Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Oscars 2012 – My picks and tips

This year’s Oscars have one advantage for cinema goers over pervious years. Whereas in the past to view all nominated films required a pretty long list of films, this year, in the feature film categories (excluding the animated and foreign films) only 24 different films have received nominations. By comparison, last year there were the 32 different films, in 2010, 31 and in 2009 32 films again. So at the very least this year the invite list for the awards ceremony will be shorter than in the past.

OK Let’s get to it.

Best Motion Picture of the Year


Amour (2012)
Argo (2012)
Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)
Django Unchained (2012)
Les Misérables (2012)
Life of Pi (2012)
Lincoln (2012)
Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
Zero Dark Thirty (2012)

I’ve covered this category fairly extensively already. Among the list are a number of eminently Oscar worthy and Oscar bait films. Lincoln, Argo, Zero Dark Thirty and Silver Linings Playbook look to be the choices. Les Mis was the early favourite, but faltered when the reviews didn’t match the early hype. Normally I’d think Lincoln is the lock, but it really hasn’t won anything in the run up to the awards. Argo getting the SAG Award for best performance by a cast and also winning the BAFTA for Best Pic suggests that it is the one to beat.

Tip to Win: Argo
My pick: Amour

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role

Nominees:TheMaster2012Poster (1)

Bradley Cooper for Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
Daniel Day-Lewis for Lincoln (2012)
Hugh Jackman for Les Misérables (2012)
Joaquin Phoenix for The Master (2012)
Denzel Washington for Flight (2012/I)

There is no way Day-Lewis will not win this. Put your house on him to become the first actor to win three Best Actor Awards. His performance is as good as everyone hoped it would be when word broke that he had been cast. He will forever be the definitive Lincoln. It seems hard to fathom that early on there were some complaining about the accent he used. He takes the role and even though we know he isn’t Lincoln there does not come through any sense that acting is occurring. A worthy winner in any year.

Except this year.

Joaquim Phoenix’s acting in The Master is extraordinary. He plays a loathsome character who is someone many of us would have encountered – the type of guy who does things that at first are funny but he keeps going to the point of it becoming awkward and unnerving. There is a scene at the start of the film where a bunch of sailors have made a sand castle in the figure of a woman; Phoenix’s character comes along and begins to pretend to pleasure it. The others laugh but then Phoenix keeps going, and the others not only stop laughing but feel the need to look away.

His performance is daring and complex and constantly interesting. It’s also the kind of role I’d like to se Day-Lewis try. After beginning his career with interesting roles he now seems to have settled into the “big showy this will win me Best Actor roles”. I’m not sure once he got the voice of Lincoln whether he needed to do much more work. I can’t conceive however how hard it would have been to stay within the character that Phoenix has to play. A performance for the ages.

Tip to Win: Daniel Day-Lewis
My Pick: Joaquim Phoenix

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role


Jessica Chastain for Zero Dark Thirty (2012)
Jennifer Lawrence for Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
Emmanuelle Riva for Amour (2012)
Quvenzhané Wallis for Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)
Naomi Watts for The Impossible (2012)

Firstly Wallis should be discounted. Child acting is pretty easy – moreover she has few lines to deliver and mostly just has to scream or pretend to be scared or confused. The only child acting performance I have felt deserved to be considered alongside adults was Anna Paquin in The Piano. For the rest, let them grow up and show us if they can act in a role that requires a bit more than just to be a child.

I would love Naomi Watts to win this. I think she is among the top women actors going round. Always interesting, often brave in her choices. I can’t wait to see what she does playing Diana Princess of Wales in Diana coming out this year – given the role, if she’s any good and the film is half decent, she’ll be a strong favourite this time next year. Her role in The Impossible sees her displaying all her skill. Unfortunately for most of the last half of the film she is unsighted. Were it a Best Actress per minute award I’d give it to her.

Jennifer Lawrence is the favourite, but I can’t give it to her. The role is easy – she gets to play the standard Oscar role friendly character who has emotional issues (heck even a mental illness). Yes she is wonderful in it (almost impossible not to fall in love with), but I think any actress would be because it’s a great chewy actory role.

Jessica Chastain is quickly becoming one of my favourite women actors. I’d like her to win this if only as a bit of a mini career award for her recent work in The Debt, The Help, The Tree of Life and Zero Dark Thirty. Perhaps the best thing about her acting here is she plays a character based on the same CIA agent as that played by Claire Danes in Homeland. Chastain however does it without having to resort to the Claire Danes Cry Face.

In any other year she would get the award were it my choice.

Except this year Emmanuelle Riva played Anne in Amour. A great role acted brilliantly. God she is good. Yes she has to act having a stroke, but it is not done in the “My Left Foot” style where the role is about overcoming physical limitations. At no stage does it seem she is showing off her acting – saying look at me I’m playing someone with a stroke!. She just is a human. Heartbreaking, and honest. Would be great to see her win, but I don’t think she will.

Tip to win: Jennifer Lawrence
My pick: Emmanuelle Riva

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role


Alan Arkin for Argo (2012)
Robert De Niro for Silver Linings Playbook (2012)tommy-lee-jones
Philip Seymour Hoffman for The Master (2012)
Tommy Lee Jones for Lincoln (2012)
Christoph Waltz for Django Unchained (2012)

Waltz is the best thing in Django Unchained, and I’d be happy for him to win it, but as it comes so close to his award for Inglorious Basterds I doubt it’ll happen. Arkin has little to do except be the comic relief; he’s good but it’s hardly a stretch – and importantly his entire character is a fiction.

De Niro is getting praise, but mostly it is because he is again acting instead of performing self-parody. But how can you give De Niro an award for playing a guy with tics and a compulsion that has him saying lines over and over and then doing the same tic again. That’s so within De Niro’s standard shtick that it hardly counts as acting.

Which leaves Tommy Lee Jones and Philip Seymour Hoffman. I’d go for Hoffman over Jones though both are deserving. Hoffman’s is the bigger role, but he is a supporting actor nevertheless. The best thing I can say about Jones’s role is that I wish there had been more of it. And given he is such a sour puss I think the Academy will give it to him just to see if he can crack a smile.

Tip to Win: Tommy Lee Jones
My pick: Philip Seymour Hoffman

les_miserables_ver7_xlgBest Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role


Amy Adams for The Master (2012)
Sally Field for Lincoln (2012)
Anne Hathaway for Les Misérables (2012)
Helen Hunt for The Sessions (2012)
Jacki Weaver for Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

This is down to Anne Hathaway or Sally Field. I think if Anne Hathaway loses she will need to display the greatest acting role of her life not to appear disappointed. She is the short priced favourite and has pretty much won everything. If Sally Field wins I think you can lock in Lincoln to win the big prize. But even though Les Mis hasn’t garnered the huge praise that was expected, Hathaway lived up to all the hype and probably went beyond it. The best thing you can say about her portrayal of Fantine is that it will affect those who play the role on stage. Do they now go for the standard big Broadway notes or do they reveal the emotional core and hurt of the song as did Hathaway? No other performance in Les Mis will have any impact on the stage versions, and that I think shows how good hers’ was.

Tip to win: Anne Hathaway
My pick: Anne Hathaway

Best Achievement in Directing


Michael Haneke for Amour (2012)
Ang Lee for Life of Pi (2012)
David O. Russell for Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
Steven Spielberg for Lincoln (2012)
Benh Zeitlin for Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)

Much as I love Amour the directing is not the kind that wins awards. That neither Ben Affleck, Kathryn Bigelow or Paul Thomas Anderson are nominated is a disgrace.

I think Spielberg will win it in a replay of Saving Private Ryan where he gets this award but the film lose the Best Picture gong, but he doesn’t deserve it:

Tip to win: Steven Spielberg
My pick: Paul Thomas Anderson, Ben Affleck or Kathryn Bigelow

Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen


Amour (2012): Michael Haneke
Django Unchained (2012): Quentin Tarantino
Flight (2012/I): John Gatins
Moonrise Kingdom (2012): Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola
Zero Dark Thirty (2012): Mark Boal

I haven’t seen Moonrise Kingdom or Flight (am seeing Flight this week).  Django Unchained will probably win because the academy loves big dialogue. Amour is a great film. Someone had to write that from nothing. That person was Michael Haneke. He should get it (But where the hell is Paul Thomas Anderson?) 

Tip to win: Quentin Tarantino
My pick: Michael Haneke

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published


Argo (2012): Chris Terrio
Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012): Lucy Alibar, Benh Zeitlin
Life of Pi (2012): David Magee
Lincoln (2012): Tony Kushner
Silver Linings Playbook (2012): David O. Russell

Life of Pi probably deserves to win by being the “unfilmable novel”. Lincoln was a bit rote for mine. Argo probably deserves the award for realising the reality was a bit dull and needed spicing up – and bugger the truth!  But no – Life of Pi gets it.

Tip to Win: Chris Terrio, Life of Pi
My pick: Chris Terrio, Life of Pi

Best Animated Feature Film of the Year


Brave (2012): Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman
Frankenweenie (2012): Tim Burton
ParaNorman (2012): Sam Fell, Chris Butler
The Pirates! Band of Misfits (2012): Peter Lord
Wreck-It Ralph (2012): Rich Moore

Unusually (given I have two young daughters) this year I haven’t seen any of these films, and usually you’d lock in the Pixar film. But Brave didn’t get rapturous reviews.

Tip to Win: Wreck-it-Ralph

Best Foreign Language Film of the Year


Amour (2012)(Austria)
War Witch (2012)(Canada)
No (2012/I)(Chile)
A Royal Affair (2012)(Denmark)
Kon-Tiki (2012)(Norway)

Look I haven’t seen any oft these except Amour, but if you think a film that is also nominated for Best Picture is going to lose this category you’d be quite mistaken.

Tip to win: Amour.

Best Achievement in Cinematography


Anna Karenina (2012/I): Seamus McGarvey
Django Unchained (2012): Robert Richardson
Life of Pi (2012): Claudio Miranda
Lincoln (2012): Janusz Kaminski
Skyfall (2012): Roger Deakins

The standard pick would be Life of Pi – but how much of the amazing visuals is cinematography and how much is special effects? I;m quite surprised Zero Dark Thirty didn’t get a nod, nor Argo, which contained some excellent footage that perfectly gave the impression of old TV footage. That this category is nominated by cinematographers and that they picked Skyfall – and Bond films aren’t normal Oscar fare – I have to think they saw something extra there. And thinking back it was pretty impressive – the scene in the house at the end are really well shot, not to mention the opening bit on the train. Also this is Roger Deakin 9th nomination and he is yet to win. Nine! That’s more nominations than Peter O’Toole has without a win. Give him the damn award!

Tip to win: Claudio Miranda, Life of Pi
My pick: Roger Deakins, Skyfall


Best Achievement in Editing


Argo (2012): William Goldenberg
Life of Pi (2012): Tim Squyres
Lincoln (2012): Michael Kahn
Silver Linings Playbook (2012): Jay Cassidy, Crispin Struthers
Zero Dark Thirty (2012): William Goldenberg, Dylan Tichenor

Take your pick between Argo and Zero Dark Thirty. I think ZD30 gets it – lots of back and forth, lots of narrative to keep under control, and it certainly does that.

Tip to Win: Zero Dark Thirty
My pick: Zero Dark Thirty

Best Achievement in Production Design



Anna Karenina (2012/I): Sarah Greenwood, Katie Spencer
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012): Dan Hennah, Ra Vincent, Simon Bright
Les Misérables (2012): Eve Stewart, Anna Lynch-Robinson
Life of Pi (2012): David Gropman, Anna Pinnock
Lincoln (2012): Rick Carter, Jim Erickson

Rule out Life of Pi and The Hobbit due to CGI laden design. Lincoln? Yeah I guess it was all good, but nothing stunning.  Les Miserables was good, but the way Hooper shot it in such close up the design was never realyl given much of a show. For mine, Anna Karenina was brilliantly staged. I think it’ll win as well.

Tip to win: Anna Karenina
My pick: Anna Karenina

Best Achievement in Costume Design


Anna Karenina (2012/I): Jacqueline Durran
Les Misérables (2012): Paco Delgado
Lincoln (2012): Joanna Johnston
Mirror Mirror (2012/I): Eiko Ishioka
Snow White and the Huntsman (2012): Colleen Atwood

I think Snow White wins this for no reason other than I think it has a big wow factor that’ll get it some votes

Tip to Win: Snow White and the Huntsman


hobbit_an_unexpected_journey_ver20Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling


Hitchcock (2012): Howard Berger, Peter Montagna, Martin Samuel
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012): Peter King, Rick Findlater, Tami Lane
Les Misérables (2012): Lisa Westcott, Julie Dartnell

Well The Hobbit I guess. Do you really think I watch films and think about the hairstyles?

Tip to Win: The Hobbit


Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score


Anna Karenina (2012/I): Dario Marianelli
Argo (2012): Alexandre Desplat
Life of Pi (2012): Mychael Danna
Lincoln (2012): John Williams
Skyfall (2012): Thomas Newman

None of the scores really grabbed me this year – not like say Trent Reznor’s Hand Covers Bruise from The Social Network did a couple years ago. And there was no jaw dropper/ instantaneously part of culture score like Gustavo Santaolalla’s score for Brokeback Mountain. Skyfall? Meh the work was in the opening song, thereafter nothing really stood out for me. Lincoln? John Williams’ score was nothing special. Argo’s score mostly kept out of the way – it fitted with the film and did it’s job well – and perhaps that is the mark of a good score? The music in Anna Karenina by contrast was noticeable – but given the movie includes trips to the opera and many dances, that is no surprise. It gets my runners-up prize. The best one for me was Life of Pi, and I think it’ll win it as well. skyfall_xlg

Tip to Win: Mychael Danna, Life of Pi


Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song


Chasing Ice (2012): J. Ralph("Before My Time")
Les Misérables (2012): Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schönberg, Herbert Kretzmer("Suddenly")
Life of Pi (2012): Mychael Danna, Bombay Jayshree("Pi's Lullaby")
Skyfall (2012): Adele, Paul Epworth("Skyfall")
Ted (2012): Walter Murphy, Seth MacFarlane("Everybody Needs a Best Friend")

If Adel doesn’t win this then you will know that someone time tomorrow the world has ended. And seriously, it deserves to win as well. Try and hum any of the rest (and surely the Thunder song from Ted must have been a chance??!)

Tip to win: Skyfall

Best Achievement in Sound Mixing


Argo (2012): John T. Reitz, Gregg Rudloff, José Antonio García
Les Misérables (2012): Andy Nelson, Mark Paterson, Simon Hayes
Life of Pi (2012): Ron Bartlett, Doug Hemphill, Drew Kunin
Lincoln (2012): Andy Nelson, Gary Rydstrom, Ron Judkins
Skyfall (2012): Scott Millan, Greg P. Russell, Stuart Wilson

Combining live singing and cannon fire? I think Les Mis gets this

Tip to Win: Les Miserables

Best Achievement in Sound Editing


Argo (2012): Erik Aadahl, Ethan Van der Ryn
Django Unchained (2012): Wylie Stateman
Life of Pi (2012): Eugene Gearty, Philip Stockton
Skyfall (2012): Per Hallberg, Karen M. Baker
Zero Dark Thirty (2012): Paul N.J. Ottosson

I liked the sound effects editing in the final part of Zero Dark Thirty mostly because the gunfire didn’t sound like movie gun fire. It was actually understated. So I’ll go with that.

Tip to win: Zero Dark Thirty

Best Achievement in Visual Effects


The Avengers (2012): Janek Sirrs, Jeff White, Guy Williams, Daniel Sudick
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012): Joe Letteri, Eric Saindon, David Clayton, R. Christopher White
Life of Pi (2012): Bill Westenhofer, Guillaume Rocheron, Erik De Boer, Donald Elliott
Prometheus (2012/I): Richard Stammers, Trevor Wood, Charley Henley, Martin Hill
Snow White and the Huntsman (2012): Cedric Nicolas-Troyan, Phil Brennan, Neil Corbould, Michael Dawson

The tiger. Seriously. That’s all you need know.

Tip to Win: Life of Pi

The rest I must admit I haven’t seen so I won’t bother even guessing. Though I did see. The Simpsons: The Longest Daycare (2012), and I think that is the best thing The Simpsons have been involved with for about 15 years, so I’ll give it the win.

Anyhoo, enjoy the red carpet, enjoy the speeches (remember the caveat – those actors who first acted on stage always give the best speeches – which alas is why this year’s speeches will no doubt be dire)

Oscars Time – The Best Pictures (Part Two)

In Part One I looked at the historical films nominated for Best Picture, now I move on to the rest.

Les Miserables, is of course set in the past, but historical truth is not an issue. It has bigger problems – namely the book, the musical and the soundtrack. All three affect the film to its detriment.

Les-miserables-movie-poster1The novel written by Victor Hugo is an absolute thumper. And it’s not only big on length; it’s big on scope. Within it are treatise on the role of the Catholic Church and its monasteries, a scene at the Battle of Waterloo, an insurrection and many dozens of characters over the course of around 20 years. It’s a tough book to pack into one film. Oddly however it works fine when packed into one musical.

But the movie adaptation of the musical is at a great disadvantage because it does not have the benefits that a performance on the stage has.
In the book the scene where Jean Valjean discovers a man who looks like him is being tried for a crime and he decides to front up at the court and confess to being the real Valjean is lengthy and intense. It involves Valjean having to go to extreme lengths to get to the court, which is in another town, in time. In the musical on the stage all this happens in the song “Who Am I”, in which he shifts from being in his factory to the courtroom by way of a nifty scene change usually involving some backdrop coming down and perhaps the stage rotating to bring the court to the front.

When watching this occur on the stage you know what has happened and that it is a device done to make up for the fact that you can’t very well have Valjean getting on horses and riding across the stage for a while to show him getting to the court. The change is quick and acceptable within the language of theatre. But the language of theatre does not automatically translate to cinema. In the movie version we actually do see Valjean in a carriage trying to get to the court and then him walking in, but it is all quite disjointed. The opening of the song has him in his factory, then it shifts to his home, then he’s in the carriage, then he’s in the court room, all the while the song continues without any break. And it’s actually quite a short song – about 3 and a half minutes. 

What works fine on the stage, and the suspension of disbelief you allow in that setting, looks and feels askew when on film.

Similarly in the confrontation scene where Valjean and Javert fight and sing, a crucial last verse is lost. It is lost because on stage it is acceptable for two characters to stop and stand opposite each other singing instead of fighting. Were that to have happened in the movie it would have looked out of place , and because of that a crucial part of the song – namely the swearing of Valjean that he will save Cosette and Javert swearing that he will capture Valjean – is lost.

The film also suffers from pacing issues that don’t occur in the theatrical version.

Take the end of the confrontation song. We go from that with a jump cut to little Cosette singing “Castle on a Cloud”. We have no sense of time or place. Is it at the same time? We assume so, but where is she? Is she near Valjean or far away? Consistently throughout the film director Tom Hooper refrains from any establishing shot. This has the effect of viewers losing a sense of perspective of the events, and also – and more importantly – it fails to give the viewer anytime to relax.

The film is not an emotional roller-coaster, more a plateau. It get to 11 on the emotion metre early on and tries to stay there the whole time. By the end I was too drained to be too emotional about Valjean’s death. I mean geez, how many tears can you cry in 3 hours?

Look it’s not all bad. Anne Hathaway’s version of “I Dreamed a Dream” is astonishing. Her performance is worthy of all the awards she has received. But it was so good that it really is the film high point and more so because Hooper doesn’t let you gather a breath. Even the scene changes that occur in the stage production from actors walking on and off the stage is denied the movie viewer with the quick cut to the next song.
Take the songs “One Day More” and “On My Own”. In the theatrical version, “One Day More” is an absolute emotional pinnacle and then “On My Own” comes along and you are rendered completely undone. In the movie both are sung well, and the editing and direction of “One Day More” is probably the best done of all the songs, but when “On My Own” is sung, the level of emotion I usually feel – even when just listening to it on a CD was not there. The reason is pacing and timing.

In the stage version in between “One Day More” and “On My Own” you have the intermission – a time to talk to others, to let out a big sigh and say “Woah, how amazing was that!” And then you go back in, refreshed, recovered from the emotional high of “One Day More” and then Eponine comes on stage and absolutely destroys you. But you are with her because you have had that rest, your emotions have been able to subside a bit and you are ready.

In the movie, “On My Own” comes on after the attack on Valjean’s house which comes straight after “A Heart Full of Love”  is sung. Eponine screams and averts the attack on Valjean’s house and then BAM! she starts singing “On My Own”. She finishes and BAM! they’re all singing “One Day More” . Not only did they change around the order of the songs for no discernable narrative reason, they also deny us (because it’s a movie) the uplift from “One Day More”, followed by the rest in the intermission and then the emotion charging of “On My Own”.

If a version of Les Miserables doesn’t have you thinking “On My Own” is a massive high point in the film, then I think it’s pretty clear it has failed somewhat.

For some the movie was too long; for me it wasn’t long enough. Every scene felt rushed – because they were trying to tell the story of a thumping big novel in under three hours, using the template of a musical which was written knowing the theatrical device of an intermission was available.  If any film adaptation this year deserved to be split into parts it was this one, not The Hobbit.

The film also suffers from the singing. Not that it was terrible. I thought Hugh Jackman perfectly good – indeed his version of “Valjean’s Soliloquy” gave it a punch that I thought lacking in the theatrical version, all due to his “live singing”. But while Jackman and Hathaway’s versions of songs is helped by the live singing, others are less fortunate. Let’s not sugar coat it, Russell Crowe is not a great singer. He sure as hell is no Philip Quast who sings on the “Highlight's” version of the theatrical recording. It was hard not to wish they had recorded Crowe’s songs earlier and bumped them up with some musical trickery. Geez, if it was good enough to do to it for Christopher Plummer in The Sound of Music, surely we could cope with it here.

Too often I longed for the original recordings. Sure I knew this was a different version of the musical, but at some point you really want to just hear some great singing. Indeed straight after seeing the film I put on the theatrical soundtrack and felt more at home. The problem for the film is that the musical version has been around for so long that it is tough to conceive a different version of the songs. I doubt that in 5 years time anyone will be listening to the movie soundtrack over the theatrical version. 

I also think the decision to sing all the dialogue as is done in the musical was a mistake. There is one scene where Crowe arrives at the Thenadier’s looking for Cosette and he says, without singing, “Where is the girl Cosette"?” In that moment I thought “Ahh there’s the Russell Crowe the great actor I want to see”. How good would it have been for Crowe and Jackman to have talked to each other rather than sing? Yes there are moments – such as during the confrontation where singing is required, but surely we don’t need Javert to hand Valjean his transfer papers in song. The singing took away from Crowe’s performance because he seemed to be concentrating more on the singing than on the acting.

And so is the film worthy of Best Picture? For me no. When the film version was announced my major concern was that it would be a dud – that it might ruin for me the joy of the musical. It didn’t do that, but neither will it live for me as the definitive version. When you think of the great musical films – West Side Story, The Sound of Music, Cabaret – the film versions are the definitive ones. The Sound of Music film is so pre-eminent that stage versions of it will now include songs written purely for the film version. I doubt any stage version of Les Miserables will include the new song “Suddenly”.

The film was an interesting version but my memory of it is mostly one of exhaustion. I’m not sure if I could watch it again in one sitting – I’d need the rest, and who knows, maybe it actually will work better at home on Blu-Ray or on TV. The adverts might actually give the viewer back the time to relax they need.
Among the nominees were two films who mixed the fantastic with the real: Life of Pi and Beasts of the Southern Wild.

life_of_piI didn’t see Life of Pi in the 3D version so am not able to comment on whether or not that makes it more effective, but I can’t believe it would – especially as the 2D version was already pretty spectacular.

The classic “unfilmable novel” (surely by now we can discard that description for any book, given how many unfilmable novels have now been filmed) was rendered into a rather lovely film.

The story of the boy adrift at sea in a lifeboat with a tiger is at turns magical and realistic. The CGI Tiger is probably the best CGI yet done – perhaps highlighting that the human eye is less able to accept non-humans when rendered in animated form. No “uncanny valley” exists for animals. The story is apparently a fable on the existence of god. To be honest I thought it more a meditation on what “truths” we are able to accept. For all the wonderful opening scenes involving Pi’s introduction to religion I didn’t gain any great sense that what happens to him on  the lifeboat is at all related to god – whether Allah, Jesus or Ganesha – though the importance of faith is crucial.

It is a captivating film with many great scenes of such awesome beauty that you really can only marvel at the technology that enabled them to be created. The acting – especially by Suraj Sharma in the lead role as Pi – is of a high standard and it all confirms Ang Lee (as if any confirmation was required) as one of the best directors going around. The word is he’ll direct Angelina Jolie in “Cleopatra” which normally would sound horrendous, but because it’s Ang Lee, I’m interested to see what he’ll do.

I don’t think Life of Pi will win the Best Picture, and I’m not sure it deserves to. Yes it is a wonderful couple of hours with beautiful visuals, but the overall message that faith is important and we can believe what we choose to believe is all a bit of a nothing.

Beasts of the Southern Wild also involves a child and wild animals – in this case ancient aurochs which have been released by melting icecaps and also by the imagination of 6 year old “Hushpuppy”. Set on a fictional island in the bayou off the New Orleans levee it concerns a remote community who has next to no connection with the rest of the world. Among the inhabitants is Hushpuppy and her father. The two have an odd relationship – they live in separate rusty shacks – and his parenting seems to mostly be teaching her skills to survive in the wild.

While watching the film I was constantly reminded of the 1970s Australians film Storm Boy, which also involved a child and father quite removed from modern society who are forced to deal with the intrusion of the outside world.
The common reports on the film are that it is magical and unlike anything you’ve seen. Well possibly. But I found it boring as hell. It is an art-house film for the art-house crowd. It suggests its young director, Benh Zeitlin, has a big future ahead of him. But while I don’t mind non-linear narratives and open endings, I struggled to keep interested in a group of people who interested me on an anthropologic level, but for whom I gained little sympathy.

I saw it about two weeks ago and honestly I can’t remember how it ends. 

silver_linings_playbookSilver Linings Playbook has the advantage in the Best Picture race of being the only one that deals with “average and contemporary” Americans. It concerns two people (Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence) who have mental health issues who inevitably fall in love and who perform in a dance contest together. While that is going on Cooper’s dad, Robert di Niro, who has massive OCD concerning the watching of football games, loses a large amount of money gambling on football. Inevitably (and not altogether realistically) the dance contest and the gambling intertwine.

Look it’s a nice film. Jennifer Lawrence is terribly wonderful. You ache for her at times. But the whole time I kept thinking that this is one of those families that only occurs in films or novels. Everyone is so damaged that it was less a portrayal of American society as a condemnation of the American psychological health system. As much as I enjoyed it, I couldn’t help agree with Washington Post blogger Ezra Klein, who tweeted, “Apropos of nothing, I loved Silver Linings Playbook, but it really seems like that relationship could be a disaster going forward”.

In the end for me its downfall is that while I have met people like de Niro’s character (and may myself be at times like him when it comes to watching Adelaide Crows games) the main characters were movie truth people. They felt the type created for a novel or film – created to give us a quirky/unique view of modern life. amour_ver2
Such false creations are completely absent in the French film Amour, directed and written by Michael Haneke. It involves an elderly couple whose life is changed when the wife, Anne, played by Emmanuel Riva suffers a stroke.
It is such a shattering movie that is full of snippets of humour and warmth and moments that make you smile while your eyes get a bit watery.

It is honest, unflinching and brutal. It has absolutely no hope of winning Best Picture, but it is the one film of all the nine that remains with me. It is the only one of which I can recall a scene and feel a frisson of emotion. There is a scene which haunts me and which led after the films end for me to hold my wife in a long hug and that I wanted to keep going.

Amour is about life – life that doesn’t get much of a showing in films. The characters don’t have odd quirks or tics or exist in a world that is only found in movies. It is a quiet film – the dialogue doesn’t over power, there are many moments of peace, and the silence continues for much longer than any American director would allow. And yet it is full of such intensity that you come out completely spent.
It is clearly a French film – in more than just the language. And usually I favour the Oscars rewarding those films from the American/British/Australian side of filmmaking. The French have Cannes.
But Amour for mine is far and away the best film of the year. A film about grown ups for grown ups. It is challenging cinema; it won’t get an audience in the way that other lighter French films such as The Artist did, but it deserves to win the same award.


The list of nominations of course does not include the best nine films. Shockingly missing is Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master. It’s often been said that The Master really needs to be seen twice to appreciate it. After watching it I had no real desire to watch it again. I thought it a bit of a lot that added to very little – as though the narrative collapses when attempts to discern just what it was all about. Sure it is notionally about the start of Scientology, but it is more than that, and oddly less as well because it is not actually about the beginnings of Scientology. 

I was ready to dismiss the film, and yet often over the weeks after watching it, I kept pondering scenes and the things said. I didn’t have any great desire to see the film again and yet I kept thinking about it, wanting to see those scenes again to see if they meant what I thought they meant. I read numerous articles on the film, wanting to get others’ interpretations.

I still think the whole less than the sum of its parts, but I would rank it second on my list of films of the year. And it certainly deserved to be nominated and Anderson sure as hell should have been nominated for Best Director.

Joe Wright’s version of Anna Karenina is a brilliant retelling of an oft oft oft filmed story. Wright sets the film partly upon a stage – yet not before any audience – and also on location. It mixes the theatrical and the filmic and does so in a way that makes Anna Karenina fresh. I only wish Les Miserables had been filmed in this manner, I think it would’ve  been one of the great experiences of cinema. Alas. Not to be. 

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Oscars Time – The Best Pictures (Part One)

The discussion regarding many of the films up for the Best Picture Award at this year’s Oscars has concerned truth. Mostly this has arisen because so many of the films depict historical events – even if in the case of Zero Dark Thirty that history is quite recent.

Now obviously historical accuracy and film have long been bedfellows so strange that it seems quite remarkable that the issue pops up. It’s not a new phenomenon. Some of the the most beloved and greatest films of all time have factual blips or fudges. The plot of Casablanca absurdly hinges on the possession of letters of transit which have been signed by General Charles DeGaulle. Why on earth anyone in Vichy France – let alone the Gestapo – would value letters from the leader of Free France defies logic to such an extent that the entire film should be laughable. And yet it isn’t – mostly because it is not attempting to depict “truth”. It is about “movie truth”. In movie truth ex-lovers do run into each other in a gin joint and the bar owner is as suave as Humphrey Bogart and the woman is as perfect as Ingrid Bergmann.

Similarly The Great Escape does not depict the actual POW breakout as though it were a documentary – the Americans for one, had been segregated from the British prior to the break out. But again, while it’s clear the movie is tampering with the truth it is being done to depict the historical fact that 76 POWs in WWII broke out from Stalag Luft III and 50 were murdered. The film while taking liberties with time and persons does not break from the core reality of the historical truth. Those events did happen, they may have been harder in real life, they may have involved less humour and action, but if you come away from the film thinking that 76 POW’s escaped and 50 were murdered, then your knowledge of the historical reality is not wrong.

But the character on which Steve McQueen is based did not try and jump the Swiss border on a motorcycle. Does that matter? Not for mine it doesn’t, because it is not the core of the film, nor does it affect one’s understanding of that core truth. ZeroDarkThirty2012Poster

For Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty the issue is primarily one of torture, but it is two fold: did torture assist the capture of Osama bin Laden, and does the film suggest that is the case? All evidence suggests that “enhanced interrogation techniques” contributed little if anything to OBL’s capture, and yet the first 40 minutes or so of the film depict torture being used. 

Torture is the foundation of the film. The best link we get shown between that torture and the death of Osama bin Laden is a man providing a name long after he has been tortured and which he gives because he has no desire to “go back into the box”. In reality, even this is disputed, and yet Bigelow’s film says it happened. This leads to the overall question of whether this is a film that glorifies or justifies torture at the expense of truth?

Objectively the film does not suggest torture directly led to the capture of Bin Laden, but objectively as well the film spends it first 40 minutes showing you scene after scene of torture and never suggests it is futile. Indeed later on in the film, at a point in time after Obama has been elected, a CIA official bemoans the ability to “prove” that bin Laden is in Abbottabad: “You know we lost the ability to prove that when we lost the detainee program – who the hell am I supposed to ask: some guy in GITMO who is all lawyered up?”

The suggestion that those in GITMO are now all lawyered up is laughable but because no one in the room suggests the character’s statement is invalid, it leads easily to the belief that torture is necessary and was necessary. It also idiotically suggests that those in GITMO are now treated like any other inmate in a US prison.

And so on the other side we have Bigelow and those involved with the film saying they are just showing what happened and taking no sides. Well that is fine if she was also showing both sides, but she doesn’t. I don’t think her film is pro-torture, but it sure as heck isn’t against it either. And that brings us to the movie truth of the film. For people watching the film the clear implication is the first 40 minutes leads to the last 40 minutes of SEAL Team 6 killing Bin Laden. It is not a case of the public misreading the film like those Republicans in the 1980s who thought Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” was glorifying America, rather it is the logical view. You can’t build a film on torture, imply it led to a snippet of info and then suggest “oh we’re not trying to say anything about whether or not it was successful”.

But given this, can we get passed the torture and praise the film in spite of it?

Well yes – and the film is in many respects quite brilliant. The acting is top notch; the direction – especially in the final act involving the attack on Bin Laden’s compound – is excellent. Bigelow is a great director of action scenes.

But I cannot walk past the reality that this film wants to suggest that it is an accurate portrayal of events and yet it also wants to pretend that it is an objective portrayal of those events. The telling of history, just as with daily journalism, is subjective. Choices are made about what to show, what to leave out, what to highlight, what to wash over. I don’t mind films with a subjective view of history, nor do I particularly mind subjective journalism; I despise them pretending to be objective.

I think the film is perhaps one of the best renderings of modern America, by revealing the belief of many in that country that so long as it is being done by America, then whatever being done is right.

The only problem is I don’t think that was the intention of the filmmakers.

Argo2012PosterBen Affleck’s Argo, primarily because it is the favourite for the Best Picture gong, has also had to deal with questions of historical accuracy. It is again a case of subjectivity, but this time it is less of glorification of torture and more a glorification of America.

Hollywood films not surprisingly have regularly elevated America’s role in historical events. To an extent – so long as the kernel of history is not destroyed – I can cope with that. The Great Escape surely does elevate the role of the Americans, but neither does it suggest it was a US show. Similarly I don’t mind that Stephen Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan would have you think the yanks were the only ones involved in D Day. With that film the great falsehood is that it violates the inner truth that itself had constructed – namely that war is shitty and bloody and random and in which you die and not someone else occurs for reasons beyond logic. The end of that film however shows us that Tom Hanks dies because he set free a German who then returns and kills him. Oh the pathos!!

Argo does not so much elevate the role of the US in rescuing the hostages in Iran as it devaluates some of the role of the Canadians. And yet to my mind this devaluation is slight. It is clear that the Canadian ambassador and his wife were seriously putting themselves on the line and were clearly central to keeping the hostages alive. In the film Ben Affleck’s CIA character talks to the Canadian ambassador as an equal – never suggesting that the CIA was doing all the work; nor suggesting it was a minor thing that the Canadian was doing.

Historical truth in film is often battered like this, the crucial aspect is always whether or not this distorts our view of what actually happened? Last year the baseball film Moneyball depicted the performance of the Oakland Athletics in 2002. The crux of the film was that the team was made up of cast offs and nobodies who were seriously undervalued by everyone. The only pitcher mentioned in the film was a reliever who was referred to as the most undervalued player in the league. Amazingly with this bunch of players, defying the odds and proving that there are different ways to evaluate skill, the A’s get to the playoffs.

After watching the film you would never have heard of Miguel Tejada or Barry Zito. Tejada won the American League MVP that year, and Zito won the Cy Young Award for best pitcher in the league – both had been with the A’s the year before, and were there as a result of some magic new moneyball formula of recruiting. It’d be like making a film about Geelong’s 2009 season and forgetting to mention Gary Ablett Jr.

Moneyball, which is wonderful viewing, suffers the more you learn about the reality. This is always a good guide for judging truth in historical films. In The King’s Speech a couple years ago, Winston Churchill was oddly depicted as being in favour of the abdication of King Edward VIII when in reality (and to be honest, infamously) he was greatly opposed to it. But that does not destroy the crux of the film because it is a mere side note, that would be largely pointless to the narrative even were it not false. 

In that same year The Social Network took many liberties with reality. Most crucial was the suggestion that Mark Zuckerberg after creating Facebook and becoming mega-rich was still just a lonely soul wanting to connect with that one woman who dumped him in college.  It was bullshit and it’s not surprising that it was written by Aaron Sorkin who also wrote Moneyball.

With Argo it is pretty clear even without knowledge of events that much of what occurs – especially the ending is pretty much “film truth” not real truth. Things occur far too simultaneously – a scene where the CIA quickly approve flight tickets happens in a manner that suggests a damn quick internet connection in 1980. The group are shown to be in danger when they go into a bazar, in reality they never went in to one at all.

Many of the exaggerations are obvious, and I think even Affleck is aware that they devalue the film because over the end credits we are shown the actual photos of the participants next to the actors in an attempt to reinforce the notion that the film sticks close to the facts, or is at least a close representation of it. That alone does I think show Affleck trying to walk both sides of the street – that if documentary and “Hollywoodised” film.  Overall however I found the distortions in the film less important than those in Zero Dark Thirty, mostly because my sense was the film was attempting to show film truth rather than real truth. It was a spy film based on events, rather than a depiction of real events and on that score I certainly found Argo the more thrilling picture.

Stephen Spielberg knows all about film truth. When he made Schindler’s List his desire to make the film seem more truthful led him to shoot in black and white because that was the film of documentaries back when the events were depicted. Roman Polanski a decade later when he made The Pianist put paid to that lie that you can only show the truth of the holocaust in black and white film. When Spielberg made Saving Private Ryan he reduced the colour saturation by 60% to attempt to replicate the over-exposed photos taken on D Day by Robert Capa – ignoring that they were overexposed by mistake and thus were not a “real” depiction of the sight on Omaha Beach. For Spielberg reality is that seen in film (or photos).

Spielberg also cannot but fail to stop himself from adding to the events he is depicting with clear hokum.  He does this in Schindler’s List with the opening Jewish prayer scene and the ending scene at Schindler’s grave. In SPR he used the character we eventually learn is an Old Ryan to bookend the film and to totally ensure we understand that this film was important and about something. While in Schindler’s List this was more manipulative than anything, in SPR it destroyed the film because it makes the narrative a lie.

And so when I came to watch Lincoln, I was knew that Spielberg would not be able to contain himself. And from the first scene we see he couldn’t.Lincoln_2012_Teaser_Poster

The film opens with Lincoln sitting while watching troops walk past in the rain at some army camp. He is confronted by 2 black soldiers. Normally this would be a quick “good luck men” type scene, but luckily, Spielberg has found himself the most articulate and forward thinking black soldier in the Union Army. Rather than any deference to his Commander in Chief, this soldier delivers a proto-Malcolm X type speech and then soon after helps out two white soldiers by completing a recitation of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

Well now.

In elementary schools throughout America today there most likely are people who know the full text of that speech, but it fairly well beggars belief that any soldiers while fighting in the civil war would have had the time or inclination to memorise the speech, let alone the awareness of the speech’s existence.

From that opening scene I was on guard and to be honest I viewed the entire film through the shadow of Spielberg’s need to stick to movie truth. When I heard about the fact of Congressmen from Connecticut voting for the abolition of slavery despite the film showing them voting against, I was neither surprised, nor bothered. The film is not about those congressmen, nor does the fact that the historical flub was done to heighten the tension of the final vote ruin the crucial truth of the film. What mattered more to me was that I felt very little tension at all during that scene of the final vote.

Seeing Congressmen who have only briefly been shown the previous 2 hours getting up and saying “Yay” or “Nay” rather lacks tension when you don’t even know if those Congressmen were expected to vote one way or the other. The film suffers from a case of the “we know what happeneds”. We know the vote passes because we know Lincoln freed the slaves. That’s why making your film’s climax an event we all know happens is very tricky. It’s why it is best avoided. It’s why William Goldman chose to end All the President’s Men with Woodward and Bernstein stuffing up and showing the Nixon resignation only on the teletype ending.

Lincoln is about the passing of a vote we all know will pass. We do discover some interesting things along the way, but it never deviates from that path. Ironically for a film adapted from a book called “Team of Rivals” we get very little on the rivalry. Tommy Lee Jones’s character Thaddeus Stevens  is shown to be opposed to Lincoln’s more moderate path but the two characters largely exist separately in the film. There is more rivalry between Stevens and Lincoln’s wife, Mary Todd, than with Lincoln, and indeed there is more rivalry between Lincoln and Todd than there is with anyone else. 

The Abraham Lincoln in the film is a folksy saint. That might be the truth but I knew going in that if there was to be any other side to his character, Spielberg sure as heck is not the director who would show it. Whether or not the film deviates from historical truth or not was of little concern to me, the bigger concern was that really, I didn’t care. When Lincoln is assassinated I felt little loss. It was just the end of a history lesson. I was more moved when watching the events being related in Ken Burns’ documentary, The Civil War. That’s a  major fault in any film, let alone one where the person dying is the name of the film.

Quentin Tarantino is not one for worries about historical accuracy. His Django Unchained plays loose with the facts from the get go when the opening credits state it’s 1858 “two years before the Civil War”, which is odd given the war began in 1861. 

Django_Unchained_PosterBefore we get to the history in the film, let’s first get past the shock. You’ll be stunned to discover that this Tarantino film draws on spaghetti westerns of the 1960s and 70s, has lots of over the top violence and features Samuel L Jackson playing a mean guy who says “mother fucker” a lot.

I know – who would’ve thunk it.

Tarantino is a post-modern film maker. He has his characters use modern slang, wear sunglasses and use weapons at a time clearly before they were invented. He and his many, many devotees will dismiss any criticisms by suggesting he is standing on the shoulders of giants and rendering something new – twisting it though a new paradigm perhaps.

Yeah, but so what?

He has stated his desire with this film was to make a western for black kids to be able to watch and see a black man as the hero. And I guess if that is what you want to do then you might as well do it if you have the money and power as does Tarantino. Except he hasn’t made a western, he made a film set within the genre of western films. His film is to westerns as Sleepless in Seattle is to rom-coms, which wasn’t really a rom-com but a rom-com about the romance and comedy in rom-coms.  The best westerns are not about depicting a great western movie, they are about depicting life – think The Searchers, Once Upon a Time in West, Red River, Shane even Rio Bravo.

Those films – especially Once Upon a Time in West, did often draw in the history of film, but they were about more than just showing they can do that. They have a core to them that is completely lacking from Django Unchained. Mostly because great westerns – like great films – contain fully developed characters; Django Unchained, like all Tarantino films – contains flatly developed caricatures who have great lines to say, but very little to think.

Whether or not the events depicted are true representations of history is irrelevant because the characters involved in those events are not true.

Who cares whether Mandingo fighting really occurred or not, what is of greater concern is that the Leonardo DiCaprio character who watches the fighting is not a real person. He doesn’t talk like a real person – he just delivers Tarantino lines. There’s no inner workings going on; he’s just a dialogue spouting machine. So too is the main character, Django.  The device of Django seeing his wife in hallucinations is no substitute for actually writing scenes that explain to the viewer why there is such love. And when we finally meet his wife, she might as well still be a hallucination for all the part she plays in events.

The film has a great first hour, Django and Christoph Waltz’s character, Schultz, are a great team. I was happily going with them on their travels – the scenes involving the shooting of the sheriff and the Ku Klux Klan attack are great fun. But when they turn towards Mississippi and go rescuing Django’s wife, the film quickly becomes boring – tedium interrupted by scenes of violence that only further dull the senses or slap you about with a “look at this I’m showing how shocking things were… or weren’t who knows, Django is wearing sunglasses and talking like someone from Harlem 1970 so it all might just be a post modern bit of reworking of history”. That’s the problem with being so overly post-modern. You can’t toy with history and time and then demand to be believed when you perhaps are trying to depict something as literal truth.

Many people have questioned the use of “nigger” in the dialogue as though they would think some other word was used at the time. I had no difficulty with that word, however, whenever the slave “Stephen”, played by Samuel L Jackson, uttered the clearly post WWII phrase “motherfucker”, I was reminded again that this was a Tarantino film and truth was secondary to snappy dialogue and violence.

By the time the film enters the last 30 minutes, reality is long gone and the arrival of Tarantino himself sporting an Australian accent only serves to reinforce the stupidity of it all.

Only one scene, involving the Schultz character, shows any depiction of some inner truth. Schultz, a German is remembering seeing a slave being attacked by dogs at the bidding of slave owner, DiCaprio. While he remembers the horrific scene a woman nearby is playing Beethoven on a harp. He demands she stop as though the beauty of Beethoven should be divorced completely from a world where such evil could occur. The scene is excellent not so much for the addition it makes to the narrative but because it reminds the viewer that Schultz’s Germany which spawned Beethoven will also give rise to the evil of the holocaust. Schultz is also by far the best character in the film. The one person who almost approaches someone who might have once actually existed in a place on earth rather than only in Tarantino’s imagination.

The film is not even a very good western, let alone a film deserving of being nominated for Best Picture. It would be great one day to see Tarantino make a film that doesn’t explicitly reference films/genres from the past. It would be good to see if he can write a real character instead of someone who always knows the right thing to say at the right time. That will never happen of course. Not while he is getting rewarded and praised for making films like this.

PART TWO tomorrow.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Australia’s Unemployment Rate in January stays steady at 5.4%

Today the labour force figures for January came out and they had a modicum of good news. The unemployment rate stayed at 5.4%.

The decade long picture shows how long the rate has been bumping around between 5.0% and 5.5% (and seriously, how bizarre is it that a decade ago is now 2003?  Surely 10 years ago it was 1995!)


The close up picture of the past 12 months shows the upward movement might (might!) be plateauing, but I wouldn’t put too much in store by that red trend line, for mine there still seems to be an upward trend happening.


But 5.4% unemployment is still pretty damn good, so let;s not get too down on ourselves. It did come off the back of an increase in employment – in both seasonally adjusted and trend terms. But as you can see that trend growth is still unable to get above 0.1%. And until that happens at best you’re going to see is the rate stay flat, and depending on the participation rate, it could go higher.


Which brings us to the participation rate. It declined in trend and seasonally adjusted terms – from 65.1% to 65.0 in both cases.

And it has been a long slide from the record highs achieved in late 2010.

The question remains is whether the slide is a structural change reflecting an ageing workforce, or is it merely a symptom of the weak labour market and we one day will get back up to near 66% (my gut says no).


In hours worked in trend terms we see an ever so slight decline (there was as well in seasonal terms), but the boarder picture is the weak growth in hours worked since that late-2010 time. We might be at a historically good unemployment rate, but that doesn't mean the labour market is purring along. It’s pretty weak. It’s amazing how well it’s kept up really.


The weakness can be clearly seen when we turn attention to Full-time labour. Trend growth has been negative for 3 straight months. Not good at all:


Interestingly the unemployment rate of those looking for full-time work is coming back to the overall rate. Perhaps reflecting that people are giving up looking for full-time work and looking for anything they can get:


As to the sexes, both men and women are doing roughly the same. Not great but just keeping in the positive:


Now in the past few months the picture from Queensland has been fricken dire.

The austerity of Campbell Newman’s government has slapped the labour market in the sunshine state around somewhat (and by “somewhat” I mean in the sense of “I got hit in the head somewhat last night and had to call for an ambulance after I passed out”).

So it is only right that I point out the good news that this month in seasonally adjusted terms QLD had a win.   


But as I’ve always noted as well, seasonally adjusted terms are pretty dodgy at the state level (after all back in October last year Tasmania was the “boom state”). But even in trend terms QLD had a good month. Coming 3rd behind WA and SA. 


If we look at the longer term picture of the yearly employment growth we get more of a sense of why one good month of employment growth in QLD sure as heck ain’t time to pop open the West Coast Coolers and start partying like its the 1980s. As you can see of the top 3 growth states of January, only WA is really showing any signs of long term growth.


As noted above the participation rate has been a key for keeping the employment rate steady. This is also a factor at the state level.

QLD’s participation rate is second only to WA’s, but it has fallen drastically in the past 15 months.

If we look at the state participation levels since the Later 2010 period, we see all but WA have shrunk, and QLD has shrunk by far the most.


All this leads to a continued decline in the employment to population ratio. We’re a long way from the record achieved in early 2008:


And if we look historically at how the employment to population ratio has declined and risen during past recessions, you can see not only how weak the recovery post GFC has been, but also how structurally changed the current situation is.

The decline from the peak prior to the recession post the GFC (and yes I know there wasn’t technically a recession) is now longer than that of the 1981-82 recession. And our economy is sure as hell a lot better than it was then. The difference then was women came into the labour market in greater number than ever before.

We don’t have any untapped source of labour this time round, and actually the tap is turning off as the population ages.

It certainly makes for an interesting policy period for those pondering the economy.


Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Drum Post– Life (and policy) is complicated

My Drum post today looked briefly at the two speeches given last week by Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott. I have a bit of a slap at Abbott for essentially keeping to the line he has been keeping to for 2 years that life will be great and wonderful under a Liberal Government because in 2004 the budget was in surplus.

Also removing the carbon price will make the world a joyous place with tangerine trees and marmalade skies and other wonders to behold.

I have no problems with the Liberal Party slapping the PM and Swan about the head for having said squillions of times that they would deliver a surplus. The ALP shouldn’t have ever been playing the surplus is great game. They should have changed that story 4 years ago. They had the perfect opportunity but they didn’t due I think to massive insecurity on the part of Rudd and Swan and as a result they’ve kept to that mantra ever since. Stupid oh so stupid.

But if we’re going to talk about surplus and deficit, please let us talk in a language that makes sense. The Liberal Party is talking about how much more taxation is being raised now than in 2007. Well duh. The economy has grown since then, inflation has occurred sine then. Of course more taxation is collected now than then.

Since 1970-71 the only time taxation revenue has declined was in 1991-92 – ie when the recession hit, and 2008-09 and 2009-10 – ie during the GFC.


So this government for the first time had to deal with 2 successive years where gross revenue declined.

If we put it in percentage terms you can see it pretty starkly:


The problem – and it was always a likely one (and thus, yes the Govt does deserve criticism for it) is that the expected growth of revenue in 2012-13 was rather ambitious.

If we look at the spend in % of GDP terms – which is the ONLY intelligent way to judge the level of revenue and expenditure compared to previous years it again comes out just how different the revenue picture is now compared to 2004-05 – which Tony Abbott in his speech referred to as a good comparison:


It’s worth remembering that when Peter Costello allowed (and quite correctly so) the budget to go into deficit in 2001-02 both revenue and expenditure were higher than what Swan is trying to do in 2012-13.

I think it is a pretty strong indictment of Swan that I would wager 95% of voters think it is the other way round.

My piece also looked at cost of living. In the past year the cost of living index has grown by less than the CPI – this is mostly because the CPI doesn’t count mortgage payments – so interest rates can actually rise causing inflation to fall, but cost of living can rise. At the moment it;s the other way round – interest rates have fallen, and thus inflation is a bit higher:


Age pensioners who as a rule don’t pay a mortgage don’t get that benefit of lower interest rate.

To cut through the mess of the above graph here’s the pensioners compared to CPI.

As you can see currently they are pretty close to the CPI – especially compared to 2005-06 and 2009-11, so it’s a bit tough to make a case that the CPI is currently giving a distorted picture. But what this graph does demonstrate, is that that is not a situation you can assume always occurs.