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Richard Corliss of TIME Magazine’s Top Ten List

December 9, 2010 Leave a comment

Yet another top ten. This one from TIME Magazine’s Richard Corliss. His picks sometimes do get a little outlandish, but quite interesting, nonetheless. “Toy Story 3” gets its first major #1 slot. Good for it, as well as “Inside Job.”

Richard Corliss
1. “Toy Story 3”
2. “Inside Job”
3. “Never Let Me Go”
4. “Life During Wartime”
5. “The Social Network”
6. “Rabbit Hole”
7. “Wild Grass”
8. “Green Zone”
9. “Waiting for Superman”
10. “Four Lions”

I really must get around to seeing “Four Lions.” I’ve heard nothing but good things and I’m also an ENORMOUS fan of “In the Loop,” with which it shares a writer.

“Green Zone,” though? Really? The most visceral experience of 2010? I’m perhaps the greatest Paul Greengrass fan in the world, at least of his subjective, docudrama style, but this was one of the most boring and unrealistic action movies I’ve seen in recent years. A letdown, for sure.

“Inside Job” Review

November 26, 2010 1 comment

Shortly before the 15 finalists for Best Documentary were announced, I screened one of the frontrunners, Charles Ferguson’s “Inside Job.” As of right now, if there was one film that deserves to break into the top 5 and eventually take home the gold, it would be this one.

The film is a no-holds-barred exposé on the Wall Street banking industry and how it literally brought America, and really the world as well, to its knees. Through loads of investigative journalism and on-point interviews, Ferguson uncovers how greed, irresponsibility and deregulation (or in other words “‘Reagan’-ization”) of corporate banks caused the worst recession of nearly any generation alive today.

There are a number of respectable, some even phenomenal, documentarians working in film today: Michael Moore, Davis Guggenheim, Heidi Ewing, Errol Morris, and, of course, Alex Gibney. However, in absolute truth, I don’t think any of them impress me as much as Charles Ferguson, and by God, this is only his second feature film. His debut movie, “No End in Sight,” was easily the single best documentary about the Iraq war, outlining the faults and atrocities committed by the individuals in power. Here, he brings that same demanding insight to the the most recent act of white collar crime to cripple our country.

Now, even though the film does its best to put its information into Layman’s terms, it still deals with some dense material. It outlines the events and actions that lead up to the bankruptcy of both Lehman Brothers and AIG. Wall Street CEOs were endorsing predatory lending, as well as financially betting against properties and stocks after pressuring others to invest into them. They blew millions of dollars on bonuses and salaries, not to mention cocaine and prostitutes, and didn’t create a net for themselves while they drove their businesses, backed with the money of millions of innocent people, straight into the ground.

One of the most laudable aspects of Ferguson’s films is that, unlike some real-life filmmakers, he never lets a good story interfere with the truth, so to speak. This film is not a work of entertainment. It is certainly entertaining at times, but it does overemphasize in its theatrics. Instead, it works the viewer with an onslaught of hard facts. Ferguson lets the information speak for itself, and it speaks quite loudly.

What’s more is that, unlike Michael Moore, another documentarian who goes for the throat, Ferguson never makes himself the main attraction in the film. He is always the faceless man behind the camera. And while Ferguson is never seen, his voice is always present, hammering into his interview subjects. He never gives them time to breathe, let alone attempt to obfuscate their way to a vague, insufficient response. With every word he utters, you feel the passion and resolve in his voice, and you know that every bit of this film is on his shoulders.

The look of the film is fantastic. Every interview is lit perfectly, and the surrounding environments are always used to the best that they can be in framing up each subject. Also, the film contains some of the most gorgeous aerial cinematography that you will see this year. The soaring plates of downtown Manhattan are so breathtaking, I felt that I should have been watching in IMAX. And while the final message of the film may be a bit cliched and vague, the ending shot of the Statue of Liberty speaks volumes more than words ever could.

In the end, there is one characteristic that “Inside Job” and all of Charles Ferguson’s films have that elevate them above the rest is the element of rage. This director has a greater ability to absolutely infuriate his audience than any of his peers. If a viewer goes into this movie without a true knowledge or interest in the subject at hand, they will for sure leave with one, and leave pissed off, as well. And if that is not the true goal of any documentarian with a passion, than I don’t know what is.

GRADES:           A-           * * * * 1/2 / * * * * *           8.8 / 10.0

 

15 Best Documentary Finalists

November 19, 2010 Leave a comment

For those who don’t know how the Oscars are chosen, there are certain awards that are narrowed down to a series of finalists which are eventually narrowed down to their respective nominations. Best Make-Up Effects takes seven finalists, while Best Visual Effects has fifteen. Another award that has fifteen submissions is Best Documentary Feature. Those finalists have been listed below, and though I haven’t seen them all, I can tell you that this is an extremely crowded and competitive field.

These are the finalists:

Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer,” Alex Gibney, director (ES Productions LLC)
Enemies of the People,” Rob Lemkin and Thet Sambath, directors (Old Street Films)
Exit through the Gift Shop,” Banksy, director (Paranoid Pictures)
Gasland,” Josh Fox, director (Gasland Productions, LLC)
Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould,” Michele Hozer and Peter Raymont, directors (White Pine Pictures)
Inside Job,” Charles Ferguson, director (Representational Pictures)
The Lottery,” Madeleine Sackler, director (Great Curve Films)
Precious Life,” Shlomi Eldar, director (Origami Productions)
Quest for Honor,” Mary Ann Smothers Bruni, director (Smothers Bruni Productions)
Restrepo,” Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger, directors (Outpost Films)
This Way of Life,” Thomas Burstyn, director (Cloud South Films)
The Tillman Story,” Amir Bar-Lev, director (Passion Pictures/Axis Films)
Waiting for ‘Superman’”, Davis Guggenheim, director (Electric Kinney Films)
Waste Land,” Lucy Walker, director (Almega Projects)
William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe,” Emily Kunstler and Sarah Kunstler, directors (Disturbing the Universe LLC)

For sure, the showdown for the big prize will end up being the inspirational education rally “Waiting for Superman” by Davis Guggenheim, who won previously for “An Inconvenient Truth,” and the hard-boiled assault on corrupt Wall Street bankers “Inside Job,” by Charles Ferguson, who was shamefully robbed of an Oscar for his enraging look at the Iraq War, “No End in Sight.”

“Waiting for Superman” has some heavyweights backing it up, such as Oprah Winfrey and Bill Gates, however “Inside Job” has the added benefit of being extraordinarily good (as I will write in my upcoming review) which sometimes has an influence on the Academy.

My personal favorite in the category, however, would probably be “Restrepo,” the heart-wrenching story of a platoon of soldiers stationed at the most dangerous outpost in all of Afghanistan. It’s a bit too small and unknown to take home the gold, but I’m confident that it can ring in with a darkhorse nomination.

Probably the most surprising omissions from this list are “12th and Delaware” a searing look at the abortion argument by the makers of “Jesus Camp” and “A Film Unfinished,” a film piecing together never-before-seen footage of Holocaust propaganda films made by the Nazis. These are powerful subjects by great filmmakers, and they should have deserved a spot on this list.

Stay tuned for my updated Oscar Predictions which should be coming out within the next few days.