F.I.L.M. of the Week (May 11, 2017)

11 05 2017

I watched Michael Haneke’s “Code Unknown” on the day far-right wing Marine Le Pen was on the final ballot for the French presidency. Yes, I’m fully aware that’s a weird way to phrase it since she lost resoundingly to her more progressive rival. But Le Pen’s ability to make it as far as she did on a nationalist platform that demonized immigrants feels like the fulfillment of Haneke’s bleak conclusion in this film. It’s as if the tectonic plates he discovered ruptured with her candidacy.

Haneke’s film debuted at the 2000 Cannes Film Festival, making it technically a product of the 1990s mentality. But darned if it doesn’t feel like an emblematic film of the 9/11 era – or, at the very least, Haneke senses that the fragile post-Cold War peace is about to come crashing down. Watching “Code Unknown” in 2017 feels akin to viewing cinematic prophecy, a “F.I.L.M. of the Week” if ever there were one.

The general flow of the film feels familiar to anyone who saw ~serious dramas~ in the early 2000s. It’s “hyperlink cinema,” the mystical plot device that finds ways to connect disparate storylines. Most academics trace its origin to the rise of the Internet, the electronic tool that held the promise of bringing the world closer together. Haneke’s “Code Unknown” shows a Paris teeming with immigration following the break-up of the Soviet bloc, which only adds further complications to an already tense and festering race problem. Most of the characters avoid direct conflict. After all, it was the ’90s. There was still reason to be optimistic!

But Haneke sees through the papered-over peace. This new world order might look like the natural resting place of a post-Soviet planet, but the evaporation of national boundaries and radical coexistence will not come without its consequences. The very format of “Code Unknown” bears out this truth. Rather than showing how the many characters who cross paths are connected, Haneke depicts their lives in jagged, dissonant fragments.

He hops from a Parisian actress ironing clothes alone in her apartment to migrants from Mali struggling to gain acceptance in their new country and then to a Romanian beggar on the street. Nothing connects them except for geography. They lead lives of pain in isolation, unknowing of the plight of the people they cross and uncaring of their struggle. As we’ve now seen, this myopia can be powerfully weaponized as a force to divide ethnic groups against each other.

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All About “Amour” on Either Side of the “Window”

20 08 2013

The following piece was written for Dr. Mary Dalton‘s Film Theory and Criticism in spring 2013.

SPOILER ALERT: The following post discusses major plot points in both Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” and Michael Haneke’s “Amour.”

What do an American film from the 1950s about a cooped up reporter and a French film from 2012 about a woman dying slowly from a debilitating stroke have in common?  While “Rear Window” and “Amour” seem to be an extremely unlikely pair, they explore common themes of love in confined spaces.  Both films take place almost entirely within a single apartment, although Alfred Hitchcock’s classic focuses mostly on the action outside the window while Michael Haneke chooses to keep his camera focused on what happens inside the window to the outside world.  Yet in spite of their different emphases, both filmmakers come the conclusion that couples must turn their sights inward in order to fully realize their love for each other.  Through forced identification, Hitchcock and Haneke’s films powerfully convey the dangers that come along with spectatorship.

Rear Window

A line delivered at the beginning of “Rear Window by Thelma Ritter’s Stella, “we’ve become a race of Peeping Toms,” has become a famous and often quoted passage from the film.  Most, however, tend to cut out the sentence that follows it: “What people ought to do is get outside their own house and look in for a change.”  Taking that sentence into account as well, Stella is not only offering merely an implicit critique of the voyeurism of humanity – a flaw largely compounded by Hitchcock’s contemporaries in the cinema – but also bringing up a seldom noticed side effect.  She is taking L.B. Jeffries, known in the film as “Jeff,” to task for being so concerned with the lives of others that he lets his relationship with his girlfriend begin to rot.

Throughout the film, Jeff’s obsession with watching the world out his rear window is seen as an impediment to the love and intimacy between he and his girlfriend, Lisa.  Every time they begin to hold each other and show tenderness, his thoughts about his neighbors’ exploits distract him, often compelling him to pick up his binoculars and look in on them. Hitchcock uses forced identification with Jeff’s outward gaze by the editing style of subjective POV, making the viewer not merely a party to this denial but entirely complicit in it.  Jeff is never seen through the window, just looking out it from the shadows, a clever replication of what the audience does in the act of watching the film in a dark theater.

RearWindow5

By his casting a gaze out the window, he neglects her needs not only intimately but also on a deeper relational level; it is clear that she is seeking marriage, yet Jeff seems clueless or at least ambivalent towards her regular hints. Their love is always broken off by one of them, normally Lisa, before it can escalate.  The film’s final shot, however, hints at some sort of reconciliation between the couple, though nothing is made explicit.  While the neighbors go about their lives, Jeff sits in his wheelchair with his back turned away from the window, soaking in the sunlight rather than lurking in the shadows.  He falls asleep with a smile on his face; meanwhile, Lisa moves from reading a serious book to please him to reading a fashion magazine for her own pleasure.  Her demeanor and posture appear markedly more relaxed and comfortable, hinting at a much-improved relationship with Jeff’s gaze turned inwards towards her.

Amour

“Amour,” on the other hand, offers no such getaways for its characters or the audience watching the film.  Georges and Anne, the octogenarian couple, are trapped with each other in the apartment as she slowly succumbs to complications a series of strokes.  The two spend nearly every moment together; Georges even pays someone to go get their groceries so he can stay and monitor Anne.  Similarly, Haneke never grants the audience a single moment of escape from their lives, confining the viewer into the apartment as an objective, third unacknowledged presence in the room.  His sparse editing that chooses to leave the dull bits of life in the film as well as his predilection for long shots in deep focus provides the audience with a cold reality that they either have to accept watching or must avert their eyes from entirely.

As Anne’s condition worsens, she begins to express her great dismay with her physical state, eventually telling him, “Georges, I don’t want to carry on. You’re making such efforts to make everything easier for me. But I don’t want to go on. For my own sake. Not yours.”  Georges initially writes off her request as ridiculous because he believes she does not want to keep living to spare him pain.  Yet after she suffers a second stroke that takes away her ability to speak coherently, Georges begins to see just how miserable an existence she has come to live.  He observes as nurses give her showers, and the slightest wrong touch brings her excruciating pain.  He tries to feed her, yet she spits the water back in his face.  Her anguish leads him to slowly remove his own opinions from his view and focus all the more closely on her.

With all this attention and gaze directed solely inwards at their relationship, Georges eventually comes to do the selfless thing and put her out of her misery.  He achieves this in a respectful and loving way by putting her at ease by telling her a pleasant childhood story and then by smothering her.  Had he been aloof and turned his attention outside their apartment, he would not have noticed her lifeless life, nor would he have lovingly honored her request.  Similarly, the audience through their forced witnessing of events come to interpret his killing as an action not motivated by selfishness; rather, they see it as fulfilling the action indicated in the title: love.  It just takes the course of the movie for Georges to gain the same level of objectivity that the audience has been given since the beginning of the film.  Only when that is achieved can he realize that true love is complicated and requires tough decisions.

Amour

“Rear Window” and “Amour,” despite their different plots and tones, arrive at the same general truth within the setting of an apartment.  By casting our gaze abroad, we ignore the problems at the heart of our most treasured relationships.  Only when we look inward and give our own lives the attention they deserve can we truly find the love we need to give others.  Ironically, to liberate us from our obsession with spectatorship, Hitchcock and Haneke feel that they must first trap us in it.





REVIEW: The White Ribbon

15 01 2013

The White RibbonI like to fancy myself somewhat adept at interpreting the meaning of movies, but sometimes, I get stumped just like everyone else.  It happened to me in “A Serious Man,” though with the proper context, some light has been shed on the directorial intent.  I was also pretty perplexed by Paul Thomas Anderson’s “The Master,” although I could sense vast levels of interpretation bubbling beneath the surface.

Michael Haneke’s “The White Ribbon,” on the other hand, has me totally bamboozled.  I have absolutely no idea what it’s really about.  Sure, ostensibly, it’s a movie following a pre-World War I German town as they are terrorized by a series of strange deaths.  But I don’t think Haneke means it to be taken at face value.  No one of that stature just makes a movie set in the past and means it to be just that.

The story, though extremely slowly revealed, is rather interesting.  I could scarcely keep track of the ten trillion villagers, much less give you any of their names, but I was always able to follow the events.  However, I was just blindsided by the ending – or lack thereof, making me doubt if I really understood what had happened in the movie’s first two hours.

I was a little angry that I left the movie with no sense of resolution, catharsis, or finality.  And perhaps that was what Haneke was trying to achieve with “The White Ribbon.”  But in a strange way, I almost feel like the film isn’t over, like I’m just missing the last chapter or something.  It’s the same way I feel about “Lost,” one of my favorite television shows of all time – even though I still haven’t watched the last season, perhaps because I don’t want it to end.

Certainly, I would like to be freed from the not-so-nagging frustration of not knowing quite what “The White Ribbon” is.  And maybe in a few years, I’ll re-enter that world of haunting visuals, intricate scripting, and deliberate direction.  Though I’m not sure if I will emerge with any sense of closure, after one rewatch or several.  B2halfstars





Oscar Moment: Final 2012 Predictions, Part 4 (Directing)

8 01 2013

TWO MORE DAYS!  I’m slowly starting to lose my mind … or at least become so consumed with thinking about the Oscar nominations that I can think of little else.

See my predictions for Best Original Screenplay and Best Adapted Screenplay.

See my predictions for Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress.

See my predictions for Best Actor and Best Actress.

Best Director

  1. Steven Spielberg, “Lincoln
  2. Kathryn Bigelow, “Zero Dark Thirty
  3. Ben Affleck, “Argo
  4. Tom Hooper, “Les Misérables
  5. David O. Russell, “Silver Linings Playbook

Kathryn Bigelow ZDTIn case you caught on, yes, I did intentionally structure my prediction breakdown so that I would get to publish post-Directors Guild nominations.  If you didn’t catch those this morning, they were Ben Affleck for “Argo,” Kathryn Bigelow for “Zero Dark Thirty,” Tom Hooper for “Les Misérables,” Ang Lee for “Life of Pi,” and Steven Spielberg for “Lincoln.”

It’s worth noting, though, that the DGA has perfectly matched the Academy’s nominees only twice since 2000.

Having said that, Spielberg, Affleck, and Bigelow are in.  I don’t think anyone will debate that.  Even as “Zero Dark Thirty” seems to have knocked aback with the fatuous claims of torture endorsement, Bigelow remains firmly in place.  Heck, I think any of these three could win.  Who knows, maybe we could even have … a split year!

Spielberg won Best Director in 1998 for “Saving Private Ryan” even though “Shakespeare in Love” won Best Picture.  Could a similar surprise be in store this year?

Bigelow’s direction has earned her tremendous accolades again.  She’s been the critical choice pick of the year, often times winning even when “Zero Dark Thirty” doesn’t take Best Picture.  Will she take the prize again for her follow-up to “The Hurt Locker” just three years after winning her first Oscar?

Argo Best Director

And if “Argo” surges and looks poised to win Best Picture, Ben Affleck will likely win Best Director.  I don’t think he would benefit from a split.

Beyond the three of them, it gets dicier.  If you assume there are seven “safe” Best Picture nominees, you have four men competing for two spots: Ang Lee for “Life of Pi,” David O. Russell for “Silver Linings Playbook,” Tom Hooper for “Les Misérables,” and Quentin Tarantino for “Django Unchained.”  That’s an impressive group that contains two winners and two nominees.

Some people seem to think “Les Misérables” is weak because the critics have defined people’s perceptions of the movie’s standing in the race.  This is “The King’s Speech” on steroids.  That movie beat the critical favorite, “The Social Network,” with no trouble at all.  And it didn’t need the critics groups at all; it only took one Best Picture prize.  Colin Firth was keeping the movie in discussion and taking most of the accolades, just as Anne Hathaway is doing now.

Hooper beat out David Fincher, who almost undeniably did more impressive work in “The Social Network,” in a year that perhaps more than ever screamed for a Picture-Director split.  If he can win for “The King’s Speech,” I don’t see how he doesn’t get nominated for “Les Misérables.”

Life of PiWhile many would say Ang Lee was just below the “big three,” I would say Hooper is far more secure.  I think the movie will play well with Academy voters, and I still think it could win Best Picture.  It will likely win three, if not four Golden Globes.  It could also win the ensemble award at SAG.  And if “Les Misérables” made them feel anywhere near as much as “The King’s Speech,” they know who pulled the strings of their tear ducts.  A nomination feels pretty secure to me.

“Life of Pi” support is fading.  Though I still think it will power through and get a Best Picture nomination, Fox seems to have dropped the ball on keeping the momentum going.  Lee did get nominations from HFPA and BFCA, albeit in a field of six for the latter.  And the DGA nod certainly helps.

But for all this talk of Lee getting a nomination for “Life of Pi” simply because it is incredibly ambitious or challenging do little to persuade me.  I know this is a totally different case, but that didn’t help Christopher Nolan for “Inception” in a tight year (the directing branch of the Academy loathes Nolan but likes Lee for some bizarre reason).  While he’s now in my good graces because of “Les Misérables,” artistic merit often takes a backseat to feel-good stories as shown by Hooper’s triumph in 2010 over Fincher and Aronofsky.

I can’t help but wonder if Lee will get the cold shoulder like David Fincher did last year for “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.”  That film was getting love from the guilds left and right but was largely shunned by the Academy, including high-profile snubs in Best Picture, Director, and Adapted Screenplay.  Is “Life of Pi” that technical marvel that guilds will admire but Academy members won’t quite appreciate as much?

LincolnHowever, the Academy directing branch, comprised of only about 300-400 members, is notoriously snooty, arty, high-minded, or whatever adjective you want to use.  So maybe that will benefit Ang Lee.  But often times, it’s a boon to someone they respect but has received little recognition leading up to the nominations   With their out of the blue selections, they often provide some of the biggest surprises on nomination morning.

The ultimate case was in 2001 when they nominated David Lynch for “Mulholland Drive,” a movie that received no other nominations.  But more recent and reasonable examples are Terrence Malick for “The Tree of Life,” Paul Greengrass for “United 93,” and Mike Leigh for “Vera Drake.”  I think the most likely person to snab this kind of nomination would be Paul Thomas Anderson for “The Master.”  As much as I’d love to see that happen, I doubt it will.

They also like to nominate directors with vision working in foreign languages.  In the past decade, we’ve seen Best Director nominees Julian Schnabel for “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,” Fernando Meirelles for “City of God,” and Pedro Almodóvar for “Talk to Her.”  For that reason, we can’t count out Michael Haneke popping up for “Amour.”  It’s certainly had the critical plaudits to be a non-shocking surprise.

David O

Maybe they really respect and admire the vision of Tarantino in “Django Unchained.”  They’ve been fans twice before, providing him nominations for 1994’s “Pulp Fiction” and 2009’s “Inglourious Basterds.”  Both of those, however, were preceded by DGA nominations.  The Weinstein Company has been floating the excuse that his passing over is due to DVD screeners not going out to DGA members.

But I think it’s telling that the Academy will stay away.  His only major nomination so far has been from the Golden Globes, and it’s clear they were high on “Django Unchained.”  I think it has proven to be much more of an audience success than a critical or guild one, though it has supporters amongst those groups.  The “Inglourious Basterds” nod was looking good from the beginning; this time around has not been so fortuitous for Tarantino.

I don’t feel that PTA or Haneke are nearly as revered as Malick and thus have the power to displace a sure-fire Best Picture nominee.  With all my reservations about Tarantino and Lee, I’m left to predict David O. Russell for “Silver Linings Playbook.”  Though overlooked by the DGA and the HFPA, he was a Critics Choice nominee and (perhaps more importantly) a nominee for Best Director for “The Fighter” in 2010.

Academy voters are creatures of habit.  If something works for them once, it often works again.  Why do you think so-called “Oscar bait” was born?  Once the studios figured out their tastes, they play right into their wheelhouse time after time.  “Silver Linings Playbook” is very similar to “The Fighter” in terms of tone and emotional payoff.  The only real difference this year is that he has directed a comedy as opposed to a drama.  (Although there is little funnier than Charlene beating up Micky’s white-trash sisters.)

So it looks like I’ll be predicting a more conservative, sure-fire Best Picture nominees slate here.  I know it’s at odds with the whole notion that the season is one of the most unpredictable ever.  But I’ve watched for the signs (to quote “Silver Linings Playbook”) and don’t get the sense that anything radically wacky is going to happen in Best Director.





Oscar Moment: Final 2012 Predictions, Part 1 (Screenplay)

5 01 2013

Well, folks, it’s over.  Kind of.

Time is up for movies to impress the Academy voters before the nominees are announced.  The race is frozen now before nominations are announced early Thursday morning, January 10.  So with nothing left to influence the nominations, I’ll be offering my final take on the race before we find out who gets to compete for the golden man, the Oscar.

Today, I’ll be discussing the writing categories, Best Original Screenplay and Best Adapted Screenplay.

Best Original Screenplay

  1. Zero Dark Thirty
  2. Django Unchained
  3. The Master
  4. Moonrise Kingdom
  5. Amour

ZDTI think this is probably the biggest no-brainer race of them all for 2012.  It’s an extremely thin field, filled with several past nominees and winners.  “Zero Dark Thirty” and “Django Unchained” will vie for the win; I think it’s Mark Boal’s to lose, but Tarantino could take it if they feel Boal’s win for “The Hurt Locker” in 2009 was too short a gap.  Going through the two categories is tough to find gaps between wins, but I think Boal’s back-to-back wins would be unprecedented.

Even if “The Master” doesn’t score a Best Picture nomination, it is a sure bet to get a writing nod.  The writers’ branch has always loved Paul Thomas Anderson, nominating him for “Boogie Nights,” “Magnolia,” and “There Will Be Blood.”  I think the Academy respects him more as a writer than a director, and I’d hedge my bet that his first Oscar comes from the screenplay categories.

Though “The Master” is not unilaterally acclaimed, I think the fact that they nominated the challenging and polarizing “Magnolia” means they’ll nominate just about anything he writes.  (Except “Punch-Drunk Love,” but that was just a terrible movie.)

Wes Anderson was recognized here for his work on “The Royal Tenenbaums” back in 2001, and his “Moonrise Kingdom” is playing a lot better on the precursor circuit than that one.  Though it may miss out on a Best Picture nomination, it will at least have this prize to compete for.  I doubt it has a shot to win, but it’s another feather in Anderson’s cap for an eventual win down the road.

AmourAs for that final slot, people (including myself) seem to have finally caught onto the fact that the writers’ branch sees foreign films and isn’t afraid to nominate them.  Despite everyone declaring “A Separation” the winner for Best Foreign Film all year, very few seemed to see the Best Original Screenplay nomination coming.

“Pan’s Labyrinth” and “The Barbarian Invasions” had turned their goodwill from Best Foreign Film into writing nods.  Not to mention “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” and “City of God,” directorial triumphs recognized by the directors’ branch, were also recognized for their screenplays.  Oh, I almost forgot to mention “Amelie,” “Y Tu Mama Tambien,” and “Dirty Pretty Things.”

Looper

And I nearly omitted Pedro Almodóvar’s “Talk to Her,” which WON in 2002.  (Perhaps it’s the subtitles that remind them that they are reading a movie?)

The writers think global.  Thus, no one wants to get caught off guard, and the smart money is on Michael Haneke’s “Amour.”  While I think it’s much more of a director’s movie, I think it glides in simply on the weakness of the pool of eligible nominees.

Perhaps they will pull a “Margin Call” surprise and go with Nicholas Jarecki’s “Arbitrage,” a kindred spirit in its vilification of Wall Street big wigs.  Or maybe they take original to heart and nominate Rian Johnson’s superb “Looper,” a critical favorite that has popped up sporadically throughout the precursor circuit.  Heck, maybe John Gatins’ script for “Flight” shows up like it did on the WGA list.

But I’ll stick with “Amour,” in spite of my reservations.

Best Adapted Screenplay

  1. Lincoln
  2. Argo
  3. Silver Linings Playbook
  4. Les Misérables
  5. Beasts of the Southern Wild

Argo Screenplay“Lincoln,” “Argo,” and “Silver Linings Playbook” are locks.  Inarguable.  If they don’t get nominated … well, I won’t finish that sentence since it’s a waste of time.  IT’S NOT GOING TO HAPPEN.

The last two slots are a mystery to me.  I think it’s ultimately a decision of whether the writers go along with groupthink or go out on a limb for a script that they love.  Will they make sure the heavy-hitter Best Picture contenders have a writing nomination to add to their tally?  Or will they provide a lone nomination (or a high-profile one) for a movie not nearly as beloved?

Just as a reminder of how hard it is to predict, let’s look back at the past three years of the category since those reflect Best Picture moving to beyond 5 nominees.

Last year, it looked like “The Help” would ride the coattails of its Best Picture nomination to a screenplay nod.  And “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” which most thought would be a Best Picture nominee, looked good too.  The writers snubbed both of these, opting for the well-wrought “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” and a lone nod for George Clooney’s “The Ides of March.”  (“War Horse” and “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” were two other Best Picture nominees that were not recognized.)

LincolnIn 2010, the category was 5-for-5 with Best Picture nominees “Winter’s Bone,” “True Grit,” “Toy Story 3,” and “127 Hours” all scoring here.  The eventual winner was – obviously – Aaron Sorkin’s visionary script for “The Social Network.”

2009 saw a surprising triumph for Best Picture nominee “Precious” over fellow nominees “Up in the Air,” “District 9,” and “An Education.”  Only one other adaptation was in the Best Picture field, but it was “The Blind Side” – a nominee few saw coming.  So unsurprisingly, an outside nominee charged the field – “In the Loop,” a British political comedy that came in from out of the blue.

So since there’s no clear precedent, what to do?  Predict that the writers just go with the flow and nominated “Life of Pi” and “Les Misérables?”  Or attempt to forecast a big passion play?

I think William Nicholson’s script for “Les Misérables” is a more likely nominee, despite many naysayers who think it won’t be appreciated because it was a musical.  “Chicago,” the last stage-to-screen musical, was nominated here; you have to go so far back to see a movie musical in the Best Picture field that it isn’t worth looking for a pattern.  We really have no idea whether it’s a contender, though, since it was ineligible at the WGA Awards.  But it did miss out on a Golden Globe nomination, and that was a nod “Chicago” did pick up in 2002.

Les Mis FYC 2-page

Basically, in my prediction of “Les Misérables” for Best Adapted Screenplay, I’m counting on the movie playing really well with the Academy (which it apparently has, in spite of the critics’ attempts to destroy it).  There’s nothing but a gut feeling telling me to predict it, and a slight inkling that they love the movie enough to nominate it a lot.

There’s much more of a reason for me to predict “Life of Pi,” which has the WGA nomination to its credit.  But a lot of people have criticized David Magee’s script for being the major flaw of the movie, and that gives me hesitancy.  Could it be that it only scored a nomination because of all the ineligible movies?

Life of Pi

I had similar hang-ups about “Hugo” last year, a movie that was visually impressive but took a lot of flak for its weak writing.  Yet John Logan’s script for that was nominated for a WGA Award … and then received an Oscar nomination.  Does “Life of Pi” have the strength of “Hugo,” though, which went on to win 5 Oscars in 2011?  I don’t think it does, and Fox seems to have little confidence in it.

But if it’s not “Life of Pi,” what will it be?  Does any film have the passion necessary to score an outside nod?

There’s an outside chance “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” gets a Best Picture nomination, but I doubt it would get nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay for the same reasons “The Blind Side” missed out here.  Its success is in its feel-good nature, not because of good writing.

Though I’d say it’s written like a sitcom, there are fans of Ben Lewin’s script for “The Sessions.”  But the only heat that movie has lies with the performances of John Hawkes and Helen Hunt; love of the movie doesn’t go much beyond that.  And if it was a serious contender, why wasn’t it nominated for a WGA Award in spite of all the ineligible movies?

Perks

Heck, maybe even John Logan’s script for “Skyfall” will show up.  Some have suggested it will show up in the Best Picture field after a slightly surprising nomination for the Producers Guild’s prize.  I’d say the script, though flawed, is the smartest part of that movie – but I just don’t see it happening.  Other than “Toy Story 3,” I can’t find any franchise entry nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay.

A more likely nominee is “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” which has been nominated for the WGA Award and the Critics’ Choice Award.  It’s adapted by the writer of the novel, Stephen Chbosky, who also directed the film.  I could definitely see it being 2012’s “The Ides of March” since it’s unlikely to be recognized anywhere else, and the writing is a major strong suit of the film.

But I just have a hard time predicting the movie since it flew under the radar all season.  It didn’t do particularly well at the box office, and it doesn’t have much big name talent beyond Emma Watson.  “The Ides of March” had 4 Golden Globe nods and a PGA mention.  Likewise, “In the Loop” had popped up in a number of critics’ groups awards.  I’d be surprised if the Academy stood up for “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.”

Beasts 2

If any movie unseats “Les Misérables” or “Life of Pi,” I think it would be “Beasts of the Southern Wild.”  It has been uniquely hard to gauge love for the film because it was ineligible not only for the WGA Awards but also for the SAG Awards.  I considered it dead when it blanked at the Golden Globes, but I’m beginning to rethink my assessment after it shockingly popped up as a nominee for Best Picture for the PGA.

Had it been eligible for the guild awards, would we have seen a groundswell of support for the movie?  And lest we forget, the HFPA blanked “True Grit” in 2010 – and that went on to received 10 Oscar nominations including Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay.  Some say the HFPA doesn’t like quintessential American stories, and you could make an argument that “Beasts of the Southern Wild” is just that.

I think the movie’s biggest strength is its direction, not its writing.  However, I have similar things to say about “Amour,” and it appears to be cruising towards a nomination.  The writers may really admire this unconventional movie, adapted from a play and transmuted into something wholeheartedly cinematic.

Thus, the degree of difficulty gives me the confidence to say Benh Zeitlin and Lucy Alibar’s script for “Beasts of the Southern Wild” will knock “Life of Pi” (although it could just as easily be “Les Misérables”) out of the category.  So, to answer my own questions from the beginning of the discussion, I believe the Academy will be part groupthink, part cavalier.

Check back tomorrow, January 6, for my take on the Supporting Actor/Actress categories!





REVIEW: Amour

25 05 2012

Cannes Film Festival

So often, films about illness and death are milked in a rather maudlin fashion for tears, sentimentality, and catharsis. None of those things interest Michael Haneke though. His latest film, “Amour,” is set almost entirely in an octogenarian couple’s apartment where the wife is slowly headed to the grave after a debilitating stroke. He chronicles the slow descent with patience and control through a deliberate and patient lens that doesn’t dare cut out the messiness, monotony, or misery.

It’s the cinematic equivalent of a still-life as this film moves about as slow as molasses and only amplifies the glacial pace with long shots and even longer takes. While such a technique might infuriate a viewer if it were employed on a different subject matter, those willing to stick with the movie to the end should ultimately admire the tightly controlled and delicately constructed film. At times, it can be fairly difficult to watch … but how hunky-dory do you want movies about death to be? How can you even begin to comprehend the ennui of watching someone slowly lose their grip on life when you are treated to watch from a coolly removed distance?

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What I found to be particularly interesting about the film was how Haneke shoots the film in such a straightforward and unambiguous fashion, an apparent change from the intricate machinery behind his puzzlers “Caché” and “The White Ribbon.” In a way, such a style wouldn’t make sense for “Amour,” but I do think it serves another purpose as well. It makes the audience complacent and allows Haneke to really put an emphatic exclamation point on the end of a cinematic sentence that doesn’t seem to require such an emphatic punctuation.

The performances from French veterans Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant as the ailing wife and her husband are impressive in their control and their naturalism, as is Haneke muse Isabelle Huppert as their grief-stricken daughter. But “Amour” is definitely a Haneke showcase above all, a movie that may seem familiar at first but inextricably bears his stamp.





Marshall Takes Cannes: Day 5

20 05 2012

Well, folks, the burnout has finally arrived.  This morning, after a brisk sprint to make it to a screening on time, I settled into my seat in the Lumiere and promptly fell asleep for 20 minutes.  I almost contemplated just going back to my hotel room and sleeping for the most of the afternoon, but then I remembered the existence of Diet Coke.

Day 5 – Sunday, May 20

I got up early for a screening of Michael Haneke’s “Amour” at 8:30 A.M.  However, even though I was ready on time, my bus passed me by because it was already full … yanking my comfortable cushion and leaving me wondering whether or not I would even get to see this movie at all.  The next bus came in ten minutes or so, and when it arrived at the stop, I ran off and sprinted to the Lumiere.  Surprisingly, even that early in the morning, it was one of the most attentive I had been in a screening … and it was subtitled too!

After that, I had a little bit of down time to write before attending three all-star panels at the American Pavilion.  The first was with independent film directors Rodney Ascher of “Room 237” (a documentary on “The Shining” that I’m planning to see tomorrow evening), Adam Leon of “Gimme the Loot,” and Ben Wheatley of “Sightseers.”  The blogger in me enjoyed it, although the conversation was pretty much directed towards aspiring filmmakers, something which I am not.

Then, there was a panel about film marketing and advertising, a field that really fascinates me, and the conversation largely centered around the art of the trailer and satisfying your core audience even if you believe you can hit one of the other “four quadrants” (male, female, old, young).  The panel included Doug Wick, the producer of “Gladiator” as well as Cannes competition film “Lawless;” I got to shake his hand and congratulate him on the movie’s success.  (That is, I’m assuming it will play well with audiences – snooty critics looking to crown the Palme D’Or will surely not like it much.)  Oh, and David Poland of Movie City News was also there to provide a different perspective.  I gladly thanked him for what he does for long-form journalism.  If you are a real movie fan, then you NEED to be watching his DP/30 interviews on YouTube.

Finally, there was the State of the Industry, a packed panel and a packed crowd.  Speakers included Nancy Utley, President of Fox Searchlight, and Tom Bernard, President of Sony Pictures Classics.  Mrs. Utley spoked about how Fox Searchlight chooses their slate of releases, which range from widely appealing commercial vehicles like “The Descendants” all the way down to smaller niche films like “Martha Marcy May Marlene.”  She said that if one person on their team is a passion advocate for a film and can find a way to convince the rest of the team that it has an audience and a path to success, then they will be willing to take a chance on it.  Glad to see what incredible artistic integrity they can maintain while building brand identity.  (And further blogger geekdom: got to meet Anne Thompson of IndieWire, who moderated the panel, and thank her for being one of my main sources for forming opinions on Oscar season.)

Other than those four events, it was a gross, disgusting rainy day in Cannes.  Definitely didn’t come here for this weather.  Yet somehow, in spite of the grossness of the icky day, Cannes still looked remarkably beautiful.  Houston makes me depressed in the rain (except now, when I rejoice for rain in our drought-riddled state).  But Cannes, on the other hand … just wow.  It made me think of a certain scene in the rain, and then I remembered that sometimes magic can happen no matter what the weather.