Thursday, March 5, 2015

AIPAC Film Festival: Body and Soul: The State of the Jewish Nation

I had the chance to attend the AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington, D.C. earlier this week and was fortunate enough to attend several film screenings during breakout sessions while I was there. Please enjoy a brief summary and review below!

Body and Soul: The State of the Jewish Nation
Directed by Gloria Z. Greenfield


This film boasts a layered and clever title, one that has multiple meanings. Mostly, it’s the story of the Jewish people’s historical ties to the land of Israel, assembled from a scientific perspective. Its assembly is mostly chronological, dating back many years to empires and other conquerors who tried to expel the Jews from Israel and each time that some remained and others came back. The experts it chooses to back up its claims are united by the common thread of having PhDs and range from intellectual thinkers to religious leaders. More than anything, it’s a point-by-point exploration of the enduring nature of Judaism within Israel, and how one people survived many attempts by invaders and neighboring enemies to exterminate them. When the film’s timeline reaches near the present and arrives at the Balfour Declaration and the Holocaust, it becomes modernized but still leads back to the same themes of survival and unity. From the director of “Unmasked Judeophobia – The Threat to Civilization,” which screened at AIPAC two years ago, this is another meticulously assembled argument that, while not always deeply engaging, is resounding and strong with its message and all the evidence it puts together to support it.

Learn more about the film at www.bodyandsoulthemovie.com

AIPAC Film Festival: Touchdown Israel

I had the chance to attend the AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington, D.C. earlier this week and was fortunate enough to attend several film screenings during breakout sessions while I was there. Please enjoy a brief summary and review below!

Touchdown Israel
Directed by Paul Hirschberger


Throughout its existence since 1948, American football has not been a popular sport in Israel. Yet the connection between American and Israeli culture provided the perfect opportunity to football to make its way to Israel, thanks to an emigrated American and a donor more than happy to sponsor the beginnings of a league in the young country. It turns out that Israelis are rather enthusiastic about the sport, and a number of teams have popped up around the country. There is plenty of comedy to be found in this affirming documentary, like high-scoring games due to different regulations and team and field sizes, but the more important message here is one of cooperation. While some teams do not open their ranks to all cultures, most include a mix of Jews, Arabs, Filipino immigrants, and others, creating one common ground where heritage and religion come second to playing the game. This is a fully involving, informative, and entertaining spotlight on how one sport manages to unite a country in its small way. It even managed to enthrall this reviewer, who is hardly a fan of sports.

Learn more about the film at www.touchdownisrael.com

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

AFT Awards: Best Ending


This is the twenty-fourth category of the 8th Annual AFT Film Awards to be announced. The AFT Awards are my own personal choices for the best in film of each year and the best in television of each season. The AFT Film Awards include the traditional Oscar categories and a number of additional specific honors. Click here to see previous years of this category. Nominees are pictured in the order I’ve ranked them. Beware spoilers for the films pictured above.

The winner:
Whiplash went out with great musical fanfare, giving its protagonist the glory he deserved after so much hard work while also representing the maniacal nature of his passion.

Other nominees:
Hellion wasn’t ever going to have a bright, optimistic ending, but the uncertain tread towards a bleak future for its young troublemaker was unforgettably haunting. Interstellar may get some flak for events towards the end of the film, but the actual hopeful exploratory finish was typically Nolanesque and appropriately resounding. Coherence revealed itself to be even darker and more disturbing than it had seemed for most of its runtime with a decidedly unnerving finish. The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby didn’t provide a resolution in its final moments but instead an ambiguous silent walk accompanied by very effective music.

AFT Awards: Best Opening


This is the twenty-third category of the 8th Annual AFT Film Awards to be announced. The AFT Awards are my own personal choices for the best in film of each year and the best in television of each season. The AFT Film Awards include the traditional Oscar categories and a number of additional specific honors. Click here to see previous years of this category. Nominees are pictured in the order I’ve ranked them.

The winner:
A Most Violent Year started off on the perfect note to capture its tone: a suspenseful hijacking of a truck on a highway entering New York City that left its victim irreversibly devastated.

Other nominees:
Cold in July may not have been the same movie by its end as it was at its start, but the brutal, unsettling first scene was a fantastically chilling and frightening introduction to its dark subject matter. Lilting opened with a nonchalant, warm reunion of a mother and son that subtly and powerfully revealed the weight of an absence still not fully felt. Listen Up Philip let loose its comedy from its first moment by explaining just the kind of person its protagonist is. Annie asserted its purpose with its first scene, proudly and unapologetically owned its remake status and its rewriting of a classic musical.

AFT Awards: Best Ensemble Cast


This is the twenty-second category of the 8th Annual AFT Film Awards to be announced. The AFT Awards are my own personal choices for the best in film of each year and the best in television of each season. The AFT Film Awards include the traditional Oscar categories and a number of additional specific honors. Nominees are pictured in the order I’ve ranked them. Click here to see previous years of this category.

Honorable mentions (in alphabetical order):
A Most Violent Year, Begin Again, Blind, Boyhood, Calvary, Cold in July, Forev, Frequencies, Fury, Happy Christmas, Human Capital, Infinitely Polar Bear, Interstellar, Joe, Kill the Messenger, Land Ho, Life Partners, Manhattan Romance, One Chance, Rudderless, Song One, St. Vincent, Starred Up, Tasting Menu, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game, The Theory of Everything, The Way He Looks, Two Days, One Night, Viva la Liberta, Zero Motivation

Runners-up:
Frank
Inherent Vice
Young Ones
Selma
Hellion


The winner:
Pride was made infinitely more inspiring and heartwarming by the members of its cast, representing a diverse range of open-minded liberals to conservatives with no room for any sort of dynamism, with fresh faces and British veterans alike.

Other nominees:
Birdman
Listen Up Philip
Chinese Puzzle
The Grand Seduction

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

AFT Awards: Best Limited Performance


This is the twenty-first category of the 8th Annual AFT Film Awards to be announced. The AFT Awards are my own personal choices for the best in film of each year and the best in television of each season. The AFT Film Awards include the traditional Oscar categories and a number of additional specific honors. Nominees are pictured in the order I’ve ranked them. Click here to see previous years of this category, which has on occasion been split into male and female and sometimes been combined.

Honorable mentions:
Alice Olivia Clarke (Land Ho), Chris O'Dowd (St. Vincent), Lena Dunham (Happy Christmas)

The winner:
Lindsay Duncan (Birdman) epitomized the critique of star culture in her film with a brilliantly on-point and unbridled dose of unforgiving disgust.

Other nominees:
Karrie Crouse (Land Ho) and Elizabeth McKee (Land Ho) infused the perfect non-masculine energy into their film as the token females who proved that the humor and attitude of two old men truly was harmless. Matt Damon (Interstellar) and Wes Bentley (Interstellar) both lent a certain realistic gravitas to their roles as those on the verge of major explorations and discoveries.

AFT Awards: Best Breakthrough Performance


This is the twentieth category of the 8th Annual AFT Film Awards to be announced. The AFT Awards are my own personal choices for the best in film of each year and the best in television of each season. The AFT Film Awards include the traditional Oscar categories and a number of additional specific honors. Nominees are pictured in the order I’ve ranked them. Click here to see previous years of this category.

Honorable mentions:
Ashley Aufderheide (Infinitely Polar Bear), Deke Garner (Hellion), Fabio Audi (The Way He Looks), Imogene Wolodarsky (Infinitely Polar Bear), Lorelei Linklater (Boyhood), Tess Amorim (The Way He Looks)

The winner:
Josh Wiggins (Hellion) played a child seemingly intent on skipping over his childhood and ensuring a rough future for himself despite his intelligence and potential, a complex and mesmerizing performance from a teenager.

Other nominees:
Tizita Hagere (Difret) starred in Ethiopia’s Oscar submission for Best Foreign Film, delivering a mature and heartfelt portrayal of a young girl caught in an impossible situation. Jack O'Connell (Starred Up) was on fire as a convict set on making his time in prison brutal, a stark contrast to two other worthwhile performances in “Unbroken” and 2015’s “’71,” which just opened. Ellar Coltrane (Boyhood) doesn’t need a blurb to explain why his performance was a breakthrough, demonstrating massive range and growth over the course of twelve years. Ghilherme Lobo (The Way He Looks) was sweet, gentle, and extremely grown up as a blind teenager trying to navigate his possibilities for the future.

AFT Awards: Best Foreign Film


This is the nineteenth category of the 8th Annual AFT Film Awards to be announced. The AFT Awards are my own personal choices for the best in film of each year and the best in television of each season. The AFT Film Awards include the traditional Oscar categories and a number of additional specific honors. Nominees are pictured in the order I’ve ranked them. Click here to see previous years of this category. For this category, I consider eligible only films that were released in their native countries within the past year.

Honorable mentions:
Brides, Difret, Leviathan, Rocks in My Pockets, Two Days, One Night

The winner:
Wild Tales (Argentina), which didn’t get a U.S. release until 2015 after showing at the Sundance Film Festival, was a spectacular example of what a creative format can do, representing anger in the most entertaining and memorable of cinematic ways.

Other nominees:
Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem(Israel)
Zero Motivation (Israel)
Blind (Norway)
The Way He Looks (Brazil)

Monday, March 2, 2015

AFT Awards: Best Documentary


This is the eighteenth category of the 8th Annual AFT Film Awards to be announced. The AFT Awards are my own personal choices for the best in film of each year and the best in television of each season. The AFT Film Awards include the traditional Oscar categories and a number of additional specific honors. Nominees are pictured in the order I’ve ranked them. Click here to see previous years of this category.

Honorable mentions:
Enquiring Minds, Finding Vivian Maier, Freedom Summer, Kabbalah Me, Last Days in Vietnam, Next Year Jerusalem, Virunga

The winner:
Life Itself was a glorious celebration of a man eternally associated with movies, his love for the form, and his many years spent contributing his opinions with two thumbs and plenty of opinion.

Other nominees:
A Murder in the Park
Antarctica: A Year on Ice
Jodorowsky's Dune
Citizen Koch

AFT Awards: Best Animated Feature


This is the seventeenth category of the 8th Annual AFT Film Awards to be announced. The AFT Awards are my own personal choices for the best in film of each year and the best in television of each season. The AFT Film Awards include the traditional Oscar categories and a number of additional specific honors. Nominees are pictured in the order in which I’ve ranked them, and I include runners-up this year since I wish I could include all ten since this was a great year for animation! Click here to see previous years of this category.

Runners-up:
Big Hero 6
The Lego Movie
The Book of Life
The Boxtrolls
How to Train Your Dragon 2


The winner:
The Wind Rises was an exquisite, imaginative chronicle of one young man’s exploration of his passion in a most unexpected setting with beautiful animation to illustrate that.

Other nominees:
Mr. Peabody and Sherman
Rocks in My Pockets
Song of the Sea
The Tale of the Princess Kaguya