Posts Tagged “Oscars”


February 7, 2009
English / French
94 Minutes
Documentary / Crime
James Marsh

1974. 1350 Feet Up. The Artistic Crime Of The Century.

Unbelievably compelling.

The story of a Frenchman–one of those juggler, unicycle, magician, street performer types who felt it was his duty to walk between the World Trade Center towers on a tightrope. He had previously walked on the Sydney Harbor Bridge and between the two towers of the Notre Dame Cathedral.

But the WTC walk required incredible planning, inside men, a bow and arrow, perfect timing, a team for each building, sleeping guards, fake id badges, and a lot of luck. And that was before the guy began his walk. One might ask how a film about a tightrope walk can be made exciting. I would have asked the same thing before seeing it. To make matters (on paper) worse, there is no moving footage of the walk. There are handful of stills only. And yet.

One of the many talking heads in the film is the man himself, Philippe Petit. So we know he survives. And he doesn’t appear to be speaking from prison, so he probably didn’t get a life sentence. And yet. We are riveted as he plans, argues, draws up designs, gathers helpers, and walks between the frickin World Trade Center towers.

Mr. Petit is a show-off. He is a loudmouth, he treats women poorly, he has no respect for the law. Because he feels he has a higher calling. How a walk on a rope can be called art, I didn’t know before watching this movie. But now I do. Petit tells the story of learning of the building of the WTC and believing that it had actually been built so that he could walk between it. It was designed and built so a man from France could come over and perform in between its towers. And as goofy as that sounds, you will believe it once you see it. It is somehow art. There is a beauty and a sense of awe. He appears to be dancing–1350 feet up.

As a story, it needs no extra bells and whistles from the filmmakers. But luckily, the style of the film is also superb. There are a few re-creations, there is enough original footage of training sessions and prior stunts for us to get an idea what it might look like in NYC. There are talking heads who are still angry at each other. And there is Mr. Petit to guide us in his hyper-poetic manner.

I have this thing about jumping off high places into water. A bridge in California, a cliff in Greece, every waterfall in Hawaii. I am afraid of heights but find the challenge of overcoming that fear a pretty cool thing. I’m also one of those people who looks down from a great height and isn’t sure that his legs will walk themselves over the edge against his brain’s instructions. But I was absolutely not prepared for how scared shitless I was when I simply saw photographs of the men planning their caper. They lied their way to the top several times and pretended to take photos of workmen, but were really taking photos of anchor points and such which they’d use later to string the wire. And some of these photos, with Petit at the edge of the building, caused me to shake. I can’t explain it. Photos from the early 70s cause a physical reaction.

At one point in his walk, Petit lies down on the wire. All alone. Silently. At 1350 feet, he lies down suspended between the tallest building in the world. A plane flies overhead.

And strangely, the first word that came to my head was, “beautiful.” I may have been tearing up a bit while saying it.

Just an incredible experience.

My Number 10 for 2008.

Oscar Nomination: Best Documentary of 2008.

8.9 Metacritic
8.1 IMDB

Man on Wire @ Amazon


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January 29, 2009
USA / UK / France
122 Minutes — December 5, 2008
Biography / Drama / History
Ron Howard [Grand Theft Auto; Nightshift; Splash; Cocoon; Gung Ho; Willow; Parenthood; Backdraft; Far And Away; The Paper; Apollo 13; Ransom; Edtv; A Beautiful Mind; The Missing; Cinderella Man]

400 Million People Were Waiting For The Truth.

I’m a huge fan of political films. I watch THE WEST WING continuously–often with tears in my eyes. I love the pageantry of the office of the President, the customs of the US Government–to the point of watching a particularly close Congressional vote on CSPAN. For god’s sake, I teach High School Government. So I should be the guy this film is trying to reach.

But I waited a long time to see it and now that I have, I’m not sure what all the fuss is about. No matter how you slice it–how exciting you make the edits and music–you simply cannot make a sit-down interview as exciting as a boxing match, which is exactly what director Ron Howard is trying to do here.

I’m not old enough to remember Nixon or what he stood for or how much people hated him. And for people younger than I, whose only exposure has been through history classes, this film will probably cause them to have more sympathy for an old man who made a few mistakes, but was basically good. That fact must infuriate people who were in their politically aware 20s at the time Tricky Dick held office. There simply isn’t enough backstory in this film to tell the uninformed viewer the gravity of his crimes. I’m not saying that this film is the place for a complete review of the Watergate break-in, but depending on your age, this film will be a piece of negative nostalgia, or the story of people with funny haircuts sitting down for an interview back when you were allowed to smoke wherever you wanted. (The “aggressive” 70s product placement is one of the problems with this film–the famous Iron-Eyes Cody PSA is seen on the TV while people drink TAB).

As with most Ron Howard films, his one or two main themes are spelled out, heightened with music, repeated again, and then paused after for effect. One of these themes was something that actually was “achieved” by David Frost during these interviews, when Nixon admitted that no matter what he did as president, it wasn’t illegal because it’s impossible for the president to do anything illegal. This statement obviously has more weight in a post-Bush United States where the former president never met a signing statement he wouldn’t make or found a way to put the office of the President above the law in the name of “The War On Terror.”

The parallels between 1974 and 2008 are not lost on us (and with Howard at the helm, we have no choice but to think about them).

The other theme is that Nixon was a lonely man who wasn’t good with people. Boo hoo.

Setting aside the facts of the case, the film tries to make the high-pressure world of presidential interviews something of a sporting event. In this corner, David Frost, a man who drinks, smokes, bangs models, and hosts the 1970s equivalent of America’s Got Talent. In this corner, a disgraced president, who somehow thinks that if he says just the right thing during a one-on-one interview that he’ll be invited back to DC and receive a hero’s welcome. In 30 years, we might see David Hasselhoff v. Bush II.

Nixon thought he’d wipe the floor with Frost. How could a limey from across the pond hope to match his intellect? Frost thought he’d show all those naysayers by finally getting the secretive Nixon to admit to the whole business.

The performances are good. Unfortunately for Oscar-nominee Frank Langella, Nixon has been played by so many people by now that we scarcely remember the real man. The supporting cast is good: Rockwell, Oliver Platt, Kevin Bacon, and Rebecca Hall is a very sexy woman who’s only purpose in the screenplay is to stop the sausage-fest.

Here’s your one-sentence review: A film about an interview. Really, how exciting can that be?

Oscar Nominations: Picture, Director Ron Howard, Actor Frank Langella, Screenplay, Editing

8.0 Metacritic
7.9 Critical Consensus
8.1 IMDB #242 All Time

Frost/Nixon [Theatrical Release] @ Amazon


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January 22, 2009
USA / Germany
English / German
124 Minutes — January 9, 2009
Drama / Romance / Thriller / War
Stephen Daldry [Billy Elliot; The Hours]

How Far Would You Go To Protect A Secret?

It’s been more than a week since I’ve seen it and I can’t seem to figure out how to go at this film. It is not good. In fact, it’s a bit preposterous. Winslet is a fabulous actress, but in THE READER she must choose between dour, embarrassed, angry, or predatory. There is no in-between.

It’s just after World War II in Germany. A young boy of 15, stricken with fever, is helped by Winslet’s character. After his recovery a few weeks later, he goes to her house to thank her, and before you can say “you’re 18, right?” they’re in the sack. What he sees in her is obvious. She’s nearing 40, is hot, and he’s 15 and would probably avail himself of just about any opportunity. What she sees in him is a bit less obvious. He’s a nubile 15 to be sure, but why couldn’t someone like her find someone within a decade of her age, at least? I suppose he’s naive enough to not ask too many questions, to not question his incredible luck. What a story he’ll have to tell that summer at camp!

Strangely, she begins to demand that he read to her before each encounter. Which is a small price to pay for him, I’m sure. A more successful homework system has yet to be devised. He catches the eye of other, more age-appropriate schoolmates, but what chance do they have against a fully grown, willing woman who doesn’t ask questions? They fight, they break up. He heads off to law school. And the film begins to self-destruct. Because during a field trip to the courthouse, who does he see on trial for Nazi atrocities? That’s right, the woman who took his V-power, in the flesh. And here’s the kicker: she’s accused of writing an intricate plan for others to follow which leads to the deaths of 500 Jewish prisoners. That she shows no guilt for what she did is bad enough. But when she’d rather admit to something she didn’t do than admit to not being able to read or write, the film goes off the rails.

That’s right. In post-war Germany, killing Jews in the name of Hitler isn’t quite as bad as admitting that you don’t know how to read.

Ralph Fiennes shows up as the grown up boy who then begins his very own franchise, sending tapes to Winslet as she spends the rest of her days in jail.

Ridiculous, but Winslet is pretty hot and rarely has a film made reading the classics seem quite as sexy as THE READER does.

5.8 Metacritic
7.0 Critical Consensus
8.0 IMDB

The Reader (Book) @ Amazon


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January 21, 2009
Campbell CA — Camera 7
104 Minutes — December 12, 2008
Drama / Mystery
John Patrick Shanley [Moonstruck; The January Man; Joe Versus The Volcano; Alive]

My overriding impression of DOUBT? Boring.

Streep, Hoffman, Adams. Great cast. But it’s just so slow moving and ponderous. And every time something important is about to happen, the wind blows or rain hits a windowpane or a tree branch crashes down in the courtyard. And then the music swells.

It’s 1964 in Brooklyn. Hoffman is a Catholic Priest (hazard alert). Streep is the principal of the attached school. Amy Adams is the naive, wide-eyed character that we’re supposed to chuckle at and then feel for. Adams thinks she sees Hoffman put a boy’s shirt back into his locker. This boy is the only black kid in a sea of white, which is the excuse Hoffman uses when confronted with the suspicion that he plied the boy with alcohol. But not just any alcohol, mind you; the holy communion wine, the very blood of Christ. Viola Davis plays the boy’s mother who is remarkably nonchalant about the accusation, preferring to hide her head in the sand until summer when her boy graduates.

Streep is on the warpath against Hoffman and the two play several loud, spittle-rattling scenes where they try to scare the other one into backing off. We know Streep is the humorless disciplinarian because we see her walking the aisles of the church scolding anyone slouching or whispering while the sermon is taking place. She strikes fear in the children and other nuns alike. She is a cartoon movie archetype along the lines of the guy in Lean On Me (I’m the HNIC, now), and every other film about school and an evil paddling headmaster.

Hoffman appears to be kind, he connects with the kids, he write sermons that don’t immediately cause his congregation to sleep. But what earthly reason does he have for taking such a shine to the young black boy? We have two choices: 1) he’s a closeted homosexual predator who can’t wait to add another notch on his priestly bedpost; OR 2) he’s a caring priest who ministers to his congregation. Which one do you think the film favors?

We aren’t given any reasons for the actions that the characters take. Except maybe Amy Adams. She sees something and she goes to her superior to discuss it. Fine. Streep makes it her mission to kick Hoffman out of the parish. We are only given hints about the characters’ pasts. Hoffman is apparently at his third church in a short period of time. With 2008 eyes, this is a warning sign. Not so much back in 1964. Streep’s character is a widow who has known life outside the convent, but now finds herself ruling one. She is probably the only non-virgin on the campus.

If there’s a well-rounded and nuanced character, it’s Viola Davis as the mother. The boy has an abusive father, the mother thinks that the boy is gay (although you can bet that word is never used by anyone in this film), and if the priest needs a little loving while he protects the boy from the racist bullies in the hallway, well then, that’s a small price to pay. Davis hits a “if my nose runs and I don’t wipe it during a crying scene I’ll get an Oscar just like Jane Fonda in Klute” move perfectly. Then when we’ve been sufficiently mezmerized by her dripping nose, she miraculously finds a kleenex, wipes herself, and heads off to work like nothing happened. The words that the two women say to each other in the Davis v. Streep walk-and-talk are pretty good. But then the whole scene is ruined by the “foreboding wind of doom” that causes several dozen leaves to press up against Streeps legs. God help us.

So let’s see, Streep thinks that the priest is guilty, Hoffman maintains his innocense, Adams is first sure one way, then the other, and Davis doesn’t really see the big deal either way. You see, they all have DOUBT about what happened. Adams’ doubt puts her on Hoffman’s side and Streep finds a way to keep her doubt at bay. So we all know what the dilema is.

Wait a second, I have an idea. Why doesn’t someone ask the kid what happened? He’s not five years old, he’s in 8th grade! Wouldn’t he be able to at least give an impression about what happened or didn’t happen in the vestry? Is he so in love with the Father that he’d lie under questioning? He’s the only other witness.

I just don’t get it. Any verbal fireworks this film had were more than countered by the clumsy staging, and hit-me-over-the-head symbolism. It saddens me to report that my favorite part of the film, the only point when I wasn’t near dozing, was the spectacular church choir and organ song played loudly over the credits. What a shame.

Oscar Nominations: Meryl Streep Actress; Philip Seymour Hoffman Supporting Actor;Amy Adams Supporting Actress; Viola Davis Supporting Actress; Adapted Screenplay John Patrick Shanley;

7.0 Metacritic
7.1 Critical Consensus
8.2 IMDB

Doubt (book) @ Amazon


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January 2, 2009
109 Minutes — January 9, 2009
Drama / Sport
Darren Aronofsky [Pi; Requiem For A Dream]

This film award season has been much worse than past years in terms of release schedules of quality films. I live in the 10th largest city in the country, but in order to have access to the films with all the buzz, I need to drive myself an hour north to San Francisco, which is typically just after New York City and Los Angeles on the release schedule. THE WRESTLER won’t open in a local theater until the 9th, but I couldn’t stand waiting. This is all a long way of saying that I will withhold a more in-depth review until I see it on the big screen, the way nature intended.

But before that happens I need to say that this film will absolutely be somewhere on my top ten of 2008 list, and I’m not sure that any of the other slow-to-open films being hyped will land above this one. This film says things about mortality and the briefness of life that Benjamin Button was trying to say, but failed under the sheen of fairytale warmth.

I can’t wait to see it again.

MichaelVox Twitter Review In 160:
The Wrestler (08 Aronofsky A-) much better mortality tale than BButton, Rourke as good as advertised, Tomei deserves more praise.


THE WRESTLER is the subject of Cinebanter Podcast Number 66. After you’ve seen the movie, listen to the spoiler-filled review by Tassoula and I by clicking the play button right here:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Show Description:

• 00:00 Intro
• 00:32 THE WRESTLER Discussion
• Break
• 23:58 To Sum It Up
• Break
• 24:54 REVOLUTIONARY ROAD Discussion
• Break
• 45:06 To Sum It Up
• Break
• 45:35 The Last Five®
• 1:03:53 Credits and Outtakes


8.1 Metacritic
8.7 IMDB #72 All Time

The Wrestler @ Amazon


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December 22, 2008
Netflix DVD
138 Minutes — October 13, 1950
Joseph L. Mankiewicz [The Philadelphia Story; The Barefoot Contessa; Guys And Dolls]
Bette Davis
Anne Baxter
#72 They Shoot Pictures Don’t They Top 1000 Films Of All Time

“Solo Filmschool” movies are those on the big list of the 1000 best films of all time, which the crew over at TSPDT keeps track of and updates from time to time. The version of the list I used is from January 2010. My plan is to work my way down the list, watching all of them on DVD (if available), regardless of how slow-moving, or out of date they might appear at first. If a highly-regarded and serious film class is not available where you live, you could do a lot worse than using this list as a jumping off point.

It’s all about women — and their men!

An aging Broadway star suffers from the hidden menace of a self-effacing but secretly ruthless and ambitious young actress.

Sure, it’s dated and melodramatic. But Davis is so great as a woman who has passed the unheard of milestone of being 40 years old and still trying to get the juicy parts on Broadway. Baxter is a star-struck fan when we meet her. But is she too good to be true? All the characters speak to each other in that “theater is the only true art form” way. There are awards and fur coats and drinks at fancy Manhattan clubs.

It’s a bit long and has several too many voiceovers from several too many characters. But I wasn’t bored. And Davis is so angry and so lacking in social skills when off stage that you really can’t look away. This film has the “fasten your seatbelts…” line. It also has a ditzy Marilyn Monroe in a small part as a new girl in town who takes any opportunity she can for her break. A slimy columnist points her in the right direction, towards the hot producer in town. Watch Monroe’s face light up as she switches into flirt mode. It is a sight to see.

OW: Picture, Director Mankiewicz, Screenplay Mankiewicz, Supporting Actor George Sanders
ON: Actress Baxter, Actress Davis, Supporting Actress Celeste Holm, Supporting Actress Thelma Ritter, Cinematography, Editing, Art Direction

“A basically unconvincing story with thin characters is transformed by a screenplay scintillating with savage wit and a couple of waspish performances into a movie experience to treasure.” — Halliwell’s Film Guide 2008

“The dialogue and atmosphere are so peculiarly remote from life that they have sometimes been mistaken for art.” — Pauline Kael

“Brilliantly sophisticated (and cynical) look at life in and around the theater, with a heaven-sent script by director Mankiewicz. Davis is absolutely perfect as an aging star who takes in an adoring fan and soon discovers that the young woman is taking over her life.” — Leonard Maltin’s 2007 Movie Guide

8.4 IMDB All Time #75
**** Halliwell’s
**** Maltin

All About Eve @ Amazon


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August 6, 2008
Netflix DVD
Canada / India
117 Minutes – April 28, 2006
Drama / Romance
Deepa Mehta

In 1938 an 8-year-old girl is sent to live for the rest of her life in an ashram for widows when her elderly husband dies; there she witnesses the doomed love affair of a young widow who is forced into prostitution to earn money for the others.


Lisa Ray & John Abraham

ON: Foreign

*** Halliwell’s
7.7 Metacritic
7.7 IMDB


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July 24, 2008
118 Minutes — August 5, 1953
Drama / Romance / War
Fred Zinnemann [Oklahoma!]
#878 They Shoot Pictures Don’t They Top 1000 Films Of All Time

Burt Lancaster [The Swimmer; Atlantic City; Local Hero; Field Of Dreams]

Montgomery Clift [A Place In The Sun]

Deborah Kerr [An Affair To Remember]

Donna Reed [It's A Wonderful Life; The Benny Goodman Story]

Frank Sinatra [Guys And Dolls; The Manchurian Candidate]

Life in a Honolulu barracks at the time of Pearl Harbor.

OW: Picture, Director Fred Zinnemann, Screenplay, Supporting Actor Frank Sinatra, Supporting Actress Donna Reed, Cinematography, Editor
ON: Actor Burt Lancaster, Actor Montgomery Clift, Actress Deborah Kerr

*** Halliwell’s
7.9 IMDB

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July 19, 2008
125 Minutes
Romance / Comedy / Drama
Billy Wilder [The Lost Weekend; Sunset Blvd.; Sabrina; The Spirit Of St. Louis; Some Like It Hot]
#55 They Shoot Pictures Don’t They Top 1000 Films Of All Time

A lonely, ambitious clerk rents out his apartment to philandering executives and finds that one of them is after his own girl.

OW: Picture, Director, Writer
ON: Cinematography, AC Jack Lemmon, AC Shirley MacLaine, SAC Jack Kruschen, Art, Editing

*** Halliwell’s
8.4 IMDB #96

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June 24, 2008
Netflix Criterion DVD
English / German / Russian
104 Minutes
Film-Noir / Mystery / Thriller
Carol Reed [Oliver!]
#24 They Shoot Pictures Don’t They Top 1000 Films Of All Time

“Solo Filmschool” movies are those on the big list of the 1000 best films of all time, which the crew over at TSPDT keeps track of and updates from time to time. The version of the list I used is from January 2010. My plan is to work my way down the list, watching all of them on DVD (if available), regardless of how slow-moving, or out of date they might appear at first. If a highly-regarded and serious film class is not available where you live, you could do a lot worse than using this list as a jumping off point.


THE THIRD MAN is the subject of Cinebanter Podcast Number 54. After you’ve seen the movie, listen to the spoiler-filled review by Tassoula and I by clicking the play button right here:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Show Description:
• 00:00 Intro
• 00:32 THE THIRD MAN Discussion
• Break
• 16:23 To Sum It Up
• Break
• 16:47 The Last Five®
• Break
• 25:36 Average Matt
• Break
• 32:10 Tassoula’s 5 Favorites from SIFF
• Break
• 49:29 Show Notes
• 51:56 Credits and Outtake


An American pulp fiction writer goes to Vienna to meet an old friend and finds that he has disappeared in sinister circumstances.

An unintelligent but tenacious writer of Westerns arrives in post-war Vienna to join his old friend Harry Lime, who seems to have met with an accident…or has he?

Oscar Winner: Cinematography Robert Krasker
Oscar Nominee: Director Carol Reed, Editor Oswald Hafenrichter

#18 All Time Halliwell’s
#49 All Time IMDB
**** Halliwell’s
**** Ebert
**** Maltin
8.5 IMDB


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Written by Michael W. Cummins