Now streaming on Netflix: Four of my 2013 favorites

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Very cool news: Four films from my top 10 of 2013 for The Film Stage are now streaming on Netflix. These are greats from filmmakers like Claire Denis and Noah Baumbach — and all four are must-sees. Below are my write-ups from The Film Stage.

Blue is the Warmest Color (#8):

The plot is, in some ways, simple: Teenager Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos) meets Emma (Léa Seydoux), a college art student, and the two fall in love. During the course of the three-hour film, we see the highs and lows of their passionate relationship. But the film is much more complex, much more involving, much more vivid than that. It is, I think, one of the finest films ever made about young love. Yes, the film features several graphic, extended sex sequences. But they are only a small part of director Abdellatif Kechiche’s creation. The emotion is what stands out, and that is what makes those scenes memorable, not how graphic they are. “I have infinite tenderness for you. I always will,” says Emma late in the film. The viewer feels that tenderness — and shares it. What a great love story this is, and what a glorious portrayal of two unique people.

Bastards (#7):

Claire Denis continues to demonstrate why she is one if the world’s most provocative and important filmmakers with this razor-sharp, chilling bit of film noir. Dark, disturbing, and unforgettable, Denis’ film is a brutal shocker. There are images — blood running down a dazed, naked girl’s legs; the inside of a hellish barn; one of the most mesmerizing night driving sequences in film history — as brilliantly composed as any in recent memory.

A Touch of Sin (#6):

Jia Zhangke’s four-story tapestry is a harsh, epic exploration of modern China, and a study of defeated characters that rewards close viewing. In each story, violence comes quickly, sometimes coupled with absurdity: a villager strikes back against the oppressive powers-that-be, a killer takes aim due mainly to boredom, a sauna worker is pushed past her breaking point, and a young person shuffles from job to job with disastrous results. What does it all mean? For Zhangke, that is the ultimate, likely unanswerable question.

Frances Ha (#5):

There’s a sequence about thirty minutes into Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha that captures a feeling of real joy. Frances, played by Greta Gerwig, runs down the street, twirling, leaping, and smiling, in a Carax-appropriating scene set to David Bowie’s “Modern Love.” The sequence seems, well, perfect, and in some ways, so is Frances Ha. It’s a simple, funny, moving story that captures the experience of drifting through your twenties, growing apart from friends, and discovering who you are as well as any film I’ve ever seen. A perfect film? It sure feels that way.

My top 10 of 2013: Blue is the Warmest Color (#8)

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More from my Film Stage top 10 list. 

The plot is, in some ways, simple: Teenager Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos) meets Emma (Léa Seydoux), a college art student, and the two fall in love. During the course of the three-hour film, we see the highs and lows of their passionate relationship. But the film is much more complex, much more involving, much more vivid than that. It is, I think, one of the finest films ever made about young love. Yes, the film features several graphic, extended sex sequences. But they are only a small part of director Abdellatif Kechiche’s creation. The emotion is what stands out, and that is what makes those scenes memorable, not how graphic they are. “I have infinite tenderness for you. I always will,” says Emma late in the film. The viewer feels that tenderness — and shares it. What a great love story this is, and what a glorious portrayal of two unique people.

TIFF follow-up: Bastards, Blue, and Dallas

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Most of the films I was sad to miss at TIFF 2013 have not yet been released, although there are a few — Rush and Enough Said come to mind — that I simple have been unable to catch up with. Happily, though, there are a few that I was horrified to miss that I have been able to see. It seems funny now to remember how I gazed at the TIFF schedule, desperately seeking a way to fit in Dallas Buyers Club and Gravity, for example. It seems especially silly since I knew those were coming soon. Every year I tell myself I need to see more films that I’ll likely never come upon again …

Anyway, the five films below are TIFF selections I was able to see since the festival ended. It’s a solid group … mostly. (Incidentally, All Is Lost did not play TIFF, but would have been listed below with 4 stars if it had.)

 

Bastards — 4 stars

Dark, disturbing, and unforgettable, Claire Denis’ film is a brutal, noir shocker. There are images — blood running down a dazed, naked girl’s legs; the inside of a hellish barn; one of the most mesmerizing night driving sequences in film history — as brilliantly composed as any in recent memory.

 

 

Blue is the Warmest Color — 4 stars

I have already written a bit about Blue; suffice to say, I adored it. It has been interesting to see more of the backlash develop, and read some harsh criticism of the film. There are some valid thoughts there, but I stand by my belief that this is a very special love story, and one of the finest films of this year.

 

Dallas Buyers Club — 3 stars

I just saw Dallas, and I must admit, I’m still wrestling with my verdict. It is a highly watchable, very entertaining film, with strong performances from Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto. It does a fine job of establishing its place (Texas) and time (the mid-80s to the late-90s). Perhaps … it seemed more entertaining than it should. This is, after all, a film about the AIDS crisis. For the moment, I am going with 3 stars. It’s a fine film — I just can’t decide if I can call it a great one.

 

Gravity — 3 stars

Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity is another tricky one. Make no mistake, it is a stirring cinematic achievement, a technical wonder, and a real experience. But the writing is awful, the characters poorly drawn, and, as a friend pointed out after seeing it at TIFF, Gravity is essentially a survival story, nothing more. All Is Lost does a far better job of reaching beyond the genre’s limitations. Still, what a wonder!

 

Parkland — 2 stars

Pre-TIFF, I was very interested in this Kennedy assassination drama. Its central concept — a multi-character look at how that day affected individuals like Abraham Zapruder — is fascinating. But the resulting film is dull and unmemorable. Its heart is in the right place, but Parkland takes one of the most complex moments in American history and renders it … sleepy.

Breaking, too: Eclectic boogalo!

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For the first several months of my site, I posted a weekly round-up of film-etc. stories that were on my radar. I have not had time to do that lately, but that does not mean I have not been reading like a mad man. I retweet many of these on my Twitter page, and also post some on Facebook. But the last week or so has been especially interesting. Here are six of the biggies that you need to be aware of:

Each one of these is fascinating, and they have all helped make this, in my opinion, the most fascinating filmdom fall in some time …

Matt Damon and George Clooney in “The Monuments Men” (Claudette Barius / Sony)

“Blue” Draws Raves and Criticism (But Mostly Raves), Warner Bros. Gangster Classics, and More

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A few quick hits on this Memorial Day.

  • Todd McCarthy breaks down the Cannes winners for the Hollywood Reporter: “Whether it had won or not, this was already destined to be the year of ‘Blue Is the Warmest Color,’ given how everyone had to see it just for the unprecedented and protracted realistic sex scenes between Adele Exarchopoulos and Lea Seydoux in Abdellatif Kechiche’s close-up, three-hour portrait of a female love affair.”
  • Manohla Dargis takes issue with “Blue,” and it will be interesting to see if her opinion will be shared my other major critics as “Blue” heads to the States: “‘It’s disappointing that Mr. Kechiche, whose movies include ‘The Secret of the Grain’ and ‘Black Venus’ (another voyeuristic exercise), seems so unaware or maybe just uninterested in the tough questions about the representation of the female body that feminists have engaged for decades. However sympathetic are the characters and Ms. Exarchopoulos, who produces prodigious amounts of tears and phlegm along with some poignant moments, Mr. Kechiche registers as oblivious to real women.”
  • However, reports Michael Phillips, “Spielberg and his fellow jurors took the unusual step of awarding the top prize not simply to director and co-writer Kechiche, but to the film’s two lead actresses. The jury, he said, felt ‘privileged’ to watch this three-hour film of ‘deep love, deep heartbreak’ evolve at its own pace and rhythm.”
  • I take a look at Warner Bros. new “Ultimate Gangster Collections” today on buffalospree.com. The sets, divided into “classic” and “contemporary,” are pretty stunning; perhaps the film I’m most looking forward to watching again is Michael Mann’s “Heat.” It’s sad to think that De Niro and Pacino have made only a handful (if that) of relevant films since then. But my goodness, that L.A.-set crime epic is pretty special.
  • Speaking of Michael Mann, Ignatiy Vishnevetsky recently penned an interesting short analysis of the director’s “Miami Vice” film, a movie that was received with a collective shrug upon release but now, he says, “has emerged as a major touchstone for my generation of critics. If you’re young and you’re writing seriously about the medium, there’s a good chance that you’re a ‘Miami Vice’ fan.”
  • The “Much Ado About Nothing” hype machine will soon go into overdrive, which kind of thrills me, since I’m hoping to see my name continue popping up. It is NOT mentioned in this NY Times piece, but it’s a good read all the same.

It’s a lovely, sunny Memorial Day in Buffalo — time to get away from the computer and enjoy it.

Image of Cannes winners Abdellatif Kechiche, Léa Seydoux, and Adéle Exarchopoulos, courtesy of the Chicago Tribune

Spielberg’s Cannes Jury Goes “Blue”

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One of the most acclaimed, and intriguing, films at Cannes this year was the French lesbian coming-of-age drama “Blue is the Warmest Color,” and the predictions were correct: Steven Spielberg’s jury has awarded “Blue” the Palme d’Or. It instantly rockets to the top of my hope-it-plays-TIFF list.

The Playlist has the complete winners list; here is a rundown:

  • Palme d’Or: “Blue is the Warmest Color,” Director: Abdellatif Kechiche (also shared by stars Adéle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux)
  • Grand Prix: “Inside Llewyn Davis,” Director: Joel and Ethan Coen
  • Prix de la Mise en Scene (best director): Amat Escalante, “Heli”
  • ‘A Touch of Sin’Prix du Scenario (best screenplay): “A Touch of Sin,” Writer: Jia Zhangke
  • Camera d’Or (best first feature): “Ilo Ilo,” Director: Anthony Chen
  • Prix du Jury (jury prize): “Like Father, Like Son,” Director: Kore-Eda Hirokazu
  • Prix d’interpretation feminine (best actress): Berenice Bejo, “The Past”
  • Prix d’interpretation masculine (best actor): Bruce Dern, “Nebraska”