November 2009 - Posts

Spirit Award nominations, live.

Matt Dillon and Taraji P. Henson will be announcing the nominations for the 2010 Spirit Awards at 11am ET/8am PT tomorrow morning. Watch them make the announcement live here, thanks to the magic of the internet. The Spirit Awards, the first event to exclusively honor indie film, will be moving to fancier digs in downtown L.A. for their 2010 incarnation and 25th anniversary. As always, you'll be able to watch them live on IFC, Friday March 5th at 11pm ET/8pm PT. [Photo: Last year's Best Male Lead winner Mickey Rourke, taken by Jennifer Graylock]

Ingmar Bergman's favorite Muppet.

W. Magazine's article on the auctioning off of the late Ingmar Bergman's home and belongings confirmed what I'd long suspected: Animal was, in fact, his favorite Muppet. Bergman was also known to relish the odd blockbuster during his two daily film viewings at a screening room ten minutes' drive from his house. Watching "Jurassic Park," he exclaimed enthusiastically: "Those Americans know how to put on the pants!" That our masters of rigor often have a taste for the frivolous should no longer be a surprise. Very few haven't admitted, on the record, to some kind of cultural fondness that's, you know, unworthy of their work or whatever. In the '60s, Robert Bresson expressed great enthusiasm for "Goldfinger"; Stanley Kubrick was obsessed with beer commercials and had James Cameron come over and explain the effects in "True Lies" to him. Just as it's an axiom that musicians listen to way more...

Watch the Gotham Awards Online

Didn't get your invite to the Gotham Awards? Well, neither did we. Fortunately, the self-proclaimed start to awards season will be streaming live online tonight for the first time -- you can watch them below, kicking off at 7:30pm ET/4:30pm PT. Scarfing Chinese food from the carton while leaning over your laptop may not quite channel the experience of being at Cipriani, but at least you'll be able to wear your comfortable pants. Plus, Alec Baldwin, Ellen Burstyn, the Coen brothers, Willem Dafoe, Natalie Portman, Chris Rock, Ryan Reynolds, Meryl Streep and Kristen Wiig are amongst the glitterati expected to attend and be spottable online. [Photo: Harvey Weinstein and Mickey Rourke at the 2008 Gotham Awards, courtesy of IFP]

How anonymity can work for you (and Richard Linklater).

Over the weekend, two of '90s indie cinema's now-struggling emeritus directors returned to the cinematic landscape, one to far more noise than the other. Wes Anderson's "Fantastic Mr. Fox" finally opened nationally and came out soft, its per-screen average of $3,453 hardly much better than the animated flop "Planet 51." Whether things will pick up or whether pure Anderson, uncut or no, is just too idiosyncratic to sell as a family film remains to be seen. Richard Linklater's long-delayed "Me And Orson Welles" was met with respectful but largely unenthused, hands-off reviews. Despite that, an opening weekend of $16,200 per screen is no joke for a film that took over a year to straggle to theaters. I was part of the crowd; I'm from Austin, so solidarity with Linklater's work is key. As it happened, the theater was being polled by some diligent firm who gave a very cluttered survey...

The intersection of "important" and "good."

This year's Lux Prize has been awarded to Philippe Lioret's "Welcome." What's the Lux Prize, you ask? Why, it's the awards money the European Parliament gives out to movies that -- in the official website's words -- show "the process of building Europe in a different light." This is only the third year the prize has been given out. "Welcome" is about an illegal Kurdish immigrant in France trying to swim the channel to join his girlfriend in England, so it's reasonable to expect that issues of borders and cultural pollination are a big deal. (As the website puts it, "intercultural dialogue and freedom of thought [...] are two of [the prize's] most cherished causes.") In 2007, the prize went to Fatih Akin's "The Edge of Heaven," which is certainly about redefining European boundaries, going back and forth between Turkey and Germany. And in 2008, "Lorna's Silence" won; as a...

In praise of ZODIAC ***.

This year's top tens are arriving in the double-barrel barrage of both the year and decade. And in these trying times of redundancy and the self-righteous promotion of one's own taste as the ultimate truth, we need a hero. We need someone who says what they mean and is clear on it while also being entertaining. We need, in short, someone like ZODIAC ***. For those of you who don't read the Onion's AV Club on a regular basis, ZMF is a sort of mascot, punching bag and the best. Commenter. Ever. Essentially, he is (or claims to be, and he's been way too consistent for way too long for me to doubt him) a guy from the Midwest who loves the heaviest of metal (Slayer are his gods) and the most violent of film. He writes in all caps and spends a lot of time telling various haters to...

Seven great moments in film family fighting.

You know why there really aren't that many movies about Thanksgiving? Because there's nothing nice to say about it, that's why. Thanksgiving is the day a bunch of people go to airports to have their flights delayed or snowed out, and when they do get home there are all kinds of relatives there you don't really want to see and your mom wants to know when you're going to get married and pop out those grandkids and then everyone gets drunk and yells at each other. Or so I hear. My family isn't that extended. Anyway. In honor of those of you who are home with your families today, here are seven clips from films celebrating the true meaning of familial togetherness. Which is to say, total abrasion: The Darkos, "Donnie Darko" (2001) Let's start nice. The Darkos have their problems -- daughter Elizabeth is planning on voting for Dukakis,...

Chaplin vs. Keaton, the battle rages on.

In Bernardo Bertolucci's "The Dreamers," there's a super-annoying scene in which our American hero (Michael Pitt) and his French friend (Louis Garrel) argue about the relative merits of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. Like "Star Trek" or "Star Wars," Hatfields or McCoys, Republicans or Democrats, this is an argument in which two partisans will never find a compromise point. But in commercial terms? The battle's been over and won for years. While the bulk of Keaton's major silent-era work is respectably, completely (as far as I know) represented on DVD, the prints in circulation of his greatest work tend to be on the shoddy side. And those DVDs definitely aren't as lavish as those of Chaplin's films, which tend to be pristine and lavishly hagiographic; the Keaton DVDs are much more bare-bones. (The much-ballyhooed restored DVD set of five years ago is currently out of print, but Chaplin never dies:...

"The Road": The Video Game.

Since movie producers have no qualms about turning inappropriate games into films, it should come as no surprise that crummy cross-promotion is a two-way street. Take for example, "Survive the Road," a browser game that's part of the official web site for "The Road" that lets you inhabit the emaciated body of Viggo Mortensen's nameless drifter as he travels the post-apocalyptic landscape in search of food and shelter while fending off those annoying cannibals. It's kinda like "Oregon Trail," though I don't recall in that game ever having to choose whether or not you'll explain to your son why you had to mercy-kill a woman you saw bleeding by the side of the road. Needless to say, this probably isn't what Cormac McCarthy had in mind when he signed off the rights to his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel for a film adaptation. But maybe he'd be charmed by the fact that...

Why it's so hard to say what's good when it comes to movies.

Barring whatever Artforum cooks up, you're unlikely to find a more uncompromisingly festival/arthouse/"difficult"-centric best-of-the-decade list than the TIFF Cinematheque's Top 30 of the decade -- which is actually 54 films long due to a truly staggering number of ties, but who's counting? The most "popular" movies on the list -- I use that word advisedly -- are probably "The Royal Tenenbaums," "A History of Violence" and "Pan's Labyrinth." I've seen all but nine of the rest -- the list tops out with Apichatpong Weerasethakul's "Syndromes and a Century," the definitive beloved-by-critics-and-seen-by-almost-no-one-else 2006 film. All the movies on the list are worth taking seriously. Some of them I love viscerally, some of them I respect abstractly and some of them I frankly despise (looking at you, "Colossal Youth"). But is the whole thing a bit airless? Definitely. It's tough enough to get the festival world's elite to agree on what the...

There's a movie about Tom Jones' genitalia.

If you're anything like me, you think to yourself "Gosh, 'Mars Attacks!' is really funny and by far Tom Jones' finest moment on screen, but I wish there was more material about his penis in it." OK, so maybe that isn't true. Regardless, at long last a movie dedicated to Tom Jones' junk has arrived. It's called "A Bit of Tom Jones?", and it's a new Welsh comedy so low-profile it doesn't yet have an IMDb entry. The original title -- the point-blank "Tom Jones' ***" -- was sadly not usable for practical reasons. The plot sounds very "Waking Ned Devine," albeit about a bunch of Welsh barhounds running around with Jones' severed member, trying to sell it off for the right price, but it's a notable regional success. It's outselling "The Fourth Kind," which is maybe not that impressive, but it's also outselling "This Is It," which is. The...

For your consideration: Sandra Bullock...?

This weekend, for complicated work-related reasons, I had to watch "All About Steve," the most-maligned of Sandra Bullock's three releases this year. If "The Proposal" is Bullock's straight-up romantic comedy and "The Blind Side" is a rare foray into playing middle-aged matron, "All About Steve" is a bizarrely misbegotten anti-romcom. She deploys crazed intensity in turning Mary, the ostensible protagonist, into a mass of twitches in a performance that bears as much relation to your conventional female romantic lead as, say, Cuba Gooding Jr. going full retard in "Radio." Needless to say, it's not very good. But that's not important, because not only is it Oscar season, it's Thanksgiving week and there really isn't much else to talk about. So contemplate, if you will, the thoughts of Pete Hammond -- formerly Maxim magazine's resident blurb-whore, which makes him as qualified as anyone to play awards-season swami. Hammond is convinced that...

Want to argue about race? Start with "Precious."

Is the sincere yet ultimately bathetic movie that is "Precious" really going to become the new flashpoint for talking about Race in America? We were totally due for a paradigm shift -- Spike Lee's had his 20 years -- but... this? It's not just all the arguments about whether or not "Precious" pathologizes and stereotypes black culture. "Precious" can actually be a starting point for any dialectic you want to set up. For example, look at the way that the New York Times' A.O. Scott bounces, of all things, "The Blind Side" off it ("imagine these movies in dialogue with each other, taking part in a conversation on race that the American public is always supposedly eager to have, but never right now") and concludes the two movies are basically the same, because they rescue one victim of an underlying societal problem without thinking of how to solve the bigger...

So sex doesn't sell, after all?

When's the last time you saw a big studio movie that had a sex scene? A real one -- you know, one with something more graphic than what you'd fine in "Sex And The City"? There's "A History of Violence," and Keira Knightley seems pretty into getting naked but I know for a fact no one saw "Domino" but me. The whole idea that Americans are more down with violence than sex in their movies hardly seems worth repeating. So what to make of a new study that analyzed 914 films released widely between 2001 and 2005 and concluded "sex and nudity do not, on the average, boost box office performance, earn critical acclaim or win major awards." The study, which ran in the November issue of Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity and the Arts, is titled "Sex Doesn't Sell -- Nor Impress." There's an odd tone to the quotes run...

"The Little Mermaid" ain't so great.

"The Princess and the Frog" opens nationwide December 11, but hits New York's Ziegfeld Theatre on Wednesday. It's a slow, buzz-building rollout for Disney's much-publicized attempt to resurrect the traditional animation that transformed the company from mere corporation to cultural touchstone. But is it really a return to tradition? Sure, if by "tradition" you mean Disney movies from "Beauty and the Beast" onwards. The truth is, Walt Disney might not recognize the house he built if he were still alive. The classic animated features that are mandatory viewing for children (and valuable home-video cash cows), like "Snow White and the Seven Dwarves," "Dumbo," and "Cinderella," had little-to-nothing to do with the standard "be yourself" platitudes that have made so many '90s Disney flicks turgid and annoying. In the 30-odd-year gap between Walt's death and "The Little Mermaid"'s kick-starting of the so-called Disney Renaissance, the studio tried out a lot of...
More Posts Next page »