Best Director: Let’s Settle This Once And For All

Peter Suderman of Reason.com writing on the lack of a nomination for Selma director Ava Duvernay, notes,  “it’s always a little bit weird to see a movie nominated in the Best Picture category but not in the Best Director category, as if a film could be the best movie of the year but not also the best directed. You can imagine a case for the distinction, of course, but the Academy’s voting and nomination patterns don’t make that case.”  To his credit, he does admit one can “imagine a case for the distinction” and then rightfully states that the Oscars have never been consistent in making that case.  As a result, it does seem weird to many people to see a movie nominated for Best Picture but not Best Director but only because the Oscars have so lazily nominated the two hand in hand practically from the start.   In reality, it’s not weird at all and I wish it would happen more often.

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portlandias4
January 17, 2015
David Kalat
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Make Spit Takes, Not War

What’s wrong with comedies?

I don’t mean that as in, “why aren’t today’s comedies as good as the olden days?” Because that’s nonsense—the breadth and depth of innovative, hilarious comedy being done today is staggering: It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Portlandia, The Comeback, Nathan For You, Inside Amy Shumer, Parks and Recreation, The Daily Show, John Oliver, The Colbert Report, Drunk History, Arrested Development’s revival on Netflix, Bob’s Burgers, Veep, The Soup, Key & Peele… I mean, yeah, that’s a big ole’ list of TV shows not movies, but it’s not like 2014 was devoid of good comedies of different styles and approaches in theaters: The Grand Budapest Hotel, Muppets Most Wanted, 22 Jump Street, Top Five, and (infamously) The Interview.

So, no, my question isn’t why aren’t comedies better, but why don’t comedies get more respect?

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Memories of Movies

When I was in my teens and twenties, with the advent of cable and VHS, I watched about two or three movies a day, usually at night after work or school, depending on where I was in life.  One after another, over and over and over.  That’s a lot of movie watching.  Even if you lowball that figure to ten movies a week, that’s still over five hundred in a year and over five thousand a decade.  So, like I said, I watched a lot of movies.  It was important as I was getting to know the language of cinema, getting a feel for the history, gaining a recognition of the actors’ faces, the directors’ styles, the editors’ techniques, and everything else one associates with self-teaching the cinema.  But inevitably, I slowed down.  A few movies a week, maybe three or four, then two, and then, maybe one.  Sometimes now, I don’t even watch a single movie in a week anymore (I’m excluding the movies I watch for TCM and its articles so there’s a bit of cheating with this but I mean movies I watch just for myself and not for assignments).  I never thought that would happen.  And when it did happen, I thought it was just me getting older, burning out but I was wrong.  It was by design and the discovery came when I finally realized that I liked viewing movies better when they had more space between them.

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Nippon Noir: I AM WAITING (1957)

iam1In recent years I’ve seen a critical push to apply familiar terms like Film Noir to all manner of Japanese crime films made during the 1950s and 60s. The term has even been applied to the culturally specific Sun Tribe films (please see my previous post that discusses Sun Tribe films), Pink Films of an adult nature and the more experimental and political films that exemplify the Japanese New Wave. I don’t always agree with this “roping in” because it often limits our understanding of Japanese cinema which contains historical and cultural influences that often defy simplistic categorizations. But sometimes the term fits.

It’s worth remembering that after WW2 the Japanese film industry was largely controlled by the U.S. occupation forces and Japanese filmmakers faced immense pressure from American censors to make films that resembled Hollywood‘s own output at the time. And in postwar America Film Noir was thriving. The concentrated effort to destroy much of Japan’s cinematic history and modernize the country led to an onslaught of gun totting detectives, dangerous dames and cutthroat criminals in Japanese cinema that began replacing the sword wielding samurais, kimono clad ladies and gentle families that had previously populated the movies. Amid these changes filmmakers created their own distinct body of work that became more progresses and subversive after the American occupation ended. But the impact of Hollywood’s aggressively imposed influence is undeniable and in this postwar climate elements of Film Noir became deeply rooted within the Japanese film industry. One particularly striking example of this is Koreyoshi Kurahara’s I AM WAITING (1957), which makes its debut on TCM January 18th (1am PST/4am EST).

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This week on TCM Underground: MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE (1986)

Maximum-Overdrive

Humanity falls before an onslaught of electronic devices — from pinball machines to 18-wheel trucks — while staff and customers at a roadside diner make an unplugged stand against the rise of the machines.

MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE (1986)

Cast: Emilio Estevez (Billy Robinson), Laura Harrington (Brett), Pat Hingle (Mr. Hendershot), Yeardley Smith (Connie), J. C. Quinn (Duncan Keller), John Short (Curtis), Ellen McElduff (Wanda June), Christopher Murney (Loman), Holter Graham (Deke), Frankie Faison (Handy), Pat Miller (Joe), Giancarlo Esposito (Video Game Player), Stephen King (Man at ATM). Director/Screenplay: Stephen King. Executive Producer: Dino DeLaurentiis. Co-producer: Milton Subotsky. Cinematography: Armando Nannuzzi. Music: AC/DC.

Color-97 min.

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“First Look” at the Museum of the Moving Image

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Movies are hard to see. That statement feels false, what with films all around you, available to stream at a keystroke. But distribution is a weird, half-hazard thing, a pseudo-science that pretends to know which products will sell and which not, a presumptive mind-reading of an imaginary audience that doesn’t get to choose for themselves. So many of the most challenging and strange films get left behind, mere rumors in festival reports and critic bull sessions. This is why festivals like the Museum of the Moving Image’s First Look series are so essential. I don’t have the time or the expense account to travel to far-flung locales and sample the outer edges of film festival programs. This is what we pay programmers (not much) for! Now in its fourth year, First Look provides a necessary catch-up for the most challenging work from the previous year, stuff too bold or bizarre to reach screens otherwise. Chief curator David Schwarz and assistant film curator Aliza Ma teamed up with FIDMarseilles, a similarly provocative French festival, and organized a wide-ranging program of too-hot-for distributor films. There’s a vital verite document of the Syrian civil war (Our Terrible Country), a lyrical portrait of rural Brazil (August Winds), and a Persian language lesson that opens up a swathe of Iranian history (I For Iran).

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Remembering ‘A Raisin in the Sun’

raisinposterIn the year of the Freedom Rides, in which an interracial group of activists challenged Jim Crow segregation by traveling throughout the South by bus, Columbia released A Raisin in the Sun. A faithful adaptation of the play by Lorraine Hansberry, the film stars most of the original Broadway cast, including Sidney Poitier, Claudia McNeil, Diana Sands, Ruby Dee, Ivan Dixon, Louis Gossett, Jr., and John Fiedler. On Wednesday, January 14, TCM airs A Raisin in the Sun at 9:45 pm, a reminder of a brief time when Hollywood produced a number of social dramas that directly or indirectly dealt with racial issues.

A Raisin in the Sun marked the second film by director Daniel Petrie. A part of  the generation of directors that included Sidney Lumet, John Frankenheimer, and George Roy Hill, Petrie began his career in theater and on television during the late 1950s. This generation believed that  commercial tv and Hollywood films could convey controversial issues to a mass audience—something studio heads had avoided during the Golden Age. As a television director, Petrie had worked frequently with producer David Susskind, who wanted to bring Lorraine Hansberry’s play to the big screen. I remember Susskind’s television talk show, which featured interviews with prominent politicians and controversial figures. Like his talk shows, his television programs and films chronicled the important social issues of the times, including civil rights, war, abortion, drugs, and crime. Susskind, Petrie, and this generation of directors were in sync regarding their belief that popular cinema could effectively be used for social change. [...MORE]

Digressions: Max Ophüls and Paul Thomas Anderson

ophuls and anderson

TCM screens The Earrings of Madame de… (Max Ophüls, 1954) on January 26th. As an every-other-week Morlock poster I’d ideally save any Ophüls-related piece for Jan. 25th. But I’m skipping that date to attend Sundance and, more importantly, last Friday night I found myself aboard an official party bus loaded with… how to describe them? Most of them were contest winners, most of them were stoners, most were drinkers – and absolutely all them were hard-core cinephiles (some with tattoos to prove it). They were there to hitch a ride with director Paul Thomas Anderson and one unexpected guest; Alamo Drafthouse-impresario Tim League. The standing-room only group of over 40 people were there to share an hour-long shuttle as it zig-zagged across Denver towards a 35mm screening of Anderson’s latest film. Inherent Vice has topped many critics list for best films of 2014 and was screening that night at the Alamo in Littleton, Colorado. [...MORE]

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January 10, 2015
David Kalat
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The Ministry of Fear

So what do we find here? Two different fortune tellers, neither one genuine. A dead man who isn’t dead—or, put another way, a man who is killed twice. Two different characters who kill a loved one, a set of secret microfilm that is stolen twice, a fake blind man, fake cops, a fake delivery of some fake books to a fake address. Is Mr. Travers the same man as Dr. Forester, or is Mr. Travers the same man as Mr. Costa? Which Mrs. Bellane is the real one—or is neither one of them a real person?

OK, slow down. Take this one step at a time.

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KEYWORDS: Dan Duryea, Fritz Lang, Ministry of Fear, Ray Milland
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The Parody Conundrum

Parody rules the night on TCM as Murder by Death is followed by The Cheap Detective, both starring Peter Falk.  Murder by Death is a parody of the Agatha Christie style mystery in which a group of detectives, including a couple of Agatha Christie knockoffs of Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot, are called together to solve the mystery of their own murders, as each succumbs to individual traps, while The Cheap Detective goes for the noir target instead and both were penned by famed playwright Neil Simon.  But do they work?  Not just these two, but genre parodies in general?

MurderbyDeath

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