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Archive for December 14th, 2009

Screen Cap from Kathryn Bigelow’s ‘The Hurt Locker,’ Critics’ Darling

 by Sam Juliano

       The New York Film Critics Circle this afternoon named the realistic Iraqi war picture The Hurt Locker as the ‘Best of 2009’ following the lead yesterday by the Los Angeles critics in a rare instance of solidarity that would seem to place the film as the Oscar favorite ahead of the early leader, Jason Reitman’s Up in the Air.  The film’s director, Kathryn Bigelow was named best as well, another repeat of the L.A. balloting on Sunday.  The following is the full result from the N.Y. polling:

  • Best Film: The Hurt Locker
  • Best Director: Kathryn BigelowThe Hurt Locker
  • Best Screenplay: In the Loop
  • Best Actress: Meryl StreepJulie & Julia
  • Best Actor: George ClooneyUp In The Air and Fantastic Mr. Fox
  • Best Supporting Actress: Mo’NiquePrecious
  • Best Supporting Actor: Christoph WaltzInglourious Basterds
  • Best Cinematography: Christian Berger The White Ribbon
  • Best Animated Film: Fantastic Mr. Fox
  • Best Non-fiction Film: Of Time and the City
  • Best Foreign Language Film: Summer Hours
  • Best First Feature: Hunger, director Steve McQueen
  • Special Award: To Andrew Sarris – his contribution to film criticism

     I was most disappointed with the top two acting prizes, though I did like Streep as Julia Child  moderately.  Colin Firth and Abbie Cornish gave the best performances in leading roles this year in A Simple Man and Bright Star respectively.  But a number of the other choices here were fine, and I look forward to discussing them in the comment thread.

     Thanks to Craig Kennedy at LIC for the superlative announcement post,  from which I took down the winners.

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Still from Tom Ford's Film 'A Simple Man', Image Net
                        Colin Firth and Julianne Moore in “A Single Man”
by Sam Juliano
     As the Christmas shopping season reaches its’ peak, movie goers continue to seek out the last remaining prestige pictures leading up to all the year-end awards and critics ten-best lists.  After a busy weekend, which yielded some surprises good and bad, there are only a few major releases left before the year’s end:  Avatar, Sherlock Holmes and Crazy Heart seem to be the ones attracting the most interest.
     At Wonders in the Dark, a number of threads attracted excellent response including Joel Bocko’s Best of the 21st Century?, Allan’s #1 post on Double Life of Veronique and a recent review of Claire Denis’s 35 Shots of Rum.  But the long-running ‘Best Films of the 90’s’ polling ends as I prepare this diary, and it appears around 40 ballots were posted.  Angelo A. D’Arminio Jr. will have final results around the middle of the week.
     At Living in Cinema and Inside the Gold both Craig Kennedy and Dorothy Porker have been furiously reporting on the critics’ awards being given out over the past few days.  The L.A. Critics went with THE HURT LOCKER as top film and Kathryn Bigelow as Best Director of that very fine film.  On Monday afternoon the New York Film Critics Circle checks in.
    I saw five recent films this week:
   White Ribbon (Haneke)  *** 1/2   (copy of DVD; Sunday evening at home)
    Invictus  (Eastwood)  **     Saturday night; Paramus AMC theatres
    The Last Station (Ford)  ****       Thursday night; Angelika Film Center
    The Princess and the Frog (Musker)  *** 1/2   Friday afternoon; Edgewater
    A Single Man (Hoffman)  **** 1/2          Friday night; Chelsea Cinemas
     Michael Haneke’s Palme d’Or winning THE WHITE RIBBON boasts stunning digital monochrome black and white cinematography by Christian Berger, which just may be the finest of the year in that regard, but oddly the film, (though at times stark and compelling) doesn’t get close to the masterwork category some are placing it in.  It’s a study of repression and off screen violence in Kaiser-era Germany, but it’s a narratively static and distancing film with a rather ludicrous premise.  Again, despite one relationship that exhibits an unusual strain of humanity for Haneke, it’s an oppressively nihilist work.  In any case the “pro” side produced an extraordinary review from our friend “Just Another Film Buff” at hi splace, and it’s a must-read:
     Clint Eastwood’s INVICTUS is an out-and-out bad film, and easily the worst of his prolific output of the past decade.  You never really get to know Mandela, everything is on the surface, and off the field there’s no chemistry between Morgan Freeman (who is convincing as the South African political hero) and Matt Damon.  It’s a superficial, boring film, which doesn’t even provide the emotional uplift from the formulaic sports scenes, which carry practically no magic of their own.  Damon’s mumbling doesn’t help his stock character come to life either.
     THE LAST STATION, which played for a one-week qualify run in NY and LA is a sometimes uneven look at the tempetuous relationship between his wife (played to the hilt by the great Helen Mirren) and literary titan Leo Tolstoy, played engagingly by Christopher Plummer.  James McAvoy and Paul Giamatti are also onboard for a story that has it’s share of rowdy humor and some sensuality and the year’s most beautiful and sweeping score by St. Petersberg composer, Sergey Yevtushenko, as well as some lovely production design by Patrizia Van Brandenstein.  The final 15 minutes are emotionally overwhelming, a rare feat for a literary costume piece.
     THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG by Disney alumni John Musker and Ron Clements is a dazzling work of animation, but the story has poor flow and rhythym.  Randy Newman’s music is also rather forgettable.  Still, for some jazzy set pieces that include some entrancing secondary characters and a few sequences that are veritable feasts for the eyes (one resembles “Be My Guest” from Beauty and the Beast) there is enough here to engage kids and the adults who love quality animation.  Still it doesn’t equal either Up nor Fantastic Mr. Fox, and the blam eis on the narrative’s inconsistency.
     A SINGLE MAN, an altogether shattering film with an electrifying lead performance by Colin Firth (the best of the year in fact) is a tone poem, almost elegiac that deal swith loss, loneliness and grief, and the visual textures are strikingly conveyed by first-time director Tom Ford, who prior to this sensational beginning was  a fashion designer.  The film is set in the early 60’s, and the Cuban Missile Crisis takes center stage amongst the period details, and Julianne Moore, who smokes pink cigarettes, turns in a typically outstanding performance.  But the flashbacks are stunning and masterfully crafted, and the haunting, multi-layered orchestral score by Abel Korzenioski, which seems a new age cross between Clint Mansell’s for The Fountain and Phillip Glass’s for The Hours is a compelling ingredient.  This is absolutely one of the best films of the year.
     Around the blogosphere there’s much to revel in: (more…)

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