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The Grandmaster (#110 of 5)

Oscar 2014 Winner Predictions Costume Design

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Oscar 2014 Winner Predictions: Costume Design
Oscar 2014 Winner Predictions: Costume Design

It’s still no Drag Race, but the contest for costume design (i.e. the Oscar category most likely to send me headed to Wikipedia to even remember what won last year) just got a little bit more interesting over the weekend. And if the Costume Designers Guild’s award for Patricia Norris’s desiccated plantation line from the House of Mason-Dixon is to be taken seriously, then Amy Adams’s milky, sleek sternum is simply not as eye-catching an accessory as the funk of 40,000 lashes. (And I’m not talking the Maybelline kind here.) That Norris this weekend pranced past Michael Wilkinson’s chesty silhouettes in American Hustle wasn’t a major surprise, but that those drab rags left Catherine Martin’s flip-flap frippery from The Great Gatsby face down in the pool does arch one’s eyebrows. Or maybe that’s not such a surprise. The Costume Designers Guild have never much warmed up to Martin’s work; her Oscar-winning feathers and ruffles from Moulin Rouge weren’t even invited to the guild’s dance back in 2001. Perhaps they, like many of us hardened vets who experienced that Oscar season in real time online, were simply weary of the squealing zealousness of those “kicking up their heels” (and writing those same noxious words ad nauseam) over Baz Luhrman’s over-performance that year.

Slant’s Top 25 Films of 2013

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Slant’s Top 25 Films of 2013
Slant’s Top 25 Films of 2013

From Budd Wilkins’s introduction to Slant Magazine’s Top 25 Films of 2013: “Reports of cinema’s demise, as it turns out, have been greatly exaggerated. Granted, celluloid is about as dead as the dodo, and delivery systems are in flux (pretty soon, audiences will be as likely to catch the latest Hollywood tent pole streaming on their wristwatches as in a multiplex), but the century-old urge to dream another life within the four edges of a frame, to transmute image and sound into something more potent than either alone, remained refreshingly untrammeled. Given the precarious position of the medium, beholden to the ever-shifting tectonics of finance, it’s perhaps unsurprising that many films took the constituent building blocks of their own construction as their theme.” Click here to read the feature and see if your favorite films of the year made our list. And see below for a list of the films that just missed making it onto our list, followed by our contributors’ individual ballots. Happy reading.

Karlovy Vary International Film Festival 2013

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Karlovy Vary International Film Festival 2013
Karlovy Vary International Film Festival 2013

In my four years attending the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, this was the first time where tickets for screenings weren’t sold out for every film by 10 a.m. the day prior. The economic wallop that briefly made its presence known at last year’s festival was brutally felt this year in some near-empty screenings, among them a program for avant-garde short films that included David Gatten’s awe-inspiring By Pain and Rhyme and Arabesques of Foraging. The lack of a surfeit of people robbed the screenings of their sense of urgency—that very specific do-or-die feeling you get at a festival when people are elbowing you as they try to shove their way through narrow doors and into the theater at the same time, rushing to find their seats. But the mellow atmosphere didn’t preclude the discovery of a few very good films.

Berlinale 2013 The Grandmaster, Gold, & A Single Shot

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Berlinale 2013: The Grandmaster, Gold, Vic + Flo Saw a Bear, & A Single Shot
Berlinale 2013: The Grandmaster, Gold, Vic + Flo Saw a Bear, & A Single Shot

Since coming home from the sumptuous, if lopsided, American road trip of My Blueberry Nights, Wong Kar-wai has been hard at work on his martial-arts epic The Grandmaster. Perhaps the most explicitly in dialogue with film history of all his works thus far, the film will read as a much-needed strike of lightning to wu xia for connoisseurs of the genre and a feature-length TV spot for others. Which is to say that its visual design is (surprise, surprise) magnificently original, but it lacks Wong’s characteristic elliptical approach to storytelling that has won him so many admirers. Pierre Rissient allegedly dismissed Wong as “postcard cinema”—and it hurts to say it, but The Grandmaster might be more impactful as a series of stills than a motion picture.

Set mainly over the course of the 1930s in Foshan, a city in southern China, the film narrates the Ip Man’s (Tony Leung Chiu Wai) rise to prominence as a Wing Chun grandmaster, focusing especially on his brushes with Gong Er (Zhang Ziyi), the daughter of one of the grandmasters from the north. Although they cross paths across many years, Wong forgoes the melancholic romanticization of time we’ve come to expect from him and opts to tell their story in a disappointingly linear fashion, Hollywoodian flashback included. Essentially a biopic wrapped in a kung-fu art film, The Grandmaster’s ambition but feeling of incompletion brings to mind Sam Peckinpah’s analogous probing of national history, mythology, and masculinity.