Writer, actor and filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich once said that it was always the French who told us what was great about American filmmaking, in essence, that the French tended to be more enthusiastic about particular films and filmmakers that were under-appreciated by American audiences and Hollywood studios (examples would include: Orson Welles, Sam Fuller and Howard Hawkes). It was also the French who took the American crime thriller genre and elements of film noir and who with stylish flare re-modeled two decades worth of brilliant movies that depicted criminal protagonists and their anti-social activities (see: Rififi, Bob the Gambler, Les Doulos, Le Samourai, Shoot the Piano Player, and Breathless).
One of these outstanding films is Touchez Pas Au Grisbi (1954), starring a washed up, leading man (Jean Gabin) and an unknown actress who would become an international star in the coming years (Jeanne Moreau). Everything simply clicks in this Jacques Brecker directed film about an aging gangster who just wants to retire after a big heist. Gabin plays the affable Max, a man who is both loved and respected by the women and fellow mobsters in his life. When his beloved but bumbling side-kick Riton becomes embroiled in a messy dispute with another gangster, Max must choose between his money and his friendship. The title translates as Don’t Touch the Loot but fans of film noir should certainly get their hands on this classic.
Oscar nominations were announced yesterday, which means it’s once again time for me to let all the obsessive movie lovers out there know which films are available right now (or very soon), here at the Kalamazoo Public Library.
The first film you’ll want to get your hands on is Richard Linklater’s Boyhood. Nominated for six Academy Awards, this critical darling is the front-runner for Best Picture, Best Director (Linklater) and Best Supporting Actress (Patricia Arquette). It also received nominations for Best Actor (Ethan Hawke), Film Editing, and Original Screenplay. Boyhood is an epic coming-of-age tale that was filmed over the course of twelve years using the same actors. The story follows the journey of young Mason Evans as he ages from six to eighteen, and the viewer can literally watch the young actor grow and mature before their very eyes. It’s truly a great achievement in filmmaking.
The next movie you’ll want to watch is Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, which received nine nominations—tied for the most this year. It was recognized for Best Picture, Best Director (Anderson), Original Screenplay, Cinematography, Costume Design, Film Editing, Makeup and Hairstyling, Original Score and Production Design. The hilarious film follows the exploits of a hotel concierge (Ralph Fiennes) and his lobby boy (Tony Revolori) as they attempt to wrest a valuable painting from the estate of a recently deceased elderly patron. Surprisingly, this is Anderson’s first Best Director nomination and the first of his films to get nominated for Best Picture.
After that, it might be time for a marathon of Best Visual Effects nominees: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, X-Men: Days of Future Past, and Guardians of the Galaxy (also nominated for Makeup and Hairstyling). Come to think of it, if there were an Oscar for the length of the movie title, these would probably be the nominees for that as well.
Then turn your eye to Best Animated Feature nominees: How to Train Your Dragon 2 is out now; The Boxtrolls and Big Hero 6 are not available yet, but they will be soon and you can place a hold on them right now. Shockingly, everything was not awesome for The LEGO Movie, which did not get nominated for Best Animated Feature as expected, but it did still pick up a nomination for Best Original Song with “Everything Is Awesome,” performed by Tegan and Sara (featuring The Lonely Island).
Next, you’ll want to check out Disney’s Maleficent, nominated for Best Costume Design; Finding Vivian Maier, a Best Documentary Feature nominee; Begin Again, Original Song nominee for “Lost Stars”; and Ida, which scored both Best Cinematography as well as Best Foreign Film.
Best Documentary nominee Virunga is available via our streaming service hoopla.
There are several more nominees that are arriving within the next several weeks that you can place a hold on right now, including eight-time nominee The Imitation Game. This true, tragic story of Alan Turing, father of the modern computer and preeminent World War II code-breaker, scored recognition for Best Picture, Best Director (Morten Tyldum), Best Actor (Benedict Cumberbatch), Best Supporting Actress (Keira Knightley), Adapted Screenplay, Film Editing, Original Score, and Production Design. The other coming-soon films that you can place a hold on now are Gone Girl (Best Actress – Rosamund Pike), The Judge (Best Supporting Actor – Robert Duvall), Nightcrawler (Original Screenplay), and Beyond the Lights (Original Song).
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 American Sniper (6 nominations), Foxcatcher (5 nominations), Into the Woods (3 nominations), Selma (2 nominations), Inherent Vice (2 nominations), and the aforementioned The Imitation Game (8 nominations).
Even if you haven’t seen the classic Billy Wilder film Sunset Boulevard (1950), you have likely heard it quoted by someone on television or in another movie. There are several legendary lines delivered by lead actress Gloria Swanson that have become embedded within pop culture’s vernacular. The film has elements of both satire and film noir but at its heart, the film is a cautionary tale about the excesses of wanting too much and the delusions of grandeur that derive from that desire. Swanson plays a long forgotten screen actress of the silent movie era named Norma Desmond. Sadly, she exists within the fantasy land of her mind’s obsession with becoming a star again (“don’t call it a comeback”). She lives with her stern but loyal butler in an old Hollywood mansion on Sunset Boulevard. When she meets a desperate, struggling screenwriter named Joe Gillis (William Holden) and convinces him to draft a film for her return to the big screen (a task he’s not particularly interested in), Norma’s hallucinatory grasp on reality grows into an explosive confrontation between she and Joe that won’t end well for either party.
The following were my favorite movies of the past year that are available from the KPL movie collection. Some are classics, many are foreign language, a few are funny, and on occasion, a masterpiece or two made the list. There were also the casual discoveries of pulling a movie from the shelf without knowing that much about it and being pleasantly surprised. Hopefully, there's something for everyone to enjoy. It was a good year to cross off a few from my ever-growing bucket list of movies to watch.
The Funny: The Grand Budapest Hotel, Bull Durham, The Big Chill, Bad Words, and The Trip to Italy
The Masterpieces and Classics: Safe, Rififi, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Vanishing, Persona, Double Indemnity, Eternity and a Day, Autumn Sonata, Pierre le Fou, Down By Law, Walkabout, Brute Force, The American Friend, Johnny Guitar, Ida, Hail Mary
The Surprises: Omar, Certified Copy, The Landlord, Black Orpheus, The Double, Still Walking, Secret Sunshine, Purple Noon, Gerry, Mystery Train, Happy Together, 2046, Captain Philips, Bronson
Documentaries: Black Fish, The Punk Singer, Beware Mr. Baker, Benjamin Smoke, The Bones Brigade: An Autobiography, These Birds Walk, Plimpton, The Armstrong Lie, Cousin Jules, Harry Dean Stanton.
If the snowy weather’s got you down and you want to watch people who are colder than you are, or if you’re in the mood to wallow in mankind’s devastating effect on global temperatures—or if you just like a good sci-fi action movie—check out the recent South Korean (but mostly English language) release Snowpiercer. Based off the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige and co-written and directed by Bong Joon-ho, best known for the rollickingly great rampaging monster flick The Host, Snowpiercer is set in a dystopian future where mankind’s attempts to reverse global warming have expedited a new Ice Age that has killed off most life on the planet. The few humans that remain live on the Snowpiercer, a massive train that continuously circumnavigates the globe. Within the train, people are divided into social classes, with the poor living in squalor in the rearmost cars, cruelly lorded over by the wealthiest passengers from the front cars. But a revolution is brewing, as man-with-a-past Curtis (Captain America’s Chris Evans) leads the impoverished on a car-by-car battle towards the engine, with hopes of overthrowing the Snowpiercer’s creator and authoritarian leader, played by Ed Harris.
Shot with cinematic grandeur, Snowpiecer succeeds on many levels: as suspenseful fight-laden actioner; as a dystopian fable; as a commentary on our environmental malfeasance; and, as an acting showcase—Tilda Swinton’s gonzo portrayal of a ministerial henchwoman is worth the proverbial price of admission alone. So check it out—the icy backdrop and chilly social undertones may just be the belly-warming tonic you need to make it through these first few frozen weeks of the season.
The whole dystopian thing may have reached the point of oversaturation in our popular culture: zombies, givers, hunger gamers, diverging, purging, maze running—we’ve had so much of it, the genre’s bound to regress into some sort of metaphorical mass-market post-apocalyptic wasteland of itself. And yet this summer’s underappreciated gem The Rover is so delicate in its vision, so realistic in its squalor, you may forget you’re watching something taking place ten years after a catastrophic global economic collapse. Set in the Australian outback, the film depicts a world of desolation and lawlessness, of dog-eat-dog survivalism; there’s no fantasy or sci-fi to this wasteland—this is what real dystopia is going to look like.
Amidst this societal decay is Eric (Guy Pearce), a drifter whose life is as hollow and ruinous as the world around him. While passing through the middle of nowhere, Eric encounters thieves who are fleeing from a botched robbery, and they steal his car. Taking the last possession of a man with nothing left to lose proves to be a bad move on their part, as Eric begins a dogged pursuit to retrieve his vehicle with the steely vigilance of a Terminator. Just when he thinks he’s lost the trail, Eric comes upon a wounded man named Rey (Robert Pattinson) who turns out to be the brother of one of the thieves—badly injured in the robbery, they left him for dead. Eric takes Rey hostage and demands he be led to where his brother’s gang will be hiding out. Rey is the one man who can help Eric get back the last thing in his life that he cared about, but will he be more trouble than he’s worth?
Written and directed by David Michôd, who also made the excellent, Academy Award-nominated crime drama Animal Kingdom, The Rover is suspenseful and well-acted (Pearce is always reliable and Pattinson goes a long way to make you forget all the sparkly vampire paint he used to wear). The gritty world is richly detailed in its bleakness, and the final shot, though some may find it divisive, is a pitch perfect elegy to companionship and a dirge to life before the world collapsed under the weight of selfishness and greed.
There’s just not enough time to compose a lengthy review of some of the great and not-so great feature films, television series and documentaries that I’ve caught over the past month, so instead, I’m handing out a grade and an abridged appraisal.
Bastards—A grim, pointless waste of time from French Director Claire Denis (C-)
Hateship Loveship—Continued proof that former SNL star comedian Kristin Wiig should keep looking for dramatic roles (B)
Orphan Black—Yes, lead actress Tatiana Maslany was robbed of an Emmy nomination for her multiple roles in this great BBC-produced show about clones (A)
Requiem for the Big East—For college basketball fans who grew up in the 1980’s and recall watching these legendary teams, this ESPN documentary will rouse a healthy dose of nostalgia (B+)
The Bridge—in keeping with the very trendy, neo-noir subject of serial killing and the relationship between detectives charged with solving the mysteries (see: True Detective), this cross-border drama explores the messy dialectics of national politics, the consequences of drug/human trafficking and the tension between rich and poor (B+)
Captain Phillips—nothing here was particularly new, assuming you followed the story when it originally unfolded, but it still remains a dramatically compelling, well-paced action film that will jump-start your adrenalin (A-)
Top Hat & Tales: Harold Ross and the Making of the New Yorker—a satisfactory if not condensed portrait of an eccentric visionary and his creative collaborators who developed a unique and lasting publication (B)
Palo Alto—a drained, vacuous sketch of the psychic ennui of rich, white teens whose lives gravitate around sex, drugs, video games and pathetic, exploitative adults (D)
Brick Mansions is Paul Walkers next to last movie before his death, Fast & Furious 7 being his last. This is one of those movies that you just have to sit back and let it entertain you. I kept thinking, oh my goodness with that many guns and that many thugs surely someone will hit something. But no, Damien (Paul Walker) and Lino (David Belle) keep running down alleys and jumping in cars, bullets flying and for the most part only dumpsters and car doors get shot. Take a section of the city and erect a wall around it, fill it with thugs, toss in a bomb that needs deactivating and you have got your movie. Damien is a cop who infiltrates Brick Mansions with the help of Lino, his mission is to deactivate the bomb. David Belle, who plays Lino, is a cofounder of Parkour, which is a discipline using acrobatic moves like leaping from walls and over gaps, ground rolls and precision jumping. So you have to figure there will be a lot of that in this movie. Come on down to KPL and check it out.
An unreliable narrator is a narrator, whether in literature, film, or theater, whose trustworthiness has been seriously questioned. Film audiences should be wary of gleaning truths from the narrator’s account of the movie's unfolding and plot details. Here are some films that have employed the unreliable narrator approach to storytelling to great effect.
Last Year at Marienbad
The Usual Suspects
The Great Gatsby
I knew very little about Blue Ruin when I went to see it at Kalamazoo’s Alamo Drafthouse theater—just that it was a revenge thriller that had been widely beloved by critics. It was one of the “Drafthouse Recommends” featured titles, which—for movie buffs like me—is a stamp of approval worth heeding. And wouldn’t you know it: this edge-of-your-seat thriller has turned out to be the best thing I’ve seen so far this year. I appreciated not knowing even the basic premise of the film going into it—a rarity in this age of oversharing, spoiler-y trailers—so I will tell you very little about it in hopes that you will be pleasantly surprised as well.
Here’s what I’ll share: As I’ve said, it’s a revenge thriller, so you know somebody wants to get back at somebody else, but it will take that premise in surprising directions; it’s bloody, so you’ll need to be able to stomach some gore; and perhaps most importantly, you’ll get to see Eve Plumb, best known for playing Jan on The Brady Bunch in her youth, wielding a machine gun (who doesn’t want to see that?). So check it out: Blue Ruin, available soon on DVD here at KPL, and keep an eye out for more “Drafthouse Recommends” titles. The Alamo brings a lot of great films to Kalamazoo that no other theater does. As a die-hard movie fan, I rarely go anywhere else.