Search Film Reviews

Saturday, January 31, 2015

The 2015 Academy Award-Nominated Animated Shorts Review

"A Single Life" by Job, Joris, and Marieke
Courtesy of ShortsHD

By Joshua Handler

The Oscar-nominated animated shorts is a mixed bag, but two stand out: "Feast" and "A Single Life".  I'm going to focus this article around these two because while the craftsmanship of the other three are superb, they don't hit the highs of the aforementioned films.  The nominees are, for the most part, quite good, but just aren't at the level of "Feast" and "A Single Life".

"A Single Life" is the best...and the shortest.  At barely two minutes in length, "A Single Life" is proof that shorter is frequently better.  In execution, the film is remarkably simple, yet is thematically very complex.  "A Single Life" was created by trio Job, Joris, and Marieke and tells the story of a woman who get a record delivered to her door, only to realize that the record has mysterious powers.

As morbidly comedic as any short film this critic has seen, "A Single Life" maximizes the potential of its excellent premise and provides a toe-tapping song to boot.  This is the kind of inventive, economical storytelling that we need more of.

Patrick Osborne's "Feast" is a heart-swelling success.  The film, which played in front of Big Hero 6, tells the story of Winston, a dog whose life revolves around food.  Over time, we see how his meals change as his human father changes.  "Feast" is gorgeously animated and profound, like "A Single Life".  It tells a complete story through massive jumps in time and flows effortlessly through these jumps.

"Feast" is a true pleasure to watch.  The concept is completely original and Osborne balances tones masterfully.  "Feast" is moving, exciting, heartbreaking, and pure fun.  This could very well win the Oscar.

Robert Kondo and Dice Tsutsumi's "The Dam Keeper" is a very traditional story that nonetheless is very moving and visually stunning.  The craft is impeccable and the message never gets old.  I wouldn't be shocked if this won the Oscar (though I don't think it will win).

The sweet "Me and My Moulton", like many of the other shorts, has a profound, very important message.  It will be too low-key for some with its monotone narration and lack of energy, but for those more patient viewers, it will be a highly rewarding experience.  The animation is very simple, yet this is part of the film's charm.  "Me and My Moulton" isn't the strongest of the shorts, but is nonetheless a worthy nominee that is well worth a watch.

Finally, Daisy Jacobs' "The Bigger Picture".  It's animation is mind-blowing, but I couldn't connect to it emotionally like I did with the other films.  It's certainly worth a viewing for the innovative animation alone (some of the best I've ever seen - it would be interesting to look into how the animation was achieved), but "The Bigger Picture" simply wasn't my cup of tea.

Overall, as usual, this group of Oscar-nominated animated shorts are a mixed bag, but every single one is worth seeing.  Again, "A Single Life" and "Feast" are by far the best because of their profundity and their enjoyability.  It's a feat for a film to be as entertaining as those two and pack the punch that they do.

Friday, January 30, 2015


(L to R) Lady (Assa Sylla), Adiatou (Lindsay Karamoh), Marieme/Vic (Karidja Touré) and Fily (Mariétou Touré) sing and dance to Rihanna’s “Diamonds” in Céline Sciamma's GIRLHOOD 
Courtesy of Strand Releasing
2015, 112 minutes
Not Rated

By Joshua Handler

Céline Sciamma's Girlhood is a subtle, cinematic work about Marieme (Karidja Touré), a teen growing up in the "projects" in Paris who joins a gang and slowly but surely begins to open up to new possibilities in life, in spite of her bleak home life.  The film features a number of memorable sequences that make it worth seeing alone, such as one about thirty minutes in when the girls are partying and lip-syncing to Rhianna's "Diamonds".  It's a fairly simple sequence, yet is one full of joy in a film that has very little.

Story-wise, Girlhood isn't much different narratively from all of the other coming-of-age stories out there, but it is far more cinematic and realistic than others.  Most of Girlhood doesn't feel like a film.  It feels as if Sciamma went out with an excellent cinematographer (Crystal Fournier, whose blue-hued images are wonderful) and recorded the lives of ordinary girls living out their ordinary lives.  The ending of Girlhood is poignant, powerful, and understated, yet isn't something monumental, as it would be in real life.  It's to Sciamma's credit that she can create an ending with that power out of something so ordinary.

However, it is the ordinariness of Girlhood's story that sometimes works against it.  While the mundaneness of the film is one of its highlights, it also means that there's occasionally too little narrative momentum to sustain interest.

Much of the appeal of Girlhood comes from the naturalistic, charismatic performances of its entire cast, Touré and Assa Sylla in particular.  No performance ever feels like a performance.  The lead four who comprise the gang carry the film with their charm and complexity.

Overall, Girlhood is a necessary film for many reasons, not least because it is a coming-of-age story about a girl.  In the past year, we had the unrelated, yet similarly-named Boyhood, which focused itself around, what else, a boy, so it's very nice to have a film like this about a girl, though this one doesn't attempt to capture an entire childhood like Boyhood did.  Sciamma is much more interested in focusing in on a very specific period of young adulthood and exploring one girl's attempt to navigate through it.  Her exploration is a success and is one that many girls should be able to relate to.


Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Joshua Handler on HuffPost Live with Karen Sherwood

Dear Readers,

I will be a guest on HuffPost Live again today with producer Karen Sherwood (The Good Lie, Frost/Nixon, A Beautiful Mind) at 4 PM EST.  I am, as always, honored to have been asked to be on the show, and hope you all can tune in and watch.  Here's the link to view:

Please leave comments below!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Oscar Announcement Reactions

By Joshua Handler

Better late than never, here are my reactions to last Thursday's Oscar nomination announcement: 

The most exciting nomination today was Marion Cotillard's for Two Days, One Night, the Dardennes' newest masterpiece.  Cotillard's Best Actress nomination is huge given the fact that the film is still in extremely limited release, has little to no awards campaign, and is not in English.  The performance is also the greatest of 2014, so to see it recognized by the Academy is very exciting.

The Salt of the Earth is nominated for Best Documentary.  As one of the best films of 2014, it's wonderful to see it nominated.

Bennett Miller, Richard Linklater, and Wes Anderson are nominated for Best Director.  Bennett Miller's surprise nomination for directing Foxcatcher is exciting given that no one expected it and so much of the film's success is due to his slow-burn, unnervingly meditative approach.  Richard Linklater and Wes Anderson should've each been nominated many times in the past for their consistently strong direction, but they haven't.  I'm thrilled that their latest films, Boyhood and The Grand Budapest Hotel, have struck a chord with the director's branch.

Bradley Cooper is nominated for his third Oscar in a row.  His performance in American Sniper is his best, and I'm thrilled to see his work honored.

Whiplash is nominated for five Oscars including Best Picture.  It's my favorite movie of the past year.  Enough said.

Ida was nominated for the Best Cinematography Oscar.  This nomination is a bit of a surprise, but is very well-deserved.

The most ridiculous snubs were for Selma, a landmark film that deserved screenplay, director, actor, supporting actress, and cinematography nominations.  The film was only nominated for Best Picture and Best Song.

Hands-down the biggest surprise this year was the fact that The LEGO Movie was not nominated for Best Animated Feature.

The second biggest surprise was Life Itself's snub in the documentary feature category.  Steve James should've had multiple films nominated in the past, but none have been.  Jesse Moss' The Overnighters also should've been nominated for Best Documentary Feature.

Nightcrawler's lack of nominations other than Best Original Screenplay is deeply disappointing.  Jake Gyllenhaal and Rene Russo gave two of the best performances of the year, yet neither was nominated.  And a Best Picture nomination would've been nice.

Robert Elswit should've either been nominated for the Best Cinematography Oscar for either Nightcrawler or Inherent Vice, yet wasn't nominated for either.

Foxcatcher is superb and should've been nominated for Best Picture.  As were Wild and Into the Woods.

The Adapted Screenplay category had two huge snubs: Nick Hornby's screenplay for Wild and Gillian Flynn's for Gone Girl.  Hornby's screenplay was subtly moving and Flynn's was the perfect mix of pulp thriller and clever social commentary.

And finally, the foreign language film category.  I have seen all five films nominated, and while I like most of the ones I've seen, only two of them astounded me: Zaza Urushadze's humane anti-war film, Tangerines, and Damián Szifrón's Wild Tales, an inventive, completely insane film comprised of tales of revenge.

Gravitas Ventures Acquires THE LADIES OF THE HOUSE


I usually don't publish articles about recent acquisitions, but because I'm quite looking forward to John Stuart Wildman's The Ladies of the House, I decided to publish this news.  The film looks to be something unique, bizarre, and very fun.  The following is the press release announcing Gravitas Ventures' acquisition of the film:

NEW YORK, NY (January 20, 2014) – Gravitas Ventures announced today that the company is acquiring North American rights to John Stuart Wildman’s THE LADIES OF THE HOUSE to be released in April/May on VOD. Featuring a screenplay by Justina Walford and Wildman, the film stars Farah White, Melodie Sisk, Brina Palencia, Samrat Chakrabarti, and Michelle “Belladonna” Sinclair and was produced by White, Wildman, Walford and Adam Dietrich. THE LADIES OF THE HOUSE had its world premiere at last year’s Dallas International Film Festival.

THE LADIES OF THE HOUSE follows the fate of two brothers, Jacob and Kai, who, along with their friend Derek, go to a dance club to celebrate Kai’s birthday. After Derek convinces the other two to follow one of the dancers home, and then talks their way into the house to party with her, things take a tragic turn resulting in the young woman’s death.

However, that is simply the beginning of the nightmare for the young men, because her roommates (Getty, Lin and Crystal) aren’t just fellow dancers, they are also cannibals with a fierce sense of home and family – and a taste for men. After Kai quickly falls victim to Getty and Lin and is on his way to becoming the centerpiece of that evening’s meal, Derek tries to figure out how to escape while Jacob discovers his survival may hinge on the twisted desire and whims of Crystal, the beautiful and sociopathic “baby” of the family.

The film marks the feature film directorial debut for Wildman, who is the Senior Publicist for the Film Society of Lincoln Center and columnist for Film Threat. Prior to completing THE LADIES OF THE HOUSE, Wildman has enjoyed an eclectic career in entertainment and film. The former Head of Press & Public Relations for the American Film Institute, as well as the PR Director for AFI FEST and the DALLAS International Film Festival, Wildman has headed the PR efforts for film festivals across the country and written for numerous film sites. Film credits as an actor include a brief appearance in Noah Baumbach’s upcoming WHILE WE’RE YOUNG, as well as the cult classic, SORORITY BABES IN THE SLIMEBALL BOWL-O-RAMA.

Wildman said: “We couldn’t be more thrilled to find such a great home with Gravitas Ventures. Having admired their taste in cinema from the viewpoint of someone in the film fest and film publicity world, it’s exciting to now have THE LADIES OF THE HOUSE included among their roster of films.”

THE LADIES OF THE HOUSE was executive produced by Ruth Mutch (INFINITELY POLAR BEAR, LITTLE ACCIDENTS), and co-executive produced by Debbi Berlin. The film was shot and produced in Dallas, Texas.

The deal for the film was negotiated by Mia Bruno of Acquisitions & Productions for Gravitas Ventures with Noor Ahmed of Reder & Feig LLP on behalf of the filmmakers.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Joshua Handler on HuffPost Live with JK Simmons

I will be on HuffPost Live with actor J.K. Simmons, Golden Globe and SAG-nominee for the best film of 2014, Whiplash, today at 2:50 PM EST.  Here is the link: