Thursday, April 14, 2016

Lineup Announcement: Cannes 1996



As the world absorbs the newly announced Cannes 2016 lineup, we (read: I) here at Nick's Flick Picks prepare our annual traditional of participating in all the madness by revisiting some Cannes Film Festival of the past.  This year, I've booked a trip to Cannes 1996, roundly celebrated at the time as one of the richest Competitions in then-recent history.  Lars von Trier's Breaking the Waves, the Coen Brothers's Fargo, and Mike Leigh's Secrets & Lies all emerged as Palme front-runners in the top half of the festival.  Not only did each reap major prizes on the Croisette, their acclaim persisted across the year, landing them on year-end Ten Best lists around the world and scoring major Oscar wins and nominations.  Revisiting these three films alone would be a worthwhile errand on their 20th anniversary, since electing on a "best" among them is as tricky now as it was then. Same goes for their three leading ladies, who eventually held down three-fifths of a notably superb Best Actress roster at that year's Academy Awards.

But Cannes 1996 offered even more than its three principal breakout titles. David Cronenberg shocked the festival so completely that Francis Ford Coppola's jury had to devise a separate prize for originality, daring, and audacity. Ewan McGregor was the where'd-he-come-from ingénue of the moment, flashing his gorgeous eight-inch ...smile in both Trainspotting and The Pillow Book. Jacques Audiard and Arnaud Desplechin took major strides toward global renown in the Main Competition, where Robert Altman, Bernardo Bertolucci, and Michael Cimino staged more elegiac bids for continued relevance. New names like Paul Thomas Anderson, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, Mary Harron, and David O. Russell attracted more devotees, none of them realizing that their next movies would really make their names. Iran, Japan, Romania, Australia, Russia, Poland, Senegal, and Spain extended the glorious runs of their national cinemas, while Georgia, Lithuania, and Guinea-Bissau marshaled more meager resources to yield memorable titles.

I'll fold as many sidebar titles as I can into my Cannes 1996 screenings, but at the very least, I'll have my notepad out for all the movies selected for the Main Competition (pending the availability of one elusive title, but even 21 out of 22 wouldn't be bad).  There'll be no jury joining me this year.  I'm too busy at my day job to coordinate another mass effort this spring.  But I still hope you'll all play along as much as you can at home, especially if you notice a title that you've been thirsty to reexamine or eager to dig up for a first encounter.  Here's what I can tell you about my main itinerary. More to follow, all leading up to the main action from May 9-20, the dates of the actual 1996 Cannes Film Festival.

Main Competition

Breaking the Waves (Lars von Trier, Denmark/France/Sweden): I've seen this three or four times over the years, always with astonishment at its ambition and uniqueness, but with some upward and downward swings of real affection.  How will it go down this time, especially on that recently-issued Criterion Blu-ray?

Crash (David Cronenberg, Canada): One of those movies I can't imagine my life without, and effectively the film that inspired my entire first book, despite registering only peripherally in the finished product. I'm a sucker for this one, but I noticed on my most recent return that my reactions were shifting a little.

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Sunday, January 31, 2016

Supporting Actress: Jan's Out, Feb's In

We've reached the end of our first month of the yearlong Supporting Actress retrospective, honoring the 365 movies that have yielded nominations in that category's first 80 years. (This year's AMPAS voters, whatever their other foibles, at least complied with my schema and furnished nominees from five separate films, which keeps my math on track.) I hope you've had fun reading along, if you have been.  You can click the image to the left and visit the Calendar for more on each nominated movie, plus a few individual performance reviews.

So, who are your five favorite nominees from this early batch? And, separate question, what are your five favorites among the films? My own all-star team of performances from this batch probably entails Judith Anderson for Rebecca, Fay Bainter for Jezebel, Jane Darwell for The Grapes of Wrath, Agnes Moorehead for The Magnificent Ambersons, and Barbara O'Neil for All This, and Heaven Too, with apologies to close runner-up Patricia Collinge for The Little Foxes. If we're talking actual movies, my cream of the crop encompasses Dead End, Dodsworth, Gone with the Wind, The Magnificent Ambersons, and The Philadelphia Story, though it stings to leave out Grapes, Rebecca, and Stage Door, especially.

What are your thoughts, dear reader? And—one more question—are there supporting performances by women from 1936-1942 that you especially wish had appeared on Oscar's ballot?

Lastly, do consider following along with the Supporting Actress films for February, already posted. The beauty of this feature is that you can already see what film will be up for review on the site and on Twitter for any given day. I'd love to hear other voices on the same movies. I know you're out there, you opinionated queens. Four of February's performances are first-time viewings for me: Paulette Goddard in So Proudly We Hail (1943), Lucile Watson in Watch on the Rhine (1943), and two winners, Ethel Barrymore in None But the Lonely Heart (1944) and Anne Baxter in The Razor's Edge (1946). Beyond my curiosity about these four, I'm especially keen to revisit The Song of Bernadette (1943), which I saw once, ages ago. I wish I remembered Crossfire (1947) more clearly. Two famous films that I didn't love the first and only times I saw them, Mildred Pierce (1945) and Key Largo (1948), are also ripe for reassessment.  And somehow, we'll all get through the mid-40s fad for nominating ethnically inappropriate performances: Aline MacMahon's "Chinese" peasant in Dragon Seed (1944), though she at least applies a soft touch; Gale Sondergaard's member of the palace in Anna and the King of Siam (1946); and, easily worst of all, Flora Robson's blackface part in Saratoga Trunk (1945, but nominated in 1946). Jesus, keep me close to the cross.

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Saturday, January 30, 2016

Live-Blogging the 2016 SAG Awards

9:00pm: Demi nabs one more camera moment to send everyone home. Beneath the credits, Tom Hooper is standing way too close to Julianne Moore and trying to spread his toxic fumes onto her. Keith Urban and Nicole Kidman are borderline making out as they stand up from their chairs, so some things are still exactly as they should be.

8:59pm: Big cheers for Compton while Demi recites, but the winner is—after Demi Moore's significant struggles with the envelope—the cast of Spotlight. I sorta think Tom McCarthy just reached over and victory-patted one of his actors on the butt, but I couldn't tell if it was Crudup or McAdams. Ruffalo winds up as ambassador. The Spotlight cast looks truly surprised and truly overjoyed. Keaton, Crudup, Slattery, and Schreiber all project granite, serious manface, so the camera crew decides to frame Ruffalo against the smilier D'Arcy James and McAdams. Ruffalo passes the SAG baton to Keaton, who says, "This is really for the disenfranchised everywhere... This is for every Flint, Michigan everywhere... This is for the powerless - and you can hang me for that if you want to, I really don't care." Nobody in this room is gonna hang him for that. Certainly not Sunrise Coigney, still the partner and audience member most prone to being emotionally overcome, for which I adore her.

8:58pm: BEST ENSEMBLE (Beasts, Big Short, Spotlight, Compton, Trumbo hahaha) - I still think Spotlight will take this, but if Big Short surprises, that might be all she wrote for the Oscar race. Certainly Spotlight would get my vote, with Compton its only close competitor, and not even that close.

8:57pm: Demi. Just hilarious.

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Sunday, January 10, 2016

Live-Blogging the 2015 Golden Globes

10:01: "That's it. Sorry, we're out of time." That's Ricky Gervais from offscreen somewhere. Then follows it up with "From Mel Gibson and myself, 'Shalom.'" Hope you've all survived this live-blog. If you found it trying, frivolous, and repetitive, go put things in perspective. Sleep outside, inside an animal.

10:00: It's The Revenant, notwithstanding that The Revenant is terrible. So rather than focus too much on this, can we just have a moment here?  Iñárritu. Those diacritics over the letters are your best friends. They tell you just what to do. Iñ-Á-rritu. If we're going to have to go through this again in a month, which I'm not convinced will be necessary but suddenly looks more likely than it did a few hours ago, just practice!

9:59: BEST PICTURE (DRAMA):
Prediction: Spotlight. I thought so before the party started, and I still think so, since the Globes are no stranger to the Best Picture-with-no-other-wins thing. Even if The Revenant came out pretty strong tonight.
Preference: Carol, by miles, though I'd be happy with Mad Max or the Globe crowd. The Boston Globe.
Harrison Ford, who has lived another evening without offing himself  from sheer disgust at his vocation and its attendant frou-fra, is here to present it.

9:57: Seriously, though. "From The Hunger Games, Julianne Moore?" That's so messed up.

9:54 BEST ACTOR (DRAMA):
Prediction: Leonardo DiBisonLiver
Preference: A total and complete recall. I'd tick Fassbender's box (that is not a euphemism, I am not horrifying) but I'd be closing my eyes and thinking about Macbeth while I did it.
Of course Leonardo DiCaprio wins it, and everyone stands up and applauds, because he's the only nominated actor who literally died while making his movie. He does speak with eloquence, and not exactly his fault that his full-throated tribute to First Nations people and their lands doesn't sit all that well with the exoticizing and somewhat hoary depiction of them in the movie. You really get the feeling that people in that room have heard even worse stories than the rest of us have about how awful it got on that set. I assume DiCaprio's in a tricky position and he brings his speech off with class, even if I'm so over the whole thing. The only bit that amazes me is that Kate Winslet isn't crying. She's as steely and focused as Jacob Tremblay was during Brie's. Everybody must be too tired for euphoria.

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Friday, January 01, 2016

A Whole New Year of Actressing



Having just successfully completed one long-deferred project, my resolution for 2016 is to get cracking on updates to the Best Actress section of my website, which has been virtually static for five years.  The rehab will be extensive: ditching the cumbersome html frames, reformatting, editing existing prose, and adding updates from years I have not covered, including the most recent ones.  I'll also make some minimal and carefully curated expansions to cover un-nominated performances by heavy campaigners, by actresses working nowhere near Oscar's tastes, and by non-anglophone performers who too rarely catch the Academy's eye.  As you'll see in this mockup, I've already worked out some of the design issues, at least provisionally, and I'm ready to get watching, re-watching, writing, and re-writing.  For many of you, the Best Actress section was your entryway into the site, or remains your favorite wing of it, or both. I get lots of nice e-mails from you with firm but tactful suggestions that I report back for duty.  So here I am, showing up.  (The old versions will persist on Nick's Flick Picks for a few more weeks before the first new page is ready.)

As I've said before, part of the delay has involved some strategizing about how to reboot this as a website feature while simultaneously developing it as a book or series of books, which I have already discussed with one excited editor who has given me some great leads.  This part of the plan obviously means not giving away all the content for free.  Still, the response to what I've written so far and what currently remains available on the site is why there is a documentable audience for such a publishing venture anyway.  So the compromises here will be twofold: 1) updates and reboots, but rarely for full years, and requiring that portions of what's currently posted will have to come down; and 2) a focus at first on two particular decades, since these subsets of the larger project will serve as the sample material for prospective agents and presses.  My current plans are to start with 1970-79 and 2000-2009, so expect the first wave of new and revised posts to fall within those frameworks.  I hope you'll be excited about this material, and since your enthusiasm will be a huge help in making the case to publishers, please be vigorous in the Comment sections, even when you disagree with me!

Meanwhile, turning from leading ladies to their supporting sisters, this year marks the 80th birthday of the Best Supporting Actress category at the Oscars, meaning we'll soon meet our 400th nominee.  But here's a statistic I don't think you'll read anywhere else: because of multiple nominations from the same movies in many years, our existing constellation of Supporting Actress nominees hails from 360 movies.  Barring the unlikely scenario whereby Rooney Mara's transfixing lead performance in Carol gets nominated in the Supporting race, as per studio wishes, and her castmate Sarah Paulson comes from behind to reap a surprising but well-deserved mention on the same list, we'll be looking at 365 movies over time that reaped recognition in this race.

Did someone say 365?  Who am I to ignore a number as resonant as that?



Yes, I know, 2016 is a leap year. But that won't stop me from posting this handy calendar representing all the movies that have made that category such an enduring joy, if also an occasional head-scratcher or locus of frustration.  When there's time, I'll post some occasional performance reviews here, too.  One's up today for Beulah Bondi in The Gorgeous Hussy, the first name listed on the first ballot in the first year of Best Supporting Actress.  And yes, it's 365 words long.  Obviously, the Supporting Actress Smackdowns at Nathaniel R's The Film Experience, having originated at StinkyLulu's Blog, remain the best, most thorough, and most excitingly multi-voiced spots to investigate "actressing at the edges."  I'll be less of a completist in this area and don't want to horn in on their turf.  Though in fact, the idea of the Smackdowns was initially inspired by my own Best Actress section, so everything comes full circle!

I'll look forward to more posts, conversations, and hopefully publications in 2016.  No website can satisfy all your actressing needs, which I assume are substantial, and no new year ever goes exactly according to plan.  But I'll keep showing up if you do.  Cheers!

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Sunday, December 20, 2015

The Website that Went Up a Hill and, Ten Years Later, Came Down a Mountain



Updated, Dec. 30: And at long last... it's a wrap!

Original, Nov. 28: Wow. Even I didn't expect to be this productive.  When I decided a week ago to update the Favorites Countdown, a project that's been gestating on my site for literally ten years, I was responding to a few prompts. I've been pushing through one more essay for my job, having submitted three already in the last six months, and finding that my prose was getting more abstruse and congested. (Trust me, my editors agreed.) Writing more for the site usually coaches me back to less fussy, more avid self-expression.  I wanted more new content to show to anyone dropping in from my new gig at Film Comment, or from one I hope to start soon at Sight & Sound.  I was reluctant to show my face to Jonathan Storey, whom I'll finally meet this week, and who sent me a hand-written letter from the UK well over a year ago imploring me to wrap up this loose end. I couldn't even bear to show my face to myself if I actually let the project take more than a decade. Having written eight new entries inside of a week, I'm suddenly in striking distance of that goal.

Some time ago, I'd posted a version of the new entry on Junebug, hoping it might help me finish if I just wrote up the movies as I re-screened them, rather than honoring their order on the list. But that seemed confusing, and didn't work, anyway. Now that the revised entry is posted, the remaining 17 are all relative surprises, though I admit I'm curious: since several of you have been sweet enough to follow the site for years, how much of what's coming do you think you've deduced? I sometimes feel I talk about the same movies all the time, regardless of context, so I'm curious if I've tipped my hand more than I realize.

I'll also fess up that these last 17 films were all, at some point, in the endlessly shuffled Top 10, where any of them could still be plausible. The "ranking" aspect of this list is silly even by ranking standards, especially given the codicil that I'm omitting all the movies on my re-energized Top 100. (To keep from bewildering everybody, I'm going to pause on updates there while I finish the updates here.) There's no question that any list of my favorite-favorite movies would include The Piano, When Harry Met Sally..., Safe, Morvern Callar, Aliens, Harlan County USA, and several other movies you'll eventually find on that other roster, which pretends to disentangle aesthetic merit from personal bias.  So, probably none of the next and final 17 Favorites are the movies I name first when pressed at parties for my desert-island trove.  At the same time, I'd definitely want all of them on that desert island, #17 as much as #1.

The last thing to stipulate, given how long I've taken, is that I haven't altered the titles on the Favorites countdown to include any movies released after 2005, when I got going. A year or two into the saga, during the first Dormant Period, I shuffled a few out (still archived at the bottom of the sidebar scroll) and some new ones in, including Dave Chappelle's Block Party, Junebug, and The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, all quite new at the time. There is one more Favorite of comparable vintage still to come, and one more fugitive from the former Top 100 list that moved over here when Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind migrated in the opposite direction. By all rights, several movies from my last decade of moviegoing should be here: Margaret, Prodigal Sons, Sleeping Beauty, Fish Tank, Deep Water, Beasts of the Southern Wild, and The Heat all spring to mind as likely contenders. But lest anyone wonder, I wanted to give you the feature you've been awaiting all this time, not some weird Blade Runner/New World amalgam of the original, the rough cut, and the changes I now wish I'd administered all along.

So, without further ado—but also with protracted, belabored surfeits of ado, which I thank you so much for indulging—here are the final 17 movies I hope you'll take to your hearts as I have to mine, if you haven't already... and I hope, too, that you'll keep sharing reactions and personal pets in the Comments!

1. Pola X (1999, dir. Leos Carax)
2. Velvet Goldmine (1998, dir. Todd Haynes)
3. The Way We Were (1973, dir. Sydney Pollack)
4. The Portrait of a Lady (1996, dir. Jane Campion)
5. Dog Day Afternoon (1975, dir. Sidney Lumet)
6. Frances (1982, dir. Graeme Clifford)
7. The Bridges of Madison County (1995, dir. Clint Eastwood)
8. 11'09"01 (2002, dirs. Miscellaneous)
9. Ocean's Eleven (2001, dir. Steven Soderbergh)
10. Grizzly Man (2005, dir. Werner Herzog)
11. Cape Fear (1991, dir. Martin Scorsese)
12. The China Syndrome (1979, dir. James Bridges)
13. Strange Days (1995, dir. Kathryn Bigelow)
14. Blackboards (2000, dir. Samira Makhmalbaf)
15. The Cell (2000, dir. Tarsem Singh)
16. You Can Count on Me (2000, dir. Kenneth Lonergan)
17. demonlover (2002, dir. Olivier Assayas)
18. Junebug (2005, dir. Phil Morrison)
19. Crash (1996, dir. David Cronenberg)
20. Walking and Talking (1996, dir. Nicole Holofcener)
21. Eyes Wide Shut (1999, dir. Stanley Kubrick)
22. Opening Night (1977, dir. John Cassavetes)
23. Blonde Venus (1932, dir. Josef von Sternberg)
24. Beau travail (1999, dir. Claire Denis)
25. Naked Lunch (1991, dir. David Cronenberg)

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Sunday, December 13, 2015

My Acting Contenders for 2015

Who am I forgetting? Who would you root for? Whose work have you not seen? Because if they're listed here, you definitely should...

Best Actress
Top Contenders
Elizabeth Banks, Love & Mercy
Cate Blanchett, Carol
Cate Blanchett, Truth
Emily Blunt, Sicario
Sandra Bullock, Our Brand Is Crisis
Laia Costa, Victoria
Marion Cotillard, Macbeth
Blythe Danner, I'll See You in My Dreams
Rinko Kikuchi, Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter
Rooney Mara, Carol 
Bel Powley, The Diary of a Teenage Girl
Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years

Honorable Mentions
Geraldine Chaplin, Sand Dollars
Golshifteh Farahani, About Elly
Michelle Hendley, Boy Meets Girl
Arielle Holmes, Heaven Knows What
Dakota Johnson, Fifty Shades of Grey
Jacqueline Kim, Advantageous
Sidse Babett Knudsen, The Duke of Burgundy
Sarit Larry, The Kindergarten Teacher
Brie Larson, Room
Jennifer Lawrence, Joy
Maria Alexandra Lungu, The Wonders
Ellen Page, Freeheld
Teyonah Parris, Chi-Raq
Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn
Sarah Silverman, I Smile Back
Cobie Smulders, Results
Sarah Snook, Predestination
Mya Taylor, Tangerine
Karidja Touré, Girlhood
Alicia Vikander, Testament of Youth
Mia Wasikowska, Madame Bovary
Kristen Wiig, Welcome to Me


Best Actor
Top Contenders
Ibrahim Ahmed, Timbuktu
Abraham Attah, Beasts of No Nation
Tom Courtenay, 45 Years 
John Cusack, Love & Mercy
Paul Dano, Love & Mercy
Jesse Eisenberg, The End of the Tour
Michael Fassbender, Macbeth
Michael B. Jordan, Creed
Michael Keaton, Spotlight
Frederick Lau, Victoria
Sam Louwyck, The Wonders
Josh Lucas, The Mend
Ben Mendelsohn, Mississippi Grind
Jason Mitchell, Straight Outta Compton
Olivier Rabourdin, Eastern Boys
Géza Röhrig, Son of Saul
Jason Segel, The End of the Tour
Koudous Seihon, Mediterranea
Michael Shannon, 99 Homes

Honorable Mentions
Christopher Abbott, James White
Jason Bateman, The Gift
Adam Driver, While We're Young
Bill Hader, Trainwreck
Corey Hawkins, Straight Outta Compton
Oscar Isaac, Ex Machina
O'Shea Jackson, Jr., Straight Outta Compton
Samuel L. Jackson, The Hateful Eight
Reda Kateb, Far from Men
Shameik Moore, Dope
Viggo Mortensen, Far from Men
Stephen Plunkett, The Mend
Ryan Reynolds, Mississippi Grind
Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight
Matthias Schoenaerts, Far from the Madding Crowd


Best Supporting Actress
Top Contenders
Angela Bassett, Chi-Raq
Cate Blanchett, Cinderella
Viola Davis, Blackhat
Noni Hazlehurst, Truth
Rachel McAdams, Spotlight
Cynthia Nixon, James White
Jada Pinkett Smith, Magic Mike XXL
Erica Rivas, Wild Tales
Elisabeth Röhm, Joy
Isabella Rossellini, Joy
Lise Roy, Tom at the Farm
Kristen Stewart, Clouds of Sils Maria
Mickey Sumner, The Mend
Tessa Thompson, Creed
Kristen Wiig, The Diary of a Teenage Girl 

Honorable Mentions
Diana Avrămuţ, When Evening Falls on Bucharest, or Metabolism
Rebecca Ferguson, Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation
Nicole Kidman, Paddington
Andie MacDowell, Magic Mike XXL
Julianne Moore, Maps to the Stars
Lucy Owen, The Mend
Sheu Fang-yi, The Assassin
Phyllis Smith, Inside Out
Tilda Swinton, Trainwreck


Best Supporting Actor
Top Contenders
Emory Cohen, Brooklyn
Michael Cyril Creighton, Spotlight
Billy Crudup, Spotlight
Benicio Del Toro, Sicario
Taron Egerton, Testament of Youth
Sam Elliott, Grandma
Sam Elliott, I'll See You in My Dreams
Keir Gilchrist, It Follows
Tim Guinee, 99 Homes
Stacy Keach, Truth
Jimmy LeBlanc, Spotlight
James Marsden, The D Train
Reynaldo Pacheco, Our Brand Is Crisis
Austin Pendleton, The Mend
Chris Sarandon, I Smile Back
Liev Schreiber, Spotlight
Michael Shannon, Freeheld
Michael Sheen, Far from the Madding Crowd
Alexander Skarsgård, The Diary of a Teenage Girl
Sylvester Stallone, Creed
Martin Starr, I'll See You in My Dreams
Stanley Tucci, Spotlight
Daniil Vorobyov, Eastern Boys

Honorable Mentions
Christian Bale, The Big Short
Reg E. Cathey, Nasty Baby
Kevin Corrigan, Results
John Cusack, Chi-Raq
Joaquim de Almeida, Our Brand Is Crisis
Idris Elba, Beasts of No Nation
Paul Giamatti, Straight Outta Compton
Walton Goggins, The Hateful Eight
Scott Mescudi, James White
Michael Peña, Ant-Man
Bernard Pruvost, Li'l Quinquin
Édgar Ramírez, Joy
Peter Sarsgaard, Black Mass
Jamey Sheridan, Spotlight
Leonardo Sbaraglia, Wild Tales
Michael Welch, Boy Meets Girl


Best Ensemble Cast
Top Contenders
About Elly
Carol
Eden
Girlhood
La Jaula de oro
Mississippi Grind
Our Brand Is Crisis
Results
Sicario
Spotlight
Tangerine
The Wonders

Honorable Mentions
Brooklyn
Creed
The Diary of a Teenage Girl
I'll See You in My Dreams
Joy
The Kindergarten Teacher
Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter
Love & Mercy
The Mend
Mustang
Nasty Baby
A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence
The Princess of France
Star Wars, Episode VII: The Force Awakens
Straight Outta Compton
Wild Tales

Still Anticipating
Animals, Appropriate Behavior, Blind, Bluebird, Buzzard, By the Sea, Concussion, Digging for Fire, Good Kill, Jimmy's Hall, Kilo Two Bravo, The Lady in the Van, Learning to Drive, Legend, Love at First Sight, Mr. Holmes, Ned Rifle, The New Girlfriend, Office, Saint Laurent, The Second Mother, Secret in Their Eyes, She's Lost Control, Spring, The Stanford Prison Experiment, Theeb, Time Out of Mind, Tu dors Nicole, What We Do in the Shadows

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Sunday, November 22, 2015

Nick's Flick Picks: The Force Awakens



What are those guys doing in Claire Denis's Beau travail? Has anyone ever figured that out?  My guess is that, after many years of assuming that my website would never get its act together, they have just found out there are long-postponed updates to the Top 100 listings, where I've recently celebrated Hiroshima mon amour, The Wages of Fear, and The Third Man, and to the Favorites countdown, where I've shared some of the backstory that led to my late-breaking ardor for Beau travail and Naked Lunch, both of which survived cool first impressions to become personal pets and central frames of reference for my book, The Desiring-Image.  (I've also, incidentally, re-programmed both features to ditch the cumbersome frames, streamline the html, and make for easier viewing on tablets as well as laptops. Hope that's all working on your end.)

I'm drafting another essay for work, and as usually happens when writing juices flow in one part of my life, they start moving in others as well. I've already written the next entries on both countdowns, so maybe I can keep some momentum going through the holidays. Some of you have been waiting on these for ten years!  Hope you'll share your thoughts about these posts and others soon to follow.

Subsequent entries added to Favorites: Crash, Walking and Talking, Eyes Wide Shut, Opening Night, Blonde Venus
Subsequent entries added to Top 100: Under the Sun of Satan

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Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Toronto Film Festival XXL

Channing Tatum, Magic Mike XXL

Sep 10: I'll update this post with my tweeted responses to these films, hopefully once a day.

Sep 8: Completed my final ticket selections this morning during my assigned window for the Back Half Pass (which gives you a slightly discounted rate for movies playing in the last five days of the festival). That's 45 features, two programs of 15 shorts, and 14 tickets I got for other people, and I got my first choices across the board. Clearly the other shoe will drop somehow, but for now I'm all blissed out.  I'll try to post some updates here during the fest, but my Twitter account will be the place to catch more immediate responses.  Please follow!  And track these other friends who always provide great TIFF impressions, too: Alex, Amir, Angelo, Bill, Calvin & Yonah, Catherine, Joe (also @decider), Katey, Lev, Nathaniel, Tim, and Yaseen.  If you see a movie you like, I'd love to hear about.  As, I'm sure, would any filmmakers on Twitter, especially those who aren't in the Gala divisions.  I've had great experiences cold-tweeting (?) directors whose work I just saw, and I heartily recommend it.  And if there's no way you can be at TIFF but spot a film you desperately wish you could access, tweet a filmmaker about that, too.  See if there's a college, cinema, library, or other institution near you that might be willing to host a screening, with or without the director's involvement.  Tschüss!

Sep 6: Could things be better? I logged on precisely at 8am Chicago time to buy single tickets this morning and was #143 in line. Others who did the same were 600 spots behind me; by the time I completed checkout at 8:30, there were more than 2600 people waiting. I got into all 13 showings I was hoping to add, too. With the total currently standing at 41 films and from 30 different countries, I have another half-dozen titles to add on Tuesday, when my Back Half pass goes into effect.  And then, just four days from now, the games begin!  Amy and Bradley are still dancing, girl. Channing, keep spinning, keep burning it up. Did he who made the lamb make thee?

Sep 1: I'm updating my listings below to reflect some of the Middle Eastern and African programming that I will be catching in Toronto, in cahoots with my favorite TIFF programmer, Rasha Salti. I didn't know Rasha at all or much about her cinematic beat until 2013, when Ladder to Damascus, Rags and Tatters, and Noye's Fludde (Unogumbe) all ranked among my favorites of the whole festival.  Last year, Silvered Water, Syria Self Portrait and Iraqi Odyssey were my absolute peaks of TIFF, with Timbuktu not far behind, and Rasha and I got to talking.  This year, I'm collaborating with her to see and promote her programming, all grouped here, because it's so dependably excellent, yet few of the films ever achieve a DVD release, much less a commercial distribution. So let's get behind these phenomenal movie-makers and under-heralded cinematic traditions.

Sep 1: Toronto International Film Festival season has begun, baby, and we at Nick's Flick Picks (read: I) could not be happier.  I'll be there longer than I ever have before, and seeing an even greater number of movies.  Logged in this morning at my TIFF-appointed time to make my first 30 ticket selections, 20 of which were for me, 10 for friends who wanted to see movies we worried would sell out.  I'll keep updating this entry over the next week or so as my itinerary expands, when individual tickets go on sale, and when my Back Half discount kicks in.  So, keep checking this page, and click the links if you want to learn more about the movies.  I don't, really: I'm picking based on affinity for the filmmakers, general buzz, and the dimmest notion of premise (and in some cases, I don't even know that).  I like going in as cold as possible, so I'm going to keep it that way.

The list is bound to get more esoteric, since I prioritized films that seemed likely to draw big crowds and/or I hoped to see in the first few days.  And if you're like, "These already look pretty esoteric," then that's Nick's Flick Picks for you.

MY TIFF ITINERARY (Updated 9/20)

3000 Nights (Palestine, dir. Mai Masri)
B+  Stirring drama inside Israeli women's prison, with mostly Palestinian inmates. Gutsy takes on solidarity, maternalism.

Anomalisa (USA, dirs. Duke Johnson and Charlie Kaufman)
C+  Could summon no enthusiasm. The self-pity of Kaufman's men is usually ballasted by much more creative detail or insight.

Arabian Nights, Vol. 1: The Restless One (Portugal, dir. Miguel Gomes)
A  A+? So many good films here but this inhabits a whole other level as piebald art and political intervention.

Arabian Nights, Vol. 2: The Desolate One (Portugal, dir. Miguel Gomes)
A–  Less obviously intricate than Vol 1, and more frontal in stating themes—I thought. Then I grew less sure.

Arabian Nights, Vol. 3: The Enchanted One (Portugal, dir. Miguel Gomes)
A  What Obama said about guns and religion, but about chaffinches. Heavy histories shrink to bearable fetishes.

As I Open My Eyes (Tunisia/France, dir. Leyla Bouzid)
B+  Sonorous, trenchant portrait of an artist as a young woman, riding sharp lines between petulance and dissidence.

The Assassin (Taiwan, dir. Hou Hsiao-hsien)
B+  A royal marriage of many lines, sumptuous, as much Unforgiven as Scarlet Empress. Hou's hand still unsteady on story.

Bang Gang (A Modern Love Story) (France, dir. Eva Husson)
B+  Remarkably assured, richly executed debut. Not all story beats fresh but layered, meticulous study.

Beasts of No Nation (USA, dir. Cary Joji Fukunaga)
B–  Value, impact hard to deny but formal and narrative storytelling are a little crude. Young Attah is a find.

Blood of My Blood (Italy, dir. Marco Bellocchio)
C+  My astigmatism around high-theatrical Italian melodrama persists. Less crude than Vincere but ideas seem simple?

Cemetery of Splendour (Thailand, dir. Apichatpong Weerasethakul)
B  Reader, I must confess I'm starting to find Weerasethakul tedious, as much as I admire his directorial craft.

Chevalier (Greece, dir. Athina Rachel Tsangari)
B  Greek surrealist, quasi-Apatovian remake of American Psycho business-card scene. Finds its berth fast, hangs out a while.

Dégradé (Palestine, dirs. Arab Nasser and Tarzan Nasser)
B–  Entrapment, suffocation are topics, occasionally effects of one-set suspenser in Gaza salon. Bold vision. Hang in there.

Dheepan (France, dir. Jacques Audiard)
A–  Sleek, observant, steadily winching synthesis of prior Audiard themes. Psychology deftly externalized. Actors keep it hot.

The Endless River (South Africa, dir. Oliver Hermanus)
B  Strikingly shot. Taps a rich seam of region-specific tensions and story traditions. Maybe exploits them a bit.

Eva Doesn't Sleep (Argentina, dir. Pablo Agüero)
Eva Perón as Addie Bundren. Caryl Churchill-esque. Brute embodiments and symbolic afterlives in unwinnable duels.

Evolution (France, dir. Lucile Hadžihalilovic)
What if Matthew Barney and Jacques Cousteau co-directed a YA dystopia? I couldn't imagine, but Lucile Hadžihalilović did.

Fire Song (Canada, dir. Adam Garnet Jones)
C–  Noble intents, rare focus, and solid production values lose out to stiff writing and editing, erratic hold on character.

Francofonia (France/Germany/Netherlands, dir. Aleksandr Sokurov)
Louvre, the End of History. Witty, moving essay on doomed objects surviving, enemies collaborating, time as tight knot.

Frenzy (Turkey, dir. Emin Alper)
B+  Formally stunning mitosis of one suspense thriller into two, enigmatically related. Two parts Audiard, one Don't Look Now.

Girls Lost (Sweden, dir. Alexandra-Therese Keining)
C+  A century after Florida Enchantment, we're still using magic-beans device for transgender tale. Shaky on its own themes.

Green Room (USA, dir. Jeremy Saulnier)
Blue Ruin had assets in all areas; this has zero in any. What happened? Quoth its own eviduh, "This is taking too long."

High-Rise (UK, dir. Ben Wheatley)
TIFF canceled my screening.

The Idol (UK/Palestine, dir. Hany Abu-Assad)
Couldn't access the screening.

In Jackson Heights (USA, dir. Frederick Wiseman)
A–  Most democratic US community abounds with sidewalk pedagogy and filibusters. Everyone tries to save everyone.

In the Shadow of Women (France, dir. Philippe Garrel)
B+  Tiny ficelle of a film takes witty stock of knotted infidelities. Neither one-sided nor free of judgment.

Ixcanul (Guatemala/France, dir. Jayro Bustamante)
Guatemalan drama quietly, sturdily makes expert choices scene after scene, culminating in my biggest jaw-drop of the fest.

Let Them Come (Algeria/France, dir. Salem Brahimi)
Couldn't access the screening.

Minotaur (Mexico/Canada, dir. Nicolas Peréda)
A–  Totally bewitching miniature about profound indolence. Possibly class critique of a new, Lynch-meets-Pina Bausch type.

Mountains May Depart (China/France/Japan, dir. Jia Zhangke)
B–  Hi, I'd like a Hong Sang-soo, a Stella Dallas, a Notes on a Scandal (iced), and a small side of Drrrainage?!

Much Loved (France/Morocco, dir. Nabil Ayouch)
A–  Bracing, gutsy, humane drama of Moroccan prostitutes. Moving and nuanced images, sounds, and characters. Pass it on!

No Men Beyond This Point (Canada, dir. Mark Sawers)
Wound up skipping for Ixcanul

The Other Side (France/Italy, dir. Roberto Minervini)
B+  Beasts of one nation, arguably under God, arguably indivisible. An upsetting revelation no matter how "true" it is.

The Pearl Button (Chile/France/Spain, dir. Patricio Guzmán)
B+  Empathic, poetic speculation from a filmmaker whose equanimity is a miracle. Not quite Nostalgia but much-needed.

Price of Love (Ethiopia, dir. Harmon Hailay)
B  Some story beats are sadly familiar, but this streetside Ethiopian drama conveys them with nuance and piquant detail.

The Promised Land (China, dir. He Ping)
D  Way too airy-fairy Chinese romance between ballerina and hockey coach. Barely a premise, endlessly pre-rehearsed.

Return of the Atom (Finland, dirs. Mika Taanila & Jussi Eerola)
B–  Vividly mounted and persuasive on its basic grounds, but several editing and sound choices baldly manipulate.

Right Now, Wrong Then (South Korea, dir. Hong Sang-soo)
A–  Lovely. Iridesces with sadness. Hong's Purple Rose of Cairo? Well, that's not exactly true. Nothing ever is.

Schneider vs. Bax (The Netherlands, dir. Alex van Warmerdam)
B  Another 18th-century comedy about 21st-century mercenaries. Merrily morbid, somewhat for its own sake. Thin look.

Short Cuts Program #5 (Canada/France/Germany/Iraq/Spain/UK, dir. Misc.)
B–  No clinkers, few coups. My faves were the angry Society and the compactly suggestive New Eyes and El Adíos.

The Sky Trembles and the Earth Is Afraid and the Two Eyes Are Not Brothers (UK, dir. Ben Rivers)
B  As elaborate and idiosyncratic as it is, the postcolonial metaphors become a bit flat and static.

Son of Saul (Hungary, dir. László Nemes)
So formally brilliant you can't help noticing, even as you expend all emotional and moral energy. The sound! The story.

Starve Your Dog (Morocco, dir. Hisham Lasri)
B  Boldest shredding I've seen here of cinematic form, story flow. Death and the Maiden as punk Moroccan cherry bomb.

Story of Judas (France, dir. Rabah Ameur-Zaïmeche)
B+  Daring rewrite of 2000-year-old treachery, passing for a long time as classical, almost POV-less account. Gorgeous.

Sunset Song (UK/Luxembourg, dir. Terence Davies)
C–  First hour a stilted slog. Middle fights its way to poignancy but last act falters. Barely ten oxygen molecules in it.

Taxi (Iran, dir. Jafar Panahi)
B  Feels less ambitious than Panahi's two previous house-arrest movies but it's funny and wise and has good tricks up its sleeve.

Te prometo anarquía (Mexico, dir. Julio Hernández Cordón)
B+  Rare bird. Rewards patience and trust as it builds from vaguely illicit skater/dealer pic to humbling tragedy.

The Treasure (Romania, dir. Corneliu Porumboiu)
A–  Comic gold, with an impressively ferrous structure of ironies and nuances that hold it together and expand its scope.

Victoria (Germany, dir. Sebastian Schipper)
A–  Morvern Callar rebuilt as pulse-pounding thriller, astonishingly executed in a continuous, 132-minute take. Overwhelming.

Wavelengths #4: Psychic Driving (Austria/Brazil/Canada/France/Spain/USA, dir. Misc)
A–  Links radical activism to African diaspora, occult folklore to synaesthetic abstraction. Dazzling.

The White Knights (Belgium/France, dir Joachim Lafosse)
Wound up skipping for Beasts of No Nation

The Witch (Canada/USA, dir. Robert Eggers)
C  Antichrist meets The Village. Spooky surface meets crossover dreams. Old tropes about faith meet some about the colonies.

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Friday, July 03, 2015

The Fifties for 2015



I'm back with one of my most popular features: The Fifties, honoring the year's best filmmaking achievements among the first 50 U.S. releases I saw in 2015.  I think this is the earliest I've ever hit this numerical milestone; it's nice to be drafting this post on July 2, at the exact midpoint of the year.  Many of the films I'm honoring are either still in theaters or newly available on DVD and streaming services, so I hope you'll investigate any titles you've missed.  And, as ever, please suggest your own favorites in the comments, especially if you suspect I've missed the film.

I've gobbled up so many movies post-graduation—ten features in five days, after seeing only three in theaters during the previous two months—that I hustled all the way to a tally of 56 before I could catch my breath. Amy, The Look of Silence, Phoenix, and Tom at the Farm have not technically opened yet, and I'll only believe the last one's planned release when I see it. I'll sideline these for now, which means Tom's Lise Roy, Amy's impressive sound mix, Phoenix's mishandled but interesting script, and just about every stunning aspect of The Look of Silence (easily one of the year's best films, towering over all of the other documentaries I've seen) won't get recognized below.

Otherwise, the eligible movies were '71, About Elly, Amour fou, Blackbird, Blackhat, Boy Meets Girl, Clouds of Sils Maria, Dope, The Duke of Burgundy, Eastern Boys, Eden, Ex Machina, Far from Men, Far from the Madding Crowd, Fifty Shades of Grey, Futuro Beach, Gerontophilia, Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem, Girlhood, Heaven Knows What, The Hunting Ground, Inside Out, Insidious: Chapter 3, It Follows, It's All So Quiet, Jauja, Joy of Man's Desiring, Jurassic World, The Last Five Years, Li'l Quinquin, Love & Mercy, Mad Max: Fury Road, Madame Bovary, Magic Mike XXL, Maps to the Stars, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Of Horses and Men, The Overnight, Paddington, A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence, Play, The Princess of France, Serena, Spy, Testament of Youth, Timbuktu, The Tribe, When Evening Falls on Bucharest, While We're Young, White God, Wild Tales, and The Wolfpack.  And the nominees are...




BEST PICTURE
Girlhood (rent it!), tough-minded but affecting coming-of-age ensemble drama
It Follows (DVD in July), an ingenious and brilliantly executed horror yarn
Li'l Quinquin (rent it!), Bruno Dumont's amazingly effective foray into comedy
Mad Max: Fury Road (in theaters), tense, implacable, and baroquely conceived
Timbuktu (rent it!), a quietly confident and increasingly tense social document
The Tribe (in theaters), come for all-signing conceit, stay for potent storytelling

Also: I followed Oscar's lead and drew a contour line around the choices that most excite me, though the wonderful Eastern Boys, Pigeon Sat on a Branch..., Eden, Princess of France, and Jauja are all closely clustered just beneath this sextet, and The Look of Silence would unquestionably appear if it had opened yet.


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Thursday, May 28, 2015

Cannes 1995: Jury Awards



First off, I want to thank everybody who followed this feature, and for making the five of us feel that we weren't shouting into a total void, or throwing a party to which we hadn't invited anybody else.  Comment sections were pretty quiet, but murmurs over Twitter and elsewhere indicated there was an audience for our nuttiness.  We hope you'll dig up some of these films if you haven't already, whether to share or challenge our enthusiasm, or to mirror or refute our distaste or indifference.  As for "we" and "us," I couldn't possibly be more grateful to Ivan, Tim, Alex, and Amir for cramming so many movies into a month and producing such thoughtful and zippy reflections on them, at a time when all five of us had plenty else going on.  I woke up every morning excited for what they'd have to say, and they never disappointed.  You can use the "Cannes 1995" label at the bottom of this post or head over here to remind yourself of all their pearls of wisdom.

Tim and I were the last two people to leave the hotel room; we also kept the craziest schedules, heading out earliest and coming latest, to see the most sidebar entries.  Over our final breakfast in our beachfront hotel (yes this is all made up what of it this was our best shot at a mental vacation shhhh) we swapped cocktail serviettes with our Top 10s on them.

Nick's: 1) Safe, 2) Underground, 3) Georgia, 4) Nasty Love, 5) L'Enfant noir, 6) The White Balloon, 7) Good Men, Good Women, 8) The Arsonist, 9) The Neon Bible, 10) Ed Wood

Tim's: 1) Dead Man, 2) Safe, 3) Ed Wood, 4) Underground, 5) Hello Cinema, 6) Good Men, Good Women, 7) Lisbon Story, 8) The Arsonist, 9) Nasty Love, 10) Georgia

That lets you know where at least two of us started as we entered deep sequester with our fellow jurors. As for determining prize-winners among all five of us, I would say there was pretty speedy agreement about many of these choices, even though at least half of them involved some haggling—whether about levels of achievement within each category or about distribution of prizes across the slate.  The closest calls had to do with the Palme vs. the Grand Jury Prize, which probably divides a lot of juries, and with the exact criteria for the Jury Prize, which I'm not sure we're giving to our third-place film, but certainly to a film that impressed us from multiple angles and didn't seem to come out on top in any one area.  So let that be a lesson to you kids out there making assumptions about what Jury Prizes, or any Cannes prize, or any juried film award, necessarily implies about the conversation behind it.

I'll be announcing our selections over my Twitter feed over the next couple of hours, and will later group all the news here.  Meanwhile, we'd love to hear your choices or other Cannes '95-related thoughts in the Comments section ... and stay tuned for one more Roundtable still to come (following this one and this one, both of which taught me a lot), plus some late-breaking discussions with film scholars and other experts who can unpack some of our recent viewing from more specialized perspectives.  So, the awards aren't the end, but the beginning of the end.  And they are...

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Cannes 1995: Day 12: May 28


The Quick and the Dead, USA, dir. Sam Raimi

Many people need no help appreciating Jim Jarmusch's Dead Man. If you're me and can't help feeling agnostic, recuperating more admiration for Jarmusch's affected earnestness and genuine idiosyncrasy is a lot easier after seeing a revisionist Western as flat and plodding as Sam Raimi's The Quick and the Dead Or Sharon Stone's The Quick and the Dead (she also produced), or whoever's The Quick and the Dead. Even the mid-90s' reigning Goldilocks can't save the movie from being too much or too little at all times. The narrative disarray is total—as evidenced by a major flashback tucked into the last ten minutes, which, incidentally, unfolds a scene the audience has already worked out—but even disarray is more interesting than the utter stasis of so many shots where Stone or Russell Crowe or Gene Hackman just stares at people, or the brute momentum of the shootout scenes where the same same same thing happens as the field of contestants winnows down to an utterly foreordained foursome. Raimi's attempts to wake himself aren't any more interesting than the impressions of Raimi asleep at the wheel. But rather than keep laying on Cannes's closing night film, I'm inclined to put pressure on the oft-invoked phrase "revisionist Western," because the John Ford retrospective that unfolded throughout the festival—25 features in ten days——shows that even peak-period Westerns by figures as major as Ford were "revisionist" as often as not. Few have been as austere in their outlook, albeit frequently purple in their prose, as The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.  This 1962 James Stewart/John Wayne vehicle, which could not possibly be more cannily cast, challenges and complicates so many myths of the frontier, the ballot box, the law, the state, and the gun that you're hard-pressed to find any Western trope that survives intact. I wish I'd had time for more of the Ford films, but boy was I glad to have saved them up so that I didn't finish on Raimi's folly, and I could take in a rounder, wider, bitterer scale of revision than the simple notion of a girl with a gun.

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Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Cannes 1995: Day 11: May 27


Dead Man, USA, dir. Jim Jarmusch

Two Hugh Grant movies played the last three days at Cannes, in sync with a carefully timed visit from His Floppy-Hairedness, Marquess of Stutter. That may have been the big news at the time, whereas now The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Jesus This Title Is Long is the most patently dated element of the final full day of programming. All three of the other films listed below, despite slipping in at the eleventh hour, have had much more lasting impacts. La Haine caught on quickly, of course, sending shockwaves through French film culture and public discourse. 20th-anniversary pieces have popped up in many major European papers this spring. Dead Man wafted in and out on the final day with remarkably little fanfare, just as Jarmusch's delicious Only Lovers Left Alive did two years ago; I'm pretty reconciled to Just Not Getting Dead Man, but I see completely why so many cinephiles are impassioned about it. Despite its stiffing by the jury and, evidently, by the programmers—way more than La Haine, it's the sort of movie that works by osmosis, and needs time to unwrap its ideas—I'd wager that it now boasts the highest critical stature of any of the Palme competitors from this good-to-middling vintage. My favorite film and happiest discovery among these three was the Burkinabe ensemble dramedy Haramuya, which nimbly alights on multiple storylines among young and old, male and female, in modern-day Ouagadougou. Today it is most celebrated by African cinema devotées for its rare attention to urban teens in a contemporary setting. I'd have had a hard time seeing it without my university connections, but keep an eye out for that title. It was the second movie I watched of the 53 I screened over the six weeks for this feature, and it's easily in the top two or three of those I'm most eager to check out again.

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Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Cannes 1995: Day 10: May 26


Underground, Serbia/France/Germany, dir. Emir Kusturica

A very sad anecdote in Citizen Cannes, the memoir by longtime festival director Gilles Jacob, finds Serbian film director Emir Kusturica spotting Francis Ford Coppola in the airport after the 1996 festival, where Coppola presided over the jury.  Kusturica is over the moon to meet one of his filmmaking idols, and also to share in their very rare status as two of only three men (at that time) to have scooped two Palmes d'or. He approaches Coppola, fawns over him, attempts to establish fellow feeling. Coppola has never seen his movies, and indeed has no idea who he is. Kusturica keeps throwing him lifelines, establishing his credentials as a globally renowned cineaste, while humbly expressing his feelings of inferiority in present company. Coppola just can't get interested, and never figures out who he's talking to. Jacob offers the story as an emblem of American ignorance, retaining absolutely no idea of what cinema means or who produces it outside of Hollywood's confines. And indeed, you'd love to live in the world where a movie as ambitious, as outsized, as risky and huge as Underground endowed its maker with worldwide renown . . . to fellow luminaries in his field, at the very least. Kusturica has his complexities, to be sure, as both an artist and, from what I understand, as a person, but to Coppola he may as well have been Edward D. Wood, Jr.

At least Jeanne Moreau's jury showed greater appreciation for Underground. Indeed, it's hard to imagine a better day for a Cannes competition than this one: two emblematic works by two figures prominent enough to later lead their own juries. In virtues and even in what I'd call their flaws, Underground and Ed Wood both seem to embody every hope their eccentric auteurs could have harbored for them, and both of them function, implicitly or explicitly, as valentines to a form that keeps thriving, even amid the devastations of land and people, even amid the merry assaults of the utterly talentless ...

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Monday, May 25, 2015

Cannes 1995: Day 9: May 25


The Convent, Portugal, dir. Manoel de Oliveira

This third-to-last day of the Competition is a riddle to me, even more so than whatever syndrome is or isn't making King George III mad, or why Benoît does any of the things he does in Don't Forget You're Going to Die, or wtf is happening in the crypt or the church or the cave or the woods or the beach or the first reel or the second reel or the third reel in The Convent.  Just when the Palme race started to heat up with much more exciting contenders than we'd seen in the early days of the festival, Day 9 feels larded with puzzling, truncated, or frankly mediocre work, in and out of the Main Competition.  The things that make Beauvois's and de Oliveira's films frustrating to watch admittedly make them more interesting as time passes. Either might have been served by an earlier berth in the schedule, an idea we'll revisit when we land on Dead Man on the final day.  Most of the sidebar stuff could just as easily not have played at all, but I have to say, after so many unsatisfying narratives and inchoate statements, it was sure was fun watching Antonio Banderas fire away at bad guys with weaponized guitar case.

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Sunday, May 24, 2015

Cannes 1995: Day 8: May 24


Ulysses' Gaze, Greece, dir. Theo Angelopoulos

Fewer films than usual on offer today: Critics' Week had ended, and many of the Quinzaine and Un Certain Regard titles proved elusive. But what remains is a full meal. Some might even say over-full. I imagine critics arrive to every Cannes with certain days in the schedule circled in boldfaced marker, and this would have been one of them. Theo Angelopoulos' Ulysses' Gaze, which finds the legendary Greek auteur pondering the evisceration of the Balkans and the evanescence of film, and Zhang Yimou's Shanghai Triad, with its visually and narratively operatic story of gangsterism and bitter redemption, had figured instantly on everyone's list of likely plays for the Palme d'or. By "everyone," I include the filmmakers.  Neither was renowned for hiding his light under a bushel, but even by those standards, they pull out all the technical and rhetorical stops in these projects.  I don't doubt their sincere commitment to their visions, but I also sense they can smell the velvet in the trophy case. Neither of these statement-pieces went home empty-handed, even if Angelopoulos' famous hissy-fit upon winning the runner-up prize suggested otherwise, but nor did they unite critical opinion or endear themselves uniformly to audiences. I found plenty to chew on in both, but oscillated like so many others between awe and skepticism. If anything, I was more galvanized by a one-hour Malaysian adaptation of William Faulkner's "Barn Burning" that slipped into Un Certain Regard to less acclaim than it deserved. You could watch it three times in the span it takes to screen Ulysses' Gaze, though that's not an automatic point for or against either of them. Good things come in big and small packages.

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Saturday, May 23, 2015

Cannes 1995: Day 7: May 23


Nasty Love, Italy, dir. Mario Martone

It is on to-day, honey. The hits keep getting bigger!  Four of the Competition titles from the last 48 hours have handily eclipsed the rest of the field, but today's discoveries are invigorating in a different way than yesterday's because they were so much less heralded. Mario Martone, highly regarded in Italy but barely known outside of it—he's competed for the Golden Lion four times, and swept the Donatello awards a few years back with his prestige literary adaptation We Believed—wowed me more or less from out of nowhere with the directorial verve of Nasty Love, simultaneously steely and luscious, sexy and sad. Many of the most conspicuous directorial signatures of Cannes '95 have been high-handed or humorless; Martone figures out how to impress and entertain at once. No slight on sobriety, though, when it's done with the odd, immaculate mannerism of Terence Davies's The Neon Bible, though I'm suspicious I may have responded better to this one than at least a couple of my peers. All that, plus L'enfant noir is an uncommonly beautiful West African coming-of-age tale, and Safe is one of the definitive movies of the decade. Hard to swing a better day at a festival than this.

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Friday, May 22, 2015

Cannes 1995: Day 6: May 22


Land and Freedom, UK, dir. Ken Loach

And now we're finally talking. Ken Loach and Hou Hsiao-hsien serve up the meatiest, chewiest Palme contenders so far, and without pushing too far outside their stylistic comfort zones, they make some of the most forceful work in either of their filmographies. Regrettable, maybe, that Kids stole a lot of the media attention, but in the context of Cannes, it proved something less of a sensation than its makers and distributors might have hoped. Meanwhile, Chris Newby premiered some British cinema as dissimilar as you could imagine to Land and Freedom, except perhaps in its ethic of unanticipated affinities and identifications across difference, and Iranian master Mohsen Makhmalbaf furnished one of the most austere but committed of several films overtly commemorating the 100th anniversary of the medium...

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Thursday, May 21, 2015

Cannes 1995: Day 5: May 21


Carrington, UK, dir. Christopher Hampton

What's going on?  It would be a significant overstatement to say Cannes 1995 wasn't giving us anything to enjoy or admire in its first 100 hours. Sharaku and Angels and Insects have real lingering power, The City of Lost Children at least offers grand spectacle, and the programming in Directors' Fortnight and Un Certain Regard picked up some of the Main Competition's slack. Carrington might be the high-water mark of the Competition thus far. One week later, the jury certainly held that view; give or take Sharaku, I'm inclined to agree with them. But as much as I've always liked Hampton's movie, it's a surprising apex, one-third of the way into the world's most auspicious film festival. Plenty of worthy rental choices below, but also a couple of indifferent doodles and must-avoids.

Updated: For even richer thoughts on many of the films listed below, head over to the first Jury Roundtable, where we all go into more detail about our reactions. 

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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Cannes 1995: Day 4: May 20


Jefferson in Paris, USA, dir. James Ivory

The Main Competition continued to languish on the festival's fourth day; none of this section's first seven titles earned any bouquets from the jury by the end of the fortnight. Happily, things were still percolating in the other selections, where Nicole Kidman and Gus Van Sant turned their very different careers around on the same project. Other faces lighting up screens were as fresh as Liv Tyler's and as familiar as Alec Guinness's...

Updated: For even richer thoughts on many of the films listed below, head over to the first Jury Roundtable, where we all go into more detail about our reactions.
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Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Cannes 1995: Day 3: May 19


Beyond Rangoon, UK/USA, dir. John Boorman

1995 boasted the largest roster of Competition titles in recent Cannes history—which is all the more surprising given that some of these entries, like Angels and Insects, would have played equally well in the sidebars, and others, like Beyond Rangoon, could have been skipped altogether. But if the Palme contenders hadn't yet yielded much excitement, the sidebars were starting to pop with buzzy titles, hailing from Tinseltown and Tehran...

Updated: For even richer thoughts on many of the films listed below, head over to the first Jury Roundtable, where we all go into more detail about our reactions.
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Monday, May 18, 2015

Cannes 1995: Day 2: May 18


Sharaku, Japan, dir. Masahiro Shinoda

The Main Competition offerings today were determinedly more esoteric than the opening-night film. Souleymane Cissé's Waati was the only one of 24 Palme contenders that eluded me entirely, MIA even from this box-set of that renowned Malian director's work. I did locate the day's other Main Competition title via the website SamuraiDVD, even though it isn't a samurai film. (Technicalities.) Still, even once it's in your hand, Sharaku is such a tough nut to crack that U.S. distribution never happened.  That doesn't mean I was unseduced...

Updated: For even richer thoughts on many of the films listed below, head over to the first Jury Roundtable, where we all go into more detail about our reactions.
Read more »

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