'Wild' Opens Today!

Reese Witherspoon as Cheryl Strayed in Wild.
Fox Searchlight Pictures.
Head's up! Wild, my favourite film of the year, should now be playing in a theatre near you! The film's reached the next stage in its journey after walking miles and miles from Telluride to Toronto and then some, and now it's your turn to experience Jean-Marc Vallée's beautiful and moving memory puzzle. (Read the TIFF interview with Jean-Marc Vallée and Laura Dern here.)  Fans of the book won't be disappointed, while the adaptation brings the warmth, humour and disarming frankness of Strayed's book to life so vividly as Reese Witherspoon gives the performance of her life as Strayed, while Laura Dern gives an Oscar-worthy performance as Strayed's mother, Bobbi. I  revisited Wild recently amidst the recent whirlwind trip through the screener pile and the power of Strayed's journey bowled me over even more the second. Films rarely improve on memories and expectations as strongly as Wild does, and it's no wonder that my favourite film from TIFF is also my favourite film of the year.


2014 in Review: The Best Canadian Films of the Year

Mommy, Maps to the Stars, Wet Bum, and Tu Dors Nicole
are some of Canada's best films of 2014.
What’s really nice about the great Canadian films of this year is that they aren’t afraid to be “Canadian.” And by Canadian, I simply mean they tell stories that take place in Canada, use Canada as a setting, and engage with themes relevant to Canadians of diverse experiences. The past few years have seen a turn towards an internationalization of Canadian cinema with Canuck landmarks like Incendies and Rebelle taking Canadian films outside of distinctly Canadian stories and situating our stories and artists within a global spectrum.


A Most Excellent Film

A Most Violent Year
(USA, 125 min.)
Written and directed by J.C. Chandor
Starring: Oscar Isaac, Jessica Chastain, David Oyelowo, Albert Brooks, Alessandro Nivola, Elyes Gabel, Catalina Sandino Moreno
It’s New York, 1981, and crime in the city is at an all-time high. Violence, murders, shootings, and such are on the rise, but so too is the invisible crime that has become the norm in America as private enterprise evolves as its own kind of organized crime. It’s a disease, American capitalism, that erupts like Ebola in the year that Ronald Reagan assumes office, and it corrupts whatever agents approach it with good intentions. Perhaps the one good man remaining fighting the good fight for the little guys arrives at a moral crossroads in A Most Violent Year, and trying to win the market with a good heart seems about as daunting as trying to cure Ebola with a Band-Aid. A Most Violent Year is a searing crime drama in the vein of GoodFellas and The Godfather, but whereas Bonasera pledges his belief in the American Dream to Don Corleone with an oath that is tangibly metaphorical, A Most Violent Year will have audiences shaken because the corruption feels unsettlingly real. This third feature by maverick writer/director J.C. Chandor (All is Lost) is a most excellent film.


TIFF Announces Guestlist for Canada's Top Ten

We are the City, the band behind Violent (pictured), performs at Canada's Top Ten.
Photo courtesy of TIFF.
The guest list is out for this year’s Canada’s Top Ten. In short, pretty much every filmmaker represented in the annual kudos from the Toronto International Film Festival will be on hand at TIFF Bell Lightbox during CTT expect for Canada’s Oscar contender and Canadian Screen Award frontrunner Xavier Dolan. David Cronenberg will be in the house (as if he ever leaves!) as will Keanu Reeves for an In Conversation chit chat. (Bring all your burning questions about John Wick!) Other points of interest include a free doc talk and a free retrospective screening of Not a Love Story: A Film About Pornography. Hobnobbers will especially want to take note of the Canada Cocktail Party, which boast a performance by We Are the City, the band behind the CTT selection Violent, and an art installation by CTT alumni Shayne Ehman and Seth Scriver, the minds behind last year’s cracked-out CTT selection Asphalt Watches.


'Corbo' Trailer

Les Films Séville has released the first trailer for the powerful upcoming FLQ drama Corbo, which recently earned a well-deserved spot on TIFF’s annual list of Canada’s Top Ten films. (TIFF capsule review here. I'm a big fan of the film.) The drama is a potent look at the events leading up to one of the most tumultuous episodes in Canadian history. This debut feature by Mathieu Denis is one of the breakout Canadian debuts of the year and it makes its international premiere in the Generation line-up at the Berlin Film Festival next year as one of several films repping Canada at the Berlinale.

2014 in Review: The Worst Films of the Year

Aaron Eckhart stars in eOne Films' I, Frankenstein
Some writers say that 2014 is a bad year for movies. I disagree. We’ll get to the good movies later in the “Year in Review” series, but the annual gongs for the worst films of the year are actually a very easy list to make. This year includes plenty of disappointments, for sure, with films like Nymphomaniac, Interstellar, Serena, An Eye for Beauty, A Long Way Down, Transcendence, The Rover, and Noah making up a list of the year’s biggest disappointments and defining 2014 more by letdowns than by low points, but many of these films also have their virtues. I’ll admit that I’m being a bit more selective about what I see due to shifting time commitments and partnerships/coverage commitments that increasingly align with my personal taste, so I simply like more of the films I see that I have in previous years, yet this year simply doesn’t have many outstandingly awful films outside of the ten titles that immediately came to mind. Boy, oh, boy, though—do these ten films stink!

'Grand Budapest Hotel' Tops Online Film Critics Society Awards

The Grand Budapest Hotel. Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures.
The Online Film Critics Society (OFCS), of which I am a member, congratulates the winners of the 18th annual OFCS awards. The Grand Budapest Hotel, which scored the most overall nominations, leads the pack with three wins including Best Picture, although the critics spread the love around a few films with Birdman also scooping three prizes including Best Actor for Michael Keaton and Boyhood and Gone Girl each winning two awards. The OFCS is an international organization of film critics furthering the work of web-based writers.

Congrats again to all the winners for making 2014 such a strong year for film!

Best Picture: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Best Director: Richard Linklater - Boyhood
Best Actor: Michael Keaton - Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Best Actress: Rosamund Pike - Gone Girl
Best Supporting Actor: Edward Norton - Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Best Supporting Actress: Patricia Arquette - Boyhood
Best Animated Feature: The Lego Movie
Best Film Not in the English Language: Two Days, One Night
Best Documentary: Life Itself
Best Original Screenplay: Wes Anderson, Hudo Guinness - The Grand Budapest Hotel
Best Adapted Screenplay: Gillian Flynn - Gone Girl
Best Editing: Douglas Crise, Stephen Mirrone - Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Best Cinematography: Robert Yeoman - The Grand Budapest Hotel



'Princess Kaguya' Paints Masterful Strokes

The Tale of Princess Kaguya
(Japan, 137 min.)
Dir. Isao Takahata, Writ. Isao Takahata Riko Sakaguchi
Starring: Aki Asakura, Kengo Kora, Takeo Chii, Nobuko Miyamoto
© 2013 Hatake Jimusho – GNDHDDTK
Isao Takahata might not be quite as famous as Hayao Miyazaki (The Wind Rises) is when it comes to Japanese animation, but Miyazaki’s co-founder of Studio Ghibli warrants just as much esteem from North American audiences as his retired colleague does. Takahata’s latest film The Tales of Princess Kaguya is one of the finest films that Studio Ghibli has ever made. Hand-drawn films like Kaguya are a rarity these days in the growing sea of computer-generated animation, and the classical, painterly details that bring the film to life are the strokes of a true master.


Notes from the Screener Pile: 2014.8

The deadline for voting looms! This week’s catch-up features some films long overdue for review:

National Gallery
(France/USA/UK, 180 min.)
Written and directed by Frederick Wiseman


'Now can someone please explain who this 'Meryl Streep' woman is?!' Emma Stone Wins for Best Golden Globes Reaction

Emma Stone as "Sam" in Birdman. Photo by Alison Rosa.
The stars are reacting to this morning's exciting Golden Globe nominations. Here are reactions from nominees for Wild, Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) which leads the film nominations overall, and reactions on some of the Canuck contenders. Emma Stone easily wins the prize for best reaction of the morning, saying, 'Now can someone please explain who this 'Meryl Streep' woman is?!' (Don't you love her?) Meryl Streep, I forgot to add, earns her 28th Golden Globe nomination for Into the Woods, so it's nice that she's finally breaking through the crowd and gaining some recognition! Lol, just think Emma: if you win, you can pull a Jennifer Lawrence and quote The First Wives Club at the party!

The nominees react:

Golden Globe Nominations

Julianne Moore in Maps to the Stars
The Globes are in! There's nothing overly unexpected this morning, I think, expect that Gone Girl got a bizarre show of support from the Hollywood Foreign Press in virtually every category except Best Picture. Strange. Selma's in, and Aniston too!, while Foxcatcher received a much-needed boost since it hasn't found much love outside the acting categories and Unbroken took a big hit missing out in the field that would generally be most receptive to a large, flawed, and inspirational film like it. The most pleasant surprise of the nominees is Julianne Moore's nomination for her insane Maps to Stars in the Best Actress - Comedy category. This nom comes as a mild surprise since Maps recently had a very discrete qualifying run last weekend and has had questionable awards prospects since US distributor Focus World has mostly decided to release the film on VOD in February and previously announced that it wouldn't seek any awards campaign besides a Globe nom for Moore. Focus simply doesn't want to confuse anyone and compromise Moore's chances to win the Oscar for Still Alice, on which Maps--a difficult, controversial Cronenberg film--could capitalize with a February release. The nom for Maps  gives Canadian film some recognition since our Mommy missed out in Best Foreign Language Film.

Birdman leads the film nominees overall with Boyhood close behind.


All Smoke, No Fire

(USA/France/Czech Republic, 109 min.)
Dir. Susanne Bier, Writ. Christopher Kyle
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Toby Jones, Rhys Ifans, Sean Harris, Ana Ularu
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence. Courtesy of eOne Films.
I am so disappointed that they cut out the scene from the book where Serena and her trained eagle have a tag team fight with a Komodo dragon. What a novelty it would be see Katniss play Depression Era Hunger Games with a giant lizard! It is one thing to skip a Komodo dragon, but it’s another thing to excise the conflict, tension, and substance almost entirely whilst bringing a story to the screen. One can’t really complain that the dragon doesn’t make the cut in this adaptation of Ron Rash’s novel Serena, for although the film makes great sure of the Smoky Mountains, Serena breathes little fire.

SAG Nominations: 'Birdman' leads, Aniston takes the Cake

Birdman leads the SAG race with four nominations.
Photo: Fox Searchlight.
The actors have spoken! There are some big surprises in today's Screen Actors Guild award nominations! I thought Jennifer Aniston was out, out, out for Cake. This indie darling and largely self-promoted film from an upstart distributor had struggled to find a home in the race since its strong debut at TIFF--I assumed Aniston was a non-player when the film missed out at the Independent Spirit Awards--but here she is in that wide open fifth spot, which didn't go to Marion Cotillard after all. Other pleasant surprises include a Best Actor nomination for Jake Gyllenhaal's crazy turn Nightcrawler, an ensemble nomination for The Grand Budapest Hotel, and Naomi Watts' hilarious performance as a Russian stripper/hooker in St. Vincent. Watts also earned a nom as part of the Birdman cast, which leads the nominations overall with four. On the heels of Birdman with three noms each are Boyhood, The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything I'm very surprised by the ensemble nom for The Theory of Everything, though, since the film's really a two-hander between Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones, both of whom were nominated.


Notes from the Screener Pile: 2014.7

Award-season binge-watching became a bit different this week as I ventured outside the screener pile for two films. I caught (finally) Virunga, which is Netflix’s big release and hopes to join The Square with back-to-back nominations for the VOD champ. Catch-up also included a trip to the video store in an attempt to finally see Poland’s Ida (the front-runner in the Best Foreign Language Film Race), but my local dealer didn’t have the black-and-white film—they don’t really do subtitles there—so I got How to Train Your Dragon 2 instead… a pleasant surprise!

(UK, 92 min.)
Dir. Orlando von Einsiedel

Online Film Critics Society Nominations

Canada's Mommy is a Best Picture nominee!
The nominations for the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) awards are in! The OFCS, of which I am a member, is compromised of international critics from around the web and this list of nominations surely reflects the scope and diversity of our group. Final winners will be announced on Monday, but Boyhood and The Grand Budapest Hotel lead with six nominations while Canada's Mommy has four. Here are the nominees: