One of the reasons "12 Years a Slave" works so well is that it's rather naturally structured as a thriller. As the film follows Solomon Northup from freedom to shackles, his circumstances -- kidnapped in Washington D.C. and sold into slavery in the south -- are just terrifying, and director Steve McQueen follows that natural structure with convention and invention in equal measure.
AFI Fest has come out swinging with a pair of big premieres for the 2013 edition of the Los Angeles-based festival and a closing night selection reflective of an American indie skipping across the festival circuit like a stone this year.
VENICE - Venice festival scheduling is a business that can seem haphazard at best, and perverse at worst. Kim Ki-duk's castration-and-incest bonanza "Moebius" straight after breakfast? Sure. Philip Groning's three-hour, 59-chapter dissection of domestic abuse to finish the day? Hey, why not? Sometimes, however, they let on that they really know what they're doing with a juxtaposition that seems too perfect to be accidental -- and they don't come much more effectively on-the-nose than last night's back-to-back double bill of Alex Gibney's "The Armstrong Lie" (B-) and Errol Morris' "The Unknown Known" (C+). (Even the titles have a pleasingly similar cadence.) It wasn't labelled in the programme as The Great American Douchebags Special, but we got the idea.
Perhaps it's a side effect of viewing them with only a 20-minute, theater-traversing in between, but the films seemed too well-matched -- not just in content, but in a number of their strongest and weakest points -- to review separately, even if they'll rarely be re-partnered outside the festival environment.
Ron Howard's "Rush" has occupied some prime real estate throughout our Contenders section for a number of weeks. Lots of "but racing movies don't register" and "it looks too commercial" or whatever greeted the suggestion that it could be an Oscar player. There's been a reason we've had a lot of faith in it: people love this movie. And today, Variety's Peter Debruge has posted a cartwheel-turning rave up one side and down the other.
I caught the film just before the Telluride Film Festival and had high hopes. I've been hearing stellar things about this one for a while now, particularly Daniel Brühl's performance. So maybe expectation was too high, but it felt like something was missing for me. Peter Morgan's script awkwardly makes its way through a story of rivalry and friendship between Formula One racing stars Niki Lauda (Brühl) and James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and it doesn't quite hit the high marks it apparently thinks it hits. But it's not like the film is a big miss or anything. There's a lot to appreciate here and I think it will continue to gather fans, perhaps on the way to major Oscar recognition.
VENICE - I want to sit with Jonathan Glazer's "Under the Skin" for a while longer before writing about it at length: the film's hard surfaces are so immaculate, belying the powerful, frayed-nerve story of multiple forms of bodily invasion that nestles inside, that I may take in a second screening at Venice before trying to crack them. This much is immediately apparent: it's the riskiest, most extravagantly sensual and image-fuelled film in Competition at Venice. Naturally, a handful of dolts booed it at this morning's press screening. What else is new?
TELLURIDE, Colo. - The 40th annual Telluride Film Festival has come to a close, unofficially launching the Oscar season and wrapping up another wonderfully curated program that continues to be one of my most anticipated journeys each year.
TELLURIDE, Colo. - The 2013 Telluride Film Festival has come to a close and, overall, the quality of the slate was befitting the event's 40th anniversary. Granted, you might have expected more celebratory moments, but Telluride has always been about the movies first. Parties? Special ceremonies? Eh, they'll stick with the annual Thursday "feed" and Labor Day picnic thank you very much.
VENICE - Playing an online shrink, Tilda Swinton raps for about 30 seconds at the midpoint of "The Zero Theorem" -- a stiff, Scots-accented Fresh Prince breakdown performed from under a broom-like hairpiece. It doesn't advance the story in any way, but then, nothing here does; her screen is switched off and the rap passes without comment, like a slippery fart in an elevator; the onscreen witnesses look sheepish to have heard it at all.
TELLURIDE, Colo. - Like any artist, J.C. Chandor isn't interested in tying his work down with one thematic takeaway. Indeed, his latest film, "All is Lost," lives in the abstract and can service any number of perspectives on it. But for a guy who launched his career with the financial crisis indie "Margin Call," one can't help but wonder if this film, about a man stranded at sea as things go from bad to worse, isn't in some way a metaphor for market collapse and financial ruin as seen over the last five years.
The Telluride Film Festival wraps up today and with that, the upcoming awards season has finally taken a little shape. We have a long way to go, of course, and no one should be calling the race from this far out, but we certainly know a few things.