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Tribeca Film Festival 2008: My Winnipeg

Guy Maddin’s thrilling, ingenious My Winnipeg is a love letter to the Canadian director’s hometown disguised as a Buñuel “escape from the bourgeoisie” comedy.

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Tribeca Film Festival 2008: My Winnipeg

Guy Maddin’s thrilling, ingenious My Winnipeg is a love letter to the Canadian director’s hometown disguised as a Buñuel “escape from the bourgeoisie” comedy. Like a guest at a never-ending dinner party, Maddin (who narrates the B&W, MOS film) is plotting to finally leave the comfort of “snowy, sleepwalking Winnipeg,” the city of his birth—the city he’s spent his entire life in—but must fight the unseen magnetic forces that are keeping him there. Fortunately, unlike Buñuel’s clueless characters, Maddin has a secret weapon—he’s a filmmaker. “What if I film my way out of here?” he proposes.

And thus begins one man’s incredible odyssey through a looking glass past. Using a combination of archival footage, scenes of narcoleptic train passengers, words flashing onto the screen as in an old train robbery silent, the sounds of chugging railroad cars and jangling keys, of hair clippers mixed with a symphony, repeating images of “forks, lap and fur” (the ingredients of the “magnetic pull”), not to mention hilarious narration (wherein Maddin dispenses “facts” like Winnipeg having ten times the sleepwalking rate of anywhere in the world), all mingled with descriptions of his “mother” (as strong as the railroad), Maddin creates a “docu-fantasia” that is more truthful than most nonfiction films. He deals not just in physical reality, but psychic as well. Maddin’s small childhood memories, just as momentous as the city’s grand history, are entwined as one.

And what memories he has—of “dreamy addresses” (Winnipeg has an ordinance that all residents must admit former tenants to their abode for one night), of a bizarre home that housed his mother’s beauty parlor. “I was proud of the strangeness,” Maddin admits. It was a “chunk of happy home.” Growing up in a salon, Maddin was forever surrounded by the “smell of female vanity and desperation.” Desperate to film his way out of the past, the director decides to sublet his childhood home for a month and recreate scenes from his youth using both actors and his “real” mother (played by the still-stunning, silver-haired, 40s noir actress Ann Savage).

Things get off to a start both good (the movers are a tax deduction—“I’m a filmmaker!” Maddin reminds) and bad (he’s forced to include in his reenactments the current tenant, “a strange lady who won’t leave her house”). The actors watch the TV program “Ledgeman!” (the titular character threatens to jump from a ledge in every episode, but is always saved by the director’s “actress mother”), and witness/perform the “straightening of the hall runner.” Maddin stages the day his sister hit a deer on the highway, his mother twisting the tragedy into a salacious tryst with the “man with the tire iron”, who put the dying deer out of its misery. “Did he pay you?” she huffs. “Everything that happens in the city is a euphemism,” Maddin explains. (Later he adds, “Mother is the most psychic of all Winnipeggers.”) He even accuses mom of trying to sabotage his film (the words “Passive aggressive!” pop onto the screen), captures every detail like the “YUG” carved “dyslexically” into his bedroom door. Much to his chagrin, mom wants to include his dead father in the proceedings, so they reach an uneasy compromise—pretending he’s had dad exhumed and buried in the living room. (It doesn’t get any more Buñuel than this!)

Even the city itself—with the frozen Ferris wheels of its amusement park “Happyland,” built in 1906 and shown in whimsical animation (as is the 1919 worker’s strike), and the “Academy of the Ultravixens” (a.k.a. St. Mary’s Academy)—is snow-piled in absurdist tradition. Maddin shows us ghostly “archival” scenes of a man who de-spooks furniture, of a séance that erupts into a ballet recital, of the sign graveyard (another Winnipeg law forbids throwing away old signs) and “Garbage Hill,” a park composed of trash where children are often impaled on car fenders. (“My Winnipeg!” Maddin exclaims with pride.) The director’s silent film style is always laced with a modern sensibility, though. While his camera records black footprints in the pristine white snow, Maddin describes how January is the coldest month—“the month when the condoms come off!” “Bareback” flashes across the screen. Navigating iced alleyways, the director explains Winnipeg’s “phantom grid,” a series of nameless back lanes existing alongside the formal streets. One street, Lorette, is half and half. “It’s a hermaphrodite street,” Maddin says. “No one speaks of Lorette.”

In this warped valentine to a city where “demolition is one of the few growth industries” and the “MT Centre” is empty, Maddin reminisces, stealing a hockey shirt from a famed Russian visiting player, wearing it for a few stick hits, then quickly tossing it in the wash, fearful of the KGB. He wishes he could say his father, employed on the management side of Winnipeg’s NHL team, “spontaneously combusted on the ice,” though he died a much less dramatic death. The best Maddin can do is craft a passionate dream in which elderly hockey legends (including one named “Smiley”, so called because head wounds left him eternally happy) go blade to blade at the old arena as demolition rains down upon them. Of the NHL, which sounded the death knell for Winnipeg pros and perhaps the city’s future itself, Maddin laments, “We never should have joined that league!”

And the hilarious romp continues right back to mom—afraid of “birds and messy hair”—being threatened with a parakeet by her own actor-children in a last ditch effort to get her to cook for them. Maddin’s camera captures the winter walkers as they visit the notorious frozen horse heads (yup, a herd got stuck in the snow up to their necks), which soon becomes a lovers’ stroll. “Golden boy!” and “Man pageants!” and “Corridor of Thighs” flashes onto the screen when Maddin trains his lens on Winnipeg’s infamous debauched nightclub, the mayor the judge of these risqué beauty pageants, which ceased when too many “golden boys” were found holding “golden jobs” at city hall. (The pipe-smoking contest that followed in the pageant’s wake just wasn’t as exciting.) From the “Dance of the hairless boners!” in the gender segregated spa (“Why? Why don’t we just swim?” Maddin wondered as a kid), to the animated gay bison that stampede Happyland, to “Aerial Happyland” (the rooftops of skyscrapers where Winnipeg’s homeless live out of sight), to the spectacular “If Day” in which 5,000 Nazis invade Winnipeg, renaming it Himmlerstadt, Maddin’s incomparable triumph is his sweeping annihilation of such quaint categories as “fiction” and “doc.” As sturdy a hybrid as Lorette, My Winnipeg is breathtakingly one-hundred-percent true to the heart, the only truth that matters in the “winter wonder” end.

Brooklyn-based writer Lauren Wissot is the publisher of the blog Beyond the Green Door, the author of the memoir Under My Master’s Wings, and a contributor to The Reeler.

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Awards

Oscars 2019: Who Will Win? Who Should Win? Our Final Predictions

No one is okay with the Academy Awards the way they are, and everyone seems sure that they know how to fix them.

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Roma
Photo: Netflix

No one is okay with the Academy Awards the way they are, and everyone seems sure that they know how to fix them. Cut out the montages, bring back honorary award presentations, give stunt performers their own category, let ranked-choice voting determine every category and not just best picture, overhaul the membership ranks, hold the event before the guilds spoil the surprise, find a host with the magic demographic-spanning mojo necessary to double the show’s recent audience pools, nominate bigger hits, nominate only hits. Across the last 24 days, Ed Gonzalez and I have mulled over the academy’s existential crisis and how it’s polluted this year’s Oscar race so thoroughly that it feels eerily similar to the 2016 election cycle all over again. We’re spent, and while we don’t know if we have it in us to do this next year, we just might give it another go if Oscar proves us wrong on Sunday in more than just one category.

Below are our final Oscar predictions. Want more? Click on the individual articles for our justifications and more, including who we think should win in all 24 categories.

Picture: Green Book
Director: Alfonso Cuarón, Roma
Actor: Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody
Actress: Glenn Close, The Wife
Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali, Green Book
Supporting Actress: Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk
Original Screenplay: Green Book
Adapted Screenplay: BlacKkKlansman
Foreign Language: Roma
Documentary Feature: RBG
Animated Feature Film: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Documentary Short: Period. End of Sentence
Animated Short: Weekends
Live Action Short: Skin
Film Editing: Bohemian Rhapsody
Production Design: The Favourite
Cinematography: Cold War
Costume Design: The Favourite
Makeup and Hairstyling: Vice
Score: If Beale Street Could Talk
Song: “Shallow,” A Star Is Born
Sound Editing: First Man
Sound Mixing: Bohemian Rhapsody
Visual Effects: First Man

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Awards

Oscar 2019 Winner Predictions: Picture

The industry’s existential crisis has polluted this race so thoroughly that it feels eerily similar to the 2016 election cycle all over again.

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Green Book
Photo: Universal Pictures

“I’m hyperventilating a little. If I fall over pick me up because I’ve got something to say,” deadpanned Frances McDormand upon winning her best actress Oscar last year. From her lips to Hollywood’s ears. No one is okay with the Academy Awards the way they are, and everyone seems sure that they know how to fix them. Cut out the montages, bring back honorary award presentations, give stunt performers their own category, let ranked-choice voting determine every category and not just best picture, overhaul the membership ranks, hold the event before the guilds spoil the surprise, find a host with the magic demographic-spanning mojo necessary to double the show’s recent audience pools, nominate bigger hits, nominate only hits.

But first, as McDormand herself called for during her speech, “a moment of perspective.” A crop of articles have popped up over the last two weeks looking back at the brutal showdown between Saving Private Ryan and Shakespeare In Love at the 1999 Academy Awards, when Harvey Weinstein was at the height of his nefarious powers. Every retrospective piece accepts as common wisdom that it was probably the most obnoxious awards season in history, one that indeed set the stage for every grinding assault we’ve paid witness to ever since. But did anyone two decades ago have to endure dozens of weekly Oscar podcasters and hundreds of underpaid web writers musing, “What do the Academy Awards want to be moving forward, exactly? Who should voters represent in this fractured media environment, exactly?” How much whiskey we can safely use to wash down our Lexapro, exactly?

Amid the fox-in-a-henhouse milieu of ceaseless moral outrage serving as this awards season’s backdrop, and amid the self-obsessed entertainers now wrestling with the idea that they now have to be “content providers,” all anyone seems concerned about is what an Oscar means in the future, and whether next year’s versions of Black Panther and Bryan Singer’s Bohemian Rhapsody have a seat at the table. What everyone’s forgetting is what the Oscars have always been. In other words, the industry’s existential crisis has polluted this race so thoroughly that it feels eerily similar to the 2016 election cycle all over again, and Oscar’s clearly splintered voting blocs may become ground zero for a Make the Academy Great Again watershed.

In 1956, the Oscars took a turn toward small, quotidian, neo-realish movies, awarding Marty the top prize. The correction was swift and sure the following year, with a full slate of elephantine epics underlining the movie industry’s intimidation at the new threat of television. Moonlight’s shocking triumph two years ago was similarly answered by the safe, whimsical The Shape of Water, a choice that reaffirmed the academy’s commitment to politically innocuous liberalism in artistically conservative digs. Call us cynical, but we know which of the last couple go-arounds feels like the real academy. Which is why so many are banking on the formally dazzling humanism of Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma and so few on the vital, merciless fury of Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman.

And even if we give the benefit of the doubt to the academy’s new members, there’s that righteous, reactionary fervor in the air against those attempting to “cancel” Green Book. Those attacking the film from every conceivable angle have also ignored the one that matters to most people: the pleasure principle. Can anyone blame Hollywood for getting its back up on behalf of a laughably old-fashioned but seamlessly mounted road movie-cum-buddy pic that reassures people that the world they’re leaving is better than the one they found? That’s, as they say, the future that liberals and Oscar want.

Will Win: Green Book

Could Win: Roma or BlacKkKlansman

Should Win: BlacKkKlansman

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Awards

Oscar 2019 Winner Predictions: Adapted Screenplay

After walking back almost all of its bad decisions ahead of this year’s Oscars, there’s no way AMPAS isn’t going to do the right thing here.

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BlacKkKlansman
Photo: Focus Features

Eric and I have done a good job this year of only selectively stealing each other’s behind-the-scenes jokes. We have, though, not been polite about stepping on each other’s toes in other ways. Okay, maybe just Eric, who in his impeccable take on the original screenplay free-for-all detailed how the guilds this year have almost willfully gone out of their way to “not tip the Oscar race too clearly toward any one film.” Case in point: Can You Ever Forgive Me? winning the WGA’s adapted screenplay trophy over presumed Oscar frontrunner BlacKkKlansman. A glitch in the matrix? We think so. Eric and I are still in agreement that the race for best picture this year is pretty wide open, though maybe a little less so in the wake of what seemed like an easy win for the Spike Lee joint. Nevertheless, we all know that there’s no Oscar narrative more powerful than “it’s about goddamn time,” and it was so powerful this year that even the diversity-challenged BAFTAs got the memo, giving their adapted screenplay prize to Lee, Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, and Kevin Willmott. To bamboozle Lee at this point would, admittedly, be so very 2019, but given that it’s walked back almost all of its bad decisions ahead of this year’s Oscars, there’s no way AMPAS isn’t going to do the right thing.

Will Win: BlacKkKlansman

Could Win: Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Should Win: BlacKkKlansman

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