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Robert Elswit (#110 of 5)

Toronto Film Review Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool and Roman J. Israel, Esq.

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Toronto Film Review: Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool and Roman J. Israel, Esq.

Sony Pictures Classics

Toronto Film Review: Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool and Roman J. Israel, Esq.

Not all Oscar bait is created equal. Glenn Close trolling the Academy with 2011’s shameless Albert Nobbs isn’t in the same wheelhouse as her fellow always-a-bridesmaid Annette Bening, who actually seems, whatever the performance, like there are plenty of other motivators for her work beyond gold-plated statuettes. Make no mistake, Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, in which Bening plays aging Hollywood icon Gloria Grahame, is a tailor-made awards showcase, but the actress doesn’t settle for mere look-at-me mimicry.

Bening nails Grahame’s hyperventilator’s voice and flighty demeanor, as well as the seemingly out-of-nowhere sultriness that, for example, Nicholas Ray (Grahame’s second husband) used to striking effect in the 1949 noir A Woman’s Secret. Yet Bening also gives you a full sense of Grahame’s often-tortured depths, be it the obsession with her looks (her upper lip being the prime offender) or the scandal she courted. A prime plot point here is her marriage to Ray’s stepson, Anthony, in 1960, which led to the waning of a film career that included such highlights as 1950’s In a Lonely Place and 1952’s The Bad and the Beautiful, for which she won a supporting actress Oscar.

Toronto Film Review George Clooney’s Suburbicon

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Toronto Film Review: George Clooney’s Suburbicon

Paramount Pictures

Toronto Film Review: George Clooney’s Suburbicon

A truly nasty piece of work, Suburbicon sees a bunch of candidly left-leaning movie stars doing their best to out-awful each other. George Clooney, working behind the scenes as director and co-screenwriter, dusted off an old Joel and Ethan Coen screenplay set in a 1950s suburban tract community and detailing a murderous insurance scam gone wrong. Then, with writing and producing partner Grant Heslov, he grafted on a slow-burn subplot that tackles racism, and as such is meant to resonate with contemporary U.S. anxieties. Yet the result is a hysterical and simplistic—if still in-the-moment compelling—parody of bourgeois American greed and ignorance.

Oscar 2012 Winner Predictions: Cinematography

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Oscar 2012 Winner Predictions: Cinematography
Oscar 2012 Winner Predictions: Cinematography

Cinephiles everywhere (well, at least the ones who waste time and wishes on the Academy Awards) have been conjuring up the spirits of Sven Nyqvist, John Alcott, Gregg Toland, and James Wong Howe in an attempt to see to an alarmingly overdue Emmanuel Lubezki finally win this category. One would think they wouldn’t need to resort to such desperate measures, since not only do The Tree of Life’s detractors have to admit the film at its worst still acts as the world’s greatest sizzle reel for Lubezki’s talents, but there’s scarcely a precursor award that hasn’t gone his way this year. But so what? Lubezki, now on his fifth Oscar nomination, had every reason in the world to collect in 2006 for Children of Men, but the disappointing, if not unpredictable, win for Guillermo Navarro’s work on Pan’s Labyrinth made a clear statement: Overall momentum is all that matters in the tech categories.

Tribeca Film Festival 2008: Redbelt

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Tribeca Film Festival 2008: <em>Redbelt</em>
Tribeca Film Festival 2008: <em>Redbelt</em>

David Mamet may not be the visual stylist that Jean-Pierre Melville was, but in most other respects, his Redbelt is faithfully cast in the tradition of the great French auteur’s Le Samouraï. As in Melville’s brooding gangster classic, Mamet’s film focuses on a lonely, figurative samurai devoted to a governing code, in this case a jiu-jitsu instructor named Mike Terry (Chiwetel Ejiofor) who runs a Los Angeles martial arts academy where he trains both lay people and cops. Already low on cash, much to his clothing designer wife’s (Alice Braga) chagrin, Mike becomes ensnared in grave personal and financial circumstances after an accidental shooting at the academy and a bar fight involving a movie star (Tim Allen). The gears of fate soon begin turning, and Mamet takes thoughtful time laying out the forces that will, in due course, thrust Mike into the professional mixed-martial arts fighting arena which he shuns because, as the teachings of his red-belted master counsel, “A competition is not a fight.”

Rebellion, Incorporated : Shine a Light

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Rebellion, Incorporated : <em>Shine a Light</em>
Rebellion, Incorporated : <em>Shine a Light</em>

Shine a Light isn’t the first IMAX movie about dinosaurs, but it may the first on which the dinosaurs receive Executive Producer credit.

This knockout Rolling Stones concert film records the venerable band’s two-night stand at Manhattan’s Beacon Theater in October, 2006. Far from run-of-the-mill, both performances were events, captured in IMAX by director and longtime Stones fan Martin Scorsese, and presented in honor of former president Bill Clinton’s 60th birthday.