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100 Best of the 21st Century?

"Carol >>>>>>>>>> most of these movies" - Clarence

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Thursday
Jan292015

Yes, No, Maybe So: 'Spy'

Margaret here with an update on upcoming projects from Paul Feig, the bannerman for blockbuster female-driven comedy. He's following up the roaring success of Bridesmaids and The Heat with two more big-budget Melissa McCarthy projects due over the next couple summers. 

The buzzier of the projects is a female-led Ghostbusters reboot, whose main cast has just been announced. It's a wonderful lineup: Feig muse Melissa McCarthy, post-Bridesmaids movie star Kristen Wiig, the hilarious rubber-faced Saturday Night Live MVP Kate McKinnon, and comedy vet Leslie Jones, a recent addition to SNL as both a writer and a featured player. These choices, exciting on their own, are all the more gratifying when one considers all those rumors circa the Sony leak that they were looking at gamine young A-listers like Jennifer Lawrence and Emma Stone.

 While we bask in the casting news (and speculate wildly on the movie's plot), let's take a look at the Feig/McCarthy project coming to us mere months from now: the espionage thriller parody Spy...

Click to read more ...

Wednesday
Jan282015

Sundance: Redford and Nolte go on a breezy "Walk in the Woods"

Based on the best seller by Bill BrysonMichael C reporting from Sundance to review a film starring the Sundance Kid himself.

Ken Kwapis's A Walk in the Woods has the misfortune of following not one, but two movies about the restorative spiritual powers of hiking, Tracks and Wild. Taken on its own the story of two estranged buddies hiking the Appalachian trail despite everyone saying they are way too old would probably be taken as a bit too broad, a bit too slight. Following hot on the heels of those high quality titles it feels positively featherweight. A Walk in the Woods is a lark, just an opportunity to take a low stakes tromp through the wilderness in the company of two beloved actors, Redford and Nolte. Some of it is amusing, most of it is agreeable, and if it occasional touches on an undercurrent of loss and regret, it is only in a minor way.

Redford plays semi-retired travel writer Bill Bryson as he has reached the age where every conversation is about ailments and funerals. Despite being semi-retired it all becomes too much for him until he announces out of the blue his intention to hike the Appalachian Trail, a plan his wife takes as tantamount to a suicide attempt. She insists he not go alone, but every friend laughs off the idea of an epic senior citizen trek across the East Coast...

Click to read more ...

Wednesday
Jan282015

Best Supporting Actress: The Poll & My Ballot.

Think of our newscast as a screaming woman running down the street with her throat cut."

Rene Russo is so hardshell intoxicating in Nightcrawler. I understand the potshot I've heard a couple of times that she's cribbing from Faye Dunaway in Network (one of the all time best performances of any kind) but if you're going to steal, steal from the best. My favorite thing about her work is the way she both recoils from and recalibrates to Jake Gyllenhaal's Lou Bloom constantly. She's repulsed by him (witness that amazing date scene) but recognizes a soul mate... or rather, a mate in soullessness, and the financial worth of that. 

Anyway, I jumped ahead. While the world prepares to celebrate Patty, Emma, Meryl, Laura, and Keira on Oscar night, we take a brief time out to continue the Film Bitch Awards. Though I enjoyed all of those Oscar nominated performance only two made my own correlative list: the steamrolling Patricia Arquette and Keira Knightley. Knightley has really been pushing herself in the last few years and her commitment is showing in more relaxed, more interesting, and more successful performances. While The Imitation Game isn't her most challenging role, there's something to be said for perfection. She nails her every scene and very nearly saves the film from itself on a couple of occasions.

Keira, surprised to see her name again.It's always a difficult thing to extract five performances from the hundreds available in the supporting realm and say "these five. right here" but it must be done. My "was considering" list was about 24 women long but in the end I went with the aforementioned British beauty, two semi-forgotten actresses who vividly reminded us of their gifts, our most versatile new chameleon, and a singular icon who had a rather amazing multi-headed year of memorable new characters. 

Check out my ballot for why I voted this way. And make sure to vote on the Oscar poll in this category, too!

Wednesday
Jan282015

From Sils Maria to Timbuktu, France Celebrates the César Awards

Glenn here while Nathaniel is travelling back from the wonders of Sundance. I do so enjoy looking at national awards since they paint such a gloriously global view of the film world that most of the American award bodies simply do not even attempt. They're always a good way of finding out about films that may otherwise go unnoticed in the ever-expanding world of film festivals (increasingly the only way to see many of these films, anyway) and a great way of finding the next big thing to which you can tell your friends and colleagues, "I saw them first in that tiny foreign film."

This year's César Awards from France have announced their nominations and it's a handsome looking bunch, even if I've only seen a few of the actual nominees (again, blame those tricky new age distribution methods and diminishing foreign indie market). I was super happy to see Bertrand Bonello's Saint Laurent, France's unsuccessful 2014 Oscar submission, in the mix across the board since I flipped for it at NYFF last August. I certainly enjoyed it more than Nathaniel, and when it finally gets a release across the oceans I'll be more than pleased to beg people to go and see it. Curiously, it will compete against last year's second biopic of the famed fashion designer, Jalil Lespert's less well-received Yves Saint Laurent, in several acting and technical categories.

Elsewhere Abderrahmane Sissako's exceptional France-Mauritania copro Timbuktu adds a collection of César nods to its net of successes including that historic Oscar nomination. Another Oscar nominee, Marion Cotillard in Two Days, One Night, also snagged a nomination, which is hardly surprising, but the acclaimed Dardennes brothers' film missed out in every other category except foreign film, so I suspect there's some eligibility tango being played there. Is she eligible because she's French, but the film isn't because it's Belgian? If anybody can enlighten us that would be fabulous. Wim Wenders' The Salt of the Earth, his Oscar-nominated documentary about anthropological photographer Sebastião Salgado, also made the César list and we'll have a discussion on that film and the other doc nominees soon.

The last film I need to mention is one that American audiences will finally get the chance to see in April. Olivier Assayas' Clouds of Sils Maria - simply Sils Maria in France - which had a very successful day despite leaving last year's Cannes Film Festival with no prizes and some questionable buzz. I'm going to assume the César embrace of a French film performed predominantly in English is rare, but don't want to claim it as fact. What I do know is that it's excellent and I'm worried about some of the write-ups it will get when released in America. Nevertheless, the nomination for Kristen Stewart is particularly sweet given how easy it would be for a French organisation to push her to the side and focus on Juliette Binoche. She's the best thing in it after all. Who needs a sequel to Snow White and The Huntsman, am I right?

Following is the entire list of nominees. Which ones have you been lucky enough to see?

Click to read more ...

Wednesday
Jan282015

Sundance: Strangerland, an Incoherent Sexual Mirage

Nathaniel reporting from Park City

Weaving, Fiennes, and Kidman on the set of "Strangerland"There are a lot of things that are unclear in Strangerland, secrets covered as they are in beautifully dangerous sandstorms, the warped image shimmer brought on by desert heat, and the nightmare visions of Catherine Parker (Nicole Kidman) a bored sexless wife and mother who can't sleep well since her new home lacks air conditioning. Soon her lack of sleep and her indifferent husband Matthew (Joseph Fiennes) will be the least of her worries as her children vanish into the night in the unfamiliar desert town her family's just moved to due to ____  [insert withholding of family secrets here].

What's also unclear is the poetic narration that begins the film and repeats throughout it.

Touch me in the night. No one can see"

Is it the daughter's voice? And why does it keep repeating throughout the film? And what kind of sexual touch are we talking about? That's actually important given the specifics of this narrative. [More...]

Click to read more ...

Wednesday
Jan282015

Pretty Oscar Artwork & Ceremony News

Manuel here. One of my favorite thing about this year’s Oscar nominations was the beautiful artwork that adorned the screen as J.J. Abrams, Alfonso Cuarón, Chris Pine and Cheryl Boone Isaacs read out names like Marion Cotillard, Laura Dern and Dan Gilroy though sadly not Ava DuVernay’s nor David Oyelowo’s (might they have a better chance with their next collaboration, that Katrina murder mystery film?)

 As it turns out, the Academy is really upping its game when it comes to art you wish you could hang in your living room. Last year’s ceremony poster was quite the snooze-fest and I have to admit, other than that fantastic Olly Moss’s gorgeous poster from 2012, AMPAS’ artwork as of late has been rather dull. You have to go back to 2007 to find my other recent favorite poster (those quotes!). While the official poster for this year’s Neil Patrick Harris’ hosted affair has yet to be revealed, AMPAS’ "Imagine What's Possible" Artist Series is giving me hope they’ll wow us. You can see the full roster of posters here, but I’ve picked out my three favorites below.

Art by Hattie Stewart, Santtu Mustonen & Nick Chaffe respectively.

I wish we could say the same thing for the rest of their marketing efforts (am I the only one underwhelmed by those NPH Oscar ads?). Thankfully, they’ve recruited Oscar winners Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez to pen an original number for the triple-threat host, though he surely has mutant shoes to fill! This, added to recent news that Adam Levine will be performing "Lost Stars" (from Begin Again) and Common & John Legend will be performing "Glory" (from Selma) means we might have quite the musically-inclined ceremony.

Are you looking forward to NPH's crack at Oscar hosting? Do you also love these artistic portraits of that most famous golden statue? Might the "Let It Go" songwriters be aiming at an Emmy to add to their crowded awards shelf, you think?

Tuesday
Jan272015

Sundance Quickies: Dope, Last Days in the Desert, Nasty Baby

Nathaniel reporting from Sundance with three quick takes

DOPE
The biggest sale at Sundance was this no-stars comedy about three geeky high school seniors who are obsessed with 90s hip hops (that's a character detail and joke factory -- not the plot). Malcolm (Shameik Moore joyfully charismatic in the lead role) a Straight A student who dreams of Harvard and his two best friends Jib (Tony Revolori - just as strong as he was in Grand Budapest Hotel) and Diggy (Kiersey Clemons from Transparent in her feature debut) live in "The Bottoms" an impoverished crime-ridden neighborhood. Malcolm gets mixed up with Dom (Rakim Mayers aka A$AP Rocky), a local dope dealer, and soon the three friends are on the run from cops, drug dealers, gang members and continually out of frying pans and into other fires. The film it most reminded me of is Go (1999) for its parade of memorable characters, smart fast comedy, and crime plot but this one is lighter.  Dope has inarguably high energy and fresh laughs for the first hour but, like many comedies, it overstays its welcome as it wants to be taken more seriously in the second half (tightening the second hour before release would be of huge benefit). Regardless, those huge laughs, great racial politics jokes and its endearing central trio could well make it a sleeper smash. B/B+

Funny Coincidence: I saw this directly after The Diary of a Teenage Girl and both movies feature a shot of a horny teenage girl licking a photograph. In this case it's lesbian drummer Diggy licking the 2 Live Crew album cover. Ha!

LAST DAYS IN THE DESERT
In this film, shot in natural light by that DP without peer Emmanuel Lubezki, Ewan McGregor plays Jesus near the end of his 40 day fast and desert wanderings. McGregor also plays the Devil which gives this film the entertaining kick it needs to survive lots of contemplative moments / scenes of Jesus just staring into and walking around the desert thinking about the shit that Sons of God think about.I liked the film's invention of a troubled family Jesus meets (Ciarin Hinds and Tye Sheridan as father/son -- though thankfully their dramatic parallels to Jesus and his  "Daddy" as Satan hilariously calls God are not so neatly correlative as to be obnoxious.) Satan wears a beautiful dangly gold earring (I guess because vanity is evil? Or because they wanted to make fun of one earring wearers?) but otherwise he looks exactly like Jesus. The film is by Rodrigo Garcia, a director I've always wanted to love given his actressexuality -- though weirdly this film is almost entirely male -- but have never been able to because his films tend to be a bit sleepy. This one is smartly reined in at 98 minutes but it does feel a bit slight, exercize-ish, despite the heavy topic. B-/C+

Ewan McGregor revealed in the Q&A afterwards that he did a lot of studying to play Jesus (scriptures, books, etcetera) and none to play Satan ("the devil came naturally"). Hee!

NASTY BABY
Kristen Wiig just keeps on overachieving, doesn't she? After conquering comedy she keeps on impressing in dramatic roles, too. She's got a beautifully authentic rapport with writer/director/star Sebastian Silva (who is most famous for his Golden Globe nominated terrific Chilean film The Maid). Silva and Wiig play Freddy & Polly, best friends who'e been trying to get pregnant for months but it hasn't been working. They enlist Freddy's hesitant boyfriend Mo (Tunde Adebimpe in his first feature since 2008's Rachel Getting Married -- he was the guy Rachel married!) to do the sperm donor duty. Meanwhile a crazy neighbor keeps harassing everyone on the street and Freddy struggles to realize his art project "Nasty Baby" in which he wants to explore how disgusting babies of all kinds are by investigating their "gross cuteness" -- it gets a big laugh in context, trust -- and he plans to explore that by rolling around naked making baby sounds? It's a video installation, just go with it. It's all an ultra specific urban slice of life dramedy -- so ultra-specific in fact that I assume this will be a very hard sell for many. Making it even more difficult for potential audiences is the sharp left turn it takes into uncomfortably suspenseful territory toward the end. But despite what will surely be a hard road to find its natural fanbase, I admired it for being so wholly itself... or maybe its two selves. Or its three selves? The end credits are set to the cast doing roller disco for totally inexplicable but delightful effect. And the cast -- including the little seen Mark Margolis (who you'll recognize from Darren Aronofsky's movies) as a protective old gay in the neighborhood -- just felt wonderfully organic. B