The Cannes Film Fest has thrust a few Best Actor contenders into the spotlight, and though there are many months and many films to go, they seem promising contenders to be strongly considered.

The top tier nominees right now would have to be Michael B. Jordan for Fruitvale and Oscar Isaac for Inside Llewyn Davis. Both actors have already shown diversity in their work, which only adds to their heat heading into the race. Isaac, for instance, played the jailbird boyfriend to Carey Mulligan in Drive, the complete polar opposite his folk singer ex-boyfriend of Carey Mulligan (again) in Llewyn Davis. Michael B. Jordan’s notably different work on Friday Night Lights and The Wire. While Jordan’s is the more emotionally expressive role, Isaac plays guitar and sings. Both will have ended the year having turned in two of the best performances.
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You have to appreciate a film festival that would put a movie as strange as Alex van Warmerdam’s Borgman in main competition. Though it often feels like the cast and director are making it up as they go along, it features memorable moments that are ultimately hard to shake.

Warmerdam aims to position itself as a kind of Occupy-ish revenge fantasy on the upper class. We first meet Borgman (Jan Bijvoet) at his starting point: literally a hole in the ground. He and two of his partners live in holes they dug with beds and caves underneath. But if you think that somehow is the key to everything, it isn’t. Perceptions are quickly formed and just as quickly dispelled about who Borgman and his wrecking crew really are. They might even be dogs for all we know. Yes, dogs.

You have to toss all preconceptions and watch the dream play out. It isn’t just any dream, but one of those bizarre, rambling, vivid dreams that startle you awake in a cold sweat — like a naked man straddling you, staring at you while you sleep making you dream terrible things about your husband as you’re being seduced by Borgman. That is but one of the recurring images that cling to the psyche.

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Llewyn Davis

Those of us who know Bob Dylan’s story well can point to his profound influence on the folk music scene in Greenwich Village in the early sixties. What is remarkable is how Dylan had shaped his own unique style from an amalgam of folk singers of the time, borrowing what he needed from Woody Guthrie and absorbing the best of the rest from everyone else. That doesn’t explain his genius, nor does it explain his subsequent break with traditional folksinging — going electric, infusing his lyrics with rock-n-roll poetry, and refusing to be lumped in with the protest folkies of the time. Dylan’s shift from conversational to confessional is the crux of his musical evolution. While none of that may seem to matter in Joel and Ethan Coen’s melancholy meditation on the time before Dylan changed everything, awareness of the split that was brewing makes the movie all the more potent. Inside Llewyn Davist captures a distinct moment in time when a scraggly young man from Hibbing, Minnesota struggled to find his place on the brink of a wayward movement about to be forever altered.

Watching the folk singers in Llewyn Davis, it’s easy to see how a guy like Dylan could completely overwhelm everything else on offer at the time. How do you justify hard-knock ballads about your life when the guy right behind you is Bob Dylan? A man who shows up at the mic playing his guitar like everyone else but departing the traditional laments of folk music to write lyrics like you’ve never heard before. For better or worse, the thing that stands out about early folk music is how genial and predictable it all was.

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Today while walking through the Palais du Festivals I saw Chaz Ebert. She was walking across the second floor, heading for the escalator. I stepped on behind her. We slowly rode it down to the lower floor. She stood in front of me not having any idea who was, of course, but I knew so much about her. She was wearing an elegant caramel-colored suit but her expression carried a slight look of worry — and was it sadness I sensed, or was that something I was projecting onto her. Ebert was always such a fixture in Cannes, long before I ever came here. He leaves behind a legacy, and his wife who now must see this crowded festival in a different way. What a difference a year makes.

Was it last year or the year before when I saw Ebert and Chaz walking across that same floor in the Palais du Festival? Then she was smiling. You never saw them apart. Things have changed here at Cannes in some ways. In other ways they haven’t. After four years of coming here I now recognize so many of the faces of people I’ve seen before but don’t yet know. They are distinctive in that European way of letting nature take its course. In America we try to beat back age.

I saw the face of a woman I’d taken a picture of two years ago. When I’d seen her I’d assumed she was a patron, maybe, or a tourist. She stood out because she wears her gray hair unchanged. She is maybe in her mid 60s. And she’s still a journalist coming to Cannes to work the festival. We see what we want to see.

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Last year the Weinstein Co. gave Cannes participants a chance to see clips from some films that had never before been seen — The Master, Django Unchained and Silver Linings Playbook. This year, most of what they were offering had already been seen so the Weinstein Co had to up their game slightly and they did so by having some of the stars from their forthcoming films show up unannounced, Grace of Monaco’s Nicole Kidman and Fruitvale’s Michael B. Jordan.

Media people and other types flooded into one of the back rooms of the Majestic hotel. One well-dressed woman headed for a gala screening later that night was pleading with a publicist to let her in, showing her an invite (someone else’s) on her ipad. There had to be hundreds in that room as trays of champagne made the rounds and guests dined on fried fish, pate, and other sorts of tiny hors d’hourves. It wasn’t particularly fancy but it was a nice break from the usual free coffee in the wi-fi room.

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le passe

William Faulkner once wrote, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” This is the thrust of Asghar Farhadi’s Le Passe (The Past), which screened today at the Cannes Film Festival.

The Past is the kind of film that leaves you changed by the time the credits start to roll and like everything else in this filmmaker’s style, the credits take their time, disclosing a moment that is as important as every other. Farhadi’s A Separation was among the best reviewed films of the year when it debuted two years ago. That film was about the new and old Iran, about separating from an oppressive culture that could not move forward. The Past is about another kind of separation, how we let go of past loves, how children learn to cope with new families as they pick up the pieces from broken marriages.

Like A Separation, The Past dives in and out of different storylines, filling in seemingly meaningless bits of information until each one is put together like pieces of an intricate puzzle, one that ultimately reveals a vivid truth. The film opens with two people reconnecting after time apart. We don’t know anything about them except that they knew each other once. An excellent Berenice Bejo, displaying ten times the range she showed in The Artist, plays the lost love of Ahmed (Ali Mosaffa) who has come back for reasons unknown. Those reasons take their time to be divulged because Farhadi prefers to have us get to know the characters before we hear of their troubles.

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How do you measure the importance of a life? Do you look at a man’s contributions to society, his success, his wealth, his prominence in the community? Are some lives worth more than others? Up-and-coming filmmaker Ryan Coogler addresses that question, showing both the troubled side of 22-year-old Oscar Grant, who was accidentally shot on a subway platform in 2009 while being subdued by police, and the more hopeful side, a man committed to raising his daughter and living a cleaner life.

Whatever Oscar Grant’s troubles may have been — whether he’d been convicted of felonies for drug dealing, whether he’d been previously tased by police, whether or not he went to college — none of that should have mattered when measuring the value of his life. He was someone’s son, father, boyfriend, friend. Oscar Grant, by all accounts, was a good guy trying to make his way in a world that thought it already had him figured out before he even had a chance to show who he was. Black kid from Oakland? Drugs? You know the score.

The beauty of Fruitvale Station is that it shows what life is like on the other side of the tracks when the police break up a fight between black kids and what they might have done if kids doing exactly the same thing had been white. Fruitvale Station shows what can happen when cops have already made up their minds about you before they even know who you are. Most of White America has no idea what it’s like to grow up like that, to be presumed guilty of a string of crimes before you’ve even committed them. Why else would the cops have reacted in such an extreme manner? Handcuffed, thrown to the ground, never given a chance to explain.

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In twenty years or so — after we sift through the rubble of three decades of self-help, the fifteen minutes of free-for-all fame, with the Kim Kardashian, Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan monuments to vapid designer-fueled high-living and camera close-ups to catch it all — we might finally see what the milking of our narcissistic tendencies on social networks has done to our priorities. It’s never been defined as brilliantly as Sofia Coppola lays it out right here. While some will always maintain Lost in Translation is her best work, on the contrary, The Bling Ring represents a far more ambitious move for this filmmaker. For once, she has stepped outside her comfort zone of portraying the languid wistfulness of disaffected youth in “atmosphere” films about the well-to-do.

Coppola knows this world well. Herself a muse and model for Marc Jacobs, a famous director’s daughter who grew up among kids just like those in The Bling Ring — the privileged cliques accustomed to being worshiped like gods and indulged like royalty — it is quite something to see her slice that world wide open, split it down the middle and expose the insides. She does this not by criticizing the thieves who felt it was almost their birthright to seek out celebrity homes and rob them, nor does she blame the Paris Hiltons of the world outright. She does it by allowing us to observe that almost no one gets away from this thing clean.

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A young and beautiful woman has untold amounts of power over men and most women don’t realize it until we’re long past it. Francois Ozon’s Jeune et Jolie is about a teenage girl who goes from virgin to prostitute in two seasons. Summer, she loses her virginity to a German tourist at the beach. It’s a miserable experience teaching an important lesson about what men want and how little what a woman wants has anything to do with it. The sex wasn’t about her pleasure, but about his.

By Fall, she’s built up a successful business as a young prostitute in Paris lying about her age and servicing a mostly older clientele.

We’re left to pick up the pieces and wonder what went wrong. But Ozon isn’t going to make that easy. “Lea” isn’t punished for her wicked ways as one might expect. She isn’t drugged up on heroin and left to die in a ditch. She isn’t beaten to a pulp by an angry John. She doesn’t get pregnant. She just makes a lot of money and enjoys the power and control the job affords her.

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j gatsby

j gatsby

Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby is not a great film. It has moments of greatness, flickering beneath the spasms, shrieks and glitter. Much of the film’s gifts lay in the singular performance of Leonardo DiCaprio as the elusive, provocative dreamer, Jay Gatsby. DiCaprio captured something Robert Redford didn’t when he portrayed Gatsby in the 1974 film. F. Scott Fitzgerald, if he could have stomached the rest of it, would have been dazzled by Leo — a wreck behind his sparkling baby blues, the American dream coiled within him attempting to buy his way into a world that did not want him. The reach is what matters when we fumble towards that dream. But the fix is in, especially now in 2013. The extreme differences in wealth of the few is all around us now.

What Baz Luhrmann appears to be doing, however, doesn’t match with the parts of the movie that do work — DiCaprio and of course, the costumes and art direction. Catherine Martin’s work is jaw-dropping throughout. Though I appreciate his approach to that world, the roaring 20s before the stock market crashed and then, like now, the wealthy escaped unscathed but the self-made rich men and the underclass took the brunt of the punishment. It’s hard not to watch this Great Gatsby and not think about how things have been going in America lately.

All the same, the irony remains — what Luhrmann has done to Gatsby the work of timeless fiction is what Gatsby himself did in remaking his image; they made the mistake of thinking more is better. It didn’t matter for Gatsby and for Luhrmann, and this film, it doesn’t much matter either. It is a good thing, then, that his actors are working so hard.

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Welp, it looks like there will be yet another record-breaking nomination for Ms. Streep as the August: Osage County drops. Two words: Benedict Cumberbatch. Thanks to Tero. Continue reading…


For anyone who missed hearing the news over a year ago, Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity will open in orbit with an uninterrupted 17-minute shot.

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I will be going to Cannes on Monday. I will also be writing for The Wrap.  Living in Cinema’s Craig Kennedy will be attending the fest. It’s all very exciting because this is probably the best Cannes fest I’ve seen since I started going, though it’s always one of the best things that happens in film all year, anywhere.  Because the fest is so crammed full of great flicks it’s going to be tough fitting them all in.

They show movies at night on the big screen right on the beach. On the 21st, they’re showing … Jaws.
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The first trailer gives you two pieces of vital info. 1) it’s distributed by The Weinstein Co. which also has Fruitvale Station. 2) it is likely to be a tearjerker. I’m not ready for how critics are going to respond to this movie. I wish we could skip that part.
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The first review of note for Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring is by Kent Jones for Film Comment, calls it among her best, alongside Lost in Translation and Somewhere:

Like Somewhere, The Bling Ring sneaks up on you. Somewhere during the first visit to Paris Hilton’s house (if it isn’t the real thing, it could just as well be), you might find yourself, as I did, alternately charmed, mesmerized, and horrified by the lives of the characters and the homes they enter. Halfway through the film, Marc and Rebecca wander through what is supposedly Orlando Bloom’s open-plan house at night, viewed from an exquisite remove several tiers above in the Hollywood hills, the sounds of howling coyotes and wailing police sirens quietly echoing in the distance—a suspended spell of uncanny beauty, and one of the most beautifully lyrical stretches I’ve seen in a movie in ages.

I’m not sure if Coppola’s film ends as satisfactorily as it might have—resolving a narrative about characters who lead unmotivated lives does present its dramatic problems—but I don’t think it matters all that much. Unlike Spring Breakers, with which the film will inevitably be compared (alongside Schrader’s The Canyons), The Bling Ring goes about its business quietly but with a tremendous purity of focus. The film casts such a lovely spell that its full force may hit only after the lights come up.

Thanks to @theDeepPink for the tip.


Is there anything worthwhile left to say in movies? More and more it feels like the end of something beloved and the beginning of something else. So much has changed so quickly. Doors have closed and new ones opened. Some will embrace the change – adapt or die. Some will reject it, turn away from the new and lament the changing times, dreaming the impossible dream that things will return to “normal.”

What has changed? Oh, everything. The internet happened. Fanboy culture happened. The blockbuster happened. Movie studios do what they’ve always done – make movies they think will make money, whether they turn out to be right or not. Since their marketing strategies work so well they aren’t obligated to make “better” movies. Audiences have been branded and conditioned to the point where no one really notices nor cares about how many movies come out now that are sequels and remakes. And so it goes.

Two prominent filmmakers have conveyed different messages about the state of movies recently. First, Steven Soderbergh gave a speech at the Kabuki Cinemas wherein no video camera or recording devices could be used, thus, we have only 3rd person accounts to rely upon. This bit of his speech comes from Hollywood-Elsewhere:
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Grandmaster is a great way to describe this director. Look ma, no guns. Just flying, acrobatic limbs and rain. Lots of rain.


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The two things that ought to be remembered come Oscar time are probably the standout writing of Jeff Nichols as an American original, and the performance of Matthew McConaughey.

The New York Times’ AO Scott makes it a “Critic’s Pick,” writing:

The central image in “Mud,” Jeff Nichols’s deft and absorbing third feature, is of a boat in a tree. It’s the kind of phenomenon — a caprice of nature that is absurd but also wondrous — designed to enchant adventurous children like Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland), two Arkansas boys who discover the boat on an overgrown island in the Mississippi River. They also discover the fellow who claims to own, or at least inhabit, the vessel, a leathery loner whose name is Mud.

Mud is played by Matthew McConaughey in the latest in a series of surprising, intense and often very funny performances following his escape from the commercial romantic-comedy penal colony. “Magic Mike,” “The Paperboy,” “The Lincoln Lawyer” and “Bernie” are all very different (and differently imperfect) movies, but in all of them, and in “Mud,” Mr. McConaughey commands attention with a variation on a certain kind of Southern character: handsome but battered, charming but also sinister, his self-confidence masking a history of bad luck and trouble.

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Mud is getting good early word of mouth, but specifically for Matthew McConoughey. The actor came close to getting an Oscar nod for last year’s trio of great performances – stealing the show in Bernie, Magic Mike and Killer Joe – but this year he looks to be up for lead for Mud.  There doesn’t seem to be any good reason why McConoughey has been continually overlooked for a single oscar nod.  When he first burst onto the scene he was hailed as the new Paul Newman. Perhaps that early praise made it harder for him to overcome the hype.  Maybe all of those romantic comedies made it harder for voters to take him seriously. That should not be a problem after last year’s work, and despite having a career for decades now his star is yet again on the rise with the upcoming films Wolf of Wall Street and Intersteller. And then there’s Dallas Buyers Club where McConaughey plays Ron Woodroof, a homophobic man who ends up dying of full blown AIDS. The actor’s startling weight loss will not be ignored.


Perhaps this is finally the moment when Oscar voters will catch up to what critics have known for some time about what McConoughey can do.

David Edelstein writes:

But the moral universe of Mud is settled. The parallels between young Ellis and young-at-heart Mud are tidy, and when the film introduces Mud’s ex-­military father figure Blankenship (Sam Shepard) and the old man tells Mud he’ll have to dig himself out of his own mess this time, you kinda-sorta know Blankenship will come back into the picture the way similar patriarchs do in the bonehead action movies that Mud suddenly looks like. (A posse of bad guys comes to town led by Joe Don Baker, whose character Mud likens to “Old Scratch.”)

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Cannes 2013 Official Selection

Opening film (out of competition):
The Great Gatsby – Baz Luhrmann

Closing film: Zulu – Jérôme Salle


  • Only God Forgives – Nicolas Winding Refn
  • Inside Llewyn Davis – Ethan & Joel Coen
  • Borgman – Alex Van Warmerdam
  • Venus in Fur – Roman Polanski
  • Nebraska – Alexander Payne
  • Jeune et jolie – François Ozon
  • La grande bellezza (The Great Beauty) – Paolo Sorrentino
  • Behind The Candelabra – Steven Soderbergh
  • Wara No Tate (Shield of Straw) – Takashi Miike
  • La vie d’Adèle – Abdellatif Kechiche
  • Soshite Chich Ni Naru (Like Father, Like Son) – Hirokazu Kore-eda
  • Tian Zhy Ding – Zhangke Jia
  • Grisgris – Mahamat-Saleh Haroun
  • The Immigrant – James Gray
  • Le Passé – Asghar Farhadi
  • Heli – Amat Escalante
  • Jimmy P. (Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian) – Arnaud Desplechin
  • Michael Kohlhaas – Arnaud des Pallières
  • Un Château en Italie – Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi

cannes 66

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