Lost in the Awards Rush: The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio

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"Lost in the Awards Rush" is a new weekly series Slackerwood is running during the awards season, to suggest lesser-known but excellent alternatives to popular frontrunners for big movie awards.

I once heard Julianne Moore reveal in an interview that in selecting projects, she finds herself naturally drawn to playing weak and damaged characters. If you stop and think about it, that really isn't surprising given how much emotional exploration it gives an actress, and with as impeccable a career as she's had, clearly this preference has served Moore well. It's with a slight irony then that she has been pegged as the frontrunner of this year's Best Actress Oscar race for Still Alice (2014), in which she plays a linguistics professor diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. It is one of Moore's bravest and most resilient characters as well as her strongest role to date.

Still Alice may feature Moore playing against type in a sense by having her portray a character overcoming one of life's greatest obstacles, but this is certainly not her first time playing a woman like Alice. The actress's compelling and almost magical turn as a midwestern housewife in The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio (2005) features Moore playing a woman of strength and determination in what may be her finest performance.

Beautifully Strange: OUTsider Festival 2015 Preview

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outsider fest

Austin has no shortage of arts festivals, but that doesn't mean there isn't room for one more -- especially one that brings a level of depth and differentness not captured by the others. In just a few days, the very first OUTsider Festival will begin, and based on the lineup and creative people involved, attendees can expect something refreshing, entertaining and enriching. 

We asked OUTsider Festival Artistic Director Curran Nault to give us an overview of the five-day LGBTQIA event, which will include several films along with panels, live performances, parties and more. OUTsider runs from Feb. 18-22 in a number of central Austin venues.

Slackerwood: In a few quick words, how would you describe OUTsider Festival and how did its existence come about?

Curran Nault: OUTsider is a queer multi-arts festival. OUTsider brings together artists, academics and audiences across their differences and disciplinary boundaries. OUTsider defies the limits of traditional festival models in order to create a sense of wonderment through new artistic experiences, collaborations and conversations. OUTsider makes room for the marginalized, the misfit, and the outcast. OUTsider values dialogue and community. 

Review: Jupiter Ascending

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Jupiter AscendingLana and Andy Wachowski are two of my favorite current filmmakers. The Matrix rocked my worldview, and Cloud Atlas expanded my worldview, claiming a place as my very favorite movie. We've come to expect the very best from them, but not every movie can rock your world. Sometimes we have to settle for just "really damned good."

Jupiter Ascending encompasses the Wachowskis' grand visions of galactic empire within the confines of a relatively small action-adventure story. Their aesthetic, with a dreamlike quality, seems to draw on influences from every big science-fiction film of the past but mixes them together in new and original combinations. Immediately after it screened for press, Facebook and Twitter feeds were full of complaints from critics calling the movie a mess. It may not be for everyone. It misses a few beats, but it gets more right than it does wrong. If you're on the same wavelength as the Wachowskis, you should enjoy Jupiter Ascending as much as I did.

The story follows a Russian immigrant girl, named Jupiter because of her astronomer father's obsession with the planet, as she is attacked and aided by competing alien forces due to an accident of her birth. Her DNA is a perfect match for the eons-dead queen of a galactic empire, and the queen's heirs, her three children, each approach Jupiter in attempts to woo or threaten her and gain control of her now vast resources.

Mila Kunis is perfect for the role of Jupiter, with her combination of dark gorgeous looks and childlike innocence. In their interview with Hitfix's Drew McWeeny, the Wachowskis discuss their goal to make her a particularly feminine heroine rather than a female character who acts like a male hero. This is one goal I feel they failed to achieve, as time and again they place Jupiter in the position of damsel in distress so she can be rescued by Caine (Channing Tatum). This happens with such frequency that he becomes the hero of the story.

Movies This Week: February 6-12, 2015

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 Two Days, One Night

The Austin Film Society has another Free Member Friday tonight at the Marchesa and will be featuring the 2014 Belgian thriller Alleluia (Debbie's review). It won Fantastic Fest jury prizes for Best Film, Best Director, Best Actor and Best Actress. On Tuesday night, AFS joins forces with the Austin Chronicle to celebrate their "First Plates" issue by screening The Kings Of Pastry by acclaimed filmmakers D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus. Wednesday evening will bring Robert Greene's Actress, one of last year's most acclaimed documentaries, to the Marchesa. There will be a post-film Skype Q&A with the director.

Thursday night's Essential Cinema selection begins a new series called "Children Of Abraham/Ibrahim 9: Films Of The Middle East Diaspora." Looking For Muhyiddin is a 2012 feature from Nacer Khemir wherein the filmmaker "journeys to many lands to listen attentively to the interpretations of those scholars who have studied the teachings of the 13th century Andalusian Muslim mystic." 

Over at Violet Crown Cinema, the "'Round Midnight" series continues this weekend with another screening of Danny Boyle's stylish debut Shallow Grave, which screens tonight and tomorrow. The theater will be offering $2 off all draft beers starting at 11 pm each night before the film begins at 11:30. One of my favorite films of last year, Jeremy Saulnier's Blue Ruin (Jette's review), will be at Violet Crown on Wednesday night for CineBrew. Lead actor Macon Blair will be in attendance for a post-film Q&A and each ticket includes an 8 oz. souvenir glass of Greenhouse IPA #13 from Hops & Grain. Finally, on Thursday night, the theater hosts a special "Pay What You Want" screening of Hits, the directorial debut from comedian David Cross. Tickets for this screening are cash only, available at 11 am Thursday, limited to 4 per person only at the box office. 

Slamdance Review: Clinger

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Clinger Still Photo

Houston-shot comedic horror film Clinger premiered at the Slamdance Film Festival with full houses for both screenings. This quirky feature directed by Michael Steves (Hello, Cruel World) and co-written by Gabi Chennisi (Dark Water), Bubba Fish, and Steves is entertaining horror that turns the rom-com genre on its head, both literally and figuratively.

Jennifer Laporte stars as Fern Peterson, a high-school girl who aspires to receive an athletic scholarship to MIT. She experiences her first love with classmate Robert Klingher (Vincent Martella), who overwhelms Fern with adoration and gifts. Just as Fern admits to Robert that they should end their relationship, Robert dies in a freak accident and returns from the dead as a love-sick ghost. With the aid of her track coach and semi-retired ghost hunter Valeria Kingsley (Alicia Monet Caldwell), Fern must overcome Robert's attempts to ensure their everlasting love.

Clinger is a refreshing departure from a typical high-school romantic comedy, with strong characterization of lead and supporting actresses. While Fern clearly appreciates the affection from Robert, there's a reluctance that can be seen in her expressions -- especially in a photo where Robert grasps her in an overly affectionate stranglehold. Laporte is phenomenal in her role of a young woman conflicted by her emotional attachment to her first love and its impact on her chosen path in life.

Lost in the Awards Rush: The Paper

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"Lost in the Awards Rush" is a weekly series Slackerwood is running during the awards season, to suggest lesser-known but excellent alternatives to popular frontrunners for big movie awards.

Birdman (2014) has certainly been the most breakthrough of indies this past awards season. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's tale of a former action movie star (Michael Keaton) whose artistic comeback is marred by a variety of personal and professional crises (much of it courtesy of a pitch-perfect ensemble that includes Edward Norton, Emma Stone and Naomi Watts), has wowed virtually every major critic since its release. The praise has carried Birdman from offbeat indie to the most Oscar-nominated release of 2014 (Mike's review).

At the center of Birdman's acclaim is a magnificent and mesmerizing performance from its leading man. Having had a somewhat spotty filmography over the past decade or so, Keaton has landed a role most actors only dream of. His Riggan is a man struggling to overcome his movie past in an effort to amaze the theater world with his genuine talent. Truth be told, it's a role that Keaton could pull off, due to both his own past cinematic history and the seemingly effortless commitment he brings to every character.

After watching Birdman, I immediately thought of another Keaton-led film made 20 years earlier, The Paper (1994). Keaton re-teamed with his Gung Ho (1986) director Ron Howard for this look at the fast-paced world of tabloid journalism. Like Birdman, The Paper is set in New York, has a real-time feel, an unconventional brand of comedy and features Keaton leading a top-notch ensemble of Oscar winners and nominees including Glenn Close, Marisa Tomei, Randy Quaid and Robert Duvall.

2014 in Review: Matt's Top Ten

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Obvious Child

As each year ends, I hear from friends who say, "It was a really mediocre year for movies." While I know I watch more movies than your average person, I never understand that argument when it's presented to me. There's no question that I'm spoiled by living in Austin and being able to attend several film festivals a year, but even when I tried to make a Best of 2014 list, I struggled to put together anything less than a Top 30. For this post, I've narrowed it down to just my Top Ten. If you're curious to see my picks beyond this, you can check out my "Favorite Films of 2014" list on Letterboxd. 

To be eligible for my list, a film had to be released in the U.S. in some capacity in 2014. As a member of the Austin Film Critics Association, I was fortunate enough to be able to screen films like Selma, Inherent Vice and A Most Violent Year early, even though they didn't actually open in town until January.

10. Obvious Child -- Director Gillian Robespierre adapted her 2009 short film into this comedy that truly walks a fine line, creating an often hysterical film that deals with the life-changing topic of abortion. Jenny Slate is perfectly suited for a lead role that requires such a tightope act. When she's performing as a stand-up onscreen, her material is not just edgy, it's frequently over the edge. Some viewers may find the movie to be as well, but I loved the way it approached the subject matter. It's not easy to create a melancholy romantic comedy about a woman who has decided to terminate an unexpected pregnancy, but Obvious Child turns this very difficult decision into a relatable (and gleefully offensive) comedy without reducing it to an "issue" movie. (Elizabeth's review) (available now on home video and Amazon Prime streaming)

Sundance 2015: Partying with the Lone Star State

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Texas Film Commission with RESULTS star and Dallas Commissioner

The number of parties in Park City, Utah, during Sundance and Slamdance Film Festivals can be overwhelming for any festgoer who wants to experience more than just the extensive film programming available. To balance between screenings, interviews and parties, I select a few events to attend each year.

Most important are the film commission events, which provide a great opportunity to network with industry colleagues and learn about movie projects supported by the film associations. The Texas Association of Film Commissions hosted their annual Film Texas reception last week, with representatives from various film commissions including Kim LeBlanc from the Texas Film Commission and Janis Burklund, director of the Dallas Film Commission, both seen above with Results star Tishuan Scott.

The San Antonio Film Commission also hosted an event with director Drew Mayer-Oakes in attendance. Both events provided a great opportunity to discuss the Texas Moving Image Industry Incentive Program. Many of the conversations that I took part in focused on filmmakers expressing their concern about the impact of legislative changes that could come about in the upcoming legislative session under a new governor. A reduction or elimination of the incentive program could result in the relocation of film projects that are currently on hold.

Movies This Week: January 30-February 5, 2015

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 Amira & Sam

After a successful run last of week of "In Case Of No Emergency: The Films Of Ruben Ostlund," the Austin Film Society is adding an encore screening of last year's acclaimed Force Majeure this evening at the Marchesa. This is likely your last chance to catch it on the big screen, so don't miss out before the film is released February 10 on home video.

On Sunday evening, fans of Euro exploitation will want to head to the AFS Screening Room where longtime film collector Fred Frey will screen a secret double feature of rare 16mm films from his private collection. The films "will interest those who relish obscure delights." The Jacques Rivette "Essential Cinema" series closes out on Thursday at the Marchesa with a 35mm print of 1981's Le Pont Du Nord. 

Over at the Violet Crown Cinema, the "'Round Midnight" series continues this weekend with Danny Boyle's stylish debut Shallow Grave, which screens tonight and tomorrow. The theater will be offering $2 off all draft beers starting at 11 pm each night before the film begins at 11:30. 

The Alamo Drafthouse is having several Groundhog Day dinners on Monday night. You can buy tickets for Lakeline, Ritz or Slaughter Lane and enjoy a menu of "Pie Three Times." The theater chain is also offering several free screenings of Blade Runner: The Final Cut this week exclusively for Alamo Victory members. Get details here.

Review: Amira & Sam

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Amira and Sam 

Romantic comedies are not exactly known for being rooted in realism. Movies in this genre always include an element of fantasy, whether it is minor or major, to make viewers wonder if it could ever happen to them. There are elements to Amira & Sam that feel surprisingly authentic and even when it begins to feel a little contrived, I do think its heart is in the right place. 

Martin Starr (Freaks and Geeks) is Sam, an army solider who has recently returned home and is struggling to reassimilate. He returns to civilian life by working security as a doorman for a highrise apartment building. One night, he makes the mistake of chastizing an elevator full of privileged assholes after seeing one of them urinate outside the front door. They mockingly call him a "redneck cop" and dare him to do something about it. Sam lets the elevator doors close, but quickly shuts down the elevator banks, trapping them while he grabs a mop to clean up the mess. 

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