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2016 End-of-Year Cramfest Capsules, Part II

rsz_film_hero_demon_01_1Monday, November 21

I Am Not Your Negro (Dir.: Raoul Peck; GRADE: B+)

Do not open until 2017.

Demon (Dir.: Marcin Wrona; GRADE: B-)

An admirable but only fitfully successful arthouse horror movie about a Polish wedding disrupted by a “dybbuk,” an angry and dissatisfied Jewish spirit that attaches itself to the Israeli groom.  As the groom’s behavior grows increasingly erratic and dangerous, exhuming not just ghosts but long-buried secrets of atrocities against the Jews, the father of the bride plies his guests with more and more vodka, and soon enough their bacchanal merges with the supernatural suffering.  Wrona favors disturbing compositions and shock cuts over long-winded explanations, but the final act still falls into a navel-gazing tailspin.

The Thoughts That Once We Had (Dir.: Thom Andersen; GRADE: B)

Another wide-ranging, thought-provoking documentary intersecting cinema, politics, philosophy and personal taste from the director of Los Angeles Plays Itself, only far less enveloping and focused an experience.  Andersen crafts a personal history of cinema through the lens of Gilles Deleuze, a French philosopher who often wrote about film.  I honestly can’t say that I grokked much of what Anderson laid down here, but I dug his rap all the same – it’s a pungently intellectual and marvelously curated cinematic journey.rsz_unsun

Jackie (Dir.: Pablo Larrain; GRADE: B-)

Do not open until December 21.  Check out my updated MVFF39 Power Rankings HERE.

Julieta (Dir.: Pedro Almodovar; GRADE: B-)

Do not open until 2017.  Check out my updated Pedro Almodovar Power Rankings HERE.

Under the Sun (Dir.: Vitaly Mansky; GRADE: B+)

Unbelievable.  When Ukrainian filmmaker Vitaly Mansky was given government permission to make a documentary about a typical North Korean family, he was followed round-the-clock by bureaucrats who monitored the production and tailored the script to glorify the country, but the b-roll footage smuggled out and fashioned into Under the Sun tells a different story.  North Korea is fascinating not just because it’s a Lynch-ian nightmare parody of fascism, but because it makes us think about how our own country is run in a subtly similar way: like a flashy cult filled with mindless rituals, spotlighting heroism and prosperity while the poor and exploited are rendered invisible.

Wednesday, November 23

Elle (Dir.: Paul Verhoeven; GRADE: B+)

rsz_the-waveDo not open until 2017.  Check out my updated Paul Verhoeven Power Rankings HERE.

Nerve (Dir.: Henry Joost and Ariel Schuman; GRADE: B-)

Reasonably entertaining idiocy, with Emma Roberts and Dave Franco as “players” in a game controlled by anonymous online “watchers” who push the participants into ever more embarrassing and dangerous stunts.  Think Pokemon Go meets truth or dare meets murder, directed by the “brains” behind Catfish.  It’s breathless and salacious enough to hold your interest, and while the film seems to shed IQ points as it hurtles towards a truly stupid finish, it’s still better than probably half the films that will get nominated for the Best Picture Oscar this year.

Finding Dory (Dir.: Andrew Stanton; GRADE: B)

Thoroughly unnecessary piffle, with a lot of narrative structural integrity issues and some obvious 11th-hour tinkering, but like last year’s similarly strained The Good Dinosaur, it’s pushed over by the usual expert Pixar craftsmanship.  The chameleonic octopus voiced by Ed O’Neill is the one element that unquestionably works, so he gets repeatedly shoehorned into scenes where his presence makes little sense, presumably filling in for excised storylines.  There are a few memorable setpieces, solid voice work and the usual cleverness and beauty you expect from Pixar – this isn’t a Cars 2-level embarrassment, but it’s pretty far from great.  Check out my updated Pixar Power Rankings HERE.rsz_les_saisons_galatee

Lion (Dir.: Garth Davis; GRADE: C)

Do not open until December 21.

Thursday, November 24

The Wave (Dir.: Roar Uthaug; GRADE: B-)

I’m obviously running low on viable screener options when I pop in a Norwegian disaster movie on Thanksgiving morning, but you go to war with the army you’ve got.  This was actually a pretty watchable facsimile of American disaster movies, with the emphasis placed on characters rather than carnage, even better than San Andreas if not for the absence of Alexandra Daddario.

Les Saisons (Dir.: Jacques Perrin and Jacques Cluzaud; GRADE: C+)

Perrin and Cluzaud previously collaborated on nature documentaries like Winged Migration and Oceans, and their strength has always been their ability to get close to their wildlife subjects without superimposing a contrived human narrative on the creatures.  That appreciation for beauty and persistence, and that restraint in the face of DisneyNature aggression, comes across once again in Les Saisons, although a heavy-handed framing device about man’s intrusion into the world’s timeline drags the film down.  There are some gorgeous individual images, but they all feel disconnected from the didacticism at the heart of this thing.

Friday, November 25

rsz_close-up_red_1The Love Witch (Dir.: Anna Biller; GRADE: C+)

This deliberately retrograde horror satire mimics the clothes and colors of 1960s Technicolor movies (even though the characters use cell phones), and the acting is extremely mannered and bad in a way that I can only assume is meant to evoke the same.  Biller’s film is getting a lot of love from critics, but I felt as alienated and annoyed by this cinematic re-appropriation as I have felt in the past about some of Guy Maddin’s movies…there’s an element of contemptuous superiority and intentional shittiness that I just can’t hurdle.

High-Rise ***REWATCH*** (Dir.: Ben Wheatley; GRADE: B+)

No significant insights or changes of opinion from my initial viewing of this pitch-black adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s satire on 1970’s capitalism and convenience.  In a weak year for award-worthy male acting performances, Tom Hiddleston’s sleek showing as the social-climbing Dr. Laing has a good shot of making my SFFCC and Indiewire ballots, while Luke Evans’ highly physical performance as the working-class Wilder still has an outside chance in the supporting actor category.

20th Century Women (Dir.: Mike Mills; GRADE: C)

Do not open until Xmas.rsz_hero_krisha-2016

Krisha ***REWATCH*** (Dir.: Trey Edward Shults; GRADE: A-)

Again, no real changes from my first viewing of this sucker-punch domestic drama.  Either cruelly compassionate or compassionately cruel, Krisha feels like the family dinner scene from Punch-Drunk Love developed into a full-length feature – the film practically vibrates with a nervous energy.  Shults shot the film in his parents’ house and used friends and family as actors, including his aunt Krisha Fairchild, who gives a devastatingly desperate performance in the title role.  Shults landed a two-picture deal with Krisha distributor A24, so it will be exciting to see what happens once he leaves the nest.

Look for Part III of my 2016 Cramfest Capsules sometime next week. You can read Part I of the 2016 Cramfest HERE, and check out my frequently updated 2016 Power Rankings HERE.

2016 End-of-Year Cramfest Capsules, Part I

rsz_rightnowwrongthenOnce again this year, I am devoting the entire week of Thanksgiving to catching up with the 2016 films that I missed, as well as re-watching some of my favorites of the year so far.  We begin this annual cinematic orgy with an invocation to our deity:

All hail, Awards Season!  Tyrant of all she surveys!  Oppressor of cinephiles!  Scourge of the pudgy and bespectacled!  Defiler of evenings and weekends!  Obvious Billy Crudup fan!  Long may her tastefully bland mediocrities occupy our otherwise presumably intelligent thoughts!

But enough of this palaver, let’s get this show on the road.

Thursday, November 17

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi ***REWATCH*** (Dir.: Michael Bay; GRADE: B+)

Nothing new to report, this is still terrifying and awesome, and the best thing that Bay has ever done, with literally dozens of memorably haunting images.  A tactile action clarity only tantalizingly teased at in Bay’s earlier work comes to full fruition in 13 Hours – it’s as though you can feel the impact of every bullet and the heat of every explosion.  Benghazi became a political football for alt-right, neo-fascist liars, so naturally most critics responded by pre-judging and dismissing a work of art, makes total sense.rsz_i-daniel-blake-3

Right Now, Wrong Then (Dir.: Sang-soo Hong; GRADE: B+)

I’m fairly new to the world of South Korean shoegazer Hong, but Right Now, Wrong Then feels like the apotheosis of his aesthetic, thoroughly refined and perfectly detailed while remaining true to his Rohmer-meets-Linklater-meets-Spike Jonze world of doubled action, unattainable attractions and all-night sake bar hangouts.  A Hong-like director (Jung Jae-young) and an aspiring artist (The Handmaiden star Kim Min-Hee) spend the same day together twice, the first time ending in blustery disaster, the second time still awkward but more honest and meaningful.  It’s strangely lovely.

I, Daniel Blake (Dir.: Ken Loach; GRADE: B-)

Ken Loach won his second Palme d’Or for this lion-hearted but logy slice of working-class life, and it wasn’t even one of the top 5,000 most annoying things to happen in 2016.  Stand-up comedian Dave Johns plays Daniel, a crab with a heart of gold stumbling through a cold, cruel, Internet-automated health care system in search of justice.  Johns is quite good, but there’s not much here that you haven’t seen in dozens of other quirky indie issues dramas.rsz_sully

Friday, November 18

Manchester by the Sea (Dir.: Kenneth Lonergan; GRADE: B+)

Reviewed in the 12/1 issue of the SN&R.

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (Dir.: Ang Lee; GRADE: C+)

Reviewed in the 11/23 issue of the SN&R.

Sully (Dir.: Clint Eastwood; GRADE: B)

A sturdy retelling of the 2009 Miracle on the Hudson from inside the bubble, and focused like most of Eastwood’s recent work on American perceptions of heroism and unresolvable conflict.  Tom Hanks gives a tutorial in kinetic understatement as the hero pilot, but the supporting performances are a lumpy mixed bag.  It’s certainly well-mounted – the cinematography, production design, special effects, sound and editing are all top-notch, although Eastwood’s jazz piano score feels extremely out of place.

Saturday, November 19

rsz_kateplayschristine02The Eagle Huntress (Dir.: Otto Ball; GRADE: B-)

Reviewed in the 12/15 issue of the SN&R.

Kate Plays Christine (Dir.: Robert Greene; GRADE: B+)

The other 2016 Christine Chubbuck movie, not the comparatively traditional biopic of Antonio Campos’ Christine, but a highly original meta-documentary that follows indie actress Kate Lyn Sheil as she prepares to play the role of Chubbuck.  Anyone discomforted by the exploitative nature of Christine (the Sarasota-based TV journalist Chubbuck committed suicide on the air in 1974) might appreciate Greene’s more meditative approach, as the entire film is dedicated to Sheil empathizing with and understanding Chubbuck, literally trying to get under her sun-tanned skin.

13th (Dir.: Ava Duvernay; GRADE: C+)

Commendable on a conceptual level, and impossible to disagree with any of the broad stroke arguments, but Duvernay’s flashy and provocative documentary feels more designed for high school students than for cinephile adults.  Almost all of the best documentaries are focused on discovery, on unrepeatable or unrelated moments adding up to some kind of revelation, but the clips, graphics and talking heads-heavy approach of 13th is all about disseminating known information in a digestible package to an uninformed and potentially unreceptive audience.  Like I said, students.rsz_1ukr_9mar150186_rgb-0-2000-0-1125-crop

Certain Women (Dir.: Kelly Reichardt; GRADE: B)

Give Reichardt credit: the closer she edges to the mainstream, the more austere and arid her movies become.  Certain Women adapts three Maile Meloy short stories into a tenuously connected anthology about the struggle and strength of small-town Montana women.  Laura Dern gives the best performance as a lawyer whose client takes her hostage; Michelle Williams plays a dissatisfied wife who covets a pile of reclaimed brick; and Lily Gladstone plays a ranch hand who develops something like a crush on Kristen Stewart’s neurotic night teacher.  No major complaints – it’s honest, well-acted and thoughtful, but I can’t tell you how many times my mind drifted away during this thing.

Peter and the Farm (Dir.: Tony Stone; GRADE: B)

Intense, deeply personal and unusually minimalist documentary about Peter Dunning, a gruff, alcoholic, long-time Vermont farmer rapidly reaching the end of his rope, and beginning to fashion that rope into a noose.  Peter and the Farm doesn’t shy away from the realities of farm life (Dunning butchers a lamb from start to finish in one of the film’s first scenes), and it manages to capture both the ethereal, borderline surreal beauty of farm life and the lonely, difficult, often ugly realities of Dunning’s everyday existence.

Sunday, November 20

rsz_things-to-come-reviewThings to Come (Dir.: Mia Hansen-Love; GRADE: B)

French filmmaker Hansen-Love’s previous film Eden failed to enchant me during last year’s Cramfest, and I wasn’t that much higher on this similarly low-pulse, narrative-lite, character piece about a sixty-ish philosophy teacher who re-evaluates her life after losing her mother and her marriage.  The difference maker: the great Isabelle Huppert, incapable of playing a false note, a geyser of strength and complexity, even in the midst of Hansen-Love’s disaffected long nod.

The Edge of Seventeen (Dir.: Kelly Fremon Craig; GRADE: B-)

Reviewed in the 11/23 issue of the SN&R.

2015 End-of-Year Cramfest Capsules, Part II

indexBy Daniel Barnes

I’m dedicating the month leading up to the SF Film Critics Circle awards on 12/13 to my End-of-Year Cramfest.  It’s my own personal War on Xmas – I’ll be screening the awards contenders, catching up on overlooked movies, and rewatching some of my favorites from 2015.  Click HERE to read Part I, and check back later this week for Part III.

FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 20

Shaun the Sheep Movie (Dir.: Mark Burton and Richard Starzack; GRADE: B+)

Energetic and playful and droll, with the rolling invention of a silent comedy, this blessedly anarchic and endlessly clever stop-motion animation is one of the best animated features of the year.  It comes from Aardman, based on a TV show I’ve never seen, but with a look and spirit that are kindred to Aardman keystones Wallace and Gromit.  There’s no dialogue, only grunts and growls and nonsense, so this is essentially a silent film with sound effects and music.  Cinephile parents – this could be your kids’ gateway drug to the Criterion Collection!

index2The Stanford Prison Experiment (Dir.: Kyle Patrick Alvarez; GRADE: B)

A sturdily crafted disturber based on the real-life experiments conducted at Stanford University in 1971.  The experimenters hired students and randomly assigned them a role as either prisoner or guard, turning the basement of a faculty office building into a makeshift “prison.” But the experiment got out of hand almost immediately, as the guards inflicted unnecessary physical and psychological punishments, and the prisoners begged for release.  Billy Crudup leads the study team, and a cast of familiar young faces (including Tye Sheridan, Ezra Miller and Thomas Mann) play the guards and prisoners.  Smarter and more penetrating than the strangely overpraised Experimenter, spare but effective, with a solid, lunch box ensemble.

SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 21

indexJames White (Dir.: Josh Mond; GRADE: B+)

Do not open until mid-December.

Of Horses and Men (Dir.: Benedikt Erlingsson; GRADE: B-)

Less an Icelandic Wild Tales than an Icelandic Amores Perros that fancies itself an Icelandic Au Hasard Balthazar, this bold but uneven anthology centers on the nosy citizens of a remote valley village, showing the emotional horrors they inflict on each other, and the physical horrors they inflict on their horses.  More bodily fluids than any other 2015 film I can recall, with some inspired moments counterbalanced by some truly horrific ones, all executed in the deadest of Nordic deadpans.  Hard to recommend, or shake.

The Creeping Garden (Dir.Tim Grabham and Jasper Sharp: GRADE: B)

Mike Dub did an excellent job summarizing this sci-fi documentary in his review, so I’ll just add that it feels like an episode of Nova directed by Errol Morris, pitting human obsession against primordial instinct.  Slime mold wins, because slime mold always wins.images6

SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 22

Writing day, no movies.

MONDAY, NOVEMBER 23

Tom at the Farm (Dir.: Xavier Dolan; GRADE: B)

This homoerotic Hitchcock from French Canadian wunderkind Xavier Dolan was made a year before Mommy, but released several months afterward.  Dolan plays the lead role, a young gay man who travels to the country to mourn his closeted lover, only to find that the dead man’s dangerously homophobic brother would prefer to keep their relationship a secret. An interesting checked box for the young filmmaker, taut and kinky, easily his least exuberant effort, but I’m not ready to dub him a master of suspense just yet. Check out my updated Xavier Dolan Power Rankings HERE.

Entertainment (Dir.: Rick Alverson; GRADE: C)

images7Self-satisfied grotesqueness from the director of The Comedy – part Neil Hamburger concert movie, part savagely deadpan dark comedy, part on-the-nose portrayal of the spiritual bankruptcy of life on the road, and all empty, nihilistic, fuck-you-for-giving-a-shit posturing.  God bless John C. Reilly, though.

The Good Dinosaur (Dir.: Peter Sohn; GRADE: B)

A minor effort from Pixar, a weird, alternate-universe story jumble about a family of dinosaur farmers who come into contact with a wild scavenger that looks a lot like a human boy.  Visually splendid and teeming with ideas, many of them half-cooked, like the mixture of broadly cartoon-ish character designs and photo-realist landscapes.  Still, I found the individual elements extremely compelling, even if the center doesn’t always hold.  Check out my updated Pixar Power Rankings HERE.

index8TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 24

Where to Invade Next (Dir.: Michael Moore; GRADE: B)

It’s so easy to blame Michael Moore for everything annoying about contemporary documentaries that we often overlook his skill as an entertainer.  One good laugh from Moore is worth a million of Alex Gibney’s paranoid whispers.  Where to Invade Next puts Moore back in high-concept territory, as he “invades” foreign countries to steal their ideas for social change, such as Finnish school reforms and Portuguese drug policies.  It won’t change the world, but neither will The Good Dinosaur.  Check out my updated Michael Moore Power Rankings HERE.

Youth (Dir.: Paolo Sorrentino; GRADE: D)

Do not open until Xmas.

imagesSon of Saul (Dir.: Laszlo Nemes; GRADE: B+)

Do not open until 2016.

Ricki and the Flash (Dir.: Jonathan Demme; GRADE: B-)

How do you get a band to stop taking encores?  The first hour of this Diablo Cody-scripted drama about a washed-up “rock star” (Meryl Streep) forced into responsibility by her estranged family has a loose, humane vibe and a number of interesting character swerves (e.g., Ricki’s square family are the liberals, while she’s an Obama-baiting right-winger).  But the story is effectively resolved by the end of the second act, so Streep and her band run out the clock by performing uninspired karaoke cover songs for a solid half hour. Check out my updated Jonathan Demme Power Rankings HERE.

LATER THIS WEEK: End-of-Year Cramfest Capsules, Part III, with mini-reviews of Bridge of Spies, Legend, Eden and more.

2015 End-of-Year Cramfest Capsules, Part I

indexBy Daniel Barnes

It’s that time of year again…awards season, baby!  Let those silly naysayers focus on the dark side of the process: the wastefulness of awards campaigns, the annual sanctification of the middlebrow and the bland, the shameless celebrity gladhanding, the bloated self-importance of mediocre critics, the petty and insipid arguments and controversies, the fact that you’re inevitably choosing from a preselected group of “contenders”, the utter folly of declaring an objectively “Best” anything…

Wait, what was I talking about?  Oh yeah: awards season, baby!  The best time of the year!   Hollywood’s season of quality, love it or leave it, Jack!  Once again, I am devoting late November/early December towards cramming for my best of 2015 lists and SFFCC awards ballot – catching up on the movies I missed, screening as-yet-unreleased awards hopefuls, and re-watching some of my favorites from earlier in the year. You can check out my frequently updated 2015 Ranked list HERE, and follow my 2015 Catchup list HERE.  I’ll be posting these Cramfest updates every few days for the next three weeks, and I’ll culminate the series by publishing my full SFFCC ballot.

And now…on to the Cramfest!

images5SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 14

Brooklyn (Dir.: John Crowley; GRADE: B)

As I wrote on Letterboxd, Old New York has never looked more maple-glazed than it does here.  Telling the story of an Irish immigrant (Saoirse Ronan, simultaneously sickly and luminous) divided between continents, obligations, ambitions, emotions and men, Brooklyn lays it on thick, from cinematographer Yves Belanger’s bronzed images to Michael Brooks’ honeyed score, but somehow it works.  There’s a warmth and sincerity that blasts through the fossilized nostalgia like a sunbeam, and the supporting cast is very strong, especially a scene-stealing Julie Walters.  On the other hand, I’m turning 40 next year, and it kind of freaks me out that I like both this movie and Bill Condon’s Mr. Holmes so much.  How long before I’m clamoring for The Eleventh Best Exotic Marigold Hotel?

Southpaw (Dir.: Antoine Fuqua; GRADE: C+)

index22015’s other Rocky knockoff, the tragic downfall and inspiring rebirth of a self-destructive champ, as though the Rocky franchise got rebooted with Rocky II as the origin story.  Pretty pudgy and flavorless, with only Jake Gyllenhaal’s committed mumble peaking out beneath the genre cliches, but Fuqua brings just enough energy to avert the disaster of Kurt Sutter’s watery script.

Hungry Hearts (Dir.: Saverio Costanzo; GRADE: B+)

An uncanny nailbiter, this one plays like a non-supernatural version of Rosemary’s Baby where Rosemary turns out to be the Devil, as a baby gets caught in the blades of its helicopter parents (Alba Rohrwacher and Adam Driver, both excellent).  Disturbingly unbalanced, constantly in danger of pulling apart at the seams, frequently edging into exploitation and parody, but united by a skin-crawling dread.

Manglehorn (Dir.: David Gordon Green; GRADE: B-)

index3A mangy old cat of a movie, barely pasted together by soulful performances from Al Pacino and Holly Hunter.  Yet another funky and inscrutable deep sigh from David Gordon Green to go with Prince Avalanche and Joe, as Pacino’s lonely locksmith writes letters to a lost love who may have never existed, while wooing Hunter’s sweet bank teller.  Forgettable but oddly charming.

SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 15

The 33 (Dir.: Patricia Riggen; GRADE: C)

Reviewed in 11/19 issue of Sacramento News & Review.

Song of Lahore (Dir.: Andy Schocken and Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy; GRADE: B)

Like Junun, a documentary about traditional musicians working in popular genres and collaborating with famous westerners, and like The Wrecking Crew, a deeply personal story of an under-appreciated supergroup.  Song of Lahore tells the story of Pakistani musicians persecuted by the Taliban, rejuvenated by a new generation, and embraced worldwide for their covers of American jazz standards.  Stylistically slick and skimpy on details of musical culture and Taliban occupation, but the music is great and the vibe is warm.index6

MONDAY, NOVEMBER 16

Trumbo (Dir.: Jay Roach; GRADE: D)

Reviewed in 11/26 issue of the Sacramento News & Review.

Heart of a Dog (Dir.: Laurie Anderson; GRADE: B-)

The dictionary definition of a mixed bag, as pieces of a galvanizing memoir/political screed swim in a pool of self-indulgence and half-formed ideas.  Artist/musician/filmmaker/iconoclast Laurie Anderson (Home of the Brave) offers her first feature film in three decades, using the life and death of her beloved rat terrier as a launching pad for excursions into post-9/11 paranoia, the slippery nature of creativity, and Tibetan concepts of death and ghosts.  It’s exciting and annoying and surprising, kind of like finding out that your strange neighbor with all the dogs is actually Laurie Anderson. When I wasn’t shaking my head and sighing loudly, I was enthralled.indexmeow

TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 17

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 (Dir.: Francis Lawrence; GRADE: C+)

Reviewed in 11/26 issue of the Sacramento News & Review.

WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 18

Creed (Dir.: Ryan Coogler; GRADE: B-)

Reviewed in 11/26 issue of the Sacramento News & Review.

THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 19

images4Tomorrowland (Dir.: Brad Bird; GRADE: B)

A solid rule of thumb: if mainstream critics feel comfortable piling onto a nine-figure, major studio blockbuster, there’s a better than average chance that the film is at least interesting.  All too often, broad critical consensus tilts toward a film’s real or presumed box office viability.  Brad Bird’s gleaming, awe-obsessed vision has some definite structural issues (the antagonist doesn’t materialize until the third act, and even worse, it’s exactly the sort of Ayn Rand-ian social critic villain we’ve come to expect from Bird), but it’s also scruffy and weird in a Joe Dante/Robert Zemeckis fashion, with two complex young female characters at its core.

ESFS Festival #9 Intro – “Palme d’Or Winners of the Early 1980s”

imagesBy Daniel Barnes

I have a Cannes ritual.

I always wake up early the morning after I arrive, so that I can load up on the continental breakfast at the Holiday Inn. My pockets stuffed with pancakes, I step outside into the morning wind, cutting behind the Chateau Pierre and the Bistro d’Bonjour, and making my way towards the Croisette. The opening night screening doesn’t start for hours, so I dawdle along the boulevard, admiring the gorgeous white-sand beaches and the world-class laser tag pits.  Famished and tired, I hail a horse-drawn chariot to ferry me down the Rue de Baguette, past the Monument de Tom Bosley, to my beloved Chez Beret. In a shaky French accent, I place my usual order – a café au lait, mushroom pudding, Sour Patch Kids, and a bucket of loose change. I notice that the midday sun has dipped below the canopy of sugar pines, so I catch a gondola back to the hotel, conversing with the skipper about escargot and Marie Antoinette and…uh, the Eiffel Tower and…uh…

review_NARAYAMAOK, you’ve got me. Unlike the great Roger Ebert, who vividly described his many Cannes experiences in the book Two Weeks in the Midday Sun, I’ve never been to Cannes, I’ve never covered the festival, and I wouldn’t know a Croisette from a Croissan’wich. The only Cannes ritual I’ll be practicing this year will be chowing down on my liver while reading posts and Tweets from critics and cinephiles who are covering the festival for real.

Until I can sucker some deep-pocketed media outlet into subsidizing my trip, curating this ESFS Festival gives me a chance to create my own Cannes experience, which is why scheduled it to run May 13-24, concurrently with the 68th annual gathering in the south of France. It also allows me to explore three world cinema auteurs that I’m relatively unfamiliar with, all of them from different countries. Now that this blog is returning to the monthly festival format, I’m going to use these festivals to fill in some of my auteur blind spots, and almost all of which are non-American directors.  As luck would have it, two of the directors in this festival – Shohei Imamura and Emir Kusturica – are part of a select group of filmmakers that have won the Palme d’Or twice, so hopefully their films will help us to understand the kinds of movies that are valued by Cannes juries.

imagesSo why the early 1980s? No real reason, mostly just a way to put an artificial boundary around the festival. And yet I do hold a certain fascination with the time period. I was born in 1976, but my awareness of a pop culture beyond Indiana Jones and Star Wars didn’t kick in until after Thriller, so the late 1970s/early 1980s was undiscovered country for me for a long time. Discovering early 1980s masterpieces like Blow Out and American Gigolo was instrumental in my post-adolescent development as a cinephile. It still seems like a mysterious time in my imagination, and my knowledge of the era’s world cinema is even more shadowy, a massive blind spot that we begin to chip away at this week.

index We republished Mike Dub’s September 2014 review of Kurosawa’s 1980 Palme d’Or co-winner Kagemusha on Monday as a sort of appetizer.  Dub officially kicks off the festival on Friday with a review of Japanese director Shohei Imamura’s harsh historical drama The Ballad of Narayama. Daniel Barnes reviews German director Wim Wenders’ American-set Paris, Texas on Monday, May 18, and closes the festival on Friday, May 22, with a review of Serbian director Emir Kusturica’s When Father Was Away on Business.

On Tuesday, May 26, Dan and Dub will recap the festival and hand out their own awards, ranking the three films in order of glorious Palme d’Or, so-so Grand Prix, and shameful Un Certain Regard.

Join us for two weeks out of the midday sun, right here on E Street Film Society.

cannes-film-festival

Film #1: The Ballad of Narayama (1983; Dir.: Shohei Imamura) [review by Mike Dub on Friday, May 15]

Film #2: Paris, Texas (1984; Dir.: Wim Wenders) [review by Daniel Barnes on Monday, May 18]

Film #3: When Father Was Away on Business (1985; Dir.: Emir Kusturica) [review by Daniel Barnes on Friday, May 22]

Dan and Dub’s Festival Wrap-Up: Tuesday, May 26

Daniel Barnes @ the SN&R/CSIndy (1/22 and 1/29 issues)

images#barnesyardbumps:

*J.C. Chandor’s awards season nonstarter A Most Violent Year is smarter and slyer and more carefully crafted than a lot of the obsequious crap that actually received nominations.

*Mike Leigh’s gorgeous and unconventional biopic Mr. Turner features a career-defining performance from longtime Leigh favorite Timothy Spall.

*My American Sniper review was reprinted in last week’s Colorado Springs Independent.

index*FOX News scumbags aside, American Sniper is still a complex, conflicted, and profoundly moving film.

#barnesyarddumps:

*Jennifer Aniston goes awards-grubbing in the facile indie Cake, and sticks us with this indigestible slice of grief porn.