Thursday, February 27, 2014

the jdb awards

Here is my personal film ballot for the year!


12 Years a Slave

This was far and away the best movie I saw this year and so far in this young decade.  Sure there are flaws, but by subversively working within a traditional format, Steve McQueen's picture is a force of nature.

"Normally, if you're lucky, the idea of a film you have in your head is more or less what you get back when you see it after the editing and the whole post-production process. This was very different, however, since the final product was so far past anything I had even imagined: the style of it, the cinematography, the feel of it, the depth of passion. Every component of it just comes together in such an overwhelming way. So when I first saw it, I became entirely caught up in the story, as if I was hearing it for the first time, as if I wasn't even a part of it." 


The Act of Killing
American Hustle
Before Midnight
Frances Ha
Fruitvale Station
Stories We Tell


Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave

With a bold, modern directorial style, McQueen brought immediacy and power to Solomon Northrup's narrative.  

"Steve's an all-encompassing director. He's always thinking about the emotional, psychological and physical aspects of a story at once. As an actor, your physical person is the canvas that you have to tell the story, and Steve is very engaged with that, but only when we actually came to do the physical work did we come to discuss its impact on Solomon's psychology – which was where our conversation had started. Physical activity – and abuse – is so vividly described in the book. It's so essential to both the psychology and the history, and that needed to be reflected in the film. In a way, once everything had been set up, that side of things became self-evident. It was something we didn't need to discuss too much." -Ejiofor


Haifaa al-Mansour, Wadjda
Noah Baumbach, Frances Ha
David O. Russell, American Hustle
Sarah Polley, Stories We Tell


Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave

I've long loved Ejiofor's acting, especially in Dirty Pretty Things, so it was exciting to see him get such an incredible role.  Although 12 Years a Slave is a movie of many elements working together so well, he's the main reason for the film's emotional power.

"It was an important scene for me in terms of getting into Solomon’s psychology. One of the things I’ve always wondered having read the script, and I’d read it a few times and the book and I was still trying to work out the specifics of Solomon in the sense of how did survive this with his psychology intact? How can you get through something like this and then still be able write a book about it? A first person narrative about some of the things that happened to him just seemed unbelievable. There was something so extraordinary in the book that he says about that experience and to me it was the key into some part of his psychology, he says 'I would have given more years of servitude if they had only moved me into the shade.' And I thought that’s an extraordinary thing to put on paper years later. This is a man who is going to survive the situation no matter what. This is a person whose soul is not going to be broken by this.” -Ejiofor


Christian Bale, American Hustle
Bruce Dern, Nebraska
Ethan Hawke, Before Midnight
Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club


Adèle Exarchopoulos, Blue is the Warmest Color

I wasn't a huge fan of the movie and wasn't too keen on the cast's recollections of the director's conditions, but Exarchopoulos ends up really giving it her all in a powerhouse turn, feverishly consumed and ultimately drained by the emotions of love.

"No, it was real, but it was not as big as it looks. For me, a shoot is a human adventure, and in every adventure you have some conflict. It is hard when you are young to be pushed to your limits, but for me it was the best school." 


Amy Adams, American Hustle
Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
Greta Gerwig, Frances Ha
Brie Larson, Short Term 12


Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave

This was a brutal, tricky part but Fassbender pulled it off beautifully.

“I think the only person that could match that complexity is Michael, because he has the power to bring a human being from a character who could possibly be one-dimensional. He gives Epps a soul, a heart, and he makes him a human being.” -Steve McQueen


Daniel Brühl, Rush
James Franco, Spring Breakers
Lance LeGault, Prince Avalanche
Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club


Lupita Nyong'o, 12 Years a Slave

Besides being such a memorable film debut, I think what impressed me most about Lupita Nyong'o was when I learned she had come up with the idea of the scene of making corn husk dolls. In that very small moment, out in the fields, humming that song, creating a little family of dolls with her nimble fingers, Nyong'o makes Patsey come to life.

"I didn't know how, and we all didn't know how the world would take this film. It's not easy subject matter. It's heavy but it's beautiful and you hope that people would at least open their eyes to see it -- and then they did. So my first feeling was relief that it had been so well received and then they just kept receiving it and celebrating it and the conversation has been developing and shifting; it's been so exciting and for me to be part of that celebration and my work to be lauded in all these ways has been amazing." -Nyong'o


Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle
Léa Seydoux, Blue is the Warmest Color
Octavia Spencer, Fruitvale Station
Mickey Sumner, Frances Ha


John Ridley, 12 Years a Slave

John Ridley's exquisite and noble rendering of Solomon Northrup's words works on so many different levels of emotion. The language itself in the film is vital: that final line burns with hopefulness, sadness and anger--a myriad of emotions that few screenplays are able to evoke.

"For me, I always thought to think of it as a fairy tale, because when he is seduced to go to Washington to actually work in the circus, it's like Pinocchio. So I had to handle it in that way. Always in the fairy tale, it starts off beautifully and wonderfully, and then, of course, it goes dark. And then, obviously, you go through this darkness hopefully to come out into the light. So I was very much interested in that kind of Brothers Grimm sort of fairy tale." -McQueen


Destin Cretton, Short Term 12
Abdellatif Kechiche & Ghalia Lacroix, Blue is the Warmest Color
Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke & Julie Delpy, Before Midnight
Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber, The Spectacular Now


Noah Baumbach & Greta Gerwig, Frances Ha

Baumbach and Gerwig's collaboration is so winsome and fresh, full of melancholy but also funny lines and sharp observations.

"I've always been interested in that kind of psychological comedy. That conflict between how we want the world to be and how the world really is. It always involves some major or minor adjustment. Sometimes, it's a clear-cut hurdle that you have to get over, like a death or a divorce. Sometimes, it's just about being in your 20s and being totally lost. And I can relate to all of it. I've had times in my life when I really haven't been able to figure myself out." -Noah Baumbach


Haifaa Al-Mansour, Wadjda
Spike Jonze, Her
Bob Nelson, Nebraska
David O. Russell & Eric Singer, American Hustle


12 Years a Slave

OK--some of y'all may complain of Brad Pitt's sudden appearance towards the end (having read the book, I knew it was coming, and wasn't too bothered), but man, the rest of this cast really does soar. The principals have been mentioned but also strong are the unsung performances by other characters who are clawing to survive within a inhumane system: Sarah Paulson, an insecure, cold, and wretched plantation wife and Alfre Woodward (her quick, tea-sipping scene is incredibly, scarily good).

"They've sort of been driven mad by these circumstances, by this oppression, effectively." -Ejiofor


American Hustle
The Past



Made under extraordinary circumstances, Haifaa al-Mansour's film was one of the most clear-eyed and moving I saw this year.


The Act of Killing
Blue is the Warmest Color
The Great Beauty
The Past


Stories We Tell

A brilliant documentary of its era that explores and plays with the format, while digging for personal truths.

"I think what kind of captivated me about what was happening in the aftermath of this story in my own life was the way we were all telling the stories about it, and the way those stories were different from each other. There are these huge gaps between these stories we were telling, both in terms of the fact of them, but also in terms of the perspective and what we decided were the most important elements of it. I got really transfixed by this idea that it was so necessary for us to be able to tell this story to make sense of some kind of basic confusion we had in our life. I just started thinking of storytelling as a really basic human need and wanted to make a film about that..." -Sarah Polley


The Act of Killing
Cutie & the Boxer
20 Feet from Stardom


Roger Deakins, Prisoners

I kind of ignored the clunkiness of Denis Villeneuve's mystery and just got swept up in this thrillride's gorgeous photography by Roger Deakins. 

"The camera once again is staring coldly on one of the film’s memorably creepy trees. And then something subtly discombobulating begins that is spine-chilling. The camera slowly dollies in to the bark of the tree while the sound design quietly starts to crackle and burn underneath the soundtrack. The broken trumpet blare fades into the background as composer Jóhann Jóhannsson’s eerie church-organ based funereal psalm rings out. It’s unnerving, and masterfully so because in that moment, the film has shown you nothing and yet communicated everything to you—something is deeply wrong, something is amiss. In that very moment, you’ve been told: the children have been taken. If the best moments in cinema rearrange your personal molecules, this one scrambles them." -The Playlist


Sean Bobbit, 12 Years a Slave
Benoît Debie, Spring Breakers
Bruno Delbonnel, Inside Llewyn Davis
Emmanuel Lubezki, To the Wonder


Mike Munn, Stories We Tell

If one pays attention, they'll realize how Mike Munn does such a virtuoso job on Sarah Polley's complex autobiographical documentary, smoothly cutting between interviews, "home movies," and recreated scenes throughout.

"My cinematographer Iris Ng and my editor Mike Munn were really co-filmmakers on this film, and producer Anita Lee. I needed a lot of input and a lot of help and a lot of feedback throughout the process, and they were there from the very inception of the idea ‘til the very end. I sort of let them into my process a lot more than I’ve ever collaborated with anyone and that was a really amazing experience." -Polley


Jeff Buchanan & Eric Zumbrunnen, Her
Douglas Cruise, Spring Breakers
Cristiano Travaglioli, The Great Beauty
Joe Walker, 12 Years a Slave


Mark Orton, Nebraska

So fitting for the film's tone, Orton's horn rounds (the movie is like a circle of nowhere) and folksy melodies is a perfect, tuneful character for this lonesome road trip. 

"I'm a thematic composer first. It’s been the last bunch of years and a stint at the Sundance Institute that has gotten me into the power of themeless film music. Coming out of a career as a composer writing very thematic concert music, this was an early challenge for me. As out there, or dissonant as Tin Hat ever got in terms of free improv or our more experimental side, the melodies were always strong. But in the case of Nebraska something like 24 of the 28 score moments are simply image and music with no dialogue. So there was plenty of room for themes. Again, that was the side of my writing that Alexander was drawn to. The themes in Nebraska are song-like. They certainly are on the lyrical side of my writing." -Orton


Explosions in the Sky & David Wingo, Prince Avalanche
Thomas Newman, Side Effects
Rob, Maniac
Hans Zimmer, 12 Years a Slave


K.K. Barrett, Her

Aiding much to the film's cockeyed sense of humor, atmosphere, and smooth-surfaced eeriness, the sets and designs in the near future-set Her are truly evocative.

"We wanted to try to clean the room, the entire film, of anything that might be distracting or pondered on for the wrong reason. We didn’t want to build a playground, to build set pieces, that are stronger than the characters themselves. We didn’t want to get into future technology because that becomes a centerpiece of the movie instead of what really matters." -Barrett


American Hustle
The Conjuring
Stories We Tell
12 Years a Slave


Paco Delgado, Blancanieves

A wide array of intricately designed costumes on display in this supple, deep silent 1920s-set Spanish spin on the tale of Snow White.


Catherine Martin, The Great Gatsby
Patricia Norris, 12 Years a Slave
Casey Storm, Her
Michael Wilkinson, American Hustle


American Hustle

Christian Bale's bedraggled toupee, Bradley Cooper's perm, et al. Even if you're cool on the movie, how can you not adore the make-up and exaggerated 70s hairdos of this ragtag bunch?


Evil Dead
12 Years a Slave


12 Years a Slave

The naturalistic mix of this film is beautiful and astounding in a quiet, unassuming way, adding to the movie's striking sense of dissonance of beauty and horror.


The Conjuring
Inside Llewyn Davis
Upstream Color


20 Feet from Stardom

I was so impressed with the way this lovable documentary sounded. The "Gimme Shelter" sequence is a haunting, tour-de-force.


Berberian Sound Studio
Spring Breakers
Upstream Color



Gravity was truly a beautiful experience to behold in the theater. Thrilling effects that are so subtly handled, a rare feat for a Hollywood picture.


The Great Gatsby
Pacific Rim
World War z

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

disco tu(n)esday!


Like melting ice on the sun...


Tokyo beach...

In paradisum...

Turn the music up...

The runner...

She wore blue...

AOR disco mixtape! Tracklist here.

Do that dance...

Monday, February 24, 2014

i'm on fire

Du Tonc killing it with this ethereal electro cover of Bruce Springsteen's "I'm On Fire."

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Saturday, February 22, 2014

best actor week: separate tables

One of the oddest wins for Best Actor is probably David Niven's turn in the 1958 soaper Separate Tables.  Not that he's bad in the film, in fact, he's quite wonderful, it's just that he's only in it for a mere fifteen minutes; it's the shortest lead actor winning performance. Yet, as guilt-ridden Major David Agnus Pollock, he probably best defines the movie's themes: sadness, culpability and isolation. Separate Tables was adapted from a play by Terence Rattigan and was originally in two acts.  The film, directed by Delbert Mann, weaves the stories of the play's acts into one picture.  It takes place at the cozy seaside England Hotel Beauregard known, as a placard tells us, for being "Three Minutes from the Sea," for its "Fine Cuisine," and for its "Separate Tables." The movie follows the stories of a few semi-permanent guests at the hotel, including the shamed Major Pollock (Niven), a pent-up spinster Sibyl (Deborah Kerr) and her haughty, overbearing mother Maude (Gladys Cooper), and a divorced couple (Burt Lancaster and Rita Hayworth).  The hotel is smoothly run by the cool but complaisant proprietress Pat Cooper (Wendy Hiller, who won the Supporting Actress Oscar), plain in her brooches, cardigan and bun, who is also newly engaged to Lancaster's John.  There's also a genteel young couple (Rod Taylor and Audrey Dalton), mostly on the outskirts, deciding upon their future together.

Though set in England, the movie is an extremely apt portrait of 1950s America and McCarthyism, with its sexual frustrations and buried taboos.  When the criminal charges against the Major's playboy past are found out in a newspaper article, Maude spearheads a campaign for the guests to shun him.  Painfully sheltered Sibyl, previously taken with the Major's suaveness and kindness, becomes enraged and shaken ("It made me sick!") by his reported actions.  A critical scene in the film is between the Major and Sibyl on the back deck.  It's a tense and solemn exchange with the Major unraveling his past and the reasoning for his disgraced actions ("Sometimes I've even managed to believe in the Major myself," he says).  I always wondered if the Major was closeted and didn't know how to act out his sexual inclinations. It's an excellent turn by Niven, with his slicked-back grayed hair, curled up fingers and posture at a near-crouch, patting at his blazer pocket and barely managing to look at Sibyl; he registers so much shame and emotion with his facial expressions. Kerr does her best but is saddled with the film's melodrama and an antiquated female portrait, but is tempered a bit by Niven and the supporting players.  Glowing Hayworth, in fact, offers rich contrast as a distraught, aging model afraid of being alone.  Her performance is very good, unassuming and also layered by the weight of her gloried Hollywood past. It's interesting too how the film pits her dramatically against Hiller, who is much more plain, less glamorous, even though they resemble each other in a very subtle way.  Hiller, a magnificent British actress, offers a very unshowy, homey and lived-in turn, and offers up some of the film's sense of ambiguity.

All of the events of Separate Tables are mostly indoors and unfold within a single place.  This could be a trapping for a movie, but so well-cast, decorated and directed so elegantly by Mann, the movie floats smoothly throughout the rooms of the inn. There's something satisfying about the setting and the way it heightens the mood and feel of the characters and their aloofness from the rest of the world.  Do the guests, many escaping from something, desperately need one another in a way? "Being alone in a crowd is worse," Hayworth laments toward the end of the film. The succinct black and white cinematography by Charles Lang highlights the use of lighting and character positioning (medium shots and closer ones) and also windows. The dialogue is very rich and loaded and meant, perhaps, for repeat viewings. Unlike many films of the era and perhaps reflecting the changing mores of the late-50s, Separate Tables is forgiving of the Major's ways and doesn't really end on any solidified, hammered-out notes or judgements, in fact, we're not quite sure where these characters will end up, including the young couple with all their naivete and promise as the end theme song swells away and the camera shows our characters barely visible behind the hotel's patched-glass windows. ***1/2

-Jeffery Berg

we are explorers

Really cool video for Cut Copy's "We Are Explorers" featuring cut-out printed 3D figures.

Also check the xylophoned-in (and free) Larry Gus remix for the track.

Friday, February 21, 2014

pratt attack

So Chris Pratt is taking over the world with The Lego Movie and The Guardians of the Galaxy.  I'm happy for him, so happy... he's spontaneous, sharp, humble and just so cute but I've loved him for so long I sort of feel protective.  Anyway, here is a collection of some of my recentish fave Chris Pratt photos & gifs.