1. “Why No One Is Celebrating the 100th Anniversary of the Feature Film.” Godfrey Cheshire explains that it has to do with The Birth of a Nation.
“No less crucial, of course, was the movie’s lingering impact on film and other media, some of it rather bitterly ironic. While it surely helped launch the American feature film industry, and its phenomenal box-office success was envied by moviemakers forever after, the controversy and polemical fire generated by The Birth of a Nation proved a negative incentive for Hollywood producers, who in later decades scrupulously avoided racial themes and relegated African-American characters to background roles as mammies, butlers, and entertainers. It would be nearly a half-century before America’s movie and TV screens saw the emergence of prominent, realistic African-American characters—whose relative dearth even today remains a topic of debate and media soul-searching.”
2. “Is the Best Picture Race Already Over?” Mark Harris on Hollywood self-obsession and the Birdman juggernaut.
“I’m not sure why, in the last four years, Oscar voters have suddenly become so determined to turn inward, although they certainly live in a world that encourages it. Every year now, awards season seems to be twice as noisy as the year before. Given the glut of mailings, screenings, DVDs, trade publications, and blogs that exist because of Oscar advertising, roundtables, preliminary awards, dinners, contrived festival honors, panels, and Q&As, it’s easy for people who live and work inside the bubble to start to believe, between October and February, that the bubble is all there is. When they go home for the holidays in December, it’s with a stack of screeners; when they self-disgustedly flee Hollywood in January, they get only as far as Sundance. And this winter, the scandal over the Sony hack and The Interview provided an unusual corroboration of the idea that what Hollywood does really is front-page news with real-world stakes. In that context, a vote for Birdman, which might have looked like an act of self-absorption back in November, may now feel more like a defiant act of self-affirmation: We’re here, we’re deeply flawed but sincere—get used to it!”
3. “Liberation.” Reverse Shot’s Eric Hynes on Losing Ground.
“All told, it’s a rich stew for an adult drama. Each of them strains against both how they’re perceived and how they perceive themselves, and both [Bill] Gunn and [Seret] Scott project contemplation and engagement with all this instability and irresolution. There’s awkwardness in how some of this is expressed and dramatized in the film—much of Scott’s line readings come off as line readings—yet there’s truth in the awkwardness. Since Sara is a character that performs a self as much as she inhabits one, why wouldn’t artificiality be present in how she talks, why wouldn’t she move through space as if she’s trying to hit a mark? It’s unclear if Scott is channeling awkwardness or if Collins cast the nasally, angular actress in order to harness it, but what at first seems disconnected from the film’s purpose emerges as integral. By film’s end, Scott is performing a tango in a leotard, as regal, self-inhabited, and singularly appealing as anything else we’ve seen before us. Collins isn’t just contemplating liberation and individualization, she’s sussing it out dramatically, filmically.”
4. “Wachowskis in Outer Space.” Richard Brody on Jupiter Ascending.
“The tangles over Jupiter’s royal prerogative are written with comic-book crudeness that the theatrical performances don’t quite honor with self-conscious comedy. Instead, the three heirs—and Redmayne in particular—play to the virtual balcony such plastic gems as ’I create life! And I destroy it.’ Why dwell on the slender story of a massively scaled digital epic? Because the Wachowskis don’t achieve much of merit, or even of note, with their roiling C.G.I. exertions. The first time they evoke teleportation by way of glowing ice-blue vapor clouds or the first sight of jet flames propelling space creatures from the soles of their shoes deliver a quick imaginative frisson that nothing else in the film can match. The Wachowskis fill the frame with digital churn, decorating it to the corners with color and swirl. Jupiter goes into outer-space free fall more than once and Caine propels to rescue her often, but the 3-D replication of action is yawn-worthy every time.”
5. ”’The truth is unspeakable’: A real American sniper unloads on American Sniper.” “The truth is unspeakable,” says real-life American sniper who wants nothing to do with a dangerous propaganda film.
“The only time Chris Kyle says he soiled himself was on purpose. He would not leave his position to answer nature’s call so he just kept his rifle trained and went to the bathroom in his pants. Such was his commitment to God and country. In a micro sense, it served him well. In a macro sense, however, our invasion and occupation of Iraq was not a ’kill them or they will kill us’ scenario. History has borne that fact out, and that lack of context makes American Sniper a dangerous film. Dangerous because kids will sign up for the military because of this movie. Dangerous because our leaders have plans for those kids. Some will kill. Some will be killed. Or worse. There is no narrative existing outside the strict confines of American Sniper’s iron sights that allows for the war on terror to be over. It’s like a broken record looping over and over: attack, blowback and attack. Repeat.”
Video of the Day: The trailer for Peter Greenaway’s Eisenstein in Guanajuato:
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