Short films get no respect. Even when the Oscars roll around, the 10 nominated films usually go unseen by the public. But this year might be different. On Friday, Feb. 15, the Hillcrest Cinema (along with another 60 or so theaters across the country) will begin a rotating series of all 10 nominated live-action and animated shorts before they become available for sale on DVD on May 6.
As for the live-action films, I wouldn't give a hall pass to The Substitute, but I was moved by At Night, a Danish film about three women spending the holidays in a cancer ward. The Mozart of Pickpockets is a sweet take on criminals and children, while The Tonto Woman is a gorgeous-looking take on an Elmore Leonard western. Still, the Ascar® (my personal version of the awards) goes to Tanghi Argentini from Belgium, which is funny, touching, full of quirk and has just enough of a twist at the end to tie it all together and make it memorable.
The French Even Pigeons Go to Heaven gives the Pixar crowd a run for their money in the animation category, and the Russian My Love is gorgeous to look at, like a moving watercolor of a Chekhov play. I wasn't so interested in the stop-action Peter and the Wolf, but I fell for Madame Tutli-Putli—both of which are dialogue-free. But I give the Ascar® to I Met the Walrus, a short Canadian effort based on an interview filmmaker Josh Raskin did with John Lennon in 1969, when the then-14-year-old Raskin snuck into the Beatle's hotel room. The interview is intriguing, and the animation that surrounds it is clever.—Anders Wright
Definitely, Maybe: Precocious Maya (Little Miss Sunshine's Abigail Breslin) forces her about-to-be-divorced dad (Ryan Reynolds) to tell her how he and her mom got together. Like the slow-pitch-softball version of How I Met Your Mother.
George A. Romero's Diary of the Dead: Romero's latest, shot with handheld cameras, is an indictment of mass media, the blogosphere and those of us who consume the news—all told amid the imminent zombie apocalypse. See our interview with Romero on Page 26.
Honeydripper: Probably best known for Lone Star, John Sayles has been writing, directing, and editing his own films for so long that he makes it look easy. Honeydripper is another fine addition to his canon of well-plotted pictures about intersecting people, this one with terrific dialogue and a sharp performance from Danny Glover as a hard-luck club owner in Alabama in the early '50s who needs a break. Deftly taking on racial tensions, religion and the early days of rock 'n' roll, Sayles weaves together a dozen well-drawn characters and a conclusion that sings. Honeydripper isn't Sayles' best, but it's still better than almost anything else.
Jumper: The last time Hayden Christensen faced off against Samuel L. Jackson, he zapped him out a big window in Revenge of the Sith. In Jumper, he has a gene that allows him to teleport anywhere, anytime. This makes him rich and good-looking—but not particularly bright. Jackson, sporting a freaky dye job, is on the hunt for him and others like him. Great idea, cool FX, but very dumb, very standard execution with any nifty metaphysical questions shunted aside in favor of dumbing down for the overseas box office.
Let's Get Lost: Legendary photographer Bruce Weber's soulful documentary on Chet Baker, the equally legendary trumpet player with a legendary drug habit. What could have been a snow job instead explores deeply all of Baker's bad habits, but it also manages to convey just what an amazing and tragic musician he really was.
The Spiderwick Chronicles: The latest kids' fantasy-novel-turned-big-budget-movie-adaptation, Spiderwick tells the story of siblings Mallory (Sarah Bolger), Jared and Simon Grace (both played by Freddie Highmore) as their family moves into the mysterious Spiderwick Estate. The big surprise? They discover an alternate world filled with all sorts of mystical, magical creatures played or voiced by a barrage of big-name talent (Seth Rogen, David Strathairn, Martin Short, Nick Nolte).
Step Up 2 The Streets: Dancer Andie is an outcast in her new hoity-toity arts school—she just has too much street in her. But it comes in handy when she and the other dance geeks enter a hardcore dance contest. Yep, you can take the girl out of the streets, but you can't take the streets out of the girl. Or the title. One Time Only
Sixteen Candles / Say Anything: For any guy who's ever stood outside a chick's house with a boom box booming Peter Gabriel, or any girl who's had a crush on the unattainable jock, or any dude who felt that in Anthony Michael Hall, the geeks were finally represented onscreen, this double feature is for you. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 13, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma. Free.
Paper Tiger Reads Paper Tiger Television: New York-based collective Paper Tiger has been questioning mass media and sticking it to the man since the early '80s. This documentary puts the lens on the media-making, societal-questioning, fight-the-powering troublemakers. Director Maria Juliana Byck will be on hand to take your radical, lefty questions after the show. Screens at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 13 at UCSD's Visual Arts Performance Space. Free.
Last Tango in Paris: Bernardo Bertolucci's 1972 anti-romance stars Marlon Brando as Paul, an American mourning his wife's suicide in Paris. After meeting young Jeanne (Maria Schneider), the two become enwrapped in a self-contained world of sadomasochistic sex. Controversial for its graphic depiction of sexual depravity, Last Tango has become an art-house classic, containing one of Brando's all-time best performances. Screens at 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 14, at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego's La Jolla location.
Ginger and Cinnamon: Poor repressed Stefania. Not only did she recently have her heart broken, but she also has to spend the summer watching over her 14-year-old niece, who is determined to lose her virginity. The first film of '08 from the San Diego Italian Film Festival. Screens at 7 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 14, at the Museum of Photographic Arts in Balboa Park. Free.
Teeny-Tiny Film Series: Silent Films We Love Most: FilmPower!, the new film arm of UCSD's ArtPower!, kicks things off with the first of four silent-movie collections accompanied by live music. The non-talkies include Great Train Robbery and Corner in Wheat, and, yes, there is audience participation (but you probably won't get wet). Stick around after the lights come up for some V-Day champagne and chocolates. Screens at 8 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 14 at the UCSD CalIT2 Theater.
Make Out or Get the Fuck Out: The romantics at Citizen Video pull together some of the greatest make-out and break-up scenes on celluloid and present 'em to you and your drunken sweetie on Valentine's Day. Drink up, then split up or stay together over the musical stylings of Hot Club of Compton. Screens at 9 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 14, at Whistle Stop Bar in South Park. Free.
Bob & Jack's 52-Year Adventure: A hit at last year's FilmOut San Diego, this doc covers the long-term relationship between, well, Bob and Jack, using old footage and recordings to go all the way back to when the duo met in the Army half a century ago. Screens at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 14, at the S.A.G.E. Center (3138 Fifth Ave. in Bankers Hill). Free.
La Sconosciuta: Giuseppe Tornatore's tense 2006 mystery explores the life of young Irena (Kseniya Rappoport), a Ukrainian immigrant living in Italy. Attempting to flee her horrific past, Irena gets a job as a servant for a wealthy family with a sick young daughter. However, escaping proves harder than she thought, as an enigmatic character from her past incites a new series of horrors. Screens at 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 15, at the Italian Community Center (1659 Columbia St. in Little Italy).
Robin Hood: San Diego Symphony conductor Gillian Anderson leads the full crew in playing the original soundtrack to the classic silent-film version of Robin Hood, starring one of the first action heroes, Douglas Fairbanks. Tickets ain't cheap ($20 and $30), but at least he's stealing from the rich. Screens Friday and Saturday, Feb. 15 and 16, at 8 p.m. at Copley Symphony Hall.
9/11 Press for Truth: 9-1-1 is a joke, and 9/11 was an inside job. Whatever—let's invade Thailand. Or Ecuador. Or maybe Toronto. Screens at 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 17, at the Central Library, Downtown. Free. The Real Dirt on Farmer John: Freaky farmer makes art, grows organic and makes his neighbors suspicious 'cause he's a weirdo. Surprisingly touching, Farmer John is required viewing for you freaky organic artsy types. Screens at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 19, at Lestat's Coffee House in Normal Heights. Free.
Ira and Abby: An ensemble romantic comedy about a neurotic psychology student (Chris Messina) whose serendipitous marriage to a free spirit (Jennifer Westfeldt) sends shockwaves through his family. Infidelity and therapy soon follow, only to reveal some painful and funny truths about dysfunction, trust, jealousy and all the other wonderful things that come along with love. Screens at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 20, at the Central Library, Downtown. Free.
Breakfast Club: “You see us as you want to see us, in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain and an athlete and a basket case, a princess and a criminal. Does that answer your question? Sincerely yours, the Breakfast Club.” Right on, and, hey, don't you forget about me. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 20, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma. Free.
Fool's Gold: Matthew McConaughey. Kate Hudson. Skimpy bathing suits. And something about sunken treasure. In Bruges: Noted playwright Martin McDonagh's dark comedy finds Colin Farrell as a killer with a conscience—a return to the charismatic, small-film style of acting that got him all those big crappy movies. Brendan Gleeson is, as always, great as his mentor, and Ralph Fiennes swears a whole hell of a lot.
Vince Vaughn's Wild West Comedy Show: 30 Days and 30 Nights—Hollywood to the Heartland: All-around charmer Vaughn leads a group of comedians on a tour bus in this road-trip documentary. There are plenty of profile-boosting cameos from Vaughn's satellite Frat Pack crew (Justin Long, Jon Favreau, etc.) and a disproportionate amount of dumb-ass male bonding, but the movie has heart and is a welcome diversion from the standard mindless winter comedy. Comic Ahmed Ahmed is the stand-out here, but each has a number of (often unexpected) hilarious bits.
Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins: Master mugger Martin Lawrence is a massively successful self-help talk-show host—the perfect blend of Oprah and Dr. Phil—who returns to the South for his parent's 50th anniversary. Egos are blown. Lessons are learned.
The Eye: Ah, the lucrative Japanese-horror-film-remake market. Jessica Alba is a ridiculously hot blind violinist who gets new corneas. So, she can see, which rules, but soon she starts seeing all kinds of frightening otherworldly shit, which sucks. Alessandro Nivola is her ridiculously hot doctor, and Parker Posey picks up a paycheck.Hannah Montana & Miley Cyrus: Best of Both World Concert 3-D: Like porn for 'tweens. Or maybe crack. Or porn on crack. For 'tweens. In 3-D. Yeah, that's nasty.
Over Her Dead Body: Kate (Eva Longoria Parker) is denied her desperate-housewife status when she is crushed by an ice sculpture on her wedding day. So she comes back to haunt her ex-fiancé, Henry (Paul Rudd), and his new love interest, Ashley the psychic (Lake Bell). Sounds bad? It is. It's a romantic-comedy with neither romance nor comedy.Strange Wilderness: Adam Sandler is the executive producer of Strange Wilderness, which stars Steve Zahn as the new host of a flailing nature show on the verge of cancellation—so zahn and his sidekick Allen Covert go after Bigfoot. Funnymen Jeff Garlin, Justin Long and Ernest Borgnine bait the trap, but, really, no nature show would be canceled, what with the writers strike and all.
Meet the Spartans: This! Is! Satire! The latest chintzy spoof, Spartans is from the team that brought you Scary Movie, Date Movie and Epic Movie. With that pedigree, this film is certain to be a joke, but not the good kind. That said, we can't substantiate the claim, ‘cause it's not screening for press. Go figure.
Rambo: Rambo: First Blood Part II (the second film in the franchise) was one of the first entries in the hard-R ultra-violent category of the '80s. And now, more than 20 years later, the latest installment, which features our favorite vet taking on, uh, Burma, ups the violence quotient. These human-rights violations aren't for the faint of heart. Or stomach.
U2 3D: Sure, it hits all the concert-film clichés, but U2 does those clichés better than anyone, and the technology and giant IMAX screen puts you right in the concert—both in the front row and on the stage—in a way you've never experienced, giving you a real sense of what it's like to play to a stadium full of people. It's hard not to get caught up in “Beautiful Day” or “With or Without You,” but if you're allergic to Bono, stay away, because he'll be right there, large as life, and you can't reach out and smack him.
Untraceable: Dude puts up a killer blog—literally. It's a thriller about a serial killer who puts his victims online—the more people who tune in to watch, the quicker he kills them, and, of course, he's untraceable. Only a hot detective (Diane Lane) can figure it out, so the bad guy starts to flame her. As if parents weren't already freaked out about MySpace.
27 Dresses: Katherine Heigl is the perpetual self-sacrificing bridesmaid, driven to the edge when her self-absorbed sister (Malin Akerman) hooks her all-around-great-guy boss (a puffy Ed Burns), for whom she's pined for years. At the same time, reporter Kevin (James Marsden) picks up on her story as his ticket off the wedding beat. Heigl and Marsden are charming enough to keep it fun, even if Burns phones it in. Prospective husbands beware: this is a simple, inoffensive chick-flick for chicks into weddings.
Cloverfield: The Big Apple looks so tasty that a giant monster hauls itself out of the ocean to take a serious bite. One of the most anticipated films of '08, Cloverfield is produced by Lost/Alias honcho J.J. Abrams and is shot exclusively from the POV of hand-held video cameras of people on the scene. Could be the perfect storm of giant monster flicks.
Persepolis: Yes, it's animated, but there are no cute animals or cars in Marjane Satrapi's autobiographical account of growing up in Iran before, during and after the 1979 revolution. It looks simple, taking its old-school, black-and-white look from the author's graphic novels, and it's so good, so beautiful and so tragic that you might forget you're watching a cartoon. There's a reason France offered it up as its entry in the Foreign Language Film category for this year's Oscars.
There Will Be Blood: Paul Thomas Anderson's first project since Punch-Drunk Love is easily one of the year's best, anchored by an epic, astonishing performance from Daniel Day-Lewis. He plays Daniel Plainview, a turn-of-the-20th-century oilman driven by greed and competition and utterly loathing of the world around him.
The Bucket List: Smart blue-collar Morgan Freeman and rich jerk Jack Nicholson meet in a hospital room where they're both battling cancer and become best buddies, determined to live the rest of their lives to the fullest. Interesting first act that quickly turns into an irritatingly goofy travelogue as they hit the road to check off items on their “Kick the bucket list”—like Wild Hogs for the senior set. Did those years on the political sidelines made Rob Reiner soft? He directs, but with no particular flair.
The Orphanage: Produced by Guillermo del Toro of Pan's Labyrinth and Hellboy fame, this first-time feature from director J.A. Bayona falls back on some horror-movie standards but is so well-made and so darn creepy that you won't care. Laura (Belén Rueda) returns with her husband and son to the orphanage where she was raised, only to discover that some spooky stuff went down since her adoption, and some of her childhood friends might still be hanging around.
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly: So, acclaimed American painter Julian Schnabel makes a movie in French about Jean-Dominique Bauby, the editor of the French edition of Elle who, following a stroke, can only communicate by blinking his left eyelid. And it's really, really good. Gorgeous to look at and heartbreaking to experience, The Diving Bell gets deep into the psyche of Bauby, who ended up writing his memoirs one letter at a time. The film features an extraordinary performance from Mathieu Amalric as Bauby and earned Schnabel Best Director honors at Cannes.
Charlie Wilson's War: What lazy filmmaking. There's no sign of the Mike Nichols we know and love, Aaron Sorkin's usually crisp dialogue is inane, Julia Roberts sucks and everyone's trying to skate on Tom Hanks' trademark charm. Sure, he's fun as the party-go-lucky congressman who spearheaded funding the Afghani resistance back in the '80s, but Charlie's only saving grace is Phillip Seymour Hoffman, who runs the entire picture from behind the scenes as a veteran covert operator.
The Kite Runner: This is the picture that forced the studio to relocate its two child stars and their families. It's a terrific story, dealing with the childhood friendship of two Afghani boys, Amir and Hassan, and the terrible traumas that tear them apart. Based on the best-selling novel by UCSD grad Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner follows Amir's return to his homeland after the Russians have left and the Taliban have taken over. Serious weeper, sure, but director Marc Forster makes it far more sentimental than it needs to be.
National Treasure: Book of Secrets: Nicolas Cage and his band of merry men and hot chicks sort out who's buried in Grant's tomb.
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street: Tim Burton teams up once again with Johnny Depp and longtime girlfriend Helena Bonham-Carter to goth up Sondheim's classic musical. Depp is the barber himself, slashing throats left and right and working with his landlady to grind the remains into meat pies, all in the hopes of eventually getting revenge against Alan Rickman. Woe be to anyone who stands in his way, including Sacha Baron Cohen. None of the principals have great singing voices, but the movie looks so good that you might not care.
Alvin and the Chipmunks: Jason Lee is Dave Seville, the man attempting to keep computer-animated Alvin, Simon and Theodore from engaging in their typical wacky chipmunk antics. The bad news: If you have kids, chances are they'll whine until you take 'em to see it. The good news: It's only 90 minutes long.
I Am Legend: The latest take on Richard Matheson's novel turns Will Smith into Robert Neville, a brilliant military scientist who is also the last man in New York City, not counting the untold hordes of vampire-like people who were infected by an errant cure for cancer. Some of the scenes of an empty Big Apple are amazing, but the movie chops out Matheson's dark, nihilistic vision and turns Neville, always an Everyman dealing with extraordinary circumstances, into a superdude with serious pecs. Still, if you've got to spend an hour watching one guy on screen, it might as well be Smith, who's terrific until he finally has company.
Juno: Fizzy and enjoyable, the year's best feel-good film centers, surprisingly, on an unwed pregnant teen. That'd be Juno (Ellen Page), who decides to give her baby to a yuppie couple (Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman) and toy with her good friend and the father of her child, Paulie Bleeker (an excellent Michael Cera). With sharp dialogue from stripper-turned-screenwriter Diablo Cody and solid direction from Jason Reitman, Juno is a solid, if inoffensive, triumph.
Atonement: Though they've gone out of their way to make Atonement look like a generic period romance, Joe Wright's adaptation of Ian McEwan's shatteringly good novel is crisply directed, gorgeous to look at and terribly well-acted by James McAvoy and Keira Knightley as a star-crossed couple whose future is taken from them when Knightley's younger sister misinterprets something she sees and later turns McAvoy's Robbie in for a crime he did not commit. The buzz has been about the six-minute tracking shot on the war-strewn beaches of Dunkirk, but the real heat is between the two leads.
Enchanted: A deconstructed Disney cartoon, Enchanted, which stars Amy Adams as an animated princess turned to real life on the streets of New York, is far more enchanting than its premise. Grey's Anatomy's McDreamy co-stars, along with Prince Charming James Marsden of X-Men fame.
No Country for Old Men: Their first decent film since Fargo, No Country is a Coen Brothers masterpiece and perhaps the best picture of '07. Based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy, the story centers on a good ol' boy (Josh Brolin), an aging county sheriff (Tommy Lee Jones), a unstoppable psychopathic killer (Javier Bardem) and a valise thick with drug money. Tight, taut, challenging and brutal, it just gets better with repeated viewings.
Into the Wild: Sean Penn takes on John Krakauer's book with Emile Hirsch as Alexander Supertramp, the young man formerly known as Chris McCandless, who left his suburban family behind in the early '90s and took to the road, eventually making his way to an abandoned bus in the Alaskan wilderness. Penn makes Hirsch a little too much of a Christ figure, but the supporting cast is great, especially Hal Holbrook in the best role of his career.
The Savages: A terrific movie about being forced to finally grow up. Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney are Jon and Wendy Savage, siblings forced to put their nasty, aging father (Phillip Bosco) in a nursing home and come to terms with each other. Superb acting, a fine script and direction from Tamara Jenkins, and an ending that will leave some cool and others inspired.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show: No, it's not a time warp—the love-it-or-hate-it camp classic continues its midnight run in its 37th year of release. When the lead character of the film is a transvestite scientist named Dr. Frank-N-Furter, you know you're in for some seriously trashy viewing. And, of course, this is the one movie where you want the audience shouting at the screen. Screens Fridays at midnight at La Paloma Theater in Encinitas.
Fridays at the Fleet: Sea Monsters, The Living Sea and Mysteries of Egypt are some of the rotating films shown each Friday at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center's IMAX theater where, for only $7.50, you can catch four flicks. Sure, it's more Discovery Channel than Transformers, but the Fleet's enormous old-school dome screen is way cool, and some of the talent—narrators like Meryl Streep or Johnny Depp—is impressive. You might find yourself as mesmerized as the little kiddies sitting around you. Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park. Check www.rhfleet.org for the screening list.