Nominated for the Palme D'Or and winner of Best Screenplay at Cannes, Jia Zhangke's interlocking stories of corruption across modern-day China made numerous critics' 2013 Top Ten lists. The film's kinetic violence represents a strident change for Zhangke, who is known more for his contemplative style, but the sociopolitical criticism is right in line with his modus operandii. Among his many accolades, NPR's John Powers says that Zhangke might be "the most important filmmaker working in the world today." So, you know, there's that.
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.
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.
A Franco-Belgian production, the Oscar-nominated Ernest & Celestine has been re-voiced for American audiences by such luminaries as Forest Whitaker, Paul Giamatti, William H. Macy and Lauren Bacall. An adaptation of the series of childrens' books by Gabrielle Vincent, the film presents the story of an unlikely friendship in a world of bear-fearing mice and mice-eating bears.
The influential French film journal Cahiers du Cinema called director Alain Guiraudie's Stranger by the Lake the best movie of 2013. A psychosexual thriller about two gay men suspected of murder, Rolling Stone's Peter Travers said, "Like his characters, Guiraudie is walking a tightrope, finding the point where sex and death exude a similar allure. You won't be able to look away."
Nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Picture, The Missing Picture tells the story of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge coming to power in Cambodia through an innovative blend of archival documentary footage and dramatized claymation re-enactment. It won the Prix Un Certain Regard at Cannes and played recently to enthusiastic crowds at the Walker Art Center.
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."