Book review: A Million Ways To Die In The West

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A Million Ways To Die In The West

Seth MacFarlane.

Published by Canongate.

Here’s a poser: Which is harder? Writing a funny book? Or writing a funny film or TV show?

I would have thought writing a funny book would be the easier of the two, but in my experience, this doesn’t seem to be the case. For while I’ve seen countless sitcoms and movies which have made me laugh, the number of books that have amused me to that extent remain very few.

If anyone can write a funny book it should be Seth MacFarlane. As the creator of the animated series Family Guy, he has arguably produced one of the funniest shows of the century so far. His film screenplay Ted (in which Mark Wahlberg is accompanied by a foul mouthed, sleazy teddy bear which came to life during his childhood), was a hit too. Even his lesser successes (the animated show American Dad which he co-created and his supposedly poorly received Oscar ceremony hosting gig in 2013) have been good.

This is MacFarlane’s first novel and is based on the screenplay for the forthcoming film in which he also stars which he co-wrote with Alec Sulkin. Set in the Wild West of the 1880s, it centres on Albert Stark, a sheep farmer who (rather like Wahlberg’s character in Ted) has girlfriend trouble. In this case, the problem is that the supposed love of his life Louise has deserted him in favour of the local moustache merchant. Albert soon finds himself becoming sucked into a typically western experience, namely a life of duels, shoot outs and out of body experiences with a tribe of Native Americans.

Is it funny? Well, it’s certainly mildly amusing. I suspect the dialogue isn’t totally authentic to the 1880s setting (”when I sit down and go to the bathroom, it feels like there’s a madman trying to punch his way out of my asshole”) but there’s some touching scenes between Albert’s sweet natured friend Edward and his fiancée Millie, a terrifically promiscuous prostitute who nevertheless feels it would be sinful to consummate her relationship with Edward before their big day. There’s also a song about moustaches.

It’s fine. And I expect the film will be the best comedy western since Blazing Saddles. Perhaps better. But maybe you should wait to see at the cinema? Because, for some reason, I expect it will end up being much funnier on the screen than it is on the page.

Oscar predictions 2014

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Here are my predictions for twelve of the main categories at next month’s US Academy Awards.

Please note: These are not my favourite films (I have not seen most of them) nor are the ones I think most deserve to win necessarily. I am just making an educated guess at what will win.

Please note as well, that my track record on this is poor. Last year only a third of my predictions were correct! 

Best picture:

Oscar loves worthy films like this…

12 Years a Slave *

American Hustle

Captain Phillips

Dallas Buyers Club

Gravity

Her

Nebraska

Philomena

The Wolf of Wall Street

Best director

Assuming I got the Best Film right, this is a reasonably safe bet. The Best Picture’s director also wins 90% of the time (although this didn’t happen for Argo director Ben Affleck last year).

Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity

Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave *

Alexander Payne, Nebraska

David O Russell, American Hustle

Martin Scorsese, The Wolf of Wall Street


Best actor

Could conceivably also be Bale or McConaughey.

Christian Bale, American Hustle

Bruce Dern, Nebraska

Leonardo DiCaprio, The Wolf of Wall Street

Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave *

Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club


Best actress

A consolation prize for Hustle? Might go to Bullock otherwise. Cate Blanchett was the favourite until the Woody Allen controversy. I’ve no idea why Naomie Harris didn’t get an Oscar for Long Walk To Freedom. She richly deserved one.

Amy Adams, American Hustle *

Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine

Sandra Bullock, Gravity

Judi Dench, Philomena

Meryl Streep, August: Osage County


Best supporting actor

A brilliant performance. Fassbender deserves to win.

Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips

Bradley Cooper, American Hustle

Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave *

Jonah Hill, The Wolf of Wall Street

Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club


Best supporting actress

I’ve no idea really!

Sally Hawkins, Blue Jasmine

Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle

Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave

Julia Roberts, August: Osage County

June Squibb, Nebraska *


Best animated feature

The Croods

Despicable Me 2

Ernest and Celestine

Frozen *

The Wind Rises

Best adapted screenplay

Taking a risk here as the best film usually gets a screenplay Oscar two out of three times. But that isn’t the same as every time is it?

Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke – Before Midnight

Billy Ray – Captain Phillips

Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope – Philomena

John Ridley – 12 Years a Slave

Terence Winter – The Wolf of Wall Street *

Best original screenplay
It won’t be Woody Allen anyway…

Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell – American Hustle

Woody Allen – Blue Jasmine

Craig Borten & Melisa Wallack – Dallas Buyers Club

Spike Jonze – Her

Bob Nelson – Nebraska *

Best foreign language film.

The Great Beauty (Italy)

The Hunt (Denmark)

The Broken Circle Breakdown (Belgium) *

The Missing Picture (Cambodia)

Omar (Palestine)

Best original song

Let It Go – Frozen *

Ordinary Love -: Long Walk to Freedom

Alone Yet Not Alone – Alone Yet Not Alone

Happy – Despicable Me 2

The Moon Song – Her

Best documentary

No idea! Although this is one of the few categories I got right last year.

The Act of Killing*

Cutie and the Boxer

Dirty Wars

The Square

20 Feet from Stardom

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Could Gravity be the first science fiction film to win the Best Picture Oscar?

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Today sees the announcement of this year’s Oscar nominations. But with all the questions raised by this year’s unusually strong field of contenders (12 Years A Slave, American Hustle, The Wolf of Wall Street and Philomena amongst them), one question remains more tantalising than any other: could  Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity becomes the first science fiction film to secure the coveted Best Picture Oscar?

It would certainly be a first. For while sci-fi films have been the recipient of countless technical and science fiction awards, the genre despite (or perhaps because of) the big box office it has generated, has generally been viewed with lofty disdain by the Academy of Motion Picture, Arts and Sciences throughout its eighty five year history.

Even the advent of higher quality sci-fi at the end of the Sixties changed little. Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and Planet of the Apes (both 1968) went unrecognised in the Best Picture category. The latter was even based on a novel by Pierre Boulle, the French author who had previously penned the source material for the multi-Oscar winning Bridge on the River Kwai. But it was all to no avail. Kubrick’s Clockwork Orange was nominated in 1971, although its science fiction content was generally overshadowed by controversy over its violence.

Then, in 1977, a new hope. Star Wars was nominated for Best Picture. True, it was beaten for the main prize by Woody Allen’s Annie Hall (a fairly unusual case of a comedy winning. This has only happened three times since). But with sci-fi entering a new period of high quality in the next decade (Ridley Scott’s Alien and Blade Runner and James Cameron’s Aliens and Terminators), did this mean the genre would finally receive its due?

Alas, no. the Eighties was also a period in which the Academy went out of its way to award worthy films (Amadeus,  Out of Africa, Driving Miss Daisy) rather than those that were necessarily entertaining. Sigourney Weaver got a nomination for Aliens. But nothing from the genre has won since.

What has changed? Well, for one thing, 2004 saw the final part of the Lord of the Rings saga, The Return of the King carry off the Best Picture statuette. No, that is not a science fiction film and yes, Daniel Radcliffe is right to complain none of the Harry Potter films were ever nominated in the big categories for anything. But it feels like a start.

Then, in 2010, James Cameron’s blue creatured 3D space epic Avatar came tantalisingly close to Best Picture glory, only for gritty (and, frankly, overrated) Iraq drama The Hurt Locker to seize the crown.

Also, we seem to be enjoying another era of high quality sci-fi courtesy of The Huger Games films, Ender’s Game and Elysium.

And finally, Gravity has received a wealth of critical acclaim rarely bestowed on a film of the science fiction genre. Even Alien and Blade Runner never received such praise at the time of their release.

Whether Gravity ends up carrying off the greatest prize at the awards ceremony in March, or not, it has certainly struck a blow for this critically unsung genre. We shall have to wait and see.