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Entries in Victoria (9)

Thursday
Jan282016

Personal Ballots Cont'd: Best Cinematography & Production Design

We're almost done with the Oscar Correlative categories in the Film Bitch Awards. Then it's on to the silly & fun but still seriously chosen "extra" categories. Here are my choices for the best men behind the camera (always men. sigh) and the men and women designing and decorating those sets and the film's overall visual palette for your eye-candy pleasure. 

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
The big Oscar question this year is "Can Emmanuel Lubezki" win a third consecutive Oscar for The Revenant. He's dominated the category the past two years with Gravity (2013) and Birdman (2014). It won't be the longest consecutive winning streak ever -- that belongs to Walt Disney who won consistently in short film categories for seemingly ever in the early days of Oscar -- but it will be the single longest streak in modern history if he pulls it off. But the category already has something for the record books: With his 13th nomination Roger Deakins Sicario moves into a tie for 5th place for All Time Most Celebrated Cinematographer. He's now sharing the honor with George J. Folsey (Meet Me in St. Louis) who also never won an Oscar. Everyone higher on the list won the Oscar once or multiple times, all four of them; It's rarified air they're breathing. 

Deakins makes my own personal ballot this year but Lubezki just barely misses (I was more impressed with his work on The New World which also went all natural light on the frontier) because I had to make room for the emotionally expressive and flexible light of Phoenix (courtesy of Hans Fromm) and the jaw-dropping 'how'd they do that?' camerawork on Germany's Victoria. On the latter film the director was so impressed he gave DP Sturla Brandth Grølven billing above his own! 

Oscar Charts (now with trivia & predictions) & Nathaniel's Ballot  


BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
We've already discussed the stupendous achievements in this category by Ethan Tobman on Room and Judy Becker on Carol so no need to rehash other than 'what is with Oscar sometimes. How could they ignore them?' Oscar voters have an anything goes choice in this category, though. If they don't just check off Mad Max Fury Road in most of the craft categories it's easy to imagine any of the films as winners, don'cha think?

Finally I wanted to give a shout out briefly to Thomas E Sanders work on Crimson Peak which the Academy also passed on. The movie has a lot of problems -- Guillermo del Toro can't seem to stay out of his own way with so much gilding of every gothic lily -- but Allerdale Hall is wonderfully decayed and oppressively decorative and all around drafty and decadent. And those vats in the basement! 

Oscar Charts (now with trivia & predictions) & Nathaniel's Ballot  

Monday
Dec212015

Best of '15: Co-Star Chemistry, the Great Intangible 

These are the 15 relationships that really crackled for us on screen this year with an electric snap... or familial/platonic warmth... or sexual combustibility... or tense reserve ... or  lived-in authenticity ...or any combo thereof depending on what the relationship called for. Kudos to the actors, directors, screenwriters, and casting directors who all obviously contributed to capture lightning in a bottle. The following examples of screen chemistry told us so much about the characters within the story and sometimes outside of it from long before the events of the movie or projecting out after the narrative. Do I find it troubling that the SAG and BFCA nominations for Best Ensemble avoided ALL of these films save Spotlight? Why, yes --- yes I do! Thanks for asking. 

Note: I opted not to include Carol in the list primarily because the obsession is too strong and every single relationship in the movie is fascinating (yes even Therese & Richard's! Even Harge & Abby who only get one scene together) and it wouldn't be fair to the other pictures with its web of relationships, new, old, soured, fresh, complicated and all superbly rendered. Joy, which is better than the initial response suggests, also has fine pockets of chemistry within a bustling cast (something David O. Russell excels at) but I couldn't settle on any one relationship.

The list is presented without commentary... but for what you have to say in the comments. 

15 Sylvester Stallone & Michael B Jordan in Creed (trainer/trainee and surrogate something)

14 more couplings after the jump...

Click to read more ...

Wednesday
Dec162015

Cinematography Outsiders

The creative leaps forward we've been seeing in the past decade have been staggering with our prominent cinematographers constantly developing new ways to experiment with visual storytelling and reinventing old tricks. Each year we also get exciting new voices added to the fray, but the Academy's cinematography branch has been reticent to include such future legends as Bradford Young and Greg Fraser.

This year is no different, with the heavyweight directors of photography set to dominate the category once again. Previous winners and perenial nominees Emmanuel Lubezki (The Revenant), Robert Richardson (the 70MM UltraPanivision The Hateful Eight), Janusz Kaminski (Bridge of Spies) and John Seale (Mad Max: Fury Road) are all possible candidates, with the still Oscar-less Roger Deakins (pictured above, Sicario) is always a threat. Our likeliest first-time nominee Edward Lachman for Carol is an example of how hard it can be to break through while delivering brilliant work.

But why so exclusive? This isn't a category that hugs close to the Best Picture lineup typically, and while they've rewarded creative risks, it is typically for a seasoned vet rather than a fresh voice. None of this is meant to diss these veteran artists - they're the elite for a reason. However, here are some non-frontrunner candidates worthy of more discussion:

Creed - Maryse Alberti

While the ballyhooed single take shot is a perfect example of the furious energy Alberti visually brings to key story moments, it's the more subtextual moments that shine - like the shot above or Adonis shadowboxing to stock footage of his father. Her work here is like a less taxing companion to what she did with The Wrestler, but just as potent. With female cinematographers unrecognized by the branch, I dare you to see her work and claim that the lack of female nominees is because there are no worthy candidates.

Click to read more ...

Saturday
Oct102015

Interview: Laia Costa Talks "Victoria" and Her Favorite Actresses

Jose speaks with the star of the must-see one-take German drama Victoria (now in theaters!)

 Few performances this year have been as electrifying as Laia Costa in Sebastian Schipper’s Victoria. Playing the title character she combines innocence with determination in thrilling ways. When we first meet Victoria she is dancing the night away at a club unaware that before the night is over she will be part of a high stakes heist with three men she just met. Schipper’s film is notorious because it was shot in a single, uninterrupted take, no digital trickery in this one, although people have been comparing it to 2014’s Best Picture Birdman all over,  “comparisons are inevitable” but “Victoria is punkier”, says Costa when we speak on the phone. “Someone said that everything has already been invented, we can’t invent anything new” she adds laughing.

Talking to the actress you get a sense of the camaraderie she developed with the cast and crew of the movie. She refers to her director and co-star by their last names, and you can tell she has endless anecdotes about the challenging shoot. Costa will be familiar to fans of the television series The Red Band Society, but Victoria is her biggest screen role to date and has already won her the German Film Award for Best Actress (the first time a Spanish actor has won this accolade). Audiences in Spain can currently see her in Carlos, Rey Emperador where she plays Mary of Austria, a process she calls “more artificial, they’re interested in facts about Spanish history not seeking truth in the characters”, but very necessary because as an actress she seeks to learn by working in as many genres as possible.


JOSE: How many Red Bulls and espressos did you need to shoot Victoria?

LAIA COSTA: Not a single one. It was all just concentration (laughs).

JOSE: You’ve mentioned that making the film was like being on drugs…

LAIA COSTA: Yes, because it was a shooting style I’d never done before, which allowed me to live Victoria’s life for two and a half hours, and go on a “trip”. [More...]

Click to read more ...

Saturday
Sep192015

TIFF: Anomalisa, Victoria, Youth. Is one pass enough?

Herewith three of the most distinctive films from TIFF. The only problem is: I'm not sure what I think of them. How often does that happen to you at the movies: walking out, unable to answer the question of "did I like it? was it good?" Some movies just refuse to settle quickly. Or, they're hard to parse in the film festival setting (due to seeing so many movies back to back). Which is to say that I'm going to need more time with each of these. All three are familiar and alien at once and, in their dissimilar ways, ambitious. All three are beautifully made... yet at this writing, I have trouble imagining the desire to watch any of them a second time. (Well, no. I'd like to see Youth again)

ANOMALISA (Duke Johnson & Charlie Kaufman, US)
Though I was a critical holdout on the oft revered miserabilist Synecdoche New York -- in which I learned that I most definitely prefer Kaufmann as a screenwriter than as a director -- I was eager to see this. That anticipation was partially for the novelty aspects. It's a stop motion film with many characters but with only three voice actors. The similar voices serve the plot in an obvious conceptual way when you're watching it (which I won't spoil) but they also indirectly expose the monotony and limits of a singular POV and male gaze, in this case Kaufmann's. The story involves a gray-haired customer service guru of some reknown, deeply unhappy and ready to cheat on his wife during a one night stay in a Cincinatti hotel. There are a few indisputably grand jokes, some stale ones (hotel room keys that don't work. hahaha) and moving beats within the discomfort and laughter. There's even a Jennifer Jason Leigh singing Cyndi Lauper sequence that's sublime. But there's also a feeling of "and...?" about the whole effort and even "why is this animated?" since it only becomes surreal a couple of times. At only 90 minutes this is stretched thin, given that some of the sequences play out in what painfully feels like real time like the businessman's cab to and check in at the hotel. I'm mystified by the "MASTERPIECE!" excitement around it but Kaufman's work is always worth mulling over. 

[Crass Oscar Note as I'm sure Kaufman had no interest in Oscars when he was making this: the critical hosannas Anomalisa was greeted with followed by the news that it would Oscar qualify this year led a lot of armchair pundits to think Inside Out suddenly has real competition for the Animated Oscar. That is not the case. This is too strange and dispiriting and even too dull to take the gold though the critical reception could certainly help it to a nomination if they'd like to acknowledge that animation isn't only for kids -- this one is entirely for adults given its themes and the animated sex scenes.] 

VICTORIA (Sebastian Schipper, Germany)
Victoria (Laia Costa) is a lonely barista from Spain who has spent three months in Berlin. She still doesn't know anyone when one night out dancing she meets drunk but charming Sonne (Frederick Lau) and three of his drunk up-to-no-good friends. Thus begins an unbroken 132 minute long continuous shot as we follow Victoria in real time through her inebriated misadventures. Schipper, who started as an actor (he's in many of Tom Tykwer's films), gets natural work from his entire cast who are all speaking rough English since that's their only common language. You truly feel like you're there with Victoria and her new friends on a neverending night you know you'll always remember. Or you'll hope to forget; parties can't last forever and one foolish decision can lead to another and another and soon you're in way too deep. Schipper and his technical team deserve all the praise they've received for this absolute technical triumph -- not only was the film all shot in one take, it's pulled off without a visible hitch, and it feels artful but effortless too since there are well timed musical breaks of one sort or another (including a phenomenal piano scene) and the lack of cuts only escalates the tension. The film has an inexorable energy since you don't feel you can escape. You're with Victoria and her German buddies until the end. But do you want to be? This is a grueling sit from the tension and eventual violence and the two hour plus running time so it's hard to imagine watching it a second time. Still, immersive film experiences like this are all too rare. 

Caine and Keitel spy on a tryst in the woods

YOUTH (Paolo Sorrentino, Italy)
An easier sit than Sorrentino's Oscar winning The Great Beauty but then it is half as long! Like that film, this one features amazing gilded tableaus and wealthy lost souls. We also get sharp performances from well loved Oscar-winners (Michael Caine, Jane Fonda, Rachel Weisz) and movie troupers (Harvey Keitel and Paul Dano), all of them getting at least one showcase moment. Youth has some truly vivid sequences / images but does it all cohere? I'm not sure that it does: It's covering a lot of ground very quickly and its many diversions, both fanciful, humorous, or sad are highly uneven. At a hotel/spa retreat for the rich and famous, the characters all come together: Caine is a retired legendary composer staving off requests to conduct again with his personal assistant daughter (Weisz); Dano (in a strange bit of casting) plays a sad movie star who hates his fans and the film he's best known for;  Keitel is a famous director whose work is not what it used to be. Jane Fonda appears in a much-showcased cameo as a legendary movie star diva. (That the movie is about aging showbiz types certainly won't hurt its Oscar chances given the Academy's demographics). Sorrentino seems to be borrowing from Fellini again and a friend of mine groaned about a scene involving a telescope in which Keitel pontificates on the different between youth and old age -- but I personally loved the scene. (Perhaps you have to be middle age or older to feel it though it's easy enough to "get") The movie may be chalk full of faux profundities like that one but better surface beauty and trying to say too much than drab looking movies with only one or two things to say.

 Grades: TBA

Friday
Sep182015

Victoria's single take is incredible, but it's not "better" than Birdman's

Sebastian here, not at TIFF, but now taking your donations to get me there next year...

Frederick Lau and Laia Costa in VICTORIA

Ever since its premiere at the Berlinale earlier this year, Sebastian Schipper's Victoria has been compared to Alejandro González Iñárritu's Birdman. The US poster even leads with a quote from Variety's Guy Lodge: "Fly away, Birdman — there’s a new one-shot wonder in town."

Victoria was shot in one take, which lead many to compare it (usually favorable) to the Best Picture winner. It's an odd comparison to make, though, since Iñárritu's film wasn't shot in one take, and never pretended to be, either. (The fact that Douglas Crise and Stephen Mirrione weren't even nominated for Best Editing is one of the stranger oversights in The Academy's recent history.)

Both films share in their production an elaborate, fairly - though not entirely - unique effort with a high degree of difficulty to pull off. But so does Boyhood. Or Mad Max: Fury Road, for that matter. That doesn't mean they're doing the same thing, and it certainly doesn't mean that one of them is "better" at it than the others.

As tempting as it may be for some to use Victoria's impressive technical achievement to get in one more jab at the much (and in this writer's view unfairly) maligned Oscar winner, it really doesn't do either of them justice.

VICTORIA had its North American premiere at TIFF this week and is being rolled out to US theaters next month, starting with New York and Los Angeles on October 10. Full release schedule here.