Tag Archives: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

The Times Like Those Alternative Oscars!

Every year, the same movies snatch up a big portion  of the Oscar nominations. Then, we hear about these movies for months as we lead up to Oscar night. And while this year has been a pretty exciting race (I’d say the winners for both lead acting categories are up in the air), and there were a few surprise nominees that snuck in at the last moment (what’s up, Demian Birchir?), it  can get a little bit repetitive to hear about the same movies over and over again, even if you enjoyed them.

In hopes of offering a change of pace, I’ve compiled my own “Oscar”  list of sorts. For my categories, I ignored all of the existing Oscar nominees and focussed on films and performances that didn’t receive as much awards attention this year. I also omitted people like Shailene Woodley, who did not receive an Oscar nomination but still got lots of attention from critics, bloggers, and awards groups leading up to the nominations.

Also, keep in mind that there are still lots of films from this year that I need to see. Shame, Take Shelter, Melancholia, and Martha Marcy May Marlene are just a few on that list.

Enjoy, and feel free to post your own “alternative Oscars” in the comments.

Best Picture


The Ides of March

Meek’s Cutoff

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Win Win

It may be a small, unassuming film, but Meek’s Cutoff stuck with me in a big way this year. The film is unconventional in almost every way (the pacing, the mumbled dialogue, the refusal to punch up the story with high drama), and it’s a true achievement in cinema.

Best Director

Tomas Alfredson, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

George Clooney, The Ides of March

Carey Fukanaga, Jane Eyre

Nicholas Winding Refn, Drive

Kelly Reichardt, Meek’s Cutoff

Again, I have to give this one to Meek’s Cutoff. While Nicholas Winding Refn offered a masterclass in cool and Tomas Alfredson built insane tension around old guys sitting around talking in a room, Kelly Reichardt created something truly unique. I didn’t care for her last project, Wendy and Lucy, but her deliberate pace and sparse, terse tone worked wonders in Meek’s.

Best Actor

Dominic Cooper, The Devil’s Double

Ryan Gosling, Drive

Tom Hardy, Warrior

Ewan McGregor, Beginners

Owen Wilson, Midnight in Paris

Cooper masters not one but two challenging roles in this messy film. He’s chilling and downright crazy as Sadam Hussein’s son, Uday, and also deeply sympathetic as Latif, the man hired as Uday’s double. It’s a towering pair of performances, and Cooper finally realizes the potential he showed in small roles in films such as Starter for 10 and An Education.

Best Actress

Felicity Jones, Like Crazy

Keira Knightley, Last Night

Mia Wasikowska, Jane Eyre

Kristen Wiig, Bridesmaids

Robin Wright, The Conspirator

Wiig gives a downright brilliant comedic performance in Bridesmaids, and sometimes that is enough for me. She throws herself into every gag headfirst, and she comes out in the end with a highly charming, perfectly executed performance. McCarthy is also great, but for me, Wiig is the reason to watch Bridesmaids.

Best Supporting Actor

Michael Fassbender, Jane Eyre

Colin Ford, We Bought a Zoo

Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Ides of March

Simon Pegg, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol

Mark Strong, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

I thought Fassbender was a tad overrated in X-Men (sorry), but he reminded me why I loved him so much in Fish Tank with a similarly physical and subtly threatening performance in the gorgeous Jane Eyre. He oozes charisma here, and makes for a completely magnetic screen presence. Kudos to Mark Strong, too, for fantastic scene-stealing work in Tinker Tailor, and for converting me into a Mark Strong fan.

Best Supporting Actress

Jessica Chastain, The Tree of Life

Anna Kendrick, 50/50

Carey Mulligan, Drive

Amy Ryan, Win Win

Michelle Williams, Meek’s Cutoff

It was the year of Chastain, and my favourite performance of hers (though I haven’t seen them all) was as the ethereal wife in The Tree of Life. It’s a beautiful, moving performance, and she slips seamlessly into the languid tone of the film.


Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (2011)

I have a confession. I’m someone who tends to struggle to follow even moderately complicated movie plots. I have a bad habit of zoning out at the exact moments when I should be paying attention. You probably know which moments I’m talking about. It’s the ones where one character spends five minutes carefully laying out detailed plot exposition to another character, and to the audience. This is usually done in really unrealistic, heavy-handed ways that grind the movie to a halt. And while I’m definitely to blame for this shortcoming (I really should just listen more closely), I also like to pass the buck to the filmmakers. Maybe if they set out their exposition in more interesting, subtle ways, I would be compelled to pay attention, no?

This is where I give Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy a lot of credit. This is a complicated film. I imagine that even people more perceptive than I will struggle to follow every intricacy of the plot. However, it lays out its spiderweb of a narrative in compelling, unique ways. By switching between time periods, countries, and about a dozen different characters, things could easily get muddled. And while I wasn’t always 100% following every detail, director Tomas Alfredson did a great job of keeping things coherent and interesting.

At its core, Tinker Tailor is a who-done-it film. Gary Oldman plays George Smiley, a retired British Intelligence agent who must help his old crew figure out who among their group is actually a Soviet mole. That’s literally it. Of course, there is much more to the story than that, but I’ll let you sort out the finer details on your own.

The story is complex, and it gives you a lot to think about while watching. But the film can also be enjoyed on many different levels. Most notably (to me), it’s just gorgeous to look at. Alfredson’s visual style is right up my alley, full of damp tones, and sparse cinematography. Some of his shots of the London streets are absolutely breathtaking. His style seems very well-suited to the Cold War era, and he evokes such atmosphere. The tension and paranoia is almost palpable through the camera, and that is arguably the film’s strongest suit.

Of course, you also have to talk about the performances. Gary Oldman is magnificent, as always. George Smiley is such a repressed character, and Oldman nails it. Smiley plays his cards close to his chest, yet Oldman brilliantly gives away tiny hints in his expressions and body language to let the audience in on his emotions. These hairline cracks in the facade are far more telling than any over-the-top “freak out” scene that most movie character inevitably experience. I give Oldman huge kudos for having the steely, commanding screen presence to pull of what could have been a completely bland character.

The most surprising performance for me was from Mark Strong, though. It seems like Strong has made a career out of playing villains in blockbusters like Kick-Ass and Sherlock Holmes. I’ve seen him in at least half a dozen films, and while he’s always fine, he’s never made much of an impression on me. But he is brilliant in this movie. From the first 10 seconds of his performance, I knew that this was a different Mark Strong. He plays a British intelligence agent sent on a mission to Hungary, and he shows such a range of emotions and a great amount of soulfulness. This could easily have been a throwaway character, but Strong inhabits every inch of this role. I wouldn’t have thought that Strong would suit this type of movie, but he actually gives my favourite performance in the film, and one of my favourite Supporting Actor performances of the year.

Tom Hardy is also very charismatic as Ricki Tarr, a British agent accused of betrayal. It’s nice to see his character get a personal story arc, since much of the rest of the film is centered around the characters’ professional endeavours.

That’s actually one issue that I had with the film. It would have been nice to bring a little more warmth to the story and some of the characters. Of course, this film is all about the mystery, rather than the character study, but a little back story would help it feel less dry.

However, that’s not to say that it’s a boring movie. Quite the opposite, even if the pace is a bit slow. Alfredson is an expert at building tension, and the screenplay is taught enough to prevent Tinker Tailor from dragging. This movie would be worth seeing for the performances alone, so the fact that it’s also a beautifully shot, well-constructed thriller is just a bonus.


Winter Movie Preview: December

December 2

Limited Release:

  • Ralph Fiennes steps behind the camera for the first time with the modern-day Shakespeare adaptation Coriolanus. In the film, Fiennes also takes the leading role as a ruthless Roman general, joining a cast that includes Gerard Butler, Vanessa Redgrave, and Jessica Chastain. It’s worth nothing that this is Butler’s second Serious Film of the year, and while this movie and Machine Gun Preacher both look pretty dry to me, they also seem to be his most complex roles, like…ever.
  • One of the winter’s most unexpectedly anticipated films (in film buff circles, anyways) is Shame. The film stars Michael Fassbender as a sex-addicted man whose younger sister (Carey Mulligan) comes to stay with him. It’s Fassbender’s second collaboration with director Steve McQueen (their previous film, 2008’s Hunger, was a critical favourite that helped to put Fassbender on the map) and he’s already earned glowing reviews from the festival circuit for his performance. The film’s intense subject garnered an NC-17 rating, but if anything, that only seems to be building interest in the film. Oscar buzz has remained steady for Fassbender, but only time will tell if this racy film can pick up any traction with notoriously stuffy Oscar voters.
  • One film that flew under the radar this year, despite playing several film festivals, is the seemingly strange and subversive art film Sleeping Beauty. The film stars Emily Browning (Sucker Punch) as a young woman drawn into some kind of surreal world of prostitution. Reviews have been iffy so far, but if you like slow-burning, arty dramas, then this may be one to check out.

December 9

Wide Release:

  • If you’ve ever wanted to see Robert DeNiro and Lea Michele in the same movie, then be sure to check out New Year’s Eve! Director Gary Marshall is rehashing the concept of last year’s Valentine’s Day (a film that is only barely worth watching for the Julia Roberts/Bradley Cooper segments) for another seasonal multi-storyline rom-com.
  • Remember when David Gordon Green made films like All the Real Girls and Snow Angels? Well, those days are apparently gone, because now we’re getting Green’s third consecutive R-rated comedy with The Sitter. Jonah Hill stars in what appears to be a gender-swapped remake of Adventures in Babysitting, and the trailer promises all kind of hilarious hi-jinks. Plus side: Sam Rockwell!
  • Boasting one of the strongest casts of the year, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy finally hits theatres in North America this December. Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, Benedict Cumberbatch, Mark Strong, and John Hurt all star in this Cold War thriller based on the 1974 John Le Carre novel. The trailer paints it as a taught, thoughtful, and stylish thriller, and movies don’t get much better than that.

Limited Release:

  • I Melt With You initially sounded like a typical, earnest indie film about four friends (in this case, Rob Lowe, Jeremy Piven, Christian McKay, and Thomas Jane) who reunite during middle age, but after watching the trailer, it looks kind of crazy. Much darker (and much more drug-addled) than I expected. It got very mixed reviews at Sundance, but I am definitely intrigued about this one now.
  • There was a period of about two months when people online were excited about the Madonna-directed W.E. Then it played at TIFF to notably poor reviews, and all buzz died immediately. However, Abbie Cornish is a great actress (if you haven’t seen Bright Star, please remedy that) and Andrea Riseborough has shown promise (Made in Dagenham, Never Let Me Go, Brighton Rock), so I’m still mildly interested in this one.
  • We Need to Talk About Kevin hit big at the festivals earlier this year, and Tilda Swinton earned raves as a mother raising a rather…difficult…son. This movie looks gruelling and often downright hard to watch, but it’s also bound to feature some great acting from Swinton. Up-and-comer Ezra Miller also looks suitably creepy as the disturbed Kevin.
  • Jason Reitman has a pretty great track record for such a short career (Thank You For Smoking, Juno, Up in the Air), and looks like he’s hit again with Young Adult. The film stars Charlize Theron as a self-obsessed woman who returns to her hometown to win back an old flame (Patrick Wilson), and the trailer makes it look like typical Reitman fare – funny, honest, and surprisingly warm. (Expands Dec. 16)

December 16

Wide Release:

  • If you enjoed the first two CGI Alvin and the Chipmunks movies, you should probably check out Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked.
  • Tom Cruise may be getting old, but that doesn’t stop him from still kicking ass. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol looks like potentially fun popcorn fare, and it also happens to be the first live-action film from director Brad Bird (The Incredibles, Ratatouille). I also like the supporting cast quite a bit, which includes Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Paula Patton, and Lost‘s Josh Holloway.
  • Continuing with the week of sequels, we’ve got the unnecessary Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. Repartee between Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law is fun (and I really did think that Law was great in the first film), but do we need another two hours of it? The trailer makes it look pretty identical to the first one, and it wasn’t even that great of a film the first time.

Limited Release:

  • Roman Polanski may be a controversial guy, but he knows how to make some pretty great actors agree to work with him. In Carnage,
    Kate Winslet, Jodie Foster, John C. Reilly, and Christoph Waltz play two set of parents attempting to have a civil discussion about a schoolyard incident involving their children, and tempers inevitably flare. The movie is based on a play, and judging by the trailer, that’s not hard to believe. Its appeal will be limited, but Carnage looks like an impressive acting showcase.
  • Luc Besson’s The Lady (Dec. 12) didn’t receive great reviews at the festivals, but it avoided the spring dumping ground fate and instead got a proper Oscar run release. It stars Michelle Yeoh and David Thewlis as lovers in a politically tumultuous time.

December 21

Wide Release:

  • You can expect to see a lot of literary adaptations, Steven Spielberg, and Daniel Craig this holiday week at the movies, and The Adventures of Tintin combines all three. This animated flick is of course based on the popular children’s comic book series, and if nothing else, it should be nice to look at. The fact that Edgar Wright is a screenwriter on the project also inspires some hope.
  • Expectations are high for David Fincher’s adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and if the trailers are any indication, audiences are in store for a taught, stylish, and gritty thriller. Daniel Craig seems like the perfect choice for the steely Michael Blomkvist, and Rooney Mara is certainly striking as hacker Lisbeth Salander. My most anticipated film for the rest of the year.

December 23

Wide Release:

  • Cameron Crowe’s last film, 2005’s Elizabethtown, was met with a very mixed response (I personally thought it was okay), and now he’s trying to redeem himself with the family-friendly We Bought a Zoo. Matt Damon stars as a man who ends up moving his family to a zoo, and while the film looks to on the sappy side, it also looks like a life-affirming, uplifting holiday movie. And that’s not a bad thing.

Limited Release:

  • If Angelina Jolie wasn’t the director, I feel In the Land of Blood and Honey would get a tiny release. But since it does have the power of Jolie backing it, the film is starting as a limited release, but hoping to gain a wide release in early 2012. The film, which focuses on the Bosnian war, is described as a love story, but I imagine it will still prove to be a challenging film for many viewers (it certainly won’t be your typical holiday movie…)

December 25

Wide Release:

  • Emile Hirsch has been strangely absent from cinemas for a couple years, so I’m happy to see him in anything (and Olivia Thirlby in a big movie). The Darkest Hour looks like it could potentially be interesting, though I can’t tell if they’re just bluffing with the “cerebral” element of how the aliens function. It’ll probably be a pretty standard alien invasion movie, but when done well, that can be effective (I still unabashedly defend Cloverfield).
  • I’ll admit it: I’m so not interested in War Horse. The trailers just look sooo schmaltzy (yes, even more than We Bought a Zoo). But I know a lot of people love horses, so maybe I’m just missing something. But nonetheless, War Horse is directed by Steven Spielberg, and it looks beautiful, in terms of cinematography. It’s based on acclaimed play, too, so the screenplay should be decent.

Limited Release:

  • Speaking of schmaltz, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close also opens on Christmas (it will go wide in January). You can’t argue with the cast, though, which includes Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, Max Von Sydow, Viola David, and Jeffrey Wright. I can’t decide if I like Stephen Daldry as a director or not (Billy Eliot, The Hours, and The Reader are all good, beautifully shot films, but they all feel a bit on the nose), but I think this one will be a crowd-pleaser.
  • Ah, another feel-good Christmas film! Pariah tells the harrowing story of an outcast African-American teenage lesbian who struggles for identity in Brooklyn. One to bring the whole family to! In all seriousness, though, Pariah is said to be a very important film, and it received strong reviews at TIFF.

December 30

Limited Release:

  • The Iron Lady. It’s Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher. If that sounds interesting to you, then you will probably like this film. If not, then you should probably wait for DVD (or just skip it entirely if you don’t care about the Oscars).

6 Things We Learned from the 2011 Venice Film Festival

  • Shame is probably not going to be a mainstream success, but it may get Fassbender his first Oscar nomination
    • One of the most buzzed-about films at Venice has to be Steve McQueen’s new film, Shame. It earned a flurry of attention first for its gritty subject matter, and the suggestions of an NC-17 rating that came along with it. But while some feared that this could scare off potential distributors, Fox Searchlight was quick to scoop the film up. But Oscars buzz really heated up when the film’s star, Michael Fassbender, won the Coppa Vulpi award (the Venice equivalent to “Best Actor”) for his performance in the film. Literally overnight, Fassbender became a legitimate Oscar contender in the eyes of many (he originally was thought by many to have a better chance at a Best Actor nomination with David Cronenberg’s new film, A Dangerous Method). I’m avoiding making any rash changes to my own predictions, but I certainly think that Fassbender is a much more viable contender, now.
  • The Ides of March may not be the Oscar juggernaut many once thought
    • While the film did receive mainly positive reviews, the critical buzz for Clooney’s latest flick was more muted than a lot of people had expected. As well, Ryan Gosling, who was previously considered a strong contender in the Best Actor race, received somewhat tepid reviews for his performance. I’m not counting it out yet, though.
  • Fish Tank was not a fluke
    • Director Andrea Arnold received raves for her direction of Fish Tank (which starred the omnipresent Michael Fassbender), and it looks like she’s crafted another moody gem with her adaptation of Wuthering Heights, which won the Osella award for Best Cinematography. Though the film did receive mixed reviews at Venice, those who liked it seemed to love it, and many critics championed it dark tone and visual style.
  • Watch out for Gary Oldman and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
    • Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy took the spotlight early on at Venice, and the response seemed to be quite positive. Gary Oldman, especially, earned raves, and it looks like it could be the crowd-please that The Ides of March might not turn out to be.
  • Critics didn’t love Albert Nobbs, but they did like Glenn Close and Janet McTeer
    • The period drama Albert Nobbs failed to garner much buzz at the festival, and reviews were quite mixed, but its two leads did receive praise. Close received predictably strong reviews, but the early lack of enthusiasm about the film could hurt her Oscar campaign. However, Janet McTeer can only benefit from the strong reviews for her performance. I still don’t think she’s a major contender, but she’s certainly not out of the race, either.
  • Carnage and A Dangerous Method didn’t excite
    • Though they received generally positive (but not glowing) reviews, Carnage and A Dangerous Method didn’t turn out to be the critical darlings that many had predicted. While films like Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and Shame are on the upswing after Venice, these two didn’t seem to gain or lose much from the critical response.

Almost all of these films are screening at TIFF, so we’ll certainly be hearing about them over the next few days. All of this can easily change, but I found it interesting to gauge what the buzz was like at the first huge festival of Oscar season.

And for more photos and news from Venice (as well as the latest Oscar news, as always) be sure to check out Times Like Those on Tumblr!