Jean Dujardin

What I’ve Been Watching Lately

Life gets in the way sometimes, y’know?

I had grand illusions of continuing to post once a week, and of even scheduling posts I’d written in advance. No dice. But the good news is, I’ve started a Tumblr! And committed to posting once a day! …Right. It will mostly be an amalgam of this blog and my Twitter feed, so if you like either of those, it’s If you don’t, then you don’t like photos of Lauren Bacall or Fredric March either!

So what have I been doing lately? Actually, going to see films! In theaters! Usually I wait til it’s out on DVD and then get it from the library (read: poor), but there were a few too good to pass up.


Le pont du nord at BAM Cinematek.

I don’t know why I picked Le pont du nord out of TimeOut’s (I know, but my roommate has a mysterious admirer that keeps renewing her subscription) ‘art house and indie’ film listings – maybe because they described it as ‘hallucinatory.’ I’m going to make a confession: I’m not a huge fan of the French film school. French New Wave is not interesting or engaging to me. Rififi is probably the only exception. I speak French, not fluently, but pretty well, and I studied it in school, so I should appreciate the French perspective on film, right? Still kind of bores me. But ‘hallucinatory’ was intriguing to me, and the film was made in 1981, so how Shoot the Piano Player could it be? I’ve also had a disappointing history at BAM – mostly with their live performances, so again, why did I decide this movie was going to be worth it? Who knows. BUT IT WAS. The interwoven narrative structure and the way the audience received information was totally turned on its head. It was unlike anything you’ve seen; any story you’ve read or watched or heard of. Not French, not American – it doesn’t really belong in a film school. And it confuses everyone. My roommate and I discussed it endlessly on our commute home, and afterwards I looked up a few reviews. The New Yorker saw a spy vs. spy international thriller in it. And while Film Comment had some more articulate things to say than the New Yorker, they had no idea what it was about either! I loved it.

The film opens with a girl on a motorcycle, circling Paris. Once, twice, three times she crashes into a woman who has just arrived in town and cannot bear to be indoors. The younger girl (Pascale Ogier) takes it upon herself to follow the woman (Bulle Ogier, actually Pascale’s mother, although to me they look more like sisters in the beginning and Bulle seems to age into the mother role through the film), who meets up with a mysterious old flame. As the two traverse Paris, it is revealed that Marie, the woman, has just gotten out of prison and is desperate to reunite with Julien, her gambler beau, who seems to be in trouble and keeps putting Marie off for ‘trios plus jours’ (three more days). Baptiste, the young girl, follows Marie around spouting wisdom, but soon the two get mixed up with Julien, a briefcase full of ‘files’ he is holding as collateral for a gambling debt, and a map of Paris that resembles a French children’s board game full of traps. There is no explanation of Julien or the ‘Maxes,’ men who pop up to protect or steer Marie and Baptiste to or from danger, which is what led the New Yorker to spy vs. spy. Who is Julien in trouble with? Is Marie’s past coming back to haunt her? Is Baptiste even real? It is endearing in a Moonrise Kingdom sort of way, and open-ended like nothing else has been.

dial m for murder french poster

Dial M for Murder in 3D at Film Forum.

I love living in New York. I know L.A. is the ‘hub’ of film, Hollywood, and all that, but New York, for lack of a better phrase, is where it’s at. You want to see an Alfred Hitchcock in 3D? Forget Anthony Hopkins and Scarlett Johansson, New York has Film Forum! For one week only, they showed Dial M in 3D. I walked into the theater without my 3D glasses, not knowing it was in 3D, and immediately ran back to the lobby to put them on.

Dial M was the first film Grace Kelly made with Hitch, in 1954. It co-starred Ray Milland and John Williams and was made in Technicolor, based on a play by Frederick Knott. Another well-known Knott play adapted to the screen was Wait Until Dark (1967), starring Audrey Hepburn and a young Alan Arkin. Knott is known for his plays occurring in cramped spaces; both Dial M and Wait Until Dark take place entirely in one, one-floor garden/basement apartment (Dial M in London in northern Paddington, Wait Until Dark in New York’s Greenwich Village – maybe Wait Until Dark would have been more appropriate for Film Forum? Hmm…). What Hitch does with the one set script is to add the three dimensions in his camera angles. The 3D effects added later only enhance what Hitch already did. He was notorious (see what I did there?) for planning his films shot by shot before he went into production, and in 3D, you can see where he did. Often, the camera is behind the bar and we see Margo (Grace Kelly) facing us, as we look through the bottles on the bar, and behind her, adding the third dimension of depth, is Mark (Robert Cummings), reaching for her shoulder. Of course when Margo is being strangled across the desk and she reaches her outstretched fingers towards the camera, before finding the scissors, the hand pops out of the screen towards the audience in true 3D fashion. I can forgive that cheesy use of 3D on that iconic and easy image because in other instances, the 3D enhances the claustrophobia and emphasizes depth in Hitch’s carefully planned shots.

a star is born original

A Star is Born (1937) on Hulu.

Hulu and Netflix are the future of television. There, I said it. House of Cards was just the beginning; a smashing success of a beginning. Streaming television and movies is the way media is moving. I love Hulu partly because of their partnership with Criterion, but also because they have ‘forgotten’ classic films streaming for free. (Often for the more well-known Criterion films, a Hulu Plus membership is required, again, read: poor.) (Warner Archive, hook me up with a beta account!) I’d watched the 1954 version of A Star is Born with Judy garland and James Mason right after I watched Julius Caesar in which he played Brutus to a surprisingly articulate Marlon Brando as Mark Antony. Plus I already had an affinity for Mason from Eddie Izzard’s stand-up (he imagines God sounds like James Mason). Judy Garland I’d never been that keen on, but her acting, let alone her singing in “The Man That Got Away,” was truly phenomenal. So I was wary to the watch the 1937 version with no Masion and no Judy. I wasn’t a fan of Janet Gaynor, and I expected the Fredric March of The Best Years of Our Lives. Holy moly, I love when films smash my expectations. Janet Gaynor actually was cute and innocent and naturally talented like they kept saying she was, and Fredric March was the dashing silent star that Jean Dujardin was trying to be. It wasn’t cheesy; they both sold it. And at the end, as we watch March’s bathrobe toss in the incoming tide (Spoiler!), there was no other ending that would have worked, because Gaynor and March just sold the story so well.

What I’m looking forward to seeing?

ryan-gosling-the-place-beyond-the-pines-movie (2)

The Place Beyond the Pines at Landmark Sunshine Cinema.

Essentially Drive + Blue Valentine, but I love Ryan Gosling (too much) and I love those two films, so why not?


Frances Ha at BAM Cinematek.

I missed the film at NYFF last fall (but got stuck in an elevator with Greta Gerwig and developed a career crush on Noah Baumbach’s assistant) and am so excited it is being distributed! I’m pretty sure that this film is my life/my generation, not Girls.


The General at The Museum of the Moving Image.

With a live orchestra scoring the film. I know. I’m dying.

And I promise promise promise to write more in the coming month.

Oscar Nominees

And now, the nominees! Oscars tomorrow. This is most definitely not a prediction, because I don’t want to attempt to judge current tastes. I do however, offer my opinions, as always.

Best Motion Picture of the Year
The Artist
The Descendants
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
The Help
Midnight in Paris
The Tree of Life
War Horse
If I have to pick a winner out of this group, it would be The Tree of Life. All artsy and nature-y and Stanley Kubrick-y, but choosing a film from this category is like when you’re playing Apples to Apples and you get stuck judging the hand when everyone puts in their throwaway cards. Moneyball? War Horse? These are not quality films.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role
Demián Bichir for A Better Life
George Clooney for The Descendants
Jean Dujardin for The Artist
Gary Oldman for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Brad Pitt for Moneyball
I did like Jean in The Artist. About the only thing I could stand about it. Gary Oldman is very good as well, but Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is such a “star-studded” piece, that he kind of gets lost in the shuffle.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role
Glenn Close for Albert Nobbs
Viola Davis for The Help
Rooney Mara for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Meryl Streep for The Iron Lady
Michelle Williams for My Week with Marilyn
As previously mentioned, Meryl Streep, genius. Rooney Mara? Not even in her league.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role
Kenneth Branagh for My Week with Marilyn
Jonah Hill for Moneyball
Nick Nolte for Warrior
Christopher Plummer for Beginners
Max von Sydow for Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
Christopher Plummer. And really, Jonah Hill? Is this belated praise for Superbad or something? Because that role is pretty much all he’s good at.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role
Bérénice Bejo for The Artist
Jessica Chastain for The Help
Melissa McCarthy for Bridesmaids
Janet McTeer for Albert Nobbs
Octavia Spencer for The Help
Jessica Chastain! She was so great in Tree of Life and The Debt and I haven’t seen Coriolanus yet, but she’s amazing in it. I know. Also, Melissa McCarthy already won an Emmy, ostensibly for “Mike and Molly,” but really for Bridesmaids. She did base her character on Guy Fieri, so that’s legit.

Best Achievement in Directing
Woody Allen for Midnight in Paris
Michel Hazanavicius for The Artist
Terrence Malick for The Tree of Life
Alexander Payne for The Descendants
Martin Scorsese for Hugo
Again, pick the best of the worst? Quality films, gentlemen! Oh look, no ladies. Such a shock. But, if this award is about achievement, then I would say Terrence Malick achieved the most with his film. If incoherent, Tree of Life is an achievement.

Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen
The Artist : Michel Hazanavicius
Bridesmaids: Kristen Wiig, Annie Mumolo
Margin Call: J.C. Chandor
Midnight in Paris: Woody Allen
A Separation: Asghar Farhadi
Hazanavicius should NOT be rewarded for all the stealing and destroying he did with that film. Kristin Wiig is a comic genius, and the only funny part of Midnight in Paris was Ernest Hemingway, and he probably really said all of that.

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published
The Descendants: Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, Jim Rash
Hugo: John Logan
The Ides of March: George Clooney, Grant Heslov, Beau Willimon
Moneyball: Steven Zaillian, Aaron Sorkin, Stan Chervin
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy: Bridget O’Connor, Peter Straughan
I think Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy represents the best achievement. Adapting a John Le Carre novel  well is actually difficult.

Best Achievement in Cinematography
The Artist: Guillaume Schiffman
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: Jeff Cronenweth
Hugo: Robert Richardson
The Tree of Life: Emmanuel Lubezki
War Horse: Janusz Kaminski
Again, achievement-wise, Guillaume Schiffman demonstrated that he has indeed seen a classic film (unlike his boss) and has some respect for them (really unlike his boss), and while his shots were dead ringers for Citizen Kane and 1940’s noir and out of place in a 1920’s-era silent, he did do exactly as he was told. He should get an award for working with Hazanavicius and not coming out looking ignorant or rude.

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score
The Adventures of Tintin: John Williams
The Artist: Ludovic Bource
Hugo: Howard Shore
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy: Alberto Iglesias
War Horse: John Williams
This is actually atrocious as well. John Williams is competing against himself for Tin Tin and War Horse? How can I put more emphasis on how ridiculous that is? Oh, by comparing him to Ludovic Bource, who stole the score for The Artist from Vertigo (Bernard Herrmann). Hazanavicius admitted it and apparently does not care. How is The Artist even in this category? Hazanvicius said he bought the rights to the music, but by virtue of doing so, it makes the score unoriginal. Right? Oh, just give it to Williams.

Golden Globes Predict the Oscars?

According to the Hollywood Reporter (the trade publication of Leonard Maltin and Robert Osbourne), the Golden Globes get a D- in fortune telling. In the past twenty years, the Golden Globes (held before the Oscars in January) have only picked the same Best Picture winner as the Academy 55% of the time. In the past seven years, only once (Slumdog Millionaire). Other categories stats tend to be slightly higher, except Best Supporting Actress. Below are the stats, from, and the Golden Globe results. With my comments of course. Next up- my jaded Oscar predictions…

Past 20 years, Academy and Golden Globes picked the same winners…

Picture: 55%

Director: 60%

Actor: 60%

Supporting Actor: 65%

Actress: 85%

Supporting Actress: 55%

Screenplay: 75%

Golden Globe Winners 2012…

The Descendants (Really? Listen to this interview with the director, Alexander Payne. He makes very obvious mistakes in his re-telling of cinema history and his inspirations. Clearing he does not actually know anything about filmmaking.)
The Help
The Ides of March
War Horse

The Artist (Obviously. This is just so disgusting to me. But, that’s another post.)
Midnight in Paris
My Week with Marilyn

Woody Allen, Midnight In Paris
George Clooney, The Ides of March
Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist
Alexander Payne, The Descendants
Martin Scorsese, Hugo (Scorsese, interestingly, campaigned with Jimmy Stewart, Ginger Rogers, and Burt Lancaster before Congress to stop the colorizing of classic films. A-OK in my book.)

George Clooney, The Descendants (Honestly, it’s time that Ryan Gosling got recognized for his good looks with actual awards.)
Leonardo DiCaprio, J Edgar
Michael Fassbender, Shame
Ryan Gosling, The Ides of March
Brad Pitt, Moneyball

Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs
Viola Davis, The Help
Rooney Mara, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady (Meryl Streep is a genius, simple as that.)
Tilda Swinton, We Need to Talk About Kevin

Jean Dujardin, The Artist (OK, this funny or die clip is kind of good.)
Brendan Gleeson, The Guard
Joseph Gordon Levitt, 50/50
Ryan Gosling, Crazy Stupid Love
Owen Wilson, Midnight in Paris

Jodie Foster, Carnage
Charlize Theron, Young Adult
Kristen Wiig, Bridesmaids
Michelle Williams, My Week With Marilyn (Apparently she captured Marilyn’s “essence,” if not her look, mannerisms, or good acting.)
Kate Winslet, Carnage

Kenneth Branagh, My Week with Marilyn
Albert Brooks, Drive
Jonah Hill, Moneyball
Viggo Mortensen, A Dangerous Method
Christopher Plummer, Beginners (Although Plummer was adorable, the terrier Cosmo who plays Arthur, the dog who will not leave Ewan MacGregor’s side, steals the movie.)

Berenice Bejo, The Artist
Jessica Chastain , The Help
Janet McTeer, Albert Nobbs
Octavia Spencer, The Help (Jessica Chastain’s work in the past year was ALL phenomenal.)
Shailene Woodley, The Descendants

Midnight in Paris, Woody Allen (I am so over Woody Allen. But, I did literally LOL when Ernest Hemingway spoke.)
The Ides of March, George Clooney, Grant Heslov, Beau Willimon
The Artist, Michel Hazanavicius
The Descendants, Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash
Moneyball, Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin

The Adventures of Tintin (…)
Arthur Christmas
Cars 2
Puss in Boots

The Flowers of War
In The Land of Blood and Honey
The Kid WIth The Bike
A Separation (…)
The Skin I Live In

W.E., Abel Korzeniowski
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross
Hugo, Howard Shore
War Horse, John Williams

“Lay Your Head Down,” Albert Nobbs
“Hello Hello,” Gnomeo and Juliet
“The Living Proof,” The Help
“The Keeper,” Machine Gun Preacher

”Masterpiece,” W.E. (…)

The Artist

I knew this was going to happen. In fact, I am writing this the night before Oscar nominations are announced, after just having seen The Artist. I was upset about this movie from the first trailer I saw. My father mentioned to me that they had made a new silent movie, and as I watched the trailer, still on the phone with my dad, my heart sank. They were making a mockery of silent film! This trailer (which was a very early one and has since not been used to publicize the movie) billed it as “one man’s love letter to silent cinema,” and honestly, my first thought was, “Has this man even seen a silent movie?” The acting is atrocious, measuring by silent standards. The plot is ripped from Singin’ in the Rain. The cinematography steals scenes directly from Citizen Kane. The director absolutely bashes the audience over the head with symbolism. And I am not alone! Michel Hazanavicius is not being “lightly criticized;” more than one patron coming out of the movie theater complained of the stolen plot from Singin’ in the Rain. I will concede that Jean Dujardin is a fantastic actor. I was enchanted by his rapscallion charm. His acting is exempt from my criticisms because he did not pantomime. Pantomine is not silent acting. But Dujardin used his physical expressions in a self-aware and endearingly self-mocking way. He didn’t take it too seriously, and he comes out on top. He deserves every award he wins, starting with the breakout win atCannes for Best Actor. If Michel Hazanavicius wins for that poor work, I will be sorely disappointed, but sadly not surprised.

Let me begin with the acting. In this interview with Hazanavicius, he is quoted as telling his female lead (and coincidentally or not so, his wife) to develop “her own style.” She was studying silent greats like Joan Crawford and Greta Garbo, women who successfully made the leap from silents to talkies, the journey which forms the entire crux of Berenice Bejo’s character, Peppy Miller. Hazanavicius told her to stop. Why stop studying the greats? How else do we learn? Yes, copying a star’s acting exactly will never work. I’m sorry, but you will never have what Brando had. Don’t do a Brando impression. But studying their techniques and styles will only help, especially when working in an outdated form. Silent acting is vastly different from stage acting and especially from today’s film acting. Telling your stars to “wing it” will not yield the results you want. Telling extras to wing it will make everyone, including the director, look stupid. In the opening sequence, the audience at George Valentin’s premiere is a perfect example of pantomiming. People were not that stupid just because it was 1927. Women really didn’t clasp their hands together and almost faint. Indicating is such a taboo in modern acting, so what makes it ok to indicate in a silent film? Indicating means not creating a real emotion but, basically, going through the motions. An unconvincing actor is often indicating. Silent acting just means you need to better express yourself with your facial and body movements. It does not mean use over exaggerated, ridiculous body language. The audience isn’t idiots either. We will know you think something is funny if you only chuckle. No need for that fake belly laugh. Dujardin, who starred in Hazanavicius’s OSS 117 series, a spoof on James Bond films, brings a light-heartedness to his role. He doesn’t take the acting to seriously, and he lets his emotions be little and his comedy be physical. He is charming and dashing and fully self-aware of his antics. He only pantomimes for a joke. It’s interesting that Hazanavicius lets him get away with it, when clearly Bejo is much more controlled and directed, but Dujardin did well.

The plot is not entirely Singin’ in the Rain, but the similarities are undeniable. The film opens with the premiere of another successful, and silent, George Valentin film, co-starring his trusty Jack Russell terrier and his wife, played by Uggie and Penelope Ann Miller, respectively. Valentin is on top of the world, when a fan girl falls into his arms outside the theater. A snapshot of the two winds up in the paper, and when she appears on his film set the next day as an extra, he gets her a bigger part. “The name’s Miller. Peppy Miller!” she winks. With the advent of talkies, George’s career goes into decline. The studio wants “fresh meat,” and he is out, while Peppy is in. George makes one last silent film, spending all of his money, and the film opens the day the stock market crashes. No one goes to the premiere except Peppy. George’s wife leaves him. George loses his house. George sells his tuxedo to get a few bucks. George fires his valet and loyal friend, Clifton. George’s bad luck continues. In a fit of rage, George burns the films he has stored in his house, and since film negatives are highly flammable, almost dies in the blaze. His Terrier saves him, and Peppy nurses him back to health. But, when she offers him a part in her new talkie, he refuses, angry that she has to help him financially and in his career. He goes back to his burnt-out apartment and is about to pull the trigger when Peppy rushes into his arms. She saves him, with one last great idea. They will tap dance on film! Not unlike Singin’, but strangely darker. George is just beaten down and beaten down. Scene after excruciatingly scene of bad luck for George. And it ends in a classic Fred and Ginger, sweeping tap duet, happy ending.

The cinematography throughout is good, but not reminiscent of a silent film. Hazanavicius claims he didn’t want to make a silent movie, visually, but a movie without sound. Apparently his DP came to him saying “This is so Citizen Kane, this is the 1940’s, not the 1920’s,” and Hazanavicius’s response was “I don’t care.” He probably should have cared, because he allowed scenes from Citizen Kane to be put exactly into his film. (To say nothing of photoshopping Dujardin’s face on top of George Fairbanks in a print of Mark of Zorro.) George’s wife really serves no plot purpose other than as one more nail in his coffin of depression, but Hazanavicius spends a lot of time establishing their discord, through the classic Citizen Kane break fast scenes. Absolutely anyone who has taken a film course has studied those scenes as groundbreaking cinematography in which form mirrors content. The distance at the breakfast table, created through newspaper and camera angles mirrors the distance between husband and wife’s relationship. Simple, obvious. Why are we giving this man awards? To him credit, the DP, Guillaume Schiffman, who was not allowed to study silent films either, did a great job with the direction he was given. The menacing, Hitchcockian spoof camera angles as George rips the dustcloths off the relics of his former success is beautiful camerawork. Unfortunately, it’s been done, and not in this kind of film.

In addition to his obvious references to Citizen Kane and Singin’ in the Rain, Hazanavicius virtually beats the audience over the head with the symbolism of sound and silence. A trio of monkeys statues, representing “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil,” become a certerpiece of George’s demise, as we see them in his mansion during the good years, on the auction block, and later in storage at Peppy’s house, where her pity has placed them. We get it. The monkeys are supposed to mean something, but they become only a device. The falcon in The Maltese Falcon is a supreme example of a physical symbol that is not overused. The falcon appears only in the last 20 minutes of the film, and wrapped up until the last 5. I don’t mean to digress, but the absence gives the symbolism more weight. The monkeys have no meaning. They become just some kitschy plot device. From the opening sequence, when backstage at the premiere appears the sign “Be silent behind the screen,” to the final calls (audibly) of “Cut the talk! Silence!” Hazanavicius overdoes it, no he more than overdoes it with the silence symbolism. The symbols come to be devoid of meaning through their overuse. George, unable and unallowed to transition from silents to talkies is hushed by Peppy’s maid and says wistfully (in intertitles of course) “If only he could talk” (of his dog). George’s dream in which he can hear the sounds others make and the sound of his glass clinking against the table but no sound comes out of his mouth, and his waking nightmare when the audience sees a close-up of a policeman’s mouth, but George hears nothing, communicate, rather blatantly, that George feels powerless about his silence. It would be too numerous to list every groan I uttered at another jab at silence. The final blow comes when John Goodman requests, verbally, one more take, and Jean Dujardin, in his lovely French accent responds, “With pleasure.” The film should have ended there and gone out with a little bit of grace. Instead, Hazanavicius takes a slow pan back and back and back, revealing the movie studio the stars are filming in, as we hear those last cries of “Silence!” and then, “Action!” as it cuts to black.

Hazanavicius not only borrowed from other movies (better movies) plots and cinematography, but music. Kim Novak, star of Hitchcock’s 1958 film Vertigo, claimed that Hazanavicius stole Bernard Herrmann’s music for his own film. She called it rape. Hazanavicius’s statement was this:

“The Artist was made as a love letter to cinema, and grew out of my (and all of my cast and crew’s) admiration and respect for movies throughout history. It was inspired by the work of Hitchcock, Lang, Ford, Lubitsch, Murnau and Wilder. I love Bernard Herrmann and his music has been used in many different films and I’m very pleased to have it in mine. I respect Kim Novak greatly and I’m sorry to hear she disagrees… I used music from another movie, but it’s not illegal. We paid for that, we asked for that and we had the permission to do it. For me there is no real controversy…. I feel sorry for her.”

Non, Michel. C’est une traveste.

‘The Artist’ Director Responds to Kim Novak Slam Over ‘Vertigo’ Music

‘The Artist’ director defends use of Hitchcock score