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DAY FOR NIGHT -another great movie about movies

I'm not sure if I like it more than 8 1/2 or Singing in the Rain, but when the majestic trumpet music plays, it reminds me of why I love cinema in the first place. The actors are terrific in this film as well. However, nothing will top Topsy-Turvy for me about the mystery,repetition, and heartbreak of the artistic process.❞ -Lars

 

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Entries in Oscars (11) (326)

Friday
Aug122011

Something is Golden in the State of Denmark.

Hot off an Oscar win in February for In a Better World, Denmark has announced their follow up contender ...or at least their intention to announce it. The land of my ancestors has narrowed down the past year in Dansk film to three tre: SuperClásicoMartin Zandvliet's Dirch (A Funny Man) and Pernille Fischer Christensen's En familie (A Family). 


En Familie, which my Danish informant Thomas (tak!) predicts will be the selection is a drama about a wealthy family with a dying patriarch. Jesper Christensen stars. You might recognize him from the Daniel Craig Bond films (he plays Mr White) or from the popular Swedish flick Everlasting Moments. He's also in Melancholia this year though I don't know how large his role is there.

SuperClásico is a divorce comedy which actually takes place in Buenos Aires. No word yet on whether that naked bum on the poster is Argentinian or Dane in origin ;). It's from the director of Flame & Citron, a film that got a healthy festival run a few years back. Important Note: Paprika Steen headlines and you'll recall that she was the Film Bitch Silver Medalist right here in last year's "best" celebrations. It'll be nice to see her smile this time around!

Nathaniel's Favorite Danes: Paprika Steen (SuperClásico) and Nikolaj Lie Kaas (Dirch)

The final contestant, Dirch or A Funny Man is a biopic about a famous Danish comedian. It stars Nikolaj Lie Kaas who you may have seen in Lars von Trier's The Idiots or famous Scandinavian films like Reconstruction or Brothers (he originated the role that later housed Jake Gyllenhaal). He's only recently started to branch out into English language films (something many Scandinavian giants do albeit usually in minor supporting roles) so you might have also seen him in Angels & Demons or in Whistleblower, Rachel Weisz's Oscar bid, which recently opened here in the States. You might think that Dirch would be too homegrown specific for Oscar submission but you never know. There are always a few biopics in the 60+ wide submission list of people who are infinitely more famous in their home countries than abroad.

IN DARKNESS, Poland's Holocaust Themed Oscar EntryMore Best Foreign Film News
GREECE, which up until last year's Dogtooth, hadn't been nominated since 1977 (and has never won), will submit Attenberg, which you'll recall won the Best Actress prize at the Venice Film Festival last fall. 

POLAND, 8 nominations / zero wins, will submit Agnieska Holland's In Darkness which In Contention made the following funny about. 

Poland... appears to have intensively focus-grouped the Academy’s foreign-language branch and subsequently created their Oscar entry in a purpose-built lab: a true-life Holocaust drama about a Leopold Socha, a reformed petty criminal who heroically helped numerous Jewish refugees hide in the sewers of Nazi-occupied Lvov.

 

Holland was previously nominated for best screenplay for her arthouse hit Europa Europa in the early nineties, also a Holocaust drama.

What does all this mean? That I've got to start building the Oscar Foreign pages again. (My work is never done!) In case you missed it... here's the discussion about what Norway might submit.

Thursday
Aug112011

Review: "The Help"

The first storyteller is Aibilene (Viola Davis), a black maid raising her 17th white baby in the Jim Crow south. She can't answer the question of what it feels like to raise another woman's baby when you've left yours behind at home. It's an overwhelming opening inquiry to be sure. Though it's immediately clear Aibilene is being interviewed, we don't know why and for what purpose as The Help begins. This type of prologue is common in movies as you get a peek at what's to come before stepping back to the beginning, but the introduction is important: Abilene is the first person we meet and the narrative voice of the movie. 

Viola Davis even listens with dramatic depth!

Though mainstream Hollywood has proven time and again that they're constitutionally incapable of telling black stories without a white frame --  in this case Emma Stone's frizzy haired provocateur "Skeeter" who is secretly writing a book about the experience of maids in Jackson, Mississippi -- The Help, however subtlely (and perhaps accidentally), suggests with its Davis-centric opening and closing passages that Abilene is capable of creating frames of her own, thank you very much. In fact, she'd rather write her own story than tell it to another writer.

So she does.

Mm-hmm. It's Octavia Spencer as Minny, a surefire Oscar nominee.If Tate Taylor's adaptation or Kathryn Stockett's bestseller were confident enough in Aibilene's voice to downplay Skeeter's this would be a much more revelatory movie, and surely a more painful one, but we're dealing with the movie we've got which is essentially both of theirs.

The story, or, more accurately, stories of The Help are passed like batons throughout the movie. Deep breath now: Skeeter who wants to be writer has a starter job as a cleaning advice columnist which leads her to conversations with (baton pass); Aibilene who is dealing with personal grief and a weak-willed bad-mommy employer; Elizabeth (Ahna O'Reilly) who is continually pushed towards racist actions by local queen bee; Hilly (Bryce Dallas Howard) who loves lording her power over her mother, local girls, maids and the town outcast; Celia (Jessica Chastain) who is loud and 'trashy' but really loves her maid; Minny (Octavia Spencer), the best cook in town and Aibilene's BFF, who has a sharp tongue and is at war with Hilly.

Though it's easy to take potshots at The Help  -- we might discuss those soon -- it's also somewhat ungenerous since The Help is well meaning and entertaining and best of all affords us the rare opportunity of seeing several watchable actresses chewing on a meaty multi-course feast together. Sometimes they mistake the scenery for another course (Bryce Dallas Howard and Jessica Chastain may both provoke heated arguments about the line betweena "type" and a caricature) but this was bound to happen. Chief among the delights in the acting arena is watching the dependable Viola Davis (Doubt, Far From Heaven) take the reins of a movie for once instead of stealing the whole thing in one scene or two.

The interplay between the characters makes up the bulk of the entertainment value, since with its sometimes candy color glossiness and very brief detached asides to actual history (usually on television sets), it's obviously not going for a deep historical rendering of the violent racist south. The movie would have done well to jettison much of Skeeter's story, both for pacing (it's far too long) and thematic strength, but Stone is such an engaging actress that it feels strange to object to having more of her around. Her storyline does eventually return, movingly, to the subject at the heart of The Help.

In the end where The Help wins over its audience, provided that they're okay with a surface take on a deep troubling subject, is with its trio of central performances. The intertwining still relevant topics of civil rights struggles, labor and racism are so large and overwhelming that it can be hard to breathe in their vicinity. What potency The Help does achieve it gets from its entertaining actresses sharing the thick pressure cooker air: Davis inhales, Stone fumes, Spencer erupts.

One final exasperated exhale from Aibilene is just the right cathartic move to end with. The audience breathes with her. And isn't this her story after all?

Related:
Oscar Discussion With Katey 
Review Index 

Tuesday
Aug092011

Will Oscar Hire "The Help"?

Here's a quickie conversation with Katey Rich and I about Tate Taylor's The Help and its Oscarable cast. We accidentally ran into each other outside the theater (hitting different screenings on the same day) so we decided we should have a brief chat.

How might the ladies campaign? Who really owns the film? Is this an Oscar vehicle for Viola and Emma or something more like momentum for a future Oscar?

Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer are the title characters but we also discuss the work of Emma Stone, Sissy Spacek, Bryce Dallas Howard, and an unrecognizable Jessica Chastain if The Tree of Life is all you have to go on. And that was all I had to go on going in.

The movie opens tomorrow in theaters. Have a listen.

Katey and Nathaniel on "The Help"

Monday
Aug082011

10 Word Reviews: Maids, Apes, Robots

A few movies we haven't yet said much about. In the interest of saying something -- more will definitely follow in the case of The Help and The Rise of the Planet of the Apes both of which I suspect we'll be talking about thru Oscar season -- here's two handfuls of words for each.

2011... the year of the put upon maid?

The Housemaid (Im Sang-Soo)
in which a nanny/maid contemplates her own Fatal Attraction
10WR: South Korea continues its Actressy roll. Classy/Trashy, expertly shaped. B+ 

The Help (Tate Taylor)
Maids in the South tell their provoactive stories to a feisty young writer
10WR: Ungainly in telling yet super compelling. Well seasoned cornpone acting.
UPDATE: FULL REVIEW 

Transformers Dark of the Moon (Michael Bay)
giant fucking robots return so that visual f/x may occur and billions may be made
10WR: Surprisingly coherent explosiveness. But debris clears immediately (i.e. totes forgettable) C+ 

Cars 2 (John Lasseter & Brad Lewis)
in which Mater the tow truck, the Jar Jar Binks of Pixar, travels the world.
10WR: Noisy unfunny lemon stuck in traffic jam of easy gags. D-

Septien (Michael Tully)
in which..., no, I don't know what happens. Something about three abused backwoods brothers.
10WR: Incomprehensible indie auteurism. Masturbatory but at least someone's getting off. D

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (Rupert Wyatt)
a science experiment gone awry has deadly simian consequences
10WR: Overly familiar beastie, schocked back to life by superb staging. B+
10 Word Bonus Thought: As new directors go, we suspect Rupert Wyatt could "A"  

COMING SOON: I know that everyone is already talking about Andy Serkis's killer work as "Cesar" in terms of its Oscar battles to come. But I want to let the film settle before I sound off. Anyway, I already suspect this conversation will make me crazy because it'll end up being a "supporting" discussion and "Cesar" is the lead of the film. James Franco's stardom is a red herring ;) 

Friday
Aug052011

Two Ladies: Margaret and Catwoman

beedle-dee-deedle-dee-dee

Margaret. Last night I was having a conversation with a reader and he asked me if I thought that Margaret, that long-delayed Kenneth Lonergan film about a traumatized young Manhattanite (Anna Paquin) was going to have any impact on the Oscar Race. I told him I'd been answering that question annually for the past five years. Each year the question feels weirder and weirder. If you're new to movie fanaticism, here's a good rundown of the timeline and the things that went wrong in getting the movie into theaters. 

Here's Matt Damon and Anna Paquin on set... in... wait for it... 2005. Matt was still a thirtysomething and Anna wasn't yet SOOKIIIIIIEEE

on the set of Margaret

As to the Oscar question, truthfully I care not a smidgeon. I just want to see it. It's been drifting, transparent, like a ghost in our peripheral vision for years. I don't even what to see a critic's screening. I want to buy a ticket, sit in the theater holding it, come home and frame it with the inscription:

THIS REALLY HAPPENED!"

The press release I received yesterday morning said September 30th but until the day I'm holding that ticket stub it will remain an ectoplasmic dream.

Catwoman. The Dark Knight Rises has released its second official character image (the first was of Tom Hardy's hunched back) and it's Our Miss Hathaway as Cyclops Catwoman riding a very Nolan-esque wild hog. He sure likes those dunebuggy big wheels. 

I love Hathaway. I love Catwoman. But my inner child is not okay with either of them stealing Batgirl's motorycle mojo, you know?

I had...uh... this friend... yeah, a friend... who used to pretend to be Batgirl while riding on the back of his dad's motorcycle. This...uh... friend was smart enough to not share this fantasy out loud with my dad his dad but it was a pretty regular occurence. Like, every time he hopped on the motorcycle!

Don't judge.

 

und i'm the only man. ja ♬