Saturday, June 6, 2009

#12: Gone With The Wind (1939)

Gone With the Wind 1

Winner Best Picture at the 1939 Academy Awards

After a very long hiatus, I'm finally returning to watching Academy Award Best Picture winners. Gone With The Wind has been on deck for a very long time, partly because it has been difficult to find the time to fit a four-hour film into my schedule. (Here is my husband's complete review of the film after we watched it last night: "That was a long-ass movie. What a comedy of errors!")

Gosh, what can I say about Gone With The Wind that hasn't already been said before? It's such an enduringly popular film, and yet, for me, it's also such a problematic film. Here's a film that in some ways really glorifies the Old South and slavery, right from the very beginning, referring to it as a land of knights and their ladies fair, and yet at the same time, even within the film, it's not so simple, and even more confusingly, the whole movie really struck a blow for equal rights when Hattie McDaniel became not only the first African American to receive an Academy Award, with her win for Best Supporting Actress, but also became the first African American to EVER TO ATTEND THE AWARD CEREMONY AS A GUEST, for crying out loud. So I would definitely class it as problematic.

And maybe problematic is the point. Life is, after all, often problematic and conflicting, just like Scarlet O'Hara - a spoiled, petulant brat who also happens to be unbelievably stronger and more independent than she realizes. I think I would have to say that my favorite element of the movie is the relationship between Scarlet and Melanie - I love the way that Scarlet views Melanie as a rival and an obstacle to her affections for the tedious, whiny, spineless Ashley (seriously, what does she see in that guy? What do either of them see?), but in the end, the person whom she really loves and who loves her is Melanie. Melanie has her back, time and again, whether she likes it or not. There's a definite undercurrent of female solidarity that is very nice, and which runs through many of the female relationships in the movie.

Anyway, as I said, there's little for me to say about this movie that hasn't already been said, I suppose. I'd seen it before, and I was glad to see it again, but there are definitely too many things wrong with it for me to say it's a favorite.

Okay, I'm going to wrap it up, since I watched the movie on June 5th, and it has taken me to today (July 16th!) to finish up the post about it. Time to go on to the next film.

Gone With the Wind 2

Sunday, March 1, 2009

#7 through #11: Round-Up of 1934 through 1938

I'm so entirely behind on blogging the Best Picture films that I've watched that I think I'll just do a little omnibus entry for all of the ones I've watched so that I can catch up. I've stopped watching films, because I didn't want to get any further behind on the blogging, and it seems silly to let a thing like blogging interfere with what I want to do in my life. So here goes:

#7: It Happened One Night (1934):

It Happened One Night

Winner, Best Picture, 1934
Watched on: 11/7/2008

This was the first year that the Academy Awards switched to a calendar-year time period, and coincidentally, this was the first of the Academy Award winning Best Picture films that I'd actually seen before. It Happened One Night is simply put a delightful, lovely film -- I thought that the first time I saw it, and I think that still. And I'm not alone in that opinion -- as Filmsite points out, it was the first film to win all of the top five awards, Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Adaptation, a feat not repeated until 1975 with One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, and I think they also very rightly describe it as one of the best romantic comedies ever. Since I'm writing about a lot of films here, I'm going to keep it short and sweet and just give my general impressions. I love It Happened One Night. If you haven't seen it, you should. I could watch it over and over again. Because of its enduring popularity, it's really easy to catch it on TV as well -- I see from that last link that it's scheduled to play on TCM at least three times in the near future.

#8: Mutiny on the Bounty (1935):

Mutiny on the Bounty 2

Winner, Best Picture, 1935
Watched on: 11/7/2008

As much as I loved It Happened One Night and Clark Gable in it, he couldn't save Mutiny on the Bounty for me. My friend Erika and I did a little movie marathon back in November over the course of two days, in which we watched It Happened One Night, Mutiny on the Bounty, and The Great Ziegfeld, in that order. When Mutiny on the Bounty had ended, we both heaved a sigh of relief, and I turned to her and said, "Whew. We did it." Particularly on the heels of the light, screwball romantic comedy, MotB seemed particularly long, tedious, and painful. It may be, in the words of Filmsite, one of the best nautical adventure films of all time, but I guess I can just say then that nautical adventure films are just not my thing. Since I didn't much like it, I'm not going to spend a lot of time writing much more about it. But it is worth going to those links above to read some more about. It was an expensive film to make, and was interstingly shot on location in the South Seas for authenticity sake, which I thought was an unusual and nice choice for a film of its time.

#9: The Great Ziegfeld (1936)

The Great Ziegfeld

Winner, Best Picture, 1936
Watched on: 11/8/2008

What a stunningly different film this was from Mutiny on the Bounty, and how odd to watch them one after another. The Great Ziegfeld can very rightly be described as lavish. It's one of the first words that springs to mind when watching the elaborate stage scenes, and it seems to be one of the most common words found anywhere when describing it. It was even lavish in length -- three hours. There is criticism to be found online about this film winning -- Filmsite indicates that there were at least three far superior films that should have beat out The Great Ziegfeld. But no matter to me, anyway -- it was a heckuva lot of fun checking out the crazy costumes and massive headdresses and the singing and performing, and watching the biopic of Ziegfeld's life along with it. It may not have been the best film, but it's pretty darn entertaining.

#10: The Life of Emile Zola (1937)

The Life of Emile Zola

Winner, Best Picture, 1937
Watched on: 1/10/2009

Well, now here's a film that I probably never would have watched had I not been watching all of these Best Picture films, but which I thoroughly enjoyed all the same. That really is one of the nice side-effects of this project. I end up watching things that I wouldn't choose for myself and thus broadening my horizons a little bit. The Life of Emile Zola is a film about justice, and one man's dedication to it. Yet another biopic (these were so popular in the 30s, who knew?), if follows the life and writing career of Emile Zola, and focuses on the historically important Dreyfus Affair, in which he fought to free the wrongfully imprisoned Captain Dreyfus, a victim of anti-Semitic framing within the French army in the 1800s. I think this film doesn't seem to be very popular any more -- it's not scheduled to be played on TCM anytime soon, for example -- but it was worth seeing. I found it very engaging, and I always do enjoy a film in which justice prevails. Who wouldn't, especially in a world where it doesn't always?

#11: You Can't Take It With You (1938)

You Can't Take It With You

Winner, Best Picture, 1938
Watched on: 1/18/2009

I was quite certain that I had seen You Can't Take it With You before -- and I was also quite wrong. Still, even though it wasn't the film that I thought it was (wonder what that was? who knows...) You Can't Take It With You was a relatively amusing film -- and of course, it's actually somewhat unusual for a comedy to have won Best Picture, as that remains the exception rather than the rule in Oscar history overall. It's the story of a prominent banker's son who falls for his spunky secretary, and the hilarity that ensues when he meets her highly eccentric family, and even worse, his snobbish parents meet her highly eccentric family. Jimmy Stewart gave a particularly enjoyable and rather signature performance as the banker's son. Even if the whole thing gets predictably wrapped up in a shiny bow at the end, I think we can all use a feel-good movie in which everyone learns the lessons they should in the end, and I especially enjoyed the fact that this movie really embraces people's wild diversity.

And with that -- I am caught up. Now I can move on to 1939 - Gone With the Wind -- which happens to be the second of the Best Picture films that I had seen previous to starting this Oscarfest.

Sundance, Best of Fest: Sin Nombre


To my extreme irritation, I had written a substantial portion of a blog entry on my cell phone, and it is now mysteriously missing. Nothing is left but the header. Ah well. Rest assured, I said any number of deep, profoud things. Okay, maybe not.

At any rate, it's about a month after the fact, so it's time I finish blogging about the last Sundance film that we saw this year, Sin Nombre, which translates roughly to something like Unnamed, or Without Name. This was such an incredible film, one whose images have really stuck with me, even a month later. If you go read the description, it's described as being "in the tradition of American film noir." I had thought that description inaccurate, but reading a little bit about Film Noir here and then here, I suppose that strictly speaking, the film does meet some of the definitions given on those sites of film noir -- the line between good and evil blurred, moral ambiguity, despair prevailing, not necessarily a congenial ending. Still this felt less like film noir to me and more like a tragedy along Shakespearean or even classical lines, though perhaps it also contains too much hope simultaneously to really fit that definition.

At any rate, whatever dramatic genre it falls into, Sin Nombre is a simultaneously dark but at times oddly beautiful film, one that definitely defied my expectations. I found it to be a fascinating look into the incredible dangers people are willing to face for a better life, and I had no idea that people actually rode on the tops of trains to try to get from Central America and Mexico to America. I also found it to be a simultaneously horrific and yet compelling look into gang life in Mexico. I loved that nothing was simple -- in a surreal world in which evil seems commonplace and accepted, little bits of humanity crept through all the same. I thought the gang leader was most brilliantly written and acted -- as you watch a 12-year-old boy who is trying to become an accepted member of the gang, you can envision his future and his likely ending if he continues along his current path as you also look at the leader, his face fully tattooed, barely recognizable as a normal human being, seemingly morally as far gone as a person can be, showing no mercy and no remorse. And yet they don't allow anything to be as simple as that -- the audience watches in horror as he orders a defenseless, begging man be killed, chopped up, and fed to his dogs, but the whole scene made brilliant by the fact that while he's carrying out these gang leader duties, he's also carrying around a tiny baby in a cute little suit of pajamas. Thus, the mundane, everyday things that everyone does are intermixed with horrific acts that hopefully not many can imagine. He had another similar moment, in which he brutally attacks and tries to rape a woman, and as she falls and is killed when her head hits some stones, the briefest moment of normal human fear and remorse flickers through his eyes, before they shut down again.

And so this is the atmosphere and setting in which the action unfolds, one in which nothing is simple, as a girl named Sayra rides on a train top with a father she barely knows because he's spent most of her life living in New Jersey. She encounters a gang member named Casper, who becomes her unlikely travel companion after he somewhat unintentionally (and yet perhaps entirely intentionally) severs his ties with his gang and as a result, must try to escape their very long reach, lest he too become dinner for the dogs. And so, again in a way that is not simple, a story of hope and a dangerous bid for freedom becomes intermixed with a literal attempt at escape -- a perilous chase superimposed upon an already difficult odyssey.

Though this blog is anything but spoiler-free, I'm not going to give away the ending. But I found this film very surprising - I went into it expecting it to be heavy and depressing. It was very heavy indeed, but in a way that was well worth watching and not at all what I expected. I would totally recommend it.

There are some trailers online as well:

One here and another one here. I don't know if it's going to get a wide release, but it looks like it was picked up by Focus Films, and you can check out their site here.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Sundance, Best of Fest: An Education

An Education

Sundance always does this wonderful thing - every year after the festival is over and the awards have been given, they play a selection of the year's award-winning films at their various venues on the same night, and the tickets are absolutely free. The only catch is that you must go pick up your free tickets in advance of the festival at the designated time. (Though this year in Ogden that didn't seem much to matter, as the crowds were not huge, and they were giving out free tickets at the door as well.)

This year Charlie and I were both free when they were handing out the tickets, so we stopped at the box office and got our max 2 each per show, so we were able to take two friends with us to each showing.

Erika and Krista joined us for the early showing, and we were expecting to see an Irish film called Five Minutes of Heaven, starring Liam Neeson. So we were surprised indeed when they announced that the film we were about to see was An Education. No idea why they made the switch, but I was actually really happy about it. I'd really wanted to see An Education when it played in Ogden in the first place, but it was one of the nights that I hadn't been able to go. Plus, the Irish film seemed really sad and heavy from the description, so honestly, a somewhat less serious film was a relief.

We all totally loved An Education. It just really had everything going for it. Funny at times yet serious, dramatic without getting too carried away, beautifully filmed, impressively acted, excellent writing, an interesting plot. Carey Mulligan easily takes my Best of Fest prize, having starred in two of my favorite films that I saw, An Education and The Greatest.

Rather than regurgitating my own movie synopsis, especially after this long delay in blogging since I actually saw the film, I'll let you read about it through the link above. But this was a fantastic film, and if you get the chance, you should absolutely see it. I will probably buy this one on DVD if I get a chance, because I really loved it, and I'd really like to see it again.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Sundance: Pomegranates and Myrrh

I've been taking my time starting this review. Charlie and I saw the movie Pomegranates and Myrrh at Sundance last Thursday night.

Here's the thing. I like to consider myself a thoughtful, intellectual, liberal, educated sort of person who does stuff like listen to NPR for fun. And because of that, I feel like I should appreciate a film that puts a human story into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, right? So, I've been reluctant to say this, but the truth is, I found Pomegranates and Myrrh...well, a little boring. There. The truth is out.

I wanted to like this movie more than I did. It's about a woman who is a dancer with a troupe that specializes in traditional Palestinian dance. She gets married, and then her new husband is wrongfully imprisoned by Israeli soldiers and their land is threatened by "settlers" who pitch a tent and camp out with guns. The story follows how she and her family deal with this, and also how she continues to have dance in her life and refuses to allow herself to be defined by only her husband's imprisonment. It sounds pretty good, right? But in practice, I found my mind wandered, it just wasn't that engaging to me. And I left wondering if I just didn't have enough cultural knowledge to truly understand or appreciate it. Maybe that's true. Or maybe it just wasn't a very engaging movie.

I even felt guilty for not appreciating the dancing more. I often enjoy folk dancing. But the dancing in this movie, I must admit, didn't seem that great to me, and talk about feeling culturally insensitive! But, hey, since this is already a blog confessional, I'll admit that too. I can certainly appreciate the importance of maintaining one's cultural traditions, and that is even more important if you're in a culture under pressure like the one in this film. I get it. I support it...again, in theory. And so I guess overall, I found the movie disappointing, because I wanted it to be so much better than it was, and so I felt a bit let down.

Sundance: Endgame

Charlie and I saw Endgame last Wednesday night(the 21st), and I wasn't sure how I was going to like it. Sometimes films with heavy, serious topics bring me down, depending on the handling. But I was more than pleased to discover that I enjoyed this film a lot. It plays like a thriller, and keeps you on the edge of your seat as everything unfolds, which the director explained was his intent. He was there beforehand and then for the Q&A afterward, and he made the point that he wanted the audience to feel suspense and tension watching a story where they already knew the outcome, and I think he totally succeeded in that. Because as I was watching it, I was swept up in the mood of fear and unease of the time, wondering how it would all turn out okay, even though I KNEW that apartheid was going to end, Nelson Mandela would be released from jail, and the terrorism and violence in South Africa would subside (well, it's all relative, eh? South Africa continues to have a very high violent crime rate, including what the State Department's web page reports as the highest reported rape rate in the world.)

At any rate, the behind-the-scenes events that unfolded in this film, including secret talks held at a posh English manor house, were so interesting. I really had no idea that such things went on - and I knew about apartheid, I was paying attention, I cared that it ended. I had no idea that a company (Consolidated Gold) was so instrumental in bringing an end to apartheid, and that they started out doing so to protect their financial interests. The whole thing was really fascinating, and very well done. If, like me, you're thinking you might not want to deal with a heavy political film, I encourage you to do so. This one is totally worth it.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Sundance: Lulu und Jimi

On Tuesday night I headed out on my own to see the German film Lulu und Jimi, but I met up with my knitter friend Amy and a friend of hers, so I joined them. That is one of the nice things about Ogden Sundance - and Ogden itself. It's a small enough community, you're always seeing friends and familiar faces.

Lulu und Jimi is a brightly colored, sometimes surreal, sometimes kitchy, sometimes slightly grotesque (in the literary sense of the word) love story set in 1950's Germany, a blending of races, cultures, and post-war angst and desire for plenty. It was also clearly a lyrical and strange German ode to David Lynch. (This is a sentence I never would have imagined myself writing.) There are moments that seem like loving tribute to Wild at Heart and Twin Peaks, and a little internet research as well as the thanks to "David L." In the opening credits confirm that homage was the intent. Lord knows I loves me some David Lynch, and I really enjoyed this film as well. It is distinctive, and very much unlike other German films (though I usually enjoy German cinema, and also enjoy the opportunity to brush up on my German skills a bit).

Another balloted contender for the Best Foreign Drama category, I gave this one 3 out of 4 stars, though I wish I could give it something more like 3.5. If I had to rank it against the other two contenders I've seen, I'd put it in first place. Hell, the pink poodle alone probably would have done that. The costumes and sets are genius. This film is definitely worth seeing.

Sundance: The Greatest

Monday night my usual Sundance date had to work the night shift, and so I went to see The Greatest with my good friend, Erika.

I loved this film. I will go so far as to say I think it is now one of my favorite movies I've ever seen. Seriously. It is that good. I think I'd rank it up there with Secrets and Lies for me, with a similar universal and sometimes painful human insight and range of emotion, not to mention fantastic execution.

The writing is phenomenal. The actors are all pitch-perfect. The cinematography, the pacing, the direction, everything just works. And the story...the story is so good, so real. I found it almost haunting. I literally woke up thinking about it in detail the next morning, and it made me cry all over again. But the emotion isn't maudlin - it feels very authentic, and I think that's why it stuck with me so much.

The story is about the death of an eighten-year-old boy, and the ways in which his family and the girl who was with him when he died deal with the aftermath of that death. In a balanced way, it follows each of them in their grief, and the ways they deal with that grief, with one another, and with the other problems and tensions that existed in their lives which are overshadowed but not erased, and which must be dealt with too.

This is the first film for writer/director Shana Feste, and that's amazing to me - she seems so talented, to have sprung into film so fully formed like this. She was there with her producer, Lynette Howell, for Q&A afterward, and I was immediately struck by their relative youth when they walked on stage - which was inspiring and cool. It was a balloted film, part of the U.S. Dramatic Competition, and the first balloted film this festival that I've given 4 out of 4 stars, which I did without hesitation. I just really loved this film - I hope they sell it and make a lot of money and it really launches their filmmaking careers so they can make more great films like this. And when it comes to a theater near you, you should see it.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Sundance: Rudo y Cursi

Rudo y Cursi

Sunday afternoon Charlie and I headed to Sundance again, this time to see a Mexican film, Rudo y Cursi.  It's a comedy about a couple of goofy brothers who work on a banana ranch in Mexico and get discovered by a soccer talent scout.  

This was a fun movie, and definitely worth a watch.  We chose it because we like Sundance, and also because we like soccer, though there was surprisingly little actual soccer action in it.  The crowd was more mixed than the usual Sundance crowds - it seemed to also attract some people for the soccer, and some for the Spanish language.  (I kept thinking that they might be disappointed at times, because I didn't think they had the sound up loud enough, and then the audience that was reading subtitles probably kept laughing over the spoken parts.)    

The description says something about how you can take the brothers off the banana ranch, but you may not be able to take thew banana ranch out of the brothers.  And that's actually pretty apt.  It's a funny story, and one that is interestingly told, but you really do end up caring for the characters and their fates.  I believe some of the actors are fairly well-known in Mexico, and I can see this film being a pretty big commercial success in Mexico at least, a place where football is king, footballers are like gods, and there are no doubt thousands of small-town football players with their own big-time dreams.

As an entertaining side-note, this post was written almost entirely while stopped at red lights.  How is that for multi-tasking?

As I'm finally finishing this up and adding a photo so that I can post, it's Tuesday now, and I have two more films to blog about already -- Monday night I saw The Greatest, and tonight I saw Lulu und Jimi. So more posts to come soon.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Sundance: Before Tomorrow and Louise-Michel

Last night we saw two more Sundance films. Just a quick post on both of them.

The first was Before Tomorrow.

Before Tomorrow is a drama that felt at times almost documentary-like. It was a slow-paced film filled with vast silences. One of the co-directors was there, a French-Canadian woman named Marie-Hélène Cousineau, and she spoke briefly of the film before it began and answered some questions afterwards. The basic plot follows an Inuit woman and her grandson in a tribe in northern Canada before the tribe came into contact with white people, though they meet with friends or relatives who talk about seeing a great ship appear and interacting with strange people. The main characters are a grandmother and grandson, played by an actual grandmother and grandson, who go to a close-by island for part of the summer with another elderly woman to dry fish for the tribe for the winter. The other elderly woman dies, and when the tribe fails to return for the grandmother and grandson, they set out on their own in a boat and discover that tragedy has struck (it appears in the form of smallpox or some other disease, likely brought by the strange ship), and all of their relatives have died. What follows in the film is the story of the strength of the grandmother, as she and her grandson survive on their own in isolation. The story itself seems interesting, the attention to detail in presenting the Inuit culture was interesting, and much of the filming was beautiful and barren. Yet it was a difficult film to watch -- it had such great stretches of silence, and at many times it felt as if your endurance and patience were being tested, just as the grandmother's and grandson's must have been. The one line that stuck with me was when the grandmother exclaimed, "When will this nightmare end?", and I must admit, watching the film felt a little bit like that. When will it end? How could it end well? How can I endure watching it if it just gets worse and worse? It is entirely in an Inuit language with subtitles, and it seems to be worth having seen, but at the same time, I don't know if I could recommend it -- hard to explain that. It wasn't exactly painful, but it also wasn't enjoyable. Really, for me, the most interesting parts were listening to Marie-Hélène Cousineau discuss it, how they filmed the appropriate scenes in the appropriate seasons, how they filmed with only traditional oil lamp light in the night scenes using HD, how in winter it was -40 C, etc. Anyway, not sure what else to comment on for the film. It was a balloted film, and I voted 2 out of 4 stars ("good") for it, because although I am glad that I saw it, and can see why it is important in terms of preserving Inuit language and traditions and culture, I can't say that I particularly enjoyed seeing it, it was a test of movie-going endurance, even though I suppose it helped me understand the world a little better.

The second film we saw was Louise-Michel, a French film that was also balloted.

This film do I put this? Well, it was so French. It is really difficult to imagine a film that is any more opposite from Before Tomorrow than this one, and so the contrast in seeing them both in one evening was marked. The Sundance site describes the film as a quixotic revenge comedy, the story of displaced factory workers who decide to put a hit out on the factory boss after their factory is shut down without notice. The idea is suggested by the odd character of Louise, and Louise finds another odd character Michel to enact the plan. The film follows what ensues, and I'd just suggest clicking on my link above and reading the description rather than me trying to re-create it less succinctly. This was definitely a black comedy, at times veering into the grotesque, at times absurd, and at times downright shocking -- I am sure I exclaimed, "Oh my God!" more than one time. The audience reaction to this film was amazing to compare to that of Before Tomorrow -- in Before Tomorrow, the audience's silence was palpable, it was uncanny, it was more silent than you can imagine several hundred people being -- the normal rustling and coughing and reactions were almost not present. It was as if the silence of the film's landscape and characters blanketed the audience as well, and wrapped them up in it. The reactions to Louise-Michel were loud, guffaws, exclamations, disbelieving laughter, and more. It too was a balloted film, and in the end, I gave it 3 out of 4 stars ("better") -- it was a totally strange, surreal, disturbed slice of life, but it made me laugh as well. Don't think it should win the audience choice prize either, but in a way completely unlike Before Tomorrow, it too was worth seeing.

ETA: Louise-Michel won "A World Cinema Special Jury Prize for Originality." Well, it certainly was original!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Sundance: Mary and Max

I am going to interrupt my irregular, seldom-scheduled blogging about Academy Award winning films to blog about some other films that I'm watching, because I feel like it. Yes, I'm allowed to undermine the theme of my own blog, right?

It's that time of year again -- Sundance kicked off Thursday night, and though I have never actually attended any Sundance films in Park City (which is weird, but true -- I've just always wanted to avoid the zoo), I have the luxury of living in Ogden on my side, which is home to one of the most beautiful movie theaters there is (Peery's Egyptian Theater). For the last 12 years, the Egyptian has been used as a Sundance venue as well. The wonderful things about this include the fact that it's a pretty big theater compared to many used for Sundance (seats around 800), they give locals first dibs on Sundance tickets anyway, and even after that, the Ogden showings take a little while to fill up -- if they do fill up. And so it's easy to get tons of tickets to see amazing films every year right here in my little town, sometimes even premieres, or at least films where they bring in the writers or directors or producers or even some of the stars or documentary subjects to talk about the films before they start, or have Q&A sessions afterward. This year I have tickets to ten films between January 16th and 27th -- so I figured I'd try to blog about them here.

(I haven't blogged Best Picture films for a long time, although I watched It Happened One Night, Mutiny on the Bounty, and The Great Ziegfeld at the beginning of November, and then I watched The Life of Emile Zola last week. I'm sure I'll catch up one of these days...)

Mary and Max

So last night Charlie and I went to see our first Sundance film this year, an incredible film called Mary and Max. It was actually the film chosen to kick off the entire festival in Park City the night before, and I loved it. It's a stop animation or claymation film made by independent Australian filmmaker Adam Elliot (he as the writer/director and his producer Melanie Coombs were there to talk about it, and they were fantastic -- they said all filmmakers in Australia are independent, and the filmmaking community there is relatively small and doesn't have a lot of funding.)

I would have to say first of all that, though I only started attending Sundance within the last couple years, Mary and Max is my absolute favorite Sundance film I've seen so far. If you're reading this review, you should definitely click on that last link and visit their film website to get a feel for what the film is like. And if you get the chance to go see it in the theater, you should go. If you don't get that chance, then you should definitely rent it on DVD. The film was engrossing from the very opening shots. It's an entirely "in camera" animation -- no computer tricks, just five years of work, including over one year of filming at a rate of 4 seconds per animator per day, everything created with painstaking and loving attention to quirky detail, from the individual drops of water created using what amounted to cases of water-based sexual lubricant (!) to the plasticine model working typewriter. The musical score and the tonal color palettes give the movie a very unique mood and feel -- it isn't a happy, animated kids' fluff project, it's a poignant film for adults that makes you laugh, makes you uncomfortable at times, makes you cry, and just generally explores human imperfection, friendship, and acceptance. The basic premise starts off with a lonely, ostracized eight-year-old girl, Mary Dinkle, who lives in Australia, and who one day rips a corner out of a New York City phonebook and starts up a pen friendship by writing a letter to a complete stranger. The stranger turns out to be Max Horovitz, a lonely, middle-aged Jewish man living in New York, who is equally friendless, obese, and struggling to live in a world he does not understand. The film follows the two through 20 years, as they exchange letters and their lives deeply affect one another despite their great distance and seeming disparity. Truly, the word poignant gets thrown around a lot in a rather meaningless way, but this film really earns it. It's the very best kind of story -- both touching and ridiculous, just like life itself, and when the credits roll, you feel like you actually understand life just a little bit more. I will add that it's so incredibly well done in every element that when the credits rolled, that was the first time I noticed or remembered throughout the entire course of the film that it was actually voiced by famous people with recognizable voices -- Toni Collette, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Barry Humphries (i.e. Dame Edna!), to name a few. For the entire film, I was completely absorbed into the world that Elliot created -- usually in animated films, I am always very much aware of the actor behind the voice if it's someone well known -- and there are numerous examples, Eddie Murphy, Robin Williams, etc.

Mary and Max is a film that deserves to be described as truly touching, and I only wish the word weren't so painfully overused and could really convey what I mean. I definitely want to see it again, and will likely buy it when it is released on DVD. I hope it gets picked up for a US release and that people will give it the chance it deserves, to quote the film, "warts and all."