Friday, February 25, 2011

An Oscar Post... in which I make no predictions, but opine a lot

I don’t know which film is going to be crowned Best Picture on Sunday night, though I have my suspicions. My favourites never win anyway, so I don’t sweat it. Plus, it was AMPAS, not me, that once declared Gladiator the best film of the year. It takes more than one good pick to make up for that. What you’ll read below is simply my ranking, from one to ten, from first to last, from best to worst, of this year’s nominees.

The views expressed are mine, but I’d love to hear yours.


1. Winter’s Bone
Director: Debra Granik

The bleakest nominee is also the best. Winter’s Bone is a movie without any obvious message, despite an Ozark setting that seems composed of social ills, from poverty to illiteracy to domestic violence; mental illness, drug abuse and organized crime. At the centre of this insanity is a remarkably sane teenage girl named Ree, possessed of great interior strength. She’s searching for her missing father; not out of longing, but out of necessity. If he doesn’t stand trial, they’ll lose the house.

Ree’s less interested in learning the truth than in doing what’s needed to keep her family fed. Her practicality and courage press her forward even as her quest grows dangerous. We care for her, but we admire her even more.

In a year when the woes of a New York City ballerina, a king, and a billionaire-to-be seem dominant in peoples’ minds, I’m far more compelled by this woman, blessed with more power and purpose than the three of them combined. Maybe that’s unfair. But I know that if Ree loses her house, at least four human beings will starve, for real. And she’ll be one of them, though for her, that would never be the point.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Urban Twirl (2010)

A few too many years ago, I told my parents I’d chosen History as my university major. They congratulated me. Then they asked what I planned to do with that degree—what I could do with it—because they weren’t sure. Neither was I. But I did study History, and never regretted it, and today, I blog about silent movies for free.

My parents didn’t question the value of history per se, just the wisdom of devoting one’s most productive time to studying it. If one did so, they felt, one ought to make a good living. They weren’t sure History allowed for this, and looking back, they were right to be concerned. But as an 18-year-old, idealistic in my own way, I opposed studying something for practical purposes. Enlightenment was the thing, and to dilute it just for the sake of paying rent revolted me. Despite the fact that my parents were paying the bills, I felt no need to justify my preoccupation to them, or anyone else. I wasn’t wise back then, but at least my un-wisdom was ferocious and uncompromising.

This paints a bad picture of 18-year-old me, doesn’t it? Sometimes I don’t like that kid. And he reminds me a bit—maybe a lot—of the protagonist in Urban Twirl, a minute-long Canadian silent, created by Newfoundland and Labrador-based filmmaker, Martine Blue. All this young woman wants to do is hula-hoop in peace; but the Newfoundland wharf on which she’s camped is too bustling. Her observers, in their own ways, wonder why she’s doing it, and she, in her own way, hates them for it. Embedded here are issues of acceptance and intolerance, the worst of which seems to boil out from her.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Big Day at the Lightbox

Happy, uh, Family Day. (Don't laugh--It's nipping at the heels of Christmas.)

To celebrate this still-fresh statutory holiday, Toronto's TIFF Bell Lightbox is screening three films starring the Toronto-born Mary Pickford, and admission is absolutely free. The program starts at Noon, with Suds (1920); followed by Through the Back Door (1921) at 2:30; and My Best Girl (1927) at 4:30.

I wrote about My Best Girl (my favourite romantic-comedy, silent or sound) right here.

Also free is  iNSiDEaMiND's new musical take on Sherlock, Jr. (1924), one of Buster Keaton's best films. This screening also begins at 4:30.

My post on Sherlock, Jr. is not hard to find.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Green Wave (2010)

(A talkie, courtesy of TIFF Bell Lightbox, in Toronto)

“Endurance is the only option that Iranians have.”

So wrote an Iranian blogger in summer 2009. He, or she, witnessed a disputed election, then its awful aftermath, and concluded that neither self-respect nor education was enough to combat repression; nor patience, nor even outrage, though all were components of the struggle. For Iranians pushing upward against the brutal boot-heel of their own government, it was also necessary, and noble, just to persist. Doing so meant calling again and again for reform from those who’d resort to arrests and beatings, torture, rape and murder to silence them. These stakes were no secret to anyone, anywhere on earth—not in the Digital Age. Yet President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad remains in power today, and so The Green Wave, rather than simply documenting events of almost two years ago, remains a call to action: not only to those yearning for freedom in other lands, but to those still yearning for it in the filmmaker’s own.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Exit Smiling (1926)

My cynical heart’s been won. It was taken, with slight gestures, by a woman more intent on herself than me, but I did get got. Thank you, Violet. You may be a bad actress, but the one who played you was brilliant, and I’ll never forget her.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Red Mill (1927)

There are two moments of inspiration in The Red Mill, both borne on Marion Davies’ face. The first is early in the film, when Davies’ Tina, a Dutch servant, falls through the ice. Tina just won a skating race—first prize: a kiss from a handsome Irish tourist named Dennis Wheat. Poor Tina’s hauled out of the water, cased in frost, blank in expression. Dennis appears truly concerned, and for that she grins so wide that the ice crumbles on her cheeks and falls away.