18 January, 2010

2010 Oscars: Been There, Done That

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

Well, after watching the Golden Globe Awards ceremonies last evening, I had the distinct feeling: who needs the Oscars? I've already seen the winning films, directors and actors and heard their acceptance speeches. The Oscar ceremony, which is not scheduled until six weeks from now, seems quite besides the point. Except for the fashion ("who are you wearing?" is the question of the moment), I am imagining that last night's Golden Globe winners will be simply re-doing their "best of" acceptance speeches at the Kodak Theater on March 7.

Of course, it may not be so. And in one major category, I do think that the Globes will not be an indicator of the eventual winner (I am banking on Kathryn Bigelow for her outstanding work on the Iraq war drama THE HURT LOCKER, rather than James Cameron, the uber-director of the populist AVATAR, who won Best Director honors last evening).

Aside from that.....the highlights of the Oscar evening were already played out last evening at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. AVATAR should get the nod for Best Picture based on its technological innovation and its astounding international boxoffice. Jeff Bridges, who has become the odds-on favorite for Best Actor for his turn as a washed-up country music singer in CRAZY HEART, will again thank his father (Lloyd Bridges) for introducing him and his fellow thespian brothers to the world of show biz. Sandra Bullock, an industry favorite and this year's ka-ching box office queen, will again quip about how Julia Roberts turned down the role of the Southern matriarch in THE BLIND SIDE, which gave her a chance to chew the scenery in a role that is "outside my comfort zone".

Mo'Nique, whose channeled the mother from hell in the urban drama PRECIOUS, will have her mascara running as she tearfully thanks the two men in her life: her husband/manager and the film's director Lee Daniels. Christoph Waltz, the German character actor whose turn as a sadistic Nazi in Quentin Tarantino's INGLORIOUS BASTERDS has suddenly given him Hollywood clout, will again publicly wonder what he is doing there, in the company of the world's most famous personalities.

Michael Haneke will again exhibit a mix of European arrogant reserve and playful incredulity as he picks up the Best Foreign Language Film prize for the austere German drama THE WHITE RIBBON. Jason Reitman, the writer/director enfant terrible whose UP IN THE AIR has captured the zeitgeist of an America down on its luck, will dutifully thank his father, comedy director Ivan Reitman, for his artistic inspiration and his family loyalty. And even the evening's starriest presenter, the ever eternal Sophia Loren, will simply be a revivalist re-do come Oscar night.

So, perhaps the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences might see this as an opportunity to cut down on the ridiculous cost of mounting the Oscar extravaganza and simply replay the Golden Globe ceremonies. That way, the multi millions that are saved could be used for some other more pressing giving bankers a year-end salary bonus or, God forbid, helping the people of Haiti rebuild their country.

But this, of course, will never happen.....the Oscar industry (of fashion, borrowed jewelry, hair and make up, television advertising revenues, et al) is just too much of an addiction for the town to shake the habitual habit of Oscar speculation and the crowning of our celebrity kings and queens. And with several more awards ceremonies to come between now and Oscar night, the Oscars themselves could appear to be a tired rerun and secondhand spectacle. The Golden Globes got there first......

15 January, 2010

New York Showcase En Route To Sundance

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

A group of very lucky Russian filmmakers will have the double opportunity of impressing North American audiences and industry professionals via a unique program sponsored by CEC ArtsLink. The not-for-profit organization has partnered with the Sundance Film Festival to co-host a group of four independent Russian filmmakers in the US from January 20 to February 2. Their award-winning short films will have a North American premiere screening in New York. The filmmakers will then continue on to Park City, Utah for a program of industry networking events at the Sundance Film Festival.

The filmmakers' US visit is part of the Open World Cultural Leaders Program, whose aim is to promote cross-cultural understanding through professional exchange. While in New York City and at Sundance, the filmmakers will attend industry events, meet with their US counterparts, and participate in a range of cultural activities.

CEC ArtsLink ( creates constructive relationships in the arts between the United States and Eastern and Central Europe, Russia, Central Asia and the Caucasus. The program, titled New Russian Voices, will screen on Thursday, January 21 at the Tribeca Cinemas, a downtown arthouse theater that is part of the Tribeca Enterprises empire and one of the venues used during the Tribeca Film Festival.
The program includes:
The Boss (2009, 20 mins, dir. Yuri Bykov) A couple of desperate burglars break into the summer house of a federal security service chief. The tables are quickly turned as they find out what it's like to cross a man accustomed to unlimited power. Best Short Film, 2009 Kinotavr Film Festival (Sochi); Official Selection, Interfest 25th International Short Film Festival (Berlin).

Boulevard (2008, 7 mins, dir. Alisa Khmelnitskaya) A chance conversation of two women on a boulevard bench pits the romantic optimism and innocence of one against the cynicism and experience of the other, leaving them both transformed. Special Jury Prize, 2008 Beginning (“Nachalo”) Student Film Festival (St. Petersburg); Official Selection, Short Film Competition, 2008 Kinotavr Film Festival (Sochi).

Mom (2009, 21 mins, dir. Ilya Kazankov) Two Naval Academy cadets sneak out into the city to make a very important phone call, setting off a chain of comical and touching adventures. Official Selection, 2009 Vilnius Film Shorts International Festival.

The Gust of Wind (2009, 23 min, dir. Ekaterina Telegina) There are some days that, like a gust of wind, will suddenly upend your entire life – for better or worse. Special mention for excellence in cinematography, 2009 Kinotavr Film Festival (Sochi); People's Choice Award and special jury mention, ARTkino Russian Festival of Art Films; Official Selection, Interfest 25th International Short Film Festival (Berlin) and the 2009 Russian Film Festival in London.

12 January, 2010

Jewish Themes In European Cinema

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

With the opening this week of the 19th New York Jewish Film Festival, one of the most important showcases of Jewish-themed cinemas in the world, a strong showing by European filmmakers is overwhelmingly evident. Most of the films mentioned here will undoubtedly play at many similar Jewish film festivals around the world (there are hundreds), with some actually making the leap into theaters.

It is often said that everyone in New York, no matter what your religion or ethnicity, is just a little bit Jewish. The Jewish influence in culture, art, politics and in every stratum of society gives all New Yorkers a kind of common bond that no other group quite inspires. If you can recite the lines from a Woody Allen film, if you cannot imagine breakfast without a bagel, if you find yourself uttering the words "oy vey" with a heartfelt sigh, you are Jewish, if you are a Catholic priest, a Hindu taxi driver or a Moslem shopkeeper. So, boychicks, have I got a festival for you.....

The 19th New York Jewish Film Festival, an annual showcase of films presented by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Jewish Museum that begins this week, is one tasty corned beef sandwich. A mix of dramas, documentaries and films that explore cultural issues, the Festival is among the most popular events presented each winter, almost as nourishing as a bowl of that Jewish penicillin, matzoh ball soup. Aside from its inherent Jewishness, the series is also a prominent showcase of new works from Europe's most dynamic cinema talents.

The series opens with SAVIORS IN THE NIGHT, a German/French co-production by director Ludi Boeken, that offers yet another tale of courage and the vagaries of fate that are inherent to dramas focused on the Holocaust, in particular the role of "good Germans" who risked their lives to save their Jewish neighbors. Based on the memoir of Marga Spiegel, this powerful drama portrays how courageous German farmers in Westphalia risked their lives to hide a Jewish family.

The Closing Night Film is also from a leading European talent. WITHIN THE WHIRLWIND, a German/Polish/Belgian co-production is the latest film from director Marleen Gorris. The film tells the story of Jewish poet and professor Evgenia Ginzburg, who lived a privileged life in Stalinist Russia—until faced with trumped-up charges of conspiracy. Stripped of her Communist Party membership and teaching post, Ginzburg served a ten-year sentence in a Siberian gulag, surviving through the kindness of her fellow inmates and the power of poetry. Based on Ginzburg’s memoirs, this epic from Oscar-winner Marleen Gorris (ANTONIA'S LINE) features stunning performances by Emily Watson (BREAKING THE WAVES) and Ulrich Tukur (THE LIVES OF OTHERS).

Other European film highlights in the series include: BERLIN ’36, a German/UK co-production by Kaspar Heidelbach that tells a dramatic story of friendship during that year’s infamous Olympics; the French documentary EINSATZGRUPPEN: THE DEATH BRIGADES by Michaël Prazan, a 3-hour portrait of the mobile commandos who carried out the murder of 1.5 million Jews, Gypsies, Communists, disabled people, partisans, and Soviet prisoners of war; the Czech documentary FORGOTTEN TRANSPORTS: TO POLAND by Lukás Pribyl about the Czech Jews deported by the Nazis to camps and ghettos in Eastern Poland’s Lublin region; the Romanian drama GRUBER'S JOURNEY by Radu Gabrea, set in Nazi-occupied Romania; Dutch director Frans Weisz' HAPPY END about several generations of a Dutch Jewish family; HUMAN FAILURE by Michael Verhoeven (THE NASTY GIRL), a documentary expose of the expropriation and sale of Jewish assets by the Nazis; THE JAZZ BARONESS, UK director Sarah Rothchild's documentary portrait of her great-aunt who scandalized the famous banking dynasty with her affair with a black jazz musician; the Czech submission for the Oscars, PROTECTOR by Marek Najbrt, set in 1930s Prague; and French director Alain Tasma's terrorism thriller ULTIMATUM, starring French heartthrob Gaspard Ulliel.

The Festival runs through January 28 at the Walter Reade Theater, the flagship of the Film Society of Lincoln Center. For a complete list of films, visit: or

08 January, 2010

French Film Surprises For Film Critics Prizes

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

While most of the films that are being showered with awards by the various film critics and guild organizations in the end-of-the-year awards season are a mix of Hollywood and American independent films, a few European films (most notably from France) are seizing some of the awards thunder.

When the National Society of Film Critics made their awards announcements earlier this week, a few French films and talents were prominent. Although THE HURT LOCKER was the overwhelming winner of the Best Picture prize, the surprise second place went to SUMMER HOURS, the family drama by Olivier Assayas that was one of the critical favorites of the year. Assayas also came in second to Kathryn Bigelow (THE HURT LOCKER) in the Best Director race, over such formidable competition as Jason Reitman (UP IN THE AIR), James Cameron (AVATAR) and Quentin Tarantino (INGLORIOUS BASTERDS). He also came in second in the Best Screenplay contest, which included winners Joel and Ethan Coen (A SIMPLE MAN) and Quentin Tarantino (INGLORIOUS BASTERDS).

SUMMER HOURS was the favorite in the Best Foreign Language category, winning top honors over such well received films as EVERLASTING MOMENT by Swedish auteur Jan Troell, POLICE ADJECTIVE, the latest film from Romanian enfant terrible Corneliu Porumboiu, and 35 SHOTS OF RUM by French icon Claire Denis.

THE BEACHES OF AGNES, a lovely memory documentary by Nouvelle Vague pioneer Agnes Varda, was named as Best Documentary, over the films TYSON and ANVIL! THE STORY OF ANVIL (both of which did not make the Oscar Documentary cut). German cinematographer Christian Berger took top place in the Best Cinematography race for his haunting filming of the black-and-white historic drama THE WHITE RIBBON by director Michael Haneke.

The biggest surprise was the naming of French actress Yolande Moreau, who narrowly won for her work in the biopic SERAPHINE. She won the prize over second place (and Oscar favorite) Meryl Streep for her tour-de-force incarnation of foodie Julia Child in the comedy JULIE AND JULIA. As expected, Christoph Waltz won Best Supporting Actor honors for his ferocious portrayal of a sadistic Nazi in INGLORIOUS BASTERDS.


*1. The Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigelow)

2. Summer Hours (Olivier Assayas)

3. Inglourious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino)


*1. Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker)

2. Olivier Assayas (Summer Hours)

3. Wes Anderson (Fantastic Mr. Fox)


*1. Summer Hours (Olivier Assayas)

2. Everlasting Moment (Jan Troell)

3. Police, Adjective (Corneliu Porumboiu)

3. 35 Shots of Rum (Claire Denis)


*1. The Beaches of Agnes (Agnes Varda)

2. Tyson (James Toback)

3. Anvil! The Story of Anvil (Sacha Gervasi)


*1. Joel and Ethan Coen (A Serious Man)

2. Olivier Assayas (Summer Hours)

3. Quentin Tarantino (Inglourious Basterds)


*1. Yolande Moreau (Seraphine)

2. Meryl Streep (Julie & Julia and Fantastic Mr. Fox)

3. Abbie Cornish (Bright Star)


*1. Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker)

2. Jeff Bridges (Crazy Heart)

3. Nicolas Cage (Bad Lieutenant)


*1. Mo’Nique (Precious)

2. Anna Kendrick (Up in the Air)

3. Samantha Morton (The Messenger)


*1. Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds)

2. Paul Schneider (Bright Star)

3. Christian McKay (Me and Orson Welles)


*1. The White Ribbon (Christian Berger)

2. The Hurt Locker (Barry Ackroyd)

3. Everlasting Moment (Jan Troell)