Italy is the country that has won more foreign language films than any other in the world, 13 wins so far. The peninsula is second, after France, when it comes to nominations – 27 total, against 36 – I guess we have a better chances of winning. Unfortunately most of this Oscar gold was won when Vittorio De Sica and Federico Fellini were making movies. Today, Giuseppe Tornatore is our biggest chance of winning the coveted statue, and he did so back in 1989 with Nuovo Cinema Paradiso. Since Tornatore’s newest film, The Best Offer, doesn’t qualify as a foreign language film this year Paolo Sorrentino will represent our country with The Great Beauty (La grande bellezza).
The Great Beauty was chosen over Viva la libertà (Roberto Andò), Miele (Valeria Golino), Razza bastarda (Alessando Gassmann), Salvo (Antonio Piazza & Fabio Grassadonia), Viaggio sola (Maria Sole Tognazzi) and Midway tra la vita e la morte (John Real). Having not seen those I can’t say if that was the best move, but considering how much I enjoyed The Great Beauty I am pretty satisfied with this outcome. As I’ve mentioned in my review, Sorrentino’s film is very reminiscent of Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita and Toni Servillo’s performance alone is Oscar-worthy. Since La Dolce Vita was never even nominated for an Oscar and the Academy has a tendency to make up for things like this, at the very least it was a smart “political” move. Also as mentioned Fellini’s films are the ones that won Italy the most awards (La strada, Nights of Cabiria, 8½ and Amarcord).
Italy hasn’t been nominated for Best Foreign Language Film since 2005, when Christina Comencini’s Don’t Tell (La bestia nel cuore) was considered. As for actual wins it’s been since 1998 when Roberto Benigni’s Life is Beautiful (La vita è bella) managed to win. Like Sorrentino himself said, when asked about how he felt about the news: “It’s going to be very difficult, I know, but we’ll do anything it takes to make it to the Oscar ceremony”. As a fellow Italian, a fan of his film and someone who loves to watch the Oscars I wish him all the luck in the world and hope that the Weinstein Company doesn’t have a film they’re promoting. La Grande Bellezza will hit American theaters November 2013 and critics are already calling it “a metaphor for Italian decline”. In other words: It’s awesome, go see it!
Once again this week the good have triumphed over the bad, the evil. Don’t worry we’re still talking about films here of course. I watched and re-watched a lot of good ones. Including once again the short films of Spike Jonze, like I’m Here (2010) and others that you can find on YouTube. Here’s every good film and a couple thoughts on them, if I’ve already reviewed them in the course of the week, just click the title and it will open up the link to the full-length review. Enjoy and don’t forget to let me know about your favorite films of the week. I’m always curious to hear what other people liked.
‘PICK OF THE WEEK’
La Grande Bellezza (2013) – 8 (IMDb 7.5) – Drama, Comedy (Italy)
Cries & Whisphers (1972) – 8 (IMDb 7.9) – Drama, Criterion (Sweden)
Ingmar Bergman is easily starting to become one of my favorite filmmakers. His films are quite simple in terms of plot, but there is so much underneath the surface: symbolism, emotion, drama, passion, depth. It’s quite incredible. Cries & Whispers is considered one of his best and it’s about a wealthy woman on her deathbed and her sisters. You can definitely see how this film influenced someone like Woody Allen (especially when doing Interiors). I loved the performances, Bergman’s use of color (Sven Nykvist went on to shoot Fanny and Alexander and even work with Woody) and the drama, which was so intense. The film is thoroughly entertaining, even if that may not be the most accurate adjective to describe it, it’s very engaging and I could easily identify with the characters even if they’re from a much higher social strata than mine. I guess that when it comes to death we really are all equal.
The Bling Ring (2013) – 9 (IMDb 6) – Crime, Drama, Comedy (USA)
A Short Film About Killing (1988) – 8 (IMDb 8) – Crime, Drama (Poland)
In the same vein of Krzysztof Kieslowski’s A Short Film About Love this is a short film that explores killing. Killing an innocent man and then death sentencing a guilty man. Both films are very short, yet so powerful, because they get straight to the point. As always with Kieslowski his films are gorgeous to look at, this is one of his most beautiful in my opinion. Sławomir Idziak went on to shoot The Double Life of Veronique and Three Colors: Blue for Kieslowski, but in this one it’s a more subdued beauty, less showy, but fascinating nonetheless. I almost felt like Werner Herzog’s look of his On Death Row series was inspired by the look of this film, but I could be wrong. In any case: This is the story about a man who kills a cab driver for no reason and is then sentenced to death. Without any judgment this films just presents the story as it is and is able to inject a lot of humanity and emotion to the characters who feel completely believable and three-dimensional. It’s certainly the best film I’ve seen all week!
Once Upon A Time In America (1984) – 7.5 (IMDb 8.4) – Crime, Drama (USA)
This film has been on my “list of shame” for quite a while now and I just needed to watch it. I finally did and it was quite enjoyable. It’s an epic tale of this gangster’s life, I’m not even going to begin to explain it because it’s so grand and trying to encompass every single and possible aspect of human existence it’s just enormous. Sergio Leone’s direction does feel a bit heavy-handed in some points however, it’s very dramatic, but sometimes too much. The cast is absolutely incredible, but not all performances are subtle, although I was a big fan of Robert De Niro in this film, and he’s usually not my favorite actor, but perfectly cast here. My favorite part was the incredibly romantic score by Ennio Morricone, without the music this film wouldn’t be nearly as great as it is. I was surprised to see Jennifer Connelly as a kid, didn’t even recognize her, she wasn’t a good actress yet, but definitely better than her adult counterpart. If you’re a Giuseppe Tornatore fan or know his films you can definitely see how he was influenced by Leone; Nuovo Cinema Paradiso feels a lot like Once Upon A Time In America.
Viridiana (1961) – 7.5 (IMDb 8.1) – Drama, Criterion (Spain)
Great film by Luis Buñuel, great social commentary too. I was pleased to see Fernando Rey in this film, because I liked him a lot in That Obscure Object of Desire. Viridiana however follows a young woman who wants to become a nun, but then realizes that maybe that sort of lifestyle isn’t right for her. So she decides to open up a charity and help people who way, but if you know anything about human nature it’s that we’re all just a bunch of ungrateful bitches. The film’s climax is pretty great and incredibly poignant. The black & white cinematography is absolutely gorgeous and dreamy. Buñuel surprisingly holds back with the surreal elements in this film (or maybe I just didn’t catch them?). Although the ending could is maybe not to be taken “literally”, but again I could be wrong. Great performances all around, nice score and just a crisp, to the point film. Also, very ahead of its time with some of the thematic elements, in terms of censorship and what you’re allowed to show/imply. I always like it when filmmakers are able to defy the system and do whatever they what, not playing by the rules.
Jep Gambardella (Toni Servillo) is a journalist playboy drifting through Rome’s glamorous nightlife. At the age of 65 he is still partying like when he was 26 and first arrived to the Italian capital. The only book he wrote, L’apparato umano, is considered somewhat of a literary masterpiece, but he hasn’t produced anything noteworthy ever since. Jep knows a lot of people, important people, people who matter, and of course everyone knows him. When he arrived to Rome he wanted to become king of the party scene, and he did, but somehow he is not satisfied with the way his life has turned out, his love life in particular. The only girl he ever truly cared for left him and married someone else. When he finds out that she died, he is crushed. He starts reflecting on his life, Rome and all kinds of existentialist problems, but first he needs to party! Continue reading