Tuesday, January 10, 2012

2012 YoungCuts Film Festival Call For Submissions

2012 YoungCuts Film Festival 
Call for Submissions and Participation
The YoungCuts Film Festival is looking for Great Short Films by the World's Best Young Filmmakers (25 and under).

Established in 2001, the YoungCuts Film Festival is the Premiere Showcase for young, emerging talent. Every year, the festival selects its Top 100 short films from more than a thousand films that come from more than 30 countries. 

We present awards in multiple categories including Best Picture, Best Animated Film, Best Documentary and Best Short Short Film (film under five minutes).

This year, for the first time, we will be providing an opportunity for filmmakers and the public to help us select winners by voting on film submissions by filmmakers who are participating in our 2012 People's Choice program. Anyone interested in watching or voting for great films will be able to do so, for the price of a theatre ticket. Every month, beginning in January, we will have a new slate of films to vote on and at the end of the month, based on public voting, we will announce one film pre-selected to the Festival.

To see how it will work, courtesy of Canadian Heritage, here are a selection of great films from the Festival that you can watch and vote on for free.

Filmmakers can submit their films online HERE

Our Early-Bird deadline is January 31st. It is cheaper to submit before January 31st and, as always, the earlier that you submit, the better your chance for your film to be accepted.

Our regular deadline for the Festival is March 31st, but we accept films until June 15th.

For more information on submitting your film go HERE

Or contact Michael Ryan:  festivaldirector@YoungCuts.com 514.285.4591

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

From the Cutting Room Floor: Jason Reitman's Anonymous Narcissists

From the Cutting Room Floor
Jason Reitman's Anonymous Narcissists

Rather than just giving you the link to my latest article on Sound on Sight, I thought that I would include a few snippets of what didn't make it into the article and how I came to write it.

I kept trying to see Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol before Christmas, largely to watch the extended preview of Christopher Nolan's next Batman film, but it was always sold out. The first time that I tried to get in and failed, I went Christmas shopping instead. The second time, I went to see Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows and made it a double feature with Jason Reitman and Cody Diablo's follow-up to Juno: Young Adult.

Simon Howell beat me to the review with his excellent summary. Ricky and Simon never refuse second looks at films and many of my reviews are second takes on films already reviewed on the site including my reviews of Bellflower, The Innkeepers, The Devil's Double and The Adventures of Tintin. But, they don't exactly encourage the duplication either. Usually, if I am writing a second review, it is because I fundamentally disagreed with the first review (The Innkeepers) or I didn't know that it existed (The Devil's Double).

In the case of Simon's review (and Roger Ebert's excellent review that muses on Mavis' alcoholism) I didn't so much as disagree with the reviews as wonder at the notion that Young Adult was in some way a complete departure for Jason Reitman. Where others saw differences, I saw only similarities.

It was obviously a bit of a departure by Cody Diablo and, as she herself has admitted, a commentary and reaction to her previous scripts about young adults and the critical reaction to them. What was most interesting to me, is that in creating Mavis Gary, Cody created a character who was even more a Jason Reitman character than Juno MacGuff, or to put it another way, she shifted her focus from Juno to a secondary character from that film, the narcissistic Mark Loring.

But while Young Adult ended up being more similar to Thank You For Smoking and Up in the Air than to Juno, all of Jason Reitman's films struggle with the conflict between selfishness and selflessness, between narcissism and altruism.

It's not the only similarity between the four films. All of them have fantastic title sequences  - little short films that captivate and offer a miniature insight into the entire film.

All four films also have protagonists with an extraordinary facility for language. As Nick Naylor (without any humilty whatsoever) says, "Michael Jordan plays ball. Charles Manson kills people. I talk." Ryan Bingham talks people into believing that being fired is a good thing, telling them, "Anybody who ever built an empire, or changed the world, sat where you are now. And it's because they sat there that they were able to do it." Juno, while still only 16, is constantly playing with language with a facility beyond her years. While Mavis Gary is nowhere near as good as Nick, Ryan or Juno at talking, she is easily their equal at writing, completing her final Waverly Prep novel during the course of the film despite being on a Lost Weekend type bender from the opening frame to the last. (One of the reasons that Roger Ebert may have identified so closely with Mavis Gary is that he admits that early in his writing career he was an alcoholic. When Jian Ghomeshi asked him if his alcoholism affected his professional life, Ebert proudly told him that even at the worst of his drinking, he never missed a deadline.)

The one part of the article that I regret is that it may be so clinical in its analysis that it may hide how much I admire Jason Reitman's talents as a writer and director and how much I like all of his films. Suffice it to say that I wouldn't waste the effort on crappy films or a crappy director. (Next up Udo Kier!)

I also admit to being a bit nervous about throwing in Groundhog Day, and full confession here: I originally remembered Groundhog Day as having been written and directed by Ivan Reitman, Jason's Dad, not Harold Ramis, a friend and collaborator of Ivan Reitman, but I felt that the point was worth making and made for a natural conclusion to the article, so what the hell.


The final thing that I couldn't cram into the article is how much Mavis Gary seems motivated by a fear of failure, scarred perhaps by her miscarriage of Buddys baby and her failed marriage of the (unnamed?) husband that she married after her break-up with Buddy. This fear of failure seems to be what has been causing her writer's block as the film starts and the fact that the Waverly Prep series has been cancelled, that she is supposed to be writing the final volume in the series, can be seen as another failure. That Mavis is the ghost writer for someone else's series rather than the creator of her own and her reliance on eavesdopped conversations by teens for her dialogue are also signs of her fear of failure. Her compulsive preparations for her encounters with Buddy; her donning of the war paint points a kind of self-loathing that seems to say that she is afraid of simply being who she is. Mavis' narcissism is not so much self-love as love of herself as some imagined ideal; who seh becomes rather than who she is.

One of the other reasons that Mavis hates Beth Slade is that Beth has no fear of failure, playing drums for the local rock band Nipple Confusion with little real talent, but great enthusiasm.

Read my article about the tragic flaw that binds all the protagonists of Jason Reitman's funny tragedies.

Monday, January 2, 2012

My Top Ten TV Shows of 2011

My Top Ten TV Shows of 2011

The same way that Sound on Sight asked me to vote for my Top Ten Films for 2011, they asked me to to vote for my Top Ten TV Shows for 2011, for their year-end list

As with films, I only picked TV shows that I actually saw. The biggest distinction here is that it is a lot harder to watch good TV (at least on TV) than good films. For every good movie that only seems to play at festivals or plays one week and then disappears, there are dozens of TV shows that only play on Pay-TV. A good rule of thumb was that if it played on HBO Canada, I wasn't able to watch it. This eliminated a ton of great shows: Game of Thrones, Homeland, Walking Dead, Dexter, Breaking Bad, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Louie and so on and so on.

One of the reasons that I started writing my Obsessive, Compulsive, Procedural column was that on broadcast TV about all that is currently programmed is reality TV, talent competitions, comedies and procedurals. Good thing I like procedurals.

All that kvetching aside, it was a very good year for TV and these were my favourites...


#10. Harry's Law (tie)

Not as good a season as the first one, but still good. Perhaps a victim of its own success - it was left alone by the network until it started drawing good ratings and the network moved in to make the show safe for primetime.

Despite the fact that the show seems to have betrayed the very reason for its existence this year, I keep watching - if for no other reason than that it seems like David E. Kelley is inserting a sub-text about how miserable Harry is becoming being a regular criminal lawyer this year compared to her delight defending the neighbourhood poor last year.

My OCP Column about Harry's Law.


#10. Storage Wars (tie)

This compulsively addictive A&E show has a deceptively simple premise: four characters - a mogul with an established store, a young turk (and his wife) with a new store, an experienced reseller with a penchant for taking gambles and an eccentric with a history of collecting - attend public auction of storae lockers, bid on the contents and then see if they made a profit or not.

I like Auction Hunters on Spike as well. Auction Hunters has a slightly better format, because it follows the Hunters from buying the locker to actually selling the merchandise, while Storage Wars counts a valuation as a sale. Auction Hunters has it right, because an item can be valued quite high, but what matters is how much will give you in cash for it now.

I am also a fan of Pawn Stars on History, but Storage Wars has the most engaging charactersof any of the shows, which puts it on this list.


#9. Dragons' Den

The Dragons' Den series started in Japan as "Manē no Tora" or Tiger of Money. The basic idea is that entrepreneurs come on the show asking for money for their companies. The Dragons have the option of buying a share of the entrepreneurs company, but only if they put up the full amount of what is being asked.

There have been more than 20 versions around the world. The Canadian version on CBC is so good that two of the Dragons from that show (Kevin O'Leary and Robert Herjavec) also appear as Sharks in the U.S. version Shark Tank.

Compulsively watchable, Dragons' Den is a great mix of good ideas, bad ideas, cynicism, the occasional moment of capitalist benevolence and great clashes of personality. The ongoing feud between Kevin O'Leary and Arlene Dickinson is especially entertaining. Jim Treliving is also very good as the éminence grise of the show - probably the smartest man in the room, but also smart enough to let the others blather on for him.


#8. Bones

One of the best of the long-running procedurals. David Boreanz has been a favourite of mine since Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

I am working on an OCP column about Bones, but it is worth watching every week if only for the parental advisory for "graphic forensic content".


#7. The Amazing Race

The smartest and classiest reality TV show period.

Part of the fun in the program is watching the contestants struggle with the culture unfamiliarity and with the weird male obsession with not asking for directions. While physical fitness is helpful, mental fitness is much more important, proved this year when a team of senior citizens finished fifth destroying teams decades younger.


#6. Young Justice

One of three cartoon procedurals on this list.

A smart show that deals head-on with the weird superhero habit of recruiting teen sidekicks and throwing them into danger. It uses huge amounts of more than 70 years worth of comic-book continuity, but does it in a non-intrusive way.

I am working on a column about the show now and it is turning into an EPIC monster.


#5. Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated

One of the best procedurals currently on television is a half-hour cartoon that has been on television in one form or another since 1969 and was a major inspiration for what many (myself included) believe was the greatest serial drama in the history of television. The irony is that Scooby-Doo was solidly mediocre until the debut of Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated last summer.

The rest of my OCP column on Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated.

#4. Prime Suspect
Unfairly crucified for being both too similar and not similar enough to the equally great British original, Prime Suspect had the second best cast on broadcast television.
The U.S. Prime Suspect has one terrible, undeniable problem: its title. Even though the U.S. Prime Suspect is closely based on the U.K. Prime Suspect, the title just doesn’t work.
The rest of my OCP coulmn on Prime Suspect.
#3. Archer
The last of the cartoon procedurals on my list, Archer is a fast-talking, fast-thinking spy procedural that manages to borrow from the entire history of the espionage genre to give us something completely new.
It also neatly fits into a personal theory of mine that U.S. spies are almost always amateurs while British spies are almost always professionals, but that the reverse is frequently true for each countries detectives.
By amateur, I don't mean that Archer is incompetent (although he sometimes is) just that he holds his position not because of training, but because of nepotism and a willingness to do the job.
#2. Doctor Who
I have been a Doctor Who fan from my childhood days of watching Tom Baker on PBS and seething through the pledge drives when they would interrupt the action to try and sell us tote bags. 
The latest Doctor, Matt Smith, is both the youngest and the oldest Doctor. His Doctor is funny, compassionate and much smarter than he looks.
While the latest season had its bumpy patches, it also gave fans some of the best TV moments of the year.
#1. The Good Wife
When CBS originally announced The Good Wife it seemed like a terrible idea. Make a TV series about the wife of a fallen politician? The one forced by circumstances and her own ambition to stand by his side and publicly forgive him? Even when doing so means doubling your public humiliation?
Three years in, The Good Wife is by far the best broadcast network drama currently on TV and the only network show to be nominated for a Best Drama Emmy in 2011.

The rest of my OCP column on The Good Wife.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

My Top Ten Films of 2011

My Top Ten Films of 2011

One of the reasons that I haven't been posting as much to this blog is that I have become a fairly regular contributor to Sound On Sight. I guess I could use this blog to announce and link to my articles there, but I just never seem to get around to doing that.

I was asked to contribute to Sound On Sight's best films of the year voting which led to the site's top 30 films of the year. Since the site didn't publicize who voted for what, I thought that I would present my top ten films and justify my votes.

One quick note. I saw about 100 films last year, but many of the films that showed up on the Sound on Sight list I never saw, either because they only played at film festivals that I never attended or I haven't had time to see them yet. (In particular, I very much want to see Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and David Fincher's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo soon.)


#10 (tie) Rango

The best animated film of the year - about a pet chameleon whose aquarium accidentally falls out of the family car on the highway and through a series of misadventures becomes sheriff for the animal city of Dirt. The action and animation (especially the film's many great chase scenes) is pitched somewhere between Chuck Jones' Wile E. Coyote/Roadrunner cartoons and Wild Kingdom.

While I am not sure that Gore Verbinski and Johnny Depp's insistence in taping all the dialogue with all actors present was completely necessary, I appreciate the effort.

Two scenes made me fall in love with this film. The first is a sequence where Rango meets an old cowboy named by the film "Spirit of the West" (Timothy Olyphant channeling Clint Eastwood so well I was convinced that it was Eastwood.)

The second great scene is when Rango finds out that Dirt uses water as currency with the town's reserves held in the town bank. This simultaneously links Rango to Chinatown and to the sub-prime mortgage crisis, reminding us that there is a long history of scoundrels posing as honest bankers, both in film and in real life.


#10 (tie) Brawler

Brawler is a ferociously original film built on the bones of very old stories – some of the oldest in literary history. It is a part of a new sub-genre of films including Bellflower and Another Earth that are narratives about the most twisted, fucked-up relationships humanly possible, framed in the context of a genre narrative.

Rest of the review

#9 Contagion

Steven Soderberg's film takes the epidemic genre (Outbreak, The Andromeda Strain) and ups the ante by looking at what would happen in the real world if the killer virus really got loose. The result is a tense thriller that plays in many ways like a tribute to the great disaster films of the 70s. Stars appear, get sick and die in ways both heroic and not.

The entire film seems inspired by Robert Wagner plunging through the glass in The Towering Inferno and falling to his fiery death.


#8 The Adventures of Tintin

The Sound On Sight podcast featuring me discussing The Adventures of Tintin and War Horse.

Did I just say write that Rango was the best animated film of 2011? I think I meant The Adventures of Tintin.

Spielberg reassures fans of Tintin right off the bat, first with an astonishing animated credit sequence that is filled with Easter Eggs of Tintin’s adventures that reminds fans – and introduces non-fans to – how awesome and influential Tintin is: he was the world’s favourite spy before James Bond; the world’s favourite explorer before Indiana Jones; the world’s favourite comic-book detective before Batman and the world’s favourite red-headed kid reporter before Jimmy Olsen.

Rest of the review


#7 13 Assassins (Director's Cut)

Upping the ante on Kurosawa's Seven Samurai, Miike gave us a story that instead of focusing on the protection of one village against bandits, featured the destruction of one village in the service of bringing to justice a bandit that preyed on the entire country. In the process,  Miike both captured the zeitgeist of the moment and the frustration of the 99%. He also gave us the longest, bloodiest and most incredible action set-piece of the year - giving the metaphorical 99% revenge against the rapacious 1%.


#6 Midnight in Paris

I am not a big believer in the traditional narratives about Woody Allen. Some of it is wrong in the "you are entitled to your wrong-headed opinion" sense and some of it is just plain wrong, full-stop, like the assertion that Midnight in Paris is Woody Allen's biggest box-office hit ever, passing Hannah and Her Sisters, which is wrong twice, because it completely ignores inflation.

Woody Allen has been putting out great movies year after year for more than 40 years. Sure, some have been better than others, but Midnight in Paris is not an aberration, it is part of a 40 year trend of excellence.

Which is not to say that Midnight in Paris didn't strike a chord. In a year when many films mined nostalgia, some to great effect, Midnight in Paris examined nostalgia to expose its weaknesses.


#5 Bellflower

Bellflower is not the Armageddon we were promised.
We were promised scarred tattooed bad-asses riding apocalypse bikes with biker sluts. We were promised Tina Turner in dominatrix gear. We were promised deserts filled with broken glass and rusted abandoned machinery. Most of all, we were promised Detroit muscle cars belching fire.

Well, one out of four will get you a steady paycheck in major league baseball.

Bellflower does give us the amazing fire-breathing Medusa muscle car, but instead of a physical Armageddon, it offers up an emotional apocalypse.

Rest of the review.


#4 War Horse

The Sound On Sight podcast featuring me discussing The Adventures of Tintin and War Horse.

An emotionally wrenching journey through the First World War as seen through the eyes of Joey, a Devon thoroughbred trained as a plough horse, who is sold to a British cavalry officer on the first day of World War One and serves in the war for a variety of owners until the Armistice. Along the way, Spielberg is able to play with his common themes of the collision between the natural world and the mechanical world, as well as the way that the monstrous presence of death is revealed by the movement of inanimate objects. (Particularly effective is Spielberg’s use of a windmill.)

Rest of the review.


#3 Super 8

One of the projects that I never got around to last year was an extended critique and defence of Super 8 and my apparently controversial opinion that it is much more influnced by the films of Joe Dante than the films of Steven Spielberg, especially the neglected Joe Dante classic Matinee.


#2 Rabies

My favourite film from the Fantasia Film Festival this year, which is also my favourite film festival in the world (other than the one that pays my salary.) I also saw Bellflower, 13 Assassins and Brawler at Fantasia. The Innkeepers by Ti West was on this list until very late - only dislodged by Steven Spielberg's two great late films.

My explanation for why I picked Rabies as my favorite film at Fantasia still stands:

This year at Fantasia we heard horror in an entirely new language. As Israel’s horror pioneers, Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado borrowed from the World of Exploitation Cinema, but struck off in an entirely new direction. Rabies is darkly funny and filled with rage. The very existence of the film has inspired the production of 3 new horror films from Israel and a follow-up from Keshales and Papushado that threatens to do to the kidnap genre what they have already done to the slasher genre.

My full review of Rabies.


#1 Hugo

The Sound on Sight podcast featuring me discussing Hugo (and The Muppets).

Hugo is a love-letter to the history of cinema and particularly the very early work of Georges Méliès... The most eloquent and beautiful tribute to the power and history of film since Cinema Paradiso... Beyond Scorsese’s love of film, this is fantastic family film, part Boy’s Adventure, part Oliver Twist and part Jules Verne.

Fair warning about my full review. As originally written, I pointed out that most reviews of Hugo ended up being huge film nerdgasms, at which point my own review turned into a film nerdgasm. I was trying (clumsily) to point out that Hugo was designed to infect filmgoers with film nerdery. Simon Howell cut that out in favour of when I just came out and said that that was what the film did. It reads better that way, but it does make me look like an incredible film geek.

Two other minor points about Hugo and my review...

One final piece of film evidence that points to Hugo being set in 1931 is René Clair’s 1931 film À Nous la Liberté, which (depending on who you listen to) either predicted or influenced Charlie Chaplin's 1937 film Modern Times.

Finally, right after watching Hugo, I walked into Indigo and bought a very nice hardcover of The Invention of Hugo Cabret, but I didn't start reading it until after I had written and submitted my review. On the very first page of the novel, it tells us that the year is 1931. D'oh! Impressive that my detective work got the year right, but the actual answer was literally sitting at my elbow throughout my search.

Rest of the review.