DVDs for 03/30/10 – An Education for Pedro Costa and Sherlock Holmes

The highly acclaimed and sparsely seen trilogy of films made by Pedro Costa in the impoverished Fontainhas neighborhood on the outskirts of Lisbon debuts on DVD in Letters From Fontainhas: Three Films By Pedro Costa (Criterion), a generous box set from Criterion featuring Ossos (1997), In Vanda’s Room (2000) and Colossal Youth (2006). Costa is an acquired taste and while I respect the artist and his vision, I’m not enthralled by his films. That’s no reason for anyone else to avoid these films, however, which have been embraced and celebrated by critics around the world. I review the set for MSN here, but you should really check out these pieces by Sam Adams (in the Los Angeles Times) and Dave Kehr (in the New York Times) to get a more in-depth and appreciative overview of his films.

Hard-learned lessons in "An Education"

The education of An Education (Sony), based on the memoir by Lynn Barber, comes to a smart and mature sixteen-year-old girl who, eager to escape her petite bourgeois life in early 1960s London, is swept off her feet by a confident, charming and worldly man with a lot of secrets. Carey Mulligan earned an Oscar nomination for her performance as a sophisticated girl intoxicated by the affair and Peter Sarsgaard is so deft that he staves off the creepy reality of a grown man seducing a high-school girl—until the reality of the situation becomes clear of everyone, including the complicit parents (Alfred Molina and Cara Seymour). Beautifully directed and acted from a memoir deftly adapted to the screen by Nick Hornby. Features relaxed commentary by director Lone Scherfig and actors Carey Mulligan and Peter Sarsgaard (who spend as much time reminiscing over the shoot and appreciating key moments as discussing the production and the characters), a nine-minute making of featurette (which also includes interviews with screenwriter Nick Hornby and author Lynn Barber) and 11 deleted scenes among the supplements on both DVD and Blu-ray.

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Top Ten of 2007 – My Final List

I’ve contributed Top Ten lists to four different organizations already: MSN, IndieWire, the Village Voice/LA Weekly 2007 Film Poll, and Senses of Cinema (not yet published as of this writing). The process has remained fluid throughout, and not just due to differing rules for the different groups. I’ve allowed myself to challenge my own evaluations, and the reasons behind them, for each list, shifting films up and down the list, swapping out different titles in the final spots, rethinking what it is that makes a “best film,” and understanding what I want to represent as “cinema” with such a list.

That ends with this, my final list, the one that I prepare for my annual “Top Ten” event, a small party/debate that I have been hosting for a few film critic friends of mine for ten years now. It’s by design a small gathering of people I enjoy talking to and arguing with, who take movies seriously and are articulate enough to make a discussion not just lively, but invigorating and challenging. The results of that event will follow in a later posting. Here is the list I presented at the event, supplemented with notes, comments, runners-up, and links to reviews and other writings (where available).

1. No Country For Old Men (Ethan and Joel Coen)
A model of simple, strong, evocative storytelling pared down to the bone and character and meaning radiating from every image, every movement, and every moment, “No Country” is cinema in every sense of the word. Part of the thrill is the feeling that it’s all spinning out of your grasp, it’s rushing out of control, in a film that refuses to rush anything. You never feel it’s out of the control of the Coens, whose methodical deliberateness tracks every detail of the story, and Roger Deakins delivers simple and stark images, a desert that sometimes feels like it’s lawless frontier. As the film unfolds, it becomes clear that Josh Brolin’s Llewelyn Moss may seem smart, but is just smart enough to outrun the trouble dogging his trail, a minor league talent in a major league showdown. The Coens don’t offer that comforting sense of cosmic justice or thematic completeness that most crime movies provide, even those films about chaotic situations where the violence spills out of the confines of the protagonists. And that’s the point. There are no random elements, just those details we don’t know, and that’s far more dangerous. Tommy Lee Jones’ character, Sheriff Ed Tom Bell, retires because, he says, no longer understands the kind of violence and characters that he faces with the explosion of the drug trade through the borders. The Coens (and McCarthy’s story) remind us that it’s not the violence that’s changed, only the players.

My Seattle P-I review of No Country For Old Men is here.

2. Into the Wild (Sean Penn) Continue reading “Top Ten of 2007 – My Final List”