“Let me try and be as direct as I possibly can with you on this. There was no relationship to repair. I didn’t intend for Harvey to buy and release The Immigrant – I thought it was a terrible idea. And I didn’t think he would want the film, and I didn’t think he would like the film. He bought the film without me knowing! He bought it from the equity people who raised the money for me in the States. And I told them it was a terrible idea, but I had no say over the matter. So they sold it to him without my say-so, and with me thinking it was a terrible idea. I was completely correct, but I couldn’t do anything about it. It was not my preference, it was not my choice, I did not want that to happen, I have no relationship with Harvey. So, it’s not like I repaired some relationship, then he screwed me again, and I’m an idiot for trusting him twice! Like I say, you try to distance yourself as much as possible from the immediate response to a movie. With The Immigrant I had final cut. So he knew he couldn’t make me change it. But he applied all the pressure he could, including shelving the film.”
~ James Gray
Film Essent Archive for December, 2010
I had kind of a bad year for documentaries, which is too bad because I love docs. Maybe it’s partly because I missed Sundance, or because docs can be hit and miss and I just happened to fall on the wrong side of that equation this year. Whatever the case, I managed somehow to miss quite a few docs I should have seen.
I’ve done my best to catch up with those I’ve missed for which I have screeners, but even so there are some notable films this year that slipped through the cracks for me, so this top ten list should be taken with the big grain of salt that it very well would have looked completely different if I’d seen the following films (listed in alphabetical order):
Waiting for “Superman”
There’s also the dicey issue of when a film should be considered eligible for an end-of-year top ten — the year you see it? Or the year it finally gets a release? Whatever the case, there seems to be some complex alignment of stars, planets, and the footprints of baby polar bears that determines when a documentary is eligible for year end consideration, and this seems to me to be more frequently an issue with docs than narratives.
So, I saw Winnebago Man at Cinevegas in 2009, but although it wasn’t released in the US until this year, All These Wonderful Things, my go-to site for all things doc, lists it for 2009. On the other hand, I saw fest darling The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls at TIFF in 2009, and I saw it on some top tens last year, but it was nominated for an IDA award this year and All These Wonderful Things lists it for this year.
And the Harry Nilsson doc … sheesh. I reviewed that film for Cinematical at the Seattle International Film Festival in — no kidding — 2006. But rights issues over Nilsson’s songs kept the film in limbo until now.
Here are my own completely arbitrary rules for when a film is eligible for end-of-year consideration:
1. I saw it this year at a film festival, or
2. It had a theatrical release, or
3. It was nominated for an award by an organization broadly recognized as having some authority or weight (yes, okay, I guess the Golden Globes count for this purpose),
4. All These Wonderful Things lists it for this calendar year,
5. It’s a “critically acclaimed” film being buzzed about and generally considered by people other than me to be eligble for this year.
These rules are completely arbitrary, not to mention subject to interpretation and prone to starting arguments over drinks at the bar at the Yarrow Hotel midway through Sundance. Nonetheless, they are what they are. For the docs, I poured through several different lists of 2010 documentaries to try to capture as many docs as I’ve seen that are considered eligible for 2010. Maybe I included some you wouldn’t have, maybe I failed to include something you think I should have. Let me know in the comments.
There are a couple of docs that did not make the list, to which I want to give special mention. Oscar-shortlisted doc The Lottery, a well-told tale of four kids whose parents are pinning their hopes on their names being drawn for admission to a charter school in Harlem, just barely missed making the cut. Dancing Across Borders, which I first saw at SIFF a couple years ago, is a great example of a documentary evolving naturally out of real life: a woman takes a trip to Cambodia, sees a young boy performing as a street dancer, and is entranced by his talent. She eventually sponsors him to come to the United States to train with the New York School of Ballet; after years of hard work catching up, he lands a company position with Pacific Northwest Ballet, where he becomes one of their star dancers. It’s an uplifting film, and not a bad effort documenting the whole thing by first-time director Anne Bass, the woman who sponsored him.
Passione, which I caught at TIFF this year, is an unusual doc that weaves storytelling and music to tell the story of the importance of music to the culture of Naples, with the always entertaining John Turturro as our guide. And I have to give a shout-out to Song Sung Blue, an underseen and underappreciated doc I caught at Ebertfest, which tells the touching story of a Neil Diamond impersonator named Lightning and his singing partner and wife, Thunder; this was the most surprisingly good doc I saw this year, and it will be available in February through the film’s official website. It’s well worth checking out.
I don’t know if it’s just the way it worked out, or if I was just more drawn this year to docs that entertain as well as inform, and less drawn to “serious” documentaries, but my Top Ten docs for 2010 very much favored films that were about a diverse range of very entertaining subjects. None of them are about the war — and I feel a bit guilty for not including Armadillo or Restrepo, but I’m so tired of war docs right now. Two “serious subject” films made the cut, but the other eight span the gamut from street art to soul music, from a foul-mouthed RV salesman to an obsessed beauty queen. I think you’ll find all of them entertaining in one way or another, if you see them for yourself. Here they are:
1. Exit Through the Gift Shop
By far my favorite doc of the year, and something would have gotten bumped off my top ten overall if I’d caught it sooner. Crazy story, crazy style, but it works. You can read my recent write-up of this one right here.
2. Inside Job
Charles Ferguson is, along with Alex Gibney, one of the smartest “issue” documentary filmmakers working today. He worked with Gibney on his first doc, the Oscar-nommed No End in Sight, and like Gibney, he excels at breaking down the complex and making it clear. Inside Job is on the Oscar short list this year, and I think it’s very likely Ferguson will end up two-for-two with the Oscar noms for his first two films. Not bad.
3. This Way of Life
My favorite doc from SIFF this year, this beautiful film is about an unusual family in New Zealand fighting to maintain the free way of life in which they’ve chosen to raise their children.
4. Thunder Soul
The heartfelt story of the unlikely success of an inner city high school jazz band in the ’70s, and the reunion of its members to honor the band director, whose passion for music and belief in them shaped their lives
5. Winnebago Man
Meet Jack Rebney, whose foul mouth of astonishing proportions made him a legend when video footage of him cursing and stomping his way through a shoot of an RV infomercial. Winnebago Man, though, takes a surprising turn when the filmmaker and Rebney, who’s become a recluse, develop an unusual friendship.
6. The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls
It’s not every year that two docs with New Zealand subjects end up on my top ten list, but I had to make room for The Topp Twins, who are, perhaps, the world’s only yodeling lesbian musicians.
7. Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work
Surprisingly good documentary about the acid-tongued comic legend.
8. Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer
The second of the serious docs to make the cut this year, Alex Gibney’s searing look at the politics behind Eliot Spitzer’s fall from grace is chilling.
Errol Morris expertly weaves together the oddly compelling tale of a former beauty queen who was charged with abducting and imprisoning the young Mormon missionary she was obsessed/in love with. Not only that, but there are also cloned dogs. Reminded me a bit of 2007’s Crazy Love, which I guess makes me a sucker for stories about nutty people.
10. Who Is Harry Nilsson (And Why is Everybody Talkin’ About Him?)
Even if you don’t know who Harry Nilsson is, you’ll still enjoy this lovely tribute to the legendary musician. If you’re already a fan, you’ll enjoy getting to know more about his life. Lots of little-seen footage, plus strikingly sad/engaging interviews with Nilsson’s abandoned son from his first marriage and the children he had later in life, when he was ready to be a dad.
Yesterday I received the press release announcing the lineup of the 2011 Oxford Film Festival, and a couple of things struck me about the fest and this year’s lineup that I wanted to jot down. If you have zero interest in smaller film festivals or conversation about how small fests can grow and thrive, you can stop here and move along to something more interesting. If you are interested in small town film festivals in any capacity, you might find it a conversation you’d like to engage in.
Read the full article »
SPOILER WARNING: This column contains moderate spoilers for the film Exit Through the Gift Shop … just in case it hasn’t already been spoiled by all your friends arguing about it.
After watching Exit Through the Gift Shop twice, I’m still not entirely convinced the whole thing isn’t an elaborate display of cinematic graffiti by street artist Banksy.
A great opening sequence of various street artists in action at night, set to Richard Hawley’s “Tonight the Streets are Ours,” sets the tone for the movie we think we’re going to see. Then we meet a hooded character in shadow — that’s Banksy, the mysterious graffiti artist at the center of the film — who tells us that this guy was going to make a movie about him, but it turned out the guy behind the camera was a lot more interesting than Banksy.
Read the full article »
I’ve been experimenting more lately with using Facebook as a place to engage in conversations about film … sometimes as the sole site for discussion, but often as a starting point that leads me somewhere else, such as now …
In a conversation about my Top Ten list, one of my friends commented that it can be hard to find indie films in theaters. And I certainly can’t argue with this. It’s easier to see an indie in an actual theater if you live in NYC, LA, Seattle, San Fran, Chicago, certainly. Or if you’re independently wealthy and can travel around to film festivals just because you love watching movies.
Oklahoma City, for example, is probably not the first place that comes to mind when you think “hotbed of indie film.” But the OKC Museum of Art has been showcasing indie films for years now in a great space, under the direction of curator Brian Hearn. He’s been a force of nature for bringing indie films to my hometown for a long time now. While people like me abandoned Oklahoma City in search of greener, hipper, or more liberal pastures, Brian and a good many other smart, artsy people have held down the fort there, bringing culture to the people.
In part because of Brian, Oklahoma City has a thriving film festival, deadCENTER, which I hope to see keep growing and growing and growing. I missed it last year because it overlaps with SIFF, and since Seattle’s my hometown now and SIFF is the bigger fest, it demands my attention and my coverage. But it’s also important to draw attention to smaller fests doing the hard work of making indie film accessible to the masses who don’t live on either coasts, so I do hope to get out to OKC to cover deadCENTER again sometime.
The folks at the Dallas International Film Festival bring quality film to the Big D year after year, and they’ve done their job there so effectively that when their partnership with AFI ended, they took up the banner without AFI’s name and have worked their tails off to make their fest bigger and better than ever on their own steam. James Faust and Sarah Harris at DIFF are two of the smartest, most passionate people I know when it comes to film, and they work hard to bring Dallas awesome films every year for their fest.
One of the things I most love about DIFF is how people in Dallas see their fest as a real event. They get dressed up to go to screenings (here in Seattle, we tend to view “dressing up” as meaning “putting on my jeans/leggings/tights without holes, and breaking out that prized vintage shirt from Value Village,” so I’m easily impressed by people actually wearing high heels and ties and jewelry anywhere, much less a movie screening, but still. It’s pretty cool. Plus, you can drink alcohol in the theaters in Dallas, which is the best idea ever. I bet a lot of experimental films at Sundance would benefit from the audience being about to bring their Stella or Cosmo into the theater.
In Oxford, Mississippi, my friends at the Oxford Film Fest have been very smart in turning a “little fest that could” into a cinematic event and growing steadily every year while still retaining that Southern charm and hometown feel. Michelle Emmanuel, Molly Fergusson, Micah Ginn and Melanie Addington do a phenomenal job running that fest… now if only they could find the funding and the venue to do bring cinema to Oxford year-round, like SIFF does here in Seattle …
In Champaign-Urbana, Roger Ebert has been bringing the best of the best “overlooked” films to his hometown for years with the annual Ebertfest … a prestigious event for a filmmaker to be invited to, and always a great opportunity for everyone there to relax and enjoy being at the movies with Roger, Chaz and the legion of passionate film fans who’ve been turned onto many great films at Ebertfest and come back year after year. And that fest happens in large part thanks to Nate Kohn and Mary Susan Britt, who pull it all together year after year.
From coast to coast, smaller film fests bring indie films to places that aren’t NYC or LA. Hamptons. Sidewalk in Birmingham. Memphis. Sarasota. Santa Barbara. Palm Springs. Denver. Outfest in LA. True/False. And, of course, Seattle. And many other fests I know I’m overlooking.
Change like indie films coming to places that aren’t big cities happens because one or two or several people who live there and are passionate about film MAKE it happen. They start a festival. They open an arthouse cinema/coffehouse. They get a job at a museum and create a film venue where none existed, and infect the people around them with their enthusiasm.
If you live in a place where there’s not enough access to indie film in theaters, you have a few options. You can move to a city that has better access to indie film. You can become independently wealthy and travel the world going to film fests large and small. You can start a film festival in your town, or figure out how to raise the funds to restore that old, awesome theater that’s been shut down for years and turn it into a showplace for arthouse films.
You can invest in equipment to make a state-of-the-art home theater in your house, program regular mini film fests at your house, and invite people to them (I know a guy who beefed up his resume doing this who is now a programmer for a major fest, so don’t laugh!).
Point being: YOU can change things. Top ten lists from critics and awards from critics groups exist, in part, to spread the word about great films and thereby create more people who love cinema and will support it. So if you love independent film and there’s not enough of it where you live, find your own way of supporting it and be the change.
I really struggled over my top ten list this year. There were maybe six films that were pretty hard locks early on, which only left four open slots for the rest of a field of strong contenders — not a lot of wiggle room in a year with a good many solid films rightfully in contention for top ten lists.
For the most part, I think the films that made the final cut onto my top ten list will not come as a surprise if you know me and the types of films I tend to like more than others.
Some of the films that did not make the final cut for me, though, may surprise you, and I’d like to say a few words about that. First, there were several other films to which I gave thoughtful consideration (and if this had been a Top 20 list, they likely would have been on it); some of them are smaller films, and not all have distribution, so I’d like to recognize their excellence.
They are, in no particular order: For the Good of Others, Secret Sunshine, Father of My Children, The Vicious Kind, The Illusionist, and Shutter Island. I Saw the Devil, which was one of my favorite films at TIFF, would have made my top ten, but since it’s supposed to be released here in March, I’ll hold off and include it next year.
And it might come as a surprise, given the number of artsy films on my list, to learn that the two films that came closest to making my Top Ten list but just missed are Kick-Ass and Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World.
And while I haven’t done a lot of Oscar prognosticating yet, I will say right now that The Illusionist is my pick for Best Animated Film over Toy Story 3, fond as I am of Woody, Buzz and the gang.
There are not any documentaries on my top ten, not because there were no good docs this year, but because I find it very hard to compare features to docs; there’s a reason fests and the various awards separate the categories. So I will have a Top 5 (maybe 10) Docs list in a day or so. Yes, yes, it’s a bit of a cop-out. Sorry. I’d rather put the spotlight on the docs separately, though.
The most notably absent of the major awards-contending feature films on my final list are The Fighter, The Kids Are All Right, and The Social Network. Of these, The Fighter came the closest to making the cut, but in the end I found that the acting, for me, was stronger than the writing, and that it was problematic for the supporting characters in the film (particularly Dickie and Alice) to be more flawed and interesting on the surface (which is what the script and director chose to show us) than the main character.
Mark Wahlberg’s younger brother Mickey was the more psychologically complex character in his quieter way, but he wasn’t as showy as Christian Bale’s malnourished crack addict or Melissa Leo’s flamboyant stage mother; that’s a writing and directorial decision that made it hard to know who we were supposed to be rooting for — Mickey? Or Dickie? Or both? Or all of them? That said, there was a subtlety to Mark Wahlberg’s performance that I found very moving, and Amy Adams, reaching outside her comfort zone, is excellent.
I enjoyed The Kids Are All Right, for the most part, but again, for me it was a film driven more by the excellent performances by Annette Bening and Julianne Moore than by the direction or script. I applaud Lisa Cholodenko for her handling of the subject matter and for the originality of the idea, but the execution I found problematic. I already devoted an entire column to this subject, though, so I’ll leave it at that.
And then we have The Social Network by far the most popular kid in the Top Ten lunchroom this year. There’s some good acting in there, and it’s an entertaining enough film, although I still take issue with the way Mark Zuckerberg is portrayed — not so much with Jesse Eisenberg’s performance, which is solid, but with the way the character is scripted by Aaron Sorkin. There are some cleverly edited scenes in there (but if you put them side-be-side with similar scenes from Wall Street 2, are they really head-and-shoulders above?).
I suppose Social Network reflects the “cultural zeitgeist,” and critics love them some cultural zeitgeist about as much as they love seeing reflections of themselves in a movie. It’s certainly true that the last 15 years or so have been a remarkable bit of our societal growth to be a part of. I get that. And as a regular Facebook user, I admit it was kind of cool watching this film and seeing the birth of a website that’s become a regular tool I use in my own work and life to stay connected with friends, family and colleagues scattered far and wide.
But Social Network did not, for me, represent David Fincher’s best effort as a director, particularly when I compare it to the sheer balls of Darren Aronofsky in making the crazy, beautiful Black Swan as a follow-up to The Wrestler, or the brilliance of Chris Nolan in conceiving and bringing to life a starkly daring and creative bit of genius like Inception. It doesn’t match the artistry with which Danny Boyle and Simon Beaufoy attacked what could have been a Lifetime Movie of the Week in 127 Hours, spinning a a compelling, gorgeously shot film out of a story about a guy stuck alone in a crevice in the wilderness with his arm pinned by a rock. It cannot stand against the meticulous process with which Mike Leigh worked with his cast in crafting Another Year, or the poignant honesty and deep sadness of Rabbit Hole, or the rich, full exploration of what it means to live and to die in Biutiful. These films captured raw, honest, flawed and deeply human characters acting and reacting to each other in ways that make us feel like we have been gifted with a rare and insightful mirrors that reflect back to us our own humanity.
There are some solid performances in Social Network, yes . But even looking at the acting, there’s not a performance in The Social Network that has the depth and soul of Javier Bardem’s dying father in Biutiful, the sheer guts of Natalie Portman’s tragic perfectionist in Black Swan, the anguished loneliness of Lesley Manville in Another Year, the clarity and honesty of Hailee Steinfeld in True Grit. Or for that matter, the chemistry of Chloe Moretz and Nic Cage in Kick-Ass.
You, of course, are free to disagree with what made my list and what did not, and no doubt many of you have your own thoughts to share on why you disagree with my choices and reasoning. That’s the best thing, to me, about top tens — they provide an opportunity to hone down the year and then engage in energetic debate about our choices. My top docs list is coming soon, and after the holidays I’ll break it down further with my picks for who should win at the Oscars, all political BS aside.
All that said, here are my Top Ten Feature Films of 2010:
2. Another Year
3. Black Swan
4. 127 Hours
5. True Grit
6. Winter’s Bone
7. Rabbit Hole
9. Blue Valentine
I was having some interesting back-and-forth on Facebook with some colleagues about Top Tens, so decided the subject was worthy of a brief blog post. My mailbox was flooded this morning with a slew of Top Tens from all over the place. I’m always impressed and a little intimidated by folks who can get it together enough to see every single film worthy of contention AND get a top ten list together that early. Myself, I’m aiming for next week, and expect to meet my self-imposed deadline.
So I’ve been busy making my Top Ten list and checking it twice … three times … four times. This has been a good year for movies, overall, but pretty much any year there’s a bit of agonizing when it comes down to making the final, FINAL list. Who makes the cut? Who just gets edged out? Who’s not in the running at all?
Since I don’t live in LA or NY, where the early screenings fairy is most bountiful, there are still a couple films I need to catch (that’s the downside of working in this biz while living in Seattle, but there are so many good things about living here that I can deal). We just got True Grit last night here. Tonight I have to choose between I Love You Phillip Morris and How Do You Know. And I still have a few screeners that are serious contenders to get through. So I expect my own list will be done next week, and then I have my critics’ groups to get year-end voting done with.
But as I was looking over the Top Ten lists that flooded my mailbox this morning in the mad, crazy rush to be first, first, FIRST! with the top tens, a few things struck me. The first is that The King’s Speech, which everyone seems to be assuming is an Oscar frontrunner for Best Picture, is not showing up on a lot of critics Top Ten lists at all. Not that Top Tens are a reliable indicator of Oscar — totally different groups — but still. Don’t you find it odd that this supposed Oscar front-runner didn’t impress enough critics to make their Top Tens? I do.
Another thing I noticed is how many critics are putting The Social Network in the top three on their lists, to which I can only say, “Really?” Look, I heart David Fincher a lot. He’s a fab director. But for me, The Social Network was meh-to-good, not great. It’s not Zodiac, not Fight Club or Se7en. Are there some excellent directorial choices in there? Yes. Great performances? Sure, sure (though I would still argue that Andrew Garfield is more deserving of consideration for Never Let Me Go, in spite of how rapidly that film became unfashionable). Anyhow.
I, like most of the folks I know who are expected to come up with a Top Ten at the end of each year, really agonize over the final cut. I keep a running list starting in January of films that might be in the running, and sometime after Thanksgiving start filtering the likely contenders from the maybes. I put a lot of thought into it, and pretty much everyone I know does the same. Your Top Ten says a lot about your taste in film, and — criminy! — who wants their colleagues to read their list and think they’re an idiot?
Also, I always struggle over whether to include great films that didn’t have US distrib this year. What if they had distrib, but only in Europe? Does that count? How about a film that micro-released with one weekend on one screen in NYC? Should I include fest films that haven’t secured distrib here at all yet? But then what if they do get distrib next year … would I have to include that film twice?
I’ll have my Top Ten list done by early next week, maybe even over the weekend if I really get it together. In the meantime, there’s some good movies coming your way the last couple weeks of the month. You can check out the running list of Top Tens from a slew of critics right here. Maybe perusing those lists will give you some ideas for films you want to catch or at least add to your Netflix cue.
So, the Golden Globe noms were announced this morning, not that anyone particularly cares. Although I find it kind of funny that entertainment journalists actually get up at the asscrack of dawn to “report” on the urgent news that the HFPA nominated Johnny Depp twice and The Tourist for anything. If every journalist who works in Hollywood would stop pretending the Globes are important as anything other than the Hollywood ass-kissing fest they are, maybe they would go away. Or maybe not. Hollywood does love any excuse to play dress-up, I guess.
Read the full article »
Blue Valentine, which stars Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling in a story that interweaves the beginning and end of a romance (and features some oral sex that some people apparently found controversial) has finally received a revised rating of “R” from the MPAA.
I was just bitching last night after the Blue Valentine press screening with some fellow film journos about how ridiculous it was that the film had been slapped with the dreaded “NC-17″ for sex scenes that are far less graphic than those in The Kids Are All Right and certainly no more graphic than a similar girl-on-girl scene in Black Swan.
So congrats to Blue Valentine for the new rating. More on the film itself soonish.
UPDATE: I was concerned that maybe the film had been cut to get the “R” rating, but it was just confirmed to me by a publicist that the version I saw last night is the final cut, and that only the rating was changed. Most excellent.
SPOILER WARNING: This column is an analysis of the film The Kids Are All Right and, as such, contains significant spoilers. You have been duly forewarned.
I realize it’s not the popular thing to say, but I’m going to go out on a limb and tell you that I finally got around to seeing The Kids Are All Right and it was just … all right. Look, it’s not a bad film, by any means. In fact, it may even be a pretty good film. But the best film of the year? Or even in the top ten best films of the year? Not quite. Sure, it’s a hell of a lot better than a lot of movies to which it’s been inaccurately compared, but if I could only put one or two indie films this year seriously in the Oscar race, Winter’s Bone or Biutiful, Another Year or Get Low, would all be way ahead of The Kids Are All Right on my list.
Read the full article »
You wouldn’t know it from its Rotten Tomatoes rating, but Darren Aronofsky’s latest film, Black Swan, was probably the most divisive film at Toronto. Perhaps it was because in the days leading up to the fest we kept hearing such different things about it: Some rumors said it was a callback to the visually compelling, non-linear structure of The Fountain, others said it evoked The Wrestler in the world of ballet.
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It’s beginning to look a lot like Sundance … well, maybe not quite yet, let’s get through Christmas first before we start packing for Park City. But Sundance has announced its competition entries for 2011, and there are some things that immediately caught my eye:
US Dramatic Competition
The American dramatic competition films offer up an interesting mix of films that look (on the surface at least) to fit the mold of the “Sundance film” and some more diverse storyline options, with both new and familiar names. Inevitably, no matter which films I pick from the narrative feature competitions, I end up missing something that pops at the fest as really great, and then scrambling to find a late screening so I can catch it before the fest ends. But you have to narrow down your screening list one way or another, so here are some films from this slate that look promising:
William Mapother, who was so excellent as the bad guy in In the Bedroom way back in 2001, is in U.S. Dramatic Competition entry Another Earth, which is about a duplicate Earth, a horrible tragedy and a love affair. Mapother’s presence makes this one infinitely more interesting.
Vera Farmiga makes her directorial debut with Higher Ground, about a woman’s struggle with her faith. Farmiga also stars in the film, and cast also includes John Hawkes (who played Teardrop in Winter’s Bone) and Josh Leonard (Humpday). Hawkes’ presence alone would put this one on my want-to-see list.
Little Birds, about two teenage girls who run away to Los Angeles and get into trouble, caught my attention because it stars Juno Temple, who was fantastic as Dani in Dirty Girl (she’s also set to star in the long-awaited teen-lesbian-werewolf film Jack and Diane, which according to IMDb is actually filming at long last, but I won’t believe that until I see it). This one also stars Kate Bosworth, who I think has been a bit underrated; she strikes me as an actress who could actually go “serious” ala Charlize Theron if she could get the right roles. Maybe this is one of them.
Another film with John Hawkes (what, is he aiming to be this Sundance’s Zooey Deschanel?), Martha Marcy May Marlene (say that four times fast) is about a woman trying to re-assimilate with her family after leaving a cult. See above for the John Hawkes Factor being enough to make this one worth catching.
Azazel Jacobs, who wrote and directed the excellent Momma’s Man, which played Sundance in 2008, is back in 2011 with Terri, a comedy about a teenage boy in a small town and the high school VP who takes him under his wing. Stars John C. Reilly, which would make me want to see it even if I wasn’t already intrigued to see what kind of film Jacobs made after the moody, darkly funny Momma’s Man.
Lastly for this section, I’m curious about the film listed as Untitled Sam Levinson Project on the Sundance schedule and The Reasonable Bunch on IMDb. Whatever its real title is, it’s a comedy about a chaotic family wedding. That alone doesn’t make it particularly interesting — chaotic weddings/funerals/holidays are pretty overdone — but the cast does: Demi Moore, Kate Bosworth (that’s two for her, she’s keeping pace with Hawkes), Ellen Barkin, Ellen Burstyn, and Thomas Haden Church.
World Cinema Dramatic Competition
The World Cinema Dramatic Competition slate tends to be one of my favorite categories at Sundance … one of these years, I might just front-load my schedule with every single film in this competition and work everything else around them, because I always seem to miss one or two films that I’m kicking myself later for not seeing. This year, these are some of the films that I’d like to find room for on my sched:
Abraxas (Japan) is about a depressed Zen Buddhist monk with a “heavy metal past” who latches onto music as a means of reviving his spirit. Okay, okay … they had me at “monk” and “heavy metal.”
It’s been a while since I saw a Columbian film, but All Your Dead Ones (Todos Tus Muertos) looks like a good possibility. It’s about a peasant who finds a pile of dead bodies in his crops, and then finds the authorities want nothing to do with them. Dark comedy? Drama? Thriller? Not sure, but I want to check it out.
Heading over to Algeria, we have A Few Days of Respite (Quelque Jours de Repit), about a couple of gay men from Iran who find safe harbor in a village in France. Not familiar with the cast, but the director won a couple of awards for his 2008 film, The Yellow House.
Apart from the presence of Don Cheadle and Brendan Gleeson on the cast list, the Sundance description of The Guard (Ireland) got me to read it three times:
A small-town cop in Ireland has a confrontational personality, a subversive sense of humor, a fondness for prostitutes and absolutely no interest whatsoever in the international drug-smuggling ring that has brought a straight-laced FBI agent to his door.
Both Cheadle and Gleeson are proven performers, and I’m hoping they chose well when they signed onto this project.
Kinyarwanda (Rwanda) is about Rwandans during the 1994 genocide who made refuges of mosques without regard for tribe or religion. I realize that some folks are about as tired of “genocide in Africa” films as I am of anything to do with the war in Iraq/Afghanistan, but I have not yet hit my saturation point for this topic.
You gotta love the Australians, especially when the entry from Down Under in the world competition category is titled Mad Bastards, is about an “urban street warrior” facing off with a local cop, and features the Pigram Brothers, a country/folk rock Aussie band. If you’ve never heard them, take the time to check them out before Sundance. I’m curious to see how well their music is used in this film.
From Israel we have a film I’m really interested in seeing,
Restoration (Boker Tov Adon Fidelman). This one’s about an antique furniture restorer, his mysterious apprentice, and the estranged son who’s trying to shut his father’s business down. An unhappy family film that appears not to involve either a holiday or a road trip? Worth catching to me.
Lastly, I definitely want to make room on my schedule for UK entry
Tyrannosaur, just because it stars Eddie Marsan, who was a riot as the uptight, nutty driving instructor in Happy-Go-Lucky. That’s pretty much all I need to make it worth seeing.
I said lastly, but then the final film on the world cinema list caught my eye: Vampire, which stars Keisha Castle-Hughes (Whale Rider). The description on this one says it’s about a seemingly nice guy who teaches and cares for his ailing mother, who trolls message boards seeking “the perfect girl who will ensure his own survival.” A movie presumably about a vampire, but it’s showing in world cinema, not midnight? Interesting. Okay, I’ll bite (sorry, sorry).
I’m not crazy about the news of Anne Hathaway and James Franco co-hosting the Oscars. Like them both as actors, they’re both smart and certainly capable of being funny, though the SNL hosting history doesn’t impress me as much as it seems to have impressed most everyone else. SNL and Oscars are two completely different animals.
For me, the Oscars host (or hosts) just really needs to be someone who’s primarily a comedian. Someone who’s capable of walking that line between being funny and pushing the star-studded crowd to the very brink of not being sure if it’s okay to laugh at themselves or not. Hugh Jackman was an exception — he’s such a natural live performer that he pulled it off pretty well.
I really liked Steve Martin and Billy Crystal as Oscar hosts, and my pick for this round would have been Tina Fey. But so it goes. I do agree with what David wrote on the Hot Blog about the importance of the writing, especially with two people are are actors and not stand-up comedians in the hot seat. And I’m very much on the fence about the appropriateness of having a likely nominee as a host.
As for the show itself — longer, shorter, no performances of songs, more songs, show the shorts, don’t show them … whatever. Honestly, whatever they do, someone’s going to bitch about it. It is what it is: Hollywood’s big self-congratulatory back-patting fest that’s gotten overgrown in significance as if we’re talking about the Nobel Peace Prize or something.
It’s a nice excuse for everyone to get dressed up and show off the latest gorgeous dresses and be asked who designed their dress and loaned them a million dollars in jewelry. It’s nice to celebrate the movies, and honor those films and performances that were a cut above the mean, sure. And if it helps a film like Winter’s Bone or Inside Job or The Kids Are All Right get a bigger box office take at the end of the day, well, huzzah.
Speaking of indie films …
I’m not sure what the point is of the Independent Spirit Awards anymore. I know and respect many of the nominating committee members, but this year’s noms felt even more predictable and pre-Ocar than usual to me.
Admittedly, there are actually quite a few actual indies on the overall nominations list. But the Best Feature Noms are heavy on the studio-indie labels and otherwise predictable. Ditto with the Best Director nominees. You have to dig down to “Best First Feature” to get to films like Get Low and and Tiny Furniture. And I dunno, “Best First Anything” always sounds to me a bit like “E for Effort.” You were good enough to be a “Best … for a newbie” but not a “Best-best.”
If you burrow all the way down to the John Cassavetes Award you get to what should really be the meat of the ISAs: films like Daddy LongLegs and The Exploding Girl and Lovers of Hate (kind of surprised Trash Humpers isn’t on the list for this one, actually). Then we have Screenplay and “Best First Screenplay” (see above rant under “Best First Feature,” later rinse repeat) and then a slew of mostly predictable, likely Oscar-nom heavy acting nominations. Ronald Bronstein’s a nice surprise there, and some nice noms for Mother and Child and Get Low. And glad to see Jennifer Lawrence get some recognition as she’s likely to get screwed when it comes to Oscars, but other than that, meh.
As for Best Foreign. Well. Biutiful, for me, is notably absent, as is Father of My Children. And if we’re going to have The King’s Speech as a Best Foreign nom and not Best Feature (really?), well, where the hell is Mike Leigh and Another Year? And where’s Lesley Manville in the acting noms? Happy for Greta Gerwig and all, but Manville’s performance in Another Year is one of the best of this year, period.
No real complaints about the doc nominees, nice to see both Sweetgrass and the under-appreciated Thunder Soul in there. But I’d have liked to see The Way We Live on there, even if it is Oscar-shortlisted. And it would have been nice to toss a little love to the Joan Rivers doc.
Maybe what the ISAs really need to do is break down their Feature awards not by “Best” and “Best First” but by budget, or studio-financed versus truly indie, or something. Give more of the smaller, low budget films without the money to buy a lot of promotion and schmoozing a shot.
For my money, the nonfiction Cinema Eye Awards are more about indie film than the Spirits. Look at the Cinema Eye nominees for “Outstanding Achievement in Nonfiction Feature Filmmaking. 2011 marks the fourth year of the Cinema Eye Awards, and every year they’ve had a pretty excellent slate of nominees. Not necessarily the biggest moneymakers, but most assuredly some of the best made docs of their years.
This is what the independent film world needs more of: an opportunity for well-crafted films with tiny budgets to have some recognition. Less emphasis on luring celebs and televising the event, more focus on the art of independent film. That’s what I’d like to see, anyhow.