Saturday, December 24, 2011

THE ARTIST (2011)

Written & Directed by Michel Hazanavicius



Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. November 27, 2011  7:50PM


"The Artist" is a delightfully sweet and loving valentine not only to the classic silent films but to the magic of the American cinema. This film, however, is actually created by a French writer/director, Michel Hazanavicius who offers an European prospective, much like the immigrants who came to this country and helped shape the films of early Hollywood. The other highlight of this film is that it introduces the very handsome and charismatic Gallic actor, Jean Dujardin (who won the Best Actor award at this year's Cannes Film Festival for his role in this film) to American audiences.

During the very early days of cinema, long before there was sound, an actor had to possess many special qualities in order to become a major film star; an attractive, expressive face, a dazzling bright smile and, most importantly, have a unique, otherworldly charm that jumps off the screen and George Valentin (Dujardin) has it all and more.

After the premiere of his latest film, the fans couldn't get enough of him and George was more than happy to oblige them. Mugging and hamming it up onstage, the audience devours every moment, much to the annoyance of his co-star (Missi Pyle). Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo), an aspiring actress, was among the frenzied crowd outside of the film engagement and manages to get photographed right next to the movie star with the picture ending up splashed across newspapers and magazines.

One person who is not a huge fan of George is his wife, Doris (Penelope Ann Miller) as their marriage is crumbling apart and the photo hasn't helped matters. The only two that George can always count on is his loyal valet (James Cromwell) and his trusty dog (Uggie) who is also a co-star in many of his films.

Peppy auditions for a role in the latest George Valentin film and is spotted by the actor, who remembers the beauty, offering her the job on the spot. The studio head, Al Zimmer (John Goodman) is strongly opposed to the idea but since George is the star, so we know which one will prevail.

Later, Zimmer announces that the studio in going to begin making "talkies", where the audience can now hear the actors speaking on film. George finds the idea ridiculous and nothing more than a passing fad but Zimmer insists. This time, the boss wins and George decides to leave the studio to make his own movies.

Two years later in 1929, Peppy has become a top box-office draw and about to release her first talking picture while George has invested his entire life savings in to an epic silent film. Unfortunately, George's star has fallen and nobody is interested in him nor his old-fashioned movie. After the stock market crashes, George's life falls in to crisis and turns to liquor to help him try to forget. Is George doomed to fade into cinematic obscurity or will he be able to find a way back on to the silver screen?

"The Artist" is a light, breezy romp that has no desire to go any deeper than that which is perfectly fine. It recaptures a simple time in cinema, where classic stories combined with moving images first captivated audiences and well over one hundred years later, it still has that power. The film is in glorious black and white, almost completely silent (with the exception of the terrific score by Ludovic Bource) and while "The Artist" is certainly a gimmick that is old-fashioned and overly sentimental with a very familiar plot that has been done too times to count but that is exactly what makes this film so satisfying as it combines all of the classic elements that we love about cinema; romance, slapstick comedy, drama in addition to a lovely final musical dance number and rolls it all in to a truly enchanting film..

Mr. Hazanavicius has done his homework as he created a picture perfect period piece with the assistance of production designer, Laurence Bennett and costume designer, Mark Bridges who have creatively captured the fine details of the era.

Mr. Dujardin, who may be unknown to most Americans unless they caught his performances in the "OSS 117" French spy spoofs, (where he first worked with Mr. Hazanavicius) is absolute perfection as the smooth, old-school Hollywood charmer. He is currently one of the biggest film stars in France right now and with the help of this film, I hope Mr. Dujardin is ready as he's about to become a world-wide sensation. Argentine actress, Ms Bejo, who just happens to be the long-time partner of the director, is a true delight and very talented although at times she comes across as just a touch too modern.

"The Artist" is a dazzling achievement that will appeal to everyone in the entire family. It is most certainly one of my favorites of the year.

Friday, December 16, 2011

SAG AND GOLDEN GLOBE AWARD NOMINATIONS ANNOUNCED

The Screen Actors Guild and The Golden Globes have selected the nominees for their top prizes and both offer some unexpected choices.

First, SAG, in which the actors union nominate their peers, chose many of the high-profile names that have already won many critics awards but managed to throw in a couple of wild cards in two little-seen films with the nominations of Demian Bichir, who was very good in "A Better Life" playing a Mexican immigrant struggling to make a better life for his teenage son and Nick Nolte for his role as the father in the mixed martial arts flick, "Warrior". It's not very likely this will lead to Oscar nominations for the men but it may have people give their films a look.

The Golden Globes also made some surprising nominations but, as usual for that group, they are for questionable selections. While none of the nominees are not necessarily undeserving but the Globes tend to favor giving nominations to mediocre, star-driven fare such as, "The Ides of March", "The Skin I Live In" and "W.E." than to great, smaller independent films.

The 18th Annual SAG Awards will air on January 29th with Mary Tyler Moore being honored with the Life Achievement Award.

For the complete list of nominations, please go to:

SAG 2011

The 69th Annual Golden Globes will be telecast on January 15, 2012 with Ricky Gervais, surprisingly, returning as host and Morgan Freeman will receive this year's Cecil B DeMille Award.

For the complete list of nominations, check out:

GOLDEN GLOBES 2011


SCREEN ACTORS GUILD AWARD NOMINATIONS

OUTSTANDING PERFORMANCES BY AN ENSEMBLE IN A MOTION PICTURE

The Artist
Bridesmaids
The Descendants
The Help
Midnight In Paris

OUTSTANDING PERFORMANCE BY A FEMALE ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE

Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs
Viola Davis, The Help
Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady
Tilda Swinton, We Need To Talk About Kevin
Michelle Williams, My Week With Marilyn

OUTSTANDING PERFORMANCE BY A MALE ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE

Demian Bichir, A Better Life
George Clooney, The Descendants
Leonardo DiCaprio, J Edgar
Jean Dujardin, The Artist
Brad Pitt, Moneyball

OUTSTANDING PERFORMANCE BY A FEMALE ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

Bérénice Bejo, The Artist
Jessica Chastain, The Help
Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids
Janet McTeer, Albert Nobbs
Octavia Spencer, The Help

OUTSTANDING PERFORMANCE BY A MALE ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

Kenneth Branagh, My Week With Marilyn
Armie Hammer, J Edgar
Jonah Hill, Moneyball
Nick Nolte, Warrior
Christopher Plummer, Beginners

OUTSTANDING PERFORMANCE BY A STUNT ENSEMBLE IN A MOTION PICTURE

The Adjustment Bureau
Cowboys & Aliens
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
Transformers Dark of the Moon
X-Men First Class

GOLDEN GLOBE AWARD NOMINATIONS

BEST PICTURE (DRAMA)

The Descendants
The Help
Hugo
The Ides of March
Moneyball
War Horse

BEST PICTURE (COMEDY or MUSICAL)

50/50
The Artist
Bridesmaids
Midnight in Paris
My Week With Marilyn

BEST DIRECTOR

Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris
George Clooney, The Ides of March
Michel Hazanavicus, The Artist
Alexander Payne, The Descendants
Martin Scorsese, Hugo

BEST SCREENPLAY

Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris
George Clooney and Grant Henslov, The Ides of March
Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist
Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, The Descendants
Steve Zaillain and Aaron Sorkin, Moneyball

BEST ACTRESS (DRAMA)

Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs
Viola Davis, The Help
Rooney Mara, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady
Tilda Swinton, We Need To Talk About Kevin

BEST ACTRESS (COMEDY or MUSICAL)

Jodie Foster, Carnage
Charlize Theron, Young Adult
Kristen Wiig, Bridesmaids
Michelle Williams, My Week With Marilyn
Kate Winslet, Carnage

BEST ACTOR (DRAMA)

George Clooney, The Descendants
Leonardo DiCaprio, J Edgar
Michael Fassbender, Shame
Ryan Gosling, The Ides of March
Brad Pitt, Moneyball

BEST ACTOR (COMEDY or MUSICAL)

Jean Dujardin, The Artist
Brendan Gleeson, The Guard
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, 50/50
Ryan Gosling, Crazy Stupid Love
Owen Wilson, Midnight in Paris

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Bérénice Bejo, The Artist
Jessica Chastain, The Help
Janet McTeer, Albert Nobbs
Octavia Spencer, The Help
Shailene Woodley, The Descendants

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Kenneth Branagh, My Week With Marilyn
Albert Brooks, Drive
Jonah Hill, Moneyball
Viggo Mortensen, A Dangerous Method
Christopher Plummer, Beginners

BEST ANIMATED FILM

The Adventures of Tintin
Arthur Christmas
Cars 2
Puss in Boots
Rango

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

The Flowers of War
In the Land of Blood and Honey
The Kid With a Bike
A Separation
The Skin I Live In

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

Ludovic Bource, The Artist
Abel Korzeniowski, W.E.
Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Howard Shore, Hugo
John Williams, War Horse

BEST ORIGINAL SONG

"Hello Hello" Gnomeo & Juliet
"The Keeper" Machine Gun Preacher
"Lay Your Head Down" Albert Nobbs
"The Living Proof" The Help
"Masterpiece" W.E.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

THE AWARDS KEEP COMING

The awards are now coming fast and furious with Boston, Los Angeles and New York online critics groups announcing their picks for the best of this year in film. The American Film Institute has also delivered their choices for this year and while the films are good but they're awfully safe and predictable.

There are now finally some front runners starting to emerge with the films, "The Artist", "Hugo", "Moneyball" "The Descendants" "A Separation" and "The Tree of Life" (specifically for the work of cinematographer, Emmanuel Lubezki who is deservedly sweeping this category) and actors, Michael Fassbender, Albert Brooks, Christopher Plummer, Melissa McCarthy and Jessica Chastain who should get an Oscar nomination for at least one of the six films she made this year.

AFI 2011 FILMS OF THE YEAR

"BRIDESMAIDS"

"THE DESCENDANTS"

"THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO"

"THE HELP"

"HUGO"

"J. EDGAR"

"MIDNIGHT IN PARIS"

"MONEYBALL"

"THE TREE OF LIFE"

"WAR HORSE"

THE BOSTON SOCIETY OF FILM CRITICS

PICTURE: "The Artist"

DIRECTOR: Martin Scorsese, "Hugo"

ACTRESS: Michelle Williams, "My Week With Marilyn"

ACTOR: Brad Pitt, "Moneyball"

SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Melissa McCarthy, "Bridesmaids"

SUPPORTING ACTOR: Albert Brooks, "Drive"

SCREENPLAY:  Steven Zaillian & Aaron Sorkin, "Moneyball"

CINEMATOGRAPHY: Emmanuel Lubezki, "The Tree of Life"

DOCUMENTARY: "Project Nim"

FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM: "Incendies"

ANIMATED FILM: "Rango"

FILM EDITING: Christian Marclay, "The Clock"

NEW FILMMAKER: Sean Durkin, "Martha Marcy May Marlene"

ENSEMBLE CAST: "Carnage"

USE OF MUSIC IN FILM: (tie) "Drive" and "The Artist"

LOS ANGELES FILM CRITICS ASSOCIATION

PICTURE: "The Descendants"

DIRECTOR: Terence Malick, "The Tree of Life"

SCREENPLAY: Asghar Farhadi, "A Separation"

ACTRESS: Yun Jung-hee, "Poetry"

ACTOR: Michael Fassbender, "A Dangerous Method", "Jane Eyre", "Shame", and "X-Men: First Class"

SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Jessica Chastain, "The Tree of Life", "The Help", "The Debt", "Take Shelter", "Coriolanus" and "Texas Killing Fields"

SUPPORTING ACTOR: Christopher Plummer, "Beginners"

CINEMATOGRAPHY: Emmanuel Lubezki, "The Tree of Life"

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Dante Ferretti, "Hugo"

DOCUMENTARY: "Cave of Forgotten Dreams"

ANIMATION: "Rango"

FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM: "City of Life and Death"

NEW GENERATION: The creative team behind "Martha Marcy May Marlene"

INDEPENDENT/EXPERIMENTAL: "Spark of Being"

BEST MUSIC/SCORE: The Chemical Brothers, "Hanna"

THE NEW YORK FILM CRITICS ONLINE

PICTURE: "The Artist"

DIRECTOR: Michel Hazanavicius, "The Artist"

SCREENPLAY: Alexander Payne and Nat Faxon & Jim Rash, "The Descendants"

ACTRESS: Meryl Streep, "The Iron Lady"

ACTOR: Michael Shannon, "Take Shelter"

SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Melissa McCarthy, "Bridesmaids"

SUPPORTING ACTOR: Albert Brooks, "Drive"

CINEMATOGRAPHY: Emmanuel Lubezki, "The Tree of Life"

DOCUMENTARY: "Cave of Forgotten Dreams"

ANIMATED FEATURE: "The Adventures of Tintin"

FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM: "A Separation"

DEBUT DIRECTOR: Joe Cornish, "Attack the Block"

BREAKTHROUGH PERFORMER: Jessica Chastain

ENSEMBLE CAST: "Bridesmaids"

MUSIC: Ludovic Bource, "The Artist"

Saturday, December 10, 2011

SHAME (2011)

Written by Steve McQueen & Abi Morgan


Directed by Steve McQueen


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA.  December 5, 2011 7:45PM



"Shame" is the first Hollywood film to be released rated NC-17 since Ang Lee's espionage thriller, "Lust, Caution" in 2007. While I personally feel the rating is a bit of an overkill (and I want to commend Fox Searchlight for being willing to release the film with this rating) but the film certainly does display,explicitly and unflinchingly, all types of sexuality in this story about a man whose life slowly begins to unravel due to his constant, uncontrollable pursuit of sexual stimulation as a way to help fill an empty void within himself.

Michael Fassbender plays Brandon who, on the surface, appears to be your average, successful New Yorker; handsome, charming, stylish with a job in which he is well compensated but secretly he spends most of his waking moments trying to satisfy his all-consuming sexual urges. Brandon's daily routine consists of,while at work, spending hours scanning through Internet porn before sneaking off to the men's room to masturbate then later, (if he hasn't managed to find a sexual conquest on the streets) he arrives home where he spends the evening surfing more porn, and more masturbation before hiring a prostitute as a nightcap. Each of these moments are cold, mechanical and he doesn't seem to be enjoying much of it.

A disruption of his schedule occurs when Brandon's estranged sister, Sissy (Carey Mulligan) shows up at his doorstep, with no place to go, after another disastrous relationship has ended. He reluctantly agrees to let her stay for a while as she promises not to get in his way. However,  that promise is short lived as Sissy is a complete slob, and always at the apartment which is interrupting his ability to fulfill his needs. Their relationship is complicated, full of resentment, emotional abuse and some sexual tension. In many ways, Sissy is just as damaged as her brother, although not nearly as extreme, as she clings desperately to men that are wrong or unavailable for her and lacks good judgement as she beds down Brandon's boss ( James Badge Dale) the same evening after Brandon invited him to hear her sing at a nightclub.

As an attempt at some sense of normalcy, Brandon decides to ask a co-worker ( Nicole Beharie) out on a date. They have an actual connection and share a  lovely evening together but later when they try to be intimate, Brandon finds that he is incapable of having a meaningful, sexual encounter with someone he actually has any feelings for and ends up later hiring a hooker to get him off.

As Brandon's private activities are revealed to people close to him, he becomes even more frustrated which in turn leads him to act out sexually in more reckless and dangerous ways.

"Shame" is a confident and accomplished work and, surprisingly, is only the second feature film by British writer/director, Steve McQueen following "Hunger", the 2008 film about IRA member, Bobby Sands and the 1981 Irish hunger strike, which won the Camera d'Or at that year's Cannes Film Festival.  He began his career as an experimental artist and you can see that in his unconventional film making style where he enjoys extreme close-ups,  and long takes that don't cut away from the subject. He has crafted a darkly mesmerizing character study that simply presents this man's condition and offers no opinion or resolution. While the screenplay is spare and doesn't reveal much background on the siblings but we are given enough clues to see that they had a rough, difficult childhood.which left them both feeling unworthy of love with very low self-esteem.

What I am most impressed about is that "Shame" is refreshingly an adult film about an adult subject matter and sadly, these films are simply not being made anymore as Hollywood remains committed to cinematic ideas that will mostly appeal to only a sixteen-year old boys. Newsflash! - Grown folks still like to go to the movies and would like more options than transforming robots and flying men wearing capes.

This is Mr. Fassbender's fourth film appearance this year following his wide-ranging, terrific turns in "Jane Eyre", "X-Men: First Class" and David Cronenberg's recently released, "A Dangerous Method" but this is clearly his best. Fassbender also starred in "Hunger" and it's clear that he and McQueen have developed a working relationship built on complete faith and trust that allows the actor to be willing to travel wherever needed for the role. It is an amazing, committed performance in which he not only brilliantly exposes his character's internal anguish but he also bravely displays every part of his external being. This film has already won him several awards and I think Mr. Fassbender will have to make room on his mantle for a few more.

Ms Mulligan never fails to impress as the lost and needy sister. The young British actress not only convincingly plays an American but actually sings a complete rendition of  the usually inspiring anthem, "New York, New York" with her version unexpectedly slow and haunting.

I admit that I am still a little skeptical that sex addiction truly exists but nevertheless, "Shame" sheds some light to a dark secret that is finally revealed and delivers it in a powerfully honest, fascinating and non-judgemental way of how something that should be such a pleasurable experience, could possibly develop in to a crippling condition for some individuals.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

THE AWARDS SEASON HAS BEGUN

The award season has officially been kicked off with two critics groups; New York Film Critics Circle and The National Board of Review declaring their picks for the best achievements in cinema during this year and the Independent Spirit Awards selecting their nominees.

Long before any announcements were even made, there was a little bit of controversy as The NYFCC decided to jump ahead of the NBR, who traditionally are the first to present their list of winners, to November 28th to proclaim their selections. However, that change created a problem for the New York critics as they were not able to see a few possible contenders because of their new date and even decided to push it back by a day to allow them to screen David Fincher's English- language remake of "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo". The group believes that this move will help them effectively affect the Oscar race but it's nothing more than delusional thinking as there is no way to get an accurate gauge of this year's best films if they haven't seen all of them before their new deadline.

This year, there seems to be no particular film that is dominating the awards as the picks are all over the place with no real front-runners for the coveted Oscar nominations, which leaves the field very wide open.  The good news is that hopefully this will lead to generating some new attention to some wonderful but challenging films that could always use a little more help in getting more people in to the theaters such as "The Artist", "Margin Call", "Drive" and "Take Shelter".

Here is the list  from the following groups:

NEW YORK FILM CRITICS CIRCLE

Best Picture: The Artist

Best Cinematography: Emmanuel Lubezki, The Tree of Life

Best Screenplay: Steven Zaillian & Aaron Sorkin, Moneyball

Best Director: Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist

Best Foreign Language Film: A Separation

Best Actor: Brad Pitt, Moneyball & The Tree of Life

Best Actress: Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady

Best Supporting Actor: Albert Brooks, Drive

Best Supporting Actress:: Jessica Chastain, The Tree of Life, The Help, and Take Shelter

Best First Feature: Margin Call

Best Non-Fiction Film: Cave of Forgotten Dreams


THE NATIONAL BOARD OF REVIEW

Best Film: Hugo

Best Director: Martin Scorsese, Hugo

Best Actor: George Clooney, The Descendants

Best Actress: Tilda Swinton, We Need to Talk About Kevin

Best Supporting Actor: Christopher Plummer, Beginners

Best Supporting Actress: Shailene Woodley, The Descendants

Best Original Screenplay: Will Reiser, 50/50

Best Adapted Screenplay: Alexander Payne and Nat Faxon & Jim Rash, The Descendants

Best Animated Feature: Rango

Breakthrough Performance: Felicity Jones, Like Crazy

Breakthrough Performance: Rooney Mara, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Debut Director: J.C. Chandor, Margin Call

Best Ensemble: The Help

Spotlight Award: Michael Fassbender (A Dangerous Method, Jane Eyre, Shame, X-Men: First Class)

NBR Freedom of Expression: Crime After Crime

NBR Freedom of Expression: Pariah

Best Foreign Language Film: A Separation

Best Documentary: Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory

Special Achievement in Film Making: "The Harry Potter Franchise" - A Distinguished Translation from Book to Film


THE INDEPENDENT SPIRIT AWARDS

Here are the Indie Spirit nominations:

Best Feature

50/50
Beginners
Drive
Take Shelter
The Artist
The Descendants

Best Director

Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist
Mike Mills, Beginners
Jeff Nichols, Take Shelter
Alexander Payne, The Descendants
Nicolas Winding Refn, Drive

Best Screenplay

Joseph Cedar, Footnote
Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist
Tom McCarthy, Win Win
Mike Mills, Beginners
Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, Jim Rash, The Descendants

Best First Feature

Another Earth
In the Family
Margin Call
Martha Marcy May Marlene
Natural Selection Director

Best First Screenplay

Mike Cahill & Brit Marling, Another Earth
J.C. Chandor, Margin Call
Patrick deWitt, Terri
Phil Johnston, Cedar Rapids
Will Reiser, 50/50

The John Cassavetes Award – (Given to the best feature made for under $500,000)

Bellflower
Circumstance
Hello Lonesome
Pariah
The Dynamiter

Best Female Lead

Lauren Ambrose, Think of Me
Rachael Harris, Natural Selection
Adepero Oduye, Pariah
Elizabeth Olsen, Martha Marcy May Marlene
Michelle Williams, My Week with Marilyn

Best Male Lead

Demián Bichir, A Better Life
Jean Dujardin, The Artist
Ryan Gosling, Drive
Woody Harrelson, Rampart
Michael Shannon, Take Shelter

Best Supporting Female

Jessica Chastain, Take Shelter
Anjelica Huston, 50/50
Janet McTeer, Albert Nobbs
Harmony Santana, Gun Hill Road
Shailene Woodley, The Descendants

Best Supporting Male

Albert Brooks, Drive
John Hawkes, Martha Marcy May Marlene
Christopher Plummer, Beginners
John C. Reilly, Cedar Rapids
Corey Stoll, Midnight in Paris

Best Cinematography

Joel Hodge, Bellflower
Benjamin Kasulke, The Off Hours
Darius Khondji, Midnight in Paris
Guillaume Schiffman, The Artist
Jeffrey Waldron, The Dynamiter

Best Documentary

An African Election
Bill Cunningham New York
The Interrupters
The Redemption of General Butt Naked
We Were Here

Best International Film

A Separation
Melancholia
Shame
The Kid With a Bike
Tyrannosaur

The Robert Altman Award (Given to one film’s director, casting director, and its ensemble cast): Margin Call