Foreign Language Oscar Submissions – 83 of Them!

Wait, it’s Oscar nom time? But I haven’t seen anything good this year! Well, perhaps you’re in the wrong country or not hitting the festival circuit; because apparently the world seem to think that there are at least 83 films worthy of Oscar consideration. It’s a record year for the Foreign Language submissions this year. Last year there were 76 submissions (also a record), but 2014 has bested that number by seven.

Of course not all 83 will be up for an actual nomination. Eventually this list of 83 will be whittled down to five (which you will likely have heard of by then) and then on the big night only one will survive. I’ve always contended that the foreign language category is the one category that The Academy actually gets (mostly) right – both in nominations and often the winner.

At any rate, come February 22nd, one of the following titles will be crowned king of the films not funded by American monies:

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Friday One Sheet: The City At Night

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Undeniably the product of photoshopping separate elements together, this actually plays into the theme of the film, where Jake Gyllenhaal’s bottom-feeding videographer starts re-arranging crime-scenes to increase their ‘salable’ value to the local news channels.

Nice touches: The light-source on the end of the camera illuminate the title (and car accident debris), echoing the street lamps in the background. Also, all the power lines and transformers, bridges and street signposts indicate the infrastructure of what makes a town work, whether it is an eyesore or not. Nightcrawler is mainly shot in some of the more banal and ugly places of Los Angeles. In a subtle way, this poster indicates that while also contrasting it against the shiny new red muscle-car which features prominently in the film as the product (and enabler) of ill gotten gains from filming and selling the footage of grisly car accidents.

Occultober – Day 10 – Häxan

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Häxan, aka Witchcraft Through The Ages, is a Swedish-Danish documentary made in 1922 that is super-stylized, often hysterically theatrical, and a fascinating curio of its era. Director Benjamin Christensen gives an overview on demons and witches in Medieval times, not often (to me, anyway) clear in his distinction between fact and fiction, such that Häxan feels less like a documentary (admittedly the form was young, Nanook of the North having come out in the same year) and more like a horror-fantasia. Satan and witches and other assorted demons prance around in front of the static camera with varying colour tints applied to the Black & White footage and lots of special effects which evoke the pioneer of the form, Georges Méliès. The director himself plays Satan in the film, an image and performance that is difficult to forget. (He also plays Jesus Christ and simply himself in the film.) And the film has a field day with Inquisitor torture devices and other acts of human barbarism in medieval times.

The final product is surprisingly entertaining, gruesome, grotesque, and frankly, well ahead of its time; albeit it is difficult to put yourself into the mindset of an audience, either domestic or foreign, taking it upon its initial release. Enough that The Criterion Collection obtained the film and did a full restoration in 2001.

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Trailer: Focus

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If it seems like Will Smith has fallen off the face of the earth, well… you wouldn’t be too far off.

Other than an abysmal third Men in Black flick in 2012 and 2013’s After Earth, a vehicle for Smith’s son Jaden, we haven’t seen Will Smith lead a film since his duo of 2008 movies, Seven Pounds and Hancock. Considering it’s almost 2015, that’s a long time to go without Smith’s undeniable charisma gracing the big screen.

Directed by Glenn Ficcarra and John Requa (I Love You Phillip Morris, Bad Santa), Smith’s next film is titled Focus. While the plot itself doesn’t seem particularly original – the smooth-talking conman, the big heist, the femme fatale of questionable motives – I can’t help but be pleased to see Smith doing what he does best: making us wish we were as cool as him.

The movie looks slick and fun and maybe a bit mindless… which is all right by me if Smith can carry it.

Focus has a stateside release date of February 27, 2015.

VIFF 2014 Review: Queen and Country

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Two things that don’t always go together are war and comedy but leave it to writer/director John Boorman to bring the two together in a package that even I, someone who has peculiar comedic tastes and generally doesn’t care for war movies, enjoyed.

Queen and Country stars Callum Turner and Caleb Landry Jones as Bill and Percy respectively, army conscripts who have completed basic training and spend their days toiling under the watchful eye of Bradley (David Thewlis in a wonderfully comedic turn) teaching new recruits how to type. They don’t take their work or the military particularly seriously so when the opportunity arises to cause some trouble, Percy does just that by stealing a much beloved clock from the mess hall. That simple action sets into motion a series of events that allow Boorman to deal with some difficult aspects of war in a near perfect balance of comedy and drama.

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VIFF 2014 Review: Clouds of Sils Maria

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Olivier Assayas isn’t one of my go-to directors but over the years he hass made a few particularly notable films though for me, 2010’s Carlos marked a high point in Assayas’ career. For Clouds of Sils Maria, Assayas brings on Juliette Binoche as Maria Enders, an actress at the peak of her career who has been asked to appear in a revival of the play which launched her career decades before. At first she’s unsure she wants to revisit the material; she doesn’t feel comfortable playing the older character and she makes a compelling argument that she’s still connected to the young character that she played early in her career but after discussions with the director and pressure from her agent and her assistant, she agrees to take on the role and the challenge.

Clouds of Sils Maria is a perfect example of what Assayas does so well: create stories that are far more involved than they initially appear. Sills Maria is, essentially, an observation of the struggles of an actress trying to navigate her career in the best possible direction. Binoche is brilliant as Maria and the role comes naturally to her which makes you consider that perhaps there’s some deep rooted truth to the struggles and challenges her character faces. The film follows Maria from the initial offering all the way through the finish line but along the way, and particularly in the second act, the movie becomes a far more complicated beast as Maria works through the script with the help of her assistant Valentine (Kristen Stewart).

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Trailer: Dear White People (Red Band)

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Back in July, Kurt posted the first trailer for Dear White People, an amusing indie directed by Justin Simien from his own screenplay that was inspired by his own experiences at college. The film won the Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Talent at Sundance and still is sitting at a 100% on Rotten Tomatoes after 10 reviews.

The film follows four black students at an Ivy League college as they prepare to deal with an upcoming off-campus party thrown by white students… in which the theme is blatantly mocking aspects of African American culture.

The original trailer for Dear White People was solid. This red band trailer is great. The film is sure to highlight the privilege and less overt 21st century racism of which most of white America is completely oblivious (or unconcerned).

The film hits theaters in a limited run on Oct 17, 2014.

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Cinecast Episode 368 – Marriage as an Extreme Sport

Andrew and Kurt are back together. It’s been rocky these past 30 days, but they’ve decided to give their relationship another go. We’ll be easing back into it – we don’t want to rush anything. So we’re foregoing The 1984 Project this week and keeping The Watch List light and breezy. As it has more or less been David Fincher week across the webs, Kurt takes our lengthy discussion on GONE GIRL and continues the conversation with ZODIAC and SE7EN. Andrew goes back further in time to a galaxy far, far away and re-evaluates George Lucas’ masterpieces also known as Episodes I, II & III. We’ll be back next week with a full throttle show that will include a lengthier watch list, The Karate Kid and at least two theatricals.

As always, please join the conversation by leaving your own thoughts in the comment section below and again, thanks for listening!


 
 

 
 

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Occultober – Day 9 – The ‘Burbs

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Ah The ‘Burbs…A film that leaves some unmoved, but (after repeated exposure) settles comfortably into many people’s personal Top 20 lists. My own first encounter with it 25 years ago left me unconvinced. Fortunately, I felt a pull back to it years later…

When the film was released, Tom Hanks was already a “star” comedy name and had a few big hits under his belt (most notably Splash and Big), but also a few klunkers. Name recognition still got people to the theatres in 1989, but then they weren’t sure about what they found there – the comedy in The ‘Burbs was both subtle and broad, it had action, horror & satire and it warned us of the hidden evil that lurked in the bedroom communities of our major cities (not the first to do so, but one of the more clever attempts). Director Joe Dante certainly liked using the suburbs as his playground of choice and in this case even reduced his focus to mostly just one particular block.

New neighbours (as typically happens) get the tongues wagging and curiosity turns to suspicion turns to obsession. Outside influences and out of the ordinary behaviour in the cozy suburbs can be considered potential malevolent forces to be reckoned with, so Ray (Hanks) and his neighbours begin to track the movements of The Klopeks. There’s something amiss about them, so of course they must be piling up the bodies in the basement for some kind of cult-like activities. Whether or not there are indeed occult happenings on the same street where kids ride their bikes, six packs of beer get guzzled and newspapers are the only obvious signs of the corrupt big cities is almost besides the point – the movie revels in the paranoid actions of its trio of husbands trying to “protect” their environment.

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