Well, this week we address the letting go of Nathan Lee and some of our favoriteâ€”okay, the Zodiac oneâ€”articles heâ€™s penned. Heck, Lee even makes me pick up Film Comment when he has a piece in it, which is rare since I canâ€™t actually read things that arenâ€™t solely online. From there we ponder the inevitable question of where criticism can be taken in this new landscape, where even war horses like David Ansen are copacetic about being let go. (Granted, he does have a particularly sweet deal from The House of Meacham.)
Our second big topic involves The House Next Doorâ€™s own Kevin B. Leeâ€”who just happens to join us this week, along with Jones writer-director Preston Millerâ€”and his summary of a film criticism workshop at NYU which featured Jonathan Rosenbaum and Adrian Martin. Rosenbaum took the time to praise DVDs for giving modern audiences a first chance as it were to experience a wide variety of films, but Dave Kehr counter-argued in the comments on Kevinâ€™s blog, as well as at his own site. (Note: the comments and the page in question at Kehrâ€™s site are currently “gone” due to some technical upgrades.) So what is the best answer in this new age of cinema? Is DVD so bad? Shouldnâ€™t we have more revival houses? Wonâ€™t we be robbing ourselves of a certain kind of film experience? Isnâ€™t sliced bread great? Yes to all these thingsâ€”especially the DVD one because 2-disc special editions arenâ€™t cheap, man.
We also look at the rather ambiguous viral marketing campaign of Fanboys, which could possibly be under the careful control of “Darth” Harvey Weinstein as opposed to the drooling fanboys now engaged in widespread Internet “backlash”. More importantly, we touch on the piece in the recent Wired Magazine that gives the film a great big blowjob in print, but tells a much harsher storyâ€”and news that Stephen Brill is now confirmed as the new director after re-shooting material during the writerâ€™s strikeâ€”online. Way to go, Wired!
Finally, Leonard Maltin gives us his fifteen favorite NYC Scenes of all timeâ€”his #1 being Enchanted, and completely ignoring all the outer boroughs. No Spike Lee, no French Connection, no Mean Streetsâ€”but plenty of other De Niro, Allen and Audrey Hepburn. We give some of our favorite scenes as well.
Join us next week as Vadim and I fly solo like tiny sparrows into the fearsome ball of gas that is life. Basically because Keith is on assignment and weâ€™re still at Grassroots. Until then, special thanks to our guests Kevin and Preston, and if you see Vadim or me at the bar, please buy us a drink. (Or tell Gawker to link to us so we can tell the people at the bar how famous we are, and convince them to buy us drinks. That works too.) JL
If you have trouble streaming the above podcast, click here to download it.
John Lichman is a freelance writer who contributes to The Reeler, Primetime A&E and anyone with cash. He works odd jobs to afford his vices, sleeps on couches and can drink Vadim Rizov under a table.
Oscar 2019 Winner Predictions: Costume Design
Honestly, weâ€™re so gobsmacked by AMPASâ€™s skullduggery that we canâ€™t even see whatâ€™s right in front of us.
In less than a week, AMPAS has successfully stoked the anger of just about every creative in Hollywood, and perhaps sensing a widespread boycott of the Oscar telecast in response to the banishment of four awards to commercial breaks, the academy has now â€śclarifiedâ€ť its latest attempt to reboot the Oscars for the TL;DR generation. Yesterday, in a letter signed by the academyâ€™s board of governorsâ€”which includes president, director of photography, and hater of cinematography John Baileyâ€”members were assured that the four winning speeches will in fact be included in the broadcast, but with all the walking and talking that it takes to announce the winners edited out. Also, those four categories may or may not be given the short shrift in 2020, as apparently thereâ€™s a â€śrotationâ€ť system in place that will, I guess, leave the door open for us to not see Lady Gaga walk on stage next year to accept the best actress award for her performance accepting the Golden Globe this year for â€śShallow.â€ť
Honestly, weâ€™re so gobsmacked by AMPASâ€™s skullduggery that we canâ€™t even see whatâ€™s right in front of us. Case in point: When I sat down to write this article, I thought this award was going to be a slam dunk for Bryan Singerâ€™s Bohemian Rhapsody, but as it turns out, the film isnâ€™t even nominated for its costumes. Because sanity prevailed when voters decided they didnâ€™t find any kind of magic in Brian May pulling out his old Queen outfits for the making of Bryan Singerâ€™s film, maybe it will prevail again and AMPAS will take the Oscars off its planned keto diet. And if it doesnâ€™t, weâ€™ll take some solace in three-time Oscar winner Sandy Powellâ€”who for the third time in her career has been nominated twice in the same yearâ€”collecting this award for her gloriously ostentatious, stitch-perfect garbs for The Favourite.
Will Win: The Favourite
Could Win: Black Panther
Should Win: The Favourite
Berlinale 2019: Out Stealing Horses, A Tale of Three Sisters, & Ă–ndĂ¶g
These films suggest the cinema as another place where we can simulate and reflect on life within and surrounded by natural landscapes.
On the way into Berlin from Tegel Airport, one of the first signs of the city you see is a large tract of land divided into rectangular plots, on each a shed in a variable state of repair. In fact, you can find such areas dispersed throughout the city. Visitors can easily mistake these colonies for third world-style shantytowns, but in fact theyâ€™re the bougiest things imaginable: privately owned allotments, known as kleingĂ¤rten, that arenâ€™t used as primary residences. Itâ€™s an institution that allows urban dwellers with enough money to simulate life â€śon the land,â€ť a slice of rural life plopped down within the city.
As goes Berlin, so goes Berlinale. Several films in this yearâ€™s competition suggest the cinema as another place where we can simulate and reflect on life within and surrounded by natural landscapes. Thereâ€™s a certain nostalgia in these filmsâ€™ contemplation of the relationship between people and natureâ€”in an age where our actions have precipitated an ongoing ecological cataclysm, the depiction of natural spaces almost immediately invokes the past.
A particularly wistful note is struck by Hans Petter Molandâ€™s Out Stealing Horses, a film aboutâ€”stop me if youâ€™ve heard this beforeâ€”sexual awakening set during a rural Scandinavian summer. The film begins in the dark, cold New Yearâ€™s Eve of 1999, as an aged and lonesome Trond Sander (Stellan SkarsgĂĄrd) hides out in Sweden from his troubled recent past. When the 66-year-old Norwegian meets his closest neighbor, Lars (BjĂ¸rn Floberg), the film flashes back to the summer of 1948, which Trond spent at his fatherâ€™s country house in Norway. In voiceover, SkarsgĂĄrdâ€™s weathered baritone guides us through his characterâ€™s reminiscences concerning the tragedy that befell a neighboring family, and how his relationship with his father (Tobias Santelmann) was altered forever when they both became entangled in it.
Although the bulk of its action takes place in the postwar Norwegian woods, Out Stealing Horses regularly brings us back to 1999, contrasting the gray-and-blue perpetual night of a Swedish winter with the variegated colors of summer. Such blatant romantic symbolism doesnâ€™t initially detract from a film that seems at the outset to promise a thoughtful contemplation of mortality. But as the symbols start to multiplyâ€”winter for old age and impending death; summer for youth; flowers, birds, and bees for burgeoning sexuality; thunder for emotional turmoil; water for femininityâ€”and the melodrama becomes conventional and bloated, Moland and co-screenwriter Per Pettersonâ€™s subordination of natural objects to human meanings becomes increasingly one-dimensional.
Emin Alperâ€™s A Tale of Three Sisters opens with a car driving into a remote, mountainous area of central Anatolia in Turkey. The car, whose hood takes up the foreground of the frame, belongs to Mr. Necati, a well-to-do city dweller on whom Sevkit (MĂĽfit Kayacan) and his three daughters rely for their livelihood. The four live in a small village nestled in the mountains, and since their motherâ€™s death, each of the three girls has tried and failed to serve as Necatiâ€™s familyâ€™s maid in the city. Nurhan (Ece YĂĽksel) and Havva (Helin Kandemir) have just returned from their stint, one that ended because the irascible Nurhan was beating the Necati children, and Reyhan (Cemre Ebuzziya) was returned some years ago when she got pregnant, upon which her father swiftly married her off to Veysel (Kayhan AĂ§ikgĂ¶z).
Veysel, a reluctant and lazy shepherd by trade, is a hapless fool, the kind of guy who will accidentally piss on a grave, then worriedly pose to his village superiors the question: â€śIs pissing on graves a sin?â€ť Sevkit and the other men regularly laugh at his expense, and Reyhan and her sisters have little patience for her husband-of-necessity. The villageâ€™s mistreatment of the earnest but perpetually outmatched Veysel will have tragic consequences.
Tale of Three Sisters isnâ€™t interested in tidy narrative resolutions. Much of the film consists of evocative scenes set amid the glowing brown-red hues of the areaâ€™s mountains and the hearth of Sivketâ€™s family homeâ€”one of the most memorable of which is a comic, sexually suggestive sequence involving a huge jug of ayran, a foamy yogurt-based drink popular in Turkey. The film works its way toward a kind of moral resolution, though at times the journey there is a bit of a slog. Sevkit is a domineering father, his words taking over both his home and the film, which occasionally feels as tedious as his daughters find it.
Ă–ndĂ¶g, by Chinese director Wang Quanâ€™an, is a film that takes an elemental approach to the human condition. A good portion of its running time is made up of long exterior shots of the Mongolian plains held for minutes at a time, the frame cleanly divided between the elements of earth and sky. The action, such that it is, often takes place at dusk, which flattens the silhouettes of the diminutive human figures against the blue-orange twilight sky; at times they look like shadow puppets inching their way across an ersatz, cardboard stage. The filmâ€™s aesthetics are grandiose in the same measure that they are playful.
Naturally, Ă–ndĂ¶g is concerned with life and death, and in a manner that evokes cyclical time. It opens with a pair of deathsâ€”a womanâ€™s body is discovered in a field, and a sheep is slaughtered on cameraâ€”and it closes with a pair of births (no spoilers here, but, then again, itâ€™s doubtful spoilers can exist in cyclical time). Landing upon the same symbol of eternal recurrence as Terrence Malickâ€™s Tree of Life, Wang evokes dinosaur life: One character shares with another that the ancient reptiles were first discovered in Mongolia, making Mongolians their descendants, destined in millions of years to be discovered again, by dinosaur scientists.
Though the film opens with police discovering the aforementioned womanâ€™s body and a young officer (Norovsambuu) left alone in the field to guard it until it can be retrieved, it leaves this plot thread unresolved, subsuming itself in the anti-drama of the herdswoman (Dulamjav Enkhtaivan) whoâ€™s asked to keep the officer company. Roaming around the plains on her distinctive camel and tending to her livestock with only the occasional help of a neighboring, motorcycle-riding herdsman (Aorigeletu), the herdswoman is a model of autonomy and self-determination. Sheâ€™s faster and better with a gun than the police, and flat-out ignores the herdsmanâ€™s constant suggestions that she needs to find a man.
Quanâ€™an addresses eternal, cosmic themes through a portrait of rural characters living in a desolate setting, but even if his interest is in the primeval, he doesnâ€™t make his characters â€śprimitive.â€ť They live closer to death and to birth, but they still play Elvis songs on their cellphones, call the police when theyâ€™re in trouble, and have medical abortions. And Ă–ndĂ¶gâ€™s portrait of the human condition also isnâ€™t portentous or overly self-serious; for one, this is a film that will give you a new appreciation for the inherent humor of camel sounds. Slow but never tedious, set under sky and stars but not in the least bit sentimental, Ă–ndĂ¶g is the festivalâ€™s most profound story of human life on the land.
Berlinale runs from February 7â€”17.
Oscar 2019 Winner Predictions: Actor
Throwing questions of artistic merit out the window, opponents of a Rami Malek win have dutifully cast doubt on his ideological purity.
Given how this accursed Oscar season has thrown one obscenity after another at everyone who has any investment whatsoever in the institution of the Academy Awards, itâ€™s as though AMPAS is inviting the world to burn the Dolby Theater down on Oscar Sunday, as MĂ©lanie Laurentâ€™s Shosanna does to the Cinema Le Gamaar at the climax of Inglourious Basterds. And at this point, considering that one of the four awards being banished to commercial breaks is cinematography, and that AMPAS president John Bailey is himself a cinematographer, the presumption of self-sabotage seems credible.
Such are the affronts to progress toward anything other than ABC-Disneyâ€™s maniacal bottom line to reverse the showâ€™s declining ratings, and the deadening effect every bad idea has had on our souls, that Rami Malek winning the best actor Oscar for leading with his teeth throughout Bryan Singerâ€™s Bohemian Rhapsody slots toward the bottom of our shit list. Malek, who cemented his frontrunner status with a BAFTA win last weekend, may be taking a page, if not the whole ream, from Eddie Redmayneâ€™s shamelessly charming campaign playbook. But in the categoryâ€™s absence of Ethan Hawke, who ran the table with critics for his performance in First Reformed, is anyoneâ€™s reserve of outrage bottomless enough to howl about the inevitable results here, beyond wounded fans of A Star Is Born? (Though, donâ€™t get us wrong. Weâ€™re happy to give Bradley Cooper the award if it keeps him from going behind the camera again.)
Throwing questions of artistic merit out the window, opponents of a Malek win have dutifully cast doubt on his ideological purity. You donâ€™t have to flash back to Casey Affleck to regard this tack as a grisly mistake, even if you donâ€™t happen to believe Malek got Bryan Singer kicked off of Bryan Singerâ€™s Bohemian Rhapsody for preying on underage boys. This is an Academy that nominated Green Book for five awards. Good intentions are still more than enough, and what you say is still as important, if not more so, than what you do. And if portraying Freddie Mercury as a misguided homosexual who just needed to find Britainâ€™s one good gay somebody to love leaves a pretty foul taste in our mouths, at least Malek has managed to avoid letting the N-word slip from his mouth on the promotional circuit.
Will Win: Rami Malek, Bryan Singerâ€™s Bohemian Rhapsody
Could Win: Christian Bale, Vice
Should Win: Any actor willing to publicly stand up in support of airing all 24 categories.