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The Film Experience™ was created by Nathaniel R


 Gemini, Cinephile, Actressexual. Also loves cats. All material herein is written and copyrighted by him, unless otherwise noted. twitter | facebook | pinterest | tumblr | letterboxd

 

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Amy Adams for Janis Joplin

"It's baffling to me that Amy Adams will potentially have as many nominations as Blanchett, Winslet, Maggie Smith, Vanessa Redgrave, Thelma Ritter, Deborah Kerr, Sissy Spacek, and Glenn Close. This is weird, right?" -Aaron

"What is happening with Nina Arianda's Janis film with Sean Durkin? It's still listed as "announced" on her IMDB. Are we to assumed that it is a lost cause?" -Ryan

 

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Tuesday
Jan032012

The Iron Linky 

By now you've heard that Meryl Streep will be receiving an Honorary Golden Bear at Berlinale in February. The fun part of this news that you probably haven't heard elsewhere is this is the 62nd Berlinale Festival and Meryl is... 62! They grew up together! The best part of this news for those attending the festival? That would be festival screenings of Kramer vs. Kramer, Sophie's Choice, The Bridges of Madison County, A Prairie Home Companion and Out of Africa. I'd love to see all of those on the big screen again... even though they're not the five exact choices I would have made as a programmer (obvs you have to have Kramer & Sophie though). Coming next weekend we'll look at the Reader Streep Rankings. (Thanks for all your e-mails.)

Oscarables
The Wrap Will the Oscars move away from the Kodak Theater in two years? They're considering their options before recommitting to the contract.
Gold Derby
 shares the new Oscar ballots for Best Picture and accompanying instructions sent to Academy members. Voters can only vote for five favorites though more than five might be nominated given the complicated rules and thousands of ballots.

Etcetera
Antagony and Ecstasy rips into Phyllida Lloyd's The Iron Lady. Only Streep survives.
Low Resolution rips into Albert Nobbs. Close survives. Sort of.
Paper Mag Matthew Modine turns to short filmmaking with Jesus Was a Commie. May also battle the Batman but won't confirm it.
Guardian Swordsman Bob Anderson, who staged fights for massive beloved franchises Lord of the Rings and Star Wars, has died. 
24 Frames talks about a quartet of movies with ambiguous endings. Spoilers obviously. Strangely the author chastises you for not having seen Rampart. Not that the distributor will let you!
Stale Popcorn thinks Rooney Mara is The Girl With the Ungrateful Stuck Up Attitude.  
Cinema Blend Demi Moore will cameo as Gloria Steinem in that Amanda Seyfried Linda Lovelace biopic which keeps getting starrier. 
In Contention interviews Jeremy Irvine and Richard Curtis on War Horse 

Monday
Jan022012

Best of Year Pt 2: Sweet 16 from Primordial Ooze to YA Novels

Part One: I Am Thirty Two Flavors 
Other pictures from 2011 that The Film Experience's year wouldn't have been complete without.

Part Two: Honorable Mentions
The year's best movies stretched all the way from the creation to the apocalypse and everywhen in between; time hardly seemed linear in 2011 but immeasurably flexible instead. The year's best films also twisted and shape-shifted in scale and meaning, wrapping big themes around human-sized packages.

THE TREE OF LIFE (Terrence Malick)
Fox Searchlight. May 27th. 
I really didn't know that our Burning Questions columnist Michael C felt so similarly about Terrence Malick's latest so two somewhat agnostic appreciations back-to-back were not intended here at The Film Experience. I greatly admire The Tree of Life's grandiose reach (the creation segment being my favorite chunk) and breathtaking physical beauty but often I felt like I was visiting an impenetrably random museum installation. Still... it's hard to shake the imagery and in a few key sequences -- children playing in poison clouds, brothers crying in tall grass, and especially in the different ways that Mrs O Brien (an ethereal Jessica Chastain) and Mr O'Brien (Brad Pitt's second great performance of the year... can we please give him an Oscar now, people?) touched and taught and looked at their children, the movie was fiercely moving.

MIDNIGHT IN PARIS (Woody Allen)
Sony Pictures Classics. June 10th.
Let's not call it a comeback. Woody Allen has never gone away and his filmography runs the gamut between masterful and mediocre -- sometimes within the very same movie! What sets Midnight in Paris apart from the pack is a conceit so clever and insightful that it works both within the famed auteur's current limitations and as charming cover for them. It's okay that the present feels so tired and one note when hack screenwriter Gil (Owen Wilson) feels exactly this way about the life he's leading. It's definitely okay that the nostalgic past feels shallow and cartoony since nostalgia is fantasy, a very specific escapist (rear) projection. Quibbling is easy -- it's no Purple Rose of Cairo (an Allen masterwork treading somewhat similar ground) -- but why quibble when Corey Stoll is so funny as Hemingway, Adrien Brody is so amusing as Dali "Rhi-no-ce-ros" and Marion Cotillard's muse complicates the movie so beautifully by rejecting its message entirely and exiting the picture with so little fuss.

THE HOUSEMAID (Im Sang-soo)
IFC. January 21st. 
This erotic melodrama, a remake of a Korean classic (which I have yet to see), is either the year's most elegantly trashy soap opera or its most biting political metaphor for the carnivorous and consequence-free behavior of the super wealthy and the impotent dramatics of the working poor. Maybe both. Either way it's uncomfortably steamy, beautifully filmed, and superly acted (South Korea is where it's at for actresses these days. Period.) It's also unusually entertaining once the bad behavior and catfights begin. I watched it twice in one week when I first saw it and if my schedule weren't so tight, I'd do so again right now.

PARIAH (Dee Rees)
Focus Features. December 28th. 
Two important new voices emerged in queer cinema this year, writer/directors Dee Rees and Andrew Haigh (his Weekend up later in the countdown). Both filmmakers previously directed one documentary-style feature so they weren't in the discussions of "best debuts" but what debuts these narrative features were! Coming out stories are a staple of gay cinema but few of them have carved out as much emotional nuance from raw feeling. Pariah has so much feeling for its characters that it occassional gets distracted with tangential subplots but better too much genuine feeling than not enough of it or the poorly manufactured variety. This story of a shy closeted lesbian high school student (Adepere Oduye, just wonderful) in a rough Brooklyn neighborhood just aches with emotion and, best of all, future possibility. You find yourself wondering about Alike's journey after the movie ends. The best characters, gay or otherwise, live beyond the end credits [Best LGBT characters of 2011]

SHAME (Steve McQueen)
Fox Searchlight. December 2nd. 
Brandon only has room for one thing in his life. His apartment and office are as barren as his emotional life. Michael Fassbender enters the picture on a naked loop as he travels from bed to phone to bathroom, one day being any day and every day empty but for bodily functions and the pursuit of the next fix. It's the first of many smart decisions that Steve McQueen, one of the most exciting new cinematic voices to emerge in the past decade (see also: Hunger), makes in this visually spare but daringly operatic take on addiction. Shame isn't perfect -- for every "New York New York" segment -- a telepathic conversation? a sung monologue? --  there's another moment that's too on the nose. The best thing about Shame is McQueen's voyeuristic addiction to the contact high of great actors. His camera stalks them ceaselessly but wisely never gets in their way, freezing in place to watch them work their inimitable magic.

YOUNG ADULT (Jason Reitman)
Paramount. December 9th
The first painful chortle of recognition I experienced watching Young Adult was the ease at which YA writer Mavis Gary (a brilliant Charlize Theron) became distracted from her work. A sentence or two, tops, was all she could manage before she was on to more pressing things like e-mail, Diet Coke, pet care (of sorts), and other absent-minded rituals. Sigh. I know the feeling on all counts. It was the first chortle of many. Reitman and screenwriter Diablo Cody, who previously made Juno together, make another compelling case for continued partnership here in this diamond sharp perfectly condensed comedy about prolongued adolescence, untreated mental illness, and terrible cultural values (note how Mavis isn't the only one who worships her skin-deep beauty or encourages her self delusions). 

P.S. It took me half an hour to write that paragraph and it's not even a good one! Thankfully I did not hatch any plan as spectacularly ill conceived as "return to hometown. steal ex-boyfriend away from wife and infant daughter" during the fitful pauses. 

and now... the top ten.

Monday
Jan022012

Online Film Critics Need To Talk About Terrence

You may have heard that the Online Film Critics Society unleashed their press release on the world today. It rained Manna Malick from Heaven as The Tree of Life won 5 of their 13 gongs. Their winners...

Picture The Tree of Life
Director Terrence Malick, The Tree of Life
Actress Tilda Swinton, We Need To Talk About Kevin
Actor Michael Fassbender, Shame 


They go against the grain frequently with Best Actress. Aside from obvious sweepers like Natalie Portman or Helen Mirren in their years, winners have included Melanie Laurent from Basterds, Michelle Williams from Wendy & Lucy, Reese Witherspoon in Election and more. Like the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, who are even more adventurous in Best Actress citations, the OFCS is much more traditional / conservative when it comes to Best Actor almost always going with a major future Oscar nominee or frontrunner. The only exception in their entire history is Billy Bob Thornton who won for the Coen Bros picture The Man Who Wasn't There (2001). Funny how critics groups, even large ones, have such obvious personalities.

Actor Michael Fassbender, Shame
Supporting Actress Jessica Chastain, The Tree of Life
Supporting Actor Christopher Plummer, Beginners
Adapted Screenplay Bridget O'Connor, Peter Straughan for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Original Screenplay Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris
Editing Hank Corwin, Jay Rabinowitz, Daniel Rezende, Billy Weber, Mark Yoshikawa for The Tree of Life
Cinematography Emmanuel Lubezki for The Tree of Life
Animated Feature Gore Verbinksi's Rango
Film Not in the English Language Asgar Farhadi's A Separation
Documentary Werner Herzog's Cave of Forgotten Dreams

As previously noted the OFCS will also be handing special prizes to Jessica Chastain and Martin Scorsese in addition to these prizes. Jessica Chastain, very recently interviewed right here, was so busy this year they must have figured that one prize wasn't enough.

Monday
Jan022012

Burning Questions: How Does One Rank An Almost Masterpiece?

Michael C. here with a question I can't stop turning over in my mind.

After finalizing my list of the best movies of 2011 I experienced a powerful surge of cinephile guilt when I realized Joe Cornish’s fantastically goofy Attack the Block enjoyed a healthy place on the list while Malick’s The Tree of Life was nowhere to be seen. Certainly this was an unforgivable lapse of taste, if not a dereliction of my duties as a film writer. Tree of Life is about nothing less than - to borrow a phrase from Douglas Adams - life, the universe and everything. Even if I had gripes with Tree and thought it only reached its potential in fits and starts, shouldn’t laying a fingertip on such greatness guarantee it a spot? If Olympic athletes can be graded according to degree of difficulty, why not films?

The question, simply put, is how does one rank a flawed masterpiece?

If, by the way, you consider Malick's magnum opus an unqualified success, if you had a religious experience watching butterflies land on Jessica Chastain, then feel free to substitute the name Melancholia, Shame, Margaret or whichever hugely ambitious endeavor you felt stayed stubbornly Earthbound despite its attempts to reach for the stars. But for me, Tree is the one I wrestle with.

One problem with giving points for unfulfilled ambition is that it reinforces the idea that certain movies are superior to others in their very conception. This is the same lazy thinking that leads thudding Oscar bait to be nominated over exciting genre fare year after year. Frost/Nixon is history, Dark Knight is kid stuff. Nominate Frost/Nixon. Ideally both Attack the Block and The Tree of Life start with the same blank slate. 

Of course, the real dilemma is not unfulfilled ambition but those fleeting moments when a film earns all that hyperbolic praise. It would be irresponsible to ignore that Tree of Life frequently presents images that stop the heart and contains stretches that are just about flawless. But those moments come married to endless minutes of Sean Penn stumbling over rocks. Material that felt like Malick cut it down just enough to lose all meaning but kept it in to assure us that it had a purpose when he started. In the end, I was overwhelmed with admiration but my spirit remained curiously unstirred. Wouldn’t the professional thing be to chalk that up to my own problem and rank Tree highly because I recognize the film's potential to move others?

Sean Penn, stumbling around.

I don’t think so. If there is a benefit to the questionable practice of ranking artistic achievements against each other it is to level the playing field between the grand apples and the quirky oranges. What is owed to Malick’s achievement is respect and careful consideration, not genuflection. If in 2011 the film that made the strongest impression on me was the one with furry black aliens with bioluminescent blue teeth then I have to stand up and say so, even if that makes it appear that I have the critical acumen of a 12 year old boy on a sugar high. 

Because when you get down to it all movies from Kubrick and Tarkovsky down to Babe: Pig in the City are after the same thing: a lasting connection with the audience. The test of time is going to be merciless to those films that almost but did not quite achieve greatness, so we may as well be just as merciless in the present. Singin' in Rain was not made with an eye for the list of all-time greats, but there it sits while grand almost-masterpieces like Lost Horizon fade with each year. I would take any random Daffy Duck cartoon over Doctor Zhivago. And let's not forget: In 1998 it wasn't exactly fashionable for a critic to rank a shaggy mystery about a pot-addled bowler above Malick’s Thin Red Line. Yet which of those two films spawned a religion?  

Dudeism

 

Feel that I am being way too glib with a cinematic masterpiece? Have another example of cinematic emperor's new clothes that needs to be mentioned? Let me know in the comments. You can follow Michael C. on Twitter at @SeriousFilm or read his blog Serious Film

Previous Burning Questions...

Monday
Jan022012

SAG Ensemble Flashback: "The Birdcage!" & Oscar Trivia

With the Screen Actors Guild Awards less than a month away, let's look back at the history of our favorite SAG Category, "Outstanding Performance by a Cast" i.e. Best Ensemble. Though the Guild had long been in the business of lifetime achievement awards, they didn't hold their first full fledged awards ceremony until 1995 for the 1994 film year. That first SAG year did not include an Ensemble movie prize which is strange since they handed out TV ensemble prizes from the start so it's not like they hadn't dreamt up that honor! The next year Apollo 13, which was something of a frontrunner for Oscar's Best Picture prize (it eventually lost), won the inaugural ensemble prize. It beat a field that included only one other Oscar Best Picture nominee (Sense & Sensibility)... a percentage ratio you rarely see today.

At the third annual ceremony the award went to the (thankfully) dated gay marriage comedy The Birdcage (1996), based on the 1978 French classic and three-time Oscar nominee La Cage Aux Folles. The films farcical comedy emerges when a gay couple (Robin Williams & Nathan Lane) try to fool a conservative couple (Gene Hackman & Dianne Wiest) into thinking of them as a "reputable" traditional family so that the son can marry the other couple's daughter (Dan Futterman and Calista Flockhart). Everything goes wrong over dinner as the gay couple has a terrible time keeping up the facade.

This is so Guatemala. They put hardboiled things in everything down there. Because, you know, chicken is so important to them. it's their only real currency. A woman is said to be worth her weight in hens and a man's wealth is measured by the size of his cock."

Will you excuse me?"

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Sunday
Jan012012

Complete the New Year Sentences.

In 2012 I'm hoping that ____________ at the movies.

The very first movie or actor I thought of today in this brand new year was _____ because ______.

Sunday
Jan012012

Best of Year Pt 1: I Am Thirty-Two Flavors

I tossed. I turned. I Excel'ed. I Worded. I laughed at myself. I laughed at everyone else and their equally crazy assertions during top ten season. I worried what y'all might think. I worried about how I do think! And then I cast it all aside and just started typing and getting real with myself. You see, in earlier drafts of this Hugo and The Tree of Life, for example, were much higher but you know what? This is not consensus. This is me. Year End "Best" naming rituals are meant to be personal even though they're communal. Gather 'round my fire. There are plenty of places to keep warm, this being just one of them. (If you must skip ahead a few pages The Tree of Life dropped a few notches and Hugo no longer appears at all; I do not miss it all and, thus, made the right call.)

I kept trying to find a cutoff point for my year end "best" that I feel comfortable with and the magic finally happened at 32! The thirty-two highlighted films are my touchstones from this year at the multiplex. They're the only ones I just could not let go of when I tried to gather my memories and glue them awkwardly into this online scrapbook thingie known as The Film Experience. Two of the films even got glued together and I couldn't get them unstuck (Longtime readers will know I don't approve of ties but what the hell: new decade, more flexibility! If you're a purist shove everything else down one notch.)

squint your eyes and look closer
I'm not between you and your ambition
I am a poster girl with no poster
I am thirty-two flavors and then some
and I'm beyond your peripheral vision
so you might want to turn your head
cause someday you're going to get hungry
and eat most of the words you just said

The following thirty-two pictures were presented in vaguely ascending order but then the stairs were all rearranged to fit them into categories and for flow so don't read anything into the order...

Planet Ape
The year's cinema was overflowing with adorable dogs (too many to mention) and doomed cats (The Future, Dragon Tattoo) but the animal that seized the heart and truly shook us -- opposable thumbs are so handy! -- was the chimpanzee. The Oscar documentary finalist Project Nim charts the disastrous emotional fall out of a science experiment in the 1970s in which a chimp ("Nim") was raised by agonizingly fallible humans and taught sign language. Rise of the Planet of the Apes charts the disastrous sociological fall out of a science experiment in the right-now in which a chimp ("Cesar") is raised by a agonizingly naive human and granted super intelligence. Nim was a very real living thing and his heartbreaking story makes you want to scream "NOOOooooooo" as forcefully as the imaginary Cesar does at the climax of his own tale. That Cesar feels nearly as real as Nim is thanks to the Marlon Brando of mo-cap acting Andy Serkis, a brilliant visual effects team, and the superb action direction of Rupert Wyatt. (Wyatt's command is so impressive that the pictures fairly obvious flaws don't even register until well after the movie ends. If I were a Hollywood executive I'd be wining and dining him and offering him every franchise job on the calendar until he picked one.)

Favorite Unrewardables
The best thing I saw this year that's not eligible for my annual Film Bitch Awards is The Loneliest Planet (previously reviewed), about an engaged couple exploring a foreign land, which went unreleased. It had me from the stomping alien mundanity of its first image but in the end what really made it work for me was its sense of touch. That's rarer and rarer in our weightless CGI world but the images just felt so tangible: a lovers caress, cold water in your hair, rocky ground under foot; turns out when a movie is that good at touching, it's hard not to feel it. I could reward Clio Barnard's The Arbor, which did get a brief release, but I wouldn't know how. It's ostensibly a memoir doc about the short life of the troubled playwright Andrea Dunbar. But is it a documentary? Barnard's riveting experiment still uses traditional documentary tools like reenactments and talking head interviews but performs them instead, with actors lipsynching. There are so many layers it's suffocating; all the better to pull you under with these lives trapped in hand-me-down poverty and addiction. That probably doesn't sound like an endorsment but The Arbor sure is a fascinating novelty act.

Hip To Be Square
Who knew that we needed a 29th version of dusty Jane Eyre? Turns out we did! Okay okay okay... even if we didn't it was welcome since it was a beautifully rendered stride forward in four cinematic journeys we're on board with: Michael Fassbender seems to take another leap forward every three months, Mia Wasikowska is one of our most promising young actresses and this is her best film performance yet, director Cary Fukunaga and his cinematographer Adriano Goldman, who are two for two (see also Sin Nombre) are not just unusually capable but also unpredictable. We'll jump on their next vehicle whether that means more speeding trains or horse drawn carriages or something else entirely.

Two more unhip choices, abundant foreign pleasures and a few "only you could make this" treasures... After the jump.

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