Thursday, February 26, 2015
Saturday, February 21, 2015
A genuinely tough call this year. It's a tight race between Boyhood and Birdman, with American Sniper perhaps a not-too-distant third given its popular success. But really it will be one of the first two. I feel almost like it's a toss-up even as to whether they will split Director and Picture or sweep.
My final answer is...
Birdman. (I actually typed Boyhood first and changed my mind, that's how indecisive I am). Ultimately perhaps it comes down to the fact that Birdman is about a tortured actor who sees himself as a true artist looking for critical approval. And actors make up the largest contingent of the Academy.
Thursday, February 19, 2015
This film has not yet been released commercially in the United States.
Anti-war movies so often fail at being effectively anti-war because any depiction of fighting, violence, brutality, or death inherently glorifies it by making it sensational. One of the best anti-war movies I can recall is Danis Tanovic’s Oscar-winning No Man’s Land which featured virtually no fighting at all but was about two wounded soldiers from opposing sides in the Bosnian War stuck in the tract of land between the lines. It was about the absurdity and ineffectiveness of war and the need for human understanding in conflict. No Man’s Land was the movie I thought of most often during Tangerines, one of this year’s nominees for the award that Tanovic’s film won.
Wednesday, February 18, 2015
This is one of the strangest top ten lists I've ever made. I don't think I've ever had two documentaries on the list. And as you get into the second half of my list, it's populated by films that I am less enthusiastic about than I am in admiration of. In years past it was a struggle to not leave a movie I really enjoyed off my list. This year it was about struggling to include something worthy. 2014 left me feeling chilly. There wasn't much I really went wild for.
10. The Babadook - directed by Jennifer Kent - Certainly not one of the absolute best of the year and not even one of the greatest scary films or thrillers of all time, but supremely effective and left me chilled to the bone about the psychological horrors of parenting and losing your mind.
Swedish director Lukas Moodysson went a little dark after his light and free-wheeling feature debut Together, one of my favorite movies from 2001. He came back last year with We Are the Best, another film similar in tone and just as light on its feet. It’s amazing to see a director as comfortable dealing with high energy electrifying characters as he is with moody depression. In his latest he tells an adorable story, adapted from his wife Coco’s comic book about three young girls in Stockholm in the early eighties trying to stand out as punks. The punk movement was on its way out by then and of course girls weren’t supposed to care. But Bobo (Mira Barkhammar) and her best friend Klara (Mira Grosin) are the school’s outliers, two kids who spike their short hair and dress alternatively. And they catch hell for it from their peers.
The global fight against implementation of Sharia law and the struggle against Islamofascism is given a very different perspective in Abderrah Sissako’s striking and thoughtful Timbuktu. In 2012, militants took over the city in Mali and laid down new laws regarding dress codes for men and women, music performance, smoking, and adultery. They also make clear what some punishments might be.
The city of Timbuktu is cosmopolitan. It is made up of people from many different places and cultures, they speak several different languages. The absurdity of foreigners walking into town and trying to create a new uniform culture is certainly on Sissako’s mind. There is no shortage of absurdity in Timbuktu including the hypocrisy of those who are meant to enforce the new laws. Football is not permitted but three soldiers fiercely debate whether Barcelona or Madrid have the better team. And the kids play a gorgeous game of soccer with no ball. They rely on their imaginations and ingenuity to have a good time. It is one of the film’s most sublime moments. Then as if to call to attention to just how ridiculous it is, a donkey wanders across the pitch. This was one of the greatest sequences in a film full of them.
The Oscar-nominated documentary short program is an interesting crop of selections this year. Four of the five nominees are simply documents of a particular subject, be it place, character, or family. Only one has what could be construed as having an agenda, or attempting to call attention to an issue and even that example is a restrained portrait of the subject matter.
In White Earth, Christian Jensen goes to a small town in North Dakota where the population has swollen due to recent oil drilling. People are showing up from all over the country hoping for a better life for their families through more work. Rather than focus on the nefariousness of oil companies, or the blight on the land that the drills cause, Jensen talks to the children of oil workers about how they feel about the work, their town, and their future. It’s only twenty minutes, so it doesn’t go deep. The film presents a snapshot of a town and some of its people. The images are occasionally beautiful, scattered though they are throughout. The result is a simple document of family life, parenting, and the desire to see your children have a better life.