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Staff Picks: Movies

My Favorite Movies--D

(D) The Double Life of Veronique

Polish director Krzysztof Kieślowski’s mysteriously elegant film The Double Life of Veronique explores the supernatural tale of two women, played by the same actress, who never literally meet one another. The two look exactly the same with both feeling the presence of the other. Set in both France and Kieslowski’s native Poland, Irene Jacob stars as both Veronique and Weronika, two women living parallel lives, both of whom sense that they are both ‘here’ and ‘somewhere’ else at the same time. Following Weronika’s death while singing on stage in Poland, Veronique seeks answers to her strange feelings while beginning to stitch together an explanation for the odd events that have begun to culminate around her, increasing both her unease and her curiosity. Kieslowski’s masterful films from Blind Chance (1981) onward brilliantly meditate on the role of chance and choice in determining one’s fate.


Tu Dors Nicole

Tu Dors Nicole is a furtive, dreamy, less self-conscious take on post-graduation ennui than The Graduate, Frances Ha, or Ghost World, though all three of these older films contain bits and pieces of material that one locates in this small yet accomplished film set in a suburban Montreal neighborhood. The tone of the film is one of gentle melancholy, a perfectly realized depiction of the awkward transition from blithe privilege to the emotional pangs of adulthood.


My Favorite Movies: A-Z

For this post, the first of 25 to follow, I will be recommending a favorite film from each letter of the alphabet. 

(A) The Assassin (2015)

The winner of last year's Cannes Film Festival's award for best director, The Assassin is a visual feast of expertly composed images, poetically rendered to evoke the immense beauty of China and its complex political history. The plot's obtuse delivery left me in a state of confusion throughout the viewing, which for some, might understandably be a deal breaker. However, fans of slowly drawn out portraits of morally conflicted, trained killers can ignore the clunker of a story line while still appreciating the magnificent imagery.


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.


Liked That, Try This (Oscars Edition)

Liked The Big Short, try Inside Job

Liked Bridge of Spies, try The Spy Who Came in From the Cold

Liked Brooklyn, try In America

Liked Mad Max: Fury Road, try Bellflower

Liked The Martian, try Apollo 13

Liked The Revenant, try Jauja

Liked Room, try The Wolfpack

Liked Spotlight, try All the President’s Men

 


Film Comment Magazine Critics Poll

The editors of Film Comment Magazine have issued their 20 Best Films of 2015 (established by over 100 polled critics) in their newest issue (January/February). Some of the titles have managed to be released on DVD but most have release dates later on this year.

1. Carol
2. The Assassin
3. Mad Max: Fury Road
4. Clouds of Sils Maria
5. Arabian Nights
6. Timbuktu
7. Spotlight
8. Phoenix
9. Inside Out
10. The Look of Silence
11. Hard to Be a God
12. Anomalisa
13. In Jackson Heights
14. Son of Saul
15. Horse Money
16. Jauja
17. Tangerine
18. Brooklyn
19. The Diary of a Teenage Girl
20. Bridge of Spies


Felix & Meira

Felix is single, secular, possibly a bit unfocused, and mourning the loss of his estranged father. Meira is a Hasidic Jew struggling with the fundamentalist constraints imposed on her independence by her devout, rules-first husband. Neither character is particularly happy but when by chance they meet in their Montreal neighborhood, romantic sparks fly as they both locate comfort in one another’s company. It’s a sensitive, thoughtful film that explores the fraught intersection between religious traditions, personal choices and the limits of desire.


10 Films from the 1940s

It was the decade fraught with world war and its aftermath, the decade that ushered into homes a little box with moving images, the decade that saw the birth of American consumerism, and the decade that gave us cinematic masterpieces like Citizen Kane, Bicycle Thieves, Casablanca, The Third Man, and Double Indemnity. Here are 10 other classic films from the decade worth checking out.

The Philadelphia Story
The Big Sleep
The Best Years of Our Lives
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
The Maltese Falcon
Lady Eve
Notorious
Black Narcissus
The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp
Rome Open City


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.


A Masterpiece Born Again

I don’t like to throw around the term ‘masterpiece’ when describing a movie unless I really think it warrants such a superlative. So without any trepidation, I can easily suggest that the newly restored version of the 1955 film Pather Panchali (the first film in the Apu Trilogy) fits into that small pantheon of films whose artistry transcends time and whose universal themes and capacity to expand our understanding of the human condition set them apart from the mass of ‘very good’ films.

Essentially, a film without a standard, narrative plot, Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali sets out to simply depict with a poetic lens, the mundane life of a poor Bengali family and their everyday struggles to survive in a style similar to Italian neo-realism. There are beautifully rendered moments of joy, discovery and love intercut between the often trying financial circumstances faced by the family (the elderly auntie, Apu and his sister Durga) but a great deal of the emotional power of the film centers around the desire for a better life, specifically expressed by the resolute but forlorn matriarch and the teenage Durga, whose transition to adulthood is heartbreakingly portrayed. What makes this an even more remarkable achievement is that this was Ray’s debut film, having worked as a graphic designer before embracing the art of cinema. As perfect a film as the equally significant Bicycle Thieves, Ray’s masterwork portrays marginalized and everyday people with sympathy and with a caring respect for their stories of hope and toil.