The ten films that made the Academy Award for Best International Feature shortlist

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Back in May, Mati Diop became the first black woman to compete for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival for her Atlantics (2019), which lost to Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite (2019), but won the Grand Prix; if Parasite or Atlantics are nominated at the Oscars, they will be the first for South Korea and Senegal, respectively. (Image Courtesy: The Seattle Times).

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced Monday their Best International Feature shortlist, the name for the category having been changed from “Best Foreign Language Film,” according to The Seattle Times. The ten shortlisted movies are: Václav Marhoul’s The Painted Bird (2019, the Czech Republic); Tanel Toom’s Truth and Justice (2019, Estonia); Ladj Ly’s Les Misérables (2019, France); Barnabas Toth’s Those Who Remained (2019, Hungary); Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov’s Honeyland (2019, North Macedonia); Jan Komasa’s Corpus Christi (2019, Poland); Kantemir Balagov’s Beanpole (2019, Russia); Mati Diop’s Atlantics (2019, Senegal); Bong Joon-ho’s  Parasite (2019, South Korea); and Pedro Almodóvar’s Pain and Glory (2019, Spain). The nominees for the Ninety-Second Academy Awards will be announced January 13, and the ceremony will be held February 9 in Los Angeles.

Canadian filmmaking team releases short, live-action “Pokémon” film

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Leading lady Abby Clifford says the greatest challenge she faced during the filming process was acting like a rock or a puck was a Pokémon.  (Image Courtesy: CBC).

Luke Halyk’s Pokémon: Call to Adventure (2019) is a passion project the Saskatchewan-based filmmaker co-produced with cinematographer Joel Kereluke, who he met while the two were studying at the University of Regina, according to CBC. Shot over three days with a local cast and crew, the YouTube video stars sixteen-year-old Abby Clifford as Sophia, an aspiring Pokémon trainer, and the animated material was outsourced to Giuseppe Morabito in Italy. Halyk says the prototypical hero’s journey found in the video game series, about a protagonist from humble origins overcoming obstacles to go on an adventure, is what grants Pokémon its universal appeal.

 

“The Guardian” runs an obituary for Danny Aiello

Bouncer, baggage handler, trade unionist, and American film actor Danny Aiello died Thursday at eighty-six years old, after playing thuggish supporting roles for a decade and a half before becoming a star in his mid-fifties, according to The Guardian. Born to a large family in New York on May 20, 1933, with a seamstress mother from Italy as well as a laborer father, Aiello identified most with Humphrey Bogart and James Cagney’s bad guys at the movies, supplementing his income with a life of petty crime. His first screen credit was John D. Hancock’s Bang the Drum Slowly (1973), but it was Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather Part II (1974) that typecast him; however, the 1986 music video for “Papa Don’t Preach” by Madonna gained him exposure on MTV, and Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing (1989) earned him an Academy Award nomination.

Amazon Prime review: Stanley Kubrick’s “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb” (1964)

Between Iran, North Korea, Russia, and the United States, the threat of nuclear holocaust needs to be laughed at again.

If you don’t know what to watch next, Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) is available on Amazon Prime. The political satire black comedy was nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

As producer, director, and co-adapter, the filmmaker himself was up for three out of the four.

Paranoid that the Soviet Union is fluoridating American water supplies to poison our “precious bodily fluids,” General Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden), the Burpelson Air Force Base commander, circumnavigates the Pentagon and orders a nuclear strike against the USSR.

In the War Room, General Buck Turgidson (George C. Scott), President Merkin Muffley (Oscar nominee Peter Sellers), and their scientific adviser, the former Nazi German Doctor Strangelove (also Sellers), scramble to stop Jack from triggering the Soviets’ “doomsday machine.”

Meanwhile, Group Captain Lionel Mandrake (once more Sellers), a Royal Air Force exchange officer, discovers the general’s code to call off the mission, but only after a surface-to-air missile destroys the radio equipment for Major T.J. “King” Kong’s (Slim Pickens) B-52.

In keeping with his style of adapting literary works, Dr. Strangelove is Kubrick’s interpretation of Red Alert by Peter George.

The Writers Guild of America ranked it as the twelfth greatest screenplay ever written, and it was among the first films selected for preservation at the United States Library of Congress’s National Film Registry in 1989.

With ninety-eight percent of critical reviews aggregated through Rotten Tomatoes praising the movie, it is Kubrick’s highest-rated title on the site.

Although this critic still regards A Clockwork Orange (1971) as the auteur’s masterpiece, Kubrick’s versatility with genres is readily apparent in this dark comedy, listed as number three on the American Film Institute’s “100 Years… 100 Laughs.”

A unifying theme throughout all of Kubrick’s works, despite their diversity, is a cerebral, pessimistic take on the human condition. The picture’s resemblance to the nuclear brinkmanship coloring international diplomacy today immortalizes Kubrick’s Cold War art.

But that he can alchemically make of it an entertainment suggests there is hope to be found, even if we must create it ourselves.

The signature Kubrickian style exists not only in the topical fabric of the text, but also in the aesthetical presentation.

The crazy-eyed “Kubrick stare” will never make you laugh more nervously than when you see Sellers construct it via the titular Doctor Strangelove, transcending across genres.

Each frame is blocked as rigidly (which isn’t to say “lifelessly”) as a painting, summoning a cold, sterile, perfectionistic mise en scène.

And the performances under Kubrick’s direction are equally controlled according to his genius; just ask Malcolm McDowell from A Clockwork Orange or Shelley Duvall from The Shining (1980) how “method” a filmmaker he was.

Neither Scott nor Pickens knew their performances were being played for laughs, conflicting a tension against the absurdity of their material, and Sellers makes the most out of his three roles, even though he was only cast in them because of studio interference and not authorial intent.

Scott refused to ever work with Kubrick again when he saw the final product.

Kubrick’s dramatic immersion could be physically as well as psychologically abusive, but it’s only because he was a creative obsessively devoted to fine-tuning his craft, with an ear for soundtracking and an eye for literature, who did so much for filmmaking with so few films.

That said, the representation in this film (or lack thereof) dates it somewhat. Buck’s secretary and mistress, the unnamed Miss Scott (Tracy Reed), is the only female character in the cast, and even then, again, she’s his nameless assistant and lover.

As the only person of color, King’s lieutenant, Lothar Zogg (James Earl Jones), plays second fiddle, too.

But not all representation is good representation, and only white men could be fragile enough to end the world over a pissing contest.

Human Rights Watch announces seventeenth annual film festival

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The settings will range from Armenia to the Philippines to Bangladesh to Iran to the American South. (Image Courtesy: Human Rights Watch).

As part of their new partnership with Hot Docs, Human Rights Watch celebrated International Human Rights Day on Tuesday, by announcing its seventeenth international film festival, which will run from January 30 to February 4, 2020, in Toronto, according to Human Rights Watch. Five free films will be shown, in addition to three special selections for daytime school screenings, with a focus on the resistance against the racism and xenophobia plaguing the highest government offices around the globe. All showings will be followed up by in-depth panels with filmmakers, film subjects, Human Rights Watch researchers, and other special guests.

With more women directing, BBC heralds new golden age of cinema

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French-Senegalese filmmaker Mati Diop’s feature debut, Atlantics (2019), made her the first black female director to compete for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. (Image Courtesy: BBC).

When BBC Culture polled the greatest films directed by women, only nine of the top twenty-five were released before 1990, and a fifth of the top one hundred are dated 1999, 2008, 2014, or 2017, which seems to be symptomatic of a new filmmaking golden age, according to BBC News. Australian critic and Hollywood-based presenter Alicia Malone says the rise of independent film in the 1990s democratized moviemaking, as newer, smaller studios allocated more risk-averse budgets and high-definition consumer video cameras to previously unheard of artists. Tricia Tuttle, the artistic director of the BFI London Film Festival, says it’s still too soon to know whether we’re in a golden age or not, but with four out of the five female nominees for the Best Director Academy Award being nominated after 1990, change is here.

Hulu review: Mike Gabriel and Eric Goldberg’s “Pocahontas” (1995)

Beginning with Ron Clements and John Musker’s The Little Mermaid (1989) and ending with Kevin Lima and Chris Buck’s Tarzan (1999), the Disney Renaissance is to Disney what the Hollywood Renaissance is to Golden Age Hollywood.

Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise’s Beauty and the Beast (1991) may be the first animated film ever eligible for the Best Picture Academy Award, but Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff’s The Lion King (1994) is the studio’s masterstroke.

With Mike Gabriel and Eric Goldberg’s Pocahontas (1995), the overpowered media conglomerate attempts to recapture the prestige of Beauty and the Beast as well as the success of its predecessor, The Lion King, the top-grossing traditionally animated movie of all time.

Ambition paints every frame with all the colors of the wind, but ambition can also dance perilously close to pretension, and one misstep can spell disaster.

If you don’t know what to watch next, Pocahontas is available to stream on Hulu.

The animated musical romantic drama won Best Original Song for “Colors of the Wind,” and composer Alan Menken and lyricist Stephen Schwartz were honored a second time that year with the Oscar for Best Original Musical or Comedy Score.

The eponymous hero would go on to become the first Native American Disney Princess and the first woman of color to lead a cast of Disney characters.

Set in 1607, Captain John Smith (voiced by Mel Gibson) sails with the Virginia Company to the New World in search of adventure.

Once landing in Tsenacommacah, he meets and falls in love with Pocahontas (Irene Bedard, with Judy Kuhn as the singing voice), the free-spirited daughter of Chief Powhatan (Russell Means, with vocals from Jim Cummings).

But the greedy, genocidal Governor Ratcliffe (David Ogden Stiers) is obsessed with pillaging the Powhatan tribe’s land for gold, and his conquest threatens to make a tragedy out of the star-crossed lovers’ forbidden romance.

Artistic liberties are taken in almost all works of historical fiction – to quote Sir Alfred Hitchcock, “Drama is life with all the dull bits cut out” – but the sanitization and whitewashing found in Pocahontas have aged the text poorly.

The real Pocahontas was not a “magical minority,” but, rather, a child bride, and the colonizers didn’t make peace with her people after she learned how to speak English by “listening with her heart.”

As for John Smith, his “exploration” was more correctly an “invasion,” an “imperialization,” and it shouldn’t have taken a “noble savage” like Pocahontas to humanize First Nation people in his eyes (through her sexuality, no less).

This problematic, post-Kevin Costner’s Dances with Wolves (1990) white savior narrative of exotification crystallizes at its most egregious in the musical number, “Savages.”

The back-and-forth parallelism of the song conflates the white supremacy of the European settlers alongside the self-defensive resistance from the indigenous groups, drawing a false equivalency between the two that the First Americans were as intolerant as the British Empire.

Intentionalism is a critical fallacy, and Disney’s white liberal, apologistic intentions here are irrelevant.

If the true story of Pocahontas is too upsetting for their key demographic to understand without reducing the Powhatan culture to something that existed only for white men to appropriate it, then it’s a story that never should be told to children.

But, for what it is within the context of the Disney canon, Pocahontas is an epic entertainment. The soundtrack raises goosebumps, and the animation is as colorful as the signature song.

Apolitically, the love story between John Smith and Pocahontas is one of the most mature and affecting in the Disney universe, and, hey, if nothing else, Ratcliffe is shown to be more villainous than Powhatan.

If your child is too young to learn the real history behind Pocahontas, then at least take care to teach them what reel history means. The insultingly oversimplified themes of the picture will be digestible enough to entertain them, but the more harmlessly so, the better.

And as far as Disney fare goes, its family-friendliness is just as accessible for adults looking to enjoy a more grownup tale of intercultural (though largely fictionalized) romance, as it is for kids looking to sing along to some catchy tunes.