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Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Irrational Market: The problem with valuing the Neymar transfer

Irrational Market: The problem with valuing the Neymar transfer

Note: I am aware that the transfer fee of £200 million was set by Barcelona as a release clause and so was not determined on the market at the time by PSG. I am also aware that the value of the release clause was set in a large part as a fee thought too high to really pay and to prohibit a move before the end of Neymar’s contract and not solely as Barcelona’s idea of the worth of Neymar. However, this article will assume largely that the estimation of £200 million as the value of Neymar’s release clause was chosen as a value of worth and not with a prohibitive element.

At the time of writing, Brazilian footballer Neymar is the most expensive footballer in the world following his transfer from FC Barcelona to Paris Saint Germain for €222 million (£200 million). This fee breaks the previous record of €105 million (£89.2 million) paid for Paul Pogba by Manchester United in 2016 and as this new record is more than double the old, it seems unlikely this record will be broken during this transfer season. However, this massive increase does raise quite a lot of questions. Is it likely that in one year the market for players has inflated by more than 100%? Surely not. Pogba and Neymar are quite different players, after all. But if the market has not increased massively, then how do we determine how much a player is worth?

Do we expect Neymar to then be worth his £200 million at any point as based on his potential?

There has been a deluge of articles denouncing Neymar for his supposed greed and a trickle of those stating he is better off moving to a team where he will be a star. I am not particularly interested in Neymar’s motivations. He may have moved because he prefers the wine of Paris to the sangria of Barcelona; he may have moved because he prefers Notre Dame to Sagrada Familia. Also, I do not believe that his transfer is bad for football because the transfer market does not directly affect the good and bad of football to a great extent. Not at least without subsequent activity on the pitch. However, the value of Neymar’s transfer is of interest because it does raise questions on what factors drove the price to £200 million.

The market for football players is not rational. Players are not bought solely for what they are worth at the moment but a massive amount is paid for potential. Neymar is undoubtedly one of the best players in the world but it is extremely likely that, at 25, there is still potential for even further growth. Of course, there is no such thing as a guarantee in investments. Footballers may not live up to potential, as a cursory look at the timeline of most expensive players will show. However, there are a few common factors in what may cause a player to be valued at a very high price and barring a few outliers it is rare that an expensive footballer will not be able to fall into a small bracket of age and playing position.
Age is one of the primary factors in estimating the worth of a footballer. Age is intrinsically linked to potential as footballers do not normally have a long career and their years at the top of the game are extremely short as well. Few footballers play past the age of 35 and it is a very small group who continue to play at a high level for an entire season at this age (Zlatan Ibrahimovic is the exception and not the norm), hence making it illogical to splurge a large fee on a player at this age. In fact, the most expensive footballer sold after 30 remains Gabriel Batistuta who was sold to Roma for £25million in 2001. At the same time, Zinedine Zidane was sold to Real Madrid for £47 million which would remain the record transfer fee until 2009 when Christiano Ronaldo moved to Real Madrid for £80 million. Both Ronaldo and Zidane were major stars but Ronaldo was 24 at the time and Zidane, 29. They were both considered among the top 3 players in the world at the time and had won the FIFA World player of the Year in the previous year. Zidane’s advanced age can be explained by the fact that he was a late bloomer and also that he had an unparalleled track record of success, starring in France’s 1998 World Cup and 2000 Euro wins. Despite this impressive track record of success, Zidane’s move was still greeted with scepticism due to his age and was seen in the context of Real Madrid needing to assemble a squad of superstars to go with their brand. His tenure at Madrid was extremely successful, as he scored a memorable volley which won his team the Champions League final but it shows the extent to which age can be a marker of potential value.

Neymar and Ronaldo have moved for record fees at similar ages but the Neymar fee far exceeds the one for Ronaldo despite Ronaldo moving at a younger age. This discrepancy cannot be explained solely by inflation nor by variation in success. Both Ronaldo at 24 and Neymar currently have won similar amounts of league and cup trophies in Europe. Neymar has two La Liga titles with Barcelona and Ronaldo had won three Premier League titles with Manchester United. They both had won the Champions league once prior to moving. Neymar has also won the Paulista championship three times with Santos as well as the Copa Libertadores. It may be possible to make a claim that Neymar’s accomplishments in Brazil suggest a higher level of accomplishment but it is unlikely this has factored in to PSG’s thinking. In fact, prior to appearing at Barcelona the question of Neymar’s adaptability to European football was frequently raised due to his style of play being sometimes more individualistic than team inclusive. This question was firmly answered by his success at Barcelona, a team known for passing and team play.

The reason why Neymar can be valued so much more than Cristiano Ronaldo is because the limit for Neymar’s potential is viewed as higher. In 2009, Ronaldo was one of the best players in the world but was not really expected to develop further. Instead he was seen as at peak level and it was a question of remaining at this level. Of course, Ronaldo has since modified his style and gone to further heights with spectacular goal returns every season. But this was not expected at the time of the transfer and so was not acknowledged in the price. Ronaldo was bought to continue at a high level. He had already been the key player at a major European club and this was to be his role at Madrid also (despite the buying of Kaka and Benzema at the same time, it was fairly clear that Ronaldo was the star acquisition).

The price for Ronaldo, was then, the price for continuity and not of potential. Then, we can assume that the price of one of the top forwards in the world was £80million in 2009. Taking an inflation rate of 14.2% and assuming we could find an exact equivalent, then that sale now (in 2017) would be £92 million.

Coincidentally, the inflation rate to 2016 at 11.9% brings the price to £89.2 million which is exactly the price paid for Paul Pogba. While these are clearly not the same type of player and Pogba’s price is assumed to capture the value of his potential (United did not pay this price for Pogba to continue at the same level he had performed at for Juventus, especially since Pogba will have more of a main role at United), the market cannot really have been said to gone too far off track at least up to last year at first glance. It is hard to find a similar player to price as equivalent to Pogba as few centre midfielders have been sold at record prices. The nearest equivalent is Juan Sebastian Veron, sold to Manchester United in 2001 for £28.1 million which would have meant with an inflation rate of 35.6%, then Veron in 2016 would have cost £36.1 million. Though both moved from Serie A in Italy to United, Veron did not have as much success there as Pogba and was three years older.

What the slightly off-topic paragraph above would have shown, is that there are any number of exceptions and extras that come into calculating the price of a footballer. So, then, can we estimate the value of potential? We can try.

The closest estimate we can make of what potential would cost in isolation, if such a thing were possible, would be to find a footballer who has not yet begun to play. This is impossible. Unless the footballer is very young, there will be someone who has seen him play at youth levels. Hence, the closest we can get is if a footballer has been bought before making his senior debut. Since FIFA restricts buying of minors, we will have to find a player who moves at age 18 or 16 if moving within the European Union. The closest we can find is the fact that Real Madrid have bought Vinicius Junior from Flamengo for £39.6 million. Junior was 16 at the time of the sale in 2017 (he will not move until 2019 when he is 18). This price was agreed on before Junior had played a single minute of first team football. A forward, he has scored no senior goals at this time, after 12 appearances. This transfer will have been valued on the basis of his youth club and national youth appearances. Let us assume this £39.6 is cost of pure potential for a forward.

Another estimate we can make for potential is what would be the price of the player minus the expected price by inflation. Can we find a player similar enough to Neymar that we can consider him to be an exact fit, adjust the price from when he was sold to now for inflation and work out the gap? I would like to propose Cristiano Ronaldo in 2009 and Gareth Bale’s move to Real in 2013 can help to estimate. As said earlier, Ronaldo’s £80million move in 2009 would be expected to cost £92 million now. His move would have been expected to cost £86 million in 2009. Bale moved for  £85.3 million when he was 24. Hence in 2017 this move would have been expected to cost £90 million at an inflation rate of 3.2%.
In summary:

Price (actual)
Price adjusted for inflation in 2017


Now, things become less clear again. If we assume £39.6 million is the cost of pure potential, then there is still about £70million left unaccounted for in the Neymar transfer. Of course, this £39.6 million is for a player who has no track record of success but the track record of success will have been captured in the actual price as adjusted for inflation. Out of the £70 million, we must assume that a significant proportion of this is for the potential of Neymar as based on his success and the expected future level.

 Do we expect Neymar to then be worth his £200 million transfer as based on his potential? Let us again oversimplify the point. If Neymar is worth £200 million, even taking into account potential then do we expect him to develop into a player whose value is more than double that of any previous player? For this price, this is a simplistic idea, but is it reasonable to assume Neymar will develop into twice the player Cristiano Ronaldo was in 2009? This is far too simplistic as in 1997 Ronaldo of Brazil moved to Inter Milan for a then record fee of £19.2 million which would have been equivalent to £29 million in 2009 at an inflation of 33%. The market changed drastically over those 22 years and since inflation cannot explain the massive jump to give us Neymar’s transfer value, the market has clearly changed again.
We can then assume that perhaps the £70 million is the price of the development of Neymar being seen as a fairly sure investment (as sure as can really be in football, at least) and the extent of his development.

In another aside, it has been suggested that the massive transfer of Neymar may have had a partial non-football reason. Both PSG and Barcelona are associated with Qatar with Qatar Sports Investments being outright owners of PSG and contracted in a strategic partnership with Barcelona. There is little speculation of collusion as Barcelona were not particularly keen to sell Neymar and have no dependency on QSI to the extent that they must act against their wishes. But Qatar being associated is relevant, due to the diplomatic crisis that Qatar faces in being cut off from other Gulf States diplomatically due to accusations of aiding terrorism amongst other things. Hence, against this background, Qatar is attempting to signal they have financial power and are relevant despite attempts to sanction them. The transfer and part of the £70 million may have a component of signalling in it.  

As fun as this article was to write, the £200 million was not signalled only by the market but was the release clause for Neymar as determined by Barcelona. It was widely seen as prohibitive as it was assumed no one would pay it. The market is irrational to the point where a prohibitive clause becomes reality. In this case, the fact that Qatar wanted to signal they could make the trade no matter what may have been the biggest factor. 

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Pricing Football Transfers: The market is flawed

Pricing Football Transfers: The market is flawed

Football transfers have been increasing the maximum asking price possible for a footballer since the beginning of the professional era in the early part of the last century. It is not expected that transfer prices would decrease since due to inflation the price of few things have decreased from the last century to now. However, football players exist in a market that has become increasingly flush with money due to revenues from television and the cost of a football player now is far in excess of what would be expected under inflation.

Football transfer fees are difficult to estimate in terms of being a good deal because there is little that is sure. Football and form is fragile and a good player in the past is not guaranteed to be so in the future. Furthermore, young players frequently fall short of expectations. A football transfer has to capture the current worth of the player, the worth of the potential of the player (which is closely linked to age since players tend to hit peak performance in their 20s) and the demand and supply for the type of player.

The current worth of the player should be guided by inflation and the worth of the potential is subject to analysis by experts in scouting. It is the third point, the demand and supply, where it seems that the market is not behaving logically. While we cannot expect that footballers will be sold for lower prices than in the past or even lower prices than expected due to inflation regularly, it should be expected that some players move at exactly the price in the past occasionally.

It may not be immediately obvious why this is so. This is because a footballer is not an exact commodity. A striker is not the same as a goalkeeper and will not be priced as such. Furthermore, at times there have been few good forwards and at times (such as now) few good defenders. Hence, it would be expected that now, defenders cost a lot but with the quality attacking players available, some should be less expensive than they were in the early 2000s when good attacking players were not as frequently found (though perhaps the amount of good defenders at the time affected the goalscoring records).

A comparison should help with showing the difficulty in finding logical price points. While midfielders play in a variety of positions and so pricing can vary, strikers generally can only be one type if bought for a large sum. Clubs only break the bank for a guaranteed goal scorer when buying a striker (as useful as poachers, target men and second strikers are, they don’t really get sold often and in fact are finding opportunities increasingly limited in the modern game). Hernan Crespo moved to Lazio in 2001 for £25 million at the age of 26; Andriy Schevchenko moved to Chelsea in 2006 for £30.8 million; Gonzalo Higuain moved to Juventus in 2016 for £75.3 million. Both Higuain and Schevchenko were 29 at the time of their move and all the players moved from Serie A with Schevchenko being the only player to go abroad. All the players had years of success in Serie A and Schevchenko had recently won the Ballon D’or and top scored the Champions League and Serie A. Higuain had also top scored in Serie A with 36 goals, equalling a record standing since 1930.
In 2016, at an inflation rate of 35.6%, Crespo should have cost £33.9 and Schevchenko should have cost £36.67 at an inflation rate of 19.1%. Crespo’s move, had it happened in 2006 would have been expected to cost £28.47 at an inflation rate of 13.9%.

In summary:

Price sold(actual £)
Expected Price (2016, inflation)
Amount over expected

Hernan Crespo
Andriy Schevchenko
Gonzalo Higuain

The value unaccounted for exceeds the expected price for both Schevchenko and Crespo. Now, it is easy to say that Higuain is not the same player as the others and so not an exact fit. This can be agreed upon. However, Higuain is older than Crespo and hence has less potential and has less pedigree than Schevchenko. The sale of Higuain for a price of £75.3 was greeted with derision by many fans due to his age and also for the perception that Higuain does not perform well in important games. The second part of that statement is debatable but in assuming Higuain to be inferior in terms of like for like quality, perhaps it makes the estimate more viable. (Fans of the Premier League can state (with hindsight) that moving from Serie A to England is no guarantee of goals and they would be right. But no transfer is guaranteed to score and it seems unlikely that Darren Bent or Robbie Keane who scored comparable goals in England during the 2005-2006 season would have been better to spend £30.8 million).

This comparison shows clearly that transfers are not in line with inflation, with all other factors being held constant. It also seems that the market has moved even for adjacent goods. Strikers are judged by goals and rarely by potential. A goal machine tends to have an eye for goal at a young age and even if the goal quantity is low, goals per match or per minutes played will be high. There is no logical reason for strikers to be overvalued unless they are scarce and with record goal tallies all over European leagues, this is not the case. But midfielders and forwards (not pure strikers) are valued on potential and this potential has pulled prices upwards.

It is not easy to gauge pure potential. There is no market for potential, after all. It is not a distinct entity that can be bought and supplied. The best approximation at the moment is the fact that Real Madrid have bought Vinicius Junior from Flamengo for £39.6 million. Junior was 16 at the time of the sale in 2017 (he will not move until 2019) and had not played a single minute of first team football. He had, however, scored many goals at Under-17 level for Brazil, with 7 goals during Brazil’s win at the South American Under-17 championship. This is not a guarantee of quality. Since 1997, only Edwin Cardona and Milovan Mirosevic, for Colombia and Chile have top scored this tournament and then gone on to play for the senior team.

Assuming the value of potential to be £39.6 million, it explains the difference between the prices expected for strikers and the actual. These strikers would not have been bought for their potential but to continue to score at the same levels. But, the price of potential seems to be embedded in the market, even when it isn’t really relevant. After all, if many sales are for midfielders and forwards who must have the price of potential in their price except in rare cases, then this price is now a common part of market price.

Rationally, the price of strikers should be lower than those of forwards and midfielders. But it is not. Either strikers are being bought at prices that include potential, when there is no need for this. Or strikers in the past were severely undervalued, which seems impossible since lower goal scoring tallies and more defenders of quality being present actually made it harder to find good strikers and hence they were at a premium.

If we assume £39.6 million is a fair price for potential, then midfielders and forwards are largely being sold for a fair price taking into account inflation plus potential. Defenders command a high price due to scarcity, much as strikers did around the turn of the century. But strikers should not be extremely expensive and should have seen price deflation. The fact that all the prices are going up irrationally seems to indicate that the transfer market is in a bubble.

Reasons for the bubble are unclear. It is likely that during the off-season transfers are the most common way for clubs to stay in the news and transfer speculation keeps clubs relevant during social media during the off season. There is surely more to it than this, as during World Cup years transfer speculation remains rife though this is perhaps understandable since for many this is a chance to showcase value. The fact is, on their own, transfers are important due to their ability to capture headlines and signal to fans that their club is preparing for the next season. It also shows ambition. In that sense, the transfer serves not only as a boost for the team but also as an extravagant way to show the manager is serious.

It is becoming increasingly difficult for clubs to buy for a small fee, even if it was possible. Arsene Wenger has spoken about the fact that he would be ridiculed if he bought a player for less than £1million and tried to insert him in the first team. This is logical. It is not that a player cannot be good enough to play at the top level for such a price. The market is not rational and it is possible players are undervalued as well as overvalued. But if we assume potential to be worth £39.6million and the fans, who may not be aware of the figure, see a player bought for a small figure they will still assume there is not any value in this purchase. At the extremes of the market, it takes a lot of belief that the market is totally irrational or that the manager can really beat the market to not assume that a player who was sold for £1million is worth buying.

This is reducing the chance of discovering new unknown players by bigger clubs, though it should not affect the chance of younger players. But for players who are not in bigger leagues, the chance of moving may be ever decreasing. This is not a problem by itself as there are many good players in major leagues to choose from. But it is irrational to close sectors of the market and focus on overpriced places only.

The fact that prices by position do not fluctuate but increase means that the market is not behaving logically. Television revenues may have played its part in funnelling money into the transfer market (though with declining viewership, the bubble might pop eventually) but it is unlikely that these revenues alone will keep things going. The market may continue to increase forever. There is no reason for it not to. Markets may remain illogical for a long time. However, a logical outcome of an illogical market is a concentration of wealth. If only rich clubs can afford players, they can hoard the best players and make it harder or impossible for others to challenge. We may see superteams be the norm in the future. Is this a good thing? This is also subjective. But a debate about super-teams or underdogs is another thing altogether.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Black Butterfly: A Review

Black Butterfly, a remake of the 2008 French film, seems to draw heavily on other films about writers in thriller and horror situations. Most obvious are the comparisons to Misery and The Shining, down to the shared names of the lead characters in those films and in this one. Overall the movie has much to recommend it, in theory, but little to distinguish it. The basic concept is fairly similar to Misery, in that a once-popular writer is held hostage (though not by a fan in this case).

The hostage taker this time is the drifter, Jack (played by Johnathan Rhys Meyers) who saves the writer Paul (played by Antonio Banderas) from being beaten up in a diner. He is later picked up on the side of the road by Paul. After reading Paul’s latest work, Jack and Paul come to an “agreement” where Jack helps Paul out of his writer’s block. The film attempts to make points about storytelling and the craftwork for creating believable works. Unfortunately, most of the dialogue about storytelling seems to be little more than “write from experience” with Jack threatening Paul with a knife to make his writing more realistic.

Write from experience might have been a good idea for the screenwriters to stick to since the film itself suffers from attempting to take the viewers on an unnecessarily complex series of twists. The film also suffers from moments where credibility is stretched. The entire sequence of motion is set into play by Jack saving Paul from a fight with a truck driver. This fight was entirely set up by chance and it seems unlikely the final scenes, with all the implications, would have been set into motion by luck.

 Furthermore, in the sense of menace around the small town, with reports of murders throws the aura of fear around so much that it seems unlikely anyone would pick up a stranger. Jack, as played by Rhys Meyers, is unnerving enough from the outset that the fact that someone would pick him up and offer to house him, even for a day, stretches belief. With him then in the house, why he lets him stay and doesn’t pick up on the warning signs of clearly sinister intentions seems even less believable.

 With that being said, both the performances of Banderas and Rhys Meyers are what drive the film which at times seems to be a double protagonist play in the style of Harold Pinter. Their engaging performances, more than the writing (which is rare for a thriller) are what capture the attention and retain it.

The problem with the final scene is that it stretches credibility and insults the intelligence of the viewer. Without this small scene, the film still has occasional issues but is mostly engaging and definitely entertaining. The twist before the final twist is not exactly great but it sits well enough. It is the final twist that pushes the boundaries of belief one step too far. With this kind of film, there is little new material to work with and it is no surprise that writers try too hard to make things seem fresh. They did not succeed in this time.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Sleepless: A review

Sleepless: A Review


Sleepless is by no means an original film. This is not entirely a problem when watching an action movie since entertainment value supersedes originality, but with a vast number of action films being produced, having an original storyline would add points to a film of this genre. A remake of the French film Sleepless Night , this adds to the feeling that the viewer has seen it all before. The ability to know what is happening before it happens is not ideal when the movie needs to really capture the audience’s attention by building tension.

However, this is not a bad film. While it does possess a number of clichés and the entire crooked cop storyline can feel a bit rewarmed, this is a solidly entertaining film. The problem is that for fans of action films, they’ll have seen better done versions of every set piece. The chase scenes have all been done before as have the gunfights in parking garages and fistfights in kitchens. Not every film can show us a unique action sequence like John Woo but if we have to see things we’ve seen before, it’s reasonable to expect the standard to match. But, the issue with the film lies really in execution of the familiar.

The storyline doesn’t help either. There are many attempted twists to the story but they never really land. From the opening introduction of Jennifer Bryant who is completely sure that something is rotten at the police force followed by the immediate confirmation that government issued ammunition was used at a crime scene to the torture scene that happens in the middle of a baseball park for little reason other than to show the criminals they’re dealing with are bad guys, there’s a lot that seems contrived.

Plot holes are an issue as well. The fact that the Novak, the crime boss who wants the cocaine, meets with the crooked cop who happens to have picked up the cocaine and works for him but doesn’t mention the fact that he’s done so then leading Novak to continue to search for it is one of the main issues. Having every single person in Las Vegas have a gun in their glove compartment, while convenient for the film, isn’t particularly believable either. Having Vincent run through the entire film while bleeding profusely from a stab wound also brings to mind the question of if he should have bled out by now.

 By stating the film is not a bad film, I mean that someone who is unfamiliar with action films and tropes will miss the clichés.  Action film fans will have nothing special to speak about after the film is done and even those who are not fans will have trouble remembering this film in the future. Its decent entertainment but isn’t at the forefront of the genre. The issue is not all lack of execution but it seems a lack of ambition. The film is content to be a standard film of the form but has a talented enough cast and decent source material to be better than it was.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Marvel Netflix Series: The Villains

Marvel Netflix Series: The Villains

Filled with spoilers below

Over the past few months I’ve watched Luke Cage, Jessica Jones and Daredevil in that order, so I’ve watched them all out of order. While this means I wasn’t really able to appreciate the interlocked nature of the series and really spot cross-series links when they showed up (a lot of the time) it did allow me to take each of the series from a stand-alone point (as much as that is possible when Marvel movies and television series have been around since forever and I’ve been reading comics pretty much my whole life).

The series are all more distinct than they are similar but one of the uniting threads is the quality of the villains they face. In Luke Cage this means Cottonmouth (played by Mahershala Ali, who seems ever present and excellent these days) and Mariah to a lesser extent although the character of Diamondback doesn’t match up to those two and seems like a late and not as well thought out entry (for every season of these shows, I’ve thought at one point or another that 13 episodes might be too much since the narrative strains somewhere between halfway and episode 10). Mariah, especially, is interesting in her descent from corrupt politician who wants the best for her neighbourhood most of all to a more dark and sinister character. Unfortunately her rise coincides with the killing off of Cottonmouth (by her) which deprives us of one of the smoother but still ruthless villains. Cottonmouth is noteworthy especially for his willingness to be a villain. Unlike Mariah or Fisk in Daredevil he isn't interested in the city and making it better. He wants things better for himself.

 In Jessica Jones, Kilgrave remains one of the most entertaining super powered villains in recent memory because of the depth in which they try to psychoanalyze him. Sure, mind control is pretty scary but Kilgrave is a supremely evil character whose warped sense of the world may be due to the fact that he has no idea how to exist in a world where he’s never had to hear no. It doesn’t make him any less evil (choosing to do unethical things is a choice, despite the reasoning) but it does make him much more relatable. After all, ethics are pretty subjective and he’s never had parents who told him (or could tell him) what was right or wrong.  

Wilson Fisk is undoubtedly the best character of Daredevil’s first season. The second season of the series is quite good as well but without a strong central villain, it lacks the focus of the narrative. The return of Stick and Yoshioka plus the introduction of antiheroes like The Punisher and Elektra are welcome additions (especially The Punisher) but the episodes in season two featuring Fisk (rapidly on his way to owning the Kingpin moniker) are the best in the season. His manipulation of Frank Castle which sends him on the way to the incarnation of the Punisher is magnificent.
Fisk rules the screen in season one because of the originality of his character. We’ve seen Kingpin for years in Daredevil comics as well as in Spiderman so getting originality into this character is a decent achievement. Having the character with a redone backstory involving killing his father (also, is the entire cast of The Wire hired by Marvel for this series?) immediately adds credibility to Fisk’s way of seeming like a man who is childish in his actions. While violent and manipulative in a very adult way, Fisk’s mannerisms and voice seem like he’s always on the verge of either crying or screaming. Fisk’s love for Vanessa and his desire to do everything to please her also has a childlike romanticism to it.

Without strong antagonists, series are not set up to succeed. In the past it was enough to have villains who were caricatures which would be made up for by the heroes commanding the screen. But as heroes have become more troubled and complex, the need for complex villains has arisen as well (it was well overdue). Hopefully the trend of quality villains continues into future seasons and series as well. 

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Oscar Predictions-Film Awards (i)-2017

  • Best Picture
Most likely winner : La La Land. A heavy favourite and much has been written about the race between La La Land and Moonlight for the best Picture prize as representative of the two types of movies that pick up Oscars. La La Land is a backward looking film in the sense that it draws heavily on the history of film and is influenced by the past. It is a good film and despite having a bit of a backlash recently on its treatment of jazz and its female protagonist, it is a spectacle in every sense of the word.

Backup Pick : Moonlight. The best odds on this right now are 9/2 which is enough for second favourite but not really close (La La Land is at 1/9). While La La Land is backward looking and a film about the movies and making movies, Moonlight is a far more unique film. It isn't an original story or even an uncommon one; but it is a rarely portrayed one. Films in African-American communities that have a heavy drug component are common but too often cliche. Coming of age films in African American communities with any gay references are rare. This is a film that transcends stereotypes.

Most deserving : Arrival. A total longshot at 100/1 and definitely underrated. I think it's the best movie of the year and Denis Villeneuve is one of the best directors working today. It's not expected to make a good film out of the intricacies of communication methods but it's been done here. The film is a slow-burn thriller from start to finish and while many other films are good in the list, there's not others as original and entertaining as this.

  • Best Adapted Screenplay
Most likely winner : Barry Jenkins & Tarell Alvin McCraney for Moonlight. This is a film that tells a story that is familiar. Drug problems in African American communities, problematic and distant parent figures; these are not new themes and can become dull quite quickly. It is the strength of the script that these familiar themes are never boring or cliched but always portrayed to give the viewer the ability to make their own decisions on what is being shown. It is difficult to show and not impart a skewed view. This takes trust of the viewer and this script trusts the viewer.

Backup Pick : Luke Davies for Lion. Second favourite at 8/1 but this one I don't agree with. The film starts strongly and after the frantic opening half it's inevitable that the second part would lag, but I think it drags too much. The closing scenes also seem a bit rushed and perhaps slightly overdone in the attempt to get the viewer to really feel the emotions. Solid enough but the strength of the film is in the acting and not the screenplay.

Most deserving :Eric Heisserer for Arrival. The novella is highly scientific with a lot devoted to mathematical methods and Fermant's least time principle. It is a great read but it doesn't set up well for a film because it's very much a stop-and-think kind of book. Hence it's a great achievement not just to adapt the novella but to catch the essence of the novella into the screenplay keeping the nuances of mathematical logic on the storyline but also making a movie that is essentially about linguistics a compelling one.

  • Best Original Screenplay
Most likely winner : Damien Chazelle for La La Land. A front runner but I think the strength of the film lies in the acting (mostly by Emma Stone) and the music (composed by Justin Hurwitz, lyrics by Pasek and Paul). This means that the script's storyline, with its flaws about the saving of jazz (though there is a discussion about jazz evolving, so it's not as ignored as many articles make it out to be) and the female lead having a mostly passive role (when she was clearly the best person in the film) fall on Chazelle. The film is strong and the script is not a bad one, but it has more flaws in it than others nominated (such as The Lobster, Hell or High Water and Manchester by the Sea).

Backup Pick : Kenneth Lonergan for Manchester by the Sea. The strength of the film is in the acting and the strong emotional performances shown by the actors. But an actor can only flesh out a performance so far without a quality script. Everything in this script set the actors up with what they needed for a captivating performance. In this sense it is the type of screenplay that becomes a foundation for the film rather than the driver, and it is a strong foundation indeed.

Most deserving: Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthimis Filippou for The Lobster. As far as original goes this is one of the most original screenplays of all time. A wholly bizarre black comedy that seems more like a Theatre of Absurd play than a 21st centre movie. Mostly straight-faced satire on the silly obsessions modern society has with modern relationships of the "you complete me" kind. The best movie about relationships in a long time is a dystopian one where single people get turned into animals if single too long. This is as original as it gets.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Oscar Predictions -2017-Acting Awards

Oscar Predictions -2017-Acting Awards

  • Best Actor

Most Likely Winner: Casey Affleck as Lee Chandler in Manchester by the Sea. This award is not as much of a lock as it once seemed to be. Affleck's allegations of sexual harassment are getting more play in the media which could hurt his chances. And also, no award is sure when Denzel Washington is in the race. This takes nothing away from Affleck's performance in the film which is nothing short of exemplary. He's managed to portray a wide range of emotions in this very emotional film and hits all the right notes. Moving between immature to world-weary as the film moves, it manages to be one of the strongest portrayals of a emotionally suffering character in recent memory.

 Backup Pick:  Denzel Washington as Troy Maxson in Fences. Denzel's win in the SAG awards is what has been widely credited as turning this Oscar into a two horse race (which it definitely wasn't last year after The Revenant). Unlike recent years where the actors go through harsh conditions or drastic physical changes to get the award, here it's only the power of the acting itself that drives. This is a flashy and powerful part, which definitely shows its origins in the theatre. Troy Maxson is the most important person in his life and every single scene is about him, no matter how many other characters are in the room. It's that strong of a performance.

Most Deserving (My Pick):  Denzel Washington as Troy Maxson in Fences. Paradoxically I want Denzel to win because Fences was not an excellent film. Manchester by the Sea and Hacksaw Ridge are still good films which are buoyed by good acting. La La Land is good despite Ryan Gosling not because of him. Even Viggo Mortensen doesn't drive Captain Fantastic as much as Denzel (and Viola Davis) do to Fences. Without the acting this isn't even watchable. 

  • Best Actress
Most Likely Winner: Emma Stone as Mia Dolan in La La Land. La La Land might sweep the Oscars and if so owes a large debt to Emma Stone who is magnificent in it. To say it was a natural fit is overused but totally accurate as Stone does everything in this musical like if she's been preparing for this part all along. Despite being given very limited space to work with by the writers, Stone lights up every scene and her performance was reason enough to see the movie. 

Backup Pick: Natalie Portman as Jackie Kennedy in Jackie. The academy loves Natalie Portman (though not as much as they love Meryl Streep who got a clear courtesy nomination) and they definitely love films about real historic characters. This sets up Portman as a strong second in the race. Just because it's the kind of film the Oscars like doesn't make it undeserving however. Portman hits all the notes to show the rawness of grief following her husband's death. It's fair to say that her performance was expected to be good by her past record but the quality on display makes it possible to put this as her best performance yet.

Most Deserving (My Pick) : Isabelle Huppert as Michele Leblanc in Elle. Huppert has been one of my favourite actresses since I saw The Piano Teacher. I can't remember seeing her in a bad film and this is no exception. I'm not one to overuse the word empowering (or care to use it in discussion of film merit) but there's no getting around it this time. Huppert's performance turns a cliche film trope of rape into a complex portrayal of a response (perhaps not everyone may see the film as empowering). It's one of the most original takes on a rape-revenge film just for the lightness of portrayal in what is usually a heavy handed genre. Without Huppert's self-assured performance  it could have easily fallen flat.

  • Best Supporting Actor
Most Likely Winner: Mahershala Ali as Juan in Moonlight. One of the best movies of the year (I'd really say only Arrival or The Salesman are better) is made better by Ali's performance. The entire movie shrugs off stereotypes about the black experience in America, shown in this portrayal by Ali as sympathetic drug dealer, Juan. It's not exactly uncommon to have drug dealers shown to be complex humans but usually it's within the context of the crime trade (where they're shown to be honorable or motivated by past tragedy). Juan becomes a role model and a makeshift father, putting the criminal aspect of his character firmly in the background (though not dispensing with it entirely, giving more opportunity for Ali to display his ability to convey guilt and emotion).

Backup Pick: Dev Patel as Saroo Brierley in Lion. The win at the BAFTA has put Patel as second favourite, going ahead of Bridges. I have to say I didn't care for this film a lot and it's really only watchable because the acting is very good (much like Fences). The film is filled with cliches and the storyline seems to do its best to be emotionally manipulative. It is not the film you'd expect good acting because it seems to call for overdone. This is where Patel shows his quality. Everything seems to suggest making the role over the top, so his nuanced and measured approach into showing the character becoming more consumed by his obsession with discovering his own past makes the character really come alive.

Most Deserving (My Pick) : Jeff Bridges as Marcus Hamilton in Hell or High Water. I really like Westerns and crime films and although Jeff Bridges has been playing the same gruff and grizzled characters of rural America for what seems like at least a decade, I'm never tired of them. His Texas Ranger is great, spending most of the film figuring out criminal behaviors while piling good-natured insults at his religious, Native American-Mexican partner. Definitely the most entertaining character in the film and in the climatic scenes, the most determined as well. I want him to win but not so much that I'll be annoyed if Ali picks up the award.

  • Best Supporting Actress

Most Likely Winner: Viola Davis as Rose Maxon in Fences. There's a bit of boring controversy by the fussy about whether this role was actually one which fell under Best Actress criteria instead of Best Supporting (basically the opposite of when Kate Winslet won Best Actress for The Reader  even though most felt it was a supporting role). I'd say it definitely is supporting even though she's the main actress just because of how much Denzel dominates the film. But her supporting role is one which really grounds the film and she plays a perfect foil to the main character, being the voice of reason at times but regularly going up against her husband. At 1/50 to win, this one is almost a sure thing.

Backup Pick: Michelle Williams as Randi in Manchester by the Sea. Probably very unlikely to win which is unfortunate as she's very good in this film. However she's a bit underused and on the bench a lot, even when she's on the screen since the focus is very much on her ex-husband in the film. In that case she can be said to be a supporting character but the her portrayal is solid enough that you want to see more of her and hear her story as well. It is another good role for Williams who is quite good at delivering emotional performances but it seems unlikely to be enough for the Oscar.

Most Deserving (My Pick) :Viola Davis as Rose Maxon in Fences. By the end of the film it's her character who can be said to have made the most changes and moved her state from exceptional weariness to be able to show and express the strength she has inside. It's a great portrayal of immense endurance and just like with Denzel's performance, the movie wouldn't be able to stand without the strength of the acting. Also, I think Viola Davis is one of the best actresses currently working and criminally underrated.