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Danny Boyle (#110 of 9)

Berlinale 2017 Danny Boyle’s T2 Trainspotting

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Berlinale 2017: T2 Trainspotting Review

TriStar Pictures

Berlinale 2017: T2 Trainspotting Review

Compared to its predecessor, T2 Trainspotting is a relatively aimless and sedate experience. But that’s to be expected for a film that’s largely about people trying to move on from the follies of their youth and finding themselves unable to let go of the past. Director Danny Boyle’s style this time around fully reflects this: Dialing down the devil-may-care impulsiveness that he brought to disquietingly exhilarating effect in Trainspotting, he allows a reflective melancholy to seep through even the film’s loosest sections, a quality that was nowhere in evidence in the original because the characters were too busy getting high or trying to avoid falling back into the habit.

Berlinale 2014 The Midnight After

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Berlinale 2014: The Midnight After
Berlinale 2014: The Midnight After

Midway through Fruit Chan’s batshit-insane apocalyptic survivalist comedy The Midnight After, a character remarks, “Hong Kong doesn’t do sci-fi.” Chan’s film feels like a riposte to Hong Kong cinema’s supposed allergy to the genre. It’s also a departure. Not just for a Hong Kong Second Wave filmmaker more associated with telling small, intimate stories about the relationships between people and their community, but for cinema writ large.

First off: The best credit for a film playing at the Berlinale so far goes to The Midnight After’s “Based on the novel by PIZZA.” Adapted from a sci-fi novel original published online (and authored, yes, by “Mr. Pizza”), the film opens with frantic crosscuts showing a group of strangers boarding a late-night bus running between Hong Kong’s Mong Kok and Tai Po districts. Chan’s breathless pace seldom relents as the passengers emerge on the other side of the Lion Rock Tunnel to find the city abandoned. As in Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later, it feels genuinely weird (even uncanny) to a see a city defined by its populous hustle-bustle emptied out. It’s by far the neatest trick Chan pulls off.

Poster Lab: Trance

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Poster Lab: <em>Trance</em>
Poster Lab: <em>Trance</em>

A seemingly unapologetic genre vehicle, Trance looks like Danny Boyle’s first film since Sunshine that won’t become awards bait. Instead, the sci-fi thriller shows goals of stylistic crowd-pleasing, to which Boyle is surely no stranger. An art-world tale sprinkled with hypnotherapy themes, Trance gets artfully literal with its initial UK one-sheet, which comes in three character variations.

The leading image, featuring lead star James McAvoy, warns that his art-auctioneer not “be a hero,” which of course promises plenty of derring-do. The other two, which lay the same design over the faces of Rosario Dawson and Vincent Cassell, offer taglines pertaining to personal security (i.e. “Do You Feel Safe?”). The evidence, including the film’s trailer, suggests a flick that blends The Thomas Crown Affair with Inception, following a man involved with art theft as folks try to retrieve memories from his brain.

Toronto International Film Festival 2010: 127 Hours, Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame, Tabloid, & Guest

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Toronto International Film Festival 2010: <em>127 Hours</em>, <em>Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame</em>, <em>Tabloid</em>, & <em>Guest</em>
Toronto International Film Festival 2010: <em>127 Hours</em>, <em>Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame</em>, <em>Tabloid</em>, & <em>Guest</em>

127 Hours: Danny Boyle’s dramatization of the real-life ordeal of outdoorsman Aron Ralston boasts the kind of conceptual riskiness that a director has the cachet to tackle only after, say, delivering a crowd-pleasing Best Picture Oscar-winner. Unfortunately, it also has Slumdog Millionaire’s brand of exploitative uplift, in which cinematic jazziness is mercilessly employed to sugarcoat portraits of human misery. In the beginning, as he settles in for a weekend of thrills in Utah’s Canyonlands National Park, Ralston (James Franco) is a roguish whirligig, light as air, high on his own breezy confidence. When he falls into a rocky crevice and gets his arm pinned under a boulder, there’s the feeling that he’s experiencing stillness and, subsequently, helplessness for the first time. The five days he spends there, alone but for dwindling supplies, a small digital camera, and a blunt knife, are envisioned by Boyle as a visceral smear of panic, excretions, mirages, and epiphanies. Far more than the filmmaker’s hectic, ultimately tension-dispersing visual and aural gimmickry, the picture’s best special effect remains Franco’s performance, which catches the horror and sublimity of a jock humbled while trapped at the bottom of the earth, becoming spiritually whole even as he literally loses parts of himself.

Oscar 2009 Winner Predictions Director

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Oscar 2009 Winner Predictions: Director
Oscar 2009 Winner Predictions: Director

Dear AMPAS directors’ branch, we’re done now. In years past, we’ve praised you for your odd-man-out nominations, the ones that paid tribute to tomorrow’s masterpieces that were clearly never going to snag nominations in Best Picture (Mulholland Drive, Talk to Her, Vera Drake). We were disappointed in you in 2005, when you snubbed David Cronenberg, Terrence Malick, and Woody Allen in favor of Bennett Miller and Paul Haggis, but we gave you a simple demerit and forgot about the indiscretion as, in the following years, you gave Martin Scorsese and the Coens the chance to accept their long overdue career achievement-in-disguise prizes. That goodwill is gone now and we’re through making excuses for what is fast becoming the most disappointing branch in the entire Academy. You’ve rewarded a particularly unrewarding Best Picture lineup with a Best Director slate that mirrors the academy’s shame in its every elephantine sag. You’ve shown that you’re only a fan of vital auteurs when they reign in and tame everything about themselves that excites their fans (Fincher, Van Sant). You’ve capriciously decided to end your love affair with all things Clint at the precise moment when he makes a zeitgeist-tapping blockbuster. Jesus fucking Christ, you’ve now nominated Stephen Daldry for every goddamned film he’s ever directed! We’re left with no choice now but to remember the bad times. 2001 is no longer the year you nominated David Lynch and Robert Altman but rather the year you didn’t snub Ron Howard, opening the door for his easy win. 2007 is no longer the year you orchestrated a face-off between the Coens and Paul Thomas Anderson but instead the year you declared Jason Reitman cinema’s great white hope. Face it, directors, you are hacks bent on rewarding hackery, as incapable of venerating your reputation against that of the academy-at-large as the academy-at-large was incapable of voting a competitive Oscar into Alfred Hitchcock’s meathooks. To the extent that we give a watery shit, the academy ought to continue riding the Slumdog Millionaire bandwagon here, just as they rode the Brokeback Mountain bandwagon the last time the Picture/Director slates matched exactly. Meanwhile, directors’ branch, I think you better call on Tyrone.

Oscar 2009 Nomination Predictions Director

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Oscar 2009 Nomination Predictions: Director
Oscar 2009 Nomination Predictions: Director

You know the drill: No guild is better at predicting the winner of the Best Picture Oscar than the Directors Guild of America. For Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures, the group this year has thrown its weight behind David Fincher (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight), Ron Howard (Frost/Nixon), Gus Van Sant (Milk), and Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire), and history tells us at least three, most likely four, of these directors will hear their names called when Oscar nominations are announced on Thursday. We think it’ll be four this year, and before you accuse us of wishful thinking when we say Ron Howard will be the odd-man out, let us remind you how Opie was nominated for a DGA in 1986, for Cocoon, but failed to secure an Oscar nomination. Okay, so no one really expected an Oscar nomination to follow that curious DGA acknowledgement, but let us also remember how Opie followed in Steven Spielberg’s footsteps by winning the DGA award a decade later for Apollo 13 but again falling short of an Oscar nomination. Those were merciful snubs, and though AMPAS would finally shine a light on the man for A Beautiful Mind, we’d like to think enough Oscar voters have come around to the embarrassment of that award to refuse the man a chance at another victory lap. Yes, Frost/Nixon’s show-and-tell screenplay and smugness may be up the Academy’s alley, but I can’t be the only one who feels the film has the look of something shot on Michael Douglas’s ginormous Wall Street cellphone. The Academy’s director’s branch is known for giving at least one spot here to industry outsiders, assuming you feel folks like Pedro Almodóvar and Paul Greengrass qualify as such, and though Darren Aronofsky (The Wrestler) fits that criterion quite nicely, so does five-time Oscar nominee Mike Leigh, a surprise Best Director entrant a few years back for Vera Drake and whose Happy-Go-Lucky may be his best work to date. The richness of Leigh’s philosophical inquiry has ironically and tellingly flown over the heads of persons stuck on Sally Hawkins’s performance, but there’s no doubting that the popularity of the film feels as passionate as a ribald flamenco dance—something you could never say about Howard’s frosty motion picture.