Cannes 2011: The Winners

Monday, May 23, 2011 at 10:40 am

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CANNES, FRANCE. The 64th Cannes Film Festival provided an exceptionally rich and varied slate and the jury--headed by Robert De Niro--proved both gracious and judicious in dividing their prizes among eight films.

As expected, Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life won the Palme d'Or, which was accepted on behalf of the reclusive director by his producer Bill Poland. The award seemed a forgone conclusion, thanks to the bizarre press conference performance that resulted in Melancholia's director Lars Von Trier being banned from the festival. Another powerful contender, Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan's challenging police procedural Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, was likely shown too late in the festival to wrest the Palme from The Tree, although it's a tribute to the movie's partisans that it split the second place Grand Prix with the Dardenne brothers' The Kid With a Bike. The third place Prix du Jury went to Polisse, a melodramatic portrait of the Paris Child Protection Unit. Resplendent in a revealing red toga and bondage high heels, the director Maïwenn gave the award ceremony's liveliest performance--the exaggerated sighs with which she gave thanks for her prize were as hilariously bogus as the movie itself.

Cannes 2011: Lars von Trier Kicked Out

Thursday, May 19, 2011 at 11:19 am


CANNES, FRANCE. Big news day on La Croisette: First, the only outside story with any traction here became a bit more intense when reports of Dominique Strauss-Kahn's resignation fueled the conspiracy stories to which some French subscribe: Had the IMF chief been set up by Sarkozy? The Russians? The New York Post? Then the Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi made an on-screen appearance in a 75-minute long home-movie verite essay created in defiance of the government ruling banning him from working in cinema, called quite pointedly This is Not a Film. And finally, just as an audience of journalists was waiting for the Panahi film to begin, smart phones throughout the room began to buzz with the news that the Cannes Film Festival had suspended professional handful Lars von Trier for professional stupidity at the press conference following the screening of his new movie Melancholia.

Claude Chabrol, 1930-2010

Monday, September 13, 2010 at 3:09 pm


One of the key members of the French new wave, Claude Chabrol died this weekend at age 80, having made nearly as many movies--almost all of them thrillers--as years he lived.

Like his colleagues Francoise Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Jacques Rivette, and Eric Rohmer, Chabrol was a film critic before he was a filmmaker, with a keen and then radical appreciation for American genre films. Presciently hailing Robert Aldrich's 1955 Kiss Me Deadly (a movie so outré that the New York Times declined to review it) as "the thriller of tomorrow," Chabrol informed the readers of Cahiers du cinéma, that Aldrich and screenwriter A.I. Bezzerides had taken "the most deplorable, the most nauseous product of a genre in a state of putrefaction: A Mickey Spillane story" and "splendidly rewoven it into rich patterns of the most enigmatic arabesques." Together with Rohmer, Chabrol published the first serious book on Alfred Hitchcock in 1957 and he would remain a life-long Hitchcockian.

Sofia Coppola Wins the Golden Lion at Venice

Monday, September 13, 2010 at 10:24 am


Back from the Lido, I learned that Somewhere, Sofia Coppola's slight, stringent, not-quite sentimental tale of a movie star on the edge of a nervous breakdown and the 11-year-old daughter that loves him, had won the Golden Lion at the 67th Venice Film Festival--the "unanimous choice" per jury president Quentin Tarantino.

I was rooting for the festival's other American indie, Kelly Reichardt's Meek's Cutoff (in which, not a celeb but a wagon train of western settlers find themselves lost) to pull off an upset; I also imagined that a Tarantino-led jury, which also included French director Arnaud Desplechin, might decide to anoint Hong Kong veteran Tsui Hark for his enjoyably outré historical pageant, Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame.

Still, I can't say that the choice of Somewhere came as a surprise...

Venice Midpoint: Women Rule

Tuesday, September 7, 2010 at 10:52 am

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Midway through the Venice film festival, the competition is notable for a pair of features by American women: Sofia Coppola's Somewhere and Kelly Reichardt's Meek's Cutoff--both minimalist, open-ended exercises in myths debunked and protagonists lost.

Evidently inspired by the filmmaker's childhood, Somewhere revisits the Lost in Translation scenario (and ups its Oedipal ante) with an innocent 11-year-old girl (Elle Fanning) visiting her wildly successful and miserably lonely film star father (masterfully under-acted by Stephen Dorff) in his Chateau Marmont digs. Equally auteurist, Meek's Cutoff is a perverse, discreetly trippy Western road flick in the tradition of Jim Jarmusch's Dead Man: Based on an 1845 incident, the members of an Oregon-bound wagon train (include a severely bonneted Michelle Williams) are misled into the desert by their bombastic, wrong-headed guide (Bruce Greenwood) and hence obliged to follow the enigmatic lone Indian they encounter. The political implications are unmistakable.

Wish You Were Here: "Mickey Rourke in a Tutu" Opens Venice Film Fest

Friday, September 3, 2010 at 11:33 am

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The 67th Venice Film Festival, where I'm currently on jury duty (although not on the jury headed by Quentin Tarantino) opened majorly pop with Black Swan, Darren Aronofsky's warmly received and borderline risible follow-up to his 2008 Golden Lion winner The Wrestler. Although a generic horror film (The Red Shoes remade as homage to Dario Argento or Brian De Palma), Black Swan is also recognizably Aronofskyian: This epic actualization myth parallels The Wrestler's blood-soaked, self-mutilating histrionics so closely that it could be described as "Mickey Rourke in a tutu." Black Swan is also an acting vehicle, but rather than fueling Rourke's comeback it's fueled by Natalie Portman's near-excruciating anxiety in the role of a dogged, delusional little prima ballerina.

Meg White Cries: White Stripes Doc Reveals Mysteries Behind the Band

Saturday, March 13, 2010 at 11:04 am

Erin Broadley
Jack White
"Make as much noise as you want," recommended The White Stripes: Under Great Northern Lights director Emmett Malloy, before the film's premiere at the SXSW Film Festival on Friday night. In practice, the audience didn't make much noise at all: we were, for the most part, stunned by this portrait of the last great epic American rock band, that somehow etched into the mystery of the White Stripes, without relieving it completely.

Shot mostly in the Stripes' red, white and black palette (one shot looks like black and white film, filtered red), Lights chronicles the band's unprecedented attempt to tour Canada, playing shows in every province. Some of these "shows" wouldn't count on the average tour roster: Jack and Meg played a bowling alley and a small private boat; they played Blind Willie McTell for Inuit elders and "The People on The Bus" on a Winnipeg city bus. And then at night, they'd rock the usual large theaters, and Malloy shows these "real" gigs as if they're all one long gig in progress. Rarely allowing a full song to play out, he montages highlights of a single night into one continuum of noise.

YouTubing Sundance

Saturday, January 23, 2010 at 1:55 pm


As you may have heard, Sundance and YouTube have established a unique collaboration during the 2010 fest, through which three films world premiering here (Bass Ackwards, Homewrecker and One Too Many Mornings--all entries in the NEXT section), as well as two films that debuted in Park City last year (Children of Invention and The Cove), have been made available for rental on YouTube during the duration of the festival. Each film costs $3.99 per viewing, and the filmmakers will, according to a press release, "receive the majority of the revenue share."

The press release also promises that the films will be "spotlighted on the YouTube homepage," but when I went to YouTube I could find no sign of such promotion on the homepage. My "Featured Videos" included Streets Full of Bodies in Haiti and Man Makes Chocolate Records; the clip promoted as Most Popular under the Film & Animation category, The Perfect Body? is a video diary in which two teens interview other teens about style and body image.

At a press conference yesterday announcing the venture, a YouTube rep said the company wants to "give a sense of independent choice for our users," but the fact is, YouTube users seem to mostly choose the homegrown, the incidental and accidental. If the comment thread on Children of Invention (which I only found by searching the title) is any indication, some of those users are hostile towards the very idea that the video sharing site could be used to facilitate for-profit distribution of films. To quote sonicballer8888: "this is bad. soon, youtube will start charging for all videos. keep on rating these low guys."

Travolta and Denzel get Dumped

Friday, January 15, 2010 at 5:23 pm
That January is a cold, long, barren slog of a month when it comes to film releases is nothing new. But it does seem worth noting that, along with a movie about a buff tooth fairy starring The Rock, Denzel Washington is being dumped into the muck. Washington's The Book of Eli opened today, and next up is Harrison Ford's Extraordinary Measures, which opens January 22. Mel Gibson (Edge of Darkness, Jan. 29) should probably get used to the weather. Xenu knows John Travolta has--his From Paris with Love leads off the second worst month of the year, February. Tom Hanks, you are next.

Taylor Lautner Saves The Hurt Locker

Friday, January 15, 2010 at 1:19 pm
This New York Times story about all the ways in which the known geniuses at NBC are trying to boost ratings for this Sunday's Golden Globe awards ends on a high note.

In addition to "turning up the volume on the marketing," hiring Ricky Gervais to host, and producing pre-broadcast, hype-building webisodes (this apparently worked for the American Music Awards but you know it really didn't cause we're talking about WEBISODES), the Globes social secretary is seating attractive, young people at ugly, old people tables so that the cameras won't melt when they are inevitably forced to focus on the less handsome casts of nominated movies and TV shows.

Lining up younger stars has been a priority. Seated with "The Hurt Locker" contingent will be Taylor Lautner, the beefcake star of "The Twilight Saga: New Moon." "He will be there to make the table look glamorous," Mr. Berk said.

This is clearly a good plan and an awesome social experiment. Which star of Gossip Girl will seat with the ladies of Precious? TUNE IN TO FIND OUT!