Jesse Hawthorne Ficks

TIFF 2014: Foreign favorites, part one

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Jesse Hawthorne Ficks reports from the recent 2014 Toronto International Film Festival. Previous installment here!

** Working steadily for over 40 years, achieving more than 20 features, Mike Leigh has stayed true to his "kitchen sink realism" aesthetic. Contemporary audiences could all too easily take him for granted. His latest, Mr. Turner (UK), is a rigorous and immensely rewarding journey that explores the life of British artist J. M. W. Turner (1775-1851). 

Spall won the award for Best Actor at this year's Cannes Film Festival, not just for emulating Turner's cartoonish and almost frightening physique, but also inhabiting and truly expressing the ghastly terror one struggles with after the death of a loved one. Recalling Jane Campion's dazzling An Angel at My Table (1990), Leigh's film places emphasis on the immense difficulties that an artists put themselves — and the others around them — through, and cinematographer Dick Pope (who has shot ten of Leigh's films since 1990, and won a special jury award at Cannes for his work on Mr. Turner) gives every frame an almost spiritual look. 

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TIFF 2014: Joshua Oppenheimer's 'The Look of Silence'

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Jesse Hawthorne Ficks reports from the recent 2014 Toronto International Film Festival. Previous installment here!

News broke earlier this week that Joshua Oppenheimer — the Texas-born, Copenhagen-based filmmaker who scored an Oscar nomination for 2012's harrowing The Act of Killing — received a MacArthur "Genius Grant." Not a bad follow-up to the Toronto screening of his latest Indonesia-set doc, The Look of Silence (Denmark/Indonesia/Norway/Finland/UK), which is both a direct sequel to Killing and a complete stand-alone work. Either way, it's one of the most powerful documentaries I have ever experienced. (It's due in theaters in summer 2015.)

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Hockey! Drums! Pianos! And TRASHY MOVIES! Passions ruled TIFF 2014

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Jesse Hawthorne Ficks reports from an epic Toronto International Film Festival. Read his first installment here.

Despite notable entries like George Roy Hill's defining Slap Shot (1977) and Michael Dowse's remarkable Goon (2011), hockey films have always been a little more overlooked in the US than they should be. Gabe Polsky's blood-pumping Red Army (US/Russia) is begging to be adapted into a rip-roaring narrative, à la Catherine Hardwick's Lords of Dogtown (2005) take on Stacy Peralta's skateboarding doc Dogtown & Z-Boys (2001).

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Toronto International Film Festival report: in defense of the long, long movie

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The unstoppable Jesse Hawthorne Ficks keeps his eyes open 24/7 through another Toronto International Film Festival, and lives to tell the tale (but shares no spoilers!) Read on for the first in several reports back from the 39th TIFF.

Starting on a high note: Nuri Bilge Ceylan's Winter Sleep (Turkey/France/Germany) won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year, so it arrived in Toronto with its share of hype. I can report Sleep is the director's funniest and most satisfying film to date. That said, it does run 196 minutes, and more than a few critics walked out early, which poses an ever-important question about the current trend toward slow-moving, observational, and meditative narratives: Who's actually watching 'em? 

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SFIFF 57: Strange love, Varda, Swedish grrrls, and more!

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The 57th San Francisco International Film Festival runs through May 8; all the details are here. Guardian correspondent and confirmed film fest addict Jesse Hawthorne Ficks checks in with his mid-SFIFF picks and reactions.

Charlie McDowell's The One I Love (screens tomorrow; ticket info here) showcases exceptional performances by Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss and should be a multiple Independent Spirit Award nominee come next statuette season. This unique genre fluster-cluck digs much deeper into marital problems than you would ever expect (audiences seemed quite flipped upside down after the film's world premiere at Sundance). Similar to films like Darren Araonfsky's Pi (1998), Christopher Nolan's Memento (2000), and Shane Caruth's Primer (2004), this will be a film that'll spark conversations and inspire repeat viewings.

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The spectacular docs of Sundance and Slamdance 2014

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Hilla Medalia and Shosh Shlam's Web Junkie (Israel-China-US) is an eye-opening investigation into China's declared number-one threat against youth: internet addiction. The doc observes as kids are sent (often against their will) to video-game rehab — and the takeaway is that many generation-gapped parents are even more clueless about emotions than their sons.

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Slamdance Film Festival 2014 report!

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Twenty years ago, a few filmmakers — including Dan Mirvish, Peter Baxter, and Paul Rachman — rented out a room in a Prospector Square hotel, creating the first Slamdance Film Festival

Their motivation: "the other film festival in Park City" had perhaps lost some of its independent spirit. Over the years this "little festival that could" has continued to showcase emerging filmmakers. Some of those upstarts have achieved A-list status since their Slamdance debuts: Christopher Nolan (more on him below) and Marc Forster, for example. 

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Sundance, fin: more from the Native Forum

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Running into Chris Eyre was easily one of the most exciting moments of this year's festival. Following his 1998 Audience Award-winning debut, Smoke Signals, Eyre premiered Skins at Sundance 2002, just a few months after 9/11 — and it still ranks as one of the most memorable cinematic experiences I've ever had. 

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Sundance, part 11: Celebrating the 20th annual Native Forum

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The current second-generation movement of Native/Indigenous filmmakers took the spotlight at the Sundance Film Festival's celebration of the 20th anniversary of its annual Native Forum. 

The event gathered some of the most important figures from around the world to not only screen their most recent films but to share artistic works that inspired them to become filmmakers themselves. Sundance favorite Taika Waitita — a self-proclaimed "Academy Award-losing filmmaker" for his 2005 short Two Cars, One Night, he's best-known for his wonderfully quirky 2007 film Eagle vs. Shark — read a sequence from Andrei Tarkovsky's Stalker (1979), while his vampire comedy What We Do in the Shadows (co-directed with Flight of the Conchords' Jermaine Clement) enraptured Midnight Movie audiences at the 2014 festival. 

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Sundance part 10: Happy Valentine's Day!

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Four memorable movies about frisky females from the 2014 Sundance Film Festival

1) Desiree Akhavan wrote, directed, and stars (with deadpan aplomb) in Appropriate Behavior (US/UK), a tremendously personal story about growing up as a bisexual woman in a Persian family in New York. 

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