Paul Foot is undeniably a very silly man. His unique brand of humour is a manically spurted blend of surreal anecdotes and pertinent wit. Not to mention his downright bizarre haircut. In his current show, Words, he spends around an hour taking an entranced audience on an entertaining, and sometimes uncomfortable, journey through a cavalcade of offbeat observations. Scarcely stopping for breath, he details scenes of social absurdity, blurts out seemingly random word pairings and dictates some of his famous ‘disturbances’.
Admittedly, this cocktail of English sardonicism and otherworldly mannerisms won’t be enjoyed by everyone, particularly those seeking traditional setup-punchline comedy. But despite his unorthodox approach to humour, the master of the absurd manages to achieve something few other comics can—a sense of spontaneity and a strong connection with his audience. Regardless of how much of Words is actually scripted, every outlandish remark feels entirely off the cuff, as if the whole show is really just a direct insight into the comedian’s unusual mind.
Combined with his genuinely improvised responses to the audience, Paul Foot’s honest delivery style makes it feel like you’re not really watching a performance at all—instead, you’re simply spending the evening with a very funny (albeit somewhat insane) old friend.
Locally-produced films have a tendency to enforce a sense of ‘Australianness’ upon itself. Whether it stems from the want to create a recognisable brand of national cinema or simply an intense patriotism on the part of the filmmaker, more often than not it results in a shallow and cringe-inducing film.
With this cinematic epidemic so widespread it’s incredibly refreshing to find a film as honest as John Curran’s Tracks.
Based on the memoir of Robyn Davidson, Tracks captures the young Queenslander’s 1977 trek across the expansive desert of Western Australia, heading west from Alice Springs with the Indian Ocean as her intended destination. Robyn, played by Mia Wasikowska, sets off on her journey with four camels and her faithful dog, occasionally being pestered by Rick Smolan (Adam Driver), a photographer sent by National Geographic.
At the heart of this film is Wasikowska’s performance as the young explorer, presenting Robyn not as an empowered and noble adventurer but instead as a determined but very human woman with her fair share of flaws. American director Curran contributes to the honesty of his lead actor’s performance by keeping the action of the story pared-down, taking a realistic rather than dramatic approach to events such as Robyn’s various encounters with wild camels and Aboriginal elders.
While the film has its occasional lapses into Hollywood romanticism—namely gratuitous backstory flashbacks and an occasionally poignant piano score—the director and crew generally avoid fetishising the Australian elements of the story. Instead, the picturesque outback and its remarkable inhabitants form a backdrop for what is ultimately a character study revolving around the adverse themes of isolation and companionship.
Words by Declan Mulcahy
Well cinephiles, it’s that time of year again. The 86th Academy Awards are fast approaching us, this year carrying a wealth of strong competitors nominated across all categories. There have been a few surprising inclusions and shocking snubs—may we all take a moment to lament the measly two nominations for Inside Llewyn Davis—but after such a quality year in cinema every category is still jam-packed with cinematic gems waiting to earn their accolades. To help those hoping to win big themselves at their Oscar party betting pools, here’s a rundown on each of the nine films nominated for Best Picture, and how they fare against the competition.
AMERICAN HUSTLE dir. David O. Russell
Called ‘Faux-sese’ by some for its obvious borrowing from Martin Scorsese’s oeuvre, this character-centric comedy still manages to hold its own as a the crime genre film. Based loosely on a true cooperative sting run by the FBI and an infamous con artist duo, the film has nabbed ten nominations in total, including Best Original Screenplay, Best Director and the rare sweep of all four acting nominations. Despite the film’s slightly unoriginal style, its tight plot and strong cast have made it a formidable contender for the Best Picture prize.
CAPTAIN PHILLIPS dir. Paul Greengrass
Though fairly mediocre and at times exaggerative, this retelling of a 2009 pirate hijacking is redeemed by Tom Hanks’ levelheaded performance as the captain. But with both Hanks and Greengrass snubbed in their respective categories, Captain Phillips lacks the weight it would need to nab Best Picture. Newcomer Barkhad Abdi has a vague chance at Best Supporting Actor, but major awards will be hard to come by for this film.
DALLAS BUYERS CLUB dir. Jean-Marc Vallée
Based on a true story, this film follows the exploits of an emaciated Matthew McConaughey as an AIDS sufferer fighting the FDA as he distributes unapproved medication. Dallas Buyers Club has earned both McConaughey and Jared Leto—who plays his transgender business partner—their first Oscar nominations. Leto looks a shoo-in for Best Supporting Actor with McConaughey holding a high chance for Best Actor.
GRAVITY dir. Alfonso Cuarón
One of this year’s most talked-about films, this space-set thriller has won over many with its innovative and immersive special effects. The dialogue may be weak and the plot predictable but the buzz around the visual spectacle has given Gravity a lot of momentum. Cuarón looks to be almost guaranteed the Best Director trophy and most of the technical awards, while Sandra Bullock holds a reasonable chance at Best Actress, despite her role consisting mainly of irritating and incessant breathing.
HER dir. Spike Jonze
A moustachioed Joaquin Phoenix stars in this futuristic, thought-provoking techno-romance about a man who falls in love with his sentient operating system. One of the more original and interesting films in this year’s nominee lineup, Her has earned five nominations, including for Arcade Fire’s beautifully tragic score and Jonze’s equally melancholy screenplay. Widespread critical acclaim makes these lesser awards a possibility, but the film is unlikely to impress the older members of the Academy enough for a Best Picture win.
NEBRASKA dir. Alexander Payne
Greyscale and gloomily humourous, this unconventional road movie has garnered a wealth of critical acclaim. While Payne has seen Oscar gold in the Adapted Screenplay category for his two previous films, the offbeat nature of Nebraska means it isn’t a likely contender for Best Picture. Veteran actor Bruce Dern, who plays a slightly senile old man determined to claim his dodgy sweepstakes win, has earned the first Best Actor nomination of his career, which would make for a heartwarming win.
PHILOMENA dir. Stephen Frears
Co-written by and starring the dry-witted Steve Coogan alongside Judi Dench who plays the eponymous sweet old Irish lady, this odd-couple comedy-drama has the pair travelling far and wide in search of Philomena’s lost son. The sadder parts of this movie are more effectively crafted than the comedy, although there are some chuckle-worthy moments among the less clever gags. Nominated for four awards, including Best Actress for Dench and Best Adapted Screenplay, Philomena is the least recognised film in this year’s Best Picture pool.
12 YEARS A SLAVE dir. Steve McQueen
McQueen’s first film to earn any Oscar nomination, this film is a powerful combination of high tension and heart-wrenching emotion. The Antebellum-set drama following a free man’s kidnapping into slavery has earned particular appraisal for its cast, scoring nominations in three of the four acting categories. Up for a total of nine awards including Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay, 12 Years a Slave is the well-deserved favourite for the Best Picture gong.
THE WOLF OF WALL STREET dir. Martin Scorsese
Based on the real-life escapades of crooked broker Jordan Belfort, this biopic is Scorsese at his best, sliding into the director’s canon without coming off as unoriginal. With his fourth Oscar nomination, Leonardo DiCaprio will most likely be overshadowed by more outstanding performances in the Best Actor category. Scorsese is a more likely victor, but all in all, The Wolf of Wall Street probably won’t be earning much Academy recognition.
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