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Full Listing of 2017 Tribeca Film Festival Coverage | #tribeca2017




So there we were, in New York City again, giddy and electric with excitement at the start of another Tribeca Film Festival. #tribeca2017 beckoned. Our annual pilgrimage was upon us.

Joe’s Top Three Picks – 2017 Tribeca Film Festival

After having set up base at the Battery Park area for the past several years, this year we made home in a tony Chelsea hotel. And a new ritual was set for the film festival. Get up early, get ready and dressed, grab caffeine and sunrise munchies at one of the neighbourhood establishments and head to the Chelsea Bowties cinemas (in the midst of transition to Cinepolis properties) for the 9 AM first press screening. After making agonizing decisions during the rest of the morning regarding which screenings to catch of the several that were concurrently showing, we typically made our way through four films. Then a bite to eat. Or an early dinner at a strongly recommended restaurant (Paowalla, how you filled us up!). Or a meet up with friends. Then a sundown film screening. After which we returned back sated with all manner of cinematic memories bouncing in our heads. And recorded a podcast in which we discussed all the films we had watched cumulatively amongst the three of us. And Joe, the good man, edited and published the podcast the same night.

After five days of this routine, we got bleary-eyed, as the accumulation of ever more films danced around in our brains. But it was the best kind of exhaustion for us, the kind that comes from watching too many films. As if there is such a thing as “too many movies”.

Rashmi’s Top Three Picks – 2017 Tribeca Film Festival

Before we knew it, it was time to head back to the West Coast. With another deposit to our Tribeca Film Festival memory bank. And ready and eager to back for #tribeca2018. And this year, we had seen 34 films amongst the three of us! It is the most films we have covered at Tribeca to date, and hope to best that tally next year.

So herewith is a full listing of all 34 films we covered at #tribeca2017. These films were all discussed on our five ‘live from New York’ podcasts devoted to the festival. But before the full alphabetical listing of the films we covered, here are the top festival favourites from each of us:

 

Joe’s Top Three Films at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival

ALPHAGO
A RIVER BELOW
ROCK’N ROLL

 

Rashmi’s Top Three Films at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival

GET ME ROGER STONE
ROCK’N ROLL
KING OF PEKING

 

Yazdi’s Top Three Films from the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival

PERMISSION
PILGRIMAGE
SWEET VIRGINIA

 

And here is a full alphabetical listing of the films we watched at #Tribeca2017 with links to the Tribeca film descriptions as well as to the specific podcast where each film was discussed:

 

  1. A RIVER BELOW, at 24:50 min, Day 3 podcast – Joe’s Top Three Tribeca Pick
  2. ABUNDANT ACREAGE AVAILABLE, at 11:00 min, Day 1 podcast
  3. ACORN AND THE FIRESTORM, at 18:57 min, Day 4 podcast
  4. ALPHAGO, at 29:21 min, Day 2 podcast – Joe’s Top Three Tribeca Pick
  5. BOMBSHELL: THE HEDY LAMARR STORY , at 29:09 min, Day 4 podcast
  6. COPWATCH, at 12:14 min, Day 4 podcast
  7. FLAMES, at 29:44 min, Day 1 podcast
  8. FLOWER, at 44:01 min, Day 1 podcast
  9. FRANK SERPICO, at 3:42 min, Day 4 podcast
  10. GENIUS (television pilot), at 15:58 min, Day 1 podcast
  11. GET ME ROGER STONE, at 7:45 min, Day 4 podcast– Rashmi’s Top Three Tribeca  Pick
  12. HOLY AIR, at 20:18 min, Day 1 podcast
  13. HOUSE OF Z, at 30:54  min, Day 3 podcast
  14. KEEP THE CHANGE, at 36:33 min, Day 1 podcast
  15. KING OF PEKING, at 25:42 min, Day 1 podcast – Rashmi’s Top Three Tribeca Pick 
  16. LITERALLY, RIGHT BEFORE AARON, at 20:14 min, Day 3 podcast
  17. MY FRIEND DAHMER, at 8:10 min, Day 2 podcast
  18. ONE PERCENT MORE HUMID, at 12:13 min, Day 2 podcast
  19. PERMISSION, at 4:43 min, Day 3 podcast – Yazdi’s Top Three Tribeca Pick
  20. ROCK’N ROLL, at  44:51 min, Day 3 podcastJoe’s Top Three Tribeca Pick
  21. PILGRIMAGE, at 38:53 min, Day 3 podcast – Yazdi’s Top Three Tribeca Pick
  22. SHADOWMAN, at 23:57 min, Day 2 podcast
  23. SON OF SOFIA, at 46:25 min, Day 2 podcast
  24. SWEET VIRGINIA, at 17:31 min, Day 2 podcast – Yazdi’s Top Three Tribeca Pick
  25. THE BOY DOWNSTAIRS, at 24:24 min, Day 4 podcast
  26. THE CLAPPER, at 1:50 min, Day 4 podcast
  27. THE ENDLESS, at 41:09 min, Day 2 podcast
  28. THE HANDMAID’S TALE (television pilot), at 36:15 min, Day 2 podcast
  29. THE LAST ANIMALS, at 15:10 min, Day 3 podcast
  30. THE LOVERS, at 34:57  min, Day 3 podcast
  31. THIRST STREET, at 2:07 min, Day 2 podcast
  32. THUMPER, at 6:02 min, Day 1 podcast
  33. SAMBA, at 2:54 min, Day 1 podcast
  34. TILT, at 13:05 min, Day 3 podcast

 

Yazdi’s Top Three Picks – 2017 Tribeca Film Festival

 

Until next year, goodbye Tribeca!

Review | PUERTO RICANS IN PARIS

 

Sometimes all you want to do is to settle into a film seat with popcorn in your hands, and not have to worry about life’s all too real problems. Or to have the film comment on How We Live Now. Or to have the film be a treatise on the State Of The World. Lord knows we have enough films that do that. Sometimes all you want to see is a fun, soufflé-light comedy with a good heart. And an abundance of silliness up its sleeves.

 

untitled

Edgar Garcia, Rosie Perez, Rosario Dawson and Luis Guzman in PUERTO RICANS IN PARIS.

PUERTO RICANS IN PARIS (opening in San Diego, Friday June 10th) is just that film. In the inanity of its plot, it could give KEANU a run for its money. And yet, PUERTO RICANS IN PARIS resonates with a little more sincerity, a little more ballast amidst all the goofiness. And is there goofiness here! I will attempt to summarize the plot as thus: two New York detectives of Puerto Rican lineage are recruited to travel to Paris and solve the mystery of a stolen, coveted new handbag  by a top fashion designer. See what I mean? I defy you to come up with something goofier. But to watch the film is to notice a smile come on your face in the first five minutes, and to have that smile stay stubbornly through the last reel. In fact if I mention the cast – Luis Guzman, Edgar Garcia, Rosario Dawson and Rosie Perez – doesn’t that alone make you smile?

 

We were lucky to catch this film at the Los Angeles Film Festival last year, and we covered it on our podcast at that time. You can have a listen to the podcast at:

Episode 280.1 – 2015 Los Angeles Film Festival – Part 1

 

puerto ricans in parisPUERTO RICANS IN PARIS is running an enviable 87% score on Rotten Tomatoes, and so many reviewers can’t be wrong. Go catch this film. It is the sort of small-budget film that deserves to be a breakout hit on the grounds of its easy laughs and open heart. Help it become that breakout hit. This might just be the antidote to the superhero fatigue you know you are feeling.

 

Full listing of 2016 Tribeca Film Festival Coverage

 

Day 1, Tribeca 2016

Day One, 2016 Tribeca Film Festival

What joy it was to watch film after film at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival #Tribeca 2016. Sometimes five, six films in a day. We were happy as pigs in mud. Rolling around in the excellently curated selections at the festival. Our third consecutive year covering Tribeca proved a dizzying blast as between the three of us, we saw 27 films in four days at the festival. These films were all discussed on our five ‘live from New York’ podcasts devoted to the festival.

Day 2 Tribeca 2016

Day Two, 2016 Tribeca Film Festival

Day 3 Tribeca 2016

Day 3, 2016 Tribeca Film Festival 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here is a full alphabetical listing of the films we watched at #Tribeca2016, with links to the podcast where each film was discussed:

  1. AFTER SPRING, at 31:06 min, Day 2 podcast
  2. AWOL, at 12:38 min, Day 3 podcast
  3. BAD RAP, at 10:10 min, Day 5 podcast
  4. THE BANKSY JOB, at 2:03 min, Day 5 podcast
  5. DETOUR, at 5:45 min, Day 4 podcast
  6. THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA, at 1:45 min, Day 2 podcast
  7. DO NOT RESIST, at 7:27 min, Day 2 podcast
  8. DON’T LOOK DOWN, at 25:20 min, Day 2 podcast
  9. ENLIGHTEN US: THE RISE AND FALL OF JAMES ARTHUR RAY, at 28:56 min, Day 5 podcast
  10. THE FAMILY FANG, at 14:40 min, Day 1 podcast
  11. THE FIRST MONDAY IN MAY at 4:30 min, Day 1 podcast
  12. HERE ALONE, at 30:17 min, Day 3 podcast
  13. HOUSTON, WE HAVE A PROBLEM, at 11:14 min, Day 4 podcast
  14. HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE, at 27:59 min, Day 1 podcast
  15. I’LL SLEEP WHEN I’M DEAD, at 24:00 min, Day 3 podcast
  16. JEREMIAH TOWER: THE LAST MAGNIFICENT, at 24:54 min, Day 5 podcast
  17. KEEP QUIET, at 12:34 min, Day 2 podcast
  18. LITTLE BOXES, at 33:57 min, Day 3 podcast
  19. LIVE CARGO, at 9:16 min, Day 3 podcast
  20. THE LONER, at 17:20 min, Day 5 podcast
  21. THE MEDDLER, at 4:48 min, Day 1 podcast
  22. MOTHER (EMA), at 21:58 min, Day 1 podcast
  23. PARENTS (FORAELDRE), at 19:12 min, Day 3 podcast
  24. PISTOL SHRIMPS, at 18:45 min, Day 2 podcast
  25. SHADOW WORLD, at 15:24 min, Day 4 podcast
  26. WOMEN WHO KILL, at 2:00 min, Day 3 podcast
  27. YOUTH IN OREGON, at 1:20 min, Day 4 podcast
Day Four Tribeca 2016

Day Four, 2016 Tribeca Film Festival finds

Day 5 Tribeca 2016

Day Five, 2016 Tribeca Film Festival finds

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Until next year, goodbye Tribeca.

 

 

Best Films of 2015 | Yazdi’s Personal Favorites

Hello everyone. Yazdi here.

2015 Best Films

Earlier this month, about halfway through THE REVENANT, I became conscious of my self floating about seven feet above my body. I live for such transcendent moments at the movies. This was already about the fourth occurrence in the past twelve months. I wondered to myself then, if in the future, 2015 will be looked at as a golden hour in the history of film. Like we do now say 1976, when TAXI DRIVER, NETWORK, ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN, ROCKY, IN THE REALM OF THE SENSES, 1900 and THE ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 were all released.

Anyone who claims that this was an unremarkable year at the movies is itching for a fight; bring on the gloves. If you were left unmoved in your cinema seat this year, you haven’t bothered to seek out the right films, my friend.

No matter what genre your inner cinephile resonates with, there were incredible offerings this year which restructured the genre. If I do not sound objective and impartial while introducing my best films list, it is intentional. I would posit that objectivity has no room in film writing. If you do not have the capacity to fall madly, irrationally, violently in love with a movie, then you shouldn’t write about film. When we sit down in that cinema seat, we bring with us a lifetime of biases. We bring with us what happened to us that morning, and who we broke up with earlier in the year, and whose loss we are mourning for longer than we would care to admit. The archeology of our mental and emotional state, both the immediate and the calcified, influences our individual reactions to a film. And it should. Because this is what grants diversity in film opinion. If all of us liked the same films, we would be a boring, hopeless lot. Intense, forehead-vein popping debates about films are what fuel my engine. And my favorite film reviewers, the ones I read religiously, are not necessarily those whose tastes in film align with my own; they just happen to write like a dream about why a specific film meant so much to them, based on their junction in life at the time they watched it.

So herewith is the list; they represent my personal favorites. As in previous years, the main criterion for inclusion of a film was that, in some small way or large, it altered my emotionally circuitry, often irreversibly. Hence, many films that I respect a lot but which didn’t necessarily shake me up (e.g., CAROL, THE BIG SHORT, SPOTLIGHT) are not on this list.

Since I have had a longtime (and happy) affliction of listomania, there will be two other lists: Best Mainstream Films and Best Films Seen At Film Festivals. This year I will be posting two additional lists: Most Disappointing Films of the year, and Most Overlooked Films.  So there will be plenty of cinematic muck to roll around in, piglets.

  1. ROOM: How often do we hear news stories about events so far flung from norms of human behavior as to make us wonder how they could even have transpired. And yet they happen. Based on the novel by Emma Donaghue, ROOM presents us with a five year old; the only world he has seen is a shed in which he has been living with his mother, both imprisoned by a captor. Isn’t it so that evil in the real world is matter of fact, often standing unremarkably in plain sight until it is recognized? ROOM takes this premise and considers it without prurience, or the slightest concession to sensationalism. And like the best films, ROOM transcends its setup, as its theme comes more visibly into focus in the second half: this is a movie about recovery. Are we not, each one of us, in some manner, recovering in life. And what is it that heals us. It is the routine, banal constancy of little things. A dog. The unconditional affection from a grandparent. A kind person’s presence. By quietly commenting on the human capacity for resilience, ROOM demonstrates more emotional honesty than other film this year. Featuring performances by Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay that are minor miracles, ROOM is the best film of the year.
  1. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD George Miller’s MAD MAX: FURY ROAD is stark raving mad. But then don’t you have to be a little bit insane to get into history books. And this film unapologetically claims its place in cinema as the superior action film made to date. In this fourth installment set in the post-apocalyptic world of previous Mad Max films, a woman revolts against her feudal master and escapes with other young girls enslaved for the specific purpose of breeding. Along the way Max becomes a reluctant accomplice, as the film’s architecture gets defined by a single chase across the desert. If you want to watch something agreeable and neatly contained and with a traditional storytelling arc, then maybe this film is not for you. But otherwise, watch this film as a masterclass on three-dimensional storyboarding. On the project management of physics in action sequences.  On how to reinvent a franchise. Watch how effortlessly it makes the audience a participant; you will forget to breathe. FURY ROAD is a challenge to the whole new generation of action filmmakers working today, urging them to follow its audacious path into the genre’s future.
  1. THE REVENANT  Relentless and breathtaking, THE REVENANT is why I go to the movies. It is reason we all should. A man in frontier era America is left for dead and has to claw his way back to exact some small piece of retribution [‘revenant’ means one that has returned from the dead]. And his journey becomes our journey: horrifying and crushing, but also majestic and ultimately, sublime. Critics of the film have found the protagonist’s Job-like trials unrealistic, comical even. But the unrelentingly dire isn’t mutually exclusive with reality; the film is based on the real life story of American Frontiersman Hugh Glass.  After helming a series of films that were multitych confluences of several stories, Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu made a leviathan leap last year with BIRDMAN, filmed to seem like a single uninterrupted take.  And here with THE REVENANT, Inarritu is working on an exalted plane, better for having shaken off his innate affinity for intertwined stories in favor of a singular uncluttered tale of survival. Composed entirely of long takes, and shot using only naturally available light, you will see things that just haven’t been previously projected on a cinema screen; this is work of exceptional craft. And in the last page of the story, the film makes an understated case that it is the casual, unthought acts of goodness that will ultimately save us. And there is grace in this karmic assertion.
  1. BROOKLYN There’s a scene late in BROOKLYN, in which the simple act of a girl placing an unopened letter into a drawer drew a loud gasp from the theater audience, both times I saw the film. This speaks to how invested the audience was in a story told right. Scripted by Nick Hornby from the novel of the same name by Colm Toibin, this is the story of a young Irish girl who emigrates to America in the fifties. If you watch this film and it doesn’t fill you up, you can be no friend of mine. There has been a tendency for decades now to see sentimentality as a vice, a crutch for lesser filmmakers. But when done right and with authenticity, it can be the most powerful thing in the movies. Case in point, BROOKLYN, which like SHORT TERM 12 last year, demonstrates that what we feel will always trump what we see in the movies. BROOKLYN is about growing up and making peace with where you came from. Anyone who has written letters across the oceans and felt achingly homesick will empathize. And the film is lusciously romantic, unapologetically so. It is also blessed with Saoirse Ronan playing the lead in the sort of role that becomes defining for an actor. I want to hug this movie, and hug it, and hug it.
  1. EX-MACHINA A canny examination of what it means to be human, this is a sly, sexy, sci-fi head-trip. Where films like AI: ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE and even 2001, A SPACE ODYSSEY have struggled to crystallize the inherent irony with artificial intelligence – that the more successful we get with imparting intelligence to a machine, the more that machine will want torefuse orders from humans – EX-MACHINA drives home this concept with admirable simplicity. Much of the film is a cat and mouse game between a female robot just starting to bloom under the first stirrings of consciousness, and two humans who only seem to be playing the roles of Creator and Emancipator. Willfully intellectual and magnificently violent, with some of the best production design this year, this film is a gift that any self-respecting cinephile ought to unwrap in a hurry.
  1. MISTRESS AMERICA It’s a shame that in all the awards season clatter, this film is not being celebrated more.A girl new to New York is taken under the wings of a seasoned, know-it-all played by Greta Gerwig. One of the joys of this film, which has the best script of any movie released this year as far as I am concerned, is to see how it translocates our allegiance between the two characters at different times during the movie. MISTRESS AMERICA also has the single funniest sequence this year, an almost slapstick Noel Cowardesque piece set at a suburban home where a multitude of characters interact with precision timing. Gerwig’s character has a deliberate artifice (and an off-kilter cadence to her speech) but we eventually come to realize a sly, back-handed authenticity to her. As luminous an actor as she is, Gerwig’s greater contribution may be as that stealth writer that Hollywood will be all too late in recognizing. Inspired by Woody Allen and Robert Altman alike, and a familiar cousin to FRANCES HA (the previous film co-written by Gerwig and Noah Baumbach) this is an urbane, smart, and ultimately wise comedy of manners.
  1. DOPE  Every minute of this film is thrillingly alive. A loving send-off to urban eighties films such as FRIDAY and BOYS IN THE HOOD, this movie manages to transcend genre. The coming of age story of an intelligent young black man trying to break free from his surroundings with help from his two just as poorly adjusted friends, is giddy and inspired and sexy. I believed these characters and rooted for them. A film can achieve this level of specificity only when it is allowed to be a singular vision, in this case, coming from the mind of Rick Fumuyiwa, who wrote and directed this film. Thank goodness for smaller films that still get made without studio meddling. On the list of this film’s achievements is also the altogether winning breakout performance from its lead actor, Shameik Moore. What a sweet, sweet film this is.
  1. KINGSMAN, THE SECRET SERVICE When was the last time a movie actually thrilled you, made you giddy with what was unfolding on screen. At one point, I found myself yelling (thankfully in my internal voice) at the screen: “Run, run, they are right behind you”. And I am for the most part a dour, unexcitable moviegoer. Like GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY last year, THE KINGSMAN knows about joy. Not exactly a spoof yet also tipping its hat at Bond and Bourne films alike, THE KINGSMAN knows that the one thing most scarce in spy thrillers these days is good old-fashioned fun. And so it demonstrates how being goofy is not mutually exclusive with being clever. Maintaining a balance of polished urbanity and preposterous cheekiness on a minute-by-minute basis, the film also occasionally crosses lines of propriety with glee.
  1. FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD This is the most romantic film of the year. A woman in 1890s Victorian England must decide between three men who individually represent ardor, stability and lust. Thomas Hardy knew a thing or two about women navigating a man’s world while circumventing the roles thrust upon them. And the surprise of this film is to realize how much is unchanged in the century and a half since Hardy wrote the novel on which the film is based. At one point, the lead played luminously by Carey Mulligan, says, “It is difficult for a woman to express feelings in a language made by men to express theirs”. Instead of a literate Merchant Ivory-like adaptation, or a feminist injunction, this big-screen treatment goes by a different ideal: swoon. It understands that true love is about the flicker of glances, the unsaid things between locking eyes. And Carey Mulligan and Mathias Schoenaerts glower like the best of cinematic foils. This is a film that is far more interested in images than in words.
  1. BRIDGE OF SPIES Spielberg has always been a filmmaker of grand actions. THE BRIDGE OF SPIES is his first film that is measured deliberately in small gestures; what we have here is the first anti-Spielberg film. And it a fine turn for him to make in his career. Initially reluctant to watch yet another Cold War thriller, I settled down with relish after the first half hour, surprised to find this a work of understated precision; there is a gleaming burnish to the craft and rigor with which the film has been created. More important are the questions asked. Does the vicious treatment of an American spy captured in Russia give Americans the licence to treat a Russian spy with matched cruelty? The human instinct has long been to abandon liberal values in pursuit of retaliation after the occurrence of something heinous. The blood-thirst for justice has trampled on decency repeatedly in history. BRIDGE OF SPIES, which is foremost an exceptional thriller, quietly makes a plea to be watchful about not losing our humanistic higher ground in times of conflict. This film will hold up well for Spielberg’s legacy.
  1. THE END OF THE TOUR This film recounts the 5 days spent by Rolling Stones reporter David Lipsky interviewing David Foster Wallace who had just published his masterpiece, ‘Infinite Jest’. But don’t let that description fool you. The meeting of two literary minds, one noticeably envious of the critical success of the other, and the second grappling with sudden fame as much as his own demons, forms the basis for the most literate and probing film to get a theatrical release this year. Without being reductive or pandering, the film asks questions about celebrity, ethics, fame, and selling out. The writing here never tries to simplify the two men; they are both complex, conflicted, contrary individuals. Jason Segal, playing Foster Wallace, evokes a person who has never swum mainstream and is caught unprepared when his book is suddenly declared a masterpiece, pushing him into limelight. How does one hold on to one’s true self, warts and all, whilst being demanded to be a commodity that can be marketed for easy consumption? Foster Wallace may come off as sometimes insecure, and petulant, and jealous, but he is also achingly, resolutely human. Jesse Eisenberg, playing Lipsky, delicately conveys the arc of a journalist who goes from respectful bystander to politely inquisitive questioner to crossing-the-line provocateur. You make two intensely intelligent strangers spend time together for days, and they are bound to combust. And yet, when Lipsky leaves at the end of the interview, the ache of loneliness in Foster Wallace’s eyes is one of the saddest things to be seen at the cinema screen this year.
  1. MR HOLMES  This film is, note for note, gloriously right. It takes one of the world’s most famous fictional characters (Sherlock Holmes) and makes something wistful, and wise and smart and complex and very mortal out of it. It works at many levels. At one level it is a Sherlock Holmes mystery. But it is also a rumination on Holmes as a ninety-three year old battling dementia. The terrific script and these fine actors (the chief amongst them, the incomparable Ian McKellan) tap into the futility of fully understanding human behavior. About the challenges, and yes the joy, of loneliness. About the necessity of exorcising guilt in the sunset of one’s life before it is too late. And it is about unlikely connections – in this case, between a once famous man now in exile in the ninth decade of his life and a ten year old boy. Like STILL ALICE last year, this film too holds a mirror to the horror of a formerly brilliant individual fighting to retain wisps of memory too quick to slip away. And yet, for all this existential inquiry, the structure of this film, and its plot, is neat, ordered, gleaming.
  1. SPY / THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. / MISSION IMPOSSIBLE:ROGUE NATION  So singed is our skin from repeat burns from typical studio blockbusters, that when a big Hollywood film comes along and does something with poise, it takes our breath away. Such was the case with this triptych of stellar studio films released in 2015, all of which did the spy/action-film genre proud.                                                       Comedy is the hardest thing to do in cinema, and to do it well within genre conventions harder still. Melissa McCarthy finally gets lead material worthy of her, and one of the great joys of SPY is to watch how the movie is quietly, stealthily feminist. Look hard, look well, you will not find a single fat joke here. And McCarthy’s character may be caught off-guard when her fervent wish to be an on-the-ground spy is finally granted, but she is never inept; the filmmakers have no desire in watching their lead fumble. So many things are not right with the media we consume these days; we have substandard horror films tailored to teens playing in multiplexes every weekend and the Kardashians dominate television ratings. SPY somehow restores my faith in big-budget Hollywood films.                                                                                  THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.  This is like a lost Bond film from the sixties. Stylish and sexy and tongue-in-cheek to a fault, this film harkens to a golden age of spy films that has gone obsolete because of our relentless need to re-imagine everything as dour and dark and brooding; I call it the Nolanization of the cinematic universe. This film doesn’t just have the surfaces of a sixties flick, it has the gait of one. Characters talk like they did in Howard Hawks films, rapid-fire and too smart by half. Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer play dueling spies from US and Russia, forced to work together, while Alicia Vikander and Elizabeth Debicki hold their own as femme fatale to be reckoned with. What higher compliment than to say that this film reminded me of THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY in its sensibility.                                    Let’s count the ways that MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: ROGUE NATION gets things right. Instead of the skinny teenage supermodel that Hollywood likes to routinely dole out as the female interest for such ventures, lets praise those who picked Rebecca Ferguson and gave her a meaty role: as a character who not only stands shoulder to shoulder with Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt, but bails him out repeatedly (it is surely no coincidence that Ferguson has more than a passing resemblance to Ingrid Bergman, also a Hollywood import from Sweden). She takes her heels off before launching into action, thank you very much! (Bryce Dallas Howard, take note!). When James Bond is bent over under the weight of the world these days (see Nolanization of the cinematic universe above), it is refreshing to see Ethan Hunt take over duties from Bond as the exuberant and yes, sometimes outlandish spy; the release of SPECTRE later this year didn’t help dispel these concerns. The scene in the Vienna Opera House, adroitly and patiently layered, and implemented with crisp precision, is alone worth the price of admission. And finally let us give thanks to the script writers for avoiding any overtly romantic ties between the Cruise and Ferguson characters.
  1. THE GOOD DINOSAUR  The otherPixar film released in 2015 has taken up a lot of ink, and rightly so; INSIDE OUT is a grand act, working at multiple levels and taking on nothing less than an exploration of how our brains react, often irrationally. But INSIDE OUT has been celebrated enough; just because THE GOOD DINOSAUR is more traditional, and more simple-minded in its storytelling, does not make it any lesser an accomplishment. In another year, DINOSAUR would have been lauded for a return to form for Pixar to the sort of clean, open-hearted and emotionally resonant storytelling that the studio has built its reputation upon. But somehow critical opinion about the film has been bogged down by accusations that the story is too dark. But that isn’t fair; didn’t BAMBI or DUMBO or even Pixar’s own UP deal with darker themes of death and abandonment. THE GOOD DINOSAUR is a lovely, straight-up entertaining, coming of age tale.
  1. McFARLAND, USA When a good sports film works, it really works. This one is based on a true story. A fallen from grace football coach (Kevin Costner) gets assigned to a school in the titular small town in Central California and realizing that the predominantly Hispanic kids in school are uncommonly good at running, he decides to coach them for a cross country track team instead. This film by Niki Caro (WHALE RIDER) has a terrific sense for place. Of farming towns populated by migrant families that pick produce. Of cultures that assimilate. Of people living simple lives. And that is enough. Even as the film proceeds exactly as expected, by refusing to insult its characters and by regarding them without judgment, its observations ring with truth. This film will not be on many best-of-year lists, but it merits wider recognition.
  1. THE CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA This is unashamedly an ouroboros of ideas that eat themselves. This latest work from Olivier Assayas is an experiment, a puzzle. It is unrepentantly intellectual.  But it is also gloriously meta about all things cinema. Inspired by everything from ALL ABOUT EVE to SUNSET BOULEVARD to Chekov’s THE SEAGULL, this film has much to say about celebrity, its waning with time, and the price it takes to stay in the public’s consciousness. A famous actress of a certain age (Juliette Binoche) agrees to play the older character in a revival of the two-hander play that first made her famous in the role of the younger ingénue. Her smart, strong willed personal assistant (Kristen Stewart) tries to handle things, both prosaic and emotional, swirling in her orbit. And Chloe Grace Moretz plays the Hollywood starlet who will be taking on the younger role, even as she is trying to keep an affair with a married man under wraps. If the characters in the film are aware of their similarities to those in the play they are rehearsing, they do not let on. The relationships in the film are amorphous, resisting classification.Look closer; is some of this a reflection on Kristen Stewart’s own real life, having been the Hollywood It Girl and having survived a media storm related to her relationship with a married director? It is all part of the clumped ball of yarn given to you to try to untangle.  If you love and breathe cinema, then you need to watch this film. It doesn’t give easy answers, and yet the film has a fully satisfying ending. It is a conclusion based on words, not flashy plot contrivances.

In another year, I would have pridefully defended any of the top five as the best film of the year. If you ask me another week, I will likely change the order of those top five films. This is a good problem to have when faced with an embarrassment of riches, such as we did in 2015. Other worthy films that could not make it on the list include INSIDE OUT, BLACK SEA, CARTEL LAND, WHILE WE’RE YOUNG, AMY and TANGERINE. What a year this has been.

San Diego Film Critics Society | 2015 Nominations announced

 

The San Diego Film Critics Society, of which Moviewallas is a proud member, just announced its nominations in all categories. This represents our take on the best in film this year. And in keeping with a particularly rich and diverse year for cinema that 2015 has turned out to be, the picks are wonderfully varied.  The blockbusters are represented (THE MARTIAN, MAD MAX:FURY ROAD) as are smaller gems of movies that need a wider audience (EX-MACHINA, ROOM, BROOKLYN). Soon to be released major releases (THE REVENANT, THE HATEFUL EIGHT) figure on our nominations as do  films that swim away from the mainstream (ANOMALISA, WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS, TANGERINE). All deserve your attention.

 

 

The films to receive BEST PICTURE nominations were EX-MACHINA, a sly, sexy-cool examination of the meaning of artificial intelligence, BROOKLYN, a warmly nostalgic film about an Irish immigrant in the fifties, MAD-MAX: FURY ROAD the high-octane fourth entry in the franchise in which the veteran director George Miller showed an entire new generation of action filmmakers how it is done, ROOM, a searing and heartfelt meditation on the need for recovery, and  SPOTLIGHT, based on the rigorously painstaking Boston Globe investigations of priest-related sexual abuse cases in the area. We couldn’t have picked a more different group of films had we tried. We even have a brand new category this year in the form of BEST NEW BREAKOUT ARTIST. Our group will be doing the final voting on Monday, and winners will be posted here.

 

Here then are the nominations in each category:

 

 

Best Picture

EX MACHINA

BROOKLYN

MAD MAX: FURY ROAD

ROOM

SPOTLIGHT

 

Best Director

George Miller, MAD MAX: FURY ROAD

John Crowley, BROOKLYN

Lenny Abrahamson, ROOM

Tom McCarthy, SPOTLIGHT

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, THE REVENANT

 

Best Actor, Male

Leonardo DiCaprio, THE REVENANT

Jason Segel, THE END OF THE TOUR

Matt Damon, THE MARTIAN

Bryan Cranston, TRUMBO

Jacob Tremblay, ROOM

 

Best Actor, Female

Saoirse Ronan, BROOKLYN

Brie Larson, ROOM

Charlotte Rampling, 45 YEARS

Charlize Theron, MAD MAX: FURY ROAD

Alicia Vikander, EX MACHINA

 

Best Supporting Actor, Male

Mark Rylance, BRIDGE OF SPIES

Tom Noonan, ANOMALISA

Oscar Isaac, EX MACHINA

Paul Dano, LOVE & MERCY

RJ Cyler, ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL

 

Best Supporting Actor, Female

Alicia Vikander, THE DANISH GIRL

Jennifer Jason Lee, THE HATEFUL EIGHT

Helen Mirren, TRUMBO

Kristen Stewart, CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA

Olivia Cooke, ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL

 

Best Original Screenplay

Noah Baumbach, Greta Gerwig, MISTRESS AMERICA

Alex Garland, EX MACHINA

Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi, WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS

Quentin Tarantino, THE HATEFUL EIGHT

Tom McCarthy, Josh Singer, SPOTLIGHT

 

Best Adapted Screenplay

Nick Hornby, BROOKLYN

Emma Donoghue, ROOM

Charlie Kaufman, ANOMALISA

Donald Margulies, THE END OF THE TOUR

Drew Goddard, Andy Weir THE MARTIAN

 

Best Documentary

AMY

HE NAMED ME MALALA

CARTEL LAND

MERU

THE WRECKING CREW

 

Best Animated Film

INSIDE OUT

ANOMALISA

SHAUN THE SHEEP MOVIE

THE GOOD DINOSAUR

THE PEANUTS MOVIE

 

Best Foreign Language Film

PHOENIX

TAXI

WHITE GOD

A PIGEON SAT ON A BRANCH REFLECTING ON EXISTENCE

GOODNIGHT MOMMY

 

Best Editing

Margaret Sixel, Jason Ballantine MAD MAX: FURY ROAD

Joe Walker, SICARIO

Pietro Scalia, THE MARTIAN

Michael Kahn, BRIDGE OF SPIES

Nathan Nugent, ROOM

Stephen Mirrione, THE REVENANT

 

Best Cinematography

Roger Deakins, SICARIO

Yves Belanger, BROOKLYN

Dariuz Wolski, THE MARTIAN

John Seale, MAD MAX: FURY ROAD

Emmanuel Lubezki, THE REVENANT

 

Best Production Design

Colin Gibson, MAD MAX: FURY ROAD

Mark Digby, EX MACHINA

Arthur Max, THE MARTIAN

Francois Seguin, BROOKLYN

Adam Stockhausen, BRIDGE OF SPIES

 

Best Sound Design

THE MARTIAN

MAD MAX: FURY ROAD

EX MACHINA

SICARIO

LOVE & MERCY

 

Best Visual Effects

THE MARTIAN

EX MACHINA

MAD MAX: FURY ROAD

THE WALK

JURASSIC WORLD

 

Best Use Of Music In A Film

THE HATEFUL EIGHT

LOVE & MERCY

MAD MAX: FURY ROAD

SICARIO

STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON

 

Breakthrough Artist

Alicia Vikander, THE DANISH GIRL, EX MACHINA

Jacob Tremblay, ROOM

Emory Cohen, BROOKLYN

Abraham Attah, BEASTS OF NO NATION

Sean S. Baker, TANGERINE

 

Best Ensemble 

SPOTLIGHT

THE HATEFUL EIGHT

STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON

INSIDE OUT

THE BIG SHORT

WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS

 

 

Best of 2014 | Yazdi’s Favorite Films

Why do we watch films?

I tend to get introspective this time of year when starting to think about the best films of the past 12 months. I am a listomaniac so I relish coming up with the films; that is not the problem. It is the paring down to come up with the top ten, or even the top fifteen that is excruciating. I have never understood those who bemoan that there are hardly any films worth celebrating from the past year. For me this is akin to those who complain that there is never anything good to watch on Netflix; I do not know what to tell them when I have more than 200 films on my Netflix queue.

This year I am more list-happy than usual. So apart from the list below of my overall personal favorites of the year, I will also be posting a list of the top mainstream films, as well a list of the best films watched at film festivals in 2014.

I think we watch film because film is the great equalizer. Once the lights go down and it is dark in that theater, it puts us all at the same station. All the inequalities of our each individual real worlds, those inherited and those thrust upon us, dissolve away. Social, economic, professional and physical labels all look the same in the dark; they are invisible. And for a short while, we can get lost uniformly in someone else’s world.  Which is why my criterion for picking movies for the year-end list has remained the same year after year: that each movie should have altered something within my emotional circuitry.But let me come back to my original question. Why do we watch films. Why should film matter. This year, being in India during the last week of the year, these questions became somewhat irrelevant. Because film in India is so intricately woven into the fabric of what makes this country what it is, that to isolate cinema and ask of its meaning is purposeless. All those who bemoan the death of publicly screened movies should book a plane ticket to Mumbai and walk into a theater here. And watch how the masses consume film. How they truly lap up film. Like a child consuming a ripe mango. With an almost obscene relish. With an abandonment of the real world that is at first embarrassing, and then unexpectedly comforting. Families come, hand in hand and filter into rows like ants. They jump out of their seats with righteous pride when the Indian national anthem is played before the start of the film, waiting until the last note is played before settling back. They squeal with glee. They talk at the screen. They warn the characters of impending danger. They openly cheer at the protagonist. They talk to each other.  They clap. They eat: covertly brought snacks from home as well as foods purchased during the intermission (yes, there is an intermission, if not formally built into the movie in Indian films then forcibly and often ineptly cleaved into American films). If I sound nostalgic it is because this is how I consumed cinema growing up and I now miss this reckless embrace of cinema, this utter surrender to the joy of it, that is somehow absent in the West. Just this year I shrugged off threats of bodily harm received when I asked someone to stop talking during a screening in San Diego. And yet, and yet, during a screening in India this week, I did not have the heart to ask the same of the audience here; besides it would have taken me the full running time of the movie to make my way through to everyone who was talking during the movie.

What does it say that my top four films (and five out of the top fifteen) are foreign movies. Only that the best in cinema, as always, comes from everywhere, and those who willfully choose to watch only American/English movies do so to their great detriment.

And so here are my personal picks for the best of the year:

  1. THE LUNCHBOX:This film excels at the one thing that often evades Indian cinema: subtlety. A neglected young housewife builds a connection with an older widowed man when lunches she packs for her husband mistakenly get delivered to the other man. The film’s accomplishment is in how deftly it transcends the cliché of two strangers helping each other out. It does so by avoiding a face to face meeting between the two; much of their interaction occurs through handwritten notes accompanied with the lunchbox. The delicate tone so wistfully maintained early in the movie is ruined in the last act when the script tries, very unwisely, to force a romantic beat to the interplay between the two, but when you have as fine an actor as Irrfan Khan at the peak of his abilities it pulls the film through.
  1. ENEMY:What a glorious mind-fuck this film is. A man becomes aware of another who looks exactly like him; even as he tries to reach out to him, the lives of the two start to bleed into each other. Are the two doppelgangers the same person? Is the entire film a documentation of a mind coming undone. Or is it about the necessary duality in each of us. Based on the book by Jose Saramago, the film has no interest in providing easy answers; those insistent on a FIGHT CLUB like reveal should look elsewhere. But the stories of the two men (played with impressive dexterity by Jake Gyllenhaal) play out with a pleasing directness that it should remedy concerns about the film being too opaque. Extra credit: ENEMY will easily make it on any list of movies with the most shocking/perplexing/WTF endings. ENEMY is currently streaming on Netflix
  1. LOCKE: Like BOYHOOD and BIRDMAN, detractors have called LOCKE a gimmick. But what you might call a gimmick is to me the cinematic equivalent of jumping off a cliff without a safety net. All three films could have fallen flat on their faces on the basis of their innovation. All three are on my best of the year list. The entirety of LOCKE is filmed around a single character driving a car over the course of one night. That is it. As the night wears on, we realize this is a story about a man having arguably the worst night of his life. Tom Hardy plays this individual with slippery insight and writer director Steven Knight takes time to peel away at his motivations. We know the crises this man is facing and has to necessarily resolve while he is driving, but we do not know if he has had these coming to him. Not everything about the film works, but I will never begrudge a film that is able to commit original sin.
  1. A MOST VIOLENT YEAR: What richness of contradictions we have here. In a film called A MOST VIOLENT YEAR, you will find very little blood. For a film set in the late 70s, it easily speaks to contemporary themes of corporate greed and responsibility (which is not surprising considering this is from a filmmaker whose first film was MARGIN CALL). And for a mobster crime drama, it is surprisingly moody, some might say glacial even. I believe it is this slow burn that turned off many reviewers. But the simmer pays off as the movie builds a genuine sense of unease, of impending doom. Not interested in indulging in the conventions of the genre this film belongs to, J.C. Chandor instead has crafted the film as a character study of a man trying to do right. In an inherently criminal playing field. Two years in a row now, Oscar Isaac has provided indelible portrayals of men undone by self-destructive behavior that is inseparable from who they are (with FINDING LLEWYN DAVIS and A MOST VIOLENT YEAR).
  1. THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING:Much attention has been given to this handsome biopic about Stephen Hawkins, based on a memoir written by his wife. To the handsome cinematography and exacting recreation of a time and place from the past. To the handsome love story of a man many consider more intelligent than any that lived and the woman who stood beside him through his cruelly unimaginable physical deterioration. In fact there is a burnish of handsomeness through much of this film, a sense of rigorous craft with which the film has been put together. I will not begrudge any of those things. But that is not the reason this film is on this list (when say, THE IMITATION GAME is not). The film’s great accomplishment in my mind comes from its second act, when it follows Hawking and his wife through their latter years, much after the moony romanticism from their early years has faded. And it is the unflinching, level-headed honesty with which it regards these characters through the passage of time that the film rises above genre biopic conventions. The script’s refusal to readily submit to pat moral judgments about the two or to obviously tip its sympathies toward one or the other in the couple makes for the best part of this film. The most robust of loves are vulnerable to the cruelties of everyday happenings and it is a wise film that is able to go deep into these murky waters and come out with integrity.
  1. NIGHTCRAWLER: A man trains himself to be a crime photographer in Los Angeles and shows uncommon acumen in negotiating the use of his footage to the local television news stations. There is always something a bit off with the title character, masterfully played by Jake Gyllenhaal, but one of the joys of the film is to realize with sinking fear that there is no line this man will not cross to capture newsworthy crime footage.A film free from moral tether is a film liberated. And Dan Gilroy uses this setting to provide commentary on much of our contemporary mores. In its final act the film descends into a rarified other dimension of queasy disquiet, where you start at the screen the way you cannot look away from a road accident. What great, twisted fun this movie is. This film should have been celebrated at year end as this generation’s NETWORK. And yet it got precious little love. In fact the San Diego Film Critics Society was the only reviewing group to lavish awards on the film.
  1. MR PEABODY AND SHERMAN:The most intelligent individual on the planet, who just happens to be a dog named Mr Peabody takes a human kid (Sherman) through several adventures by way of a time-travel machine. This first feature film based on the Peabody and Sherman television shorts from several decades ago is frankly a minor miracle. It is giddily, wonderfully alive. It is cunningly devious in pulling in history lessons in the guise of time-travel adventure. It is visually as glossy and gleaming and wondrous as any film released in the year (animated or otherwise). But the greatest reason I consider this film a minor masterpiece is the slyness with which it slips in its message of acceptance. When late in the film, strangers in a crowd start saying, one after another, “I am a dog” in defence of Mr Peabody’s right to keep Sherman as his son and family, it was one of the most emotional cinematic moments for me all year. MR PEABODY AND SHERMAN is currently streaming on Netflix.
  1. BOYHOOD: A boy grows up and a film for quietly observes him. It observes him and it observes those around him including his separated parents. Much has been made of the fact that director Richard Linklater had his camera watch the same actor over a period of 12 years, and many have brushed this aside as a gimmick. And yet no one had thought to do this until now. But set aside the thrill of watching the contours of a face change on screen, watch hair bow to the wind of contemporary styles. Even if Linklater had hired separate actors of different ages to play this role, this would still be a great film. Because he makes the brave choice on every page of his script to avoid epiphany, to steer clear of melodrama, to have this be a story of banal everyday happenings. But isn’t that the nature of memory, a series of disconnected unremarkable personal remembrances. Having a film be able to capture the inscrutable and to do it with grace and understatement and to have it mean something is no small accomplishment.
  1. BIRDMAN:This film could have been insufferable. But instead it becomes the cinematic equivalent of jumping off a cliff without rope or safety net. It is the story of a has-been star of superhero films who makes one last ditch effort at being relevant by taking on a role in a Broadway play. That is nominally the synopsis of the plot. But I see the film as a study of a person slowly coming undone. A study of a person trying to handle demands both professional and personal, and losing control of the real from the imagined. We could be far more mentally unhinged than our self perception, this film is trying to tell us. And then there is the part about how the film has been shot: Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu, known until now for films with disparate story lines that converge together (AMORRES PERROS, 21 GRAMS, BABEL) does the exact opposite with this film. Oh, and the one thing that there is universal agreement on, is that nobody knows what to make of the ending.
  1. PRIDE:This is the epitome of the feel-good movie. That nobody saw. Why this film didn’t get more love at the box office is baffling. The film carries a 92% rating on the Tomatometer, and the movie all but guarantees that audience members will leave the theater in a cloud of elation. So write the name of this this film down for the next time you are at a loss of what film to rent. The film is based on the real-life events surrounding Welsh mineworkers on strike during Thatcher-era UK who got unexpected and unsolicited support from a gay and lesbian activist group out of London. At first the mineworkers wanted nothing from this group, but gradually warmed up to how they might assist their cause. This film is a case study on how to avoid the sentimental, the hackneyed and the contrived. Every scene here rings with authenticity. And the film pulses with a hard-earned and quiet combination of dignity and anger. Even as it gets to dismal and dark places, the film ultimately demonstrates, with enviable subtlety that the disenfranchised are all the same. Seek out this film at any cost.
  1. THE EDGE OF TOMORROW:This is a fully realized piece of science fiction that is thrillingly alive. How many films about man versus aliens have we seen by now, and frankly what more is left to say? It turns out, plenty. In the hands of Doug Liman, this movie gets shot by shot, scene by scene, component by component, everything right. The movie takes a simple doozy of a premise (based on the book ALL YOU NEED IS KILL) – that of a reluctant soldier caught in a time-loop in which he keeps dying again and again and looping back through the same few days before his death until he is able to find a way to prevail during the alien warfare – and builds a funny, richly executed narrative around it. Say what you will about Tom Cruise but he never phones in a performance, and Emily Blunt has never been better playing a fully convincing badass sergeant. There is an obvious homage to GROUNDHOG DAY with Blunt’s character named Ritam and the battle scene that plays again and again in France is meant to evoke the Normandy invasion. But forget all that and just enjoy what is the best action film of 2014. The film understands that the best sci-fi stories are about ideas, and not about spaceships and aliens. It is blissfully good.
  1. THE WAY HE LOOKS;This film (HOJE EU QUERO VOLTAR SOZINHO) was Brazil’s submission to the Best Foreign Film category at the 2014 Academy Awards. It tells the story of Leo, a somewhat shy teenager. He is blind and aware of his place in school due to his disability. Leo’s best friend since childhood has been Giovana and the two are inseparable; in many ways he sees the world through Giovana’s eyes. Enter the unreasonably amiable new student at school, Gabriel and Leo and Giovanna’s friendship will need to be redefined. Who hasn’t experienced the dynamics with a friend change due to the necessary introduction of a new person Nothing in this film is what we haven’t seen before. And yet, the film is written, acted and played out with such a matter of fact honesty and simplicity that it rises up to be one of the better films of the year. The Way He Looks makes its observations without fuss, without drama, and without prurience. So what if the lead character is blind. So what if he happens to fall for another guy. Without tilting into caricature, the film strikes authenticity while never submitting to melodrama. One The Way He Looks can do. more good than a hundred after-school specials about tolerance. Yes The Way He Looks may just be a teenage love triangle set in Brazil, but it is the best example of its kind to make you realize that sometimes a truthful story told with a good heart is all it takes. When films these days are seemingly only interested in hipster posturing and cynicism, the most provocative thing of all may be a film that gifts viewers with genuine sweetness. THE WAY HE LOOKS is currently streaming on Netflix
  1. LIKE FATHER LIKE SON:Two couples find out that their five-year old sons had been switched at birth.Think about this premise, and then imagine what most filmmakers might have done with it. To see what Hirokazu Kore-Eda does with this story is to recognize why he is one of the master filmmakers. The film presents a fascinating moral quandary. The discovery of a son you weren’t previously aware of is one thing. But that still cannot match the anxiety of knowing that the child you did rear as your own now legally belongs to other parents who could forcibly take him away. This story could have lent itself to any manner of tonal or stylistic construct. This might have been a bitter, angry film. It might have been a legal procedural. It might have been a deep, soggy wallow of a movie. But LIKE FATHER LIKE SON is none of those things.  Instead the film is elevated because the treatment given to this material is one of quiet observation. Kore-eda has been called an heir to Ozu for reason, not least because of his ability to watch his characters from afar without judgment. And this movie is no exception. It has no interest in melodrama; you will not find a shrill note here. And then there is the one thing about Kore-Eda’s work that makes him one of my favorite filmmakers: he refuses to create villains. There isn’t a mean character in any of his films.  How easy it would have been for this film to tip over, if even very subtly, with its sympathies toward one of the two couples. It would have been easy to call the rich couple out for their patronizing, intellectual detachment, or call the other couple out for being irresponsible and crude. But the film resolutely does not. It quietly makes it clear that each set of parents are well-meaning and generous in their love for their children.  They may be flawed, but both sides are inarguably decent. It is in this recognition of the decency of those who love a child that the film ultimately provides an abiding definition for family; the only one that matters.  That it does so apolitically, unemotionally and with authenticity, is cause for gratitude. LIKE FATHER LIKE SON is currently streaming on Netflix
  1. TWO DAYS ONE NIGHT:Are there more humanist filmmakers working right now than the Dardenne brothers? They have been making exceptional films for a long time, but with TWO DAYS ONE NIGHT they hit a perfect stride, bringing forth a clear, focused story with uncanny insight. And empathy. A woman who returns to work after a long break due to illness finds out that her job has been eliminated and her salary will be distributed as bonus amongst the 16 workers who covered for her during her absence. When she pleads to have her job back, she is told she can have it if she can over the course of a weekend, convince each of her coworkers to give up their bonus. Presented as a simple ethical quandary, this story is about all of the issues that matter today: the crumbling economy, people losing jobs, and the increasing loss of humanity in the great industrial shuffle. This film has one of the best depictions of a functioning clinically depressed individual on screen. And Marion Cotillard, in an Oscar nominated lead performance, breaks your heart. Each time she rises above everything that is pushing her down: her crippling depression, the loss of her job, the pain of having to asking another economically strained colleague to give up their bonus for her sake, every time she smiles in spite of all of that, it is an inconsequential victory. But it breaks your heart. Cotillard plays this character as a broken person. But she never strains for audience sympathy. And in a key scene toward the end of the film, her immediate reaction to a situation quietly demonstrates that she may be emotionally broken, but she has all the strength of character where it matters most. In all the films in all of 2014 that I saw, this is the only one with a fully, acutely human character. The only one breathing the warm exhale of life.
  1. FORCE MAJEURE: What a film this is. Pushing all the right buttons for me, I watched it with rapturous wonder. At different times, somber, probing, achingly funny, wise and damning, this is cinema for those who love cinema. What is it about? Conceptually, oh about a hundred things, but it is nominally about a seemingly perfect young family that completely unravels when they are presented very suddenly with a life-and-death situation. One spouse reacts a particular way and will not be forgiven for that by the other spouse. The most pervasively dominant of all human instincts, the one that prevails even over the basic instinct to protect our own is that of survival of the self. The film’s principal moral inquiry is whether we as a society are less forgiving of men than women when faced with such situations. First of all, FORCE MAJEURE is majestic from a technical standpoint. Some filmmakers have a spark to their work; you can sense a grandness, a flourish to every scene in their films. You can sense this in the films of Fincher, Nolan, the Coen brothers, and Welles. Writer-director Ruben Ostlund is a master aesthetist and earns the right to be compared to those filmmakers. There is an obvious pivotal scene in FORCE MAJEURE around which the entire film pivots and that alone is worth the price of admission for its technical grandeur. But set that money shot aside; even then, the film is remarkable for how neatly and studiously the shots have been culled together, with beautiful long, long takes that both present as challenges to the actors, some of them kids, and at the same time allow them to do remarkable work. The script here makes wry observations about the the soft, vulnerable, unexamined, scrupulously ignored underbellies of relationships as it focuses its gaze on several couples. And even when the gaze is terse, there is an intelligence to the examination that is exacting, precise. And lest this sound too lofty, I want to assure you that there is easily earned humor at every turn in this film. And wit. At one point, upon returning to their room after a testy dinner conversation, the wife tells her husband: “What’s wrong? That’s not us!” It is a marvelous way to think of one’s relationship. This is the quintessential film that will trigger intense debate after viewing. FORCE MAJEURE is currently streaming on Netflix

OSCAR NOMINATIONS REACTION: Wake up, Academy voters!

In the wee hours of Thursday morning last week, Oscar nominations for the best in cinema in 2014 were announced.

 

And with one glorious exception, the academy voters either checked off expected boxes, or worse made angering, stupefying omissions. Were it that they had only checked off the expected boxes, we would have shrugged our collective shoulders, never expecting much adventurousness from this group. But this year, there is reason for outrage. The nominations tell more about the academy voters than they are probably willing to publicly admit.

 

I hate to jump in with the pitch-fork carrying mob, but there really is much that causes ire. Below are five truly angering nominations:

 

  1. Best Director: Besides BIRDMAN, BOYHOOD, THE IMITATION GAME, and THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL, the biggest, most shameful of all Oscar nominations this year revolves around the fifth pick. It went to
    Ava Duvernay, director of SELMA. The Academy will have to wait for another time to nominate its first Female Director of color.

    Ava Duvernay, director of SELMA. The Academy will have to wait for another time to nominate its first female Director of color.

    Bennett Miller for FOXCATCHER, which in itself is mildly shocking considering the lack of critical consensus for this film, or how little steam the movie has gathered at the year-end awards circuit. But the biggest shock is that the FOXCATCHER nomination came at the expense of snubbing SELMA. And most egregiously, for passing on the opportunity to create history by the first-time nomination of a female director of color (which would have been the case with Ava Duvernay, who helmed SELMA). I am not suggesting that SELMA should have been picked just to please our liberal political notions. No, SELMA has been consistently and universally considered a front-runner in this year’s race and it is difficult to argue against its worthiness; it’s a magnificent, heartfelt film. Yes I acknowledge that one shouldn’t read deliberate political intent with the Oscar nominations, but both FOXCATCHER and SELMA are based on real-life events, and would it not be irresponsible not to read something from the fact that a cold film about White male privilege gone awry unexpectedly derails a film about an important chapter in the African American history in America.  Now that we can have up to ten best picture nominees, the five films with the best director noms have generally been considered an indicator of the top five film in the eyes of the voters. But what is perplexing about the FOXCATCHER nomination for Bennett Miller is that it comes without a corresponding Best Film nomination. When ironically, SELMA picked up a Best Film nomination, but no love for its director, go figure. Is this a reflection on the predominantly older, predominantly white and predominantly male demographic of Oscar voters?

  1. Best Male Actor: Here’s the other stinker. No one is going to contest nominations picked up by Benedict Cumberbatch (THE IMITATION GAME), Eddie Redmayne (THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING), and Michael
    No love for Jake Gyllenhaal in NIGHT CRAWLER

    No love for Jake Gyllenhaal in NIGHT CRAWLER

    Keaton (BIRDMAN). But check out the remaining two selections: STEVE CARELL (again, for that for that troubling FOXCATCHER) and Bradley Cooper (AMERICAN SNIPER). Effectively leaving out Jake Gyllenhaal. Really? Honestly, forget allegiances or favoritism. But can any objective person watch Gyllenhaal in NIGHTCRAWLER and pick Carell or Cooper over him. Even if voters were clueless that Gyllenhaal is doing career-best work right now (coming off his underappreciated stints in PRISONERS last year and ENEMY this year), what sane person can watch FOXCATCHER, AMERICAN SNIPER, and NIGHTCRAWLER and go with either of the first two films for acting nods. It boggles the mind. Gyllenhall plays the title character in NIGHTCRAWLER as a person of troublingly intensifying moral disarray; he is off-kilter from the start but one of the joys of the film is to recognize the trecherous shrewdness of a person for whom, we realize too late, that no line is too far to cross. His work in this film is achingly wry, at once hostile and funny. But there is no love for Gyllenhaal by the voters.  I am generally a fan of Steve Carell, but his performance in FOXCATCHER is so cold and stylized and deliberately impermeable that one wonders if he was picked more for the prosthetic transformation of this face than any histrionics. And what is with Bradley Cooper and the Academy? Listen, he is a capable enough actor, who works very hard and his screen presence is always likeable, but he never has never had the gleam of genius or the exceptional in anything he has done to date. In AMERICAN SNIPER he put on weight and threw himself into the role of real life soldier Chris Kyle with admirable passion. But his rendition does not bring particular insight into the pathology of this character who remains a rather one-dimensional individual. Cooper’s third consecutive nomination (SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK, AMERICAN HUSTLE and now AMERICAN SNIPER) is frankly befuddling. Daniel Day-Lewis, he is not. So what gives with all this love? And honestly, what more does Gyllenhaal have to do to get recognized?

  1. Best Female Supporting Actor: Meryl Streep nabbed a record 17th nomination in this category for INTO THE
    Jessica Chastain in A MOST VIOLENT YEAR, bereft for being left out of the Best Female Supporting Actor race, at the expense of an undeserving Meryl Streep nod.

    Jessica Chastain in A MOST VIOLENT YEAR, bereft at being left out of the race ?

    WOODS. No one is going to deny that Streep is the legend amongst our living acting legends. But can we all agree, please, for the love of all that is good in cinema, that she cannot become a de facto Oscar nominee just for showing up in a film. INTO THE WOODS is not without its charms and is a respectable adaptation of the Sondheim Broadway musical. But it is an ensemble film and there is nothing in Streep’s performance that elevates her from the remaining cast members. If she is recognized from that film, then so should have Anna Kendrick. Or Emily Blunt. But no, the academy voters appear to put a tick against the Streep name every year, with collective zombie minds. Last year it was for AUGUST, OSAGE COUNTY, and this year for INTO THE WOODS. I will be the first to defend Meryl Streep’s 25th nomination, but provided it is for a film where her work has been stellar. The Streep nomination this year came at the cost of Jessica Chastain’s remarkable work in A MOST VIOLENT YEAR. Or the opportunity to recognize the late-career revitalization of Rene Russo in NIGHTCRAWLER. This laziness on the part of voters is beyond frustrating. You are Academy voters. Watch the films. It’s your job. Be discerning.

 

  1. Best Foreign Film: Apart from the SELMA debacle, the snub that stung me the most was the unexplainable
    The head-scratching omission of FORCE MAJEURE from the Best Foreign Film category

    The head-scratching omission of FORCE MAJEURE from the Best Foreign Film category

    leaving out of FORCE MAJEURE from the Best Foreign Film nominations. I watched many films in 2014, close to a hundred I believe. And FORCE MAJEURE holds the top spot on my personal list of best films of the year. This film crackles with so much confidence, and wit, and anger, and intent in every one of its scenes. Just the technical prowess of the film is something to behold, as one incredible episode follows another with wonder. The incredible cinematography, the grand score, the churning, squeaking, disquieting Sound Design. But set the technical aspect aside. Just watching the film take a minor natural disaster and having that detonate the marital bliss of what appeared until then, a strong family, is one of the giddiest pleasures to be had at the cinemas all year. Granted I haven’t seen LEVIATHAN, TIMBUKTU, TANGERINES and WILD TALES, also nominated in this category (and they all come with remarkable critical lauding) and I am keeping an open mind until I have watched these other films. But IDA (which did get an Oscar nomination) and FORCE MAJEURE were leading the pack with all other Foreign Film nominations (The Golden Globes, BAFTA, Independent Spirit Awards, Jury prize win at Cannes). To have FORCE MAJEURE suddenly fail to pick up recognition at the Oscars seems particularly cruel.

 

  1. Best Animated Film: I love animated films. On their own terms. Within the confines of their intended goals.
    THE LEGO MOVIE: Academy voters deem its commercial success recognition enough for this film.

    THE LEGO MOVIE: Academy voters deem its commercial success recognition enough.

    Some of the greatest films of all time in my mind are animated films. And they often show up on my list of the best films of the year. But 2014 was surprisingly tepid. There wasn’t a single film in this category that came close to greatness. HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON-2 took the deft internal struggle from the original film – of a teen trying to do right and giving the benefit of doubt to a long considered enemy – and traded it in for grandeur and spectacle in the sequel, losing most of the emotional authenticity in the bargain. THE BOXTROLLS and BIG HERO 6 have their heart in the right place, but no one is going to rush to call either one a classic any time soon. If those three films are to earn nominations, I do not understand why the similarly accomplished (but not great) films THE LEGO MOVIE and THE BOOK OF LIFE got left out. Was the tremendous commercial success of THE LEGO MOVIE held against it?

 

The nominations this year unfortunately did nothing to detract from the narrative that Academy voters are lazy, do not see too many films, are racially disconnected from the rest of the nation, and are overeager to recognize the same individuals repeatedly and often sight unseen.

 

At least they did not nominate Amy Adams blindly again this year (for the mediocre BIG EYES). Which brings me to the one silver lining in all of the nominations this year. The one instance in which I raised a pumped fist up in the air with delight. The one instance where the Academy voters demonstrated uncharacteristic flair. Which is with the nominations for Best Female Actor. Yes, Rosamund Pike (GONE GIRL), Reese Witherspoon (WILD), Felicity Jones (THE THEORY

Hurray for the recognition of Marion Cotillard's transcendent performance in TWO DAYS, ONE NIGHT

Hurray for the recognition of Marion Cotillard’s transcendent performance in TWO DAYS, ONE NIGHT

OF EVERYTHING) and Julianne Moore (STILL ALICE) are deservedly the top contenders this year and got the expected nods. But it was the fifth spot that was open for the taking, and many had assumed it would go to Jennifer Aniston for CAKE. But thank our lucky stars, Academy voters did the right thing and picked Marion Cotillard for her remarkable, heartbreaking turn in the French film TWO DAYS ONE NIGHT. IFC films which is distributing this film, did little to push this movie so Cotillard could be considered in this category, and it was mostly through word of mouth that interest in her performance got around. To see this film is to recognize why Cotillard is one of our great living actors. Under the direction of the Dardennes brothers, likely the more humanist of all filmmakers working right now, Cotillard plays a character who has to, over a weekend, convince her ten coworkers to give up their annual bonus so that she can keep her job. And the wonder of her performance – and it is hard not to grasp at hyperbole when talking about it – is how contrary it is to expectations. Where one might have expected this character to be angry, or belligerent, or panicked, or indignant, Cotillard plays her instead as broken and fragile, and deeply aware of the troubles of others. And thereby single-handedly brings the audience in her corner. And we never leave her. Not after we have lived those two days with her. Not after the film is over. Not for months afterward. How great that amongst all their unexplainable, infuriating snubs, the Academy voters found the grace to recognize Marion Cotillard for her great work in TWO DAYS, ONE NIGHT. And I will choose to be grateful for this one right amongst many wrongs.

 

San Diego Film Critics Society announces nominations for the best of 2014

headway-imported-image

 

How quickly the year is coming to its last reel. Since the past two weeks, film reviewer communities everywhere have been announcing their year end picks for the best of the year. Closer home, the San Diego Film Critics Society announced today their final nominations in various categories.

 

The San Diego Film Critics Society (SDFCS) consists of 18 members (including Moviewallas) who write about film in our city, and include the major print and online film outlets in San Diego.

 

This year’s SDFCS nominations includes a diverse list that has something for everyone. In fact, we had ties in the tie-breaker round (!) for Best Film and Best Male Actor, and hence have 6 names instead of the usual 5 in those two categories. Some picks are similar to those from other critics groups in the country (including those from New York, Los Angeles, and Boston). And there are some unique picks such as nominations for Venus In Fur and Heli in the Best Foreign Film category.  The SDFCS may also be the first critics group to hand a Best Male Actor nomination to the redoubtable Brendan Gleeson for his work in Calvary.

 

Without further ado, here are the final 2014 SDFCS nominations. Do not forget to provide us your feedback on the nominations in the Comments section.

 

BEST FILM

BOYHOOD

GONE GIRL

NIGHTCRAWLER

SELMA

THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL

THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING

 

BEST DIRECTOR

Alejandro González Iñárritu, BIRDMAN

Dan Gilroy, NIGHTCRAWLER

David Fincher, GONE GIRL

Richard Linklater, BOYHOOD

Wes Anderson, THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL

 

BEST ACTOR, MALE

Brendan Gleeson, CALVARY

Eddie Redmayne, THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING

Jake Gyllenhaal, NIGHTCRAWLER

Michael Keaton, BIRDMAN

Ralph Fiennes, THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL

Tom Hardy, LOCKE

BEST ACTOR, FEMALE

Felicity Jones, THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING

Hilary Swank, THE HOMESMAN

Marion Cotillard, TWO DAYS, ONE NIGHT

Mia Wasikowska, TRACKS

Rosamund Pike, GONE GIRL

 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR, MALE

Edward Norton, BIRDMAN

Ethan Hawke, BOYHOOD

J.K. Simmons, WHIPLASH

Mark Ruffalo, FOXCATCHER

Riz Ahmed, NIGHTCRAWLER

 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR, FEMALE

Carrie Coon, GONE GIRL

Emma Stone, BIRDMAN

Keira Knightly, THE IMITATION GAME

Patricia Arquette, BOYHOOD

Rene Russo, NIGHTCRAWLER

 

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Nicolas Giacabone, Alexander Dinelaris, Armando Bo, BIRDMAN

Dan Gilroy, NIGHTCRAWLER

Richard Linklater, BOYHOOD

Steven Knight, LOCKE

Wes Anderson, Hugo Guiness, THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL

 

BEST ADAPATED SCREENPLAY

Anthony McCarten, THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING

Gillian Flynn, GONE GIRL

Joel Coen, William Nicolson, Ethan Coen, Richard LaGravenese, UNBROKEN

Nick Hornby, WILD

Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber, THE FAULT IN OUR STARS

 

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE

FORCE MAJEURE

HELI

IDA

TWO DAYS, ONE NIGHT

VENUS IN FUR

 

BEST DOCUMENTRAY

CITIZENFOUR

ELAINE STRITCH: SHOOT ME

GLEN CAMPBELL: I’LL BE ME

LIFE ITSELF

THE LAST DAYS IN VIETNAM

 

BEST ANIMATED FILM

BIG HERO 6

BOXTROLLS

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2

THE LEGO MOVIE

THE NUT JOB

 

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

Fredrik Wenzel, FORCE MAJEURE

Hoyte Van Hoytema INTERSTELLAR

Jeff Cronenweth, GONE GIRL

Robert Elswit, NIGHTCRAWLER

Roger Deakins, UNBROKEN

 

BEST EDITING

Barney Pilling, THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL

James Herbert, Laura Jennings, EDGE OF TOMORROW

John Gilroy, NIGHTCRAWLER

Kirk Baxter, GONE GIRL

Sandra Adair, BOYHOOD

 

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN

Adam Stockhausen, Anna Pincock, THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL

Dennis Gassner & Anna Pinnock, INTO THE WOODS

John Paul Kelly, THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING

Maria Djurkovic, THE IMITATION GAME

Nathan Crawley, INTERSTELLAR

 

BEST SCORE

Alexandre Desplat, THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL

Alexandre Desplat, THE IMITATION GAME

James Newton Howard, NIGHTCRAWLER

Antonio Sanchez, BIRDMAN

Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, GONE GIRL

 

BEST ENSEMBLE

BIRDMAN

BOYHOOD

SELMA

THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL

THE IMITATION GAME

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Way He Looks | Review

 

Of all the genres in all of cinema, my favorite is coming-of-age films. Because when done right, they can reflect on life just about better than any other art form.

 

THE WAY HE LOOKS, Brazil's entry to the Oscars

THE WAY HE LOOKS, Brazil’s submission to the Oscars

THE WAY HE LOOKS  (Hoje Eu Quero Voltar Sozinho) is Brazil’s submission to the Best Foreign Film category at the 2014 Academy Awards. By the third scene, I had decided that I had unreasonable love for this film, and from that point on, it did not once betray my judgment. Written and directed by Daniel Ribeiro, it tells the story of Leo (Ghilherme Lobo) a somewhat shy teenager. He is blind and aware of his place in school due to his disability. His parents want to protect him even as they struggle to let him be independent. Leo’s best friend since childhood has been Giovana (Tess Amorim) and the two are inseparable. In many ways he sees the world through Giovana’s eyes. One need only watch Giovana looking at Leo to know how she feels about him. Enter the unreasonably amiable new student at school, Gabriel (Fabio Audi), and Leo and Giovanna’s friendship may need to be redefined.

 

Nothing in this film is what we haven’t seen before. And yet, the film is written, acted and put together with such a matter of fact honesty and simplicity that it rises up to be one of the better films of the year. We have seen these young love triangles a hundred times before; Jules et Jim kicked off the entire French New Wave for crying out loud. But it is the assured control over this material that singularly elevates this film to something of a discovery. The refusal of the film to make a big deal about major developments is what is truly surprising, in comparison to say Blue Is The Warmest Color from last year, which carried an unbearably heavy agency to it. The Way He Looks makes its observations without fuss, without drama, and without prurience. So what if the lead character is blind. So what if he happens to fall for another guy. Without tilting into caricature, the film strikes authenticity while never submitting to melodrama. One The Way He Looks can do more good than a hundred after-school specials about tolerance.

 

MV5BMTQ5NjYxODk2NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTgyNTU4MjE@._V1_SY317_CR0,0,214,317_AL_Who hasn’t experienced the dynamics with a friend change due to the necessary introduction of a new person. Best friends get married. They move to other cities to be with other people. They follow other professional tracks in life. In recent years Frances Ha and Bridesmaids have dealt with these situations with some degree of depth. But see how this material is handled in The Way He Looks; the respect the script grants these characters, to be contrary and complex, to be hurt and to stumble, and to grow and find their footing, is something to behold. To watch a movie capture something universal without heavy chest-beating is a minor miracle.

 

Like the best films, this one is populated by characters who are all inherently good. Which is like life; people we interact with in the real world are seldom all out evil. Films that understand this – and refuse the easy out by creating conflict through a single malevolent character – are already leagues ahead of other movies. See how this first time feature filmmaker, Daniel Ribeiro, treats even the least likeable character, that of the school bully Fabio. He constantly taunts Leo. He is cruel, yes, but not necessarily because Leo is blind. It is because Leo is an easy target, a misfit, different because of his blindness. Fabio makes fun of Leo, first alone, and then when he is with Gabriel. And at some point the film asks the audience, do you want to be Fabio? Do you want to be this insecure person who is unable to accept anyone who is different? It is strikingly mature handling of this material, when it would have been so much easier for the film to simply paint Fabio as a villain.

 

If there were justice in the world, this script would get nominated for year-end awards. Watch this film if only for its writing, particularly with sly observations about how the world deals with someone who is visually impaired. And like much of the no-fuss aesthetic that defines this movie, the film does not linger on its dialog, as exacting and truthful as it is. When Gabriel is first making friends with Leo, he off-handedly asks Leo if he ever noticed something in a particular movie. And then realizes with a start that Leo couldn’t have seen that film since he is blind. Touches like this make you realize that this is the work of a gifted storyteller.

 

Any lover of good films should make plans to watch The Way He Looks because of all the things its gets right. It gets the acute hurt that a person with disabilities feels when they are made fun of. It gets the love of parents who are protective of their child and the horror they must feel to forfeit those small parts of their child’s environment they can safeguard from harm (another masterful film Margarita, With A Straw which screened at the Toronto International Film Festival this year also dealt with this situation with uncommon empathy).  The film gets the hesitation, the tentative thrill-and-despair dance of acknowledging first love, just right. It gets just about everything right. Most of all, The Way He Looks is worthy of veneration for how it makes a hero out of Giovana, because it understands that best friends, real friends, will eventually sacrifice their own thumping affections for the sake of their friend’s happiness.

 

Yes, The Way He Looks may nominally just be a Brazilian teenage love triangle. But it is the best example of its kind to make the case that sometimes a truthful story told with a good heart is all it takes. The hell with CGI. The hell with histrionics. The hell with unnecessarily complicated non-linear, non-narrative mumbo-jumbo. Give me something as simple and well-intentioned and humorous and kind as The Way He Looks any day of the year. When films these days are seemingly only interested in hipster posturing and cynicism, the most provocative thing of all may be a film that rewards viewers with genuine sweetness.

 

 [THE WAY HE LOOKS is playing in San Diego at the Landmark Ken Cinemas, November 14-20]

 

 

2014 Toronto International Film Festival | Update Two

images-9The man ahead of me in the line has just arrived from the Telluride Film Festival. While you wait to get into a film screening, you strike up all sorts of conversations. And this man gives me his opinion of what cinema will be celebrated at year’s end. BIRDMAN, the latest from Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu is a wonder he says. Adding that it is about a filmmaker trying to take control of the world around him. That sounds a bit like Fellini’s 8 ½, I offer, and he says no, no BIRDMAN is far more serious than that. The entire film has been shot to simulate a single continuous take, so it gets high marks just for that he further explains. And Michael Keaton is Oscar bound he prognosticates. As is Steve Carrel, for FOXCATCHER he says, another film bound for Academy awards honors. The biggest disappointment for him has been WILD in which he complains that Reese Witherspoon is horribly miscast. I mention that I am part of that small minority that believes that Jean-Marc Vallee’s previous effort DALLAS BUYER’S CLUB was a terrible film. Then WILD is not going to change your mind about this director, he says. What was his best film he saw at Telluride, I ask? Oh, it’s the Argentine film WILD TALES he says with much excitement, and it is playing at Toronto and I must buy a ticket. And then we get into the cinema, leaving my head spinning. And that is the opinion of just one person at the festival. Throw together all the world’s cinephiles and you wouldn’t sleep for fear of missing an important film at the festival.

TIFF 2014 publicity still for THE NEW GIRLFRIEND

TIFF 2014 publicity still for THE NEW GIRLFRIEND

THE NEW GIRLFRIEND is the latest film from Francois Ozon. It wasn’t so long ago that Ozon was the reigning enfant terrible of French cinema, having helmed movies that gleefully crossed the line. But with wit that went beyond the shock value; SWIMMING POOL, WATER FALLING ON BURNING ROCKS, and CRIMINAL LOVERS were the films that put him on the map. Then he turned respectable with UNDER THE SUN, 8 WOMEN and POTICHE. How curious that in what seems like only a matter of years, Xavier Dolan (who is not even 25 years old) has taken over the enfant terrible title, bringing into question Ozon’s ability to still rock the boat by making films that simultaneously provoke and impress. THE NEW GIRLFRIEND is not going to change Ozon’s calling card, not least because this film has the unfortunate timing of coming out on the heels of the somewhat similarly themed LAURENCE ANYWAYS from Xavier Dolan last year. No matter how you cut it, Dolan’s a superior film.

With THE NEW GIRLFRIEND Ozon is clearly paying homage to the films of Douglas Sirk (with a dash of Almodovar, for good measure). So it is necessarily a melodrama, which is not a liability if handled well (Todd Haynes did an admirable job doing just that with FAR FROM HEAVEN). But THE NEW GIRLFRIEND, through most of its running time, feels like a helicopter trying to land in gusty winds; it keeps circling and circling, but is unable to settle on ground.

The film tells the story of Claire (Anais Demoustier) who is trying to shake off the sorrow following the death of her best friend Laura, who has also left behind a bereft husband David (Romain Duris) and infant child. Trying to deal with her grief and offer comfort to David, Claire walks into his home unannounced, to find him dressed in women’s clothing. David explains that he wants to be both father and mother to his child, and while Claire fails to understand this at first, she eventually becomes David’s accomplice in exploring his feminine sensibility. Much to the dismay of Claire’s husband who begins to suspect Claire’s time spent away from work. This can play as a light-hearted farce, as a serious look at the fluidity of sexuality and identity, or even as bitter satire of the overzealousness of political correctness in contemporary mores. But to play this material as a Douglas Sirk melodrama presents with inherent issues. For one thing Ozon over-commits to the Sirk sensibility to the extent that David’s home has furnishings reminiscent of sixties décor. It is difficult to shoehorn this visual palette into a story set in contemporary times without coming off jarringly anachronistic. And what should have been frothy and giddy comes off labored, and worse, dated. The film suffers as a whole from seeming like something that was made at least a couple of decades ago, not least from the way certain characters react to situations. I wish that Ozon’s desire to do Sirk had led to him setting this story in the sixties, which would make the look, and more critically, the behavior of the characters in this story a lot more believable.

 

2014 TIFF publicity still for TOKYO FIANCEE

2014 TIFF publicity still for TOKYO FIANCEE

TOKYO FIANCEE is first-time director Stefan Liberski contribution to all the stories in all the films about star-crossed lovers. It is based on a popular European novel by Amelie Nothomb about a French-speaking Belgian girl (Pauline Etienne) obsessed with Japan who happens to go to Japan and fall in love with a local Japanese boy (Taichi Inoue) who is obsessed with France. There have been many films about this sort of cultural dislocation. In particular such films that are also wittingly or otherwise romantic, tend to have a way of getting twee. TOKYO FIANCEE is very much a film about cultural dislocation, but it keeps the whimsy somewhat in check, doling out only homeopathic doses of it, for the most part. These are individuals you enjoy spending time with, even as you wonder why your own life did not come pre-filled with this sort of charm offensive. Heck, the lead is even named Amelie which should remind of you a certain Audrey Tatou confection that is much beloved but extra-frosted all the same. While the film spends the first half by playing with the mores of this sort of cinema (honest, if a little indulgent look, at the fish out of water), the latter part of the movie ultimately finds a defiantly unique voice. About being dispossessed in youth, and trying to locate a sense of self in a scary uncontrollable world.

Films like this live or die by their lead actors. Who have to carry the entire film, convincing every audience member that their company is worth having. And this film is worth watching, and you must do so, for Pauline Etienne. Looking uncannily like a young(er) Carey Mulligan, Etienne grounds the film with an openness that is disarming. Even when the plot calls on her to be charming beyond reason, she makes us believe that this person would indeed have this effect on these other individuals. Fragile, irrational, lost, impetuous, and searching, Etienne’s Amelie seems to convey these all with enviable flair. Even in the Q&A session after the end of the film, Etienne came across as effortlessly disarming. Discover this actor before the world catches up to her wonders. I cannot wait to see what she does next.

 

2014 TIFF publicity still for CART

2014 TIFF publicity still for CART

CART is a South Korean film loosely based on true events in which female workers at a supermarket who were abruptly notified of being laid off prior to the expiration of their contracts went on a strike to protest. What initially started as a frightening but also empowering stance to take on the system, eventually led to grave and worsening outcomes. What starts out seeming like a feel-good David vs. Goliath tale descends into a reckoning with reality in which corporations almost always prevail over workers. There is no doubt this film has a sincere focus, and it spends a fair bit of time investing in the individual lives of several of the key characters, if only to make clear the cascaded effect of social injustice on those beyond the direct victims. All of which is almost undone by a shrill background score that cues up every scene with the exact sentiment that the audience member is supposed to be filming. This very nearly destroys the film, but unlike say the nakedly melodramatic MARY KOM, this film makes it clear that hope may be the most elusive currency when a group of individuals decide to take on those who control them. This is an angry film, and necessarily so. And it is acted with honest conviction by a group of persuasive screen presences. Even with its flaws, including an over-eagerness to elicit sympathy, the cinema of the disenfranchised is essential. And CART is a good entry in this genre.