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Staff Picks: Movies

Women's History Month Highlights

March is Women’s History Month and so in keeping with the theme of highlighting the achievements and contributions of women involved with movie-making, here’s a list of writers, directors and some of their groundbreaking works.

Ava DuVernay (I Will Follow, Middle of Nowhere, Selma)
Agnes Varda (Cleo from 5 to 7, Vagabond)
Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty)
Lena Dunham (Girls, Tiny Furniture)
Maya Deren (Maya Deren: Experimental Films)
Penny Marshall (A League of Their Own)
Allison Anders (Border Radio)
Claire Denis (White Material, Bastards)
Chantal Akerman (From the Other Side, Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles)
Lynne Ramsay (Ratcatcher)
Ida Lupino (The Hitchhiker)
Elaine May (The Birdcage, A New Leaf)


Master of Alienation

Has there ever been a more handsome cipher than Monica Vitti in L’Eclisse, the third film in a thematic trilogy (L’ Avventura, La Notte) of sorts from Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni. Antonioni’s contribution to film history primarily centers around these three films and their radical break with traditional traits associated with classical movie-making and for their resistance to narrative meaning. Confounding audiences because of their slowly paced plots, minimalist dialogue and murky tones, the films are visual portraits of emotional stasis, spiritual decay and psychic ennui of Italy’s post-war bourgeoisie. 

Inspired by painting and framing scenes from unique perspectives and angles, scenes of L’Eclisse are lined with modern painting’s focus on abstraction and disorientation so as to express the kinds of intense unease of characters and their sense of dread and anxiety. Vitti was the director’s muse both in life and on film during this time period and she more than adequately symbolizes Antonioni’s exploration of modern alienation and its various forms. She knows nothing, feels nothing and floats about the Roman suburbs in a kind of haze of indifference. Recommended for those interested in the art house cinema of the early 1960’s.


A Birdman in the Hand Is Worth 4 Oscars in the Bush

I’m not gonna lie: As much as I personally loved Academy Award Best Picture winner Birdman more than expected winner Boyhood, I’m still shocked that the artsy and eccentric tale of a washed-up superhero actor trying to do “legitimate theater” (and please in your head imagine that pronounced as “theee-ATER”) beat out the wholesome, relatable, coming-of-age tale that was filmed over the course of twelve years.  I’m certainly happy for Birdman—just not so happy about what it did to my Oscar pool.  In addition to Best Picture, Birdman picked up wins for Best Director (Alejandro G. Iñárritu), Best Cinematography (Emmanuel Lubezki) and Best Original Screenplay (Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr. & Armando Bo).

In case you’d like to catch any of the other available Oscar winners that you may have missed, I’ve listed them below. Click on the links and place a hold on a copy today.

  • My favorite film of the year, Whiplash, picked up three wins for Best Supporting Actor (J.K. Simmons), Best Film Editing (Tom Cross), and Best Sound Mixing.
  • Many people won for working on Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel—except poor Wes Anderson himself; the film won for Best Original Score (Alexandre Desplat), Best Costume Design (Milena Canonero), Best Production Design (Adam Stockhausen), and Best Makeup and Hairstyling.
  • Be sure to check out Eddie Redmayne’s Best Actor performance as Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything; it was a well-deserved win.
  • Boyhood's lone win was for Best Supporting Actress (Patricia Arquette).
  • Disney’s Big Hero 6 won for Best Animated Feature; the Best Animated Short winner, Feast, can be found on the Big Hero DVD or Blu-ray.
  • Best Foreign Film winner Ida is amazing and you should watch it--regardless of your unfortunate and snooty hatred of subtitles.

The following winners will be released soon and are available for holds now:

Keep checking back for Still Alice, for which Julianne Moore won Best Actress, Selma, which featured Best Original Song winner “Glory” by John Legend and Common, and must-see Best Documentary Feature winner CitizenFour.  We don’t have releases for these titles yet, but we will assuredly carry them.

 


Wages of Fear

Arguably one of the first great films to seamlessly embody multiple categories of genres including action, drama, social criticism, and suspense, Wages of Fear was a smash hit in France in 1953 for director Henri-Georges Clouzot (the film was infamously censored by the American film industry in 1955 for its suggestive sympathies with leftist politics). Set in an impoverished oil company town in Brazil, an assortment of underemployed European and American expats lament their financial woes and lack of job opportunities at the town’s second most profitable business, the bar. When the oil company seeks out four men willing to drive two trucks filled with containers of nitroglycerin to a part of the country where an oil rig is on fire, four men with very little in common other than their poverty must put aside personal animosity, fear and pride in order to safely arrive in one piece. This is a tense work that will make your palms sweat as you root for the men to survive each obstacle they encounter, knowing that danger lurks around every pothole and pebble in the road.


Romance Is In the Air

If you're looking to supplement your Valentine's Day activities with some movie-watching, here are some standard and not-so standard (the quirky, the weird and the sad) romantic films from the KPL collection.

An Affair to Remember

About Time

The Time Traveler's Wife

Her

The Fault in Our Stars

Love Story

Never Let Me Go

When Harry Met Sally

Notting Hill

Casablanca

Brokeback Mountain

Amelie

Annie Hall

Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, Before Midnight

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Voyage In Italy

Happy Together

In the Mood for Love

2046

Matter of Life and Death

The Age of Innocence

Out of Africa

The Apartment

The Way We Were

Harold and Maude

 

 

 


Ram-Leela: A Bollywood Romeo and Juliet

 When my girls were younger we loved the Bollywood films because they were full of singing, dancing, beautiful costumes, handsome men and gorgeous women. Ram-Leela , a 2013 film directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali , is like that. It has beautiful, beautiful saris, tons of jewelry, a very handsome lead star and the most beautiful heiress. There’s lots of singing and dancing. The film is more modern than I’m used to. The dance moves have lots of hip action and everyone is running around with cell phones and guns.

Ram-Leela is about a couple that falls in love. Their clans have been at war for 5 centuries. Ram is from a crime family and Leela is an heiress, whose mother is ruthless and determined to marry Leela, her jewel, off to a good family. Oh, there are so many surprises with this modern day Romeo and Juliet plot you would think I wouldn’t  be surprised, but I was crushed. Oh and yeah, there are subtitles, but reading the subtitles just kept me glued to the screen. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cLIQzxgFeNE


The French Gangster Film

Writer, actor and filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich once said that it was always the French who told us what was great about American filmmaking, in essence, that the French tended to be more enthusiastic about particular films and filmmakers that were under-appreciated by American audiences and Hollywood studios (examples would include: Orson Welles, Sam Fuller and Howard Hawkes). It was also the French who took the American crime thriller genre and elements of film noir and who with stylish flare re-modeled two decades worth of brilliant movies that depicted criminal protagonists and their anti-social activities (see: Rififi, Bob the Gambler, Les Doulos, Le Samourai, Shoot the Piano Player, and Breathless). 

One of these outstanding films is Touchez Pas Au Grisbi (1954), starring a washed up, leading man (Jean Gabin) and an unknown actress who would become an international star in the coming years (Jeanne Moreau). Everything simply clicks in this Jacques Brecker directed film about an aging gangster who just wants to retire after a big heist. Gabin plays the affable Max, a man who is both loved and respected by the women and fellow mobsters in his life. When his beloved but bumbling side-kick Riton becomes embroiled in a messy dispute with another gangster, Max must choose between his money and his friendship. The title translates as Don’t Touch the Loot but fans of film noir should certainly get their hands on this classic.


Everything Is Oscar

Oscar nominations were announced yesterday, which means it’s once again time for me to let all the obsessive movie lovers out there know which films are available right now (or very soon), here at the Kalamazoo Public Library.

The first film you’ll want to get your hands on is Richard Linklater’s Boyhood.  Nominated for six Academy Awards, this critical darling is the front-runner for Best Picture, Best Director (Linklater) and Best Supporting Actress (Patricia Arquette).  It also received nominations for Best Actor (Ethan Hawke), Film Editing, and Original Screenplay.  Boyhood is an epic coming-of-age tale that was filmed over the course of twelve years using the same actors.  The story follows the journey of young Mason Evans as he ages from six to eighteen, and the viewer can literally watch the young actor grow and mature before their very eyes.  It’s truly a great achievement in filmmaking.

The next movie you’ll want to watch is Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, which received nine nominations—tied for the most this year.  It was recognized for Best Picture, Best Director (Anderson), Original Screenplay, Cinematography, Costume Design, Film Editing, Makeup and Hairstyling, Original Score and Production Design.  The hilarious film follows the exploits of a hotel concierge (Ralph Fiennes) and his lobby boy (Tony Revolori) as they attempt to wrest a valuable painting from the estate of a recently deceased elderly patron.  Surprisingly, this is Anderson’s first Best Director nomination and the first of his films to get nominated for Best Picture.

After that, it might be time for a marathon of Best Visual Effects nominees: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, X-Men: Days of Future Past, and Guardians of the Galaxy (also nominated for Makeup and Hairstyling).  Come to think of it, if there were an Oscar for the length of the movie title, these would probably be the nominees for that as well.

Then turn your eye to Best Animated Feature nominees: How to Train Your Dragon 2 is out now; The Boxtrolls and Big Hero 6 are not available yet, but they will be soon and you can place a hold on them right now.  Shockingly, everything was not awesome for The LEGO Movie, which did not get nominated for Best Animated Feature as expected, but it did still pick up a nomination for Best Original Song with “Everything Is Awesome,” performed by Tegan and Sara (featuring The Lonely Island).

Next, you’ll want to check out Disney’s Maleficent, nominated for Best Costume Design; Finding Vivian Maier, a Best Documentary Feature nominee; Begin Again, Original Song nominee for “Lost Stars”; and Ida, which scored both Best Cinematography as well as Best Foreign Film.

Best Documentary nominee Virunga is available via our streaming service hoopla.

There are several more nominees that are arriving within the next several weeks that you can place a hold on right now, including eight-time nominee The Imitation Game.  This true, tragic story of Alan Turing, father of the modern computer and preeminent World War II code-breaker, scored recognition for Best Picture, Best Director (Morten Tyldum), Best Actor (Benedict Cumberbatch), Best Supporting Actress (Keira Knightley), Adapted Screenplay, Film Editing, Original Score, and Production Design.  The other coming-soon films that you can place a hold on now are Gone Girl (Best Actress – Rosamund Pike), The Judge (Best Supporting Actor – Robert Duvall), Nightcrawler (Original Screenplay), and Beyond the Lights (Original Song).

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 American Sniper (6 nominations), Foxcatcher (5 nominations), Into the Woods (3 nominations), Selma (2 nominations), Inherent Vice (2 nominations), and the aforementioned The Imitation Game (8 nominations).


Year End Favorites from the Movie Collection

The following were my favorite movies of the past year that are available from the KPL movie collection. Some are classics, many are foreign language, a few are funny, and on occasion, a masterpiece or two made the list. There were also the casual discoveries of pulling a movie from the shelf without knowing that much about it and being pleasantly surprised. Hopefully, there's something for everyone to enjoy. It was a good year to cross off a few from my ever-growing bucket list of movies to watch.

The Funny: The Grand Budapest Hotel, Bull Durham, The Big Chill, Bad Words, and The Trip to Italy

The Masterpieces and Classics: Safe, Rififi, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Vanishing, Persona, Double Indemnity, Eternity and a Day, Autumn Sonata, Pierre le Fou, Down By Law, Walkabout, Brute Force, The American Friend, Johnny Guitar, Ida, Hail Mary

The Surprises: Omar, Certified Copy, The Landlord, Black Orpheus, The Double, Still Walking, Secret Sunshine, Purple Noon, Gerry, Mystery Train, Happy Together, 2046, Captain Philips, Bronson

Documentaries: Black Fish, The Punk Singer, Beware Mr. Baker, Benjamin Smoke, The Bones Brigade: An Autobiography, These Birds Walk, Plimpton, The Armstrong Lie, Cousin Jules, Harry Dean Stanton.     

     

 


All Memories Are Traces of Tears

At its core, the Wong Kar-Wai film 2046 (2004) is about the anchor of memory and the struggle to move beyond the emotional stasis of ill-fated love. Developed as an associated sequel to his breathtaking classic In the Mood for Love (2000), it’s a poignant and heart-wrenching follow-up that restarts the story of Mr. Chow, an uninspired writer of pulp whose life as an aloof playboy incapable of emotionally connecting with the several women he encounters both in real life and in literature. While a central character from ITMFL is alluded to several times during the film, often hanging over the plot like a ghostly signifier for Chow’s past, one could conceivably view 2046 as a singular film about the pitfalls of timing but I would highly recommend beginning with ITMFL before undertaking the narratively intricate arcs of 2046 (there are countless allusions to the previous film that will function only to confuse the audience).

Mostly set in Hong Kong during the latter part of the 1960’s, Mr. Chow (played brilliantly by actor Tony Leung) is writing a Science Fiction story about the year 2046, a time and place where people go to relive their memories, a place where nothing changes. No one has ever come back from 2046 except for the teller of the tale, a Japanese man named Tak, a kind of stand-in for Chow. Chow’s unsentimental affair with a call girl who lives in an adjacent apartment (room number 2046) is achingly born out of Chow’s loneliness and boredom with his career but she has an earnest and quixotic plan for him that will force him to address his yearning for a past that has come and gone. Both films masterfully depict moodiness and atmosphere like few others in due part to the sensual cinematography of Christopher Doyle and use of melodic music to evoke the interior longing of characters. Prepare for a non-linear plot that jumps backward and forward throughout the film.