By Brian D. Johnson - Friday, January 11, 2013 - 0 Comments
Opening this weekend in Canada are two of the year’s strongest films, Amour and Zero Dark Thirty, which received five Oscar nominations apiece yesterday, and will be competing for Best Picture, Actress and Original Screenplay. In both cases, their treatment by the Academy came as a surprise. For Amour, it was a blessing. It’s hard to find a critic who questions that it’s one of the year’s finest movies, but even the best foreign films rarely escape the ghetto of the foreign-language category. Amour is the first foreign film to win a Best Picture spot since Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (2000) and one of just three foreign films in history to score both Best Picture and Director nominations. By contrast, Zero Dark Thirty’s Oscar tally was a disappointment, as Katherine Bigelow was conspicuously snubbed for Best Director. No one could argue with the brilliance of how she directed that film. So you can only conclude that she’s the victim of the backlash generated by Washington’s condemnations of the film’s veracity, and its torture scenes.
By Brian D. Johnson - Tuesday, September 25, 2012 at 7:32 PM - 0 Comments
As the TIFF circus folds up its tent, here are my 10 personal favorites from the festival. It’s a subjective list. I watched more than 50 features programmed at the festival, some in Cannes last May. But with so much to see and so little time, there are still bound to be some great movies that I missed. Note that four films on the list are documentaries:
1. The Act of Killing
Joshua Oppenheimer’s shattering documentary about Indonesia’s 1965 genocide is without precedent—a portrait of mass murder by the perpetrators, proud gangsters who re-enact their crimes for the camera.
2. Stories We Tell
Boldly putting her entire family on camera, Sarah Polley unwraps the riddle of her parentage with exquisite craft. Deconstructing as she goes, she turns the home movie, real and faux, into new genre of investigative memoir.
3. The Master
Acting doesn’t get any better as Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix, cast as a L. Ron Hubbard-like cult leader and his unstable acolyte, play truth or dare. Paul Thomas Anderson’s gorgeous 70-mm period epic decants extra-virgin snake oil of the highest order.
In a far more subtle fashion, Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva give an octogenarian master class in acting. Michael Haneke, best known for visions of human cruelty, gears down with a dire, delicate chamber piece about an aged couple facing their mortality in a Paris apartment. It won the Palme d’Or in Cannes and will likely lead the Oscar race for Best Foreign Language Film.
5. The Hunt and Beyond the Hills
I’m calling a two-way tie between these European dramas about intolerance, which (like Amour) I haven’t seen since Cannes. Directed by Denmark’s Thomas Vinterberg (The Celebration), Mads Mikkelsen gives an intense, finely calibrated performance in The Hunt, as a divorced man whose life is ruined after a young girl falsely accuses him of sexual abuse. And in Beyond the Hills, Romania’s Cristian Mungiu tells a horrific but true story of an exorcism performed on a young woman who tries to liberate a nun from a monastery.
6. Silver Linings Playbook
Football, mental illness, dance and romance mix with Altman-esque chaos in an off-kilter crowd pleaser from David O. Russell. Bradley Cooper is pitch-perfect as an ex-mental patient who goes off his meds and moves back home to an OCD dad played by De Niro. Jennifer Lawrence steals the movie so deftly we don’t even realize we’re watching a romantic comedy until we’re hooked by the plot’s Hail Mary pass.
7. Far Out Isn’t Far Enough: The Tom Ungerer Story
A documentary portrait of the artist as an old man tracks him from his origins as a Nazi-scarred child in Alsace through his various American lives as magazine illustrator, best-selling children’s author, anti-war propagandist and S&M freak. Computer graphics bring his subversive art magically to life.
The documentary camera goes where it’s never gone before in this action painting that takes us into a churning, real-time whorl of fish, men, birds and water from the deck-level POV of a fishing boat at sea. This documentary views industrial slaughter with ferocious intimacy. It also batters the optic nerve with dizzying syncopations of light and dark. So it’s hard to watch, but equally hard to forget.
9. Anna Karenina
Reunited with director Joe Wright (Atonement), and his adoring gaze, a radiant Keira Knightley brings more depth to Tolstoy’s heroine than you would ever expect. An ingenious adaptation, scripted by Tom Stoppard, frames lush visuals with a trompe l’oeil theatrical setting that, has trains thundering across a proscenium stage.
Quebec writer-director Kim Nguyen spent a decade bringing this harrowing drama of African child soldiers to the screen. Shot in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, it’s the tale of a pregnant 14-year-old girl (Rachel Mwanza) who is forced to kill her parents and become a child soldier. Nguyen’s camera shies away from depicting atrocities, finding moments of tenderness and humour in a story of authentic horror. Continue…
By Brian D. Johnson - Sunday, May 27, 2012 at 4:22 PM - 0 Comments
Nanni Moretti’s Cannes jury loves l’Amour, a movie about love and death. It awarded the festival’s top prize, the Palme d’Or, to Austrian director Michael Haneke for his tender, palliative chamber piece about an elderly French couple living out their final days in a Paris apartment, as the husband (Jean-Louis Trintignant) copes with a debilitating stroke suffered by his wife (Emmanuelle Riva). It’s Haneke’s second Palme, after The White Ribbon (2009). His movie is not a marvel of direction so much as acting. Speaking to the press after the ceremony, jury president Nanni Moretti pointed out that Amour‘s elderly thespians also deserve credit, but the jury is not permitted to give other prizes to the Palme winner.
The best actor prize went to Mads Mikkelsen for his intense, finely calibrated performance in The Hunt, as a divorced man whose life is ruined after a young girl falsely accuses him of sexual abuse. Upsetting speculation that the best actress award would go to Marion Cotillard for her role as a legless amputee in Rust and Bone, it instead was shared by the actress duo in Cristian Mungiu’s Beyond the Hills (Cristina Flutur and Cosmina Stratan)–for their roles in the harrowing true story of an exorcism performed on a young woman who tries to liberate a nun from a monastery. Mungiu, a former Palme winner for 4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days, also won the screenplay prize. Pointing out that his film was non-fiction, he said, “People have really suffered. I don’t think we can fix the past with our films but hopefully we can make the future a little better.”
David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis was shut out of the awards. But if it’s any consolation, with 22 features in the main competition, all of the seven North American entries were snubbed by the jury. With the strong North American presence this year, the festival seemed keen to lure stars like Brad Pitt, Robert Pattinson and Nicole Kidman to the red carpet, but honouring their work seems a bigger stretch. American director Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild, a powerful drama about flood victims in the Louisiana bayou, won the Camera d’Or for best first feature. However, it played outside the competition, in the Un Certain Regard sidebar. Zeitlin said his movie was “the first film of almost everyone who worked on it. It’s an award for courage and faith as much as skill.” Effusively grateful about being recognized at the high altar of world cinema, he added: “Cannes is the temple. This is a wild movie, and you never know if you’re going to be allowed to dance in the temple.” (It was announced earlier that Suzanne Clément won the Un Certain Regard best actress award for Quebec director Xavier Dolan’s Laurence, Anyways—the only prize going to a Canadian in Cannes. Continue…
By Andrew Potter - Thursday, May 29, 2008 at 11:26 PM - 0 Comments
Every great scandal needs a montage. Here is a youtube video of screenshots and…
Every great scandal needs a montage. Here is a youtube video of screenshots and pullquotes from the Couillard scandal. Courtesy of, of all places, the NY Observer: