarenka going off in last year women’s final, perhaps as well by Nadal’s rather oddly timed injury time-out in his semi-final against Federer, and who knows, perhaps even recalling Tomic’s quick default in the first round against Nadal.

And you can say they were unsportsmanlike. But tennis has become victim to players using timeouts at opportune times. The crowds know it, and can sense it especially when the other player seems to be thinking it as well.

It was clear though, as soon as the play restarted, that Nadal was injured. And the crowd, perhaps chastened by their own reaction, cheered for Nadal for most of the rest of the match.

Nadal gave Wawrinka the 2nd set with barely a yelp.

But there was no way Nadal was going to quit. You don’t quit in the final of a grand slam. Justine Henin did it in the 2006 women’s final in Melbourne and it rather hung over her. It seemed disrespectful to Mauresmo.

Grand slam finals tennis etiquette  requires even when you are injured to stay out there and get beaten.

And there was no way Nadal was going to quit because backs are funny things… drugs can dull the pain… swinging for winners at every opportunity can suddenly start being a good strategy – especially if you opponent is not quite sure what to do – kill you off, or take pity, or go through the emotions like Wawrinka sort of only needed to do in the second set?

And so it was with Wawrinka. He gifted Nadal a break at the start of the third set. He played like he assumed Nadal was unable to walk, and then when Nadal began to run he played like someone who felt he had been cheated.  Stan the man

For a set he was angry and confused with the world.

The Nadal of the second set was gone, replaced by a bloke playing like there was no tomorrow, because there is none. You don’t win 13 grand slams by leaving anything on the court.

And Wawrinka was a wreck. He had thoroughly outplayed Nadal in the first set, and suddenly was acting like the match had been stolen, instead of him playing like he was up 2 sets to love.

He tried to shorten points despite it being Nadal who wanted each rally to finish as soon as possible. He forgot to make Nadal run. He lost timing, lost game play, lost his head.

The second set was lost by Nadal’s back; the third lost by Wawrinka’s head.

The fourth set though seemed to bring normality back to the court. Nadal was running around, but clearly not able to return with the power needed to trouble Wawrinka’s serve. Nadal was down break points in his first serving game, was at 30-30 in his second.

Wawrinka’s serve seemed solid and it looked only a matter of time before Wawrinka realised the match was there for him to take.

And take is he did, when he broke Nadal easily to go up 4-2.

Start the engraving.

And then he was broken to love.

A truly horrible game. No first serves in, a seriously choked forehand to lose the game.

And so everyone started to wonder if this is going to be the biggest choke of all time. Because, while Nadal deserves the credit for sticking it out, it was clearly on Wawrinka’s racquet and he was literally giving the games to Nadal. Balls hit long, shanked forehands, tight first serves, dumb tennis. It was some of the most awful tennis to watch.

I don’t think there was anyone watching or playing the match who thought if it went to 5 sets that Wawrinka would win. He had to win the 4th. To lose it would have been the most gut searing experience that could have been only worsened by the thought that losing 3 sets in such circumstance is worse than 2, and that he was very likely going to do just that.

Thankfully – because it would have been seriously godly horrific to watch – he again broke Nadal straight away to go up 5-3.

This time he served it out like a man knowing it was his time.

The tournament of the body and mind was won by the man who was able to keep hold of both – even if the mind looked gone for a set and a half.

Anyone who thinks this victory is diminished has no idea how sport works. It’s survival of the fittest. There is many a sportsman or woman going around who would’ve had a great career were it not for injuries.

The body needs to hold up in order for you to hold up the trophy. That’s why you do the training, that’s why you have the insane fitness regimes.

Was Nadal unlucky? Yes. But no less than he was lucky Tomic was injured allowing Nadal to cruise through what was expected to be a tough first round. Pete Sampras was getting easily beaten by Mark Philippoussis in the quarter finals of the 1999 Wimbledon Championships when Philippoussis tore the cartilage in his left knee. There’s no asterisk by Sampras’s name on that trophy, and there’s none next to Wawrinka’s for this one.

The body and the mind both have to hold up.

And so is there a changing of the guard? Not really, but yes. Wawrinka is 28 years old. He is never going to be the big thing in tennis (nor even the next big thing). He is not the new generation – he’s older than Nadal, Djokovic and Murray. But it is a changing of the guard because it should let every other player in the top 10 know that it can be done.

Surely Juan Martin del Potro will one day remember he is good enough to win these titles. Tsonga, Simon, Monfils and others should know you don’t need to win a title by the time you’re 25 or you’re done.

But also the tournament showed us glimmers of the future. Grigor Dimitrov has arrived, and he looks set to stick around. At just 22 he is the first of the next generation of players who have had to realise that the old days of breaking through when you’re 19 or 20 are gone.

The men’s game is now a game for men. He beat Canadian Milos Raonic, and he at number 11 in the world is likely to be the next one to break into the top 10. If both he and Dimitrov can do it this year, then a changing of the guard will be more in doing than in the talking.

For Tomic? Well he had a bad one. Injured and also well beaten in Sydney by del Potro. He now sits at around 65 in the world.

But the year is young. Where he is at the US Open is more important than where he sits now. But he’ll have to put up with playing on the back courts and not being given the top 10 treatment he does in Australia.

So too will the two new guns of Aussie tennis, Nick Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkinakis. They now face the reality of men’s tennis. They might get a couple wild cards but the reality is their rankings are such that they will be having to play qualifiers just to get in the most low level of tournaments on the ATP tour. For the most part they’ll be playing on the 2nd tier Challenger circuit. 

Krygios was ranked 183 in the world coming into the tournament and even after it won’t be in the top 150. Kokkinakis is ranked in the top 500. There is a mountain to climb yet.

They both looked great – but tennis is a cruel fight all the way up the top. The talk of Tomic being replaced is possible, but it is worth remembering Tomic has already made it to the top 30. He has shown he actually does have the game to get seeded in the grand slams, and once you get there, it’s up to you to do the work and make your luck. 

Krygios and Kokkinakis by contrast have played a couple good games in a row.

Anyone who thinks it is a guarantee they’ll get to the top should look at Belgian David Goffin. He is 23. In the fourth round of the 2012 French Open he took the first set off Roger Federer. He got up to number 42 in the world as a 21 year old.

He is now ranked 111 in the world.

He last played in the Challenger event in New Caledonia where he had to retire in the 2nd round with an injury, and he wasn’t even able to come to Australia and play in the qualifiers. It won’t matter too much because he was only defending 10 points from last year’s tournament where he got knocked out in the first round.

Potential is great, but the body and mind have to hold up.

And so to the final question that always comes up at any grand slam. How is Federer going?

I think he was playing well enough to beat anyone… except Nadal. Nadal’s game is what would have been created in a lab by the world’s best scientist charged with constructing a player who can beat Federer.

That top spin left-hand forehand to Federer’s backhand is just death. Federer’s weedy arm is just not strong enough to do what Wawrinka did in the final against it.

But the way he played against Tsonga and Murray suggests if the body holds up (that old-man back is always going to be an issue until he retires) he should have a good year. He drops to number 8 in the world, but that won’t matter too much.

Given how few points he has to defend at both Wimbledon and the US Open and a few other tournaments that he skipped last year, his current top 8 ranking is more a victim of time than of how he is playing. He made the semis and there’s no reason to think he can’t get back to the top 4. The trouble is with Wawrinka now top 3 and having the 2000 points from this tournament for the rest of the year, it’ll be hard to shift him. The fight for the 4th spot will be fierce.

Djokovic as well is looking ok. He was probably due a loss, and it took Wawrinka having the fortnight of his life to do it. Murray also looks like once he has a few matches under his belt and few months on the fitness track, he’ll be up there as well, despite his current ranking of number 6.

The status quo is still there for the most part, but Wawrinka showed it can be changed if you play your best and take the opportunities when they present themselves.


The other big thing is this stopped Nadal from getting to 14 grand slam titles. He remains 4 behind Federer. He’ll probably get there, but it is amazing how tough those last few can be.

So here’s the graph of the top grand slam winners (open era). I include tournaments missed, because you gotta turn up to win it.


Nadal is still on pace, but the body can go at any time… you don’t count them till they’re sitting on your mantelpiece.

The next graph starts from when each player won their first title onwards. It shows that Nadal’s peak certainly hasn’t been as dominant as Federer’s. When Federer learned how to win them, he learned how to win them a lot, but time is on his side – not perhaps in ever having as good a run as Federer, but in overhauling his career number of titles. The question is if his body will be for the probably 2 more year needed:



As usual with me this has been focussed on the men’s side. I will endeavour to do something on the women’s game soon (time permitting). Even with Wawrinka’s win, I think you can make a great case that the women’s game has much greater depth than the men’s – and that is a very odd situation given the past 30 years.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Australia’s Unemployment Rate in December– Steady at 5.8%

Today’s labour force figures demonstrated that sometimes economics is not about “good news and bad news”, sometimes it’s just all bad.

There really was nothing in today’s figures that holds any joy. But let us gird our loins and venture into the data.

Firstly the unemployment rate both seasonally adjusted and trend stayed at 5.8%


It was pretty close to 5.9% though. The seasonally adjusted rate came in at 5.845%, so about a hundred fewer jobs and the rate would be 5.9%.

But that said the trend rate was 5.79% which is a rock solid 5.8%.

A couple months ago I was hoping a bit of a plateau was beginning to appear, but alas, when we go in for a close-up the upward direction appears to continue:


The worst thing was this month employment actually fell. In seasonally adjusted terms employment decreased by 22,600, or 0.19%. As you can see the seasonally adjusted measure jumps around a bit, but even the trend growth was negative (just):


In annual terms things are still positive:


But that is small consolation, especially if we have a look at the past 20 years, and we see it is almost as bad as it was during the GFC, and only the 1990s recession had it worse:


And if we look at the 5 yearly jobs growth over the past 30 years, the picture isn’t much better (out of interest to get to a million jobs in 5 years, it’d need to get up to around 8.5%):


But the big problem is any job growth that there is, is in part-time work. On Twitter I posted a 3 year version of this graph, but here’s a 5 year one to give broader context – and what occurred during the GFC:


The drop in full-time work is not quite as bad as it was during the GFC (in trend terms at least), but it ain’t healthy at all:


Not surprisingly growth in hours worked is starting to go down, and when that goes negative you know we’re in bleak territory.


In 2012 the hours worked grew much slower than actual employment – suggesting an increase in part-time work and also more work being cut back than laid off. Now though they’re together:


As a result the growth in hours worked per person is also starting to decline after a bit of an increase in the middle of 2013:


This all adds up to an increase in the rate of people looking for full-time work:


After a slight decline in the gap between these two rates in the middle of last year, it has again widened. It’s not quite at the gap it was during the GFC, but neither does it seem to be peaking.


The employment to population ratio is also awful:


If we look at the historical view you can really see that a turning point happened in 2009-2010:


Most of this is due to the ageing population (I doubt we will ever see the 63% level again), but if you compare the total ratio to that of just 15-64yo you can see even percentage of those in the working age who are employed has also fallen (though this is also due to an increase in 15-24yos staying in education)


I might do a post on the states tomorrow, or I might save it for my next Guardian post because there are some interesting aspects when you break it down to state level, but I’ll leave you with this one graph which shows that Victoria now is the biggest anchor on the unemployment rate:


All in all, bleurgh. Who knew that a government coming in and saying they're open for business wouldn’t get turned around straight away. These figure aren’t the Liberal Party’s though. But the time to lay the blame on the ALP is fast running out for Hockey and Co.