‚ÄúI like a good story well told. That is the reason I am sometimes forced to tell them myself.‚Äù
– Mark Twain
The clever video above dovetails nicely with Andrew O’Hehir’s insightful piece today exploring what he calls “The British indie explosion.” Though showcasing talents on opposite sides of The Chunnel, the video and article each offer evidence of Europe’s facility with telling stylish compelling stories on a frugal budget. Almost a lost art stateside, it’s the type of well-crafted modestly-budgeted movie that’s in short supply among American studio and “indie” releases alike.
Well before the 1970s explosion of rebellious American cinema that brought Francis Coppola, Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg to worldwide fame, London was the center of its own low-budget film renaissance, one that saw American expatriates like Stanley Kubrick and Joseph Losey working alongside young British upstarts like Lindsay Anderson, Ken Loach, Mike Leigh and Alan Clarke. (A certain Polish-French director who’s been in the news lately also worked in England in the ’60s.)
That moment isn’t widely remembered today, for a bunch of different reasons, and in the intervening years British acting and directing talent has overwhelmingly flowed toward Hollywood. Given the tepid, depressive state of American independent film right now, though, and the clear sense that things are sprouting up across the Atlantic like wildflowers after an English rainstorm, I’m betting it won’t be long before we see ambitious Yanks emulating Kubrick and Losey’s example. Urgently paging Andrew Bujalski, Antonio Campos and Azazel Jacobs: Go east, young men!
I’m not claiming that no good movies are being made in the United States; far from it. But the film industry and its marketplace seem segmented in a way that isn’t helping artists or audiences. There are a handful of brand-name Indiewood directors who can pretty much write their own ticket: Tarantino, the Coen brothers, the unrelated Andersons (Wes and P.T.). Below that we see a lot of clever, minor tweakage applied to familiar formulas: “(500) Days of Summer” or “Jennifer’s Body.” Lower still in the ecosystem, lo-fi, achingly sincere movies get made by the dozen. (Instead of supplying names and links, let’s just stipulate that that’s most of the films I’ve written about over the last five years or so.) They travel the festival circuit for a few months, and the better ones get released in theaters or via VOD, before being universally rejected by the media-saturated public’s collective immune system.
A solid analysis, rather brilliantly unpacked, with the kind of contextual relevance O’Hehir handles so well. From there, Andrew narrows his focus to three specific films that prove his point. It’s well worth a click to read the entire piece, but I can’t resist quoting a bit more after the cut.
There is a long, in depth conversation happening on Pixar over at the House Next Door – two different points of view on Pixar’s films, most notably Wall-E. Jason Bellamy and Ed Howard. The Conversation is an ongoing series, it turns out. I can’t wait to read the next one:
[Editor's Note: The Conversations is a monthly feature in which Jason Bellamy and Ed Howard discuss a wide range of cinematic subjects: critical analyses of films, filmmaker overviews, and more. Readers should expect to encounter spoilers.]
This is a great piece of writing and an essential read for any Pixar fans. It is also in consort with the site’s Pixar Week
JB: [Wall-E] is the one Pixar movie that, while by no means flawless, I can call great without any hesitation or qualifiers. To me, it is a masterpiece, and not just of its genre. Of all the films I saw last year, there was a small handful that shared its company, but not a single one that was better.
EH: You’ve pinpointed some of my own problems with talking about Pixar, namely the difference between “great” (full stop) and “great for children’s entertainment.” Anybody who says that Pixar makes great, fun children’s movies is on pretty safe ground, but there seem to be a lot of critics and fans who make rather more grandiose claims about Pixar, and especially about WALL-E.
Two more titles join the elite (and occasionally eccentric) list of films awarded 4-stars by Roger Ebert. Expanding on last night’s tweet, he has this to say about Trucker:
There’s one of those perfect moments in “Trucker” when I’m thinking, This is the moment to end! Now! Fade to black! And the movie ends. It is the last of many absolutely right decisions by the first-time writer-director James Mottern, who began by casting two actors who bring his story to strong emotional life. Both of them show they’re gifted and intelligent artists who only needed, as so many do in these discouraging times, a chance to reveal their deep talents…
Monaghan makes Diane more sad than off-putting. She isn’t a caricature. She works hard, values her independence, is making payments on her small suburban home on an unpaved street, is living up to her bargain with herself. The movie spares us any scenes where she’s “one of the guys.” It opens after a one-night stand with a guy who tries to be nice, but she doesn’t need a nice guy in her life. Nor does she need to be nice with Peter, but one thing she does do: She’s always honest with him and speaks with him directly, and I think he knows that. Her performance clearly deserves an Oscar nomination.
A slightly more oblique reference to Oscar in Ebert’s review of A Serious Man:
“This is the kind of picture you get to make after you’ve won an Oscar,” writes Todd McCarthy in Variety. I cannot improve on that. After the seriously great “No Country for Old Men,” the Coen brothers have made the not greatly serious “A Serious Man,” which bears every mark of a labor of love…
Have I mentioned “A Serious Man” is so rich and funny? This isn’t a laugh-laugh movie, but a wince-wince movie. Those can be funny, too. The Coens have found mostly unfamiliar actors, or those like Stuhlbarg, Kind and Melamed you’ve seen before, but you’re not quite sure where. I imagine (but do not know) that Joel and Ethan have been kicking this story around for years, passing time by reminding each other of possible characters, seeing an actor and observing, “There’s our Mrs. Samsky.” Their actors weren’t cast, they were preordained.
With his 4-star reviews, Roger Ebert preordains a collection of the year’s most interesting films, providing clues about his eventual year-end Top 10 List (which I believe doubled to 20 in 2008). Currently, I count roughly 2 dozen movies receiving the 4-star seal of approval so far this year — though only about half of them look to stand much chance of cashing in those chips for an Oscar nomination. You can find the list, divided into hopefuls and nopefuls, after the cut.
We featured the poster for The Messenger a few days ago, and this afternoon the trailer dropped.
In his most powerful performance to date, Ben Foster stars as Will Montgomery, a U.S. Army officer who has just returned home from a tour in Iraq and is assigned to the Army’s Casualty Notification service. Partnered with fellow officer Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson) to bear the bad news to the loved ones of fallen soldiers, Will faces the challenge of completing his mission while seeking to find comfort and healing back on the home front. When he finds himself drawn to Olivia (Samantha Morton), to whom he has just delivered the news of her husband’s death, Will’s emotional detachment begins to dissolve and the film reveals itself as a surprising, humorous, moving and very human portrait of grief, friendship and survival.
Featuring tour-de-force performances from Foster, Harrelson and Morton, and a brilliant directorial debut by Oren Moverman, The Messenger brings us into the inner lives of these outwardly steely heroes to reveal their fragility with compassion and dignity.
There is a really great reason to read MCN and that is Kim Voynar. After she left Cinematical, she was quickly scooped up by David Poland – it was an amazing get for him. Voynar was a great addition to Cinematical and she is always worth checking out at MCN. Her most recent column reveals that on her way to the Toronto Film Festival she found herself in a hospital room with a terrible diagnosis: pancreatic cancer.
She has decided to continue blogging on MCN with her column Voynaristic and will also do what she does so well: write about movies.
I was upset by this news, for sure. I’d hoped the Toronto docs were wrong, that all of this would turn out to be nothing much. But oddly, my control-freak self feels much stronger and calmer now that I at least know what I’m up against. Now that I know what’s wrong, we can make a plan and I can fight it. I’m not afraid anymore of the bone marrow test tomorrow, or the surgery, or whatever else gets thrown my way.
We wish her all the best in her fight.
Thanks to Cahiers for tipping us this afternoon’s tweet from Roger Ebert:
‚ÄùTrucker‚Äù is a wonderful new movie, with a career-changing performance by Michelle Monaghan. Opens 10/9.
That’s a powerful money quote to cap a week of like-minded praise.
Marshall Fine, Huffington Post:For one thing, Trucker has the ring of emotional truth. For another, it approaches this formula with a difference: The person pressured into acting the parent is a woman, not a man. And, finally, the film is built around a strikingly tough-minded but beautifully drawn performance by Michelle Monaghan…
Elfin but wiry, Monaghan easily embodies the flinty, no-nonsense Diane, a woman who can take care of herself in all senses. Monaghan plays her as neither a trouble-maker nor a trouble-seeker — just a bristly, self-sufficient person whose connections to others tend to be obligation-free.
Rex Reed, New York Observer: Ms. Monaghan‚Äôs febrile intensity shifts touchingly to reveal unexpected flashes of warmth beneath the hard-boiled facade. She reminds one of Famke Janssen in the 2007 film Turn the River, as a poker-playing pool hustler trying to scrape together the money to reunite with another 11-year-old abandoned at birth. In a gender-casting shift, Ms. Monaghan is terrific in a traditionally male role.
Back in August a few bloggers — Kris Tapley, Brad Brevet and myself included — were put on the defensive by another writer* when we ran the Trucker trailer and speculated about tossing an unexpected name into the ring for Best Actress. At that time, none of us had seen anything but the preview, and we took a little heat for that.
Since then I’ve been lucky enough to see the film and I’m happy to report with first-hand confidence that Trucker is one of those rare surprises in a predictable year. It’s the kind of indie that earns its cred from scene one — sincere, heartfelt, and emotionally involving in the same vein of New American Realism we’ve seen mined in Frozen River, Wendy and Lucy, and SherryBaby. I’ll have my own review up tomorrow, but the buzz is building and getting too empathic to ignore.
*["Do these guys have the same dope dealer?" asked that writer. If so, looks like Roger and Rex are hitting the same bong.]
Another look at the trailer, after the cut.
Meryl Streep is probably the only actress in the race who is above 40. This is a young woman’s year, to be sure. Be sure to check out Guy Lodge’s rundown of the Best Actor Under 30 and his coverage of the young women currently playing even younger women on screen.¬†¬† There is no denying Carey Mulligan’s ascent, however.
The critics are especially liking Mulligan (although, at this point, who DOESN’T?). High praise indeed from the Village Voice’s Scott Foundas and Slant’s Ed Gonzales.
Scott Foundas, the Village Voice:
Twenty-two when the film was shot, with only a handful of minor movie and television appearances behind her, Mulligan doesn’t get an entrance here on par with, say, Audrey Hepburn’s regal procession in Roman Holiday or Jean Seberg’s seaside frolic in Otto Preminger’s Bonjour Tristesse‚Äîbut it doesn’t take long for her to cast the same sort of beguiling spell. A petite, round-faced brunette with dimpled cheeks and a darting, fiercely intelligent gaze, Mulligan is on-screen for nearly every frame of An Education, and in those 90-odd minutes, her Jenny seems to transform before us, from girlish insouciance to womanly self-confidence, from intellectual posturing to possessing a finely honed sense of personal taste. Playing a character who is herself a rare bloom in a field of mediocrity, Mulligan has a star quality they can’t teach in acting school.
Ed Gonzales Ryan Stewart, Slant:
Mulligan’s performance is a thing of understated beauty, instinctively attuned to that headstrong-but-full-hearted quality common to the most aware teenagers, alight with choices in emotional keys both unexpected and resonant, and ultimately successful enough on its own terms to render superfluous the associative endorsement that Scherfig offers by way of a predictable makeover-revelation moment, in which the frumpy, pale-faced student is reintroduced as a radiant Holly GoLightly. That Mulligan’s excess of talent occasionally throws light onto groaningly conventional aspects of Education‘s storyline is perhaps inevitable, though noticeable, particularly in scenes opposite her stiff upper-lip father (Alfred Molina) and mother (Cara Seymour) which sway unpredictably from broad comedy to indulgent melodrama. Theirs is almost a self-contained B-story unaffected by the main action.
It’s time once again to ask that question. I’m fairly sure there hasn’t been an announcement yet. I’m going to guess there is behind-the-scenes talk and that there are some out there who already know the answer. Then again, maybe not. The Corner Cinema has tossed a few well known names into the ring. Let’s run them down:
1. Ricky Gervais — this would be the best news ever. They could do Ricky Gervais AND Steve Carell.
2. Eddie Izzard
3. Meryl Streep
4. Tiny Fey (maybe AS Sarah Palin)
5. President Obama
Those are great choices. I think Obama might have his hands full fighting off the media on the attack – I guess no one can accuse the media as being protective of Obama now, eh? Here are a few of my own choices, and I’d love to hear yours.
Gervais, of course.
Hugh Jackman again – I thought he was fab.
Kathy Griffin – I double dog dare them to do it.
David Letterman – this would be the year.
Steve Martin – because he remains my all-time favorite Oscars host.
Billy Crystal – in an effort to keep boosting the ratings.
Chris Rock and/or Bill Maher – lay it on thick.
Ryan Seacrest – because the outcry would be hilarious. We have to entertain ourselves somehow.
The London Film Fest will now have Best Film and Best British Newcomer on its list of awards. The awards will unfurl October 28 in London.
The jury for the new award will be Anjelica Houston, John Akomfrah (doc director), Jarvis Cocker, Mathieu Kassovitz, Charlotte Rampling and Iain Softley (director).
Variety reports the short-listed films will be “Balibo,” “Bright Star,” “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” “Micmacs,” “Nowhere Boy,” “A Prophet,” “The Road,” “A Serious Man” and “The White Ribbon.”
The Daily Beast has asked several influential Hollywood pundits (their words) for their take on early predictions in the Oscar race. It’s run by Nicole LaPorte from the Daily Beast – whom, I believe, is the partner of Richard Rushfield, who started up The Envelope, for which Greg Ellwood worked and for which Pete Hammond now works. Whew. It’s six degrees of separation to be sure.
Awards Daily is finding it the most competitive year/market on record. After doing this for a decade, and all of the nasty articles pointed at Oscar bloggers (by some who now play the game) one would think there would be less, not more, Oscar coverage. But there is more. There is a LOT more.
Funnily enough, it comes at a time when there isn’t a whole lot to say about the Oscar race itself.¬† Ten Best Picture slots, a lot of movies still waiting at the gate, and a growing mass of interest and attention. It is a bit dizzying to me – and it’s hard to tell The Wrap and the Daily Beast apart, especially since they keep dipping from the same pond of folks. They really ought to combine molecules and become one organism.
At any rate, I don’t think you’ll find anything new there, but you might want to have a look anyway.
I’ve never much cared for Stu Van Airsdale’s Oscar coverage – judging from his snide entries when worked for Vanity Fair — I’m sure he’s not snide in person but his writing comes off as such – he and I have fought privately over email so this won’t come as a big shock to him. However, he’s moved on. Or so we thought. Now he’s back – because like Michael Corleone, though he detests and despises Oscar season, he ends up pulled back into the muddy with the rest of us.
So this time he’s miffed that a couple of Academy members have contacted Pete Hammond for advice on which films to choose. Here is my experience with these kinds of one-offs – they are always, almost always, red herrings. They amount to nada. There are people who will write in and say “I went to an Academy screening and the reaction was ___” – okay, fine. But the ones who say they talked to so and so and he/she was voting for this person or that – they don’t matter that much because individuals don’t matter in Academy voting.
I’ve even heard of polls that turn out to be wrong – established folks query Academy members to find out what they’re voting for can reveal more about the films people think they SHOULD vote for than the films they will actually vote for. Many people might be embarrassed to admit their choices to someone they respect. On the other hand, sometimes the polls do turn out to be accurate. One such poll turned up last year that said Sean Penn would beat Mickey Rourke by just a hair. We’ll never know if it was just by a hair or not but Penn did indeed beat Rourke. By contrast, another poll was done that showed Into the Wild to be extremely popular with voting members — and yet when it came time to tally those votes, Into the Wild was nowhere to be found.
Let’s get into Stu going after Pete after the cut.
Foreign Language Film
Live Action Short