Opening in Las Vegas, September 23, 2016

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Thisweek we have another unnecessary remake, The Magnificent Seven (54), which itself was a remake of Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai. Word is that this will be a huge hit, breaking the September record for openings. I guess that’s due to Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt. I will likely pass. Matt Singer: “The group…make a fine crew. But the rest of the movie doesn’t find enough interesting wrinkles on the old formula to merit a reboot.”

The only other major release this week is for the kids, Storks (56). Do kids still think storks deliver babies? I think that was on its way out when I was a kid. But it’s apparently valid enough to make a movie. Interestingly, the stork myth goes back to ancient civilizations, and is present in the Greek, Egyptian, and Norse mythologies. Neil Genzlinger:”This film, directed by Nicholas Stoller and Doug Sweetland, is a harmless enough way to occupy a youngster for an hour and a half. It’s just not especially rich in extraordinary characters or moments.”

A couple of limited releases hit here today. The more fascinating may be Max Rose (37) Jerry Lewis’ first film in twenty years. He’s 90, and many fans of Borscht Belt shtick are still obsessed with him, but he kind of rubs me the wrong way. His best appearance, other than The Nutty Professor, was in Scorsese’s King of Comedy. Glenn Kenny: “As conventional and stiff as Max Rose itself is, Lewis’ performance in it is full of virtues: he’s committed, disciplined, and entirely credible.”

Finally is The Hollars (53), directed by actor John Krasinski about a gasp! dysfuctional family. The only reason to see it may be Margo Martindale, a long-overlooked character actress who is getting early Oscar buzz. Marjorie Baumgarten: “A standard-issue family reunion dramedy, The Hollars has several genuine moments of human interaction that are near-magical to observe because they feel so plucked from real life.”

 

Oscars 2016, Best Actor: Who Wants Thirds?

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The putative front-runners for the Oscar for Best Actor this year are both two-time winners, and both have already cemented their status as Hollywood legends. One of them seems a sure thing for a nomination, the other is in a movie that no has seen yet, but seems to have Oscar written all over it. But could a first-time winner sneak in?

Right now, barring Fences being an absolute disaster, four of the Best Acting nominees feel fairly certain, in films that have already been seen and pleased audiences. The fifth spot could go any number of places.

In alphabetical order, here’s my take:

Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea: This movie was a Sundance hit and is eagerly anticipated. Affleck, who has one nomination under his belt (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford) seems likely here, if his recent legal problems don’t hamper him (he was sued for sexual harassment; there was an out-of-court settlement).

Ryan Gosling, La La Land: As of today, La La Land may be the favorite for Best Picture. Emma Stone is getting most of the accolades, and just may be the favorite for Best Actress (that’s coming up right here next month) but Gosling may be along for the ride for his role in a musical. When actors do something different from their usual pesonas voters take notice. Gosling has one nomination also, for Half-Nelson.

Tom Hanks, Sully: Believe it or not, but Hanks has not been nominated for 16 years, not since Cast Away. He only has five nominations total, and has been passed over for what were thought sure-fire nominations in recent years. But Sully is a hit, and Hanks is the major part of it. Could he be the second man to win three Best Actor Oscars (after Daniel Day-Lewis)? I wouldn’t be shocked.

Nate Parker, Birth of a Nation: This is my going out on a limb pick, and it wasn’t so until recently. But revelations about Parker being charged with rape (but acquitted) have cast a pall all over the film. However, there seems to have been a backlash against the backlash, with Parker appearing at screenings and receiving ovations. Time may cool things down. But don’t put any money on it.

Denzel Washington, Fences: Again, Fences has not been seen by any press, and Washington’s previous two directorial efforts garnered zero Oscar nominations. But there’s a lot of hope for this, as it has a black cast and given the cultural climate would ease a lot of wounds if it here a hit. Washington has won two Oscars, one for Supporting Actor (Glory) and one for Best Actor (Training Day).

Also possible: Joe Alwyn, Billy Lynn’s Long Half-Time Walk; Joel Edgerton, Loving; Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Snowden; Michael Keaton, The Founder; and Miles Teller, Bleed for This.

Review: Snowden

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It’s a funny thing about Snowden–it’s a competent thriller with, of course, political overtones (Oliver Stone made it, after all) and I have no beef with it, but a day after seeing it it doesn’t stick with me. I can still remember shots from Nixon and Natural Born Killers and even W., but Snowden may be the most conventional film Stone has ever made.

There has already been a film about Edward Snowden, and that was the Oscar-winning Citizenfour, which had three journalists and Snowden in a hotel room in Hong Kong as he gave them information and they published it. Some of those scenes are re-enacted, which is strange given we’ve seen the real thing. So Stone has expanded the story, telling us about Snowden’s earlier days, when he was a gung-ho Bush supporter, how he grew disenchanted with the methods of government intelligence, and how he was influenced by his girlfriend.

This is all well and good. Joseph Gordon-Levitt makes an excellent Snowden, down to the almost perpetual fringe of beard on his chin and the at times infuriating earnestness, and I am once again impressed by Shailene Woodley, who takes the part of “the girlfriend” and makes it something much more. Having seen Woodley take part at the Dakota Access protests recently crossed into my thinking, and it helped me buy her as a liberal.

But something is missing. We get a little of it–the most memorable scene is when Gordon-Levitt is called into a video conference with his mentor, Rhys Ifans, whose image is projected on a wall, about twelve feet tall, looming like a Big Brother. I think the entire film is summed up in that scene, as what Snowden revealed, that the U.S. government was listening and reading private conversations, emails, and texts, is the very definition of Big Brother.

I was also interested in some of the nuts and bolts of working for the CIA and NSA. There’s a mountain in Hawaii where you really get x-rayed before you come in, and spies these days are computer jockeys, likely to wear cargo pants and bowling shirts instead of black trench coats.

Stone clearly admires Snowden, who gets a cameo at the end. While others called for harsh punishment (Trump called for his execution, Clinton demanded his arrest, and Obama was not a fan) it’s interesting to see how time changes things–it’s possible that Obama may pardon him. The film comes then, at an interesting time then, but it doesn’t really make a statement. Oh, you may want to put a Band-Aid over your Web-cam, and don’t email or text anything that you don’t want Uncle Sam to read, but we knew that already, didn’t we?

Opening in Las Vegas, September 16, 2016

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A little something for everybody this week. Rom-com, horror, and some Oscar  bait.

The likely winner among new films at the box office is Blair Witch (45), described as a sequel  but perhaps more a remake of th 1999 hit, The Blair Witch Project. That earlier film divided audiences among those who said “nothing happens” and those that realize the directors were actually on to something new in the horror genre, which has since been done to death (the found footage genre). This film is not found footage, and it ignores the horrible Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 (which I somehow ended up seeing twice). I have an interest in this, but will probably wait for home media. Matt Singer: “Blair Witch does deliver the requisite shocks demanded of a horror movie for a multiplex audience, but maybe it’s time for filmmakers to stay out of these woods for a while — at least until there’s a new technology for the Blair Witch to mess with.”

As far as Bridget Jones’s Baby (60) goes, I saw the first one but not the second, despite how hard poor Renee Zellweger works to make this character interesting. I suppose some people will be interested to see her new face, or to see the old gag about not knowing who the father is, or see Colin Firth’s career somehow go from an Oscar to this, but I’ll skip it. Conor O’Donell: “In spite of its slightly excessive runtime and a handful of millennial-pandering beats, Bridget Jones’s Baby is brought to term by the buckets of undeniable charm and charisma present in its performances.”

Snowden (58) is Oliver Stone’s take on the whistleblower who is either a hero or a traitor, depending on your political stance. If you’ve seen Citizenfour it may not be necessary to see this, unless you want to know more about Snowden’s girlfriend or to see what tricks Stone has up his sleeve. Stone has had an erratic career, especially this century, but there’s usually something interesting going on. Gregory Ellwood: “As a piece of filmed entertainment Snowden is certainly a watchable endeavor, but Stone and screenwriter Kieran Fitzgerald’s script is often an odd mix of hero worship, conspiratorial thriller and cringe worthy dialogue.”

Complete Unknown (60) is a good name for this film, because it’s not often a movie that I’ve never heard of opens, especially one starring Rachel Weisz and Michael Shannon. I can’t quite figure out what it’s about from the summary, but it looks intriguing and the cast can’t miss. Lanre Bakare: “Unfortunately, with the big reveal having arrived in the first act, the film isn’t much more than an elongated debate that leaves you thinking: so what?”

Review: Sully

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Clint Eastwood’s career as an octogenarian director has been inconsistent to be sure, but it’s instructive to compare his last two films, one of them I hated (American Sniper) and one I loved (Sully). Both of them are about heroism, and that heroism basically is doing one’s job well. But while Chris Kyle was killing people and lying about his record, to all accounts “Sully” Sullenberger was simply doing his job, which meant looking out for the lives in his charge.

Sully, the simple title of the film, works on many levels. It is a taut thriller, even though the entire world knows how the main event turns out. It is an effective legal drama, especially because most of the world did not know that part–that Sullenberger, while receiving adulation in the media, was evading being scapegoated for his water landing on the Hudson after a bird strike. Simulations showed that he could have returned to LaGuardia, where he took off, or landed at nearby Teterboro, but his gut told him otherwise.

Also, it is an acting showcase for Tom Hanks. Hanks, now sixty, has moved on to a different sort of role, as he has showed in Captain Phillips, Saving Mr. Banks, and Bridge of Spies. In all of these roles, plus Sully, he bears a weight. It’s hard to imagine this is the same actor who started with light comedy. I haven’t seen Hologram for a King but that’s the same kind of role, a Death of a Salesman type role. Hanks is no longer the class president of Hollywood, he’s the dean.

I believe Hanks is in every scene, and he nails it. We Americans know what Sullenberger really looks like, but when we see the real man at the end he’s the one who looks like a fake. Hanks effectively captures a man who is torn between the world wanting a piece of him because they love him and another group of people who want his head on a platter. It’s impossible to imagine what Sully went through, but Hanks seems to have figured it out.

I also liked Aaron Eckhart as Jeff Skiles, Sully’s blunt first officer. There a bunch of fine character actors, like Jamey Sheridan and Chris Bauer, on hand, and Laura Linney does nicely with a thankless role that has her always on the telephone and never in a scene with Hanks. But this is Hanks’ show, and Eastwood’s, who brings in this flight in swift fashion, with spectacular effects.

It’s certainly no coincidence that Sully was released on 9/11 weekend. There are scenes of an airplane flying low over New York City, and we all can feel what that must have been like, a mere eight years after a much more disastrous outcome. This is like the anti-9/11, when numerous people (especially the multiple boats that were on the Hudson) reacted immediately to the emergency, but this time with no lives lost. You, like I, may get a little tear in your eye.

Opening in Las Vegas, September 9, 2016

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This week’s major opening is Sully (76), Clint Eastwood’s take on the “Miracle on the Hudson.” I remember nothing but admiration for Captain Sullenberger, but apparently that isn’t the whole truth. Getting strong reviews; it should be Oscar bait (especially for Tom Hanks) and a popular success. Ty Burr: “Whether you want to accept it or not, Eastwood remains one of the best and most quixotic filmmakers we have, torn between jingoism and doubt, exceptionalism and despair.”

The Disappointments Room (tbd), not screened for critics, looks like a generic haunted house movie, roping Kate Beckinsale in as lead. But these things are the biggest money-makers in the business. The most profitable film this summer? Lights Out.

When the Bough Breaks (tbd), also not screened for critics, is another of a growing number of films for the African America community. This one seems like a mix between The Hand That Rocks the Cradle and Fatal Attraction.

The Wild Life (36) is an animated film that tells the story of Robinson Crusoe from the point of view of the animals around him. Looks pretty bad, but if it gets one kid to actually read Robinson Crusoe it’s worth it. Roger Moore: “The colors are vibrant, the sea, palm trees, birds, bird-feathers and Crusoe’s red hair are almost photo-realistic. But as a kids’ cartoon, Wild Life is a an utter dud.”

 

 

Netflix’s ‘Amanda Knox’ doc gets two trailers: One innocent, one not so much…

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Netflix is looking to duplicate the stunning success they had with 2015’s Making a Murderer with Rod Blackhurst and Brian McGinn’s documentary, Amanda Knox.

The streaming service has released two very different trailers for the film, which has its world premiere at TIFF tomorrow and will available for subscribers on September 30th.

Willie Wonka & the Chocolate Factory

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I remember distinctly seeing Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory for the first time. I was ten, and me and my brother were going to the movies. We had the choice of Willy Wonka or Million Dollar Duck. We went to see Willy Wonka, which was a good choice, since the next weekend it was gone from the theater and Million Dollar Duck was still there (so we saw that). Needless to say, though Willy Wonka was not a financial success upon opening, it’s legacy has long outlasted Million Dollar Duck.

With the death of Gene Wilder, AMC Theaters honored him by screening Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory and Blazing Saddles. I saw the former, having seen the latter many times (but then I went and watched the latter on home video just now). The theater was packed, and everyone clapped upon seeing the man’s name in the credits and then his first appearance, which he improvised: the limping, stern figure who then does a somersault and welcomes everyone with charm.

The film has a long and interesting history. It was basically made to support a candy bar. Note that it was produced by David L. Wolper and Quaker Oats. Roald Dahl wrote the screenplay, but disowned it, mainly for the fizzy drink sequence and the use of Slugworth. The title was changed because the book, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, would remind people of the Vietnam War–“Charlie” was the name used for the Viet Cong. Every member of Monty Python (the British ones, that is) were considered for the title role, yet the role went to an American who made the part his own, even after Johnny Depp played it.

The film has a cozy, ’70s feel to it. The special effects aren’t that special, and the Oompa Loompa numbers are refreshingly awkward–those fellows weren’t much as dancers. But there are some very funny moments. In the first act, during the search for the golden tickets, we get the supercilious teacher who can’t divide two by a thousand (Charlie Bucket has only bought two Wonka Bars–“Two? Two? I can’t do two!” the teacher wails). The computer expert who thinks he can crack the code, but the computer has ethics. The news media treat the search bigger than all news stories. And when Charlie finally finds that golden ticket, the audience applauded.

The remainder of the film, the tour of the factory, is a minor masterpiece of drollery, as if Edward Gorey had teamed with Dahl. Though Wilder assures Charlie that all the children are alright (to review, Augustus Gloop is sucked through a pipe to the fudge room, where he may end up in a boiler; Violet Beauregarde turns into a giant blueberry and needs to have the juice squeezed out of her; Veruca Salt is deemed a bad egg and sent down the trash chute–whether the furnace is lit that day no one knows; and Mike Teevee, shrunk down due to being televised via Wonkavision, is being sent to be stretched in the taffy pull) I prefer to imagine more ghoulish endings. Wilder, when the children are in trouble, says, “Stop. Help,” without exclamation points. He is a man who is clearly making a point.

The Wilder moments I love include when he gives his Poe-like poem while on the boat:

“There’s no earthly way of knowing…Which direction they are going… There’s no knowing where they’re rowing…
Or which way the river’s flowing… Is it raining, is it snowing?…Is a hurricane a-blowing?
Not a speck of light is showing…So the danger must be growing… Are the fires of Hell a-glowing?…Is the grisly Reaper mowing?…Yes! The danger must be growing..’Cause the rowers keep on rowing..And they’re certainly not showing…Any sign that they are slowing!”

By the end he’s screaming like Leo Bloom during an anxiety attack, or Victor Frankstein while bringing his creature to life. My other favorite moment is when he tells Charlie that he broke the rules: “You get nothing! You lose!” again in that inimitable Wilder mania.

The film ends sentimentally, and the audience loved it, Tim Burton be damned (he hated the movie, thinking it “sappy,” which made him remake it). But when Wilder, in the zooming Wonkavator, tells Charlie: “I can’t go on forever, and I don’t really want to try. So who can I trust to run the factory when I leave and take care of the Oompa Loompas for me? Not a grown up. A grown up would want to do everything his own way, not mine. So that’s why I decided a long time ago that I had to find a child. A very honest, loving child, to whom I could tell all my most precious candy making secrets.” Then, after Charlie asks if Grandpa Joe can come too, “The whole family. I want you to bring them all.” Well, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

The battle will rage whether this film or Burton’s is better. I liked them both, but I think, despite the financial success of Burton’s film, those who have seen both will prefer the first, directed by Mel Stuart, mostly because of Wilder. My girlfriend, who had seen the second but not the first, turned to me early on in the film. “I like this one better.”

Opening in Las Vegas, September 2, 2016

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Labor Day has traditionally been the lowest box office weekend of the year, as I believe there has never been a film hitting 20 million. Doesn’t seem like that will change.

There is some Oscar bait with The Light Between Oceans (61), a soap opera about a baby and a lighthouse off the coast of Australia. Stars real-life couple Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander. Has been on the shelf for two years. Lawrence Toppman: “Writer-director Derek Cianfrance knew he was dealing with a story full of coincidences when he adapted M.L. Stedman’s novel The Light Between Oceans, so he avoided melodrama by holding himself and his excellent actors in check. The result is a movie that crackles quietly without flaring up into an emotional blaze.”

The horror movie de jour is Morgan (45), about which seems, from the description, very much like Stranger Things, but certainly not as good. Peter Hartlaub: “The film tries to split the difference between thoughtful science fiction and action-driven horror, and blows the chance to truly succeed at either. Morgan is an enjoyable enough experience in the moment, but it never quite coalesces.”

Strange movie of the week has to be The 9th Life of Louis Drax (38), about a kid who keeps narrowly escaping death. Neil Genzlinger: “It’s not clear whether The 9th Life of Louis Drax is deliberately inconsistent or merely an example of confused filmmaking. One thing is certain, however: It sure leaves an unpleasant aftertaste.”

Finally there’s The Sea of Trees (23), which was pilloried at Cannes and apparently no one likes–there’s only one review over 50 on Metacritic. Gus Van Sant’s career takes a furthr slide into obscurity, and Matthew McConaughey is going to lose all the good will he gained back. Eric Kohn: “Not even Matthew McConaughey can sustain the mushy, amateurish story, which digs itself a deeper hole as it moves along. The established talents of both director and star only serve to magnify the many wrong moves that this stunning misfire takes.”

In Memoriam: Gene Wilder

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There’s nothing like the death of a funny person to make us all sad. Looking at social media today, the world is taking the death of Gene Wilder at 83 very hard, and that’s even considering he hadn’t acted for more than twenty years, and the greatness of his career was really only confined to about fifteen years. But what a fifteen years.

Born Jerome Silberman in Milwaukee, Wilder (he took his last name from playwright Thornton Wilder) made a memorable debut in small part in Bonnie and Clyde. He is a rich kid kidnapped by the bank robbers, and his performance as a highly excitable person sort of established his persona as a man who thought he was in control, but was often in the grip of terrible anxiety.

Like many of my age, I grew up on Wilder. First was The Producers, for which he garnered his only Oscar nomination for acting. Leo Bloom was his most nebbish-y role, a man who memorably screamed, “I’m in pain, I’m wet, and I’m hysterical!” The film united him with Mel Brooks, and the two would make a memorable partnership. leading to Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein, which incredibly were released in the same calendar year.

The Producers is a comic classic that starts out big, as the long scene between Wilder and Zero Mostel in the opening of the film is comedy gold. From Wilder’s security blanket to his falling on his keys to the hatching of the plot, this self-contained scene is so good that it’s almost criminal, and while Mostel blusters, Wilder parries with skill, not shying away from Mostel’s cured ham.

Before the double-event with Brooks, Wilder made what his perhaps his most famous film, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. I saw it when I was twelve, pretty much a perfect age for it, and was enchanted. I liked the Tim Burton version a lot, too, so I can’t authoritatively say that one is better than the other, but Wilder makes for a much different Wonka. While Depp played a man-child, Wilder is definitely an adult, but an adult who seems to take some delight in the demise of ill-behaved children (unlike the Burton version, we assume the malefactors in Willy Wonka have gone to their doom).

The story about Blazing Saddles is that Wilder agreed to the role as the Waco Kid, which was subdued for a Wilder role, in order to get Brooks to direct Young Frankenstein, and not act in it. Young Frankenstein was Wilder’s idea, and he wrote most of the script (he and Brooks were credited and won an Oscar nomination). I’ve written about the film before, and it’s just about a perfect comedy. All over Facebook today people were quoting the lines, from “Sed-a-give?” to “Put the candle back.” But what I appreciated about Wilder in the film is that he held nothing back. It was an homage to the Universal horror films, and Wilder acted in that style–his “Life! I’ve created life!” almost puts Colin Clive to shame.

Unfortunately, Wilder was not a great director. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother delighted me when I was 15–I saw it twice, but while it has moments that hold up it’s a little too silly. The World’s Greatest Lover and The Frisco Kid were also misfires. But, fortunately, during this time, he forge a partnership with Richard Pryor. Silver Streak (ironically, it’s director Arthur Hiller just passed) is an under-rated gem. I haven’t seen it in years but I still remember, every time Wilder was thrown from the train, his anguished “Son of a bitch!”

He made two more films with Pryor, the popular Stir Crazy, and then one of the last films for both men, See No Evil, Hear No Evil, which very few people saw. He had a romance with Gilda Radner that produced a few films that I didn’t see and didn’t get good marks–Hanky Panky, Haunted Honeymoon, and The Women in Red, The latter is mostly known for the Stevie Wonder song, “I Just Called to Say I Love You.”

Radner died in 1989 and Wilder worked very little after that, devoting his time to cancer-related charities. I remember him being visible when Charlie and the Chocolate Factory came out, asked to compare himself to Johnny Depp. But Wilder wouldn’t take the bait–he was a kind man (there are numerous anecdotes about his kindness to fans) and then that’s about the last I ever saw him. He was passed over many times for a Lifetime Achievement Oscar.

Wilder never really acted a dramatic part, but he was an actor. Though he may have often looked the part of the clown, he was not a buffoon on film, but instead a man who simply played the truth. Many have offered their favorite moment of his acting, but to me, if you want to see great acting, watch the scene in Young Frankenstein when he’s locked in the room with the Monster and tells his friends not to let him out, “no matter how cruelly I beg.” Of course he immediately goes back on that, and ends up screaming “Mommy!” But then, in an additional turn, he realizes he has to stay in there and manages to charm the Monster. “You’re a mother’s angel,” he tells the crying creature. That’s some range of acting in one short scene.

Gene Wilder was one of our greatest comic actors, perhaps the best of the post-War era. The only actor I can think of that rivals him is Bill Murray, who is an entirely different kind of actor. Wilder was one of a kind.

The top 100 film of the 21st Century (so far)

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A story of note in the movie world was the BBC publishing the results of a survey of 177 film critics from dozens of countries about what the best films of the 21st century are to date. They have a detailed not only to the results but all 177 top 10 lists which is arguably more interesting (website is here).

Inevitably the results led to much discussion and debate, so why not do that here?
The top 10 were:
10. No Country for Old Men (Joel and Ethan Coen, 2007)
9. A Separation (Asghar Farhadi, 2011)
8. Yi Yi: A One and a Two (Edward Yang, 2000)
7. The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick, 2011)
6. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry, 2004)
5. Boyhood (Richard Linklater, 2014)
4. Spirited Away (Hayao Miyazaki, 2001)
3. There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2007)
2. In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar-wai, 2000)
1. Mulholland Drive (David Lynch, 2001)

Suffice to say it certainly has an international flavour as isn’t heavily biased towards American cinema (or English-language cinema) as has often been the case with lists like this in the past.

Personally, I’m not really qualified to comment on them as I’ve seen very few – probably less than 20 – but I do have some observations.

The biggest surprise in the top 100 list was the absence absence of any Alexander Payne films. Notwithstanding that his best film was probably done last century (Election) and I always haven’t been satisifed by his recent films, he’s still a high-class filmmaker who has usually had a high rep amongst critics. To be specific, Sideways was one of the most acclaimed films of its year and I thought would’ve been a certainty to be in the top 100, yet only two out of the 177 critics mentioned it. And About Schmidt (definitely one of my favourite films this century) didn’t even get mentioned once.

I was also a bit disappointed that some of George Clooney’s best work as actor/director was overlooked – both ‘Good Night… And Good Luck’ and ‘Michael Clayton’ got mentioned by just two critics each. Also, I was surprised at the lack of mentions (two) for ‘Ghost World’ – perhaps it just came too early in the century.
I was interested that Kenneth Lonergan’s ‘Margaret’ managed to get as high as 31 on the list. I thought it was a fine film when I saw it but I do wonder whether it would’ve gotten so high if not for being delayed in post-production for years and it became a ’cause celebre’ for some critics.

Looking over the individual submissions, probably the least deserving was such mediocre Hollywood comedies like ‘Bridesmaids’ and ‘Tropic Thunder’ (both voted twice!). And yes, one of the most maligned filmmakers of his era in Michael Bay got a vote from a critic (for ‘Pain And Gain’).

 

Movies Opening in New Haven – Weekend of August 26th, 2016

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The Mechanic: Resurrection: Sequel to The Mechanic, which made 29m on a 40m budget way, way back in January 2011. Yeah, it doesn’t make sense to me either.  Jason Statham returns alongside Tommy Lee Jones (!) and Jessica Alba.

Rotten Tomatoes:: 25%, Metacritic:43%

Personal interest factor: 1

Don’t Breathe: Director Fede Alvarez, Producer Sam Raimi and actress Jane Levy (who brought us the excellent Evil Dead remake a few years back) re-team for this home invasion picture.

Rotten Tomatoes:: 87%, Metacritic: 71%

Personal interest factor: 7

Southside with You: Fictionalized tale of Barack Obama (Parker Sawyers) and Michelle Robinson’s (Tika Sumpter) first date.  I feel like this should have been a mid-Summer release (limited, followed by an expansion) rather than a semi-wide August dumping ground title.

Rotten Tomatoes:: 93%, Metacritic: 75%

Personal interest factor: 7

Hands of Stone: Generic boxing biopic starring Edgar Ramirez as Roberto Duran and Robert DeNiro as his trainer. The Weinsteins are dumping this in a few hundred theaters the last weekend of August so it’s pretty clearly not worth anyone’s time.

Rotten Tomatoes:: 45%, Metacritic: 55%

Personal interest factor: 2

Oscar 2016: #OscarsMaybeNotSoWhite

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Birth of a Nation

When the Oscar nominations are announced on January 24th, what everyone will be looking for is not necessarily who gets nominated, but what color they are. A third straight year of no people of color being nominated would be a public relations disaster even bigger than last year. Fortunately, there are several films being released later this year that have black themes, and I don’t think I’m going too far out on a limb to say that there’s about a 99.9 percent chance that one of the twenty performers nominated will be an African-American.

I’ll get into that further in my posts on the various acting categories, but I’ll start with Best Picture. So far this year the pickings have been slim, and in looking over the slate of films coming out later this year, only a few films jump out at me. Usually I can guess about five out of ten films right (the nominees are anywhere from five to ten films) but I wouldn’t put much hope in that this year. This is the kind of year that could be very kind to small indies or to blockbusters. A nomination for Captain America: Civil War? Not completely out of the realm of possibility.

Here, in alphabetical order, are ten films I’m banking on, as of now. Only one has been released.

American Pastoral, Oct. 21, Ewan MacGregor. Although I am somewhat hesitant because this is the first film directed by MacGregor, it should be remembered that because of the large preponderance of actors in the Academy, actors turned directors are treated very kindly. One of two Philip Roth adaptations this year (the other, Indignation, probably won’t be nominated in this category, though it may be better), American Pastoral is based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel on a weighty subject: a successful Jewish businessman’s life is turned upside down by the radicalization of his daughter during the 1960s.

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, Nov. 11, Ang Lee. Lee’s films can’t be ignored. I loved the book, but as I read it and envisioned it as a film I wondered how it would succeed as a film, since much of its comedy comes from description, not from plot or dialogue. It’s about a unit of soldiers who are honored as heroes at a Dallas Cowboys’ Thanksgiving game, and the hypocrisy of it all. I will be interested to see Steve Martin as a Jerry Jones-type owner.

Birth of a Nation, Oct. 7, Nate Parker. This film has been a favorite for an Oscar since it wowed them at Sundance and got purchased by Fox Searchlight for 17.5 million. Purposely co-opting the title of D.W. Griffith’s racist masterpiece, Parker writes, directs, and stars in this story of the slave rebellion by Nat Turner. Oddly, the film may have hit some trouble with the relevation that Parker was once charged with rape as a college student, but acquitted. Will that stick until Oscar nominations? Hard to tell. A reminder that no person of color has ever won the Best Director Oscar.

Denial, Sep. 30, Mick Jackson. Haven’t heard a lot about this film, but after seeing the trailer it hits a lot of Academy buttons. It is the true story of a woman who is sued for libel by a holocaust denier. As the stereotype goes, films about the holocaust, however tangential, strike chords with Academy voters, and this at least seems to be a well-done project. Starring Rachel Weisz and Timothy Spall as David Irving, the denier.

Fences, Dec.16, Denzel Washington. Washington’s only other feature as a director, Antwone Fisher, didn’t exactly thrill many, but this adaptation of August Wilson’s play will provide several opportunities for black actors to be nominated, notably Viola Davis and Washington himself, as a former Negro League ballplayer turned trash collector who is dealing with issues in his own life and the world around. If this is any good at all, it should garner several above the line nominations.

Florence Foster Jenkins, Stephen Frears, Aug. 12. The only one of these ten that people can now see, it’s a crowd-pleaser about the world’s worst singer. Films about entertainers usually do well with the Academy, but this is a twist given she’s bad. But it could strike a nerve with actors who secretly may feel that they have no talent. It’s a lush period piece, which helps, and while Meryl Streep has not been in as many Best Picture nominees as you might think, (both of her wins for Best Actress were in films not nominated for Best Picture) her performance, as well as the “comeback” of Hugh Grant, should help.

La La Land, Dec. 2, Damien Chazelle. The writer/director of Whiplash is back with another musical film, this time about the relationship between a jazz pianist (Ryan Gosling) and a waitress (Emma Stone). Hard to know with this one, as an original musical hasn’t been nominated for Best Picture since (and check me if I’m wrong) Doctor Dolittle in 1967.

Loving, Nov. 4, Jeff Nichols. While Birth of a Nation has gotten most of the Oscar buzz for black-themed films, it may be this film that sneaks in, and I’m going to make it my ridiculously early pick as winner. Directed by Jeff Nichols, who has made several fine independent films, it details the plaintiffs in Loving v. Virginia, a 1967 Supreme Court case that tested Virginia’s miscegenation laws. I know so many mixed-race couples these days that it may come as a shock to people today that interracial marriage was once outlawed. Look for Ruth Negga, who plays the wife, to be a breakout star.

Manchester by the Sea, Nov.18, Kenneth Lonergan. The Academy has been hit or miss with Lonergan, but this film was another Sundance sensation, being bought by Amazon for 10 million. It stars Casey Affleck as a man returning to his home town to assume legal guardianship for his late brother’s son. Said to be almost unrelievedly bleak, maybe too much so to get traction in this category.

Miss Sloane, Dec. 9, John Madden. I’m going with this film, knowing almost nothing about it, as my zeitgeist film. Jessica Chastain is the title character, a lawyer fighting for gun control measures. May not do well in fly-over country, but among the liberals of Hollywood this could strike a nerve–if it’s any good.

Other possibilities: The Light Between Oceans, Sep. 2, Derek Cianfrance; Snowden, Sep. 16, Oliver Stone; Sully, Sep. 9, Clint Eastwood; Hell or High Water, Aug. 12, David Mackenzie; and Silence, Martin Scorsese. This last film, about missionaries in Japan, would seem to be prime Oscar bait, but a release date has not been announced. It will probably be released in award-season, but might be pushed to 2017 as well.