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Staff Picks: Movies

My Favorite Films--B

As part of an ongoing series of 26 of my favorite films...

(B) Bulworth

Bulworth, released in 1998, remains one of the most piercing political parodies of its era. Lead actor and director Warren Beatty puts in a tour de force performance as a suicidal, liberal politician whose disillusionment with the corruption of politics and his passive complicity in the system guides him to hire an unknown assassin to put him out of his misery. After a night of partying with a young woman (Halle Berry) and uttering unfiltered statements that he’d never express as a slick politician, Bulworth changes course and decides that he does indeed want to live. Woopsie, now what? Such an absurd premise connects Bulworth to a cinematic tradition of spoof and farce akin to classics like Network, Wag the Dog, In the Loop, Bob Roberts and Dr. Strangelove.

Jane the Virgin

When I first heard the basic premise of the newer television series Jane the Virgin – an early-20-something devout Catholic woman who's decided to save her virginity until marriage is accidentally artificially inseminated – I immediately dismissed it as something I had zero interest in watching. But since the series debuted in fall 2014, I continued hearing positive buzz about the show. I recently took a few days away from the library to stay with my mother during her recovery from surgery; camping out in front of the TV was the only 'activity' she had the energy for, so we decided to check out the first episode of Jane the Virgin. That episode pulled us in, leading us, in the course of a few days, to binge-watch the entire first season and seek out the available episodes from season two online. The series is hilarious and totally charming, and manages to address relevant societal issues in a smart and natural manner. It offered a casual opportunity for my mom and me to have a conversation about immigration that we may not have had otherwise. The series as a whole is definitely much better than the over-the-top premise.

Here are a few other binge-worthy series that generate discussion:
Orange Is the New Black
Master of None
Mr. Robot
The Wire

The Grand Seduction

The Grand Seduction is about a town that needs to entice a company to locate it’s plant in their small town. This will provide jobs for the entire town. But to do so they need a full time doctor. One of the towns people is a customs inspector and encounters a person who has a small bit of cocaine in his luggage. He happens to be a Doctor. The customs inspectors agrees to overlook this if the Doctor will spend a month as their town doctor. During this month the town tries to seduce him into staying. He likes cricket so they pretend to have a team and watch it on the television. They listen in on his phone calls to his girlfriend and use this knowledge to entice him to stay. He says he misses a certain food dish, and surprise it on highlighted on the towns only dinners menu the next day. This is an enjoyable quirky movie. Check it out at KPL.

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.

The Sapphires

Part musical, part feel-good drama with just enough charm to balance the weighty subjects of war and racism, The Sapphires is an entertaining if not typical, rags to riches tale about a collection of young, Australian Aboriginal women who take their talents for singing Motown on the road to the heart of the Vietnam War. Loosely based upon a true story, actor Chris O'Dowd plays the group's flaky but lovable manager who encourages the gutsy women to embrace soul music as a way to find success playing concerts for American troops. It's a predictable film that feels like you've seen it before but like a good pop song, the infectious characters groove their way into your sentimental heart and sometimes, that's just enough. 

10 Films from the 1940s

It was the decade fraught with world war and its aftermath, the decade that ushered into homes a little box with moving images, the decade that saw the birth of American consumerism, and the decade that gave us cinematic masterpieces like Citizen Kane, Bicycle Thieves, Casablanca, The Third Man, and Double Indemnity. Here are 10 other classic films from the decade worth checking out.

The Philadelphia Story
The Big Sleep
The Best Years of Our Lives
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
The Maltese Falcon
Lady Eve
Black Narcissus
The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp
Rome Open City

Inside Out

Inside Out is one of the year’s best animated films. It’s both smartly written and entertaining. It’s also received praise for being accessible to both its young viewers and their parents. The film’s originality begins with its narrative form, one that sets out to tell the story of a young girl’s difficult, emotional transition after her parents move her and the family from their bucolic Minnesota home to a dingy apartment in San Francisco. Her adjustment to her new school and classmates is a rough one. Riley misses her Minnesota friends and hockey teammates, leading to her expressing these laments in negative ways. What the viewer sees are scenes with Riley navigating this disappointment toward her parents and the internal machinations of her psyche, represented as zany characters, voiced by the likes of Amy Poehler, Bill Hader and Mindy Kaling. Thoughtfully conceived and executed, Inside Out will more than likely earn an Oscar nomination.


Tangerine” encompasses dizzying multitudes — it’s a neo-screwball chase flick with a dash of Rainer Werner Fassbinder — but mostly, movingly, it is a female-friendship movie about two people who each started life with an XY chromosome set.—Manohla Dargis (New York Times)

Supposedly shot on an iPhone 5, the new film Tangerine has landed on many end-of-year lists. It’s a fast paced, no holds bar, foul mouthed dramedy with a heart that drags its audience along the sun-saturated sidewalks of Hollywood with two transgendered prostitutes (Sin-dee-rella and Alexandra). The technical bravura of the filmmaking aside (amazingly shot and edited), it’s an unfiltered story bursting with gritty energy and propelled by madcap shenanigans involving a cheating pimp, an Armenian taxi cab driver and an underwhelming karaoke performance.  

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.