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45 years

Tom Courtenay and Charlotte Rambling in masterful British drama “45 Years.”


Leonardo Di Caprio in raw and powerful “The Revenant”

by Sam Juliano

The annual lamentation that the holiday season has come and gone so quickly has again come to pass, as we are now four days into the New Year.  In the metropolitan area the temperature has dropped, but no precipitation of any kind.  This has been one of the mildest winters on record, but we do have a long way to go for sure.

Between late year movie viewings and a demanding Caldecott Medal Contender series, I have been spoken for, but at least all our outings have been with the entire family.  I would like to once again thank all those who have made the Caldecott series such a rousing success both at WitD and on social media, where the reviews have been shared by enthusiastic authors and illustrators.  I especially would like to thank Laurie Buchanan, Valerie Clark and Patricia Hamilton for their tireless promotion on FB, and to those who have regularly placed comments.  I will site everyone when the series completes this coming Sunday.  The awards will be announced Monday morning, January 11th. (more…)

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“Embrace of the Serpent” is Sachin Gandhi’s #1 film of 2015

 by Sachin Gandhi
Note:  Sachin Gandhi’s remarkable end-of-the-year presentation is unique in many ways, but in the realm of art house it is incomparable.  Gandhi is a close friend and associate, and the proctor of the fabulous blog, “Scribbles and Ramblings.”  This is the first list that has posted at Wonders in the Dark:
In contrast to previous years, this year’s best film list consists solely of films released in this calendar year, even if that means a film got only a single screening at an international film festival. There are no older 2013, 2014 titles even if they only got local theatrical screenings this year. As always, film festivals provide the bulk of the movies in this list. Out of the top 10, only 2 films got a regular theatrical run in the city and only one of those titles was released outside of the film festival circuit. The film festival circuit continues to be a wonderful parallel distribution network. Many independent and foreign films only live on the film festival circuit. Once their festival run ends, some of these films disappear for good. Some lucky ones get life via legal digital streams. Some others don’t even appear on torrents.
The regular theatrical release cycle continues to be dominated by commercial studio films while independent local and foreign cinema struggle to get screen time. If a city does not have a Cinematheque or an Arthouse cinema, then chances are, there will be limited chances to see independent and foreign films in a cinema. The contrast between studio and foreign cinema was perfectly highlighted on Dec 18. On that day, there were 99 shows of STAR WARS in local cinemas while one of the arthouses had a single show of DHEEPAN, the Palme d’Or winner at Cannes. This is the 1% vs 99% battle in terms of contemporary cinema. A film that wins the top prize at Cannes is certainly going to be distributed but films that don’t win at Cannes or get much festival love will struggle to get even a single show, even if they are worthy films. Great cinema is still being made even though it is getting harder to see in a local theater.
2015 saw the release of films by multiple Asian masters. 5 of those films make this top 10, while Jia Zhang-Ke misses out with his emotionally beautiful MOUNTAINS MAY DEPART. There are still many films that I need to catch up on, especially ARABIAN NIGHTS, THE PEARL BUTTON, THE TREASURE, OFFICE, THE EVENT. For all those missed titles, there are many more that I was fortunate to have seen. Here are my Top 10 films of 2015, followed by 16 honorable mentions.


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hateful eight

by Sam Juliano

The warmest December on record in the metropolitan area has resulted in a 70 degree Christmas and short sleeves for most, though the coming weeks are predicted to bring a semblance of what we’d normally expect.  We are just a few days away from 2016, and some of us have been spending some of our time this past week playing catch up with the bevy of current releases in the movie theaters.  Plenty of NFL action, but depressing if you are a Giants fan, though hopeful is a Jets supporter.  Classical music and opera are being offered up in some fabulous interpretations in the coming months, and this writer will be in attendance for many.  HD Opera broadcasts are aplenty in theaters beginning in mid-January.

The Caldecdott Medal Contender series continues in force, until around January 10th, the day before the awards are announced by the American Library Association.  Twenty-four reviews have posted thus far with a projected ten more to go.  I want to thank all the site regulars for attending these posts with vigor, and hereby acknowledge the incredible site statistics that have greeted each and every one.  Facebook sharing has further increased the interest and response to the series, which is now in its third year at the site.

Lucille, the kids and I attended a quartet of movies in theaters this past week, with at least that many planned for the present seven-day period. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

Yuletide greetings are extended to all at the site, the readers and their families.  We are just a few days away from Christmas 2015, and a week beyond that the ushering in of the New Year.  Despite a few blustery days, the unseasonably warm weather will be back for Christmas and Christmas Eve with temperatures predicted in the range of 70.  I don’t remember a winter with numbers that high, but this what meteorologists have been predicting for weeks for this area.  My week was such that I was unable to see a single film in theaters, though Lucille and the three boys attended the new Star Wars installment and liked it.  An unusual week to be sure, but one impacted by frantic activity.

The Caldecott Medal Contender series has been moving forward at a brisk pace since the actual awards day is February, and a number of other reviews must be written and posted ahead of January 11th.  I want to thank everyone for their comments and for checking in.

Lucille, the kids and I watched some holiday classics at home including Christmas in Connecticut, Charlie Brown’s  Christmas, The Polar Express  and two versions of A Christmas Carol.  Over the holidays I plan on seeing The Revenant, and Son of Saul among others.  Otherwise I have been spoken for by the Caldecott book reviews.

Best wishes to our good friend Aaron West of Criterion Blues, who just went through a hip operation and is recovery well.  Aaron has been through the grinder in recent years, but it appears certain the recent procedure will have him in  top shape again. (more…)

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bear 1

by Sam Juliano

Julia Sarcone-Roach’s The Bear Ate Your Sandwich is the year’s dreamiest picture book. As such it takes a few viewings to focus, but when it kicks in one can never get enough of it.  What we have is a seamless blend of prose, illustration and design and to boot the book is a hoot and sports one of the best titles of the year.

We first see the black bear of the title sleeping in a small clearing in the woods on the extended titled page.  Then we are told by an unidentified narrator:   “By now you know what happened to your sandwich.  But you may not know how it happened.  So let me tell you.  It all started with the bear.”  We then see the bear exercising at daybreak before the scent of ripe berries leads him to the red pick up that is transporting the baskets.  He manages to climb aboard without detection, feasts on the berries and falls asleep under the sunlight and the buzzing of bees.  The innocuous country sounds are soon replaced by the much louder road travel rumbling after his unwitting host has crossed a suspension bridge into a metropolis.

“He was being quickly swept along like a leaf in a great river.  The forest disappeared in the distance and high cliffs rose up around him.”


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by Sam Juliano

First off I want to thank the many readers who have responded en masse to the highly controversial and still running comment thread on the Caldecott Contender picture book A Fine Dessert.  As a result of the passionate response to the book from two unwavering positions, Wonders in the Dark has experienced its busiest week since all the way back in 2009.  Some of the discussion was extremely contentious to be sure from both sides of the divide, and I have never been as intensely involved as I was since the review published late Thursday night.  I have learned a lot about the strong feelings and sensitivity regarding the book’s visualization of slavery in the second part of its four stories.  I remain a big supporter of the book, and have enjoyed much success with it with my classes.  For me there is nothing at all in the publishing industry worse than censorship.  Hence any attempt to suppress this beautiful book is alien to my sense of fair play.  After an initial rush of people who criticized my review and loyalty to the book, the thread then came to life with the appearance of many teachers and book industry people who came to the book’s defense.  In the three and a half days the review has been up it has attracted nearly 3,000 page views, hundreds of link ups from Twitter and Facebook and a barrage of exposure on many blogs, with a few re-blogs to boot.  At present the thread has attracted 154 comments.

It has been another torrid week for the Caldecott series in general, and again I thank the many who have placed comments on all the reviews.  Jim Clark’s review of the superlative Three Times (admittedly a film seen by few) was yet yet another magisterial piece by this great writer and friend.

Everything in my life has been compromised the past several days, so aside from a mid-week film viewing of the Oscar qualifier The Lady in the Van with Maggie Smith, I have been lamentably tied down.  A nagging sore throat complicated matters further.  It is hard to believe we are only eleven days away from Christmas, which really did creep up.  Weather in the New York City area has been unseasonably balmy, and in direct contrast from last year’s frigid December. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

Mild early December weather continues in the metropolitan area as the Christmas season gets in full swing with house decorations and gift buying now the rage.  Critics’ groups around the country have begun announcing their choices for Best Film, performances and other pertinent categories.  The New York Film Critics Circle chose Todd Haynes’ Carol as Best Film, while their counterparts in Boston and Los Angeles chose Spotlight as the top movie.  The National Board of Review chose Mad Max: Fury Road.  The rest of us still need to see some December releases, but hope to have lists up in early January.

The Caldecott Medal Contender series continues, and will run until January 10th, the day before the awards are announced by the American Library Association.  So far I have published thirteen reviews, and plan at least that many more.  With the awards set to announce on January 11th (much earlier than last year) it will be difficult to do anywhere near the fifty-one that was done last year.  I would like to thank everyone who have left comments and have stopped in.  The site statistics have been excellent.  A special shout out to Laurie Buchanan, Valerie Clark and Patricia Hamilton for sharing so many of the posts on Facebook, and of course to the authors and illustrators who have responded with the same kind of acknowledgement.

Lucille, Jeremy and I made an appearance on Saturday afternoon at the “Morbid Anatomy Museum” in Brooklyn to take in a presentation on the book Mummy Cat by the work’s illustrator Lisa Browne.  Renowned artists Sergio Ruzzier, Sophie Blackall, Edward Hemingway and Brian Floca were also on hand. (more…)

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