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Staff Picks: Movies

The (Fury) Road to Oscars

The 88th Academy Awards are less than a month away, so if you want to catch up on some of the nominees, the Kalamazoo Public Library can help you out! The following is a list of Oscar-nominated films that are available right now (or very soon) here at KPL:

Summer blockbuster (and, full disclosure, my favorite film of the year) Mad Max: Fury Road received ten nominations for Best Picture, Best Director (George Miller), Cinematography, Film Editing, Costume Design, Visual Effects, Makeup & Hairstyling, Production Design, and Sound Mixing & Editing.

Another popular Best Picture nominee, The Martian, scored a Best Actor nod for Matt Damon, as well as nominations for Best Adapted Screenplay (Drew Goddard), Production Design, Visual Effects, and Sound Mixing & Editing.

Steven Spielberg’s Cold War drama Bridge of Spies was recognized for Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Mark Rylance), Best Original Screenplay (Matt Charman, Joel & Ethan Coen), Original Score (Thomas Newman), Production Design, and Sound Mixing.

The riveting thriller Sicario received nominations for Best Original Score (Jóhann Jóhannsson), Best Cinematography, and Best Sound Editing.

Sci-fi thriller Ex Machina received nominations for Best Visual Effects and Best Original Screenplay (Alex Garland).

Three of the Best Animated Feature nominees are currently available: When Marnie Was There, Shaun the Sheep Movie, and Inside Out (which was also nominated for Best Original Screenplay).

Don’t miss must-see Best Documentary Feature nominees The Look of Silence and Amy.

Kenneth Branaugh’s Cinderella received a nomination for Best Costume Design.

The Hunting Ground and Fifty Shades of Grey received Best Original Song nominations.

The cumbersomely-titled The 100 Year-Old Man Who Climbed out the Window and Disappeared was nominated for Best Makeup & Hairstyling.

All-around juggernaut Star Wars: The Force Awakens received five nominations including Best Original Score (John Williams), Best Film Editing, Visual Effects, and Sound Mixing & Editing. The film is not available yet, but John Williams’ Oscar-nominated music is.

The nominees that are not yet available, but are expected within the month are Straight Outta Compton, Spectre, Creed, and Room. You can place a hold on these right now.

So start binging today, and be sure to keep checking our catalog for other Oscar nominated films as more of them become available. For many of the Oscar nominated films that are still in theaters, be sure to check out downtown Kalamazoo’s Alamo Drafthouse Theater, which is currently playing The Revenant (12 nominations), The Big Short (5 nominations), Carol (6 nominations), and the 2016 Oscar nominated shorts, both Live Action and Animated.


The Master of Suspense

Later this Spring, a documentary filmed called Hitchcock/Truffaut (based upon the seminal book) will once again draw our attention to the brilliant career of arguably the art form’s most important director. Over the last couple of years, his life and career have been the subject of two different films (The Girl and Hitchcock). His 1958 psycho-drama Vertigo was deemed the number one “greatest” film by a collection of critics in 2012, replacing the once immovable Citizen Kane. Often deemed the ‘master of suspense’, Hitchcock’s influence can be seen in the work of filmmakers as different as Brian De Palma, Wes Anderson, Martin Scorsese, and David Fincher. For the uninitiated, give the following classics a try: Pyscho (1960), The Birds (1963), Vertigo (1958), Rear Window (1954), North by Northwest (1959), and The 39 Steps (1935).


The Best Films of 2015 (So Far)

Year-end film lists are always difficult to make in a timely fashion for those of us who don’t live in a large city. A sizeable chunk of the movies that compete for awards tend to be released in only a handful of markets late in the year so that they can capitalize on nominations and guild recognitions; most of us won’t have the opportunity to catch them at our local Alamo Drafthouse until January or February. It is with this caveat that I recap my early best-of list, acknowledging that many of the season’s big contenders have yet to be screened, and others have not yet hit DVD.

Available now:

Mad Max: Fury Road – George Miller’s masterpiece of dystopian demolition is the most exciting, progressive, and visually-stunning blockbuster in recent memory. I’m as surprised as you are.

It Follows – This slow-burn, instant-classic horror film somehow manages to make you both claustrophobic and agoraphobic at the same time.

Inside Out  – The folks at Pixar prove their genius once again with this profound exploration of the emotions of a young girl struggling with the challenges of growing up.

Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief – This eye-opening documentary reveals the dark, tragic truth behind L. Ron Hubbard’s institutional legacy of tax evasion, blackmail, manipulation, and physical & emotional cruelty.

The Hunting Ground – Anyone who has a child in college needs to see this disturbing documentary about the legacy of sexual abuse that takes place on campuses across the country—and the shocking lengths to which universities will go to cover it all up.

What We Do in the Shadows – This hilarious vampire mockumentary from one-half of Flight of the Conchords rivals any of Christopher Guest’s improvised comedies.

Ex-Machina – This dark sci-fi film about artificial intelligence features stellar performances from Oscar Isaac and Alicia Vikander.

Mr. Holmes – Ian McKellen shines as a 93-year-old Sherlock Holmes who’s struggling to solve one final case despite dealing with increased memory loss.

Coming soon:

The Look of Silence – This must-see companion piece to the 2013 documentary The Act of Killing explores the Indonesian genocide from the point of view of the victims who still live under the regime that murdered their friends and family.

The Martian Matt Damon gets left behind on Mars and we’re all the better for it.

SicarioEmily Blunt is terrific as a tactical expert who gets trapped in the dark, seedy political underbelly of the war on drugs. The film contains some of the most breath-taking scenes of suspense put on screen this year.

99 Homes Michael Shannon chews the scenery as a real estate operative who evicts people from their homes in this thrilling exploration of the darkest side of the housing crisis. 

Other films I enjoyed this year that aren’t available yet include Steve Jobs, Brooklyn, Spotlight, Bridge of Spies, Creed, Room, and a little can-do picture called Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Check them out in theaters or look for them on DVD in the next few months. I’ll be sure to give you a final top ten list right around Oscar time, as that’s when I’ve usually had a chance to see many more contenders.


2015 National Film Registry

Earlier this week, the Library of Congress announced the 25 films selected for this year's National Film Registry. “Under the terms of the National Film Preservation Act, each year the Librarian of Congress names to the National Film Registry 25 motion pictures that are ‘culturally, historically or aesthetically’ significant. The films must be at least 10 years old. The Librarian makes the annual registry selections after conferring with the distinguished members of the National Film Preservation Board and Library film staff, as well as considering thousands of public nominations.”

Here are the 2015 selections:

Being There (1979)
Black and Tan (1929)
Dracula (Spanish language version) (1931)
Dream of a Rarebit Fiend (1906)
Eadweard Muybridge, Zoopraxographer (1975)
Edison Kinetoscopic Record of a Sneeze (1894)
A Fool There Was (1915)
Ghostbusters (1984)
Hail the Conquering Hero (1944)
Humoresque (1920)
Imitation of Life (1959)
The Inner World of Aphasia (1968)
John Henry and the Inky-Poo (1946)
L.A. Confidential (1997)
The Mark of Zorro (1920)
The Old Mill (1937)
Our Daily Bread (1934)
Portrait of Jason (1967)
Seconds (1966)
The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
Sink or Swim (1990)
The Story of Menstruation (1946)
Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One (1968)
Top Gun (1986)
Winchester '73 (1950)

The Librarian of Congress is already accepting nominations from the public for 2016. The nomination form is here.


Liked That, Try This(1)

And another installment of Liked That, Try This

Liked The Lives of Others, try Barbara
Liked Mad Max: Fury Road, try The Rover
Liked Me, Earl and the Dying Girl, try Dope
Liked Selma, try In the Name of the Father
Liked M.A.S.H. try Bulworth
Liked Wonder Boys, try The Extra Man
Liked All That Heaven Allows, try Far from Heaven


Fuzzy Memories

Memory loss, amnesia and the human tendency to construct images and establish narratives in the service of making sense of the past has long fascinated filmmakers, writers and artists. The ‘unreliable narrator’ has been employed by many a director and writer to create a world of uncertainty and suspense within the mind of the viewer. I enjoy films that explore the discontinuity and fallibility of our memories in the service of depicting the unstable character of our perception toward others, including our own limitations of understanding of the self. This depiction of the cruelty of unpredictability has found its way inside the DNA of countless films that have dealt with the subject in varied ways, some through the vehicle of a character’s mind and others through a narrative approach.

Hiroshima Mon Amour
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Memento
Away from Her
Total Recall
Trance
Before I Go to Sleep
The Vow
Last Year at Marienbad
The Bourne Trilogy
Dark City
The Long Kiss Goodnight


Wings of Desire

I haven’t watched Wings of Desire in quite some time but it’s a film that crossed my mind this afternoon after reading a news article about the singer Nick Cave (he makes a cameo late in the film). It’s a wonderful film directed by the German Wim Wenders and starring a fantastic Bruno Ganz, the American actor Peter Falk and Otto Sander. Hailed by critics upon its release in 1987, it’s a story about two angels (Damiel and Cassiel) stuck inside of a kind of purgatorial state, neither heaven nor hell, where angels are continuously present but without the benefit of the senses. The two of them wander the streets and drift about the West Berlin citizenry, unseen by everyone but children. They provide solace to the suffering and observe the human condition in all of its messy beauty, cruelty and chance. Ganz’s Damiel grows increasingly frustrated with this kind of aloof, calcified perfection. His wanting to know and to feel the emotional rawness of the human experience positions him in opposition to his duties. The desire to love and be loved, to taste both joy and pain begins to out weight the promise of an immortal yet detached life (one born before there were humans) of angelic service. Wenders has constructed a poetic fable about the embrace of life without the trappings of sentimentality.


Let the Fright One In

I am a fan of good horror, though good horror can be hard to find. If you’re looking to settle down with a top-notch scary movie for Halloween, here are some recommendations for you:

It Follows  – Hailed as an instant classic upon its release earlier this year, this unnerving, Detroit-based film centers around a curse that passes from person to person in which a terrifying, body-jumping entity pursues the victim ceaselessly—and you don’t want to be caught by it!

The Babadook  – Imagine Tim Burton wanted to use his storybook style to make you soil your pants. That’s what the titular creature in this Australian thriller feels like. Top it off with an unhealthy dose of the parental stress that comes with being a single parent raising a child with severe emotional problems, and you’ve got an intense, teeth-grinding thriller!

Let the Right One In  – When an emotionally-abused boy befriends the strange new girl next door, who happens to be a vampire subsisting off blood reaped in a most unseemly manner, the two socially isolated creatures form a relationship that leads to both brutal vengeance and unnerving consequences.

28 Days Later/28 Weeks Later – Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle kicked the (then un-played out) zombie genre into high gear by making his rage virus-infected undead fast! Both the original and the sequel provided plenty of both scares and social commentary.

The Cabin in the Woods  – This horror-comedy is at once an homage to popular genre tropes throughout the ages, and a gory, twisty, laugh-out-loud thriller in and of itself. From producer, co-writer, and all-around geek guru Joss Whedon, this is one scary Cabin you want to visit!

Tucker & Dale vs. Evil – A couple of bumbling rednecks attempt to have relaxing vacation at a cabin out in the woods, but are mistaken for murderous lunatics by a gang of college kids who keep dying off through gory-yet-hilarious accidents.

 


Howard Hawks

The great American director Howard Hawks was part of the Hollywood studio system for most of his career and yet he was still able to produce high-quality films that were both praised by critics and commercially successful. Like his contemporary Billy Wilder, Hawks was adept at moving seamlessly from genre to genre, directing westerns, crime dramas and screwball comedies. Hawks was a rebellious figure who worked within the conservative dictates of the Hollywood system in order to remain employable but at the same time his films often subverted social norms and expectations by countering dominant cultural narratives. Hawks worked with John Wayne in Rio LoboRed River and Rio Bravo, doing much to reconfigure Wayne's macho, heroic screen image. Considered by critics to be one of the most important American directors to have influenced the French New Wave and New American Cinema movement of the 1960’s, Hawks’ films have an edge and emotional complexity to them that distinguish them from the more formulaic pap of the era. Standouts include: Red River, Rio Bravo, His Girl Friday, Only Angels Have Wings, The Big Sleep, Bringing Up Baby and Scarface.


Liked This, Try That

And we come to another installment of Liked This, Try That…our imperfect but always enthusiastically crafted form of cinema advisory. 

Liked Jauja, try Meek's Cutoff 

Liked Harry and Tonto, try Next Stop, Greenwich Village

Liked The Imitation Game, try A Beautiful Mind

Liked Frances Ha, try Damsels in Distress

Liked The Fault in Our Stars, try Me, Earl and the Dying Girl

Liked Ida, try Au Hasard Balthazar

Liked Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, try Taste of Cherry

Liked The Lives of Others, try Goodbye Lenin

Liked The Third Man, try The Complete Mr. Arkadin a.k.a. Confidential Report