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Harry Belafonte in Kansas City

New Line Cinema

Proving the Honorary Oscars are not simply lifetime achievement awards given as a consolation prize, two of this year’s four Governors Award recipients are already Academy Award winners. And of those two, there are seven nominations among them. Japanese animation legend Hayao Miyazaki was recognized in the Best Animated Feature category in 2003 for Spirited Away, in 2006 for Howl’s Moving Castle and in 2014 for The Wind Rises. He won the first of those.

French screenwriter Jean-Claude Carriere was nominated in 1973 and 1978 for collaborating with Luis Bunuel on scripts for The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (original) and That Obscure Object of Desire (adapted), then in 1989 for working with director Philip Kaufman on the adaptation of The Unbearable Lightness of Being. His first nomination and win came in 1963 for writing and directing the short film Happy Anniversary with Pierre Etaix.

As for the other two honorees who’ll receive their statuettes in a special ceremony on November 8th, one is actress and iconic redhead Maureen O’Hara, who was never herself nominated but who starred in Best Picture winner How Green Is My Valley and nominees Miracle on 34th Street and The Quiet Man.

Rounding out the foursome is Harry Belafonte, whose previous vicinity to Oscar was narrating the documentary feature nominee King: A Filmed Record…Montgomery to Memphis and starring in Carmen Jones, which received nominations for co-star Dorothy Dandridge and its score. He also performed the nominated song “Unchained Melody” at the 1956 ceremony, though he wasn’t the voice on the soundtrack for its movie, Unchained. And the 2011 doc about him, Sing Your Song, was shortlisted but didn’t move forward. Belafonte has been chosen for the 2014 Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, for his great off-screen work as an activist.

All of these new Governors Award winners have had tremendous careers, obviously, but there are some highlights that I think should have also been recognized by the Academy and weren’t. So, in a way, I am still looking at these special Oscars as making up for these overlooked works and performances.

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The Gray Ghost Sweating Bullets

Heart-Beat Productions

Why Watch? Batman has probably inspired more fan films than any other character, but I appreciate this short film from J.L. Topkis and Matt Landsman because it moves beyond the typical cosplay action sequence by channeling a Batman television show that channeled the Batman serials.

They take their inspiration from a 1992 episode of Batman: The Animated Series (aka the best Batman TV show ever) where young Bruce Wayne is shown watching a show called The Gray Ghost and, in the present-day as Batman, has to find a copy of the show in order to solve a copycat crime. As a bonus, Adam West voices the actor who plays the Gray Ghost in the Animated Series episode.

Here, Topkis and Landsman have imagined the show within a show as a real adventure series, crafting a live-action hero who leaps into young Bruce Wayne’s life at exactly the right moment (with some Sin City-style CGI to help).

To be fair, The Gray Ghost: The Lost Reel (or maybe it’s called Sweating Bullets?) is pure nostalgia and design with a blustery script that follows a formula blazed almost a century ago. That doesn’t stop it from being a lot of fun — an excellent distraction that makes me wish they’d made a longer short.

One warning, though. The acting and fighting in it is stiff like a 1930s serial would be. Not the look-how-accurate-we’re-being version of serial parody that we’re used to, but legitimately broad and direct. Get on board with the homage, and you’ll have a swell time.

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Michael Shannon in Young Ones

Bifrost Pictures

There wasn’t much hype surrounding Young Ones at Sundance. It was a movie on people’s radar, but after it screened, it didn’t generate much buzz. That’s a shame, because Jake Paltrow‘s second directorial effort is an excellent film. It’s a western with a twist of science-fiction. The sci-fi elements are mostly left in the background, though. Young Ones is a movie that could mostly do without all the futuristic machinery, it’s just an immensely cool cherry on the top. That CGI tech, by the way, is seamlessly rendered into these beautiful desert landscapes. They have a worn down, used quality that suits this old-fashioned story.

Young Ones is about a family. At the beginning we see a father, played with charm and warmth by Michael Shannon, protecting his land from thieves. They’re there to steal his water supply. In this future — what year isn’t stated and doesn’t matter — there’s a serious drought going on. The father and his son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) hope one day to get some of the water that’s left to run through their land. Their journey leans more heavily on drama than genre thrills, but the trailer would lead us to believe otherwise.

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rock-n-roll-high-school

New World Pictures

There’s no doubt that Martin Scorsese knows exactly what he’s doing when it comes to crafting thorough, smart and loving projects centering on the careers of beloved musical acts. He’s basically the unofficial godfather to the Rolling Stones, using their music in a number of his films and directing their fantastic concert doc Shine a Light. He has The Last Waltz, a doc chronicling The Band’s legendary 1976 farewell concert under his belt, as well as the Bob Dylan film No Direction Home, and a long-gestating project called Sinatra still in the works.

What he hasn’t touched yet is punk, but he’s going back to the source by reportedly making a biopic about the Ramones, the seminal New York act that inspired a generation of leather jackets in 80-degree weather, ripped jeans, scowling faces and songs around two minutes in length (if we’re being very generous). Buried in a Billboard article detailing the ways that the Ramones will resurge in the next few years, at least in terms of branding, is this news that Scorsese “is attached” to a film about the punk rockers. The Wrap adds that a source close to the project says he’ll be directing.

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Ferris Buellers Day Off Rooney

Paramount Pictures

Ashe never got to see a ton of modern classics from his youth, so we’re making him watch them all as a nostalgia-less adult. Check out the inaugural article for more info.

It’s almost like it was fate. I got sick (for real) and had to take off work on the day that I watched Ferris Bueller’s Day Off for the very first time. I wasn’t kidney transplant sick, just obnoxious sinus infection/cold sick. So I could empathize with both Ferris’s attempts to “prove” his illness (mine includes a pretty hard to fake hacking cough) and Cameron’s actual illness. Until it disappears, I guess. Was he even sick or just that much of a sad sack? I still don’t know.

That’s actually a good place to pick up: One of my few complaints of the film is, uh, I’m super worried about Cameron, and the movie never really comes back to him after he purposefully trashes his dad’s car then then accidentally trashes his dad’s car. Like, that dude was very clearly depressed and we’re left hanging on what happened when he has to explain that he destroyed his dad’s supercar. I’m just going to assume that his dad brutally murdered him and John Hughes felt it too tragic to mention. No sense in ruining an otherwise happy ending with a horrible case of filicide, right?

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The Fisher King

Columbia Pictures

Back in the 1990s, Terry Gilliam provided a commentary track for The Fisher King, which has since gone out of print. Now, thanks to the magic of YouTube and MP3s and internet tubes, it’s possible to listen to this commentary track even if the disc itself is hard to come by. Not only does this commentary give an intimate look into one of Gilliam’s best, it also lives on in cyberspace to allow film nerds like us to learn more about the production.

Due to differences in running time, you can’t simply synch all versions of the video with Gilliam’s commentary. For example, the Netflix version of The Fisher King runs 131 minutes instead of the unaltered 137-minute disc and theatrical presentation. Still, with the background soundtrack intact, you have a pretty good idea of where he is in his own timeline.

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Inside Out

Pixar

Before we even laid eyes on Riley, the eleven-year-old animated star of Pixar’s Inside Out, we knew that she would be like us. At least, we knew that she would be more like us than some of the other stars of Pixar’s most beloved features, which tend to run towards the make-believe (monsters, talking toys), the fantastic (superheroes, talented vermin) and the slightly terrifying (cars). Pixar’s films aren’t typically concerned with stories centered on actual humans, even as they are packed with human emotions and experiences using charming surrogates (bugs, robots, fish), and the concept of Inside Out – a film that is entirely about the human condition, literally from the inside out — was a big, welcome change.

The creative decision to cast a tween girl — a regular tween girl — as the star was also a major step forward for the animation house. Pixar films may not ascribe to the same “Princess” mentality of Disney’s animated outings (every girl is a princess, even if she’s not, and they all look eerily similar), but they tend to rely more heavily on male heroes (and, no, we’re not discounting Monsters, Inc.‘s Boo or Brave‘s Merida, but of fourteen Pixar films, thirteen of them are principally focused on their male leads, with women playing second fiddle in every film but Brave). Even better, the team at Pixar has spent a lot of their own marketing time pumping Inside Out up as being an important departure for them.

Even the film’s official synopsis drives home both Riley’s relatability and her importance in the Pixar world (bold notations our own):

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Simpsons The Shinning

FOX TV

There’s another five days left in FXX’s great rerunning of every episode of The Simpsons in recorded history. Now, we don’t want to distract you — there’s still at least 100 hours to go, and shifting your eyes away from the TV for any reason could ruin that perfect butt-shaped indent that’s this close to being a permanent part of the couch — but just in case you need a break (a break that still involves The Simpsons, of course, we’re not monsters), here’s a momentary distraction.

We all know the myriad of reasons why The Simpsons remains so popular. Revolutionize this, landmark that, longest-running yadda yadda yadda and so forth. But an exemplary trait of The Simpsons that tends to get short shrift (or shorter shrift, anyway), is its relationship with cinema.

The Simpsons overflows with a love for film. Little homages to the classics. Grand spoofings of whatever’s current. Whole episodes based around Cape Fear or Mary Poppins. Throwaway puns on movie theater marquees. Story. Music. Cinematography. All will be parodied by this crudely-drawn family with wildly inaccurate skin color and haircuts that extend out of their face-skin.

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cong

When it comes to independent films and major releases, animation is fairly underutilized medium. There are exceptions, but for the most part, it’s generally used for kid-centric stories or to paint a lush, if slightly more adult, world. That’s why movies like A Scanner Darkly and The Congress are so special. They use animation for drama and to express ideas that go beyond a few pretty shots. Both films shouldn’t be compared past that point, but they are both emotional, visual, and mental exercises — rides that you either go along with from the start or don’t.

If director Ari Folman‘s The Congress grabs you from its first frame, then expect a rich science-fiction film packed with commentary, ideas, laughs, tears, and beauty. 

Speaking of beauty, Robin Wright (played conveniently by Robin Wright) has lost it, at least according to some slimy agist studio executive we meet working at Miramount. She’s now 44 years old. That usually means for actresses their careers are winding down, but after years of “bad” choices and choosing family over work, Robin isn’t the big deal that she once was. The offers aren’t coming in, at least not the offers she’s interested in — she wouldn’t ever dare to take part in a science-fiction film.

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Lionsgate

Lionsgate

Ordell (Mos Def) and Louis (John Hawkes) have planned the perfect kidnapping. Their target is Mickey (Jennifer Aniston), wife to a sketchy businessman named Frank (Tim Robbins) who’s hiding a fortune in a secret bank account. The plan is simple. Kidnap Mickey, tell Frank to pay the ransom if he ever wants to see his wife again and then retire in style.

But they never considered the possibility that Frank might not want his wife back.

Chronology is a funny thing. The inclination will be (and has been if you check the IMDB page) to label Life of Crime a straight-up rip-off of 1986′s Ruthless People. In actuality though this is an adaptation of Elmore Leonard‘s 1978 novel, The Switch. Keep moving backward and you’ll find that all of these incarnations share an inspiration in O. Henry’s 1907 short story, “The Ransom of Red Chief.” The problem for this film then is how to stand apart from the crowd, and unfortunately, it’s a problem the film never really solves.

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Stormtrooper Hits Head

LucasFilm

The best movie culture writing from around the internet-o-sphere.

There will be a quiz later. Just leave a tab open for us, will ya?

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Lionsgate

Lionsgate

Fantastic Fest may be a festival focused on off-the-radar genre films from here and abroad, but that doesn’t mean there’s no room for recognizable Hollywood faces. They’ve just announced their second wave of titles playing this year, and while it’s heavy on unfamiliar foreign titles there are a few heavy hitters in there too.

One of last year’s highlights was the presence of Keanu Reeves who there with his directorial debut, the surprisingly fun Man of Tai Chi, but also took time out to participate in the Fantastic Debates. He’s returning again this year, and while he didn’t direct John Wick it promises to be a rollicking action flick all the same thanks to Reeves’ clear love of the genre and the co-directors vast experience in the stunt game. Jake Gyllenhaal won’t be making an appearance, but his fantastically dark-looking new film, Nightcrawler, will be closing the fest.

Other known talents include the latest from high-kicker Marko Zaror in Redeemer, Takashi Miike’s return to horror with Over Your Dead Body, Astron-6′s giallo-inspired thriller The Editor, Sion Sono’s hip-hop musical Tokyo Tribe, a documentary about the cinematic glory days of Cannon Films and one of my favorite films from this year’s Sundance fest, Eskil Vogt’s Blind.

Keep reading to see the whole announcement and entire second wave of films playing this year’s Fantastic Fest.

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Laura 1944

Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation

Here’s a remake idea that won’t have you doing a spit-take and attempting to burn Hollywood down to its sinful ashes: Otto Preminger‘s Laura.

Yes, the film is an unabashed classic, one of those films noir that’s been vaulted up to mythical, God-like status amongst those who still watch movies from before 1970. The 1944 film follows a detective, Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews), investigating the murder of the rich, gorgeous and all-around enchanting Laura Hunt (Gene Tierney), who was blown away by an unfortunate shotgun blast to the face. Our dashing detective sinks himself into the case, but as he does he starts to fall madly in love with the deceased dame. Which would be fine (who among us hasn’t developed a little crush on a murder victim now and then?), except the case starts to turn in a seriously weird direction, leaving McPherson the only one to sort out its loop-de-looping plot twists and save the day.

Laura stands perfectly fine on its own, and the world would also be just fine if everyone left the film alone on its pedestal of greatness and didn’t try to match it (unlike that Kickboxer remake, a necessary sacrifice to the elder gods, lest they rain hellfire upon us). But in this case, we’ll allow it. Here’s why: The Hollywood Reporter has James Ellroy re-adapting the story for the screen. Ellroy is one of the biggest crime fiction writers alive, with a self-described style that’s “declarative and ugly and right there, punching you in the nards.” He wrote “The Black Dahlia.” He wrote “L.A. Confidential.” And even if the former kind of sucked in film form, that doesn’t make his writing any less special (or that you shouldn’t keep a close eye on your nards while reading it).

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