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Entries in Oscars (12) (288)

Sunday
Sep302012

Review: "Looper"

An abridged version of this review was originally posted in my column at Towleroad 

"Time travel hasn't been invented yet," Joseph Gordon-Levitt warns us from 2042 in LOOPER's voiceover. "But in the future it will be." In 2072 crime lords send their victims back in time to be killed by "loopers"  like Joe since it's the only way to get away with murder. (Apparently infallible forensic science has also been invented in the future!). 

Loopers dispatch their prey unceremoniously with a crude descendant of the shotgun called a  "Blunderbuss" which is useless at long distances but impossible to miss with up close. When each Looper's contract expires, his older self is sent back to his younger self for execution which is called "Closing the Loop". In this case that's Bruce Willis sent back in time to meet his death at the hands of Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Bruce Willis drag. (Joe's makeup effects, though extraordinarily non fake-looking are initially distracting -- JGL doesn't look like that!

Nothing kills genre films quicker than exposition. When you have to pass out glossaries to the uninitiated or explain the rules over and over again, a story can sputter and die or, at the very least, bore you stupid the second time throughLooper, however, is a wonderfully nimble exception given the size of the learning curve. More...

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Saturday
Sep292012

NYFF: "Frances Ha" Dazzling Brooklyn Snapshot

Michael C. here to report on the first home run I've seen at the New York Film Festival. Frances Ha is the type movie experience I’m hoping for every time I plunk down my ticket money. It knows exactly what it wants to do and how it wants to do it and as a result it grabs you by the sleeve and pulls you right in. It is Noah Baumbach’s finest film to date and the big breakout due for Greta Gerwig for some time now. 

Frances (Gerwig) is a dancer who shares a Brooklyn apartment with her bestest buddy Sophie (Mickey Sumner). Pushing thirty and stalled professionally and personally, she is right at the age when spending her nights flitting around the city getting wasted with her girlfriend stops being cute and starts being a cause for concern. When events transpire to threaten Frances' holding pattern the wheels quickly come off her cushy existence.

With this film Baumbach has not expanded his style so much as smashed it into a thousand pieces and arranged them into a collage. [More...]

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Friday
Sep282012

For Your Consideration: "Central Park Five" and "The Gatekeepers"

Amir here looking at two films we should keep an eye on in Oscar's documentary race.

"The Central Park Five"

I’ll be the first to admit that when it comes to judging the quality of documentaries, I have a particular bias. My favourite docs tend to be innovative films that aren’t necessarily “significant” in the grand scheme of things, like Grizzly Man or Senna, but I often find myself giving a pass to films that use a conventional structure to tell an important story, merely because thee subject matter does the work, towering above the film itself. Every once in a while, however, I’m confronted with a film that utilizes the old “talking heads intercut with archival footage” formula so powerfully that it becomes impossible to imagine it in any other way. Two such films came my way during TIFF that absolutely blew me away.

The first is Ken Burns, Sarah Burns and David McMahon’s The Central Park Five, which tells the story of five black and Latino youths who were arrested in 1989 for the alleged rape and physical abuse of a white female jogger in Central Park. Despite a lack of evidence to support the charges and their youth (they were all between 14 and 17), they each ended up serving several years in prison or juvenile detention centres. In 2002, more than a decade after their first trial, the real criminal stepped out and confessed; DNA evidence supported his claim. But the irreversible damage had been done. [more after the jump...]

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Friday
Sep282012

Life of Pi and other movies inside my head. It's a zoo in there.

My head is all ascramble. Last thing I know I was boozing it up with Joaquin* Suddenly I'm waking up adrift in the ocean** with only my beloved dog***, who I'd just brought back from the dead ****, and a fierce Bengal tiger for company. All of this while trying to chase and kill an older version of myself from the future ***** ! 

Which movies are jostling around inside your head right now vying for attention? Which one is winning?

* The Master ** Life of Pi *** Bwakaw **** Frankenweenie ****** Looper 
(Thoughts coming on all of those pictures -- a streak of happy moviegoing -- though not in that order as soon as I can collect myself.)

P.S. I'm aware that I'm burying the headline which is that I've just seen Life of Pi. Judging on the joygasms on twitter, it looks like a critical crowdpleaser and a bonafide Oscar contender. I was less ecstatic but boy does it look good. Cinematography nomination #2 for Claudio Miranda (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) coming right up. Yes, I'll update the Oscar charts this weekend. A lot of adjustments are due from shifting release dates and buzz.

Monday
Sep242012

NYFF: "Barbara" Cold War Slow Burn

Michael C. here with another dispatch from the New York Film Festival. This time it’s BarbaraGermany’s submission to the Foreign Language Oscar race

When you read as many movie reviews as I do you begin to pick up on certain code words critics will occasionally use, not unlike the way a real estate agent will describe an apartment as “cozy” instead of  “so small you have to open a window to use the microwave.” The reviews for Christian Petzold’s Barbara, for example, will no doubt refer to its “deliberate pacing” or its “slow-burning tension”. They will praise the admirable “subtlety” of the storytelling. All of these descriptors are accurate, no question, but they also dance around a simple blunt truth, which is that for long stretches Barbara is more than a bit boring.

Critics are forbidden to come right out and say this. First, because it makes the writer sound like he or she has zero attention span and wishes the film had more car chases and velociraptor attacks, and second, because the word is so damning it essentially negates the rest of the review. Might as well post the words DON’T SEE THIS in “Man Walks On Moon” sized letters if you are going to bring the word boring into the discussion.

In point of fact, Barbara is quite a good film...

Click to read more ...

Saturday
Sep222012

NYFF: "Hyde Park On Hudson" Historical Oscar Fluff

Michael C here with my first dispatch from the 50th New York Film Festival. First up is one of the Fall's two big president-starring prestige pictures.

Roger Michell’s Hyde Park on Hudson is a perfect example of that particular type of high-end, finely crafted period piece that hits theaters every autumn on its way to an Oscar nomination for Costume Design. These titles exist to provide awards voters with two hours of comfort food nostalgia wrapped in a thin packaging of historical significance. In recent years this subgenre has provided us with films like Finding Neverland, Mrs. Henderson Presents, and My Week With Marilyn. This year it’s Hyde Park on the Hudson, a film on the low end of this particular style. To call it a dud would be too harsh - kinder to say that it’s a missed opportunity.

The story is narrated by Daisy (Laura Linney), FDR’s devoted mistress as well as his fifth or sixth cousin, depending on how you count. Their courtship leads to the presidential handjob scene that America was undoubtedly clamoring for, (ball’s in your court Lincoln) presented in a montage that verges on the unintentionally hilarious in the extent to which it goes to remain tastefully inoffensive. Think close-ups of wild flowers while the sound of FDR’s limo a-rockin’ is heard off-screen.

The set up: With the threat of World War II looming, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (Samuel West and Olivia Colman) have embarked on the first ever journey to America by British royalty in the hopes a meeting with Franklin Roosevelt (Bill Murray) at his upstate New York getaway can persuade the Americans to intervene. Other major players in the story include FDR’s busybody mother (Elizabeth Wilson), his stalwart assistant (Elizabeth Marvel) and the brash and outspoken Eleanor Roosevelt (Olivia Williams) who has little patience for the pomp and etiquette of royalty. All her bows are unmistakably sarcastic.

Of course, the main attraction here is Murray...

Click to read more ...

Friday
Sep212012

"Fill The Void", "The Clown" and "After Lucia" Join the Very Crowded Foreign Race

Brazil, Israel, and Mexico -- three countries that have yet to produce an Oscar Foreign Film champ despite a small handful or two of previous nominees -- have now joined the fast-growing list of Oscar's subtitled contenders.

The tally now stands at 35...42 films 44 films and 4 finalist lists!

 Which means we've only got about 20 films left to hear about officially before the list is complete. October 1st is the deadline for submissions and in mid October Oscar will provide us with the official list which will usually contain a few surprises -- either a last minute film switcheroo, a disqualification, or a country that hadn't publicly announced suddenly surfacing on the list. Let's look at our new contenders and their countries nominee history after the jump.

Israel's New Contender: FILL THE VOID by Rama Burshtein which gives us an intimate look at the Hasidic community in Tel Aviv.

Israel's Nominee History - 10 noms / 0 wins
with links to Netflix pages -- all but one available for rental!
1964 Sallah
1971 The Policeman
1972 I Love You Rosa
1973 The House on Chelouche Street (instant watch!)
1977 Operation Thunderbolt
1986 Beyond The Walls
2007 Beaufort (instant watch!)
2008 Waltz With Bashir
2009 Ajami (instant watch!)
2011 Footnote 

Brazil's New Contender: THE CLOWN is about a father (Paulo José) and son (Selton Mello, also the director) who work together as clowns in the circus. The son no longer thinks himself funny and wants to settle down. 

Brazil's Nominee History - 4 noms / 0 wins
with links to Netflix pages if available
1962 Keeper of Promises
1995 O Quatrilho
1997 Four Days in September
1998 Central Station is by far the most universally beloved of Brazilian Oscar contenders even netting a well deserved Best Actress nomination for Fernanda Montenegro. In any other year it would surely have been a winning entry but it had the timing misfortune of going up against Life is Beautiful which was that year's even bigger foreign crossover hit, winning 3 Oscars on the big night (Actor, Foreign Film and Original Score) from its hefty 7 nomination tally which included Best Picture and Best Director nods.

Mexico's New Contender: AFTER LUCIA by Michel Franco is about high school bullying and was a hit at Cannes where it won the Un Certain Regard sidebar

Mexico's Nominee History - 8 noms / 0 wins
with links to Netflix pages -- unfortunately spotty
1960 Macario
1961 The Important Man 
1962 The Pearl of Tlayucan 
1975 Letters from Marusia 
2000 Amores Perros (instant watch!)
2002 The Crime of Father Amaro
2006 Pan's Labyrinth 
2010 Biutiful (instant watch!) 

 

WHO IS LEFT TO ANNOUNCE?

Plenty of countries in South America and Asia as well as three European biggies. The three countries with the mightiest Oscar stats that have yet to announce this year are...

 Denmark everyone assumes it will be the festival hit costume drama A Royal Affair... which has won acting awards and critical favor. So why haven't they announced that yet? Rumor has it they're announcing today so perhaps it's a done deal by the time you read this.  YEP. IT'S A ROYAL AFFAIR
Italy Reality had some buzz but NYFF is playing Caesar Must Die so it would sure be convenient... for me ;) ... if it were the latter.
Spain announces next Friday though they've already narrowed it down to three contenders. I'm hoping it's the silent black and white Snow White picture starring the internationally recognized Maribel Verdu (Y Tu Mama Tambien, Pan's Labyrinth, etcetera) because I like annual themes, don't you? See we're drowning in Snow White movies in 2012 -- you'd think this ancient story had just hit the public domain or something? -- so let's finally get a good one in the mix!