"If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle, Romania's official submission for the best foreign-language film Oscar, is a study in confinement," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "Like many other recent Romanian films — Cristi Puiu's Stuff and Dough, Cristian Mungiu's 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days or Radu Muntean's Boogie — it trails after a young protagonist whose choices are drastically limited and not very promising. Silviu, an 18-year-old inmate at a juvenile prison in a drab rural area, is a few weeks from the end of a four-year sentence, but the idea that his release will bring any kind of freedom seems like a delusion or a cruel joke."
"A volatile but sympathetic protagonist, Silviu is played by George Pistereanu, a nonprofessional still in high school when Serban discovered him," notes Tony Pipolo for Artforum. "With a natural ability to project charm and threat in a single, wide-eyed glance, the young actor easily embodies Silviu's cauldron of suppressed rage and unpredictability, fusing the cool single-mindedness of Bresson's Michel (in Pickpocket ) with the personality and impetuousness of a young Steve McQueen."
This "memorable first feature" from Florin Serban "is slack yet taut," writes the Voice's J Hoberman. "[T]ension builds whenever Serban hits the narrative pause button. Even once all hell finally breaks loose, the suspense is enhanced by lengthy stand-offs, real-time delays, and pervasive confusion on how to best handle a situation gone wildly out of control.... It's a measure of the movie's success that one oscillates between two despairs — noting the abject failure of the system and the utter futility of revolt."
More from Jesse Cataldo (Slant, 3/4), Mark Jenkins (NPR), Eric Kohn (indieWIRE), Susanna Locascio (Hammer to Nail), James van Maanen and Keith Uhlich (Time Out New York, 3/5). At New York's Film Forum through January 18.
"Nearly 50 years on, the relegation of folk-pop recording artist Phil Ochs to the turgid second rung of 1960s protest singers seems more an act of twisted fate than an informed critical judgment," writes Joseph Jon Lanthier in Slant, where he addresses "the rumor that Ochs's death was in part inspired by his inability to compete with Bob Dylan's appointment as generational spokesperson. Kenneth Bowser's vintage photo-laden documentary Phil Ochs: There But for Fortune immediately if subtly debunks this assumption.... Footage of his final days as a raving, overweight street wanderer (he looks like one of Andy Kaufman's schlubby alter egos) is nearly as tragic as the inaccurate portrait of his heyday that posterity has preserved. There But for Fortune admirably attempts to revise that image, but its fidelity to its key demographic doesn't allow it to go far enough; the inadvertent message is that Ochs will likely never escape the obligatory prism of his populist outrage."
"Though hewing to a too-conventional structure, Bowser's film is densely researched enough to yield insights not just into its overlooked subject, but also into his overly analyzed era," writes Melissa Anderson in the Voice. More from Stephen Holden (NYT, where Bob Baker has a backgrounder), Michael Simmons (Huffington Post) and James van Maanen. At the IFC Center.
FESTS AND EVENTS
"The Bright Future program section, in which International Film Festival Rotterdam presents debut or second feature films, will this year screen eighteen world premières, ten international premières and eleven European premières. Both fiction films and documentaries are included, as are many films that have little time for such distinctions. The selection as a whole, which encompasses a wide range of subjects and filmic forms, demonstrates young filmmakers' unflagging faith in the possibilities offered by film as a means of expression. In total, this year's Bright Future is made up of 80 films selected from 38 countries." The festival runs January 26 through February 6.
The Goethe Institute in Paris has invited Revolver, the excellent German film journal, to screen ten films over the course of the year. Christoph Hochhäusler has the full schedule.
Rita Ackermann and Harmony Korine's installation Shadowfux is on view at the Swiss Institute in New York through January 22.
From Ecstasy to Rapture: 50 Years of the Other Spanish Cinema opens tonight at Toronto's TIFF Bell Lightbox and runs through February 2. Writing for Artforum, Jason Anderson finds that "the series is rich with revelations about what was possible for filmmakers both during the Franco regime and in the decades that followed."
LISTS AND AWARDS
At In Contention, Guy Lodge's #1 film of the year is Sylvain Chomet's The Illusionist, "a near-wordless essay on aging, placelessness and companionship, leavened by the unmistakeable watermark of Tati's wry observational comedy."
Lisa Rosman's is Mike Leigh's Another Year, which "pulls nary a punch as it scrutinizes the limitations of friendship and kin in a great wash of tea and wine and nervous laughter that will ring in your ears long after it's died out. In so many ways, this is the writer-director's crowning achievement, a searing distillation of his career-long themes: haves and have-nots, as well as the potential for misery and happiness that lurks in every minute of every day."
Marilyn Ferdinand's list is in alphabetical order, so I'm simply going to yank out a title I'm looking forward to catching myself when I can: "An ordinary tale of adultery given an extraordinary treatment by master filmmaker Radu Muntean, Tuesday, After Christmas provides an allegory for Romania in a newly prosperous era."
Josef Braun selects his DVD and Blu-ray releases of 2010: "What constitutes 'the best'? I guess it's some mixture of relevance, discovery value, quality of supplements, thoughtful packaging and, most of all, curatorial verve."
"One of the incidental pleasures of watching even a mediocre movie is experiencing the way a specific song is used," writes Vadim Rizov at GreenCine Daily, where he lists "10 of my favorite examples from the past year, with any film-length scoring (like Shutter Island's primer on 20th-century chromatic classical music, or the ever-popular BRAAAAAAAHM of Inception) disqualified."
"The Art Directors Guild (ADG) today announced nominations in three categories of Production Design for theatrical motion pictures competing in the ADG's 15th Annual Excellence in Production Design Awards for 2010," reports Peter Knegt at indieWIRE, where he's got the full list.
The 3:AM Awards 2010.
IN OTHER NEWS
Sad confirmation from the Hollywood Reporter today: "Swedish police have positively identified the remains of actor Per Oscarsson and his wife Kia Ostling, confirming that the actor, who appeared in the Swedish film adaptations of Stieg Larsson's Millennium crime series died in a house fire on New Year's Eve day." The AFP: "Oscarsson is beloved in his home country, where he appeared in theatre, films, television series and popular children's specials. He won Best Actor at the 1966 Cannes film festival for his lead role as Pontus in Henning Carlsen's Hunger, an adaptation of the novel by Norwegian Nobel Literature laureate Knut Hamsun." In The Girl Who Played With Fire, Oscarsson "played Holger Palmgren, the legal guardian to the heroine, Lisbeth Salander," notes the AP. "In his review of the film, US critic Roger Ebert singled out Oscarsson's performance and described him as 'a great Swedish actor... who incredibly never worked with Bergman."
"Jill Haworth, a British-born film ingénue in the 1960s who made her only Broadway appearance as the original Sally Bowles in Cabaret, died Monday at her home in Manhattan. She was 65." Bruce Weber in the New York Times: "A petite, strikingly pretty blonde (she wore a dark wig on Broadway), Ms Haworth was just 14 when she was signed to appear, along with Paul Newman, Eva Marie Saint and Sal Mineo, as a displaced Jew in Exodus (1960), Otto Preminger's grandiose adaptation of the Leon Uris novel about the birth of the state of Israel. She made three films in France and then two others with Preminger, The Cardinal and In Harm's Way, before auditioning for Cabaret, along with more than 200 other actresses, and winning the part of Sally, the lovably intemperate lass who sings for her supper at a decadent nightclub in Weimar-era Berlin." More from Andre Soares at the Alt Film Guide.
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