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Once Upon A Time In Anatolia (#110 of 7)

Box Office Rap The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug and the Fantasy-Entertainment Complex

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Box Office Rap: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug and the Fantasy-Entertainment Complex
Box Office Rap: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug and the Fantasy-Entertainment Complex

Confession: I don’t like The Lord of the Rings films. All of them. Well, at least the first three, as I skipped The Hobbit: The Unexpected Journey because of my disdain for its predecessors, and needless to say, I’ll be skipping The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug as well. Of course, millions of others will not be skipping the film this weekend, as it tries to land somewhere in the $80-90 million range, matching the previous film’s performance. For me, director Peter Jackson’s initial trilogy operates on bloated runtimes meant to appease fanboy OCD, including Jackson’s own. The apex of contemporary pop-cultural obsession-as-sickness is no better embodied than by these films, which edify young moviegoers to view film culture as narrative/character/imaginary playtime rather than a mindful and serious medium for artistic expression.

However, rather than further lambast The Hobbit, Jackson, and Warner Bros. for their transparent, masturbatory decisions to turn one novel into three films for means of tripling profits, of more importance this week is examining how critics are responding to The Desolation of Smaug, and the sorts of qualities being sought after in their evaluations of Jackson’s latest. The film currently boasts a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 75%—a full 10% higher than the first installment, though the middling reviews did not negatively affect its box office, as The Unexpected Journey had the highest-grossing opening weekend of any films in the entire franchise. Critic proof, like most franchises, but it nevertheless remains the critic’s role to instruct attentive filmgoers to the qualities worthy of contemplation.

Slant’s Top 25 Films of 2012

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Slant’s Top 25 Films of 2012
Slant’s Top 25 Films of 2012

From Calum Marsh’s introduction to Slant Magazine’s Top 25 Films of 2012: “Two thousand and twelve was, if nothing else, a banner year for uncommonly productive provocation. Audiences were galled by Rick Alverson’s divisive deconstruction of hipsterdom, The Comedy, beguiled by the taciturn charms of Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, and, um, probed by the penetrating cultural criticism of David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis. Masters of cinema both old and new even found time, between saucy bouts of male stripping and fellating chicken parts, to butt heads with every conceivable status quo, grappling admirably with hot-button issues as wide-ranging as colonialism (Tabu), U.S.-endorsed torture (Zero Dark Thirty, maybe or maybe not endorsing it itself), and the very nature of cinema (Jafar Panahi, who didn’t make a ’film’ at all).” 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.

São Paulo International Film Festival 2011: Remembering Leon Cakoff, The Kid with a Bike, & A Trip to the Moon

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São Paulo International Film Festival 2011: Remembering Leon Cakoff, <em>The Kid with a Bike</em>, & <em>A Trip to the Moon</em>
São Paulo International Film Festival 2011: Remembering Leon Cakoff, <em>The Kid with a Bike</em>, & <em>A Trip to the Moon</em>

If you searched for English-language news of Leon Cakoff’s death two Fridays ago at the age of 63 due to complications after a melanoma diagnosis soon after it happened, you would have found only a translated press release. By the time two notices appeared the following Monday—one on MUBI, one on this site—the release was what they leaned on. The lack of writing seemed strange considering who he was.

You may ask, “Who was he?” For starters, he was Manoel de Oliveira’s recent co-producer, and the producer of anthology films featuring segments by directors such as Atom Egoyan, Amos Gitai, Tsai Ming-liang, and Wim Wenders. He was a partner in UniBanco Arteplex, a large Brazilian art-house theater chain. He was, as critic Amir Labaki put it, the only major Brazilian film personality “to write, edit books, produce, direct, act, distribute, and exhibit movies.” Above all, he was the founder of the São Paulo International Film Festival (Mostra), the most recent annual edition of which began this past Thursday, less than a week after his death.

You might not have heard of the festival. That’s not because it’s new: The Mostra is entering its 35th year. It’s the largest festival in Brazil, and one of the largest in Latin America. This year’s edition alone features around 300 titles.

New York Film Festival 2011: Sleeping Sickness and Once Upon a Time in Anatolia

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New York Film Festival 2011: <em>Sleeping Sickness</em> and <em>Once Upon a Time in Anatolia</em>
New York Film Festival 2011: <em>Sleeping Sickness</em> and <em>Once Upon a Time in Anatolia</em>

Ulrich Köhler’s Sleeping Sickness is a two-part gloss on a “white man’s burden” narrative, while Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Once Upon a Time in Anatolia uses the police-procedural form to stage an extended meditation on good, evil, and the many gray areas in between. On the face of it, there isn’t much to connect both of these films, at least stylistically and thematically speaking. Both films try to make something fresh out of familiar tropes, but only one of them is more successful at doing so than the other.

Much of Sleeping Sickness’s journey into one man’s own personal heart of darkness intrigues in the moment. Köhler cleverly throws us into the world of Ebbos Velten (Pierre Bokma) and his family from the start and forces us to piece together the details of these characters and their environment. We soon discover that Ebbos is a physician in charge of a program battling the titular disease in Cameroon, and that he’s been living with his wife, Vera (Jenny Schily), in the sub-Saharan African country for a couple of years now. Absent from their living arrangements, however, is their daughter, Helen (Maria Elise Miller), who’s been going to school back in their home country of Germany; during the first half of the film, though, she’s visiting her parents in Cameroon and generally seems withdrawn from her father as much as she is close to her mother.

New York Film Festival 2011: The Student

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New York Film Festival 2011: <em>The Student</em>
New York Film Festival 2011: <em>The Student</em>

The Student, the debut feature of Argentinean filmmaker Santiago Mitre, is the kind of film that demands an audience’s close attention. But it’s not demanding in the same way as other New York Film Festival selections such as The Loneliest Planet, The Turin Horse, and Once Upon a Time in Anatolia—all films that require viewers to be alert to crucial narrative, thematic, and/or emotional information conveyed almost entirely by images. Mitre’s challenge is on the level of plot and dialogue. In his film, he throws us into the down-and-dirty world of Argentinean politics, at least as encapsulated within a college environment, and expects us to keep up with the various twists and turns of his plot, not always bothering to make specifics comprehensible for a wider international audience. As the film mostly depicts various negotiations for power and control, Mitre’s film ends up being a relentlessly talky affair, with dialogue delivered with the speed of an Aaron Sorkin screenplay.

Cannes Film Festival 2011: Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, Oslo, 31. August, & Predictions

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Cannes Film Festival 2011: <em>Once Upon a Time in Anatolia</em>, <em>Oslo, 31. August</em>, & Predictions
Cannes Film Festival 2011: <em>Once Upon a Time in Anatolia</em>, <em>Oslo, 31. August</em>, & Predictions

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s latest cinematic breadcrumb trail, follows a group of conflicted institutional figures (lawyer, doctor, police chief, mayor) trying to reconcile the difference between public record and fairy tale. Both inevitably become part of the same communal lie, markers of deep-seeded social and familial manipulation. Throughout Ceylan’s sprawling anti-mystery, where these “respected” men escort a criminal around the desolate Turkish countryside fruitlessly trying to find the body of a murder victim, fact and fiction often overlap through lengthy conversations and shared memories. But this isn’t a form of togetherness binding the men. Ceylan is purely interested in slowly unveiling a thematic can of worms that will tear them apart one long take at a time.

Limited character perspective develops mystery and tension during the long and arduous all-night police search. The characters are sectioned off into three vehicles, and we listen in on segments of each group’s meandering displays of verbal one-upmanship. Ceylan weaves the men’s competing voices together in interesting ways, overlapping dialogue and sound design to maximize a sense of character and place. As with Distant, Ceylan revels in hypnotic extreme long shots of the countryside, capturing the wind in the trees, a falling apple rolling down a stream, and the endless rolling hills of Anatolia. His static camera examines long character exchanges from afar, usually in one master shot, extending the duration and importance of seemingly minute details about each character.