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Birdman

One of the best times you'll have at the movies this year, and possibly the year's best film overall.

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Rudderless

If this directorial outing was in any sense an audition for the talented Mr. Macy, he should be congratulated on passing it.

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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.

#160 March 20, 2013

Marie writes: It's no secret there's no love lost between myself and what I regard as London's newest blight; The Shard. That said, I also love a great view. Go here to visit a 360-degree augmented-reality panorama from the building's public observation deck while listening to the sounds of city, including wind, traffic, birds and even Big Ben.

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Free sample of Ebert Club Newsletter

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This is a free sample of the Newsletter members receive each week. It contains content gathered from recent past issues and reflects the growing diversity of what's inside the club. To join and become a member, visit Roger's Invitation From the Ebert Club.

Marie writes: Not too long ago, Monaco's Oceanographic Museum held an exhibition combining contemporary art and science, in the shape of a huge installation by renowned Franco-Chinese artist Huang Yong Ping, in addition to a selection of films, interviews and a ballet of Aurelia jellyfish.The sculpture was inspired by the sea, and reflects upon maritime catastrophes caused by Man. Huang Yong Ping chose the name "Wu Zei"because it represents far more than just a giant octopus. By naming his installation "Wu Zei," Huang added ambiguity to the work. 'Wu Zei' is Chinese for cuttlefish, but the ideogram 'Wu' is also the color black - while 'Zei' conveys the idea of spoiling, corrupting or betraying. Huang Yong Ping was playing with the double meaning of marine ink and black tide, and also on corruption and renewal. By drawing attention to the dangers facing the Mediterranean, the exhibition aimed to amaze the public, while raising their awareness and encouraging them to take action to protect the sea.

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#152 January 23, 2013

Marie writes: Behold the entryway to the Institut Océanographique in Paris; and what might just be the most awesome sculpture to adorn an archway in the history of sculptures and archways. Photo @ pinterest

(click to enlarge.)

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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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Random thoughts while attending Ebertfest 2012

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Above: The Demanders: Jana Monji, Roger Ebert, Jim Emerson, Steven Boone, Odie Henderson, Donald Liebenson. In absentia: Jeff Shannon, Kevin B. Lee. Reflected in TV: Wael Khairy. Steak 'n Shake shake courtesy of Michal Oleszczyk, who also took this photo with my camera.

Every once in a while circumstances have conspired to keep me from attending Ebertfest, but the main thing that draws me back are the people I get to see and watch movies with while I'm there, from David Bordwell (with whom I rode from Madison to Champaign-Urbana) to Festival Co-Conspirator Joan Cohl to The Man Himself, Roger Ebert, whose presence animates the event, even when he isn't in the on-stage spotlight.

For me, there were no major discoveries or revelations this year -- like, say, Jeff Nichols' "Shotgun Stories" or Yôjirô Takita's "Departures" or the astounding, mind-blowing 70mm print of Jacques Tati's "PlayTime" in past Ebertfests -- but that almost seemed beside the point. (Though I highly recommend a snappy, endlessly inventive low-budget picture called "Citizen Kane." It's terrific!)

I'm happiest hanging around, in the Virginia Theatre or the "green room" (where participants gather for lunch and dinner) with, to name but a few, some of The Demanders (a small group of writers I work with who cover VOD) or the Far-Flung Correspondents, who write about movies from their home bases all over the world: Egypt, Brazil, Turkey, South Korea... even Chicago.

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A man with storms in his head

May Contain Spoilers

A professor at my department who studied neuroscience, once told us something you have probably heard elsewhere: If you think you're crazy or getting crazy, that means you are not crazy because crazy people do not know that they are crazy. This sounds like the famous dilemma in Joseph Heller's "Catch-22." I thought it was useful advice for students who had to deal with lots of pressure and stress in the academic process. It could also be good advice for the hero of "Take Shelter" (2011), because he thinks at first something is wrong with his head, but cannot ignore what disturbs deeply him. He tries to quell his mental turbulence as much as he can, but is transformed into a more disturbed man obsessed with visions attacking him every night. It is possible that he himself is the threat to the family he wants to protect, not the catastrophe of epic proportion he fears.

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Introducing the films of Ebertfest 2012

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Something nice happened to us while we were preparing the schedule for Ebertfest 2012, which plays April 25-29 at the Virginia Theater (above) in Champaign-Urbana, Ill. We'd invited Patton Oswalt to attend with his "Big Fan. He agreed and went one additional step: "I'd like to personally choose a film to show to the students, and discuss it."

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#107 March 21, 2012

Marie writes: I received the following from intrepid club member Sandy Kahn and my eyes widened at the sight of it. It's not every day you discover a treasure trove of lost Hollywood jewelry!

Grace Kelly is wearing "Joseff of Hollywood"chandelier earrings in the film "High Society" (1965)(click image to enlarge.)

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The Loving Story: A romantic interracial landmark

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"The Loving Story" premieres on Valentine's Day, February 14, at 9 p.m. on HBO (check local listings), and is available via HBO On Demand and HBO Go thereafter.

"The Loving Story" is as modest and taciturn as its subject, an interracial couple who, in 1958 rural Central Point, Virginia, just wanted to be left alone. For the most part, they were, and that was the problem as much as it was their fervent wish. When the local sheriff busted into their bedroom at 4 am and hauled them off to jail for violating the Racial Integrity Act, there was no national audience, in contrast to the fire hosings, bombings and other acts of racist terror that couldn't help but make the evening news at the time. The whole world was not watching. It's hard to fathom why after seeing the luminous 16mm footage uncovered in "The Loving Story." Documenting many pivotal moments in the case, it adds a dash of something rarely seen in the grand narrative of the American Civil Rights struggle: romance.

In the footage and iconic photographs, the Lovings appear to be deeply in love. Richard is a silent, barrel-chested Ed Harris lookalike; Mildred is shy and beautiful, the essence of poised intelligence. How could a story this simple and universal, with two photogenic romantic leads captured in a Life magazine feature, get lost in the Civil Rights shuffle?

The Loving case eventually went all the way to the Supreme Court, and all along the way, the couple insisted upon discretion and privacy. Only a small documentary crew -- filmmaker Hope Ryden and cinematographer Abbot Mills -- gained access to their home, but they made the most of it. The photography is as discreet but watchful as Mildred herself. When she, well, lovingly buckles her little daughter's suede shoe as they prepare for an outing, the camera isolates the mother's slender brown arm steadying her child's pale leg. In the film's context, as assembled by producer-director Nancy Buirski, moments like this one simply cry out, "Why on earth would a decent person want to disrupt this beautiful life?"

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The Best Films of 2011

Making lists is not my favorite occupation. They inevitably inspire only reader complaints. Not once have I ever heard from a reader that my list was just fine, and they liked it. Yet an annual Best Ten list is apparently a statutory obligation for movie critics.

My best guess is that between six and ten of these movies won't be familiar. Those are the most useful titles for you, instead of an ordering of movies you already know all about.

One recent year I committed the outrage of listing 20 movies in alphabetical order. What an uproar! Here are my top 20 films, in order of approximate preference.

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#65 June 1, 2011

Marie writes: Why a picture is often worth a thousand words...Production still of Harold Lloyd in "An Eastern Westerner" (1920)

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jim's annotated best favorite movies of 2008 part 1

or: as promised, an explication of why I chose these pictures and sounds:

I. Titles: Chad Feldheimer gives the invocation (Brad Pitt in Joel and Ethan Coen's "Burn After Reading").

II. Prologue: Hannah Schygulla, Goddess of Fassbinder, Animating Spirit of Cinema, awakens to look us in the eye and set the movie-countdown in motion. (From "The Edge of Heaven." I tweaked it to begin in black and white and fade into color.)

10. "The Fall" (Tarsem Singh; comedy, Western/Eastern, fantasy, adventure). "The Fall" is a tall tale about storytelling and the movies -- the shadows that flicker on screens and the images that excite our imaginations. It is a tale told by an injured American stunt man, bedridden in a Los Angeles hospital circa 1915, and filtered through the consciousness of a little Romanian girl with limited English and a broken arm. She craves the story as much as he craves morphine. He becomes a too-human god, creator and destroyer of worlds; she becomes hooked.

The shot quoted above is a piece of shadowplay from the opening sequence -- the reverse-image of a bridge and a locomotive imprinted on the surface of the water. The white specks are men in the water. A figure on the shadow-bridge tosses them a rope, which becomes a thread linking the positive and negative sides of the picture in the same shot. The rope itself snakes out in shadow (in the foreground, illuminated from behind, not cast on the water) until the tangled coil appears, falling through sunlight, set off against the shadow of a pillar of smoke, and the "tail" is swallowed up by the black of the bridge. "The Fall" accomplishes astounding feats like that throughout.

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The Uncertainty Principle (or, The Easy Read)

Son (Michael Shannon). Opening shot: "Shotgun Stories."

In Sally Potter's "Yes," there's a scene in a restaurant kitchen in which a Lebanese chef and a young Brit-punk dishwasher get into fierce confrontation (you can't really call it an "argument") over politics and religion. The kid grabs a frying pan and goes after the chef. The chef picks up a knife. Standoff. The manager arrives. Summarily, he fires the chef.

In the Q & A after the screening at Ebertfest, some people said they thought this was clearly a race-based (or racist) decision on the manager's part. Others debated the choice of weapons: Didn't a knife appear more threatening than a pan?

He (Simon Abkarian), "Yes."

Back up two weeks to the Cinema Interruptus series of screenings at the Conference on World Affairs in Boulder, CO: We're looking at the scene in "No Country for Old Men" in which Sheriff Ed Tom Bell returns to the scene of the crime at the motel. [Spoiler alert -- although why you would be reading this blog if you haven't seen "NCFM" is beyond me.] The way the scene is constructed, we expect Chigurh to be standing behind the door when Ed Tom enters the room. The door opens flat against the wall. Ed Tom steps over a pool of dried blood in the doorway, looks around the room, checks the bathroom window (which is locked from the inside) and, relieved, sits down on the bed. He notices an air vent that has been removed. Four screws and a dime are on the floor.

What more do you need to know? I'm not saying it's unreasonable to want to know. But take a moment to look before you start jumping to conclusions. What is there and what is not there. Does the movie provide the answer(s) to your questions, or does it not? If not, what does that decision tell you? That the Coens are sloppy or forgetful? That they're interested in something else, like the experience Ed Tom has just gone through? That maybe you're asking the wrong questions? What else?

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Overheard exposition, Part II

Seeing a series of exquisitely subtle films that includes Jeff Nichols' "Shotgun Stories," Eran Kolirin's "The Band's Visit" and Bill Forsyth's "Housekeeping," you become sensitized to how clumsy most movies are about unloading their expository details. These Ebertfest films and filmmakers know how to reveal what needs to be revealed indirectly, without the audience necessarily even realizing that it's being let in on a wealth of information.

So: A real-life example of efficient, semi-oblique expository dialog overheard in a restaurant in Champaign-Urbana on a stormy Friday night. A young couple have just arrived and are about to be seated.

Hostess (smiling): "Oh, it's just the two of you tonight."

Man: "Yeah, we popped in a Disney movie and slipped out the side door."

See, that's a little movie right there. Filmmakers, take note: How much do we know about the lives of this man, this woman, and their history with this restaurant from these two short lines?

More about this subject (and others) in further catch-up Ebertfest posts...

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Ebertfest 2008: Springing forward

Chaz Ebert introduces Timothy Spall (Rosencrantz) and Rufus Sewell (Fortinbras), both in town with the opening night attraction, a full-length (238-minute) 70 mm print of Kenneth Branagh's 1996 film of William Shakespeare's "Hamlet." (photos by jim emerson)

What is Ebertfest without Ebert? Fest? Kicking off the 10th Anniversary edition of Roger Ebert's (formerly Overlooked) Film Festival, Chaz Ebert passed along her husband's sentiments that, today, he was in the wrong place at the wrong time -- that is, in a bed in Chicago instead of in at the Virginia Theatrer in Urbana-Champaign. But, she reported him saying, you could also say the same thing about the day he tripped on the carpet and fractured his hip. Nobody's giving up hope, though. Chaz said they were consulting with doctors day by day and that she wouldn't be surprised if Roger wound up making it here after all before the fest is through. [UPDATE: The next day Roger and his doctors decided that making the trip wasn't worth the health risk.}

L to R (I hope): Jeff Nichols ("Shotgun Stories"), John Peterson ("The Real Dirt on Farmer John"), Eran Kolirin ("The Band's Visit"), Chaz Ebert, Timothy Spall and Rufus Sewell ("Hamlet"), Joan Cohl and Hannah Fisher ("Citizen Kohl"), William J. Erfuth and Joseph Greco and Adam Hammel ("Canvas").

Last year Ebertfest seemed to improve his rate of recovery exponentially, so we can only hope he'll make it to town. (For a sample of good wishes see the comments at his blog, Roger Ebert's Journal.)

So, the festival is just getting started tonight, but already I've learned some things just from talking to people and reading the program. For example:

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Ebertfest 2008: My heart is in Urbana

The 10th Anniversary Ebertfest begins tonight in Urbana-Champaign. It is with some melancholy that I write these words on a legal pad in a hospital bed in Chicago. After consulting with my doctors, I have decided it may not be prudent to try to make the journey today with a fractured hip.

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Ebertfest 2008: Party de Champaign

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The Prince of Denmark, Yukio Mishima and the Incredible Hulk are planning to convene in Champaign-Urbana, IL, for Roger Ebert's Film Festival (April 23-27, 2008). Joining them (off-screen) for the Ebertfest No. 10 will be directors Paul Schrader, Bill Forsyth, Sally Potter and actors Christine Lahti, Aida Turturro, Joe Pantoliano, among others. The emphasis is still on the (re-)discovery of "overlooked" films (with that term defined however Ebert wants to define it), but the festival is now known simply as Ebertfest. The full schedule is here:

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