Saturday, December 29, 2012

Gangnam Style Foreign Films

For anyone who ever wanted to see The Turin Horse, Holy Motors, Amour, and The Kid with a Bike set to Psy's "Gangnam Style," here's your chance. I'll have to admit, this is pretty clever.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

OFCS Award Nominations

The Online Film Critics Society, of which I am a voting member, announced its 16th annual award nominations this week, with Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master leading the pack with 8 nods.


Here is the full list:

Best Picture
Argo
Holy Motors
The Master
Moonrise Kingdom
Zero Dark Thirty

Best Animated Feature
Brave
Frankenweenie
ParaNorman
The Secret World of Arrietty
Wreck-It Ralph

Best Film Not in the English Language
Amour
Holy Motors
Rust and Bone
This Is Not a Film
The Turin Horse

Best Documentary
The Imposter
The Invisible War
Jiro Dreams of Sushi
The Queen of Versailles
This Is Not a Film

Best Director
Ben Affleck – Argo
Paul Thomas Anderson – The Master
Wes Anderson – Moonrise Kingdom
Kathryn Bigelow – Zero Dark Thirty
Leos Carax – Holy Motors

Best Actor
Daniel Day-Lewis – Lincoln
John Hawkes – The Sessions
Denis Lavant – Holy Motors
Joaquin Phoenix – The Master
Denzel Washington – Flight

Best Actress
Jessica Chastain – Zero Dark Thirty
Jennifer Lawrence – Silver Linings Playbook
Emmanuelle Riva – Amour
Quvenzhané Wallis – Beasts of the Southern Wild
Rachel Weisz – The Deep Blue Sea

Best Supporting Actor
Alan Arkin – Argo
Dwight Henry – Beasts of the Southern Wild
Philip Seymour Hoffman – The Master
Tommy Lee Jones – Lincoln
Christoph Waltz – Django Unchained

Best Supporting Actress
Amy Adams – The Master
Ann Dowd – Compliance
Sally Field – Lincoln
Anne Hathaway – Les Misérables
Helen Hunt – The Sessions

Best Original Screenplay
The Cabin in the Woods – Joss Whedon, Drew Goddard
Looper – Rian Johnson
The Master – Paul Thomas Anderson
Moonrise Kingdom – Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola
Zero Dark Thirty – Mark Boal

Best Adapted Screenplay
Argo – Chris Terrio
Beasts of the Southern Wild – Lucy Alibar, Benh Zeitlin
Cloud Atlas – Lana Wachowski, Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski
Cosmopolis – David Cronenberg
Lincoln – Tony Kushner

Best Editing
Argo – William Goldenberg
Cloud Atlas – Alexander Berner
The Master – Leslie Jones, Peter McNulty
Skyfall – Stuart Baird
Zero Dark Thirty – William Goldenberg, Dylan Tichenor

Best Cinematography
Life of Pi – Claudio Miranda
Lincoln – Janusz Kaminski
The Master – Mihai Malamiare Jr.
Moonrise Kingdom – Robert D. Yeoman
Skyfall – Roger Deakins

The winners will be announced on January 7.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Top Ten Films of 2012

As 2012 comes to a close, it's time to engage in that annual critical tradition of selecting the top ten films of the year. It was tough to narrow down ten this year. I did a lot of second guessing and reshuffling before finally arriving at my final ten. My honorable mentions were equally as difficult. I could have switched all ten out with the ten films below them in my list and still had just as strong a list. Here are the ten films that resonated the most with me this year. You can read my full write up over at The Dispatch.

1
THE TURIN HORSE
(Béla Tarr, Hungary)
"Sparse and austere, Tarr entrances us with minimal dialogue and long, uninterrupted takes (accentuated by Mihaly Vig's droning score), creating a haunting existential meditation on mortality. One final masterpiece from one of the world's finest filmmakers."
2
HOLY MOTORS
(Leos Carax, France)
"As much an elegy for the cinema as it is a love letter. It seems to embody everything cinema is, was, and will be. It's an invigorating jolt of pure creative energy, and one wild ride."
3
AMOUR
(Michael Haneke, Austria)
"Emmanuelle Riva gives one of the year's most heartbreaking performances as Anne, making her shocking deterioration all the more deeply upsetting. "Amour" is utterly wrenching, often difficult to watch, but the results are something incredible indeed."
4
THE MASTER
(Paul Thomas Anderson, USA)
"A prismatic exploration of the great paradox of American identity, and while it may not always work the way it intends, Anderson's ambition and fearlessness make it impossible to ignore. A major work by a major American filmmaker."
5
THE DEEP BLUE SEA
(Terrence Davies, UK)
"A soap opera awash in exquisite sadness, where the feelings and nuances lie in the spaces between what the characters actually say, recalling the pain of the doomed romance in David Lean's masterpiece, "Brief Encounter." "
6
THIS IS NOT A FILM
(Jafar Panahi, Iran)
"The very existence of "This is Not a Film" is an act of defiance against tyranny, but it is also a fearless and vibrant chronicle of a man who refuses to be silenced. It may not be a film, but it is a great work of art, nonetheless."
7
LINCOLN
(Steven Spielberg, USA)
"Spielberg not only weaves a gripping historical tale, but holds a mirror to our own deeply divided partisan system as well. Anchored by a truly staggering performance by Daniel Day Lewis as Lincoln (and aided by an impressive supporting cast), this could very well be one for the ages."
 8
BARBARA
(Christian Petzold, Germany)
"A quietly gripping drama, Petzold's striking mise-en-scene and lean, efficient style creates a palpable sense of Iron Curtain era paranoia."
9
THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY
(Peter Jackson, New Zealand)
"A ripping yarn on a grand and rare scale. Jackson once again brings this world to breathtaking life, this time with the somewhat controversial (but actually quite spectacular) use of high frame rate technology that adds a level of reality to the images that is completely unprecedented. This is what the movies are all about."
10
GIRL WALK // ALL DAY
(Jacob Krupnick, USA)
"Shot guerilla-style on the streets of NYC (with lots of innocent, and visibly perplexed bystanders), "Girl Walk // All Day" looks at dance as language through performance art as cinema. An invigorating shot of pure joy."
Special shout out to IN THE FAMILY (Patrick Wang, USA), a wonderful 2011 film that didn't find an audience until this year, and if I could justify counting it as a 2012 film, it would be in my top ten. A brief theatrical run in November of 2011, however, keeps it off my official list.

HONORABLE MENTIONS
FOUND MEMORIES (Julia Murat, Argentina), BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW (Panos Cosmatos, Canada), OSLO, AUGUST 31ST (Joachim Trier, Denmark), TABU (Miguel Gomes, Portugal), PARANORMAN (Chris Butler, Sam Fell, USA), CRAZY HORSE (Frederick Wiseman, USA), THE IMPOSTER (Bart Layton, UK), ONCE UPON A TIME IN ANATOLIA (Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Turkey), STARLET (Sean Baker, USA), MIDDLE OF NOWHERE (Ava DuVernay, USA).

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Review | "On the Road"

As a fan of Walter Salles' The Motorcycle Diaries, I had high hopes for his cinematic adaptation of Jack Kerouac's seminal chronicle of the "beat generation," On the Road. On paper it seems like a perfect match of director and source material, destined to recapture the free spirited magic that Salles brought to the story of young Che Guevara's life changing journey across South America.

The actual film, however, falls disappointingly short. Full disclosure - I have never read Kerouac's novel, nor am I a fan of beat culture in general. So on a personal level, I found the film more than a little off-putting. It was actually rather disconcerting to find myself feeling like an old man shaking my cane at the television shouting "you dang kids!" at their seemingly never ending parade of bad decisions. But beyond my own personal discomfort with the characters' empty hedonism (which, admittedly, isn't exactly celebrated so much as held up as the folly of youth), the film itself is a bit of a mess. Kerouac's free flowing prose just doesn't translate well to film, despite Salles' most valiant attempts.

Sam Riley (left), Kristen Stewart (center), and Garrett Hedlund (right) in ON THE ROAD, directed by Walter Salles.
Photo Credit: Gregory Smith. An IFC Films / Sundance Selects Release
That stream of consciousness style comes across as unfocused in the film, which seeks to capture the free-spirited essence of one Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund), a devil-may-care restless soul determined to shuck the expectations of society and carve his own path through life. The film itself centers around young Sal Paradise (Sam Riley), a struggling writer who wants to break free and find himself. He meets the enigmatic Dean and his girlfriend, Marylou (Kristen Stewart), whose open, strangely bohemian relationship is like nothing Sal has ever seen. The three of them set off on a road trip, where they encounter various characters (played by an impressive, if underused, cast of A-list talent such as Viggo Mortensen, Amy Adams, Steve Buscemi, and Kirsten Dunst) who each affect them in a profound way. It is a road trip that will change their lives forever, but some of them will move on, and others never will.

On the Road the book is pretty much the prototype for every road movie of self discovery ever made, so by now many of its elements seem like cliche, when this is actually where they originated. The problem is other, much better movies have already covered this territory. Sean Penn's Into the Wild treads very similar ground, to much greater success, as does Alfonso Cuaron's Y Tu Mama Tambien, whose central triptych shares a journey not unlike that of Kerouac's three heroes. It doesn't help matters much that in order to capture Kerouac's spirit, Salles has a narrator quote directly from the book, accompanied by pattering bongos in Gustavo Santaolalla's score. It gives the affair the feel of some sort of 1950s poetry slam, which may well be the intent, but such things have been so often lampooned that it merely serves to plunge the film into self parody. I felt like I was watching an episode of "Dot's Poetry Corner" from "The Animaniacs." It's hard to take Kerouac's meandering prose seriously when it's being accompanied by the very instruments that have been used to parody it in the decades since, and it serves more to pull the audience out of the picture rather than draw us in.

Sam Riley (left) and Garrett Hedlund (right) in ON THE ROAD, directed by Walter Salles.
Photo Credit: Gregory Smith. An IFC Films / Sundance Selects Release.
Strangely enough, the strongest aspect of the film is the performance of Kristen Stewart. I've been hard on Stewart in the past, mostly for her almost non existent presence in the Twilight films, and her being wildly miscast in Snow White and the Huntsman, but in Salles has found the perfect avenue for her wispy earthiness in Marylou. She hasn't seemed this alive in a film since, interestingly, Into the Wild. This is clearly the kind of film she responds to creatively, and it shows. It's quite possibly the strongest work of her career, and showcases her as a talent with promise, rather than a warm body in a soulless franchise.

It's a shame, then, that the film around her never steps up its game beyond shallow, simplistic imitations of Kerouac's style. It never quite captures the vibrancy or the timbre of his writing, even when just lazily quoting the most famous passages of the novel. I wanted to feel something, but I never did. It is a journey that felt as alien to me as if I was watching it in another language without subtitles. These characters may be searching for themselves, for freedom, for the meaning of life, but the film never seems to go that deep. Rather they merely seem to be flouting taboos just for the sake of challenging conformity than anything else. It's a surface imitation of philosophical rambling than any real introspection. One would be better served to seek out a DVD of The Motorcycle Diaries, a film about personal discoveries that reach a much deeper, more relevant conclusion. Teenagers of every generation have always sought to set themselves apart from the status quo, but what sets On the Road apart from, say, a film like Stephen Chbosky's The Perks of Being a Wallflower, is that the soul searching they do stems more from selfish hedonism than any tangible sense of connection to the world around them. I'm fully prepared to accept that this is just not a film that spoke to me on a personal level, but it also never really achieves its own goals either. Salles has been on this road before with much more success, and this trip just feels gratuitous, lost in its own haze of beatnik navel gazing.

GRADE - ★★ (out of four)

ON THE ROAD | Directed by Walter Salles | Stars Sam Riley, Garrett Hedlund, Kristen Stewart, Amy Adams, Tom Sturridge, Danny Morgan, Alice Braga, Kirsten Dunst, Viggo Mortensen, Steve Buscemi | Rated R for strong sexual content, drug use and language | Now playing in New York City and Los Angeles.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Academy Narrows Foreign Language Film Race to 9

The Academy announced the short list of 9 foreign language titles that will advance in this year's Oscar race. They are:

Emmanuelle Riva as Anne in AMOUR.
Photo by Darius Khondji, (c) Films du Losange, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics. 

  • Austria, "Amour," Michael Haneke, director;
  • Canada, "War Witch," Kim Nguyen, director;
  • Chile, "No," Pablo Larraín, director;
  • Denmark, "A Royal Affair," Nikolaj Arcel, director;
  • France, "The Intouchables," Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano, directors;
  • Iceland, "The Deep," Baltasar Kormákur, director;
  • Norway, "Kon-Tiki," Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg, directors;
  • Romania, "Beyond the Hills," Cristian Mungiu, director;
  • Switzerland, "Sister," Ursula Meier, director.
Amour is clearly the frontrunner, but while it may gain widespread support from the Academy as a whole, I have a feeling that France's The Intouchables will strike a chord with the foreign language branch as well, because it is absolutely the kind of thing they tend to favor in this category, plus it has Harvey Weinstein behind it, who should never be counted out. Switzerland's Sister is also quite good but maybe a bit too cold for the Academy. Chile's No is a pretty good bet, as is Canada's War Witch. It's good to see Cristian Mungiu get some recognition here after the egregious snubbing of his brilliant 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days, but I don't think the Academy will go for Beyond the Hills either. Denmark's A Royal Affair most likely will round out the nominees.

This year, the only real snub is Germany's entry, Barbara, which is one of my favorite films of the year, and you'll be hearing me talk more about it in the coming weeks.

The five final nominees will be announced on January 10, 2013, along with the rest of this year's Oscar nominations.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Review | "The Impossible"

Say what you want about the political implications of focusing on a white family in the midst of an Indonesian tragedy, let's focus on the film itself for just a moment. Juan Antonio Bayona's The Impossible tells the incredible true story of a family vacationing in Indonesia who is separated by the devastating tsunami that wreaked havoc on the country in 2004. Thousands of people lost their lives in the disaster, which also destroyed many families and caused billions of dollars worth of damage in one of the worst natural disasters in modern history.

The Impossible finds light in that darkness, an almost miraculous tale of survival and perseverance that triumphed over all odds. Is it a bit too on the nose? Sure. Bayona knows how to pull the audience's heartstrings, and he does so with no apology. But he does it well, and it's hard to fault  a man for pushing so many buttons if he pushes the right ones. The film certainly smacks of typical Hollywood triumph of the human spirit dramas, but when it is this well crafted and moving one can't help but admire it.

NAOMI WATTS and TOM HOLLAND star in THE IMPOSSIBLE.
Photo: Jose Haro © 2012 Summit Entertainment, LLC. All rights reserved.
The biggest argument I've seen leveled against The Impossible is that it focuses on a Caucasian family during a tragedy that occurred in Indonesia. I understand the criticism, but I disagree with it, because the race of the central family is, I think, ultimately irrelevant. Not only does the fact that this family is lost far away from home add tension to the story, but these are real people with an extraordinary story that deserves to be told. This is the kind of story that should transcend politics, not ignite racial arguments from well-meaning but misguided critics who seek to reduce everything to political finger pointing. Critics are often guilty of projecting their own political biases onto a film rather than critiquing the film at hand (and I know I've been guilty of this as well), but to reduce such an amazing story to "they shouldn't be white!" seems incredibly reductive to me.

It is not in any way cheap or offensive to focus on a European family. Had the story been made up there may have been more of an argument there, but it wasn't. It's true. And this family's story isn't any more or less worthy of being told because of the color of their skin. That kind of thinking is myopic and reductive to the conversation, I think, even though those that bring it up have the exact opposite intention. This is a human story, not a racial one; anything else is being projected on it by the viewer.

OAKLEE PENDERGAST, EWAN McGREGOR and SAMUEL JOSLIN star in THE IMPOSSIBLE.
Photo: JOSE HARO © 2012 Summit Entertainment, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Most people aren't going to come away from The Impossible offended by the race of the protagonists  They're going to come away moved by the the story, as well they should. That is, after all, the point of the film. The only legitimate thing you could accuse Bayona is underlying the story's emotions a little too boldly and schematically. But even that seems irrelevant in the face of such impressive craft. The opening tsunami sequence is a work of breathtaking skill, both horrifying and harrowing. Bayona makes it thrilling without exploiting the tragedy of the event, and it's a real shame that the film was left off of the Oscar shortlist for Best Visual Effects, because it certainly deserves recognition in that category.

It's best shot for Oscar recognition is Naomi Watts, who gives a stunning performance as Maria. The real standout for me, however, was young Tom Holland as her oldest son, Lucas. Holland almost carries the entire film on his back, as it is his resilience and emotional journey that really gives the film its heart. I'm sure the film will inspire many to roll their eyes at its bald-faced emotionalism, and that's okay. There is certainly a Hallmark channel vibe to the whole affair. But Bayona (who previously impressed with the chilling Spanish ghost story, The Orphanage) is clearly a director with a terrific eye, infusing the film with almost Spielbergian flair. He makes up for its occasionally shameless manipulation with a genuinely sincere sense of hope. The Impossible may be schmaltz, but it's damn good schmaltz. It's the kind of story that is so incredible, so impossible, that it can only be true.

GRADE - ★★★ (out of four)

THE IMPOSSIBLE | Directed by Juan Antonio Bayona | Stars Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor, Tom Holland, Oaklee Pendergast, Samuel Joslin, Geraldine Chaplin | Rated PG-13 for intense realistic disaster sequences, including disturbing injury images and brief nudity | Opens Friday, 12/21, in select cities.

Review | "This is 40"

I've seen quite a bit of critical cynicism going around in the last few weeks regarding Judd Apatow's latest film, the "sort-of sequel to Knocked Up," This is 40. I'm not sure if it stems from the film hitting too close to home, or some kind of subconscious jealousy, or some other unknown baggage, but I didn't see any of the strangely personal problems so many critics seem to have with it.

It's true that the characters can be shrill, whiny, selfish, and often just willfully ignorant of the other characters' problems and points of view. But so can anyone, and therein lies the beauty of Apatow's work. He makes raunchy comedies, certainly, but there is always something deeper at work in them that is exceedingly rare in this type of film. Critics often demand smarter comedies, but when one like this falls in our laps, why do we turn up our noses? This is 40  is an intelligently written, readily identifiable comedy that holds a mirror up to its audience in a way that could easily make many a little uncomfortable, and that's what makes it so terrific.


Picking up five years after the events of Knocked Up, This is 40 returns us to the world of Leslie Mann and Paul Rudd's Debbie and Pete. Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl are nowhere to be found this time around, as Apatow chooses instead to focus on the domestic life of Debbie and Pete, now on the cusp of their 40th birthdays wondering what happened to their seemingly lost youth. They mostly spend their days caught in a routine of their own devising  Debbie runs a clothing store where she finds herself increasingly jealous of the tight, sexy body of one of her employees (Megan Fox), while Pete's record label is struggling to survive under his outdated taste in music and refusal to modernize. Their kids (played by Apatow's real life daughters, Maude and Iris) fight constantly, their oldest daughter is a mass of hormonal teenage moodiness, prone to whining and temper tantrums, while the youngest enjoys needling her every chance she gets.

While Debbie tries to keep everything together, Pete looks for reasons to escape, often retiring to the toilet to play on his iPad just for a brief respite from all the tension. How did their lives come to this? What happened to the marital bliss they once shared? As Pete and Debbie struggle to keep their family together through financial struggle and personal crisis, they will discover who they truly are, and that life, even at its most frustrating, can be incredibly, vibrantly beautiful.


There has always been a deeply personal undercurrent running through Apatow's films, but never has it come so blatantly to the fore as does in This is 40. It feels almost autobiographical (and not just because of the presence of Apatow's actual children). And while it may seem shrill at times, and Mann's incessant nagging can become grating, that's kind of the point. Apatow handles the midlife crisis with a surprising amount of grace and dignity, delivering the laughs while also exploring Gen X angst with disarming aplomb, without wallowing in self pity or baseless sentimentalism. He is aided by an impressive cast of supporting players, from Albert Brooks and John Lithgow as troublesome in-laws, and Melissa McCarthy in a hilarious cameo as the angry parent of her daughter's young boyfriend at whom Debbie lashes out.

First world problems? Absolutely. But these are the kind of things people face every day, the natural ebb and flow of relationships that may seem trivial to the outside world, but make up the core of every day existence. Apatow has a keen eye for this sort of thing, and has established himself as a kind of voice of his generation. This is 40 cuts to the quick, but it's also very, very funny. Apatow manages to find humor in the stress and awkwardness of every day life, but he also finds the tenderness of familial love in a way that is free of cynicism or irony. I can see how some accuse it of being whiny or fixated on trivialities, but we're all guilty of such things. What This is 40 is, is brutally honest. How one reacts to that often depends on the eyes of the beholder and the baggage they bring to it. If Apatow makes us squirm while we laugh along, then he's probably hit the nail right on the head, and he hits that mark dead on more often that not. It's one of his finest and most mature works to date.

GRADE - ★★★½ (out of four)

THIS IS 40 | Directed by Judd Apatow | Stars Leslie Mann, Paul Rudd, Maude Apatow, Iris Apatow, Albert Brooks, John Lithgow, Jason Segel, Melissa McCarthy | Rated R for sexual content, crude humor, pervasive language and some drug material | Opens Friday, 12/21, in theaters everywhere.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Trailer | "To the Wonder"

Here is the gorgeous first trailer for Terrence Malick's To the Wonder.



To the Wonder will open on April 12, 2013, from Magnolia Pictures.

On "Les Misérables"


From The Dispatch:
As the big movie of the holiday season, "Les Misérables" will doubtlessly please its legions of fans, although newcomers may be put off by its marathon length and tragic nature (a feel good holiday movie it is not). But when that camera moves in on Hathaway's tear-streaked face, or when Jackman hits that magic falsetto in "Bring Him Home," the magic of Broadway's greatest spectacle comes to glorious life for a wider audience than ever before. See it on stage if you can, but for now this will do.
Click here to read my full review.

Review | "Amour"

Watching Michael Haneke's aptly titled Amour was a deeply personal experience for me. Two years ago, my grandmother passed away from Alzheimer's Disease after spending more than a decade immobile in a nursing home bed. My grandfather sat by her side every day, feeding her, cleaning her, wheeling her around the nursing home in her wheelchair, always attentive, always faithful.

I learned what true love is from my grandfather, and in a very immediate sense, I have witnessed Amour first hand. While the stories come to a very different conclusion, the film hit very close to home nevertheless. It is possible that I am more susceptible to its power than most, but I am also in a better position to see just how close it cuts to the bone. This is what it looks like, and it is as painful as it is beautiful. Amour is, in some ways, Haneke's most accessible film, but it is also one of his most horrific. Make no mistake, this is a horror film disguised as a love story, and allows Haneke to delivers some of his most powerful and haunting work to date.

Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) are both retired music teachers in their eighties who have had a long, full life together. They mostly spend their days listening to music, attending concerts, and living out their twilight years in their spacious apartment (an increasingly confined space from which Haneke's camera never strays). Then one day, Anne has an episode, seemingly blanking out from the world. When she returns, she has no memory of the non-responsive period, as if it never happened. She has had  a stroke, and so begins a slow descent into the ugliest abyss of old age. It starts out small, Anne's right side being mostly paralyzed but her mind remaining intact. She becomes confined to a wheelchair, becoming more and more frustrated by her own dependence on others as she defiantly insists on keeping what independence she has left.

Jean-Louis Trintignant as Georges and Emmanuelle Riva as Anne in AMOUR.
Photo by (c) Films du Losange, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.
She is visited by her daughter (Isabelle Huppert), and a former student, now a world famous pianist, who is shocked to find his former teacher in such a pitiful state. Anne is put off by their blatant displays of pity as she continues to try to live life as normal. But fate has other plans for her, and as she continues to deteriorate, she becomes more and more lost in the fog of old age, leaving the stalwart Georges to care for her, alone with his memories of better days gone by, and a wife he barely recognizes, a shell of the woman she once was. Facing the end of a lifetime together, lost and alone, Georges faces the greatest challenge of his life, a challenge that will push their love to the brink and beyond.

The results are every bit as devastating as one could imagine, and more. But Haneke treats the film as more than just a tragedy, he treats it is a tribute to deep, passionate, all encompassing love. That makes it perhaps Haneke's warmest film to date, but it's no less painful for that. Amour strikes such a deep emotional chord because it offers a glimpse into a future that could literally belong to any of us. That is perhaps what makes the film so deeply unsettling, it's that chilling realization that this could very well be us one day lying helpless on a bed, unable to speak or move or feed ourselves, incontinent and alone in a haze of decrepitude. Therein lies Haneke's typically bleak outlook we have seen manifest itself to frightening effect in films such as Funny Games, Cache, and The White Ribbon, but this time he imbues it with something deeper, a glimmer of hope, however tragic, that makes the film all the more profound. The idea that one can find a love so deep that it will remain by your side even in the darkest and most difficult of circumstances.

Emmanuelle Riva as Anne in AMOUR.
Photo by Darius Khondji, (c) Films du Losange, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics. 
What viewers are most likely to take away from Amour, however, is the incredible and moving performance by Riva. It's the most stunning work by any female actor this year, matched only by Daniel Day-Lewis' portrayal of Abraham Lincoln in Steven Spielberg's Lincoln. It is a staggeringly immersive, utterly heartbreaking performance that defines what it means to be an actor. In one especially wrenching scene, Georges tries to lead Anne in a familiar song, an old favorite. The words coming out of Anne's mouth are little more than gibberish, but the life behind her eyes as she tries to form the lyrics makes for one of the most poignant moments in film this year. Riva's work crowns an impressive career that is mostly unknown to American audiences, but if there is any justice in the world she will be remembered for this. She’s so good, in fact, that she has often unfairly overshadowed Trintignant, whose quiet resolve is no less powerful than Riva’s own, more outwardly impressive performance.

The film is titled Amour for a reason. Love isn't always pretty. But real love, true love, survives all things. Haneke has no time for the simple platitudes and shallow sentimentalism that so often characterize movies about love. Instead he portrays it with a grim, clear eyed honesty. This could very well be the natural conclusion to the bright, carefree happiness of a wedding day, or of a long and happy life. Haneke's austerity spares us none of the gory details, but there is a certain beauty to be found in that frankness, a light in the seemingly impenetrable darkness. Deep at its core, Amour displays a softer side of Michael Haneke that we have never seen before, and the result is something profoundly moving. This is love at its natural conclusion, after the happy endings have faded away and the musical swells have died down - just two elderly people facing the end together with all their memories and imperfections. But what those other love stories never show us, and Amour so bravely does, is that love in winter is sometimes the strongest. If love truly does overcome all things, then this is its ultimate test, and Haneke's searing vision is destined to haunt until our dying day.

GRADE - ★★★★ (out of four)

AMOUR | Directed by Michael Haneke | Stars Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva, Isabelle Huppert | Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material including a disturbing act, and for brief language | In French w/English subtitles | Opens today, 12/19, in New York City and Los Angeles.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Why Bilbo Baggins?

In one of my favorite scenes from The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) turns to Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and asks "Why the halfling?"

Gandalf turns to face the camera and replies:
Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love. Why Bilbo Baggins? Perhaps because I am afraid, and he gives me courage.
I have returned to that quote many times in the days following the horrific shooting at Sandy Hooks Elementary on Friday. I have also read many snide dismissals of The Hobbit by cynical critics quick to deride Tolkein's simple fantasy tale and Jackson's sprawling adaptation (and especially his use of 48 fps).

One of the criticisms I have heard the most is that the film is too long, and that turning a relatively short novel into three nearly three hour long films amounts to little more than hubris on Jackson's part. I disagreed from the start. But I disagree now more than ever. The world needs more films The Hobbit, and Friday's tragedy reminded me why.


We live in a dark world indeed if a gunman can walk into an elementary school and indiscriminately slaughter six and seven year olds. It's an evil that defies all words, that boggles the mind. And Friday afternoon, all I wanted to do was escape from this broken world into a world like Middle Earth. Where good is good and evil is evil and good always triumphs. Simple? Yes. Realistic. Sadly not. But this is what we need right now. Not the kind of arrogant cynicism that has so pervaded reviews of this film. I often grow weary of the kind of criticism that demands some kind of deep intellectualism from every film, ignoring films that are simply a well told story.

I grew up listening to stories of Bilbo Baggins from my dad. Not only did he read The Hobbit to me, but he would often make up new adventures for Bilbo and Gandalf to go on, adventures that were mine and no one else's. There was a whole world to explore in Middle Earth, and I got to go there and back again every night.


Jackson's film may be long, but it unfolds like a campfire story, a ripping yarn filled with dwarves, orcs, elves,  goblins, giants, and a lost treasure in a kingdom under a mountain guarded by a fearsome dragon. I don't care that it features a wizard in a sled pulled by rabbits. It doesn't bother me that the tone is lighter than that of The Lord of the Rings. That is what Tolkein meant it to be. The Hobbit was written for children, and Jackson's film speaks to the child in all of us. It is a story of simple courage, filled with wonder and grandeur on a level that movies just don't see that often. Jackson's elegant direction takes these stories to a whole new level, treating them with the respect and mythos they deserve. These are our modern myths. As Samwise Gamgee once said:
It's like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn't want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it's only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn't. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something. That there's some good in this world, Mr. Frodo... and it's worth fighting for. 
These are the stories that really matter. There are those in this world that seem to want to stamp out that joy that they bring, to somehow lessen or discount it. But sometimes, this is exactly what we need, and it couldn't have come along at a better time. I could have stayed in that world for three more hours, and then three hours more. If only to forget, for just a little while, that the world outside can be such a painful place, and to be reminded that there is some good still worth fighting for. Why Bilbo Baggins? Because his innocence and purity are something sorely missing in today's world. He's not a dark, brooding hero. He's a small hobbit who does extraordinary things, whose simple acts of kindness and love can hold the darkness at bay, if only for a few hours. And I can't wait to go on another adventure with him.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Golden Globe Nominations 2013

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association really likes Lincoln. Steven Spielberg's historical drama led the 70th Annual Golden Globe nominations with 7 nods, while also showing love for Argo, Les Miserables, Zero Dark Thirty, Django Unchained, Silver Linings Playbook, and...Salmon Fishing in the Yemen?


Helen Mirren scored a Best Actress nomination for Hitchcock, who after her recent recognition by the SAG Awards seems poised to score an Oscar nomination over Emmanuelle Riva, whose stunning performance in Amour keeps getting inexplicably shut out. Nicole Kidman also scored another nomination for The Paperboy. Her SAG nomination was a complete surprise, but her nomination here seems to suggest there is more support for her than previously realized. Could she sneak in that 5th slot over Maggie Smith?

I am most thrilled by the recognition of Rachel Weisz in The Deep Blue Sea. She remains one of my  favorite performances of the year, and I hope this inspires Oscar voters to pop in those screeners.

Here is the list of nominations in the motion picture categories. For the full list, including television, please click here.

BEST MOTION PICTURE – DRAMA
ARGO
Warner Bros. Pictures, GK Films, Smokehouse Pictures; Warner Bros. Pictures
DJANGO UNCHAINED
The Weinstein Company, Columbia Pictures; The Weinstein Company/Sony Pictures Releasing
LIFE OF PI
Fox 2000 Pictures; Twentieth Century Fox
LINCOLN
DreamWorks Pictures, Twentieth Century Fox; Touchstone Pictures
ZERO DARK THIRTY
Columbia Pictures and Annapurna Pictures; Sony Pictures Releasing

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A MOTION PICTURE – DRAMA
JESSICA CHASTAIN, ZERO DARK THIRTY
MARION COTILLARD, RUST AND BONE
HELEN MIRREN, HITCHCOCK
NAOMI WATTS, THE IMPOSSIBLE
RACHEL WEISZ, THE DEEP BLUE SEA

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A MOTION PICTURE – DRAMA
DANIEL DAY-LEWIS, LINCOLN
RICHARD GERE, ARBITRAGE
JOHN HAWKES, THE SESSIONS
JOAQUIN PHOENIX, THE MASTER
DENZEL WASHINGTON, FLIGHT

BEST MOTION PICTURE – COMEDY OR MUSICAL
THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL
Blueprint Pictures/Participant Media; Fox Searchlight Pictures
LES MISERABLES
Universal Pictures, A Working Title Films/Cameron Mackintosh Productions; Universal Pictures
MOONRISE KINGDOM
Indian Paintbrush; Focus Features
SALMON FISHING IN THE YEMEN
CBS Films; CBS Films
SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK
The Weinstein Company; The Weinstein Company

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A MOTION PICTURE – COMEDY OR MUSICAL
EMILY BLUNT, SALMON FISHING IN THE YEMEN
JUDI DENCH, THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL
JENNIFER LAWRENCE, SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK
MAGGIE SMITH, QUARTET
MERYL STREEP, HOPE SPRINGS

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A MOTION PICTURE – COMEDY OR MUSICAL
JACK BLACK, BERNIE
BRADLEY COOPER, SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK
HUGH JACKMAN, LES MISERABLES
EWAN MCGREGOR, SALMON FISHING IN THE YEMEN
BILL MURRAY, HYDE PARK ON HUDSON

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE FILM
BRAVE
Walt Disney Pictures, Pixar Animation Studios; Walt Disney Pictures
FRANKENWEENIE
Walt Disney Pictures; Walt Disney Pictures
HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA
Columbia Pictures / Sony Pictures Animation; Sony Pictures Releasing
RISE OF THE GUARDIANS
DreamWorks Animation LLC; Paramount Pictures
WRECK-IT RALPH
Walt Disney Pictures, Walt Disney Animation Studios; Walt Disney Pictures

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
AMOUR (AUSTRIA)
Les Films Du Losange, X Filme Creative Pool, Wega Film; Sony Pictures Classics
A ROYAL AFFAIR (DENMARK) (En kongelig affære)
Zentropa Entertainment; Magnolia Pictures
THE INTOUCHABLES (FRANCE) (Les Intouchables)
The Weinsten Company, Quad Productions, Gaumont, TF1 Films Production, Ten Films, Chaocorp; The Weinstein Company
KON-TIKI (NORWAY/UK/DENMARK)
Nordisk Film Production, Recorded Picture Company
RUST AND BONE (FRANCE) (De rouille et d’os)
Page 114, Why Not Productions; Sony Pictures Classics

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE IN A MOTION PICTURE
AMY ADAMS, THE MASTER
SALLY FIELD, LINCOLN
ANNE HATHAWAY, LES MISERABLES
HELEN HUNT, THE SESSIONS
NICOLE KIDMAN, THE PAPERBOY

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE IN A MOTION PICTURE
ALAN ARKIN, ARGO
LEONARDO DICAPRIO, DJANGO UNCHAINED
PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN, THE MASTER
TOMMY LEE JONES, LINCOLN
CHRISTOPH WALTZ, DJANGO UNCHAINED

BEST DIRECTOR – MOTION PICTURE
BEN AFFLECK, ARGO
KATHRYN BIGELOW, ZERO DARK THIRTY
ANG LEE, LIFE OF PI
STEVEN SPIELBERG, LINCOLN
QUENTIN TARANTINO, DJANGO UNCHAINED

BEST SCREENPLAY – MOTION PICTURE
MARK BOAL, ZERO DARK THIRTY
TONY KUSHNER, LINCOLN
DAVID O. RUSSELL, SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK
QUENTIN TARANTINO, DJANGO UNCHAINED
CHRIS TERRIO, ARGO

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE – MOTION PICTURE
MYCHAEL DANNA, LIFE OF PI
ALEXANDRE DESPLAT, ARGO
DARIO MARIANELLI, ANNA KARENINA
TOM TYKWER, JOHNNY KLIMEK, REINHOLD HEIL, CLOUD ATLAS
JOHN WILLIAMS, LINCOLN

BEST ORIGINAL SONG – MOTION PICTURE
FOR YOU, ACT OF VALOR
Music by: Monty Powell, Keith Urban Lyrics by: Monty Powell, Keith Urban
NOT RUNNING ANYMORE, STAND UP GUYS
Music by: Jon Bon Jovi Lyrics by: Jon Bon Jovi
SAFE & SOUND, THE HUNGER GAMES
Music by: Taylor Swift, John Paul White, Joy Williams, T Bone Burnett Lyrics by: Taylor Swift, John Paul White, Joy Williams, T Bone Burnett
SKYFALL, SKYFALL
Music by: Adele, Paul Epworth Lyrics by: Adele, Paul Epworth
SUDDENLY, LES MISERABLES
Music by: Claude-Michel Schonberg Lyrics by: Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schonberg

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

"The Hobbit" in 48 fps

Having seen the first installment of Peter Jackson's Hobbit trilogy, An Unexpected Journey, twice now, once in 24 fps, and once in 48 fps, I've been able to compare the merits of both in pretty close proximity to each other.


Despite all the negative reactions swirling around the High Frame Rate release, I was blown away by it. Granted it does take some getting used  to, because your eyes are being asked to absorb twice as much information as they're used to, filling in many of the visual gaps that our eyes are used to filling in on their own. It's almost like watching a silent film being projected at the wrong speed, everything seems to be moving too fast. But once you get acclimated to it the effect is spectacular. Everything looks so clear, almost hyper-real, making for some of the most breathtaking 3D ever.

I think many people passed judgement on it too quickly, decided they didn't like it right off the bat. Because it is a bit jarring at first because it's so different that what we're used to. However I think if people give it a chance it makes for a wholly new and thrilling cinematic experience.

The 24 fps looks great too, of course, and has a more traditional film-like quality that is more reminiscent of the look of the Lord of the Rings films. But the 3D conversion isn't as good. The 3D effect is much sharper and more real in 48 fps.

The bottom line is that the movie is great no matter what format you see it in. You can read my full review of the film here (which is based on the 24 fps version, I had not yet seen it in 48 at press time). But the HFR version is just such a unique experience that it's something that should be seen, if for no other reason than just to take in the breathtaking detail that Peter Jackson has poured into the film. It really comes to life in 48, and deserves to be seen the way the director intended.

Review | "Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God"

The child sex abuse scandal that has rocked the Catholic Church over the past decade is perhaps one of the most volatile, controversial, and heartbreaking events of our time. What has been in the news is shocking enough on its own, but Alex Gibney's incendiary documentary, Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God sheds light into some of the darkest corners of the scandal, exposing a breathtaking conspiracy we only thought we knew.

Mea Maxima Culpa (which translates as "my most grievous fault") uses the sad story of Father Murphy, who abused hundreds of boys at a school for the deaf over the course of several decades, as a jumping off point for a shocking expose of apathy and active cover-up amongst Catholic authorities. Gibney uses chilling testimony told through sign language from some of the victims themselves, and voiced by talent such as Chris Cooper and Ethan Hawke, to paint a broad portrait of a disease that has infected the Church for literally thousands of years, tracing back evidence of abuse to the very beginning of the Catholic church.


What is most disturbing about the film, however, is its connection of the cover-up the the very highest levels of the church, and most damning of all, to Pope Benedict XVI himself. When he was still Cardinal Ratzinger, Benedict personally oversaw every single accusation of child abuse, most of which resulted in priests being relocated or returned to their churches to abuse again. To his credit, Gibney doesn't seem to be on a crusade to bring down the Church or attack the faith itself. He makes it very clear that his issue is with the insular culture of silence and unwillingness to accept blame that has helped propagate this sickness throughout the Church, and especially its lifting of priests to a level that is somehow more then human and above sin. Gibney portrays Benedict as a man who is truly concerned about the situation, but is caught between admitting to years of Church culpability or maintaining a face of strength and infallibility in the eyes of the faithful.

The beating heart of the film, however, is the first hand accounts of the victims of Father Murphy, one of the most notorious pedophilic priests. These brave men were the first to stand up and say "enough," exposing the scandal for the first time. Gibney's exploration of their fight for recognition, first within the Church, then in the public square, is a testament to their bravery. Even as Church authorities focus on the guilty priests rather than the victims, Mea Maxima Culpa pays tribute to those fearless victims who risked everything to put an end to this abuse. Even in the face of such staggering evil, Gibney finds a story of simple heroism, a light cutting through widespread darkness. Make no mistake, Gibney is on a crusade to expose decades of cover up, but he has also crafted a lyical and haunting documentary that finds something to celebrate even in the darkest of situations. It's a deeply disturbing film, but one whose power simply cannot be ignored. Few documentaries ever really get the chance to change the world. This one might actually do just that.

GRADE - ★★★½ (out of four)

MEA MAXIMA CULPA: SILENCE IN THE HOUSE OF GOD | Directed by Alex Gibney | Featuring Chris Cooper, Ethan Hawke, Jamey Sheridan, John Slattery | Not Rated

On "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey"

From The Dispatch:
Middle Earth hasn't lost any of its luster in the decade that has past since we last visited with these characters, and Jackson carries us off on another rollicking tale of high adventure. It is a grand cinematic spectacle that demands our full surrender but doesn't overwhelm its simple tale of courage with its spectacular special effects. "The Hobbit" will almost certainly never quite reach the heights of "The Lord of the Rings," but it was never designed to. It is exactly what it should be, a worthy and entertaining prelude to one of the great trilogies in cinematic history.
Click here to read my full review.

SAG Award Nominations

Lincoln, Les Miserables, and Silver Linings Playbook led the Screen Actors Guild nominations this morning with four each, including Best Ensemble.

Hugh Jackman in LES MISERABLES.
The lineup included a few surprises, such as Nicole Kidman for Best Supporting Actress for The Paperboy and Helen Mirren for Best Actress in Hitchcock, as well as Javier Bardem for Best Supporting Actor for Skyfall. This paved the way for the two most egregious omissions, Emmanuelle Riva's devastating performance in Amour was left off the Best Actress list, as was Joaquin Phoenix's obsessive turn in The Master. I would have thought that the actors of all groups would have embraced those two performances.

Here is the list of nominations in the film categories. For the full list, including television categories, click here.

Outstanding Performance By A Male Actor In A Leading Role
Bradley Cooper / Pat - "Silver Linings Playbook" (The Weinstein Company)
Daniel Day-Lewis / Abraham Lincoln - "Lincoln" (Touchstone Pictures)
John Hawkes / Mark - "The Sessions" (Fox Searchlight)
Hugh Jackman / Jean Valjean - "Les Misérables" (Universal Pictures)
Denzel Washington / Whip Whitaker - "Flight" (Paramount Pictures)

Outstanding Performance By A Female Actor In A Leading Role
Jessica Chastain / Maya - "Zero Dark Thirty" (Columbia Pictures)
Marion Cotillard / Stephanie - "Rust And Bone" (Sony Pictures Classics)
Jennifer Lawrence / Tiffany - "Silver Linings Playbook" (The Weinstein Company)
Helen Mirren / Alma Reville - "Hitchcock" (Fox Searchlight)
Naomi Watts / Maria - "The Impossible" (Summit Entertainment)

Outstanding Performance By A Male Actor In A Supporting Role
Alan Arkin / Lester Siegel - "Argo" (Warner Bros. Pictures)
Javier Bardem / Silva - "Skyfall" (Columbia Pictures)
Robert De Niro / Pat, Sr. - "Silver Linings Playbook" (The Weinstein Company)
Philip Seymour Hoffman / Lancaster Dodd - "The Master" (The Weinstein Company)
Tommy Lee Jones / Thaddeus Stevens - "Lincoln" (Touchstone Pictures)

Outstanding Performance By A Female Actor In A Supporting Role
Sally Field / Mary Todd Lincoln - "Lincoln" (Touchstone Pictures)
Anne Hathaway / Fantine - "Les Misérables" (Universal Pictures)
Helen Hunt / Cheryl - "The Sessions" (Fox Searchlight)
Nicole Kidman / Charlotte Bless - "The Paperboy" (Millennium Entertainment)
Maggie Smith / Muriel Donnelly - "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" (Fox Searchlight)

Outstanding Performance By A Cast In A Motion Picture
"Argo" (Warner Bros. Pictures)
Ben Affleck / Tony Mendez
Alan Arkin / Lester Siegel
Kerry Bishé / Kathy Stafford
Kyle Chandler / Hamilton Jordan
Rory Cochrane / Lee Schatz
Bryan Cranston / Jack O'Donnell
Christopher Denham / Mark Lijek
Tate Donovan / Bob Anders
Clea Duvall / Cora Lijek
Victor Garber / Ken Taylor
John Goodman / John Chambers
Scoot Mcnairy / Joe Stafford
Chris Messina / Malinov

"The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" (Fox Searchlight)
Judi Dench / Evelyn Greenslade
Celia Imrie / Madge Hardcastle
Bill Nighy / Douglas Ainslie
Dev Patel / Sonny Kapoor
Ronald Pickup / Norman Cousins
Maggie Smith / Muriel Donnelly
Tom Wilkinson / Graham Dashwood
Penelope Wilton / Jean Ainslie

"Les Misérables" (Universal Pictures)
Isabelle Allen / Young Cosette
Samantha Barks / Eponine
Sacha Baron Cohen / Thénardier
Helena Bonham Carter / Madame Thénardier
Russell Crowe / Javert
Anne Hathaway / Fantine
Daniel Huttlestone / Gavroche
Hugh Jackman / Jean Valjean
Eddie Redmayne / Marius
Amanda Seyfried / Cosette
Aaron Tveit / Enjolras
Colm Wilkinson / Bishop

"Lincoln" (Touchstone Pictures)
Daniel Day-Lewis / Abraham Lincoln
Sally Field / Mary Todd Lincoln
Joseph Gordon-Levitt / Robert Todd Lincoln
Hal Holbrook / Preston Blair
Tommy Lee Jones / Thaddeus Stevens
James Spader / W.N. Bilbo
David Strathairn / William Seward

"Silver Linings Playbook" (The Weinstein Company)
Bradley Cooper / Pat
Robert De Niro / Pat, Sr.
Anupam Kher / Dr. Cliff Patel
Jennifer Lawrence / Tiffany
Chris Tucker / Danny
Jacki Weaver / Dolores

Outstanding Action Performance By A Stunt Ensemble In A Motion Picture
"The Amazing Spider-Man" (Columbia Pictures)
"The Bourne Legacy" (Universal Pictures)
"The Dark Knight Rises" (Warner Bros. Pictures)
"Les Misérables" (Universal Pictures)
"Skyfall" (Columbia Pictures)

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Critics Choice Award Nominations

The Broadcast Film Critics Association tends to be the most middle-brow voting body, and this year they're veering dangerously close to MTV Movie Award territory (Best Actor in an Action Movie? Seriously?). But they also tend to be the best indicator of Oscar's taste than any other, even more so than the notoriously wonky Golden Globes.


Steven Spielberg's Lincoln led the charge with a record setting 13 nominations, but the categories are a bit different than what it will be going for at the Academy Awards (the Oscars have no acting ensemble category, for instance). For the most part the nominations are right down the middle, no real surprises, and the groups bias against foreign language fare continues unabated (only Best Foreign Film nominees? Do they not watch movies with subtitles?), ignoring Amour for Best Picture (an achievement I still think it will be able to pull of at the Oscars).

Here is the full list of nominees:

BEST PICTURE
Argo
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Django Unchained
Les Misérables
Life of Pi
Lincoln
The Master
Moonrise Kingdom
Silver Linings Playbook
Zero Dark Thirty

BEST ACTOR
Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook
Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
John Hawkes, The Sessions
Hugh Jackman, Les Misérables
Joaquin Phoenix, The Master
Denzel Washington, Flight

BEST ACTRESS
Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty
Marion Cotillard, Rust and Bone
Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
Emmanuelle Riva, Amour
Quvenzhané Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild
Naomi Watts, The Impossible

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Alan Arkin, Argo
Javier Bardem, Skyfall
Robert De Niro, Silver Linings Playbook
Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master
Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln
Matthew McConaughey, Magic Mike

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Amy Adams, The Master
Judi Dench, Skyfall
Ann Dowd, Compliance
Sally Field, Lincoln
Anne Hathaway, Les Misérables
Helen Hunt, The Sessions

BEST YOUNG ACTOR/ACTRESS
Elle Fanning, Ginger & Rosa
Kara Hayward, Moonrise Kingdom
Tom Holland, The Impossible
Logan Lerman, The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Suraj Sharma, Life of Pi
Quvenzhané Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild

BEST ACTING ENSEMBLE
Argo
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Les Misérables
Lincoln
Moonrise Kingdom
Silver Linings Playbook

BEST DIRECTOR
Ben Affleck, Argo
Kathryn Bigelow, Zero Dark Thirty
Tom Hooper, Les Misérables
Ang Lee, Life of Pi
David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook
Steven Spielberg, Lincoln

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Quentin Tarantino, Django Unchained
John Gatins, Flight
Rian Johnson, Looper
Paul Thomas Anderson, The Master
Wes Anderson & Roman Coppola, Moonrise Kingdom
Mark Boal, Zero Dark Thirty

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Chris Terrio, Argo
David Magee, Life of Pi
Tony Kushner, Lincoln
Stephen Chbosky, The Perks of Being a Wallflower
David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Les Misérables, Danny Cohen
Life of Pi, Claudio Miranda
Lincoln, Janusz Kaminski
The Master, Mihai Malaimare Jr.
Skyfall, Roger Deakins

BEST ART DIRECTION
Anna Karenina
The Hobbit
Les Misérables
Life of Pi
Lincoln

BEST EDITING
Argo
Les Misérables
Life of Pi
Lincoln
Zero Dark Thirty

BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Anna Karenina
Cloud Atlas
The Hobbit
Les Misérables
Lincoln

BEST MAKEUP
Cloud Atlas
The Hobbit
Les Misérables
Lincoln

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
The Avengers
Cloud Atlas
The Dark Knight Rises
The Hobbit
Life of Pi

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
Brave
Frankenweenie
Madagascar 3
ParaNorman
Rise of the Guardians
Wreck-It Ralph

BEST ACTION MOVIE
The Avengers
The Dark Knight Rises
Looper
Skyfall

BEST ACTOR IN AN ACTION MOVIE
Christian Bale, The Dark Knight Rises
Daniel Craig, Skyfall
Robert Downey Jr., The Avengers
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Looper
Jake Gyllenhaal, End of Watch

BEST ACTRESS IN AN ACTION MOVIE
Emily Blunt, Looper
Gina Carano, Haywire
Judi Dench, Skyfall
Anne Hathaway, The Dark Knight Rises
Jennifer Lawrence, The Hunger Games

BEST COMEDY
Bernie
Silver Linings Playbook
Ted
This Is 40
21 Jump Street

BEST ACTOR IN A COMEDY
Jack Black, Bernie
Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook
Paul Rudd, This Is 40
Channing Tatum, 21 Jump Street
Mark Wahlberg, Ted

BEST ACTRESS IN A COMEDY
Mila Kunis, Ted
Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
Shirley MacLaine, Bernie
Leslie Mann, This Is 40
Rebel Wilson, Pitch Perfect

BEST SCI-FI/HORROR MOVIE
The Cabin in the Woods
Looper
Prometheus

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
Amour
The Intouchables
A Royal Affair
Rust and Bone

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
Bully
The Central Park Five
The Imposter
The Queen of Versailles
Searching for Sugar Man
West of Memphis

BEST SONG
"For You," Keith Urban, Act of Valor
"Learn Me Right," Mumford & Sons, Brave
"Skyfall," Adele, Skyfall
"Still Alive," Paul Williams, Paul Williams Still Alive
"Suddenly," Hugh Jackman, Les Misérables

BEST SCORE
Argo, Alexandre Desplat
Life of Pi, Mychael Danna
Lincoln, John Williams
The Master, Jonny Greenwood
Moonrise Kingdom, Alexandre Desplat

Winners will be announced January 10.

Trailer | "Man of Steel"

I'm not sure how I feel about this new, darker direction that superhero movies are going. You can only take a film starring a man in red and blue tights flying through the air wearing a cape seriously.


That's what I like about the Marvel movies - they're light and fun like comic books should be. They capture the breezy spirit of the comics. But hey, it worked for Batman. The only Zack Snyder film I've ever liked was Dawn of the Dead, but I'll give him the benefit of the doubt here, because this is a very good trailer.

Man of Steel opens June 14, 2013.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Top 10 Original Movie Songs of 2012

My year end coverage of 2012 officially begins today with my list of the top 10 best original songs of 2012. It's been a stronger than usual year for movie songs, as the last few years has seen a bit of a dry spell in that area.

1
"Song of the Lonely Mountain"
Neil Finn - THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY



This folksy ballad, which incorporates part of Howard Shore's sweeping Misty Mountain theme as well as Tolkein's poetry, returns us to Middle Earth in grand fashion.

2
"Safe & Sound"
Taylor Swift feat. The Civil Wars - THE HUNGER GAMES



Taylor Swift's gorgeous lullaby adds a wistful element to the wildly popular phenomenon.

3
"Abraham's Daughter"
Arcade Fire, T. Bone Burnett - THE HUNGER GAMES




Under the direction of T. Bone Burnett, The Hunger Games had the year's best soundtrack album, and this knock-out track ended the film with the bang.

4
"Learn Me Right"
Birdy, Mumford & Sons - BRAVE



So good it later ended up on Mumford & Sons' new album, "Babel."

5
"Skyfall"
Adele - SKYFALL



This is what a Bond theme song is supposed to sound like.

6
"This Gift"
Glen Hansard - THE ODD LIFE OF TIMOTHY GREEN



If this movie slayed you like it slayed me, this end credit track sent you soaring out of the theater.

7
"Noble Maiden Fair (A Mhaighdean Bhan Uasal)"
Patrick Doyle - BRAVE



Brave may not have had the same emotional resonance as some of its Pixar predecessors, but Patrick Doyle's score was undeniably gorgeous, summed up by this Celtic lullaby memorably sung by Emma Thompson.

8
"Gone"
Ioanna Gika - SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN


This chilling acapella number perfectly captures the film's dark, chilly tone.

9
"From Here to the Moon and Back"
Dolly Parton - JOYFUL NOISE



It's Dolly. 'Nuff said.

10
"Strange Love"
Karen O. - FRANKENWEENIE


Karen O. caps off Tim Burton's wonderfully macabre animated tale of a boy who brings his dead dog back to life with this infectiously off-kilter little ditty.

HONORABLE MENTIONS
"Breath of Life" - Florence + The Machine, SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN
"Touch the Sky" - Julie Fowlis, BRAVE
"Suddenly" - LES MISERABLES

Thursday, December 06, 2012

"2016" Deserves an Oscar Nomination Says Director of "2016"

Salon is reporting that Dinesh D'Souza, the director of the controversial anti-Obama documentary, 2016: Obama's America, is complaining that the Academy snubbed him for his conservative beliefs when they left his film off the Best Documentary shortlist.


Said D'Souza:
“I want to thank the Academy for not nominating our film. By ignoring ’2016,’ the top-performing box-office hit of 2012, and pretending that films like ‘Searching for Sugar Man’ and ‘This Is Not a Film’ are more deserving of an Oscar, our friends in Hollywood have removed any doubt average Americans may have had that liberal political ideology, not excellence, is the true standard of what receives awards.”
It's bad enough that he's whining about being snubbed, but by trashing other directors' films (especially the brilliant This is Not a Film), he has reached a new low in.

Here's the thing - 2016 is a hit-job, a film that is borderline character assassination. No matter what your political beliefs are, this is not a good movie. It's a heavy handed, one sided film that would be laughable if it weren't so self serious (and self absorbed...D'Souza manages to make a film about Barack Obama all about himself). D'Souza makes wild assumptions about Obama's character and beliefs, most egregiously asking psychiatrists to examine the relationship between Obama and his mostly absent father, and infer how this would affect his worldview and ability to govern. These doctors have never met Obama, yet blithely spin wild hypotheses without any real evidence. Even had it been a liberal film, this would still not have been shortlisted.

The hubris involved in attacking This is Not a Film is downright jaw-dropping. Jafar Panahi's film is a triumphant act of defiance, a film whose very existence could see its director jailed or worse. It is a testament to the power of cinema and human strength, a film that stands up to REAL tyranny, not some imagined socialist dictator with daddy issues. D'Souza's film isn't fit to drink Panahi's bath water, let alone be mentioned it the same breath.

D'Souza claims that the film's box office shows it should be nominated. By that logic, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2 should be nominated for Best Picture. Just because conservative groups paid hundreds of dollars to bus people to this hackjob he calls a documentary to try to sway the election (talk about preaching to the choir) doesn't necessarily mean it's popular, much less award worthy.

They snubbed Ken Burns too, D'Souza, get over yourself. And his film was actually good.

Monday, December 03, 2012

15 Documentaries Advance in Oscar Race

AMPAS announced its documentary shortlist of the 15 films that will be vying for the five nomination slots at this year's Oscars. Surprisingly there doesn't seem to be any major omissions beyond Ken Burn's The Central Park Five, which should have been a strong contender to win.

Jafar Panahi in THIS IS NOT A FILM.
 I'm thrilled with the inclusion of Jafar Panahi's This is Not a Film. It's an essential work that I hope the Academy sees fit to honor.

Here is the full list:
  •    "Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry," Never Sorry LLC
  •    "Bully," The Bully Project LLC
  •    "Chasing Ice," Exposure
  •    "Detropia," Loki Films
  •    "Ethel," Moxie Firecracker Films
  •    "5 Broken Cameras," Guy DVD Films
  •    "The Gatekeepers," Les Films du Poisson, Dror Moreh Productions, Cinephil
  •    "The House I Live In," Charlotte Street Films, LLC
  •    "How to Survive a Plague," How to Survive a Plague LLC
  •    "The Imposter," Imposter Pictures Ltd.
  •    "The Invisible War," Chain Camera Pictures
  •    "Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God," Jigsaw Productions in association with Wider Film Projects and Below the Radar Films
  •    "Searching for Sugar Man," Red Box Films
  •    "This Is Not a Film," Wide Management
  •    "The Waiting Room," Open’hood, Inc. 

"Zero Dark Thirty" Tops NYFCC

And the awards season has officially begun with the announcement of the annual New York Film Critics Circle awards. It's unusual to not have the National Board of Review announcing first, but the times they are a-changin'.


I must say I was most excited about Rachel Weisz's Best Actress win for The Deep Blue Sea. I hope it translates into more awards traction for the rest of the season. Here's the complete list of winners.

Best Film: Zero Dark Thirty 
Best Director: Kathryn Bigelow, Zero Dark Thirty
Best Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln 
Best Actress: Rachel Weisz, The Deep Blue Sea 
Best Supporting Actor: Matthew McConaughey, Bernie and Magic Mike
Best Supporting Actress: Sally Field, Lincoln 
Best Screenplay: Tony Kushner, Lincoln 
Best Cinematography: Greig Fraser, Zero Dark Thirty 
Best Foreign Language Film: Michael Haneke, Amour 
Best First Film: David France, How To Survive a Plague 
Best Nonfiction Film: Ken Burns, Sarah Burns, David McMahon, The Central Park Five 
Best Animated Film: Frankenweenie

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Review | "Holy Motors"

There has never been anything quite like Leos Carax's Holy Motors.

A strange mix of the surrealistic dread of David Lynch and the visual wild aesthetic of Baz Luhrmann, Holy Motors is an unabashedly original valentine to cinema itself. It's a rare feeling indeed to be in the presence of something that feels wholly unique, but in Carax's capable hands, even at the film's most bizarre, one never escapes the feeling that we are in the presence of greatness.

It's a vibrant cinematic fantasia that eschews conventional plot structures, and follows a day in the life of Oscar (Dennis Lavant), who travels around town in a limousine with his trusty driver, Céline, on a series of mysterious appointments. At each stop, Oscar assumes a new identity, every one more bizarre than the one before it. Through elaborate costume and makeup changes, Oscar becomes everything from an old beggar woman, to a homeless hedonist who kidnaps a supermodel (played by Eva Mendes), to an average dad with a teenage daughter, to an assassin on his way to kill one of his own.

Denis Lavant as "Monsieur Oscar" in Leos Carax's HOLY MOTORS.
Courtesy of Indomina Releasing.
Each persona consumes Oscar entirely as he transitions seamlessly between them. But who is he really? Does he even know? And does it even matter? Those coming to Holy Motors looking for a plot will be sorely disappointed, because that's not what this is all about. This is first and foremost a celebration of cinema, a phantasmagorical trip down a cinematic rabbit hole that can only come from a mind that has consumed decades worth of film and regurgitated them back into one exhilarating film. Cinephiles will have a blast dissecting its many elements and inspirations, from Jean Rollin to Godzilla to Georges Franju. And just when you think it can't get any stranger, the characters all burst out into an accordion cover of R.L. Burnside's "Let My Baby Ride" for the film's entr'acte, a relic of Hollywood's past, that returns here to thrilling life.

Even the cast itself is a part of Carax's self proclaimed "love letter to cinema." The luminous Edith Scob pays homage to her iconic role from Franju's Eyes Without a Face, while pop star Kyle Minogue appears to belt out a wistful ballad over a Paris that seems to come straight out of the crumbling dreams of Alain Resnais or  Vincente Minnelli. In fact, everything about the film seems to be crumbling, like it's a dying dream of films past. The surreal, dream-like quality of the film calls to mind the work of Luis Buñuel, creating a world where anything can and does happen.

Edith Scob as Celine in Leos Carax's HOLY MOTORS.
Courtesy of Indomina Releasing.
Holy Motors exists within a world of artifice, surrounded by forgotten relics of cinema's past, it is a world gone mad, forgotten, and yet still staggeringly beautiful. There is an almost elegiac element at work here, because in Carax's mad, mad, mad, mad world, the glories of what once was is slowly fading away. In his essay, "Mysteries of Cinema," Buñuel writes:
In the hands of a free spirit the cinema is a magnificent and dangerous weapon. It is the superlative medium through which to express the world of thought, feeling, and instinct. The creative handling of film images is such that, among all means of human _expression, its way of functioning is most reminiscent of the work of the mind during sleep. A film is like an involuntary imitation of a dream.
That is precisely what Holy Motors is - an almost involuntary evocation of pure feeling and instinct, a delirious cinematic pastiche that is a celebration of everything cinema was, is, and will be. It is as if it was transcribed directly from a dream to celluloid - bold, fresh, thrilling, and new. There has been no more wholly original work in film this year than this. It is Carax's ode to the movies, to theatre, to acting, to music, to life itself. As these lost souls search for themselves, their pasts, and each other, Holy Motors becomes something much deeper than meets the eye - it's a cinematic Rorschach blot, with the ability to be almost anything to anybody. A valentine to the movies, a treatise on identity, a wild and weird trip celluloid acid trip, or perhaps all of the above. Ultimately what it is is up to the individual viewer, but regardless of what form it takes, it's nothing short of brilliant.

GRADE - ★★★★ (out of four)

HOLY MOTORS | Directed by Leos Carax | Stars Denis Lavant, Edith Scob, Eva Mendes, Kylie Minogue, Elise Lhomeau, Jeanne Disson, Michel Piccoli, Leos Carax | Not rated | In French w/English subtitles | Now playing in select cities.