Black and Blue: The 35mm Colors of Uncut Gems and Star Wars

Kevin Garnett in Uncut Gems

Fall 2019 provided us with a massively budgeted 35mm feature in the form of J.J. Abrams’s The Rise of Skywalker (shot by Dan Mindel and colored by Stefan Sonnenfeld at finishing house Company 3) and a surprisingly visible A24 mid-budget art film in the Safdie brothers’s Uncut Gems (shot by Darius Khondji and colored by Damien van der Cruyssen at The Mill). In each case, the choice to shoot on celluloid was rooted in what could be termed (charitably) as a nod to film history or (uncharitably) a nostalgic gesture. I make no claims as to which it is, nor would I say the ways in which their use of film is similar beyond a deliberate referencing of past icons.…  Read more


All We Have Is Now: Borscht 0 (2019)

My First Film

"Essentially, cinema is dead, and this fellowship is bringing it back to life," went part of the on-stage intro for the showcase screening at this year's Borscht. "The people that most of you know are old, and we're young, and I think we're more exciting." At the screenings I attended, Borscht co-founders Lucas Leyva and Jillian Meyer repeatedly, shamefacedly noted that they'd started the festival (and attendant collective of the same name, the screening of whose work is the fest's top priority) with the intent of never showing the films of anyone over 30—only to, alas, themselves cross that decade line. (Beats the inevitable, as they say.) Implicit in the festival/organization's work is a thesis that it's important to engage…  Read more


“Our Society is Riddled with Contradiction and False Talk”: Hal Hartley on His Career

The Unbelievable Truth (courtesy of Possible Films)

There’s something perverse to the notion that Hal Hartley’s three decades of writing and filmmaking amount to a “career,” as Metrograph would have it in the catalogue copy for its ten-day retrospective of his medium- and feature-length films. Whatever one thinks about Hartley, to say that his work represents a “career” means viewing the films episodically, as evidence of an enterprising filmmaker’s increasing personal ambition and competence. But if I’ve suspected anything from watching and re-watching Hartley’s films—including the shorts, which unfortunately don’t appear anywhere in the Metrograph series—it’s that they can’t so easily be assimilated in this way. I would argue that the least among Hartley’s films are, for all their flaws, still lighted up by a spirit of…  Read more


Cats in Shallow Focus: A Cautionary Tale


Despite an all-star cast, an Oscar-winning director and source material from one of Broadway’s most well-known composers, Cats managed to become a widespread commercial and critical failure. Because the film should have been a recipe for success, it may seem hard to pin down exactly what went wrong during the process, but one of the primary problems is not that complicated—director Tom Hooper’s misuse of one of the most foundational, fundamental tools in a filmmaker’s toolkit: depth of field. Hooper is famously (or perhaps infamously) a fan of shallow focus. He likes having extremely blurry backgrounds, while the shot focuses very clearly on one single plane of action. This has served him well in the past, leading him to an Academy…  Read more


The 27 Movies (More or Less) Shot on 35mm in 2019

(Leader photo courtesy of Carolyn Funk)

Since I've already compiled a shot-on-35mm dossier for each previous year's US theatrical releases five times, it's not super-surprising that as soon as the internet learned Detective Pikachu was shot on 35mm, a number of people eagerly tweeted at me to let me know/make sure it wasn't missed in this year's edition. Irony poisoning aside, that turns out to be a surprisingly productive place to begin. The official tally of films shot, in whole or part, on 35mm for calendar year 2019 is 27, the total shot solely on 35mm is 18; Pikachu intersects with a number of common refrains. One concerns cost-effectiveness: DP John Mathieson explained to the producers "that when shooting film on set there’s a particular discipline—you roll sound,…  Read more


“Human History is Created by People with the Courage To Do the Right Thing”: Eunice Lau on Accept the Call

Accept the Call

Based in NYC but born in Singapore, filmmaker Eunice Lau is intimately familiar with the immigrant experience. And yet, her own history seems a far cry from that of the family portrayed in her most recent (IFP supported) doc Accept the Call. One of my top picks for the Human Rights Watch Film Festival last summer, the nuanced character study centers around Yusuf Abdurahman, a refugee from Somalia who fled that country’s civil war in the '90s. Abdurahman now lives in Minnesota, where he married (and subsequently divorced), had seven kids who he’s wholeheartedly devoted to, and currently serves as a translator and facilitator at a Head Start program. On the surface this refugee’s life would seem to resemble that…  Read more


SXSW Announces 102 Films and Episodic Shows from its 2020 Edition


SXSW announced today the 102 features and episodic shows that from the first wave of films comprising the 2020 SXSW Film Festival. Judd Apatow's Pete Davidson-starring The King of Staten Island will be the Opening Night feature. Other highlights include Frank Oz's film based on magician and artist Derek DelGaudio's acclaimed theater work, In & Of Itself; actor and director Amy Seimetz's follow-up to Sun Don't Shine, She Dies Tomorrow; features from directors on this magazine's 25 New Faces list, including Nicole Riegel (Holler), Celine Held and Logan George (Topside), Tod Chandler (Bulletproof), Marnie Ellen Hertzler (Crestone), and Kitao Sakurai (Bad Trip); and doc premieres from veterans Alex Gibney (Crazy Not Insane), Julia Reichert and Steve Bognar (9to5, Story of a…  Read more


The 2019 Village Voice Film Poll, Reconstructed

Joe Pesci and Robert De Niro in The Irishman

When the Village Voice abruptly had its plug pulled by its final, Forbes-ranked owner two years ago, its annual film poll, which had been around since 1999, expired along with it. That needn't necessarily have been the case—somehow, we still got a Pazz & Jop music survey last February, published on the paper's semi-defunct website (which otherwise merely cycles through articles from the archives). The film poll was run by less obsessive and/or masochistically dedicated folks, apparently, which means that the task of insisting that it should continue, whether or not some tycoon chooses to bankroll it, has fallen to me.  Last year, I mostly just collected the published top ten lists of the previous year's roster, occasionally checking Letterboxd lists…  Read more



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