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Entries in Francophile (71)

Monday
Jan092012

This &That: Makeup Finals, Foreign Beauties, Rule Changes

So I spent all of last night exuberantly "Oh No You Maggie Smith'nt!"* with friends over the 2 hour season premiere of Downton Abbey. Then I spent the better part of today at a table full of Oscar voters picking their brains (in a polite conversational way, mind you) at a luncheon for The Artist. More on both of those events soon but between last night and today, so many OscarQuakes or at least golden tremors.

*joke stolen from Patton Oswalt

Let's discuss four of them immediately! 

1. Hunger Games beauty Jennifer Lawrence will announce the Oscar nominations.
Usually people dress somewhat sedately for that super AM event but we're hoping Jennifer pulls out another one of those va va voom numbers she kept finding for last year's awards circus. The nomination event happens so early in the morning and if Jennifer wears skin tight white or form fitting red again, that's better than a pot of steaming coffee as an eye opener.

P.S. Is the publicity team behind Hunger Games the hardest working team in showbiz? You know this is all part of that evil world domination blitz. 

2. Documentary Rule Changes
Michael Moore and others proposed some Oscar Rule changes to the Academy and they've been adopted. The most controversial one, which we're totally fine with, involves requiring a review from the Los Angeles or the New York Times. The idea behind this rule is that the papers have a policy of reviewing each film that opens for a full week engagement. But it seems silly to stipulate that a review is required when the whole point is to get the movie in theaters for a full week. Why not just say "must play a week in Los Angeles and New York City to qualify?" Seems strange to put the qualification requirement on newspapers. According to Michael Cieply at the New York Times documentarians are not on board with these changes which would drastically reduce the number of qualifying entries.

I take a rather hard stance on this topic all the time and I assure you that it is not an anti-filmmaker stance. My stance is only a pro audience stance. I do not believe that films should be eligible for awards if they are not playing for the public. I'm tired of this elitist film culture where people only show their films in very discreet ways for very select audiences and hope that they'll win awards by which they will then try to lure paying audiences. On an individual case by case basis it's easy to see why the vast majority of pundits and filmmakers side with filmmakers on this topic and back these rules that make peekaboo engagements possible. But if you back up and look at the full picture it is much healthier for the survival of cinema if theatrical engagements are required and the audience is included. If movies aren't made to be seen there is no point in making them. If you want an engaged audience you have to create one. And to create one you've got to get the films out there in the marketplace. 

3. Makeup Citations
The bakeoff for Oscar's continually confounding Best Makeup category has finally happened and seven films are moving on to compete for the 3 wide nomination list. I've never found any reasonable explanation as to why this category has such a tiny amount of nominees given that a huge portion of movies require wig and makeup and prosthetics work but it is what it is. Despite "Best" often equating with "Most" J. Edgar and Green Lantern did not make the cut. Neither did that much talked about Michelle-to-Marilyn transformation wow them.

So your finalists go like so...

 

  • Albert Nobbs
  • Anonymous
  • The Artist
  • Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
  • Hugo
  • The Iron Lady

I am not remotely a fan of The Iron Lady but I think it'd be a very deserving nomination in that category since the makeup work on Streep is just flawless / transformative. The rest of the field I don't have strong opinions of. Do you? It's worth noting that no Harry Potter film has ever been nominated for Makeup though a few of the previous films have made it to pre-nomination lists like this one. 

4. Foreign Film Finalists Will Be Announced on... TBA?
I wish I knew when. If so I could plan better. Every day I wake up in fear that I will miss my chance to tell you how much I liked movie A or B before Oscar cuts them in the winnowing process, he says pessimistically. And every day I run out of time. I need a deadline! Last year they announced a week ahead of the regular nominations so I guess that gives me... 5 or so more days?

Left (France's Declaration of War) Right (Denmark's SuperClásico with the always awesome Paprika Steen)

For the record in case I get no other chance to say it should the Academy not respond well to them the 'Movie A' in question is France's cancer dramedy Declaration of War which is super lively, passionate, funny, and tearful (Take that 50/50... You are nothing to me now!) and the 'Movie B' in question is Denmark's divorce comedy SuperClásico starring the inimitable Paprika Steen (Applause) who you already know I 'stan for whenever I get the chance.

I interviewed her recently (we'll get to that eventually) and much to my delight she dubbed me a "nerdy film blogger!" Her exact words! Now I love her even more. I wish American directors would hire her because she speaks English fluently and is a great actress who can do both intense drama and spiky comedy. What more do they need? Why should the Nykqvists, Mikkelsens and Skarsgaards be the only Scandinavian actors Hollywood has on speed dial? Paprika can act circles around so many people. Get on that, Hollywood! Time is a wasting.

Tuesday
Dec272011

Interview: Jessica Chastain's Big Year / Big Future

Jessica Chastain was in Morocco when we spoke, jurying on a film festival. Or was she in Toronto filming a movie? No, maybe she was right here in New York City or in Los Angeles for a premiere or event? Who can say. It's been a dizzying year. Her definition of "staying put", I quickly discover, is staying in one place for a whole week. "I don't think this is a normal year for an actor," she says understating the case.

Chastain reigns over 2011's movies

She sounds bright and cheerful and ready for more movies, believe it or not, though she admits that the year has been tough on her personal life. This past summer she starred in two of the most talked about films of the year (The Tree of Life and The Help) and in the fall she was doing press for four more (The Debt, Take Shelter, Coriolanus, The Texas Killling Fields). 

Though her characters are already multiple, she is but one woman. The movies we're seeing all at once she made over the span of a few years and she helpfully provided the order when asked:

  • Wilde Salome ("My first film. It hasn't come out yet")
  • Jolene 
  • Stolen ("very small role")
  • The Tree of Life
  • The Debt
  • Coriolanus
  • Texas Killing Fields
  • Take Shelter
  • The Help ("I went straight from the set of Take Shelter")

I figure her sudden ubiquity is a good place to start the conversation...

"I'm fine right here" 

Nathaniel R: It's almost like you've sprung full grown from the head of Zeus for moviegoers.

JESSICA CHASTAIN: Which is so funny because I've been working so long!  But it does feel like this year with people starting to see my films they're asking "Where did you come from?" Well, I trained. I have been working for a long time.  You guys are just getting caught up . I didn't come out of nowhere.

NR: It just feels that way for us! I want to ask you about Take Shelter first. Long suffering wives of male leads -- how shall I put this? This type of part always runs the risk of feeling like a thankless stock role. How did you make it feel as specific as it does? That marriage is so vivid.

JC: It's funny. I think I teased Jeff [writer/director Jeff Nichols] quite a bit when we first started working together. I'm sure they were like "oh no…" because I do a lot of work before i show up on set. My script, it's not necessarily filled with answers but there are a lot of questions that I write down. In a scene in Take Shelter I might write down 'When's the last time he told me he loved me?'  Something like that which gets me thinking 'hmmmm, okay...'

For that movie I did that throughout the whole script. I had to make it so specific because my entire subtext in that film is "what's wrong with you?" but I can't say that the same way in every scene so I had to look for what's happened before each scene to make it as specific as possible. I really wanted to grasp it so much that on our first day I really embarrassed Jeff and Mike [Michael Shannon]. We're at lunch. The three of us sat down and I've got some questions. I looked at Jeff and said 'When do they have sex? I just wanna know.' Mike's mouth opened up, Jeff turns beet red.

'what's wrong with you?' Now, ask it in multiple unspoken ways.

[The Help, The Tree of Life and Chastain's future plans after the jump.]

Click to read more ...

Thursday
Oct272011

London: Early One Morning, Snowtown and Last Screening

Craig here (writer of Take Three) reporting for Nathaniel from the BFI London Film Festival. Today's round-up features three dark explorations into violent minds. Perfect for Halloween week then!

If disquieting French drama Early One Morning were a comedy it would need to hijack the title of another recent office-based film: Horrible Bosses. The financial suits upstairs are the cause for middle-aged everyman-exec Paul’s (played to fraught perfection by Jean-Pierre Darroussin) consternation in Jean-Marc Moutout’s film. What a total bunch of bankers! But Paul takes matters into his own hands in an explosive, very personal way. It starts with a coldly curious, matter-of-fact sequence: Paul gets up and ready for work, kisses his wife, gets on a bus and arrives at the office. The immediately perturbing vibe suggests that something terrible is inevitable. As it turns out, he shoots his bosses dead and then sits down at his desk. The film then flashes back to an earlier time to try and work out why Paul goes full nutjob with a handgun. It's clear from the finger pointing at the highly unsporting, self-regarding pair of CEOs (one played with pompous relish by Xavier Beauvois, the director of Of Gods and Men) and the hot potato topic of the recession that the film is trading on being a seasonably pertinent and bold exploration of current themes people will feel a kinship for. The film’s drastic actions are worrying, but maybe the Pauls of the world need a vicarious fictional mouthpiece to do the undoable acts on their behalf. After all, we like a David vs. Goliath tale. This one just goes one furious step further and attempts to annihilate its Goliath for all previous unfair dismissal. Early One Morning is mostly gripping viewing. Best avoided by those who’ve just been fired, mind. C+

The terrible bursts of violence in Early One Morning came fast and furious, but that’s nothing compared to what we get sporadically, intensively and with gut-churning abstraction throughout bold Australian drama Snowtown. [More after the jump.]

Click to read more ...

Sunday
Oct162011

NYFF: "The Artist" Is A Work of Art

The orchestra swells immediately. The retro credits practically shout the glory of the talent "MICHEL HAZANAVICIUS!", JEAN DUJARDIN!" "BERENICE BEJO!" (exclamation points ours -ed.) but the first telling words on the screen in The Artist are actually wittily posted on a sign, urging everyone to keep their mouths shut. 

Please Be Silent Behind The Screen."

George Valentin shows off at his big premiere

We are at the premiere of A Russian Affair, the latest from silent film star George Valentin (Cannes Best Actor winner Jean Dujardin) as he paces behind the screen waiting for the film to end. You can feel the tension as he waits for the audience reaction. The score drops out completely and we hear... nothing (Tension!). Then comes the audience's thunderous applause (Relief!) ... but we still hear nothing. This punchline in the absence of sound gives The Artist its first huge and knowing release of laughter. We can't hear the applause but we sure can see it in the joyous smile spreading across the star's face. That smile is already mirrored and multiplied by anyone watching this new gem.

George meets PeppyThe push and pull between what we expect to hear or see, and what comes instead is one of the great and consistent punchline joys of this silent film about silent films. Again and again the writer/director and his excellent cast (led with infectious verve by the Oscar-worthy Dujardin) will surprise and move us. Sometimes the magic comes through an unexpected camera movement or destination and sometimes through the physicality of the actors themselves and often by both at once. The laughs even come through sound -- though never in conventional ways; The Artist is, from start to finish, an exuberantly inventive homage to the movies such as they were and such as they are.

The story is both charmingly dated, and blissfully universal, which is to say contemporary; technology and tastes will always evolve and change and disrupt the status quo. George Valentin has the world at his (happy) feet in 1927 when the movie begins but by the time the 1929 title card arrives, he's already a dinosaur. He just didn't feel the asteroid's impact and hasn't yet felt the chill. Valentin laughs off his co-star's (Missi Pyle doing an intentional riff on Lina Lamont) sound test even though his director (John Goodman) warns him...

That's the future."

The future arrives, as it always does, through doors opened by the past. In 1927 Valentin gives a leg up to a complete nobody Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo madly winking and, well, peppy, filmed at 20 frames a second) by giving her a big fannish paparazzi moment. She makes the most of this flashbulb spotlight and lands a part in his next film A German Affair . In one of the film's funniest sequences, which sneakily lays dramatic foundation for the second act, we see them do several takes of an inconsequential dancing scene together. I won't spoil the many joys of the unfolding plot but let it suffice to say that it fondly recalls all rise and fall and pick yourself back up showbiz narratives particularly A Star is Born as Peppy's star rises (she's the new "it girl" in talkies) just as Valentin's falls. 

The future is coming

Though the film organically veers towards the sentimental in its second half, it has built such comic goodwill and affection that you don't mind laughing less as George's decline takes the film toward its heaviest dramatic moments. The Artist even risks the maudlin as Valentin keeps uncovering new rock bottoms but there's a beautiful simplicity in its heartbreak imagery. In one scene the once great star stands in front of a projector in his lonely home berating himself for being "stupid and proud"; he's now just a shadow on a smallish screen. Hazanivicious, to his credit, never stops blissfully and obviously cribbing from the best of Old Hollywood like Orson Welles, A Star is Born, Sunset Blvd., and Asta. Regarding the latter, The Artist's not so secret weapon iis its star dog "Uggy" -- a constant companion to Valentin -- who could be a direct descendant from that famous screwball comedy terrier. Best of all, Hazanavicius never settles for just one mood, usually gifting the images and scenes with multiple feelings. To cite but one example, there's a shot that highlights Valentin's disintegrating marraige to Doris (Penelope Anne Miller) which shows you three Valentin's: on the wall hangs a deified Valentin in oil portraiture, standing in front of him is Valentin the actual man realizing his wife is leaving him while holding a defaced photo of his movie star self in his hands (his wife has been scribbling on his headshot). Isn't that the archetypal private life of a celebrity actor in a nutshell?

The Artist in concept could have been a mere spoof, or a pleasant but insubstantial comic homage but Hazanavicius and his gifted team never settle, always reaching for bigger laughs, and delivering unexpected and immensely clever mise en scène. The actors are magicians, themselves. Despite the constant literal winking, as befits the era, they never figuratively wink at the material, which would take you outside of it. It's a movie of sincere and not ironic pleasure.

A retroactive time-travelling note to all selection committees of "future" film festivals in 2011: Always schedule The Artist as your Closing Night movie. It's an impossible act to follow and it'll send your audiences off with hearts soaring. They're return with pleasure the following year eager to see what you've programmed for them. When the movie opens in theaters they'll be returning, too. A

Jean DuJardin and "Uggy", a match made in heaven.

Re: the Oscars
The Artist is the best kind of Oscar contender in that it never once feels like it was built to hook the Academy, but it will surely prove irresistibly delicious bait nonetheless. Expect nominations across the board for what will surely be one of our Best Picture contenders. It's the only film this season aside from Martin Scorsese's Hugo that's so deeply infatuated with the history of the movies themselves, the very thing that the Academy was built to chronicle.

Monday
Oct032011

Enlinkened

TV|Line Madonna may be this year's halftime performer at the Superbowl
The Oreo Experience. An amusingly provocative (and depressing) look at fall movie trailers and what the white and black characters get to do in them. 
My New Plaid Pants on Ralph Fiennes' Coriolanus... coming soon. I'll admit a lack of familiarity with this particular Shakespeare play, too. 
ioncinema Andrew Haigh, the writer/director of Weekend names his ten favorite films. I asked him a similar question (which I didn't include in the published interview) and he only mentioned three of these: Don't Look Now, Last Night and Some Like It Hot.

Natasha VC on best uses of music in a Martin Scorsese film
Movie|Line Netflix Ten Most Rented Movies. An Interesting and Irritating List.
Shock Till You Drop asks David Cronenberg about his future projects including sequels (?) to Eastern Promises and The Fly. I spoke with Cronenberg today (interview coming eventually) but I didn't have time to talk up future theoretical movies since my predilection is always towards actual existing movies. Crazy, I know. I feel so lonely sometimes since most people only seem to care about future movies... though obviously I would be quite happy to see either of those imaginary movies as I'm a fan of both originals.


New York Mag talks to Laura Dern (Enlightened) who is my new hero for saying this:

I’m becoming fluent in French so I can go to France and make French films when I’m 60."

I have been suggesting this to actresses since I started writing a decade ago and finally someone is smart enough to take my advice. (okay okay. Maybe Laura doesn't read The Film Experience but let me have my fantasies. Shut up!)

Finally, Sasha over at  Awards Daily sounds off on the old complaint/notion that talking Oscar sucks the air out of the film room... particularly during the fall when we should be talking about how good the movies are. I'm in complete agreement here about film advocacy being the thing people are missing when they bitch about the Oscars. I discovered my cinephilia through the Oscars (as have several other people I've been lucky enough to meet over the years through my writing). They're two separate things now -- as they should be but all things take time -- but I take no issue with them sharing space each year.

Monday
Sep192011

TIFF Finale Pt. 1: "Silver Cliff" and People's Choice Winner "Where Do We Go Now?"

Paolo here back with...wait, there are more movies after the awards were announced? Yes, but before we get to that, I was unfortunately reminded by Amir that I saw Love and Bruises. It's a movie about a Chinese woman in Paris named Hua who studies the women's rights movements but hangs around with rapists outside of campus. One of these, Mathieu (Tahar Rahim, who needs to work with better directors), is the jealous possessive type but lets her alone with his skeezy best friend. Cheery stuff.

Silver Cliff

Aarim Ainouz' SILVER CLIFF begins with Djalma (Otto Jr.), a beefy guy who isn't having fun despite swimming on a beach in Rio de Janeiro and making love to his wife Violetta (Alessandra Negrini). He flies to a smaller city and dumps her over the phone. Arriving at the airport too late, she roams around the city, from hotels to beaches, playing his voice message and suspicious of its tone. She meets a father (City of God's Thiago Martins) and daughter with their own back story.

Rio is a city where Brazilians can get willingly lost and here we follow the abandoned halves of broken marriages in Silver Cliff. Though the majority of the film concentrates on Violetta, her scenes neither written nor performed compellingly, Ainouz's choice to begin and end with the male characters is a puzzler.

The People's Choice Winner...

Where Do We Go Now?

After the screening of Nadine Labaki's WHERE DO WE GO NOW? (Lebanon's Oscar Submission), I overheard a festivalgoer telling his friends that 'someone's probably blogging that this is the worst People's Choice Winner ever.' I might be one of those bloggers misconstrued as writing that.

The film's chief merit is its female perspective on Lebanese sectarian conflict. In the spirit of "Lysistrata," a group of village women try to stop men from gunned conflict through pranks. (Some audiences might see this approach as too idealistic since it's difficult for any group who hate each other and unite and pull off miracles.) The director also stars as Amale (Labaki) whose character arc takes her from merely vulnerable and beautiful to someone who can publicly question notions of masculinity and God. But why did the idealistic women have to hire those big city Ukranian exotic dancers? By exploiting them for the men's use these women are taking steps back as they try to move forward. Where Do We Go Now? would have been more effective with less of its irreverent comic tone and musical numbers which only work half the time. The film could still reach the same denouement without trying so hard for its laughs.

Sunday
Sep182011

TIFF: "Himizu," "Lovely Molly," "...Nightmare" and "Union Square."

Paolo here, back with yet more TIFF films from the final weekend.

The first film today is Sion Sino's HIMIZU, using the backdrop of the March 11 earthquake to tell the story of fifteen year old Yuichi Sumida's (Shota Sometani) violent dreams and reality. One of his dreams puts him in the Fukushima rubble, where he finds a pistol inside a washing machine and when he wakes up, he checks his own washer to see if it's true. What ensues is school absenteeism, stalking from a lovesick and excitable girl, abuse from his father (who tells him he should drowned him in a river) and beatings from Yakuza loan sharks. 

At one point he has convulsions, a reaction to his unbelievably painful life. It's a raw and forceful performance from Sometani that might be ignored by larger audiences because of world cinema ghettoization. Sino's approach in telling Sumida's story meanders after the point when Sumida stands up to get revenge from these adults.

I feel snobby when I miss films from TIFF's Midnight Madness programme but fortunately, they play them again days after their premieres. Yesterday brought us LOVELY MOLLY from BLAIR WITCH director Eduardo Sanchez. It starts with the young titular character (Gretchen Lodge) explaning, teary eyed, that the actions that her body is committing is not really her. Her seemingly perfect marriage and childhood home disintegrate because of an incubus that haunts her. It is a competent horror film with the occassional excellent moment, especially those in which Lodge confronts her inner monster or becomes one. Lodge, in a debut performance, commits to the role with both eloquence and ferocity.

The transitions between regular film and video cam equipment are smooth.The scares aren't cheap but the intervals between them are far too long. While we're waiting for either the invisible ghost or Molly to attack, we're left with watching close-ups of furniture while eerie music plays on the background. The film can't rely only on great sound design to make its house look creepy. And why does the house have a security system but not proper lighting?

New Isabelle Huppert and Mira Sorvino movies after the jump.

Click to read more ...

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