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Staff Picks: Movies

The Graduate

The groundbreaking 1967 film The Graduate has recently been re-released as part of the Criterion Collection. With additional commentary and interviews with both those in front of and behind the camera, admirers of the film or those who have only heard about this celebrated masterwork will find a lot to enjoy. A fabulous film, rich with layers of social commentary, satire and taboo-probing humor, The Graduate gave life to Dustin Hoffman’s career as a leading man and cemented Anne Bancroft’s character (Mrs. Robinson) as an iconic, pop cultural reference point.

Only director Mike Nichols’ second feature film, The Graduate is a sharp and stylish examination of the generational fault lines and collapsing social mores between the counter-cultural baby boomers and their "plastic", establishment-friendly parents. It’s also a film that tonally jumps back and forth from zany to poignant in ways that were unique for a mid-1960’s film. The now-famous usage of Simon and Garfunkel’s music as a score employed to shift audience emotion and narrative movement is common place now but in 1967 it was a fresh way of supplementing the story and its images.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

It was only a matter of time when writer/actor Tina Fey would emerge from the ashes of her wildly funny sitcom 30 Rock to develop another hilarious romp of a show--one reflective of her signature brand of fast paced, pop culture-referencing satire that pokes our funny bone while slyly commenting on our cultural absurdities. Well, it's here and it won't let fans of Fey's previous work down. The Netflix show Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt finds a young woman (brilliantly played by Ellie Kemper) emerge from 15 years of cult-held captivity to embrace The Big Apple with the kind of screwball antics and wide-eyed cluelessness that will charm audiences.

My Favorite Films--R

As part of an ongoing series of 26 posts...

(R) The Royal Tenenbaums

Wes Anderson's brilliant third film The Royal Tenenbaums perfectly captures the unique director's interest in domestic dysfunction, especially families with complicated, sometimes difficult fathers. It has both the style and the substance, the droll humor and the touching pathos of a film that perfectly calibrates its use of comedy and drama to great effect. Anderson is a one of a kind talent whose nine feature films have already been cemented inside the cinematic pantheon. Throw in Anderson's great taste for pop music, an amazing cast of actors and a kitchen sink array of directorial techniques and visual flourishes, all of which service both the style and the substance of his films, and you have a classic beloved by more than just your standard Anderson devotees. For more information about Anderson's approach to filmmaking and his influences, check out this well done essay.


Sheep Thrills

My two-year-old has very limited access to television, thanks to advice gleaned from child-rearing brain-development experts and also common sense. His world of moving pictures has mostly involved the interactive education of Sesame Street, the animated adventures of misbehaving monkey Curious George, and, thanks to his father’s love of all things Aardman, the wooly exploits of British bovid Shaun the Sheep. I grew up on Creature Comforts and Wallace and Gromit, so when it came time for selecting something short that I could enjoy as much as my child, Shaun jumped out at me.

Shaun the character was spun off of the Academy Award-winning Wallace and Gromit short A Close Shave. The series follows Shaun’s life on a small rural farm in Britain and his adventures with fellow sheep, a sheepdog named Bitzer, the hapless farmer, and some misfit pigs. Animated in classic Aardman stop-motion style, Shaun is a family-friendly delight.

Last year saw the feature-length adaptation Shaun the Sheep Movie hit theaters, where it enjoyed great critical success. It has since been deservedly nominated for a Best Animated Feature Oscar. In the film, Shaun and the gang find themselves having to venture to the big city in order to rescue their missing farmer while staying out of the clutches of a villainous animal containment worker. The film is hilarious for kids and adults (as well as adults without kids); much like Pixar, Aardman is an expert at appealing to multiple generations. Check it out! It’s wool-th your time.

My Favorite Films--H

Part of an ongoing series of posts...

(H) Hiroshima Mon Amour and Harold and Maude

If I had to name my two favorite films, they would be Alain Resnais’ touching and form-shifting meditation on memory and psychic trauma brought about from WWII, Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959) and Harold and Maude, a clever satire released in 1971 that fused together counter-cultural verve with a tradition-breaking love story between an eccentric 80 year-old woman (the brilliant Ruth Gordon) and a troubled, young man seeking to free himself from the spirit-killing, bourgeoisie life he lives (Bud Cort). Both films are centered on two individuals that come together in spite of their age and cultural differences in order to free themselves from the emotional baggage driving them to despair. Harold and Maude initially flopped at the box office upon its release but over time became a beloved, cult classic recognized today for its mixture of hippy idealism and irreverent mocking of authority, war and conformity. There’s also the amazing Cat Stevens penned soundtrack that seamlessly slithers throughout the film, adding levity to the movie's dark humor. 

Harold and Maude-Criterion's 3 Reasons


Movies Within Movies

The newest Coen Brothers film Hail, Caesar! is out now in theaters which got me thinking about other films (and they are numerous) that are essentially films within a film or in some cases films about filmmaking, the industry of Hollywood or that meditate upon the artistic process. Here is a small list of seminal meta-movies that situate the subject of cinema as their primary focus.

Sunset Boulevard
Day for Night
8 ½
Singin’ in the Rain
The Artist
Barton Fink
Mulholland Drive
Get Shorty

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.