Margin Call

Margin Call

At the first critical dramatic pivot moment of J.C. Chandor’s solid Margin Call, Zachary Quinto’s Eric stares at his computer screen, carefully removing his earbuds, as the camera slowly cranes downward. The technique demonstrates that Eric has encountered urgent, potentially catastrophic information about the investment bank he is near-anonymously employed at. We never see what Eric sees; instead, the camera – and the audience – occupy the space of the computer itself, as if the information Eric sees should be projected directly on our imaginations. This technique is common amongst recent critically-acclaimed films that use information, math, data, code and the like as major elements in their plots; the information itself, implicitly meaningless and insignificant on its own to mass audiences who likely don’t possess the expertise of characters (or, for that matter, the filmmakers) is only made fleetingly available, if seen at all. Instead, traditional dramatic techniques illustrate the dramatic affect of the information. Films like Margin Call, Moneyball, and The Social Network balance reliable, empathetic experts (i.e., endearing nerds) with naïve everypersons or conventional narrative devices in order to demonstrate the importance of information, largely without exhibiting information itself. This is an interesting yet surprisingly conservative approach to information-grounded films released in the middle of the ostensible Information Age. Rather than paint a democratized landscape of data, these films posit that information is privileged almost exclusively to the intelligent and the young, and then these films contort themselves to speak to audiences outside specialized fields of expertise.

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Culture Warrior

The upcoming election might make the air feel a bit more politicized than it usually does, but there’s one arena that is investigated and interrogated for its supposedly partisan leanings far more often than every four years: the mainstream entertainment industry. Hollywood and prime-time television are continually called into question for supposedly left-leaning tendencies. Hell, there are even entire websites that profit off the flimsy thesis that Hollywood is an evil institution devoted to the full-scale indoctrination of feeble young minds into sullying the name of Ayn Rand and buying Priuses (Priusi?). However, the latest accusation made toward Hollywood as a liberal indoctrination machine came from an unlikely source: Jonathan Chait of New York Magazine. While it’s interesting to hear these points articulated from a self-defined liberal rather than a conservative culture warrior (yes, I’m well aware of the irony of my column name when I write stories like this) who stands to benefit more from the critique, Chait makes several of the same stumbles that conservatives encounter when voicing this familiar argument, like failing to provide a stable definition of what institutions the term “Hollywood” describes or an adequate explanation for the process by which an institution made up of mostly liberal people actually translates into liberal products.

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Piranha 3DD

Piranha 3DD is the first 3D movie to have a day-and-date release – that is, a release to VOD and Facebook on the same day it hits theaters. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the bloody-watered buoyant-breasted horror comedy will be available VOD for 7 bucks (in standard and high def) and 8 bucks for 3D on the major platforms. It will also be featured on Facebook. The Weinstein Company‘s Dimension Films and Starz Digital Media are handling the distribution online, and Starz VP Mara Winokur is enthusiastic about the safety net involved, citing that it will be a success even if no one watches on Facebook. “The cost was low enough that if there are no views, but people saw the promotion and went to theaters or got it on DVD or elsewhere, it will be successful. It is a great marketing spend in itself. It is a holistic experiment,” she said.

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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 Original Screenplay

Hey, who says there are no original ideas in Hollywood? Well, us actually, whenever we have to write about the next 80s-era television show getting a big screen reboot that no one on God’s green earth could possibly want to flash in front of their eyeballs on a giant cinema screen. But this year, there were at least five films that sprung from original ideas that were solid enough to get the ol’ Best Original Screenplay nod. Really, at least five. There’s five in this category! There could be more, but I’m too busy thinking about the Valley Girl reboot to come up with any of them right now. Giggles and bad jokes aside, this year’s Oscar race for Best Original Screenplay is actually pretty, well, original. We’ve got an awards season frontrunner, a raunchy lady-centric comedy (how often do you hear “raunchy” when it comes to the Academy Awards? Not often, that’s how often), a Sundance flick about the financial crisis, a foreign film getting all sorts of (well-deserved) praise, and the latest from one of the Academy’s most nominated filmmakers. This category is truly one hell of mixed bag. What’s perhaps most interesting about this race is that it four of its nominations belong to newcomers to the Oscars, while its fifth nominee is Woody Allen, who has received more nominees in this category (15) than any other screenwriter in the history of the awards. But does that little bit of trivia spell “winner”? Read on for the […]

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The Best Movie Posters of 2011

Movie posters can rise to level of works of art, can be tame or daring. They are of course advertising. A good poster makes you want to know more about the movie and the more you want to know the more you’ll want to spend your money to see the film. With that in mind, we’ve assembled our favorites of 2011, broken down into fancy categories for your reading and viewing pleasure.

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Culture Warrior

Usually I’m quite cynical about end-of-year lists, as they demand a forced encapsulation of an arbitrary block of time that is not yet over into something simplified. I typically find end-of-year lists fun, but rarely useful. But 2011 is different. As Scott Tobias pointed out, while “quiet,” this was a surprisingly strong year for interesting and risk-taking films. What’s most interesting has been the variety: barely anything has emerged as a leading contender that tops either critics’ lists or dominates awards buzz. Quite honestly, at the end of 2010 I struggled to find compelling topics, trends, and events to define the year in cinema. The final days of 2011 brought a quite opposite struggle, for this year’s surprising glut of interesting and disparate films spoke to one another in a way that makes it difficult to isolate any of the year’s significant works. Arguments in the critical community actually led to insightful points as they addressed essential questions of what it means to be a filmgoer and a cinephile. Mainstream Hollywood machine-work and limited release arthouse fare defied expectations in several directions. New stars arose. Tired Hollywood rituals and ostensibly reliable technologies both met new breaking points. “2011” hangs over this year in cinema, and the interaction between the films – and the events and conversations that surrounded them – makes this year’s offerings particular to their time and subject to their context. This is what I took away from this surprising year:

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This Week in DVD

It’s a fairly quiet week in the world of DVD releases, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some quality titles hitting shelves. Two fantastic films arrive today, and while they barely made a ripple at the box office that doesn’t mean they’re not worth your time. Other movies out today include the wonderfully suspenseful Julia’s Eyes, the ridiculously overrated Midnight In Paris, the just plain ridiculous Columbiana and more. As always, if you see something you like, click on the image to buy it. Warrior Two men, one a high school teacher with a family (Joel Edgerton) and the other an ex-Marine hero (Tom Hardy), find themselves on different paths to the same goal: winning a high-profile MMA tournament and the large cash prize that goes with it. The story moves back and forth between the men and their situations until they finally merge together in the ring. Sports stories in general aren’t really my thing, but I do enjoy a tale well told. Director Gavin O’Connor and his two leads (as well as supporting player Nick Nolte) fill the film with heart, great character and honest suspense. Most surprising of all, both men have an equal shot at victory and viewers will be thrilled and satisfied whichever way it ends. Lots of fantastic films were missed by audiences by year, but this is one underdog that deserves a second shot at victory. Check out Robert Levin’s full review.

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Hugo

It is day four of awards season, and already some names are growing wearyingly familiar, and even the surprises don’t quite pop like they used to. On Monday evening, the Gothams announced their annual awards, followed swiftly by the Film Independent Spirit nominations announcement and the NYFCC’s winners, but director Martin Scorsese and his latest film, Hugo, were without some big awards love – until now. The National Board of Review has announced their best-of picks for the year, and Hugo has topped out as Best Film, with Scorsese grabbing Best Director. As the film opened just last week, here’s hoping that this NBR endorsement will pump up somewhat lackluster box office returns. Paired with a weekend box office free of new major releases, and maybe Hugo can swing up to the top of the heap. As for the rest of the Board’s awards, there’s a bevy of names here that already seem like old hat – picks like Christopher Plummer for Beginners and The Artist, The Descendants, and The Tree of Life as a “top” films for the year – but there are still a few eyebrow-raisers, as our friends over at /Film note, J.C. Chandor picking up another award for his debut, Margin Call, continues to be surprising. Where is Sean Durkin and his own Sundance hit Martha Marcy May Marlene? And J. Edgar as one of the year’s best? And a Breakthrough to Felicity Jones and Rooney Mara, but no Elizabeth Olsen? Bizarre, really. But there are […]

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Remember all the way back to last night when the Gothams announced their annual awards and thus declared that awards season was like, so totally on? No? Really? It was just last night, come on. In that vein, the Film Independent Spirit Awards have just announced their nominations for their annual awards (held in February, on the beach, as ya do in Los Angeles), and their picks come with their own surprises. Remember (no, seriously, I need you to remember back less than twenty-four hours) how the Gothams didn’t give squat to Take Shelter or 50/50 or Martha Marcy May Marlene? Or Drive? Or The Descendants? Well, the Independent Spirit nominations are here to ease that pain. Leading the nominations pack are just those very films, along with Gotham darling Beginners and black and white sensation The Artist, with Take Shelter and The Artist tied for the most nominations, with five each. Following the lead, with four nominations each are Beginners, Drive, The Descendants, and Martha Marcy May Marlene, with 50/50 logging three noms. And, coincidentally, it’s those top nomination-getters (save MMMM) that are all nominated for Best Feature. Funny how that works out, right? Other nominations of note include Best First Feature (Another Earth, In the Family, Margin Call, Martha Marcy May Marlene, Natural Selection ), Best First Screenplay (Another Earth, Margin Call, Terri, Cedar Rapids, 50/50), and the John Cassavetes Award, which is given to the best feature made for under $500,000 (Bellflower, Circumstance, Hello Lonesome, Pariah, The […]

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Sundance ground trooper Benji Carver checks in for the first time from Park City with a very busy day, including reviews of Kevin Spacey’s latest political drama, Alex Gibney’s latest documentary, a potential award winner about being black and gay in America, a movie with a lot of ladies whose names start with M and the highly anticipated film Hobo with a Shotgun…

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