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The Congress

"The Congress" is a roll call of the orgiastic pleasures and bountiful comforts that art provides, and, a reminder of what waits for us when…

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As Above, So Below

It's that rare found-footage film with a strong premise, a memorably eccentric style, and plenty of energy to burn. It's also poorly conceived, and hard…

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Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

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Monsieur Hire

Patrice Leconte's "Monsieur Hire" is a tragedy about loneliness and erotomania, told about two solitary people who have nothing else in common. It involves a…

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* This filmography is not intended to be a comprehensive list of this artist’s work. Instead it reflects the films this person has been involved with that have been reviewed on this site.

#139 October 24, 2012

Marie writes: The countdown to Christmas officially begins the day after Halloween, which this year lands on a Wednesday. Come Thursday morning, the shelves will be bare of witches, goblins and ghosts; with snowmen, scented candles and dollar store angel figurines taking their place. That being the case, I thought it better to start celebrating early so we can milk the joy of Halloween for a whole week as opposed to biding adieu to the Great Pumpkin so soon after meeting up again...

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Greatest Films of All Time: Where's the funny?

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The big loser in the 2012 Sight & Sound critics poll is... funny. OK, we know there are no losers, only winners! But, still, with the obvious exceptions of "Citizen Kane" and "Rules of the Game," this decade's consensus choices for the Greatest Films of All Time are not a whole lotta laughs, even though they're terrific motion pictures. There's not much in the way of chuckles or joie de vivre to be found in "Vertigo," "Tokyo Story," "Man with a Movie Camera," "The Searchers," "The Passion of Joan of Arc"... At least "Sunrise," "2001: A Space Odyssey" and "8 1/2" have healthy senses of humor, but "Kane" and "Rules of the Game" are the only movies in the top 10 with the propulsive vitality of (screwball) comedy. They are flat-out fun (even if they are regarded as "classics"). And with "Kane" bumped to #2 this time, The List has become, to paraphrase a great comedy from the 1980s, one less funny.

I say this as someone who believes that comedy is everything, and that drama is lifeless (or at least emotionally stunted) without it. Some might argue that comedy without drama is also limited and superficial, but I think comedy is more profound and complex -- and more difficult to pull off successfully. I can name plenty of comedies that capture a mature vision of human existence (if you're into that kind of thing -- like all of Buster Keaton), but a drama that (artificially) excludes humor is feels false and inert to me. [No, I'm not saying the other movies in the Top Ten are humorless or lack cinematic exuberance; just that their energy is not primarily comedic, as i feel Welles' and Renoir's are. To some extent, I'm talking about the overall tendency to value "seriousness" above "humor" in these sorts of exercises.] As for the 2012 Sight & Sound Top Ten, compare it with 1982 ("Singin' in the Rain," "The General"), 1992 ("L'Atlante") and 2002 ("Singin' in the Rain"). The lack of comedy on the new list hearkens back to the Somber Ol' Days of the 1950s, '60s and '70s. As somebody once said: Why so serious?

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Cannes & Cannes-not: On being a movie geek

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We all live in our own little subcultures. In mine -- loosely categorized as international film-festival cinephiliacs -- big-name contemporary filmmakers such as Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Abbas Kiarostami, Michael Haneke and the Dardennes brothers (yes, they've all won the Palme d'Or at Cannes) are huge, huge stars. In fact, some of us, whether we like them or not, feel they are overexposed, on the verge of becoming more than famous: ubiquitous. Like Kardashians or something. (I'll be honest: I don't know what a Kardashian is, but I keep hearing the term.) I mean, good god, the Dardennes have been all in your face throughout the 21st century, making movie after movie and picking up awards everywhere you look. And don't even get me started on Kiarostami. That guy became the international flavor-of-the-film-fest-cicruit in the 1980s, achieved his biggest commercial success in 2010, and has a new film in competition at Cannes right now.

I suppose it's true that, to most people outside our own little coterie, the Cannes Film Festival means just about nothing. Its impact on the American box office is negligible (although Kiarostami's Palme-winner "Taste of Cherry" grossed a pretty impressive $312 thousand in the US in 1998. That's about what "Marvel's The Avengers" took in while you were reading the last sentence). I guess fame -- or importance -- depends on your perspective.

A few things got me to thinking about this. One was Manohla Dargis's NY Times dispatch from Cannes. I love her observations:

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Love under stormy skies

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Sunday dawned with a dark and threatening sky and a chill in the air, continuing the dreary weather trend of the past two days. It's a day of heavy-hitters here at Cannes, with two greatly anticipated films by major directors premiering in competition: "Amour" ("Love") by Austrian Michael Haneke in the morning; and "Like Someone in Love" by Iranian Abbas Kiarostami in the evening. Is the weather an omen or just weather? We'll see.

Neither of today's competition films was made in the director's home country. Haneke made "Amour" in France with French stars, but then he has more frequently worked in France in recent years. Kiarostami made his previous feature "Certified Copy" in Italy with an international cast, but "Like Someone in Love" was made in Japan with a French producer, a first for the globe-trotting director.

Michael Haneke has made his reputation on a uniquely transgressive form of cinema. Films, including "The White Ribbon," "The Piano Teacher," and "Funny Games," cross boundaries and break taboos, all the while drawing the audience into complicity with moral compromises and sometimes vile acts. "Amour" represents a new and more gentle and affecting take on that artistic strategy.

In "Amour," veteran French stars Jean-Louis Trintignant ("A Man and a Woman," "My Night with Maud") and Emmanuelle Riva ("Hiroshima Mon Amour") play Georges and Anne, a married couple in their 80s. They are retired music teachers who live in a lovely high-ceilinged apartment, and their comfortable lives are steeped in music and the arts. Their adult daughter Eva (Isabelle Huppert), also a musician, has a busy life of touring with her British husband.

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A letter from Chaz

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• Chaz Ebert at Cannes

Dear Roger: "We were once indivisible from every atom in the cosmos," and that is how I feel when I am sitting in the Palais watching movies at Cannes with a screen spread out as wide as the galaxy, the audience circling around like protons and neutrons breathing as one in empathy.

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If it's springtime, it must be Cannes

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In just a week the French Riviera will come alive with the hoopla of the 65th Cannes International Film Festival, running this year from May 16 through 27. Despite the international proliferation of film festivals, like it or not, Cannes remains the biggest, most hyped, glitziest and most diverse event the world of film has to offer, the envy of every other festival.

As if the world at large also trembled at the import of the approaching festivities, previous Cannes festivals have been prefaced by volcanic eruptions, hurricane-force storms, national strikes, and bomb threats. What can we expect this year, when the festival officially becomes a senior citizen? Don't look for any rocking chairs along the Croisette, for one thing. Judging by the lineup of major directors represented in the Competition and other official sections, it's more likely that major revelations will be rocking the Palais. And if it's like other years, we can expect the festival will manage to rock a headline-grabbing major controversy or two as well.

For the fourth year in a row, Cannes will open with an American production, Wes Anderson's "Moonrise Kingdom," guaranteeing that name stars including Bruce Willis, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Frances McDormand, and Tilda Swinton will be gracing the red carpet on Wednesday, May 16 for a glamorous kick-off. Judging by the trailer available online, the real stars may be the large cast of kids in a comedy/drama that looks to be strong on surreal wackiness.

Even a quick glance at the list of films in competition yields an eye-popping number of famous names, including David Cronenberg (Canada), Michael Haneke (Austria), Abbas Kiarostami (Iran), Ken Loach (UK), Cristian Mungiu (Romania), Alain Resnais France), Carlos Reygadas (Mexico), Walter Salles (Brazil), and many more. This competition could be a veritable Olympics of the cinema gods...or not, as sometimes happen, because even world-class filmmakers and certified masters can disappoint.

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I'll tell you why movie revenue is dropping...

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Box office revenue at movie theaters "lagged far behind 2010," an article by the AP's David Germain reports. Partly that was because the year lacked an "Avatar." Partly because a solid summer slate fell off in the autumn. Germain talks to several Hollywood insiders who tried to account for the general decline of ticket sales; 2011 had "smallest movie audience since 1995." I have some theories of my own, fueled by what people tell me.

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My First 2011 "Ten Best" List

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(Picture the headline above in Comic Sans.) MSN Movies contributors have selected our Top 10 Movies of 2011. What does that mean? Whatever you want it to mean. Are these movies "the best"? Are they our favorites? Are they "movies we got to see before the deadline"? In my case, it's some combination of all three -- but I'm really quite happy with the aggregate results. As for my own contribution, as usual I hadn't seen everything I wanted to by the deadline ("A Separation," "Hugo," "The Artist," "Mysteries of Lisbon," "Midnight in Paris" among them), and still haven't, but them's the breaks. My lists will evolve in coming days (Village Voice/LA Weekly poll, indieWIRE Critics Poll, and so on), but I do want to say that I went all-in with my emotions. I picked these movies 'cause I love 'em, not because I merely admire them or appreciate them.

The Big List starts here; the individual lists start here.

Of course, as much as we love lists, the best thing about the MSN feature is that we have short appreciations of the top 10 movies, written by some very perceptive and eloquent people. And me, too. You will find the Group List, with excerpts and links to the full mini-essays, below -- and my personal ballot at the bottom. Let me know what you think -- and be sure to read the previous post ("Idiocracy and the ten-best trolls") for a good laugh:

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Arthouse suspense: My month with Abbas and Joe

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For the last month, I've been watching almost nothing but Abbas Kiarostami and Apichatpong Weerasethakul movies -- and it's been the best run of good-to-great movie-watching I've had in years. How did this happen? Well, I was beguiled by their most recent pictures: Kiarostami's "Certified Copy" and Weerasethakul's "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives" -- both prize-winners at last year's Cannes Film Festival (best actress for Juliet Binoche, and the Palm d'Or, respectively). For reasons I'll get into in a bit, the only Kiarostamis I'd seen before were two of his biggies, "A Taste of Cherry" (1997) and "The Wind Will Carry Us" (1999); and the only Apichatpong (just call him "Joe") movie I'd seen was "Blissfully Yours" (2002).

The films of both these directors have been widely (mis-)characterized as "difficult" (please see Girish Shambu's excellent rumination on that term here, if you haven't already), but that's not why it's taken me so long to familiarize myself with more of their work. I don't have any good reasons, but I'll be honest: I was put off by the critical hype for Kiarostami, which in the art-cinema world was exceeded (in my perception) only by that for Quentin Tarantino in the pop-art-cinema world. Also, I remember the press screening for "The Wind Will Carry Us" at the Toronto Film Festival and, during the final shot (which was nice but a little too on-the-nose for me), a critic behind me let out a rapturous sigh intended to be overheard by everyone in the vicinity: "Masterpiece!" I admit (I'm only human) that made me a little nauseous, and some of my critic friends who were much more involved in the festival scene than I was at the time were outspoken Kiarostami naysayers, so I didn't feel particularly motivated to seek out more of his work.

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Richard Leacock (1911-2011): "Screw the tripod!"

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Chicago digital filmmaker Nelson Carvajal recently quoted the late Direct Cinema / Cinéma vérité pioneer Richard Leacock in a post at Free Cinema Now in which he defends -- for personal, aesthetic reasons -- the fashionable handheld camera technique known variously as the shaky cam, the queasy-cam and (when combined with chaotic cutting) the snatch-and-grab:

Anyone who knows my shooting style knows that I'm not a fan of tripods. To me, most static "pretty" shots that I see from other indie filmmakers represent an analogy for an elusive Hollywood-esque model of moviemaking. Ever been on a student film set and notice how much of the day goes to laboring over a shot that really doesn't grab you in the end? We go to the movies and are swept away by the big budget vistas and then for some reason we're convinced that our camcorder, a tripod and a light set will accomplish the same feel. And when it doesn't, we're surprised. But we shouldn't be. At the end of the day, it's all about the content of what we're trying to show, say or provoke in an audience. So instead of trying to mimic or recreate a sense of grandness without the necessary resources (like an outrageous Hollywood budget for example), why not create our own language for the cinema? Let Hollywood make "Sucker Punch." We'll instead focus on breaking away and discovering new ways to tell our stories.

I suppose this is why I embrace "direct cinema" filmmaking so strongly. I love grabbing the camera and just improvising as I go. It's a shooting style that liberates my senses; it awakens me.

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Certified Copy: How can you be in two spaces at once...?

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"It's enigmatic and obvious, exasperating and beguiling, heavy-handed and understated, witty and poignant, all at once." -- Alex Ramon, Boycotting Trends

What I like most about Abbas Kiarostami's "Certified Copy" is its slipperiness. The Tuscan textures are ravishing (it takes place over the course of an afternoon in and around the village of Lucignano -- or does it?), Juliette Binoche and William Shimell are easy on they eyes and ears (good thing, too, since the movie is practically one long conversation -- or is it?), but for me the most enjoyable thing about it is the way the story and characters keep subtly (and not-so-subtly) shifting, refusing to be pinned down. I was fearing one of those overly literalized Kiarostami "button" endings, but this time (as Michael Sicinski observes in his impressive, ambitious essay at MUBI), the thesis statement is placed at the front of the film and it gets slipperier from there:

"Certified Copy" operates almost in reverse of most thematically inclined works of art, which plunge us into a falsely desultory universe and gradually reveal their master interpretive passkey. Kiarostami's film presents a concept, fully formed and cogent, and allows the rest of the film to set to work on that concept, breaking it into Heisenbergian particles, then bringing it back into solid shape, and on and on.

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But didn't they just now meet?

May Contain Spoilers

In "Certified Copy," his most recent movie, director Abbas Kiarostami adopts an intriguing and surprisingly efficient narrative strategy: after structuring the first half of the film emphasizing the realism and naturalism of the situation and of the dynamic between the characters, he changes the internal logic of the movie in the second half in a subtle but clear way, investing from then on in a tone that flirts with fantasy by establishing a fascinating game involving the main couple.

Written by the director himself, the movie begins with a lecture given by the writer James Milles (Shimell), who has just released a book that defends the importance of replicas of great works of art in a general way. Attending the event is the character played by Juliette Binoche, who owns a gallery and seems to be fascinated by Milles, offering to take him on a tour in Tuscany before he leaves Italy. Disagreeing with some aspects supported by the author in his book, she initiates a discussion while they visit museums and restaurants, until something curious eventually occurs and they start to act and talk as if they were a couple with 15 years of marriage.

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The Return of the Autobiographical Dictionary of Film

Ever since David Thomson's "A Biographical Dictionary of Film" was published in 1975, browsers have said that they love to hate Thomson's contrarian arguments -- against John Ford or Frank Capra, Coppola or Kubrick, for example.¹ Fans and critics can cite favorite passages of resonant beauty, mystifyingly vague and dismissive summary judgements, and entire entries in which the man appears to have gone off his rocker. And that's the fun of it.

To be fair, Thomson broke faith with (or has been suffering a crisis of faith in) American movies at least far back as "Overexposures: The Crisis in American Filmmaking" (1981), and he's been writing about his crisis ever since. To put it in a sentence that could serve as the ending of one of his entries: I am willing to believe that he loves (or once loved) movies even if he doesn't like them very much. (Wait -- how does he conclude the Katharine Hepburn piece? "She loved movies, while disapproving of them.")

When I encountered the first edition of this book, the year I entered college, I immediately fell in love with it because it was not a standard reference. It was personal, cranky, eloquent, pretentious, pithy, petty, ambitious... It was, as I think Thomson himself suggested in the foreword to the first or second edition (this is the fifth), more accurately titled "An Autobiographical Dictionary of Film." Many times over the years I have implored my employers or partners to license digital rights to Thomson's book so that it could augment and be integrated with other movie databases and references (at Cinemania, FilmPix, Reel.com, RogerEbert.com)... but we've never done it. What, they would ask, is the "value-add"? (Really. Some people used to talk that way.) As a reference, its coverage is too spotty (Ephraim Katz's Film Encyclopedia is much more comprehensive but also has loads of incomplete filmographies), as criticism it's wildly idiosyncratic (nothing wrong with that) and as biography it's whimsically selective and uneven, leaving as many holes as it fills.

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CIFF 2010: Our capsule reviews

• Bill Stamets and Roger Ebert

The 46th Chicago International Film Festival will play this year at one central location, on the many screens of the AMC River East 21, 322 E. Illinois. A festivalgoers and filmmakers' lounge will be open during festival hours at the Lucky Strike on the second level. Tickets can be ordered online at CIFF's website, which also organizes the films by title, director and country. Tickets also at AMC; sold out films have Rush Lines. More capsules will be added here.

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Sensitivity training: the fallacy of feelings

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The "New Political Correctness," as I came to call it during the aughts (though it is neither new nor correct) is the pressure to reframe discussion by controlling language. In recent years it has come mostly from the political right ("moral clarity," "War on Christmas," "moral equivalence," "homicide bombers," "Freedom Fries," "restoring honor"...) and, I insist, is an insidious menace to society even greater than the old-school institutionalized PC that came from the left, because its motives are transparently rooted in demagoguery rather than civility and altruism.

Back in early 2007, Sarah Silverman's "Jesus Is Magic" prompted me to write this:

I've been arguing for several years now that, especially since 9/11, "political correctness" has evolved into a mostly reactionary phenomenon. The lefty PC that began as a way of showing sensitivity to minorities and those who had been discriminated against for years (women, the disabled, etc.) eventually turned into a form of monolithic, euphemistic denial of reality, where questioning was verboten and anything that could be interpreted as doubt or dissent was denounced as "fascist." Now we see the same thing coming from the right. The terminology has changed but the brainwashed thinking hasn't.

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Iranian director Jafar Pahani begins prison hunger strike (UPDATED)

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Jafar Panahi, the Iranian director of "The White Balloon" and "Offside," was supposed to have been on this year's Cannes Film Festival jury, but he was arrested by Iranian authorities in March. His countryman Abbas Kiarostami devoted much of his Cannes press conference to raising worldwide awareness of Pahani's plight. Pahani released a message Tuesday, published online at La Règle du Jeu, declaring that he and fellow political prisoners at Evin prison have begun a hunger strike:

I hereby declare that I have been subject to ill treatment in Evin prison.

On Saturday May 15, 2010, prison guards suddenly entered our cell, n° 56. They took us away, my cell mates and I, made us strip and kept us in the cold for an hour and a half.

UPDATE (05/25/2010): via Salon.com: "Iranian director finds freedom and moral victory." Of course, he's still in Iran...

UPDATE (05/21/2010): via New York Times: "Detained Iranian Director Granted Hearing"

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Iranian filmmakers take center stage

May 18 -- Some Cannes traditions never die. In the years I've been coming to the festival, the same music has been playing in the Grand Theatre Lumiere before the early morning press screening. It's always jazz, and it always seems to be the same selection every morning, every year. I've started to imagine that there's some ancient reel-to-reel tape recorder in a distant control booth, and that a guard is assigned to rewind and start the old tape at 8:00 am each day.

Sound or more specifically, language is central to Jean-Luc Godard's "Film Socialism." Roger has commented so thoroughly on that film that I'm not going to add much, except to say that Godard remains one of the grand tricksters of world cinema. With his French dialogue, minimal and cryptic subtitles in so-called "Navajo English" (this in itself seems a tongue-in-cheek fiction on his part), and bits of a few other languages thrown in, he creates a Babel that I believe was made to baffle and intrigue one and all, no matter what your native tongue. It's a kind of rarefied fun to try to decipher, and maddening at the same time. Meanwhile, Godard the magician, like the wizard in "The Wizard of Oz," gets to hide behind his screen, sending out big ideas and big images.

Above: Abbas Kiarostami (AP photo)

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Cannes #1: On a darkling plain

Fifty years ago, the Palme d'Or winner at Cannes was Fellini's "La Dolce Vita." More every year I realize that it was the film of my lifetime. But indulge me while I list some more titles.

The other entries in the official competition included "Ballad of a Soldier," by Grigori Chukhrai; "Lady with a Dog," by Iosif Kheifits; "Home from the Hill," by Vincente Minnelli; "The Virgin Spring," by Ingmar Bergman;" "Kagi," by Kon Ichikawa; "L'Avventura," by Michelangelo Antonioni; "Le Trou," by Jacques Becker; "Never on Sunday," by Jules Dassin; "Sons and Lovers," by Jack Cardiff; "The Savage Innocents," by Nicholas Ray, and "The Young One," by Luis Bunuel.

And many more. But I am not here at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival to mourn the present and praise the past.

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