One of the pleasures of DVDs, Blu-rays, and other sources for home entertainment is the opportunity to discover older films that, not too long ago, only would be screened at museums or in specialized movie houses. This was never more apparent when, a few years ago, I was screening DVDs of a number of 1930s features directed by the Japanese master Yasujiro Ozu for inclusion in the Leonard Maltin Classic Guide. While doing so, it hit me: Once upon a time, in order to see these films, I would have had to travel into New York City-- if they were being shown, for example, at the Museum of Modern Art. Or perhaps they might be found in a small theater in Paris’s Left Bank. Plus, I would have had to adjust my schedule to the dates and times in which the individual films were screening. Happily, this is no more-- and I've recently been discovering some excellent (but little-known) French films that are well-worth seeing and enjoying.
This year, it is in the realm of possibility that the five performers who earn Best Actor Academy Award nominations will do so for playing real-life individuals. Actually, there are six worthy nominees. They are: Timothy Spall, cast as J.M.W. Turner in MR. TURNER; Steve Carell, playing John du Pont in FOXCATCHER; Benedict Cumberbatch, cast as Alan Turing in THE IMITATION GAME; Eddie Redmayne, cast as Stephen Hawking in THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING; David Oyelowo, playing Martin Luther King, Jr. in SELMA; and Chadwick Boseman, playing James Brown in GET ON UP.
We now are celebrating the year’s top films and performances as we compile ten-best lists and prognosticate about whose name will be announced in February after “...and the Oscar goes to...” But it also is fitting to recall the talent we lost in 2014: those individuals who no longer will be appearing in yet-to-be-released films with Academy Award aspirations.
The recent events in Ferguson, Cleveland, Staten Island, and elsewhere only serve to emphasize the content and significance of a powerful new documentary that has just earned theatrical play. It is TALES OF THE GRIM SLEEPER, and it is directed by veteran documentarian Nick Broomfield.
If you plan a trip into Manhattan this holiday season, be sure to take a look at the beautiful Fifth Avenue windows and see the live Radio City Christmas Spectacular if you have a mind to do so. But if the film lover in you is bursting to come to the surface, be sure to leave some time to experience a holiday treat designed especially for pop culturists, American entertainment historians and film enthusiasts.
WHIPLASH is one of the season’s justifiably lauded new films. It is the story of a young music prodigy, played by Miles Teller, who is studying at a first-class conservatory. Here, he is intimidated-- and that is no over-exaggeration-- by a brutal, bullying, sociopathic instructor, who is played by character actor J.K. Simmons in what just may be this year’s runaway Best Supporting Actor Oscar winning performance.
Exactly one year ago, Flicker Alley released to DVD and Blu-Ray CINERAMA HOLIDAY, which came to theaters in 1955, and SOUTH SEAS ADVENTURE, which dates from 1958. These titles were filmed in a three-panel widescreen process known as Cinerama. At the time, movie attendance was in sharp decline and this and other widescreen processes were employed to lure audiences away from their TV sets and back into theaters.
Since its recent theatrical release, Jon Stewart’s ROSEWATER has been receiving oodles of publicity. The primary reason has nothing to do with the film’s content or quality. Instead, it mirrors Stewart’s celebrity. Still, ROSEWATER is a serious, sobering film that reflects on our deeply troubled and divided world. It is based on the true story of Maziar Bahari (played by Gael Garcia Bernal), an Iranian journalist who was arrested, blindfolded, and brutally grilled by the authorities for four months.
Some film are worth seeing because they are, well... worth seeing. They are artfully directed, excellently acted, thoughtfully scripted. But on occasion, a film comes along that is not just good or very good. Such words as superlative and even groundbreaking are more than fitting adjectives. Back in the 1970s, such films as 5 EASY PIECES and TAXI DRIVER were better than good and very good. I vividly recall seeing them and being stunned by their uniqueness, the depictions of their central characters, and their singular views of the world. Last year, two very special films-- Spike Jonze’s HER and Alfonso Cuaron’s GRAVITY-- both were audacious and original.
One of the pleasures of film-going is the chance to discover and savor filmmakers whose creative output is deeply personal and challenging to the willing viewer. But not all such moviemakers are young and unproven. Take for example Joanna Hogg, a British writer-director who previously had helmed experimental super-8 films, music videos, and episodes of TV series. Hogg was in her late forties when she directed UNRELATED, her first theatrical feature. UNRELATED dates from 2007. She has since made two additional features: ARCHIPELAGO, released in 2010; and EXHIBITION, from 2013. All enjoyed theatrical play in the U.S. earlier this year, and Kino Lorber has just released them to DVD.