Staff Picks: Movies
Staff-recommended viewing from the KPL catalog.
It’s pretty easy to argue that movie expert Roger Ebert was America’s First Film Critic, in the sense that he was the country’s most well-known and respected reviewer of cinema. Ebert passed away yesterday from complications due to cancer. Ebert and the late Gene Siskel introduced millions of Americans to thoughtful conversations about both commercial and artistic-oriented films with their Saturday afternoon television show that aired from the mid 1980’s until Siskel’s death in 1999. Ebert’s brilliant reviews, many of which are collected in numerous books, are an excellent starting point for the novice fan of film to introduce themselves to the treasure trove of great movies. Ebert was known for his superb prose, much of which eschewed jargon and obtuse forms of critical theory. He also had a keen ability to criticize films he found intellectually stupefying or devoid of purpose with a biting sense of humor, some of which can be found below.
“The Last Airbender is an agonizing experience in every category I can think of and others still waiting to be invented. The laws of chance suggest that something should have gone right. Not here. It puts a nail in the coffin of low-rent 3D, but it will need a lot more coffins than that.”
“Battlefield Earth is like taking a bus trip with someone who has needed a bath for a long time. It’s not merely bad; it’s unpleasant in a hostile way.”
“Dice Rules is one of the most appalling movies I have ever seen. It could not be more damaging to the career of Andrew Dice Clay if it had been made as a documentary by someone who hated him. The fact that Clay apparently thinks this movie is worth seeing is revealing and sad, indicating that he not only lacks a sense of humor, but also ordinary human decency.”
“Saving Silverman is so bad in so many different ways that perhaps you should see it, as an example of the lowest slopes of the bell-shaped curve. This is the kind of movie that gives even its defenders fits of desperation. Consider my friend James Berardinelli, the best of the Web-based critics. No doubt 10 days of oxygen deprivation at the Sundance Film Festival helped inspire his three-star review, in which he reports optimistically, ‘Saving Silverman has its share of pratfalls and slapstick moments, but there’s almost no flatulence.’ Here’s a critical rule of thumb: You know you’re in trouble when you’re reduced to praising a movie for its absence of fart jokes, and have to add ‘almost.’”
And one of his most famous disses concerns Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen. It "is a horrible experience of unbearable length, briefly punctuated by three or four amusing moments. One of these involves a dog-like robot humping the leg of the heroine. Such are the meager joys. If you want to save yourself the ticket price, go into the kitchen, cue up a male choir singing the music of hell, and get a kid to start banging pots and pans together. Then close your eyes and use your imagination."
Federico Fellini’s most well-known film and a classic of Italian cinema, 8 and 1/2 continues to stand-up as a trailblazing film that introduced viewers in 1963 to an overly self-conscious form of storytelling that mixes fiction, memoir and dreamy surrealism together as a prophetic statement about the nature of celebrity, the mass media and the pressure to create art even when uninspired. Self-referential, wildly imaginative and irreverent, this classic film points the finger at the film industry and increasingly aggressive media while humorously mocking the hollowness of fame. Poking fun at both himself and his critics (both Catholics and Communists), Fellini delights in highlighting the absurdity and emotional alienation of those forced into positions of creating successful commerce while their personal life grows increasingly dysfunctional. See a trailer here.
8 and 1/2
Another Oscar season has come to a close, and it was quite a successful one at that. There were very few upsets or surprises, which helped this movie geek dominate his Oscar pool, getting 21 out of 24 correct – a tie for my all-time best. The Academy made up for snubbing director Ben Affleck by awarding Best Picture to the well-deserved Argo. The visually-stunning Life of Pi took home the most of the night with four, including one for director Ang Lee, who managed to turn what many felt was an unfilmable book into a crowd-pleaser. Skyfall became the first James Bond film to win an Oscar since 1965’s Thunderball. Lincoln ’s Daniel Day-Lewis became the first person ever to win Best Actor three times. And Pixar’s Brave just beat out the video-game-themed Wreck-It Ralph for Best Animated Feature, which is ironic considering poor Ralph spends his entire movie trying to win a trophy just so people will love him. You’ve earned top score from me, Ralph.
If you’re behind in your Oscar viewing, a handful of these award-winners are available for home viewing now, right here at the Kalamazoo Public Library:
Several of the Oscar winners are coming soon, and you can place a hold on them now:
Check back for the availability of Silver Linings Playbook, winner of Best Actress (Jennifer Lawrence); Les Misérables, winner of Best Supporting Actress (Anne Hathaway), Makeup & Hairstyling, and Sound Mixing; and Amour, winner of Best Foreign Film. The release dates of these films will probably be announced soon.
So what did you think of the Oscars? What were you glad to see win? Which categories would you have preferred to go differently? What was your favorite film of 2012?
The Michael Haneke film Amour was nominated for Best Picture this morning in large part because of the amazing performance of 85 year-old French actress Emmanuelle Riva. But did you know that we have Riva’s first film, the brilliant Hiroshima Mon Amour? Released in 1959, the famous French New Wave director Alain Resnais’ beautiful lament for lost love, innocence and peace (both international and personal) introduced the French actress to the world. Set in the recovering city that suffered the explosion of the first atom bomb, Resnais delicately tells the touching story of two lovers, who over the course of a day, search for what it means (if anything) to remember, to forget and to heal from the wounds of war. An affecting masterpiece of both innovation and storytelling, Riva ‘s anguished character (She) attempts to explain to Eiji Okada’s (He) where she came from (the city of Nevers) and how she has arrived in Hiroshima, a city that symbolically parallels her own life’s troubled arch.
Hiroshima mon amour
Polish director Krzysztof Kieślowski’s mysteriously elegant film The Double Life of Veronique explores the supernatural tale of two women, played by the same actress, who never formally meet one another and yet who look exactly the same and who both feel the presence of the other. Set in both France and Kieslowski’s native Poland, the beautiful Irene Jacob stars as both Veronique and Weronika, two women living parallel lives who both sense that they are both ‘here’ and ‘somewhere’ else at the same time. Following Weronika’s death while singing on stage in Poland, Veronique seeks answers to her strange feelings while beginning to stitch together an explanation for the odd events that have begun to culminate, increasing both her unease and her curiosity.
Double life of veronique
If you enjoy the romantic comedy genre and don’t mind English subtitles, the movie Delicacy might be for you. Starring Amelie actress Audrey Tautou, Delicacy is a creatively anodyne yet enjoyable film about tragedy, mourning, and second chances at love. Combining the kind of predictable rom-com tropes with just enough charm and sweetness, fans of quixotic romance will likely accept the film’s lack of originality for its bountiful amount of sentimentality and tenderness. It's emotional candy for the holiday season.
Oslo, August 31st is a beautiful and affecting film that will leave viewers amazed by its humane and sensitive treatment of the subject of drug addiction and depression. The film unfolds over a single day and as the film suggests, is set in the hip and fashionable parts of Oslo. We follow Anders around Norway’s capital city as he leaves his upscale, suburban drug treatment center for a job interview. His anxiety about the future is clear from the opening scenes. The trajectory of plot is presented in a straightforward and well-paced way, periodically weaving the poetic musings and memories of unseen voices (one assumes they are Anders, his family and friends into the narrative mix). Anders visits old friends for affirmation but he can’t seem to relate because of their seemingly comfortable lives. But are they comfortable? Are they happy? Will Anders utilize his intelligence, talent and strong upbringing to transform his life of addiction, fear and shame or will he sink deeper into a pit of psychic despair? I picked this movie up without knowing anything about it and I’m glad I did. This is one of the most sincere, honest and compassionate portraits of a troubled soul I’ve seen in some time.
Oslo, August 31st
Shoot the Piano Player is French New Wave director Francois Truffaut’s homage to the American noir and crime genre. Filmed in 1960, the story centers on a classically trained pianist named Edouard Saroyan, whose life has hit the skids after the tragic death of his wife, leaving him emotionally broken and looking to escape. Taking on a new identity to erase his past, Saroyan becomes Charlie Kholer, a sad and introverted piano player working in a Parisian dive bar trying to forget his life as a successful concert hall musician. Unfortunately for Charlie, his criminally minded brothers get him involved with a robbery gone badly. From there, his life spins out of control even as his romantic life begins to look up. Sad, funny and poignant, this is one of Truffaut’s best films.
Shoot the piano player
On a recent rainy day, I found myself wandering down to the lower level of Central Library to browse the AV collection. I stumbled upon Louvre City which was a great find. This film looks at the work of the operations employees at the Louvre - moving paintings, cataloging and labeling statues, researching works, and developing exhibits. I think the neatest part of the movie was watching the museum staff move massive oil paintings. We see staff unrolling and stretching an enormous oil painting, and later using dozens of men to lift and move the painting into place so that it can be hung. They didn't show how it was hung, but surely that was another huge and labor intensive feat. I have wondered how the mammoth paintings in art museums are moved before, and now I see that it takes a great amount of manual labor!
The back of the case from the DVD states, "Louvre City is a celebration of the ordinary processes of work in an extraordinary setting." The collection at the Louvre is phenomenal by any standard, being one of the foremost art museums in the world. It is easy to forget or lack understanding of the background work that goes in to making this museum what it is. The movie is titled Louvre City because of the great number of people who work there - over 2,000 according to the museum's website. There are so many people it is almost a city in itself, and they are all devoted to sustaining and sharing the museum's collection.
Sometimes I talk to patrons about the library and they are surprised by the number of background things that have to happen for our operations to run smoothly. Staff at public service desks are our front line but they are supported by the work of many other people who are not seen by the public on a day to day basis. This movie shared with me the same type of insight about this museum; I never realized the amount of work and logistics that went into making a museum what it is. I appreciate museums all the more now for putting in all this time and energy to preserve artifacts for future generations to enjoy and learn from. If you are someone with an interest in museums and/or art I think you would probably really enjoy this interesting movie!
Fans of cinema will want to look over Sight & Sound’s most recent poll of 250 of the Greatest Films ever made. Compiled once a decade since 1962, this list is a great primer for anyone interested in watching the most talked and written about works, including silent films, movies from Hollywood’s golden era, contemporary art house flicks and foreign language masterpieces from the 1950’s and 60’s. Comedies, Drama, Westerns, Noir, Romance—it’s all there. Here are the top ten:
- Citizen Kane
- Tokyo Story
- La regle du jeu
- 2001: A Space Odyssey
- The Searchers
- Man with a Movie Camera
- Passion of Joan of Arc
- 8 1/2
Passion of Joan of Arc