Winter 2013

Jan 17  Searching for Sugar Man
Jan 24  Anna Karenina
Jan 31  Rust and Bone
Feb 7  Amour
Feb 14  A Late Quartet
Feb 21  A Royal Affair
Feb 28  The Deep Blue Sea
Mar 7  Stories We Tell
Mar 14  Hyde Park on Hudson
Mar 21  Holy Motors
Mar 28  Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel
Apr 4  On the Road
Apr 11  The Gatekeepers

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[IMDb] Follow the links to the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) for more information about the films.

January 17   Searching for Sugar Man (Sweden/UK 2012) 86 min.
This hugely popular Sundance documentary is as riveting as it gets. The subject of inquiry is a sweet disappearing act, Detroit folksinger Sixto Rodriguez who had a spurt of musical attention in the '70s. Unbeknownst to him, his recorded music not only circulated but it has been thriving ever since in South Africa where "Sugar Man" remains nothing less than a cult figure. The filmmakers set out to find out if the guy actually exists or if he committed suicide, as legend had it, and then to explore the nature of his immense popularity. The film is a fascinating mystery wrapped inside a humble enigma. It kind of turns Waiting for Godot inside out—with way more surprises.

January 24   Anna Karenina (UK 2012) 129 min.
It takes chutzpah and a lot of imagination to translate one of the greatest Russian novels of all time for the big screen. But leave your attitude at the door. This film works as an independent work of art, a highly styled treatment written by the brilliant Tom Stoppard whose language informs all the heavy-breathing characters. You know the story: aristocratically married Tsar-era girl commits adultery. Throw in some closely watched trains and consequences ensue. Yes, the story is timeless and achingly romantic, and this rendition of it is a theatrical flight of genius. Director Wright relies heavily on the self-consciousness of staging to underscore the artificiality of Anna's claustrophobic life. Money can't buy you love. But it can get you some fabulous dresses and a lot of domestic help.

January 31   Rust and Bone (France/Belgium 2012) 120 min.
[IMDb] French with subtitles. [IMAGE]
You will remember the director's 2010 masterpiece The Prophet, one of the best films of that year. This is his equally astonishing follow-up, also cast against the backdrop of French culture and class. RUST AND BONE, as the title, suggests, is a raw depiction of life on the margins. The Cote d'Azur never looked less familiar, but the film gets at a reality we know is lurking right behind the palm trees and whitewashed buildings. A father and his son who are escaping one nightmare end up sniffing out the possibility of others. Cotillard plays a vulnerable acquaintance who turns into that much more, grounding the story in a remarkable romance of violence and sensitivity. She suffers a horrible accident but yet remains powerfully alive, drawing the runaways deep into her life, transforming everything around her. The film created a large buzz at Cannes and was listed as an Oscar Best Foreign Picture contender for good reason.

February 7   Amour (Austria/France/Germany 2012) 127 min.
[IMDb] French with subtitles [IMAGE]
Really, can it get any better? Cannes, Golden Globes, Oscar—AMOUR fills up the whole prize-winning shelf. Nothing less than the word masterpiece attends to this moving cinematic essay on the beautiful indignities of aging. Georges and Anne inhabit their lovely French apartment, a long-married, loyal couple who have lived a cultured, comfortable life. But old age, as someone once said, is not something you want to be cured of. The film tracks the inevitable erosion of life, offering us an unsentimental performance of infirmity. Director Haneke is one of the greatest artists alive today. His other unflinching portraits of culture and society (WHITE RIBBONS, CACHE) are astonishing achievements, sure, but AMOUR takes his craft to a whole new level of intimacy and meaning. As he said himself, he owes the power and success of the film to the two actors at its centre, the incomparable Trintignant and Riva. If you know your New Wave French cinema you might also see the film as homage to that movement. Whatever you make of it, AMOUR is profound in every way. You'll feel more human just by watching it.

February 14   A Late Quartet (USA 2012) 105 min.
With a cast like this who needs a blurb? Like ships of fools, orchestral groups often work nicely as metaphors for the human condition. There's something about all that fine tuning that brings out the best and worst in the participants. Indeed, as an essay on the vicissitudes of the artistic soul, LATE QUARTET is right up there with the best of the genre. The drama is generated when the cellist (Walken) informs his colleagues that he needs to step out of the group. A vacuum opens up, into which surges lots of pent-up slights, assumptions, and long-held secrets. This is a wonderfully wrought exercise in acting as well as a musical performance, and your eyes will be as happy as your ears. Consider the soundtrack of Haydn, Bach and Strauss, not to mention the central place occupied by Beethoven's String Quartet No. 14 in C-sharp Minor, Op. 131, and you know you have a lot to live for.

February 21   A Royal Affair (Denmark/Sweden/Czech Republic 2012) 137 min.
[IMDb] Danish with subtitles [IMAGE]
What a totally yummy production this is, almost certain to be Oscar nominated for Best Foreign Film. Based on a widely read and much adored written work, the film tracks the illicit love affair between the lovely British-born Queen Caroline, married to an odd duck of a Danish King, and his German physician, Struensee. The good doctor is a perfect product of Enlightenment thinking. It's the 18th century and anyone with half a brain has fallen in love with the writings of Voltaire and Rousseau. Caroline falls for the man and for the ideas he brings to the conservative Danish court. As the movie would have it, between them they forever changed the course of Danish—and by extension—European thought. It's an interesting argument for adultery, to be sure, but, seriously, A ROYAL AFFAIR has it all going on: politics, intrigue, scandal, betrayal, sex. Certainly, you'll feel enlightened afterwards.

February 28   The Deep Blue Sea (USA/UK 2011) 98 min.
We're not sure why but a recurring theme in this season's offerings is adultery—up close and personal. We especially love the acting in this post-war drama, based on a stage play and directed by the guy who gave us the remarkable Distant Voices, Still Lives. The always stunningly credible Weisz plays the central character, a woman bored with her judge of a husband and all the stiff trappings of upper-class privilege. Attracted to a handsome and passionate RAF pilot, she trades places in the class system, determined to follow her heart. Brilliantly, the film tracks what happens in the aftermath of that radical decision. Mmmm, London in the 'fifties without central heating: can love alone keep you happy and warm? See for yourself if you want "Deep Blue Sea" as your next ringtone.

March 7   Stories We Tell (Canada 2012) 108 min.
We have nothing but superlatives for this most excellent documentary by Canadian über-talent Polley. She just won the biggest prize in Canadian cinema for this achievement and so you'd be a bit of an idiot if you missed it. It's totally absorbing. Adultery figures here, too, surprise surprise, as Polley seeks to get to the bottomless identity of her glamorous mother. This is a search for truth that turns into a documentary journey all of its own. On-camera revelations are a bonus in a film that shows so much artful confidence in its mission. Polley affects the innocent gaze of the baby in the family, keen to let everyone have a say while diligently pursuing the truth behind the alibis and excuses. We can only imagine how this film changed her life. Every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. See Anna Karenina, above.

March 14   Hyde Park on Hudson (UK 2012) 94 min.
This is a lot of fun, as almost anything with Bill Murray usually is. You might say this is The King's Speech turned inside out, an irreverent take on what happened when the Great Stutterer, King George 'Bertie' VI, and his wife Queen Elizabeth visited FDR at their summer retreat for some hi-level diplomacy and, unknowingly, some startling hi-jinks. You have to have an appreciation for American comedy to get the totally campy, vulgar appeal of this made-in-America treatment of royalty and international relations. If The King's Speech was all about overcoming obstacles, replete with swelling orchestra and sentiment, then HYDE PARK ON HUDSON deflates the pomp, underscores the sheer wackiness of history, and applauds good ol' American ingenuity. How much fun was it to stage the Roosevelts and the Windsors at home, eavesdropping on their imagined conversations. If FDR ever was this randy then it's a wonder we all got through the last century. Bill Clinton, eat your heart out.

March 21   Holy Motors (France/Germany 2012) 115 min.
[IMDb] French with subtitles [IMAGE]
There's been an enormous amount of buzz about this enigmatic cinematic dream. To see it is to debate its meaning and effect. The central character, M. Oscar, is a shape-shifter, an embodiment of cinema itself. He walks through things, inhabits a limousine, engages in pretty anarchic sex, dining, conversing, observing, and seems to move seamlessly from one movie scenario into another. No, this is not Cronenberg's Cosmopolis on acid, but it does use the limo as an agent of transition. There is much irrational story-telling going on here, and audiences will sustain a WTF view of the proceedings, but the entertainment quotient is high: lots of laughs and weirdness, a good night out for the conventionally challenged.

March 28   Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel (USA 2011) 86 min.
Some of us were willingly held captive by Diana Vreeland, long-time editor of fashion's most influential magazine, Vogue. She looked like an alien and uttered hilarious aphorisms that have become part of the vocabulary of pop culture. She was caustic, edgy, glamorous, uncompromising, and provocatively philosophical. She was never vulgar or crass, but she believed fully in the power of artifice and the construction of style. She embodied it. Vreeland anticipated but would never have embraced a world dominated by a Kardashian. She was smarter, better, wittier, and better than all that. Ah, those were the days—Vreeland and Warhol on the cusp of a new ethos. Wonder what they would make of it all now. A person who doesn't like fashion just doesn't get life—or this rich doc for our times. Documentaries are the new black, for sure.

April 4   On the Road (France/UK/USA/Brazil 2012) 124 min.
And before the Vreeland generation (see above) there were the Beats. Jack Kerouac's perennially popular 1957 novel gets respectful treatment on the big screen. On The Road was so influential it practically created the acid-tripping culture of San Francisco. What the movie does, however, is actually show you the road and all its glories. America has rarely looked more beautiful, from the Edward Hopper-lit bars of New York City to all the wide open spaces between there and the California coast to which they are headed. You know the storyline: two writer friends standing in for Kerouac and Neal Cassady hit the road with ambition and post-war optimism, Beat poets of the macadam. Their journey is fueled by a lot of sex and drugs. Lucky for us, good writing follows.

April 11   The Gatekeepers (Israel/France/Germany/Belgium 2012) 101 min.
This riveting doc has generated a lot of critical acclaim. It's timely and, as the NY Times put it, both "amazing" and "unsettling." The focus is on six men, all of similar ages and class, who reveal through remarkably candid interviews just exactly what they did as former heads of the Israel security agency known as Shin Bet. Since 1967 the agency has turned to counterterrorism of an especially troubling kind. It's not that we don't know such agencies are doing dirty deeds (hello Zero Dark Thirty); it's that the film reveals an entire cultural and political context through character, focusing specifically on the six men being interviewed—their body language, their voices, their regrets, insights, admissions, and confessions. The camera shows us so much more than even they tell us. Not only is what they tell us is astonishing; it's how they tell us. Variety Magazine wisely states that this is a "provocative must-see for the discerning and topically inclined." That's you, right?