The great, Martin Scorsese was once quoted as saying that, "Cinema is a matter of what's in the frame and what's out" and it somehow seems that with the eclectic mix of movies released last year, there were a great deal of films to consider award worthy as they were in frame and a few more that were just plain awful and thus simply, out of frame.
2008 was a big year for film and with the Academy Awards right around the corner, it seems as though a lot of films had to be anchored into the limelight for audiences to pay closer attention to as superhero films to popular franchises were the main attraction for audiences and their wallets last year. I had the chance to catch up with the very sweet and friendly At The Movies co-host, Ben Lyons who is definitely nothing short of nice and is always a delight to chat with as we just talked movies!
Tania Hussain: So Ben, were there any movies that released last year that you think when audiences look back, those films should be an instant classic?
Ben Lyons: The Dark Knight for sure, as well as Slumdog Millionaire and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Each [film] was unique, pushed the craft of filmmaking and storytelling forward and inspired audiences.
It surely seems that way as well. The three movies that Lyons has mentioned are near becoming cinematic gems, fan favourites and have already been nominated for several respective Academy Awards. With the exception of The Dark Knight before this year's Oscar nominations for Best Picture were even announced, there was not much build up for attention to Slumdog Millionaire and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. A film that was surely bound to be on the Best Picture bandwagon without a doubt was the Harvey Weinstein backed-film, The Reader. Weinstein's films have always been Oscar darlings and taken home the golden statue with films like The English Patient, Good Will Hunting and Shakespeare in Love.
However making the rounds from the award circuit so far, the only award the film has picked up is for Kate Winslet's role as Hanna Schmitz and with much surprise for the six-time Oscar nominated British actress. After receiving five nominations over the span of her career to the Golden Globes earlier this year, Winslet picked up statues for both Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress. She might just have the chance again come Sunday night at the Oscars for another win.
Though in the terms of the Golden Globes, some critics and film aficionados didn't agree with the Hollywood Foreign Press' nomination choices and thought it was most peculiar especially with certain nominations and major snubs for usual familiar contenders. After much criticism received from the media over the last two years for his personal views, Tom Cruise won audiences back as the cruel talking Hollywood producer, Les Grossman in Tropic Thunder and was shockingly nominated for Best Supporting Actor, creating an upset with some as to why he was even considered. The Golden Globes snubbed quite a few familiar faces and films that were expected to strike gold this year like the Sean Penn flick, Milk for Best Picture which garnered much acclaim from his peers at the New York Film Critics Circle as well as ignoring Clint Eastwood's film Gran Torino. Eastwood's latest film is rumoured to be his last piece of acting as he will shift gears entirely to go behind the camera.
With the Golden Globes snubbing a few grand films and performances, Oscar has followed suit but this time around created their own list of acclaimed gems. While sifting through all the cinematic efforts made, Oscar has snubbed quite a few that the audiences expected to see more of, like a nomination for Bruce Springsteen's song for The Wrestler in Achievement in Music in Motion Pictures. The track picked up a Golden Globe last month but wasn't even honourably mentioned this time around. A few other snubs just as shocking were Leonardo DiCaprio for his role in Revolutionary Road, Eastwood's Gran Torino, as well as overlooking Christopher Nolan's inventive and seamless, The Dark Knight for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay. It would make sense that a film so impressive in terms of art direction and the visual aspect would only pick up a nomination for Best Motion Picture, nonetheless the film's received accolades in the technical category (seven nominations) along with a nomination for the late Heath Ledger, making it an even eight. Ledger is expected to sweep the competition and it makes sense as his role was nothing short of a masterpiece and so greatly acknowledged by fans and critics.
With all the confusion the academy creates with their film choices and nominations, one can only wonder what Oscar really considers when making a film. Or any film for that matter.
TH: What do you think is the recipe for a real good movie? Is there a certain ingredient that every movie should have?
BL: You know, good movies usually have at least one character that you can root for or identify with [and] they are also honest and don't try to be something they are not.
TH: Is it any different for an Oscar worthy movie?
BL: An Oscar worthy movie usually changes the way you look at life, and look at film.
TH: So with the amount of movies you've seen this past year, which ones do you feel deserve Oscar's full attention? Movie and performance-wise.
BL: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Wrestler, Slumdog Millionaire, and Milk. [They] all are stand out performances both in front, and behind the camera. Technically Batman is so sound and Ledger's performance was the stuff of legends.
The movies Ben acknowledged are getting much attention, especially the biggest underdog of them all: Slumdog Millionaire. The film earned 10 Oscar nominations and is sweeping award season off it's feet. Danny Boyle best known for the cult-classic, Trainspotting, created the Mumbai fairy tale on a low-budget with foreign actors no one had ever heard before along with a much admired studio, Fox Searchlight which has never scored the Academy's biggest prize of Best Motion Picture. Oscar pundits have declared the race won and trumpeting 2008 as the Year of The Underdog for films falling in the norm of first-hand rejection from audiences.
However, the film's young stars, Dev Patel and Freida Pinto were erroneously snubbed from the Academy's list for Best Supporting Actor and Actress which some fans are finding a travesty as some have dubbed them the glue to the film's heartfelt stature and uplifting spirit. Composed of realism, humour and heartbreak, Slumdog Millionaire flows most flawlessly and naturally as it meets the audience at the border of art and business.
Another film that some are calling the next generation of Forrest Gump is The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, a story about a man born old and ages backwards. It's a rousing film and extremely epic and introspective while being extremely gentle and gorgeous. Inspired by the F. Scott Fitzgerald short story of the same name, the film is a classic; a cinematic experience for film-goers. Brad Pitt stars as the main character and portrays Benjamin Button quite naturally and fittingly after his last Academy Award nominated role over fourteen years ago in Twelve Monkeys. So far unfortunately Pitt hasn't picked up any award accolades this season for his work as Button but things could change this time around. The film which is written by Forrest Gump screenwriter, Eric Roth is sweetly crafted and though it's getting flack for resembling Forrest Gump in the slightest form, the esteemed screenwriter has revealed to the media that Benjamin Button is merely based on his personal experiences on the loss of his parents.
The film so far has been nominated at every award show but sadly has not picked up any of the major awards, such as Best Picture or for any of the actors but come Oscar night, surprises may be in motion.
Two actors who just might go head-to-head at the Oscars could quite possibly be Mickey Rourke and Sean Penn. The two have respectively picked up their share of awards from various shows this year with a surprising win from Penn for his portrayal of the slain gay rights politician and lead as Harvey Milk in Milk from his peers at the Screen Actors Guild. Both performances are strong and come off innate to the actors. Mickey Rourke, the underdog âÂÂ the one no one thought to hire for The Wrestler picked up the pieces to his career just in time and grabbed not only a Golden Globe for his performance as the down-on-his-luck, Randy "The Ram" Robinson but a much respected British Academy of Film and Television Award earlier this month. No matter who wins at the Oscars next week, both performances deserve attention from audiences and deserve to be looked at closely.
Another film that is picking up momentum this awards season for its sound performances is, Doubt and has been nominated five times in four categories, the breakdown being Best Actress in a Leading Role for Meryl Streep, Best Actor in a Supporting Role for Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Best Actress in a Supporting Role for two of the film's stars, Viola Davis and Amy Adams as well as a nomination for Best Screenplay for John Patrick Shanley.
Before the film's official release, Meryl Streep had been getting much attention and acclaim from critics for her role as Sister Aloysius Beauvier, the iron-gloved principal at a catholic school in the Bronx during the 1960s. However, Streep picked up an award for the film at Critics Choice Awards last month and a Best Actress award at the Screen Actors Guild, given by her peers. She might have some competition with Kate Winslet though, seeing as she swept both Actress categories at the Globes last month.
TH: Do you think there were any films out there this year that garnered more attention than deserved and took away from movies that did deserve attention?
BL: I thought the performances in Doubt were all very powerful, but the movie itself lacked something. It felt flat.
However the big category on Oscar night that everyone will be tuned in for is the Best Motion Picture spot. The nominees are all films that have received much acclaim and have had solid performances from their cast. It's been said that Slumdog Millionaire will pick up Oscar that night for Best Motion Picture but if the movie doesn't get an award, Oscar voters might have decided on the equally lauded Milk or of course be swayed by Weinstein's The Reader. The Ron Howard politically charged drama, Frost/Nixon received a few bad reviews from critics and a bit of controversy seeing as the plot is mostly made up but it still hasn't picked up at the cinema box office. On the other hand, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, seeing as how it's now receiving backlash for being another version of Forrest Gump, who knows now if the Academy will even give the film the award.
Now movies are more than just a getaway for the audience âÂÂ they encompass more than just individual moving pictures, they have a tremendous influence on our day to day lives as absurd as it may sound. Walt Disney, the forefather of animation believed that movies not only influenced cinema watchers into the realms of entertainment but moved them forward to the morals and objectives of life. Sure, film is nothing like what is was before but they can be sweet and magical while leaving you awe-inspired after discovering another aspect to approaching life.
Ben says he watches about 300 movies a year, as a part of his job and though that may sound like a lot of fun, just imagine actually watching that many movies in a year! It seems almost tiresome but Ben really loves films and released his Top 10 Movies of 2008 last December with a great mix of variety.
Ben Lyons Top 10 of 2008
10. In Bruges
09. Miracle at St. Anna
08. The Reader
07. Let the Right One In
05. The Dark Knight
04. The Wrestler
02. Slumdog Millionaire
01. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
TH: With the eclectic mix of films that released last year what are some films you feel audiences should actually watch and why would you suggest them?
BL: Same as my Top 10. Diversify, try and see a little bit of everything and movies [that are] "off the beaten path".
TH: You see a ton of films; was there a film last year you were really excited to see but it unfortunately disappointed you once you watched it?
BL: Twilight was poorly made. It wasn't technically sound enough to support the boring one note of a story [and] it was poorly acted as well.
TH: What'd you think of 2008 overall though?
BL: I thought it was a great year for commercial movies. If you notice, all five of my favourites are from established [and] modern filmmakers, [like] David Fincher, Danny Boyle, Gus Van Sant, Darren Aronofsky and Christopher Nolan. [But] the best filmmakers in the world had movies this year including Spike Lee, M. Night Shymalan, Sam Mendes, Michelle Gondry, Steve Spielberg, the list goes on.
TH: What were some films that out of 2008 that you didn't like all that much?
BL: I hated Twilight, Speed Racer, Synechtoche, NY, and Repo: The Genetic Opera.
TH: Well is there one thing that bad movies have in common?
BL: They waste your time.
Fortunately there aren't any bad movies nominated at the Oscars this year âÂÂ they're all pretty decent and give a sense of realism for the audience. Regardless of the mystery behind who the possible Oscar winners might be, a lot of the films recognized are not only becoming instant classics with critics and fans but they've all given a broader sense to why we all love movies so much. There's something in there for everyone.
It may be too early to tell what Oscar contenders there are for 2010 but there are a lot of movies releasing later this year that movie watchers will be most excited for such as The Lovely Bones, based on the best-selling novel of the same name, The Informant, Soderbergh's dark comedy starring Matt Damon, Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen and Tom Hanks' return as Robert Langdon in Angels and Demons.
TH: Ben, is there a specific genre that you prefer more so over another? What do you look for when watching a movie?
BL: I love the "event" movie âÂÂ that movie you buy tickets to weeks in advance and see opening weekend with all your friends...but I love all types of films, big and small.
TH: Personally, what are some films you're looking forward to in 2009? What do you think audiences should look out for?
BL: I'd like to see Star Trek, Bruno, the latest Harry Potter, Shutter Island, Where The Wild Things Are, and G.I. Joe!
If anything's truer than the admiration and love we all collectively have for film, its Mary Schmich's saying; a columnist for the Chicago Tribune who commented about films, quoted "you can map your life through your favourite movies and no two people's maps will be the same."
Well then, what does your map look like?
The 81st Annual Academy Awards hosted by Hugh Jackman airs February 22 at 8pm ET on ABC and be sure to tune into E! for the Red Carpet arrivals at 6pm ET, check your local listings. And tune into Ben Lyons on E!'s The Daily 10 weeknights on E! and At The Movies every weekend, check your local listings.
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