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Cinema Chat: Recapping the 60th Ann Arbor Film Festival and the 94th Academy Awards, plus much more

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Oscar

LAST WEEK'S ANN ARBOR FILM FESTIVAL WAS WONDERFUL!

The Ann Arbor Film Festival is back for in person screenings this year for the first time in two years. This festival, combined with the State and Michigan reputation as excellent film venues, puts Ann Arbor on the world’s map as a city with an outstanding film culture.

The award-winners for the 60th AAFF:

  • Ken Burns for Best of the Festival - Lacerate, Janis Rafa
  • Tom Berman Award for Most Promising Filmmaker - Theorie und Praxis, Leonie Minor
  • Lawrence Kasdan Award for Best Narrative Film - Shari, Nao Yoshigai
  • Best Experimental Film - Cosmos-War-Finally-Love, Luciano Zubillaga
  • Kodak Cinematic Vision Award - A Brief Appearance of Neon, Matthias Sahli, Immanuel Esser
  • Best Documentary Film - Looking for Horses, Stefan Pavlović
  • Chris Frayne Award for Best Animated Film - The Fourth Wall, Mahboobeh Kalaee
  • Gil Omenn Art & Science Award - Moving or Being Moved, Sabine Gruffat
  • Prix DeVarti for Funniest Film - Benztown, Gottfried Mentor
  • George Manupelli Founder’s Spirit Award - Amazon Woman, Anna Vasof

And for more – see the Ann Arbor Film Festival website https://www.aafilmfest.org for a complete list of winners.

Russ liked – 10 QUESTIONS FOR HENRY FORD and Ariel Dougherty’s showcase of films from Women Make Movies.

ACADEMY AWARDS CEREMONY

Wow, really bad karma for an event people already take too seriously

What a mess!?!

Let’s face it, the Oscars are like the Super Bowl, both hardly ever live up to the hype - how could they. The Academy Awards and the Super Bowl are one and done. Too much hype and pressure, so people should expect failure in terms of entertainment value, even the notion that the best ends up on top. Consequently, pundits and the public are most frequently disappointed. Not a surprise!

In the case of the Academy Awards, it is like staging a 3-1/2 hour Broadway show full of stars. However, it is created from scratch – no out-of-town tryout run to perfect the material, to work out the intricate timing of comedy, the narrative arc and or technical execution.

There is lots of glamour, but 21st Century glamour is more outrageous and complex than early 20th Century fashion and glamour – so fashionistas and the public complain about the bling and the clothes. Consequently, it has become nearly impossible to pull off even the main sidebar event of the Oscars – the Red Carpet fashion show.

The Academy Awards share to cognitive dissonance of the annual Met Gala in New York City, a crazy attempt to be nostalgic with little interest in, nor desire for nostalgia. However, the Met Gala celebrates its weirdness and the fact that is a fascinating niche cultural event. The Met Gala is not nationally televised on mainstream media and does not pretend to uplift a popular culture dynamic.

The Oscars strive to be an iconic pop culture event – like the Super Bowl, despite being a niche market event – admittedly a pretty large niche, but a niche market none the less, especially for the last 20-years or so. In recent years the Academy Award ceremonies have behaved Schizophrenically over having or not having a host or hosts, and on Sunday wheeling out Liza Minelli for bestowing the ultimate award at the climax of the show (but Lady Gaga was truly kind and wonderful), and celebrating the 28th?? Anniversary of "Pulp Fiction," and the very niche film “Juno,” and the very lame celebration of "The Godfather"(Robert Di Niro was not in the original movie), and the regrettable humor of Chris Rock and the inexcusable behavior of Will Smith.

Sunday night’s Academy Award Ceremony was an unfortunate expression of the Schizophrenia which has developed in the body politic of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science. However, I still love the Oscars and will watch them next year! Hopes are Oscar will go into intensive mental health therapy and take its medication before the 2023 Academy Awards.

In terms of the controversy with Will Smith and Chris Rock, Kareem Abdul Jabbar had a most thoughtful reflection (below is an extended excerpt):

"Will Smith Did a Bad, Bad Thing" by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Slapping Chris Rock was also a blow to men, women, the entertainment industry, and the Black community.

When Will Smith stormed onto the Oscar stage to strike Chris Rock for making a joke about his wife’s short hair, he did a lot more damage than just to Rock’s face. With a single petulant blow, he advocated violence, diminished women, insulted the entertainment industry, and perpetuated stereotypes about the Black community.

That’s a lot to unpack. …Some have romanticized Smith’s actions as that of a loving husband defending his wife. …Actually, it was the opposite. Smith’s slap was also a slap to women. …This patronizing, paternal attitude infantilizes women and reduces them to helpless damsels needing a Big Strong Man to defend their honor least they swoon from the vapors. If he was really doing it for his wife, and not his own need to prove himself, he might have thought about the negative attention this brought on them, much harsher than the benign joke. That would have been truly defending and respecting her. This “women need men to defend them” is the same justification currently being proclaimed by conservatives passing laws to restrict abortion and the LGBTQ+ community.

Worse than the slap was Smith’s tearful, self-serving acceptance speech … What is the legacy of Smith’s violence? He’s brought back the Toxic Bro ideal …[like the] macho John Wayne philosophy … in which Wayne spanked grown women to teach them a lesson. …

The Black community also takes a direct hit from Smith. One of the main talking points from those supporting the systemic racism in America is characterizing Blacks as more prone to violence and less able to control their emotions.

…As for the damage to show business, Smith’s violence is an implied threat to all comedians who now have to worry that an edgy or insulting joke might be met with violence. Good thing Don Rickles, Bill Burr, or Ricky Gervais weren’t there. As comedian Kathy Griffin tweeted: “Now we all have to worry about who wants to be the next Will Smith in comedy clubs and theaters.”

The one bright note is that Chris Rock, clearly stunned, managed to handle the moment with grace and maturity. If only Smith’s acceptance speech had shown similar grace and maturity—and included, instead of self-aggrandizing excuses, a heartfelt apology to Rock.

…I don’t want to see [Will Smith] punished or ostracized because of this one, albeit a big one, mistake. I just want this to be a cautionary tale for others not to romanticize or glorify bad behavior. And I want Smith to be the man who really protects others—by admitting the harm he’s done to others.

OPENING (OR REOPENING) DOWNTOWN

"CODA" — RETURNS FRIDAY APRIL 1 TO THE MICHIGAN

2022 Oscars Winner of Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay & Best Supporting Actor for Troy Kotsur!

Seventeen-year-old Ruby is the sole hearing member of a deaf family -- a CODA, child of deaf adults. Her life revolves around acting as interpreter for her parents and working on the family's struggling fishing boat every day before school with her father and older brother. But when Ruby joins her high school's choir club, she discovers a gift for singing and soon finds herself drawn to her duet partner Miles. Encouraged by her enthusiastic, tough-love choirmaster to apply to a prestigious music school, Ruby finds herself torn between the obligations she feels to her family and the pursuit of her own dreams.

"The Automat" — OPENS FRIDAY, APRIL 1 AT THE MICHIGAN

Before fast food, we had something better. Our grandparents told us stories of gathering around communal tables, sharing their lives, their struggles, and their dreams with strangers at The Automat. In the long-awaited Horn & Hardart documentary, relive the phenomena of America's original and most beloved restaurant chain. The one-hundred-year Automat saga serves up never before-seen archival footage and photographs and a cast including celebrity customers, company executives, historians, and members of the Horn & Hardart families. Featuring Mel Brooks, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Colin Powell, Carl Reiner, Elliot Gould, and more!

"You Won't Be Alone" — OPENS TONIGHT AT THE STATE

Set in an isolated mountain village in 19th century Macedonia, this film follows a young girl who is kidnapped and then transformed into a witch by an ancient spirit. Curious about life as a human, the young witch accidentally kills a peasant in the nearby village and then takes her victim's shape to live life in her skin. Her curiosity ignited, she continues to wield this horrific power in order to understand what it means to be human.

SPECIAL SCREENINGS DOWNTOWN

"Cats" — PLAYS FRIDAY, APRIL 1 AT THE MICHIGAN AT 10 PM

From director Tom Hooper and starring Taylor Swift, Idris Elba, Judi Dench, Jennifer Hudson, James Corden, Jason Derulo and more!

"Double Indemnity" — PLAYS SATURDAY, APRIL 2 AT THE MICHIGAN AT 8 PM

In this classic film noir, insurance salesman Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) gets roped into a murderous scheme when he falls for the sensual Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck), who is intent on killing her husband (Tom Powers) and living off the fraudulent accidental death claim. Prompted by the late Mr. Dietrichson's daughter, Lola (Jean Heather), insurance investigator Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson) looks into the case and gradually begins to uncover the sinister truth.

Stratford Festival Presents: "The Merry Wives of Windsor" by William Shakespeare — PLAYS SUNDAY, APRIL 3 AT THE MICHIGAN AT 2 PM

Pursuing two respectably married women at the same time, a would-be seducer fails to anticipate that his targets will, quite literally, compare notes. Nor has he reckoned on the mischievous spirit in which the wives will use their wits and wiles to teach him the error of his ways. Set in the 1950s, in a town not unlike Stratford, Ontario, this production brings Shakespeare's rollicking comedy close to home - and close to our hearts.

"The Exile" — OPENS TUESDAY, APRIL 5 AT THE MICHIGAN

Continuing our Oscar Micheaux: Pioneer of Cinema series. An all-black musical from film pioneer Oscar Micheaux. A disenchanted man heads West in search of true romance.

About Oscar Devereaux Micheaux (January 2, 1884 – March 25, 1951)

He was an author, film director and independent producer of more than 44 films. Micheaux is regarded as the first major African-American feature filmmaker, a prominent producer of race films, and has been described as "the most successful African-American filmmaker of the first half of the 20th century". He produced both silent films and sound films.

Micheaux decided to concentrate on writing and, eventually, filmmaking, a new industry. He wrote seven novels.

In 1918, his novel The Homesteader, dedicated to Booker T. Washington, attracted the attention of George Johnson, the manager of the Lincoln Motion Picture Company in Los Angeles. After Johnson offered to make The Homesteader into a new feature film, but Micheaux wanted to be directly involved in the adaptation of his book as a movie. Johnson resisted and never produced the film. Instead, Micheaux founded the Micheaux Film & Book Company in Chicago; its first project was the production of The Homesteader as a feature film. Micheaux had a major career as a film producer and director: He produced over 40 films, which drew audiences throughout the U.S. as well as internationally. Micheaux contacted wealthy academic connections from his earlier career as a porter, and sold stock for his company at $75 to $100 a share. Micheaux hired actors and actresses and decided to have the premiere in Chicago. The film and Micheaux received high praise from film critics. One article credited Micheaux with "a historic breakthrough, a creditable, dignified achievement".[3] Some members of the Chicago clergy criticized the film as libelous. The Homesteader became known as Micheaux's breakout film; it helped him become widely known as a writer and a filmmaker.

In addition to writing and directing his own films, Micheaux also adapted the works of different writers for his silent pictures. Many of his films were open, blunt and thought-provoking regarding certain racial issues of that time. He once commented: "It is only by presenting those portions of the race portrayed in my pictures, in the light and background of their true state, that we can raise our people to greater heights." Financial hardships during the Great Depression eventually made it impossible for Micheaux to keep producing films, and he returned to writing.

We will be doing one additional Oscar Micheaux film:

  • "Birthright" (1938) – Tuesday, 4/12 at 4:30 PM

CONTINUING DOWNTOWN

"The Outfit" 

From the Academy Award-winning writer of The Imitation Game (Graham Moore) comes The Outfit, a gripping and masterful thriller in which an expert tailor (Academy Award winner Mark Rylance) must outwit a dangerous group of mobsters in order to survive a fateful night.

"Jujustu Kaisen 0: The Movie" 

When they were children, Rika Orimoto was killed in a traffic accident right before the eyes of her close friend, Yuta Okkotsu. Rika became an apparition, and Yuta longed for his own death after suffering under her curse, but the greatest Jujutsu sorcerer, Satoru Gojo, welcomed him into Jujutsu High. There Yuta meets his classmates, Maki Zen'in, Toge Inumaki, and Panda, and finally finds his own determination. "I want the confidence to say it's okay that I'm alive!" "While I'm at Jujutsu High, I'll break Rika-chan's curse." Meanwhile, the vile curse user, Suguru Geto, who was expelled from the school for massacring ordinary people, appears before Yuta and the others. While Geto advocates for creating a paradise for only jujutsu sorcerers, he unleashes a thousand curses upon Shinjuku and Kyoto to exterminate all non-sorcerers.

"Licorice Pizza"

This film is a 2021 American coming-of-age comedy-drama film written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson ("Phantom Thread," "There Will Be Blood," "Boogie Nights"). The film stars Alana Haim, Cooper Hoffman, Sean Penn, Tom Waits, Bradley Cooper, Maya Rudolph, and Benny Safdie. The film received acclaim from critics and received three awards from the National Board of Review, including Best Film. It was also named one of the best films of 2021 by the American Film Institute and received four nominations at the 79th Golden Globe Awards, including Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy, along with eight nominations at the 27th Critics' Choice Awards, including Best Picture. The story of Alana Kane (Alana Haim) and Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman) growing up, running around and going through the treacherous navigation of first love in the San Fernando Valley, 1973.

"The Batman"

Batman ventures into Gotham City's underworld when a sadistic killer leaves behind a trail of cryptic clues. As the evidence begins to lead closer to home and the scale of the perpetrator's plans become clear, he must forge new relationships, unmask the culprit and bring justice to the abuse of power and corruption that has long plagued the metropolis.

"The Worst Person in the World" 

This film concludes Joachim Trier's Oslo Trilogy with a romantic comedy that delightfully subverts the genre's well-worn tropes. It is a modern dramedy about the quest for love and meaning in contemporary Oslo. It chronicles four years in the life of Julie (Renate Reinsve), a young woman who navigates the troubled waters of her love life and struggles to find her career path, leading her to take a realistic look at who she really is.

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