james debate
james debate

Saturday 29 December 2012

debbies 2012
It is that most pivotal time of year again, the moment where the entire story of the twelve months gone by is laid bare and scrutinised. No film, song, restaurant or significant event is safe from the all-seeing eye of The Ephemeric and our esteemed panel of judges (i.e. me).

Initially conceived as a way to slag off people I don't like, these awards have since grown into a ceremony greater than the Grammies, Emmies and Latin Grammies combined.

So happy holidays you magnificent bastards, and without further ado here are the:

2012 Debbie Awards

Cinema & TV

1. The Debbie for TV Show of the Year 
Winner: Parks and Recreation 
Runner Up: Homeland

parks and recreation

Parks and Recreation comes from the creators of The Office (US Version of course). Filmed in a familiar mockumentary style and blessed with the same calibre of off-beat humour and larger-than-life characters, Parks and Recreation keeps getting better and better with each season. Now in its fifth season, it's the funniest show on TV and one on which no one should miss out. Don't let the five seasons of catching up put you off, it's worth it.

Homeland comes in second. Having taken the world by storm with its excellent debut season, the second has duly continued its fine form and ingrained itself upon the essential TV mindset of western audiences.

2. The Debbie for New TV Show of the Year 
Winner: The Newsroom

the newsroom aaron sorkin

A great cast including Jeff Daniels and Sam Waterstone, created by the near infallible Aaron Sorkin, and centred around a particularly poignant issue of our time; The Newsroom was a show with the potential for true greatness. While such a political show was always liable to divide audiences, there is no denying the entertainment value and quality of production. The Newsroom is a fine show, and here to stay.

3. The Debbie for Film of the Year 
Winner: Looper
Runner Up: Les Miserables


With the potential exception of Lincoln, which unfortunately The Ephemeric has yet to see, this year's competitive Oscar field just goes to show what a medicore year for film it is. So it is with little hesitation that we award this most prestigious of Debbies to Looper, the breakthrough hit from art-house director Rian Johnson, starring the considerable talents of Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Looper is that rare blend of intelligent science fiction that actually works, and for that reason it takes this year's Debbie for best film.

While certainly not the best film of the year, arguably the most enjoyable was the powerful, ambitious, and ultimately flawed Les Miserables. The long awaited musical adaption shines through its stellar cast, but muddies proceedings with uncertain directing and inconsistent pacing. Despite this, any fan of the musical is sure to be giddy throughout.

Music & Theatre

4. The Debbie for Best Theatrical Production of the Year 
Winner: Gatz 
Runner Up: The Master and Margarita

gatz noel coward theatre

By contrast, this was an excellent year for theatre in London. After much deliberation, and with great difficulty, The Ephemeric has chosen this year's winner of the coveted Debbie as Gatz. A common criticism of Great Gatsby adaptions is that the material loses much of what makes the novel so special without the full language of the book. This eight hour production solves that problem by presenting the entire novel in play form. Honestly the most fun we've had at the theatre in a long time.

The Barbican's production of off the wall Bulgakov novel Master and Margarita takes a very close runner up slot, and in any other year could have won the big prize. Fun, frenetic and unforgettable, this show is returning in January, so do yourselves a favour and snap up tickets if you can. You'll thank us later.

5. The Debbie for Worst Theatrical Production of the Year 
Winner: In the Republic of Happiness 

in the republic of happiness royal court

If there's any Debbie that has truly been earned this year, it's this one. In the Republic of Happiness has the dubious honour of being the first and only play that The Ephemeric has ever wanted to walk out of in twenty five years of ardent theatre-going. If you have tickets already burn them, you'll have more fun smoking them. This play is the absolute worst kind of pretentious, and by that I don't mean overly complex, I mean it's mind numbingly brainless, lowest common denominator crap, and yet its passed off as some kind of high art. Unremittingly tedious and unfunny, with occasional profanities and songs awkwardly thrown in, because apparently that makes things funny. I've never seen anything like it, but everyone with an aisle seat left the theatre before an hour was up. It's a good thing there was no intermission or else it would have been empty before the second act.

6. The Debbie for Album of the Year 
Winner: Home Again - Michael Kiwanuka
Runner Up: Gossamer - Passion Pit

home again michael kiwanuka

The album of the year is, ironically enough, an album that The Ephemeric in its limited wisdom neglected to include (by a whisker) in its preview of most highly anticipated albums for 2012.  Soulful and understated, Kiwanuka's brand of acoustic rock is as good a record as any that has been recorded for years. The Ephemeric has no hesitation in repeatedly admitting its mistake and naming Home Again the debut album from Michael Kiwanuka as the best album of the year.

The runner up prize goes to Gossamer by Passion Pit. A new Passion pit album is always a cause for celebration, and the follow up to their 2009 debut lives up to lofty expectations. A more elegant effort that nevertheless manages to capture the same highs and lows of pure mania, Gossamer is an experience in itself

7. The Debbie for Debut Album of the Year 
Winner: Home Again - Michael Kiwanuka

home again michael kiwanuka

It's the album of the year, it's a debut album. Naturally Michael Kiwanuka's album Home Again will also take the Debbie for the best debut album. Home Again is the first album to take both Debbies since Passion Pit's debut album Manners back in 2009.

8. The Debbie for Song of the Year 
Winner: It's Not My Fault I'm Happy - Passion Pit
Runner Up: Troubleman - Electric Guest

it's not my fault i'm happy gossamer passion pit

It was a difficult year for picking individual stand-out songs, but the eventual winner was Passion Pit doing what they do best. While mainly known for their infectious concoction of distilled "happy", their finest tracks have always been of the deep, anthemic variety. It's Not My Fault I'm Happy is truly an epic; touchingly lyriced, boldly melodic verses, and a grand, sweeping chorus.

For the second prize we've selected one of the more understated options. The eight minute long Troubleman forms the centrepiece of Danger Mouse's newest project Electric Guest. As smooth as a good scotch, and as playful as a bad one, it is wonderful.

Videogames & Technology

9. The Debbie for Greatest Technological Innovation of the Year 
Winner: Curiosity Mars Rover

mars curiosity rover

It's been a big year for scientific milestones, with various bosons and things traveling faster than the speed of light. But for sheer audacity, romanticism and "hell yeah we did that" factor The Ephemeric has to give this award to the Mars Curiosity Rover. From its unorthodox (read: insane) method of entry, to the pure fact that we fired a fully equipped laboratory the size of a hummer from here to another planet in one piece, to the wealth of data and photos its beaming back, Curiosity has reignited the public's love for exploration more than anything in recent decades.

10. The Debbie for Lamest Technological Innovation of the Year 
Winner: Apple Maps

apple maps

At some point, Apple decided that it was a good idea to dump YouTube and Google Maps from their default apps. A quick google search (ironic) will reveal many purported reasons for this move, but whatever the rationale the end result is that iPhones now ship with Apple's own replacement, Apple Maps. Needless to say Google weren't complaining when the resulting debacle sent users over to their android platform, and they still aren't complaining now that their re-released Google Maps and YouTube apps are top selling apps on the iTunes store. Generally not a good moment for Apple.

11. The Debbie for Videogame of the Year 
Winner: Mass Effect 3 
Runners up: Dishonored

mass effect 3

A controversial choice, but aside from the disastrous ending Mass Effect 3 was for the most part a great success. Mass Effect 3 takes the cinematic and narrative elements that made the first two games a success to a whole new level of excellent production, and adds on an addictive and rewarding multiplayer mode. Nearly perfect, shame about the ending.

Close behind is the surprise package of the year, Dishonored. A bold new IP in a visually striking world and some of the most finely honed stealth gameplay ever seen. A franchise is born.


12. The Debbie for Footballer of the Year 
Winner: Lionel Messi

leo messi

Lionel Messi, retains his trophy, frankly not in the same category as the rest of us mere mortals when it comes to footballing ability. For this reason I have decided that picking a runner up would bely the gulf in class between him and the rest. Also I didn't even bother changing this blurb or picture from last year's awards.  

13. The Debbie for Football Match of the Year 
Winner: Champions League Final 2012- Bayern Munich v Chelsea

chelsea champions of europe

Football is a game of skill, but no one denies the role that fortune has to play. Sometimes though something happens that's so completely improbable, so shocking in its defiance of logic and chance, that it's honestly hard to believe it actually happened. Chelsea's victory in the Champions League final was one of these moments. Unlikely equalisers, statistically impossible penalty saves, ironies upon ironies, and that's not even taking into consideration the incredible circumstances in the earlier rounds of the competition. Truly one of those surreal moments that transcends football fandom.


14. The Debbie for Party of the Year 
Winner: James' Birthday party at Strawberry Moons

birthday party strawberry moons

Biased? Perhaps. But once upon a time there was an epic birthday party, there was mingling of friends both old and new, and The Ephemeric himself looked dapper in his new waistcoat. Drinks were spilled.

15. The Debbie for Restaurant of the Year 
Winner: Viajante
Runner Up: Ledbury

viajante london

A year of tough decisions for this culinary Debbie, ultimately coming down to two Restaurants that can count themselves among the very best in the world. This year's prize goes to the newcomer Viajante, which opened this past year. Blind tastings, perfect pairings and unique combinations make each and every dish sublime. Calling it a true carnival of food does not even do justice to this unforgettable experience.

Close behind and in a similar vein comes the officially top rated restaurant in London, Ledbury. The food is as fine as it comes, and the service among the warmest in town. In every aspect, Ledbury is at least a match for Viajante, but loses out on two counts: invention and festive atmosphere.

16. The Debbie for Nightclub of the Year 
Winner: Cirque du Soir

cirque du soir london

London is celebrated for its club scene, and the standout from this year's crop is Mayfair's Cirque du Soir. Cirque lives up to its name by turning the standard dance club fare into a circus/carnival extravaganza. Costumed dancers, face painters, games, giant popcorn vending machines and all sorts of other craziness create one of the most unique night spots in London.

17. The Debbie for Mixologist of the Year 
Winner: Alessandro Palazzi

alessandro palazzi duke bar

The Duke's Bar owner Alessandro is famous across London for making Ian Fleming's drinks, and in particular his flair for unique martinis turn heads. Whether he's making his signature Fleming 89 or whipping up some original creation on the spot, there's no finer cocktail around.

Travel & Adventure

18. The Debbie for Destination of the Year
Winner: Venice, Italy

venice italy

This year's destination of choice is Venice, Italy. Forget Paris, Venice is the city of romance, with beauty that is absolutely unparalleled, and character that will win over the harshest skeptic. Venice is one of the most magical places on Earth, and if you've never been before do yourself a favour and set aside a week next summer.

19. The Debbie for Wine of the Year 
Winner: Tignanello 2001

tignanello 2001

Tignanello is certainly one of the more well known wine producers, and the most famous of the Antinori vineyards. In particular though one considers the 2001 vintage, known for being one of the great years for wine in the region. Elegant, silky and with a deep crimson colour, this wine is irresistable.

20. The Debbie for Champagne of the Year 
Winner: Champagne Mailly L'Air 

champagne mailly l'air

For the second year running The Ephemeric awards its best champagne Debbie to L'Air. Champagne Mailly's latest Grand Cru continues the "four elements" theme, this year bringing air to the table, and it might just be their best yet. This delicious 2005 vintage is rich, fruity and irresistibly smooth.

Well there you have it, another great year, and here's to the next one being even better!

Sunday 16 December 2012

Directed by Tom Hooper
Written by William Nicholson, Herbert Kretzmer
Produced by Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Debra Hayward, Cameron Mackintosh
Starring Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, Russell Crowe, Eddie Redmayne
Running time 160 minutes

les miserables 2012 hooper hathaway

Tom Hooper hasn't wasted any time following his breakout hit The King's Speech. Instead of retiring on his bed of money and accolades, the Oscar winning director has chosen to jump straight into his most ambitious project yet. While this is hardly the first time that celebrated Victor Hugo novel Les Misérables has been adapted for the big screen (most recently in a 1998 version starring Liam Neeson and Geoffrey Rush), never before has anyone tackled the stage musical itself.

Musicals are often difficult to adapt to film owing to the contrasting sensibilities of the different media. This is even more the case with Les Misérables' sprawling, epic narrative and its tendency towards melodrama. It's a tough ask for any director, let alone one whose career has largely been built around a single movie. Fortunately while the production of this film is far from flawless, there is still plenty for long time fans of Les Misérables and of musicals in general to celebrate.

Without wasting too much time on plot details with which most people are probably at least a little bit familiar, Les Misérables tells the redemptive story of ex-convict Jean Valjean set against the backdrop of French working class suffering circa early 19th Century.

As an adaption, this is pretty faithful to the source material. Only a few of the songs are curtailed or modified, and numerous details from the book have even been worked in that are ordinarily not featured in the musical. More interesting is the inclusion of an all new song, "Suddenly". On the surface it might appear a slightly cynical attempt to increase the volume of Oscar opportunities to include best original song, but it does serve a purpose of fleshing out a plot point from the book that is largely skimmed over in the regular musical production.

In a way this film is less an adaption of the musical or the book as much its own beast, taking elements from both and inventing entirely new material that takes advantage of the inherent qualities of cinema, adding elements to the production that would not be possible on stage or page. Where this film shines most of all is in the actors' performances. Two Oscar nominations for acting seems a certainty, and three or four entirely plausible.

Of greatest interest will be Anne Hathaway as the tragic Fantine. Pre-release opinion seemed to be largely divided on this casting, but anyone who is familiar with Hathaway's work will already know that she is an astounding singer. I am pleased to say that in this role she has also delivered by far her best acting performance, tender but powerful. Her rendition of "I Dreamed a Dream" is indeed an actor's dream come true; filmed in a single take focused almost entirely on her face, it allows Hathaway to really show off what she can do. Arguably the high point of the entire film.

Hugh Jackman will also rightly earn plaudits for his Jean Valjean. On the back of a wildly successful stint on Broadway but lacking in true "triple A" cinema kudos, Jackman was another uncertain but ultimately inspired casting decision. Valjean has been dramatised by fine actors like Liam Neeson and sung by legendary stage performers like Colm Wilkinson (who has a small cameo role as the Bishop of Digne), but Jackman's ability to combine the subtlety of dramatic performance with his considerable vocal skills make this a complete portrayal unlike any other.

The other lead is Russell Crowe as police inspector Javert, Valjean's nemesis. This was the casting decision that worried me most of all, and it must be said it is the weak spot of an otherwise stellar ensemble. Don't get me wrong, Crowe is a fantastic actor, and at his best moments he brings real gravitas to the role, particularly in his key confrontations with Valjean. That said the role does appear a little miscast, with Valjean supposed to be the more physically intimidating of the two, something which is clearly not the case here. There is also real issue with his singing. Russell Crowe can sing, and does so in fact in a band back in Australia. Unfortunately being a decent singer does not make you suited to singing in a musical and Crowe's voice often sounds bland, lacking the dramatic vocal qualities that one would get from a seasoned stage performer.

However, my personal highlights among the excellent performances belongs to Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter as the morally bereft Thénardiers. I've never seen these roles, particularly that of the innkeeper himself, played so humorously through ad-libbing and creative delivery with such great effect. This is an example of pitch perfect casting, with Baron Cohen seemingly born for this role.

Finally a shout out to fellow Etonian Eddie Redmayne who continues to go from strength to strength, and embraces what could be a massive moment for his career. It's a fact that the two romantic characters Marius and Cosette also typically happen to be the least interesting characters in the story, but here Redmayne injects some much needed spark into his portrayal of Marius and makes him all the more sympathetic for it.

Ultimately what holds the film back from greatness is the filmmaking itself. I enjoy Tom Hooper's movies, but none of them have made me sit back and marvel at his directing ability. Hooper has been fortunate to work on some extraordinary projects and handled them ably, but does anyone really think that without Colin Firth he would have won that best director Oscar? The trouble is that a project this ambitious needs more than just a capable director, it needs a world class one, and Tom Hooper has yet to reach that level. At its finer moments Les Misérables glows with memorable cinematography; in particular the visually stunning opening scene that starts the film off with a bang. Indeed many of Hooper's artistic decisions, such as the oft mooted "live singing"and certains specific camera shots like the I Dreamed a Dream and On My Own sequences, are brilliant.

Unfortunately for much of the film the camera usage detracts from the production as a whole. Hooper's obsession with relentless close-up camera shots goes far beyond the one or two set pieces where it actually works. It can be very disorienting and often takes the audience away from the setting. More than that it's monotonous. Each song has a different feeling and a different energy level; some are introspective lullabies, and others are grand, powerful anthems. Every song has a different level of scale, a different level of intimacy. So it makes no sense for every single one to be filmed in this close and personal style, there is too often a fundamental discord between what the viewer is seeing and what he is hearing. In addition there are pacing problems in certain scenes, a perfect example being the early scene with Valjean and the Bishop of digne. It's an absolutely pivotal scene in the story of Les Misérables, and yet it's brushed over at a ridiculous speed. It's one thing if you're like me and you know the scene off by heart, but newbies may be at a loss as to what exactly is happening.

Despite its flaws, Les Misérables is still a fine film that will rightly be talked about when awards season rolls around. The performances are great, the production values top notch and the end result is one of the most emotionally powerful films in years. At the same time with weak direction and some uneven pacing, one can't help but see this as a missed opportunity for something truly spectacular.

Great source material
Brilliant ensemble cast

Flawed direction
Questionable pacing

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