Matt's Blog


The Great Gatsby Dominates AACTAs... That's Bad

I didn’t get a chance to comment last week given the passing of Philip Seymour Hoffman but the Australian Academy Awards were recently held and the results generated some discussion on Twitter.

I am a fan of awards shows and I think they serve a purpose in promoting films and promoting the industry.  I’m also a member of the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts (AACTA) and so I do my best to see all of the nominated films and then lodge my vote accordingly.

2013 wasn’t a huge year for Australian cinema but there were a few films that made an impression.  The Rocket won the Audience Award at the Sydney, Melbourne and Tribeca Film Festival.  The Turning was a collection of short stories told over three hours (plus an interval) and was rewarded for its boldness by making more than $1 million at the local box-office.  Mystery Road was shot in Winton and earned Indigenous star Aaron Pederson a nomination at the Asia Pacific Screen Awards.

Despite the merit of these films, it was The Great Gatsby that dominated the Australian Academy Awards.  It was nominated in 13 categories and won 12 of them.  If that’s not convincing enough, it also won a special award for best visual effects (where there weren’t any other nominees).  In the other categories, The Rocket and The Turning picked up one win each.  That’s it.

The problem with this result is obvious.  If the purpose of the awards is to celebrate Australian cinema, what’s the point of giving the same film every award?  I don’t blame the people behind The Great Gatsby (it’s a decent film).  My qualms are with the AACTA voters who scrolled down the ballot paper and ticked The Great Gatsby in every category.  It made more a boring telecast.  It was like watching an AFL grand final where one team wins by 150 points.  It’s fun if you support that team but for everyone else, there’s no excitement.

It’s also worth noting that of any Australian film released last year, it’s The Great Gatsby that needs the least publicity.  It had a production budget of $100 million, an equally huge marketing budget and in the end, pulled in more than $350 million at the international box-office.  I’d have preferred to see the likes of The Rocket and Mystery Road receive a little more recognition so as to prompt audiences to hunt down these great films.

An intriguing slate of Australian films will be released in 2014 and I can only hope that next year’s awards offer up more variety.  I’ll be doing my best with my own vote!

Gone Too Soon: The Best Of Philip Seymour Hoffman

When you look back on the career of an actor, you can generally identify a period that would be referred to as their “prime”.  That’s not the case when it comes to Philip Seymour Hoffman.  Since I first heard his name in the mid-90s, he’s been delivering great performances in a long list of acclaimed films.  There were a few misses (no one’s perfect) but I can’t think of any actor over the past two decades who has put together a more impressive resume.

In 2004, I started an annual blog on my website where I named my top 10 actors working today.  A lot of names have slipped on and off that list… but Hoffman has always been ranked number 1 or number 2 (nudged out by George Clooney).  I know I’m not alone with my admiration.  He received 4 Academy Award nominations (winning for Capote) as well as 3 Tony Award wins.  He was a gifted actor who could seemingly take on any role – good guy or bad guy.

I was stunned to get a text message from a fellow film-going friend at 5:37am this morning that simply read – “Philip Seymour Hoffman found dead. Massive loss.”   We’ll be able to see him in a few more completed films (A Most Wanted Man, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay) but it’s still hard to believe that the career of Hoffman has come to such a sudden, tragic end.

I could list more than 20 films but in this week’s blog, I thought I’d pay tribute by listing my favourite 10 Philip Seymour Hoffman movies (with a few quotes thrown in).  May he rest in peace.

Philip Seymour Hoffman

Capote (2005)

The film follows writer Truman Capote (Hoffman) as he becomes friends with a criminal on death row and then transforms the story into “the non-fiction book of the decade”.  This is one of cinema’s great character studies.  It was my favourite release of 2006 and earned Hoffman an Academy Award for best actor.

Philip Seymour Hoffman

Doubt (2008)

Working alongside the equally brilliant Meryl Streep, Hoffman plays a priest who by an influential nun of molesting a young boy.  The dialogue was incredible and the film created as much “doubt” in my mind as the characters on screen.

Philip Seymour Hoffman

The Master (2012)

Hoffman worked with many directors… but never as often as he did with the brilliant Paul Thomas Anderson.  This was their last collaboration and it saw Hoffman take on the role of a cult leader who tried to control an aimless solider (played by Joaquin Phoenix).

Philip Seymour Hoffman

The Talented Mr Ripley (1999)

Based on the novel by Patricia Highsmith and directed by the late Anthony Minghella, Hoffman played Freddie Miles – a party-loving guy living in Italy who becomes a thorn in the side of the film’s sinister protagonist, Tom Ripley (Matt Damon).

Philip Seymour Hoffman

Charlie Wilson’s War (2007)

In a “truth is stranger than fiction” kind of story, Hoffman plays a rogue CIA agent who helps a U.S. Congressman (Tom Hanks) to get weapons for Afghan soldiers during their 1980s war with the Soviet Union.  With some cracking good one-liners, the role earned Hoffman another Academy Award nomination.

Philip Seymour Hoffman

Boogie Nights (1997)

In one of Hoffman’s earlier roles, Hoffman played a young boom operator who developed an infatuating with the well-hung porn star, Dirk Diggler (Mark Wahlberg).  There are so many awkward exchanges between the pair!

Philip Seymour Hoffman

The Ides Of March (2011)

I’m a sucker for a great political thriller and in this slick George Clooney directed effort, Hoffman starred as crafty campaign manager trying to get his candidate the Democratic presidential nomination.

Philip Seymour Hoffman

Magnolia (1999)

In one of the greatest films of all time (at least in my opinion), Hoffman plays a nurse who is trying to reunite a dying man (Jason Robards) with the son he hasn’t seen in many years (Tom Cruise).

Philip Seymour Hoffman

Owning Mahowny (2003)

Hoffman was more widely known for his supporting work but in this low budget drama (released two years prior to Capote), he proved himself more than worthy in a leading role.  Based on a true story, his character was a bank manager who embezzled millions of dollars to fuel his growing gambling addiction.

Philip Seymour Hoffman

Happiness (1998)

In an R-rated black comedy from director Todd Solondz, Hoffman played a pervert who jerks off while making creepy phone calls to a woman he has a crush on.  As you do.

Interview - Director Steve McQueen On 12 Years A Slave

Steve McQueen

I was thrilled to be able to speak to director Steve McQueen about 12 Years A Slave just a few hours after the film received 10 Academy Award nominations. You can download a short audio extract from the interview by clicking here.

Matt:  The Academy Award nominations were revealed less than 12 hours ago.  Congratulations I should say – firstly for your film and also for your nomination for best director.

Steve:  Thank you very much.  We were pleased with the 9 nominations and I’m very happy for my crew and the cast.

Matt:  Did you watch the nominations or did you wait for the phone calls and messages to start coming in?

Steve:  I did watch it live and it was kind of surreal to be watching television and seeing your name called and your film called.  It was one of those “once in a lifetime” situations.

Matt:  You’ve made two terrific features – Hunger and then Shame, my favourite film of 2011.  They picked up their fair share of awards but with 12 Years A Slave, that you’ve been thrown full on into the madness that is the Hollywood award season.  What’s the experience been like so far?

Steve:  What’s been great about it is the conversation and dialogue.  Every Q&A I’ve been to for this film has felt like a town hall meeting.  People are very passionate about the subject matter and there’s been a huge amount of discussion.

Matt:  I heard your speech at the Golden Globes.  The last person you thanked was Brad Pitt and you said this film would never have been made without him.  Can you tell us about the extent of his involvement in the project?

Steve:  He’s a producer who also acted in the film.  To be honest, without Brad’s clout I don’t think the film would have got made.  He’s definitely someone that people listen to and respond to.  He has a stature in Hollywood where if he says something then people listen.  He was a huge part in this film’s success.

Matt:  Did he approach you or did you approach him?  How did you guys get together on this?

Steve:  It was his company.  Plan B and Brad approached me and we’d been having discussions since I made Hunger.  They were very supportive and they asked me what I wanted to do.

Matt:  To talk quickly about the cast.  You’ve got Michael Fassbender, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benedict Cumberbatch… but the performance that seems to be sticking with everyone is that of Lupita Nyong’o.  I’d never even heard of her name 3 months ago.  Where did you find her?

Steve:  She was a Yale drama school student who auditioned before she even graduated.  I saw a tape of her and then I asked her to come over.  She was amazing.  She’s an incredible actress and I was just very pleased to hear that she’d received an Oscar nomination.

Matt:  When you set out with a role like that, are you trying to discover a new actress?

Steve:  I don’t really mind.  I was very fortunate to find Michael Fassbender and Lupita N’yongo.  I’ll work with anyone.  It was just one of those things.

Matt:  With both Shame and Hunger there was a noticeable lack of dialogue.  It felt like that again here with 12 Years A Slave.  Yes, there are conversations but it feels like no one says anything unless they absolutely have to.  Am I right in saying that? 

Steve:  Yeah.  Most of the time when we speak to each other, we say a lot of rubbish.  We never really know how we feel verbally.  We never tell each other how we feel.  We often use our mouths to get out of situations or to just get by.

I’m more interested in how we feel and how we act as human beings.  Therefore, what we say isn’t all that crucial.  It’s what we do that provides the evidence.

Matt:  So much of the story, so much of the content in 12 Years A Slave was new to me.  Watching it, looking back at this piece of history, I was just shaking my head and wondering how it happened.  Was it new to you when you came across Solomon Northup’s book?

Steve:  Not really.  I’d done a lot of research into slavery before.  What’s been interesting for me is how many people didn’t know about kidnapping and didn’t know that African-Americans lived free in the north.  The fact they didn’t know tells me a lot about the education of slavery in schools.

Matt:  Our perspective of events can change over time with the benefit of the hindsight and so it’s remarkable that this book exists – written by Solomon back in 1853 just after he’d escaped – particularly as well because so few of those who were kidnapped could read and write.  Aside from Solomon’s words, is there a lot of other material written in that era, that you could draw on to help create the film?

Steve:  Yes and that’s what we did.  There were a lot of academics who had studied Solomon’s work for a long time.  We also went to a few museums and looked at artefacts and whatnot.  It was pretty amazing.

Matt:  It’s easy to look back at a piece of history like this and say “thank goodness things have changed for the better”.  But then I wonder if people in 100 years time are going to back at us today and shake their heads.  Are wars, oppression, discrimination something that we’re never going to be able to truly defeat?

Steve:  I don’t know and it’s a sad thing.  Will people look back 100 years from now and shake their heads at the fact our clothes were made in sweatshops all over the world?  I don’t really know.

Matt:  And I have to ask, I’m a huge fan of film scores and I was curious about your choice to use Hans Zimmer as the film’s composer.  I always associate him with big, loud, epic action type scores but here he’s a lot softer, a lot subtler.

Steve:  Hans is a talented artist and I was very lucky to meet him and I was very lucky for him to accept.  He wanted to be involved with this project and I was very pleased.

Matt:  You’ve certainly got a fan in me and so I’d love to finish up by asking what’s next?  Do you have any projects in the works?

Steve:  I want to do a musical.

Matt:  Really?  Have you got a particular one in mind?

Steve:  I’m still looking and trying to figure things out.

Matt:  I’ll finish up by looping back to the Academy Awards which will be held on March 2.  I always like to have a punt on the Academy Awards every year so I have to ask – what do you think of your chances for the film and yourself?

Steve:  Not bad but then I’d say that about everyone else too.  One can never predict what will happen at the Oscars.  Anyone that says they know later end up not knowing so I won’t even try to predict anything… but please go ahead, have a flutter!

Quick Golden Globe Wrap: Oscars Still Up For Grabs

If the results of this year’s Golden Globes are anything to go by, this year’s Oscars are well and truly up for grabs.  The only certainty is Cate Blanchett for best actress.  They’ve already engraved the statuette.  I said on the ABC last December that I’d walk to Sydney if she lost.  Thankfully I won’t have to follow through on that promise.

I’ve been on a losing streak at the Globes for the past 2 years but thankfully that’s been broken this year.  I backed winners Amy Adams ($100 at $2), Leonardo DiCaprio ($100 at $1.80) and super smokey Matthew McConaughey ($80 at $4.35).  I’m still bummed that Gravity didn’t come through but I’ll happily take the $328 profit.

I’ve decided to roll the dice and go for broke at the Oscars.  Based on their wins today, I’m on Matthew McConaughy for best actor ($200 at $3.50) and Jennifer Lawrence for best supporting actress ($200 at $3).  They’re not sure things but I think the value is great.  Best actor is very open with Chiwetel Ejiofor and Leonardo DiCaprio still well and truly in the race.  Jennifer Lawrence will have to beat off Lupita Nyong’o but her star power might just get her over the line. 

I still think Gravity is a decent shot for best picture at Academy Awards and so I have $300 on Gravity to return $1,450.  I keep coming back to the rule that he who wins best director, wins best picture.  You get the odd year where the rule doesn’t hold up but it doesn’t happen very often.  With Gravity director Alfonso Cuaron looking stronger and stronger in the best director category, I do think the film’s best picture chances are enhanced.  That said, I realise American Hustle and 12 Years A Slave will be tough to beat.

The Oscar nominations are revealed this Thursday night at 11:38pm (Brisbane time) and will be read by Australian Chris Hemsworth.  There’s likely to be a surprise or two and I’m particularly interested in seeing which films make the cut in the best picture category.