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Museum Hours (#110 of 6)

Berlinale 2015 Counting

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Berlinale 2015: Counting
Berlinale 2015: Counting

Imagine an entire film made up of variations of those occasional free-associative montages of Vienna in Museum Hours and you’ll have a pretty good idea of how Jem Cohen’s follow-up, Counting, operates. Each of its 15 chapters features near-wordless impressionistic evocations of different cities and environments: New York, Moscow, and London, but also Istanbul, Cairo, and Porto, Portugal. The visual material contained in each chapter is as varied as their locations: The untitled third chapter—the film’s shortest, lasting a mere minute—intercuts images of a blurred face that eventually comes into focus with sunlight shining through a window. Chapter seven (“Three Letter Words”) is made up entirely of two-way mirror reflections from a New York bus stop, while chapter 10 (also untitled) focuses not on objects and locales, but on street musicians within those locales.

Oscar 2014 Nomination Predictions: Picture

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Oscar 2014 Nomination Predictions: Picture
Oscar 2014 Nomination Predictions: Picture

We come to it at last. By now, even the most casual Oscar-watcher should know that the big three bound for the Academy’s top race are Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity, Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave, and David O. Russell’s American Hustle. The first two have become defining films of the moment for technical and cultural reasons, and the third has bewitched every major awards body, if only for its unabashed bigness and its throng of can’t-look-away performances. With minimal reservation, I’ll also slap the label of “lock” on Paul Greengrass’s Captain Phillips and Alexander Payne’s Nebraska, two films that have been showered with adoration this season, and are poised to surge forward in crucial categories (in addition to multiple acting bids, look for the former to land that all-important Editing nod, and the latter to be recognized for its Original Screenplay). And while The Wolf of Wall Street is spreading audiences apart like the legs of its subject’s demeaned conquests, perhaps no film this year has prompted more impassioned discussion. Being directed by Martin Scorsese helps; being a white-hot, unavoidable, shouting-match-starting phenomenon cements a slot for what was already an insta-contender.

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.

20 Great Shots from the Films of 2013

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20 Great Shots from the Films of 2013
20 Great Shots from the Films of 2013

I looked back on the year and thought about single cinematic images that knocked me flat. Or produced an actual “wow.” Or somehow encompassed a film in a strange way. Many of them rushed back immediately. Others sprung to mind when I skimmed through my list of films seen. In accordance with my favorite movies of 2013, many of which are featured here, I was surprised by what I responded to most. I noticed some trends. Evidently, I’m drawn to sunsets, running water (preferably colored), and, rather unoriginally, red. I also kinda like trash. Some of these shots speak for themselves, while others require the images that come before them, or after them, sometimes successively, to achieve their respective impacts. Presented in no particular order, each has a backstory, save the last, which is summed up with a heartbreaking, note-perfect line. This is a very personal list, and I could’ve easily bumped the total to 50 or more. Don’t see your favorite shots in the roster? Share your thoughts (or, ya know, a link to a screengrab) in the comments.

SXSW 2013: Museum Hours and Spring Breakers

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SXSW 2013: <em>Museum Hours</em> and <em>Spring Breakers</em>
SXSW 2013: <em>Museum Hours</em> and <em>Spring Breakers</em>

On Saturday evening here in Austin, I took in a double bill of Jem Cohen’s Museum Hours and Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers. One is a leisurely exploration of Vienna’s high art, life, and history; the other is a hyper-charged tone poem exposing the nightmarish underside of a distinctly 21st-century American dream. Here’s to the extremes of cinema!

Many recent films have billed themselves as “celebrations of the power of art” (Martin Scorsese’s Hugo is one notable example), but few of these self-aware tributes have approached the richness and complexity of Museum Hours. There are signposts of a storyline underpinning Cohen’s film: Johann (Bobby Sommer), an elderly guard at Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum, befriends an American visitor, Anne (Mary Margaret O’Hara), temporarily staying in the city on account of a terribly ill dear friend; because she knows no one else in the city and has little money, she basically spends much of her time talking and exploring the city with Johann, a lonely soul himself. Much of the drama between these two characters revolves around their conversations, and only some of those conversations deal directly with their personal situations, such as they are. Instead, they seem to bond more over talking about art more than anything else, finding ways to connect the art that they see, whether inside the museum or outside of it, to their own lives.