My top 10 of 2013: Blue Jasmine (#9)

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More from my Film Stage top 10 list. 

Woody Allen‘s finest drama since Crimes and Misdemeanors was a dark, unsettling character study centered around one of the finest performances the director has ever brought to the screen. Months later, it is easy to forget how frantically unhinged Cate Blanchett‘s woman-on-the-verge of a lead actually is; rewatching at home may, if anything, make Blanchett, and the film itself, even stronger.

Weekend Preview: Woody Allen’s Great “Blue Jasmine” Leads an Odd Crop of New Releases

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Woody Allen, Steve Jobs, and Ronald Reagan all converge at the box office this weekend, and I can imagine they’d have one helluva conversation.

The key opening of the week is Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine,” a film I had the pleasure of seeing a few weeks ago. I am a Woody-ite, without question, one of those folks who believes he has never directed a truly bad film. (Note that I said “directed”; even I can’t defend some of the films he merely starred in, like “Scenes From a Mall” and “Picking Up the Pieces.”)

Every Woody film — even those I do not love, such as “September,” “Curse of the Jade Scorpion,” and “Scoop” — has its moments, and every one is watchable. But every so often, Allen hits an artistic home run, a movie that even the haters must acknowledge. “Midnight in Paris” was one of those, but with “Blue Jasmine,” he has directed a film that I believe is as strong as any drama he ever made.

Cate Blanchett is a sure-fire nominee, and possible winner, as Jasmine, an unhinged woman who has lost everything. Sally Hawkins is fine as her sister, Alec Baldwin utterly believable as Jasmine’s Madoff-esque husband, and, surprisingly, Andrew Dice Clay is wonderfully effective as her former brother-in-law. He has a scene near the film’s end that is among “Jasmine”‘s best.

There are moments of humor, but “Blue Jasmine” is straight-up drama, an affecting, incisive portrait that should rank among 2013’s finest films. It has received rapturous reviews and very strong early box office; I do not expect it to make as much dough as “Paris,” but it should have no trouble finding an adult audience. It is now playing at Dipson’s Amherst and Eastern Hills theaters.

To tie in with the film’s release, I’m hoping to finally put together my ranking of Woody’s oeuvre from top to bottom. He has, um, a lot of movies, so it will take some time, but I am ON THIS.

After “Jasmine,” things get a little weird. And what every one of the other films opening this weekend has in common is that they do not interest me in the least.

The last month has been crazy for the makers of “Lee Daniels’ The Butler,” with a title controversy that garnered a great deal of press. I have not been impressed with the trailers for this one, mainly due to the casting — Alan Rickman and Jane Fonda as Ronald and Nancy Reagan? Liev Schreiber as LBJ?! Robin Williams as Ike??! JOHN CUSACK AS NIXON??!! But I think this will find a sizable audience, and there have been some extraordinary reviews so. Well, better reviews than Daniels’ “The Paperboy,” at least.

As much as I hated to say it at the time, “Kick-Ass” did nothing for me. I found the jokes and story stale, and not particularly clever, although Chloe Grace Moretz was a revelation. She is the only reason I might stumble into “Kick-Ass 2,” a sequel to a film that most certainly was not a hit.

Ashton Kutcher plays Steve Jobs in “Jobs.” Enough said.

“Paranoia” rounds out the majors, and I’m stunned that a film with this oh-so-general title and plot was able to cast Gary Oldman and Harrison Ford. ($$!) This looks only slightly more interesting than “Firewall.”

Note that two popular Bollywood entries are opening: “Once Upon a Time in Mumbai Dobaara” and “Chennai Express.”

Tonight and on Thursday (August 22), The Screening Room offers “A Night at the Grindhouse” with the wonderfully titled “The Horror of Party Beach” and “The Beast Must Die,” while “Murder on the Orient Express” is back for one more screening at 7:30 on Saturday.

Meanwhile, Bacchus goes big with “The Avengers” on Wednesday (August 21); the UB North Campus has two of summer 2013’s biggest hits, “Fast & Furious 6” and “The Great Gatsby,” at 8:45 tonight and Tuesday (August 20), respectively; and UB South Campus features “Gatsby” at 8:45 on Wednesday (August 21).

Photo: Left to right: Peter Sarsgaard as Dwight and Cate Blanchett as Jasmine; photo by Merrick Morton  © 2013 Gravier Productions, courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

Wednesday Round-Up: Stanley Kubrick Loved “Citizen Kane” … and “White Men Can’t Jump”

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There is something fascinating about what films were favorites of great filmmakers — especially when some of the selections are a surprise. In the past week, two lists for two major directors — Stanley Kubrick and Spike Lee — were released in different forms.

The late, great Stanley K.’s cinephile tendencies were the subject of a wonderful article by Nick Wrigley for the British Film Institute. As Wrigley writes:

“I count myself among the many admirers of Kubrick’s films and his remarkable aptitude for problem solving in all areas of life. I would argue that the only remaining unexplored area of Stanley’s life in film is his relationship with, and love of, other people’s films. In his later life he chose not to talk publicly about such things, giving only a couple of interviews to large publications when each new film was ready – but through his associates, friends, and fellow filmmakers it’s now possible to piece together a revealing jigsaw. I wanted to try and pull together all the verified information I could locate and have it looked over by a wise, authoritative eye.”

That eye belongs to Kubrick’s brother-in-law, Jan Harlan, who is interviewed by Wrigley in a separate story (see quotes below).

Wrigley points to a list Kubrick submitted to an American magazine named Cinema in 1963:

1. “I Vitelloni” (Fellini, 1953)

2. “Wild Strawberries” (Bergman, 1957)

3. “Citizen Kane” (Welles, 1941)

4. “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” (Huston, 1948)

5. “City Lights (Chaplin, 1931)

6. “Henry V” (Olivier, 1944)

7. “La notte” (Antonioni, 1961)

8. “The Bank Dick” (Fields, 1940)

9. “Roxie Hart” (Wellman, 1942)

10. “Hell’s Angels” (Hughes, 1930)

Later, Wrigley mentions a list “that appeared in September 1999 on the alt.movies.kubrick Usenet newsgroup courtesy of his daughter Katharina Kubrick-Hobbs, a list of films she “happen to know that he liked:

“‘Closely Observed Trains’ (Menzel, 1966)
‘An American Werewolf in London’ (Landis, 1981)
‘The Fireman’s Ball’ (Forman, 1967)
‘Metropolis’ (Lang, 1927)
‘The Spirit of the Beehive’ (Erice, 1973)
‘White Men Can’t Jump’ (Shelton, 1992)
‘La Belle et la Bête’ (Cocteau, 1946)
‘The Godfather’ (Coppola, 1972)
‘The Texas Chain Saw Massacre’ (Hooper, 1974)
‘Dog Day Afternoon’ (Lumet, 1975)
‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ (Forman, 1975)
‘Citizen Kane’ (Welles, 1941)
‘Abigail’s Party’ (Leigh, 1977)
‘The Silence of the Lambs’ (Demme, 1991)
and I know that he hated ‘The Wizard of Oz.’ Ha Ha!”

Harlan points to others, including George Sluizer’s “The Vanishing” (1988): “Kubrick watched it three times and told Sluizer that it was ‘the most horrifying film I’ve ever seen.’ Sluizer asked: ‘Even moreso than The Shining?’ Kubrick replied that he thought it was.” As Harlan adds, “‘The Vanishing’ was real — ‘The Shining’ was a ghost film — a huge difference.” And the list also includes … “White Men Can’t Jump,” which is just awesome.

Wrigley asked Harlan for his thoughts on the undeniably enjoyable yet certainly silly documentary “Room 237”; Harlan’s thoughts.:

“I think it’s the silliest film ever. A complete rip-off. To say that hotel employees on the last day before closing — waiting with luggage for transport — is a reference to the Holocaust, is an insult to both Stanley and the victims of this greatest crime in human history. So are all other references to 1942. To go to the length of making drawings to prove that the large interiors of the hotel could never fit into the smallish place we see from the outside is a joke. Any schoolboy can see that! It’s a ghost film! Nothing [in ‘Room 237’] makes any logical sense.

I did not take the documentary that seriously — I thoroughly enjoyed it, yet never found any of the theories convincing. (It says a lot about how we read and interpret movies, sometimes illogically.) But it is unsurprising that someone close to Kubrick would have that reaction.

 

The rest of this week’s round-up, including a killer list from Spike Lee:

 

Image from BFI article. Stanley Kubrick, photographed by Dmitri Kasterine in 1969 on the set of A Clockwork Orange. Credit: Dmitri Kasterine: www.kasterine.com

Wednesday Round-Up: Is Woody Allen America’s Most Secretive Filmmaker? Plus, a Month of Truffaut on TCM

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I love the secrecy that surrounds every Woody Allen project, the way a film would be mentioned as “Woody Allen Fall Project 2002” or “Woody Allen Summer Project 2008.” That is still the case; sometimes little is known about his latest film until just weeks before it opens.

Take “Blue Jasmine,” which opens later this month. I’m not sure if anyone was certain that it was a drama until the first trailer dropped. After all, this is a cast that includes Louis C.K. and Andrew Dice Clay (!). Surely, we could expect laughs, correct? Perhaps not, as the trailer seems quite dark — darkly comical, perhaps, but dark all the same. I think? This IFC.com post summed it up nicely:

“The tone of this trailer is all over the place, making it difficult to tell if ‘Blue Jasmine’ is meant to be funny or sad. The story, the music, the fact that we see two comedians who don’t actually do anything funny — everything could be taken both ways.”

We’ll find out in just a few weeks. Until then, let’s start our round-up with some nicely vague details on Woody’s NEXT film, set to star Colin Firth and Emma Stone. (It looks like this level of secrecy is nothing new; check out this article from 1982.)

Photo: Left to right: Director Woody Allen, Cate Blanchett, and Alden Ehrenreich
Photo by Jessica Miglio © 2013 Gravier Productions, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics