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Post-Oscars Movie Update


First, about who and what got Oscar valentines (for all the winners see: https://oscar.go.com/news/winners/oscar-winners-2020-see-the-full-list).  I was so thrilled by the triumph of the South Korean Parasite as best picture (as well as winning best director for Bong Joon-ho, and original screenplay along with the expected best international feature).  Parasite topped my own list of the best films of 2019 (https://gjschmitz.blogspot.com/2020/01/new-year-post-best-movies-of-2019-and.html).  It had won the prestigious Cannes festival’s Palme d’Or.  But past holders of that distinction were rarely even nominated.  In the age of Trump and “America First”, it’s the first best picture for a non-English language, non-American movie in 92 years.  [*Only one other Cannes Palme winner has gone on to take the top Oscar prize—that was Marty in 1955-56, but it was an English language American movie.]  I was also relieved that 1917—my least favorite among the 9 nominees (although its legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins won in that category)—did not take the top prize.  After its Golden Globe win, and cleaning up at the Brit “BAFTA” awards, it had seemed to be the front runner.  There were omissions.  For example, The Farewell, a wonderful film with an Asian cast, awarded best film at the Independent Spirit Awards a day before the Oscars (https://www.indiewire.com/2020/02/2020-spirit-awards-winners-list-uncut-gems-1202208889/), didn’t have a single Oscar nomination.  And the trifecta of superlative Netflix productions—The Irishman (a masterwork by a master), Marriage Story, The Two Popes—collectively came away with only one win, by Laura Dern as supporting actress.  (All the acting winners had been heavily favoured.)  Netflix did at least score best documentary feature with American Factory.  And on a night when a foreign movie about class conflict won best picture, that allowed co-director Julia Reichert to deliver the line that sticks with me: “Things will get better when workers of the world unite.” Maybe there’s hope for the Oscars yet? (Read more about Reichert: https://www.thestar.com/entertainment/movies/2020/02/10/julia-reicherts-gruelling-road-to-the-oscars.html.)
All the Wild Horses (Mongolia/South Africa/UK/U.S./Ireland 2017 http://allthewildhorsesmovie.com/index.html)
This multiple award winner, directed by Ivo Marloh and shot over three years, records some anguished moments along with amazing feats of skill and endurance in the stories of competitors in the world’s longest and most challenging horse race—the1,000 kilometre “Mongol Derby” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mongol_Derby) in which intrepid riders cover 42 stages during which they choose from a thousand semi-wild Mongolian horses as their mounts.  It’s the ultimate horse-and-rider challenge that traverses the world’s largest landlocked country, once the home to an immense empire propelled by warriors on horseback.  One of the leading contestants is a black man from South Africa who has trouble with a late frisky mount but is awarded best horsemanship.  There are some gutsy female riders too.  Riders are also not allowed to push their horses too hard.  The horses are tested at each stage and too high a heart rate results in time penalties.  Of course there are also trained personnel for any riders needed medical attention, such as from heatstroke, or injuries from falls.  It adds up to an amazing and engrossing viewing experience.  A  (*I had the opportunity to cross Mongolia in July 2015, and attend the country’s amazing “Naadam” national festival, while taking the Trans-Siberian railway from Beijing to St. Petersburg.  The only “horse” I rode was an iron one.)
Pipe Dreams (Canada 2019 http://pipedreamsdoc.ca/)
Director Stacey Tenenbaum follows five of the competitors in the Canadian International Organ Competition that takes place in Montreal every 3 years leading up to the 2017 edition.  It has the world’s largest first prize of $100,000 (plus a recording contract). There are three rounds in three different churches.  The first round features 20 contestants from 12 countries.  The final round which takes place in Notre Dame Basilica is down to six finalists.  Tenenbaum also delves into the compelling personal stories of these young virtuosos. Among those profiled are a young Chinese woman taught by her father (whose mother had apologized for not giving birth to a boy!), and an African-American dude from rural bible-belt Texas who had lost his mother and who enjoys target shooting.  The tension builds as each prepares for their moment in the spotlight to impress the judges.  Of course the range of music is the main event.  With its multiple stacked keyboards, many foot pedals, and numerous sound options to consider, the pipe organ requires an intense focus combined with hands and feet coordination that is fantastically difficult to master.  Watching these young organists perform you can’t help but be awed and moved.  A
(* On a personal note: I took lessons on a pipe organ when I was a student at St. Peter’s College in Saskatchewan.  My one big public performance was of Bach’s Mass in D Minor in the Humboldt cathedral in December 1969 when I was 17—a half century ago!  I know that one of my teachers, and former Prairie Messenger editor, the late Fr. Andrew Britz , recorded it because he played it in the student dormitories.  Unfortunately I never asked to get that recording (this was long before the ease of smartphones) and I have just have a vague recollection.  Today it would probably be on YouTube.)
Alice and the Mayor (France/Belgium 2019)
This is such a smart witty satire about the scourge of vapidity that affects so much current political speech, in this case through the bloated city hall of a fictitious Lyon, France’s second-largest urban area.  It starts with the arrival of a young woman Alice Heimann (Anaïs Demoustier) to take up a position that’s been cancelled and turned into a newly-created one—that of generating progressive “ideas” (“futurology” and “perspective”) for the city’s long-serving but intellectually exhausted Socialist mayor Paul Théraneau (played by the wonderfully arch Fabrice Luchini).  When they meet he laments that his brain which was once bursting with daily idea is now “running on empty”.  The casually dressed Alice is a breath of fresh air.  And backed up by literary degrees and philosophy studies at Oxford, she is soon a formidable presence.  She gets drawn into the city’s “Lyon 2500” vision thing—one of those mind-numbing planning exercises perfect for generating time-wasting meetings.  As Paul relies more on Alice he puts her in charge, with a big fancy office upgrade to go with.  That of course increases the resentment among the layers of babbling bureaucracy in the city hall pecking order.  One can just imagine how an incisive outsider would threaten the ranks of spear carriers, status climbers and time servers.  The stakes are heightened leading up to a Socialist Party congress in which Théraneau is considered a potential presidential nominee.  Alice composes a speech which he never gets to give.  The narrative then skips ahead three years when they meet again privately and share a moment of wistful reflection.  This impressive debut feature from writer-director Nicolas Pariser, which premiered in the 2019 Cannes film festival’s “Directors’ Fortnight” sidebar, is a delight from the first scene to the last.  A-    
The Gentlemen (U.S. 2020 https://www.thegentlemen.movie/)
This latest macho action romp is from Brit director Guy Ritchie which means a couple hours of nonstop crudeness and profanity.  Set in the UK, the best thing about it is a Hugh Grant hamming it up as a sleazy journo/screenwriter aiming to extort a large payday from what he’s witnessed of certain criminal types.  The target is Raymond (Charlie Hunnam), enforcer to American drug boss Michael Pearson (Matthew McConaughey).  Muscling in on the action are an Asian hood called “Dry Eye” (Henry Golding) in cahoots with another American Matthew Berger (Jeremy Strong). More angles are provided by a gangster character called “Coach” (Colin Farrell).  You wouldn’t want to meet any of these “gentlemen” in a back alley, or anywhere for that matter.  Oh, and there’s a Russian mob angle too. I can’t say I cared what happens to anyone on screen. Then Ritchie throws in a gratuitous slighting reference to a Francis Ford Coppola masterpiece, The Conversation, awarded the Cannes Palme d’Or in 1974.  In your dreams … (There’s also a tie-in to “Miramax”, but thankfully none to its creepy co-founder Harvey Weinstein.) Anthony Lane in The New Yorker calls it “a mongrel of a movie” and “a nasty piece of work”.  There’d be no loss if it was “time’s up” on movies that go to the dogs.  C
The Invisible Life of Eurídice Gusmão (Brazil/Germany 2019)
Karim Aïnouz’s drawn out melodrama won the award of the “Un certain regard” sidebar at last year’s Cannes film festival. The story, adapted from a novel by Martha Bathala, centres on the divergent paths of two sisters, Guida (Julia Stockler) and Eurídice (Carol Duarte), growing up in a conservative Rio de Janeiro family.  Extremely close, sharing experiences of sexual awakening, they are separated after Guida elopes to Europe with her Greek sailor boyfriend Iorgos.   When she discovers he’s a “scumbag”, she returns, pregnant, to Rio in 1951.  Meanwhile Eurídice, a pianist with ambitions to study at the Vienna conservatory, has been married to the stocky slobby Antenor.  (There’s a riotous wedding celebration, followed by the most awkwardly embarrassing wedding night bathroom scene I’ve seen on screen, one of several grossly explicit sex scenes.) Forget any joyful family reunion. The returning Guida is spurned by her furious father who lies that Eurídice is now in Vienna.  Guida subsequently gives birth and becomes part of the household of an Afro-Brazilian former prostitute Filomena (Barbara Santos).  Among the taboo issues faced by Guida are those of abortion and euthanasia, while Eurídice’s options are constrained by patriarchal prejudice.  Near the end the narrative skips ahead decades to when Eurídice is the elderly resident of an institution.  As much as we keep hoping for the bonds of sisterhood to prevail, the only question becomes whether some deceptions can last a lifetime. A poignant ending only partly softens the blow.  B+

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BOOK LAUNCH!

BOOK LAUNCH! 


April 24, 2019 was the official launch of The Best of Screenings and Meanings: A Journey Through Film at McNally Robinson Booksellers in Saskatoon, SK