Marilyn the Misfit

Yesterday, a friend reminded me that The Bytowne was screening The Misfits for their weekly “Must-see Cinema” series. I wanted to see the film because we watched The Asphalt Jungle last term in the Film 1000 class I’m TA-ing. I really liked Asphalt Jungle and I was intrigued so see another collaboration between Marilyn Monroe and director John Huston. Misfits might not be as strong a film as Asphalt is, but I really liked it nevertheless. Like The Asphalt Jungle, it’s ambiguous and unsettling. The film slowly builds characters and lets them meander for a while before bringing the final to a riveting final act as Marilyn joins cowboys Clark Gable, Montgomery Clift and Eli Wallach to wrangle some horses in the open desert.  The biggest treat of the film, however, was seeing Monroe on the bigscreen. The Misfits was her final feature film performance (unless you count the unfinished short Something’s Got to Give). I think it’s one of Marilyn’s better performances and it’s worth rushing out to the Bytowne when The Misfits screens again today at 4:15.


Some Good Old-fashioned Butt Kicking

(USA/Ireland, 93 min.)
Dir. Steven Soderbergh, Writ. Lem Dobbs.
Starring: Gina Carano, Ewan McGregor, Channing Tatum, Michael Fassbender, Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas, Michael Angarano.
Haywire offers some good old-fashioned butt kicking. This latest caper from Steven Soderbergh is a genuine old-school action film. It’s sleek and stylish, but also very talky. The film features a car chase, and some fast-paced action, but most of the thrill of Haywire comes through the unexpected punches that Soderbergh et al throw throughout the film. Haywire proves that a filmmaker can deliver something new by using old favourites as inspiration, rather than simply rehash esoteric gimmicks in black and white.


SAG Sunday

The cast of The Help leads the SAG noms with 4. Prizes awarded Sunday
The Screen Actors Guild awards are this Sunday! It’s always a fun guild to watch, since the actors comprise the largest wing of the Academy, so a win here hints at potential Oscar upsets (re: Crash). Although most the individual acting prizes seem pretty much wrapped up, the top prize – Best Cast – could go any way. The only one I wouldn’t bet on, though, is my #1 film of the year, Midnight in Paris… it could win here, but that seems unlikely since all the other films have nominees in other categories. If the actors vote based on acting, The Help will would win by a landslide; If they vote for Best Cast as a “Best Picture” prize, then chalk one up for the whimsy of The Artist. I won’t do a full write-up, since my thoughts haven’t changed much since the Golden Globes. I still feel crazy for predicting Meryl Streep over Viola Davis though... I'm guessing they'll award Streep and that support for Davis will help The Help win Best Cast.
For entertainment purposes, though, here’s some picks:


This counts as thesis work, right?

It's dull in our town since my playmates left!
I can't forget that I'm bereft
Of all the pleasant sights they see,
Which the Piper also promised me.
For he led us, he said, to a joyous land,
Joining the town and just at hand,
Where waters gushed and fruit-trees grew,
And flowers put forth a fairer hue,
And everything was strange and new….


In Praise of Tilda Swinton

They say a picture tells a thousand words.
But sometimes, the captions help a little.
We Need to Talk About Kevin (Lynne Ramsay, 2011)
Here's a toast to a woman who proves that no actor needs a second Oscar when she has a resume this good:


'An Evening with Pam Grier'

In Celebration of Black History Month, TD, CFC and Clement Virgo Present: 
'An Evening with Pam Grier'

Part of TD Canada's THEN & NOW Series

Pam Grier in person Feb 2, 7pm @ The Varsity
Presented by TD in celebration of Black History Month, CFC (Canadian Film Centre) and Clement Virgo are pleased to host a special evening in conversation with iconic actress Pam Grier. For more than 40 years, starting out as cinema's ‘first female action star', Grier has been a trailblazer for strong women on-screen. From her early starring roles in hit blaxploitation films Foxy Brown and Coffy, to Quentin Tarantino's Jackie Brown, and the acclaimed Showtime series “The L Word”, she has captivated and engaged audiences with her character portrayals. The evening will explore her inspirations for entering the film business, the choices she has made as an actor, and the challenges she has faced along the way. Grier will also draw on her personal experiences to discuss the impact of being a role model both on and off the screen.


Oscar Blows It

Hugo leads the nominations with 11
The wait is over, but was it worth it? The mystery of how many films would be nominated for Best Picture was answered today. There are nine. Hugo leads with 11 nominations. It's joined by Midnight in Paris, The Descendants, and front-runner The Artist, but the wacky new voting system also allowed lesser films like War Horse and Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close to squeeze in. As further proof that one can always buy one's way into the ceremony, Demian Bichir scored a surprise Best Actor nomination for A Better Life. I think every other time I logged on to Twitter I saw someone tweeting that they were heading out to a lunch for the film, or a screening, or some other variety of schmoozing. Bichir's nom means that one of the early faves was squeezed out, and that person is ... MICHAEL FASSBENDER. What?! At least Gary Oldman found his way in for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. But, wow. Snubbing Fassy for Bichir is a joke. Like War Horse for Best Picture bad. Adding insult to injury was a snub for Tilda Swinton's performance in We Need to Talk About Kevin, and Shailene Woodley got bumped from Best Supporting Actress.
My sentiments exactly
There are some goodies, though. Terrence Malick and Tree of Life were nominated when it seemed like the film had no chance in hell. It was also a good day for Canada, with Monsieur Lazhar  landing a Best Foreign Film nom, plus two nominations in the animated short category for the NFB films Dimanche and Wild Life (both of which were posted here last week)
And let us rejoice for the nominations for Woody Allen, Meryl Streep, Jessica Chastain, and Christopher Plummer!

The nominees are:

Best Picture
The Artist  - Thomas Langmann, Producer
The Descendants  - Jim Burke, Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor, Producers
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close - Scott Rudin, Producer
The Help  - Brunson Green, Chris Columbus and Michael Barnathan, Producers
Hugo  - Graham King and Martin Scorsese, Producers
Midnight in Paris  - Letty Aronson and Stephen Tenenbaum, Producers
Moneyball  - Michael De Luca, Rachael Horovitz and Brad Pitt, Producers
Tree of Life - Nominees to be determined
War Horse  - Steven Spielberg and Kathleen Kennedy, Producers


'And Then Men Die.'

Coriolanus ★★★
(UK, 122 min.)
Dir. Ralph Fiennes, Writ. John Logan
Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Vanessa Redgrave, Gerard Butler, Brian Cox, Jessica Chastain, Lubna Azabal, James Nesbitt.
I’m sad to report that Ralph Fiennes doesn’t score as highly as a director as does Angelina Jolie. Fiennes gives a commanding performance in the title role of Coriolanus, but the film itself is not quite as forceful. Based on one of Shakespeare’s lesser-known and infrequently performed plays, Coriolanus is an odd choice for Fiennes to make his directorial debut. On one level, there has never been a film adaptation of this play. Coriolanus has been subject to a few BBC teleplays, which usually come off as little more than a play performed before a camera, but the is no big screen precursor against which one can judge Fiennes’ effort. The lack of precedent works in his favour, for even though the film is not entirely successful in its execution, one always feels a sense of discovery during Coriolanus. It’s one of the few Shakespeare plays that I haven’t read and I’m grateful that Fiennes made an effort to share more Shakespeare. 


A Separation ★★★★★
(Iran, 123 min.)
Written and directed by Asghar Farhadi
Starring: Peyman Moadi, Leila Hatami, Sareh Bayat, Shahab Hosseini, Sarina Farhadi.
This review is admittedly briefer than most, but do not take it as a slight on the film. A Separation is, quite simply, one of those films that are so good that one would probably do it a disservice by describing it at length. Besides the facts that it won Best Actor, Best Actress and the Golden Bear at Berlin last year; was the runner-up for the People’s Choice Award at TIFF; and that it is Iran’s entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars, I knew nothing about the film going in. Neither should you, as A Separation contains one riveting plot twist after another.


Oscar Predictions

Jane Lynch & Fred Willard in the 2006 award season spoof For Your Consideration. What does Oscar's crystal ball forsee?
So the Oscar nominations will be announced Tuesday! Who's saying a last minute prayer for War Horse?


My sentiments exactly. A small part of me died when I picked War Horse as the tenth nominee over the likes of Tree of Life and Tinker Tailor. However, I'm hoping that the Oscar gods are watching out and that the new Academy voting guidelines works in the favour of quality films. I'll admit, I liked having 10 Best Picture nominees. I think we all knew that the race was done to the films with Best Director noms, and maybe one other, but overall the added slots gave exposure to films that genuinely benefited from it. This year, the number of nominees is a flexible range of 5-10. A film requires 5% of the #1 spots on ballots in the first round of voting in order to be nominated. After that, the group of nominees is tallied accordingly. (In short.) I'm predicting 8 nominees, which are:

The Artist
The Descendants
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
The Help
The Ides of March
Midnight in Paris

I think the choice of Ides of March is a bit sketchy... that will probably not make it if there's less than 8. 
If there are 9 or 10 nominees, then I think Bridesmaids and, gulp, War Horse come in. (In that order.)

Anyways, I've made my final set of predictions for the event, which you can see over at Gold Derby. (No need to type them out again!) I also have SAG predix up.
In the meantime, I'll cross my fingers that I'm wrong and that names like Gary Oldman, Carey Mulligan, and Corey Stoll are called out on Tuesday. 

What are you predicting?


Nominations for 32nd Annual Genie Awards!

I'll be rooting for The Whistleblower and Rachel Weisz come March 8th.
It’s a big day for movies in the Commonwealth today. Earlier this morning, the British Academy of Film and Television announced the nominees for the BAFTAs (The Artist leads with 12, followed by Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy with 11). More importantly, this morning marked the announcement of the 32nd annual Canadian Genie Awards, which were announced via an online webcast – the first ever, I believe. The new webcast is but one step in a massive overhaul in the Genies in order to make the awards more accessible to Canadians. The Academy also has some new changes in eligibility, which makes it easier for small Canadian films to get the recognition that they deserve, but also need to compete at the box office. 

It was a good year for Canadian film and the nominees reflect that. It’s a big day for Monsieur Lazhar, Canada’s submission to the Oscar’s in the Best Foreign Language Film category, which earned 9 nominations and is quickly approaching the 2 million dollar mark at the Canadian box office. (Ottawans can see it just in time for the Oscars when it opens at The ByTowne February 24th.) The film that should have been our Oscar pick, Café de Flore, leads the nominees with 13 citations, followed by David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method with 11. I’m most excited about the love for The Whistleblower, which received noms for Pic, Director, Screenplay, Actress, and Supporting Actress. I’m disappointed that Sarah Polley’s Take this Waltz didn’t get a better showing, although it seems to be a polarizing film, so at least Michelle Williams is nominated for Best Actress.

Best Film
A DANGEROUS METHOD - Martin Katz, Marco Mehlitz, Jeremy Thomas
CAFÉ DE FLORE - Pierre Even, Marie-Claude Poulin, Jean-Marc Vallée
MONSIEUR LAZHAR - Luc Déry, Kim McCraw
STARBUCK - André Rouleau
THE WHISTLEBLOWER - Christina Piovesan, Celine Rattray


In Need of a Spanking

A Dangerous Method ★★★
(Germany/Canada, 93 min.)
Dir. David Cronenberg, Writ. Christopher Hampton.
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Keira Knightley, Viggo Mortensen, Sarah Gadon, Vincent Cassel.
Add this one to the next edition of Weird Sex & Snowshoes. David Cronenberg’s much-awaited A Dangerous Method is a bit of a head-scratcher. The film hardly contains any of the explicit sex/violence that earned Cronenberg the reputation as Canada’s Baron of Blood, nor is it a mind-bender like some of the dramatic fare his mid-to-late career. A Dangerous Method is simply a bit lacking, which is a bit odd since the material seems right up Cronenberg’s alley.


Here Come the Globes!

It’s Golden Globes time again! It’s probably the most fun of the award shows in the season, since the stars can get all liquored up as they fend off zingers from host Ricky Gervais. It’s also fun to see how much stock we put in these, since they’re only voted upon by 80-odd members, who have no affiliation/overlap with The Academy. Anyways, the Globes matter because they offer face time on TV during the thick of award season, and a win looks great in an ad and often ensures great box office success and exposure for a winner. On that note, here is who I think the winners will and should be:

Shailene Woodley and George Clooney in Drama frontrunner The Descendants

Best Actor – Drama
The nominees: George Clooney, The Descendants; Leonardo DiCaprio, J. Edgar; Michael Fassbender, Shame; Ryan Gosling, The Ides of March; Brad Pitt, Moneyball.

It’s hard to argue with this list. Except for that Gary Oldman’s name does not appear on it. Who to cut then? I hate to say it, but I probably would bump Canada’s homeboy Ryan Gosling: he’s great in Ides, but better than Oldman? Hmm. Gosling’s performance in Drive is arguably his best performance of the year, too, and had he been nominated for that, he’d merit more consideration. I can’t really complain about Oldman’s absence, though, since my vote goes to Fassbender. While Fassbender should win, the odds seem against him, as three of his fellow nominees are also in Best Picture nominees. I think the race will come down to friends Clooney and Pitt, both of whom wholly deserve the award should they win. I’m going to guess Clooney nabs it, since he’s popular with the HFPA: he’s won twice before, and with four nominations this year, he’s sure to add a third to his collection.
Snubs: in addition to Oldman, Michael Shannon (Take Shelter) deserves a nom.

Hail to the Streep!

The Iron Lady ★★★½
(UK/France, 105 min.)
Dir. Phyllida Lloyd, Writ. Abi Morgan
Starring: Meryl Streep, Jim Broadbent, Olivia Colman, Alexandra Roach.
Hail to the Streep! The Iron Lady is a landslide victory for the great actress. Meryl Streep offers another terrifyingly spot-on incarnation of a real life subject. Her turn as Margaret Thatcher truly is the stunner that pundits expected it to be when it was first announced that the actress would play Britain’s controversial ex-PM. While Streep captures her subject both in terms of impersonation and mimicry, her performance, much as was the case with her Julia Child in 2009’s Julie & Julia, offers a unique subtlety in personification and temperament. Streep make Thatcher a character in her own right while still staying true and respectful to her.


Watch 'Sunday' and 'Wild Life'

The NFB has the animated short Sunday/Dimanche by Patrick Doyon up for free streaming.  Sunday is one of 2 Canadian short films that made the Oscar shortlist for Best Animated Short. I saw Sunday when it screened at the Ottawa International Animation Festival this year. (Quick review here) It's delightful.Watch it and join me in rooting for it be listed come January 24th. The free streaming is limited though, so don't delay!

 ***Update! The NFB has also added their other shortlisted short, Wild Life, directed by Amanda Forbis and Wendy Tilby, which won the Canadian Film Institute Award for Best Canadian Short at the 2011 Ottawa International Animation Festival. (You can read my thought on the film in the same article as Dimanche)

Wild Life:

Which short gets your vote?


'Artist', 'Cafe de Flore' top Vancouver Film Critics Circle Awards

Cafe de Flore
Slow and steady wins the race.

The Vancouver Film Critics Circle announced the winners of their annual awards tonight. I had to cull this list together from a few sources, as the circle lacks an official site or Twitter feed. The awards are pretty good, with Oscar frontrunner The Artist nabbing two awards including Best Picture. Vancouver is also the only critics group to hand out prizes for Canadian films as well (I think), but as befits Canadian film, only one Canadian actor actually won, which was Christopher Plummer in the American film Beginners. Well deserved nonetheless! Cafe de Flore scooped the prize for Best Canadian Film and David Cronenberg won Best Director. The list is finally complete, with those elusive kudos in the supporting categories being released by the Vancouver Sun.

Full list of winners so far:
Best Film: The Artist
Best Canadian Film: Café de Flore
Best Director: Terrence Malick, The Tree of Life
Best Director, Canadian Film: David Cronenberg, A Dangerous Method
Best Screenplay: Michael Hazanavicious, The Artist
Best Actor: Michael Fassbender, Shame
Best Actor in a Canadian Film: Peter Stormare, Small Town Murder Songs
Best Actress: Elizabeth Olsen, Martha Marcy May Marlene
Best Actress in a Canadian Film: Michelle Williams, Take this Waltz
Best Supporting Actor: Christopher Plummer, Beginners
Best Supporting Actor in a Canadian Film: Viggo Mortensen, A Dangerous Method
Best Supporting Actress: Jessica Chastain; The Help, Take Shelter, The Tree of Life
Best Supporting Actress in a Canadian Film: Hélène Florent, Café de Flore
Best Documentary: Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Werner Herzog
Best Foreign Language Film: A Separation, Iran
Best British Columbia Film: People of a Feather


Puts Hollywood to Shame

Elite Squad: The Enemy Within ★★★½
(Brazil, 115 min.)
Dir. José Padhila, Writ: José Padhila, Bráulio Mantovani and Rodrigo Pimentel (story)
Starring: Wagner Moura, Irandhir Santos, André Ramiro, Sandro Rocha.
Quite possibly the biggest film sensation to come from Brazil yet, Elite Squad: The Enemy Within finds its way to Canada after racking up a slew of awards and become the highest-grossing film of all time in its native country. It’s no wonder that audiences and critics alike have responded to this sequel so strongly. One need not have seen the first Elite Squad to appreciate this energetic, thoroughly entertaining film, which offers a potent condemnation of the systemic injustices that have long run rampant in Brazil. Elite Squad: The Enemy Within, Brazil’s worthy submission to the Foreign Language Film category at this year’s Oscars, is unquestionably a high-octane action-thriller, but it’s undoubtedly much more, too.


Payback trailer

Yesterday it was announced that Sarah Polley is adapting Margaret Atwood's novel Alias Grace (yay!), but if you can't wait two years to see the Queen of CanLit hit the big screen, you're in luck. The NFB produced doc, Payback, directed by Jennifer Baichwal (Manufactured Landscapes), is based on Atwood's best-selling book Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth. Like the book, Payback examines the role of indebtedness and how it structures our daily lives. It's playing soon at Sundance and should be out later this year. Here is the trailer:

What a Tragedy

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close ★★½
(USA, 129 min.)
Dir. Stephen Daldry, Writ. Eric Roth
Starring: Thomas Horn, Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, Max von Sydow, Zoe Caldwell, Viola Davis, Jeffrey Wright, John Goodman.
I honestly do not know what to make of Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. It has moments that are so powerful that the film approaches greatness, yet many other scenes are so patently manipulative and overblown that it veers into War Horse-grade sap. This is a frustrating and thought-provoking film, but not necessarily in the good way.


A Bombastic Bitch-fest

Carnage ★★★
(France/Germany/Poland/Spain, 79 min.)
Dir. Roman Polanski, Writ. Yasmina Reza, Roman Polanski
Starring: Jodie Foster, John C. Reilly, Christoph Waltz, Kate Winslet.
What is the loudest film of 2011? Transformers 3? Super 8? Captain America? Nope. None of these explosion-filled blockbusters is as raucous as the small-scale ensemble drama Carnage. A bombastic bitch-fest, Carnage imagines the four most detestable human beings known to man, puts them in a room with a bottle of scotch, and lets the venom spew. It’s cringe-inducing fun.


I Spy...

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy ★★★½
(UK/France/Germany, 127 min.)
Dir. Tomas Alfredson, Writ. Bridget O’Connor, Peter Straughn
Starring: Gary Oldman, John Hurt, Colin Firth, Ciarán Hinds, Toby Jones, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hardy, Mark Strong.
Tinker, Tailor,
Soldier, Sailor,
Rich Man, Poor Man,
Beggar Man, Thief.

Tag, you’re it! The children’s counting game provides a great motivator for this masterful adaptation of John le Carré’s cat-and-mouse spy thriller Tinker Tailor Solider Spy. Tinker Tailor is arguably one of the best spy novels ever written, and this stunning reworking by director Tomas Alfredson and screenwriters Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughn wholly delivers. 


2011 in Review: The Worst Films of the Year

Happy New Year! By popular demand, I am adding another list to the “2011 in Review” series – the worst films of 2011. It’s often said that it is more fun to write a negative review than a positive one. I agree to some extent: one can be wittier or funnier; likewise, the task of trashing a movie affords more opportunity to let loose. Or does it? Perhaps, but it doesn’t feel as good to pan a movie as it does to rave one. For example, I admittedly enjoyed sticking it War Horse for being so repulsively sappy; on the other hand, I really didn’t enjoy knocking films like The Skin I Live In. It’s true that without bad reviews, endless ‘thumbs up’ seem meaningless, but I would rather take the time to encourage someone to see a good movie than to deter them from seeing a stinker. (People generally don’t read negative reviews, anyways.) However, I do feel compelled to wave a flag when an especially foul film comes along. On that note, here are the ten films that stunk up 2011.