This month goes primarily to films not yet seen, one domestic and one foreign. However, the third film is the one that has me extremely excited. A film that is quintessentially ’70s era, but at the same time unlike anything you’ve seen before. Can you guess what film has me so wound up?
Release Date: 2012, April 17th (Blu-Ray, Spine #609)
¡ALAMBRISTA! (1977) a film I know almost nothing about, except for what I have included right here. For that reason alone, I am intrigued, but add to that the fact it’s a Camera d’Or winner and a very contemporary story relevant to current politics and social dialogue, and the film leaps onto my must-see list.
SYNOPSIS: In ¡Alambrista!, a farmworker sneaks across the border from Mexico into California in an effort to make money to send to his family back home. It is a story that happens every day, told here in an uncompromising, groundbreaking work of realism from American independent filmmaker Robert M. Young. Vivid and spare where other films about illegal immigration might sentimentalize, Young’s take on the subject is equal parts intimate character study and gripping road movie, a political work that never loses sight of the complex man at its center. ¡Alambrista!, winner of the Cannes Film Festival’s inaugural Camera d’Or in 1978, remains one of the best films ever made on this perennially relevant topic. — Criterion.com
Release Date: 2012, April 17th (Blu-Ray, Spine #331)
LATE SPRING (1949) is a film that, despite having been a staple of Criterion collectors for some time now, I have yet to see. And, because of that and all the love the film gets from said collectors, I am eager to finally see the film in all it’s black and white glory through the beauty of blu-ray.
SYNOPSIS: One of the most powerful of the family portraits by Yasujiro Ozu, Late Spring tells the story of a widowed father who feels compelled to marry off his beloved only daughter. Eminent Ozu players Chishu Ryu and Setsuko Hara command this poignant tale of love and loss in postwar Japan, which remains as potent today as ever—and as strong a justification for its maker’s inclusion in the pantheon of cinema’s greatest directors. — Criterion.com
Release Date: 2012, April 17th (Blu-Ray, Spine #608)
HAROLD AND MAUDE (1971) is one of those rare gems, an odd quirky classic of obscure cinema. It tells a wonderfully beautiful story that defies social norms, fitting perfectly within the ranks of the -70s best film fare.
SYNOPSIS: With the idiosyncratic American fable Harold and Maude, countercultural director Hal Ashby fashioned what would become the cult classic of its era. Working from a script by Colin Higgins, Ashby tells the story of the emotional and romantic bond between a death-obsessed young man (Bud Cort) from a wealthy family and a devil-may-care, bohemian octogenarian (Ruth Gordon). Equal parts gallows humor and romantic innocence, Harold and Maude dissolves the line between darkness and light along with the ones that separate people by class, gender, and age, and it features indelible performances and a remarkable soundtrack by Cat Stevens. — Criterion.com
March is certainly not an uplifting, positive month for me in Criterion releases. Not because of a lack of quality films, but rather due to the subject matter and tone of the films selected. Sacrifice, death, disaster, political controversy… all juicy fare for film, but a marathon of moodiness that could send some into a downward spiral. For me, the more controversial and moody, the better. Sappy does not sit well with me.
Release Date: 2012, March 13th (Blu-Ray, Spine #70)
THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST (1988) is quite possibly best know for the controversy the film sparked amongst the more “extreme” Christian protesters, many of whom never even saw the film. Sound familiar? Another filmmaker of recent named Kevin Smith has experienced a similar trend with his film DOGMA, not to mistake them for filmmakers of equal talent, but the idea remains the same. Martin Scorsese tackled a touchy subject with great intrigue and beauty, while Willem Dafoe delivers an extraordinary performance as Jesus. I only wish they would hold the release date of this one until April, somewhere around Easter. A little added controversy is always good publicity.
SYNOPSIS: The Last Temptation of Christ, by Martin Scorsese, is a towering achievement. Though it initially engendered enormous controversy, the film can now be viewed as the remarkable, profoundly personal work of faith that it is. This fifteen-year labor of love, an adaptation of Nikos Kazantzakis’s landmark novel that imagines an alternate fate for Jesus Christ, features outstanding performances by Willem Dafoe, Barbara Hershey, Harvey Keitel, Harry Dean Stanton, and David Bowie; bold cinematography by the great Michael Ballhaus; and a transcendent score by Peter Gabriel. — Criterion.com
Release Date: 2012, March 20th (Blu-Ray, Spine #602)
THE WAR ROOM (1993) may not seem like a great documentary film, but given time it will become apparent as a significant historical piece of cinema. I admit, it’s not the most amazing documentary film of recent, but it captured the early onset of a new and powerful trend in the process of the Presidential election game.
SYNOPSIS: The 1992 presidential election was a triumph not only for Bill Clinton but also for the new breed of strategists who guided him to the White House and changed the face of politics in the process. For this thrilling, behind-closed-doors account of that campaign, renowned cinema verité filmmakers D. A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus closely followed the brainstorming and bull sessions of Clinton’s crack team of consultants—especially the folksy James Carville and the preppy George Stephanopoulos, who became media stars in their own right as they injected a youthful spirit and spontaneity into the process of campaigning. Fleet-footed and entertaining, The War Room is a vivid document of a political moment whose truths (“It’s the economy, stupid!”) still ring in our ears. — Criterion.com
Release Date: 2012, March 27th (Blu-Ray, Spine #7)
A NIGHT TO REMEMBER (1958) is a film I have not only never seen, but that I am somewhat ashamed of having never seen… especially since I’ve seen James Cameron’s TITANIC 3-4 times, occasions #2-4 somewhat unwillingly as I was dragged to the theater by eager and uncompromising members of the female gender. I look forward to experiencing this film on blu-ray, especially as I understand it’s not in 3D and does not feature the music of Celine Dion.
SYNOPSIS: On April 14, 1912, just before midnight, the unsinkable Titanic struck an iceberg. In less than three hours, it had plunged to the bottom of the sea, taking with it more than 1,500 of its 2,200 passengers. In his unforgettable rendering of Walter Lord’s book of the same name, A Night to Remember, the acclaimed British director Roy Ward Baker depicts with sensitivity, awe, and a fine sense of tragedy the ship’s final hours. Featuring remarkably restrained performances, A Night to Remember is cinema’s subtlest, finest dramatization of this monumental twentieth-century catastrophe. — Criterion.com
February, month #2 of 2012, and three more Criterion blu-ray releases to get me jazzed up for viewing. It’s an international month, from the USA to Japan to Germany, so pack up your bags (and don’t forget your passport) because we’re going for a trip around the world…
Release Date: 2012, February 12th (Blu-Ray, Spine # 596)
THREE OUTLAW SAMURAI (1964) is a film I have not seen, but as I am a sucker for Japanese samurai stories, it has my full attention.
SYNOPSIS: “This first feature by the legendary Hideo Gosha is among the most beloved chanbara (sword-fighting) films. An origin-story offshoot of a Japanese television phenomenon of the same name, Three Outlaw Samurai is a classic in its own right. A wandering, seen-it-all ronin (Tetsuro Tamba) becomes entangled in the dangerous business of two other samurai (Isamu Nagato and Mikijiro Hira), hired to execute a band of peasants who have kidnapped the daughter of a corrupt magistrate. With remarkable storytelling economy and thrilling action scenes, this is an expertly mounted tale of revenge and loyalty.” — Criterion.com
Release Date: 2012, February 21th (Blu-Ray, Spine # 598)
WORLD ON A WIRE (1973) is another film I have not seen, and especially frustrates me as I had an opportunity to watch this in a theater during the St. Louis International Film Festival last year and failed to make that work. Consider this my next-best-thing/second chance.
SYNOPSIS: “a gloriously paranoid, boundlessly inventive take on the future from German wunderkind Rainer Werner Fassbinder. With dashes of Stanley Kubrick, Kurt Vonnegut, and Philip K. Dick, Fassbinder tells the noir-spiked tale of reluctant hero Fred Stiller (Klaus Löwitsch), a cybernetics engineer who uncovers a massive corporate conspiracy. At risk? (Virtual) reality as we know it. Originally made for German television, this recently rediscovered, three-and-a-half-hour labyrinth is a satiric and surreal look at the world of tomorrow from one of cinema’s kinkiest geniuses.” — Criterion.com
Release Date: 2012, February 21th (Blu-Ray, Spine # 600)
ANATOMY OF A MURDER (1959) is directed by Otto Preminger, stars the legendary Jimmy Stewart along side George C. Scott, and is backed by an incredible jazz score from Duke Ellington. It’s a gripping courtroom drama, long before John Grisham and Law & Order appeared on the scene.
SYNOPSIS: A virtuoso James Stewart plays a small-town Michigan lawyer who takes on a difficult case: the defense of a young army lieutenant (Ben Gazzara) accused of murdering a local tavern owner who he believes raped his wife (Lee Remick). This gripping envelope-pusher, the most popular film by Hollywood provocateur Otto Preminger, was groundbreaking for the frankness of its discussion of sex—but more than anything else, it is a striking depiction of the power of words. Featuring an outstanding supporting cast—with a young George C. Scott as a fiery prosecutor and the legendary attorney Joseph N. Welch as the judge—and an influential score by Duke Ellington, Anatomy of a Murder is an American movie landmark, nominated for seven Oscars, including best picture. — Criterion.com
Starting late, but giving this photo-a-day thing a go… here’s #001
Now that the Academy Award nominations have been announced, with a total of nine films vying for the Best Picture Oscar, the question on the minds of all who care is “Who will win?” Sure, I’ve thought of that, but the bigger question on my mind is “Who cares?” The Academy Awards have been an up and down roller coaster of disappointment and surprise for me over the years, but I honestly can’t recall the last time I was this underwhelmed by the ballot. There are some good films in the mix, but so many great nominee-worthy films have been completely unrecognized.
- The Academy made such a big deal about the change in their Best Picture structuring, as a way to enhance the excitement and potentially open the category up for more and different films to have a chance. They tell us “hey, we’re going to select between 5 and 10 films,” but then they select 9 and fill the extra 4 spots not traditionally there in the past with films of questionable worthiness, leaving one spot open where there are several worthy of filling that 10th slot.
- Does anyone really believe EXTREMELY LOUD & INCREDIBLY CLOSE is Best Picture worthy? Perhaps it made the list simply to fill this year’s sole “hot button” ticket, given it’s a film that involves both 9/11 and a boy with autism (we assume?). Seriously, I don’t mean “did you like the film,” but “would you actually vote for this as Best Picture up against the ballot as it stands?” I didn’t think so. I would love to see the full voting results, see if ANYONE of the voting members actually votes for it, and if so… who paid them to do so.
- Of the 9 films nominated for Best Picture, I personally think it’s going to boil down to a three-way race between HUGO, THE DESCENDANTS, and THE ARTIST. For my money, HUGO has the best shot, partially because Martin Scorsese has suddenly become an adopted favorite of the Academy, which is ironic seeing as they’ve invited but somewhat ignored him for so many years. It’s kind of like all of a sudden, Scorsese having been a chubby nerd in junior high, lost a bunch of weight and reinvented himself as a cool kid upon entering high school. The other reason HUGO has a good shot is, well… it’s that damn good! THE DESCENDANTS is probably in second place, partially because the Academy can’t seem to get enough of George Clooney, like an overly proud parent assaulting everyone they pass on the street with pictures in their wallet. “Here’s George again, and again here. Isn’t he great! He’s so good! We’re so proud!” I liked THE DESCENDANTS, I think Alexander Payne (this is where Best Director is more favorable) is a great filmmaker, and the film deserves to be nominated for Best Picture, but it also feels like a safe choice this year, and with all the buzz and controversy swirling around this year’s Oscars, I’m inclined to say THE DESCENDANTS won’t be having any celebratory luau’s this year. Now, to address the “white elephant” in the room… THE ARTIST. Cute, charming, nostalgic… these all describe the silent French film, but none of this equates to Best Picture. I enjoyed the film, although at 100 minutes, it started just slightly to fee a bit long for a silent film. Maybe that’s a sign of it’s flaws, as I’ve willingly sat through the restored version of METROPOLIS (153 minutes) twice now. Sure, Uggie the Dog was cute, and talented/well-trained, but Ive seen better dog tricks and why is the dog of all things getting the most publicity for a Best Picture nominee? The performances were good, the directing was good, but once again… shouldn’t the Best Picture be synonymous with “great” performances and directing? Honestly, the ONLY people I’ve heard buzzing positively about THE ARTIST for Best Picture are the marketers, and a select number of old school critics. I have not once heard anyone out in the “real world” say anything along the lines of “I sure hope THE ARTIST” wins Best Picture. It’s about 50/50 with half on my boat of “it was good, but not great” and the other half (guess who) utterly annoyed and/or befuddled as to why a black & white silent French film is even nominated for Best Picture.
- This brings me to yet another qualm I have with the Academy Awards, an issue some may feel is akin to beating a dead horse, but why do they insist on having separate Animated Feature and Foreign Film categories if they are both eligible for Best Picture? I don’t mind having these categories separated, but in doing so, they should be ineligible for Best Picture. It’s like double-dipping a movie in the Oscar guacamole. Otherwise, if you want foreign films and animated films to be eligible for Best Picture, do away with those two separate categories. If nothing else, that will free up some time in the endless issue of the Academy Awards broadcast running long, and we can better justify having ten nominees over just five. Besides, we have a separate category for Best Documentary Feature, but when was the last time you saw a documentary film nominated for Best Picture? (The answer is NEVER.) Let’s put the petty squabbling aside, shall we, and just go with common sense here. It’s best for everyone involved.
- Finally, how I feel about the “other films” nominated. THE HELP was an obvious contender from the very beginning, but for that reason, I find it very unlikely it will win Best Picture. Personally, it feels way too Hallmark-ish for me to stand behind for the award, despite how good it is and how much people enjoyed the film. But, on that note, there is something said for a film’ popularity with the public when it comes to choosing a winner. It’s not the only factor by far, but should it be considered? Why not? I guarantee the public’s reaction to THE ARTIST winning will be less than appreciative. WAR HORSE. Steven Spielberg. Right there, you have three key phrases that spark the Academy’s attention. I enjoyed WAR HORSE, thought it was an accomplished feel-good film, but I think it missed the mark by a horse’s hair for being a realistic frontrunner for Best Picture. However, it should have a decent shot for Best Cinematography. Woody Allen and the Academy have have an odd relationship over the years, almost as though Woody left the traditional marriage to the Academy to be in a sexier relationship with a younger, more exciting Independent Spirit Awards. With that said, MIDNIGHT IN PARIS is one of Woody’s best films in a while, but will Oscar agree? I doubt that, but it is nice to see the film recognized as a nominee. Terrence Malick’s THE TREE OF LIFE, I believe, is still a dark horse. It’s different enough, beautiful enough, ambitious enough, and controversial enough to have embedded itself deep within the Academy’s subconscious voting mind. My odds would be against it, but don’t crucify this spiritually experimental juggernaut just yet. Finally, we’ve come to the MONEYBALL. This, I believe, is this year’s long-shot contender. This makes Brad Pitt’s third Oscar nomination without a win, plus Jonah Hill is also nominated (although, doesn’t have a chance at winning, if the world is fair) and was a popular film amidst the general public. However, it’s a film about baseball, and that’s not exactly a topic I associate as being high on the Academy’s list of significance.
What does all this mean? Absolutely nothing. In the grand scheme of things, this is all purely speculation. For all we know, this entire thing may be a rouse by the Academy to throw us off and we could find ourselves relatively surprised, but I doubt that. Personally, the only way I’ll be truly shocked and pleasantly surprised with this year’s Academy Awards is if DRIVE is suddenly revealed as the “secret” 10th Best Picture nomination and we see a Best Actor in a Leading Role Oscar walk off the stage engraved with the name “Michael.” (You pick which one. I’d be happy with either.)
#32 HIGHER GROUND (2011) - Director: Vera Farmiga
Meh, this movie was alright. Not bad, kind of funny, a little insightful, but overall it was kind of dull. I fully expected the one, singular seen of violence in the film to lead somewhere it absolutely did not, which was odd, given it was the only occurence from this particular character. Seemed a bit extreme for it to be a once and done sort of scenario. Otherwise, the monologue at the end was maybe a tad melodramatic, but the funniest bits were in the first half when the main character, played by Vera Farmiga, and her best friend, played by Donna Murphy, were having some enjoyable girl time together (not like that, well, most of it anyway). John Hawkes was good, but barely in the film. Farmiga made a good call casting her younger sister Taissa to play her younger self. She looks just like her, and she wasn’t bad, either.
Viewing Date: 01/24/2012 (1st viewing)
Viewing Format: DVD
Overall Rating: 3 out of 5 endless hymns
Maybe I’m just reading between the lines here, but sometimes that’s just what a devoted fan must do. With the Academy Award nominations being announced tomorrow morning, there is a lot of nervous anticipation about two very talented actors, both of whom gave performances very worthy of an Oscar. Much grumbling is being heard about speculations that these two actors, Michael Fassbender for SHAME and Michael Shannon for TAKE SHELTER, will be left off the Academy Awards ballots as nominees for Best Actor. Sure, we could all just write this off as absurd paranoia, but what happens when we look at the facts…
Exhibit A: Not one actor named “Michael” has EVER won an Academy Award for Best Actor, or for Best Supporting Actor.
Exhibit B: Actors named “Michael” have been nominated 5 times for the Academy Award for Best Actor, and actors named “Michael” have been nominated 8 times for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.
Exhibit C: Even in Russian, the name “Michael” is cursed! In 1977, Mikhail Baryshnikav was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in THE TURNING POINT.
You don’t believe me? Here’s the stats:
Best Actor Nominations for Michaels:
2002 - *Michael Caine - THE QUIET AMERICAN
1983 - Michael Caine - EDUCATING RITA
1972 - Michael Caine - SLUETH
1966 - Michael Caine - ALFIE
1947 - Michael Redgrave - MOURNING BECOMES ELECTRA
*The reigning king of snubbed Michaels.
Best Supporting Actor Nominations for Michaels:
2008 - Michael Shannon - REVOLUTIONARY ROAD
1999 - Michael Clarke Duncan - THE GREEN MILE
1991 - Michael Lemer - BARTON FINK
1980 - Michael O’Keefe - THE GREAT SANTINI
1974 - Michael V. Gazzo - THE GODFATHER PART II
1967 - Michael J. Pollard - BONNIE & CLYDE
1966 - Michael Dunn - SHIP OF FOOLS
1945 - Michael Chekhov - SPELLBOUND
There you have it. Maybe I am just reading too much into this. Maybe I am just unwilling to accept the possibility that actors named Michael aren’t really that good, but I don’t believe that. I suggest there’s a conspiracy at foot, and that Oscar secretly loathes Michael. Read the facts and decide for yourself.