Wednesday, February 29, 2012

THE KID WITH A BIKE


THE KID WITH A BIKE
Written and Directed by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne
Starring Thomas Doret and Cecile de France

When I think kids on bikes, I think of happy little children pedaling their hearts out to get up hills and coasting down them afterward with the wind in their hair and their hands off the handles. I do not think about young boys, abandoned by their fathers and gripping to their bikes desperately as the last and final lifeline between them and the parental comfort they used to know. Fortunately for me, the Dardenne Brothers, do see things this way in their eye-opening and often heartbreaking film, THE KID WITH A BIKE.

Cyril is a 12-year-old boy living in a state run foster home after his father left him there a month earlier. In an impressive performance by unknown actor, Thomas Doret, who was chosen from over 100 auditions, Cyril is not like any child I’ve seen on screen. He is uncontrollable and unconsolable. From the moment we meet him, he is refusing to accept the reality of his situation, understandably so mind you considering the poor guy is all of 12 and is still waiting for his father to come back and get him. He is constantly trying to run away, to the point of needing restraint on a number of occasions. His angst is untamable until a woman he met only one, named Samantha, and played by the lovely, Cecile de France, brings him the bike his father had given him at one point, but had taken with him when he left. This random act of kindness forms a kinship between the two of them that neither expects nor knows how to process.


THE KID WITH A BIKE keeps in step with most of the Dardennes Brothers previous work by not being overly sentimental, but breaks away to some extent by being reasonably more bright in tone and by containing music, something the Dardennes Brothers tend to avoid as a general rule. The result may be more accessible to some extent but the subject matter itself maintains the film’s gravitas. The unlikely relationship that unfolds on screen between Cyril and Samantha, and the difficulty with which it is achieved, reminds me of that uphill pedal from earlier. And with the close of the film, comes that exhilarating downhill freedom.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Black Sheep Reviews presents the 2011 Mouton d'Or Awards



Last year I welcomed you to the sixth annual Mouton d'Or Awards and announced that they would be the last time they would be brought to you by Black Sheep Reviews. The intent was to start a new site but life got awful busy, as it tends to do, and here we are. Still Black Sheep presenting and do you know what? I'm happy it worked out this way. It's not about the site; it's about the work. OK, it's a little bit about the site but it is primarily about the work and this last year led to a lot of work for me outside Black Sheep in the world of film criticism. And I get to bring all that work back here to Black Sheep week after week. I'm not sure where Black Sheep was supposed to end up at this point but wherever this is, is pretty great.

And with that Black Sheep Reviews welcomes you to the 2011 Mouton d'Or Awards! The little silent film that could, THE ARTIST, leads this year's nominations with a total of seven but will it take the top prize? Or will it go to the one where reclusive director, Terrence Malick, attempts to capture the meaning of life on film? Perhaps it will be the one where people barely speak and spend a lot of time in cars or the one about the hot sex addict in NYC or maybe even the one where George Clooney wears Hawaiian shirts and flip-flops. It could be any one of these films. I joke about them casually here but they are all incredible films and I have fond memories of discovering each one of them. They all find some way to be honoured here but only one can take the Mouton d'Or for Best Picture.

Without further a due, ladies and gentlemen, the 2011 Mouton d'Or Awards ...
(Scroll over any title to read the original Black Sheep review.)



Contrary to what some people think, film critics do like movies. They do enjoy being entertained. Sometimes, they even enjoy big Hollywood productions like these five nominees. I chose THE HELP in this category because I was completely swept up in it, like a great deal of people out there. I finished reading the book about 20 minutes before I saw the movie and watching it come to life, albeit flawed in a few spots, was great fun for me and furthermore, I am proud to see that this film has touched so many people around the world.



It seems strange to even to suggest that a movie about the end of the world is little on any level whatsoever but when you see how striking Lars von Trier's MELANCHOLIA is, you will marvel at how little it supposedly cost to make. It is one of the most concise and effective films I've seen all year and my personal favourite from this elusive artist.


FRENCH IMMERSION
GREEN LANTERN

I don't like to spend too much time on these nominees. They have already wasted enough of mine as it is. Just look at those photos! How ridiculous do they all look? You should avoid all five but that being said, you should avoid David Gordon Green's YOUR HIGHNESS more than any other. It is pure torture from start to finish and an embarrassment for all involved.



I have to say I am completely blown away by this choice. THE TREE OF LIFE is by far one of the most polarizing films I've ever seen. People who love it, LOVE it but people who hate it, well they're willing to throw down over it. Personally, I love it. So to see that my readers overwhelmingly chose to honour it over some of the more populist choices in this category is incredible to me. Great choice, guys, and thank you to all who participated and voted in for this prize.



It still saddens me to only see two nominees in this category. I admit to not having seen some of the bigger animated films this year but that is just because they did nothing to excite me. These two are both fantastic films but the scale tips towards RANGO for being just so darn different and delicately detailed.



No matter what you think of Malick's opus, THE TREE OF LIFE, you cannot deny its exquisite beauty. This can be credited to Malick himself of course but also to his brilliant cinematographer, Emmanuel Lubezki, his whip smart editor, Mark Yoshikawa, and special effects genius, Douglas Trumbull, who came out of retirement to help recreate the creation of the universe.



Electronic music artists taking stabs at film scores is becoming increasingly more and more popular but the  inventive and unexpectedly successful work of The Chemical Brothers on HANNA makes an already exciting film experience that much more memorable. It's also a lot of fun to listen to outside of the context of the film.


KENNETH BRANNAGH in MY WEEK WITH MARILYN
ALBERT BROOKS in DRIVE
ARMIE HAMMER in J. EDGAR
BRAD PITT in THE TREE OF LIFE
CHRISTOPHER PLUMMER in BEGINNERS

This category came down to two choices for me and one had to be made. There is something so infectious about Christopher Plummer's interpretation of a 75-year-old man who has just come out of the closet and been diagnosed with cancer in BEGINNERS. He has waited his whole life for this time to be himself and there is no way he is going to let a little thing like death stop him from experiencing every aspect gay life has to offer. It is truly inspiring and his performance is moving.


JESSICA CHASTAIN in THE TREE OF LIFE
MELISSA MCCARTHY in BRIDESMAIDS
JANET MCTEER in ALBERT NOBBS
CAREY MULLIGAN in SHAME
OCTAVIA SPENCER in THE HELP
SHAILENE WOODLEY in THE DESCENDANTS

Much of the awards season attention for Jessica Chastain has been for THE HELP but I fell completely in love with her in THE TREE OF LIFE. She has done plenty since then but nothing will compare to the first time for me. She deserves this all the more though for being amazing in everything she's put out this year but her work in THE TREE OF LIFE is almost angelic. She is simply luminous.



Mike Mills wrote BEGINNERS about his very own parents' relationship. By fearlessly sharing such a personal aspect of his life and weaving in such specific and vulnerable details, he created a piece that is surprisingly universal. It is quirky and insightful and just embodies for me everything than an original screenplay should. Perhaps most importantly, it is brave and honest.



THE DESCENDANTS tells a complex story and it does so sparingly and without playing to sentimentality when it so easily could considering its sensitive subject matter. Written by Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, this family drama is delightfully unique, oscillating between moments of light hearted humour, awkward bewilderment and real heart. It exudes a warmth that heals without even trying.



This is a new category this year. The reason it is here is because I am always blown away every year by what first time filmmakers can accomplish. All five of these films are bold, daring and stylistically fascinating works but Sean Durkin's MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE has haunted me ever since I first saw it. And despite its dark and disturbing nature, it is constantly drawing me back to it. I cannot wait to see what Durkin does next.


GEORGE CLOONEY in THE DESCENDANTS
JEAN DUJARDIN in THE ARTIST
MICHAEL FASSBENDER in SHAME
GARY OLDMAN in TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY
BRAD PITT in MONEYBALL
MICHAEL SHANNON in TAKE SHELTER

I would hate to be an Academy member right now. I'm not sure how I would choose between Clooney and Dujardin for the win in this category. Fortunately for me, I don't have to. I have Michael Fassbender to reward for his unforgettable turn as Brandon, a sex addict living in New York City, who is coming undone. It is too easy to say in this case but Fassbender does literally put it all out there for this character. His nakedness in SHAME, as impressive as it is, is still nothing in comparison to how naked his soul is.


GLENN CLOSE in ALBERT NOBBS
VIOLA DAVIS in THE HELP
ELIZABETH OLSEN in MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE
MERYL STREEP in THE IRON LADY
TILDA SWINTON in WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN
MICHELLE WILLIAMS in MY WEEK WITH MARILYN

What an incredible year for women in film. In fact, it was this category specifically that forced me to expand the acting nominees to six in each category. There is no way I could not honour one of these fine ladies. That said, there can only be one winner and I found it too difficult to choose between Davis and Streep so I went with Tilda Swinton instead. Her work in WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN may not have gotten the notice it deserved but it is stellar. Her horror is unbearable and, fortunately for us or not, she is sure to share that horror with us at all times.



This is another new category this year. You cannot possibly single out every performance in every film you like. There are some times though that it is hard to overlook just how smoothly the entire cast works with each other. All five of these nominees boast impressive performances across the board and chemistry that is unmatched but the cast of 50/50 is a total dream. Joseph Gordon-Levitt leads, and strongly I might add, a sensitive Seth Rogen, a charming Anna Kendrick, a disturbing Bryce Dallas Howard and a heartbreaking Anjelica Huston. Together, they tow an incredibly difficult line between drama and comedy, making for a much more real look at dealing with cancer than any would have expected.


 MICHEL HAZANAVICIUS for THE ARTIST
STEVE MCQUEEN for SHAME
ALEXANDER PAYNE for THE DESCENDANTS
NICOLAS WINDING REFN for DRIVE
LARS VON TRIER for MELANCHOLIA

All five of these directors knew what they wanted and got exactly that out of their pictures but one of them did so with an insane idea. Michel Hazanavicius has wanted to make a silent film for years now and he never gave up. He kept pushing until he finally found someone to back him and once he had the support, he didn't squander a single bit of it. His choices are all deliberate, all respect the rules of the era he is trying to capture and they subsequently allow for an enchanting film experience unlike any other I've had this year. I commend the man and his bravery for making a silent movie at a time when there is so much noise to distract us from the simpler things. Hazanavicius is THE ARTIST.



Out of the 130+ movies I saw last year, these five left the biggest mark on my soul. And while it was incredibly difficult to pick just one, I only had to think back to what it was like to experience these movies for the first time to make that choice. THE ARTIST was a delight. THE DESCENDANTS was cathartic. SHAME was gut wrenching. And THE TREE OF LIFE was monumental. But Nicolas Winding Refn's DRIVE was different. I hadn't seen anything quite like it before. It was quiet one moment and then uproarious the next. It was romantic and simple but then violent and disturbingly so. Everything about it exuded style, from the car chases to the soundtrack to mounting tension between leads, Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan. I remember feeling like DRIVE had practically driven right over me by the time it was done. And all I knew was I wanted to take that drive all over again the moment it finished. No other movie got my motor running like this one and that is why the 2011 Mouton d'Or Award for Best Picture goes to



Thank you kindly for reading.
Here's to another great year at the movies!

FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION 2012


Happy Oscar Day everybody! Now that we all have our Oscar predictions in hand and we've all perused and admired the winners of the 2011 Mouton d'Or Awards, it's time to kick back and throw on this year's FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION movie music mix. I compile this collection every year and I'd like to share it with you so that you can play it at your pending Oscar festivities. Here is the track list:

Melancholia: Prologue - The Sity of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra (MELANCHOLIA)
Nightcall - Kavinsky (DRIVE)
The Concept - Teenage Fanclub (YOUNG ADULT)
It's Raining - Inara George (BRIDESMAIDS)
Si tu vois ma mère - Sidney Bichet (MIDNIGHT IN PARIS)
New York, New York (Theme) - Carey Mulligans (SHAME)
Marlene - John Hawkes (MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE)
Clouds - Alexandre Desplat (THE TREE OF LIFE)
Life's a Happy Song - The Cast of The Muppets (THE MUPPETS)
Taking You with Me - Daniel Tashian & Mindy Smith (OUR IDIOT BROTHER)
Holocene - Bon Iver (WE BOUGHT A ZOO)
Los Vestidos Desgarrados - Alberto Iglesias (THE SKIN IN LIVE IN)
Por el Amor de Amar - Concha Buika (THE SKIN I LIVE IN)
Dance for Me Wallis - Abel Korzeniowski (W.E.)
Immigrant Song - Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross featuring Karen O.
The Other Side of Mt. Heart Attack - Liars (50/50)
Hanna's Theme - The Chemical Brothers (HANNA)
Cafe de Flore - Doctor Rockit (CAFE DE FLORE)
Everything's Made for Love - Gene Austin (BEGINNERS)

Now all you have to do is download and play.
Enjoy the show!

THE OSCARS: Predictions


Here is the hard truth about Oscar predictions. For the most part, you are not going to win the pot by making inspired choices in the major categories. With a couple of notable exceptions, those are all pretty much sewn up already. So, don't be bold. Play it safe when you the know the general consensus is going in a particular direction. Just because you really loved Glenn Close in ALBERT NOBBS does not mean there is a genuine chance she will take the award tonight. Sentiment, at least when it comes to Oscar polls, is for losers.

Now, where you need to shine is in the smaller categories. Often times, nobody has even seen the nominees so with a little help from yours truly, perhaps we can get that money in your pocket by the time they call THE ARTIST as Best Picture. If we do win though, I expect 10% off the top.

(Click on any highlighted title for the original Black Sheep review.)

BEST PICTURE

Will Win: THE ARTIST
Should Win: THE ARTIST
Could Win: THE HELP, HUGO

Of the bunch, THE ARTIST is the most universally loved. It may not be the Best Picture amongst the nominees but it has less detractors than the rest and is truly a delight and deserving of the crown.

BEST ACTOR

Will Win: George Clooney for THE DESCENDANTS
Should Win: Jean Dujardin for THE ARTIST
Could Win: Jean Dujardin

Hollywood is in love with THE ARTIST and Dujardin is certainly a charmer. That said, I believe that Clooney, the early favourite for this honour, will still triumph. He is Hollywood royalty, has never won in this category and was at his best in THE DESCENDANTS. This is the closest race of the night.

BEST ACTRESS

Will Win: Viola Davis for THE HELP
Should Win: Viola Davis
Could Win: Meryl Streep for THE IRON LADY

Davis may have stumbled a little bit when she lost to Streep at the Golden Globes but even Streep seemed surprised by that. I believe the Academy will reward her tender performance in THE HELP but Streep is long overdue. What Streep has to do though is be her usual great self but in a better movie.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Will Win: Christopher Plummer for BEGINNERS
Should Win: Christopher Plummer
Could Win: No one ... maybe Max Von Sydow, but not really

Plummer has this one wrapped up and deservedly so. Von Sydow is his only competition and that's just because he's been around a lot longer than the other nominees.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Will Win: Octavia Spender for THE HELP
Should Win: Octavia Spencer
Could Win: Again, not really anyone, maybe Melissa McCarthy

Spencer has won every major award thrown at her. I do not expect her to miss out here. Chastain could have been a bigger threat if she was nominated for another movie.

BEST DIRECTOR

Will Win: Michel Hazanavicius for THE ARTIST
Should Win: Michel Hazanavicius
Could Win: Martin Scorsese for HUGO

Hazanavicius is the clear front runner here. He also took the Director's Guild Award and the Academy  tends to follow suit. Scorsese has a surprising amount of support for HUGO but he just won not too long ago, and for a much better film.

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Will Win: MIDNIGHT IN PARIS
Should Win: A SEPARATION
Could Win: THE ARTIST

I think this is Woody's to lose. The Academy will want to recognize the success of MIDNIGHT IN PARIS somehow and this is the easiest way to do that. It isn't fully undeserving but he has done better, in my opinion. A sweep for THE ARTIST could derail this though.

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Will Win: THE DESCENDANTS
Should Win: THE DESCENDANTS
Could Win: MONEYBALL

I loved the screenplay for THE DESCENDANTS and much like the Original Screenplay category, the Academy will want to reward Alexander Payne somehow for his latest and this seems like the most apt way. Early favourite, MONEYBALL could still come back so beware of balls out of left field.

FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

Will Win: A SEPARATION
Should Win: MONSIEUR LAZHAR
Could Win: IN DARKNESS

Being the only nominee with any love in any other category, Original Screenplay nominee, A SEPARATION, should continue its winning streak here. It's a fantastic film and I will be happy to see it win but I would love Canada to take it of course for MONSIEUR LAZHAR. Meanwhile, IN DARKNESS is a powerful underdog in this category.

ANIMATED FEATURE

Will Win: RANGO
Should Win: RANGO
Could Win: No competition

Admittedly, I have not seen the two smaller nominees in this category but who has? Aside from those, everything else in this category is too lame and populist to win. RANGO is a lock.

ANIMATED SHORT FILM

Will Win: A MORNING STROLL
Should Win: LA LUNA
Could Win: THE FANTASTIC FLYING BOOKS OF MR. MORRIS LESSMORE

I found A MORNING STROLL to be tight, concise and hilarious. I believe its commentary of the deterioration of society and courtesy will appeal to the Academy. That being said, the one about the flying books and how reading is sadly dying might take it. I hope it doesn't.

EDITING

Will Win: THE ARTIST
Should Win: HUGO
Could Win: HUGO

As THE ARTIST is poised for Best Picture, this category usually follows suit. That being said, HUGO is a much showier film and could easily triumph here. I am still betting on THE ARTIST though.

CINEMATOGRAPHY

Will Win: THE TREE OF LIFE
Should Win: THE TREE OF LIFE
Could Win: HUGO, THE ARTIST

The one thing everyone can agree on when it comes to THE TREE OF LIFE is that it is gorgeous and breathtakingly so. It will not win anywhere else but there is nothing right with the world if it doesn't win here.

ART DIRECTION

Will Win: HUGO
Should Win: HUGO
Could Win: THE ARTIST

HUGO is the most nominated film this year and this is because it excels in the technical categories. It is a lushly elaborate production and I think it has this category in the bag.

COSTUME DESIGN

Will Win: THE ARTIST
Should Win: JANE EYRE
Could Win: W.E.

THE ARTIST is simple elegant and perfectly period so this category should get swept up with its momentum. Madonna's W.E. did take honours with the costume designers themselves though so she could be trouble.

MAKEUP

Will Win: THE IRON LADY
Should Win: THE IRON LADY
Could Win: ALBERT NOBBS

At the end of the day, making Streep look old should win out over making Close look like a man. This is primarily because Streep looks more genuinely old than Close looks genuinely like a man.

ORIGINAL SCORE

Will Win: THE ARTIST
Should Win: THE ARTIST
Could Win: HUGO

You try scoring a silent film! I'm pretty sure the Academy will recognize this undertaking unless HUGO seems to be gaining the favour of the night.

ORIGINAL SONG

Will Win: THE MUPPETS
Should Win: THE MUPPETS
Could Win: RIO

As there are only two nominees here (again, lame.), it is entirely possible RIO could take it over THE MUPPETS. Who else could? It won't though.

VISUAL EFFECTS

Will Win: THE RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES
Should Win: THE RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES
Could Win: HUGO

While no one could agree as to whether Andy Serkis deserved an Oscar nod for his role as Cesar the ape, everyone could agree he looked damn real.

SOUND MIXING and SOUND EDITING

Will Win: HUGO
Should Win: HUGO
Could Win: THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO

I lopped these two categories together because I just feel HUGO will take them both anyway. The film may not have the overall support but it does have the technical support for sure.

DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

Will Win: PARADISE LOST 3: PURGATORY
Should Win: Cannot say
Could Win: PINA

I love documentaries but the one's I see never seem to be nominated. I have seen and loved PINA and Wim Wender's 3D dance film has a good chance at an upset but PARADISE LOST 3, about the West Memphis Three convicts, is certainly the most buzzed about.

DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT

Will Win: Cant's say
Should Win: Can't say
Could Win: Can't say

Sorry, I have not seen nor do I know anything about these titles. I cannot know everything! I'm going with what the generally accepted industry odds are here: SAVING FACE

LIVE ACTION SHORT

Will Win: THE SHORE
Should Win: TUBA ATLANTIC
Could Win: PENTECOST

Of the five, THE SHORE, was the least interesting to me but it is the only one with a name director and actor. That should give it the edge.

That's all of them! For those of you throwing a party, don't forget to get people to guess what time the Oscars will end on their ballot.  It is the best way to break a tie.

Best of luck to all of you and enjoy the show!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

THE OSCARS: LIVE ACTION and ANIMATED SHORTS



It's Oscar week, people! It's time to take a closer look at all the major categories and throw in some all new reviews for the animated and live action shorts. The week will finish with predictions for the big night, as well as the announcement of the 2011 Mouton d'Or Awards.

First up, the key to winning your Oscar poll is to master the supposed smaller categories. The showier categories, like acting or picture, are pretty much sewn up weeks before the actual announcement so everyone has the same answers. This leaves you categories like Live Action Short and Animated Short to shine in. I'd say that you're in luck as I've seen all the nominees but unfortunately, I don't really know what the Academy looks for in these categories. All I can do is tell you what I saw and thought and hopefully that will be enough.

I was reasonably impressed with the live action short nominees. PENTECOST, from Ireland, is 11 tight minutes about a young boy who embarrasses his father by being a disastrous alter boy. The boy can't focus on God because he has soccer on the brain. The boy then gets one last chance to do right by his father but he begins to question if he would be better off just doing right by himself. It is funny and effective and it would not surprise me to see it take the prize.

A short film can be a great way to tell a joke but it gets tricky to tackle important, dramatic subjects in such a small amount of time. At 24 minutes, the Germany/India co-production, RAJU attempts to tell a very real story about a German couple who adopt a young toddler in Calcutta, only to lose him in a crowded market the next day. The build to his disappearance is rather obvious, with a mounting sense of doom looming in the musical score. Naturally, the child's disappearance pits the couple against each other. It was a bit trite and predictable for my tastes.

The Shore
I was also not bowled over by THE SHORE. Hailing from Northern Ireland, this short has the longest running time of any of the nominees, clocking in at 31 minutes, and stars the only recognizable actor of any entry as well. Ciarin Hinds stars as a man returned to his home country after 25 years of absence. He has not come to make amends with past mistakes but realizes he should when he arrives. The difficulty is that I never felt like he had actually owned up to his past so I was left unsatisfied. (Note: THE SHORE was directed by HOTEL RWANDA director, Terry George. This may tip the win.)

TIME FREAK is the lightest of the five nominees. Heed this message, control freaks. Time travel is not for you. Often funny and clever, this 10 minute short follows one inventor as he attempts to perfect every single moment of the day. It becomes pretty clear pretty quickly that this isn't all that healthy but it provides plenty of laughter for us so it all evens out. It is cute but likely a little too slight for the Academy.

My favourite of the bunch would be the nominee from Norway, TUBA ATLANTIC. This 25 minute story finds an elderly gentleman with six days left to live. A young girl scout type shows up at his door the next day to help him deal with the stages of death. Their unlikely bond forms as the twosome find creative ways to kill seagulls and come to understand that they both have fears about death. The action culminates into a cross-Atlantic tuba jam session of sorts, making for a quirky yet endearing work.

Tuba Atlantic
The animated short nominees were just lovely. I'm a sucker for this sort of thing but I found them all to be reasonably enchanting in their own rights and all stylistically deserving of their nomination. The first entry is DIMANCHE (SUNDAY),  a 10-minute short from the NFB here in Canada. The animation is hand drawn, sketchy in style with a good deal of shading, and it follows a young boy trying to pass the time on a Sunday afternoon. It is adorable to watch but there might not be enough weight to win.

A MORNING STROLL, from the UK, is my pick to win this category. It is only 7 minutes long and it makes a poignant point while keeping its tone light and amusing. A young man is seen taking a walk in 1959, 2009 and 2059 and each time, he crosses paths with a chicken. The style of the animation mirrors the period it is depicting and I believe voters will find the deterioration of society and courtesy to be a deserving topic to reward. Plus the chicken is just the cutest thing ever so they won't be able to resist.

A Morning Stroll
Canada's second entry in the category, also produced by the NFB, is a short film I've actually seen in two separate screenings. This is a definite rarity. WILD LIFE tells the story of a young Canadian lad who travels out west when the west was still in fact wild. Told in a series of painted images in 13 minutes, the film depicts life for one particular young man, who writes home of tall tales while finding himself living a pretty minimal existence. All the while, insert cards about comet facts break up the action and, while it is a very striking work of art, it didn't make much sense to me.

THE FANTASTIC FLYING BOOKS OF MR. MORRIS LESSMORE (15 minutes) was directed by a former Pixar designer by the name of William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg. The story itself is this random string of events that involves a hurricane and nods to THE WIZARD OF OZ and Buster Keaton, which all culminates in some musing about how books are important and disappearing. This American entry is very pretty (read, looks like a Pixar film) but its a pretty plain statement after all. I mean, look at the title character's name; Even that is obvious - More is less more? C'mon now. I know this is animated film but give your audience a little more credit than that. Oh, by the way, this is the film that industry insiders have tipped to win.

La Luna
This just leaves the actual Pixar nominated short, LA LUNA (also from the USA). Of the five, this is by far the most gorgeous and enchanting of the bunch. Pixar has not had the best of luck in this category in recent years so it might not be a safe bet to vote for it, but it is so easy to fall in love with. In 7 minutes, an adorable little boy helps his father and grandfather clean up the shooting stars that have gathered on a cluttered moon. It glows with warmth and heart and, despite my admiration for A MORNING STROLL, I would be tickled to see this take the top prize.

Next up: Best Original and Adapted Screenplay

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Best of Black Sheep: Black Sheep interviews Elizabeth Olsen


WHAT'S IN A NAME?
An interview with MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE star, Elizabeth Olsen

In the festival circuit breakout, MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE, the heroine has four names. Meanwhile, the actress who plays her has a name you’ve likely never heard before. With five films being released over the next year and mounting awards season buzz for her first though, you will know the name, Elizabeth Olsen, soon enough and you’ll be hearing it for a long time to follow as well.

“I try not to think about things like momentum and trying to act fast while things are hot,” Olsen tells me, over the phone, after I suggest that things are indeed hot for her right now. “I’m just going to try to continue making choices based on script, character, project, who’s involved, rather than try to jump on some sort of momentum.”

Her choices thus far have been pretty sound or at least have the potential to be. Her upcoming projects include working with filmmakers like Bruce Beresford (DRIVING MISS DAISY), Rodrigo Cortes (BURIED) and Josh Radnor (Ted from "How I Met your Mother"). It is her breakout in MMMM (cool acronym, huh?), with first time feature filmmaker and now good friend, Sean Durkin though, that will serve as her ultimate unveiling.

“Sean wanted to cast an unknown actress for Martha,” Olsen reveals. “He thought it was really important for the audience to see it without any baggage from someone’s prior work because it is such a specific story.” The story in question centers around Martha’s escape from a cult and her difficult integration back into the family she ran from. Her memories and her nightmares become intertwined, making for a unique and haunting film experience.

While It is true that people may not know her name, it is a stretch to suggest Olsen comes without baggage. Olsen is the younger sibling of infamous twin sisters, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen. And while she may bear a distinct resemblance to them physically, it only takes about five minutes of watching her on screen to realize she is where she is right now based on the sheer magnitude of her talent and not her connections.


This talent is the reason I chose not to discuss her sisters with her during our interview. It is also the reason that the possibility of an Oscar nod is being tossed around for her turn in MMMM. “First off, that’s just like so, it’s so hard for me to wrap my head around it because this is my first movie being released,” Olsen declares, clearly humbled and reluctantly excited by the possibility. “It’s so difficult for me to see that as part of my reality. For me, what I hope comes out of that mere buzz is more people will end up seeing the movie because of that.”

A significant audience would certainly vindicate the five week shoot, in which Olsen only had one day off and two weeks to prepare for, not to mention the dark places she had to visit in her mind to make Martha believable. “I have a pretty active imagination,” Olsen explains when I ask how she was so convincingly able to look like a shell of a human being on screen at times. “I just would put myself in situations, not like Martha’s situation, but more like something I could relate to, that would be more like a parallel. It makes the movie harder to watch because you remember the things that you were trying to figure out for yourself when you played those scenes.”


It may be dark but MMMM is nothing but a bright beginning for an exciting new actress with great promise. “At the end of the movie, I did feel sad to leave her behind but I also felt relieved,” Olsen confides, showing genuine conflict. Now many months later, there is no question of the pride she derived from the experience. “I truly believe it’s an original and different cinematic experience for modern day film. I don’t think a lot of films are made like this anymore and I hope people just come game to have a whole different type of experience watching a movie.”

Best of Black Sheep: MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE


MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE
Written and Directed by Sean Durkin
Starring Elizabeth Olsen, Sarah Paulson, Hugh Dancy and John Hawkes


Martha: Do you ever have that feeling where you can’t tell if something’s a memory or if it’s something you dreamed?

Instantly uncomfortable, MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE, is unlike any experience I’ve had at the movies. It is at times both eerily quiet and dishearteningly noisy; it is painfully present but yet also lost in a haze of what is real and what is imagined. It inspires great sympathy and even greater anxiety. Its tension is palpable and its style is distinct and effective. MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE is a truly accomplished piece of filmmaking from writer-director, Sean Durkin, a first time feature filmmaker. With that in mind, it is just plain shocking across the board.

As skillful as Durkin proves to be, he has help, led by a star-making turn from lead actress, Elizabeth Olsen. Olsen, who incidentally is the younger sibling of Mary-Kate and Ashley (and I’m sure never tires of seeing that repeated in print), is incredible as Martha. We meet her when she is Marcy May, her name changed when she entered a seemingly loving commune. Her new family turns out to be an abusive cult, led by recent Oscar nominee, John Hawkes (WINTER’S BONE), but the warmth they show her is still enough for her to leave behind the family she had always known. Olsen carries so much depth in her composure, her face and general demeanor are cold and lifeless. Still, there is fight inside her that breaks through the surface from time to time, hoping to make its presence more permanent. Olsen makes Martha’s struggle so grave, you feel as though she could slip away from everything at any moment, never to return. She is simply captivating and I could barely breathe as I watched her push back from hell.


Durkin takes this towering performance and drops it in the middle of a world of bewilderment, bouncing back and forth in time and place between Marcy May’s time with her adopted “family” and Martha’s attempt to reintegrate into society with her sister (Sarah Paulson) and her husband (Hugh Dancy). At times, many of them in fact, she cannot distinguish between the two experiences and subsequently, neither can we. Her transition is never simple and both situations place rules on her that she struggles against, leaving it open for debate as to which scenario provides her with real love, if any. MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE is as disturbing as you would expect from what I’ve described but it is also just as revelatory.

Best of Black Sheep: Black Sheep Interviews Jean-Marc Vallée


COFFEE TIME
An interview with CAFE DE FLORE writer/director, Jean-Marc Vallée

On September 1, 2011, at 11:00 A.M., Quebecois director, Jean-Marc Vallée completed his latest film, CAFE DE FLORE. By 5:00 P.M. that same day, he was on a flight to Venice for the world premiere. “I don’t think I have the distance yet to talk well about it,” Vallée explains when we meet at the Toronto International Film Festival, the film’s second festival stop before it’s theatrical release. “In my humble experience, it usually takes a while before I know what words to use.”

To be fair, CAFE DE FLORE can be difficult to describe even after you’ve seen it a couple of times. There are two stories told simultaneously that take place far apart from each other in both time and space. In 1960’s Paris, Vanessa Paradis, looking dowdy and plain, plays a mother to a child with down syndrome (Marin Gerrier) and in contemporary Montreal, a DJ (Kevin Parent, in a surprisingly solid acting debut) leaves his childhood sweetheart (Helene Florent) for another woman (Evelyne Brochu). “I wanted to make a love story but I wanted the film to have something else too,” Vallée attempts to explain. “I just wasn’t sure what that something else was. It’s not easy to describe but I think the ride is great.”

Shooting with Vanessa Paradis
While I flat out refuse to divulge what exactly the connection is between these vastly different plots, I will say that a simple song connects them on screen and that song also served as the filmmaker’s inspiration for the entire film. The name of that song? Why, “Cafe de flore”, of course. When he first heard it, Vallée thought, “It’s so epic. I’m going to make a film with this track.” And so the movie is built around this song as well as a general appreciation for music itself. This aspect of the film is the director’s most autobiographical. “Music makes me feel so good, makes me feel alive, makes me dream, makes me want to make movies,” Vallée asserts right before he starts humming the catchy accordion hook from the film’s title track to me.
Taking a coffee break at Cafe de Flore
Whether you can place your finger on it or not, there is no denying that Vallée’s CAFE DE FLORE most certainly has a pulse. All you need to do is sink into that beat and Vallée will be sure to get move you.