'Joy' Finds a Silver Lining

(USA, 124 min.)
Dir. David O. Russell, Writ. David O. Russell. Annie Mumolo
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Bradley Cooper, Isabella Rossellini, Virginia Madsen, Diane Ladd, Edgar Ramirez, Elisabeth Rohm
Jennifer Lawrence stars in Joy.
20th Century Fox

Joy reminds me of another movie. Not a David O. Russell movie, though. (At times, it seems like a parody of one.) Rather, Joy calls to mind an oft-maligned movie of 2005 that’s actually a lot better than people say. That film is Cameron Crowe’s Elizabethtown. Elizabethtown, like Joy, is a film that one shouldn’t necessarily begrudge another moviegoer for disliking: it’s rocky, wildly uneven, and the first thirty minutes are terrible enough to inspire a walkout. But if one survives Elizabethtown’s atrocious opening number, one finds that the film’s actually decently watchable. Ditto Joy, which grates on the nerves with a get-me-the-hell-outta-here first act, but then settles down for a watch that’s pleasant and rewarding enough to merit a recommendation tied with a warning.


2015 in Review: The Best Films of the Year

Youth, Carol, Sicario, and Phoenix are 2015's best films.
2015, like many of its best films, ends a year that had a habit of sneaking up on you. Most of its strongest players aren’t the biggest and loudest films that announced themselves with thunder, but rather the smaller films that emphasize the most basic elements of cinema—great characters, story, cinematography—to offer something that feels both old and new. The year admittedly marks one of the better years for studio films outside of the mindless franchise crap with films like The Martin proving to be a highlight in big screen entertainment. Mad Max: Fury Road offers a rarity in which both a franchise film and a two-hour action sequence can make for wild escapism, too, which makes it one of the year’s most legitimate surprises and proves that there’s still merit to full-throttle entertainment if it escape the formula of ‘rinse and repeat.’ Even then, Mad Max follows the old/new dynamic of 2015 by reviving an old franchise and giving a contemporary female lead with Furiosa. Finally, Ricki and the Flash, Steve Jobs, and Bridge of Spies prove that the major studios can still deliver quality dramas. Overall, 2015 has a lot to admire.


2015 in Review: The Best Performances of the Year

Clockwise: Alicia Vikander, Michael Caine, Nina Hoss, and Jane Fonda give 2015's best performances.
Year in Review picks continue with the best performances of 2015. This year offer a wealth of great performances as many actors are at the top of their game with full and surprising turns. Without wanting to ramble on Christmas Eve, let's allows the performances to speak for themselves. Here are the twenty actors who stand tallest in the best supporting performances and best lead performances of 2015.


2015 in Review: The Best Canadian Films of the Year

Clockwise: The Forbidden Room, In Her Place, Al Purdy Was Here, and The Witch are Canada's best for 2015.
2015 ends both a good year and a dispiriting year for Canadian film. It’s a good year if one simply assesses the films in terms of quality. There might not be a runaway juggernaut like Mommy or Stories We Tell, but the overall calibre of films seems to be consistently better than it’s been before. Moreover, 2015 marks a respectable year for new voices entering the fray with films like Albert Shin’s In Her Place and Andrew Cividino’s Sleeping Giant, among others, marking notable turns for emerging filmmakers. The next generation of Canadian filmmakers sits in good company with contemporary masters, as 2015 sees some of this country’s best filmmakers at the top of their games with Guy Maddin making both The Forbidden Room and Bring Me the Head of Tim Horton and with Alan Zweig hitting a homer with HURT. There’s little reason to complain when it comes to the Canadian films one was able to see in 2015.

Blu-ray Review: 'Sleeping with Other People'

Sleeping with Other People
(USA, 101 min.)
Written and directed by Leslye Headland
Starring: Jason Sudeikis, Alison Brie, Adam Scott, Amanda Peet
Photo courtesy VVS Films.
Boy meets girl, they sleep together, they part, and then fate has them come together. It’s a familiar story that returns again and again because, well, it works. Sleeping with Other People does the unrequited mojo thing with a contemporary openness and a progressive attitude for polyamorous relationships as fellow studs/”love addicts” Jake (Jason Sudeikis) and Lainey (Alison Brie) cross paths years after they first hooked up in college and never danced between the sheets again. Add a sprinkle of darkness and characters who are fallibly real, and Sleeping with Other People manages to be a romantic comedy for people who don’t usually like romantic comedies, but without being cynical about love too.


Book a Stay at Minnie's Haberdashery this Christmas!

The Hateful Eight
(USA, 167 min. wide release / 187 min. roadshow)
Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino
Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Tim Roth, Zoe Bell, Michael Madsen, Bruce Dern
Samuel L. Jackson stars in The Hateful Eight, an Entertainment One release.
Photo: Andrew Cooper, SMPSP

Seven is lucky number. Sometimes it’s even magnificent. Add one more digit to the pot, however, and one has a whole other kettle of fish.


Turkey Time

There Where Atilla Passes… (Là où Atilla passe…)
(Canada, 90 min.)
Written and directed by Onur Karaman
Starring: Émile Schneider, Roy Dupuis, Julie Deslauriers, Cansel Elçin, Gilles Pelletier, Dilan Gwyn, Belit Ozukan, Jean Fayolle
It’s funny to look at two of the Roy Dupuis films reviewed this year and see how much they encompass the world of Canadian films. In There Where Atilla Passes… Dupuis stars as Michel, the Québécois father of a Turkish boy named Atilla (Émile Schneider) who feels a pull away from his father when the directionlessness of his path makes him reconsider his idea of home. Dupuis plays father to a son in a similar predicament in this summer’s The Sound of Trees (Le bruit des arbres) in which his logger papa sees his son Jérémie (Atoine L’ Écuyer) feel a pull away from the regional homeland and toward the big city of Montreal. The difference, though, is that Atilla carries a fascination with his native Turkey, while Jérémie feels restless on the farm, yet both films feature father/son dynamics in which the idea home no longer holds sway for the young generation. Be it Montreal or Turkey, these two Roy Dupuis films show Canada as a site of generational divides.

'The Fencer' Wins EUFF Audience Award

The audience says en gaurd! The Canadian Film Institute (CFI) announces that the winner of the inaugural audience award for Ottawa’s 30th annual European Union Film Festival is The Fencer. The Fencer tops a popular and successful edition of EUFF as the CFI’s fest. The win for The Fencer, Estonian’s selection for the festival, caps off a great year for the fest, which enjoyed strong attendance in its first year at The ByTowne.


2015 in Review: The Worst Films of the Year

Clockwise: Jupiter Ascending, of the North, Motrdecai, and In Jackson Heights are some of 2015's worst films.
2015 isn’t the worst year for movies we’ve seen in a while. It’s not the best and not the worst, but maybe the weirdest. Many of the bigger films this year are hardly worth seeing anymore, so indifference to the studio stuff somewhat saves the year for me, but it’s a weird year since 2015 has so many duds even if one sticks to the indies. There’s a hearty mix of crap this year thanks to the joint efforts of the heavy-hitters, the indies, the doc scene, and the cheap Canadian movie crowd. Nothing is immune to turkeydom.


'Sleeping Giant' Leads Vancouver Film Critics Circle Nominations

Sleeping Giant
The Vancouver Film Critics Circle has chimed into the awards race. Sleeping Giant led yesterday’s announcement with six nominations among the awards for Canadian film, while The Revenant led the international noms with three. Brie Larson landed nominations for Best Actress and Best Actress in a Canadian film for Room, although Saorise Ronan only got an international gong. Also interesting was the supporting nomination for Patrick Huard in My Internship in Canada: he’s in virtually the whole film. Since when did Canadian films play the category fraud thing?

Winners of the international awards will be announced Dec. 21 and winners of the Canadian awards will be announced Jan. 6, 2016.

The nominees:
(See sidebar for links to reviews)

Notes from the Screener Pile: 2015.7

The last few days of pre-voting catch-up (see the full list of OFCS award winners here) includes a few rentals from the iTunes and one major disappointment.

Inside Out
(USA, 95 min.)
Dir. Pete Docter, Ronnie Del Carmen (co-director), Writ. Pete Docter, Ronnie Del Carmen, Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley
Starring: Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Richard Kind, Bill Hader


Toronto Film Critics Association Announces Nominees for Best Canadian Film

The Forbidden Room. Photo courtesy of Mongrel Media.
The Toronto Film Critics Association announced the three nominees for its annual Rogers Best Canadian Film Award. The nominees are Guy Maddin and Evan Johnson’s The Forbidden Room, Philippe Falardeau’s My Internship in Canada, and Andrew Cividino’s Sleeping Giant, which was also a runner-up for Best First Feature. The three films recently made the list for Canada’s Top Ten as well. All three are strong choices and among the most well-regarded Canuck films of the year. The Forbidden Room and Internship opened theatrically in October, while Sleeping Giant has a rare qualifying run in Toronto this week, playing at the Carlton at the lunch hour. (The run now makes it eligible for the Canadian Screen Awards without forcing it to move away from its April release.) The winner for the TFCA award will be announced in January where the director will receive a cash prize of $100 000.


'Mad Max: Fury Road' Tops Online Film Critics Society Awards

Mad Max: Fury Road
The votes are in! The Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) name Mad Max: Fury Road the top film of 2015. The action epic scores four awards while the drama Carol wins three awards including Best Actress for Cate Blanchett. The winners list also includes the voters' picks for the best non-USA releases of 2015 to reflect the international scope of the membership.

The full list of winners:

Notes from the Screener Pile: 2015.6

James White
(USA, 84 min.)
Written and directed by Josh Mond
Starring: Christopher Abbott, Cynthia Nixon
The spirit of the angry young man endures in James White! This gut-punch of a drama is independent filmmaking stripped and raw as writer/director Josh Mond makes an auspicious directorial debut after producing strong films like Martha Marcy May Marlene. James White firmly relies on two exceptional performances and a compelling script that engages the viewer from beginning to end. It’s a quietly powerful film.


'Life's But a Walking Shadow'

(UK/France/USA, 113 min.)
Dir. Justin Kurzel, Writ. Jacob Koskoff, Michael Lesslie, Todd Louiso
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Paddy Considine, David Thewlis, Elizabeth Debicki
Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard star in Macbeth.
eOne Films.

“Life’s but a walking shadow,” laments Macbeth in the famous soliloquy from Shakespeare’s drama. People generally quote the “sound and fury” part of this same speech, but the significance of this line of the verse feels especially relevant to Justin Kurzel’s inspired adaptation of Macbeth. This dark and nightmarish take on the Shakespearean drama is like a foreboding reverie or a fever dream told in the elliptical rhythm of iambic pentameter. Macbeth plays like a walking shadow under Kurzel’s direction: it resembles a somnambulant death march, a sleepwalk over fire, and a dream from which one cannot escape.


Contest! Win Tickets to See 'The Hateful Eight' in 70mm in Toronto and Vancouver! (Contest Closed)

Quentin Tarantino is back in the saddle after Django Unchained with the doubled-barrelled western The Hateful Eight! The Hateful Eight comes to theatres this Christmas in a badass roadshow from eOne Films that presents the film in epic 70mm with an overture and an intermission, just like they had in the days of the spaghetti western. The Hateful Eight opens in roadshow formats on Dec. 25 in Toronto and Vancouver from eOne Films, but lucky readers in those cities may win tickets to a special 70mm sneak peek! Answer the trivia below for your chance to win tickets!

TIFF's Canada's Top Ten is 'Eh'-Ok

Roy Dupuis in The Forbidden Room.
Photo courtesy of TIFF.
Yesterday’s announcement spotlights ten diverse films that are overall worthy to represent the year in Canadian film. Among the selections are Guy Maddin and Evan Johnson’s wild, weird, and wacky kino-odyssey, The Forbidden Room, Philippe Falardeau’s My Internship in Canada, and Stephen Dunn’s Closet Monster, which won the prize for Best Canadian Feature at TIFF this year. The list offers three docs, too, with Mina Shum’s Ninth Floor, Alan Zweig’s HURT, and Patrick Reed and Michelle Shephard’s Guantanamo’s Child: Omar Khadr making the cut. (Read a report on the documentary selections over at POV.)

Rachel McAdams, Jacob Tremblay Land SAG Noms

Canada's Rachel McAdam landed a SAG nomination for Spotlight
Spotlight MVP Rachel McAdams was the film's lone nominee in this morning's nominations for the annual Screen Actors Guild Awards. Spotlight earned a nomination for Best Ensemble Cast, which it is heavily favoured to win, but none of its many worthy male actors like Michael Keaton or Mark Ruffalo made the cut. Still, it's nice to see McAdams' strong work recognized. She was one of two Canadian actors nominated this morning in the film categories, for Room's Jacob Tremblay edged out the Spotlight guys for his heartbreaking performance in the Canadian-Irish co-production Room.


Golden Globe Predictions and Oscar Update

The Martian: Everyone's favourite 'comedy'.
Aidan Monaghan, FOX
Is it Golden Globes time already? It’s so hard to keep up the pace with award season. This year seems to be an open race so far since, as Variety notes, none of the top critics’ groups (ie: the National Board of Review, New York, and LA) have any overlap in the main categories. But with only three to five critics’ groups chiming in so far, there’s no point in sounding the alarm just yet.


EUFF Review: 'Son of Saul'

Son of Saul (Saul fia)
(Hungary, 107 min.)
Dir. Làszló Nemes, Writ. Làszló Nemes, Clara Royer
Starring:  Géza Röhrig, Levent Molnár, Urs Rechn, Jerzy Walczak
Géza Röhrig as Saul.
Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics/Mongrel Media

Stories about the Holocaust yield some of the most difficult and disturbing stories put on film. Schindler’s List, Night and Fog, Sophie’s Choice, and others involve audiences in stories about one of the darkest chapters in contemporary history, but no film puts a viewer so squarely in the fold of history as powerfully as Son of Saul does. This Cannes champ (it won the Grand Prix) and Hungarian submission for Best Foreign Language Film for this year’s Oscars offers a harrowing and fully immersive descent into Auschwitz unlike any film before. Son of Saul thrusts the viewer into the belly of the Holocaust and it’s like wading through the bowels of hell. This film is one intense, draining, and powerful experience.

'of the North' Is Armchair Colonialism

of the North
(Canada, 74 min.)
Dir. Dominic Gagnon
The ghost of Nanook of the North haunts Dominic Gagnon’s archival doc of the North. From the words of its title to the reckless representation of the Inuit, of the North shows that documentary still has a lot to learn since the days of Nanook when it comes to representation diverse cultures fairly and objectively. Gagnon culls together a portrait of life in the Canadian north with a series of YouTube videos featuring the Inuit in various states of recklessness and drunken disorder. One would be generous to say the film has five favourable shots of the folks from the north. It’s a dangerous and appallingly racist film, and a good example that ethnographic filmmaking, even something that aspires to be ethnographic filmmaking 2.0, is a practice that filmmakers must approach with the utmost sensitivity if they even feel compelled to tackle the outdated practice at all.

'Carol', 'Sicario' Lead OFCS Nominations

Benicio Del Toro stars in Sicario
Richard Foreman / eOne Films

Carol and Sicario leads the nominations for the 19th annual Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) Awards. The OFCS is the largest and longest running organization devoted to supporting film criticism on the web and features an international membership. OFCS voters tap Carol and Sicario (by Québécois director Denis Villeneuve!) with six nominations apiece including Best Picture and Best Director. The nominations also include Best Picture shout outs for Canuck co-pros Brooklyn and Room. Winners will be announced on Monday, Dec. 14!


'Carol' Is Like Falling in Love

(USA, 118 min.)
Dir. Todd Haynes, Writ. Phyllis Nagy
Starring: Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Kyle Chandler, Sarah Paulson
Courtesy of eOne Films.
It starts with a glance. One of those looks that transform a person with a wonderful chill, like a jolt of electricity or a shock of life that wakes one up after a long winter’s nap. Then a conversation follows, the small talk that is awkwardly and terrifyingly wonderful. Fleeting gazes, secret looks, and moments of longing build with a swell of passion that one can hardly contain. Carol is like falling in love. The film is love at first sight, and it grows and grows on a viewer with its beauty that swoons and spins one head over heels in love. There’s a reticence to its languid longing, though, and the reserve of Todd Hayne’s masterful feat with Carol is that it evokes the kind of feeling of being in love, but of being terribly afraid that the other person doesn’t love you back.


Notes from the Screener Pile: 2015.5

Special British film episode!

(UK, 106 min.)
Dir. Sarah Gavron, Writ. Abi Morgan
Starring: Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne-Marie Duff, Nathalie Press, Ben Whishaw, and Meryl Streep
Carey Mulligan scores another point for feminism on film with Suffragette. The film offers a hearty follow-up punch to Mulligan’s spectacular performance as a Bathsheba Everdene with contemporary sensibilities in Far from the Madding Crowd, and Suffragette affords another strong role while paying tribute to women who turned the tide for women’s rights in England. The film tells the story of a specific group of women involved in the suffragette movement, particularly those taking up the cause under the guidance of Emmeline Pankhurst (played by Meryl Streep), whose radical advice of “deeds, not words” throws the suffragettes into a fight. Maud (Mulligan) finds herself at the front lines of the battle when a co-worker at her laundry mill (Anne-Marie Duff) inspires her to stand up for her rights. Through Maud’s reluctant awakening to the movement demanding votes for women, Suffragette shows the power that one individual has to change the world.


Notes from the Screener Pile: 2015.4

Part 4 of “Notes from the Screener Pile,” as offers drugs, thugs, and more drugs!

I Smile Back
(USA, 85 min.)
Dir. Adam Salky, Writ. Amy Koppelman, Paige Dylan
Starring: Sarah Silverman, Josh Charles, Thomas Sadoski, Mia Barron
Photo courtesy of TIFF.

When it comes to acting, there are few pleasures as great as seeing an actor do something completely unexpected. I tip my hat to Sarah Silverman for playing against type as a self-destructive woman who self-medicates her mental illness with a dangerous prescription of booze, drugs, and sex. Silverman lays herself bare in I Smile Back and it’s a humane, vulnerable, and utterly disarming performance. Silverman long ago established herself a fine comedian, but with I Smile Back she proves herself a bold actor.


Ottawa's Mirror Mountain Film Fest Launches this Weekend

Lost Conquest screens Mirror Mountain Film Fest Dec. 4
Ottawa’s ever-growing film festival scene gets a newbie this weekend when Mirror Mountain Film Festival launches tomorrow. MMFF offers an eclectic line-up of alternative fare and indie films. The line-up mostly offers a mix of shorts and mid-length features and it includes a healthy representation for local filmmakers amidst some international peers. MMFF brings a mix of local premieres in addition to encore screenings of some of the more popular shorts that audiences might have missed at local festivals. (For example, CDFF’s opening night short A Good Deal screens opening night at MMFF and rewards with repeat viewings!) The festival also offers panels and parties in addition to pics with chats on professional development and the like turning the camera to the industry side of the film scene in between screenings that highlight the art. As the nun sings, “Climb every mountain!”


EUFF Review: 'Closer to the Moon'

Closer to the Moon
(Romanian/USA/Poland/Italy/France, 112 min.)
Written and directed by Nae Caranfil
Starring: Vera Farmiga, Mark Strong, Harry Lloyd, Joe Armstrong, Christian McKay, Tim Plester, Allan Courduner
The words “commercial Romanian film” might sound like an oxymoron, but Closer to the Moon displays a remarkable development for the Romanian film scene. This stylish caper dramatizes the bizarre-yet-true story of a bank heist in 1959 Communist Romania, and it shows a whole different side of the potential for Romanian cinema that’s been burgeoning since the New Wave broke out internationally with 2007’s 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days. Closer to the Moon harnesses the possibilities of international co-production and re-invents this slice of Romanian history with the slick entertainment value of a Hollywood heist movie, but it has the style and substance of an international art film. It’s a fun, entertaining revelation.

Blu-ray Review: 'The Transporter: Refueled'

The Transporter: Refueled
(France/Belgium, 96 min.)
Dir. Camille Delamarre, Writ. Bill Cooper, Adam Collage, Luc Besson
Starring: Ed Skrein, Ray Stevenson, Loan Chabanol, Gabriella Wright, Tatiana Pajkovic
Ed Skrein stars in The Transporter: Refueled.
VVS Films.

Ed Skrein is to Jason Statham what margarine is to butter. The Transporter franchise gets a reboot (or a “refuel,” in this case) and it lathers a substitute in place of the rich ingredient that makes the original Luc Besson movies so entertaining. Skrein, while perfectly serviceable, doesn’t bring quite the same charm, humour, and ruggedness to the role that Statham does. The Transporter: Refueled is still more palatable than dry toast even if it has the margarine man at the helm in place of Jason Statham, but the Transporter goes meterosexual as he escorts girls at high speeds and fights with a shopping bag and an iPhone instead of high-calibre guns.

Contest! Win 'Mississippi Grind' on Blu-ray!

Are you feeling lucky, readers? Double down with Canada’s Ryan Reynolds (Self/less) as he gives an impressive dramatic turn in Mississippi Grind, the new drama from Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck. Mississippi Grind is now available on Blu-ray, DVD, and digital platforms from VVS Films, and lucky readers in Canada have a chance to win a copy of Mississippi Grind on Blu-ray.  Answer the trivia below for a chance to win!

Notes from the Screener Pile: 2015.3

Awards season keeps on truckin'! (Pardon the neglect, Canadian films!)

(USA, 98 min.)
Written and directed by Michael Almereyda
Starring: Peter Sarsgaard, Winona Ryder
Winona Ryder and Peter Sarsgaard in Experimenter.
Magnolia Pictures
Anyone with an introductory psych class under his or her belt will be familiar with the experiments of Stanley Milgram. Milgram’s most famous experiment with authority and power, as PSYC 100 students know, involves patients administering shocks on a participant during routine questioning. The shocks amplify and the shocker almost always presses the button at the command of the test leader, despite believing that the person on the receiving end of the shock is in considerable pain. Peter Sarsgaard plays the shrewd doctor as Experimenter turns up the button on Milgram’s experiment and meditates upon the nature of human evil as this study from the past sees countless participants inflict pain because someone tells them to do it.