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Film and the Arts

NY's Quad Cinema Adapts to Changing Film Environment

Scene from FlooredFloored is a new documentary about the demise of the unfittest in Chicago's commodities markets. With filmmakers struggling to adapt to a mutant distribution environment, could it also be a metaphor for today's indie film industry?

The doc, by James Allen Smith, opened today at New York's Quad Cinema through a self-distribution mechanism that would make Darwin proud. Called “Quad Cinema 4-Wall Select,” the initiative allows filmmakers to show their work in the weighty media market of Manhattan.

Read more: NY's Quad Cinema Adapts to...

2010 Cinema Eye Awards Celebrate Documentaries

Nonfiction film’s finest came out for Cinema Eye's third annual bash, the Cinema Eye Honors, at Manhattan’s glass-curtained Times Center. In an award ceremony itself worthy of a trophy — for Outstanding Achievement in Unscripted Vamping — the organization saluted a dozen top achievements in documentary craft and innovation. Louie Psihoyos' stealth inquest into dolphin abuse, The Cove, swept three medals, including for Outstanding Nonfiction Feature, Outstanding Production and Outstanding Cinematography.

Director Lou Psihoyos and dolphin trainer Ric O’BarryAmong the presenters were "goddaddy of American documentary" Albert Maysles, cinematographer and long-incubating director Ellen Kuras, former Cinema Eye winning filmmaker Amir Bar-Lev and animator Bill Plympton. In an 11th-hour swap of rhyming last names, documentarian Doug Block replaced comedian/filmmaker Chris Rock on the presenters lineup.

Veteran doc director Barbara Kopple conferred the Cinema Eye Legacy Award on Ross McElwee, for his 1986 classic, Sherman’s March. That the two-time Oscar laureate is famed for her prodigious amount of coverage whereas McElwee’s feature shoot logged a monkish 25 hours of footage was a gentle irony not lost on the gathered insiders.

Thom Powers, chair of the Cinema Eye Honors Nominations Committee and documentary programmer for the Toronto International Film Festival, held down a chat with McElwee, adducing added evidence of Cinema Eye’s unorthodox take on award do's.

One of the most memorable quotes of the evening came from presenter Peter Davis, whose landmark film, Hearts and Minds, won an Academy Award in 1975. Remembering a time "when the air was clean and sex was dirty," Davis surveyed the past and ongoing importance of nonfiction production.

Cinema Eye co-chairs Esther Robinson and AJ Schnack emceed, entertaining the black velvet and denim crowd with Mad Libs, apologetically earnest quotes and tender disses. "We all know awards are bullshit," copped Schnack in a welcome flash of jovial snark following one especially lengthy ramble.

Agnès Varda took the Cinema Eye for Outstanding Direction. Accepting the statuette on The Beaches of Agnès filmmaker’s behalf was her veteran production designer, Franckie Diago.

Animator/Presenter Billy PlymptonAnders Østergaard's smuggled footage expose, Burma VJ, bagged two awards — Outstanding International Feature and Outstanding Achievement in Editing — as did Michael Palmieri and Donal Mosher’s October Country, a portrait of an American family that was decorated Outstanding Debut and Original Music Score.

The Audience Choice prize went to September Issue, RJ Cutler's off-wings probe of Vogue magazine. Jessica Oreck's debut feature, Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo, won Cinema Eye Spotlight Award. The newly created Spotlight Award is bestowed as a corrective, to give proper due to a film that has flown under the domestic radar.

Two categories, Original Music Score and the Spotlight Award, were determined by a special jury that included Laurie Anderson and Jason Kohn, respectively.

Nearly 100 feature-length nonfiction films contended for this year’s Cinema Eyes. Documentary programmers from 14 film festivals in North America and Europe picked the nominees.

Committee members included:

Meira Blaustein (Woodstock)
Tom Hall (Sarasota and Newport)
Doug Jones (Los Angeles)
David Kwok (Tribeca)
Caroline Libresco (Sundance)
Janet Pierson (SXSW)
Sky Sitney (Silverdocs)
Sadie Tillery (Full Frame)
Heather Croall (Sheffield)
Fowlie (Camden)
Sean Farnel (Hot Docs)
David Wilson (True/False)

2010 Cinema Eye Honorees:

Outstanding Achievement in Nonfiction Feature Filmmaking
The Cove
Directed by Louie Psihoyos
Produced by Paula DuPré Pesman and Fisher Stevens

Outstanding Achievement in Direction
Agnès Varda
The Beaches of Agnès

Outstanding Achievement in International Feature Filmmaking
Burma VJ
Directed by Anders Østergaard
Produced by Lise-Lense Møller

Outstanding Achievement in Debut Feature Filmmaking
October Country
Directed by Michael Palmieri and Donal Mosher

Outstanding Achievement in Production
Paula DuPré Pesman and Fisher Stevens
The Cove

Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography
Brook Aitken
The Cove

Outstanding Achievement in Editing
Janus Billeskov-Jansen and Thomas Papapetros
Burma VJ
Outstanding Achievement in Original Music Score
Danny Grody, Donal Mosher, Michael Palmieri, Ted Savarese and Kenric Taylor

October Country

Outstanding Achievement in Graphic Design and Animation (tie)
Bigstar for
Food, Inc.
Francis Hanneman, Darren Pasemko, Kent Hugo, Omar Majeed, Brett Gaylor + The Open Source Cinema Community for
RIP: A Remix Manifesto

Spotlight Award
Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo

Directed by Jessica Oreck

Audience Choice Prize
The September Issue
Directed by RJ Cutler

Legacy Award
Sherman’s March
Directed by Ross McElwee

For more information on both the awards and Cinema Eye go to:

Rooftop Films Seeks Support

As the 2009 Summer Series winds down, a severe gap in the budget threatens to drastically shrink its future programming. The organization must raise $70,000 by October to ensure that Rooftop Films can continue without compromise in 2010. Donations from supporters – whether it’s $1,000 or $100 or $10 – is crucial to that effort.

Bringing independent film to the diverse communities of New York City is central to its mission, which is why the 2009 Summer Series has gone ahead as planned despite major budget cuts behind the scenes. In fact, this has been a banner year for Rooftop – more premieres than ever before, groundbreaking partnerships with organizations like International Film Festival Rotterdam and Reel 13, and record audiences. By the end of the season, it will have presented more than 40 nights of incredible films in incredible locations.

Understanding that the economic crisis has affected audiences as well, buying tickets to a Rooftop show probably seems harder than it did a year ago. At this critical moment, though, it must ask for additional contributions to ensure that it can continue with  programs in the coming years.

To read more about the programs donations will support, visit the website at

Assessing Last Year's Movies Through The Lens of This Year’s Golden Globe Nominees

"The Shape of Water"

Just as the Waterford ball drops, so does the anticipation for the 75th annual Golden Globes — the first major awards show of 2018. Being broadcast live, the show can be seen on NBC, Sunday, January 7th, starting at 8pm EST.

And since the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s 90 or so critics divide their cinematic choices into two oddly skewed categories — “Best Motion Picture - Drama” and “Best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy” — there’s 10 films to consider as the possiblebestsof the year.

Which of course begs the question of how to assess these choices they’ve made into nominees. Can one at least take advantage of their odd splitting of categories which allows for more nominees to be assessed and under slightly different terms?

First, here’s the films in the running for the Globes Best Of Movies categories. Up for the “Best Motion Picture - Drama” is “Call Me by Your Name,” ”Dunkirk,” "The Post,” “The Shape of Water" and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.”

doug jones 20171205 145338 copyAs for the HFPA’s choices of “Best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy,” there’s these films: “The Disaster Artist,” "Get Out,” “I, Tonya" “Lady Bird” and "The Greatest Showman.”  None of these films are out-and-out comedies but at least “Showman” is a genuine song-and-dance original musical. I’ll bypass commenting on it since I haven’t yet seen it.

With the other pictures, they could easily land on any indie “best of” list. They’re all essentially small productions with either breakout talent or leads who have performed well before but provide nearly tour de force performances in these films.  In both “I, Tonya" and “Lady Bird” their respective female leads manage career-defining performances. "Get Out” seems like a horror film but is really a well-crafted genre bender. And James Franco really imbues “The Disaster Artist” with the idiosyncrasy it merits.

But the Best Director category really reflects how different these choices for this year’s nominees are. Guillermo del Toro (“The Shape of Water”) and Martin McDonagh (“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”) represent films where the creators push the envelope. The former is a love fable built on the platform of a horror film and the latter is a darkly comic thriller cum protest film.

Ridley Scott (“All The Money in the World”) and Steven Spielberg (“The Post”) reflect those who use a mainstream, tried-and-true approach to polished directing. And both of their films have a sense of importance and offer relevant social criticism. The first tackles the role that traditional media has in illuminating the wrongs committed by government; the second addresses the wrongs a man can commit when he has too much money and power — in this case those wronged are his own family.  

Christopher Nolan (“Dunkirk”) really causes us to re-evaluate the traditional war drama by focusing on a moment of history — when 300,000 British troops were trapped by Nazi invaders on Dunkirk’s beach in 1940 — to throw audiences into the experience of being there.

None of the choices for “Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Drama” can be faulted, yet this set offers few surprises. In picking tried-and-true veterans Jessica Chastain (“Molly's Game”) Frances McDormand (“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”) and Michelle Williams (“All the Money in the World”) the HFPA relies on actors who offer consistent quality performances but not necessarily ones that are career-defining. And Meryl Streep (“The Post”) so often lands on the list, its almosttooexpected that this choice for nominee is not to be trusted to be the best since she lands on the list every time. She does a fine job in this film but her effort is that of a craft person and is not her best work.

Only with Sally Hawkins (“The Shape of Water”) did these arbiters anoint a performer with a nomination which is so deserved because the actress did something pretty off-base in playing a character who never speaks and who falls in love with an aquatic creature.

allthemoneyWith the “Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Drama” category, there’s at least two candidates — Daniel Day-Lewis (“Phantom Thread”) and Gary Oldman (“Darkest Hour”) — who provide some surprises. Of the two, Oldman is my choice for the award. The performances of Tom Hanks (“The Post”) and Denzel Washington (“Roman J. Israel, Esq.”) are top flight but that’s expected with these consummate professionals. But it’s in Timothée Chalamet (“Call Me by Your Name”) that a new talent gets the exposure he deserves for his performance as a confused teenager who engages in a life-defining affair with an older man.

In the “Best Actress in a Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy,” several films deserving attention got highlighted thanks to the skillfully drawn characterizations of historical figures by Judi Dench (“Victoria & Abdul”), Margot Robbie ("I, Tonya”), and Emma Stone (“Battle of the Sexes”). Saoirse Ronan (“Lady Bird”) deftly played an idiosyncratic young woman who is coming of age. But as to Helen Mirren’s work in "The Leisure Seeker," I know little since I haven’t seen the film.

As for Best Performance by an “Actor in a Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy,” Steve Carell (“Battle of the Sexes”) and Daniel Kaluuya (“Get Out”) certainly define the pictures they are in. I am less sure of the work by Ansel Elgort (“Baby Driver") James Franco (“The Disaster Artist”) and Hugh Jackman (“The Greatest Showman”). I haven’t seen these films, but these actors have  been awarded enough accolades by cinematic cognoscenti that I trust they are worthy of the nomination.

floridaIn the “Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture” category, the nominated actors veer outside the expected. Octavia Spencer (“The Shape of Water”) has been a film award nominee previously; everyone else here in this category do their films proud enough to equally qualify for the award. I couldn’t say whether Mary J. Blige (“Mudbound”), Hong Chau (”Downsizing”), Allison Janney (“I, Tonya”), Laurie Metcalf (“Lady Bird”) deserve the award because all of these performances were excellent. But I admit to favoring Hong Chau since the film and her performance is so quirky. As for “Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture,” candidates Willem Dafoe (”The Florida Project”), Armie Hammer (“Call Me by Your Name”), Richard Jenkins (“The Shape of Water”), Christopher Plummer (“All the Money in the World”) and Sam Rockwell (“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”) are all meritorious choices. But the one that was unexpected or least less predictable has to be Willem Dafoe’s in a uniquely unvarnished film. The one actor not on the list who is really deserving a nomination is Doug Jones as the creature in “The Shape of Water” — he gave it an emotionally rich life even though hidden by costuming.

For the sake of brevity and focus, I will bypass commenting on the other categories of “Best Screenplay in a Motion Picture” and “Best Original Score in a Motion Picture.” I will add though, if for nothing else, I want "Loving Vincent" to win in the “Best Animated Film” category because of its amazing originality -- it's the first animated film to be made entirely of images based on Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings and style. As for “Best Motion Picture - Foreign Language,” everyone one of the nominees — "A Fantastic Woman.” “First They Killed My Father,” “In the Fade,” "Loveless" and "The Square" — are powerful examples of cinematic story-telling. Nonetheless, I admire Angelina Jolie for making “First They Killed My Father,” a painful narrative about the atrocities committed by Cambodia’s genocidal Khymer Rouge. And check out “The Square” which is a searing critique of the art world.

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