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Staff Picks: Movies

My Favorite Movies: A-Z

For this post, the first of 25 to follow, I will be recommending a favorite film from each letter of the alphabet. 

(A) The Assassin (2015)

The winner of last year's Cannes Film Festival's award for best director, The Assassin is a visual feast of expertly composed images, poetically rendered to evoke the immense beauty of China and its complex political history. The plot's obtuse delivery left me in a state of confusion throughout the viewing, which for some, might understandably be a deal breaker. However, fans of slowly drawn out portraits of morally conflicted, trained killers can ignore the clunker of a story line while still appreciating the magnificent imagery.


The (Fury) Road to Oscars

The 88th Academy Awards are less than a month away, so if you want to catch up on some of the nominees, the Kalamazoo Public Library can help you out! The following is a list of Oscar-nominated films that are available right now (or very soon) here at KPL:

Summer blockbuster (and, full disclosure, my favorite film of the year) Mad Max: Fury Road received ten nominations for Best Picture, Best Director (George Miller), Cinematography, Film Editing, Costume Design, Visual Effects, Makeup & Hairstyling, Production Design, and Sound Mixing & Editing.

Another popular Best Picture nominee, The Martian, scored a Best Actor nod for Matt Damon, as well as nominations for Best Adapted Screenplay (Drew Goddard), Production Design, Visual Effects, and Sound Mixing & Editing.

Steven Spielberg’s Cold War drama Bridge of Spies was recognized for Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Mark Rylance), Best Original Screenplay (Matt Charman, Joel & Ethan Coen), Original Score (Thomas Newman), Production Design, and Sound Mixing.

The riveting thriller Sicario received nominations for Best Original Score (Jóhann Jóhannsson), Best Cinematography, and Best Sound Editing.

Sci-fi thriller Ex Machina received nominations for Best Visual Effects and Best Original Screenplay (Alex Garland).

Three of the Best Animated Feature nominees are currently available: When Marnie Was There, Shaun the Sheep Movie, and Inside Out (which was also nominated for Best Original Screenplay).

Don’t miss must-see Best Documentary Feature nominees The Look of Silence and Amy.

Kenneth Branaugh’s Cinderella received a nomination for Best Costume Design.

The Hunting Ground and Fifty Shades of Grey received Best Original Song nominations.

The cumbersomely-titled The 100 Year-Old Man Who Climbed out the Window and Disappeared was nominated for Best Makeup & Hairstyling.

All-around juggernaut Star Wars: The Force Awakens received five nominations including Best Original Score (John Williams), Best Film Editing, Visual Effects, and Sound Mixing & Editing. The film is not available yet, but John Williams’ Oscar-nominated music is.

The nominees that are not yet available, but are expected within the month are Straight Outta Compton, Spectre, Creed, and Room. You can place a hold on these right now.

So start binging today, and be sure to keep checking our catalog for other Oscar nominated films as more of them become available. For many of the Oscar nominated films that are still in theaters, be sure to check out downtown Kalamazoo’s Alamo Drafthouse Theater, which is currently playing The Revenant (12 nominations), The Big Short (5 nominations), Carol (6 nominations), and the 2016 Oscar nominated shorts, both Live Action and Animated.


Liked That, Try This (Oscars Edition)

Liked The Big Short, try Inside Job

Liked Bridge of Spies, try The Spy Who Came in From the Cold

Liked Brooklyn, try In America

Liked Mad Max: Fury Road, try Bellflower

Liked The Martian, try Apollo 13

Liked The Revenant, try Jauja

Liked Room, try The Wolfpack

Liked Spotlight, try All the President’s Men

 


Film Comment Magazine Critics Poll

The editors of Film Comment Magazine have issued their 20 Best Films of 2015 (established by over 100 polled critics) in their newest issue (January/February). Some of the titles have managed to be released on DVD but most have release dates later on this year.

1. Carol
2. The Assassin
3. Mad Max: Fury Road
4. Clouds of Sils Maria
5. Arabian Nights
6. Timbuktu
7. Spotlight
8. Phoenix
9. Inside Out
10. The Look of Silence
11. Hard to Be a God
12. Anomalisa
13. In Jackson Heights
14. Son of Saul
15. Horse Money
16. Jauja
17. Tangerine
18. Brooklyn
19. The Diary of a Teenage Girl
20. Bridge of Spies


Sicario

Denis Villenueve is a director who trades in discomfiting ambiguities and psychic dread. His films function to blur and haze, confuse and de-center the viewer’s grasp of truth and intention. Right and wrong and black and white are erased with an opaque bleakness that doesn’t make for light-hearted viewing of his films. His gripping film Prisoners grappled with the moral implications of revenge and torture. His next film, one even more vague and unsettling, was Enemy, an intense, arty take on the theme of doubling. His newest film Sicario contains the disquieting menace that courses throughout his work. With excellent performances given by Emily Blunt, Benicio del Toro and Josh Brolin, Sicario draws the viewer into the muddy border matrices, nihilism and violence of the drug war between Mexican cartels and the U.S. government.


The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

Although, the new movie The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is pretty good, the best part about it was the music. NinaSimone was an interesting choice for music. I haven’t thought much about her in quite a while, but the movie and music brought back memories.  

I never fully understood the significance of the Man from U.N.C.L.E. series in the 60s. I didn’t associate the show with the Cold War or realize what a compromise it was for an American to partner with a Russian. I get it now. The movie is not fairing so well. Its getting its share of rotten tomatoes but the Man from U.N.C.L.E. is still fun. The music makes it for me. KPL has lots of NinaSimone CDs. So watch the movie and if you enjoy the music you’ll know where to find more of it. 


The Best Films of 2015 (So Far)

Year-end film lists are always difficult to make in a timely fashion for those of us who don’t live in a large city. A sizeable chunk of the movies that compete for awards tend to be released in only a handful of markets late in the year so that they can capitalize on nominations and guild recognitions; most of us won’t have the opportunity to catch them at our local Alamo Drafthouse until January or February. It is with this caveat that I recap my early best-of list, acknowledging that many of the season’s big contenders have yet to be screened, and others have not yet hit DVD.

Available now:

Mad Max: Fury Road – George Miller’s masterpiece of dystopian demolition is the most exciting, progressive, and visually-stunning blockbuster in recent memory. I’m as surprised as you are.

It Follows – This slow-burn, instant-classic horror film somehow manages to make you both claustrophobic and agoraphobic at the same time.

Inside Out  – The folks at Pixar prove their genius once again with this profound exploration of the emotions of a young girl struggling with the challenges of growing up.

Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief – This eye-opening documentary reveals the dark, tragic truth behind L. Ron Hubbard’s institutional legacy of tax evasion, blackmail, manipulation, and physical & emotional cruelty.

The Hunting Ground – Anyone who has a child in college needs to see this disturbing documentary about the legacy of sexual abuse that takes place on campuses across the country—and the shocking lengths to which universities will go to cover it all up.

What We Do in the Shadows – This hilarious vampire mockumentary from one-half of Flight of the Conchords rivals any of Christopher Guest’s improvised comedies.

Ex-Machina – This dark sci-fi film about artificial intelligence features stellar performances from Oscar Isaac and Alicia Vikander.

Mr. Holmes – Ian McKellen shines as a 93-year-old Sherlock Holmes who’s struggling to solve one final case despite dealing with increased memory loss.

Coming soon:

The Look of Silence – This must-see companion piece to the 2013 documentary The Act of Killing explores the Indonesian genocide from the point of view of the victims who still live under the regime that murdered their friends and family.

The Martian Matt Damon gets left behind on Mars and we’re all the better for it.

SicarioEmily Blunt is terrific as a tactical expert who gets trapped in the dark, seedy political underbelly of the war on drugs. The film contains some of the most breath-taking scenes of suspense put on screen this year.

99 Homes Michael Shannon chews the scenery as a real estate operative who evicts people from their homes in this thrilling exploration of the darkest side of the housing crisis. 

Other films I enjoyed this year that aren’t available yet include Steve Jobs, Brooklyn, Spotlight, Bridge of Spies, Creed, Room, and a little can-do picture called Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Check them out in theaters or look for them on DVD in the next few months. I’ll be sure to give you a final top ten list right around Oscar time, as that’s when I’ve usually had a chance to see many more contenders.


2015 National Film Registry

Earlier this week, the Library of Congress announced the 25 films selected for this year's National Film Registry. “Under the terms of the National Film Preservation Act, each year the Librarian of Congress names to the National Film Registry 25 motion pictures that are ‘culturally, historically or aesthetically’ significant. The films must be at least 10 years old. The Librarian makes the annual registry selections after conferring with the distinguished members of the National Film Preservation Board and Library film staff, as well as considering thousands of public nominations.”

Here are the 2015 selections:

Being There (1979)
Black and Tan (1929)
Dracula (Spanish language version) (1931)
Dream of a Rarebit Fiend (1906)
Eadweard Muybridge, Zoopraxographer (1975)
Edison Kinetoscopic Record of a Sneeze (1894)
A Fool There Was (1915)
Ghostbusters (1984)
Hail the Conquering Hero (1944)
Humoresque (1920)
Imitation of Life (1959)
The Inner World of Aphasia (1968)
John Henry and the Inky-Poo (1946)
L.A. Confidential (1997)
The Mark of Zorro (1920)
The Old Mill (1937)
Our Daily Bread (1934)
Portrait of Jason (1967)
Seconds (1966)
The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
Sink or Swim (1990)
The Story of Menstruation (1946)
Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One (1968)
Top Gun (1986)
Winchester '73 (1950)

The Librarian of Congress is already accepting nominations from the public for 2016. The nomination form is here.


Liked That, Try This(1)

And another installment of Liked That, Try This

Liked The Lives of Others, try Barbara
Liked Mad Max: Fury Road, try The Rover
Liked Me, Earl and the Dying Girl, try Dope
Liked Selma, try In the Name of the Father
Liked M.A.S.H. try Bulworth
Liked Wonder Boys, try The Extra Man
Liked All That Heaven Allows, try Far from Heaven


Fuzzy Memories

Memory loss, amnesia and the human tendency to construct images and establish narratives in the service of making sense of the past has long fascinated filmmakers, writers and artists. The ‘unreliable narrator’ has been employed by many a director and writer to create a world of uncertainty and suspense within the mind of the viewer. I enjoy films that explore the discontinuity and fallibility of our memories in the service of depicting the unstable character of our perception toward others, including our own limitations of understanding of the self. This depiction of the cruelty of unpredictability has found its way inside the DNA of countless films that have dealt with the subject in varied ways, some through the vehicle of a character’s mind and others through a narrative approach.

Hiroshima Mon Amour
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Memento
Away from Her
Total Recall
Trance
Before I Go to Sleep
The Vow
Last Year at Marienbad
The Bourne Trilogy
Dark City
The Long Kiss Goodnight