Morgan Neville's crowd-pleasing documentary about backup singers netted an Oscar Nomination for Best Documentary.
David O. Russell made three movies between 1994 and 1999, then only one from 2000 to 2009, then three between 2010 and the present. Iiiiiiinteresting. I wonder what happened to keep an otherwise prolific director more or less from the director's chair for more or less a decade. Maybe it's a good story. Maybe it would make a good movie. Maybe.
Superficially, The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook seemed like straight Hollywood-by-the-numbers fare, but Russell, it's clear, gave these films everything he had. His pure dedication to making the best Hollywood-by-the-numbers fare that he possibly could made the films surprisingly exciting, deep and affecting. American Hustle shows the same level of dedication, but applied to a more idiosyncratic story, one that feels fundamentally more personal -even if he's still pretty free with those genre conventions - and that makes this the best of the three.
The Criterion Collection is pleased (I presume) to present the winner of the prestigious Palme d'Or at Cannes. Unconventionally, the award was given not just to the director (first-timer Abdel Kechiche), but also to the two main actresses Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos, who are now (wikipedia tells me) the only women other than Jane Campion to have won the award. The film is a love story about those two actresses and has aroused some controversy for the explicitness of its sex scenes, notching an NC-17 from the MPAA (having watching Kirby Dick's tremendous This Film Is Not Yet Rated, we know how the MPAA feels about non-heterosexual sex scenes...). So, you know, watch at your own peril.
Paul Greengrass, director of the second and third Bourne movies, takes his signature style to the sea with Captain Phillips. Actiony without being inane, Phillips netted an Oscar nomination for Best Picture, as well as a Best Supporting Actor nod for Minnesota's own Barkhad Abdi, a Hollywood first-timer whose future is undoubtedly bright.
First-time director Zachary Heinzerling put together this documentary portrait of Ushio and Noriko Shinohara. Artists, 80-something, living in Brooklyn and married for 40 years, Ushio has been just-this-side of famous since the '70s, while Noriko has only recently been recognized for her own artistic endeavors. Heinzerling followed the couple through five years of their always tumultuous marriage and the resulting film stunned critics, adding an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary to its numerous rave reviews.
Dallas Buyers Club is the true story of how Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto lost a ton of weight and got nominated for some Oscars. Not really. It is a true story, though, and it is nominated for six Oscars, including Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor. It's actually the story of Ron Woodruff who - when diagnosed with HIV in the mid-'80s - went outside FDA-approved channels to obtain the drugs that he found helped his symptoms, smuggle them into the United States and distribute them to other frustrated AIDS patients. Recipient of near-universal critical acclaim and winner of numerous festival and pre-Oscar awards. Recommended.
You may remember director Asghar Farhadi from the Oscar-winning arthouse mega-hit A Separation, and you might remember actress Berenice Bejo from the Oscar-winning mega-mega-hit The Artist. Bejo took home the Best Actress award at Cannes, The Past was nominated for Golden Globe and Cesar (the French Oscars) awards among others, and, yes, you should go get yourself onto the hold list for it.
It's that time of year, when I'm having trouble finding any movies worth highlighting that didn't win any awards... Wadjda, winner of numerous festival awards, is both the first feature-length film shot entirely in Saudi Arabia and is the first to be directed by a Saudi woman: Haifaa al-Mansour. The Chicago Sun-Times' Bruce Ingram says "There's a lot more going on in this first feature film from Saudi Arabia, where movie theaters are banned, than the deceptively simple story of a girl who's willing to do just about anything to buy her first bicycle." And the Star Tribune's Colin Covert calls the film "An unqualified delight, a sharp, insightful comedy that subversively explores women's place in Islamic society."