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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Barcelona-born, Mexico City-raised Amat Escalante is three for three with Cannes. His first two films, Sangre (2005) and Los Bastardos (2008) both played in the Un Certain Regard category and this year he’s graduated to the main competition with Heli, a confidently mounted but mostly unpleasant exercise in human cruelty.

I didn’t see Sangre, but Los Bastardos was interesting and mysterious enough from the start to hold your attention while it built to a shockingly and (for me) unexpectedly violent conclusion. In it, Escalante channeled a certain quiet rage as he explored the illegal immigrant experience in the United States. It was awkward at times and heavy-handed, but it made its point and it made it with flair. There is little mysterious or unexpected about Heli on the other hand. It begins with a man dressed only in his underwear being hung from a bridge overpass so you know right away unpleasant things are in store. There are no surprises, there is only the inevitable.

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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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Under the New York Times headline “Shimmying Off the Literary Mantle,” A.O. Scott reminds us that a film adaptation doesn’t always need to be a book’s conjoined twin. Especially when the book is already everything a novel needs to be.

The best way to enjoy Baz Luhrmann’s big and noisy new version of “The Great Gatsby” — and despite what you may have heard, it is an eminently enjoyable movie — is to put aside whatever literary agenda you are tempted to bring with you. I grant that this is not so easily done. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s slender, charming third novel has accumulated a heavier burden of cultural significance than it can easily bear. Short and accessible enough to be consumed in a sitting (as in “Gatz,” Elevator Repair Service’s full-text staged reading), the book has become, in the 88 years since its publication, a schoolroom staple and a pop-cultural totem. It shapes our increasingly fuzzy image of the jazz age and fuels endless term papers on the American dream and related topics.

Through this fog of glib allusion and secondhand thinking, the wistful glimmer of Fitzgerald’s prose shines like the green light at the end of Daisy Buchanan’s dock. If “The Great Gatsby” can’t quite sustain the Big Ideas that are routinely attached to it — a fact that periodically inspires showboating critical contrarians to proclaim that it’s not such a big deal after all — it nonetheless remains a lively, imaginative presence. The book may not be as Great as its reputation, but it is also, partly for that reason, better than you might expect. It is flawed and flimsy in some ways, but it still manages to be touching, surprising and, in its bittersweet fashion, a lot of fun.

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Scott Foundas, Variety

Of course, to accuse Luhrmann (who also co-wrote the screenplay with frequent collaborator Craig Pearce) of overkill is a bit like faulting a leopard for his spots. Love it or hate it, take it or leave it, this is unmistakably his“Gatsby” through and through, and as with all such carte-blanche extravaganzas (increasingly rare in this cautious Hollywood age), it exudes an undeniable fascination — at least for a while. In the notes for his unfinished final novel, “The Last Tycoon,” Fitzgerald famously wrote, “action is character,” but for Luhrmann action is production design, hairstyling, Prada gowns and sweeping, swirling, CGI-enhanced camera movements that offer more bird’s-eye views of Long Island (actually the Fox Studios in Sydney) than “The Hobbit” did of Middle-earth. Arguably, the movie reaches its orgiastic peak 30 minutes in, with the first full reveal of Gatsby himself (Leonardo DiCaprio), accompanied by an explosion of fireworks and the eruption of Gershwin on the soundtrack. Where, really, can one go from there?

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by Les Phillips

TO THE WONDER (2013, Terrence Mallick). Everyone wondered what TREE OF LIFE was about. This one’s easy; it’s about love. I can’t remember a film that captures the pure tenderness, the *intimacy* of love, with more clarity. Neil (Ben Affleck) is an American who falls in love with Marina (Olga Kurylenko). They go to Mount St. Michel, an impeccable fortress/cathedral that rises out of the tides (sometimes an island lapped by water, sometimes parched and surrounded by mud). They are in Paris, which really has never looked more appealing; Mallick’s camera doesn’t so much portray as suggest or tease, with soft dusky street liveliness set against monuments like the Pantheon; with fountains, and the river. Love here is gesture, full of sweetness and promise.

TO THE WONDER is brilliant about love, and also about its trouble and failure. I can’t remember a film that captures various sadnesses, especially the sadness of transiency, so well. I don’t mean the transient people we see on the streets, the ones who don’t have homes, though a few of them are here too; I mean the sadness of the corporate guy who buys the house in the subdivision and puts nothing in it, has nothing to put in it but a few sticks of furniture plonked down in acres of lonely suburban Southwestern square feet, awash in cozy but brutal wall to wall carpeting. (The neighbors and their children at home and at ease in their back yards.) This is love adrift, run aground in a small town in Oklahoma, where Ben brings Marina. It’s a cold spring, with bits of snow still on the ground and water pouring out everywhere, water from streams and from all the sprinklers; but the water’s becoming polluted with lead. (Neil is an environmental consultant.) There’s boredom and dysfunction (again suggested, brilliantly, rather than portrayed). There’s infidelity, and there’s conflict; a brief scene where Neil throws Marina out of a car chilled me to the bone. A flaw, perhaps: Mallick makes small-town Oklahoma too beautiful; even the Sonic and Econo-Lodge seem poignant.
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The Croods-Poster-18

By Teresa Stone

I went to see The Croods thinking it would be Ice Age meets Brave.  While the animation was Brave-esque, the story was compelling enough to hold and keep my adult interest.  I didn’t have to feign interest in one more movie my child liked and I had to pretend I liked.  It honestly made me laugh.
My daughter said “this is a total Dad movie.”  She went on about how Brave was a “total Mom movie.”  I still have to see it.  She says she will buy me a copy for Mother’s Day. I’m looking forward to that.  A family movie with enough snarkiness to please the teens, and enough humor to make grandma laugh.  The grandma’s interaction with Nicolas Cage’s overprotective dad was an ongoing – and funny – gag.


(minor spoilers)


Away from the light and into the darkness the cutthroat tragedy of House of Cards unfolds. Not since The Twilight Zone have the sinister regions of the human psyche been so caustically exposed as they are in the labyrinths of D.C. leadership infested with sly powerbrokers and slimy influence peddlers. Produced by David Fincher, Karyn McCarthy, Dana Brunetti, Eric Roth Kevin Spacey and writer Beau Willimon (The Ides of March scribe) House of Cards nevertheless has Fincher’s distinctive signature all over it. The propulsive thrust to never back off, the refusal to sooth the viewer, the rejection of easy answers that make our world seem deceptively sensible and more secure — these brutal components hit us with the other half of the story we rarely get with movies or TV series that only seek to serve our need to escape. We want heroes. We need to believe people are basically good and not driven by darker motivations. Shakespeare knew otherwise. So did Edward Albee, David Mamet, and Paddy Chayefsky.

I often wonder how Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather, or William Friedkin’s The French Connection could have been made today. The Godfather II ensnared us with a man who had a black spot where his heart should be. The devolution of Michael Corleone was an opportunity for us to reevaluate the American dream. We sat in quiet agony over a man whose life of crime and ascension to power swept us up in his corruption, and our sympathy made us complicit when that ruthless pursuit led him to kill his own brother.

But now, there doesn’t seem to be much tolerance for the notion of a treacherous anti-hero. We need to know that our fantasy world “in here” protects us like a snuggie from the world “out there.” We need to know our villains will be adequately punished and be reassured that they won’t rise in the ranks to rule the world. Industry voters couldn’t bring themselves to “like” the main character in the Social Network because he was too “cold.” What a sad state of affairs compared to 1972.

House of Cards never backs down from the harsh reality for one second but instead holds our heads steady on — look. Look. This is a driving force that resides inside many of us, including and especially those who play the game to win. What is a house of cards but a carefully built structure in danger of total collapse if one person pulls a card out from underneath. If we don’t like watching powerful people do terrible things to win the game, then we can love it when those people are taken down.

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“The urge to transcend self-conscious selfhood is, as I have said, a principal appetite of the soul.” ― Aldous Huxley, The Doors of Perception

Back in 1999, when I first started Oscarwatch, my daughter was one year old. I had a part time job writing film reviews for a small Santa Monica newspaper but with very little income and a baby to raise all on my own I couldn’t really afford childcare and it was too much of a burden to ask my sister, who was already letting me live in her guest house in Van Nuys for free. So I took my baby with me to see movies. I had a very nice editor who let me see one movie per week after it had already opened. I knew that a good movie reviewer would go to screenings instead and write them early. But screenings were impossible. There was no way to sneak in a swaddled infant. I don’t like crying babies in movie theaters, even the ones in Van Nuys where crying babies happen with regularity. Nonetheless, I timed my movie-going to my daughter’s napping. Most of the time it worked out. She could say she grew up in movie theaters. That didn’t mean she was going to love movies.

14 years later, though I’ve tried many times to get her to sit down and watch movies with me — “Hey E.T. is on! You’re gonna love E.T.!” But because teens have so many other distractions now movies are not an easy sell. I’ve tried to instill a love of movies in my daughter’s life. Her two favorite films have been Shakespeare in Love and Moulin Rouge. She wasn’t a movie kid like I was. I started watching them on our black and white TV back in the 1970s, mostly old movies. I would watch them all day and when I was old enough to go to the movies, that’s all I did. I have always preferred the fantasy alternative movies offered to real life. But not my daughter. She likes her social networking much more. She likes reading and online comics and skyping and Tumblr. I had been mostly resigned to us being different in that way. That is, until I took her to see Cloud Atlas.

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pi 1

“Whoever undertakes to set himself up as a judge of Truth and Knowledge is shipwrecked by the laughter of the gods.” – Albert Einstein

The glorious, profound absurdity of it all parades before our eyes in spectacular 3-D in Ang Lee’s adaptation of Life of Pi. Based on the Man Booker Prize-winning novel by Yann Martel, this film takes you where you need to go, then yanks you back playfully, and finally delivers onto a choice. Just as there are two distinct ways of looking at the celebrated, mysterious number pi, most of us come at our lives battling the duality of science vs. religion. For those who aren’t spiritual or religious, the notion of equating the two is ridiculous. Because humans see beauty and magic in all things does not mean that it was planned by a higher being. And yet, even the least religious among us will cry out in moments of horror or ecstasy, “oh god!” We do this because we have no other word.

Life of Pi follows the story of an Indian boy who calls himself Pi. He spends much of his young life yearning towards religion. He follows the teachings of three — Christianity, Hinduism and Islam — and all the while observes the animals in the zoo his family owns and maintains. Early on, he learns an important lesson about the Royal Bengal tiger, that to the tiger he is nothing but food. He may put his hand in the cage in a gesture of trust, but that doesn’t mean the tiger will recognize the offer as friendship. The existence of God perhaps helped explain nature’s wonders before science provided other answers. But as mankind discovered earthly explanations, our hyper-aware sensibilities put us at odds with the godly. For some, the quest for answers has set us eternally out of balance with the stark truth of the natural world.

Pi and his family and all of their zoo animals ship out, Noah’s Ark style, on a journey to a new home in Canada . The plan is to sell off the animals to raise enough money to start a new life, but at sea their ship is hit by a brutal storm. Pi is cast out into the darkness and barely survives, holding on to a small boat. When the storm clears, Pi finds himself alive and adrift with an orangutan, a hyena, a zebra. If you haven’t read the book I won’t tell you what happens next except to say that eventually Pi and a tiger he names Richard Parker are thrust together in a story of survival.

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Each year, a handful of new faces, and occasionally old ones, revel in the celebratory season known as the Oscar race.  It’s either a celebration or a nightmare, depending on how badly you want it.  Many are unprepared to do what it takes — to Marion Cotillard and Jeff Bridges your way to a win. You can sometimes get away with Monique-ing, if you turned in that kind of performance — so thoroughly good that your non-campaign can be your campaign.

That said, there are several names being bandied about now and the difference between whether they win or not could end up boiling down to how many times they smiled and pressed the sweaty palms of would-be voters.

The Oscar race wasn’t front-loaded this year — in fact, it’s been profoundly back-loaded.  With all of the Big Oscar Movies yet to open it is a tough call to even predict anyone for anything.  However, to that end, here are the names so far that are going to have to step up and Jeff Bridges it in the coming months.

1. Jennifer Lawrence — On the heels of her $400 million dollar franchise, The Hunger Games, Lawrence, along with Kristen Stewart, is one of the women who owned the box office in 2012.  Lawrence has been smartly gathering cred with her first Oscar nomination already in Winter’s Bone, but always managing to turn in a performance of note in whatever movie she happens to star in.  She has navigated every terrain necessary — indie cred, blockbuster cred, red carpet cred. She is the girl of the moment, hard working, drug- and scandal-free.  Lawrence knocks it out of the park in the Silver Linings Playbook, and the one-two punch of that and The Hunger Games puts her at the top of the list. She’s more Helen Hunt in As Good as it Gets than Halle Berry in Monster’s Ball in Playbook. If she weren’t such a rising star she would be in the supporting category for her work here, as her function in the film is mainly to support Bradley Cooper’s character arc. What makes this an award-worthy performance is that Lawrence elevates it beyond what’s written on the page. She makes it deeper, richer, more compelling than it otherwise would be — it’s a male fantasy, yet Lawrence finds the truth in who the character is and that makes the difference.

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You may be a state trooper, you might be a young Turk
You may be the head of some big TV network
You may be rich or poor, you may be blind or lame
You may be living in another country under another name

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody
–Bob Dylan

There is a moment in the documentary Grizzly Man when two bears are fighting and one of them unexpectedly shits himself. To we humans that would be the utmost embarrassment. We try so hard to control ourselves, especially when we have an audience. It’s true that in moments of pure terror we let loose uncontrollably because pure instinct takes over and rational thought vanishes. The struggle between these two impulses is what, I think, drives Paul Thomas Anderson’s most accomplished, exquisite film to date, The Master.

There aren’t many people in this world, let alone filmmakers anymore, who have something to say that elevates not just the ongoing cinematic conversation, but the human experience. No, this movie doesn’t say: God does not exist, find your own religion. Maybe it implies that. But in taking on the subject of anyone having a master at all it sends you out of the theater and into some deep thinking about what or whom your master is. Is it money? Is it sex? Is it love? Is it conventional religion or do you keep searching, in hopes that you will be gripped by a master and shown the way? Most fascinating of all, and the subject of Anderson’s film, are the people who fancy themselves god-like leaders capable of starting a whole new religion — of perpetuating the myth that the answer to the human experience is really that attainable.

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prometheus feat

Embargo blown. Nothing new. Variety and THR typically play with a disregard for rules that comes from decades of cavalier entitlement. I always feel like an enabler when posting things that “leak” but I think we know by now nothing much happens in Hollywood by accident. Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter enjoyed Prometheus a lot more than Justin Chang at Variety. Both agree that Prometheus is no Alien. Shock! It’s probably not a cure for cancer either.


Be careful what you wish for, especially if it involves figuring out who invented humankind. That’s the warning at the heart of Prometheus, a visual feast of a 3D sci-fi movie that has trouble combining its high-minded notions about the origins of the species and its Alien -based obligation to deliver oozy gross-out moments. Ridley Scott’s third venture into science-fiction, after Alien in 1979 and Blade Runner in 1982, won’t become a genre benchmark like those classics despite its equivalent seriousness and ambition, but it does supply enough visual spectacle, tense action and sticky, slithery monster attacks to hit the spot with thrill-seeking audiences worldwide…

Scott doubles his Alien pleasure with not just one but two strong female roles here. Rapace credibly expresses her character’s combined scientific and religious convictions… Blonded up, perfect of diction and elegant of body, Fassbender seems almost alarmingly neutered at first as the ship’s all-purpose valet but excels as he’s allowed to begin injecting droll comedy into his performance. As the captain, Elba has a few strong moments standing up to his “boss,” Theron, while the other actors are mostly cannon fodder…

Technically, Prometheus is magnificent. Shot in 3D but without the director taking the process into account in his conceptions or execution, the film absorbs and uses the process seamlessly. There is nary a false or phony note in the effects supervised by Richard Stammers, which build upon the outstanding production design by Arthur Max. Dariusz Wolski’s graceful and vivid cinematography synthesizes all the elements beautifully in a film that caters too much to imagined audience expectations when a little more adventurous thought might have taken it to some excitingly unsuspected destinations.

I’m pretty much just skimming past the middle parts of both these reviews because I don’t even want to dialogue quoted, much less read a condensed version of the plot. You know where to find more if your idea of fun is hearing about somebody else’s orgasm or their failure to achieve one. Variety’s review, after the cut, along with the most interesting of all the overnight reviews, from Mark Adams at ScreenDaily.

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Men Who Hate Women. That’s what Stieg Larsson called his book, which then became The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. To know this story is to know Larsson. If you forget about him, the key to this story is lost. The story is about men who hate women and the women who fight back. Larsson was a bit of a hero in this and other battles he personally fought throughout his very short life. He was against the extreme right in Sweden, against racism and misogyny.  After witnessing the rape of the a 15 year old girl named Lisbeth, he never forgave himself for failing to help her.  This, it’s been said, was what motivated him to write his books.  A Swedish film did a great job of turning his book into a movie that was sold in countries all over the world. So why remake it at all?

Because a story about a female avenging those men who hate women is more relevant now that it ever has been. In fact, it’s downright revolutionary. The only kind of women we see are those who are unrealistic comic book heroes, or those who are trussed up as ultimate fantasy fodder for gamers. It’s getting worse, not better.

So, you could do as many a critic will no doubt suggest, not remake the movie. Let it just sit out there in Sweden as “their story.” Or, a popular American director like David Fincher can make Dragon Tattoo redux – he can take this well known story, render it with an obsessive’s eye, redefine its archetypical characters and most importantly, give a much wider audience the chance to experience the film’s gravitational center: Lisbeth Salander.

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Solid reviews for War Horse are being rounded up on Metacritic.  Highlights from  few of the best.

EW’s Lisa Schwarzbaum:

Spielberg, attuned to the power of that equine eloquence, gives Joey and his human costars exactly what they need to run free. This is a beautifully built, classically framed movie, shot with the unshowy natural expressiveness of a John Ford Western by Spielberg’s great cinematographer, Janusz Kaminski.

…No wonder the filmmaker was smitten by the source material: The project is tailor-made for Saving Private Ryan Spielberg, the war-story specialist, as well as for E.T. Spielberg, the chronicler of boyhood desires and yearnings for family… In the end, all who hate war are united as Steven Spielberg’s War Horse unspools to its stirring conclusion. While the book plows ahead on the simplicity of its sentences and the play thunders along on the spectacle of its stagecraft, Spielberg expertly harnesses light, shadow, and landscape in the cause of peace.

New York Observer’s Rex Reed:

Steven Spielberg at the top of his powers as one of the most successful and creative film directors of the past century is the best reason I can think of to get off your duff and head for the cinema on Christmas Day. You will not believe the epic splendor, sweeping drama and heart-stopping passion he brings to War Horse. It’s a rare and genuine movie masterpiece that deserves the label in a thousand ways.

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It began the year being perceived as the film that would take down Oscar, along the lines of Saving Private Ryan – an unflinching look at WWII.  Probably it was never going to be Schindler’s List, an unflinching look at the Holocaust.  Or maybe along the lines of ET, a film about a special bond between a human and an alien.  But, as it happens, War Horse is none of these things.  It’s Spielberg’s first family film that lacks even the edge that E.T. and Hook had.  No, this, like his other film out this year, Tintin, is sincerity kicked up to 11.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that.  Heartfelt emotion that moves only in one direction is the stuff that many a war film from the 1940s, say, were made on.  One thing I’m starting to understand about film critics is that they like nostalgic homages to our cinematic past perhaps more than they like films that try to do something new. Nothing new there; it is human nature to choose from a limited number of familiar things – hence the success of sequels, TV shows, McDonald’s and Starbucks. So it’s easier to wrap your mind around a movie that reminds you of John Ford than it is to see a movie that really comes baring no historical context whatsoever.  This is why War Horse is probably going to be embraced by major critics, despite its weaknesses.

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A movie as bold as Shame is bound to be polarizing. Helping to offset some of the critics who are turned off for one reason or another, Shame earned 3 scores of 100 early on, Nov 8th (from Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, and Salon). Last night Roger Ebert added a 4th rave:

There’s a close-up in “Shame” of Michael Fassbender’s face showing pain, grief and anger. His character, Brandon, is having an orgasm. For the movie’s writer-director, Steve McQueen, that could be the film’s master shot. There is no concern about the movement of Brandon’s lower body. No concern about his partner. The close-up limits our view to his suffering. He is enduring a sexual function that has long since stopped giving him any pleasure and is self-abuse in the most profound way.

“Shame” makes into a lie the universal assumption in movies that orgasms provide a pleasure to be pursued. The film’s opening shot shows Brandon awake in the morning, staring immobile into space. He could be a man prepared to commit suicide. He gets out of bed, goes into the shower and masturbates. It will be the first of his many orgasms, solitary and with company, that day. He never reveals emotion. He lives like a man compelled to follow an inevitable course…

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In a week of cinematic riches raining down from all directions, it’s tough to grab a turn at the mic for a moment. A.O. Scott turns our attention to A Dangerous Method by setting it on the pedestal of NYT’s Critic Pick.

“A Dangerous Method” is full of ideas about sexuality — some quite provocative, even a century after their first articulation — but it also recognizes and communicates the erotic power of ideas. There are scenes of kinky activity between Sabina and Jung that will no doubt enjoy long life in specialized corners of the Internet, but the most unsettling aspect of “A Dangerous Method” may be the links it suggests between sex and thinking. The mind is both slave and master of the body’s appetites, and the absurd and terrifying task of stabilizing that dynamic, in theory and in practice, is embraced equally by the film and the fragile, serious historical figures who inhabit it.

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