Saturday, September 01, 2018

Dangerous Liaisons: What's Coming in 2018



The only person bringing more hawklike focus than I am to the Fall 2018 movie season is Ms. Glenn Close, who's been assured by top brass at Sony Pictures Classics for a year now that this winter's Best Actress Oscar belongs to her. Everyone knows you don't tempt the anger of Alex Forrest, Sunny von Bulow, or the Marquise de Merteuil, so I hope those suits at Sony know what the f they're doing. Joan Castleman, Glenn's character in The Wife, is also pretty good at sniffing out a lie, threat, or looming disaster. Thus, whichever persona Glenn's adopting on a given day over the next four months, you know she'll be surveilling the movie screen at all hours, making sure some other hussy doesn't roll up to steal her trophy.

I personally know how to stay on Glenn's good side, so in a break from past tradition, when one musical diva or other emceed this blog feature (though occasionally none turned up!), she is determining all brackets for my Fall Movie Season Preview. (Yes, I know she considers herself a musical diva as well, and that's just fine.) My plan is to see a handful or two of these titles at the Toronto Film Festival that starts later this week, so no time like now to nail this down. Here it is: the world of prestige-season movies according to Garp me.

Updated! In the wake of Amazon canceling Sea Oak, Glenn has decided she is a Netflix gal after all, so she has perused this helpful guide (forwarded by the splendid Conrado Falco) and added several gems to the roster below.

Paradise Road
When I call their names, it's like a little prayer
If Beale Street Could Talk A - Baldwin and Jenkins? My midterms ticket!
Roma A– - Intimate epic from a genius who hasn't misstepped in 20 years
Burning B - I've been riding Lee's train since Oasis. This sounds amazing.
Happy as Lazzaro A– - Even more ambitious than Rohrwacher's first two
Widows B - Viola Davis always kicks ass, but not always this blatantly
Hale County This Morning, This Evening - All I needed was Eric's rave
Monrovia, Indiana B+ - Wiseman only comes in Great and Perfect flavors
The Favourite B - I was slower to get psyched than some, but I got there
A Star Is Born B+ - Y'all been gabbing about Gaga, but I'm all about Brad
Shoplifters A– - After years of us not getting along, I'm here for Hirokazu

Meeting Venus
Totally prepared to fall in love with these
Creed II - The first movie was a treat and a wonder. On to round two!!
Cold War B - Sounds like Ida but more tempestuous? Good high concept.
I Am Not a Witch - Pulled down lots of trophies from the Brits last year
Capernaum B+ - Reviews were split and I'm mixed on Labaki. Still curious
Destroyer B - Nic Kidman looks like she's gone in on a different character
Girl D - LGBTQ films sometimes get too generously reviewed, but I'm in
Suspiria D - Don't love the first; could do without a new one. But! Tilda.

The Natural
Buying these tickets will come easily to me
Monsters and Men B+ - Among all the gutsy titles that surfaced at Sundance
Museo - García Bernal and Beale topline impressive cast in intriguing tale
First Man A– - Haven't even liked a Chazelle film yet, and I'm still swept up
The Hate U Give B+ - Nice to see a teen-focused drama with a meaty subject
Bisbee '17 - Ambitious reenactment-based doc focused on timely issues
Bird Box - Blindfolds?? How will Bier get her eyes in extreme close-up?
Say Her Name: The Life and Death of Sandra Bland B– - Seems urgent, no?
The Children Act - Read this last year; still can't wait to see Emma do it
Beautiful Boy C+ - Addiction dramas aren't my everything but I like the cast
Night School - Even better if Tiff just wore that white dress in every scene
Boy Erased B - Could easily tip into earnestness, but these actors merit trust
The Kindergarten Teacher - I liked the original; is the remake a necessity?
Wildlife B - If Carey's as brilliant as y'all have promised, I'll be really happy
Vice - Sam Rockwell as W? Tyler Perry as Colin Powell? Yes, please!
Feminists: What Were They Thinking? - Directly up my scholarly alleys
Shirkers - Yay for docs with creative structures and personal investments
The Land of Steady Habits - Holofcener veers around for me, but I'm sold
Dovlatov - German is hugely talented, but my learning curve will be high
The Other Side of the Wind - I know, I'm supposed to be way more ecstatic
Bodied B - Graduate-school satire has been building festival buzz for a while

Sarah, Plain and Tall
Looks a bit wan, but I'm still glad I ordered it
Can You Ever Forgive Me? A– - Eager to see McCarthy in a change of pace
Lizzie - Axe-murder story with Chloë and Kristen, so how "wan" can it be?
Mid 90s - I'm hoping that the recent run of good high school films holds up
Peterloo - If this weren't Mike Leigh, I'd be more skeptical. But since it is...
The Old Man & the Gun C - Lowery, Redford, and story sound like good fits
Viper Club B - Rooting for Keshavarz, though not exactly craving Sarandon

Mars Attacks!
I don't even understand, but I'm intrigued?
Narcissister Organ Player - I mean, I'm Googling and I still barely get this
Mortal Engines - Giant wheels are pillaging the world? Ok, Peter Jackson
Anna and the Apocalypse - A musical about a zombie raid? Not as odd as...
Stuck - ...a musical starring Amy Madigan! With Ashanti! Am I awake?

Fatal Attraction
I shouldn't want to see them—but Reader, I do!
Vox Lux B+ - This screams "pretentious mess" but I can't help feeling drawn
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs - Sounds like my least favorite kind of Coens
What They Had B– - If Hilary and Blythe are headlining it, I'm not not going
Mary Poppins Returns - Reasons to be nervous, but I'm holding out hope
On the Basis of Sex - The RBG machine is in overdrive this year. Too much?
The Girl in the Spider's Web - I need convincing that we couldn't just leave it
American Chaos - As long as it doesn't feel like one of those Times articles
Bel Canto - Not sure film feels like the right medium? And they're hiding it!
The Happy Prince C– - Rupert as Wilde might be inspired, but do I trust him? 
The Predator - A Trevante Rhodes film that involves some kind of monster
The Mule - I feel like a grumpy, uninvited guest has abruptly shown up
Making Montgomery Clift - Inside-the-family job; may require skepticism
Postcards from London - Guess Harris isn't too worried about typecasting?

Jagged Edge
Right on the border of To See or Not to See
Under the Silver Lake - Looks messy? Garfield has been losing his appeal
Hold the Dark - I adored Blue Ruin and loathed Green Room; break the tie!
The Oath - Could be a timely comedy. Tiffany's agent has kept it moving!
Private Life - Tamara Jenkins is great, but otherwise? I have—such doubts.
22 July - Greengrass also great, but the last Bourne so wasn't. Is he back?
Ben Is Back - Pete Hedges is a problem for me, but Julia and Lucas help
Outlaw King - Director's on-again, off-again; this doesn't look "on" to me
The Sisters Brothers - This is not at all what I want from the great Audiard
Apostle - I'm curious but confused: how isn't this a Ben Wheatley movie?
Peppermint - I'll do my part to keep Jen from being the ashes. Will she?
Mary, Queen of Scots - Getting big Other Boleyn Girl vibes off of this one
All About Nina - I've never fully warmed to Winstead, but good reviews
Nappily Ever After - al-Mansour keeps moving in unexpected directions
Halloween F - Another reboot, but David Gordon Green is a good hook
Nobody's Fool D– - Is Tiffany's agent an algorithm? Is Tyler Perry a bot?
Colette B– - Still Alice was a mixed bag for me; this looks even mixeder
The Little Stranger - A decent entry in a genre I don't care about, I'd bet
Bad Times at the El Royale - Seems so proud of itself? Often a bad sign.
Assassination Nation - This might also be proud of itself, but in Salem
White Boy Rick - I was turned off by the trailer, and wasn't wowed by '71

The Big Chill
Prospects that leave me cold, but there's hope
The Front Runner - Having just loved a Reitman film, am I being unfair?
Searching - That's too many screens, and I'm agnostic about John Cho
Quincy - Another doc about another star, where access trumps insight?
Maria by Callas - So, a documentary, but she's also played by Ardant?
A Private War - I got less interested in Pike as soon as she took off

Anesthesia
If it's been a hard day, or I've been medicated
Second Act - To think of all the Out of Sights we shoulda had by now
The Silence - The pitch: it's A Quiet Place but it's also...A Quiet Place?
Life Itself - Hoo, boy. Oscar Isaac can lead me lots of places, but still...
The Last Race - Not really my cultural niche, but I like docs like that
Zero - I'm unforgivably negligent of Bollywood releases and their stars
Overlord - So, 30 Days of Night but...at the Normandy beach landing?
Bohemian Rhapsody D– - I mean, Rami Malek isn't even a clear fan, so
El Angel - Great cast, but I'm feeling pretty sated on serial-killer front
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse - You guys? I mean? Can't we just?
Venom - Waiting all my life to see Tom Hardy play a dour brickhouse
Fahrenheit 11/9 - Moore gets ever-harder to defend. His last was awful.
Aquaman - I appreciate that Nicole took pains to be cut from the trailer
Little Women - I'll wait for Greta's vers... no, actually, I'm already good
Hunter Killer - Every once in a while, it's Gerard Butler time. It just is.
Becoming Astrid - What if Becoming Jane but with Pippi Longstocking?
Robin Hood - It's Robin Hood: Into the Robin-verse! What'll happen??

Hoodwinked!
I had no intention of going here, and yet I did
Watch this space, because this always happens.

Low Down
Even if you boiled my bunny, I'd stay away
Stan & Ollie - Give Reilly all the good notices you want. I have doubts!
Welcome to Marwen - I bet it's already booked on This Had Oscar Buzz
Green Book - For folks who think Best Picture 1989 did the right thing
A Simple Favor - I appreciate Feig switching courses, but I'm a no-go
Unbroken: Path to Redemption - Oh, now they want to complicate it!
Bumblebee - Is this like a Muppet Babies for the Transformers series?
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald - Is that title kidding me
Holmes and Watson - More characters we haven't milked quite enough
Ralph Breaks the Internet - ...but not before he breaks the movies!
Dr. Seuss' The Grinch - You guys, it's genuinely okay to tell new stories
The Nutcracker and the Four Realms - I wouldn't say it if it weren't true
Johnny English Strikes Again - Honestly, you really do have that option

Reversal of Fortune
Previously scheduled for 2018, but no longer
Gloria Bell B - But, if you've hired Julianne, you can reboot all you want
Serenity - Wouldn't be the first over-solemn, under-cooked Knight joint
Alita: Battle Angel - Good to see Hollywood gets the Whitewashing thing

In the Gloaming
I've had months to catch them; it's getting late...
Minding the Gap - A raved-about doc from an amazing movie company
El mar la mar - Just my kind of documentary, and made by a colleague
Jeannette: The Childhood of Joan of Arc - Dumont stays on a crazy trip
How to Talk to Girls at Parties - ...and Kidman's on a crazy one, as well
Beast - The festival glosses didn't grab me, but I may have slept on this
Custody - Beat some big players to some top prizes at Venice last year
Bitter Money - 2½-hour Wang Bing is like a short film by someone else
A Prayer Before Dawn - Johnny Mad Dog is indelible, ten years later
We the Animals - I expected this to catch on more but I'm still curious
Araby - I badly wanted to see this at the Siskel and want another shot
Support the Girls - Only playing in two way-South-Side theaters??
Sollers Point - Putty Hill has lingered with me. Eager for this follow-up.
Damsel - My mom has not forgiven the friend who took her to this
Never Steady, Never Still - People tell me Henderson is a revelation
The Third Murder - As I said, my luck is improving with Kore-eda
Skate Kitchen - I didn't care for The Wolfpack but this seems promising
Lover for a Day - Garrel's sketches have a curious staying-power
Hearts Beat Loud - I kept getting close but never pulled the trigger
Claire's Camera - Is this the one good Hong for every 2-3 dull ones?
Duck Butter - Elicited good notices from critics I trust. I like Shawkat.
The Meg - Yes, I'd rather see a giant-shark film than one about Godard
Cocote - Violet Lucca wrote a great article about this in Film Comment
The Bookshop - The plot seems inauspicious, but I'm told there's more?
Godard mon amour - I just hope Michel cheered up after The Search
The Desert Bride - Paulina García, the o.g. Gloria, in a starring vehicle
Makala - The kind of doc my friends rib me for prioritizing at TIFF
Mrs. Hyde - I didn't sense anyone was over the moon, but it's Isabelle
Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot - And it hasn't! But I'm curious.
Thoroughbreds - Its partisans are really vehement, despite my doubts
Tehran Taboo - I'm walking in cold, but the whole thing looks inventive
The Strange Ones - I loved the short so much, I'm not sure I want more!
Who We Are Now - Julianne Nicholson in a spotlight; she's been on a roll
Scarred Hearts - From a director whose new film is a festival sensation
Nancy - I can't recall from Sundance if this was supposed to be good?
Rodin - Cannes critics rolled their eyes but is it a crime to love Lindon?
Life of the Party - McCarthy makes too many films but this might work
The Commuter - If you're going to hire Farmiga, make her the lead!!
Oh, Lucy! - I don't know anything except that the Indie Spirits liked it
Boundaries - Okay, somebody made Farmiga the lead. And I didn't go!
Mary Shelley - Came and went with barely a ripple. Dare I ask why?
Gringo - A quirky misfire that was hard to market? Or just a bad movie?
The China Hustle - A documentary I missed at TIFF that'll teach me lots
Hotel Artemis - I was surprised to hear murmurs that this got misserved
Ismael's Ghosts - Desplechin can be too much for me; notices were cool
Golden Exits - Hey, IMDb! That's not what "intersectional" means!
Papillon - In which two good-looking actors... something about prison
Mom and Dad - The campy-fun Nic Cage movies blur with the bad ones
Acrimony - After this and Proud Mary, I sense this wasn't Taraji's year
Racer and the Jailbird - Two hot actors and an Oscar-nominated director
Final Portrait - Geoffrey wants to paint Armie's picture. Join the club.

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

On & On: What's Left in the Movie Year



One interesting historical fact is that the last time I updated this blog, Louis XIV was still the King of France. In fact, the last time I reprised this once-perennial feature, his reign had not even begun!  Isn't that interesting?

Back then, when the world knew it was still run by monarchies, and when Jodie Foster had only started taking meetings about Flora Plum, I made an annual autumn ritual of compiling all the movies I hoped to see before the year's end and then publicly checking them off as they rolled around.  I usually invited a treasured songbird to hum along while I made my lists of eager dates, ambivalent prospects, and grotesque premonitions of suffering.  In 2014 I somehow forgot to recruit a singalong partner, which was probably the beginning of the trouble, after fabulous collaborations with Lauryn Hill in 2013, with Miss Jackson If You're Nasty in 2012, with feckless but forever-adored thrush Mariah Carey in 2011, and with Madonna, of whom my current students are still dimly aware, in 2010.  (The first two outings, in 2009 and 2007, were sadly sans chanteuse).

This year, noted ankh enthusiast and Golden Satellite nominee Erykah Badu is lending me her song titles so that I can distinguish the movies sure to make peace and blessings manifest from those that make you wanna call Tyrone on your way out of the theater, so he can come clear this shit away.  Even within the Badu-based echelons, the titles are loosely ranked.  I'm including titles that left the cinemas long ago, and some that were barely ever there, since those encounters loom just as prodigiously for me as the imminent holiday releases.

So, what am I overhyping or underselling?  What are you anticipating?  Here's what I've seen already.  (And please ignore the fossilized sidebar for now.  A sister isn't all the way there yet.)

Love of My Life
Feels like I've sampled true love... and I haven't even seen 'em yet!
Lady Bird - Every glowing response to every aspect makes my heart leap
  B+ Shrewd, warm, happy, sad: appealingly complex, yet clear as a bell.
Heal the Living - Quillévéré's one of the best barely-distributed directors
  B Less than the director's best but still an elegant, moving medical drama
Nocturama - Bold story about spiky subjects; of course it vanished fast
  B+ Amazingly audacious, even as I had questions about tone and style
The Untamed - I am who I am, and octopus-sex movies are part of that
  B Utterly unusual exploration of sex from alien angles; cool direction
Star Wars: The Last Jedi - Because the Force was so strong in Looper
  C– Crushingly dull disappointment: sludgy storytelling, muddy thinking
Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool - Anything Bening, but especially this
  B+ The actors are glorious and the storytelling unexpectedly layered
The Death of Louis XIV - I'm pre-converted to Serra's bizarre aesthetic
  B+ Odd, gorgeous. The usual Serra pros outweigh the usual Serra cons.

Certainly
The kind of thing for which you delay your Top 10 list
The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki - Reviews mostly rapturous
  B Pleasant and poignant, if not quite the chef d'oeuvre I'd heard about
Phantom Thread - PTA hasn't ended a movie well in a while, but still
  B+ Fascinating at every level of theme and construction, but still...
Free in Deed - Melanie's delight with this one in Venice sticks with me
  B+ Takes big risks in structure, story, but still hits big emotional beats
The Work - Why is Chicago, of all markets, taking forever to book this?
  A– Exceptionally strong and moving piece, more complex than it looks
Cries from Syria - The rare Syria-focused documentary to break through
The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson - France has earned our trust
  B+ Boldly conceived as crime story and a systemic study of violence
For Ahkeem - Documentary about black teenage girl looks very moving
  B Moving portrait of a teen girl at risk, even if it could go a bit deeper
Casting JonBenet - Sounds like it turns a tabloid chestnut upside down?
  B+ Idea-rich, like Joshua Oppenheimer directing Waiting for Guffman
Abundant Acreage Available - Amy! Junebug guy! Even with that title...
  B– Whole cast is good, but Amy is the clear MVP. The movie is fine.
The Wound - All I needed were Guy Lodge's abundant recommendations
  B High production values and complicated discourses of sex and class
Hermia & Helena - I dig the rarity of Piñeiro's Thing, even when I'm split
  B I'm getting less patient with Piñeiro but colors and structures still entice
Song to Song - This looked like more windmill-tilting but I hear otherwise?
  B Clear improvement on the last few. Still not what I want from Malick?
Whose Streets? - Why do documentaries on this topic get so little notice?
  A– Artfully ragged, unapologetically angry capsule of antiracist activism
A Woman's Life - Measure of a Man was great so I'm not sleeping on this
  A– Surpassed my hearty expectations. Moving and creatively structured.

Hey, Sugah
I have reason to hope we'll get along well
Una - Yet another buzzy play becomes a movie with few fans. But: Rooney!
  C+ I appreciate the risk-taking but couldn't help notice tics and missteps
Your Name - Not an anime devotee, but this sounds potentially up my alley
  B+ A form and a culture where I have little fluency, and I still admired it
Harmonium - Curious since it unnerved everybody at Cannes a year ago
  B Story and characters didn't always click for but it's an engaging yarn 
Novitiate - Good Melissa Leo and Garish Melissa Leo are equally enticing
  B Often potent and sobering, but can all of a sudden turn shaky or tacky.
Molly's Game - Sorkin's not really a draw at this point but I hear Jess is fun
  B Intriguing to watch Sorkin process his fascinations, albeit unevenly
The Post - I'm not organically enthused but it's always better to have faith
  B+ I loved seeing Spielberg's camera so free, his storytelling so urgent
Birthright: A War Story - Available to academics via Women Make Movies
  B Powerful, timely documentary about linked assaults on women's health
I, Tonya - Could live to regret this ranking, but I'm up for Janney's antics
  B+ A great surprise, deftly managing a tricky tone; Stan, Robbie excel
The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) - How many of 'em is Emma in?
  B+ Pleasantly surprised how smitten I was with writing and performances
M.F.A. - Contemporary rape-revenge drama that feels timelier than ever
  B– Irresponsible, then too "responsible," but its anger and daring exhilarate
Brigsby Bear - This will either be irritatingly over-conceived or sorta special
The Villainess - Not really my genre or aesthetic and still I feel curious
Our Souls at Night - At least we know it'll improve on Barefoot in the Park
One of Us - I've trusted these gals since Jesus Camp, and here it is on Netflix
Wonder - I could be making a serious miscalculation but Perks was fantastic
  B Not the subtlest or most sophisticated, but hits its marks emotionally.

Think Twice
I'll buy a ticket, but I'll be second-guessing myself the whole time
From the Land of the Moon - It's Marion, but has it rocked anyone's life?
  B– Grew on me as it unfolded, as did Marion, but that finale is wacko
Darkest Hour - Venice and Toronto were impressed; others seem not to be
  C Dubious in its glossy showmanship, its plummy tone, its political moral
Brad's Status - Many of you gave warm testimonies, but that trailer, guys!
  B– Queasy in good and bad ways; a risk for White, and the effort shows
The Disaster Artist - I mean, it looks more fun than his Steinbeck movie
  C Maybe his Steinbeck movie at least has something to say? Parlor trick
Wonder Wheel - "No Blue Jasmine," I keep hearing, and that was overrated
  D+ Mostly awful ideas. The very few good ones are stiltedly executed.
Last Flag Flying - If not for Cecily, we'd be further down in the Danger list
  C+ Some moving moments and moods; maudlin and tone-deaf elsewhere
Coco - Remember when you didn't have to worry if Pixar would deliver?
  B They did! I wasn't as moved as some but it's visually and culturally rich
Pitch Perfect 3 - The trailer makes me giggle; the first film didn't, really
On the Beach at Night Alone - The Day After set me way back on Hong
Permanent - Mostly tempted to thank Patty Arquette for Twitter badassery

Time's a Wastin'
They'll be gone fast, or I've been dragging my feet a while already
The Human Surge - I don't even know what it's about, but it's got Fans
  B I appreciate the uniqueness and ambition but sometimes felt stranded
Professor Marston and the Wonder Women - Sure aroused a lot of you
The Rehearsal - Kerry Fox and Alison Maclean, I welcome your returns
Jane - Not my kind of project, but Brett Morgen's Chicago 10 was great
My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea - And I liked high school!
It - I'm not too confident, but I put those 500 hours into reading it in 1990
My Life as a Zucchini - All the right people have recommended this one
Stronger - A Miranda Richardson movie trapped in a Jake Gyllenhaal flick
  C+ Actors do fine work and story takes smart turns; still feels middling
The Sense of an Ending - Made for people like me, and yet I've avoided it
John Wick: Chapter 2 - Atomic Blonde convinced me to pay attention
Lucky - Stanton wasn't a huge fixture for me, but I'll gladly pay respects
  B I resisted the opening acts but the film gets darker, odder, and braver
Crown Heights - Left theaters so quickly, with muted notices, but: LaKeith
  C+ A moving and still-timely story, but less imposing or urgent as a film
Paulina - I wish I'd liked The Summit even more, but this sounded better
  B+ Explores rape survivor's ambiguous response without diluting the crime
Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold - Should I just read a book instead?
Logan - Look, I've heard you. I don't really believe you, but I've heard you
  B I should have trusted you! Too grisly, maybe, but full of style and ideas
Planetarium - I have basically zero Portmania, and yet I'm still intrigued
3 Generations - Trans Cinema by Cis Folks: Asking-for-Side-Eye Division
  C Not as awful as I'd heard but messy in structure, politics, and portraiture
The Assignment - Trans Cinema by Cis Folks: Likely-to-Infuriate Division
  D You'd never guess it's the work of a real auteur. Cheap, lurid nonsense.
Thor: Ragnarok - All you had to do was say, "Cate's great," but you didn't
Thank You for Your Service - When I think about Rabbit Hole, I'm swayable

Danger
"My ass might be dumb, but I ain't no dumb ass." — Ordell Robbie
All the Money in the World - "...couldn't make me," etc. But a nom might!
  D+ Spacey would have made it worse, I'm sure, but this is still an ordeal
Murder on the Orient Express - I know how it ends, and how it'll likely go
The Greatest Showman - Amazing that they've made this as circus shutters
  D Passes at some point from amiably bad to embarrassingly mishandled
Breathe - I asked Twitter about this one and was licensed to Just Say No
LBJ - Scant appeal at the best of times—which, for Reiner, feel long past
Hostiles - Scott Cooper convenes another cockfight among dour dudes
Roman J. Israel, Esq. - When they sneak it late into two different festivals...
  B/B– Definitely uneven but an interesting study of character and culture
Ferdinand - Unless reviews are Babe-like, I doubt I'm really the audience
Suburbicon - You guys, "They wrote it 30 years ago!" is not a good hook
Justice League - Our national witnessing of Affleck's free fall continues
Just Getting Started - Odd title for a movie they've already made 10 times
Beauty and the Beast - Making a point about my resistance to Downsizing
Downsizing - Good name for a documentary about Payne's gifts over time
  D+ Takes a stab at every tone and topic it can; ambitious but so misguided
Father Figures - Hi, Glenn! We're holding your Oscar bid but releasing this
Daddy's Home 2 - See, I'm not completely unreasonable about Downsizing
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle - "Oooooaah...I'm gonna watch you bleed!"

Didn't Cha Know?
Dropped off my radar, or never made it on, until you guys intervened
Catfight - How did I leave this out? Heche alone suffices, but her plus Oh?
  B– The performances both got me even as I harbored some reservations
All This Panic - Never heard of it, but sounds perfectly synced to my tastes
  B– Female adolescence deserves more film time, but POV here is vague
Strong Island - Another right-up-my-alley documentary I'd never heard of
  B Jagged, affecting chronicle of family pain, despite some formal oddities
Lovesong - Does "their relationship deepens" translate to "lesbian romance"?
  B+ Performances are all quietly terrific; observant intimacy all around
4 Days in France - Multiple endorsements below—and Nathalie Richard!
  B Pleasingly offbeat road trip. Interesting scenes ballast the flatter ones
After the Storm - I got frustrated with Kore-eda, but you're giving me faith
  B Kore-eda doesn't fully speak to me but this is still strong, sensitive drama
Thirst Street - I'd never heard of Burdge until Lace Crater. Big fan now!
  C+ Opening augurs a weird, clever movie, but it quickly seems less special
Most Beautiful Island - Sounds intense! Dovetails with some of my research
The Son of Joseph - Enticing cast, even if I've had mixed feelings on Green
Person to Person - Not my genre, really, but if John Guerin endorses it...
Ma - Sounds pretty austere and elliptical, but they can't all have octopus sex

Next Lifetime
Evanescent enticements (where'd they go?) and infinite deferrals
The Woman Who Left - I wanna know what Lav is! Why won't you show me?
Mimosas - Oliver Laxe exists, right? Because I can never find his movies
Year by the Sea - Nathaniel's great Karen Allen interview got me all excited
  C Allen does well and it's nice to see her back, but storytelling is artless
Woodshock - I know folks weren't wowed, but that was one hypnotic trailer
Signature Move - Local artist with an intriguing, prizewinning queer film
Kidnap - I'm a fan of Halle in Distress. See: The Call. See also: her career
  C Sort of suspenseful, but with no real charge, as much as I like Berry
The Mountain Between Us - Neither star means to me what they once did
Queen of the Desert - Kidman + Herzog should rouse me more. Just hasn't.
The Devil's Candy - Joe Reid says Ethan Embry looks fi-yine, albeit bloodied
  C– Can't decide on a villain or a POV; moderate style, minimal good taste
Life - Has all the makings of a listless night at the RedBox, with PopTarts
Menashe - This hung around an impressively long time. Did I miss a gem?
  B+ No wonder audiences responded! Opens up a rarefied tale and culture
Kedi - Don't care. Don't @ me, cat people You already own the whole Web.
In Dubious Battle - Whatever happened to Zeroville? That I'd actually see!
A Cure for Wellness - Heard on good authority I'd loathe this, but I'm curious
Tulip Fever - All that trouble! All those years! And what do I do? Ignore it.
A United Kingdom - The word-of-mouth really deterred me; I'm not a Piker
The Glass Castle - To different degrees, all three stars are hit-and-miss for me
The Promise - Can't afford to see Oscar in Hamlet, so if this is my chance...
Mark Felt - Why not a real Neeson movie? He could explode the White House!

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Cannes '96, Expert Witness #7: Amir Soltani

I'm guessing many people reading have had the experience at least once of meeting someone in person whom you first admired and got to know over the internet.  At this point, it amazes me how many of the important friendships in my life unfolded this way.  One of these #blessed storylines in my life—though I wish we got to see each other more often, and not just while cramming in four-to-six movies per day at TIFF—led me to Amir Soltani, a film critic, festival programmer, public lecturer, and podcaster based in Toronto (none of which is even his day job!).  Everyone you meet, not just the people you knew first on the web, should turn out to be as kind and intelligent and reflective and big-hearted as Amir.  I first met him through his guest columns at The Film Experience and then started lurking at his own blog (newly relocated to this amazingly swank and impressive site).  I was really chuffed when he invited me to have a conversation with him and Tina Hassannia about Jafar Panahi at their Hello Cinema headquarters.  And I was so proud of and happy for Amir when he and some friends pulled off the first and sure-to-be-annual CineIran Film Festival at Toronto's Lightbox last November.

Like everyone I've spoken to about Cannes '96, Amir is an eager and catholic moviegoer with eclectic favorites.  Also, as with everyone else, his tastes sometimes converge with and sometimes depart from mine. This was never clearer to me than last year, when he was one of my most industrious co-conspirators in the Cannes '95 project that preceded and motivated this year's undertaking.  I miss having Amir's daily opinions about every movie we're both watching, so I couldn't help polling him about this year's roster.  Of course I wanted to know his thoughts about the one major Iranian entry in Cannes '96, but also about the other films floating around the festival.  I was curious, too, how his own latter-day experience as a festival coordinator might have changed his orientation toward the movies...

ND: One more round with my standard opening: Secrets & Lies, Fargo, and Breaking the Waves were the early and persistent favorites for the Palme in 1996. Where do your loyalties lie within this distinguished trio?

AS: It's quite rare that the definitive films from any given year's festival emerge so quickly and manage to remain the most acclaimed and widely discussed films so many years on. That this has happened with the above trio only speaks to their quality. Breaking the Waves is my least favourite of the three, though in fairness, it is also the one I haven't seen in the longest while. Perhaps my opinion of it also suffers from my hotand cold relationship with Lars von Trier, who is always making it difficult for me to go back and revisit his older works. On the other hand, Fargo is one of the most re-watchable films of all time. Is it the warm presence of Frances McDormand or the endearing naïveté of William H. Macy that makes such a cold, bloody film so inviting? The Coens have remained two of America's most singular and provocative voices in the two decades since, but they've rarely matched the narrative precision, emotional depth, and quirky humor of this masterpiece.

That being said, I think the jury made the correct call. I don't have the words to describe quite how much I treasure Secrets & Lies, a film that reduces me to a puddle of tears every time I watch it. The conceit of the story might sound too melodramatic and its characters too ordinary on paper, but the final result is a transcendent, personal experience. You can feel the bittersweet history of that photo studio, and breathe the suffocating air of that new house, and cry for all the lost time in that diner.

I can't help wondering if you, as a Torontonian, have thoughts about Cronenberg's Crash and particularly about the chilly, indelible way it frames your adopted home city.

Toronto is usually a substitute on screen for other urban American settings, so to see the city represent itself in films that cross over to the rest of the world is a delight. It also makes Crash doubly terrifying for me. Having driven on those roads at high speeds myself many times, to witness the crash and subsequent chases on the same streets is frightening. In general, a Cronenberg joint is the last place I'd like to imagine myself inhabiting. As for the film itself, I've been notoriously averse to the cinema of this Canadian giant, with the two notable exceptions of The Fly and Dead Ringers. Crash is neither as daring nor as entertaining as those films, and its air of edginess never quite feels authentic to me.

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Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Cannes '96, Expert Witness #6: Stephen Cone

Stephen Cone is an actor-writer-director I'd be dying to meet if I didn't know him already. By living in the same city, haunting the same movie spots, and now teaching at the same institution, I've been fortunate to keep crossing Stephen's path, and he's such a warm, smart, interesting guy. This is just what you'd hope from seeing his films, which maintain a fundamental empathy with their characters even as the stories take risky turns and grapple with human complexity. I marveled at this quality of Stephen's work, compassionate without being dull or soft, cognizant of merit in very different people's positions, when I saw his debut feature The Wise Kids. Still my favorite movie about young contemporary characters navigating dilemmas of faith and sexuality—sometimes separately, sometimes together—The Wise Kids is a minor miracle in a modern culture where these subjects, among others, are so hard to broach in a non-polarizing way that retains mystery and respects variety.

Several aspects of story, tone, and style link Stephen's subsequent features together, but at the same time, there's almost nothing they all have in common. The Wise Kids, Black Box, and Henry Gamble's Birthday Party handle large ensembles with impressive balance, but This Afternoon constrains its canvas to just two characters and sees quite far into both of them, especially the woman played so shrewdly by Nikki Pierce. Black Box, which stars another actor-writer-director, Josephine Decker, takes a backstage plot of theater production to some impressively stark places. I hadn't fully expected this from someone who makes decency and human fellowship as textured and interesting as Stephen does in Wise Kids and Henry Gamble. That said, those movies take their own detours into coldness, cruelty, and sorrow, which are all the more bracing because they unfold against broader, appealing backdrops of kinship and camaraderie.

Whoever you are, if you haven't seen Stephen's movies, you should. Henry Gamble, brand new on DVD and streaming, is a gorgeous place to start. Meanwhile, as we learn so often at Cannes, where David Lynch's jury fell for the narratively controlled and stylistically cool Pianist and the mad, more-is-more, midnight-movie barker George Miller stumped for the stripped-down didacticism of Ken Loach, you can't necessarily predict filmmakers' tastes from the kinds of movies they make. I asked Stephen some questions inspired by his own work and my guesses about what might interest or inspire him. I also asked some that were more open-ended and, as with all my favorite film buddies, his answers surprised me as often as not.

ND: Fairly early at Cannes '96, Secrets & Lies, Fargo, and Breaking the Waves emerged as the three films to beat for the Palme. As I've asking all my interlocutors, had you been on the jury, divvying prizes among that trio, which would you have recommended for the Palme? What do you most love or admire about it?

SC: If I were the 35-year-old filmmaker/cinephile I am now, I likely would've championed Secrets & Lies, the beautiful, humanist ending of which I think about quite often. The whole film has a special, direct, emotional power that has come to be a staple of Leigh's work. He's one of my favorite filmmakers, but I consistently underrate or even forget about him. That could have something to do with his never being in fashion.

That said, 16-year-old aspiring actor/filmmaker Stephen would've given the prize to Fargo—which I still like now, though I'm not big on the Coens' 90s work in retrospect. It's not inexhaustible to me, like much of their recent work is. The unbelievable richness of their masterful No Country-through-Llewyn Davis stretch to me makes Fargo look like a middling Disney film. And I don't like von Trier at all now; Melancholia's okay, but that's it. I find him to be cartoonishly cynical and stupid, though he very much appealed to my sense of discovery in the late 90s and early 00s.

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Sunday, May 29, 2016

Cannes '96, Expert Witnesses #4 and #5: Joe Reid and Nathaniel Rogers

At this point, what's left to say to my loyal readers about Joe Reid, multi-platform pop culture profiler extraordinaire, or Nathaniel Rogers, host of the internet's giddiest, freshest, most personally stamped, and most succulent movie blog?  Nathaniel and Joe are fellow cinephiles and dear friends, frequent festival companions and podcasting partners, and easily two of my favorite people anywhere with whom to discuss any movie, any time, from any place.  We hit Skype most Sunday mornings at 9am EST to record a conversation about new releases or old favorites.  A couple weeks ago, they indulged me with an hour-long conversation synced to my #Cannes96 project, which gradually dilates out to a broader conversation about movies we love from 1996 as a whole.  Rather than transcribe the conversation, I'll just encourage you to listen to this exchange with two chaps who express themselves excitedly and unpretentiously while taking in a vast and endless spectrum of movies, from high art to superhero hash.  Along the way, more or less in order, you'll hear us confront my usual conversation starter—"Are you a Waves breaker, a Friend of Marge, or a Keeper of Secrets & Lies?"—and then move on to all of the following...

* rumored Cannes jury squabbles in 1996, especially related to Crash

* brilliant Palme also-rans like Too Late and Goodbye, South, Goodbye

* the sole indignity among the prizes conferred by Francis Ford Coppola's jury

* Nathaniel's memories of seeing Ridicule and Temptress Moon in theaters

* brief but collective enthusiasm for Irma Vep, I Shot Andy Warhol, and Girl 6

* Nathaniel's love of "Peter Greenaway," his pet name for Ewan McGregor's penis

* news of the only movie that Monty Clift, Nathaniel's cat, ever watched in full

* a comparison of snail sex in Microcosmos and abject human sex in Lars von Trier

* Joe leading the charge of praise for Trainspotting, metonymically linked to MTV

* Joe's sense that Flirting with Disaster reflects an earlier, better David O. Russell

* questions about A Self-Made Hero, which link back to Hélène's comments

* raptures about Lone Star, echoing John's, and Nathaniel's thoughts on Sayles

* my valentine to an underdog comic crowd-pleaser hiding inside the lineup

* Joe's and Nathaniel's differently vivid stories of first colliding with Crash

* our short, spontaneous lists of favorites from '96 that more folks should rent

That last conversation wends in varying degrees of detail through The Birdcage, Bound, Emma, Everyone Says I Love You, Jerry Maguire, The Long Kiss Goodnight, The Nutty Professor, The Portrait of a Lady, Swingers, and William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet.  I thought I said something about Big Night, too, but maybe that got cut for time.  The last two words of the exchange are "beautiful thing," which should have been an allusion to that quietly fabulous gay teen romance from '96 but refers in context to... a quite different love story that involves total speculation on my part.

Thanks, meanwhile, to Joe and Nathaniel, those two beautiful things.  And stay tuned, readers, for a few more Expert Witness columns from other friends and comrades in cinema!

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Friday, May 27, 2016

Cannes '96, Expert Witness #3: Noah Tsika

Following my wide-ranging survey of Cannes '96 with Hélène Zylberait and my Lone Star-focused exchange with John Alba Cutler, my third Expert Witness conversation is with Noah Tsika, an Assistant Professor of Film and Media Studies at Queens College, CUNY, where he specializes in historical, political, economic, and representational aspects of West African film and video.  You can (and should!) get your fullest exposure to this dimension of Noah's work in his book Nollywood Stars: Media and Migration in West Africa and the Diaspora, which debuted just over a year ago from Indiana University Press.  The book is a great, accessible, multi-sided assessment of celebrity, performance, narrative, circulation, and distribution in relation to a huge, Nigeria-based film culture with a mind-boggling and under-reported global reach.

Still, to say Noah "specializes" in any one thing feels like a misnomer, given his eclectic pursuits as a media scholar and his seeming awareness of every movie ever made.  You might know his work from the short study of Gods and Monsters he published in Arsenal's Queer Film Classic series a while back, or from his contributions to anthologies about African sci-fi and genre fiction, or Brokeback Mountain, or 21st-century film criticism. I am desperately anticipating his next book, Pink 2.0, due out this October, about digital queer cinema. (Feel free to pre-order it!)  Soon, we will feature together in a collection of feminist essays on each of Todd Haynes's movies, where Noah's attentions will focus on my beloved Dottie Gets Spanked. Noah's Twitter feed is the best place to enjoy his diverse and funny reflections on new releases as they bow, on the wide-ranging classes he teaches, on the latest exploits and milestones of African films and their headliners, and on important political causes, including those that directly affect his institution and its students.

I was most eager to engage Noah about Flora Gomes's Tree of Blood, a joint production of Portugal and Guinea-Bissau and a rare West African feature to grace the Main Competition at Cannes. Gomes's name and work were new to me through this #Cannes96 exercise (and perfect evidence of why I undertake these projects) but Noah, as ever, has been tracking this filmmaker for a while.  Some of our exchange centered around this title, but in perfect tribute to my discussion partner, the talk spreads to race and racism on film, environmentalism, Robert Altman, misogynist archetypes, festival politics, places to see all-but-buried African features, and other topics far and wide...

ND: By the first week of Cannes '96, the three big stories were already Secrets & Lies, Fargo, and Breaking the Waves, and they maintained that status for the remainder.  So first, I'm polling everybody: had you been on the jury, which of those three would you have championed for the Palme? What do you most love or admire about it?

NT: In 1996, Secrets & Lies was the one for me—and I suspect that it still is. I like to think of it as a film about passing, and I've taught it alongside such works as Basil Dearden's Sapphire (1959) and Imitation of Life (both the 1934 and the 1959 versions, directed by John M. Stahl and Douglas Sirk, respectively). Secrets & Lies upends the conventions of this particular subgenre, if you can even call it that. The film is about poor white people who struggle with their proximity to Blackness—who, in various ways, have attempted to pass as isolated, even hermetic, in their whiteness—and an affluent, tremendously accomplished Black woman who is utterly unperturbed by her own "difference." The performances are gorgeous. Brenda Blethyn is, despite what detractors might say, thoroughly in character with her histrionics. It's a dazzling turn: the Cannes jury got Best Actress exactly right, and Blethyn should have won the Oscar, too. Marianne Jean-Baptiste is wonderful, as is Timothy Spall, but young Claire Rushbrook is simply astonishing. Her displays of anger and resentment always terrify me. Secrets & Lies has a truly great ending, with Blethyn's character offering a lovely little benediction. The film is hardly "cinematic" in the conventional sense, but I love its dingy, downright televisual style. It looks like a home movie, which is apt, I think.

Are you a fan of the other two in that group, or was this a pretty easy decision for you?

My parents took me to see Fargo the day it opened in Maine. I remember thrilling to its opening text; the words "true story" and "respect for the dead" so impressed me that I immediately stiffened my back, steeling myself for a Very Important Film. The austerity of the images, starting with a car approaching the screen amid all that snow, along with the urgency of Carter Burwell's remarkable score, made me believe that this would be a life-changing experience. (My mother must have had a similar response; she leaned toward me and whispered, "You'll probably want to write about this one.") But something about the film—its comic tone, its stylized acting, its repetitive linguistic play—disappointed me tremendously. It was only later, watching the film on television, that I began to enjoy it. The constant parodies must have made it less strange. In just a few months, Marge had become a pervasive object of impersonation, and I suddenly felt profoundly comfortable with Fargo. It had been transformed, for me, into a kind of collectively produced folk art.

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Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Cannes '96, Expert Witness #2: John Alba Cutler

Some of the friends I've interviewed about films that showed in Cannes 1996, like yesterday's guest Hélène Zylberait, have a pretty broad exposure to festival-circuit auteurs and their long bodies of work. Others are eager and regular moviegoers, but I was especially motivated to approach them because of contexts they could bring to a particular title.  Among this second group is my good pal John Alba Cutler, an award-winning scholar and teacher of U.S. Latino/a literature and contemporary U.S. poetry who works with me in Northwestern's English Department.  John's book Ends of Assimilation is among the best academic studies I've read in several years, in part because you don't have to be a scholar, much less one who is previously versed in the traditions of U.S. Latino/a fiction or poetry, to follow and appreciate it.  In an extremely accessible, wide-ranging, and often politically pointed way, John unfolds a substantial archive of novels, poems, journals, and other writings by Latino/a authors and uses that material, in part, to pose a complex and timely challenge to the languages and values attached to "assimilation" in U.S. public culture.  Not only does he question the pressures, internal and external, that Latinos face to assimilate (or not to assimilate) into what is perceived as "mainstream" anglophone U.S. culture but he voices considerable skepticism about what "assimilation" even means, and showcases the many ways in which novelists and poets have productively complicated these ideas.  If you don't believe me about how artistically illuminating, politically nuanced, and generally amazing this book is, maybe you'll trust this absolutely glowing review from the Los Angeles Review of Books. You can also read more about John's work here, starting on p.22.

I knew that John's scholarly interests and teaching areas made John Sayles's Lone Star a favorite of his, but we'd never had a full, proper conversation about this enduring yet somewhat under-heralded American classic (also the subject of this recent and interesting essay on Fandor).  In what follows, John is typically thoughtful and provocative about Lone Star but also extremely helpful in sketching out a whole literary tradition of Latino/a, Chicano/a, and border-related narratives that Lone Star fans should explore.  This is especially valuable given the continued failures of U.S. publishers as well as U.S. university English departments to make Latino/a cultural production central and visible in their catalogs and courses.  Lastly, having taken in several wide-ranging movies in theaters with John over the years, from the sublime to the ridiculous, I was also curious for his thoughts about a few other films that played the Croisette twenty years ago.

ND: I know you teach Lone Star sometimes, but in which classes, and with what curricular or intellectual goals?

JAC: I’ve taught Lone Star in several different classes, including classes on border literature, interracial dynamics in American culture, and a course on the long cultural history of Manifest Destiny. I generally want students to come away understanding that Mexican Americans have a long history within the United States (i.e., that we’re not just recent immigrants), that Mexican American communities are not monolithic, and that the history of the US-Mexico border demonstrates how inextricable Mexican and American culture are from one another.

Are there particular subplots that seem to resonate most for your students? Or any that tend to confound them? (Spoilers ahead here, including That One.)

Among the pleasures of teaching Lone Star are students’ reactions to the revelation that Sam and Pilar are half-siblings. Reactions generally range from nervous tittering to outright revulsion, but what the narrative so deftly points out is the thin line between animosity and desire subtending racial politics. Also, Elizabeth Peña is luminous, QDEP. I find that being shaken out of neutral helps students begin to interrogate difficult ideas, and Lone Star does nothing if not shake.

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Monday, May 23, 2016

Cannes '96, Expert Witness #1: Hélène Zylberait

Film festivals are delicious even you experience them as a solo flyer, but they are also, crucially, a collective experience.  I've spent the last several weeks watching 55 movies that first screened at the Cannes Film Festival in 1996 and am still in the process of posting longer thoughts about them. But as I keep drafting my own reports, I have also been polling some friends who inhabit and contribute to "film culture" broadly construed, from a purposefully eclectic series of standpoints: as critics, as teachers, as programmers, as actors, as directors, as voracious consumers, and often as several of those things. This week, I'll roll out a series of these short interviews, so you'll get more takes on these 20-year-old movies than just my own... and so I, too, have the privilege of contemplating these films from a variety of perspectives.

First up in this series is my dear friend Hélène Zylberait, a programmer, scholar, translator, critic, journalist, and film-lover who has been variously centered in Paris and Berlin the last several years. We met through my partner Derek, who befriended Hélène during graduate school at Cornell; she left the same summer I arrived, but to my great happiness, we have crossed paths many, many, many times.  I always love talking to Hélène about movies, to include helping her think of good French substitutes, for reasons that will soon be obvious, for what Samuel Fuller means when he says, for example, "I wanted to make a film that really socked it to 'em!"  I love that she happens to mention In the Mood for Love and Dancer in the Dark in these responses; I doubt she remembers this, but those were the two movies Derek and I saw in gorgeous Parisian cinemas when we visited her for New Year's Eve in 2000 and rolled in the new millennium with her.  As has been true of every friend who has answered so far, Hélène confirmed some of what I guessed about her tastes and surprised me in other ways, which is the best kind of film buddy to have. I also hope you get an impression of how catholic and rangy her aesthetic tastes are, and agree with me that it's only fitting for our first Expert Witness to be French herself, and a frequent veteran of the Croisette.

(And if I may be so gauche: if you're looking for a brilliant English-to-French translator, especially but not only for movie-related books, look no further! I'll gladly put you in touch with my talented, eloquent friend.)

ND: First, let my readers know about some of the many jobs you've had related to film, and what kind of work you've done most recently.

HZ: As a life-long cinephile, my dream was always to somehow talk about movies. So far, thanks to incredible encounters, I have been able to work in different movie-related fields. I started out as a film journalist for various publications, and more specifically on Radio Nova in Paris. After a few years I got the opportunity to work in art-house movie theatres in Paris’s Latin Quarter as an assistant programmer and projects organizer before becoming head of distribution for Cine Classic (a company specializing in revivals). While researching and putting together programs for the Paris Holocaust Memorial, I met Christa Fuller, the widow of the great Samuel Fuller. I translated his amazing autobiography A Third Face, which got published in France in 2011 by Editions Allia. Since then, I have been working as both a translator and an interpreter for publishing houses, film producers, and distributors.

Fairly early at Cannes in 1996, Secrets & LiesFargo, and Breaking the Waves emerged as the three films to beat for the Palme.  The eventual awards confirmed them as the perceived cream of that year's crop.  Had you been on the jury, divvying prizes among that trio, which would you have championed for the Palme? What do you most love or admire about it?

At the time, I would have probably championed Fargo. I remember vividly seeing it at the movie theatre and being impressed by the mix of genres that is so perfectly crafted here: thriller, comedy, gruesome yet kind of funny moments, like the foot getting forced inside the mincer or whatever it was. I also thought Frances MacDormand was at her absolute best, along with Blood Simple, which I saw around that time in a brand new print. These characters, everyday people caught in an inextricable situation, both touched and scared me. 

Do you have briefer thoughts about the other two films in that trio?  As I recall, you aren't the biggest von Trier fan....

I think Lars von Trier is probably one of the most talented directors alive. I really do. All his body of work is groundbreaking and disturbing. That being said, again, at the time, I thought Breaking the Waves was a misogynist film. In retrospect, I was maybe too young when I saw the film (I was then 20) and I probably took the whole story too literally. I was angry at all the characters, hence at the director. Although I was a huge fan of Europa and The Kingdom, this film left me with nothing but rage and sadness. Which is probably a good sign! I only recently reunited with Lars von Trier through Melancholia, which is, to me, one of the best films ever made about depression.

I remember being very moved by Secrets & Lies. I saw it again a year or two ago and I was struck by how bright and powerful it is. The performances by Brenda Blethyn and Marianne Jean-Baptiste add a layer of social consciousness to this intimate story in such a way that anyone can relate to it. Still today, it is my favorite of Leigh’s, along with Naked.

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Monday, May 09, 2016

Cannes 1996: Day 1: May 9



Patrice Leconte's Ridicule (IMDB) begins with a dolled-up and pissed-off 18th-century Frenchman striding through the gilded hallways of a fellow aristocrat's estate. Having cornered the elderly, incapacitated owner in his opulent bedroom, he pulls out his penis in close-up and pisses all over this vieux monsieur's silk vestments and ruffled shirts. That's the movie in a nutshell: extravagant finery, mounted for maximal oohs and ahhs from the art house crowd, inclined to abrupt and wicked assaults on itself and its audience. That's also the Cannes Film Festival for you, a fussy, self-fashioned pinnacle of artistry and glamour, barely concealing its lip-smacking hunger for controversy, vulgarity, grandiosity, and humiliation.  Opening Night is frequently an occasion for dire catharsis, as some lumbering commercial calculation like The Da Vinci Code or some beige flash in the middlebrow pan like Blindness gets trotted out to the global cinemarati. They, in turn, gnash their incisors on these stale appetizers before the real haute cuisine starts arriving the following morning.

By the standards of Cannes openers, Ridicule is a substantially above-average achievement. That is to say, it's a perfectly fine movie, engaging throughout, impressive in several passages, shaky in a few others. Styled as a kind of homegrown Dangerous Liaisons (Fanny Ardant's final shot owes an all-but-explicit debt to Glenn Close's indelible signoff as Merteuil), Ridicule handily seduces the wigs-and-bustles audience while baring a sharper-than-usual set of teeth. The critique of royal decadence—moral, verbal, sexual, monetary, gustatory, political—is nothing new in itself, but the stakes ramify outward from Versailles in unique and memorable ways. Beyond just vanquishing rivals and chasing tail, though he manages plenty of both, naïve protagonist Grégoire Ponceludon de Malavoy (demonlover's Charles Berling) is mastering the art of weaponized badinage for a specific purpose, which palpably fascinates the filmmakers.  He wants to rid his swampy village of mosquito-borne illness and thus needs palace financing for a complex engineering scheme that will rehabilitate public health and local ecology.

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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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