How to Survive a Plague

How to Survive a Plague

Dallas Buyers Club is the newest award-show buzz-maker to hit movie theaters. The film stars Matthew McConaughey as Ron Woodruff, a real-life Texas good ol’ boy who in 1985 was diagnosed with AIDS and given a month to live. Woodruff was nothing if not resourceful, and he dove full-time into the underground market for drugs not approved by the FDA. He ended up living another seven years, during which time he ran the eponymous Dallas Buyers Club, which disseminated these quasi-legal treatments to other AIDS sufferers in the area. The film is both a standard Hollywood biopic and a standard Hollywood AIDS movie. It wraps a person’s life into an easily-unwrapped package (“He learned how to live! And overcame his prejudices!”) and at the same time uses people suffering from AIDS as an easy avenue for tragedy. McConaughey is stratospherically great in the movie, continuing his recent career uptick, but he’s the only thing remarkable about it. READ MORE

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discs simple life

Welcome back to This Week In Discs! As always, if you see something you like, click on the image to buy it. A Simple Life Roger (Andy Lau) is a movie producer who returns home to find that the woman (Deanie Ip) who worked as his family’s maid since he was a child has suffered a stroke. He decides to set aside his affairs and focus on helping her, but as he struggles to manage the role of caregiver she finds it difficult to be the one being cared for. Lau is an international star known more for action films and rom-coms, but he does a fantastic job with the drama here. The real draw though is Ip who manages to deliver a character earns our respect, makes us laugh and breaks our hearts in equal measure. It’s an incredibly sweet film about finding the best in each other and ourselves, and it wisely avoids melodrama in exchange for more time spent developing characters and warm exchanges. [Blu-ray extras: None]

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Best Documentary Feature

At first, it seems like this is an odd year for Best Documentary Feature. A lot of the early favorites weren’t nominated, and some of them didn’t even make the shortlist. I’m thinking of Central Park Five and Bully, and to an extent The House I Live In. However, in spite of how unexpected it feels, that almost always happens. If anything, this is a strange but predictable year for the category. We have a front-runner, even if the list appears to be diverse in content and full of impressively affecting films. Incidentally, watch the winner. This year’s fiction nominees include two films based on prior documentary Oscar-winners. Kon-Tiki in Best Foreign Language Film is based on the journey of Thor Heyerdahl to Polynesia, the documentary of which won in 1952. The Sessions, meanwhile, is based on Jessica Yu’s short doc winner Breathing Lessons. Could we see another Oscar-nominated adaptation from this list? I’m looking at you, Searching for Sugar Man. Here are the nominees with my prediction in red:

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How to Survive a Plague

If you want to sell a movie script, you’ve got to get in the room. But what do you do once you get there? Geoff answers a listener question by explaining what you need to do when prepping a pitch and presenting it to producers (all of whom are throwing knives at you as you speak). Plus, we kick off Oscar Month, celebrating the 99th anniversary of Oscar royalty Charlie Chaplin‘s appearance in film, and Scott engages in an insightful discussion with How to Survive a Plague director David France about his Academy Award-nominated AIDS documentary. Download Episode #4

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ted_02037204

Once upon a time, the Oscar nominations were filled with titles unfamiliar to the regular Joe. Not unknown, necessarily, but at least not widely seen. But today, thanks to all kinds of home video platforms and theatrical distribution for even the short film nominees, it’s not always so impossible to see everything before the big night. To help those of you wishing to be completists, I’ve listed all of this year’s recently announced Oscar nominees and noted how and where you can see them, whether presently or soon enough. It may not be entirely doable, as some foreign films haven’t officially been released here, including one that doesn’t even yet have a date, and some titles are in the middle of their theatrical to DVD window. But there are a bunch that can be streamed right this moment on your computer via Amazon, Google, YouTube and other outlets, each of which I’ve marked accordingly courtesy of GoWatchIt. Only three are through Netflix Watch Instant, by the way (How to Survive a Plague, The Invisible War and Mirror Mirror). And one short has been embedded in the post. 

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The Best Documentaries of 2012

2012′s best documentaries understand people. It’s as simple as that. They include beautiful character portraits, from group pictures like Indie Game: The Movie and El Gusto to individual pieces like Jiro Dreams of Sushi and Marley. Even the most issue-oriented films achieved their strength through keeping things personal, building powerful political and social arguments through the lives of their subjects. They chronicle the lives of victims who are also heroes, filmmakers who are also subjects, and unique characters who end up representing us all.

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Reject Recap: The Best of Film School Rejects

Due to the holiday, the past week has been lacking in movie news and light on posting in general compared to normal. So, if you were worried that all your family time and present opening cut into the hours you could have been reading FSR, don’t be. But that doesn’t mean we’ve been slacking on the features, either. You do have a lot to catch up with if you’ve been away from the site the past seven days, but it’s an organized pile of reading material for you, because most of the necessary content from the week is part of our Year in Review. And hopefully you got an iPad for whichever holiday you celebrate, so you can very easily read all the goods in our special tablet format (and check out the best downloads and apps for movie lovers). Before you get to the lists, take a look at our reviews of the movies that opened this week, including Django Unchained, Promised Land and West of Memphis (we also posted a late take on The Guilt Trip) and our interview with Promised Land director Gus Van Sant. Now, check out our biggest and best stories and original content from the past week after the break.

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The Best Damn Oscar Blog

The Academy is voting! Nomination polls opened on December 17th and close on January 3rd. The two and a half week period might seem like a long time, but it’s going to go by in the blink of an eye, especially with Christmas and the New Year right in the middle. As voters pick through their piles of screeners and decide what to watch, I certainly hope that they dig deep enough to find some of the year’s best unheralded work. In fact, I’m going to suggest a few things. At this point much of the “don’t miss this movie!” conversation has been around performances, a valid pursuit if there ever was one. However, there’s also plenty of under-discussed work in “below the line” categories. Here’s a wish list, five extremely unlikely but entirely deserving nominations that would make me a very happy blogger.

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If you wrote an original romantic screenplay called The Loving Story and the main characters were named Mildred and Richard Loving, that’d seem pretty cheesy. But there’s nothing bogus about the “epunymous” title of an incredibly essential documentary focused on the story of the Lovings, an interracial couple whose union in 1958 led to their arrest and conviction and exile from their home state of Virginia. Eventually their case led to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in favor of mixed-race marriages nationwide, abolishing bans existing at the time in 16 states. The landmark decision took nearly a decade and is one of the most important civil rights triumphs in history. It’s also quite relevant today with the issue of same-sex marriage. Nancy Buirski‘s film doesn’t directly make the link between then and now (though she does in a statement in the film’s press materials), even though Mildred had, until her death, been supportive of gay marriage campaigns and cases referencing herself and Richard via citations of the precedent set forth with Loving v. Virginia. It’s not necessary because we will make the obvious connection ourselves, and it wouldn’t be totally fair to the monumental achievements of half a century ago to impose the parallel. While civil rights histories shall always have unspoken ties to ongoing civil rights struggles, they also have significance of their own without the contemporary context. And The Loving Story is very much a film situated in the past, entirely concerned with the Lovings, their lawyers and what occurred […]

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The Deep Blue Sea

Well, here we go. This was the first of many a week that will keep us on our toes with a number of different awards announcements, from the critics and other precursors to the narrowing of individual Oscar categories.  We got an interesting batch of awards from the National Board of Review and an equally independent-minded assortment from the New York Film Critics Circle. Put that together with the Academy short list for Best Documentary Feature, and it’s been quite the kick-off. And, as usual, not everyone was happy. It’s not awards season unless someone is out there shouting “snub!” Let’s start with the NYFCC and the handful of unexpected choices that they made in their very long, deliberate process. Rachel Weisz came seemingly out of nowhere to win Best Actress, quite the surprise to all but the most imaginative and intelligent pundits. What did this mean? Is there lack of excitement around other, more obvious contenders? Of course, it simply means that a lot of NYC critics saw The Deep Blue Sea and loved Weisz’s performance. Yet that’s not particularly exciting to delve into, especially if you didn’t like the film.

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Last week, filmmaker Joe Berlinger tweeted about a review of West of Memphis at DocGeeks in which the writer wrote, “I’ve never had the time or the energy to watch all 3 Paradise Lost films and, having seen West of Memphis, I’m glad I never bothered to.” As the co-director of the Paradise Lost trilogy, Berlinger had a right to be annoyed with that opening line and not just because West of Memphis probably wouldn’t exist without Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky‘s coverage of the West Memphis 3 cases over the last 20 years. If there’s one thing we as film critics and/or fans should be good at it’s considering the distinction of individual works and the independent perspectives that go into their storytelling craft. With more and more documentaries being made it’s understandable that multiple films will tackle the same specific story. Sometimes they will seem like competitors, and sometimes, as in the case of this year’s two AIDS treatment docs, How to Survive a Plague and United in Anger, they’re actually linked through overlapping producers. Another new film, which just won a Grand Jury Prize at the 2012 DOC NYC documentary film festival and also recently received the Best Documentary Feature award at the Austin Film Festival, is one of the greatest examples of why it’s a wonderful thing that so many docs are being produced, even if some appear to be redundant on the surface. Titled Informant, this film tackles the exact same incident already covered by the […]

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Last night, at a special event in conjunction with the AFI FEST, the nominees for the 2013 Cinema Eye Honors were announced. And once again, the titles contending for the ten feature categories, all of which focus solely on nonfiction films (to make up for the Oscars’ minimal recognition), represent the year’s best in documentaries. As someone who professionally concentrates on docs elsewhere, I tend to feel kinda useless or redundant when Cinema Eye names its nominees, because now when someone asks me what’s great this year I can just point to their list of 31 features. Of course, some of these films are only up for specific honors, like those for original music score and graphic design, and may not be quite as necessary as the six up for the top award or the 10 nominated for the Audience Choice Prize (which sadly, for publicity-sake, lacks a Justin Bieber movie like last year). Also, I could name a bunch of exceptional docs that haven’t been recognized, such as This is Not a Film, The House I Live In, Under African Skies, Beware of Mr. Baker, Last Call at the Oasis, The Queen of Versailles, Girl Model (though its directors are up for Downeast) and The Invisible War. Still, I’m very excited that one of my top three nonfiction films of the year, The Imposter, is one of the most-nominated titles, while I’m even more ecstatic that the CEH could bring more attention to brilliant, lesser-known works like Only the […]

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One of the most difficult Oscar categories for pundits (let alone regular folk) to predict is the one for feature documentary. And this year more than ever it’s going to be hard to pick the five nominees, because changes to the rules of qualification and voting have given the race an extra element of complication: there is no precedent for how things turn out with this particular selection process in place. In a way, it’s a wide-open field with no certainty that higher-grossing films or more issue-oriented titles or discernibly cinematic works have the greater chance at a nod. Some expected the number of contenders to be cut in half as a result of the new rules; instead it grew, much to the chagrin of branch leader Michael Moore. And until the annual shortlist narrows them down to 15, we have 130 eligible films to choose from. But most of those docs aren’t plausible nominees. Many of the kind that Moore gets upset about for paying for a screen rental to qualify aren’t likely to go all the way. So they qualified. Now they have to be good and popular enough for people to notice.

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How to Survive a Plague

David France‘s forthcoming documentary How to Survive a Plague has a title that promises important information for anyone living in the Middle Ages, but its message is entirely modern. It’s that last word, hanging like an antique from too many centuries ago. It’s hard to think of a plague still hanging around, but that’s exactly what AIDS is. It was a misunderstood disease that saw some lawmakers fighting back against finding a cure with any relative speed, but this doc chronicles a group of men and women literally fighting for their lives. Check it out for yourself:

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published: 04.18.2014
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published: 04.18.2014
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published: 04.18.2014
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published: 04.18.2014
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