Drive's director Nicolas Winding Refn’s Top 10 Criterions

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Because no self-respecting auteur is without a few Criterion favourites, Danish filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn, director of Drive, revealed his top 10 Criterion. And what do you know, he's a fan of Seijun Suzuki!

#1 Tokyo Drifter (Seijun Suzuki) "Unique, brilliant, fantastic! I love this movie!"

#2 The Battle of Algiers (Gillo Pontecorvo) "I was twenty-four years old when I made my first film, Pusher (about the Danish drug underworld), and for it I stole everything I could, both visually and technically, from this film and Cannibal Holocaust."

#3 Vampyr (Carl Th. Dreyer) "Vampyr has always reminded me of a mysterious dream I once had when I was very little. The film has always stayed with me. I watch it before I make every film, and yet it still remains a mystery to me."

#4 The Night of the Hunter (Charles Laughton) "The Night of the Hunter is a perfect example of the strength of cinema, in which an image can say a thousand words, whereas in literature a word cannot show a thousand images."

#5 Videodrome (David Cronenberg) "This film is a great mixture of sex and violence."

#6 Flesh for Frankenstein (Paul Morrissey) "Flesh for Frankenstein is the only film I’ve ever wished that I had made."

#7 Sweet Smell of Success (Alexander Mackendrick) "In its perfect combination of directing, writing, cinematography, music, sound, and acting, this film is pure cinema."

#8 My Life as a Dog (Lasse Hallström) "I saw this film with my mother when I was very young. It’s the only movie aside from It’s a Wonderful Life during which I’ve cried because I was happy."

#9 Beauty and the Beast (Jean Cocteau)

#10 Branded to kill (Seijun Suzuki)

What happened to the last two?! Are they fillers? Branded to kill is such a Drive film. Or, rather, Drive is such a descendent of that killer-cool Suzuki film, no?


Oscars 2012 precursors round up: Spirit, NBR, European

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Take Shelter, Drive, and The Artist started with a bang! Let's see if the European Awards would make any dent at the Oscars. Regardless, yay for The Kid with a bike winning something.

Independent Spirit Awards (situated itself as the anti-Oscars)
Best Feature
Take Shelter
The Artist
The Descendants

Best Director
Michel Hazanavicius - The Artist
Mike Mills - Beginners
Jeff Nichols - Take Shelter
Alexander Payne - The Descendants
Nicolas Winding Refn - Drive
Best Screenplay
Joseph Cedar - Footnote
Michel Hazanavicius - The Artist
Tom McCarthy - Win Win
Mike Mills - Beginners
Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, Jim Rash - The Descendants

Best First Feature
Another Earth - Director: Mike Cahill
In the Family - Director: Patrick Wang
Margin Call - Director: J.C. Chandor
Martha Marcy May Marlene - Director: Sean Durkin
Natural Selection - Director: Robbie Pickering

Best First Screenplay
Mike Cahill, Brit Marling - Another Earth
J.C. Chandor - Margin Call
Patrick deWitt - Terri
Phil Johnston - Cedar Rapids
Will Reiser - 50/50

John Cassavetes Award
Bellflower - Writer/Director: Evan Glodell, Producers: Evan Glodell, Vincent Grashaw
Circumstance - Writer/Director: Maryam Keshavarz, Producers: Karin Chien, Maryam Keshavarz, Melissa M. Lee
Hello Lonesome - Writer/Director/Producer: Adam Reid
Pariah - Writer/Director: Dee Rees
The Dynamiter - Writer: Brad Inglesby, Director: Matthew Gordon

Best Female Lead
Lauren Ambrose - Think of Me
Rachael Harris - Natural Selection
Adepero Oduye - Pariah
Elizabeth Olsen - Martha Marcy May Marlene
Michelle Williams - My Week with Marilyn

Best Male Lead
Demián Bichir - A Better Life
Jean Dujardin - The Artist
Ryan Gosling - Drive
Woody Harrelson - Rampart
Michael Shannon - Take Shelter

Best Supporting Female
Jessica Chastain - Take Shelter
Anjelica Huston - 50/50
Janet McTeer - Albert Nobbs
Harmony Santana - Gun Hill Road
Shailene Woodley - The Descendants

Best Supporting Male
Albert Brooks - Drive
John Hawkes - Martha Marcy May Marlene
Christopher Plummer - Beginners
John C. Reilly - Cedar Rapids
Corey Stoll - Midnight in Paris

Best Cinematography
Joel Hodge - Bellflower
Benjamin Kasulke - The Off Hours
Darius Khondji - Midnight in Paris
Guillaume Schiffman - The Artist
Jeffrey Waldron - The Dynamiter

Best Documentary
An African Election - Director/Producer: Jarreth Merz
Bill Cunningham New York - Director: Richard Press
The Interrupters - Director/Producer: Steve James
The Redemption of General Butt Naked - Director/Producers: Eric Strauss, Daniele Anastasion
We Were Here - Director/Producer: David Weissman

Best International Film
A Separation (Iran) - Director: Asghar Farhadi
Melancholia (Denmark/Sweden/France/Germany) - Director: Lars von Trier
Shame (UK) - Director: Steve McQueen
The Kid With a Bike (Belgium/France/Italy) - Directors: Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne
Tyrannosaur (UK) - Director: Paddy Considine

Piaget Producers Award
Chad Burris - Mosquita y Mari
Sophia Lin - Take Shelter
Josh Mond - Martha Marcy May Marlene

Someone to Watch Award
Simon Arthur - Silver Tongues
Mark Jackson - Without
Nicholas Ozeki - Mamitas

Robert Altman Award
Margin Call
Best Actor
George Clooney, The Descendants

Best Actress
Tilda Swinton, We Need to Talk About Kevin

Best Adapted Screenplay
Alexander Payne and Nat Faxon & Jim Rash

Best Animated Feature

Best Director
Martin Scorsese, Hugo

Best Documentary
Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory

Best Ensemble
The Help

Best Film

Best Foreign Language Film
A Separation

Best Original Screenplay
Will Reiser, 50/50

Best Supporting Actor
Christopher Plummer, Beginners

Best Supporting Actress
Shailene Woodley, The Descendants

Breakthrough Performance
Felicity Jones, Like Crazy

Breakthrough Performance
Rooney Mara, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Debut Director
J.C. Chandor, Margin Call

NBR Freedom of Expression
Crime After Crime

NBR Freedom of Expression

Special Achievement in Filmmaking
The Harry Potter Franchise - A Distinguished Translation from Book to Film

Spotlight Award
Michael Fassbender (A Dangerous Method, Jane Eyre, Shame, X-Men: First Class)

Top 10 Independent Films (in alphabetical order)
50/50, Another Earth, Beginners, A Better Life, Cedar Rapids, Margin Call, Shame, Take Shelter, We Need To Talk About Kevin, Win Win

Top 5 Documentaries (in alphabetical order)
Born to be Wild, Buck, George Harrison: Living in the Material World, Project Nim, Senna

Top 5 Foreign Language Films (in alphabetical order)
13 Assassins, Elite Squad: The Enemy Within, Footnote, Le Havre, Point Blank

Top Films (in alphabetical order)
The Artist, The Descendants, Drive, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, The Ides of March, J. Edgar, The Tree of Life, War Horse
Melancholia, Denmark/Sweden/France/Germany

Susanne Bier for Haevnen (In a Better World)

Tilda Swinton in We need to talk about Kevin

Colin Firth in The King's speech

Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne for Le gamin au velo (The Kid with a Bike)

Manuel Alberto Claro for Melancholia

Tariq Anwar for The King's speech

Production design
Jette Lehmann for Melancholia

Ludovic Bource for The artist

Adem (Oxygen) by Hans Van Nuffel, Belgium/theNetherlands

Pina by Wim Wenders, Germany

Animated feature
Chico & Rita by Tono Errando, Javier Mariscal & Fernando Trueba

Short film
The Wholly family by Terry Gilliam, Italy

Mariela Besuievsky, Spain

European achievement in world cinema
Mads Mikkelsen, Denmark

Lifetime achievement
Stephen Frears, UK

Special honorary award
Michel Piccoli, France

People's choice
The Kings' speech by Tom Hooper, UK


Star Wars Rorschach

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Star Wars, the movielore that keeps on producing. I'm kind of SW-fatigued at the moment actually (shouldn't we look at some more cat pictures?), but this is some kind of awesome.

(Thanks Griz!)


Hedy Lamarr worried her pretty head

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Slate published a review of Richard Rhodes’ new book, Hedy’s Folly, which illuminated a creative side to the actress most widely known for her beauty. Of all things, she was apparently something of an inventor.

Lamarr envisioned airplanes controlling torpedoes remotely, flying high above them and adjusting their direction with radio pulses. This setup had some precedent in Nazi Germany, and Rhodes suspects that Hedy overheard the idea from Mandl. But torpedoes could receive radio instructions only on one predetermined radio frequency. If the enemy figured out that frequency, he could jam transmission, flooding the signal with noise and sending the torpedo off-course. Lamarr had an idea of how to circumvent this threat. Both plane and torpedo would jump in tandem to different frequencies over and over, much like turning a radio dial every few seconds. So even if the enemy jammed one frequency, it wouldn’t matter, since both sender and receiver would soon switch to another.
I'm just gonna go work on my Middle East Peace Treaty right ... now.


Hugo: in which Scorsese awkwardly attempts to show his love for cinema

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Title: Hugo
Director: Martin Scorsese
Language: English
Year: 2011
Critical Reception: Metacritic score 85
Psych Index: Family relations, Self-identity
In Brief: Hugo, an orphaned boy living inside the walls of a French train station, tried to fix an automaton left to him by his father. On his journey to retrieve what he believed was a message from his father through the working automaton, he discovered a cinematic dream long lost in the deep of a toy shop owner's trove. Hugo is neither an adult nor a child's film; it is Scorsese's awkwardly sentimental love letter to cinema that perhaps only the very dedicated film enthusiasts might appreciate. **1/2
Comment (SPOILERS ALERT): As 3D films become more common place, for better or worse, the time is probably ripe for a look into past major cinematic transitions. Hugo is the latest film I'd seen in recent months that devoted its screen love to the early-times cinema, and unfortunately - given its acclaimed director at the helm - was the least successful of all.

The film has its charms, for certain. There was an off kilter feel to the pacing that succeeded at times in transporting the film to a different time. Sasha Baron Cohen delivered one of the most pitch perfect performances of the year as the train station inspector, lighting up the down-trodden film whenever he was on screen (even though at times a little of Borat peeked through). The train station set fantasized a simpler time in cinema when people were transparent in their intentions and would automatically draw their eyes to each other just because the film demanded them to. Most notably, the 3D effect was properly utilized and made a strong argument for its place in cinema's history moving forward.

As impressive as the Eiffel Tower looked glowing at the end of a run-through of the train station clocks' internal working, however, the wonder worn off after the nth time the audience was forced to "discover" the set. Despite some well-placed 3D moments, fascinating footage of early cinema, and a beautiful, dreamy set in the old, out-of-time train station, the picture is a clunky, repetitive, uninspired piece of sentimental film making. For a film that celebrates the magic of films, there's a disappointing lack of wonder on screen, even as it tries to make some plot lines "magically" disappear (whatever happened to the notebook inquiry?).

Films move forward by the momentum of words or visuals (and at times, both). John Logan, Scorsese's screen writer for Hugo, produced a listless script, seemingly with the hope that either the actors or the director would fill it out and give it life. While Cohen succeeded in infusing the picture with his oddly fitting comedic timing, the rest of the acting cast tried hard but their strained effort failed to give much substance to the thin storybook. They were not helped by the director, as Scorsese seemed lost in the maze of his clocks. Since Hugo acted as a silent film for the most part, the directing was crucial in connecting its story to the audience. Yet, the film was languid in too many places where either words or visuals could have imbued it with some much needed kinetic energy.

It may have been the case that Scorsese attempted to make a picture in a more sentimental Spielbergian vein (Hugo featured both Jude Law and a robot-like automaton, a nod to Spielberg's A.I.?). As we've discovered in the case of Super 8 (Abrams, 2011) earlier this year, being good at Spielbergian is no easy feat. Whereas Super 8 got help by a very charming cast of natural-acting children and Abrams' intentional direction, Scorsese seemed unsure what picture he wanted to make. At times, the tone of the picture shifted dramatically from Spielbergian lost-boy family feel-good drama to horror to quirky comedy to documentary-like story about the movies. The visuals were surprisingly bland, outside of periodic flashes of 3D pop. The use of Hugo as our access to Georges Méliès, a film pioneer in many important ways, may have been a miscalculated move. Removed from Méliès' perspective, it was difficult to feel the crushing effect of burying a life's dream. Perhaps it could've been rescued by more effective directing, but as it was, the climax did not carry the emotional heft it should have.

Méliès was a technical wizard, but there was no wizardry in this homage to him. If you wanted to get your fill of meta cinema love, you'd be better off seeing Le Havre or The Arist. Both are superior films doing what Scorsese should have done with Hugo. While his love for cinema was obvious to Scorsese, the film did not make it clear why we should care to preserve the past. Just because Hugo was a love letter to cinema, and thereby the people who love the art of films like us, it doesn't make it any better than other films we examine. Méliès' work was much more interesting than the film itself. The connecting story has to matter, fundamentally, to our human experience somehow. Hugo just didn't seem to matter, and that's a shame for Méliès, a VIP of who's who in cinema.



Books on Film Criticism

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Matt Zoller Seitz compiled a personal list of 14 books on film criticism. If it's good enough for Matt-friggin'-Zolller Seitz, it should be good enough for, well, me.

Of interest:

From Calgari to Hitler: A Psychological History of the German Film, by Sigfried Kracauer Princeton / The Monster Show: Revised Edition, by David J. Skal
University Press, 1947 / Faber & Faber, 2001

I put these two books on the same slide because they indulge in similarly bold leaps of critical imagination. Rather than pursue the usual historian’s causal relationship of “A led to B, which in turn led to C,” these authors work more like psychologists, treating entire civilizations as if they were individuals, and looking at how history and culture influence each other, and how in certain cases culture might be able to predict history. Sigfried Kracauer’s book “From Calgari to Hitler” suggests that German Expressionist cinema is a sort of snapshot of the German psyche in the ’20s, prior to the rise of Hitler and the Nazis, and that if you study it closely, you can see evidence of longings, fears and nightmare disturbances that Hitler and his followers would tap into, then channel. (Dr. Calgari, the character whose last name appears in the book’s title, was a hypnotist.) Originally published in 1993, David J. Skal’s “The Monster Show” is similarly audacious, suggesting, among other things, that the Universal horror films of the 1930s — which were often set in a geographically nonspecific nightmare Europe filled with magic, superstition, hateful mobs and hideous beasts — were a kind of collective premonition of World War II and the Holocaust.

The Art of the Moving Picture, by Vachel Lindsay
Kessinger Publishing (1922)

This 1922 book by poet and sometime cultural critic Vachel Lindsay might have been the first to treat the then-new medium of moving pictures as an art form, one that was potentially as rich, complex, mysterious as far older ones, and whose physical and aesthetic properties were only starting to be understood. The highlight of the book might be “The Motion Picture of Fairy Splendor,” which examines the relationship between film storytelling, magic, myths, legends and bedtime stories.

From Reverence to Rape: The Treatment of Women in Movies, by Molly Haskell
Reinhart and Winston, 1974

One of the most original books of film criticism, and easily one of the best-written, Molly Haskell’s “From Reverence to Rape“is a book-length equivalent of that great line about how Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did, only she did it backward in high heels. Filling in areas of film history (and criticism) that were often neglected before she published this slim volume, Haskell writes about the image of women — and the screen image and careers of famous female movie stars — from the point of view of a feminist, and a realist.

Negative Space, by Manny Farber
Praeger, 1971

If you’ve never read Manny Farber, Negative Space” is a hell of a place to start. Sui generis, the original of originals, and a rare critic whose work is provocative and engaging no matter what he was writing on, Farber was one of the most important of the postwar American critics — a writer who, like Andrew Sarris, insisted that the subject matter, budget or intent of a motion picture had absolutely nothing to do with its quality — that true art could be concealed within films of off-putting technique, low budgets and disreputable subject matter (‘termite art,” he called it) and that the films that were intended to be respectable, to make people feel like good and noble citizens, could in fact be uninteresting, even morally and aesthetically toxic. He also writes perceptively about the compositions, cuts, music and overall feel of a film, which seems like no big deal until you think about how much film reviewing, past and present, reads like book reports.


VIFF People's Choice Award winner, and Cinemap's winning selections

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VIFF announced its popular choice award today, and it's one more accolade for the Iranian entry, A separation. It's a sure nomination for A separation comes Oscar time, but will it win?

As for me, I've seen a total of 21 films this time around, and here's my own Cinemap list of winners:

Best feature film

A separation (Farhadi)
Runner up: Le Havre, The Kid with a bike

Best directing

The Kid with a bike (Dardene & Dardene)
Runner up: Kaurismäki for Le Havre, Farhadi for A separation

Best documentary

Happy People: A year in the Taiga (Herzog and Vasyokov)
Runner up: The Boy Mir: 10 Years in Afghanistan

Best ensemble

A separation
Runner up: Le Havre, Tyrannosaur

Best performance

Thomas Doret in The Kid with a bike
Runner up: Sareh Bayat in A separation, Peter Mullan in Tyrannosaur, Jean Dujardin in The Artist, Aggeliki Papoulia in Alps

Best cinematography

Le Havre
Runner up: Sleeping Beauty, The Turin Horse

Best script

A separation (Farhadi)
Runner up: Le Havre, The Kid with a bike


Canal+ Commercial

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It's kind of whimsical?


VIFF 2011: Week 3 - You're not ready for pop. (The kid with a bike, Artist, Alps, Michael, Martha Marcy May Marlene)

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Round up reviews of films I've seen at the Vancouver International Film Festival week 3, in order of preference/impact:

1. Le Gamin au vélo (The kid with a bike) (Dardene & Dardene | Belgium)

Impression: VIFF announced the People's Choice today, and if it wasn't for the fact that the Dardene brothers' feature was screened just last night, I'd think that it would've given the eventual winner a pretty good run for its money, judging from the crowd reaction. I distinctly heard a "woot!" and there were tears flowing around me. The moment Cyril (played with so much angst and sweetness by Thomas Doret) unexpectedly clutched for dear life onto Samantha, there was no doubt he got her complete attention, and the audience's (mine) in turn. The child abandonment story tugged at the heart with such ease, no manipulative strings attached could be seen or cared to be found. It was sweet, without the saccharine, tough without the embellishment, and heartbreaking without the melodrama. There was a long, silent, beautiful sequence of him riding a bike after a particularly crushing turn of event that showed off both his incredibly exact performance and the Dardene brothers' master direction. I'm not one to have maternal feelings, but this boy's transparent yearning gave my ovaries a good squeeze.

Reaction: So that's what a maternal feeling is like.

2. The Artist (Hazanavicius| France)

Impression: With The Artist, Hazanavicius made a loving tribute to the silent era in the same zesty, playful manner as many of the era's films. While it ridiculed the arrogance of its silent stars, it also paid respect to the inventiveness and the heart of many artists that drove the industry. The use of sound was clever in a way that really highlighted the shock and awe of its introduction to the screen. The audience ate this up; I could see this film going a long way at the Oscars.

Reaction: How come it took us this long to have this movie made? I want that dog! So. Bad.

3. Alps (Lanthimos| Greece)

Impression: Going to see the film with no prior knowledge of what it was about really added to the uncertain feeling of what was happening to its characters. Alps focused on a group of unlikely grief performers, taking on the role of the departed as family members tried to come to terms of the baggage left behind. There are performances within performances, and after a while, I started to wonder if the real thing was just a performance. The absurdity and odd humourous moments didn't negate the sad state everything was weighed down by. I don't know how this compares to Dogtooth, the director's previously acclaimed film (and surprising Academy Awards Foreign Film nominnee), but it makes me all the more interested in what else he has to offer.

Reaction: Prince is alive! Prince is alive? He is!

4. Michael (Schleinzer| Austria)

Impression: While I was curious about the comparison the film's director had been drawn to Haneke, I was worried about how it was going to turn out, given the delicate nature of child exploitation. Would the young actor be introduced unnecessarily to the reality of pedophilia? How would they handle the sensitive scenes? It's one thing to have adults acting out a scripted horror; it's another to have a kid exposed to such horror, even in pretense. Other than one shocking scene played out in a humourous tone that nevertheless was quite terrifying, the film for the most part spared its audience its most tragic scenes, opting instead to hint at them with pre- and post-preparation by Michael, the unknown sickness that dwell amongst everyday people. Following the modern European clinical, matter of fact aesthetics to approach difficult, dark social underbelly subject matter, the film made no attempt at a cause and effect explanation of what made Michael Michael - he had a presumably loving family (a mother and a sister who cared enough to cry over him, at least), a successful career (he prided himself over not being "one of the four" who'd lose his job in this tough economic time), and a hint of a precocious mind (he purportedly made way for Christmas right after Easter as a child because he was "impatient"). There was something unsettling about him though - one got a sense that his meticulous and methodical way of ordering his everyday activities belied a rigid, contemptuous, deeply insecure boy who never developed a true adult connection with the world. I can't imagine playing a pedophile to be all that easy, but Michael Fuith did an incredible job of acting the part, looking both ordinary and creepy. I can't look at that face the same way again. Sorry, Michael.

Reaction: I can't watch.

5. Martha Marcy May Marlene (Durkin| U.S.A.)

Impression: MMMM had a dream-like flow about it, which was rather typical of an indie flick. The titular character's daze coloured all that we could see. "I know who I am," she said with a slight quiver. Her mouthful of a name pointed out the contrary though - she was as lost as lost can be. She was neither a teacher nor a leader, a dream whispered to her by John Hawkes' cult leader in an attempt to lure the directionless youth into giving herself over to a promised defined, pure life. One could see how the haves - in their glass house and suppressed guilt and hatred - could be held up as a reason not to be for the have nots. It makes seductive the counterpoint lifestyle for those looking to be held in something they could feel with their hands. Martha spouted the same values those with high morales might even line themselves up with, but she parroted them like one would a school lesson. She was but a mouthpiece for the discontent, no more authentic and loving than the world she ran away from. Durkin made an interest point of allowing her two worlds to collide so seamlessly, despite the stark contrast (one that was hinted at as a possible danger with the consequence of one bump in the night with her fellow "housemates"). The only way one could tell the past from the present was the people occupying the scene - cinematically, they were all the same. She was a beautiful vessel (her beauty was commented a few times in the film) for the two sides to impose their will on, not unlike what various groups try to do with our youth. In some ways, the film showed how powerful the desire to belong can be, and that same desire could lead us down a rabbit hole we may not come back from. Unfortunately, the characters felt quite derivative, and Olsen felt a bit too Maggie Gyllenhaal at times even in her manner. It was a solid film, but no greatness here.

Reaction: Wow, Elizabeth Olsen is like a cross between the Olsen twins and Maggie Gyllenhaal. Death is love? *rolls eyes*


VIFF 2011: Week 2 - What's wrong is wrong (A separation, Havre, Sleeping Beauty, Ms Bala, Anatolia, Footnote,Like Crazy, Starbuck, Elena, Turin Horse)

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Round up reviews of films I've seen at the Vancouver International Film Festival week 2, in order of preference/impact:

1. Jodái-e Náder az Simin (A separation) (Farhadi | Iran)

Impression: Iran's official entry for Foreign Film Oscar is a sophisticated, nuanced, meaningful portrait of Iran as it wrestles class, religion, gender, and the wheel of modernity in the frontier of its people's home. For an involving, intricate plot, there's barely any excess fat in the film to speak of. Every single character occupying the screen is an empathetic human being - there's no stereotype to be found, not even the usual dictatorial male figure in this deeply patriarchal society. It warmed my heart to see loving, respectful parenting figures in films, however flawed they were in other ways. The cast clearly infused their story with much pride and a deep knowing of their existential condition. There's no easy solution; the struggle between living the truth out loud and managing delicate human relationships can only be negotiated one step at a time. Farhadi captured its subtlety and drama with equal ease and wisdom. This is a rare family drama that works. I know what I'm rooting for comes Oscar time.
Reaction: What beautiful children.

2. Le Havre (Kaurismäki | France / Finland)

Impression: The set up of Le Havre, a stylized retro comedy of sort, was quite ridiculous: a shoe shiner in Normandy went on a mission to help a young refugee avoid being captured by the government and reconnect with his mother in London. It was more whimsical than serious, though there was enough humanity behind the film for us to care. Sometimes, a film is a romanticized version of a dream of a true emotion. This was such a film, and gosh darn what an absolute delight it was.
Reaction: Man, I love this movie.

3. Sleeping Beauty (Leigh | Australia)

Impression: Sleeping beauty is an austere, gorgeously shot fable about, on a literal level, a smart, young girl getting paid to go to sleep while her clients did what they had come for, and on a figurative level, a smart, young girl walk-sleeping her life away. "Sarah" turned herself into an object to be used by others in seemingly endless fashion, from science experiment to server to sex work. Her beauty was her calling card, and she used it like everyone else does: a functional object to act upon (she corrected the woman who would be her pimp that her "vagina is [her] vagina" and not a temple). No one was home; no one was interested. Her only human connection, beyond the veneer of manners, was with the Birdman, whom she would at times enact domestic scenarios with. Gradually, our girl began to take a vested interest in what was happening to her. The revelation was not exactly what she had in mind, and it only enforced the barren life she'd chosen for herself. The film ended at the moment of her realization, and it was a powerful punch of a scene to leave the audience with. And on that note, ladies and gentlemen, Julia Leigh has arrived.
Reaction: Is she serious? Only one rule? I can think of a million things that you'd want to put in that rule book and I have only seen one scenario!

4. Miss Bala (Naranjo | Mexico)

Impression: Mexico's drug war has become a breeding ground for crimes and corruptions. Naranjo anchored his pessimistic observations and damning critiques of the whole bloody affair to Laura, an aspiring contestant in a beauty pageant caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. Much like a beauty pageant, the war on drug is a loud, glittery show that masquerades a seedy, ugly underbelly of humanity. The contestants are swallowed in the flow of power and money. The system is rigged - it can crown you a beauty queen one evening and throw you under a bus the next, and no one would bat an eye. Poor Laura's only trying to survive under fire, as she bends to the will and whims of the criminals and the government that fails to protect her. Along the way, she tries to find moments of grace, but they are so ever fleeting. Will the good people take a stand? We keep hoping, but does it matter an ounce if it's all just show and tell?
Reaction: Girl, DO SOMETHING!

5. Bir Zamanlar Anadolu'da (Once upon a time in Anatolia) (Ceylan | Turkey)

Impression: I should've taken a hint from the title that Anatolia would be like a bedtime story, with emphasis on it being a story to be told before falling asleep. I went to see it at the end of a very long day, and I did not realize what a bad idea it was until half an hour into the film or so, when I started to drift away in the middle of yet another false body-ID alarm in the dark of the night. Once they hit daylight, however, the sleepiness lifted and I was able to enjoy the film for what it was: a procedural film about truth and discretion, and the shortcomings of a very human system. There were a number of laugh out loud and cringey moments having to do with police and hospital set up. It was a contemplative tragicomedy worth seeing, just not at the end of a very long day.
Reaction: Let there be light!

6. He'arat Shulayim (Footnote) (Cedar | Israel)

Impression: Footnote was a comedy about the fierce competition between intellectuals trying to survive in a world where they want to matter most: the archives of academic history. At its center was an elitist father who spent his life obsessing with the minutiae of Isreali's Talmud writings that he never got around to publish on time, when it mattered. His successful son's fortune exceeded his, and he grew envious of the son's achievements. Meanwhile, the son secretly idolized his father and did his utmost to realize his father's dream of winning the Israeli Prize. His father, blinded by resentment, arrogance and a dogmatic approach to their shared passion, proceeded to sabotage his only fan's effort. Cedar made a very charming Jewish intellectual comedy with Footnote, though it may have been a little on the light side.
Reaction: But isn't that what people have children for? To achieve what they can't in their life time?

7. Like Crazy (Doremus | U.S.A.)

Impression: Like Crazy explored gently the meaning of "can't live with you, can't live without you." A story about an encompassing connection between two people over time and space should've hit a home run with me, but it hit me a lot less than I thought it would. While Anton was sweet and Felicity's teeth were charming, their love was ultimately too precious and thin to make much of an impact. It wasn't particularly compelling, even if it got something worthwhile to say about the unpredictable course of chemistry and how a connection is inherently born between two people in their particular context. Some people are lucky enough to have plenty of meaningful, enveloping connections throughout their life, be it with the same or different partner. Some people don't find or know any at all. And then there are those who spend their lives trying to recapture the magic that came so easy at one time, only to find out that - like the first heroin high - it can not be experienced again, even with the same person. The cast tried their best to lend some heft to the story, and Doremus made an effort to frame them in a nostalgic, intimate postcard hue. Still, it felt a little too cute to warrant more than a cup of tears (tears are how I measure all love stories).
Reaction: *sniffle* when Anton broke up with Jennifer Lawrence. That felt real.

8. Starbuck (Scott | Canada)

Impression: A harmless feel-good Canadian comedy about what you make of a family. It was a true crowd-pleaser so I'm not surprised it was a runner up at TIFF. There's really not much else to write home about though.
Reaction: Oh no, not another emo running joke. But that's kinda sweet.

9. Elena (Zvyagintsev | Russia)

Impression: So, Zvyagintsev's The Return was really good. His new film Elena, Cannes' Special Jury Prize winner, came with high expectation as a consequence. While the film was well made, its principles were a crapshoot of unlikable people going about their life focusing solely on what they could take or feel entitled to. Other than the stark contrast between the lifestyles of the rich and the poor, there was not much that separated the interiors of their life. Elena was the conduit between the haves and have-nots, and the film almost in a cannibalistic way ate up its own titular character. She was an example of someone who didn't think her own crap stink, as she hopped on the high horse when it came to chiding her husband's rebellious daughter, but turned a blind eye to her own moral compromises. There was no sympathy for any class, and unfortunately, that didn't make the film a compelling story one would want to visit again.
Reaction: Gosh darn I want some sliding doors. I really don't like this character. At all.

10. A torinói ló (The Turin Horse) (Tarr | Hungary)

Impression: I wanted a Bela Tarr experience at the theatre, especially since it was going to be his last film. Sometimes, though, things sound better on paper than in real life. The film started out really promisingly, with a prologue explaining how this was the story of what happened to the farmer and the horse that came at a pivotal point in Nietzsche's life. The image of the poor horse trudging along to foreboding music was quite stark and beautiful. However, the harsh, repetitive, poor-in-every-way life of a doomed father and daughter pair (and their dying horse) told in excruciating, laborous details wasn't really something I prepared to spend 3 hours experiencing, however well photographed it was. I spent most of the film actively making up stories about people on screen in order to stay interested and awake. The film had somewhat of a punch line; I just wished it came an hour or two earlier.
Reaction: Ah, more potato munching. From a different angle. Very well. Why doesn't she have it with salt like her dad? Is she protesting? Such a rebel. Who does she look like? She looks like somebody. Shirley Duvall? Hm.


VIFF 2011: Week 1 - Life has a big gap in it. You don't try to fill it like a fvking lunatic. (Taiga, Waltz, Mir, Tyrannosaur, Top floor, Skin)

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Round up reviews of films I've seen at the Vancouver International Film Festival week 1, in order of preference/impact:

1. Happy People: A Year in the Taiga (Herzog | Germany/Russia)

Impression: Werner Herzog's abiding interest - human's connection to nature - was once again given the grand stage by way of the vast, beautiful, harsh Siberian Taiga landscape. Propelled along its seasons by the ever charming (if not heavy-handed at times) Herzogian narration, Vasyokov's documentary (edited by Herzog) on the Bakhtin villagers explored the mythical one-man-and-his-dog-versus-the-universe story in all its glory. Although Herzog would like you to believe that our central character - a wise, renaissance man of sort in the form of a seasoned trapper - epitomized the complete self-reliance of ancient "cave men," his snowmobile, riffle, and a supporting cast of women and children at home would beg to differ. In spite of its romanticism, the film worked as a compelling study of tradition's last frontier.

"I want to make that canoe. Right now."

2. Take this Waltz (Polley | Canada)

Impression: There could be very good reasons for you to find Waltz intolerable: its set up was precious, its characters were all a twee bit self-absorbed, and it tread the familiar territory of the ambiguous heart's affairs (Blue Valentine worked in the same vein). Yet, Sarah Polley dotted her Is and crossed her Ts so meticulously and patiently that the film - viewed in an uncertain frame of mind - could gently break your heart, if you'd allow it. The title of this post came from a line in the film that was particularly telling of the direction Polley wanted to take her viewers (the irony of the line spoken by Silverman's character is that it was exactly what she was doing). This was about the heart making decisions in a cloud of unknowns, or as Polley put it: “I wanted to make a film about desire, not a philosophical essay, but to be inside of it, to feel how delicious it is, and how difficult it is for us, as human beings, to either turn our backs on that sensation or to live with the primal gap it creates, one that needs to be fulfilled. I wanted to show the process of someone trying to escape that essential state of being and how it doesn’t always work." The cast felt lived in, with Michelle Williams continuing her impressive acting streak. The two comedic actors (and inspired choices) - Seth Rogen and Sarah Silverman - gave their rather unexpected best work here. As the icing on the cake, my home city Toronto never looked better in film as a character on its own.

Reaction: "I need to stop crying. It's only a movie. I need to stop. "

3. The boy Mir: 10 years in Afghanistan (Grabsky | UK)

Impression: Grabsky followed an eight year-old Afghan boy named Mir for one year in 2001, with the hope of capturing "an ordinary life in an extraordinary time." Rather than stopping after one year, he continued to follow Mir for another 10 years, hoping to document the rise of Afghan people along with him. It was a difficult and beautiful, depressing and uplifting picture of an irrepressible spirit, struggling to grow and live on a land people only knew how to fight over and not be responsible for any of it.

Reaction: "That boy never stopped smiling!"

4. Tyrannosaur (Considine | UK)

Impression: If there was a painting suitable for this film, it's Wilhem Freddie's depressing, crushing La Priere (The prayer). Tyranonosaur told a story of two strangers taking turns comforting each other in time of great spiritual needs. While it didn't seem so at first, with one being a drunken angry old man prone to violent outbursts and the other being a married woman of faith, they shared a common beast named anger. It was the kind born from a deep pain accumulated over years of taking it all in stride, hoping that there was a greater purpose for all the suffering, only to realize that even if there was, the damage was done. There was no undoing, only temporary comfort in those offering shelters along the way. As such, the film relied on its small, intimate cast for the emotional heft to override the obviousness, and it got that in spades.

Reaction: "This is not a morning movie."

5. Dernier étage gauche gauche (Top floor, Left Wing, Cianci | France)

Impression: A classic comedy of errors in some ways, Cianci's whimsical, political hostage-taking thriller moved along splendidly like a thriller should, even as it weaved in and out of a couple of family dramas on the way.

Reaction: "Who'd throw a fridge, honestly?"

6. La piel que habito (The skin I live in, Almodóvar | Spain)

Impression: The best way I could describe Almodóvar's latest venture is that it's a horror melodrama, one that paints a very perverse and clinical portrait of sexual violence. Bandaras played a surgeon cum research scientist on skin transplant, who conducted unethical surgeries and experiments in his own lavish, modern lair. While the twist was quite disturbing, the storyline became predictable half way through and it fizzed out like a typical soap opera. As a picture I looked forward to the most at the festival, it disappointed under the weight of expectation. Nevertheless, it was pretty enough to entice me along the way for the most part.

Reaction: "That can't be a good idea."


Cinema Psychologia's Top 10 Films of 2010

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It's almost that time of the year when I have to make a new top 10 list, so it's probably a good idea to store the old one somewhere. I actually have two separate top 10 lists, to reflect my crazy film fest year. There should be another post forthcoming on my pick for various Oscar categories for the year 2010.

Without further jibberish, here they are, with one-line comment each (for efficiency!):

Top 10 films released in 2010, excluding films shown only at film fests by year end
  1. L'illusionniste (The Illusionist; Chomet, 2010) ****1/2 Magical tribute to Jacques Tati's way of connecting through gestures and suspense of disbelief
  2. The ghost writer (Polanski, 2010) **** Stately pacing with an intelligent way of engaging the audience - one of Polanski's better films
  3. Exit through the gift shop (Banksy, 2010) **** Intriguing and humorous human interest story with a twist
  4. Inside job (Ferguson, 2010) **** Interesting political portrait damning of the corrupt ways the US system recycles its criminals
  5. The kids are all right (Cholodenko, 2010) **** A good-humoured story of a family's attempt to navigate the modern disconnect and confusion
  6. True grit (Coen, 2010) ***1/2 A fun, typical light-touch Coen fare
  7. The American (Corbijn, 2010) ***1/2 A well-made, patient thriller perfectly adapted to Clooney
  8. The King's speech (Hooper, 2010) ***1/2 A light affair with a notable cast
  9. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 (Yates, 2010) ***1/2 Surprisingly chilling and lonely prelude to the final showdown
  10. The Social Network (Fincher, 2010) ***1/2 A conversational starter and a technically well made picture

Top 10 films released in 2010, including films shown at festivals (my general top 10 list, all things considered)
  1. Copie conforme (Certified copy; Kiarostami, 2011) ****1/2 Chamber cinema returns with a vengeance
  2. L'illusionniste (The Illusionist; Chomet, 2010) ****1/2
  3. Armadillo (Metz, 2010) ****1/2 Profound recount of what it's like to be in a war of no purpose, at the front line where no hero lives
  4. Schastye moe (My joy; Loznitsa, 2010) **** Depressing, pessimistic, shocking and surreal fairytale of a corrupt society in hell, where absolute power rapes absolutely
  5. Los ojos de Julia (Julia's eyes; Morales, 2010) **** Scary and romantic psychological horror bearing the good name of Guillermo del Toro as a producer gracefully
  6. Uncle Boonmee who can recall his past lives (Weerasethakul, 2011) **** One hell of a trance
  7. The ghost writer (Polanski, 2010) ****
  8. Poetry (Lee, 2010) **** A well-lived film of much optimism, in part due to the irrepressible central character's screen presence
  9. Exit through the gift shop (Banksy, 2010) ****
  10. Cold Fish (Sono, 2010) **** Cannibalistic lust for blood, human flesh, bones, and more blood in a bleak, disturbing account of a true serial killer story


TIFF 2011 People's Choice Winner: Where do we go now?

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The Toronto Film Fest wrapped this weekend, and despite Hollywood glamorous heavyweight presence, Toronto decided that it would be all film-festy and chose a little known film for its winner: Where do we go now? As it is also Lebanon's entry for Best Foreign Film Oscar, it's safe to say we're looking at a likely Foreign Film winner. It's hard to tell whether it would make an impact beyond that category, but it's good news for Lebanon, nevertheless.

Runner up: A separation (Golden Bear winner) ...

... and a Canadian comedy, Starbuck:

The raid also won in the Midnight Madness screening category. I can't wait for its wide release!


The Raid: Holy Mother of Pearl!

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Indonesia's latest entry into the horrifically inventive world of Asian action/horror films is about to hit cult status: The Raid (Evans, 2011) is getting some very excited ink, including this glowing review of the TIFF screening from Hollywood Reporter:

Audiences will be scrambling to find enough compound adjectives to describe Gareth Huw Evans hard-driving, butt-kicking, pulse-pounding, bone-crunching, skull-smashing, blood-curdling martial arts siege movie, The Raid. “Squeezing a trigger? That’s like ordering takeout,” scoffs one particularly psychotic killing machine when faced with the choice of using a gun or his lethal fists and feet. The director is similarly disdainful of swift execution, instead favoring the adrenaline rush of sustained pummeling.

More on the film:
In the opening scene, rookie cop Rama (Uwais) puts in time on his prayer rug and on his workout. Both are good insurance for the ordeal he is about to face. Kissing his pregnant wife, he heads out with a SWAT team on an ill-planned mission to bring down sadistic underworld kingpin Tama (Ray Sahetapy), who rules over a seedy population of thugs, criminals and junkies from his headquarters in a fortress-like Jakarta tenement block. While Evans has little use for character establishment, he introduces Tama calmly snacking on noodles before icing a lineup of bound-and-gagged rival gang members, playfully switching to a hammer when he’s out of bullets.

As soon as the cops get past the outer defense barriers Tama deploys his goon squad, as he monitors the entire building via closed-circuit surveillance cameras and a PA system. Most of the 20-member SWAT team are pulped before they know what hits them, leaving only a handful of men to weigh the choice of survival or the near-certain suicide of proceeding to the 15th floor to get the man they came for.


September's Most Anticipated: Drive

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It's the year of the Gosling: he's got a trifecta of film genres in Crazy, Stupid Love (rom-com), Drive (action/thriller), and The Ides of March (political drama). One of those ought to land him an Oscar nomination. It's probably going to be Ides, but Drive looks to be the fun one.


Cannes 2011 winners: the American invasion

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Sean Penn, Jessica Chastain, and Brad Pitt, representing Terrence Malick's Palme d’Or winner, Tree of Life. Head of jury members, Robert DeNiro, hinted at the divisive nature of the film: “Most of us thought it was great" (via L.A. Times/ Pascal Le Segretain / Getty Images)

L to R: Belgian director Jean-Pierre Dardenne, actor Thomas Doret, actress Cecile de France and director Luc Dardenne, co-winners of the Grand Prix prize (runner up) for "Le Gamin Au Velo" (The Kid With The Bike) (via L.A. Times/ Ian Langsdon / EPA)

Cannes' beloved perennial winner, Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan (Three Monkeys; Left in picture), is a familiar face to take home a Cannes prize: his film Bir Zamanlar Anadolu’da (Once Upon A Time In Anatolia) shared the Grand Prix honour with the Dardenne brothers' The Kid with the Bike (via)

Director and actress Maïwenn Le Besco (in blue) and cast members, won Prix du Jury for the French film, Polisse (via)

Best actress, Kirsten Dunst, won for her performance in Lars von Trier's Melancholia. Kiki for Oscars 2012!! (via)

L to R: Director Michel Hazanavicius, actress Berenice Bejo, producer Thomas Langmann, and Best Actor winner, Jean Dujardin in the silent French film (that's right, silent) that's supposedly quite entertaining, The Artist (via)

Ryan Gosling's about to kiss his Danish director, Nicolas Winding Refn, winner of Best Director for Drive (via)

Israeli director Joseph Cedar (Academy-nominated Best Foreign Film, Beaufort, also a Berlin's Silver Bear winner in 2007) won Best Screenplay for Hearat Shulayam (Footnote) (via)

Argentinian director, Pablo Giorgelli, won Camera D'Or for Best First Film, Les Acacias

Director Kim Ki-duk posed like a master of something something here. His Korean film, Arirang, shared Un Certain Regard prize (via)

L to R: Cast members Steffi Kuhnert, Mika Nilson Seidel, director Andreas Dresen, Talisa Lilly Lemke and Milan Peschel represented Germany's entry, Halt auf freier Strecke (Stopped on track), co-winner of Un Certain Regard prize. (via)

Nadezhda Markina, director Andrei Zvyagintsev (his stunning debut The Return won Venice's Golden Lion in 2003) and Yelena Lyadova for Elena, the Russian film winning Special Jury Prize in the Un Certain Regard category (via)

Iranian director Mohammad Rasoulof was not present to accept the Directing Prize in the Un Certain Regard category for his film, Goodbye, because he was too busy appealing a jail sentence for making films that are not approved by the Iranian government (some other film, not Goodbye, which had an official seal of approval) (via)

Jeff Nichols took home Critics Week's top prize for Take Shelter. The film stars Michael Shannon and suddenly hot-commodity Jessica Chastain (also in Tree of Life) (via)

Members of the jury for this year's Cannes: Hong Kong producer Nansun Shi, French director Olivier Assayas, Norwegian critic Linn Ullmann, Hong Kong director Johnnie To, Argentinian actress and producer Martina Gusman, French actress and host Melanie Laurent, US actor and President of the Jury Robert De Niro, US actress Uma Thurman, Chadian director Mahamat-Saleh Haroun and British actor Jude Law (via)


Oh Lars ...

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Lars Von Trier, whose film Melancholia is screening at Cannes this year, took a tumble and was declared "persona non grata" at least for the remainder of this festival (but not his film, thank goodness), for this goof-off:

You know, sometimes, one has to learn when to stop talking.


Inception map: everything's better with infographic

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Can you believe it came from this humble origin?

I started brainstorming my entry in the airport, appropriately enough. The only tools I had available were the proverbial napkin and a pen, and I started sketching while waiting for my flight.
Airport napkins? I swear, the universe was conceived on a napkin. The ROM in Toronto was also born the same way! Coincidence? I think not.


Attunement: a note for parenting

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I'm reading Gabor Maté's In the realm of the hungry ghost, and I'm completely taken by the business of attunement, so I'm going to briefly discuss what it means for parenting. Dr. Maté wrote that a baby needs nutrition, physical security, and consistent emotional attunement (I summarize) for healthy survival and nourishment. Attunement, in particular, is about the ability of parents to communicate feelings in a way that allows the baby to feel accepted, understood, and mirrored. Sometimes, parents can not help how they feel (stress due to loss of work, divorce, mental illness, or war, etc.), and despite their best effort, they pass their unfinished emotional business to their children, often by just being human and reacting to their own struggles. This is because infants, even from the time they are in the womb, develop as guided by their environment (epigenetics). Even if the baby does not have the verbal processing / memory in the womb and right after birth, her biopsychological development is still affected by the caregiver's mood, which is affected in turn by the greater social environment at large, including the caregiver's partner and immediate situation (e.g. social status).

Due to no fault of any single person most of the time, a caregiver under duress may not be able to provide the baby with consistent emotional attunement (to be differentiated from love or physical attention). And a baby lacking in this department may grow up feeling unseen, unwanted or lacking in self-esteem, even if she can feel loved. And she will do many things to correct the course, including addiction. If your origin was under duress, you may want to ask yourself, how have you tried to remedy what wasn't there? And if you're a parent under duress, how will you try to tune into your child now?

On a personal note, I felt like this today:
The girl probably needs to get out more. And, friends.



Recently Seen (out of *****)

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  • Coming 2 America (Brewer, 2021) **1/2
  • Ma Rainey's Black Bottom (Wolfe, 2020) ***1/2
  • I care a lot (Blakeson, 2020) **

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