The House


Our Curse

[Editor's Note: The Oscar Nominated Short Films 2015, presented by ShortsHD, will open in theaters nationwide on January 30. For locations, click here.]

It's decision time and our gurus of gold bring you tidings of great confusion. This year's nominees for documentary short are all, almost conspicuously, united by their deployment of the canniest of distancing effects. They're also among the most galvanizing selections we've ever had the pleasure of screening—if pleasure is the word to describe how they've harpooned our hearts, minds, and seemingly impenetrable tear ducts. Just about the only thing we can agree on is that, as a piece of filmmaking, Gabriel Serra's The Reaper has no equal here, but that a victory for this haunting, expressionistic, and deeply graphic articulation of a slaughterhouse worker's relationship to death seems impossible in a world where Richard Linklater is probably the only AMPAS member to have ever made it through the entirety of Fassbinder's In a Year of 13 Moons without covering his eyes.

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TAGS: academy awards, crisis hotline: veterans press 1, gabriel serra, in a year of 13 moons, joanna, our curse, rainer werner fassbinder, richard linklater, the reaper, tomasz sliwinski, white earth


Elaine May

1. "How Critics Have Failed Female Filmmakers." Richard Brody states his case.

"Calling attention to their work as often and as vigorously as possible is all the more important because the cinematic roadsides are strewn with the wreckage of major artistic careers of independent female filmmakers of the past half century, including Shirley Clarke, Barbara Loden, Claudia Weill, Kathleen Collins, Julie Dash, and Leslie Harris—as well as such men as Wendell B. Harris, Jr., Matthew Harrison, and Rob Tregenza. Critical attention is all the more important for the makers of films that aren't box-office hits, that aren't widely advertised, and that don't have the built-in publicity of celebrity actors. A review and some vigorous follow-ups can make clear the kind of important experience that awaits, an experience that may differ significantly from today's mainstream but that, with the right breaks, should be tomorrow's."

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TAGS: bilge ebiri, edgar allen poe, film comment, marilynne robinson, matt patches, richard brody, robert altman, robert eggers, rod mckuen, rodney ascher, the nightmare, the witch


The Phone Call

[Editor's Note: The Oscar Nominated Short Films 2015, presented by ShortsHD, will open in theaters nationwide on January 30. For locations, click here.]

"How did a Jia Zhang-ke documentary get into this lineup?" my fellow Oscar blogger Ed Gonzalez marveled after watching the shockingly formal Butter Lamp, which, compared to the strain of self-involved beardo hipster entries that have won this category in recent years, practically carries itself like a miniature, fictionalized version of a Sensory Ethnography Lab film. Composed entirely of frontal shots presumably representing what the aperture of a big-shot city photographer's camera sees as he sets up portraits for rural Tibetans, Butter Lamp blurs the line between documentary, narrative feature, and avant-garde object as brazenly as peak Kiarostami—or, closer to home, the downright abstract 2015 best documentary short nominee The Reaper. And, though its final frames make a statement on industrialization pointed enough for even the Imitation Game-voting base to process, it's probably still going to lose harder than any nominee in the specialized, "Weinsteins needn't apply" races since Dogtooth.

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TAGS: academy awards, aya, boogaloo and graham, butter lamp, jim broadbent, parvaneh, sally hawkins, the phone call


The Wes Anderson CollectionMatt Zoller Seitz's The Wes Anderson Collection: The Grand Budapest Hotel is fueled by a sense of escalating invention and exploration. Nothing is taken for granted in this book. You might be glancing through an interview, skimming before taking the cover-to-cover plunge, only to be side-swept by a footnote that's a self-contained mini-essay pertaining to, say, the brief rise of narration in fiction films in the 1940s, or by a remark about an actor that segues into a brief encapsulation of their notable roles. The book is charged by an obsession that recurs in both Anderson and Seitz's work: with getting to the bottom of something, thoroughly and resolutely. Any sentiment expressed by either man is liable to be treated as a thread to be pulled so as to initiate a new investigation, which might reveal another sidebar (or illustration, or detailed diagram, or storyboard, or book of sheet music, or painting), which will feature other gems of information and beauty. These gradually accumulate to offer an immersive portrait, not just of The Grand Budapest Hotel, but of life as an ongoing gesture of education as route to refining a sense of empathy.

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TAGS: alexandre desplat, david bordwell, matt zoller seitz, olivia collette, ralph fiennes, stefan zweig, the wes anderson collection, the wes anderson collection: the grand budapest hotel, wes anderson


Selma

1. "How Selma Got Smeared." Grantland's Mark Harris on historical drama and its malcontents.

"[Ava] DuVernay's understanding of the importance of legacy to men in power is profound—she grasps it not just as an aftereffect, but as a motive. And the issue of legacy may be why so many of Selma's attackers, who speak the language of establishment power, are bent on invalidating the film. The old saw that history is written by the victors is particularly relevant here, because Selma is the first mainstream movie about this era to raise the question of who, exactly, gets to claim ownership of that victory. To many historians and politicians, the triumph of civil rights is that, after much toil and strife, they were bestowed from above; to many African Americans, however, the victory is that those rights were taken—wrenched, with tremendous will, persistence, and effort, out of a system that was not in an immense hurry to offer them up. The former stance has long been the vantage point offered by most white filmmakers who have tackled this history. So it's little wonder that DuVernay's movie, the first on the subject by a woman of color and the first not to view mid-20th-century civil rights purely as an example of presidential, judicial, or legislative beneficence, has distressed those who, even 50 years later, would be far more at home in a room with President Johnson than with Dr. King. They are unnerved not only that Selma threatens to become 'official' history, but that it represents a sea change in who has custody of that history."

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TAGS: andrew sullivan, colin beckett, fantastic four, mark harris, selma, thom anderssen


The Dam Keeper

[Editor's Note: The Oscar Nominated Short Films 2015, presented by ShortsHD, will open in theaters nationwide on January 30. For locations, click here.]

If you don't believe the tide turned long ago in favor of Boyhood winning best picture, the nominees spread across this year's shorts categories remind us that existentialist angst has never been so obsessively on the mind of the AMPAS voter. And yet, the two shorts we feel most confident in ruling out here convey the process of aging on a path so linear that it almost appears square: A Single Life, about a young woman who stumbles upon a vinyl record that allows her to travel through her own life, doesn't transcend its particularly uninspired premise, while the delightfully observed Feast, about a man's life as seen through the eyes of a pooch with the appetite of longshoreman, is so perilously sweet as to be dangerous to the heart.

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TAGS: a single life, academy awards, daisy jacobs, feast, me and my moulton, the bigger picture, the dam keeper, torill kove


The Project of the Century

The 45th edition of International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR) will be the first in nine years without current artistic director Rutger Wolfson at the helm. Much has been said of Wolfson's tenure as the head of one of the world's biggest public film festivals, and not much of it—recently at least—has been positive. Having missed 2014's festival period due to illness, he announced in December last year that the 44th edition would be his last.

The problems with IFFR are many, and to suggest that Wolfson is solely to blame for a declining reputation as a hotbed for high-quality leftfield cinema is merely mean-spirited. Still, it's an open secret these days, among press delegates at least, that IFFR has become something of a bloated balloon in the last decade—one whose expanding size each year means that its large team of programmers has to operate increasingly on an "any old film will do" policy. For now, one hopes that Wolfson's successor has the strength in character to realize that size matters, and that when quality control is no guarantee, smaller can indeed be better.

In fairness, most of the guffaws, walkouts, and eye-rolls in Rotterdam are to do with the Tiger Competition, which this year hosted 13 first or second features—11 of which were world premieres. Opting for a juried competition of this kind inevitably places a burden on the selected films: These are the works upon which the trades will place journalistic priority and so, in turn, they come to represent the festival as a whole—not only as an indication of its overall quality, but of the discerning eyes and political tastes of its programming team too. Venturing into the Tigers rarely ends well. Often characterized by a put-on radicalism, they range from the politically toothless to the off-puttingly pretentious. Unnamed, somnambulant archetypes that don't talk much are very much the "in" thing.

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TAGS: conquering china, don't think i've forgotten, embargo, international film festival rotterdam, iseeyou, jade miners, rutger wolfson, san siro, the project of the century, white coal


The Americans

Addressing the Soviet Union's ongoing misadventure in Afghanistan midway through the season-three premiere of The Americans, Arkady Ivanovich (Lev Gorn), the KGB's rezident in Washington, urges his comrades to consider the United States yet another front in the conflict. "They're fighting this war from here," he says of the Americans, "and so should we." Seeping into every nook and cranny of both global politics and private life, the Cold War's red-hot proxy fights have long defined FX's superb spy game, but as with Arkady's intimation of a growing battle, "EST Men" stakes out new terrain. Establishing the contours of a narrative that threatens to dissolve the familial bonds that Philip and Elizabeth Jennings (Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell) have worked so hard to forge, tonight's episode of The Americans brings the series closer to home than ever before.

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TAGS: est men, frank langella, Holly Taylor, Keri Russell, Lev Gorn, Matthew Rhys, Noah Emmerich, recap, the americans


Eddie Redmayne

1. "Eddie Redmayne." Jennifer Lawrence interviews the star of The Theory of Everything.

"I had these three images in my trailer—one was Einstein with his tongue out, another was James Dean, because Stephen is just effortlessly cool. He has this kind of shambolic confidence to him. And the last one was a joker in a pack of cards, a marionette with a puppet, because when you meet Stephen—I describe it as a 'Lord of Misrule' quality—he's got a great sense of mischief. I worked with a dancer as well, an amazing woman called Alex Reynolds. My instinct was to try to learn the different stages of the physicality like a dance. Like learning steps, you never have a hold of it—I'm a shit dancer by the way—but once you know the steps, you can then play."

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TAGS: aleksei german, dana stevens, daughters of the dust, eddie redmayne, edgar froese, greta gerwig, hard to be a god, jennifer lawrence, michael mann, michael sicinski, mistress america, noah baumbach, reverse shot, richard brody, slate, sundance film festival, tangerine dream, the theory of everything, thief, wesley morris


Steven Spielberg

1. "Steven Spielberg's speech to Holocaust survivors in Krakow." The Schindler's List director addressed dozens of Auschwitz survivors on eve of 70th anniversary of camp's liberation.

"It means preserving places like Auschwitz so people can always see for themselves how hateful ideologies can become tangible acts of murder. It means sharing and sustaining the testimonies of witnesses so that they can endure for teachers and students around the world their testimonies give to each survivor everlasting life and give to all of us everlasting value. Which brings us to where we are now, the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, and despite the obstacles we face today I feel reassured by our shared efforts to combat hatred. And my hope for tomorrow's commemoration is that the survivors with us and those survivors from all round the world feel confident that we are renewing their call to remember, that we will not only make known their own identities but in the process help form a meaningful collective conscience for generations to come."

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TAGS: aleksei german, american sniper, auschwitz, barbara boxer, chris wisniewski, dope, hard to be a god, holocaust, kirby dick, laurie winer, lena dunham, reverse shot, steven spielberg, tangerine, the end of the tour, the hunting ground, wesley morris







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