Phoenix Film Critics Society Nominations

I’m a member of the PFCS and our year-end nominations are now out, see below:

Top 10 Films of 2011
“The Artist”
“The Descendants”
“The Help”
“Midnight in Paris”
“My Week With Marilyn”
“Super 8″
“The Tree of Life”

Best Director
Woody Allen, “Midnight in Paris”
Michael Hazanavicius, “The Artist”
Alexander Payne, “The Descendants”
Martin Scorsese, “Hugo”
Tate Taylor, “The Help”

Best Actor
George Clooney, “The Descendants”
Jean Dujardin, “The Artist
Michael Fassbender, “Shame”
Gary Oldman, “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”
Brad Pitt, “Moneyball”

Best Actress
Glenn Close, “Albert Nobbs”
Viola Davis, “The Help”
Elizabeth Olsen, “Martha Marcy May Marlene”
Meryl Streep, “The Iron Lady”
Michelle Williams, “My Week with Marilyn”

Best Supporting Actor
Kenneth Branagh, “My Week with Marilyn”
Albert Brooks, “Drive”
John Hawkes, “Martha Marcy May Marlene”
Jonah Hill, “Moneyball”
Christopher Plummer, “Beginners”

Best Supporting Actress
“Bérénice Bejo, “The Artist”
“Bryce Dallas Howard, “The Help”
“Jessica Chastain, “The Help”
“Octavia Spencer, “The Help”
“Shailene Woodley, “The Descendants”

Best Ensemble
“Margin Call”
“Midnight in Paris”
“Super 8″

Best Adapted Screenplay
“The Descendants”
“The Help”

Best Original Screenplay
“The Artist”
“Midnight in Paris”

Best Cinematography
“The Artist”
“Tree of Life”

Best Costume Design
“The Artist”
“Jane Eyre”

Best Film Editing
“The Artist”
“Super 8″
“Tree of Life”

Best Original Score
“The Artist”
“Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”
“Super 8″

Best Original Song

“Star-Spangled Man” from “Captain America:

The First Avenger”

“The Living Proof” from “The Help”

“I Believe In You” from “Johnny English Reborn”

“Life’s a Happy Song” from “The Muppets”

Best Production Design
“The Artist”
“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2″

Best Visual Effects
“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2″
“Rise of the Planet of the Apes”

Best Animated Film
“The Adventures of Tintin”
“Winnie the Pooh”

Best Documentary
“African Cats”
“The Greatest Movie Ever Sold”
“Page One: Inside the New York Times”
“Project Nim”

Best Foreign Language Film
“Point Blank”
“The Skin I Live In”

Best Live Action Family Film
“Dolphin Tale”
“The Muppets”
“We Bought a Zoo”

The Overlooked Film of the Year
“A Better Life”
“The Conspirator”
“Texas Killing Fields”

Best Stunts
“Fast Five”
“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2″

Breakthrough Performance on Camera
Elle Fanning, “Super 8″
Thomas Horn, “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”
Elizabeth Olsen, “Martha Marcy May Marlene”
Shailene Woodley, “The Descendants”

Breakthrough Performance Behind the Camera
Sean Durkin, “Martha Marcy May Marlene”
Michael Hazanavicius, “The Artist”
Tate Taylor, “The Help”

Best Performance by a Youth (Male)
Asa Butterfield, “Hugo”
Joel Courtney, “Super 8″
Thomas Horn, “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”

Best Performance by a Youth (Female)
Elle Fanning, “Super 8″
Amara Miller, “The Descendants”
Chloe Grace Moretz, “Hugo”
Saoirse Ronan, “Hanna”

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Martha Marcy May Marlene

Director Sean Durkin delivers an impressive psychological thriller with Martha Marcy May Marlene. Durkin, working with Elizabeth Olsen in a star-making role presents a compelling tale of a young woman struggling to find her place in the world. Haunted by her stay in an upstate New York cult run by an excellent John Hawkes, she flees to her estranged sister and new husband’s summer cottage. As Martha juggles reality with flashbacks of increasingly disturbing events in her cult life, her family struggles with how to help her.

Shot in an idyllic view, the methodical pace of the film seamlessly blends the two worlds together and we find ourselves equally sharing in Martha’s paranoia. Avoiding the obvious, commercial need for shocks, this art house film delivers a powerful story that is hardly resolved when the action fades out. We want to know what happens next, and that rarely happens with mainstream movies unless there is a sequel in the works back at the studio.

Olsen, the younger sister of the famous Ashley and Mary Kate Olsen T.V. and fashion empire delivers a nuanced, sophisticated performance often with just her doe eyes registering a wide range of emotions. Much like last year’s breakout performance by Jennifer Lawrence in the indie film Winter’s Bone, also starring John Hawkes, consider this the first look at a major new talent.

Hopefully this film will find an audience, although at the advance screening I attended, the audience seemed confused as to what they were watching. This is a quiet, dark and powerful film that should be seen both for the performance and for the exploration of family dynamics, as well as sexual politics.

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Loft Film Festival

Don’t miss the second annual Loft Film Festival running now through Nov 17. A group of excellent films are on tap including:


We Need To Talk ABout Kevin

Mozart’s Sister

Being Elmo

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Margin Call

There’s a mini-trend of films that have recently hit the multiplex dealing with our current financial crisis, and how we got into this mess. From gripping documentaries like “Inside Job,” to character portraits like “Casino Jack,” and even fictional works like “The Company Men.” Add to this list the new film “Margin Call,” an excellent drama that takes place inside the confines of a Lehman Brothers-esque financial house as the collapse begins. With a stellar cast including Kevin Spacey, Zachary Quinto, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Irons, Demi Moore and Stanley Tucci, this film is stocked with a-list performers. The action unfolds like a Greek tragedy with characters who are both innocent and evil, large and small, and all trapped on a doomed ship of their own construction.

Largely played out within the offices of the financial institution, the story follows the discovery of an emminent collapse that will not only cripple the institution that employs the characters, but will also damage the world economy. With sparse dialog and beautifully framed imagery, the film gives the actors wide room to navigate and fully flesh-out their well-drawn characters. While doing little to humanize some of the upper-echelon architects of the disaster, “Margin Call” allows us to witness the unraveling of an enormous ball of twine, only to find that those at the top will remain there despite the current collapse. As neatly outlined in one great exchange between Spacey and Irons, this is just one more disaster in a long line of disasters, and the same percentage of people will always be on the wrong side of the equation.

It’s hard to imagine better casting, with all leads delivering strong performances. This film should be required viewing at business schools along with “Inside Job,” and hopefully this film will be seen by a wide audience. A modern-day Shakespeare tragedy, “Margin Call” is a must see.

Margin Call is at the Loft Cinema starting October 28.

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The excellent documentary “Senna” has just a few screenings left at the Loft Cinema, but if you miss those, make an effort to seek out this film on DVD. A crowd favorite at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, this documentary from director Asif Kapadia, tracks the astonishing career of the Brazilian Formula One race-car driver Ayrton Senna. His brief run, as one of the best drivers on the circuit, lasted from 1988 to 1994 and featured some of the most exciting finishes in sport history where he was crowned the world champion three times. What’s remarkable about this documentary is that it was pieced together from existing footage, home movies and period interviews.

This film is fairly riveting, even for viewers who are not versed in the world of Formula One racing. The cast of characters, from eccentric owners to the arrogant FIA president (the sport’s commissioner), to rival drivers is fascinating to watch. Especially of interest is the relationship between Senna and French driver Alain Proust, as they battle it out first as rivals on different teams, and then as teammates.

The inclusion of Senna family home movies helps round out a portrait of the man who made racing his life, but who also became a national hero to Brazil a country that desperately needed someone to lift its collective spirit. It’s hard to imagine an American athlete having as much of an impact on the global stage in this day and age. Michael Jordan’s dominance in basketball may be the closest example, but the international appeal of Formula One racing easily outpaced basketball during Senna’s reign. From the on-board camera work to the pre-race driver meetings, this insider’s look at professional racing is fantastic.


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The Rum Diary

The Rum Diary is one big hot mess. While that can be perceived as a compliment in some circles, in this case its not. This is clearly a labor of love, and an homage to the unique talent of the late, great writer Hunter Thompson. Brought to life by his friend Johnny Depp, the film is an account of a writer/journalist who winds up at a Puerto Rican newspaper on its last legs, and attempts to manage his personal demons while thwarting an evil development scheme. A very pretty cast composed of Aaron Eckhart and Amber Heard is augmented by a not so pretty cast member—in a barely recognizable Giovanni Ribisi.

While Depp mugs for the camera, and Eckhart and Heard look like thy fell out of a Town and Country magazine spread, this film goes off the rails. For some reason the script can’t decide what it wants to be and the audience suffers. A neatly tacked on ending really does not solve the dilemma. Some disturbing moments included a drug induced freak-out, Hitler played for laughs and a prologue to a gang-rape that felt extremely uncomfortable.

I get Hunter Thompson, really I do. But It just feels like his brand of gonzo journalism is an artifact of a different era, and similar to old Cheech and Chong routines, it’s just not as funny as we remember. Rest in peace Hunter, let’s hope no more movies are in the wings.


The Rum Diary opens on October 28 all over the place.

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Director Nicolas Winding Refn delivers a unique, dark vision of Los Angeles and some of its less-than-glamorous inhabitants in “Drive.” With a stellar cast including Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Ron Perlman and Albert Brooks, the film is an excellent look at an underworld one hopes to never enter.

Gosling stars as a character known as “driver, ” an enigmatic character whose day job as a movie stunt driver is augmented acting as a wheel-man (getaway driver) for robberies. He also works in a garage owned by Cranston who is in business with Albert Brooks and his creepy muscle, Ron Perlman. Carey Mulligan enters the picture as a friendly neighbor, who’s husband is just out of prison.

When things wrong, they really go horribly wrong and the pace, as well as the bloodshed is amplified like the odd euro-disco music that oddly fills the soundtrack. There are moments in this film that look like a European postcard of California, all sunsets and endless highways. Those tranquil moments are then shattered by moments of sudden, unpredictable outburst of violence.

“Drive” is playing at Century 20 El Con Cinema at El Con Mall, 3601 East Broadway.



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