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Willem Dafoe (#110 of 22)

Oscar 2018 Winner Predictions Supporting Actor

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Oscar 2018 Winner Predictions: Supporting Actor

Fox Searchlight Pictures

Oscar 2018 Winner Predictions: Supporting Actor

Frances McDormand will all but certainly reap the benefit of staying true to form and eschewing the bulk of the Oscar campaigning playbook, thereby avoiding having to utter any defenses for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, unquestionably this year’s most #problematic awards contender. Sam Rockwell, conversely, has spent Oscar season staying true to himself and doing everything within his power to charm voters and please crowds. The results have been defter than even his ever-reliable fancy feet. He joked through his Golden Globes acceptance speech, admitting that after a career filled with indie films—and, you know, Charlie’s Angels—it was nice to be in something that people actually saw and thanking writer-director Martin McDonagh for “not being a dick.” He reasserted his renegade-outsider cred by dutifully clocking in at Studio 8H and then lacing one of his Saturday Night Live skits with an impromptu, live-TV four-letter word. He kept his tongue firmly planted in cheek even as he allowed a cardboard cutout of Agnès Varda to upstage him and everyone else at the Oscar nominees luncheon.

Hope and Chaos: The Sixth Annual Los Cabos International Film Festival

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Hope and Chaos: The Sixth Annual Los Cabos International Film Festival

Forager Films

Hope and Chaos: The Sixth Annual Los Cabos International Film Festival

Watching Australian director Jennifer Peedom’s Mountain one morning at the sixth annual Los Cabos International Film Festival, I was struck by the fullness of the auditorium and by the prominence of children in the audience. Peedom’s film is an essayistic documentary about humankind’s relationship with mountains all over the world, with tender, ruefully poetic narration (spoken by Willem Dafoe) that emphasizes how our appreciation of nature can morph into an urge to conquer it, rendering the wild another of the controlled habitats from which we seek refuge. Mountain isn’t what Americans would designate a “children’s film,” as we have a habit of parking young ones in front of whatever A.D.D.-afflicted cartoon happens to be topping the box office at any given moment. It was gratifying to see such a varied audience turn out for Mountain, imparting hope as to the communal possibilities of cinema in the 21st century. Of course, many of the children were whispering and running around the theater, seemingly bored with the film in front of them, but at least they evinced some effort and curiosity.

Kenneth Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express, Starring Johnny Depp and Daisy Ridley, Gets First Trailer

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Kenneth Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express, Starring Johnny Depp and Daisy Ridley, Gets First Trailer

20th Century Fox

Kenneth Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express, Starring Johnny Depp and Daisy Ridley, Gets First Trailer

Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express is among the English writer’s most acclaimed novels. Published in 1934, it sees master detective Hercule Poirot traveling to London, after a pit stop in Istanbul (by way of Aleppo no less), on the Simplon-Orient Express, where he meets Mr. Samuel Ratchett, a malevolent American who fears for his life. A day later and the train is caught in the snow, and when one of the passengers is discovered murdered, it’s up to Poirot to solve the crime.

Toronto International Film Festival 2014 Pasolini, Tales, & Don’t Go Breaking My Heart 2

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Toronto International Film Festival 2014: Pasolini, Tales, & Don’t Go Breaking My Heart 2
Toronto International Film Festival 2014: Pasolini, Tales, & Don’t Go Breaking My Heart 2

Abel Ferrara’s Pasolini may not be the finest film playing at Toronto this year, but this wholly unconventional biopic manages to stick in the brain like few I’ve seen so far. Taking for its subject only the last day of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s life, the film should, by normal generic conventions, be nothing more than foreshadowing for Pasolini’s grisly murder. Instead, it’s almost defiantly banal, focused on the simple tasks of making art, such as reviewing rushes, typing and revising copy, and workshopping ideas with peers and loved ones. In terms of commitment and research and all the other method trappings that turn real lives into showboating for actors, Willem Dafoe brings little more than his slight resemblance to Pasolini, an extraordinarily freeing decision that, in classic Ferrara style, deliberately foregrounds the actor’s own identity along with the character’s, making plain the work of acting just as the film itself looks at the other elements of artistic production.

BAFICI 2014 Streets of Fire, Stray Dogs, Only Lovers Left Alive, & Norte, the End of History

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BAFICI 2014: Streets of Fire, Stray Dogs, Only Lovers Left Alive, & Norte, the End of History
BAFICI 2014: Streets of Fire, Stray Dogs, Only Lovers Left Alive, & Norte, the End of History

The Buenos Aires International Festival of Independent Film seems to channel the sheer variety of the Internet, where it seems all movies from all eras are available. During 10 days, all sorts of films are made available at several venues within the Argentine capital, from horror flicks to forgotten commercial failures, classic studio productions, modern art-house fare, and experimental cinema. BAFICI seems to pride itself on its eclectic selection, and its broad pickings allow audience members to trace surprising connections between movies that might appear to have nothing else in common outside their shared inclusion in a festival. A sort of creative viewership is encouraged, as one comes to realize that an American rock fable, a miserablist Taiwanese drama, a visual poem with vampires, and an epic about social and political traumas in the Philippines have plenty in common.

Walter Hill’s unsung Streets of Fire and Tsai Ming-liang’s Stray Dogs have probably never been mentioned in the same sentence. Seen back to back, they reveal strikingly similar qualities, as both might or might not be science-fiction films. Streets of Fire is set in a fantasy land, which mixes costumes and vehicles from the 1950s with the urban squalor of the 1980s. When a motorcycle gang, led by fresh-faced Willem Dafoe, kidnaps a local pop singer (Diane Lane), it’s up to the gruff masculine hero played by Michael Paré to save the day. There are references to an unnamed war and the city appears to be in a state of crisis (its police force is sorely understaffed and justice is meted out by civilians). The characters are so conventional that they recede into the background as they follow archetypal signposts, and because their exploits are so predictable, the environment absorbs our attention instead. Diners and theaters from the American Graffiti years have decayed underneath rubble and trash. In an abandoned factory, the motorcycle gang has established a decadent bar where naked dancers strike aggressive poses, using their sexuality as a weapon. Having been recently and luminously restored, Streets of Fire plays differently today than it did back in 1984. What was originally a blend between the present and the past is now the combination of two different pasts, which together suggest a kind of future.

Berlinale 2014 Nymphomaniac: Volume I

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Berlinale 2014: Nymphomaniac: Volume I
Berlinale 2014: Nymphomaniac: Volume I

The first half of Lars von Trier’s probable masterpiece, Nymphomaniac, arrives on eddies of a “playful” publicity campaign that threatened to flatten the licentiousness (and even the straight-up sexiness) of the subject matter into a string of dopey gags. A series of posters featuring ASCII-rendered genitalia and photos capturing its international cast mid-coitus, were mischievous in a way consistent with von Trier’s own smirking, ludic impishness—the pranksterish postures that ignite even his worst and most boring work.

At the risk of whittling one of the most thorny, interesting, and exasperating of living filmmakers down to a single problem, the central concern (for me, at least) with von Trier and his films is that this playfulness rather easily teeters into boring didacticism. His button-pushing provocations—both in terms of his films’ frequently controversial material (rape, depression, mental retardation, racism, more rape) and the ideas (or discernible whiffs of ideas) that drive them—become needling and banal.

It’s like we’re constantly asked to take for granted that von Trier is playing his own devil’s advocate, putting across visions of nihilistic reckoning, sneering at the feeble human soul’s instinctual gravitation toward corruptibility and self-pollution, while simultaneously being asked to believe that he somehow believes the opposite. He angers and riles us and ignites the passion and intellect, while not really meaning any of it, off in the corner with that shit-eating grin on his face offered up as some mawkish mea culpa. He’s like Gabbo on The Simpsons, bashfully offering little else in his own defense beyond, basically, “I’m a bad widdle boy.” It’s infuriating. And much more so because it’s meant to be exactly that.

Berlinale 2014 The Grand Budapest Hotel

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Berlinale 2014: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Berlinale 2014: The Grand Budapest Hotel

At their worst, Wes Anderson’s films are mere showpieces. They’re meticulously stage-managed, lavishly appointed cross-sectional dollhouses erected as staging grounds for their director’s rarely not enervating quirks and obvious opportunities for Hollywood A-listers to recharge their thespian cache. (The idea that Anderson is an “actor’s director”—as if there’s another kind?—has always smacked bogus, given that to perform in a Wes Anderson movie is generally to perform in a self-consciously stilted, nouveau-Victorian, drained, and affectless pantomime that would play as totally unchallenging were it not so observably different.) And in the best cases, Anderson squares his paisley trick-bag of Godardian compositions and book of vintage carpet samples with a congruent thematic meaning. In 2011’s excellent Moonrise Kingdom, Anderson’s incurable nostalgia was a nostalgia for the lost summers of childhood. Here, in The Grand Budapest Hotel, which is either his best film or his best film since his last film, it’s the waning of historical memory, of the past slipping irretrievably beyond some distant horizon.

Review: The Life and Death of Marina Abramović

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Review: <em>The Life and Death of Marina Abramović</em>
Review: <em>The Life and Death of Marina Abramović</em>

The Museum of Modern Art’s 2010 exhibition of performance artist Marina Abramović’s life work, five years after the Guggenheim allowed her to “re-perform” seven performances by herself and others, cemented Abramović’s conversion into performance art’s ruling figure, at once parent to the form and gatekeeper of its history, at least in the public imagination. Those who’ve accused her of crossing the thin line from self-sacrificing hero to self-aggrandizing celebrity will likely be further displeased by The Life and Death of Marina Abramović, an impressionistic theatrical biography co-authored and co-starring Abramović, and designed and directed by Robert Wilson. Here we see Abramović as a living saint, already transubstantiated.

The evening is framed as a funeral for Abramović (newspapers are distributed to the audience with the headline, “ARTIST MARINA ABRAMOVIĆ DIES AT 67”), who begins by lying in a white robe on a coffin-shaped table and ends drifting into the air in the same gown. She’s flanked by two women, and in the finale a triptych of black crows peppers the sky. The two-and-a-half-hour work might have been called The Passion of Marina.

Poster and Trailer Drop for Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel

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Poster and Trailer Drop for Wes Anderson’s <em>The Grand Budapest Hotel</em>
Poster and Trailer Drop for Wes Anderson’s <em>The Grand Budapest Hotel</em>

Assuming he’s one filmmaker who’s heavily involved with the marketing of his movies, Wes Anderson has become a master of the fetching teaser poster, using mysteriously detailed, illustrative one-sheets that only hint at what the given film is about. Recently, the posters for his films fall somewhere in between those that peddle attractive casts and director-as-brand, and those that merely tease a brand itself. Anderson is so unfailingly unique and exciting a filmmaker that he has become his own draw, but he doesn’t seem to rely on that, nor do his marquee names seem to be scrawled across his ads just to sell his pictures. They’re doing that, of course, but given that Anderson has come to work with recurring players in a kind of company, the cast list reads more as a celebration of an ensemble, particularly when the biggest name in the lineup is Bill Murray. And how glorious it is to gaze upon a poster that is pushing nothing recognizable, no known faces or logos, but simply something curious, handsome, and new.

Twice in a row, Anderson has employed this specific approach, first with last year’s poster for Moonrise Kingdom, which we named one of the best movie posters of 2012, and now with his poster for The Grand Budapest Hotel, unveiled just days ago. Like the Moonrise Kingdom ad, we’re given a fairy-tale tableau, with an unfamiliar subject in the foreground (here, the titular inn substituted for a Hansel-and-Gretel duo), and a background that stretches off to the horizon. Furthermore, the wedding-cake-esque hotel is surrounded by numerous quirky details, like the perched buck that appears statuesque, the topiaries on the lower terrace that seem to be playing chess with one another, and the cemetery-style arch that bears the movie’s title, perhaps implying that death is afoot.

Summer of ‘88 Fathers and Sons: The Last Temptation of Christ

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Summer of ‘88: Fathers and Sons—The Last Temptation of Christ
Summer of ‘88: Fathers and Sons—The Last Temptation of Christ

I. Spreading the Word

I say this with love: My father is a master of rhetoric. He is a master of rhetoric without, by his own admission, ever having mastered anything to do with rhetoric. I think he’s too hard on himself. His style of argumentation is blunt, yet nimble, as straightforward as a battering ram, yet maddeningly hard to pin down (as another subversive, Ernst Lubitsch, was summed up by the Production Code, “We know what he’s saying, but we can’t figure out how he’s saying it”). He’ll keep hammering the same point over and over again, until you think you’ve got him, whereby he’ll swerve with surprising dexterity. Approaching 80, my father is typically right-of-center on most political and social issues, except when it comes to religion. Stephanie Zacharek’s description of Pauline Kael suits him on one point only: He has no truck with God. Even the renowned theologians of history would have had their hands full with his Columbo-like oratory (“Oh, yeah, just one more question…”). Augustine would have retaken to drink. Pascal would have lost his wager. Erasmus would have turned agnostic.