Feb 19, 2011


This picture makes me happier than anything possibly could.
My favourite working auteur, the Iranian director Asghar Farhadi just won the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival with his fifth feature film Nader and Simin, a Separation. And the film won both acting awards for its male and female ensemble too.
Remember when the film was number 3 at my most anticipated list? It's gonna have to move a couple of ranks higher now.

Feb 18, 2011

Short Takes: Oliver Sherman, Biutiful

Oliver Sherman
Director: Ryan Redford
Cast: Garret Dillaunt, Donal Logue, Molly Parker

Oliver Sherman, the Canadian film starring Garret Dillahunt and Molly Parker and directed by Ryan Redford is the first film I saw this year and it is indeed a promising start. The film tells the story of a down-on-his-luck war veteran called Sherman Oliver (yes, it’s the other way around) played by Garret Dillahunt who comes back to Canada after spending a period of time in the hospital because of a head wound. Upon arrival at his friend Franklin’s – a man we later learn has saved his life – he looks lost, hurt and in desperate need of help, but as time goes by, Sherman becomes increasingly angry, jealous and threatening.

Oliver Sherman is a powerful film thanks to the three strong central performances, especially Dillahunt and Parker’s. Sherman’s uneasy, troubled and yet, irritating persona is key to the film’s progress. Redford wants to subtly but continuously ask us to re-evaluate Sherman, and Dillahunt pulls this off perfectly, both at his most sympathetic and most menacing. Parker’s performance as a distraught mother and wife, especially in the climactic scene of the film is pure gold.

Although the deliberate pace of the film gives clues to ending midway through the film, Redford’s direction – one of the stronger debuts I’ve seen – keeps the tension high. The editing work cannot go unmentioned, as its power is what allows for Dillahunt to play his “Will he? Will he not?” act right to the very last seconds of this suspenseful film.

Grade: B
Final Word: This is one of those films that won’t lose any of their value on the small screen, but if you get the chance to watch it in the theatre, don’t pass up. It’s a strong film, and fans of psychological dramas will particularly enjoy it.

Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Cast: Javier Bardem, Maricel Alvarez

Biutiful, Alejandro Inarritu’s first feature film since his departure from long-time screenwriting partner Guillermo Arriaga, tells the story of Uxbal, a man from Barcelona who manages Chinese construction workers, handles the African black market workers, communicates with the dead, and takes care of his two children whilst dealing with his sex addict wife. Because all this is not enough, in the beginning of the film, he also finds out that he’s at a very late stage of a cancer that will take his life in a matter of months.

Biutiful shows flashes of greatness intermittently throughout the film, but the piece as a whole never quite comes together perfectly. The problem with the film stems from Inarritu’s indecisive and messy script. He doesn’t seem satisfied enough with his story at any point so he keeps adding new threads to the story, without working them into the structure of the film. For every great scene in the film (like the near perfect family ice-cream moment at the table), there’s a redundant scene that doesn’t do anything but confuse the audience. The introduction of the Chinese warehouse bosses as gay lovers for instance, plays no role in the narrative. Why Innaritu chooses to branch his story out further and further is beyond me. The super-natural talk-with-the-dead plotline is more relevant to shaping the story and Bardem’s character arc, but even that doesn’t merge with the rest of the film right.

The over-written and inconsistent plot of Biutiful is really what hurts it. What does remain consistent though is Javier Bardem’s solid performance as Uxbal. He practically saves the film from going to waste by keeping himself together even when the plot seems to be going nowhere. In fact, the only reason I cared for the film was to follow Uxbal to the end. (Although I have to mention, the technical accomplishments in this film, particularly the gorgeous cinematography of Rodrigo Prieto and Gustavo Santaolalla’s score are also way superior to the final product.)

Grade: C+
Final Word: Biutiful is Inarritu’s weakest film to date, but I’m a huge fan of his work. I seemed to be the only person in the world who truly believed Babel’s best picture nomination was well-deserved. If you enjoyed his previous films, you’re probably going to be slightly disappointed with this. If you didn’t like his old stuff, then you should probably skip this one. Nevertheless, Bardem’s performance is one for the ages.

Feb 6, 2011

My Top Dozen Most Anticipated Films of 2011

12. Tintin
If Steve Spielberg's doing two movies in a year, one of them has to show up on this list. Between Tintin and War Horse, I'd pick this one because: 1- Tintin is a childhood obsession; Those are the only comic books I've read in my life. 2- The promotional material looked interesting. 3- His chapter is probably going to be better than Peter Jackson's, given Jackson's post Rings career so I'm putting my hope in this part of the series.

11. On the Road
I'm a big fan of the original novel by Jack Kerouac and Walter Salles has proven himself with road films before, but the actors worry me. None of the three leads in this film are in the calibre that the characters deserve, in my opinion. To be honest, I'm not as excited for this particular film as much as I am for On the Road getting a cinematic treatment, I just hope it turns out fine. Regardless of that, the purpose of the list is to talk about the films I'm most definitely going to watch. On the Road is one of them.

10. Winnie the Pooh

I know, I know. "How does anyone rank this film so high on a most anticipated list?" I hear you ask with your eyebrow raised. Well, first of all, films that open on my brithday weekend are always important to me. (Last year's Inception was such a treat.) More importantly, like Tintin, Winnie is something of a childhood obsession and the trailer made me oh so nostalgic. Not to mention that Craig Ferguson, one of my most favourite people will lend his voice to Owl, and his last voice work in How to Train your Dragon was funtastic.

9. Crazy, Stupid, Love
As funny and cheerful as I Love You Phillip Morris was, I'm not familiar enough with the work of this pair of directors to consider them the biggest factor for my interest in this film, but they certainly showed chops at making comedy. Crazy, Stupid, Love gives them the opportunity to work with the funniest TV actor of our times (Steve Carrel), the promising starlet of Easy A (Emma Stone), and two of the finest actors of their respective generations and my personal favourites (Julianne Moore and Ryan Gosling). Carrel and Moore cast as a couple may be quite an awkward match, but the story sounds intriguing and I especially want to see what Gosling can do with comedy after his exceptional work in Lars and the Real Girl.

8. Hugo Cabret
My feelings about the Scorsese films that I've watched range somewhere between "enjoyed", "liked", "loved" and "can't get over how amazing it was, I don't think it can be any better". His last film Shutter Island wasn't his best, but it was an enjoyable venture into genre filmmaking. Hugo Cabret's story is the type of fantasy I usually like and the cast is terrific (Moretz notwithstanding). It also brings Michael Stuhlbarg back to the screen after his incredibly underrated work in A Serious Man. I'm not sure how big the role is but it's nice to see him in a Scorsese film nonetheless.

7. Take This Waltz
My fascination with Sarah Polley will lead me to the theatre to see ANYTHING she does, let alone her second directorial feature with a pairing of Michelle Williams and Seth Rogen.
The premise sounds like something she'll do well with, and the title of the film is taken from one of Leonard Cohen's best songs (cause you know, that's usually an indicator of how good the film is!) I really don't see this one going wrong, so I'll be first in line.

6. A Dangerous Method
Honestly, everything about this film screams perfection. It was about damn time for a top-notch director to take over a project about Freud, or Jung, or better yet, Freud AND Jung. Cronenberg's recent run of films have been brilliant and he's teaming up with his two-time collaborator Viggo Mortensen here. If that's not enough, add Michael Fassbender and Keira Knightley to the equation. If this film doesn't excite you, I'm really not sure what will.

5. The Grandmasters
I'm a sucker for visually rich cinema and of today's working auteurs, no one does that better than Wong Kar Wai. In The Grandmasters, he returns to Martial Arts cinema, from which he's been away for almost 17 years now. On top of that, he's reuniting with Tony Leung and we all know how that collaboration turned out before. (In the Mood for Love is in my top 5 favourites of the last decade.) Let's hope for an early North American release.

4. The Skin that I Inhabit
Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!, All About My Mother, Talk to Her, Bad Education, Volver.
Case Closed!

3. Nader and Simin, A Separation
The Iranian film community and I seem to agree that Farhadi is getting better film by film. This Iranian auteur was largely unknown outside of his native country until his last feature, About Elly won best director at Berlinale and best picture at Tribeca. Separation will also premiere in Berlin this month. Aside from Farhadi himself, there are other factors at play that make me all the more excited for this. The film's production was stopped halfway through by the government, which is Iranian code for "this film is gonna be great." Also, some of Iran's biggest stars are in this film, including three actors from the stellar cast of his previous feature. Whether I'll get to see this film in 2011 depends on how much the TIFF programmers love me, but here's hoping.

2. Shame
Steve McQueen's second effort behind the camera would top my list had it been scheduled for release in any other year. Hunger is one of the most powerful films I've seen in my life and Michael Fassbender gives his best performance there. (That's no small compliment given how great he is on a regular basis.) Here they are reuniting and teaming up with Carey Mulligan for a modern day story set in NYC about a man who has to deal with his sister in the middle of his sexcapades. Interesting premise, amazing cast, promising director and already strong promotional material.

1. Tree of Life
If you remember my list from last year, you probably saw this one coming. Back then, I wrote that the name Terrence Malick alone guarantees a number one spot on a list of this sort for me. As if that wasn't enough, a whole other year of anticipation and a trailer that promises another epic of the scope of Malick's last features have only made me more impatient. June 10th really can't come soon enough.

Feb 3, 2011

2010 in Film: My Top Dozen Favourite Films

Honourable Mentions (in alphabetical order):
Animal Kingdom, Certified Copy, Eccentricities of a Blond Hair Girl, Exit through the Gift Shop, Four Lions, The Ghost Writer, Inception, The Kids Are All Right

12. Blue Valentine (Dir. Derek Cianfrance, U.S.)

11. Black Swan (Dir. Darren Aronofsky, U.S.)

10. The Hunter (Dir. Rafi Pitts; Iran, Germany)

9. Incendies (Denis Villeneuve, Canada)

8. Everyone Else (Dir. Maren Ade, Germany)

7. Toy Story 3 (Dir. Lee Unkrich, U.S.)

6. The Fighter (Dir. David O. Russell, U.S.)

5. White Material (Dir. Claire Denis; France, Cameroon)

4. Carlos (Dir. Olivier Assayas; France, Germany)

3. The Social Network (Dir. David Fincher, U.S.)

2. The Illusionist (Dir. Sylvain Chomet; France, UK)

1. Dogtooth (Dir. Yorgos Lanthimos, Greece)

Other entries in my year-end reviews:
Performances, Writing, Editing, Cinematography, Directing

Feb 1, 2011

2010 in Film: Performances, Screenplays, Cinematography, Editing and Directing

Best Performances of the Year
Amy Adams (The Fighter)
Juliette Binoche (Certified Copy)
Lars Eidinger and Birgit Minichmayr (Everyone Else)
Jesse Eisenberg and Andrew Garfield (The Social Network)
Ryan Gosling (Blue Valentine)
Nicole Kidman (Rabbit Hole)
Natalie Portman (Black Swan)
Emma Stone (Easy A)

Best Screenplays of the Year
Maren Ade (Everyone Else) and Derek Cianfrance, Cami Delavigne, and Joey Curtis (Blue Valentine)
Michael Arndt (Toy Story 3)
Efthymis Filippou, Yorgos Lanthimos (Dogtooth)
Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network)

Best Cinematography of the Year
Thimios Bakatakis (Dogtooth)
Roger Deakins (True Grit)
Yorick Le Saux (I Am Love)
Martin Ruhe (The American)

Best Editing of the Year
Kirk Baxter, Angus Wall (The Social Network)
Chris King, Tom Fulford (Exit Through the Gift Shop)
Lee Smith (Inception)

Best Directing of the Year
Olivier Assayas (Carlos)
David Fincher (The Social Network)
Yorgos Lanthimos (Dogtooth)
David O. Russell (The Fighter)