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Matt's First Predictions In The 2015 Oscars Race

Each year in mid-November, I like to throw to weigh in with a few early Oscar predictions.  The “awards season” officially kicks off on December 1 when the New York Film Critics Circle announce their prize winners.  They will be followed by a plethora of critics’ awards and then big televised awards (Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild).  The three month race will come to a close on 22 February 2015 when the Oscar winners are revealed.

The early analysis seems to suggest a small group of contenders this year.  There aren’t too many films likely to surprise on Oscar night (at least according to most bloggers).

Films already released in Australia which will contend for best picture are Boyhood, Gone Girl, Interstellar, Whiplash, Fury and The Grand Budapest Hotel.

Here’s a look at the films (in order of release date) that also have a big shot at securing a best picture nomination.  I’ve included a quick blurb from the IMDB to tell you what each is about…

Mr Turner
Release Date:  26 December 2014
Director:  Mike Leigh (Secrets & Lies, Topsy-Turvy)
Starring:  Timothy Spall, Paul Jesson, Dorothy Atkinson, Lesley Manville, Martin Savage
Plot:  An exploration of the last quarter century of the great, if eccentric, British painter J.M.W. Turner's life.

The Imitation Game
Release Date:  1 January 2015
Director:  Morten Tyldum (Headhunters)
Starring:  Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Mark Strong, Charles Dance
Plot:  English mathematician and logician, Alan Turing, helps crack the Enigma code during World War II.

Into The Woods
Release Date:  8 January 2015
Director:  Rob Marshall (Chicago, Memoirs of a Geisha)
Starring:  Anna Kendrick, Meryl Streep, Chris Pine, Johnny Depp, Emily Blunt
Plot:  A witch conspires to teach important lessons to various characters of popular children's stories including Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk and Rapunzel.

Birdman
Release Date:  15 January 2015
Director:  Alejandro González Iñárritu (Babel, 21 Grams)
Starring:  Michael Keaton, Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts, Amy Ryan
Plot:  A washed-up actor who once played an iconic superhero must overcome his ego and family trouble as he mounts a Broadway play in a bid to reclaim his past glory.

Unbroken
Release Date:  15 January 2015
Director:  Angelina Jolie
Starring:  Jack O'Connell, Domhnall Gleeson, Jai Courtney, Garrett Hedlund
Plot:  A chronicle of the life of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic runner who was taken prisoner by Japanese forces during World War II.

American Sniper
Release Date:  22 January 2015
Director:  Clint Eastwood (Unforgiven, Million Dollar Baby)
Starring:  Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Kyle Gallner, Luke Grimes
Plot:  A Navy S.E.A.L. recounts his military career, which includes more than 150 confirmed kills.

Wild
Release Date:  22 January 2015
Director:  Jean-Marc Vallée (Dallas Buyers Club)
Starring:  Reese Witherspoon, Gaby Hoffmann, Laura Dern, Michiel Huisman
Plot:  A chronicle of one woman's 1,100-mile solo hike undertaken as a way to recover from a recent catastrophe.

The Theory Of Everything
Release Date:  29 January 2015
Director:  James Marsh (Man On Wire)
Starring:  Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, David Thewlis, Emily Watson, Simon McBurney
Plot:  A look at the relationship between the famous physicist Stephen Hawking and his wife.

Foxcatcher
Release Date:  29 January 2015
Director:  Bennett Miller (Capote, Moneyball)
Starring:  Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, Sienna Miller, Vanessa Redgrave
Plot:  Wrestler Mark Schultz forms a relationship with his new sponsor, millionaire John du Pont, as they train for the 1988 games in Seoul - a union that leads to unlikely circumstances as both men feel inferior to Mark's revered brother, Dave.

Selma
Release Date:  TBA
Director:  Ava Marie DuVernay
Starring:  David Oyelowo, Carmen Ejogo, Tom Wilkinson, Tim Roth, Oprah Winfrey
Plot:  Martin Luther King, Lyndon Baines Johnson and the civil rights marches that changed America.

 

I’ve been able to see a few of the abovementioned unreleased films and so my predictions for best picture (in order of most likely to win) are 1. Unbroken, 2. Boyhood, 3. The Imitation Game, 4. Birdman, 5. The Theory Of Everything, 6. Gone Girl, 7. Foxcatcher, 8. Selma, 9. Whiplash, 10. American Sniper.  I’ve already slipped $100 on Unbroken (at $8 odds) so will be cheering it home.

Of the acting categories, best actor seems to be the most wide open with 4 serious contenders – Michael Keaton (Birdman), Eddie Redmayne (The Theory Of Everything), Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game) and David Oyelowo (Selma).  A really tricky race and I could make a strong argument for all of them to win.  I’ve slipped an early $100 on Eddie Redmayne (at $3.50) so I guess he’s my pick at this point.

Julianne Moore has been nominated 4 times previously but is yet to win the coveted Academy Award.  Could this finally be her year?  She’s the current favourite in the best actress race for the small independent film Still Alice.  The biggest danger appears to be Rosamund Pike in the incredibly popular Gone Girl.  I’ve long been a fan of Julianne Moore and I’ll stick with her as my pick.

In terms of best supporting actor, I’m a huge fan already of J.K. Simmons in Whiplash (I’ve seen the film twice now) and think he’s a hugely underrated actor.  He’ll face competition from the likes of Edward Norton (Birdman), Ethan Hawke (Boyhood) and Mark Ruffalo (Foxcatcher).  No way that I’m tipping against J.K. Simmons here.  Hope he wins it!

Boyhood is my favourite film of 2014 thus far and so I’m also a supporter of the frontrunner in the best supporting actress race – Patricia Arquette.  She’s still looking for her first Academy Award nomination.  Her competition will come from Keira Knightley (The Imitation Game), Emma Stone (Birdman) and Laura Dern (Wild).  I’ll play it safe here and stick with Patricia Arquette.

Bring on the Oscars!

Back After A Fun Hawaiian Adventure

My apologies for the lack of reviews over the past two weeks but I've been making the most of a holiday in Hawaii.  It's my 7th overseas adventure and 3rd to the United States.  As part of this week's blog (since I have nothing to talk about film-wise), I thought I'd share some photos from my time away...
 

Waikiki
Spent 6 days staying in central Waikiki which has some beautiful beachside views.  Tourism is the number 1 industry in Hawaii which gives it a Surfers Paradise type feel.

 

 
Ko'olau Golf Club
Stepped off the plane and played my first round of golf at Ko'olau Golf Club - ranked by American Golf Digest as one of the 50 hardest courses in the country. They're not wrong about that. It's long (6,700m) and with hazard everywhere, it plays to a scratch rating of 78.  I finished with a score of 84.  It's a shame the course was in such poor condition.  Definitely the worst of the courses we played.

 

 
Healthy Eating
Yeah, so I put on more than 2kg for the 8 days that I was there.  Oops.

 

 
USS Arizona Memorial
A photo from aboard the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial which is a key part of the Pearl Harbour tour.  There isn't as much to see here as you might think (a half day tour felt too long) but it's still a moving experience.

 

 
Waikiki Gun Club
It's taken 37 years but I finally had the chance to shoot my first gun.  Admittedly I didn't try any huge weapons (I'm a wuss and didn't want to injure myself) but it was a fun experience.  Perhaps this was good therapy as my golf improved over the coming days.

 

 
Jordan & Morgan's Wedding
While I'd love to claim it was a golfing holiday, this is the real reason why I was in Hawaii - to celebrate the wedding of Morgan and Jordan who had a beautiful ceremony in a small chapel and then a picturesque reception at the Moana Surfrider which overlooks the beach.

 

 
Turtle Bay Fazio Course
Couldn't get on the Palmer Course but was happy to play the Fazio Course at Turtle Bay (located on the north shore of O'ahu).  It was a 90 minute drive to get there - made 30 minutes longer after I took a wrong turn on the freeway and had to travel 13 miles before I could do a u-turn!  Finished with a round of 75 (3 over) which would have been tolerable except for the fact that playing partner Jordan Daley shot 7 under!

 

 
Sunset Beach
Surfers in action at Sunset Beach which wasn't too far from Turtle Bay.  The golfer I shared a cart with at Turtle Bay (George) was staying in Sean Penn's beach house just down the road!  Sean (who is a big surfer) lent him the place for 2 weeks while he was off directing a movie in South Africa.  Couldn't believe it.

 

 
Waialae Country Club
I'd only played one PGA Tour course previously (Pebble Beach) but that total doubled when I played the private Waialae Country Club - home of the Sony Open in Hawaii.  Course was in magnificent condition.

 

 
Waialae Country Club
Was thrilled to shoot my best round of the trip at Waialae Country Club - finished birdie-eagle for a 69 (3 under par) off the championship tees which play to 6,400m.  Not bad considering I was using a $5 putter from K-Mart (my latest effort to cure the yips).  The photo above is from the 16th green in the tournament which has the famous Waialae "W" marked with the palm trees.

 

 
Maui
After 6 days on the island of O'ahu, it was time to slip over to Maui for some quieter time (and of course, some more golf).

 

 
The Challenge At Manele 12th Hole
The Challenge At Manele is a Jack Nicklaus signature design located on the island of Lanai (which has a population of just 3,000).  To get there, you need to take a one hour ferry from Lahaina (on the west coast of Maui).  It was my favourite course of the trip with stunning views on every hole!  Above is the tee shot on the signature hole - a 182m par 3 that requires a full carry across a steep cliff. 

 

 
The Challenge At Manele 12th Hole
The Challenge At Manele would be one of the top 3 courses I've ever played (along with Barnbougle and Pebble Beach).  After stumbling with double bogies on the 11th and 12th holes, I was happy enough to finish with a round of 81 (9 over par) off the championship tees.  Would love to play this course again!

 

 
Kapalua Planation Course
The final round of golf was played at the Kapalua Plantation Course - home to the PGA Tour's Hyundai Tournament of Champions.  It's almost impossible to walk this course given the huge elevation changes and distances between some of the tees.  It too is very picturesque and featured some of the grainiest greens I've ever putted on.

 

 
Kapalua Planation Course
The famous second shot to the 18th at Kapalua.  I tried to hit a slinging hybrid from 240m but came up short of the green.  Chip shot for eagle hit the pin which was cool.  After a tough front nine, came home with even par off the back to shoot 81 (8 over) off the championship tees.  It's hard to believe the pros go so low on this course every year.  It's a long beast!

 

 

 

Interview - Writer-Director Josh Lawson on 'The Little Death'

Josh Lawson

I saw The Little Death in a packed cinema and the audience was laughing both often and loudly.  On the flip side, I’ve had two friends express their strong dislike for the film.  It’s an audience-divider and so I spoke to writer-director Josh Lawson about it…

Matt:  The intricacies of sex are something that isn’t discussed a lot in today’s movies.  Why is that?  Where did the original idea come from for this film?

Josh:  It really came about because it isn’t discussed a lot.  I felt there was a gap in the content we were making in Australia and I just find the subject really interesting.  It’s a subject that can provide all sorts of things – comedy, drama, tragedy, romance, intimacy, shock, danger, discomfort, nervousness and all of that stuff.   It’s one of the last great taboos.  It takes a lot to surprise us these days because we’ve seen so much and audiences are so savvy and so I thought that sex might be the place where you could find a few more surprises.

Matt:  Specifically it’s talking about fetishes which are something that’s definitely not spoken about a lot.  How did you settle on these particular five fetishes as part of your script?

Josh:  There’s an endless list from which you can choose but for the film, I really wanted fetishes that required planning and forethought.  That’s sort of why it’s called The Little Death.  I was curious to see how far a person might go in order to get this fleeting moment of ecstasy.  What’s the emotional cost that comes with finding a specific kind of pleasure?

Matt:  So how do you research something like that?  I’m guessing these aren’t all your own fantasies.

Josh:  I’d be exhausted if they were!  The internet makes things very easy now.  Not just for me as a researcher but also for people with fetishes.  Likeminded people can find a community whereas a long time ago, people with fetishes may have felt a lot more shame.  I read books and case studies but I also checked out online chat forums where people spoke about these fetishes and their own experiences. 

Matt:  As the writer-director of the film, you can cast yourself wherever you want so how did you settle in particular on the role of Paul?  Were there other roles you were thinking about playing?

Josh:  No.  In fact, I never wrote the film with me in mind for any role.  It came out of necessity truth be told.  Someone else was in the role and there was a last minute scheduling problem and so I stepped in.  I’m glad I did in the end because the film is so personal to me and it was nice to be able to spin those three plates.  I’m proud of the work we did.  Also, Bojana and I have known each other for a long time because we went to drama school together in Sydney.  We had good chemistry because of that history and I think things worked out for the best.

Matt:  What was your approach to the casting?  Do you pick friends of yours?  Do you a do a lot of auditioning?  Do you go with people you’d rather work with? 

Josh:  Casting for this film was really crucial because it’s an actor’s piece.  There’s a lot of dialogue and a lot of tricky material.  It required the actors to be fearless given the nature of the subject.  I got to cast friends but I didn’t cast them because they were friends.  I went with who I thought the best people for job were.  One of the reasons I wanted to make this film here in Australia because I felt there was so much talent in actors who weren’t necessarily stars.

I also didn’t want the film to feel unbalanced by having a really big name.  I wanted it to feel very real, very natural.  I wanted the couples to feel believable.  It made sense to cast those who aren’t known globally and in some cases, not even known nationally.  I have a feeling that for a few of them, the film will really showcase their talents.

Matt:  Without giving everything away, the film doesn’t wrap up all the short stories with a nice, neat happy ending.  What was your approach to working out when each story would end?

Josh:  Someone asked me the other day as to why some of the stories didn’t have resolutions and my answer was “when does any story have a resolution?”  Tomorrow is another day and who knows what’s going to change.  Maybe you get back together and then tomorrow you have another fight and break up. 

For me, the moral of the stories are that those who are dishonest with each other are probably more doomed than those who are honest with each other.  Those who are transparent and communicate a little more with their partner have more hope I think.

Matt:  I was going to ask about the tone.  You could do this as a straight out raunchy comedy or it could be a really heavy serious drama.  When you’re writing the script, how do you balance that up?  How do you know you’ve got the right amount of humour while also treating the subject respectfully?

Josh:  It’s a good question and it was obviously really tricky.  The film is primarily a comedy but it’s other things as well.  Each story served a different purpose when trying to solicit a certain reactions and emotions from people.  I wanted the film to feel like a ride.  One minute you’re feeling one emotion and then the next minute you’re feeling something completely different.  Because sex can be so many different things, I wanted the film to be able to cover a lot of things under the umbrella of comedy.

To come back to your question about finding balance, it was important that the character’s intentions are ultimately good and not malicious.  While some of the characters do horrible things, it never comes from a place of malice.  As misguided as they may be, they’re actually trying to connect and find intimacy together.  If those intentions are clear, you can go to a darker place I think.

Matt:  My favourite story is the one that’s covered last – the deaf man and the phone operator.  The audience was laughing hysterically at the preview screening.  I’d love to know if there was something in particular that inspired that story?

Josh:  My uncle is deaf and my cousin is fluent in sign language.  She worked in one of those translating call centres.  I was thinking one day how funny it would be if someone called and had phone sex.  Their job is to interpret exactly and they can’t interfere with that as the whole idea is for a deaf person to call up and have a regular phone call.

I came to one of the services here in Brisbane to research it.  They showed me around and as I was leaving, I said to the manager “this is going to sound crazy but have you ever had guys call this place and try to have phone sex?” and she goes “yeah, most of them.”  That just goes to show you that people are sexual creatures.  Our instincts are there.  No matter how nice we dress or how articulate we sound, we’re all mammals. 

Matt:  You were able to screen the film at the Toronto Film Festival which is about as big as it gets in terms of the film festival circuit.  What was that like and what reactions did you get from North American audiences there?

Josh:  It was really special.  Like you say, it’s a real honour and a privilege to make it to a film festival like that.  I think that we get stuck a lot in this country to fill a mandate of telling “Australian stories”.  What we should be telling are human stories.  They can be set in Australia of course to let people know that we are here.  However, when you make a film that is quintessentially Australian, you a run a risk that you’ve going to make it so assertoric that it doesn’t travel.

We found the Canadians were loving this film because who can’t relate to being in a relationship, to having sex, to being embarrassed?  All of these are such human things and so we found the film travelled really well and the Canadians were reacting in the exact same way that Australians seemed to.

Matt:  When you write and direct a film it takes up a huge chunk of your time.  What happens now after this?  What have you got planned?  Will you be directing other stuff?

Josh:  I feel like I should hibernate for six months.  You’re right in that it really swallows up every chunk of time that you have.  I’m going back to acting and will be shooting series 4 of House Of Lies in the United States.  I’m keen to write and direct again.  I enjoyed the experience even though it was taxing.  Perhaps that’s because I enjoy a challenge.  I want to tell different stories and I’m looking forward to the next one being really different to The Little Death.  I wouldn’t mind tackling a different time and place.  I hope that I’ve learned so much from this film that I can make the next one even better.

 

Interview - Aussie Brenton Thwaites Meets 'The Giver'

Brenton Thwaites

I remember him from the Fox8 television series Slide (shot here in Brisbane) and since that time, Brenton Thwaites has launched himself in Hollywood with a string of big roles.  In the past 12 months he’s worked alongside Angelina Jolie, Meryl Streep, Jeff Bridges, Ewan McGregor, Laurence Fishburne, Gerard Butler and Geoffrey Rush.  I caught up with Brenton while he was recently back in Brisbane to chat about his leading performance in The Giver. You can listen to the full interview by clicking here.

Matt:  We bat above our average in terms of Aussie actors working in Hollywood.  Tell us a little about yourself.  Where did you grow up?

Brenton:  I grew up in Cairns and then I moved down here to Brisbane to study fine arts majoring in acting at QUT. 

Matt:  A lot of people when they see someone acting on screen go “yeah, look, that’s so easy, I could easily do that.”  How much work did you have to put in at QUT to get to the level that you’re at today?

Brenton:  After three years of learning how to act, you realise that it’s not about the acting.  They teach you how to relax.  I was lucky enough to be blessed with a teacher named Charles Allen who taught me for my three years.  He also taught me how to find certain emotions within yourself.

All of that training aside, sometimes you don’t know what to do.  Shows like Home & Away, Slide and Sea Patrol shoot using a pretty hectic schedule.  They’re great because you learn confidence and how to relax in front of a camera.

Matt:  I remember the TV series Slide and then your short stint on Home & Away.  What happened in between?  Next minute I saw you alongside Angelina Jolie in Maleficent and now here in The Giver?  Were you doing a lot of auditions?  Trying to make it in Hollywood?

Brenton:  Yeah, I was.  I was putting everything down on tape.  I would audition wherever in the world I was.  For example,  I auditioned from India for a few things such as Blue Lagoon.  The tape that I used had this guy wheeling a dog across a park in the background.  It was the craziest audition and somehow I got the part.

Matt:  You’re working here with Jeff Bridges – a six-time Academy Award nominee.  I remember him as The Dude in The Big Lebowski.  Was there a lot that you could learn from him on set?

Brenton:  Yeah, there is.  I’ve watched him since I was a kid.  I loved The Big Lebowski and I loved one of his first movies, The Last Picture Show.  Crazy Heart was also amazing.  I was as big a fan as anyone else going in to meet Jeff and so it was a dream to be part of this movie with him.

Matt:  Meryl Streep is in the movie as well but we see a lot of her as a hologram.  Were there any scenes were you acting alongside each other?

Brenton:  We shared a few.  The process is quite technical.  They shoot with me in the shot and they shoot with Meryl in front of a green screen later and they connect it using computers in post- production.  We’d reach together off screen and few had a few scenes together but like you said, she shot a lot of that stuff on her own.

Matt:  Did you get the chance to spend a lot of time with Jeff and Meryl Streep off the set?  I can imagine they’d have some amazing stories and wealth of knowledge to share. 

Brenton:  The truth is that there was only on set for this movie.  I didn’t have much time to walk off set.  Everyone was working so hard on this for so long.  In the snippets of spare time that we had, we’d grab a guitar, strum for 5 minutes and then go back to the scene.  I also took a few photos with Jeff.  He’s a great photographer and he takes beautiful photos on set so he would teach me a little about cameras and shooting on film.

Matt:  And you’re working here with Phillip Noyce who’s done everything from Newsfront and Rabbit Proof Fence to The Quiet American and Salt).  It’s such a varied career.  How does he work on set?

Brenton:  He’s one of the best directors that I’ve worked with and maybe will ever work with.  He’s so passionate, energetic, and he’s full of love.  What I mean by that is that he knows how to extract a real performance out of you.  I felt like he already knew me.  The director of photography, Ross Emery, myself and Phillip Noyce are all Australian and so we know how daunting it can be to enter a big Hollywood movie.  It was good having him on my side in a way.

Matt:  During the early scenes of this film I was reminded of The Hunger Games and Divergent.  These are all films based on novels set in some kind of dystopian future with super-controlling governments and told from the perspective of rebellious teenagers.  Just a coincidence? 

Brenton:  They’re becoming quite popular.  There are more books and films being produced on this genre.  I don’t know the answer as to why we’re seeing more than that but I think young people today are quite aware of the world.  We can research anything at any time we want using our phones.  The connection with The Giver is that it’s funny to imagine what life would be like without a phone and without the freedom to know what is going on with the world.   

Matt:  So where are you living these days?  Do you have to make a permanent home for yourself in Los Angeles?

Brenton:  Back and forth.  I’m kind of the road at the moment.

Matt:  Has your life changed a lot over the past few months in Hollywood?  Do you get more scripts being sent your way?  Do you get noticed in the street?

Brenton:  When I first came to Hollywood, I said to my agents – “send me everything whether they be good scripts, bad scripts, half-written scripts.”  It gave me a great idea of what was in the town at the time.  Now, I think they’re saying “we’ll just send you a few scripts” because there’s a lot more coming which is great.

Matt:  And as someone who has studied acting and clearly has a love for film, what are your favourite movies?  Which directors would you love to work with?

Brenton:  Phillip Noyce was one.  I saw a movie recently called Boyhood and it’s my favourite film of the year and I’d love to work with Richard Linklater on something somewhere.  At the time of watching the movie, I was frustrated and tired but it brought me out of my own world and I learned to love those characters.  That’s the magic of cinema.

Matt:  I’ll finish up by asking what you’re currently working on?  When are we going to see you next on screen?

Brenton:  October 16 is the release of Son Of A Gun, a movie I shot with Ewan McGregor in Perth.  I’m really excited and proud of that.  At the beginning of next year, Helen Hunt is releasing her new film, Ride, which she wrote, directed and starred in.  That was a dream come true.  It was amazing to make.  Sometime in 2016 you’ll see Gods Of Egypt.  We finished shooting about a month ago in Sydney and there’s a huge CGI element to the film and they’re in post production right now trying to create a lot of the backdrops and a lot of the action sequences.

Brenton Thwaites