My article on the foreign language race is up now at Sasha Stone's fabulous site Awardsdaily. I haven't seen Timbuktu yet but I think I've possibly set something up to get to see it in the next week or two. It's been on my radar for quite a while now and cannot wait to check it out. The race is starting to shape up as a highly competitive venture for each of its participants, the foreign language movies I checked out this past year at various film festivals were quite exceptional, so much so that I already have a solid top ten list for 2015!
Happy weekend everybody, hopefully I'll be able to post either today or tomorrow.
Here's a movie that doesn't pander to you. It doesn't try to manipulate to you, nor does it try to get a cheap thrill for the sake getting a cheap thrill. Benneth Miller's quiet -and I do mean quiet- new film "Foxcatcher" is so simple that it can sneak up on you way after the end credits have rolled. Based on the story of Olympic winning wrestlers Dave and Mark Schultz and John Du Pont- the rich profiteer that took them in and eventually betrayed them- the film is a devastating american tragedy of the highest order but while watching the film you wouldn't even know it. All you know is that within each and every frame lies a dread that is almost indescribable- it fills you up with a feeling that cannot be shaken. I was angered, thrilled, bored, confused and stung by "Foxcatcher". The fact that Miller leaves out a lot of the story only enhances the fact that it might just be the most inaccessible studio picture in quite a bit of time -and I do mean that as a compliment.
It plays almost like a shakespearean tragedy with all three of its actors delivering on the buzz that has been building up since the film's debut this past May at Cannes. Steve Carrell -wearing a devilish prosthetic nose- is superb as Du Pont, a man that has been spoon-fed everything in his life. Getting rejected or having anybody say no to him is unacceptable, he gets his way, he always has. Channing Tatum is Mark Schultz an aspiring wrestler that has already won Olympic gold and builds up a unique but disturbing friendship with Du Pont after the heir takes him into his Foxcatcher ranch and builds a wrestling facility all for him. Mar's brother Dave -also a gold medalist- is played by the always talented Mark Ruffalo who makes the most of his limited screen-time.
It is quite obvious that it doesn't end well for any of these tragic Shakespearian figures and chances are you already know about the tragedy that happened at the ranch back in the late 80'sFoxcatcher isn't the kind of movie you can love, it's the kind of movie you have the upmost respect for because of how courageous and bold it truly turns out to be. It's a bleak portrait of the American dream gone haywire. Miller doesn't let you go inside any of his characters' heads and leaves you out with not many questions answered. That can sometimes be very frustrating and
Let's be real, we all knew we were being watched, it's the stuff that we usually joke about with friends. "Oh shit did I say that out loud? I'm sure someone's listening in on this conversation" and so on- I don't think after watching Laura Poitras' Citizenfour you will look at that joke the same way again. Poitras is a competent filmmaker with a decent hand at making absorbing stuff out of post 9/11 america. Truth be told the reason why she's getting such rave reviews for this newest film is because she struck gold by getting an in-depth 8 day hotel room interview with former NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, in fact most of the documentary takes place as the news is about to break about the dirty little things the NSA has been doing on not just its own citizens but many foreign countries around the world. The footage is landmark, historic, jaw-dropping as you see Snowden reveal details to stunned Journalist Glenn Greenwald from the Guardian and Poitras herself in a tiny Hong Kong hotel room. The film is so fascinating because even after all is said and done you still haven't quite figured out Snowden's intentions and the exact reason why he is putting himself and -eventually- his family and 10+ year girlfriend in this absurdly chaotic situation. It's mesmerizing stuff that -to me- was just as interesting from a journalistic point of view, the role of a journalist and the lengths one may go in getting this kind of information out in public no matter the consequences.
Coming out in a week or so is Jennifer Kent's The Babadook which has been building considerable buzz for a few weeks now and has been compared -for some reason- to the horror greats. I wouldn't bank on the buzz. You just wish the movie were half as great as perennial classics like The Shining, The Exorcist, Rosemary's Baby and -hell- even 2015's upcoming It Follows. What's missing from Kent's films is a move away from the usual formula. Yes The Badabook is a good by-the-numbers horror flick but it is nothing more. The script is conventional but -thank goodness- Kent's direction isn't. She infuses some much needed freshness to tried and tired formula that's been done two folds. A mother trying to protect her son from some sort of demon taking over the house and so on and so on. You're going to be hearing a lot of positive things about this movie in the coming week, don't keep your hopes up, just be warned that it does the job but nothing more and nothing less. Simple as that. Kent tries her best to raise the material to something more artful but the script she works with just can't go to that level.
Now that the year is coming to a close and you will all be preparing your top ten lists and predictions for upcoming awards season, I just wanted to give you the heads up on a few gems that are about to open up in limited or wide release. There are two weeks left to November and we are about to see the opening of what many are calling the front runner for Best Picture Morton Tyldum's The Imitation Game- a conventional yet sometimes exciting drama about Alan Turin, a British man that singlehandedly cracked the enigma code in WWII and was partly responsible for the end of that war. The best scenes revolve around Alan et co. trying to crack the code, the worst scenes are flashbacks of a younger Turin wrestling with his sexuality as a homosexual in an all boys covenant. Benedict Cumberbacth is phenomenal in the title role and deserves to get nominated even if he's just playing Benedict Cumberbatch circa WWII. It's a mixed package but these kind of movies are what the academy loves best -The King's Speech anybody?- and The Imitation Game is in fact a good movie but it isn't even close to being the best of the year.
The race for Best Foreign Language Film is as heated as it’s ever been this year. Movies from countries like Ukraine, Sweden, Canada, Turkey, France and Italy are in a heated race for the gold, but only a single film will emerge as the winner. Having covered more than 5 major film festivals this year I've had the chance to see most of the big contenders vying for the top prize. The quality this year has been unprecedented, so has the fact that now, more than ever, there are more ways than one to catch up with these fantastic films.
I've narrowed it down to eight films that have made their mark on the festival circuit and in theatres that stand a big chance for a nomination. Unsurprisingly, the majority of these had their debuts at Cannes and kept the momentum throughout the year. Of course, like any other year, there is a chance that some dark horses will emerge and trump the big boys, but for now this is how the race is looking. Take not that this is one of the most unpredictable categories and that in years best it was very difficult to correctly predict all five of the nominees.
Of note, I'm still dumbfounded by Ukraine's decision to submit "The Guide" instead of Myroslav Slaboshpytski's harrowing "The Tribe", a film in total sign language and without subtitles that hits you like nothing else that's come before it. It's a brilliant film that is already a contender for my 2015 ten best list.
"Wild Tales" is one hell of an original vision, which is not surprising considering it has been compared to early Tarantino because of its inventive narrative. This is a film that hits you hard, and then even harder, and then even harder, until you are left gasping for air when its final frame hits the screen. I guess you can tell I liked it. In fact, director Damian Szifron's film has been sneaking into every single major film festival with very little word of mouth to go along with it, but the buzz is finally building and people are finally noticing what an incredible film it really is. You'll be hearing a lot of comparisons to Tarantino's Pulp Fiction and those comparisons wouldn't be far off, as the film is composed of six standalone short stories that have a common theme of violence and vengeance.
Xavier Dolan's "Mommy" is already breaking box office records in Quebec and will most certainly become Dolan's highest grossing movie in the U.S. when it finally gets released early next year. It is then no surprise that his next movie will be his first shot in English and will star the incomparably talented Jessica Chastain. "Mommy" is a terrific movie that features mother and son constantly, maddeningly talking over each other, verbal fireworks that bring a rawness to a breathtakingly original movie shot in an absurdly squared 1:1 aspect ratio; there's a scene midway that brilliantly explains why he decided to shoot his film that way. Dolan's film might be overlong but his ambitious vision more than makes up for it. I wouldn't be surprised if he wins it all come Oscar night.
Two Cannes favorites will also be duking it out for the top prize: Nuri Bilge Ceylan's Palme d'or winner "Winter Sleep" and Andrei Zviaguintsev's "Leviathan". "Winter Sleep" stands no chance to win, but has enough fans to maybe, just maybe, squeak in as one of the five nominees. It's a frustrating but rewarding film that is also the talkiest film I've ever seen, even more so than Ingmar Bergman's "Scenes from a Marriage". It’s a mediation on violence, friendship, and family among other things, but more importantly is a film filled with beautiful landscapes and moments of sheer brilliance contrasted with a few moments of sheer boredom. I was a big fan of "Once Upon a Time in Anatolia", so much so that it made my ten best list in 2012, but "Winter's Sleep" doesn't reach those heights nor does it really want to.
"Leviathan" is an incredible moviegoing experience that was – surprisingly! – chosen by Russia as its Foreign Language submission, despite the fact that the film is a downright critique of the scorned society the Putin regime has molded over the past decade in the motherland. A Russian man recruits his lawyer friend to sue a corrupt mayor who's attempting to seize his house for demolishment. This corrupt mayor is the quintessential portrait of a Russia that its director Zviaguintsev isn't proud of being part of, and it’s is no surprise the 50 year-old director now resides in Toronto, far away from his native country’s harsh realities. Many thought "Leviathan" deserved the big prize at Cannes this past May, which would only be fitting if it beats out "Winter's Sleep" for a nomination.
If you haven't heard of Pawel Pawlikowski's "Ida", you better get used to the name. It will most likely be on a ton of year end top ten lists and is a sure-bet for a Foreign Language nomination. Its subtle, holocaust themed narrative is a definite draw, but so is the brilliant black and white photography by Ryszard Lenczewski and Lukasz Zal and the impeccable performances by Agata Kulesza and Agata Trebuchowska. The harrowingly quiet narrative draws you into its story filled with dark secrets and even darker truths, as an orphan brought up in a nun covenant meets a long lost aunt who tells her the story of her Jewish heritage and the dark past nobody wanted her to know about.
Two Days, One Night
My next write-up for AD will most likely be my fascinating interview with the Dardennes brothers back in September at the Toronto Film Festival. I had just seen what I thought was the best movie of their career and one of the very best movies I’ve seen about the economy crisis. It was a blast talking to them about the film, Cotillard and what they thought was the best film of 2014. Here’s a hint: It’s a Linklater. Marion Cotillard is mesmerizing in her role as Sandra, a young Belgian mother who discovers her co-workers were pressured to choose between getting a significant pay bonus and having her keep her job. The way Cotillard approaches each and every co-worker, pleading — sometimes even begging — for them to change their vote is heartbreaking. It's a movie that once again places the talented directing duo as one of the very best filmmakers in the world. A nomination for this movie seems a no-brainer at this point and I call Cotillard as a dark horse for a nomination in the Best Actress category.
Just released this past Friday was Ruben Ostlund's sometimes frustrating but immersively brilliant "Force Majeure", a film that would play tremendously well in a double bill with “Gone Girl”. Both films tackle a "modern-day marriage" in fresh and inventive ways. Where Fincher's film is a sly, devilish portrait of the modern day "cool girl", Ostlund's film is about the male ego and manhood in general.
A husband, his wife and their two kids vacation in the French Alps. On the first day they ski, dine, take "happy" pictures and nap together in bed. The scenery is picturesque and so is this – it seems – wealthy family. Everything changes on the second day. A moment happens that triggers the family's trust towards the patriarchal figure. The husband is caught in a "fight or flight" moment and in a quick flash his role in the family is questioned.
The questions "Force Majeure" asks are tough and not easy to answer. What exactly is "manhood"? Are we a society caught up in gender stereotypes? Are our illusions of security and responsibility skewed, flawed? It's a movie that sparks conversation but also asks us to look in the mirror and question everything we thought we knew about ourselves. In a brilliant third act, Ostlund pulls the rug under us and shows us the hypocrisy and lunacy of it all. This is a major contender.
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