I arrived early on Saturday morning this year. Alas that is a bit late, as there are many films that show only in the first day or two and never get repeated. Lesson learned. Nevertheless, in the nearly five days I did spend at the festival, about 23 films were ingested. Indeed, so many were really good films this year that I tended to stay to the end of most of them and therefore saw fewer to write about.
As usual, I found myself torn between movies that I should “preview” for their BMFI potential and those that might be shown only at a festival where this would be my only chance! In most cases I stuck to business and looked at movies that were likely to be available and attractive to us (in other words I saw no experimental films and not enough foreign language entries).
While there were more good films on my roster than ever before, there were a few that did not make the grade, for one reason or another. And, much to my frustration, there are a few I missed that I know we will want to get (eg. Anna Karenina, Stories We Tell, and Silver Linings Playbook). With more than 300 films, the real trial is selecting what to see. This year I tweeted after just about every film and I include my tweets below along with a few other thoughts that may have the benefit of distance-from-viewing.
The films are divided into two categories:
A. Films with great appeal for BMFIFilms with great appeal for BMFI (in order of my having viewed them):
B. Interesting films, but not necessarily for our theater
- Frances Ha (Noah Baumbach, USA)
Tweet: “Frances Ha focuses on the soul-challenged 20-30s but with some great lines and editing by Jen Lame whose parents are BMFI fans. Congrats.”
This black and white film is all Greta Gerwig, so if you like her you’ll like it. She does “gawky” very well and her employment problems typify today’s college grads. For that reason alone it is not comfortable even though funny.
- A Late Quartet (Yaron Zilberman, USA)
Tweet: “A Late Quartet captured me, as emotion, acting and Beethoven won the day… Faults and all, I fell for it.”
Illness, aging, deception, overblown egos, illicit and unsatisfied love—all to the music of Beethoven’s last string quartet, what could be better? Using musician doubles would have made it better, since it’s too hard for non-string players to fake it. But I quibble. You will love it, as I did, with its flaws.
- The Company You Keep (Robert Redford, USA)
Tweet: “The Company You Keep conveys via Redford an important message and reminder about those who struggle with social action. Moderate/Extreme.”
Having gone to Bryn Mawr College with Diana Oughton (who was killed in the “Weatherman” Greenwich Village mansion making a bomb) and Kathy Boudin (who served many years in prison for her part in a misguided, socially-motivated bank robbery), I wanted to see this film for insights into what my made my college-mates commit those well-intentioned but horribly immoral acts. The story shed light on the fugitive phase of Kathy’s life. However, it is carried a bit too far to be believable in the end. One wonders how individuals should demonstrate disagreement with the “state of things”. Reverend King was far more successful, but that’s an answer this film does not suggest. As a thriller it works wonderfully.
- Hyde Park on Hudson (Roger Michell, UK)
Tweet: “Beautiful recreation with Bill Murray catching FDR in essence if not entirely in diction.”
Reviews have been mixed for this film, but it kept my interest and is a part of FDR’s life that most do not know. His connection with the stammering King George puts “sequel to The King’s Speech” in mind, but I treat it more kindly. Both men had significant disabilities that plagued their lives. Watching Bill Murray struggling as a paraplegic had me sobbing. And when he encourages the King to persist and be confident, more tears flow.
- Thanks for Sharing (Stuart Blumberg, USA)
Tweet: “Preferred Shame, but this one can be shown with no shame.”
The topic: rehab for sex addicts. The stories: a bit weak. The cast: excellent. Shame put you in the skin of a sex addict, an uncomfortable place to be. Thanks for Sharing reassures you that rehab is possible, but it also alarms you about the prevalence of the addiction, especially in an era of teasing clothes and fashions. What should a young person wear in the city? Don’t ask these characters!
- The Master (Paul Thomas Anderson, USA)
Tweet: “The Master in 70mm treat for eyes, ears but little for deeper brain. Terrific score and Phoenix soars.”
Now that I have some distance from this film and the benefit of reading excellent criticism, I have much greater appreciation for it. I think it demands serious discussion and reflection on the relationship between an elder “master” and his acolyte. That this is not a plot-centric film does not detract from its interest.
- Quartet (Dustin Hoffman, USA)
Tweet: “Saw the other Quartet at public screening Dustin Hoffman introduced. Lovely, ancient musicians all still good.”
These retired performers’ egos are now on the line, off stage. No need to have body doubles for this cast of wonderful musicians and singers (okay, maybe for Maggie Smith); the supporting roles are all retired professionals. Dustin Hoffman achieves a sensitive mix of fun, silliness, and sympathetic performances. The ravages of old age are relieved by music. Tell that to every youngster who resists music lessons in favor of sports. You can’t be an athlete at 85, but you can still enjoy playing an instrument or singing. You just have to practice, practice, practice when you’re young. Don’t get me started! Why didn’t my mother insist I practice more? (It’s always the mother’s fault.)
- Fly with the Crane (Li Ruijun, China)
Tweet: “Fly with the Crane, a Chinese elegy on death. So simple and captivating.”
Death, the theme again, is treated with quiet reverence and curiosity. This movie argues against state-mandated cremation in China. As an old grandfather tries to explain death to his grandson and granddaughter they become partners in promoting burial—his own, alive. Tender with a bit of a bite, as you can imagine. Little commercial value, but would be great for our 3rd or 4th screening rooms when we get them built!
- The Hunt (Thomas Vinterberg, Denmark)
Tweet: “The Hunt, best movie of the day but so wrenching and so late at night I could not endure it all. Wish I could see it again. Another prize.”
This may be the best film I saw, but certainly not the easiest. When a whole community turns against a young teacher accused of sexual “abuse” in a kindergarten, the staid and reasonable Danish society no longer seems so desirable. Vinterberg is a master!
- What Maisie Knew (Scott McGehee, David Siegel, USA)
Tweet: “What Maisie Knew is poignant and as timely as when Henry James wrote it. Hard to watch the pain but a good flick.”
James wanted to expose the neglect of some parents and society 100 years ago. This film makes that neglect palpable and credible in our own day. While the film does not follow the life of Maisie as far as the book does, there is quite enough material to chew on. And excellent acting.
- The Attack (Ziad Doueiri, Lebanon)
Tweet: “The Attack, an excellent story reveals an Arab Israeli MD’s conflict and his wife’s hidden extremism. Well done though questions linger.”
With some distance from the film I think it was a bit unrealistic and certainly not as interesting as Paradise Now, which also tried to examine the conflicts and motivations of suicide bombers. In The Attack, the husband’s search reveals deep cracks in his own integration into Israeli society.
- Argo (Ben Affleck, USA)
Twitter: “Argo absorbs because of Affleck’s directing not his affect. An improbably true and tense thriller with a sappy but true end.”
He is characteristically flat in this film, but Affleck’s directing is sharp and capable of evoking real sweat in the viewer. The story of how the USA saved six Americans who escaped Iranian hostage takers is surprisingly and alternately funny and suspenseful.
- Kon-Tiki (Joachim Roenning, Espen Sandberg, Norway)
Tweet: “Remember Kon-Tiki? This film brings it and Thor to life. Terrific.”
Anyone who read Heyerdahl’s book or saw his documentary will want to see this film and those who never did will be in for a treat. It’s quite remarkable how the raft trip is captured on film and the color and imagery are spectacular, once it gets underway.
- Great Expectations (Mike Newell, UK)
If you can see this during the bicentenary of Dickens’ birth, all the better. Its vividness makes for some troubling gore, but it keeps moving and stirs an interest in re-reading the original.
- Hannah Arendt (Margarethe von Trotta, Germany)
This is a film worth seeing, despite poor acting in some of the supporting cast. Many a philosophy class will enjoy it and there is much value in bringing Arendt’s analysis of evil to the public square—the cinema. In von Tratta’s words, this film is an attempt to transform “thought into film.”
- The Patience Stone (Atiq Rahimi, Afghanistan/France)
Tweet: “Patience Stone, one of the very best. An unspeakable drama of women’s life in Afghanistan. Beautifully made. Remarkable and probably won’t be seen.”
On reflection, this film is somewhat too centered on the sexual frustration of the young wife of a comatose husband. But even with that distortion, it reveals—quietly and sympathetically—how repressed and abused are women by the Taliban (who are not named, per se). Her monologues with her husband spin out the details and consequences of the horrid mores of this society: rape and prostitution have more to offer than she experienced with him.
|A Late Quartet|
|The Company You Keep|
|Hyde Park on Hudson|
|Thanks for Sharing|
|Fly with the Crane|
|What Maisie Knew|
|The Patience Stone|
- Gebo and the Shadow (Manoel de Oliveira, Portugal/France)
Tweet: “Oliviera still making films. One set, few characters, much angst about soul and life. Beautiful of course and easy French dialogue”
One has to see the latest film by this 103-year-old master. Despite wonderful stars (e.g. Claudia Cardinale, Jeanne Moreau, etc.), the static nature of this adapted play does not make for easy viewing. Its focus on capitalism’s effect on personal relations and the beauty of its set make the effort worthwhile.
- Love, Marilyn (Liz Garbus, USA)
Tweet: “An interesting twist on documentary where all her lines and others’ were declaimed by today’s stars misidentified in labels.”
I found this documentary only barely satisfying. We don’t really need to know anything more about Marilyn, though seeing her handwritten diaries had the potential to bring her to life. Who the stars were who were reading those lines was totally confusing.
- At Any Price (Ramin Bahrani, USA)
Tweet: “At Any Price reveals the ugly, competitive world of big farming. Writing sags but Dennis Quaid soars.”
I went to see this to learn more about farming, and that it succeeded in teaching me. It is a good movie, well-acted and directed, but probably would not interest our audience. I should have seen Silver Linings Playbook instead!
- Arthur Newman (Dante Ariola, USA)
Tweet: “Lifeless, walkout… Blunt and Firth do USA accent well. But nothing to say. Waste of great actors.”
Why were English actors chosen for these dull, American characters? Why even bother making this film?
- To the Wonder (Terrence Malick, USA)
Tweet: “To the Wonder… wonder how Malick lost his way. I wonder why I stayed and if there were 140 words in it. A lot of hayfields.”
An absolutely irritating film. I had hay fever from the endless scenes of flat fields of grasses. And the trite way of filming “in love with a graceful French woman”—sprite-like dances around parks and 360 degree pans, give me a break. Should have walked out on this one, but I kept hoping for Malick redemption!
- Imogene (Robert Pulcini, Shari Springer Berman, USA)
Tweet: “Imogene is surprisingly funny and endearing. A light and silly antidote to The Hunt and The Attack.”
I was prepared not to enjoy this film at all. And, with time, I have come to believe I really should not have! So maybe I recommend this only as a break from really good, serious, films. It’s not got enough going for it.
- Spring Breakers (Harmony Korine, USA)
Tweet: “What to make of Spring Breakers? Horrifying parody but how close to real makes me want to keep student loans at high interest!! Wow!”
This was my “stretch” selection. I have not seen so much T-and-A in a non-pornographic film. I had no idea that the main male character was James Franco, so disguised was he with studded teeth. And I knew nothing about the director’s controversial filmmaking history. The cinematography is really inventive: “Harmony Korine thinks in pictures that no one else could even dream up” (Noah Cowan in TIFF catalogue). Please tell me that college is not what this film shows it to be.
|Gebo and the Shadow|
|At Any Price|
|To the Wonder|