Oscars 2015 Preview

By Brian Susbielles

As we enter the second half of the year, people like myself begin the countdown to certain movies and prepare ourselves for unscheduled movies that can pop out and make a splash on the Oscar radar. Telluride, Venice, and Toronto are on the horizon, which means Oscar watch is on. Already, Inside Out and Mad Max: Fury Road has been thrown into the mix as a contender for Best Picture (not to win, but for a nomination), and trailers of other high-bar movies have been released or will be soon. The schedule is already out and people are keeping tabs of what to watch for.

Big names are in line for the acting and directing categories, as well as their respective movies’ chance of getting into the Big Dance (the Academy reaffirmed the number of BP nominations being 5 to 10). Here are some of the films that have buzz based on their cover and previews:

  • Black Mass (Starring Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch; released October 18)
  • The Walk (Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ben Kingsley; released October 2)
  • Steve Jobs (Starring Michael Fassbender, Seth Rogen, Kate Winslet, Jeff Daniels; released October 9)
  • Bridge Of Spies (Starring Tom Hanks; released October 16)
  • Brooklyn (Starring Saoirse Ronan, Domhnall Gleeson; released November 6)
  • By The Sea (Starring Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt; Released November 13)
  • In The Heart Of The Sea (Starring Chris Hemsworth, Cillian Murphy, Ben Whishaw; released December 11)
  • The Hateful Eight (Staring Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh; released December 25)
  • Joy (Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Robert DeNiro; released December 25)
  • The Revenant (Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy; released December 25)

Those are my ten most intriguing works to be seen later this year, but there are many others. Some will scream out SPECTRE or Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but they are not – at least by Academy standards – to be thought of as a major Oscar threat. Others not on the list tend to pop out in Telluride or Toronto, making their mark known as a movie not to be missed. The ten here are either true stories, romantic, or are expected to have great dialogue and performances. The Academy tends to like the true story movies and actors who can transform into their real life characters; just ask them on Eddie Redmayne and The Theory Of Everything. (Speaking of which, Redmayne will be in The Danish Girl, about the first known recipient of sexual reassignment surgery. There’s Oscar bait all over that).

Big name directors are also attached here, along with past winners. Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire) finished up Steve Jobs, Steven Spielberg is on Bridge of Spies, Quentin Tarantino is following up on Hateful Eight, three-time consecutive Oscar loser David O. Russell is hoping to find Joy, and The Revenant has last year’s winner, Alejandro G. Iñárritu, at the helm. Ron Howard is anchoring In The Heart Of The Sea, which initially was to be released in March, but got moved to December after a test screening showed a strong liking. The Walk, the story behind the Oscar-winning documentary Man On Wire, will debut at the New York Film Festival.

Last year, Whiplash was the Sundance hit that got into the Oscar race and won for JK Simmons’ performance. Fox Searchlight bought this year’s hit, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl for $12 million, as well Brooklyn, an Irish romantic story, for $9 million. With Fox Searchlight’s track record, one or both could be threats; however, I put down the latter movie on my list because the Academy (unfortunately) does not really dig high school-based teen movies. The Perks Of Being A Wallflower was a hit both critically and commercially, but never had its Oscar scent picked up by the voters. Boyhood, on the other hand, went above and beyond where it was virtually unanimous to be an Oscar front-runner, even with its release by IFC Films in the summer.

Of course, I write this (as of June 27, 2015), where anything can swift dramatically. Expectations of movies can fall short (a lot do) and those who never saw it with potential becomes a surprise hit and make its mark. The festivals of Venice, Telluride, and Toronto become a launching pad for the Oscar-targeting works (hello, Weinstein) and can change the course of what the voters fall for when it comes to casting their ballots. The hearts and minds of all are now opening to what awaits them the next six months.

25 Years Of Being a GoodFella

By Brian Susbielles

This September, the legendary gangster flick GoodFellas will have been released for exactly 25 years. Already, the cast has come together to share stories of how they were cast and approached to their respective characters. I didn’t know Paul Sorvino (Paul Cicero in the movie) wanted to leave days before filming began because he didn’t know how to play a gangster until he looked himself in the mirror, put on a tie, and realized that was the look he had to put on. Ray Liotta, who played the protagonist Henry Hill, had only done three movies when he was cast, virtually making him a rookie that then raised him to stardom. And writer Nicholas Pileggi, who wrote the book the movie is based on, was reluctant to adapt his book for the screen, but was convinced by his now-deceased wife, Nora Ephron, to go ahead because, well,it was Marty Scorsese who wanted to make it into a movie. That being said, I find GoodFellas as the best gangster film in film history – even better than The Godfather. AFI and its fans may call that blasphemous, but here are my three reasons for my belief in that:

1. It’s a True Story

As stated, Henry Hill always wanted to be a gangster since he was a kid. Hill did become a member until he entered the Witness Protection Program; post-movie, he was kicked out of the program and died in 2012. The real-life stories of the mob are fascinating and the movie is fairly accurate according to Hill. The story of the Corleone Family is a great symbol of the American Dream through the Mafia, but it is a fictitious one, going back to the classical days of organized crime. The last names of some of the characters were changed for legal reasons, but the connections remain the same.

2. It’s Fast Paced, Swiftly Edited, and Shot In-Your-Face

The Godfather is timed at two hours, fifty-seven minutes. GoodFellas is timed at two hours, twenty-five minutes. That time doesn’t feel so long as Scorsese keeps the film upbeat and in the moment with its tracking shots, crafty cuts (thank you, Thelma Schoonmaker), and unorthodox camera angles that bring us in the center of the mafia-family life. Freeze frames, voice-overs, and jump cuts keep the audience’s attention to what is happening scene-by-scene. The scene where Karen sits over Henry, gun pointed at him, are close-ups and POV’s combined. The barrel is between the eyes and is very intense. We watch from the bottom when Henry is beaten by his father for not attending school, and, from above, when Tommy DeVito (played hot-headedly by Joe Pesci) falls onto the parquet floor after being shot in the head. Things are swift and fast enough that a viewer won’t realize it’s beyond 2 hours long.

3. The Soundtrack

Starting from Frank Sinatra’s Rags to Riches and ending with My Way by Sid Vicious (also a song from Sinatra), we are comforted by a list of classics that join the story all the way through. The songs fit each scene and the mood of the moment, notably the famous May 11, 1980 sequence, which includes Harry Nilsson (Jump Into The Fire), George Harrison (What Is Life), and The Rolling Stones (Monkey Man). The Copacabana tracking shot could not have been any better with The Crystals’ Then He Kissed Me going on through the entire scene. The piano ending from Derek and the Dominos’ Layla shows off the ballet of dead bodies as Jimmy Conway cuts ties from him and the major airport heist. It is part of a trend to where Scorsese does not use an original score and relies on past songs as its soundtrack, like he did in Casino and The Wolf of Wall Street. While Mario Puzo and Carmine Coppola are credited for the haunting music of The Godfather, it is a conservative score that keeps in line with the conservative style of the Mafia’s way. For some, it is a boring pace, which doesn’t speed up the story.

 The Godfather is a film that maintains the classic Hollywood feel and is filled with bravado acting and haunting dialogue with its one-liners. GoodFellas fills up the short-attention spans viewers tend to have with an attention-grabbing scene – the body in the trunk and Hill’s defining statement – and have the audience hold on for the rest of the way. It is one of those films where throughout the brutal violence and constant profanity, audiences have seen through it a realistic portrayal of the Mafia, and not the glamour that people had seen before, now that the Mob was crumbling piece-by-piece. The Godfather is a mob classic regardless, but against the Goodfellas of Queens, they lack the viciousness and color of the Mafia in the 1950s-1980s.

Monsieur Tati And His Comedy

By Brian Susbielles

In November last year, Criterion Collection released a box set of all six full-feature films and seven short films from Jacques Tati. The French comedian was known for his observational, physical humor where sound and visual use trumped dialogue. From the 1940s to the 1970s, Tati played on critiquing Western society’s obsession with materialism and consumerism in a society that became more high-pressured, wih France’s superficial relations within the social classes and the impractical nature of technology. His work, as reportedly said by Buster Keaton, an idol of Tati’s, carried on the tradition with silent cinema, but with the ironic use of sound.

Tati, however, is known only for his performances as Monsieur Hulot, the tall, overcoat wearing, pipe smoking, odd-walking Parisian who nobody notices unless he does something wrong. The character appeared four times, each in a different, memorable setting. “Hulot is the guy you recognize because he was in the same barracks as you, even though he never became a close friend,” said film critic Michel Chion. “He gives you the illusion of familiarity, which really doesn’t exist. He develops into a real person only when you bump into him by accident one night.”

In Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday, the introducing film of Hulot, he goes to a beachside town with many others. They are individuals, families, and older couples taking in the sun, playing tennis, and having fresh seafood. These people do not notice the harmless Hulot unless he has a mishap, to which he is looked at as a fool. This is true as Hulot’s canoe folds in half on itself and returns to shore like a shark, scaring those nearby. Hulot also causes a ruckus with a bunch of fireworks, giving fellow people an unintended show as he fails to stop the fuses all around him. In between, Tati pokes at the towns’ proprietors and dilettantes who are seen as petty profiteers and bourgeoisie without making a political statement as French New Wave icon Jean-Luc Godard, an admirer of his, would do in his works.

In Mon Oncle, which won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, Hulot, living in the older, crumbling neighborhoods of Paris, cares for his nephew, who lives in a affluent, suburban, materialistic home. Here, Tati satirizes the ultramodernity of the times with automatic doors and appliances because “everything is automatic,” a solid grey house with a zigzag front yard, high standout of color, and, most notably, a fish fountain which is turned on only when an important visitor arrives. Hulot, despite the brother of the housewife, is not an important visitor when he drops off his nephew. These are among the standouts for the sole reason of showcasing the parents’ social position in society. The boy is basically a trophy child who is given robotic orders by his parents, so the boy finds solace and much-needed fun with his uncle, Hulot. Being childlike and more fitted to be with children, Hulot takes delight in watching the kids commit pranks on other adults.

In Playtime and Trafic, the last two of the Hulot films, Tati goes deeper into society’s fascination with modernization in the city and with vehicles. The scope is bigger and bolder; its massive set was nicknamed “Tativille” and the final cost of Playtime was a staggering 17 Million Francs shot over three years, but the its playful humor remains the same. Hulot is old fashioned and suffers a shock when he walks into a modern Paris with American tourists, wandering into glass office buildings with bizarre cubicle arrangements, a trade exhibition with the most ridiculous items such a door that slams “in silence,” and a high-class restaurant where the smallest of errors is bad service. In the lengthy sequence at the restaurant, Hulot, confused about the glass doors and windows he encountered, accidently shatters a door when he tries to walk through it. Hulot pretends to be a door, holding the large knob and swinging himself in and out like an automatic door. It seems to be an ode to the automatic garage door from his Mon Oncle, which, in relativity to Stephen Hawking’s warning about artificial intelligence, humans are not able to have full command of computerized items.

The last of the Monseiur Hulot movies is a slow road trip to an auto show in Amsterdam, as detour after detour causes their inevitable tardiness. Today’s vehicles include the GPS and satellite radio; in Trafic, Tati takes the idea of the motorhome to another comical level. His camping car includes seats that unfold from the bumpers, a grill that can actually cook a steak, and a horn that sprouts an electric razor. The film’s car accident sequence is incredibly meticulously choreographed like a ballet with one car skating on its front bumper and another spinning on its axis amongst other gags. There is also inhuman gags; a group of boys make an Afghan rug look like a woman’s dog who has been run over, but it does become a funny moment when Hulot, attempting to unearth the cruel joke, stomps on the “dog” upsetting the woman further. (Don’t worry, the dog is alive and the woman finds it moments later). The film is, overall, melancholic in nature, showing some emotion that is real, such as the woman thinking her dog is dead as well as Hulot being infused sexually, mistaking a baby’s bottom for a woman’s cleavage.

The works of Jacques Tati are not of hilarity, but of memory and nostalgia of the past, fondness of certain people and things, and enjoyment. He takes an interest in everything that society has to offer, as minor and insignificant it may be. Tati also doesn’t make himself the center of attention; he mixes in random characters he comes across and puts the camera on them to show their movements to show their own absurdity. He is (or was, as Tati died in 1982) a minimalist, using what we see – the gags – and its actions as the story rather than having people talk it out. There is no flashiness with the camera or editing, like a French New Wave film. His comedy is of the unconventional type, one of incredible observation, discipline, and imagination. If you thought French cinema stood out with Francois Truffaut, Jean Renoir, and Louis Malle, you now have another filmmaker to examine that is an attention grabber with a short resume worth viewing in one whole day.

The Glitz, Glamour, and Gold of Cannes

By Brian Susbielles

Today, the Cannes Film Festival is ongoing and already one movie has been touted for awards, including the coveted Palme D’Or (Golden Palm), the award for Best Picture. Son of Saul from Hungary has already been a hit with viewers, with critics in the main category, while George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road, released out-of-competition, and received a rousing ovation, confirming what the critics had been raving about already. Other notables coming out this week include Gus Van Sant’s The Sea of Trees, Todd Haynes’ Carol, and Paolo Sorrentino’s Youth. People also look at the jury who decides the winners for the Main Competition; the Coen Brothers lead the group, which also includes actor Jake Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler), director Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy), and the underappreciated all-in-one Xavier Dolan (Mommy).

 

While many of us have looked at Toronto, Sundance, and Telluride for those Oscar-worthy films, it is Cannes that is the ultimate test of popularity because of its global reach. The audience is notoriously polarized with their responses; they will be bullish if the movie is terrible, but will respond with a standing ovation that will last minutes. It is also the place to show a filmmaker’s most controversial work and create controversy during the interviews. Question is, how did a small seaside town become the host of this majestic film festival and become this Spring break bash for adults?

The festival was founded in 1939 by the French Minister of National Education to establish an international celebration of cinema; initially to take place in the fall, its debut would be delayed till 1946 due to the war. After a few years, the festival was moved to the spring to avoid clashing with the Venice Film Festival, and in 1955, the Palme D’Or was formally created as the top prize. Its growth was credited to the constant arrival of major movie stars to see their films being presented, giving an extension of glamour to the Mediterranean. The beauty of movie stars has driven the critics – and the paparazzi – to Cannes every May.

The only time the festival was called off post-war took place in May of 1968, which was one of many protests around the world during that time. The wildcat general strike in Paris against the government, as well as the dismissal of the President of the Cinémathèque Française, led to many of the filmmakers such as Jean Luc-Godard and Louis Malle remove their works in protest and solidarity with the strike. The events of ’68 changed the Festival, opening the door to more art and countercultural works rather than just the classical style films that were being selected for showcasing.

Since then, modern day classics have given Cannes the distinguishing title of being the first to debut these works and be given the Palme D’Or. Among them are Taxi Driver, Apocalypse Now, Sex, Lies, Videotape, Pulp Fiction, Fahrenheit 9/11, The Tree of Life, and Amour. Others who have debuted in Cannes to acclaim include Inglorious Bastards, Oldboy, Fargo, The 400 Blows, and The Artist, among others; the list of successful debuts is long.

Then, there are those who have been ridiculed by the hostile audience unafraid to show their distaste. Among the infamous include The Da Vinci Code, Marie Antoinette, Anti-Christ, Grace of Monaco, and The Brown Bunny, considered being the worst film ever shown at Cannes (I guess the explicit act of oral sex didn’t make it up). Strangely enough, Pulp Fiction and Taxi Driver were also booed, but because they won the Palme D’Or, which many believed should have gone to another film. And in recent memory, enfant terrible writer-director Lars Von Trier (of Anti-Christ) was banned from the festival after he, in a horrific attempt at sarcasm, stated he was sympathetic to Hitler and the Nazis.

Every year, there will always be that movie which is be considered an instant classic, that movie which will be totally head scratching to why it was even shown in Cannes, and that one moment where someone said something controversial or pulled a ridiculous stunt (I’m talking you Jerry Seinfeld in a bee costume). The festival is underway with boos and applauses already taking place; no one has done anything outrageous yet, but all eyes are on the red carpet towards the theater. Ruthless paparazzi and film critics are present to witness the circus full of the well-dressed and beautiful people. Many unknowns risk their career to be in this moment, but it has paid out to be life changing. 2015 will be like any other festival. Buckle your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy two weeks.

She’s Beautiful when She’s Angry

Director Mary Dore’s documentary, She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry, sheds light upon the necessary issues that plagued women during the modern women’s movement. Dore focuses on the years 1966 to 1971 and the anger that influenced women to fight against the typical man-powered society that women were subjected to living in during this time. The coverage of this film is far reaching for a five year span.

Women were agitated at their placement in society and a world that was dominated by males. In one part of the film, bathed in the anger that fell upon them in a tormenting succession of years without power, these women marched the streets saying the type of things that usually men themselves yelled out as they “appreciated” a woman’s body, or rather, catcalled them. During “slut walks” women shed their clothing, women were protesting against the inequality between man and woman.

Mary Dore spoke during a Q & A post-screening of She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry on March 25th, 2014 at the Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington. It was mentioned that a lot of the material and footage used to portray the modern women’s movement in this film would have usually been put into archives and would have eventually been forgotten, if it had not been for Mary Dore. Mary Dore explained that it took a very long time to make this film, because, surprisingly, it’s not a popular subject.

More than 21 years ago, Mary Dore started to write the grants for this film. There were a lot of people within the grants process who didn’t want to help support this film, because “it had already been done before.” The anger Dore felt during this process pushed her to try harder to make the film. Mary Dore wanted to specifically cover the earlier part of the movement, because she felt that it hadn’t been covered enough. She also mentioned that many of the people involved in this movement were also involved in other movements that were going on at the time. Half of the women in this film were involved with the civil rights movement.

Dore also wanted to exemplify the importance of the Child Care Bill, which was something that almost happened during this time period. Stereotypes from that time period are still around and continue to plague us with ignorance that destroys the quality of life for women. Without the women featured in this film and their associates, we would not be at this level of equality. There are plenty of issues within She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry that are relevant today. These women pushed for power where power is deserved. This film encourages viewers to wake up with the inspiring reminiscing memories the interviewees contributed. Take a walk down the street and feel yourself liberated by the work that the women in this film did for the common woman in today’s society. Why stop now?

Monae’s Room

By Colleen Rowe

Raeshelle Cooke’s 20 minute short film, Monae’s Room, exposes the definition of closure after a woman falls out of the binds of a serious relationship. The darkness of Monae’s room itself exemplifies the seemingly chaotic turmoil that sits within Monae (Delea Mowatt) as she continues to isolate within her room. With a somewhat snobby sister, Kelly (J.D. Achille) enjoying the pleasure in life, with silly phone calls that Monae can’t seem to grasp under the wave of an all-encompassing depression, Cooke’s short touches upon the reality of heartbreak and how words by others cannot simply be the best medication.

The focus of the telephone within the film is important. Its classy grooves stand as a representation for loneliness, as the focus of Monae is, at times, less apparent within her darkened room. The telephone seems to be haunting her, and her inability to lose grasp of her previous relationship, along with the constant talking to herself within her own mind, might make viewers question if she is really as crazy as Kelly claims her to be.

The lighting within this film is also one of the most important of its attributes. Monae sits in darkness and uses her heartbreak as her muse, sitting tirelessly among the rubble of overused cups. Is this rubble chaining her to depression? Is there ever any solace in messes that we can’t clean up, figuratively and literally? Where do our hearts go once they are crushed and stretched out in overplayed songs that dance like evil angels on our shoulders? Monae’s Room gives some insight on a broken relationship through the blackness of wanted phone calls that, once received, we really don’t want anymore. After a certain passage of time, depression falls away and the focus of a telephone becomes less of an option, and more of a reason to put the past behind you. Monae allows this past to shift away from her inner rubble, giving her the perfect opportunity to pick up the phone when someone is actually listening.

The concept of this film is a relatable to the point where you feel yourself sitting in your own quiet room, with music that seems to bounce off the walls in short waves of depressing hope. For at the end of every terrible relationship, there is still a new one to ponder over, to make sense of the past, and with that Monae’s Room gives viewers hope in a hopeless territory.

Kill List

By Christopher Matos

Before going into a horrendously structured analysis of, Kill List directed, and written, by Ben Wheatley with Co-writer Amy Jump, I need to preface the following article with some honesty. My background in writing is not film; I’ve only ever enjoyed watching movies. My background is in Literature where, with a goal in mind, I had aimed to prove something to someone. I’ve always loved film more than literature, and in many ways my love for the art is why I kept so far from raking through it with a fine-toothed comb.

I’ve always viewed film critics as idiotic, or snobbish individuals whose ideals far exceed what was necessary, who pompously overlooked what the average person may find appealing. In my opinion criticism in general is rife with such flaws, often drawing conclusions founded in broken dreams, or missed opportunity. My main goal writing these articles is to be honest, to try to be fair, and present the perspective of your average movie-goer. So…

Have you seen “The Kill List?” This “Horror film” available on Netflix was in my opinion an interesting look inside a dysfunctional family. A pained family, that brutalized what it meant to be unemployed, and what some must do in order to survive which of course means murder people! Yay! In sitting down to view this film I had no expectations because realistically English indie horror films don’t often flash through my viewfinder. What I received was a movie that had peaks, and valleys, and to a guy whose hair stands up at the mention John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982), I was somewhat disappointed with this billed horror film.

As a suspense thriller? In that respect it was average. Everything about this movie said, “that’s interesting, but why is it so familiar.” At times it was beautifully shot, taking me to Sheffield, South Yorkshire a decent suburb of England’s Humber region that, realistically, I couldn’t find on a map if you paid me. Holding your attention with the stark contrasts between the brutality of the unfolding story, and the quaint peaceful setting, you’re along for the somewhat predictable ride, which can be entertaining.

The introduction to the plot, and the character development, in some ways, helped the overall movie, however once it gets on the road I felt like I had seen some of it before. The “Former Hit men looking for a way to make money” plot takes us on a path that is both interesting, yet somewhat predictable. Its attempt at generating mystery causes subtle interest, as violence allows the main characters to take ownership of their lives. Poignant moments give us reflections of humanity, displaying how a disenfranchised man can artfully be fed up with the way things are, and that is what saved this movie for me. Insert your hit-man code of ethics, and comradery, and now you love these characters.

Certain themes throughout where beautifully articulated. The display of the broken home portrays the strength of the actors, and allows the script to truly shine. There are moments where, as an audience member, you are allowed to think slightly deeper than what is in front of you. You may begin to realize that to live “sins” or past regret is to be tortured forever for being human, whether a hit-man, or not. The thematic realization that we are a cog in a giant machine with only one goal: to destroy itself. This plays well here, and foreshadows the gripping ending.

The final scenes, and the overarching final descent into chaos was, by far, the best, or most suspenseful scenes despite, at times, being choked by its own script. I felt feeling uncomfortable and uneasy by the end, but the attempt at a hard shock was obvious, and somewhat unoriginal. The acting was good, the photography was good, and the story was okay. Obviously, a suspense film needs to keep you on your toes, keep you uncomfortable, and fearful of what’s to come. The Kill List had its moments.