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Harris Savides (#110 of 6)

Oscar 2014 Winner Predictions Cinematography

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Oscar 2014 Winner Predictions: Cinematography
Oscar 2014 Winner Predictions: Cinematography

As R. Kurt Osenlund pointed out yesterday, there are plenty of categories more flashily controversial this year, but none have become as big a flash point among cinephiles as the cinematography prize. No demographic is more certain that one of Oscar’s longest-running contemporary injustices is its failure to coronate Emmanuel Lubezki, whose lucidly expressive images have now earned him six nominations and a near-fanatic cult devotion. Having to cope with the losses he’s suffered his last three times at bat—with The New World, Children of Men, and The Tree of Life respectively falling to Memoirs of a Geisha, Pan’s Labyrinth, and Hugo—are, for acolytes, like living in an alternate universe where John Alcott’s work on Barry Lyndon lost to Robert L. Surtees’s The Hindenburg, or Sven Nykvist’s lensing of Cries & Whispers lost to Surtees’s The Sting, or Néstor Almendros’s Days of Heaven lost to Robert Surtees’s Same Time, Next Year. Adding insult to injury last time around was the fact that Lubezki’s richly textured analog work in The Tree of Life was chewed up and spit out by the Academy’s now-insatiable sweet tooth for CGI-heavy 3D toy boxes, a trend that’s held for the last four years running.

Cannes Film Festival 2013: The Bling Ring Review

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Cannes Film Festival 2013: <em>The Bling Ring</em> Review
Cannes Film Festival 2013: <em>The Bling Ring</em> Review

Sofia Coppola’s fascination with the young and over-privileged reaches a logical plateau with The Bling Ring, a hyperaware consideration of celebrity intrigue and idolization. Based on the semi-recent wave of burglaries perpetrated by a group of high school kids on the unsuspecting gossip-rag regulars residing in the Hollywood Hills, the film depicts, with an alternately implicating and critical eye, the rise and fall of adolescent naïveté and entitlement. It’s a subject that Coppola has spent much of her career dramatizing across various milieus, from the suburban daydreams of The Virgin Suicides to the ornate, 18th-century re-imaginings of Marie Antoinette to the Los Angeles summertime sprawl of Somewhere. She’s remained in the City of Angels for her latest, but this is anything but a tale of wayward cherubs. Fueled by the very lifestyle they’re nonchalantly pillaging, this band of smalltime crooks have learned that actions rarely have consequences, and spend the entire film putting this theory, propagated and sustained by the media, to the fullest possible test.

On the Circuit: Margot at the Wedding

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On the Circuit: <em>Margot at the Wedding</em>
On the Circuit: <em>Margot at the Wedding</em>

Writer-director Noah Baumbach is often identified with a group of young white filmmakers who comprise a new American New Wave (David O. Russell, Sofia Coppola, Wes Anderson, Alexander Payne, Spike Jonze, P.T. Anderson, David Gordon Green, and others). But he really should be appointed head of the “splat pack” over Rob Zombie, Eli Roth, James Wan, et al. He could teach them something.

Margot at the Wedding has all the tension and jolts that those splat directors clumsily strive for. It isn’t a horror flick, but it moves and schemes like a great one. The gore here isn’t found in blood-’n’-guts, just via a family of thin-skinned, overeducated neurotics eviscerating each other (and themselves) emotionally. Grisly stuff. But Baumbach’s mastery doesn’t let you look away or exhale until knots of accumulated tension climax in fits of nervous laughter or loosen into surprisingly tender revelations. His brand of splatter is humiliation. Sounds juvenile, but he’s clearly wrestling with something so personal here, and rendering it in such an intimate voice, that we don’t recoil, just fight through to the moments of grace, good humor and insight.

Darkness Visible: David Fincher’s Zodiac

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Darkness Visible: David Fincher’s Zodiac
Darkness Visible: David Fincher’s Zodiac

Narratively, David Fincher’s Zodiac is the plainest movie he’s made. It lays its chronology out in a nice, straight line. The direction is mostly prosaic, not poetic. With a few notable exceptions—including a callously aestheticized opening murder, which has the titular maniac shooting a couple in a car in slow-mo while Donovan’s “Hurdy Gurdy” plays on a car radio, and a montage where newspaper headlines and psycho heiroglyphics are superimposed on walls, Fight Club/Ikea style, to suggest the Zodiac killer’s contamination of California’s psyche—Fincher avoids overt expressionism and lets the dialogue explicate the movie’s ideas. Screenwriter James Vanderbilt’s scenes are theatrically shaped and polished; so are his characters, who are often defined with vaguely sitcom-ish bits of business (Mark Ruffalo’s detective David Toschi, the primary in San Francisco’s long investigation of the Zodiac murders, mooches food from his partner through several presidential administrations). And the dialogue has a bone-dry absurdist sensibility which, while pleasing, is probably 30 years out-of-period. (“What do you want?” a character asks a burned-out colleague. “Time off? A hug?”)