Saturday, December 21, 2013

Weekly Film Quote

"It’s a melancholy comic fable about the here and now, thinly disguised as an outlandish vision of the there and later." - A. A. Dowd, in the review of the film HER


Sunday, December 1, 2013

Frankenstein, the Action Hero!

Judging by its box-office receipts, everyone went to see The Hunger Games: Catching Fire in the past two weeks. If so, that loud noise you heard from outside the cinema during the previews was the sound of Mary Shelley turning over in her grave.

Behold, the trailer for I, Frankenstein!

Frankenstein, the action-hero.

Really? Is this the evolution of the-bottom-dollar-justifies-it-all mentality? Have Hollywood executives drunk on heady commercial projections from business models, not felt the slightest tinge of remorse in converting Shelley's self-loathing, tortured monster (guilt-ridden as much by his physical grotesqueness as the terror he notices in the eyes of those who see him) - into a muscled, leaping-into-the-air-with-fiery-explosions-behind-him action hero caricature?

It is one thing to plunder the graves of film, television and written classics (and sometimes not-quite-classics) to remake/re-boot/re-whatever a new version for current moviegoers. But it is quite another to bludgeon an early work of seminal literary relevance (in this case, horror) into a jaw-droppingly banal action trope. Watch Frankenstein beat up droves of CGI alien creatures. Watch Frankenstein demonstrate martial arts prowess mid-air, his cape fluttering with expensive art direction. Watch Frankenstein break chains and leap onto roofs of speeding subway trains [Watch also, by the way, Bill Nighy sheepishly pick up a paycheck]. Watch Frankenstein stare into the eyes of his female love interest as things burn in the background. Having made good use of his annual 24-Hour Fitness membership, this Frankenstein is clearly not one to be tortured by his physical grotesqueness. This is Frankenstein by way of recent physically beefed-up cinematic avatars of literary brothers Sherlock Holmes and Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Slayer.

I am quite aware of just how righteously indignant I sound. But I would be thrilled to discover that I have been abjectly wrong on this: that this trailer does the actual film shameful disservice, and that come February we will be surprised to watch a clever and entertaining movie. Until then forgive me while I snicker every time I watch this trailer.

Weekly Film Quote

"A great movie is a movie I cannot bear the thought of never seeing again" - Derek Malcolm (The Guardian)

ENOUGH SAID: The Films Are Alright

[This article originally appeared on Moviewallas.com]

Several years ago, Nicole Holofcener directed a film called LOVELY AND AMAZING, criminally unknown to many, but beloved by those who saw it. It’s too bad that Holofcener already used that title, since it would have been apt for her latest film, ENOUGH SAID. The new film is both lovely and amazing.

Holofcener is a wonderful aberration in the world of cinema. Her movies are talky, inwardly drawn, and almost always centered on a thirty- to forty-something female character (or many such female characters). Stand-ins for what Holofcener wants to say about the world - about how we live, and how we interact with each other - one can sense that the lead characters have matured with the director through successive films. This should tell you then that her films do not exactly set the box-office ablaze. Which might change with her latest offering; it will surely be her most profitable venture. Holofcener has always had a knack for good writing, and with ENOUGH SAID she (intentionally?) moves about as mainstream with her storytelling as she ever has. Couple that with some particularly on the nose casting, and you get a warm pudding of a film. You would have to be a Grinch to resist its charms.

This time, the lead character is a masseuse, Eva (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) who is trying to navigate post-divorce life with the hallmark embarrassments and despairs that are characteristic of this filmmaker’s work. Struggling with both professional and personal impediments, she forges a friendship with an impossibly self-assured woman who appears to have it all (played by Holofcener mainstay Catherine Keener who is as usual fine here, although I can’t help thinking that with a bigger budget, Cate Blanchett might have been hired for this role). Eva also tentatively starts what might be a romantic connection with the laid-back, affable Albert (James Gandolfini, in one of his final film roles). Each has grown daughters from prior marriages. And individual careers. And each is of that age when a person knows who they are, and have settled into the shape of their adult personality, not willing to alter it for another person. Willfully allowing their separate worlds to collide will have its implications.

It is curious that many longtime Holofcener champions as well as those unfamiliar with her work have complained that this movie is reminiscent of a sitcom. Were it that every television sitcom were this perceptively written, finely acted, and tethered to the very grounded realities of day-to-day living.

Publicity still from ENOUGH SAIDThe genius of this film - and I don’t use the word ‘genius’ lightly - is in the casting. Whoever thought to bring Julia Louis-Dreyfus and James Gandolfini together - not exactly an obvious pairing - must have had the hand of cinematic gods on their shoulder. These two are magic. And one cannot help be wistful knowing that we will never see them act together again. Plus the movie adds further evidence to the theory that every film is bettered by the presence of Toni Collette.

I have long been part of the militant minority that has been singing loud the praises of Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Is there another actor working in film or television right now that does better reaction shots? Her facial reactions are Film School class good. There is something right with the world when a stellar television actor gets to headline a film. There has been some surprisingly nasty reaction, thankfully from a minority, to Luis-Dreyfus’ performance in this film; those not recognizing the wit in her acting will be awfully late to the party. With her lauded turns on HBO’S VEEP and the underrated, now cancelled show NEW ADVENTURES OF OLD CHRISTINE (with which this film shares much of its sensibility), Louis-Dreyfus’ star is on the rise. And one oddly resents sharing a personally known secret treasure with the rest of the world.

And what is one to say of James Gandolfini. That someone thought to consider him as a male romantic lead is cause for celebration. That he utterly pulls it off - using every facet of his dog-eared, scrappy, warmly intelligent persona to full effect - comes as a surprise; it shouldn’t have, but it does. That film cameras will never focus upon Gandolfini again is reason for considerable sadness.

There’s a scene early in the movie where Albert drops Eva outside her home at the end of their first date. In lesser hands their lines would have come off as silly or worse cheesy. But to watch Gandolfini and Louis-Dreyfus make that dialog sing is to know the value of good actors.

This film reminded me, in its modern, urban, everyday sensibility of the movie THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT. Like that film, ENOUGH SAID pulls off one sleight of hand after another in fleshing out, with remarkable skill – and efficiency – so many relationships: mothers and daughters, ex-wives and ex-husbands, employers and maids, confidantes and confessors. All of it works.

One may get the impression that the film is overly serious; this is hardly the case. Even as it has an understated gentleness to its rhythm, and an underlying wiseness lurking underneath, the film is mostly genuinely funny on a minute-by-minute basis. The movie’s singular strength though may be in the ease with which it demonstrates the need for, and the great difficulty in, practicing acceptance in any relationship. About how what might seem an unbearably annoying trait to one individual may be endearingly charming to another.

A.O. Scott in the New York Times called this film a minor miracle and I can see why. It is the sort of unshowy, unfussy, and uncommonly well-written film that rarely gets made these days.


MY STOLEN REVOLUTION: smiling through the unthinkable

[This originally appeared on Moviewallas.com]

At first obvious judgment, the documentary MY STOLEN REVOLUTION  may seem a feminist rebuke to Iran's troubling recent history with crimes against women.  But this film, at times a little rough around the edges, is also about other things. It is foremost a love-letter from the filmmaker to her brother. And the entire film is also in many ways her attempt at the exorcism of guilt.

In our routine dealings with the world, we interact with countless strangers: people in whom we may invest attention only for the short term, and others we may outright ignore. But, this film asks: how many of the strangers we encounter on a daily basis harbor histories of the unbearable, the unthinkable?

The filmmaker (Nahid Persson) a former student activist in Iran, who belonged to a liberal counter-establishment revolutionary organization in her youth, managed to leave the country just barely before the government started to crack down on members of the group. Now living in the United States and watching the recent resurgence of violent student-led protests in Iran more than three decades later, she is driven to reach out to the other members of her original radical group. This leads her to travel around the world to reconnect with these individuals, who like her, have settled into mostly quiet, domestic lives. It is surprising how unremarkable and ordinary the eventual destination can be for a path that started out with an unquenchable revolutionary fervor. As she meets these other women, they begin to recount, in frank detail, their experiences in the Iranian prison system after getting arrested in their youth, a fate the filmmaker narrowly escaped. The weight of her guilt becomes more evident when it is revealed that her younger brother, recruited into the revolutionary group for barely a month, was subsequently arrested and suffered the worst of outcomes. Unlike her, his fate did not allow for fleeing Iran prior to imprisonment.

All documentaries carry the burden of being truthful even as we know that the presence of a camera in front of a person fundamentally alters their behavior. This film presents several filmed interactions between individuals that couldn't possibly be entirely authentic. How could a lack of spontaneity and an inevitable rehearsed-ness not have crept in with the best of intentions.  But ultimately the film transcends those concerns and manages to pack an emotional wallop because it has the good fortune to have as its subject, these women of remarkable strength. Whose ideological passions, burning still after all these years, cut through the limitations of the documentarian's camera.

Weeks after having seen this film, what has stayed with me is this. It is the smiling face of one of the women: a face of uncommon peace that against all odds retained a calm grace even when recounting particularly horrific transgressions at the hands of Iranian prison guards. The five women who speak candidly to the camera in this film have all made peace with their past lives. How is it conceivable that individuals who have been through the unspeakable can have their future lives not irreversibly haunted by those experiences? How can bitterness not poison everything that follows for those who survive the horrific. Every person who makes it through a holocaust, who has been a political prisoner, who has been victim to military human rights violations, who has seen genocide first hand -  must have had to grapple with this. MY STOLEN REVOLUTION gains most power when demonstrating the seemingly insaturable human capacity for mending after surviving what would seem a wholly destructive experience.

'My Stolen Revolution' was screened at the 2013 Los Angeles Film Festival and is awaiting distribution.


Interview with Destin Daniel Cretton, director of SHORT TERM 12

[This article originally appeared on Moviewallas.com]


People expect differently from films these days.

At some point (when did it happen?) films became an extension of the amusement park experience - with audiences wanting each consecutive film to be even bigger, capable of instilling more awe, more spectacle. Something to take them by the shoulders and shake them; a visceral physical experience. This is of course one thing film can be.

But we have stopped expecting what earlier generations did from films. We have stopped expecting a film to be a fully rounded emotional experience. One that makes us simultaneously reflect on the inequities of life and be happy with our own condition. I mean the sort of experience filmgoers must have had when they went to the cinemas to watch IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE or CASABLANCA or SINGING IN THE RAIN or CITYLIGHTS. That emotional purity has gone entirely missing from modern cinema. Sentimentality has become a pejorative cinematic ideal. But sentimentality when well-earned and done with authenticity can make for the most potent of film experiences. And this is what makes SHORT TERM 12 an exceptional achievement.  It is the rare film that can claim possession of that emotionally purity. Set in a facility for foster care adolescents and the young employees who work there, this film could have wallowed in pious sanctimony at every step. Instead it takes every one of those tricky situations and makes them honest and grounded as the film builds to great power.

So there was understandale apprehension when Rashmi and I got the opportunity to sit down and talk with Destin Daniel Cretton, the director of SHORT TERM 12; how does one maintain objectivity when meeting with the creator of a film you admire so much? We tried.

Below are excerpts from the interview with Destin Daniel Cretton and Ron Najor a producer of the film.

Director Dustin Daniel Cretton and lead actor John
Gallagher Jr at the 2013 Los Angeles Film Festival
Destin: So (amongst the three Moviewallas) who didn’t like our movie and who did?
Rashmi: This is the problem because we all loved it. And we are not just saying that. So we do want to say congratulations. Yazdi’s so moved he can’t even speak at the minute.
Yazdi: Let me try. We always mention that the best movies for us are the ones which have that perfect trifecta of great writing, great directing and great acting. And very often you have two but not all three of those (components) and this film….oh man.
Destin: thanks.

Rashmi: I want to start by saying that we watched the short (on which this film is based). Can you talk about going from a short to a feature
Destin: Initially when I started writing the feature I was keeping all the same characters from the short. But I couldn’t even start; I couldn’t even put a sentence down. It just felt…it felt uninspired. And it also just felt boring to me, because I felt like I was retelling the same thing. And as soon as I decided to change the main character to a female supervisor, it became a whole new challenge and a whole new story; everything kind of opened up. For me it’s like the difference between going from writing something the way that I thought it’s supposed to be done and writing something that felt fun and felt fresh and real and new. Because I never wrote the short planning to turn it into a feature. Everything that I have done so far has been a way to try something I haven’t tried before. And so this was totally that. It was to stretch myself and explore other parts of this world that I wasn’t able to do in the short.

Rashmi: And Ron, did you have any involvement in the short or did you come into the feature?
Ron: I came into this feature but we had done a previous feature called I’M NOT A HIPSTER. So we sort of had a working relationship and they asked me to be a part of the feature version of SHORT TERM 12.

Rashmi: What were some of the challenges you faced in producing this movie
Ron: The casting part for us was one of the most challenging. It’s partially because with independent filmmaking, it’s a sort of tedious thing (where) once you get financed you then have this really short timeline for finding all the right people. So that was kind of nerve-wracking on our end. And just a bunch of different obvious things (including) the basic budgetary things. But overall it was a pretty lovely shoot; we had just all the right people. It was a lot of people from our I’M NOT A HIPSTER shoot. So there was a wonderful short-hand.

Rashmi: Which is probably comforting I guess.
Destin: I think it was necessary for my sanity to have good friends around.

Yazdi: Can we talk about the casting for a minute? Because for me much of the movie stands on the particular characteristics of the Grace character. It’s all about her. And until I saw the movie I didn’t realize how many people I knew like her who are so open and communicative and just phenomenal at their jobs but then they go home, and they are completely closed off and they are not communicative. Was she written with somebody in mind? And then how did you go about finding the right fit (for Grace)?
Destin: Grace is a combination of a lot of inspirations. Two of my supervisors when I was working at a similar place were young female supervisors who the few times that I saw them outside of work, were very shy. One of them was very small in frame, she was just a petite girl and did not seem like she could be the supervisor of anything (laughter). But when she stepped on to that floor, it was like she just went into character. It was so bizarre, she was one of the best supervisors that I have worked with. She really demanded respect from the kids, but also respected the kids. And was an enforcer of rules. But also didn’t treat the kids like they were lesser human beings. And there was something that was just so impressive to me. But also made me wonder: what is she like outside…because I did not know her personally, but it made me wonder, what is she like in other parts of her life?
Grace is inspired too by other people that I know. But also Grace is inspired by me. I have that tendency. There are certain situations when it is so easy for me to be open and honest and allow myself to be vulnerable and then there are other situations where I am like....I am not telling now, and nobody gets in. And she is definitely a way for me to explore things that I wrestle with as well.

Rashmi: And how long did it take you to write the feature?
Destin: 2009 was when I started writing the feature. And I got through one draft. And then was introduced to Asher Goldstein; he has kind of been a producer on this project from Day One. He is with a company called Traction Media and he came on board and read that draft and was the first person to say I want to do this with you. And so together we started reworking. He (started) giving me notes on that draft. There was one pretty drastic rewrite from that point; most of that rewrite was just simplifications, it was trying to combine characters so there weren’t so many story lines going on. And that was at the end of 2009. We finished another draft over the course of a few months and in 2010 that new draft won the Academy’s Nicholl Fellowship which was a huge stamp of approval for the movie. I don’t know if you are familiar with that. Once a year they give out five fellowships based on screenplay submissions to writers.

Yazdi: And it’s nationwide?
Destin: Yeah, its worldwide. But it is given out by the Academy Of Motion Pictures. And then two things happen. One you get money. At that time it was 30,000 dollars, now it is 35,000 dollars. But you are also accepted into this community of just wonderful people. All these writers, the list of past Nicholl winners is pretty wonderful and it’s a very inspiring thing to happen. It’s just crazy that that happened, I still can’t believe it . But (after) that fellowship we still weren’t able to get funding for SHORT TERM 12. But that fellowship allowed me to write another screenplay which ended up being I’M NOT A HIPSTER. And I wrote that specifically to be able to do it on our own if we couldn’t get funding for SHORT TERM 12. And.....we didn’t get funding for SHORT TERM 12. So we shot I’M NOT A HIPSTER and I used a lot of the money that they gave me and put that into the pot along with Ron who put money in the pot. And Ron’s uncle put money in the pot. And then that premiered at Sundance and then that was a huge reason we ended up getting funding for SHORT TERM 12.

Yazdi: I’m sorry I keep coming back to the cast, because I just can’t get past it. I think that if there is any justice in the world, Brie Larson will get end-of-year awards recognition.
Destin: I’m with you.

Rashmi : She is phenomenal.
Yazdi: She is devastating. How did you find her? Of course she has been doing a lot of television, and you mentioned there was a very narrow period of time to look for somebody - and even John Gallagher Jr, who plays Mason - they are perfect for their roles. Did you look for long or did you happen to get lucky? And how did you know you had found them?
Destin: There was a lot of luck, but we didn’t just pick somebody.

Brie Larson in publicity still for SHORT TERM 12
There were specific things about Brie that initially excited me. Just from looking at her reel. Her ability to transform from character to character even when she is playing little bit roles, she’s just like a completely different person. Whether she’s doing comedy or drama, she is always acting from her gut. She’s performing from this thing that is just happening in the moment. So many times she will be reading lines that I know were scripted, but it just doesn’t feel scripted. So that was very exciting to me. And then what sealed the deal was that we did a Skype call. It wasn’t an audition, it was just a conversation and she was actually on the set of THE SPECTACULAR NOW (at the time). And she had read the script. She had told me that she had signed up to volunteer at some group homes already because she was so excited about the idea. And I was obviously really impressed by that. Later she told me that she had been denied by all those people (laughter). So she actually did not get to volunteer but it was still impressive that she was that passionate about it. And in a good way she can be very obsessive, and she goes for it. And she started researching as much as she could about the subject. As a director you cannot ask for anything more than an actor who loves the project and the character so much that they become the expert on that character. And also she is just smart, she got the character. And then there’s something just intrinsically about her that felt like Grace. When she would stop and I could watch her brain ticking behind her eyes as she is thinking about something, and it felt like Grace.

Rashmi: She is a great actress and she has done great work, but I think the range that you were able to get from her - and the depth - to affect an audience so deeply that we feel that we know this character. That’s not easy. What do you do to really pull that out of them?
Yazdi: It’s the script.
Destin:  It’s everything, It’s the environment that everyone helps create on set.  A lot of the scenes that people really connect with Grace on, we shot later. It took a little time to create an environment where everyone felt really safe. Safe to be themselves and safe to mess up. And know that no one’s going to jump on them. So then that makes them more daring, makes them try things that they have never tried before. And I think the moments when everybody started to thrive more and more were just a few days - when they realized this is a safe place to play. So I think that had a lot to do with it. I don’t know… the wonderful thing about Brie is that she is kind of fearless. Nobody is a hundred percent but the best thing you can ask from an actor is to just like go for it and mess up really bad. And not care and do it again as opposed to just trying safe things that they know that they can do really well. And Brie was just going for it, and it was great.

Rashmi: And the kids, some of the kids are younger. Was it the first performance for some of them?
Destin: Close to. Alex Calloway had acted before….but this was his first film. Keith Stanfield, it’s his first feature too.

Yazdi: Ah, I loved that Marcus character
Ron: He was the only one who came from the original short film.

Yazdi: I love his character. Different people communicate differently and that’s how he finds his way to communicate. We talk abstractly about art helping us. And here is an example of art literally helping him speak his mind. This kind of stuff is very hard to do. It can come off inauthentic. It is a fine line to walk and stay on the right side.
Destin: It was a frightening movie to direct. Because there are probably like 30 scenes in this movie that could have just thrown the train off the rails if something was too melodramatic, or pushed too far in that direction.

Rashmi: And you are flirting with some interesting issues as well. You are kind of saying I am showing you what the situation is but I am not going to say whether I am for this or against this. I think the film does a nice job of not manipulating the audience. How much did you have to pull back with the pen?
Destin: We had to pull back a lot with everything. I mean we pulled…I overshot. I shot a lot of things that I knew was not going to make the cut.

Rashmi: DVD special!
Destin: Yeah, there’s actually going to be half an hour’s worth of material. But I think everything about this movie was trying to see how much we can take away from it. In terms of  stripping down the music. In the editing. See how much we can take away from it and…still allow audiences to feel.

It’s still a movie. I wanted it to be a movie. It’s not supposed to just be emulating non-fiction. It’s a story that has things that happen that I wanted to happen. Like I wanted to watch Grace just beat the shit out of a car.  I wanted her to have that.

Rashmi: I was (thinking I) want to do that.
Destin: That’s obviously fiction mixed in…there’s definitely an emotional ride that’s happening. So I wanted people to enjoy this ride. But we also didn’t want to be yanking people around. We found the more we took out the better the experience it was for people. By taking, I mean taking out our blatant fingerprints, if that makes sense.

Yazdi: I wanted to ask about the Mason character. He seemed to me a very realistic embodiment of stability. The kind of rock that everybody wishes they had to lean on. It’s very easy in movies to have characters which are mean or have an obvious motivation to behave poorly, but to have a character who displays decency and who is well intentioned, that calls for skill.

Some of my favorite scenes are the ones with his family. Was his family specifically written to be different? He is obviously from a different heritage, but yet they are so accepting. And I loved that little part of the movie.
Destin: I do too. I do too.

I see the Grace character as kind of the thing that I struggle with. And I see Mason as the person that I want to be more like.

Mason was created out of trying to figure out who Grace would allow to be in her life. Because she throws everyone away. Mason is persistent but he is also very non-threatening. He is really supportive, like annoyingly supporting. But he is also just so goofy and not cool that it makes sense that Grace would feel safe around him.
And it was very important for me to show that scene; it’s a small scene but I think it is one of the most important scenes in the movie. Where he gives that speech when his parents come out. We see an example of the system working extremely well. Which has nothing to do with the system; it has to do with those people, because there are good people working in every system figuring out a way to do it. To me that scene just represents so much of what I know is possible in the world. The good things that humans are capable of doing happen in that scene. Just like color doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter what your ethnicity is or what your traditions are. Its just acceptance of human beings having fun together.


Monday, November 25, 2013

Netflix recommendation: FRANCES HA

I watch more films on Netflix than any other source. I have heard many say that there aren't any good films screening on Netflix, that the best films never show up there. I wouldn't know because I have had more than 200 movies on my Netflix Instant Watchlist for as long as I remember; I watch many a film from the list but then I add far more to the list. Its a game I am never going to win. An exceptional day for me would be one where I could watch films back to back from my Netflix list morn through night. 

So here is the first in hopefully a regular series of recommendations of movies streaming live on Netflix. For all those who bemoan that there isn't anything good to watch. 


I am thrilled to be kicking this off with Frances Ha because it is delight manifest on the cinema screen. 

The movie is written and directed by Noah Baumbach, he of the dark, aching 'comedies' Greenberg, Margot at the Wedding, and The Squid and The Whale. His latest effort carries an entirely different blueprint. For one thing the movie is shot in gorgeous black and white, which renders Brooklyn and Paris that much more romantic. When I saw the film at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival, an audience member at the Q&A after the film asked Baumbach as to what besides The French New Wave and Woody Allen were his inspirations for this film. "Those two pretty much sum it up", he replied. 

The movie is co-written by the gamine Greta Gerwig who also plays the lead role. Maybe its because of her greater investment in this film (with her contribution to the script), but Gerwig is the most delightful she has been; and this means something considering that here is an actor who has made a name for herself by being delightful in films. It would be reductive to call this simply a coming of age film. As Gerwig mentioned during her response to a question after the screening at Toronto, this film interested her because it is based on something seldom seen in movies: unrequited love between two individuals who have a relationship that is not sexual. The film has a wide swath within the scope of its commentary, but is primarily about the lead character Frances (Gerwig) going into a tailspin after her best friend Sophie decides to pursue interests that do not include Frances. Who amongst us hasn't dealt with a best friend who inevitably started running a different race. This is the first film I have seen that has captured this with stark, recognizably painful honesty. 

The film is of course nothing if not a showcase for exceptional writing. The dialog here is pitch-perfect; laugh too loud at a line and you will miss the next piece of dialog. The spontaneous tone of the movie is not the mistaken for improvisation; we learned from the director and cast that this came from tedious repetition of takes based on a tightly scripted story.  The film also gets its last scene just right making it wistful but well-earned, scoring a perfect landing where most other films falter. 

This is an immeasurably witty and wise film.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Weekly Film Quote

"It's not what a movie is about, it's how it is about it" - Roger Ebert

Friday, March 15, 2013

2013 San Diego Latino Film Festival Finds

The San Diego Latino Film Festival is running through its final lap, and there is still an opportunity to sample many a film before the fest concludes this weekend on Sunday, March 17th.

Here are some of the films playing at SDLFF that I watched. The diversity in the scope of these films speaks to the richness of the festival catalog.

  • 7 CAJAS (7 BOXES, Paraguay) This was one of the highlights of my Toronto Film Festival  experience last year (original review here). Here is the premise of 7 BOXES (directed by Juan Carlos Maneglia and Tana Schembori): in a teeming shanty market in Paraguay, seventeen year old Victor is one of many people making a living by carting merchandise on wheelbarrows through the maze of busy streets. One evening he is asked to deliver 7 wooden boxes to a location he will be informed of at a later time. Hoping to finally be able to afford the used cell-phone he has been lusting after, he accepts the task. And thus begins what will be the breathless remainder of the film as Victor realizes that there are many who will go to any extreme to get their hands on the 7 boxes. If this film sounds like a Premium Rush knock-off, let me assure you this is a far smarter, grittier and layered movie that is as close-to-the-ground unpolished and hard-scrabble as they get. The more relevant comparison would be with Run Lola Run which also featured a protagonist persistently on the run against time. 7 Boxes features an ingenious plot (wait till you find out what's in the boxes) that expertly weaves together more than a dozen characters who interact in unexpected ways in a story that is as labyrinthine as the market streets through which Victor dashes with the seven wooden crates tethered to his wheelbarrow. Every actor here achieves a reality to their character that makes it impossible to imagine them in other roles. We have seen movies like this before, but ultimately what elevates this film is the notes of cleverness that are liberally scattered throughout. To give an example, there is a scene in the film where in the middle of his running, running, running, Victor stops outside an electronics shop to catch his breath. There are multiple televisions in the storewindow, each fitted to a camera. As he sees his face projected through multiple perspectives he can't help but stare, probably seeing his face from so many angles for the first time in his life. Something terrible has happened immediately before this scene, but Victor stops for a moment to stare. To be a kid. To be a human being, suddenly fascinated by something simple. It is touches such as this which demonstrate that this is the work of a gifted filmmaker. All of the pieces of the plot ultimately snap together with a pleasing click, and the movie has a final scene so perfectly rendered it had me cheering at the screen. To discover a movie like this is the reason one goes to film festivals. Unpredictable, frenetic and utterly entertaining, this folks, is how you do it.

  • DE JUEVES A DOMINGO (THURSDAY TILL SUNDAY, Chile) I had a chance to catch this at the 2012 Los Angeles Film Festival; original review here.  Helmed by first time director Domingo Sotomayor Castillo, this film covers a four-day road trip (hence the film title) taken by a couple, their daughter, and young son.  For the most part, the movie is seen through the eyes of the teenaged daughter. Approaching neorealism, this is a work of stark austerity, which may tempt a viewer to assign it hastily to the genre of films where nothing happens. The studiedly documentary feel, the naked abandon of traditional plotting, and the patient, unrushed, lingering of the camera over these four characters, may at first seem unsettling. But when one stops trying to deduce the film on a minute by minute basis, one settles into its rhythms. And you realize this is a film that trusts the intelligence of the viewer enough to not provide easy answers. And demands that the they bring their own experiences to glean what they will from this story. Slowly the cracks in the relationships come into focus, sometimes ever so briefly. The movie nicely evokes a sense of nostalgia - for a time when being a child meant not having the tools to fully decipher the behavior of adults. The young daughter is never precocious or all knowing, and the actor who plays her (Santi Ahumada) brings an effortless naturalism that belies any knowledge of a camera being around her and captures all the complexities of being a teenager: distracted, self-involved, impatient, but also always well-meaning. In the Q and A after the film, the director revealed that the four-year old who played the younger brother was obviously not up to acting in the traditional sense, and the other actors learned to ad-lib around his natural behavior on camera. No wonder the film evokes a feeling of purity about it.

  • EL ULTIMO ELVIS (THE LAST ELVIS, Argentina) Armando Bo, the first-time director of this film which also screened during the 2012 Los Angeles Film Festival (original review here), has no trouble coaxing an altogether believable performance out of Margarita Lopez, who plays in this film, the young daughter of an Elvis Presley impersonator in Argentina. But it is John McInerny, playing Carlos, the lead, who impresses most by managing to transcend the kitschiness associated with celebrity impersonators. He plays a blue collar worker struggling to make ends meet while dealing with an ex-wife who does not think much of him, and a daughter who is uncommunicative. On the side, he plays Elvis Presley tunes at local gigs, and the film makes it clear from the very first scene that this is not a man lacking in talent. His single-minded admiration for Elvis is so complete as to be entirely immune to irony. Or pity. Or perverseness.  This man simply believes in Elvis. And it is to the director and lead actor's credit that this character never becomes laughable. Carlos is 42 years old, the same age as when Elvis died, and things spiral even further out of control as a set of events leave him having to become the primary caretaker of his distant daughter. As he labors to stay afloat, the movie quietly shifts into an uncompromising character study of a man under duress. The final scenes of the film, invested with a sense of inevitability, cunningly hint at a mystery left for the viewer to solve, the kind that should trigger a reconsideration of all that has transpired earlier in the film. The day before the screening of the movie, we were fortunate to run into the completely disarming young director (who previously co-wrote the film Biutiful). Please come see my film tomorrow and tell me afterward whether you liked it, he said. I have been doing one better than that, Mr Bo. I have been asking anyone who will listen to find a way to see this uncommonly accomplished film. And I can hardly wait for what Armando Bo does next.

  • FECHA DE CADUCIDAD (EXPIRATION DATE, Mexico). More than anything else, I admired the underlying darkly morbid tone of this film. You watch most of it with a sense of dread, even as you are faced with acrid humor at every corner. The film reminded me of Delicatessen in terms of that mix of the mythic and the gruesome and for its regard for characters that are deeply damaged. I also liked the structure of the film which in the second half revisits the same events from the individual perspective of the three main characters. And finally I was completely taken by the amazing performance from Ana Ofelia Murguia, who plays the mother. What an actor! Her wordless reactions single-handedly kept the film compelling through the first half, and she was utterly believable at every step. The film also reminded me of the Korean movie Mother from a few years ago, which too also about a woman who will go to any length to find out what happened to her son. This film is being endorsed by the San Diego Film Critics Society, which will host a Q and A sessions after the 5 PM screening tomorrow, Saturday March 16th. 

  • LA PLAYA DC (Columbia).  It is difficult to do good coming-of-age films. And I appreciated the spare, almost documentary like treatment of this material. It is also an opportunity to see a part of the world, that we are seldom exposed to in cinema: that of life in the shanties in Bogota. I was fascinated by the entire subculture of men patterning their hair as a way of expression in an otherwise brutally criminal society. This film could have been undone if it had made the slightest concession to sentimentality, but it does not. In many ways the film is just a character study of someone growing up in an place most of us are unfamiliar with, in the underbelly of society where death is matter of fact, and criminality has taken its hold even within the very young. I like how the film settles in its last act, of being about a teenager who hesitantly finally finds a place for himself within the confines of an environment he is unable to change, or escape from. 

  • NOSTALGIA FOR THE LIGHT (Chile) This film is something so altogether its own. It is also one of the most successful documentaries I have seen. It is about something that I had no prior knowledge of, something that has little to do with my own life experiences. And yet, the deep and authentic emotional resonance of the movie cannot be denied. It starts off by focusing on the high density of observatories that have been built in the deserts in Chile, literally, in the middle of nowhere. The uncommonly dry desert conditions and the lack of humidity or neighboring light, make this region one of the few places in the world from which to most clearly observe the skies. Every astronomer in the world (and many aim to eventually make their way to the Chilean observatories) is trying to decipher the origin of the world we live in by studying the imprints on the galaxies around us. Deeply philosphical, the film achieves the altogether impossible task of making metaphysical inquiry glow with clarity and wonder. How fascinating to find, as is mentioned in the film, that the calcium in our bones is the same calcium that was present at the formation of our planet. We are literally the universe. As it turns out the film is interested in not just the scientists in these observatories, but also on another group of individuals who happen upon the region. For the past twenty, thirty years even, many women have been wandering these deserts, looking under the sand, in search of human remains. Human remains of their loved ones, brothers, sons, husbands who disappeared mysteriously during the Pinochet regime. The political backstory informs us that tens of thousands were executed and their bodies scattered around the desert. Every once in a while a body is recovered: the intense, dry heat preserving clothing and shoes on the skeletal remains. Unable to find closure from the disappearance of a loved one, these women set out on regular pilgrimages within these deserts in the hope of locating some evidence of the one they have lost. In the skies above these deserts, there are those who are trying to find the origin of humankind, and in the sands there are those that are trying to locate the end of human lives. Both of which makes this is a gently, powerfully devastating film. 

  • POST TENEBRAS LUX (AFTER DARKNESS LIGHT, Mexico) The divisive director Carlos Reygadas (Japon, Battle In Heaven, Still Light) has made a name for himself for constructing films that are amorphous, unstructured, meditative, and often wordless for extended periods of time. Like Michael Haneke, Raygadas' films are often offered as a puzzle to the audience, and the director is not one to be generous with clues. His films are immersive, without tether, sexually graphic, and bearing no submission to the traditional demands of plot. Highly polarizing, these are films that demand introspection and vigorous debate after a viewing. Post Tenebras Lux (from the Latin, for 'Light, After Darkness') is no exception. It's a fool's errand to try and describe what the film is about, but I will try. An affluent couple move to rural Mexico with their two children (played by the director's own kids). What seems like a veritable Eden (there is no denying the visual brilliance of the first fifteen or so minutes of the movie, featuring the young daughter in a rapturous state of being around the natural splendor of her environs), soon becomes the setting for a tentative playing out of a class struggle between the 'have's who have moved in, and the 'have not's who are the residents of this idyllic location. The movie resolutely disavows chronology, and as it plays out, it becomes increasingly unclear as to what is real, what is imagined, and what might simply be the delusional stream of consciousness of a dying man. This should have been frustrating, and I suspect the film will test the patience of many. But I couldn't help being pulled into the tidal languor of the movie. Unlike say The Tree Of Life, to which I had a greater difficulty surrendering, this movie elicited in me, a quiet wonder. I willingly took the journey, fully aware that it may not have a destination at all. What to make of the animated, red, devil-like creature that shows up in two scenes of this otherwise rigidly realistic movie? Are the abruptly set rugby scenes in an English school, simply an autobiographical concession to the director's own experiences, or is one of the boys in those scenes meant to be the grown up child of the couple in the film? Trying to deduce the answers to these and other questions is the movie's own reward. What should have been insufferable and indulgent, was surprisingly not. Like Holy Motors from last year (compared to which, this film is far more transparent) I am glad that this too is what cinema can be.

San Diego Latino Film Festival: What's Your Excuse For Not Going?

The 2013 San Diego Latino Film Festival (SDLFF) is on, folks! The fest is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, and it includes a particularly well curated selection of movies. The full schedule is here.

Yes we all like to go to the multiplex to watch the latest blockbuster. At other times, we visit the Landmark Cinemas to catch the smaller films - you know, the ones that have the misfortune of not being backed by Hollywood megastudios or to have gone through a blitzkrieg of advertisement and promotional marketing. But, there is that other movie experience that no true film lover (and who doesn't love movies?) should miss out on: the film festival experience. You might just discover that little gem of a film that is unlikely to get a traditional release. Or if does find eventual distribution, you will have the bragging rights to say that you saw it before anyone else. For example, there is a film screening at SDLFF called 7 CAJAS (7 BOXES). If there is any justice in the world, it will soon find distribution for general theatrical release. But until that happens, how wonderful that you can watch it. Right now. Locally. By paying the same price as a regular cinema ticket. And you will be supporting your local festival scene.

This year, the San Diego Film Critics Society (SDFCS) is endorsing two films playing at the festival. On Saturday, March 16th, FECHA DE CADUCIDAD (EXPIRATION DATE) from Mexico will be screening at 5 PM. Scott Marks of the San Diego Reader, Brian Lafferty of East County magazine, and I will be conducting a Q and A session after the end of this screening. If picking films from the substantial festival catalog intimidates you, here is an easy decision: go see FECHA DE CADUCIDAD. Leavened by the darkest of dark humor, and featuring a mix of the mythic and the gruesome, the movie is elevated further by its regard for characters that are deeply damaged. On Sunday, March 17th, the SDFCS will be championing the 8 PM screening of the Brazilian film FATHER'S CHAIR, which will be introduced by SDFCS members.

There is literally something for everyone at the SDLFF. In addition to the selection of new films there is also a 20th anniversary retrospective of well-regarded movies from the past, including Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN, CRONOS, AMORES PERROS, CITY OF GOD, CENTRAL STATION, OBRE LOS OJOS and ALL ABOUT MY MOTHER. Each one of these is exceptional, and if you have already seen them, here's your opportunity to catch them again on the big-screen. There will be screenings of documentaries, Short Film programmes, a Para La Familia selection of age-appropriate films, a program of Science on Screen which showcases films with an emphasis on science and technology, a Cinegay program, the Un Mundo Extrano program featuring extreme films that prize shock value, and a Cine Mexicano program. This is easily one of the more extensively planned and organized film festivals in San Diego. What is your excuse for not going?

I will be discussing my take on some of the films screening at 2013 SDLFF in a subsequent post.

All films screen at the Digiplex Mission Valley Cinemas (formerly Ultrastar Mission Valley Theatres, 7510 Hazard Center Drive, San Diego), with a few additional screenings at the brand new Media Arts Digital Gym Cinemas, 2921 El Cajon Boulevard, San Diego. 

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Revisiting John Hughes; the TIFF Next Wave Film Festival

If you are based in Canada, and specifically a Toronto denizen, you are in for a treat.

Starting Friday, February 15th, the good people at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) have organized the TIFF Next Wave Film Festival. And the theme for the fest is young movie lovers. It includes an enviably well curated selection of movies featuring the young in cinema. The full schedule can be found at http://tiff.net/nextwave. All films will be playing February 15-17th at the festival flagship venue, the TIFF Bell Lightbox. 

In addition to the film screenings, there is even a 24-hour film challenge. According to the website, "TIFF Next Wave challenges teams of high-school-aged youth to make an original short film in just 24 hours, from 6pm on Thursday, February 14 to 6pm on Friday, February 15, just in time for Battle of the Scores. All films that meet the competition criteria will be screened at TIFF Bell Lightbox on the closing day of the TIFF Next Wave Film Festival, Sunday, February 17." 

No festival of films about the young can be complete without screenings from the John Hughes pantheon. And the TIFF Next Wave Film Festival has one-upped the stakes by a full on John Hughes Film Marathon as part of the fest. Even better, high school students can attend the Hughes marathon free.

2013 TIFF Next Wave publicity still for Ghost Graduation
One of the films I viewed at the 2012 TIFF was the Spanish language movie Promocion Fantasma (Ghost Graduation).  A half-hour into the movie, I stopped analyzing the film and surrendered to its silly, giddy charms. An homage to the John Hughes films from the 80s, Ghost Graduation is one of the featured films at the TIFF Next Wave Film Festival, playing on Sunday, February 17th at 2:45 PM. 

Here is what I wrote about Ghost Graduation in my 2012 TIFF write-up

2012 TIFF publicity still, Ghost Graduation
"If your list of comfort-food movies invariably includes films from the eighties, you will be sure to love Ghost Graduation (Promocion Fantasma). This is a light-hearted piffle of a film that only exists to get as many laughs as possible as it (re)visits the John Hughes universe. The director of this Spanish-language film, Javier Ruiz Caldera, mentioned in the Q & A after the film that the plot emerged from the premise of what might have happened if the characters from The Breakfast Club never got out of detention but died and were stuck as ghosts in their high school for the next twenty years. In this film, a school teacher who can see the dead has to help these ghosts resolve unfinished business so they can move on and stop haunting the school. The reason why Joss Whedon was the apt choice to make The Avengers is because he is a geek about the universe of these comic books and he gets these characters. A filmmaker who taps into his own outsized love for a particular story or genre will always do a better job than another who does not have that love, no matter how technically accomplished the latter may be. Well, here is a filmmaker who gets those seminal films from the eighties and he nails that sensibility in his own directorial debut. At the TIFF screening, he got a long round of applause at the end of the film. Sometimes all you need to do is make a film about something you love, and the rest takes care of itself.

Incidentally, I wonder if John Hughes will be someone whose cache will continue to grow in coming decades. He is not typically invoked during mention of the cinema greats. We will find out, but I suspect time will be kind to the legacy of John Hughes films".

I am glad to see that the TIFF Next Wave Film Festival is already doing its part to keep the Hughes legacy relevant to a new generation of movie lovers.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Best of 2012 : Oddities

An unscientific, biased and sometimes mean-spirited tally of cinematic observations from 2012
  • Worst film of the year: Wrath Of The Titans
  • If you didn't like this film, you can't be my friend: Life Of Pi
  • So sue me, I liked this film(s): Mirror Mirror, Salmon Fishing In The Yemen
  • Worst film with monkey: The Hangover II
  • Best film with monkey: Chimpanzee
  • Best film awaiting distribution : Its A Disaster, 7 Boxes
  • Most self-important film: The Dark Knight Rises
  • Film I liked that everyone else hated: Cloud Atlas
  • Film I hated that everyone else liked: The Master
  • Most unhinged film (that is still oddly compelling): Holy Motors
  • Most underrated film: Celeste and Jesse Forever, Friends With Kids, Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World, People Like Us
  • Best film that should have received a better deal at the box-office: The Perks Of Being A Wallflower
  • Most unexpectedly disappointing film: Trouble With The Curve, This is 40
  • Most unexpectedly great film: End Of Watch
  • Most unexpectedly somber film: Skyfall
  • Most unsettling film: Bestaire
  • Most offensive film: Crazy and Thief
  • Most unjustly deplored film: John Carter
  • Most inventively structured adaptation of a classic: Anna Karenina
  • Most uninventively structured adaptation of a classic: Les Miserables
  • Most ambitious film: Prometheus, Cloud Atlas, Looper
  • Best film you haven't heard of (but is available on DVD): Sleepwalk With Me
  • Most depraved (in a brilliant way) film: Killer Joe
  • Best reason to watch documentaries: Searching For Sugar Man, Queen of Versailles, How To Survive A Plague
  • Most redundant evidence that Ben Affleck is a considerable director: Argo
  • Better of two (!) films this year featuring, how should I say this, an actor's sexual tension being manually relieved by his female costar: Hyde Park On Hudson (the other being The Master)
  • Funniest use of nudity: Gina Gershon in Killer Joe
  • Most healthy inclusion of nudity: The Sessions
  • Most unhealthy lack of nudity: Skyfall
  • Most queasy sexual tension: Juno Temple and Matthew McConnaughey in Killer Joe
  • Best film with gratuitious violence: Hit and Run
  • Worst film with gratuitous violence: Django Unchained
  • Most unrecognizable actor: Hugh Grant in Cloud Atlas
  • Most unexpectedly impressive actor: Matthew McConnaughey (Killer Joe, The Paperboy, Magic Mike, Bernie)
  • Most unexpected acting revelation: Channing Tatum's comic timing in 21 Jump Street
  • Most tense seven minutes in cinema this year: Noomi Rapace's self-induced gestational termination in Prometheus
  • Most unappreciated actor: Rashida Jones in Celeste and Jesse Forever
  • Most overlooked actor: Kristin Scott Thomas and Rachael Stirling in Salmon Fishing In The Yemen
  • Most unforgivably underused seasoned actor: Debra Winger in Lola Versus...
  • Best use of a seasoned actor (female edition): Susan Sarandon in Jeff Who Lives At Home, Salma Hayek in Savages
  • Best use of a seasoned actor (male edition): Christopher Walken in A Late Quartet and Seven Psychopaths
  • Best actor deserving a better career (female edition): Melanie Lynskey (Hello I Must Be Going)
  • Best actor deserving a better career (male edition): Sam Rockwell (Seven Psychopaths)
  • Best film poster: Promotheus

    Saturday, January 19, 2013

    Amour: a measure of love

    Is there a more austere director working in cinema right now than Michael Haneke? There is a steel-cut precision to how his films are crafted. Ordinarily, this Austrian filmmaker's surgical coldness is off-putting (see Cache, The White Ribbon, Funny Games) and many a viewer has come away frustrated because Haneke resolutely refuses exposition or personal commentary on the subject at hand in his films. Find what you will in his movies, which are often structured as puzzles, and if the puzzle goes unsolved, so be it. With his latest film Amour though, Haneke finally finds a topic that complements his style. In telling a story that is overtly prone to sentimentalization, Hanneke's detachment becomes his greatest strength.

    Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva in Michael Heneke's Amour
    Most of us go to films to be entertained, for a temporary reprieve from our real problems. But Hanneke does something unexpected with Amour. He flips the camera back at the audience. So that instead of an entertainment, what we are seeing on the screen is our own all too real life with all of its unbearable burdens. Quite simply the film is about an octogenarian who has to deal with his wife's sudden decline in mental and physical health. Who amongst us has not dealt with the aging - and rapid deterioration in the health - of a loved one. Is there a greater trial than watching someone you love slip away? By focusing the unwavering camera on the punishing everyday details of an elderly man facing the fading away of his wife, the movie becomes an exacting chronicle of the price this act is going to extract from him. Make no mistake, in many ways this is a horror film.

    Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva in Michael Haneke's Amour
    I have to be honest: while I was watching Amour, it did not move me in the moment (was it because it was too harsh, too real, in the immediate to warm up to?) But since having seen it, I am unable to shake it off. It has summoned old memories - of grandfathers and uncles and many others who have spiraled hopelessly into worsening health - and fostered introspection about my own future. And this why I believe this film has resonated with audiences since its release. And definitely with members of the Academy, who have bestowed this french movie with the coveted Best Film as well as Best Foreign Film Oscar nominations.

    This is probably Haneke's most accessible film. Forget the usual stupid, superficial depictions of young love in cinema. This film's view of love is for the ages - of love (between two individuals) that has survived across decades, and is immune to analysis, beyond judgment. Of two fates entwined. Does one individual in such a couple have the resolve to submit to whatever it takes to support and care for the other? Every older couple in the world defined by one that is ill and the other who is the caretaker knows of the inevitable end to their story. And it is in this universality that the film finds its power. The film, set in Paris, begins with an explicit reveal of the fate of one spouse. But even then, the last few scenes of the film delve into the mildly surreal and leave a sense of ambiguity - that presents both a puzzle to be solved, and grants a small manner of hope, should you seek to find it, in this grim film. I am still not sure what the exact conclusion of this film is, and while this has been infuriating with other Haneke films, it is transcended by the overall arc of the movie here.

    If I have a major complaint about the film, it is in its choice to have this story play out within the confines of those living in privilege. The elegant Parisian apartment in which the couple live seems ironically even more sprawling when it needs to be traversed by those whose physical health is rapidly deteriorating. The husband and wife, well-regarded music teachers, have lived a rich life, both in terms of culture as well as financial fortitude. Might not the central theme of the film been even more devastating had the couple led a less affluent, more middle-class, or even an economically challenged life. In real life, the greater tragedies related to aging are made that much worse due to financial turmoil.

    Judge Haneke how you will about his approach to cinema, but there is no doubting his masterly confidence as a craftsman. Like his other films, Amour is constructed almost exclusively of imperceptibly long, elegantly-framed single shots. These actors (and you could not ask for a more marvelous, seasoned pair than Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva) do not get a reprieve, as they emote and move in and out of a patiently waiting camera. There is no quick cutting, or sudden reaction shots to grant them any concession. Who but the best actors can submit to this uncompromising way of filming?

    There are scenes here that are hard to forget. There is that signature shot earlier in the film of a large group seated in a classical music concert hall just before the start of a recital and there are close to fifty individuals on the screen (which is reminiscent of the closing shot of Cache). Somewhere in this crowd, Haneke places his two protagonists, and if your eyes should seek them out, then fine; if not, well that's another way to approach the film. And then there is another unbroken shot later in the movie where the husband shuffles ever so slowly, pursuing a pigeon that has wandered into the apartment, as he tries to catch it with a blanket. That such little actions of a single person can generate so much anxiety in the viewer is a measure of the film's success.

    Amour is easily one of the most honest movies that I have seen about aging.

    Wednesday, January 9, 2013

    Best of 2012: Performances

    It is the night before the announcement of the Oscar nominations for 2012 cinematic achievements. And by this time the selections in each category are already predictable, each pick so thoroughly vetted, debated, handicapped and politicized, that many of us will revel in finding the few errant names that sneak past expectations to win a nomination.

    Below are my picks of the best of 2012 performances, a list that for the most part will not have much in common with what will appear in the Oscar nominations tomorrow. Also, I have refused to limit to only 5 picks in each category; if the point of such lists is to enable recognition, all the better to be generous when doing so.

    Adam Scott (and Jennifer Westfeldt) in Friends With Kids
    So here are the actors who I think are best in class, listed in the rank order of my appreciation of their work.

    Best Actor, Male
    John Hawkes, The Sessions
    Adam Scott, Friends With Kids
    Jean-Louis Trintignant, Amour
    Suraj Sharma, Life of Pi
    Matthew McConaughey, Killer Joe
    Rosemarie DeWitt in Your Sister's Sister
    Daniel Day Lewis, Lincoln
    Denis Lavant, Holy Motors
    Tom Holland, The Impossible
    Liam Neeson, The Grey
    Channing Tatum, 21 Jump Street
    Jason Segal, Jeff Who Lives At Home

    Best Actor, Female
    Rosemarie DeWitt, Your Sister's Sister
    Helen Hunt, The Sessions
    Emmanuelle Riva, Amour
    Rashida Jones, Celeste and Jesse Forever
    Naomi Watts, The Impossible
    Emily Blunt, Your Sister's Sister
    Michael Fassbender in Prometheus
    Cecile de France, The Kid With A Bike
    Melanie Lynskey, Hello I Must Be Going
    Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook

    Best Supporting Actor, Male
    Michael Fassbender, Prometheus
    Sam Rockwell, Seven Psychopaths
    Michael Pena, End Of Watch
    Christopher Walken, A Late Quartet
    Irrfan Khan, Life Of Pi
    Thomas Dorat, The Kid With A Bike
    Robert De Niro, Silver Linings Playbook
    Bryan Cranston, Argo
    Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln
    Susan Sarandon in Jeff Who Lives At Home
    Woody Harrelson, Seven Psychopaths

    Best Supporting Actor, Female
    Susan Sarandon, Jeff Who Lives At Home
    Salma Hayek, Savages
    Judi Dench, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
    Catherine Keener, A Late Quartet
    Emma Watson, The Perks of Being a Wallflower
    Anne Hathaway, The Dark Knight Rises

    Let me know which of these picks got stuck in your craw, and which ones were criminally left out.