Jenn Brown's blog

2011 in Review: Jenn's Alternative Best Of Awards

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The Way, Arc Entertainment

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.

Movies This Week: Beneath the Spy Inside

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The Devil Inside, courtesy Paramount Pictures

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)

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy -- Since this John Le Carre' adaptation has now expanded to wide release, it only seems fair to mention it again. Check out Elizabeth's review. (wide)

Our Holiday Favorites: The Family Stone

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THe Family StoneThe best holiday film fare for me is always a mix of the worst of humanity along with the best. What would It's a Wonderful Life be without George and that old Building and Loan having to suffer through the travails of greed and incompetence? And How the Grinch Stole Christmas would not be anywhere near as heartening if the Grinch wasn't so callous to his dog, or so feisty about making the Whos in Whoville miserable. And that's part of why The Family Stone is one of my guilty pleasure holiday traditions.

I didn't mean to make it one, but I admit I was intrigued by the particularly expressive finger on the teaser poster. The trailers featured a snarky Rachel McAdams thwacking the back of one brother's head only to get thwacked herself by another. And with the premise of ferocious family dynamics over a fiancee? That's not only comedy gold but very relatable.

Eons ago when I still lived in Boston, a family dinner introducing a step-sibling's fiancée proved to be darkly entertaining. Despite the pretense of a well-mannered gathering, many claws were outstretched and flexing on the stoically thick-skinned woman. The same is true with the Stone family, who all clearly love each other yet have no disillusions about each other’s flaws. When the eldest son brings his girlfriend home, the fur starts to fly as her neuroses alienate everyone.

Review: The Artist

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The ArtistSimply put, The Artist is an utterly charming homage to cinema that proves the old can be new again, and just how universal it can be.

George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is at the zenith of stardom in the silent film era; his mere presence is a spectacle. And in the case of aspiring actress Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo), merely being in George's orbit can launch a career. But there's only one place to go from the top, or the bottom, especially when the revolutionary technology of sound transforms silent film into talkies.

Director Michel Hazanavicius has written a perfect film, balancing vintage tropes and pacing with familiar, beloved character archetypes. It's impossible not to fall under Valentin's spell even when being unsurprised at the consequences of his hubris. But it wouldn't be half as interesting without the alchemy of the pacing, editing, and the ever-present, equally perfect score by Ludovic Bource. Being essentially a silent movie itself, The Artist relies on Bource's evocative, often playful score to keep a modern audience from being distracted, and it does it very well.

Movies This Week: The Soldier Girl with the Dangerous Artist Adventures

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Jean Dujardin in The Artist

It's a few days before Christmas, but that just means Hollywood is finally letting us see the big contender films, and because of the holiday weekend, the new releases are starting mid-week. That means Movies This Week is running mid-week as well; unfortunately, it also means slim pickings for special film events from now through next week.

Well, not quite. Tonight you can see The Artist on us; you just have to reserve your pass and get there early enough to get a seat. You can also check out the Alamo Drafthouse calendar, as it's got an eclectic selection of holiday films at their various Austin locations including It's a Wonderful Life, Bad Santa, Home Alone (w/cheesy pizza), the Xmas Pop Sing-along, Elf quote-along, The Magic Christmas Tree, Love Actually, and their High for the Holiday selections.

Movies We've Seen:

The Adventures of Tintin -- The Hergé classics about an intrepid boy and his dog get the Spielberg treatment, and Elizabeth says the resulting movie "captures the essence and spirit of the comic, while hopefully introducing the series to many new fans." Read her review for more. (wide)

The Artist (pictured above) -- My absolute favorite film of the year, bar none. This utterly charming homage to cinema reminded me of the magic of movies in a year that desperately needed it. Look for my review when the movie opens Friday. (Starts Friday at Arbor, Alamo Lamar)

Insider's Guide: Giving the Gift of Membership

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happy christmas everybody! by allerleirau

Wondering what to give the cinephiles in your life? Tired of buying them DVDs they've already got in their film library, or resisting the urge to give a generic gift certificate? Then consider the gift of membership to any of several deserving film organizations in Austin.

You'll not only give a refreshingly different gift that has year round benefits, you'll be supporting the local film community. Most membership programs are tiered and cumulative; each level of membership also includes the benefits of all the previous levels in most cases (not to mention it's usually tax deductible).

Austin Film Festival -- AFF hosts a number of sneak-peek screenings throughout the year as well as the Made in Texas and Family Film Series. The writers on your list will appreciate the discounts on the screenplay coverage and Final Draft, and all film fans will appreciate the two free rentals at Vulcan Video. Higher levels of membership include discounts on badges for AFF, and one (or more) free passes to AFF as well.

Austin Gay and Lesbian International Film Festival -- Membership includes festival badges, and higher levels include a ticket to their annual Red Carpet Gala (the one that happens in February on the same day of the biggest film awards event of the year, hint hint), and other events.

Movies This Week: Young Sherlock Shame Ghost

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Shame

It's been a bit dismal this month for new releases, hasn't it? Never fear, that changes this week. And because of that, there are several great special screenings, too.

On Tuesday, AFS Essential Cinema is showing Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. On Wednesday there's a sneak peek of my favorite film of the year, The Artist. You can grab passes here at Gofobo (use code "SLACK07C6" if it asks for it). On Thursday, AFS is hosting a special sneak screening of The Darkest Hour; you can RSVP for free if you're an AFS member.

Movies We've Seen:

Shame (pictured above) -- Despite what you've heard about the NC-17 rating, this isn't a titillating film. Don says in his review, "Even in its darkest moments Shame never blinks or averts its gaze from the unpleasantness." (Regal Arbor, Violet Crown)

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows -- If you liked the first one, you'll probably like the second one. If not, there's always the chance to appreciate what Jude Law does for facial hair. Mike says, "More action than thought, Holmes is up to his old tricks, with very few new ones." Look for his review on Saturday morning. (wide)

Young Adult -- Usually the anti-hero in a film is a man, but not this time. J.C. saw it and says, "It's not often that a movie can be a very great one centered on a character so vile, yet so damned relatable." Read his review for more. (wide)

See 'The Artist' for Free on Wednesday 12/21

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The Artist

Free is good. Good and free is better. So Slackerwood is making it easier for you to see the film The Artist for free next Wednesday night at the Regal Arbor.

There is a reason The Artist is getting so much buzz; it's simply one of the most delightful films I've seen in a long time. It's got all the charm of the classics from the 1920s and 30s from the leading man's mustache to the comic relief dog. George Valentin is a silent film star with the world at his feet ... only to have the world change on him. As George's career fumbles, his protégé's career takes off, and where does that leave George? The cast is fantastic and the score is delightful, and anyone who ever appreciated the structure and panache of vintage films will enjoy every minute.

So here's what you need to know:  

Their Holiday Favorites: 'Swingin' Trio' Filmmakers Love 'Jesus Christ Superstar'

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Jesus Christ Superstar

Welcome to our latest entry in Their Holiday Favorites, a series in which members of the Austin film community tell us about movies they enjoy watching during the holiday season. This one is from Kelvin Phillips and Carla Jackson, who made their feature film debut this fall at AFF with A Swingin' Trio

Kelvin: Though technically more of an Easter film because of its story, we love going back to Jesus Christ Superstar -- the original 1973 film directed by Norman Jewison -- for repeated viewings, particularly around the holidays. Firstly, there is the music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, plus there's the witty lyrics and controversial book (story) that presents Judas's argument in a sympathetic light.

But the thing we REALLY LOVE is the singing -- everyone is great, but special shoutouts have to go to Carl Anderson as Judas, Ted Neely as JC, and Bob Bingham as the bass-singing Caiaphas. The film itself is gorgeous to look at (would love for the Alamo to present it on the big screen!). It was shot in Israel, using widescreen photography of the desert vistas and ancient ruins that are spectacular.

Movies This Week: New Elite Knuckle Tomboy Sitter

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Tomboy

On Saturday, Alamo Kids Club is playing Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas on Saturday. It's free, but first come first seated so get there early.

Tuesday night is the night of Something For Everyone Who Likes Watching Movies. Austin Public Library's Polish Film Series is showing Borys Lankosz' The Reverse (Rewers) at the Howson Branch, and over at Twin Oaks Branch you can see Kung Fu Panda 2 (why yes that is a 2011 title). You can find out more about these films on the APL website. Austin Film Society members (and those who are lucky enough to get tickets for the remaining seats) can see Two for the Road starring Audrey Hepburn and Albert Finney.

Movies We've Seen:

Project Nim -- AFS Selects returns with an encore limited engagement of James Marsh's Oscar-shortlisted documentary about a chimpanzee raised as a human. I found the occasional re-enactments melodramatic and diminishing. But I also agree with Debbie that Marsh "presents a compelling biography of an animal that despite his strength is still at the mercy of humans." Read her review for more. And do try to check it out on Friday or Saturday, as primatologist Bob Ingersoll will be in attendance at the 4:40, 7:00 and 9:20 shows (and you will want hear from him after). (Violet Crown)

New Year's Eve -- Director Garry Marshall and writer Katherine Fugate previously brought you Valentine's Day. What else is there to say?  Mike thought, "It wanted to be for New Year's what A Christmas Story is for Christmas."  Read his review for more. (wide)

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