Ellen (ennienyc) wrote,

Spirit Awards screenings

This is my fourth year as a Spirit Awards voter (which just entails joining IFP, or Film Independent in LA), and we're in the middle of the 5-week screening period, where there are 1-2 nominated movies scheduled every weeknight. Yeah, I know, grueling. But it does get intense.

Movies have to be at least 70 minutes, have a week-long commercial theatrical release or be in six designated film festivals, and have a budget of under $20 million. This makes for an eclectic slate, with unexpected gems as well as a few clunkers.

It also means we saw "The Hurt Locker" LAST year and had Jeremy Renner do a Q&A for a tiny group (this was a last-minute addition to the schedule, and he and fellow nominee Anthony Mackie spoke to a larger audience at a later showing). The movie was good, but I had no idea it would get so much Oscar love.

We received a few screener DVDs and some of the movies are available on Netflix, but I prefer to view them on the big screen with an audience. The screening site used to be Tribeca Cinemas, which was a bit funky but basically OK and (the best part) just half a block from the subway. They've moved to another, much nicer Tribeca venue, but it's 3 long blocks to the train. Yeah, poor me. But it's winter and cold, and often late.

The final night is ACPT Friday which I already signed up for, but both those movies are on Netflix so I won't miss much. There are also 2 showings that Thursday ("Which Way Home" at 7 and "Anvil! The Story of Anvil" at 9 - have a screener for the latter). If anyone's here early and wants to go, let me know. It's about 1/2 hour from the Brooklyn Marriott.

I've seen:

"Gentlemen Broncos" - Self-consciously quirky story of a home-schooled kid with an eccentric mother, who submits a fantasy novel to an author (over-the-top supporting male nominee Jemaine Clement) at a convention contest. The author's next book is suspiciously familiar and events ensue. I guess these are supposed to be my kind of people, but they weren't.

"Adventureland" (screenplay) - Sweet movie of a recent college grad's summer romance while working at an amusement park. Lead actor Jesse Eisenberg also starred in "Holy Rollers," which just premiered at Sundance and is produced by my high school classmate's son (and his twin's nephew), directed by the classmate's other nephew (it's less confusing than it sounds), and repped by "friend of 'Wordplay'" John Sloss (everything leads back to "Wordplay").

"A Prophet" (foreign film) - A gritty and violent story of French prison life, focusing on an Arab/Corsican teen who learns to negotiate his environment. I didn't realize the theater would be packed (it's getting good buzz), and I ended up in the first row, which was not bad (the screen is set back and up behind a stage).

"Humpday" (John Cassavetes Award: budget under $500K) - Two straight, old college friends consider making a gay porn film, for convoluted reasons. The characters reminded me of the "Old Joy" guys, and I didn't like either movie. Plus the sound was TOO LOUD, a surefire way not to win me over. It seemed amateurish.

"Easier With Practice" (first feature) - This also didn't have a highly professional sheen, but the story was more developed and ended with a haunting twist. Struggling author ends up in an intense phone sex relationship that begins randomly while on tour with his brother.

"Sin Nombre" (feature, director, cinematography) - Central Americans hoping to immigrate to the U.S. travel atop a train through Mexico and encounter gang members. Very gritty, sometimes shocking portrait of gang life, beautifully shot.

"Two Lovers" (director, female lead) - This completely escaped my radar during its release last year, and I enjoyed the Brooklyn-set (though partly shot in Jersey City) story of a schlubby, mentally troubled Jewish guy (Joaquin Phoenix) living at home, fixated on his mysterious new neighbor (Gwyneth Paltrow, playing a kept woman) and pushed toward the nice Jewish daughter of business associates.

"Everlasting Moments" (foreign) - A woman in early-1900s Sweden has an alcoholic, womanizing husband who keeps her pregnant and busy, while she learns photography from a much gentler man in their town. Slow-moving, and you wonder why she stayed, but times were very different.

"Food, Inc" - Patrick Creadon was on the documentary nominating committee (told ya it all comes back to "Wordplay"), so I expect these films to be good. This was the sometimes harrowing story of how our food is processed and like the proverbial sausage, maybe I'd rather not know. I really had to do laundry the night it screened, and it was cold, so I streamed it on Netflix.

"The Maid (La Nana)" (foreign) - The title character has worked for a well-off Santiago family for 20+ years, and guards her territory zealously. Fascinating family and human dynamics. Loved it. So crowded they put out extra chairs. Director Sebastián Silva was supposed to speak afterward, but could not be located (oh well, I won't hold it against him).

"Paranormal Activity" (first feature) - This "Blair Witch Project"-redux is a small-scale creepfest about a young couple who decide to tape some weird goings-on. It was OK and reasonably scary, but I don't understand why it became such a phenomenon ($108 million, what?).

"An Education" (foreign) - The rules say this British film is eligible for best foreign, which seems odd. I saw it at an earlier IFP showing with director Lone Scheerfig speaking afterward. LOVED this coming-of-age story set in London just before Beatlemania. Intelligent and grown-up.

"Cold Souls" (first screenplay, supporting female, cinematography; Q&A Sophie Barthes) - Paul Giamatti plays himself in what many are comparing to "Being John Malkovich" (which I didn't see). In an artistic slump, Giamatti turns to soul extraction from David Strathairn's high-tech company. Nominee Dina Korzun plays a Russian mule in the soul-traffic trade, and the events seem almost plausible. Very imaginative.

"A Single Man" (first screenplay, first feature, male lead) - I saw this through MoMA Film+, with Tom Ford and Julianne Moore interviewed afterward. A gay professor copes with the loss of his lover in 1962, when such things weren't spoken of. The movie looked like a piece of art (Ford is a fashion designer), and the performances were impeccable, but something was missing. More to be admired than enjoyed (I stole that from a description of something else).

"Mother" (foreign; Korea) - The title character is fiercely protective of her mentally disabled son, who bristles at being described as such. When he is accused of a young girl's murder and authorities are ineffective, she investigates on her own and the story twists and turns.

"Goodbye Solo" (male lead) - I really liked Ramin Bahrani's previous movies (both set in New York), but this Winston-Salem-set story not so much. Upbeat Senegalese cabdriver (Souléymane Sy Savané, in a tour de force performance) longs to be a flight attendant, and gets involved in a dour, suicidal passenger's life as his own family unravels. It moved slowly and I had a hard time staying awake.

"More Than a Game" (documentary) - After the previous movie, I woke up right away as basketballs bounced and rebounded in this long-term look at a close-knit school team in Akron, Ohio that happened to include LeBron James. Reminiscent of "Hoop Dreams" (which I adored).

"Treeless Mountain" (Cassavetes, cinematography) - The camera goes close-up with a child's-eye view of two adorable young Korean sisters left first with a not-very-maternal aunt and then their rural grandparents while their mother is off looking for their father. Heartbreaking and uplifting at the same time.

"October Country" (documentary; Q&A Donal Mosher, Michael Palmieri) - D thought this film was the best of the year, so I came in with high expectations. They were immediately dashed by the LOUD SOUND; I had to hold my fingers in my ears the whole time (I had 2 kinds of earplugs with me, neither of which would fit - I just ordered supposedly small-sized ones). The story is a personal one about filmmaker Donal Mosher's working class family in upstate New York, haunted by war, teen pregnancy, and abuse. There's even a witch. Seemingly everyone smokes. There is hope of breaking the cycle in the form of a bright 12-year-old (and Mosher himself). The filmmakers spoke afterward. They were very earnest and I didn't have the heart to complain about the sound. Family members will be present when this opens at IFC Center next weekend (gee, that reminds me when WE were doing Q&As at the IFC Center...).

"Zero Bridge" (Cassavetes; Q&A Tariq Tapa) - This bridge is in turbulent Kashmir, where a teenager gets by doing others' homework for money, picking pockets, and some honest work. There's a struggling uncle and a female love interest, and it doesn't end like I thought it would. The filmmaker was born in New York but has family in Kashmir, a troubled part of the world rarely depicted in film. Working as a one-man crew with non-professional actors, he coped with lack of electricity and violence to tell this story.

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