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Jeffrey Wright (#110 of 4)

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.

15 Famous Movie Heavens

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15 Famous Movie Heavens
15 Famous Movie Heavens

No, this list-maker hasn’t had the pleasure of devouring Kate Hudson’s ticking-clock romance, A Little Bit of Heaven, which sees everyone’s favorite Almost Famous alum continue to chase her first hit like an undiscerning free-baser. The movie did, however, inspire thoughts of cinema’s approach to the great hereafter, which has been visualized as everything from an inhabitable oil painting to your good old field of clouds. Diagnosed with terminal cancer by a doctor (Gael García Bernal) who in turn becomes her squeeze, Hudson’s character tries for a little heaven on earth before her time runs out. These 15 heavens, however, almost all exist on another plane.

SXSW 2011: Source Code

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SXSW 2011: <em>Source Code</em>
SXSW 2011: <em>Source Code</em>

Based on Duncan Jones’s first two feature films, Moon and now Source Code, the latter of which had its world premiere Friday night here at SXSW, one could say that Jones has a knack not for putting across breathtakingly original ideas in a breathtakingly original way, but for putting across familiar ideas with enough skill, intelligence, and heart to make the end result seem fresh enough. Moon at first played like basically a cross between 2001: A Space Odyssey and Solaris, right down to its white-dominated production design, until it gradually began to stake out its own distinctive thematic and emotional territory. Source Code similarly begins in a manner that suggests it’s going to be merely a rehash of films ranging from Groundhog Day to The Manchurian Candidate, but the film eventually develops an identity of its own, thanks in part to Ben Ripley’s structurally brilliant script and the committed performances of its cast.

Oscar 2009 Nomination Predictions: Supporting Actor

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Oscar 2009 Nomination Predictions: Supporting Actor
Oscar 2009 Nomination Predictions: Supporting Actor

Why a person is nominated for a supporting actor or actress Oscar often has a lot to do with riding coattails, which probably explains why it takes so long for awards prognosticators to pin down the nominees in these two categories: It’s all about waiting to see which films catch fire at the box office—or on the blogosphere, where most Oscar campaigns seem to be launched nowadays. At the start of the awards season, which begins for some almost as soon as the credits roll on any given year’s Oscar ceremony, few of this year’s likely nominees seemed to be on anyone’s radar. Even Heath Ledger, whose death has been largely attributed to his intense thesping as the Joker in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, was making few shortlists many months ago until everyone collectively agreed that a nomination for the late actor would be something more than just a gesture of remorse. Another sure lock, Robert Downey Jr. will receive his first nomination in more than a decade for his role in Ben Stiller’s wretched Tropic Thunder in a bid that seems less like a reward than a consolation for there being no room for him in the Best Actor category for his performance in Iron Man. And seeing as Sean Penn and Meryl Streep are locks in the Best Actor and Actress categories, it seems impossible to imagine Josh Brolin and Philip Seymour Hoffman missing out here given how their respective performances in Milk and Doubt are inextricably bound to those of their costars. That leaves one wild spot, and though we’re tempted to give it to Dev Patel for Slumdog Millionaire, to do so would acknowledge that the Screen Actors Guild nailed this lineup when the group announced its nominees several weeks ago, but SAG has accurately forecasted the five nominees in this category exactly once. So, assuming Patel is unable to ride the immense success and popularity of Slumdog to a nomination, that leaves the fifth spot open for either Michael Shannon or Eddie Marsan. Though Shannon has gotten raves across the board for his memorable performance as a mental patient in Revolutionary Road, the buzz surrounding Sam Mendes’s prestige picture fizzled out almost as soon as it came out. Months ago, no one was raving as loudly about Marsan’s turn as a lunatic driving instructor in Mike Leigh’s Happy-Go-Lucky, but just as the collective critical community has practically made Sally Hawkins a frontrunner in the Best Actress category, they’ve also made Marsan something of one here. It’ll be a close one, but we say: En Ra Ha!

Will Be Nominated: Josh Brolin (Milk), Robert Downey Jr. (Tropic Thunder), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Doubt), Heath Ledger (The Dark Knight), and Eddie Marsan (Happy-Go-Lucky)

Should Be Nominated: Bill Irwin (Rachel Getting Married), John Malkovich (Burn After Reading), Eddie Marsan (Happy-Go-Lucky), Danny McBride (Pineapple Express), and Jeffrey Wright (Cadillac Records)

This blog entry was originally published on Slant Magazine on the date above.