Posts Tagged ‘best films’

Apollo’s Girl

February 8, 2015

apollo and lyre
NYFF52: Red Carpet Crystal Ball–
A Little Cloudy…

film societyJanuary 11 was the deadline for my annual whine about who—first seen at the New York Film Festivalgets which Oscar. It’s getting to be a tradition in these pages; a long, hard look back at NYFF after the mind has cleared and the dust has settled and before the statuettes have actually changed hands. But watching the shattering events in France, and the lions linking arms with the lambs (if charlie1not actually lying down with them) as they marched over a million strong through Paris, it was hard to leave television’s realities (at home and abroad) to concentrate on what was showing on the big screen. And to contemplate the crystal ball. So I waited a while.charlie2

It was especially difficult this year becausewith the full deployment of the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Centerthere was non-stop action every single day at NYFF for a month. But now that most of the films are finally out and about let the choices begin!

Despite the virtues of the Festival’s three big ones with pride of place (Gone Girl; Inherent Vice; and Birdman), it wasn’t until almost the end of the press screening weeks that Foxcatcher was unveiled. And what an unveiling it was! Unlike even the best films, foxcatcher2Foxcatcher didn’t unspoolit unfolded, like a latter-day Greek tragedy, defined by ever-escalating tension built into the unfolding and the performances Bennett Miller drew from Steve Carrell, Mark Ruffalo, and Channing Tatum. Theirs was a perfect trifecta, always in balance, winning a Gotham Award for ensemble performance. In fact, I’d walked out on two of Carrell’s previous films (they were, honestly, just too dumb to sit through and, of course, wildly successful). Not on this one, though. Attention must be paid to that kind of revelation.

With his role as the psychopathic scion of an old and very wealthy foxcatcher1family and a by-now infamous prosthetic nose, Carrell deserves to take home the statuette, no matter how intense the competition. But there’s more: the cinematography by Greig Fraser and the editing by another trifecta (Jay Cassidy, Stuart Levy, Conor O’Neill) fill in the colors and connect the dots. Will it win? Well, I complained a lot about Social Network losing to The King’s Speech (https://apollosgirl.wordpress.com/2011/02/27/apollos-girl-3/and suspect that the buzz around Boyhood and Birdman may outweigh anything I can plead on Foxcatcher’s behalf; it isn’t even foxcatcher3nominated for Best Film. But just to sum up: I saw it a second time right after the NYFF press screening; every seat was filled, and the audience barely breathed for two hours and nine minutes. No one took a break or texted, either. These days, that’s a colossal endorsement. With luck, Miller will end up as Best Director. (And who can forget that his golden portfolio includes both Moneyball and Capote?)

Then there was the shock of Whiplash. whiplash poster2Watching it was like being at the epicenter of a tornado. In addition to its many glories, it’s the first film I can remember since Ray that’s truly inside musicnot some Hollywood executive’s idea of what music might be. The conflicts and characters are the stuff of great storytelling, but the music itself is performed by actual musicians, and/or by actors who have had considerable experience at playing. Miles Teller’s final drum solo is so intense it wihplash2made me cry Whiplash (2014) -- Screengrab from exclusive EW.com clip.(and believe me, I wasn’t unhappy!). J.K. Simmons has already, like a magnetized locomotive, been collecting awards for best supporting actor.
But let’s look at
Damien Chazelle for a minute: chazelle2
he’s only made one other feature (
Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3T6Bn0_QfaY
He has, thank God, music in his blood, and he is generous with it. And he also shot Whiplash in 19 days and edited it in two months. Where I come from, that’s called a miracle.

The sad thing is that these two films, each great in its own way, have both been nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Film (Whiplash) and Best Achievement in Directing (Foxcatcher). It’s not only apples and oranges, but the Apollo of Foxcatcher vs. the Dionysus of Whiplash.

sissakoTimbuktu, created by Abderrahmane Sissako, is a front-runner for Best Foreign Film, and the first ever contender from Mali. Sissako is part Malian and part Mauritanian, learned his considerable craft at a Russian film school, and has lived primarily in France. For centuries Timbuktu was a crossroads of trade and the timbuktu3melting pot of northwest Africa, until its annexation by extremists in recent years. Sissako knows the territory and the traditions, but filters them through highly sophisticated sensibilities and technique to tell his storya dreamlike tragedy which begins with references to the region’s Edenic, multicultural past and ends with the horror of its present and likely destiny. There’s only one problem: the oranges and apples in this Oscar category are complicated by the presence ida2of Ida, another serious contender. As austere in black-and-white as Timbuktu is sensual in color, Ida (seen at Lincoln Center early last year at the Jewish Film Festival) is all the more powerful for its minimalism. How can we possibly choose between them?

Finally, when it comes to documentaries, NYFF’s Citizen Four is a front-runner for the statue, and with good reason. It’s hard to top either the extreme intelligence and discipline of director Laura Poitress, or her subject, Edward Snowden, as they gradually reveal the extent to which our government has been citizen foursurveilling most of its citizens, or what may come of it in the not-too-distant future. And, of course, its very understatement is what creates its impact. However: its strengths provide one more serving of apples and oranges: the style and content of Gabe Polsky’s Red Army: no less intelligent and disciplined, definitely more raucous and outrageous, andhow did this happen?—not even on the Oscar shortlist, let alone one of its nominees. Red Army, in 76 well-stacked and packed minutes, manages to even-handedly condense fetisovthe complex history of the Cold War through the rollicking tale of the Russian hockey team that ended up playing for New Jersey and then Toronto. As if this weren’t enough, its mighty protagonist Slava Fetisov all but walks off with the movie as he embraces his cellphone, the joys of both conspicuous capitalism and warm collectivism, and his own bigger-than-life force that powers the film.

Full disclosure of personal theory: it has become evident that you can tell a lot from the press conferences that often follow press screenings. The casts and crews of Foxcatcher, Whiplash, and Red Army were pumped beyond any flackery. They knew they had a very, very good thing, and you knew that they knew. It’s all about the energy, and it never lies.

P.S.: A word of thanks for the NYFF’s choice of retrospectives: 21 of Joseph Mankiewicz’s films representing his outsize palette (including Cleopatra, All About Eve, The Barefoot Contessa, and that people will talkhard-to-find civilized gem, People Will Talk). And welcome backward glances at This is Spinal Tap, plus a gloriously restored print of Resnais’ Hiroshima, Mon Amour.hiroshima2

Apollo’s Girl

July 31, 2013

Art, Music, Film

 Apollo+dance+with+the+muses-1024x768-20491 (2)

Fearless Predictions (and a Surprise)

First, the surprise: I have to admit, right off the bat (pun intended) that I’ve just never been able to get excited about baseball. Spent evenings with friends who really got into the game, but remember the intervals between plays seeming endless; the action that had them screaming and rising to their feet for every hit, every run, felt (to a woman who loved tennis and hockey) like perpetual slow motion. I also remember dozing off and, when I grew up a little, remembering urgent appointments elsewhere until I was no longer asked to be part of the couch potato cheering section.

But I promised you a surprise, and there is one: cuban baseballA friend (similarly inclined) recently took me to The Eighth Floor for what was supposed to be a flyover of Stealing Base: Cuba at Bat on our way to dinner.  What a revelation! As it turns out baseball is the Cuban national passion, inspiring prose, poetry and, in the case of this exhibition, a trove of witty and fascinating paintings and sculptures, even some film, on the subject. The flyover was canceled as we loped repeatedly around the show, our delight increasing with each tour and revelation (and some welcome Cuban snacks).  Could we have been wrong all these years? You have til September 2 to discover for yourselves; take advantage of the pleasure, and see what this congenial Flatiron gallery has coming up: http://the8thfloor.org/2013/03/cuban-baseball/

Now for the Fearless Predictions…

4 x 4 Festival. If baseball is a new friend, early music goes back a long way (yes, steinanother pun). And there’s nothing cooler in the dog days than a scrum of viols, sacbuts, theorbos and portative organs to lure you into chilling out with like-minded souls. Led by Avi Stein, who can summon the best players, 4 x 4 is a loose consortium of friends and colleagues who play and sing up and down the Eastern seaboard and around the world, a live organism forever separating and reconnecting as their repertoire demands.

Of course the energy of their shared passion pervades their work, and includes forays into contemporary and pop repertoire, too. QuicksilverBehindthescenesIt’s an attitude reflected in the names of their individual groups (most have at least one of their own): Guido’s Ear, Quicksilver, Apollo’s Fire, King’s Noyseplayful and ecstatic at the same time. Nothing doleful here! Whenever it was composed, it’s music for our time. This year’s four-part feast began last night and continues through August 2. So get thee to St. Peter’s Lutheran Church on time (concerts begin at 7pm; admission is free and first-come, first-served; there is a $20 suggested donationmake it it’s a bargain at the price!) Programs: http://4x4baroque.com/

Film/Video: Opera, Dance

Emerging Pictures has scored another coup Ira_Teaching(its president, Ira Deutchman, is known for his visionary taste and quick-moving distribution skills) with a summer series of top-of- the-line live-in-HD dance and opera performances recorded live at the Bolshoi, The Hague, Covent Garden, and now — throughout August — at La Scala. To celebrate Verdi’s 200th anniversary, the menu includes performances of Aida, Don Carlo, and La Traviata, with big names and bigger-than-life drama: Alagna,  Urmano, Furlanetto, Zajick, Gheorgiu, Vargas.  The programming brings the best of global Angela-Gheorghiu-Vargas-Traviata-RomalyparaLNPara_LNCIMA20130124_0377_5performances to the United States, with options far beyond the stages of the Metropolitan Opera. It’s an exciting (and affordable) idea, with venues all around the country, and technology that permits long-distance live Q & As.  To find out what’s coming up (and where), see http://www.emergingpictures.com/

And if you want to see Emerging Pictures current film lineup (some of the best of what’s playing now or coming soon), http://www.emergingpictures.com/film. It’s all good!


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