29 February 2008

The Devil(s), Probably!

Holy fucking shit. Ken Russell's The Devils, uncut, on DVD, Region 1, May 20th. Best news of the year. I love you all. Warner's treatment of The Devils has been a serious cause of blue balls for me. They've been threatening to release it for over five years and now they've "delayed" it again. Shoot me.

In other DVD news, it looks like Criterion has their hands on Milcho Manchevski's Before the Rain, starring Rade Serbedzija, Grégoire Colin, Phyllida Law and the late Katrin Cartlidge. Expect it later this year.

28 February 2008

Bresson, Region 2, April

Artificial Eye, from the U.K., will be releasing three Bresson DVDs in April, most notably The Devil, Probably [Le diable probablement], which would mark the first DVD of the film with English subtitles. They will also be releasing Lancelot du lac and A Man Escaped, both of which are available from New Yorker in the US.

25 February 2008

His Milkshake Brings All the Boys to the Yard

Though, yeah, the ceremony was pretty dull (especially with three fucking musical numbers from Enchanted), but if nothing else, this year's Oscars really favored the hotness: Daniel Day-Lewis, Marion Cotillard (in Gaultier, no less), Tilda Swinton and Javier Bardem... too much (I favored all four to win as well and all also come from the great continent of Europe). And those kids from Once... adorable. Not once did I slam down my fist or mutter obscenities, so for that, it must have been a good year.

Picture: No Country for Old Men
Director: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen - No Country for Old Men
Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis - There Will Be Blood
Actress: Marion Cotillard - La Vie en rose
Supporting Actor: Javier Bardem - No Country for Old Men
Supporting Actress: Tilda Swinton - Michael Clayton
Adapted Screenplay: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen - No Country for Old Men
Original Screenplay: Diablo Cody - Juno
Animated Film: Ratatouille - dir. Brad Bird

Full winners can be found at this link. Thanks to Michael K from Dlisted for photoshopping a picture together so I didn't have to.

24 February 2008

And for the Best Picture of the Year...

Nominees: Atonement, Juno, Michael Clayton, No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood

Who Should Win: (tie) No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood

You know, this is probably the first year where I would be entirely satisfied with the Oscar going to two films (other than the year Crash won, where I wanted anything BUT Crash to get the Oscar). Both are remarkable in their own right and both will stand the test of time.

The WTF? Nominee: Atonement

Before seeing Atonement, I was disappointed that the Academy went for what's expected of them: a boring costume drama. And while I didn't despise Atonement, it lacked something... and I think that would be getting the meat of the book lost in translation. I can't think of any film I've seen recently where I've thought, "Wow, this was probably an amazing book... too bad for the film."

Best Supporting Actress

Nominees: Cate Blanchett (I'm Not There), Ruby Dee (American Gangster), Saoirse Ronan (Atonement), Amy Ryan (Gone Baby Gone) and Tilda Swinton (Michael Clayton).

Who Should Win: Tilda Swinton (Michael Clayton)

It's no secret that I'd listen to Tilda Swinton read from the phone book and be pleased, but she deserves the Oscar because she did so much with so little. Her character was a rather throw-away ice queen, but Tilda turned her into a fully three-dimensional character, arm pit sweat and all.

The WTF? Nominee: Ruby Dee (American Gangster)

I guess the Academy realized they didn't reach their ethnic quota and threw a nomination in Ruby Dee's way. Don't get me wrong, Dee is fine, and she's usually excellent, but she's got lack of screen time (particularly in a three hour film) and lack of significance going against her.

23 February 2008

Best Actress

Nominees: Cate Blanchett (Elizabeth: The Golden Age), Julie Christie (Away from Her), Marion Cotillard (La Vie en rose), Laura Linney (The Savages) and Ellen Page (Juno).

Who Should Win: Marion Cotillard (La Vie en rose)

I hate biopics, and seldom am I impressed with the actors who place themselves in them (exception of course given to Helen Mirren), but Marion Cotillard's performance as the tragic French singer Edith Piaf is shattering. There's a sincere distinction between her Piaf versus, say, Jamie Foxx's Ray Charles in that she's not delivering an impersonation; she's literally possessed. I haven't seen such a rapturous transformation portrayed anywhere since I saw Christine Ebersole on Broadway as Little Edie in Grey Gardens.

The WTF? Nominee: Cate Blanchett (Elizabeth: The Golden Age)

I understand the Academy loves Cate Blanchett to death, even more so than Kate Winslet as Ms. Blanchett has a trophy to her name... but nominating her for Elizabeth: The Golden Age? Ridiculous. Not only was she better in the original, but she's... dare I say... kind of hammy in the unnecessary and stale sequel. And not hammy in a good way, like she was during that scene in Notes on a Scandal. Whether you agree with the hamminess or not, you have to admit, from an actress as ranged and talented as she, her Elizabeth was Blanchett on autopilot.

22 February 2008

Best Actor

Nominees: George Clooney (Michael Clayton), Daniel Day-Lewis (There Will Be Blood), Johnny Depp (Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street), Tommy Lee Jones (In the Valley of Elah) and Viggo Mortensen (Eastern Promises).

Who Should Win: Daniel Day-Lewis (There Will Be Blood)

Well, duh. The field this year is actually quite strong. Jones, Mortensen and Clooney are all exceptional, but Day-Lewis, whoa. How do you compete with the best performance from one of the world's finest actors? Like Bardem, Day-Lewis is menacing and brilliant.

The WTF? Nominee: Johnny Depp (Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street)

I know by saying this the Johnny Depp fan squad will be on my ass, but, really, was he good in Sweeney Todd? I was too distracted by the fact that he (and most of his costars) couldn't sing to save his life. And isn't that part of the overall performance in a musical?

Best Supporting Actor

Nominees: Casey Affleck (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford), Javier Bardem (No Country for Old Men), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Charlie Wilson's War), Hal Holbrook (Into the Wild) and Tom Wilkinson (Michael Clayton).

Who Should Win: Javier Bardem (No Country for Old Men)

Bardem is the clear frontrunner in this category and for good reason. Much of the power of No Country for Old Men lies on his shoulders, and though his performance is the showiest of his other male counterparts (Tommy Lee Jones and Josh Brolin), he exudes a raw power of terror to his Chigurh. Absolutely astounding.

The WTF? Nominee: Hal Holbrook (Into the Wild)

Yeah, okay, he's old. Yeah, okay, the Academy loves giving prizes to old people. But wasn't there someone more qualified than Holbrook? Catherine Keener was the only standout performance in Into the Wild, and her chemistry with Emile Hirsch was far more impressive than Holbrook's. Holbrook isn't another causality of my disdain for the film; his performance wouldn't have been astounding if he were actually in a good film.

Malle and Korda from Criterion in May

Criterion will be releasing Louis Malle's Les amants (The Lovers) and The Fire Within (Le feu follet) in May, along with the Alexander Korda production of The Thief of Bagdad from 1940. They seem to be releasing fewer and fewer titles per month lately.

3 to go!

With 3 films to go and five categories to run down, I've got a lot of shit to do before the Oscar ceremony. AND, I'm filming a short this weekend as part of our Fortnight Film Project. So, wish me luck (again), and hope another snowstorm comes through town, so I can get out of my other responsibilities and watch shitloads of cinema.

Best Adapted Screenplay

The nominees are as follows: Christopher Hampton (Atonement), Sarah Polley (Away from Her), Ronald Harwood (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly), Joel Coen, Ethan Coen (No Country for Old Men), and Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will Be Blood). [side note: I realize Pedro won for Best Original Screenplay, but I couldn't resist posting it here. Regardless, I think that's also a photo from when he won for All About My Mother, not Talk to Her... whatever]

Who Should Win: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen (No Country for Old Men)

It's not usually the case that some of the finer screenplays in a year come from previously written material, but such is this year. Four of the five nominees are all solid works and could conceivably win the award without much fuss from me, but the Coen brothers' No Country for Old Men screenplay perfectly captured the tone of the novel for me (though again, I know Eric will have some complaints here).

The WTF? Nominee: Christopher Hampton (Atonement)

The failure of Atonement cannot be solely attributed to Hampton's screenplay, but more to Joe Wright's direction, which was thankfully overlooked for a nomination. I'm noticing that a lot of my picks this year are based on the person nominated significance to the film as a whole (which is why I'm already convinced Ruby Dee's less-than-five-minute performance in American Gangster will be the WTF? of that category). Atonement is the only of films nominated which screams, "I'm sure the book was better," while all the other films beautifully add to their source material, creating something altogether different (but not entirely). Atonement lacked punch.

Best Original Screenplay

Here are the nominees for reference: Diablo Cody (Juno), Nancy Oliver (Lars and the Real Girl), Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton), Brad Bird, Jan Pinkava, Jim Capobianco (Ratatouille), and Tamara Jenkins (The Savages).

Who Should Win: Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton)

I can already hear Eric bitching about this one, but in my opinion (and many others), Michael Clayton was exactly what it was billed to be: a Hollywood film for thinking adults. Now that's a scary thought, but I think Gilroy's accomplishments are far more successful than the other nominees.

The WTF? Nominee: Nancy Oliver (Lars and the Real Girl)

She gets points in my book for a handful of things, most notably never treating Ryan Gosling's Lars as character to be mocked. However, most appreciation for Lars and the Real Girl isn't because of her, or director Craig Gillespie, strengths as it is the actors'. Gosling is impeccable (as always) and received fine support from Patricia Clarkson, Kelli Garner and Emily Mortimer, all of which carry Lars and the Real Girl much further than the collective efforts of anyone else. Kudos though for the Academy recognizing female talent in the writing department.

Best Animated Film

Nominees: Ratatouille - dir. Brad Bird, Persepolis - dir. Marjane Satrapi, Vincent Paronnaud, Surf's Up - dir. Ash Brannon, Chris Buck

Who Should Win: Persepolis - dir. Marjane Satrapi, Vincent Paronnaud

I know everyone else is voting for Ratatouille, but honestly, that film never reached my high expectations of it. Persepolis exceeded mine, and its win would mark the first animated film for adults to capture the new trophy. Persepolis is thoughtful, entertaining and wonderfully animated in mostly black-and-white hand-drawn style. Based on the graphic novel by co-director Satrapi, the film is a marvelous depiction of identity and growing up, all without schmaltz.

The WTF? Nominee: Surf's Up - dir. Ash Brannon, Chris Buck

It's a bit unfair of me to even have a WTF? nominee here as there are only three nominees, and really, Surf's Up isn't bad by any means. It's more clever than it looks (and it's a fuckload better than The Simpsons Movie), but it's the ho-hum nominee of this category. Persepolis and Ratatouille are far stronger films, and out of all three, Surf's Up feels the most like a children's movie.

Best Director

As I only have 3 movies left to watch (Charlie Wilson's War, Elizabeth: The Golden Age and American Gangster), I'm going to begin my rundown of the people who should win the gold this Sunday. I'm not nearly as good at summing up who will win, but here's my thoughts. The nominees are as follows: Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will Be Blood), Ethan Coen, Joel Coen (No Country for Old Men), Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton), Jason Reitman (Juno), and Julian Schnabel (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly).

Best Director

Who Should Win: Julian Schnabel (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly)

This is a tough category as I was pretty astounded by both P.T. Anderson and the Coen brothers' achievements, but Schnabel achieved something really groundbreaking for me: an artpiece, a biopic and a film without false or manipulative sentiments. His vision is breathtaking, and my only complaint came when he decided to take the film out of first person. Yet still, the film is masterful, particularly from a director whose only worked in the realm of biopics. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is his finest achievement in the film world and one I don't think will be easily forgotten (though I could say the same about Anderson and the Coens)...

The WTF? Nominee: Jason Reitman (Juno)

Jason Reitman... for Juno? Really? Do you think Diablo Cody was pissed that someone tried to attribute a separate authorship to the film? I bet she was. Juno's strengths (and its weaknesses) all lie on Cody's shoulders; Reitman was just there to make sure the camera was placed in the right direction. He, thankfully, avoids the obnoxious quirky look and feel of a Zack Braff film (which Juno could have very, very easily fallen into), so maybe he should be thanked for that... or maybe just not at all.

18 February 2008

I've Got Ambition

The Oscars are happening a week from yesterday, and I think I may be able to pull the impossible: seeing every film nominated in the big categories (Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, Supp. Actor, Supp. Actress, Orig. Screenplay, Adapted Screenplay, Animated Film) before the ceremony. Now this won't be the easiest endeavor, as the only categories where I've seen every film nominated are the shorts, Original Screenplay and Director. So, here's what I got left.

Atonement (bah)
Sweeney Todd
In the Valley of Elah
Elizabeth: The Golden Age (double bah)
Charlie Wilson's War
American Gangster
Surf's Up

Think I can do it? We'll see. Wish me luck.

17 February 2008

In the Mood for...

My Blueberry Nights – dir. Wong Kar-Wai – 2007 – France/Hong Kong/China

The best understanding I can make of Wong Kar-Wai’s English-language debut can be pulled directly from its soundtrack. Though it features obligatory tunes from two of the cast members (Norah Jones and Chan Marshall of Cat Power), listen out for a jazzy rendition of the achingly beautiful score from In the Mood for Love and a female vocalist covering Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon.” What does that mean exactly? My Blueberry Nights feels like a well-meaning cover song, aesthetically pleasing but without the passion of coming from the person who wrote it.

Upon reading some of the message boards for My Blueberry Nights, I found myself strangely drawn to one that commented how strange it feels seeing a WKW film without an Asian cast. Though it would seem like a superficial complaint, there’s something indeed off about the cast of My Blueberry Nights and, surprisingly, it’s not from Jones who makes her acting debut here. There’s a certain visual landscape that’s so easily recognizable in a WKW film (though one will undoubtedly note that his famed cinematographer Christopher Doyle was not present here) that taking it outside of Hong Kong would be potentially dangerous; he successfully avoided this issue with setting Happy Together in Buenos Aires, but not so much here. Though Doyle is absent, Darius Khondji (who has shot a number of impressive features, including City of Lost Children, The Beach and Seven) does his best to adapt to Doyle’s style, though one would remark that their styles aren’t exactly foreign to one another. Unfortunately for us, the closest thing to downtown Hong Kong, visually speaking, would be Las Vegas, and when My Blueberry Nights finally reaches that city, it stays far away from the images we’d quickly associate with Sin City.

Back to the cast… It would seem that My Blueberry Nights would be a curious star vehicle for the Grammy winner Jones whose fans I doubt were begging to put her into motion pictures. However, it’s Jones that’s the least offensive of the “round-eyed” cast. One could suggest the language barrier as being an issue, particularly when dealing with trained actors, which is how I would imagine Jones got by. With Jude Law, David Strathairn, Rachel Weisz (who plays a character named Sue Lynn, a variation on Maggie Cheung’s name in In the Mood for Love) and Natalie Portman, their pedigree seems wasted, appearing awkward in adapting to WKW’s style. Jones, too, may have benefited from the fact that her Lizzie really only serves as the roadmap for My Blueberry Nights, the central figure who’s always placed into the background of the people she encounters.

My Blueberry Nights is hardly a disaster, but any fan of WKW should be quick to recognize the shakiness of the whole thing. Everything is seemingly in place yet strangely missing heart. WKW’s once infallible filmography has been reaching rocky ground in the years after In the Mood for Love, with 2046 somehow missing the mark (though there’s debate about that) and My Blueberry Nights swerving off course. Perhaps he’s falling into the trap that a lot of directors slip into: the sad stage of unintentional self-parody.

16 February 2008

Berlin 08

The Berlin International Film Festival came to a wrap today, with Jose Padilha's (Bus 174) Tropa de Elite, from Brazil starring Wagner Moura (Lower City), winning the top prize, the Golden Bear. Paul Thomas Anderson won the Best Director prize for There Will Be Blood... and you can find the rest of the award winners at this link via IndieWire.

Contact High

Guess who saw Juno for the first time this morning? You guessed right. And guess who didn't hate it nearly as much as he thought he would. I'm not going to go as far to say Juno is "good," but with such low expectations, it made for a much more pleasurable experience than, say, a routine dental check-up. Eric at Filmbo's Chick Magnet pointed out the deathly flaw of Juno (though I suppose I'm a bit more forgiving) in being that the adult characters (Jason Bateman, Jennifer Garner, JK Simmons, Allison Janney) are each extraordinarily more interesting people to watch than Juno herself. And if you can look past Juno's calculated quirkiness, there's morsels of good stuff around the fringes. However, about it's Oscar nominations, I don't understand why Hollywood must give accolades (in the Best Picture category) to the "lil' indie that could" every year. Juno and Little Miss Sunshine already took their love to the bank; they certainly didn't need the nod.

I've been looking through my list of 2007 films and given some strong consideration in placing Cristian Mungiu's 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days at the top of the revision. In some ways, it's No Country for Old Men, There Will Be Blood and The Bourne Ultimatum in one, without discrediting its own individual merits. I'm kind of stuck, because I feel this need to make a Top 10 list every year, but in a year as phenomenal as 2007, I could have made a top 30 and still been unsatisfied. New additions to the 10 list include Aaron Katz's sublime Quiet City (now available from Benten Films) and Craig Zobel's Great World of Sound (whose personal impact has caused it to move up on the list).

In other news, I'm suffering from Godard malaise. This sentiment will undoubtedly displease two of my most frequent readers (coughEricandEdcough), but Lionsgate's boxset of First Name: Carmen, Passion, Détective and Oh, Woe Is Me did nothing other than induce agitation from me. There's a self-importance in Passion that Godard exposed in Tout va bien about his dealings with the working class that just irks me. It's more than likely that I just "don't get" him, but alas, cross me off the list of fans.

On a shinier note, I have a new favorite film, at least one that deserves placement on my shortlist of personal favorites. Martin Donovan's Apartment Zero. Check that shit if you haven't already... and as a side note, I'd absolutely give Hart Bochner the business.

Oh, Walt Disney. At work, I got stuck watching two of the recent canon of Disney films (as in within the past fifteen years or so): Aladdin and Cars. Now, I'd seen both before, but with Aladdin, I was never old enough to look at it critically, and with Cars, I just hadn't realized what a terrible film it was. I never thought I'd hear myself saying this, but Robin Williams and... Larry the Cable Guy are really the only saving graces of the respective films (God, fucking shoot me now). With Aladdin, how could I have never noticed what duds of characters and love interests Aladdin and Jasmine are? Not only is Jasmine a precocious bitch, but she's criminally bland. Aladdin really only holds up today due to its memorable songs (though I'm not going to go as far to say "good," but don't tell me you can't think of at least three songs from that film) and, yes, Robin Williams. Cars, however, is the biggest embarrassment Pixar has ever released (much, much more so than the mediocre Bug's Life). It's not particularly funny nor visually striking. Hell, the idea alone sounded dull. It is, however, worth watching if only for the shitty country song that runs through the end credits which puts into cheesy song lyrics the entire premise of Cars. It'll save you the trouble of having to sit through it.

I'd also appreciate if a Russ Meyer fan could point me in the best direction for continuing with his films. I have yet to see a film of his that isn't Vixen!, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls or Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (I love his use of punctuation) that is even worth the time I would spend watching it. Up! Megavixen and Supervixens are dreadful. Should I continue on or just not allow Meyer's good name to be spoiled with these lousy films?

Hope not

Is Lionsgate about to announce two Luis Buñuel films (Nazarin and Los olvidados) in lousy transfers? And as double features with other B-grade Mexican films? And not even together? More information to come as I uncover what's going on.

UPDATE: By "two," I meant "six." Illusion Travels by Streetcar / The River and Death and The Great Madcap / Daughter of Deceit being the other four.

15 February 2008

Some delays...

It looks as if the Weinstein Company has delayed the releases of both Anton Corbijn's Control and Grant Gee's doc Joy Division until June. There's some dispute among the seller sites, but the date of 10 June looks to be more likely. You may have noticed, too, that IFC/Genius have also delayed Christophe Honoré's Dans Paris, with Romain Duris and Louis Garrel, until 6 May. Again, there is some dispute with this film's release.

Also, ThinkFilm, who appears to now be owned by Image Entertainment, will push Paul Schrader's The Walker from April to 27 May. Despite what you may have heard, it's actually quite good. ThinkFilm/Image will also be releasing The Air I Breathe, with Sarah Michelle Gellar, Brendan Fraser, Julie Delpy, Andy Garcia, Forest Whitaker and Kevin Bacon, in May.

12 February 2008


I think I'm going to follow-through with the threat I make every year: revisiting my best of the year list and fixing it. Many things have been circling through my mind.

1.) I'm finally seeing 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days today.
2.) Maybe my friend Dan is right and Black Book is indeed slightly better than No Country for Old Men.
3.) Great World of Sound is way too low on my list.
4.) There Will Be Blood has been sneaking up on me ever since I saw it, thus I need to raise it.
5.) I only just yesterday saw Aaron Katz's Quiet City.
6.) I've waited this long to see Juno... it won't make the cut.

All of these, plus a few others that are in the back of my mind, have forced me to this decision, one that I should have done last year (since the list was sorely missing Old Joy, Mutual Appreciation and Wild Tigers I Have Known). Hey, maybe I'll get inspired and redo that list too! Wish me luck.