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Entries in Directors (95)


Tarantino's Preemie Top Ten

October 5th seems like an exceptionally weird time to deliver a top ten list. It's too late in the year for a "so far" list and too early for anything like completist summation and way way too early for anything like retrospective nostalgia. But Quentin Tarantino has never been known to shut up when he felt like talking so he's revealed his top ten of 2013 (so far) which are, in alphabetical order

  • Afternoon Delight (Jill Soloway)
  • Before Midnight (Richard Linklater)
  • Blue Jasmine (Woody Allen)
  • The Conjuring (James Wan)
  • Drinking Buddies (Joe Swanberg)
  • Frances Ha (Noah Baumbach)
  • Gravity (Alfonso Cuarón)
  • Kick Ass 2 (Jeff Wadlow)
  • The Lone Ranger (Gore Verbinski)
  • This Is The End (Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg)

It's very Tarantino and that's all I have to say about that. I only wish he had revealed a top ten of 2012 instead since he never did one for that year. Yes, conflict of interest with Django Unchained or what not, but literally no one would blink if he had put his own film on it. It would've been very Tarantino and that's all anyone could have said about that. 

P.S. the world would be a better place if all directors did this, don'cha think? I mean not in October but at all.


TIFF Shocker: Isabelle Huppert is "Perverse" Again

I like to start my film festivals with an atypical choice just to get the globe-trotting adventures rolling. So my first screening at TIFF, which I drunkenly forgot the name of the night before --  "Undefebeatable?" "Indestructafeated" -- was a mixed martial arts 'ultimate fighting' movie. I don't only watch movies about actresses, people! Those are just the ones I like best is all. I chased the MMA fighters with some Romanian actressing and French perversity... although it was more like Romanian Actress Perversity (Lhuminita) AND French Actress Perversity (Huppert - who else?)

So basically this was me settling in with each movie on Day One.

Movies make me feel goooooooood.

In many ways Dante Lam's mixed martial arts fighting movie is just one giant wheel of cheese. It's a wheel of cheese so big I was reminded fo the cheez-it commercial as it rolls through Hunnan, Beijing, Macau and into Hong Kong before it slams into its bone crunching finales.  The movie never met a plot advancing montage it didn't like and there's a lot of plot so cue the music again! (I may never be able to hear "The Sound of Silence" without shuddering at the ways its egregiously deployed here and the incongruous things it accompanies.)

Eddie Peng & Nick Cheung are trainee and coach in Unbeatable

Yet despite these deal breakers, the only thing broken is a few bones but no spoilers! The movie totally works and that's largely due to its character focus even though it clearly knows how to stage and film a fight scene, something that too few action movies can claim. Nick Cheung headlines as a one time shady boxing champ who has fallen so far in life that he can't shake the name "Scumbag" even though he's become a decent guy. Taiwanese Canadian actor Eddie Peng is his young fiercely committed protege and the film. Their chemistry is so great that they can even pull off a really funny winking scene about the latent homoeroticism of wrestling without making you hate them The acting from the supporting players is broad, sure, but vivid. The actress playing a young girl Scumbag befriends (I can't find her name) gets some of the best scenes and a really great final moment -- "Come stomp on me!" which makes playful make-believe violence into affection. And also accurately describes both the movies love of its genre and the masochistic impulses of the MMA set. Unbeatable isn't really unbeatable as movies go but it is not remotely unenjoyable. B

Romania's great actress Lhuminita Gheorghiu (The Death of Mr Lazarescu, 4 Months3 Weeks and 2 Days) has a doozy of a role in Child's Pose. Her character Cornelia, is a rich and smug society wife. Cornelia is rarely seen without a drink in one hand and a stubby cigarette in the other and she still has hands free for figuratively greasing palms around town, or literally greasing down her son's back in one provocative scene. Let's just say that she seems to be a spiritual film cousin to Angelica Huston's Lily in The Grifters. One might derisively and accurately refer to Cornelia as "a piece of work."

This fine Romanian picture (is there another kind?) won the Golden Bear in Berlin earlier this year and is now the country's Oscar submission for the upcoming Foreign Film race. The best thing about Child's Pose, aside from Lhuminita's intense gripping star turn, might be the way it so thoroughly isn't what it keeps seeming to be. Cornelia is the anti-hero of this fine Romanian picture (is there another kind?) a woman who will stop at nothing to keep her son from being held responsible for a car accident which killed a young boy. But to the movie's credit she doesn't appear to be at first (when your sympathies are with her, or at least warily near her - she's not exactly a warm presence) and doesn't quite remain so even after her often heinous behavior. It's a slippery thorny picture, forcing you to observe lots of ugly situations, and confront relatable if unpleasant emotions as it shapeshifts subtly from biting satire about the entitlement of wealth, to really uncomfortable family drama, to tense bureaucratic police procedural. It finally comes crashing head on into the ugly truth, the very thing Cornelia is most eager to swerve around. B+

Isabelle Huppert as Maud as Catherine Breillat in Abuse of Weakness

I still have psychic scars from Catherine Breillat's breakthrough Romance (1999) though I tried not to hold that against her when viewing her latest. Abuse of Weakness is an indulgent autobiographical picture of sorts though Catherine is now going by "Maud". Contrary to what any synopsis and the film's first couple of reels suggest the picture is not really about the director's physical illness, but about a post-stroke relationship with a conman who fleeced her of all her money.

The film opens exceptionally well with credits over white sheets which begin to move oddly, trouble broiling under the pristine surface. The camera moves until we're looking at cinema's great chilly ginger Isabelle Huppert, as Maud, writhing about naked and then very disconcertingly dropping to the floor, her body betraying her. The first few scenes reenact  Breillat's debilitating stroke and her physical therapy but the picture doesn't really get started until Maud falls for a true "character" she sees on television, Vilko (Kool Shen) telling her assistant that they just don't make actors like that. She invites the criminal to be the star of her new picture and they begin a friendship wherein he drops in repeatedly and begins to "borrow" money from her. He also repeatedly calls her "perverse" which Isabelle/Maud/Catherine obviously enjoy hearing said about them. Vilko is coldly hesitant to help her in and out of chairs and up and down stairs when she's physically struggling but he's right there with a helpful hand to hold down the checkbook while she scribbles on it.

This goes on and on until the film's finale a long virtual monologue though lawyers and children occassional egg Maud on in her own confession. Huppert nails it by underplaying, glassily admitting her own stupidity, and rewitnessing from afar what she just lived from afar, never quite "present" in her foolish decisions. Huppert's face is a marvel, trouble always broiling under its glassy surface. Abuse of Weakness has a fine beginning and a killer ending --  too bad there's no movie in the middle. It's all just a series of check-signings and a very vaguely observed relationship that's never truly examined by the protagonist living it or the director filming an actress reliving it. It's as if Breillat is determined to make the same mistakes all over again, botching her own would be exorcism. C


Burning Questions: On Perfect Games and "Noah" Jitters

Hey everybody. Michael C. here. Quick question: By your estimation, which directors are currently pitching a perfect game? By which I mean, which filmmakers have yet to make a bad or even a so-so film so far in their career. I can think of three off hand: Spike Jonze, Brad Bird and Darren Aronofsky.

Darren Aronofsky and Logan Lerman on the set of NoahOf course, your mileage may vary on these choices. Right away, I’m sure a lot of you jump ship with The Fountain (Aronofsky), and one could debate whether Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (Bird) is a great movie or merely great for a Mission Impossible movie. Feel free to substitute one of your own choices for any of the above. My point isn’t to reopen the debate on these movies. My point is, rarely, if ever, do filmmakers make it through a full career without stumbling at least once, more likely a few times. Even the Coens, who made it nearly two decades without a misstep (Shut up. I like The Hudsucker Proxy), eventually crashed against the rocks with Intolerable Cruelty and The Ladykillers. So when directors are in a golden period where they have yet to step wrong, it’s bittersweet because chances are excellent it is not going to last.

Not that a failure-free career should be an artist’s goal, anyway. If I can paraphrase Laurence Fishburne's sage advice from Searching for Bobby Fischer, you can’t play not to lose. The edge of defeat, that’s where you want to be. I prefer my filmmakers who approach things like Robert Altman. Taking huge, all-or-nothing swings at every pitch, knocking it into the parking lot when he connects, lying flat on his ass when he wipes out.

Take Aronofsky. I can't shake the feeling that his upcoming Noah is a giant miscalculation. 

I’m not looking to tread on anybody’s religion here, but it’s hard to deny the essential silliness of the Noah story, and the recently released first official images did nothing to quiet my concerns. I have tremendous faith in Aronofsky’s ability to raise some impressive Biblical thunder, but at some point Russell Crowe will start marching animals on to a big boat and when that happens it’s going to be difficult to keep a straight face, yes?


Chances are excellent Mr. Aronofsky will transform the familiar tale in ways I never anticipated, and when that happens I will shake my head at ever having doubted him. But even if my worst fears are fulfilled, it will still be gratifying to know we still have a cinema where filmmakers are free to indulge in a grand folly now and then.

Can you think of a director to who managed to make it a full career without tripping up? (One could make a strong case for Kubrick. I would disagree) Can someone out there give me reason to look forward to Noah? Let me know in the comments.

Previous Burning Questions
You can follow Michael C. on Twitter at @SeriousFilm. Or read his blog Serious Film


Lee Daniels' The Butler: New Title, New Poster, Same Movie

Have you seen the new poster for Lee Daniels' The Butler? Here it is. 

new poster and old poster

I like it and here's why: It looks more like a Lee Daniels movie than that stately original poster. The first poster could have been for any movie that was going the prestige FYC route. It could have been a film made by anyone, and probably someone less crazy than Lee Daniels. That's a safe assumption, statistically! Whether you love or hate his movies -- three to date: Shadowboxer, Precious, The Paperboy -- you have to admit that they're non-generic. They don't feel like they were made by committee. At all.

The silly war over the period drama's title concluded too quickly for me to finish my "Suggested Alternate Title" joke post (since I was doing mock posters. I promise it was funny. sniffle) but PERSONALITY is why I like the new poster and the retitling to Lee Daniels' The Butler. 

 The more people hear your name, you know? It's why hip hop artists say their name so much in their songs. It's why Tyler Perry puts his name before every title. It might be vanity, sure, but it's also savvy business. Once your famous enough you can do this even if you aren't the director which kinda sucks for the guy who did that job - see Tim Burton's Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) which is actually a Henry Selick movie! 

Lee Daniels presents... OprrraaaaaAAHHH



I've always wondered why studio marketing doesn't try to push director's names more. In this modern era where even amateurs understand the basics of personal branding, the studios are not capitalizing on or trying to build fanbases for their directors which seems like both a dumb and a dick move. Even a director as constantly successful as James Cameron often gets the "From the Director of..." without his name attached in commercials which is just stupid if you ask me. Everyone who has a unique vision, even if a lot of people hate that vision, should be trying to build a fanbase. 


The Halfway Mark Pt 1: Pictures & Screenplays

We're halfway through the calendar, if not the film year exactly given the backloaded release schedule. So, let's take stock as to where we've been. Herewith my choices for Best thus far... which means I'm hoping that AMPAS and all awards groups will give them a try before the mad traffic jam of year-end Oscar vehicles.

Disclaimer: But first of all... did I miss anything? Sure. You can't see everything though I see my share (full list). My biggest 'oops' for 2013 is definitely Stories We Tell, Sarah Polley's docudrama about her family history which most people I trust at least like and some love. But I also wish I'd seen the Israeli Oscar submission Fill the Void which didn't compete for the foreign film Oscar but did win a release and great reviews.


Original Screenplay

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