the candler blog

Pirating the 2015 Oscars: HD Edition

Andy Baio has been tracking pirated Oscar films for over a decade. This year’s findings:

The big change: A staggering 44% of this year’s crop of nominees leaked as a high-quality rip from some source outside of traditional screeners or retail releases — the highest percentage since I started tracking films in 2003.

The leaked copies on offer are often of a much higher quality than the DVDs sent out to Oscar voters. Studios and distributors go to great lengths (and expense) to lock down screeners,1 but it’s looking like it’s becoming a moot point. There are better copies floating around in the ether.

  1. Visual and digital watermarks, barcoding tied to the recipient, etc.

The Limits of American Cinephilia

Books, Link, Movies

Richard Brody on the late Amos Vogel and, by extension, the film communities of New York and Paris:

Vogel’s screenings and seminars primed the pump and stimulated interest in a broad range of filmmakers, but it didn’t launch a generation. The Cahiers critics-turned-New Wave directors and their American acolytes, including Richard Roud, Peter Bogdanovich, and Andrew Sarris, did.

Brody’s jumping off point is the publication of Be Sand, Not Oil: The Life and Work of Amos Vogel, a new book of essays by and about the film programmer and teacher.

Vogel, I’ll admit, is someone I have heard of but know little about. The aforelinked piece is illuminating and I’d like to know more. I’m adding his 1974 Film as a Subversive Art to my must read list.

(via MUBI Notebook.)

Top Ten Films That I Saw in 2014

Movies

Every December I take the time to tally up the total number of released films I’ve seen for the previous year. I use Mike D’Angelo’s well-maintained NYC master list as a guide. It’s never as high a number as I want it to be.

I think I should be seeing some sixty to seventy current films a year. Last year I saw fifty-one films. This year I saw thirty-five. So, quite a bit off the mark, but there’s always next year.

Of those thirty-five films, though, some cream did rise to the top. So here they are, the ten 2014 films I liked the most.

1. The Dance of Reality, Alejandro Jodorowsky

How strange that, after a nearly two-and-half decade hiatus from filmmaking, Alejandro Jodorowsky’s newest film was overshadowed by Jodorowsky’s Dune, a documentary (that I haven’t seen) covering his failed attempt to bring Frank Herbert’s sci-fi novel to the big screen in the 1970s.1 I understand the fascination with projects that never were, but if viewers have to pick, they should seek out the octogenarian director’s latest film. His advanced age be damned, The Dance of Reality has more verve for life than any other film I watched this year. Be warned, though, this autobiographical story is decidedly an “after dark” picture. It’s gross and strange and lovely and a wonder to behold. You’re not likely to see anything else like anytime soon.

2. Boyhood, Richard Linklater

I’m not above admitting that part of what’s so impressive about Richard Linklater’s chronicle of a boy’s life is that he pulled it off at all. But just rising to the occasion isn’t always enough; Boyhood actually holds up. There are scenes that affected me in ways I didn’t expect. Linklater instills scenes with senses of childlike wonderment and irrational dread, which are reminders of the positives and negatives that we’re only young once.

3. Birdman, or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), Alejandro G. Iñárritu

If Boyhood is impressive for its temporal expanse, Birdman is impressive for its spatial economy. Taking place (mostly) in a single Broadway theater and unfolding in (mostly) a single take, Iñárritu’s film is at times brutalizing. It’s full of fast-talking and always moving characters (think Sorkin walk-and-talk taken to its logical conclusion) that are hard to love but fun to watch. I’m not impressed by all long takes by virtue of their being difficult, however, Emmanuel Lubezki’s wandering camera is a thing of beauty.

4. Gone Girl, David Fincher

Though probably not winning over any niche title design awards, Fincher’s latest had me from the get go with the incredibly simple opening credits. It’s just well-paced still images with fading words on top, but it immediately sets up the thriller to come. Trust no one, not even words. Having not read Gillian Flynn’s novel, I went into the film completely blind. It’s an excellent, taut, thriller. Hitchcockian. Fincherian. Duh.

5. Only Lovers Left Alive, Jim Jarmusch

Easily the most rock and roll film of the year. Happy to see anyone, least of all Jarmusch, riffing on the vampire romance genre. Let’s call it the thinking person’s Twilight.

6. The Grand Budapest Hotel, Wes Anderson

This one’s up there for my favorite Wes Anderson film. He’s a director I don’t usually enjoy, but this story dovetails nicely with his usual twee bag of tricks. There are so many things done right in The Grand Budapest Hotel, but each achievement stands in the shadows of the mighty Ralph Fiennes. His is one of those performances that one could never imagine, could never see come to life from reading a script alone. It’s a beautiful, tender and towering outing for him. The whole ball of yarn unravels without his nailing it.

7. Policeman, Nadav Lapid

I saw Policeman at the New York Film Festival in 2011, when I called it one of the best undistributed films of the year. It finally saw a small US release this year, so it makes the list. Here’s what I had to say about it in a piece about Israeli Oscar contenders:

Policeman is a slow, haunting story that depicts the separate travails of both an anti-terrorism police officer and a small band of Israeli extremists. Through acts of violence, the one swears to protect what Israel stands for while the other vows to change it by any means necessary.

8. Non-Stop, Jaume Collet-Serra

Okay, so it’s a Liam Neeson action film on a plane. There’s, decidedly, a lot of silliness in this film, but the plot is astonishingly good. Trust me on this one.

9. Neighbors, Nicholas Stoller

The comedy chops of Zac Efron and Rose Byrne come out in unexpected ways here. Joke after joke hit dead on target.

10. Edge of Tomorrow, Doug Liman

Solid sci-fi that feels like a videogame, but I don’t hate it. Groundhog Day with guns and aliens.

  1. Jodorowsky’s Dune grossed more than twice as much as The Dance of Reality and opened on four times as many screens.

The Final Word on #pointergate

Link, News

Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges, who rose to national fame last week after a local news station claimed she threw a gang sign while working to get out the vote, gets the last word on #pointergate (emphasis mine):

One frightening implication of the KSTP story and police union President Delmonico’s support of that story is their implicit assumption that I should use stereotypes to assess with whom I should or should not meet or stand or talk. As The Onion once satirically wrote, “Stereotypes are a real time saver.” It is not a good basis for decision-making, however. It blunts the humanity of the person making the judgment and creates unnecessary separation between two people in a world where more, rather than less, human connection is needed for us to move forward as a community.

Hodges for President.

Poster Children

Design, Link, Writing

Layer Tennis is a design competition run by Coudal Partners, spartan proprietors (along with Draplin Design Co.) of Field Notes, and presented by Adobe Creative Cloud. I don’t know how long it has been running and I don’t full well understand the rules or the state of play.

What I do understand is this lovely intro to today’s match from John Gruber, today’s commentator:

Words, carefully chosen, can be precise in meaning. With emoji you lose that precision, but in exchange you gain a remarkable expressiveness for feeling. An emoji is seldom worth a thousand words, but depending on the moment, it can come close. In the way that email turned everyone into a writer, emoji turn everyone into a visual communicator. That’s something.

As a fan of Coudal (by way of my favorite tiny notebooks) I’ve seen Layer Tennis pop up along my feeds for the past few weeks. I never got it. I still don’t. But I’m getting closer.

I’ll watch today’s match, then, and see where things go.

Extra Thoughts on Listen Up Philip

Movies, Review

I reviewed Listen Up Philip for Heeb Magazine. Initially I wanted to pan the film, but I sat down to re-watch it and discovered how special it actually is. It seems like a chronicle of a few horrible people, but actually it’s a film about how we deal with success.

One thing that irked me on first viewing was the film’s use of voice over. As I mention in my review, this is a knee-jerk reaction. Omniscient narrators are usually a lazy crutch used by writers who can’t build a complex character and structure a narrative at the same time. But that was an unfair assessment. Writer/director Alex Ross Perry’s narrator is there to streamline the narrative, not fix it. We meet our characters in situ and jump right into the meat of their lives. It makes the film almost uncomfortably fast-paced.

And so I came around on this one. I truly love Elisabeth Moss’s performance, though that may be linked to the fact that I feel the closest connection to Ashley, the character she portrays. She also happens to be the only character whose life seems better off by the end of the film, though that’s more a matter of opinion than fact. As I wrote for Heeb, the choice to prefer Ashley “is a personal one though, perhaps linked to my own views of success and artistic struggle.”

That’s the heart of what makes Listen Up Philip such a special work. It offers insight on success (and life) in a mature and introspective manner. I’m glad I didn’t dismiss it because I don’t like omniscient narrators (but generally I still don’t).

Middling

Andy Baio on blogging:

Twitter and Waxy Links cannibalized all the smaller posts, and as my reach grew, I started reserving blogging for more “serious” stuff — mostly longer-form research and investigative writing.

Well, fuck that.

Yup. I want to publish here more as well. And I haven’t been for the exact reasons Andy mentions. So fuck it. Let’s go.

A Primer on Not Being a Music Hater

Criticism, Link, Movies, Music

Great piece by Ryan Gantz on music listening that I think aptly applies to watching movies:

You should feel free to listen to whatever music speaks to you. I do.

But the hard thing about music (and all types of art) is that speak can mean something different for every genre, artist, and album. The emotional, tonal, and verbal vocabulary of heavy metal is almost nothing like the vocabulary of jazz. The intention and cultural contexts differ. The listening experience goals for fans of hip-hop may be at odds with what a classical music-lover wants out of a great symphony.

And that means that it often requires intellectual/emotional openness and very close listening (or, like, dancing) to understand what a piece of music is getting at, what language it’s speaking, what feelings it wants to evoke—even who its target audience might be—before we can fairly judge what’s successful or unsuccessful about it.

Gantz articulates something I try to keep in mind whenever I watch a new film, especially one that exists well outside of my comfort zone.

(via Waxy.)

Fight Club 15 Years Later: Marla, Men’s Rights, and the Internet

Link, Movies

Eric D. Snider, pithy and brilliant as always, for Complex:

To watch Fight Club now, 15 years after its release, is to be amused at how much the Narrator sounds like today’s Men’s Rights Activists and #GamerGate numbnuts.

And later:

What I didn’t fully appreciate at 25 that I do at 40 is that Fight Club doesn’t endorse Tyler Durden’s nihilism, it mocks it. Tyler is an extremist, taking good ideals too far and losing the moral high ground. Peeing in soups and blowing up buildings isn’t rebellion; it’s idiotic and pointless. Tyler Durden’s followers are too blinded by their perceived wrongs and grievances to see that.

Bingo. I have always had an uncomfortable relationship with David Fincher’s Fight Club for this exact reason: the film serves to reinforce the very thing it critiques. The fight club in Fight Club makes fun of male bravado, and yet countless dorm room walls have been adorned with the infamous “rules” as if they were words to live by.

Great art should confront the issues of the day. As Snider points out, Fight Club is still resonating, for better or worse.

The Projected Image: The Jewish Experience on Film

Link, Movies

Every Tuesday in September, my friend Dr. Eric Goldman is co-hosting and curating a screening series on Turner Classic Movies called The Projected Image: The Jewish Experience on Film. I’m sorry I’m a bit late writing about it here, but there are still three weeks left, including tonight, of incredible films. Of the nineteen films in the series, I would say maybe only six or seven (if that many) are well-known to regular viewers of TCM.

My personal favorite part of the series so far has been watching the introductions to the films with Dr. Goldman and Robert Osborne. Yes, there is a novelty to seeing a friend and colleague on television, but there’s more to it than that. Eric brings not only his scholarly perspective to each film; he brings an excitement, almost a giddiness to sharing these films with a wide audience. To hear him talk about these films in the context of both their release and their current status in the culture is a real treat.

Tonight kicks off at 8:00pm EDT with Hill 24 Doesn’t Answer, a 1955 film billed as Israel’s first feature. I’ve never seen it, but Dr. Goldman used to show scenes from it in a production class I instructed with him. If the short scenes are any indication, audiences are in for a real treat tonight. Keep in mind: Hill 24 Doesn’t Answer isn’t readily available for most. It’s not streaming or available for download, and the best way to get a disc is through Dr. Goldman’s company, Ergo Media.1 So if you get Turner Classic Movies, you should take advantage of the opportunity to see something a bit rare.

Check out the screening series’ full schedule for a list of films that are a bit off the beaten path.

  1. You can also go through a few third party resellers on Amazon.