12/31/2014

The Pop Artist and the Con Artist

Big Eyes
(USA, 105 min.)
Dir. Tim Burton, Writ. Scott Alexander, Larry Karaszewski
Starring: Amy Adams, Christoph Waltz, Krysten Ritter, Jason Schwarztman, Danny Huston, Terrence Stamp, Delaney Raye
Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz) and Margaret Keane (Amy Adams) in Big Eyes. / eOne Films.
“You can’t make a billion dollar gross unless millions of people are satisfied with a picture,” said producer Richard Zanuck of Tim Burton’s critically lambasted but financially lucrative 2010 fantasy Alice in Wonderland. Burton is no stranger to the tensions of artistic integrity and commercial success, so it’s a wonder to see Big Eyes emerge from a spat of ambitious blockbusters that have the largest scale of the director’s oeuvre, but hold the lower ranks in the wild and wacky world of Tim Burton. Big Eyes marks a turn away from the fantasy tent-pole land of Alice, Dark Shadows, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and back towards the quirky character-driven realm of films like Ed Wood. Big Eyes stars Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz as pop-artist Margaret Keane and her con-artist husband Walter, and the former half of the pair is positively endearing while the latter half is quirky up the wazoo. Big Eyes could have been a return to form for Burton had the director excised every frame of the film featuring Christoph Waltz, but it’s a stroke of genius for Amy Adams.


12/30/2014

2014 in Review: The Best Films of the Year

Wild, Mommy, A Most Violent Year, and Birdman are 2014's best films.
Hooray, 2014 is over! I’ll admit that I’m not sad to see this year kick the bucket. 2014 is probably the hardest year I’ve had both personally and professionally while running this blog and writing about film, and I think that my list of favourites from the year somewhat reflects this feeling. Films about confrontation and growth, fears and inadequacies, and artists and their loony minds; scathing satires; escapist romps—2014 has a lot of films that touch a nerve for a variety of reasons… and Boyhood doesn’t even make my list! Boyhood missed out by one slot and I somehow feel satisfied covering its greatest asset—Patricia Arquette—in the list of 2014’s top performances, but it has my admiration and full support as it heads into the thick of Oscar season as the frontrunner.

12/29/2014

'Coach Has Great Power Over an Athlete’s Life.'

Foxcatcher
(USA, 135 min.)
Dir. Bennett Miller, Writ. E. Max Frye, Dan Futterman
Starring: Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, Sienna Miller, Vanessa Redgrave
“Coach is a father; coach is a mentor; coach has great power over an athlete’s life,” says John Du Pont (Steve Carell) as he extols his own greatness to the camera whilst recording a documentary about the successes of his self-financed wrestling team. John is coach of the team in name only, acting as the resident Uncle Moneybags funding a team of young wrestlers destined for Olympic gold. The whole ruse of his team, Team Foxcatcher, exists to elevate Olympic gold medal winner Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) and, in turn, John himself. John certainly has the power over his athlete’s life that he professes, and the bizarre relationship of John and Mark takes the true tale of Foxcatcher into dark corners that few films about the coach/athlete relationship tend to go.

Goin' Up the Road

Don’t Get Killed in Alaska
(Canada, 96 min.)
Written and directed by Bill Taylor
Starring: Tommie-Amber Pirie, Ben Lewis, Rosemary Dunsmore, Gianpaolo Venuta, Oliver Dennis
I’m sorry that Alaska is a film that I lost amidst the November-December screener flood. It’s a lovely and remarkably subtle family drama from up-and-coming filmmaker Bill Taylor (The Young Prime Minister). The film jumps into the life of twenty-seven-year-old wanderer Liney (Tommie Amber Pirie, The Birder)  as she visits three family members to repair broken ties and scrounge for money so that she and her boyfriend, Dan (Ben Lewis), may schlep up to Alaska and earn a living working the fishing boats during the frigid northern winter. Canucks went down the road in films of the 70s, but Liney's goin' up the road to better her prospects.

12/28/2014

'Gurov and Anna' Trailer

A trailer was recently released for the upcoming Canadian drama Gurov & Anna. (I missed this and a bunch of other news while at the cottage over Christmas!) The film marks Camion director Rafaël Ouellet's first English-language debut along with rising Quebec star Sophie Desmarais (Sarah Prefers to Run, Le démantèlement) in a Chekhov inspired infidelity drama. The film made this blog's list of anticipated Canadian films for TIFF 2014, but while I'm disappointed that the film didn't screen at Toronto, Gurov and Anna had its world premiere in South Korea's Busan Film Festival this fall and then hit up Montreal's Féstival du nouveau cinéma. Gurov and Anna opens in theatres in March 2015. Looks promising!


'Once Upon a Time...'

Into the Woods
(USA, 125 min.)
Dir. Rob Marshall, Writ. James Lapine
Starring: Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, James Corden, Anna Kendrick, Chris Pine, Tracey Ullman, Christine Baranski, Johnny Depp.
Once upon a time, a movie musical enchanted even the Grinch during the holidays. That movie musical is, of course, Into the Woods, the long-awaited big screen adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s acclaimed reimagining of fairy-tale folklore. Into the Woods, like any a good fairy-tale, transports audiences to a land of make-believe that enchants throughout every minute of its story. This musical by Rob Marshall (Chicago, Nine) certainly isn’t for all tastes, but anyone who goes to the movies for two hours of fun is bound to love it. Into the Woods is pure magical escapism.


12/24/2014

2014 in Review: The Best Performances of the Year

Reese Witherspoon, Anne Dorval, Michael Keaton, and Laura Dern
give the best performances of 2014.
2014 has mommy issues galore. The best performances of the year largely come from mommies: even in death, some of the year’s best characters watch over their films like protective mommies, giving them life and feeding them each frame of the way. Anne Dorval in Mommy, Laura Dern in Wild, Julianne Moore in Still Alice all offer performances so heartbreaking that It wouldn’t surprise me if many viewers went home and hugged their mommies after the movie. For every parent there’s a child, and an Antoine Olivier Pilon, Reese Witherspoon, or Kristen Stewart to match them, so many parents probably went home and did the same. In short, 2014 is just a big group hug.


12/22/2014

'Mommy' Leads Canuck Nominations from Vancouver and Toronto Film Critics

Antoine Olivier-Pilon, Anne Dorval, and Xavier Dolan on the set of Mommy.
Photo: Shane Laverdière, courtesy Les Films Séville.
The Vancouver Film Critics Circle, the only group of film critics recognizing Canadian film on all fronts, have released their nominees for the annual awards honouring the best in Canadian film.


12/19/2014

'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.


12/18/2014

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.

12/17/2014

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.
                                                                                 

12/16/2014

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.

12/15/2014

'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 than 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


 
Best Non-U.S. Release (non-competitive category)
’71
10,000 km
Entre Nós
Han Gong-ju
Hard to Be a God
The Look of Silence
The Salt of the Earth
What We Do in the Shadows
Timbuktu
The Tribe

12/14/2014

'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.


12/12/2014

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

12/11/2014

'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.


12/10/2014

All Smoke, No Fire

Serena
(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.


12/08/2014

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!

Virunga
(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:




12/07/2014

Notes from the Screener Pile: 2014.6 (Best Foreign Language Film Edition!)

Award season binge-watching takes a detour into the Best Foreign Language Film category with stops in Belgium, Brazil, and Portugal.

Two Days, One Night (Deux jours, une nuit)
(Belgium/France/Italy, 95 min.)
Written and directed by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne
Starring: Marion Cotillard, Fabrizio Rongione
Marion Cotillard in Two Days, One Night.
Courtesy of Wildbunch/ Mongrel Media.

Oscar Predictions: Round 4 - Golden Globe and SAG Edition

Ellar Coltrane (Mason), and Ethan Hawke (Mason Sr.) in Boyhood.
Photo Credit: Matt Lankes. Courtesy of IFC Films / Mongrel Media.
It’s shaping up to be quite the wild and suspenseful award season! Only a few critics’ groups have announced their awards so far with the New York Film Critics Circle and comparatively less influential National Board of Review giving out very diverse kudos in which presumed Oscar-frontrunenr Boyhood dominated one and was absent from the other. (Boston is also announcing today, as are the LA critics) The New York Film Critics Circle marks the first of the season’s shake-ups, with Marion Cotillard making a heavy upset (if a wholly deserved one) in the Best Actress race for her double-threat of performances in The Immigrant and Two Days, One Night. Cotillard has been a dark horse—a very dark horse—for her strong performance in The Immigrant. It’s one that the here blog has been rooting for and hoping for critics to champion, and her NYFCC win following her Independent Spirit nomination and today's Boston win for both films shows that critics and audiences are indeed rallying behind The Immigrant much like they did when the film struggled to secure a theatrical release earlier this year.

A Cabin in the Woods and a Little Blue Puppet

Raganrock’s Cabin
(Canada, 65 min.)
Dir. Kevin Straw, Writ. Glen Sloane
Starring: Mel Guibz, Vincent Valentino, Daniel Desmarais, Evan Gillmore, Julianne Carioto, Richard Groen, Angela Parent, Randy Mars.
Several of Ottawa’s film challenge regulars combine forces for the feature-length horror-comedy Ragnarock’s Cabin. The passion of the cast and crew is on full display in Ragnarock’s Cabin, as it always is in the works of filmmakers at events such as SPARTA, Digi 60, and the like, so it’s fun to see what local filmmakers can do when they step outside the parameters of the film challenge scene. Time limits and catch criteria may sometimes seem restrictive, but they are also great tests for the creativity and resourcefulness of filmmakers. Ragnarock’s Cabin shows some of the strains and successes familiar to shoots in which filmmakers create films on the fly with available resources as members of Ottawa’s amateur film scene take the next step in a game of Scary Movie meets Blair Witch.


12/05/2014

'If You Can Take It, You Can Make It.'

Unbroken
(USA, 137 min.)
Dir. Angelina Jolie, Writ. Joel Coen & Ethan Coen and Richard LaGravenese and William Nicholson
Starring: Jack O’Connell, Domhnall Gleeson, Finn Wittrock, Garrett Hedlund, Miyavi
“If you can take it, you can make it,” says a classmate to a young Louie Zamperini as he trains to become a runner. The philosophy of Louie’s schoolmate rings throughout every frame of Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken as the elder Louie (Jack O’Connell) takes strides as an Olympic runner and then leaps over greater hurdles during his years as a prisoner of war. Unbroken finally comes to the screen with significant anticipation and a burden of heightened expectations that are almost unfathomable to bear, but Jolie’s impeccably crafted adaptation of Louie Zamperini’s story largely meets them. If Unbroken can take it, it can make it.


Contest: Win Tickets to see 'The Imitation Game' in Ottawa, Halifax, and Winnipeg! (CONTEST CLOSED)

Awards junkies and festival fans must have The Imitation Game on their radars this holiday season. The Imitation Game, which won the People’s Choice Award at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival this year, hits theatres this month after a thunderous run on the festival circuit where critics and audiences lauded this inspiring dramatization of British mathematician Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch, in a tour-de-force performance) and his fanatical drive to crack an unbreakable Nazi war code. The Imitation Game opens in Canadian theatres beginning December 12 from Elevation Pictures, but if you live in Ottawa, Halifax, or Winnipeg and you want a chance to see The Imitation Game before it hits theatres, you are in luck! Answer the trivia below for your chance to win!


12/04/2014

Notes From the Screener Pile: 2014.5

Whittling down a top ten list won’t be easy this year! More notes from the screener pile, including two of the best films I’ve come across so far:

The Babadook
(Australia, 93 min.)
Written and directed by Jennifer Kent
Starring: Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman

12/03/2014

A Film is Still a Film

Citizenfour
(USA, 114 min.)
Dir. Laura Poitras
Feat. Edward Snowden, Glenn Greenwald.
It’s hard to find a documentary more frustrating than Citizenfour. This film has one of the most interesting subjects of any film this year—fiction and non-fiction films alike—and it rings with palpable urgency. A film can be a winner if one adds those two points together. Citizenfour, however, isn’t the slam-dunk winner it should be, since there’s a lot more to a documentary film than a hot topic and timeliness. A film, however, is exactly that: a film. A film is not a news article; a film is not a magazine feature; a film is not a book; a film is not TV journalism. The story of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden probably makes a great front-page scoop, Newsweek spread, New York Times Bestseller, or 60 Minutes segment, but as this particular film, it leaves much to be desired.

Notes from the Screener Pile: 2014.4

The award-season binge-watching is in full swing! More updates, including a hidden gem of the season that opens in Ottawa this week:

The Skeleton Twins
(USA, 93 min.)
Dir. Craig Johnson, Writ. Mark Heyman, Craig Johnson
Starring: Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader, Luke Wilson, Ty Burrell

12/02/2014

Watch the Oscar-Shortlisted Short 'Me and My Moulton'

It’s often tricky to catch all those Oscar shorts while whizzing through the lists, but the National Film Board of Canada has released the shortlisted animated short Me and My Moulton for the next 48 hours. This delightful film from Oscar-winner Torill Kove (reviewed at TIFF and OIAF) is one of the Canadian highlights for the year. The film was a runner-upfor Best Narrative Animation at the Ottawa International Animation Festival and was recently nominated for an Annie award for Best Short Film. Take a look!


'How Wild It Was to Let It Be': Jean-Marc Vallée and Laura Dern on Adapting 'Wild'

Director Jean-Marc Vallée on location while filming Wild.
Photo: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Jean-Marc Vallée walks into the room and plops his phone onto the table. A few of us film writers are gathered at the Fairmont Royal York to discuss Vallée’s latest film Wild at the Toronto International Film Festival, and the great Québécois director (Café de flore, Dallas Buyers Club) is the first to speak. Vallée puts his phone next to the recording devices we’ve all placed before him, but instead of turning on a microphone, he turns on a song.

15 Documentaries Advance in Oscar Race


Life Itself
The Academy has revealed the shortlist of documentary features to advance in the race! It's a strong list overall with no major surprises. Frontrunners Life Itself and Citizenfour (which I'm finally seeing tonight) make the list as do favourites like Finding Vivian Maier (buffering on the IFC site at this moment!), The Overnighters, and Tales of the Grim Sleeper (a TIFF highlight). The only real dubious choice to me is The Kill Team, which has a great subject but is relatively run-of-the-mill as far as filmmaking goes. Doc fans may also catch up on some of these films at home, since Jodorowsky's Dune, Virunga and Citizen Koch are available on Canadian Netflix while Finding Vivian Maier and The Internet's Own Boy are both available on home video. Some favourites among the absentees are Point and Shoot and Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me, while Actress wasn't on the original list of 130-odd eligible films.

Here's the list:

Contest: Win 'Night Moves' on DVD! (CONTEST CLOSED)

One of the year’s best indies comes to home video today. Night Moves, Kelly Reichardt’s methodical eco-thriller, is a simmering drama about the moral consequences of radical activism. I really liked this one… it starts with a slow burn and then swells with a noir-ish tension as the eco-terrorists played by  Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning, and Peter Sarsgaard  wrestle with the gravity of their actions. (Read the full review here.) Night Moves hits home video today from TVA Films and Pacific Northwest Pictures, but if you want a copy of the film on DVD, you are in luck! Answer the trivia below for your chance to win!

12/01/2014

TIFF Names Canada's Top Ten for 2014!

Mommy. Photo courtesy of TIFF.
If you thought there were some surprises in today’s New York Film Critics Circle awards, wait until you see Canada’s Top Ten! Like the double-whammy for The Immigrant from NYFCC, though, the annual list of Canada’s best features and shorts from the Toronto International Film Festival holds some pleasant surprises. This year’s feature crop had four solid locks in the line-up: Mommy, Maps to the Stars, Tu Dors Nicole and Felix and Meira, but the field was wide open after those titles. The other six films, like those four, show what a strong year it’s been for Canadian film since Canucks took Cannes by storm earlier this year with Mommy and Maps to the Stars dominating the Croisette in the Cannes Official Selections and Tu Dors Nicole earning quirky raves in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard. (Canada’s other Cannes kid Atom Egoyan sits out in the cold once again with his critically reviled The Captive, which even I didn’t bother to see.)

'You have a real weapon and you choose not to use it.'

Rosewater
(USA, 103 min.)
Written and directed by Jon Stewart
Starring: Gael García Bernal, Kim Bodnia, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Haluk Bilginer
Photo courtesy of Search Engine Films
Well, here’s something you don’t see every day. How many filmmakers get to make a dramatic work about a true event of which they are a part? Jon Stewart makes his feature directorial debut with Rosewater, which dramatizes a story that might never have existed if not for his own popular satirical news show “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.” Rosewater subject Maziar Bahari, an Iranian-Canadian journalist, finds himself the butt of a different joke when the Iranian authorities fail to see the humour in an interview segment the Newsweek reporter does for “The Daily Show” with a comedian posing as an American spy interested in the Iranian election that Bahari is covering. Something is lost in translation over the airwaves and the authorities presume that Baharo is himself a spy and an agent of the revolt spiralling out of control following the dubious election results that retain power for Iranian dictator Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. What a joke.


11/30/2014

Contest: Win a 'Wild' Prize Pack! (CONTEST CLOSED)

I don’t know about you, but I find that things are getting pretty wild now that award season is kicking into gear. It would take a monster of a backpack filled with supplies to fuel me through the season: some good music to lighten the mood, maybe some energy bars to fuel me through reviews, a headlamp to help me navigate the deep and dark bag of screeners, and an inspirational book to guide through the days to come. Luckily, though, Wild—my favourite film from this year’s Toronto International Film Festival (read the 5-star review here)—opens in theatres starting Dec. 5 and Cheryl Strayed, played by an Oscar-worthy Reese Witherspoon, has just the goodie bag to provide all the essentials. If you want to win a great Wild prize pack to fuel your holiday movie watching, you are in luck! Answer the trivia below for your chance to win some Wild prizes from Fox Searchlight Pictures, including a copy of the book Wild on which the film is based and a copy of the Wild soundtrack featuring music from Simon & Garfunkel, First Aid Kit, Bruce Springsteen, Portishead, Wings and more! (Now available for download on iTunes.)

11/29/2014

Notes from the Screener Pile: 2014.3

The award season binge-watching takes a speculative twist! (I'm gearing up for a new season of Cellar Door submissions, I guess!) This week's catch-up includes:

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
(USA, 100 min.)
Written and directed by Ana Lily Amirpour
Starring: Sheila Vand, Arash Marandi

"Girlie, tough ain't enough."

The Homesman
(USA, 120 min.)
Dir. Tommy Lee Jones, Writ. Tommy Lee Jones, Kieran Fitzgerald, Wesley A. Oliver
Starring: Hilary Swank, Tommy Lee Jones, Miranda Otto, Grace Gummer, Sonja Richter, John Lithgow, and Meryl Streep.
 Hilary Swank and Tommy Lee Jones star in The Homesman.
Courtesy of Mongrel Media. Photo credit: Dawn Jones
Cormac McCarthy writes that America is no country for old men. Men, creatures of violence and civil misconduct, are just as much the agents of American madness as they are the victims of it. America’s frontier mythology is a perverse thing that embraces the open expansiveness of the west as an endless panorama of endless possibilities. In Canada, this landscape is seen as something hostile and menacing. Perhaps that’s why Americans are more prone to violence, since their national psyche encourages them to strap on their boots and jump into the fray while Canadians are more content to shut the doors. (It’s cold out there!) One needs to be tough to survive the frontier, but as western icon turned cranky-old-man Clint Eastwood might say, “Girlie, tough ain’t enough.”


11/28/2014

EUFF Review: 'Déjà Vu'

Déjà Vu
(Romania, 75 min.)
Written and directed by Dan Chisu
Starring: Ioana Flora, Mirela Opriser
The Romanians sure love their long takes, don’t they? Virtually every review for a Romanian film on this blog remarks on the frequency of long takes in Romanian national cinema more than any other trend in any other film scene, aside from maybe the absence of Canadian films in Canadian theatres, but that’s hardly the subject for EUFF coverage. The Romanian entry at this year’s European Union Film Festival, Déjà Vu, sits comfortably within the trends and innovations in direction that largely characterize the Romanian new wave and, for better or for worse, let audiences see a national cinema come into its own distinct style of filmmaking.

Contest: Win a Set of Heat Reveal 'Hunger Games: Mockingjay' Mugs! (CONTEST CLOSED)

Okay, tributes! It’s time to rally for another fight! If you’re like me, you need your morning coffee before catching fire. (Sorry, bad pun!) Katniss must be a coffee drinker, too, since she’s stealthily left the call of the Mockingjay on coffee cups everywhere. She’s uniting the Districts with the help of Petro-Canada, branding mugs with the Mockingjay and waking up citizens of Panem with their morning coffee. If you want a chance to toast Katniss with a set of heat-reveal Hunger Games: Mockingjay mugs, you are in luck! Answer the trivia below for your chance to win!

11/27/2014

EUFF Review: 'Force Majeure'

Force Majeure (Turist)
(Sweden, 118 min.)
Written and directed by Ruben Östlund
Starring: Johannes Bah, Lisa Loven Kongsli, Clara Wettergren, Vincent Wettergren, Kristofer Hivju, Fanni Metelius
Johannes Bah Kuhnke, Lisa Loven Kongsli, Clara Wettergren and Vincent Wettergren in Force Majeure,
a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.
Ah, the family vacation. They’re the best of times and the worst of times; an unnatural disaster of escapism in which parents and children squeeze into close confines 24/7 and try to have some fun. Anything is possible if one survives one of these excursions.