Oscar Gets it Right!

A well deserved win for Meryl Streep is the highlight of the show.
Meryl Streep wins Best Actress! Very, very much deserved. Streep’s third Oscar win defines this year’s Oscar race for me. Never have I rooted for an actor so strongly in a race, yet had the slightest hint of doubt at her prospects of winning. I’m glad, furthermore, that Streep had such a worthy competitors, for the tight race shows that Streep won on the merit of her performance in The Iron Lady and not for a win that would be reread as a lifetime achievement award. Offering a classy speech and unafraid to show her joy, Streep’s trip to the podium once again reminded me why she’s the best in the biz.

Lost and Found

Best Day Ever: Aiden Kesler 1994-2011
(Canada, 83 min.)
Dir. Mike Coleman, Eric Johnson.
Back in 1986, Ferris Bueller took a day off. He showed off his youthful lust for life by skipping school and convincing his friends to join him in a game of hooky. They spent the day looking at fine art, dancing in the street, and eating pancreas instead of being bogged down by teachers, books, and dirty looks. Ferris enjoyed the day, knowing that life moves pretty fast and that you should live each day in the moment because you never know what can happen next. What Ferris didn’t know, however, was that his “best day ever” could have been one of his last.


Oscars, Oscars, Oscars!

Uggie with his paw on the Golden Globe. Is the Oscar next?
Ah, the Oscars, the award show where brave and challenging films come to die. I – like many others – am a bit frustrated with the Academy this year. It’s hard to be happy when 2011 saw so many original films and so many actors at the top of their game, yet we won’t be able to see them come February 26th. I could take the easy way out and whine that a dud like Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close got into the Best Picture race when We Need to Talk About Kevin never had a fighting chance; however, I love the Oscars, so I will try to focus on the positive. (Extremely Loud is a better film than its co-nominee War Horse is, anyways.) I can be happy that Oscar surprised with the Best Director/Best Picture double whammy for Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life just when I thought its chances were toast. Even better, my two favourite films of 2011, Midnight in Paris and The Descendants, are named as the cream of the crop – at least some percentage of the Academy is still doing its job right!

The Gloves Come Off!

(Canada/USA, 92 min.)
Dir. Michael Dowse, Writ. Jay Baruchel, Evan Goldberg.
Starring: Seann William Scott, Jay Baruchel, Alison Pill, Live Schreiber, Kim Coats, Eugene Levy, Marc-André Grondin, David Paetkau.
The gloves come off! More like a bare-knuckle boxing match than a hockey movie, Goon grabs Score: A Hockey Musical by its pansy ass, pulls its sweater over its head, and punches it right in the face. An ode to hockey violence, Goon embraces the “good old hockey game” in its old-school roots. This is the game where boys become men. The “boys will be boys” chutzpah enlivens Goon with a rambunctious spirit, to be sure, but its ADD frat-house attitude might also be its downfall. 


Light & Dark

In Darkness
(Poland/Canada/Germany, 145 min.)
Dir. Agnieszka Holland, Writ. David F. Shamoon
Starring: Robert Wieckiewicz, Benno Fürmann, Agnieszka Grochowska, Herbert Knaup.

A dramatization of the Holocaust, In Darkness treads a very fine line between powerful and cliché. The film, which tells the true story of a Polish man named Leopold Socha (played by Robert Wieckiewicz, in a strong performance) who saved a dozen Jews by hiding them in the city sewers, is both surprising and familiar. Many of the characters living outside the sewer walls are stock characters and much of the dialogue seems ripped from the handbook Holocaust Films 101 by Ricky Gervais, yet In Darkness redeems much of its potency through the reality attributed to the events. If these events actually happened, they are hardly cliché.


Why Don't You Wanna Wear the Ribbon?

Pink Ribbons, Inc.
(Canada, 87 min.)
Dir. Léa Pool, Writ., Nancy Guerin and Patricia Kearns & Léa Pool.
Bob: So, what's it going to be? Are you going to wear the ribbon?
Kramer: No! Never!
Bob: But I'm wearing the ribbon. He's wearing the ribbon. We are all wearing the ribbon! So why aren't you going to wear the ribbon?
Kramer: This is America! I don't have to wear anything I don't wanna wear!
Cedric: What are we going to do with him?
Kramer: Huh?
Bob: I guess we will just have to teach him to wear the ribbon!
-Seinfeld, episode 7.9, “The Sponge.”
It’s funny when it happens to Kramer, but will you wear the ribbon after seeing Pink Ribbons, Inc.? The ribbon is trendy and inspiring. It’s a marker of charity and goodwill. Or is it? Based on the book Pink Ribbons, Inc.: Breast Cancer and the Politics of Philanthropy by Samantha King, this new documentary by filmmaker Léa Pool (Lost and Delirious) boldly debunks the pretty myths sold by the pink ribbon.


'The Woman in Black' Drinking Game

The Woman in Black
(UK/Canada/Sweden, 95 min.)
Dir. James Watkins, Writ. Jane Goldman
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Ciarán Hinds, Janet McTeer.
A masterful exercise in atmosphere and tone, The Woman in Black has all the makings of a terrific horror film. With first-rate cinematography and a nifty sound design, The Woman in Black is a superior addition to the haunted house genre than the other recent spook-pic The Innkeepers. What the film has in form, however, it lacks in content. 


Big Week for #Cdnfilm in Ottawa!

In Darkness
It's a big day for Canadian film in Ottawa this Friday. Your local movie theatre is getting three - yes three - doses of Canadian content this week. And the exciting part is... they're all supposed to be good! I've actually seen one of them already and will vouch for it: the mostly hotly anticipated of the three is probably our official Oscar submission (and nominee) Monsieur Lazhar. I saw it at TIFF and found it quite charming, especially the performances by Fellag and the actors playing the young students. I'm not quite as over the moon about it as most people are, but I think you should mission out to the Empire Theatre Orleans to see it, and then come back here and convince me why I should give it a second chance. (It moves to The Bytowne on the 24th.)


Happy Valentine's Day!

Happy Valentine's Day to all! In the spirit of the year's (second) most commercial holiday, 2011's most 'romantic' film, Take Shelter, comes to DVD/Blu-ray today. Making my Top Ten lists for both the best films of the year and the best performances for Michael Shannon's powerhouse/Oscar-robbed turn (Jessica Chastain's performance would have made the list, too, if she wasn't already there for The Help), Take Shelter is one of the few genuinely great films of last year. Although it's a true 'must have', I might be worried if your Valentine gets you this instead of a box of chocolates. And if talk comes to marriage and Melancholia, you know you're in trouble.

And speaking of Oscar snubs, this song by Ben Nichols really should have been acknowledged, but The Randy Newman Fan Club mucked it up...as always.


Streep Wins BAFTA!

Meryl Streep wins Best Actress for The Iron Lady, her first BAFTA win since 1981
Meryl Streep won the British Academy Award for Best Actress today for The Iron Lady! Oscars, her she comes. (And let me remind you why!) In other good news, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy had a good showing, winning Best British Film and Best Adapted Screenplay. The Artist was the big winner of the night, however, scooping 7 wins including Best Film, Director, and Actor for Jean Dujardin. It also won Best Screenplay, which seems like a bit of a joke, since it doesn't have any dialogue. (I think that makes a better case for why it deserves Best Director, but really? Best Screenplay over Midnight in Paris and Bridesmaids?) At least it lost Best Sound, which the silent film was actually nominated for. Don't get me wrong, I really like The Artist. I just feel like so many people saw a film that charmed them and then just... settled.

Anyhoo, full list of winners after the cut:
Hail to the Streep!


One Inept Guard

Safe House
(USA/South Africa, 115 min.)
Dir. Daniel Espinosa, Writ. David Guggenheim
Starring: Denzel Washington, Ryan Reynolds, Brendan Gleeson, Vera Farmiga, Robert Patrick, Sam Shepard.
A rookie cop, a rogue veteran, and a corrupt system. We’ve seen them all before. Safe House is like a hybrid of the Jessica Chastain/Sam Worthington thread of The Debt and that misfired Tom Tykwer thriller The International. Throw in a heavy dose of Salt and the gritty stylishness of a Tony Scott movie, and you pretty much know what to expect. Safe House plays it safe by treading convention, but while it offers nothing new, the film is never boring. Instead, Safe House is quick, action-packed entertainment.


Why Meryl Streep Deserves the Oscar

“Someone must say the unsayable!” protests Margaret Thatcher during her campaign in The Iron Lady. Thatcher’s attitude applies to this year’s campaign for Best Actress as well. As The Iron Lady, Meryl Streep gives one of her most impressive performances, turning one of the most volatile, most controversial figures of the Twentieth Century into a genuinely fallible and sympathetic character. It’s no small feat, and that’s why it’s the crowning achievement of one of the strongest Best Actress line-ups ever, with Glenn Close, Viola Davis, Rooney Mara, and Michelle Williams deservedly vying with Streep for the prize. Rather than debate the pros and cons of each performer and her respective film, though, one must make a case for Meryl Streep. In what also looks to be the most competitive and most emotionally charged race I have seen since I began following the Oscars, Streep deserves a victory.


Not Quite as Scary as W.E.

The Innkeepers
(USA, 100 min.)
Written and directed by Ti West
Starring: Sara Paxton, Pat Healy, Kelly McGillis, Alison Bartlett, Brenda Cooney.
“Boo!” say ghosts in generic old movies or comics. “Boo!” groans an audience when an original, surprising movie veers into convention. “Boo!” I cry at The Innkeepers for having me breathless one moment and rolling my eyes the next.


Take This Waltz Trailer

A trailer has finally been released for Take This Waltz, the second feature by the Canadian Institution that is Sarah Polley. I saw TTW at TIFF this fall and loved it. Can't wait to see it again.

And a fellow Tweep tipped me off to a great interactive art gallery inspired by Take this Waltz. Check it out at http://theconversationaboutlove.com/. It also gives a taste of the film's lovely soundtrack, if the trailer didn't do that already.

Some Pretty Mild Salsa

Miss Bala
(Mexico, 113 min.)
Dir. Gerardo Naranjo, Writ. Gerardo Naranjo and Mauricio Katz
Starring: Stephanie Sigman, Noe Hernanadez.
Beauty pageants and machine guns, that’s rojo caliente. Well, one would think so. Much of Miss Bala is hot and spicy, but this Mexican thriller (co-produced by actors Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal) serves a bit too much mild salsa for my palette. Tonally uneven and poorly paced, Miss Bala offers some goods, but it hardly delivers its full potential.

W.E.ak Sauce

(UK, 114 min.)
Dir. Madonna, Writ. Madonna, Alek Keshishian
Starring: Abbie Cornish, Andrea Riseborough, James D’Arcy, Oscar Isaac, James Fox, Natalie Dormer.
“Off with her head!” The latest film from writer/director Madonna is a true abomination to the legacy of British heritage films. It’s a stylish affair to be sure, and a pretty thing to look at, but W.E. is as dull and lifeless as a performance by her Madgesty herself. W.E. kind of plays like a sexed-up version of The King’s Speech, yet one might have a better time watching wallpaper for two hours than this latest directorial effort. Such a comment seems unfair, though, since Madonna is arguably a better director than she is an actress.


Saw Pam Grier!

Pam Grier in Jackie Brown
Last night I joined some friends to see Pam Grier in a special conversation for Black History Month. The event, part of TD’s ‘Then and Now’ series and presented by TD, The Canadian Film Centre, and Clément Virgo, was moderated by actor/director Sharon Lewis (Rude). ‘An Evening with Pam Grier’ was a fun night overall and it drew a good crowd. The night began with Miss Grier offering a fun anecdote of raising horses on her farm in Colorado, describing a time when Snoop Dogg and Xzibit came out to the boonies and got more than they expected. (It turns out that Miss Grier is quite charitable with her horses and she gives riding opportunities to local students.) What this all led to was a good morale for finding respect and confidence, and that treating others kindly and humanely is an essential step for making something of yourself in the world.


'Monsieur Lazhar' leads Jutra noms

Fellag in Monsieur Lazhar. Courtesy eOne films.
Canada's Oscar nominee Monsieur Lazhar gets another big push this award season. It leads Les Prix Jutras - Quebec's film awards - avec 9 nominations, including Best Pic, Best Director, and Best Actor for Fellag. I'm a bit peeved with the Frenchies today, though, because my favourite Québécois film of 2011, Café de Flore, got the shaft in the Best Picture category, despite nabbing a Best Director nom for Jean-Marc Vallée, a Best Actress nom, and some props for a slew technical awards. To add insult to injury, one film that is nominated in lieu of Café is Nuit #1, which I panned at TIFF - it wasn't the 10 minutes of real sex that offended me, it was the ensuing 70 minutes of insufferable dialogue. (I will admit that actress Catherine de Léan deserves her nomination, if not the win.) Also popping up again this season is the Oscar-nominated animated short Dimanche/Sunday by Patrick Doyon. 

Anyhoo, joining Monsieur Lazhar and Nuit #1 in competition for the top prize is Starbuck (which is also a Genie nominee for Best Film) and Le venduer, which got some notice after being named one of Canada's Top Ten by TIFF in December. (It opens in Toronto this Friday.)

The nominees are:

Meilleur film:
Coteau Rouges
Monsieur Lazhar
Nuit #1
Le vendeur