Staff Picks: Movies
Staff-recommended viewing from the KPL catalog.
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 Guard is a dark comedy set in a small town in Ireland. It's also a throwback buddy film where two cops from different backgrounds work together to fight crime while insulting eachother. It has its tender moments but for the most part, The Guard is all about the genre and complying with the dictates of cliche. The great character actor Don Cheadle plays an uptight FBI agent sent to provincial Ireland to bust a drug ring. Along the way, he encounters the eccentric and verbally unfiltered policeman Gerry Boyle, who has his own method of conducting police investigations. The two bristle at one another’s approach, disliking the other’s personality but like all buddy films, they come to find common ground in bringing the bad guys to justice.
For a guy who insists he’s deliberately “doing nothing” with his life, Greenberg’s title character (Ben Stiller) keeps pretty busy. He’s building a doghouse for his brother’s pet while housesitting for him; he's constantly penning letters to businesses expressing his dissatisfaction with the most minute details of their services; he takes up an offer from women half his age to go on a deep-sea diving expedition in Australia, despite the fact that he’s a terrible swimmer.
From the sounds of it, this quirky, aging slacker’s screen saga – last June's Kalamazoo Film Society selection - might make for light viewing with plenty of laughs, except for one detail – Greenberg’s trying to deal with life outside an institution, from which he’s recently been released after recovering from a breakdown of an unspecified nature. Watching his brother’s house, in a city he left behind years ago, gives him an opportunity to reconnect with members of his old social circle, but since social norms are no longer a constraint for him, the expression of his feelings and impulses can be cause for embarrassment, pain, and alienation, as well as a certain poignancy (and laughs – this is still a comedy). Greenberg’s caught in a vicious cycle of feeling discomfort, which feeds others’ discomfort, which further feeds his own.
Stiller’s pitch-perfect performance – not too wacky, not too angst-ridden – is beautifully complemented by Greta Gerwig’s performance as his brother’s assistant, a woman in her mid-twenties whose impulsive life reflects Greenberg’s own. The two forge a tentative bond that’s constantly tested throughout the film, and one wonders if the bond can possibly last when both people live so in the moment. As with the best character-study films, Noah Baumbach’s latest doesn’t force-feed any resolutions – it’s simply enough to watch these characters try to make sense of their lives, even when they don’t live them sensibly... but who does?
If you have yet to discover our collection of movies that have been shown by the Kalamazoo Film Society you should go and check out the list. Recently I watched The Band's Visit, a short film about an Egyptian Police Band who travels to Israel to play at an Arab Cultural Center opening. The language barrier results in the band taking the wrong bus and they end up in a remote Israeli village with no hotel and no hope of a return bus ride until the next day. What results is an interesting and hilarious night when the tensions between Egyptian and Israeli slip away in favor of semi-romantic dates, roller skating and birthday parties. Both parties not only learn something about the other's country, but also themselves. It was not hard to believe that this film has won over 35 international film awards because it is a lesson in cross-cultural differences.
The Band's Visit
Over the past 20 years, British movie and theater director Mike Leigh has produced a critically praised body of work that artfully investigates the gritty despair and grim lives of his working class characters. His most well-known and admired films include Naked, Vera Drake, Topsy-Turvy, and Secrets and Lies.
His newest movie Happy-Go-Lucky has garnered the positive attention of film critics for the performance of the film’s leading actress, Sally Hawkins. Playing this weekend at WMU’s Little Theater, moviegoers may just find out what the secret to happiness is and whether or not Leigh has lightened up from his usually, serious and bleak depictions of British life.
Many movies are easily forgotten. But some, such as The Lives of Others (originally released in German as Das Leben der Anderen), leave me in a state of quiet astonishment that lingers for a long time. I saw this award-winning work one year ago when it was presented by the Kalamazoo Film Society and I still can’t forget it. Yes, it's that good.
Set in Germany shortly before the fall of the Berlin Wall, The Lives of Others concerns a playwright and his actor girlfriend and the Stasi agent assigned to conduct surveillance of the couple. You couldn’t find two men more different than these: the passionate artist who has managed to live a full life within the constraints of the Communist system, and the Stasi agent who has no life of his own.
This will be no typical surveillance assignment. As the agent listens in on the playwright and his girlfriend, his life begins to change, a sort of familiarity-bred contempt in reverse that affects the agent’s life and his allegiances and that eventually propels everyone past a point of no return.
A beautiful story that is superbly acted and directed, The Lives of Others is a movie you won't forget.
The Lives of Others