Inside Llewyn Davis
"Inside Llewyn Davis" is the most satisfyingly diabolical cinematic structure that the Coens have ever contrived, and that's just one reason that I suspect it…
* 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.
Writer Peter Sobczynski responds to our Movie Love Questionnaire.
Writer Sheila O'Malley responds to our Movie Love Questionnaire.
Michael Haneke's "Amour," which won the Palme d'Or last May at Cannes, was voted Saturday the best film of 2012 by the prestigious National Society of Film Critics. The award, coming on the eve of voting for the 2013 Academy Awards, confirms "Amour" as a Best Foreign Film frontrunner. Other NSFC winners will also draw welcome attention.
With the 2013 Oscarcast moved up to Feb. 24, movie fans are already in a lather over the possible nominees, especially since again this year there can be "up to" ten finalists in the Best Picture category. I claim no inside knowledge (I'm still waiting to hear from my friend Deep Oscar), but it's never too early to speculate.
Or: Once is not enough?
"They love it, they don't like it, they like it better a second time, they see it a third time and they reverse their opinion." -- Paul Thomas Anderson on "The Master," in a Toronto Star interview with Peter Howell
The critics agree! Paul Thomas Anderson's new film "The Master" is... ambiguous. What they don't agree on is whether, as we say in the software world, that's a bug or a feature. Is the movie "demanding" and artfully elusive, challenging audiences by refusing to offer a conventional dramatic catharsis or provide an artificially wrapped-up ending; or is the thing just vague, opaque, muddled? The answer depends on who you ask, what they think of Anderson as a filmmaker and, possibly, what they expected going in: a historical exposé of Scientology, a portrait of post-war/micd-century America, "character study," an acting duel... Take a look:
"Dear Mr. Spider;I am profoundly sorry to have taken you from your home in the woods, when I was picking Himalayan Blackberries on Monday afternoon. I didn't see you fall into my bucket and which was entirely my fault; I must have bumped into your web while reaching for a berry. Needless to say, I was surprised upon returning home with my bucket full, to suddenly see you there standing on a blackberry and looking up at me." - Marie
(photo recreation of incident)
Marie writes: Once upon a time, a long time ago and in a childhood far, far away, kids used to be able to buy a special treat called a Frosted Malt. Then, with the arrival of progress and the subsequent destruction of all that is noble and pure, the world found itself reduced to settling for a frosty at Wendy's, at least where I live. Unable to support a "second rate" frosted malt for a second longer, I decided to do something about it!
"Through my films I'm eventually trying to one day tell the truth. I don't know if I'm ever going to get there, but I'm slowly letting pieces of myself out there and then maybe by the time I'm 85, I'll look back and say, 'All right, that about sums it up.'" -- Adam Sandler, interview clip used in the 2012 Oscar broadcast
What if those schlocky Adam Sandler movies that you either think are funny or you don't really aren't just schlocky Adam Sandler movies that you either think are funny or you don't? What if they don't have much to do with movies at all, but are more like leveraged derivative instruments (I don't actually know what those are) or synthetic collateralized debt obligation (CDO) transactions, devised by accountants to provide maximum returns with minimum effort -- that promise investors profits for next-to-nothing? Ultra-low-budget production values and minor league actors, writers and directors (except for Sandler himself, who gets $25 million-plus up-front plus a heavy chunk of the gross), subsidized by egregious product placements, make for maximum risk minimalization.
As a moviegoer and a critic, all I care about is what's on the screen -- or isn't. But there's so little on the screen in Adam Sandler movies, that I confess I'm bewildered at what some claim to see in them. So, if you're curious about, say, how the production cost of the average Adam Sandler comedy jumped from about $30 million to about $80 million overnight... well, just keep reading.
The so-called " flop" of "That's My Boy" this past weekend (Sandler's second after "Jack and Jill" -- almost a trend!) has been greeted with schadenfreude in some quarters, but it disregards the likelihood that financial arrangements have long been in place that ensure a Sandler movie has to really, seriously tank before it winds up actually losing money.* Who knows -- there may be the equivalent of credit default swaps that protect Sony and Happy Madison from disappointing returns. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that there are investment devices that allow the backing companies to actually make money by placing wagers predicting the underperformance of a given movie, just to hedge their bets. Everybody wins, right?
Marie writes: As some of you may know, it was Roger's 70th birthday on June 18 and while I wasn't able to give the Grand Poobah what I suspect he'd enjoy most...
Siskel & Ebert fight over a toy train (1988)
Marie writes: I've never seen this done before - and what an original idea! Gwen Murphy is an artist who breathes new life into old shoes, transforming them from fashion accessories into intriguing works of art. Thanks go to club member Cheryl Knott for telling me about this. (Click to enlarge.)
"People who are just getting 'seriously interested' in film always ask a critic, 'Why don't you talk about technique and "the visuals" more?' The answer is that American movie technique is generally more like technology and it usually isn't very interesting. [...] The important thing is to convey what is new and beautiful in the work, not how it was made - -which is more or less implicit." -- Pauline Kael, "Trash, Art and the Movies" (1969)
"By neglecting to analyze technique, Miss Kael can do no more than assert that a given film is new, or beautiful, hoping that her language will provide the reader with something parallel to the qualities implicit in the work of art." -- Charles T. Samuels, reviewing Kael's 1970 collection Going Steady (which includes "Trash, Art and the Movies") in the New York Times Book Review
"It is this implacable ignorance of the mechanics of filmmaking that prevails in all Kael's books. Yet she is never called on it. The reason, of course, is that her audience knows even less of these mechanics than she does, and professional film people do not wish to incur her displeasure by calling attention to it. She seems to believe that films are made by a consortium of independent contractors -- the writer writes, the cutter cuts, the actor acts, the cameraman photographs. In effect she is always blaming the cellist for the tuba solo." -- John Gregory Dunne, reviewing Kael's Deeper Into Movies (1973) in the Los Angeles Times Book Review
"To me, a good review, good criticism -- whether it's in the Cahiers du Cinema or Film Comment -- would be trying not to say, 'I don't feel,' or 'I don't see it the way you saw it,' but, rather, 'Let's see it. Let's bring in the evidence.'" -- Jean-Luc Godard, debating Kael in 1981 and challenging her approach to criticism
"Listen, you miserable bitch, you've got every right in the world to air your likes and dislikes, but you got no goddam right at all to fake, at my expense, a phony technical knowledge you simply do not have." -- director George Roy Hill in a letter to Kael (quoted in Brian Kellow's biography, "Pauline Kael: A Life in the Dark")¹
- - -
In her 1969 Harper's essay "Trash, Art and the Movies," Pauline Kael made her case for trash, saying semi-famously: "Movies are so rarely great art, that if we cannot appreciate great trash, we have very little reason to be interested in them." But what separates "art" from "trash" (whatever she means by those labels) and is it really an either/or question? What if the differences have something (or everything) to do with "technique" (by which Kael, depending on which sentence you cite, might mean anything from technology to professional craftsmanship to directorial style)? After all, her favorite filmmakers (Altman, Peckinpah, De Palma, Godard, Spielberg) are stylists whose artistic vision (trashy vision?) is inseparable from their distinctive techniques. Even at a glance, you're not likely to mistake these auteurs' films for anyone else's.
So, I'd like to look into how the term(s) "technical" and "technique" are used by Kael (mostly in "Trash, Art and the Movies") and in those cherce quotations above. Way back when, Sidney Lumet said he considered Kael one of the most "perceptive and articulate" reviewers to come along in years, but that, like most critics, she lacked "any technical knowledge of how a movie is made." That mattered to him -- maybe especially after she said in his presence (after many spirited libations) that her job was "to tell him which way to go."²
Dunne, the occasional screenwriter, observed: "Few critics understand the roles of chance, compromise, accident and contingency in the day-by-day of a picture."³ I'd add that a failure to recognize the collaborative back-and-forth of the creative process -- and the industrial process -- of making movies (including contractual measures and union guidelines) also contributes to embarrassing critical misunderstandings that regularly find their way into print.
• "The Outer Limits" (original series) is available on Netflix (DVD), Hulu Plus and Amazon Instant Video. • "In Cold Blood" is available on Netflix (DVD and Blu-ray) and Amazon Instant Video. • "Cool Hand Luke" is available on Netflix (DVD and Blu-ray) and Amazon Instant Video. • "American Beauty" is available on Netflix (DVD and Blu-ray) and Amazon Instant Video. • "Road to Perdition" is available on Netflix (DVD and Blu-ray).
by Jeff Shannon Eyes Wide Open: A Single Artist's Vision
Ask anyone who's devoted their life to the study and appreciation of movies and they can probably tell you exactly when they were "bitten by the movie bug," that moment of personal epiphany that sparked an all-consuming passion for what is arguably the greatest, most powerful medium of artistic expression.
In my case, it was Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey" that literally changed my life. That's an influential milestone I share with many cinephiles who came of age in the 1950s and '60s, especially those "movie brats" (among them James Cameron, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg) who were drawn to imaginative visions of the future. Because I'd spent most of my childhood outdoors or casually enjoying Disney films and other kid-friendly fare, I didn't see Kubrick's visionary masterpiece until it played a return engagement at Seattle's glorious Cinerama Theater, in 1971, when I was nine years old.
(With its huge, curved Cinerama screen, the Cinerama is still the only theater in Seattle capable of showing "2001" as Kubrick intended. It exclusively hosted the film's original 77-week Seattle run beginning in April 1968, and the fully restored 70-millimeter print of "2001" had its world premiere there, appropriately enough, in 2001, two years after the aging cinema was purchased and beautifully renovated by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. It's now one of only three theaters in the world -- along with the Cinerama Dome in Los Angeles and the Pictureville Cinema in Bradford England -- equipped to exhibit three-panel Cinerama, requiring three synchronized projectors for the only seven films created in the three-strip Cinerama process, including 1956's "This Is Cinerama" and 1962's "How the West Was Won." Starting this week [Sept. 30th] and running through mid-October, Seattle's Cinerama is hosting a "70mm Festival" of 15 films, including "2001," that originally premiered there.)
Like no other film before it, "2001" opened my eyes to the power of a single artist's vision and led me to understand the supremacy of a great director. I didn't know it then, but I'd discovered the basis of auteur theory, and while it would be foolish to deny that film is (to echo that award-acceptance cliché) the most collaborative of all art forms, it's no contradiction to embrace the Kubrick quote that greets all visitors to kubrickfilms.com, Warner Bros.' authorized Kubrick website: "One man writes a novel. One man writes a symphony. It is essential for one man to make a film." (Disregard "man"; Kubrick would've been the first to include female filmmakers in his statement.)
I was just reading David Thomson's intriguing/perplexing entry on Paul Thomas Anderson in the new edition of his "Biographical Dictionary of Film" (more about that later) and he begins with reports that Anderson had at one point been unhappy with New Line's print campaign for "Magnolia":
Yet, truly, how would you do a poster for "Magnolia"? How would you begin to convey the feeling and form of the picture? Would you bother to ask the question why it is called "Magnolia"? Would you let yourself ask, are posters the proper way to offer great movies?
Such awkward questions could accumulate in Hollywood marketing offices, which have so little time or practice with the crosscutting ironies and countervailing doubts that obsess Anderson and are the energy of his films.
Yes, the job of marketing and advertising is to present the movie to the public and (if it's an honest campaign) entice them with a taste of what they can expect from it. And we all know that sometimes the efforts are woefully inadequate: "It's Terrific!" ("Citizen Kane"); "The Damndest Thing You Ever Saw!" ("Nashville"). I think the original paintings and drawings done for the Polish movie market -- most of which use no images from the movies themselves -- often do a stronger job of suggesting the feel of the films, like my favorite posters for "The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie" and "The Phantom of Liberty."
Critical polls conducted by Film Comment, indieWIRE, the Village Voice/LA Weekly, Cahiers du Cinéma and now the Los Angeles Film Critics Association have all chosen David Lynch's 2001 "Mulholland Dr." as the best movie of the decade.
UPDATE 2/12/10: The Muriels and Slant Magazine also choose "Mulholland Dr." as best of the Aughts.
Full list below...
Justin Chang writes at LAFCA.net:
Call us provincial -- David Lynch's psychoerotic noir is one of the essential L.A. movies -- but the more significant reason for the film's enduring critical favor may be its deconstruction of the toxic allure of the Dream Factory. "Mulholland Dr." projects an ambivalence toward Hollywood with which almost any critic can identify: Moving images have the power to seduce and move us, but many of them are the products of a system that routinely turns dreams into nightmares and artists into meat. Famously salvaged from a rejected TV pilot, Lynch's film stands as both a cautionary tale and a mascot for the triumph of art and personal vision in an industry that, from where we sit, often seems actively devoted to the suppression of both. [...]
Ow, my brain hurts. So, let's just get these out of the way, shall we? In the annual Village Voice/LA Weekly Film Poll, announced just before Christmas, 94 critics (including me) came up with 160 nominations for best films of 2009 -- and voted in a bunch of other categories, too, including Best Film of the Decade ("Mulholland Dr."). [My decade favorites are here.]
Meanwhile, Film Comment polled another big batch o' crix (a lot of the same ones, in fact) and came up with a somewhat different 20 Best of 2009 list -- and 150 Best Films of the Decade (topped by... "Mulholland Dr."). Just for fun, let us compare the two groups' Top Dozen for both year and decade:
If there is a King of Comedy right now in Hollywood, that would be Judd Apatow. I have a list here of a dozen comedies he has produced and/or directed just in the last five years, and I left out the titles I didn't like. He has been writing since he was a kid, producing since he was 23, and then he directed "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" (2005) and "Knocked Up" (2007) himself. He is only 41. I think he's hitting his stride.
View image Shot #1 (of this clip -- not of the entire sequence). A fairly conventional shot establishing the red car on the left gaining on the orange one on the right. I'd say these shots look a lot cooler on the page (and probably on the computer storyboards) than they do in "action."
View image Shot #2. Red car driver (Taejo) pulls up alongside Snake Oiler (not that their identities are clear from the movie itself).
View image Shot #3. Back to two-shot.
There's no action No no no there's no action -- Elvis Costello, 1978
When I was four years old I went to the 1962 Seattle World's Fair -- the one where Elvis and Joan O'Brien were, according to the ads, seen "swinging higher than the Space Needle" in "It Happened at the World's Fair" (Norman Taurog, 1963). There was a roller coaster called the Wild Mouse, but I was too afraid to ride on it. I did, however, like The Scrambler, which whirled you around in a logical geometrical pattern (although it felt pretty wild when you were on it) that looked really cool when seen from directly overhead, up on the observation deck of the Space Needle. (For years I had nightmares about falling off of the Needle, and if I'd ever hit the ground I would like to think I would have been extra-scrambled by the Scrambler.)
In theory, if I correctly predicted every single Oscar race, nobody could outguess me, and by default, I would win the prize. Alas, that has never, ever happened, and it's unlikely again this year, because as usual I will allow my heart to outsmart my brain in one or two races, which is my annual downfall. In any event, for what they're worth, here are my Academy Award predictions in a year rich with wonderful films.
by Roger Ebert
* Denotes winner.
From the Associated Press
by Roger Ebert
View image Conspiracy or coincidence? "There Will Be Blood" opened nationwide on Friday and won the Village Voice/LA Weekly film poll and the National Society of Film Critics poll the same weekend! What can it mean?
"There Will Be Consensus": That was the headline for the intro by Village Voice film critic (and self-described "lapsed structuralist") J. Hoberman, accompanying the results of the annual film critics' poll co-sponsored by the Village Voice and the L.A. Weekly, which are both published by Village Voice Media (along with the SF Weekly, Seattle Weekly, Kansas City Pitch, Nashville Scene, Cleveland Scene, Dallas Observer, Miami New Times, Phoenix New Times, Minneapolis/St. Paul City Pages, and several more). Unless you read the same piece by Hoberman in the LA Weekly, in which case the headline was "If It Bleeds, It Leads." I don't know what the headline was in those other weeklies, but you can look it up if you like.
Here, then, is the bleeding consensus, which is, as you might expect, practically everything you would expect in a consensus -- which is to say hardly anything that you would not expect. (Like Iowa.) 1. "There Will Be Blood" (Paul Thomas Anderson, USA) 2. "No Country for Old Men" (Joel & Ethan Coen, USA) 3. "Zodiac" (David Fincher, USA) 4. "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days" (Cristian Mungiu, Romania) 5. "I'm Not There" (Todd Haynes, USA) 6. "Syndromes and a Century" (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Thailand/France/Austria) 7. "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" (Julian Schnabel, France/USA) 8. "Killer of Sheep" (Charles Burnett, USA, 1977) 9. "Ratatouille" (Brad Bird, USA) 10. "Colossal Youth" (Pedro Costa, Portugal/France/Switzerland)No surprises there -- at least not if you've been paying any attention to mainstream movie reviews coming out of New York, Los Angeles or the major international film festival circuit (Cannes, Telluride, Toronto -- the launching pads for most of the above) in both 2006 and 2007. Compare to the indieWIRE poll results, which are almost identical -- with late-December opener "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" at #13 (IW) instead of #7 (VV/LA); "Assassination of Jesse James" at #7 (IW) instead of #12 (VV/LA); and -- the most dramatic difference! -- "Ratatouille" at #20 (IW) instead of #9 (VV/LA).
I wonder: Were it not for DVDs -- especially DVD critics' screeners -- and, to a lesser extent, On Demand distribution channels like HDNet and IFC First Take, how many of these films would have had the chance to become critical favorites outside of New York (and maybe LA) by the end of 2007? What are the odds that films that never even played theatrically in more than one or two American towns ("Syndromes and a Century," "Colossal Youth"), or that don't open in more than a few until 2008 ("There Will Be Blood," "4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days," "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly") would have placed so strongly in national critics' polls with mid-December deadlines? I think I'm impressed... unless, wait a minute, the success of such films is actually further evidence of insular critical hype and inbred groupthink. But why choose to think of it in that way?
From this link you can see all the vote-getters by category (feature films, performances, documentaries, first films, undistributed films, worst film), or look at the individual contributors' ballots here. Including mine, although I immediately regretted impulsively citing "Southland Tales" as the "worst" movie I saw in 2007 and still do. I'd much rather make a case against the bloodless literalism of "Sweeney Todd" (musically, sexually and politically neutered) or "Youth Without Youth" or "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly." But let's keep things in perspective. None of those movies expressed a cinematic worldview quite as reductive as those reviews of "No Country for Old Men" that invoked this year's most hackneyed substitute for criticism, summarized in this clip from Hoberman's intro: In formal terms, the Coen brothers' latest pinball machine is obviously superior to 90 percent of the year's releases. But it's also a soulless enterprise, with nothing more on its mind than the expert manipulation of the spectator, critics included.The Voice didn't run a Hoberman review of "No Country for Old Men" (it reprinted Scott Foundas's admiring piece from the LA Weekly), so we may never know more precisely what Hoberman thinks he is "obviously" saying about the movie, or the movies, or himself. (Some of my responses to similar autonomic spasms can be found here and elsewhere. In what language can something that is "obviously superior to 90 percent" of movie recent releases "in formal terms" be considered the equivalent of a "pinball machine" -- one that manipulates instead of being manipulated? What is the nature or significance of such "formal" superiority if we're drawing comparisons between movies and pinball machines? Is a wristwatch formally superior to a Mondrian? Which one? Why? The answer, obviously, is Salvador Dali's 1937 movie script for the Marx Brothers, "Giraffes on Horseback Salad.")
Hoberman offers the opinion that "NCFOM" might well be his choice for the year's "Most Overrated" picture if there were such a category as that. And in his next paragraph he announces he's pleased that the strenuously over-praised and over-maligned "Southland Tales" tied with the comparably ambitious and significant "The Bucket List" for the year's Worst Film -- though each really only received five votes -- just ahead of "300" and "Hostel: Part II" with four each, and "Juno," "Margot at the Wedding," "Redacted" and "Trade" with three): You know something's happening when "Southland Tales" also headed three critics' lists as the year's Best Film [Melissa Anderson, Bill Krohn, Nathan Lee]. Time constraints have made it impossible to calculate the 2007 poll's Passiondex— my formula to measure the degree of ardor with which critics voted for particular movies—but my heart tells me that "Southland Tales" is the obvious winner. Here is a movie that some people love and others love to hate. That's double passion! And that's good.Yes, doubleplusgood passion. Something must be happening. Hoberman predicts that Pedro Costa's "Colossal Youth" (#10) might have been the year's choice for Worst Film "had more critics seen it" ... although, in fact, nobody did vote for it in that category, including critics who had seen it. This makes me wonder if, perhaps, there might have been any other films this year that some critics loved and others just hated... Nah.
by Roger Ebert
Dillon Freasier (great!) and Daniel Day Lewis (... BIG!) in "There Will Be Blood."
The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (my former homies) have announced their collective choices for best achievements of 2007 and... well, for now, I'll just say that I doubt most of them would even be on my short list of runners-up for this year. (I haven't seen "Sweeney Todd" or "Diving Bell and the Butterfly" yet, though.) I'm glad that some honorees are getting recognition: Milestone Films, Sarah Polley, Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova (from "Once": music as dialog/acting), Jack Fisk (to whom I will always be grateful for, among other things, the prom in "Carrie," the house in "Days of Heaven," and pulling the lever in "Eraserhead" -- yes, that was him), "Persepolis" and "Ratatouille" (tied for best animated feature), Vlad Ivanov (for negotiating the trickiest of roles) and a few others. But I know how misleading these group-ballot things can be. LAFCA's list does leave the impression that they felt "Blood" (and, perhaps, "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly") tower the rest of the year's releases. I wonder if that's really the overwhelming majority opinion, or if it's another case of second- or third-choice consensus carrying the day. Too many of these seem like Academy-style picks to me (Most Noticeable Acting, Most Obvious/Intrusive Score, etc.). More about that later on in the month...
UPDATE (12/10/07): LAFCA member Robert Koelher writes to Jeffrey Wells at Hollywood Elsewhere: "I've cited to both Anne Thompson and David Poland the various fictions they've written about re. LAFCA's awards, namely that our pick for 'TWBB' had to do with going against National Board of Review (Anne) or the Academy (David). And now you say we were generally flying the contrarian flag. [...]
"By a wide margin, LAFCA felt... that 'There Will Be Blood' was the best American film of the year. That's all. No chess work, no calculations, no triangulation -- nothing but a matter of taste based on seeing more movies over the year than anybody else.
"And Jeff, the group judgement was based -- with perhaps no exceptions, since there was simply no time for most or all of us to view it more than once -- on a single viewing of 'TWBB.' It's a great movie on the first viewing."
[NOTE: In my post I did not surmise that LAFCA was intentionally striking any groupthink contrarian pose. I know from experience that it doesn't really work that way -- and, besides, LAFCA is the first crix group to vote, so what's to react against? But I wondered about the margin of victory, a legitimate question regarding the results of any balloting or committee decision-making procedure -- including the Oscars. Koehler's letter helps clarify that. I'm glad to know I disagree with some genuine majority sentiments rather than some statistical flukes. I disagreed with some choices when I was a member of the group, too -- and I don't know anyone who didn't, from time to time. It's a group of critics, you know....]
The LAFCA 2007 awards:
PICTURE: "There Will Be Blood" RUNNER-UP: "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly"
DIRECTOR: Paul Thomas Anderson, "There Will Be Blood" RUNNER-UP: Julian Schnabel, "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly"
ACTOR: Daniel Day-Lewis, "There Will Be Blood" RUNNER-UP: Frank Langella, "Starting Out in the Evening"
ACTRESS: Marion Cotillard, "La Vie en rose" RUNNER-UP: Anamaria Marinca, "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days"
SUPPORTING ACTOR: Vlad Ivanov, "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days" RUNNER-UP: Hal Holbrook, "Into the Wild"
SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Amy Ryan, "Gone Baby Gone" and "Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead" RUNNER-UP: Cate Blanchett, "I’m Not There"