Thursday, March 21, 2013

AFT Awards: Top 15 Scenes of the Year

This is a special category of the 6th Annual AFT Film Awards, 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. These are my fifteen favorite scenes of the year, listed in alphabetical order by film title. Click here to see previous years of this category. Beware spoilers for these films.

The Avengers
This action film reached its best moment when it brought together all its heroes for one circular fight scene, at which point the film takes a breath in the middle of all the excitement.

Beasts of the Southern Wild
In a film full of awe-inspiring, wondrous moments, there’s none quite as brilliant as the sight of Hushpuppy running around with sparklers while proclaiming the enduring nature of her life and her legacy.

The Dark Knight Rises
The epic conclusion to Christopher Nolan’s time with the Batman franchise has excellent moments laced with action, but one of its strongest scenes comes early in the film, when Anna Hathaway’s Selina Kyle makes her formidable entrance and reveals herself to be something wholly different than what she appears.

After interviewing two prostitutes and living vicariously through them through the length of her film, Anne zones out during an uneventful dinner at home and imagines herself sitting and laughing with the many men the two young women described to her.

The year’s most nail-biting scene came towards the beginning of this film, an astonishing extended sequence in which Denzel Washington’s Whip assumes control of everything and turns a plane upside down to make the most impressive crash landing ever.

The inciting incident of this clever and entertaining film is that wondrous moment where the elder professor mistakenly receives the call telling him that he has won the Israel prize. It’s such a delightful and marvelous scene that sets all of the film’s events in motion.

Les Miserables
Many will say that Anne Hathaway and Samantha Barks’ solo numbers were the heart of this film, but there’s no matching the sheer thunderous power of the final number, which unites all of the film’s characters, living and dead, for a triumphant musical declaration of the French people’s everlasting freedom.

The Master
Many of the scenes in Paul Thomas Anderson’s epic are haunting, and one of the most effective took place in an unusually public setting, when Philip Seymour Hoffman’s cult leader is arrested on his porch and Joaquin Phoenix’s devoted servant fights to defend his rights.

Moonrise Kingdom
This film’s mature interpretation of young love is best represented by the wonderful metered exchange of letters between its two protagonists, short, sweet, and to the point, simply creating and solidifying their plans to be together.

While all of the humans aboard sleep, Michael Fassbender’s cyborg David spends his days aboard the ship practicing a daily routine and learning about humanity, watching old movies and playing around with a basketball to get a sense of what he wants to imitate and emulate to seem more human.

There’s nothing like a good group suicide scene to help a spaceship crew go out with a bang, and the sheer speed with which the crew of the ship decides to sacrifice their own lives to trap the monster they’ve unleashed is magnificent. The movie doesn’t end their, but it’s a bold and extraordinarily enthralling sequence.

The Sessions
The friendship between John Hawkes’ paraplegic poet Mark and Helen Hunt’s sex therapist Cheryl begins with a first meeting, which is occasionally awkward and uncomfortable, but so completely fresh and honest that it’s impossible not to be drawn into the sincerity and calm of the interaction.

Your Sister’s Sister
As he arrives at his friend’s cabin expecting to spend the weekend alone, Mark Duplass quickly realizes that he is not alone. His initial conversations with Rosemarie DeWitt are absolutely superb, full of such wit and banter that it’s even more amazing to see the two actually get together.

Zero Dark Thirty
The long, tense scene in which Jennifer Ehle waits for the contact for whom she has gleefully baked a cake gives “Flight” a run for its money in terms for the most gripping, suspenseful scene of the year. The dread contained in the run-up to the eventual explosion is only worsened by its devastating conclusion.

Zero Dark Thirty
It’s hardly as controversial as the rest of the film, and the raid that actually kills Bin Laden is central to this long-range movie, which clocks in at over two and a half hours. It’s worth the wait, of course, respectfully and tactfully composed in the most powerful, dramatic fashion.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Movie with Abe: Hava Nagila: The Movie

Hava Nagila: The Movie
Directed by Roberta Grossman
Released March 15, 2013

Anyone who has ever been to a wedding or a Bar Mitzvah is almost certainly familiar with the song “Hava Nagila.” Whether that makes the origins of the popular melody and its words worthy of exploration is debatable, but that is the purpose of this buoyant new documentary. It turns out that a song that serves as a familiar Jewish anthem has a less than certain history and is hardly as well-regarded as people might expect. This journey into a well-known song is light and occasionally entertaining, though it didn’t take itself as seriously as might be productive.

While few would associate “Hava Nagila” with highbrow Jewish music, “Hava Nagila: The Movie” goes to great lengths to make a joke out of the song and out of its search for answers about how the song was created and came into popular culture. Defining its subjects as “Someone else” and “Has a PhD” lessens the impact of what they’re saying, and there’s no reason that this needs to be such a comical subject. The attitude undertaken by filmmaker Roberta Grossman and verbally expressed by narrator Rusty Schwimmer delegitimize the energetic quest on which they’re on, turning it into nothing more than a running joke.

During the third act of its brief 75-minute runtime, “Hava Nagila: The Movie” takes a more compelling turn once it begins to underscore the relevance of the song. Showcasing the two families whose ancestors hold disputed claim to authoring the song is only so interesting, and a montage of the classic song being performed in such diverse settings as Thailand and Estonia demonstrates the staying power of the melody. It may not have the most dramatic subject in history, but “Hava Nagila: The Movie” would have benefited from a greater trust in the fact that its topic is worthy of a film.


Thursday, March 7, 2013

Movies With Abe is on Vacation!

Once again, things have become extremely busy, and unfortunately Movies With Abe is going on a short hiatus once again. I am currently out of the country traveling and, while I have been doing my best to keep up on new films, new reviews and the final honors of the AFT Awards will have to wait until there is more time to appropriately address them. Stay tuned, and thanks as always for reading!

Sunday, March 3, 2013

AFT Awards: Best Director

This is the twenty-sixth category of the 6th 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):
All In, Amour, Arbitrage, Brave, Caroline and Jackie, Citizen Gangster, Detachment, Elles, Extraterrestrial, Flight, Footnote, Frankenweenie, Goodbye First Love, Grassroots, Life of Pi, People Like Us, Perfect Sense, Quartet, La Rafle, Return , Ruby Sparks, The Runway, Safety Not Guaranteed, The Sessions, Silver Linings Playbook, Skyfall, The Amazing Spider-Man, The Avengers, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, The Black Tulip, The Brooklyn Brothers Beat the Best, The Five-Year Engagement, The Giant Mechanical Man, The Impossible, The Well-Digger’s Daughter, We Have a Pope, Your Sister’s Sister

Paul Thomas Anderson (The Master)
Joe Wright (Anna Karenina)
Ridley Scott (Prometheus)
Morten Tyldum (Headhunters)
Craig Zobel (Compliance)

The winner:
Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty) tactfully created an enormously compelling narrative and handled a difficult subject with skill and grace.

Other nominees:
Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild) masterfully visited a whole new world of beauty and innocence. Wes Anderson (Moonrise Kingdom) used his signature quirk to share a sweet and compelling love story. Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight Rises) completed his Batman saga with an involving and excellent final chapter. Ben Affleck (Argo) left Boston to make a mature and enthralling international thriller.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Saturday Night Movie Recommendations with Abe

Welcome back to a weekly feature here at Movies With Abe. I'm going to be providing a handy guide to a few choice movies currently playing in theatres as well as several films newly released on DVD. I’ll also aim to comment on those films I have not yet had the chance to see, and I invite you to add in your thoughts on any films I haven’t seen in the comments below. Understandably, some weeks will have considerably fewer releases to address than others.

Now Playing

Koch (recommended): This documentary was slated to open yesterday before its subject, famed former New York Mayor Ed Koch, passed away just one month earlier. This chronicle of his time in politics and the way he perceived is less linear that it is focused, and it represents a hard, deep look at a truly interesting man. Now playing at the Angelika. Read my review from yesterday.

New to DVD

Anna Karenina (recommended): This gorgeous adaptation of the classic literary work comes from Joe Wright, director of “Pride and Prejudice” and “Atonement,” in his third collaboration with Keira Knightley, and bravely and boldly tells a timeless story with a creative approach to set design and a keen eye for costumes and colors.

Argo (highly recommended): Everyone in the world has heard about the newly minted Best Picture winner, a strong third film from director Ben Affleck, which works as a more than competent and extremely engaging thriller about the impossible and often entertaining mission to smuggle six Americans out of the very volatile Iran. Not to be missed.

The Master (recommended): Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest film received Oscar nominations for its major cast members, but also deserves credit for painting an intoxicating and gripping portrait of a man detached from society seeking a way to reconnect and drawn in by the allure of a cult. It’s a visually stunning film featuring all-around great performances.

The Sessions (highly recommended): This year’s most touching film also features the biggest Oscar snub in recent history, which is the immensely natural and charming lead performance from John Hawkes as paraplegic poet Mark O’Brien. Helen Hunt also shines as a kindly sex surrogate who works to help him achieve his first sexual experience. This is a magnificent film that was ignored all too much this awards season.

Skyfall (recommended): The twenty-third James Bond film marks the fiftieth anniversary of the franchise, and it’s quite the celebration. The film kicks into high gear from its opening moments, thanks to a scenery-chewing villainous turn from Javier Bardem and a commitment to action and explosions throughout. Any Bond fan will love it, and others will enjoy it too.

Now Available on Netflix Instant Streaming

Compliance (recommended): This chilling thriller features one of this year’s biggest Oscar snubs, my winner for Best Supporting Actress, Ann Dowd, as an all-too-willing fast food restaurant manager who takes it upon herself to be deputized by an alleged legal authority to conduct a horrific invasion of privacy and decency. A great film not to be missed.

Revenge of the Electric Car (recommended): This sequel to “Who Killed the Electric Car” takes an in-depth look at the electric car and why its fate has turned out how it has, using Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk as a compelling protagonist to represent the audacious quest undertaken to revitalize the auto industry.

The Runway (recommended): This harmless Irish film stars Demian Bichir, who netted an Oscar nomination in 2011 for “A Better Life,” as a South American pilot who lands in a small town in Ireland in the 1980s and must overcome language barriers and preconceived notions to persevere thanks to his friendship with a young boy full of hope.

Safety Not Guaranteed (recommended): This little movie features the amazing Aubrey Plaza of “Parks and Recreation” in a perfect role as a journalist exploring the claims of a man, played by Mark Duplass, seeking a companion for time travel. Its imagination and dialogue are both equally strong, and it hits just the right quirky notes.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Movie with Abe: Koch

Directed by Neil Barsky
Released March 1, 2012

Documentaries about people often start from two possible points, the beginning of their subject’s life or the pivotal, defining moment of their time in the spotlight. “Koch,” the biography of New York City Mayor Ed Koch, who passed away exactly one month ago at the age of 88, starts well into Koch’s lengthy career, presupposing the fact that he is a household name among New Yorkers and letting his legacy speak for itself. Neil Barsky’s directorial debut is an in-depth chronicle of some of Koch’s most noted and outspoken opinions and actions, one which provides an excellent sense of who he was and how he saw the world.

“Koch” is quite reminiscent of another documentary about a prominent politician, “The World According to Dick Cheney,” which played at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. In both, a lifelong politician with a reputation that precedes him comments on the many controversial policies and moves that he made, without a sense of regret or, in most cases, apology, instead defending his decisions as necessary and for the good of the people. Koch defines himself by his signature “How am I doing?” question, a prompt whose answer he often ignores, instead assuming that the public consensus is that he’s doing great. When purchasing cemetery plots, Koch declares that he believes in the afterlife and he expects to be revered. After he loses his fourth mayoral bid, Koch responds to calls for him to run again by saying that “The people threw me out, and now the people must be punished.” That self-confidence and stubbornness is one of the main reasons that Koch is such an intriguing subject.

“Koch” does not weave a coherent chronological narrative of Koch’s humble beginnings and rise to power, and in fact it takes almost forty minutes before any mention of his childhood is uttered. The lack of an explicit timeline and landmarks to back it up are more than made up for by the many examples cited of Koch’s temperamentally-received decrees. Watching him poll citizens about who they’re voting for and later encourage angry residents to defiantly walk across the Brooklyn Bridge after a transit shutdown, rallying them to his call of “We’re not going to take their crap!” paints a magnificent picture of Koch and his unwavering fervor. As tends to be the case with documentaries, the opinions of those interviewed are equally compelling. One commenter says that Koch is not a racist, but rather, he’s worse, he’s an opportunist. Another sums up the film by comparing him to other mayors, emphasizing his staying power. The film concludes with Koch’s speech at the ceremony honoring the Queensboro Bridge being named after him, a fitting tribute to a man always determined to have his voice heard.


AFT Awards: Best Trailer

This is the twenty-fifth category of the 6th 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. Even if the movies weren’t great, the trailers definitely were. Watch them for yourself below.

The winner:

Les Miserables

Other nominees:

Zero Dark Thirty


The Avengers

Ruby Sparks

AFT Awards: Best Ending

This is the twenty-fourth category of the 6th 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:
Safety Not Guaranteed took a fantastic leap of faith to provide a reality-defying conclusion to its quirky little story.

Other nominees:
Beasts of the Southern Wild went out on just as triumphant a note as it started, concluding Hushpuppy’s incomparable saga. Prometheus used its final moments to connect its bleak ending to an entirely different mythology with obvious parallels. The Sessions provided a moving tribute to its kind-hearted protagonist. The Dark Knight Rises ended on a familiar Christopher Nolan wink note that sets the story up to be revisited again, should anyone ever desire to do so.