by NEVIL GIBSON
Traditional Christmas fare has disappeared from cinemas and moved to television, where Sky TV for one is reprising many favourites of former years in “pop up” channels.
Instead, this time of year is the “awards season”, where films worthy of nominations for Oscars
are timed to be fresh in the minds of those who select them. It also means a film released, say, in the middle of year is unlikely to be honoured.
Most of the heavyweight Oscar contenders have either just started their run — although not usually in New Zealand — or are still in their starting blocks.
Likely candidates that haven’t yet emerged here include Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken, based on the
best-selling book about World War II hero Louis Zamperini, from a screenplay by Joel and Ethan Coen;
Disney’s Into the Woods, a fairytale based on a Stephen Sondheim musical and packed with stars such
as Meryl Streep and Johnny Depp; Ridley Scott’s biblical epic Exodus: Gods and Kings, in which Christian Bale portrays Moses; and Selma, in which David Oyelowo plays Martin Luther King.
I have already picked Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler as a potential nominee, but that race
has widened considerably with English character actor Timothy Spall as the 19th century Victorian
painter J. M. W. Turner.
Mr Turner (Pinnacle) is a peak in a cinematic tradition that, for me, started with Alec Guinness in
The Horse’s Mouth (1958), based on the fictional Gulley Jimson in Joyce Cary’s novel. It was hardly suitable viewing for a pre-teen boy, but the fact I still recall it demonstrates the timeless lure of art.
Hollywood, of course, has made several biopics of the great artists, of which Kirk Douglas as
Van Gogh in Lust For Life (1956) and Charlton Heston as Michelangelo in The Agony and Ectasy
(1965) are the best known.
More artistic films, many of them from Europe, have featured Van Gogh as well as Artemisia (Gentileschi), Caravaggio, Frida (Kahlo), Goya, Renoir and Vermeer (Girl with a Pearl Earring), among
Few have been box office hits, but this is likely to change with Mr Turner, in which English director
Mike Leigh recreates period detail that is seldom seen in any film.
In fact, cinematographer Dick Pope fills the screen with landscapes that reflect Turner’s Romantic
style, which harks back to the Dutch masters while also embracing modern Impressionism and early forms of photography.
Turner spends much of his time in the outdoors, constantly looking for subjects, which can range from shocking deaths to trains, wild seas and shipwrecks, his favourite subjects.
This is no crusty exercise in the art of creation or the pressures of earning a living in a competitive environment. In his complicated personal life, Turner doted on his father, spurned his family, had a live-in housekeeper and later married his matronly mistress, the widowed Mrs Booth (Marion Bailey).
In a cast that is never less than brilliant, Spall is magnificent, often replacing words with a series
of grunts while being feted by some as a genius and dismissed by others, including Queen Victoria.
Rating: TBA; 150 minutes.
by NEVIL GIBSON