January 31, 2005

Business, culture and shorts.

Louis Menand in the New Yorker:

Blockbuster

The history of Hollywood is a comic routine of bad guesses, unintended outcomes, and pure luck. Half of the failures were well-intentioned, and half of the successes were, by ordinary standards of fairness and decency, undeserved. People do get rich making movies; more often than not, they're the wrong people. That's why moviemaking is so much fun to read about. Unless, of course, it's your money.

The fun Menand's been having: David Thomson's The Whole Equation, whose "subject is not, strictly speaking, the history of the movies; its subject is the history of caring about the movies"; Tom Shone's Blockbuster: How Hollywood Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Summer, "an anti-valedictory for Thomson's Hollywood"; and Dade Hayes and Jonathan Bing's Open Wide: How Hollywood Box Office Became a National Obsession, not a "true inside look" (and Menand reminds us there indeed used to be such a thing).

Menand sorts through what he's learned - it takes him a while, but when you're reading Menand, you don't mind - and basically comes down on Thomson's side, which is hardly a surprise. Hollywood movies are not what they used to be, no. And yes, as he points out, millions still flock to see Hollywood movies anyway. But what's missing from the piece and, evidently, from Thomson's equation, is the awareness that people who do spend a good deal of time "caring about the movies" have long since turned their attention elsewhere.

Never Coming to a Theater Near You Even so, a sober reminder from Stanley Kauffmann in the New Republic: "If Kiarostami and Tavernier and Zhang Yimou were as widely available as The Lord of the Rings, they would not attract a sliver of the same attendance, which is obviously why they don't have the same distribution." It comes in a review of a book written in the same neighborhood of mourning Thomson and Menand have been hanging out in lately, Kenneth Turan's Never Coming to a Theater Near You: A Celebration of a Certain Kind of Movie. An interesting coincidence: both Kauffmann and Menand bring up the insights of Harold Rosenberg. But Kauffmann takes his piece further than Menand takes his; even as he keeps both feet planted firmly on real ground, Kauffmann dares to suggest a remedy: "As one who still gapes at the re-election on moral values of a man who led us into a war because of mass-destructive weapons that do not exist, I can't help feeling that at the root of the political thud is a blankness that culture could lighten."

Of course, the great line in the sand between caring and not caring, at least as Menand and Thomson see it, was drawn in 1977 by George Lucas. Thecinetrix has been reading about Star Wars lately, specifically, a collection of pieces by people who actually care a whole lot about it. She offers some of the best bits.

Meanwhile, Thomson himself writes on, of course, most recently paying tribute to the remarkable Hedy Lamarr and remembering Johnny Carson in the Independent.

Monday is media biz day for the New York Times; the roundup:

  • The MPAA makes a big mournful noise about the $3.5 billion lost to piracy, "almost all of it overseas," as Ross Johnson reports, but they're mum when it comes to how much they're actually raking in in foreign sales, probably the fastest-growing segment of the biz and amounting to an estimated $11.4 billion. "What is more certain is that the windfall from overseas home video sales is affecting how the movie business is run," writes Johnson.

  • Stuart Elliott presents his nominations for "best product in a leading role."

DisneyWar
  • Laura M Holson and Lorne Manly report on just the sort of brouhaha author James B Stewart could only have wished for in the run-up to publication of his book, DisneyWar: The Battle for the Magic Kingdom.

  • Nat Ives investigates a sticky question: "How much credit does [Stan] Lee deserve for creating characters like Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four and how much was due to his collaborators?"

  • Lia Miller looks briefly at "not exactly a case of life imitating art, but perhaps one of life reflected in art," the legal dispute between Kevin Connolly and Evolution Entertainment.

But there's more, too: "It was perhaps not remarkable that so many of the nonfiction films addressed social problems and political issues, including the Enron scandal, sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church, abstinence-only education in public schools, the recent history of American foreign policy and the strange career of the Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori," writes AO Scott in what may be his last Sundance piece of the year. "What was striking was how few of the fictional films seemed to share this impulse, or, if they did, to give it persuasive form."

And Caryn James catches the Off Broadway production of David Rabe's Hurlyburly, which "may be one of the all-time bad movies made from an all-time good play." But the new version works as a period piece, she argues, since, in the 80s, "Hollywood seemed tackier and more alien to most of America than it does now."

Alejandro Amenábar's The Sea Inside has swept the Goya Awards, Spain's rough equivalent of the Oscars. Reports from the BBC and the Guardian.

Tucker Malarkey talks to Werner Herzog for the San Francisco Chronicle. "'I love to rant.' What he is ranting about is what he calls the 'Disneyfication' of wild nature, an American cultural phenomenon of anthropomorphizing that encourages people to entertain the delightful notion that wild animals are, at some level, just like us." Via Movie City News, where David Poland wraps up his overall take on Sundance.

The BBC's Yvonne Murray talks to Robert Redford about the evolution of Sundance: "People started to say we had gone mainstream and Hollywood, but actually Hollywood came to us because suddenly there was good business in independent film." Via the indieWIRE Insider.

Masculine Feminine At Hollywood Bitchslap, Scott Weinberg's got three reviews of three docs screened at Sundance: The Aristocrats, After Innocence and Twist of Faith.

Interview of the day, hands down: Twitch and Neil Gaiman.

Online viewing tip. The trailer for Godard's Masculine Feminine, via Filmbrain's enthusiastic recommendation.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:35 PM

January 30, 2005

Jumpstart-the-week shorts.

Johnny Cash: Hurt 20 best music videos ever? A British phone company put together a panel that is not to be sneezed at and they came up with a list. At #1, as David Smith reports (quoting a few panelists, too), is Mark Romanek's video for Johnny Cash's "Hurt." Dare you to watch it, but above all, listen to it without going a little misty.

Also in the Observer:

  • Notice how so many are worried about the state of French cinema all of a sudden? Of the current crop, Liz Hoggard finds François Ozon's 5 x 2 "the best film of the year" (which year?) but notes that it's Les Choristes that's scored the Oscar nomination: "These two films represent the polarization of modern French cinema." Good line: "In many ways Jeunet is the French Richard Curtis."

  • "I write with more than the evangelism of the convert: Japanese novels are everywhere; led by the master, Haruki Murakami." Kate Kellaway recommends five.

  • Online poll: "Did The Aviator deserve to be nominated for 11 Oscars?"

Newsweek: And the nominees are... How cruel is this? Will someone kindly inform Newsweek that Paul Giamatti is, in fact, not nominated?

Spanish filmmaker Nacho Vigalondo's "7:35 in the Morning" has been nominated for an Oscar. Of course, four other shorts are as well, but Vigalondo's blogging. Right here.

By the time he began covering "the movie beat" for the New York Times, Bernard Weinraub had already covered Vietnam and Northern Ireland, had reported from Washington and India. But only in Hollywood "did I come face to face with some of the more startling, and not always pleasant, truths about human behavior, my own included." The piece is drenched in anecdote, many of them related to his marriage to Amy Pascal, now Chairman of Sony Pictures, rattling from one to the next before slowing to a melancholic reminder that, if you haven't, you simply must read Julia Phillips's You'll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again.

Also in the NYT:

  • Alan Cowell reports from Davos: "At the World Economic Forum here, which has been called a 'temple of capitalist narcissism,' there is, it turns out, a force beyond money and might. Its name is celebrity - and on Friday, Sharon Stone showed why." A follow-up from Timothy L O'Brien.

  • Of course, some celebrities compete for attention in ways they'd probably rather not. Charlie LeDuff describes the sad sight of Robert Blake as he "shuffles around the courthouse in Van Nuys these days, alone... Mr. Blake's moment in the sun has been eclipsed by the supernova that is Michael Jackson."

Linn Ullmann: Grace
  • Bruce Bawer reviews Linn Ullmann's third novel, Grace: "Since Ullmann is the daughter of Liv Ullmann and Ingmar Bergman, it's hardly surprising that this book is bleak and quintessentially Scandinavian, at once an austere portrait of mature couplehood that recalls Scenes From a Marriage and a meditation on mortality, replete with echoes of Wild Strawberries and The Seventh Seal. Ullmann's work is not, however, just a knockoff."

  • Marcel Theroux reviews Peter Carey's Wrong About Japan: A Father's Journey with his Son: "One of the running jokes here is the contrast between Carey's egghead interest in the subtexts of manga - met with polite bafflement by everyone they speak to - and his son's desire simply to meet his heroes, the artists and directors behind the images."

  • Terrence Rafferty meets Hirokazu Kore-eda: "Near the end of my conversation with Mr. Kore-eda I begin to understand that his fascination with immutable-seeming in-between states is more than just a matter of temperament: that it reflects his most deeply held ideas about the society he grew up in."

  • Larry Rohter profiles Marcelo Birmajer, who co-wrote Lost Embrace with director Daniel Burman.

  • Lorne Manly and John Markoff report on the rapid proliferation of what basically amounts to variations of the Napster-meets-TiVo idea - and on how the phenomenon is terrifying industry and advertising execs. Steve Rosenbaum offers commentary and links.

  • Choire Sicha previews the "Girls on Film" exhibition at the Anthology (scroll down to "Friday 4 February"), "portraits of 60 female film stars you've never seen."

  • Charles Taylor wonders to what degree the filmmakers and marketers behind Constantine would like to remind you of The Matrix.

Salon's Heather Havrilesky has a long heart-to-heart with Noah Baumbach, who says of The Squid and the Whale that it's "the first time I really felt like I was able to put what was inside my head out there."

Despite the System: Orson Welles vs the Hollywood Studios In Despite the System: Orson Welles vs the Hollywood Studios, Clinton Heylin argues that industry types cut the director down because they perceived him as a threat; Sunday Times reviewer Christopher Bray isn't having any of that.

The Ozu retrospective is making its way to the northwest; NP Thompson presents a preview.

Weirdly, the Guardian devotes a short lead editorial to decry the plague of Hollywood remakes.

But seriously:

"I've been to a few festivals, and Rotterdam is definitely the best," writes Ben Slater. "Annoyingly (because I'm not there), this year's Rotterdam is thick with friends of mine."

Berlinale The Berlinale will unveil its full program and schedule on Tuesday, but much of it is already in place: The International Jury and the International Short Film Jury, the Berlinale Special (with films by Timor Bekmambetov, Kay Pollak, Jorge Ramirez Suárez and Florian Gallenberger, tributes to, among others, Shochiku Studios, Helene Schwarz and a lifetime achievement award for Fernando Fernán Gómez) and the complete Panorama program.

Meanwhile, Austinites are starting to register that certain tingle: Wiley Wiggins, for example, and Matt Dentler, certainly.

Time's Richard Corliss:

Action-movie stars have become geriatric lately. Arnold is Governor, Sly is about to become a reality-show host, Jean-Claude Van Damme toils in direct-to-video. Jackie Chan is almost a creaky 50, and Jet Li doesn't work much anymore. The genre needs another hero, and [Tony] Jaa (Thai name: Phanom Yeerum) is the fellow to fill the void. He's young - 28 - and good-looking, with a quiet élan to match his athletic skill. He's also a throwback to kung-fu film's early days, when stars and stunt men alike took a licking and kept on kicking. Ong-Bak has no crouching, no hiding, no wires, no pixel-perfected stunts. Like Chan's early epics, it convinces you that the mayhem is real, that the star is enduring the pain for your pleasure.

"With all the well deserved hype around Tony Jaa claiming the international martial arts star throne there's a pretty major risk of overlooking some significant talent a little closer to home." writes Todd at Twitch. "[Cyril] Rafaelli and [David] Belle are two of the originators of a new form of martial arts that fuses traditional fight styles with gymnastics."

Then Mack at Twitch summarizes a bizarre story rocking the Korean entertainment industry at the moment and concludes, "Define Irony: This file is leaked and it will likely ruin some amazing entertainers' careers in Korea. A talentless hack like Paris Hilton becomes even more popular in America after her sex video is released online."

Elvis Costello & The Imposters: The Delivery Man And our online browsing tip comes via Twitch as well: eiga.com; writes Todd: "[C]lick around and let us know what you find... I gotta stop before my head explodes..."

Online viewing tip. This batch opened with a music video; let's wrap with another one. Elvis Costello's "Monkey to Man," via Vince Keenan.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:50 PM

Midnight Eye. 04 + Teruo Ishii.

Proving it's never too late for a best-of-last-year list as long as the list's a good one, the editors of and contributors to Midnight Eye even go half a dozen better with six good lists, all drenched in commentary and, naturally, very heavy on the Japanese titles. They're also inviting you to click your own choices and add your own comments.

The Horror of Malformed Men There's nearly always a single personality at the center of each issue and this time around, it's Teruo Ishii. Tom Mes talks to the humble 80-year-old director about starting out in the 50s at the Shintoho studios, working with Ken Takakura, Tetsuro Tamba and Sonny Chiba and his adaptations of the writings of Edogawa Rampo. Mes also reviews The Horror of Malformed Men, "one of the most singular cinematic experiences not just in Ishii's history, but in all of Japan's."

This issue's Round-Up is a 70s exploitation special, another Mes compilation; shortish reviews of six guilty pleasures.

Also reviewed: Mes yet again, this time on Izo - he finds Takashi Miike growing increasingly experimental over the last three years or so - and on that film's inspiration, Hideo Gosha's Hitokiri, which "remains the ultimate portrayal of Izo Okada, but above all an enthralling film in its own right."

Posted by dwhudson at 11:43 AM

Sundance 05. Awards.

American Dramatic Grand Jury Prize:

Forty Shades of Blue

Forty Shades of Blue

American Documentary Grand Jury Prize:

World Cinema Dramatic Jury Prize:

World Cinema Documentary Grand Jury Prize:

America Dramatic Audience Award:

American Documentary Audience Award:

World Cinema Dramatic Audience Award:

Brothers

World Cinema Documentary Audience Award:

American Directing Award:

And the list goes on, of course. To see a complete one, download the full release from Sundance and/or see Eugene Hernandez's report at indieWIRE; plus, a few quotables.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:59 AM

January 29, 2005

Rotterdam Dispatch. 1.

Jonathan Marlow has landed in Rotterdam, where the International Film Festival is underway and runs through February 6.

Rotterdam The trick in the overlap between screenings in Park City and the festival in Rotterdam is one of compromises. One has to give way to the other, with full knowledge that you'll be missing something, somewhere. Just as the competition was heating up at Sundance (Mike Mills's Thumbsucker and Miranda July's Me and You and Everyone We Know had finally surfaced in the hours before departure), IFFR overtakes the mountain village festivals (with acquisitions occuring at both dances, Slam and Sun).

Instead, time to see things with potentially more possibilities. New films by Claire Denis, Kim Ki-duk, Olivier Assayas, Takashi Miike, Wong Kar-wai, Jia Zhang-ke, Lukas Moodysson, Hou Hsiao-hsien, Todd Solondz, Hayao Miyazaki, Wim Wenders, Carlos Sorin, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Yervant Giankian and Angela Ricci Lucchi (among others). Naturally, these are not all premieres but it hardly matters. Is it any wonder that Rotterdam ranks among my favorite festivals - perhaps the favorite (until I finally make the pilgrimage to Telluride for the first time in September)?

The latest from last year's honored guest, Raúl Ruiz (Benoît Jacquot has the distinction this year), graced the screen last night. Particularly dream-like, not unusually for the Chilean ex-pat (though his first film made in his homeland in more than thirty years), absolutely enhanced by two days without sleep. Caveh Zahedi's long-awaited I am a Sex Addict premiered at the fest as well. It is arguably Caveh's best work, a pure, hillarious distillation of his personal brand of filmmaking. The long-anticipated Casshern gets its Netherlands debut, as will the anxiously-awaited 2046. Indeed, the selection of Asian films at the festival is perhaps the best anywhere outside of Vancouver (or, of course, Asia itself). Many things to see in only a handful of days. Far too many films will be overlooked, either by chance or design. Such is the frustration of festivals.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:58 AM

The Film Journal. 11.

Robert Mulligan The centerpiece of the new issue of the Film Journal is a special focus on Robert Mulligan, introduced by features editor Peter Tonguette (more):

Just as there has never been a filmmaker like him - one with his particular use of cinematic subjectivity (discussed by John Belton in his essay); with his appreciation of the ways in which places inform our notions about people (discussed by Tom Ryan in his essay); or with his singular abilities with the camera (discussed by every one of the writers who contributed to this feature) - it seems to me, as I write this late in 2004, almost impossible that there are many Robert Mulligans in the current or future generations of American filmmakers. As Sidney Levin, the editor of Clara's Heart, said to me in my interview with him, "The rhythm and pacing of his films are not of this time."

More Mulligan:

  • Co-founding Rouge editor Adrian Martin: "Anyone could learn a lot about the art and craft of film direction from the first five-and-a-half minutes of Robert Mulligan's The Man in the Moon." Mark Pfeiffer (who blogs here), too, offers an appreciation.

  • Richard Armstrong approaches To Kill a Mockingbird from a variety of angles - structure, director, actors, social milieu - to raise a series of questions. Zach Campbell addresses a few of them, too, in his piece on how Mulligan deals with race in America.

  • Robert Keser on what Clara's Heart reveals of Mulligan's voice: "It seems more useful to regard Robert Mulligan as a recorder of intimacy rather than 'true rawness,' his films achieving an intensely emotional presence that is sorely missing from contemporary American work with its emphasis on aggressive visual stimulation."

  • Gabe Klinger remembers Summer of '42.

Directors, 1972

November, 1972. George Cukor hosts a party for Luis Buñuel.
Back row from left: Robert Mulligan, William Wyler, Cukor, Robert Wise, Jean-Claude Carriere and Serge Silverman.
Front Row from left: Billy Wilder, George Stevens, Buñuel, Alfred Hitchcock and Rouben Mamoulian.

Also in this issue, two interviews: Editor Rick Curnutte talks with the unique Andrew Repasky McElhinney and Tonguette has an extraordinarily wide-ranging discussion with Bob Rafelson.

Essays:

  • Christian Crouse argues that Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will "is about art and the part that art plays in shaping reality. The film, like Nazism, is political theory and theatre combined."

  • Mark Richardson presents "A Lacanian Report on the Health of the Antiwar Film."

  • To maintain their relevance in the "post-Millennial, postmodern and increasingly post-Christian period," those who teach religion and theology had better start incorporating popular film into their studies, argues Anton Karl Kozlovic.

Book, film and video reviews:

Posted by dwhudson at 9:23 AM | Comments (2)

Slamdance 05. The Awards.

The Grand Jury Sparky Award for Best Narrative Feature:

On the Outs

The Grand Jury Sparky Award for Best Documentary Feature:

The Grand Jury Sparky Award for Best Animation Short:

  • Honorable Mention for Sheol.
  • Winner: Egg. "A fully realized animation, filled with conflict and tension, that makes perfect narrative sense while defying all common sense."

The Grand Jury Sparky Award for Best Narrative Short:

  • Honorable Mention for Twitch.
  • Winner: Splintered. "A director driven narrative that wonderfully balances feeling and action and is executed with an attention to detail that exemplifies strong, visual storytelling."

The Grand Jury Sparky Award for Best Documentary Short:

  • Honorable Mention for Birdlings Two.
  • Winner: Run to Jay's. "An inventive short that at times blurs the line between the documentary and mockumentary genres and is quite simply, really fun."

The Audience Sparky Award for Best Narrative Feature:

The Audience Sparky Award for Best Documentary Feature:

The Spirit of Slamdance Award for Best Gallery Short:

The Global Anarchy Award for Best Anarchy Short:

The Kodak Vision Award for Best Cinematography:

The Sparky Award for Best Teleplay:

  • 2nd Runner Up: Foggy Bottom by Hoyt Hilsman.
  • 1st Runner Up: Amnesty by Nikelei.
  • Winner: The Cousin's Club by Ken Pisani.

The Sparky Award for Best Screenplay:

  • Winner: The Apology by Amir Ohebsion, David Diaan and Babak Shokrian.

The Bawls Big C Best Game Audience Award:

  • Winner: Scavenger Hunt by Jackson Dunstan, Jonathan Bryant, Kevin Neece, Doug DaSilva, Eric Smith, Jemal Armstrong, Lolin Turner, Shane McIntire, Ryan Hammond.

The Bawls Big C Best Game Jury Award:

Posted by dwhudson at 7:44 AM

January 28, 2005

Friday Night Shorts

LA Weekly: Bruce Wagner Brendan Bernhard interviews Bruce Wagner, "our premier 'Hollywood novelist,' part of a celebrated lineage that runs from F Scott Fitzgerald to Nathanael West, Budd Schulberg, Michael Tolkin and other witty, jaded observers of LA's sun-dappled, soul-mottled, earthquake-rattled scene." Even though there were still a few months to go before his next novel, The Chrysanthemum Palace, would be published when they chatted, Bernhard readily admits that the occasion for the cover story in the LA Weekly is PR tour meant "to reacquaint booksellers and the public with his work." Well, good. It's a refreshingly sharp profile.

Also:

Notre Musique Jonathan Rosenbaum in the Chicago Reader on Notre Musique:

Even if one can deal with Godard's compulsive use of metaphor and abstraction and his Eurocentric perspective - all standard in much of his late work - there's something morose and emotionally remote about this film. Around a sense of futility, a disenchantment with the world, he builds a kind of poetics that's akin to some of the excesses associated with German romanticism. The issue isn't whether such despair is warranted, but what one does with it. Now in his mid-70s, Godard appears to have settled on a meditative view of contemporary history and seems disinclined to explore fresh tactics for addressing problems.

Alternet's Jon Frosch: "France's national cinema - once proudly associated with glamorous names like Bardot, Depardieu, and Deneuve, as well as wildly talented directors like Truffaut and Godard - has been gradually eroding as it struggles to compete with lucratively exported American films."

Lee Siegel in the Nation:

The question of film's influence on psyche and society is about as old as the movies themselves, and David Thomson is one of the handful of critics gifted enough to address it.... Today, he argues, we are in a moribund period for film, a moment when the stories of Hollywood's golden age, from the 1930s to the early 1950s, have been replaced by special effects and vapid characters.

I can't think of a major film critic over the past twenty-five years - the late Pauline Kael, or Andrew Sarris, or J Hoberman - who would argue with Thomson, but he seems more weary of contemporary movies than anyone else. And The Whole Equation is marred by its weariness.

[...]

To go from The Whole Equation to Thomson's classic Biographical Dictionary of Film is to experience two different categories of writing. The earlier book is magnificent and necessary. It's like a great novel about Hollywood; all it lacks is a plot.

Brian Libby writes an open letter to Martin Scorsese in Salon: "Reports have been circulating over the last several days that you and Robert De Niro are giving consideration to a Taxi Driver sequel.... Do you remember the opening scene from Robert Altman's scathing Hollywood satire The Player?"

That 70s trail: Fimoculous points to "Two Johnny Carson Clips You Won't See on CNN This Week," posted by the panopticist, who thanks Dan Radosh for encouraging him to get them online and who, in turn, points to Jay Millikan's piece on 70s-era conspiracy movies from a summer issue of Stylus.

Also via Fimoculous:

  • Jason Silverman asks Hal Hartley about his DIY-all-the-way production and distribution plan for The Girl From Monday.

  • Beck's "Hell Yes," directed by Shynola.

  • The Hollywood Reporter's Andrew Wallenstein asks Lloyd Braun, head of the Yahoo! Media Group (more on what he's up to from Steve Rosenbaum), about the future of online entertainment: "Milton Berle - defining moment that showed what television can do. I Love Lucy - defining moment of what a situation comedy could be. We haven't really had our defining moment yet as to the big breakout event that really shows the world and the consumer, oh my god, look what this can be. But we will."

"If I told you that I've come across a low-budget little winner that capably combines solid horror fare with touching dramatic moments... capped off with a real sense of sincere human romance, you'd probably be a little bit skeptical," admits Scott Weinberg at Hollywood Bitchslap. "But if you found last year's Shaun of the Dead proof positive that an astute screenwriter can successfully combine any mixture of genres into an excellent movie (and it surely was), then you should have no trouble appreciating what Zombie Honeymoon has to offer." Also filed from Park City: MirrorMask, Pretty Persuasion and Grizzly Man.

Tony Takitani

Having found two films to recommend in Sundance's Frontier section, Scott Macaulay then turns to Tony Takitani, which is "not so much a film as a celluloid ode to [Haruki] Murakami and his oeuvre."

Via Movie City News:

  • Emanuel Levy's take on the 16 films in the Dramatic Competition at Sundance: "I could detect very quickly two major discoveries: Miranda July's magical and unique Me and You and Everyone We Know, a truly independent film by any definition of this ambiguous and increasingly problematic terms, and Phil Morrison's subtle family drama Junebug."

  • Anne Thompson on the "documentary-feature hybrids."

  • Liam Lacey in the Globe and Mail: "So many of these Sundance movies are so tender-cute-quirky you find yourself wanting to go out and kick a sensitivity trainer and tear the word 'poignant' from the dictionary."

  • Roger Ebert on nine Sundance films he likes, quirk or no quirk.

More Sundance wheat and chaff: Denis Seguin in the London Times and David Gritten in the Telegraph.

Anthony Kaufman's reflection on his run-in with the San Francisco Chronicle's Ruthe Stein at the fest is unsurprisingly civilized.

Gunner Palace "All the TV time eaten up by the Inaugural froufrou - including 'the most boring parade in America,' as one network news producer covering it described it to me - would have been better spent broadcasting a true tribute to the American troops in Iraq: a new documentary titled Gunner Palace," writes Frank Rich. "This sweet yet utterly unsentimental movie synthesizes the contradictions of a war that is at once Vietnam redux and the un-Vietnam."

Also in the New York Times:

  • "The festival officially wraps Sunday, when all the various prizes are doled out by the various juries, but in a real sense, Sundance was over on Monday." Even so, Manohla Dargis finds a few encouraging signs that the fest remains and will be more than "a weekend-getaway affair for industry heavy-hitters on the hunt for the next big thing."

  • Virginia Heffernan reviews the Sundance Channel program for which you see a banner right over there in the upper right-hand corner.

  • Reactions vary among filmmakers and the press to the glut of free phones, cameras, clothes and what not being thrown at them in Sundance, notes Sharon Waxman.

  • Dana Stevens on Army of One, which "puts a bitterly ironic spin on the Army's best-known recruiting slogan, 'Be all that you can be.'"

  • Once again, the street has found its own uses for things. Cheaper and handier film and video-making tools are leading to homemade commercials for products over which their makers have no control. And it's alarming more than a few of them, among them, Volkswagen, reports Nat Ives. In a similar vein, the Guardian's Stephen Brook reports on a legit remix for a VW ad featuring "Gene Kelly rapping and breakdancing to a club-mix of 'Singin' in the Rain.'" Don't miss the chance to watch it right there on the page; it's a little disturbing, actually.

  • Julie Salamon keeps a straight face throughout her story on how a rabbit named Buster has joined SpongeBob SquarePants in conservative cross-hairs.

Charlotte Cripps previews the "Japanese Film After Mr Pink" series at London's ICA, February 5 through 11. The title is derived from a notion first put forward in the Japanese film journal, Kinema Junpo, that the generation following Shinji Aoyama, Kiyoshi Kurosawa and Nobuhiro Suwa might be dubbed the "post-Tarantino generation."

Also in the Independent:

In the Philadelphia City Paper, Sam Adams talks to Bill Morrison about Decasia.

Clive Thompson in Slate: "The more video games become like movies, the worse they are as games." Also: David Edelstein on Hide and Seek: "[T]he next time I see an actor gingerly open a cupboard and get knocked back by an overamplified screeching cat, I'm walking."

The Guardian's Xan Brooks interviews Kevin Bacon:

Kevin Bacon

[L]ife has taught me that if I am to have a satisfying career, I have to take three things out of the mix. The first is the size of my part. The second is the size of the budget. And the third is the size of my salary. Once you get rid of those things, your possibilities exponentially explode. You get to work with the directors who matter. You get to make movies like The Woodsman.

Also: John Irving on Tod Williams's "brilliant idea."

In the Austin Chronicle:

"With records, you can be one kind of way, and records show one slice of my personality I've chosen to make public. But with movies you have to open up." Ice Cube talks to PopMatters's Cynthia Fuchs.

Morgan Spurlock: "Holy crap! We're going to the Oscars!"

Katie Dean for Wired News: "A group of file-sharing activists is practicing a little civil disobedience of its own in order to bring the documentary series Eyes on the Prize to a wider audience....Downhill Battle enlisted the help of a group called Common Sense Releasers to digitize the series and convert it to MPEG-4 format for distribution on the internet. The group hopes people will organize community screenings of the series around the country." Via the SF IndieBlog.

George Hurrell Dario Argento fans will want to tune into logboy's news at Twitch.

In LA on Tuesday? Check the lineup for the RES Screening at the Egyptian.

Online browsing tip. Photos by George Hurrell, via Rashomon.

Online viewing tip. As a modest percentage of the critics, programmers, reps and so forth that deluged Park City last week now board their transatlantic flights, the Sundance brouhaha is about to segue over to coverage of Rotterdam, which opened on Wednesday and runs through February 6. The amusing trailer features Mark Borschardt of American Movie fame.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:28 PM

January 27, 2005

Park City Dispatch. 5.

Sundance Hannah Eaves sends along our fullest Park City Dispatch yet, featuring not only first impressions of Werner Herzog's Grizzly Man, Jenny Abel's, Abel Raises Cain and Hal Hartley's The Girl From Monday, but also her own personal impressions of the town, the festival and GreenCine's own party, co-hosted by Res Magazine and DivX. All abetted by photos by GC Managing Partner Dennis Woo.

The American Dramatic Competition is finally heating up at Sundance. News hit several days ago that, after an energetic premiere, Hustle and Flow was picked up by Paramount for $9 million (although, after finagling, the grand total will probablybe closer to $16 million). Its story revolves around a pimp who, after hearing a gospel song, attempts to turn his dream of becoming a rapper into reality. No doubt the buyers were influenced by the success of 8 Mile and are looking to market this to the urban crowd.

Miranda July The Dying Gaul, however, seems to be the most popular amongst critics here. Featuring Peter Sarsgaard, Campbell Scott and Patricia Clarkson, this stage adaptation by writer/director Craig Lucas is about a screenwriter who sells the story of his dead lover with a devil's clause - he must transform the character into a woman. Brick, a high school noir, Miranda July's Me and You and Everyone We Know and Noah Baumbach's The Squid and the Whale, have all garnered generally positive responses. One notable aspect of the festival this year is the lack of agreement; it's very difficult to name a single film that most people found outstanding.

There are some excellent entrants in the World Documentary Competition, however. Werner Herzog's Grizzly Man is a fascinating character study of Timothy Treadwell, self-appointed grizzly bear expert. For thirteen summers, the youthful Treadwell camped in the Alaskan wilderness to observe and commune with grizzlies. His final year there ended in tragedy when he and girlfriend Amie Huguenard were attacked and completely devoured by an older, aggressive bear. Most of the visuals for the film come from Treadwell's own video footage, shot during his last few excursions. He comes dangerously close to the bears, touching them and swimming with them, all the while convinced that his work as a naturalist and lobbyist is helping to preserve their environment. Unfortunately, we soon come to learn that what Treadwell is filming in the Alaskan wilds is less a nature documentary than a kind of ongoing Crocodile Hunter episode with Treadwell styling himself as a great lone adventurer and the only human capable of understanding the creatures around him. His disturbed mental state becomes clearer through interviews and Herzog's own voiceover.

Treadwell was a failed actor and alcoholic, rescued in a sense by the power and individualistic importance that such a reckless undertaking gave him. The bears saved him from obscurity and addiction, but his staying there, against the wishes of the park service, to play out his own narcissistic fantasies and adamant death wish, was bound to end in tragedy. His childlike love for the animals around him seems genuine, as was his belief that the animal world, though admittedly dangerous, was somehow more benevolent than that of humans. In reality, nature is cruel and animals want to survive. The most powerful scene in the film comes when Herzog listens to a tape of the attack (the camera's lens cap was thankfully on during the recording). He agrees that, at over six minutes, this is something that the audience should not hear. Surprisingly, the film doesn't deal with the ethical issue of using Treadwell's own footage to make a film that he, undeniably, would hate.

On a far happier note, Jenny Abel's, Abel Raises Cain, screening at Slamdance, is a joyful history of media prankster Alan Abel, the director's father. This film has the potential to be truly fantastic. In the 1950s Abel enlisted his wife and actor Buck Henry in a fake campaign to clothe all naked animals for the sake of decency ("a nude horse is a rude horse"). Many people, unaware of the society's satiric foundations, got on the bandwagon, and through their stupidity inspired Abel to pursue a lifetime of media hoaxes. The film breaks its momentum by cutting back and forth to the present, when what we all really want to know is what stunt Abel's going to pull off next. Within segments the editing is excellent - the opening shots of Abel semi-jogging to canned music are hilarious - but this film is one of few that would benefit from chronological storytelling, up to and including the present.

Hal Hartley Hal Hartley's latest, The Girl From Monday, is likely to get a mixed response from critics and audiences alike. Starring Bill Sage and Sabrina Lloyd, it is what Hartley calls "fake sci-fi." Though it takes place vaguely in the future there is an undeniable sense that it could be happening right now; that, in fact, our current world is so surreal it could have slipped into science fiction without our noticing. Stylistically, it follows on from The Book of Life and is full of off angles and slow shutter speeds (what Hartley calls the "Wong Kar-wai button" on the camera). In Hartley's vision of the future (or, rather, exaggerated opinion of the present), sex is nothing but a commodity, used to boost one's credit rating. After all, the more sexually powerful we are, the higher our status. Attachment or rejection in any form is a liability, dealt with in court and by insurance companies. Secret, corrupting clubs exist where people have sex purely for pleasure. Common punishment is a long stretch of teaching high school. The title character is from another planet, one without human bodies that relies on a communal conciousness. She is on Earth to find one of her own and bring him back. There are some effective moments, particularly in the first half and towards the end, and Hartley's continual experimentation with narrative and performance is something to be respected.

A Personal POV

It has become clear from my first visit here that the Sundance Film Festival is just as much about the overall experience as it is about the movies. All sorts of people come to Park City - skiiers after celebrity sightings and post-slope movies, executives looking for a hit, industry folks here for the parties, an excited yet cynical press corp, and, of course, filmmakers full of hope and frivolity. As a first time attendee, I'd like to tell you a little bit about what it's like to actually be at Sundance.

The Egyptian

Park City is a straight 30-minute shot up the highway and into the mountains from Salt Lake City, Utah. The mountains here are not sharp and craggy like those in Washington or parts of Colorado, which lends them a deserty roundness, straggly and dusted with snow. It's such a skiing town that a lift actually lets off on Main Street. The street itself looks vaguely like Vegas's idea of an old mining town. It only seems fake because so many of the buildings' exteriors were renovated at about the same time. Strings of colored lights zig-zag above and, during Sundance, barricades extend along the sidewalks. The box office is here, along with a wall-sized version of the schedule; inevitably, every film is marked with a "Sold Out" sticker.

The skiiers that come to Sundance must have an interesting time of it. Shuttle buses take people from one venue to another, often to whatever screenings people can manage to get tickets to. It's not unusual to see a large contingent of blonde bunnies in ugg boots and parkas at, say, a highly experimental gay film. Often they don't last long.

The press corp experiences an entirely different festival. Most press passes allow bearers into special press screenings and, in fact, this year an entire two-screen venue was dedicated to press only. They generally only see public screenings if they have a special pass (like Roger Ebert), know a publicist that can get them in or get their hands on a ticket, usually to a film that isn't being screened for the press, or whose screening clashes with something else. There are also tapes that press take out and watch at their condos. So often, when you read a review, there's a chance that the film's only been seen on VHS. For the press, Sundance offers an exclusive chance to catch up with each other, and the opening question is always the same: "Seen anything good today?"

For the filmmakers, the experience seems to be both fantastic and frightening. I spent a great deal of time with the cast and crew of Police Beat, an entry in the American Dramatic Competition. There was a triple birthday celebration (myself included) that ended with champagne toasts in the wee hours of the morning. The night before their first screening they had about twenty people staying at their condo in makeshift beds. Walking out afterward, I asked one of the producers how he was feeling. He said that he felt great, not just because the screening was over, but because sitting there during it he realized that he had helped to make a beautiful film.

Jenni Olsen The director of Police Beat, Robinson Devor, was one of the honorees of GreenCine's own party, co-hosted by Res Magazine and DivX, which served to honor ten filmmakers and to announce GreenCine's online film festival. The great thing about Sundance is that all the filmmakers - Keith Bearden (The Raftman's Razor), Bryan Boyce (America's Biggest Dick), Maya Churi (Forest Grove), Brett Simon (The Sailor's Girl), Robinson Devor (Police Beat), Mike Mills (Thumbsucker), Jenni Olson (The Joy of Life), Talmage Cooley (Dimmer),Miranda July (You and Me and Everyone We Know) and Hal Hartley (The Girl From Monday) - were there, together, in an intimate bar. That makes for interesting conversation.

The best story I've heard so far about the whole Park City experience comes from Mark Lewis, whose film, Ill Fated, was screening at Slamdance. Five minutes before the end of the film, right at the climax, the print flew off the platter and unfurled all over the projection booth. The situation looked hopeless. But, as Lewis comments, what happened next was all cinema:

This was our US premiere and I had a little trepidation going in. We had a Variety review after our Toronto Film Festival Premiere that basically said, Though a hit in Canada, no one's going to like it in the US. And during the screening, I just had this feeling that they hated it. That is until the projection fucked up and everyone in the audience just went ballistic. They were utterly and completely enthralled. Not only that, every single one in the theater waited through the twenty some-odd minutes as they looked for alternatives to show the last five minutes. And just as my producers (Rob Neilson and Paul Armstrong) and I were going to reenact the finale (seriously), Dan Mirvish pulled out his laptop, which was in fact the smallest laptop I had ever seen, with a DVD of the film. And in a truly communal fashion everyone gathered around and watched, with eyes glued to this monitor, the remainder of the film unfold. It was frickin' beautiful.

Ill Fated's Canadian rights were later sold to TH!NKfilm.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:05 PM | Comments (2)

Kamera. The French Issue.

Subway Editor Oliver Berry introduces a special issue of Kamera devoted to films from "a country where cinema continues to be a national obsession and a highly-respected artform," segueing straight into Ben McCann's brief introduction topped off with "A (Highly Subjective) Top Ten French Films of All Time." All in all, the pieces here are swift and to the point:

  • Edward Lamberti considers Jean-Pierre Melville, recently "subject to a lot of renewed interest," and reviews The French Cinema Book, edited by Michael Temple and Michael Witt (see also Sam Rohdie's review for Screening the Past).

  • Luc Besson gets two pieces, which might be overly generous, considering Deryck Swan's observation that he's "a director acutely aware of overstaying his welcome." Nonetheless, besides that career overview, there's also Adrian Gargett's look back at Subway - "fashion magazine chic is fused with pop-art surrealism - which creates a world of totally fantastic 'reality' situated distinctly in contemporary Paris."

  • McCann contributes two more pieces, one on how French cinema has dealt with the Occupation (and on the near-impossibility of objectivity in any history) - "[W]hereas the German cultural and political elite have been able to address the legacies of the past, the French, and in particular the French intelligentsia, have been reluctant to examine the issues of the Resistance and Franco-German collaboration during the Second World War" - and on French animation, contrasting two trends more or less exemplified by Les Triplettes de Belleville and Interstella 5555.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:13 AM

January 26, 2005

Shorts, 1/26.

Sharon Waxman: Rebels on the Backlot Salon's Andrew O'Hehir reviews Rebels on the Backlot, "Sharon Waxman's admirably reported chronicle of the 1990s' indie-film wars that changed the culture of Hollywood, at least temporarily." The book's subtitle stretches out to Biskindesque proportions: "Six Maverick Directors and How They Conquered the Hollywood Studio System," but that's not the only reason it's nearly impossible not to freely associate right over to the author of Down and Dirty Pictures: Miramax, Sundance and the Rise of Independent Film. Not only do both books treat the same recent chapter of American film history, more or less, both are also appearing right around the time of the year we tend to wonder, Whither American indies? That is, during the Sundance Film Festival.

Waxman's six "mavericks" are Quentin Tarantino, Steven Soderbergh, David Fincher, Paul Thomas Anderson, David O Russell and Spike Jonze, about whom O'Hehir serves up one of Waxman's damning anecdotes right off the bat. In fact: "The only filmmaker in Waxman's book who seems to be a truly smart and likable guy (and yes, they're all guys) is Steven Soderbergh." But the bottom line, evidently, is that the book is "less the story of how Tarantino and those who followed him conquered Hollywood than of how Hollywood conquered them, or, perhaps more accurately, how the two forces fought each other to a stalemate."

Also in Salon: Charles Taylor anticipates the weeks of Oscar punditry coming down the pipe and David Poland presents a few ideas as to how in the world the Academy managed to ignore Paul Giamatti once again.

Speaking of whom. Sean Smith and David Ansen sit down around a big round table to talk shop with a few Oscar nominees - and poor Paul Giamatti, whom everyone naturally assumed would be one as well. It's become an annual tradition in Newsweek, and rounding out this year's table are Annette Bening, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jamie Foxx, Hilary Swank and Kate Winslet.

Meanwhile, Movie City News has collected initial reactions from a wide range of nominees.

A few more reactions:

Newsweek: Oscar

Oscar's not alone, you know; César nominations have been announced as well.

There's a new type of dealmaker afoot at Sundance who "has injected tough Wall Street-style bargaining and sophisticated market research into the mix,"as Randy Kennedy writes. New York lawyer John Sloss, who was "larrgely responsible" for the success of Napoleon Dynamite and Super Size Me, has, "[p]erhaps more than any other dealmaker there... come to embody what some critics in the independent film world feel is the latest stage in the transformation of the festival... into an increasingly money-driven marketplace where the pressure for small movies to produce very big box-office returns has risen sharply."

Also in the New York Times:

  • "A collective yawn has begun to rise," sighs Stephen Holden: "The glaring problem facing the Oscars is that when you have too many contests, one on top of the other, they begin to cancel each other out." Even so, a nomination or a win still brings cold hard cash; CNN's Krysten Crawford does the math.

  • As online video approaches the ubiquity of online text, both Google and Yahoo are introducing services that'll allow us to search through the fog and noise, reports Saul Hansell. More from Chris Gaither in the Los Angeles Times and Dan Fost in the San Francisco Chronicle.

  • Hamburger America, a doc celebrating a meal that's fallen out of favor over the past few years, premieres both theatrically and on DVD on February 1; Melena Ryzik talks to the director, George Motz.

  • John Rockwell is deeply impressed with the winner of the top prize at the Dance on Camera Festival, the "extraordinary" Cost of Living.

  • Dave Kehr on this week's new DVD releases, in particular on Warner's "Gangsters Collection."

Jeremy Mathews reviews Zola Maseko's Drum, "a solid work of classical storytelling that’s heartbreaking in its portrayal of Johannesburg at a time when its rulers had convinced many people that whites were born to command and blacks were born to obey and serve." More Film Threat reviews from Sundance? Check the upper right-hand corner of that page for links to over a dozen.

Sundance coverage reminder: indieWIRE; Movie City News and Movie City Indie; Cyndi Greening and Alec Hart.

Masculin, féminin The cinetrix has inadvertently discovered Richard Linklater talking about the five films that inspire him most.

CNET's John Borland reports on how the studios are teaming up with the music industry to fight file-sharing. Meanwhile, as Jo Best reports for Silicon.com (via the Movie Blog), Napster's thinking about opening up a few video channels.

Everyone's wondering what the iPod for video will be; are cell phones evolving in that direction? For Newsday, Richard J Dalton Jr follows the first baby steps. Along that line, Cingular has launched a Sundance-oriented campaign; consider that an online viewing tip of sorts.

In the Village Voice:

Los Olvidados

One more NYP pointer: Saul Austerlitz makes a probably wise move, ignoring the January releases and switching on TCM.

More reviews you'll want to know about:

Dennis Harvey considers John Travolta's career in the San Francisco Bay Guardian. Also: Cheryl Eddy on Veer-Zaara.

Egyptian director Dawoud Abdel-Sayed is impressed by what the first Dubai International Film Festival accomplished last December and, in the Al-Ahram Weekly, recalls "the sight of Emirati boys and girls discussing the films on offer, their eyes glinting with the light of a new Arab cinema, culturally distinct, both willing and able to relate to the rest of the world." Via Perlentaucher's "Magazinrundschau."

Not only was 2004 one of the best years for the German film industry in far too long, the papers this morning are happily reporting on the Oscar nomination for Der Untergang (The Downfall), even as Dani Levy's Alles auf Zucker! has become a surprise hit. For Spiegel Online, Jody K Biehl talks to the director of "the nation's first post-1945 Jewish-German comedy."

From script boy to In Good Company: Paul Weitz tells his story in the Guardian.

Now here's a lovely fold-out magazine cover.

Online listening tip. Quentin Tarantino and Uma Thurman at MoMA. Via Greg Allen.

Broadway: The Golden Age

Offline viewing tip for those in the Bay Area (and you darn well know which Bay). Broadway: The Golden Age screens at the Castro on February 4, 5 and 6.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:23 PM

Park City Dispatch. 4.

Hannah Eaves is finding the shorts to be the real highlight of this year's edition of Sundance.

Sundance The Sundance Film Festival appears to be sending a mixed message this year. The festival, made famous for its support of independent American filmmakers, has started every screening with a promotional spot made by animation house JibJab. JibJab's claim to fame consists of a series of political animated shorts. Their frontispieces for the festival reveal a certain cynicism towards independent filmmakers. They begin with the word "Independent" in bold white on a red background, the letters blurring away one by one. The last letters to go spell out the word "inept." In one version a road line painter talks about how he hates working for "the man" and how sick he is of always having to paint straight lines. In order to break away and be himself, he starts painting colorful patterns on the road, stating that independence means freedom to do whatever he wants to do; in the background a car plunges off the road to certain death. Every variation of the JibJab intro leaves off with the main character's desire for freedom causing death through ineptitude, naiveté and carelessness. It doesn't help that a song preaching freedom and independence then plays over a hefty sponsor list. What is Sundance trying to tell us, here?

Wasp In stark contrast, the actual shorts screening at Sundance have been the 2005 edition's real highlight. They can fairly easily be divided into two categories - those that seem to be calling cards for future feature film work, and those that succeed purely on their own merits as self-contained stories. Of the former, Wasp, freshly nominated for an Academy Award, is an impressive entry. Many first-time features suffer heavily from poorly directed performances, often exacerbated by bad dialogue. A successful "calling card" film displays the filmmaker's aptitude for making a scene really work. In this respect, Wasp is a standout effort by UK filmmaker Andrea Arnold. It follows a negligent and desperate mother's day with her four children. The seamless realism of the performances and dialogue recall early Michael Winterbottom or Ken Loach. I expect we'll be seeing a very accomplished feature from Arnold in the future. Another competent entry in this genre is Kara Miller's Elephant Palm Tree, about a West African couple in living in London and suffering from a loveless marriage.

Ryan

Several standout stand-alone shorts, in addition to the previously mentioned (fantastic) Flotsam/Jetsam and The Raftman’s Razor, include Ryan, by far the most talked about short at this year's festival and an Academy Award nominee for Best Animated Short. Here, filmmaker Chris Landreth converses with his longtime inspiration, former animator Ryan Larkin. Larkin made several groundbreaking shorts in the late 60s and early 70s, most notably Walking, before falling into a creative stupor spurred on by drug addiction and alcoholism. 3D animation is used to recreate the scene of the conversation, but Landreth takes advantage of its flexibility to make each character's appearance reflect their mental state. For instance, neither has a fully fleshed out head. In moments of mental suffocation, brightly colored ribbons sprout out of Landreth's skull and wrap his face tightly. When he warns Larkin about his alcohol problem, a neon halo sprouts from the top of his head. The whole effect is visually stunning. It doesn't quite tell us enough about Ryan Larkin, however, which makes it difficult to fully understand the mental problems that generate such moving effects.

America's Biggest Dick On a much more sinister note, Brian Boyce's America's Biggest Dick, already an online hit, is surprisingly creepy. Boyce takes Cheney's 2004 Republican Convention speech and replaces its audio with scenes from Brian De Palma's Scarface. The result is both funny and disturbing. At three minutes, I think you should all watch it right now - especially considering that Boyce is a proud GreenCine subscriber. He's currently working on a collage film using old Ronald Reagan footage. Now that Reagan has passed away, it's definitely time for some healthy demythologizing.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:23 AM

January 25, 2005

Filmmaker. Winter 05.

Filmmaker Practically the axis on which the indie world turns, Sundance naturally figures heavily in the new issue of Filmmaker. In the most startling and editorially brilliant feature, 43 filmmakers - 15 more than appear in print! - with films screening in this year's edition of the fest talk about what they've learned making those films. It's a veritable symposium, workshop and crash course rolled out over six pages.

Mary Glucksman, who once again files her invaluable profiles of indies currently in production, also looks back at Sundance 2004 and offers a sort of insightfully annotated report card on how several of that round's greatest hits have fared since. Sidebar: the Sundance Theatrical Box Office Chart.

There's a Sundance tie-in to Ira Sachs's interview with first-time film director George C Wolfe as well; the experienced theater director's debut feature, Lackawanna Blues is screening in Park City this year.

Scott Macaulay has a fine, long talk with Sundance veteran Jonathan Nossiter, not only about Mondovino, which he calls "a film about the soap opera of globalization," but also about Michael Moore; Macaulay also takes a look at four new indie production companies.

Also:

Posted by dwhudson at 3:19 PM

And the nominees are...

Audrey Hepburn and her Oscar The full list at Oscar.com. More fun by far: the various collations at Movie City News.

The Aviator leads with eleven nominations, followed by Finding Neverland and Million Dollar Baby, with seven each. Then, Ray with six and Sideways with five.

Note the three minor noms for The Passion of the Christ and the complete shut-out for Fahrenheit 9/11.

The race for Best Director may turn out to be the most interesting, with the possible exception of Best Actress. Looks like Don Cheadle is the only serious challenge to Jamie Foxx for Best Actor. Votes for Foxx might split, after all.

Before Sunset is an adapted screenplay? Sort of, maybe. Whatever, just as long as it wins. And if Charlie Kaufman doesn't take home an Oscar for Eternal Sunshine... well, then we'd just be reminded how silly this exercise really is.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:08 AM | Comments (5)

January 24, 2005

Park City Dispatch. 3.

Jonathan Marlow sends word from the vortex.

9 Songs Twelve months ago, critics Shannon Gee (occasional correspondent for the Seattle Times) and Andy Spletzer (regular contributor to The Stranger) convinced me to see DiG! at the first screening of Sundance. Admittedly, a wonderful start to a program full of primarily good films. This time around, the first film was Michael Winterbottom's 9 Songs. The opening "song" featured the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, a band formed from the ashes of the incarnation of the Brian Jonestown Massacre featured in the earlier film. Any similarity between the two films essentially ends there. 9 Songs, in 69 minutes (nudge, nudge), is basically "sex, drugs and rock & roll" and nothing else. For folks that disliked the graphic fornication of Anatomy of Hell or Life of Jesus, these Songs are certain to disappoint. For those, like myself, that do not harbor prudish tendencies, the lack of a story that holds any significance is a far more significant worry. Ideally, John Cameron Mitchell's forthcoming jump on the art-porn bandwagon will fare better.

Flotsam/Jetsam The short that preceded Winterbottom's mess, the straightforwardly titled Elke's Visit, takes the artistic integrity of One Night in Paris if set on a train. It ranks among the worst films ever presented at a major festival. This pair, along with similar explicit scenes in other films that appeared during the first days of the fest, leads one to wonder if there is an unfortunate trend at work. I'd argue for another pattern at work - a force that sends us adrift in the midst of sea. Two fascinating works, Keith Bearden's The Raftman's Razor and the Zellner brothers' Flotsam/Jetsam, center on a lone man floating far from land. What each does with this little detail is considerably inventive, particularly the lovely animated sequences of the former and the unexpected ending of the latter. Merely two of the surprisingly strong selection of shorts this year, the aforementioned Visit and Waiting for the Man excepted.

Twist of Faith Thus far the strongest works of the event are, as predicted, the documentaries. Shake Hands With the Devil, a certain must-see for those ignorant of the achievements or, thanks to the inactivity of others, lack of achievements of Roméo Dallaire. The somewhat fictionalized Hotel Rwanda only presents one side of this horrific story, one we seemed doomed to repeat. Other notable docs include Dhakiyarr vs. the King (a made-for-Australian-television piece that revisits a clash between Western law and Yolngu law that left two men dead and many unanswered questions), the visually stunning The 3 Rooms of Melancholia (following the daily lives of young boys at a cadet academy), Grizzly Man (Werner Herzog's latest about controversial outdoorsman Timothy Treadwell), I am Cuba, the Siberian Mammoth (detailing the making of the legendary Mikhail Kalatozov film), Twist of Faith (Kirby Dick's document of one man's efforts against Catholic pedophilia) and Unknown White Male (about a 37-year-old gentleman who reached the end of the subway line at Coney Island with no memory of himself, a case of absolute amnesia).

One could even rank among these titles Jenni Olson's beautiful film, The Joy of Life. Influenced by William Jones (who, in turn, was influenced by James Benning), we witness largely static shots of San Francisco overlaid with two contrasting tales. The first, excerpts from Olson's Fuck Diaries; the second, a history of the Golden Gate Bridge. The latter works as an unexpected plea for a suicide barrier on the bridge. A compelling film for those seeking something far outside of the conventional narrative.

Meanwhile, in the Dramatic Competition, one disappointment is followed by another. Expected winners like Steve Buscemi's Lonesome Jim are likable enough but sadly unremarkable. Lukewarm receptions greeted Ellie Parker and Loggerheads as well. Like Olson's Life above, only Police Beat appears to be attempting something out-of-the-ordinary in its structure. We'll see if audiences embrace these diversions or not. There are still many screenings ahead and more words about them to follow.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:16 PM

Park City Dispatch. 2.

Before she set off for Park City, Hannah Eaves sent along a few notes on what she was looking forward to...

Roméo Dallaire: Shake Hand With the Devil Canadians tend to get short shrift in American cinemas - from the world-famous (outside of the US, that is) Robert Lepage, to recent great political documentaries like The Corporation and The Take, they don't seem to make much headway on this side of the border. Hopefully, Shake Hands With the Devil, screening this year at Sundance, will get the wide release it deserves. The documentary is based on the memoirs of Canadian General Roméo Dallaire, focusing particularly on his time as head of a UN peacekeeping mission in Rwanda, before and during its horrific and largely urban genocide. Dallaire's story has changed in recent months from "if only they had..." to "if only they'd just remember..." as evidenced in his recent op-ed piece for the New York Times on Sudan. Forget the "Oil for Food" scandal, forget the tsunami, tragic though it is; if the UN had heeded Dalliare's request for 5000 more troops, nearly one million lives might have been saved. Shake Hands provides clear evidence for the dire consequences of tragic inaction, on both a personal and a political level. Dallaire's supporting appearance at Sundance is a great example of one of the strengths of Sundance. He will be appearing alongside director Peter Raymont on a panel examining the role of documentaries in social change entitled "The World is Watching." We can only hope that it's true.

Another documentary highlight - a revival screening of Barbara Kopple's Academy Award-winning Harlan County, USA, accompanied by a discussion with Koppel and other key contributors (including the legendary Hazel Dickens, who wrote original music for the film).

The Girl From Monday In the narrative department, Hal Hartley returns to feature filmmaking, venturing into sci-fi with The Girl From Monday. Hartley has recently partnered with long-time editor Steve Hamilton to form his own distribution company, Possible Films, and hopefully this new offering will be on par with The Book of Life. Other interesting indies that show some promise include The Squid and the Whale, from Noah Baumbach, who co-wrote The Life Aquatic, and Mitchellville, previously seen at CineVegas and a true American indie. Mitchellville is amazing for many reasons - it's a film about a dream, and it works. It's a film by a white guy about racism, and it works. It's a film about being a high-end corporate clone made by a lawyer, and it works. At any rate, you have to admire anyone who makes a stack of money and then spends much of it on creating a very unique 35mm (35mm!) film.

Several forthcoming screenings are already noted for their extreme aggression. The Australian horror flick Wolf Creek is just one example and has caused more than one person to tell me, "You know, it was just a real mind-fuck."

With near daily coverage in the week ahead, look forward to reports on Werner Herzog's Grizzly Man and the long-awaited Strangers With Candy movie! Humor at last!

Posted by dwhudson at 2:56 PM

Shorts, 1/24.

After a hellacious move, there's some catching up to do, starting, of course, with Sundance.

IndieWIRE's Park City coverage has suddenly exploded, pretty much taking over iW's front page. Lots and lots and lots of coverage.

The Movie City News is on the case as well, having set up a special section with commentary and heavy linkage.

Sundance 05

Blogging from Park City:

Plenty Sundance at Ain't It Cool News, too, of course.

Following up on her preview, Heather Havrilesky files one of the more fun reports from Sundance and even manages to find "plenty of tasty Sundance offerings" on the tube.

Also in Salon: Dana Cook gathers decades' worth of memories of Johnny Carson from an expansively wide range of notables and Laura Miller interviews Terry Jones, whose cold and razor-sharp logic dissects the absurdity of our times: "What they should have done was get al-Qaida to attack Saddam Hussein."

In the Realms of the Unreal Eric D Snider's keeping a Sundance diary for Hollywood Bitchslap; also: Peter Sobczynski interviews In the Realms of the Unreal director Jessica Yu.

"To wail about Sundance renouncing its founding mission is to assume the festival had a profound mission to begin with," writes Bryan Curtis in his brief alternative history of the fest for Slate.

Sharon Waxman adds a dash of drama to the Sundance coverage in the New York Times: "Even in the annals of Sundance bidding hysteria, what was happening to Hustle and Flow into the wee hours of Sunday morning - a deal was finally made about 4 am - was writing a new chapter for the stakes, the hype and the players involved." MCN's David Poland argues that the film earns its buzz.

Also in the NYT:

  • "I see a lot of preternaturally swollen lips and un-furrowed brows as a film critic," writes Manohla Dargis (who also reviews Richard T Kelly's Sean Penn: His Life and Times). "I find plastic surgery neither morally nor politically objectionable; what bothers me are the aesthetics, the cavalcade of look-alike noses, stretched cheeks and bulbous breasts. And it is, I find, becoming increasingly difficult to see the actors - and the acting - for the plastic surgery."

  • Richard Rushfield: "Twenty years after the nonprofit Independent Film Project (IFP) started its low-key annual tribute to indie film, a then-neglected corner of the arts, the Spirits have grown into one of Hollywood's glitziest and quirkiest parties of the awards season." Meanwhile, Tom O'Neil's following the plain ol' Oscars.

  • AO Scott's got a name for the movies that come out of Indiewood: "midsize movies." He talks to several of the people who run the studios' specialty divisions.

  • James Ulmer: "Cornered by an opportunity he deemed "too good to pass up" and the gamble of untried terrain, [Stephen] Frears, a connoisseur of contradictions in his movies and his life finally said yes to another risky liaison. With a humble nod to the legendary Arthur Freed, the man behind MGM's golden chain of movie musicals, he began production last October on his first musical, Mrs. Henderson Presents."

  • Producers Michael Mann and Charles Evans, Jr are struggling over which of them can claim credit for The Aviator, reports Sharon Waxman.

  • Nick Madigan on Ridley and Tony Scott's penchant for working in television.

  • US culture has become so bland and acquiescent, conservatives seem to be running out of targets to shoot down. How 'bout SpongeBob SquarePants? David D Kirkpatrick reports and Maureen Dowd comments.

  • Lola Ogunnaike can't find anyone at ABC or the Academy who's all that nervous about Chris Rock hosting the Oscars.

  • The DVD format wars may matter even less than you already think, reports Michel Marriott: DivXNetworks co-founder Jordan Greenwall "wants high-definition DivX to be to video what the MP3 audio format was to music: a 'grass-roots movement that breaks above ground.'"

Manuscript: Beowulf Roger Avary posts an official announcement: "Roger Avary and Neil Gaiman have joined forces with Steve Bing and Robert Zemeckis to bring the oldest written English language myth, Beowulf, to the big screen through the magic of performance capture." In his journal, Neil Gaiman, writes:

Lots of people wrote to tell me there's a live action Beowulf film being made already -- it's at http://www.beowulfandgrendel.com/ . I honestly don't see it as a problem. Our film won't be that one (which looks really cool). It's a big playing field. And other people wrote to ask if we were doing the whole story, and we are: as far as Roger and I were concerned, the last act of Beowulf, an old king at the end of the Age of Heroes, was the key to the whole story.

The Austin Chronicle takes a peek into the offices of Richard Linklater's Detour Film and Flat Black Films and discovers around 35 animators "working in teams and hunched over Wacom tablets connected to Power Mac G5 towers and oversized cinema display monitors," working on Linklater's adaptation of Philip K Dick's A Scanner Darkly "being brought to full paranoid life via Bob Sabiston's gloriously surreal software abilities, which, as in the team's previous Waking Life, utilizes hi-def filmmaking overlayed with a rich, rotoscope-inspired animation. Thirty-plus animators, and, here's the catch, so pay attention: They need more." Take a look at a few more stills and, if you're an animator, send in a resume.

Also:

  • More opportunities: If you make short films, John Hewlett and Ryan Long would very much like to screen them as part of their bi-monthly Screen Door program. Submissions are free, the venue's great and, if you can make it to Austin, the programmers try to ensure that you'll meet other filmmakers. James Renovitch explains.

  • Spencer Parsons files a longish catch-all piece on the Austinites that've ventured to Park City. Might their reception have an effect on the local scene? "John Pierson's take is that 'in terms of a vibrant independent film industry, Austin's got it above and beyond everyone else, but that doesn't mean that it's a stand-alone viable community that can do it without connection to the majors.'"

  • Marc Savlov talks to Niels Mueller about The Assassination of Richard Nixon.

Nicholas Rombes at CTheory, on how "the real has become the new avant-garde":

In what might be the supreme irony, it turns out that the re-emergence of realism in the cinema can be traced directly to a technological form that seems to represent a final break with the real. For doesn't the digital - in its very process of capturing reality - break with the old photographic process upon which classical cinema was built? Doesn't the digital remove us even deeper from the real world?

It would seem so. And yet...

Born Into Brothels Andrew Mann meets Zana Briski and hears the story behind Born Into Brothels - and beyond it: "That Briski and Kauffman - once romantic partners, now collaborators of another sort - have continued to advance the children’s interests certainly sets them apart from documentarians who parachute into a situation and then vanish in a vapor trail."

Also in the LA Weekly:

  • Ella Taylor on Jean-François Ríchet's remake of John Carpenter's Assault on Precinct 13: "He means to up the ante on Carpenter and join his stylized formal elegance to a gritty realism that updates three decades of change in the modern cityscape, not to mention in the technology of carnage."

  • And on Takeshi Kitano's Dolls: "Kitano is never above winking at his audience, but I don't believe he’s doing that here."

  • Siran Babayan interviews Roseanne Barr, who appreciates other women comics, but "as far as a woman comic who's speaking for other women, they don't like any representation of the working class, women, people of color or anything anymore on TV. They only like models who can't get laid."

There's a tribute to Guy Maddin going on at the American Cinemateque in LA, which gives Andy Klein the opportunity to celebrate the director in the LA CityBEAT.

MS Smith on Susan Sontag:

For me, Sontag illuminated the work and significance of Godard like no one else ever has, both defining what I love most about his films and incisively analyzing his artistic achievements. She did this, in part, with her well-known penchant for aphorisms. She called Godard "a deliberate 'destroyer' of cinema." She argued that he created "a cinema that eats cinema." She wrote that "his work constitutes a formidable meditation on the possibilities of cinema." Aphoristic? Yes, but also incredibly accurate.

George Fasel on Akira Kurosawa: "[T]he 1950s were his greatest decade, and 1957 perhaps his most extraordinary year, the one in which he released both Throne of Blood and The Lower Depths."

Siân Stott: "For Theo Angelopoulos, L'Avventura may not be the film that most influenced him (that was Citizen Kane), but it is the one with which he has 'un rapport presque sentimental'." Also in the Telegraph: David Gritten on "the class of '99," i.e., David O Russell, Sofia Coppola, Paul Thomas Anderson, Spike Jonze, Alexander Payne and Wes Anderson.

Mio Figlio (My Son) isn't just your run-of-the-mill TV movie about a father coming to terms with his gay son. The father is played by Lando Buzzanca, star of 70s-era sex comedies and currently a member of the National Alliance, the second-largest party in Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi's conservative government. Partly as a result, as John Hooper reports in the Guardian, seven million Italians tuned in: "Mio Figlio, said one media commentator, probably did more to change the attitudes of ordinary Italians than any number of gay rights campaigns."

Also:

9 Songs

"How can I possibly claim that one of the most distinctive formalists of cinema is an ethnographer, a witness to his shape-shifting culture?" Terri Sutton considers several approaches to Yasujiro Ozu in the City Pages. Also, Rob Nelson: "Speaking as one whose late adolescence included roughly 200 spins of Ice Cube's blistering rap on "Burn Hollywood Burn"... I'll admit it's a little odd to discover the artist some 15 years later playing the lead in a de facto remake of Adventures in Babysitting... But the bigger surprise is that Are We There Yet? ain't half-bad."

What's it like being a contestant on IFC's Ultimate Film Fanatic? Vince Keenan can tell you, and a great telling it is.

Reviews at Twitch:

And at Koreanfilm.org: Kyu Hyun Kim on Park Heung-shik's My Mother, My Mermaid - "The big draw is top star Jeon Do-yeon taking on a dual role for the first time, paired with Park Hae-il (hot from Memories of Murder)" - and Adam Hartzell on Kim Du-yeong's Clementine: "It didn't need to be this way..."

Vogue: Sofia Coppola Over at Movie Poop Shoot, DK Holm has been extraordinarily busy this week. Scroll down for reviews of Conversations with John le Carré; Joshua Clover's entry in the BFI Modern Classics series, The Matrix; Projections 13; the December issue of Paris Vogue, edited by Sofia Coppola and including a vintage interview with John Milius conducted by Quentin Tarantino; and a healthy batch of new DVD releases.

As the Berlinale continues to take shape, you can't help but wish you could be in three or four spots all over Potsdamer Platz all at once from February 10 through 20. On Friday, the 39 features and docs making up the 35th International Forum of New Cinema were unveiled; and today it was announced that Im Kwon-Taek will be the center of focus in the Berlinale Showcase this year.

As Sheila Johnston reports, the Thai's had their reasons for not canceling the Bangkok International Film Festival in the wake of the tsunami (more from Wendy Ide in the London Times). Also in the Independent: Leslie Felperin on awards season, David Thompson wonders why Dustin Hoffman and Robert De Niro can't be more like Clint Eastwood and the interviews: Tiffany Rose with John Travolta and John C Reilly.

The Observer pulls a panel together - two directors and two journalists - to predict Oscar winners.

The Economist reports on potential Hollywood strike that could wreak a little more havoc than it might at first seem.

Metaphilm's put out a call for submissions. There may be a book in the works.

Sundance Online Film Festival Online viewing tip #1. The Sundance Online Film Festival, of course.

Online viewing tip #2. The Guardian's Kate Stables has seven of them for you.

Online viewing tip #3. Steve Rosenbaum: "Over the next few weeks - I'm going to share some of the User-Video's from the past work I've done on MTV UNfiltered, CBS Class of 2000, and Free Speech (syndicated by Studio's USA in 1999)."

Online viewing tip #4. The trailer for Short Cut to Nirvana: Kumbh Mela.

Online viewing tip #5. The trailer for Tim Burton's Corpse Bride.

Online viewing tip #6. Four Variety critics chat about 2004, the year in film. Via the cinetrix.

They all hate Napoleon Dynamite, so here's online viewing tip #7. Jared Hess's video for The Postal Service's "We Will Become Silhouettes." Via many, many channels.

Online viewing tip #8. The trailer for Tony Takitani. Via Twitch.

Online viewing tip #9. The trailer for the SF Indie Fest, February 3 through 15.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:55 PM

January 23, 2005

Johnny Carson, 1925 - 2005.

Johnny Carson
In his monologue and in his time, Mr. Carson impaled the foibles of seven presidents and their aides... as well as the doings of assorted nabobs and stuffed shirts from the private sector: corporate footpads and secret polluters, tax evaders, preening lawyers, idiosyncratic doctors, oily accountants, defendants who got off too easy and celebrities who talked too much.

Richard Severo, in an obituary for the New York Times that emphasizes on television specifically and pop culture in general.

Carson hit his professional peak during the indulgent late 60s and early 70s.... [The Tonight Show] was America's late-night cocktail lounge, the televised nephews of the original Rat Pack. Guests smoked and drank on camera without guile. Marriage was just a punchline, as gleaming medallions nestled in thatches of chest hair, braless breasts spilled out of dresses. Guests never chuckled - laughter was accompanied by a thrown-back head, a fit of cigarette coughing, a spill of the bourbon.

Jack Boulware, Salon, February 2001.

The official site and the Wikipedia entry.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:33 PM | Comments (1)

January 20, 2005

Berlinale. Competition's complete.

Berlinale Back in December, the Berlinale team unveiled eleven films that'll be screening in the Competition, either actually in the running for a Bear or two or just playing along. Today, with the announcement of another fifteen, the program is complete. Some of these are pretty wowable and sixteen in all are world premieres.

Kiarostami, Olmi and Loach First impressions: Once again, the emphasis is on Europe, particularly France; Asia is represented in the Competition only by Tsai Ming-liang, Gu Changwei and Yoji Yamada, which, of course, is powerful representation, but still. We might look to the Forum, then, which is hinting at a strong showing from China.

And that's fine; it frees up the Competition to give a shot of exposure to the Europeans, who aren't quite as fashionable at the moment, even though domestic audiences have been showing revived enthusiasm.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:41 PM

Film Comment. Jan/Feb 05.

Here's what you want to do: Sign up for Film Comment E-News. Not only do you receive a fine plain text heads-up on the new issue, you also get pointed to a finely formatted page featuring links to FC content not immediately visible via the usual route and an "Opening Shots Extra," with news bits about, this time around, Johnny Depp, Sylvain Chomet and others.

Film Comment

It also sort of makes further pointing here sort of superfluous. But I'll go ahead and add that there's a lot of Amy Taubin in this batch; she introduces her interview in the magazine with Clint Eastwood, but here, it's uncut. And she reviews not one but two features that premiered at last year's Berlinale that are just now arriving in the US: Head-On, which "will be marketed on the basis of the many awards it racked up and its depiction of the dark side of sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll. But it's in the quiet moments that Akin proves himself a promising filmmaker"; and Lost Embrace, "a much more charming depiction of immigrant culture."

Harlan Jacobson is infuriated by Route 181, a doc by Eyal Silvan, an Israeli, and Michel Khleifi, a Palestinian.

Perhaps the most tantalizing feature is a series of glimpses ahead at thirteen films from around the world that may or may not make it to a theater near you in 2005.

There's also, naturally, generous mention of the "Film Comment Selects" series at the Walter Reade in New York, February 9 through 24.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:21 PM

Sight & Sound. February 05.

When Will I Be Loved When Will I Be Loved is the occasion and neither interviewer Peter Biskind nor interviewee James Toback are in the mood to waste time:

Peter Biskind: A lot of women hate your movies. They regard them as misogynist.

James Toback: Right. A lot of men too, especially these professional women like Andrew Sarris - guys who wish they were women and feel obliged to write criticism as if they were women.

If you're a regular around here, Mark Salibury won't have much to say about Sideways that'll set off any alarms. But there is this: "[Alexander] Payne is optimistic about the future of US cinema, seeing it as in relatively good shape for the first time since the 1980s, with audiences once more open to politicised, humanistic filmmaking."

Reviews:

Sight & Sound

Posted by dwhudson at 2:17 PM

Park City Dispatch. Preview.

Jonathan Marlow looks ahead to the two festivals that may well be more "in sync" than ever before.

In an article entitled "The Sundance Odds Get Even Longer" that appeared in Sunday's New York Times, National Geographic Feature Films President Adam Leipzig described the crap-shoot of feature filmmaking. By his estimation, only five percent of the films submitted to Sundance actually screen at the festival. The situation is even worse than he suggests. The majority of the films in competition are on the radar of the programming team long before the submission process is completed. When a film comes in relatively cold, like Robinson Devor's exceptional Police Beat*, the publicists scramble.

Police Beat

Police Beat

For the uninitiated, much of the talk surrounding the festival (unjustly) centers on the Dramatic Competition and the subsequent acquisitions that inevitably result. It is, in fact, relatively rare for an otherwise unknown film to be submitted and then selected for the competition. A number of contenders - Mike Mills's Thumbsucker, Steve Buscemi's Lonesome Jim, Scott Coffey's Ellie Parker - are no surprise to industry observers and were long-expected to be included in the fest. Nor are the other projects hailing largely from unknowns. Certainly not when their citing filmmakers Gary Winick, John Singleton or Wes Anderson as producers or with a cast that includes actors Keanu Reeves, Laura Linney, James Woods, Liv Tyler, Naomi Watts or Campbell Scott (the latter two also sharing producer credits). To the casual reader, this wouldn't strike anyone as particularly "independent" and yet the situation reflects the current realities of the motion picture business. It takes a celebrity, more often than not, to get noticed.

Therein, the safest bets at Sundance tend to be the documentaries. Not by any coincidence, the most successful film to come out of the event last year was a doc - Super Size Me. Films like I am Cuba, the Siberian Mammoth and Shake Hands with the Devil, along with new works from Werner Herzog, Frederick Wiseman and Steve James, offer much potential at the 2005 edition. This year also marks the introduction of a World Dramatic Competition, thus presenting an opportunity for films that would otherwise likely go overlooked - Jun Ichikawa's Tony Takitani (based on a Haruki Murakami story), Chul-soo Park's Green Chair and Zeze Gamboa's The Hero, among many others - to finally get their due.

Abel Raises Cain For a real sense of independent filmmaking, look no further than the bastard step-child, Slamdance. New festival director Kathleen McInnis has been venturing to the mountains of Utah every January since 1992. "More than ever," she noted in a recent phone call, "these two festivals are in sync." When asked of the films screening in this edition of the festival, she claims that there's "not a clunker among them." A quick look at the schedule and I'm inclined to agree. Out of nearly 2,800 submissions, the programming team of three dozen selected a number of promising pictures: Amélia, a filmed adaptation of a stage performance by the legendary Canadian dance troupe La La La Human Steps; Abel Raises Cain, a documentary that follows the life of "media prankster" Alan Abel; the work-in-progress Malfunkshun, chronicling the short life of singer Andy Wood and his band Mother Love Bone, the demise of which sadly sparked the foundation of the truly awful Pearl Jam; Mall Cop, an unconventional comedy evidently attempting to follow in the path of Napoleon Dynamite; even This Very Moment, a German film about two missing children and a series of attempts to locate them. The production values, McInnis explains, are of "higher quality across the board." That remains to be seen but would largely follow a trend. Cheaper tools equal better-looking films.

Dan Mirvish, one of the original co-founders of the event, expresses a great deal of confidence in McInnis. "As we move into our second decade, we're really excited to have such a committed filmmaker and festival vet as Kathleen at the helm." Unlike many regional festivals, Slamdance is in a constant state of evolution. Mirvish, in particular, is "excited about our gaming competition this year which puts Slamdance on the cutting edge of the convergence between film and video games." A diversion, perhaps, but there will be any number of them to pursue in Utah over the next ten days.

* [Full disclosure: I saw a rough cut of the film many months ago. Furthermore, Devor's film isn't entirely cold - his first feature, The Woman Chaser, also screened at Sundance and Devor was even identified a few years back as one of Variety's "Ten Directors to Watch."]

Posted by dwhudson at 7:31 AM | Comments (3)

January 19, 2005

Shorts, 1/20.

Yesterday, it seemed two stories were hefty enough to warrant entries of their own. Today, indieWIRE does far better than lamely point at stuff about them; it offers actual substance.

Birol Ünel, Sibel Kikelli, Fatih Akin

Birol Ünel, Sibel Kikelli, Fatih Akin

Let's start with Wendy Mitchell's interview with Head-On director Fatih Akin: "Germans try to categorize films: in a comedy, you just laugh and in a drama, you're not allowed to laugh. I don't believe in that, sometimes we laugh and cry in the same hour." Towards the end, he talks about the three films coming up next.

Anthony Kaufman reports on the fresh weight that's fallen on wintertime festivals now that the American Film Market happens in November. Sundance, Rotterdam and Berlin are all beefing up "the industry side" of their fests, as Sundance programmer John Cooper puts it; adds Kaufman: "Most distributors, though, are setting their sights on the Berlin Film Festival and its concurrent European Film Market (Feb. 10-20). With the American Film Market out of the picture, the EFM has the most to gain, possibly becoming a major winter market on the order of Cannes' summertime Marche."

Berlinale Retrospective Poster

Meanwhile, the Berlinale's Perspektive Deutsches Kino program is set, and the Retrospective has a poster, designed by Volker Noth; the still comes from Antonioni's L'Eclisse, coming to DVD soon from Criterion, an event MS Smith is very much looking forward to.

Variety's plentiful special section on Sundance seems to be fully accessible to non-subscribers.

Cinema Minima has made a smart move in declaring Cyndi Greening's extensive preview coverage its "Sundance Special Edition."

Ray Pride's got a good quartet of Sundance stories today, too.

Eugene Hernandez has arrived in Park City and Amanda Doss is on her way. You going? Check out the ASCAP Music Café, suggests Matt Dentler.

"Well, the Sarasota Film Festival [January 28 - February 6] is locked and loaded." You definitely want to the name Tom Hall to see how he's matched up three films and three bands.

Wendy Mitchell sends word from the Bangkok International Film Festival (through January 24). Actually, the accent's on the "Bangkok" and the "International"; no doubt she's saving the "Film Festival" bits for an indieWIRE story.

This has been mentioned here only in passing, but it does need more attention. Whoever wrote the headline for Guy Dixon's piece in Monday's Globe and Mail puts it best: "How copyright could be killing culture." The most immediate issue at hand is the fate of the award-winning doc, Eyes on the Prize, which may no longer be broadcast or sold because the filmmakers' rights to use the archival footage they've included have expired. As large and absurd as that loss is, it's only a symptom of a deeper, even more malignant disease.

I keep trying to figure out different ways of formulating variations on, "Once again, Twitch is loaded with great stuff today." Suggestions welcome. In the meantime, just a few pickings:

Ghibli anime

In the New York Times, Julie Salamon meets Jeremy Gilley who plans to make a sequel to Peace One Day "that will cause nations and guerrilla groups to actually stop fighting for a day."

Fiachra Gibbons interviews Theo Angelopoulos for the Guardian.

Also:

The bloggers are watching:

Ne dis rien Online viewing tip #1. "Ne Dis Rien," featuring Serge Gainsbourg and Anna Karina. Via Wiley Wiggins, who's absolutely right: "The blog that is hosting this, Bedazzled!, is terrific." (No, he didn't italicize "Bedazzled!" That's just a stupid little quirk that's grown on me.)

Online viewing tip #2. Back when GC Daily was just a couple of links a day at the main site, this one, then tagged as "a sloshed Orson Welles," set off a bit of amused discussion. But, as Matthew Ross reminds us at Filmmaker, classics are meant to be revisited: Vice's "Top 10 Outsider Videos."

Posted by dwhudson at 3:03 PM

January 18, 2005

Prepping for Sundance.

Anthony Kaufman on "What's Wrong With Sundance": "Perhaps, between screenings, I'll pick up a coffee at the Yahoo! Cafe, and grab a drink at the Heineken Green Room, then take a rest on one of those La-Z-Boy chairs or on the InterfaceFLORnd custom carpets, followed by an aperitif at the Crown Royal's Sippin' at Sunset happy hour before getting a bite to eat at the Lean Cuisine food bar."

Sundance 05 But as long as the festival holds onto its position as the venue to break an American independent film, the industry feeding on it will continue to thrive. Real estate, for example. Browsing the very fine site for Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato's Inside Deep Throat, Scott Macaulay has discovered that Park City's healthy economy is enabling many to begin new lives.

More Sundancing via Filmmaker: Crispin Hellion Glover's What is it?. Scott Macaulay quotes programmer Trevor Groth describing it as "a Dadaist deconstruction of the hero's journey as well as a hallucinogenic trip deep into the mind of its bizarre creator." And: The trailer for The Jacket.

Ray Pride's found a Sundance Diary; text and photos from the British producers and director of Unknown White Male.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:47 PM | Comments (8)

Outbursts.

Steve Erickson: "Head-On, made by a German-born director of Turkish decent, suggests something new in the nation's cinema. Without avoiding social issues, it's not haunted by the twin ghosts of fascism and communism. Unlike some French films about minorities, it doesn't turn to American directors like Spike Lee and Martin Scorsese for inspiration. [Fatih] Akin's sensibility feels thoroughly original, mixing observational naturalism with outbursts of melodrama, violence and music."

Gegen die Wand

Alan Riding sees the film as a sign of Germany's "new acceptance of multiculturalism" and, in the second half of his piece for the New York Times, notes similar, previous groundbreakers in other European countries. My Beautiful Laundrette in Britain, for example, or Hate in France. At the same time, one shouldn't get the impression, as Riding briefly mentions himself, that Turkish-German life has never before been portrayed on German screens, either big or small, where, at the very least, Kaya Yanar has been at it for years.

In the Village Voice, J Hoberman addresses this briefly as well, adding, "Head-On's distinction is that, in recounting the tale of star-crossed lovers Cahit and Sibel, it eschews social criticism and inside ethnography for something more romantic and alienated. Call it doner kebab weltschmerz."

Call it what you will, just don't evoke Nick Cave, as Stuart Klawans did recently in the Nation and Saul Austerlitz does now in the New York Press; but Austerlitz wins more than enough points back in his favor: "[T]he first great film of 2005... This film is a cinematic version of a Joy Division song, simultaneously crushing and uplifting."

Posted by dwhudson at 3:41 PM

Shorts, 1/18.

In the Al-Ahram Weekly, Amina Elbendary talks to director Yousry Nasrallah about his film, Bab Al-Shams (The Gate of the Sun), while Mohamed El-Assyouti offers his take on the nearly 280-minute retelling of the Palestinian struggle based on the novel by Elias Koury.

Also via Perlentaucher's "Magazinrundschau":

TLS: Bobby Darin

  • Russell Davies in the Times Literary Supplement on Beyond the Sea: "Every time the boy-apparition Darin pops his head round a door with some perky caveat, cinema evaporates and pub theatre takes over."

  • Martín Solares's profile of Alejandro Jodorowsky for Radar (and in Spanish).

  • A preview of some of the highlights headed to screens in India in 2005 from Outlook India's Namrata Joshi.

Abhishek Bachcan had a very good 2004, notes Shruti Bhasin at Planet Bollywood.

Filmbrain and his readers are discussing whether this whole idea that Kim Ki-duk might have taken more than appropriate from Tsai Ming-liang could possibly hold water.

Doll Master To tackle Jeong Yong-gi's Doll Master, Koreanfilm.org regular Kyu Hyun Kim dons a boisterous alter-ego: Yuhn Mi-kuk.

Jason Wood has a "Quick Chat" with Nuri Bilge Ceylan: "I am the sum of everything that has influenced me in my life. My observations, my own life, other films, everything. Tarkovsky is one of the filmmakers that has influenced but even more than Tarkovsky I would cite Ozu." Also at Kamera: Christopher Sandford on Paul Newman at 80 and a review of Michel Chion's entry in the BFI Modern Classics series, The Thin Red Line, by Ben McCann.

Well said, Cinemocracy: "By giving Gunner Palace an 'R' rating, the MPAA effectively hinders the most sought-after candidates for military duty from appreciating the risk of what they're about to get themselves into."

"So why is George W Bush taking the oath of office this week and not John Kerry?" asks Errol Morris in the New York Times. "For me, the answer is clear: Mr. Kerry failed because of his inability to tell his own story."

Also in the NYT:

The Independent presents a guide to awards season.

Somehow, I missed this top ten: Aaron at Out of Focus, leading with Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

"It was on of those little accidents that happens on the set, the trash can tripped over, and Sean [Penn], who inhabits the roles he plays, he did just what Sam Bicke would do." Director Niels Mueller talks to Ray Pride about The Assassination of Richard Nixon.

She's One of Us At indieWIRE, the Reverse Shot team considers Siegrid Alnoy's She's One of Us. In the Voice, David Ng speaks with the director and Melissa Anderson reviews the "occasionally affecting but overdetermined debut feature."

Also:

Matt Lee reviews Wittgenstein, Theory and the Arts, a collected edited by Richard Allen and Malcolm Turvey, for Film-Philosophy.

Craig Phillips asks, "Did anyone catch the Guy Maddin reference on The Simpsons last night?"

The universe is expanding, and so are screens, and it's all giving Jim Knipfel a very hard time.

Also in the New York Press:

M

Tod Booth is back, tanned and blogging.

Look who else is blogging: American Jobs director Greg Spotts.

Roger Avary asks, "How could the UI workflow differences in iMovie be changed to be closer to [Final Cut Pro HD]?"

Om Malik: "The fate of TiVo also highlights the dilemma facing a lot of 'exploding TV' start-ups." He also collects views from around the Web on what's happening to the company. Via Steve Rosenbaum, who has a few thoughts of his own as well.

Online browsing tip. The site for Richard Kelly's Southland Tales, via Todd at Twitch.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:39 PM

January 17, 2005

Shorts, 1/17.

So the Globes have been handed out and the cinetrix, Aaron, who blogged furiously throughout the evening, Filmbrain, Liz Penn and I - recently graced with "a cameo with heft" - will be wrapping up the CONVERSATION later on this evening. The comments will remain open for a while, of course, so do drop by.

And now, the Bafta noms have been announced. It just never stops, does it.

Seven Swords At the moment it looks like Tsui Hark's Seven Swords is set to open Cannes this year; Todd at Twitch is pretty sure about this. He's a little less sure about word that Pen-ek Ratanaruang and Christopher Doyle are teaming up again for a film called "Invisible Waves," but there you go.

Fresh reviews at Koreanfilm.org: Adam Hartzell on Ryu Jang-ha's Ryu Jang-ha's Springtime, actor Choi Min-sik's follow-up to Oldboy and a film that "allows us to see how versatile, thus exceptional, Choi's thespian skills truly are," and on Kim Hyung-tae's Pisces, a genre-bender that doesn't quite bend the right way, evidently; and Darcy Paquet on Chang Yoon-hyun's Some, "a thriller, a mystery, and a hesitant love story all in one, but apart from all these things, it's a snapshot of a populace stitched together by technology."

In the Independent Weekly, Godfrey Cheshire recalls a drive across Beijing with Zhang Yimou in 1992:

[O]ne remark I found so astonishing as to be instantly unforgettable. Asked his favorite movie, Zhang unhesitatingly named, of all things, Robert Wise's The Sound of Music. On the face of it, the choice was hilariously anomalous in various ways. Forget about the cultural distance separating Wise's Broadway-in-the-Alps sing-along and Zhang's Chinese peasant background and hardships growing up during the devastation of Mao's Cultural Revolution. More to the point, Zhang's own films were everything that most classic Hollywood musicals famously weren't: earthy, sensuous, conspicuously intelligent and politically charged. Yet, precisely because it represented the opposite pole of his own work, Zhang's love of this critically damned family favorite also had a certain logic. For filmmakers obliged by political exigency to practice a kind of nervy, hard-bitten realism, there's an inevitable appeal to the cozy rules of genre and the escapism of the purely picturesque.

In that other Independent:

Trilogy: The Weeping Meadow

  • Jonathan Romney: "Given that it's an indisputably major film, The Weeping Meadow may nevertheless be minor [Theo] Angelopoulos. But the Trilogy as a whole might turn out to be far more impressive a farewell to the 20th century than we yet suspect."

  • David Thomson on a season of biopics.

  • Followed by "The Great Streisand Debate," Mark Bostridge considers her career on the screen - and what it might have been.

"The last film I'll review for the PSIFF is perhaps my favorite, and solidifies the strong Scandinavian presence at the festival this year." Doug Cummings on Hawaii, Oslo.

David Denby in the New Yorker: "[Ben] Stiller is the latest, and crudest, version of the urban Jewish male on the make.... What accounts for Stiller's enormous success? To put it mildly, he's not a high-style or a reflective performer. But, in many of his movies, he's a hetero swain, and that seems to have done it for him."

New York's Logan Hill meets Topher Grace; he's also got a few questions for John Leguizamo. Also: Franklin Foer on Susan Sontag.

DJ Kirkbride in McSweeney's: "Do not underestimate the dangers of living on the same planet as highly regarded actor James Caan."

Recently at Alternet:

The Gordon File

Steven Soderbergh and George Clooney simply may not have the energy to carry on running their production company, Section Eight, once their contract with Warner Bros expires, reports Laura M Holson.

Also in the New York Times:

    Fox Butterfield: "CD's and DVD's titled 'Stop Snitching' have surfaced, naming some people street gangs suspect of being witnesses against them and warning that those who cooperate with the police will be killed. To underscore its message, the Baltimore DVD shows what appears to be three dead bodies on its back cover above the words 'snitch prevention.'" Comments Filmmaker's Steve Gallagher: "Somehow, I don't think the folks at Apple promoting iMovie has this in mind."

  • Bollywood actor Vivek Oberoi is helping rebuild a village in India; where are the other stars, wonders Saritha Rai.

  • Alessandra Stanley looks at celeb-led relief efforts in the US.

  • Ross Johnson, briefly, on another production company whose fate is unknown: Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston's Plan B.

"Why ALF? And why now?" Flak doesn't really have an answer to that, just a commentary you can download and play along with the pilot for the series.

James Wolcott nails the pathetic abuse of a quote from Pauline Kael.

Following the run-up to Sundance:

Monster Road Steve Rosenbaum and family try out Akimbo.

Via Movie City News, Roger Ebert on Clint Eastwood's winning strategy.

Online viewing tip. The trailer for Monster Road. Via Wiley Wiggins.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:24 AM

January 15, 2005

Weekend shorts.

Muxmäuschenstill Here we are, well into January, but you know, I'll stop pointing to year-end lists when interesting ones stop appearing. And the team at Hollywood Bitchslap have drawn up a very interesting one indeed: "The Best Unbought, Unseen and Annoyingly Undistributed Films of 2004," presented in alphabetical order. I'll just mention one to note that it made the top of a few best and worst lists from German critics this year, Muxmäuschenstill.

More at HB: Scott Weinberg has compiled a list of "The Scientifically-Proven Worst Movies of 2004" and David Cornelius has found "Ten Hidden STV Gems for 2004." That's straight-to-video, don't you know. More traditional bests-n-worsts lists: Erik Childress, Collin Sauter, Jason Whyte and Peter Sobczynski.

Weinberg, by the way, has also already begun interviewing filmmakers headed to Slamdance and Sundance.

George Fasel has chosen a fine time to compile his "Best, Ever" list.

Darren Hughes and his readers discuss "The Precise Moment John Cassavetes's Faces Becomes One of My All-Time Favorite Films."

Mack at Twitch has found a delicious bit of news at the Korea Times. As Kim Tae-jong reports, Shinya Tsukamoto, Song Il-gon and Apichatpong Weerasethakul are contributing to the as yet uncreatively titled omnibus film project, "Short Digital Films by Three Filmmakers."

"For [Kinji] Fukasaku, the Yakuza series was always a fundamentally political work," writes in Sam Sweet Stop Smiling. "He viewed both the Yakuza organizations, as well as the violence they performed, as products of an emotionally and financially torn post-war Japan."

"The most obvious point to make is that year after year fewer Americans leave their house to see movies." Studio by studio, Leonard Klady breaks down the majors' performances during 2004 for Movie City News; previously: "Comparatively speaking gross revenues crept up by 2% from 2003 and admissions declined by almost 6%. I've probably written a comparable scenario 15 times in the last 20 years."

The distribution system may be undergoing radical changes, but getting your film made, at least the old-fashioned way, is still tough. And once it's made, getting it seen is even tougher, Adam Leipzig, prez of National Geographic Feature Films, reminds us in the New York Times. He lays out the stats of getting through each obstacle on a long, long course.

Also in the NYT:

Stanley Crouch: The Artificial White Man

Heading to Sundance? See Cronicas, advises Jeffrey Wells.

Why is swag more plentiful than ever? Because advertising can only reach so far; ink's better, writes David Weddle in a piece for the Los Angeles Times Magazine that isn't exclusively about the movie biz, of course.

Dan Glaister fills British readers of the Guardian in on the latest goofy battle in America's endless culture wars: right-wingers are calling for a boycott of advertisers supporting Desperate Housewives.

Also:

Anton Corbijn: Joy Division

Having a hard time keeping track of all the headlines Angelina Jolie's sparked in the past few years? The Independent's Andrew Buncombe is here to help.

What are you doing on Darwin Day? No plans yet? You don't have all the time in the world, you know. Comes up on February 12. At Movie Habit, Marty Mapes explains and offers a list of "ten scientific, skeptic, atheist, or humanist movies appropriate for a quiet little Darwin Day celebration." And on a neighboring page, a top ten. Via AKrizman.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:41 AM

Godard and the Globe.

The Boston Globe's Mark Feeney interviews Jean-Luc Godard. Two snippets:

A: ...I'm not against the text. I'm not against it, because the relationship between text and the image, it's the bible. It's like brother and sister, or parents and children, or grandparents and grandchildren. But the way it is used, mainly by the people of text, is a sort of tyranny. It's like an Asiatic despot, the dominance of the word.

Jean-Luc Godard

Q: Isn't it the other way around, though? Over the past century, film, video, the image have come to dominate the text.
A: No, no, they say it has, but it hasn't, it hasn't. [Chuckles.] How charming that would be. There would be no newspapers.

[...]

A: ...I like new technology because for a time, at the point of its invention, there are no rules. You have to find the right rules for yourself. But today the new technology, the rules are fixed already in the medium, if I may say so, so you have to be careful how you use it. The new little cameras, everyone says everyone can do his own movie now. But at the time the pencil was invented, its invention did not make obligatory that you can be a new Velazquez or Rembrandt. It is the same with the movies. It's not because you have a small camera and you can go everywhere, under the bed, in the pocket of your boy- or girlfriend, that you can make a Splendor in the Grass by [Elia] Kazan or Touch of Evil by [Orson] Welles, you see.

Via Movie City Indie.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:42 AM

January 14, 2005

Shorts, 1/14.

Ozu The traveling Yasujiro Ozu retrospective has been playing at the Gene Siskel Film Center (and will carry on through March 3) and, in the Chicago Reader, Jonathan Rosenbaum offers an unsurprisingly engaging and, at the same time, almost essential preview:

Ozu's films tend to be physical and physically expressive, and I would argue that in this respect his silent pictures are superior to his talkies. It's one reason he kept directing silents through 1935.... Ozu is commonly regarded as "the most Japanese of Japanese directors" - the usual reason given for why his films were slower to reach the West than those of Akira Kurosawa and Kenji Mizoguchi.... Yet the most critically illuminating study of his work I know, by Shigehiko Hasumi, provocatively maintains that calling Ozu "very Japanese" is "a huge mistake... based on a lack of understanding of his works." ... Ozu has been misperceived in many ways.... Hasumi writes, in what I think is the most important sentence in his book, "Ozu's talent lies in choosing an image that can function poetically at a particular moment by being assimilated into the film, not by affixing to the film the image of an object that is considered poetic in a domain outside the film."

Doug Cummings is filing succinct and insightful reviews from the Palm Springs International Film Festival again.

Todd at Twitch:

When word got out that the League [of Gentlemen] were working on a feature film I immediately began digging around to see if there was any chance of speaking to one of them about their new venture. Shockingly enough I got in contact with Mark [Gatiss], and, even more shockingly, he agreed to speak with me. We spent more than an hour not only talking about the film but the history of the League, Mark’s involvement with the newly rejuvenated Dr. Who, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, life on a Woody Allen set and a good bit more, besides.

The DVD boom is having dozens of long-term ramifications, and Tim de Lisle touches on several of them in his cover story for the Guardian's Friday Review. But this is the one most encouraging for most of us:

Friday Review: DVDs

DVD has been good for several species of small fish: arthouse films, foreign films, ethnic-minority films, classics, and especially documentaries.... At the UK Film Council, there is a man whose job it is to maintain this sort of biodiversity: Pete Buckingham, once the founder of London's Ritzy cinema, now the council's head of distribution and exhibition. He feels DVD is helping. "One thing that can be said from the research I've seen is that it does seem to be encouraging a wider taste in movies."

Also: John Patterson has a long, often amusing chat with Paul Giamatti.

Your TV is exploding, notes Jeff Jarvis. Via Chuck Olsen.

"What I find so incredible about [Ritwik] Ghatak," Mira Nair tells Sukhdev Sandhu, "and especially The Cloud-Capped Star, is his use of beautiful flat landscapes that offer a remarkable encapsulation of Bengal. In his films, every frame is set and shot in a real place. It gives the sense that life is going on all around. That was still radical when I was shooting Salaam Bombay! in 1987: all the local filmmaker friends couldn't believe the trouble I was taking to shoot every frame in the street. They said that was what the studio was for."

Also in the Telegraph:

  • Andrew O'Hagan: "Can a fictional hero still be heroic, without the inclusion of the post-traumatic stress disorder? The answer to this question is yes, so long as one is looking less for it in Hollywood than in China, where an infusion of post-Cultural Revolution zest has entered into the bloodstream of the national cinema, and where films are now being made in the manner of John Ford and David Lean."

  • Sarah Crompton: "I can barely begin to describe in a column of this length how much I admire The Aviator.... But.... when actors pretend to be other actors it only exposes the limitations of the pretence they engage in to make their living."

  • David Gritten interviews Jean-Pierre Jeunet.

And the Independent's interviews: Tiffany Rose with Jennifer Garner and Leslie Felperin with Lukas Moodysson: "This is my number one advice for aspiring directors: create a nice and friendly atmosphere. People should be kind on the set and take care of each other. Don't leave people alone. Have lots of fruit around."

Also: Patrick Marber on all he saw and learned as his play, Closer, became a film: "I didn't think there was any point in working with Mike Nichols and wanting it all my way. I wanted to support his vision. It wasn't until I saw the final cut that I realised what he was up to." And Geoffrey Macnab: "The story of why Million Dollar Baby has been overlooked [by the Baftas] offers an intriguing insight into the paranoia, politicking and frantic lobbying that go hand in hand with modern-day movie awards."

In the London Times, Jeff Dawson meets Dustin Hoffman: "God bless him. In the throes of his 68th winter, and happily married for the past 25 of them, Hoffman can not only sauce with the best, but do it with impunity." Also, Sean Macaulay dips into LA culture: "It’s Earthquake meets The Perfect Storm!” The pair I eavesdropped were deadly serious as they compared the tsunami to 9/11 and ticked off all the reasons why the tsunami won hands down as a movie premise." And they go on talking, too. Macaulay shares his notes.

"The Envelope," a special section of the Los Angeles Times "calendarlive.com" thing that gathers the paper's awards coverage, seems to be open to us non-subscribers. Just so you know.

MirrorMask

Online browsing tip. Neil Gaiman points to new stills from MirrorMask.

Online viewing tip. Gossip is usually out of bounds around - wait... said that yesterday. Anyway, via Defamer, a teeny tiny movie.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:03 AM | Comments (2)

January 13, 2005

Shorts, 1/13.

Everyday People Leading with Jim McKay's Everyday People, Chuck Tyron's top ten provides an excellent excuse to direct you immediately to the chutry experiment.

David Poland sorts through the over 200 top tens Movie City News has collected and collated on its Top Ten Chart and discovers that the top six "are pretty much the same any way you slice it. Sideways (Craig Phillips posts a scene), Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Million Dollar Baby, The Aviator, Before Sunset and The Incredibles.

So how was that New York Film Critics Circle Awards dinner on Sunday? You won't find an account any more fun than Jake Brooks's in the New York Observer. Also: Eddie Borges on Blueprint, "a new big fish in the small pond of Manhattan's film world."

David Thomson is guest curating and introducing a series of films based on his new book, The Whole Equation at the Pacific Film Archive, running today through January 30. In the San Francisco Bay Guardian, Kimberley Chun chats with him and finds him "less intimidating and more down-to-earth than one imagines." Nonetheless, on a neighboring page, Max Goldberg remains skeptical of Thomson's most recent direction: "Questioning the limits of cinematic form is valid enough, but [David] Thomson can do it to the point of being reductive. With distributors, multiplexes, DVD manufacturers, and Blockbuster stores already limiting what most people can see, do we really need one of the nation's preeminent film thinkers playing the same game?"

Also in the SFBG: "Grown-up" outsider film is a rare breed indeed, but Dennis Harvey has found an oeuvre not to be ignored in the program "Phil Chambliss: Auteur From Arkansas," screening tomorrow evening at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco; his films are "authentic, crazy - crazily authentic." And Goldberg, briefly, on The Merchant of Venice.

With the new site and all, and until we all get used to it - as we will! - it's easy to miss new articles in the Village Voice. Fortunately, Anthony Kaufman has a blog and knows how to use it. He points to the piece, which he wrote, that inspired the response from Ted Hope right there at the top of the "Shorts" on Tuesday. The gist: "[A]s we enter Bush's second term, the country's extreme rightward turn could ignite the type of movie renaissance not seen since eight years of nuclear proliferation, HIV discrimination, and materialist greed helped produce the American independent film movement of the late 80s and early 90s. If the careers of Todd Haynes, Spike Lee, and Steven Soderbergh were all launched during the Reagan-Bush regime, imagine what's possible over the next four years." And in his most recent blog entry, he adds a few "worthy quotes from some industry folks that didn't make it into the final article."

Just one review in this week's LA Weekly: Scott Foundas on The Chorus, "the kind of foreign film, like Cinema Paradiso and Il Postino and Amélie before it, that doesn't seem foreign at all to most audiences, because it speaks in a language that obliterates the need for subtitling - that of the sentimental cliché."

Steve Rosenbaum: "In all the hot sweaty blogging about Mac Mini and iPod Shuffle - there's a interesting new set of features in iMovie that matters to folks in the documentary community." More from Wiley Wiggins and Filmmaker's Steve Gallagher.

Gossip is usually out of bounds around here, but this... well, it's having repercussions! Paul D Colford in the New York Daily News: "The breakup of Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston ranks as the mother of all celebrity news stories. It's so big that People, Us Weekly and In Touch Weekly have all taken the unprecedented step of rushing out a second issue in less than a week to splash the split on their covers."

Laura M Holson takes stock of the ongoing negotiations on just how and in what form Miramax will extract itself from Disney. Also in the New York Times: Ross Johnson previews The Last Mogul: The Life and Times of Lew Wasserman and Dana Stevens reviews About Baghdad, "grim index of the situation in Iraq that July 2003 now seems a long time ago."

"Ironic: it took a French audience to get British distributors interested in a British film." Even so, Yasmin, a film about prejudice in northern England which played on big screens throughout Europe, will premiere in the UK on Channel 4, reports Stuart Jeffries. Also in the Guardian: Anthony Harvison on a rediscovered recording of a performance of one of Dennis Potter's plays; and a Clint Eastwood quiz.

Heavens, Ray Pride's on a roll over at Movie City Indie.

Berlinale 55 And over at Twitch, a favorite since its launch, things have just gotten even livelier with the addition of a new blogger, Svet, who concentrates on European affairs.

For Film-Philosophy, Rebecca Bell-Metereau offers her take on each of the essays in the anthology Memory and Popular Film, edited by Paul Grainge. And via F-P: Miradas, a Spanish-language journal that looks vast and deep.

Add SXSW's Matt Dentler's name to the list of festival directors urging filmmakers to think twice, three times and four before submitting a work on DVD.

Video, performances, installations... the program for transmediale.05 (February 4 through 8 in Berlin) is taking shape fast. Interested primarily in the screenings? Here, then.

Minimal, in an intriguing astronomical chart sort of way: the posters for the 55th Berlinale.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:22 PM

Notcoming.com. Best DVDs.

Notcoming.com: The Best DVDs of 2004 Yes, you're probably tiring of best-of-04 lists by now (and to think that awards season is just getting underway), but Notcoming.com's got a sharp one that's also - and this is no small thing, after all - a pleasure to look at as well. Four, actually. "The Best DVDs of 2004" kicks off with a Criterion-heavy top ten, annotated smartly and then supplemented with extra picks from three contributing editors. A few snippets:

  • Matt Bailey on one of his, a six-disc set from Home Vision Entertainment, Kinji Fukasaku's The Yakuza Papers: "I have never experienced works so visceral, so shocking in their violence (and I consider myself fairly unshockable), so unexpectedly humorous, so grimly pessimistic yet at the same time so full of vigorous power and force, and so eminently watchable."

  • Leo Goldsmith: "The authenticity and authority of the object - its 'aura' in Benjamin's terminology - is lost with the process of mechanical reproduction. Bill Morrison's film, Decasia, is a kind of reification of the aura in film, treating the film-strip itself as a unique, material object in which time has inscribed itself."

  • Rumsey Taylor lauds Anchor Bay for treating its Dawn of the Dead: The Ultimate Edition package "in the same manner as a contemporary blockbuster, although its cost would not likely cover the catering expenses of [a] more famous trilogy."

Posted by dwhudson at 7:36 AM

January 12, 2005

The Conversation

... is underway.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:10 PM | Comments (9)

January 11, 2005

Shorts, 1/11.

Ted Hope, a producer with a sort of co-founding-father status in the American independent film movement, compares and contrasts the moment of that movement's beginnings and the present in the Village Voice. A few choice cuts:

President Ronald Reagan

The indie production surge of the late 80s and early 90s was driven not only by a reaction to the Reagan-Bush agenda but also by the embrace of Gordon Gekko-esque greed... Innovative film will have a much harder time now than it did in the Reagan-Bush years... We can't rely on a voice to rise out of the darkness. We have to show up in huge numbers for those who dare say something different, or indie film, as a movement, will truly die this decade.

The soundbites don't really let on to what the piece is actually about. Go, read, see what you think. Is he overly pessimistic about prospects for the movies yet overly optimistic about prospects for, oh, the world as a whole? While you mull that over, you'll probably want to know more about ...Sometimes in April, too, so here.

Meantime, also in the Voice:

  • J Hoberman decides Appleseed won't push anime any further into the mainstream on its own (and by the way, Navarre has acquired FUNimation, but I digress), and so, gives himself room for another line of thought: "How is it that outsider artist Henry Darger's innocently kinky Vivian Girls have never been given the anime treatment? The transposition of that enigmatic mythology might yield a bizarro world or a nursery school version of demonlover's anime porn."

Revolution Televised

Via Perlentaucher's "Magazinrundschau" comes a pointer not too many of us will be able to get much out of; but interviews with Emir Kusturica aren't exactly a dime a dozen, so here's Barbara Hollender's in Plus-Minus - and in Polish. According to the Perlentauchers, though, the director, who freely admits preferring liberating fantasy to hope-robbing reality, is investing all his money in a utopian village named Kustendorf. This made me blink, so off I went to check it out. Sure enough, from Matthieu Dhennin's Kusturica site:

I lost my city [Sarajevo] during the war. This is why I wished to build my village. I gave it a German name: Kustendorf. I will organize there seminars for people who want to learn how to make cinema, concerts, ceramics, painting.... I dream of an open place open with cultural diversity and set up against globalization.

Kusturica's latest film, Life is a Miracle, is slowly, slowly rolling out across Europe and doesn't yet seem to have a distributor in the US.

Via Movie City News, Steven Kotler's thorough and engaging account for Variety of a conversation one morning between Gore Vidal and Kinsey director Bill Condon. In 1948, Kinsey actually sent Vidal a sort of fan letter after he'd read The City and the Pillar. "'His letter,' recounts Vidal, with a droll smile, 'thanked me for my work in the field.'"

George Fasel on Los Angeles Plays Itself: "I was a little surprised that it took so long for [Thom] Andersen to get to what I thought was his best point: it seems to be impossible to make a movie about Los Angeles without including the police."

Shola Lynch, director of Chisholm '72, comments on the passing of the Brooklyn congresswoman.

All three Reverse Shot writers angling in on Million Dollar Baby at indieWIRE find it sturdily likable.

Maisonneuve's Jonathan Keifer: "People who know or intuit what it means to jump the shark, and jealously or cynically figure it’s inevitable that [Wes] Anderson will."

Histoire(s) du Cinéma "Godard's abiding movie faith is radical," writes Armond White in the New York Press. "The collective parts of Histoire(s) du Cinéma are like a semester of what universities used to call "Film Appreciation." Each chapter, about one hour in length, equates to a course in film study and orgiastic art consumption. Godard packs a lot of ideas and images into short episodes." And White unpacks a few of them. He's also finally unveiled his ten best list, with Vera Drake at the top of it.

Also in the NYP:

  • Matt Zoller Seitz explains the thinking behind his own list, which ran two weeks ago: "I watch movies not to have my worldview confirmed and applauded, but to see what filmmakers and their collaborators are thinking and feeling, and to appreciate their willingness to take mad risks, whether grand or silly."

  • DVDs: Jim Knipfel on Sssssss "there are several scenes that remain genuinely disturbing to this day") and White on The Letter ("a great, fully realized, melodramatic examination of colonialism").

  • Saul Austerlitz previews the New York Jewish Film Festival (January 12 through 27; more); and so does Leslie Camhi in the Voice.

Lee Siegel is actually quite impressed with Soderbergh and Clooney's Unscripted: "By representing acting as a type of work, the show demystifies acting and, as a result, celebrity. At the same time, it dignifies the aspirations of people who want to become actors, and it achieves this without concealing their vanity or insecurity."

Also in the New Republic (or at the site): Stanley Kauffmann on The Aviator, which "suffers from its leading actor almost as much as Alexander does," and on Million Dollar Baby, which "fairly fills the theater with the odor of the mothballs in which the script has been stored." A whole generation of American filmmakers has disappointed us, sighs Christopher Orr, but "one could argue that [M Night] Shyamalan has disappointed the least."

Why do so many projects filmmakers are desperately passionate about fail? Citing, among others, the two most recent examples, Oliver Stone's Alexander and Kevin Spacey's Beyond the Sea, Caryn James finds at least two reasons: "Over the years, endless script revisions can drain the life and energy from a movie, which then staggers into the world as if emerging from decades in a dark attic, as withered and creaky as Miss Havisham. And the filmmaker's passion is often so blinding that he forgets to explain to the rest of us why Alexander was so great or Bobby Darin was such an idol in the Spacey household."

Also in the New York Times: Harold and Maude on stage? And a musical at that? Charles Isherwood confirms your suspicions; "It's impossible, unfortunately, to resist replaying the charms of the movie in your mind as you watch Tom Jones and Joseph Thalken's tepid stage adaptation." And Dave Kehr on new DVD releases.

Most of Zoe Williams's piece in the Guardian is conventional wisdom, i.e., remakes are usually dumb, but one point does slip through: "Hollywood gets more misogynist every year. Dialogue you'd see in a 50s film would be unthinkable in a mainstream film today, since it would necessitate the existence of a female who was intelligent yet not evil." Also: Richard Christiansen on Spamalot

Online viewing tip. "Over the last two weeks, Ali Fadhil, an Iraqi doctor turned filmmaker for Guardianfilms, has succeeded in making it into [Falluja] and the surrounding refugee camps. He discovered people had been shot in their beds, rabid dogs were feeding on corpses, and there was little to no water, electricity or sewage. A city of over 300,000 people had been destroyed and its inhabitants were homeless."

Posted by dwhudson at 4:13 PM | Comments (3)

January 10, 2005

Shorts, 1/10.

The Ascent "No photograph, or portfolio of photographs, can unfold, go further, and further still, as does The Ascent (1977), by the Ukrainian director Larisa Shepitko, the most affecting film about the horror of war I know," wrote Susan Sontag in the New Yorker in 2002.

The film screens today, tomorrow and Wednesday at the ICA, part of a Shepitko retrospective running over the next couple of weeks, but if, as is perfectly likely, you can't be in London, you can't miss Larushka Ivan-Zadeh's riveting piece on "one of cinema's greatest female directors" in today's Guardian.

Larisa Shepitko Shepitko had evidently come very close to dying young before she was killed in a car crash in 1979; she was 39. "You have to approach each film as if it were your last," her tutor, Alexander Dovzhenko, told her. Ivan-Zadeh examines why Shepitko, who eventually married Elem Klimov, remains barely known, even to film buffs.

Also in the Guardian: The Syrian Bride "has now won more awards (15 worldwide) than any previous Israeli film, but is struggling with prejudice both in Israel and in neighbouring Arab countries," writes Sharif Hamadeh, who talks to director Eran Riklis and his co-writer, Suha Araf, about why.

The New Yorker At the New Yorker's site, Daniel Cappello and Margaret Talbot discuss the latter's piece in this week's issue on Hayao Miyazaki, who rarely gives interviews, evidently still works around 15 hours a day (though he used to work many more) and claims Chagall and Bosch as influences.

Harry Knowles has posted a few hi-res shots from Richard Linklater's next, A Scanner Darkly. One will remind you of Jim Jarmusch's Night on Earth. That's via Wiley Wiggins, who also maintains the blog and who's been dipping into "the Roland Topor nexus of cool" lately.

Back to Linklater for a minute, though. Jon Lebkowsky has recently posted to interviews that go back a bit, the first conducted while Linklater was editing Dazed and Confused and the second right after its release. Two very leisurely, Austinesque talks; click when you've got more than a minute, actually, then relax and enjoy.

Eric Liu undergoes an extraordinary learning experience at the hands of Hollywood acting coach Ivana Chubbuck and tells you about it in Slate and on NPR.

Speaking of acting, Unscripted leaves Salon's Heather Havrilsky mysteriously curious about anyone but its subject: "See, Clooney and Soderbergh recognize that we're absolutely longing to see struggling actors... struggle." That said, as it probably needed to be, HBO, and many of the fine filmmakers it's been attracting over the past few years, are about to extend their reach - to PBS, as Bill Carter reports in the New York Times.

Angus Macqueen has spent 18 months trailing "stories about the iconic drug of my lifetime" to make Cocaine, a doc premiering on the UK's Channel 4 next week.

This journey has revolutionised my views. I now believe that the tragedy we witnessed in Latin America has little to do with the damage the drugs do to people's heads. The tragedy is a result of the drugs being illegal. People will do a lot for a £34,000-per-kilo profit.

Also in the Observer: How did Alexander turn out to be such a mess? "The answer, say industry insiders, is twofold: the combination of a destructive race between two rival directors to get the story of Alexander on the big screen and the worst kind of artistic hubris." Peter Beaumont tells the story. Plus: Peter Conrad on Nixon at the Movies: "Though [Mark] Feeney's book vacillates between psychobiography and cinematic history, he's a perceptive analyst and a vividly aphoristic writer." For more on the book, do see A Girl and a Gun.

"It doesn't happen often that a first time feature director gets to have an established director as a producer. I went over to London with an earlier cut of the film, and I loaded it up on the Harry Potter 3 editing system and I got my notes from my producer that way." The Cinecultist interviews Niels Mueller, director of The Assassination of Richard Nixon, at Gothamist.

Via Cinemocracy, Matthew Yglesias at the American Prospect's Tapped counters Max Boot's anti-Hollywood "diatribe" in the Los Angeles Times.

You'll have heard by now that the National Society of Film Critics has announced its awards; Movie City News has the list as well as the winners of the Online Film Critics Society's awards and indieWIRE has a round-up of the weekend's awards events. Is awards fatigue setting in yet?

Come on, Academy, pleads Newsweek's Sean Smith, after a quarter of a century of solid work, you can, at the very least, nod politely in Kevin Bacon's direction. Also: Nicki Gostin interviews Javier Bardem.

In New York, Jacob Bernstein passes along rumors that Harvey Weinstein may go indie.

In the Independent:

Picture Show: Harold Lloyd

  • Aaron Hicklin: "It may be mere coincidence, but at the very moment when the myth of the good American is in sore need of rehabilitation, a Harold Lloyd renaissance is in full bud after decades during which his reputation has teetered on the brink of oblivion."

  • "For the first time Germans can laugh together with Jews - it succeeds remarkably well." That's Paul Siegel, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, as quoted in a piece by Tony Paterson on Alles auf Zucker!, Dani Levy's new comedy about a very unorthodox Jewish couple about to receive a visit from very orthodox relatives.

  • "[A]t long last someone has said, 'Look, this is how you do it,' and made a film that hits you like one of Hilary Swank's punches." Yes, David Thomson has been moved by Million Dollar Baby, but before getting into that, he describes what's wrong with the way most movies roll out these days.

Jumana Farouky in Time Europe on Bahman Ghobadi's Turtles Can Fly, set in Iraqi Kurdistan: "It's his funniest film yet, which is surprising, given that it is populated by children who have lost limbs to the land mines that plague the region."

Reading recent pieces by Anthony Kaufman and AO Scott, festival programmer Tom Hall finds reasons to be cautiously optimistic about a sustainable future for foreign film in the US, but there is much to worry about as well. For example:

While independent filmmakers long ago learned the value of the festival circuit as a launching pad in the quest for distribution, a place where they can find an audience for their films and try to gather momentum, attention, and press coverage for their films with the ultimate goal of securing a distribution deal, many foreign film companies seem to be focused exclusively on markets. This means that many great films are withheld from smaller, non-market festivals that may generate interest and buzz, instead playing only at markets (and thus primarily for buyers) and hoping for a sale.

For the New Straits Times, KT DaSilva talks to a few Malaysian filmmakers who'll have their work screened at the Bangkok Film Festival (January 13 through 24): "Everyone wants to be the next Tsai Ming-liang or Wong Kar-wai. Do you know there are hundreds of indie Chinese films circulating in festivals worldwide?" Via Movie City Indie.

The International Buddhist Film Festival unveils its lineup any moment now. January 28 through February 13 in San Francisco, Berkeley and San Rafael.

Matt Dentler's feeling terrific about the way SXSW is shaping up, not to mention the entire year for the festival circuit.

And how's Sundance coming along? Check in with Cyndi Greening.

When Almodóvar met Marston, as chronicled by Eugene Hernandez.

Kung Fu Hustle "Maybe I expected too much." Joey Fernandez sends a review of Kung Fu Hustle, Stephen Chow's latest, into Twitch, where a fine batch of trailers has been collecting lately.

Quick reviews from Doug Cummings of four films he's caught at the Palm Springs International Film Festival (through January 17). Emanuel Levy's there, too.

Filmbrain: "While The Best Man may have come off as a bit extreme in 1964, it seems tame when compared to the ploys used in recent elections."

Vince Keenan wraps his favorable impressions of The Aviator with a very nifty personal aside about TWA.

Tagline returns.

The future of TV? Steve Rosenbaum's been collecting some of the more interesting speculations.

Chuck Olsen is wading into vlogging deep and fast; I won't choose a specific entry since there are too many good ones. Just go and scroll.

Cinema Minima presents a directory of movie-related podcasts.

Online browsing tip. Annie Leibovitz's "Ultimate Star Wars Picture Album" for Vanity Fair.

The Grey Video Online viewing tip #1. "The Grey Video." Via that cinetrix.

Online viewing tip #2. Well, you can't sum it up any more tightly than Steve Gallagher has at Filmmaker: "23-year-old wunderkind Cam Archer has created a series of surreal mini-films, 'The Johnny Spots,' to promote his latest film, American Fame Pt. 2: Forgetting Jonathan Brandis, which premieres at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival."

Ambient viewing tip. Wirecrossing, a 24-hour project by the Desperate Optimists. Via Ben Slater.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:51 PM

January 8, 2005

Weekend shorts.

Machuca The Nation's Stuart Klawans reviews Machuca, "an insidiously unforced movie, never drawing attention to its own cleverness, always investing meaning and tension into its details," a retelling, with a twist, of the 1973 coup in Chile that brought Pinochet to ruthless power. It was a hit there and now, as Klawans writes, "astonishingly, will represent the country as its official entry for the Academy Awards." Page 2 is given to Gegen die Wand (Head On) and Klawans's suggestions as to why it's been such a hit in Europe came as a surprise to me, anyway; he might not be wrong.

To an extent, however limited, the evolution of American epic cinema since its "last great era" in the 50s and 60s parallels that of America itself, argues Ian Garrick Mason in the New Statesman, and what's more, the waning of its most recent flourishing may well reflect a growing distaste for war and empire-building. (If you've got problems accessing that URL, try this one.)

The Mitchell and Kenyon Collection You might remember Nick James's piece in the current issue of Sight & Sound on the Mitchell and Kenyon Collection, those 800 rolls of century-old nitrate film discovered in 1994. Now, Ian Jack (presumably the same Ian Jack who edits Granta) has written one that resonates with its venue:

Sitting in the BFI's cinema, I felt that history had suddenly been enlarged and one of its divisions abolished, that between the living and the long dead.... The reels were the original negatives... The images, then, have a freshness and clarity, but that (to the film historian or otherwise) is only part of their appeal. What they show is a world now lost to us: the busy world of northern Britain in its manufacturing, mining heyday; the world that, among other things, created and sustained this newspaper as the Manchester Guardian.

Also:

  • Guardian commentator Polly Toynbee on Vera Drake: "Excellent social history, but why bother making a film about the bad old days? Because people have forgotten. Above all, because attitudes towards sex and the young are almost as bizarrely hypocritical now."

  • Steve Rose profiles Christopher Doyle: "Despite his shambolic demeanour, Doyle has been riding the Asian new wave pretty shrewdly. Now that he is a marquee name, he can be the deciding factor in whether or not a film gets made."

  • John Patterson: "It's my earnest hope that out there in the backwoods and the boondocks, the next generation of great film-makers is home-schooling itself, far from the empty education offered by most film academies... The means of production are finally, within our grasp. Now comes the revolution."

  • 40 years after the murders dramatized in Mississippi Burning, a former preacher and Klan leader has been officially charged, reports Suzanne Goldenberg.

  • Lisa Allardice interviews Natalie Portman, who's now begun work on a film with Amos Gitai.

  • Andrew Pulver's adaptation of the week: Andrew Birkin's The Cement Garden.

  • John Patterson on Julia Roberts: "I guess this is the most depressing aspect of being a movie star: the fact that the vehicle never really matters - it's the driver who counts."

LA CityBEAT's Andy Klein's year-end list is presented as an alphabetical and porous thing, subject to change any moment now; he's at his most engaging, though, writing about the two films he's pulled out of the running. Also: "Twelve years after first seeing Days of Being Wild, I'm finally developing some fondness for it."

At the top of Joe Leydon's list: A Very Long Engagement.

Ray Pride's got ten, plus 15 runners-up and a lot of notes. Both he and Joe Leydon have an entry that may surprise a few: I'll Sleep When I'm Dead.

If you followed Slate's "Movie Club" this year, you'll have gotten a kick out one reader's parody of the proceedings posted right there at the end by David Edelstein, a host with a healthy sense of humor.

Baby Face Dave Kehr hears Michael Mashon, a curator of the motion picture division at the Library of Congress, describe a discovery now headed to the Film Forum and DVD: "It was a moment that archivists live for... I knew in the first five minutes that this version was different. I can't begin to describe the sheer joy of discovery, the feeling that I may have been the first person since 1933 to see Baby Face uncut."

Also in the New York Times:

  • Bruce Handy: "[Graham Lord's] Niv: The Authorized Biography of David Niven proves appropriately funny and smoothly written, with the author serving as a kind of cleareyed cheerleader, albeit one with a hard act to follow: Niven himself wrote two very amusing, best-selling memoirs, The Moon's a Balloon and Bring On the Empty Horses, which rank with the great show-biz autobiographies, up there with Moss Hart's Act One, Sammy Davis Jr's Yes I Can' and maybe even Robert Evans's book The Kid Stays in the Picture."

  • Two Aviator-related pieces from Dennis McDougal: the first ticks off a list of previous Howard Hughes biopics that took shape but never got off the ground (and the names attached and then disengaged are pretty impressive); it seems to be the product of research for the second, in which he tries to trace just where it is that the work of others ends and that of John Logan's begins in the writing of the screenplay.

  • Tom O'Neil: "Here's a look at the little-understood process of choosing Oscar nominees, and a forecast of which contenders are most likely to benefit from the motion picture academy's system when the nominations are announced on Jan. 25."

  • Julie Salaman takes a look at the ratings system and asks the age-old question, "what are we protecting our children from, and who should do the protecting?" Also: When celebs give to charity, plentifully and publicly, how pure are their motives? Does it really matter as long as they give?

"This year, the Independent joins the BBC as a media partner for the World Cinema Award 2005." So Roger Clarke introduces the nominees - Hero, Zatoichi, Bad Education, The Motorcycle Diaries, The Return and Uzak (Distant) - while the BBC offers a little mini-site with clips and such. Also in the Independent: Lee Marshall's interview with Reese Witherspoon.

Will Connell: Make-up The Berlinale turns 55 this year, its Forum 35 and the Panorama, which has just announced, appropriately enough, 20 of the films it'll be screening, 20. More from Brian Brooks at indieWIRE, where you can also scan the nominees for the Producers Guild and Directors Guild awards.

A one-night film festival? If they're all shorts, it's certainly possible. If they're "eclectic" shorts, all the better. Shadowplay: Tuesday, January 11, at the Parkway Theater in Oakland, CA.

Online browsing tip. "Hollywood Noir: Satirical Photographs by Will Connell," an exhibition staged a few years ago at the UCR / California Museum of Photography. In other words, this may be old news to you, but if it isn't, you will want to view all 48 photographs. You might want to view them again as you read Hollywood Conference, a one-act play by Nunnally Johnson, Patterson McNutt, Gene Fowler, Jr and Grover Jones. Via The Crime in Your Coffee.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:17 PM

PopMatters. Bests.

PopMatters has unveiled its "Best of Film and Television of 2004" extravaganza:

The Agronomist

  • Cynthia Fuchs, who's edited the package, presents an unranked list, but numbers pop up anyway, making it look as if Jonathan Demme's The Agronomist is her #1; even if it isn't really, how refreshing it is to see it there at all.

  • Erich Kuersten definitely leads with Dogville and surprises with his very next entry, The Merchant of Venice.

  • "This past year's films are at once peculiarly individual expressions and easy to group by genre: studio comedies were funnier than usual; horror films were intriguing in concept but disappointing in execution; science fiction was undercooked." That's Jesse Hassenger, introducing a list with Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind at the top.

  • Simply because I'm so sick of reading critics beat up on Todd Haynes lately (and where's that coming from, anyway?), I'm quoting Daniel Mudie Cunningham's entry for Safe in full: "If I had made a Top 10 list in 1995, this would have been on it. If I ever get around to making a 'Best Films of All Time' list, it will be in the Top 5. Nine years after Haynes's dystopic masterpiece was released, it was finally distributed in Australia with a new 35mm print (apparently some legal reason had kept it from being screened down under). Julianne Moore's quiet disintegration from the toxins of her late 20th century environment is all the more devastating on the big screen."

  • Marco Lanzagorta's "Best Horror Films" list leads with Zack Snyder's Dawn of the Dead.

  • PopMatters political editor Terry Sawyer compiles a "Worst Media Events" list.

  • By law, Bill Gibron has to place the Extended Edition of Return of the King at the top of his "Best DVDs" list, but it's nice to see the Disinformation discs there, too, not mention The Legend of Leigh Bowery.

  • Michael Abernethy looks "for treasures in hidden places" to draw up his "Best Television" list.

  • More from Australia: Nikki Tranter on what the rest of the world's been missing.

  • Mary Colgan's DVD list is surprising, but one sentiment expressed here is pretty winning: "If I could choose one movie world to visit any time I liked, it would be Halloween Town."

  • And Cynthia Fuchs again, wrapping it up with a "Best Music Videos" list. For more on her #1 choice, see Armond White.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:08 PM

January 7, 2005

"Boy, if life were only like this."

The Big Red One Screenwriters, here's an idea: A blogger inadvertently discovers an unattributable power to conjure the content he wants to see. What follows is great stuff, he types, but what we're really waiting for is Jonathan Rosenbaum's "Top Ten Films of 2004." And lo, like Woody Allen pulling Marshall McLuhan out from behind a sign in a movie theater lobby, there it is. Imagine the wonders that could be worked blogging CNN's site.

After all, as Rosenbaum writes, "It has been a bad year, but not for movies." He begins by wondering what in the world critics see in Sideways but doesn't completely buy into AO Scott's theory that they see themselves in Paul Giamatti: "I'm more prone to think it might be their way of saying, 'It's been a tough year. Let's get back under the blankets.'"

2004 may have been a good year for movies, and reading Rosenbaum's comments on docs and revivals, you may well be won over, but two of his top ten date way back, and his choice for the #1 film of the year, the "recasting and extension" of The Big Red One, isn't even Sam Fuller's best, as he sees it. Filmbrain and Charles Taylor will be disheartened (or simply bewildered) to see Million Dollar Baby in the #2 slot, but Rosenbaum's mention of the Village Voice's "Take 6" poll in his comments on Los Angeles Plays Itself (#4) will please those of us who've been surprised (and frankly, pissed off) by the silly and sour bashing it's received from Movie City News and Slate's "Movie Club."

Two that would've made the list had they played in Chicago in 04: Jia Zhangke's The World, "the best new film I saw anywhere," and Tsai Ming-liang's Goodbye, Dragon Inn.

Of course, Jonathan Rosenbaum isn't the only critic at the Chicago Reader. JR Jones doesn't get nearly as worked up about Sideways, one way or the other (it comes in at #7 on his list): "[L]ike President Bush, it won not by being the best candidate but by getting the most votes." His #1: Zero Day.

Posted by dwhudson at 5:25 AM

January 6, 2005

Shorts, 1/6.

Are we getting any nearer to the last lists in the universe? If they're as inspiring as a few of the following, let's hope not. Besides, we still don't have Jonathan Rosenbaum's yet.

Last Life in the Universe

But! Filmbrain said it was coming, and here it is, his countdown to what he considers the best film of 2004, Last Life in the Universe.

Kamera's contributors pick their films of the year; parts 1 and 2. Plus: Ann Lee's quick chat with Natalie Portman.

This week's Austin Chronicle is top tens, straight through, and that goes for the film section, too, of course. When the votes came in, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind came out on top; but it's the ballots that make for fun reading.

Goodbye Dragon Inn tops Jeffrey M Anderson's list; surprise entry: Millennium Mambo. But then there are the worsts.

And for Jeremy Heilman? Dogville, nine more and lots of notes.

Jeffrey Wells is looking forward to no fewer than 22 films opening in 2005. "Make it 17 picks and 5 toothpicks." He lays them out in alphabetical order and blurbs their buzz. Two years ago, you'd have been surprised by the number of docs on that list. Glad we aren't now.

The cinetrix would like to hear about your "favorite under-the-radar performances."

IndieWIRE's Eugene Hernandez asks distribution reps from THINKFilm, Lions Gate, Zeitgeist, HBO Films and Samuel Goldwyn how the year went for indies; all in all, it was a tough one.

In the Independent, Ciar Byrne and Maxine Frith note that kids pretty much drove the UK box office to a decent showing by the end of the year.

Michael Howard meets Bahman Ghobadi, whose new film, Turtles Can Fly, "paints a radically different picture of life in Iraq from the one most western audiences have seen on their news channels. Gobadi is a deeply political film-maker, but his nuanced approach skillfully avoids the naive blustering of many on the anti-war left. 'It is an anti-war movie without slogans.'"

Also in the Guardian:

Dead of Night

More news from Rotterdam, and the headline's a grabber: "Russian necrorealist Yevgeni Yufit Filmmaker in Focus." If that prompts a big, Huh?, Steve Gallagher explains all in an excellent, link-laden entry at Filmmaker's blog - where you'll also read news, via Scott Macaulay, of a project written by David Gordon Green to be directed by Sam Jones.

Steven Winn in the San Francisco Chronicle: "Endings, by their nature, are exquisitely torturous. We're all psychologically primed to crave resolving climaxes, and simultaneously inclined to doubt, mistrust, reject and even fear them."

"Nearly 10 years ago, [Voice of Pentecost Senior Pastor Richard] Gazowsky received a directive from God to make movies for the Lord," writes Lessley Anderson in the SF Weekly. He's launched a production company, Christian WYSIWYG Filmworks, and they're currently at work on Gravity: In the Shadow of Joseph, "a feature-length epic retelling of the Bible story of Joseph, set in a science-fiction world of the future. WYSIWYG plans to build spacecraft and monsters with prosthetic limbs, to cast more than 4,000 volunteer actors, and to film on location in Malta, Turkey, and Ireland." Estimated budget: $50 million.

Last month, as Helena Smith reported in the Guardian, Oliver Stone apologized to Turkey for his "over-dramatized" screenplay for Midnight Express. Paul Krassner was wondering how Billy Hayes, the author of the book the film was based on, felt about that; turns out, though some of the over-the-top scenes made sense to him at the time, he seems to feel the apology's just about right.

Also in the LA Weekly:

Graham Greene: The Third Man

Anatomy of Hell "is no cul-de-sac but one of a series of experiments," writes Nicolas Rapold towards the end of a piece for Stop Smiling after he's opened the cabinet of Catherine Breillat and admired more than a few of those experiments.

Before George Fasel can address what he feels are the real problems most Americans will have with Godard's In Praise of Love, he has to wipe away the superficial ones.

Margaret Cho on House of Flying Daggers: "Even though I adore the Silk 'n Sword genre, they leave me with a vague sense of existential terror."

More and more, this week's Voice emerges from the new site. Via James Wolcott, Gary Indiana's remembrance of Susan Sontag: "She knew that empathy can change history."

Guy Davenport, 1927 - 2005. An obit from Paula Burba in the Courier-Journal; and Ed Champion points to several rich resources Mark Woods has gathered.

Cinecultist Karen Wilson is slated to host an evening for the Reel Roundtable in NYC. On January 17, she'll introduce a screening of When Brendan Met Trudy and then do a bit of Q&A with Elizabeth Carmody.

New to Slate's "Movie Club," and bearing their top tens with them, are Christopher Kelly of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and Wesley Morris of the Boston Globe.

Online browsing tip. Floating Logos. Via Wiley Wiggins.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:32 PM | Comments (1)

January 5, 2005

Germans and shorts.

Berlin & Beyond The Goethe-Institut of San Francisco is celebrating the tenth anniversary of its Berlin & Beyond festival (tomorrow through... well, there's the poster right there; here's the trailer) with a tribute to Bruno Ganz, who'll be interviewed onstage at the Castro by David Thomson. In the San Francisco Bay Guardian, Dennis Harvey does an excellent job of succinctly encapsulating a long and varied career before blurbing a few more highlights of the fest.

The opening night film, by the way, is Hans Weingartner's The Edukators, which, last year, was the first German film to screen at Cannes in far too long. It's also made more than a few German critics' year-end best-of lists.

Also in the SFBG:

Zitty: Franka Potente But back to Berlin. That's what Franka Potente's decided, at any rate. After a year in LA. In the first half of Falko Müller and Mirko Heinemann's interview with her for Zitty, the half that's online, she explains why and she seems to have about two dozen reasons or so. As a Berliner-by-choice myself, I naturally think they're about two dozen very good ones, too. The interview's in German, but once again, Google's fuzzy translations will often do if you're really interested.

Meanwhile, the Berlinale organizers have been quietly busy. The first films have been selected for the Perspecktive Deutsches Kino and the mighty Forum, which'll mark its 35th year in February.

Two other fine festivals are shaping up: 14 films are lined up for Rotterdam's VPRO Tiger Awards Competition, as Mark Rabinowitz reports at indieWIRE. Fest runs January 26 through February 6 and has a better poster this year.

And Eugene Hernandez (who was interviewed by Mindy Bond and Raphie Frank for Gothamist yesterday) notes that Luke and Andrew Wilson's The Wendell Baker Story, which also features Owen, will open SXSW. Also mentioned: Todd Solondz will be there, taking questions, and half a dozen music docs.

Let's add mention, too, of Deadroom, an intriguing collective project many of us have been periodically checking in on via the blog of one its directors, David Lowery (and here's his 2004 top ten, by the way).

Speaking of top tens. I ♥ Huckabees is a major hit on the lists of all four critics for the City Pages.

War at a Distance Acquarello's 2004. Stand-out entry: Harun Farocki's War at a Distance.

Before drawing up his top ten, Tom Hall faces a cold realization - "maybe, just maybe, this wasn't the best year for films" - then sketches the running themes in an otherwise "same ol' same ol'" year before opening with Sideways at the top and counting down from there.

Andrew Sarris: "I've been in the year-end 10-best business since 1958, when Jonas Mekas graciously allowed me to share his 'Movie Journal' column in The Village Voice with my 10-best list, which I'm now ashamed to remember failed to include both Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo and Orson Welles' Touch of Evil. But that was 46 years ago, and I very much doubt that I will be around 46 years from now to second-guess my Top 10 lists for 2004. So with little fear of afterthought and without further ado, here are my considered preferences for the year past."

Also in the New York Observer:

  • Rex Reed: "[I]t's a good time to raise a glass and drink one last toast to the friends we loved and lost in 2004."

  • Marcus Baram and Noelle Hancock present a list of a different sort: a celeb charity report card.

  • Baram talks to actors and producers about their memories of Jerry Orbach.

  • "Isn't it time for Mr. De Niro to get down to the real business of acting?" asks Stephanie Zacherek. "And that line of thinking leads to a dangerous question: Just what is the business of acting?"

  • Sheela Kolhatkar on how Susan Sontag livened up New York's literary scene and criticism itself: "Mary McCarthy once told Susan, 'I hear you're the new me."

  • Tom Scocca on the many gigs of Lee Siegel: "He's doing something very brave," New Republic literary editor Leon Wieseltier said, on the phone while traveling in Chicago. "He's trying to earn a living as a freelance intellectual."

Slate's "Movie Club" takes an interesting turn towards the end of its second day. Host David Edelstein invites Village Voice film editor Dennis Lim to drop in and, as he puts it himself, "respond to the anti-Voice pileup." The response is short, sharp and stings. Then, Edelstein:

I appreciate Dennis Lim's comments and agree with some of them. But I want to add that I invited Armond [White] here (after having griped about him in previous Movie Clubs) because I think he is not just an irascible, ungovernable flame-thrower but also a hugely important voice in contemporary film criticism. I find his pieces genuinely challenging and indispensable, even when I think they're slightly nuts.

Well put.

Back at the Voice, it turns out there's new stuff this week after all. J Hoberman, for example, on Hitler's Hit Parade: "The flow of images has a terrible inexorability. Watching this movie is like watching people pirouette gaily off a cliff.... Given the image panoply of the past year, it would be illuminating to deconstruct and reassemble the sub-Wagnerian, self-flattering gesamtkunstwerk that constitutes the American social spectacle."

Taxi Driver

Jonathan Romney in Artforum on Tracey Emin's Top Spot:

Emin has not made anything like a conventional piece of narrative cinema. But neither would Top Spot make sense as a gallery video. It is a sketchy hybrid, pitched uncertainly between two worlds and lacking the production values and informed interest in screen language that are increasingly expected in artists' film and video (not that anyone expected Emin to be another Shirin Neshat).

Also: Gwen Allen on Yvonne Rainer.

Andrew Leonard briefly surveys the mess that copyright law has become and asks, "Where is the iTunes store for breakthrough documentaries?"

The latest twist in the Disney wars: the book. DisneyWar, by bestselling author James B Stewart, is out in March. CBS MarketWatch's Jon Friedman thinks it could actually do some serious harm.

6ixtynin9 times 3 equals Twitch.

Online viewing tip. The trailer for After the Apocalypse, screening soon in Sarasota and at the SF Indie Fest.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:38 PM | Comments (3)

January 4, 2005

Shorts, 1/4.

Slate's "Movie Club" has been called to order and, already, it's a pretty lively session, even taking into account the considerable agreement on a few key issues (e.g., they don't like being called Paulettes, but wasn't she great? And Dogville ticked them all off, but critics who've praised it tick them off even more).

Dogville

So far the participants are... loud. Charles Taylor? Heavens. You've got to wonder if he talks like this. Armond White? You knew what to expect, and there it is. You have to wonder how Fahrenheit 9/11 cost the Democrats the election, as he asserts, if Republicans - the ones I know, anyway - demonstrably refused to see it. "Michael Moore's divisiveness worked to achieve an anti-American schism"? No, George Bush's divisiveness, etc., etc. Oh, and: Richard Linklater wasn't aiming to shoot Paris; he was focused on a man and a woman. Though AO Scott will be joining in, the tone will clearly be quite different from last year's when things got particularly meaty during the discussion of Tony Kushner and Denys Arcand. J Hoberman will be missed.

IndieWIRE's got another list for you and it may be their best: "Top 15 Undistributed Films of 2004." Each title is accompanied by a link to its site, a run-down of its "track record" (festivals it's played, etc.) and the "lowdown" (i.e., why it's made the list).

More best-of-2004 lists:

Mind Game

Mind Game

Fans of Japanese cinema will want to know that Todd at Twitch has found news of a few you might well not have heard of yet via Stauffen. Also: the top ten Japanese films of the year, as chosen by Mark Schilling of the Japan Times.

Mohamed El-Assyouti wraps the year in Egyptian cinema for Al-Ahram Weekly: "For a while in midsummer, Osama Fawzi's Bahib Al-Sima (I Love Cinema) was all the rage. It drastically divided critics as to its worth and appeal, generating wide-ranging debates in and beyond the milieu." Via Perlentaucher's "Magazinrundschau."

And TV? Look no further than TeeVee's "recap of 'the year of living blandly.'"

Filmske Novosti "Deep in the basement is almost 100 years of history on 15 million metres of film. Images of the field battles of World War I, the communist partisans of World War II, a unique visual record of the Non-Aligned Movement born in the 1960s, Tito's Yugoslavia, Gaddafi's Libya, Nasser's Egypt... Yet these images will soon be lost forever, because Filmske Novosti is in crisis." The BBC's Matt Prodger reports on the imminent loss of one of the largest film archives in the world. Yes, we're facing a more urgent global crisis at the moment; but we seriously need to work addressing this one into our 2005 as soon as we feasibly can.

"It's a symptom, not a diagnosis." Reluctant, yet anything but coy, Lukas Moodysson tells the Guardian's Xan Brooks what was on his mind when he made A Hole in My Heart.

George Fasel is truly glad to have started off the year with a viewing of 2046: "[S]pecial mention must be reserved for Tony Leung, who has given his character a combination of worldliness and erotic aching, of dogged pursuit and rueful acceptance of what must be, which reminds me of nobody so much as Marcello Mastroianni in his prime. That is just about as large a compliment as I know how to pay."

Who'll be the stars of Sundance? Among others, Glenn Close, who'll be in three films screening at the fest. Cyndi Greening notes who else is appearing in more than one film on the program.

1967. The set of Cool Hand Luke. Bruce Conner was there with his 8mm camera. 1978. San Francisco. Bruce Conner was there, snapping away. The evidence is at the Barbara Gladstone Gallery. Via Movie City Indie.

It's an extraordinarily spare week for new DVD releases, which is good news for anyone who has a piece of Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle. For DVD Talk, Geoffrey Kleinman interviews the stars. One knows a little more about movies than the other:

Kal: Is this the one with the horse's head in her bed?
John: (Sighs), yeah. God, Kal.

Saul Austerlitz is the second New York Press critic to come up with a year-end list; Los Angeles Plays Itself is at the top. Austerlitz also reviews Hitler's Hit Parade, "an x-ray of Nazi Germany's collective unconscious."

Hitler's Hit Parade

Also in the NYP: Matt Zoller Seitz on In Good Company and Flight of the Phoenix, "two under-the-radar movies that happen to star Dennis Quaid, and that dare to believe in their material, play it straight and treat their characters with something like decency," and Armond White on A Love Song for Bobby Long, an "odd, endearing film," and The Merchant of Venice: "Pacino's amazing emphasis on Shylock's deep anger and Lynn Collins's significantly poised delivery of Portia's appeal to Christian grace, sum up this year's movie controversies."

The new site for the Village Voice is going to take some getting used to. It's slightly snazzier, though at the same time, more cluttered and, at first glance, just plain too busy. Also: Will all the old links eventually redirect to wherever it is that all those features and reviews written before last week have gone? Look up a film at IMDb and try to reach its Voice review. Yikes. In the meantime, is Dennis Lim's review of In Good Company the only new one this week? I can't tell. But there is this from Tom Sellar: Richard Foreman is turning to filmmaking, "a momentous decision for a director internationally recognized for his colorful and groundbreaking ideas about the stage."

For Flak, James Norton remembers Jerry Orbach.

Want to glimpse a possible future? Vloggercon. January 22 in NYC. Via Chuck Olsen.

Online viewing tip #1. Back in early December, Jason Deans reported in the Guardian that Ben Kingsley was reviving Sexy Beast's Don Logan for a few promos for the Band Aid campaign. A kind reader has pointed out that you can now view them, and it is a thrill to see the old bastard again. You can either click your way to the three clips through Bore Me's front door ("Top 10," then "Dec 04"; they're at #10) or snap right to 'em directly: 1, 2 and 3.

Online viewing tip #2. Some bits not 100 percent work-safe. Phamous 69, a flashily designed mag featuring in its latest issue, among other things, Adam Carr's tribute to Russ Meyer.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:29 PM | Comments (2)

Reverse Shot. Winter 04/05.

Reverse Shot is on a roll. The staff has recently launched a series of unique weekly reviews at indieWIRE (one writer opens the floor and two respond), where they've also recently put together a top ten and, just today, their list of 11 Annoyances of 2004," followed by "a handful of resolutions we'll be keeping in mind as we look forward to the films of 2005."

Tsai Ming-liang

In the meantime, they've also managed to get a new issue together, the weighty center of which is a symposium on Tsai Ming-liang. Michael Koresky introduces the issue:

If American films were more honest (a concept in Hollywood now so rare as to seem absurd), we'd be seeing the same pop culture-infused images of distanciation and self-obfuscation that now permeate so much of the cinema of the new Asian auteurs. We Westerners look for a mirror of our own cultural displacement and can only find it in Japan's Kiyoshi Kurosawa and Hirokazu Kore-eda, Thailand's Pen-ek Ratanaruang and Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Taiwan's Hou Hsiao-hsien and Tsai Ming-liang... Tsai's output thus far have been composed of remarkably lucid, stringently funny, deathly terrifying minimalist spectacles of suspended misery and tacit longing.

Jeff Reichert and Erik Syngle interview the director, who seems like a pretty amiable, self-aware and, of course, very sharp man. Rounding out the symposium are pieces on each of his works and rounding out the issue is a collection of reviews held over from the New York Film Festival ("it's out of necessity that we cover our own local festival," notes Koresky) and reviews of half a dozen new theatrical releases.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:11 AM

More on Sontag.

"As she saw it, she was entitled to frame bold opinions, and to change them as the world changed." New Yorker contributor Joan Acocella remembers Susan Sontag.

Fire and Ice

On a similar note, towards the end of his remembrance in Salon, Craig Seligman, author of Sontag & Kael: Opposites Attract Me, turns to her late essays:

The quality of the prose in those writings has changed because the quality of the anger has changed. But given the disheartening events that elicited that shift, not even Sontag - who could talk about cultural achievement with a Nietzschean absolutism that bordered on the callous - could have taken much consolation from her triumph. By 2004, the United States was a society very different from what it had been even during the ugliest years of the Vietnam era, and the rage smoldering beneath every sentence of that great, judgmental final essay was a different order of rage: a rage without hope. Speaking out, speaking angrily no longer had a goal so simple as stopping the war, because the war was, in the phrase she hammered at with disquieting control, an "endless war." "The torture of prisoners is not an aberration." "The photographs are us."

Also: Val Wang recalls an unexpected and unwanted run-in with Sontag. Wang works as a news editor for the UNICEF site, and so, couldn't help being struck by an almost absurd coincidence: "Susan's death came just days after the tsunami hit South Asia."

Sontag and Tsunami

In a piece for TomDispatch, Rebecca Solnit considers the same strange juxtaposition, and then: "Sontag wrote beautifully about the images that we see, particularly those of suffering and of war. Now I wish she had said more about what we don't see, about how photographs must be weighed against the obliviousness they dispel as well as against the callousness they might generate, the exploitation they might cause, and the perils of interpretation."

Posted by dwhudson at 8:28 AM

January 2, 2005

The lists, the shorts.

SF Indie Fest 2005 "I don't go out to all that many movies except at festivals anymore, so my only rule is that I saw it somewhere in San Francisco in 2004." Even as he preps for the SF Indie Fest (February 3 through 15), Tod Booth's managed to work up a list; it's alphabetical and, all in all, a nice break from the usual run-down.

At the newly redesigned Twitch, logboy, who's been on an Angel Guts tear lately, looks back on a year spent reveling in films from Japan. Mostly.

George Fasel's "Best of the Year" list - no numbers, just a list, smartly annotated, "in descending order of my enthusiasm" - is headed by wry commentary on what he'll be avoiding this year before kicking into gear with Moolaadé.

Matt Langdon takes a similar approach at Rashomon: A simple, two-tier stack of bests; it's likely you won't have seen a few of these yet, so you might want to make a few mental notes.

You won't find both Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and Sex is Comedy on too many top tens, but you'll find 'em on the Cinecultist's.

GreenCiners chime in with theirs.

IndieWIRE readers add their lists to those of twenty "insiders." Also: Jason Guerrasio interviews Niels Mueller, director of The Assassination of Richard Nixon.

Sideways has made another list: NP Thompson's worst films of the year, and we'll get to the dangers of too much early critical praise in a moment. In the meantime, NP's worsts is a list that also sports showings by Guy Maddin and Lars Von Trier and two indie crowd-pleasers, Napoleon Dynamite and Garden State.

The Chekist So in this season of lists, again, eclecticism is welcome, and Andrew Pulver knows where to find it: Lukas Moodysson's five favorite films are five films you're unlikely to see on the same list ever again.

Also in the Guardian:

So with even Payne talking it down, is Sideways "the most drastically overrated movie of the year"? AO Scott thinks so and he has a few ideas as to how that's happened. Among them: Critics identify with Paul Giamatti's character, "an embodiment of the critical disposition, and one of the unusual things about Sideways is that, in the end, it defends this attitude rather than dismissing it."

Also in the New York Times:

  • Kristin Hohenadel reports from France where "Mondovino, Jonathan Nossiter's documentary about the globalization of wine, has movie critics here reaching for superlatives and some wine experts lobbing expletives, while audiences have turned the movie into a surprise hit."

  • "Cinematic pin-up boys" don't usually win Oscars, notes Movie Awards author Tom O'Neil, but this year sees a few in the running.

  • Which sitcom "has revealed itself to be a finishing school for some of the biggest talents working in television"? Would you believe Golden Girls? Dave Itzkoff talks to some of the graduates.

  • Excerpts from the works of Susan Sontag.

"Mark Fiennes, whose international success as a photographer was overshadowed by the film careers of several of his children, has died at his home," reports David Sapsted in the Telegraph.

Via Movie City News and Roger Ebert, news Arthur C Clarke, a resident of Sri Lanka, is alive and well; he also recommends supporting the country's largest development charity, Sarvodaya.

In the Observer:

  • Ed Vulliamy: "One of the striking things about Susan Sontag was how deeply beloved she was."

  • A few historical epics have yet to roll out, but then, that'll be that, assumes Anne Thompson: "With any genre cycle, it pays not to be the last studio to release a mega-budget epic when audiences have had their fill."

  • "I have to be careful, I don't want my life to change. I really don't want to be a movie star." And yet Amelia Warner will appear in four films next year. Polly Vernon wonders what she really wants.

  • Stephanie Merritt looks ahead to the books of 2005.

In the Independent, DJ Taylor finds a few solid arguments in Mira Nair's daring interpretation of Vanity Fair: "However exaggerated some of its gestures - and even the late Edward Said, author of the classic Orientalism, gets name-checked in the publicity hand-out - the cultural grounding of this take on a 160-year-old English classic can hardly be faulted. India - remote, enticing, exotic, sinister - lies near the heart of the early Victorian consciousness."

This movie business is tough. Roger Avary on the trials of being a member of the Academy: "I didn't ask for the Cinea machine, they just sent it."

Hilary Swank tells Steve Rosen about the trials of being buff: "I was drinking egg whites. I drank flax oil. I would have to wake up in the night and drink protein shakes - I couldn't go nine hours without eating."

Richard at the Movie Blog has been looking for - and finding - blogs recording the trials of indie producers trying to get their movies out on screens.

Cyndi Greening is covering the run-up to Sundance 05 almost as thoroughly as indieWIRE's Park City blog; the latest: "The nonprofit group Women in Film will inaugurate its new Spirit of Sundance Award at the Opening Night Ceremonies." The first recipients: Laura Dern, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Lisa Kudrow.

The Telegraph's SF Said asks Bahman Ghobadi about making Turtles Can Fly, the big winner at the San Sebastian Film Festival and the first feature to be shot in Iraq since the US invasion. Via Movie City Indie.

Schultze Gets the Blues

Online viewing tip. Topping a few German critics' best-of lists this year is Schultze Gets the Blues. Evidently, the film's headed to the States; here's the trailer. Too bad about the voiceover, but the gist comes through; even so, if you'd like, here's the original German trailer.

Posted by dwhudson at 6:40 AM | Comments (5)