the past

Best Foreign Films of 2013

Cinema is a worldwide artform, and as such many of the year’s best and most exciting films often come from overseas. Quality is no guarantee of visibility though as subtitled films rarely get a wide reception in American theaters, and worse, many don’t even make it to our shores until a year or more after opening in their own country. That’s the kind of factor that makes ranking foreign language films a difficult and inconsistent process. I try and go by actual year of release when possible, but for obvious reasons I’m not adverse to including entries that made their U.S. debut this year, too. But these are details… let’s get to the movies! Genre films rarely make “best of” lists like this , but I make no apologies for their inclusion here. Best is best, and if my best happens to include a character named The Queen of Saliva so be it..

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wherethewildthingsare_1

The best movie culture writing from around the internet-o-sphere. Just leave a tab open for us, will ya?

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The Past

“I’m nobody in this story.” By the time Ahmed (Ali Mosaffa, consistently solid throughout the film) utters that comment halfway through Asghar Farhadi’s The Past, it’s far too late in the narrative and too deep into the story to hold much water. After all, Ahmed is not a nobody in the A Separation director’s latest tale of domestic disruptions, and neither is the woman who lies in a coma many miles away, or the man who has started a new life somewhere in Brussels, or any number of other nameless participants in the film’s various characters’ pasts that we never meet. It’s called The Past for a reason, not The Future or The Present, but it might as well be called The Past People in Our Lives We Can’t Forget and Move Away From and This is The Result of All of That Stuff. It’s certainly not as snappy, however. While the basic plotline of The Past sounds salacious – a man returns after many years to divorce a wife who already has a new husband lined up and he discovers many secrets along the way – it’s surprisingly tame in execution. The film could easily be tailored to fit the needs of an American studio, with Ahmed starring as the out-of-town-ex who transforms a mixed family with his charm, level thinking, and delicious cooking (think Uncle Buck with more complicated relationships). At least, that’s what happens for the first half of the movie, with Ahmed playing unexpected peacekeeper between […]

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inside llewyn davis 04

Three-hour lesbian drama Blue is the Warmest Color was announced the winner of the prestigious Palme d’Or at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, a choice that many foresaw as likely but not a sure thing. The jury that awarded the honor was led by Steven Spielberg and also included Nicole Kidman, Ang Lee, Christoph Waltz and Lynne Ramsay. For the second place Grand Prix winner, they picked the latest from the Coen Brothers, Inside Llewyn Davis, while for Jury Prize (considered the third biggest deal) they chose Hirokazu Kore-eda‘s Like Father, Like Son. Like Father, Like Son was also recipient of an honorable mention from the Christian-based Ecumenical Jury, whose top prize went to The Past — the star of which, Bérénice Bejo, was named Best Actress by the main Cannes jury. Blue is the Warmest Color also earned multiple honors from the fest, taking the critic choice FIPRESCI Award for the In Competition category. The biggest surprise of today’s announcement seems to be Spielberg and Co.’s naming of Bruce Dern as Best Actor for the new film from Alexander Payne, Nebraska. After the jump, you can find a full list of main jury winners (from the festival website) and other honorees announced over the weekend accompanied by links to our review of the film where available.

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review past

Divorce is rarely a scenario in which anyone wins, least of all the children, as A Separation director Asghar Faradi reminds us once again in his latest feature, The Past, which has been widely touted as one of the Cannes Film Festival’s hottest tickets and a sure-fire Palme d’Or frontrunner. While failing to quite live up to the heart-wrenching moral dilemmas of the director’s previous film, The Past offers up plenty of provocative notions about the state of the contemporary family unit, wrapped around a thoroughly engrossing central mystery. The story begins as Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) is summoned to France by his estranged wife of four years, Marie (Berenice Bejo), to finalize their long-gestating divorce. However, Ahmad soon enough uncovers quite the familial powder keg once he realizes that Marie’s current partner, Samir (Tahir Rahim), has near-enough set up shop with her despite the fact that he has a wife in an eight-month-long coma following a suicide attempt. It is the character of Samir’s wife who, though seen on screen for roughly just a minute in total, forms the crux of the film’s dramatic tension.

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Criterion Files

When I write this column, I typically don’t get the opportunity to write about movies from my teen years. I, like many, came into a cinephilic love for art and foreign cinema during college, and in that process grew to appreciate The Criterion Collection. Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused (1993), however, is a movie that’s followed me through various changes in my life for (I’m just now realizing as I write this) about half of my time thus far spent on Earth.

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Culture Warrior

You’d be hard-pressed to find two filmmakers who are more wildly different than Woody Allen and Terrence Malick. One is a notably prolific and economic filmmaker who still releases one movie a year well into his senior years, while the other is a perfectionist who labors over his films and has thus far released, on average, barely more than one movie per decade. One has an unmistakable public persona, while the other is a notorious recluse. One makes films about life in a great city, while the other turns his lens to nature and the experience of the rural. One is as much an atheist as his characters, while the other is a spiritualist who searches for “God,” whatever that may be, through the lens of the camera. Allen and Malick are, in many ways, perfect opposites. But after watching the strong new work by each of these talented filmmakers this past weekend, it became apparent that, at least in the shared thematic preoccupations of Allen’s Midnight in Paris and Malick’s The Tree of Life, these two ostensibly dissimilar filmmakers may have more in common than meets the eye.

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Culture Warrior

Movies have a strange relationship with history, that’s for certain. On the one hand, they have the ability to bring to life, in spectacular detail, the intricate recreation of historical events. On the other hand, films can have a misleading and even potentially dangerous relationship with history, and can change the past for the benefit of storytelling or for political ends. And there’s always the option of using films to challenge traditional notions of history. Finally, many movies play with history through the benefit of cinema’s artifice. Arguably, it’s this last function that you see history function most often in relationship to mainstream Hollywood cinema. In playing with history, Hollywood rarely possesses a calculated political motive or a desire to recreate period detail. In seeking solely to entertain, Hollywood portrays the historical, but rarely history itself. Tom Shone of Slate has written an insightful piece about a unique presence of that historical mode all over the movies seeking to be this summer’s blockbusters. Citing X-Men: First Class, Super 8, Captain America: The First Avenger, and Cowboys & Aliens as examples, Shone argues that this is an unusual movie summer in terms of the prominence of movies set in the past. However, while such a dense cropping of past-set films is unusual for this season, these movies don’t seem to be all that concerned with “the past” at all – at least, not in the way that we think.

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