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Beyond Hollywood: Border and Capernaum

Beyond Hollywood: Border, Capernaum Hollywood’s biggest party, the Oscars, is coming up and will no doubt indulge in some of the usual self-congratulation.So it’s good to look beyond the tinsel of an American-dominated industry, especially in a year when a “foreign-language” feature—Roma—has a decent shot to win best picture.
Border (Sweden/Denmark) Iranian-born director Ali Abbasi’s bizarre Scandinavian tale was tops in the Un Certain Regard sidebar of the 2018 Cannes film festival and Sweden’s entry to the Oscar foreign-language category.It did manage one Oscar nomination—for makeup and hair styling—as well it should. Based on a short story, the central character is Tina (Eva Melander in a raw, fearless performance) who works as a Swedish custom agent at a seaside port of entry.To say that this is not a movie with beautiful people is an understatement. Tina has forbidding, Neanderthal-like features and quite literally a nose for sniffing troubled human emotional states (along with a ki…

Commanding Female Roles: Destroyer and Vox Lux

Powerhouse Female Roles: Destroyer, Vox Lux This year’s last week of January has been a change from the past dozen or so when I would be binging on exciting new movies at the Sundance film festival, my favorite festival experience. I miss that special atmosphere but am keeping tabs on the offerings generating the most buzz and worth watching out for during the year. In the meantime let me recommend a couple of recent releases featuring powerhouse female performances that command attention even if overlooked for Oscar nominations in a competitive year.

Destroyer (U.S.https://www.destroyer.movie/) Nicole Kidman won her best actress Oscar back in 2003 for her transformative role as Virginia Woolf in The Hours. In director Karyn Kusama’s bleak crime drama, Kidman’s psycho-physical transformation is if anything greater and considerably less glamorous, akin to that of Charlize Theron as a serial killer in Monster.Kidman plays Erin Bell, an alcoholic, hard-bitten Los Angeles police detective est…

Another Awesome Doc and Those Oscar Nominations

Another Awesome Documentary and Those Oscar Nominations

They Shall Not Grow Old (New Zealand/UK https://www.theyshallnotgrowold.film/) New Zealand director Peter Jackson is best known for the fictional Lord of the Rings trilogy.But it’s his longtime interest in military history that has led to this amazing work, released during the centenary of the armistice that ended the First World War and dedicated to a grandfather who served in the British army from 1910-1919.On January 21 I braved extreme windchills to see it on the big screen, a one-day only showing at Cineplex theatres in Canada. The painstaking production drew from some 100 hours of archival footage originally shot during the war itself, and 600 hours of audio recordings by WWI veterans made in the 1960s and 1970s. These voices of firsthand experience provide all the narration.Given the variable quality of extant archival images, their lack of sound, different frame-rate film speeds, etc., Jackson’s team had to overcome a numbe…

On RBG, Laurel and Hardy

RBG, Laurel and Hardy

On the Basis of Sex (U.S. http://www.focusfeatures.com/on-the-basis-of-sex) One of the finer documentaries of 2018 is RBG which covers the trail-blazing career of liberal U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (who turns 86 on March 15).A multiple award winner, including being named best documentary by the National Board of Review, it’s a contender for an Oscar nomination to be announced January 22. Director Mimi Leder’s narrative takes a rather jaunty inspirational melodrama approach to its subject, focusing on the period from 1956, when Bader Ginsburg (Felicity Jones) was among a handful of women admitted to the Harvard Law School, to the 1970s when she, representing a male client, won a groundbreaking case before a federal appeals court that hinged on overturning gender discrimination in tax legislation. From the outset, and in that seminal case, Bader Ginsberg, then a law professor, was strongly backed by supportive home husband and fellow lawyer Martin …

Best of 2018: My Choices for the Best Dramas and Documentaries

The Best of 2018 Notwithstanding the popularity of at-home streaming services led by Netflix, movie-going to theatres is not declining.Indeed in 2018 North American attendance is up with a record box office of almost US$12 billion. Even if much of this is for tentpole blockbusters centred on comic characters, the big screen appeals more broadly.Take the case of my best movie of the year, the Spanish-language Roma.A Netflix production available online since December 14, the large Ottawa theatre where I saw it a second time was still packed for a post-Christmas showing in a 10-day run. Good news indeed.
10 Best Narrative Features 1.Roma (Mexico/U.S.) Viewed on the big screen the immersive luminous black-and-white cinematography and ambient soundscape is even more impressive in this semi-autobiographical masterwork from Alfonso Cuarón which features a sublime performance by first-time actor Yalitza Aparicio as the central figure of Cleo, the Indigenous nanny-housemaid in an upper-class Mexi…

Blog Posts for 2018

SCREENINGS & MEANINGS BLOGS 2018 http://gjschmitz.blogspot.com/ http://screeningsandmeanings.com/
September: The Human Condition My most recent peak cinematic experience was in the last days of August at Toronto’s Bell Lightbox, home base of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) which starts September 6. (I’ll be seeing about 25 films at this year’s edition. That’s for a later blog.) This was the screening over three days—August 25, 26, and 28—of the monumental Japanese masterwork The Human Condition directed by Masaki Kobayashi and released as three two-part films—No Greater Love, Road to Eternity, A Soldier’s Prayer—from 1959 to 1961. Presented as part of TIFF’s “Summer in Japan” series, this was a rare chance to take in a theatrical showing of one of the greatest achievements of Japanese cinema. The timing also coincided with the 80th birthday on August 28 of a longtime Ottawa friend George Wright whose son Roger and family with two young granddaughters live in Tokyo. Bring…