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Frank

Can insanity, normalcy and creativity co-exist in a successful artist? “Frank” offers a unique, funny, entertaining look at what proves to be an unanswerable question.

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The Expendables 3

If you’re over 40, this is your “The Avengers.” As slavishly devoted to the old action films of Sly and company as any Marvel Universe…

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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.

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Comcast's plans to fight piracy may change how we watch what we download, new Doctor Who's post-punk music past is revealed, Hollywood looks to turn more movies into Broadway shows, Donna Bowman muses on how to watch "Breaking Bad" and iTunes makes some old Johnny Carson excerpts available.

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#40 December 8, 2010

From the Big Kahuna: Yes, this is the front of the Virginia Theater in Champaign-Urbana, where Ebertfest is held every year. The old marquee was showing its age, and will be replaced by the time Ebertfest 2011 is held on April 27-30. Update: I read in the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette that the new marquee is still in design, but park officials expect it to be a better complement to the theater's Italian Renaissance-style architecture and resemble the 1921 original marquee. When concepts are finalized, they will go before the park board for approval.

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#29 September 22, 2010

Marie writes: Club member and noted blog contributor Tom Dark took this astonishing photograph near his home in Abiqui, New Mexico. The "unknown entity" appeared without warning and after a failed attempt to communicate, fled the scene. Tom stopped short of saying "alien" to describe the encounter, but I think it's safe to say that whatever he saw, it was pretty damned freaky. It sure can't be mistaken for anything terrestrial; like a horse pressing its nose up to the camera and the lens causing foreshortening. As it totally does not look like that at all. (click to enlarge.)

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Consensus and the Big Film Poll Blowout of 2007

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.

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I'm Not There: Ode to Joy

View image Jude Quinn. Bob Dylan. Mona Lisa. (Cate Blanchett.) Enlarge and see. The eyes, the mouth, the verge of a smile.

The message may not move me, Or mean a great deal to me, But hey! it feels so groovy to say... -- Peter, Paul & Mary, "I Did Rock & Roll Music" (1967)

The sun's not yellow It's chicken -- Bob Dylan, "Tombstone Blues" (1965)

I listen to Bob Dylan for the music, not the words. I know: heresy. But it's the truth: I listen to him for the way he sounds, and that includes the sound of the words. The literal meaning of the lyrics, or what people used to call the "message" (if one can be found or deciphered), is secondary, just one dimension of his art. In his 1960s folk-pop-culture ascendance, Dylan's songs were scrutinized for coded messages -- supposedly embedded "between the lines," as die-hard folk-popsters PP&M put it in their satirical ditty about the superficiality and commerciality of rock 'n' roll music. That pop-culture illusion -- that Dylan and the Beatles were sending out encrypted signals into the collective consciousness, and especially to you -- is something Todd Haynes plays around with quite a bit in "I'm Not There" -- a pseudo-documentary/biopic not unlike his "Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story," but with six actors playing Dylan instead of Barbie dolls playing The Carpenters.

But before we get to that: No, I'm not at all knocking Dylan as a poet or a lyricist. (I read Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot and e.e. cummings for their music as much as anything else, too.) If Dylan's words weren't so satisfying to sing out loud, he wouldn't be much of a songwriter, would he? I mean, how does it feel to sing "How does it feel?" It feels fantastic, that's how. The black bile of those spleen-venting, "finger-pointing" songs ("Like a Rolling Stone," "Positively 4th Street," "Ballad of a Thin Man") can be so cathartic. All those playfully cryptic, electric-surrealistic rhymes in "Subterranean Homesick Blues" (cue cards, anyone?) can make you dizzy with delight. A simple couplet like, "They sat together in the park / As the evening sky grew dark," doesn't look like all that much on the page, but you hear Dylan sing it and you feel a spark tingle to your bones.

What I mean to say is that, even if Dylan were writing in a language no one else on Earth knew (and sometimes I think that's exactly what he means to do), his great songs would still be great songs. Take Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. Do you need to know the meaning of the words in Schiller's "Ode to Joy" to appreciate the fusion of vocal and orchestral sounds in the last movement?

O Freunde, nicht diese Töne!...

Freude, schöner Götterfunken, Tochter aus Elysium, Wir betreten feuer-trunken, Himmlische, dein Heiligtum!

Deine Zauber binden wieder, Was die Mode streng geteilt; Alle Menschen werden Brüder, Wo dein sanfter Flügel weilt. Admit it! It feels so groovy to say! (Or sing.) I feel the same way about "My warehouse eyes, my Arabian drums," and "Awop-bop-a-loo-mop alop bom bom" (by Dylan's idol Little Richard) and "Beat on the brat with a baseball bat" (The Ramones) and "A mulatto, an albino, a mosquito, my libido" (Nirvana).

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Mr. Jones' review...

View image Mixed metaphors? Incoherence? Dylan?

Crix say the darndest things. From a review of Todd Haynes' "I'm Not There": "Obvious as [Bob Dylan's] talent may be, he often mixes metaphors and combines images in a way that skirts the edge of incoherence."Read it twice. It's even funnier the third time. The key is in the unarticulated relationship between the two parts of the sentence. Is one of them supposed to be a dependent clause?

If you can guess who wrote it, you may win a brand new leopard-skin pill-box hat. Or not.

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Close-Ups: A free-association dream sequence

View image Marlene Dietrich, "The Scarlet Empress" (Josef von Sternberg, 1935). A pivotal moment of (re-) birth after providing her country with a male heir -- though not one fathered by her husband, royal half-wit Grand Duke Peter.

View image "Scarlet Empress": "... one of those extraordinary women who create their own laws and logic..." Beds, dreams, filters.

Memory starts one image pinging off others across time and movies. Ruminating upon the Close-Up Blog-a-thon at the House Next Door (which, obviously, I can't stop doing), I see close-ups flowing into and out of one another, dreams within dreams within nightmares, on themes of memory, loss, identity, the process of consciousness and the end of consciousness -- you know, the stuff movies are made of.

View image "Once Upon a Time in the West" (Sergio Leone, 1968): Mrs. Jill McBain (Claudia Cardinale) arrives in Sweetwater to find her family slaughtered. After the funeral, she is alone in a big bed in a small room in a vast new land.

View image Final shot, "Once Upon a Time in America" (Sergio Leone, 1984): David "Noodles" Aaronson flops down in an opium den to smoke away his pain and drifts off into a narcotic dream...

In the Godardian spirit of making a movie as a critique/analysis of other movies, here's a free-association visual essay/commentary on close-ups (with inserts, jump cuts, switchbacks, flashbacks, flash-forwards...) that got synapses firing in my brain as I flipped through shots in my memory -- and my DVD collection. Looking back, most of them seem to be filtered, obscured, freeze-framed or reflected faces of characters reaching an impasse or a reckoning -- largely from the endings of some of my favorite movies. I wish I could actually cut the film together, so that I could show them in motion, control how long each shot remains on the screen and fiddle with the rhythms (flash cuts, match cuts, reversals of motion), but I don't know have the technology or the know-how for that at the moment. So, imagine this as a (sometimes perverse) little movie, a "found footage" montage sequence... Kuleshovian, Rorschachian, Hitcockian, Gestaltian, however you want to look at it. I suppose it's also a look in the mirror.

Hope you can see the associations, juxtapositions, oppositions, contradictions I was going for, although I'm not sure I consciously understand all the leaps myself. They just flowed together this way. Feel free to make your own connections. (And, of course, be aware that you may find spoilers surfacing. With a broadband connection all 38 enlarge-able images should load in about 10 seconds.)

View image Final shot, "McCabe & Mrs. Miller" (Robert Altman, 1971): The camera moves in on Mrs. Miller (Julie Christie), in an opium den while snow drifts outside.

View image Flash cut to final shot of "Petulia" (Richard Lester, 1968): Petulia (Julie Christie), in labor, feels the hand of someone (husband? lover? doctor?) on her cheek just before she blacks out under anaesthesia.

View image Flash cut to final close-up, "Le Boucher" (Claude Chabrol, 1970): Drained and devastated after a long and harrowing night-trip to the hospital, Helene (Stephane Audran) drives herself to a dead end and stares across the impassible river in the cold light of dawn.

View image Flash cut to final freeze-frame close-up, "The 400 Blows" (by Chabrol's New Wave compatriot, Francois Truffaut, 1959): Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Leaud) reaches the ocean at the edge of the continent. Where to go from here?

View image Flash cut to final moment of final shot: "Nights of Cabiria" (1957) (Federico Fellini): Cabiria (Giulietta Masina) pulls herself together, puts her game face on, looks into the camera and smiles through tears in a tender moment of quiet triumph. Another of the most famous movie-ending close-ups.

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50 greatest music films ever

Barbie as Karen in "Superstar."

Maybe there should just be a category in the right column for "Lists." Here's one from the film and music writers of Time Out London (which will always be the only real Time Out) called "50 greatest music films ever except for 'Spinal Tap'." No, I added those last four words, but the editors explain in their intro that "we’re celebrating great films – dramas and documentaries – about real musicians."

As if David St. Hubbins and Nigel Tufnel and Derek Smalls never actually toured in the flesh? As if they aren't at least as "real" as, say, KISS or the Monkees or Hootie and the Blowfish, which contained no one named "Hootie" and nobody named "Blowfish." (BTW, the Ramones weren't really "Ramones"! Those were just stage names!) Oh, and Gus Van Sant's "Last Days" was about a guy named "Blake." Michael Pitt looked like Kurt Cobain, but it was only about Cobain in the sense that "Velvet Goldmine" is about Bowie or Iggy Pop or Lou Reed, or "Grace of My Heart" is about Carole King or Brian Wilson or any of the Brill Building writers (even though a lot of them wrote songs for the movie). Then there's "'Round Midnight" (which is on the list) with Dexter Gordon playing Dale Turner, a fictionalized version of Bud Powell...

View image Downey, CA: "What happened?" Third shot of "Superstar." Compare to second shot of "Zodiac" -- establishing a neighborhood, from a car on the street...

So, OK: No "Spinal Tap." But no "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart: A Film About Wilco"? No "You're Gonna Miss Me: A Film About Roky Erickson"? No "Thelonious Monk: Straight, No Chaser"? No "X: The Unheard Music"? No "The Girl Can't Help It"? No "Wattstax"? No "Woodstock"? No "The Kids are Alright"? No "No Direction Home"? No "The Buddy Holly Story"? No "Theramin: An Electronic Odyssey"? No "Heart of Gold"? No "The Filth and the Fury"? No "We Jam Econo: The Story of the Minutemen"? No "La Bamba"? No "Kurt and Courtney"? See how much fun this is? Really, though, I'd substitute any of these for several of the selections on the list.

But, OK, many of my favorites are included: "24 Hour Party People," "Jazz on a Summer's Day," "Stop Making Sense," "DIG!," "Art Pepper: Notes from a Jazz Survivor" (his autobiography, "Straight Life," is the best account of addiction I've ever read), "The Decline of Western Civilization Parts I and II (The Metal Years)"...

View image No one here gets out alive.

At the toppermost of the poppermost: Todd Haynes' 1987 "Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story," a 45-minute lo-fi "dramatization" that was never officially released because of music clearance troubles (that is, brother Richard wouldn't let Haynes use any Carpenters tunes). Still, after 20 years as an "underground" item, it's available from Google Video here. It's something you really need to see: a documentary-style biopic of Karen Carpenter performed mostly by Barbie dolls. Yes, its a parody (so are most musical biopics, including others on the list -- see the upcoming Jake Kasdan/Judd Apatow picture, "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story" for more on that score). But it presents straightforward facts about anorexia that could have been excerpted from any PBS or 16mm educational doc of the period. It's also a formula showbiz melodrama. But for all the layers of artifice, like Haynes' Sirk opera "Far from Heaven," it becomes strangely, hypnotically -- and genuinely -- moving. Prepare yourself for Haynes' Dylan fantasia, "I'm Not There," by watching "Superstar" and "Velvet Goldmine."

ASIDE: From an interview with Haynes at The Reeler: I actually think that it's easier for people who know less about Dylan to go with it, if they're up for something different. Clearly, that's the first thing: Whether you know Dylan or not, you have to surrender to the movie to have a good time at all and get anything out of it. If you have a lot of Dylanisms in your head, it's kind of distracting, because you're sitting there with a whole second movie going on. You're annotating it as you go. It's kind of nice to sit back and let it take you. I think people get it: Even if you don't know which are the true facts and which are the fictional things, and when we're playing with fact and fiction, from the tone of it, you know that it's playing around with real life. In a way, that's what biopics always do. They just don't tell you that they're doing it, and they don't make it part of the fun. You have to follow the Johnny Cash story and just sort of think, "This is what really happened." Of course, you know it's being dramatized, but you're not in on the joke. You're not in on the game of that. In this movie, at least, you get tipped off to it.Oh yeah, but about that list. Here it is. Make of it what you will:

1 "Superstar: the Karen Carpenter Story" (Todd Haynes, 1987) 2 "Don't Look Back" (DA Pennebaker, 1967) -- Bob Dylan 3 "Gimme Shelter" (David Maysles/Albert Maysles/Charlotte Zwerin, 1970) --Rolling Stones 4 "24 Hour Party People" (Michael Winterbottom, 2002) -- Manchester scene 5 "Topsy-Turvy" (Mike Leigh, 1999) -- Gilbert and Sullivan 6 "Monterey Pop" (DA Pennebaker, 1968) -- concert 7 "Be Here to Love Me" (Margaret Brown, 2004) -- Townes Van Zandt 8 "Thirty Two Short Films about Glenn Gould" (Francois Girard, 1993) -- Glenn Gould 9 "Cocksucker Blues" (Robert Frank, 1972) -- Rolling Stones 10 "Bird" (Clint Eastwood, 1988) -- Charlie Parker 11 "The Last Waltz" (Martin Scorsese, 1978) -- The Band & Friends farewell concert 12 "Rude Boy" (Jack Hazan, David Mingay, 1980) -- The Clash 13 "Scott Walker: 30 Century Man" (Stephen Kijak, 2006) -- Scott Walker 14 "Bound for Glory" (Hal Ashby, 1976) -- Woody Guthrie 15 "The Decline of Western Civilization Parts I & II" (Penelope Spheeris, 1981, 1988) -- LA punk; '80s metal & hair bands 16 "The Devil and Daniel Johnston" (Jeff Feuerzeig, 2005) -- Daniel Johnston 17 "Sweet Dreams" (Karel Reisz, 1982) -- Patsy Cline 18 "Art Pepper: Notes from a Jazz Survivor" (Don McGlynn, 1982) -- Art Pepper 19 "Elgar" (Ken Russell, 1962) -- Edward Elgar 20 "Rust Never Sleeps" (Neil Young, 1979) -- Neil Young 21 "The Future is Unwritten" (Julien Temple, 2006) -- Joe Strummer 22 "DiG!" (Ondi Timoner, 2004) -- Brian Jonestown Massacre, Dandy Warhols 23 "Some Kind Of Monster" (Joe Berlinger, Bruce Sinofsky, 2004) -- Metallica 24 "A Hard Day's Night" (Richard Lester, 1964) -- The Beatles 25 "Jimi Hendrix" (Joe Boyd, 1973) -- Jimi Hendrix(more)

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TIFF 2007 Wrap: Personal best & indelible images

View image Roger & Chaz Ebert, with Roger's second sidewalk star. (All photos by Jim Emerson. Thanks to Kim Robeson for the use of the camera on this one!)

View image Man Push Dog. Anyone will tell you that one of the joys of TIFF is the street food. I was inspired to take this after seeing "Chop Shop," Ramin Bahrani's second film after "Man Push Cart." Want green olives on that dog? I do.

On average, I saw two to four movies a day at the 2007 Toronto Film Festival -- and, incredibly, I didn't see a bad movie. That's nine days and 20-something pictures (less than one tenth of the total screened), but I don't think I've ever had a run of good movies like that in my life. No, I didn't write about everything I saw -- but I also liked Ira Sachs' "Married Life," Chaude Chabrol's "A Girl Cut in Two" (figuratively and literally), Gus van Sant's "Paranoid Park," and those other movies I saw, except for the one I walked out on (the third in a four-movie day) that was not so much bad as doleful and predictable. And there was the Woody Allen movie I accidentally half-saw, without knowing I was half-seeing it.

View image Toronto Film Festival Co-Founder Dusty Cohl with Roger Ebert. Ya got a coupla stars here.

View image Ingmar Bergman's Death (center, rear) welcomes ticketbuyers, lined up at the TIFF box office in the Manulife Centre, which is being remodeled (nice duct-work, eh?) and currently looks like something out of Terry Gilliam's "Brazil." The woman in orange (center, foreground) is one of the fest's fantastically friendly and organized volunteers.

On the other hand, I also didn't take all that many risks. Most of what I saw was by familiar directors I like, or came recommended by fellow critics or other film festivals. There were some movies I wanted to see just because they sounded interesting (not because I'd ever heard of the filmmakers), but I couldn't squeeze them in, and in that sense I did not have the full experience a festival has to offer.

View image They do love their celebs up in Toronto. Last year, air-polluting, environment-destroying Sean Penn smoked at a press conference and it was a huge scandal. The paparazzi couldn't wait to catch him with a cigarette this time. And when they did -- front page news!

View image The "Juno" guys.More photos after the jump...

Anyway, although I fear some of the films I saw even ten days ago are no longer as vivid in my memory because of the ones I've seen since, here were my ten favorite Toronto movies, in very rough order of preference:

"No Country for Old Men" (Joel & Ethan Coen)"I'm Not There" (Todd Haynes)"Chop Shop" (Ramin Bahrani)"Secret Sunshine" (Lee Chang-dong)"Eastern Promises" (David Cronenberg)"Atonement" (Joe Wright)"The Orphanage" (Juan Antonio Bayona)"Persepolis" (Marjane Satrapi & Vencent Paronnaud)"Les Amours d'Astrée et de Céladon" (Eric Rohmer)"4 months, 3 weeks, 2 days" (Cristian Mungiu)

More photos after the jump...

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TIFF 2007: Movie bloggers EXPOSED!

View image Me with post-festival headcold, after just getting back home and sinking into the comfort of my den-like Man Chair. (all photos by Jim Emerson, except as noted)

My taxi driver to the airport yesterday (he was Ethiopian, but had lived in Toronto for 18 years) asked me if I'd seen any "movie stars" at the film festival. I had to admit I hadn't -- although I've encountered people I consider to be movie stars on the street in past years: Luis Guzman, Liev Schreiber, Brian De Palma, Sara Polley, Stephen Rea, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne...

View image The ubiquitous (and deservedly so) Girish. A man with cinecurean tastes. (That's a neologism of my own invention that is related to "epicure" and has nothing to do with "sinecure," I don't think.)

Toronto, at least at festival time, is a celebrity-mad city like no place I've ever seen. Celebrities make the front pages of the newspapers just because they're celebrities and they're in Toronto. Rogers cable used to have a non-stop TIFF schedule of celebrity gossip, celebrity interviews, off-the-cuff "reviews," and celebrity press conferences. I don't know if they did that this year, because I never turned on the television in my hotel room. (Meanwhile, TiVo was covering other necessities for me at home.)

View image Andy Horbal plays Mephisto at the foot of the Stairway to Heaven (the escalator to the Varsity Cinemas).

View image The House Next Door's Keith Uhlich took this shot of himself with his MacBook, outside the press office at the Delta Chelsea.

Some journalists and critics were doing celebrity interviews in addition to going to movies, with stars like George A. Romero (whose girlfriend was the bartender at my hotel!) or Jodie Foster or Brian De Palma or Bela Tarr -- in gang-bang roundtables or 15-30-minute individual sessions. The people I was most excited about getting to meet were my fellow movie bloggers. I had lunch with Girish Shambu between screenings in Toronto last year, and it was a pleasure to see him again, particularly since he enjoyed the oblique, androgynous eroticism of the luminous Eric Rohmer movie as much as I did. His highest recommendation was for Barcelona-born director Jose Luis Guerin's "Dans la ville de Sylvia" -- which, unfortunately, I missed. We also thought Lee Chang-dong's "Secret Sunshine" was among the very best things we'd seen.

View image Frames within frames within frames -- and film-festival bedhead. Me at work in my Toronto hotel room.

Keith Uhlich, editor of "The House Next Door," organized a mid-fest critics' roundtable podcast, 'round a tiny round table in Nathan Lee's hotel room with Nathan (whose byline should be familiar from the Village Voice, Film Comment, The New York Times), Torontonian eyeWeekly critic Adam Nayman, Keith, and me. It was too much fun -- we ran out of time long before we ran out of stuff we wanted to talk about. Of course, that was the morning I forgot to bring my camera. Too bad, because if you saw Nathan's new-mown haircut, you'd want to rub his head. It's that cool. (I'll post a link to the podcast when it's available, if you want to hear us go on about the trials of film critics filing reports and interviews from festivals, our indelible images from TIFF, Brian De Palma, Bob Dylan, Todd Haynes, semiotics [not much!], and I forget what else.)

View image Christopher Long, in Philly Eagles t-shirt, who has a woman on his right shoulder saying: "Come, have another cup of coffee!" and a man on his other shoulder saying: "No, there's a huge schedule of films to see -- what's next?"

I also got to meet up with Christopher Long, a frequent and valued contributor to Scanners comments, and reviewer for DVDTown and other sites. Chris claims to loathe Paul Haggis's "Crash" (and Sam Mendes's "American Beauty" -- two peas in a pod) even more than me. I don't know if that's possible, but I found him convincing. They both do the same morally corrupt thing, anyway: taking grotesque clichés and then flipping them around so that that they are... even more insulting clichés. All in the name of "enlightenment." We had a nice talk about our mutual admiration for Divine, too. Don't recall how that one came up.

I'm delighted to have more faces to put with the words I've appreciated from these folks for so long.

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Toronto #9: Everybody must get cloned

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TORONTO, Ont. -- “The Walker” is another of Paul Schrader’s “man in a room” films, and his best film since “Affliction” (1997). It’s a fascinating character study with as fine a performance as Woody Harrelson has given, and certainly the most unexpected. Schrader defined the films as centering on the image of a man in a room preparing to go out and do something, and then doing it, while remaining focused by his preparation. That would define Schrader’s “American Gigolo” (1980), with Richard Gere in training for his profession as a professional lover of women. And “Light Sleeper” (1992), with Willem Dafoe as a drug dealer who is also a recovering addict.

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So many films, so little time

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I have before me a schedule of the 2007 Toronto Film Festival, which opens Thursday and runs 10 days. I have been looking at it for some time. I am paralyzed. There are so many films by important directors (not to mention important films by unknown directors), that it cannot be reduced to its highlights. The highlights alone, if run in alphabetical order, would take up all my space.

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'50 Lost Movie Classics'

From the opening shot of "Cutter's Way" -- my favorite movie of the 1980s.

... and speaking of critical "best of" movie lists, here's a swell one called "50 Lost Movie Classics," from The Guardian. I might quibble with the terms "lost" (how "lost" can they be, when so many of them are available on DVD?) or "classics" (a "masterpiece" can be lost or overlooked, but can a "classic"?). But it is what it is. A group of British critics and filmmakers chose 50 movies (I have no quibbles with either of those terms) that... well, allow Philip French to explain: This isn't just another list of great movies. It's a rallying cry for films that for a variety of reasons -- fashion, perhaps, or the absence of an influential advocate, or just pure bad luck -- have been unduly neglected and should be more widely available. You know that feeling when someone hasn't heard of a film you've always loved and you want to show it to them? Or, in a different way, when you get annoyed because a picture hasn't been accorded the position you think it deserves in cultural history or the cinematic canon? That's the sort of film we have included on this list.And now, please permit me to add my own huzzahs for a few of the selections, several of which have also been featured on my personal "ten-best" lists over the years -- or would have been, in the event that I had made one that year. (And some were released before I was born, OK?) Several of these have already been discussed here at Scanners. Here are just a few of the choices I'd particularly like to second:

"Petulia" (Richard Lester, 1968) -- use the link to read about the opening shot."The State of Things" (Wim Wenders, 1982) -- one of the best movies about movies ever. And "Stranger Than Paradise" was made using the leftover b&w stock."Newsfront" (Phillip Noyce, 1979) -- charming account of Aussie newsreelers."Fat City" (John Huston, 1972) -- best boxing movie ever (and, yes, I include "Raging Bull" and "Rocky")."Ace In the Hole" aka "The Big Carnival" (Billy Wilder, 1951) -- no excuse for this to still be unavailable on DVD."3 Women" (Robert Altman, 1977) -- just watched it again the night Altman's death was announced and was thrilled to find it as mesmerizing as ever..."Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me" (David Lynch, 1992) -- although I think the series is by far the best work Lynch has ever done, I didn't "get" this one when it came out. Now I think it's genius (and should be double-billed with "Mulholland Drive")."Safe" (Todd Haynes, 1995) -- my choice for best movie of 1995."Housekeeping" (Bill Forsyth, 1987) -- my choice for best movie of 1987."The Parallax View" (Alan J. Pakula, 1974) -- NOT "Alan J. Parker" as The Guardian has it, fer cripes sake!!! Gripping paranoid thriller -- with a fight atop my beloved Space Needle!"Dreamchild" (Gavin Millar, 1985) -- nice double-bill with "Pan's Labyrinth," I think."The Ninth Configuration" (William Peter Blatty, 1980) -- I see a big moon risin'..."Cutter's Way" (Ivan Passer, 1981) -- my choice for the best movie of the 1980s."Wise Blood" (John Huston, 1979) -- I don't think I've ever fully recovered from the scars this one left on me."Two-Lane Blacktop" (Monte Hellman, 1971) -- this does qualify as a cult classic."'Round Midnight" (Bertrand Tavernier, 1986) -- Dexter Gordon as a version of Dexter Gordon, in gorgeous widescreen. One of the best evocations of cinema as jazz, and vice-versa."Grace of My Heart" (Allison Anders, 1996) -- pop music history mix-and-match (not unlike "Velvet Goldmine" in that respect) with terrific songs co-authored by Brill Building vets and contemporary artists. I watch this one over and over. Made me fall in love with Illeana Douglas.

Some of the choices I haven't seen: "Ride Lonesome," "Jeremy," "Under the Skin," "I Wanna Hold Your Hand," "Let's Scare Jessica to Death," "The Low Down," "Quiemada!," "The Hired Hand," "Le Petomane," "Bill Douglas Trilogy," "Babylon," "Day Night Day Night" (just missed it in Toronto!), "The Day the Earth Caught Fire," "The Mad Monkey," "Terence Davies Trilogy" (not sure what individual titles they mean to include, but "The Long Day Closes" was my best movie of 1992 -- or was it 1993 in the US?). And there are others the list reminds me to revisit (like Monte Hellman's "Cockfighter") because it's simply been too long.

Take a peek and let us know which ones you treasure (or don't) -- and maybe suggest some additional titles for such a list...

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Cannes #8: Sex, awards & film

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CANNES, France – It probably won’t happen this way, but wouldn’t everyone be pleased if Gerard Depardieu won the best actor award at Cannes this year. The festival’s awards are given out Sunday night (12:30 p.m. CDT), and Depardieu received a tumultuous ovation Friday as the star of “Quand j’etais Chanteur,” or “The Singer.” Depardieu’s character reminded many audience members of the actor himself: A beefy middle-aged artist still slugging away at a job he loves, smoking too much, adamantly on the wagon, given new hope by his feelings for a much younger woman (Cecile De France). “I’ve been written off a lot of times,” he tells her, “but I always bounce back.”

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Tinseltown author gets 'Down and Dirty,' indeed

Q. In the most recent Answer Man, you discussed the fact that Jennifer Connelly is photographed at the end of a dock or pier in "Dark City," "Requiem for a Dream" and "House of Sand and Fog." In a deleted scene on the DVD of "A Beautiful Mind," there is a sequence where Russell Crowe dreams of Jennifer Connelly running toward a dock on a lake.

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Roger Ebert's 2003 Oscar Predictions

Nothing that has happened since the Academy Awards nominations were announced has swayed me from my immediate conviction that "Chicago" will be the big winner on Oscar night. I know that "The Pianist" was named best film by the British Academy. I know "The Hours" was honored for its screenplay at the Writers Guild Awards. But, hey, I also know the Directors Guild honored Rob Marshall for "Chicago" over Martin Scorsese--and when a rookie can outpoll a living national treasure in a vote of directors, there's a bandwagon on the way."Chicago" is not the best of the nominated films. That would be "Gangs of New York." But you have to understand that the academy doesn't vote for the best film. It votes for the best headline. This year, it sees big type that shouts "The Musical Comes Back!" Having failed to honor "Moulin Rouge!" last year, the academy will vote this year the way it thinks it should have voted the year before. (Example: The 2001 Oscar for best actor went to Russell Crowe, who more reasonably should have won a year earlier for "The Insider.") Here are the major categories and my predictions:

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The Best 10 Movies of 2002

It was a year when more movies opened than during any other year in memory. A year when the big Hollywood studios cast their lot with franchises, formulas, sequels, and movies marketed for narrow demographic groups--focusing so much on "product" instead of original work that they seemed likely to be shut out of the Oscars, as they were essentially shut out of the Golden Globes. A year when independent and foreign films showed extraordinary vitality. A wonderful year, that is, for moviegoers who chose carefully, and a mediocre year for those took their chances at the multiplex.

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Toronto fest signals the opening of Good Movie Season

After Cannes, the Toronto Film Festival is the most important in the world. Last year's festival was ripped in two on Sept. 11. I walked out of a screening, heard the news, and the world had changed. Now comes the 27th annual festival, opening today. Are movies important in the new world we occupy? Yes, I think they are, because they are the most powerful artistic device for creating empathy--for helping us understand the lives of others.

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