The 6th Annual Davies Awards in Film

A Look Back at 2011:

At times entering a movie theater was like wandering into a vast wasteland in 2011…but there was light…I swear…

Box office receipts were down in 2011 – but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t still a very solid year for cineastes.  A sluggish economy; the ascendance of launching specialty films through VOD; and an unseemly glut of similarly minded, awkwardly titled sequels, prequels, threequels, reboots, preboots, 3D flicks, animated tales and family films left most moviegoers either broke, confused or disillusioned.  Despite this seeming rut, there were still plenty of diamonds in the rough both in the art houses and the cineplexes during this long, weird year in film.  Like Smetana’s Die Moldau (used so righteously by Terrence Malick in The Tree of Life) these great films whispered to us quietly at first, almost like a hum from the distant past…and then announced themselves with bombast.  Memory, myth and the magic of cinema were boldly on display for those willing to indulge.

For those lucky and daring enough to see it, Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul took us down the cosmic rabbit hole and cycled through time in Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (a film technically from 2010, but that didn’t see its limited release stateside until March 2011).  It was a fitting way to start the year, as what emerged from this cosmic cycling for the observant filmgoer was nostalgia run gloriously amuck.  All year-long nostalgia was evidenced in just about anything that gained traction – from multiplex concoctions like Super 8 and Captain America, to art house fare like Midnight in Paris and The Artist, to populist Oscar-grab flicks like Hugo and War Horse.  This longing for the simpler, happier days of the past seemed to be at war with films overwhelmed by an impending doom (see Melancholia, Take Shelter or even Margin Call). Filmmakers were simultaneously hung over from the global economic crisis and fascinated by the 2012 apocalypse predictions.  Meanwhile, the big studios lazily greenlit a ton of stuff we’ve seen before…but in handing these projects over to up-and-coming directors trying to prove something rather than the usual hacks, films like X-Men: First Class, Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol were far more entertaining than they had any right to be.  Continue reading

Advertisements

Sarah’s Key and the Privilege of Choice

What choice did little Sarah have in a world gone mad?

 
It’s tempting to look at old pictures and imagine the history and stories of the people in them.  It’s a way to reach into the past.  It’s a way to invoke nostalgia.  It’s a way to uncover secrets.  It’s become a growing trend amongst Holocaust scholars to move away from the almost unfathomable statistics and instead focus on the faces…the pictures…the singular stories…the individuals.  Nowhere is this more apparent than in Manhattan’s equally magnificent and somber Museum of Jewish Heritage, where an entire wing is dedicated to the display of thousands of family photographs that give the horrors of war a back story and a face. 
 
At a crucial moment in the new French film, Sarah’s Key, our privileged protagonist comes across the photographs of two small children during the course of an investigation.  Up until that point, she was merely crafting a story – but now there were faces to that story.  It was real.  One can’t help but think this notion weighed heavily on the mind of novelist Tatiana De Rosnay as she penned her shrewd Holocaust tale.  Sarah’s Key is part of the complimentary literary/film movement to this Holocaust scholarship where faces replace stats.  Like Sophie’s Choice, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas and The Reader, Gilles Paquet-Brenner’s film is an adaptation of a novel thick with moral complexities where the audience is asked not “Why did this happen?” but instead “What would you have done?”  In these elaborate historical fictions inspired by decades of staring at old photographs, we are asked to step into the shoes of those who did anything to survive and those whose lives were threatened leading to complicit acts that made them explicit accomplices or blindly apathetic to the crimes against humanity. Continue reading