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Whiplash-DVD Review *** 07/12/2015

Posted by Films to consider in Academy Awards, American, Based on true events, Drama, Emotional Drama, Golden Globes, Gotham Awards, Movies, Sundance Film Festival.
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Whiplash (American) 2014

Written and directed by Damien Chazelle
Starring Miles Teller and J. K. Simmons

Among many other awards and nominations:
WINNER, Best Supporting Actor (Simmons); Best Sound Mixing; Best Film Editing; NOMINATED, Best Motion Picture; Best Writing, Academy Awards
WINNER, Best Supporting Actor (Simmons); Best Editing; Best Sound; NOMINATED, Best Original Screenplay; David Lean Award for Direction (both Chazelle), Golden Globes
NOMINATED, Best Actor (Teller), Gotham Awards

Andrew (Teller), a student at a prestigious music academy, is obsessed with the idea of becoming the next great jazz drummer. His talent and determination get the notice of Fletcher (Simmons), a top teacher at the school. To force his students to be their best, Fletcher uses a style of teaching that can only be called outright abuse.

Director Chazelle wrote this film as a result of his own experiences trying to break into the jazz drumming world. As he mentions in an interview, the reason he became a director and not a jazz drummer is essentially the story of the movie. Teller does a great job in the drumming sequences; Simmons goes over and above the call of duty in becoming the kind of teacher you don’t want to have. Chazelle and Simmons especially garnered many wins and nominations.

Highly recommended. ***

107 min. Rated R.

For more info:
Whiplash

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Fruitvale Station-DVD Review *** 09/04/2014

Posted by Films to consider in American, Based on true events, Cannes Film Festival, Drama, Emotional Drama, Independent Spirit Awards, Movies, Satellite Awards, Sundance Film Festival.
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Fruitvale Station (American) 2013 ***
Based on true events

Directed by Ryan Coogler
Starring Michael B. Jordan, Octavia Spencer, Melonie Diaz, and Ariana Neal

Among other awards and nominations too numerous to list here:
WINNER, Un Certain Regard-Avenir Prize; NOMINATED, Golden Camera; NOMINATED, Un Certain Regard Award (All for Ryan Coogler), Cannes Film Festival
WINNER, Best First Feature (Coogler); NOMINATED, Best Male Lead (Jordan); Best Supporting Female (Diaz), Independent Spirit Awards
WINNER, Breakthrough Performance Award (Jordan), Satellite Awards
WINNER, Audience Award-Dramatic; WINNER, Grand Jury Prize-Dramatic (both Coogler), Sundance Film Festival

At the end of 2008, Oscar Grant (Jordan) is a 22-year-old resident of the Bay Area who has had his share of ups and downs. He is determined to fix his relationship with his girlfriend Sophina (Diaz) and make a better life for his 4-year-old daughter Tatiana (Neal). But a trip to the city for New Year’s Eve turns tragic when a fight on the subway brings police, and Oscar and his friends get singled out as trouble.

Director Ryan Coogler based his telling of Oscar Grant’s story on personal interviews with family members and close friends. With a great cast that includes Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer (The Help) as Oscar’s mother, the audience gets a balanced picture of a young man who’s charming but fits right into his tough environment. It’s frightening to see such a realistic portrayal of a situation escalating out of control, but a good reminder that it can happen anywhere, anytime.

Highly recommended.
85 min. Rated R.

For more info:
Fruitvale Station

Animal Kingdom-DVD Review *** 06/25/2014

Posted by Films to consider in Academy Awards, Action/Thriller, Australian, Australian Film Institute, Australian Writers Guild, Chlotrudis Awards, Golden Globes, Movies, Satellite Awards, Sundance Film Festival, Suspense.
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ANIMAL KINGDOM (Australian) 2010 ***

Written and directed by David Michôd
Starring Jacki Weaver, James Frecheville, Joel Edgerton, Luke Ford, Ben Mendelsohn, and Sullivan Stapleton

Among many other wins and nominations (too many to list; here are just the wins from one):
WINNER, Samsung Mobile AFI Award for Best Film (Liz Watts); Best Direction (Michôd); Best Lead Actor (Mendelsohn); Best Lead Actress (Weaver); Best Supporting Actor (Edgerton); Best Editing (Luke Doolan); Best Original Music Score (Antony Partos, Sam Petty); Macquarie AFI Award for Best Original Screenplay (Michôd), AFI Members Choice Award (Liz Watts); Readers’ Choice Award (Liz Watts), Australian Film Institute

When teenager Josh “J” Cody’s (Frecheville) mother dies from a heroin overdose, he gets reacquainted with the rest of her family. And what a family it is. Grandmother Janine (Weaver), who is affectionately referred to as Smurf, is the matriarch. She has three sons, each of whom is in his own way a hardened criminal. Janine herself will stop at nothing to keep her family together.

A very suspenseful thriller from start to finish. Jacki Weaver, who might be familiar from her role as a very different mother, Dolores in Silver Linings Playbook, gives a chilling performance as a mother who is overly involved in her sons’ lives. Director Michôd has a more recent film, The Rover, which has received excellent reviews from viewers.

Highly recommended for a good action thriller.

113 min. Rated R.
For more info:
Animal Kingdom

Safety Not Guaranteed-DVD Review 05/24/2014

Posted by Films to consider in ALMA Awards, American, Chicago Film Critics Association Awards, Fantasy, Independent Spirit Awards, Romance, Romantic comedy, Sundance Film Festival.
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SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED (American) 2012
Directed by Colin Trevorrow
Starring Aubrey Plaza, Mark Duplass, Jake Johnson, and Karan Soni

Among other awards and nominations:
WINNER, Favorite Movie Actress-Comedy/Musical (Plaza), ALMA Awards
NOMINATED, Most Promising Filmmaker (Trevorrow), Chicago Film Critics Association Awards
WINNER, Best First Screenplay (Derek Connolly); NOMINATED, Best First Feature, Independent Spirit Awards
WINNER, Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award (Connolly); NOMINATED, Grand Jury Prize-Dramatic (Trevorrow), Sundance Film Festival

Darius (Plaza) is a lowly intern at a Seattle feature magazine. She volunteers to accompany coworkers Jeff (Johnson) and Arnau (Soni) to follow up on a quirky classified ad. As Darius gets to know its creator, self-proclaimed time traveler Kenneth (Duplass), she begins to question whether he is as delusional as everyone else thinks.

An unusual and enjoyable story. The movie was filmed in Seattle, with a low-key cast of actors who lend an unaffected charm to its telling.

86 min. Rated R.

For more info:
Safety Not Guaranteed

Last Train Home-DVD Review *** 09/19/2013

Posted by dmbinder in Asia Pacific Film Awards, Chinese language film, Documentary, Genie Awards, Movies, News and Documentary Emmy Awards, Sundance Film Festival.
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Last Train Home (Chinese) 2009 ***

Documentary film
Directed by Lixin Fan
Starring Zhang Changhua, Chen Suqin, Zhang Qin, Zhang Yang, and Tang Tingsui

Among other awards and nominations:
WINNER, Best Documentary Feature Film, Asia Pacific Screen Awards
WINNER, Best Documentary, Genie Awards
WINNER, Emmy Award-Best Documentary and Outstanding Business and Economic Reporting-Long Form, News and Documentary Emmy Awards
NOMINATED, Grand Jury Prize, World Cinema – Documentary (Lixin Fan), Sundance Film Festival

This documentary film illustrates the damaging effect of migrant work on several generations of a family. Changhua and his wife, Suqin, who work in the big city, try to return to their home in a rural area of China for the annual Chinese New Year holiday. The parents, who have lived away from home since their children were born, must join the throngs of others trying to get to the countryside at the same time. They will wait for expensive, crowded, and infrequent trains at the Guangzhou Train Station.

Director Lixin Fan has managed to capture some very honest reactions, especially from the rebellious teenage daughter who has also moved to the big city. We learn about the deplorable living and working conditions of the migrant workers, as well as why they left their home and who is left behind there.

Highly recommended.

87 min. Not rated. Suitable for teens.

For more info:
Last Train Home

Me Too-DVD Review *** 06/30/2013

Posted by dmbinder in Emotional Drama, Goya Awards, Movies, Romance, Rotterdam International Film Festival, San Sebastian International Film Festival, Spanish language film, Sundance Film Festival.
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Me Too (Spanish) 2009 ***
Yo, también

Written and directed by Antonio Naharro and Álvaro Pastor
Starring Pablo Pinedo and Lola Dueñas

Among other wins and nominations:
WINNER, Best Actress (Dueñas); Best Original Song; NOMINATED, Best New Actor (Pinedo); Best New Director (Naharro and Pastor), Goya Awards
WINNER, Audience Award, Rotterdam International Film Festival
WINNER, Silver Seashell-Best Actor (Pineda), Best Actress (Dueñas);
NOMINATED, Golden Seashell (Naharro and Pastor), San Sebastián International Film Festival
NOMINATED, Grand Jury Prize World Cinema-Dramatic, Sundance Film Festival

Daniel (Pinedo) is a man in his 30s who has Down’s Syndrome. With his family’s loving support, he has developed the best of his abilities and graduates from the university.

Daniel meets Laura (Dueñas) when he starts a new job at the Department of Social Services. He immediately becomes totally smitten with her, although, unknown to him, Laura’s lifestyle is less than admirable. To put it simply, both learn something about love, in a touching and much less predictable way than that might make it sound.

Highly recommended.

103 min. Not rated. Suitable for older teens.

For more info:
Me Too

Searching for Sugar Man-DVD Review *** 05/15/2013

Posted by dmbinder in Academy Awards, BAFTA Awards, Based on true events, Biographical, Critics' Choice Awards, Hamburg Film Festival, Malik Bendjelloul, Movies, Music documentary, National Board of Review, Rodriguez, Sugar Man, Sundance Film Festival, Vancouver Film Critics Circle.
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Searching for Sugar Man (Swedish/English) ***
Based on true events in the life of Sixto Rodríguez

Directed by Malik Bendjelloul; written by Bendjelloul and Craig Bartholomew Strydom
Starring Sixto Rodríguez and a cast of others involved in the search for him

Among many other wins and nominations (too numerous to list here):
WINNER, Best Documentary-Features, Academy Awards
WINNER, Best Documentary Film, BAFTA Awards
WINNER, Best Documentary, Critics’ Choice Awards
WINNER, Art Cinema Award (Bendjelloul), Hamburg Film Festival
WINNER, NBR Award-Best Documentary, National Board of Review
WINNER, Audience Award and Special Jury Prize-World Cinema Documentary, Sundance Film Festival
WINNER, Best Documentary, Vancouver Film Critics Circle

A truly inspiring story about Sixto Díaz Rodríguez, whose career as a 1970s singer-songwriter received little recognition in the United States, although his music was often compared to Bob Dylan’s. Having failed to achieve his dream to bring his music to the world, Rodríguez returned to his job as a hard laborer in the city of Detroit.

Totally unknown to Rodríguez, his music and lyrics were inspiring generations of South Africans. He became famous in that country, although rumors and reports had spread about his onstage suicide in the U.S. This film is the result of two South African fans’ efforts to track down information about him and clear up the mystery about his life and death. They were astonished to find he was still alive and well.

An awesome story about an incredible man. Rodriguez is on tour; visit his website for more information about his upcoming tour dates. He was also just awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from Wayne State University in Detroit for his “musical genius and commitment to social justice.” “Sugar Man” is the name of one of his signature songs. Sample his music on YouTube.

Highly recommended.

86 min. PG-13.

For more info:

Searching for Sugar Man

About the soundtrack:

Searching for Sugar Man (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

Winter’s Bone-DVD 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.

For more info:
Winter’s Bone

Crónicas-DVD Review 02/24/2012

Posted by Films to consider in Based on true events, Cartagena Film Festival, Guadalajara Mexican Film Festival, Sebastián Cordero, South American/Spanish language film, Sundance Film Festival, Suspense, Thriller.
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Crónicas (South American/Spanish/English) 2004
Chronicles
Inspired by true events

Written and directed by Sebastián Cordero
Starring John Leguizamo, Damián Alcazár, Leonor Watling, and José Mariá Yazpik

Among other awards and nominations:
WINNER, Silver Ariel Award, Best Actor (Alcazár); NOMINATED, Silver Ariel, Best Direction; Best Editing; Best Screenplay; Best Sound, Ariel Awards, Mexico
WINNER, Golden India Catalina, Best Actor (Alcazár); NOMINATED, Best Film (Cordero), Cartagena Film Festival
WINNER, Mayahuel Award, Best Actor (Alcazár); Best Film and Best Screenplay (Cordero), Guadalajara Mexican Film Festival
NOMINATED, Grand Jury Prize, World Cinema-Dramatic (Cordero), Sundance Film Festival

Popular television journalist Manolo Bonilla (Leguizamo) brings his producer (Watling) and cameraman (Yazpik) from Miami to Ecuador in search of a sensationalistic story about the child serial killer and rapist known as “The Monster of Babahoyo.” In a small town, the news team gets caught up in the aftermath of an accidental death of a child and the consequent attempted lynching of Vinicio (Alcazár), the man who caused it.

By only showing hints of what “The Monster” has done, the director keeps the horror level tolerable and the suspense level high. The several scenes between the single-minded, ambitious Manolo and the manipulative, emotional Vinicio escalate and lead to a horrible and unexpected ending. Although Alcazár seems to have won the most honors (see above), the talented Leguizamo also deserves mention. Apparently this was the first film in which he spoke Spanish dialogue, something he did not feel comfortable doing. It didn’t show.

108 min. Rated R for violence, sexuality and language.

For more info:
Cronicas

Strangers-DVD Review 01/24/2012

Posted by Films to consider in Awards of the Israeli Film Academy, Emotional Drama, English/French/Hebrew/Arabic language film, Jerusalem Film Festival, Movies, Romance, São Paolo International Film Festival, Sundance Film Festival.
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Strangers (English/French/Hebrew/Arabic) 2007

NOMINATED, Grand Jury Prize, World Cinema-Dramatic (Tadmor & Nattiv), Sundance Film Festival
WINNER, Most Promising Actress (Azabal), Jerusalem Film Festival
NOMINATED, Best Actor (Levo), Awards of the Israeli Film Academy
NOMINATED, International Jury Award (Tadmor & Nattiv), São Paolo International Film Festival

Directed by Erez Tadmor and Guy Nattiv
Starring Liron Levo and Lubna Azabal

An unlikely couple meets when they accidentally pick up each other’s backpack on a train in Berlin. The attraction they have for each other seems destined to go nowhere: Eyal (Levo) is Israeli and Rana (Azabal) is Palestinian. As both get caught up in the fervor surrounding the six days of the 2006 World Cup Soccer finals, their passionate affair develops into something that changes their lives.

Despite the odds against Eyal and Rana’s relationship, Levo and Azabal manage to create a very believable couple. Not overly long itself, this film was based on a short version that previously won at Sundance.

81 min. Not rated. Adult themes and sexual content.

For more info:
Strangers