Oscar Catch-Up Double Bill

Another couple of films that showed up on Oscar night, which I finally I caught up with. Both worth a watch.

Foxcatcher (Bennett Miller, 2014) didn't convert any of its five Oscar nominations into wins, the voters presumably a little reluctant to fully endorse a chilly, queasy film about male insecurity and Greco-Roman wrestling. Based on a true story, it tells of how eccentric, reclusive billionaire John du Pont (Steve Carrell) invited Olympic wrestler Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) to set up a training camp on his estate, only for tensions to rise when Mark's more celebrated brother David (Mark Ruffalo) also joins the team. Events unfold with a deliberately slow pace, which will test the patience of some viewers, but it's worth sticking with, not least for the fine performances from the three leads. Carrell, nominated for Best Actor, is a long way from his usual comedy roles here, playing a sort of warped version of Michael Scott, The Office role that made his name. Here, du Pont is similarly a rather socially inept guy and wannabe mentor/father figure to 'his' team. The difference is there's few laughs here, with a distinct Dracula vibe creeping into his portrayal of a lonely recluse leeching on the red-blooded exploits of others. Tatum and Ruffalo are also excellent in a fraught relationship which recalls the fraternal tensions of another sports drama, Raging Bull. It does all move rather slowly, though - when it should be quickly forcing us into submission, it instead takes too long to tighten its grip and squeeze, meaning many will have tapped out before the end. Still, it's a fascinating story and an unusual sports drama to look out for.

Citizenfour (Laura Poitras, 2014) walked off with the Best Documentary Oscar, and no doubt the exact details of who voted for and against it recorded and stored for future blackmail purposes by shadowy government officials. It's a riveting account of how Poitras and journalists Glenn Greenwald and Ewen MacAskill helped whistle-blower Edward Snowden break the story about invasive NSA surveillance techniques used by the US government to spy on its citizens. As an important tale of real-life espionage, it gains immediacy and tension from the fly-on-the-wall footage of the meetings with Snowden as he reveals his secrets and reacts to the political shit-storm he has created. That siad, it's not a film intended to gain much insight into Snowden's motivations or character - he never wanted to become the crux of the story - but there's glimpses of his inner turmoil at what he has unleashed which is fascinating to watch. Ultimately, the technical details of what he reveals may be lost on many viewers, but there's no doubting the overall conclusions about the ability of the US government to place everyone under surveillance via technology, which means a very real Big Brother exists in our increasingly 1984-esque world. Perhaps the scariest thing is that despite the revelations, we are now such slaves to technology that we won't stop using it, assuming that we aren't important enough for Big Brother to worry about. We have won the battle against ourselves, we love Big Brother. Not me, though, I'm safe because I've got my tin-foil hat on and I'm writing this from under a blanket.

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