Wednesday, May 28, 2008

What's Going On?

You know, we got to find a way...
    To bring some lovin' here to-day-ay-ay...

But really, in all seriousness: what is going on? And what does it have to do with June 18? Nathaniel knows. And so do I. And as Yoda once rasped to a blond, bland proto-Jedi, There is – another.....

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Saturday, May 24, 2008


With awards announcements coming tomorrow, here are my quick guesses as to the Cannes anointees:

PALME D'OR Gomorrah, Italy
JURY PRIZE Waltz with Bashir, Israel
These are the three movies I can't see not winding up here, for reasons of overall critical and audience response, proclivities of the jurors, and contemporary political relevance. Maybe Che could make a run in here, or either The Class or A Christmas Tale could work into the GJP or Jury Prize slots, but otherwise, I'm feeling pretty good about this group.

DIRECTOR Steven Soderbergh, Che
(alt. Arnaud Desplechin, A Christmas Tale)

ACTRESS Martina Gusman, Leonera/Lion's Den
(alt. Arta Dobroshi, Lorna's Silence)
Sure, Angelina could spoil, but I'd be surprised

ACTOR Benicio Del Toro, Che
(alt. Tony Servillo, Il Divo)

SCREENPLAY E. Bourdieu and A. Desplechin, A Christmas Tale
(alt. Charlie Kaufman, Synecdoche, New York)

TECHNICAL GRAND PRIZE Mychael Danna/score, Adoration
(alt. César Charlone/cinematography, Blindness)

FIPRESCI PRIZE Gomorrah, Italy
(alt. Three Monkeys, Turkey)
The international critics' prize, as likely to coincide with the Palme as to endorse a solid competition fave that isn't otherwise a contender (the last three winners were 4 Months..., Climates, and Caché)

(alt. Gomorrah, Italy)
The clerical/social justice prize, though not narrowly defined, and not always awarded (omitted last year, and conferred upon Babel, Caché, and The Motorcycle Diaries in the three years preceding)

COMPETITION FILMS IN THE ORDER I'M EAGER TO SEE THEM The Headless Woman; Synecdoche, New York; Che; Two Lovers; 24 City; Gomorrah; A Christmas Tale; The Changeling/The Exchange; Waltz with Bashir; The Frontier of Dawn; Blindness; The Class/Entre les murs; Lorna's Silence; Serbis; Il Divo; Lion's Den; Three Monkeys; Adoration; Linha de Passe; My Magic; Delta; Palermo Shooting

Photo from Gomorrah, © 2008 Fandango/Rai Films

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Friday, May 23, 2008


That's a mash-up of TGIF (yay!) and TTFN (till soon!), but it also stands for "Thank Goodness for Network" and "Thank God for Nathaniel." I love to link up when I read a piece of film writing that really excites me, and Nathaniel's brilliant, witty, and gorgeously modulated take on Network is a total grabber. It deserves a hot rating in the triple digits and a 100 share.

If When I resume that long-interrupted favorites countdown, as I keep promising, I'm going to have to own up to the passage of time by reshuffling the order a bit, and dropping in some more recent fetish objects ... which also means phasing out a few of the originals. Network will be one of the titles that will have to fight for its life on that list—my most recent visit, to prep for my own write-up, dropped the film a peg or two in my esteem. But, if Network winds up in what Faye Dunaway's Diana Christensen so memorably calls "the sh*thouse," I'll leave you to wonder whether I really didn't like it enough to keep it in, or whether I just want to retire my essay because I like Nathaniel's so much better. (The only point where we disagree? So long as Long Day's Journey into Night and Dog Day Afternoon are around, Network won't ever be Lumet's best movie.)

Photo © 1976 MGM/United Artists

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Thursday, May 22, 2008

FlickPicker in the Dark

Are you an academic? Does your school run on the quarter system? Is work raining from the sky every day? Yesterday, I thought all I had to worry about were my two classes to teach (about Children of Men and the egregiously out-of-print The Portrait of a Lady, so no complaints there), and the two stacks of essays I had to grade and return, and the senior theses I needed to read and write reports about, and the 25-page report I have to write for Friday, and the separate public talks I have to write and give next Wednesday and Thursday, and the packing of my apartment that needs to be finished by next week in order to move on May 31... Who knew I would leave the office with a new talk to write for next Friday, and another batch of prize-contender essays to judge (and write reports about), and a new batch of late-breaking admissions files to read (and write reports about)? Everyone who has ever wondered what your professors do when they aren't teaching or answering (or not answering) e-mails, or everyone who hopes to be a professor and wonders what that's like: smell the roses!

At least I love my job. (Cue Emily Blunt: "I love my job... I love my job...")

But, I must say, till the quarter's over in early June, it's still going to be slow going at this blog, which means I haven't gotten to say anything about my annual springtime obsession, the Cannes Film Festival, presided over this year with a steely glare and a messy haircut by my life partner. I am addicted to all the news flowing from the Croisette. As ever, the mainline for buzz, news, and early reviews is GreenCine Daily, which has assembled this index to all the Cannes-related articles, most of them updated as the days pass and more responses trickle in. Sounds like my gal Lucrecia and my buddy James hit a few snags, and Steven and Clint prompted responses all over the board, too. (No one even knows what Clint's movie is called anymore, or how Steven's will be released.) I'm a lot more interested in that Israeli animated doc than I had thought I'd be, and Arnaud Desplechin hit a home-run with every critic and audience member I've read, but I can't say it sounds like Sean's kind of thing. (I'm guessing it's headed for a Director or Screenplay citation, or maybe a Jury Prize, even if it's the movie lots of people like the best. See Volver, etc.) I'd be a little frustrated if the Dardennes copped another trophy, though their film sounds quite good (surprise!); I've somehow never seen a Jia Zhangke film; and I'm somewhere between indifferent to openly mistrustful of Walter Salles, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, and mob movies. Out of the Competition, I'm most excited about the triumphant Terence Davies film, this coruscating film about Liberian child soldiers, and the Carax segment of the odd-sounding Tokyo!. And I love that the trailer for the upcoming Spike Lee Joint, Miracle at St. Anna, apparently wowed a lot of people.

You can use this schedule to see what's still coming up in Competition; I'm probably most eager to hear about the Kaufman and the Cantet at this point. Since I haven't seen any of it or been able to write more thorough posts as we go along, I can at least direct you back to two full reviews of two of my all-time favorite Palme winners, and shorter reviews of two others.

There's MUCH more to say, too. I still need to follow up on my exploits and juror deliberations at the Indianapolis Film Festival, which I promise I will not pass over; it'll just be a sort of Film Comment-style dossier on a festival that's a month or two in the past by press time. But I won't forget. I wanted to offer a sweet, properly worshipful elegy for the retired Modern Fabulousity, and a delirious description of getting to join Goatdog as he screened the first of only ten Best Picture nominees he has left to see from Oscar's entire back-catalogue. We both feel confident that things'll only get better from here. I was tagged for this book meme that I still haven't answered, I have the Best of 2007 to finish and the Favorites Countdown to resume, and more Best Actress races to judge and performers to profile. Keep your ear to the ground, dear reader, and pray for mid-June, when I Shall Be Released. And Relocated. And Resplendent in All Things Movie.

Photos © 2000 Zentropa Entertainment/Fine Line Features; © 2008 Aqua Films/El Deseo; and © 1967 20th Century Fox Film Corporation

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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Goddesses, Pianos, Princes, and a Book You Should Must Buy

After being on quite the roll there for a minute, I haven't posted in over two weeks, so I may as well pack a lot into this entry. Yesterday was, after all, a High Holy Day: the birthday of my grandfather, but also of the late, impossibly great Katharine Hepburn, who would have turned 101 if she hadn't died five years ago. (Has it really already been five years?) I believe I have already made clear my semi-religious feelings about Katharine Hepburn here. May 12 is always a delicious day for me, but then Nathaniel came along to make it even sweeter, even as I sat languishing in bed with an illness so bad I had to cancel my classes and stay home from work. Telepathically aware that I needed as much restorative bliss as I could get, Nathaniel offered this sterling tribute to Jane Campion's The Piano, and though I still don't understand how or why Nathaniel loves eight movies even more than this one, I of course thrilled to his evocative, beautifully illustrated ode to the film—especially since it sounds as though he might like it even more now than he once did! Nathaniel's subsequent blog posting is about princes, but he is obviously a prince himself to be this publicly and appropriately worshipful of the most important movie in my life, and surely one of the best ever made.

I've shown even less restraint on my own list of the 100 greatest movies (a feature that needs a qualitative as well as a formatting overhaul), where The Piano still reigns at #1. Yes, I grant that its crucial arrival at the absolute, most poignant onset of my movie-loving life has a great deal to do with this unusually robust claim on the film's behalf, and I've never gotten around to writing the public defense of this position that I obviously owe. I'm getting there; I always mean well. Happily, another prince of the blogosphere, Tim R. of MainlyMovies—who keeps even more mum on his blog lately than I do on mine—furnished me with a brilliant occasion to celebrate The Piano in print. That occasion was a book he co-edited called The DVD Stack, now in its 2nd Edition, and not to put too fine a point on it, YOU HAVE TO BUY THIS BOOK. Within, you'll find succinct but searching reviews of over 350 movies that are either masterworks in themselves, or the welcome recipients of brilliant presentations on DVD, or both. The writers are mostly staffers of major British publications like the Daily Telegraph, Time Out London, the Sunday Times, and Sight and Sound, but they found room for me in that august group. I got to wax awestruck about 16 of my favorite movies, from Persona to The Cell to Daughters of the Dust to Singin' in the Rain to Harlan County, U.S.A.. If that small sampler doesn't sufficiently convince you that The DVD Stack breaks significantly from the usual All-Time Best roll call—but without petulantly avoiding some objects of universal and deserved adoration—then you haven't experienced the back-to-back tributes to DodgeBall: A True Underdog Story (a surreally inspired DVD, apparently) and La Dolce vita. I would absolutely buy and treasure this book even if Tim hadn't edited it, and I would absolutely shill it even if I weren't in it. As an appetizer course, and as a reciprocal gesture to Nathaniel's lovely tribute, here's what I have to say about The Piano ... and yes, we are absolutely talking about that spectacular and affordably priced R2/PAL edition that completely wipes the floor with the despicable and un-extra'd U.S. print. I was limited to 400 words (a first time for everything!), but I hope you get the drift:

The film: Ada McGrath (Holly Hunter) is a 19th-century Scotswoman who has refused to speak since she was six years old. She arrives in New Zealand as the purchased bride of a taciturn colonist, but neither she nor her fatherless daughter (Anna Paquin) make any easy concessions to domestic custom. Ada's proud resolve is shared by the film, which forges ahead into tense, exotic circumstances and allows us, indeed forces us, to fend for ourselves within its fertile landscape of desire, violence, envy, and enigma. The piano in Jane Campion's magisterial film is an instrument, a voicebox, a prize, a symbol, a concept, a thing-in-itself, a means of communication, and a bulky rampart against it. Campion's ingenuity is to read all the same paradoxes into human personality and sexuality. Her film looks askance at daily life, brimming with unexpected angles and an almost subconscious language of images and tones, and yet it stares forthrightly into extraordinary conflicts: the worst of what people do to each other, and the remarkable, ambiguous ways in which we save each other. None of this, of course, would be possible without the flawless cast, the superb locations, the eccentrically beautiful score, and the utterly persuasive production design.

The DVD: Heretofore available only in an undistinguished and feature-free version, The Piano finally attains a proper showcase, with an impressive gallery of key creative personnel gathered for the occasion. Campion and producer Jan Chapman provide a chummy but detailed commentary track, but even more illuminating are the generous interviews with both women as well as composer Michael Nyman, all furnished on the second disc. Campion speaks for a full, congenial hour about her creative process (including glimpses at her sketchbooks), her casting decisions and varying methods with different actors, her close collaboration with her cinematographer, and her charmingly ambivalent response to the film's Oscar successes. Chapman elucidates with passion the role of an independent film producer, specifically when securing international funds for a risky screenplay, and Nyman, without winning any trophies for modesty, sheds valuable light on how and why the film was tailored to the score, rather than the more customary reverse. A shorter making-of featurette from the time of the film's production expands to include the lead actors' perspectives. Best of all, the print transfer exquisitely captures the rolling waves, the plashy mud, the burnished glow of the interiors, and the eerie, aqueous light of the New Zealand bush.

Thanks, Nathaniel; thanks, Tim; thanks, Jane; thanks, Holly, Harvey, Anna, Sam, Jan, Stuart, Veronika, Michael, Janet, Andrew, Tungia, Kerry, Genevieve...; thanks, Katharine; thanks, Opa; overwork and underpay and all-nighters be damned, all is full of love today on Nick's Flick Picks.

Photos © 1993 Miramax Films/Ciby2000; and © 2007 Canongate Ltd.

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