Director: Antonio Campos
Potential nominations: Breakthrough (Campos), body of work (Michael Stuhlbarg)
Notes: Ever get that strange feeling that you admire the hell out of a movie without necessarily digging it all that much? That’s how I felt about Afterschool, a film that announces the presence of a supremely gifted director but which didn’t really hit me on my wavelength. The latter part is sort of surprising, considering how many of Campos’ influences (Wiseman, Haneke, Egoyan, etc.) I think are awesome. And if I wasn’t quite feeling Afterschool, it wasn’t because of lack of ambition. After all, Campos has a lot on his plate here, first and foremost the role of video and electronic mediation in today’s world. So accustomed are we to viewing the world through the lens of YouTube that it’s easy to lose sight of what’s outside the frame- the clip form makes the content easily digestible, so that context scarcely matters.
An admirable message to be sure, but Campos’ lack of subtlety in relaying it holds the film back from greatness. This is especially true of Rob’s (Ezra Miller) dialogue with his counselor, in which he talks about looking for “something real,” a rather ham-fisted attempt to explain an early scene in which a Rob mimics a porn video by choking his girl in order to get a spontaneous reaction from her. Rob is a textbook voyeur, whether he’s holding a camera or watching videos, and Campos has little to say on the subject of voyeurism that hasn’t been said by Peeping Tom or Benny’s Video. Video puts distance between Rob and the world, and by the end of the film he’s only comfortable bridging that distance when he can manipulate it.
That said, Afterschool is an impressive piece of work from the relative newcomer Campos, a scant 23 years old when he made it. His filmmaking decisions here- the shallow-focus objective shots, the deliberately off-kilter framing- reveal his confidence behind the camera. In addition, he’s crafted one of the few genuinely effective 9/11-inspired narratives I’ve seen, in which the destruction of two beautiful girls and the schoolwide mourning that results (complete with “never forget” banners and memorial services) motivate the school’s administrators to crack down hard on students, take a “with us or against us” stand against offenders, and re-imagine their deaths by slathering on the sentimentality and whitewashing the suffering. Afterschool certainly isn’t perfect, but it’s also the kind of movie I wish more independent filmmakers would make- the kind that takes chances one can only take without the money men breathing down your neck. I’m looking forward to what Campos does next.
Rating (out of 10): 7.
Since I’m running out of time, some drive-by comments on the other stuff I’ve seen lately:
Director: Duncan Jones
Potential nominations: Male lead (Sam Rockwell), breakthrough (Jones), music (Clint Mansell)
Notes: Rented this one mostly because Rockwell gave one of my favorite performances of the past decade (in Joshua), and I was curious to see him essentially acting opposite himself. And in the first reel or so, this holds a good amount of interest, as Jones does a fine job imagining the loneliest job imaginable- the sole inhabitant of a remote colony on the dark side of the moon, mining moon rocks for energy. Unfortunately, Jones can’t resist the urge to impose a plot on the story, so he throws a twist into the movie that is meant to be mindblowing but I found fairly predictable. From there on it, it’s mostly of interest for the Rockwell show, and for the lunar effects, which are surprisingly convincing for a movie that was obviously low-budget. Am curious to see what Jones can do in the future, but I hope he gets better material next time.
Director: Martin Provost
Potential nominations: Female lead (Yolande Moreau), male supporting (Ulrich Tukur)
Notes: You know, as fine as Moreau and Tukur were here, what really drew me into this film was its re-creation of French provincial life in the early part of the 20th century. There’s no tradition-of-quality style opulence for Provost and his crew- the world of the film is one of run-down rented country houses and dingy flats, and weed-filled meadows and overgrown woods are never far away. Consequently, the world of Seraphine feels lived-in in a way that many period films never do. I could never have bought Seraphine’s story had I not first bought the world that produced her, but I never had a moment’s doubt. Eventually, Provost slips more and more into biopic clichés, yet I was always able to enjoy the film as a re-creation of this particular time and place, as well as for its fine principal performances. And sometimes, that’s good enough.
Title: The Maid
Director: Sebastian Silva
Potential nominations: Female lead (Catalina Saavedra), female supporting (Mariana Loyolla), breakthrough (Silva, Saavedra, Loyolla)
Notes: I don’t think I can accurately judge the film as a whole, considering that the projector lamp went dark twice during my screening, and the first time this happened the film continued running without an image for more than five minutes. But while I not doubt missed some key narrative points and motifs, I saw enough of the movie to know that I want to see more. The film is anchored by a incendiary performance by Saavedra as Raquel, the long-serving domestic to a Chilean family who has become so entrenched in the house that she is fiercely protective of her position whenever she feels threatened. She’s nicely balanced by Loyolla as Lucy, the latest in a series of backup maids hired to help Raquel when her health begins to fail, and Loyolla does a fine job at playing Raquel’s polar opposite, an irreverent job-hopper who succeeds in pulling the senior servant out of her shell. Of course, this description of things sounds over-simplified, and would surely be more complex had I been able to see everything. Until that time comes, I can say for sure that I found The Maid to be an intriguing piece of work- sometimes funny, sometimes nasty, but often fascinating.
Rating: hovering around 7-ish; need to see again.
And just for fun, I decided to try my hand at predicting the Muriels results. I made the following list below prior to receiving any ballots, but I wanted to delay posting it until everyone had voted. So, a propos of nothing, my predictions for this year’s Muriels.
1. Inglourious Basterds
3. Fantastic Mr. Fox
4. The Hurt Locker
5. A Serious Man
Best Male Lead:
1. Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker
2. Michael Stuhlbarg, A Serious Man
3. George Clooney, Up in the Air
4. Michael Fassbender, Hunger
5. Matt Damon, The Informant!
Best Female Lead:
1. Melanie Laurent, Inglourious Basterds
2. Carey Mulligan, An Education
3. Tilda Swinton, Julia
4. Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia
5. Abbie Cornish, Bright Star
Best Male Supporting:
1. Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds
2. Peter Capaldi, In the Loop
3. Anthony Mackie, The Hurt Locker
4. Jackie Earle Haley, Watchmen
5. Jason Schwartzman, Fantastic Mr. Fox
Best Female Supporting:
1. Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air
2. Mo’Nique, Precious
3. Diane Kruger, Inglourious Basterds
4. Vera Farmiga, Up in the Air
5. Catherine Keener, Where the Wild Things Are
1. Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds
2. Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
3. Joel and Ethan Coen, A Serious Man
4. Wes Anderson, Fantastic Mr. Fox
5. Spike Jonze, Where the Wild Things Are
Best Cinematic Moment:
1. Carl and Ellie grow old together, Up
2. Opening scene, Inglourious Basterds
3. Bobby meets the priest, Hunger
4. Ash’s triumphant “hotbox!”, Fantastic Mr. Fox
5. Meeting in a basement, Inglourious Basterds
Best Screenplay: Inglourious Basterds
Best Ensemble: Inglourious Basterds
Best Cinematography: The Hurt Locker
Best Music: Up
Best Breakthrough: Jeremy Renner
Best Body of Work: George Clooney
Best Web-Based Criticism: The Onion A.V. Club
10th Anniversary Award: Eyes Wide Shut
25th Anniversary Award: This Is Spinal Tap
50th Anniversary Award: North by Northwest
1. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
2. There Will Be Blood
3. In the Mood for Love
4. Mulholland Dr.
5. The New World
Best Male Performance: Daniel Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood
Best Female Performance: Naomi Watts, Mulholland Dr.
Best Body of Work, Director: Quentin Tarantino
So how’d I do? Find out when Steve Carlson announces the awards starting on Sunday, February 7. And if you’d like to chime in with your predictions, feel free to use the comments section below.
Finally, I’d rather keep my votes under wraps until all the Muriels are announced, but I feel okay posting a video of my favorite Cinematic Moment of 2009. If you’ve seen the movie, this needs no explanation. And if you haven’t, consider this a taste:
And while there’s no award for best Cinematic Moment of the 2000s, I figure I’d post my choice below. Hell, just hearing the music practically brings a tear to me eye. Yes, one would be hard-pressed to top this one, says I:
Except for maybe this one, of course: