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Monday
Dec092013

The AFI Lists. Useful or Redundant?

Earlier today we heard the AFI Lists for film and television. I immediately wondered what purpose they served. There are so many lists these days that are like spotlights on "CONSENSUS!" that the very act of publishing them feels redundant. With so many talking heads commenting on the Oscar race each year, both full time specialists and average reporters who become part time "experts" by virtue of, um, grist for the content mill, consensus is no longer an interesting thing to "find" or "capture" because it is so very inescapable.  AFI's list looks EXACTLY like an Oscar pundits chart, whereas in year's past they seemed to be about 70% Oscary 10% populist and 20% random. In fact, it looks the Gurus of Gold made it!

The AFI Top Ten (Motion Pictures)
12 YEARS A SLAVE
AMERICAN HUSTLE
CAPTAIN PHILLIPS
FRUITVALE STATION
GRAVITY
HER
INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS
NEBRASKA
SAVING MR. BANKS
THE WOLF OF WALL STREET 

In fact it's identitical to the current Gurus of Gold top ten chart but for one switcheroo: the pundit chart includes Lee Daniels' The Butler instead of Fruitvale Station. Interestingly enough, both Best Picture hopefuls come from the Weinstein Company who are our usual Oscar champs but seem to be struggling with traction this year. In fairness, The Butler was never expected to place during "critic's week" but if it doesn't perform well at SAG and the Globes in a couple of days, it's Oscar dreams will die.

This can only mean two things:

 

  1. The AFI committee this year is secretly composed of only BFCA members and they're aiming to exactly predict the Best Picture race.
  2. It's a weak year for British pictures in terms of American traction. Since the AFI only looks at American pictures, strong British Oscar contenders sometimes automatically make the AFI list more interesting because they have to look elsewhere to fill the top ten. The only exclusion that might not be worrying awards strategists today is the exclusion of Philomena (also from Weinstein Co!) which is directed by, written by and stars Brits... and therefore ineligible. 

 

The American Film Institute also releases a television list for some reason despite the name of their organization. That went like so...

The AFI Top Ten - Television
THE AMERICANS
BREAKING BAD
GAME OF THRONES
THE GOOD WIFE
HOUSE OF CARDS
MAD MEN
MASTERS OF SEX
ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK
SCANDAL
VEEP

And I think it's a (slightly) more interesting list in that it looks a little more like the AFI lists of yore in that it's partially awardsy but also kind of guilty pleasure buzz-sensitive. Or maybe it's just more interesting because people can actually enjoy these shows instead of the movie list which is (sigh) heavily titled towards movies that have just opened or haven't opened... just like the critics awards. It's still fairly Emmy correlative but there's no Homeland or Modern Family so that's something. I haven't had time to write about it but I am head over heels in love with / in lust for /  in awe of Masters of Sex, which is the single best show on television at the moment. It's so assured, so fresh, so perfectly cast... and weirdly gets better every single week. I really can't get over it. I look forward to each new episode like I haven't looked forward to any tv show's new episode in years. 

Monday
Dec092013

Team FYC: 'Spring Breakers' for Best Sound Mixing

This FYC series brings together all Film Experience contributors to highlight our favorite fringe Oscar contenders. Here's Glenn Dunks on the sound mixing of Spring Breakers.

The neon-infused opening credits to Spring Breakers are accompanied by the peaceful echoes of a beachside before the hordes of teenagers arrive for Spring Break. Director Harmony Korine barely gives audiences a minute to relax before he throws the kitchen sink at the screen and turns the Skrillex up to 11. The images of drunken, sexually open teenagers cavorting about the ocean could hardly come with a better, more abrasively confronting soundtrack. If you were lucky to see this violently satirical black comedy on the big screen then you’ll know the propulsive impact this soundtrack choice had blasting out of the speakers to a crowd of (mostly) unsuspecting victims. Korine wasn’t mincing words: so long to any chance for a nice time at the movies. His movie was to be in your face. And boy, was it ever. And in your ears, too.

It’s not just Korine’s soundtrack choices that made me choose Spring Breakers for sound design but rather the inventive, puzzle-like work he does throughout. There’s the repetitious dialogue that Korine layers over the top of unrelated sequences to discombobulate the viewer (or beat them into submission, who can tell?). There’s the bold way he builds and deconstructs entire soundscapes throughout a single scene. There’s the way he blends in the original score of Cliff Martinez and the aforementioned Skrillex, perfectly harmonised with Benoît Debie’s cinematography to juxtapose moods.

Independent cinema is frequently where one finds some of the most creative sound work. I could have easily chosen the dense layering of cultural beats in Lucy Mulloy’s Una Noche, the piercing cacophony of Blackfish, or the pin-point precision of Park Chan-wook’s Stoker. I find these works infinitely more interesting uses of sound than most of what will likely make up the Oscar nominees. The work on Spring Breakers is truly definitive. It’s impossible to imagine the film without it. In keeping with Korine's chaotic tone, the sound work is constantly interesting and ever-changing. It morphs just as often as the film from abrasive dubstep to a tender Britney Spears ballad. Just like the action movies with their voluminous walls of sound that so often find Oscar success, the ebb and flow of the sound mixing here is as meticulous and carefully constructed as you can get. It’s the ace in the film’s hole (pardon the salacious pun).

previous FYCs
Sound Editing The Conjuring | Actor Tye Sheridan | Editing Stories We Tell | Screenplay In a World... | Supporting Actor Keith Stanfield | Song The Great Gatsby | Score Nebraska | Costume Design Lawrence Anyways | Foreign Film Neighboring Sounds | Supporting Actress Cameron Diaz | Picture The Spectacular Now | Make-Up Warm Bodies | Sound Mixing World War Z | Director Edgar Wright | Production Design The Conjuring | Supporting Actor Ulysses the Cat

Monday
Dec092013

DC Loves 12 Years & Gravity. Patterns Are Emerging.

Only a few of the many film critics organizations have sounded off as of now, but certain patterns are emerging: Cate Blanchett and Jared Leto and Gravity are thoroughly dominating Actress and Supporting Actor and Cinematography, respectively;  12 Years a Slave and Lupita Nyong’o are formidable in Best Picture and Supporting Actress though they don’t win every time;  Actor, Production Design, Documentary, Ensemble? Flip a coin. Or, rather, roll the dice since there are a lot of achievements splitting critical passion which should make this a robust and competitive season up until Oscar night… unless, of course, the Globes, SAG and BFCA all march in lock step later this week. If that happens, things flatten out quickly.

WAFCA (Washington DC Area Film Critics Association) is the latest organization to sound off. They're now in their 12th year of prize-giving. Their full list of winners, which follows all these patterns, is after the jump with a couple more comments thrown in.

Click to read more ...

Sunday
Dec082013

Podcast: Philomena Catching Fire

This week NickNathaniel, Katey, and Joe discuss the blockbuster Philomena and that little arthouse indie The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. Spoilers you might want to avoid for Philomena are here (32:00-32:20 / 35:00-35:30).

Some questions that need your answers in the comments:  Is Jennifer Lawrence better as Katniss than in her Oscar roles? Would The Hunger Games be better as a TV series? What is going on in the Hemsworth family gene pool? Is Philomena at 98 minutes too padded or too short or, paradoxically, both? And how many nominations can it hope for having conquered the auntie demographic?

You can listen here or download the conversation on iTunes

Philomena: Catching Fire

Sunday
Dec082013

Box Office or: How I Learned to Stop Going to Theatres and Play Catch-Up

Amir here, bringing you this weekend’s box office report, which looks curiously like last weekend’s box office report. Of course no one is surprised that Out of the Furnace didn’t have the power to blast off Catching Fire and Frozen. The reviews aren’t over the moon; its stars aren’t quite stars, but famous actors; and this time of year, if you’re not a franchise entry or an animated film, you better be an Oscar player with huge buzz to sell tickets. Furnace is none of those things, and this weekend isn’t particularly notable for big numbers anyway. The last time any film opened in the first week of December to what can be considered reasonably successful sales is The Golden Compass all the way back in 2007. The only other noteworthy release is Inside Llewyn Davis, which opened on 4 screens to a strong per screen average. I find it strange that the studio didn’t go straight for a wide release, given they’ve been building buzz since May, but there’s gotta be a reason I’m not a studio strategist. I’m sure they know best.

TOP OF THE BOX OFFICE
01 Frozen $31.6 (cum. $134.2) Review | Let it GoJonathan Groff
02 Hunger Games Pt 2 $27 (cum. $336.6) Review
03 Out of the Furnace $5.3 *new* 
04 Thor Pt 2 $4.7 (cum. $193.6) Review  
05 Delivery Man  $3.7 (cum. $24.7) 

I didn’t hit the theatres this weekend but for a preview screening of Spike Jonze’s Her, and looking ahead to the coming weeks, only American Hustle and Martin Scorsese’s Wolf of Wall Street are films I’m eager to see. Otherwise I’ve been playing catch-up. It’s that time of the year again when we prep for our top ten lists and blind spots need to be covered. If I want to write my Team Experience Awards - yay! they’re coming in January - ballot with any sort of confidence, I need to watch everything from Fruitvale Station to Aleksander Sokurov’s Faust, from Short Term 12 to Joao Pedro Rodrigues’s The Last Time I Saw Macao. I’ve seen around 90 films so far this year, but a top ten list just can’t be compiled without Laurence Anyways and The Great Beauty, can it? We all have to be completists!

It’s in that spirit that we started our FYC series here, and in that same spirit that I want to share a few words on some films I think you should all watch if nothing at the multiplex entices you. Saudi Arabia’s Oscar submission, Wadjda, is an absolutely outstanding film. It’s a great feat of storytelling, an illuminating piece on women’s rights in the country that unravels with beautiful surprises and gentle humor, and it features what is undoubtedly one of the best female performances of the year by its young lead. Tim recently covered Ernest and Celestine in his column and it's the best animated film of the year by a country mile.

 

What film would you say we all have to watch before 2014 comes around?

If you follow me on twitter, surely you’ve seen me champion Jem Cohen’s Museum Hours before. It has remained my top film of the year since I saw it in the summer. Its evocative, incantatory images are still swirling around in my head. Frederick Wiseman’s At Berkeley may have missed AMPAS’s cut, but we all knew that was coming. When you get the chance to see it, grab it with both hands. There are few better ways to spend four hours than watch this expansive doc. Chad Hartigan’s This Is Martin Bonner comes across as a different, unique type of film, the likes of which we rarely see on the American indie scene these days. No best actor ballot should be made this year without giving a shot to the two brilliant leads in this film. Finally, Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing and Belgium’s Oscar submission, The Broken Circle Breakdown, both have their vocal supporters, but if you haven’t been convinced to see them yet, let me try to persuade you otherwise. The former is only trumped by The Heat as the year’s most entertaining film; the latter is an emotional roller coaster ride like nothing else I’ve come across recently.

What did you watch this weekend? And more importantly, what film would you say we all have to watch before 2014 comes around?

Sunday
Dec082013

Los Angeles chooses Gravity and Her in a tie

Such a big day for critics' awards - not only are Boston's picks so fresh that the steam is still coming off of them, the Los Angeles critics have announced. In most years, they can be relied upon for the least mainstream picks of any major group - famously, they bullied Universal into acknowledging the existence of Terry Gilliam's functionally unreleased Brazil by heaping awards on it in 1985 - though this year they broke hard for Gravity and Her, which between them took nine wins or runner-up slots out of 11 categories in which they were eligible. Ties in three major categories, which is admirable, I guess, in the sense that it's not nice to pick favorites, but it's a little disappointing as an awards-watcher.

Full list below the jump.

Click to read more ...

Sunday
Dec082013

Boston Chooses 12 Years A Slave, Enough Said?

The Boston Society of Film Critics' (BSFC) very first Best Picture prize went to Martin Scorsese's Raging Bull (1980) and over the next 32 years they've mixed smart off the path choices with future Oscar darlings. In the past decade they seem to have mellowed and mainstreamed and unless you count a tie in 2008 (Wall•E shared the prize with Slumdog), it's been well over a decade since that grabby run when they thought outside the box consistently (1998-2001) when they were giving Best Film prizes to great movies like Out of Sight (2 below the line Oscar nods) Three Kings (0 Oscar attention) and Mullholland Dr (1 Oscar nod) which were obviously not going to play big with the Academy. (During that period they were also making interesting calls in non Oscar-baiting performances so something about the membership must have changed thereafter.

This year they've wrapped their Bostonian arms around native New Yorker Solomon Northrup in a big way giving 12 Years a Slave three top prizes. They were also kind to Nebraska and Enough Said which each won 2 prizes. Full list of winners with commentary after the jump

Click to read more ...