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Listen Up Philip

The terrific cast all delves into the material full-bore, which contributes to its peculiar resonance. Perry may hate everyone and everything, but in making a…

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Private Violence

A look at the complexity of domestic violence, especially when it comes to the difficulty of prosecuting abusers in a court of law, "Private Violence"…

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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.

Ca va bien: Two Godard Films New to DVD and Blu-ray

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Distribution company Olive Films has released two obscurities by Jean-Luc Godard, 1976's "Comment Ca Va" and 1987's "Soigne ta Droite" (known in the U.S. as "Keep Your Right Up") and while these films may not have the immediate impact of his better-known works, they both reveal a filmmaker who has spent his career challenging himself, his viewers and the very medium of cinema itself in ways that are oftentimes fascinating and frustrating in equal measure.

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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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#95 December 28, 2011

Marie writes: some of you may recall reading about the Capilano Suspension Bridge in North Vancouver, British Columbia Canada. (Click to enlarge.)

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Let's get social: Networking frames

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Take a look at all that's going on in the image above. Who is talking? What are the relationships between the characters? How much is packed into this one frame?

Since it came out last fall, I'd almost forgotten what an exhilarating information-overload experience David Fincher's "The Social Network" is. Cut and composed and performed with breathless, jittery speed, it's a movie that consists of virtually nothing but conversations in rooms (the attempted, missed, short-circuited, coded connections that struck me when I first saw it). It's action-packed -- enough to give you whiplash, watching all the elements interacting within the 2.40:1 widescreen frame -- even though there are no "action sequences" (car chases, shootouts, fist fights, acrobatic stunts, etc.); the filmmaking is charged with energy without falling back on today's routinely frenetic, handheld run-and-gun/snatch-and-grab camerawork (the camera is generally mounted on a tripod; when it moves, it's on a crane or a dolly -- often for establishing shots or a shift in perspective that brings a new element into the frame). Smart, quick, efficient.

The crunchy guitar riff starts over the Columbia Pictures logo and then the crowd noise comes up, the music drops down, and before the logo fades to black and the first image appears, we hear Mark (Jesse Eisenberg) speaking the movie's opening line -- a question that's also a challenge: "Did you know there are more people with genius IQs living in China than there are people of any kind living in the United States?" What follows is a blisteringly fast-paced screwball comedy exchange ("His Girl Friday" through a 64-bit dual-core processor) between Mark and his girlfriend (not for very much longer ) Erica in which nearly every line is a misunderstanding (intentional or unintentional), a sarcastic jab, a leap of logic, a block, an interruption, a feint, an abrupt shift in the angle of attack, a diversion, a retreat, a refinement, a recapitulation (I'm sure there are many fencing terms that apply to the various conversational strategies employed here)...

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How we really watch a movie

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Whenever research confirms something we feel we already knew intuitively, or from our own experience, there are always people who'll scoff and say, "Well, I could have told you that!" And maybe they could have, but that's not the point. Science is a discipline involving systematic observation and empirical evidence, not unverified hunches. Movies, of course, are optical illusions -- photographic, electronic and/or mechanical phenomena that exploit the peculiarities of our eyes and brains... and elicit all manner of feelings. They are science and they are sometimes art, and the methods of studying one or the other can be complementary.

Take one of my favorite David Bordwell posts ("Hands (and faces) across the table"), which has recently been revived (resurrected! It's alive!) through the eyes of science, thanks to DB's guest-blogger, Tim Smith ("Watching you watch 'There Will Be Blood'"), of Continuity Boy, the Department of Psychological Sciences at Birkbeck College, University of London, and The DIEM (Dynamic Images and Eye Movements) Project.

In 2008, DB wrote about the map scene in Paul Thomas Anderson's "There Will Be Blood," in which the camera remained fixed during a long take while the looks and gestures of the actors "directed" the viewer's gaze. He wrote:

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recent Two Thumbs Up® reviews

Linked here are reviews in recent months for which I wrote either 4 star or 3.5 star reviews. What does Two Thumbs Up mean in this context? These films are worth going out of your way to see, or you might rent them, add them to your Netflix, Blockbuster or TiVo queues, get them by VOD, watch for them on cable, anything. Many of the older titles are already streaming on Netflix and Amazon.

"Another Year" (PG-13, 129 minutes). Tom and Gerri (Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen) and long and happily married. Their frequent visitor is Mary (Lesley Manville), a unhappy woman with a drinking problem who needs shoring up with their sanity. Mike Leigh's new film is one of his best, placing as he often does recognizable types with embarrassing comic and/or dramatic dilemmas. One of the year's best films. Four stars

"My Dog Tulip" (Unrated, 83 minutes). The story of a man who finds love only once in his life, for 15 perfect years. It is the love of a dog. It may be the only love he is capable of experiencing. This is an animated film combining elating visuals with a virtuoso voice performance by Christopher Plummer. Nor for children. Foe adults who will admire its beauty and profundity. Directed and animated by Paul and Sandra Fierlinger. Four stars

"Inspector Bellamy" (Unrated, 110 minutes). Gerard Depardieu stars as a famous Parisian police inspector who is on holiday when a man tells him, "I committed murder...sort of." Claude Chabrol's final film, written with Depardieu in mind, is inspired in part by Simenon's Inspector Maigret, and follows Bellamy as he unwinds the strange story of the murder, while also, like Simenon, becoming fascinated by side characters, such as Bellamy's troubled half-brother. Marie Bunel is warm and supportive of her husband, and a good confidant during pillow talk about crime. Three and a half stars.

"The Illusionist" (PG, 90 minutes). A magician named Tatischeff fails in one music hall after another, and ends up in Scotland, where a young woman takes care of him and believes in him, even when he's reduced to performing in store windows. An animated film based on the final screenplay of Jacques Tati, and directed by Sylvain Chomet ("The Triplets of Belleville"). Four stars

"Barney's Version" (R, 132 minutes). Paul Giamatti stars as an unremarkable Montreal TV producer who drinks too much, smokes too many cigars, and discards two women in quick divorces before finding at last one far too good for him (Rosamund Pike). Dustin Hoffman has a smallish but particularly good role as his father. Giamatti won the 2011 Golden Globe award as best actor. Three and a half stars

"All Good Things" (R, 101 minutes). David (Ryan Gosling) is the rebellious son of a wealthy Manhattan family that owns sleazy 42nd Street real estate. He marries Katie (Kirsten Dunst), and they move to Vermont to open an organic products store. But his father (Frank Langella) pressures him to return to the family business, and he undergoes alarming changes eventually connected to two murders. Based on one of those true stories Dominick Dunne used to write about in Vanity Fair. Three and a half stars

"Blue Valentine" (R, 120 minutes). Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams as Dean and Cindy in two seasons of marriage: Six years ago when love was fact, and today, when love proves unable to support the weight of real life. Director Derek Cianfrance closely observes the details as his couple fail to comprehend the larger picture. Dean thinks marriage is the station. Cindy thought it was the train. Three and a half stars

"The King's Speech" (R, 118 minutes). After the death of George V and the abdication of his brother Edward, Prince Albert (Colin Firth) becomes George IV, charged with leading Britain into World War Two. He is afflicted with a torturous stammer, and his wife (Helena Bonham Carter) seeks out an unorthodox speech therapist (Lionel Logue) to treat him. Civilized and fascinating, this is the story of their unlikely relationship. (The R rating, for language, is absurd; this is an ideal film for teenagers.) Four stars

"True Grit" (PG-13, 110 minutes). An entertaining remake of the 1969 film, and more. Jeff Bridges as Rooster Cogburn easily fills John Wayne's boots, and Hailee Steinfeld is very special as young Mattie Ross, who hires the old marshal to help her hunt down the varmit what killed her old man. Not a "Coen Brothers Film," but a flawlessly executed Western in the grand tradition. Strong support from Matt Damon, Josh Brolin and Barry Pepper. Three and a half stars

"Somewhere" (R, 96 minutes). Johnny Marco Stephen Dorff is a movie star. He has access to sex, booze, drugs, but feels no pleasure. He sits in a Los Angeles hotel room, stuck. His 11-year-old daughter (Elle Fanning) comes to stay for a few days, but he clearly has no feeling for fatherhood. He's given an award in Milan but hardly notices in the confusion of strangers around him in a hotel suite. He retreats to the same famous West Hollywood where John Belushi died, which for him might have been a recommendation. Sofia Coppola's film, winner of the Golden Lion at Venice, is a masterpiece of observation of hopelessness. Four stars

"Rabbit Hole" (R, 91 minutes) Becca (Nicole Kidman) and Howie (Aaron Eckhart) are trying their best to get on with things. This is the tricky and very observant story of how a married couple is getting along, eight months after their 4-year-old ran out into the street and was struck dead by a car. They were leveled with grief. Their sex life stopped. They lived for a time in a daze, still surrounded in the house by the possessions of the child who no longer lives there. I know all this sounds like a mournful dirge, but in fact "Rabbit Hole" is entertaining and surprisingly amusing, under the circumstances. Three and a half stars

"Black Swan" (R, 108 minutes). Natalie Portman in a bravura performance as a driven perfectionist, a young ballerina up for a starring role at Lincoln Center. Her life is shadowed by a smothering mother (Barbara Hershey), an autocratic director (Vincent Cassel) and a venomous rival (Mila Kunis) and her deposed predecessor (Winona Ryder). A full-bore melodrama, told with passionate intensity, gloriously and darkly absurd. Directed by Darren Aronofsky. Three and a half stars

"Carlos" (Unrated, 332 minutes). A remarkable portrait of a despicable man, the terrorist Carlos ("the Jackyl"), who from 1975 to 1994 directed a shadowy group of violent militants that dealt in kidnapping and murder. Edgar Ramirez is powerful in the title role, as an egomaniac whose primary cause seems to be himself. With reckless boldness he eludes an international manhunt until finally even his masters grow tired of him. Unflinching, detailed, absorbing. Directed by Olivier Assayas. Three and a half stars

"White Material" (Unrated, 105 minutes). Isabella Huppert plays a French woman in Africa, managing the coffee plantation that was her ex-husband's. War stirs in the land, and she is warned to evacuate. She finds that unthinkable. This is her home, this is her farm, and she will bring in the crop. The movie doesn't sentimentalize or make a political statement; like its heroine, it doesn't have theories. A beautiful, puzzling film; the enigmatic quality of Huppert's impassivity draws us in. Three and a half stars

"I Love You Phillip Morris" (R, 98 minutes) Jim Carrey in the true life story of outrageous con man Steven Russell, who impersonated doctors, lawyers, FBI agents, and corporate executives. He convinced prison officials he had died of AIDS, successfully faked a heart attack, and escaped from jail four times (hint: always on Friday the 13th). Ewan McGregor plays his cellmate Phillip Morris, who Steven falls in love with. Thereafter his life consists of trying to get Steven out of jail, or trying to escape to be with him. Audacious. Jim Carrey's mercurial personality was almost necessary to even make this movie. Three and a half stars

"Hereafter" (PG-13, 129 minutes). Clint Eastwood considers the idea of an afterlife with tenderness, beauty and a gentle tact. Matt Damon stars as a man who believes he has a genuine psychic gift, and suffers for it. Cecile de France is a French newsreader who has a near-death experience. Frankie McLaren is a small boy seeking his dead twin. The stories converge, but in a way that respects the plausible. Not a woo-woo film but about how love makes us need for there to be an afterlife. Four stars

"Made in Deganham" (R, 113 minutes). Delightful serious comedy about the historic 1968 in Ford's British plant that ended its unequal pay for women, and began a global movement. Sally Hawkins plays Rita O'Grady, who caught the public fancy as a strike leader. Bob Hoskins is a sympathetic union organizer, and Miranda Richardson plays Barbara Castle, the minister of labor who unexpectedly sided with the striking women. Three and a half stars

"Monsters" (R, 93 minutes). An American photojournalist (Scoot McNairy) shepherds the daughter of his boss (Whitney Able) north from Mexico though a dangerous Infected Zone occupied by an alien life form. But this isn't a "monster movie," or an exploitation film. It's an uncannily absorbing journey transformed by the fact of Beings who are fundamentally different from any life form we have imagine. Writer-director Gareth Edwards, who also created the special effects, builds toward a climax combining uncommon suspense and uncanny poetry. Three and a half stars

"Unstoppable" (PG-13, 98 minutes) A runaway train hurtles at 70mph, and the movie is as relentless as the train. Denzel Washington and Chris Pine try to stop it, and Rosario Dawson is the hard-driving dispatcher. In terms of sheer craftsmanship, this is a superb film. Directed by Tony Scott. Three and a half stars

"Morning Glory" (PG-13, 110 minutes). Rachel McAdam transforms a conventional plot into a bubbling comedy with her lovable high energy. She plays an ambitious young producer on a last-place network morning news show, who forces a reluctant TV veteran (Harrison Ford) to do the kind of TV he despises. A lot of laughs, including Diane Keaton as Ford's veteran co-anchor, Matt Malloy as a goofy weatherman and Jeff Goldblum as the boss who considers the show dead in the water. Three and a half stars

"127 Hours" (R, 93 minutes). The harrowing true story of James Franco, a rock climber whose arm was pinned to a Utah canyon wall by a boulder. In desperation he amputated his own arm to free himself. James Franco stars in Danny Boyle's film, which is gruesome but not quite too gruesome to watch. It's rather awesome what an entertaining and absorbing film Danny Boyle has made here. Yes, entertaining. Four stars

"Buried" (R, 93 minutes). Paul Conroy (Ryan Reynolds) is a truck driver working for a private contractor in Iraq. He comes to consciousness in blackness. He feels around and finds a lighter. It its flame his worst fears are realized. He has been kidnapped, buried alive, and is a hostage. Taking place entirely within the coffin, this is a superior suspense picture that's ingenious in devising plausible events inside the limited space. Three and a half stars.

"Tamara Drewe" (PG-13, 110 minutes) A mischievous British comedy, set in a rural writer's retreat where egos and libidos are in contention. When a once-homely local girl returns home with newfound fame and an improved nose, all the men perk up with unfortunate results. With Gemma Arterton, Roger Allam, Dominic Cooper, Luke Evans and Tamsin Greig. Directed by Stephen Frears. Delightful. Three and a half star

"The Social Network" (PG-13, 120 minutes). The life and times of Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg), who created Facebook, became a billionaire in his early 20s, and now has 500 million members on the site he created. A fascinating portrait of a brilliant social misfit who intuited a way to involve humankind race in the Kevin Bacon Game. Everybody likes Facebook--it's the site that's all about you. With Justin Timberlake as Sean Parker, the Napster founder who introduced Zuckerberg to the Silicon Valley fast lane, Andrew Garfield as the best friend who gets dumped, and Armie Hammer as the Winklevoss twins, who sued Zuckerberg for stealing their idea. One of the year's best films. Four stars

"Secretariat" (PG, 116 minutes). A great film about greatness, the story of the horse and the no less brave woman who had faith in him. Diane Lane stars as Penny Chenery, who fell in love with Secretariat when he was born, and battled the all-male ring fraternity and her own family to back her faith in the champion. A lovingly crafted film, knowledgeable about racing, with great uplift. Also with John Malkovich, Scott Glenn, James Cromwell, Nelsan Ellis, Dylan Walsh. One of the year's best. Four stars

"Last Train Home" (Unrated, 87 minutes). Begins as a documentary about an annual New Years migration from cities to villages by 180 million Chinese, and focuses on one family; the parents have labored at low factory wages for 15 years to pay for their children's education back home, and now, as their daughter graduates high school, they may find only heartbreak as repayment. Shot over three years, it's one of those extraordinary films, like "Hoop Dreams," that tells a story the makers could not possibly have anticipated in advance. Works like stunning, grieving fiction. One of the year's best. Four stars

"Inside Job" (Unrated, 108 minutes). Exactly how Wall Street thieves eagerly sold bad mortgages, bet against them, and paid themselves millions in bonuses for bankrupting their own companies. And the Street is having another good year at our expense, because Financial Reform is as far away as ever. An angry, devastating documentary. Four stars

"Let Me In" (R, 115 minutes). A well-made retelling of the Swedish "Let the Right One In," which doesn't cheapen the original but respects it and adds some useful events. Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is a bullied, neglected boy, and Abby (Chloe Grace Moretz of "Kick Ass") is the girl who moves into the next apartment and has "been twelve for a very long time." The same cold, dark atmosphere of foreboding, in a doom-laden vampire drama. Not for Team Edward. Three and a half stars

"Scrappers" (Unrated, 90 minutes). A portrait of Otis and Oscar, two self-employed collectors of scrap metal, who troll the alleys in their trucks and vacant lots of Chicago for metals that can be sold. They work hard, they support families, they perform recycling on metals that might end up buried in garbage, and they like the work--its freedom, its independence. But metals dropped from $200 to $300 a ton to $20 with the economic collapse, and now their trade is desperate. See this and you'll never look at a scavenger with the same eyes. Three and a half stars

"Never Let Me Go" (R, 104 minutes). In an alternative time line, test-tube babies are created solely for the purpose of acting as Donors for body parts. Raised in seclusion, they accept their role. Are they really human, after all? In this sensitive, teary adaptation of the Kazuo Ishiguro novel, three of them begin to glimpse the reality of their situation, and its tragedy. With Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield, Keira Knightley, Charlotte Rampling, Sally Hawkins. Four stars

"Nowhere Boy" (R, 97 minutes). The Beatles are only distantly on the horizon in this deeply-felt biopic of young John Lennon growing up in Liverpool. He's at the center of a tricky relationship involving his mother, who he didn't know growing up, and his aunt, who raised him. From these years perhaps came and simultaneous elation and sadness of many of his songs. Aaron Johnson as John, Kristin Scott Thomas as his Aunt Mimi, Anne-Marie Duff as his mother Julia. Three and a half stars

"Waiting for Superman" (PG, 102 minutes). The new documentary by Davis Guggenheim ("An Inconvenient Truth") says the American educational system is failing, and dramatizes this failure in a painfully direct way, saying what is wrong, and what is right. He points to existing magnet schools that draw their students by random lottery and virtually guarantee high school graduation and acceptance by a college. He explains why bad teachers who cannot be fired are a national scandal. The film is alarming, fascinating, and in the end hopeful. Three and a half stars

"Easy A" (PG-13, 93 minutes). Funny, star-making role for Emma Stone, as a high school girl nobody notices, until she's too embarrassed to admit she spent the weekend home alone and claims she had sex with a college boy. When word gets around, she uses her undeserved notoriety to play the role to the hilt, even wearing a Scarlet Letter. And she's able to boost the reps of some of her pals by making up reports of their process. Sounds crass. Isn't. Three and a half stars

"The American" (R, 95 minutes). George Clooney is starkly defined as a criminal as obedient and focused as a samurai. He manufactures weapons for specialized jobs. He lives and functions alone. He works for a man who might as well be a master. He used few words. Only his feelings for a prostitute named Clara (Violante Placido) supply an opening to his emotions. Zen in its focus. Four stars.

"Flipped" (PG-13,90 minutes) Juli (Madeleine Carroll) has adored Bryce (Callan McAuliffe) ever since he moved into the neighborhood in the second grade. Bryce has been running away from her ever since. Now they're 14 and they seem to be flipping: he more interested, she less. Rod Reiner's warm human comedy tells their stories by showing the same crucial events from both their points of view. He returns to the time of his "Stand By Me" with the same endearing insights. Rating: Four stars

"Mesrine: Public Enemy No. 1" (R, 133 minutes). Continuation of the brutal life of France's most notorious criminal, who survived a 20-year series of bank robberies, kidnappings, prison breaks and murders. Vincent Cassel makes him brutal, ugly, powerful and inscrutable. Winner of French Oscars for best director and actor. Three and a half stars

"Mesrine: Killer Instinct" (R, 113 minutes) He was a ruthless killer, bank robber, kidnapper and prison break artist--and a self-promoting egomaniac who wrote books some compared to Camus. Vincent Cassel stars in a hard-boiled performance as the French criminal who killed on three continents and was in love with his image. Three and a half stars

"Salt" (PG-13, 100 minutes). A damn fine thriller. It does all the things I can't stand in bad movies, and does them in a good one. Angelina Jolie stars as a CISA agent fighting ingle-handedly to save the world from nuclear destruction. Hardly a second is believable, but so what? Superbly crafted, it's a splendid example of a genre action picture. Directed by Philip Noyce. Four stars

"Inception" (PG-13, 148 minutes). An astonishingly original and inventive thriller starring Leonardo DiCaprio as a men who infiltrates the minds of others to steal secrets. Now he's hired to implant one. Ken Watanabe is a billionaire who wants to place at idea in the mind of his rival (Cillian Murphy). DiCaprio Assembles a team (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tom Hardy, Ellen Page) to assist him, in a dazzling achievement that rises above the thriller level and enters the realm of mind control--in the plot, and in the audience. Written and directed by Christopher Nolan ("Memento," "The Dark Knight"). Four stars

"The Kids are All Right" (R, 104 minutes). A sweet and civilized comedy, quietly satirical, about a lesbian couple, their children, and the father the kids share via sperm donation. When they meet him, they like him, he likes them, and their moms are not so sure. What happens is calmly funny, sometimes fraught, and very human. With pitch-perfect performances by Julianne Moore and Annette Bening as the moms, Mark Ruffalo as the dad, and Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson as the 20-something children. Directed by Lisa Cholodenko. Three and a half stars

"The Girl Who Played with Fire" (R, 129 minutes). Noomi Rapace, electrifying in last year's "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," returns for the second film drawn from Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy. Once again she's following the same crimes as journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), but they don't meet until late in the game as a murder trail leads to old family secrets. Well constructed, good cast, not quite up to the "Dragon" standard. Three and a half stars

"Restrepo" (R, 94 minutes). A documentary shot during the 15 months an American company fought under almost daily fire in Afghanistan's Korangal Valley, described as "the most dangerous place on earth." The Taliban is a constant presence; the Americans take fire three, four, five times a day; they establish the strategic Outpost Restrepo, named for the first of their number to die, and it seems to turn the tide in the Valley. The 15-month tour is hard duty, and our admiration grows for these men. The film is non-political; the men are fighting above all to simple survive. Four stars

"9500 Liberty" (Unrated, 80 minutes). A law similar to Arizona's controversial recent measure was passed and briefly enforced a few years ago in Virginia's Prince William County, and what happened there may be instructive. This documentary shows the rise and fall of a movement led by a right-wing blogger, and the groundswell of opposition (including many whites and Republicans) that ended it. The cost of the law in higher taxes, exposure to lawsuits and the city's image was startling. The doc shows the rise and fall of the county law, and centers on the American tradition of citizens speaking out in town hall meetings. Three and a half stars

"A Small Act" (Unrated, 98 minutes). A documentary about a Kenyan boy named Chris Mburu who grew up in a mud house, graduated from Harvard Law School, and is today a United Nations Human Rights Commissioner. His education was made possible by a $15-a-month gift from Hilde Back, a Swedish schoolteacher whose parents were Holocaust victims. Mburu started a foundation in her honor to grant more scholarships, and in the film they meet and she is honored by his village. To call it "Heartwarming" would be an understatement. Three and a half stars

"Cell 211" (Unrated, 111 minutes). Very effective thriller about a man's attempt to save his life by thinking quickly. A new prison guard, being given a tour, is left behind when a riot breaks out. Pretending to be a new prisoner, he improvises well enough to become a de facto leader of the riot, and develops a subtle relationship with the rock-hard leader of the prisoners. Winner of eight Goya awards, the Spanish Oscars, this year, including Best Picture. Three and a half stars

"I am Love" (R, 120 minutes). A sensuous and fascinating story about a modern family of Italian aristocrats. Tilda Swinton plays a Russian who has married the oldest son, learns her husband and their son will take over the family textile business, then suddenly finds herself in the middle of an unexpected affair. Masterfully direct by Luca Guadagnino. One of the year's best. Four stars

"Cyrus" (R, 91 minutes). Two lonely people (John C. Reilly and Marisa Tomei) meet at a party and like each other. She has a 20ish son (Jonah Hill) who welcomes Reilly to their home and invites him to stay for dinner. But a comedy of social embarrassment develops when it becomes clear that the son is jealous and possessive of his mother, and perhaps to physically familiar with her. No, it's not incest; let's call it inappropriate behavior that his mom doesn't seem to discourage. Reilly is caught in an awkward position, which the film simply regards, leaving us to wince in a fascinated way. Three and a half stars

"Winter's Bone" (R, 99 minutes). Jennifer Lawrence is brilliant as a 17-year-old girl who father has skipped bail and left his family threatened with homelessness. In a dirt poor area of the Ozarks, she goes seeking him among people who are suspicious, dangerous and in despair. Winner of the Grand Jury prize at Sundance 2010 and the screenwriting award, this film by Debra Granik is one of the year's best. Four stars

"Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work" (R, 84 minutes). Rivers was 75 in this film, and never tires of reminding us of that fact. She remains one of the funniest, dirtiest, most daring and transgressive of standup comics, and she hasn't missed a beat. The doc follows her for a year as she relentlessly pursues the career that her daughter, Melissa, says was like having another sister. She violates her own privacy, speaks from the heart, does not know tact, and makes us laugh a lot. If you've only seen Rivers on TV, you ain't seen nothing' yet. Three and a half stars

"The Karate Kid" (PG, 126 minutes). Faithfully follows the plot of the 1984 classic, but stands on its own feet and takes advantage of beg shot on location in China. Jackie Chan dials down convincingly as the quiet old janitor with hidden talents, and Jaden Smith (son of Will and Jada Pinkett Smith) holds the screen with glowing charisma. The obligatory final fight climax is unusually well-handled. Three and a half stars

"Solitary Man" (R, 99 minutes). Michael Douglas in one of his best performances, as a once rich and famous car dealer, now in hard times but still tireless as closing the hardest sell of all--himself. He's a seducer, a cheater, a user, but running outgo of options, in a smart comedy/drama with an excellent supporting cast including Jesse Eisenberg, Jenna Fischer, Danny DeVito and Susan Sarandon. Three and a half stars

"Please Give" (R, 91 minutes). Catherine Keener and Oliver Platt play a Manhattan couple who have a daughter and run an antique store and live next to a mean-tempered old lady (Ann Morgan Guilbert) . When she dies, they can buy her apartment. The old lady has two granddaughters, played by Rebecca Hall and Amanda Peet. When the couple invites everyone over for dinner, events are set in motion that are true, funny, and ruefully observant. Writer-director Nicole Holofcener is so perceptive about women whose lives are not defined by men; that's rare in the movies. Three and a half stars

"Death at a Funeral" (R, 92 minutes). The best comedy since "The Hangover." A big family home is the setting for a funeral that's just one damn thing after another. Remake of a 2007 Brit comedy, but a lot funnier. All-star cast includes Chris Rock, Martin Lawrence, James Marsden, Peter Dinklage, Loretta Devine, Regina Hall, Zoe Saldana, Tracy Morgan, Luke Wilson and on and on. Three and a half stars.

"Home" (Unrated, 98 minutes) A family live in a small home in the middle of vast fields and next to the highway, which hasn't been used for ten years. Then big trucks arrive to lay down a fresh coating of asphalt, and the arrival of traffic puts unbearable pressure on a family that seems a little strange from the first. With Isabelle Huppert and Olivier Gourmet. 2008 winner of the Swiss Film Prize. Three and a half stars.

"Date Night" (PG-13, 88 minutes) Steve Carell and Tina Fey play a perfectly nice married couple from New Jersey who simply want to have a great night out together in Manhattan. Mistaken for another couple, they're spun into a nightmare involving a mob boss and an unpaid debt. Funny, because they seem halfway plausible. With Ray Liotta, Mark Wahlberg, James Franco. Directed by Shawn Levy ("Night at the Museum"). Three and a half stars

"Greenberg" (R, 107 minutes). Ben Stiller in one of his best performances as a chronic malcontent who returns to L.A. to house-sit, nurture his misery, and reconnect with people who quite rightly resent him. With Greta Gerwig as an aimless but pleasant young college graduate who feels sorry for him, and Rhys Ifans and Jennifer Jason Leigh as survivors of his troublesome past. Directed by Noah Baumbach, of "The Squid and the Whale." Three and a half stars.

"Vincere" (Unrated, 128 minutes) The long-suppressed story of Mussolini's early mistress, who bore him a son and then was pushed into the shadows after he made a respectable marriage. She obsessively follows him, confronts him with their child in public, and is finally locked away by the fascists in an asylum. Giovanna Mezzogiorno's performance as Ida, the mistress, reminds me of Sophia Loren in the way she combines passion with dignity. Directed by the legendary Marco Bellocchio. Three and a half stars

"Leaves of Grass" (R, 105 minutes). Edward Norton plays a dual role as brothers: One a professor of philosophy at Brown, the other still back home in Little Dixie, Oklahoma, growing the best marijuana in the state. He may be the better philosopher. With Susan Sarandon as their mother, and Richard Dreyfuss as the state's drug kingpin. Norton gives two inspired and entirely different performances. Written and directed by Tim Blake Nelson, who also plays the best friend. One of the best films of 2010. Four stars

"45365" (Unrated, 90 minutes). An achingly beautiful portrait of small town America. The title is the zip code of Sidney, Ohio, and brothers Bill and Turner Ross grew up there and spent seven months on 2007 creating this portrait in sound and images of ordinary people, mostly nice, living their lives. No obvious structure, no message, just an appreciation of daily life that becomes haunting in its poetry. Winner of the Truer than Fiction Award at the 2010 Independent Spirits. Four stars (3/27/10)

"Mother" (R, 128 minutes). A mentally-deficient 27-year-old seems almost certainly guilty of murder. His mother, who has protected him all his life, is determined to prove his innocence. She is a remorseless force of nature, in a South Korean thriller that moves far beyond our expectations, into labyrinths deeper than reality. Written and diffracted by Bong Joon-ho ("The Host"). Three and a half stars

"Chloe" (Unrated, 96 minutes). A woman doctor (Julianne Moore) suspects her husband (Liam Neeson) of cheating, and hires a young call girl (Amanda Seyfried) to test how he might respond. She is fascinated by the girl's reports. Her jealousy shifts into curiosity. And the call girl? What's in this for her? Egoyan weaves a deceptive erotic web. Three and a half stars

"Waking Sleeping Beauty" (PG, 86 minutes). A privileged inside look at the Disney animation studio from 1984 to 1994, a golden age that essentially recreated feature animation in the form we know it now. From "The Little Mermaid" to "The Lion King," interviews, archives, home movies and interviews recreate a time of creative turmoil and backstage rivalries. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Three and a half stars.

"The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" (Unrated, for adults, 148 minutes). Compelling thriller with a heroine more fascinating than the story. She's Lisbeth (Noomi Rapace), a 24-year-old Goth girl with body piercings and tattoos: thin, small, fierce, damaged, a genius computer hacker. She teams up with a taciturn Swedish investigator to end a serial killer's 40 years of evil. Based on the international best-seller. Intense and involving. The planned Hollywood remake will probably have to be toned down. Four stars.

"Diary of a Wimpy Kid" (PG, 92 minutes). Nimble, bright and funny comedy about the hero's first year of middle school. Zachary Gordon stars as the uncertain newcomer, and Robert Capron is his pudgy best pal, who still acts like a kid. Chloe Grace Moretz sparkles as the only student who's nice to them, and the movie amusingly remembers the tortures of early adolescence. Based on the books by Jeff Kinney. Three and a half stars.

"The Green Zone" (R, 114 minutes) Matt Damon and his two-time "Bourne" director Paul Greengrass team up for a first-rate thriller set early in the war in Iraq. Damon's chief warrant officer finds that U.S. intelligence is worthless, and his complaints lead him to discover the secret conspiracy intended to justify the American invasion. Greg Kinnear is the deceptive U.S. intelligence puppet-master, Brendan Gleeson is a grizzled old CIA hand whose agency has always doubted the stories sabot Saddam's WMD, and Amy Ryan plays a newspaper reporter who served Kinnear as a pipeline. Four stars.

"A Prophet" (R, 154 minutes). An unformed young man is imprisoned, and behind bars he terrifyingly comes of age. A remorseless consideration of the birth of a killer. With Tahar Rahim as the clueless young prisoner and Niels Arestrup as the powerful boss of the gang controlling the prison. Swept the 2010 Cesar awards ("the French Oscars"), won the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes 2009, a 2010 Oscar nominee for best foreign film. Directed by Jacques Audiard. Four stars

"The Ghost Writer" (PG-13, 124 minutes). In Roman Polanski's thriller, a man without a past rattles around in the life of a man with too much of one. Ewan McGregor plays a ghost writer hired by a former British prime minister (Pierce Brosnan), whose previous ghost has mysterious drowned. In a rain-swept house on Martha's Vineyard, McGregor meets the PM's wife (Olivia Williams) and his assistant/mistress (Kim Cattrall), as an international controversy swirls. A splendidly acted and crafted immersive story. Four stars

"Red Riding Trilogy" (Unrated, for adults, 302 minutes). An immersive experience based on the infamous Yorkshire Ripper killings and the subsequent revelations about deep corruption in the Yorkshire Police Departments. Brilliantly cast, filmed in segments each offering a distinctive look and feel, beginning with a serial killer and then tangling the investigation with deep-seated local corruption. Not so much about what happens objectively as about its surrounding miasma of greed and evil. Four stars

"The Art of the Steal" (Unrated, 101 minutes). The most valuable collection of modern and impression art in the rod, valued at $250 billion, was intended by its rich collector, Dr. Albert C. Barnes, to reside forever in the Barnes Foundation in suburban Philadelphia. He hired the best lawyers to draw up an iron-clad will to assure that would happen after his death. He specified it not go to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which he felt had scorned him and his collection. This absorbing documentary tells the story of how and why his art is in that museum today, the film calls it the "art theft of the century." Three and a half stars

"Shutter Island" (R, 135 minutes). Leonardo Di Caprio and Mark Ruffalo are U.S. Marshals called to a forbidding island in Boston bay, the home of an old Civil War fort now used as a prison for the criminally insane. A child murderer has escaped her cell. Martin Scorsese relentlessly blends music, visuals, special effects and all of film noir tradition into an elegant horror film as fragmented as a nightmare. If you're blind-sided by the ending, ask yourself: How should it have ended? How could it have? Three and a half stars

"Fish Tank" (Unrated, adults, 123 minutes). The harrowing portrait of a 15-year-old girl on a reckless path toward self-destruction. Her mother, only about 30, is a drunken slut and she seems on the same path. Covers a few days of fraught experiences with sex and anger. Superbly acted by newcomer Katie Jarvis. Winner of the Jury Prize at Cannes 2009. Directed by Andrea Arnold. Four stars.

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Oscars: The king vs. the nerds vs. the Rooster

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The 2011 Oscar race seems to be shaping up among the King of England, two nerds, and Rooster Cogburn. "The King's Speech," about George VI's struggle to overcome a stammer, led all nominations with 12. The nerds won eight nominations each for "The Social Network," the story of the founder of Facebook, and "Inception," about a man who hacks into other people's dreams. "The Fighter" followed with seven.

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The best animated films of 2010

I found some good animated films in 2010, but I didn't find ten. And it's likely that only two of them are titles most moviegoers have had the chance to see. My list reflects a growing fact: Animation is no longer considered a form for children and families. In some cases it provides a way to tell stories that can scarcely be imagined in live action. The classic example is the Japanese "Grave of the Fireflies" (left), about two children growing up on their own after the Bomb fall.

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The secret of Jacques Tati

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26th May 2010

Dear Mr Ebert

Please let me first introduce myself. My name is Richard McDonald the middle grandson of the celebrated French filmmaker Jacques Tatischeff.

Having read with concerned interest your current blog documenting your experiences at this years Cannes Film Festival I hereby obliging write to you on behalf of my grandfathers only direct living family with information that you should be made aware of concerning the often ignored yet historically significant chapter of his life.

As you aware, having seen the trade screening at the Cinema Arcades in Cannes, this year will see the international release of an adaptation of my grandfather's original l'Illusionniste script by Sylvain Chomet and Pathe Pictures/ Sony Picture Classic. Before participating further in any active promotion of Chomet's adaptation of Tati's l'Illusionniste we would appreciate that you first consider how his interpretation greatly undermines both the artistry of my grandfather's original script whilst shamefully ignoring the deeply troubled personal story that lies at its heart.

I hope that you will be able to appreciate the significance of this information and compassionately understand the hurt that the misrepresentation of history by those involved in this production has already caused.

"Really I assure you, in all my films I did absolutely everything I wanted to do. If you don't like that, them, I am the only one to blame"

-- Jacques Tati: Cahiers du Cinema, 1980

It is well documented that my grandfather, Jacques Tati, wrote the script of l'Illusionniste as a sentimental semi-autobiographical reflection on how he was feeling about himself and in particular what he saw as his personal failings during the 1950's. It is also documented that the script was written as a personal letter to his teenage daughter. What is less well known however is the depth of his deceitful torment and how in the script he wrestles with the notion of publicly acknowledging his eldest daughter, my mother, who he had under duress from his elder sister heartlessly abandoned during the Second World War. At the time performing at the Lido de Paris with his long term lover, my grandmother Herta Schiel, Tati's deplorable conduct towards his first child was met with utter disgust by the majority of his then stage colleagues. Thrown out of the Lido by Leon Volterra, it was from this act, having been shunned by the Paris cabaret circuit for his caddish betrayal of one of their own and not as is often wrongly told to avoid Nazi recruiters, that Tati took refugee in the village of Sainte-Sévère in 1943, where he would later shoot Jour de Fete. The stage performers of Paris were a close knit community and in the same way that they had previously provided for Piaf they would also collectively help shelter Tati's abandoned infant daughter Helga Marie-Jeanne whom as Piaf was born in Paris at the Hôpital Tenon located in the 20th arrondissement.

At its heart the original script for l'Illusionniste focuses on a conjurer who upon finding that his act has became unfashionable is resorted to travel to ever further distant venues to earn a living. It is at one of these locations, originally intended to be a small town in Czechoslovakia that he befriends a young teenage girl who appears to be without family. Enthralled by the illusionist tricks which she believes to be real magic a father/daughter relationship evolves between the movies two protagonists. As the parental relationship builds the conjurer's engagement in the village comes to an end and the unlikely pair head to the big city, originally set to be Prague. For the first time in her life the young girl is exposed to the enchantment of a big city. Afraid to lose the young girl's affections to the charms of the city the illusionist unwilling to disappoint her with the truth about his life does everything he can to maintain the notion that his magic is real. However the lure of the city is powerful and the young girl attracts the attention of a handsome young man who exposes the conjurer's magic as fraudulent, nothing more than cheap tricks, illusions created to entertain an audience. Unable to hold onto her affections once his charade has been exposed the script concludes with the conjurer disappearing off into the sunset free of his deceit having as he always known he would lost the affections of the young girl to youth and the vibrancy of the city once she was able to see beyond his theatrics.

How the original script for l'Illusionniste reflects my grandfather's personal troubled dilemmas at its time of writing can be explained by taking account of the following facts.

1 It is well documented that Tati, my grandfather, wrote l'Illusionniste an emotive semi-autobiographical account of how during the 1950's he felt about himself and in particular what he saw as his professional and personal failings at the time.

2 It has been acknowledged that the script for l'Illusionniste was written as a personal letter to Tati's teenage daughter. Sophie his second child was not a teenager at the time of its writing, only his eldest daughter, Helga Marie-Jeanne whom he had adversely neglected as an infant was. In 1955 Helga was thirteen years of age, Sophie had just turned nine. Consecutive versions of l'Illusionniste script exist dated from 1955 through to 1959.

3 Tati played with idea's for l'Illusionniste throughout the mid to late 1950's the writing of which coincided with a letter written to him by his eldest daughter, Helga Marie-Jeanne. As a refugee Helga Marie-Jeanne had become trapped in Marrakech during the Moroccan 1955 uprising for independence against its French protectorate. Having been at the centre of the Christmas Eve bombing of the main Marrakech market in which she witnessed the massacre of a number of her boarding school friends, Helga Marie-Jeanne was actively encouraged by the French Consulate to flee Morocco for her own safety. Holding only a French passport she wrote to her father in hope that he would show compassion towards her plight and help her escape the hostilities that had built up in Morocco by offering her safe passage back to her home city of Paris. He was never forthcoming with help. However the request for help from his own daughter could only have weighed heavily on Tati the man, the artist, who had during the same period written the most sensitive observations of childhood innocence and parenthood with Academy Award winning Mon Oncle.

In Mon Oncle Tati would take the opportunity to swipe fun at the notion of arranged marriages which his elder sister Nataile had manipulated him into after the rejection of his own daughter in real life. Natalie had an overbearing influence over Tati and his abandonment of his eldest daughter was greatly influenced by her depraved intervention. Tati's script for l'Illusionniste parallels many of the dilemmas he was facing in his real life at the time, acceptance that he wasn't getting any younger, the failing popularity of live cabaret, befriending and taking on his parental duties towards a teenage girl he knew little about, bringing that teenager to a big city and the dilemma of ultimately losing the child's affection once the veil of his stage persona was exposed.

4 Tati, in keeping with his preference of not working with professional actors, had singled out Sylvette David who had modelled for Picasso for the role as the teenage girl due to her resemblance to Bridget Bardot. In her letter from Morocco Helga Marie-Jeanne had innocently joked that the locals of Marrakech had nicknamed her the brunette Bardot of the Sahara. David did not sit for Picasso until 1954 so it can only be concluded that Tati did not know of her until after this date.

5 Tati had set l'Illusionniste in the Czech capital city of Prague. The mother of his eldest child Herta Schiel was of duel nationality and escaped the German annexation of Vienna using Czech papers. She remained a Czech citizen throughout the war. Tati always referred to Herta as being Czech.

6 The original l'Illusionniste script focuses on how from a distance the teenage girl believes with utter wonderment the enchanting life the conjurer inhabits. After making a sentimental bond through his stage persona with the girl he does not have the heart to reveal to the teenager that his magic and what she sees as his very life are little more than a fabricated illusion. Throughout his career Tati was often quoted as saying that his Hulot was just a character he had created and he himself was a very different person to what was seen on screen. His eldest daughter's perception of him as a child was mainly formed from what she had seen of him in character on screen. l'Illusionniste script deals directly with the dilemma he was facing on how would his daughter respond once she realised the gentile man on the silver screen was not the same man he was after the dim theatre lights had been switched back on.

7 The original script for l'Illusionniste concludes with the magician walking off into the sunset wiser for the experience and free of his deceit. Tati had hoped that by openly apologising to his eldest daughter he would in some way be free of his real life deception that increasingly contradicted his growing public persona. The very title, l'Illusionniste illustrates how Tati was aware at how his public persona was a veil that contradicted the real man. Conjurers by their very craft are deceitful.

8 Tati had never intended to play the role of the illusionist himself instead he had intended to cast Pierre Etaix in the leading role but Etaix fell out with Tati over moral issues concerning the script. A bitter feud surfaced and the two men never again spoke. Tati copyrighted l'Illusionniste script at the beginning of the 1960's as he was concerned that both Etaix and Jean-Claude Carrière would try and steal it. All of Tati's old music hall colleagues knew of his eldest daughter he had fathered in Paris during the Second World War and the majority felt his actions to one of their own betrayed them all. It is highly likely Etaix or Carrière would have known about Tati's eldest child.

9 My Grandmother Herta Schiel never lost contact with her Parisian music hall colleagues and throughout her life would travel nearly every year back to Paris. It was through these connections that she learnt that Tati had written a script for the daughter he had shamefully betrayed. No name was ever given to the script but knowing of only two other un-produced scripts by Tati, The Occupation of Berlin (which has currently conveniently gone missing) and Confusion it can be concluded that l'Illusionniste with the parallels it draws is indeed that script. The l'Illusionniste was written around the same period as The Occupation of Berlin when Tati must have been reflecting upon his war years. Performers of the Lido de Paris, Bal Tabarin and A.B.C. who had known Tati both as a friend and colleague since he himself was a teenager still remarkably live in Paris and to this day are in regular contact with his eldest daughter Helga Marie-Jeanne. Nothing that Tati did in his movies was by accident but exist as a result of meticulous planning to precisely convey his very personal vision.

On hearing that Sylvain Chomet had started production on l'Illusionniste in what for centuries has been my father's family home county of Northumberland on the Scottish border I confidentially approached him with the difficult true story that lay at the heart of my grandfather's script. Gratefully acknowledging l'Illusionniste true meaning that he had apparently always known was written by Tati as a "personal letter to his daughter" Chomet invited me to his Edinburgh studio to read the script he had adapted and to see the progress he was making.

After a long conversation Chomet revealed he had obtained the script for l'Illusionniste from my Aunt Sophie Tatischeff following nothing more than a single telephone conversation he had with her whilst seeking permission to use a segment of Jour de Fete in his Belleville Rendez-Vous animated movie. Sophie died regrettably young in October 2001 a full two years before Belleville was released in late 2003 and it is questionable that she would have released what she had protected for so long to an unknown director she would never in person meet and who at the time had nothing to his name but a well received short animation. It was impossible for Sophie to give Chomet the script for l'Illusionniste after she had seen Belleville Rendez-Vous as he has often been quoted as saying.

Chomet justifies using an animated caricature of Tati by saying that Sophie never wanted anyone to play her father however she would have been well aware that her father never intended playing the part of the Illusionist himself, he had no conjuring skills and wanted solely to concentrate his efforts on writing and directing this most personal movie. As stated above the role was originally written for Pierre Etaix.

After Chomet became aware of the troubled story that lay beneath l'Illusionniste he informed the current caretakers of my grandfather's estate, Jerome Deschamps and Mikall Micheff at Les Films de Mon Oncle, who without consent published the most deplorable inaccurate account of my family in the biography Jacques Tati by Jean-Philippe Guerand. This intolerable disfiguring of our lives provoked us as a family and all that remains of the Tatischeff line with no choice but to finally put on record our true heritage to which everybody who is currently promoting themselves through my grandfathers celebrity have no legitimate claim whatsoever.

The partners at Les Films de Mon Oncle certainly never had a hand in the creation of my grandfathers oeuvre nor are they in anyway related to him. When Tati became bankrupt the Deschamps family chose to do nothing but glee at his downfall. It is quite deplorable that today they should be allowed to parasitically exploit both his abilities and failings whilst disturbingly distorting history. Deschamps came into ownership of four of Tati's movies after he purchased them from a terminally ill Sophie Tatischeff in the last year of her life to pay her debts (she'd lost a fortune with her recording studio, Son our Son) as she did not want to die with the shame of bankruptcy like her father. Deschamps absolutely did not inherit the Tatischeff estate as a rightful heir as he would like the world to think. Working closely with highly respected Princeton academic David Bellos who is credited with writing the most discerning biographical account of my grandfather's life we have been able to publicly document for the first time the true events that were Tati's War years..

What we ask is that you please try and understand the most unjust personal anguish that my family has faced for so long with nothing but the utmost reserved dignity and why the promoting of my grandfathers most personal script on the issue without acknowledging his troubled intentions for its creation, never mind how it has been spitefully reinterpreted, will only add further insult to everyone personally involved. Not recognising the source for l'Illusionniste shows not only disrespect for Tati the artist but also subverts the man's only redeeming response towards his daughter he inconsiderately abandoned.

To the outside world my grandfather, Jacques Tati was the great mime, the celebrated cinematic artist who held the most special gift of being able to entertain and make people laugh through his unique humane way of portraying the often crazy world in which we all live. However as he always maintained his celluloid characters were not him but creations born from his real life observations. Like many artists he was also troubled for this was also the same man who in complete contradiction to his professional screen persona had heartlessly abandoned both his eldest child, Helga Marie-Jeanne and her mother, Herta Schiel in the most shameful of circumstances. Tati courted and performed on stage at the Lido de Paris with Herta for the two years previous to the birth of their child. Inseparable Tati would enthusiastically discuss with Herta his ambitious plans to create his own movies and as early as 1941 he already had L'Ecole des Facteurs/Jour de Fete envisaged.

In Herta existed a vibrant brave young woman who at just seventeen years of age had the foresight alongside her sister Molly to flee the impending annexation of Vienna whilst courageously providing shielding and eventual safe passage to Morocco for their most admired childhood Jewish friend, Heinz Lustig. A young woman barely out of childhood herself who having arrived in Pairs with little more than a visa allowing her only to perform on the stage went on to courageously at great personal risk learn Morse Code and translate intercepted German messages from the front line into French for the Resistance movement before they were sent to De Gaulle in London. A woman whose only mistake was to fall in love then be betrayed by the gangling clown who would go on to charm the world with laughter in the way he ridiculed and questioned it.

In a single year, 1943 Herta's gallantry would be severely challenged as she found herself isolated in a foreign occupied city holding a needy new born child having lost both the man she loved and heartbreakingly her sister to tuberculosis. The mother of Tati's first child was a valiant woman who was not afraid to stand up for the freedom of Europe and today rightfully deserves not to be forgotten.

Tati's eldest daughter, Helga Marie-Jeanne always maintaining a Parisian soul would spend most of her life to adulthood in between Paris, Marrakech and Vienna. Having grown without knowing the love of a father in adulthood she could not bare the thought of bringing the shame she had suffered as a child for his betrayal to her half-brother, Pierre and sister, Sophie. It is for this reason alone that at the height of her father's celebrity she remained dignifiedly silently even under pressure to create scandal. Helga Marie-Jeanne had suffered enough as a child for her father's betrayal, in adulthood she determinedly decided to make her own way in the world. In honour of Helga Marie-Jeanne's dignified humility and her mother's wartime intelligence work Croix de Guerre awarded Parisian Resistance leader Dr Jacques Weil would stand in the place of her father when she married in England in the summer of 1965. Today as a much loved retired grandmother living in the northeast of England the least she deserves is respectful acknowledgement. Had she not remained resolutely silent it is highly unlikely that her father, Jacques Tatischeff would have been able to complete his cinematic oeuvre that still enthralls today.

My grandfather's artistry did not come without a price and the one who suffered the most for his compulsive behaviour was inexcusably his eldest daughter. Had it not been for the love of her brave astute mother, the goodwill of others and Helga Marie-Jeanne's own self discipline her fate would have been far bleaker.

My family's story is unfortunately not the romantic fiction of Truffaut's Last Metro or Curtiz's Casablanca. It is however a true account of how during that most horrendous period in modern history people's moral character was challenged when faced with adversity. Had Tati not survived his military service defending the French borders on the Western Front he might well have died a war hero. Instead the subsequent war years would see him conjure up the most indefensible family tragedy, a betrayal that runs in complete opposition to the legendary tale of how his own grandmother had rescued her son from Russia. The suffering of a child is inexcusable in any society. The sabotaging of Tati's original l'Illusionniste script without recognizing his troubled intentions so that it resembles little more than a grotesque eclectic nostalgic homage to its author is the most disrespectful act that shows nothing but a total lack of compassion towards both the artist and the child it was meant to address.

Before his death Tati called for his body to be thrown out with the garbage as through his own eyes his life had been a failure. He bemoaned to friends his misgivings and how through his own errors of judgment he would never experience the joy of being a grandparent. We have opened this painful chapter of our lives not out of any vengeance but so that we can now be allowed to lay to rest a previous generation's mistakes, there is no spite only sorrow for what is ultimately a family tragedy. To fully appreciate an artist's work you first must acknowledge the person and the life they had lived.

If the integrity of my grandfather's work means anything to you then please take into account the wishes of his only three grandchildren who united stand loyally by their adored mother, the daughter he had heartlessly abandoned as a child and later addressed l'Illusionniste to. Together we ask that you please show moral compassion and chose in the future not to participate in the misrepresentation of our family history to suit the parasitic benefit of others. That Sylvain Chomet, Pathe Pictures, Sony Picture Classics and Les Films de Mon Oncle dare to rub my grandfather's remorse on our doorstep without respectfully acknowledging the facts is intolerable. The truth deserves a voice so that at the very least we do not forget the sacrifices made by others for our liberty.

"On le pleure mort,il aurait fallu l'aider vivant"

--Paris Match 19th November 1982 Obituary of Jacques Tati.

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Yours sincerely

Richard Tatischeff Schiel McDonald

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#11 May 19, 2010

The Grand Poobah writes: Twitter makes the world smaller...At Cannes I met Anupama Chopra, also known as @anupamachopra, a leading Indian film critic. She had just come from interviewing the great Mike Leigh. To my surprise I learned she had taken the famed course in magazine journalism at Northwestern, taught by my friend Abe Peck, who had become her guru. Is that two degrees of separation? Two years ago she was on the jury of Un Certain Regard at Cannes, and told us something startling: The festival doesn't pay the jurors' expenses. Times are hard all over. (click image)

The Grand Poobah writes: Derek Malcom is back at Cannes this year. The longtime Guardian film critic, now at the Evening Standard, is the local bookie for the festival, quoting odds and taking cash bets. No, really. He must pay off, because he's not afraid to come back every year. He's a former jockey. I was just about to ask him this year's odds when the guards opened the doors and we were all off to the races, scrambling for our favorite seats. (click image)

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#10 May 12, 2010

Dear Club Members;When last I heard, the Grand Poobah was dashing out the door to catch a flight to Cannes, France.  One can assume the plane landed safely as he's still Tweeting. :-)

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Deep Focus: Freedom of (eye-)movementin eight of the greatest long takes ever

May Contain Spoilers

We tend to remember long takes that call attention to themselves as such: the opening shots of "Touch of Evil" or "The Player"; the entrance to the Copacabana in "GoodFellas"; all those shots in Romanian movies, and pictures directed by Bela Tarr and Jia Zhangke... And then there are the ones you barely notice because your eyes have been guided so effortlessly around the frame, or you've been given the freedom to explore it on your own, or you've simply gotten so involved in the rhythms of the scene, the interplay between the characters, that you didn't notice how long the shot had been going on.

For this compilation, "Deep Focus," I've chosen eight shots I treasure (the last two I regard as among the finest in all of cinema). They're not all strictly "deep focus" shots, but they do emphasize three-dimensionality in their compositions. I've presented them with only minimal identifications so you can simply watch them and see what happens without distraction or interruption. Instead, I've decided to write about them below. Feel free to watch the clips and then re-watch (freeze-frame, rewind, replay) the clips to see what you can see. To say they repay re-viewing is an understatement.

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Name That Director!

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UPDATED 01/28/10: 2:25 p.m. PST -- COMPLETED!: Thanks for all the detective work -- and special thanks to Christopher Stangl and Srikanth Srinivasan himself for their comprehensive efforts at filling the last few holes! Now I have to go read about who some of these experimental filmmakers are. I did find some Craig Baldwin movies on Netflix, actually...

Srikanth Srinivasan of Bangalore writes one of the most impressive movie blogs on the web: The Seventh Art. I don't remember how I happened upon it last week, but wow am I glad I did. Dig into his exploration of connections between Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds" and Jean-Luc Godard's "History of Cinema." Or check out his piece on James Benning's 1986 "Landscape Suicide." There's a lot to look through, divided into sections for Hollywood and World Cinema.

In the section called "The Cinemaniac... I found the above collage (mosaic?) of mostly-famous faces belonging to film directors, which Srikanth says he assembled from thumbnails at Senses of Cinema. Many of them looked quite familiar to me, and if I'm not mistaken they were among the biographical portraits we used in the multimedia CD-ROM movie encyclopedia Microsoft Cinemania, which I edited from 1994 to 1998, first on disc, then also on the web. (Anybody with a copy of Cinemania able to confirm that? My Mac copy of Cinemania97 won't run on Snow Leopard.)

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Elected: 100 Must-See Foreign Films

Kenji Mizoguchi's "Sansho Dayu" (aka "Sansho the Bailiff").

The ballots came in from all over the web. Edward Copeland tabulated them (and found nice stills for all the winners), under the supervision of Nobel Peace Prize-winner Jimmy Carter. OK, I don't know about that last part, but Edward did some great good work here.

He's calling it "The Satyajit Ray Memorial Anything-But-Definitive List of Non-English Language Films." Copeland writes: "The name comes, of course, from the great Indian director who failed to land any of his acclaimed works on the final list of 122 nominees."

In all 174 people chose their top 25-or-so non-English-language talkies made before 2002 (nominees had to be at least five years old). The Top 100 is here -- accompanied by comments from people who chose them. (Comments and vote totals for the other 22 nominees are here.)

My top choice was Kenji Mizoguchi's "Sansho Dayu" (which came in at #46 and is available on a Criterion DVD), about which I wrote: If I had to choose just one movie –- one movie –- above all others on this list, Mizoguchi's would be it. I've long felt that if there were a god, the closest expression we're likely to find on this earth is in this movie. It's not the only film on my list that gives me goosebumps whenever the title is mentioned, but I don't believe there's ever been a greater motion picture in any language. This one sees life and memory as a creek flowing into a lake out into a river and to the sea.That seems a little florid to me now (it was the night before I left for Toronto, and I was trying to tie together the imagery in the first and last shots of a masterpiece), but the emotions, and the awe, are genuine.

Here's the Top 25:

1. "The Rules of the Game" (Jean Renoir) 2. "Seven Samurai" (Akira Kurosawa) 3. "M" (Fritz Lang) 4. "8 1/2" (Federico Fellini) 5. "Bicycle Thieves" (Vittorio De Sica) 6. "Persona" (Ingmar Bergman) 7. "Grand Illusion" (Jean Renoir) 8. "Aguirre, the Wrath of God" (Werner Herzog) 9. "The Battle of Algiers" (Gillo Pontecorvo) 10. "The 400 Blows" (Francois Truffaut) 11. "Fanny and Alexander" (Ingmar Bergman) 12. "Tokyo Story" (Yasujiro Ozu) 13. "Rashomon" (Akira Kurosawa) 14. "Ikiru" (Akira Kurosawa) 15. "The Seventh Seal" (Ingmar Bergman) 16. "Ran" (Akira Kurosawa) 17. "Jules and Jim" (Francois Truffaut) 18. "The Conformist" (Bernardo Bertolucci) 19. "La Dolce Vita" (Federico Fellini) 20. "Contempt" (Jean-Luc Godard) 21. "Breathless" (Jean-Luc Godard) 22. "Ugetsu Monogatari" (Kenji Mizoguchi) 23. "Playtime" (Jacques Tati) 24. "Au Hasard, Balthazar" (Robert Bresson) 25. "Andrei Rublev" (Andrei Tarkovsky)

(continued...)

Bad news: "Amelie" made the list (though only at #92). Good news: "Life is Beautiful" (which isn't) wasn't even nominated!

Stop wasting your life. Get watching.

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Opening Shots: 'Caché'

View image: What are we looking at/for?

View image: Find one difference in this picture.

From Jeremy Mathews, The Salt Shaker Magazine, Salt Lake City, UT:

It may be a recent film, but I don't think it's too early to canonize Michael Haneke's "Caché" opening shot as one of the greats. Haneke's first image prepares the viewer for his film's astounding distortion of the cinematic lens.

A static shot of a house at the end of a Parisian street during early morning seems perfectly banal, as Daniel Auteuil's character walks over to his car. But then, in voice-over, Binoche and Auteuil begin to discuss the workings of the shot — they didn't see the camera, so how was this footage created? One of them comments that the shot is too clear to be shot through glass (i.e. hidden in someone's car).

Until the scanlines appear as the characters rewind the tape, there are absolutely no clues from the image's quality (resolution, interlacing, etc.) to suggest that it isn't from a professional film. When the next shot, of Auteuil and Binoche in their house looking at the TV, comes up, there is no discernible visual difference between the tape and what we assume isn't a tape.

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Opening Shots Pop Quiz: Answers

Here goes. For the time being, I'm just going to offer up the answers to the Opening Shots Pop Quiz, without further elaboration or analysis in most cases -- because these shots are so great they deserve full Opening Shots treatments of their own. (And you, by the way, are welcome to provide them if you are so inclined!)

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Repeatable pleasures

"Barry Lyndon": Let's begin again...

Some great (and maybe not-so-great) movies reward repeated viewings; others you may savor only once or twice. The newly redesigned Slate.com has asked several movie people what movies they've seen most often. (On my own personal list: I never tire of the crackling artistic life in "Nashville," "Chinatown," "Citizen Kane," "E.T.," "North By Northwest," "Trouble in Paradise," "Fight Club," "Donnie Darko," "Double Indemnity," "Stranger Than Paradise," "Stop Making Sense"... Then there's "Animal Crackers," any Buster Keaton movie [but especially "Our Hospitality," "Sherlock Jr." and "Steamboat Bill Jr."], "Waiting for Guffman," "Dazed and Confused," "Boogie Nights" -- oh, and "Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy," an unheralded comedy masterpiece...)

Among the choices in Slate's "The Movies I've Seen the Most":

Writer-director Paul Schrader (author of the indispensible book of film criticism, "Ozu Bresson Dreyer"): Robert Bresson's "Pickpocket." (Duh -- he's used the ending twice in his own movies, "American Gigolo" and "Light Sleeper.")

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Overlooked Film Fest Photo Album

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Updated: Monday, April 25: The seventh Roger Ebert's Overlooked Film Festival got off to a thunderous start -- both inside the theater and outside -- in Urbana-Champaign Wednesday, April 20. Ebert himself received the University of Illinois Chancellor's medal from newly chosen U of I chancellor Richard Herman, and a restored 70mm print of Jacques Tati's 1967 "Playtime" was showcased at the Virginia Theatre, while the midwestern skies provided their own shadowplay and sound effects outside. The festival concluded Sunday, April 24, with a matinee screening of the Bollywood musical "Taal" starring Aishwarya Rai.

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Great Movies: The first 100

Every other week I visit a film classic from the past and write about it. My "Great Movies" series began in the autumn of 1996 and now reaches a landmark of 100 titles with today's review of Federico Fellini's "8 1/2," which is, appropriately, a film about a film director. I love my job, and this is the part I love the most.

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