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Owl and the Sparrow-Movie Review 05/24/2012

Posted by Films to consider in Big Apple Film Festival, Denver International Film Festival, Independent Spirit Awards, Los Angeles Film Festival.
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Owl and the Sparrow (Vietnamese) 2007
Cu va chim se se

Written and directed by Stephane Gauger
Starring Cat Ly, The Lu Le, and Han Thi Pham

Among other awards and nominations:
WINNER, Festival Prize (Gauger), Big Apple Film Festival
WINNER, Emerging Filmmaker Award (Gauger), Denver International Film Festival
NOMINATED, John Cassavetes Award (Gauger and producers), Independent Spirit Awards
WINNER, Audience Award-Best Narrative Feature (Gauger), Los Angeles Film Festival

Young orphan Thuy (Han) escapes from her overbearing uncle and runs away to Saigon. There, along with other children in similar circumstances, she makes enough money for food selling roses on the streets. Thuy meets two lonely people, Hai (Le), a kindly zookeeper, and Lan (Ly), a disillusioned flight attendant, and conspires to bring them together. She only has five days to do so before Lan’s layover ends.

This film takes a more lighthearted approach than one might expect, concentrating more on the relationship that develops between the three main characters than on the hardships endured by Thuy (who seems to find her way in the bustling city with no plans but no insurmountable problems, either). This was the first time on screen for the young Han Thi Pham, whose very natural performance makes the story touching but not overly sentimental. Some reviewers complain about the quality of the camera work, but I didn’t find it distracting.

98 min. Rated PG.

 

Lady Chatterley-Movie Review 04/29/2012

Posted by Films to consider in Étoiles d'Or, César Awards, France, Independent Spirit Awards, Lumière Awards, Pascale Ferran, Tribeca Film Festival.
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Lady Chatterley (French) 2006
Based on the D.H. Lawrence novel, John Thomas and Lady Jane

Directed by Pascale Ferran
Starring Marina Hands, Jean-Louis Coullo’ch, Hippolyte Girardot, Hélène Alexandridis and Hélène Fillières

Among several other awards and nominations:
WINNER, Best Actress (Hands); Best Adapted Screenplay; Best Film (Ferran); Best Cinematography; NOMINATED, Best Director (Ferran); Best Sound, César Awards
NOMINATED, Best Foreign Film (Ferran), Independent Spirit Awards
WINNER, Best Actress (Hands); Best Director (Ferran), Lumière Awards, France
WINNER, Best Actress (Hands), Tribeca Film Festival
WINNER, Best Film (Ferran); Best Female Newcomer (Hands), Étoiles d’Or

As only the French can do, a very long but still entertaining story about the sensual awakening of a young woman in a repressed marriage. This film is based on a lesser-known version of D.H. Lawrence’s well-known story.

Faced with her husband’s paralysis due to a war injury, the young Lady Constance Chatterley (Hands) finds an unlikely connection with Parkin (Coullo’ch), the rough-hewn, somewhat oafish gamekeeper on the Chatterley’s idyllic country estate. As noted in the awards above, both the cinematography and the sound contribute much to the sensuality of the story, and make the couple’s tender love for each other more believable.

160 min. Nudity; sexual content and adult themes.

 

Winter’s Bone-Movie Review 03/31/2012

Posted by Films to consider in Academy Awards, American, Based on a novel, Emotional Drama, Golden Globes, Independent Spirit Awards, Sundance Film Festival, Suspense, Thriller.
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Winter’s Bone (American) 2010

Adapted from the novel by Daniel Woodrell
Directed by Debra Granik
Screenplay by Debra Granik and Anne Rosellini
Starring Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes, and Dale Dickey

Among many other awards and nominations:
NOMINATED, Best Picture (Rosellini and Alix Madigan); Best Supporting Actor (Hawkes); Best Leading Actress (Lawrence); Best Adapted Screenplay (Granik and Rosellini), Academy Awards
NOMINATED, Best Actress-Drama (Lawrence), Golden Globes
WINNER, Best Supporting Female (Dickey), Best Supporting Male (Hawkes), NOMINATED, Best Cinematography (Michael McDonough); Best Feature; Best Director (Granik); Best Female Lead (Lawrence); Best Screenplay, Independent Spirit Awards
WINNER, Grand Jury Prize-Dramatic (Granik); Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award (Granik and Rosellini), Sundance Film Festival

In a poor backwoods area of the Ozarks, seventeen-year-old Ree (Lawrence) is forced to care for her two younger siblings when her mother goes into a depression and her father goes missing. Despite warnings to leave matters alone, she sets out to find her father.

Although it received critical acclaim and many awards (above is just a small selection), Winter’s Bone is one of the lower grossing films nominated for Best Picture by the Academy Awards. Here’s a chance to see a gripping performance by young actress Jennifer Lawrence before her new release, The Hunger Games.

100 min. Rated R for drug use, language, and violence.

 

City of God-Movie Review *** 03/16/2012

Posted by Films to consider in Academy Awards, Action/Thriller, Autobiographical, Based on true story, British Independent Film Awards, Chicago Film Critics Association Awards, Ciinema Brazil Grand Prize, Crime, Independent Spirit Awards, Toronto International Film Festival.
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City of God (Brazilian/Portuguese) 2002 ***
Cidade de Deus

Based on a semi-autobiographical novel by Paulo Lins
Directed by Fernando Meirelles
Starring Alexandre Rodrigues and Leandro Firmino da Hora

Among many other wins and nominations :
NOMINATED, Best Cinematography; Best Director (Meirelles); Best Film Editing; Best Adapted Screenplay, Academy Awards
WINNER, Best Foreign Film, British Independent Film Awards
WINNER, Best Foreign Language Film-Brazil, Chicago Film Critics Association Awards
WINNER and NOMINATED in many categories, Cinema Brazil Grand Prize
NOMINATED, Best Foreign Film (Meirelles), Independent Spirit Awards
WINNER, Visions Award-Special Citation (Meirelles), Toronto International Film Festival

The story follows a few decades of boys growing up in the drug-infested world of one of Rio de Janeiro’s favelas (shanty towns). Most will eventually take their places as thieves and killers. L’il Dice (Firmino da Hora) gets a taste for killing early on. He earns the name L’il Z and becomes an undisputed drug lord given to unpredictable acts of violence. Rocket (Rodrigues) narrates the film. Watching the inaction and corruption of the police, he wants no part of the gang violence that surrounds him – he wants to become a photographer.

Watch the Special Features for a look at some footage that shows how true-to-life the film is. There is a followup DVD based on a television series called City of Men that I also recommend – more to follow in another post.

Highly recommended.

130 min. Rated R. Violence and drug use.

 

Half Nelson-Movie Review 12/21/2011

Posted by Films to consider in Academy Awards, American, Drama, Gotham Awards, Independent Spirit Awards, Movies, Screen Actors Guild Awards, Sundance Film Festival.
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Half Nelson (American) 2006

Among many other awards and nominations:
NOMINATED, Best Leading Actor (Gosling), Academy Awards
WINNER, Best Female Lead (Epps); Best Male Lead (Gosling), Independent Spirit Awards
NOMINATED, Grand Jury Prize-Dramatic (Fleck), Sundance Film Festival
WINNER, Best Film (Fleck); Breakthrough Award (Epps); Breakthrough Director Award (Fleck), Gotham Awards
NOMINATED, Outstanding Leading Actor (Gosling), Screen Actors Guild Awards

Directed by Ryan Fleck
Starring Ryan Gosling and Shareeka Epps

Ryan Gosling stars as Dan Dunne, an inner-city public school history teacher with a significant drug problem. When Drey (Epps), one of his tough and street-smart female students, discovers her teacher’s secret, they develop something of a friendship.

Both Gosling and Epps received several well-deserved awards for their performances in this film, as did director Ryan Fleck. This was Fleck’s first feature film.

 

The Station Agent-Movie Review *** 12/13/2011

Posted by Films to consider in American, BAFTA Awards, Comedy, Drama, Highly recommended, Independent Spirit Awards, Movies, Sundance Film Festival.
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The Station Agent (American) 2003 ***

Among many other awards and nominations:
WINNER, Best Original Screenplay, BAFTA Awards
WINNER, John Cassavetes Award; Best First Screenplay Award (McCarthy); Producers Award; NOMINATED, Best Male Lead (Dinklage), Independent Spirit Awards
WINNER, Best Supporting Actress (Clarkson), National Society of Film Critics Awards, USA
WINNER, Audience Award-Dramatic (McCarthy); Special Jury Prize-Dramatic (Clarkson); Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award (McCarthy), Sundance Film Festival

Written and directed by Thomas McCarthy
Starring Patricia Clarkson, Bobby Cannavale, and Peter Dinklage

A funny and emotionally engaging film about three people living in rural New Jersey. Olivia (Clarkson), who is separated from her husband, moved away from her previous town so she could deal with her little boy’s death. Joe (Cannavale), a friendly and easygoing guy from New York, is there to care for his ailing father and look after his food truck. Fin (Dinklage), a dwarf, is a loner obsessed with trains. When he inherits a train depot building on the outskirts of a small town and decides to move there, he meets up with the other two. The three form an unlikely friendship.

Patricia Clarkson has appeared in many films and television series; she often plays quirky characters. Cannavale is especially known for his roles in television series such as Third Watch, Law & Order, and Cold Case, among others. Dinklage has appeared in stage, film, and television productions.

Highly recommended.

 

Everlasting Moments-Movie Review *** 11/11/2011

Posted by Films to consider in Drama, Emotional Drama, Golden Globes, Guldbagge Awards-Sweden, Highly recommended, Independent Spirit Awards, Movies, Swedish language film.
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Everlasting Moments (Swedish) 2008 ***
Maria Larssons eviga ögonblick
From the Criterion Collection
Based on a true story

Among other awards and nominations:
NOMINATED, Best Foreign Language Film, Golden Globes
WINNER, Best Achievement for Music (Matti Bye); Best Actor (Persbrandt); Best Actress (Heiskanen); Best Film; Best Supporting Actor (Christensen), Guldbagge Awards (Sweden)
NOMINATED, Best Foreign Film, Independent Film Awards

Directed by Jan Troell
Starring Maria Heiskanen, Mikael Persbrandt, Callin Ohrvall, and Jesper Christensen

A loving tribute to the life of Maria Larssons, co-written by relative Agneta Ulfsäter-Troell, who is also the wife of director Jan Troell. Maria (Heiskanen) was the wife of Sigfrid (Persbrandt) and the mother of six children, living in impoverished circumstances in turn of the 20th century Sweden. The story is narrated by Maja (Ohrvall), the oldest daughter of the family.

Before they are married, Maria’s husband is charming and sweeps her off her feet. Afterward, as she continues to bear his children, he is a drunkard and womanizer who tries to keep her servile to his whims. When Maria finds the camera they won in a lottery before they got married, she decides to sell it, but instead strikes up a friendship with Mr. Pedersen (Christensen), a local photographer. He encourages her to use the camera herself. She does and the world she sees through the lenses changes Maria’s life, if not her circumstances.

Although the overall story of Maria’s marriage is sad, her courage and spirit are to be admired. The sepia-toned cinematography and beautiful music add to the ambiance of the film, and at the end I felt like I do at the end of a novel I love, that I don’t want it to end.

The Special Features disc contains some of Maria’s photographs and interviews with still living relatives. Also, I liked this quote from director Troell in his interview (may not be exact): “Set the bar as high as possible because you know you’ll have to compromise.” I haven’t seen any other films by him, but given the opportunity I’d like to.

Highly recommended.
131 min. Not rated. Adult themes.

 

The Maid-Movie Review 07/13/2011

Posted by Films to consider in Comedy, Dark Comedy, Golden Globes, Independent Spirit Awards, Light Drama, Movies, Sebastián Silva, Spanish language film, Sundance Film Festival.
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The Maid (Chilean/Spanish) 2009
La Nana

Among many wins and nominations:
WINNER, World Cinema-Dramatic Jury Prize (Silva); Special Jury Prize-Acting (Saavedra), Sundance Film Festival
WINNER, Breakthrough Award (Catalina Saavedra), Gotham Awards
NOMINATED, Best Foreign Film, Independent Spirit Awards
NOMINATED, Best Foreign Language Film, Golden Globes

Directed by Sebastián Silva
Starring Catalina Saavedra and Claudia Celedon

A dark comedy. Raquel has worked as a maid in the same household for 23 years, taking care of the family’s four kids. Now, realizing that the older ones are growing up and no longer need her, she starts to develop headaches and reaches a breaking point. The mother of the household, Pilar, wants to make Raquel’s life easier by hiring some more help, but Raquel sabotages her actions every step of the way.

Kudos to director Silva and actress Catalina Saavedra for maintaining feelings of sympathy for the character Raquel despite the despicable things she does.

94 min. Unrated. Adult themes and some nudity.

 

Silent Light-Movie Review 04/22/2011

Posted by Films to consider in Cannes Film Festival, Chicago International Film Festival, Drama, Emotional Drama, German dialect (Plautdietsch) language film, Independent Spirit Awards, Movies.
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Silent Light (Low German) 2007
Stellet licht

Among other awards and nominations:
Winner, Jury Prize (Reydagas); nominated Palme d’Or (Reydagas), Cannes Film Festival
Winner, Best Film, Gold Hugo Award, Chicago Film Festival
Winner, FRIPESCI Prize, Best Latin American Film, Rio de Janeiro International Film Festival
Nominated, Best Foreign Film, Independent Spirit Awards

Directed by Carlos Reydagas
Starring Cornelio Wall, Maria Pankratz, and Miriam Toews

A mesmerizing film about a Mennonite couple who lives in a community in Northern Mexico. Johann (Wall) and Esther (Toews) have a large family and a quiet farm life. When Johann falls in love with another woman, Esther tries to live with his ongoing infidelity, but it breaks her heart.

This is a quiet story about a man’s struggle to live with himself when he falls short of his own beliefs. The director used locals, some of whom don’t even speak the same language he does; the film’s dialogue is in Plautdietsch, a variety of Low German that is the language spoken by the Russian Mennonites. The cast’s performances are very natural and real.

The incredible cinematography adds to even the most ordinary of scenes, such as driving down a road. The opening sequence was so beautifully filmed that I could have watched that for an hour.

136 min. Not rated. Sexual content and adult themes.