It's that time again ... we finally get to find out what will open the SXSW Film Festival this year. And like Kick-Ass two years ago, it looks like this opening-night movie will pack in the fanboys and fangirls: The Cabin in the Woods, directed by Drew Goddard and written by Goddard and Joss Whedon, who will be in Austin for the screening. The fest has also announced a few other movie selections and conference events.
The SXSW screening will be the world premiere for The Cabin in the Woods, although it unofficially screened in Austin already -- it was the worst-kept secret and supposedly a big favorite at a certain private local movie marathon in December. Mike saw it and says, "Cabin In The Woods is going to turn the world of horror upside down and shake it to see what falls out. It will change your entire perspective."
In addition to attending the opening-night premiere, Whedon will participate in one of the SXSW Film Conference's one-on-one "conversation" panels on Saturday, March 10.
Filmmaker Lena Dunham, who brought Tiny Furniture to SXSW 2010, will also be participating in a panel this year. She's been working on a TV series called Girls, and will discuss the show with several of her production team members and producer Judd Apatow. Austin filmmaker/actor Alex Karpovsky (who was in Tiny Furniture) will moderate the panel. Dunham will also host a sneak preview of three episodes of Girls, which premieres on HBO in April.
Will these two couples ever part, I wondered? Will the hosts finally close the door behind their guests? The characters tease us by lingering at the door jamb, even stepping into the hall and pushing the elevator button. But if you know Carnage is based on a stage play, Yasmina Reza's God of Carnage (which just finished a run at Zach Scott), you figure most of them can't travel too far away. Perhaps they'll leave and return later ... or on the other hand, the four of them could be trapped in the same room forever, evoking shades of No Exit.
The suspense about this situation is only part of the tense and occasionally comic interaction that infuses Carnage with more energy and humor than you might expect from a stage-based, occasionally stagy adaptation. End-of-year "award bait" dramas aren't usually quite this funny, although the twisted humor takes awhile to get going. It's not at all what I would have predicted from a film directed by Roman Polanski starring Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz and even the often-amusing John C. Reilly.
In a word, Pariah is authentic.
So authentic, in fact, that I didn't understand some of the dialogue. Pariah's characters, most of them African-American teenagers living in Brooklyn, discuss sex and relationships with a refreshing frankness, if in a vernacular that middle-aged Texan white guys like me can't always decipher. But I easily understood the gist of their conversations from the context; having been a teenager in the late Mesozoic era, I had no trouble relating to the characters' struggles with relationships and sexual identity.
Based on writer/director Dee Rees's 2007 short film of the same title, Pariah follows 17-year-old Alike (pronounced ah-lee-kay and superbly played by Adepero Oduye), a gifted student who is openly lesbian among her friends but hasn't found the courage to come out to her parents, Audrey and Arthur (Kim Wayans and Charles Parnell).
I sat down to create a top ten list last year, and found it stretched to 15. This year, my first pass found almost 35 worthy titles. When I removed from that list any films that won’t actually be released until 2012 or that never received a U.S. release, I still had 26 titles, and found it impossible to put them all in exact order, but I did whittle it down to a top ten.
But before I share that list, I also want to mention notable movies in the following categories:
Best Action and Stunt Photography: Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol
The movie is great, revitalizing the Mission: Impossible brand. If you’re going to spend $150 million, your product better look this good. The scene shot in Dubai (you know the one) alone is an achievement worthy of an award. (J.C.'s review)
Here are my top ten and other notable films from last year. To be eligible for my list, a movie had to release in the U.S. in 2011 and screen in Austin in 2011 also. (Some well reviewed 2011 releases have not yet opened in Austin.)
Martin Scorsese leaves his cinematic comfort zone with this family-friendly film, and the result is spectacular. Set in 1930s Paris, Hugo is the story of an orphan absorbed in a mystery involving his late father. But it's really an unabashed love letter to the magic of movies -- something Scorsese understands as well as anyone. Combining a captivating story, amazing 3D visuals (far more than a gimmick in this film, they're used to great effect) and a deep and abiding love of filmmaking, Hugo is no less than a masterpiece. (Mike's review)
A frank, raw and unnerving look at sexual addiction with a rare NC-17 rating, Shame follows soulless, bitter New Yorker Brandon Sullivan (Michael Fassbender) and his depressed and directionless sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan) on their downward spirals into emotional hell. Fassbender and Mulligan give the year's most fearlessly provocative performances in what is arguably the year's most fearlessly provocative film, one that lays bare many ugly truths about human relationships with brutal honesty. Looking for the feel-good film of the year? Skip this one. (my review)
It's January, awards season is nigh and it's already time to look back to a few weeks ago when it was 2011. Out of the many and various movies I saw last year, some included outstanding, memorable performances that deserve a little more attention. While I haven't yet seen The Iron Lady or We Need to Talk About Kevin, this list is my attempt to shine a light on my favorite onscreen performers from 2011.
1. Viola Davis, The Help
Davis' Aibileen speaks in stoic glances, gently assures her baby charge that she is loved, and slowly opens up to Skeeter (Emma Stone).
It's been months since I've seen the film, but the image of Aibileen running through the streets of Jackson after Medgar Evers' assassination remains fresh in my memory. In this moment especially, Davis has made her character so real and sympathetic that the viewer shares her fear. Davis is the standout of a marvelous cast. (my review)
2011 was a tough year for Texas with the lack of rain, and not exactly a bountiful year for cinema, at least for films with theatrical distribution. But there are some gems this year, often missed by the average audience. So instead of a top ten list, I've decided to do an alternative best-of list that highlights the eclectic mix of outstanding films of the year. While it is Austin-centric, I honestly think some of the best movies this year have strong local connections. So without further ado ...
The Damned Shame Documentary Oversight: Incendiary: The Willingham Case (review), The Interrupters (review), Where Soldiers Come From (review)
Let's get the one negative award over first, not because the films are bad, but because they deserve more attention than they've received. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences doesn't publicize the long list of qualifying documentaries before releasing the short list, from which the five nominees will be chosen. And it's a damned shame, as they are topical, provocative and very entertaining -- and all very aptly named. You will laugh, cry, be outraged and leave the theater with your worldview permanently altered for the better. And it just happens to be a coincidence that two of the three have strong Austin connections (and the other played SXSW).
Most Sneaky Charm: The Way (pictured above)
I was very resistant to this movie until reading Mike Saulters' review. This tale of a man on an unexpected, melancholy pilgrimage completely won me over, even with the predictability and montages. The Way is a subtle charmer.
Just in time to break up the dark days of winter -- which in Austin apparently means 70 degrees and sunny, not that I'm complaining at all -- the Paramount Theatre is screening some classic and new funny movies in its Winter Comedy Series this month. The films range from Will Ferrell vehicles to Richard Pryor stand-up; Woody Allen to Eddie Murphy; and a certain locally shot favorite. The week-long series runs from January 22-29.
The movies are being shown in double features, and one ticket can get you into both films in one night. If you have a Paramount Film Fan membership, you can get a discount on ticket prices, online or at the box office.
The lineup is detailed below.
If you watched Paranormal Activity and its sequels, and thought to yourself you could get rich by copying that formula (and doing it badly), you might be William Brent Bell, writer and director of The Devil Inside. This movie tries to do for possession what Paranormal Activity did with poltergeists.
Made for a miniscule sum (although it probably looks cheaper than its actual budget), The Devil Inside is at best described as inept and at worst blatantly disdainful of the audience. It is the only film I have seen where the audience as one booed and hissed as the final credits began to roll.
The Devil Inside presents, documentary-style, the story of Isabella Rossi (Fernanda Andrade) as she attempts to uncover the truth about her mother, who is confined to a psychiatric hospital in Rome. Maria Rossi (Suzan Crowley), has been confined since the death of three people during an attempted exorcism. After a brief and disturbing meeting with her mother, Isabella turns to a pair of priests who are performing unsanctioned exorcisms of victims who have been denied by the Catholic Church.
After Isabella convinces the priests that her mother is indeed possessed, the group sets out to perform an exorcism in the hospital, and hijinks ensue. Many of the biggest of them are given away in the trailer itself. It all leads up to an ending that is a shocker only for its blatant stupidity and the fact it directs the audience to a website with an address nobody will care about or even remember five minutes after leaving the theater.
The only remotely good thing in this stinker is Suzan Crowley’s acting, as she clearly revels in a role she was born to play. The scenes with her have a palpable tension, but The Devil Inside is not a film I could recommend even to the lustiest of schlock movie fans. If you have enough morbid curiosity to see this in a theater, buy a ticket for The Artist or Young Adult, and sneak into it (assuming you've already seen both of those). At least the movie is blissfully short, so if they kick you out, you won’t miss much.
Welcome to 2012. After last week's lack of new theatrical releases, this week is still a slow week this week for new movies, but there are some special screenings. Tonight over at Alamo Drafthouse Ritz, you can get drunk with Tom Cruise... or rather watch him at his cockiest while you knock back a few specially crafted beverages at Cocktails with Cocktail. And on Saturday you can go back to the Ritz for a special screening of The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret with creator and star David Cross. At Alamo on South Lamar, Graham Reynolds will be accompanying screenings of A Trip to the Moon paired with Hugo in 3D on Saturday and Sunday afternoon.
On Tuesday, you can see Once Upon a Time in the West for free at Austin Public Library's Milwood Branch as part of the Weeknight Cinema Series. Also on Tuesday, the new Essential Cinema Series "The Great Escape: Three European Émigré Filmmakers" kicks off with Fritz Lang's classic thriller, M.
Movies We've Seen:
The Devil Inside (pictured above) -- Another week, another exorcism film. Here's a preview from Mike's review, which you can read in full this weekend: "William Brent Bell attempts to replicate the Paranormal Activity formula and apply it to exorcisms. The unfortunate result, The Devil Inside, is harder to swallow than New Coke. Not even recommended for people who really really like awful movies." (wide)