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Berlinale 2014 Boyhood

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Berlinale 2014: Boyhood
Berlinale 2014: Boyhood

Boyhood proves Richard Linklater the nonpareil of carving out small moments of resounding truth in behaviors that are, for lack of any better phrase, made up. As in an early scene where a brother and sister’s quarrelling in the back seats of a car moves beautifully from bickering animus to snickering affection. Or when a mom makes the little “toot, toot” gesture with her thumb and forefinger to ask her teenage son if he’d been smoking weed. Or the father who consoles his kid with the harsh truth that his girlfriend “traded up.”

The film captures the young life of Mason (Ellar Coltrane) from first grade through his move-in day at the University of Texas at Austin. Shot over the course of 12 years with a cast of mostly unprofessional or semi-professional actors, as well as Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette, this remarkably powerful film seems like a stunt only on paper. The span of Linklater’s story, if it can even be called that, allows him the latitude to leisurely explore Mason’s relationships to his mother (Arquette), sometimes-deadbeat dad (Hawke), sister (Lorelei Linklater, the director’s daughter), and a rotating cast of friends, girlfriends, and step-siblings.

2013 Primetime Emmy Winner Predictions

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2013 Primetime Emmy Winner Predictions
2013 Primetime Emmy Winner Predictions

What you’re about to read is a fool’s errand, as without a plethora of precursor awards leading up to television’s biggest night, predicting the Emmys will always be less of a science than predicting the Oscars. But while less energy, hype, and expense may go into buying an Emmy, Neill Patrick Harris won’t exactly be hosting a purity ball on September 22nd at the NOKIA Theatre in Los Angeles. This is an industry show after all, so expect much back-patting, if not to the magnitude of AMPAS’s anointment of Argo as their latest Best Picture winner, essentially an award to Hollywood itself for making movies that affect politics. Case in point: American Horror Story: Asylum, which ended its initially dubious second season on a frenzied high note, as a distinctly Lynchian elegy to the suppression of women. It enters the Emmy race with 17 nominations, more than any other show, yet it will lose the award for Miniseries or Movie to Steven Soderbergh’s Behind the Candelabra, a predictable and emotionally flat retelling of Liberace’s life that was deemed too gay for the big screen. TV better than movies? Not really, but at least television will let you see Michael Douglas stroking Matt Damon’s leg hair.

If I Had a Sight & Sound Ballot Craig Simpson’s Top 10 Films of All Time

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If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Craig Simpson’s Top 10 Films of All Time
If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Craig Simpson’s Top 10 Films of All Time

I’ll sidestep the usual throat-clearing about the thought process behind my all-time 10-best-movies list (the agonizing, the second-guessing, the hair-splitting between “bests” and “favorites,” the last-minute changes—yes, it was quite a ride), and cut to the chase. My picks deceptively cover six decades of film history, albeit hopscotching over three of them. Nine of my 10 choices hail from the 1960s and 1970s, making the one remaining look like a token acknowledgment of the silent era when it’s anything but. Nevertheless, six of my films were released between 1967 and 1970, which suggests what I’ve often suspected: that that era of cinema is my favorite. I hasten to add, however, that none of my selections are Easy Riders; and my timeframe stops short of any Raging Bulls. In alphabetical order, my Top 10 movies are:

If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot Matthew Connolly’s Top 10 Films of All Time

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If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Matthew Connolly’s Top 10 Films of All Time
If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Matthew Connolly’s Top 10 Films of All Time

Among the many critics who simultaneously partake in, and rise skeptical eyebrows toward, “best of” polls, the notion of the “list as snapshot” becomes a helpful negotiating metaphor. Viewing any top 10 ballot as a historically contingent event—as opposed an authoritative act of canon formation—allows critics to both enthusiastically make the case for our favorite films, while acknowledging that any act of “objectively” ranking works of art quickly bumps up against the limits of one’s own knowledge, biases, and experience.

It’s a useful image, but perhaps an incomplete one. If a photograph captures a given instant, it cannot account for all the previous moments that collectively created what was placed before the lens. Whittling down this list, for me, became as much about contending with my relationship to different periods in my life as it did with clarifying my feelings on the films themselves—as if the two could ever be wholly disentangled. Should I go with more classical Hollywood titles, whose early presence in my life profoundly shaped both my cinephilic tastes and childhood memories? Is it better to take a gamble on those movies that I’ve had less time to sit with, but whose initial seismic impact most likely ensures their permanent place in my head and heart?

Creating this fantasy Sight & Sound ballot, then, felt as much like excavation as photography, sifting through the layers of past experience, arranging the found artifacts in an attempt to convey my range of cinematic passions up to this point. It’s been an inevitably frustrating, completely rewarding task—and, if it means you add a couple of these titles to your Netflix queue as a result, all the better.

If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot Edward Copeland’s Top 10 Films of All Time

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If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Edward Copeland’s Top 10 Films of All Time
If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Edward Copeland’s Top 10 Films of All Time

Eons ago, while still in high school, I composed a list of my all-time favorite films for the first time. The inspiration to undertake such an endeavor was prompted by the 1982 Sight & Sound poll that Roger Ebert wrote about in a mid-’80s edition of his Movie Home Companion (the 1982 Sight & Sound list can be found here). I haven’t followed Sight & Sound’s pattern and revised my own list every 10 years, but I did institute a personal rule that I’ve always adhered to since that initial teenage list: A film has to be at least 10 years old to be eligible for inclusion. Too often, people get swept up in ecstasy over a film they’ve seen for the first time and can’t fight the tendency to overrate it. Then, years later, they see that film again and wonder what the hell they were thinking. That’s why I think all films need time to age, like a fine bottle of wine, to test their taste over time. As for the distinction between “best” and “favorite,” as far I’m concerned, it’s a pointless one. Each submitted list represents someone’s subjective opinion. I hardly can claim my 10 films represent the “best” movies ever made as no one appointed me the arbiter to rule on such absolutes where none can exist.

The Conversations: Nashville

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The Conversations: Nashville
The Conversations: Nashville

Ed Howard: Robert Altman’s Nashville is one of those rare films that feels more timely, more relevant, the more time goes by. When Altman filmed this multi-character study, set during a few days in the United States’ country music capital, the nation was in the midst of preparations for America’s bicentennial, a celebration of the country’s heritage and culture. It was 1975. It had been twelve years since John F. Kennedy was shot and seven years since Robert Kennedy was shot, and both events still loomed large, over the country and over Altman’s film. Richard Nixon had just resigned, too, further shattering whatever naïve hopes about politics might still have been lingering anywhere. The film opens, after a breathless parody of TV hucksterism, with a roving campaign van advertising for fictional presidential candidate Hal Phillip Walker. Throughout the film, this campaign emits a steady stream of populist rhetoric, mixing genuine political reforms (taxing churches, eliminating farm subsidies) with outright absurdities (kicking all the lawyers out of Congress, rewriting the National Anthem to something “people can understand”). Altman follows this introduction with Haven Hamilton (Henry Gibson) singing the kind of über-patriotic tune that Walker might have in mind, an unthinking ode to American virtue: “we must be doing something right / to last 200 years.”

Oscar 2008 Nomination Predictions

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Oscar 2008 Nomination Predictions
Oscar 2008 Nomination Predictions

We’re through the looking glass here people. Suddenly, the Oscar race is being headlined by a pair of uncompromising, boldly conceived pieces of formalism. A pair of films helmed by established neo-auteurist superstars unabashedly admitting their works to be inspired not by Paul Haggis, but instead the likes of Robert Bresson, Orson Welles, and Stanley Kubrick. A pair of films that are celebrated by the critical establishment (the two split the four critics’ awards that matter) and punkass fanboys alike (they are currently the two highest ranking films from 2007 on the IMDB top 250 master list). Thanks to No Country for Old Men (which we loved too) and There Will Be Blood (which we’re deeply conflicted on, but will take any day over most Oscar contenders), we’ve finally arrived at what we assumed was a mirage in the desert all this time: an Oscar ceremony in which artistic quality actually appears to be the foremost quality, a ceremony that helps us remember that this is also the organization that gave Best Picture nominations to both Nashville and Barry Lyndon in 1975. And now, naturally, it’s possible the entire ceremony could vanish into thin air in the wake of the prolonged WGA strike like the cinephile pipe dream it so feels like; and I caught one sound bite earlier this week in a post-Golden Globes wrap suggesting some writers are starting to feel the mad rush of power that shutting down Hollywood’s biggest night of self-congratulation would give them. So, while we’re personally behind any developments that could potentially invalidate (more so) the careers of the so-called “journalists” like Dave Karger, who seem to make entire careers out of telling the Academy what they feel, we also admit we’d feel a tad bummed to miss out on what figures to be the one Oscarcast of late whose possible winners wouldn’t make us want to stuff wads of Oscar ballots in our eye sockets.

This blog entry was originally published on Slant Magazine on the date above.

5 for the Day: Presidents and Politics

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5 for the Day: Presidents and Politics
5 for the Day: Presidents and Politics

When I realized that Presidents Day was approaching, I figured the timing was perfect for a “5 for the Day” on movies about American presidents. You know what though—feature films about real U.S. presidents have tended to not be that good. Television has done a much better job when it comes to telling stories about Oval Office occupants. Besides, the holiday itself had its importance sapped once they combined Lincoln and Washington’s birthdays together and decided the day would honor all presidents. Honestly, more deserve not to be honored than do. I don’t imagine there will be many fond remembrances of John Tyler or James Buchanan today. So, I decided to expand my field to both fictional presidents and politics in general—then the difficult task of winnowing down to five began. Thrillers such as the original Manchurian Candidate sprang immediately to mind, but since it was more thriller than political, I let it go. Political satires are plentiful, but I didn’t want to get overloaded with them so many worthy films missed the cut. I decided to limit myself to one satire and even though there have been better ones, I decided to go off the beaten path with my choice. All the President’s Men leaped to mind as well, but that’s more about journalism than politics. There still were painful cuts: I really wanted to include Spencer Tracy in The Last Hurrah, but I had to let it go. So, for better or worse, here are the five I settled on.