Gael Garcia Bernal

REVIEW: Brainstorming a Miracle in ‘No’

I suffer from a disease common to many Americans, with the exception of those who actually enjoy working for large corporations: Tyrannophobia, or the rational fear of dictatorships.  This is probably why I remember so distinctly as a kid in Italy listening to a dowager of one of the noble Roman families tell my parents how much she missed Mussolini

Michael Haneke recieving Palme D'Or 2012

REVIEW: ‘Amour,’ a Winter Sonata in Love Major

I finally got to see Amour, the Austrian film by Michael Haneke that’s actually in French and set in Paris.  It’s not for lack of trying; I simply couldn’t find a theater in L.A. showing it.  You would have thought that a film nominated for five major Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Actress and Foreign Film, would be playing at the Arclight, the best darned cinema in the world.  But no.  Fandango didn’t list it as playing near me, either.  Finally, I tweeted Sony Picture Classics in frustration and reprimanded them for not showing such a prestigious film in L.A. of all places. 

Tom Holland in The Impossible

REVIEW: In ‘The Impossible,’ Drowning in a Tsunami of Tears.

More often than not, engaging with films is a lot like speed dating for me.  I knew within the first few minutes of The Impossible what rating I was going to give it simply based on the sound design and the artful grace in the composition and juxtaposition of images.  There was going to be an intense vibe between us that was going to work out.  Conversely, I had to force myself to sit through that other deluge film, Beasts of the Southern Wild, after barely making it through the cacophonic, sloppily shot title sequence.

I’ve already ranted about why That Bathtub Movie doesn’t deserve the Oscar nominations it received, which doesn’t mean that The Impossible should have been nominated in its place.  The Impossible is, however, on a par with Life of Pi — the big common themes this award season are coincidentally slavery and man’s battle with the sea, certainly more trenchant motifs than toy makers in Paris or Parisian actors in Silent-Era Hollywood, like we had last year.

Naomi Watts in The Impossible

OSCAR NOMINATIONS: Please, Not Another Anna Paquin Moment. Thanks.

So I got some wrong and some right, but most of all it seems I hit one prediction on the nose early on: This is going to be the most interesting Oscar race in a long time, with awards being handed out scattershot across a bunch of worthy films.

Rather than begin with a milky froth of what, in my estimation, Academy members missed and misfired, let me highlight the underlying espresso coffee of what they got right:

No Best Picture for The Master.  Nor was PT Anderson nominated for Best Director.  Hooray!  As I said in my review, I found many decisions made in this film to have been fatal, namely the fact that the focus was on Joaquin Phoenix’s character, not on the Master himself as the title suggests.  Nobody has done the Scientology story before, it’s an incredible one, a delirious Citizen Kane, and this movie simply didn’t live up to expectations.  Phoenix is unlikely to win Best Actor, but Hoffman has a very good chance for Best Supporting Actor, although he will likely lose to,

Robert De Niro, who gave his finest performance in a decade in Silver Linings Playbook.  He was right at home in this superbly written role, and knocked it out of the ballpark.  His co-star Bradley Cooper also deserved to be nominated for Best Actor, even though I didn’t feel he was completely right for the role.  He is also unlikely to win against Daniel Day Lewis, but there could be an upset here; Cooper seems to be well liked.  Jennifer Lawrence, the female lead in SLP, is even more deserving of her nomination as Best Actress than Cooper is for Best Actor, but her performance pales in comparison to,

Marion Cotillard Rust and Bone

REVIEW: ‘Rust and Bone’ and the Consequences of Being an Animal

Every so often, and an all-too-rare often it is, a film strides onto the screens that isn’t a movie, a picture, a flick, or a film.  It’s cinema, and that sounds so pretentious, but other than calling it ‘filmed literature’ I’m not sure how to distinguish Jacques Audiard’s Rust and Bone from everything else out there.  Indeed, a piece of cinema like this leaves you feeling as satisfied as when you put down a novel that has gripped you from page one and kept you turning the pages until the very end, when you regret it’s over but are filled with gratitude to the storyteller for taking you on such a complete, thought-provoking and fulfilling adventure into the essence of the human experience.

It is clear after Audiard’s previous films The Beat My Heart Skipped and A Prophet that he is fascinated by the world of the voyou, as they say in French, which properly translated means ‘thug.’  But there is a certain underlying poetic meaning to the French word that the English lacks entirely: a ‘thug’ is dangerous in a purely brutal way, whereas the voyou’s danger might be life threatening, but it is also perversely seductive.

In this respect, Audiard is the Jean Genet of modern cinema: he sings hymns to the struggles and martyrdom of his criminal heroes, canonizes them with character and destiny arcs worthy of St. Francis and similar inspirations of religions.  Unlike Genet, there is not a twinge of homoeroticism in his work, which is perfectly fine because the significance of sex is willfully diminished in Audiard’s world.  In Rust and Bone in particular, a heavily underscored point is made that sex is simply a bodily function, akin to eating or urinating, or maybe fighting.  Even in A Prophet, which takes place in a prison, man-on-man sex is just business as usual, nothing to it.  In a particularly harrowing sequence, the young hero, Malik, has to kill another inmate by pretending to give him a blowjob while using a razorblade hidden in his mouth as a switchblade to slice the guy’s throat.  (Yeah, just remembering that made me want to cross my legs.)  Never having had sex with a man, much less flipped a razor blade out of his mouth only using his tongue, Malik practices on another inmate by first arousing him with frottage, which is treated as casually as if he were learning to shake someone’s hand properly.