At the center of the fast-paced racing film Rush is one of the most bromantic rivalries you'll see on the silver screen this year. Ron Howard directs the film about 1970s Formula 1 rivals James Hunt (a slimmed down Chris Hemsworth delivering as the cool, lady-killing idol) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl playing his character with a strict reserve fueled by a repressed aggression). Both men were major stars of their time, and their distinct approaches brewed a competitiveness that proves exhilarating to watch on the big screen, not only during many a thrilling race but also during some chest-to-chest and mind-to-mind confrontations.
The actors approach their roles with an honest investment, revealing a nice chemistry between these apparent opposites who actually come to learn they need one another as badly as they want to beat each other. Both men have their flaws, and Howard is able to balance sympathy for the characters at different moments in the film's unfolding drama to make it difficult to decide who we want to cheer for.
Despite this keen approach to characterization, Howard remains a heavy-handed storyteller. During the violent aftermath of one crash, a racer is carried away on a stretcher with a leg wound. He throws in a lingering shot of a close-up of the wound. You know, just so you might get a peek at what bone he broke in the crash. Howard also establishes Hunt as someone with a vomiting issue; the character throws up at least four times over the course of the movie. Okay, we get it.
But that tendency to overemphasize detail also makes the racing scenes intensely visceral. From the cars whooshing past the screen to the insides of engines, Howard presents it all. Sometimes these scenes only last seconds as montage sequences, collating the most powerful sounds and images in an abstract but impressionistic manner that transcends narrative. Howard should be commended at how much of this story he can pack into montage. The racing scenes become well-balanced against the drama. Neither personal character development nor racing ever overtakes the narrative to the point that the film feels dull either way.
The heavy-handedness, however, also appears in the sometimes obnoxious, often overwrought score by Hans Zimmer. But that same zealous controlling hand benefits the film’s authentic recreation of the era via production design, makeup, and costumes. During the sweeping aerial views of the race tracks, the production team even seems to get the color pattern of tents and people during the era. The privileged women who surrounded these men (including Olivia Wilde and Natalie Dormer) offer little more than set-dressing, as the film is all about these two men. The one who truly ties all these production elements together, however, is the movie's cinematographer, Anthony Dod Mantle, who previously won an Oscar for his work on Slumdog Millionaire. It is his work that captures the light that virtually transports you to the '70s, whether it shines through the trees or the frizzy, layered hair of the actors.
In the end, it all serves to enhance the relationship between Hunt and Lauda. Howard works it all to heightened effect. Sometimes he oversteps the obvious to inspire some eye rolls, but Howard still proves he knows how to make a thrilling film without forgetting its heart.
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Backstage, Best Actress winner Kate Winslet (The Reader) gushed, "It's just dawning on me now that I've won an Oscar. It's just starting to sink in. Oh my God...And as someone who's been nominated before, I can tell you winning is really a lot better than losing. Really a lot better."
When a gossip columnist insisted Winslet give an answer for who she would pass the nude-scene torch to, she took some time and then replied with a glint in her eye, "Susan Sarandon."
Following are select remarks from other Sunday night winners:
Best Actor Sean Penn (Milk):
Remarking on the protesters outside the Kodak Theater, Penn said, "I'd tell 'em to turn in their hate card and find their better self...It's very sad in a way, because it's a demonstration of such cowardice, emotional cowardice, to be so afraid of extending the same rights to your fellow man as you would want for yourself."
Penn also extended his tribute to fellow nominee Mickey Rourke as "someone I've alternatively looked up to and advised," adding that Rourke "quite literally had me almost throughout 'The Wrestler' weeping."
"I've known Mickey for over 25 years. He's an excellent bridge burner at times, but we've had for the most part a very close friendship. Comebacks are funny, and we talk about it with him, but everyone in this room has to make a comeback every day. Life is tough. What I think is sensational about (Mickey) is that he's simply one of the great poetic talents in acting."
Bset Director Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire):
"You see Heath Ledger's work acknowledged in The Dark Knight, and it is extraordinary work. But like virtually everybody, Heath started small, he started in small films. Everybody does, and we've got to protect them. The first film I made cost a million pounds, and that's where you learn your craft. And you don't know what you're doing - and I'm a big fan of keeping it that way."
Slumdog producer Christian Colson:
"Even the studios will take note that we made this for 7 million pounds. It's gonna cross $100 million in the US Tuesday or Wednesday. That's good business for them."
Supporting Actor Heath Ledger's family (The Dark Knight):
Ledger's father said the statuette will go to the actor's daughter with Michelle Williams, Matilda, when she turns 18. "Michelle will make the decisions here, when it's appropriate to celebrate this kind of thing, when she'll be at an age when she can celebrate it."
Ledger's mother remarked, "Just to look at Matilda, she's totally like her daddy. She has the same mannerisms. I really feel he's in her."
Original Screenplay winner Dustin Lance Black (Milk):
Winning for Black was "sort of an out-of-body thing...I don't believe it yet. Maybe when I see my mom in a few minutes."
Choking up, he said he didn't have his speech planned in full. "My whole thing was just to pay it forward. Harvey (Milk) gave me his story and it saved my life. My whole thing was to tell those kids out there that they'll be alright."
Supporting Actress Penelope Cruz (Vicky Cristina Barcelona):
Acknowledging that before her recent success, she had to weather a lot of criticism, particularly of her Spanish-accented English, Cruz said, "You have to keep climbing mountains, and sometimes there are things that it's better not to listen to. In this room, how many accents are there here? We are all mixed together, more and more everyday, and that has to be represented in cinema. I'm happy that finally, that door seems to be more open."
Best Adapted Screenplay winner Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire):
"I learned to stop being English about things like love. If you make a film in England about love, it's hugely complicated. It's all about saying what the weather is like, and you're secretly telling someone you love them. You know what the English are like; they're very repressed people. You don't get that in India. India is incredibly un-cynical about love. It's a not a complicated thing. It's me, you, love. Let's go."
Kunio Kato who won for animated short commented on his favorite moment of the evening through an interpreter, "Meeting Mr. Jack Black was the most exciting thing. I always wanted to be as funny as he is."
Departures director Yojiro Takita admitted, he expected to hear Waltz with Bashir read out as foreign-language film winner. "I didn't believe it. It was unbelievable."
James Marsh who won the documentary feature prize for Man on Wire escorted the film's subject Philippe Petit backstage with them. The wire-walker said he's not done taking chances. "It's in my veins, I have to keep walking. I'm going to walk in NYC in the fall, to a library, I won't tell you which one. It's a walk for literacy to inspire kids to read."
Cinematography winner Anthony Dod Mantle (Slumdog Millionaire), said he brought some of the skills he'd learned in his documentary work to Slumdog.
"You have to see what's going on in a short space of time and grab it. Maybe my background from documentary is more relevant."My main brief was to learn how to run with the boys, run with them at a certain height and certain pace. And that was no small thing in the slums of Mumbai."
Other tidbits from EW's Hollywood Insider coverage:
*Philip Seymour Hoffman explained his hat saying he's in a film with "crazy hair" and would "rather deal with hat jokes" than hair jokes.
*The kids from Slumdog Millionaire were regular autograph hounds asking Meryl Streep and Daniel Craig for their John Hancocks.
*Robert Pattinson remarked that the Oscars are "more organized. At Twilight premieres, you think you're going to die."
*Doubt writer/director John Patrick Shanley says he's working on an original script next with a one-word hint: "Magic."
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