Back to School #71: An Education (dir by Lone Scherifg)


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When I first started this series of Back To School reviews, my plans was to somehow write and post 80 reviews over the course of just one week.  What was I thinking?  That one week has now become one month.  However, even if it has taken me longer than I originally planned, I’ve enjoyed writing these reviews and I hope that you’ve enjoyed reading them.

We’ve been looking at these films in chronological order.  We started with 1946’s I Accuse My Parents and now, 70 reviews later, we have reached the wonderful year of 2009.  It seems somewhat appropriate, to me, that as we finally start to reach the end of this series (after this review, only 9 more to go!), we should take a look at one of my favorite films of all time, a film that was nominated for best picture and which introduced the world to one of the best actresses working today.

That film, of course, is An Education.

Set in 1961, An Education tells the story of Jenny (Carey Mulligan), an intelligent and headstrong 16 year-old girl.  Jenny lives in London with her father (Alfred Molina) and mother (Cara Seymour), both of whom have decided that Jenny will eventually attend Oxford University.  She attends public school, where she’s a star pupil and a favorite of her teacher, Miss Stubbs (Olivia Williams) and the stern headmistress (Emma Thompson).  Jenny is someone who, even at the age of 16, seems to have her entire life mapped out for her.

And then she meets David Goldman (Peter Sarsgaard).  David is a handsome and charming older man who, spying Jenny walking in the rain, offers to give her a ride home.  Soon, Jenny and David are secretly pursuing a romantic relationship.  At first glance, David seems to be the perfect dream boyfriend.  He’s sophisticated.  He’s witty.  He knows about art and music and seems to be the exact opposite of Jenny’s boring, conservative father.  And David also has two beautiful friends, Danny (a devastatingly charming Dominic Cooper) and Danny’s glamorous girlfriend, Helen (Rosamund Pike).

Jenny is drawn into David’s exciting circle of friends and, at first, it’s all so intoxicating that the little things don’t matter.  Jenny doesn’t ask, for instance, how David and Danny make their money.  When she finds out that David specifically moves black families into white neighborhoods in order to get people to move so that he can then buy and rent out their former homes, Jenny knows that it’s shady but she pretends not to be worried.  And when David and Danny steal a valuable antique map out of a country home, it’s far too exciting for Jenny to worry about the legality of it all…

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An Education is such a great film, I don’t even know where to begin in singing its praises.  The cast is absolutely brilliant, with Carey Mulligan proving herself to be a star and Peter Sarsgaard being so charismatic that, much like Jenny, you can’t help but get swept up in his world.  This was the first film that I ever noticed Dominic Cooper in and I walked out of the theater with a crush that I continue to have to this day.  The script, by novelist Nick Hornby, is full of witty lines and, even more importantly, it manages to find something very universal within Jenny’s very personal story.  We’ve all had a David Goldman in our life at some point.

However, what I think I really love about An Education is the way that it portrays the excitement of being just a little bit naughty.  One need only compare the vivid scenes in which David and Jenny dance at a club with the drab scenes of Jenny sitting in class to understand why Jenny (and so many other girls) would fall for a guy like David.

Perhaps my favorite image in the entire film is one in which, after having a fight out in the middle of the street, David and Jenny turn around to see Danny and Helen standing out on a beautiful balcony and waving down to them.  The two couples are just so beautiful and so glamorous that it really does become one of those moments where you really do wish you could just step into the movie and spend a few hours just hanging out with them.

An Education is one of the best!

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The Beautiful People (from L-R): Dominic Cooper, Rosamund Pike, Peter Sarsgaard, and Carey Mulligan.

Let’s Second Guess The Academy: Best Picture 2009


An Education

Back in 2011, I experimented with something that I like to call “Let’s second guess the Academy.”  Basically, we take a look at past Oscar contestants and we ask ourselves if 1) the Academy made the right choice and 2) what else would we have nominated if we had all the power.  It was always a lot of fun (and occasionally surprising) to see which films ended up getting the most love in hindsight.

So, I figured why not revive the tradition by considering the race for best picture of 2009.  This was the first contest, since the 1943, to feature 10 nominees.  At the time, most critics felt that the race was between Avatar and The Hurt Locker.  Personally, as happy as I was to see a woman finally win best director, I thought The Hurt Locker was overrated and I hated Avatar.  Which of the 10 nominated films would I have voted for?  Well, as much as I loved both District 9 and A Serious Man, I would have voted for An Education.  How about you?

Now, here comes the fun part.  Let’s say that James Cameron never made Avatar.  Let’s say that An Education never made it over from the UK.  And maybe The Hurt Locker never got a distributor and just remained an independent film that occasionally popped up on the program at various film festivals.  In other words, let’s say that none of the 10 best picture nominees for 2009 had been available to be nominated.  Which ten films would have nominated in their place?

You can vote for up to 10 of the films listed below and yes, we do accept write-ins!

Personally, I voted for: Adventureland, The Girlfriend Experience, Moon, (500) Days of Summer, The Informant!, Bright Star, Where The Wild Things Are, The Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, and Me And Orson Welles.

Happy voting!

 

 

Song of the Day: Smoke Without Fire


How much do I love the 2009 film An Education?

I love it so much that I once unfollowed someone on twitter when he said that he hated it.  And even though I eventually refollowed the guy, it was on the condition that he rewatch An Education and fall in love with the film.  Unfortunately, shortly after he promised to do just that, he announced that he felt that Rooney Mara was a better Girl with the Dragon Tattoo than Noomi Rapace and I had to unfollow him and his xenophobic film criticism.  So, I’m not sure if he’s rewatched An Education but I doubt it.

As you may have guessed, I love An Education.  It’s one of my favorite films of the past few years.  The rest of you can have your Rooney Mara and your Avatar.  I’m more than happy to watch and rewatch An Education, thank you very much.

Today’s song of the day plays over the end credits of An Education and, with its retro feel and smoky lyrics, it provides a perfect ending to a great film.  Performed by Duffy and written by Duffy and Bernard Butler, Smoke Without Fire is the song of the day for June 29th, 2012.

The Results Are In And Tonight Belongs To Neely O’Hara!


Hi there!

So, last week at this time, I asked you which movie I should watch on March 20th.  I gave you twelve possible movies and I asked you to vote.  678 votes were cast and, despite strong showings by An Education, Crazy/Beautiful, and Nightmare City, the winner is Valley of the Dolls!

And for that, I thank you.  As some of you may know, my dream is to someday play Neely O’Hara in a remake directed by our own Arleigh Sandoc.

I will be watching Valley of the Dolls tonight.  Look for my review of it either on Wednesday or Thursday.

And to everyone who voted — Lisa Marie loves you!

*MWAH*

Poll: Which Movie Should Lisa Marie Watch on March 20th?


Anyone who knows me knows that sometimes I just can’t help but love being dominated. 

That’s why, on occasion, I’ll give you, our beloved readers, the option of telling me which film to watch and review.  In the past, you’ve commanded me to watch and review Anatomy of a Murder, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and Logan’s Run

Well, here’s your chance to, once again, tell me what to do.  I’ve randomly selected 12 films from my film collection.  Whichever film gets the most votes will be watched and reviewed by me next Tuesday, March 20th.

Here are the films up for consideration:

1) Black Jesus (1968) — This Italian film stars Woody Strode as an African rebel leader who is captured by his country’s right-wing, American-backed dictatorship. 

2) Capote (2005) — Philip Seymour Hoffman was an Oscar for best actor for playing writer Truman Capote in this film that details how Capote came to write his true crime classic, In Cold Blood.  This film was also nominated for best picture.

3) Chappaqua (1966) — In this underground cult classic, drug addict Conrad Rooks seeks treatment in Switzerland while being haunted by a scornful William S. Burroughs.  This film features cameo from Allen Ginsberg, The Fugs, and just about every other cult figure from 1966.

4) Crazy/Beautiful (2001) — Jay Fernandez and Kirsten Dunst have lots and lots of sex.  This was like one of my favorite movies to catch on cable back when I was in high school. 🙂

5) An Education (2008) — In my favorite movie from 2008, Carey Mulligan is a schoolgirl in 1960s England who has a secret affair with an older man (played by Peter Sarsgaard), who has plenty of secrets of his own.  Co-starring Rosamund Pike, Emma Thompson, Alfred Molina, and Dominic Cooper (who is to die for, seriously).

6) Female Vampire (1973) — In this atmospheric and ennui-filled film from the infamous Jesus Franco, a female vampire spends the whole movie wandering around naked and dealing with the lost souls who want to join the ranks of the undead. 

7) Nightmare City (1980) — In this gory and fast-paced film from Umberto Lenzi, an accident at a nuclear plant leads to a bunch of blood-thirsty zombies rampaging through both the city and the countryside.  Hugo Stiglitz plays Dean Miller, zombie exterminator!  Nightmare City is probably most remembered for introducing the concept of the fast zombie and for serving as an obvious inspiration for Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later.

8) The Other Side of Midnight (1977) — Based on a best-selling novel, The Other Side of Midnight tells the story of a poor French girl who becomes a world-famous actress and who ends up sleeping with apparently every wealthy man in the world.  Meanwhile, the man she loves ends up marrying Susan Sarandon.  Eventually, it all ends with both a hurricane and a murder.  Apparently, this film cost a lot of money to make and it was a notorious box office bomb.  It looks kinda fun to me.

9) Peyton Place (1957) — Also based on a best-selling novel, Peyton Place is about love, sex, and scandal in a small town.  Lana Turner is a repressed woman with a past who struggles to keep her daughter from making the same mistakes.  At the time it was made, it was considered to be quite racy and it was even nominated for best picture.  This film is a personal favorite of mine and it’s pretty much set the template for every single film ever shown on Lifetime.

10) Rosebud (1975) — From director Otto Preminger comes this film about what happens when a bunch of rich girls on a yacht are taken hostage by Islamic extremists.  The film’s diverse cast includes Peter O’Toole, Richard Attenborough, Cliff Gorman, former New York Mayor John Lindsay, former Kennedy in-law Peter Lawford, Raf Vallone, Adrienne Corri, Lalla Ward, Isabelle Huppert, and Kim Cattrall.

11) Valley of the Dolls (1967) — Oh my God, I love this movie so much!  Three aspiring actresses move to the big city and soon become hooked on pills and bad relationship decisions. Every time I watch this movie, I spend hours yelling, “I’m Neely O’Hara, bitch!” at the top of my lungs.

12) Zombie Lake (1981) — From my favorite French director, Jean Rollin, comes this extremely low budget film about a bunch of Nazi zombies who keep coming out of the lake and attacking the nearby village.  Some people claim that this is the worst zombie films ever made.  I disagree.

Please vote below for as many or as few of these films as you want to.  The poll will remain open until March 20th and whichever film gets the most votes will be watched and reviewed by me.

Happy voting!

Belatedly, here are the Satellite Nominations


One thing about Oscar Season is that you have so many different groups of people tossing around so many different awards that occasionally, you’ll miss a few.  The nominations for the Satellite Awards were announced last Friday but I missed them, largely because nobody really seems to care about the Satellite Awards.  Well, almost nobody.  I care about them because — even when they were known as the Golden Satellites — the Satellite Awards are consistently more interesting than the more mainstream awards.  (For instance, last year, the Satellite Awards had the guts to honor the one and only true girl with the dragon tattoo, Noomi Rapace.)

Best Picture

The Artist

The Descendants

Drive

The Help

Hugo

Midnight in Paris

Moneyball

Shame

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

War Horse

What?  No love for David Fincher’s rip-off of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo?  The AwardsDaily folks must be throwing a fit.  (They’ve been promoting Fincher’s rehash with the same enthusiasm that they attempted to promote Nine two years ago.)

Best Actor

George Clooney in The Descendants

Leonardo DiCaprio in J. Edgar

Michael Fassbender in Shame

Brendan Gleeson in The Guard

Ryan Gosling in Drive

Tom Hardy in The Warrior

Woody Harrelson in Rampart

Gary Oldman in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Brad Pitt in Moneyball

Michael Shannon in Take Shelter

It’s nice to see Brendan Gleeson get some love.  It’s also interesting to note that Michael Shannon’s performance in Take Shelter has been getting a lot of recognition.  Count me among those who hopes that Shannon gets, at the very least, a nomination for giving a great performance in a horror film.

Best Actress

Glenn Close for Albert Nobbs

Olivia Colman in Tryannasour

Viola Davis for The Help

Vera Farmiga in Higher Ground

Elizabeth Olsen in Martha Marcy May Marlene

Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady

Charlize Theron in Young Adult

Emily Watson in Oarnges and Sunshine

Michelle Williams in My Week With Marilyn

Michelle Yeoh in The Lady

Much as the Satellites recognized the work of Noomi Rapace last year, this year they continue to at least nominate some great performances that are being ignored by the mainstream.  In a perfect world, both Verma Farmiga and Higher Ground would be major contenders.

Best Supporting Actor

Kenneth Branagh in My Week With Marilyn

Albert Brooks in Drive

Colin Farrell in Horrible Bosses

Jonah Hill in Moneyball

Viggo Mortensen in A Dangerous Method

Nick Nolte in Warrior

Christopher Plummer in Beginners

Andy Serkis for Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Christoph Waltz in Carnage

Hugo Weaving in Oranges and Sunshine

Wouldn’t it be cool if Andy Serkis actually got an Oscar nomination?  It’s also nice to see Jonah Hill finally getting some recognition for Moneyball.  Brad Pitt has been honored largely for playing Brad Pitt in that film.  Hill actually gave a performance.

Best Supporting Actress

Jessica Chastain in The Tree of Life

Elle Fanning in Super 8

Lisa Feret in Mozart’s Sister

Judy Greer in The Descendants

Rachel McAdams in Midnight in Paris

Janet McTeer in Albert Nobbs

Carey Mulligan in Shame

Vanessa Redgrave in Coriolanus

Octavia Spencer in The Help

Kate Winslet in Carnage

I haven’t seen Shame yet but Carey Mulligan is one of my favorite actresses and she deserved an Oscar for her performance in An Education.  It’s also nice to see Judy Greer getting some recognition for giving one of the few performances in The Descendants that’s actually going to pass the test of time.

The full list of nominees can be found here.

Film Review: Made in Dagenham (dir. by Nigel Cole)


Made in Dagenham, an immensely likable and even inspiring film from England, is based on a true story.  It dramatizes the 1968 strike of sewing machinists at the Ford assembly plant in Dagenham, England.  The all-female workforce walked off the job in protest to the fact that they were not being paid an equal rate with their male co-workers.  Going from being treated as a sexist punchline to eventually shutting down production at the Dagenham plant, these women brought the issue of equal pay for equal work to the world’s attention and, ultimately, played a large part in the passage of legislation designed to guarantee equal pay regardless of sex.  And, while it might sound like the material for standard, overly sentimental move-of-the-week, Made in Dagenham is both a warm-hearted tribute and an immensely entertaining film.

Usually, I’m wary of films that claims to “pay tribute to strong women,” largely because they always 1) seem to be rather condescending towards the women they’re claiming to pay tribute and 2) always seem to be intent on providing a very narrow definition of what it means to be “strong.”  Far too often, either stridency or an idealized noble savagery is presented in the place of “strength.”  What makes Made in Dagenham a true tribute to strong women is that it portrays women as individuals and as human beings (as opposed to idealized figures of either reverence or loathing).  What a novel idea!  All of the strikers — from Sally Hawkins as the strike’s leader to Geraldine James as the oldest striker to Jaime Winestone as the youngest — are treated with a definite (and refreshing) respect yet at the same time they’re never so idealized as to become plastic saints.  They’re not presented as being models of perfection.  Instead, they’re just working mothers and wives who are simply standing up for their rights and you would have to be heartless not to end up rooting for them.

On my list of my 25 favorite films of 2010, Made in Dagenham was number #22 and that’s largely because of Sally Hawkins’ performance as the strike leader.  Hawkins is hardly a household name but if you’ve seen her in films like Happy-Go-Lucky, An Education, and Never Let Me Go, then you know that Hawkins is one of those rare performers who is capable of both being ordinary and a star at the same time.  She brings an authentic feel to her working class characters even when she’s acting for a condescending and elitist director like Mike Leigh.  To understand just how important Hawkins is to the success of this movie, just try to imagine the exact same film but starring either Sandra Bullock or Julia Roberts.  One can imagine that either Bullock or Roberts would be given a lot more inspiring speeches (complete with triumphant music in the background) and a few scenes where they would get to say something sassy (and ultimately pointless) to all the one-dimensional male chauvinists standing in their way.  They also probably would have contracts to keep from having to act underneath the hideous (but historically authentic) beehive hairdoes  that Hawkins and the other women in the film have.  Hawkins, however, gives her performance without any of the usual Hollywood safety nets and she is completely and totally winning playing a strong-willed but inherently nice woman who struggles to be a wife, a mother, a worker, and an activist all at the same time.  As I watched her performance, I couldn’t help but be reminded of my mom who raised four daughters on her own and who was the strongest woman I know.  I ultimately felt as if Hawkins performance was a tribute to not only my mom but every other woman throughout history whose strength is, far too often, ignored by those who do the recording.

Made in Dagenham is not a perfect film.  For all the authentic moments in the film, there’s a few that are a bit too obvious and, when they show up, they fit in so awkwardly with everything else on-screen that they temporarily throw the whole film out of whack.  This is the type of film where, as Sally Hawkins gives the most important speech of her life at a labor conference, she looks up just in time to see that her husband (Daniel Mays) has shown up in just the nick of time and is now standing in the back of the room, watching her with an apologetic smile on his face.  It’s a sweet scene and, for all I know, it actually did happen that way but it still temporarily makes the movie feel like a self-consciously inspirational Lifetime movie.

And then there’s the issue of Miranda Richardson, who essentially has an extended cameo role as Barbara Castle.  Though Castle is known not at all in the States (most of the people in the theater with me seemed to think Richardson was supposed to be playing Margaret Thatcher and I might have thought the same if I hadn’t looked the movie up on Wikipedia before seeing it), she was quite prominent in the UK.  A left-wing member of Parliament and a pioneer for women in politics, Castle was Secretary of State for Employment at the time of the strike and, as shown in the film, she eventually intervened in the strike and helped to bring about legislation designed to guarantee women equal pay with their male co-workers.  As such, Castle is as much of a part of this story as the actual strikers and you can’t fault the movie for including several briefs scenes featuring her watching the situation from afar.  What you can fault director Nigel Cole for is allowing Richardson to overact to such an extent that her scenes come across as so heavy-handed that they epitomize every negative cliché of a feminist film.  Richardson plays her role with an attitude that seems to shout, “The real star is here,” and I found myself resenting her because she seemed to be determined to ruin a truly inspiring film.

But the thing is, despite these flaws, Made in Dagenham is an inspiring film.  It’s inspiring because of Hawkins and it’s inspiring because of an ensemble of actresses (including Hawkins’ Education co-star Rosamund Pike who does a great job in a role that could have felt artificial if performed by a lesser actress) who come together perfectly.   I saw Made in Dagenham on January 1st and it was the perfect film to start 2011 off with.