Robert Altman

"A Prairie Home Companion"

It’s sort of fitting that Robert Altman was nominated 7 times for Oscars but never won. He was naturally gracious when awarded an honorary statue for a truly distinguished career, but handing him the hardware earlier might have been a bit like offering an anchor to a man as reward for clearing a new path out of the jungle. A product of the wide open mindset of the 1970s, Altman nonetheless successfully navigated decades of changing tides within the industry, carving out a career that took him from effective workman to pioneer to contemplative auteur. So here’s a bit of free film school (for fans and filmmakers alike) from the man who was always a bridesmaid and yet still a legend.

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ForgetIt

There were so many great crime movies that came out of the ’70s that it would be something of an endeavor to compile a list of the best. But chances are, if you had a bunch of people get together and do just that, Chinatown would be near the top of most of them. This modern take on classic noir is beloved to the point where it’s the sort of thing that gets studied in film classes, and it’s not hard to see why. It’s got iconic moments, a legendarily despicable villain in land developer Noah Cross (John Huston), Jack Nicholson giving a solid leading performance that isn’t as showy and distracting as his later stuff and it’s put together by the trained eye of a master director. But it also has a number of readily apparent flaws that make it questionable as to whether or not it should stand shoulder to shoulder with the greatest movies in cinema history, as many people claim that it does. Another great crime film from the same era is The Long Goodbye, a sort of subversion of the noir genre that embraces its tropes but updates its setting to the laid back, alternative medicine-embracing culture of early ’70s Los Angeles. Unlike Chinatown, this isn’t the sort of film that has grown in popularity over the years. It has its fans, and it might show up on some of those “Best of the ’70s” lists if the people you’re surveying are big into the […]

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Criterion Files

As America anticipates the first general election Presidential debate of 2012 tonight, it’s clear that there’s one thing on everyone’s mind: what does The Criterion Collection have to say about American politics at the executive level? The Collection certainly has a multitude of world leader’s represented, from Idi Amin in Barbet Schroder’s General Idi Amin Dada (1974) to Ivan the Terrible in Sergei Eisenstein’s two-part masterpiece of the same name. But Criterion also has three of the best movies made about real and fictional 20th century American Presidents and Presidential candidates…

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Criterion Files

Of the 600+ films in The Criterion Collection, almost 200 are listed as from the United States. While not all of these films are explicitly thematically based  around life in the US, the American selections for the Collection do make up a mosaic of diverse perspectives on life in this country, proving that there is no sustainable solitary understanding of what it means to be an “American,” but there exists instead an array of possibilities for interpreting American identity. What the American films do have in common, though, is provide proof that excellent films have been made in the US for quite some time. So, after exhausting yourself with Independence Day Parades, firecracker-lighting, and Budweiser, settle down with a great American movie. Here are a dozen great titles from the Criterion Collection about “America” and “freedom” in the many senses of those terms.

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Culture Warrior

As much as I admire the incomparable films made during the era, New Hollywood (the term referring to innovative, risk-taking films made funded by studios from the mid-60s to the mid-70s) is a title that I find a bit problematic. The words “New Hollywood” better characterize the era that came after what the moniker traditionally refers to. Think about it: if “Old” or “Classical” Hollywood refers to the time period that stretches roughly from 1930 to 1960 when the studios as an industry maintained such an organized and regimented domination over and erasure of any other potential conception over what a film playing in any normal movie theater could be, then if we refer to the time period from roughly 1977 to now “New Hollywood,” the term then appropriately signifies a new manifestation of the old: regimentation, predictability, and limitation of expression. Where Old Hollywood studios would produce dozens of films of the same genre, New Hollywood (as I’m appropriating the term) could acutely describe the studios’ comparably stratified output of sequels, remakes, etc. What we traditionally understand to be New Hollywood was not so much its own monolithic era in Hollywood’s legacy, but a brief, strange, and wonderful lapse between two modes of Hollywood filmmaking that have dominated the industry’s history.

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Culture Warrior

We often don’t think of commercials as having authorship, at least not in the same way we think of movies. Commercials are created by advertising companies, by focus groups, by strategists; not by “artists.” But while the purpose of a 30-second ad may on the surface differ from the motive of a feature length film (though not always), both are media assembled through a particular economy of storytelling devices and are made often by a collaborative company of individuals. But commercials don’t often contain credit sequences, and thus the phenomenology of its making is cloaked and the personalities who made it unconsidered. The focus is on the product being sold, not the creative team selling it. So it can be surprising to find out that well-respected, top-tier, artistic filmmakers often direct commercials. Sure, many filmmakers regularly make commercials as a more lucrative and less time-consuming alternative to feature filmmaking, and there are many visual artists who have honed an ability to express their personality in various media forms, but a surprising number of supposedly cinema-specific auteurs make commercials, despite a lack of apparent monetary need or professional benefit. This subject came to my attention recently because of a series of articles on Slate last week by David Haglund about the oeuvre of the Coen brothers that included the filmmaking duo’s commercials in considering their larger cinematic contribution. It’s an interesting way to view a filmmaker’s career, for it forces you to look for their identifying traits and revisited themes via […]

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Culture Warrior

You hear the phrase “This movie could never be made today” quite often, and it’s typically a thinly veiled means by which a creative team allows themselves to administer loving pats on their own backs. But in the context of at a 35th anniversary exhibition of the restoration of Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver with a justifiably disgruntled Paul Schrader in attendance, such a sentence rings profoundly and depressingly true. Like many of you, I’ve seen Taxi Driver many times before. For many, it’s a formative moment in becoming a cinephile. But I had never until last weekend seen the film outside of a private setting. And in a public screening, on the big screen, I’m happy to say the film still has the potential to shock and profoundly affect viewers so many decades on. For me personally it was the most disturbing of any time I’d ever seen the film, and I was appropriately uncomfortable despite anticipating the film’s every beat. Perhaps it was because I was sharing the film’s stakes with a crowd instead of by myself or with a small group of people, or perhaps the content comes across as so much more subversive when projected onto a giant screen, or perhaps it was because the aura of a room always feels different when the creative talent involved is in attendance. For whatever reason, I found the film to be more upsetting than in any other context of viewing. But one of the most appalling moments of Taxi […]

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Every day, come rain or shine or internet tubes breaking, Film School Rejects showcases a trailer from the past. This trailer is hunting down a man while working on its Barbara Stanwyck impression. Robert Altman displays his mastery of subtle comedy alongside the dark mystery and murder of classic noir. The movie begs the question of whether killing your wife or stealing someone’s money is the bigger crime. Think you know what it is? Check the trailer out for yourself:

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Criterion Files

Just as film noir isn’t one single definable thing, noir itself contains many offshoots and categories. And every Noirvember, it’s important to not only examine good ol’ film noir, but its corresponding variants as well. One aspect of noir that complicates its designation as a genre or a style is the persistence of neo-noir, a cinematic form that arose in direct reaction to noir. In the US, canonical neo-noirs include films like Roman Polanski’s Chinatown or Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye. These were films made by filmmakers who knew cinema’s history, who have seen and studied noir’s origins and staples. These were filmmakers who worshiped film history and used classic cinema as a prototype for their own creation, embedding references to the old while departing from it in creating the new.

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Movies We Love: The Long Goodbye

Snarky, unlit-cigarette-gritting Private Detective Philip Marlowe is visited late one night by an old buddy, Terry Lennox, who asks Marlowe, without explanation, to drive him to Tijiuana.

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cultwarrior_decadeinreview

This week’s Culture Warrior gives an exhaustive review of the decade that you won’t find anywhere else on the Interwebs.

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SebastianGutierrez

We wanted to get inside the mind of director Sebastian Gutierrez by finding out his Top 5 films, and he somehow managed do so while naming over a dozen other films. From Bunuel to Gilliam, find out who inspires one of the weirder writer/directors out there.

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Ramin_Bahrani

The man who Ebert has called the “next great American filmmaker” took some time out of a busy schedule to talk about his latest movie, Goodbye Solo, the importance of showing the bad parts of life, and a giant pile of trash floating around in the Pacific.

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