More and more films are being sent to purgatory (aka VOD) so I’ve probably missed some of the gems I usually discover every year that would be on my annual Top 10 list. Many of the film festivals that are presented in New York City have seemed to have lost their way with respect to programming as they seem to rely more on the manufactured buzz of publicists and sales agents when it comes to their selections. Mumblecore is NOT a reincarnation of La Nouvelle Vague, just what happens when the cost of film production falls through the floor and everyone thinks they’re creative. On a serious note, with everyone shooting on digital, what is going to happen to film preservation down the road? 35mm is still the best archive format around. I started in this industry on the tail end of 2″ Quad, try finding a lab with the equipment to do a transfer from that format today.
Next time you go ballistic when the bartender waters down your drink or feel murderous when the tailor cuts your pants legs too short, think of how much better off you are than Louis Zamperini. Fighting in the Japanese theater in World War II, he has the misfortune to suffer a double engine loss on his aircraft, leaving him and two buddies on a rubber lifeboat in the middle of the ocean for forty-five days. Forget about the sharks that encircle the boat. Falling prey to one of them might be a blessing, considering the lack of food and water or living space, nor do the men have much hope of being rescued. Rescued by the good guys that is. When they are picked up by the Japanese navy, there’s good news and bad news. The good news is that they’re on dry land. The bad news is that they are taken to one, and then another, prison camp, subjected to torments by guards who must think the Geneva Convention is a meeting of dental lab technicians in a Swiss hotel.
Most of the civilized world loved America in 1945. The U.S. was a prime force in liberating Europe from the Hun. Our soldiers gave out chewing gum to the kids on the Continent, soft toilet paper to the adults, and dished out money to bail the good guys out via the Marshall Plan. Given the rules of engagement in our current century, it’s unlikely that we can ever be the heroes abroad that we were then, evoking an unconditional surrender of our enemies in a war that lasted just six years (four years for our own guys), and not the murky condition of our battles in the Middle East since Shock and Awe, as the Taliban in Afghanistan retake some of the territory ceded to the moderates in a fragile victory.
There’s a reason that the aphorism “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you” is called the golden rule, and that is because the statement is the gold standard, representing the most basic rule of civilized conduct among people. If you put yourself into another person’s shoes, and thereby really get to know what makes the other human being tick, this should give you pause before doing something that you would never want done to you. Probably no filmmaker believes that more than Belgians Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne. They started their careers by making videos of the rough lives of blue collar people in the Wallonie, a mostly French speaking region of southern Belgium, parlaying into ROSETTA, about a blue collar working with an alcoholic mother who tries to better himself in a small town.
It’s traditional for the National Book Awards Dinner and Ceremony to be hosted by an emcee who straddles the worlds of publishing and celebrity, and often these luminaries will have had a book of their own released during the previous year – which enables them a good opportunity for cross-promotion, as their books may be included along with the finalists’ titles arrayed on the dinner tables for attendees at the gala to take home with them after the proceedings. Recent previous hosts have included actors John Lithgow and Eric Bogosian, and while the 2014 master-of-ceremonies Daniel Handler isn’t as known for film or stage performances as the aforementioned, his literary alias as Lemony Snicket is the publishing world equivalent of a character role. Of course, he also publishes under his given name, and it was in that guise he carried out his duties on the evening of November 19th.
THE DONOVAN AFFAIR has two distinctions. It was the first all talking picture directed by Frank Capra. And, it’s a semi lost film. There are complete prints of the film. It has been transferred to safety film and there are preservation copies in existence. However, it was made in the earliest talking picture era (1929) using the Vitaphone process that meant it was shown in theaters using the sound on disk method, where the sound track was synchronized to the film. Unfortunately, no copies of the soundtrack disks have been found. Furthermore, no copies of the script have ever been found. There was a censor’s dialogue guide that proved to be inaccurate. This means that beyond its original release it was impossible to show it.
The Longlist for the 2014 National Book Awards, announced last month, has been pared down to the five titles in each category, which comprise the finalists for prizes this year. Along with the previous announcement of the lineup for the 5 Under 35 event, which leads off the annual 3-day celebration organized by The National Book Foundation to honor the best in American publishing, this brings into focus the authors who will be at the center of the festivities of National Book Week next month.
When you think of Germany in the 1930s and 1940s, its humor does not come necessarily to mind. German humor? An oxymoron. Now forward to the 21st Century and you will discover German movies that are funny to the locals and whose humor travels well across the Atlantic. The New Wave style A COFFEE IN BERLIN, formerly called OH BOY, is a wry picture, done in black-and-white with a terrific jazz score reminiscent of a Woody Allen production, its dry comedy absorbed easily by those Americans with enough brains to watch indies. In fact so unusual—yet eminently accessible—is A COFFEE IN BERLIN that in a ceremony in April 2013, despite competition from the one hundred million dollar, one hundred seventy-two minutes’ CLOUD ATLAS with all the name actors brought to the set by Tom Tykwer and Lana Wachowski, A COFFEE IN BERLIN took six top prizes including those for Best Film, Actor, Screenplay and Score.
THE DECENT ONE took first prize at the Jerusalem Film Festival for Best Documentary, deservedly so. If any organization offered a gold medal for the film with the most ironic title of the year, this one would win hands down. “Der Anstandige,” as it’s called in German, is about Heinrich Himmler, a man who should inspire loathing in the minds and hearts of all who know anything about history. One of the greatest mass murderers of the 20th Century, Himmler nonetheless went to his suicidal death thinking that he was doing God’s work, and that “decency,” to him, would be the year’s understatement.
Fionnula Flanagan is cinema’s gift from Ireland, that country’s most engaging actress of a certain age, perhaps the equivalent here in the U.S. of Blythe Danner. But her presence in LIFE’S A BREEZE, presumably an ironic title, cannot save the movie from being little more than a sitcom that you might find on commercial tv or, to be magnanimous, on a cable station like HBO. LIFE’S A BREEZE, taken from a sign on the wall of the Dublin-area house presided over by Nan (Fionnula Flanagan), is the location of an extended family of the unemployed, the slackers, and of high-spirited citizens who despite their financial hardships find warmth, comfort, and a lot of laughs in their togetherness.