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Oscars 2014 Preview - Is This a New Golden Age of Cinema?

I don't normally get over-excited about the Oscars, considering it to be a vaguely interesting show and a masterful marketing exercise and nothing more. It says so much about the film industry and how we, as consumers, perceive it, that they can hand awards to each other and the entire world sits up and takes notice and is amazed and is jealous and goes to the cinema and buys tickets. Bravo! And this is to say little about how the 'media' sweats itself into multiple tiny orgasms, red carpet onanism, the build-up, oh, the build-up. Oh.

But 2014 looks different. Whereas we typically have a strong film or two in the nominations, along with the film that must win the key awards because of its 'worthiness', this year virtually every film that's up for the key awards deserves to win. Is this coincidence or is the film industry getting better? Is the increasing connectedness of humanity making it easier for talent to find talent? Are producers finding creative mojo, attempting to make art as well as dollars? Are we, as a species, improving at everything? Nah. It's probably just coincidence. So here's my take on what films deserve to take Oscar home (spoiler alert!):

Gravity - Gary J Byrnes's Top Tip for Oscars 2014
This space epic is the best 3D cinema experience I've ever had. It looks incredible, the acting is great and the tension palpable. What I like most about Gravity is that it's not trying to tell us something bigger, worthier. It doesn't make us feel guilty for enjoying the ride. It's simply a story, entertainment. Tight, short and very sweet. Deserves to win best picture, best director, all special effects, sound, production design, best actress - Sandra Bullock is entirely credible and effective.

Dallas Buyers Club - Deserves to Win Best Picture Oscar
Dallas Buyers Club
Brilliant film, packed with great acting and storytelling. Matthen McConaughey is a revelation in the main role and Jared Leto makes for stunning support. The story starts off small and achingly personal but grows up big and crosses the globe, talking about the neverending struggle between small humanity and big government. Deserves to win best actor, best supporting actor, best picture.

A beautiful evocation of a nightmarish future where everything looks lovely on the surface but everybody's miserable. I guess the underlying theme is that technology drives us apart. The idea of falling in love with an OS is utterly depressing and believable - it's probably happened already - but Her manages to give us a happy ending. Deserves to win best actor for Joaquin Phoenix, but he's not nominated! Original screenplay and production design, so.

American Hustle
Character-led caper movie with such terrific acting from all the main players that Robert DeNiro barely registers. Deserves to win for best hair, but isn't nominated. What's that about? Jennifer Lawrence is almost certain to win best supporting actress - the whole microwave thing is just class - and Christian Bale is certainly great enough to win best actor. Best director, best film, why not?

12 Years a Slave
Beautiful, artistic, soul-destroying, painful. Oozes emotional punch. Deserves to win best supporting actor for Michael Fassbender's star turn. Could he be the best Irish actor ever? Will likely win best picture, best actor, best director, best cinematography.

The Wolf of Wall Street
I do volunteer work at my local credit union and I have to admit it's exactly the same as Wolf of Wall Street. Only without the sex, drugs and money. Leonardo diCaprio is mesmerising and certainly deserves a lead actor Oscar. Jonah Hill is excellent in his supporting role and could get the nod on the night. Martin Scorsese's direction is perfect, but his formulaic approach could work against him as, visually and structurally, Wolf of Wall Street is similar to Goodfellas in many respects. This is not a criticism, more an observation.

Captain Phillips
"Hey Irish!" Yet another true story with Tom Hanks as impressive as always. The strong script and strong supporting actor in Barkhad Abdi could take Oscars. Good film, even though it does descend into a US military recruiting video towards the end.

Bottom line: This year, it really doesn't matter what films win. Enjoy the show!

Note: I haven't seen the remaining best picture nominations, Philomena or Nebraska, yet but I look forward to both of them.


Forget Big Brother, Boycott Russia and Sochi Olympics Sponsors

Big Brother loves Facebook, really loves it. Besides the fact that anonymous security officials can monitor your online opinions and friends, keep tabs on where you are, what you're doing, what you're thinking, Facebook is a great way for its users to vent. Putin sends Pussy Riot to jail because they don't dig his new, medieval-style blasphemy law? 'Like' (but ironically). Gay people are getting beaten and killed in Russia every day because Putin gives his tacit consent to such deeds? 'Like'. 'Share'. Comment. "Down with this sort of thing." And it's done. We've given out, but within the walled garden that is Facebook. Big Brother loves Facebook because that's where our passions are trapped, in endless circles of liking and sharing, going round and around the network. But going nowhere really.

As the Sochi Winter Olympics get under way, it's time to move beyond Facebook and do something real. In these horrid times, money is all that matters, certainly to the people who run the world. So we need to hit Putin in his pocket, affect the Russian economy and the corporations that help fund Sochi 2014. Russia's main source of income is natural gas and Germany, France and Italy rely on Russian gas for energy, which means the EU will do absolutely nothing to challenge Russia's homophobia. So it's up to us, the consumers.

Where to start: Even though Russian vodka is the best vodka, boycott it. This means no Stolichnaya or Russian Standard. Don't buy it as gifts. Don't drink it in bars. Tell your friends to stop drinking it.

Boycott Sochi 2014 Sponsors
Then look at the sponsors of the Sochi Winter Olympics: McDonald's, Coca-Cola, Panasonic, Samsung, Dow Chemicals, Procter and Gamble ('Proud sponsor of mums'? Don't make me laugh, you're the proud sponsor of homophobic tyrants), Visa, NBC, Omega and Atos (French IT consultants). Can you avoid spending money on them, at least for the duration of the Olympics? Can you remember their names so that, when making future purchase decisions, Russian discrimination and its corporate sponsorship leave a lingering taste of fear and horror in your mouth? AT&T, a key sponsor of the US team has stated that "We stand against Russia’s anti-L.G.B.T. law". So it can be done. Corporations can take a moral stand and, in the longer term, I'm confident that they will benefit financially. But the first step is to shame the corporations who look the other way in their insane quest for never ending growth.

Then look at homophobia and religious discrimination closer to home. Stand up for the human rights of all humans everywhere. Challenge the religious, the media, the politicians and the corporations who, between them, have made the world a hate-filled toxic dump.

For sure, Facebook is good for expressing opinions, building networks, learning about stuff. But don't let it end there. Look over the wall. Do something real.

Within Facebook's walled garden, like this page and share it out:
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