A Better Life

Demián Bichir is the sort of actor who’s been doing great work for a while now, but who has still failed to achieve mainstream recognition. When he got a high profile role playing Fidel Castro in Steven Soderbergh’s Che, most of the buzz coming out of the picture was surrounding Benicio Del Toro’s work in the title role, or how Oscar Isaac was going to use it as a launching pad on to bigger things. He landed a role as a recurring character on the hit Showtime series Weeds, but all of the talk surrounding that show concerns Mary Louise-Parker’s increasingly frequent nude scenes, and not what a slimy and intimidating villain Bichir makes. He even got rave reviews and an Oscar Nomination for Best Actor for his starring role in A Better Life, but the film went criminally unseen by the public, getting its widest release on only 216 screens. The Oscar nod did seem to give the guy a little bit of juice in Hollywood, however, as he was reportedly close to getting the villain role in Star Trek 2, but had to turn it down due to stage commitments. And now Variety has a report that the actor has not one, but two big projects lined up for the future. Apparently he’s not only negotiating to join Robert Rodriguez’s upcoming sequel Machete Kills, but he’s also set to star as an Israeli operative in The Exorcist director William Friedkin’s next thriller, Trapped.

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Earlier this week, our own Cole Abaius announced the first wave of this year’s Tribeca Film Festival‘s film lineup. That assault was impressive enough, complete with lots of compelling picks in the World Narrative Feature Competition, World Documentary Feature Competition
, and Viewpoints sections, but today’s release of the final feature film sections is a whole other volley of firepower. With today’s announcement of their Spotlight, Cinemania, Special Screenings, and the 2012 Tribeca/ESPN Sports Film Festival, the fest has completed their feature announcements – and made me start to wonder if I should try to hit Gotham for the festival, running April 18 – 29. Picks that stand out to me already include the delightful 2 Days in New York, Chicken With Plums, Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey, The Giant Mechanical Man, Headshot, Lola Versus, Take This Waltz, Your Sister’s Sister, and Sleepless Night. Check out the full list of films (along with Tribeca-provided synopses) after the break.

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Boiling Point

The 84th Academy Awards have come and gone: let the bitching begin! As someone who is more of a genre fan than anything, I’ve never really cared too much about the Oscars, but that sure as hell doesn’t prevent me from complaining about them. Granted, over the years, some great films have won. I’m a big fan of Unforgiven and I dug Shakespeare In Love. I just think far too many good films are ignored in favor of “Oscar movies.” I can’t say that I was particularly impressed with any of the films nominated this year, but there were a few categories were I feel like the little golden man statue when to the wrong film. Luckily, the internet exists and I can complain about it!

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Oscar 2012 Predictions: Best Actor

Each year, there’s a certain group of people who bemoan the Oscars (and pretty much every other organization’s awards) for being nothing but a popularity contest. They’re right, of course, but the Oscars also helps set the standard for quality films… at least quality films from those who are popular in the industry. However, when it comes to the Academy Award for Best Actor, it’s probably the biggest popularity contest out there (only to be matched by the battle for the Best Actress Oscar, of course). It’s not just about who gave the most solid performance in a motion picture, but also who schmoozes the best at parties and on the red carpet. These awards are also often sewn up early and are less unpredictable than the lower profile awards for Costume Design and Sound Editing (Jane Eyre and Transformers represent, yo!). Still, as one of the “big six” awards, Best Actor is an important one. A nomination alone can breathe new life into a career. Just look at what it did for John Travolta in the mid-90s. Likewise, winning an award can help make you a superstar, like it did for Nicolas Cage around the same time. (Of course, now the Academy claims no responsibility for Cage’s more recent career choices.) In any respect, this year’s race for Best Actor presents a slate of great performances from newcomers and veterans alike, even if it’ll all be a popularity contest in the end. Read on for the nominations and my […]

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It’s been a year filled with silent screen stars seeking redemption, the 1920s coming alive in Paris, a young boy searching for the first great director, sex addicts in New York City, horses going to war, maids of dishonor, and skulls getting crushed in elevators. Now it’s time to celebrate all of those things and more with the 84th annual Academy Awards. They’ve come a long way since the Hotel Roosevelt in 1929 (although sex addicts have almost always been a fixture). Get to ready to smile, ball your fists with snubbed rage, or be generally unsurprised. Here they are. The 2012 Oscar nominees:

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When I was given the opportunity to interview French composer Alexandre Desplat, the question wasn’t what I would ask him, it was how many questions I would be able to get in. One of the busiest composers in the business, just this year alone Desplat has created the scores for The Tree of Life, A Better Life, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, The Ides of March, Carnage, and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and is already on deck to compose next year’s Moonrise Kingdom. Desplat first caught my attention a few years ago when I realized he was the composer behind both the quirky score for Fantastic Mr. Fox and the epic score for Twilight Saga: New Moon – two very different films with two very different musical tones. Having won Film Composer of the Year at the World Soundtrack Awards, it is clear that the rest of the world is starting to take notice as well. As this year comes to a close, I spoke with Desplat about what inspires him, his composing process, the differences between working on American and French films, and how he balances his various projects while keeping his passion for composing fresh with each go around.

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This Week in DVD

Let’s just get this out of the way right now. You probably won’t agree with my placement of one or more of the three films in the AVOID section below. And that’s okay. If you like an actor or filmmaker behind one of the films then definitely check it out for yourself. Just know that they’re not good movies. All three of them actually came close to joining the RENT category but for every one thing that worked ten others failed miserably. The directors behind them (Jake Kasdan, Kevin Smith, Chris Weitz) have made far better films in the past, and they’ll probably go on to make more going forward. But these are their bumps in the road, and they should probably be saved for cable. As always, if you see something you like, click on the image to buy it. Aftershock China’s Tangshan earthquake killed 240,000 people in 1976, and from that disaster comes this affecting and emotionally powerful tale of loss, guilt, and forgiveness. A building collapse traps two twins, a boy and a girl, beneath a concrete slab. Saving one means killing the other, and their mother is forced with making a heart-wrenching choice… “Save my son.” Unbeknownst to her though, the little girl survives and never forget her mother’s words. Now thirty years later a second earthquake draws that adult daughter back to China to help the victims and confront the mother who left her for dead. The film skips what would have been a couple […]

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It’s a shame that Chris Weitz may call it quits on directing this early. While he says below that he may not be done yet, there was something sad about him saying directing just isn’t that “fun” for him anymore. As Weitz pointed out, the news of his possible retirement didn’t quite rank up there with all the crying old ladies Steven Soderbergh got when he announced his a few-years-off retirement, but after Twilight: New Moon, could you blame some people for not protesting? Had the news come out after his latest film was released, A Better Life, there would have been much more disappointment to the idea. If anything good came out of us having to sit through New Moon, Weitz got to make a modest character drama that we don’t see too often. After The Golden Compass (a film he’s publicly called a failure multiple times) and New Moon, it seemed like the director had turned to big-budgeted commerce driven projects, rather than continuing in making great dramas, like About a Boy. But, as he says below, unless you don’t carry enough clout from doing films like Twilight, getting a studio drama like this off the ground wouldn’t be easy. Here’s what director Chris Weitz had to say about leaving filmmaking behind, finding emotional authenticity, and whether or not making A Better Life gave him a brighter outlook on directing.

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With A Better Life, director Chris Weitz moves away from the big-scale Hollywood fantasy filmmaking of The Golden Compass and Twilight: New Moon to an intimate tale of the relationship between a father and a son in search of a stolen vehicle. Obvious comparisons to Vittorio De Sica’s The Bicycle Thief aside, A Better Life is the type of movie I’m surprised hadn’t been made precisely this way before. Sure, there have been many films about illegal immigration as an issue, but to pare the issue down, without oversimplifying it, to a straightforward tale of human relationships and the difficulties of everyday life seems as natural and familiar a story as it is a brave and risky one. There are certainly bumps along the road of watching A Better Life, but for a premise that easily lends itself to hamfisted didacticism or a superficial, characters-representing-perspectives brand of melodrama (read: Crash), Weitz’s film—while certainly not always subtle—ultimately emerges triumphant and genuinely touching because of its graceful sincerity.

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The Reject Report

And around and around it goes. Kind of like the box office. It comes and goes, and sometimes you look around and wonder what exactly is changing? Well, the movies are getting bigger. The animation is getting slicker. And the sequels are starting to take over. They’ve even got PIXAR in their grubby claws this weekend. Cars 2 is the big Summer movie, the likeliest candidate to the the top spot, but where will it rank among the rest of Pixar’s slate? Does Bad Teacher have a shot at a big opening? Is Ryan Reynolds still flying around space or did he get eaten by the Super 8 monster? Okay, that last question probably won’t be broached, but we’ll hit on everything else in this week’s Reject Report.

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