And the Oscar goes to….who cares?

The Academy Awards are next Sunday, March 2.   Are you watching?  Do you care?

Not only am I excited to see Ellen DeGeneres because she makes a classy host, I also look forward to the awards shows to see some of my favorite filmmakers and actors.  Do I think the Academy (or BAFTA or the Golden Globes) chooses the BEST films?  No, of course not.  So often it’s about politics and who had the most money to campaign or an award goes to an actor who’s work has been outstanding but who’s gone unrewarded (Sorry, Robert Redford).

There was an interesting article in this Friday’s New York Times about how the studios are worried that the nominations;  which usually help to get smaller films a larger audience, but are having so little effect this year.  Have you made it a point to see all the nominated films or even all the Best Picture nominations: Her, Gravity, Philomena, Captain Phillips, The Dallas Buyers Club, Twelve Years A Slave, Nebraska, The Wolf of Wall Street, American Hustle?

There are many people who don’t go to the movies, period.  And if they do, they want to see the latest comedy or action film or teen romance.  Many of the nominated Best Picture films would not be a Friday Night Date Night contender.  I thought most of the nominated films were worth seeing though I didn’t enjoy them all.  I could have done without the violence (over-the-top brutality is never okay in my book) of Twelve Years A Slave, but the performances were extraordinary and I’m thrilled at Chiwetel Ejiofor’s BAFTA win.

I was bored with The Wolf of Wall Street and just wanted all the characters to get their comeuppance.  Who wants to spend three hours with men behaving like idiots–their ill-gained wealth just meant more repellent behavior, and did anyone learn their lesson?  I’m also not a fan of Jonah Hill’s acting, so that also colored my view of the film.

I thought Captain Phillips was a good film and the ending was amazing but having already seen the more gripping and perhaps, more realistic, Danish film, The Hijacking, I wasn’t as impressed as I might have been.  I was also put off by the flag-waving, military rescue.

So I have reservations about three out of the nine nominations, but I would still recommend the rest as amazing experiences at the movie theater.  I would definitely recommend you see Gravity as it was intended–in a 3-D theater.  You can take your parents to see the touching, Philomena.  You can take a date to the lovely modern romance, Her.  And if The Dallas Buyers Club is a little light on it’s historical details of the AIDS epidemic, it’s still a worthy contender with it’s two leads giving heart-felt, brilliant performances.  The black and white film, Nebraska has performances that are so nuanced as to seem completely true-to-life and a simple story that is universal.  And heck, American Hustle is just fun!  See it for the hair and costumes and you may be surprised that you actually begin to care for these characters and whether they can stay out of jail.

So, if the Oscar attention “has not ignited a box-office fire for any of those small-budget candidates for best picture.  The resulting question: Is anyone outside the Hollywood bubble paying attention to all of this Oscar noise?”

What is the answer?  Is it the sad truth that all the BEST films must be released in the winter months or they’ll be forgotten by Academy voters?   Perhaps if movie goers weren’t forced to sit through endless trailers and advertisements in newspapers for the “important” films…those films that the nominating committees have deemed worthy of our attention, then they might be more interested.  If audiences were allowed to discover them on their own, perhaps then, audiences would not be so resentful that these films dominate the theater screens for months or are re-released to take advantage of audience’s who are interested in films that were nominated.  Is it any wonder that your average movie-goer turns away from films of quality to the more light-hearted fare?  No one wants to be SOLD.  No one wants the same film in the theater for months or to be told like the 12 Years a Slave  campaign that “Now is the time” (to force ourselves to see the film).  No, we want to have the joy of discovery.

I know you’ll be watching the Oscars.  Let’s discuss them over cocktails!  Cheers!

“Tim’s Vermeer” — an incredible journey in art exploration and discovery

Short-listed for an Academy Award though it wasn’t nominated, Tim’s Vermeer was nominated for a BAFTA (British Academy Awards). So instead of Closing Night for BIFF (The Boulder International Film Festival) at the Boulder Theater, the star of the film, Tim Jenison and the producer, Farley Ziegler were with Penn and Teller–in London!


A crowd-pleaser, Tim’s Vermeer is also an eye-opening experience about art and technology.  Here we have Tim Jenison, a man with a passion for technology.  An inventor that created the Video Toaster and other programs to digitize video; Tim became interested in the possibility that the 17th Century Dutch master, Johannes Vermeer, may have used some pretty complex science to create photo-realistic paintings.  His friend Penn Jillette was intrigued enough to convince his friend and entertainment partner, Teller, to direct the film.  Teller’s painters were painters but Tim Jenison had never painted an oil painting…could he learn to paint like Vermeer?

The film follows what became a five-year exploration of the intersection of art and science.  Tim Jenison builds a studio, travels to Amsterdam, interviews art historians and creates a series of remarkable paintings recorded by 3 cameras that captured 2400 hours of footage.  Expertly edited into this 80-minute documentary, Tim’s Vermeer not only enlightens but also entertains.

After a screening in Los Angeles, Farley Ziegler, the producer, had an interesting comment about the film: “That Tim Jenison could look at this 350-year-old painting that had been studied for 350 years….and because of his skill set being different, he was able to see something different…something that no one else had ever seen; the “seahorse smile”…I find that so astonishing and liberating and I wonder what other results might be revealed by others looking with a new viewpoint?”

A unique documentary about an experiment that turned into a five-year obsession and the artists who saw it through with passion and persistence to discover that it’s not a matter of whether it’s art OR science; it’s both.  What matters most is not how the art is created, but how you respond to that art and what it makes you feel in your heart.

Rating: 4 glasses of Renaissance mead, sipped while listening to lute music

Passes the Bechdel Test

Letter from Teller to film-goers:

BIFF 2014 Award Winners

Best Short Film: Saturday Girls Best Editing: No No: A Dockumentary Best Colorado Film: High and Hallowed: Everest 1963 Best New Filmmaker: Alan Hicks, Keep On Keepin’ On (a work-in-progress) Special Jury Award for Documentary Film: Mistaken for Strangers Best Feature Film: Le Week-End Best Documentary: Finding Vivian Maier Best Call 2 Action Film: Documented Catalyst Award: (and a $10,000 donation from the Red Empress Foundation to the Music and Memory Foundation): Alive Inside People’s Choice Award: Keep On Keepin’ On (a work-in-progress)

Opening Night for BIFF 2014


Boulder Intetnational Film Fest, Opening Night

The Gala Opening Night for the Boulder International Film Festival was spread across two venues; The Boulderado Hotel and the Rembrandt Yard. Arriving right on time at the Boulderado, it was like a treasure hunt to find the party. Accompanied by an odd assortment of costumed film characters, we traversed the halls and stairwells to find…they weren’t ready yet! No worries, a short wait and then we were first in line to get our two drink tickets (beer or wine) and the first pick of all the appetizers! There was a lovely jazz combo in the corner and plenty of tables to enjoy our bounty. Passed hors d’oevres and many food stations meant there was plenty of tasty food and room to get to it. Wine was even served in lovely goblets.

The Rembrandt Yard was another story, too small for the amount of people crammed in the space and an outside staircase crowded with party-goers trying to find their friends or at least make it to a beverage table. The gala attire ranged from full-length glittery ballgowns, suits and ties and casual Boulder attire (yoga pants, nice shirt and sensible shoes). Thrown in the mix was a Batman, Princess Leia, Stormtrooper and a staggering Zombie. There seemed to be a number of women wearing bejeweled headbands as if inspired by Carey Mulligan’s character in The Great Gatsby. With only a few cash bars and most people sticking to their two wine or beer limit, no one was getting out of order and it was a very friendly atmosphere even in the crowds. Ladies in high heels had the double challenge of icy streets and multiple staircases and I wondered how anyone with limited mobility could have attended the party.

There was a fun New-Orleans-style marching band, The Purple Squirrel, performing outside to serenade us to the Boulder Theater. They were onstage at the Boudler Theater keeping the party going. The bar inside was crowded with folks trying to make-up for the light drinking earlier and the trek down to the seats was slow. Stand alone seats like you’d find in a conference hall were fairly comfortable but sadly, not staggered for optimal viewing and the floor of the venue was not “racked” enough to allow for clear sightlines. There was a lovely new screen and a recent addition of Real 3-D projection. With the digital package projection, the crew was probably not able to test screen the film so there were a couple instances when the sound blared out of the speakers and those seated on the sides all-but jumped out of their seats!
The crowd was very forgiving and everyone seemed to enjoy the screening of The Faded Gigolo which oddly enough, was never introduced by our convivial hosts, Kathy and Robin Beeck.

Leaving the Boulder Theater, we were greeted with the fresh scent of rain-washed streets and the glow of an almost-full moon. A few people seemed to be headed for a nightcap at one of the many local watering holes but for most celebrants, this was a weeknight and it was time to head home to bed! This was a successful evening for the 10th annual Boulder International Film Festival.

“The Wind Rises”–2 hours of engineering and romantic love

Are you a fan of Hayao Miyazaki? Then you’ll be sad to hear that this is his last film but then, perhaps this film will not make your list of Miyazaki favorites…

The Wind Rises is a beautiful, painterly film that’s been nominated for an Academy Award this year. With a two-hour running time and a narrative that contains little of his trademark fantasy elements, it was difficult to stay engaged.  Some of the blame may be that I was wedged into a row with knees crammed against a hard wooden divider in the historical (but not so comfortable) Boulder Theater…

There are some lovely dream sequences and for fans of airplanes and trains, there is an abundance of images to enjoy.  There is a funny caricature of a raging boss that adds amusement and a lovely interlude at a Swiss spa that lets the story breathe. Based on Miyazaki’s manga (Japanese comic) about the real engineer who designed fighter plans for World War II, The Wind Rises wants you to care about our young hero, Jiro Horikoshi, being forced to design planes for the war effort instead of following his dream of designing slick, aerodynamic jet planes. The film celebrates a craft that many may not be familiar with, and by showing how driven and talented this young man is, elevates the engineering to show the art involved. There is a sweet romance with a young woman suffering from tuberculosis and an unusual depiction of the 1923 Great Kanto earthquake and the tragic aftermath.  Miyazaki has a masterful way of showing wind moving through the trees and fields but overdoes it with endless shots of planes crossing the sky.

In one of Jiro’s dreams, he is speaking to his mentor, Gianni Caproni (the Italian aviation pioneer) and the older man tells him that he has 10 years “in the sun”.  The character (and possibly Miyazaki) believes that there are only 10 years of prime creativity and encourages Jiro to make the most of those years.  Was this meant as a comment on Miyazaki’s own career?  He has certainly had a long and productive career and he’s mentioned retiring many times.  Now his son, Goro Miyazaki, is directing.  His film, From Up On Poppy Hill garnereed critical acclaim in 2011.  It’s my sense that even if this IS Hayao Miyazaki’s last film; he will stay on to run Studio Ghibli.

“The landscape in the movie is the landscape of the country where my mother and father grew up,” says Miyazaki. “I knew the story of Jiro when I was 12, and airplanes were a hobby for me, but I never thought that, 60 years later, that would become my final animated feature movie.”

There was much to enjoy in this film: lovely images, a beautiful soundtrack, and the sound effects of the planes starting up sounded like a child blowing raspberries. The romance was sweet and the young woman was drawn so beautifully–but the running time felt about 20 minutes too long.

I did find it amusing to be watching my second animated film to feature William H. Macy’s voice in one weekend; he’s also featured in Ernest and Celestine! The Wind Rises won the Best Animated Feature at the Boulder International Film Festival but the only other feature was Ernest and Celestine.

Rating: 3 Japanese beers out of 5
Passes the Bechdel Test

Tribute for Shirley MacLaine at BIFF


Lifetime Acheivement Award

It was a wonderful evening at the Boulder Theater as BIFF honored Shirley MacLaine with the Career Achievement Award. A packed house applauded the films in the retrospective reel and Shirley MacLaine had the crowd eating out of her hand as she teased the Host, Ron Bostwick. He did a great job of leading the interview to explore Shirley’s 60-year career spanning dance, Broadway, film, television and her latest career as best-selling author.

Looking glamorous in a gold glittery jacket and simple black slacks and pants, Shirley seemed to be wearing a wig and was in high spirits. She reacted with quick wit and sarcasm to questions and if she had a hard time remembering some titles of her filmography; who could blame her with such an expansive career! She spoke about her days with the Brat Pack and her recent adventures with Jack Black, whom she admires and thinks of as a great performer; “he can sing and dance and serenaded me many times”.

She spoke briefly about her metaphysical work and many of the audience thanked her for her books, particularly Out On A Limb. Ron discussed her trek across Spain where she walked 20 miles a day for 15 days — her biggest challenge? Trying to stay alone so she could use the time as a meditation. And she mused, “I only thought about men for half an hour the whole time…what does that mean?”

I would have loved to hear more about her recent work on “Downtown Abbey” but she has so many new films (4 this year!) in the works and a book to promote so there was a lot of ground to cover.
She was vivacious, lively and thoughtful. She discussed her deep love and admiration for her dog that recently lost his sight and is deaf but still inspires her.
A few woman solicited her advice or asked for personal appearances (and even her phone number!) but Shirley handled it all like the old pro that she is…a little sarcastic but still humorously and never with a hurtful or mean remark.
Generous of spirit, Shirley MacLaine is a class act all the way!

“Mistaken for Strangers”–family drama masquerading as a rock documentary

This is an enjoyable documentary that some might mistake as a film about the band The National. Instead, Mistaken for Strangers explores the trails of the dysfunctional younger brother of the lead singer, Matt Berninger. Tom Berninger is hired as a roadie and is given the task to use his amateur filmmaker skills to post videos from the tour.

Tom use a small hand-held camera to film footage of the band preparing to go on stage and performing but mostly he turns the camera on himself and records some honest revelations about how he feels overshadowed by his famous brother. He attempts to get each of the performers to join him in his complaints against his brother and stages some hilariously stilted “introductions”. A bumbling boy-man that can’t seem to follow the simplest instructions, he is soon causing friction on the tour with his inept filmmaking and lack of censor. Tom seems to have no clue how awkward his interactions make people feel. There is even footage of Tom’s parents trying to reassure him that he is talented.

After Tom is fired from the tour, he returns home to dedicate himself to editing his movie. A technical issue abruptly ends his Rough Cut screening for the band and after four years, Tom finds an expert to lead the editing effort. A four-hour rambling film becomes this family drama that ends with Tom finding some confidence and returning to the tour…this time on the Security detail.

At the interview on stage at the Boulder Theater, Tom is asked how he feels to see himself on the big screen and whether it makes him uncomfortable to relive his failures. In a friendly, delusional way, he answers “the film was edited to make the story more interesting…I never had any issues with the band. I just didn’t get along with management”! He said that living with his parents in his 30’s with no real job or career ahead is what many of his friends in Cincinnati are facing–“We’re lost”.

Fearful of rejection but without guile, Tom Berininger’s film is an honest portrayal of brothers baffled by each other but caring enough to establish a loving adult relationship. Tom is a man trying to find his way. Mistaken for Strangers is his attempt to find himself.

Leaving the theater, I found myself wanting to listen to The National and glad to have spent some time with this filmmaker.

3 bottles of beer out of 5

Passes the Bechdel Test

“Ida”–mesmerizing in black and white

Day Two of the Boulder International Film Festival found me sitting in a pew at the back of the United Methodist Church watching a beautiful Polish film about a Catholic novitiate who discovers she’s Jewish. I wonder if the primarily older, Jewish crowd picked up on the irony of all this cross-culture mixing?
Ida, directed and co-written by Pawel Pawlikowski, is set in 1960’s Poland and each shot is masterful crafted. Opening with a montage of black and white images of a young girl feeding chickens, the shot is tightly framed on just her legs and plain skirt with chickens milling about. There is great depth to the composition and in one sttic camera shot, the cinematographers, Ryszard Lenczewski and Lukasz Zal, place the audience in this quiet convent and immediately establish it’s simple routine.
The simplicity and quiet of this monastatic life is later contrasted with the busier pace of life in the town when Ida takes her train ride to meet her aunt. We see her view from the moving train as people bustle along the street and when the focus returns to Agata Trzebuchowska’s eyes, it’s clear that this is a big change and maybe, not a welcome one. The actress has wide eyes that seem to have no pupils and with the stillness of her face and the tentative smiles, she expresses a great depth of feeling.

She’s off to visit her Aunt, played by another Agata; Agata Kulesza, in a full-throttle performance of a woman drowning her sorrows in booze and one-night stands. Together, the two women, one young, fresh and sheltered…the other tarnished by a brutal life, go in search for the truth behind their family’s tragic past. The film is sad, moving, timeless but also life-affirming.
The soundtrack is beautiful and the cinematography and performances are mesmerizing. Ida is a film worth seeking out!

5 shots of Polish vodka

Passes the Bechdel Test

A wonderful review — Ida won Best Film at the London Film Festival!